Another season, another tsunami of anime to watch. Don’t worry because we’ve got your lifesaver to keep you afloat with our seasonal viewer’s guide! So after you’re done picking flowers from those spring showers come take a gander on what the season has to offer!
(List in no particular order)
One Punch Man Season 2
Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Chikara Sakura
Main Voice Actor(s): Makoto Furukawa (Saitama), Kaito Ishikawa (Genos)
The world was worried approaching One Punch Man‘s hotly anticipated second season. A change in staff brought animation orientated consequences, but luckily they’ve been minor thus-far. So with doubts (mostly) quelled, how’s part two of Saitama’s story shaping up?
Pretty darn good actually! In these early days, all manner of newbies are joining the cast, super-douche Garou is running amok, and Saitama’s entering a fighting tournament. The same wild ideas and humor from the preceding season are back in force, and whilst production quality has dipped a bit, author One’s writing is as ‘punchy’ as ever (pun totally intended).
Where One Punch Man will go is anyone’s guess (unless you’ve read the webcomic/manga), and that’s part of the fun! Checking in with this unpredictable spectacle each week is a treat, not to mention it’s a decent starting series for those new to anime. (By Harry Morris)
Watch on Hulu
Kimetsu no Yaiba
Director: Haruo Sotozaki
Main Voice Actor(s): Natsuki Hanae (Tanjiro), Akari Kito (Nezuko), Takahiro Sakurai (Giyuu)
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba marks ufotable studio’s departure from game adaptations to instead animate a long-running Shounen Jump manga series, and they have spared no effort in making this project just as memorable as their others.
The story picks up after our protagonist’s, Tanjiro, younger sister, Nezuko, is turned into a “demon” after being attacked, a being with immense strength that survives by eating humans. Tanjiro manages to sedate and calm his sister’s hunger fueled frenzy with the help of a passing swordsman but the question remains of how/if he can return his sister to normal. And so he enrolls in the Demon Hunting Corps to search for the answers he seeks.
The setup is rather refreshing for the shounen genre. Stakes are established immediately with an sense of urgency that is omnipresent. Tanjiro isn’t your typical hot-blooded protagonist and prefers to analyze the situation to use anything at his disposal to come out on top, similar to Deku from smash-hit My Hero Academia.
This is all wrapped up in the jaw-dropping presentation that ufotable is famous for. Dynamic camera angles abound lend fight sequences a tumultuous tempo to go with the buttery smooth animation. The dream team combo of Yuki Kajiura and Go Shiina elevates the score to soaring heights that emphasize the crests and lulls in the action. Tanjiro’s Water Breath sword style flows vividly like a work of art with its bright colors to contrast the subdued palette of the show overall. If you’re looking for a new shounen series to get into, this is it. (By Matt Ponthier)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Studio: Studio Puyukai
Director: Minoru Ashina
Main Voice Actor(s): A lot.
What is this, a crossover episode?
Well, yes. Many of them, in fact.
Isekai (or “another world”) is a word that’s well known among anime and manga fans, oftentimes with some negative connotations attached to it. For good reason; there are so many isekai series out there with very few of them actually being good or even enjoyable.
Isekai Quartet, however, takes four of the most popular of these shows and puts their casts into a series where they’re forced to have a “normal school life” together. While that’s a rather basic premise, the strength of Isekai Quartet lies entirely with the fantastic characters. The titular quartet pulls from Re:Zero, Konosuba, Overlord, and The Saga of Tanya the Evil, letting the unique quirks and personalities clash and collide as everybody tries to make sense of the odd world they’ve been transported to.
As one might suspect, Isekai Quartet is really only a show for fans. That’s not to say it’s bad, far from it. The writing does a fantastic job of using a diverse set of characters and creating hilarious interactions. However, some of the impact might be lost if you’re unfamiliar with the cast, as the show wastes no time to get straight to the gags.
If you’ve seen at least two or three of the shows in Isekai Quartet, I can safely recommend it to you as a fun romp.
