Supernatural, Slice-of-life, Comedy Anime

This blog entry is about what I’ve been watching lately: Supernatural, Slice-of-life, Comedy Anime. They have been my escape from the stress of the world, my home life, and my MFA program (anime is not my focus). So, I am going to share these gems with you, because I’ve really enjoyed them. They are comedy, so they are light-hearted; slice-of-life, so there’s no big conflicts; supernatural, so they’re more interesting (to me at least)

The Disastrous Life of Saiki K (Netflix)

All three seasons are available subbed, but season 1 is also dubbed with solid voice casting. Netflix produced Reawakened, a six-episode follow up that covers the remainder of the manga, which is available subbed and dubbed. Seasons 1 and 2 are 24 episodes each, while season 3 is only 2 episodes (I believe it was aired as a holiday special).

Kusuo Saiki is a teenage psychic with near limitless power, whose greatest desire is for an anonymous normal life. This is challenged not only by his insane powers (that he strives to keep secret) but by the people in his life. While his family is full of dramatic and immature individuals, his friends are just odd– at the beginning this includes a self-proclaimed best friend who is literally too dumb for telepathy and a teenager with a hero complex and a rich fantasy life. Kusuo just attracts these odd people, despite his monotone demeanor. Over time it becomes clear that his sarcastic attitude and dry sense of humor hide a person capable of true kindness and of being fond of others.

Episodes are set up as segments, 4-5 per episode, that may or may not connect to each other. All but a couple of episodes take place during Kusuo’s second year of high school, and this is something that gets addressed as they seem to celebrate the same holiday or vacation period multiple times per season. Kusuo often speaks directly to the audience, offering explanations for his world, a lot of which is his fault.

The first season is the best place to start and the dub can make for solid background noise (although you may miss some key details or visual gags). If you like season 1, you’ll like seasons 2-3, but they will require more attention since there is no dub available. Reawakened is dubbed (by a different voice cast) but some things may be confusing without seasons 2-3 as reference– particularly the last episode, which is a direct follow up to season 3.

Gugure! Kokkuri-san (Crunchyroll; previously on Hulu)

The single-season anime is made up of 12 episodes and only available subbed. It is available on Crunchyroll and was on Hulu for a little while before rotating out.

Kohina Ichimatsu is an elementary school girl living alone in a big house. One night she plays “the Kokkuri game”, which is reminiscent of a ouji board, but played with a ¥10 coin and a piece of paper, acting as the pointer and board respectively. There is a warning not to play this game alone because otherwise a spirit will come and haunt/possess you (depending on the translation). Kohina summons Kokkuri, a fox spirit and former deity. To his surprise, Kohina is not afraid because she is a doll and therefore incapable of emotion. Upon discovering this poor girl living all alone and pretending to be a doll, Kokkuri takes on the role of a responsible adult and decides to move in and take care of her. This opens the door for other supernatural creatures to come into Kohina’s life. 

This show is absolute shenanigans. Although it is clear that Kohina’s determination to be a doll is a result of trauma, it is used to comedic effect as Kokkuri tries to help her become a real girl again. Additionally, Kohina’s greatest love is cup noodles. They are perhaps the only thing she will openly admit to having an attachment to and refers to them as “fuel for dolls” in the first episode. Later, we learn that Kohina is being bullied with a vase of flowers on her desk (a vase of flowers is typically placed on the desk of a student who has died) in part because her mind is almost always focused on cup noodles and begins the show caring little for anything else.

There is one element I am not so fond of. Eventually a dog spirit and a tanuki spirit move in as well. The tanuki is a trickster and a layabout, mostly interested in girls and gambling, but proves to be secretly kind and becomes a protective uncle to Kohina. The dog spirit has a much more complicated role. The manga explains it a little better: dog spirits are curses created by torturing a dog to death. This dog spirit is said to have died cold and alone, resulting in a curse. The only person kind to this dog when they were alive was Kohina and as a result this dog spirit is obsessed with her. Claiming that Kohina is the only thing they like (including themself), this dog spirit wants to marry Kohina and desires nothing but her love, but it’s in a very sexual way. The dog spirit is recognized by the cast as a pervert, but still lives with Kohina. It is so much ick, no matter how much justification is given. The situation is meant to be comedic, but it is just uncomfortable. I feel, however, that the rest of the show makes up for this comic misstep.

