XyberTimes

Curious Bits From a Curious World

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Dagashi Kashi: A Study in Taste and Charm

Dagashi Kashi
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Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life, Romance
Year: 2016
Most Notable Feature: Candy everywhere

Dagashi Kashi is a genuinely sweet-hearted anime. Normally I’m more into the mecha and supernatural anime, but every now and then I need a break from the space operas and gore. Dagashi Kashi falls into that realm of lighthearted anime that doesn’t trip into ridiculousness and yet manages a surprising depth without being too self-conscious.

On its surface Dagashi Kashi seems like one long commercial for the Japanese candy industry especially considering that “dagashi kashi” roughly translates as “cheap sweets shop” each episode has a specific candy/snack theme. The story starts out with the unexpected arrival of the sophisticated Hotaru Shidare at the small town Shikada Dagashi candy shop where she meets Kokonotsu Shikada the son, and aspiring manga artist, of owner Yo Shikada. It turns out that Hotaru is the daughter of one the country’s largest candy producing conglomerates and has come to town to scout Yo Shikada for her family’s business. Apparently he’s known to have legendary candy knowledge which makes him a very desirable hire. The only problem is that Yo refuses to leave his shop until Kokonotsu agrees to take it over the family business. Conflict. Kokonotsu wants to be a professional manga artist so Hotaru begins her quest to try and convince him to take over the shop by educating him on the finer points of Japanese candy. Obviously this leads to the aforementioned candy advertisements as Hotaru, Kokonotsu(coconuts), and his two best friends the siblings To and Saya Endou wind up in situations featuring candy/snack products.

Do not let the candy shilling put you off Dagashi Kashi. A lot of people didn’t particularly like this anime and I think that’s because they didn’t understand the subtlety of it. They probably took a look at the generously proportioned Hotaru and thought this was going to be something completely different. Jokes on them because there is an actual story here. Dagashi Kashi takes place during the summer and does follow a coming of age line complete with a love story. Unlike the nonsense that tends to wind up in your typical harem animes or the ones where you have basically predatory females stalking the male protagonist, this anime lets the love affair develop in a more natural manner. You see Hotaru is not the love interest for Kokonotsu. Hotaru acts as a catalyst opening the door to possibility for Saya as she starts to see her childhood friend as more than just a friend. This makes sense and it feels natural. To set Hotaru up as the love interest would mean forcing the story into a nonsensical mess.

Hotaru’s self-proclaimed purpose for coming to town is to make sure Yo Shikada agrees to work for her family’s company. Her entire demeanor shouts that she is all about candy. Somehow her look is at odds with all of that though. There is a simple answer for this; we are seeing Hotaru through Kokonotsu’s eyes. A mysterious girl drops into this small town as a representative of a large company. To small town Kokonotsu she is the most sophisticated individual he has ever encountered outside of the television and manga the two genre which color his perception of Hotaru. By all accounts Hotaru is the same age as Kokonotsu and his friends but she seems disproportionately mature. She is new and exotic, a peculiarity in the small world they have all grown up in and something for them to measure themselves against. Hotaru is the mysterious stranger who shows the small town folk their deepest hearts before riding off into the sunset.

Dagashi Kashi is a charmingly made slice of life anime. It is the type of feel good story you watch while remembering when you used to get summers off and that one girl you were always too much of a chicken to talk to. The candy shilling can be distracting but even that is done in a quality and amusing manner. Give Dagashi Kashi a chance, we need more anime like it.

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Maria the Virgin Witch

Maria the Virgin Witch
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Director: Goro Taniguchi
Year: 2015
Favorite Episode: Episode 12
Most Notable Feature: The mercenaries were believable even if a bit two-dimensional
Fan Service: Yes
Would Own: No

Maria the Virgin Witch follows the titular character as she attempts to stamp out war in her small corner of the French country side. Maria is the most powerful witch alive and uses that power in an attempt to save people. By interfering in the wars of man Maria is going against the will of the Church of Heaven so one day the Archangel Michael issues a warning and a curse. If Maria continues to use her powers around humans she will be destroyed and if she loses her virginity she will lose her magic. With that kind of set up, how could this be anything but the greatest of anime?

The animation is solid even if the costume designs leave something to be desired. Call me a prude but scantily clad teenagers don’t add anything to an anime. All in all Maria the Virgin Witch is a perfectly watchable anime. It suffers a bit from pacing issues and the myriad characters lack depth. For instance the mercenary camp follower could have been a very interesting and compelling character if only some time were spent telling us anything about her. Every time she was in scene left me wondering what her story was. You also have an underlying story revolving around the philosophies of free will, predestination and the moral foundations of the church. Stories that could have really made an impact were instead left to fizzle. Maria the Virgin Witch is an anime worth watching if you happen to stumble upon it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

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Tokyo Ghoul: An unmitigated mess of story telling

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Genre: Supernatural, Action, Drama
Director: Shuhei Morita
Year: 2014-7 till 2015-3
Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 12
Most Notable Feature: Such a Lovely Cafe
Fan Service: No
Would Own: No

Tokyo Ghoul tells the story of college student Ken Kaneki who becomes a ghoul after a date with a beautiful young woman, sort of. While Kaneki is ostensibly the main character of Tokyo Ghoul he is missing from large chunks of the show as the story takes odd meandering paths. Along these paths the viewer is introduced to a glut of different characters all of whom have their own mysterious motivations and backstories. Some of these backstories are explained, most are not, and the viewer is expected to care about them all. This begs the question, “Who is the good guy?”

