2009 in anime: #3 Saying goodbye

(Tenth post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

I guess it was bound to happen, with the return of my sister from Japan (yay!) and Christmas celebrations, I missed the last posting deadlines. But that won't prevent me to try to post no less than three moments today ! And if my will is strong enough, I'm sure I will prevail ! (I just finished watching Tenga Toppa Gurren Lagann a few days ago, does it show ?)

But on to today's topic, the moment I want to remember on this day is one that comes from a show that didn't get, to my best knowledge, the recognition it deserved. This show is FLAG.

The plot of the shows is as follows : A civil war is raging in Uddiyana, a fictional country set somewhere in the region of the India-China border. One day, a photographer covering the war takes a photograph that quickly becomes a symbol of peace and hope for the people. The picture features a flag, which by extension also becomes a symbol itself, serving as the banner of the UN-led peace effort. But as it seems like the war will soon be a thing of the past, the flag gets stolen ! A special unit is dispatched to retrieve the flag, a photographer set to accompany and document the operation. And, you've guessed it, said photographer is the same one that took the famous picture, Saeko Shirasu.

From there, the story revolves around the life Saeko lives within the special unit, in their base and out on the battlefield, and the one of her mentor, Keiichi Akagi, who is Uddiyana's capital and witnesses the reaction of the people to the war.

Now, if I tell you that there are mechas involved, you're probably going to think something along the lines of "Oh right, another mecha show" - with more or less enthusiasm whether you like this kind of things or not. But, honestly, the presence of mechas in Flag is almost inconsequential. Sure, it makes for some nice CG graphics, but that's about it. There are far more defining traits to be found in Flag. Like it's directing.

The whole 13 episodes put you inside a camera's lens. Or inside a webcam, or present you the desktop of a computer. The show is about journalists, after all, and it strives to give a "documentary" look to the events, and mostly does a stellar job at it. Sure, it makes the main characters look like camera addicts, but what's important is that it works. At first, you have to get accustomed to the weird framing, and the strange and scarce camera movements, but once you get immersed into it, you'll love it, it really gives Flag a very specific atmosphere.

But can still shots and original presentation make a good anime by themselves ? Of course not. And this is what Flag really excels at : the way it portrays its characters and the interactions between them is something to behold. The shows ostensibly keeps thing realistic, so don't expect any super-badass here. What you've got is a bunch of mostly ordinary people, and while some are good at what they do, it never becomes unbelievable. And, as the plot moves on, they learn to know each other, or, more exactly, Saeko learns to know them. But not through long-winded exposition scenes, no. It's by experiencing things at their sides, by seeing how they react to the happenings.

And as the mission of the special unit comes to an end, they have to part way, and that's when you realize that, just like Saeko, you've become attached to some of them. And not because you can identify yourself with them, because you've started to look at them as friends. It's a very odd thing, as most animes tend to explain every character's thoughts more or less thoroughly. In Flag, you don't really know all their stories, but like in real life, bonds are forged by what you "live" with them. And this amount of emotional believability is probably the main reason why I was devastated by the scene in episode 13 when Saeko watch the video message her friends made to see her off.

The way Saeko breaks down while watching that little video reminded me of what I felt on a somewhat similar occurrence, and to add to the effect, it's not done in an overly dramatic fashion. Sometimes, less is more.

There are also two other "things" that are very much worth remembering about Flag. The first one in the sound effects. No one usually pays too much attention to those, but here I really noticed their quality, helping bring more realism to the show. The other is the OP/ED, which are both fabulous. The OP is made of various still images, alternating between pictures of a young Saeko and war photographs. With the accompanying soaring music, it's really epic. The ED is the only time where you're not seeing things through some kinds of "lens" (the way it ties into each episodes is clever, tough), and it makes for a nice change. It also takes a whole new dimension with the slightly longer version that is shown in the last episode...

All in all, if you don't mind watching a "serious" show, give this one a chance, you won't be disappointed.


2009 in anime: #4 The planet-eating plant

(Ninth post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

Out of all the criticism I hear about anime (or manga, for that matter) as a whole is that "it all looks the same". And, even though it's not technically true, as anyone spending at least a moderate amount of time watching anime could tell, you can't deny there is an "anime style".

But, sometimes, you can find a show that really don't follow the "traditional" style. And when a distinct visual style comes to complement an awesome plot, you get something in the vein of Kaiba.

Kaiba really is a strange beast. At first, it seems harmless, telling the tale of a young man who lost his memories in a world where said memories can be transplanted from a body to another. And judging from the first episode, you can easily be fooled into thinking this is going to be a gentle show following the travels of Kaiba in search of his memories.

And, well, you would be somewhat right. Except for the "gentle" part. Soon enough, you realize that the future Kaiba is set in is far from "cute" despites its looks. It has become a true dystopia, where a lot of things aren't what they seem at first glance.

As he travels, Kaiba gets dragged deeper and deeper into the world's problem, as it looks as he's more involved with them than he, and you, first thought. But I won't spoil anything for you, as this series is one that really shines if you let it surprise you.

But what moment did I choose, you ask ? Well, it's the end of episode 7, where you see a plant devouring a planet. You first see this very plant before, and it almost looks cute... As I said, things aren't always what they seem in Kaiba.

I really do urge everyone with an open mind to try Kaiba. You definitely have to get used to the show's art style, but if you can do that, you're really in for quite a ride. The characters are numerous, yet interesting for the most part. And, I cannot stress this enough, Kaiba might look like a child's book, it's really not anything like it. The overall tone is very mature, maybe even more so than in some "serious-looking" shows.

Add to that a wonderful (and I mean it) soundtrack, and you've got yourself a true masterpiece. Kaiba is science-fiction as it best, challenging you with its plot, weaving a mystery that you'll be eager to unravel, and on the whole delivering a stunning experience.


2009 in anime: #5 Don't be absent tomorrow...

(Eighth post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

Many animes made me laugh.

Many animes made me care for characters that aren't even "real".

Many animes have brought me to the brink of tears and beyond.

Many animes bored me to no end.

Many animes made me wonder wha the hell was going on.

