THE LAST RECIPE

Released 2017

3 stars (out of 4)

Last week, we attended the Toronto Japanese Film Festival closing night screening of THE LAST RECIPE. Hard to believe it has been a whole week already, but anyway…

Mitsuru is a gifted chef who can remember and replicate any dish he’s ever tasted. Talented to a fault, his exacting nature previously got in the way of the success of his restaurant, so now he makes ends meet by re-creating custom meals for high paying clients. He receives an unusual request to find the final recipe of the dishes that were to be served to the Emperor during his visit to occupied Manchuria. Although Mitsuru is skeptical about the job, the offered reward is too great to refuse, so he begins an investigation into the life and works of a renowned chef named Yamagata.

Chronicling Yamagata’s past quickly becomes a journey of self-discovery for Mitsuru as well in this historically detailed and satisfying film. Stories set amongst the politics and espionage of 1930s Manchuria are always interesting. Of course, there’re also lots of images of beautiful food. Yeah, you bet we were hungry after the show!

Mid-Spring 2018 Anime Ranking

There are a lot of good shows this season, including a handful of big-name sequels. Not necessarily great shows, mind you, but a whole slew of series that are too good to drop even though we kind of need to pare down our list. It’s frustrating, as we simply haven’t had the time to keep up with everything we had wanted to.


01. Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These (Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Die Neue These – Kaikou) (ep. 1-10) – Some of the political stuff is maybe a little dry for a visual medium, but it is still fascinating, both in terms of plot development and as a statement to real-world events, past and present. It really makes you think, and it can make you cry, that the themes of this story are just as relevant now as they were 35 years ago when the novels were first written. And they will continue to be, probably forever.

If only people like Yang (and possibly Kircheis), who value human life and have their eyes on the future, were in charge, humanity could actually have a chance at lasting peace. However, these are just the types of guys who would not likely ever seek a position of power for themselves, and who would never win the support of the under-educated, self-interested masses anyway.

Actually, Yang is my hero. I agree with everything that he’s said and done and I really sympathize with the difficult situation he’s in, in terms of personally wanting out of the war, yet knowing that others will be worse off if he leaves.

Regarding the cast, it is an exceedingly rare treat to find all four of my favourite voice actors in just one show: On the side of the Galactic Empire, there’s Miyano Mamoru, Umehara Yuuichirou, and Suwabe Junichi; and then there’s Miki Shinichiro over on the Free Planets Alliance’s side – just an extra perk on an already impressive series.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. WOTAKOI: Love is Hard for Otaku (Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii) (ep. 1-9) – Relatable and funny workplace romance starring a group of otaku. Yes, the show pokes some fun at their geek tendencies, but mostly, it serves to illustrate the joy of like-minded adults spending time with each other. There is actually very little drama to the main romance, which is realistic, though a little anticlimactic.


03. MEGALO BOX (ep. 1-10) – The new boxing anime, created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Ashita no Joe manga, is a pretty slick production, featuring dynamic fights in the ring, cool music, and a multi-layered plot.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


04. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. 2 (Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan 2) (ep. 13-20)


05. DEVILS’ LINE (ep. 1-10) – I expected this to be a trashy, pulpy romance about a stupid girl falling in love with a dangerous, angsty vampire. Well it is that, but it is surprisingly a lot more too. It’s also a decent crime drama that covers serial murders, discrimination, terrorist organizations, double agents, and that staple of anime storytelling: secret orphanages for “special” children. Plus, the main character actually expresses some self-awareness of her own folly.
(streaming at HIDIVE)


06. FULL METAL PANIC! Invisible Victory (ep. 1-8) – I like the time-skip storyline featuring Sousuke’s new group of colleagues. The underground mech battles have some similarity to the setting of MEGALO BOX, actually. I feel like I should be missing Chidori and Tessa more than I do…
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


07. Food Wars! The Third Plate (Shokugeki no Souma: San no Sara – Toutsuki Ressha-hen) (ep. 13-22)
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Yowamushi Pedal: GLORY LINE (ep. 13-22) – Imaizumi is supposed to be Sohoku’s ace, but it seems like he never wins anything!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


09. DARLING in the FRANXX (ep. 13-20) – We’ve finally gotten some big reveals now that the climax is near, but that isn’t as interesting to me as the more character driven stuff was.

On the romantic front, while things got serious for 2 couples, the other kids continued to face heartbreak. It’s an unpopular opinion, perhaps, but I actually liked the way the show dealt with Ikuno’s same-sex crush. Certainly she faces extra challenges from being gay in a straight world, but her friend did not judge her for being different; and the bottom line is that she was not rejected because of her sex, but because her crush simply did not reciprocate her feelings, which really is no different from what many of her straight teammates have gone through already.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


10. Record of Grancrest War (Grancrest Senki) (ep. 13-21) – No joke about the fast pacing! I definitely did not imagine, back when Theo met Siluca in the forest at the start of the series, that he would end up accomplishing so much career-wise. And the show isn’t even over yet.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


