Anime, as most Crunchyroll fans know, is a type of Japanese animation in movies or on TV that is a staple of Japan’s economy and culture. However, some anime are more than just that: they’re art. Wandering Son, also known as Hourou Musuko in Japanese, is perhaps one of the finest pieces of art in anime form in quite some time, for it has absolutely beautiful, classic artwork in combination with solid characters and tactful storytelling about gender identity.
When Wandering Son was just a name on a list of upcoming anime, the summary was definitely eye-catching. Young boy Shuuichi Nitori is only beginning middle school, but he already has a dark secret; he likes to dress as a girl. In fact, Shuuichi likes the idea of being a girl, and is clearly more comfortable when he dresses as one or people confuse him for a girl. Yoshino Takatsuki, Shuuichi’s classmate, has her own secret too; she wants to be male. These two trust each other and their closest friends with their secrets and must stand in the face of adversity called society.
Though there is a higher level of tolerance for transsexuality in Japan than in the West, gender identity being portrayed in a realistic, more serious light rather than a humorous one is uncommon. This uniqueness makes Wandering Son a new experience for anime fans, and the realism in it makes it even more spectacular, not just because it’s entertaining, but because there are lessons to be learned from it. The characters, who already are at the very beginning of puberty, each want to fit in, yet want to be themselves and be accepted at the same time. Wandering Son exquisitely shows the depth of their struggles with who they are, the hardships of puberty and peer pressure, and even executes controversial issues with incredible tact so the average viewer shouldn’t feel awkward at all.
The strength of the story partially lies in its characters. Wandering Son could have been a flop if it wasn’t for the authenticity of the characters that genuinely portray the rejection of one’s own biological gender. There is a wide array of characters that reflect real life, from those accepting of people for who they are to those who are absolutely disgusted by the very idea of gender identity issues. These contrasting characters show how hard it is for Shuuichi and Yoshino to find peace and acceptance around them, even though it is unfair to blame them for mentally being one gender, but being another physically. Shuuichi and Yoshino themselves show great depth and complexity; they have to put on a show for society pretending to be comfortable in their biological gender, then on occasion feel at ease enough to show off who they really are, but then sometimes cannot even accept themselves.
One of the most beautiful things about Wandering Son is by far the artwork and animation. The artwork has an absolutely wonderful, classical feel to it, and at times looks hand drawn, and the backgrounds occasionally look as if they were colored with color pencils, giving it a softer look. As well, Wandering Son has to have some of the most gorgeous flowers in recent anime; they are incredibly vibrant and beautifully drawn for being in such a vintage style, which makes them stand out all the more. The style of character designs bring back memories from older anime, yet everything has the quality of today’s animation. Also, the artistic use of overexposure gives Wandering Son a very light look that contrasts with the dark, deep story, but this actually helps to balance the overall mood and create a thoughtful, captivating atmosphere.
Wandering Son is certainly educational to those who don’t understand the emotions and feelings behind transsexuality, but it is also a solid piece of artistic work that handles issues about gender identity tactfully with endearing, complex characters. More than anything, with its striking artwork, Wandering Son brings us back to the nostalgic days of classic anime while still feeling modern.
While I usually flinch when the male main character addresses themselves as “boku”, something about Sendou Aichi’s defiance in the face of bullying, coupled with his sweet and straightforward attitude, makes it easier to swallow. In Card Fight!! Vanguard, a new trading card game is introduced, with the titular name of “Vanguard”. Though this is a genre I generally steer away from, I nonetheless found myself easily getting pulled in to the themes of the show, which were relatable and intriguing. If the character styles look familiar, it may be because the manga artists of Yu-Gi-Oh R had a hand in them—although the characters of Vanguard have quantities of hair that seem more massive than usual.
A new card battle game has gripped the world, and the show begins amidst its popularity. The main character is Sendou Aichi, a timid and lonely middle school boy, who is forced to go to school every day by his little sister, and is bullied and laughed at by his classmates. The only thing that keeps him going throughout the day is his Vanguard card, Blaster Blade...which was given to him many years ago by an unknown boy. By imagining himself as Blaster Blade, he is able to see an “Aichi” in his mind who is unafraid; a stark tangent from his real life. His only wish is to become a Vanguard fighter, so that one day he can reunite with the boy who gave him his card, and to truly become like Blaster Blade.
Unlike other trading card games, the fights of Vanguard take place in another world called “Klay”; however, Klay seems to be only in the minds of the players, whose dedication to the game is what makes it feel so real. Though skill is involved, this game really seems to be all about the power of imagination. Players fight with Vanguards, the archetypes which appear on the cards, and which have different attributes and abilities (think Magic: The Gathering). For those new to trading card game anime, a detailed explanation of the game’s basic rules is spelled out in the first two episodes.
While it seems clear that the players are just in a card shop, sitting across from each other at a table, they are so drawn into the power of their fights that the viewer is drawn in along with them. There is often confusion regarding whether the fights between the Vanguards are truly happening or whether the fighters are simply staring at cards, emphasized by players actually crying out in pain or breaking into sweats as their Vanguards duel it out on the supposed Klay. It is this blurred distinction that makes the show intriguing; you and your cards are bound by the rules of the game, but can become even more powerful the more you believe in the fight. Aichi, who has believed in the power of his card, Blaster Blade, for so many years, easily takes to this aspect of the game, making him a natural fighter.