But only very few animes scared me.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni did.

And it did early on, in the first arc even. I was prepared to watch a complex, gory anime, yet that didn't help, came episode 3. The moment that'll stay engraved in my mind for a long time is the scene where Rena and Mion come to visit Keiichi, who stayed home because he "was sick".

Oh, sure, the scene starts out innocently enough, after all, it's two girls visiting their classmate, right ? How can it compare to things like someone ripping her own nails off or torturing a child ? And look, they even joke, and the girls brought Keiichi something to eat. But as they are about to leave...

That's when the creepy music kicks in, and they start asking embarrassing questions to Keiichi. That's also when their eyes get these scary slit pupils. It sounds like a cheap trick, but it works very well, helping to build the tension.

And one can easily put oneself in Keiichi's shoes, as those two girls seem to know more than they should, and speak in that soft but menacing tone he's heard them use more than once. Perhaps the most unnerving part of all this is that they never do anything. You're sure something horrible is going to happen, but it never does.

But the dialogue between Mion, Rena and Keiichi, as chilling as it is, isn't the scariest moment of the episode, nor is the following scene where Keiichi finds a needle hidden in the food his "friends" gave him.

No, it's the instant just before that, when the girls leave, the door almost closes, but suddenly reopens, showing Mion's face way too close !

"Don't be absent tomorrow..."

That couple of seconds is guaranteed to haunt me for a long, long time...


2009 in anime: #6 Unfair

(Seventh post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

There is something universal in the way real tragedies are able to tell you what is going to happen, then still deliver their emotional blow at full might when it does happen. One could think that being prepared lessens the impact of the events, but with a well-written tragedy, it's absolutely not true.

If anything, it makes the whole ordeal more painful. You can't help but to hope that everything is going to be all right for the characters, yet you know those hopes are vain, as destiny rolls over them and leave them crushed.

And then you want to scream that it's unfair.

At least that's what I wanted to do while watching Bokurano. Especially episode 13. (Warning : spoilers ahead)

Bokurano is a vicious show. At episode 5, you learn a first shocking truth : the children composing the main cast and piloting a giant robots to protect the Earth lose their lives after the battles. That in itself is pretty cruel, they're only children, dammit !

Then, at episode 13, you uncover another aspect of the "game" the children are taking part in : their opponents are also humans from other universes, and the universe of the loser disappears into oblivion. A that is a pretty dramatic turn of events.

Until then, you could have been thinking that it was alright because they were fighting "invaders". But no, all the while they were defeating people who were, like them, trying to defend their world.

All in all they find themselves in a inextricable situation. They have to choose between winning, killing a whole universe, then dying, and losing, dying and taking their whole universe with them. That's pretty bleak, isn't it ?

What I found really interesting, and memorable about Bokurano was the way it was structured. The story really takes the time to investigate the way each of the children deals with the situation and the imminence of their death. More often than not, I found myself holding my breath as all the chairs were spinning, ready to designate the next pilot. I knew at least most of the children would die in the course of the "game", yet I couldn't help to root for some characters, wanting them to escape their fate.

Paradoxically, I'm glad that the show didn't shy away from the dark outcome of the whole thing. It made the ending that much more powerful. I would have hated it if the ending had been a "happy" one. The sacrifice of all those innocent children turned the memories and the life of the little Kana into something so much more precious.

Sometimes, no matter how much you want to run away from it, there's no escaping fate.

2009 in anime: #7 A sudden change of heart

(Sixth post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

I'm in despair ! Having to change my list of moments at the last minute has left me in despair !

I'm late with this one, but a terrible and cruel battle raged in my mind yesterday, and I had to let a winner emerge before I could take action and finally write this post.

At first, this moment was to be dedicated to a rewatch of ef, because this series proved to be a totally different beast the second time around. That came as a surprise seeing how I'm used to feeling more or less the same about shows I watch more than once. And it was something worthy of this list.

Then Sayonara Zentsubou Sensei came.

I just finished watching this... thing, and even though I'm aware my judgment may be distorted by recency biais, I know for sure I would still remember the sheer madness of the whole thing had I watched it many months ago.

So I knew this post was going to be about a SHAFT-animated show, but which ? After a long internal debate, the craziness won, and I decided to make class 2-H my seventh memory for this year.

I'm not sure words alone are really able to convey what makes Sayonara Zetsubou Seinsei worth remembering. Let it be said that it's probably the craziest show I've ever watched. It's not complex, it's a comedy, but it advances at a breakneck speed and you're often almost overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that's happening, and there are flashing walls of text, countless jokes appearing on blackboards and signs, and what not...

I guess the most memorable moment of it all is the first contact I had with the desperate teacher, in the form of the "Preface" episode. Not only is it one of the most frantic of the season, it's also the only one that catch you unprepared.

It hits you like a shinkansen then stops, turn around, and run over you again. And again, and again. Until you're begging for mercy, and it's over. And when it is, you're left with a puzzled look on your face as you wonder what the hell did you just watch.

I will say no more, except this : if you haven't experienced the madness of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, you ought to yourself to at least watch the preface episode. Only SHAFT could pull off something like that, but you'll be glad they did !


2009 in anime: #8 The Day the Anime World Stood Still

(Fifth post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

Some events tend to set the anime blogosphere aflame. Take a loved and insanely anticipated series, a crazy stunt, combine the two, and you can get bloggers and anime fans talking endlessly over it. And this year had probably the most spectacular meta-show I've ever witnessed. Due to technical constraints, I could not follow the episodes, and ended up marathoning the whole season in two days. So here is, the 8th best moment of the list : The Melancholy of Harui Suzumiya's Endless Eight !

(Note : in the following I'll use KyoAni where I guess it would be better to use Kadokawa/KyoAni. A bit like how Linux should be called GNU/Linux... Ah well...)

First thing first, let me spill the bean early on : I rather liked the Endless Eight arc. There, I said it. But before you start to throw bricks my way, give me a chance to elaborate a little on why I didn't think it was merely a "troll" by KyoAni. I won't, however, try to unequivocally prove that it was the best way to handle it, or even a good way at all. I'll merely try to expose my personal way of seeing it.

