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Being the huge, sprawling franchise that it is, Sword Art Online has a bunch of spinoffs and side materials. Most of them aren’t worth getting into unless you’re a hardcore fan. But there are some gems that I recommend people try out even if they’re not big into SAO. They offer unique stories with their own appeal and delve more deeply into SAO’s virtual worlds than even the original series does.

Here are my favourites:

Sword Art Online: Progressive
Written by Reki Kawahara

Sword Art Online: Progressive is a reboot of the Aincrad storyline, which tells the story of how each and every floor of the game was conquered. For those of you who were unsatisfied with the jerky pacing of the original story, Progressive is a must-read. I’ll copy and paste an excerpt from a review of the series that I wrote on English Light Novels:

Sword Art Online: Progressive appears to have been written with an eye for addressing the common criticisms against SAO. Kirito reprises his role as the main character for this series, but he’s not the godlike gamer he was in the original series; instead, he just seems like a perceptive kid who often needs help from others to balance his overspecialized talents. The other characters in the world of SAO get a chance to shine in Progressive—most notably Asuna, whose journey from newbie to VRMMO veteran is one of the main focuses of the reboot.

Worldbuilding was always the strongest aspect of Kawahara’s stories, but it’s even more impressive in this series. One of the things I liked most about Progressive was its emphasis on the social dynamics in the VRMMORPG setting. The lives of other players were often touched upon in the original series but were never really delved into. In Progressive, we’re given a clearer picture of the guild politics, and the various side characters play key roles in moving the narrative forward. This makes the game world feel as if it’s populated by people instead of just serving as a canvas for Kirito’s exploits.

Just be warned that this series is not getting a conclusion anytime soon. So far the series has been averaging about one volume a year, so at this rate Kawahara may be writing Progressive for the rest of his life. But when the installments are this good, I don’t mind waiting for the long haul.

The other thing I want to note is that Progressive has a bit of retconning. Kirito and Asuna are friends from the start in Progressive instead of distant acquaintances. That’s a good change, because they are really cute in Progressive. It really makes clear that the two of them are best friends even before they are lovers.

Because Progressive is chronologically the first part of Sword Art Online, it can be read before the main series. But there’s also no problem with reading it later. Progressive allude to concepts from Alicization. In the world of Aincrad, Kirito encounters several AI characters who are too human-like to act from pre-programmed scripts. The mystery of the AIs and what Kayaba was doing with them makes the overall plot interesting even though we all know how the Aincrad storyline ends.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online
Written by Keiichi Sigsawa

Keiichi Sigsawa’s Gun Gale Online spinoff series got an anime adaptation last year, so you may be aware of it already. But for those of you who haven’t heard of it yet, it’s a novel series with original characters set in the world of Gun Gale Online, which was featured in the Phantom Bullet arc from the Sword Art Online II anime. It can be enjoyed without any knowledge of Sword Art Online, and has a completely different appeal from the original.

The easiest way I can think to sum up SAO Alternative is that it’s told like a sports story. The narrative focuses on competition rather than life-or-death stakes. The game itself may not be able to kill its players, but the intensity of the gun fights still makes the heart pound! Throw in some clever twists and strategising, and SAO Alternative has some of the best fight scenes in the entire franchise.

It helps that Sigsawa is one of the biggest gun nuts in the light novel business. He supervised the gun matters in the Sword Art Online II anime. He’s able to do justice to the setting of GGO in a way that Kawahara, who professes to be not too familiar with guns, was never able to do. It’s satisfying to watch characters pull off wins by picking the best gun to use in a particular context, or through countering the opponent’s moves by knowing their weapon’s weakness.

Although the series is enjoyable for anyone who likes a combination of cute girls and guns, SAO fans will also appreciate the different perspective Sigsawa offers on VRMMORPG players and their relationship in the real world. In SAO Alternative, none of the main characters are SAO survivors. Thus, they’re more representative of the ordinary players who play VR games for the simple fun of it. (Well, except for Pitohui, but she’s an odd duck.) It’s refreshing to see a different side of the games that are removed from all the villains and conspiracies Kirito has to deal with.

But mostly, you want to read or watch SAO Alternative because of how funny it is. I’ve never cracked up so hard at anything SAO-related in my life.

Sword Art Online: Girls’ Ops
Manga by Neko Nekobyou

One of the biggest crimes of SAO is that the side female characters never got much to do after their brief time in the spotlight. After furiously demanding for MORE DEBAN for years, Silica, Lisbeth and Lyfa finally have a manga spinoff to themselves where they can be the heroes of the story.

…Or not. The most surprising thing about Girls’ Op is that the story is really more about an original character named Lux, who is an SAO survivor with a lot of emotional baggage to deal with. Lux’s story drives the narrative forward, and the other girls are mainly there to support her. Ironically, Silica, Lisbeth and Lyfa get outshone even in their own spinoff.

I can’t complain, however, because Lux’s story is very compelling. Girls’ Ops is really about making amends, both with yourself and the people you may have hurt in the past. Lux bounces off the other girls well because they’re connected to SAO too and can understand her plight all too well. It also makes sense why she would connect with Silica, Lisbeth and Lyfa over Kirito, Asuna or Sinon – because levels and combat strength are beside the point in this manga. The girls support Lux by being there for her emotionally and giving her space when she needs it, not by solving Lux’s problems for her. The friendships that develop between them feel seamless and natural because of this.

Girls’ Ops also makes great use of the ALfheim Online setting. For Kirito and his friends, it’s the game they always keep coming back to because it’s like comfort food. And after reading this manga, I can see why they pick this game above all the others. It features an abundance of systems and customisation, plus the individual quests have a creative setup. Wisely, however, Girls’ Ops never puts too much emphasis on any single quest or game mechanic, and instead focuses on the character interactions and how much fun they’re having. This sold me on ALO as a game way better than the Fairy Dance or Excalibur arcs ever did.

