Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 10

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Haru’s party takes to the mines, and their skills and teamwork shine in their efficient dispatching of the first level’s lesser kobolds, which aren’t really much tougher than gobs. Sure, Ranta spends a bit too long fighting one-on-one without asking for help, which irks Haru, but so far so good!

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Actually, as they trek deeper into the mines, Ranta goes off about how he’s a badass dark knight who doesn’t subscribe to ideals or morals they way everyone else does, because at the end of the day no one can escape death’s cold embrace, or something. Like most Rantaness, it’s irritating, butnot harmful to the party.

Still, Haru simply doesn’t like it. The lack of respect for the dead kobolds, all the talk about being amoral and beholden to no one, saying it’s lame when they back out of the mine after a good day’s hunting. Ranta is a skilled warrior, Haru can’t deny; but he remains as bad a team member as ever.

It doesn’t help Ranta that everyone else is “on board” the way Haru is; considering the party to be more than just a collection of soldiers doing their jobs, but a family of people who care about each other. Ranta doesn’t seem to care, or at least is always talking about how he doesn’t.

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As leader, Haru knows he has to at least try to address this, as much for himself as anything. He thinks Manato would have similarly tried to do something as the leader, though he doesn’t know what. In fact, he remembers Manato didn’t seem to like Ranta much either.

In his one-on-one talk with Ranta that night, he learns Ranta went to the trouble to take a kobold on alone because he’s preparing for the very real possibility he’ll have to, say if the rest of the party is injured or busy with other foes. It’s a smart move, but he did it without saying anything. “Doing things his way” means not communicating, just acting.

Haru wants to communicate, but isn’t able to get remotely all of what he wants to say out, so it’s almost irrelevant. Ranta also says the “I’m not here to make friends” speech to Haru, which has got to hurt because Haru has been operating under the assumption that they are all friends.

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Not to mention just because Ranta says he doesn’t want to be “pretend friends” with the party, doesn’t mean that he isn’t friends. After all, they consider him more than just a party comrade, and Ranta is well-known for saying overly-harsh things he may not mean.

I liked the contrast between Ranta stalking off and Haru waking up under a blanket provided by Yume, who then practice knife-throwing. His exchange with Yume—and their exchange with Moguzo—is the day to Ranta’s night. But maybe, Haru thinks, there’s simply no way around that.

The clash with Ranta is nothing particularly new, but it’s at least not the whole story: there’s also the fact that Mary is doing pretty well in the mines despite her past trauma there, and Haru is thankful that everyone (save Ranta) has learned valuable new skills in order to help each other out.

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Before long, they’re able to reach the lower levels of the mines, where they’re surprised to find subterranean crops and livestock. Here, Haru executes his plan going forward with Ranta in miniature: when Ranta points his sword at a rat mole-like animal, Haru backs off, accepting Ranta’s line of thinking, and moves on.

Confronting him on every little thing or trying to bend him to his way of thinking is a waste of time, effort, and focus. Better to let him be who he is. Haru has to realize he’s not a bad leader just because one of this comrades isn’t the best fit.

Of course, Ranta’s carelessness with his surroundings end up sounding the alarm for the kobolds, and the same giant kobold that Mary’s team failed to defeat makes its appearance.

As Mary goes through any number of emotions—shock, fear, guilt, regret, panic—I was hoping Haru’s hand would come down on her shoulder to calm her. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Mary’s alone in this.

Considering they haven’t gone over how to tackle a beast like that yet, I’d think retreat would be the best option, though that might not be possible now. But if the party sticks together, and Mary watches her magic level, things can and will be different.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 04

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Note: Preston and I have been watching both TG35 and Subete ga F, but we’ve decided to swap reviewing duties of those two shows. So going forward I’m your TG35 reviewer, while Preston will be handling the SgF.

As Preston observed last week, this show is proving very swift and decisive with its character orientation arcs. Ootori was essentially one of the gang last week after a tense gestation, and by this episode’s end, Mari has also become an official member of the 35th.

It’s great when Mari notes how famously Saionji and Suginami get along, Takeru reveals that the two used to be as much at each others throats as Mari and Ootori, and he looks forward to the two settling down, which he’s sure they’ll do in time. Takeru dismisses any notion of abandoning Mari should he, say, find out one day she’s an evil murderer. Instead, he promises to help her.

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Indeed, Ootori learns about Mari’s past and relays it to Takeru, but he goes into mock battle with her all the same, which is interrupted by the necromancer Haunted bursting out of one of their opposing players; a grim, demented entrance if ever there was one. He’s there for Mari, but Takeru won’t let him have her.

Takeru is surprised to find Haunted has an armored suit and legendary sword able to pierce Lapis, and ends up bloodied very early in the fight. But as he fights, Ootori is having words with her adoptive father the director about the circumstances of the crime scene where Mari was arrested. The magic used to kill people wasn’t hers.

This means, witch or not, the director had Mari arrested on false charges. In exchange for overlooking such a crime, Mari makes a certain demand of the director that proves crucial in the battle with Haunted.

