Friday’s Feature: Not a Character, an Idea

This post discusses My Hero Academia up to episode 31 focussing only on events in the anime. There are some minor spoilers if you have not watched that far.

Since the beginning of season 1, My Hero Academia has been obsessed with the idea of symbols. All Might is a symbol of justice. He is what other heroes aspire to be and villains fear him. Who All Might actually is has ceased to be important as it is the persona All Might carries when he is All Might that matters to the world he lives in.

Midoriya confronts the separation between the idea of who All Might is and the reality head on when he encounters his childhood hero in the real world. However, with Midoriya being Midoriya, he doesn’t become disillusioned but rather manages to reconcile his preconceived view of the hero with his new understanding of the man.

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But the world they live in (and the real world) does not work that way. Outside of a few of the teachers at UA, most people do not know about All Might’s current condition. He works hard to keep it a secret as he knows that if the symbol of justice ceases to be a shining and perfect symbol of justice, then the world and its balance will be irrevocably changed as villains will no longer have a reason to fear (despite all the other heroes who might do them in), and the younger generation of heroes won’t have that symbol to aspire to.

In a way, All Might’s current condition is actually more damaging than if he had died in the line of duty. If he had died in the line of duty than there could be an outpouring of grief for a hero who had done so much but he would have retained that perfect image he’d constructed until the end. Instead, if his condition as it stands becomes public knowledge, it is likely to tarnish the ideal he’s worked so hard to create (even though his current condition doesn’t change anything about what he had previously done).

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It is amazing in a way that the idea might be bullet proof and All Might’s death wouldn’t change it, but his living on and not representing the ideal people associate with him could deal significant damage. In a way, V from V for Vendetta got it right in that the only way to ensure his ideas carried forward without getting cluttered was to remove the man from the equation. With nothing ever known about the true identity of the terrorist V (at least not by the general public) he transcended the man he was and became a symbol of freedom and a voice for the people. What makes his death even more powerful was that Evey then pointed out that everyone in the crowd could project their own view upon V. He could be their brother who died, their father, their friend, coworker, lover, anyone. He could represent everything they wanted him to represent and he could never do anything to undermine their belief that how they saw him was what they intended.Which is scary because the idea is bullet proof and it is taking on a life of its own and the intended message may get overwritten and eroded in time or misappropriated for a cause it was never intended for and there is nothing anyone can do about that once the idea is out there.

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Which of course brings me to Hero Killer Stain. He has a clear ideal of what a hero should be and he was punishing those who failed to meet his expectations. We already knew that but then episode 31 gave us a bit more insight into how he became disillusioned when he dropped out of hero school and then tried to use words to convince the public that the way they saw heroes was problematic and ensured a system full of contradictions. ‘Hero’ had become a job. Having heroic qualities and a heroic mindset was not as important as results and showmanship. As the Hero Killer his acts caught the attention of many and his arrest got even more eyes locked onto him and his ‘ideas’.

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What becomes worrisome about this, or awesome depending on how the plot is handled, is that in the eyes of the public there is a link between the Hero Killer and the League of Villains. For the audience, we know that Stain outright refused to join the League of Villains as they did not live up to his standards of what a true villain should be any more than the heroes he had killed lived up to the standard of true hero. But the public do not know that. They only know that there is a connection. More importantly, how Stain was making his judgement of which heroes were true heroes and which were fake was through a deeply personal set of criteria. Any attempt to mimic of copy his ideology would result in a character coming to a very different set of judgements.

But Hero Killer Stain has been arrested. He has become the symbol of a movement and has lit a fire motivating people to action and then he has been removed from the scene. He is unable to correct perceptions (even if he was so inclined) and more importantly, unlike All Might, he’s already fallen so he can’t mar his own reputation that has taken on a life separate from himself. Admittedly, he could escape and get out and change the legend unfolding around him, but that would almost be counter productive to the movement left in his wake.

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For the League of Villains, if they are in any way able to understand how the world works, they won’t ever point out they were at odds with the Hero Killer. They’ll allow his symbol and image to draw people to them and then they will twist that message to their own ends.

However, what I find particularly interesting about this is that All Might was a constructed brand. He went out of his way to become the symbol of an idea. Whereas, Hero Killer Stain simply lived true to his own ideals. He didn’t make speeches or pompous appearances (he’d already given up on using words to change people’s minds). He acted and his actions spoke for him, though whether the true message came across is anyone’s guess and it will be interesting to see how the next generation of villains take his message and use it. But that’s why Hero Killer’s mark is going to be harder to erase than All Might’s would. Hero Killer was appealing to base impulses that people had hidden away and were just waiting for an excuse to let out and his message spread organically without anyone in particular constructing the narrative behind it and yet its momentum was undeniable.

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Of course, there’s a lot of real world parallels about how messages and branding as well as people standing in for ideals that we could get into but I’m certain that most of us have already thought about just how this works in reality and some recent examples. Even if the show doesn’t go any further into this issue, it has been an intriguing build up (please don’t spoil in the comments if you have read the manga).


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Friday’s Feature: Characters Seeking Who They Are

While I have said that I’m not loving the Summer 2017 line up all that much, I’ve been surprised by a number of shows that at first seemed like they wouldn’t really appeal but have then managed to bring me around. One of the common features of these shows is their focus on the theme of identity and characters who seem to either be in search of who they are supposed to be or trying to reconnect with something. On its own, characters doing some soul searching won’t sell a show, but when done in a way that resonates with its audience or in a way that feels real, can make even a reasonably average story suddenly come to life.

With so many anime featuring young and adolescent characters, it is not really all that surprising that many characters are seeking out who they are or who are trying to be something they aren’t. It’s a fairly standard theme of adolescent literature. However, regardless of the age of the characters, or the age of the audience, this idea of figuring out who and what you are is something that people connect with because everyone has at some point wondered if they are who they are actually supposed to be or even if there is someone that they should be.

