Up Close with Xianming Lin

From the moment we are introduced to Lin in Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens we know a few things about him. He has zero attachment to anyone, will do whatever he has to do, and for some reason he likes to cross dress. As the series continues to weave its tale of assassins, betrayals, and baseball Lin remains in the midst of a crazy story and along the way makes some progress as a person and the audience is given a little insight into how he got to where he was at the beginning of the series.

And yes, there are some spoilers ahead.

Hakata Tonktsu Ramens Episode 1 Lin
You have to admit – he knows how to make an entrance even if he isn’t aware of practical shoes.

At the beginning of the series we meet Lin. In one episode he takes out one target as an assassin, claims payment on another hit even though he didn’t actually kill the guy, and after his employer withholds payment we see Lin turn his back on him and actually protect his next target so that no one else can kill him until his boss pays him. It’s cold, fairly audacious, and done with a matter-of-fact manner from someone who has come to not expect much else from their day.

However, Lin is not a cold and hard killer. Nor is he an emotionless puppet. Even in the first episode of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens we see a character driven firmly by his emotions. At first the motivation is paying money to save his family and then it shifts to revenge.

Lin isn’t disconnected from others because he lacks emotion. As we learn more about him, and see the flash back to when he was trained to become an assassin, it becomes clear that Lin is disconnected because he feels too much and is scared of trusting others because of the hurt of previous betrayals and losses.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 9 Lin

He sold himself in order to save his mother and sister from poverty. Making the best of a poor situation, he befriended his roommate in the training camp only to learn that the final test was that they had to try to kill each other and his roommate knew this all along and intended to kill him. Even working as an assassin for a boss he knew was scum, he felt betrayed when the boss first wouldn’t pay him, then tried to kill him, and finally that same boss sold his sister to someone he knew would kill her in a horrible manner. It is no wonder that Lin recoils from others and as he starts feeling comfortable in Hakata he begins making plans to flee.

Despite that, Lin ultimately stays. While Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is not the kind of anime where the power of friendship overcomes the big evil and they all go back to their normal lives, the connections Lin makes after meeting Banba in Hakata are what allow him to be saved toward the end and while things might not be normal they do go back to playing baseball (even if Lin still really doesn’t get the sport at all).

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The one question we don’t get answered about Lin is why he likes to cross-dress. The anime never once addresses it and the only time it even comes up is when he’s mistaken for a woman or deliberately uses his appearance as part of a plan. But the why never comes up and we know he hasn’t just done it his whole life because he wasn’t cross-dressing in any of the flash backs.

It is a mystery and one of many reasons why I’d love a second season of Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. The main reason though is that these characters, assassins and flawed human beings that they are, were a lot of fun to watch and I could definitely watch them face and overcome some more challenges and be entertained.

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Karandi James
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Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime From 2018

Tuesday's Top 5

Alright, here we are. The last top 5 list of 2018 anime titles and it is the list of my favourites for the year. This list was brutal to make because as much as the Spring and Summer seasons didn’t really work out for me, 2018 started strong in Winter and the Autumn season is one of the best I’ve seen. Now, I haven’t included any anime from the Autumn season that are incomplete on the final list here so Run With The Wind, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and several others weren’t considered. Otherwise, anything that aired and finished in 2018 that I watched was considered and there were still a lot of strong contenders because there are shows that were technically amazing but not really my style and shows that were just great fun, but not technically impressive. Trying to balance it for a top 5 list was incredibly hard but I’m happy with the final list.

Previously I’ve just done my favourite anime as part of my best and worst of the season posts so this is the first official top 5 list of best anime from a year. No surprise though that Yuri on Ice took out my favourite anime of 2016 and March Comes in Like a Lion took out best anime of 2017.

On that note, I’d love to know what your picks for the year were so please leave a comment below.

Honourable Mentions:

For 2018 my honourable mentions go to two shows that I really loved and had great fun watching, but both are fairly riddled with problems in terms of visuals, presentation, pacing, and narrative. That said, that didn’t stop either one being fun. For 2018 my honourable mentions go to Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens and Spiritpact Season 2.

Number 5: Banana Fish

An emotionally wrenching journey this anime definitely knew how to hit its audience in the feels. Okay, logically nothing in this story makes sense and contextually it is dated even if they did do a patch job to move it into the modern era. However, these characters have charm and make it very easy to get behind them and want them to succeed. While seeing Ash do his Rambo act might be unrealistic it is certainly satisfying. The subject matter won’t be for everyone with sexual assault among other confronting issues taking a central role in the narrative. All and all though, this was an exhilarating ride to go on this year.

