Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: Radiant Historia

The following is a guest review written by George Morin. You can find more of his work at Games On The Platform.

The term RPG has been thrown around loosely in recent times. More often than not, games use the term “RPG elements” to attach numbers to characters, equipment, and items. In the early days of RPGs the story was always the highlight of the genre with other elements complimenting it. The emotional attachment to guide each character through the game’s hardships and not letting them down. This is where Radiant Historia shines.

Radiant Historia is a Japanese RPG for the Nintendo DS that was released in early 2011 in North America. The art is a grittier and modern style which is lesser known for JRPGs. The adjustment may take some time, but it truly fits the world and story the game conveys. In this world there are two warring kingdoms, Alistel and Granorg. This war has developed due to the desertification of the world, which sucks the life out of all living things it touches. You are Stocke, an intelligence agent of the Alistel kingdom. As your story begins, Stocke receives a fatal mission that he barely escapes from and arrives in Historia, a timeless area containing the power of time travel. Stocke is the only one able to stop the desertification of the world through time travel and careful judgment.

Although a cliché opening to the story, it serves two important plot devices. First it is generic enough to allow anyone to understand the world's situation and why our protagonist needs to succeed until the end. A story is only as engaging as the player's attention span. If the story is too complex, confusing, or uses too much jargon, it won't engage the player to the fullest. The other important plot device this gives the player is time travel. The player has now gauged the strength of their character and has seen his weakness. Instead of plowing through enemies senselessly, an attachment to the characters grows as the characters do.

Time travel can be a double edged sword. When done right, it gives the story flavor that otherwise wouldn't be possible. A decision right after receiving the power to time travel is to continue under the intelligence agent, or to join a friend’s unit within the military. This will create a two completely different time lines that the player must experience to reach the end. Holding two very different timelines with the same characters adds depth to every character in drastic ways. Completionists are able to experience every item, skill, party member, etc. the game has to offer.

The combat of the game is in many ways challenging and easy. It is turn based which is typical of RPGs, but it has a twist. Enemies can exist in a 3x3 grid, while your party plays in a similar fashion to turn based JRPGs. The interesting aspects of combat come from the positioning of the enemies. While you have multiple turns of your party in a row, enemies can be stacked and treated like they are attacked separately. Each character has various skills to move the enemies around their 3x3 field, giving usefulness to different characters for certain strategies.

The difficulty may be one of my only complaints in this game. Throughout the story leveling your characters is not much of an issue. It is possible to use characters 10-20 levels below without much of a noticeable handicap. Towards the end of the game this changes in a horrendously terrible way. Battles are long and drawn out, and bosses have the ability to One Hit Knock Out (OHKO) party members. The game didn’t lead up to the last 3-4 boss battles in any tangible way. This would be the only time when the player needs to learn how to effectively dispatch the enemies in order or in a timely manner. This would also be the only time when the player may need to spend some time grinding levels to live through some of the boss battles.

Overall, Radiant Historia was a brilliantly crafted game. Especially in more recent times, storytelling has taken a backseat to graphics, gameplay, cinematics, and end game content. Rather than forcing yourself to complete the game to enjoy any of these important but empty traits, Radiant Historia pulls you into its story like a good book. In many ways it won’t be used to kill time, rather you will kill time to play it.

If you liked this review, please check out my blog at Games On The Platform.

-George Morin

Title: Radiant Historia
Developer: Atlus
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Year: Nov 2010 (JP) Feb 2011 (NA)
Platform: Nintendo DS

Completion: Going the completionist route of all story nodes, side quests, skills, and hidden items, it took me roughly 42 hours. I picked up on the combat system quite early but it’s easily a 30-35 hour main story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Losing the Ability to Believe Fantasy is Reality

Today I was reading the second book in the Hunger Games series, Catching Fire, of which I had just begun reading yesterday. I was sitting on a subway train on the way to my internship, making the daily trek that was once consumed by my 3DS. But recently I have had an awkward desire for wanting to read on the train, as I feel Kid Icarus is better left home where I can fully pay attention to the quirky writing and dialogue.

