Never have I ever enjoyed watching or playing sports. A few months ago, I would have never even fathomed watching a sports anime. But, after watching Yuri on Ice and Haikyu!!, all my preconceived notions about sports and sports anime have changed. I still won’t watch real sports, but goddam does anime make sports really exciting.

Haikyu!! has been received very well by the community at large– and for good reasons. The characters have great banter and are hilarious, the plot moves at a good pace, the animation is great, and the plot is thrilling. It is effortless to get drawn in and feel the tension, heartbreak, and adrenalin during the volleyball games. It gives off the same energy and emotion that many epic shounen battles give. Yet, it is merely a high school volleyball game and not a battle to decide the entire world’s fate.

It is amazing the energy and emotion emitted from sports anime– and just anime in general. Dramatic storytelling, balanced characters, stunning visualizations, and cinematographic shots can make just about anything interesting. These are things that “regular” sports don’t have. Since anime can tell us the story focused on the characters, we immediately become invested in winning the game — like real sports fans. With sports teams, they try to do the same thing with interviews, press releases, and open practices, but these all pails compared to having the star athlete be the protagonist of a television show. Telling the story in this way also humanizes the characters rather than puts them on a pedestal, as we do with most professional athletes.

Although Haikyu!! is highly entertaining, I obviously can’t pull deeper or philosophical meanings out of it as I could with Fullmetal Alchemist. But, having surface-level themes is not bad, especially when the show is entertaining. Having a cheerful anime that teaches the importance of teamwork, hard work, and extracurricular activities is always a good thing. In fact, since this anime has aired, high school attendance for volleyball has increased.


The Promised Neverland Season 2

Oh boy, Promised Neverland season two had great potential. But, it faced the same fate as the ending of Game of Thrones. Large swathes of the manga were cut, and the ending… Up until the final episode, I was fine with season two — having not read the manga. But the final episode’s ending was terrible. Most stories will either end with a cliffhanger or with a conclusive ending. But, the anime ended with multiple seasons worth of content included as a PowerPoint slide at the end of the show. The anime would have been better off simply not playing the slideshow montage and just ending with the two groups parting ways.

It is as if halfway through the season upper management decided that there wouldn’t be a third season or a movie so they tried to cram everything than a half-baked ending that spoils the manga.

My second problem with season two is the issue with Norman’s return. It simply didn’t feel natural or earned to the reader. Norman then placed Emma into a trolley problem where she either had to kill all the daemons or save their siblings. It upset me that serious consequences were not forced upon the characters at this moment. Instead, the solutions to all their problems just fell at their laps; no serious effort or price to pay was required to solve this serious morally charged geo-political conflict.

A lot of shounen anime often backs themselves out of a trolley problem once they present one. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this since it illustrates that not everything is black and white and that there is always a third solution. But, consequences must be had for large decisions. As a horror show, Promised Neverland could have easily used this as a reason to kill characters or even make a Faustian bargain. Since the show was paced too quickly, consequences were never felt for their decisions, and victories never felt earned. The show methodically used 12 episodes for the orphanage escape in season one; it is a shame that CloverWorks crammed overthrowing the entire demon world into a meager 4 episodes.

The Promised Neverland Season 1

Season One of Promised Neverland is the shounen equivalent of the movie Maze runner. A group of children have to escape an orphanage after finding out that they are merely cattle waiting to be eaten by monsters who rule the world. The plot a lot like Death Note, was driven by suspense, strategy, and plot twists rather than the action — which is heavily prevalent in most shounen anime. The way the story handles twists and turns makes it a great thriller to watch. The story was dark, and the characters were sympathetic.

I have mixed feelings about using CGI for most of the environments and 2D animation for the characters. This made for a really eerie watching experience like something is deeply wrong with the orphanage. The way the camera lingers through the orphanage reminded me of the way the Shining was filmed. Although, in The Shining, the camera rarely ever stayed still. Moreover, many shots were framed to gave us the feeling that the children were never alone and that someone was always watching them. The animation strove to mimic the camera effects used in lenses that are often used for horror movies. Scenes often shifted focus from foreground to background and using fisheye effects in some transitions to add an added sense of eerieness.

There are little gore or jump scares in this anime –unusual for the genre. Instead, Promised Neverland conveys the horror through the characters’ raw emotions and tension built up by how details in the story are revealed.

