The Observation Deck: Belle

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Talking about this movie has been a long time in the making, and something I have been excited about for just as long. Mamoru Hosoda, along with Studio Chizu, has become one of my favorite teams in the world of anime. Though his films are a bit more family-centric, it never stops them from being exciting from beginning to end.

Belle, I am happy to report, is not much different in that regard. At a little over two hours in run time, the movie manages to fit in an action-packed, colorful adventure while managing to tackle some tuff themes like abuse and the psychology of absent parents. However, it is by no means perfect, and while it is not a bad film, it is probably on the lower end of Hosoda’s catalog for a few key reasons which I will get into.

Why Belle?

In case anyone missed the memo, the film’s title of Belle is both a reference to our main character Suzuku’s online avatar in the world of U, as well as the name of the main character from the classic Disney film Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the film borrows a lot of its core plotline from Beauty and the Beast.

Belle tells the story of the aforementioned Suzu and her online persona Belle. In the introductory moments of the movie, we are shown how she lost her mom while she was trying to save a kid from drowning in a raging river, and also that Suzu’s mom loved to teach her music. Fast forward a bit and suddenly, with the help of her best friend/producer Hiroka, her avatar Belle has become the number one music sensation in the country.

Most of the story’s actual plot takes place in U, a worldwide social media platform that takes real-world physical and biological data from its users to create a virtual avatar. It is stated a few times throughout the film that Suzu joins U because the death of her mother left her too traumatized to sing in real life. Thus, Belle becomes both her persona as well as a tool through which to release her feelings.

The story of Belle overall is incredibly fast-paced and engaging. However, the transition from its initial focus on Suzu and her road to healing to the introduction of the Beast character feels kind of break-neck. Literally, Belle is about to give a virtual concert, and with no prior foreshadowing, he just kind of shows up and starts fighting people. A charitable interpretation might be that this quick introduction can serve as a metaphor for its thematic elements, but it more so comes off as poor planning.

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How is the Music This Pretty?!

The one thing I was not expecting out of Belle was to be blown away by its musical content, or even for there to be any music in the first place. I went into the film more or less blind, and while I did see a trailer or two, it never registered that there was going to be an entire storyline about it.

It is at this point that I should probably mention that I have, at the time of writing this, only seen the film in its dubbed version, and thus the singing and lyrical content I talk about will be in reference to that. Now, getting back to it, wow this soundtrack is basically just ear candy.

The production overall across the film is incredible, from its more climatic and cinematic songs down to the more low-key instrumentals, every song puts in work and I honestly cannot say there is a boring musical moment here. Kylie McNeill was not a name that likely anyone recognized and yet her singing as Suzu and Belle could not have been better.

As a point of comparison, I did listen to some of the bigger tracks in Japanese. While Kaho Nakamura is undoubtedly also very talented, my lack of having seen the Japanese version in full, combined with my English bias still has me appreciating the native version a bit more.

…The Voice Acting

and here is the part where I have to be a bit harsher because as fantastic of a singer as McNeill is, her and the other English VAs’ voice-overs are…rough, to say the least.

At first, it does not come across as super noticeable. After all, one of the ways characters get distinguished vocally is to give them all their own oral quirks. However, as the film goes on, especially in some of the more drawn-out, quieter moments, the awkwardness of the lines becomes all the more apparent. It is partially understandable, given how socially awkward all of the characters are, but it feels like some sections of the script were just straight up put through google translate and then given directly to the voice actors.

What is worse, the lip-syncing team was either non-existent or simply not given enough time to properly do their jobs. There are a number of points where it feels like lines either ran far too long for what the character was saying or too short, and almost no work was done to fix it. The Dubbing is by far the weakest element of Belle, and unfortunately, it is too apparent not to address.

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Anime Studio Budgets When They’re Making a Movie:

Ok, now I can go back to being nice. The animation was also a high point and one of the big reasons to see this film. Normally my expectations for animation in anime films are much higher because, well, they are not spreading out all their money over 12 or even 24 episodes.

No, what makes Belle special in this regard is not the quality itself, although it is quite high. Rather, the blend of virtual reality and fantasy creates a unique color palette. The buildings towering over the world of U, The castle which serves as the Beast’s hiding spot, the background characters who all have a design that feels genuinely personal: All of it comes together in a way that compliments Belle‘s vision.

Why Abuse?

Turning again to its story elements, Hosoda’s decision to reimagine the story of Beauty and the Beast as explicitly centered on physical and emotional abuse is one that I sincerely applaud. Almost by definition, it is not an easy subject to broach, let alone in the context of online interaction, especially given the number of documentaries that have pointed out rather thoroughly how it can go unseen.

The internet is a strange place, after all. In the same amount of time that it takes for us to scroll through Twitter when we wake up people have likely been kidnapped and trafficked using the same technology. However, the decision to have that same technology be what saves K and his brother as a way of inspiring hope was a good one.

Conclusion

Belle is a strange case because it is pretty much the only Hosoda film where I feel as though seeing both the English and Japanese versions are necessary for having a complete opinion. Too many problems arise because of the English version for me to give it a perfect score. So, for those that do plan on seeing it, try giving the Japanese version a watch, and let me know how that goes.

80/100


How do you all feel about Belle? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shout out to our Patron Jenn for being incredibly awesome!

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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College Time Again, Tik Tok, and the Animated Observations Rating System?!

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Well, another year has passed and man…it was not a good one. I will skip rehashing what I said in my last update, but this year is going to hopefully be a year of growth for Animated Observations. I have a lot planned for this blog, and I hope you’ll be excited about it as well. But first, the boring stuff.

