We Were There: bittersweet hopefulness (spoilers!)

We Were There: bittersweet hopefulness (spoilers!)

With 14 volumes released in the U.S to date, We Were There is drawing to a close. We Were There follows Nanami Takahashi, a normal high school girl who falls in love with Motoharu Yano, the most popular boy in her class. Nanami soon learns that Yano is still mourning the death of his previous girlfriend Nana, which puts a strain on the couple’s developing feelings for one another. Nanami’s and Yano’s relationship is also threatened by Yano’s best friend Masafumi Takeuchi, who has feelings for Nanami, and Yuri, Nana’s little sister who has held unrequited feelings for Yano since junior high school. The first eight volumes cover Nanami and Yano’s high school romance, culminating when Yano decides to move with his mother to Tokyo. The highlight of the series occurs right after Nanami sees Yano off at the train station: in a sadly shocking yet realistic twist the reader is thrust four years into the future near the end of Nanami’s college career, only to find out that she and Yano never saw each other again. The latter half of the series follows an adult Nanami struggling to overcome her feelings for Yano and accept a relationship with Takeuchi. As the series draws near it’s end, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together as both Nanami and the reader find out what happened to Yano and why he broke his promise to reunite with her. And while the events that occur to the characters may seem melodramatic, the characters’ reactions are all wonderfully written and heartbreakingly realistic.  And yet it’s because of how authentic the series has been that I am fearful of how it will end.

As much as I love realistic endings, I can’t help but want Nanami and Yano to find their way back to each other, even if that seems impossible. Their long-awaited reunion in volume 13 was bittersweet at best: Yano coldly tells Nanami he dumped her, and Nanami quickly figures out that Yano and Yuri are living together. But the fact that he dreams of Nanami at night suggests that he still loves her as well, and it’s obvious that Yano’s feelings for Yuri are more of an obligation to help her sick mother than romantic. I think the reason I want things to work out for them even though they’ve suffered so much is because in the end I feel like neither of them are at fault for their relationship failing. While some may blame Yano for deciding to abandon Nanami and his friends after his mother’s suicide, all I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him and give him a big hug. Just as Nanami hasn’t been able to let go of what once was between her and Yano, I haven’t been able to either. I can understand why some have problems with Nanami and Yano’s relationship, because even at their best they were far from perfect. While Nanami is for a long time is constantly threatened by Yano’s lingering feelings for Nana, Yano oftentimes isn’t completely honest with Nanami, which stems from his fear of being betrayed again just as he was by Nana. But I still believe that when it comes to Yano and Nanami the good outweighs the bad. Yano loved Nanami the best way he knew how, and one of my favorite scenes when he says that he wishes he could change his past to stop her from crying. The scenes of them making fun of how cheesy they are as a couple or wishing under the stars to grow up so they can be together always still warm my heart through the bittersweet moments.

And while there are some readers who wish Nanami would move on and learn to love Takeuchi, I can’t say I want that to happen. I was happy when Nanami rejected Takeuchi’s marriage proposal since she would only be hurting him had she accepted it, because along with the fact that she lacks passionate feelings for Takeuchi there are other problems I have with them as a couple. While some readers are frustrated with Nanami’s inability to let go of all of the hopes she’s placed in her relationship with Yano, I feel as though these readers wish Nanami will choose to be with Takeuchi just so she can move on, which in my opinion doesn’t have to be with Takeuchi. Takeuchi may be the kind and selfless friend Nanami has always turned to, but I’ve always felt that if he were truly selfless he wouldn’t put so much pressure on Nanami to choose him, or constantly remind her of the fact that he’s always been there for her. And in terms of Yano and Takeuchi’s friendship, it doesn’t seem as though either one of them is fully comfortable with the thought of Nanami and Takeuchi being together, despite the fact that Yano asked Takeuchi to take care of her after his mother died.

Yet while the loose strings between Nanami and Yano seem to slowly tying together, there is still one thread that has so-far been left hanging: Nana. For the past six volumes or so, Yano’s late girlfriend has played a minimal role in the series. This makes sense because it’s been several years since her death occured and the characters have all naturally moved on, but I feel that the end of We Were There would be incomplete unless she was brought back into the series one last time. With all of my hopes for the cast of We Were There, even if the series ends on the bittersweet note it seemingly has been heading towards, reading it is the most enjoyable heartbreak you’ll ever experience. As much as I wish for a happy ending in We Were There, what I love most about the series is how beautifully it shows that there is no easy solution to problems of the heart.

