Magical Mondays: Flying Witch and Magical Realism

2017-04-25 (3)

(screencapped from Crunchyroll)

Flying Witch did for witches what Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid did for dragons: just had them be kinda there, going about their daily business instead of getting wrapped up in some sort of epic fantasy plot. Makoto, the protagonist of Flying Witch, is a young witch completing her training, but is she rollicking along on some sort of Harry Potter-ish adventure attending a haunted magic school and defeating evil incarnate? No, she’s just doing the gardening. Occasionally she unearths a howling mandrake and disturbs her friends and neighbors, but otherwise she lives a relatively conflict-free existence, sitting where she does in the place where the “supernatural” and “slice-of-life” genres meet. Which is, it turns out, pretty near the dreamy land of magical realism.

Spoilers for Flying Witch Episode 11 beyond!

Flying Witch is not a show you watch for conflict and action—it’s quite literally just the day-to-day goings on of a girl’s life in a rural town, including high school cooking classes, vegetable planting, and long conversations about the history of the pancake… oh, with the occasional bit of magic woven in. There’s no overarching plot, no tension, no mysteries or intrigue as we glimpse the magical world. The witches in this universe don’t have a statute of wizarding secrecy so much as just keep to themselves because they like it better that way, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the series’ casual tone and casual acceptance of magic. Apart from some initial shock when Mako floats on her broom for the first time (and some comedic reactions to the yelling plant), the existence of magic is basically accepted by the cast and by the story without anyone batting an eyelid.

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Manga Mondays: Centaur’s Worries

When I started reading this manga I expected the usual fanfare of the slice-of-life genre. I did not expect the first chapter to be about the three main girls in this series comparing their vaginas to make sure they look ‘normal’. It wasn’t explicit, but… yeah. That’s how Kei Murayama’s Centaur no Nayami  (Centaur’s Worries) starts. Now I’m just staring at my word processor wondering how to follow up that statement. I mean honestly, who’s going to be paying attention after an opening like that? I feel that’s how Murayama felt too: how do you follow up?

After that first chapter, the storyline falls into the normal tropes of its genre. Yet, after the bizarre events of the first chapter, the tone just feels wrong. I have nothing against ecchi comics, but it just blindsides you—none of the sites that host this comic have it as a tag, even. However, I’m digressing. Let’s get to the meat of this manga.

Centaur no Nayami focuses on three classmates and friends: Kyouko (a satyr), Nozomi (an imp), and Hime (a centaur) and their progression through high school and growing up. Immediately, my thoughts go comparing this to other manga, such as Azumanga or Lucky Star, as there is no legitimate plot, a ton of side-characters, and each character takes on a well-defined trope. Nozomi is the tomboy loudmouth of the group, Kyouko is the straight man, and Hime is the airheaded beauty. If you’re well versed in this genre (and even if you’re not), you probably already know at least half of the storylines that will happen.

In addition, the art is cute, but nothing really to write home about. It has a simplicity to it that is clearly reminiscent of its doujin roots and a fanservice element to it that I wish it didn’t have. So if it’s neither the story nor the art that grabs me, why am I still reading it? Because of the lore!

Yes, the lore in this series is surprisingly great. I love how everything about these so-considered mythical creatures is so normalized, so common place, that they just discuss it as if they were discussing the prevalence of trees in a forest. For example, in one of the chapters Hime talks about getting her hair cut. This not only leads into a small section about how satyrs and other horned creatures have special brushes to take care of their locks, but also into a discussion of angels. Apparently in this verse, an angel’s halo is formed from their own hair and thusly can be cut off just as easily as any other piece of hair (but if it does get cut off, it could be considered a hate crime unless the proper paperwork is filled out). It’s obvious to me that Murayama has put great effort into not only the biology and physiology of each species in this series, but also the sociology of a world where angels and imps can live together and not be placed on a higher pedestal than the other.

So, if you can get past some gratuitous boob-age and fanservice-y uselessness, I would recommend this series as a fresh look into a lore that has maybe become a little stale in other canons.

