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Two Weeks in Japan: A Journey to the Other Side of the World

Whether it’s anime figures, secondhand video games, conveyor belt sushi, or rabid island deer, Japan has plenty to keep you occupied!

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My trip to Japan began in the early hours of August 2nd. Boarding the plane for our 17 hour flight to Tokyo, I already felt the first twinges of culture shock when I noticed how English was no longer the dominant language. But here I finally was, on a plane to a country I’d only dreamed about visiting. After watching a bizarre airplane safety video stylized as a modern dance piece, my group and I settled into the long ride for our two week vacation on the other side of the world.

Did you think I was kidding?

Stepping out onto Japanese soil, we were met with our vacation’s biggest enemy: the heat. We had arrived in the middle of an absolutely awful heatwave and would spend the next two weeks drenched in sweat. Our soft and supple west coast bodies weren’t prepared for the blinding suffocation of Japan’s tropical climate. But we were here and ready to make the most of it.

Welcome to Japan

Our first week was meant to frontload the most touristy aspects of our trip. Nothing embodied that more than our shinobi dinner at Ninja Akasaka, where we indulged in a ten-course meal full of tasty dishes, campy ninja theming, and a baffling magic show that still confuses us. We all agreed that while the meal was pretty good, it’s not something we’d ever pay for again, an opinion that was further solidified when we took our first step into a konbini later that evening.

Convenience stores (“konbini”) will often run cross-promotions with different entertainment franchises. Lawsons, one of the big three chains in Japan, has incorporated the main cast of Konosuba into much of their in-store display.

Japanese convenience stores live up to the hype; they’re on a completely different level from American 7-11s and QuikStops, both in terms of scale and quality. Convenience stores in metropolitan Japan really play up the “convenience” part of the name, with such locations appearing every other block. Near our Tokyo AirBnB, there was a FamilyMart, 7-11, and Lawson on the way to the train station, all within two minutes of each other. While we would of course have our fair share of cooked meals, nothing beat wandering into a FamilyMart at 12 AM and picking up some onigiri and beer for less than $5.

Our first full day in Tokyo we journeyed into the city proper to check out some of the different wards (what boroughs are to New York City). After having lunch at The Pokémon Cafe in Chuo, we headed on over to Shibuya to say hi to Hachiko and walk through the Scramble Crossing, then finished off the day strolling through Takeshita-dori in Harajuku. 

The Pokémon Cafe even featured a surprise appearance from Eevee!
At Kinokuniya (popular bookstore chain) in Shibuya, there was a pop-up gallery featuring merchandise and production work from The Rising of the Shield Hero.

One meal of particular note was our first dinner with conveyor belt sushi which, like most other Japanese cuisine, duly outclasses its American counterpart. While we would eventually visit more standard sushi belt joints where you picked plates off as the chefs prepared them, this one was quite a bit more modern. 

In front of every seat was a tablet, featuring dozens upon dozens of different plates categorized by price and type. All you had to do was select whatever dishes looked appealing, hit the order button, then your food would come out on a speedy little train and stop right in front of you. It was the future and we were all low-key losing our minds. 

Conveyor belt sushi stretched the limitations of how one would define “sushi”, but it was delicious all the same.

For my part, simply being in another country and taking it all in was more than enough entertainment for me. You start to pick up on small peculiarities in culture and behavior, like putting money in a tray when paying for things or the collective sense of organization. It’s these little day-to-day differences that really gave me a sense of perspective and made it abundantly clear that I was in Japan.

Then came Akihabara.

Akihabara, Anime, and All That Comes With It

Let me be fully candid in saying that I went to Japan for three specifics reasons: food, culture, and being a massive freaking weeb. The second I stepped out of the station into Akihabara, or more often referred to as Akiba, was like setting foot on another planet.

Be prepared to hear a lot of J-Pop getting blasted out of multiple different buildings.

I’m used to anime pop-culture in very specific contexts: bookstores, conventions, and awkward club meetings where you’re pretty sure half the members write Homestuck fanfiction. Akiba was the first time I’d ever seen anime media on full display in broad daylight like it was completely normal. Hearing Love Live! songs get blasted out of arcades on the main strip as I walked past trucks advertising waifu mobile games and cutesy maids trying to usher me into stores was a new experience, to say the least.

Sega arcades are honestly kind of underwhelming, as they largely consist of UFO catchers, rhythm games, and cabinets dedicated to mobile games. For more variety, check out Round 1.

There’s a certain degree of nonchalant acceptance in Japan that blurs the line between otaku culture and real life. It’s simply another piece of media that gets enjoyed by all walks of life. It wasn’t uncommon to see older folks or even families browsing the aisles of Animate, a popular store specializing in selling official merchandise for popular series. A store where right next to the popular manga selections was a full table display that featured softcore tentacle shenanigans.

