Anime — Pillow Boys

Lately I find myself having to explain Japanese drama CDs to people more and more often. It’s because a lot of the techniques used in these situation audio dramas, usually aimed at women, have been finding their way into other media that makes it over to Western awareness, most recently being the Fire Emblem if binaural voice over dialogues when getting intimate with your army (wear headphones for this).

The topic also came up when I was livetweeting the new anime Makura no Danshi, a currently airing show that can be watched via Crunchyroll. While this new anime doesn’t have the ASMR-inducing voice effects that the binaural recordings do, it has the same sort of scenarios that one-on-one drama CDs involve, basically dude talking at you and telephoning your character’s lines back. Each week a different animated guy will sit and pleasantly chat about your day for five minutes.

Once you break past the initial embarrassment factor it’s nice to chill and bask in the presence of a piece of media unabashedly catering to women.

If you’re curious about more stuff like this, many longer drama CDs exist. They range from transmedia tie-ins to existing properties, radio-style dramas, one-on-one situation CDs, BL dramas. There are even plenty of spicy 18+ offerings. Translations usually abound online thanks to Tumblr, if you don’t mind following along or being surprised after the fact about what the sweet Japanese guy was actually growling in your ear.

Or you can wait for Fire Emblem Fates to come out next year!

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Steven Universe

Through my past couple of sick days I’ve been using the time at home laying on my couch to blast through Steven Universe, a show breathlessly acclaimed by all of my friends. I had been enjoying all the fanart but hadn’t watched much of the show myself, until now.

I’ll admit, Steven Universe didn’t grab me at first. I had seen the pilot last year when it went up online and found the concept interesting but irritating at the same time. As I got further into the show itself I saw more details on the Crystal Gems’ relationship to their youngest, half-human member Steven and I became endeared to all of them.

Steven Universe doesn’t balk from delving into themes of non-traditional family units and even consent. All the characters are their own flawed beings, with three non-human Gems trying their best to act as mothers for the half-human child their beloved colleague left behind. Steven is just a kid and watching him learn how to negotiate with parental units who don’t always know what best to do is fascinating. They all learn and grow from each other.

I also really enjoy all the anime references and throwbacks, with plenty of allusions to Revolutionary Girl Utena, Sailor Moon, Ghibli, etc. You can even spot little references in the backgrounds, like Steven’s Gitaroo Man and Cloud Strife figurines.

You can now watch the first half of Steven Universe streaming on Hulu, and the rest is up on Amazon Instant.

Anime — Gatchaman Crowds

I never expected to be watching Gatchaman Crowds back when it started streaming. I didn’t grow up with the original Battle of the Planets so I was lacking the nostalgia to initially draw me to it. But it turns out Crowds really has very little to do with the original Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, instead it’s a completely ground up rebuilding of the superhero team franchise.

What drew me in were the stylish animated gifs popping up on my Tumblr feed. The colors are so bright but not garish. All the characters looked expressive, unique, and endearing. I loaded up the first episode and found instead of the usual monster-of-the-week superhero action Gatchaman Crowds delved into questioning the place of a superhero team in a modern world, with nation-wide socialization via the internet and the crowd-sourcing of local labor. Definitely my kind of jam.

Character designer Kinako is now one of my favorite artists working in the industry. Her feel of colors, lines, and dynamic posing is beautiful to behold. I really recommend checking out her Twitter, where she happens to upload fanart and original character pieces often.

I was initially worried because the show had a plucky and outgoing female protagonist and I was dreading a harsh lesson-learning downfall being planned for her—but no, she gets to be a bright treasure through and through. I also had concerns because the show features a character who presents feminine in most instances but the story doesn’t make explicitly clear their preference on identification, so they can certainly be read as trans by fans. Through the whole rest of the season I was waiting for some kind of inevitable transphobic or trans-misogynistic element to rear its head. Luckily it never does! My trans friends who I’ve discussed the show with were all pleasantly surprised and thankful at the outcome.