Like Saiki K, Gugure! is set up in segments, though they are more interrelated and follow some kind of chronology. Kokkuri proves to be an admirable stay-at-home father and a father-daughter bond definitely forms between himself and Kohina. Aside from some truly problematic instances of sexual humor, the focus is really more on how this little girl’s life improves with these supernatural creatures. There is no explanation for why Kohina decided to be a doll, but it is clear that their presence is healing some serious trauma. 

Special Mention: Ghost Stories (Crunchyroll)

Not exactly slice-of-life, but shenanigans galore. Available subbed and dubbed on Crunchyroll, but you’re going to want to watch the dub.

The story behind the production of Ghost Stories is shenanigans. So, Ghost Stories was a show that aired in Japan before making its way to the US. With less than stellar success, the team behind the dub was given very little direction on the translation (no one had high hopes for the property and no one cared), so the dub deviates in a number of areas from the original, with much of the dialogue ad-libbed by the voice actors. If you are familiar with “abridged” series on YouTube, you’ll get an idea, but basically include American cultural references and mature humor not originally found in this Japanese Childrens’ Program. (And all the political incorrectness. Do not take anything seriously.

This show does follow a plot. An elementary school girl named Satsuki, her younger brother, and her father move back to the town where her late mother grew up. As a youngster, the mother sealed away a number of spirits that are now being released. Satsuki now has to seal them away again. She is helped by her neighbor, their classmate, a girl from the grade above, and a previously sealed away ghost. 

Like Saiki K and Gugure!, Ghost Stories are half-hour episodes (so anywhere between 22-25 minutes). Unlike these other shows, each episode follows one ghost and sealing it away again. Some of the episodes are truly spooky, but balanced well with the juvenile humor. Overall, it’s shenanigans all around, but a little more plot and a little less slice-of-life. One important note: the opening song is cute and sweet, but you want to stay for the closing song, which, surprisingly, is original to the version originally aired in Japan.

Other light anime:

Fruits Basket (a 2019 remake based on a manga, available on Hulu and Crunchyroll)
A family is cursed to turn into animals based around the Chinese zodiac (plus the cat) when hugged by a non-family member of the opposite sex. A high school girl comes to live with them after the death of her mother and romantic comedy ensues. Believe it or not, more of a realistic show than a supernatural one, aside from the ever-present curse. The main focus is on the relationships between the characters.

My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (available on Crunchyroll)
A teenage girl gets reincarnated as the villain of an otome game (a romance video game where the lead follows a path to end up with one of a number of suitors). She realizes this as a child and does her best to avoid “doom endings”, which are those in which the villainess gets exiled or killed.

Ouran High School Host Club (available on Netflix)
A teenager is attending an over-the-top wealthy private school on scholarship when they accidently break a multi-million dollar vase belonging to the school’s host club (a club where people go to be romanced or kept company– not sexually) and therefore has to become a member of the club– one of the hosts– in order to pay off their debt. However, this student turns out to be biologically female, leading to shenanigans surrounding keeping her secret as well as romance between herself and the other members.


Note: Crunchyroll is an anime streaming service similar to Hulu. A lot of what is on Hulu is on Crunchyroll, plus a LOT more– including a few Japanese dramas.

Other News…

Right now, a lot of what I’m doing is trying to relax. I’m currently on an anime kick, and have been watching other things, but it is the sort of light-hearted silliness I talk about above that I’ve really been drawn to and enjoying. I’ll note some of the other light programs I’ve been watching at the end of this post– heavier stuff can wait for another time. Although next week, I begin working with the same Superheroes in Film class I took two years ago. I’ve spent so much of this blog discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe… so… that might come back.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. The Reverend

Originally written June 6, 2020…

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt began during a more hopeful era. It tells a story that is outrageous but ultimately optimistic. Created by Tina Fey, the series follows Kimmy Schmidt, who was recently found after being held captive in a doomsday bunker. Lacking the knowledge that comes with growing up and experiencing the outside world, Kimmy experiences a series of misadventures as she tries to figure out adulthood in New York. Although the series ended with some loose ends, in the end, Kimmy became an independent adult both capable of supporting herself and happy. The show made pointed commentary on a number of aspects of society, including the role women occupy in society– thanks in part to her friend, Jacqueline, who starts as an upper east side trophy wife. In this “choose your journey” follow up, released about a year after the series ended, Kimmy is preparing to get married when she learns that there might be another bunker. Daniel Radcliffe is delightful as her fiancé, Frederick Windsor, twelfth in line for the British throne.

