Reaching for the Sky Jul04

Reaching for the Sky

There’s a trope in anime where a character–usually an honest and kind girl–will look up into the sky and stretch her hand toward it, reaching out to something invisible. That scene represents the character’s distance from some faraway, seemingly impossible goal. But in that moment, I’m encouraged to think that she will achieve her aim, no matter how difficult. She only needs to persevere. Anime teaches me that sincerity and determination are the keys to making my dreams come true. My real life experience, though, has been that sometimes no matter how hard I try, no matter how much time, energy, and resources I put toward a goal, I still fail. Honey and Clover, the classic series about art school students trying to navigate the trials that come with romantic relationships, final projects, and life itself, breaks the anime mold and shows us that dreams don’t always come true, no matter how sincere we might be. But in the wake of our efforts, and even in our failures, we might be left with something unexpected. In an ensemble piece comprised of a memorable cast, the Honey and Clover character I identify most with is Yuta, perhaps because he’s the most “normal” one. Yuta is even-tempered, industrious, caring, and skilled in woodworking. He’s the kind of character that’s easy for me to root for, one that I just know will overcome his obstacles and, since he’s part of a love triangle, am rooting for to get the girl at the end. Hearts are broken, love isn’t written in the stars, and characters fail to achieve their aspirations. But Honey and Clover is a different type of anime. In it, hearts are broken, love isn’t written in the stars, and characters fail to achieve their aspirations....

Fit for a Servant: Fate/Zero and Deviant Leadership Jun29

Fit for a Servant: Fate/Zero and Deviant Leadership...

King Arthur is female. Gilgamesh is blonde. Alexander the Great is seven feet tall. At a glance, Fate/Zero seems determined to spite history buffs, but deviancy is the name of the game in this alternate version of Japan, where magi summon ancient heroes in a bloody war to obtain the wish-granting Holy Grail. Tired of swinging swords at each other (or chucking them, in Gilgamesh’s case), the three monarchs agree to talk things out and determine the victor by status rather than strength. Arturia (that’s fem-Arthur—keep up!) quickly becomes the odd-king-out in the debate, and not just because the testosterone-fueled tyrants outnumber her altruism two-to-one. She’s ashamed to have ever pulled the sword from the stone and become ruler of Camelot. Throughout Fate/Zero, Arturia constantly returns to her inner mindscape—alone, atop a hill of slain knights; her back and head bowed beneath regrets as numerous as the corpses under her feet. If Alexander represents the human power fantasy (dream large, live larger), and Gilgamesh the epitome of a utopian dictatorship that would make even Machiavelli blush, then Arturia is a crash course on the dark side of servant leadership. Conceptualized as a counter movement to traditional “worker management,” servant leadership inverts the hierarchical pyramid, putting the leader in a supporting and mentoring role. In many ways, it’s a leadership style as deviant as gender-bending Britain’s famous king. History expects its leaders to reign from above, like Gilgamesh, or from up front (to “laugh louder and rage harder” in Alexander’s own words). Perhaps it’s the many misconceptions of servant leadership that keep potential adopters from fully embracing it and its benefits. In the realm of influence, servant leadership is an all-powerful leveler. Arturia saw her rule as an act of service—to restore Britain through her...

Hidden Jun10

Hidden

“I don’t understand that at all,” I complained to Sensei after he tried to answer my umpteenth question about a technique we were practicing. He had made a correction to my form that seemed completely contrary to what he had told me before. It was counter-intuitive and suddenly made the movements awkward. Now, I totally appreciate how fortunate I am that my martial arts instructor is not only patient and an excellent teacher. Thankfully, unlike the protagonist of Mamoru Hosada’s anime fable The Boy and the Beast/Bakemono no Ko (2015), my Sensei is nothing like Kumatetsu—a giant, anthropomorphic bear with a foul temper and poor hygiene. But when young Ren struggles to comprehend his teacher’s first vague and cryptic lesson in swordsmanship, I still can empathize with his frustration. As a martial artist, I found it gratifying to see Ren following Kumatetsu’s every move (however insignificant it seemed) to “become him” and learn from the beast, despite all the misgivings and rebellious skepticism the boy had. It showed a great deal of humility on Ren’s part to acknowledge that he was weak and that there were things that he could learn from Kumatetsu in spite of their differences. Just because Kumatetsu didn’t know how to teach him didn’t mean the bear had nothing to teach. Eventually Ren discovers, to his surprise, that he is not only able to mimic, but can actually anticipate his teacher’s footsteps without even seeing them. How much am I missing that’s hidden in plain sight in the world around me? It’s not that Kumatetsu meant to keep his techniques secret from his student. It’s that he simply understood that some kinds of knowledge are difficult to comprehend until you have lived it. The problem is, being expected to do something...

