History is fun. Historical fiction is fucking great.

History was always my favourite subject in school, because what’s not to love about it? You spend years learning about all these ancient civilizations and chart their growth and fall through time. Even more than that, you learn about the wars they fought, and the heroes that fought in them. Granted, growing up partly in India and partly in the U.S., most of the history I was taught revolved around those two countries. We had lessons on medieval Europe, and the major events that occurred there – The Hundred Years’ War, The Renaissance, The Spanish Armada, The French Revolution, Napoleon, and so on. Just things from mainland Europe, and snippets into Europe’s naval powers’ race to colonize the “savages” across the globe.

What we weren’t taught were the less “mainstream” histories. That vikings and samurai existed were the only things we learned (in class) of the countries I’ll be talking about in this. Almost all of my knowledge of Japanese and Norse history now comes from the holy triumvirate of books, video games, and manga.

Now I know not to look to James Clavell’s Shogun when I need a biography of Tokugawa Ieyasu, but novels like Clavell’s Asian Saga, or manga like Vagabond, Kingdom, or even games like Total War: Shogun and the Assassin’s Creed franchise (I’m playing Odyssey right now, and BY GOD am I stunned by the world) offered me easy and entertaining access to these histories that I might otherwise never have learned about.

What makes me think about this now is this sort of renaissance that historical anime is going through. Golden Kamuy just had its third season greenlit, and Vinland freaking Saga is currently airing. (My heart begins to hope for a Vagabond adaptation.) They’re both wonderful series, but I’ll refrain from discussing Vinland Saga too much because the plot there is rather more linear than that of Golden Kamuy, so it might difficult to talk about it without spoiling it.

Let me offer a simple summary of Vinland Saga, to try and convince you to see it. It tells the tale of Thorfinn – based on the Norse explorer Thorfinn Karlsefni – a young Viking boy who serves as an assassin and fighter on the ship of Askeladd, a Jomsviking warrior. He doesn’t do this because he feels a thrill for battle, if anything he uses it to vent. He stays and serves on Askeladd’s ship solely because he wants to stay close to his true quarry – the captain of the ship, and the man who slew his father.

Doesn’t that sound like a great story? Now drop it into 1013 A.D. Denmark. Right in the middle of a succession war that ended with one of the greatest Norse kings ascending to the throne. Great historical series can be written around times of peace, but to me, the ones that appeal the most are those that take place in turbulent times, during or just prior to conquests, or after the death of a monarch/leader. You throw a group of normal characters into this period of strife with some sort of task or goal to complete, and watch them struggle to survive. I mean, that’s the formula that many of my favourite series follow – Vinland Saga, The Lord of the Rings, The Witcher, Percy Jackson. Characters in series like these are tempered by the trials they face, and they grow immensely through the story as a result. Thorfinn is no different. Watching him grow from a surly, shaggy-haired boy into the man he is now in the manga is a tremendous journey. The only thing better than it in Vinland Saga is the fighting.

Reading bloodthirsty Vikings slaughter each other with axes and broadswords in large-scale combat is exhilarating in its own right, but then there’s Thorfinn himself. He’s still a young boy, lacking the physical strength of the men he fights against – so he opted to go the way of the rogue. Dual daggers, moving fast, ducking under ponderous swings to gut his enemy, or slipping behind them to slit their throats before they can scream. In combat, his is the most frightening visage – a blond shadow bearing down on soldiers. His hawklike amber eyes the last thing hundreds of Viking men ever see. I can’t wait to watch him fight in the anime. I can only hope that Studio Wit handles the fights like those in Seirei no Moribito, or Samurai Champloo. Anything less would be a travesty.

Golden Kamuy is a show I didn’t know about prior to the anime airing, but once I began watching it I quickly, quickly fell in love with everything about it. Its author, Satoru Noda, wanted to shed some light on the culture of Northern Japan’s indigenous Ainu peoples – and so he did, by placing them squarely in the middle of a Wild West-style treasure hunt involving survivors of the Russo-Japanese war, escaped convicts, and copious amounts of bear-hunting. Seriously, if these characters didn’t have a plot to follow, every bear in Japan and Russia would have died in a matter of days. It’s gruesome and gory, with characters routinely being tortured, severely injured, or dying graphically. It’s also hilarious. Not the deaths, but the characters (sometimes the deaths). When they’re not fighting each other, the cast’s interactions with one another are comedy gold.

Take this scene that I’m going to show you without any context for instance. (Mild spoilers)

Then there’s Asirpa’s wide range of expressions, all of which are beyond exceptional.

