Shiki Series Review

This is a re-post. All reviews from the 2nd of July until the 7th of July will be reruns. New episode and series reviews will resume on the 8th of July.

Overview:

Shiki is a horror (?) anime that came out in 2010. It is set in a small isolated village called Sotoba where life goes on the same way everyday despite the number of characters that seem dissatisfied with their everyday life. The story begins with the disappearance of Megumi, a girl who is desperate to leave the village and to shine in a big city one day. We soon learn of the events leading up to her disappearance and follow the villagers as they slowly become aware of the danger surrounding them.


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Shiki: Part 1
Shiki Part One

Shiki: Part 2
Shiki Part Two


Review:

There seem to be three views on Shiki that I have commonly encountered:

  • It’s boring and nothing happens.
  • It reignites classic horror.
  • It’s a great character piece that then throws itself under a bus for a gore filled ending.

The problem is you can’t actually disagree with any of these positions as you can see the reasoning for each. I loved Shiki. I fell in love with the characters and the community and the way the individual struggles play out even while the horror slowly consumes the village. I feel there’s a lot we can take from this in terms of the way we all get too involved in our own individual problems and lose sight of the bigger picture, much to our detriment and the detriment of the world at large.

So here is my attempt at reviewing Shiki; examining the good and the bad and ultimately my reason why I would strongly recommend this as at least a once watch.

Characters:

Shiki has a really large cast. You have the elderly villagers who either sit gossiping at the bus stop or go about their jobs. You have the children and teens trudging to school or pursuing their individual dreams. You have the police, the council, the doctors, the tradesmen, the priests and on and on it goes. What I love is that despite the small amount of time devoted to these characters, they seem genuine. You feel like you could go to this village and meet these people.

Natsuno shines as the teen dragged from the city by his parents. His only desire is to finish school and get into college so he can leave the village. His cold views and analysis of other characters regularly puts him on the wrong side of an argument but he is a fascinating character to watch, particularly in the latter half of the series.

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Muroi and Ozaki as the priest and the doctor to a wonderful job of creating opposing moral views on how to deal with the invasion of the village. Both ideals are flawed and neither side is really willing to compromise leading to the very tragic events at the end of the series. It’s interesting that Ozaki seems like the voice of reason for so much of the series but by the end becomes completely consumed by violence and Muroi who tries to sit on the fence is pushed into actions against other humans even as he realises he is in the wrong.

There are also some fantastic performances by the vampires (sorry, shiki) but it’s hard to really get into those characters without giving the plot away too much and in a horror/mystery you really don’t want to know too much about where it is going.

But if the characters are the strength of the series, they are also what ultimately bring it down. The journey you go with these characters is long and you feel you know them, so as reason is tossed aside and they become involved in increasingly violent acts it can make you uncomfortable. Characters who are set up as good or nice meet tragic ends for no other reason than to play on the audience’s emotions and barbaric characters are seemingly glorified at times. As for the main cast members, none of them could actually be described  as the hero of the piece. They are all just deeply flawed humans acting in their own self interest. While there is a great message in that, it does leave the audience with no one to really support during the final stages of the anime.

Plot:

I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers. A family of vampires have moved into the village and are using its isolated nature to their advantage as they believe no one would notice if the entire village became a vampire village. One by one the humans are dying and while at first they believe it is the work of an unusally hot season and then an epidemic, some members of the village begin to suspect more is going on.

This is a slow burning story that spends a lot of time building atmosphere and doesn’t try to do jump scares or excessive violence (though the final few episodes do become extremely gory). Creepy music, long pauses, and dialogue full of double meanings abound while actual evidence is slow coming during the first half of the series.

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Once it is finally established that vampires are in fact present in the town, there is a dramatic shift in both tone and pacing. Time is divided between the various human characters and the vampires and their actions. The similarities between the two sides are continually emphasised. Humans are faced with the prospect of killing their former loved ones (re-killing?) and the vampires are faced with the thought that they will need to kill to live. It is here we find the horror of Shiki. The questioning of the audience about what is right in such a situation. This is far more effective than any slaughter filled horror where vampires appear and devour their pray before being taken out in a shower of blood.

That said, early on you wonder why the characters are so slow to realise what is happening. You wonder what the end game could be. You also begin to wonder why the occasional absurdity is thrown in (such as the vampire run funeral which leaves the family of the deceased speechless). These moments that break the mood and disrupt the flow are frustrating. As is the ending itself. And while I won’t spoil it for those that haven’t already read about it or watched it, it just feels like they couldn’t think of any way to satisfactorily resolve the conflict.

Other:

I’ve already kind of discussed the village and its setting. The visuals are fantastic but the whole show leans towards a dark colour palette, so with the exception of Megumi  and Chizuru’s outfits, don’t expect much in the way of colour. The opening song is suitably creepy and the time skips forward and back are quite effective for showing multiple perspectives on events, and shining new light on events that you had already seen.

Verdict:

I loved Shiki. I get why other people may find it boring and may dislike the ending. But for me, it was a great journey and gave me plenty to think about, and really, I can’t think of an ending that would have been satisfying because it wasn’t that kind of anime. There wasn’t ever going to be a hero to swoop in and save the day.

What are your thoughts on Shiki? Or, what are some horror anime that have really worked for you?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Characters with a Tragic Backstory

Are there any anime protagonists who have a happy backstory? Because that might be something a bit different given the sheer number of characters who come from a past of misery and despair. Okay, I hadn’t really thought about what I was in for when I started drafting this list and to be honest, it was a bit of a nightmare thinking about whether having your parents burned to death after being sewn together was more tragic than having your entire country torn apart by war and to be honest, those kinds of decisions really can’t be made objectively. This list is definitely based on how emotional I became while watching the characters’ tragedy unfold rather than any kind of definitive measure.

