News Ticker


Latest Post



Toys Review


Japan Culture

Recent Posts

A World is Born: Emerging Arts & Design in 1980s Japanese Animation

Monday, March 19, 2018 / No Comments
If you've been watching anime for a long time, or happen to be a hardcore otaku, you've probably heard of Studio Gainax on a number of occasions. The famed creator of titles such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has had a storied history, influencing the anime industry greatly through the 1990s and 2000s (Studio Trigger, anyone?). The veteran anime studio even has a shot coined after them, dubbed the Gainax Stance. It showcases a character standing triumphantly, folding his arms and staring straight into the camera. If this sounds familiar, you have Gainax to thank. To think Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise, the production that kickstarted all of this was created more than 30 years ago. How time flies.

Earlier today, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit an exhibition at DECK showcasing the production process behind Royal Space Force. It was a collaboration between LASALLE College of the Arts and Niigata University. The opening address that greets visitors highlights the widespread availability of exhibitions and showcases that expand upon the production process of established animation studios such as Studio Ghibli and Pixar. However, anime studios do not receive the same level of attention and I wholeheartedly agree. I've only ever seen concept art, storyboards and even prop conceptualisation at Anime Festival Asia for Violet Evergarden and for Saekano's second season while I was in an Animate store in Akihabara last year.

The icing on the cake was Royal Space Force's director and founding member of Studio Gainax Yamaga Hiroyuki guiding us through the various concept art pieces and storyboards. He lent his thoughts regarding each step of the production process, from the world that Royal Space Force is set in right down to how he and his team created the story in the first place. What made things even more interesting were the personal anecdotes he shared as he spoke. From having a reunion dinner at the turn of the millennium with the original team who produced Royal Space Force and pointing out how far each one of them has progressed since producing Gainax's inaugural film to highlighting how one of his artists insisted on painstakingly detailing the moment a rocket takes off. Yamaga-san had much to share and it was nice to see him speak candidly regarding this particular film and other topics.

To say that the concept art featured was detailed would be an understatement. It was evident how much effort was put into the creation of each element and I shudder to think how much more time must have been spent to turn the above illustrations into the final products you see in the film. To make matters worse, the team had to animate all these in an era where digital production tools were far from available. It was as much of a passion project as Yamaga-san said it was and it definitely inspired many of his future hires and rival studios.

A fun part of the exhibition had visitors interacting with a recreation of a light box with layered stills. This was actually how the film was shot for a number of scenes, albeit with the lightbox placed vertically instead of the horizontal manner like you see in the photo above. Admittedly, the image did not look right to me through my own eyes but once I took a photo, the set-up makes complete sense. Although this technique probably isn't used today thanks to the plethora of tools available for anime studios, it's nice to experience and appreciate the techniques that were used in the past.

I'm no artist but amount of depth in this still is staggering. To know that it is all drawn by hand makes this particular frame even more impressive. I lost count of the number of times I thought how much effort the production team put into creating this film as I made my way through the exhibition. No wonder it took two years to produce. For fans of the original film, fret not, a sequel is on its way and you can expect the same attention to detail from the studio.

I'm always up for an exhibition showcasing the production process behind an animated feature, be it an anime, animated film or a short clip. The effort, thought processes and creativity are on full display for visitors and fans of the original work will be able to gain a deeper level of appreciation once they know what has gone into the making of that animated feature. I do hope that anime studios such as Ufotable or Kyoto Animation end up hosting an exhibition much like this one in Singapore. I'm sure that both hardcore and casual fans will be dying to see what goes on behind the scenes but for now, it seems that Studio Gainax will be leading the way, much like they did with Royal Space Force in 1987.

If you're keen on checking the exhibition out, it'll be held all the way till 31st March and it's open from 12pm to 7pm at DECK with a secondary venue at the Ngee Ann Kongsi Library in LASALLE College of the Arts to boot. Maybe this is just what you need to inspire you to create an anime with your friends and fellow professionals. 

Written by ET

Isekai Izakaya "Nobu"

Saturday, March 10, 2018 / No Comments
One of the best parts of travelling is getting to sample new cuisines. For me, finding and enjoying delicious foreign food is part of the experience. This time however, the author takes things to another level by transporting Japanese cuisine into a whole new world. Isekai Izakaya "Nobu" is a light novel series that has been adapted into manga and next month, will have its anime debut!

Imagine a bar which serves a variety of food and drinks that makes you feel like you have been transported to another world! In the Old Capital, there is just such a bar. Called "Nobu", it's located in a back alley, where its food wins over the city's inhabitants.

