How Trends Affect the Quality of Japanese Media

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Before starting, I’d like to take a moment to thank Irina from I-Drink-and-Watch-Anime for inspiring this piece. While her original article (perhaps sarcastically?) asked for someone to create a list of benefits for gatekeeping in anime, I couldn’t quite get past a couple adequate benefits, seeing as I don’t believe in it. Instead, it churned the mind to think about my own history with popularity in anime, which led me to my greatest enemy: trends.

Also, this will be my personal opinion. It is not gospel, though I’d be flattered if you believed so. Continue reading “How Trends Affect the Quality of Japanese Media”

Early Impressions: Kimetsu no Yaiba

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When I began The Visualist’s Veranda over six years(!) ago, I was very cynical. Longtime followers have heard this story before. I was an edgy dude with not a lot to my name, trying to burst through the scene as an arrogant know-it-all similarly to those who would write long-form epitaphs on the importance of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. As time crawled forward, I was smoothed by the inevitable teachings of reality and college, and my criticism for various art forms followed suit (right?). Watching Kimetsu no Yaiba brings me back to those days of when anime were never good enough for my standards, and while I don’t think I’m that kind of person anymore, the end of the third episode has left me feeling… nostalgic. Continue reading “Early Impressions: Kimetsu no Yaiba”

Let’s Accept Chaos with Aharen-san wa Hakarenai

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I’m reading a lot of ongoing manga. According to MyAnimeList, I’m reading ten ongoing manga, with three more that have completed, but are still being scanlated. Truth be told, while my anime-watching days are at a much more peaceful state compared to years past, manga has been something I’ve kept up on regularly. Some of these manga I enjoy so much that I feel the need to write on them while they’re still in production, like with when I wrote a piece on Komi-san. (Wow, has it really been over a year since I wrote that?!) Today’s topic is on a manga that, all things considered, might trump my adoration for the former. Continue reading “Let’s Accept Chaos with Aharen-san wa Hakarenai”

Thoughts on Sekine-kun no Koi (Spoilers)

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Sekine, according to most synopses for this manga, is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. This is not even close to the truth. He is an ace-of-all-trades. Every opportunity to embellish the fact that Sekine is an incredibly talented, yet flawed human being is taken all the way to the bank. He’s amazing at ping pong, amazing at knitting, amazing at his job, amazing at unintentionally luring women to his side, and amazing in his own density. What the synopsis may imply is that Sekine cannot find love due to his mid-tier ability at everything, while in reality, his ability to do everything without much practice is what allows the story to further develop his empty inner shell.

What may be obvious from other stories that have received a lot of praise from me, Sekine-kun does a good job of creating an atmosphere of self-conflict and relating to what drives that inner turmoil. It’d be easy to make this series just another romcom about a good-looking guy who’s perfect at everything meet a girl who’s resistant to his charms. Instead, Sekine-kun takes a somewhat rare approach to the perfect male lead. While in, say, a harem fantasy, a male lead who is essentially perfect uses that for the sake of being all and pure and loving towards everyone, Sekine is a much different case. Without sounding entirely biased, his character is fairly relatable on an emotional level, one who dislikes uncomfortable atmospheres and does the bidding of others on the basis of simply avoiding that tension. This “eagerness” to allow people to do what they want with him has given him a history of intertwining events that make up how little he feels for anything in general.

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If this seems a little too extravagant, look at it this way: Sekine has been sucked dry of any passion. His constant willingness to suit the mood has left his own self unwilling. Almost like Pavlov’s dog in the sense that he’s learned to lie down and wait for things to be over with whenever someone pushes him.

Sekine is the sole reason this manga differs from most others and he is essentially the only thing that makes this story interesting. His behavior and inability to break through his shallow self-loathing makes for a refreshing lead character, one who actually feels like a human being as opposed to a walking harem machine. Unfortunately, he is not a perfect lead by any stretch of the imagination.