In the streets of Akiba, you couldn’t pass by an arcade or figure shop without seeing some cute anime girl proudly posing in a swimsuit, showing off TnA, or looking longingly at the viewer. And of course, there were sectioned-off areas specifically catering to 18+ interests (sidenote: I’ve never seen so much loli in one place and I really wouldn’t care to repeat that experience). 

The fact that something like Magical Sempai, an anime that relies heavily on over-the-top fanservice, was being openly advertised spoke volumes about the culture of acceptance that Japan has towards sexuality in entertainment.

In due time, however, the overabundant fanservice faded into the background noise along with everything else. Once you get past the initial shock, you quickly realize that Akiba is just one giant mall. There are unique features, like hyper-specific electronics stalls, owl cafes, or vending machines selling porn, but it all boils down to being a place to spend money on your hobbies. 

Where Akiba excels, in particular, is the secondhand market. The stores there are in a constant state of flux, goods passing from one owner to the next. For a Nendoroid collector like myself, it’s fantastic. I managed to pick up six used nendos for under $120 (a steal, considering new ones typically go for ~$50 each). My friend, Grant, picked up a broken Famicom (that he later repaired) and two games for ~$15. If you’ve got a hobby in electronics or anime, then Akiba is the place to be.

While the secondhand market offers cheap finds, some figures can also get excessively expensive. It wasn’t unusual to find figures that went for upwards of $300.
On the top floor of Super Potato, a used video game store, there is a selection of vintage arcade cabinets, all carefully watched over by Snake.

The next couple of days were spent at DisneySea which, to be quite honest, was kind of underwhelming. If theme parks are your thing then you’ll probably get a kick out of it, otherwise… it’s just a theme park. Granted, a really cheap theme park (~$70 for one adult), but a theme park nonetheless. Being there felt no different from being in Anaheim, which is rather antithetical to taking a trip to a foreign country.

Coincidentally enough, something I enjoyed far more than a Disney park was our trip to the Ghibli Museum. Situated in Mitaka, a Tokyo suburb, the Ghibli Museum looks like something straight out of, well… a Ghibli movie. Its multi-colored clay exterior sports colorful shades of yellow, red, and blue with greenery sprawling across the expanse of the grounds. As you pass through the main entrance, a wide wooden floor opens up before you, leading you down a set of polished steps into a massive atrium of winding metal and stained glass. Within its halls lie myriad exhibits, displays, and countless pieces of work taken from Studio Ghibli’s long and storied production history

The exterior of the Ghibli Museum is criminally picturesque…
…as is the interior. It possesses the same timeless feel that the Ghibli movies do, offering you a sense of nostalgia for a time and place you’ve never been to.
Kiki and Jiji!

The museum is a bit annoying to get tickets for, but a visit here is a must for any and all fans of Ghibli movies.

After a week in and around Tokyo, we activated our JR Passes to travel the country. JR Passes are specifically made for foreign tourists and allow them to hop on and off of Japan’s Shinkansen lines (bullet trains) for a given period of time. We had ours active for one week, during which we visited Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima in a series of trips that covered several hundreds of miles. 

Let me take a moment to properly express how incredibly good Japan’s public transit systems are. America’s subway systems and railroads have absolutely nothing on these metros and rail lines. To get from Tokyo in the east to Hiroshima in the west, a journey spanning 420 miles, you take a Shinkansen that will get you there in roughly 4.5 hours. The equivalent train ride in America would take you nearly 15 hours. This is nothing to say of the city-based metro lines which run with an efficiency and cleanliness that makes the NYC Subway look like the public restroom it is.

Not even the Tokyo Metro is free from the waifus. The popular manga series Go-Toubun no Hanayome (The Quintessential Quintuplets) had an entire set of cars dedicated to advertising the five titular girls.

Furthermore, even Japan’s toilets have America beat. Let me tell you, the idea of water being sprayed at my rear was odd at first but it really just makes so much sense. What sounds more disgusting: washing out your hindquarters with clean water or smooshing and scrubbing with toilet paper alone? Yeah.

Public utilities aside, our travels throughout the rest of Japan were probably my favorite part of the trip. As much fun as the dense metropolitan life of Tokyo was, so many other cities offered a greater sense of openness and culture. Nowhere was this more evident than in Kyoto.

Leave Me in Kyoto

As Japan’s former capital, Kyoto is steeped in history. Shrines, temples, and palaces dot the cityscape, tucked away in a picturesque countryside of rolling green hills and quaint neighborhoods. Kyoto was easily my favorite destination and where I learned my most valuable lesson about traveling with a group: make time for yourself.

A shot of the Kyoto skyline, taken from partway up Mt. Inari.