Prodigals, Parables, and Black-Belt Bunnies May18

Prodigals, Parables, and Black-Belt Bunnies...

Ever laid awake at night wondering what the story of the Prodigal Son would be like if it included Facebook, nuclear threats, and a black-belt bunny? (Yes, you read that right.) Well, put your insomniac wonderings to rest. It’s a thing. Summer Wars is a feature-length anime that includes a shaggy-haired protagonist, furries, feels, and familial ties; it also manages to double as a modern-day parable for the social media generation. In summary, Japan’s proud Jinnouchi family gathers to celebrate its matriarch’s 90th birthday, but the festivities are put on hold when the futuristic, world-wide network, Oz, goes haywire and a virus program threatens to bomb nuclear facilities around the world. (The black-belt bunny comes into play as a virtual avatar meant to combat the virus, in case you were wondering.) Summer Wars is about reconciliation—not just in a literal sense, between a prodigal son and his family—but also on a narrative level. The film attempts to merge two unlikely genres, sci-fi and slice-of-life, and the result is as odd as, well, anime. But it works. Summer Wars also asks many thought-provoking questions: How do we keep technology from replacing face-to-face interaction? How should the new generation embrace the customs of the old one? How does tradition compromise with a world so reliant upon change? How does an estranged family member come back into the fold? Parables are meant to make the listener uneasy with themselves because they demand on-the-spot self-reflection. That last question serves as the emotional crux of Summer Wars. Wabisuke, the youngest son of the Jinnouchi matriarch, takes his inheritance money prematurely and runs off to America to spend it. Years later, the prodigal cleans up his act and returns home to be welcomed by his mother and restored into the...

Art as a Spiritual Power-Up May06

Art as a Spiritual Power-Up...

When I write something without holding anything back, when I wear my words on my sleeve, they hold the realest power. But that also means sporting a bull’s eye for the arrows of criticism and objectification. This is the life of an artist, knowing that putting your work out there means it can be admired or rejected. Maybe I fear others’ evaluations and criticisms of my work a bit too much. I hear a lot of well-meaning “writing advice” meant to keep the metaphorical stomach butterflies at bay, but perhaps the most-recited quip is: “Separate yourself from your work.” I get it. I shouldn’t put my self-worth into something outside of myself. That’s a one-way trip to unattainable perfectionism. Still, I don’t think the line is so clearly drawn between “self” and “art” that I can easily step across it and be protected from all criticism by some magical force-field. My words are an extension of myself. I breathe them to life, ex nihilo-style, and then decide to call them “good.” (After several re-writes, anyway.) Obviously the inky jots on the page come from my experiences, my personality, my nostalgia, my knowledge. Psychologically, I am one with my words, no matter how much I try to convince myself, for my sanity’s sake, that we are separate entities. In terms of artistic passion, where does self end and society begin? Is the true value of art found in creating it or in sharing it? Is the true value of art found in creating it or in sharing it? I didn’t expect to find so many answers in a competitive-swimming anime called Free! Eternal Summer. I hastily judged it as a mix of bromance, muscles, and melodrama, with a protagonist so obsessed with H2O that he’d...

If I Could Erase the Past Apr11

If I Could Erase the Past...

I wouldn’t say I’m jaded, but I do have some regrets. I wish I had spent more time deepening my friendships when I was younger. I wish I had opened up more to people. It seems that every time I look back to my college years, I’m not disappointed about what I did, but rather about what I didn’t do. This especially affects me because I believe my actions have eternal consequences. ERASED features Satoru Fujinuma, an unsuccessful mangaka (manga writer) whose mother has just recently moved in with him. Satoru is a depressed young man, mostly due to repressing memories of an event where his classmates were killed many years ago. He feels he could have personally prevented the murders and the jailing of a man wrongly convicted for the crimes. Even worse, the events of the past catch up with Satoru, as the real murderer fatally stabs his mother. Laziness, timidity, retribution, fear—these are the demons that pull at me. But this is anime, so fear not! Satoru has an ability to jump back in time. Usually, he is only able to move back a few seconds or minutes, but after his mother’s death, Satoru leaps all the way back his childhood. He’s given a second chance to act and maybe save everybody. Satoru, effectively an adult in a child’s body, attacks his task of saving children with a gusto that takes everyone by surprise. He knows the future, and will do anything to prevent these terrible crimes from happening. I am jealous. I want Satoru’s superpower. But since that doesn’t seem likely, what should I—someone who, you know, can’t travel back in time and correct wrongs—do in the here and now? Unlike Satoru, I’m stuck with the consequences of my actions,...