I only just watched this special today, but since the original series ended I have watched 30 Rock, which was not only created by Tina Fey, but starred her. This has provided me with a better sense of Tina Fey’s style as a creator, and enabled me to catch the references to the previous series. The “choose your path” style is well done, and considerably lighter than Netflix’s previous highly publicized attempt, Bandersnatch. For one, in this episode, you don’t have to watch on a computer to make the choices. For another, because Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is considerably lighter than Black Mirror, the episode does its best to help the audience meet the correct ending. Some choices will reverberate through the episode, while others will end with a member of the cast pointing out that the ending is the wrong one. Some choices provide additional scenes or change the jokes. Overall, it’s a lot of fun. *coaxes toward a happy ending

Although I enjoyed it, it feels very out of place right now. This is a time of fear not only in the United States, but globally. Kimmy’s adventures take her not only out of New York, but into an Indiana State Penitentiary and the middle-of-nowhere West Virginia. Some of the jokes– the worst-case scenarios– feel all too real (so far I’ve encountered an anti-metoo movement and a robot apocalypse) in 2020. So, on the one hand, I appreciate Kimmy’s hopeful nature and how she ties up the remaining loose ends with a happy ending, but on the other it feels like content from another time (which makes sense, since I’m sure it was made last year). After watching shows like Rupaul’s Drag Race, Saturday Night Live, and The Masked Singer include socially distant quarantined episodes, it feels very strange to watch something that was released less than a month ago depict a world that is not only kinder and more hopeful, but alive and active.

Last fall I began my Master’s Program, in which I study television. I’ve learned a lot of things about the industry and content– the increasing number of streaming platforms (Disney+, Peacock, HBOMax) has been particularly interesting and provided fascinating discussion. In our last few weeks of the spring semester, however, our speculation turned towards what COVID means for TV/film production. So, I couldn’t help but imagine how dark and sad Kimmy’s world would be if it were anything like this one. We already knew that Kimmy’s world was a brighter one, but never has it been clearer. Content production is starting up again; what will storylines look like? What do I/we/audiences WANT them to look like? While it has long been in my nature to try to avoid terrible news and do my best to forget about it, the remote episodes have been strangely comforting. It is a reminder of the fact that COVID, at least, is a global pandemic, something connecting all of humanity right now. More and more often when I look outside I see beautiful summer weather and it feels weird to be inside (even though that is generally most of my summers because heat and sun), but the reminders of our shared experience make staying inside feel less like a personal fault. Are these reminders important/needed/wanted?

It leads me to my larger question: what responsibility do content creators have, if any? Should content be in production right now? This fall what will we want to see? Last semester I began researching binge-watching and re-watching (and binge re-watching). There are probably millions of hours of content that already exist. Netflix and Friends are a perfect example. Would legacy TV (not streaming/On Demand) benefit from re-airing old content, or would that be a step closer towards the end of legacy? I have many questions about the implications of industry choices. This is my way of coping (also crochet dolls, which I WILL be posting pictures of eventually), I suppose. It is not the biggest issue right now by any means, but it is relevant. Things will never be the way they were before this year. Currently, first amendment rights are being threatened, which may have a large impact on what content gets made and what messages are spread about this year. COVID and the production issues surrounding it have almost taken a backseat to the many protests, riots, and calls for action/change. Many episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit have been advertised as ripped from the headlines; before this year, I would have expected our current situation to be covered, but now I’m not sure even how you would do that, let alone if it will be possible.