College…

“Two semesters left until I finish my Bachelor’s degree” is a sentence that, at least subconsciously, I knew I was probably going to have to write at some point but never actually thought about, and yet, here I am. Those who have followed me for a while now will probably know that the start of a new semester usually leaves me at least a little bit busy. I generally try to prepare content ahead of time, but occasionally, such as last semester, it does not work out.

By the time this update sees the light of day, I will probably have already started school. However, for this semester one of my classes is entirely online, and I only go to campus 3 days a week. This will hopefully give me more time to focus on both writing articles, creating content, and also the small, unimportant task of looking for a job 🙂

Tik Tok

While I still very much enjoy blogging and my normal format of sharing my terrible anime/manga/game opinions, I do still want to branch out creatively, and so I have decided to be hip with the kids and make a Tik Tok for Animated Observations. I’m literally 22 years old and writing that last sentence has aged me at least 40 years.

“What kind of content are you putting out on Tik Tok?” a reasonable person might ask. To which the answer is: Idk, probably a bunch of memes, but in all seriousness, I am hoping I will have time to do shorter form reviews and maybe practice some editing along the way. It will be a major work in progress, so I will not blame anyone who decides that it is not for them.

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Introducing the Animated Observations Rating System!

Now, I have been writing and talking about anime and various other things on this blog under various names for the better part of four years, and while in some of those reviews I may have conceded some sort of numerical score, I have never used them consistently.

The reason I am introducing one now is to give people a more straightforward idea of how I feel about a particular piece of media. “The Observation Deck,” the format I have more or less settled on for reviews, is necessarily more chaotic and less structured than a typical review, bouncing between different topics that seem important to discuss. These categories/scores will be an attempt at giving a more direct answer of “is this a good piece of art” or “does it at least have some value.”

I also want to say upfront that nothing about the inclusion of these scores is going to fundamentally change the way I do my reviews, it will simply be an addition on top of all the things I talk about. As well, at least for the time being, this scoring system will only be used in longer form reviews and will stay out of essays and other reaction-based stuff such as “Initial Results.”

In favor of keeping this update relatively brief, I will quickly go over the categories, associated scores, and general philosophy behind each one. I have chosen to use a 0-100 scale and seven associated categories. The overall theme revolves around going from below the earth into outer space, with scores getting better in proportion with the metaphorical altitude. Without further ado, here they are.

0-15/100

30 Miles Deep

This is a category reserved only for the worst of the worst. A piece of media in this category has little to no redeeming qualities and is genuinely offensive to watch, read, or playthrough. It can burn under the pressure of the earth for all I care.

16-30/100

Crusty

A piece of media in this category is also extremely bad. However, unlike in 30 Miles Deep, there are maybe one or two ideas worth salvaging that are just executed very poorly.

31-45/100

Lost in the Ocean

While I may not like it that much myself, I can at least understand why someone who likes something in this range would enjoy it themselves. There is enough good or interesting here that I at least have to concede that. Something like Beastars, which I do genuinely dislike, would end up in this category.

46-60/100

Surface Level

While the phrase itself has taken on a number of distinct meanings in art discourse, the category of Surface Level in the context of my reviews simply means any show that has roughly as many positive qualities as it does negative, or at least could be argued as such. It is solid (all pun intended), but not much more than that.

61-75/100

Achieves Lift Off

This is the range at which I would say a piece of media generally starts consistently being more positive than negative. A show that Achieves Lift Off has a solid foundation but maybe does not do as much as it could in developing its story, characters, writing, gameplay, etc.

76-90/100

Space Bound

A piece of media that is Space Bound has built upon its positives even further. It achieves a lot, and may even be innovative in some spaces, but just barely misses the mark for being, in my eyes, perfect or near perfect.

91-100/100

Stellar

The category of stellar is reserved for media that does everything or virtually everything right. Since I usually do not go out of my way to watch things that I know people have said are bad, on top of my generally more positive bias, there will probably be a decent number of properties that end up in this tier. However, that should not at all diminish their quality, as I would still consider them the best of the best.

Of course, no rating system is perfect. These categories and number ranges are completely arbitrary. One show that is Surface Level and another that Achieves Lift Off might only be 2-3 points away. The categorical distinctions are more for portraying my general feelings while the numbers are there as a more absolute metric. Overall, I hope this new system will help to create a little more clarity in my reviews.


Have any questions about the new system or what I’m doing? Wanna let me know what you’ve been up to? Feel free to drop a comment down below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

As always, thank you to our Patron Jenn, they are incredible!

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Initial Results: My Dress-Up Darling

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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It is officially that time of the season. Now that a couple episodes are out for basically every show that is airing, we will be taking a look at what Winter 2022 has to offer, and whether or not it will be worth finishing them. First up on that list is My Dress-Up Darling, a show that has an extremely interesting concept, as it feels like a fairly unexplored angle given anime’s often self-referential culture. So, how does this show stack up so far?

Well, tbh, not great. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely want to like this series. As far as the character arcs are concerned, everything is going nicely. Gojo is set up as the weird, introverted kid with no sense of social awareness in contrast with Kitagawa, whose social life and friends, as far as Gojo is concerned, just seem to come naturally.

However, where I find myself wary of My Dress-Up Darling is in Gojo’s larger personality failures. This could honestly just be chalked up to personal preference, but something about how he is portrayed as a total loser is just kind of annoying at this point. The whole teasing trend across female main characters such as Uzaki and Nagatoro that has been rising in popularity recently just feels a bit antithetical to what its story is trying to accomplish.

