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Orient Episodes 1-12 Streaming

Based on the manga of the same name by Shinobu Ohtaka, creator of the Arabian Nights-inspired series Magi and the battle comedy Sumomomo, Momomo, Orient's first twelve episodes are both comfortably within shounen norms and just different enough to give it an edge. The story follows what we could say is the basic shounen formula: two plucky teen boys with a dream of becoming the best set out to change the world with both the power of their friendship and their amazing special skills. Along the way they're joined by a girl who is both in need of rescuing and not quite a damsel in distress; later they meet a second girl to fill the “princess” role. Various adults wander in and out with a variable degree of helpfulness. Fortunately, Ohtaka hasn't been playing this game for so long without knowing how to do it well, and Orient, despite its cookie-cutter elements, still manages to be both quite watchable and fairly entertaining. It certainly helps that the adaptation isn't trying to rush through the story – the first cour is mainly concerned with assembling the cast and figuring out Musashi's powers, while also building the relationship between the two boys. It ends as the story appears to be really getting started, and while that's risky, it also means that the second cour will be able to just jump right into the action with the benefit of us already being familiar with the salient information. And the first half isn't uninteresting by any means; it still has a clear arc to the story and all three of the main characters have some emotional depth. Musashi, the main protagonist of the piece, is given the most time to develop. When we first meet him, he really does seem like just another brash, impetuous shounen hero, and yes, he is both of those things. But he's also surprisingly intelligent and a genuinely nice, caring person. He was orphaned young and taken in by Kojiro's father after his own relatives mistreated him, and both he and Kojiro learned basic human goodness from him…which is important because basic human badness is in ample display among the rest of the townsfolk. People have split off into two competing belief systems: one which worships the monstrous aliens, called oni, who descended to Earth one hundred and fifty years before the start of the story, and another which is determined to fight against them. The oni worshippers, with the monsters' backing and power, have essentially declared those against the creatures as heretics, and as a result the fighters (calling themselves Bushi) have been ostracized in towns like the one the boys grew up in. If something goes wrong, the Bushi and their faction are blamed, and in the case of Musashi's parents, their death from disease was seen as punishment for being nice to Kojiro's dad. It's not a new story, but it is one that doesn't wear out with the telling – man's inhumanity to man. Kojiro has definite self-esteem issues stemming from the townsfolk's attitude towards him and the death of his father, and while he truly does want to go with Musashi, he also feels inferior to him much of the time. This is where Musashi's impressive emotional intelligence comes in, because he's both aware of Kojiro's issues and devoted to making sure that he knows his worth; he's unstinting in his belief in his best friend's abilities. Little moments that could easily have devolved into fights are defanged quickly, and not just because the two have made a conscious decision that they won't fight with each other if they're going to make this work. It isn't easy, but seeing them really try is a nice touch and makes them both more human than they might otherwise have been. Even the advent of Tsugumi, who is herself in need of an escape from an emotionally abusive situation, can't get between them, although mostly that's because the boys are too worried about what the other might think of their taste in/experience with women, and Tsugumi really doesn't understand sexual or romantic relationships anyway. What all three of them do share, however, is an understanding of the sort of trauma they've all been through, and that does make them feel like a pretty strong team. The main storyline for these episodes is the discovery of Musashi's true power, and that's interestingly enough not done primarily through battles. It still manages to introduce some truly repugnant villains and conflicting philosophies, letting us know that the Bushi aren't a monolith in their beliefs, and the world building feels fairly natural as it feeds into the storyline. Pacing is fairly decent, although it's worth noting that it isn't until episode five that things really take off and that's promptly followed by the very disjointed episode six. Information is doled out as needed, which does help to keep things from feeling overwhelming, and as an added bonus the dialogue isn't entirely delivered in a scream, which is occasionally an issue with shounen action series. Character designs are definitely cleaner than in Magi (although how Musashi's pants stay up is anyone's guess), and while the colors are mostly muted with groups of people color-coded by hair, there are some very nice visual touches with the Bodhisattva imagery used for the oni and the floating Bushi fortresses – Michiru's special blade skill stands out as particularly striking. Orient isn't reinventing any wheels (although it does have a “mangling murder wheel”), but it is doing a good job with the staples of its genre while making its characters feel like they have a little more depth to them. It isn't likely to win you over the genre; it is, however, a pretty good time once it gets its hooks into you.

