Aria the Natural – Its hauntingly beautiful 20th episode

It’s rare that I ever get genuinely terrified of things in anime. It’s even rarer that I expected my fear to be from the Aria series. The 20th episode of Aria the Natural is genuinely unnerving, bringing out ominous foreshadowing that builds up, tense and even more tense, to an effectively scary climax.

The Aria series shows just how versatile it can get when it comes to creating atmosphere. There are a few instances in the second season where the supernatural is built off of that feeling of dread, with the way the series utilizes its music and animation that manage to create an unparalleled level of fear. It may not be as scary compared to actual horror-related media, but it’s the fact that the Aria series can turn a complete 180 degrees and create something truly terrifying is what makes the 20th episode of the Natural that much more terrifying. And considering that most horror anime is not that scary is also what makes this episode refreshing. Not just refreshing in terms of the series but also in terms of anime as a medium. It’s refreshing to watch something that I can actually be scared by. And I loved it.

There’s a lot of great sequences in this episode. From the foreshadowing spawned from Akari’s witnessing of a woman dressed in black which is followed up by Aika’s ghost story, to the series of events that happen at night. The first half of the episode is fairly playful besides the foreshadowing elicited from Akari’s glance at the lady dressed in black and Aika’s ghost story, and the music that Aria is known for is always pleasant to listen to. It’s when Akari parts ways with her friends that the episode truly starts to crank up its ominous and dreadful nature. The lack of ambience, the barren streets, and the natural light of night create a feeling of being alone, and that feeling is particularly scary when you’re only able to listen to Akari’s voice and the sounds of waves as she drifts towards home. It’s unnerving because you’re so used to being enveloped by Aria’s warm atmosphere.

There are a lot of amazing shots, in particular, Akari and her gondola slowly stopping beside the barren and dark street of Neo Venezia as Akari stares at the lady dressed in black. There’s another sequence of Akari slowly travelling to the destination the lady requested. Akari’s truly uncomfortable and anxious state made me uncomfortable as well. It’s like I was there with her. The quietness of these sequences are what makes them so frightening, and when the background music does play, it makes the creepy atmosphere more enveloping.

The episode ends on a lighthearted note, but it also leaves its mystery of the ghost story unexplained. The fear of the unknown is the scariest thing to man. The episode perfectly handles this sentiment, creating something both haunting and beautiful.

Take care.

The fourth episode of the second season of Re:Zero made me tear up. And that’s enough for me to say it’s one of my favorite episodes from the series.

Amidst all of the physical and psychological torture that Subaru has experienced throughout the show, it’s a breath of fresh air when it delves into the more human aspects rather than its supernatural elements.

The fourth episode of Re:Zero Season Two expands on Subaru’s past, establishing his relationships with his parents and giving a warm sense of closure as Subaru grows from this trial. This is also where the anime explores a more grounded side to the Isekai subgenre. Subaru suffers not only from his current situation, but he also suffers internally from his insecurities stemming and building off of his childhood. He hates himself for living under his father’s shadow, and it translates into the acts of desperation he succumbs to during his time in the new world.

We didn’t have you because we wanted you to do something for us. We had you because we wanted to do something for you.

Despite this, his upbringing isn’t in anyway an overly tragic one. He has loving parents that care for him in the most genuine way, not questioning his own actions and watching over him more than he realizes. They don’t judge him. They don’t force him to do things he doesn’t want to. They never bring up issues that make him retreat further into his shell. Subaru’s insecurities come off naturally, and it expands his character in an extremely realistic manner. His depression and his insecurities feel real, and it adds a meaningful amount of depth to his character. The animation and music orchestrate this episode perfectly and emphasize the development shown in this episode, presenting what seems like a simple template for a “confront your past” type of episode but executing this concept beautifully, making this episode feel sincere and genuine.

Speaking of the aforementioned grounded side to the Isekai subgenre, I’m pleasantly surprised that the show acknowledges the fact that there is an entire world that the main character is leaving behind. They don’t brush off that fact, and they also don’t give a half-assed reason why this new world is better. Because it’s really not. Sure, this new world gives Subaru the much needed reason to grow as a person, but it’s also compensated by endless torturing both physically and psychologically. Imagine seeing your friends die over and over again as you desperately try to save them during each roll of the dice. Imagine yourself dying over and over in order to save these friends. Would you have done the same?

