Anime Review: Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

TL;DR – When three homeless citizens of Tokyo discover an abandoned baby in a back alley, a chain reaction of events is triggered revealing their lives and regrets. And quite possibly a path to redemption.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Like many of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo is a place where those that wish to disappear can do so with barely anyone batting an eyelid. And if you’re the homeless then you end up invisible and forgotten trying to survive on the streets.

Stories about the homeless are generally sombre affairs, so I was somewhat hesitant to pick up Tokyo Godfathers. If you ever watched Grave of the Fireflies, then you will understand what I mean. But I have to say that Satoshi Kon’s film is not only full of surprises, but it also conveys a sense of hope that is not mired in saccharine ideas of what constitutes a ‘happy family’.

To point, there is no such thing as a ‘happy family’. Families are messy, relationships can be filled with emotional struggles that can result in drastic (and often tragic) choices. But families can also be filled with a sense of love, understanding and forgiveness that comes about through genuine connection (and often struggle).

Such is the story in Tokyo Godfathers which introduces us to Gin (an alcoholic), Hana (a transgender woman), and Miyuki (a runaway teenage girl). Their humanity, flaws, idiosyncrasies, and histories of how they ended up living on the streets of Tokyo are slowly brought to light for the viewer as the film progresses.

Set on Christmas Eve, our trio are rummaging through garbage only to discover an abandoned baby that they name Kiyoko. The elements of dark humour, mainly through the banter and interactions of our trio, will draw you in as we watch them fumble and debate what to do with baby Kiyoko. The sensible decision is to deliver the baby to the police, but instead Hana insists on keeping the newborn and finding her parents.

The story moves along through a series of coincidences that one can only construe as fated and results in many revelations about our trio’s past.

We learn that Miyuki ran away because her policeman father was overbearing, and when her cat went missing, she believed it was her father that got rid of it. This resulted in a violent altercation where Miyuki stabbed him and then ran away. She now feels she can never return home.

Hana used to work at a club as a singer and became violent towards a drunken patron when he criticised how awful her singing was. She then quit and left with her lover, Ken, but when he died from slipping on a bar of soap (I kid you not) she found herself on the streets.

Initially, Gin tells Hana and Miyuki that his wife and daughter are dead. This turns out to be a lie. He had a gambling problem and drove his family into debt. Ashamed he ran away even though his wife and daughter tried unsuccessfully for several years to find him.

Along with our trio, we learn about the many broken lives and families that are somehow intertwined with them or with baby Kiyoko. This becomes a central motif. Tokyo Godfathers is not only a film about people without homes but also people without families. And how Gin, Hana and Miyuki come to be a family unit in their own right even if they argue, bicker and, at times, hate each other.

Coincidences throughout this film are intentional, and a way to show that whether we know it or not, we are all connected in some way by the thinnest of threads.

The funny and dark comic moments (the scenes where Hana gets a taxi driver to pursue a truck stolen by a woman who has Kiyoko is hilarious) are offset by depictions of humanity’s failings towards the homeless. For example, there is one scene where Gin gets beaten up by a bunch of teenagers just for kicks. Another where the three are on a train and all the other passengers are holding their noses because of the stink and attempting to ignore them.

The story is packed full of threads that all eventually tie together in the end, even if its a ragged tapestry as opposed to a beautiful quilt. In a way, the film is all the better because of its imperfections.

As I watched Tokyo Godfathers, there’s a real Cowboy Bebop feel to the animation. The characters especially are not your stereotype big-eyed anime characters but are grounded more in realism. Yet, there are scenes that are distinctly anime and are very well done. For example, when Hana lets loose at Gin in front of his estranged daughter about all his lies, her expressions are priceless. Viewers have to pay attention as much to the background and surroundings as they do the main characters.

Complex, rich in detail in both plot and animation, and a totally quirky Christmas tale that will have you believing in miracles that aren’t shaped as sugar cubes or tied up in a bow. It has been a while since an anime flick has surprised me as much as this one.

9.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Komi Can’t Communicate (2021)

TL;DR – Komi enters high school and immediately is the admiration and envy of every school student and teacher. She exudes an aura that causes everyone to be put in awe simply by walking into a room. The only problem is she suffers from severe social anxiety disorder.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Hitohito Tadano is average in every way. All he wants to do is get through high school without causing waves. But when he discovers in class, he is sitting next to Komi Shouko, a female student that has everyone enraptured, he becomes the lightning rod for jealousy as everyone vies for Komi’s attention.

However, Komi has her own inner struggle. She freezes and is unable to speak whenever anyone tries to talk to her or gives her attention. People interpret her social anxiety in different ways. All of them wrong.

Some interpret her silence as an ice queen views her subjects, they adore her stoic beauty and serve her willingly. Others view her silence as they are not even worthy to be in her presence and suitably scamper away after attempts at conversation with her. In virtually all circumstances, she is viewed as a goddess beyond the reach of mere mortals, and this is humorously reinforced in one episode where initially she is nominated for class president, but then everyone in her class interprets her silence that the title of class president being beneath her and instead coin her as ‘god’.

The only person that is able to get to the heart of the matter is Tadano. In the first episode, after class has finished, Tadano and Komi find themselves as the last to leave, and what starts off as an awkward exchange by writing messages on the blackboard with chalk, ends up being a confession by Komi explaining her extreme social anxiety, and how deeply she actually wants to make friends and be able to communicate.

Tadano vows to help her make one hundred friends.