A particular passage crosses my eyes, near the beginning of the book, where one of the characters is kissed by another. The way it was written and the way I imagined it made me blush, if just a bit. I looked up at that moment recognizing my face may have turned a shade of pink, but I didn’t do it because I was worried someone may have noticed. Well, actually, an older gentlemen sitting across from me was staring at me and likely noticed the slight smile coming from my face. But the smile wasn’t because of the novel or the kiss these two characters just shared; it was because I suddenly felt Final Fantasy VIII enter my consciousness.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What in the hell does FFVIII have anything to do with the Hunger Games? It doesn’t. It has nothing to do with the series at all. But the emotional moment in the novel instantly grabbed some nostalgic feeling from my past and immediately I was thinking of the story in FFVIII.

But there was more to it than this. It wasn’t just a flash or a simple thought, it was a flooding of what my memory remembers from the near beginnings of that game. Of Squall and Rinoa dancing, of the Balamb ships leaving and crossing the water as you see the moon in its reflection. But another thought was dominating my mind, intrusive but welcome all the same. My voice in my head made a statement:

This is the reason I have lost the will to devote the time that I used to put into video games.

To me, I instantly recognized what I was feeling and thinking. The last time I played FFVIII was at least 10 years ago. Not yet a teenager, I had no sense of romance or what those feelings entailed. I was able to absorb whatever was in front of me and accept it as more than just entertainment, influencing me and showing me what love is. I was young, immature, not exactly realizing that the characters and story of Final Fantasy VIII were fabricated to be entertainment and give me an experience that I would enjoy. To me it was an engagement with Squall and Rinoa, and the world around them that pushed them together or pulled them apart. This is what I remember and cherish about this game, and why I feel so nostalgic for it. 

It seems the studies have piled over the last few years for why we as gamers tend to grow out of playing video games like we used to. There’s always this nostalgic undertone about it that’s kind of sad: “When I was younger I simply had more time to play. I’m older now with more responsibilities so I can’t play video games as often.” Sure, that may be true, and this has certainly happened to me as well. But sitting on the train, reading this particular passage in a novel that is quite different from Final Fantasy, I realized what the true issue is.

Story. But that’s half of it. The other half is how I’ve grown and lost the ability to be tricked into believing that the fantasy in front of me is reality. Final Fantasy VIII was real for me, just as the characters and setting and plot in Catching Fire feels real to me right now. I know The Hunger Games is fiction and meant to be devoured as entertainment but I can’t shake the feeling that these characters and events remind me of how I used to feel when I was younger. The story encapsulates my mind and brings it all to life, just like 10 years ago when Squall and Rinoa were dancing to Waltz for the Moon.

These words can’t describe how quickly and rushed this realization came into my mind. I know it doesn’t hold true for everyone, and for a large chunk of people they don’t play as often because of time constraints. But for me it’s more than that. It’s the fact that I’ve grown and experienced life to the point where the stories I once knew and still seek just don’t feel the same. I can’t be as easily fooled like I once was. And for that, I now feel that nostalgic feeling that makes me yearn for another game that can trick me into fantasy. But for now, I will remain content with the writing in a Hunger Games novel that so effectively brings me into its built world of fantastic imagination… even if it is only realized entertainment. 

-Jared Cyhowski

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: Nostalgia

Would you just look at that name? Nostalgia. This is a game begging to stir the signals in your brain and mash enough of them to recover something from your childhood; something you loved and enjoyed. When we feel nostalgic we get this weird feeling of maybe being somewhere, maybe back home. It makes you feel comfortable and happy. Nostalgia for the Nintendo DS does not make me feel nostalgic or fuzzy. It makes me feel frustrated and like I just wasted 20-something hours of my life. Go figure!

Nostalgia is a Japanese RPG for the 3DS that was released back in 2009 in North America. I absolutely love the JRPG genre but this title does absolutely nothing to be original except in setting. Your name is Eddie and you are the teenage son of the famous adventurer Gilbert Brown. Gilbert gets caught up in some trouble as usual and saves a girl named Fiona from the Ancient Cabal. The guys dressed in black are always the bad guys, right? So Fiona has lost her memory and you as the hero take on the task to help her not only get her memories back but also go on a mission to save the world by collecting powerful ancient tablets. Joining you along the way is a mage named Melody and a marksman named Pad. You have the perfect, four-person party with a swordsman (Eddie), gun support (Pad), black magic (Melody), and white magic (Fiona). On a scale of 1 – 10 I would give the story a 3 or a 4, but only because Nostalgia takes place in an alternate steam punk history.