Number 4: Attack on Titan Season 3

Honestly, I wasn’t expecting this one to show up on my best of the year list. And yet, Attack on Titan season 3 managed to give us some fairly solid character work and some pretty impressive plot development given how stalled both seemed during season 2. I ended up really enjoying what we got of Attack on Titan in 2018 and while I know the second part is coming out next year, this season was enough to get me interested in this franchise again.

Number 3: Bloom Into You

An anime I went into with very little expected of it. However after a fairly ordinary start, Bloom Into You very quickly won me over with its very solid direction and visual symbolism. It is an incredibly impressive telling of what is a fairly ordinary story but the amount of thought and care put into the execution of this one definitely makes it one well worth the watch. I’m still not a huge fan of Yuri and high school romance in general, but I would firmly recommend this one to anyone because it is fantastically presented.

Number 2: Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

No surprise that this one made the list. It took a lot of reviewers by surprise with its strong dialogue and clever writing. While not a flawless series, this one managed to balance its supernatural elements as stand ins for the normal stresses and anxieties faced by teenagers in high school in a manner that was both relatable and charming. With a cast of characters that were superbly written and thoroughly enjoyable to spend time with. Other than the animation used for characters running this anime can almost do no wrong and what few complaints I have about it definitely come up sounding fairly petty. It’s a wonderful story and one that you should definitely check out if you haven’t.

Number 1: March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2

Okay, anyone who follows my blog is not surprised by this. As much as Bloom Into You and Bunny Girl Senpai were solid late entries for 2018, they just couldn’t shake my love of March Comes in Like a Lion. It is every bit as visually impressive as Bloom Into You and the cast of characters are every bit as charming and relatable as those in Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. As tough a decision as these three made it, March Comes in Like a Lion season 2 comes out ahead because I just can’t imagine it being any better.

There it is. My Top 5 anime from 2018. Now I’d love to know yours.

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TENSEI SHITARA SLIME DATTA KEN 1/6 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: SHION SWIMSUIT GRAVURE STYLE

Tuesday’s Top 5: Male Anime Characters from 2018

Tuesday's Top 5

In 2016 the wonderful Allen Walker from D Gray Man Hallow topped my list – and yeah that was an incredibly biased decision because I just love Allen. 2017 saw Rei from March Comes in Like a Lion take the list (well deserved). 2018 had a plethora of fantastic male characters, though if you read my list of favourite female characters from the year you probably have a fairly good idea of who is going to end up on my list here. As always, I’d love to know who your choices are for best male anime characters from 2018.

Honourable Mentions:

It kind of hurts but Kirito from Sword Art Online Alicization has only gotten an honourable mention. While he still has plenty of episodes, his showing in 2018 was okay but not his best work (poor guy). The other character I want to give an honourable mention to is Lin from Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. He was great fun but not quite memorable enough to land a spot on the top 5.

Number 5: Okabe Rintaro from Steins;Gate 0

As much as Steins;Gate 0 didn’t quite click for me in 2018 one thing I did appreciate was seeing Okabe’s character after he had hit rock bottom and tried to rebuild his life. The Okabe who gave up on saving everyone and just tried to make the best of things. Seeing that Okabe finally find the motivation needed to fight back again despite the hardship it was going to cost was perhaps one of the most rewarding character arcs for the year.

Number 4: Takato from Dakaichi

Alright, if you’ve been following my collaboration with Arthifis on Dakaichi you will know I’ve been seriously loving Takato’s character since the beginning. While there’s a lot in Dakaichi that is easy to dismiss or would make you raise an eyebrow, Takato has been a highly entertaining main character. I love watching him when he is working as an actor and seeing him slowly get in touch with his emotions in his real life. For everything that doesn’t work in Dakaichi, Takato has been a shining character for the Autumn season (or at least one that I’ve really enjoyed watching).

Number 3: Sakuta from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

Sakuta has been one of those characters who comes along who on the one hand I feel he’s pretty ordinary, on the other hand this is how you write an ordinary character and make him shine. Solid writing, great interactions with the support cast, and just enough personality and sass that he doesn’t just fit solidly into the nice guy forgettable role, and Sakuta is someone who has easily carried his show (admittedly with a bit of help from a fabulous supporting cast).

Number 2: Ash from Banana Fish

It was a hard toss up as to whether I was going to pick Ash or Eiji for the list, but Ash wins because I just love seeing him rise up time and time again. Ash may be incredibly overpowered given he’s ridiculously smart, strong, and shrugs off bullet wounds and being stabbed more or less instantly. He might be straight out of an 80’s power fantasy, but he is definitely fun to watch and when he’s with Eiji his soft and fluffy side comes out (as much as one exists). Really enjoyed spending time with Ash this year and while I might have wanted him to have more happy moments, I can’t deny that I was always entertained by his journey.