Now, for those of you living under a rock for the past years, or at least not following the happenings of the anime world, a brief summary. The Melancholy of Harui Suzumiya was a very successful anime by Kyoto Animation that aired in 2006, and which was based on a series of light novels about a girl unknowingly capable of altering reality. After a long three years during which KyoAni teased all the fans about the possibility of a sequel to their massive hit, it came true. This year, a "second season" was aired. In fact, it was combined with a re-run of the first season, shown in chronological order (which wasn't the case for the original run), intertwining old episodes with new one. And, between June 19 and August 7, Endless Eight happened. This story arc depicts the protagonists trapped in a time loop that forces them to live through their two last weeks of summer vacations over and over again. For 8 episodes, they looped, going through essentially the same events, with the same conclusion.

The thing is, the way Kyoto Animation chose to translate the somewhat unimportant arc from the novels into an anime was a bold move to say the least, and was very polarizing. For some, it was regarded as genius, while others thought it was a big slap in the face of all the fans of the franchise. And think what you want about it, but at least it got pretty much everyone talking about the show. And as they say, any publicity, good or bad, is still publicity, right ?

Now, let's get down to it: why did I find this seemingly boring-to-death arc enjoyable ?

First, while the arc was still airing, I followed the internet drama it generated. That was a first way to generate it. Each week, people would speculate about the possible end of the ever longer loop, only to get their hopes and theories dashed. At the time, the response was more negative than positive. People were expressing their frustration, as the second season was being "wasted" retelling the same thing over and over. On the other hand, people who weren't bothered by that weren't very vocal, probably waiting to know how it was all going to end before stating that "it was great". I suspect that if the whole season had been devoted to Endless Eight, more or less everyone would have been angry at KyoAni.

As I said before, I wasn't watching the show at the time, which gave me a more "detached" look at the situation, but I can honestly say that I was a little sad to learn I would be watching "the same episode over and over". Sure, I read that the clothes were different, but that was it. When I got to watch these episodes, I was pleasantly surprised, discovering how different they were. Well, of course, the dialogues were almost the same, the events too, but each iteration of the loop had enough uniqueness to keep things fresh : one focused on hands, with excessive hand movements from the characters, one was definitely spookier than the rest, one had scenes looping two times... Of course, those differences were clear to me thanks to me watching them back-to-back. Maybe my appreciation would have been different, had I seen them with one week between each one.

But let us look at what did Endless Eight did in terms of character development and viewer involvement. In all the series, we're usually most familiar with Kyon's take on the events unfolding, as he's the narrator. But, this time, though he stays the main "protagonist", we get to see things through the eyes of Yuki Nagato. She's clearly in the same boat as the viewer, as she's the only one that remembers what happened in every iteration of the loop (more than 15000 of them in the story !) while unable to do anything to change it. Of course, one may argue that Nagato could do something, except she's bound by rules she has to obey. The end result is still there, by seeing the same events happening 8 times, we get a glimpse of what she's enduring. At no other point of the show are we closer to any other character (except for Kyon). And if usually we feel sympathy for the poor Kyon that gets dragged along, this time one wants to yell at him to DO SOMETHING in that cafe, before Harui leaves and their fate gets sealed. That was an interesting change. Combined with the way Kyon acts in the following arc, "The Sighs of Harui Suzumiya", it paints a better picture of the grumpy narrator.

That said, it wasn't the only way Endless Eight engaged (or tried to, at the very least) the viewer. Once again, I must remind you that I watched all the episodes in one go, and that I knew the arc was going to last 8 episodes, so I'll be speculating a bit, but bear with me, will you ?

Starting from the second loop iteration, the episodes are structured like an tension rollercoaster, with "incidents" marking key points : the phone call at the beginning, the first meeting in the restaurant, the pool, the beginning of the festival, Kyon calling out to Nagato (or not), and of course the meeting on August 30. Each one of these events is a possible turning point, with either Kyon or Koizumi experiencing déjà-vus, and though I did know the loop wasn't going to end before the 8th time, at each time I couldn't help but to anticipate those events, thinking that maybe, maybe this time it would play out differently. And it never did, of course, yet the next moment was coming up, and my hope were getting up again.

Now call me silly, but I'm sure that had I followed the episodes as they aired, the effect would have been magnified. And I suspect it was part of the reasion why many people resented the arc so strongly. KyoAni was destroying the hopes of people in a vicious way: each week, people would start hoping that, yes, this time it would be the last one, then they entered the episode with high expectations, and were put through the aforementioned cycle of hope and disappointment. And the following week, the same thing happened. Sure, some people (many people ?) dropped the show, vowing only to return after all that time looping madness, but those who remained had even higher hopes : "Come on, THIS TIME it'll end."

"But why do that to Harui ?" you ask ? On one hand, KyoAni could have gone the easy way and make "more of the same", sticking to the plot of the novel, however risking to lose the little something that made the original run such a huge success. But on the other hand, wasn't the first season something more ? Something crazier ? What's more, do you think this could have been attempted with a less-known series ? I'm pretty sure a very devoted fanbase was necessary for it to work in the first place. If, say, Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (it also deals with a looping time scenario) had tried to do the same thing, it would have failed and people would have quickly dismissed it as pretentious and lame. But it was Harui, it was bound to be good, or at least redeem itself at some point.

And many fans that despised the Endless Eight arc dropped the show "until something new happens", not completely. That's a key difference. Now, I'm not sure how KyoAni will be able to sell DVDs, as most people will probably feel robbed having to buy discs with 4 times the "same stuff" on them, but that's another story. And note that a movie based on The Disappearance of Harui Suzumiya is planned. And that is not innocent, KyoAni must have known that The Disappearance was the arc the fans were the most eager to see animated, yet they didn't include it in the second season. Also, they didn't announce a third season, but a movie ! A way to avoid people thinking they would get a bad surprise in the form of another bizarre stunt.

