A lot of stellar anime have graced our screens this year. Here at Goomba Stomp, we’ve tried our hardest to keep up to date, but naturally, catching them all has been impossible. We saw some doozys though, and of them, these are our ten favorites!
A Place Further than the Universe (Matthew Ponthier)
Wanting to break out of routine and do something special and memorable is a very human desire that many of us have felt at some point to some extent in our lives. A Place Further than the Universe takes that concept of “stepping out of your comfort zone” and amplifies it to the nth degree. Specifically, whatever the longitudinal and latitudinal degrees are for Antarctica.
This is a story that is as much about self-discovery as it is about taking that first big step into the great unknown. It’s about the importance of forging real, tangible bonds with others. It’s about reiterating the age-old fact that your dream will never come true if you never even try to put the effort in to do so. Watching Kimari and her friends embark on this journey, grapple and come to terms with these lessons, then grow from them isn’t just beautiful, it’s downright inspirational.
A Place Further than the Universe is a hallmark example of how the anime medium can be used for more than just plain entertainment. It’s a tour de force that delivers on each and every story beat and is sure to resonate deeply with individuals from all walks of life.
Attack on Titan Season 3 (Mike Worby)
The third season of the cannibalistic giant fighting series, Attack on Titan, took a surprising turn as it shifted the battle focus to other humans, rather than the massive foes for which it’s known.
While this may initially have been a tad off-putting, all doubts were put to rest in the second episode alone, where a tense and frantic Levi escaped an ambush from the new anti-personnel squad in one of the best sequences of animation you’ll see all year.
Even if all of the political talk grew a smidge long in the tooth as the season went on, no season of Attack on Titan has offered as many answers, or filled in as many gaps in the mythology as the most recent pass has.
Now, with the “Battle for Shinganshina” arc right around the corner, it looks as though Attack on Titan will keep going strong with maybe its finest season yet. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Citrus (Shane Dover)
Citrus is a yuri romance which forms quite a mature love story. Whilst the series does have a decent share of fan service, the layered and often quite depressing love story overshadows it as the season goes on. Yuzu, the main character, also fills a fairly rare style of character in a ‘gal,’ and with professional assistance in regards to both the ‘gal’ culture and food, the show has a lot of attention to detail.
Yuzu’s journey through confusion to determination as she explores strange new feelings dives through jealousy, sexuality, sexual assault, and blooming relationships. Even through the dramatic tension, the show finds plenty of opportunities to be lighthearted, funny, and adorable. Citrus comes highly recommended to all interested in the yuri genre, and even romance plots in general.
Devilman Crybaby (Mike Worby)
The year’s silliest named anime, Devilman Crybaby, is not a spin-off of Devil May Cry, but the tone and content of the show do not put that assessment too far off the mark.
Netflix’s anime series focuses on Akira Fudo, a boy who manages to battle invading onslaughts of demons by taking their powers into himself. He is both aided and opposed by his friend/rival Ryo Asuka, whose motivations always appear sinister, even when he seems to be helping our hero. Smallville fans, think Clark and Lex, and you’re pretty close to the mark.
Though the ambition of the series, which features a trio of rappers, some of the most audacious animation ever, and one hell of a take on the end of the world, can be a bit much to take in over 10 episodes, there’s absolutely something to be said for a series that wastes so very little time getting to the point.
Goblin Slayer (Mike Worby)
Few anime premieres, or premieres of any kind really, created as much controversy as the brutal first episode of Goblin Slayer. With beast on human rape, the massacre of the seeming main characters, and a host of savage violence, it isn’t hard to see why the initial episode courted so much chatter. However, if you follow the first season through, you may find a lot to love in Goblin Slayer.
For one thing, the sexual assault element of the series is not just here for shock value. Goblin Slayer uses the threat and occasional follow-through of rape to make very serious points, while also motivating its female cast from time to time. Still, if this little write-up is firing the warning triggers in your head, or sounding a bit icky, I’d suggest skipping the series, as this element can be very disturbing.
Outside of the brutality, Goblin Slayer also succeeds by alternating between embracing fantasy tropes and turning them on their head. While it might seem a bit silly to think that the gods of this world are little more than folks playing Dungeons and Dragons, the balls of a show like this, to even attempt such an out there idea, are admirable as hell.
Hinamatsuri (Paul Palumbo)
The best thing about Hinamatsuri is how many plates it juggles at once. The main story focuses on Hina, a telepathic, dimension-hopping middle schooler with a bored worldview, dropping unexpectedly into the life of Nitta, an up-and-coming mafia member. Shenanigans abound as the two adopt the most spiteful father-daughter dynamic imaginable. It balances perfectly the genuine scenes of emotion with the snarky ones about how miserable the two make each other, all the while throwing in plenty of jokes and perfectly timed one-liners. The wacky, self-aware comedy style is perfected as the show takes itself just seriously enough to mean something, while freeing up every once in a while to throw in some jokes.
But when Hinamatsuri gets bored of one dynamic, it simply creates another to explore. It will completely ignore Hina for a while to focus on Anzu, another dimension-hopping telepathic tween who has been adopted by homeless men rather than wealthy mafia elite. When that comedy well has run dry, Anzu will be adopted by another family and the show will explore the comedy there. Hinamatsuri stays in one scenario just long enough to get bored with it. New characters, stakes, and scenarios are constantly forming to keep the show moving. Hinamatsuri doesn’t limit itself at all; if Hina’s constant monologue of apathy gets too prevalent, it will switch over to different characters experiencing a different arc that only sometimes interacts with the titular character. It’s a hilarious show with a delightful cast that’s definitely worth a watch.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind (Paul Palumbo)
The 5th part of the JoJo series really puts the emphasis on bizarre. It focuses on the young Giorno Giovanna, who fits into the Joestar family tree like a square peg jammed into a round hole, in his quest to rise to the top of the Passione criminal gang in order to seize control and stop it from doing the most immoral deeds. To do this he joins a whole crew of psychopaths and gets in a bunch of fights with other psychopaths, each wielding ghostly apparitions called “Stands” that come with strange powers.
