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Anime Ichiban: George’s Top 10 Moments in ‘Dragon Ball’ (Part 1)

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In Anime Ichiban, we take a look at our writer’s totally personal, totally subjective, possibly biased, and possibly stupid opinions regarding anime associated affairs.

With Dragon Ball FighterZ’s successful launch and awesome gameplay, I figured it was about the right time to take a look at some of the franchise’s most iconic scenes and sequences.

Dragon Ball is one of the most iconic manga series of all time, and its anime adaptation is one of the shows widely credited with popularising the form outside of Japan. It is a series that, frankly, is an ongoing inspiration to me, both as an aspiring author of fantasy and as a human being. The series is a colourful and funny adventure filled with strong-yet-simple characterisation and intense battles. That, of course, isn’t to say that it’s without its narrative flaws–power level overshadowing skills and techniques, non-Saiyan members of the cast falling to the wayside through and after the Android and Majin arcs, bloody time travel. I don’t hold much love for either of its sequel series, either, although Super is definitely preferable to GT. That said, the strengths of the original series outshine any flaws with the franchise.

I’m not saying Dragon Ball is Shakespearean. I’m saying that Dragon Ball is Shakespearean. Wait–

Without further ado, I rank my top 10 moments in the classic Dragon Ball manga!
(Note: this list became quite long in the writing, and I didn’t want to heavily abridge it, so it shall be split into two halves. Expect part two in a week or so..!)

10) The First Wish!! A Lewd Pig Saves The Day?!

Dragon Ball wouldn’t be Dragon Ball without the Dragon Balls. I understand that might seem like an entirely redundant sentence, but if you only ever watched Dragon Ball Z then you might not remember how central they were to the first few sagas of the series, where the adventure was driven by Bulma’s quest to gather the seven mystical relics… so that she could wish for the perfect boyfriend.

That’s a tone setter if I ever saw one. People who only watched Z would have missed the wacky tone of the original arcs, which served as a parody of a Chinese novel, Journey to the West. Sure, the later half of the series wasn’t ever serious, but from the King Piccolo saga onwards the drama and stakes were kicked up, especially after we saw the demon lord level a city with one ki blast. Before that point, the series was consistently light-hearted.

The closest thing to tense drama before that point was, in my opinion, when Emperor Pilaf had gathered the seven Dragon Balls and summoned the eternal dragon, Shenron. Pilaf hesitates in stating his wish to rule the Earth, and the real hero of the saga bursts forth–Oolong, the shapeshifting pig. To prevent Pilaf from gaining his wish, Oolong shouts the first wish that comes to his head…

Panties. The first wish in the series was for panties.

Shenron’s eyes glow red. Everyone is frozen, speechless. Women’s underwear falls from the blackened sky and lands in the perverted pig-man’s face.

Iconic.

9) Gohan’s Anger First Swells!! Uncle Raditz’s Painful Surprise!!

At the start of the Dragon Ball Z section of the series, we’re reintroduced to all of our favourite characters. Five years have passed since the fateful Tenkaichi Budokai where Son Goku managed to best Piccolo Junior, the reincarnation of the Demon King Piccolo. Significantly, within the first few chapters, we’re introduced to two new members of Goku’s family.

Son Gohan, named after Goku’s adoptive paternal figure, is a young hybrid saiyan-human. Despite being the son of the world’s strongest martial artist, Gohan has a miniscule fighting power, and cowers in fear when his uncle, Raditz, shows up. After revealing Goku’s alien origin and lamenting his brother’s lack of mercenary violence, Raditz kidnaps Gohan and, after demonstrating his raw strength, demands that Goku kill one hundred people to show.

Obviously, Goku’s having none of that nonsense. He forms an unsteady alliance with Piccolo Jr, and the two race to challenge the saiyan warrior immediately. Despite the vast difference in raw strength between Raditz and the two Earthly aliens, Goku and Piccolo manage to surprise him with their mastery of techniques and ability to gather their ki. However, Raditz still controls the whole fight, dodging a strong Special Beam Cannon from Piccolo that was our heroes’ last hope.

Or so it seemed.