Number 1: Rei Kiriyama from March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2

It’s the second year in a row but Rei Kiriyama remains my very favourite male anime character in 2018. His interactions with Hina, his match against Souya, his support of Shimada, and just his own growth as a character, returning to his foster home to face some of the past, all of these moments have seen Rei moving from strength to strength. For a character who still has a long way to travel in regards to dealing with his own mental health, Rei continues to be inspirational and relatable and someone I just want to see more of.

That’s the list for 2018 but I’d love to know who you would have picked for your top 5 male anime characters.

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CHARACTER VOCAL SERIES 01 HATSUNE MIKU 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: HATSUNE MIKU SYMPHONY 2017 VER.
CHARACTER VOCAL SERIES 01 HATSUNE MIKU 1/8 SCALE PRE-PAINTED FIGURE: HATSUNE MIKU SYMPHONY 2017 VER.

Tuesday’s Top 5: Anime Duos of 2018

Tuesday's Top 5

There’s only one thing better than a great character and that is a great duo. A pair of characters where the chemistry just works, the timing in their dialogue and reactions are spot on, and seeing the two interacting is enough to carry any scene they are in. This is my list of top 5 anime duos from 2018 and there are some incredibly great pairings here. My only real limitation was the characters in the top 5 couldn’t be part of my favourite couples from the year. As always though, I’d love to know your picks so please share in the comments below who some of your favourite duos were.

Honourable Mentions:

Honourable mention for Ash and Eiji from Banana Fish. After taking out best couple I couldn’t have them on this list as well, but let’s be honest, they really deserve a spot. The only question would be whether I think they could have beaten the number one on this list and that’s a tough question. Also, an honourable mention to Keika and Tanmoku from Spiritpact who were fantastic together, however the introduction of a third character into the mix in season two kind of disrupted the duo for a bit so they ultimately didn’t get a spot in the top 5.

Number 5: Ryuichi and Kotaro from School Babysitters

It is a slightly unusual choice for a duo list but these brothers are fantastic together. Kotaro is awesome as the toddler younger brother and Ryuichi is a delight as a concerned older brother. Neither of these characters comes off as too clingy but their scenes together are always sweet and heart warming and they are just adorable.

Number 4: Kirito and Eugeo from Sword Art Online Alicization

While Asuna may be left fairly high and dry this season, Kirito isn’t flying solo. No, he’s working side by side with Eugeo who has turned into a surprisingly fun character and the interactions with Eugeo and Kirito remain my favourite part of this new instalment of SAO. This is kind of what I think they should have done with Klein way back in the Aincrad arc but I can kind of understand why they didn’t. Looking forward to more Kirito and Eugeo moments in the new year.

Number 3: Banba and Lin from Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens

Your typical odd couple, these two work beautifully and are an absolute delight in a show about hitmen and murder. Individually, both characters are fun enough and fine, but when you put them together with their opposing views and contrasting skills you get something really special. Banba brings out the best in Lin and Lin certainly helps to keep Banba fairly level. I know this anime flew a little under the radar for some viewers so if you haven’t checked it out, and you don’t mind a bit of violence, then this one might end up being great fun. It is certainly worth checking out for these two characters.

Number 2: Red and White Blood Cell from Cells at Work

Alright, you knew these two were going to make an appearance. They are adorable and every moment when they are together is delightful. Whether White Blood Cell is rescuing Red from a germ, Red is telling White about her day while they drink tea, or even seeing the young versions of them in training, these two characters are just pure bliss and they work perfectly together.

Number 1: Sakuta and Mai from Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

They had to be the number one. From their very first episode together, the interactions between Sakuta and Mai charmed their audience and in an anime full of strong writing and interesting characters, nothing beats scenes with these two together. The back and forth dialogue, the give and take nature of their conversations and barbs, and just their general awareness of one another make these two an unbeatable duo from 2018.

That’s my list of best duos from the year and I’d love to know who some of your favourites were.

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12 Days of Anime Characters – Lin Xinming

12 Days of Anime Title Image

Onto day 8 of the 12 Days of Anime. While on Day 7 we looked back at  Shizue from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, today we turn our attention to the hitman with a sense of style, Lin from Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens - Episode 5 - Lin

Lin is one of those characters that you just come to love fairly instantly. The series never really addresses why he cross dresses, he just does, and it just becomes part of his character, like his frugal nature and distrust of others. I will admit though, that Lin is only as interesting and likeable a character as he is because of the connection he forms with Banba in the first episode. And what a greeting. 