As a comedy, the series reaches the point of ludicrous due to the exaggerated reactions from Komi and her classmates. Each character has extreme traits, which downplays Komi’s social anxiety disorder. A sample of the outlandish cast includes:

  • Ren Yamai whose obsession with Komi borders on the pathological, and at one point, she kidnaps Tadano who she believes is getting to close to Komi and looks like she is going to kill him and bury him in the woods.
  • Himiko Agari who is also an anxious girl like Komi but has a masochistic side to her and wants to be Komi’s pet ‘dog’. She also has a didactic (almost religious level) of knowledge when it comes to ramen (i.e. the best places to eat it, the rules and etiquette to ramen etc.)
  • Makeru Yadano who sees Komi as her rival and wants to best her in all things. This includes an eye sight test where Yadano believes Komi is cheating because she is not answering out loud (Yadano doesn’t realise that Komi is using hand gestures and can’t see them because she is standing behind Komi).
  • Najimi Osana who actually attempted to be Komi’s friend during childhood but interpreted her silence as standoffish. Najimi has a tendency to switch genders. Flashbacks show Najimi wearing boy clothing but in high school wears a girls uniform.

The only ‘normal’ person is Tadano in that he is average in every way. But we learn that this is intentional because in junior high he pretended to be a ‘cool kid’ but realised that everyone thought it was cringey.

All in all, Komi Can’t Communicate has some touching moments but does not go as deep as some of the more magical slice-of-life animes that I have seen such as Usagi Drop, Non Non Biyori, and Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.

It seeks to insert more humour at the expense of depth, which I found watchable if silly. The end result is that this anime could have explored social anxiety disorders with much more emotional punch but instead takes a safe route to be more comic.

6.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Ousama Ranking (2021)

TL;DR – Boji is known as “The Useless Prince” by his own people. Standing barely two feet tall, deaf and practically mute, no one believes he should be the next king. No one believes he is capable of anything.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Ousama Ranking (aka ‘Ranking of Kings’) performs a magic trick that is surprisingly effective. Initially, it presents you with a story that appears like a textbook fairy tale.

There’s the strong and giant king, Bosse, who rules his realm with a steady hand and defends his people from outside threats. He has a son, Boji, who is deaf, tiny and weak. Bosse has established his realm to provide for Boji and give him everything he needs. A kind and loving father indeed.

Boji is trained to defend himself by Domas, a great swordsman who cares and loves Boji almost as much as the king. Boji aspires to be as great as his father and has an empathy toward others that is both optimistic and naïve.

The initial tensions are between Boji and his younger half-brother, Daida, who also desires the throne. The usual brotherly rivalry is on full display.

Boji’s stepmother, Hiling, wants Daida to be the next king as she deems Boji not suitable to protect the kingdom.

There’s even a magic mirror that influences both Bosse and Daida in mysterious ways.

Everything points to a pretty straight forward fairy tale, and the show is reinforced by the animation, which looks like it was taken from a children’s picture book.

And then the magic trick happens…

As the episodes progress, everything is not what it seems. There are only two constants, Boji and his only friend, Kage. Kage is a shadow assassin from a nearly extinct clan of assassins and appears like two ink blots with eyes and a mouth like a claw. He survives as a thief, and initially takes advantage of Boji by demanding his clothes, which Boji gives to him freely. Eventually Kage sees that Boji is pure of heart and his compassion and kindness penetrates the jaded view Kage has of the world. Kage swears to be Boji’s faithful friend and together they navigate the many changes and revelations that occur around them.

Revelations that include the following:

  • Bosse is not the noble king we are led to believe at the beginning. He has made a pact with a demon to steal the power from his first son, Boji. He has established the kingdom for Boji out of guilt.
  • Queen Hiling, the ‘evil’ stepmother, turns out not to be ‘evil’ at all. We learn that she made great efforts to become close to Boji (including learning sign language) after Bosse’s first wife and Boji’s biological mother died. She loves Boji but sees the only way to protect him is for his half-brother, Daida, to assume the throne.
  • Daida, initially, appears one-dimensional in his pursuit to take his father’s place as ruler, and he wants to rank himself as one of the greatest kings in the land. However, he is taught certain lessons by his mentor and tutor about what true strength is all about. Further, Bosse ends up using Daida as a vessel to keep on living resulting in Daida’s soul being trapped. Daida comes to empathise what Boji must overcome in order to be a king.
  • Domas teaches Boji and learns to care for him, but his loyalty to Bosse causes him to do the unthinkable, he seeks to murder Boji.

These are just a sample of the layers beneath the surface of all the characters, and it is held together by the strength, hope and resilience of the friendship between Boji and Kage.

Boji is the ultimate underdog, and his true strength comes from his ability to transform hearts through his own determination, kindness and understanding.

With so much anime to choose from, stories are the most critical aspect in ensuring viewers will sit through an entire series. At 23 episodes, Ousama Ranking has the story to back it, and you’ll be cheering and crying in equal measure as you follow Boji through his growth.

9 out of 10

Anime Review: Scissor Seven (2018)

TL;DR – An inept, amnesiac assassin and part-time hairdresser looks to earn some coin while trying to get back his memories.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Scissor Seven is not your typical anime. Purists will argue it is not even anime, but the show is listed on myanimelist.net so I’m going to do a review on it. The first thing that hit me when I watched season one was it’s a Chinese produced animation, and the series is painstakingly hand drawn and remarkably detailed. The distinct look is worth repeat viewing if you take the time to absorb each episode, and you will appreciate just how much effort it must have taken to put it all together. It is by no means the smooth and often seamless look you will find in Japanese anime, but Scissor Seven has its own charm that you will appreciate as you work your way through the series. The battle scenes, revolving camera views and explosions prompt rushes of adrenaline that more polished productions fail to inject.

Likewise, you would be remiss if you think Scissor Seven is simply a comedy. While there is plenty of toilet humour, there is an emotional thread beneath the surface that is surprisingly affecting.