All in all, my guess is that Kyoto Animation not only dared to do something unusual, they also handled it pretty well, and Harui will probably maintain its popularity. The strong reactions of most viewers goes a long way to show how attached they are to this story and characters. I suspect that the movie will be awesome, but "normal", as if to atone for the second season.

Well, I guess I have more or less said all I wanted to say on this moment. I'm probably far into tl;dr territory for now, especially seeing how much literature is already everywhere on the web regarding this, but then again, making people react was probably what this crazy loop did best. Endless Eight is maybe placed a little to low in my ranking of this year's moments, considering its scope and overall impact, but well, I just had to make it the 8th. But fear not, I'm not going to post slightly amended versions of this post for the next 8 days. Or will I ?


2009 in anime: #9 erf ~ a tale of head-scratchings.

(Fourth post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

I already mentioned last year the fact that I like anime that screw with my head. The more I'm completely lost, trying to grasp the meaning behind all that is happening, the more I usually like the show. Not to say I can't enjoy a simple show, that would be very far from the truth, but I need my regular fix of convoluted storytelling or symbolism.

It's a good thing that I don't actually scratch my head when I don't understand something and ask myself questions, because I would probably be bald by now.

Of course, there is this other way some series make you "scratch your head". The way that makes you go silent for a bit, because of the sheer "WTF" power they hold. In general, those two kind of head-scratching aren't shared by the same anime. Or at least they don't intend to, even though on a personal level, you can switch from the "OMG this is complex" to the "OMG this is dumb" if a show exceeds your tolerance.

But anyway. Let today's reminiscence take us back to an anime that managed to merge the two kinds of head-scratching, and which had one of the weirdest first episodes ever.

An by that I mean Eden of the East.

Eden of the East and its first episode already appeared on several other lists of moments accross the anime blogosphere, but with good reasons.

The previews had hinted at a pure mystery/thriller series, on the whole quite serious. And as you sat in front of that infamous first episode, you were greeted by a young man running around Washington naked. And making fun of/using that state to boot ! I guess many viewers won't be able to look at someone called Johnny anymore...

Yet, in between all the crazy antics of that young man (and the girl that follows him), the foundations of the plot are laid down. And at the end of the packed 25-or-something minutes, you want more. At least I wanted more, that's for sure. But more of what ? When does Eden of the East exactly goes from being an "WTF" show to becoming a gripping story ?

I don't really know when, but it sure does. For one, the plot is complex, yet easy to follow. I spent a lot of time pondering each protagonist's intentions, but never did I struggle to remember who did what. Which is the good way to go for a "complex" plot. Then, the characters, without being masterpieces or the most rememberable ever, are very well developped. It didn't take long for me to care about them, and it will be a delight to join them again in the conclusion of their adventures. Because Eden of the East is concluded by two movies that are supposed to bring an end to the plot which ends on a cliffhanger (of course, they want people to buy tickets for the movies, what were you thinking ?). The first movie aired at the end of last month, while the other has not been released yet.

I suppose that one Eden of the East's strength is that it manages to stay focused on its characters and their "normal" side even when they're thrown into events of epic proportions. It doesn't let go of its lightheartedness even when "the plot thickens". And that is something I really appreciated from this series. If you take Mai-HiME for instance, once it starts its descend into despair-land, it's powerful, but the silly beginnings are but a thing of the past. The change is irreversible, and may seem a bit too overdramatic for some.

By mixing different "moods" throughout the whole series, Eden of the East becomes more than the sum of its parts. And it creates many memorable moments along the way. I could easily have chosen the epicness of Akira shooting down missiles, the silent understanding when he takes Saki with him on the boat, or half a dozen great scenes, but what the heck, I guess episode 1 just takes the cake with its completely over-the-top weirdness.

And I couldn't leave without touching on the "technical part" of this show. The animation is top-notch, the backgrounds are detailled and the character designs are awesome. The ending also deserve a special mention, and I recommend everyone to watch it, if only for the excellent song by school food punishment, a band I can't say enough good of. Also, it's probably the first show where I hear native english speakers playing the parts of American characters in a Japanese anime. A nice touch, even if the voice actors aren't particularly good.

Well, there you go, the 9th moment of 2009: the crazy start of very, very intriguing show.


2009 in anime: #10 The first tearful moment

(Third post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

Some anime series have a way to associate themselves very strongly with a particular season. On the other hand, some either span such a large timeframe that one isn't predominant, or really don't emphasize the months they take place in.

But some which do are best viewed in the same kind of weather they're set in. Take Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~ as an example. This show was so much better when you watched it in the end of a sunny afternoon... I suppose it would have lost some of its appeal, at least for the first episodes if I waited until winter to watch it. And I'm so glad I didn't.

But time and again, you'll come accross a show that is so powerful in its evocation of a given season that it simply doesn't matter. That you're no matter what projected in the right mood, barely avoiding putting on shorts and sunglasses while opening wide your windows even if it's freezing outside. Or getting your Moon Boots out of the closet while the scorching heat menaces to melt everything in the room.

One such show that brought summer into my November was Air.

The first half of the show was nice, with its funny moments, its fairly likeable characters. Its overabundance of girls, too; it is, after all, a visual novel adaptation.

But then episode 6 came, and then I knew Air had me more than I thought.

Granted, it used a cheap trick that is almost guaranteed to work on me : the crying-yet-smiling parting scene.

And as a sadistic torturer, it keeps doing it again and again, until another of those heart-rending endings that Japanese storytellers seem to be so fond of. It has become somewhat of a cliché these days, yet I wonder if I'll ever be able to get over that nasty mechanism.

There is something so powerful about the mix of feelings this kind of scene evokes in the viewer's heart that they often make even better tearjerkers than "pure sadeness" scenes. And it just hits me right in my weak spot.

What's weird with this scene is that for the most part I wasn't too fond of Minagi. Nor Michiru, for that matter. But episode 6 did a very good job fleshing them out, and slowly building up tension for what comes at the end. Even when you find out the truth about the two, and know for sure they probably will have to part, you think it won't be so soon, just like that.

