Category Archives: Cartoons/Animation/Video

Sweetness and Lightning: A Very Cute Anime

Crunchyroll currently has a very cute family food anime called Sweetness and Lightning (Amaama to Inazuma).

Kouhei Inuzuka, a dad who lost his wife six months ago, is having a hard time raising their daughter Tsumugi alone, especially since he can’t cook. He never had much appetite, but since his wife died he’s been losing weight to the point that his teaching colleagues openly worry about him.

One of his high school students, Kotori Iida, has a mom who works all the time as a celebrity chef, and her father is gone. She also has a phobia about knives, so she can’t do most cooking; and unless she gets over it, she won’t be able to keep the family restaurant going when she grows up.

So (with her mom’s permission) the girl who knows a lot about cooking but never does any, starts to teach the widowed dad how to cook. (And she also gets to play big sister to little Tsumugi, and have a father figure in her life.) So far, Dad has to do all the chopping.

It’s a charming show made from a charming manga. (The manga is also available on Crunchyroll.) Each storyline in the comic includes a recipe as an appendix, so that you can make the same dishes that the characters do.

This is a great intro to simple Japanese cooking, or an inspiration to get off your butt and do some. It also includes some useful information about European- and American-style cooking… but obviously, Japanese cooks adapt their recipes to local taste, just like American cooks do.

So their idea of Salisbury steak is served with a tomato-based sauce and a fried egg on top. (I’m not against it, mind you, but the American idea of Salisbury steak involves brown gravy and no eggs.)

I do want to point out that Kouhei isn’t some stereotypical helpless guy. He does a pretty good job taking care of the house and his job and his daughter. He just needs to know how to cook. (And to be taken out of himself, so that he can get out of his grief and depression, which are affecting his job. As Kotori points out, it’s not good for a homeroom teacher not to know the names and faces of his students. Kouhei has been living in a grief fog, and that’s understandable; but it can’t go on.)

And no, it’s not skeevy. The manga actually points out that Japanese homeroom teachers used to spend a lot of time with their students at home, as well as doing home visits with the parents to discuss the kids. Having teachers over to eat was once common. (Although I assume that this was in the days when teacher salaries were lower, so a lot of Japanese moms probably wanted to feed sensei and keep him/her from starving to death.) This is a manga and anime about a father; he just gains an extra daughter. (Albeit a daughter who intermittently has a crush on him… but Kotori tactfully keeps it to herself.)

I actually have a suspicion that the widowed dad and the divorced mom may eventually get together in the manga. It’s hard to tell, since they haven’t actually met in person yet. (The mom writes out and draws recipe instructions each week for her daughter and the dad, so she’s actually “present” in some storylines and has some personality established.) Of course, since the comic is aimed at teenage girls, it is probably unlikely that the story would go this way! Most likely, nothing will happen except teenager angst.

Also, I forgot to point out that the voice actress playing Tsumugi is actually a young kid – one of the talented kids from the calligraphy anime Barakamon. I hope she’s still having fun with her work; but if she’s only doing one series a season, that should be okay.

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Two Disappointing Flicks: Zootopia and Ant-Man

So I went to Redbox and rented some movies. (Good price.) And I’m glad I didn’t pay a movie ticket or digital rental price, because dang, I would have been upset about the waste of money.

Zootopia was well-animated and had a lot of cute and interesting bits, but oh the stupidity.

First off, it’s not suitable for kids. It’s got scenes that are really dark in ways that will frighten young kids, and there is an extended joke about nudist animals that is presented in a really uncomfortable way. The morals of the story are banged in with hammers, and it’s insulting to kids. Oh, and there’s a Breaking Bad homage sequence. In a kids’ movie.

Second, it’s not suitable for adults, because the plotline is on rails and the police don’t act like police. It’s obvious that the story went through all kinds of developmental hell, but sheesh. The plot also contradicts the supposed morals of the story, as the writers constantly trade complexity for cheap jokes and the aforesaid hammers.