Super Saiyan Humility Mar30

Super Saiyan Humility...

When I was younger, I wanted to be Goku. He was strong and he was kind. What more could a little boy ask for in a role model? For me, living without a father, siblings, or extended family, I yearned for male inspirations I could draw from. I never got into anything harmful or negative in my youth; instead, I turned to anime. Dragonball Z was the one that all us guys wanted to see more of, because it reflected how to be tough while being disciplined. Goku, the main hero of the saga, would always arrive just in time to save the day. Goku is a Saiyan, a warrior race from the planet Vegeta. His home was annihilated by the evil Frieza, who considers himself emperor over the universe. After landing on Earth as a baby, little by little Goku surpassed trial, foe, and competition to become the strongest fighter on the globe. As the episodes went on, Goku transcended his Saiyan form to become a Super Saiyan. With all his strength, Goku kept on saving the Earth and going beyond the Super Saiyan until he passed his limits and became a Super Saiyan god, which is a legendary form never seen before. He needed this power to battle the god of destruction, Beerus, who wanted to destroy the Earth. Everyone wants power and wealth, but sometimes we don’t realize how much harder it is for us to be humble when we get them. Vegeta is the prince of Saiyans and Goku’s constant rival. He also gained the ability to become a Super Saiyan god, but instead of gathering strength from other Super Saiyans as Goku did, he achieved it through training on his own. This gave him an ego boost since he was able to do it...

When Dreams Shatter Mar11

When Dreams Shatter

Kiritsugu is a happy, wide-eyed kid with big dreams. He and his father live near a quaint village on a peaceful island in the Philippines. His best friend (and secret crush) is his father’s research assistant, Shirley. One night, while they are standing near a lake and staring at the sky full of stars, she asks him what he dreams of becoming when he grows up. Although he is too embarrassed to tell her, his dream is to become a hero. One fateful night, everything changes. The research his father has been working on, which he thought was supposed to save lives, ends up being nothing more than a means to turn people into zombie-like creatures called Dead Apostles. Worst of all, the first person to transform into one of these horrifying fiends is Shirley. Kiritsugu knows that he is the only person who can keep his father from harming another person ever again, so he kills him. This is Kiritsugu’s story in the anime Fate/Zero. It is heartbreaking to watch the young boy forced to choose between his father and the good of humanity. After killing his father, Kiritsugu’s expression becomes vacant and his personality robotic. No one should have to make that kind of decision, especially as a child. He has failed to reach his dreams, but he has one last hope. Kiritsugu still wants to be a hero more than anything and becomes determined to stop all of the evil in the world. He trains under a formidable mage and assassin named Natalia. She becomes like a mother to him as they hunt down evil men who threaten the innocent. In time, Kiritsugu masters his trade of killing dangerous mages to the point that he earns himself the title “The Magus Killer.”...

Lessons of a Pork Bowl Mar04

Lessons of a Pork Bowl...

I love my father to pieces, but sometimes I wonder how we get along at all. We’re fundamentally very different people. Growing up, I would spend most of my free time reading novels or watching TV, while my dad enjoyed maintaining the car and doing lawn work. When he would ask me to help change oil for our old Ford, I would politely reply, “No thanks,” and return to my books. Getting sweaty and dirty working on a contraption I knew nothing about seemed like misery to me. It was wholly out of my comfort zone. I was a lot like Yugo Hachiken, the bookish protagonist of Silver Spoon who is in his first year attending an agricultural-focused high school. Hachiken is completely out of his element at the institution, where he dirties his hands working with livestock, crops, and farming equipment from dusk ‘til dawn. Almost everything at the school is a challenge for Hachiken, who previously responded to trials by keeping stress bottled up inside or by running away. He can do neither at Ooezo Agricultural High School—not if he wants to succeed. And though it’s rough going, Hachiken discovers something I wish I had known when I was his age–by getting out of your bubble, you’ll grow into a person you never knew you could be. It wasn’t until years later that I realized all this running away had molded me into someone I didn’t want to be. This theme is illustrated very early in the series. Shortly after his arrival at Ooezo, Hachiken begins to care for a runt piglet he encounters during a practicum. Learning that it supposedly won’t grow large enough to sell as high quality meat, he decides to prove everyone wrong and raise it himself, waking...