But it happens, and right there on that rooftop, as they exchange their last words, you're in their shoes, in a way. You know it is meant to happen, that it's the good way to go. Yet it feels sad all the same. And before you've decided to either if you'll be crying or cheering them to look towards the future, the moment is gone. Their story is a thing of the past. And you move on.

This is another strange thing about Air. While it did shake me on several occasions, I usually recovered pretty fast, as opposed to some other shows who left we wrecked for sometimes several weeks (ef, I'm looking at you).

Truth is, if the scene this post is dedicated to is engraved into my memories, the same could be said for the ones related to Kanna's mother and Kanna herself, and of course for the ending.

I don't really know what to make of this. Maybe it goes to show how easily I am moved by this kind of scene, regardless of the characters. Maybe it's because all those characters managed to earn a place in my mind... I don't know, but all those scenes really proved that I did care more than I tought about what happened to all these characters, after all.

And then, after all is said and done, when all those characters go join all these moments in your mind, they'll become happy memories. As Michiru says : "Even if you awaken from a dream, the memories will remain". So partings, especially those that are the inevitable conclusion of a period of happiness, especially if they make you sad and feel miserable, should leave you with a smile on your face. Because goodbyes should not taint all those beautiful memories.


2009 in anime: #11 If you're planning to make a MMORPG, read this.

(Second post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

What makes you watch anime ?

Makes you read books ?

Watch movies ?

These questions share a lot of potential answers, yet if I had to make an educated guess, I'd say that most of them would be something akin to "to experience something else". What this else consists of is up in the air though, as is the reason behind one's urge to experience this "something else". But amidst all the possibilities, I'm sure most of you experienced this one time when the movie/book/anime you're enjoying aligns exactly with something you'd really want to see become real.

This eleventh moment in anime 2009 goes to that thrilling sensation, which was something .hack//SIGN made me feel.

I know, Monster, then .hack//SIGN ? ... not really the newest animes, right ? Shows that many people urged me to watch to no end, and that I only got around to pick up this year. But oh well, what can I say, I'm always a bit late on everything. That said, I'm somewhat familiar to the .hack franchise, having played some of the games, and having seen .hack//Dusk, .hack//Liminality and parts of .hack//ROOTS. But above all, I was enraptured by the .hack//SIGN soundtracks since I first heard them. They're still two of my most beloved soundtracks, and all in all the ".hack" period is for me the true peak of Yuki Kajiura's talent. I've yet to hear something as good coming from her, nowadays it seems like she just rehashes her trademark gimmicks. But I digress, this post is not about Kajiura, nor is it about .hack//SIGN's soundtracks.

It's about how .hack//SIGN matches one of my deep wishes.

One of the main selling points of the whole .hack offering was The World. This fictionnal MMORPG is where most of the action takes place, and good grief does it sound like a great concept. True, at heart it is a "grinding" MMORPG, where your only goal is to go to a field full of monsters, kill those, then go into a dungeon with more monsters, at the end of which a treasure awaits you.

Not very exciting, is it ? And clearly not a game you could possibly think about using as the setting of several animes, games, mangas and whatnot. But take this barebone game canvas and make things go wrong. Then you've got yourself something much more interesting. A game when, more than achievements to unlock, or fierce beasts to slay, there are mysteries to unravel. Truths to be looked for. A game running on curiosity more than competition. And that, my friends, is one of my wildest dreams.

Time and again, I'll try a MMORPG, but my reaction is pretty much always the same, and I usually can't continue to play for more than a week or so. MMORPGs tend to be technical games, where the most incertainty you can get is the one brought by player versus player combat. Everything else is known, indexed in a list, analyzed... All in all, the only goal is to become more powerful, and that's it.

What ? Fair enough, there is the social side of things, but still, in the end of the day it's about banding together to defeat this ultra-hard boss, get these ultra-rare items and/or gain a lot of "fame" by doing so. And that kind of goals just don't do it for me. I want a game to engage me. It either has to be an intellectual challenge, or provoke thought with its plot, or appeal to me aesthetically. If the "best way" to play is to replicate known sequences, it's not much fun...

Now, let me entertain (or bore ?) you with what would be my kind of The World-like MMORGP...

First, it would be distributed. As in, not running on a central server, but with anyone being able to start their own server, and have it accessible through others. Each server would be centered around an entry point, be it a town, a stronghold, or whatever. From there, players would be able to access this server's locations using something akin to .hack's Chaos Gates. There would be a mechanism to generate pseudo-random locations, while others would be specifically crafted for different purposes.

To create such zones, server admins would have access to specific tools that would let them insert content into the game. It could be new NPCs, new items, new locations, or what have you. In addition, they would be capable of taking over any NPC and play them like a standard character. People would be able to take any role in the game, so that a pre-scripted NPC selling stuff would be a-priori indistinguishable from a real player or admin doing the same.

The main idea behind this would be to have admins and maybe other players with a special status capable of creating original storylines. Unexpected storylines. Possibilities would include everything from server-wide special events right down to throwing a particular group of players into a thrilling scenario crafted for them. What a thrill it would be to constantly be asking oneself "Is this normal ? Does everyone get this when they come here ? Am I the first one to behold this ?"

Well, of course it would pose a lot of very significant practical problems, but I'm fairly confident something close to this could be pulled off. I regularly toy with the idea of trying to start such a project myself, but the task is so daunting...

Well, anyway, enough rambling, I guess it's pretty clear now how much .hack//SIGN resonated with this desire of mine. Even though the show is really slow-paced, it's awesome combination of setting, art style (the design of the root town that lies on floating islands in the sky is just awesome) and mystery kept me going all the way through.

And the music of course didn't hurt. Being so familiar with a score before seeing the show it's meant to accompany is a weird feeling. You've already associated so many memories with the songs than when they're used in a totally different context, you find yourself hearing it with new ears completely.

Plus, the plot itself isn't bad either. It's may not be the "deepest" anime around (do such a thing even exist ?) but it touches some topics that are very interesting, like identity and the lack thereof on the net or the escapism inherent to many online experiences.

And you, what is the best example of anime-meets-wish you've ever experienced ?


2009 in anime: #12 This doesn't really work... Does it ?

