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Attack on Titan' S3, Pt. 1 Attack on Titan' S3, Pt. 1

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‘Attack on Titan’ S3, Pt. 1: The Human Enemy

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The following article contains spoilers for the first 3 episodes of Attack on Titan’s 3rd Season. 

Attack on Titan is back with a bang, a thud, and a chomp for its third season, and it may not be what fans were expecting. Focusing largely on the human side of this war, and taking a deep dive into the childhoods of many of its signature characters, the third season of the anime phenomenon is a beast-titan of a different color.

The first clue that things are going to be a bit different this time around comes right out of the gates with the new opening theme song. Red Swan by Yoshiki and HYDE is a somber, wistful and melancholic tune that might be more at home on a slice of life or romantic anime than in a show where desperate humans are mounting a final stand against cannibalistic giants. Weirdly though, the more you hear it the more appropriate it begins to sound.

Shattering his shyness, Armin’s toughening up.

As mentioned above there is a significant focus on the pasts of many of Attack on Titan‘s key characters, and the tragic opening music, paired with scenes from the carefree childhoods of our now hardened protagonists, can be seen as a sort of farewell to their human sides.

As Armin has been fond of pointing out throughout the series, the side that will win this war will be the side which is most capable of becoming monstrous in order to achieve victory. This is something we’ve seen already through Armin himself, as he was forced to murder a member of the corrupt military police in order to save his fellow survey corps member, Jean. Though it happens in a blink, the action signals a key change for Armin, a character who has already shown in the past that he’s not afraid to dirty his hands on occasion.

KEEEEEEEEEENNNNNYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!

Season 3 has also seen Levi returning to a major role on Attack on Titan. After taking a bit of a backseat for the sophomore season, one of the all time greatest bad-asses has come back in full swing and fans will not be disappointed. As the first stretch of episodes have begun to dig into Levi’s thuggish history, a new dimension is added to an already fascinating character, and a new villain has been introduced to threaten the plans of the survey corps once again.

The cold, brutal, and unflinchingly cruel Kenny is here to shake things up, showing us that the only person who can truly be a threat to the deadly Levi is the man who was his mentor. Nearly murdering Levi in a sneak attack during the season premiere, Kenny has proven himself as a force to be reckoned with immediately. Meanwhile, the awe-inspiring chase sequence that opens the following episode, dialing in on a desperate Levi murdering a half-dozen military police in mid-air, may be the finest piece of animation that Attack on Titan has yielded yet.

Not the happiest of reunions.

Finally, as Eren is captured, and Historia aims to retake her place as the rightful ruler of the monarchy, the meekest character on the show may be the last best chance the survey corps has of getting the corrupt military police officials off of their back for good and cracking the conspiracy of the titans open once and for all.

Of course, with 22 episodes to go in this mega-sized season, it’s still just about anyone’s game. The survey corps are going to need to use every ounce of their skill, wit, and cunning if they hope to pull themselves out of their desperate fight for survival, living as criminals in the woods outside of the safety of the walls.

You can watch Attack on Titan on Crunchyroll HERE.

Mike Worby is a human who spends way too much of his free time playing, writing and podcasting about pop culture. Through some miracle he's still able to function in society as if he were a regular person, and if there's hope for him, there's hope for everyone.

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Netflix’s ‘Cannon Busters’ Struggles to Fire Off a Clean Shot

LeSean Thomas’ unique western/cyberpunk fusion is a wondrous world with very few compelling characters and even fewer reasons to be invested.

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cannon busters

It’s thrilling to find an anime that operates outside of genre norms. The self-serious framing around comedic darling Kaguya-sama not only made each scene more amusing, but it also alleviated the show from treading many of the same tired school anime tropes. Cannon Busters shakes up the setting of modern adventure by presenting a genuinely compelling, fantastical world that fuses western and cyberpunk elements.

This makes it all the more frustrating that Cannon Busters consistently falls short of its potential. For as much love is put into its visual design, its narrative design suffers from mixed character writing, poor pacing, and a plot that can’t stay out of its own way.

On the Road Again

Philly the Kid is an outlaw cursed with immortality. Whenever he dies, he regenerates, and the number of that death appears as a tattoo somewhere on his body. It’s shounen character design at its finest, and gives Philly much more of a cool factor than he rightly deserves.

After running from the law and living out of his trusty half-car, half-mech Bessie for years, he encounters two unique bots: Casey Turnbuckle, a little engineer who absolutely loves fixing things, and Sam, a hyper-friendly royal bot determined to reunite with the prince of her far-off homeland. After a quick run-in with some bounty hunters, the group finds themselves temporarily joining forces and high-tailing it out of town together under the premise of escaping and finding Sam’s prince.