A Living Patchwork Mar02

A Living Patchwork

Sutures cross his torso like train tracks. A particularly nasty scar splits his face between his vibrant red eyes. “They are living proof that I am a patchwork,” Hazama Kuroo says, tracing a gash in his shoulder. It’s an effective opening for Young Black Jack. I’m instantly plagued with questions, but given no answers until later in the show. At age eight, Hazama was caught in a bombing blast, but saved by a miraculously skilled doctor who Frankensteins him back together. Inspired by his saviour, Hazama (who later goes by the undercover name, Black Jack) pursues a career as a surgeon, eventually rejecting medical school in favour of becoming an unlicensed doctor. That’s because, in his experience, the law often does more harm than good when it comes to saving lives. Think Batman, but with more scalpels (and a stylish red bowtie). Hazama’s early life is spent crawling on all fours like an animal, learning how to walk again. It’s spent without his mother, who was mortally wounded in the blast, and without his father, who abandoned them both on their death beds. But it’s through this painful time of rehabilitation that Hazama’s origin story shapes him into the legendary “Surgeon with the Hands of God.” Like a temporary stitch, mortal “doctors” can only hold me together for so long. I love a good origin story, but I’m not sure I’d want to live through one by anime standards. I might end up making a deal that literally costs me an arm and a leg, getting injected with monstrous powers, or solely surviving the fiery aftermath of a Holy War. But it’s the thought of being blown to pieces, Hazama-style, that makes my skin crawl most. I can’t imagine what it took to piece...

Humanity’s Kindest Soldier Feb24

Humanity’s Kindest Soldier...

“Let me ask you something: as a Levi fan, why do you think the ‘courtroom scene’ is so significant to his character?” I was decked out in full Levi cosplay (Wings of Freedom and all), and I was totally unprepared for this question. Maybe the fact that the person asking was Lauren Landa, the voice actor for Annie Leonhardt, didn’t help my composure. In a trial for lead character Eren Yeager’s life, Levi intervenes at the last moment, brutally kicking the bound protagonist until he’s a bleeding, gurgling mess. It’s a stunt—one meant to save Eren from the custody of the Military Police—but I still cringe every time I see this scene. In pondering a response to the question, directed at me during OMNI Expo’s 2015 voice actor meet and greet, a million answers raced through my mind. The scene definitely showcased Levi’s intelligence; it hinted at the brutality that characterized his thug days; it made viewers wonder if he was a decent human being. But none of these generic answers described what his actions in that moment meant to me and what they meant to Levi. The Love of a Captain Despite his ability to drop 15-meter titans like flies—a quality that makes him untouchable by lawman and layman alike—Levi strikes me as neither a reckless rebel nor a cold-hearted sociopath. However, his ability to grasp people’s inner feelings and empathize with them makes him willing to play the “bad guy” as the need arises. No doubt a part of that willingness stems from his lifelong hostility to the government, but also I believe Levi is one of the few characters capable of showing true, selfless love for others. Sometimes that love appears masked by viciousness, dislodging molars and morals alike in the...

The Last Words of Konno Yuuki Feb12

The Last Words of Konno Yuuki...

