Tag Archives: Feature

A New Friend? Old Lovers? Welcome Back, Alice Vol. 4

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Forget rollercoasters, Welcome Back, Alice is turning into the whole damn amusement park, but not necessarily in a bad way. Every other page is a new layer of drama and internal debate that is seemingly driving these characters insane…ok, maybe it is not that hyperbolic, but it is definitely getting interesting.

Volume four sees the continued aftermath of Yohei’s…intimate outing with Mitani having gone wrong from the last volume. Kei, rather than being upset, not only emotionally supports him but makes him feel better in other ways. The two go back to having a normal relationship, at which point a new potential friend comes into the fray. Mitani must now deal with her own insecurities once again.

Mitani and Yohei’s Complications

Speaking of Mitani’s insecurities, it makes sense for this volume to start at the end, where Mitani, after feeling bad about not getting intimate with Yohei the first time due to his seeming lack of attraction to her, decides to whisk him away after school and try again. The two “do the do,” and Yohei leaves feeling… disappointed.

At this point in the story, it is clear that his emotional investment is with Kei, and sex with Mitani feels like a betrayal of their newly restored relationship, especially after their own episode at the beginning of the novel. However, despite Mitani coercing our awkward protagonist into sex, there is a lot more going on here.

In this situation, she feels bad about not being able to get him hard, because attraction and being erect are automatically linked, which is not necessarily the case a hundred percent of the time. As a result, she feels a need to rectify the situation by trying again, even to Yohei’s and her own discomfort. It creates yet another situation where no one has any absolute moral authority.

The Fourth?

One of the critiques about Kei that stuck with me from initial impressions of the series is about how the character ultimately does embody a lot of hypersexual stereotypes about queer people. Though that is still true to an extent, it is a problem that could be addressed later down the line, either with a serious transformation in Kei’s character or another queer character.

It is unclear whether Ren is actually going to be that, though their mentioning of “understanding Kei’s feelings” on gender issues certainly points in that direction. Still, even if it ends up not being the case, adding a fourth does create new possibilities for potential dynamics, some romantic, some platonic, and even some purely plot-related.

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As of right now, though, it is still mostly speculation outside of her one conversation with Yohei, and also the fact that she saw Yohei and Mitani leave school together. You know, small stuff.

Also, a small addendum: I talked in the last post about how Yohei and Mitani refer to Kei with he/him pronouns, but Ren’s character still uses she/her. This leads me to believe that, rather than Oshimi not understanding non-binary identity, it is more the other characters who are purposely written to do so. It sounds stupidly obvious in hindsight, but given that no other character had previously done this, I had little reason to believe otherwise.

Feelings

The big contrasting element of the story so far is just how much Kei cares for Yohei, but also how much Yohei’s actions seem to waver despite similar feelings for Kei. People who have also read the series or those who have been following my posts on this series might be asking “but isn’t that the entire point?” to which I would answer, “well, yeah.”

I point it out only to further emphasize just how interesting the series writing really is. Despite the two internally wanting to be together, there is a lot of obvious tension in how Yohei is being pressured away from Kei, both in an abstract societal sense but also in a more tangible, immediate social sense by himself and others.

I also point this out because volume four is the last volume currently available in English, and based on when the others were released it seems like there will be at least another few months before the next one comes out.

Predictions

Whatever interaction the cliffhanger was leading on is probably going to be important. Wild guess, I know, but at this point, it is hard to say anything concrete. Ren feels like they are going to be pretty important as well, but in what sense I do not have a clue.


How do you all feel about Welcome Back, Alice? 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.

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: Cowboy Bebop

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This is honestly a long time coming, by which I mean literally three years since I started the series with my dad back before the pandemic. Unfortunately, we never finished it together, but it was easy to tell even back then that this was indeed a special series, and one that, for the most part, deserved continued praise after all these years.

Luckily, though, a friend of mine from high school was willing to rewatch the series with me, which gave me a great opportunity to start over again and take it all in. So, what did this revolutionary space western have to offer?

Oh, right, my bad. For the uninitiated, Cowboy Bebop tells a story set in the early 2070s, when space travel has become a regular part of life. However, given the sheer volume that governments would have to cover, they have instead found it easier to police the endless bounds of space with private bounty hunters, of which our protagonists Spike and Jet are involved. The series explores their journey in a mostly episodic fashion, eventually picking up the dangerously beautiful Faye, a young computer genius in Edward, and a man’s best friend in Ein, a smarter-than-average dog.

Bebop’s Aesthetic and Storytelling

Critics in the past have talked about the so-called “rule of cool” in relation to Bebop, often defined as a show’s ability to generate a feeling of sustained badassery based on the combination of certain elements. While Bebop certainly is cool, and I do not disagree with that characterization, it does feel like it is selling the show short, in a way.

Part of the implication when invoking the “rule of cool” is that the coolness is making up for lackluster elements. In this case, it seems that criticism is most often directed at the show’s laid-back, episodic storytelling in a way that feels undeserved. After all, a show tending toward episodic elements does not automatically mean the writing is not there to support it.