In the game you have access to an airship right from the beginning and you zip around the world fairly quickly to collect each tablet. I came across Egypt, a cape town in Africa, London, and New York City to name a few. The sad thing is each of these towns/cities are all mostly copy and pasted with updates to their visual textures. Each location feels the same with hardly any effort given to distinguishing culture beyond simple features and NPC names.

The battle system is not unique whatsoever as it harkens to the most basic of turn-based RPG combat. You mainly bash A the entire game without much thought. The top screen of the DS is used to show you the combat while the bottom screen outlines which character is up next to take their turn. It simply allows you to strategize so that you will never lose, because honestly you sort of have to try to get a game over in Nostalgia. You make enough gold in the game to never have to worry about healing items so battles will be a breeze.

But what frustrated me the most in Nostalgia was how sometimes it would take the liberty to become extremely difficult for no reason. This mainly happened when I would fly my airship around the world and encounter air battles. It sounds cool right? Skies of Arcadia had an excellent combat system set up and airship battles in that game are now nostalgic. Well, Nostalgia falls flat because the creators for some reason decided to make airship enemies extremely strong. In fact, I made sure to save after every battle while flying because you never knew if you were going to encounter another airship that could blow yours out of the water in just two hits. If the rest of the game was so easy why were they making airship battles so challenging? Because enemies in the air took longer to defeat the fast pacing in the game was lost to silly air battles.

In addition to these low-quality attributes the creators did try to add some extra features to Nostalgia to keep you entertained… That’s if you could stand the general gameplay on its own. The game has over 30 sidequests for you to try out at the Adventurers Association but it seems the rewards were never really worth it. They mainly consist of flying somewhere, talking to an NPC, going to a location you have already cleared, finding something, fighting a boss, and then returning that item to whomever asked you to go on such a boring quest. Because the locations aren’t very entertaining to travel through the first time around, why would you want to go back for a reward that doesn’t even make the journey worth it? There are also landmarks in the game that you can fly your airship around to find, but the best prize comes after finding all of them and to me that’s a waste of time. In fact, I only did one quest in the Adventurers Association and that was all.

One element that made Nostalgia completely broken was the fact that when you saved your health and magic points were always completely healed. So if you were in an area with monsters giving high EXP you could just train for 20 minutes and level up substantially. This is probably the easiest game that I have ever had the privilege to play where I could level up so quickly, and bosses were usually a breeze because of this. In fact, as I mentioned earlier, airship battles were actually more challenging than most boss battles. Why would the game be made like this?!

Nostalgia was developed in part by Matrix Software, the people behind the DS remakes of Final Fantasy III and IV. Now those were alright looking games but they were successful because they had a great story behind them. Nostalgia looks alright but the gameplay and story are so basic that Matrix’s contributions to the game are a sad sight to see. There are a few in-game animations that are hardly impressive to say the least, and the only potential I saw in these animations were at the very end when the story actually briefly became interesting. I’m sorry to say that yes, it takes until the very end for the game to become interesting in its storyline. Such a shame!

Nostalgia is a fake title for an RPG that is so basic it should be renamed “How to Play a JRPG” or something to that like. I know this review is entirely negative but there really isn’t anything nice to say about it. Okay I can find one complement: the artwork for the game is nice to look at. You can see it in the intro movie and at the very end. Whoever drew those pieces did a good job at portraying a concept for what should have been a good game. The characters actually look like they have some life behind them, instead of the simple-minded drones that we got in the game. The one thing that may have been nostalgic was how quickly the characters were able to get over a death or some grand emotional moment and move on in the quest at a fast pace. This reminded me of Final Fantasy IV for example, but then I realized these scenes were more comical instead of nostalgic to watch. I’m sorry Nostalgia, but you are nothing that resembles the name.

