Everything's better under the sea!

Like many recent two-season anime series, Nagi no Asukara (lit. From The Calm Tomorrow, alt. A Lull in the Sea) is bifurcated neatly at the thirteen episode mark. You could, in theory, leave the series at that point and be content with a competent if unresolved story story of early teenage angst. It would be a huge disservice to how spectacular the series is a whole though, and though you can spend the former half playing “count how many times girls cry” each episode, the latter half exceeds an already beautiful production with a thematically rich and emotionally charged tale of adolescent love in all its forms.

Your eyes are so blue, and your tears look like waves

It’s an unlikely recommendation for a series whose director’s previous productions have included the Inuyasha movies and the woefully unremarkable Gunparade Orchestra. Perhaps not so unlikely though for the writer who is right at home after penning The Pet Girl of Sakurasou and the similarly P.A. Works produced Hanasaku Iroha. It’s also odd to hear myself recommending it when the pseudo-contemporary setting and laser focus on romance and juvenile relationships isn’t my usual fare. But rare is a series that is afforded such startling production values that match a capable story and confident delivery.

Please note: the remainder of this review contains spoilers from throughout the anime series.

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Short version: if you enjoyed a post and don’t want to comment, click the Spiffy Button to let me know.

Feedback from people on the internet is hard; I can monitor hits and visits and bounces and loading times until the heat death of the universe and I still wouldn’t know whether the people visiting my site enjoy my content. Comments are often cited as a good indicator of blog interaction, some would say that a blog starts when its comments do, but especially with anime blogs (which I guess given the volume of content on the subject I’ve produced, mine falls into) comments tend to be about the subject (episode, series, movie etc.) rather than about what has been written. Just check out any well frequented anime blog (RandomC, The Cart Driver, Metanorn et. al.) for examples.

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Esoteric spirit

Tokyo Ravens is a lot of things, but one thing it definitely isn’t is predictable. At a macro level at least, on a micro level varying tropes come into play with the characters that are hit and miss in terms of their effectiveness. It’s perhaps not even fair to say its plot is unpredictable; it is insofar as that if you are not paying attention and wholly invested in the story, character titles and lineages then a lot of the series bigger reveals will creep up on you. That investment doesn’t just reward you with predetermination about who is the reincarnation of whom but generally a better understanding of what the devil is going on.

when she isn’t whipping down her hakama pants only for Natsume to walk in right then. Oh how unexpected

It starts out with a love triangle, followed by a death, followed by a “must get stronger” subplot and then a fox girl appears. Harutora’s ascension (and the audience’s initiation) into the super-charged spirit world of eastern mysticism is similar in approach to the underappreciated Tokyo Majin but the blend of old-world chants, talismans and spells with humvees, mobile phones and the Tokyo skyline is distinctly its own. Weave in some psuedo-political intrigue, sedition and the stalwart campus love comedy and you get at least an impression of what Tokyo Ravens has to offer.

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How many other males does the protagonist of Strike the Blood know? Two. And females? More or less all of them. This is about as nuts-and-bolts basic as you can get for a premise: bland teenager is gifted extreme supernatural powers and proceeds to play “Gotta catch ‘em all” with the young ladies in his life. Spear wielding overseer? Check, comes free with sword wielding friend. Goth loli teacher? Check. Childhood friend and uber hacker? Check. Superpowered little sister? Check; and the list goes on. And of course the context for all of these females orbiting him? He must feed on them - oh right he’s a vampire - to unlock his magical familiars.

oh you walked in on her undressing again? you scamp!

Feel free to play “spot the jugular vein” during the opening few episodes because with almost every new female introduced, a key to unlock a new glowing critter for perpetual hoodie wearer Kojou is revealed. And of course given the setup, all of the ladies emit supremely suggestive noises and flush the brightest of reds when he begins to chow down on their necks. Yes it’s primitive but, apart from a few absurdly questionable scenes, it works thanks primarily to a refreshing lack of pretension and a handful of good natured character relationships.

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It’s right there in the first few lines of the opening: “Kiss kiss kiss, I can’t take my eyes off you”. That’s the entirety of Sakura Trick, the length and breadth of its offering. The initial gambit is much bolder: a fluffy but uninhibited romance between two young women; the reality though lacks a lot of what could have made that worthwhile. Wait, rewind. Sakura Trick isn’t for me. As a modern, self-effacing male, it’s probably prudent to start with that. It’s also not as though I have a whole lot of context for what the twelve episode series brings to the shoujo ai genre (although Wikipedia insists it’s targeted at young adult males). Certainly I have touchstone shows to fall back on like Sailor Moon and Revolutionary Girl Utena as well as the briefest of exposures to Maria-sama ga Miteru and Strawberry Panic but in terms of it embodying or enhancing its genre? Very little.

wreathed in pastel shades and inundated with an endless source of cherry blossom

It’s refreshing at first to see an intimate relationship between two characters in an anime that doesn’t cleave closely to the harem or chase-the-girl setups. The series is bookended by what feels like a natural progression for the two protagonists: starting with them advancing to more than just friends and finishing with them questioning what love is. The naturalness presents the initial allure because it normalises a same-sex relationship that is elsewhere presented as coy and unspoken with series like My-HiME or even Stellvia of the Universe. It becomes a given that Haruka and Yuu are together and that either their friends are oblivious to it or blithely accept it.

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