Girls’ Ops is kind of an underrated manga because most fans either haven’t heard of it or assumed it was just an ecchi thing with no plot because of the vague premise. But not only does Girls’ Ops have a plot, it also complements the themes of the original novels really well. It won’t add much new information, but it does reinforce the idea that everyone in Aincrad had their role to play. Read Girls’ Ops if you want to see more of what Sword Art Online is like without Kirito’s presence.

All of the above series are licensed in English by Yen Press. They’re available both digitally and in paperback, so they’re not hard to obtain.

Which SAO spinoffs do you like? Bear in mind that I haven’t played any of the video games, so if any of you readers have played them, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on them.

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“What light novels should I read if I’m learning Japanese?” is one of the questions I most frequently get asked, especially by people who are visiting Japan and want to pick up some beginner-friendly light novels while they’re there.

My answer to this question is kind of complicated. Although light novels are typically aimed at teenagers, it doesn’t mean that the language is necessarily easier to read. In fact, from my observations, the language level is roughly comparable to “standard” novels, and the vocabulary varies greatly depending on what style the author is going for.

English novels are the same way, by the way. By the time you are a teenager, you will have learned almost all the common words in your native language. That’s why there’s no set readability level among “Young adult literature.”

That’s why light novels are generally not a great place to start learning Japanese. The language is not simplified the way a children’s book is. Let’s say you’re around N3-level when you pick up a light novel. You’ll probably be looking up words at least a dozen times per page, depending on the title. Some people learn Japanese by forcing themselves through light novels or visual novels that are way beyond their level, but they’ll be the first people to tell you that this is not a “fun” method that will work for everyone. Reading will feel like work.

So instead of telling Japanese learners to read light novels when they are starting out, I tell people to read children’s books, like the adventures of Kirby. Everyone loves Kirby.

Kadokawa Tsubasa Bunko or Shogakukan Junior Bunko publish many anime, manga and game adaptations, so they’re very weeb-friendly. I can’t recommend them enough.

However, even after hearing that, some people still want to read bona fide light novels, which I understand. So today I want to talk about one of the very first light novels I ever read in Japanese, and which helped me gain a lot more confidence in reading Japanese.

Omae wo Otaku ni Shite Yaru Kara, Riajuu ni Shite Kure! (I’ll Make You into an Otaku, so Make Me into a Riajuu!) by Rin Murakami is what you get if you breed Toradora with Genshiken. An otaku and a riajuu agree to play wingman to each other in order to set them up with each other’s friends, but in order to do that, they feel as if they need each other’s knowledge. It’s a really cute romcom with a lot of relatable moments, especially if you’ve ever identified as a geek, and I recommend it as a story in its own right.

There are several things that make OtaRia an easy read. First off, it’s got a real-world high school setting, which means that there is no fantasy or science fiction jargon. Secondly, the prose and dialogue are both very down-to-earth. Most of the kanji has furigana. There isn’t much wordplay, and the author never makes up expressions or creative readings of kanji. In other words, OtaRia has no gimmicks (well, besides the usual otaku tropes).

Yet OtaRia’s writing is never so simple that it feels banal, which is a problem I have often felt reading prose that has been deliberately dumbed down for me. The main character’s internal voice is so incredibly earnest and sympathetic that you can’t help but get drawn in. The very simplicity of the story becomes the reward. Reading OtaRia was the first time I felt as if I got fully absorbed in a story I was reading in my second language.

Reading in my first language is an effortless activity, and that’s what makes it pleasurable. However, reading in Japanese requires more active concentration. However, I see no point in using novels to practice Japanese if it isn’t fun. Until I read OtaRia, I felt as if I was forcing myself. I was translating stuff like Oregairu as a hobby, but I found myself enjoying the prose more when I read it back to myself in English rather than during my first read-through in Japanese. The quicker you learn the simple joys of reading in your second language, the better.

That’s why, even if I won’t rank OtaRia among my favourite light novels, I still look back on it fondly and consider it a turning point in the way I approach the Japanese language. Also, Rin Murakami is a better author than Haruki Murakami. I am firm in this assessment.

(Ore to Kanojo no Moeyo Pen is another series by Rin Murakami that is really easy to read, although it’s not as well-written overall. The illustrations are fantastic, though.)

To wrap up this post, I’d like to pose a question to Japanese learners: what was the first story you read that you felt you could fully absorbed in, as if you were reading it in your first language? Have you encountered a story like that yet? And what novels would you recommend to people starting out in their language journey?

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Now that I’ve finally found the time to catch up with both the Alicization anime and read the latest light novel volume, I’ve been remembering what a fun series Sword Art Online is. Alicization is such a change of pace from previous seasons; it’s basically a Shonen Jump battle manga at this point, and I’m completely okay with that. Plus, the latest volume of the light novel starts a brand new arc, so despite the fact that this series has been running for years, diving into Sword Art Online has been a fresh experience lately.

Getting back into SAO like this reminds me how much Reki Kawahara has grown as an author over the years. As I pointed out in an Anime News Network editorial in 2017, Kawahara first began writing Sword Art Online in 2001. As a recap, a rough timeline of Kawahara’s career would go like this:

Sword Art Online volume 1 (written for the Dengeki Taisho) -> Submission is scrapped, gets posted online instead -> the rest of Sword Art Online is posted online, up until partway through Alicization -> Kawahara takes break to write Accel World volume 1 for the Dengeki Taisho -> Finishes off Alicization in 2008 -> Accel World volume 1 gets published, Kawahara writes new volumes -> Meanwhile, the SAO web novel is edited and republished by Dengeki Bunko.