Isekai Izakaya "Nobu" definitely doesn't skimp on its food offerings. Between Japan and the Old Capital ingredients, the chef serves up dish after dish of authentic Japanese food that makes me wish I live within the manga pages! From perennial bar favourites of beer and karaage, to tofu soup for the fussy eaters, there's a dish or drink suitable for everyone who drops by.

Perhaps because it is adapted from a light novel, the characters' personalities shine through more than I expected, which is a pleasant surprise. While there doesn't seem to be a strongly recurring storyline, the series' focus is on food so I don't find the lack of a serious plot much of an issue. In fact, I'm happy simply adding more dishes to my to-try list every time I read a new chapter. I am, however, slightly curious about how this otherworldly bar works!

Admittedly, I have not read its light novel. However, since I enjoyed the manga, I'm looking forward to the anime next month. If you are fond of Japanese food, I recommend checking it out!

Written by Nana

Netflix Anime Review - B: The Beginning

Thursday, March 8, 2018 / No Comments
Recently I started watching anime on Netflix. Netflix is a very interesting platform that really caters to my inner binge-monster. I watched some Japanese shows before, such as Terrace House or some dramas (which I stopped after a few episodes, J-Drama's can't hold my attention anymore..). After watching Devilman: Crybaby, which I really liked especially the art and music (that rap was awesome!) I decided to try another anime. Storywise I already knew Devilman, so I decided to watch something totally new with no prior knowledge or even a summary or trailer. Therefore I decided to watch B: The Beginning.

The story is about a killer, Killer B, whom kills other killers and has mysterious powers. The RIS or Royal Investigation Service is investigating this Killer and whilst doing this other crimes that seem to be connected happen as well. This setting of this all is an archipelago called Cremona which has a king and a royal family. The main protagonist is Koku, whom is Killer B, he is in search of someone. Keith Flick returning to RIS after years of absence is also back to resolve matters related to his past which seem to be related to Killer B as well. I won't do a detailed recap here so I will just write about what I liked or disliked about this anime, so SPOILER ALERT.

The art: European tones dominate in the architecture 
What struck me at first was the amazing art of this anime. The European looking Archipelago setting felt a bit like Huis ten Bosch which is a Dutch village near Nagasaki as it has European feel to it but still with a Japanese vibe. The European feel combined with beautiful landscapes gave me bit of a Ghibli feeling without the Ghibli optimism: the story is quite dark but the scenery make it uplifting almost. I liked that they mixed up cultures and ethnicities: there are French, Italian, English, German, and Japanese names. The architecture was also a mix of many styles. At one moment you are in the beautiful city centre which feels like the heart of a European capital, and the next moment they are fighting (and breaking down) a Buddhist temple called Heian-ji, a name which reminded me of the Heian temple.

City centre, very European feel to it. There's even a pub on the left side. Also the bakery as shown in episode 4 sells Italian as well as Japanese baked goods.

 Royal Library, looking like a European church from the inside

The Heian-ji (before it gets utterly trashed)

I really liked the way they had designed this world. The name Cremona wasn't as convincing as it wasn't used many times (or I wasn't paying attention..) and the history and the country itself was not really detailed, unlike the artwork. I also liked the voice acting, although it was typically Japanese. Inuyashiki for example is a fairly new anime which presents a rather new style of voice acting, not as exaggerated but still enthralling enough to get you sucked into the story. I like original stuff like that.

Story and characters: thrilling yet lacking in its chaos
I don't mind shows where I am thrown in without any knowledge and it's in the middle of the story. There is no clear beginning but there are flashbacks that will explain everything later on. I don't mind having a lot of information and going through it, as long as it comes together nicely. This is what B: The Beginning fails to do in my opinion. But the animation, art and soundtrack make up for a lot of it. And as this is probably just The Beginning (see what I did there??) we will hopefully get a more complete world which will 'earn its wings' (I did it againnn). 
About the characters, I got a bit of Johan-vibes from the main killer Gilbert, but that's not the only comparison I made to Monster, seeing all those children being 'experimented' on. However, we do not see the actual experiments, but apparently they were being made into living weapons in search of resurrecting ancient 'gods' from an ancient scripture and fossils found centuries ago. Koku, one of the main protagonists, is being called the king which we still don't really know much about at the end of the series. What is this ancient race? Were they truly gods? How did they 'resurrect' them? What are these fossils exactly?

I am left with more questions after watching it, and I would have liked a bit more background story on this. The folklore and the religion/traditions are also an interesting thing. The fighting scene at the lake with all the lights hint at a long history of unique traditions and customs of Cremona. I missed more explanation on this or at least a good connection to the story.

