Up Close with Saitou Kazuki

This week I’m returning to Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens to look at one of the characters who manages to appear in almost every story, play a fairly central role in a lot of the resolutions, and yet gets the absolute least attention. Yes, it is the luckless Saitou Kazuki who after suffering some kind of trauma ends up working for Murder Inc, a job he is utterly ill-suited for, and then through a weird series of events ends up ‘resigning’ and becomes a target for quite a number of would be murderers.

This was a fairly sensible question.

Although, from another point of view, Saitou has fantastic luck. When mistakenly identified as a murderer he manages to convince his kidnappers of his innocence before they do any permanent damage. When down and out without any friends he crosses paths with Banba and the others and ends up joining their baseball team. The nice doctor gives him a new face and identity to help him hide. And when he’s utterly cornered by a murderer Lin happens to be around to help take care of things.

So yeah, he goes through a lot but always pulls through and usually with minimal damage. I wouldn’t be volunteering to trade places with him any time soon, but considering his general lack of skills Saitou gets by just fine.

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Unfortunately, Saitou regularly becomes the butt of the joke. He’s the comic relief in a story full of dark doings and characters with tragic back stories. When the hacker is looking for a diversion he sends assassins after Saitou, though he does apologise, and then Saitou spends the rest of the episode running or hiding. It would be hilarious except for the part where he might have been killed.

Still, despite this, Saitou remains a fairly admirable character. In a crazy world full of killers and assassins, Saitou remains one of the more relatable characters. He’s an every-man in over his head but looking out for himself and his friends. Over the course of the series he goes from someone relatively pathetic to someone who knows the score, knows his place and skills, and yet somehow manages to find a way to help even if only in a small way.

You could honestly do worse than having a friend like Saitou.

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Up Close with Jean Otus

This week I’m turning my attention to Jean Otus from ACCA. As an employee of the inspection department, ACCA, Jean gets the fun job of touring each district in the kingdom for the purpose of inspection (he also gets to eat some really good food). However, while Jean goes about his job rumours of a coup get stronger and in each district Jean is given a cigarette by people unknown.

Now, I’m not going to spoil the end of ACCA for people who haven’t seen it, though I strongly recommend you hop onto Crunchyroll and give it a go, if nothing else the theme song will have you bopping along for weeks. But, that does make it difficult to discuss Jean’s character in a huge amount of depth.

One of the things I remember from when the anime was airing were the number of people who found Jean to be a bit of a boring protagonist. And you can kind of see why given his incredibly passive nature. Even his closest friend calls him out on it mid-way through the series when it becomes clear a lot of what is happening revolves around Jean but he just doesn’t seem to care.

However, Jean isn’t just an oblivious idiot. He’s incredibly observant and shrewd and while he isn’t particularly interested in the intrigue that surrounds him, he is most definitely aware of it. On numerous occasions throughout the anime we see that Jean navigates a tricky situation or pulls someone up short through his keen observations. It catches the other characters even more off guard because they don’t expect it from him.

While most of the characters have a set distance from Jean, determined through rank or position, Jean does have a younger sister who is more than happy to call him on his bad habits. Lotta is a bright ray of sunshine in Jean’s life and it is clear that he dotes on her more than a little.

There is also Nino who has been a persistent presence in Jean’s life and is one of the few people Jean lets the neutral mask slip with from time to time.

Jean Otus may seem like he is taking little action but for him, preserving the calm life that he has, is a priority. His actions, or lack of actions, constantly work to maintain his status quo and being pushed to do more or having to deal with things outside of that scope are things he works hard to avoid even if he never looks like he is putting in all that much effort.

An interesting and layered character, where there is definitely more than meets the eye, Jean ends up being a fun guy to follow through the political shenanigans of ACCA and provides an interesting perspective on the events as they unfold.

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Karandi James
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Up Close With Angelo Lagusa

Someone probably should have given Angelo Lagusa from 91 Days a quote book from Confucius: “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Only, even then that advice probably wasn’t enough because there were a lot more dead than just two by the time the dust settled in Lawless.

There will be some spoilers for the anime, 91 Days, below.

Now don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as though Angelo didn’t have grounds for revenge. The Vanetti family orchestrated the death of his family and they were never brought to justice. Angelo himself only survived by chance and whim and was forced to adopt a new name, Avilio.

91 Days

However, Angelo’s quest for revenge wasn’t just an eye for an eye. His plans involved plenty of those who were either bystanders or totally unrelated to the initial incident and even when he knew the precise identity of those responsible he didn’t just carry out a hit and call it a day. There was an almost cruel pleasure in Angelo’s actions as he seemed to relish raining down disaster upon those he’d wormed his way amongst.