Many of the themes and deeper meaning of the show is similar to the Matrix. The question boils down to whether a blissful life of ignorance is better than living in constant suffering but being free. This debate can be summarized by an exchange between Isabella and Emma in episode 8 after Isabella finds Emma and Norman trying to scale the outside wall:

I love you all and don’t want you to suffer. I don’t want to be the cause of your suffering. You get to live in a warm house filled with delicious food and love. If you can stay oblivious to the truth, then you are able to die feeling satisfied… So how does that sound like anything but paradise?

Isabella Season 1 Episode 8

What’s the point if it is all fake! I’m going to live freely even if I suffer for it! Then I’ll decide happiness for myself!

Emma Season 1 Episode 8

This isn’t an easy moral question to answer. On the one hand, we all want to live free of suffering, yet on the other hand, everyone should have the right to know the ‘truth’ and make the decision for themselves. This show gives us a ‘give me liberty or give me death’ answer. Complacency in the system that systematically uses them as food is obviously not tolerable for the protagonists. But, it is understandable why so many humans go along with the system in hopes of living a normal life. But, what kind of life can you live knowing the nature of your existence? How do you live knowing that the people you love will die premature deaths for a cruel system? Is it possible to ever return to a life without suffering after they have learned the truth? That is why Emma’s question to Isabella asking her if she is happy struck an emotional chord with the audience. Or why Ray’s question to Isabell asking why she gave birth to him struck a deep chord of nihilism.

My Hero Academia

My Hero Academia. Everyone is watching it, everyone is talking about it. It is a great shounen anime. It really is worth watching.

Despite MHA being great, I can’t really give MHA all that much praise because it doesn’t feel unique or inspired. Being unique in the saturated superhero landscape is difficult. After all, everything in one way or another is inspired by other things; we are just making copies of copies of copies. My Hero Academia hits on all the shounen and hero tropes, making it feel familiar before you even start watching it.

What makes My Hero Academia great is the flawless execution of all these tropes.
It has a great story (albeit uninspired), the animation is great, and the characters are great. Watching the show is exactly what you would expect from a shounen anime. I said a similar thing about Black Clover being “un-original” but still a great anime since it did everything right.

My Hero Academia is slowly putting itself in a position where the story can make a deeper critique of Hero culture and our infatuation with it. MHA includes villains who rebel against the status quo of the Heros because they believe the Heros themselves have become corrupt and greedy. With the retirement of All-might, we also posed the question, what is a hero symbol? Do we need a symbol of justice? Who gets to determine what justice is? Do bureaucracies get in the way of justice? Is vigilante justice ever justified?

All of these deeper moral questions that MHA ponders suggest a story that is deeper than your typical Superhero story. However, the superhero medium has already become self-aware of its own tropes and is starting to address them. American superhero movies like Logan, The Dark Night, and Captin America: Civil War has done excellent self-critics of the superhero genre. All these American Superhero movies explore the complex social and political landscape and question how superheroes can fit into a modern society. So far, MHA has aligned closer with shounen tropes and only briefly alluded towards a more complex superhero theme in some of its villains– but not the main villain group, The League of Villains.

With all that said, I see this show becoming the closest thing that anime has right now of mainstream success. It will become a long-running shounen anime that should gain a large international following. Maybe it will become the next Fullmetal alchemist, i.e., the anime that gets new people hooked on anime.

Yuri!!! On Ice

Yuri On Ice is an amazing sports anime to watch. The anime follows Yuuri Katsuki, a pro-Japanese figure skater, as he deals with a painful loss at the Grand Prix Finale and how he comes back even better the following year with the help of his idol Victor. It has everything a good sports anime should: compelling rivals, beautiful animation, and funny banter.

Having only one season with twelve episodes, it’s a good binge watch. The ending was great but not fully satisfying. However, a prequel movie is confirmed, and a second season is rumored.

The show is an excellent sports anime. But it falls short of me saying it was a good shounen-ai anime. In fact, it would be a farce to call it a shounen-ai anime. The anime has constant sexual tension between Yuuri and Victor, yet nothing comes with it. Season one would have been perfect if it ended the Grand Prix with Victor and Yuuri kissing, but they didn’t.