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Knight’s & Magic takes a very wish fulfillment view of this topic and it isn’t one that is particularly new or surprising. Take an otaku (who actually was doing okay in his normal life) and drop him into a fantasy world where his fascination with robots and skills as a programmer are pretty much allowing him to rise quickly to a position of renown. The key to this kind of story working is that many people have gone through this experience of feeling like they were born in the wrong time or place, that if given a different setting their skills would be valued so much more and they would be appreciated better. It might seem self-indulgent but Knight’s & Magic does have a few things going for it that sets it a little apart from other similar titles.

Firstly, Ernesti’s skills are limited to programming and while he can apply that to the system of magic in the world (making him pretty powerful), he isn’t a super genius at everything and he is highly reliant on the skills of the team of mechanics and the like he is working with to get his ideas of the ground. Regardless of his genius, without these guys, none of Ernesti’s visions would ever have seen the light of day.

Secondly, it isn’t entirely clear whether Ernesti has full memories of his former life or not. Certainly he’s carried quite a bit of knowledge over and some terminology, but otherwise he seems very much a young boy in the fantasy world rather than the adult he was in the real world (which almost makes you wonder why bother saying he was reincarnated in the first place when he could just be a plucky genius). Of course, there’s always room for the story to go back and address this point later so maybe there’s more to this reincarnation thing than initially meets the eye.

Thirdly, while Ernesti is fascinated with creating a robot, his vision doesn’t really extend beyond that. He doesn’t actually seem to have any ambition or drive or understanding or care for the politics and the like of the world he is in. Normally in this kind of story there would already be some great injustice that the plucky hero would be able to judge evil and start raising forces against, but in this story it really just seems like Ernesti is happily oblivious to anything outside of his immediate goals. Maybe this will change as he is forced into increasingly complex situations and Ernesti will be forced to deal with the fall out of his choices, but for the early part of this series it seems Ernesti has zero interest in politics, rules, norms, or anything else that does not lead to him building a giant robot he can pilot.

Still, the entire thing begs the question of what would happen if you were really transported to a fantasy world and would your skills actually amount to anything of value.

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Outside of the fantasy realm, we actually have a darker story set in an alternate history with Princess Principal. Given the duplicitous nature of all of the characters, they are spies afterall, it is no wonder that the theme of identity comes up time and time again. However, it is Ange’s character that has particularly caught my attention, and clearly I’m not alone on that one.

The very first episode “Wired Liar” makes it clear that Ange is not the kind of person that can be trusted. She appears extremely stoic on the outside, hardened as a spy and the life she’s lived, but we later learn of her deep friendship for the Princess. Outside of this, she keeps others at arm’s length by giving them ridiculous answers to simple questions or avoiding their questions altogether. And then in episode 4, as the group struggled with the question of what to name themselves, Ange outright told the Princess she hated who she used to be. So what does that mean for her friendship with the Princess that is rooted very firmly in that past that Ange apparently hates?

Unlike Knight’s & Magic, this isn’t a story about wish fulfillment. It so far has been a story very much walking inside the grey zones we all see where we can’t really define right or wrong. The characters are also grey. Not in the way the Princess is described as grey because her loyalty can’t be trusted, but grey because the true history of all of these characters is obscured. I don’t think Ange’s motive of saving the Princess is a lie (although that would be quite the twist), but nor do I believe that Ange truly believes she can save the Princess. There’s something very sad about Ange and how she has so far been portrayed and I find it fascinating and desperately want to know more about her, but much like her comrades she keeps the audience at arm’s length.

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The last anime I want to look at from the Summer 2017 line up is Gamers. This show has been surprisingly entertaining, and surprisingly good. For a silly comedy that is rapidly becoming a high school rom-com there’s still enough going on in the story that I can’t help but enjoy it. Mostly this is because all of the five main characters who feature in the opening have so far been struggling with finding who they are (and searching for that answer in relation to why they game).

Admittedly, the girls’ stories and actions have all been so far driven by their relationship (or desired relationship) with the males of the story and it would be nice to see them have motivation beyond romantic, yet the stories have been pretty interesting. Aguri and Uehara’s story is particularly interesting. Uehara having transformed himself from perceived geek in middle school to someone who would be socially accepted, even picking up Aguri as a girlfriend even if he wasn’t that in to her. Aguri had also undergone a transformation as she wanted to be someone Uehara liked. However, she knew him back before his own transformation and liked him regardless. All of that might seem pretty shallow until the characters themselves are forced to face the consequences of creating and living a lie or trying to creat an ‘ideal’ high school life.

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But it was episode four with Tendou, the catalyst for the whole story, narrating her daily life that really tipped this one. Tendou’s narration paints a vivid picture but what the audience is seeing is a girl who is obsessed with creating a particular image of who she thinks she is. Then we see her life and her narration after she’s been turned down by the protagonist (not for dating, just for joining the game club) and we realise that Tendou is really unaware that she has created an artificial view of herself. Tendou’s world begins to crumble as she can’t make sense of Amano’s views within the confines of her artificial reality. Whether she comes out the other side of this a better person, or at least a more real person, is another story and one that we don’t yet have an answer to, but the fact that this show is willing to ask the hard questions about who these characters actually are and why they became that way is kind of refreshing.

And while a single character, or even a pair of characters, may get this treatment, to see the entire cast thrust under the microscope as they start out as archetypes, are then fleshed out archetypes, and then have their own perception of who they are challenged, is an interesting and so far entertaining experience. The narrative itself isn’t amazing, but there’s certainly enough in the characterisation to make it interesting.

As none of these shows are finished, it is impossible to know where these characters will end up. That said, there are a lot of interesting characters with interesting possibilities facing them this season. While the shows so far have been a bit hit and miss for me, I know that I’ll remember many of these characters well after this season ends regardless of how their character arcs end.


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Friday’s Feature: From Horror Creature to Character – The Question of Zombies

There will be some spoilers for School-Live and Shaun of the Dead in this post.

While my initial thoughts on this post were sparked by watching School-Live, I will admit, the question of zombies has been one that has been rattling around my brain for awhile. Not that that’s surprising given the prolific nature of zombie movies, TV shows, video games, and books and my love of terrible horror (and the occasional good horror story).

So what is the question?

What makes something a zombie or a zombie horror?