…This means that Accel World is a newer work than Sword Art Online, but nobody really pays that much attention to Accel World (not even myself, tehehe). Even so, I’ve always thought it was unfair to judge what kind of author Kawahara is now based on what he wrote over 10 years ago. Although Kawahara began writing the Progressive reboot series in 2012, it’s only in the Unital Ring arc starting from volume 21 that the overarching story of Sword Art Online continues past the web novel. That’s why I went into volume 21 with a heightened sense of curiosity. Just what kind of author is Kawahara nowadays?

SPOILERS FOR SWORD ART ONLINE VOLUME 21 BELOW:

Unital Ring takes place one month after the events of Alicization. Despite the fact that he’s behind on his schoolwork and also general life stuff (he hasn’t decided on a present for Asuna’s birthday, which is three days away), Kirito is back to playing VRMMORPGS, because of course he is.

At this point in the series timeline, hundreds of VRMMORPGs run off “The Seed”, the freeware program based on the original Sword Art Online game that can be used to create an infinite number of VR worlds. Alfheim Online and Gun Gale Online are only two VRMMORPGs created with The Seed. One day, every world created with The Seed converges, creating a mysterious survival game named Unital Ring.

As a result of the worlds converging, every player reverts to level 1. They also lose their items, equipment, magic and abilities (although not their Sword Skills). Although no one dies in the real world when defeated in the game, any player who dies in the game will not be able to log back in again. Also, whenever you log out, your avatar will remain in the game, completely vulnerable to attack. A mysterious announcement also informs all the players that “the first player will receive everything”, indicating that the game is a race.

When the worlds initially converge, causing the New Aincrad castle to fall to the ground, Kirito is with Asuna and Alice in the log house where they normally hang out in Alfheim Online. Although almost every player inside New Aincrad died when the castle fell, Kirito and his friends somehow manage to stick around, although they have to repair their log house within a time limit, otherwise it disappears forever. Since Kirito and Asuna have strong memories about their love nest, they make it their highest priority to repair the log house, and don’t appear to really care about the larger mystery of the world for now.

In other words, most of volume 21 is actually a rather laid-back adventure with no pressing goal beyond “save the log house”. Most of the story revolves around exploring the immediate surroundings for materials and levelling up survival skills. Among all the games showcased in the Sword Art Online series so far, Unital Ring seems like the most tedious one to play, although that is almost certainly an intentional design choice.

The tone and delivery of this volume reminded me a lot of Sword Art Online: Progressive, which is also a fairly unhurried adventure that takes the reader through each and every floor of the original Aincrad. The characters casually banter with each other as they slowly piece together the nature of the world.

In other words, Unital Ring so far has many of the same flaws and strengths as Progressive. On one hand, the dialogue and character writing has never been better. On the other hand, the pacing is as slow as a crawl. Remember the days when SAO arcs only took one or two volumes to wrap up? I don’t necessarily miss the rushed plot progression and half-baked character development from the early days, but surely there’s a middle ground.

One area that Reki Kawahara has recently promised to do better in is with the female characters. That can already be seen in this volume. There are no sexualising fanservice, for a start. Even when the characters lose their clothing and equipment, it’s only Kirito who goes around shirtless, and that’s framed as a joke. The romantic affections of Kirito’s harem are downplayed, and with the obvious exception of his girlfriend Asuna it honestly seems like they’re more interested in dunking on him than having his babies nowadays.

Most obviously, however, Silica gets her own subplot to shine. I’ve had a soft spot for her ever since her adorable karaoke scene in the Ordinal Scale movie, but she never really got much attention in the main story. But in this volume, she has a battle with a buff Amazon lady, and they become great friends because of it. I am all for Kawahara drinking the feminist kool-aid if it means more cute moments like this.

SPOILERS OVER. YOU CAN READ SAFELY NOW.

If you were to ask me if Unital Ring is an improvement over previous SAO arcs, then I would say that it is, generally speaking. However, it does feels strangely underwhelming after coming straight off the high stakes, high fantasy saga of Alicization. I hope that the series does not take too long to get to the overarching plot of Unital Ring. Even in the first volume, I found myself skimming over menial details like how the crafting system works.

Above all, Unital Ring feels like a refinement of SAO’s core appeal: worldbuilding, characters and adventure. I’m not sure if everyone will like the direction of modern Kawahara’s writing; it’s light-hearted fun rather than doom and gloom. But it’s so joyous, it reminds me why I’ve stuck with SAO in spite of all of its low points. When you get down to it, Kawahara is one of the best light novel authors in the business when it comes to making interesting game and fantasy worlds. Even if the games he envisions don’t sound fun from a design sense, watching the characters find joy in it is the fun.

Also, Kirito kills a bear while shirtless. That’s pretty awesome.

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Image via The Hollywood Reporter

Like most anime fans, I only heard of Genki Kawamura after Your Name became a smash hit around the world. As one of the producers of Your Name, Kawamura is sometimes credited with making Makoto Shinkai’s infamously obtuse and sentimental style of film making accessible to mainstream audiences for the first time… although I don’t know how much influence Kawamura really had on the storytelling itself. Regardless, he’s a big personality in his own right, which is something you don’t often see with Japanese anime producers.

Besides the Shinkai connection, Kawamura has also been a producer on Mamoru Hosoda’s films, another big name among anime film makers. Yet the biggest reason Kawamura stands out is because he writes and direct films himself, and he also publishes novels and picture books. His debut novel If Cats Disappeared From the World (first published in 2012) recently got an English translation last year.