Anime Blogger Interrogation Game

Anime Blogger Interrogation Game

I’ll be participating in the Anime Blogger Interrogation Game, which both Simpleek and Soaringwings have tagged me in. Since I’ve been tagged twice, I’ll answer both sets of questions in this one post. Let’s get started!

Rules (copy/pasted from the original)

  • Each person is supposed to follow the rule of fives.You are allowed to ask 5 questions, after which you can tag up to 5 bloggers by hyper-linking to their blog; 5 questions because it’s not too many to flood another blogger and occupy too much of his/her time, but yet a large enough number to ask your most important questions, and 5 bloggers to avoid spamming. Hence, prioritize your questions, and who you wish to ask!
  • Those tagged are obliged to answer the questions in a blog post, and after which, they are entitled to create their own 5 questions and tag 5 other bloggers, so on and so forth. You are allowed to tag the person that tagged you in the first place. Also, copy and paste this section on your blog so others can understand how the game goes.
  • In the case where a blogger strongly refuses to answer a question, he/she must instead post a nice anime image, wallpaper or cosplay picture, et cetera in response to that question.
  • To make things interesting, a blogger can include wildcards in his/her 5 questions by placing an asterisk, (*), after which those tagged are obliged to reveal something interesting about themselves that others did not previously know. There is no limit to the number of asterisks one can place (which means there can be up to 5 wildcard questions).
  • Anyone can feel free to start the game; you don’t necessarily need someone to tag you. Just create your 5 questions and tag your 5 people of choice. However, the catch is that you must answer your own 5 questions as well.
  • To potentially prevent an endless game, this round of games will end on the 8th September 2012, 12pm JST (GMT +9). After which, no more bloggers can tag others to answer their questions. Read more
Natsume’s Book of Friends

Natsume’s Book of Friends

Natsume and Nyanko-sensei (in his true form).

Teenager Takashi Natsume has been able to see spirits and demons called yokai since he was a kid. One day he meets Nyanko-sensei, a yokai who has been stuck in a ceramic cat, who tells Natsume he’s the grandson of Reiko Natsume, a woman who was also able to see yokai. Reiko owned a book called Natsume’s Book of Friends, which contained the names of many yokai whose lives are controlled by the book. Natsume decides to take on the mission of giving the yokai back their names, and Nyanko-sensei joins him as his protector in the hopes of taking the book once Natsume dies. But as the series progresses, Natsume finds himself doing more than giving the yokai back their names – he also helps the yokai out time and time again, even against Nyanko-sensei’s warnings.

Natsume, Nyanko-sensei, and several yokai (including Tama).

The series is told in an episodic fashion, with each chapter featuring Natsume’s encounter with a different yokai, so over the course of the four volumes I’ve read so far the series doesn’t have an overarching plot. While some of the yokai are vengeful and wish to eat humans, others are innocent or have even become attached to a human. So far, many of the softer stories have stood out as favorites because they’re poignantly bittersweet. The fourth story in volume three features a yokai (named Tama) who hatches from an egg, and Natsume decides to take care of him. The first scene between them is adorable – when Natsume hears Tama sneeze the second he leaves the egg, he rushes to get a bowl of hot water for Tama to sit in so he can warm up. Because Tama is a Tatsumi chick, he took the form of the first thing he saw when he hatched, which was Natsume himself, and he becomes very attached to him. He refuses to eat because he’s afraid of growing and one day having to leave Natsume, but Natsume promises him that it’s okay for him to grow because Tama can come visit him even after the time for them to part ways comes. Another favorite story of mine is “Natsume’s Special Observation Diary part one,” a short story at the end of volume four. It’s told from the perspective of a young fox yokai who often gets picked on for being useless. One day, Natsume beats up the yokai who were taunting him, and the fox begins following Natsume. At first, Natsume tries to hide from the fox because he’s afraid of him getting too attached, since they would have to part ways since Natsume was only visiting the forest on a school trip. However, he ends up saving the fox again, and in turn the fox gives Natsume a large leaf to shelter him from the rain, and even once the two part ways the fox no longer feels useless because he was able to finally help someone. Little moments like these stand out, and showcase how touching and memorable Yuki Midorikawa’s storytelling can be.

Natsume and Nyanko-sensei.