Many of Bebop‘s more self-contained moments could be argued as some of the best television of all time. Episode 20, “Pierrot le Fou” provides an incredibly transgressive story about the mind of a serial killer and implicitly comments on Spike’s willingness to die when he goes after the killer despite escaping from him previously. The imagery of the episode is as much psychedelic as it is psychological, contrasting the horrific imagery of a darkened amusement park with a sterile testing facility in Pierrot’s flashback.

“Hard Luck Woman,” the precursor to the show’s two-part finale, sees Faye dealing with finally understanding her past and remembering who she was before waking up from her preservation. It is an emotionally vulnerable, and at points lonely, episode that sets the tone for the conclusion to come.

Now, this is not to say every episode is perfect. For as cool as the concept of space truckers might sound, “Heavy Metal Queen” did not contribute as unique a feeling as some of the other episodes, and probably would not noticeably affect the show’s pacing if it were skipped. However, the episodic nature of Cowboy Bebop does fit its overall themes and ethos, where life is taken one journey at a time and is ultimately there to be enjoyed, despite the ragged conditions one must get through to do so.

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Ok But Spike is Cool as Fuck

as is everyone else on the cast, and yes Edward is included in that. While she may be very obviously comic relief, she adds a dimension of quirkiness and even personal struggle toward the end of the series that helps balance the cast from being too laid back. If there’s one thing I have learned from listening to a lot of emo and trap-leaning hip-hop, it is that sounding deadpan and uncaring does not automatically equal cool.

Spike is indeed laid back in a lot of areas, but he is also fairly quick to anger. He tries to be suave and to most people probably comes off as quite the lady killer, but to the rest of the crew, he’s a bit of a dumbass with a past that often leaves a lot more questions than answers.

Faye often feels like his foil in that regard, positing herself as the sensual, mature woman of the group but is just as scared if not more so about the events surrounding her past. Her con-artistry makes her hard to trust from Spike and Jett’s perspective, at least at first. However, as the group collects more bounties together, it is clear that a bond of some kind forms, whether or not they want to admit it, and clearly they do not.

Jett, meanwhile, is the actual calm and collected one…most of the time. This is, in part, because he arguably gets the least developed in the series. Then again, that is not saying much because even the least developed character across this cast still contains metric tons more personality than your average isekai protagonist. His development, too, is often tied to elements of his past, such as reuniting with his ex Alissa in “Ganymede Elegy” or his daughter’s friend in “Boogie Woogie Feng Shui.”

I guess technically Ein is “the least developed character,” but even then, 1. he’s a dog that cannot communicate linguistically whatsoever, and 2. the series puts in enough effort that even his attachment to Edward before she leaves the ship becomes readily apparent. Overall, the cast exudes personality in a way that not only makes them feel like individuals but counterbalances them against everyone else.

Yoko Kano and The Seatbelts

Music is a big part of Cowboy Bebop. The episode titles which I have thus far been referencing, along with all of the series’s episode titles, reference either famous musical concepts or famous songs. Most recognizable of these are “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Honky Tonk Women.

The show pays tribute to a lot of different musical styles, not just in the episode titles but in the music itself. Yoko Kano has been dubbed one of the best anime composers but many, including myself, and one of the primary reasons for that is her work on Cowboy Bebop. Specifically, in her recruitment and formation of The Seatbelts, a Japanese jazz-rock band, specifically for this series.

The group is not only responsible for one of the best anime openings in “Tank,” but for many of the musical pieces found throughout. Of course, credit must also go to various other collaborators who contributed to the series’ musical success including Steve Conte and Mai Yamane.

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Cowboy Bebop’s Animation Stands the Test of Time

It is easy enough to take a random show from the 90’s and compare it to something from now and say, “the 2023 anime looks better.” Sure, fair enough. I myself am pretty hypocritical in this way when it comes to video game graphics and not wanting to play “older-looking” series despite gameplay or storytelling being equally as good if not better than the stuff I am playing now.

Cowboy Bebop is the anime equivalent of that. Despite looking and feeling like a 90s anime, that is basically the worst one could say about it. The animation is fluid and fast-paced in a way that honestly could still go toe to toe with stuff coming out this year. However, characters and backgrounds also remain expressive even when not much is actually moving in any given scene.

The show also knows how to be experimental. The previously mentioned episode “Pierrot le Fou” has some of the most expressive animation of any series I have seen in a hot minute. Though a bit less experimental in terms of pure animation, the episode “Toys in the Attic” plays with horror in a similar way, one that incorporates common fears about space and aliens and makes the antagonist truly terrifying in its movement.

Conclusion

Look, I am not here to tell you that Cowboy Bebop is the best anime ever and that newer anime suck in comparison, far from it. In fact, because of how much hype the show had going into it, I was ready to be even more critical than I usually am. Still, some things are classics for a reason. It is by no means perfect, and definitely some more questionable storylines from a 2023 perspective. However, the parts that work do so incredibly well.

93/100


How do you all feel about Cowboy Bebop? 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting the blog on Patreon

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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Feeding the Flames

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Welcome back, everyone, to Feeding the Flames. For those unfamiliar, this is my totally original series where I share some nonsense takes of mine and see how people react. If you feel strongly about any of these takes, feel free to debate them with me in the comments. Anyway, here are my garbage opinions.