That seems like a really silly question given, as I already mentioned, the vast number of stories that feature zombies. In the last ten years you’ve barely been able to blink without a new zombie story being thrown in front of your face.

While some people will argue that this is an over-saturation of the market and that zombies are now pretty boring (and they aren’t entirely wrong), what they miss is that a zombie is not always a zombie and with a vastly over saturated market writers are becoming more and more innovative in how they present their version of a zombie filled future. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t entirely limited to zombies. We’ve seen the same thing occur in super hero movies. So many super heroes and the movies are all the same? Time for a gritty reimagination. Then again, zombie movies were always pretty gritty and depressing so I guess we’re doing the opposite in that some of these shows and movies are having a bit more fun with their zombies.

I do find it interesting that both werewolves and vampires had their make-overs done nearly two decades before zombies though I’ve noticed some modern vampire shows are starting to dump the romance angle and are heading back into actual horrific territory. It would be interesting to see the lore come full circle and more of the ravenous beasts and less of the cool beauty for awhile.

However, let’s focus on zombies. Specifically zombies in anime.

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If you want classic zombie silliness with some fan-service and not a lot of plot (unless bouncing breasts count as plot) you can’t go past High School of the Dead. It will give you exactly what you expect as the teenagers go from frightened students to armed and dangerous literally hacking their way through anything without a pulse that moves. The zombies in this story are as stock standard as they come. They shuffle and walk in mobs with limited to no intelligence demonstrated and are only to be feared because of sheer numbers and the fact that normal injuries don’t dissuade them. Go for the kill shot or run.

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There is nothing noteworthy about the portrayal of zombies here except that it seems decidedly old-school considering the zombie movies of the time were adding in zombies that could sprint, jump, and generally seemed to work together in a terrifying manner. Seriously, zombies that can move quick are unfair and 28 Days Later or 28 Weeks Later (not to be mistaken with 28 Days that deals with drug addicts and not zombies – though you’d be forgiven for that mix-up) took the fast violent zombie angle to new levels of terror. It was probably the first time I genuinely jumped watching a zombie movie.

Of course, the standard commentary that both High School of the Dead and 28 Days Later incorporated was the question of ‘who is the real monster?’ Both show that the human survivors are frequently more terrifying than any virus running rampant. I will note here that zombie stories have kind of moved beyond using zombie culture as a metaphor for consumption and consumerism which is kind of nice even if that particular metaphor is still pretty apt at times. Instead questions of identity and what makes a person a human float to the surface but never for too long because there are zombies to kill.

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Then we have the story that decided to play zombies for laughs: Is This A Zombie? And the question had to be asked and I had to rewrite my title for this post because originally that was my question about zombies in general but given it is also the title of one of the examples I was discussing that just seemed confusing. Despite the comedic nature of the show, you are left wondering what actually does it mean to be a zombie in this story?

Ayumu is definitely dead. He died and was brought to life. He is pretty indestructible (a fact which is played for laughs many, many times) though is weak to sunlight.  Otherwise though, he has his memories, his personality, everything about him is pretty much unchanged. There’s no shuffling mindlessness and apparently no concern about him infecting others (mostly because he didn’t become a zombie via a virus or contamination but rather due to a necromancers magic).

What this does is makes us re-evaluate the term zombie. Because prior to the movies, older zombie lore was more about a zombie being made. The idea of rapidly spreading infection and bio-hazards is a far more recent entry into the genre even though it is now the standard.

Still, a comedy play on a zombie doesn’t really allow for much discussion of the genre because any idiosyncrasy can be laughed off as part of the humour of the story so we’ll move on to School-Live which is mostly what brought me to this topic.

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School-Live has your slow moving and shuffling zombies that seem to swarm at times and infect others through a bite. The spread of the virus seems pretty rapid considering how slow the zombies seem to move but I guess once they had numbers on their side there was little normal civilians could do if they got themselves surrounded. What School-Live does that is different from High School of the Dead, other than far less fan-service (though they didn’t remove that aspect entirely) is that the survivors don’t become fearless zombie killers and the zombies themselves seem to retain some memory of their former life.

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I was kind of reminded of the joke in Shaun of the Dead when the son is trying to convince his mother to abandon the step-father because nothing of the man he was remained and then the step-father in question leaned forward in the car and switched off the annoying music. It was played as a joke but it raised a significant question about the moral implications of bashing the brains in of a zombie if it still had a personality and an ability to think. And Shaun of the Dead took this further where at the end of the movie we see the two main characters (one human and one zombie) playing video games together in the shed. It really makes you wonder about all those zombies that were ruthlessly mowed down and how many of them could have learned or been saved and whether or not living chained in a shed is actually considered to be living.

School-Live raises this question early on when the zombies are noted to follow the pattern of their previous daily routine. They rock up to school during the day and seem to ‘go home’ at night. Sometimes the boy zombies seem to be ‘playing’ soccer. Basically the zombies seem attracted to places and things of significance during their life.

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However, it is with Megu-nee (the teacher) where this question really becomes important. We have the obvious encounter between one of the students and the zombified teacher where the teacher does end up biting and infecting the student. So we know that the zombification does in fact over-ride some of the basic instincts of the human they were. And we have the student unable to defend herself because she likes that teacher and can’t bring herself to kill her (kill her again?). That’s pretty standard. However, the presence of the teacher in the sub-basement, the note book that was clearly written in after the teacher had ‘died’, all of this hints at a life after death that is more than just being a mindless monster.

The dog also demonstrates this point where even after becoming a zombie (and zombie dog is really cute even though he is terrifying) he ends up protecting one of the girls from a zombie attack.

If further evidence of this theme of zombies that think needed to be given in the show, they then get the zombie students back out of the school by telling them that school is now closed and it is time to go home. Seriously. They make this announcement over the school speakers and the zombies all just kind of leave and go home.

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In a genre full of spectacular and bloody murder, such a clean solution to a zombie crisis seems crazy and yet it kind of changes how you look at every other show about zombies and what is driving the zombies. In many films and shows it is clear you couldn’t interact with a zombie in this way. You would be dead. They don’t respond at all. But others? Even Resident Evil attempted to domesticate the zombies throughout the films despite miserable failure at doing so.

