12 Days of Anime – Day 2: The Best Anime I Didn’t Watch

In America, December brings with it peppermint mocha, a larger appreciation for sweaters, and an unending flood of listicles popping up in even the more reputable social feeds. Critics professional and amateur alike climb over one another to assert that their selection of “Top 7 New Nylon Blends of 2015” grabs the eyeballs, but rarely do I see much consideration for what didn’t make the cut because said critic didn’t commit.

I don’t think it’s necessary to drink every major wine to make a top ten wine list; similarly, it’s easy for a seasoned individual of taste to cull 2/3 of the pool of things they’re listerizing at face value and only miss maybe a handful of good things. That said, I feel confidence (though not necessarily accuracy) in my forthcoming Top 15 Anime of 2015 list because I’ve watched so much.

If an anime is on Crunchyroll, I’ve watched it with absolute certainty. If it’s been licensed by another company in the United States, I’ve absolutely given it a fair chance, at least watching the first episode to completion, if not the first three. Well, not for everything. I’m going to spend today’s 12 Days of Anime article to talk about all of the best anime that I’m guilty of missing out on.

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Lupin the Third – Part IV

Going into this fine year of 2015, I listed out my most anticipated anime of 2015, with the bulk of my excitement directed at Lupin the Third. From his many different color coats a generation ago, to his series of television specials and films, to his more recent adventures in A Woman Named Fujiko Mine and Jigen’s Gravestone, I have adored every time that my favorite gentlemen thief has stolen my attention from anything else. So, understandably, when I discovered that, thanks to an Italian television station, that Lupin would return to broadcast with an eventual Japanese release, I imagined that a Western simulcast would be soon behind.

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That was not the case.

It’s 2015 – there are very very few titles that escape the aggressive simulcast licensing game, especially within North America. I do still imagine that Lupin will get rescued – hopefully even prior to its Japanese broadcast closing out, but I am deeply frustrated that we’re in a situation where the only option to watch Lupin is to steal it…as ironic as that is. From mid-season rescues like Wakako-zake to non-simulcast simulcasts like The Seven Deadly Sins or Amagi Brilliant Bark, the Western audience has been rewarded for biding their time and waiting for a legal option in the super-majority of situations, so I’m going to do so, but I’m going to be very unhappy to be glossing over a title that certainly would’ve made my list.

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Go! Princess PreCure

To be an active member of the anime community online means that you will spend a vast majority of your time interacting with folks who consume a lot more cartoons through less-than-legal methods than you, no matter how much you pirate. I bring this up to say that I’ve seen a massive amount of Go! Princess PreCure GIFs, screenshots, and even the occasional clip. The one thing that each has had in common is that I LOVE THEM. Not a frame looks off – from my extremely limited experience with the program, and from reading the insights of those I trust immensely, not a detail was spared in the production of Go! Princess PreCure.

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The people who seem to like the anime that I gravitate towards are the ones who come out most strongly for PreCure in general, so I’ve been counting down the days until Netflix releases its bastardized version of Smile PreCure, the PreCure from about three years ago. I anticipate enjoying it massively, and since it’s looking to be the overlocalized “for kids” version, I’ll be able to keep it on in the background as I do other work. The only fear I have with that is that it’ll only exacerbate my desire to watch Go! Princess PreCure, but I do believe I have the willopower to wait until it has its own bastardized American version too.

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Your Lie in April

In addition to being my girlfriend and my old boss’ favorite anime of the year, Your Lie in April is a series that I myself enjoyed…for the first half. Though the drama was telegraphed and the characters acted a few years older than their middle school setting would have you believe, I found Your Lie in April to be an immensely competent story, though perhaps not the best one told week-to-week. Starting the first weekend of 2015, I went to IkkiCon in Texas and began a long string of conventions that prevented my anime consumption patterns from being anything resembling normal.