Because of the series episodic nature, there aren’t many recurring characters except for Natsume and Nyanko-sensei, who have a fun dynamic (even though Nyanko-sensei is a powerful yokai Natsume isn’t afraid of him at all, and he simply puches Nyanko-sensei when he threatens to eat him). One character who pops up occassionally is Shuichi Natori, an actor who can see yokai. He enlists Natsume’s help a few times, and the relationship between the two is interesting – Natsume finds someone he can relate to in Natori because he knows what it’s like to see things normal people can’t, yet he dislikes the fact that Natori is an exorcist. I tend not to care much for series that don’t have developing plots – but the short stories in Natsume’s Book of Friends are well-crafted enough to capture my attention. And although the plot doesn’t develop much, Natsume’s character goes through tremondous growth, which I find doesn’t always happen in episodic series. Natsume is a wonderful character – he has been traded from family to family and always grew up feeling alone. He’s afraid to get to close to people because of past experiences of being called a liar and teased by other children for being able to see yokai no one else can, and thus doesn’t tell his classmates or the family he’s staying with his secret. Natsume’s grandmother Reiko faced similar hardships, which led to her cruelty toward yokai and her desire to own their names simply for her pleasure. Yet through his experiences with yokai he learns not only to feel sympathy and attachment to yokai – he also learns how much the fragile relationships with humans he’s made mean to him. Natsume’s kindness is the biggest reason I’m enjoying Natsume’s Book of Friends, a series that’s so different from the majority of the shojo manga I’ve read that I’d recommend anyone to at least give it a shot.

What makes a good couple?

What makes a good couple?

I love a good love story. I find watching the struggles of two people come together to be more exciting than any action-adventure story or fantasy setting could ever be. But just what is it that makes a good love story, and even more importantly, a good couple? There are literally hundreds of romance manga, yet only a handful of couples have carved a place in my heart as my favorites. After thinking about it, I came up with several elements all that are present in all of the love stories I’ve enjoyed most, so I thought I’d share them with you guys.

Interesting characters: No matter how great a love story may be, if either of the characters in a relationship with each other are boring or unmemorable, I won’t feel the need to care about them. Take Hana-Kimi, for example: I never found myself particularly attached to either Mizuki, who is a cherrful-yet-typical shojo heroine, or Sano, who is pretty-yet-dull, and thus they never stood out to me in comparison to other manga couples. Even if one character is unique, if the other character is flat or outright annoying it makes it impossible for me to have strong feelings towards a couple, such as in The Devil Does Exist, which features a pretty intriguing male lead in Takeru but a disappointingly dense heroine in Kayano. This is probably why my favorite couples also consist of my favorite characters, particularly Kodocha‘s Sana and Akito.

I like fun, teasing couples like Dengeki Daisy’s Teru and Kurosaki.

The power balance is equal: There are too many series that glorify romantic pairings in which the woman is in a subservient position. While I probably don’t even need to mention magical-girlfriend/harem series such as He is My Master, a (sadly high) number of shojo series feature relationships in which passive girls are dating guys who hold power over them – which they use to the fullest extent. In Black Bird, Kyo’s often cruel treatment of girl-next-door Misao is treated as ‘romantic’ because he is her protector, while in Hot Gimmick Hatsumi is blackmailed by her jerky neighbor Ryoki, which eventually turns into ‘true love,’ warts and all. Dengeki Daisy offers an interesting case: although Kurosaki is Teru’s protector and a few years older than her, the worst he ever does is tease her, while Teru’s brighter and spunkier than either Misao and Hatsumi could ever hope to be. Thus, they feel more like equals than many other manga couples, and this has helped me latch onto the couple as one of my most recent favorites. But it’s not just the power balance that’s important: both characters also need to feel equally in love with each other. In Itazura na Kiss, Kotoko spent six years pining after Naoki Irie before he confessed his love. The two married shortly after, but Naoki still rarely showed his affection for Kotoko, often putting his work ahead of her and being just generally indifferent to celebrating anniversaries and going on dates. Even though it’s obvious that he does love her, it’s hard for me to love Naoki and Kotoko as a couple as much as I love their love story because their relationship feels so imbalanced.