Most of the Fate/ franchise is mid

Don’t get me wrong, Fate/Zero is still probably a top 10-20 anime of all time, and for what it is worth, I think the Fate/Stay Night remake still gets a bit too much hate, but almost everything which is not related to the three routes from the original visual novel is pretty meh. I get that people still like the characters and so more content is always welcome, but on a storytelling and animation basis, it does not hold a candle to what the best of the franchise has produced.

My Hero Academia is at its peak

Season two is probably when most people became interested in the anime, and for what it is worth, it is genuinely compelling. However, I would argue that the most recent season of the anime adaptation is the best the series has been thus far. Though giant battle scenes are nothing knew in action anime, they do allow for a diverse array of perspectives, and character development along with it. I probably would not have even remembered Mirko exists let alone cared about her as a character if it were not for the insane fight sequences that open up the season. Deku seems to be a weak-point for a lot of people when it comes to MHA, but the show also seems to be clearing that up a lot with this season.

Most JRPG’s are way too damn long

Don’t get me wrong, the feeling of sinking a lot of time into a series and having it pay off can certainly be its own kind of reward. However, part of me is also incredibly cynical and thinks that most of the time those series never really earn their long run. A lot of this has to do with really unrewarding side quests or open words that don’t actually have much filling them. It is one thing to have a longer story or gameplay experience that is worth sharing, it is another entirely to pad game time with useless assets and boring, unimportant characters.

Dr. Pepper

This is not at all related to anime, video games or whatever, I just want it to be known that I drink the superior soda #notsponsoredbutwouldbe.

The isekai crash is coming (at least I hope so)

The amount of dime a dozen, caught in the same generic video game fantasy world and then become the most op character in a matter of an episode or less dreck that is just commonplace among anime seasons now is frankly a bit disheartening. It is hard to imagine how many more interesting stories are getting passed up because studios, however justified the fear may be, are choosing “safer” options. Predicting trends is hard, but I do hope something changes relatively soon.


Have some hot takes of your own? Let me know down 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon.

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 Place Where Shame Goes to Die: Welcome Back, Alice Volume Three

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It seems as though a lot of questions from the last volume have been answered relatively quickly, but maybe that is a bad thing? or maybe it is a good thing and I am just using that sentence structure for rhetorical effect. Either way, let’s talk about it.

In volume three of Welcome Back, Alice, Yohei finally gets what he wants. At least, Yohei gets what he thought he wanted in his relationship with Mitani. However, her prohibition on interacting with Kei at all leaves him with a seemingly much stronger yearning for his childhood friend. Mitani, meanwhile, deals with her own insecurities, most stemming from Kei’s transition, and largely takes it out on her new boyfriend.

Kei’s Identity

Something I have noticed, which was also pointed out by the “Reception” section of the manga’s Wikipedia page, is that Kei’s identity as non-binary feels…well, dismissed. Sure, it is true that everyone, except Yohei and Mitani, is pretty excepting of Kei’s identity in a way that feels genuine.

However, the use of “he” by every character other than Kei kind of undermines that identity and the whole mission statement of the series. Up until this point I had been using “they” to address Kei as a character, which felt more correct given the initial volume. Kei himself says explicitly that he does not identify as a guy.

I do not mean to come across as quick to label the series “problematic,” because that is not my intention. However, it does feel like a big oversight on Oshimi’s part, one that ultimately serves to weaken the message of the story by placing Kei back in the masculinity that he explicitly rejects at the start of his introduction.

Mitani and Heterosexual Attraction

The more of this series I read, the more my theory about Oshimi’s writing style feels correct. If Kei represents a sort of radical sex and queer positive life that might be better for Yohei, Mitani very much represents traditional heterosexuality, with all the pros and cons that come with that.

On the one hand, being with Mitani means Yohei will not have to worry about being judged by his peers. His life remains stable but is maybe not be what he truly wants. On the other, a relationship with Kei comes with the societal stigma of Kei’s identity (and maybe his own but that remains to be seen) but ultimately still feels like the choice that will make him happiest.

There is also a sense of betrayal and manipulation that comes with their newfound relationship. When Yohei tries to kiss Mitani and is rejected, she admits that “[she] thought she could love [him],” implying that her confession was more a way to drive a wedge between him and Kei. The whole thing feels messed up in a way that represents the toxicity present in a lot of heterosexual relationships.

Decision Point

Yohei is clearly under a lot of pressure in the context of the story. Navigating relationships, especially romantic ones that challenge societal norms, is not always the easiest task to handle mentally. However, as mentioned before, he is presented with a serious decision to make.

At the risk of making too many comparisons. the setup is fairly similar to The Flowers of Evil. Both main characters are forced to comply with a set of socially acceptable boundaries, for they risk revealing something that society might deem disturbing. Both even go as far as to comment on young male sexuality. However, Welcome Back, Alice feels more purposeful in its attempts to do so.

Predictions

At this point, it feels hard to say what will happen. Oshimi tends to make pretty sudden plot-related shifts. Still, it seems as though whatever decision Yohei is planning on making, romantically at least, will probably happen in the next volume. If it does not, however, it will likely mean some serious social consequences.