As Kawamura explained in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he’s thought of as strange in Japan because of this. A big difference between Japanese and Hollywood producers is that the director and producer’s role are clearly defined in Japan, meaning that their roles rarely ever cross over. In addition, most Japanese producers are studio employees. Kawamura himself belongs to the Japanese film chain Toho, so his film projects represent Toho rather than himself as an individual. This means that although producers can and will influence things behind the scenes, their name is rarely ever the selling point.

…Except when it is. In November last year, Shout! Factory wrote an advertorial on Anime News Network that begins like this: “From Genki Kawamura, the producer of the worldwide anime sensation Your Name, comes Fireworks, a title worth adding to your growing anime movie collection.”

Putting aside the fact that this advertisement is extremely misleading because it makes out that Your Name and Fireworks have a lot in common creatively when the connection is only tenuous at best, it is fascinating to see Genki Kawamura elevated to the status of “showrunner” in the advertising materials. Even if that wasn’t his role in Your Name and Fireworks in particular, Kawamura has taken on that kind of role for anime before – for example, he wrote the screenplay for Doraemon the Movie: Nobita’s Treasure Island. So it’s steadily become more obvious to me that Kawamura is a fascinating figure in the world of anime production.

Kawamura is an even bigger deal when you look outside the world of anime. He’s been involved in Train Man, Moteki, Confessions, among other critically acclaimed and commercially successful live-action films. He’s also one of the people working directly with J.J. Abrams on that live-action Your Name remake. (He was almost certainly one of the people on the Japanese side telling the live-action film crew to make a “Westernised” take on the story.) You can’t fault this man for his ambition and willingness to try new things.

All of this made me curious… is Genki Kawamura a good writer himself? I read If Cats Disappeared From the World to see for myself. It’s a simple story about a man who is about to die, and the devil tells him he can prolong his life one day at a time if he chooses to remove certain things he valued in his life from existence. Although a bit preachy and too on-the-nose about its messages, it’s a nice and quick read. And, of course, if you’re a cat lover, you’ll love this book, so it’s easy enough to recommend.

There was one thing I was struck by in particular. At one point, there’s a scene where the protagonist runs towards an encounter he knew he always had to face, and you never find out how exactly it plays out. It’s left only to implication. It reminded me a lot of the scene where Mitsuha confronts her father in Your Name, as well as the scene just before the end credits.

Long story short: Yeah, Genki Kawamura is the real deal. I couldn’t get a complete picture of what kind of creative person he is just from that one book. But I got the impression that he’s definitely got a good grasp of why certain dramatic techniques are so effective. It’s made me interested in checking out his other novels and films, and I’ll definitely be watching out for his name in the future. Turns out Your Name’s producer is kind of a big deal!

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This is just a quick PSA to address a misconception that’s been floating around for the past few days.

I’ll go over the context first. The Rising of the Shield Hero is a light novel series that originally began as a web novel posted on Shoutesuka ni Narou! (“Let’s become a novelist!”) in 2012. The author’s pen name is Aneko Yusagi. There are three reasons why this is not considered the real name of the author:

  1. Aneko Yusagi is not at all a common Japanese name
  2. It is written in katakana, which is commonly used to indicate pen name status
  3. Almost all the authors on Narou use pen names. Even Tappei Nagatsuki used to identify solely by the pseudonym Nezumiironeko before the Re:ZERO series got a print release. The same thing applies to Sword Art Online’s Reki Kawahara, who used to call himself Fumio Kunori. However, many web novel authors choose to retain their pen names even after getting a publishing deal.

It’s a common trend among light novel authors in general to use pen names. Natsume Akatsuki, Chugaku Akamatsu, Shirow Shiratori… none of those are traditional Japanese names. This is due to a culture of anonymity on the Japanese web, as well as the fact that many authors prefer to keep their writing separate from their real life. (The majority of light novel and web novel authors are not full-time writers.)

Long story short, hardly anything about Aneko Yusagi is actually known. Not their age, occupation, or even their gender. This is clearly the author’s wish, so it would be unfair to assume anything about their identity.

Some have asked, “Why do they use such a feminine-sounding pen name?” There could be any number of reasons for this. For example, Natsume Akatsuki once said that the “Akatsuki” part of his pen name comes from Kancolle, which he was really into at the time. The reasoning could be as innocuous as that. It is not in itself a statement of gender identity.

This is far from the first time anime fans have made assumptions about an author’s identity. In the case of Natsume Akatsuki, fans speculated for years that he was a woman. It was only when he was interviewed by The Anime Man was it clear that he was a man (even if his face was covered during the interview).

Interview With "KonoSuba" Creator Akatsuki Natsume | #InterviewMeSenpai - YouTube

The reason I am bringing all of this up is because quite a few people as of late have been asserting that Aneko Yusagi is a woman. Normally, I find speculations about an anonymous author’s gender to be intrusive, but not actively malicious. Sometimes, you simply hear a rumour often enough that you start to think it is true. But I find this case with Aneko Yusagi to be concerning, mostly because of the context in which the claim has surfaced.

That is to say, it has come up primarily as a rebuttal against those who criticised the series for being sexist.

You’ll find more posts like these if you search “Aneko Yusagi woman” on Google or Twitter, all of them only a few days old. Meanwhile, if you search the equivalent in Japanese (アネコユサギ 女性), you won’t find any mentions or speculations about the author’s gender. This is a completely manufactured controversy.

Now, regardless whether you believe that The Rising of the Shield Hero is sexist, the author’s gender has nothing to do with the content itself. Because women can be sexist (just like men can be sexist), stating that Aneko Yusagi is a woman is not a convincing rebuttal to the claim. There’s no point in bringing up the author’s gender in a discussion purely about the story itself.