Which anime character has a tragic back story that hit home for you? Let me know in the comments below.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: The entire cast of Angel Beats and Lelouch from Code Geass.


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Number 5: Vash (Trigun)

The guy can’t catch a break in the present with everyone wanting to get the bounty on his head and he’s blamed for so many different disasters. He just wants love and peace. But his current circumstances come directly from the tragedy in his past and while it is pretty much impossible to talk about without spoilers, there’s definitely an evil twin brother involved. Regardless, Vash’s pacifist attitude is almost a protest against the horror that his life has been.

Number 4: Gray (Fairy Tail)

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The entire cast of Fairy Tail should probably be on this list as well, though I haven’t really watched far enough along to the know the details of all of them. But fairly early on in the series we have quite the extended arc that delves in Gray’s past and his training by his teacher and to be honest, that was pretty heart breaking. While Gray came out of it better than his fellow student did, there’s still some pretty deep scars and emotional turmoil there. If we think back even further, the reason he was with the teacher was because of the tragedy with his parents so to be honest we’re just kind of lurching from one disaster to the next when we look at Gray’s childhood.


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Number 3: Scar (Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood)

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What is more cliché than tragic backstory? Tragic backstory that leaves a visible scar. Despite making fun of it, Scar’s story is really quite horrific no matter how you want to look at it. As a survivor of a war that was more of an extermination than a fight and as someone who was forced to carry a power he found repulsive, Scar’s general anger towards everything kind of makes sense. Still, the nightmare doesn’t end as he goes out for revenge. It kind of prolongs the misery of this story.

Number 2: Ciel (Black Butler)

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Child with dead parents cliché? But this one is so much better than just that. Set in the Victorian era a conspiracy of monumental proportions brings down the family that serve the Queen and the child, tormented and humiliated, decides that the perfect solution to this is to take them all down even if he has to sell his soul to the demon who becomes known as Sebastian. The real tragedy here is that even if Ciel succeeds at his plan, his young soul is going to be devoured so he has no future. This isn’t just a tragic backstory. This is a living and breathing tragedy.


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Number 1: Yato (Noragami)

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While we haven’t yet heard all of Yato’s backstory, the pieces the audience have seen don’t exactly paint a great picture. Known as a god of calamity who would take on any wish isn’t exactly something that seems like it would be a pleasant existence. Couple in some real daddy issues with the as yet unseen string puller and Yato’s past is complex and has some fairly far reaching consequences. For those who know the silly facade Yato puts on in the presence, even they can see that there’s some deep pain buried underneath. I’m hoping when we finally get the whole story it manages to match the build up but to be honest, a lot of the time seeing Yato’s past makes me want to bring him home and feed him cookies.

And that’s my list but I’d love to know what would make your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Smart Anime Characters

Before getting into this list, I will point out that one of the most annoying things in stories than an anime character who the audience is told is smart who then acts like a complete air-head for the entire run-time. I get that some characters are smart in one specific skill and therefore have issues at other things, but some supposedly smart characters just act really dumb. Therefore, my list is focusing on consistency. Characters who are smart and who consistently seem to think through their actions, even if they don’t always draw the right conclusions.

That said, I’d love to know who you would have included on your list of smart anime characters so please leave a comment below.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Light (Death Note), Uruhara (Bleach), and Ami (Sailor Moon).


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Number 5: Lelouch (Code Geass)

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Realistically I understand the Lelouch made a lot of mistakes. Still, given he was a high school student who was presented with a sudden opportunity to take what he wanted, he actually thought through quite a few things and had a lot more success than he might have if he wasn’t such a quick thinker. Ultimately, for all the mistakes Lelouch made, he found a way back and some of his plans were pretty brilliant. Probably Lelouch’s biggest problem early on was over-confidence but after the end of season 1 he seemed to overcome that and from then on he was pretty good at what he was doing.


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Number 4: Rei (March Comes in Like a Lion)

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Rei is a genius Shogi player. He doesn’t get much about life and what he does get, he overthinks horribly, but considering his age and experience, the boy is pretty smart. Even though he puts himself down all the time and, particularly in season one, he paints himself in a negative light, he’s someone who is managing to live on his own, study his craft, and attempt to finish school mostly on his own. He’s one smart cookie and one who deserves to give himself a bit of praise every now and then for what he has achieved and he shouldn’t worry so much about his failures.

Number 3: Kurisu (Steins;Gate)

Steins - Microphone

I had a hard time deciding between Okabe and Kurisu, but ultimately Kurisu is the more logical and the one more likely to put the hard work in to figure out what makes things tick. Okabe’s more manic approach may stumble upon a success every now and again, but Kurisu is the one who can begin to understand the how and the why and the limitations. Almost all of the adaptations to the phone-microwave as the series went on were because of Kurisu’s testing and meticulous work and so she well and truly deserves her place on this list. That and she managed to not kill Okabe for calling her Christina.


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Number 2: Tatsuya Shiba (The Irregular at Magic High School)

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For someone who can’t perform well on the standardised tests of his world, Tatsuya Shiba more than makes up for it everywhere else. Brilliant at magical theory, manipulating magical devices, and generally figuring out ways around his limitations, he’s more or less unstoppable (which would kind of be why so many people throw the overpowered label at him). Be that as it may, he’s a very smart character and one I would not want to be up against in any battle of wits – though that’s probably true of every character on this list.

Number 1: Korosensei (Assassination Classroom)

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For all that he ended up an experiment that went a bit wrong, Korosensei proves over and over again that he knows his stuff as a teacher. He delivers the curriculum across a range of subjects and also expands the students’ knowledge into a whole range of fields.  If it wasn’t for the whole blow up the world thing, he’d be the perfect teacher and he certainly deserves his place as number one on my list.