Cannon Busters essentially takes the form of a massive road trip that has the crew visiting a slew of towns inspired by the American frontier, technological dystopias, and otherworldly nooks where colorful characters spend their days. Handled by Satelight, the studio behind Log Horizon and partially responsible for Fairy Tail, the environmental detail of every location is one of Cannon Busters’ greatest strengths. Not only are many of the locales visually distinct, but they each come off as a natural part of the world as a whole.

cannon busters

A Lack of Character

The problem is that the best parts of Cannon Busters–the road trip feel and gradual friendship that grows amongst the crew–are bogged down by questionable character design and poor pacing. The first couple of episodes are terribly slow going and monotonous, things only exasperated by Philly’s dedication to being a detestable main character. He incessantly complains about traveling with the bots, treats his car like garbage, bemoans his life as a whole, and manages to get himself killed for stupid reasons that elicit reactions ranging from “He should’ve seen that coming” to “Is this supposed to be funny?”

Having a good-for-nothing protagonist can work if they have a certain redeeming quality or if there’s significant growth throughout the season, but neither of those are present. Even worse, however, is making the goal of a show to reunite with someone hardly worth caring about. The bratty, spoiled Prince Kelby is equally as frustrating as Philly, but for different reasons. He acts more like a child than a teen, making silly demands and being forced to behave by his retainer, Odin. It follows that a young prince might realistically be spoiled and ungrateful, but it completely diffuses any desire the viewer might have to see him escape unscathed.

Surprisingly enough, it’s actually the two bots that end up being far-and-away the best written, most enjoyable characters out of the entire cast. Sam has the emotional range that both her chauffeur and prince lack, to the point that it’s almost tragic that Sam yearns to be by Kelby’s side so strongly. Built as a mere companion bot for the prince during his youth, her innocent interpretations of less proper human customs and language are often a riot. More impressively, though, she gradually learns and applies lessons from her travels and being around Philly.

Casey is just as entertaining. She’s a lovable tech nerd who almost single-handedly turns Bessie into something of a fourth party member because of how much she loves to work on the car. Her “I-can-fix-anything” attitude and general optimism make her reliably sweet, and her dedicated side-story is the best of the entire season.

More Than a Few Loose Screws

An adequate action-focused anime doesn’t necessarily need a top-notch overarching plot, and that’s what makes this a decently fun ride for most of its runtime. The premise works well, and the crew’s travels have their moments, but the overall plot, character development, and scenario writing are far too haphazard. Mysterious characters are built up only to be revealed as lackluster threats. Philly’s tale of how he gained immortality is barely touched upon, and his ultimate character motivation is so weakly presented that he would’ve been better off without one at all. There are occasional standouts like the drunken samurai 9ine who shines early on with plenty of potential for bombastic fight scenes, but even his character is held back by head-scratching story decisions late in the season.

Cannon Busters is at its best when it’s honing in on short, one-episode stories. Sam and Casey steal the show to the point where, like with the DanMachi spinoff Sword Oratoria, a side season solely revolving around their escapades would be more than welcome. Unfortunately, the infuriating bratiness of Prince Kelby combined with one of the least likable protagonists in recent memory leaves this first outing struggling to get its hooks in viewers. A severely disappointing final act makes me cautious to recommend this to anyone beyond those looking for a uniquely-themed adventure anime or those simply itching for something new to binge on Netflix.

You can watch Cannon Busters on Netflix.

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‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’

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Gurren Lagann is a cult classic directed by Hiroyuki Imaishi, and written by Kazuki Nakashima. It has over-the-top action, constant bravado, quotable lines, and non-stop escalation into madness. Subtly is not a common word used in Imaishi and Nakashima’s vocabulary, and luckily, fans of their work will not be disappointed with their newest animated movie, Promare. Hot-headedness (literal and metaphorical) and grandiose speeches are rampant when Promare kicks logic to the curb and goes beyond the impossible in its own unique way. What it lacks in a cohesive story, it makes up for in elaborate visuals, eye-popping action, and charismatic characters.


No matter how many times Spider-Man or Superman saves someone from a burning building, the real heroes are the firefighters; they are the ones on the ground, first on the scene. In the world of Promare, firefighters are not just stopping regular old fires; they are tasked with extinguishing supernatural infernos caused by the Burnish — humans mutated to become pyrokinetics. Called the Burning Rescue, they heroically save any and every civilian threatened by these eternal flames, doing so with advanced gear, amped-up water cannons, and hand to hand combat. In addition, they have high-tech equipment that includes drones, an armory of ice and water-powered firearms, and numerous models of mech suits.