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Gojo very obviously wants to enjoy a life in which other people accept him and his hobbies for what they are, and Kitagawa is an understanding person who does not know how to realize her hobbies. Thus, it feels a little weird to spend almost an entire episode just focusing on weird he feels about taking her measurements for an outfit.

Outside of that philosophical gripe, though, there is plenty of potential here. The animation and character designs are pretty as hell, with Kitagawa being the standout. Normally I would say anitwitter fawning over a character is unjustified, but in this case, it makes a lot of sense. Even the designs for the unnamed background characters stand out a lot more than in other shows, so points for that I guess.

The music overall feels pretty meh. While there is certainly no stand-out awful track, there is also nothing incredibly interesting either. The only exception to this is ED which I actually mess with quite a bit. Here is to hoping that it comes on streaming services soon.

Overall, while the series is, at least right now, being dragged down by a fairly awful second episode, it has plenty of room to bounce back. My recently having finished the second season of The Promised Neverland has left me without a lot of faith in Cloverworks, but hopefully, they can pull themselves back up and finish strong.


How do you all feel about My Dress-Up Darling? Let me know in the comments.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shoutout as always to our patron Jenn, the support is much appreciated!

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Blue Flag

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Romance in any genre is a really hard thing to get right, as there are so many considerations for what constitutes a good romance story. A romance that is straightforward might be labeled too earnest and simple, but one that is trying to weave together multiple character arcs over a short period could get written off as simply overdoing it. Characters that have one-dimensional motivations can come across as boring, but making them super idealistic and ambitious also comes across as a bit pretentious

Blue Flag somehow manages to circumvent all of this and is, without exaggeration, is one of the best romance stories I have consumed in a while. I said this about Golden Time as well back when I watched in the middle of last year, and I am being equally as sincere about Blue Flag. Idk what it is, but I guess I just managed to find all of the good stuff recently.

The story of this manga focuses on Taichi Ichinose, a high school student who finds himself suddenly reconnecting with his childhood best friend, Touma Mita as well as helping a fellow classmate, Futaba Kuze, get together with him. What both Taichi and Futaba do not know, however, is Touma’s secret romantic feelings for Taichi, along with Futaba’s best friend Masumi Itachi’s feelings for her. This love quadrangle only gets messier as time passes, and each of them is forced to make choices about their future.

LGBTQ+ Romance

As unfortunate as it is to say, there are very few stories period, let alone once in which the primary drive is romance, that handle queer relationships in a way that is not one-dimensional or fetishistic. After all, the mainstream view of these communities has and still is, very often clouded by stereotypes. While I imagine the context in modern Japan is probably at least somewhat different than our own, many of these stereotypes seem to be universal.

Thus, it was a wonderful surprise to read a story in which most of those problems are non-existent, in which the characters dealt with the idea of a same-sex couple in a way that was, maybe a bit outdated by today’s standards, but still a real scenario that many gay people go through. When I talked about Blue Period last week, I mentioned how the character of Yuka has been praised for being a non-binary character whose identity does not become her only focus.

What I appreciate is how Blue Flag has a similar dynamic with its characters. Though the comparison is not as one to one due to the identity of Toma and Taichi being very much the center of the story, it still feels as though they are treated as wholistic, independent characters even outside of their continually evolving and messy relationship.

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Handling Character Relationships

As I mentioned before, striking the right balance of having too many overly developed characters versus overly simplistic ones is a difficult task. I would argue that a story like Beastars, for example, for as rich as its attempts at world-building are, has far too many non-sensical plotlines to ever feel like a satisfying series. Granted, Beastars is not over yet, whereas Blue Flag is, but the point is there regardless.

Mangaka Kaito has a strong grasp of what it means to introduce a character. Not only does every character feel developed into their own person by the end of the series, but each one gets the chance to interact and understand the others across a cast of 10+ notable characters and a mere 54 chapters. This includes everyone, from the aforementioned main Quadrangle to Toma and Taichi’s extended friend circle.

The only exception to this is Taichi’s parents, and while it would have been interesting to weave in another backstory about Taichi through their perspective, doing so in a way that is forced or uninteresting could have also hurt the series, so I certainly do not blame the author for leaving them aside. One could also include Futaba’s relatives on that list, but I would argue that the small snippets Kaito does give us of her home life are sufficient to justify her character’s behavior.

Fantastic Artwork

As infrequently as I talk about manga, I usually avoid talking about the artwork at any great length because my repertoire for comparison is so laughably small. After all, what makes for good art in anime is not always the same as what makes for good art in manga. Still, I cannot help but sing Blue Flag’s praises in this regard as well.

The backgrounds, in particular, are worth pointing out, as no matter what location the characters are at, whether it be downtown Tokyo, high school, etc, there is almost always something to stop and look at. Even in the cases where the art takes a back seat to character interactions, such as the hijinks between Taichi and Futaba, it is done for comedic or dramatic effect. Thus, I would consider its artwork to be about as amazing as a manga can get.

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Playing with Perspective

Perspective is one of those literary tools that is always there for non-written mediums of entertainment but very rarely gets utilized in a way that feels at all innovative. The best example is obviously video games, in which the interactive nature of the medium invites a variety of different storytelling perspectives. Manga, meanwhile, is, by and large, a third-person medium, in which characters are seen only from an outsider’s view.