Anime Review: Spring Series Triple Whammy

Sakamichi no Apollon/Kids on the Slope

First of all, this is one of those anime that are equally referred to by their English and Japanese names, so I’m not sure what to call it. I’ll refer to it as SnA the rest of this post. SnA is not the kind of fare I usually seek out—emotional, slice-of-life stuff—but I was unfairly roped in by the one-two punch combination of Shinichiro Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, etc.) as director and Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, Ghost in the Shell, Darker than Black) as composer.

Basically, this show is about three kids who are in love with jazz music and each other, living in Kyushu (the southernmost part of Japan) in the 1960s. The animation has a very different look and feel to it than most shows I’ve watched, the selection of jazz music was great even to me as a total jazz noob, and it definitely felt like it could have been a real-life story to me, which, I suppose, is high praise for a slice-of-life story. It’s also only twelve episodes, so it’s not a huge time commitment.

There were a few things I didn’t like about SnA—first of all, and this is not just my inner fujoshi speaking, the two boys and the two girls had far better chemistry with their same-sex friend than they did with their designated love interest. People really strongly defend Sentarou and Kaoru’s relationship as being platonic, and far be it from me to put a box on what straight male friendship in the 1960s looks like, but I don’t think that a guy who wasn’t just a little bit interested in his guy best friend would describe him as ‘so handsome that sometimes it takes my breath away.’ I honestly thought they might end up together at the end of the series. Also, it had a bit of a slow pace to it, but that’s probably just my action-loving brain being confused by a more thoughtful plot without lasers or robots or anything. I recommend it.

Haiyore! Nyarko-san!

Oh, Nyarko-san. I had such high hopes for you. The premise of this show was what pulled me in: Most of the cast is Lovecraftian gods/eldritch horrors/etc, but in the bodies of mostly adorable high school girls (and one boy). Nyarko is actually a Nyarlathotep, Hasuta is actually a god of winds, Kuko is actually Cthuga, a fire deity, etc. I was hoping that this would be fun, intellectual, and different. Instead it was just a Lovecraftian twist on a harem anime. Seriously, boring male lead with inexplicable number of supernatural love interests vying for his attention in ways that are probably definitely inappropriate for middle-schoolers (or ageless gods in middleschooler bodies), various homosexual crushes dismissed as disgusting and perverted, lots of non-consensual kissing. Don’t waste your time unless you really like harem anime.

Sengoku Collection

I was actually quite surprised by Sengoku Collection. I have this weird habit where I hope that one day harem anime will get less annoying and rapey and so I continue to watch it for one reason or another and continually get disappointed. (Love Hina someone recommended to me, I watched Shuffle for the dads, etc.) The description of and first episode of Sengoku Collection had me believing for sure this would be another example of this. (The gimmick in this show being, of course, Sengoku (Warring States) era warriors are falling through into modern day, except they’re from an alternate universe where all of them are beautiful young women rather than gruff old men.)

Like I said, I figured this would be another crappy harem anime, but actually each episode has taken the time to focus on a different Warring States figure and their individual conflicts upon arriving in modern times. The only real connecting thread is Oda Nobunaga, who wants to get back to the Sengoku period and is collecting magic power from the other women to do so. She usually shows up at the end of an episode and talks, bargains, or fights the other girl and then disappears again. This anime is twice the length of SnA and Nyarko-san, so it’s not over yet, but I’m actually enjoying tuning in every week as of right now. (Although I think they may be running out of Warring States-era figures, becaues the last episode I watched was about Kondou, Hijikata, and Okita of the Shinsengumi, who didn’t live until 300 years after the Sengoku era.) Either way, though, I do recommend this show.

Manga Mondays: Honey and Clover

This week we’re taking a look at a manga that outgrew the slot it was shoved in. My first exposure to this series by Chika Umino was in Shoujo Beat magazine. Before its untimely demise, this magazine featured several manga that, as you could probably guess, fit the shoujo genre along with other articles on cooking or arts and crafts. While it has shoujo elements, I wouldn’t ever call Honey and Clover a shoujo series. If you’re familiar with these, I would compare this series more to Azumanga Daioh than something like Kitchen Princess. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to explain.