These heroes are tasked to stop the flaming terrorists and the havoc they wreak, and in the first act of Promare, a Burning Rescue team led by a young man named Galo take on one of the most feared Burnish terrorists. They use their pyrokinesis to give themselves black, spiky armour and motorcycles that would make Ghost Rider jealous, and after a rousing success with eleventh-hour powers, Galo floats in his victory. Soon, the more militaristic, anti-Burnish organization called Freeze Force barges in and detains the Burnish, taking some of the credit and diminishing Burning Rescue’s efforts. This testosterone-driven act kindles a small spark in the back of Galo’s head, later pushing him to discover a conspiracy that suggests not all is as it appears to be.

Galo is essentially a carbon copy of Kamina from Gurren Lagann. He’s a shirtless, blue-haired, brash young man who jumps in head first to save everyone, and makes sure he looks cool doing it every time. His peers and rivals mock his intelligence and audacity, but in a rare twist, Galo immediately proves that his not simply all bark; he is also a talented rescuer, and is able to stop multiple Burnish solo. Eventually, he develops a rival with Lio, a blonde-haired, light-eyed, somewhat effeminate villain with his own code of honour. He also runs across Kray Foresight, the governor, who is appreciative of Burning Rescue and all their work. However, though Burning Rescue is comprised of many equally talented members, they are mostly pushed to the background outside of being given a few moments to shine.  

Promare takes advantage of new animation styles, and combines both hand-drawn and computer-animated designs. The vapourwave art style is bombastic and chaotic, while the angular designs of the Burnish’s powers add a little edge to the action scenes, guaranteeing that there is no wasted space on screen. The movie runs from inferno-hot to sub-zero cold with no in-between; one would expect nothing less from Imaishi and Nakashima.

Walking into this film and expecting some kind of subtly, even when it comes to the most mundane of actions, is expecting far too much. In classic fashion, the filmmakers keep making every scene more grandiose and epic. Fight scenes aren’t simply adding an extra bad guy or giving the hero a handicap; everything grows to an exponential scale. The moment you expect that Promare has reached its limit, suddenly everything goes to the extreme. But this does has its disadvantages, as subtly and clear explanations of events go by the wayside. The plot moves fast and glosses over the details of the world, history, and lore. Instead of questioning “why is this weird thing happening,” it’s better to accept that it’s happening simply “just because” — far better to just watch the bonker visuals and series of events. This pacing also makes it difficult for character growth, where relationships are created and destroyed on a whim, yet could have benefited more with extra content. It’s like the difference between the Gurren Lagann series and the movies. Sure, the movies cover a lot of ground, but they are very much more loud, operatic spectacles rather than the growing confidence of a young shy boy into a full-fledged legend.

Promare is certainly a movie that stimulates the lizard-brain neurons. It’s flashy, over the top, and outright ridiculous. The heroes and villains are operatic, and there is no nuance stored anywhere in the character’s development. But that’s why the movie is wonderful; the creators are able to depict these extreme levels of silliness, then lampoon and expand on it. There are even moments where the characters themselves have to acknowledge that this level of weirdness is actually happening. But that’s why this movie is spectacular — it’s loud, it’s big, but it’s 100% unfiltered fun.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 4, 2019 as part of our Fantasia Film Festival coverage. 

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Anime Ichiban 18: Wanna Be KFC’s #1 Fan

The crew combs over KFC, Funimation, and Haruhi in this vibrant and bizarre episode of Anime Ichiban that’s sure to raise eyebrows.

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Hare Hare Yukai

A lot has happened in the anime sphere in the past few weeks with fried chicken attempting to become mainstream and voice actors making dubious sounds. The Anime Ichiban combs over it all while also offering their thoughts on possibilities for disjointed storytelling that Haruhi kicked off thirteen long years ago.

TIMESTAMPS

10:24 – The search for Evangelion’s #1 fan
15:04 – MangaRock going official and rebranding as MR Comics
23:25 – Grabbing drinks with popular Virtual YouTubers
27:43 – Weathering With You continues to be successful and the sky is still blue
31:29 – This week in theater play adaptations
36:13 – KFC’s official dating sim visual novel
52:29 – The Funimation Dragon Ball Z leaks
1:03:01 – The bizarre case of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya‘s broadcast and the possibilities of something similar in the future

TRACKS

Intro – “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” by Yoko Takahashi (Neon Genesis Evangelion opening theme)
Outro – “Hare Hare Yukai” by Aya Hirano, Minori Chihara and Yūko Gotō (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya ending theme)

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Years Later And There’s Still Nothing Quite Like ‘Bakemonogatari’

Even over a decade later, ‘Bakemonogatari’ is still one of the most unique experiences anime has to offer.