In other words, stating “Aneko Yusagi is a woman” as fact simply to win an internet argument does nobody any favours. More than anything, it’s misinformation and an invasion of the author’s privacy.

On a similar note, the fact that the author’s gender is officially unconfirmed also means that it is also unfair to state definitively that Aneko Yusagi is a man. Sometimes, people can’t help but unconsciously use gendered pronouns for people whose identity they aren’t aware of, and they often mean no harm in that, but if you see someone make assumptions about the author’s gender and outlook based purely on conjecture around the story, like “This guy must hate women,” then please remind them that they are going too far.

In short, regardless of how you feel about the The Rising of the Shield Hero, there’s no need to make baseless assumptions about the author or to state those assumptions as facts. Please have respect for Aneko Yusagi’s anonymity and don’t spread misinformation.

Thanks!

P.S. This has nothing to do with the topic, but Raphtalia is cute, so I’m going to finish this post with another picture of her.

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In 2018, I had a New Year’s resolution: “Don’t fuck up.”

That was because I had made a lot of big decisions in 2017. I got a job and moved to Japan. I was afraid that if I made a mistake I’d lose what I had.

It turns out that making that resolution was the bigger mistake. Whenever I made the slightest error in my research, I’d start stressing and thinking I wasn’t good enough for my job. It would get so bad that I would think about quitting my job every few weeks.

It wasn’t that anyone at work had treated me poorly, or that I don’t enjoy my job. I hardly ever receive online harassment either. It was all inside my own head.

I’ve known for a long time that my perfectionism is a bad habit. I was saying back in February that I needed to change my outlook, and I’ve talked mentioned this problem in other blog posts too. Although I tell myself frequently that I don’t need to be perfect in order to be happy, I doubt that this aspect of my personality will ever go away entirely. But I shouldn’t go around making things harder by putting pressure on myself with my “don’t fuck up” resolution.

That’s why my resolution for 2019 is “chill out.” I’ll stop assuming that my reputation will burn to cinders if I make a mistake, because after all the mistakes I made in 2018 I haven’t even come close to losing my job. Even though I write for a popular website that gets a lot of public scrutiny, I’ve got to come to terms with the fact that most people don’t actually care about my mistakes as much as I do.

I’m comforted by the fact that I’m not the only person who has this problem, and that people are actually rather forgiving of your mistakes if you’re earnest and transparent. Social media gives the impression that everyone is watching you, ready to jeer if you screw up, but you’ll always be your own worst critic. Unless you’re a celebrity with no private life, the only person who watches you constantly is you. So you’d best get along with yourself.

At any rate, we’re six days into the new year and so far, so good. I don’t start work again until tomorrow, and I’ve spent most of the time lazing about on holiday. I’ve been reading The Promised Neverland lately, and it’s really, really good. The anime looks amazing as well. Maybe I’ll actually get around to watching anime this year!

TVアニメ『約束のネバーランド』PV第2弾 - YouTube

What’s your New Year’s Resolution?

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Studio Bones hit their 20th anniversary this year, which got me thinking about which anime of theirs is my favourite… and the answer kind of surprised me.

I have a simple way of defining my “favourite anime” as the years have gone by. It’s the anime that makes me smile the most when I think back on it. I don’t have time to rewatch much anime these days, so I can’t precisely define why certain titles have stuck with me, but if something makes me smile, it’s a good anime.

When I went to the Bones 20th anniversary exhibit and saw the key visual of all the Bones characters all in one group, I saw lots of characters from great anime represented. It reminded me that Bones has made a lot of creative and original anime over the years. Some of them, like Eureka Seven and Fullmetal Alchemist, are titles I would regard as kami anime (godly anime).

And yet out of that entire group of characters, I found my eyes lingering on Victorique and Kujo from Gosick, because theirs was the show that made me smile the most. Right then and there, I decided that Gosick was my favourite Bones anime.

To be honest, though, I’m not sure if I regard Gosick as a particularly well-written anime. I don’t actually remember the plot anymore, so I’m pretty sure it wasn’t very good. But I do still remember the characters. I even wrote a blog post about how good Victorique and Kujo are as a couple. Three years after I watched the series, their charm still sticks with me.

I also still love the OP and ED themes, and to this day I still sometimes rewatch those sequences on Youtube. The OP has a memorable art style, and the second ED in particular is rather beautiful and haunting.

Gosick Ending 2 HD - YouTube

I’ve seen Aoi Yuki and Takuya Eguchi in a lot of roles since watching Gosick, but I still think that show contained some of their best acting. Aoi Yuki in particular made a character who could have come across as an utterly cliched stereotype feel extremely human and relatable. Eguchi, for his part, was simply adorable. His character in Uta no Prince-sama has nothing on Gosick.

Of course, it’s one thing to say that Gosick is a good anime, and quite another to say that it’s better than all the other Bones shows, to which I can only shrug. I’ve watched a lot of anime by this point, and very few titles manage to stick with me vividly years after I’ve watched them. I may have enjoyed some of the other Bones shows more than Gosick when I first watched them (I remember being glued to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood at the time), but Gosick makes me smile the most nowadays when I think about it. And that deserves credit in my mind.

As for why Gosick of all series stood the test of time for me, I think that the anime scene is rather starved of detective stories, which may be why the style and content of Gosick still remains memorable to this day. Even if the mysteries themselves weren’t very good, the plot gave the characters a lot of things to do, so Victorique didn’t just sit around eating cake and trying to look cute for the audience the whole time. I recall that the second half of the series was particularly dramatic and emotionally engaging.

By the way, the anime that made me smile the second most was Blast of Tempest (AKA Zetsuen no Tempest).