First on the docket was visiting Fushimi Inari-taisha. A popular tourist site, Fushimi Inari-taisha is an ancient shrine dedicated to the fox kami, Inari. Situated at the base of Mt. Inari, its most distinctive feature is its long and winding path of orange-red torii gates and small shrines that lead up to the mountain’s summit. I managed to hike the entire way up, though I was quite literally drenched in sweat by the time I reached the top.

Fushimi Inari-taisha’s famous torii gate pathways. Get there early to avoid the hordes of tourists.

The second bout of solo traveling I had was entirely focused on Kyoto Animation. KyoAni, as many of you might be aware, was the victim of an arson attack back in July. Since then, the outpouring of love and support from fans the world over has been nothing short of astounding. I owed it to myself to visit the studio building and pay my respects. 

KyoAni’s Studio 1 is nestled in a quiet little neighborhood, so the blackened windows suddenly appearing between a row of houses caught me off guard. Despite the sweltering midday heat, there were still handfuls of visitors coming and going. A few policemen kept watch over the area, directing wellwishers and their gifts to the memorial around the corner. I was the only non-Japanese visitor to the site, but in the solemn silence I felt an innate connection with the people around me as they offered their prayers or looked on wistfully at the building. The contrast between the ruined remains of Studio 1 and its peaceful surroundings created a sobering air of melancholic nostalgia that I felt long after leaving.

KyoAni’s Studio 1 lies in the middle of a quiet suburban neighborhood. The scorched remains of the building have since been covered with barricades and tarps, but many visitors still make their way to the site.
Right outside of the studio are some bikes, a basketball hoop, and a small garden with a water pump. The burned-out studio stood in stark contrast to its calm, peaceful surroundings.

Later that day I had a wonderful little encounter visiting Masugata, the shopping arcade that Tamako Market is based on. The similarities between the real life location and its animated counterpart are striking. Years after the show’s debut, bits of KyoAni memorabilia are still proudly shown off here and there. One shop in particular, a fresh fish store at the end of Masugata, had books full of KyoAni staff photos and fan messages. In spite of my broken Japanese, the shopkeep happily invited me to look at his collection, take photos, and leave behind my own thoughts and feelings for the studio.

Shopping arcades like Masugata are extremely common in Kyoto.
The fish store shopkeep has a collection of journals dating back several years. All of them are filled with drawings and messages of love and appreciation for KyoAni.

Altogether my visit to Masugata didn’t last more than half an hour, but it still stuck with me because it showed how deeply KyoAni’s presence is felt at home. The affection the studio has for Kyoto clearly goes both ways. That love and appreciation was especially evident when I made my way further into Uji, the city south of Kyoto where KyoAni is based. 

Many anime fans often go on pilgrimages (“seichi junrei”) to visit locations that featured in their favorite shows. I experienced a bit of it earlier in the trip wandering around the streets of Akiba and remembering all of the famous Steins;Gate scenes, as well as walking through Shibuya Crossing and recalling the hours I’d spent in Persona 5. If you’ve watched Hibike! Euphonium you’ll immediately recognize many landmarks in the city of Uji, as the fictional Kitauji High School is set in and around the area. Although I ran into an hour or so of rain during my walk, I still managed to visit most of the important locations that KyoAni used in the show. 

The city of Uji even put together an official Hibike! Euphonium sightseeing map, so you could visit all of the locations featured on the show in real life.
This bench appears repeatedly throughout Hibike! Euphonium as a place where the characters can talk to each other, ponder a problem, or practice their music.
That same bench in real life.

What was fun to see was that in many of these areas, local shops were proudly displaying Hibike! Euphonium memorabilia, from posters to pilgrimage maps to hand-painted character cutouts. Much like Masugata and Tamako Market, Uji has a relationship with Hibike! Euphonium that can be acutely felt as you walk through its streets. Meandering around Kyoto and Uji explained so much about Kyoto Animation: the area is a series of relaxed, laidback neighborhoods and parks and just oozes pure, comfortable, KyoAni vibes. I ended my pilgrimage along the banks of the Uji River, taking in the serene atmosphere as friends, families, and couples enjoyed their day in the setting sun.

Reconvening with the rest of my group, we ditched metropolitan Kyoto and took a bus out into the densely forested hillsides to stay at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn). We stayed at Yumoto Onsen Oharasansou (highly recommend the place) and were treated to a wonderful hotpot dinner, soothing hot springs, and surprisingly comfy futons.

There’s really nothing quite like grabbing a vending machine beer, lighting up a cigarette, and basking in the calm twilight of the Kyoto countryside. All of the gushing over ryokans/onsens in Japanese media is well-earned; it’s an absolutely sublime experience.

Less than half an hour outside of Kyoto’s city center, our ryokan took a bus ride and a bit of a trek to get to.
The aforementioned wonderful hotpot dinner.

What I had learned in my time in Japan thus far was that three months of casual studying did little to actually prepare me for being fully immersed in the language. Meticulous grammar and obtuse vocabulary don’t matter much when most of your conversations devolve into gesturing and speaking like a toddler. 