11. Rokuhoudou YOTSUiRO BiYORi (ep. 1-9) – Not much plot happens in this slice-of-life anime about four guys who run a trendy and classy café, and yet somehow, it manages to be consistently riveting to watch regardless! It has some things in common with last summer’s Restaurant to Another World, in that many of the stories are about the various customers that visit the café, although YOTSUiRO BiYORi is obviously more grounded in a real world setting. I personally prefer less fantasy, so this works for me.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


12. Tada Never Falls in Love (Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai) (ep. 1-10) – This show is supposed to be a romance and a comedy, but it just isn’t terribly effective in either category. Most of the guys are obnoxious; and even the fact that two of them are voiced by a couple of my aforementioned favourite seiyuu (Mamo and Ume) does nothing to mitigate my annoyance with them. Unfortunately, the not-particularly-annoying characters, such as Tada and Teresa, in turn have no personality to speak of.

Alexandra is the type of character I would normally support, but I never found it in me to forgive her for the undeserved attack on Kaoru in the very first episode, which she didn’t even apologize for. Believe me, I get it, but being annoying is not a justification for assault!

You know what? The best guy is probably Charles, who, like Villar Constance in Grancrest Senki, appeared for a few episodes and stole the show. Both characters have long, fair-coloured hair, are super-cool dudes despite initially negative expectations, and speak with the velvety voice of Sakurai Takahiro. Also as with Villar, it’s pretty easy to ship Charles with the tall redhead that he can’t be with.
(streaming at HIDIVE)


13. SPACE BATTLESHIP TIRAMISU (Uchuu Senkan Tiramisu) (ep. 1-10) – A lot of the stuff that happens in this space opera parody anime is really crazy and out-there. At the same time, it’s not a completely absurd idea that spending a long time in space, frequently all alone in your cockpit, could make a person somewhat weird in the head. This is a pretty funny short, as long as you’re okay with gross-out humour.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


14. LIBRA OF NIL ADMIRARI (Nil Admirari no Tenbin) (ep. 1-9) – There are too many characters in this cursed-book murder mystery! I thought I was doing fine for a while, but nope. Especially at times when they are referred to by name only, it can be a real struggle.

After seeing the uh, subtleness with which the romance was handled in Code:Realize, I do at least appreciate that the apparent main suitor in this series has made his attraction to Tsugumi obvious. Sadly, Tsugumi appears to have more chemistry with one or two of the other guys though!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


15. Butlers X Battlers (Butlers ~Chitose Momotose Monogatari~) (ep. 1-9) – It’s kind of laughable that practically the whole cast has been revealed to be “Butlers” now, but the show plays it pretty straight. The odd little bits of humour do occasionally hit the mark too.

The main character’s goal, to save his sister, is a story device that’s strangely common in anime and often assumes that no explanation is needed. But I can’t muster any empathy without seeing what their relationship was like before she went missing, or what their shared experiences were.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

For the record, here is the whopping list of shows we’ve fallen behind on, but have not formally dropped:

BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (Crunchyroll)

Cute High Earth Defense Club HAPPY KISS! (Binan Koukou Boueibu HAPPY KISS!) (Crunchyroll)

GOLDEN KAMUY (Crunchyroll)

HINAMATSURI (Crunchyroll)

LAST HOPE (Juushinki PANDORA) (maybe we’ll try again when it comes to NETFLIX)

MAGICAL GIRL ORE (Mahou Shoujo Ore) (Crunchyroll)

MY HERO ACADEMIA (Boku no Hero Academia) Season 3 (Crunchyroll)

My Sweet Tyrant (Akkun to Kanojo) (Crunchyroll)

Ninja Girl & Samurai Master S3 (Nobunaga no Shinobi: Anegawa Ishiyama-hen) (Crunchyroll)

Steins:Gate 0 (Crunchyroll)

Chihayafuru Part 3

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

Unfortunately, my sister and I never got the chance to watch Chihayafuru Part II, but since we have seen the anime in full, it wasn’t difficult at all for us to jump right in to this film. On the other hand, we attended the screening with a friend who was completely uninitiated in the franchise; he was still able to enjoy the individual parts and follow the gist of the overall story, but I would strongly recommend watching Parts I & II first if you aren’t familiar with the manga or anime.

As with the first installment of the live-action trilogy, there was some over-acting in the earlier, quieter parts of the film, but once they got going with the karuta drama, the characters seemed a lot more natural.

The soundtrack, once again by composer Yokoyama Masaru (Your lie in April), was really good! My favourite was the piece with the cello and strings after the team first tied up their sleeves; it was so affecting!

Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern (Part One)

Released 2017

3 stars (out of 4)

Benio is a teenaged girl living in 1920s Japan. Contrary to the expectations of her family and school, she is more interested, and has more skill, in kendo than in housekeeping. She is also very much against the idea of arranged marriages, which turns out to be a problem when her father reveals that she has long been betrothed to a young army lieutenant, and understandably, there was never a good time for him to tell her!

The film starts out moderately paced, with good time for development of the characters and the setting. Benio and her fiancé Shinobu both prove to be likeable people. I also appreciate that Shinobu’s grandfather’s discomfort at the whole marriage arrangement gets addressed on multiple levels.

