Why Are You Not Reading? (vol. 2)

It’s been almost one and a half years of university life. With all its ups and downs, the university lifestyle has sure been one hell of a doozy: Assignments, quizzes, exams, class participation marks, and the will to cheat in all four if your moral compass was forged by Anti-Plagiarism Man himself. Suffice to say, it’s been like a survival horror video game but with the zombies replaced by faster zombies that are capable of speech. Thanks to all the aforementioned commitments, though, I’ve been swamped and haven’t had the time to write except for outside of the obligatory course essays – as is evidenced by my last post.

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Help.

Anyways, with my current hectic situation, I also haven’t been able to watch much anime. I like to binge at least 8 or 10 episodes a night. That’s quite impossible to do unless if I’m keen on flushing thousands of dollars down the hostel toilet. Quite a number of students have done that what with Netflix circumventing the torrent-block on campus. And so, I mostly read manga in my lone spare time.

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Too many failures spoil the batch.

Fast-forwarding to about a week ago, I’d asked a friend for manga recommendations. He told me to check out Yugami-kun ni wa Tomodachi ga Inai (Yugami-kun Has No Friends). I was skeptical at first considering the tried and tested naming convention and MyAnimeList’s bipolarity when it comes to quality. Fortunately for me, my friend proved once again that he is indeed a man of culture. I haven’t had this much fun with a slice-of-life series since Bokura wa Minna Kawai-sou (The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior) but, unlike Kawai, I actually learnt to appreciate some things with Yugami. You’ll find out how ironic that is soon enough.

To get started, I’ll have to say that the title pretty much says it all. Yugami Yuuji is a high-school student quite set in his ways. His defining motto in life is, to paraphrase, that friends are for losers and one should be reliant on themselves. To his peers, this statement comes across as very negatively charged, and they deem him to be this aloof troublemaker who lives life with complete disregard for those not directly related to him. Actually, scratch that. Considering all the shade he throws his grandmother; I’d say Yugami is more or less a twisted, almost anti-hero, version of Sakamoto from Sakamoto Desu ga? (Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto). If you’re a big fan of comedy, your interest may have already been piqued with this claim.

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The last couple of nights reading this manga.

Nevertheless, despite the title, the manga isn’t only about the strange Yugami interacting with even stranger side-characters, a la Sakamoto. It’s actually about Yugami trying to avoid all unnecessary human interactions in order to maximize the time he can spend on himself and the activities that he enjoys – as contrasted adequately by the dynamic formed between him and the transfer student Watanuki Chihiro, whose goal is to make some friends because her family has been hopping cities much like the Discrete Mathematics professor has been hopping the responsibility of holding proper quiz contestations. In an effort to rack up good boy points for his daily quota, Yugami inadvertently helps Watanuki settle into high-school life using his cost-efficient and results-ensuring methods. As their dynamic starts to rub off on the both of them, you get a distinct sense of wonder trying to determine the end for this non-edgy, non-romantic Oregairu retelling.

Yugami tries to be a man of little words unless the topics include rakugo, turtles, and baseball. Conversely, Watanuki’s anxiety and, sometimes, comfy-nature driven monologues drive home the subtle discussion on what it means to be friends. Also, yes, you read that right. Yugami is the ace pitcher of the baseball club. As the only other competent player on the baseball team is the probable schizophrenic catcher, Kadota Haruki, Yugami is left to fend for his skills (and his unpopularity) with his defiant attitude being the primary catalyst for the lack of team cooperation in the first place.

That is not to say that Yugami is the only one going around handing out shits and fans, even though he’s the one encouraging most of the flinging. Many well-written side characters go off on their separate tangents of “Wow, I wonder if I was that stupid/complacent in high-school.” (Yes, I was.). You’ve got Kuzumi Wakana, the baseball club manager who serves as the polar opposite of the cute manager-I-want-to-strike-for in most volleyball anime. You’ve got Hayashiyama Masaki, the rival school ace tent-pitcher, who considers Yugami to be his number one enemy, yet Yugami doesn’t even think about him. You’ve got Kaori Momose, who changes colors faster than she can even realize that she is changing colors in the first place. Then there’s also Yugami’s happy-go-lucky cousin who is partly responsible for Yugami adopting the ‘look of disdain’ straight from the album of ‘Anime Girls Looking At You In Disgust.’ These are the sort of characters that really shouldn’t be meshing well in a semi-serious story. Still, they bounce greatly off each other thanks to Jun Sakura’s wonderful use of comedic timing and a very interesting self-cherishing viewpoint of life.

Speaking of cherishing things, that’s the main thing that Yugami has really got together during the run of the series. It is, quite honestly, a quality lacking in many folks, especially when they go about trying to make friends. To truly cherish bonds you have with another, you must first learn to acknowledge and respect the finer things in life and accept that you should be the one most important to you. This wake-up call for a healthy outlook is much in today’s media consumed by wanton hedonism, rampant nihilism, and ever-springing imaginary ism-isms. Enjoy your talents. Enjoy your hard work. Enjoy your hobbies. Enjoy your food. And lastly, enjoy yourself. These points are gradually brought home like a lost puppy during the beat of a midsummer rain. The atmosphere is that of safety and new hope, but with slight tensions still hanging here and there as the assortment of characters learn new things from each other about themselves and truly develop as something more than placeholders for stoic humor.

If you’re feeling down in the dumps or are looking for a comfortable read with a lot of laughs, then I wholeheartedly recommend giving Yugami and his not-friends a chance. You’ll probably end up cherishing it much more than Yugami’s love for rakugo. And, of course, himself.

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And so it says.

Cool Pakistan: The Origins of Anime and Manga, How They Took Root in Pakistan, and A Brief Look at The Impact They Have Had on Pakistani Media and Culture

Globalisation has been a topic of much debate in the last two decades. The exponential increase in the rate of exchange of information has led to not only the breaking down of economic barriers, but the large-scale acceptance of relatively unique cultures as well (“When did globalisation start?”). At the forefront of this cultural and economic interchange, ironically, has been the xenophobic country of Japan located at the far-Eastern edge of the world (Alix “The Influences of Japanese”). Despite its xenophobic nature, which has been recently deemed to be an inevitable shift towards nationalism (Karube “The Illusion of”), two interrelated Japanese mediums have caught the world by storm. These mediums are “anime”, the short-form for animation in Japanese, and “manga”, a blanket term for comics or any scene drawn in a panel accompanied by speech bubbles or sound effects (“What are manga and anime?”). Anime and manga have had humble beginnings in their native country and even more so in the Western world. Unfortunately, though, both the rise of consumption of the two mediums and the effects they have had on the South Asian, particularly Pakistani, consumer and intellectual environment have not been well documented. Therefore, the aim of this text is to carry out this broad task – while keeping the limitations of both the research and analysis of primary data in mind. Thus, it has been reasonably concluded that anime and manga had taken root in Pakistan due to the relatively more meaningful and mature themes, such as coming-to-age, involved which both children and adults seemed to be more interested in. This interest then later served as a gateway into the depths of Internet culture that surrounded the two mediums and, as such, prompted them to remain a part of the largely contradictory Pakistani context. But before this essay can discuss the relationship between the two artistic mediums and Pakistan, a brief overview of the native origins and the Western adoption must be touched upon first. This overview will prove useful later as a foundation when considering the cultural impact on Pakistan. As such, this essay will be divided into two sections: The first section will deal with the international discussion while the second will look at the local sphere.

 
THE INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT

Of the two mediums, manga came first. Manga were mainly a Japanese folk product for local consumption (“What are manga and anime?”). Around the end of the First World War, the cross-cultural exchange of gunfire and ideas had brought a vast interest in the art of animation in Japan. This led to the production of the very first Japanese animation in February of 1917 called Dekobo Shingacho – Meian no Shippai (Dekobo’s New Picture Book – Failure of a Great Plan). Twenty other such animated shorts, by classic mangaka (artists) such as Oten Shimokawa and Junichi Kouchi, had also been released in the same year (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). One would realize that while the art styles and animation practices were different at the time, the content was still very much the same as today’s seasonal offerings. These and other animated films that followed for the next fifteen years were art-house projects helmed by small-time film studios with extremely limited budgets (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). Major additions came to the anime production movement in the 1930s when Kenzo Masaoka created the first anime film with pre-recorded voices called Chikara to Onna no Yo no Naka (Within the World of Power and Women). Right after the release of this scandalous film came his second offering titled Chagama Ondo (The Dance of the Chagamas) which was the first anime made using cels, transparent sheets used for traditional animation – a technique still in use today (“Kenzō Masaoka”). Again, these were very important in a local sphere, akin to how Walt Disney was making ripples in a large pond with his smooth Mickey Mouse cartoons (Polsson), but not as much as globally. That is, until the debut of Osamu Tezuka.