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Hikaru in the Light! GN 1

Japan's idol industry has a problem. No, it's probably not the one you think it is; according to M. Hayama, a producer in Mai Matsuda's manga series Hikaru in the Light!, the real issue isn't an exploitative culture, the sexualization of children, an unhealthy work/life balance, or any of the other potential answers you may have had to the question. Instead, he believes the industry has simply become oversaturated with “normal” girls. These girls, he posits, bring nothing more than bland charm to the stage, and that's hampering Japan's pop music on the international stage. Hayama's train of thought is that the industry needs to stop promoting the idea that anyone can be an idol and instead focus on the truly talented ones, the girls who shine with their own light and can hold their own against the best girl (and boy) bands the rest of the world has to offer. If this immediately rubs you the wrong way, it's probably meant to. While he does show much more depth as a character almost the moment we see him again after his first appearance, Hayama is deliberately trying to rile up Japan's music scene from his very first entry on the page. It's not that he has anything against the type of idol being mass-produced in the story's world, but rather that he believes that the industry can do better if it focuses on nurturing ambitious and talented performers, and that's the point where the story really gets started. Hikaru in the Light! is an idol competition tale, and while its initial description and unfolding feels a little like Blue Lock but for girl idols, it's actually a bit more grounded than it wants to let on in its opening chapters. The main focus of these first six chapters is bringing protagonist Hikaru to the point where she's ready to fully embrace what she's doing, and that's an interesting journey to follow. When we first meet her, she's a fourteen-year-old helping her grandfather out at the family bathhouse. He has an old turntable and an apparently vast collection of western records from the 1970s, and Hikaru has gotten in the habit of singing oldies while she mops the floors. She's so good that Grandpa's friends all come to just sit in the office and listen to her, and he jokes (without joking) that he's going to start charging admission to her “concerts.” Hikaru's mildly embarrassed by this, but mostly she just really enjoys singing, and she's got some complicated feelings about performing as a professional. Mostly these come from her best friend Ran, who two years ago debuted as a member of a fifty-member idol group that aimed for a “school festival everyone can participate in” feel. Ran's very ambitious, and while she initially asked Hikaru to come to auditions with her, there's a sense that maybe she was a bit relieved when her younger friend turned her down. But Ran's been having trouble standing out in the huge group, and when Hayama makes his pitch for the “Girls in the Light” competition, she resigns (“graduates”) and applies. Once again she asks Hikaru to join her, but this time her friend agrees – and Ran definitely has some mixed feelings about that. The contrast between Ran and Hikaru is one of the most interesting aspects of these chapters. While they clearly both care about each other, Ran is fully aware of how competitive the world she's joining is, and given Hikaru's singing chops, she's nervous that her friend will beat her in the contest. She's nervous enough to want Hikaru there, but there's also a sense that she's hoping that Hikaru won't make it because she really is very stiff competition – in her mind at least. Hikaru, for her part, has no real conception of how talented she is, and her lack of public performance practice (she doesn't count the bathhouse) hobbles her in her own mind. Both girls show the immaturity we might expect of their ages (Ran is sixteen), and that really helps the story work; Hikaru in particular can go from turning her parents' objections to her trying out on their heads to naively making statements about how she's “done being naïve,” which feels like an incredibly real thing fourteen-year-olds do. Matsuda's art is full of cute, round faces that she gets a lot of expression out of and a decent sense of movement. Dance scenes aren't quite as dynamic as they could be, but the point is definitely gotten across. Hayama's flamboyant look is perhaps treading a bit too close to stereotypes of gay men (and nothing indicates that he is beyond the coded language of his clothing), but his personality is quite grounded and he talks to the girls like someone who respects their intelligence, which is very reassuring given his position of power over them. Panels are particularly easy to follow, which is a definite plus, especially since this is a digital-only release on Azuki Manga's platform. That also means that you won't find a “volume one” labeled as such and as of this review there isn't one – the first six chapters, however, make up the first graphic novel of the original Japanese release. While that may be frustrating for readers who aren't interested in yet another app or service, the story really is a good one. It blends the competition format with a more grounded idea of what a professional performer needs to be able to do in a way that really works, and Hikaru is a protagonist it's easy to get behind, making this an enjoyable read.