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Bakemonogatari

Red. Black. Red. Black. Red.Black.Red.Black.Red.BlackRedBlackRedBlack. Studio Shaft and author NisiOisiN forced anime fans to become intimately familiar with these two colors when they aired their surreal exploration into the supernatural, Bakemonogatari. Its bewitching characters, mesmerizing imagery chockfull of symbolism, and avant-garde storytelling manages to take viewers’ imagination and curiosity hostage and never let go. The series is a dreamlike experience that feels as ephemeral as the aberrations it features and to this day, there’s still nothing quite like it.

The trickery of Bakemonogatari begins right from the name itself. The word is a combination of two Japanese words: “bakemono” (化物), meaning “ghost,” and “monogatari” (物語), meaning “story.” Both words contain the “mono” (物) character and can thus be combined into “BakeMONOgatari.” Funnily enough, the same applies to its English translation, “Ghost Story,” which can be written as “GhoSTory,” adding an extra little nuance to the show’s supernatural nature.

Bakemonogatari Hanekawa

Bakemonogatari follows high-schooler Koyomi Araragi who has been left as a half-vampire after certain events he alludes to but never fully explains (that’s a separate series). During his life he encounters individuals afflicted with various anomalies that are often caused by some sort of supernatural apparition. 

On paper, this sounds like your usual high school occult club shenanigans seen in plenty of media even outside of anime. These apparitions, however, are less the kind that goes “bump” in the night, and more manifestations of characters’ various psychological distress, much like the recent Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. Figuring out the “How” and “Why” of these apparitions is made a captivating endeavor thanks in one part due to Shaft’s animation style and one part due to scriptwriter Fuyashi Tō’s adapted author NishiOishiN’s original novel.

While Shaft had been around for some years and seen some success with shows like Sayounara Zetsubou-sensei and ef: A Tale of Memories and Melodies, it wasn’t until they brought out Bakemonogatari in 2009 that they truly established an identity for themselves that was later cemented with Puella Magi Madoka Magica

All of the techniques that have practically become synonymous with the studio — dramatic head tilts, super zoom-ins, fast cuts, wide-screen aspect ratios, and focusing on inanimate objects instead of characters — materialized in full force and caught many viewers off-guard at the time, and still do. The result is scenes that are stuffed to bursting with visual information to process and take in, not unlike a feverish dream.

Bakemonogatari head tilt

Every shot of an eyeball shifting, every billboard in the background, every cartoonish tangent holds some sort of purpose and meaning towards the emotional state the characters are in and it’s up to the viewers to desperately piece together whatever they can. It’s not uncommon for someone to have their hand hovering over the pause button while watching, ready to stop a scene at any given moment and pick apart everything that would otherwise only be shown for a second. And let us not forget about the aforementioned black and red scenes, which continued to spark endless debate years after the series finished airing.

As if the rapid-fire visuals aren’t enough to contend with, Bakemonogatari’s topsy-turvy script ensures the viewer never quite finds their footing. Characters talk circles around each other, constantly trying to gain the upper hand in the conversation with nary a breath in between. Their dialogue is filled with double entendres, logic traps, and dictionary-twisting wordplay that often leaves the viewer grasping at straws to suss out their true meaning and intent. 

These exchanges demand one’s full attention, which can sometimes be draining. Yet despite that challenge, it’s difficult to not feel mystified by these battles of words that often hide themes of modern societal woes that range from the stress of the city to even religious cults. 

Bakemonogatari

There’s a sense of isolation persistent throughout Bakemonogatari as the only people ever seen are the characters immediately relevant to the story; background characters are nonexistent and only referred to off-handedly. Much akin to a case of Stockholm’s Syndrome, that sense of isolation is amplified through Shaft’s careful and deliberate cinematography and the multi-layered writing that forces the viewer to establish an intimate relationship with the characters, both physically and emotionally. This allows the creation of captivating episodes that sometimes take place almost entirely in a single location like a park or bedroom.

Koyomi interacts with others in completely irrational ways based on our own reality yet it’s entirely consistent and believable within the contexts of the world that Shaft and NisiOisiN have created. That, in turn, creates incredibly dynamic relationships that culminate in one of the most heart-warming, sweet, and iconic romantic scenes in the anime medium. Bakemonogatari makes the viewer work to get to that point, though; this is absolutely not a show one can watch passively while getting ready for bed. Those who put in the effort, however, are rewarded with a visually and mentally stimulating spectacle that leaves a lasting impression for years to come.