How do you feel about Welcome Back, Alice? 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon

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: Spy x Family

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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“huh, I never thought I’d get this far” -Plankton

Well, it has been less than a month, and I have already covered or started covering most of the stuff I wanted to since coming back. On top of that, being four-plus weeks late on seasonal stuff means now is as good a time as any to go through some of the stuff I wasn’t able to talk about in 2022. With that being said, Spy x Family

Yor Forger

The show’s first cour was a lot of fun, and there really was not a ton to complain about outside of Yor feeling a bit less developed as a character than Loid or Anya. On that front…well, actually, Idk. Yor definitely did get some moments in the season’s second half, but it felt like a lot of those moments were connected to Loid or Anya as opposed to the fact that she is an assassin, a fact that feels continually lost outside of some recurring bits or an occasional laugh.

My expectation, maybe wrongfully placed, was that her assassin job would start to come into conflict with the family dynamic, even if only as a minor plot point in an episode or two. However, that simply is not the case, and it makes Yor feel a bit more like a supporting character than one of the main ones. This is not to her screen time is unenjoyable, only that she feels a bit forgotten about.

The Goodest of Boys

Granted, a lot of the reason for Yor’s lack of focus probably has to do with the introduction of Bondman, Anya’s adopted pet whose introduction takes up three episodes. Again, not complaining, since he feels right at home (literally and metaphorically) with the rest of the family.

His ability to predict the future due to the numerous scientific experiments performed on him by the government gives the series an interesting new dynamic, one that even saves Yor’s life due to Anya’s having read his mind. Bondman is also just goofy and funny in a way that adds a lot to the show’s comedic bits.

Romantic Rivalry

One more important introduction during this season is Fiona, another spy from Loid’s agency who also just happens to be madly in love with him. This is so much the case that she attempts to take Yor’s place in the mission to contact Desmond, which fails miserably and hilariously multiple times.

The two also go on a mission towards the end of the season to recover an important piece of art and the whole time she is just fawning over him, barely paying attention to the mission. It was the biggest example of the “does he know” meme but in an anime, which, again, contributed to the comedic elements of the series.

The Climax

Spy x Family ends the season with Loid’s first interaction with Desmond, brought about by Damian’s desire to see him after being stuck in school for the whole year. Of course, the risk of being found out as a spy by a member of the Ostanian government makes the who situation feel as tense as it probably should.

The series spends a lot of time building up Desmond as this monster who cannot be stopped. Thus, when Loid interacts with him in person, there is a sense of who he really is, a stuffy, rich government official who feels as suffocating as the evil he represents.

Conclusion

Most of my feelings about part one carry over here: The show is well-animated with beautiful action scenes, the music still slaps (including the new opening and ending), and the show has a great balance between comedy and serious moments that don’t feel the need to constantly overtake one another. Thus, my comments here are fairly limited. For those who have yet to watch one of the most hyped-up shows of the last few years, give it a chance, because it does live up.

85/100


How do you all feel about Spy x Family? 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon.

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: Naoki Urasawa’s Monster

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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(Spoilers for the first for episodes, so if you want to go in blind feel free to click off).

Going into a series with a lot of critical acclaim can sometimes be nerve-wracking, not because I care about having the “wrong” opinion or whatever, but more because it feels like I might be missing something that would significantly affect my enjoyment of the series way or another. With the anime adaptation of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, however, I do not really get that feeling. What makes the series the incredibly nerve-wracking psychological thriller it is known to be is very much self-contained, in a way that often makes one feel like they are there watching the events of the story in person.

For those unaware, Monster tells the story of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a genius neurosurgeon who moved to Germany from Japan in order to study medicine. However, his fairly cushy life goes from looking up to depressing when defying the orders of his hospital director/future father in law leaves him without his position as the head of neurosurgery and the ire of the other doctors at the hospital. What is worse, the patient he chose to save when defying said orders turns out to be a serial killer, one who seems likely to haunt him.

One thing that stands out about this series is how terrifying the atmosphere can be at times. The show uses a lot of muted colors in order to create a feeling of stuffiness which is often associated with hospitals, which is where much of the opening episodes take place. However, this also has the affect of drawing attention to colors when they do appear, such as with blond hair and the uniforms of police. This makes it more likely that people will focus on certain characters, such as Johan.

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Speaking of Johan, though I cannot speak to the strength of his motivations for becoming a serial killer, it is a fascinating development. Dr. Tenma, for better or for worse, made what he thought was a moral decision that ultimately came back to bite him. In fact, the name Monster along with the series general setting and aesthetic feels reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in a way that feels too intentional to be coincidence. Not a direct allusion, per say, but certainly an interesting nod to the classic western novel.

Dr. Tenma, meanwhile, at least at this point in the story, feels like an unfortunate victim. After all, how was he supposed to know that saving a kid and then getting angry at his fellow co-workers was going to result in a home-grown murderer? Going back to the Frankenstein comparison, he very much feels like a modern interpretation of Victor, someone who is trying to do right by others but ends up making a terrible decision in the pursuit of morality. Though, Tenma almost certainly deserves this less than Victor did his punishment.