This turned very depressing very quickly. My general point is that with all the post apocalyptic media produced (original Twilight Zone and Hunger Games come to mind), you would think that efforts would be made to fight back and try to create a world that doesn’t look like a terrifying dictatorship created thanks to a zombie virus (so many post-apocalyptic zombies viruses…). So, do programs like this Kimmy Schmidt special help or hurt? The special is satirical but is ultimately optimistic. These fictional worlds were something to strive for (Friends depicts a waitress living with only two roommates in Manhattan), but these protests are a huge reminder that these worlds were not so optimistic for everyone. Going back to how things were isn’t a good thing and growth only comes through pain. So, while I appreciate this light hearted special and the choices it makes, I am still left feeling uncomfortable. I can imagine, however, that I would’ve enjoyed it more had I watched it right when it was released.

The End of Endgame

Avengers: Endgame was released a month ago and has since become one of the top grossing films worldwide. People cannot stop talking about this movie, or, more specifically, the ending.

SPOILER WARNING

SERIOUSLY

THIS POST IS LITERALLY ABOUT HOW THE FILM ENDS


Since before Avengers: Infinity War (2018) was released last year, I was predicting that Steve Rogers would not make it out of the Infinity War (note the original titles of Avengers 3 and 4 were “Infinity War Part I” and “Infinity War Part II” and all the films that have been released are collectively known as “The Infinity Saga”) alive because he is a man living in a foreign time and has nothing in his life outside of the Avengers/fighting the good fight in his life. Meanwhile, I was certain that Tony Stark, who has a life, a woman he loves, and a hugely successful family business, would survive to become support staff, not unlike what he does in the comics from time to time.


I was so wrong.


At first, I was so mad! People around me are sobbing (I always cry at movies– previews make me teary eyed) and I am just sitting there in shock. I left the theater salty as hell and it took sleeping on it for me to process and come to some conclusions.


First, let me start by saying that, in hindsight, I’m glad I was wrong. Being so surprised actually improved my experience. While I adore being right, I think it would’ve been a little anti-climatic for me had it ended the way I anticipated– at least that’s what I keep telling myself.


Now, the ending itself is this: Tony Stark/Iron Man sacrifices his life using his own Infinity Gauntlet to– snap!— destroy Thanos and his forces. He cannot handle the strain on his body and after a tearful farewell– particularly to Pepper Potts and Peter Parker/Spider-Man– he dies. In Captain America: Civil War (2016), Tony talks about how he can’t stop being Iron Man, because deep down he doesn’t want to stop. The general premise of Iron Man 3 (2013) is that he cannot bring himself to stop. Therefore, narratively, it makes sense that the only way for him to stop is to be stopped; he’s not going to stop while he’s still alive.

It’s also important to note that while there is no end credit scene, the last thing you see after the credits is the Marvel Studios logo with the sound of Tony Stark building his first Iron Man suit in the desert playing in the background. In many ways, the series has been his journey, specifically, and now it has come to an end.


Steve Rogers never wields the Infinity Gauntlet, but does gain possession and control of Mjolnir. Proving himself worthy, Steve survives the final battle and is the one to return the Infinity Stones and Mjolnir to where they belong in the timelines. However, Steve doesn’t just return those borrowed items. Instead of coming back to the present, he decides to find Peggy Carter in the past and they finally get that dance they talked about all those years ago and– it is implied– build a life together. In the present, Sam Wilson/Falcon and Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier turn from watching Steve disappear to see an elderly Steve sitting on a bench waiting for them. He then passes on the shield and Captain America mantle to Sam.

So, there’s a couple things to unpack here. One thing I’ve always noticed was that you never see any pictures of Peggy Carter’s husband in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I looked. Now, this could be in part due to Marvel’s Agent Carter (2015-2016). Not knowing who she ended up with allowed for showrunners to play with different romantic options, since there was no set conclusion canonically. OR, they could’ve been super clever (directors Anthony and Joe Russo worked on Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, and Endgame) and already knew where Steve’s story was heading.

I contend that Steve was in love with both Bucky and Peggy. He chose to have a life with Peggy because he could travel to a time not long after World War II and build a life with her in a world that is more familiar to him, one that would be peaceful, especially if he has to remain hidden from the public and his past self. Okay, but why not Bucky from the Russians/Hydra before he becomes the Winter Solider? I think that would have a greater impact on the timeline (as far as Steve’s awareness and the MCU narrative go).