Season 2 of the series has just started, called Gatchaman Crowds Insight. If you haven’t watched then now would be a good time to catch up (the show can be found on both Crunchyroll and Hulu)! Unfortunately us poor fans in the West do not have access to the Blu-Ray only Director’s Cut of the final episode (though the Bluray and DVDs are available to buy here), which I hear is much better at tying up loose ends. But since season 2 has already started up you can just jump to the helpful set-up episode 0 of that.

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Anime — Kamisama Kiss

 

Kamisama Kiss (known in Japan as Kamisama Hajimemashita) is one of my favorite anime series. But it doesn’t seem very well known so I try to recommend it to my friends who like shoujo series. Just getting screenshots for this post made me want to watch it again, for the third time.

The series is told from the perspective of Nanami Monozono, a high-school student who is made homeless thanks to her now-absentee gambling-addicted father. But she’s taking things in stride. While sitting in a public park thinking of what to do next about her living situation she happens upon a man stuck up in a tree who is being hassled by a small dog. She shoos off the canine and the man thanks her for rescuing him by offering her his old house.

It turns out his old house is a creepy shrine inhabited by will-o-the-wisps and a fox-demon familiar named Tomoe, and she has now inadvertently inherited the position of Land God.

While visually Kamisama Kiss looks to be taking a lot of cues from Inuyasha, thanks to school-girl Nanami and silver-haired fox-eared Tomoe, its narrative is extremely different. Inuyasha is a shounen fantastical action-adventure with romantic themes, Kamisama Kiss is a more modern shoujo romantic comedy with fantastical themes. The anime is directed by the same person who did Fruits Basket, if that gives you an idea of what kind of show to expect. The Kamisama Kiss anime has a short and sweet single season run (a second season has been announced and will start in early 2015) that is enjoyable to blow through on a weekend.

And it should be stressed that Kamisama Kiss is really funny. Nanami’s take-no-shit attitude when dealing with all these supernatural creatures in the guises of hot men, such as an idol rockstar crow-demon, who keep showing up in her life is very entertaining to watch. But she is also believably characterized as a vulnerable teenager that is working through a lot of stuff and trying her best given the circumstances. I like Nanami a lot. But I have to say, my favorite character is the bumbling yet cunning sacred snake familiar, Mizuki (he shares the same voice actor as Mikorin from Nozaki-kun, so that is a bonus).

The Kamisama Kiss manga is also very good. It extends quite a bit farther than where the first season of the anime ends and, from that the previews show, it also extends farther than what the second season will see, so if you enjoy the anime and want to follow more of the story you can buy up to volume 16 in English thanks to Viz’s Shojo Beat (print only).

All 13 episodes of Kamisama Kiss are currently streaming on Hulu in addition to FUNimation’s site and YouTube channel (first two episodes only), and it also has a domestic Blu Ray/DVD available for purchase.

Anime — Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

I saw some people talking on Twitter about a new series whose first episode just aired and the premise sounded interesting enough so I gave it a shot. The show’s called Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun) and it’s about a high-school girl who attempts to confess her feelings to the guy she’s been crushing on but instead ends up becoming an art assistant on the serialized shoujo (girl’s) manga he draws professionally after school. I was really surprised by how genuinely funny the show was and I loved the characters introduced so far. Nozaki is a tall, deadpan airhead who utilizes his friends for story ideas, often to disastrous but humorous results (Nakamura does a really good job of voicing him). And Sakura is slowly learning how much of a doofus her crush is, and that doesn’t seem to sway her too much. The anime is based on a 4-koma style manga (4-panel gags) much like Azumanga Daioh was, and is written and drawn by Izumi Tsubaki (Oresama Teacher).

I’ve found all my comic artist friends who have taken up the show are really smitten with it. Having some professional insight into sequential art creation can help make some of the jokes pack a bit more of a punch but it’s definitely not a requirement to enjoying the show, they generally explain anything too obtuse and most of the humor is in the character interactions. It also has a lot of jokes relating to the shoujo manga genre so if you grew up on those kinds of stories (or still partake) then you will find the show extra endearing. You can watch the first episode right now with Crunchyroll Premium (free next week).