And that’s my list but I’d love to know what would make your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Based on Light Novels From The Last 5 Years

I am going to credit the idea for this list to Lethargic Ramblings and their excellent post last week In Defense Of Light Novel Adaptations. While reading it I suddenly really felt like making this list and while I limited it to the last 5 years to make the selection easier, it was still pretty hard to narrow this list down to a top 5. I’d love to know some of your favourite adaptations so be sure to leave me a comment below.

It is important to note I am not basing this on how well adapted the story is, given I haven’t read the source material for a lot of my picks. I’m just discussing anime that were really fun to watch that happened to be adaptations of light novels.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Sword Art Online (original series not in the last 5 years) and Alderamin on the Sky.


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Number 5: GATE

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I know some people don’t like GATE and there are quite a few issues with the story, but that doesn’t actually stop it being really fun. There are some interesting character moments and a little bit of political commentary. None of it gets enough development when there is a harem and silly comedy to get on with, but it still makes for a fairly engaging story at times. Overall, this is an anime I had fun with and it reminded me of Stargate and other shows I liked a lot as a teen.


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Number 4: Chaika – The Coffin Princess

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This is another show that has its silly moments, but the first season at least is quite interesting. I really enjoy watching the saboteurs helping Chaika to recover the body parts of the former emperor while evading pursuit. There’s some great moments and fun fights as well as a nice dash of magic to keep things moving along. The second season kind of fell apart a bit as it tried to cram so much information in as it attempted to rush to a resolution, but at least it does end the story so things aren’t left open and unresolved.

Number 3: Lord Marksman and Vandis

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There is no surprise that I love this series and Tigre is one of my favourite bow wielding characters. While I’ll admit, Lord Marksman and Vanadis is an odd mix of military tactics and harem fantasy with the mix not sitting particularly well at times, it is certainly a unique viewing experience and one that I found fairly memorable. Not to mention, Tigre is awesome.


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Number 2: Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon

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Right, so now we get to just one of my favourite binge worthy anime titles. DanMachi is fantastic fun. Okay, you can’t take it overly seriously given the main character has extreme plot armour and it is definitely a fantasy on a power trip but this is just great fun. Exploring the dungeon, nearly getting killed, interacting with others, nearly getting killed, eating good food, nearly getting killed… There’s just so much enthusiasm and fun plus it features one of the best fight sequences ever just after the midway point. This is one series I loved (though the spin-off was pretty bland).

Number 1: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Grimgar

It kind of had to be. After all, this was the anime that actually inspired me to finally take up reading light novels and I don’t regret that at all. While the slow pace of the show may put some people off, I found Grimgar to be a truly delightful viewing experience. I loved how it dealt with human emotions and the real survival aspect of living in a fantasy world where you may not have the right skill set for hunting and killing. I really fell in love with this anime and I’m really enjoying reading the light novels. Though it has left me wondering why there is no second season of this.

And that’s my list but I’d love to know what would make your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: What Makes Something ‘Near Great’

As a self-proclaimed anime fan, it is sometimes hard to step back from something and really think about it. Aiming for some form of objectivity in reviews, which is never overly objective, compared with simply letting out my inner fan-girl and letting her scream “I love you anime” at the top of her lungs. Anyone who might know me in real life might scoff at the thought of me doing that, but I swear that inner fan-girl exists and sometimes she’s a real pain as she buzzes through my brain like a bee on a sugar high.

Small spoiler warning for The Ancient Magus’ Bride final episode in the images.

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And even then, some of you who have simply read my reviews will think, “Hang on a minute, weren’t you the one who gave such-and-such a scathing review or criticised so-and-so for some plot development?” And the answer would definitely be, yes. Because while that inner fan-girl exists and I sometimes love her exuberance, energy and optimism, the reality is that in any particular season of anime there are only so many good shows.

Once you eliminate all of the ones that are outside of your genre or personal preference, sometimes you are lucky to find one or two fairly solid shows within a single season. That doesn’t mean they are the only ones I like. Fan-girl me is happily laughing still at King’s Game and taking somewhat overly excited pleasure in how far Spiritpact has come since its abysmal first episode. If I only found one or two shows I liked, I’d hardly call myself a fan.

But inner fan-girl isn’t alone bouncing around inside my brain. She’s sharing the stage with a lot of different views and one of those is the cynic inside me who waits eagerly to pounce on anything fun and find the flaw (it doesn’t help that some of those flaws are even apparent to the fan-girl). This is the me that waits for things that are rising to fall, and was somewhat smugly satisfied with how KADO ended if only because it meant that inner fan-girl had to take a time out having been bitterly disappointed.

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Naturally I am speaking metaphorically and hopefully I don’t actually have multiple personalities streaming around my head for real (it’s crowded enough).

However, this post is about the ‘near great’ in anime and what I want to look at are two shows that have aired either entirely or partially during the Winter 2018 season that both stopped short of reaching greatness (despite the inner fan-girl willing them to be truly amazing). I enjoyed both in different ways and inner fan-girl was incredibly happy watching them. She waited eagerly for the episode to start and basked in the characters and the plot. For one of those shows she also basked in the gorgeous visuals while in the other she tolerated the odd lighting choices but found other things to enjoy. And yet, as the season comes to an end, and I start thinking about recommendations and what to say about these shows, the cynic in me strikes.

So why aren’t they great?

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I suppose you could ask that question of almost anything with just as much honest expectation of gaining an answer. “Why aren’t you better?” “Why don’t you match my ideals of what you should be?” “How could you fail there?”

For me though each show has one particular issue that is a sticking point that I cannot overlook. While everything will have its flaws, these are genuine concerns that, regardless of how great some aspects of the shows might be, they will never end up on my list of all time favourites even though they will end up on my list for favourite of the season.