To highlight Tezuka’s importance in bringing anime to the global stage, the role of the company that had first hired him needs to be appreciated. The Japan Animated Films was founded in 1948, right after the Second World War, and was then bought by Toei, a film studio, to become its animated division in 1956. Two years later, the very first Japanese animated full color feature-length film, titled Hakujaden (The Tale of the White Serpent), was created. Almost three years later, this became the very first film to be screened officially across the Pacific in the United States of America. Around this time, Osamu Tezuka proved himself as the “god of manga”. He became so influential that he managed to coerce Toei’s major animation figures to join him and found his new studio Mushi Productions. With the advent of television, his studio began producing Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy) which captured not only the hearts of the Japanese but many others all over the world as well. Mushi Production’s arduous endeavor was proclaimed to be doomed to fail by critics but Tezuka’s genius formed many techniques under the name of “limited animation”, reducing the number of frames per second and putting different parts of a character on different layers of cels so that only the part of the body moving needed to be animated in each scene, which drastically streamlined the animation process and made weekly shows both possible and profitable (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). Then came the controversial, in hindsight, Kimba the White Lion from Mushi Productions in 1965, commissioned by the American NBC. Kimba the White Lion was such a huge success that petitions and letters regarding plagiarism were being sent left and right around the globe after the release of Disney’s The Lion King in 1994 (Bradley “Was ‘The Lion King’ Copied”). This is it for the classical origins of anime. This counts for manga as well since many of the anime produced until the 1970s were based on their respective manga counterparts or created by renowned mangaka. The discussion will now move onto the golden age of anime and manga and how this cemented the two mediums as a major force of entertainment in the West and their increasing importance as art and literature.

To continue, the golden age is the time when anime and manga began to be more widely accepted in the West (Kelts “Defining the Heisei Era”). This was the period of the 1980s when the talented and the revolutionary were given the chance to elevate the status of the mediums to that of literature: Academia began taking an interest in the unintentional export of the Japanese context which, due to many reasons, clicked with both the native and the Western audiences. This is evidenced by the former Japanese literature professor at the University of Texas, Susan J. Napier, whose reaction to Katsuhiro Otomo’s coming-of-age body-transformation epic Akira was, and is still, shared by many others: “I walked out of the theater completely blown away. I knew that it was a cartoon like nothing that I had ever seen before – visceral, intense, heady, and grotesque. I almost had to hide under my seat during the last 20 minutes” (Napier). Then there were also American film critic Robert Ebert’s comments on Takahata Isao’s depressing Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Fireflies), “[A]n emotional experience so powerful that it forces a rethinking of animation,” and “[O]ne of the greatest war films ever made” (Kelts “Defining the Heisei Era”). With Japanese animators and comic artists refusing to be shaped by wartime and post-war propaganda productions, unlike the American purging in the 1950s of “extreme content” from comics and animated features due to moral revulsion (Hoffman “Taking anime”), the mediums saw a natural progression of thought in Japan which strengthened their hold on Japanese adults.

Although the adults of the West were enjoying their share of whimsical Disney animated movies and the weekly Saturday morning cartoons, at the same time, they were starving for something more mature. Something that would make them think, that would deeply connect with them, and that would make their consumption of animation to be taken more seriously. Even before the advent of the unforeseen boom in the West during the 80s and 90s, film aficionados and hobbyists were importing reels, tapes, and comics (Cooper “The History Of Anime”). The acceptance of anime and manga was not even because people wanted to be open to Japan’s realization of the rising global popularity of anime and manga, that is, the banner of  “Cool Japan” (Brienza), but because the acceptance allowed them to discuss important issues without being obscured by regional specifics which is the approach Western media had mostly adopted at the time (González 275). Making good use of her Ph.D. in anthropology gained from the University of Chicago, Anne Allison noted succinctly in her 2006 book Millennial Monsters: Japanese Toys and the Global Imagination that:

[F]or American youth, it is not so much Japan itself as a compelling culture, power, or place that is signified (despite the fact that this [is] precisely what the Japanese government tries to capitalize on in all the rhetoric and attention given to Japan’s new ‘soft power’ in the globalization of J-pop). Rather ‘Japan’ operates more as a signifier for a particular brand and blend of fantasy-ware: goods that inspire an imaginary space at once foreign and familiar and a subjectivity of continual flux and global mobility, forever moving into and out of new planes/powers/terrains/relations. (Allison & Cross 277)

This astute observation had been noticed earlier by Gloria Goodale, of The Christian Science Monitor, who stated that anime and manga have managed to accomplish what many other forms of cultural expressions have failed: To “become widespread enough to challenge America’s stranglehold on entertainment” (Goodale “Anime-ted Japan”). In the same year as Allison, Jean-Marie Bouissou, French Japanologist, was quoted to have said that growing appreciation for anime and manga was “new for Japan, and all the more surprising, as its culture was traditionally seen, even by the Japanese themselves, as being very specific” (Cooper-Chen 44). Following from this, one can safely assume that the situation should be, at the very least, slightly similar to the rise of the two mediums in Pakistan: A country whose identity was until recently held, and probably dictated, by Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters (Jawaid “The Dilemmas of Pakistani Cinema”).

 

THE LOCAL CONTEXT

As stated above, there have been aficionados and antiquarians in Pakistan who were well acquainted with anime and manga due to very much the same reasons as the Western audience. Financial stability, decent access to technology, international traveling and or connections, and a keen curiosity for the comparatively strange caused these certain Pakistani citizens to come across anime and manga. Unfortunately, though, these factors were not present for much of the Pakistani population. Coupling that fact with the stigma attached to animation as being only for children, one can easily guess why the first generation of anime and manga fans mainly kept to themselves in corners of the Internet until early 2004.

In April of 2004, Cartoon Network Pakistan, created by Turner Broadcasting, started airing animated programs in Pakistan. The channel mainly broadcasted classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as Looney Tunes and Tom & Jerry alongside other contemporary shows such as Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and Courage the Cowardly Dog during most of the day. A single programming block named Toonami was dedicated to airing anime series for two hours. The block’s schedule included Pokemon, Digimon, Beyblade, and the gateway-anime for most of the population (Appendix), Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball Z (“Cartoon Network (Pakistan)”). Toonami resulted in the second generation of anime and manga fans in Pakistan – most of whom are now aged between 18 to 25 years old (Appendix). As the years went by, Nickelodeon India, Hungama TV, Disney Channel India, and POGO started broadcasting Hindi dubbed anime such as Hagemaru (“Tsurupika Hagemaru”), Ninja Hattori (“Ninja Hattori-kun in South Asia”), and the ever-controversial Doraemon (“Doraemon in India”). Some cable providers would illegally allow the broadcasting of these Indian channels and this resulted in those Pakistani children who were weak at English to be entranced by the tad mature and sexual themes presented in these children’s anime. It is to be noted that very few children, and even adults, knew that the series were of Japanese origin until Internet usage became commonplace in the country. Moreover, with the rise of the Internet, a reasonably decent amount of these children grew up to explore Japan’s animation and comic offerings more. As is shown by Google’s search trends in the Appendix, an interest was also then developed for manga which was what most of the popular anime at the time based on. This then leads to the question: Just how important was the Internet in making Pakistanis more familiar with Japanese content? As can be seen by the five-year-old petition on Change.org to launch a Pakistani version of the Indian-only anime broadcasting channel called Animax (“Sign the Petition”), the answer is, “Very much so.”

Since the late 1990s, Pakistan has been dominated by the visuals of American and Indian narratives, so without access to the Internet it was, and somewhat still is, very hard to broaden your horizons. The devoted and net-savvy made good use of the Internet join forums and image boards where they could gain knowledge of and gain access to the content of many countries. Granted, almost 99 percent of this access to such content was illegal but, with a country rife with piracy, that was of little issue. It still is not much of a problem since most Pakistani fans still pirate anime and manga today. Though, since the last three years or so, there has been a noticeable increase in Pakistanis buying, and wanting to buy, anime and manga related merchandise. This is evidenced by a survey conducted in numerous Pakistani geek-media related groups on Facebook, via Google Forms as shown in Appendix, which showed that 18.8 percent of 146 participants (mostly aged between 14 and 26) have had subscribed to anime-streaming and manga-library service Crunchyroll. In a follow-up question, it was revealed that 37.7 percent of the same number of participants own anime and manga related merchandise. Although the percentages presented may seem small, they are actually quite large when one is presented with the fact that Pakistan’s average piracy levels from 1999 to 2002 were above 70 percent for music and movies (Proserpio et al. 41). To give contrast, USA and Japan’s music and movie average piracy levels were below 6 percent. Even today the piracy rate in Pakistan is still very high (Proserpio et al. 41). When people are trying to illegally view American Netflix content in Pakistan using Virtual Private Networks (Tajammul “‘Why use Netflix Pakistan?'”) then it is no wonder Sanjay Raina, general manager and senior vice-president of Fox, stated in an interview that piracy in Pakistan “will never go away” (Clowes “Piracy will never be defeated”). Disregarding the issue of piracy for now, it should be made clear that piracy helped not only Pakistanis but most of the world to get untampered anime and manga.