Liuqi Wu (aka Seven) has amnesia. He was found by Dai Bo, a sunglass wearing, cigar smoking, tie wearing bird that will immediately make you think of one of the fowl in the Angry Birds game. Dai Bo convinces Seven to undertake a course to become a hitman, which he barely passes (in fact, I think he fails but Dai Bo allows him to graduate anyway), and together they open a barber shop as a front to hire out his services as an assassin. Seven owns a pair of scissors that he controls with kinetic type powers and turns out can do a mean haircut if he puts his mind to it. He also can disguise himself by transforming into anything using a smoke bomb type magical device.

Through the course of season one, Seven’s memories slowly return, and we learn that he was actually the number one assassin in the country (his current rank is 17,369 as the inept, amnesiac Seven) but was almost killed during a mission in which he was betrayed. Along with piecing back his previous life, Seven is hired to do an assortment of jobs by an assortment of odd characters that generally result in him not killing anyone but revealing misguided motives. The by-product of things working out without bloodshed is that we see Seven has a noble side to him that overrides his greed much to Dai Bo’s chagrin because they never end up getting paid.

Some of the funny missions he attempts include:

  • A cat who hires him to kill an ex-lover who turns out to be a dog. Seven is able to bring the pair together after the dog confesses the reason why he broke up with the cat. Result: cat and dog continue their inter-species relationship and Seven doesn’t get paid.
  • The leader of a ‘purist’ society hires Seven to kill a man who is obsessed with collecting women’s underwear. While the man is arguably a pervert, Seven discovers that the guy has never hurt anyone and only collects underwear that has been thrown out. Result: Seven tries to convince the purist society that everyone should embrace each other’s differences and in the process doesn’t get paid.
  • Cola Zhang is a young girl who is a target of Seven. Before he kills her, she asks that they do everything on her bucket list first. Seven agrees and they do tick off everything on the list. Result: Seven realises that Cola has hired him to kill her because she is suffering from a rare disease. He convinces Cola to fight to get better and she agrees, which in turn means he doesn’t get paid.

Season one culminates in Seven being caught between two factions. One is a faction dedicated to kung-fu, and other faction is dedicated to using technology and weapons of mass destruction. It’s an exciting climax with clever action sequences.

However, I found at its heart, Scissor Seven is all about Seven and an assassin named Thirteen. Their initial encounter leading to a battle where Seven develops a crush on her and, at the same time, realises she is way better at fighting than he is, so he turns himself into a durian which she steps on.

I kid you not, a spiky durian fruit.

It’s hilarious, absurd, and strangely touching. When you see Thirteen, you know she’ll be a repeating character, and you want to find out more about her.

Crazy, funny, artistically crafted, and more moving than you would expect, Scissor Seven is easily digestible (each episode runs roughly 15 minutes) and worth the binge.

8.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Kotarou wa Hitori gurashi (2022)

TL;DR – sometimes nothing is more perceptive than the words of a child.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kotarou wa Hitori gurashi (translates to ‘Kotaro lives alone’) is a story about a four year old boy named Kotarou Sato who moves in next door to Shin Karino, a manga artist. Why Kotarou lives alone? Where are his parents? Where is his source of income? These questions float around your head when you watch the first episode.

Stories about children who take on adult responsibilities are always a source for good stories. The child character is usually contrasted with an adult character who is struggling with their own life. What makes this story mechanic engaging is the adult character feels responsible for the child and in the process ends up ‘growing’ themselves from their interactions.

Shin Karino fits this role perfectly. He’s a struggling manga artist, his apartment is a pig sty, he can’t be bothered committing to a relationship, he rarely washes himself and he wastes his days watching TV soaps.

For a child, Kotarou seems more capable and responsible than Shin, but there are still many things that Kotarou views through a child lens. For example, Kotarou is responsible enough to know that he needs to take a bath and goes to a bathhouse with all the necessary toiletries and a change of clothes. When Shin sees this, he feels obligated to tag along to make sure Kotarou stays safe. And when they get down to the job of washing themselves, Kotarou still manages to get shampoo in his eyes and Shin lends him a helping hand. In other words, there are still limits of being an adult in a child’s body. In addition, beneath the surface is the fragile and sensitive feelings of a four year old even if Kotarou presents himself differently.

As the series progresses and answers are given to the initial questions regarding why he lives alone, what happened to his parents and where his source of income comes from, you still need to suspend your belief when it comes to his interactions with fellow kids and adults alike. For example, no landlord would permit a four year old to rent out an apartment, and he goes shopping for food at grocery stores and all the adults don’t think it is strange he is not accompanied with an adult parent and/or guardian.

Kotarou is definitely charming. He uses a formal and polite feudal speech taken from his favourite cartoon called Tonosaman, and all the adults go ga-ga over him. Even when he doesn’t talk, it’s hard not to adore him when he walks around with his red and white floppy newsboy cap. He’s like a little Japanese Mario brother without the moustache. He also seeks acceptance by his fellow kindergartners who always wonder why he is by himself and not with his parents, and he comes up with inventive and creative ways to achieve that acceptance. For example, in one episode he sees other kids have bentos (i.e. lunchboxes) made by their mothers where the rice balls are made into different types of animals, so he goes to the effort of creating an image of Tonosaman out of rice in his own bento, which impresses his friends.

His ability to reach the heart of the problems that his fellow adult neighbours experience and spouting wisdom that causes them to re-think how they are living their lives is balanced by the challenges that every young child experiences. No matter how much he sets boundaries (for example, he won’t let adults hug him or pat him on the head unless given permission to do so), he still suffers from things like ‘monsters in the dark’ at night and struggles to go to sleep because he is living alone in an apartment.

By the same token, the adults that are in his life, Shin (the manga artist), Isamu Tamaru (a guy who dresses like a gangster but is actually a decent, doting father-type) and Mitsuki Akitomo (works at night as a female hostess to businessmen), to name a few, all help Kotarou learn and grow while learning about themselves.