Title: Nostalgia
Developer: Matrix Software, Red Entertainment
Genre: Japanese Role-Playing Game
Year: 2008 (JP) 2009 (NA)
Platform: Nintendo DS (Played on a Nintendo 3DS)
Completion: In-game timer states that I played for roughly 21 hours, but my 3DS stats application says I played for over 24 hours; this is due to dying a few times in ridiculous airship battles. Did not attempt any sidequests as the main adventure was more than enough, although rewards for these quests are additional character information, gold, and weapons/armor.

-Jared Cyhowski

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Taichi Tuesday: 3/27/12

 Chihayafuru Ep. 25: Moonlight, Clear and Bright

So this week we have been given the finale for Chihayafuru. So sad! ;_; But indeed we have the conclusion to a fantastic series that was never afraid to just be itself. With a cast of characters each unique to themselves and a strong story premise, Chihayafuru delivered like no other series that I viewed from the Fall season.

The episode opens with the championship match between Master Suo and a rather unknown opponent from last week. And quite thankfully it ended rather quickly, but not with a little more character progression with Suo himself. We learn that Suo is also passionate for the Japanese language and what each card evokes for an image and the feelings behind it. This is why he has a supposed 28 one-syllable cards to play with. Before the end of this scene, Yumin’s sensei takes a moment to think on how both Suo and Shinobu do not have teachers, thus leading to them never really being instructors themselves. It’s a strange but important thought that comes forth in an understandable way. It seems he is probably correct. 

After the match the entire gang seems to be a bit depressed in how excellent Shinobu and Suo are at karuta. They think, “How will we ever get to that level?” and walk home in a sullen slumber. Yet Tsutomu comes through for Chihaya once again after studying all of his notes, concluding that Chihaya herself has 20 one-syllable cards to play with. This revelation brings Chihaya to an emotional moment that she may be able to really use this as something to grow with.

Some of the final moments we have with Taichi and Arata happen to be a phone conversation between the two. They discuss the happenings of the championship match and the ways in which they can improve. But as Arata is talking his old mentor (the one who previously gave up karuta) walks in and offers a match. This is huge because now Arata has someone to play with that is on his level, someone to improve with. He was floored when his mentor entered the room.

I would say that the most beautiful scene of the final episode would be when Chihaya is standing there in the hallway and reciting her 20 one-syllable cards. She says the cards out loud in a passionate sort of way that scares away some until Kanade appears. Chihaya is passionate to learn more about the cards and she is now studying them more than ever. At the same time Kanade reveals to Chihaya that she wants to become a professional karuta card reader. Although… Kanade’s passion quickly turns sour when Chihaya reveals that she must become a Class A karuta player to become a reader. I don’t believe this is what Kanade had in mind!

The series takes its final ending in a way that softly closes the cover of a book. The club members practice in their club room. Taichi practices his swinging arm (something he was too embarrassed to do before) and Kanade takes a stab at reading the cards. A scene with the Empress and fellow school board members reveals that the karuta club’s room is in danger of being taken over by the much more popular school band. It’s decided that the karuta club must gather at least five more members or the room goes to band. And we all remember how difficult it was before for the club to gain even three members! The next semester begins with Chihaya putting up posters around the school, just as she did roughly 19 or 20 episodes ago. And, well, that is all.

The conclusion of the episode leaves the possibility for anything to happen with a new season. If we will ever see another seasons remains to be seen. It’s hard to tell just how popular Chihayafuru as an anime series really is, but from my understanding manga sales have seen a noticeable increase in sales because of the series. The following for Chihayafuru suggests the notion that this series truly deserves a sequel, hands down, and I agree with them. There is enough material in the manga series as of right now to support a full second season and then some. Why not give the sleeper hit of the season a proper sequel? There’s enough room to flesh out our characters even more.