Granted, what few phrases I did know managed to help me get by and survive being in a completely different country. Popular tourist spots thankfully have enough English for you to get around without being completely lost, but locals seemed to be appreciative of me making an effort. I felt better about myself after seeing other tourists defaulting to clipped English that clearly went over the heads of whoever they were speaking to. 

Moral of the story: at least try.

Hiroshima and Back Again

Continuing our journey outside of Tokyo, our next big stop was Hiroshima. It was a surreal experience pulling into the city and realizing that much of what I saw had been completely leveled nearly 80 years prior. Visiting the Peace Memorial Park and the A-Bomb Dome was not only somber reminders of the horrors of war, but also of the boundless hope and optimism of humanity moving forward.

Peace Park is a sprawling series of memorials, stone pathways, and patches of greenery that pay deference to the tragedy that struck Hiroshima in 1945.

Hiroshima is a lively city with plenty for food tourists like myself; its local delicacy the hearty dish “okonomiyaki,” for example. In fact, there’s a building called “Okonomimura”, which is categorized as an “okonomiyaki theme park”. Once you step inside you immediately understand why, as dozens of okonomiyaki stalls fill every floor. You really can’t go wrong by picking a random stall, getting in line, and waiting for a seat.

If you’ve ever been to a Benihana’s, then you’ll have a slight inkling of the way okonomiyaki works. It starts with egg mixtures being fried in front of you on a massive table-wide griddle, as more and more ingredients get added. After a mouthwatering culinary show, the entire dish is plopped down in front of you. With spatula and chopsticks in hand, you make your way through the smorgasbord of egg, meat, seafood, and veggies as you drizzle on a variety of different sauces to your heart’s content. One serving of okonomiyaki and a pint of beer will be more than enough to knock you out and put you in a state of bliss.

Okonomiyaki is an incredible dish with a surprising amount of variety. Tailor to your taste!

The day after, we headed to Miyajima, popularly known as “deer island” for its massive population of native deer. After the Japanese wolf went extinct in the early 20th century, much of its prey began to explode in numbers, deer especially. Once you step off the ferry from the mainland and head into the island you see firsthand what exactly that means. 

Miyajima is absolutely crawling with deer, and they’re all hungry little bastards that will come running at the first sound of crinkling plastic. I wish I’d had more time on the island, as there were some stunning temples and enticing mountain hiking trails, but I was happy enough to let the local deer fight for their right to eat out of my hands.

My buddy Michael tries to make friends with a local.

After Hiroshima, our last few days in Japan were more or less free time to bum around as we saw fit. For myself, this meant revisiting my favorite restaurants of the trip and trawling through shops for any last minute merch I wanted to pick up. Soon enough, our day of return rolled around and we made our way to the airport to bid farewell to Japan. Aside from a minor snafu where we ended up getting to the airport a day early, our trip back home was absolutely welcome after two weeks of a rather physically demanding vacation.

Experiencing another culture, getting out of my comfort zone, and going beyond the confines of my daily routine was invaluble. Like many other people, I’ve dreamed of going to Japan for the longest time. It’s no easy financial commitment, to be sure. Airfare and accommodations alone will put a hefty dent in your bank account, much less the cost of food, souvenirs, and miscellaneous expenses that inevitably rack up. However, if you’ve got the time and money to afford it, I can’t recommend a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun highly enough. There’s so much I saw and did over there that not even this nearly 3,000 word piece was enough to cover it. Japan is a country with so much to offer; you owe it to yourself to see what all the fuss is about.

Just uh… don’t go during the summer.

Kyle grew up with a controller in one hand and a book in the other. He would've put something else in a third hand, but science isn't quite there yet. In the meantime, he makes do with watching things like television, film, and anime. He can be found posting ramblings on liketherogue.tumblr.com or trying to hop on the social media bandwagon @LikeTheRogue

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Rogerio Andrade

    September 3, 2019 at 6:33 am

    Thanks so much for sharing with us your experiences in Japan.
    As a São Paulo native, a city known for its huge numbers of Japanese descendants, Japan is the place I aim to visit at least once in my life. While I´ve been saving money for a long time for that, I´m never sure if I´ll be able to accomplish it because costs are extremely expensive. A “budget” travel do Japan is equally a luxury travel to any Caribbean tropical paradise.
    So, at least, by reading detailed reports like yours, I can trace and recognize some parallels between the culture in Japan and the culture that Japanese immigrants brought and kept in the city where I live, helping me to better understand them and feeling more connected to the country and its people.

    • Kyle Rogacion

      September 6, 2019 at 3:29 pm

      Thank you for reading, Rogerio!

      Yeah, I’ve heard that Brazil and Japan have a rather long and interesting history with each other. The cost of travel is rather high, which is why I had to wait for several years before I had both the time and money to get there. I’d say that it was completely worth it, but you definitely have to manage your finances.