Hakata Tonktsu Ramens Episode 1 Lin

Considering the situation Lin finds himself in he is a remarkable together character. He’s trying to save money to free his sister, he sends money to his mother, and all he has to do to earn that money is kill people for a boss he hates. However, when the boss refused to pay him because of a double booking, Lin decides it might be time to find new employment leading to a chain reaction of events and reveals (including that all his efforts to support his family up to now have more or less been for nothing). 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 9 Lin

The thing about Lin is that he’s a character you can sympathise with but not really relate to. You haven’t been sold as a child, trained as an assassin and then worked as a hitman trying to support a family from back home that turns out isn’t being assisted by you in the slightest. So there’s no relating to the character, but you can be sympathetic to his plight and more importantly, he never comes across as pathetic. Lin’s a fighter through and through and has a great sense of humour considering the situation.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 12 Lin

However, it is Lin and Banba together that make a truly compelling viewing experience. Where Lin is cold and distant, Banba is very much in your face and intrusive. Lin is cut off from others whereas Banba has an entire support network. Where Lin is frugal and careful with his money, Banba is loose and fairly carefree. The two make a good odd-couple pairing and their contrasts work well. 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 7 Lin and Banba

The only regret here is that we don’t have any word of a second season so we’ll just be left with the 12 episodes we have. And on that note it is probably time I gave the series another watch through.

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Red Rum / Murder Inc Card Case
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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Series Review: Fun Times With A Group of Killers

For an anime I expected nothing from, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens delivered a fairly compelling story full of fun and interesting characters. What did you think of it or did you miss this during the Winter 2018 season?

Review:

There was no doubt that one of my favourite shows from the Winter 2018 season was Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. I really enjoyed the character interactions and the way each story thread and introduced element ended up being used in a meaningful way. There never felt like something just existed for the sake of it or that any loose ends were left out. While the subject matter might put some people off (there’s quite a bit of violence and death as well as assault), this one ended up being really interesting to watch.

Hakata10d

The opening theme really gets you excited for the episode and I thoroughly enjoyed it each episode. It kind of perfectly set the tone of the episode and introduced the characters and their relationships nicely without giving too much away. The jazzy music continued throughout the rest of the episode and generally was always kind of fun even if a lack of variety was noted at times.

Hakata4f

The character relationships, particularly the developing relationship between Banba and Lin, were definitely part of the draw of this show. Characters met and their meetings had impact on other characters. The character that had the largest character focus was Lin and his character ended up being quite interesting despite the fairly generic tragic backstory. This one is another case for generic not always being bad. While it was pretty by the numbers tragedy due to poverty leading to being trained as a hitman (okay, maybe not that standard but it felt pretty generic while watching the flash back episode) they timed it right when I had wanted to learn more about his character and it filled in some of the gaps while also setting up the final villain of the series. Again, everything was purposeful and used so even the less amazing story elements were pretty acceptable.

Hakata5f

The support cast are pretty awesome, with a range of personalities and roles and again, all of these are used. None of them feel unnecessary to the story as a whole and none of the characters feel repetitive or unused. The one exception is a character who sees to just be the one destined to have poor luck which is used for fairly lack lustre comedic effect a few times but fortunately isn’t an overt distraction from the story, and even then their presence is integrated into the greater narrative.

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Given this one is listed as an action, I should probably address that. If you are after epic battles and fight sequences, this one isn’t going to work for you. The action is fast and brutal with most sequences over in seconds. That said, it always injects some drama into the scene and each character has a unique approach to fighting that is visually distinct.

Hakata6a

However, this show does have some real downsides. One of those is the lack of danger or tension in the series. None of the villains, even the final one, present much in the way of a real threat and after the first one, very few are even built up to be threatening. The main cast don’t get injured, or their injuries are brushed aside even when they shouldn’t be. It all leaves you feeling a bit like none of the drama in the series will amount to much, so if you aren’t having fun with this series there isn’t a lot else to connect with. There’s also this weird visually effect with light that they use throughout the series that is kind of distracting but it isn’t a deal breaker, it is just kind of ugly.

Hakata1c

That said, I had a great time with this show and really looked forward to it each week. I wouldn’t mind another show like this one. While it isn’t perfect, it is definitely watchable and well worth giving a try provided you aren’t put off by violence.

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Karandi James

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Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens Episode 12: They Set It Up And Bring It Home

This anime didn’t disappoint. As we went into the final episode it delivered yet another cohesive resolution to its plot bringing everything together in a highly satisfying manner.

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Of course we get plenty of Lin and Banba, which probably explains part of what I liked about this episode. But mostly it was that all the characters came together in a fairly natural way, we had a fairly big blood-bath of enemies with, once again, minor injuries for the main cast, but we also had Lin make his decision regarding Fei and that gave the episode just the right amount of drama.

Hakata12c
As close to a confession as we’ll ever get.

The Lin/Fei moment was particularly well handled. It didn’t drag out and their final fight lasted seconds but had suitable impact. I can’t say I had any complaints at all about how this ended up. Looking forward to writing a final review for this series, but I think I’ll rewatch it first.

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Karandi James

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