It is thanks to piracy that the world now has unfiltered access to Japanese content. When Western publishers and licensors first started commercially importing anime and manga, they tended to change the content to suit the local bubble. As a result, you would have cases such as discontinuity in the plot in series like Mushi Production’s Kimba the White Lion, which NBC tried to make more child-friendly (Cooper “The History Of Anime”), and the modern day example of injecting Western social and political issues into dialogue in Hajimete no Gal (My First Girlfriend is a Gal) (D. “Funimation Responds”). To counter this, “fansubbing” began taking place wherein netizens rendezvoused in chat channels and forums to create amateur translations which are, most of the time, more accurate than official subtitles offered by companies. The process of fansubbing and distribution has been streamlined with the passage of time and is now currently seen by corporations to be a major source of piracy while fans deem it to be the final bastion against misrepresentation of cultural and universal ideas for commercial greed (González 275). For Pakistanis, though, fansub and scanlation (amateur translating of manga) groups were the major source of anime and manga acquisition via BitTorrent networks and cloud storage services (Cooper-Chen 44).

The consumption of anime and manga increased as the years went by and, with it, its impact on Pakistani culture. The biggest influence it had on Pakistanis was creating self-awareness amongst children and teens towards physical intimacy and the thin line between that and sexual open-ness. The Japanese are very polite and have a high regard for personal space and yet, they become very physical when it comes to camaraderie and sexual situations (Evason “Japanese Culture – Core Concepts”). This is the exact opposite for Pakistanis who barely have any concept of personal space and to whom, despite the love for Hollywood and Bollywood soft-core smut, the open discussion of sexual intimacy is considered taboo. So much that a political party had to recently impose a ban on the widely popular children’s anime Doraemon (“PTI wants Japanese”). The non-sexual presentation of children’s bodies is considered normal in Japan as, well, children are children (Hu “Japanese ‘Naked’ Festivals”). Also, Japanese children’s anime and manga are not afraid to mention puberty, the changes associated with this biological process, and the psychological effects it can have in an easy to understand way so that children can relate (Napier). This is commonplace in coming-of-age stories. Nobita’s antics whenever his muse, Shizuka, appeared on screen were considered by the Pakistani political party to be harmful to children whereas the children themselves related hard with Nobita’s curiosity and puberty induced awkwardness (Khan “Doraemon vs Doraemon”). Whether the decision was right or wrong is a matter for another paper, though.

Additionally, there have been other, more direct influences as well. In recent years, there have been several conventions, or cons, held in Pakistan to appeal to the geek fanbase and to serve as an outlet for them to socialize (Kazim “Fans dress up”). These conventions have seen a decent attendance by both fans and curious onlookers who marveled at the attendees dressed up as characters from their favorite series (Qamar “Looking kawaii in Karachi”). This has all been thanks to a non-governmental organization promoting Japanese culture called Metal Seinen that began operating in 2006 (“Metal Seinen is bringing”). Their efforts have been fruitful as there have been at least three cons held in 2016 alone. Then there is the effect that anime and manga have had on content produced in Pakistan. Minako OóHagan, currently an Associate Professor at the School of Cultures Languages and Linguistics (CLL), reckoned the extent to which anime and manga served as inspirations for Western productions; Hollywood films such as The Matrix and Kill Bill, adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet “into a contemporary story set in Japan”, and the birth of “Amerimanga and Euromanga” which is basically the “adoption of [the] manga form” by Western artists (Oóhagan 242). Extrapolating her observations, one can see the same happening in Pakistan with the creation of Aaron Haroon Rashid’s television series Burka Avenger in 2014, which is Pakistan’s first directly anime-inspired animated superhero series (Zaidi “Burka Avenger'”), and Azcorp Entertainment’s heavily manga-influenced comic series Team Muhafiz in 2015, which is seeing relative success as a good tool to raise awareness on social issues amongst Pakistani teenagers (Anis “Team Muhafiz”). Perhaps the biggest cultural influence of anime and manga on Pakistani media, at the time of writing, is the christening of Sheesha-Ghar (The Glassworker) by Usman Riaz’s team Mano Animation Studios on the fundraising platform Kickstarter. Due to its crisp and fluid animation and its art style serving as a tribute to beloved pioneer Japanese animation company, Studio Ghibli, it garnered international attention in 2016 when its prologue was shown on the studio’s website after successful collection of funds (Salahuddin “From paper sketches”). Just as “Japan’s cartoon arts have made inroads overseas because of their odorless, un-Japanese look” (Cooper-Chen 48), Riaz said in interview that he wanted to apply the same to his own film as “people both in Pakistan and around the world will have their eyes and ears opened in some small way to the riches of [Pakistani] culture and language – just as [Riaz’s] eyes were opened and [his] curiosity sparked of faraway cultures as a child” (Hasan “I want to show”).

 

THE CONCLUSION

It can be argued that this essay tried to bite off more than it could chew given the word count limitation and that the introduction to anime and manga in the beginning may have been somewhat long-winded. Both are, to be honest, fair points. The detailed history of anime and manga in Japan could have gotten even more in-depth but was not done so as to properly address the situation of the lack of formal research into the subject in the Pakistani context and its related inquiries. This essay’s author hopes that, in the future, one would capitalize on the secondary research gone into penning this essay and also overcome the shortcomings brought forward by the constraints of the primary data to delve even further into the impact anime and manga may have had on Pakistani culture, society, and how our media is slowly transforming into a delicate yet progressive mixture of highly different cultural sentiments. Just as Japan had hoisted the banner of “Cool Japan”, it may soon be the time for “Cool Pakistan” if the advantages gained by anime and manga influences are capitalized on to form the fusion of our rising animation talent, popular musical avenues, and reviving interest in Urdu literature.

 

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Appendix

A survey was conducted via Facebook in many geek groups (such as ACCP).

 

Out of 149 participants:

85.9% was male while 12.1% was female. The age range of the participants was between 16 and 24. 97.3% of participants had watched anime on television (for example, Pokemon, Beyblade, etc on Cartoon Network) when they were children.

 

Out of these 146 participants:

The responses of 145 participants were analyzed to reveal that most find Dragon Ball Z, with Pokemon coming to a close second, the anime they remember the most from childhood. 97.3% of 146 participants revealed that they still watch anime. Of 143 participants, 27.3% downloaded, 20.3% streamed, and 52.4% did both when acquiring anime series and films from the Internet. 18.8% of 146 participants were, or are still, subscribed to online content services such as Crunchyroll. 37.7% of the same number of participants used to own, or still own, anime and manga related merchandise.

 

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Figure. 1: Using Google Trends to see the rise of anime related searches on Google between 2004 and early 2019.
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Figure. 2: Comparison between anime and manga searches on Google between early 2009 and early 2019. The sharp spikes for manga situated to the left of the graph are due to the marketing for and release of a Bollywood movie.

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Karube, Tadashi. “The Illusion of ‘Rising Nationalism’: Internationalism and Xenophobia in Today’s Japan.” Nippon.com, 6 Mar. 2019, http://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/a03201/the-illusion-of-rising-nationalism-internationalism-and-xenophobia-in-today’s-japan.html. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Kazim, Syeda Shehrbano. “Fans Dress up as Comic Book, Anime Characters for Third TwinCon.” DAWN.COM, 29 Feb. 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1242566. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Kelts, Roland. “Defining the Heisei Era: When Anime and Manga Went Global.” Deep Reads from The Japan Times, features.japantimes.co.jp/heisei-moments-part-6-imagination/. Accessed 8 May 2019.

“Kenzō Masaoka.” Rarebit Early Animation Wiki, rarebit.org/?people=kenzo-masaoka. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Khan, Zaigham. “Doraemon vs Doraemon.” TheNews, TheNews International, 8 Aug. 2016, http://www.thenews.com.pk/print/140852-Doraemon-vs-Doraemon. Accessed 8 May 2019.

“Metal Seinen Is Bringing Global Pop Culture to Pakistan.” The Express Tribune, 7 Oct. 2016, tribune.com.pk/story/1195143/metal-seinen-bringing-global-pop-culture-pakistan/. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Napier, Susan Jolliffe. Animé From Akira to Howls Moving Castle: Experiencing Contemporary Japanese Animation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

“Ninja Hattori-Kun in South Asia.” Ninja Hattori Wiki, ninjahattori.fandom.com/wiki/Ninja_Hattori-kun_in_South_Asia. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Oóhagan, Minako. “Manga, Anime And Video Games: Globalizing Japanese Cultural Production.” Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, vol. 14, no. 4, 2007, pp. 242–247., doi:10.1080/09076760708669041.