Blue Flag, however, remains unafraid of experimentation. While admittedly not utilized all that much, the series is still willing to take a look at people’s past through the lenses of those characters. Two great examples are the backstory chapters for both Touma and Taichi, where each one has the past revisited from the first-person perspective, which allows us to view the character’s past from their perspective.

In Taichi’s case, we get a view that is largely in the shadow of Touma, who was more popular and had more friends even in junior high. Even as he comes out of this shadow, and meets a girl not unlike Futaba, it is only so that she can confess to Touma. With Touma, we see, from his perspective, his household before and after the tragic accident involving his parents, and how that affects his relationship with others.

All of this is complemented by the way Kaito plays with a first-person perspective in the final chapter. Someone whose name is listed as Ichinose is invited to Futaba’s wedding some seven years later, but it is revealed later on that Taichi was at Yokki’s wedding which landed on the same day.

This combined with a cheekily placed shot of two people in suits holding hands, combined with the noticeable absence of Touma directly, tells us that it is in fact his perspective that the chapter is seen through. What is heavily implied throughout the entire series is revealed in a way that is both unique and playful, fitting the personality of the two main characters.

A Few Gripes…

The series did a lot right in terms of its story composition, character relationships, and artwork. however, there are a few things that I wish were done differently.

First, for as fantastic as the dialogue in the series can be, there are also times where it becomes a bit overbearing. This is most evident in the scenes with Mami and the other minor characters who talk… a lot. Though this is certainly in character for them, it does get a bit annoying when I have to squint just to read every word on the page while only a foot away from my computer. Luckily, these moments are much fewer and farther between, but still feel a tad too present.

Second, why Kaito decided to go as far as invoking child molestation to defend Kensuke’s terrible behavior towards Touma I will honestly never understand. I get that his beliefs are supposed to be irrational, and also that Kensuke himself is supposed to be stupid, but surely there was another way without legitimizing a terrible perspective like that, no?

Conclusion

While I do not know that I could say Blue Flag is perfect by any means, and some of its thematic elements do run up against cliche more often than not, it is, at least, great. What it lacks in grace and brevity it more than makes up for in solid pacing and amazing payoff. What is more, I can honestly see myself coming back to it in a few years as well. If you have yet to read this series, then I would say it is more than worth the two dollars a month from Viz for this series alone.


How do you feel about Blue Flag? Let me know in the comments below. As part of my new year’s resolution, I said that I would be putting out at least one video a month, and for this month, I’ll be revisiting The Promised Neverland, so stay tuned for that.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special thanks again to our Patreon member Jenn, it is greatly appreciated.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Komi Can’t Communicate

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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I think the thing that I enjoy most about slice-of-life comedies is that, well, there is no rush to be anywhere. In her video on Azumanga Daioh, YouTuber hazel discusses how, despite the lack of any overarching plot, the series still makes you care about its characters. Whether it be one of the main girls, or even one of the side characters three tiers removed, each of them comes into their own in some way. Ultimately, hazel describes the series as perfect, at least to her.

While I cannot say have anywhere near the same attachment to a series like Komi Can’t Communicate, it certainly does have its charms. The series stars its namesake character Komi as she begins her high school life. However, given her extreme social anxiety, she cannot talk to anyone, and yet everyone in her school treats her like a god. With the help of fellow classmate Tadano, Komi hopes to make many friends.

I Mean, What’s There to Say, Really?

The problem with talking about a series like Komi Can’t Communicate is that, well, there is not actually that much to dissect. A lot of what makes the series work is whether or not 1) one buys into its core premise, and 2) finds it funny enough to stick with for a whole 12 episodes. Otherwise, the show just kind of fails.

Ok, maybe that is a little harsh. After all, it does work for me. Part of that, I think, is the character of Komi herself. While I have never known anyone to be socially anxious to the point of literally being speechless, as an exaggerated metaphor for how it can be to go through high school without strong social skills, it works. I know I was definitely not one to make friends easily, and it was only after joining my high school newspaper that I made any significant friends and gained my confidence.

However, for people lacking those same experiences, the comedy might not hit in the same way. A large part of comedy is the subjective experiences that inform them, to begin with. In that respect, I think Komi covers just enough bases that even those outside its target audience will find something worth enjoying, assuming they stick around.

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So, Does She Actually Not Communicate?

Tadano, being the one who agrees to help her find friends, ends up being the other main character. The show itself describes him as agreeable, but ultimately dull and average. Now, as much as I can appreciate the self-insult, it does not change the fact that he is actually pretty uninteresting.

A lot of the jokes in the series are made at his expense but rarely do they ever lead to any significant changes in his character. In fact, most of the development he does go through in the series happens as a result of helping Komi make friends. Again, none of this is to say that having no overarching story is bad, far from it, but whereas Azumanga Daioh’s ending makes one feel connected to its cast, Tadano hardly inspires that same satisfaction.

The one exception to this is the burgeoning romance between him and Komi, and of course, by burgeoning I mean not at all and that Tadano is so slow in recognizing Komi is into him that they literally introduced a whole new character in the last three episodes of the first season to tell him how dumb he is. Honestly, now that I write that all out, it is really funny. Gotta hand it to the writers on that one.

The Side Characters

Despite Tadano being relatively uninteresting as the main character, there are others who pick up his slack. Najimi, Tadano’s childhood best friend and one of the first to befriend Komi, acts as a big chaotic neutral, mostly doing whatever seems fun at the moment and rarely thinks about the consequences.

