Up Close with Yuki Soleil

The Price of Smiles Episode 6 Yuuki

Alright, so let’s establish who Yuki Soleil actually is given I’m kind of certain a lot of people decided not to watch The Price of Smiles during the Winter anime season. Which is a fair enough decision. Even though I low-key enjoyed it and still feel it is probably better than some people think, it isn’t exactly great and ends up being a fairly average watch once it concludes (though more on that in the series review that will come out later this week). For now, I just want to look at Yuki, one of the two protagonists that The Price of Smiles splits its time between.

The Price of Smiles Episode 1

On meeting Yuki we find her to be an exceptionally bubbly and cheery Princess. She does all the usual anime Princess things such as being adored by her subjects, has a childhood friend who also guards her, and she sneaks out of the palace to play. It is all pretty standard and unfortunately, despite Yuki actually being a reasonably interesting character, she ends up grounded in this terribly cliche mould.

The other issue Yuki suffers as a character is that despite being The Princess and technically the ruler of the Kingdom of Soleil given her parents are dead (oh look another anime character with dead parents), those around her actively strive to keep her in the dark. Their excuse is they want to see her smiling and happy, but how can she possibly rule anything when she knows nothing of the reality?

The Price of Smiles Episode 4 Princess Yuuki

Even after the truth confronts her in the horrible shock of the death of a close friend in a war she never knew existed, Yuki remains stubbornly naive looking for quick solutions to solve the conflict including offering herself up to secure a peace deal. And while that path could have been interesting, once again, those around her ignore her wishes and whisk her away sacrificing someone else in her place.

The Price of Smiles Episode 12 Yuki and Layla

It makes you wonder what authority Yuki actually has and unfortunately they never address this. While Yuki keeps making decisions and works with Layla, her closest adviser to ultimately get the outcome she wants, she never does win over the council or the army. She technically goes behind their backs. So it never becomes a story of Yuki growing into her authority because even in the final episodes she seemingly has little sway over anyone outside of her inner-circle.

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The Price of Smiles Mug Cup

That and Yuki never really gets over her childish desire to simply make everyone happy, as if such a state were possible.

Yuki is a character who had huge growth potential but largely didn’t get it. Her periods of grief for those who are lost vary with some deaths hitting her significantly hard and other deaths seemingly being just another drop in the ocean.

The Price of Smiles Episode 2 - Yuuki

What manages to keep Yuki from becoming a fairly forgettable character are her few moments of tactical brilliance. This is demonstrated in the early episodes when playing a game. She helps her knight fight his way to victory through reading the terrain. Mid-season this brilliance comes back again very briefly, but over and over again she makes poor calls because she allows her emotions to overcome her reasoning. It does however make her final play more believable because Yuki isn’t a dumb character. She’s naive and she didn’t know much about the real state of the world, but with the right information at her disposal, she certainly demonstrates that she can use it creatively and to be effect to achieve her desired results.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8 Yuki

I’d have loved for Yuki to have gotten more time to develop and to grow. I would have loved to see her actually earn the authority as a ruler and to see her win over those beneath her. Unfortunately, the story just didn’t have time for it and so we end up with a character who potentially could have been great but will for the most part be forgotten.

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Karandi James
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Up Close With Rimuru Tempest

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 12 Rimuru

Since That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime began in the Autumn 2018 season, Rimuru Tempest has been super popular. Just looking at the sheer number of items that have come out from That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime makes it clear that there’s some appeal. And yet, while I enjoy watching Rimuru’s antics, I can’t say that I find him overly memorable as a protagonist. Which is why his winning the Crunchyroll award for best protagonist last year kind of had me a little stumped. So, since the ‘story’ of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime came to a close last week I decided to take the opportunity to have a bit of a closer look at our reincarnated slime.

Keep in mind, I’m only responding to what I’ve seen in the anime as I have not read any of the source material in any form.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 1

Originally a 37 year old office worker from Japan, Satoru died when a random guy came running down the street with a knife and he protected his co-worker and the co-worker’s girlfriend. I’m still not sure why just pulling them out of the way wouldn’t have worked or why the guy was running with the knife, but clearly there wasn’t a lot of thought put into the way they’d off this character and at least they didn’t hit him with a truck which has become beyond cliche. Whichever way, we establish that even as a human, while Satoru isn’t overly ambitious he is a nice guy, and alas that kind of defines all of Rimuru’s relationships from that point forward.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being nice. Bell Cranel is certainly a ‘nice guy’ protagonist, however in his case it is off-set by his drive and ambition to become a hero like the ones in his grandfather’s stories. Rimuru doesn’t have anything to off-set just being nice other than the fact that he is reincarnated as a blue slime monster, which is novel for about an episode and then you wonder if there’s anything more to the gimmick.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime - Ranga