(First post in the "12 days in anime" 2009 project led by Mega Megane Moé. Other participating blogs include Shameful Otaku Secret!, Continuing World, Fighting for Nippon!, We love maids., Bokutachi no BLOG, Anime Profiling, Desu ex Machina, Blogging about Anime, I Will Show You Terror in a Handful of Flans, Pontifus, Open Your Mind, ∑Xce7ion, Ganbatte Forever!, Mikotoism, wat u say, Memories of Eternity, Simplicity, Gabrielino Anime Club, UNMEI KAIHEN, Nigorimasen!, Mainichi Anime Yume and We Remember Love)

What a year. What an incredible year. During the past twelve months, I've had the chance to experience so many new things that it's almost overwhelming just thinking about it. It's also my most anime-watching intensive year ever, which is part of why I really wanted to take this chance to remember some of its highlights.

And the first one of those twelve shining moments is one that takes me back to January. At the time, I was starting to work, and was using a mixture of busses and trains to get to my workplace. Each trip was about 2 hours long, so I had plenty of time to kill (4 hours is 1/6 of a day, that is reaaaally long). And what better way to spend those monstrous amounts of time than watching a long series like, say, Monster ?

And that's just what I did, albeit in pretty bad conditions. I do recommend against trying to watch shows on a Nintendo DS... Anyway, I made do with what I had lying around, and despites being on a tiny screen, bouncing around while the bus was making its way to the station, or in the freezing cold while I waited for the train, Monster managed to deliver a gripping experience.

Yet I must admit something. I've not completed the show. I'm stuck at episode 28, and I really need to pick it up again. And I will, because I really want to see what happens to the good Dr. Tenma. In any case, what is this particular moment that made Monster worthy of this list ? It's in episode 3, when one learns why Inspector Runge incessantly moves his fingers.

The guy is doing this kinda irritating movement because he's "entering information in the disk in his head by typing on his keyboard". Now this sounds silly, doesn't it ? Yet it works. It's one of the first examples of what makes Monster so great : being able to make everything seem at least plausible.

Now, of course, some elements of the plot are still far-fetched, but I really think my point stands. Up to where I've seen it, Monster pictures a cast and a world that are extremely believable and coherent. And it's quite a feat with such a long and convoluted plot. A particularly impressive aspect of the show is the way Germany is depicted. Usually, when Japanese shows include Europe-inspired settings, the result is exaggerated, and full of clichés. But for Monster, a lot of effort was obviously made to make it all seem genuine. And that's really a good thing. It also helps giving Monster a fresh feeling, what with not being set in the center of Tokyo and all...

On top of that, it doesn't hurt that Monster has stellar production values. The animation is very fluid, the music really fits the show, and the art style is awesome, really reinforcing the "serious" tone of the anime. What's weird is that I've never been fond of the art style of the manga, yet I find it excellent in the anime adaptation. Go figure. Special points for the ending sequence, done in a children book drawing style, and slowly changing as the episodes pass, reflecting the story in a symbolic way. Coupled with David Sylvian's "For the love of life", it really makes for a great conclusion for each episode.

But when all is said and done, the single thing that sets Monster apart is the excellence of its plot. It's at heart a crime mystery/thriller, but each time you think you get it, another layer of explanations make you reconsider your assumptions. And even if the gist of the problem stays the same (for example, the "bad guy" is known almost right from the start), the new insight you gain as the show progress get you ever more involved.

It makes you ever more worried for Dr. Tenma as you learn that what he's gotten into is really more than meets the eye. And this time the main protagonist isn't a total badass ready to crush every opposing force. An episode has him learning how to fire a gun, something rarely seen in anime (or movies, or books, even). He's a good guy, in the truest sense of the term, but he's not a hero.

And maybe that's the true reason Monster clicks with me ?

Because I'd want to react the same way as he does if I were in his shoes ?

Who knows...


2009 in anime: Welcome back !

So, it's this time of the year again, heh ? That time when I feel compelled to write something here. What for, I don't know. Maybe I subconsciously want to leave a mark on a small corner of the web, maybe it's simply for the satisfaction you get by clicking that "publish" button. Or maybe because it's winter. The heavy clouds, the warmth of my room, the night falling early, the year slowly coming to an end...

Or, you know, it may just be because I love the "12 moments in anime" concept. As last year (though I only did five), I'm going to participate to this challenge of sorts, launched by CCY of Mega Megane Moe two years ago. For those who didn't bother checking the link, the idea is to use the twelve days preceding Christmas to sit back and fondly reminisce about what were the highlights of the anime you watched this year. And of course write about it ! So, each day, starting tomorrow, I'm going to tell you which moments defined my anime-watching year. What made me cringe, cry, hold my breath, scratch my head, laugh, feel sympathy or othewise moved me. Hopefully, you'll either recall those moments if you are an anime fan yourself, or at least see what anime can do, without dismissing it as something that is meant "for children only" as many people around me tend to do.

This year, I've been planning this series of posts a lot better than the last time(1), and if you go back and look at some of the posts that were written then, you'll see that they already were pretty long. Yet I think I've consumed more anime this year than any year before, so not only was choosing the moments harder, but the resulting posts will probably be even longer...

So, be sure to come back next week, alright ? I have so many stories I want you to hear, and Christmas is already drawing near...

(1) Not only that, I've been eagerly wanting to write them. The urge was strong enough as to get me to write this silly "foreshadowing" little drabble. Forgive me, it was cheesy, I know.


The dormant machine

Somewhere, out of sight, left undisturbed for many days, a machine lays. No one really knew what made it work, and when its cogs grinded to a halt, no one knew how to fix it. It has been months since it stopped moving, and now it seems as if it was completely abandoned there to rust. Slowly, it is becoming a part of the scenery, a mere reminder that once new things were created there.

But some of those who watched over the machinery knew better than the rest. They knew it wasn't the first time it fell asleep, standing perfectly still - on the surface.

Deep in the bowels of the dormant machine, ambers from a fire gone out were still glowing. They were almost gone, but they remained. And as winter came, they felt the wind pick up, blowing through the maze of pipes and conducts, bringing new energy to the remains of the fire.