Really though, the best part is just seeing the Konosuba gang at their usual shenanigans. (By Kyle Rogacion)
Rating: Recommended (if you’ve seen the shows)
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
Studio: Silver, Arvo Animation
Director: Yoshiaki Iwasaki
Main Voice Actor(s): Ryota Osaka (Nariyuki), Haruka Shiraishi (Fumino), Lynn (Mafuyu Kirisu), Miyu Tomita (Rizu), Sayumi Suzushiro (Uruka), Madoka Asahina (Asumi)
Nariyuki Yuiga is a high school student who managed to get great grades in all subjects through pure hard work and determination. Hoping to take care of his rather poor family after his father’s passing, Nariyuki strives to get a special VIP recommendation (essentially a full ride scholarship) to college. He’s right on the cusp before the principal calls him in and says it’s all but assured…on one condition. That condition is helping the two school geniuses—literature expert Fumino and math expert Mafuyu—get passing grades in their weakest subjects.
Though the premise isn’t wholly original, it’s really Bokuben’s execution that makes it such a comfy watch. The show’s generally upbeat nature is absolutely contagious, and each of the characters introduced so far are fun and likable. The girls’ motivations for wanting to learn their weakest subjects are flimsy at best, but they’re never focused on long enough to become an issue. Instead, this is primarily all about tropey situational humor and Aho-Girl levels of stupidity (especially where Uruka, a personal favorite, is concerned).
While Bokuben definitely hits the mark in regards to laughs, it undeniably misses it when it comes to animation. Character faces lack depth and detail, and the models in general consistently look washed out and too bright. Whether intentional or not, the end result is something that never quite looks as good as it deserves. That said, this is still a worthwhile watch for those looking for a good laugh and a feel-good atmosphere. (By Brent Middleton)
Fruits Basket Remake
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Director: Yoshihide Ibata
Main Voice Actor(s): Manaka Iwami (Tohru), Yuuma Ichida (Souma), Nobunaga Shimazaki (Yuki)
Nearly two decades after its original run, we have a remake of Fruits Basket that proves, much to my own relief, that it truly is a timeless classic.
For those unfamiliar with the story, we follow Tohru Honda after certain circumstances brought her to live with a rather special family. Each member of this family represents one of the twelve zodiac animals, including the left out cat, and when they are hugged by someone of the opposite gender, they turn into their respective animal for a period of time. The setup is ripe for comedy and all of the early 2000’s anime humor, from needlessly extra gestures to over-the-top “every day” fights, still holds up in the present day.
Where Fruits Basket truly shines, however, is in its ability to use its characters to connect with the viewer. Tohru is innocent, honest, and genuinely kind to a fault, unrealistically so. The characters surrounding her, however, are believably flawed in each of their own unique ways, with insecurities that are easily relatable. Through their interactions with Tohru those flaws and insecurities, which are quite possibly your own, are viewed through the eyes of someone who believes in you unconditionally, and that has an incredibly positive healing effect that is much needed in a world that is all too often dreary.
This remake captures the heart of what makes Fruits Basket such an important piece of the anime medium and amplifies it to the nth degree. If you have any interest at all, give it a shot; you may walk away with something precious. (By Matt Ponthier)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Director: Takebumi Anzai
Main Voice Actor(s): Chisaki Morishita (Bocchi), Minami Tanaka (Nako)
Hitoribocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu follows in the same vein as series like WataMote and Komi-san. It follows the titular character, Bocchi Hitori, a girl with severe social anxiety who’s only had one friend throughout elementary school. When Bocchi learns that they’ll be split up after graduation, she makes a promise to her friend: “By the time of my middle school graduation, I’ll make friends with everyone in my class.”
That’s easier said than done. Bocchi is, to put it bluntly, socially incompetent. She’s gullible, naive, and woefully bad at conversation. Before her friend-making plan completely falls apart, however, she meets the easygoing Nako, a tough-looking girl in her class who ends up being Bocchi’s biggest supporter and a close friend. With her help, Bocchi overcomes her personal anxieties and slowly finds her new circle of friends expanding.
Hitoribocchi is exactly what it says on the tin. Nothing more, nothing less. Much like every other school-based slice-of-life, the episodes are based around mundane things: going to class, walking home together, and hanging out. However, Hitoribocchi has a wonderful sense of humor and genuinely endearing characters. Much of that humor does rely on Bocchi’s awkwardness, but the fun cast of characters gives it plenty of room to play around.
If you’re looking for this season’s cute, fun, and easygoing show, look no further. (By Kyle Rogacion)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll
The Helpful Fox Senko-san
Studio: Doga Kobo
Director: Tomoaki Yoshida
Main Voice Actor(s): Azumi Waki (Senko-san)
You’re being worked to the bone at your company. You’re tired of working 70-80 hour weeks. You get home and you barely have the energy to heat up an instant meal. What if you had a helpful fox deity to help you out? Oh, and the deity looks like a child… but she’s 800 years old, of course.
