I was reading about a reporter’s visit to Chernobyl a few weeks ago. It’s fascinating for many reasons, especially given the fact that one probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience it. I felt the same way about karuta after having seen Chihayafuru. It’s a sport played in the land of the Rising Sun that I figured I would never have the pleasure of playing or spectating.
That is, until this past week.
Braving the snow and freezing temperatures, a few dozen people gathered at the JICC on Wednesday for a karuta demonstration. I sat in the front row and toyed with my shiny new karuta cards when it caught Ms. Stone’s attention. She became more intrigued at my getup as I was wearing a medical mask. I sighed heavily inside, like all the other times where no one recognized my Arata cosplay at conventions.
Her voice was fading in and out, but a sudden tilt of her head coupled with a twinkle in her eye ignited a glimmer of hope in me. She continued to nod her head and at that moment, my heart probably skipped a beat. She got it!
Ms. Stone heads the DC Karuta Club. Yes, there is such a thing. She began with a lecture about the origins of karuta. It was highly informative but I was getting impatient staring at the tatami mats behind her Powerpoint presentation.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long. Entering on stage was Kyoko-san and Nanami, both attired in hakamas. It’s as if Chihayafuru magically materialized before me! I had to pull my mask down to intake more oxygen.
What proceeded next is best told in motion pictures. (Kyoko-san is on the left.)
Sugoi ne?! The only complaint I have feels unfair. Ms. Stone aims to educate the audience on karuta so her interruptions are only natural. It did interfere with my enjoyment of the match given that I am familiar with the sport.
After the lovely and amazing demonstration where I witnessed karuta in person (yeah, I am still excited), Ms. Stone insisted on dividing the audience into two groups, where those who could read Hiragana would play kyogi karuta, and those who couldn’t moved outside for Obosan Mekuri.
The latter is a karuta variation that requires pure luck. Fortunately for me, luck is just one of my many skills. Round one included three groups where the winner advanced into the championship. Needlessly to say, I trumped two others to take first place ^_^ The best part was the prize, as shown on the left.
I take that back. The best part was learning the game from Kyoko-san, who just flew in from Japan the day before. And my insistence on explaining my cosplay after she inquired about my shirt. I think I took her apathy for misunderstanding XD
This would be the end of the story except the reader can see that more words follow.
Anohana sold out before I got to the theater, so my Saturday began on a sour note. Mere hours later, I got an email that would not only turn around my day but bring more delight than I ever thought possible. Kyoko-san wrote hoping that I could attend the New Year’s celebration hosted by the JCAW on Sunday where she and Ms. Stone would have another karuta demonstration. An invitation one cannot refuse.
I want to express my gratitude towards Ms. Stone and Kyoko-san, as well as Nanami and Ms. Stone’s son (the reader!) for giving me the opportunity to experience karuta first hand. It’s a dream come true ever since Chihayafuru entered my life. Speaking of which, at the conclusion of Wednesday night, Ms. Stone mentioned that she had a dream.
“I hope in an year or ten, the U.S. will hold a karuta tournament and the winner would go on to compete in Japan.”
I am going to try to make her dream come true, just like she did for mine. But we need your help. Let’s spread our love of karuta!
And finally, to close the 12 Days series for 2013 here at Anime Diet, we bring you this year’s works written, co-written, or story supervised by Gen Urobuchi–and their increasingly cheesy 3/4 mark twists! Needless to say, spoilers abound for Psycho-Pass, Gargantia, and Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion! Leave now if you wish to remain plot virgins.
First, to start off the year, there’s Psycho-Pass. Much has been made of the seemingly omnipotent Sybil System, which determines whether a person is fit to be in society or be stuck in
brainwashing therapy. Eventually of course, we were going to find out who or what that System was. And eventually, Urobuchi gives us the answer:
The vat of brains is actually not so surprising. What makes it unbearably cheesy, though, is whose brains those are: it’s the brains of psychopaths. The Psycho-Pass system is being run…by psychopaths. Get it? Get it??? And it’s up to, uh, Kana Hanazawa to stop them. From within, of course.
