Your Name (Kimi No Na Wa)

kimi-no-na-wa-your-name-1200x800

Mitsuha is sick of her life out in the sticks, and not even having a cafe or bookstore in her little town. She passionately declares one night “Make me a Tokyo boy in my next life!” And then she wakes up the next morning…in a Tokyo boy’s body. Taki, the boy in question, is an average teen making the most of city life, enjoying fancy treats after school with his friends which he pays for via a waiter job at a nice restaurant.

Your Name immediately takes advantage of all of the comedic value of an unexpected body swap. Mitsuha and Taki are both in the throes of puberty and still discovering their own bodies, so waking up inside the opposite sex’s has an extra layer of hilarity. One of the film’s running gags features Mitsuha (sometimes herself, sometimes Taki) waking up each morning and fondling her own breasts.

vlcsnap-2016-08-26-19h06m33s111_orig
Body swapping ain’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Mitsuha and Taki’s friends tell them that they’ve noticed a change in their personalities, and once the pair discover that what they thought were incredibly realistic dreams is actually the two of them swopping bodies, they try to ensure their lives don’t become messier than needed, leaving notes for each other to read on their bodies, and sometimes on their phones. Unfortunately, the two of them never remember each other’s names when they wake up back in their own bodies, prolonging the suspense as they don’t know whose life it is that they keep finding themselves in the middle of.

The film doesn’t focus too deeply on the effects their swapping has on each other’s lives, but it does show the obvious awkwardness of them having to ask their friends questions like “Where do I work?”and having to juggle things that are completely foreign to them – Taki attempting a traditional weaving technique is contrasted against Mitsuha running around like a headless chicken in Taki’s job. In spite of their superficial differences, the universality of their adolescent feelings shines through – Mitsuha manages to get Taki a date with his long-time crush while inhabiting his body, but realises once she’s back in her own body that she’s actually quite jealous.

019
“Dear Taki, stop feeling up my boobs, Yours, Mitsuha”

The second half of Your Name takes a more serious turn than I had expected, dealing with a thread about a comet set up from the beginning. The film uses this to further expand on its themes of family, duty, and love and open out the film to a grander scale, and build much higher stakes. There are a lot of very Japanese themes thrown into the second half (I won’t spoil them here) which is one of the things bound to help this film stand the test of time as a Makoto Shinkai classic.

b2a0423bed98d99f1ea38ceda757ffd5
This is just one example of the astounding landscapes Your Name features

Your Name is visually spectacular. The contrast of city life to country life is stunningly illustrated. Taki’s hectic urban jungle is brilliantly showcased, each sharp angular line of the skyscrapers and twinkling city lights popping off the screen. Mitsuha’s verdant town is a lush delight, and I also really loved seeing the details of her traditional life, such as when she performs a traditional Japanese ritual in her family’s shrine. I also love that the film makes multiple references to the red string of fate, inserting the symbolism in a beautifully simple but striking way throughout the film.

A gorgeous anime needs a great soundtrack and this one does not disappoint! As well as some beautiful strings pieces that really evoke the nature scenes of Mitsuha’s beautiful rural town, RADWIMPS, a Japanese rock band, offer some furiously energetic pop tracks for the chaotic life-swapping scenes of Mitsuha and Taki’s teenage lives. I’ve included the trailer below which features one of the brilliant RADWIMPS tracks.

From Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres Per Second, to Your Name, Makoto Shinkai seems to be continually building on his work, with each anime offering a greater and greater emotional scope that extends into impressive far-reaching themes of the traditional against the modern, long distance love, and figuring out our place in the world.

I love everything about Your Name: its staggeringly beautiful animation, its expressive characters with deep hearts and its moving soundtrack. It’s Japan’s highest grossing movie of 2016, if you haven’t already watched it, what are you waiting for?

Root Letter

1475585838-root-letter

Although I enjoy gaming and anime, I’ve never actually played a visual novel before, so when I first read about Root Letter I was drawn in by its beautiful graphics and that it was a game revolving around penpals. For those who don’t know, a visual novel is essentially an interactive, playable novel with mostly static graphics. They are largely linear with a set storyline and ending, although some can have multiple endings.

In Root Letter you are a 33 year old man who has returned to the Shimane prefecture in the hopes of finding a penpal you used to write to in high school called Aya Fumino. You recall that she stopped writing to you for some reason, and on digging out her old letters to you, you discover one that had been unopened, in which she says she has killed someone. Keen to get to the bottom of the mystery, your quest is to track down the classmates Aya mentioned in her letters to you to get the truth. Luckily they all had distinctive nicknames such as Fatty, Bestie, Shorty, Bitch, Snappy and Four Eyes and Aya’s letters provide clues to their past that help you figure out where they might have ended up.