Probably my biggest complaint about Rimuru Tempest and his character is that it isn’t really defined by anything. He bops along in the cave collecting stuff because why not and then runs into Veldora, who also gives him his name and a few handy hints. After Veldora we meet the goblins, then the wolves, then the dwarves, then the ogres, and then… You see, once a relationship is formed, the characters in question end up more or less in the background and Rimuru just kind of moves on to the next thing.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 8 Rimuru and Shizu

About the only relationship that looked to go a bit deeper was Shizue, but even then she was only in the story for a couple of episodes and Rimuru’s only real connection with her was that she was also born in Japan.

However, I’m not just taking a look at Rimuru to dump on him (well, technically he is gender-less as a slime but he started out as a male human so we’re sticking with that). Rimuru is a fun character to spend time with because of his lack of drive and ambition. While he’s building his city, a lot of it he just kind of stumbled across and most of his actions are the result of him trying to make things easier on himself. He’s almost infectiously relaxing which is kind of great if you are looking for some laid back entertainment.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 10 Rimuru

He also gets two great character designs. As the slime, he’s awesome and I really was eyeing off the pillow version of Rimuru as a slime because it just looked too cute. While as a character that gimmick wore thin pretty quick, as a design for a character it is amazing how cute they managed to make a blue blob. As a human, he’s easily recognised, cute, and not over-designed. There’s a simplicity about him and yet he’s still distinct.

All and all, from a design point of view they kind of hit the jackpot with Rimuru.

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	DEFORMATION SERIES RURUMEKU THAT TIME I GOT REINCARNATED AS A SLIME: RIMURU TEMPEST

While I’d personally like him more if he had some kind of drive, rather than a vague picking up of Shizue’s legacy and just kind of dealing with stuff as it happens, there’s not a huge amount to actually say is wrong with Rimuru. Though plenty that might have been stronger.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 21 Rimuru reacts

He doesn’t leave a strong impression in terms of his character journey and on thinking about that it seems clear that he isn’t changing very much despite the circumstances he finds himself in. At first that makes no sense and then you remember he was 37 years old when he died. Late thirties, he was going to be pretty set in his personality and attitudes and even applying his thoughts to new situations it is unlikely his character would rapidly change. Certainly over time he might develop slowly in response to the new situation but it isn’t going to happen quickly. This isn’t an impressionable or emotional teenager we’re dealing with.

Also, his lack of ambition is also explained by the same. At 37 he had settled for what life had to offer and then he died in an instant. What would be the point in striving to work toward something when Rimuru knows first hand how quickly it could all just disappear. It makes his go with the flow feeling far more acceptable when you consider that he’s already lived one life where he didn’t really accomplish much and then died without warning.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 9 Rimuru in the cave

While Rimuru isn’t going to rocket up my list of favourite anime characters any time soon, I certainly did have some fun bouncing a long with him on his journey.

What do you think about Rimuru?

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Karandi James
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Up Close With Madoka

You know, plenty of people want to change the world. Most of us won’t ever be given the chance to. But what if one day a small, white, bunny like creature appeared and told you that you could make a wish, and because of your great potential you could wish for almost anything you wanted and it would come true?

Would you end up like the Rat from Juni Taisen who simply wishes to forget everything that has happened so that he could find some peace? Or would you manage to find a wish worth changing everything for?

This is the question Madoka is confronted with early on in Madoka Magica and it isn’t really surprising that it takes her the full series to finally come to a resolution. Madoka is living an ordinary life. She is an ordinary girl. This wasn’t a case of her being reborn in human form or born into a family of magician or anything along those lines. Madoka is painfully ordinary and she is well aware of the fact.

Madoka Magica - Madoka's Family

That said, her family interactions are adorable. She has a career driven mother who still tries to find time to bond with her daughter and to support her through the awkward transition into adulthood sharing small pearls of wisdom while preparing for a day of work/school. The father prepares meals and takes care of the younger brother and again provides that quiet background support within the story. Madoka’s home life is well established and her family feels warm and caring, though also busy with their own concerns. I would have liked to have seen more of hose Madoka’s choices impacted upon her family but realistically in the episode count they had they did a great job with this.

Madoka also has well established friendships with Sayaka Miki and Hitomi. These three are very well grounded and while Hitomi gets sidelined a little from the main action, serving more as a catalyst for Sayaka’s disintegrating mental state, early on it is fun spending time with these characters as they head to school and the like.