Sam Wilson is Captain America in the comic books, but so is Bucky Barnes. So, why go with Sam and not Bucky? While I will forever maintain that the story of Steve and Bucky is an unfulfilled love story, they are often foils for each other. Sam, however, is consistently depicted as a parallel to Steve, from his first introduction in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). They’ve been through similar experiences (losing a ‘wingman’) and are both natural leaders (Sam leads the charge when the cavalry arrives in Endgame: “On your left” indeed). Also, I think it’s much more meaningful for Sam. Bucky is still bogged down by guilt and seventy years of brainwashing and torture. He does not want to be Captain America, and probably assumes he doesn’t deserve it. Sam has looked up to Captain America his whole life. To be a part of that legacy is a hugely touching gesture for Sam.

Now, while we don’t see it for sure, we know that Steve gets married, presumably to Peggy (who also never changed her maiden name– perhaps to keep her husband safe/secret?) while Tony is given a touching funeral. Pepper and Tony had five years together building a life outside of all the superhero stuff, had a daughter. So, in the end, I believe that Steve chooses to live a life for Tony, who can no longer do so. Tony was ready to hang up the suit– and did for a time– before being dragged back in by Steve. As a tribute– and perhaps out of guilt– Steve decides to do what Tony can’t and gets a life away from it. I think that it makes a lot of sense for Steve to live a peaceful incognito life to honor Tony and his memory, which conveniently explains why old man Steve Rogers wasn’t out fighting while his past self was frozen in the Valkyrie.


For years, producer Kevin Feige has said that everything changes after the Infinity War. That what comes next will be very different from what we’ve seen. Well, of the original Avengers (Black Widow, Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, Thor) only Hulk and Thor are still alive/not clearly retired, but it’s clear that Hulk has found a new life as “Professor Hulk” while The Dude Thor is traveling with the Guardians of the Galaxy. We know that there are already a number of movies and canonical TV shows on their way, including Spider-Man: Far From Home which is set to wrap up Phase 3 this July, and should give us a better sense of what this new world looks like. After 11 years and 22 movies, I think it’s safe to say Feige delivered on his promise. As I’ve said in many previous posts, I look forward to seeing what gets announced next.

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu

When I was about seven years old, my parents took my brother and I to see the first Pokémon movie, Pokémon: The First Movie (1998). This was a time before midnight showings and ‘midnight showings’ (screenings the day before the official release at a time that’s easier for people will jobs the next day), but tickets sold. out. for the Thursday showing. They had to add a showing at some theaters for Wednesday and we traveled to a theater that felt super far away at the time.

The point to that little anecdote is this: Pokémon has been a world-wide phenomena since its release in 1996. While it popularity waned for a time, it has come back with a vengeance thanks to Pokémon Go! and a new generation of kids obsessed with collecting Pokemon cards. So, the announcement of a live action movie, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, was almost inevitable, though I wasn’t anywhere near as excited until I learned that Ryan Reynolds would be voicing Pikachu. And, as the film’s release got closer and more trailers began to air, I couldn’t help but get swept up further in the excitement.

Last night, my fiancé and I finally saw Detective Pikachu. While I’m still processing, my fiancé was really pleased with it. I’m going to defer to some of his opinions, since he’s continued to play the Pokémon games as they’ve been released (except for Pokémon Go!, since he doesn’t have a smartphone). He summed* the movie up as something that was made for millennials and that children were an incidental audience– one they would already have. With children and parents guaranteed, making it entertaining for a completely different target demographic would have a positive effect on profits.

The film makes numerous references to some of the content that defined an America millennial childhood, making Pokémon: The First Movie canon, including a scene on top of Pokémon parade floats just like the stage in the Super Smash Bros. Melee* game, and, of course, the enormous number of Red and Blue starter Pokémon: Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander (seriously, SO MANY Charmanders!).