Bakemonogatari black scene

Watch Bakemonogatari on Crunchyroll

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Two Weeks in Japan: A Journey to the Other Side of the World

Whether it’s anime figures, secondhand video games, conveyor belt sushi, or rabid island deer, Japan has plenty to keep you occupied!

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My trip to Japan began in the early hours of August 2nd. Boarding the plane for our 17 hour flight to Tokyo, I already felt the first twinges of culture shock when I noticed how English was no longer the dominant language. But here I finally was, on a plane to a country I’d only dreamed about visiting. After watching a bizarre airplane safety video stylized as a modern dance piece, my group and I settled into the long ride for our two week vacation on the other side of the world.

Did you think I was kidding?

Stepping out onto Japanese soil, we were met with our vacation’s biggest enemy: the heat. We had arrived in the middle of an absolutely awful heatwave and would spend the next two weeks drenched in sweat. Our soft and supple west coast bodies weren’t prepared for the blinding suffocation of Japan’s tropical climate. But we were here and ready to make the most of it.

Welcome to Japan

Our first week was meant to frontload the most touristy aspects of our trip. Nothing embodied that more than our shinobi dinner at Ninja Akasaka, where we indulged in a ten-course meal full of tasty dishes, campy ninja theming, and a baffling magic show that still confuses us. We all agreed that while the meal was pretty good, it’s not something we’d ever pay for again, an opinion that was further solidified when we took our first step into a konbini later that evening.

Convenience stores (“konbini”) will often run cross-promotions with different entertainment franchises. Lawsons, one of the big three chains in Japan, has incorporated the main cast of Konosuba into much of their in-store display.

Japanese convenience stores live up to the hype; they’re on a completely different level from American 7-11s and QuikStops, both in terms of scale and quality. Convenience stores in metropolitan Japan really play up the “convenience” part of the name, with such locations appearing every other block. Near our Tokyo AirBnB, there was a FamilyMart, 7-11, and Lawson on the way to the train station, all within two minutes of each other. While we would of course have our fair share of cooked meals, nothing beat wandering into a FamilyMart at 12 AM and picking up some onigiri and beer for less than $5.

Our first full day in Tokyo we journeyed into the city proper to check out some of the different wards (what boroughs are to New York City). After having lunch at The Pokémon Cafe in Chuo, we headed on over to Shibuya to say hi to Hachiko and walk through the Scramble Crossing, then finished off the day strolling through Takeshita-dori in Harajuku. 

The Pokémon Cafe even featured a surprise appearance from Eevee!
At Kinokuniya (popular bookstore chain) in Shibuya, there was a pop-up gallery featuring merchandise and production work from The Rising of the Shield Hero.

One meal of particular note was our first dinner with conveyor belt sushi which, like most other Japanese cuisine, duly outclasses its American counterpart. While we would eventually visit more standard sushi belt joints where you picked plates off as the chefs prepared them, this one was quite a bit more modern. 

In front of every seat was a tablet, featuring dozens upon dozens of different plates categorized by price and type. All you had to do was select whatever dishes looked appealing, hit the order button, then your food would come out on a speedy little train and stop right in front of you. It was the future and we were all low-key losing our minds. 

Conveyor belt sushi stretched the limitations of how one would define “sushi”, but it was delicious all the same.

For my part, simply being in another country and taking it all in was more than enough entertainment for me. You start to pick up on small peculiarities in culture and behavior, like putting money in a tray when paying for things or the collective sense of organization. It’s these little day-to-day differences that really gave me a sense of perspective and made it abundantly clear that I was in Japan.

Then came Akihabara.

Akihabara, Anime, and All That Comes With It

Let me be fully candid in saying that I went to Japan for three specifics reasons: food, culture, and being a massive freaking weeb. The second I stepped out of the station into Akihabara, or more often referred to as Akiba, was like setting foot on another planet.

Be prepared to hear a lot of J-Pop getting blasted out of multiple different buildings.

I’m used to anime pop-culture in very specific contexts: bookstores, conventions, and awkward club meetings where you’re pretty sure half the members write Homestuck fanfiction. Akiba was the first time I’d ever seen anime media on full display in broad daylight like it was completely normal. Hearing Love Live! songs get blasted out of arcades on the main strip as I walked past trucks advertising waifu mobile games and cutesy maids trying to usher me into stores was a new experience, to say the least.

Sega arcades are honestly kind of underwhelming, as they largely consist of UFO catchers, rhythm games, and cabinets dedicated to mobile games. For more variety, check out Round 1.