      It’s so cool that you’re able to draw parallels to your own life! I grew up on the West Coast of the US, which has a lot of Japanese immigrants. I’ve always been around Japanese people and their culture, but being immersed in it was a very unique experience.

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Anime

The Historical Comedic Mechanics that Make ‘KonoSuba’ a Great Fantasy Comedy

A deep dive into Japanese and Western comedic heritage and humor.

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The Konosuba: Legend of Crimson movie made its North American premiere on November 12th. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at why Konosuba is such a great comedy series on a character-writing level in the context of Japanese and Western comedic history.

Anime is a wondrous and varied medium, but the plague of generic European fantasy world “isekai” every season would make an onlooker think otherwise. Isekai stories revolve around characters entering another world from their own. Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Fionavar Tapestry could all be considered isekai. The glut of anime isekai in recent years—where protagonists invariably travel from the modern day to some Tolkienesque or Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fantasy world—has spawned its own permanent subgenre of self-aware parody and satires, of which Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This World is a part. Yet Konosuba is notable because it is also an exceptional anime comedy.

Dying from the stress of trying to save a schoolgirl he mistakenly thought needed rescuing, teenage hermit Kazuma Satou arrives in purgatory having done nothing with his life. The goddess Aqua gives him the choice to start life over in another world as long as he defeats the great evil sweeping the land. She offers him a gift to help him of which Kazuma chooses to take Aqua along.

Unfortunately for Kazuma, Aqua is both spoilt and a moron. He spends most of his time rescuing her from the mouths of giant, man-eating toads and other mishaps. His other companions aren’t useful either: the sorceress Megumin has specialized only in explosion magic, while Darkness is a highly skilled swordswoman but prefers to be hit by the enemy out of masochistic tendencies. They are a truly terrible company of heroes, and hilarious to watch.

To explain why Konosuba is brilliant beyond its amusing premise, passionate performances, or clever dialogue, however, we must ironically get serious about the mechanics of comedy.

Konosuba Aqua and frog

Comedic Conflicts

Comedy is extremely subjective. The cultural nuances, sensibilities, and idiomatic expressions mean that not all comedy is universal—“American joke” is a derisive term amongst Japanese people for a failed and incomprehensible joke, for example—but certainly some elements do translate enough to make some general commentary on it.

Comedy is born of conflict, flaws, and suffering. Prominent Western comedies such as Blackadder, Frasier, and Parks and Recreation all share a few things in common. Firstly, the opposing personalities produce a strong and constant source of fundamental interpersonal conflict between them that can be mined continuously. This is absolutely the case for Konosuba; Aqua’s gullible and stupid nature contrasts Kazuma’s tactical deviousness, and their dynamic produces scenes such as him using her as bait to lure in crocodiles while she wails. It is a rich well of comedy.

Secondly, a character’s personality flaws are what bring about their downfall in a scenario. All four of the main characters manage, in their own ways, to make any given problem worse, and they invariably descend into further debt.

Finally, the overall situation they are in is an obstacle to the fulfillment of their desires. Kazuma desires peace and to laze about at home, but he keeps being sent on kingdom-saving missions. Within those missions, his personality directs his actions and were Kazuma able to lounge about uninterrupted forever, there would be no series.

These three elements roughly make up the basis of all so-called “character-based humor”. The versatility that it provides can be traced back through Eurocentric Western comedy for centuries if not millennia. Plautus’ comedies performed between 205 and 184 B.C. frequently revolved around class obligations. All of Shakespeare’s and Molière’s comedies endure because they concern both character dilemmas forced upon them by society and pettier conflicts with and manipulations of one another (allowing for salient observations of humanity). Even early silent slapstick films of the 1920s and 30s physically built up characters and their dynamics in order to motivate the pratfalls and slip-ups.

Konosuba Kazuma is shocked.

Japanese comedy independently arrived at these principles of character-based humor as well, but has tended towards reducing these concepts down to smaller scales and acting within distinct roles in live performance. In this way, the flawed characters are more boxed in by the parameters set by their role. This is where anime comedies like Konosuba differ in their sensibilities, owing to the long history of Japanese comedy being performed in this way.

Manzai” might be the most enduring; it originated in the Kansai region during the Heian period (794 – 1185). The style features a double act with one person in the “boke” idiot role, while the intelligent “tsukkomi” comments and challenges them as a comedic “straight man”. Think Abbott and Costello. With the advent of television, the broader array of “owarai” (meaning “laugh”) comedy has given rise to “reaction” comedy, where, as the name suggests, the physical and verbal reaction to a situation is the focus and joke, frequently conveyed through exaggerated facial expressions and noises.