As Raditz torments Goku, effortlessly crushing his ribs with his boot, a power level radiates from Raditz’s spaceship, causing it to explode. Gohan shoots out of the pod and lands opposite his uncle, his face dark with fury. “Leave my daddy alone!” he shouts, surrounded by thin red aura, before bursting towards Raditz head-first and striking him directly in the chest with his head, knocking him back and distracting him long enough for Goku to place him in the Full Nelson hold that ultimately leads to the end of the fight.

For me, this moment (and sequence) is incredibly Dragon Ball. Gohan’s true potential is a theme throughout the whole of his character arc, and this is the first glimpse of that potential (which was sadly underutilised or even deliberately subverted at times, especially in the Majin Sagas and beyond). We also have Raditz underestimating his opponents, which is a Dragon Ball staple: the vicious foe being surprised by the power or ability of the Z-Fighters, even if they maintain the upper hand.

8) Another Level?!? Goku’s Hair Is Intense And Silly!!!!!

Part of me wishes that Dragon Ball had ended after the Android arcs. Don’t get me wrong; I like the Majin Sagas, and I don’t hate GT or Super (the fact I don’t LIKE Super that much might be controversial, but I’m sure that you’ll get over it). Almost everything that Toriyama did in the Buu Saga feels like a deliberate attempt at self-parody, or a middle finger to his then-editors–both of which might well be true.

The main joke Toriyama tells in the Majin Sagas is to do with power ups. The first one we get in the arc is fairly significant; Vegeta gives in to his prideful nature and willingly takes the Majin Seal power up from the evil sorcerer Babidi, so that he can finally have another good fight with Goku. Much later in the arc, however, power ups become running gags. We get the Fusion Dance, leading to Son Goten and Trunks fusing into Gotenks, a super powerful, immature fighter who… fails to defeat Buu. Shortly afterwards, Elder Kaioshin, one of the creation gods, unlocks Son Gohan’s ultimate potential and he… fails to defeat Buu. I was, and still am, annoyed at that writing choice. Akira Toriyama is on-the-record saying he likes to do things to annoy his fans, but this was a deliberate sabotage of Gohan’s long-running character arc.

There is one transformation in the Majin Sagas, however, that sits perfectly in between meaningful and ridiculous. That transformation is Son Goku’s Super Saiyan 3.

Goku faces off against the newly awakened Majin Buu. He does so to buy time for Trunks to grab the Dragon Radar, a device used to track Dragon Balls. Rather than just fighting the pink gummy djinn outright, he further stalls for time by rattling through his Super Saiyan transformations, talking about each formbefore revealing his ability to go even further beyond [a Super Saiyan 2].

He powers up for what felt like entire episodes, which is itself a great stalling tactic. Once his transformation is complete, what we get is a complete, ludicrous badass. The Super Saiyan 3 form is one of my favourite designs in the series, in part due to how silly it is… and yet it’s still cool. Goku’s golden hair now reaches down past his waist, and his facial features have now gained a similar shape to the original Great Ape transformation.

And then Super Saiyan 3 Goku proceeds to beat the crap out of Majin Buu. Unfortunately, even a Super Saiyan 3 cannot cause any permanent damage to the obese bubblegum monster.

Regardless, though, this sequence gave us one of the most visually interesting transformations in the whole of Dragon Ball. Self-parody or otherwise, the transformation scene is very much a culmination of everything Dragon Ball had become renowned for.

7) A Future Swordsman?! Frieza’s Toast!!

There is no better way to establish a character than by having them face-off against an already existing character (or transformation) and completely wipe the floor with them. Toriyama uses this trick plenty throughout all of Dragon Ball, but never as effectively as when he introduces the character of Trunks, a purple-headed warrior from a devastated future.

We are introduced to Trunks immediately after a bombshell revelation; Frieza, space warlord and businessman, is alive and well after his defeat on Namek, and he’s on Earth seeking revenge on Goku and the Z-Fighters along with his father, King Cold. Goku, however, is nowhere in sight–he’s been training on distant planets for over a year, as is his way.