At the beginning of each chapter of the game you take out one of Aya’s old letters to read, in each one she discusses a different one of her classmates. After reading her letter, you recall your own response and at the end of the letter the game gives you the option to decide what you wrote for part of the letter – the choice you make will affect the ending you get in the final chapter of the game.

root_letter_announcement_3
All of Aya’s stationery is totally adorable
ps4_1-2-mp4-00_03_26_48-still002
Try your hand at virtual snail mail

Most of the gameplay is you travelling around Shimane to talk to people and pick up items along the way. You can then use this knowledge, and the items to win an “investigation” at the end of the chapter and uncover one of Aya’s classmates. The investigations are the most fun part of the game because you have to say the right thing or use the right evidence in the right order, and if you get it wrong too many times then you have to redo the investigation from the beginning.

During the investigation you can also use “Max mode” (your character’s nickname is Max) to choose from a selection of sayings across a moving meter to get the reaction you need from the person in question. If you pick the wrong answer the person you are talking to will be unimpressed and you have to try again.

√Letter_20161109224015
Max mode is one of the more dynamic features of the game

One of the things I really enjoyed about this game is that the Shimane prefecture in the game is heavily based on real life with many of the real locations beautifully rendered in the photo realist style that anime scenery is renowned for. The game itself also fills you in with little titbits of information along the way so if you’re keen to visit Japan it’s a really fun virtual tour.

rl_010_cs1w1_850x478
Matsue Castle in the game…
p2_b
…and Matsue Castle in real life

My expectations for the game would be that it centred heavily on high school age characters, which isn’t the case as you meet the classmates all grown up. The cutesy cover art also duped me into thinking it would be a sweet emotional game. I was surprised that there’s actually a lot of humour and wit. The character you play as, Takayuki, has a really dry, sarcastic sense of humour, which really works well to keep the game engaging and entertaining during the slower moments when you’re just pressing one button repeatedly to move through a lot of dialogue.

√Letter_20161107115627
Takayuki is cocky at the best of times

Although Root Letter wasn’t what I expected I really enjoyed this game. The soundtrack has a relaxing, serene quality that complements the stunning landscape art beautifully. The characters usually subvert expectations and make for entertaining and often suspenseful investigation gameplay as they constantly clam up when it comes to Aya, deepening the mystery and creating an increasingly compelling story. The only major downside to this game is that the five alternate endings only come into play in the last chapter of the game, which means that the rest of the game hints at all five endings throughout which can make the gameplay feel a little confusing and nonsensical as it tries to maintain an ambiguous element by mentioning all the different themes. If you’re willing to overlook this you can still enjoy the mystery though.

Root Letter is available now for PS4 and PSVita. You can also buy a special edition of the game which includes an artbook containing the beautiful landscape art featured in the game.

Everyone’s Getting Married (volume 2) 

In volume 2 of Everyone’s Getting Married, Asuka and Ryu have started a romantic relationship. Interestingly, although they remain at odds on the subject of marriage, it isn’t their conflicting views on settling down that causes them problems in this volume, but Ryu’s extremely busy and high pressure career.


I’m really enjoying this manga series. The majority of shoujo romance manga I see on the shelves are about teen relationships and can feature a lot of coy blushing and childish bickering. Asuka and Ryu’s relationship is mature, trusting and adult from the outset as they try to negotiate their intense work lives with the time they want to spend together, trying to grab private moments to be intimate whenever they can.

Asuka and Ryu continue to be well-written characters. Ryu is handsome and intelligent, and not just a superficially charming bishie. He cares deeply for Asuka and is well characterised as someone who is very much caught up in their career, to the point where he sometimes hurts Asuka. Asuka still yearns for marriage but doesn’t spend all her time pining over it, although she doesn’t apologise for it either. The two of them are honest about their standpoints and respectful of each other’s differences, taking the time to consider whether it’s wise for them to settle into a long term relationship when one wants to marry and the other doesn’t.

If you enjoy love stories and want a more grown up manga, give Everyone’s Getting Married a go!

Shelter (Porter Robinson, Madeon, Toshifumi Akai)

porter-robinson-madeon-shelter-anime

I’m all about my pretty anime, so when I saw the above image while browsing Crunchyroll, and read in the description that it involved a futuristic sci-fi storyline, I was sold. I didn’t realise until clicking on it that it was actually a music video, and not a full length anime!

