Friday, June 28, 2013

Summer Wars

Summer Wars is a film by Hosoda Mamoru that premiered in the Summer of 2009. It follows Koiso Kenji as he takes a job pretending to be the fiancee of Shinohara Natsuki as the two go to Natsuki's family reunion. Kenji runs into some trouble after the ruse is found out, and he is framed as a cyber-criminal. The film borrows heavily from one of Hosoda's earlier directorial works, the second Digimon movie (Our War Game). Though some have criticised this, most appriciate the movie for what it is, a technological thriller with a cultural twist.
A good amount of the movie's goings-on occurs in Oz, a global Social Network.
Koiso Kenji is a math nerd with a part-time programming job for the biggest social network on the planet, Oz. He and his friend Sakuma Takashi both work as minor moderators for Oz, which 4 billion people across the globe use to socialize, play games, do business, finance, and many other applications. The two are approached by Natsuki with a job offer, though only Kenji gets to take it. The two ride two trains and a bus out to the countryside, gathering people along the way; it is only once the pair are to the Jinnouchi Family estate that she reveals that he is to play her fiancee to keep up appearances with Great-Granny Sakae, whose birthday is in a few days.
Oz Avatars come in all shapes and sizes. All these people are related, by the way.
As the movie progresses, Oz is hacked into by an unknown force, revealed to be an AI known as Love Machine. This causes problems for Kenji, who is framed for the crime, and subsequently arrested by Natsuki's second cousin, Shota. With Takashi's help, however, it is revealed that Kenji is indeed innocent, and he (with the help of the Jinnouchi clan and Takashi) works to take down Love Machine and fix the problems in Oz before the AI drops a bomb on them.
Summer Wars is set in the Ueda area of Japan, about an hour and a half outside of Tokyo. Hosoda grew up near Ueda, and his fiancee at the time was from the area. Ueda was also controlled at one point by the illustrious Sanada Clan, on which the Jinnouchis are based. Studio Madhouse and Hosoda capture the look and feel of the Japanese countryside beautifully, in addition to the grandoise traditional archetecture in the Jinnouchi estate. The movie has a strong Japanese element to it; unlike other anime movies, it is emphasized that they are in Japan, with the cultural references, uniquely Japanese clothing and objects, and historical accounts of the Jinnouchi Clan's exploits dating back to the Muromachi Era. This can be an interesting introduction into Japan's culture, as it deals with it without falling on the tired WWII or Samurai Film tropes. While the film is fiction, the historical battles are loosely based on history, and the estate is based on an actual location, Ueda Castle. The film should not be taken as an accurate education on the culture of Japan, but it's good to start people off.
Madhouse really outdid themselves with the movie's scenery.
The characters of Summer Wars, especially the Jinnouchi Clan, are all interesting and lively. Each one is as unique as a snowflake and as ballsy as a biker. Great-Granny Sakae in particular is quite the badass, being as skilled with her words as she is with her Naginata. She leads the family with an iron fist and a silver tongue, all while living under the guise of this sweet old lady. The rest of the family follows suit to some degree, especially the fisherman Uncle Mansuke and his grandson Kazuma. The women of the family, following in Sakae's footsteps, sometimes outshine the men, despite taking somewhat of a backseat role in the events of the movie. Perhaps it is due to him being out of his element, but Kenji shares a certain meekness with Ikari Shinji, the lead character of Neon Genesis Evangelion (the two also share some other traits, such as a similar voice, lack of parental influence and hair colour). Thankfully for the viewers, the story, the Jinnouchi Clan, Oz, and the world, however, Kenji manages to man up when the time counts.
I think we all wish we could have a grandmother as badass as this.
All in all, Summer Wars was spectacular the first time I watched it, and hasn't lost potency with subsequent viewings. Every dramatic moment makes me shout with excitement, and I still tear up at the sad times. For those looking for some family bonding, Jinnouchi Style, then give this one a try. For those critical of the rehashing of the plot of Our War Game, bear in mind that it's been said that in making Summer Wars, Hosoda took all the ideas he couldn't use on Our War Game, and put them into Summer Wars. With that in mind, it's more of a 2.0 version than anything, and I commend Hosoda for doing it, since one of the worst feelings out there is having unused ideas. With a product like Summer Wars, too, there's not much anyone can argue about.
Honestly, I don't think anyone WILL argue with this.
Summer Wars is available from various torrent sites, including NyaaTorrents and TPB. It is also distributed from AfroDistro, and by Funimation on DVD and Blu-Ray in North America. It has audio in both English and Japanese.
Leave it to Madhouse to make an antique card game look badass.
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Friday, June 21, 2013

Aoi Hana

Aoi Hana, known in english as Sweet Blue Flowers, is an 11-episode Yuri series that aired in the summer of 2009. It follows Manjoume Fumi as she returns to her hometown after having been gone for 10 years. As she starts her first day of high school, she inadvertenly meets her old friend Okudaira Akira, who is starting her first day at a different high school. Though the two don't recognize each other initally, when they realize who the other is, their friendship picks up right where it left off when they were children. As the series progresses, so too do their intrapersonal relationships, with heartbreak, friendship, and betrayl all being served on the cake menu.

Expect to see A LOT of crying in this series.