Polsson, Ken. Chronology of The Walt Disney Company. Chronology of the Walt Disney Company (1928), 19 Sept. 2013, web.archive.org/web/20131019094422/http://kpolsson.com/disnehis/disn1928.htm. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Proserpio, Luigi, et al. “Entertainment Pirates: Determinants of Piracy in the Software, Music and Movie Industries.” International Journal of Arts Management, vol. 8, no. 1, 2005, pp. 33–47. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41064861.

“PTI Wants Japanese Cartoon Series ‘Doraemon’ Banned.” DAWN.COM, 4 Apr. 2018, http://www.dawn.com/news/1275117/pti-wants-japanese-cartoon-series-doraemon-banned. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Qamar, Saadia. “A Whole New World: Looking Kawaii in Karachi.” The Express Tribune, 30 Nov. 2016, tribune.com.pk/story/1249676/whole-new-world-looking-kawaii-karachi/. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Salahuddin, Zahra. “From Paper Sketches to Hand-Drawn Animation: The Journey of The Glassworker.” Images, 31 May 2016, images.dawn.com/news/1175464. Accessed 8 May 2019.

“Sign the Petition.” Change.org, http://www.change.org/p/axn-pakistan-launch-an-anime-channel-animax-in-pakistan. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Tajammul, Khizr I. “’Why Use Netflix Pakistan When You Can VPN to the US?’.” DAWN.COM, 14 Jan. 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1232711. Accessed 8 May 2019.

“Tsurupika Hagemaru.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 20 Apr. 2019, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsurupika_Hagemaru. Accessed 8 May 2019.

“What Are Manga and Anime?” Japan-Guide, 5 May 2018, http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2070.html. Accessed 8 May 2019.

“When Did Globalisation Start?” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 23 Sept. 2013, http://www.economist.com/free-exchange/2013/09/23/when-did-globalisation-start. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Zaidi, Hassan Belal. “Burka Avenger: ‘Don’t Mess with the Lady in Black’.” DAWN.COM, 24 Oct. 2014, http://www.dawn.com/news/1140022. Accessed 8 May 2019.

Tin Foiling History: A Brief, Cautionary Comment on the Consequences Rendered by Tinkering with the History of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

Below is an essay I had recently penned for a college course. Thought I’d put it up here because, well, why not.

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“What do you mean the Holocaust is real, Mr. Jeremy? I thought that it was just an inside meme joke,” interjected Allen, a suburban British teenager in English Literature. His query had been brought up in a discussion on Anne Frank’s seemingly incredulous The Diary of a Young Girl. Jeremy Bradshaw, Allen’s middle-aged teacher, was quite vexed indeed. He began to ponder the situation’s horrific aftermath. Children today are increasingly becoming ignorant of major catastrophic events caused by humanity, or lack thereof, due to an inadequacy of a proper education system and a growing number of vocal deniers. If base ignorance was enough to deter people from believing that an event occurred, then what would be the case if history was actively tampered with? After due research and contemplation, it can be moderately that the general response towards tinkering with history has resulted in a deep sense of distrust towards not only other nations but home ground as well. Because of this root chariness, general demoralization of the loss of life, and active pushing of alternative narratives with the dearth and modification of information, it can be strongly opined that the state can take advantage of these factors to gain control of the freedoms of people and social values.

A relatively recent poll conducted by CNN revealed that about one European in twenty, in the countries surveyed, had never heard of the Holocaust (Greene “A Shadow Over Europe”). This daunting revelation has been mirrored by other surveys as well such as the one conducted by The New York Times, published in April of 2018, which claims that 41 percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was (Astor “Holocaust Is Fading”). To clarify, the Holocaust was not kept hidden. The Holocaust is a humongous war crime that should never be denied. The same can be said of the literally turbulent September 11 quadra-attack on the World Trade Center buildings, in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. The 9/11 terrorist extravaganza is something that Americans will never rid their books and minds of. If one were put on their cynical spectacles, they would even agree that, in hindsight, these events brought many political and socio-economic reforms and advantages to the people they concern, but that discussion is not for this paper (Caryl “10 Winners And 10 Losers Of 9/11.”). To continue, these events were orchestrated by fiends from home on non-home soil. That is to say that the nation under attack was to gain nothing from hiding the atrocities that had occurred. The country’s image had surely been tarnished but it is agreed upon that reconstruction is much more commendable, and worthwhile, than wallowing in shame and fear. A prime example of such would be Japan after it had faced the double blow to its infrastructure by the metallic father-son duo, Fat Man and Little Boy.

Now consider the other cases where terrifying tactics were used by a nation on its own citizens. Shame of the highest order is attributed to these. Nations have no benefits to reap from shooting themselves in the foot. These often transpire as a result of rising tensions due to poor governmental performance and drastic abuse of power. Rewriting the annals of history to maintain hold of power and a prim image is usually what is done as a result. Such an attempt is quite apparent with the ongoing Chinese effort to cover up the Tiananmen Square massacre that took place on the 4th of June 1989. A state-controlled Chinese newspaper has said that claims that 10,000 people died during the Tiananmen Square massacre are ‘impossible’ by reporting that only up to 300 protesters may have been killed (Tiananmen Death Toll Is ’Hype’). The contrasting claims are quite clear and even more apparent when one considers how far the Chinese government is willing to go in censoring the event from its own people: low-wage workers are made to scour the internet for any references to not only the massacre itself, but the period of occurrence as well (Yuan “Learning China’s Forbidden History”). Not only this but cases in which a country unleashes havoc in another country also has serious repercussions back home. The My Lai massacre, which took place on the 16th of March 1968, saw US troops unleashing heavy gunfire in a village near the South China Sea resulting in the deaths of 500 Vietnamese (Allison). There is also the almost equally disgusting ‘Rape of Nanking’ in which Japanese soldiers went door to door brutally raping and murdering an estimated 250,000 soldiers and civilians in the Chinese city of Nanking (or Nanjing) for six weeks in 1937-38 (Editors “Nanking Massacre.”). Americans, who are aware of the My Lai incident, vehemently condemn the US military’s censorship efforts. Not only the Chinese but the Koreans as well seethe with unsurmountable hatred when Japan is mentioned as Japan has never actually apologized or acknowledged the incident. Japanese textbooks detail the massacre but with undertones isolating the massacre from the country and its denizens (Barnard).

This leads to the discussion of war crimes (and crimes after the end of war), and the hate that they receive. Most everyone around the globe with an intact moral compass will agree that the Holocaust was large scale crime of war against the Jews. To the east, as mentioned before, there are the Koreans spewing hate about the Japanese, the Taiwanese hurling insults at the Chinese, the Filipinos considering almost every other Eastern Asian country as a potential enslaver, et cetera. One could safely say that the entire region is locked in a conference room left to deal about a round-table on who should apologize to whom first over whichever atrocity. Using a local example to emphasize, a recall to the maddening violence perpetuated by the Indo-Pak partition of 1947 should be brought forth. An estimated 14 million people from all walks of life are thought to have fled from the then newly formed Pakistan to India, and vice versa. Of these, a highly debated 2 hundred thousand to 2 million are expected to have been the victims of chaotic looting, brutal rape, and frenzied murder (Doshi and Mehdi “70 years later”). Until recently, neither side was willing to accept that the violence had occurred – let alone actually take responsibility for it. Even now, South Asian citizens belonging to all sects and regions are still unwilling to gaze into the abyss that is the archive of Indo-Pak mass-migration violence.

With this, one can easily deduce why the Geneva Conventions exist. They are a series of treaties on the treatment of civilians, prisoners of war, and soldiers who are incapable of participating in combat. The first Convention produced a treaty designed to protect injured and unhealthy soldiers during wartime. The Swiss Government agreed to hold the Conventions in Geneva. After the end of the second World Ward, in 1949, two new Conventions were added, and all four were ratified by several countries. These along with two additional Protocols (1977) are in force today (LII Staff “Geneva Conventions.”). But despite 196 countries agreeing to adhere to the Geneva Conventions, current battle zones Afghanistan, Syria, and Palestine (or, more correctly, Israel) see almost daily disrespect of the Conventions (Lancet 1510). Now with the advancement of technology, war is becoming increasingly impersonal and condensed. Morals have taken a backseat and results are at the front. The usage of drone strikes is an obvious example: The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism has estimated that between 598 and 1,252 civilians have been killed by drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia since 2004 (Drone Strikes in Pakistan). These numbers may seem insignificant considering the ‘results’ but, in the grand scheme of things, the practice has paved the way for the allowance of systematic termination of not only suspected terrorists but civilians as well. Civilians whose actions may not agree with the nation calling the strike. This can be seen by events such as the strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) hospital in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, on the 3rd of October 2015 (Lancet 1510). Follow this up with American President Donald Trump’s signing of an executive order, on the 6th of March 2019, that cancelled the requirement that intelligence officials publicize the number of civilians exterminated in drone strikes and other attacks on terrorist targets outside of war zones (Talev “Trump Cancels U.S. Report”). With this, it is common sense to conclude that facts have been played with and a narrative has been pushed.