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Now we know why Takeru had zero problem heading into battle with Mari, nor did he seem the slightest bit troubled by the news Ootori gave him: she’s innocent. When Haunted restores Mari’s memory, she remembers being surrounded by a lot of death—including that of her family at an orphanage—and blaming herself both for being such a valuable resource to Valhalla, and for not being able to save them.

With all her terrible memories back, Mari must feel like going with Haunted is what she deserves, and it’s what she’s prepared to do in order to stop others from dying because of her. But Takeru will have none of it. As he promised Ootori, if need be, he’ll carry half her burden, but he won’t leave her side or let Valhalla swallow her back up.

Haunted may be a swordsman, but he’s not a Kusaragi, and Takeru cycles through Lapis’ many weapon forms and effectively drives him back.

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Haunted is a tough customer, however, and it’s everything Takeru can do to stay alive in their duel. Mari decides to cast a spell to help Takeru out, even if it means the collar around her neck detonating. But it doesn’t, because Ootori had the director shut it off just in time. Ootori then tells Mari to prove to her that magic can be used for things other than death and suffering. Now’s the chance to change my mind about you.

Naturally, both Mari and Ootori insist they’re not doing this for the other, but in truth, they’ve already warmed to each other and are working as one. Ootori saved Mari so Mari can save Takeru. Ootori provides cover fire so Mari can cast her spell. Suginami wakes Saionji up by riddling her with insults from when they were frenemies, and then Saionji covers Ootori with her sniper rifle.

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Finally, rather than fire her magical attack at Haunted, she sends it to Takeru, and it’s absorbed by a grateful Lapis, whose pride has been impugned by Haunted’s “lost-type” Dainsleif’s trash talk. The attack is enough to push Haunted back and disperse his armor, and he retreats with a smile on his face, intrigued that he has a challenging new foe keeping him from Mari.

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The magical barrier falls, Takeru passes out, goes to hospital, and wakes up with Lapis by his side eating apples (her low-key presence continues to be a nice contrast to the powerful personalities of the other girls). There’s one more “uh-oh” moment this week when Ootori tells Takeru of bad news, but it’s just bad news for her—Mari has officially enrolled at AntiMagic Academy—but it isn’t really such bad news for Ootori either.

In fact, it was Ootori who used her leverage against the director to negotiate Mari’s present status as comrade. I can understand her doing this to stay in Takeru’s good graces, so to speak, but it’s just as much about Ootori being a champion of justice, as well as having her mind about witches changed, if only a little, by Mari, when it mattered most.

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Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai – 03

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I’ll say this for TG35—it isn’t wasting any time developing its characters. While Ootori was the reluctant outsider last week, that roles passes to Nikaido Mari, AntiMagic Academy’s very first witch Inquisitor-in-Training. What the other 35s don’t know is that she was picked up last week on suspicion of murder, but had a powerful (but not ironclad) amnesia spell placed on her.

Apparently she’s dangerous enough to held naked chained by her ankle in solitary confinement, but is given back her regular clothes, which is odd, because the director wants her to blend into the school. The best way to do that would be to give her a green Taimadou uni, but alas.

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Like Ootori, Mari wants to be left alone, and Suginami and Saionji are fine with doing just that, but Ootori can’t help but get into verbal spats with her. Not only does Mari represent everything Ootori hates—witches and magic—but she’s also competition for Takeru’s attention. The two snipe at each other and square off both in the classroom and P.E., to essentially a stalemate, periodically swapping smug victory and angry defeats, all of it very petty.

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When Takeru tries to get between them, the two girls reflexively punch him, something Ootori regrets immediately and Mari regrets…a little later. In a very effective and efficient scene, Takeru ably disarms Mari: he doesn’t hate witches or magic, and he’s willing to give her a shot, just like he gave Ootori.

Takeru also shows genuine interest in her motivations for enrolling, and she eventually opens up: she’s enthusiastic about changing peoples’ hearts and minds about witches and magic. By the end of their exchange, they’re on first-name terms—if only because Mari thinks “Kusanagi” is lame and Takeru thinks “Nikaidou” is awkward to pronounce.

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The next day Mari is in the Platoon’s HQ, sparring with Ootori. Once she knows Ootori likes Takeru, she wastes no time using their first-name basis (and some close contact) to enrage her even further. To her credit, Ootori doesn’t let it come to blows; in fact she barely tries to conceal the fact Takeru’s promise to “share half her burden” is something she values very much.

At the same time, Mari looks a little nervous clinging to Takeru, like she’s getting swept up in the competition with Ootori in spite of herself. Not surprisingly, the other platoon members, including Lapis, fade into the background this whole episode, which I didn’t mind.

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A little more incredulous is the fact that Mari has nowhere else to stay but Takeru’s dingy, creepy apartment. Naturally, the protective Ootori won’t let the two spend time in Takeru’s place alone (she figures a “closet perv” like Takeru would be all too easily wooed even by Mari’s “meager charms”), so she tags along, despite Takeru’s building freaking her out.