Of course, on a young man’s quest to make himself into a card master, there needs to be a rival: Toshiki Kai takes on that role coolly. It’s revealed in the first episode that Kai was the boy from the past who gave Aichi his Blaster Blade card. However, Kai makes it clear from the beginning that any kindness he may have displayed toward Aichi in the past was done in order to get him addicted to the game, thus giving Kai the chance to steal more Vanguard cards from new opponents.
This callous reasoning was refreshing, in its way, because it made Kai into more than just a “cool genius” archetype. His logic came into direct opposition with Aichi's memory of the kind boy who went out of his way to stop another boy’s crying, which forces the viewer to ask, "What happened to make Kai change?" There are also moments in their fight when strange lights will glow around both Kai and Aichi, visible only to the two of them; the why has yet to be answered. With questions like these, it's difficult not to keep watching.
As the show continues, Aichi visibly begins to change from a timid youth to a more surefooted young man. He makes friends and faces tough decisions, all the while never losing his sweet disposition. And really, this is what made the show so enjoyable: Aichi was a shy nerd, obsessing over his card, hoping for the chance to become as strong as the Aichi he saw in himself, only to be brutally reminded by those around him that he was just a coward. But once he was able to begin going for his dream—to train as a card fighter—meeting other like-minded individuals and finding walls to overcome, he became more confident in himself, more like the Aichi he always hoped he would be. This theme—finding your place and gaining strength from it—is something everyone can relate to, and it’s what makes me look forward to watching more of Aichi’s growth as a Vanguard fighter.
Saint Seiya has a strange history in the US. It’s never been particularly popular here (despite its strong international popularity) for a variety of reasons: it saw an edited dub release under its international title, Knights of the Zodiac, which was poorly received (probably because all the blood was edited to be green, making the show about a bunch of screaming, superpowered Vulcans). It didn’t help that the show itself looked and felt very dated compared to other popular anime being aired at the time, having a distinct ‘80s vibe and just plain not making sense half the time.
The series revolved around a group of young men (like most shounen action series do) called Saints, who serve as holy warriors to the goddess Athena--yes, the Goddess of Wisdom--who battle the forces of evil while armored in special Zodiac- and mythology-themed armor called “Cloth.” Some of them are familiar--lead character Seiya wears the Pegasus Cloth--and some are less memorable, like a minor villain who wears the Cetus Cloth and has powers based around whales. At least I think his powers are based on whales, because seriously, everybody in Saint Seiya has a single type of special move: flying punch + dramatic background effects.
Doesn’t sound so bad, right? It’s a lot like every other shounen series in that it has the basic good vs. evil premise with a familiar tie to Western mythology. This should’ve done pretty well here, since more people are familiar with Pegasus, Andromeda and the Phoenix than most Japanese mythological figures, but this is a series where a guy defends against Medusa’s stone gaze by stabbing his eyes out Three Stooges-style and then fighting blind for almost the entire series after that. The author had a real “let’s make this up as we go” philosophy for the series, and it showed.
With the original series being fully released in the US but the Hades Chapter OAVs being passed on, it seemed like Seiya and crew’s days in the US were short and uneventful, but surprisingly, CR is now airing Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas, a 13-episode prequel series based on the manga by original Seiya creator Kurumada Masami with art by shoujo mangaka Teshirogi Shiori--beautiful art at that. While nostalgic, Kurumada’s characters floated through panels, with inconsistent anatomy and the most painful fact: Kurumada can only draw three faces (male, female, and ugly male).
This OAV takes Teshirogi’s lush, detailed art and gives it an extra kick with vibrant color and dynamic movement, with captivating fights that surprisingly follow logic instead of the gateway to madness that the original Saint Seiya could become. Even its story follows suit, focusing on the best thing you can ever base a shounen series off of: friendship.
The series follows Tenma, chosen to be the Pegasus Saint to protect Athena and battle injustice, who has left his timid best friend Alone (that wasn’t a typo) back home to train in Greece with the rest of the Saints. The only problem is that pure, innocent Alone is a vessel for Hades, the antithesis of everything the Saints stand for, and a force of nature bent on obliterating Athena and her forces and remaking the world in his dark image. In the ever-escalating battles between Athena’s Saints and Hades’ Specters, it becomes clear that the only way for the world to know peace is for Tenma to face his best friend in battle, and kill him.
One of the best things about this series is that you need absolutely no familiarity with the original to watch and enjoy it. It’s nostalgic enough that longtime fans will find plenty to appreciate, but new fans be brought in for the series itself--a series that holds up on its own merits instead of using its storied name as a crutch.
Aizen and Gin close in on Tatsuki, when Don Kanonji comes to the rescue. A still-injured Rangiku also arrives to confront Gin. Meanwhile, seeking to learn the Final Getsugatensho, Ichigo battles Tensa Zangetsu and Hollow Ichigo, who have now merged into one being.
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Did you know STUDIO 4°C's name comes from the temperature in which water is at its most dense state.