Natsume Yujin-cho Season 1 Episode 1: What’s In a Name

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Japan’s legendary past (as seen in works such as the Kojiki and various folk tales) is depicted as fraught with youkai and kami, and encounters with them tend to occur around sacred places like shrines or nondescript locations; youkai can be quite mischievous, as tales recounting humans encountering kitsune attest to, but not all exhibited that trait, as part of the animism tradition in Japan attributed supernatural behaviors to all things. Even unassuming items such as umbrellas can achieve spirit status – there exists a category of “tool kami,” tsukumogami, describing objects that can become spirits after reaching their 100th birthday, and numerous works of art (ranging from woodblock prints to video games) depict said tsukumogami as either neutral beings or mischievous creatures, sometimes even antagonists. Anime depictions of youkai exhibit the same trends; one of the more famous examples is InuYasha, featuring the eponymous half-dog demon whose initial antagonism towards Kagome morphs into respect as the two protagonists embark on a quest to recover the shards of the Shikon jewel. Youkai and kami are represented throughout Japanese culture as complex beings whose relationship with humans are mixed – this leads into the show featured here, Natsume Yujin-cho, an anime that debuted in 2008. This anime’s depiction of youkai in relation to humans rests primarily (if not exclusively) on the central human figure, Natsume Takahashi, whose grandmother Reiko compiled a ledger full of the names of the various youkai she encountered in her life; Takahashi has the ability to see youkai, a rare power that few others possess, and his familial connection to Reiko naturally attracted a lot of attention from the youkai who simply want to recover their names from Reiko’s “book of friends” that she produced many years ago.

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One Piece Episode 1: Luffy’s Journey Begins

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One Piece happens to be one of the major franchises of the anime world – the manga began on July 22, 1997, among the pages of Weekly Shounen Jump, and it received an anime adaptation that first aired on October 20, 1999, and runs to this day. Saying it’s a popular series is an understatement, as it stands as a long-running production (going into its 19th year of continuous broadcast, with new episodes still being produced), and it makes sense to see where it all began so many years ago; I’m looking at the first episode here, to show how Luffy’s travails as a pirate started. What’s unusual about the first episode is that it doesn’t show its primary protagonist, Monkey D. Luffy, right away – instead, it focuses on the pirate captain Alvida and her crew attacking a cruise ship for its gold, while Nami (whose formal introduction comes later) simultaneously seeks to also abscond with the treasure inside. It takes several minutes before Luffy appears; this allows for some build-up, giving some context into the world of One Piece before introducing the main character. From the outset, the world is beset by a noticeable pirate presence – Alvida, the heavyset woman who commands her crew to attack the ship, happens to be the first pirate presented in the show, and it’s not flattering. Her underlings refer to her with the -sama honorific, a very formal one that the crew likely use out of fear of reprisal from Alvida, rather than respect. This indicates that Alvida has a very high opinion of herself, feeling she is beyond reproach and can get away with disrespecting others and lording herself over those in her employ.

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Haibane Renmei Episode 2: Exploring the World

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In the introductory episode of Haibane Renmei, Rakka entered the enigmatic world of Glie, specifically the house she will inhabit as a member of the Haibane; the entire episode consisted of her being “born,” emerging from her cocoon and developing her wings (a painful process in which the wings in question break through her skin). As one might imagine, this leaves a rather dramatic first impression on Rakka – she has no memories of her life prior to Glie, so she must begin anew among a new, angelic family of Haibane who accept her into the fold, since they likely went through the same experience when they arrived in the town. The cocoon where Rakka spent roughly the first third of the episode certainly represents rebirth, but where is she reborn into? As one might expect, episode one provides precious few details concerning where, exactly, Rakka appears; it is the first episode, after all, but we can gather from the surroundings that the building is fairly old, with dust accumulating everywhere, and empty rooms seemingly everywhere.

Episode two helps tremendously in giving some background – whereas the previous episode focused exclusively on Old Home (the erstwhile-abandoned building that now serves as as residence for the central cast), this outing opens up the world to show the setting in a wider context. But before that can happen though, Rakka finds herself adjusting to her new environment; she finds herself feeling sore because of the wings, and her nondescript dress feels somewhat out of place against the cleaner, more average design of Reki’s clothes. In fact, we first see Rakka putting on said dress; she’s newly born, so she has no other option aside from this one piece of clothing to wear. The rest of the cast had time enough to shop for necessities, but they see no fault in providing second-hand clothes for a Haibane who so recently joined their home – they’ve had to deal with purchasing clothes second-hand, as well, and they’re grateful for everything they have. This helps illustrate the point that Rakka is a newcomer – the rules and regulations of society are foreign to her, and thus she has to figure them out and come to terms with a new society that she doesn’t recognize. This aspect of the show identifies a key issue in the series – the nature of reality, and how one travels from one “world” to another. As Rakka originated elsewhere, we can understand her dream and cocoon as metaphors for her rebirth; life exists on a spiritual continuum, where the immutable spirit can reside in one realm, then transfer to another via death/detachment. We can therefore understand Glie as a sort of “other realm” wherein the spirit takes on a new identity – in the first episode, Rakka realizes she doesn’t remember her old name, so her identity here represents a new life, one unique to the world of Glie and indicative of the fact that people may change physically and spiritually when in different realms. That the Haibane appear angelic in form can be understood through that context – ABe may not have had too much in mind when he created the series (after all, the series is ambiguous, and one can draw different conclusions), but Haibane Renmei does reflect the spiritual in this regard. Glie could very well exit “outside” the world we recognize – it’s vaguely European in design, and the world beyond its walls is never defined.