They’re comfortable around each other: Over at Beneath the Tangles, TWWK wrote a great post on the myth of chemistry. As TWWK writes, if Kimi ni Todoke‘s Sawako and Kazehaya were a couple in real life, many people would say that they ‘don’t have chemistry’ because they are always blushing and awkward around each other. The post goes on to say that chemistry is unimportant because finding out more about the other person is more important than focusing on your own feelings. However, I have to wonder: isn’t being nervous around someone the opposite of getting to know them better? Getting to know more about the other person should allow both individuals involved to be more comfortable not only in their relationship, but in showing their true selves.  All of the couples I love in anime and manga bicker with each other, and while on the surface that may seem dysfunctional, it actually shows how close they are that they’re confident that an argument won’t tear them apart – and confident that they know the other person well enough to call them out on their crap. I appreciate how unique Sawako and Kazehaya are as a shojo couple – he’s not the stereotypical bad boy and both of them are adorable together – but they’re missing that ‘spark’ that I need to completely fall for a couple, and thus I think I admire how different they are more than I actually like them.

We actually see them fall in love: I cannot stress enough how important this is.  The most important factor in determining my feelings towards a couple is that I understand their reasons for falling for one another. Thus, I tend not to care much for shojo series where the girl has feelings for her boyfriend-to-be prior to the series start. This is not only because I enjoy watching the process of characters falling for one another, but also because the backstory of why the girl fell for the guy tends to be pretty shallow (e.g, he lent her a handkerchief while flashing a dazzling smile)., and don’t convince me that the couple was meant to be together. But it’s not just important for me to know why a couple loves each other: it needs to actually be shown. One of the problems I had with Marmalade Boy‘s Miki and Yuu was that Yuu’s reasons for liking Miki were told instead of shown. He tells her that he loves her because she’s honest, which to me seems like a very vague reason to fall for someone because it could easily be applied to another girl in the series who had a crush on him. Thus, we need to see the ‘chase’ as the relationship unfolds: how the characters met; the struggles they went through to realize they’re in love with each other, in order to fully share the couple’s joy once they finally get together.

Kodocha’s Akito and Sana

And then they build a relationship: Several anime bloggers have pointed out that a flaw of romance anime is that they often focus solely on the drama before two characters get together. Many fans believe that very few series highlight the main couple maintaining their relationship, but actually I’d argue that there are many shojo series that do (His and Her Circumstances, Sand Chronicles, Mars, and Love*Com are several examples among many others). It can be kind of unsatisfying to see a couple you like confess and kiss at the very end of the series, without ever getting to see them be happy together. This type of ending often leaves me wondering: what kind of couple will these characters be like together? What separates couple A in series A from couple B in series B is their dynamic with one another, and I feel this is best shown once the characters are dating. Of course, there is some truth to the opinion that the ‘before’ is more interesting because the characters’ are faced with odds that prevent them from being together, and because once the couple has gotten together there aren’t many storylines left. But I think seeing a couple build on their relationship to become closer to each other and watching them resolve problems that young couples naturally face (going to different colleges, etc.) can be interesting if it’s done well. Thus, most of my favorite couples are from series that highlight both the before and after: we get to see them meet and slowly fall in love, then they eventually together and we are allowed to truly get to know and feel for them by seeing how they’ll make their relationship work. Both Akito and Sana from Kodocha and Tsukushi and Tsukasa from Boys Over Flowers go through each of these stages, and that is why they are my favorite couples in anime and manga.

There are many reasons why the audience might love one couple over another. What is romantic is subjective, and in terms of manga at least, readers may all be looking for different things. While some people prefer romances that are written as though they could happen in real-life, others prefer fantasies that some would label ‘dangerous.’ For those of you who have couples you love: what is it about those couples that makes them stand out above the rest? And what do you feel is the most important factor in being engrossed by a romance? Share your thoughts, guys!

Everybody loves them…except me

Everybody loves them…except me

I was thinking about the characters I’ve liked from every anime series I’ve watched. What I quickly realized is that in many series I’ve watched, the character with the biggest fanbase is one that I’m indifferent to, or actively dislike. So, I’ve compiled a list of characters (some more popular than others) that most fans who have seen these series like…but I don’t.

  1. Sailor Mercury (Sailor Moon): I’ll start off with her because she’s a pretty recognizable character. Like many of the other characters on this list, I don’t actually dislike this character – I find her to be pretty boring, but harmless nontheless. However, I don’t understand her enormous popularity – in a poll from Animage magazine ranking the most popular female anime characters of 1992 (the same year as Sailor Moon ‘s debut), Sailor Mercury was voted number one.  Out of all the characters from Sailor Moon , I definitely prefer Sailor Venus and Sailor Jupiter, who have much brighter personalities.
  2. The elusive Madoka.