Aoi Hana is a slow moving, character-driven series with a distinctive sleepy feel. With the general soft tones of the show, it has a fragile tone, which matches the emotions of the characters. Many of the characters experience unrequieted love, and wanting for things you can't (or shouldn't) have is a common theme. Despite that, this series is one of the richest i've seen in the Yuri genre, which is catagorized mostly by fetish types instead of real Lesbian themes. That's part of what makes the series stand out, that it feels more real, like there are people that may have actually gone through this. Considering the shortage of Yuri titles in general, i was ready to take whatever i can get, but this one really rose to the challenge beautifully.

Sweet describes this series nicely.

The style is semi-distinctive due to the whole pallet looking like it was done in watercolour. The lines are thin, the colours light, the movements fleeting. The soundtrack is similar in nature, being filled with soft, emotional pieces. The image it creates is one of a girl-centric world, whereby the men are mostly a plot twist. while this makes it sound like it ignores males, it's more that they just don't play too key a role within the relationships of the main characters. Sure, some of them might have hangups on life due to a man, but all the same, the focus is still primarily on the girls.

I can tell, Akira. If I were you, I'd avoid the Kira Fansubs edition if possible, since it's riddled with spelling and grammar errors.

Considering the vast shortage of Yuri titles out there, this one isn't one you'll run across without much prompting, but all the same, it's well worth seeking it out. Part of the reason it's special is BECAUSE it's rare. Low DVD sales sadly robbed this series of a second season, which is a crying shame in my book. Yuri isn't as popular a genre as the other ones out there (Yuri is especially eclipsed by its much more common brother, Yaoi), which is also a shame since it has so much more to offer than it currently does. Even without the Yuri title, this show makes for an excellent Shojo or Josei series as well, which means that if people were willing to look past the Lesbian angle, it may have done better in sales, and thus as a whole.

Oh Snap.

Aoi Hana is available from Kira Fansubs, Shin-GX Subs, Fairy Tale Fansub (Italian), and Yamayurikai Fansubs (German). There's also an edition floating around from It is also licensed in North America by The Right Stuf as Sweet Blue Flowers under their Lucky Penny label. The manga is available in France as Fleurs Bleues and in the US digitally by JManga.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Utakoi (also known as Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Utakoi) is a 13-episode anime from the summer of 2012 based off a Josei manga of the same title. the story is a VERY loose adaptation of the Hyakunin Isshu, a series of 100 poems compiled in the late Heian era by Fujiwara no Teika for Utsunomiya Yoritsuna, the father of his daughter in law. the collection of poetry includes such famous individuals as Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu (in addition to many emperors, empresses, monks, and high-ranking court folk), and the majority of the poetry deals with love as a subject. as such, the title of the series translates to "Love Poem" (or "Love Song").

For the time period, something like this would be like touching each others' junk on a first date today, very racy.

The series starts with Fujiwara no Teika introducing himself, the poetry collection, and the first couple of the episode. Teika acts as a narrator, occasionally with Yoritsuna. each episode takes the format of following a couple connected to one of the love poems. the episodes can follow 1 or 2 couples an episode, and there might even be one that follows 3. being based on history, and a time in history that placed great emphasis on pomp and circumstance, not many of the couplings end happily. despite this, the series is very sweet at times and inspires a good range of emotion within the viewer.

This line describes a lot of what this series is...

Initially, when i saw the image presented to me on the preview list of the shows premiering last summer, i imagined i would be getting a beautiful historical show with tales of romance and tragedy. what i got was a comedy. a fricken comedy. i almost died after i saw the first episode, everyone jumping into bed with each other. as the series progressed, however, it didn't live up to the tawdry inclinations hinted at in the first few episodes. there is a lot of drama to this series, with passionate romance taking the opposite side of the coin of painful heartbreak. 

Comedic Moments break things up pretty easily.

Someone at this year's Anime Boston said that the series he sees with thicker outlines tend to be better ones. while i'm not sure if that generalization can be applied here, Utakoi's art style is definitely distinctive, characterized by bold lines, bright colours, and intricate patterns that remain static as their owners move. it's an interesting effect that highlights the elegance of the period combined with the modern take on it all. i have yet to see this sort of arty twist on anime in any other series, and it really is just beautiful. the soundtrack is simple for the most part, but (usually) very fitting for the time period, with music from asian instruments such as the Shakuhachi complimenting the air.

Occasionally the series provides interesting historical fun facts. And I guess this means he just flashed him his Pantsu.

it took me a while to track down and then watch Utakoi, but i regret nothing. it was enjoyable, beautiful, and pulled at the heartstrings without being as life-destroying as Anohana was. the comedic moments were absurd at times, especially Teika's narration, which often involved him in some modern-day situation (like delivering newspapers on a Vespa scooter or hosting a Talk Show). if nothing else, this show also shows us how lucky we are that we live in a world where we don't have to marry within rank.

I mean, what am I looking at here?

Utakoi is available from HorribleSubs, Kamigami, WhyNot Subs, Deadfish Encodes, Jumonji-Giri, and EPC subs (French).

Is it a Girl? Is it a Boy? I'll let You Decide!


Bonus Image! The series used a lot of uniquely Japanese images and themes, such as these Plum Blossoms.