It may seem as if a slippery slope is being brought into view here, but it should be considered a folly to not consider the information at hand. The situation is not as convoluted as one may suppose at first and it can even be picked up by careful eyes. Tanner Higgin’s critical analysis of the second iteration, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, of the hit video game series Metal Gear Solid, brings forth the same comments as many other scholars who have undertaken the same task: The control of narrative leads to the control of men and identity (Huntemann, et al. 252-271). By using a pivotal character, director-cum-writer Hideo Kojima warned us of the age of information and behavioral manipulation almost two decades ago:

You’re being silly! What we propose to do is not control content but to create context. The untested truths spun by different interests continue to churn and accumulate in the sandbox of political correctness and value systems. Everyone withdraws into their own small gated community, afraid of a larger forum. They stay inside their little ponds, leaking whatever “truth” suits them into the growing cesspool of society at large. The different cardinal truths neither clash nor mesh. No one is invalidated, but nobody is right. (Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty)

Such ‘dialogue’ is commonplace in cyberpunk fiction and university level sociology books. Kojima’s video game made accessible to millions a concept that has been in discussion in academia since the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the common man is not lucky enough to stumble across and ponder the issue with such media, or even with a modern graduate study. The tinkering of history in order to silence or control is somewhat clear cut but nonetheless still a terrifying enough concept to deter most from considering the consequences. None could have envisioned the current geo-political climate when the idea was first brought forth and, unsurprisingly, quite a lot of people still deny it being as dangerous as analysts claim. The ‘Democratic Republic’ of North Korea is a textbook example.

North Korea is an eccentric nation in which the military dictatorship functions so stringently and strangely that some may be inclined to consider it may as well have been transported to our world from an Isaac Asimov science-fiction piece. Jieun Baek, Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy at the University of Oxford and research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, notes in her revealing essay, The Opening of the North Korean Mind: Pyongyang Versus the Digital Underground, that despite its title of ‘The Hermit Kingdom’, North Korea has seen drastic increase in the amount of outside information being smuggled into the country regardless of the great risks citizens dismiss in other to learn about the world, and their own caged situation (Baek 106). It is daunting to think that such a thing is occurring in a time when knowledge is available to almost everyone at their fingertips, but reality has nasty surprises for both the ignorant and the gullible. She sums up the situation succinctly near the end of the essay: “As North Koreans have developed a more accurate perception of their country and the world, many have begun to feel a profound sense of betrayal. That feeling, in turn, has fed a sense of distrust—one that could prove corrosive in a totalitarian state built around a fanatical cult of personality” (Baek 112).

It can be argued that censoring certain instances of history may prove to be beneficial in the long run, but it has no logical basis in both morality and historiography. While some people do believe in fabricating history for the ‘greater good’, this ‘greater good’ often ends up being a shallow misrepresentation of the infractions rendered by cultures. Yes, the censorship may prove cathartic at first but, as time goes on, the people become complacent. Slowly venturing closer to the edge of a violent loop. A loop commonly known as ‘repeating history’.

 

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Works Cited

“Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 2019, http://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/projects/drone-war/charts?show_casualties=1&show_injuries=1&show_strikes=1&location=pakistan&from=2004-1-1&to=now. Accessed 8 April 2019.

“Tiananmen Death Toll Is ’Hype’, Says Beijing.” Daily Telegraph (London, England), 2017. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgbe&AN=edsgcl.520319601&site=eds-live.

Allison, William Thomas. My Lai : An American Atrocity in the Vietnam War. Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012., 2012. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=cat01977a&AN=LUMS.000194760&site=eds-live.

Astor, Maggie. “Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey Finds.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 12 Apr. 2018, http://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/12/us/holocaust-education.html. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Baek, Jieun. “The Opening of the North Korean Mind: Pyongyang versus the Digital Underground.” Foreign Affairs, no. 1, 2017, p. 104-113. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsgea&AN=edsgcl.477642117&site=eds-live.

Barnard, Christopher. “Isolating Knowledge of the Unpleasant: The Rape of Nanking in Japanese High-School Textbooks.” British Journal of Sociology of Education, no. 4, 2001. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Caryl, Christian. “10 Winners And 10 Losers Of 9/11.” RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty, 8 Sept. 2011, http://www.rferl.org/a/winners_and_losers_list/24321228.html. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Doshi, Vidhi and Nisar Mehdi. “70 years later, survivors recall the horrors of India-Pakistan partition” Washington Post, Washington Post, 14 Aug. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/70-years-later-survivors-recall-the-horrors-of-india-pakistan-partition/2017/08/14/3b8c58e4-7de9-11e7-9026-4a0a64977c92_story.html?utm_term=.186763d5293b. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Editors, History.com. “Nanking Massacre.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, http://www.history.com/topics/japan/nanjing-massacre. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Greene, Richard Allen. “A Shadow Over Europe.” CNN, Cable News Network, Nov. 2018, edition.cnn.com/interactive/2018/11/europe/antisemitism-poll-2018-intl/. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Huntemann, Nina, et al. Joystick Soldiers: the Politics of Play in Military Video Games. Routledge, 2010. Print.

Kojima, Hideo. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. PlayStation 2 version, Konami, 2001.

Lancet, The. “What Are the Geneva Conventions for?” The Lancet, no. 10003, 17 Oct. 2015. Accessed 8 April 2019.

LII Staff. “Geneva Conventions.” Legal Information Institute, Legal Information Institute, 19 June 2017, http://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/geneva_conventions. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Talev, Margaret. “Trump Cancels U.S. Report on Civilian Deaths in Drone Strikes.” Time, Time, 6 Mar. 2019, http://www.time.com/5546366/trump-cancels-drone-strike-rule/. Accessed 8 April 2019.

Yuan, Li. “Learning China’s Forbidden History, So They Can Censor It.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 Jan. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/02/business/china-internet-censor.html. Accessed 8 April 2019.

A Case of Characters – A Review of Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai (2016-2017)

“Just as the opposite of love is not indifference… The opposite of hope is not despair. Apathy so strong that nothing matters anymore – that’s the opposite of hope. The ability to forgive anything. The ability to say, “Fine,” to anything at all – that is the opposite of hope.”
~Ii-chan

Yeesh! Talk about being a pretentious anthropomorphic chunk of bismuth. If I ever saw someone post this in a forum then I would have immediately commented with a picture of a smug anime girl while telling the person to re-evaluate their life choices.

But…

There I was. Before the laptop screen. Bingeing the anime adaptation of Kubikiri Cycle: Aoiro Savant to Zaregototsukai – or The Beheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Bearer. Closely watching the beginning of the second last episode of Nisio Isin’s, ahhem, NisiOisiN’s initial light novel series. In fact, his very first light novel. The point where his eccentric genius and love for writing extraordinary (mostly literally) female characters became known to the general Japanese populace. That point was finally projected onto our screens two years ago. Yes, almost 14 years later we got to revel in the craziness of the man’s debut characters on the medium-sized screen. Was the birth of NiSio ISin’s professional career given justice by the animation studio? Well, actually, I don’t know. I haven’t read any of the books from the Zaregoto series – to which Kubikiri Cycle belongs.

Okay, so that’s enough dick-riding for today. I should get back to the quote up above.

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Just as Poe has a hard on for ravens, Nishiishi has a fetish for boardwalk empires.

 

Like I said, I would berate the person who would utter something so lukewarm but, even so, I was still fixated to the words spoken by the protagonist-cum-narrator, Ii-chan. What he had said resonated within me. “Yes, that is right!” is what I had told myself. That’s the power of ISIn’s writing. The guy has this ridiculous talent whereby he can convince you of the most inane zingers as if they were nuggets of unfathomable truth. And that is, surely, a quality that is sorely missing in many writers who attempt character studies.

In a character study, the plot is secondary. As is true NISIo ISIN fashion (in hindsight), the plot of Kubikiri Cycle is itself a character. Layers upon layers of motives and sentiments are analysed over a round table of pizzazz bringing out of the audience unusual thoughts about morality and ambition. This becomes quite evident to the seasoned viewer when identities come into question. Regardless of whether you pick up on the subtleties lying within Kubikiri or just simply enjoy the solid locked-room murder mystery as is, the writing of the show is obviously it’s strongest feature.

Again with the dick-riding… Anyway, seeing as I have done enough praising of the pen and the man, or men, behind it, I should now address what the writing is about.

Kubikiri Cycle starts off with our Ii-chan, whose real name is unknown, and his moe companion Kunagisa Tomo inside an avant garde mansion on an isolated island. They are two of the number of geniuses that have been invited to the mansion by exiled hostess Akagami Iria. You have people who are at the top of their respective fields such as cooking, science, art, etc all living under the same roof mostly minding their own business except for at supper time. Then, one day, artist Ibuki Kanami is brutally decapitated and the liberal arts disrespecting mansion-mate and scientist Sonoyoma Akane is declared a prime suspect. Thus, she is thrown into another locked room so as to deter her or any other possible killer from leveling the heads of the others until ace consultant Aikawa Jun arrives on the scene to dish out some snazzy knowledge.