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The Ancient Magus’ Bride

If you have followed Weekend Otaku and my collaboration series ‘200 Word Anime‘ you will know that for awhile now I’ve had some misgivings about The Ancient Magus Bride. Mostly petty nit-pickings of a show that is gorgeous to watch, has some excellent music, beautifully depicted magic and folk-lore and a reasonably compelling central couple. Okay, pacing is an issue and the whole cliff-hanger ending without really using it well in the next episode are things that have been minor irritations, but ultimately they aren’t deal breakers with this show and really come down to my own personal tastes.

No, what seals The Ancient Magus’ Bride in my mind as a show that isn’t going to achieve greatness no matter how much I wished it would is how the support cast are ultimately dealt with. That is to say, how they are not dealt with. In the race to bring events to their conclusion, characters are either entirely forgotten or become largely inconsequential. While the main couple get a worthy resolution, other characters still don’t even have a genuine purpose that has been explained. And one of those is a fairly important antagonist during the final episode and I literally have no idea what he actually wants from the confrontation.

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Any minor flaws I was over looking or putting down to taste paled in comparison with an ending that tripped over itself to get the main characters to their moment. Realistically, the show needed to move faster earlier on or needed to cull some of the characters when it adapted itself from manga to anime (assigning certain events to different characters to make it work). However, then purists would have accused it of butchering the source material and so this was a no-win situation. Ultimately people are still comparing the anime unfavourably against its source and people who never read the source just found the end a little bemusing even as it maintained the gorgeous quality we had come to expect from the series.

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens

As we move on, I will note this is not an exceptional show by any means. Yet it sits higher on my watch list than the Ancient Magus’ Bride and is one I’ve talked about a lot. The reason for that is I went in expecting nothing and got something wholly enjoyable. Fan-girl me went crazy for it and episode 4 which tied events of the first arc together beautifully really cemented this as one of my favourite shows of the season. But favourite of the season doesn’t mean I am blind to its flaws and while I will still most definitely recommend this anime as being worth checking out, to say it is one of the great anime of the year would probably be a lie.

Yet it isn’t the somewhat questionable visuals, the slight repetitiveness to the sound-track (awesome music, but repetitive), or even the heavy subject matter of hitmen and assassins being given a light comedic treatment that really stops this show from tipping into the realm of great. Realistically, it is the lack of tension and sense of danger this show has inflicted upon itself.

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I know, a show about hitmen and assassins lacks tension or danger? How did that happen?

Well, the anime never, and I do mean never, actually allows the main characters to actually be seriously injured, maimed or killed. No matter what happens to them or whether they are a more peripheral main character, or even if they deserve it. No, our happy hitmen will be back playing baseball in an episode or two even after being stabbed in the gut, so don’t stress or worry. Seriously. About anyone. Everyone will be fine. At least everyone you care about because the villains are totally forgettable and throw-away and treated as such (I’m hoping for a final episode blood bath but I doubt I’ll get it).

It makes for a fun viewing experience, provided the subject matter doesn’t rub you the wrong way, but it doesn’t make for particularly deep or something that is going to have a long lasting impact.

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Where to now?

The thing is, not every anime has to be great. While the great ones will awe you, blow you away, and eventually sit upon your shelf in DVD form and probably in other merchandise as well, sometimes it is enough that you have fun with what you are watching. The Near Great are the anime that keep me entertained and give me something positive to say each week. They are the anime I’ll chat about with friends and probably remember for a couple of seasons after they are done. They are anime I might even get the DVD of, once it comes down in price.  The Near Great are what keep me watching anime season after season as there are many of these and they come in many forms.

So I’ll ask you now, what are the Near Great anime you’ve been watching recently?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Reasons To Like Kirito

As far as anime characters go there are many that are beloved and held up as shining examples of amazing characters. Kirito from SAO isn’t usually one of them and to be honest, I’m not actually going to argue he should be. However, I really like Kirito as a character and so my list today are my top reasons to like him. Feel free to share reasons why you don’t like him, another character you think isn’t given enough love, or even your reasons for liking Kirito in the comments below. Just remember to play nice.


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Please note: There will be spoilers below.

No honourable mentions this week.

Number 5: He’s Got Moves

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Okay, the Black Swordsman might be overpowered (depending on how you want to define that) and maybe we know plot armour is going to see him through regardless of the challenge (which kind of points out he isn’t that overpowered given he needs plot armour in addition to being crazy strong) but Kirito has some genuine moves with those swords. While a slightly more detailed animation style rather than colourful spam movement effects might have been nice in order to see more of that style, that aesthetic kind of matches the trapped in a game feel more or less perfectly so I can’t really be that critical. However, I put Kirito’s fights against some of the floor bosses (the few we see) just below Bell from DanMachi in terms of epic fight scenes to watch (and by epic, I mean I really enjoy watching them).

Number 4: Despite Having Moves, He’s Also a Klutz

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Maybe it is the Sailor Moon fan in me coming out but Kirito is at his most charming when utterly failing at simple things. That’s probably the reason that despite all my complaints about the Ordinal Scale movie, I still genuinely enjoyed it. Kirito spends the first part of the movie more or less out of his depth and tripping over himself before he finally switches into a more serious mode. He’s definitely less fun then.

Number 3: Though there’s a gaggle of girls surrounding him, Kirito has eyes only for Asuna

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Say what you want about Kirito’s harem, Kirito being surrounded by girls, none of the girls having any purpose other than to fall in love with Kirito and Kirito not deserving to be liked by so many girls (and all the other things that people like to say) the simple truth is Kirito has been completely loyal in his affections from start to finish. While he helps others out, and those others are regularly girls who then do stare at him with puppy dog eyes for a fair while, it is quite obvious that Kirito feels real love for Asuna and that it is mutual. The two have a bond that is incredible to see develop and to watch over the course of the first two arcs. The boy is loyal and he’s standing by Asuna no matter what and literally watched the end of a world with her by his side.