There’s a certain degree of nonchalant acceptance in Japan that blurs the line between otaku culture and real life. It’s simply another piece of media that gets enjoyed by all walks of life. It wasn’t uncommon to see older folks or even families browsing the aisles of Animate, a popular store specializing in selling official merchandise for popular series. A store where right next to the popular manga selections was a full table display that featured softcore tentacle shenanigans.

In the streets of Akiba, you couldn’t pass by an arcade or figure shop without seeing some cute anime girl proudly posing in a swimsuit, showing off TnA, or looking longingly at the viewer. And of course, there were sectioned-off areas specifically catering to 18+ interests (sidenote: I’ve never seen so much loli in one place and I really wouldn’t care to repeat that experience). 

The fact that something like Magical Sempai, an anime that relies heavily on over-the-top fanservice, was being openly advertised spoke volumes about the culture of acceptance that Japan has towards sexuality in entertainment.

In due time, however, the overabundant fanservice faded into the background noise along with everything else. Once you get past the initial shock, you quickly realize that Akiba is just one giant mall. There are unique features, like hyper-specific electronics stalls, owl cafes, or vending machines selling porn, but it all boils down to being a place to spend money on your hobbies. 

Where Akiba excels, in particular, is the secondhand market. The stores there are in a constant state of flux, goods passing from one owner to the next. For a Nendoroid collector like myself, it’s fantastic. I managed to pick up six used nendos for under $120 (a steal, considering new ones typically go for ~$50 each). My friend, Grant, picked up a broken Famicom (that he later repaired) and two games for ~$15. If you’ve got a hobby in electronics or anime, then Akiba is the place to be.

While the secondhand market offers cheap finds, some figures can also get excessively expensive. It wasn’t unusual to find figures that went for upwards of $300.
On the top floor of Super Potato, a used video game store, there is a selection of vintage arcade cabinets, all carefully watched over by Snake.

The next couple of days were spent at DisneySea which, to be quite honest, was kind of underwhelming. If theme parks are your thing then you’ll probably get a kick out of it, otherwise… it’s just a theme park. Granted, a really cheap theme park (~$70 for one adult), but a theme park nonetheless. Being there felt no different from being in Anaheim, which is rather antithetical to taking a trip to a foreign country.

Coincidentally enough, something I enjoyed far more than a Disney park was our trip to the Ghibli Museum. Situated in Mitaka, a Tokyo suburb, the Ghibli Museum looks like something straight out of, well… a Ghibli movie. Its multi-colored clay exterior sports colorful shades of yellow, red, and blue with greenery sprawling across the expanse of the grounds. As you pass through the main entrance, a wide wooden floor opens up before you, leading you down a set of polished steps into a massive atrium of winding metal and stained glass. Within its halls lie myriad exhibits, displays, and countless pieces of work taken from Studio Ghibli’s long and storied production history

The exterior of the Ghibli Museum is criminally picturesque…
…as is the interior. It possesses the same timeless feel that the Ghibli movies do, offering you a sense of nostalgia for a time and place you’ve never been to.
Kiki and Jiji!

The museum is a bit annoying to get tickets for, but a visit here is a must for any and all fans of Ghibli movies.

After a week in and around Tokyo, we activated our JR Passes to travel the country. JR Passes are specifically made for foreign tourists and allow them to hop on and off of Japan’s Shinkansen lines (bullet trains) for a given period of time. We had ours active for one week, during which we visited Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima in a series of trips that covered several hundreds of miles. 

Let me take a moment to properly express how incredibly good Japan’s public transit systems are. America’s subway systems and railroads have absolutely nothing on these metros and rail lines. To get from Tokyo in the east to Hiroshima in the west, a journey spanning 420 miles, you take a Shinkansen that will get you there in roughly 4.5 hours. The equivalent train ride in America would take you nearly 15 hours. This is nothing to say of the city-based metro lines which run with an efficiency and cleanliness that makes the NYC Subway look like the public restroom it is.

Not even the Tokyo Metro is free from the waifus. The popular manga series Go-Toubun no Hanayome (The Quintessential Quintuplets) had an entire set of cars dedicated to advertising the five titular girls.

Furthermore, even Japan’s toilets have America beat. Let me tell you, the idea of water being sprayed at my rear was odd at first but it really just makes so much sense. What sounds more disgusting: washing out your hindquarters with clean water or smooshing and scrubbing with toilet paper alone? Yeah.