Many people have accused the show of queerbaiting. IE: the show is just gay enough to attract a queer audience, yet not too “over the top” to deter the “straights” away. I would argue that the show provides more than enough “gay” scenes for it not to be accused of queerbaiting. Just because the actors’ sexual orientations are not front and center or that a romantic relationship didn’t form in the first season doesn’t mean it is queerbaiting. With that said, I would be highly disappointed if Yuuri and Victor didn’t start dating if the show got a second season.

Dr. Stone Season 2

Season 2 of Dr. Stone was shorter than season 1, consisting of only 11 episodes, where season one had 24 episodes. Overall, season two retained the same level of excitement, and I was enjoying the watch. Animation remained remarkably well.

Season one finished with Senku finishing the construction of the telephone, and season two focused on the fight against Tsukasa. This shift also leads to a shift in using science to make more destructive weapons. The most lethal thing that was made in the first season was gunpowder and swords, but in this season Senku ended up making both a tank and dynamite. Although Senku manages to have a bloodless coup d’etat, it hints at the destructive power that modern science enables. This is literally hinted at by Tsukasa who argued that science must be eliminated to return to a world without bloody wars. The fallacy with Tsukasa was in that he then enabled violence via survival of the fittest.

Senku’s stance on this debate over the destructive power of science was illuminated when Senku created dynamite. Senku mentioned that it was debated whether Alfred Nobel created dynamite to help mine minerals or wage wars. Senku proceeded to say that he didn’t care either way because it helped advance science– Alfred Nobel went on to start the Nobel prizes to celebrate advances in science. This is echoed in season one when Senku and the village built the telephone to wage information warfare, but, along the way, they ended up making a slew of things that helped the village out like glasses and furnaces to heat their homes.

Although it is noble to think that science, regardless of the motives, will eventually lead to a better society, that can lead us into morally tricky situations. Consider nuclear technology. It was initially developed to build bombs, but now it is also used as a green energy source. On the one hand, it is helping society with clean energy. On the other, it has put us in a dastardly situation where mutual destruction is ensured if any nuclear power were to go to war with each other. So, do the motives matter? If nuclear research got conducted solely for energy, it would have just gotten weaponized, the second a geopolitical conflict required it. In Dr. Stone, the Senku-Tsukasa conflict got resolved by Senku using science to defeat Tsukasa. When two sides are pitted against each other, they will use any advantage they can get, and in Senku’s case, that was science. TLDR: humans wage wars science can’t stop that, but if science can help humanity prosper, then let’ be all for it.

Fullmetal Alchemist is another anime that does a phenomenal job at exploring the ethical applications of science. Dr. Stone hasn’t yet crossed the lines of applying science to do morally questionable things, but Fullmetal Alchemist has done just that. Skipping plot summaries, FMA concludes that the pursuit of science for science’s sake is not a good enough argument since it can lead some people to do some truly horrific things– like human experimentation and human sacrifice.

Sound of Metal

This was a depressing movie. It followed Ruben Stone, a gypsy punk-metal drummer who loses his hearing and deals with an identity crisis. This really resonated with audiences in 2020 because an unexpected health crisis can wreak havoc on your life.

The movie was very astute with the sound in the movie and had it emphasize the struggles of being deaf. Moreover, the movie does a great job at bringing awareness to the deaf community in a way that is not condescending. It perfectly portrays that deafness isn’t a disability, it’s a culture.

The ending was left open for interpretation. We don’t get to learn whether Ruben decides to return to his ‘old life’ or embraces deaf culture further. Ruben runs back to Peris to be with his girlfriend after the surgery. however, he shortly thereafter leaves early in the morning. The movie closes with him unplugging his earphones and enjoying the silence.

Dr. Stone Season 1

Dr. Stone was a refreshing anime to watch. The animation quality was terrific, the characters were energetic, and the plot was unique. This show was essentially like watching someone play Minecraft IRL. After everyone in humanity was turned to stone, our protagonist manages to escape the stone and start reviving people. Throughout the show, Senku uses his keen knowledge of science to build incredible things.

It makes you think about how useful you would be if you were transported to a prehistoric era. Although, yes, we have accumulated a vast lot of knowledge, most of our knowledge is predicated on access to modern tools. Few people (if any) know how to bootstrap themselves from raw minerals to an advanced piece of technology. Although I know a lot about linear algebra and computer science, those advanced skills are useless without a computer. It is amazing how much humans have achieved scientifically, and how much more we have to learn.