Ken Kaneki was minding his own business and then one day he becomes a ghoul. He is the obvious choice for good guy protagonist except he kills cops on a regular basis. The CCG (Counter Ghoul Commission) is the government agency responsible for investigating and neutralizing ghoul activity. Obviously this leads to conflict with Kaneki, his friends, and other ghouls in the city. Do you root for Kaneki, our underdog, or the CCG who are responsible for maintaining public safety amidst the ghoul threat? The ghouls eat human flesh if they want to continue living, and a good portion of the CCG is psychotic sadists. This leads to a rambling story that attempts, poorly, to offer justifications to all sides which in turn make all sides less likable. Only the super power combat sequences could save this series.

Sadly, the combat in Tokyo Ghoul gets tired very quickly as it suffers greatly from DBZ syndrome. DBZ syndrome is a condition denoted by characters that are the most power known individuals in the world until someone more powerful surfaces leading to the original most powerful becoming even more powerful. DBZ syndrome is more commonly referred to as 9000+. Since the characters continuously get stronger any tension from the possible outcome of a fight is quickly lost. Instead the viewer is left wondering if the characters actually have any true notion how the whole ghoul condition functions or if the writers even bothered to delve that deep.

If you are looking for a story driven production Tokyo Ghoul is not for you. If you are looking for a compelling action series, skip this anime. If you are in search of riveting drama, look elsewhere. Tokyo Ghoul was probably hoping that it’s manga source material would act as a binder for the various loose bit that comprise this series. To that I would say that if a production cannot hold its own, then it should not be made.

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Aldnoah.Zero: A Quality Production From Start to Finish

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Genre: Sci-Fi, Mecha, Political Intrigue
Director: Ei Aoki
Year: July 2014 to March 2015
Favorite Episode: Season 1 Episode 12
Most Notable Feature: No super weapon
Fan Service: No
Episodes: Two Seasons, 24 Episodes
Would Own: Yes

During the Apollo 17 moon mission an ancient alien hypergate leading to the planet Mars was discovered. The research team sent through the gate found the remains of a long gone Martian civilization. Upon investigating the ruins, the head researcher gains the power to reactivate the ancient alien technology known as Aldnoah. With the Aldnoah activation ability burned into his genome, he establishes the Vers Empire on Mars with the other researchers as his lords and takes the name Raregalia Vers Rayvers. Using Aldnoah, which can only be activated by the Emperors blood relatives, the Vers Empire develops advanced technologies allowing them to begin terraforming mars.

In 1999, driven by various internal pressures, the Vers Empire declares war on Earth. During a pitched battle on the lunar surface, the hypergate malfunctions causing the moon’s destruction and death of the emperor’s son Gilzeria. Heavens Fall is the name given to the hypergate collapse by Earth forces due to the large pieces of the moon that struck the planet and saw a stoppage of hostilities. The destruction of the moon left the Vers invasion force stranded in Earth orbit. Without unified leadership the Vers knights entered a detente condition. For 15 years Earth rebuilds with the constant specter of Vers renewing hostilities until First Princess Asseylum Vers Allusia decides on a goodwill visit. The assassination of Princess Asseylum is the catalyst for the events represented in Aldnoah.Zero.

There is no secret super weapon in Aldnoah.Zero, no war wining technology waiting to save the day at the last minute. What keeps Earth from being completely outclassed is the ability of Inaho Kaizuka. He is a tactical genius who manages to out maneuver opponents who use technically superior kataphracts, the mecha in this series. Although the show never explicitly acknowledges it, Inaho’s lack of emotional expression coupled with his analytical prowess leads the viewer to believe he may be autistic which just adds to the depth of the character. He’s the closest the series comes to a secret weapon on Earths side and the series is better for it with the freedom to focus on story telling rather than who has the shiniest mecha from episode to episode.

While the Earth is fighting for survival against the Vers knights, the empire forces are embroiled in the various political machinations that are almost obligatory for an imperial system. Seeing the internal power struggles plaguing the Versian forces does a lot to humanize them and show that conflicts are not necessarily black and white affairs. As you watch you come to empathize with the individual characters rather than their respective factions. The war becomes a set piece to the challenges surrounding the main characters. Mecha, space battles, political intrigue, gripping drama, Aldnoah.Zero perfectly combines these elements to produce an A+ viewing experience that should not be missed.

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Marry Me Kalafina

I make no apologies for liking  women that sing like women. Too much “music” these days is about flash, shock value, and pushing the envelope that the art of singing is almost dead.

“Kalafina (カラフィナ) is a Japanese band formed by composer Yuki Kajiura in 2007, mainly to perform theme songs for the anime Kara no Kyōkai. The band debuted in January 2008 with two original members from Yuki Kajiura’s FictionJunction project, Wakana Ōtaki and Keiko Kubota (not confirmed until the first Dream Port 2008 concert held on April 29, 2008). In May 2008, two vocalists Maya and Hikaru, who had been chosen from an audition of 30,000 participants held by Sony Music Japan and Yuki Kajiura, were confirmed as the final members of Kalafina.” wikipedia

Anyway here they are in their Lacrimosa music video