Coming from Doga Kobo — a studio known for their esteemed moe blobs like last season’s Umaru-chan and last season’s WATATEN! — The Helpful Fox Senko-san seemed like it was just going to be more of what they do best. Much to my surprise, though, that isn’t completely the case.
This isn’t a spazz-fest of slapstick comedy but instead a very calming and healing show. It emphasizes how simple acts like eating a meal with another person or not coming back to an empty home can have such an incredible effect on those who are worn out. Kuroto is practically a walking corpse at the show’s start but seeing him gradually return to being a living human is pleasant to watch. That’s in part due to just how endearing and competent the titular Senko-san is as a caretaker, complete with her lovingly animated fox ears and tail. Meanwhile, subdued music reminiscent of lullabies accentuate the cozy atmosphere the two create. Even the usual awkwardness of a bath scene is stripped clean away, just leaving good feels in its wake
The Helpful Fox Senko-san is simply a relaxing show. Try watching it after a stressful day at work, and you’ll find yourself feeling much better. (By Matt Ponthier)
Studio: P.A. Works
Director: Kenichi Suzuki
Main Voice Actor(s): Kana Ichinose (Marlya), Tomoaki Maeno (Free)
There was quite a bit of anticipation leading up to Fairy Gone. P.A. Works is a studio famous for utilizing real-life locations to great effect in their large catalog of shows that spans numerous genres. Fairy Gone is the first series where P.A. Works is building a world up from scratch and, unfortunately, it shows.
The story takes place on an unnamed, industrial era European continent that is currently in a post-war period. The war was mainly fought with Fairy Soldiers, humans that have had a “fairy organ” transplanted into them to allow them to summon said fairy to fight. Our main duo, Marlya and Free, are two Fairy Soldiers that are part Dorothea, an organization that investigates any fairy related affairs.
The operative word to describe Fairy Gone is — vague. From the who, what and why of the war that started this all, to the specifics of how Fairy Soldiers actually fight, to the paper thin motivations of each character; all the details of this world feel half-baked. It doesn’t help that the story jumps between countries, cities, and people of interest without ever giving the viewer a chance to internalize their importance, leading to an even further disjointed world and narrative.
When Fairy Gone isn’t busy turning your head in confusion, it’s busy being aggressively boring. It doesn’t capture the imagination as P.A. Works’s other series have and it’s painfully clear that the studio isn’t used to building their own world. I applaud them for trying to branch out, it’s just a shame it didn’t work out this time. (By Matt Ponthier)
Rating: Not Recommended
Watch on Funimation
YU-NO: A girl who chants love at the bound of this world.
Director: Tetsuo Hirakawa
Main Voice Actor(s): Yuu Hayashi (Takuya), Rie Kugamiya (Mio), Maaya Uchida (Kanna)
Takuya is the son of a deceased(?) researcher who was studying the possibilities of time travel and the effects thereof. One day, Takuya receives a package containing an odd relic that allows him to set “save points” in time and leap back to them at any given moment. Soon after, strange occurrences and incidents begin to happen in Takuya’s town and he uses his newfound ability to get to the bottom of them and prevent the worst case scenario.
Comparisons to the break out hit Steins;Gate will be inevitable for this kind of time travel story and in fact, YU-NO is presented in a very similar manner with a colorful cast of characters interacting in fun slice-of-life moments punctuated by heavy drama. The truth is, however, that the original YU-NO visual novel predates Steins;Gate by more than 10 years, so calling it a copycat would be unfair.
That said, the first few episodes of YU-NO are relatively slow, setting up the setting while spending maybe one too moments ogling its many needlessly lascivious female characters. More recent episodes have seen the story really come into its own, though, with stakes being raised and a palpable sense of urgency permeating throughout.
The story’s age does show at points, though, as some of the developments can come across as heavy-handed by today’s standard. Even so, the core mystery is enticing enough and the characters entertaining enough to maintain interest once the ball really gets rolling. (By Matt Ponthier)
Watch on Crunchyroll
Ao-chan Can’t Study!
Studio: Silver Link
Director: Keisuke Inoue
Main Voice Actor(s): Azumi Waki (Ao), Junta Terashima (Takumi)
The potential of Ao-chan Can’t Study! was there. It’s broken into a series of quick 12-minute episodes that center around Ao, a high school girl who has an incredibly popular erotic author for a father. Growing up reading his stories has left her with a totally skewed (and often perverted) perception of how guys think and feel. Convinced that all men are pigs, she tries her best to avoid them and focus strictly on her studies.