While it might seem like par for the course, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind makes itself unique among JoJo arcs in a few ways. For one, the stand powers are much less straightforward this time around. Instead of powers like “can fix things” or “punches really good,” Giorno has the ability to create life. The man can turn a suitcase into a frog, or even his own tooth into a jellyfish, which widens the playing field for all sorts of nonsensical situations and crazy battle strategies. For another, he’s the first JoJo who is acting upon the story rather than having it thrust upon him. All previous JoJo’s are dealing with bad situations, but GioGio stands alone as a man trying to accomplish his ambition instead of simply stopping the bad guy. It still follows a lot of the tried and true Joestar formula, but shakes it up enough to keep it fresh for new and returning fans alike. While it’s too early to say how it will rank in the JoJo lineage, it’s off to a promising start.
Megalo Box (Kyle Rogacion)
A good remake or adaptation should bring something new to the table. Megalo Box does just that. A reinterpretation of the classic Ashita no Joe, Megalo Box follows the spunky junkyard boxer Joe. The premise of the show is unabashedly simple: Joe fights for the sake of fighting.
Megalo Box helps prop up a rather simple concept with its fun cast and equally fun aesthetic. Set in a not-so-distant cyberpunk-esque future, the world of Megalo Box is one that feels grimy and lived in. The scuffed machinery, dusty air, and believable tech come together to create a world that abides by its own rules.
The sport of choice in this worn future is Megalo Boxing. Unlike normal boxing, Megalo Boxing makes use of mechanized frames called “gears” that adorn the boxer’s arms. Joe makes a name for himself as “Gearless Joe”, forgoing the need for gear and fighting his way to the top with his own strength.
Much like Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop, Megalo Box adopts a contemporary soundtrack to emphasize a specific tone. In Megalo Box’s case, it uses hip-hop and funk to great effect. The hypnotic melodies and thumping beats drive a current of forward-moving energy that moves in tandem with Joe’s rise to the top.
Of course, the main draw behind Megalo Box is the fighting. While the animation is far from perfect, it does a good enough job to convey the emotion and struggle of the characters. The lack of fluidity is more than compensated by how invested you get in whether or not Joe comes out the winner.
The grit and grime of Megalo Box’s stylish underdog story make it more than worthy of a watch.
My Hero Academia Season 3 (Harry Morris)
It’s no secret I love My Hero Academia. My frequent coverage of the series has been consistently glowing, and for good reason. Never have I witnessed a series so consistent in its quality, so jam-packed with miraculous characters, and so gosh darn entertaining.
Its third season is no exception, delivering a hefty helping of superb superhero shenanigans. From fending off the League of Villains’ brutal attack to a tense Provisional Hero License Exam, to All Might’s fabled face off with arch nemesis All For One, Izuku’s adventures bound from strength to strength throughout My Hero Academia’s third season. Anticipation is aptly built for 2019’s follow-up, which will no doubt continue raising the bar.
If you haven’t seen My Hero Academia yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice (unless you despise fun and ‘objectively awesome things’).
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san (George Cheese)
Sometimes, anime doesn’t need to be about mind-melting action or dramatic, over-acted plot twists. This is something that I, to be frank, have only recently learned in the last half a decade. It makes sense, though; in hindsight, I was naive to simply consider anime a source of adventure-fight-laser shonen stories. Anime can be many things, from a dynamic medium filled with dramatic, nuanced tales, to light-hearted comedic affairs ruminating on the woes of every-day life. Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san falls into this latter category.
Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san follows the titular bookseller, Honda, and is based on the author’s own experience working as a retail assistant in a popular bookshop in Tokyo. Each episode is a tight ten minutes, often featuring two short vignettes of day-to-day work in the shop. Empowered with socially awkward interactions and strong voice-acting from the tight-knit cast (all drawn with horror-themed faces, perhaps due to author Honda wanting to ensure their anonymity), Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san masterfully blends cringe-inducing humor, situational goofiness, and a wholesome innocence to create a short-form anime well-suited to your own daily commute to work.
Yuru Camp (Kyle Rogacion)
The therapy of anime should not be discounted. Here at Goomba Stomp, we’ve repeatedly sung Yuru Camp’s praises, and with good reason.
Where other shows would be content to stop at “cute girls doing cute things”, Yuru Camp makes the effort to respect its subject matter. A great amount of care and attention goes not only into the act of camping but why people camp.
With its wonderfully endearing cast of characters, Yuru Camp covers a surprisingly broad spectrum of topics. The two main characters, Rin and Nadeshiko, bond over their two very different approaches to camping. Rin prefers the quiet solitude of solo camping, while Nadeshiko joyfully rushes into it with wanton abandon.
Over the course of the series, Rin slowly opens up to Nadeshiko and other newfound friends, realizing that camping can be just as gratifying with others. The main cast dynamic cultivates a wholesome sense of humor that keeps you grinning the entire time.
In spite of not having a “plot”, Yuru Camp’s strength lies in its carefully crafted sense of tone and mood. It’s easily one of the comfiest shows I’ve ever watched. The camping takes place during a brisk autumnal season, where the air has taken on a chill just shy of winter. A soft breeze rustles falling leaves in the Japanese countryside against a backdrop of gentle folk music. Yuru Camp takes life slowly and enjoys every moment, encouraging you to do the same.
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.
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.
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.
‘Promare’ Feels Like the Younger Brother of ‘Gurren Lagann’
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.
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.
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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