However, a few scenes in the second half feel strangely truncated, including the part where Shinobu fights to earn the respect of his charges in the army, the parting of Benio and Ranmaru, and Benio’s seemingly ill-informed response to the riot during her first assignment as a journalist.

I have to stress that this movie is only the first half of the Haikara-San story, and so, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Other than that though, it is a funny, enjoyable, and well-animated adaptation of a classic shoujo manga.

The Scythian Lamb

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

As part of a project to bolster the population of a small seaside town, six ex-convicts are secretly paroled into the community. Their link is a young city employee, Tsukisue Hajime (Nishikido Ryo), who is responsible for helping them to settle in. Tsukisue himself, at least initially, is in the dark about the circumstances of the new residents. But things start to get a bit unsettling as he learns the truth and as he and his friends and family become personally involved with some of the parolees.

In turns humorous, suspenseful, and chilling, The Scythian Lamb is a thought-provoking tale that challenges the expectations of its viewers.

On the one hand, criminals who have paid their debt to society definitely deserve a chance to live a normal life once again; but on the other, if even just one relapses, it can have devastating consequences. The film provides a thoughtful exploration of the experiences of each of the ex-cons, while grounding the story in the perspective of Tsukisue.

INITIAL D Legend film trilogy

INITIAL D Legend 1: AWAKENING (Released 2014)

INITIAL D Legend 2: RACER (Released 2015)

INITIAL D Legend 3: DREAM (Released 2016)

3 stars (out of 4)

A reboot of the classic car racing anime series, the INITIAL D Legend movies play out pretty much as expected plot-wise. Main character gets challenged by various tough opponents, which he reluctantly takes on, all the while developing an appreciation for the sport.

I never saw the original series, but I’m sure the updated animation added to the excitement here, including impressive camera work that would zoom in on the driving inside the cars, and then seamlessly transition out as the vehicles maneuvered down the mountain course. I also had no complaints about the voice cast, which included Miyano Mamoru, Ono Daisuke, Nakamura Yuuichi, and Suwabe Junichi in major roles.

Mogi, the girlfriend, existed only as a plot device and to provide fan service in the first 2 films. Fortunately, she was redeemed a little bit in Legend 3, as she was given more lines and seemed like more of a friend and confidante for Takumi.

That relationship didn’t work as well for me as the one between the Takahashi brothers, though. It was realistic how they both shared a passion for racing; and I loved seeing their easy rapport and mutual respect for each other.

I was not quite convinced that Takumi’s dad would have told him nothing about cars and racing while he was growing up, considering the dad’s past and the racing culture of his hometown. A valid reason would’ve been that he didn’t want his son to get involved in racing – that I would understand; but that didn’t seem to be the case. Regardless, it did make for good comedy that the fastest guy on Mt. Akina had no interest in racing and didn’t know jack about cars!

Mid-Winter 2018 Anime Ranking

I haven’t started with one of these in some years, but there are actually a few decent theme songs currently, so let’s kick things off with my choices for best OP/ED songs this season:

1. The Perfect World, by Marty Friedman feat. Jean-Ken Johnny & KenKen (B: The Beginning ED)
2. KISS OF DEATH, by Nakashima Mika (Produced by HYDE) (DARLING in the FRANXX OP)
3. Treasure, by Narek (cv: Ishikawa Kaito) & Vino (cv: Umehara Yuuichirou) (Dame x Prince ANIME CARAVAN ED3)
4. Heavenly Visitor, by TRIGGER (IDOLiSH7 ED)
5. Ref:rain, by Aimer (After the Rain ED)

It’s the season of Sanrio and ramen. Sanrio, the company behind Hello Kitty and My Melody, not only has their own anime airing right now, they also have product placement and tie-ins with the other 2 “cute” shows on my list, How to keep a mummy and SCHOOL BABYSITTERS! Meanwhile, ramen is featured in the titles and content of 2 (very different) shows.

To tell the truth, I’ve been procrastinating about making this ranking. The reason is that there are so many really good series this winter that it’s kind of a pain deciding which show is better than which! Anyway, I’ll do my best.


01. DARLING in the FRANXX (ep. 1-9) – Depending on how I feel about each episode week by week, any of the shows in my top 5 could easily be my favourite of the season. Ultimately I’m going with DARLING in the FRANXX because I’m most invested in the characters of this show. The ways they relate to one another are compelling and I’m curious to know more about their world, even if I’m not expecting to be blown away by originality.

The early episodes of this mecha anime presented the cockpit scenes as one elaborate, extended sex joke. I think it turned some people off. I, however, thought it was really funny! Well, I also liked Aquarion EVOL and STAR DRIVER, so apparently I’m not one to be easily offended by this type of material. (On the other hand, I do find a tad offensive the way we always see Futoshi eating something. You can always count on good ol’ anime to fat-shame the chubby kid whenever there’s an opportunity to do so.)