Enter Takumi, an athletic, popular guy who has girls fawning over him left and right. Though he has the makings of a player, it turns out that he’s only really interested in Ao. So begins a rather bland and awkward story of dealing with first loves and dating from the perspective of a girl who’s been tainted by her father’s mischievous teachings.
As far as romantic comedies go, Ao-chan is pretty by the numbers. The wrinkle of having a cartoonishly tiny and perverted father is interesting in concept, but the execution doesn’t quite hit the mark. His off the wall jokes and observations are rarely enough to make up for the show’s lackluster writing and largely one-dimensional characters. Ao-chan shines brightest during several awkward interactions between Ao and Takumi, but those brief moments of genuine fun only left me wishing that the whole show was like that.
All of that said, Ao-chan isn’t necessarily bad—it just isn’t consistently funny or engaging. And with so much of the season behind us, I doubt things are likely to make a major change. (By Brent Middleton)
Rating: Not Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll
Director: Odahiro Watanabe
Main Voice Actor(s): Yuuma Uchida (Souichirou), Yuki Kaji (Touma), Maaya Uchida (Otomi)
With promotional material emphasizing a baseball story and a simplistic art style that isn’t necessarily the most eye-catching, Mix is destined to be overlooked by many this season, and that’s a damn shame.
We follow step-twin-brothers (that’s right) Soichiro and Toma Tachibana as they strive to reach the Japanese Koshien high school baseball tournament as their younger sister, Otomi, cheers them on; it’s a rather straightforward premise on paper. The thing is that baseball isn’t actually the primary focus of the story, at least right now. It serves more as a complement to a narrative that carries subtle tinges of themes such as familial bonds and coming to terms with loss despite the levity of the show’s tone.
Soichiro and Toma make quite the dynamic duo, both on and off the diamond. Both carry themselves in a nonchalant manner that belies a bubbling frustration towards the unfair treatment their coach gives the team, leading to some truly relatable moments. Yet the show does a good job of differentiating the twins in subtle not so subtle ways such as Soichiro being a bit of a lady’s man or Toma just being a tad bit more hot-headed. Moments when these traits are brought to the forefront lend to the believability of the pair and provide the more memorable scenes in the show. (By Matt Ponthier)
Mix is a show you watch for its heartfelt character interactions; any baseball surrounding them is just a nice bonus.
Rating: Highly Recommended
Studio: MAPPA, Lapin Track
Director: Kunihiko Ikuhara, Nobuyuki Takeuchi
Main Voice Actor(s): Kouki Uchiyama (Toi), Shun Horie (Enta), Ayumu Murase (Kazuki)
Kazuki, Enta, and Toi are all middle schoolers who live in Asakusa, a bustling city that reveres kappas as gods. Through a series of events that become wilder the more light is shed upon them, these three find themselves tasked by the city guardian kappa Keppi to become kappas themselves and defeat Kapa-zombies by grabbing the shirkodama from their anus and exposing their hidden desires. This is all the more fascinating because it’s actually steeped within real Japanese folklore about kappa.
For as incredibly unique as Sarazanmai is, though, it’s a slow burn. Its first episode is a bewildering (albeit gorgeous) explosion of color and sound with loads of kappa symbolism and idols thrown in for good measure. It’s clearly obscure and disjointed by design, but I suspect many first-time viewers will be turned away after being thrust head-first into the thick of Sarazanmai’s absolutely bizarre structure. If you can stick with it until to episode 2, however, you’re in for a real treat.
Each of the three protagonists have truly shocking secrets that get revealed every time they make a synchronized sound and perform a “sarazanmai” to defeat Kapa-zombies. These quickly become a treat to look forward to at the end of every episode; they’re seriously that interesting and vital to character development. They’re also all the more necessary considering the fact that portions of every episode recur with only slight alterations à la Code Lyoko.
If you have the patience and can stomach some super radical imagery and themes, there’s a lot to love in Sarazanmai. Just give it a couple episodes! (By Brent Middleton)
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Director: Susumu Kudou
Main Voice Actor(s): Unknown according to MAL???
One of the three baseball anime airing this season, Cinderella Nine is exactly what it looks like. Cute girls, doing cute things with that “thing” being baseball. It’s the kind of show, unlike Mix, that you can take 100% at face value.