As is obvious in the trailer, the film follows 21-year-old Tim as he looks for his missing-but-presumed-dead father with the help of his father’s Pokémon partner, a Pikachu. He and Pikachu are able to work together because for some unknown and mysterious reason, they can understand what each other is saying (the movie establishes that Pokémon don’t understand human speech, just the feelings behind it). While the cast includes big names such as Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool) as the titular Pikachu, Ken Watanabe (Inception) as a colleague of Tim’s father, and Bill Nighy (Underworld), as founder of Ryme City, where the movie takes place, the real star is Justice Smith (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) who plays Tim. Smith may be a relative unknown, but his acting is on point in this film, bringing emotional depth to the otherwise ‘straight man’ character.

Throughout the film, Tim and Pikachu unravel a plot that goes far beyond Tim’s missing father and Pikachu’s partner, and could have worldwide ramifications. The film moves quickly, continuously bringing new details and information with little room to breathe. The beginning feels rushed, and while the movie never really slows down– aside from the poignant moment here and there– the frenetic pace seems to match the gaming experience. Even after almost twenty hours to process, I’m still not quite sure what I think of this movie, which I think has to do with this rapid pacing.

The design elements are where this film truly shines. The music finds inspiration in the music found in the Pokémon games and matches this semi-futuristic, Japanime alternate reality. What most impressed me most, however, were the visuals. The digital rendering combined with expert lighting design brings Pokémon to life in a way that is so realistic that it even captures their texture. The urban setting combines the Japanese anime with more American sensibilities (and perceptions of Japan) to create something that is jarring, but feels accurate to the world of Pokémon.

Overall, the film was enjoyable, with fantastic visuals and a fun plot. Although I found the pacing jarring, I don’t know that it would’ve worked any slower. The film has a solid plot arc and creates a satisfying mystery with a pay off that doesn’t feel forced, nor does it drag out the reveals or lead to impatience. It’s not a perfect film, but my fiancé called it “the best Pokémon movie ever!” and while I’m still not sure what I feel about the movie itself, that is a statement I can agree with.

*Corrections have been made since the original post:
– I originally said that my fiancé “summed the movie up as something that was made for children, but with millennials in mind.” That has been corrected.
– I also claimed that the Pokémon parade floats were from the original Super Smash Bros., and that too has been corrected.

Avengers: Endgame Review

Last night I went to bed in shock after watching Avengers: Endgame, but this morning I’ve come to a place where– now that I’ve had time to process– I can say that, although it was surprising, it was a truly satisfying ending for the era.

As I said above, I found Endgame terribly surprising. While there are some things that happen that we all knew would happen, the ending was something I just was not expecting. In hindsight, however, it makes a great deal of sense and closes the arcs of a number of key characters. The film is well-crafted, and while you feel those three hours it is not because the movie isn’t enjoyable.

While Avengers: Infinity War (2018) had to balance a massive cast acting across the universe, Endgame has a much smaller group to work with following ‘the snap’. As a result, the pacing feels less crowded and much closer to other Marvel Cinematic Universe films, full of both action and banter, with some truly touching moments. The film begins with a touching cold open that sets the tone for the beginning of the film, but the end of the final battle will have you cheering. There are great callbacks to other moments in the MCU sprinkled throughout and just about every character is given at least a small moment to shine. It was also fun watching characters interact that don’t typically do so, or haven’t done so previously, and see how they affect each other and grow.

I saw one headline call Endgame “a love letter to the fans” and that’s absolutely true. While it did not end how I expected, the ending is a satisfying end to the narrative arc and makes a great deal of sense in the context of each character’s journey. The movie truly is enjoyable (and now that I’ve come to terms with it and moved past my shock, I may need to see it again) and I’m excited to see what’s next.

This film completely changes the franchise (and not just on Earth as some of the others have). Although announcements have been made regarding mini series and movies, there are still a number of open slots that have not been named yet (May/November 2020, February/May/November 2012, February/May/July 2022). This year’s San Diego Comic Con, which is known for its big reveals and announcements, will (hopefully) be enlightening. Meanwhile, knowing what is slated to come next also has me curious to see how they will make it work in light of the events of Endgame.

Basically, I left the theatre mostly in shock and eager to see what will happen next, but Endgame is absolutely an enjoyable and well-crafted film that is unlikely to disappoint.