Since then, the focus has turned more toward developing each of the characters, and I’m enjoying that aspect too, since I really do care about these kids… Well, except for Mitsuru; I have a feeling even he might become sympathetic eventually, but for now I just feel really sorry for Ikuno, who has to partner with him.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


02. SCHOOL BABYSITTERS (Gakuen Babysitters) (ep. 1-10) – I love my sisters more than anything in the world, so I’m a super easy target for heartwarming stories like this that emphasize the bonds between siblings. Additionally, there is a big age gap between myself and my youngest sibling, just like Ryuuichi and Kotarou, so this brings back memories of when my baby sister was, well, actually a baby.

Ryuuichi and Kotarou are on their own in this world after suffering the loss of their parents. Naturally, they are very attached to each other. They get taken in by the Chairwoman of a private school, and Ryuuichi uses his experience in raising his brother to help out at the school’s daycare.

The anime is not as sombre as I’m making it sound. Most of the time, it’s lighthearted and sweet and funny. I laugh a lot while watching; and then afterward, I’m left thinking about the characters’ personalities and how different the various sibling relationships are.

Personally, I would never leave my child at a daycare staffed by guys, especially not if the adult in charge were someone like Usaida – he is disturbingly irresponsible! I think I enjoyed it too much when Kamitani whacked him on the head that time. Then again, I always enjoy it when Kamitani whacks people. Is that bad? – I absolutely do not condone hitting people (especially children) in real life!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


03. HAKATA TONKOTSU RAMENS (ep. 1-9) – This show depicts Hakata as a city teeming with killers-for-hire. It has a huge ensemble cast, and it’s really hard to keep track of who’s who and who is whose associate, but I can follow it enough to enjoy it a lot. All the double-crossing and personality quirks are a blast to watch, although I’m also glad we are finally getting some background on Lin.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

04. The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. 2 (Saiki Kusuo no Psi Nan 2) (ep. 1-9) – More Saiki K. goodness. It’s great to have Saiki and his friends and family back; their personalities and the situations they get themselves into are always hilarious. If you liked the first season, you will also enjoy this.

The current OP, “Psilent Prisoner,” by Psychic Lover featuring lead vocals by Kaidou (cv: Shimazaki Nobunaga), is very chuunibyou and kind of amazing. I wonder if I should have included it in my song list up top?


05. How to keep a mummy (Miira no Kaikata) (ep. 1-9) – So freakin’ cute. That’s pretty much all you need to know. This show, about a boy and his mini mummy, and his friends and their fantastical pets, takes the cuteness of something like SCHOOL BABYSITTERS and dials it to eleven. There’s no deep meaning, no complicated plot to follow; just sit back, relax, and let the warmth wash over you.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


06. B: The Beginning (ep. 1-6) – A mature investigative crime drama along the lines of PSYCHO-PASS and Terror in Resonance. Uploaded by NETFLIX in its entirety early in March, we haven’t had time to marathon it, but we did check out the first 6 episodes over 2 sittings and I’m intrigued by what we’ve seen.

In some ways, Lily, the female protagonist, kind of sticks out like a sore thumb. She has a more cartoony appearance than the other cast members and it’s obvious she’s there largely for comic relief. But I like her. B: The Beginning is dark, violent, and frequently disturbing. When Lily shows up though, it lightens the mood and makes things feel less horrifying.
(streaming on NETFLIX in its entirety)

07. Yowamushi Pedal: GLORY LINE (ep. 1-10) – We’re in the middle of the Inter-High and GLORY LINE (YowaPeda season 4) is once again as exciting and funny as the first 2 seasons. It’s nice to see the Sohoku boys back in the spotlight. Their team banter is always fun too, especially Naruko and Imaizumi. Now all we need is for Onoda to strut his stuff!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


08. Dame x Prince ANIME CARAVAN (ep. 1-10) – This show is pretty dumb, but damn if it isn’t really funny too! It basically functions as a parody of reverse harem stories. The guys of DamePri are handsome to look at, I guess, but every one of them is a certifiable weirdo. Part of the joke is that our lead, Princess Ani, wouldn’t be caught dead dating any of them. Her reactions to the shenanigans are hilarious.

All along, there were hints that something shady was going on behind the scenes, but the anime has been fluffy and comedic for the vast majority of its run. Until now, that is; the tone suddenly shifted in ep. 10, and it seems like things will be a little more serious in the final stretch.

Funniest character: Prince Narek. He’s so ridiculously, obliviously full of himself that sometimes he only needs to show up and I already feel like giggling. Least-funny: Gurimaru. Mascot characters just don’t work for me.
(streaming at HIDIVE)


09. After the Rain (Koi wa ameagari no You ni) (ep. 1-10) – After the Rain is about a teenaged girl with a crush on her 40-something boss. As such, it tiptoes on some potentially problematic material. To its credit, the anime is sensitive and believable and not really weird at all, in no small part because Kondo, the boss, is a decent guy who doesn’t take Akira’s advances too seriously.

10. GARO -VANISHING LINE- (ep. 13-21) – Even though Sword and Sophie are the real main characters, it’s the episodes focused Luke that I’ve enjoyed the most. Also, ep. 16, a mostly stand-alone story about a chance acquaintance, proved to be a highlight. It was written well enough to make me care about this random guy. And it was refreshing to see that not everything has to be because of Horrors.