The show does try to deviate from the trend slightly by having a protagonist, Tsubasa, that is already highly skilled at the sport and is instead pulling other newcomers in to form a team. Beyond that, though, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy to see here. Members’ reasons for joining the team can seem flimsy at best or just flat out non-existent at worst; character eyelashes have enough shading in them to make even Lady Gaga cringe; and there are girls abound with strange speech quirks and patterns.
All that said, that doesn’t make Cinderella Nine a bad show. It knows what it is and, chances are, you already know if it’s a show for you or not. If cute girls playing baseball doesn’t interest you, then move on. If you need a moeblob per season, then hey, there’s been weirder concepts than this one. It just doesn’t really push the envelope at all. (By Matt Ponthier)
Watch on Crunchyroll
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.
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.
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
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)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Watch Bakemonogatari on Crunchyroll
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Anime Ichiban 17: Be Happy, Watch Anime
みんなさんおはよう！ In our meaty 17th episode, the gang catches up on a lot of different topics. From Three Houses to Kyle’s vacation in Japan to our mutual love of Kimetsu no Yaiba, we had more than plenty to talk about. Hear what life is like on the other side of the world in this installment of Anime Ichiban!
0:00 – Introductions and Three Houses
15:56 – News: Redline streaming for free on YouTube
18:33 – News: Psycho-Pass stage play
21:54 – News: Dragon Quest V movie and fan backlash
27:18 – News: Weathering With You‘s first month in the box office
30:48 – News: Summer Comiket 96
37:19 – News: The author of Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches and fan input for her next series
39:57 – News: Author of Higurashi collaborating with artist of Clannad for new visual novel
43:30 – Kyle’s trip to Japan
1:10:11 – Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba impressions thus far
1:35:05 – Closing remarks
Intro – “Good Morning World” by BURNOUT SYNDROMES (Dr. Stone opening theme)
Outro – “veil” by Keina Suda (Fire Force ending theme)
Revoked Revenge: Analyzing One of ‘Hunter x Hunter’s’ Most Emotional Scenes
Though Hunter x Hunter is full of striking moments, “Revenge x Recovery” flexes the full strength of the show’s stellar scenario writing.
(Spoiler Warning: The following text contains spoilers for the 2011 Hunter x Hunter Remake. Read at your own risk.)
It’s all too often that the shounen genre gets dismissed for being entirely comprised of childish power fantasies and series you should eventually grow out of. While a youthful sense of adventure and optimism is indeed a core part of the genre’s appeal, it’s also much more than that. The best of shounen tells tales that stick with viewers forever, introduces characters that they can relate to and aspire to be like, and presents dilemmas that can’t just be laughed or punched away.
The 116th episode of Hunter x Hunter 2011, “Revenge x Recovery,” exemplifies this perfectly. The scene (particularly in the second half of the episode) is one of incredible character development and viewer confliction.
Our lovable hero, Gon, has waited months to exact revenge on Pitou for Kite’s death and torturous reconfiguration into a fighting puppet. Usually cheerful and peppy, Gon hasn’t expressed a hint of happiness since beginning the raid of the Chimera Ant king’s palace. All that’s present is a cold, steely determination and unyielding anger. Pitou has to pay…no matter what it takes.
The Fall and Rebirth of Pitou
Gon’s anger isn’t unfounded. For the entire Chimera Ant arc we’ve been conditioned to fear and absolutely despise Pitou. Aside from viciously killing Kite, Pitou has played an instrumental role in planning the mass genocide of the people of East Gorteau. Seemingly only second in power to the king himself, the sheer maliciousness of its Nen made Knov (an elite Hunter on the level of Morel) have a mental breakdown, and made Netero himself doubt his capabilities.
That’s what makes Pitou’s transformation so shocking.
Instead of being greeted by Pitou’s usual coldhearted, bloodthirsty, murderous self, something has changed in it since they last met. It’s completely focused on healing Komugi, the one person who has become incredibly dear to the king. After finding her wounded at the start of the raid, he personally entrusted Pitou with restoring Komugi’s life. Not only did this bring Pitou to tears, but it set Pitou’s priorities firmly in place: put Komugi first and protect her at all costs.
Pitou knew as soon as Gon walked in the room that it was facing an immense danger, but it was already in the process of healing Komugi. Because it couldn’t fight with any hope of winning during the operation (healing requires all of its Nen), Pitou had to make a choice: leave the girl to die, or leave itself helpless. In that moment, bearing the task of healing the very person that the king cared for above all else, Pitou chose to prostrate itself and beg the boys to wait.