Seeing the politics of the hospital was also fairly interesting as well. It is clear that the director, before he dies anyway, only cares about himself. The same is also true of his daughter and Tenma’s ex-fiancĂ© Eva, who seems to be coasting through life off of her father’s success. Despite the fact that Tenma is innocent, his connection to Johan puts that innocence in question, given that he does have a motive for killing the director and the other doctors.

The show is in a great place, both stylistically and narratively. Even though it has only been four episodes for me, I can certainly understand why this series has been given so much praise in the past. From what I have read, however, it does not seem as though Netflix has the full series just yet, so it might be a while before I do actually finish it. Still, it will probably be worth the wait.


How do you feel about Naoki Urasawa’s Monster? Let me know down 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting the blog on Patreon.

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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Decisions and Thrills: Welcome Back, Alice Vol. 2

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First off, I want to say it was a good idea to let this series grow a bit more before writing it off entirely. Whereas the opening chapters are a bit more based on the shock value and spectacle of Kei’s character, the chapters in volume two get much more into the meat and potatoes of the overall story.

Volume two focuses largely on the aftermath of Yohei and Mitani’s meeting with Kei at their apartment. Yohei has clearly developed what he considers to be complicated feelings as Kei, at least in his mind, is still a guy. Mitani seems to have the same complicated feelings and even admits to him that she still has some residual attraction to Kei. However, Yohei is still attracted to Mitani, creating a weird, dishonest love triangle that feels destined to fail.

Oshimi as a Writer

I mentioned near the end of my discussion of volume one that the main trio of Welcome Back, Alice felt like characters that were purposely written to embody certain stereotypes. While I do still feel that is the case, it feels a bit incomplete as an analysis. Rather, it is much more accurate to say that Oshimi’s characters are often inhabited as much by concepts as they are personalities. At least, it feels like this is the case more so than with other authors.

Taking Yohei as the easiest example, his character feels very much like a teenage boy, at least as far as his personality is concerned. However, he also represents what it means to be an average Japanese teenager raised in a heteronormative environment. Kei makes him uncomfortable not just because they have a tendency to violate personal space rather quickly, but because their identity is fundamentally at odds with Yohei’s limited worldview.

Yohei spends the entirety of the volume grappling with both the character of Kei as well as the concept of a deconstructing gender binary, as well as what it means for those who were close friends to socially transition. Oshimi does a lot of similar things in The Flowers of Evil and the opening chapters of Inside Mari, as well. Although, dissecting those would just make this unreadably long, so I will save that for another post.

A Tendency for Thrills

This idea of characters embodying concepts also contributes well to the author’s affinity for psychological thriller-style stories. In a way, it reminds me a lot of the way Jordan Peele has tackled concepts surrounding black identity in his more recent movies, like Get Out, Us, or Nope. Both writers utilize characters to their fullest, not just as the basis for interpersonal conflict but as a bulwark for ideas they wish to discuss.

This is not to say that all of these properties have the same sense of scale or stakes. I know this might be a stretch, but gender, sexual orientation, and racism are all, in fact, different concepts. Additionally, all of them present unique problems under which the characters themselves are forced to make decisions. However, it is interesting to see two different writers with vastly different social and cultural experiences tackle ideas in a similar way.

Yohei’s Decision

Bringing the discussion back to the series itself, I do love the way this volume ends. Chapter 10 sees Yohei make a choice: Be with Mitani, the thing he has wanted for literal years, but at the cost of not being able to hang out with Kei. Yohei, not realizing Kei was hiding in their closet while he confessed inside their apartment, seems to immediately regret his decision. He is not entirely sure about his feelings and is put in a scenario where he has to make a rather absolute decision.

This is where Mitani’s character becomes a lot more interesting. Rather than accepting Kei’s new identity, she opts to use Yohei’s very obviously conflicted feelings against him as a way of spiting Kei. Kei has similar romantic feelings for Yohei, but, as demonstrated by their conversation before he arrives, has a different view of what it means to love someone.

Predictions

Much like last time, I do not have any strong predictions. However, my hope is that Oshimi will continue to respect the weight of the topics he is grappling with, which, from his author blurbs at the end, seems likely.


Have you read any Welcome Back, Alice? How do you feel about the series thus far? Let me know down in the comments. Also, if you’re interested in reading this series or the aforementioned Flowers of Evil, Bookwalker is doing a sale on both until the 23rd, which is probably tomorrow from when this post comes out. Not sponsored, but figured I would highlight it regardless.

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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for being a supporter on Patreon.

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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Secondary Findings January 2023

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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Well, it is still the first month of the year, and what better way to start off the year than by sharing some of my more recent favorite things with you, the lovely readers? Also, a slight change in format: for the sake of general organization, I am going to start dividing everything by medium (i.e. movies, tv shows, books, etc) so people can find things a bit easier.

For those who are reading for the first time, Secondary Findings is a series where I talk briefly about all the stuff that is either not anime or manga related or that would not be talked about otherwise. It is a fun way to share a little more about me while hopefully putting people on to some cool media that I enjoy.