As previously stated, the action is great; and in particular, I am satisfied with the musical accompaniment during those scenes. A show like this is just crying to have some metal in its soundtrack; GARO gets it.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


11. VIOLET EVERGARDEN (ep. 1-10) – The animation looks absolutely stunning in this much-hyped KyoAni production. VIOLET EVERGARDEN tells the story of a former-soldier doll who starts a new life after the war as a letter-writer, while coming to terms with her past.

Disappointingly, the quality of the visuals far out-classed the rather unsophisticated narrative in the early stages. But then the anime apparently started following the source material more closely around the fifth episode and it was a huge improvement. My enthusiasm for the show increased dramatically.

Basically, VIOLET EVERGARDEN has taken the opposite trajectory of SANRIO BOYS (see below) in my rankings.
(streaming on NETFLIX weekly)

12. Record of Grancrest War (Grancrest Senki) (ep. 1-10) – This reminds me a bit of Lord Marksman and Vanadis (2014). Both have a political/fantasy setting, extremely fast pacing, and strong female warriors. Grancrest Senki is the less fanservicey and more respectable of the two.

The pace really is fast. There’s a war going on and there can be five or ten different things happening at the same time, with very little explanation. It is possible to enjoy it just from following the gist of it, though.

The series can also be terribly violent at times, but I feel the violence tends to be presented in ways that are more artistic than gratuitous. I also like that even doomed extras sometimes get decently animated fights before getting killed off. However, it’s kind of a shame that frequently, named characters with interesting personalities or backgrounds also just get killed off soon after their introduction.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

13. IDOLiSH7 (ep. 3-12) – The male idol anime of this season is fairly competent, though I don’t feel it particularly stands out among other shows of its genre. It’s realistic that IDOLiSH7 does not become successful immediately, and that in fact a couple of the members rise in popularity ahead of the others.

I kind of wish there was more focus on the rival group, TRIGGER. Two of the 3 guys have somewhat abrasive and rebellious personalities. They clearly have their own agendas, and I am genuinely interested in learning what their motives are. Plus, TRIGGER’s music is better; which isn’t actually difficult since the IDOLiSH7 songs are all terrible.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


14. Ms Koizumi loves ramen noodles (Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san) (ep. 1-10) – While this is a cute and pleasant show, it really has no plot. Gluttony is the name of the game for ramen-addicted Koizumi and her friends. We usually make sure to get some ramen in us before watching, or at least have food in hand, because man, all that ramen on display looks sinfully good. It’s definitely given us ideas on where we want to eat when we next go to Japan!

It can be argued that both this and last season’s Love Rice are pro-carb propaganda vehicles, and I’m not sure I can really support that message. While I do happen to be staunchly pro-carbs myself, it’s more of a personal preference and not because I have any delusions that this kind of diet is balanced or healthy. Having ramen every day, several times a day may sound heavenly, but it can’t possibly be good for you!
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

15. BORUTO: NARUTO NEXT GENERATIONS (ep. 40-47) – The Byakuya Gang arc was actually not bad, in that it was fairly enjoyable to watch. I didn’t see the grey in the criminals’ ideology, though. They were trying to gain public favour by robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, but I think Boruto summed it up pretty nicely right from the start, that “stealing is stealing!”
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

16. Osomatsu-san 2 (Mr. Osomatsu 2) (ep. 14-23) – A clear improvement over the first cour, even if it still isn’t quite measuring up to the creative genius of season one.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)


17. SANRIO BOYS (ep. 1-9) – SANRIO BOYS had a very promising start. The message of the first few episodes, that it’s okay to be yourself, even if you like Sanrio mascots and you’re a boy, was relevant and easily applicable to anyone who might feel they don’t fit in with the crowd for any reason.

Then, the show veered off into worshipping-Hello-Kitty-as-a-deity territory and they lost me. In ep. 7, the boys had a transcendent experience visiting the Sanrio Puroland theme park. I didn’t get it at all. I’m grateful I got to see it in this anime, though; now I know I don’t ever need to go there myself!

Now the new friends are putting all their resources into making a musical, even though it’s obvious none of them has any expertise in that sort of thing. It’s just not believable. All in all, SANRIO BOYS could have been so much better if it had continued to play out as a parable for the challenges of learning to accept yourself and to accept others who are different from you. What a missed opportunity.
(streaming at Crunchyroll)

The Shape of Water

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

The Shape of Water is one part unconventional love story and one part Cold War-era spy thriller. After months of talking about it, we finally got out to see this film 2 days before it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I can’t say I was entirely sold on the romance between the mute cleaning lady and the mystical sea creature, personally. I think it takes more than true love to build a meaningful relationship. Although, pure love that requires no words is certainly a beautiful thing; it’s hard to argue with that.

The rest of the drama was more complex than I expected, which is good. Essentially, three sides had their own designs on the creature, which was being held captive in a top-secret facility in Baltimore: the Americans, who were willing to destroy it to learn from it; the Soviets, who would do anything to thwart the Americans; and Elisa, the lady who wished to save him. Beyond that, several individual players had their own beliefs and agendas as well, which made for a satisfyingly suspenseful story.