Some of the best moments in the series actually come from a recurring bit with Najimi and Komi. Usually, this involves Najimi jokingly asking Komi to go get her something as a way of boosting her social skills, often giving her a complicated order, and Komi agreeing. Komi never actually comes back with the right thing of course, and the process itself often scares her half to death. However, it highlights both how carefree Najimi is and how hard Komi is working to communicate with other people.

Yamai is another character who is, well, also not funny. Her introductory episode involves her abducting Tadano for over a day, locking him in her room, and inviting Komi over to hang out. While I can certainly appreciate a good Yandere in specific contexts, comedy is not really one of them, as the joke usually just boils down to “tehe, I’m crazy.”

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The Last Five Minutes

While the last episode was, on the whole, nothing to write home about, the final bit was really thoughtful. It starts with the main characters singing Kareoke together to the show’s ending theme. Afterward, it cuts from credits back to a scene of Komi, alone in her room appreciating all of her classmates by writing down their names, with Tadano’s name placed squarely at the top of the list.

We then get a sequence of class 1-1 filming the outro sequence to the show, with Komi finally being able to say “Yoroshiku, Onegaishimasu,” which is a way of saying “I look forward to working with you,” or, less literally, “I hope we can be friends.” It then cuts to a black screen which dedicates the series to those with social anxiety. Though it does not make up for the more lackluster parts of the series, it was a pretty thoughtful ending and one that I appreciate.

Conclusion

To be frank, there are a lot of Slice of Life comedy series that I would go to before Komi Can’t Communicate. Horimiya, Chuunibyou, hell, I would even go as far back as School Rumble. Still, that does not mean there are no good qualities here. Komi is a likable enough walking metaphor, and seeing any potential development in her character is worth waiting for the second season.


How do you all feel about Komi Can’t Communicate? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shoutout to our Patreon supporter Jenn, it is greatly appreciated.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Battle of Fate/Discordia

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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Welcome, everyone. I have some important news I need to discuss with you. I, along with some blogging friends, have decided to do a bit of a role play in the style of a Fate/ battle royale, titled Fate Discordia. Now, being the competitive mf that I am, I would at least like to say that I did well. Thus, I need your help!

I, as a master, have called upon the servant of the caster class, Rembrandt. A master painter in his day, he wields the power of art, casting spells that reform the earth into his own image. If you want to read his full description, you can check out the document I made about him.

In order to help me win, I need people to vote for Rembrandt in this bracket-style tournament. You can vote on K at the Movies’ introductory post for the event, as well as in the Twitter poll linked below. Together, Rembrandt and I can win the holy grail!

Feel free to also vote on the other servants in that thread, as regardless of who wins, we want it to be a fun time. Thank you in advance, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow for a regularly scheduled post.


If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Blue Period

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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Announcer: “In a world-first achievement, which took all the strength and concentration he could possibly muster, Jack has finally finished a seasonal anime that he started watching!”

I know, I know, truly an incredible feat for someone as fickle about anime as myself. However, in all reality, given the overall quality of the series, finishing Blue Period was not difficult in the slightest. At least for me, this anime kind of came out of nowhere, and yet has somehow ended up as one of my favorites from last year. Still feels weird to say last year when I’m writing this three days into 2022…

Blue Period tells the story of Yatora Yaguchi, a straight-laced popular kid with good grades who is also a delinquent, as he spends most of his free time drinking with his friends and staying out late. Though he finds some happiness in setting up tasks and achieving them, a chance encounter with members of his high school art club ends up challenging his entire “practicality over everything” philosophy. All of sudden, the beauty Shibuya in the morning becomes an inspiration, rather than a passing note. Art, rather than making money, becomes Yatora’s focus.

What Does “Practical” Even Mean?

Something that I think informs a lot of the praise of this show is Yatora’s transformation as a character in the early parts of the series. Initially, Yatora’s entire mindset around his career choice is focused on not what will make him personally fulfilled, but rather what will ensure a stable job and money.

This is not to say that being concerned about those things is not important, especially in the context of growing up in a poor household. As someone who was born into a solidly upper-middle-class household with a lot of economic and social privileges that others simply did not or do not have, I can definitely understand how it might come off as a bit patronizing to tell someone without those same privileges to “just follow your dreams.”

Even more so than that, though, it feels like Yatora is not just concerned about getting a good job, but rather that his entire life has been dedicated to making others happy. This is so obvious to the other people that even Ryuuji “Yuka” Ayukawa, who in the beginning Yatora has a passing relationship with at best, is able to point this out.

While the dynamic is not exactly the same, as Japan seems to be far more conservative in this area, there are undoubtedly a lot of people, including myself, who grew up only ever worrying about other people, whether that be parents, friends, teachers, etc. The catharsis of living for yourself is truly a transformative one, and it is this same catharsis that makes Yatora such a compelling character.

Gender Identity in Blue Period

Blue Period‘s manga had its first English release back in October of 2020, and since then many have taken to talking about the character of Yuka, whose presence in anime series is also a welcome addition. The reason for the continuous discussion of their character is their designation as non-binary, something that, in the past, has very rarely come up in anime. Even in the situations where it did, it was usually as the butt of some painfully unfunny jokes about how ridiculous their characters are.

Even more impressive though is how Yuka’s character is treated as…well, normal. At no point in the anime does it ever feel like they are there solely as a way to check off some box for character diversity, and when struggles related to their gender do come up, it is treated with a level of maturity and seriousness that every other character in the series gets as well. What I have not seen as much of, though I will admit I could just be missing some important discussion, is how gender and career choices intersect in Blue Period‘s story.