Drama king. Yep, that’s me. My wife nods her head every time I apply that name to myself. I don’t try to be, it just comes naturally. Usually it involves “feeling something very strongly,” which compels me to either awkward dancing or a watering of my beard. Both of which are key to healthy hair, by the way. However, in the last hours of Sword Art Online’s second season, my occasional and modest tearing up had turned into some unstoppable torrent. The first hint of trouble to come starts when Asuna makes a new friend named Yuuki and joins her group of adventurers in Alfheim Online (ALO), a team that calls themselves The Sleeping Knights. After a stunning victory against all odds, the group announces they are disbanding, and Asuna is shocked. The news makes her recognize what she has thus far only felt: Yuuki and The Sleeping Knights have become so dear to her. Yuuki and the others give only a silent goodbye, offering no reasons for their permanent departure. Asuna, who has come to love them, can’t stand the tears she causes when she pleads for reasons why. Their sadness is incomprehensible to her. “I was born to die, so what was my reason for existing in the world?” Yuuki suspects, and rightly so, that Asuna won’t be satisfied without answers, and will search high and low for her in the real world. Maybe, just maybe, the impossible would happen and Asuna would find her. It’s all Yuuki wants and it is exactly what she is trying to stop. She doesn’t want Asuna to know why she must leave; Yuuki doesn’t want to cause Asuna pain. But Asuna’s stubbornness brings her to Yuuki’s doorstep at the hospital. It’s a surprise, though many...

Lifting the Curse Feb05

Lifting the Curse

A youth living as a princess among wolves. Giant boars possessed by demons. An elk-like spirit who gives life and takes it away. A monk who fights and curses as well as any warrior. “Distinctive” describes Princess Mononoke, Hayao Miyazaki’s masterpiece depicting humans at war with nature. But perhaps lost in the spectacle of gods and demons is a challenge that I find speaks directly to me. The film’s protagonist seeks to live a life free of bitterness and scorn, and that’s something I can relate to because I daily struggle to do the same. Ashitaka, the prince of a small tribe, has been cursed by a vengeful boar god who is driven mad by an iron pellet buried deep in his body. Ashitaka’s journey to find a cure for the fatal curse leads him to Irontown, an island settlement erected by Lady Eboshi, a shrewd and fearless businesswoman. She asks the prince why he’s there, to which he responds, “to see with eyes unclouded by hate.” As it is with Ashitaka, grace is the power to cast out hate, the power to absolve the curse. But his eyes are clouded by hate. Ashitaka’s eyes burn with loathing toward Eboshi as she proudly explains how her warriors chased off the bordering mountain’s boar gods through fire and gunpowder, all in the name of making her town the richest property in the world. They are the ones who shot the boar god, and thus are responsible for Ashitaka’s predicament. After his cursed arm begins to move on its own, attempting to assassinate the woman, he says of it, “If it would lift the curse, I would let it tear you apart, but even that wouldn’t end the killing, would it?” And Ashitaka isn’t the only...

Kenshin, Truth, and Love Jan22

Kenshin, Truth, and Love...

The subject of live action films, a long running television series, and multiple video releases, Himura Kenshin is one of anime’s most recognizable and enduring characters. The wandering samurai we know from the Rurouni Kenshin anime series is a kind pacifist, though we also know that he was once the brutal battousai (manslayer). Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen (known as Rurouni Kenshin: Trust and Betrayal in North America) is a two-part release that pulls no punches in revealing his history; while beautifully animated and instilled at once with both cold and romantic tones, it’s also a very bloody work, a vast departure from the more light-hearted series, which makes it all the more striking. Himura Kenshin, a great swordsman with high ideals, is at the center of all the violence in Trust and Betrayal, usually inflicting it upon others. It’s a surprising path for a young man who grew up single-mindedly set on saving others by the strength of his sword. But in his eagerness to aid the common person during the revolution which would eventually lead to Japan’s Meiji Era, Kenshin easily falls for the pretext set forth by Katsura, the leader of a faction opposing the shogunate. Katsura takes the swordsman’s immeasurable abilities and uses him even though he knows that doing so will destroy Kenshin’s humanity. in truth, they found something solid to stand upon, something strong and just, something worth fighting for. To keep Kenshin in line so that he may continue to carry out assassinations, Katsura asks Tomoe, a woman Kenshin has affections for, to act as a calming “sheath” for the young swordsman. Tomoe, however, has a secret as well: her fiance was assassinated by Kenshin, and she is acting as a spy to deliver him to his death. What she didn’t...