Six minutes long, the story follows Rin who lives in an incredible simulated world. Through a tablet device, she can draw whatever landscape she wants, and it will be beautifully rendered before her eyes. But she is sad and lonely, continually checking her tablet which reveals it has been a long time since she received any messages.

shelter-74
Is a limitless world really heaven when you have no one to share it with?

Pairing a vibrant electronic dance track with the endless visual wonders that anime can achieve is a match made in heaven and they fit so well together that if I had found the video elsewhere I would have thought the music was created especially for the animation. This is a gorgeous watch – Rin is delightfully drawn, with big sparkling eyes and an equally beautifully world she moulds at her fingertips, allowing us to marvel alongside her at the northern lights, cerulean blue skies with thick fluffy white clouds and impressive cliff tops. The cherry on the cake is the more humble but still beautiful Japan she came from, shown through an emotive family montage (as well as the classic cherry blossoms).

It’s such a shame that Shelter isn’t a full length movie, because it is a triumph. At 4 million views on Youtube already, I’m clearly not the only one who thinks so! Watch it below and experience the beauty yourself:

 

Death Note

I have never fully committed to reading Death Note, but I was recently gifted the first six volumes of manga and decided to read them on holiday. If you’re even a little bit into manga and anime it’s very unlikely that you won’t have at least heard of Death Note as it’s very well known and has received multiple awards, meriting its own anime, live action movies and even a musical. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a synopsis below:

Light Yagami is a highly intelligent teenager. So intelligent that he’s bored with life. When he picks up a mysterious black notebook one day called the Death Note and discovers that it can kill people provided he knows their face when writing their name down, he takes it upon himself to rid the world of the immoral, corrupt and criminal. When another gifted teenager who goes by the alias ‘L’ realises what is happening he offers his own impressive intellect to the Japanese police and sets out to track down the mystery killer, who the world calls “Kira”.

Death Note is an addictive read from the outset. Light is a classic psychopath, with all the charisma and hubris that makes his ruthless determination to outwit L and the police to “rid the world of evil” all the more compelling to read. L also has all the appearance and characteristics of an unhinged genius and his tendency to perch on chairs and eat as many sweet treats as he can get his hands on provide much needed visual light relief against the dark subject matter of death and crime.

They do say power goes to your head...
They do say power goes to your head…

Death Note isn’t a standard cat-and-mouse story because Light is hunting L as keenly as L wants to catch Kira, and Light isn’t afraid to risk nail-bitingly bold manoeuvres like telling someone he’s the killer only seconds before they’re meant to enact a plan he wrote into the Death Note. L isn’t afraid to use risky and outlandish strategies either, and even approaches Light directly and asks for his help to defeat Kira despite harbouring a suspicion that Light is Kira. The manga also throws other interesting elements into the mix such as Light’s father being captain of the police force, and the unexpected appearance of another Kira.

epic_l
L upholds a lawful justice system

The stakes get ever higher as L and Light battle for the upper hand which means some improbable plot devices are used, but L and Light’s intricate thought processes add gravitas which help keep the narrative grounded as they constantly analyse and dissect how Kira would act, L to catch him and Light to avoid suspicion.

Light’s relationship with Ryuk, the shinigami accompanying the Death Note is also enjoyably unique, with Ryuk standing back and silently watching Light’s decisions with the Death Note, occasionally revealing something about its workings, or just comically twisting about if he’s denied apples for too long (apples are like crack to shinigami). It’s refreshing to see that despite the shinigami having terrifying appearances, they are rational, feeling creatures and sometimes seem more human than the humans.

Death Note is an absorbing read that proves itself worthy of its cult status with all the melodramatic plot twists and intellectual ponderings that only the best of manga can pull off.

If you liked this you might like…

Code Geass

When I originally heard of Death Note it reminded me a lot of one of my favourite anime, Code Geass. Both stories feature two lead characters with opposing morals, one of whom has a supernatural element to help them fulfill their goal. I think one of the reasons I prefer Code Geass is that the central characters are given strong backstories and motives for their moral stances, so if you like Death Note, definitely give Code Geass a try.

Yaoi manga reviews (Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly/Ten Count/Flutter)

img_1794

Even So, I Will Love You Tenderly – Kou Yoneda 

Harumi falls hard and fast for Ryo when they meet at a bar. But Ryo is straight, or is he? When Ryo finds himself attracted to another man, Harumi realises he has a chance – and he has to take it.

I really enjoyed this manga’s style. The urban city life of late night bar conversations and falling asleep on the train richly evoke the life of young Japanese professionals, and Harumi is a great character, covering his emotional vulnerability with wit and self deprecating humour even when alone.