There are plenty of laugh out loud moments mixed with poignant sadness. The darkness in Kotarou’s life (a darkness that no four year old should ever have to experience at such a tender age) gives this series an all too real feel. But this is offset by the light he exudes and the love he gives and receives from those around him.

One note on the animation itself, there is a weird art decision to use vertical black bars for irises in Kotarou’s eyes. Likewise, these vertical bars are used at times in Shin’s eyes. No other character has eyes like this in the series and it has a weird effect. It makes them look almost alien at times. In the initial episodes, the pair are mistaken to be father and son, which can be contributed in part by the fact they have the same type eyes. I’m not sure whether it is meant to be symbolic, but it is certainly an interesting art choice.

For lovers of slice-of-life, Kotarou wa Hitori gurashi meshes all the right elements to tell a touching and moving story that will have you engaged for the full ten episodes.

9 out of 10

Anime Review: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Movie) – Mugen Ressha-hen (2020)

TL;DR – all aboard the demon train! Who will perish and who will survive?

Review (warning: spoilers)

First things first. If you have not seen Kimetsu no Yaiba (Season 1) then you need to watch that before watching Kimetsu no Yaiba (Movie): Mugen Ressha-hen. The assumption is if you’re watching the movie then you’ve already seen the first 26 episodes in season one. Otherwise, you’ll spend a significant amount of time trying to figure out what the hell is going on in this movie.

Likewise, this review will make the same assumption. Feel free to check out my review of season one here if you’re after background information and the origins of Demon Slayer.

Our story starts with reports coming in of demon activity aboard the ‘Mugen Ressha-hen’ (translates to ‘Infinity Train’). Passengers have gone missing, and after demon slayers are sent to investigate and they too disappear, the Demon Slayer Corps decide they need to bring in the heavy hitters.

The upper echelon elite of the Corps are known as ‘Hashira’ (translates to ‘pillars’), and we are introduced to Kyojuro Rengoku, the Flame Pillar, who is sent to deal with whatever is happening. Joining him are our intrepid main group of budding demon slayers:

  • Tanjiro Kamado – the main character seeking to find a cure for his younger sister and defeat Muzan Kibutsujji (the demon leader) from killing more humans after he discovers his entire family slaughtered by a demon in season one.
  • Nezuko Kamado – Tanjiro’s demon blood-infected younger sister who is the only survivor of his family’s massacre.
  • Inosuke Hashibira – the boar-mask wearing, dual sword wielding, unusually feminine looking (under the mask) warrior seeking to be the greatest demon slayer ever.
  • Zenitsu Agatsuma – a cowardly, often inept, demon slayer who is obsessed with pretty girls and has an especially unhealthy infatuation for Nezuko (this is understandable, however, because Nezuko is very cute unless she goes all Hulk mode…)

It should be said from the outset that all the pillars are different. Not only their powers but their personalities, motives, and quirks all range dramatically, and not all pillars are like-able. Some are cold, stand-offish, and selfish.

This is not the case for Kyojuro who with flaming gold and red hair, wide eyed exuberance, and easy smile makes him the admiration and envy of our young group of budding demon slayers. His skills are literally combustible. Not only is he so hot he’s cool (see what I did there?) but he has an optimism and compassion that can be absent from other pillars. His mother instilled a deep responsibility to protect the weak. This responsibility is something that both Tanjiro and Kyojuro share and connects them by movie’s end. Every life is precious.

This is in contrast to some of the other pillars who see killing demons as the highest priority and saving lives as secondary. If a human life needs to be sacrificed in order to slay the demon then so be it.

With Kyojuro by their side, Tanjiro and the others are optimistic that they’ll solve the mystery and prevent any more disappearances aboard the Infinity Train. Their investigation leads to a confrontation with the demon named Enmu.

Within the demon ranks there are an elite group called the Twelve Moons (six upper demons and six lower demons). They are considered the twelve most powerful demons just below Muzan their leader. Enmu holds the position of lower rank one meaning he is the highest of the six lower ranks and closest to becoming an upper rank demon.

Enmu’s power is the ability to manipulate people’s dreams by going into them, twisting what the person sees and killing them. He revels in the pain and misery of others and sees human hearts as fragile playthings waiting to be crushed. But his powers don’t stop there, not only can he have hundreds of humans under his control, Enmu has fused with the Infinity Train and transformed his body into the locomotive so his weaknesses are hidden somewhere within the train structure. In other words, the entire Infinity Train is the demon Enmu, and he can morph parts of the train into a tentacled monstrous nightmare.

The initial third of the movie is seeing Enmu’s power at work unbeknownst to our band of demon slayers. All are put into slumber, and we enter their hopes and dreams and fears and nightmares. Enmu’s goal is to destroy each of the demon slayers’ spirit core. Under his control are a bunch of human children who he orders into the demon slayers’ dreams to locate the spirit core and smash it. Turns out the spirit cores of each demon slayer are not so easily disposed of, and it’s a wonderful insight into how each spirit core reflects the person.

For example, Kyojuro’s spirit core is surrounded by a land of fire, his heart aflame with intense purpose that prevents access. By contrast, inside Tanjiro, his own little spirits guide the child to his spirit core which is surrounded by a beautiful sea. There are no defences surrounding the core, and the child is stunned that the spirits have actively helped her in locating it. The purity and innocence of Tanjiro’s spirit moves the child to tears and she can’t bring herself to destroy it.

The middle third of the movie has our demon slayers awakened and the revelation that the entire train is demonic. They then go about trying to save the passengers inside while trying to locate Enmu’s weak point.