The imagery of seeing Pitou laying its hands outstretched in honest concession — this character that was revered since the start of the arc as the most dangerous, bloodthirsty Chimera Ant next to the king himself — is as jarring for the viewer as it is for Gon, who walked in ready to fight for his life. Arguably the most feared character in Hunter x Hunter up to that point is, for once, showing fear itself. Not fear for its own life, but fear for failing in its mission to protect the girl.
It’d be frustrating if this sudden dismantlement of a major villain served no purpose, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. We get a distinct sense that this willingness to throw away its life isn’t just on the biological level of it being faithful to the king, but more so because it wants to see the king be happy. Compared to when Pitou nonchalantly shrugged off the queen’s death dozens of episodes earlier, the fact that it’s literally willing to have every non-essential bone in its body broken to secure the king’s happiness feels like a clear emotional evolution.
Somewhere along the way of seeing how much the king cared for this fragile little human, Pitou began to gain some slivers of humanity as well. What’s more, the act of breaking its own arm as a way to prove its sincerity is a direct parallel to when the king tore off his arm to apologize for trying to cheat Komugi out of a win at gungi. Lessons learned by the king clearly haven’t gone unnoticed.
Gon’s Justified Fury
At this point, the viewer has seen Gon grow over the course of Hunter x Hunter from a naive kid with exceptional physical ability to a bonafide threat. Through it all, though, he’s always been a somewhat tropey “justice above all” main character with a heart of gold. He refuses to let the weak be attacked and won’t allow anyone to suffer — even if they deserve it. His refusal to kill the Bombers at the end of the Greed Island arc is an acute reminder of this.
Suddenly, however, we’re presented with a Gon that feels equal parts familiar and terrifying. This Gon is absolutely consumed by rage and without pity. The fact that Pitou is showing mercy to another human when it attacked Kite without hesitation only fuels the hatred that he’s been harboring for months. This thing doesn’t deserve his sympathy. So what if a third party got injured during our attack? What makes her life more valuable than Kite’s?
As the viewer, we’re keenly aware of Gon’s ear-splitting frustration. It’s ultimately a battle of ideals. What happens when a murderous monster begs for mercy? What happens when your object of so much hatred is caught acting completely selflessly to help someone they love? How can you push the thirst for avenging a loved one’s life aside in respect for the killer’s righteous wishes?
We learn that Gon isn’t yet strong enough to deal with this impossible dilemma on his own. His usually unwavering sense of right and wrong that we’ve seen throughout Hunter x Hunter has been warped, and he’s clearly lost sight of the mission’s goal. Right when he’s about to snap, it’s only by way of Killua that Gon is able to hold himself back.
It’s then that Gon hones in on what we’ve been observing the whole episode: how drastically different their reactions to this situation are from one another. Gon is (as always) wearing his emotions on his sleeve, and instantly became engulfed in his rage towards Kite’s killer. Meanwhile, Killua stood back and calmly evaluated the scene before their eyes.
Killua’s approach reflects his desensitization to killing and death in general, rather than Kite’s death meaning nothing to him as Gon alludes to. He’s shaken up, but he’s more so worried about Gon getting out of control than avenging anyone. Death is something Killua has witnessed (often by his own hand) for years, and as a reformed assassin, it follows that he wouldn’t get worked up over someone doing what he’s done to countless others.
As much as Gon (and, by extension, the viewer) wants Pitou to pay for all it’s done, the more logical course of action is to bring it with them in an attempt to heal Kite. This might be the best chance the boys will ever have of taking out Pitou once and for all, but that was never their real end goal.
It’s heartbreaking to see Gon’s once warm heart turn to ice as he realizes the validity of Killua’s protests. Killua stopped him from acting on his emotions, but he feels the repercussions of that decision in that instant. The pain on Killua’s face as he looks away from his best friend is palpable in a way that only those who’ve been afflicted by similar emotional harm from a loved one can understand. Gon is the one he’s chosen to follow to the ends of the earth, but it’s now unclear how much longer that’ll last.
Hunter x Hunter is a testament to the emotional depth a shounen series can have if enough care is put into cultivating its cast. Not only does “Revenge x Recovery” stand out as a hallmark scene in what’s arguably the show’s best arc, but it also serves as a reminder of how vital meticulous character and scenario writing are. Few have done it as well as Yoshihiro Togashi.
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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