As my girlfriend progressed, too gripped by the story to wait for me to catch a connecting flight, I felt more and more apathetic towards Your Lie in April. I’m told by many that the last few episodes especially swelled into something truly special, and I’d like to experience that at some point. One day I’ll finish the remaining 11 episodes, but for now, I think it’s fair to call this a potential contender for best anime of 2015 without giving it the chance to make it on the list by watching it.

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The Case of Hana & Alice

I’ll admit, I don’t know much about this movie, but from the synopsis to the reviews, this film seems to be in my wheelhouse and I had an opportunity to see it…and to see the director! However, that day was one where I was incapable of making it to San Francisco for reasons that are beyond the limits of my memory, so instead of (potentially) making it onto my Top 15 list, The Case of Hana & Alice rests here, without anything interesting to be said about it. I should bug @VamptVo about his thoughts about this one again – I remember him really liking it too.

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Sarusuberi: Miss Hokusai

I’m very happy to follow good talent around for their careers, and Miss Hokusai was home to a fair amount of talented animators alongside director Keiichi Hara, who’s worked extensively on Crayon Shin-chan (the strongest indicator I’ve ever seen for someone being good at what they do). The writing I’ve encountered regarding Miss Hokusai has me seriously impressed, even the less-than-generous reviews from Western critics.

I’m certainly influenced by some of the accolades I’ve seen this film receive, including the Satoshi Kon award, and this interview only served to whet my pallet for a film that is, as of writing, completely unavailable in the US. Most other Western countries have had a formal release announced, and while there have been a pair of screenings that I was made aware of in Los Angeles and Texas, I was unable to make it to any of them.

That concludes my list of the top anime that I’m sure I would’ve loved that won’t be making my Top 15 list for the worst reason. Starting tomorrow I’ll jump into the actual list, so until then, thanks for reading!

Post Script: I really don’t think it’s necessary to watch everything. I’ve internalized a lot of the cues that allow me to know whether or not an anime will be “good” months out – my list of surprises is fairly sparse, and my top 7 or so anime that I was looking forward to for the year are all among my top 10 (the ones that made it to the States, at least). I can safely say that other people who create top lists without watching everything are equally valuable.

 

 

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12 Days of Anime – Day 1: The Best of the Rest

Hello all! My name is Miles, and my interest in Japanese animation is not as dire as the only other post in this blog would leave you to believe. That said, I’ve watched enough cartoons in 2015 that I’m excited to share some of the most compelling parts of them with all of you today, as well as for the next 11 days.

Originally, I wanted to discuss my anime-watching paradigm for 2015, since it’s evolved in interesting ways this year, and would serve as a good platform for the rest of these Days of Anime. However, the post ended up more like a diary and I wanted to jump into the meat of my 12 Days of Anime, so I’d like to instead start with an introduction of a few anime I’ve enjoyed this year but won’t be making my top list, the “B team”, if you will.

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Punch Line

When I first saw the PV for Punch Line, I was fairly disappointed. The Noitamina block, created with the mission of building different audiences for anime, has long hosted some of the best anime, if not the most interesting. In the current anime ecosystem with nearly 60 full-length series airing at any time, we usually have a dozen or so more titilating titles to chose from, so I was frustrated to see a series centered squarely on a character seeing women’s panties taking up one of the precious slots of a television block that brought us Kids on the Slope and Honey & Clover.

But Punch Line had an entire world inside it that I was thrilled to explore – a world built on a fantastic combination of video game logic and heart. The characters of Korai House felt like real people, even if they couldn’t claim any real depth, and each was charming in a way that’s challenging to find in a sea of light novel heroines. Instead of feeling like hallow plot twists, each revelation only enriched the Punch Line experience more. And the final two episodes are among the only episodes that have demanded a re-watch out of the hundreds and hundreds I’ve watched this year, so that must mean something.

That said, I wasn’t wrong to dismiss the series at first – Punch Line embraces its least interesting elements. The obsession with women in lingerie wasn’t a barrier to entry you had to push through for an episode or two – it was a core element of the story. Unlike more benign fanservice in the opening arc of other anime, Punch Line only intensified its relationship with its characters’ delicates and was hardly something that an otherwise-eager viewer could easily overlook. I was willing to buy in to this, but I still can’t fault those who feel otherwise.