And while speaking of the characters a bit, let’s take a look at them in general growth. Chihaya is likely the person who grew the least but it’s warranted for everything her character is. We know about her bubbly personality and sometimes-immature way of looking at things, but she did grow in learning about herself and karuta. She now has a passion for the cards and what they mean, and she completely appreciates Tsutomu’s efforts in studying the game itself. And from Nishida she has learned to study different player’s styles so that she can grow her own. But I’m not sure if she has really learned from Taichi in any specific way that improves her karuta or character, thus leading to Taichi’s realization that he can’t always be concerned with Chihaya as an individual. He very much seems to have strong feelings for Chihaya but he has shifted his efforts to himself more. Take for example the scene from a handful of episodes ago when Taichi lost the level-A qualifying match. He told Harada-sensei that he wanted to work for himself to get to class A and not have it handed to him. He is stronger than that. Kanade and Tsutomu have each grown in their own respective ways but we saw more of this earlier in the season. Kanade grew passionate with karuta because of her love for the poems and their meanings, and Tsutomu showed his passion in studying everyone’s play style to the max. In their rank match Kanade ultimately won but Tsutomu was there for her. They have grown a lot in such a short time it feels! And as for Nishida, I’m not really sure how much he’s changed. Change may not be the word to describe Nishida. Maybe instead it was self-realization that giving up on your passionate hobby isn’t the way to avoid it. In this he uses his skills to advance further beyond even Taichi, even if the match was a fluke.

Chihayafuru could have been handled differently but I don’t think it would have been as enjoyable. The series could have been more centered on the love triangle but thankfully it wasn’t. I do wish there was some closure to that but instead it was sort of phased out by the final episode. I’m sure Arata still has a thing for Chihaya and Taichi still loves Chihaya, but Chihaya is still so oblivious to it all. Maybe another season could fix this up a bit? Regardless we have an anime series that took each of its characters and gave them all the proper respect they deserved. No one was a throwaway, and to that we can applaud. A strong story, strong characters, excellent music and an ever-consistent quality in animation round out Chihayafuru to be one of my most favorite anime in a long while.

Thank you for traveling through this series with me!

-Jared Cyhowski

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Hoshi o Ou Kodomo (Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below)

Hoshi o Ou Kodomo, or, the longer named Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, is the famed director Makoto Shinkai’s latest work. Shinkai is famous for titles such as 5 Centimeters Per Second, Voices of a Distant Star, and The Place Promised in Our Early Days. Each of his previous major releases consist of similar themes including separation in friendship and love, while Hoshi o Ou Kodomo largely steps away from these themes. Children Who Chase Lost Voices centers on themes of life and death as Shinkai twists the narrative with a fantastical flare. Known for amazing beauty in his prior films, Shinkai has made sure to bring back his sweeping visual vistas that simply feed our hungry minds for beautiful art. But as Shinkai steps out of his comfortable realm of characters affected by distance, how does he fare in a setting that is usually touched upon by the likes of Miyazaki?

Hoshi o Ou Kodomo features a young and largely independent girl named Asuna. She is usually on her own throughout much of the day as her mother works nights and her dad passed away when she was a toddler. She has her own spot out in the woods where she collects things and stores food, high up so she can listen to a small receiver for, well, anything. The day she finally hears something a boy named Shun arrives and eventually saves her from a monster. Almost as fast as he appears, Shun is discovered dead in the river but Asuna simply can’t believe it. Around the same time she meets a new substitute teacher at her school named Mr. Morisaki, who is clearly interested in Shun and wherever he came from. Asuna meets another boy named Shin, Shun’s brother, and learns that he’s from a realm underneath the earth called Agartha. Asuna, Morisaki, and Shin each make it down to Agartha where magic exists and the power to bring people back to life awaits as the narrative continues to unfold to an epic state. And that’s all in the first act! Shinkai really wanted to flesh out the storyline, separating his newest work even further in scale from his previous films.

It’s so striking to see Shinkai attempt telling a story that is different from the projects he has done in the past. Taking his work into the genre of fantasy was always interesting from the project’s announcement. It was time for something new, and he certainly delivers on that scale. By taking Asuna, Morisaki, and Shin into an underground world, Shinkai had the ability to create whatever came to his imagination. When you go to a setting like that, you as the creator have the responsibility to do whatever you want. You can ignore physics, the laws of nature, and anything else your heart desires. But with that creative control comes a responsibility to tell a story, and I believe that Shinkai has done that successfully with his characters. Asuna struggles with the death of Shun and the short but large impact that he had on her life, and Morisaki is a man who is controlled by his own desires. Shin is conflicted with the death of his brother and the laws of Agartha. The theme of bringing back someone from the dead has been seen in countless works of the past, but Shinkai is able to tell his unique take on the event through these characters.

Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is different from Shinkai’s previous works, reflected in not only story but technical design as well. There are fewer of the “default background image” landscapes that are found in other films, but in a way this technical merit has been softly kneaded into every frame. There are still those amazing views of the stars to behold, but I think Shinkai has found a way to blend the most gorgeous scenery of his previous films to a toned down experience. This is not a bad thing because it’s completely required for the kind of film that Hoshi o Ou Kodomo is. Previous films would play heavily with emotions that are hard to just have characters express. Feelings like love, compassion, and distance could be shown with swirling colors and massive vistas at any time. And because Shinkai is so talented we would recognize these images as something to strike our hearts in resonance. Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below follows a more linear plot that takes a theme and uses it as a plot device, and so the imagery is just more simplified and toned down.

It’s difficult not to compare Hoshi o Ou Kodomo to Shinkai’s other films because what else can you do when the young director hasn’t explored new themes before? Branching into a new direction is a risk worth taking, and I think Shinkai is completely successful in doing so. He’s keeping us on our feet with what to expect next. But for now he’s been traveling around the globe and promoting his film to audiences everywhere. Will he follow another fantasy-driven tale or craft something similar to his previous works? What if next we receive something of a period drama or maybe a war narrative? It sure is an exciting time to be a fan of Shinkai. And to think how far we’ve come in just 10 years since the release of Voices of a Distant Star. This auteur sure has enough time to expand and grow into any genre he wants.

-Jared Cyhowski

Review: A Letter to Momo

A Letter to Momo has yet to be released in Japanese theaters nationwide, and so I am quite privileged and lucky to have seen the film at this year’s New York International Children’s Film Festival. A letter to Momo is Hiroyuki Okiura’s first film since Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade; a stark contrast to the simpler and brighter themes of Momo. But this is only because Jin-Roh was an adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s graphic novel series while A Letter to Momo was written by Okiura himself. He has directed a film that explores the theme of death quite heavily and delves deep to show us a struggling teenage girl’s heart. Her name is Momo, and the day her father died he left a letter in his desk that only said “Dear Momo.” Imagine if this happened to you. Wouldn’t you want to know what your parent was going to write to you just before they passed on unexpectedly?

The film opens with Momo and her mother moving to the small Japanese island of Shio. Momo’s mom grew up on the island, and so they live with the grandparents of the family. As Momo steps off the boat a drop of water accidentally hits her on the head. This water droplet and two others are actually spirits from up above, and because they landed on Momo she can see and hear them. They each have their own distinct behavior: Kawa is tall and lizard-like and has a never ending appetite, Mame who is short, tiny, and innocently playful, and the broad shouldered giant Iwa. Momo is at first terrified of these spiritual creatures, but she soon adapts to their ridiculous antics on the island.

Momo is young and seems to act her age, but at the same time she shines with moments of maturity. She is a character that adults can relate to in that she is dealing with the death of someone very special in her life. Children will see Momo as a girl who likes to have fun exploring the island and hanging out with trouble-causing spirits, likely only briefly recognizing some of the major themes in the film. The last thing Momo said to her dad was that she hated him. Kids will naturally see this differently from their parents, and so Okiura has crafted a rare film that can truly speak to an audience of different ages.

The story is strong, but the artwork and animation are even stronger. Production I.G. has done an excellent job at creating an atmosphere that is quiet and relaxing on the island. The water is beautiful, the characters are consistently drawn well, and scenes in the middle and ending of the film go through a grand amount of detail to show us a large rain storm in Japan. The film takes on a fairly natural and realistic color atmosphere that is well-adapted to the themes of death, life, forgiveness, persistence, and youth that are seen throughout A Letter to Momo.

But the best part of A Letter to Momo is how it ends. The final act reveals a number of truths to Momo and it opens her eyes to see more of the world around her. I will admit that some of the narrative may feel cliché at times, but the ending uniquely solidifies it as a film that’s not afraid to take that extra step and tell a story in whatever way it wants. Okiura could have gone for something generic but instead he aims ever so higher than that, and in effect you may shed a tear. I know this because I looked around the theater and some were teary-eyed. The emotional connection that you feel with Momo and her mother is unique and strong, and there’s no avoiding the acknowledgement of their bond.