So my next questions are for you:

What are your favourite zombie shows/movies/books?

And which classic monster needs to have the next make-over? (My vote is for mummies.)


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Friday’s Feature: Reality in Romance

With the Spring 2017 anime season wrapping up it is inevitable that a lot of people would be reviewing and discussing Tsuki ga Kirei. Overwhelmingly the reviews are positive and what I keep hearing again and again is how sweet the romance is, how pure it is, and how relatable and real it feels. It was a show I dropped early on but I’ve been watching double episodes over the last week to try to finish it and while I personally still find it incredibly slow moving I can also see some of the reasons why it has been held in such high regard by others, and yet it made me think about what I actually want from a romance story.

I’d like to put in here that I am not trying to actually review or critique the show.

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And that’s the key word. It is a story. Fiction. The whole get swept away and dream of everything working out happily ever after with the guy/girl/whatever of your dreams. While grounding the whole thing in reality might work for some people and the relatablility might help them engage with the story, for me Tsuki ga Kirei misses the mark. It is sweet that these two young people are engaged in a first romance and learning what that means and how to deal. It’s actually kind of adorable. But as far as a story goes it seems lacking to me.

When tension is inserted into the plot through flat phone batteries, confiscated phones, petty jealousy, third wheels, and the like it really feels like someone remembered it was supposed to be a story and that in the last twenty minutes nothing has happened other than the cute girl avoided eye contact with the reasonable looking boy again. That might seem like a harsh evaluation and certainly if you are more caught up with the characters you might not agree, but while watching the episodes I am openly checking the time in almost three minute intervals just to make sure it hasn’t stopped entirely. Plus, they were pushing the credibility of reality when they had a teenage girl let her phone go flat when she knew he was likely to message her.

But again, this is all personal preference. I don’t like the romance in Tsuki ga Kirei because it is, for the most part, very believable and (for lack of better words) kind of dull. Guy meets girl, they like each other, have a few minor hiccups on their journey and continue on (I haven’t got to the end yet so don’t know if I have a happily ever after awaiting me or not). Essentially, it is so real that it feels like I should just sit in a shopping centre foodcourt and watch it unfold around me rather than watching the show.

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Say, I Love You was another romance that I had difficulty enjoying. Despite a genuine fondness for the main character, I found the story slow moving and the character interactions mostly flat. The only reason I watched it more than once was a friend of mine quite liked the series. Admittedly, the third time I watched it through I started to really like it and I ended up buying it on DVD so all and all it couldn’t have been that bad. Essentially it depicted fairly believable high schoolers (other than the model who you have to admit was not a typical student even if her social networking issues were pretty relatable) engaging in relationships that were plagued by the usual issues of miscommunications, jealousy, and pettiness.

So what does it take for me to get into a romance?

Basically the romance needs to be one part of a bigger story. I need to feel that the interactions are moving somewhere and that there is a sense of movement in the plot and with the characters. It doesn’t hurt if the romance takes on a more fairy tale point of view either. There’s something to be said for sweet romances where people get swept off their feet and find their true love. It may not be ‘realistic’ but it makes for grandiose stories with characters I can get behind and fall in love with, at least for the duration of the show.

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This is where I think Yuri on Ice really sold itself to me. It had Yuri’s story as an ice skater and the romance was an integral part of that story. I could relate to the ups and downs and misunderstandings in their relationship and yet it moved along quickly and had that sweeping feeling of things just moving forward inexorably to a predetermined ending. Basically it felt like a story infused with romance rather than a series of events between two characters that might end up with them being romantically intertwined. I know from reading some reviews of Yuri on Ice, that some viewers didn’t really relate to Victor and Yuri’s romance and felt it was too easy, too rushed, too forced, or too one sided, and that’s where personal preferences come in and probably the reason there are so many different kinds of romance story out there.

We all like a good romance (even those people who insist they don’t will have that one story that makes them smile/cry every time they watch it). For me though, I think I’d like my romance a little less realistic and a little more fantastical. I can see reality already so what I’m looking for in a story is something that has some connection to reality but goes that little bit further to bring something truly special or memorable to the table.

That said, I am going to finish watching Tsuki ga Kirei. Who knows, by the time I get to the end I might have even learned to love it. But I’m turning it over to you and asking you how you like your romance? Do you prefer the realistic, the sweet, the spicy, the funny, the dramatic, or some completely different style of romance altogether? I’d love to know.


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Friday’s Feature: So You Want To Save the World?

There is a staple in stories, whatever there form, where a protagonist is called to save the world. They might be a trained soldier, some randomly strong hero, a random nobody chosen by destiny, or just someone who happened to be in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time, but they are called and one way or another they answer. The different types of protagonists would each need their own post to deal with and eventually I might get around to that, but my focus today is more on the notion of saving the world itself and how this operates in stories.

While it might be argued that high stakes make for a more intense and dramatic story, you have to wonder about all the times our little blue-green planet manages to become imperilled for the sake of kicking a narrative into gear (admittedly, a lot of the stories I’ll refer to aren’t actually set on earth but whatever the planet you have to wonder how they manage to find so many world ending catastrophes to face off against). Put into context, even though individuals, cities, and countries face devastation fairly regularly, our world tends to keep on spinning and the majority of people go about their lives relatively unhindered. Whether this can continue (and scientists will tell us that is a resounding no), it has continued for a fairly long time yet we write stories full of disasters that end life as we know it.

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Some of these are cautionary tales. When overpopulation was the scary flavour of the month we had stories that looked at how we would deal with this in the future. Logan’s Run and Soylent Green both have some fairly interesting things to say about population control even if the message has largely been ignored. More recently we have had a round of environmental awareness stories with The Day After Tomorrow and its ilk attempting to scare some common sense into us by showing us just how bad things might get without action.