The dialogue is informal and flows easily, especially between Ryo and Harumi during the love confession. Their push and pull of feelings is really interesting and moving to read as they try and cross the divide of gay and straight. I even laughed out loud during the love scene as Ryo’s approach is hilariously awkward and feels refreshingly human. I would definitely like to read more manga from this author.

10/10

Ten Count (Volume 1) – Rihito Takari 

Don’t be fooled by the sexy cover art and “Explicit Content” warning, volume one of Ten Count is quite a refined, slow placed affair. The story follows polite and dedicated corporate secretary Shirotani whose life is turned upside down when he meets Kurose, a counsellor who accurately diagnoses him on the spot as a man struggling with germophobia and OCD.

I’m not sure if it was an intentional attempt to avoid controversy on the author’s part, but the manga seems to aim to skirt around the ethical issues of a counsellor and client falling in love as Kurose from the beginning decides to counsel Shirotani outside of a professional setting, not asking for any fees and stating that he wants to be Shirotani’s friend. All the same their relationship remains largely professional, with Kurose outlining a ten-step program for Shirotani to work through.

I found Ten Count to be in some respects almost as rigid as Shirotani’s secretarial suit and gloves. His mental illness felt well portrayed as the story nicely balanced his triumphs and setbacks, complete with the physical symptoms and traumatic flashbacks and his relationship with Kurose is well realised but both Kurose and Shirotani’s emotions and interactions are often subdued which makes it harder to connect with their characters and relationship at times. Nonetheless this a very elegantly drawn and told story and I would consider reading the next volume to see how Shirotani overcomes his condition.

7/10 (but there’s room to grow in later volumes)

Flutter – Momoko Tenzen

Asada is always spellbound by a handsome coworker he sees every morning on his way into work. When the two are paired up on a project, he can’t believe his luck. The manga is quick to blur the lines of their professional relationship when Asada goes drinking with Mizuki and wakes up at his house the next morning, and then ends up going to see a movie with him.

Flutter unfolds as a pretty standard romance, with the obstacle to Asada and Mizuki’s relationship being one of Mizuki’s old flames, a university professor. The art style is also very typical for yaoi with angular faces and large broad bodies, but the expressions are well conveyed and the story flows well with no panel ever feeling flat.

Flutter doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary for a yaoi manga, but it does it well so if you’re looking for a typical boy’s love read, give it a go.

8/10

 

N.B. Another thing I enjoyed about all of these manga is they all steered clear of the seme/uke stereotypes yaoi is known for in which an older/more masculine man pursues and seduces a younger/more feminine man often in a disturbingly non-consensual way (Junjou Romantica, I’m looking at you).

Artbox & Tofu Cute shop (Covent Garden)

img_1558

Last month I had the opportunity to visit the Artbox shop in Covent Garden, which also currently has a pop-up shop within it of Tofu Cute products. If you’re not familiar with Artbox or Tofu Cute, they both specialise in a variety of cute, kawaii things including stationery, plushies, sweets, homeware and accessories of recognisable characters such as Hello Kitty, Pusheen, Snoopy, and also their own original designs.

I was very impressed with the selection available in the Covent Garden shop. Located on the corner of the street, it looks quite small from the outside but is impressively stocked. I spent a good hour in there, starting from the front and working my way back! The sticker selection alone spanned across five rotatable stands!

Stickers ranged from cute to comedic
Stickers range from cute to comedic
If you wanted dress up kawaii girl stickers this is the place to go...
If you wanted dress up kawaii girl stickers this is the place to go…
Pusheen fans will be spoilt for choice
Pusheen fans will be spoilt for choice

Alongside lots of stickers, I found myself buying a very pretty planner. The pages consist of some English but primarily Japanese segments to be filled in so I’m not sure how I’ll use it but it was too pretty to leave behind (ain’t that always the way…).

img_1590
The planner…
img_1591-1
…and its adorable stickers

It’s tough to pick a favourite purchase from the shop, but aside from all the amazing stickers, the shop had a lot of amazing kawaii letter sets (I love letter sets). It was great being able to buy letter sets with Japanese characters on that I can’t find in other shops, such as Korilakkuma and Mamegoma, and they came in really cute packaging too!

img_1608
The cutest letter sets ever?

If you love all things kawaii and cute and you can ever get down to London, you have to check out this shop – you won’t be disappointed by the range or quality of the products. If you don’t have access to Artbox or Tofu Cute shops, you can visit their websites and order their cute kawaii things instead! Links are below:

http://www.tofucute.com/

https://www.artbox.co.uk/