And it wasn’t without heavy cost to him. The person he was before the death of his family had already been killed and lost his innocence. However the person he became continued to carve off pieces of himself until there was very little left. The shell that remains of Angelo by the end of the series is almost unrecognisable.

Part of the final descent is triggered by the death of Corteo, the closest thing Angelo might have to a friend. Yet, Corteo is used mercilessly by Angelo as a chess piece early on and thrust into a very dangerous world with a dangerous set of companions. While it is ultimately Corteo’s choices that lead to his death, Angelo’s responsibility for putting Corteo in a position to make those choices cannot be denied.

There’s barely any mourning time either after the death of what might have been a friend. Angelo can’t be weak and does not believe he can turn back from his path of revenge.

However, it isn’t the death of a loyal and close friend that breaks Angelo. It might have triggered the final leg of the journey, but it was certainly not the final blow. No, we save that for Nero Vanetti, the son of Angelo’s enemy, who he uses and then shatters by destroying his trust and his family.

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The ambiguous ending with the two characters is important because it leaves it open for interpretation what their relationship really was. Did they become friends despite the blood lying between them or were they just the weapons their families and circumstances had made them who for a time travelled together?

Angelo Lagusa gave everything for his revenge and ultimately he achieved what he set out to do. But, in the end, the question remains whether it was worth it or not given the high cost that was paid.

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I’ll Walk On My Own/I’ll Walk With You

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June OWLS Tour – Vulnerable

In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. In this month’s posts, we will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories.  

Be sure to check out Matt’s post about Sword Art Online and tomorrow you can check out Yumdeku’s post on Shin Sekai Yori.

Shirayuki Gains Strength By Allowing Herself To Be Vulnerable.

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time you’ll know I really love the anime Snow White With The Red Hair (or Shirayuki ga Akagami) and I particularly love the relationship between Zen and Shirayuki that develops. When I read the prompt for this month I was initially stumped because I wasn’t sure I wanted to write another post about March Comes in Like a Lion but that was the first anime that came to mind. However, soon after that, I thought about Shirayuki and more importantly, about how her character became stronger once she allowed herself to be vulnerable.

Shirayuki is a fascinating character. In the beginning of the story she seems incredibly independent and strong. Her grandparents have died leaving her on her own to run the herbalist shop, she explores the forest for herbs, and she defies Prince Raj’s order to become his concubine all on her own with no one really standing beside her or lending her support. It is nice to see her not immediately thrust into the damsel in distress role and while there are instances where she is rescued, she is never completely useless as she continues to strive to overcome her own problems.

However, this strength that she seems to demonstrate early in the series is incredibly fragile. She has no real ability to stand up to Raj on her own and makes the decision to flee which shows initiative and a desire to be independent but a lack of strength. That she asks no one in the town for help in her flight or preparations speaks volumes. While she likes the people she helps each day and thinks of them as she prepares medicine to leave for them, she keeps them at a distance.

Part of that would be the logical thought of not wanting to drag them into trouble with the royal family. It is very considerate of Shirayuki. But part of it also seems to be her desire to not feel she needs anyone else. Shirayuki doesn’t want to appear vulnerable or weak or to feel like she can’t handle the situation alone. And so she acts alone and leaves the kingdom of Tanbarun for the neighbouring kingdom of Clarines.

What happens next in the anime, shows that despite Shirayuki’s best efforts to not appear vulnerable, she really is whether she wants to admit it or not. And it is a vulnerability she hasn’t accepted or been in control of.

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Raj pursues her, or sends his servants to, and after Zen is poisoned Shirayuki concedes to following along with his actions. Even then, she isn’t just playing damsel. She’s determined to help Zen, the guy she just met and knows nothing about, because she feels responsible for him being poisoned.

This all shows the audience that while Shirayuki is a strong character, she still has limitations. By herself she can only go so far walking on her own before she will hit a wall that cannot be overcome by her own determination and guts, though she’ll certainly try.

The friendship that then forms between Shirayuki and Zen determines the next steps for her character. At first Shirayuki continues to keep Zen at a distance, not wanting to trouble him with her problems, and continues to try to solve things alone. However, a small change begins.

It is small though. At first Shirayuki will occasionally consult with Zen on the problem but not allow him to interfere with her solution. Then we see her working to heal the men at the fort and concealing her exhaustion from Zen so as not to worry him.

However, by the time we are fully into the second season, we see a Shirayuki who has realised that there is only so far she can get walking alone and more importantly, she doesn’t want to be alone.