While these stories are awesome in their scope when showing us the problem, what they all do, and need to do, is focus on a protagonist. There may be other groups and characters addressed, but they narrow the focus to a single protagonist for the majority of the run time. Why? Because the audience needs that someone to relate to. The idea of saving the world is legitimately too big for most people so while having such a grandiose problem in the story might add to the drama, it actually makes it fairly hard to relate to. What we usually end up with is a protagonist trying to save an individual or group and as a by-product of saving them they might save the world. Even Armageddon understood this where ultimately Bruce Willis gave his life to ensure his character’s daughter would have a future. The fact that this also saved the world was almost inconsequential by that point in the story.

But let’s move away from movies in Hollywood and look at anime.

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Spring 2017 brought us WorldEnd, or the anime that asks us in its title ‘What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?’

There’s no obvious direction for these questions so as an audience you have to wonder if the show is asking you to consider your own actions if the world were coming to an end. Even more peculiarly, the story itself takes place nearly 500 years after the world essentially ended. The fact that there are ‘people’ still clinging to life on floating islands that are apparently not going to last much longer is more of a happy accident than good design and the peril is still very real. So if you were Willem, protagonist of the story, would you lend a hand or would you accept the inevitable ending that has been coming for a very long time?

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Despite having watched the show through, I still don’t really get Willem’s motivation. Early in the story he really is just drifting. He tried to save the world (or those near to him) and he failed. After waking up in the new world he realises he is completely alone because of his failure. The world he knew is already gone. Despite that, he inevitably gets drawn into the new world through Chtholly and ultimately decides to help keep her alive even though once again he’s clearly fighting a losing battle. So what should he have done?

And actually, this is where anime hits such a major snag. I’ll admit to finding a lot of anime endings unsatisfying, but that’s probably because of how conflict is set up in so many stories. How exactly do we expect the protagonist to get out of that situation or save the world? The problem facing them is massive and usually unsolvable so the narrative is faced with only a handful of options. Either the protagonist loses and is swallowed by whatever world ending force they’ve been pitted against, or against all odds they win. The first option leaves the audience a little bitter about having been made to care about a character who didn’t succeed (though I must admit I don’t mind the occasional tragic end), while the latter leaves us rolling our eyes as they pull out a magic power up, combination attack, or just break the established rules of the story in order to succeed.

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So do we just expect too much from the conflict in the first place? Does the world really need to be endangered before we understand the stakes are high?

I don’t think so. If we look at something like Food Wars, as much as I found the second season a little bit wanting, the first season was pretty engaging and the worst thing faced by any of the characters was expulsion (admittedly, most of the characters seemed to think that was a fate worse than death). This didn’t stop the audience from getting drawn in, from wanting to get behind the characters, and wanting to see them succeed. They were cooking. All that was on the line was a place at the school when there are other cooking schools and for the most part they could probably have found a job with their skills regardless. Yet because the characters believed in the conflict and the consequences, the audience were able to believe it mattered. This was high stakes viewing even though the reality is that the story didn’t endanger the world. No one needed the perfect cake to stop some alien race blowing up Tokyo to get the story going.

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However, that isn’t actually me saying that I don’t want stories where the world is in peril. I think mostly what I want are stories that think about the appropriate level of danger and the appropriate way to build drama without just trying to one up the dangers other stories have introduced. More importantly, think about how they intend to solve those issues before they throw them in front of an audience. If the Spring 2017 anime season has taught viewers anything it really should have reinforced that shows live and die by how they resolve and while a deus ex machina ending is better than no resolution, it is right up there with the ‘it was only a dream’ ending. Audiences today expect more and probably deserve more.

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So you want to save the world? You think that would be nice and dramatic? Great. Now get to work figuring out the details of what exactly is the peril being faced and how it can be overcome and lay your ground work fairly precisely. It isn’t enough to throw flashing lights at the audience and tell them it is scary.

What do you think? Is the world coming to an end an overused problem? Are you tired of seeing characters pull off an impossible save just because plot demands it? Or do you love these kinds of stories and get a real thrill out of watching characters beat impossible odds? I’d love to know so leave a comment below.


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Friday’s Feature: Just Add Cute

As anime fans, I’m sure we’re all aware that Japan has a serious thing for cute (kawaii). This isn’t a bad thing. In fact it is one of the things that makes Japanese culture incredibly fascinating to outsiders. That doesn’t mean it always makes a lot of sense.

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While not a recent trend, it seems that pretty much every scenario you can think of is being marched out in anime form, with a group of cute female characters ready to sell the show. While it makes sense for the cast of an idol based anime (such as Love Live) to all be pretty adorable, why does a show about anthropomorphized battleships (Kantai Collection) need to have such a cute cast? While it’s a nice juxtaposition of expectations (warship/cute girl) it doesn’t really help the humanization of a weapon as the appearance of the girl continuously betrays the spirit that they are supposed to embody.

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Though probably the first anime I watched where this was a thing (mostly because these kinds of shows don’t overly appeal to me) was Chobits where we had a computer in the form of a girl. While this wasn’t just a gimmick of cute girls, come watch, but rather a more serious look at isolation and a need to make connections (in between other stuff) we still essentially see an appliance being given not only a human form but a very cute, female human form.

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Although, if we forget machines for a minute, we then have the anime that have dragons (yes, my very favourite fantasy creature) spending the vast majority of the series just looking like yet another cute girl. Oh wait, she might bite. Tragically the one example of this I clearly remember is Dragonaut: The Resonance (please let me forget that and never, ever try to review). Toa spends almost the entire series bouncing around as a pink haired cutesy while not much of anything happens anywhere else in the series. Okay, there are other dragons and some are even guys but the main focus here is the pink haired girl. There’s some kind of plot that involves the guy who used to have a sister who died tragically in some sort of incident and you can probably figure out where that is going in terms of his relationship with Toa.

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I’m not actually making fun of the idea of anthropomorphization. Terry Pratchett does a brilliant job of giving Death ‘life’ as a recurring character in his Discworld novels. What I’m wondering is whether the market is being over-saturated by some of the more cookie cutter versions of this trend. Where the standard anime girl types are being forced into moulds simply to put a new facelift on a story we’ve seen before with characters we will forget almost before the end-credits are finished. When done right, giving human characteristics to something can make it fairly memorable. When done poorly it just feels like gimmicky story telling for the sake of it. Plus, the highly sexulaised nature of some of these characters (or at least the fan service that appears relentlessly in these shows) makes the whole thing less an exercise in creative settings and characters and more a targeted fantasy (though again, this isn’t across all of these types of shows as like every other genre there are some that get the mix right and deliver quality entertainment and others that embrace the trashier elements).