EPIC RAP BATTLES 2019
EPIC RAP BATTLES 2019
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SONOYAMA AKANEEEEEEEEEE BASASUS IBUKI KANAMIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

 

The set-up is quite simple and the mystery is free from bullshit like withholding information from the viewers or the usage of disgusting deus ex machina. The mystery is solved using the very same clues that our protagonist is presented with so the viewer can tag along for the Sherlock Holmes role-play as well. I’ve mentioned this before in previous reviews: a well written mystery is one in which the author assumes that the reader can be just as smart and capable as the sleuth. While there are some questionable aspects regarding certain events in the story, like the way rigor mortis is handled, the plot is still quite grounded enough for the viewer to partake in the mystery. Considering that this is an adaptation of NISION ISIN’s first published work, there are bound to be a myriad of firsts: you can actually pinpoint from whom he took inspiration for the waifu-of-the-novel extravaganza Monogatari Series.

Now while the plot is your standard mystery aficionado fare with nisio isin’s own creative twist, the characters surely are not. The most interesting thing about Kubikiri Cycle is that the characters, while outlandish, still feel real to an extent. Despite having rather messed up personalities and outlooks on life, the colorful cast of geniuses function like actual human beings who are accustomed to a non-normal worldview. I have to specifically make note of this here as characters of such depth are, sadly, uncommon in modern thrillers. Honestly, even in the early mystery novels, not all characters come to this close a level. Save for one or two, each person in Kubikiri Cycle has their own role to play following unscrupulous lines of thought. Still, it should be said that not everyone prefers their mysteries to be like this. Some folks want more focus on the plot. Think of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. I’m not saying that it steers parallel to Kubikiri Cycle but it is the closest novel I can recall at the moment to clarify my point a little. Well, there’s also the anime Un-Go but that was just trash.

As heavily implied above, the characters are the crux of Kubikiri Cycle. Ii-chan, who claims to be devoid of personality, is the one with the most complex head of them all. His relationship, of love and hate soaked in envy, with the childish engineer Kunagisa Tomo is quite intriguing to observe. The way those two play off of each other is reminiscent of the power couple Araragi Koyomi and Senjougahara Hitagi from Monogatari Series. It’s quite clear the relationship in Kubikiri Cycle served as a prototype for the foundation of the one in Monogatari Series – especially when you consider that nISIO ISIn had divulged that he had done all that he could with Ii-chan’s character when he stopped writing the Zaregoto novels.

 

Then there are the interactions between Ii-chan and the rest of the characters. The most captivating, and heated, conversations take place whenever the psychic Himena Maki appears on screen to tease our nameless hero. The use of Maki as a pseudo-observer was a nice touch as well. Knowing full well what happened and how it did but letting others sort it out due to just pure amusement.

I could go much deeper into these guys and the rest of the rest of the survival crew but that isn’t my job. After all, it is the purpose of the show. My job is to simply tell you what I like or hate about things so that you can become subservient to the opinions of a random stranger. That you’ve grown to love! Abandon the Pewds.

Uh, anyway, as expected of studio Shaft, directors Shinbou Akiyuki and Yase Yuki have done a fine job of bringing print to life. The Shaft repertoire of head tilts, bizarre landscape shots, and unconventional angles is put to good use Kubikiri Cycle. Every knows what Shaft stuff usually look and feel like so I don’t think there’s a need to delve into that pinhole. Well, the landscape shots in Kubikiri Cycle seemed a little less haphazard as compared to the Monogatari Series adaptations.

 

The voice acting is standard as well. The voice actors have done a good job with their roles. The voice actors for Akagami Iria and Ii-chan, played by Ise Mariya and Kaji Yuki, put up an especially great performance. The sound was mostly headed by the ever enchanting Kajiura Yuki of Kara no Kyoukai (Garden of Sinners) fame. Her oblique vocals compliment the mystery genre nicely. Gives it that haunting atmosphere. The performance by her band Kalafina for the ending themes was, in a word, dank.

While I was entranced by some of the dialogue and most of the smarts in Kubikiri Cycle; the unsurprising high quality, to be honest, has turned me off somewhat. Kubikiri Cycle is quite a unique work. The problem is that it is not a unique niSio iSin work. It feels much too similar to Monogatari Series. Yes, I understand that the author is the same and his ideas shouldn’t be that different from each work but there is a certain lack of… evolution, you could say.  There isn’t any of that raw ‘beginner’ style in Kubikiri Cycle. Maybe it is more present in the actual novel instead of this anime seeing as how the directors and folks are the same ones who’ve worked on most of the Monogatari Series. I think it would have been better that another studio had animated Kubikiri Cycle. Just my weird two cents. This won’t affect the final score, though.

Without further dick-riding, I proclaim Kubikiri Cycle to be an 8/10 anime. It’s a must-see for all nISIoISIn fans. Mystery junkies should be able to get a hefty kick out of it too.

Dead Men Tell Tales – A Review of Shigofumi (2008)

After the excellence that is ‘Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’, I had decided to catch up to some ongoing shows with new seasons and, due to an itching for an echhi comedy, I settled for ‘Noucome’ as well. Noucome was pretty damn funny but nothing to write home about. Then a friend told me to check out ‘Shigofumi’ and write a review on it. Four days later, I obliged.

That title up there is basically what Shigofumi, which is translated to ‘letter from the departed’, is all about. Slap on an overarching plot and you get the makings of an original anime leaning supposedly heavily on the psychological thriller side. I used the term ‘supposedly’ as it eventually devolves into a meager slice-of-life romp with uninspired twists and a less than satisfactory ending.

To elaborate on the anime’s name, imagine dying and being allowed to send a single letter or object to any one person in the world. There are no rules to what you can send so the creative possibilities that can arise with this premise are seemingly endless. Add to that a supernatural postal service comprised of former live-folk and things get even more interesting. This is the gist of Shigofumi. The anime builds on this premise to go into a mystery of sorts concerning a certain postman, Fumika, who, unlike all other postmen, doesn’t age. The region over which she goes about her daily duties is related to her death and gradually connections are made to link it to the overarching plot.

This all sounds intriguing, no? Of the many anime my friend had offered me to watch and write upon, I picked Shigofumi just for the premise. I thought it would have made a shorter and better version of the ‘Jigoku Shoujo’ series where a young girl goes around granting people a chance to curse the source of their issues in exchange for eternal damnation. Shigofumi actually kind of emulated what made Jigoku Shoujo work and even, at times, surpassed it. Sadly, though, this was only true for episodes that did not focus on the overarching plot.

Shigofumi failed to have me interested in its main course. The appetizers and dessert were delightfully grim but the rest lacked flavor. It tried too hard to be this ‘intelligent thriller’ so much so that it failed to be at least somewhat surprising. This is mostly due to not refining the finer details regarding the whole postal service and the rules involved. You don’t have a clear understanding of how one becomes a postman nor do they delve into the obvious major flaw in the plot – why don’t most people know about the letters anyway? There’s also the fact that Fumika repeats several times that the postmen are not allowed to directly interfere with the lives of humans and yet they keep doing so over and over again. And then there’s the whole Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) twist in the main plot that is so lazily implemented that it feels like an insult to both the audience and the disorder itself.

It’s quite disheartening to see that this anime with so much potential suffers so damn hard from the crappy writing. I could have let this slide had they not linked even the most disconnected of the episodes to the overarching plot. It’s quite a shame seeing as these few episodes are actually quite good. You have murder out of necessity, suicide, child abuse, the whole shebang! None of these subjects are grossly romanticized nor are they watered down for casual consumption. They don’t preach that they are not acceptable and evil. They’re just things that people do in this messed up world due to circumstances. I like how these topics were maturely treated. But, as ol’ Ouroboros hisses in disdain, the main plot really undermines the only decent to good writing and directing in the show.

The cast of Shigofumi was just average. Nothing really special. The only standout character was a certain author, Mikawa Kirameki, but that was only because of how hilariously retarded he was. He was handled much too bizarrely to be even seen as an actual character at all. It’s like he was being controlled by a bunch of 4chan anons all of whom were trying to one-up each other with the next crazy ass thing for him to do. Hmmmm, I’d be interested in seeing an anime or visual novel like that done properly. Twitch Plays Anime. No one steal this idea.

Anyways, J.C.Staff did a God awful job with the animation for Shigofumi. They botched it. They botched it real bad. I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves. By the way, the pictures are all still frames – none of that in-between frames stuff.

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Bottom left’s eyes.
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Eyes and mouth.
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Eyes once more.
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SONO ME DARE NO ME

The music was also nothing noteworthy. Hell, I don’t even remember any background music except for I guess some hard bass in some scenes. The ending song was alright. The opening song was funky. Ali Project makes some weird but catchy songs, I gotta say. If you don’t know who they are then the names ‘Another’ and ‘Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra’ might help you remember.