Madoka Magica - Sayaka

So from this very ordinary beginning, Madoka is asked to consider making a wish that might very well change the world. It isn’t that she doesn’t want to become a magical girl. It is clear early on she is interested as even the prospect of it has her daydreaming and drawing potential costume designs while at school. She also jumps at the chance to observe Mami in action so that she knows more about what a magical girl is.

The problem Madoka faces is she doesn’t want to waste her one and only wish and yet she doesn’t want anything badly enough to wish for it. Her life is settled and happy. Good family and friends. It makes sense that while she has things she’d like, none of them seem like something that are worth using such a wish for.

Of course, this is where things get ugly, because being a magical girl isn’t all it is cracked up to be and as Madoka witnesses the tragedies of the other magical girls and ultimately the threat to her family and friends from a witch that is really too powerful to be fought, Madoka finally does find her wish.

For a character who is fairly unassuming and comes from such an ordinary background, Madoka really does think this one through and while there are consequences and implications she couldn’t possibly have imagined, her wish really did change the world.

Madoka is a great character. She truly transforms in response to the circumstances around her and ultimately manages to figure out what it is she wants and uses her one and only wish to ensure it happens. Watching the journey as she tries to figure out what is really worth wishing for is truly a rewarding experience and one I absolutely loved.

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PUELLA MAGI MADOKA MAGICA PORTABLE [LIMITED EDITION]
PUELLA MAGI MADOKA MAGICA PORTABLE [LIMITED EDITION]

Up Close With Sebastian Michaelis

It was probably only a matter of time before I decided to focus one of these posts on Sebastian. Given he’s already had his own top 5 list because I just love his character so much. But what is it about him that is so great?

Firstly there’s his voice. The Japanese version is voiced by Daisuke Ono and seriously I fell absolutely in love with that voice. It is just the perfect mix of threatening, seductive and playful all in one and he delivers some absolutely fantastic lines. Honestly, I’d happily just listen to that voice all day. Which made it a little bit hard for J Michael Tatum, the English voice actor, to really win me over and to be honest, despite delivering a great performance, I actually will not watch Black Butler in English because Sebastian just doesn’t sound right (in honesty he sound better in English given it is actually set in England, but to be perfectly honest I just fell in love with the original and just couldn’t get used to Sebastian sounding different).

In terms of appearance Sebastian is no slouch either. Period Victorian butler style really suits him even if the historical accuracy of a lot of the clothing is highly questionable throughout the entire anime. Still, his coat and tails suit him admirably, and I could have screamed when one of the characters told him he looked like a crow and shouldn’t wear it. I don’t know, he just looks incredibly together and elegant.

However, it is Sebastian’s very personality that really sells him as a character. Whether he is possessively protecting and watching over Ciel, or kind of messing with him, Sebastian is always good fun to watch. He is fairly brazen in a lot of his actions not really seeking to hide his demonic nature and his oft said catch phrase really just sums him up beautifully.

He’s also incredibly playful. Though he plays with a lot of his victims the way a cat would play with a bird or a mouse so I’m pretty sure Sebastian is the only one having fun in those instances.

There are so many things that are just right about Sebastian. Including his use of cutlery and other unconventional weaponry. I love when he sighs at being put behind schedule or when the other servants, in an effort to help, have created more work for him. There is something inherently funny about a demon feeling put upon by humans and household chores.

Still, if he was just an overpowered bully, Sebastian wouldn’t be the great character that he is. He has a very weird personal code that seems self-imposed providing some limitations to his actions and lines he will not cross. As such he finds himself put upon by mundane actions and requests as well as the whims of Ciel when Ciel is in a mood to play his own games.

There are also the more nuanced moments of his character. Such as when Ciel’s life was in danger and Sebastian didn’t go to help him knowing another human was about to intervene. The human died and Ciel slapped Sebastian for failing. Yet, in Sebastian’s eyes he had upheld his contract as Ciel was perfectly fine due to the intervention of the other human.

Also, the final sequence of season one where we see Sebastian rowing Ciel down the river before sitting him on the chair and leaning in is one of those truly perfect moments (one of the many reasons I dislike season two given it kind of kills the impact of the sequence). Watching the complex relationship of Sebastian and Ciel reach this moment is a wonderful experience and few relationships are so clearly defined as this one becomes.

All and all, Sebastian Michaelis is just an amazing character to watch and one that I fell in love with from the first episode of Black Butler.