The best scene in this part of the film is when Nezuko is unleashed and starts attacking the tentacles inside one of the carriages to protect the sleeping passengers. At one point, the tentacles overcome her and it looks like she will be crushed. The sound track introduces this drum beat that slowly gets louder and Zenitsu arrives on the scene. Zenitsu is a hilarious character when awake as he appears to have no fighting skills whatsoever, but when Zenitsu falls asleep, his true skill awakens and he becomes “too-cool-for-school”. His attack involves lightning and the sound track combined with the animation sequence where he saves Nezuko is truly adrenaline pumping.

The battle between the demon slayers and Enmu is epic, and it takes the combined efforts of Tanjiro and Inosuke to defeat the lower rank demon. When finally they slay Enmu, the Infinity Train gets derailed in the process. I found myself as exhausted as the characters were on the screen. But just when you think it’s all over, another demon arrives.

Akaza holds the position of upper rank three and uses martial arts to defeat demon slayers and has regeneration abilities to heal injuries almost instantly. He shows contempt for anyone he perceives as weaker than him and offers those who he sees as his equal the chance of becoming a demon.

Kimetsu no Yaiba (Movie): Mugen Ressha-hen turns out to be less about Enmu and more about Akaza as we get to see for the first time in the series a Hashira/Pillar battle it out with an Upper Rank demon. It’s this secondary battle that elevates the film above other anime films.

At the end of season one, we learn from Muzan that no lower rank demon has ever defeated a Hashira (and as a result the lower six has been a bit of a revolving door for Muzan) and it has only ever been the upper rank demons that have killed a Pillar (and the upper rank demons have remained unchanged).

With this in mind, I was on the edge of my seat because I had no idea who would come out the victor. If epic was the word used to describe the battle between Enmu and Tanjiro and Inosuke, then the battle between Akaza and Kyojuro was colossally Homeric.

As stated above, Kyojuro is one of the pillars that you are drawn to because of his affable personality, and he is not afraid to show his human decency unlike some of the other pillars who exude an impression that they are above humans. He would make the perfect teacher for Tanjiro and his fellow demon slayers, it is truly devastating when Akaza fatally wounds him.

The gut-wrenching fountain of tears that pours forth from Tanjiro and company is both comical and tearful (and you won’t know whether to cry or laugh yourself… you might as well do both), and Tanjiro’s anger at Akaza for fleeing the fight after Kyojuro is slain is a flag that their next confrontation will be earth shattering.

All’s well that ends well. NOT!

When I took my boys to go see this movie, at the end, my eldest son said, “They did my boy (i.e. Kyojuro) wrong dad, they did my boy wrong.”

I couldn’t agree more.

10 out of 10

Anime Review: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Season 1) (2019)

TL;DR – When Tanjiro finds his family slaughtered by a demon, and the only survivor is his sister who has been infected by demon blood, he begins a quest to find a cure and to become a demon slayer to protect the innocent.

Review (warning: spoilers)

For anime fans of Shounen, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will be aware of Kimetsu no Yaiba (aka ‘Demon Slayer’). One of the most popular animes of 2019-20, it achieved a number of awards and nominations that reflected the next anime to rival others in the Shounen genre including Nartuo, Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia and Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood.

The sequel movie – Kimetsu no Yaiba Movie: Mugen Ressha-hen – became the first non-Hollywood film to achieve the highest grossing movie when it was released in 2020. In the process it also smashed the previous highest grossing anime film – Miyazaki’s seminal Spirited Away – by a staggering $108 million worldwide.

For those of the uninitiated, Kimetsu no Yaiba tells the story of a boy named Tanjiro Kamado who lives in the snowy mountains with his mother and siblings in an era that parallels medieval Japan. Their father passed away some time ago, and Tanjiro has taken on the responsibilities to provide for the family and does so with a lightness and joy of heart that belies the harsh and unforgiving circumstances of where they live.

After returning home from the nearby village selling charcoal, Tanjiro encounters his worst nightmare; his family murdered in a bloody display. But wait, his sister, Nezuko, is still breathing. Barely. Lifting her unconscious form on his back, he runs down the hill in search of help. His mind racing, he doesn’t notice when Nezuko awakens baring demon teeth. Her sudden bucking movement causes Tanjiro to slip and together they fall off a ledge onto the snow. He then sees that Nezuko is conscious but has transformed into a demon. He attempts to reason with her, plead with her while defending against her desire to eat him. His cries manage to reach somewhere deep inside her and she holds back.

Enter demon slayer, Giyuu Tomioka. Blue eyed, cold as the snow falling around him, cold as the samurai blade he wields in his hands, he rushes at Nezuko to end her life (a mercy killing before she transforms into a full fledged demon that will seek to consume more human lives).

Out-matched and out-skilled, Tanjiro now finds himself pleading to the demon slayer to spare Nezuko’s life. Giyuu is not swayed saying his job is to slay demons and that Tanjiro’s sister is no longer human. The stand-off leads to a desperate act by Tanjiro to protect Nezuko and is a clever bit of action that earns Giyuu’s respect. And when he sees Nezuko attempt to protect Tanjiro in turn even though she is starved for human flesh, he questions whether perhaps this pair of siblings may be different. Giyuu sends the pair off to see Sakonji Urokodaki, a master swordsman, who will teach Tanjiro how to fight and hunt demons.