Public utilities aside, our travels throughout the rest of Japan were probably my favorite part of the trip. As much fun as the dense metropolitan life of Tokyo was, so many other cities offered a greater sense of openness and culture. Nowhere was this more evident than in Kyoto.

Leave Me in Kyoto

As Japan’s former capital, Kyoto is steeped in history. Shrines, temples, and palaces dot the cityscape, tucked away in a picturesque countryside of rolling green hills and quaint neighborhoods. Kyoto was easily my favorite destination and where I learned my most valuable lesson about traveling with a group: make time for yourself.

A shot of the Kyoto skyline, taken from partway up Mt. Inari.

First on the docket was visiting Fushimi Inari-taisha. A popular tourist site, Fushimi Inari-taisha is an ancient shrine dedicated to the fox kami, Inari. Situated at the base of Mt. Inari, its most distinctive feature is its long and winding path of orange-red torii gates and small shrines that lead up to the mountain’s summit. I managed to hike the entire way up, though I was quite literally drenched in sweat by the time I reached the top.

Fushimi Inari-taisha’s famous torii gate pathways. Get there early to avoid the hordes of tourists.

The second bout of solo traveling I had was entirely focused on Kyoto Animation. KyoAni, as many of you might be aware, was the victim of an arson attack back in July. Since then, the outpouring of love and support from fans the world over has been nothing short of astounding. I owed it to myself to visit the studio building and pay my respects. 

KyoAni’s Studio 1 is nestled in a quiet little neighborhood, so the blackened windows suddenly appearing between a row of houses caught me off guard. Despite the sweltering midday heat, there were still handfuls of visitors coming and going. A few policemen kept watch over the area, directing wellwishers and their gifts to the memorial around the corner. I was the only non-Japanese visitor to the site, but in the solemn silence I felt an innate connection with the people around me as they offered their prayers or looked on wistfully at the building. The contrast between the ruined remains of Studio 1 and its peaceful surroundings created a sobering air of melancholic nostalgia that I felt long after leaving.

KyoAni’s Studio 1 lies in the middle of a quiet suburban neighborhood. The scorched remains of the building have since been covered with barricades and tarps, but many visitors still make their way to the site.
Right outside of the studio are some bikes, a basketball hoop, and a small garden with a water pump. The burned-out studio stood in stark contrast to its calm, peaceful surroundings.

Later that day I had a wonderful little encounter visiting Masugata, the shopping arcade that Tamako Market is based on. The similarities between the real life location and its animated counterpart are striking. Years after the show’s debut, bits of KyoAni memorabilia are still proudly shown off here and there. One shop in particular, a fresh fish store at the end of Masugata, had books full of KyoAni staff photos and fan messages. In spite of my broken Japanese, the shopkeep happily invited me to look at his collection, take photos, and leave behind my own thoughts and feelings for the studio.

Shopping arcades like Masugata are extremely common in Kyoto.
The fish store shopkeep has a collection of journals dating back several years. All of them are filled with drawings and messages of love and appreciation for KyoAni.

Altogether my visit to Masugata didn’t last more than half an hour, but it still stuck with me because it showed how deeply KyoAni’s presence is felt at home. The affection the studio has for Kyoto clearly goes both ways. That love and appreciation was especially evident when I made my way further into Uji, the city south of Kyoto where KyoAni is based. 

Many anime fans often go on pilgrimages (“seichi junrei”) to visit locations that featured in their favorite shows. I experienced a bit of it earlier in the trip wandering around the streets of Akiba and remembering all of the famous Steins;Gate scenes, as well as walking through Shibuya Crossing and recalling the hours I’d spent in Persona 5. If you’ve watched Hibike! Euphonium you’ll immediately recognize many landmarks in the city of Uji, as the fictional Kitauji High School is set in and around the area. Although I ran into an hour or so of rain during my walk, I still managed to visit most of the important locations that KyoAni used in the show. 

The city of Uji even put together an official Hibike! Euphonium sightseeing map, so you could visit all of the locations featured on the show in real life.
This bench appears repeatedly throughout Hibike! Euphonium as a place where the characters can talk to each other, ponder a problem, or practice their music.
That same bench in real life.

What was fun to see was that in many of these areas, local shops were proudly displaying Hibike! Euphonium memorabilia, from posters to pilgrimage maps to hand-painted character cutouts. Much like Masugata and Tamako Market, Uji has a relationship with Hibike! Euphonium that can be acutely felt as you walk through its streets. Meandering around Kyoto and Uji explained so much about Kyoto Animation: the area is a series of relaxed, laidback neighborhoods and parks and just oozes pure, comfortable, KyoAni vibes. I ended my pilgrimage along the banks of the Uji River, taking in the serene atmosphere as friends, families, and couples enjoyed their day in the setting sun.