Aborting Naruto Jan15

Aborting Naruto

Shave away its year-long filler arcs and Naruto is an anime about seeing value in every life. The namesake protagonist makes it his seemingly unattainable mission to achieve world peace, not by preaching his message from a lofty throne and waiting for others to adopt it, but by personally touching one life at a time. From psychopathic Gaara to traitorous Obito, no life is ever so lost that it becomes worthless; one-by-one Naruto redeems them all, transforming them into allies for his cause. Since he holds such a pious goal, I’d think it would be easy for Naruto to become superficial in his methods of outreach, but instead, each encounter is treated with personal freshness. I think that’s because Naruto doesn’t see the conversion of individual lives as a means to an end, but rather as the ultimate end. Unlike Light Yagami of Death Note fame, who tries to force the populace into an ideal world it can’t possible conform to, Naruto is the wiser for realizing that true change can only come to the world by first changing its people. More importantly, Naruto knows that it only takes one person to change the life of another. It’s a phenomenon he’s witnessed first-hand, when a single teacher, Iruka, chose to reach out to him—the classroom failure, the troublemaker, the rebel, the outcast—and recognized him as a human being. Having gone through the anger and depression of social loneliness, Naruto is equipped to minister to others who have suffered his fate and offer them genuine hope. Most difficult of all, I must choose to see those people who most incite my fear and anger as “human.” Going deeper into Naruto’s backstory reveals that his birth posed great risk to both his parents and his village. Before...

Meek, Weak, or Chic Dec07

Meek, Weak, or Chic

Meekness may be the most misunderstood virtue of the 21st century. Maybe that’s because it rhymes with “weakness,” or because the phrase “meek and mild” has become synonymous with timidity. Perhaps it’s because, in an age of self-gratification, meekness is no longer seen as a necessity. Whatever the case, nothing could be farther from the truth, in my opinion. Take Vash the Stampede, tragic Western hero of the anime Trigun, for instance. He carries the name of a wanted criminal worth 60 billion double-dollars, but characters and viewers alike have a hard time believing it. Lovable, friendly Vash—a criminal? Maybe a criminal for stuffing too many doughnuts in his face, but certainly not a criminal of the law. On the contrary, Vash refuses to pull the trigger if it means ending a life, and whenever his bullets do accidentally find their mark, he ensures that those wounds are bandaged. Until episode five, Meryl—an insurance agent sent to evaluate claims against Vash’s notoriety—refuses to believe that the flirtatious goofball in the red trench is the Vash. It’s not until the town is threatened by an unstoppable foe that Vash’s dorky grin disappears and he whips his gun out, firing five non-lethal rounds in a breath-taking, slow-mo, mid-air dive. By the scene’s end, Meryl has no doubt about his true identity. It’s not the mockery of the enemy that drives Vash into full-throttle, or even the concern that his skilled reputation will be tarnished if he doesn’t retaliate. Rather, Vash has yoked himself to the plow of an ideal—that he is a saviour of human life. Only when those lives are threatened does the playful doughnut-hog vanish beneath the persona of an avenging angel. Meekness makes Vash a visionary—one so focused on the greater ideal he serves that others’...

Begging Kite’s Forgiveness Dec04

Begging Kite’s Forgiveness...

“To love righteousness is to make it grow, not to avenge it.” This is a quote by George MacDonald that I read recently, but instead of reminding me of the poet’s further thoughts, it makes me think of a TV show I’ve been watching: Hunter x Hunter. One of the subplots in Hunter x Hunter detours to capture the story of a minor character named Koala. Koala is a Chimera Ant, a species that takes on the likeness of other beings depending on what creatures the Ant Queen has devoured before giving birth (hence why he looks like a koala wearing a suit). Hitherto he was used only to illustrate the barbaric nature of certain Chimera Ants who mutated into random grotesque human likenesses. When we first meet him, Koala is a stone-cold killer. He’s essentially the James Bond of the Chimera Ant world. The job of most Chimera Ants is to harvest (kidnap) humans for the Queen’s food. Most of them are ruthless and enjoy seeing their victims scream in terror and attempt to flee. Not Koala, though. He would emerge out of the shadows, killing in an instant, the expression on his face somewhere between contempt and pity. Kite offers not only her forgiveness, but a way for Koala to forgive himself. Koala shows up near the beginning of the Chimera Ants’ rise of power and we don’t see him again till the end of their story. The Ant Queen and King have fallen. The mutated Ant colony is essentially destroyed. Koala is among the few remaining Ants who survived. Many of the surviving Chimera Ants are no longer purely Ants. They have regained memories of their former lives, their human lives before they were consumed by the Queen. Koala is in this state and it has apparently changed him. He’s looking as sharp...

Right now, we’re alive here Nov13

Right now, we’re alive here...