As it is very fast-paced and as different storylines intertwine, I also still have a lot of questions about the royal family whom we didn't get to see during this series. I am sure this series will get a season 2, but for me storylines that get too crowded or messy I prefer to see it a bit more spread out so we can really bond with the characters. Also the antagonists weren't really convincing, there are the 'failed' experiments or deliberate successes to make soldiers named 'Reji' whom need some sort of gold liquid to not go utterly insane, but will go insane anyway (I still don't fully get this Reji concept). Then there is some secret group of Reji's or something that want something from Koku (in the end we find out that it was a Reji that got manipulated by Gilbert, somehow). And then there's Gilbert. It's all very messy and didn't come together convincingly enough for me. I think if this anime was 26 episodes instead of 12 it could have been stronger, and not so rushed in the explanations and motives which is all jumbled up. It's best to just sit back and watch it as I did, but I always want to know everything and make sense of it so it was kind of hard to let that one go.
The character I liked was Lily, but she was still quite a superficial character and not fleshed out enough for my taste (wow that sounds cannibalistic..). I think her dynamic with Keith was the most interesting to this anime, I hoped some romantic feelings would be explored but it was only hinted at and then suddenly turned away from it completely. I do think, despite the age difference, they would be a good match. Age is nothing but a number, well and then you have Keith's crazy room.

This scene where Lily tells Gilbert she probably loves Keith (which is an act apparently) gave me some shipping hope!

 The reaction of the team was hilarious!
 Boris the ol' creep
Even Keith felt that one!

I think the team of the RIS we were left with at the end was quite nice, the designated hacker Kaela of course, and some older veterans of RIS as well such as Boris. I am also quite curious how Bran figured out about the program following them on camera which lead to his attack. I feel like there are dots that haven't been connected as well as they could have, which feels a bit sloppy in my opinion. I felt like I could have been a bit more invested in these characters, and care more if something happened to them or not. I did not at this time. Maybe next season. 

After watching everything I felt some things were lacking. Keith and Gilbert's motives were not that strong. Their bond could have been a bit better, more flashbacks about them in college or something, or even of Erika. I did not really feel the 'resentment' about Gilbert killing Erika except for that she is the (adopted) little sister of Keith and she looks like Lily. In the end it all started because of Keith and Gilbert trying to outsmart each other and Gilbert wanting to make Keith see from his perspective, ergo a killer. This whole thread felt extremely disconnected from the main story. I feel like this anime has to be watched several times to truly understand it. Kudos to y'all non-Japanese out there watching this without subs and getting everything in one time without a dictionary. I couldn't do it, for sure.

Conclusion: too many genres smashed together without delving too deep into one
The story ends 'well', if you consider all the main people still being alive as a good ending. But the after credits show that one of the friends who helped Koku, Kirisame, is still alive and kicking and wants the arm that Koku took back. This probably means that not all of Koku's friends/fellows are dead and there are more of those 'Reji's' and 'god-experiments' out there.

Well, this series is called B: The Beginning for a reason, as this season was packed with action but probably still just the beginning of exploring this world further. At least now we know where all the important detective work is done.

This picture sums it up for me, it's an anime that tries to multitask a bit too much making it almost comical. 

All in all it was a great anime to binge, the artwork and animation was great and the soundtrack good too. The genres are very mixed, we get some sci-fi, some folklore, all part of a deep detective story. It reminded me of Psycho-Pass, Monster, maybe some folklore anime like Ghibli because of the beautiful landscaping, and even Chrno Crusade as this somewhat timid boy suddenly turns into a demon-like creature to protect the woman he loves. Story wise it could have been a bit more focused and given us more fleshed-out characters. Except for the dead bodies. They were pretty "fleshed-out". I am however looking forward to exploring more anime on Netflix, so hopefully season 2 will bring us a story that will make me connect more to this world and its characters. Wrapping an intricate story like this up in merely 12 episodes does not do it justice.

Art: 9/10
Animation: 8/10
Story & characters: 6/10

~Written by Devi~

Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san

Tuesday, March 6, 2018 / No Comments
One of the things people always make sure to have in Japan is ramen. Despite ramen shops popping up everywhere in the world, the variety we have is still dismally small. For in Japan, chefs have taken this gastronomical delight to the point where many prefectures and cities have their own special take on it. Even if you can't experience all these flavours first hand, now we can get an idea of what ramen really is like through anime!

In comes Koizumi-san, petite and a super bishoujo. So unassuming she is, you wouldn't expect her to be such a huge ramen geek! In fact, the only times she gives more than a deadpan expression is after a satisfying bowl of ramen. She eats and talks about more ramen types than you could possibly imagine, and I am lowkey wishing I am her. Just look at how delectable the ramen in the show looks!

Beyond your regular tonkotsu, shio, and shoyu, Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san introduces regional specials like Kumamoto ramen, and seasonal and unorthodox ones like pineapple and shrimp ramen. Of course, the show doesn't miss out on the extremely popular and cult favourite ramen such as Ichiran ramen, nor neglects one of the ultimate comfort food: instant noodles! Not only that, the show also shares various ways ramen is enjoyed!