Number 2: Socially awkward teen who remains socially awkward, I’m in

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Kirito starts season one of SAO mostly isolated from his family, unsure who he is, and not overly social. He struggles to communicate with others and while Klein forces his way into Kirito’s attention, Kirito remains strictly a loner for a fair length of time inside the game. Much like his klutziness, his socially awkward moments that continue through large parts of the series remain one of my favourite parts because it reminds us that though Kirito does begin to open up to others and slowly builds up a circle of friends he still isn’t exactly well practiced in social graces.


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Number 1: Sound advice about enjoying the moment, no matter how messed up it might be

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While at first Kirito responded to the game with fear for his life and a genuine drive to escape (a drive that never went away entirely), he did come to an acceptance of his circumstances faster than many other characters. He continued to look for a way out of the game, a way to win, but he also remembered to take time to enjoy the world they were in and the life they were living. It was a game so many of them had wanted to play and a rich virtual world that was truly beautiful. Kirito realised the positives of the situation even while he didn’t resign himself to never escaping. It was a lovely thought about appreciating the moment and taking what you can from it, even while keeping sight of what you want.

And that is my list for this week but be sure to check back next week for a new list, or you can check out all of my Top 5 lists here. For now though, leave us a comment sharing your love for Kirito (or otherwise).


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Friday’s Feature: 3 Reasons Why Rukia Kuchiki Should Have Died At The End of Season 3

No surprise that I’m back to Bleach given it was one of the anime that got me into anime as an adult. Previously I’ve looked at whether Orihime contributes anything to Bleach and it occurred to me at the time that I really needed to look at Rukia’s character (okay, I need to look at a lot of characters in Bleach and eventually I need to review it as well but that will be a long time before I get to it). Today I finally intend to get around to arguing the case that Rukia Kuchiki should have died at the end of season 3 of Bleach (clearly spoilers incoming for those who haven’t watched it).


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Now unlike my post that took a swipe at Orihime, I really like Rukia’s character. She’s the literal life changer of Ichigo by being the catalyst for him getting caught up in pretty much everything that happens from the first episode forward. She’s got a strong presence and even when stripped of her powers strives to fight and fight hard. Anyone who has watched the first season of Bleach knows that Rukia Kuchiki is one tough cookie, who is also terrible at art.

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And while I probably swooned a little bit when Ichigo first swept in to save Rukia after many, many, many, many episodes of him fighting his way through Soul Society to rescue her, part of me had to wonder how much better the series would be if he had faced a complete defeat and failed to save her in that instance. So much of the tension in the show vanishes after the end of season 3, so much of the drive, and ultimately Rukia’s character becomes one that increasingly serves little purpose other than the occasional pep-talk (or smack down).

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However, I’ve narrowed it down to 3 main reasons why Rukia Kuchiki should have died at this point in the story (and none of them have anything to do with shipping wars and whether Ichigo would be better off with Rukia or Orihime).

01. Rukia’s character becomes reasonably redundant after the initial arc has run its course.

She’s an impressive character to be sure. When Ichigo’s family were in danger she showed up to fight the Hollow and then when she failed and was injured, she gave Ichigo the power he needed to protect his family. It was an incredibly self-less act (though she didn’t actually intend to hand over all her power so it’s a little less selfless than it might at first appear).

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After serving first as the catalyst for change, Rukia adopts a mentor role in the story. She teaches Ichigo what he needs to know and provides him access to a range of tools that sometimes even help him out as he tries to defeat Hollows and protect those around him.

Then we get to the end of season 1 and the tone shifts dramatically as Rukia is finally tracked down by other Shinigami from Soul Society who believe she’s broken the law in staying in the human world as long as she has and in giving her power to a human. They beat Ichigo down and take Rukia back to Soul Society providing the clear goal for the next two seasons. Defeat everyone in Soul Society and rescue the girl. It’s a pretty big down-grade for a mentor character in the first place going from adviser to damsel in distress in about ten minutes of air-time, but it again sets out a necessary goal for our hero. Still, I wonder how Yoda would have reacted to that kind of plot twist? She’s the prize, the trophy or the life sized Kinder Surprise awaiting rescue at the end of an arduous hero’s journey.

Eventually however she is rescued but Ichigo no long needs her as a mentor. Many other characters have swept in to fill that void (most of them older and significantly wiser than Rukia). She’s not one of his friends, they aren’t love interests (unless you happen to be on that side of the shipping wars), they no longer have a mentor-mentee relationship, so the question becomes what role does she serve?

I think the show itself flails as it attempts to answer that question. For awhile after the rescue, Rukia disappears to ‘regain’ her powers or whatever and she does appear off and on afterwards, notably showing up in the Hueco Mundo arc when Ichigo wants to save Orihime. And anyone who watched to that point knows Rukia is fantastic when we finally get to see her fight with her power actually in-tact.

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But, was she needed? Honestly, this arc was stretched enough so seeing Rukia get a cool fight might have been fantastic for Rukia fans, but all it did was slow the story. It tried to bring some closure to the whole Rukia killing her friend who was possessed by a hollow way back when too, but that story was never much of a major tipping point and the conclusion is more or less pointless. Rukia does get a friendship with Orihime, but this also isn’t much of a bonus for a series as hopelessly padded as Bleach becomes.

This story needed to take a tip from Game of Thrones. Kill your characters, occasionally. If they aren’t needed, or even if they are, occasionally take them out. In this instance, Rukia had served any purpose she was ever going to for the grander narrative and any thing attributed to her after season 3 could easily have gone to the thousands of other underused characters. So as a redundant and no longer purposeful character, killing her off seems like the smart move to me.

And I know the counter argument. Just because she doesn’t serve a purpose anymore doesn’t mean she needs to die. But…

02. Think how much more motivated Ichigo would have been to track down Aizen and make him pay. Really, after the Soul Society arc Bleach loses focus. Aizen flees and Ichigo resumes his normal life with the slight perk (problem) of being a substitute shinigami. There’s no sense of urgency to do anything about the guy who literally had all of Soul Society dancing to his tune.