Subaru’s parents (as confirmed by the author of the web novel) are still waiting for him. Subaru still has another world to come back to. These thoughts of not being able to reconcile with his parents offer the cherry on top of his current torture, and not being able to find closure up until this point must have been extremely hard on him. It’s what makes this episode so meaningful for him, and it shapes the show to be more grounded and genuine than it lets on.

White Fox delivers a stunning and heartfelt 30 minutes that captures the essence of Subaru’s character, and it gives him the much needed closure to effectively deal with the issues of the new world moving forward. Starting, again, from zero.

Un-Go – An underappreciated mystery gem

Someone has been murdered in cold-blood. No one knows who did it. Suspects are named, the innocent are in shock. Two quirky individuals, Yuuki and Inga, set out to find out just what is going on.

Un-Go is mystery done right. The mysteries themselves are fairly straightforward, but its execution is where the show really excels in. Un-Go is great at engaging its audience, presenting what may seem like a simple murder mystery into something much more fascinating. The set-ups for these investigations are always gripping, and the music and animation do a great job at making the stories triumph. Un-Go knows perfectly well what it wants to convey, and it capitalizes on its strengths in order to realize it. While the execution is straightforward, there are twists and turns along the away that misdirect the audience without giving away too much. These moments are tasteful and add a little more flavor to the mysteries.

Un-Go adopts an episodic structure with different arcs up until its second-half where it ramps up the engine and produces a well-executed mystery in its last arc. Un-Go’s individual stories are pleasantly introduced and conclude nicely, but they are not entirely separated from each other. Each story connects with each other in clever ways, and it gives the anime a much smoother and steady sailing.

The cast of characters in Un-Go are an interesting bunch of individuals; Un-Go doesn’t add much depth to these characters, but their personalities play off each other nicely and the characterization is enough for the show’s concept to be pulled off. Yuuki, the detective of the show, alongside his assistant, Inga, make for an interesting pair. They are fun and enticing enough to follow around, and for what little growth that Yuuki does develop throughout the show’s course, makes his deductions that much more entertaining to witness.

While the anime succeeds in its sole purpose, there are still things that are worth addressing.

Un-Go feels short-lived. There seems to be a lot of material to be explored from its world-building and the philosophical moments the show touches on. There’s also the fact that the show can be pretentious at times, referencing certain aspects about the nature of society which doesn’t amount to much considering how short the show is. Even the recurring themes about the desire for truth feel underutilized for a show that wants to convey these topics a lot. The specific philosophical subjects that are touched on briefly give the anime a nice flavor, but it also gives it potential that it would have benefited from exploring more thoroughly. I would have loved additional content for more interesting detective stories that delve into other facets of society and its relation to the individuals that make it up.

The most apparent issue, however, is Inga’s part in solving these mysteries. It feels cheap, and the series uses a lot of his “abilities” in order to steer the investigation in the main characters’ favor. The ability feels like a gimmick (you’ll know what I mean when you start watching), and it doesn’t help the show at all. The fact that the anime doesn’t explore the background behind this character also makes him feel more out-of-place. There is a prequel movie which apparently does, but the actual show itself could’ve incorporated just the main characters’ past in little doses. The tidbits we do get aren’t enough to give them proper depth.

Un-Go isn’t a special anime by any means. It has its fair share of issues, and while the execution is great, it doesn’t leave much for people to leave it up there alongside the “greats”. That being said, Un-Go never wants to go above and beyond. It knows where its strengths lie and capitalizes on them, producing a perfectly serviceable detective mystery that makes the time well spent. If you want a fun, little mystery show, then Un-Go may very well do the trick.

Aria the Animation – Archived Review

This is a review I wrote for Aria the Animation on August 27 of 2018, on the website called MyAnimeList. This is the one review I am most proud of writing, and it is also my most personal one as Aria the Animation is one of my favorite anime of all time. This review encapsulates the reasons why I hold the show so dear to my heart.

Continue reading Aria the Animation – Archived Review

What does it mean to be an Adult?