Militarism in Shounen Anime

In light of all the controversy surrounding Attack On Titan, it is hard to ignore militarism/fascism in Anime. It is one of those things where it is hard not to notice once it has been pointed out to you. With all that said, people vastly exaggerated it for Attack On Titan, but it is still worth taking a closer look into since it fits a larger pattern within the genre.

Compared to other countries, Japanese Anime has a shocking number of shows dedicated to children serving in the army. Or, if not the army, some other organization like The Demon Slayer Corpse in Demon Slayer, or the Hunter Association in Hunter X Hunter, or the Postal Service in Tegami Bachi. However, if you are looking for directly serving in the army, Attack on Titan, Black Clover, and FullMetal Alchemist are your best examples. You would be hard-pressed to find many examples like this in western media.

Many people draw this as a correlation between imperial Japan and the culture of that time. However, the times have changed, and sub-text is essential to understand. A surface-level plot summary may have people hesitant since there is a trend of literally depicts children fighting in wars. Rather than glorify war and nationalism, these shows often pose philosophical questions that are critical of fascism.

The de facto best example of this would be Fullmetal Alchemist. The country where our protagonists live is based on WW2 era Germany, and the ruler had title Fuhrer. In fact, in a FMA movie, the parallel dimension of their country was Hitler’s Germany. Yet, despite these parallels, nobody would say that the show was pro-fascist. This is because our protagonists were skeptical of authority and refused to cave blind ideology. The Elric brothers ended up changing the country for the better, and not once did they become mindless “military dogs” –a term given towards state Alchemists.

This brings us back to Attack on Titan. The issue with this show is that it put itself into a morally gray zone by mid-season 4. Attack On Titan started as a black and white fight against monsters. But, AOT has evolved into a vast geopolitical dispute where characters on both sides can be viewed in a negative light. This complexity reflects the reality of geopolitics in the real world. Each country has a long and complex history, and balancing everyone’s interests is hard to do. However, Attack on Titan has conveyed this vast story while not glorifying the imperialistic country of Marley, and not praising the violent and rash tendencies of Eric. AOT does an excellent job at depicting the humanity of both sides and the suffering that this conflict has caused.

Shounen titles like Hunter X Hunter, and Demon Slayer, have had great success without invoking strong war imagery. However, I don’t think it is fair to race to the conclusion that something is fascist since it depicts war from the perspective of a country that isn’t a democracy. It is possible to both tell a war story and be critical of war at the same time. People

The subtext is vital to discuss, and it is not just Anime. Several avengers movies have received similar criticism due to their portrayal of the US military. Moreover, if you look at American media at large, you will find an infatuation with law enforcement and the military. But, we can save analyzing American media for another blog post.

The Prince of Milk

It’s incredible how much the novel The Prince of Milk did: love, philosophy, sci-fi, nihilism, horror, thriller. The short chapters and intriguing plot made this a book I couldn’t put down till I finished it.

With all praise aside for the book book. I first picked it up because I found Exurb1a’s YouTube channel and I binged watched 20 of his videos, and I found out that he was also an author. Not all YouTubers that write books necessarily do a good job at it. However, Exurb1a definitely has a way with words, and it is reflected in both his YouTube channel and his novel The Prince of Milk.

Similar to the novel This is How You Lose the Time War, The Prince of Milk is a story that spans both time and space, but this book mostly focused on a small town in England. There is a rather long list of characters in this book, and it is hard to pin down if we have any “main” characters at all since the narrative is spread out among a dozen people. This sacrificed deeper character development, but it paid off since it managed to tell a vaster story in a shorter amount of time. This is juxtaposed to This is How You Lose the Time War, which only had two really fleshed out characters.

A similar thing could be said for the themes of the book. It was definitely a science-fiction book at its core, but it also had romance, horror, mystery. This amalgamated something very unique and interesting, but it lost its focus, likewise with the science-fiction concepts. The Prince of Milk wasn’t a single science-fiction concept explored to its max and crafted into a grandiose story like a Neal Stephenson novel; Exurb1a gleaned a giant heap of spaghetti science-fiction and threw it on paper to see which would stick with the reader. Not to say that this was a bad thing, I found this aspect fascinating. But, for a relatively short book, it is hard to cover this grandiose vision while giving the reader something salient to walk away with at the end.