And that’s just the first episode…

There is a lot to love in this series, which I cannot do justice in one review but for me the highlights and aspects I found fascinating were as follows:

  • Tanjiro is a pure spirit. He is incorruptible and does not care for power or money. He is almost beyond altruistic and does not become jaded no matter what is thrown at him. He has plenty of flaws but stays true to his character and optimism that borders on the unbelievable. As the main character, there was serious risk that Tanjiro could have been a one-dimensional character but creator Koyoharu Gotouge makes you want to support Tanjiro no matter how emotional he gets.
  • The Final Selection is a test for demon slayer students who have to survive for seven days on Mount Fujikasane. Demons reside on the mountain and their power equates to the number of students that have been eaten. Tanjiro is thrown into the thick of it when he faces off against the oldest demon on the mountain.
  • Muzan Kibutsuji is the main antagonist. The most powerful demon and the leader of the 12 Kizuki; an organisation comprised of six ‘upper’ and six ‘lower’ demons considered the most powerful of all demons (other than Muzan himself). He is interesting in that we discover he is posing as a human, has a human wife and a human child. Muzan’s reasons behind acting the family man are not revealed and his motives are a mystery. He is so powerful that I can’t see why he doesn’t simply go around biting every human he can get his hands on and turning them into demons (mind you, not every human can handle his demon blood so most die before turning into demons themselves). His only real threat are the Demon Slayer Corps but their number would be small compared to the number of demons Muzan could generate. We know Muzan wants to destroy the Demon Slayer Corps, but we don’t know his end game. Does he want a world full of demons? I don’t think so.
  • Susamaru and Yahaba are two powerful demons sent by Muzan to get rid of Tanjiro. The battle between the demons and Tanjiro and Nezuko is a brilliant set of episodes with outstanding action animation.
  • Kyogai, a tormented demon, that uses drums to spatially rotate surroundings causing his opponents to become disorientated.
  • Zenitsu and Inosuke, a pair of demon slayers, that become Tanjiro’s best friends. Zenitsu is meek, fearful and does not look like he could ever qualify to be a demon slayer (he also gets distracted by any pretty woman and becomes obsessed with Nezuko). His ‘power’ is definitely one of the more original mechanics I have ever seen, and you will have to watch the anime to truly appreciate it. Inosuke is a boar mask wearing demon slayer who single-mindedly wants to be the most powerful demon slayer and slay every demon he encounters. He is constantly trying to one-up Tanjiro even though Tanjiro has no interest in becoming the most powerful demon slayer.
  • The Spider family, led by a demon named Rui who is one of the lower rank demons. This group of demons battle it out against Tanjiro and company and rounds out the first season. This story arc is important as it reveals what it means to truly be a ‘family’ and the ideas of family and how they differ between Tanjiro and Nezuko’s relationship and Rui and his spider demon parents and siblings.
  • Season one ends with a trial for Tanjiro and Nezuko in front of the Hashira, the most powerful demon slayers, and their master and leader, Kagaya Ubuyashiki. The trial is whether Nezuko should be killed because she has demon blood in her. The Hashira themselves are all different, and their personalities range wildly which reflects their sympathy (or lack thereof) towards Tanjiro and Nezuko’s plight.

Season one will have you binging all 26 episodes in record time. The animation is brilliant. The background settings and environment (especially the winter mountains) are atmospheric and stunning. The character designs are clean, detailed and engaging. And the action sequences will have your adrenaline pumping in no time.

The story has enough depth and mystery that keeps everything ticking along. And the histories behind the demons as much as the demon slayers will have anime fans analysing everything with a sense of glee.

If there is any shortfall, it is the lack of reveal surrounding Muzan (leader of the demons) and Kagaya (leader of the demon slayers). Their motives on the surface is simple – they want to wipe each other out (or rather Muzan wants to wipe out the demon slayers, and Kagaya wants to stop Muzan). But there has to be more to it than that. How they came to be the way that they are, and what they seek to achieve are never scratched beneath the surface. This is a minor quip in what is a gripping and highly enjoyable anime series. You have been warned.

9.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Child of Kamiari Month (2021)

TL;DR – Kanna believes she is responsible for her mother’s death. When she discovers her mother was a descendant of the God of Running, Kanna undergoes a journey to collect offerings and deliver them to a festival of the Gods where she hopes she will see her mother one last time.

Review (warning: spoilers)

On the 10th month of the ancient lunar calendar, it is said that gods gather together at the Izumo shrine in Shimane to discuss human matters. This meeting, known as Kamihakari, includes a giant feast requiring the delivery of offerings from the gods of various regions of Japan.

A descendant of the God of Running is assigned the task to journey across the land to the different shrines where gods reside and request chiso, a speciality food for that region, and deliver it to the Izumo shrine. If the feast does not occur at the allotted time and day then Kamihakari does not proceed and the following year the regions of Japan will suffer.

Kanna’s mother, Yayoi, is the current descendant and the film opens with a young Kanna racing her mother through a forest. Though Yayoi encourages her daughter to keep running, Kanna cannot keep up and soon lags behind. As the scene fades to white, we see this was a dream and Kanna awakens in her classroom, embarrassed at having dozed off.

She stares out the window and sees the athletics track, an expression of melancholy on her face. She’s promised her dad that should would run the school marathon though her heart is not in it and hides her sadness behind a mask of exaggerated positivity to her friends.

The reason for the well of heartache inside her is because an ill Yayoi forced herself to attend Kanna’s marathon a year ago. Kanna didn’t want to participate, but Yayoi encouraged her to do her best saying that in return she would try her best to get better. Kanna interprets this (wrongly) to mean that if she is able to win the marathon then Yayoi would have the strength to get better. When Kanna doesn’t win, not even getting on the podium, she is distressed, but Yayoi is still happy and tells her it is not about winning or losing but getting across the finish line. For a brief moment, Kanna feels a little better, but then her mother collapses on the ground in front of her and passes away in hospital shortly thereafter resulting in Kanna believing it is her fault that her mother died.

Back to the present and Kanna participates in this year’s school marathon more for her father’s sake, even though her father tells her that she doesn’t need to race. When Kanna does force herself to race it brings back the memories of yesteryear and she fails to cross the finish line. A storm rushes overhead and the teachers, parents and students rush for shelter, but not Kanna who is distraught and runs out of the school grounds to the nearby shrine, her father chasing after her.