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Moving away from cute girls, I certain some of you must remember Makuranodanshi. Who could forget a show about personified pillow boys talking directly to the camera as they lulled you off into a completely creeped out state or into complete bemusement. Each episode featured a different boy  talking to you as if you were there about to go to bed. There were 12 episodes so 12 different personalities and looks to choose from. I don’t know about you, but I think I’d prefer my pillow not to talk to me.

Turning it over to you. Which shows do you think suffered from the ‘just add cute’ mentality or which shows do you think nailed this idea of using cute as the lure but then delivered a good story?


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Friday’s Feature: Just an Update This Week

While I originally said during my anniversary I was taking two weeks off from seasonal anime reviewing in July, it turns out that due to a whole bunch of things lining up in the real world, I’m actually going to take off closer to a month, but only from seasonal reviews. The blog is going to continue having daily content and I am still going to be online (though a little less often than normal) to reply to comments and to visit everyone’s blog. Mostly. Okay, next week I’ll probably seem like I’ve dropped off the face of the Earth for a bit.

Pretty much I just can’t rely on having access to streaming services during this period of time so rather than sometimes having reviews and sometimes not, I’m just going to pause the shows I’m watching and not pick up anything new, and catch up on everything current once I’m back to my normal routine which will be July 22nd. Basically, I have quite a bit of travel ahead of me. Some personal stuff, some work stuff, some preplanned holiday stuff, and it all just kind of ended up happening at the same time.

Feature posts and top 5’s will continue as normal. I’ve also got some episode reviews of shows that were either recommended to me or came up randomly when I asked for a random episode on Crunchyroll. Series reviews will come out on Wednesday and Saturday. However my Sunday posts where I do a round up of the current season that I’ve been watching will not be out and I won’t be doing the In Case You Missed it posts on Monday. These will both resume after July 22nd.

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That’s pretty much it for this update. Hopefully you all enjoy the content I’ve got planned over the next couple of weeks and I look forward to resuming reviews of seasonal anime on my return. And if you want to know other plans for the blog you can check out my more detailed update on my patreon site.

See you soon.


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Friday’s Feature: What Does Orihime Really Contribute To Bleach?

There’s no denying that I’ve been a massive Bleach fan for a fairly long time now. It was one of the first anime I watched as an adult and it really contributed to my ongoing love of anime. However, despite finding Bleach hilarious, entertaining, exciting, and just fun to watch, the flaws of the series are pretty much open secrets not just to those who endured all that filler to get to an ending that ultimately went about sixty episodes past where it should have (though that’s debatable) but also to those who just listened in to the discussions about Bleach.

So why am I picking on Orihime?

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I’m going to put it out there, that in the first season of Bleach I really liked Orihime’s character. Then she kind of became mostly useless either sitting on the sidelines or wringing her hands in fear as everyone else contributed for a few seasons. In season 7, she had few moments of genuine cool. Really, the start of season 7 actually gave her a little bit of agency as she made her choices and worked at becoming stronger. Then she became a Princess in a cage; worse, just bait to lure in everyone else. She wasn’t even actually valuable as a hostage.

This actually isn’t a problem just for Orihime. Bleach suffers from an extraordinarily large and frequently underutilised cast. Regularly the various Shinigami are prevented from acting by the most arbitrary of reasons just to ensure Ichigo and company can actually be the ones who swoop in and save the day. Then even amongst Ichigo and his friends, the others are almost always sidelined by the final battle. They might get their match up and few moments to shine with in a fight but ultimately the show is all about Ichigo and they aren’t allowed to steal his thunder (even when it seems like they’d be better suited to take on the current threat).

However, I’m going to pick specifically on Orihime for three reasons.

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01. The show expects us to take her seriously as a love interest eventually and while we know Ichigo loves saving Damsels in Distress he isn’t the Captain of the Enterprise sweeping them off their feet. Why is Orihime unique compared to the other characters or the other girls he rescues along the way?

Part of the answer to that lies in season 1 where we see that Ichigo has some genuine feelings toward Orihime as a human being. He remembers (after some prodding) the death of her brother and how she cried. He also works to remind the brother of his love for his sister (given he empathises with the older brother’s plight). While this might not seem overly significant, Ichigo’s character is pretty insular and doesn’t have a lot of genuine connections. Other than Chad, the guys he hangs out with at school are just there. He talks to them but shows little human warmth toward them. Same with most of the girls. Ichigo even remembering Orihime (vaguely though it may be) was a pretty stand out moment.

However, the show then drops this line of thought for a lot of seasons. And I mean, a lot. While it is clear Orihime is fixated on Ichigo, he’s just doing his thing swinging his sword around and other than treating her like every other person who tries to help him out, there’s really not a lot there. Realistically, if it weren’t for Orihime’s ongoing friendship with Rukia, you might have forgotten she existed at all.

Then, we get Orihime’s farewell after she gets given 12 hours to say goodbye. For all that it makes sense for Orihime to feel the way she does as she has remained stuck on Ichigo, Ichigo’s reaction to Orihime being missing seems blown way out of proportion given how little attention he’s paid her in any of the previous arcs since the first one. The end result of this is that you often aren’t sure if this is a relationship developing or merely a girl making puppy dog eyes at an indifferent guy.

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02. The second reason I’m going to pick on Orihime is the severe underutilisation of her power. Not only is she not used well as a character, she has quite possibly the coolest power in a show full of characters with crazy powers, and other than the healing (which isn’t actually healing so much as rejecting past injuries right out of existence) Orihime almost never gets to do anything. She shields occasionally but either gets blown back anyway or just gets stuck standing and holding a shield. But that’s about as far as it goes.