The Z-Fighters are panicking. Frieza seems as strong as ever, possibly even stronger thanks to his new cyborg modifications, and his father holds a comparable strength. No-one on Earth can stand up to him, not even Vegeta; their only hope is that they can hold him off long enough to allow Goku to reach Earth.

And then Trunks arrives, clad in a blue leather jacket bearing the Capsule Corp logo, a broadsword hanging from his back. He faces off against the alien tyrants, showing no fear. Frieza thinks that he’s a fool. Only a Super Saiyan has a chance at defeating hi-

Trunks ascends into the legendary golden form. Oh.

Frieza makes multiple attempts to kill the teenage warrior, and fails miserably. The future warrior then proceeds to cut the warlord in half… and then many, many smaller pieces, before blasting away the pieces with a wave of energy. Frieza is definitely dead now, and his father soon follows him to Hell.

This is an amazing way to establish a character, and the saga to come. Frieza was the focus of such a long arc, and the fact that he survived his fight with Goku felt like a betrayal. To have him beaten with ease by this new warrior, who needs Goku’s help to fight even stronger enemies, is a fantastic bar setter.

6) A Monster Redeemed, A Monster Destroyed?!

Majin Vegeta.

Damn, I love this version of the character. Vegeta, prideful prince of all saiyans, has been living on Earth for ten years. He doesn’t have much purpose, now that Cell has been defeated and the world is at peace. All Vegeta really wants to do is fight Son Goku… who is now seven years dead and training in the Otherworld. Despite his relationship with Bulma and training with his son, Trunks, he is incredibly frustrated. No-one on this world can offer him the challenge he wants; Son Gohan has wasted his potential to become a bookish high school student, and not even he could currently offer Vegeta a challenge.

Only, Son Goku is coming back to Earth for one day. He has been given permission to participate in the 25th Tenkaichi Budokai. Vegeta was supposed to face Goku in the 6th round, but their fight was postponed after another Z-fighter, Videl, was brutally beaten by lackies of a new wizard villain, Babidi. This frustrates the saiyan prince.

Skip forward a few hours and the Z-crew are running a gauntlet of warriors in an attempt to stop the revival of Majin Buu. Vegeta expresses frustration about Son Gohan’s fight with Dabura, a demon king, saying that he could handle the demon easily. Babidi, overhearing this anger, uses his magic to mentally enslave the saiyan prince.

Vegeta allows Babidi to do this. He wants to fight Goku without restraint and prove himself as the strongest living saiyan, and he needs the Majin power-up to strip away his weaknesses (or so he believes).

And, in a way, he does. The rejuvenated prince kicks the crap out of Goku… but the energy generated by their fight revives Majin Buu.

Confident in his ability to beat the monster, Vegeta proceeds to fight with the jolly Majin. However, despite landing punishing heavy attacks, he can’t seem to deal any lasting damage to the regenerative monster. It’s only here that Vegeta realises what a dire threat Buu is.

In a brief pause in the fighting, Vegeta says goodbye to his young son, Trunks, before softly knocking him out so he doesn’t get hurt. Vegeta than faces off against Buu. He begins to convert his own life force into raw, powerful energy. Golden light begins to drift from his skin like embers.

He says farewell to his family, and to Goku. He releases a scream.

All of his energy explodes into a miles-wide detonation, and Prince Vegeta turns to ashes.

This is Vegeta’s first selfless act in the entire series, and comes after a subtle realization of the worth of his friends and family. From this point onwards, Vegeta is one of the good guys, even if he still has a bit of redemption left to do.

And that’s all for my first half of the top 10 moments in Dragon Ball! See you soon for part two!

George slumbers darkly in the wastelands of rural Wiltshire, England. He can often be found writing, gaming or catching up on classic television. He aims to be an author by profession, although if that doesn't pan out you might be able to find him on Mars. You can argue with him on Twitter: @georgecheesee

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Anime

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

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

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Bakemonogatari

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

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

Bakemonogatari Hanekawa

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

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

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

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

Bakemonogatari head tilt

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

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

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

Bakemonogatari

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

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

Bakemonogatari black scene

Watch Bakemonogatari on Crunchyroll

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Anime

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

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

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

Did you think I was kidding?