Next, we have Gargantia. Actually, this twist, about the true history and origin of the Hideauze, is probably the least problematic out of the bunch this year. We were set up quite early on with the idea that the Hideauze were sacred to the people of Gargantia, that Ledo’s militaristic society was not entirely to be trusted, and that somebody is hiding something. That’s par for the course for an Urobuchi story. And the big reveal was, all things considered, smoothly told through found footage and old documentaries, though even right before Ledo sees them, this shot pretty much gave the game away:
And true to his unofficial “Urobutcher” nickname, the baby Hideauze are soon slaughtered indiscriminately, with one particularly moe one squeezed to death, Eva-style, complete with requisite scream but minus the BL overtones/fujoshi bait. This is supposed to be brutal and shocking, but for a veteran anime watcher steeped in the cliches of the past 20 years, it was also eye-rollingly typical.
Finally, we have what was clearly intended to be some kind of tour-de-force by Urobuchi, Shinbo, and the rest of SHAFT of their sacred cow: Madoka Magica 3: Rebellion. Up until the 3/4 mark, we have been taken through a thematically consistent continuation of the series, which both expands and reiterates the central themes of the TV series: the limits of good intentions, the sadness and despair that can drive a person beyond the edge, and the redeeming power of unconditional love. We once again see the grand, tearjerking irony of the protagonist and would-be savior, Homura, instead become the saved through the ministration of Madoka, the very embodiment of the Universal Law (of Cycles). It was, in short, a genuinely Madoka Magica story.
Then, we get this, at the very moment when salvation is literally at hand:
Homura, seemingly inexplicably, yanks Logos Madoka’s outstretched hand, and drags her down from heaven so she can wholly possess her, and in so doing, becomes, also literally, an incarnation of evil. (Her words.) The movie, which looked almost done, goes on for another half hour, as it slowly dawns on the audience that the story is far from over and that more movies and/or series are coming.
Granted, this twist, which upset many fans and seems driven by commercial than artistic desires, is more on Shinbo than Urobuchi. He cooperated, however, long enough to pen Madoka: Rebellion, though he appears to have washed his hands of the franchise altogether and will not write any more stories in that series. (Source: this interview, translated by feral_phoenix.) Perhaps so he can go and make more Psycho-Pass and continue, with mixed success, to gain cyberpunk cred by quoting William Gibson and Nietzsche over and over again.
Does this make Gen Urobuchi the M. Night Shyamalan of anime? Well, he hasn’t sunk quite that low yet–it would take a disaster of epic proportions to approach the depths of The Last Airbender. And Urobuchi rarely works alone, so the blame can be justifiably shared with many others. Nevertheless, judging from the stories that came at least partly out of his imagination this year, I’m going to be looking at his future work and expecting the moment where I can say: WHATTA TWEEST!
Yes I am cheating on this post with an image from season 5′s conclusion and Kondo’s heavily censored a** saying “sorry.” But where’s more of Gintama? I expected or wished for the anime to continue with a 7th season in the fall after the 6th season aired in the Spring. Did the movie that was promised in Japan for the summer flop? These are questions that, as an American fan, must be finally written about..
I do know that the manga is still continuing, but I am sad that Viz discontinued the English manga at vol 23, and knowing that the manga in Japan has released 50+ volumes frustrates me.
Granted, I do hear the seiyuu of Gintoki, Tomokazu Sugita, loud and clear in other 2013 anime like Gingitsune and Samurai Flamenco. But how I long to hear Gintoki and the rest of the Yorozuya.
I can’t help but say that I really buy into this series’s formula. Are there any other longish series that you want never to end?