This is not to say that Konosuba, or any comedic anime, is a direct synthesis of traditional Japanese comedic art-forms, but that heritage has clearly filtered through to the sensibilities of anime comedies. The most common joke across anime is a sharp cutaway to the straight man protagonist’s exasperation and bewilderment at the bizarre actions of his compatriots. This copies manzai and “reaction” comedy. Konosuba is rife with these types of jokes and the limited and deformed animation by Studio Deen accentuates their impact. Konosuba’s real cleverness, however, is the way it uses role-based humor as part of its comedic repertoire and avoids the pitfalls often associated with it.

Comedy Roles in Anime

As said earlier, Japanese comedy heavily favors role-based characters as the source of character humor for many centuries. This is frequently evident in anime comedies and sometimes this works to hilarious results. D-Frag, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Nichijou, and Tanaka-kun is Always Listless have characters with very defined roles they occupy in jokes on the basis of their personalities (that long list is there as suggestions for viewing). What they can, therefore, do comedically is limited by the role they play, becoming a subset of specialized characters with flaws.

Where this practically differs from simply being a character with comedic flaws is the limits the role sets with the type of joke being able to be told with that character. While a purely “flaw-based” character means that the output and outcome of a conflict will be foreseeable for a particular character as a result of their flaws in a certain scenario, role-based humor additionally limits the possible input and stimulus for the joke in the first place. Practically, characters evolving from role-based humor will only be used for certain kinds of jokes and will only ever take certain kinds of actions. Their responses are not tailored to the situation. The situation has to be more tailored to them.

Nozakii-kun Seo inflicts pain on everyone around her.

In something like the anime series Grand Blue Dreaming and Kaguya-sama: Love is War, or say, the sitcom Friends, the audience knows how the characters will respond to and behave in a situation, but you could give them a simple dilemma and each would be able to carry on on the basis of their flaws and be funny.

A more role-based character would need a particular problem and sparring partner to find that same comedic value. For example, Seo from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun will always be completely oblivious and unintentionally confrontational in response to a situation, so she is only ever used for those sorts of jokes, like angering somebody with something she says, or placed in a situation to be boisterous with her opposite, the jittery Wakamatsu. There is absolutely crossover between these two forms of character creation, and a well-written “role-based” character is nearly indistinguishable from a “flaws-based character”, but they are still slightly different in execution.

Where a lot of anime comedy falls flat then, at least to foreign audiences, is that the characters are identified less by their personalities, but rather exclusively by the role they play. At its worst, they become one-note and one-joke characters, repeated over and over to diminishing returns, as there is a lack of tension because the scenarios always have the exact same result. Certainly, all characters in all comedy, or even all fiction, have roles in the stories and conflicts, but there is a difference between characters having personality traits and being defined by their archetypal role. When there is a problem with a role-based character, and the series hinges on them and role-based humor, there is little way of alleviating the problem without changing the character entirely.

Konosuba avoids this issue with character roles because all the characters’ personalities contrast the expected demeanors of the fantasy class roles they occupy. Aqua is an all-powerful god and yet she is a needy moron. Megumin is an “Arch Wizard” mage and should reasonably be proficient across various types of magic, but instead she is so hyper-specialized that she’s rendered nearly useless after a single, uncontrolled spell. Darkness is outwardly a refined and noble crusader as one would expect from a powerful knight, but her penchant for flagellation and depraved fantasies always threatens to expose itself.

Konosuba Aqua questions Kazuma's plans.

The juxtaposition of character role and flawed personality helps set the absurdist tone and is the foundation for reaction comedy when paired with the cynical and conniving comedic straight man in Kazuma. However, that gap between the ideal and reality also leads to personal amelioration for the characters. Darkness feels obligated to uphold her family’s honor and embracing her fetishes becomes a mode for self-acceptance. Megumin’s delight in explosions makes her a social pariah, and so it is a touching moment when Kazuma recognizes it as important self-expression, endearing him to her. In this way, Konosuba neatly eschews the problem of equating comedic role to personality, and that helps set it apart from many other anime comedies. It is a genuine character-based fantasy comedy.

On top of this, Konosuba can lampoon the trend of incorporating game elements into fantasy anime series, such as defined fighting class roles and skill trees, because it already is utilizing those same roles for its comedy. Thus it is able to hang its parodying of isekai and game tropes off this firm central character basis. The parody is not the source of the jokes, merely an added quality as a result of the sincere treatment of its characters, moving it from hollow parody to genuine satire.

Konosuba is a superlative comedy because it is a complementary blend of Japanese character-based humour and fantasy isekai, and is able to use video game structure towards fulfilling comedic intent. It can both adhere to and mock modern fantasy isekai adeptly because its comedic foundations are built on character conflicts.