Our favourite character was Elisa’s friend and co-worker Zelda, who was really great at telling it like it is. Case in point: the washroom scene.

My only real complaint is that the nudity on display was completely unnecessary. Right off the bat, Elisa bared her all to the audience. I was waiting for it to become relevant somehow later on, but it never happened.

Jacquie’s 2017 Year in Review – Anime

Year-end best-of lists are highly subjective things. Let me just state that upfront as I suspect my list is going to look nothing like pretty much anyone else’s top 10 for 2017!

As usual, titles that finished airing (or finished airing for the foreseeable future) in 2017 were eligible for consideration. Click on the links below to view the previous seasonal write-ups for each show.

☆ TOP 10 ANIME:

#1. Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time (Ikemen Sengoku: Toki wo Kakeru ga Koi wa Hajimaranai) (12 episodes)

Aired Summer 2017

This is pretty surprising even to me. Yes this is reality; my chosen anime of the year is a short. And not just any short, but a full-on CGI one! Previously, I never would have imagined that a short format series could be a contender for my yearly top 10. Then I saw Ikemen Sengoku, which made impeccably good use of its limited runtime. It was the most entertaining Sengoku-period time slip story I have ever seen. It was also the best anime featuring Oda Nobunaga that I’ve seen, and there have been many.

The computer graphics were not especially high tech, but they were creatively used and all the tiny details in the warlords’ clothing, movements, and expressions were a delight to behold.

The show conveyed the guys’ personalities very succinctly and efficiently. The voice actors did an amazing job too. No matter the ridiculousness of the body proportions or absurdity of the situations, the seiyuu played it completely straight all the time.

My sister and I were both captivated by Ikemen Sengoku. We watched and rewatched and watched again. We laughed at the cuteness and the gags; we bonded over our shared experiences, including catching the latest episode at the airport once right before a Wednesday flight in August; and we argued over which end card was the most lewd. (For the record, I said Masamune’s, based on the English text; she asserted that Shingen’s was worst, based on the spoken Japanese.)

The craziness didn’t even stop there. The whole intent of this type of anime is to sell the related game and goods – and I was completely sold on the franchise. My sister and I collectively spent over a hundred dollars on IkeSen café drinks while we were in Tokyo. We each also downloaded the mobile game (something I’ve never been inclined to do before, in spite of all the game-adaptation anime I’ve seen over the years) and enjoyed it so much that we started throwing money at it. I have no regrets.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#2. Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL (Shingeki no Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL) (24 episodes)

Aired Spring 2017 to Summer 2017

Rage of Bahamut 2 dominated my rankings for almost half the year. So how did it end up ceding the top spot to IkeSen? The answer is that endings are important to me, and I felt that BahaSOUL sadly dropped the ball in its final stretch. Specifically, it was the meaningless deaths of 2 prominent and well-loved characters that troubled me the most. Well that, and the implication that everyone’s efforts and sacrifices were maybe all for nothing in the end.

Because it was so wildly enjoyable otherwise, though, it still manages to hang on to the number 2 spot against ACCA.

#3. ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept (13-ku Kansatsu-ka) (12 episodes)

Aired Winter 2017

ACCA was ultimately more satisfying than BahaSOUL, but it was also more of a slow burn. Underlying the mundane absurdity of this political mystery anime, there was actually a lot of heart. ACCA ended up as my favourite series of the winter season, and also the show on this list that I would most recommend to a general audience, even those who may not share my eccentric taste in anime.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#4. RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (Netojuu no Susume) (10 episodes + OVA)

Aired Autumn 2017

This was already finished airing when I wrote about it recently. The additional OVA episode presented a couple of comedic side stories. They were sweet and fun, even if they didn’t add much to the main story.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#5. STARMYU High School Star Musical Season 2 (12 episodes)

Aired Spring 2017

STARMYU 2 was an excellent follow-up to the first season. It was funny and entertaining, and it delivered on expectations and then some.

The weakest part was the ending. It is admirable to take heroic measures because “the show must go on,” but I believe there should be a limit to that, especially when physical injury (and the potential for long-term complications) is involved. (This actually applies to DREAM FESTIVAL! R as well.) So I have mixed feelings about its final message, but overall, it was pretty great.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#6. MADE IN ABYSS (13 episodes)

Aired Summer 2017

Unfortunately, I was somewhat bored during the middle section of MADE IN ABYSS. Also, the show occasionally made some uncomfortable choices that I had to struggle to not see as fetishistic fanservice; and obviously the story is not really over yet.

The things that worked, though, were phenomenally effective. Character-wise, I really felt for Nanachi and her plight; and I’ve already gone on at length about my fondness for Reg. Plot-wise, the last story arc was outstanding. It was sensitively-written, chillingly horrifying, and heart-wrenching. It broke me, but I’m glad I watched.

#7. Mobile Suit GUNDAM: IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS (Tekketsu no Orphans) (50 episodes)

Aired Autumn 2015 to Winter 2016, then Autumn 2016 to Winter 2017

The word-building and character-writing were really great. I appreciated the realistic, bittersweet ending too. Sure, the show had its ups and downs for me, but ultimately I would count it among my favourite GUNDAM series.