When she reaches the shrine, she trips and drops the jade amulet that was her mothers. With the rain matching the tears falling down her face, she puts the amulet on her wrist and suddenly everything around her stops; raindrops hover in the air, people in mid-walk are frozen, and the leaves of trees blown by the storm are still.

Thus commences Kanna’s discovery that she and her mother are descendants of the God of Running and she has taken on the task to gather chiso to deliver for the great feast of the Gods at Izumo shrine. It takes some convincing from Shiro, a talking white rabbit that is a messenger of the gods, and some white lies that makes Kanna believe that if she fulfils her mission and reaches Izumo on time she will get to see her mother.

With the eventual help of a demon boy named Yasha and Shiro by her side she commences her quest. Turns out that so long as she wears the amulet, time has not stopped but has slowed down (one hour in the human world is roughly five days in jade amulet time).

Though she encounters a number of challenges along the way, Kanna’s greatest threat is herself. Guilt and the belief that she was responsible for her mother’s death causes the manifestation of a shadow-like creature that seeks to consume her. It is only when it appears she has totally given up, does she realise that the connection to her mother has always been through running and her denial towards it is a denial towards the love she feels. Thus, she comes of age and manages to complete her mission.

The story is solid and there is enough material to create a fantasy-grounded-in-the-real world movie that could rival the likes of Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai films. However, I felt Child of Kamiari Month fell short in two areas.

The first is there is no real antagonist. Any sense of urgency or danger only comes from Kanna’s guilt and the depiction of a morphing darkness that builds around her like black fog when she dwells on said guilt. The lack of tension makes for a straight forward telling of the story. With the lack of tension and thrills (traits that are normally critical in an adventure of this nature), the story could have been gripping by introducing elements of mystery. However, there is nothing hidden nor are there story elements that are unknown that raise questions that draw the viewer into watching more to see the answers to those questions. Again, it is a straight forward telling in this regard.

The second area is the animation itself. This is where I have been spoiled by the brilliance and detail of Miyazaki and Shinkai films. Animation studio, Liden Films, keeps the animation child-friendly. This itself isn’t a problem, but I found certain sequences unpolished. For example, the adults in the film like Kanna’s father and mother look like the children but just taller and bigger. I think it has to do with the eyes of the adults appearing the same size, so in the end they just look like big kids as opposed to Kanna’s parents. Another example, is the scene where they meet the dragon god at Suwa shrine. This could have been an opportunity to showcase an electrifying introduction to a mighty dragon, but when we see him his eyes look like the rest of the anime character eyes and instead makes him look childlike. Like a pet dragon instead of a dragon god to be feared.

I could forgive the animation if the story behind it was the driving force, but because the story lacked the elements of either 1) danger/thrills or 2) mystery, Child of Kamiari Month, turns out to be coming-of-age tale that will appeal to young kids only. Teenagers and older will be wanting more. A promising film that falls a little flat.

5.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Super Crooks (2021)

TL;DR – there is a fine line between superhero and supervillain.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Super Crooks has the art and style that raises expectations. From the poster alone, it oozes a sense that this could be the next Cowboy Bebop. A collection of quirky characters with troubled histories seeking to find their own way in life, or redemption, or even oblivion. The OP, Alpha, by Towa Tei with Taprikk Sweezee, even has its own funky and distinctive beat that rivals Cowboy Bebop‘s jazz OP, Tank! by Yoko Kanno.

The series starts off a little slow. The first episode is an origin story of a boy named Johnny Bolt who discovers he can generate electricity. He wants to be a hero but after causing the deaths of a number of people at a swimming pool, he becomes a small-time crook. The end of episode one sees him as an adult in a prison for villains with super powers. Nothing particularly riveting but let’s give the series the benefit of the doubt. After all, episode two in Cowboy Bebop was about a dog named Ein that supposedly has super intelligence… riveting this episode was not.

Episode two of Super Crooks introduces us to Kasey who is Johnny’s main squeeze and love interest. She has an incredible psychic ability to control what other people see and experience. She can, when she puts her mind to it, create an entirely different world for the individual under her control.

There’s an old school, Bonnie and Clyde chemistry between Johnny and Kasey and I found it effective rather than cliché. Kasey has dutifully waited for Johnny to serve his time in prison and wants to go straight, living a normal life free from the dangers and stresses of being a super crook.

However, Johnny can’t help himself as he is swayed to do a robbery involving a chain of jewellery stores with his small-time crook buddies who all exhibit their own power (one can generate ice, another can teleport, and a third causes bad luck to befall those around him). You know things won’t go according to plan and when heroes start appearing, our crew of crooks are in big trouble. It leads to a confrontation with superhero, Praetorian, who exhibits as many powers as the deck of cards he is always shuffling in his hands. Johnny’s mates all get smashed in bloody fashion (the first sign that a hero such as Praetorian isn’t all that ‘heroic’, he dishes out excessive violence without any particular care for collateral damage).

It is only because of Kasey coming on the scene and temporarily controlling Praetorian’s mind that Johnny and his mates escape. Kasey is not happy that Johnny has been out of the slammer for less than a couple of days, and he is already jumping back into criminal activities.

She convinces Johnny to give up his life of crime if they can pull off one more heist; a big one that will net them enough money to support themselves for the rest of their lives. Enter a cast of more crooks seeking to score including a pair of brothers, Sammy and Roddy Diesel, who are able to regenerate their bodies from many forms of slicing and dicing, a guy named Josh who is known as The Ghost for his ability to become ephemeral and pass through walls, and an old fella named Carmine who is the mastermind of their heist and former mentor to Kasey.