So, do you love Sebastian’s character? If yes, I’d love to know what your favourite moment with Sebastian Michaelis is?

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Karandi James
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BLACK BUTLER ARTWORKS 1
BLACK BUTLER ARTWORKS 1

Up Close With Yamato Kurosawa (Say I Love You)

I’ve enjoyed February so far because it has given me a really good excuse to turn my attention to the male leads in so many romances. This week I’m looking straight at Yamato Kurosawa from Say I Love You but before I get into dissecting his character (okay, that might be a bit extreme), I’d probably better mention that I wasn’t a huge fan of Say I Love You initially. I like Mei, the female lead but the first time through I really didn’t like Yamato and it took a few viewings before I actually liked the two together. However, I still find Yamato a character I’ve just never clicked with.

In order to end on a positive I’ll start with some of my issues with Yamato and then I’ll look at his good points. He does have some good points and he does grow on you after watching the series more than once.

However…

Yamato and Mei - Say I Love You

No matter how I want to look at it, Yamato originally comes on very strong toward Mei who clearly isn’t interested in his attention. While he doesn’t push it to a point where he is irredeemable, he intrudes into her space and more than once forces a kiss on her that she clearly isn’t asking for or giving permission for. He’s also very hands on particularly when she visited his house and he practically dragged her onto his lap. With a more out going female lead, Yamato’s advances probably wouldn’t have been a problem, but here it just felt like someone who was socially timid getting taken advantage of because her usual response was to freeze rather than get out of the situation. And even though she ended up falling in love with him and they all ended happily ever after, there’s still something just a bit off putting about this situation.

The second issue I have with Yamato is that he has so little actual personality, particularly early on. He very much goes with the flow of things and the people he hangs around and the things he does are very much just to stay in the crowd at times. We learn later that he started that behaviour in middle school to avoid being bullied and he even abandoned a friend because he didn’t want to stand out, but it makes him a hard character to really get a read on when he does some really nice things for Mei and then some really stupid things like when he agrees to join some other friends for bowling while out on a date with Mei. No matter how you look at it, that situation was never going to end well.

Say I Love You Yamato and Megumi

Finally, I really hated Yamato during the arc where he was modelling. His absolute lack of ability to read the situation with Mei just felt totally wrong. All the way along Mei was the one who wasn’t used to reading social cues, not Yamato, and yet suddenly he couldn’t tell that he was breaking his girlfriend’s heart? It just struck me as a really poor plot device and while it did lead to a touching reconciliation moment, it just felt kind of cheap.

However, Yamato does help Mei get out of her self-imposed shell and to actually reconnect with others. While his methods at times might be questionable, his overall desire is one of being helpful and supportive and Mei does find herself able to interact more easily with others because of Yamato.

Say I Love You Cast

Yamato also reflects on his actions and kind of learns from them. He really regretted the situation back in middle school and part of that is the reason he wanted to help Mei in the first place. He also learns after the modelling incident and becomes a lot more open with Mei. While that doesn’t solve everything, at least he doesn’t just keep repeating the same behaviour and expecting different results.

Lastly, he is a fantastic big brother. Okay, maybe he’s an overly doting and way too easily manipulated one. Doesn’t matter. Watching Yamato with Nagi is actually kind of adorable.

Yamato and Nagi - Say I Love You

For me Yamato is always going to be one of those characters I am on the fence about, but I’d love to know what you think of him so leave me a comment.

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Karandi James
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The Animator’s Survival Kit
The Animator's Survival Kit

Up Close With Zen Wisteria

I’ve already written lots about Snow White With The Red Hair (Shirayuki ga Akagami) though most of that has either been reviewing the series or focusing on Shirayuki. At best I’ve touched on Zen when I’ve looked at my favourite Zen and Shirayuki moments in a top 5 list that was an absolute blast to write and made me want to watch the anime again even though I’d just finished watching it yet again. However, this post is all about Zen, the charming Prince of this fairy tale story.

Zen from Shirayuki With The Red Hair

There’s a lot to love about Zen as a character. Certainly he fills the archetype of a Prince Charming character but Snow White With The Red Hair makes it clear right from episode one that even though Zen has a lot of the superficial traits of someone’s Prince Charming, he’s very much his own character. We meet him as he leaps a garden wall and then, because he spots Shirayuki, he ends up catching his foot and falling flat on his face. It goes from being a standard first encounter with the good looking, athletic Prince in the forest to making you laugh at him in a single instant and that impression of Zen remains throughout the series.