Almost every character introduced in the manga/show is quirky or unique in some fashion – and their quirks are used to great comedic effect, usually in the lulls between combat or tensions. They serve, along with Golden Kamuy’s Ainu cooking mini-episodes, as breathers for the reader, letting our heart rates stabilize after watching our intrepid heroes barely escape death again.

The supporting cast and the “villains” of the show are spectacular personalities, from the legendary Shinsengumi “demon” vice-captain Hijikata Toshizou; to the mangaka’s favourite character – the man of boners – Nihei Tetsuzou; to one of the best villains I have seen in anime – Lieutenant Tokushirou Tsurumi. This last one takes command of a legion of soldiers, dissatisfied with their treatment after the war, and seeks the gold to give them a better future.

Most action anime villains who command large numbers of troops don’t care for their subordinates – they see the soldiers under their command as tools to be discarded when their use is at an end. Lt. Tsurumi is different. He is charming, silver-tongued, and cunning. He knows each of his soldiers, he has handpicked them, and in many cases has very personal histories with them that have drawn them to him. His men don’t follow him because of the promise of gold – they follow him out of devotion. Several of his soldiers (and others he meets) are even shown to be in love with him. He wins their devotion by manipulating them, preying on their various weaknesses and traumas until they believe that he is the only person capable of loving them.

On the other side, he’s ruthless and brutal in his treatment of those who oppose him. He has no qualms about torturing those same men whom he displays so much care for, if he believes them to be working against him. To me, he’s a wonderfully amoral character, slightly mad from the shrapnel that damaged part of the front lobe of his brain, but somehow more brilliant for that loss. While the protagonists – Sugimoto Saichi and Asirpa – are amazing characters with terrific chemistry, Lt. Tsurumi is the one who makes this show as good as it is.

So, if you have a hankering for the Wild West, but instead of sand and heat it’s all terribly cold and snowy; if you have a need to learn about how best to eat ground squirrel, or which parts of which strange animals ought to be eaten raw; or if you just like watching men stab and shoot each other to death, then Golden Kamuy is the show for you.

There’s more historical action manga I’d like to talk about – VagabondAres (low fantasy rather than historical, but definitely worth reading), Hyouge Mono, Kingdom, Historie, Rurouni Kenshin, the list is pretty damn long – so I’ll save it for another time. For now, if you read this far – go watch Golden Kamuy (ignore the bad CGI bears, they’ll be dead soon) and Vinland Saga.

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Why I love KyoAni

Edit 7/25: It’s been a week, and it’s still so hard to think about the fire. As Gigguk said in his tribute today, this tragedy feels so, so personal. Even watching clips from these shows I love so dearly makes tears well up in my eyes. This attack makes no sense, and this hurt will take a long, long time to heal. I can only hope and pray that the survivors recover, mentally and physically, and that the studio can eventually stand up again.

If you love anime, or even otherwise, please consider donating to this:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-kyoani-heal?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

I’ve been an ardent fan of all things anime for fifteen or so years now. It started with Speed Racer, Dragonball Z, Beyblade, and Pokemon, and then grew as Animax began airing Rurouni Kenshin, InuYasha, Hungry Heart, Detective School Q, Cardcaptor Sakura and Captain Tsubasa in India. After those came Naruto and Bleach, of course. And from there, I was well and truly down the rabbit hole. Most of that time I’d spent casually enjoying anime, without ever putting much thought into the industry behind it. The individual studios, and the effort that goes into the animation of shows. That is, until I watched Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of the manga Nichijou some 8 years ago. I still can’t say I know very much about the art of animation, but boy, do I appreciate it now.

I’d watched KyoAni shows before – Clannad, Full Metal Panic, K-On!, and The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya – but Nichijou made me fall in love with the studio. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more randomly hilarious slice-of-life anime anywhere. And you can tell immediately that it’s a labour of love. The effort that KyoAni put into the exaggerated and absurd reactions of Mio, Yuko, Nano, and the rest to their plights is what makes the show funny. Haven’t you ever felt like shooting a laser beam through every planet in the solar system after stabbing yourself with a pencil, or stubbing your toe? Or haven’t you ever felt like you’re engaged in a life-or-death battle with late-night mosquitoes? (I have, I even wrote a stupid poem about it in high school.) Nichijou’s characters display outwardly the reactions we in real life want to have for these kinds of everyday tribulations, but can’t.