Let’s imagine the fight between Grimmjow and Ichigo for a moment where Orihime is standing on the pillar looking on all frightened and concerned. She’s occasionally shielding herself but mostly she’s just standing their looking worried though her inner monologue tries to convince us she knows Ichigo will win (and hey, plot armour certainly agrees with her). What if she’d actually thrown the shield in between them as Grimmjow had tried to land a hit on Ichigo and then, after Grimmjow’s momentum was lost, she dropped the shield allowing Ichigo pretty much a free hit. Think how much faster that fight would have been over.

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Okay, Ichigo would have been ticked off at the cheap stunt, but who cares. Life or death situation people. But no, Orihime will stand quietly and wait because Ichigo asked her to. She may as well be a golden cup waiting to be claimed for all the good she’s doing as a character in this sequence and this isn’t the only time Orihime is given a similar role during a fight.

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03. Finally, worse than simply not being an empowered female character (we get that it is a male action anime and while there are some tough women in the story, it isn’t exactly the champion of equal opportunity) Orihime makes the fatal error of losing any sense of a personality. Season 1 introduces us to a girl who has had tragedy in her past but makes up for it by smiling brightly and throwing herself at whimsical fantasies. She makes creative food choices, laughs with her friends, and liberally interprets school assignments. At no point does she succumb to simply being an air-head as she is a keen observer of those around her and is one of the few that notes Ichigo’s change after Rukia arrives and one of the few who notices Rukia’s disappearance.

By the end of its run, Orihime may still be the one who consoles others and has a word of encouragement but all of her other personality traits have been diminished to almost nothingness. Other than the occasional silly line, she’s mostly a flat character who is almost impossible to differentiate from any of the other supporting cast members.

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So what does Orihime contribute to Bleach? She’s a plot point, a trophy, a get-out-of-jail free card with her healing ability, and an occasionally remembered love interest but what she isn’t, at least not consistently, is a character.

Again, that criticism could probably be levelled at over half the cast of Bleach, but for Orihime, who started out so dynamically, it seems like such a shame that she was reduced so much over the seasons.

What are your thoughts on Orihime or any of the characters in Bleach?


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Friday’s Feature: My Hero Academia and Hero Culture

Okay, I’ve been reading a lot of My Hero Academia posts over the last couple of weeks as my recent In Case You Missed It post kind of highlighted and what I’ve really loved about these posts is the range of issues and topics they have covered. Given how excited I’ve been about this show the last few weeks it did make me want to write about it but I’m pretty sure my thoughts are still really confused as this is a series the packs a lot of social commentary into what is otherwise a relatively simple shonen anime.

So while I’d like to delve into the school system and a few of the other issues bubbling along in this show I decided I’d start with the main point of the show and that is the idea of being a hero. When I first read the premise for season 1 of My Hero Academia and realised in the world they were creating almost everyone had a super power I couldn’t help but think of Syndrome from the Incredibles.

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It seemed like by giving everyone a hero that having powers would cease to be something special and as a result things should just level out and everyone be back on the usual playing field so how would they make that setting unique. Obviously the few without powers really did get a raw deal and would probably face discrimination (kind of directly opposed to something like X-Men where it is the minority with powers who are facing continuous discrimination) and the story was going to focus on a character who wasn’t born with a power so maybe that would be something. However, they rapidly overcome that particular hurdle by transferring a power to him (admittedly one he still can’t control properly). Whichever way, back to the original point in that you have to wonder how a story where everyone has some sort of power will actually be interesting and not just a case of endless one upping.

What Syndrome’s theory fails to take into consideration is that even in the world of The Incredibles, some super heroes stand above others. This is an issue My Hero Academia takes very seriously even if it isn’t always front and centre.

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The obvious example from season one is All Might (that name is so pretentious). He’s the epitome of heroism if one assumes all the typical clichés for someone being classed as a superhero hold true. From physical appearance and prowess to his courageous acts of rescues and even the way he speaks with confidence and yet just enough humility that you don’t want to smack him one for being completely egocentric. This is a very deliberately contrived persona that All Might has donned and his motives for it are clearly explained as is the consequence of his power quickly failing him. All Might is a symbol in this world. A world full of people with absolutely incredible powers and yet someone who is strong, fast, and good for the sake of being good, still stands above as an icon and something to strive toward for young people, and something to fear for villains.

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But what happens when his power leaves? Midoriya, being Midoriya, has learned All Might’s secret and knows All Might’s time as a hero is limited but still looks up to and admires All Might. For Midoriya, it isn’t just that All Might was strong, it was his attitude and way of living that inspired and even the loss of his physical prowess is insufficient to snuff out Midoriya’s fan boy focus.  However, I think we might all agree that Midoriya and his overall attitude is something of an anomaly in the world of My Hero Academia.

How will the rest of the world respond once All Might’s power leaves him for good, or even leaves him when he is exposed to the public? Will his many years of service and hard work be respected or will he be ridiculed and cast aside? Worse still, would he be left to the mercy of the villains who so far have been kept in check by his mere presence?

From what we’ve seen of this world and the way that it measures strength and worth, you would have to unfortunately believe that even if he wasn’t scorned he would most definitely be cast aside. Serving no further use as either a rescuer or deterrent he would literally just become another has been and fade into the dark recesses of some history book that maybe future heroes would read about. That seems a tragic ending for someone who actually served a greater good even while he built quite a good brand name for himself.

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Which actually highlights the entire issue of hero culture as it is presented in My Hero Academia. There are new up and coming heroes appearing every year. The new generation of students graduating from UA and probably plenty of less well known schools that still train students to become heroes. Each one of these would-be heroes has a reason for wanting to be a hero as we’ve seen exemplified by the students in the class. They all want to be a hero but to get there and to succeed they are going to have to beat their friends, they are going to have to put themselves first, they are going to have to brand themselves, and even then they still only have a small chance of success in an already over crowded market. Essentially heroism has become the new Australia’s Got Talent (or equivalent) and ultimately just being good at being a hero isn’t going to be enough. Everyone who got into the school is potentially good at being a hero but the world doesn’t need entire classes of heroes running around. They have to stand out even at the cost of those around them and that by its very nature would lead to some fairly unheroic personalities making it through the rigorous training processes and reaching the top.