Part of that comes about because Zen is playing a role, or rather is forced to by his position. You can see him visibly shift between the mischievous child the hurt boy who has trust issues, the selfish and entitled child, and the trained Prince as he works through each interaction. As Zen and Shirayuki get closer we see more moments where all the masks seem to fall and Zen is more relaxed and natural and it feels almost like we get to see who Zen is without playing any particular part.

Of course, in his Prince role he is certainly heroic looking, a wonderful sword fighter, smart and shrewd, yet not too cold and removed. He also has significantly better fashion sense than his brother Izana, and he understands what sleeves do in a jacket (yeah, I’m never getting over that).

Izana demonstrating how not to wear a jacket.
What does he think those sleeves are supposed to do?

However, where Zen really made me fall in love with his character was in how he treats Shirayuki throughout the story. Certainly he rescues her on more than one occasion but he also listens to her, and when she asks him not to interfere he respects that. He might watch over her and worry but he allows her to handle the things she feels she needs to handle. There’s a wonderful balance between the two where Shirayuki also helps Zen out and keeps him grounded.

Zen and Shirayuki - Zen trying to put Shirayuki to sleep.

The two are in what is perhaps one of the healthiest relationships I’ve seen in anime where the two characters genuinely respect the other and don’t try to dominate or control. Of course, the whole he’s a Prince thing kind of puts a few holes in their forward growth as a couple, but really, it is beautiful seeing these two together and in season two when they reunite after quite a few episodes apart it is one of those moments that just makes you want to cry and cheer simultaneously.

Zen showing us he is every bit a Prince

Zen is a really fantastic character and one who doesn’t get talked about individually enough. As a male lead in a romance he does a fantastic job and he certainly made me wish that he’d end up with Shirayuki by the end.

How do you feel about Zen?

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Karandi James
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SNOW WHITE WITH THE RED HAIR: SEASON ONE [BLU-RAY+DVD]
SNOW WHITE WITH THE RED HAIR: SEASON ONE [BLU-RAY+DVD]

Up Close With Takeo Gouda

I really fell in love with Ore Monogatari or My Love Story the first time I watched it. Certainly it had the advantage of being a little bit different from a lot of the romance anime I watched given it was from the male’s perspective. It also had the novelty of the two main characters establishing a relationship within the first few episodes so the will they/won’t they antics were kept to a minimum. This isn’t a story about falling in love so much as a story about being in love, but mostly it is a story about the characters and their lives and while falling in love is one aspect it isn’t the only thing this story is looking at.

A large part of the draw of this series is Takeo Gouda. He’s huge and towers over his peers as he enters his first year of high school but his size tends to put others off. He’s also not the brightest and tends to act impulsively which leads to misunderstandings. At one point in the series he sees a mother struggling to get a pram up a flight of stairs and so he picks up the pram and carries it to the top. Unfortunately he doesn’t ask first or let her know what is going on and it is left to his friend, Sunakawa to explain.

Ore Monogatari Sunakawa left to explain

While that might paint Takeo as a tragic figure, that isn’t actually correct. Takeo has a few bouts of self-pity but by and large just keeps travelling even when things don’t go his way. He’s supported by his parents and his incredibly loyal friend Sunakawa and as the series progresses, by his girlfriend Yamato. With a group of people who really get him and really see him surrounding him, the blows of those who take a superficial glance are a lot easier to deal with.

However, what continues to elevate Takeo as a character rather than just being a nice guy or a strong guy is his willingness to keep trying. He keeps helping people even knowing it doesn’t always work out and that he won’t always be thanked. When Yamato mentions going to a university, Takeo asks Sunakawa to tutor him to help him prepare for practice examinations so that he won’t hold her back. Takeo doesn’t like studying, and he isn’t particularly good at it, but his dedication is pretty admirable.

Ore Monogatari Takeo and Sunakawa

Equally admirable though is his loyalty to his friends. This is tested quite thoroughly when he’s made plans for Yamato’s birthday and then Sunakawa’s father goes to hospital for surgery. Torn for a fair while, Takeo ends up apologising to Yamato, handing her the birthday plan so she can enjoy it, and runs to the hospital to be with his friend. It’s a beautiful moment for a character I think most of us wish we had in our lives because friendship like that is hard to come by.

Takeo Gouda is a character who I don’t think gets talked about enough. He’s wonderful and just charming to watch. His story is well worth it so if you haven’t watched Ore Monogatari before I totally recommend it. In the meantime, if you have watched it, I’d love to know what you think of Takeo so leave me a comment below.

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My Love Story!!, Vol. 1
My Love Story!!, Vol. 1