However, if Rukia dies, Ichigo loses it. He’s driven to be the best, to save those around him, he gave it everything he had and pushed himself beyond his limit and he still failed to watch Aizen float up into the sky and escape. Ichigo becomes obsessed with bringing Aizen down and guess how much faster we can now get to the invasion of Hueco Mundo and the ultimate face-off between these two. Added bonus, Byakuya Kuchiki (Rukia’s brother after he adopted her), is also ticked and Soul Society get off their collective butts and do something far sooner than they actually did. Added, added bonus, Renji also gets a massive power up after witnessing the death of his childhood friend.

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Giving Ichigo a solid motivation would give this story so much more purpose and direction. Because basically after rescuing Rukia, the show flounders. And it does this for a long time until Orihime is targeted and abducted and Ichigo decides he must save yet another damsel in distress, setting up an almost mockery of his first desperate race into Soul Society as he now charges into Hueco Mundo. I get that not everything in long running series is going to be amazing, but that was a rehash of a motive if ever we saw one and it effectively knee-capped any kind of character progress Ichigo may have made.

Kill Rukia, get a more affective motive for our protagonist and kick the story into high gear faster. Not seeing a down side to this plan. But let’s get to the third reason and it is probably the most crucial.

03. Nobody of note ever seems to die in Bleach. The occasional villain gets a send off but most characters recover from even the most insane wounds. Ichigo himself is pretty much killed at least four times before he ever finds Rukia in Soul Society and yet plot armour is such a fierce thing. Don’t get me wrong, this adds to the fun of the show. Zany and over the top fight sequences and attacks, blood splatter and drama at every corner, but you don’t actually have to get too worried.

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But, Rukia is a different story. This was a chance to give this story a truly dramatic turning point and give the show some actual narrative credibility in amongst all the shouting, sword flailing antics. It was an opportunity utterly squandered by the need to keep her alive so that she could engage in some half-hearted verbal sparring with Ichigo and linger on fairly pointlessly in a story that had outgrown its beginnings.

And let’s relate this back to her main role early on. She was Ichigo’s mentor. Mentor’s die. Sorry Yoda, Konobi, Gandalf (okay, he came back to life), Ur (Fairy Tail), Mami (Madoka), and Kamina (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann) but mentor characters die. They pass what is needed onto the next one and then they bow out of the story.

Rukia was the character who could be killed off because of the role she’d played. It would hurt the audience greatly but it would be one of the most memorable moments of the series and her character would be remembered as the amazing young warrior who gave Ichigo the start he needed on the road to whatever it was he became by the end (seriously, is there anything Ichigo isn’t by the end?).

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You could argue almost every problem people have with Bleach after the third season stems from Rukia still being alive. Ichigo isn’t motivated to chase down Aizen until far later in the series. There’s no sense of tension or drama and no matter how bleak the situation you know these characters will survive. Absolutely. Without fail, survive.

So let’s imagine a reboot. Let’s take the incredible concept of Bleach, trim all the fat, and really think about the role the characters were set to play and have the series play out as it really should. See that fantastic moment when Ichigo realises his failure and Rukia’s final moments play out? See Ichigo actually have an immediate clear goal to progress with after this arc?

Certainly, this is all a matter of my opinion but these are the three reasons why I think Rukia Kuchiki should have died at the end of season 3. If you’d like to share your thoughts on the matter, be sure to leave me a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Male Characters with Green Hair

Following on from last week’s selection of female characters with green hair, I now bring you the list of male characters. These are my personal favourite characters who have the distinction of having green hair, though in many cases I’m still not sure why given green is not even close to a natural hair colour. You have to admit though, some of these guys look great with it.

As always, feel free to add your thoughts and your choices in the comments below as I’d love to know some of your favourite male characters with green hair.

Please note: There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions: Rei Sagara (Love Stage) and Genpachi Inukai (Hakkenden).

Number 5: Envy from Full Metal Alchemist

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Not hard to see why Envy would earn a place on the list. To start with, the hair actually makes sense when you consider the sin they are portraying, and secondly, this character was fantastic. Self-centred and with a massive chip on their shoulder, Envy stayed true to who they were all the way through the story (both versions) and was a great deal of fun to watch on screen no matter what they were up to.

Number 4: Jae Ha from Akatsuki no Yona

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He’s a massive flirt and playboy but also a very loyal friend and warrior, Jae-Ha initially annoyed me when he was introduced as one of the dragons in Akatsuki no Yona but it is very hard to overlook his charms as a character. Despite his frivolous exterior, he has his reasons for his actions and ultimately he is probably the dragon with the most familiarity with the ways of the world and an ability to cope with new situations.


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Number 3: Sadao Maou from The Devil is a Part-timer 

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Sadou is a fantastic character. Having fallen from being the demon king in control of a country to a part time employee of a rip-off McDonald’s, he still isn’t going to let anything get in the way of his ambitions. What I like the most about his character is that he isn’t just waiting for an opportunity or for success to fall upon him. Sadou Maou is out there every day working to make his dreams a reality and for the most part he is working within the rules of the system around him and trying hard to overcome the obstacles in ordinary ways. Anyway, he is a great deal of fun and the thought of the devil making pepper fries is always pretty amusing.


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Number 2: Gon from Hunter x Hunter

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While I’m not quite finished my journey through Hunter x Hunter yet (almost there now), Gon has been quite the joy to meet and travel with. While by himself he isn’t an overly impressive character, his interactions with the support cast bring out the best in him and in the rest of the cast making him fairly memorable. Of course, the spiky green hair certainly leaves an impression as well, though I’m not quite sure how it manages to stay looking like that given I’m pretty sure Gon isn’t using any kind of product. Any way, he is a super cute, super hard working and super loyal character and he is great fun to watch in action.