Music

First up, here is some of the music I have been enjoying:

Hypochondriac by Brakence

If there was ever an album worth being annoying about, it is this one. I did a favorite album of 2022 list over on my other site, and this…this came in first by a pretty comfortable margin. Elements of emo and math rock, hyperpop, hip-hop, EDM, and pop, basically all of my favorite genres, come together to make one of the most memorable and infectious listening experiences to date. Absolutely slaps.

I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You by Quadeca

Though I certainly was not as big on this album as some others, it does represent a pretty big artistic shift in Quadeca’s career. It is not always the easiest to listen to, but as an experience it is probably one of the most interesting things one could listen to from last year. Of course, concept albums work much better when listened to all the way through. However, more specifically, check out the songs “tell me a joke” and “fractions of infinity” featuring the Sunday Service Choir. It really is some magical stuff.

Games

Now for the games.

Coffee Talk

Even after just a couple hours of gameplay, the charm of this game shines through tremendously. Although, “gameplay” is maybe not the right word for what is otherwise just a visual story where you occasionally mix together ingredients and try your best to do latte art.

Still, it is an imaginative world where the political implications of a fantasy-esc alternate universe with fairies, orcs, vampires, werewolves, and others are filtered through the door of an otherwise ordinary late-night coffee shop run by none other than yourself. It is a great game, especially for people like me who find themselves up late at night with nothing better to do. Might not be worth the almost 15-dollar price tag for some, but I still recommend it wholeheartedly.

Persona 5 Royal

*insert 200-hour-long JRPG joke here*

I started Persona 5 Royal back in 2020, and somehow never found the time to finish it during the global pandemic…huh, funny how that works. However, since graduating college left me with a lot more time on my hands, I figure why not give it another shot?

The game is really solid mechanically and narratively, with Royal more or less improving on just about every aspect of the original. There are more side characters as well as more things to do with your days in between dungeons. However, Persona 5 has always been a franchise more focused on aesthetics, at least for me, and it does that very well. The soundtrack of this game alone is reason enough to at least check it out. Obviously, finding the time to complete a game this long can be tough for people with busy schedules, but for those who are looking for a fun time sink and somehow have not heard about this game, well, here ya go.

YouTube

Here are some videos/channels I think are worth watching.

SugarPunch

I basically spent a good two hours just binging videos from this channel and man was it a good time. SugarPunch focuses primarily on fighting games and their most famous series breaks down the use of various fighting styles in said games, including their history and implementation across various titles.

However, my personal favorite video is linked above and goes into the history of queer representation in fighting games, which to my pleasant surprise is quite abundant. The video is a little bit outdated in regards to the section on Guilty Gear since Bridget was confirmed in canon to be a trans woman upon her release in Strive, but otherwise, it is a great video. Overall, a really fun channel, even for people who are not the biggest fans of the genre.

Smosh Pit

Anyone who was on the internet, specifically YouTube, in the late 2000s and early 2010s probably stumbled across a Smosh video, even if it was by accident. The whole thing has become a lot more… corporate, with one of the original creators Anthony Padilla leaving a few years ago. However, if one good thing has come out of the brand since then, it would be Smosh Pit, specifically their version of a “try not to laugh” series using prop comedy. Something about the regulars they have along with the assortment of guests makes it where the video can go from relatively dry and clean humor to entirely unhinged in a matter of one skit.

Blogs

I’ve never done a blog section in this series, for some reason, so I figured it might be time to change that.

I drink and watch anime – Irina

Part of the reason might be that I am really bad about keeping up with my fellow bloggers. However, if there is one person who I do read pretty consistently, on the part of her putting out genuinely interesting content, it is Irina. I have mentioned her a few time on the site back when it was going by different names, and her perspective on a lot of series and issues within the medium of anime have stayed incredibly thoughtful and reflective.

She recently wrote a piece about the “adorable glutton” trope that pops up in a lot of cute girls doing cute things type series, and it genuinely made me stop and think for a bit about just how much issues of implicit bias towards heavier people go unchecked in media. So yeah, do yourself a favor and go read some more stuff from her. When she’s not being incredibly thought-provoking, which is rare, she’s also recommending anime series-based drinking games and various alcoholic beverages to do them with.

The Afictionado – Alex Henderson

This is another blog that I have been reading for a while, but have yet to properly shout out for just how awesome it is. Given her Doctoral work focusing on young adult literature, Henderson’s writing, even about more casual and very odd anime, takes a decidedly more academic tone and approach, something I try and ultimately fail and replicating.

However, Henderson also has an impressive body of work outside of the blogosphere and academia. One of my favorite articles, as it relates to anime, is one she wrote about Spy x Family and its relationship with queer families. Queer representation is something I try to talk about as much as I can, and I have learned a lot just from reading her articles, so please do yourself another favor and go check out her work as well.


And that, my friends, is pretty much all of what I have been consuming outside of anime and manga recently. Normally these end up being quarterly posts since I do end up reviewing most of the stuff I consume in any given week or month.

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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.

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: Bocchi the Rock

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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What? you’re telling me they remade K-ON? oh boy, can’t wait to review i- oh, wait, never mind.