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What I find interesting about this set-up is that normal people on the street have stood back and watched as fairly low level villains have committed crimes. They wait for a hero rather than taking action even though some of their own Quirks are more than capable of dealing with things. They hold the ‘heroes’ of the story in awe even as this show goes to great lengths to humanize the current group of students and to help us realise they are all just kids working toward a dream.

Heroism as a commodity isn’t a new notion in anime or any other story telling medium. Even Clark Kent made money off Superman through writing stories about him and we know Spider Man wasn’t above peddling his own acts of heroism for cash. And it is maybe this part of the story that really sums up this show’s comment about the modern world. Everything has a price and everything is for sale. Even acts of heroism, morals, and dreams.

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But in case that seems a little depressing, just remember Midoriya has so far managed to defy all common sense in his optimism about more or less everything so maybe, just maybe, the seeds of change are already being spread amongst the students in his class.


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Friday’s Feature: Why is Natsume Yuujinchou Still Endearing After Five and a Half Seasons?

There’s no mistaking that I truly love Natsume Yuujinchou. You just need to look at the sheer number of posts I’ve tagged with Natsume to know that I not only like watching it, I like to talk about Natsume, a lot. I don’t remember who recommended it to me or why I tried it initially, but I know that once I started this adorable show I never could stop. Even when I ran out of episodes I would happily go back and just watch them all again. Had a bad day at work, or a bad week? Take a double episode of Natsume and go to bed smiling. As I watch season six of this show week to week, I began to wonder how this show has retained its magic formula and even managed to become more entertaining with time given so many shows, particularly ones where new seasons just keep getting added on, become progressively less than what they were.

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I started making a list of all the great things about Natsume. The list got extremely long by the end so I ended up condensing them into a few main points:

  • The characters particularly the central characters of Natsume and Nyanko-Sensei.
  • The episodic format of the show with themes and character growth that run through the series.
  • The feelings this show inspires in its audience.
  • The art and animation while not the most brilliant ever perfectly fit the show you are watching.
  • Every opening theme that has ever been attached to this show.

There were quite a few other points on the initial list but that isn’t surprising given I love the show. However, making this list actually helped me figure out exactly why this show succeeds season after season.

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Reason 1: The way the characters are presented to the audience.

In so many long running shows the main protagonists (and a lot of the support cast) either have a single defining personality trait or goal. Or, worse, the characters actually lose any defining trait over time slowly becoming generic and featureless in amongst a sea of other characters.

Natsume defies this trend in storytelling. He starts out fairly generic, as do most of the characters in the show, and the show has gradually fleshed them out over nearly six seasons. The affect of this on the audience is essentially feeling like we’ve naturally gotten to know someone. First introductions are fairly superficial and then we’ve slowly been allowed to see who they are underneath those initial impressions.

And this doesn’t seem accidental. Within episodes we regularly meet the yokai of the week and are given one impression before Natsume looks deeper and we realise the other side of the character. This pattern repeating over longer periods of time with the human characters and recurring yokai seems like a deliberate thematic choice of the show as it examines who Natsume is and who he is becoming.

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Which, is the second part of this story. The characters are changing. Even as we get to know who they are or who they were (through flash backs), events in the seasons we’ve seen have changed them. There’s no magic reset at the end of the episode so next episode everyone is back to the cookie cutter model we start with each week in a true sit-com style. This is an ongoing story and these characters are dynamic even if the slow pace of the show sometimes makes it seem like little progress is occurring.

Clearly Natsume, as the title character, has experienced the largest growth and development as he has slowly opened up to both human and yokai characters. However, he isn’t along in this constant change and you can see Nyanko-Sensei has softened significantly toward Natsume since season 1. His threats to eat his human companion have diminished and even when they are inserted they now seem half-hearted. He offers advice more freely and is more willing to warn Natsume of danger. He’s gone from being curious and self-interested to being genuinely fond of Natsume and this relationship is really interesting to watch.

Even Reiko, Natsume’s deceased grandmother has been given character growth as Natsume has slowly learned more about her. The end result is a world that feels incredbily rich and populated with real characters that over six seasons you’ve become friends with yourself and you genuinely care for.

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Reason 2: The overall themes of the show strike directly at the heart.

Okay, that was cheesy, but it is Natsume so it kind of had to be.

But really, the experience of watching Natsume, is one of trying to understand what it means to be human and the choices people make and why. For all the fantastical creatures and goings on, it is a story about the choices you make in life and the consequences that come from them as well as one that focusses very much on the connections that result from encounters with others.

In this the episodic nature of the show really helps it to succeed. Characters can enter the show for an episode or two and drift off only to return a season of so later but the connection they forged still exists. What this allows is for the show to never overly clutter itself with too many characters at once and we’re never wondering why such-and-such a character is even in a scene because other than Natsume, none of the characters are guaranteed an appearance if they are not necessary to the story. Even Natsume occasionally gets written out of his own narrative in order for the focus to be where it needs to be.

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For a show that is regularly as sickeningly sweet as Natsume, it knows when not to pull a happy ending out of nothing and it isn’t against leaving the characters wondering if their choice was wrong. It also doesn’t shy away from the darker side of human nature when you think about how most of Natsume’s relatives have treated him and still speak to him and about him. What makes this show a bit different is that it doesn’t wallow in its own darkness or exploit it for sensationalistic purposes. The darkness is there, but like everything else, Natsume chooses how and when to confront it and when to leave things be. It is a very real part of the narrative and while sometimes you may actively dislike a character, generally speaking you are supposed to if that is the feeling you are getting.

After five and a half seasons, my current thoughts about Natsume are that this is actually getting better as it goes. The show continues to weave backstory and lore into a world that already feels rich and real and continues to have Natsume face situations where we confront the human and inhuman equally. Hopefully season 6 can continue to shine.

There were a whole bunch of characters and ideas that I love about this show that I restrained myself from rambling about, but seriously, I’d love to know your thoughts on Natsume. Do you think Natsume has gotten better or is the charm wearing off after so many seasons?


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