While introspective, depressing, and justifiably lost, his inability to function like a normal person when confronting pressure is quite amazing. Many times throughout the manga, a lot of the common tropes that come with the struggling budding of a romantic relationship is taken advantage of by his stuttering mindset. His character is perfect for emotional filibusters. As time grew on and later chapters began becoming shorter and shorter, one can feel the effects of a slowly-staling character quirk come to pass. There’s only so much one can do to with such an oddball introvert, who secludes himself from the public and can count his friends on one hand, when it comes to pursuing romance. Criticize himself for past mistakes, bury himself in the only hobby he has, dream and fantasize about the woman he adores; none of this becomes as interesting when he’s spent the last twelve chapters or so doing it. And without any true supporting characters to take the weight off of his spotlight, his once-intriguing persona becomes as monotonous as this story’s ending.

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Note I said “true” supporting characters. Supporting characters definitely exist, and a lot of them receive some attention throughout. The only issue with this is that they’re all pieces of a much larger puzzle. Sekine is obviously a developed character. The female lead? Not quite on his level, but well enough to remain consistently likable. Anyone else is what makes the manga somewhat harder to defend upon further reflection. Sekine has a friend from work and his wife, whom he never even realized he had feelings for (Okay…). There’s another character who’s introduced to serve as a sort of rival lover for Sekine, but is only a scapegoat as his intentions were only vaguely pointed in that direction. Even he doesn’t seem to serve any real point in the end, despite some segments dedicated to his fascination with a kinda-sorta-but-not-really family member. Then there’s the female lead’s grandfather, who acts as the catalyst for Sekine’s eventual pursuit of his granddaughter and in confronting his own feelings of contempt. One would think that would mean he would play a role in unlocking Sekine’s future happiness… but disappears off-and-on for a good portion of the story and serves little real impact.

What may be the biggest punch to the gut is the aspect of romance. Almost on the level of my thoughts on the main couple of Yuri!!! On Ice, Sekine and Sara, the female lead, don’t really feel like a couple. Sekine obviously loves her, as his devotion to her is borderline stalker-levels. It’s Sara that becomes so perplexing as the chapters roll by. She never really has a reason to develop feelings for Sekine, aside from obvious comments about how good-looking and gentlemanly he is. I always pictured her looking at Sekine like a pet project, and as heartless as that sounds, he’s proven how broken he really is. Perhaps it was due to that desire to help him that she began to feel closer to him in the long run, as it’s even stated in dialogue from others that Sekine triggers women’s “maternal instincts.” Still, I can’t help but question whether Sara truly had a reason to look at him as a life partner or if the story bribed her with some teddy bears to go along with it.

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While I have no stake in the matter as a heterosexual, what exactly makes Sekine so attractive? His appearance isn’t too bishie-fied and while he’s tall, slender, and has sharp eyes, he simply looks plain to me. The art style of Sekine-kun did little to showcase what exactly made him so physically attractive. What is noteworthy is how Shoujo-ish Sara looks, along with most other female characters. Big, perfectly-symmetrical eyes and chubby cheeks. It makes me wonder if the mangaka is accustomed to writing Shoujo (or even BL) manga. I liked the random little symbolic showing of inner feelings and the like, but there were far too few! A constant showing of threads and unwinding is the only thing that always sticks out, and by the time it actually makes sense, it feels overdone. A dream sequence could’ve been really neat. No overall complaints, though I wish the mangaka incorporated more elaborate psychological imagery.

I blazed through this manga due to Sekine and his gloomy nature. By series’s end, it almost seemed like a facade, due in part by how standard the resolution to it all ensued. Sekine-kun is both cliché and non-cliché, it only depends on what aspect of the manga one holds with more importance. Characters feel real and interesting (notably the leads), though the story could’ve been handled with a little more creative finesse (and provided more of an impactful ending). In the first ten chapters, I was ready to give the series a gold star and recommend it to everyone. Now, it feels almost wasted in its own darkened drivel.

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.