Chihiro and her family are moving into a new place, and Chihiro does not want any of it, as shown when she sticks her tongue out towards the new town in the very first scene. She is a young girl with no experience in work or responsibility. Up until her journey towards the spirit world, she is shown to be a spoiled and ungrateful child. It is through that spirit world that she learns, and understands, what it means to be an adult and what it means to grow up. Hayao Miyazaki’s artistic vision once again manifests itself into a film that is not only a feast for the eyes but also describes adulthood and its accompanying society in a meaningful way that can appeal to both children and adults.

spirited away 2

Setting up the story with an endearing score and breathtaking animation, Miyazaki’s penchant for worldbuilding has marked its place into the old, seemingly-abandoned amusement park. Chihiro is bewildered at the sight of it; the windy breeze that grazes her and her parents’ clothes and the grassy area itself creates a setting that the viewer can be immersed in. Both her parents seem to have taken a fondness for the place, and find that it holds an abundance of delicious food. What unfolds next is the never-ending cycle of never seeming to have enough, with Chihiro’s parents relentlessly consuming the food until they turn to pigs, even after their hunger has been satiated; the associated symbol for gluttony, and what inevitably begins Chihiro’s journey into saving her parents while also learning what it means to be an adult.

Chihiro ends up staying in the spirit world for a time, serving at a bathhouse owned by Yubaba so that she can return home with her parents. This is where the plethora of characters are introduced, all of which have their own quirky personality and distinct appearance. While some take more screen time than others, each and every one of them still contributes to the film’s themes and messages of being an adult. The individuals that leave significant points of interest though, are Yubaba, No-Face, and Lin.

Yubaba is a hypocrite. She tries to hide her baby from the outside world and attempts to shelter him from corrupt forces when she does the exact same thing. The pursuit of money is a recurring trait in her character, as she represents the greed of a businesswoman. No-Face, on the other hand, represents loneliness, as he continues to walk around and wander through the world until he finds Chihiro. He takes an odd fascination towards her that borders on “creepiness”, but in its own quirky way. Because he lacks any experience with any sort of friendship, he awkwardly stumbles in trying to persuade Chihiro to “be with him”, or befriend him, giving her vast amounts of gold. Relying on materialistic value of course leads to nowhere, as Chihiro, at this point already “grown-up”, does not want any of it; ironically enough, the adult workers in the bathhouse do not seem to have learned the way she has, and get greedy with the amount of money that is being handed out. No-Face eventually lives with Yubaba’s twin sister, and finally feels a sense of belonging; the warmth of having a family. Last but not least concerns Lin. In one scene, she remarks on getting away from her work, trying to leave and find something she wants to do. Her prior circumstances are not known, but her life follows the carefree life of a person who has no real goal in mind; nothing feels more empty than having a career that you have no particular interest in, and being an adult at this point closes a lot of doors on wasted opportunities.

A major aspect to take note is that Chihiro seems to be the only “young” person in the spirit world. This helps her presence remain significant in her own coming-of-age story through a world filled with adults (i.e spirits; the spirit world might as well be the adult world). To save her friend, Haku, she takes a train ride to Yubaba’s twin sister, where the ride is filled with meaningful imagery. Each spirit that is blacked out and painted as a black shadowy mist is effectively shown to be a worker that works and goes home, along with the cycle of that loneliness. Japan’s controversial topics regarding extensive labor in the workforce is depicted in Spirited Away, as its strictly disciplined society forces an individual to find a passion or interest or else he/she will inevitably end up in the void of being a failed human being, sitting beside desks inside offices, filling out paperwork without rest, and most of all, losing purpose.

As per Miyazaki’s motif, painting each frame with detail is a repeated thing that is nice to see. There is always something little happening, as the camera focuses on each minuscule character expression. The animation is crisp and is shown to have aged well. Now, with recent popular anime movies filled with smooth and sterile animation that unfortunately lacks the depth of older “classics”, Spirited Away remains consistent in its tone and seeks to deliver a universal message directed towards the heart of the viewer in its own playful, yet mellow, way. Not to mention the subtle commentary concerning the health of the environment and the negative influences of the Western world, with Haku being a river spirit that forgets his “name and identity” because of industrialisation.

By the end of the film though, Chihiro evolves into a capable person that now has an idea of what the working world is like. The foundation of being an adult has been laid out for her, and she takes the right steps, away from greed and consumption. She forges her own identity and is now confident in taking more leaps towards the future. So, what does that mean for you?