For those of us whose first exposure to Aku no Hana/The Flowers of Evil was the odd, willfully different anime adaptation, this bravura scene–which occurred in Episode 7–seemed to have come out of nowhere. In a show that, at first, seemed to revel in its aggressive “ugliness,” as well as willful slowness, the final five minutes was an explosion of orgasmic ink, charged with the release of all of Kasuga’s pent up sexuality, resentment, and anger–while Nakamura dances in ecstasy. The odd and foreboding ED, when slowed down and with string backing, took on a surprising majesty. As Kasuga and Nakamura paint the classroom black, one senses that what they are experiencing–and what the audience is experiencing with them–is nothing less than the true meaning of catharsis: a purgation or purification of emotion. (It was so overwhelming, it’s no wonder that the subsequent episode spent minutes just depicting them walking home together, as if to recover from such an explosion.)
After the first episode, I challenged the creators of the anime to justify the rotoscoping and the offbeat character designs with content to match. The depiction of this moment, as well as some other scenes of high drama later on, fully met that challenge. Aku no Hana became one of the most searing depictions of both the ridiculousness and the depth of teenage angst in anime. Real angst, not the manufactured kind of most shows. Sadly, it is not likely to continue and adapt the remainder of the manga, which takes even more bold turns that are only hinted at in the final episode’s close, given its low sales figures. But like Kare Kano, even the fragment that was left is a thing of beauty, albeit a twisted and incomplete one. That such a show is even made today is a wonder.
Yowamushi Pedal has been my top anime for the fall. This is a sports anime on bicycling, so there are the typical themes of competition, the underdog and of course a fiery passion. The protagonist, Ononda, happens to be an otaku who pedals on a utility bicycle weekly or daily from his school to Akihabara. He unsuccessfully tries to re-form an anime club, but fails; so he ends up joining the bicycle club where he becomes the unexpected hidden talent among the other more serious bicyclists.
The screen cap is from a moment at Ononda’s welcoming race, as he races to be the first on the top of the hill. In a race, there are critical moments when the body is exhausted, and to beat the other competitors is vital. The need to find motivation is clear, so this was his way of finding that last bit of energy.
What makes this heartwarming for me is the fact that Ononda finds solace in his niche hobby, and this can translate in reality as a passion or support for enriching life. I remember reading an entry MangaTherapy wrote on his blog that speaks about challenges. It is like choosing a career. Typically a person chooses what they find the most happiness in completing. But the harsh reality is how many would succeed in a field of their passion? Having multiple hobbies and passions makes life easier.
For me, Yowapeda brings inspiration and fun as I think about the various slashable couples and anime moments that make me a fan.
This anime moment is not exactly a fond one. It was Saturday night at Otakon and I was hanging out with Linda at Jenag’s and Hazu’s hotel room where a who’s who of anibloggers were throwing a party. It was rather amusing because someone had to remind the group to keep our voices down every five minutes so we didn’t get busted. Unexpectedly, I ran into Yuyu there of all places, which was cool. (We did get busted eventually but that’s not the sad memory for me.)
Mike Toole was there. He had no shortage of those seeking conversation with him. I waited until there was a lull before approaching him. I placed my medical mask on before proceeding to fish out the karuta cards AnimatedInk generously lent me earlier that morning to complete my cosplay. I showed Mike the cards. There was a quick twinkle in his eye before he cheerfully announced to the room that I had karuta cards on me. The room did not care. Still, this did not bother me. We introduced ourselves and I waited for him to comment on my cosplay.
Instead, he stared blankly at me. He had been drinking the entire time so I guess that had an effect. I was still very downtrodden. At a con as enormous as Otakon, it’s already depressing enough that no one cosplays the anime of the year but I can grudgingly accept that. Mike, however, is a big Chihayafuru fan. He tweeted about it regularly when the show was airing. Of all the people, I expected him to recognize my cosplay. Maybe it sucked and he didn’t want to hurt my feelings XD After all, GendoMike didn’t recognize it either ;_;
Anyone who is still wondering about my cosplay should watch the show again!