Character conflicts are everything in comedy, and the extra layer of restrictions via character roles that have evolved in the course of Japanese comedic history can make the styles confusing or simply not funny to foreigners. Konosuba is exceptional and acclaimed as a comedy because it manages to integrate both character roles and character-based humor in a tautly written and witty package. The fact that it is a fantasy isekai is ultimately incidental to it being a great comedy, but Konosuba is a beacon for what more comedy and fantasy anime could aspire to.

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Anime Ichiban 21: Explosions are so Kakkoii!

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konosuba movie

The Konosuba movie delivers on almost all fronts while this anime season delivers more shows of varying quality.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions
10:03 – Konosuba movie impressions and revenue news
22:23 – DEEMO movie announcement
26:29 – A cruise for anime fans
30:22 – Clip Paint Studio manga software donated to Texan schools
34:05 – The decline of Japanese arcades
38:53 – Yuki Kaji monetizes his voice even more
42:17 – This week in stage play adaptations
49:47 – Tokyo anime studio exhibition
51:08 – SHITSUMON! The yabai, the ma ma, and the kakkoii of this season
1:20:38 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Papapa” by Shuka Saito (ORESUKI opening theme)
Outro –  “Chisana Boukensha” by Sora Amamiya, Rie Takahashi, and Ai Kayano (Konosuba first season ending theme)

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Anime

Anime’s Survival Genre: Creating a Killing Game

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Anime’s survival genre, which has lent itself to a spectrum of popular, critically acclaimed shows over the years, has a sub-genre that is more diverse and nuanced than it seems to the casual glance. The infamous “killing game” sub-genre has spawned many easily recognizable, seeming cult-classics. 

While the killing game genre is massive, and maybe even a bit oversaturated to date, the three anime adaptations covered in this article serve as proof that a seemingly rigid basis for a plot can take many concrete and thematic twists and turns.

There are many listicles online that can serve as great jumping-off points to find different entries to your liking—here, however, you’ll read a more in-depth analysis of three shows, each with their own cult following and notoriety.

These shows are: When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni), Danganronpa: The Animation, and Future Diary (Mirai Nikki).

For these shows, this article will ask the same three questions:

  1. What is the basic premise of the killing game?
  2. What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?
  3. How are the character deaths handled during the game?

In the interest of not spoiling the ending for these shows, this article will focus mostly on how each killing game is first introduced.

Answering these questions, with a laser focus on just three examples, will show just how nuanced the construction of a killing game anime can be. 

When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni)

When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni)

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

This anime serves as an adaptation for the Umineko: When They Cry visual novel series. Protagonist Battler Ushiromiya travels to his family’s estate on a private island, reuniting with his extended family after an absence of six years. As Battler reconnects with his cousins, his aunts and uncles discuss the finances (the potential inheritance) to be left behind by Battler’s grandfather, Kinzo Ushiromiya. Battler, his family members, and several of the estate’s staff, get stranded on the isolated island by a typhoon, and a chain of brutal murders begins, in accordance with a strange riddle, supposedly hinting at a way to find Kinzo’s secret stash of gold, and the headship of the family, simultaneously avoiding a gruesome death at the hands of Beatrice, the mysterious “golden witch.”

Thus, this particular killing game has dual incentives for survival and material wealth.

The killings follow a pre-determined schedule of sorts, the twelve “twilights,” described in the main riddle, which predict both the number of people who will die, and how.

However, they are intentionally cryptic, and do not specify who will die. This adds to an overall sense of the killing game being both a dreaded inevitability and an impossible mystery, leaving everyone subjected to it utterly defenseless.

Question 2:  How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

Characters’ deaths in this entry are by far the goriest and grotesque out of the three anime covered here. There’s a seeming fetishization of death, as the bodies are often horribly disfigured—to the point that, even seeing the censored versions can be hard to look at. However, this is not senseless gore—this apparent disrespect to the dignity of his murdered relatives and the estate’s longstanding employees enrages Battler, fueling him to declare all-out-war against Beatrice and the killing game itself.

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Battler is determined to use logic and reasoning to solve the various, seemingly “impossible” murders that occur around him, while refuting the idea that the deaths of his loved ones were caused by the “golden witch” Beatrice and, thus, magic. After the first series of deaths, the anime places Battler in a different dimension, able to converse with a woman who claims to be Beatrice. What follows is a test of Battler’s faith in logic and reasoning, in the face of the cruel and vindictive witch “Beatrice.” This tension amplifies as a sort of groundhog-day effect happens, wherein the scenario resets itself, with Battler forced to watch the murders begin anew, with new victims and circumstances, struggling to keep his head and solve the atrocities in a rational way.

Danganronpa: The Animation

Danganronpa: The Animation

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

This anime adaptation of the Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc video game, places Makoto Naegi and his fifteen classmates trapped in a sealed-off, underground version of Hope’s Peak Academy high school. With no memory of what happened to them and how they got there, they are pressured into playing a killing game, wherein the winner can both survive and escape back to the outside world. 