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Like I discussed above, Yatora’s character early on is informed by a sense of social expectations which pressure him into orienting his career choices around that which is considered to be most financially stable. However, a smaller, though still important element, is the gendered expectations that people have of certain careers. This article from cultural anthropologist Jennifer Robertson talks in a good amount of detail about Japan’s history of gender-bending and reading it has revealed that there is a strong possibility that these gendered expectations are likely different in Japan than they are state-side.

Still, I cannot help but feel that the perceived effeminate nature of art becomes another point of confusion and fear in Yatora’s development as a character. He, having grown up as a seemingly conventionally attractive Japanese male, feels out of place in a space dominated by those who are different from the norm.

What is more, Yatora is not even the only example of gendered career expectations rearing their ugly head. Near the end of the series, one of his “delinquent” friends Koigakubo tells him that he wants to become a baker. Yatora is surprised, but ultimately supports him, having been through his own struggle with art and understanding that Koigakubo needs emotional support. Again, there is a challenge here because baking is often perceived as a more feminine career.

None of this is to say that gender expectations are a primary reason for the hesitancy these characters feel. However, I do think it is a sub-element that unconsciously heightens these fears.

Manga Discourse

I do not generally go into writing these posts trying to make enemies. My main goal has always been to talk anime in a way that highlights its literary significance and starts broader conversations. Still, after reading some reviews from those who are clearly very attached to the original manga, I felt it was worth addressing.

I have talked about it before, but part of what makes a good adaptation is recognizing when it is important to make changes. This also means knowing what details are and are not ok to leave out. As a reference, I went ahead and read the first chapter of the manga, which, and this is true, is not the same as reading the whole thing, I will admit. Here is the thing though: I still do not see what people are complaining about.

Yeah, there are some meaningful character details that get left out, like when Yatora’s friends pick up Sudama, only to tell him that he says “facts” in response to things way too much. However, nothing instrumental to Blue Period‘s identity is gone. If those who have read all of the manga have counterpoints that would prove me wrong, please feel free to leave them in the comments.

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A lot of the criticism, however, just feels like complaining for the sake of complaining. I understand having an attachment to a specific media property and not wanting some greedy corporation to mess it up. I doubt Percy Jackson fans are happy with how their movie adaptations were treated. What I do not understand is people going as far as saying Netflix’s anime adaptation is “soulless” and “lifeless,” like, did we watch the same show?

A World Full of Colors

One strict advantage that I would argue that the anime has even if it is a “bad adaptation” is the ability to see the works of its characters in full color. There is a lot of art that is done in black and white, and I am sure that most of the sketches in the series look just as fantastic in the manga. Composition is also a big part of painting, as the anime itself likes to reinforce time and time again. Seeing a painting in full color, though, gives the series an extra element of resolution, especially at the end of the second exam when Yatora’s piece is finally revealed.

Even outside of its art context, there are other elements that seeing a series in color can help articular. While his punk attitude certainly comes across clear as day in the manga, the addition of his bleached hair gives an extra bit of personality that would not be there otherwise.

Conclusion

While I certainly would not call it a masterpiece, I also cannot find much in the way of negativity to direct at Blue Period either. It is a series with a bright and colorful cast, with engaging, albeit sometimes not wholly plot-relevant, storylines and animation that helps to enhance its more visually intense scenes. Overall, this was an absolute treat and is definitely worth the time for those who have yet to see it.


How do you all feel about Blue Period? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shoutout to our patron Jenn for supporting us, it is greatly appreciated!

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Best of Us, The Worst of Us, The Lot of Us: Hidenori Gotou

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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Most will read the character name in that title and immediately think, “who?” This is a completely appropriate response, given that the character I am focusing on today is from Samurai Flamenco. One could be forgiven for not having heard of this series before today, as it was a seasonal series from back in Fall of 2013 that it seems like most people dropped after just a few episodes.

Which, given how Samurai Flamenco turned out…was probably the correct decision. It came out during a time when Isekai was just getting big and Japan was still trying to market superhero stories, and well, outside of break-through series like My Hero Academia, it is pretty easy to tell how that ploy worked out.

Even outside of general genre unpopularity, the series did not do itself any favors, as It feels as though director Takahiro Oomori and studio Manglobe were really asleep at the wheel. This is a real shame, considering Oomori also directed Durarara and Princess Jellyfish, two of my favorite series.

However, what makes Flamenco such as special case is not its subpar storytelling or pacing, but rather its characters and how it attempts to define what it means to be a hero. The most interesting of all its characters is not its primary main character, Samurai Flamenco. Rather, it is the even more wannabe hero: Hidenori Gotou

The main story of Samurai Flamenco stars Masayoshi Hazama, a male model who wants to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming a superhero. With the help of some crazy technology, he does so. However, local cop Gotou eventually finds out, but rather than turning him in, he decides to help Hazama in his endeavor…

And that is about as normal a description I can justify without underselling the series because believe me, it gets weird. What starts out as the hero Samurai Flamenco, alongside a group of idols, fighting petty criminals quickly escalates into life or death scenarios with actual supervillains. These supervillains not only have real powers but some end up threatening the safety of the entire planet.

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While its sense of scale and pacing are indeed incredibly terrible, it is those same qualities that make Gotou’s story possible. After the last major arc of the series, Hazama is forced to take on the task of helping Gotou himself. It is revealed near the end that the wonder cop’s girlfriend, which the show takes great care to depict him texting quite often, has actually been missing since high school. Thus, he has been texting himself as a way of coping with her loss.