Number 1: Midoriya from My Hero Academia

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Were you honestly expecting anyone else to top out this list? While Midoriya might be a new comer to my favourite character list, he’s certainly left quite the impression. Another impossibly hard worker and someone who isn’t just waiting for success to be bestowed upon them, Midoriya is a character I admire for his focus on his goal and his willingness to fight for what he wants to achieve. Also his genuine concern for his friends is kind of impressive particularly as he was teased most of his life which could have left him being the bitter and anti-social individual, but instead he’s just a really nice person who has a really big dream. And that is why he gets the number 1 spot on this list.

Okay, so they are my top 5 male anime characters with green hair. Over to you and who you would have put on your list.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

 

Friday’s Feature: On The Man-Devouring Woman in Darling in the FRANXX

Since it premiered three weeks ago there have been a lot of posts about the Trigger/A-1 project, Darling in the Franxx. It seems this show got a lot of people talking, even if they were simply explaining why they won’t be watching it. Hardly surprising given despite the seemingly innocuous story of robots fighting the anime is filled with a plethora of sexual references and imagery around sexuality and it isn’t being subtle about it in the least. It was clearly not caring if it rubbed people the wrong way when it decided to position the female pilot bending over in front of her male partner who controls the robot with handsets that are literally connected to the girls’ flight suits (which for added fun are literally sprayed onto their body in a fan service laden scene).

That said, let me be clear in that while I like seeing female characters getting a range of decent roles, I don’t object to every representation of female characters in subservient roles on principle. Nor do I particularly object to this, though I can certainly see why it might annoy some. For me Darling in the Franxx represents a flawed futuristic society and one I’m kind of hoping ends up in flames by the end of the series, so for me it isn’t exactly promoting this kind of treatment of women as something that should be acceptable because the whole system is so crazy it is clearly designed to be rejected. And yes, there are issues of normalised sexuality in the way they are all paired off boy-girl but again, given the system itself here isn’t exactly something we would be leaping to adopt, I’m pretty sure the show isn’t asking us to accept that this is the actual norm that we should be aspiring to.

Moving on. A lot of the talk has focused on the partners such as Ichigo and Goro who clearly represent the normal dynamic within the world (even if that dynamic is clearly restrictive and largely insane in terms of operational efficiency for any kind of robot – okay, I am not letting go of the fact that whoever built these machines should have been fired and their funding given to someone who actually understands that technology should work all the time and not just when adolescents manage to make some sort of emotional connection). And while I haven’t disliked these discussions the more interesting character in the story seems to be the one who is getting the least attention.

And that is Zero-Two.

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Admittedly, a lot about Zero-Two is an enigma which leaves us with a lot of speculation and very little in the way of fact, but Zero-Two is exactly the kind of female character who manages to always leave me just a little bit concerned. Yes, in an anime about female characters being literally driven by their male partners I’m concerned about the one who seems somewhat free of the otherwise incredibly restrictive system. However, that is because of the precedent set in literature for how these sorts of characters are ultimately dealt with by narrative and while I’d love to believe that Zero-Two would avoid these pit-falls and give us a strong and independent female character, there’s already more than enough evidence to suggest that isn’t true.

So far Zero-Two has demonstrated that she is nothing more than another representation of the archetypal character the man-devouring woman. The show isn’t even subtle about setting her up that way (though, it isn’t subtle about anything else so why would it try to hide this).

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In almost every culture, mythology throws up this character. The monstrous woman unbound by societal norms who either lures men to their deaths through beguiling them or essentially hunts them down and quite literally devours them. As we came to more modern literature this character took a new form and became the social outcast or, if slightly more empowered, the femme fatale. What really didn’t change was the fate of these characters. In mythology they were almost always ultimately hunted down and defeated (chained, trapped or killed) by a heroic male who represented all that was good with society and in modern stories they either tragically conform to social norms, are sent away or forced into hiding, or in the case where they refuse to conform they are killed off.

How does Zero-Two fit this pattern? Well, she’s literally part monster and this is represented through both her hair colour and horns. She’s different from others in appearance so even if she were to bow her head and behave in the same meek manner that seems to be expected of the others when in the presence of adults, she still would not fit in with the others. But then there are her brash mannerisms and her wilful nature defying control and normal standards. But, you know, the most obvious clue would be that she quite literally devours those who pilot with her, killing them in three rides.

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One of the things I find interesting is that  Zero-Two is a character who presents herself as free from a fairly oppressive system and yet ultimately doesn’t go directly against her orders. While she might speak harshly and not play nice, she hasn’t defied the system in any meaningful capacity. She’s actually fairly comparable to Ichigo in that she has asserted herself and her claim over Hiro but is toeing a fairly fine line between assertion and disobedience. Even episode three when she helped Hiro pass through a security screen was more of a prank than an act of defiance. The audience therefore is given a false notion that she’s somewhat empowered when in fact she’s every bit as bound by aspects of the system as everyone else.

Basically, other than the point that Zero-Two devours her male partners (which we still aren’t sure if it is intentional or not though events at the end of episode 3 certainly suggest she has some control over it) she is ultimately just another victim of a system that no sane person is going to look at and think is okay. She’s being used because she is useful and her attitude tolerated because she knows what the line that she shouldn’t cross is.

And this leads me to my concerns for where they take this character. Ultimately I think we all know Zero-Two and Hiro will partner up and when they do, the question is whether they continue to work within the system or whether together they decide on defiance. Either way it probably won’t end well. Given there are only a few real options and none of them don’t really sit well no matter how they try and spin it.

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Hiro may indeed be the perfect partner for Zero-Two and bring an end to her man-devouring ways. In which case we get the mythical story of the man taming the beast/woman, or a modern day version of the Taming of the Shrew. Which seems like a fairly lame ending for a character who has made as much of a splash in the early episodes as Zero-Two.