The main thing that separates Honey and Clover from other would-be shoujo series is that the main character is a boy, Yuuta Takemoto. Even then, the series doesn’t explicitly focus on him. In thematically sound shoujo, the plot focuses on one main female character, only deviating to see a pensive look of heartbreak on the love interest or a disgusted monologue on the part of the heroine’s enemy. Although it’s obvious which characters (plural) are supposed to take main stage, the other characters are still well-thought out and feel fleshed out beyond the usual tropes.

Another aspect that sets this series apart from other, more traditional shoujo series is the way in which the romance is handled. Honey and Clover shares with other shuojo that romance is a driving force in the plot, but the way it mixes in with other natural human desires sets it apart for me. How does one deal with having defined their place in the world, only to feel alone and cherished?  Should one sacrifice one precious thing to chase another? These hard, relatable issues and more are discussed through the struggles of the characters. Although I’m sure that this isn’t the only series that talks about these aspects of life, it’s one of the only ones that doesn’t make it seem like you’re getting beat over the head with blushing and unrequited feelings every other page.

Now that all of that’s out of the way, I should probably actually go over the plot. For once, I’m going to leave spoilers out, one, because I want you to read it and two, because I actually haven’t finished it myself. Whoops.

As I mentioned earlier, the series focuses mostly on one, Yuuta Takemoto, who attends an art college in Tokyo with his two roommates and friends, Takumi and Shinobu. All three of them are noticeably different from each other, which creates for interesting dynamics and viewpoints of their career and relationships. Yuuta takes the role of the naïve, younger brother type who is still trying to figure out what he actually wants to do with his life and talents. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Shinobu is a somewhat chilly and jaded fellow who may not be particularly happy with the route he’s chosen, but he’s going to stick it out until the bitter end. Lastly, and perhaps contrary to ones expectations, we have Takumi. It’s difficult to describe him as he’s a rather

complex character, but he bears a lot of resemblance to Vash the Stampede personality-wise: he’s a rather serious character, but acts so batshit at times that it’s almost surprising to find him being introspective.

These three fellows are joined also by our two, lovely female characters: Hagu (the other ‘main character’ of the series) and Ayumi. At first, one may assume that Hagu is just there to fit some sort of loli (little girl) trope and to be super cute. Whereas she is really cute, she’s so much deeper than that. Her art is already well respected by professionals, but she can’t deal with being around people very well, even to the extent of making herself ill from stress over the issue. She is extremely sheltered and shy, and has no method other than to hide herself away when she becomes stuck in a love triangle, no matter how passive it is. Ayumi, on the other hand, is almost Hagu’s complete opposite. She’s outgoing and has taken it upon herself to admit her feelings to the people around her, no matter how much they may hurt her. Ayumi is actually the character I enjoy the most because she’s just so open and fun, but she can’t stop hurting herself by holding onto an unrequited love. I’ve been there, to the point where you just can’t let them go, so I know exactly what she’s going through in her character arc and it hurts.

In fact, this bittersweet tone is something that never leaves this series and I like it that way. Life doesn’t always have happy endings, nor is it always terrible. There are ups and downs, and the important thing is to not take those ‘ups’ for granted. In my opinion, I think Umino has chosen a very skilled way to present this message and it’s why I’m glad this isn’t a straight up shojou. Beyond the characters, there’s not much else I can say because it’s so much closer to a slice-of-life genre that I can’t. They go to school, they interact and their characters evolve based on those interactions. There’s no bad guy, there’s no adventure. It’s just life, un-distilled in all its complexities. The series isn’t very long, so it’s possible to sit through it in a day, plus the art style is refreshingly different and fits Umino’s method of storytelling perfectly. Just make sure you have some tissues around, some parts are tear jerkers.