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Fruits Basket -prelude-

One thing I've seen bouncing around shojo-dominated spaces of the internet is anticipation for this movie. Specifically, people are excited about the all-new epilogue written by Natsuki Takaya. If that's your main reason for watching, allow me to give you the most vital information first: it lasts three minutes and the payoff is weak. Perhaps I would have felt more charitably toward it if everything that came before it in Fruits Basket -prelude- didn't emphasize what I have always felt were the two most glaring flaws in an otherwise exemplary story: Kyo's connection to Kyoko and Kyoko's relationship with Katsuya, Tohru's father. The first half hour of the movie is a clip show, free of any framing device or narration to tie it together. It felt more like a fan-made compilation posted on YouTube with the title “BEST Kyo/Tohru relationship moments!!!” than anything actually professional. In fairness, I can sort of see what they were going for with it; the clips are arranged in a way that indicates they wanted to draw out a theme rather than depict their relationship's development chronologically. Instead, the importance is placed on how Kyo knew Kyoko long before he met Tohru, his feelings of guilt and how he perceives himself as responsible for her death, and how Tohru offers him absolution. The thing is, Kyo having known Kyoko has always felt entirely contrived and unnecessary to me, so the extended montage left me cold. Their relationship, which began with a random woman approaching a child and then telling him all about her daughter for no reason, makes no sense. His connection to Kyoko and her death doesn't add anything to the narrative, which is already strong enough on its own, nor does it make his relationship with Tohru more meaningful. Being the cat in the Sohma family has already isolated and traumatized that poor boy enough. But then the clipshow concludes, and the movie gets to its real meat: Kyoko's relationship with Katsuya, from the moment they met to her grief when he died. There are parts of it that I like, that resonate with the show's themes about the power of kindness and the importance of a sense of belonging. Kyoko joined a gang not because she was born rotten, but because the dearth of parental love in her life left a hole in her that she didn't know how to fill otherwise. Finding someone who valued and believed in her, who didn't treat her as a worthless inconvenience, helped to heal her heart. But why, why, why did he have to be her teacher? You see, Katsuya and Kyoko met when she's in middle school, thus no older than 15, and he's a student teacher in his early 20's. The first time he encounters her, he pulls her out of school and takes her out to lunch. Even after his stint in student teaching ends, he tutors her up until she misses her high school entrance exam, and then, when her parents are kicking her out and she has nowhere else to go, he shows up and declares his intent to marry her. Remember when someone recut the Twilight trailer to make it look like a psychological thriller? Kyoko and Katsuya's relationship wouldn't even need to be recut; a simple lighting change and shifting the music to a minor key would turn it into a cautionary tale about a predatory man targeting a troubled, vulnerable child to trap her into a controlling relationship she can't escape from. Of course, that's not what happens, because this is the realm of fiction, where a 15-year-old can totally have a consenting relationship with her 23-year-old teacher and there's no risk of abuse. Katsuya is a lovely husband and doting father – which is actually genuinely cute – but it still gives me the screaming heebie-jeebies to see this narrative in a story ostensibly aimed at girls around the same age as Kyoko. The emotional beats were genuine, but I was too intensely creeped out for them to hit right. Perhaps if you are not as bothered by adult/child age gaps or teacher/student romances as I am, you will be touched by Katsuya's tenderness toward Tohru, and the intensity of Kyoko's grief in the way the story intends. Both the dubbed and subbed versions are coming out, and speaking as someone who has been watching Fruits Basket dubbed since I got the DVD for my 16th birthday in 2003… go with the sub for this one. The strongest members of the English cast are barely present, and while Lydia Mackay is fine, her performance just doesn't come remotely close to the powerhouse that is Miyuki Sawashiro as Kyoko. If the dub is the more viable option to you for whatever reason, don't feel like you need to skip it, but this is one of the cases where the Japanese version is simply better. The animation is about on par with the TV series – nice, but occasionally stiff and certainly not theatrical quality. There were moments where the characters' physicality was distinctly lacking, including Kyo and Tohru sharing one of the least romantic-looking kisses I ever did see. This was not the kiss of two young adults passionately in love; it was the kiss of a pair of 40-year-olds who are staying together for the kids. The film also uses seagulls as a frequent motif, and every single time, they are rendered in the most awkward CG and don't move at all like the real birds. Fruits Basket has always been a series with some major flaws that were fortunately outshone by its strengths. However, -prelude- focuses on what I have always considered its weakest elements, isolating them from its ensemble cast and most resonant themes.

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