I could have gone a bit more into why Shigofumi’s narrative largely sucked but I decided not to. I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone but I would mention it to folks who want some good old man based creepypastas. Plus they might actually like the overarching plot (like the majority) so going into heavier spoiler territory would be distasteful. I also don’t want them to miss out on the sombre third episode on casual suicide.

To conclude, ShiGOfumi gets a 5 out of 10 from me.

The Storyteller’s Lament – A Review of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (2016 – 2017)

How long has it been? How long ago had I last seen an anime of such class and depth that I could not help myself be swayed by anything else until I saw through the journey to its end? It has been a while. Yes, quite a number of moons have passed since the last anime I wholeheartedly gave a perfect score to.

Bluntness is required for an anime like ‘Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’. The reason for this being that just reading the synopsis of the show is, sadly, not enough to garner an interest. Most people have watched this show out of boredom and being recommended it by the very same folks who gave it a chance. I reckon very few people actually read the synopsis and went, “This is pretty damn interesting. I should watch it!” As saddened as I am when I say this but the Japanese animation industry is not known for the kind of maturity ‘ShouJuu’ displays. Instead, it goes for unnecessary eroticism and heavily relies on telling the same story with a slightly different coat of paint. The main reason I go for anime and manga as my main source of entertainment these days is that despite these factors, and many others, they are still one of the most risk-taking outlets of visual presentation. It’s a double edged candy sword dipped in lemon juice. Ahhhhhhhhh! So that is why I’ll try to keep my obvious bias towards the show in check and go purely for selling it to you as objectively as I can.

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No need to fear my enthusiasm.

Before I begin, let it be known that I’m reviewing both seasons together. The seasons, by themselves, still stand proudly as high tier works but it is best to watch both seasons in one go as that is how they truly reach another level altogether.

The first season starts off with a 47 minutes pilot that introduces us to recently released ex-con, soon named Yotaro, and his new found love for the art of stage storytelling called ‘rakugo’. He forces a master of the art, Yurakutei Yakumo (eight generation), to take him on as an apprentice. A while passes until Yotaro commits a huge blunder and is expelled until he begs the master for another chance. Thus, Yakumo launches into a tale of his past that spans the rest of the season. The second season then deals with the aftermath of that tale and how Yotaro uses the personal history lesson, of hope and inevitable tragedy, to become a master of a dying art in the modern world of television and radio.

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Yotaro on how he decided to become an apprentice.

As I just mentioned, the first season deals mostly with Yakumo’s past. The second episode begins with him, called Bon at the time, being abandoned by his mother, a geisha, into the hands of the seventh generation Yakumo. He is joined by Shin, a street rat, whose talent for rakugo makes him get accepted into apprenticeship alongside Bon. Bon and Shin are then renamed to Kikuhiko and Hastuta respectively. As time goes by and Hatsuta becomes popular, he changes his name to Sukeroku. From this point on, I will refer to these two leads as Kikuhiko and Sukeroku to avoid confusion.

As expected, the plot of ShouJuu is straightforward. What was surprising was the subtle depth to this story. The drama is not your usual run-of-the-mill stuff. It has layers to it that is usually left to the viewer to cut into. The confrontations and conflicts aren’t of the cheap sort where they could be simply resolved with a sidelining girlish giggle and pat on the back. No, the characters are written so well that instead of ending up as mere roles in a narrative, you see actual live human beings with complex emotions going about their lives of struggle and rivalry in the cut-throat world of stage performance.

Kikuhiko, unlike Sukeroku, wasn’t very good at rakugo for around half a decade. He also had his leg injury and school life to look after. Feelings of envy towards Sukeroku keep piling up even after Kikuhiko comes into form. The back and forth between the rivalry between these two both a treat and suspense to watch. You never know exactly what might happen considering the quality of the characters in the show. Then comes along the romantic interest for Kikuhiko in the form of an extremely flawed yet headstrong geisha known as Miyokichi. She serves as the main source of inner conflict for Kikuhiko. Many interesting questions pop up on our screens. Will Kikuhiko go for the woman or is the stage more important to him? What about Sukeroku and his wildness that constantly upsets the Rakugo Association? How will rakugo survive? And many more.

This outline of the first season that I’ve laid out is quite heavy on the art of rakugo itself as well. Many stories are told and you may even recognize some yourself if you have watched enough anime – Assassination Classroom saw class 3-E doing a hybrid performance. It’s great to see that a show about storytelling tells its own story in a masterful way. Failing to do so would have been very ironic indeed. This is precisely why ShouJuu is such a damn good show. It respects both the subject material and the audience by giving clear explanations and also refraining from needless exposition. Unlike many anime, we don’t get a couple of obvious frames that a character is scheming or depressed: we get seamlessly interwoven scenes that lightly tap our noggins using behavior and thoughtful dialogue to tell us that maybe a character is feeling blue. It’s like your gossiping friend with the power to possess people telling you about their lives for his own amusement. This is actually quite hard to pull off.

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Sukeroku agrees with me. Somewhat.

Now we move onto the second season. The second season starts off its train with Yotaro being one rank away from a master. It deals with him finding ‘meaning’ for his own rakugo, the future of the art itself, and answering the questions brought up by the past that haunts Kikuhiko. There’s a stark contrast between the two seasons in terms of both tone and the force that drives the narrative. Season one is basically about love for rakugo and its history while dealing with the rivalry of the leads who link to the second season. Season two is a cordial battle between two hearts on how they define rakugo and the relations it forms. Kikuhiko wants to burn the stage for the art he so dearly loves and take it to the grave with him. Everyone else, from the daughter of late Sukeroku to a prolific writer who wants to write new works for rakugo (an art that has been much too cautious when it comes to straying from its classics), is heavily against this. Yotaro takes the lead for them all in this pursuit. Yotaro prefers Kikuhiko’s rakugo but he himself performs more akin to Sukeroku. Considering that he acts a lot like Sukeroku, the relationship between Yotaro and Kikuhiko becomes even more peculiar.

I’d love to talk a bit more about the second season but that would mean spoiling a fair bit and I do not want to do that. Since I’m trying to convince others to watch this anime, giving away most of the major plot points of the second half of the story would be a bad move. Though, I will say this though: the second last episode of season two is literal perfection. The animation, the voice acting, the music, the idea behind the episode, how it deals with a major plot point that is often dealt with badly, and also the message it conveys. That episode is what cemented ShouJuu into my mind as an anime that will surely become a classic in a few years if it gains enough of a following. Even if people fail to give it the attention it so rightly deserves, it will still at least become a cult classic. Christ, that episode should be a used as a lesson to teach aspiring writers and directors on how treat your characters right. Saying anymore about it would spoil the show so I will stop typing about it now. But, still, damn!

A couple of final things to note before I get into the technicalities is that the supporting cast is just as superb as the leads across the two seasons. Even those who we get brief glimpses of (in what seem like insignificant scenes) turn out to be major catalysts in the advancement of the plot. It is clear that the writers took great care when bringing them to life and ensuring they aren’t just plot devices but also human just like the leads. The other point is that for an anime that spans almost eighty years or so, the pacing is just right. The show doesn’t advance too fast nor does it come to speed bumps when coming up to key scenes. It’s like a leisurely drive out on the country roads to the places where the story belongs.

The director, Shinichi Omata, has done a wonderful job with ShouJuu. I haven’t seen other anime directed by him but I will sure be sure to check them out. Studio DEEN done a superb job with the animation as well. Yes, that’s right. That Studio DEEN which is known for heavily cutting corners in the animation in almost half of the anime they’ve worked on. I was shocked when I found out they were behind ShouJuu. But, hey, kudos to them. Rakugo requires one to be extremely expressive in order to do justice to the stories the rakugako tells. Even the slightest of facial movements are highly detailed and fluid. The wonderful directing easily puts a spotlight on the animation and increases twofold the captivating effect on the audience.

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The direction and animation of this specific scene on Kikuhiko’s attitude regarding his deteriorating health was superb.

Speaking of captivating folks, the voice acting is marvelous. The anime needed it to emphasize the importance of nuance, tone, and pitch along with other particulars for the rakugo performances. The voice actors go above and beyond the standard established by the already competent voice acting industry of Japan. Yamadera Kouichi, the voice behind Spike Spiegel and Kenshirou, has done a fantastic job with Sukeroku. I am kind of disappointed that Kikuhiko had two voice actors seeing as I was mightily impressed with how the voice also changed minutely with each progression in the age of the character. One of the voice actors, Kobayashi Sanae, is female so I guess she was Kikuhiko’s early childhood voice. Despite my disappointment, the two voice actors gave an incredible performance for Kikuhiko throughout all stages of his life and it had been a treat to listen to them. I thank them, the writers, and the mangaka (Kumota Haruko) for carving Kikuhiko into my mind and soul as a sullenly flawed yet irresistibly charming and respectable man. Oh and the performance given by Yotaro’s voice actor, Tomokazu Seki, is just nigh impossible to not enjoy. He’s the voice behind Kougami Shinya from Psycho-Pass and Daru from Steins; Gate (which people seem to hate for some reason).