Throughout the series there is this weird but intriguing dynamic between two groups. There is the ‘Union of Justice’ which is the headquarters of the most powerful superheroes, and the ‘Network’ which, from what I can tell, is an established organisation of criminals. The Network oversees all major acts of crime and super crooks cannot act on their own without paying the Network a tithe. The Network is run by Christopher Matts (aka The Bastard) who has the power to look at someone and make their heads explode. Matts is looking to retire and move to Japan where he sets up his own casino.

What is not really fleshed out in the series is that the line between hero and villain gets blurred, but it is not explained why.

For example, the Supermax prison where Johnny serves his time along with a host of other notorious villains, also holds parties for VIPs, political dignitaries and government officials and is funded by the Network. This conflict of interest does not seem to bother anyone as Matts waltzes in and announces he is retiring from the villain world and tells a story about how he killed his mother.

And then we have the Praetorian who is part of the Union of Justice but also ends up serving Matts as the Bastard’s bodyguard.

Why the Union of Justice superheroes do not try to stop Matts, and why they seem to allow the Praetorian to switch sides is never explained. I guess no one thought that part of the story is worth telling.

The focus of the series is on Johnny, Kasey and their merry band of crooks looking to outmanoeuvre the Network (because they are operating without the Network’s consent and don’t intend to pay the tithe) while also pulling off a heist under the Union of Justices’ noses.

The action sequences are impressive and care has been taken to make the viewer become entranced by the animation. But this cannot alleviate the muddled mess of the plot. It doesn’t help that other than the Praetorian and the Gladiator (another superhero) the rest of the Union of Justice are glossed over.

And even if you can accept Praetorian’s motives for switching sides (never explained), and the Bastard’s blatant villainy and every superhero turning a blind eye to him (again, never explained) there are other sequences that simply do not make sense. For example, when Johnny and company seek to infiltrate the Bastard’s casino, they disable technology that nullifies their powers for ten minutes. But when they fail to get out in time and the technology reboots, their powers are no more and their exit is blocked by the Praetorian. Yet the Praetorian’s powers are not fully nullified, and he is able to reflect Carmine’s flame throwers? How the technology differentiates between hero powers and villain powers is beyond me.

Super Crooks could have been the next Cowboy Bebop. It could have been a series that elevates above the others and subvert the anime genre itself. Sadly, it does not.

6 out of 10

Anime Review: Chihayafuru Season 2 (2013)

TL;DR – season 2 of Chihayafuru throws us into the action with both team and individual tournaments. With a huge cast of characters from multiple schools, the focus is still on Chihaya, Taichi and Arata, and the journeys they undertake to be part of the karuta elite.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Please go to my anime reviews page for previous seasons of this series.

Who knew a card game could be this exciting? And a card game that involves Japanese poetry no less!

Season 2 introduces us to new characters, each with their own quirks, insecurities, and passions while still revolving around our trio of main protagonists – Chihaya, Taichi and Arata. Their bond is one of love and friendship where the line between the two emotions moves throughout the series depending on which character you are looking at.

A lot of ground is covered in season 2. The twenty-six episode series includes:

  • Tokyo regional team tournament
  • The National Team competition
  • The National Individual competition per grade level (i.e. ‘A-class’ being the highest to ‘D-class’ being the lowest)

Chihaya’s karuta club is made up of a modest following of members. These are:

  • Taichi Mashima – who is in B-class but is bordering on A-class
  • Sumire Hanano – who has only joined the club because she’s infatuated with Taichi (so, she’s at beginner level)
  • Yusei Nishida – an A-class player who gave up karuta after losing to Arata but is convinced to play again by Chihaya
  • Kanade Oe – a lover of poetry and traditional dress
  • Tsutomu Komano – quiet and observant, Tsutomu is a C-class player bordering on B-class. He’s also very good at scouting other teams and their players to identify how they play and strategies that might be effective against them
  • Akihiro Tsukuba – an overconfident D-class player. He wants to be one of the greats of karuta but learns over time he has a long way to go.

Together they go through the challenges and growing pains of any club competing in a sport. The beauty of the anime is not only in the matches between players but also the game itself. The history, poetic meanings, and the many skills required to play the game are all showcased. And when you combine that with the emotional and mental undercurrents that we get to listen in on with each character, you cannot help but be glued to the screen.

Key characters from other schools also play a huge part in showing different perspectives and reasons why people play karuta. The most intriguing of these I found to be are:

  • Shinobu Wakamiya – the current Queen of Karuta., She is the youngest female to hold the title
  • Megumu Osaka – considered western Japan’s strongest player and competed for the title of Queen
  • Rion – a very strong B-class player whose grandmother is a legendary karuta reader (the person who reads out the poems)
  • Nayuta Amakasu – an A-class player that Chihaya faces
  • Hiro “Retro” Kinashi – a very competitive B-class player

While all the matches grabbed me, and the team versus team competition had plenty of interesting facets. At the end of the day, it all came down to three matches that really drove home how great this anime series is.

The first was seeing Chihaya versus Shinobu. What Chihaya has to go through to reach the round where she meets Shinobu is extraordinary in itself (she injures her right index finger and plays left handed in the initial rounds). The interaction between her and the current reigning Queen is fascinating and though Shinobu ends up winning, you can tell the Queen’s curiosity has been piqued.

The second was Taichi versus Rion for the winner of the B-class. Chihaya had already played Rion previously in the team competition, so I already knew how good she was. And Taichi, with his own internal conflicts, tries to rush the victory but realises he will not succeed unless he plays with greater accuracy. Taichi manages to win and gets promoted into A-class.

The third match that had me completely riveted was Arata versus Shinobu for the A-class final. Prior to the final, we see that Arata and Shinobu have a bit of history playing against each other. Both are not interested in team competition and both wish to become the master of karuta. Though their goals are the same, they come to realise different things by playing against each other.

An anime that is more than the sport it depicts, Chihayafuru season 2 will have fans binging this series in record time.

9 out of 10