Which Bones anime would you describe as your favourite?

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Since the start of November, my duties at Anime News Network have changed: I’m now co-managing the Interest feed alongside the managing editor Lynzee Loveridge. I still do events, interviews, editorials and the other stuff I was originally hired to do, I just have to write Interest articles every day on top of that. I work more hours now because of this, but I’m also getting paid more, so I definitely don’t mind.

As a result of my changing duties, the number of articles I write per month has skyrocketed. This month, I published 54 articles.

Yes, that’s more than one a day. Since there are so many articles, I won’t go through all of them here, but I do want to highlight some that I particularly enjoyed working on.

‘DJ Kitty’ Drops F-Bombs at Sanrio Theme Park’s Official Halloween Rave. This story was just cute and silly. Out of all the family friendly mascot characters out there, you can only imagine a Sanrio character getting away with this.

Newest Cardcaptor Sakura Museum Asks: ‘Why is CCS Being Rediscovered Now?’ My original plan for this article was to do full coverage of the exhibit. “This room showed this, and this room showed that, etc.” But the messages at the exhibit left a lasting impression on me, and I wanted people around the world to read them.

Inside Studio CloverWorks with Production Dept. Vice President Yuichi Fukushima. I first met Yuichi Fukushima at a talk between anime producers, where we exchanged business cards. I few months later, I emailed him asking him if I could come over and check out CloverWorks, and he said okay! It just goes to show that it never hurts simply to ask for these things.

Kyoto Aquarium’s ‘Penguin Relationship Chart’ Reveals Incest, Turbulent Love Lives. Doing the important journalism.

A Certain Magical Index III Anime Was Originally Planned as a Reboot. I came across this story while reading an interview with Kazuma Kamachi for my own interest. This was actually the same interview that revealed that A Certain Scientific Railgun season 3 will air in 2019, so it was quite a revealing read.

My Sister, My Writer Credits List Animator with Pseudonym ‘Honestly, I’m Screwed’. The circumstances that caused this anime’s production troubles are very regrettable, but from a viewer’s perspective it is interesting to see all the different ways the problems manifest in the final product. This article gave me an excuse to write out the ways you can tell when an anime production is not going smoothly just from looking at the credits.

Woman Receives 10-Year Prison Sentence in China For Writing Boys-Love Novels. Another very regrettable story which speaks for itself. On a personal note, I’m used to writing articles with Japanese sources, but this was my first time using Chinese sources. This was how I discovered that Google Translate is way better at dealing with Chinese than it is with Japanese, for some reason.

Perfect Your Dragon Ball Fighting Moves at the Tokyo Skytree. I went full ham writing this, which made it a lot of fun. I often struggle to write event reports, but this one clicked.

The rest of the articles I wrote this month are below:

Review: Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Memory Snow

Evangelion Creator Hideaki Anno Has Another Pint in Beer Commercial

I Was A Judge At Scotland Loves Anime

HoneyWorks Creates Music Video About Love Story Between Girl and Cat Mascot Character

Hypnosis Mic Rap Project Reveals Trailers for “Final Showdown” Songs, New “Speaker” Visuals

Van Houten Cocoa Collaborates with Glass Mask Manga for 190th Anniversary

Princess Knight Holds a “Dreamy Christmas” to Commemorate 90 Years Since Osamu Tezuka’s Birth

SSSS.Gridman Posts Guidelines for Fan Works, Announces Hug Pillow Covers and Parka

Nintendo Apologizes for Offensive Native American Caricature, Will Update for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Crossover Video Shows Eagle Talon Explaining Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san in 3 Minutes

Interview: Takuya Yamanaka, Director of The Caligula Effect: Overdose

Final Fantasy’s Monstrous Morbols Form SHINING BLESS Idol Group

Fans Choose Top 10 Moments From Dragon Ball Manga

‘What Makes the DOUBLE DECKER! Characters Interesting?’ Main Staff, Voice Actors Discuss

Urusei Yatsura, Hayate the Combat Butler Feature in Viral Video By Agricultural Equipment Company

Ranma ½ Mug Changes Form Depending on Whether You Pour Hot or Cold Water Into It

Let’s Play: VR Attack on Titan The Human Race

TAMASHII NATION 2018 Event Shows Off Latest Figures: Dragon Ball, Gundam, and More

Kemono Friends 2 Director Reveals Circumstances For His Hiring, Story Details

Japanese Anime Creators, Voice Actors React to Stan Lee’s Passing

ITmedia Journalist Explains Why Anime Discs Are Not Selling

Children’s Picture Book Publisher is Sick of Controversy Around ‘Moe’ Art Style

The Rising of The Shield Hero Anime Staff Share Comments, Illustration

Universal Studios Japan’s Detective Conan, Lupin III Attraction Detailed

Fate/Grand Order Made an Estimated 9 Billion Yen in September

Mamoru Miyano Pets Godzilla at Premiere Event of Godzilla: The Planet Eater

Relive Your Favorite Attack on Titan Lines With Karuta Card Game

Ichiban Kuji Offers Chance to Win Nyanko-Sensei Inside Pot of Food

Akira Creator Katsuhiro Otomo Cites Ashita no Joe Creator as Influence

Japanese Theaters Install Ghidorah Toilet Paper for Final Anime Godzilla Film

Japan Anniversary Society Formally Recognizes November 21 as ‘Eevee Day’

Former Fruits Basket Voice Actor Tomokazu Seki Approves of the New Anime’s Casting