    Madoka (Kimagure Orange Road): Now, KOR is from 1987, so I wouldn’t exactly say Madoka’s the most popular female character in anime today. However, back in the late 80s, Madoka was the number one girl-next-door for anime fans in Japan. Even in the late 90s, when Kimagure first came to America, Madoka was seen as a goddess by male anime fans because of her beauty and constant teasing of Kyosuke, the main male protagonist in the series. However, the reason why fans love her is the very reason I have a problem with her character: she’s too perfect. She can play the saxophone and piano, she can sing, horseback ride, ski, surf, is beautiful, and gets good grades without trying. Her only flaw is that she’s so melancholy – which is because everything has come so easily to her. Since I don’t find this to be a very good excuse for her sullen nature, I don’t really sympathize with her. Meanwhile, her best friend and love rival Hikaru, who is considered to be very annoying by most Kimagure fans, I find to be very sympathetic because she is the third wheel in this triangle.

  3. Roy Mustang (Fullmetal Alchemist): Here’s another character I don’t have any actual problems with – I just don’t see what the fuss is over him. Now, Ed is still more popular than Roy, but there is a huge fanbase of fangirls for this flaming hot coloniel. Now aside from the fact that I don’t actually find him hot, I’d much watch Ed and Al in action, or find out Lust’s background than waste time seeing Ed and Roy duke it out. Yet,  he was always voted in Newtype’s Top Ten male characters throughout 2004, when FMA was first airing in Japan. Furthermore, in an Oricon poll asking Japanese fans which side characters were most deserving of a spinoff, Roy ranked sixth among male fans. But considering how many fans love Roy because they ship him with Ed, I may have to chalk this one up to not being a yaoi fangirl.
  4. Haruhi in a typically bossy stance.

    Haruhi Suzumiya (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya): Haruhi is a unique character on this list for several reasons. First, she comes from a series that I really dislike, while all the other characters on this list come from anime I actually enjoyed at one point or another. Second, rather than being neutral towards her or curious as to why she’s so popular, Haruhi is definitely the character that I most actively dislike on this list (and probably in anime in general). Finally, while she’s an enormously popular character, maybe more than any other character I’ve mentioned, she’s also got a significant hatedom. Yet while there are many who can’t stand the loud, bossy leader of the SOS club who sexually assaults it’s female members, her fans seem to outnumber her foes. In a 2010 Newtype poll, Haruhi was ranked the fifth most popular female character of the 2000s. What I have noticed, however, is that the people who dislike her character often tend to be women. Thus, my hatred for this character perhaps can best be explained by the fact that I am not a member of the show’s target demographic: moe-loving males.

  5. Riku Harada (D.N.Angel): While Riku is not anywhere near as popular as, say, Haruhi Suzumiya, of all the female characters in D.N.Angel, Riku is by far the most liked. Now this could be because fans find Risa, Riku’s boy-crazy twin sister to be shallow and Mio, a hyper girl who isn’t from the original manga, to be annoying, thus making her the best of the worst. However, while Risa didn’t really bother me because I’ve met several girls like her, I found Riku to be too bossy and irritating to be considered the ‘nice’ girl, and I’ve never cared for her since.
  6. Rui Hanazawa (Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers). This…is a hard one. I think the main reason I’m not a fan of Rui (aside from the fact that I don’t see why people find him to be a prince charming) is because I love Tsukasa Domyoji, Rui’s rival love interest, so much and want everyone to love him too. That sounds sort of childish, but I just hate when people gush over Rui so much when I find him to be cold and kind of boring for a good portion of the series. There are so many fans who were willing to look past Rui’s jerky moments because of his kinder acts towards Tsukushi, but weren’t willing to do the same for Tsukasa, EVEN WHEN TSUKASA RISKED HIS LIFE FOR HER. Just look at this poll: Crea magazine asked for the top 100 male manga characters Japanese females fell in love with most, and Rui is number four on this list. Four. Out of all male characters in every manga ever created. The only saving grace is that Tsukasa is also on the list, at a very respectable number thirteen. But he’s so much more funny and loving. Sigh. There is no justice.

So have you guys noticed that you tend not to care for characters everyone else seems to love? Share your thoughts!