On the bright side, some of the characters are likeable, and the movie is fun when it’s working. The sets are pretty. I don’t blame the voice actors, the animators, the music people, or anybody else besides the writers and directors. Who sucked.

Ant-Man spent a zillion years setting up the action, and there were a lot of talk scenes and training montages that were so boring I turned down the volume and caught up on reading blogs. There was a really good Paul Rudd movie in there, and the action scenes were fun and interesting. Just way too much talk, way too much villain annoyance, and way too much of Hope Van Dyne whining and showing off her Buffy-like martial arts powers in the training montages. (If I want to see a woman beating up the hero of a movie for five minutes, I’ll just get out my Barbie doll and have her stomp on my action figures.)

Anyway, I liked Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, and I liked the little girl actress as Cassie Lang. And the giant Thomas the Tank Engine was worth a fair amount of annoyance.

So once again, I don’t blame the actors, the animators, the set guys…..

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“Love and Friendship” Is Hilarious Fun

The newest Jane Austen adaptation, Love and Friendship (based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan) is not Regency; it’s Georgian. And it’s not gently satirical; it has a villainess of “diabolical genius.” But the battlefields are still all family and social matters, and the ending is a happy one.

Lady Susan Vernon is a creature of charm, only because it serves her self-interest. She does have feelings, but mostly for herself. She always gets her own way… and that’s what makes her fascinating and terrifying to watch. Kate Beckinsale does a wonderful job with this part.

The rest of the cast is given some wonderful characters to play, as well as really good lines. They run with it. It’s the kind of movie where Stephen Fry plays a relatively minor role, and still has plenty to do.

The movie is set in England but was filmed on location in Ireland, using all sorts of gorgeous great houses and the Georgian-era neighborhoods of Dublin. The sets are great, and so are the costumes. (For history fans, it’s a lot of fun watching Lady Susan go from her mourning garb to half-blacks to colors again. The timing is perfect.)

It’s a wonderful example of how making everything period and believable doesn’t mean making everything deadly dull.

Go see it in the theater, if you can. It is worth it.

An interview with the director.

Austen’s epistolary novella, Lady Susan.

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Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju

The time is the 1970’s. A young man is getting out of prison, with nowhere to go. But he does have a desperate plan. So he goes to the theater door of a man he saw perform only once before – at the prison – and pleads to become his apprentice in the art of rakugo.

Rakugo is usually described as a form of Japanese comedy. As this show points out early, that’s not entirely true. It’s more a blend of storytelling and acting, where the storyteller takes on all the parts. It is now regarded as high culture and performed in theaters, but it started out as just storytellers in the marketplace, sitting on mats. So the storyteller doesn’t take up much space or move around a lot, but he strives to create a whole world. Many of the stories are funny, but there’s also a tradition of scary stories.

So it’s an audacious career idea for a young man who’s totally inexperienced, but it’s not impossible. The master storyteller renames him “Yotaro” (an old-fashioned expression for “fool” that apparently shows up a lot in rakugo), but he accepts him as an apprentice. Yotaro turns out to be a hard worker and to have a good heart, and he openly supports the people around him. One of these is Konatsu, raised as a daughter of the house but actually the orphaned daughter of a famed rakugo storyteller. Although once it was just not done for women to do rakugo, Yotaro straightforwardly recognizes her skill and learns from her, while also asking the master to make her an apprentice too.

But it won’t all be that easy for Yotaro. His past follows him and causes him trouble, just as their pasts follow his master and his sempai, Konatsu. Somehow, they must reconcile the past while finding their own paths into the future. Because the problem with a traditional artform is that it has to stay enthralling to audiences in order to survive….