What makes the arc even more perplexing is that despite how much the show sets up the reveal with tiny hints, it never becomes clear until exactly when his situation is revealed. Gotou, despite going along with the antics of his superhero partner, still remains the most stable throughout most of the show. That is, until the end.

After this information about his girlfriend comes out, Gotou breaks down. What’s worse, Haiji, one of the main villains of the series, comes back and uses this information to torture him, kidnapping him and deleting all of the text messages he sends his “girlfriend.” The show ends in a slightly predictable fashion, with Hazama defeating Haiji and rescuing Gotou, but that is really it. Despite the now loved and appreciated Samurai Flamenco saving the day, it never feels like a victory, as Gotou experience is one of immense trauma.

Superhero stories in anime, despite their scattered presence, have always been incredibly fascinating compared to their western counterparts. There are some that attempt to copy the traditional formula, like Marvel Future Avengers, which attempts to tell a pretty by the comics rendition of the popular franchise. My Hero Academia takes a more centrist philosophical position in its assertion that peace and justice are the most important elements of a heroic society.

Tiger and Bunny has a much more radical perspective. It depicts a superhero society in which the primary motive for justice exists not in and of itself, as one might expect, but rather built on the profit motive of large corporations who sponsor particular heroes.

What separates Gotou as a character, as well as Samurai Flamenco as a whole, is its willingness to deconstruct the identity of a hero. Rather than defaulting to superheroes as the good guys, it takes a broader look at their existence in relation to the traditional systems of criminal justice. On a more personal level, a hero is not only someone who helps others, but often someone who has suffered great loss, persisting despite whatever failings they perceive themselves to have.

To put it a bit more bluntly, Gotou suffers most of the series because he blames himself for his girlfriend’s disappearance. What his arc in Samurai Flamenco ultimately argues is that, sometimes, people need to be saved not just from the threat of physical harm, but from the mental and emotional damage of their own past. Whether or not that idea is good or not is a much larger argument that I do not believe I would do much justice in this article, but considering these perspectives is nonetheless important.


How do you all feel about the character of Gotou, or about Samurai Flamenco in general? Let me know in the comments.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shoutout to our Patreon Jenn for their continued support! As always, it is greatly appreciated.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Chainsaw Man Part 1

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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While I did not list it as one of my goals for the year, I would like to read more manga in 2022, if for nothing else than to gain a bit more perspective on upcoming releases and get ahead of the curb in discussing them. Though this series finished in late 2020, it is still making waves both for how popular its manga is and because its anime adaptation is on the horizon.

During a trip to visit my grandmother over the holidays, I decided, “eh why not?” I paid my $2 a month for Viz and binged most of Chainsaw Man in a few days. I returned home shortly afterward, only to finish the series the following evening. So, what does Chainsaw Man‘s manga have to say for itself?

What in the Everloving Fu-

Chainsaw Man, for the uninitiated, focuses on an orphan boy named Denji, who, after losing his family, befriended a chainsaw devil named Pochita. Fast forward a few years, and Denji is working for the yakuza killing other devils for money. Just as he is starting to feel content with the world, he is tricked, and the Yakuza figure he worked for is now himself a demon set out on destroying the young boy. Denji, on the brink of death, is given a new heart in the form of Pochita, and gains strange new powers. He is now Chainsaw Man.

If that was not enough, it gets even crazier, as Denji eventually meets Makima, one of the heads of the Public Safety Bureau, along with some of the other Bureau members, such as Aki, Power, Kobeni, and Himeno. The initial chapters move at a fairly brisk pace as far as advancing the overall story. Fast enough, in fact, that even Denji as a character is having a hard time really absorbing everything that is going on. In a matter of days, he goes from living in poverty to having what seems like a middle-class job in which he makes real money.

Btw, if it was not made clear already, this show is about devils. Hunting devils, becoming devils, and often working alongside as well as making contracts with them. Denji, armed with the abilities of the chainsaw devil, has gained the attention of Makima (and later many others). Thus, she takes good care to keep an eye on him. The way the series just throws the audience into Denji’s world without much explanation feels fairly emblematic of its overall storytelling philosophy.

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Yes, There is a lot of Blood

Though Chainsaw Man certainly has a lot of fast-paced, 1v1 fight scenes that are typical of actions series, its approach to violence and the depiction thereof is decidedly more horror. If the literal devils did not tip people off, the show has no problem giving a ton of unhealthy reminders. In this manga, it could be argued that the gore involved in each fight is as much a storytelling device as it is an aesthetic choice.

Part of this is fairly direct, as it is noted early on that demons need to drink blood to replenish their strength. A good example comes during one of the earlier fights in the series, where Denji, having been betrayed by Power as food for a bat devil, is now forced to rescue them from his stomach. Thus, the only thing he can do is cut open his stomach using his unique powers.

Part of this, at least, is mitigated by the black and white nature coloring of traditional manga, which is to say nothing of mangaka Tatsuki Fujimoto’s extreme eye for detail in a lot of panels. In many of Chainsaw Man‘s fight scenes, Fujimoto takes great care to make sure that the people reading can remember individual demons based on their…insides.

Sex! That’s it, That’s the Joke.

In much the same way as violence and gore, sex often becomes a core aesthetic and thematic part of what makes this story work. Denji, a 16-year-old with a healthy libido, is constantly thinking about sex. At first, he merely wanted to touch a pair of boobs, but after feeling up Power and realizing that there was something special missing from his experience, Denji realizes that he also wants a sense of intimacy with Makima.