Hiro may be the perfect partner for Zero-Two and essentially gives her leave to do as she likes in order to save the others in some crisis down the line leaving him as the noble sacrifice and her once again as the useful beast. Double whammy if they also knock her off after the fact.

The two may confront the system head-on and end up royally burned with both of them going down in flames (after either bringing the system down or failing to do so). They might survive but I’m not getting a survivor kind of vibe from this show.

Alternatively, Hiro may ultimately reject Zero-Two after he gets a glimpse of her true face. That would be the truly tragic end for this show.

In the nature of optimism and because I don’t like being too wrong with predictions, maybe they are a match made in heaven, perfectly compliment each other’s weaknesses and end up being the best team ever and fight all the bad monsters living happily ever after without ever questioning or challenging the system that governs their reality.

I think that covers all bases really.

I should probably point out, I’m actually really enjoying Darling in the Franxx so far. While it isn’t my favourite show ever and I’m not the biggest mecha fan out there, it has so far been serviceable enough and entertaining enough at setting itself up. And certainly the side conversations about female characters and sexuality in anime have been an interesting byproduct of this anime airing.

Turning it over to you and your thoughts on Zero-Two so far, leave us a comment below and get the conversation going.


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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If you enjoyed this post and would like to see Patreon2more great content on this blog, consider becoming a patron for as little as $1 a month.

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Friday’s Feature: The Dynamics of Duos

The Autumn 2017 anime season gave viewers many things, but one thing I took away from it was an absolute love of Chito and Yuuri, a duo made up of two moe girls surviving in a dying a world. In a show that really only had two characters for the majority of its run time, those two and their relationship was crucial to the show’s charm and success and they pulled it off with seeming ease. But what made those two such a perfect duo?

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I kind of touched on this in one of my episode posts where I pointed out that Chito and Yuuri had pretty much demonstrated the two types of people in the world (an over-simplification but it does feed in to why these two work so well). For those who didn’t read the post the basic idea was that the girls had found a path marked by arrows and Chito had commented that she wished life could be like that with clear arrows pointing the way. Yuuri on the other hand wanted to leave the path just to see what might be down another away.

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From that, it might seem like the show was simply playing on the opposites attract characterisation as seen in a million buddy cop shows and there is an element of that in Girls’ Last Tour. And yet, the relationship the girls have is more complicated than just being opposites of one another. So while Yuuri might be the more adventurous and the first to ask if something is edible or to simply try biting something and Chito might be the kind of try to find a description of it in a book and not trying eating it until she is sure it is edible, both girls do in fact explore a world that is seemingly dead and has proven more than once to be dangerous and both remain surprisingly positive in the face of fair amount of hopelessness.

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It is in the final episodes however that you really realise that for all that Chito has been the quiet one, the one not carrying a gun, the one unlikely to race ahead without a plan; she can only be like that because she has Yuuri with her. Yuuri saves Chito when the path crumbles beneath their bike and took the lead in defending the two when they were threatened, and yet when Yuuri gets into what might be a sticky situation, Chito doesn’t hesitate. She picks up the gun and she races after her friend. Likewise, we have seen a number of times that Yuuri might come off as lazy, selfish and a little bit silly at times and yet she comes through every time when Chito needs her. Yuuri is also only able to be Yuuri because Chito has her back and won’t let her do anything too stupid. What makes the relationship really work is clearly both girls know what the other provides for them and they respect the other for the balance they provide.

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That is what makes these girls so adorable to watch as they muse about life, the universe and everything (or at least where they will go next and what they might eat). It is also what makes it so fun thinking about whether you are more like Chito or Yuuri and most of us will draw the conclusion that there’s a little bit of both inside of us depending on the situation (though Yuuri lost me a little when she set a book on fire).

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After finishing Girls’ Last Tour I started thinking about other anime duos that I’d really enjoyed and this was actually a struggle as so many anime rely on group dynamics (five is a number that comes up a lot particularly in high school anime – though that is a post for another day). I ended up thinking of Takeo and Sunakawa from My Love Story and Isaac and Miria from Baccano.

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Takeo and Sunakawa are fantastic and were what really made My Love Story come alive for me (okay, I also like Takeo’s relationship with Yamato given it is what the show is about). And when thinking about it, Takeo and Sunakawa have a similar style relationship to Chito and Yuuri. On the surface they seem like opposites and that’s fine enough and would create enough of an interesting watch. And yet it is the way they complement each other and the way that they use the other’s strength to support themselves that makes the relationship truly meaningful.

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It isn’t all smooth sailing (particularly when Takeo decides he needs to practice kissing and Sunakawa is his nominated test subject) but Takeo ditches his girlfriend on her birthday midway through their date to be with Sunakawa at the hospital when Sunakawa’s father is having surgery. And Sunakawa turned down every girl who ever asked him out because they’d all said something bad about Takeo behind his back. These two are a fantastic duo and to be honest I’d love a second season of My Love Story just to see more of these two and where their lives take them.

Isaac and Miria

Isaac and Miria are a little different. To start with, they aren’t the main characters in Baccano. They certainly cross into almost every story, but they are strictly side character/comic relief in the story. Also, they aren’t opposites. Instead these two characters are positive thinking epitomised with happy-go-lucky attitudes that keep them going in the face of more or less anything. They bounce off each other, build each other up, and work together in absolute unison. Despite their limitations in thinking things through at times, you just know that everything will work out in the end for the two of them and they are definitely the happiest of the cast in Baccano.

They are certainly an odd pairing given neither really brings anything to the table that the other one does not possess. And yet it is impossible to consider these two characters simply being a single character. While some of the jokes could have worked, it is the relationship between the two and the way they work together that sells every scene they are in and steals the viewers attention.

Anyway, I’m going to keep my eyes out for other duos in anime and I’d love to know some of your favourites so if you have a favourite anime duo be sure to leave a comment below.


Thanks for reading.

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Thanks,

Karandi James.

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