And you can tell that the animators understood these characters, and their sympathy for that group of morons is displayed in the painstaking quality of each episode. With many studios, and many shows, animation quality varies from episode to episode, or even scene-to-scene. Using what little I’ve learned of the process of making an anime from Shirobako, this might be due to studios relying on freelancer animators – people whose standards and ability levels vary widely. KyoAni employs all of its animators, so all the work is done in-house, by the same groups of people, so the quality remains stable throughout.

That said, not many studios would devote much time and effort animating a weird gag anime like Nichijou, simply because it’s not going to be something that becomes critically successful. Gag anime don’t become contenders for best anime awards, nor do they receive as many views as the more mainstream shonen anime do. That goes doubly for a show like Nichijou, which is so weird as to be off-putting to some people. But KyoAni went ahead and treated it like a Makoto Shinkai film anyway. To put it this way, Nichijou treats its “action” scenes far better than Naruto, Bleach, or One Piece do.

Quality isn’t something unique to Nichijou amongst KyoAni shows. It’s a hallmark of the studio, in an industry where animation quality is often at the mercy of nightmarish schedules. But I don’t intend to go into detail on sakuga and the technical aspects of animation. I can’t do justice to KyoAni’s artistry with my rudimentary knowledge of that subject. No, I simply want to talk about this wonderful studio that opened my eyes to the wonders of detail in anime.

Speaking of eyes, there are a few studios that have individual details that are so iconic as to be trademarks of the studio. The SHAFT neck tilt, for instance. If you’re deep enough into anime to know that phrase, you’ve already got a compilation of neck tilts running through your head at that mention. The KyoAni eyes have to be regarded in much the same way. Much as Houtarou was mesmerized by Eru’s violet gaze in Hyouka, so was I. KyoAni’s eyes have a hypnotic quality to them – you look into the eyes of characters from Hyouka, Hibike Euphonium, Free, Chuunibyou, or Violet Evergarden, and you’re lost. The next thing you know, you’ve binged every episode of the shows, and you’re left bereaved at the end, knowing that you only have the memory of those eyes until KyoAni releases another show.

KyoAni specializes in what one 4chan shitposter called “trite, sappy, formulaic rom-coms”, and what Gigguk thinks of as heartwarming character-driven stories. You can make of that what you will. They do have their share of less-than-excellent shows – Kyoukai no Kanata had no interesting characters for me, while the less that’s said of Musaigen no Phantom World, the better. Of course they have mediocre shows. No-one’s perfect, but the shows that KyoAni makes work are breathtaking. The aforementioned Hyouka, and Hibike Euphonium have scenes that quite literally take my breath away. The scene above is just one of many of Eru and Houtarou’s interactions that blew my mind. Hibike Euphonium’s Kumiko and Reina made one of the best pairs in anime (I swear to god, if the author or LN author says that they don’t end up together, I will riot.) I haven’t watched Violet Evergarden or Koe no Katachi yet, so I can’t comment on them.

To my mind, there are few things as visually appealing, or indeed as expressive, as well-animated anime. Just take a look at that video of Houtarou losing himself in Eru’s eyes again. Live-action can only show so much, constrained as it is by the reality of its pieces. Anime like KyoAni’s offers so much more insight into what characters are feeling, and their personalities, by way of imagery (like the above) or through exaggerations like Nichijou’s that just wouldn’t work in real life. And when KyoAni blends their wonderful character animations together with superb direction and dialogue as in the cases of the shows I’ve named above, you just can’t help but fall in love with them – the show, the characters, and the studio itself.

-Chait

First blog post ever

Edit: It took me a good long while to remember I actually had this. And I’m really sorry that it took something like the KyoAni tragedy for me to remember.

Well, I’m starting this because my girlfriend demanded that I put my free time to productive use. I kid, though she did tell me to, very severely. I’ve got a lot of opinions on a lot of topics (read: fandoms) that a lot of my friends and acquaintances either aren’t familiar with, or don’t care about. So, putting those thoughts out on the big bad internet seemed the best way to get any constructive arguments going.

Things I’m probably going to be writing about:

> Whatever fantasy novel I’m currently reading, and why I dislike characters.
> Ranting about how I don’t like how fantasy – and also Japanese manga – are viewed by the majority of the world.
> Football.
> Cricket.
> Basketball
> Ranting about how I could do better than any of those “professionals” (no, not really. Those people are fucking superhumans).
> Anime
> Video Games

Well, I’m not sure what else I can say now, other than that I’ll try not to be biased about sports (except where Chelsea’s concerned. I fucking hate Chelsea), and I will try to avoid shoving the aforementioned genres/sports down unwilling people’s throats (not that many -if any – unwilling souls will be reading this anyway).