By the same token, many of the women in Chainsaw Man use sex as a means of controlling Denji. Again, this is primarily the case with Makima, but Power and Rize do engage in this behavior as well. In Power’s case, it happens when she tricks Denji into saving her cat, and in Rize’s, she simply wants his literal, and for a period metaphorical, heart. Denji is thus both the end and a means to an end at the same time, both himself and also Chainsaw Man. He is continually confronted with the idea that these two people are, in fact, different people.

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The Point, Please?

I am getting there, jeez. Ok, so Denji is a half human/devil hybrid who is hired by a secretly very shady organization to help kill rogue devils and whose members occasionally make contracts with devils which the humans then use to help kill more rogue devils and-yeah ok I have lost myself. So, does it mean anything?

As Esoteric as a task it is to try and find meaning in a gore-filled nonsense-fest like Chainsaw Man, I do think it can be done. Regardless of the arc, the primary focus of the series never ceases to be Denji, the one who uses the heart of a devil. He goes from just a homeless kid barely scraping by with pocket change to having not only money and food but friends who genuinely care about his well-being. When we consider this change in ascent, along with Denji’s character, the focus of the manga becomes apparent.

Denji is not only playing himself but is rather a symbol of those affected by cruel and unyielding social, economic and political systems. This central idea is further reinforced in other parts of the manga. In one scene where Denji is talking to Rize, she emphasizes that Denji having never been to public school, along with his current arrangement at the public safety bureau, is both out of the ordinary and also incredibly “messed up.”

While it is true that the primary reason Rize says this is because she wants to lour Denji away from the other devil hunters, her underlying shock is totally justified. After all, while fighting devils may still be a reality for many people in this universe, that does not excuse the moral dilemma of not having a basic K-12 education.

Conclusion

Chainsaw Man, in a lot of ways, is just an excuse to be transgressive around the amount of physical violence people are willing to accept in their storytelling. More than that, though, it is a story about the human experience, one which tells us that, no matter how evil an act, it can be no more evil than the worst immorality of all: taking away someone’s human element. In that way, it is a phenomenally entertaining series that it feels fair to say many will enjoy.


Have you read Chainsaw Man? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shoutout to our Patron Jenn for the continued support!

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Why Everyone Should Watch AnoHana…at Some Point

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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Some of my readers might remember that I spent most of late last year during quarantine with one of the most famous, or infamous depending on one’s perspective, dramas in all of anime: AnoHana. I genuinely enjoyed my rewatch of the series and although I do not think it to be as good as I did before, that is not the same as saying it is bad, far from it. My last post focused on anime that inspires hope or at least warmer feelings than in most of AnoHana. Given just how heavy the series is, it is not a show one can just pick up and enjoy at any time, as I discuss in this article. I hope you enjoy it!


Welcome back, tourists

These last few months have been something of a journey for me, in more ways than one. While navigating classes and trying to keep my head above water, I decided to rewatch what is probably one of the saddest anime of all time, “Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai,” better known as just “AnoHana.”

A bold claim, I know, as there are some pretty compelling entries, like “Your Lie in April,” “A Silent Voice,” and even some shows that are not intentionally appealing to drama conventions like “Samurai Flamenco.” However, aside from coming out before all of these, “AnoHana” strikes a certain cord that it feels as though most can relate to right now.

The story of “AnoHana” begins with a disheveled Yadomi waking up to find the ghost of his childhood friend sleeping next to him. Due to having removed himself from his own daily life, such as going to school, work, etc, Yadomi assumes he is having some kind of tired delusion. But, as he will soon come to realize, Menma has come back in a grown-up form so that Yadomi can grant her wish. 

In a time like now, where everything that was once thought stable has ruptured, where people are facing down a deadly pandemic and massive political shifts, it is good to have a show that serves as a reminder of the preciousness and fragility of life. 

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Additionally, “Anohana” also depicts the effect that trauma from the loss of a loved one can have on the mental health of those around them, as we see nearly all of the characters affected by Menma’s loss in some way or another, even after nearly a decade without her. 

Aside from its scarily relevant-to-today message, the series is also just phenomenally written. Its attention to detail when it comes to the arcs of each character is impressive, and it shows in how that care plays out in the most dramatic scenes. 

A good example of this comes from about halfway through the series, when, after collapsing during work, the character of Anjo admits to Yadomi that she was happy when Menma died as a kid because she liked him a lot and that he should stop bringing up Menma because she is not real. It is an extremely honest moment that builds on both Anjo’s still unrequited love of Yadomi and her ugly jealousy of the late Menma. 

Admittedly, though, it is hard to recommend anyone watch anything with that level of emotionality during a time like now. I can say personally that it was not easy rewatching a show with “AnoHana’s” level of emotional power. 

So, I will say this. Whether it is a year from now, five, or even 10, this is a series that is absolutely worth watching for the first time. It is probably worth revisiting if you have seen the series already like myself. I wanted to end on something a bit more profound, but I think the most important thing to take away is this: it is okay to cry.


How do you all feel about AnoHana? Let me know in the comments below. Also, Animated Observations is currently running a survey to gather opinions on the content we put out here, so if you have a few minutes and are willing to help out, it would be greatly appreciated.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

Check out my writing blog, Solidly Liquid!

Special shoutout to Jenn for continuing to support the blog, much appreciated.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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