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Galaxy Express 999 Episode 3: The Death of Claire, A Stop on Titan

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As the 99 traverses space, more and more of the universe becomes accessible to Tetsurō; as we can imagine, this experience is entirely new to him, who spent his formative years on a planet ravaged by social divides. As I mentioned in my commentary on the first episode, Tetsurō grew up on Earth, where his perception of robotics was heavily influenced by the major social-cultural divisions that emerged – the wealthy could easily afford cybernetic replacements for their bodies, while the poor languish in a social underworld far away from the cleanliness of the urban center, and Count Mecha exemplified the dangers inherent in interpreting oneself as “above” humanity. By now, Tetsurō and Maetal traveled quite a distance, but still remain in the solar system; Mars illustrated how people could maintain social expectations built on Earth, as the robot became a pervasive element of “improvement” throughout the system. As one might expect, Tetsurō remains driven to obtain a cyborg body – he made a promise to his mother to endure any hardship to get on the 999, and his experiences thus far helped him open his eyes to a broader perspective. After all, he starts to understand that other planets and moons have their own distinct cultures and outlooks on life, much like Earth does; Titan will enlighten him further, as we shall soon see.

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My Hero Academia Episode 1: Of Heroes and Academics

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“All men are not created equal.” Midoriya Izuku learns a pretty harsh lesson in the pervasive social hierarchy attendant to the flourishing of superheroics – namely, that the presence of Quirks (to him, at least) practically brought with it a new social status wherein people show fanatical devotion to those who utilize their newfound powers for good, and members of the younger generation work diligently to present themselves as worthy of taking up the mantle of superhero. My Hero Academia begins with a personal anecdote from Izuku’s perspective – he protects another boy from three others, led by the rather aggressive Bakugō Katsugi (who almost immediately shows the more pugilistic and judgmental side of a society now structured around superheroes). As one might imagine, the opening shots of Izuku being pummeled by Katsugi and his almost-sycophantic lackeys illustrate the low standing the Quirkless have in this new Japan; Izuku cannot physically protect himself from the trio’s attack, and the encounter leaves him with a pessimistic outlook on life. The two later meet in class, and this subsequent encounter further cements the social hierarchy that the seemingly sudden presence of the Quirks brought about; approximately 80% of people in the world have some sort of Quirk, leaving Izuku in the powerless 20% who can only watch as others go on to do amazing things. The image of Izuku watching the criminal Quirk-wielder on the elevated train tracks places the protagonist initially in the back of the gathered crowd; he finds himself among the rabble, who do not interfere when superheroes with unique powers track down and confront those who violate the law.

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WataMote Episode One: Tomoko the Outsider

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WataMote‘s first episode begins with the protagonist, Kuroki Tomoko, checking out a website delineating the “unpopular girl” in the comfort of her own home – the narrator even anounces that her story “really doesn’t matter,” something that may be peculiar upon first glimpse, but makes sense when viewed with the understanding that Tomoko represents the sort of social outsider most shows present as a minor character or a secondary protagonist. She has to resort to the Internet to gather information about what it means to be popular or unpopular, making her self-conscious; this immediately presents her as the sort of person who lives “outside” the conventionally-accepted boundaries of social interactions, and throughout the episode, she silently wonders about her own position in society. That the episode opens within Tomoko’s bedroom, with the only source of light being from her computer (the lights are off, and no sunlight streams in from any available window) at once places Tomoko within an interior space without any sense of a large national or local social framework – she’s alone, without any sort of social cues to help her understand the world around her, with only the computer and the ever-expansive Internet at her disposal.

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Flip Flappers Episode 1: Shelter from the Storm



From the outset, Flip Flappers is an extensively kinetic show – the first minute or so shows the boundlessly energetic Papika crashing through a tunnel with her robotic companion in tow. This contrasts wonderfully with the more sedate, anxious tone seen in the scenes with Cocona, who spends her time on a test rather than engaged in the art of play and freedom. This sort of contrast works beautifully for the show – Cocona feels uncertain about herself right now, as she dwells on the present, but Papika enjoys the moment, the thrill of adventure. It doesn’t become clear from the outset, but Cocona has reservations about her life – the episode opens with a close-up of a digital clock showing how much time she has to complete the test, and it has two stylized human heads facing each other, symbolizing both the fateful encounter she will have with Papika and her gradual awakening to a new world and new possibilities, where she is free to pursue the fantastic at her leisure without the worries of school life.

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