That’s when we end up with the most ridiculous scene of the episode, in which Takeru walks in on a totally naked (and “insecure”) Mari drying her hair, just when Ootori runs out of the bathroom also totally naked, scared by some kind of ghost. The two naked girls end up on top of Takeru, who meekly protests none of this is his fault, leading to an off-camera double slap (though no synchronized scream).

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The next day the 35th begins their first round of a mock battle tournament, and things start to go pear-shaped pretty fast, until Mari decides she will assist them after all and serves as a decoy so Takeru, Ootori, and Saionji can clean up and advance (Suginami doesn’t participate).

It’s the episode’s one concession to action (unlike last week which was mostly action), and it’s pretty inconsequential. But the lesson to take away is that with Ootori, Mari, and Lapis, the 35th is climbing towards respectability…or at least less ridicule.

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When Ootori acknowledges Mari’s contribution in her roundabout double-negative-laced way, we see that despite, or even perhaps partially due to their intense co-antagonism, Mari and Ootori are on their way to gelling with the 35th. That’s of course, until Ootori delivers her report to the director, finds him absent, and picks up a document describing Mari as an ancient witch under suspicion of murder, thus confirming all of her earlier suspicions about the witch, without knowing the whole picture about her amnesia.

The thing is, even Mari isn’t sure who she is. She gets a flash of her true past after making nice with Takeru, and before going to sleep at his place, warns him she may not be someone he should be trusting in. I don’t know whether her amnesia spell is permanent, but even if it is, Ootori can’t unsee what she saw, Mari may not have the means to fully explain herself, and Takeru will continue to be in the middle, trying to keep the peace.

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Assassination Classroom – 02

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Two episodes in, and I regret to report that AC just isn’t my cup of tea. This time, I followed Nagisa’s lead and took notes, listing the pros and cons as the show exhibited them. I came to the general conclusion that while show looks great and has its moments, too often it either feels tonally confused or overly sincere. It’s also too cloying, and a little too self-aware and proud of itself.

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It starts with an unironically cheesy OP that deflates world-and-pride-saving stakes that we’ve never been able to buy. As sensitive and detail-oriented as Koro-sensei is (and do love how he can travel to the ends of the earth on a whim), his desire to destroy the world makes no sense, and not of the ‘Haha, that’s so kooky!’ kind, but a willfully abstruce kind.

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The episode is peppered with silly situations and jokes, but many simply clank to the ground in failure, undermining the ones that hit. I personally don’t mind that Nagisa is a boy despite looking and sounding nothing like one in the traditional anime sense; it’s his tired narration and both his and the show’s tendency to repeat itself that grates. Yes, I understand, you’re killers whose target is a teacher. Except he’s a yellow monster and thus engenders zero sympathy.

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The class seems poised to go through a Wile E. Coyote-style process for attempting to assassinate Koro: try something once, and when it fails, never try again. But unlike Mr. Coyote’s target, Koro uses the attempt as an excuse to help the baseball kid adjust his mechanics to better suit his body type. This kid, like everyone in Class E, all have innate talents that Koro will likely help them identify and cultivate

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That brings us to the plight of Class E, the “End Class”, a relatively small group of students who are exiled to the dingy satellite campus and treated like dirt in order to make the majority of students work harder, as well as pump up their own collective sense of superiority. This is not that far off from the way this works in the real world; privileged kids are warned that if they don’t work hard and excel, they’ll end up in some crap school and get a crap job and live crap lives.

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This social commentary baked into this show is not entirely without promise, but in such an otherwise zany and irreverent setting and such a blatantly nonsensical premise, that serious stuff only contributes to the show’s confused tone and ‘kitchen sink’ approach to storytelling. Nagisa’s narrated analysis of Koro and some cheesy guitar music don’t change the fact that I can’t care about a silly yellow tentacle monster.

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There was once sequence I enjoyed despite these flaws, however: after failing to pile on top of Koro and stab him to death, Koro decides to be clever and replace all of their “anti-me” knives with tulips. Only problem is, those were tulips they all worked hard to plant and nuture.

Realizing his mistake, he blasts off at Mach 20 to procure more bulbs and proceeds to plant them, not at Mach 20, because he’s under the watchful gaze of the angered students. It’s a nice reversal of dominance.

But then I realize…what the hell does he care about planting tulips or telling the baseball kid to “train well and surpass his idol” when he’s going to destroy the world? A couple students jokingly point out this contradiction, but that doesn’t allay my frustration. Even if Koro had a proper human form, his actions and motivations are as muddled as the show’s tone.

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More than anything though, the periodic Nagisa narration, as well many of the students’ reactions to Koro, are simply trying too hard, constantly rubbing our noses in its somewhat-forced ‘craziness’, shouting “OMG, we have to kill our teacher, isn’t this so deliciously loony? Well, isn’t it?!”

Actually, no, it isn’t, at least not satisfyingly so. It’s a jumbled mess of tones and themes, over-stuffed with anonymous characters. It’s a show that wants so badly to be so many different things—and never lets you forget it—but its visual polish and genuine enthusiasm can’t mask its inherent gutlessness.

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