And slowly, but steadily, a new fire was born. On the outside, nothing was happening, but in the innermost parts of the metal beast, life was brought back. Wheels were turning, pistons were set into motion, gears were spinning. The machine was awakening from its slumber.

Soon enough, faint clicks would be heard in the most silent hours of nights, then a steady low humming noise, and little by little all the parts of the machine would start functioning again. And some were aware of that. They had seen it happen before, and although they didn't know why it was that way, they knew that, this year again, the big machine would come back to life.

They were right.

Deep in the bowels of the dormant machine, cogs were already turning.


Japan, the first three days

So, this is it. Finally, after all those years wanting to go, I'm finally - with my sister of course, you know how inseparable we are - in Japan.

I'll try to blog about our trip here for the next three weeks, and you see I'm already on the right track : a single post for the first two-and-a-half days. But nevermind, you'll see WHY this is. That is, if you decide to continue reading. What a way to tease you, huh ?

Fukuoka has streets. This is one of them.

Day 0 -[Travellin']-
The first "day" was of course dedicated to us getting to Japan, which sounds like a pretty good way to start off a trip to Japan. So after saying good-bye to our parents at Zaventem, in Brussels, we flew all the way to... Francfort. In that faraway german land, we discovered that yes, airport CAN be big. Or at least very big along one direction. And of course when that's the case you land at one side and need to go exactly at the farthest point of it. But without fear, we went to find Gate 49, where we would be boarding our next plane. There we felt like in the first Harry Potter, you know that bit where he has to find the 9 3/4th platform ? Well it was just like that. Gate 48 ? Check. Gate 50 ? Check. Gate 49 ? Of course not.

But we were saved by a helpful employee that saw we were puzzled and came to help us, because you know, he was, like, helpful. And that's what helpful people do, they help. Turns out we were looking for the wrong gate, of course. Door 46 was more like it. Maybe the little 6 in our head was badly fixed and fell, like in those movies where someone swings a hotel room's door and the numbers turn around, hanging by only one nail.

Then it was mostly "smooth sailing", except for little details like the on-board movies : we had to suffer through Dragon Ball Evolution (though another one, Monster vs. Aliens, was pretty funny). And the meals. The "Japanese" meals.

You know, I'm not even sure everything on that plate was even food.

I'll let you know : that was bad. As in REALLY bad. The meat was tolerable, but everything else was really not good. So far, my fears of Japanese food seemed justified. But the next day would be the real test... How did it go ? You'll have to wait for the next episode to know that. Hang in there, it's a whole title away !

Day 1 -[First Train Home]-

After a very short night, and a glorious, glorious sunrise (if you get the chance, try listening to some post-rock, or songs like "Still Alive" or "City of Blinding Lights" as you're watching the sun come up above the clouds, it's mesmerizing), we're finally coming to our destination. Japan !

Our first view of Japan. Look at this mountaintop : it's just so typical !

After landing in Narita, we had to face our first real challenge. The customs. Thing is, Pascale has a student visa, but we learned in the plane that those were incompatible with the "Japan Rail Pass", the 300-euros ticket we were to use for our two first weeks. So we were a bit stressed out. But amazingly, the custom officer agreed to let Pascale through not on her student visa, but as a regular tourist ! Awesome first contact, and everything was to continue this way. We got our seats in the shinkansen (the japanese high-speed train) reserved (nice surprise again, we thought we would have to try and get a non-reserved seat, in a packed train it often means no seat at all), and detailled instruction where to go when. Easy enough, isn't it ?

But no. We managed to miss our correspondance in Tokyo... We were penniless - or rather yenless - so we had to find some money. Easy, just go to a post office, they have international withdrawal machines that accept Maestro cards. Guess what ? It turns out it isn't the case. And with the time it took me to go look for one of those post offices near Shinagawa station and see that our cards wouldn't work, we were late. And you cannot count on Japanese trains to be late. They're NEVER EVER late, it's almost frightening when you're used to the Belgian way of handling train schedules - that is to say don't handle anything, at least trains are running.

But we took the next shinkansen, again with reserved seats - I LOVE those rail passes. Then it was time for another 6.5 hours of train, and we had a glimpse of Japan's panoramas. A funny thing is the way the cities look 'chaotic'. The buildings seem arranged in no particular order and you get as many colors as there are houses. And with the afternoon coming to an end, we arrived at Hakata Station, Fukuoka.

And then there was the heat. And its friend, humidity. We were told Japanese summers were hot, but gosh, it's incredible. Although the sun had set when we arrived, it was still somewhere near 30°C when we stepped out of the train. But inside the station, it was pretty cool. What was also pretty cool (oh my, lame pun) was the fact that despite us being near an hour late, there we met some of our Japanese friends : Ayumi and Ayu were waiting for us there, and we were so happy to see them again ! And two other joined us before we got to the exit of the station. Daiki and Misa, the two main 'organisators' of our next days were there too. It was a very very nice moment, meeting them all back after all those months.

And they even went as far as taking us to our hotel. Not having to concentrate on finding the way, we had the chance to let the atmosphere sink in. It was all we anticipated, and then some. The big advertising screens, the music, the people, the school uniforms, the vending machines, the salarymen... Sounds cliché, but seeing the real deal really was something. Waiting for us at the hotel was our second challenge. Remember how we couldn't withdraw money earlier ? Well we still had none, we were hungry, and more importantly we had a room to pay... But once again, we were pleasantly surprised when the owner told us we could pay the next morning. Really, Japanese people are nice. Though we didn't have much time to ponder about that, because we had to be taken to our first real Japanese meal. And, boy, was I anxious...

Good food, which is usually served between tasty food and succulent food.