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Non Non Biyori Repeat

I have not seen the original Non Non Biyori. If top anime lists were Republican debates, Repeat would be going up against Rick Santorum, not Donald Trump. Repeat was insurmountably pleasant – it hit all the “refreshing” notes I was looking for – and that’s all it needed to be. I wasn’t looking for an anime that would tear a dozen emotions out of my chest, boast regularly impressive animation, or drive me insane as I waited for a cliffhanger to be resolved one week later. Non Non Biyori Repeat was everything I wanted it to be, which simply wasn’t as much as I ended up getting from other things.

 

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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Oh wow I related to the piece-of-shit MC like everyone else and fell for the good writing (and Yui).

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Starmyu

Starmyu is Love Live with dudes, and it’s a ton of fun. The solo dance sequences are as dazzling as they are DEEP and this whole thing feels half a notch up from the normal trash I watch, BOYS.

 

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Blood Blockade Battlefront

I want more anime like BBB – it did a bunch of neat things, even if the final package was too messy and unwieldy to come together. Don’t get me wrong – BBB isn’t very good – but there was a lot of good stuff there if you looked for it.

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The iDOLM@STER Cinderella Girls

My guiltiest pleasure of 2k15 I LOVE THEM ALL

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Knights of Sidonia 2

Whoops, I forgot to watch this one. I very much prefer the simulcast experience, and between their change of content strategy and Hulu’s addition of a completely ad-free experience, I’m not on Netflix very much anymore to be reminded that Knights of Sidonia 2 actually came out in the states. The first season is one of my favorites of 2014, and even though I’ve heard this season is less good, I’m a big fan of the part of the manga that this series covers, so I think it’s safe to say this deserves a mention.

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Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches

This show was good because it had the highest number of boys kissing boys.
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Haikyu!! 2

Sweet volleyball babies ;_; I think I should stop now that my commentary has gone from paragraphs to tweets.

 

I love anime. So I decided to live in it.

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My waifu and I study animation, specifically the late Evangelion era of the 1980’s and ‘90s.  Our methods are quite different from those of academics. Everything in our daily life is connected to our period of study, from the technologies we use to the ways we interact with the world.

Five years ago we bought a house built in 199X in San Francisco’s Japantown — a town that prides itself on being an otaku seaport.  When we moved in, there was an electric fridge in the kitchen: We sold that as soon as we could. Now we have nothing but shelf-stable Japanese ramen, just as they eat in Tokyo. Every evening, and sometimes twice a day during summer, I take out the mountains of plastic wrapping from our imported meals.

Every morning I dust the countless shelves of manga and scale figures.  Each day I write in my diary with a brush that someone on Yahoo! Japan auctions says with no uncertainty that Miyazaki used at some point.  My ink stone and the blotter I use to dry the ink on each page before I turn it are purchased from the local Daiso; to wet my ink stone, I use water from a water bottle I purchased during my last visit to Hokkaido. My sealing wax for personal letters comes from bees kept out behind PA Works, and my letter opener is shaped like Zangetsu, Ichigo Kurosaki’s sword.

There are no modern lightbulbs in our house.  When Asuna and I have casuals over, we use Doraemon flashing LED lights, based on the first patents of Tesla and Edison. When it’s just the two of us, we use oil lanterns imported from Japan, originally intended to keep away oni. When we started using proper Japanese illumination every day, we were amazed by how much brighter the light is from our oni lamps than from American reproductions.

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Our heat comes from the exhaust of a failed attempt I made at building a working Gundam and from a dozen kotatsu we have scattered throughout the house. In the winter we tuck hot ramune bottles into bed with us, and even the dakimakura covers that I sewed for those bottles are made from pure Japanese fabric (its designs are copies of larger dakimakura patterns of the Dirty Pair heroines from the late 20th century). Our bed itself is an antique from our favorite anime, My Neighbor Totoro, and since it didn’t have a mattress when we bought it, I covered it with hundreds of various Pokemon plushies and it’s surprisingly comfortable.