“Do you not understand? Every day we spend here is one day we’ve lost in the real world.” These are words spoken in Sword Art Online by Asuna. She is talking to Kirito, her eyes are narrowed, her hands are on her hips. Kirito is laying on his back in the quiet and calm of a green meadow. The look on his face is as serene as the digital sky above him. He knows she is right. All the players in the game are trapped inside this virtual reality. There is no logging out. There is no respawning. And dying inside Sword Art Online means you die in real life. The only chance for the thousands of players trapped inside this digital reality is to beat the game. That is what Asuna is focusing on. She has worked for months inside the game, training herself to be stronger, leading her clan deeper into the game, inching forward to the ending that promises freedom.Asuna learned from Kirito that escaping wasn’t the only important thing in Sword Art Online. Kirito himself has also worked hard to become strong but he has remained a solo player. If anyone knows the precipice these trapped players are walking, it’s him. He knows the importance of the work they are doing. Yet Asuna’s stormy outbreak doesn’t even cause him to raise an eyelid. This is one of the first encounters between Asuna and Kirito in the anime. I am immediately drawn into the scene and the meaning behind it. Here is a war of feelings I never realized I had felt myself until I saw them on display here. I have experienced both the urgency of Asuna and the peace of Kirito in my life. This moment in Sword Art...

Grave of the Fireflies and burying selfishness Nov04

Grave of the Fireflies and burying selfishness...

A teenage boy, dying from disease and starvation, sits leaning against a pillar in a subway station. Some express disdain towards the teen; others ignore him; one lady leaves a small bit of food next to him. This is the opening scene for Grave of the Fireflies, Studio Ghibi’s animated classic about the closing days of World War II. By nightfall, the boy, Seita, is dead. His spirit, however, is alive—and in the midst of glowing fireflies, he reunites with the spirit of a young girl (whom we soon discover is his sister Setsuko), and the two take us on a journey to the past, narrating what led them to their deaths. Grave of the Fireflies is difficult to watch—a cursory look through the Tumblr tag for the movie brings forth a common response: tears, and lots of them. After the children are left without their mother, as she suffered from severe burns due to the U.S. firebombing of their hometown of Kobe, Seita becomes a surrogate parent and leads his sister to a distant aunt’s house. There, the siblings are forced to take refuge. Their aunt cautiously takes them in, but as rationing becomes tighter, her callousness turns into outright scorn at having to share food with the children. Will we be satisfied within the comfortable confines of our lives and demonstrate that, in the end, we simply don’t care? Seita ultimately makes an ill-fated decision to take Setsuko and leave his aunt’s home, moving to an abandoned shelter. Though the two are happy at first to have their own dwelling, and even acquire goods and equipment that they purchase from a farmer, it isn’t long before malnutrition and disease set in. When Seita takes the declining Setsuko to see an unconcerned doctor,...

Not just another number Sep16

Not just another number...

When Chihiro Ogino finds herself trapped in a magical world, she has her name taken from her. The plot of Hayao Miyazaki’s 2001 animated film Spirited Away begins when Chihiro’s parents are transformed into pigs by eating forbidden food from an uninhabited buffet. Chihiro learns that the place they stumbled across after taking a wrong turn is, in fact, a spiritual realm; a place of retreat where weary spirits can relax. She begs Yubaba, the cruel owner of a bathhouse, to give her a job so she can survive in this spirit world, and Yubaba eventually hires Chihiro in exchange for ownership of the girl’s name. Yubaba renames her Sen. Later, Chihiro learns that Yubaba takes people’s names in order to trap them in this spirit world; if she ever forgets what her original name was, she will be permanently unable to return to her home world. Despite losing her name, she doesn’t lose herself. I wondered where Yubaba got the name “Sen” from, and once I noted the kanji characters that make up both names, I realized exactly what Yubaba was trying to take away from her. “Chihiro” is written as two kanji characters: the first is pronounced “chi” (which means “one thousand”), and the second is “hiro” (which means “questions”). But kanji characters almost never have just one single pronunciation or meaning attributed to them; in this case, the character used for “chi” can also be read as “sen,” the basic number for one thousand. The name “Chihiro” does not necessarily express a finite quantity, but could be interpreted as an endless or uncountable number. Her full given name therefore could be roughly translated to “endless questions.” To me, the translation behind this name paints a mental picture of a girl who...