A Letter to Momo has only currently played at a number of festivals throughout the world, and so it is currently fairly difficult to catch a screening of it. But next month on April 22nd the film will be opening to over 300 theaters in Japan and will likely receive some form of home release after that. It’s a wonder if any American distributors would attempt to pick it up for home release or possibly even a few screenings. If the word is strong enough then maybe a company like Sony will come along and add Momo to its small collection of anime releases. Whatever may happen, I hope you find a way to watch a film that was seven years in the making.

A Letter to Momo is a unique project that is ultimately helmed by Okiura. He devoted a chunk of his life to writing the screenplay, drawing storyboards, and directing a project that comes straight from his creative mind. The narrative he has crafted will teach you about your own life and you will think about the ones you love. Maybe this was Okiura’s goal all along, to have the audience think about their families and loved ones in their lives and to be reminded that, well, our loved ones can leave us unexpectedly.

-Jared Cyhowski

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Taichi Tuesdays: 3/20/12

Chihayafuru Ep. 24: Nobody Wishes to See the Beautiful Cherry Blossoms

Next week is the final episode of Chihayafuru and it seems we have some sort of ending locked in place. The group is now together and watching the national karuta finals for the Queen and Master positions. Shinobu is playing against Yumi for the title of Queen and the current Master is playing against someone else. We really haven’t received much attention to the current Master so it’s a bit awkward that Chihayafuru is making a big deal out of him. Nonetheless this is a great moment for the guys, and ladies, to study both matches and to learn from them.

The episode starts similarly to an episode that aired weeks and weeks ago. Do you remember when Taichi had Chihaya over and he wouldn’t let her in his room? Well this time Chihaya comes over but Taichi’s mom is also there, and boy is she ever intimidating for Chihaya!

To escape the awkward tension Taichi invites Chihaya up to his room, but this time it’s Chihaya who feels weird about it. On another note, what’s up with Taichi’s mother telling Taichi that karuta isn’t worth it? I know she wants him to be the best he can at so many different things but if he loves karuta, why not go for it? Actually that brings up the idea that Taichi may not exactly love karuta, as it’s his love for Chihaya that seems to have kept him going all this time. If it weren’t for her, Taichi likely wouldn’t have started playing again.

Tsutomu, Kanade, and Nishida arrive at Taichi’s house to watch the final matches, and we learn that Shinobu has… gained a lot of weight?! Apparently! It’s kind of ridiculous and I’m not sure why this even happens in the story, but Shinobu ate a ton of ice cream to win a special collectible and themed item: the snowman mascot that Chihaya knows about as well. All the ice cream made her fat and so she’s been struggling throughout the match. It’s a bit random but I can live with it.

We learn from Shinobu’s flashback that she got into karuta because her high-expectations Grandmother needed Shinobu to find something worth doing as a child. It’s a bit weird but it makes sense to a degree. And so Shinobu eventually put her talents into karuta and that’s where she is today. Finding strength from within, Shinobu eventually defeats Yumi. This match could have gone either way if you ask me, as we have seen the rise of both players in recent episodes. It’s just interesting that things could have turned out differently altogether. Chihaya could have defeated Yumi for a chance to play against Shinobu, and there was all that story built up around Shinobu and Chihaya being rivals. Whatever happened to that? It’s likely only explored in the manga’s storyline.

The episode finishes with the current Master Suo Hisashi starting his third match with his opponent, who is someone we have never seen before. Apparently Hisashi has the ability to move so fast and with such grace that he barely touches the cards in front of him. He’s been the Master of karuta for a few years now so it’s awesome to see him in a match. The only thing is, his match started at the end of the episode. I only hope that the next and final episode of Chihayafuru doesn’t take most of the episode to go through his match. We need a resolution to the story and we need to see what happens between Chihaya and Taichi. I know that Arata obviously has a lot to do with that relationship, but he’s barely a part of the story at the end that it barely even matters. There may not be any definitive relationship status created between any of the characters, but I would enjoy seeing some form of well-done conclusion nonetheless. Only next week will tell!

-Jared Cyhowski