Visually, this show is gorgeous, albeit done in muted tones. The voice acting is also tremendous. (I’m pretty sure that the guy who plays Nyanta in Log Horizon is playing one of the small parts.) But even though it’s a “cultural” show, it’s not inaccessible to us Westerners; and it’s interesting that the anime art seems to be pointing out the debt that anime owes to traditional Japanese storytellers as well as to Japanese drama conventions. (As apparently the josei manga it’s based on was doing for manga art.) It will also be very interesting for anyone who’s ever performed in public, because it catches that feel very well. But as is fitting for a show about storytelling, it’s just a darned good story!

Episodes of this show are 47 minutes long, so you get a full drama-length TV show every week. That’s needed, because each episode apparently covers a lot of ground!

I recommend this show. Like Yotaro, it has a good heart.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju* is available on Crunchyroll. The first ep will be available to non-subscribers (free with commercials) starting next Friday.

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Samurai Pizza Cats: Now Available on Crunchyroll!

Crunchyroll has been adding a lot of older animes lately. Now they have added the famous/infamous Samurai Pizza Cats, a humorous, non-literal American dub of a fairly bizarre Japanese show about anthropomorphic cats wearing battlesuits.

If you’re a subscriber, you can watch the whole run as of today. If you’re watching it free with commercials, 18 episodes will be made available each week until the whole run is available to free users.

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Galileo – Now on Crunchyroll!

Tantei Galileo (Detective Galileo), a fun live-action mystery series from Japan in 2007-2008, is now going to be available on Crunchyroll for legal viewing! (It’s been retitled Galileo for us overseas viewers.)

Yukawa Manabu is an internationally-known physicist. Kusanagi, his roommate from back at Tokyo University, became a police detective; and so Yukawa also works as a scientific consultant and sleuth, as chronicled in several short story collections and the first two Galileo mystery novels by Keigo Higashino. (The later books have been affected by events and characters from the TV show, which the writer apparently considers canon-ish.)

But the tv adaptation paired up Yukawa with Utsumi Kaoru, a newbie police detective from the same station where Kusanagi worked before he got promoted to headquarters. She’s a woman, shy, prickly, younger, and of much lower social station. (Which is why at first you see her bowing all the time to officers senior to her, which is pretty much everyone.) But she’s not eyecandy or comic relief; she runs the cases. Her passion for truth and justice pairs nicely with Yukawa’s more coldblooded approach to problems.

If you like a good traditional puzzle mystery that relies on logic, fact, and scientific principles, and if you like a mysterious atmosphere and interesting characters, you’ll like this show a lot.

The bad news is that there are only 10 episodes, and #4 is currently unavailable due to licensing problems. (Probably music issues again.) Non-premium members can watch the first three eps now, and the rest after August 7. The translation is well done, as usual for Crunchyroll.

Galileo!!

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Mouretsu Pirates #5: Poetry Battle Exchange

Too bad Kirk and Uhura never got to play the poetry reference game….

I think all the poetry references are from the medieval poetry collection Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, as far as I can tell.

“White robes….” = the change from spring to summer, and no more tears. Also, “Surrender!” A nice way to demand surrender, but Captain Doolittle is showing that she’s wide awake and smart, and that they’re stupid old farts.

“You say you’ll love me forever….” I think is a sarcastic comment about how the Lightning II is sad that the high school girls mean to leave so soon, along with more sarcasm about being ooh, so confused. But mostly it’s saying that the schoolgirls are lying and bluffing. It’s a veiled threat.

“….pushes forward….” I think is a poem about a boat traveling over the deeps of love, but don’t quote me on it. I’m not certain about this one; it may even be newly composed for the occasion. Anyway, the girl is saying, “You can’t stop us.”

“Mountain cherries….” is about how the girls are all alone with the Lightning II, and nobody knows its identity or what’s going on. Another veiled threat in the terms of a love poem, but probably also a veiled warning that the girls don’t know what their opponent is about to do next.

These poems have been translated lots of different ways, since they are both brief and involve ambiguous wordplay. I find the Crunchyroll translator’s speedy job amazing.

Linking to Steven Den Beste’s post asking for such an analysis, since I’m not a commenter at his site.

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