It was an added bonus that part of it was set in Canada. It’s also remarkable that one of the main characters became a paraplegic in the middle of the story. And never before had I ever had the occasion to think, “This man deserves a harem” until I met Naze!
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#8. Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (Sukeroku Futatabi-hen) (12 episodes)

Aired Winter 2017

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu‘s first season was the lead up to a foretold tragic event. The second season covered the aftermath of that tragedy, perfectly balancing the despairing feelings of the cast with interactions that showed love and forgiveness. Yotarou, with his endless generosity and open-heartedness, served as the physical embodiment of those values. I really enjoyed being immersed in their world and following the lives of these well-written characters.

That final episode twist, unfortunately, was too much for me. We already knew this was going to be a bittersweet story, and that characters we loved were going to die. It wasn’t necessary to sugarcoat the ending, especially not in such an awkward way. Usually, when a show has a crappy ending, it doesn’t cancel out the goodness of what came before it. This ending actually did, because its misguided reveal tainted the preceding events and forced you to see them in a new light.

By rights, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 should have been much higher on this list. Instead, I was so turned off of the whole thing after seeing the last episode, that it is with reluctance that I’m placing it even at number 8.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#9. DREAM FESTIVAL! R (12 episodes)

Aired mid-Summer to mid-Autumn 2017

I thought DREAM FESTIVAL! was one of the lesser known idol franchises, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the anime get a sequel. You know, I didn’t realize how much I liked and missed these guys until I saw them again. I especially enjoyed the first half, with its extended focus on Yuuto and Keigo of KUROFUNE. The portrayal of Keigo’s personal insecurities, in spite of his flashy good looks and flamboyant stage presence, felt very real to me.
(streaming: Crunchyroll)

#10. INUYASHIKI LAST HERO (11 episodes)

Aired Autumn 2017

Although there was ultimately no real message to INUYASHIKI, it did provide an interesting and thought-provoking look at the (mostly) irresponsible use of great power and what consequences it would have on society and on the ones wielding that power.

**********************************************************************************************

☆ Best Recap Episode:


Re:CREATORS ep.13. As was usual for this anime, Meteora talked and talked. But this time, there was added snark to her deadpan exposition. She even pinpointed some of the show’s and characters’ flaws and made fun of them! In her narration, she humorously played up her own character, while resorting to nicknames for people that she couldn’t be bothered to remember the names of. It was really funny and I enjoyed it a lot more than any part of the actual show itself. Best recap episode ever.

☆ Favourite Seiyuu:

Umehara Yuuichirou

I enjoyed so many of his roles in 2017, most notably: Charioce XVII, the smokin’ hot evil sovereign from Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL; Eugene Sevenstark, Orga’s loyal and outspoken deputy in GUNDAM: IRON BLOODED ORPHANS; and of course, my favourite chibi warlord from my number one anime of the year, Takeda Shingen.

Umehara was responsible for breathing some life into a whole bunch of stoic, expressionless dudes during the fall season: Ushii from JUNI TAISEN, Ouni from Children of the Whales, TSUKIPRO‘s Dai, DYNAMIC CHORD‘s Shinobu, THE iDOLM@STER SideM‘s Kyouji, and SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD’s Date Masamune. In general, though, it was probably more fun to hear him voicing impassioned characters like hard-luck Shinsengumi member Nagakura Shinpachi in Chiruran ½ from earlier in the year.

Umehara has a great voice, I like his performance style, and I also tend to like the types of characters he gets to play, so I will definitely be paying attention to any shows I see his name in from now on.

☆ Anime Songs Top 9 Countdown:

It’s a tiny list for me this year! As usual, the songs are evaluated primarily on the music, not the accompanying visuals of the shows they’re associated with. And it’s the full songs, not the TV-size versions, that are being considered.

09. Kakuran Romantist, by Date Masamune(cv:Umehara Yuuichirou) (SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD ep.7 ED)

08. sh0ut, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Tielle&Gemie (Re:CREATORS OP2)

07. Hoshi no furu machi, by Numakura Manami (Fuuka insert song)

06. Yes / No, by STAR☆CONCERTO (Ikemen Sengoku: Bromances Across Time OP)

05. Masayoshi-ron, by Uesugi Kenshin(cv:Toriumi Kousuke) (SENGOKU NIGHT BLOOD ep.6 ED)

04. SunSunSunrise, by 9nine (THE REFLECTION ED)

03. gravityWall, by SawanoHiroyuki[nZk]:Tielle&Gemie (Re:CREATORS OP1)

02. LET iT END, by SiM (Rage of Bahamut: VIRGIN SOUL OP1)

01. FEED THE FIRE, by coldrain (King’s Game The Animation OP)

Jacquie’s 2017 Year in Review – Music

I’m not inclined to do any kind of proper ranking for the past year’s music, so I’ll just recall some of the works that captured my attention and also a piece of my music budget in 2017.  Presented in alphabetical order by artist.