Finally, the music. Background music is used sparingly in ShouJuu but when it does play, it sure does sound pleasing and adds extra charm to the scenes. Funnily enough, though, the background music is used so well in especially intense scenes that you’re left on the edge of your seat. In one particular scene, aged Kikuhiko hallucinates and begins seeing the late Sukeroku in the middle of a performance. The music starts playing. The scene goes on with the beat. It has a tight grasp on your eyes making sure that you don’t even blink. I actually sweated a little. That was one hell of a scene. Another great use of music is the jazz in the opening and ending songs. The songs are great and going straight into my music folder (as usual). The grim imagery in the sequence for the second opening is particularly astonishing. For an interesting read on how it incorporates itself into the anime, check out this page.

I’ve already stated at the start of this review that I’ve given ShouJuu a perfect score. Anime of ShouJuu’s caliber that also don’t rely on fanservice are quite rare. This is one of the few shows I will gladly recommend to those who haven’t watched much anime or don’t watch it at all. It is a superb gateway drug into the bottomless pit that is the medium. This especially proves useful if the person isn’t really into action or comedy shows and wants a mature thought provoking experience that they themselves can push forward to others. Honestly, ShouJuu was a 9/10 show for me right until that flawless second last episode. So, without further ado, I give this a whopping

10/10

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“AWW YEAH TENOUTATEN”

If M. Night Ever Made an Anime – A Review of Wolf’s Rain (2003)

Wew. That title itself is a signal that ‘Wolf’s Rain’ is most likely an anime I may not have enjoyed much. It’s also a clever tactic that is the bane of all intellectual writing: clickbait. Have I finally stooped so low? Anyway, those who have read my past reviews should know enough about me to be able to tell that I’m not the kind of person to appreciate or growl at a work in a generalized fashion nor one to simply write off a project due to it belonging to a specific niche. Truth be told, sometimes M. Night actually does make good movies. The twists and turns he so worships are sometimes kind to him. 2016’s ‘Split’ is a good example. Although I haven’t seen it myself, others have told me the man has gotten his wish coins’ worth. Of his movies that I have seen, I found ‘Devil’ to be a pretty fun watch and ‘Stuart Little’ is a fond childhood memory.

Speaking of times gone by, Wolf’s Rain started airing around the time the west started being more open to the cartoons from the east. It’s safe to say that this anime might have been the one to introduce a significant number of teenagers to anime back then. A lot of these same viewers still look back with gleaming eyes with the thought that Wolf’s Rain was and probably still is one hell of a show. Well, I’m going to pull a quick ‘M. Nightie’ here and announce beforehand that I would not recommend Wolf’s Rain to anyone.

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I wish I could do this when finding an anime to watch.

The story starts off with a train-jacking led by one of the leads, the brooding Tsume. The next day, he encounters a white wolf near his gang’s hideout and he and the wolf duke it out. Turns out Tsume is also a wolf but in the guise of a 70’s biker. Their fight is interrupted and soon the white wolf, Kiba, is captured by the dystopian animal-control services. Kiba then meets the energetic golden-brown Hige in jail and they both make a run for it. Wondering what Tsume was up to? Well, he was saving the mudblooded wolf pup Toboe from a sheriff hellbent on revenge against their kind. An episode or two later, in a mix of desperation and wonder, our main wolves together and anyone else important to the plot leaves the city to find the Paradise that Kiba and apparently all other wolves are obsessed with from birth.

The plot is driven mostly by Kiba’s intense elusive longing for the Paradise that the wolves seek and the knowledgeable humans dread. Wolf’s Rain is an anime that relies on the journey itself to bring the story home. The destination does not matter. Literally – but that is a clarification for later. There are hints to a hidden overarching plot early on but it doesn’t really take shape until far too late for you to actually care. Well, maybe not you. I know I didn’t care. Sometimes it felt like a chore trying to connect all the dots because Wolf’s Rain deliberately obfuscates crucial plot points in order to emphasize its narrative as an enigma. Sadly, this poor handling of the writing does not work at all. Obscurity works just fine in a well defined world. Wolf’s Rain’s world-building could be compared to setting up a porta-potty and then kicking it over. Like a Minecraft server hosted on an 80’s PC, the world is barren and very little effort has been made to fill it with necessary information. Many questions pop up during the journey and almost none of them are answered at the end of the line. Why had the world gone to shit before the beginning of the anime? Just how can the wolves take up human form? What exactly is ‘alchemy’? Just what is the background of the power of the Nobles? And so on and so forth. It almost seems like the writers simply forgot what makes a sci-fi world work and still went forward with what they had for ‘intellectual’ shits and giggles.

While Wolf’s Rain gets the fundamentals wrong, it still manages to do some things right. The pacing, for one, is actually quite airtight (until the repetition point comes up). The dialogue is quite solid most of the time. Most importantly, though, the character interactions are on point. Unfortunately, the most important characters are not up to par with the supporting cast which is a mighty shame.

Kiba’s character is more or less just a personification of the act of finding oneself. Ironically, Kiba is the one who gets the least development. He’s a hard-boiled wolf at first and at the last episode he’s still the same wolf just with a smile. Alright. Next we have the main villain who goes by Lord Darcia. He’s a character template stir fried and served with a bowl of sour cliches. He’s a living Desu XD Machine (which is just an advanced Deus Ex Machina). His actions make no sense and his personality can be easily bested by Ash Ketchum in a contest. Finally, we have Cheza. She is literally a flower brought to life. She is shown to be the wisest of them all and yet this vegan reincarnate goes jumping off into situations that could have wiped out the four main wolves in the blink of an eye – but they don’t, thanks to the Desu XD Machine working at full force.

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This’ll be me when the elitists read this review and come-a-knockin’.

Bah! I was supposed to talk about the good points of the anime. I should do it quick in this paragraph before I find myself jumping to ranting about the conclusion. As I said earlier, the supporting cast is actually pretty nice. They all get decent development and you even get to feel for a few of them. It was fun to follow Toboe. The twist with Hige’s past was the only twist that was actually done properly. We discover that Tsume isn’t just a Kiba from the 70’s. There’s also Sheriff Quent and his dog, Blue, whose backgrounds and interactions not only with the existential-crisis-couple of Detective Lebowski and scientist Cher Degre but with the wolves as well make for a good base for the overarching mess of plot to work on. The relationship between Quent and Blue is handled quite nicely, I must say.

I don’t really discuss the endings of the shows I review unless I absolutely have to. Considering the anime’s age and the fact that I don’t recommend it to anyone, I might as well talk about it. The last six of episodes of Wolf’s Rain is a strange mixed bag of good and over-bad. It becomes quite clear before the start of the sixth from last episode that everyone is going to die and they do. I would applaud this ballsy move had it not been for the last episode which just resets the world and therefore making the deaths meaningless. This is also when Lord Darcia just goes full wolf shit in both mind and body and we keep getting hit by these nonsensical twists. Lord Darcia wants to cure his waifu with the advent of Paradise. His waifu is killed by another villain. He’s like ‘oh well lol’ and then resurfaces later to meet the other villain who turns out to be the sister of his waifu. There are absolutely no indications towards this twist. This bitch is responsible for throwing an already fucked world into even more chaos just so she could get a chance at getting her clams appraised by Lord Darcia. It’s just… a mess.

Onto the technical messes now. The animation is standard for the time. I watched the BluRay version and I can honestly say that there is nothing impressive about the animation. The character designs are alright. The fights are meh.

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See? Nothing impressive. Not only was this show so boring that I didn’t take more than three screenshots, but there was nothing in the animation or background designs that I thought would be worth saving – even for review purposes.

I wish I could at least be happy with the soundtrack. Yoko Kanno was involved with the anime. She has made fantastic music for many anime which include ‘Cowboy Bebop’, ‘Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex’, and ‘Zankyou no Terror’. I am quite disappointed with the soundtrack. The background music did not leave any impression on me. The opening song, while fitting, did not strike my chords. I only ended up liking the ending song ‘Gravity’ which was performed by Mayaa Sakamoto.

Sigh, what wasted potential. I was originally going to score Wolf’s Rain a 6/10 but it took me two days to write this review and over the course of the days I thought a lot about the ending and the setting itself. I then decided to go for a 5/10. That’s the fairest I could go for considering the many flaws. BUT WAIT! There are a lot of high profile names attached to Wolf’s Rain, like Dai Sato, so it’s quite evident that it could have been better. So, I will give a 4/10 out of pure spite.

NOW AIN’T THAT A SPICY TWIST