The killing game follows a specific pattern for each murder. Monokuma, the self-proclaimed principal (a talking teddy bear) states that participation in the killing game is the only way to escape to the outside. Each new murder begins with a body discovery, followed by a limited window of time to investigate the murder, and, finally, a class trial, wherein the students try to present evidence to vote for and convict the culprit.

The game itself is very controlled and regimented, with the only freedom presented is the freedom to kill in any way the culprit chooses.

The incentive, then, besides basic survival, is to escape to the outside world, albeit at the other classmates. Soon, however, a thematic duality between protagonist and the killing game’s mastermind occurs, similar to When the Seagulls Cry, as Makoto Naegi fights Monokuma’s attempts to spread despair to incite murder with a fervent belief in “hope” to both stop participation in the killing game and for everyone to escape.

Question 2: How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

This show revels in death, but not in gore so much as in spectacle. Similar to its source material, the anime builds tension leading up to each body discovery, and everybody discovery is surreal, near-unbelievable because each is bizarre in its own way. The bodies bleed pink blood, and each body discovery is shown with a shaking screen.

The number of bizarre details provided to each murder is crucial to the plot progression, as this lends itself to the “investigation” component, followed by the trial. Additionally, every time a culprit is found guilty of murder, they are given a tailor-made execution scene, complete with its own unique animation sequence—at the hands of a teddy bear. 

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Naegi remains staunchly against falling under Monokuma’s influence and engaging in the killing game. At first, he tries his best to deny that anyone would play into Monokuma’s game. However, once the murders begin, he develops a fervent belief in “hope,” which, as mentioned, runs in exact contrast to the theme of “despair” espoused by Monokuma (and, later, the true culprit). Naegi’s survival instinct becomes intertwined with his belief in his “hope.” As the story continues, Naegi and Monokuma dig themselves deeper into their dualing ideologies, and are alternatingly angered by, and dismissive of, the other’s ideals. 

The inclusion of the other classmates on equal footing means that, while some try to murder their peers, others begin to side with and aid Naegi, to end the game and regain their freedom.

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

Protagonist Yukiteru Amano, a shy fourteen-year-old student, is pulled out of his ordinary school life as a social recluse when he is thrown into a killing game by the god of causality Deus Ex Machina, wherein Yuki and eleven others are provided their own future diaries, which predict the future in a manner unique to their character, and are pressed to find and kill one another, with the last person remaining will become the next god in place of Deus.

This killing game has next to no rules—kill the other diary holders, and you win. The game, then, has the dual incentives of survival and becoming a god.

At the anime’s beginning, the other participants have seemingly been chosen at random to participate (with the commonality of living within Sakurami City). However, Yuki has previously conversed privately with Deus many times as his “imaginary friend,” and, in the anime, after Yuki muses about having no “dreams or goals,” and saying “all I have is this diary and this imaginary world,” Deus states he will start an “entertaining game,” telling Yuki “I shall bestow the future upon you.” Soon after the game begins and, while the other contestants are regularly summoned to speak with Deus as a group, their identities obscured, Deus clearly favors Yuki from the start, which ironically leads many contestants to try killing him first.

Question 2: How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

Interestingly, the first two diary-holder deaths are more strange that horrific—their diaries are destroyed, and their bodies morph and warp in a spiral into sheer nothingness. However, there are plenty of non-diary holder characters who die gruesomely, even at this early stage, and soon after the deaths of diary holders become gory in their own right. Much of this death and destruction comes from Yuno Gasai (another diary holder and infamous yandere), who seems unfazed by it, particularly as it involves protecting Yuki—however, as time goes on, Yuki bloodies his own hands, likely desensitized by the game.

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Prior to the game’s start, Yuki’s personal philosophy is being a mere “observer” of life around him. This is made impossible once the game begins. Throughout the game, Yuki struggles between his basic instinct for survival and a growing desire to cast aside his loneliness and build friendships with those around him. This theme is highlighted a number of times, when Yuno, determined to help Yuki survive, delivers heat-of-the-moment ultimatums urging Yuki to abandon potential allies and friends to save himself. This dynamic is ironic, as Deus originally positioned the start of the killing game as a chance for Yuki to break out of his socially isolated tendencies. However, Yuno is from the start is simultaneously reliable and unreliable. On the one hand, she seems an expert at survival and knows the rules of the killing game before Deus has even given his official explanation to Yuki (and the viewer). On the other hand, she is Yuki’s stalker, and her obsessive tendencies are emotionally unhealthy for Yuki.

In the end…

As this discussion hopefully shows, there are a number of ways to expound upon the specific anime sub-genre of killing games. Using the above examples illuminates how choices governing both the killing game’s rules and it’s protagonist’s identity and personal philosophy can take a viewer down vastly different, and shockingly entertaining narrative paths.

By Katharine Booth

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