Reconvening with the rest of my group, we ditched metropolitan Kyoto and took a bus out into the densely forested hillsides to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). We stayed at Yumoto Onsen Oharasansou (highly recommend the place) and were treated to a wonderful hotpot dinner, soothing hot springs, and surprisingly comfy futons.

There’s really nothing quite like grabbing a vending machine beer, lighting up a cigarette, and basking in the calm twilight of the Kyoto countryside. All of the gushing over ryokans/onsens in Japanese media is well-earned; it’s an absolutely sublime experience.

Less than half an hour outside of Kyoto’s city center, our ryokan took a bus ride and a bit of a trek to get to.
The aforementioned wonderful hotpot dinner.

What I had learned in my time in Japan thus far was that three months of casual studying did little to actually prepare me for being fully immersed in the language. Meticulous grammar and obtuse vocabulary don’t matter much when most of your conversations devolve into gesturing and speaking like a toddler. 

Granted, what few phrases I did know managed to help me get by and survive being in a completely different country. Popular tourist spots thankfully have enough English for you to get around without being completely lost, but locals seemed to be appreciative of me making an effort. I felt better about myself after seeing other tourists defaulting to clipped English that clearly went over the heads of whoever they were speaking to. 

Moral of the story: at least try.

Hiroshima and Back Again

Continuing our journey outside of Tokyo, our next big stop was Hiroshima. It was a surreal experience pulling into the city and realizing that much of what I saw had been completely leveled nearly 80 years prior. Visiting the Peace Memorial Park and the A-Bomb Dome was not only somber reminders of the horrors of war, but also of the boundless hope and optimism of humanity moving forward.

Peace Park is a sprawling series of memorials, stone pathways, and patches of greenery that pay deference to the tragedy that struck Hiroshima in 1945.

Hiroshima is a lively city with plenty for food tourists like myself; its local delicacy the hearty dish “okonomiyaki,” for example. In fact, there’s a building called “Okonomimura”, which is categorized as an “okonomiyaki theme park”. Once you step inside you immediately understand why, as dozens of okonomiyaki stalls fill every floor. You really can’t go wrong by picking a random stall, getting in line, and waiting for a seat.

If you’ve ever been to a Benihana’s, then you’ll have a slight inkling of the way okonomiyaki works. It starts with egg mixtures being fried in front of you on a massive table-wide griddle, as more and more ingredients get added. After a mouthwatering culinary show, the entire dish is plopped down in front of you. With spatula and chopsticks in hand, you make your way through the smorgasbord of egg, meat, seafood, and veggies as you drizzle on a variety of different sauces to your heart’s content. One serving of okonomiyaki and a pint of beer will be more than enough to knock you out and put you in a state of bliss.

Okonomiyaki is an incredible dish with a surprising amount of variety. Tailor to your taste!

The day after, we headed to Miyajima, popularly known as “deer island” for its massive population of native deer. After the Japanese wolf went extinct in the early 20th century, much of its prey began to explode in numbers, deer especially. Once you step off the ferry from the mainland and head into the island you see firsthand what exactly that means. 

Miyajima is absolutely crawling with deer, and they’re all hungry little bastards that will come running at the first sound of crinkling plastic. I wish I’d had more time on the island, as there were some stunning temples and enticing mountain hiking trails, but I was happy enough to let the local deer fight for their right to eat out of my hands.

My buddy Michael tries to make friends with a local.

After Hiroshima, our last few days in Japan were more or less free time to bum around as we saw fit. For myself, this meant revisiting my favorite restaurants of the trip and trawling through shops for any last minute merch I wanted to pick up. Soon enough, our day of return rolled around and we made our way to the airport to bid farewell to Japan. Aside from a minor snafu where we ended up getting to the airport a day early, our trip back home was absolutely welcome after two weeks of a rather physically demanding vacation.

Experiencing another culture, getting out of my comfort zone, and going beyond the confines of my daily routine was invaluble. Like many other people, I’ve dreamed of going to Japan for the longest time. It’s no easy financial commitment, to be sure. Airfare and accommodations alone will put a hefty dent in your bank account, much less the cost of food, souvenirs, and miscellaneous expenses that inevitably rack up. However, if you’ve got the time and money to afford it, I can’t recommend a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun highly enough. There’s so much I saw and did over there that not even this nearly 3,000 word piece was enough to cover it. Japan is a country with so much to offer; you owe it to yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

Just uh… don’t go during the summer.

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Freelance Film Writers

Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Indie Game reviewers.

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