Shirayuki wants to walk with Zen and we see both of these characters, both very strong in their own ways and yet also weak in others, begin to open up to one another and trust the other sufficiently to be vulnerable before them. The end result is that both characters grow stronger together and support the other. It is a relationship built on trust and one that can only exist because they have the courage to be vulnerable and reveal their true selves to the other.

Shirayuki is a strong character when she is alone, but she is undeniably stronger when she walks beside Zen and the other friends she makes. By allowing herself to be vulnerable, she opened up the possibility of becoming stronger and overcoming her individual limitations.

What did you think of Shirayuki?

Reminder to check out Matt’s post about Sword Art Online and tomorrow you can check out Yumdeku’s post on Shin Sekai Yori.

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Karandi James
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Up Close – The Expressions of the Soma’s

Something a little bit different this week as instead of looking at one character from a series I wanted to look at the range of facial expressions used by members of the Soma family in Fruits Basket. For an anime that deals heavily with the emotions of its characters it really manages to convey a lot through their expressions and for me it is one of my favourite parts of the episodes. Okay, I might just enjoy seeing Kyo’s face twist and distort as he goes from sulking, pensive, into a mad rage, and then back to contemplative. It is kind of fun.

On that note, let’s begin with Kyo.

I think you’ll agree, Kyo’s expressions are the best. What I like about Kyo as a character and the way he’s being depicted in this 2019 anime adaptation is that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Whatever emotion he is feeling he is feeling it 100%. There’s no inbetween for him and there’s no attempt at building a wall or a facade between what he is feeling right in the here and now and how he reacts.

Now the cause of his emotionally tumultulous nature is something he does not speak about or allow others to speak about, so he does have his secrets. But even then, it is no secret that he is badly scarred by the experience and that scarring is there for all to see even if they aren’t aware of the cause.

However, despite being a volatile bundle of violence and raw emotions, Kyo’s lack of walls and boundaries make him approachable and even when he’s flying off the handle he does draw others to him. He puts himself out into the world and while he might get burned he isn’t backing down.

Gotta love that fiery spirit even if it doesn’t get him very far most episodes.

Let’s next look at Hattori.

Hattori is a bit more of an enigma. He’s older and had loner to pile up secrets than Kyo, and he’s also the living embodiment of the expression ‘still waters run deep’. He’s also had a lot less screen time and focus, though I would still argue that his story has been one of the best so far.

We first meet Hattori at school and Yuki warns Tohru not to be alone with him. His expression is hard and cold and it is almost as though he is sizing up Tohru with his eyes and has found her wanting. It is soon revealed that this is very much a facade he’s built and that he’s pushing Tohru away for what he believes is her own benefit. However, as Hattori himself says, Tohru has a way of softening people and the effect Tohru has had on Hattori in her brief meetings with him is clearly visible in his expressions and manners.

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Finally this week I’ll look at Yuki’s expressions. I would like to get to all of the characters in Fruits Basket eventually but some have had very limited screen time yet.

Yuki is the polar opposite of Kyo. Where Kyo wears his every emotion on his face, Yuki seems to have spent a life-time cultivating a manner that doesn’t reveal his true self and feelings to the outside world. In the beginning we see him being cool and detached, a little bit condescending, and when it came to his manner with Shigure, quite arrogant. However, since meeting Tohru we’ve seen crack after crack in his armour and in episode 11 we are finally rewarded with a true and beautiful smile.

What makes Yuki so hard to figure out is that he’s always thinking about how others will see and action and reacts accordingly. Even when he was complimenting Tohru on the roof of the festival and telling her she would be much cuter in the dress, his expression and words seemed artificial and calculated rather than genuine. As a result, there’s a gulf between Yuki and others that he’s built and maintained as a means of protecting himself. The problem is, it has been there so long he’s more or less forgotten how to close the gap even when he wants to.

Still, when it comes to Tohru, Yuki’s facade has fallen a number of times. She’s genuinely surprised him with her words or actions, or he’s felt genuine alarm for her safety. It is almost sweet watching Yuki and Kyo wearing matched expressions of concern on their faces as they sprint back to Tohru deciding they don’t want to leave her alone for the holiday.

Still, Yuki’s best expression yet.

I really love how each of these characters are being portrayed in this adaptation and I really hope that the quality of the series continues. I’d also like to look at more of the characters in a little bit of depth as the series unfolds. I did skim read the manga after watching the original anime to find answers to a few questions I had when I realised there would be no second season, but I didn’t read it all and I didn’t read it deeply so I’m looking forward to learning more about each of these characters as we go.