Actually, that intro is kind of insulting to Bocchi the Rock, since K-ON is definitely worse in like every way, but I will save that conversation for a Feeding the Flames post (whenever that comes out).

Bocchi was a show that was not at all on my radar until the beginning of this year, and considering the amount of backlog I have from just 2022, I was skeptical about giving it a chance. However, after watching anitwitter go crazy for it week after week, I caved and ultimately gave in to my own curiosity.

For those unaware, Bocchi the Rock is adapted from a four-panel manga of the same name, detailing the adventures of Hitori Gotoh, a high school first year who spent the last three years of her life learning guitar and making solo covers of popular songs in her closet and uploading them to YouTube under the name Guitarhero. Her dream, however, is to overcome her extreme social ineptitude, make friends, and form a band where she can become famous, and it seems as though she might finally get that chance.

Bocchi is…Cool

Any show that focuses heavily on one character is, of course, going to live or die depending on how that character is perceived. It is unlikely that a show like Naruto would be as well-liked by fans if the character was poorly written and hard to root for.

Though I certainly would not call Bocchi poorly written, by any means, she…well, has a pretty abrasively introverted personality. For her, even thinking about archetypical high school summer romances or bonding with friends is enough to send her into a spiral, mostly because she then has to think about how she can’t enjoy any of that.

Granted, none of this is inherently a bad thing. The socially incompetent loner trope is one that anime is all too familiar with, especially given the audience that anime as a medium tends to attract. That said, Bocchi’s character does ride a pretty fine line when it comes to enacting that personality, and sometimes it can be a bit grating.

I do understand that its source material and the format thereof do kind of limit the possible character development since four-panel manga are made for quick witty punchlines. However, given the fact that the anime does set up her desire to grow as a person, having her overreact in literally every situation can get a tad annoying.

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Band Life, Baby!

Luckily, though, the show also has a great supporting cast to balance out the semi-repetitive bits that pop up around Bocchi. This includes Nijika, the band’s drummer and usually the one with her head on straight, as well as Ryou, the bassist who can be generally dubbed the “weird one,” and then Kita, the band’s vocalist and second guitarist whose outgoing, extroverted attitudes often clashes with the other three in admittedly hilarious ways.

There are a number of others as well, all of whom are also generally likable and fun to see on screen, most notable of which are Nijika’s sister Seika, who is the manager and owner of Starry, the club where they often perform, along with Bocchi’s family. A lot of the humor in the show usually derives from one or more of the supporting cast contrasting their relatively normal personalities against Bocchi’s often insane delusions about where her life will be and her relationship with performing

Though this can be somewhat grating as previously mentioned, enough of the bits are focused on other characters so that it does always feel like Bocchi is the center of attention, even though she is supposed to be.

Still, even when the show is not trying to be funny, it does land quite a bit with its more thoughtful and reflective moments. Music is clearly a passion for the characters it affects, and Bocchi’s story of overcoming social anxiety and making friends, when not being played up to the extreme, is genuinely heartwarming. The passion the bandmates share for their work is something that feels real, and it is much appreciated.

Visual Humor

There are two comedy anime in the last year that have actually made me laugh out loud multiple times: Kaguya-sama: Love is War and Bocchi the Rock and the reason why is actually pretty similar between the two. I talked about visual humor a lot over the course of my reviews of Kaguya-sama, and one of the things that made it work, especially in later seasons, is its ability to execute jokes really well, playing up each character’s defining personality traits or central conflicts with visually stimulating elements.

Though, there is definitely a difference in approach stylistically. Whereas Kaguya-sama often opts to play into ideas surrounding high school romance and uses its visual humor to express how characters are feeling about the social ideas, Bocchi leans way more into an absurdist style of humor, with a healthy dose of anime, internet, and musical references mixed in for good measure.

Part of this simply comes from it being a four-panel manga originally. From what I understand, other adaptations like Azumanga Daioh approach their stories with similar humor. However, Bocchi brings its own unique flare, always coming back to the aforementioned absurdism influenced heavily by what would more accurately be described as “gen z” or “chronically online” humor.

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Looks Good, Feels Good

In that regard, the anime also just looks really solid. Cloverworks as a studio has been on the come-up recently (outside of The Promised Neverland season two but we can just ignore that for now). Even so, more of the credit should probably be going towards director Keiichirou Saitou and animation director/character designer Kiyoki Rikuta, because a lot of this show just would not work if it were not for how amazing it looks, especially during its visual gags.

Oh Right, It’s a Music Anime

Somehow I almost forgot to talk about the music in this BAND anime. Whoopsie. The music is…well, a lot better than I expected, especially the songs directly related to the girls as a band. Sonically it sounds like normal J-rock that I would hear turning on any Japanese Spotify playlist. However, I do appreciate the lyrical segments of the songs and how they feel like a combination of everyone’s more eclectic personalities.

The soundtrack was also pretty solid if maybe a little bit more on the unremarkable side. However, I suppose in a way it kind of works, since the show is focusing more on the girls’ early period as a band. So, yeah, not bad.