Sword Art Online Holds Giveaways in Akihabara For Winter Festival

Tokyo Tribe Artist Santa Inoue Remembers the 90s in R&B Compilation CD

A Certain Magical Index Expo Displays Artwork From Entire Franchise

Sword Art Online Franchise Opens Job Applications for Game, Anime, Spinoff Novel Writers

As Miss Beelzebub Likes Collaboration Cafe Cancelled

Ren Tops Rankings of Most Popular Japanese Boy Names For 3rd Consecutive Year

A Certain Magical Index’s Touma, Misaka Top Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! 2019 Character Poll

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Gets Full-Page Ad in Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper

Rider Becomes a Jockey in Fate/Stay Night 8-Bit Side Scrolling Game

Kono Light Novel ga Sugoi! 2019 Releases Statistics on Web Novel and e-Book Readership

Dragon Ball Launches Search Engine ‘Yahoo Planet Vegeta’

Families Gather at Kinshi Park For Pokémon Go, Pokémon: Let’s Go Event

Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG Competitive Champion Barred From Tournaments For Cheating

Interview: Mirai Director Mamoru Hosoda

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This was a difficult volume to get my head around. I’m writing this summary not just so that fans can get an idea about what happens, but so that I can sort out my feelings on it.

A quick refresher: At the end of volume 12, Hiratsuka-sensei told Hachiman that Yukino is in trouble. He runs off to save her even though she says that she doesn’t want his help.

Volume 13 starts with Hachiman arriving at the staff room to talk with Hiratsuka-sensei. She gives him an update on the prom situation, telling him that although the proposal hasn’t been scrapped yet, the school wants “self-restraint” from the students organising the prom.

Even though the intent of this line is clearly to inspire the students to give up on the prom idea on their own accord, Hachiman willfully twists the meaning of the word “self-restraint” and decides that the issue can still be forced through. Realising Hachiman’s intent, Hiratsuka-sensei is happy. “I trust you,” she says.

Knowing that she’ll be leaving her post as his teacher soon, she gives him some final advice. “Just helping her out with this prom isn’t going to save her.”

Hachiman acknowledges that, but even so, he still knowingly pursues the wrong path.

Hachiman’s idea for getting the prom accepted is a very typical Hachiman scheme. He’ll come up with a plan for a second prom, one that looks terrible next to Yukino’s proposal, and pressure the school into making a choice between one of the two proposals.

Meanwhile, Yukino has been going about things in her own way. In order to make the prom less “scandalous,” she has revised the dress code, among other things. But Hachiman doesn’t think that this will be enough to appease Yukino’s mother.

“I want to help you,” he insists. “I want to take responsibility.”

But Yukino insists that she needs to do things by herself, otherwise she won’t be able to move forward. Hachiman has no choice but to accept that, so he proposes a different approach instead: turn it into a competition. They’ll go about things their separate ways, and whoever succeeds will be the winner and can ask anything of the other person. After all, it was never a requirement for the Service Club to work together in order to solve problems.

After a silence, Yukino responds, “That’s fine with me.”

When Hachiman expresses his surprise at her willingness to comply, she smirks. “Didn’t you know? I’ve always hated to lose.”

Iroha, who has been watching this whole exchange, isn’t impressed. Why does he have to be so roundabout? she wonders. She’s asked Hachiman before about why he wants to help Yukino so much, but he never gave her a straight answer. Don’t talk about taking responsibility like it’s some kind of excuse, she grumbles to herself.

Iroha is a complete bystander to the confrontation, and can’t be sure if what she witnessed was a confession, a lover’s quarrel or a breakup. After Hachiman leaves, she finds it too awkward to remain in the room. Yukino appears to be fine, but just as Iroha is about to go home, she thinks she sees Yukino crying to herself.

Iroha immediately confronts Hachiman after that. She tells Hachiman why she wants to do the prom – because she knows things are ending soon and she doesn’t want anyone to have regrets.

“That’s why you have to do it right,” she says, looking him in the eye.

The next morning, Hachiman comes across Yui and tells her about what’s happened. Yui insists on helping Hachiman, and he can’t refuse her. He appears to be unaware, however, of what Yui is really thinking and why she insists on watching over him. There’s nothing Yui wants more desperately than for the three of them to stay together, even as she knows that it’s an impossibility. Yui also has romantic feelings for Hachiman that she has kept suppressed for a long time.

I’m such a mean and horrible girl, she can’t help but think.

The rest of the volume is mainly preoccupied with Hachiman enlisting help from all the side characters in order to get his scheme to work. In what is 100% the best scene in the novel, Hachiman tricks the hapless goons from the Games Club (remember them from volume 3?) into helping design a fake website with fake opinions from students.

Another great scene is when Hachiman convinces Tamanawa that his deliberately terrible prom plan is completely viable by using nothing but buzzwords and over-the-top hand gestures, just as he learned from Tamanawa himself.

There are still some serious scenes even in the midst of the volume’s most light-hearted content. For example, Hachiman has a conversation with Ebina, where she tells him, “Everyone can see what’s going on with you three just by looking.” This is a prospect which disturbs Hachiman somewhat, because he didn’t think that their relationship was so simple that it could be grasped from the outside.

Yui has an awkward chat with Yukino, telling her that she’s helping Hachiman for her own reasons. She also tells Yukino, rather cryptically, “Your wish won’t get granted.” Yukino responds that she’s been trying to get Yui’s wish granted, not her own. When Yui asks if Yukino really knows what her wish is, Yukino says, “It’s probably the same as mine.” Yui accepts that answer.

Hachiman also has a revealing conversation with Hayama, who finally tells him what the deal was between him and Yukino in elementary school. She was once a loner who got scorned by the other children, and although Hayama felt sorry for her, he only reached out to her in a “half-hearted way.” Because of that, he feels that he made her problems worse, and that she’ll probably never forgive him for it.