However, I’d love to know what your favourite expression has been so far in Fruits Basket or who your favourite character is of the new anime series so leave a comment and tell me your thoughts below.

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Up Close With Reiko

For a character who has been mentioned in Natsume Yuujinchou since season one, Reiko remains the character most shrouded in mystery. For every flash back or memory Natsume has of Reiko dealing with yokai we’re presented with just one more puzzling piece of a complex character who died a long time ago. Yet she remains a driving factor behind so many of the interactions in Natsume’s Book of Friends and so I wanted to take a moment to look at her a bit more closely.

Not that we have all that much to go off of. With few exceptions, all the information the audience gathers about Reiko comes second hand and is heavily interpreted by the one conveying the information. For yokai, Reiko was a human they either feared or held in awe. Some yokai developed a fierce attachment to her whereas others would flee at the very mention of her name.

It is difficult to tell how Reiko felt about yokai. The story that she was frustrated and so picked fights seems likely given she did in fact force a large number of yokai to write their names in her book, and yet there’s much more to it. The young and naive yokai she met who wanted to see the ocean was given the chance to do so many years later due to his encounter with Reiko. While on the surface it looked like she was being horrible to him, she ultimately gave him the chance to fulfil his wish. Admittedly she could have gone about it in a nicer manner but it was still kind of helpful.

Plenty of other yokai were also helped by their encounters with her. However, some were not. Others were beaten and then abandoned and left with a helpless feeling of being abandoned. At various points Reiko might have been able to have become friends with one yokai or another, much as Natsume has, and yet she continued to hold herself aloof.

We also know Reiko had dealings with the Matoba exorcists, though again, other than brief glimpses we don’t know exactly to what extent those dealings went.

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What we do know about Reiko is that she was someone who refused to compromise who she was. She was different from other people and they shunned her because of it but she didn’t try to hide her nature. She was fierce and strong and seemed whimsical but there was kindness in many of her actions. We also know that at some point she had to have had a child or else Natsume wouldn’t exist today for us to enjoy his adventures.

I’d love to learn more about Reiko as she is a truly fascinating figure whose actions have had far reaching consequences as she left her mark firmly in the yokai world.

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Karandi James
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Up Close With Haruitsuki Abeno

This week I’ve decided to look at one half of the duo that make up the centre of The Morose Mononokean, Haruitsuki Abeno who is the human master of the Mononokean. I’m assuming at some point we’ll find out how Abeno came to meet Aoi and why a human was raised by a yokai and has been given such a position of power but until then, let’s look at what we do know from the two seasons of the anime.

Abeno isn’t exactly the sharing kind however, so particularly during the first season a large amount of his character and story were pretty ambiguous. He came across as cold and detached toward Hanae and while there were moments when his cold exterior softened, he very much held himself aloof. However, that was also more true of his interactions with human characters. A lot of the time Abeno wears a robe that makes him essentially invisible to normal humans anyway and he seems far more at ease when hidden and only visible to the yokai.

The Morose Mononokean Episode 6 Abeno and Ashiya

Meanwhile the yokai have a mix of views about him. Some revere him as the Master of the Mononokean, others share rumours of what happened to the previous master, and still others fear him. Regardless, Abeno carries out his duties as the master, returning yokai to the underworld and taking care of other problems concerning the yokai.

His relationship with the Legislator was an interesting tease during season one, but season two saw that fleshed out enormously. The Legislator is definitely fond of teasing him and prodding him into action, though his goals remain entirely concealed.

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Which might be where Abeno shares more in common with the Legislator than he’d like to admit. As much as Abeno continues to speak harshly to Hanae and pick fights over petty things, at the end of the day Abeno has his employee’s back. Even at great expense to himself, Abeno will protect Hanae and he’s gone to great lengths to find more information out about the mysteries of Hanae’s family and past.

Ultimately though, season two made it very clear to the audience that any gruff and stern front Abeno has been putting on is crumbling rapidly. Between his protection of Hanae against the yokai, his consideration for Hanae when he was scared, helping Hanae train his power, and his response to the yokai bird who couldn’t fly, his cool facade is all but gone and what we are seeing instead is the very human Abeno who is operating in a role that has some fairly big implications and has to make decisions between completing his duty and doing what he believes is right.

The Morose Mononokean Season 2 Episode 10

I really hope we get another season of the Morose Mononokean because I’d love to know what is next for Haruitsuki Abeno in his journey. He’s great fun to watch and as we’ve slowly seen his shell cracking over two seasons it would be great to see what is next for his character journey.

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Karandi James
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