Angelo

I haven’t really been keeping up with Angelo, despite the fact that one of my favourite guitarists – Karyu (ex-D’espairsRay) – plays in the band, because KIRITO’s voice and hypo-melodic singing style are usually not to my taste. I don’t know, something must have changed, because “HETERODOX” is a pretty good listen all the way through! Even though it’s not quite as heavy as the music I typically listen to, it’s great in the car; and my CD is still spinning there now, as it has been since I received it back in October.

Favourite tracks: evil, Saigennai kawaki, HETERODOX

Actually, evil is my favourite song of 2017. Angelo uploaded the clip below, featuring the full PV for evil a patience-testing 3 months before the album (and any of its music) went on sale. I heard Karyu’s touch in this beautiful track immediately. By that, I suppose I what I mean is that the way I felt when I listened to it was similar to how I felt when I used to listen to some D’espairsRay songs. Karyu is indeed the song’s composer, as I later confirmed. KIRITO nails his delivery too; the slightly raspy vocals he uses really suit the song, and I don’t think he has ever sounded better.

coldrain

“FATELESS” was another solid release from coldrain. Seriously, these guys never let me down. The only song I got tired of was the one they didn’t write, UNINVITED (although it was kind of cool that they covered Alanis Morissette).

Favourite tracks: A DECADE IN THE RAIN, FEED THE FIRE

(FATELESS-album is available on iTunes Canada)

defspiral

The best news is that defspiral’s music is now on iTunes. Previously, I had to wait until I was in Japan to buy their CDs because they were not attainable from my usual online sites and also not available digitally. But no longer! Even the instrumental tracks are up, which is important; not only do defspiral instrumentals sound perfectly great on their own, but I always enjoy the full songs more after hearing them!

(AFTERGLOW-single, PHANTOM-single, TO THE GALAXY-album are all available on iTunes Canada)

lynch.

At the start of 2017, lynch. were in a dark place. Akinori, their bassist, resigned from the band in the fall of 2016 following his arrest for marijuana possession. The remaining members were so unhappy with the situation, they were reluctant to continue without him. But they had to. Refusing to hire someone new, lynch. instead enlisted the services of several well-known bassists to help in the recording of their 2017 releases.

Things are looking up for 2018, as Akinori is coming back!

Typically, when a Japanese musician has to quit in order to not bring shame upon his band, it is a life sentence, regardless of the nature of his crime. It is pretty unheard of for such a person to ever be reinstated. But this is lynch.. The way I see it, they never needed an official bass player. They were a 4-piece for many years before Akinori came along. It has to be him. And it warms my heart that lynch. are about to be reunited at last.

Favourite tracks off “SINNERS”: KALEIDO, SORROW

(SINNERS-EP and BLOOD THIRSTY CREATURE-single are both available on iTunes Canada)

OLDCODEX

“they go, WHERE?” had a couple of songs that I couldn’t listen to (smiling, Julio), but overall, it was a balanced effort by OLDCODEX. Their previously released SERVAMP and Kuroko’s Basketball songs were included. And A Black Toy aptly demonstrated that they can put together a very competent techno-dance song, and at the very same time, still prove that rock is best!

Favourite tracks (not including Deal with, which was released in 2016): Million from Codex, Outsomnia

ONE OK ROCK

ONE OK ROCK released 2 versions of “AMBITIONS” early in 2017, one for their domestic audience in Japan, and the other, with all English lyrics and a slightly different track list, for international listeners. Not every song clicked with me, which is how it goes for me and ONE OK ROCK, but there were definitely a number of gems, including Bedroom Warfare, Bombs Away, Lost in Tonight

And favourite track (not including Taking Off, which was released in 2016): Bon Voyage. At face value, the lyrics are about a depressing break up; but I can’t help but sense some hopefulness too, as if someone who was caught in a toxic or abusive relationship finally has found the strength and resolve to move on. The way the light keyboard melody rises above the dark-sounding guitar and bass, sounds almost giddy to me and reinforces this hopeful feeling.

(AMBITIONS-album, international version is available on iTunes Canada)

SHIN

“Good Morning Dreamer” was the solo EP release of SHIN (ex-ViViD). I was pleasantly surprised to discover that his new music is more in line with the side of ViViD that I had liked most, the rock side that is. SHIN really is an amazing singer, and it’s great to hear from him again.

Favourite tracks: Weakend, 4444

VAMPS

Like ONE OK ROCK, VAMPS aimed to widen their international fan base in 2017 with the release of a full-length, all-English album. My previous experience with VAMPS music was kind of ambivalent – some of their songs I really loved, but many I didn’t. “UNDERWORLD,” which included previous singles CALLING, INSIDE OF ME, Rise Or Die, and Sin In Justice, turned out to be impressively good, and really consistent too. Unfortunately, this might be the last we hear from VAMPS for a while, as HYDE and K.A.Z. put their project on hiatus in December in order to recharge.

Favourite track: RISE UP, because I love the dark melody and heavy instrumentation. The theme of saying goodbye to the past and starting anew (as if, but not limited to, giving up your mortal life to become a vampire), which recurs throughout the album, is perfectly captured in RISE UP.

(UNDERWORLD-album is available on iTunes Canada)