I bake all our hardtack from scratch, using a sourdough culture I keep constantly bubbling in the back corner of our kitchen in a bowl that I stole from a shrine in Kyoto. When I want whipped cream or an omelet, I order the ingredients from Amazon.co.jp; when we want to grind something, we place it in a plastic freezer bag and let our pet hamster named Hamtaro gnaw on it a little.

Whenever I’m inside my house I have a Spiral necklace sitting softly on my thin shoulders — a marvelous 22nd-century accessory that combines elements that would remind a modern person of a drill, multi-tool, and organizer all in one. Mine usually holds the power of friendship, manliness, and scissors, but I also have attachments for it ranging from a rocket punch to a flamethrower, an ice beam, or a pair of tweezers.

I bathe with a laminated poster of the cast from Midori Days every morning, and for a nice long soak I use an actual onsen I shipped out from Gunma. I wash my hair using bacon bar soap from a company established in 2011. (Shampooing with bacon soap is a piece of beauty advice I found on Game Informer dot com from about the time our house was built.) My hairbrush is a 5-year-old design, and my toothbrush still has some of Sora Amamiya’s hair in it (from before she become famous).

Neither my waifu nor I have ever had an American cellphone; I’ve never even had a driver’s license (though that one episode of Dragonball Z did tempt me). On special outings when Asuka and I go cycling together, I ride an engineless copy Tesuo’s motorcycle from the 1988 hit Akira. Aoi has three cars from Initial D, and she has ridden them hundreds of miles. On our vacation just last week, we rode our itasha more than 75 miles along a historic otaku route to Pacifica’s Anime Importers. I kept thinking of an article we had read in an 2001 Animerica magazine about Japanese idols riding cars just like Aoi’s when they took a trip out to a Akihabara.

The process didn’t happen all at once.  It’s not as though someone suddenly dropped us into a ready-furnished Anime existence one day— that sort of thing only happens in fairy tales and Tokyo. We had to work hard for our dreams. The life we now enjoy came bit by bit, through gifts we gave each other. The greatest gift we give each other is mutual support in moving forward with our dreams.

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Even before I met Asuna, we both saw value in older ways of looking at the world. She had been homeschooled as a child, and she never espoused the strict segregation that now seems to exist between life and learning. As adults, we both wanted to learn more about a country that fascinated each of us. But it took mutual support to challenge society’s dogmas of how we should live, how we should learn. We came into it gradually — and together.

It’s hard to say who started it. I was the first to start wearing Dog Days Season 2 shoulder bags, but Asuka, who knew how I’d always admired Japanese ideals and aesthetics, gave them to me as presents, a way for both of us to research a culture we found fascinating.

I was so intrigued by those bags and clothes that I hand-sewed copies I could wear every day.

Soon after, I gave Asuna a yukata of her own, but tailoring women’s clothes is a separate skill set, and it took her a while to find a seamstress who could make yukata with the same painstaking attention to historic detail that I was putting into my own garments.

Wearing anime graphic tees on a daily basis gave us insights into intimate life in Japan, things so private and yet so commonplace they were never written down. Features of posture, movement, balance; things as subtle as the way my neon green-bordered trip pants started to act like a cat’s whiskers when I wore them every single day. I became so accustomed to the presence and movements of my trip pants, they started to send me little signals about my proximity to the objects around myself, and about the winds that rustled their chains — even the faint wind caused by the passage of a person or animal close by. I never had to analyze these signals, and after a while I stopped even thinking about them much; they became a peripheral sense, a natural part of myself. Asuka said watching me grow accustomed to yukata was like seeing me blossom into my true self.

When we realized how much we were learning just from the clothes, we started wondering what other everyday items could teach us.

When cheap modern things in our lives inevitably broke, we replaced them with plastic Japanese equivalents instead of more baka American modern trash. Every birthday and anniversary became an excuse to hunt down physical artifacts from our favorite country, which we could then study and use together.