Good first surprise: another friend, Ikue, was there! Second one : it was a really beautiful place, complete with a low table (there was a hole underneath though, so it was like sitting on a bench. And third, BIG one : I liked almost every single thing I ate. And that is saying a lot. Usually, I dislike pretty much everything that's even remotely 'refined'. But there, in that über-long-ten-thousand-courses meal, so many good things. I even loved the shashimi and the suchi (me ? RAW FOOD ? Raw fish, even ? No way !). And I wouldn't put everything on account of the psychological effect. It was extremely fresh, and just plain delicious. And copious. And funny : seeing Pascale break a sushi in two just after saying she was afraid she would, and even as she's usually the most gifted with chopsticks in the family was fun. ;) Also, even if it was into a very very beautiful restaurant, and even as we ate a whole lot of many different stuff, it was still pretty cheap, amazing ! We also received awesome gifts : Pascale got a yukata (summer kimono), and I got the man version. We were left speecheless by those presents. It was just too nice.

From left to right : Ikue, Ayumi, yours truly, Daiki, Misa

And then we though we would get to sleep. But they had other plan, namely taking us to a 'purikura', some kind of Japanese photo booth that is design to make your eyes melt and break your sanity with some kind of supposedly 'cute' music played to loud. Also it's kitsch. Wait, no, not only kitsch. JAPANESE KITSCH.

I swear I was slowly but surely becoming insane in there.

The idea behind those ugly things is that you take your friends, you cram yourselves into the photo booth, and make a bunch of photographs. Then you get the chance to edit and write stuff on the pictures, which are heavily-processed shoots trying - no kidding - to make your eyelashes look longer and stuff. Then if you're a Japanese with a cell phone (that is to say everyone) you get the pictures sent to you via infrared, and you get a printout of the pictures on adhesive paper. So even though every bit of the experience is a threat to your senses, you're left with some really nice mementos.

So after this little foray into frantic grounds, we finally got to crash into our (small, but nice) room and sleep... Pfew, what a day...

Day 2 -[Just Cruisin']-

The second day started off with us finally finding a way to get some cash (thank you credit card) and then wander around for a breakfast. We went into a Starbucks, and I assure you, they will never see me take another of their 'asparagus-salmon rolls'. We went with the day's current breakfast option, but god it was awful. Even for Pascale... After this brief bad experience, we went around looking for an adapter for our electric thingies. Because, of course we bought not one, but two before leaving, and they work great, except for the computer... So we entered a really big, BIG electronic store : Yodobashi Camera.

And it was again some kind of maddening experience. A very vicious thing is the background music. At times you can't hear it well, but it's there. And the playlist consists of only one song : the store's theme song. That is again something I've never seen before. I mean, a whole song about a store ? Played continuously ?

But we found what we needed and escaped before our minds were broken. We forgot to take some pictures though, so we'll probably need to go there again to let the world see (and yes, it's really impressive...).

We then met again with Daiki and Misa (and Mayu, it's cool, in the end we'll be seeing almost everyone !) that rented a car to take us around to... do stuff, basically. We didn't knew the program beforehand, so we let them guide us first through the countryside until we got to a waterfall. And there, fun was to be had !
Chifumi, Misa, Pascale, Mayu and Daiki and a boy and a guy having fun at the waterfall.

The fun was not only made up of striking poses in front of a camera, putting our feet in the water or debating wheter cicadas or the waterfall made the loudest sound though. It was also in eating nagashi somen. Did your mother tell you it was bad to play with your food ? Well, here it's not, and it's awesome ! Basically, nagashi somen is noodles and some sort of soup to give them some more taste. But that wouldn't be very fun, so you have to stand next to a long bamboo cut in half in which water is flowing. Then you put the noodles at the top, and they slide along until someone catches them with his or her chopsticks. It sound weird and/or silly, but believe me it's really fun. And need I say it's good too ?
Man I'd love to try that with bolognese and spagghetti. Just how messy would it get ?

We also tasted some snacks, like fish-on-a-stick, or yakitoris. All in all, this was again very good, honestly it was still surprising. After that, we went to a beach, near a little shrine and a big cliff.

Don't be fooled, the cliff was actually much taller than Pascale.

Then, because one beach isn't enough, we went to another one, and ate something that I forgot the name of, but was refreshing as hell : it's some piled ice with fruit juice. Oishiiii !!

Seems like Japanese people love to build impressive-looking stuff on beaches, but no one really knows why...

Then it was time to get back to Fukuoka, and get dressed for the evening. Because we couldn't let our new yukatas in their boxes, they planned a 'dressed-up' supper. At first we were a little wary of putting them on, but once we took the plunge it was fun. Pascale had shoes that were too small, so her feet hurt, and I thought I had forgotten my sandals, so I was wearing my ugly baskets (and no, that doesn't work well, and yes, Pascale found them sandals the very moment we got back to our room). But as we saw that we weren't looking like dumb tourists trying to 'play Japanese', it was good fun. Not to mention that yukatas are very very beautiful attires (for girls that is, the men ones are more plain).

Misa, me, Pascale, Ryo and Daiki all dressed up. And see, I told you those shoes didn't work well with the rest :D

It was another fun supper, with some more friends joining us (Keiko and Ryo, to cite them) and also a nice french friend of Keiko ! It was interesting for Pascale to get some advices for when she'll come back here. It was also another hundreds-of-plates supper, and it was again incredibly good. Especially the udon (a kind of noodles, a little like ramen). My legs weren't having much fun though, sleeping there under the low table the whole time, lazy bunch...

I must also say I was a little embarassed, because each time I had emptied something, Ryo, whom I was sitting next to, would take it and serve me something else. As an end result, I think I only filled my plate once or twice :s

And after that, guess what ? Time for purikura again. Fortunately, the booth they chose had a music that was a little less horrifying, and again we've got some pretty fun mementos.

Our merry group : (up) Pascale, Daiki looking cool, Jérome trying to make bunny ears to Mayu or something, Keiko (down) me who is leaning to the right for no particular reason, Mayu who does it more though, Misa and Ryo. Also features a pretty common elevator door.

So that was it, we're ready for what's to come (I think) : tomorrow we're going to a big (probably more huge than big though) mall, then to Dazaifu, a town near Fukuoka. Thanks for putting up with this mega-post and choosing to ride with us !

Yes, I confess, that last sentence was a lame way to introduce this picture. But I'm doing what I can :D