Conclusion

I actually ended up watching a fair bit more in 2022 than expected, but even so, Bocchi definitely ranks toward my top end. It certainly is not making any grand artistic statements about society or the universe, but what it does have to say in combination with its well-executed humor and only slightly obnoxious main character hits where it needs to. Definitely something worth checking out.

80/100


How did you feel about Bocchi the Rock? Let me know down 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.

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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Shuzo Oshimi’s Latest Work: Welcome Back, Alice (Vol. 1)

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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(This one gets a bit weird, even for manga anime standards, so if you’re easily grossed out maybe skip this one for now).

*Terrible impression of Jerry Seinfeld* “What’s the deal with gender? and sex? get outta hereeee.”

Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil is still one of the wildest experiences I have had with a manga to this day. It is a psychological thriller in mostly the best way possible, letting you feel everything the main character feels as his life becomes a spiraling mess. I never ended up watching the anime, but from what I saw of the promotional material…yeah the manga was a significantly better choice.

Of course, that manga is, at this point, over 10- wait, Flowers of Evil is almost 15 years old…anyway, his newest series, which started back in 2020, is called Welcome Back, Alice, and has a decidedly similar character set up and tone to his most successful work. I say this not as a diss, but merely an observation, for thematic reasons which we will get into shortly.

First, though, for those unaware, a quick mostly spoiler-free summary of the opening volume: Yohei is a loner middle school kid who all of a sudden becomes friends with a boy named Kei and a girl named Yui. The group gets close until Kei moves away. When the three meet up again in high school, pre-existing romantic feelings get complicated when Kei comes to school dressing like a girl, and saying they no longer identify with either gender.

Ok, for anyone interested just based off of that quick summary, just go ahead and read it, it’s weird but interesting. For everyone else, strap in.

So, That Just Happened

Well, Oshimi is nothing if not a little bit weird. Ok, actually “a little” is putting it lightly. I mentioned The Flowers of Evil at the beginning because as far as the overall tone and setup the manga are actually remarkably similar, at least as far as the coming-of-age set-up and deeply horny main character.

Also, I do not know if this is just me being dumb, but the opening chapter was just kind of confusing on a text level because the characters that were not Yohei kept shortening his name to Yo, which felt more like a general greeting than a nickname so the part about them being friends prior felt very tenuous.

Which, even without the confusion, it still kind of does, as most middle school friendships do. This feels especially true after Yohei sees Yui confessing to Kei behind the gym building, after which the middle school crush jealously kicks in, and their relationship sours. Que the time skip and Kei’s transition and we get to the real meat and potatoes of the story.

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Oshimi’s Take on a Non-Binary Character

For what it is worth coming from a random internet critic, I do things it is still noteworthy to have a stated Non-binary main character from an otherwise relatively notable mangaka (I say main character because it feels pretty obvious that Kei is the focal point and will as or more important than the other two). Representation has come a decent way but is still far from perfect.

What’s more, that representation does seem to matter to the overall story. Yohei starts the story with a fairly normal heterosexual crush on Yui, but ultimately ends the volume with the two of them reevaluating their feelings towards Kei.

Oshimi states at the end of the volume that the story is about exploring male hypersexuality and ultimately how fragile it can be. As far as motivations for writing a story, I think this makes sense, especially at a time when that same hypersexuality drives a lot of internet grifters telling men that being cold and misogynistic is the best way to get women along with reinforcing decades-old stereotypes about queer people.

Still, using your only genderqueer character in a way that portrays that as not just hypersexual but very willing to violate boundaries for no reason might not be the best way to do it. It is one thing to say stereotypes are bad, but it is another thing entirely to do that while also then reinforcing those stereotypes. Ultimately, the story has yet to cover much ground, in the first volume, and Oshimi is an intelligent enough writer that it feels worth giving it more time.

The Art

Oshimi’s art sits in a weird place for me, because while I would by no means call it bad, he also probably would not make my top mangaka artists list any time soon. It comes with a sense of realism that, while mostly uneventful, becomes infinitely more detailed in the moments when the story ramps up, or when he wants you to experience the same intense feelings as the characters.

The same is true of Welcome Back, Alice, with the backgrounds often being solid but uneventful, which fits the more intimate subject matter of the story. If the author were making his debut attempt at an expansive shonen action series, I would probably be a bit more disappointed, though.

The character designs, on the other hand, do feel unique and in line with the personalities they are supposed to represent. Kei is much more boyish and feminine even before presenting as such. Yohei looks like a typical middle-school/high-school nerd (and certainly acts like it). Yui looks like…well, a girl that it would be totally reasonable to have a crush on if you’re a nerd idk. Saying they look stereotypical feels more like a compliment in this case given that it appears to be the focus of the story.

Predictions

After Flowers of Evil, it honestly feels like a wasted effort to try and guess where this man will be taking his story. That being said, I do expect it to be significantly more unhinged as time goes on, but hopefully in a good way? Like I said, the dude’s an intelligent writer, I just hope the significance of the subject matter is not lost on him as the story goes on.

As of right now, the manga has four volumes in English and 30ish chapters. So, assuming I like the story enough to get that far, I’ll probably continue to cover it on a weekly or biweekly basis until I catch up.


Have you read Welcome Back, Alice? Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts 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

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon.

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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