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Everything escalated organically from there, and now our whole life revolves around this ongoing research project. No one pays us for it, but we take it more seriously than many people take their paying jobs.

The artifacts in our home represent what historians call “primary source materials,” items directly from the period of study.  Anything can be a primary source, although the term usually refers to texts. The books and magazines the Japanese mangaka themselves wrote and read constitute the vast bulk of our reading materials — and since reading is our favorite pastime, they fill a large percentage of our days. There is a universe of difference between a book or magazine article about the Meiji Restoration era and one actually written by people who learned about the Meiji Restoration from Ruroni Kenshin, such as myself. Modern commentaries on Japan can get appallingly like the game “telephone”: One person misinterprets something, the next exaggerates it, a third twists it to serve an agenda, and so on. Going back to the original sources is the only way to learn the truth.

We’re devoted to getting our own insights and perspectives on the era, not just parroting stereotypes that “everyone knows.” The late 80s in Japan were an incredibly dynamic time, with so many new and extraordinary inventions and advancements in cell technology it seemed anything was possible.  Interacting with tangible items from that time helps us connect with and share that optimism. They help us understand the culture that created them — a culture that believed in engineering durable, beautiful items that could be repaired by their users. Constantly using them helps us comprehend their context.  Absorbing the lessons our artifacts teach us shapes our worldview. They are our teachers.  Seeing their beauty every day elevates and inspires us, as it did their original owners.

It’s a life that keeps us far more in touch with the natural seasons, too. Much of modern technology has become a collection of magic black boxes: Push a button and light happens, push another button and heat happens, and so on. The systems that dominate people’s lives have become so opaque that few Americans have even the foggiest notion what makes most of the items they touch every day work — and trying to repair them would nullify the warranty.  The resources that went into making those items are treated as nothing more than a price tag to grumble about when the bills come due. Very few people actually watch those resources decreasing as they use them. It’s impossible to watch fuel disappearing when it’s burned in a power plant hundreds of miles away, and convenient to forget there’s a connection.

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When we use resources through technology that has to be tended, we’re far more careful about how we use them. To use our kotatsu in the winter, I have to plug it in; when we want to use it, I have to plug it in. It’s not a burdensome process, but it’s certainly a more mindful one than flicking a switch.

Not everyone necessarily wants to live the same lifestyle we have chosen, of course. But anyone can benefit from choices that increase their awareness of their surroundings and the way things they use every day affect them. Watching the level of Pocky in the reservoir heightens our awareness of how much we’re using, and makes us ask ourselves what we truly need. Learning to use all these technologies gives us confidence to exist in the world on our own terms.

And that, really, is the resource we find ourselves more and more in need of. My waifu and I have slowly, gradually worked to base our lives around Japanese artifacts and ideals because — quite frankly — we love living this way.  People assume the hard part of our lifestyle comes from the life itself, but using Japanese items every day brings us great joy and fulfillment. The truly hard part is dealing with other people’s reactions.

We live in a world that can be terribly hostile to difference of any sort. Societies are rife with bullies who attack nonconformists of any stripe. Asuna’s workout clothes were copied from the racing outfit from Redline, and when she goes swimming, her hand-knit sukumizu raise more than a few eyebrows — but this is just the least of the abuse we’ve taken. We have been called “freaks,” “weeaboos,” and an endless slew of far worse insults. We’ve received hate mail telling us to get out of town and repeating the word “kill … kill … kill.” Every time I leave home I have to constantly be on guard against people who try to paw at and grope me. Dealing with all these things and not being ground down by them, not letting other people’s hostile ignorance rob us of the joy we find in this life — that is the hard part. By comparison, wearing a Japanese yukata is the easiest thing in the world.SG_0094.0

This is why more people don’t follow their dreams: They know the world is a cruel place for anyone who doesn’t fit into the dominant culture. Most people fear the bullies so much that they knuckle under simply to be left alone. In the process, they crush their own dreams.

Note: This is a parody. Photo credits to Estar Hyo Gyung Choi