Despite the confession, Hachiman still thinks of Hayama as a good guy (although Hayama really doesn’t like him back). Because of his respect for Hayama, Hachiman feels that he can be blunt when Hayama tells him that his methods are wrong. “I know all of that,” Hachiman insists. “I do it because I know that. It’s the only way I can prove that our relationship isn’t codependent. It’s not necessary for me to help her, but I want to do it.”

Hayama blinks in surprise. “Hikigaya… do you know what that feeling is?” he asks with a conflicted smile.

“Of course I do,” replies Hachiman. “It’s a man’s stubbornness.”

After his conversation with Hachiman, Hayama calls up Haruno and they meet in a cafe.

Hayama asks Haruno why she planted the idea of “codependency” in Hachiman’s head. “Because it’s the truth,” she responds matter-of-factly.

Hayama tells Haruno to leave Hachiman and Yukino alone. Little by little, they’ve been improving, he insists. But Haruno disagrees. “That’s just a sham. I want to see something genuine.”

Her words hit Hayama where it hurts; she has long ago dismissed him as a faker. Hayama stews in his regret and wonders if Hachiman will turn out differently.

Meanwhile, Hachiman organises to meet up with Haruno himself in order to ask her to leak the fake website for his plan. Haruno laughs in his face at his idea that through saving Yukino, he’ll prove that their relationship isn’t codependent. Yui, who has come along to offer Hachiman moral support, insists that putting distance would just make things worse. Haruno isn’t convinced, but she decides to do what Hachiman asks of her anyway.

Hachiman thinks that the matter is settled there, but unbeknownst to him, Yui goes back to confront Haruno again later. “I think you’re wrong about us being codependent,” she says. “Wanting to do something for another person… Feeling hurt and doing your best, wanting to support them, and always wanting to be with them… It’s not codependency.”

“Hey, do you think that’s something genuine?” Haruno asks quietly.

“I don’t know,” says Yui helplessly. For her, it just hurts all over.

The stage has been set for the final conflict.

In the end, Yukino’s mother accepts Yukino’s proposal in an anticlimactic twist. But everyone knew that was not where the conflict truly lay. No, the real issue was always about what came after. After arguing about who should take the credit for a little while, Yukino decides to accept the win.

So she tells Hachiman her request.

“Let’s put an end to this.”

This relationship is wrong. It’s not what Hachiman wanted for her. She’s fine now by herself, she insists. He saved her.

Hachiman has lost every reason to interact with her.

“I understand,” he says finally. “I’ll listen to what you have to say. If it’s within my power, I’ll do it.”

“Please grant Yuigahama-san’s wish.”

“Is that your wish?”

“Yes, it’s my wish,” says Yukino with a gentle smile.

After that, there’s nothing more to say. They end their final exchange, and Yukino closes the door softly behind him.

Hachiman does not look back.

Note: Photos come from this imgur folder.

Update: Added a paragraph about Yui’s conversation with Yukino and her wish.

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I’ve been thinking about the concept of work-life balance. For a lot of people who work in the anime industry, it’s non-existent, and not just because they work for punishingly long hours. Many people get into anime because it’s a vocation, so they’re okay with making it their entire lives. Even when they’re off the job, they’re still thinking about anime.

If you’re a freelancer, the flexibility of your schedule can compound this tendency even further. You can’t finish your overtime work and walk out the office door as you hear your colleagues say “otsukaresama desu!” behind you and know, finally, that work for the day is done. If you’re really passionate about what you do and a freelancer, chances are you’re a workaholic. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.

This month, I took around two weeks off work to visit the UK. Originally, I was only going to go there for Scotland Loves Anime because of work, but I’m really glad I extended the trip and decided to do no writing in the UK at all. I don’t get paid enough to have anime on the brain all the time. Of course, it did mean that I’ve had a lot of work to do ever since getting back, but it’s been worth it.

My readers: If you work in the kind of job where you have to take a lot of business trips, how much time do you get for yourself? And when do you decide that it’s time for a break?

Also, freelancers: I hope you’re reflecting on the amount of work you do! Don’t be afraid to charge more for your work if your hourly earnings aren’t up to snuff!

This blog post is getting preachy but that’s only because I have to drum these lessons into my brain, too. Next month, I’ll start working longer hours, and I’ll make sure to actually sit down and schedule my hours to make sure that I don’t accidentally work more hours than I’m supposed to. “Wait, you weren’t doing that already?” you might ask, to which I have nothing to say but “Tehehe!”

Further evidence that I am stupid when it comes to managing my time: I was at Dengeki Bunko’s Fall Festival reporting on this story about Sword Art Online‘s new Twitter marketing campaign the night before my early-morning flight to England. Thank god Lynzee offered to write the article itself.

It’s not just about me, though. I’m one of the milder cases. As anime becomes more global, in terms of both consumption and production, the issues around Japanese work culture can no longer be swept under the rug. I’ve gotten into a habit of asking creators about it whenever I prepare interview questions. That’s something to look forward to in interviews published in the coming months!

But for now, here’s the refreshingly short list of articles I wrote this month:

My Hero Academia Exhibit Takes You Through the Anime Locations

Voice Actors: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime is a ‘Success Story’

Attack on Titan Voice Actor Yuuki Kaji Will Give You Beauty Advice via Smart Mirror

Interview: Sohei Niikawa, Writer and Producer of Disgaea

Modern Teen Japanese Dictionary Explains Latest Slang, Adds Gender-Inclusive Language

Anime Tourism Association Announces Top 88 Pilgrimage Sites for 2019

For further reading about work-life balance on this blog, I previously covered this topic in a Hisone and Masotan post.

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