Ultimately, Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san is a lighthearted series exploring all sorts of ramen in a fun and educational way. If you are a fan of ramen, or Japanese culture in general, do consider adding the show to your watch list!

Written by Nana

Dagashi Kashi Season 2

Saturday, March 3, 2018 / No Comments

I used to love candy when I was a kid. To say that I had a sweet tooth was a gross understatement. Today, I'm still game for a good dessert after a meal or the occasional chocolate bar but pouring truckloads of what is essentially flavoured and coloured sugar into my mouth does not sound as fun when you're an adult, as cliche as it is. Dagashi Kashi's first season suffered from that very problem of over-saturation, as much as I enjoyed it at the time. The gags and history lessons regarding the various Japanese candies could only provide so much entertainment and it was up to the cast - mainly Hotaru, Kokonotsu, Saya and Tou - to keep the show from tanking. I was pleasantly surprised when a second season was announced, in a shorter format (12 minutes instead of the usual 20-odd minutes) to boot.

The shorter format has led to a faster paced show, something which I'm enjoying very much. The story progresses a lot quicker, the gags have better timing and it isn't just filled to the brim with scenes where Hotaru attempts to challenge Kokonotsu in a bid for him to take over Shikada Dagashi. Introduced in the second half, the plot in this season is a lot more interesting. A convenience store has been set up in Kokonotsu's town, bundled with an overly enthusiastic manager, signalling the demise of his family's candy store. The fresh faces and new challenge for Kokonotsu and gang is a sight for sore eyes, changing up the formula which has been beaten to death from the first season and the first half of the second one.

Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of the updated character designs, but this is due to the change in studios rather than the character designer attempting to be cheeky. A similar situation happened previously with Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru, but with better results. On the bright side, the animation has not taken a turn for the worse and I still prefer these designs over the manga's ones. The shorter format also means that the changes aren't that noticeable, compared to other anime that swapped studios.

All in all, Dagashi Kashi's second season is a great watch, especially if you're strapped for time - like myself this season. It's much like the first episode, except in a package that's easy to digest. The first season should've used this format instead but hindsight is 20/20. Each episode is a breeze and I'm actually eager for what the next episode entails instead of just what snack or sweet it'll feature.

Written by ET

Darling in the Franxx

Friday, March 2, 2018 / No Comments
There might be some times in your life where you feel like you don't belong. Perhaps the first time most people experience feeling outcast (and downcast) is when they are teens, which is why so many anime series often begin with a broody teenage protagonist's wistful monologue. This time, I am referring to Darling in the Franxx!

A sci-fi anime, the series takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humanity has burrowed underground, having been driven to endangerment by giant beasts known as klaxosaurs. Habitats known as Plantation were established, where children are bred to be partnered in boy-girl pairs (Stamen-Pistil) called Parasites and pilot giant mecha known as Franxx. Hiro, initially viewed as a prodigy, becomes unable to pilot a Franxx after failing one of his tests, resulting in emotional stress and finallyy making him lose any desire he had in life. Hiro encounters 02, an infamous Franxx pilot with red horns on her head. She takes a liking to Hiro and after her partner is killed, she convinces Hiro to become her new partner, or "darling" as she calls him.

As the title suggests, Darling in the Franxx is about Hiro, the "Darling", riding in the Franxx, as he embarks on the journey of being part of a Parasite pair with an unorthodox partner. And as the Stamen-Pistil naming implies, the series is full of analogy to growth, puberty, and male-female relationships. 

Already established as the anime to watch this season, the series does fall prey to some common tropes, especially when it came to character design, which definitely lowered the excitement level for me. The first episode started the series off with a bang, with death, nudity, and the changing heart of an emo teen. However, while the story has been predictable enough so far, it seems promising enough for me to overlook it's current lack of complexity and look forward to further development of the plot.

For many, the most compelling reason to watch Darling in the Franxx is 02. Shrouded in mystery, and really cute to boot, 02 is more knowledgable about the world outside Plantations than the other Parasites and clearly has her own agenda. Watching everyone manoeuvre around her is quite interesting. I am also looking forward to seeing the Parasites, who still single-mindedly trust in the adults and "Papa" that they live and fight and die for, change as they interact with 02.

For me, Darling in the Franxx is reminiscent of NGE, but with less biblical references and more Stockholm Syndrome (perhaps the Stamen-Pistil thing might be social commentary, but I'm not into anime to over-contemplate things). Either way, I have a nagging feeling that these first 7 episodes are only the tip of the iceberg.

Written by Nana