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

Welcome to Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then came Akihabara.

Akihabara, Anime, and All That Comes With It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave Me in Kyoto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moral of the story: at least try.

Hiroshima and Back Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My buddy Michael tries to make friends with a local.

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

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

Just uh… don’t go during the summer.

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Anime

Anime Ichiban 17: Be Happy, Watch Anime

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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!


TIMESTAMPS

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

TRACKS

Intro – “Good Morning World” by BURNOUT SYNDROMES (Dr. Stone opening theme)
Outro – “veil” by Keina Suda (Fire Force ending theme)

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Anime

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.

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(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?

hunter x hunter

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.

hunter x hunter

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.

You can watch Hunter x Hunter on Crunchyroll and Netflix.

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Anime

Is Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: “Hinokami” The Pinnacle of its Genre?

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(Spoilers ahead for Episode 19 of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba.)

With anime aplenty available to be pumped into our eye holes, it’s tough to sift through the masses and unearth a gem. Well I’ll make it easier: watch Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba! Once in a blue moon something special raises the bar, and Episode 19 “Hinokami” does just that. For those new to the show, however, all aboard the context train.

Kimesu no Yaiba

Tanjiro Kamado resides in a cold but cosy mountain home with his family. One day he nips off to a nearby town, only to discover on return his family’s been massacred by a demon. Tanjiro’s world is turned upside down (not in a literal sense, that tsuzumi dude doesn’t appear for another ten episodes), and adding insult to injury, his sister Nezuko’s been turned into a demon. Whilst retaining her human form, she now craves flesh and evaporates in sunlight. Safe to say, T-dog’s having one of those days. Fortunately, Nezuko’s a one in a million demon that sees the benefits of abstinence from bloodthirsty murder. With her love for Tanjiro intact, they set off to cure Nezuko’s ‘demon-itis’.

One training arc later, and Tanjiro’s nifty at felling demons with a sword. And jumping to Episode 19 “Hinokami”, he’s battling his toughest opponent yet: Rui of the Twelve Moons. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba has crescendoed towards an inevitable encounter with said upper echelon of demons, from ex-Twelve Moon Kyogai, to Twelve Moon red herring Father, to real actual Twelve Moon Rui. He’s the big boss you don’t see coming, and the threat he poses is evident when he shatters Tanjiro’s sword to smitheries with his slice-y dice-y hecka hard webs. He’s a sadistic bastard, forming ‘family bonds’ on fear by torturing his next of kin. Can Tanjiro best someone so strong?

Kimetsu no Yaiba

Given Rui’s fixation on family bonds, seeing Nezuko hurl herself into harm’s way to protect Tanjiro from a slew of razor sharp webs captivates him. Witnessing Tanjiro and Nezuko’s legitimate family bond, Rui requests for her to be his sister instead, but spells out his intention to indoctrinate her into said kinship through torturous terror, highlighting his reluctance to renounce his forgery of fake bonds. The dynamic shifts, and Tanjiro has another reason to fight: for Nezuko!

Kimetsu no Yaiba Nezuko

The theme of family bonds is a cornerstone of Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, but never has it felt more meaningful than here. From Tanjiro and Nezuko recollecting their childhood and parents’ wisdom, to them collaborating to best Rui; the spectacle sees music, narrative, and animation meld in impeccable harmony. It elicits tears for those invested, and that’s a lofty feat for what’s fundamentally an action sequence. It’s poetry in motion, and sheer art of the highest order, bolstered by eye popping visuals courtesy of Ufotable (turns out when they’re not potentially evading tax they’re driving animation quality through the roof).

If you’ve yet to see Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, do yourself a favour and watch from the start, as isolating this scene in a 360p YouTube video will nullify the narrative context (the weight of which contributes tremendously to the emotional impact). And if you have seen it, I only hope your neck isn’t sore from nodding in agreement whilst reading.

Kimetsu no Yaiba

To say it’s exciting to ponder where Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is heading is an understatement and a half. It’s one of the strongest series airing in 2019, and you’d be doing yourself a disservice, anime fan or not, to ignore it.

Watch Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba on Crunchyroll here.

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