Hibari-sensei’s best of 2015

Ah, gomen nasai.  This post is way overdue, but it’s here now.  I’ve been growing increasingly out of touch with Japanese media.  However, the good news is that 2015 gave more cross-cultural opportunities.  Western rock bands collaborated with idol groups; VAMPS toured U.S.  Katana appeared on TV and will be hitting theatres, giving two Japanese actresses a kickass role.  Our beloved George Takei made his Broadway debut with Allegiance (although sadly, the musical’s run is not very long).

What about Japan?  The trend of music-related anime continued.  Metal could be heard in other genres, and it seemed like feminism was taking off, albeit in an artificial manner.  Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see idol groups that aren’t just full of well-behaved, skinny girls and to have media tackle issues like body shaming and sexual harassment.

As we do every year, JRock247 and NekoPOP writers shared their favorite album covers of 2015.  Click on the links to see what my picks were.  Now onto more bests…

Single – “Rebellion” by DIAWOLF
This new project by Shou and Tora of A9 was a little reminiscent of the band’s old days with “Rebellion”‘s heavy riffs and growling vocals, but the electronic elements showed a different side.  The song’s energy made me excited for more from this duo.

MV – “Yume no Ukiyo ni Saitemina” by Momoiro Clover Z vs. KISS

This was an odd pairing, but the trippy anime style was a good middle ground for these two groups to meet.  It was very amusing to watch the cute Momoiro Clover Z duke it out with rock legends.

Album – Yasou Emaki by Wagakki Band
The question with Wagakki Band was how they would fare with original songs, and this album was an excellent answer.  They already mastered the blend of rock with traditional Japanese instruments, but this time they slowed down to really highlight their musical prowess.

 photo 2015FestivalBigPic_Babymetal_Live_LeedsFestival2015_6__AH170915_zpspad479en.jpg
By Andy Hughes. From NME
BABYMETAL continued to gain momentum in 2015, touring the world and collaborating with members of Dragonforce.  They won several awards, ranging from Vogue Japan‘s Women of the Year to Kerrang!‘s Spirit of Independence Award, and even got their own Funko POP! figures.  Their “kawaii metal” style has inspired new 2015 acts like Ladybaby and BiSH.

Live-action Character – Ren Shimosawa (Heroes Reborn)
After annoying Miko and the audience in the first episode, Ren Shimosawa (played by Toru Uchikado) grew to be charming in his willingness to help others.  His gamer lifestyle was his greatest strength, a refreshing change in a genre where martial arts experts and super-powered individuals are usually the ones winning the fights.

Actor – Rila Fukushima
 photo Volantis-Red_Priestess_zps7hvr4e7v.jpg
From Games of Thrones Wiki
In 2015, Rila Fukushima took roles that counted.  She wrapped up Katana’s heart-breaking storyline on Arrow and then moved onto another hit U.S. TV show, Game of Thrones.  Japan got to see her in Gonin Saga.  Trying to conquer both sides of the ocean isn’t easy, but Fukushima seemed on her way.

Drama –Mondai no Aru Restaurant
A drama that was pitched almost comedically as a battle of the sexes turned out to be a very eye-opening series about the rampant misogyny in Japanese society.  Some of the scenes were gut-wrenchingly difficult, but those moments when paired with the optimism and fortitude that this team of women display made this drama one of the best.

Film – Princess Jellyfish
Technically Princess Jellyfish came out in 2014, but I’m counting it as part of 2015 since the date was December 27.  The film captured the hilarity of the manga/anime’s protagonists without distracting from the story.  Plus it had some honest moments that championed non-conformity and finding confidence.

Anime Character – Saitama (One Punch Man)
 photo woo-chul-lee-_zpsl808x3cj.jpg
“Disaster Level ‘SAITAMA'” by Woo Chul Lee
Saitama was the hero we didn’t know we needed.  He was an ordinary guy who trained hard to become a fighter so strong that he is now steeped in ennui.  If the premise wasn’t ridiculous enough, his awkward appearance shattered all stereotypes and preconceived notions of what an anime hero should be.

Anime – Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
A lot of people had been clamoring for a magical boy series, and did this show deliver.  It stayed true to the genre while parodying it, and it had the most menacing-sounding yet cute villain ever.

Series to Cosplay – League of Legends
From Anime Matsuri 2015
I didn’t always recognize the characters, but League of Legends cosplayers had some of the most well-done outfits in 2015. I’ve actually learned more about the game just from seeing the cosplays.

Listening to: “Akatsuki no Ito” by Wagakki Band


IS ~Otoko Demo Onna Demo Nai Sei~ review on Drama-MAX

Last year, awareness about intersex lives started to spread after MTV’s Faking It introduced an intersex character.  While the show was praised for being innovative, Japan actually beat us to the punch with the 2011 drama, IS ~Otoko Demo Onna Demo Nai Sei~ .  I finally got a chance to revisit the series and write a review for Drama-MAX.


Unfortunately, the main cast does not feature openly intersex actors. However, its leads approach their roles with sensitivity. Gouriki steps up to the challenge of portraying a teenager full of pain and secrets while Fukuda captures the discomfort of masquerading as another gender.

Click here to read the review.


Hibari-sensei’s best of 2014

My friend Risa shared this graphic on Facebook, and I thought it summed up the year pretty well.
 photo 2014recap1_zpseca70725.jpg
Joking aside, 2014 has offered a lot of queer representationand not just with boys.  When Marnie Was There and Sailor Moon Crystal both offered female queerplatonic (possibly veering into romantic).   The latest Sailor Moon musical brought that into live-action, and J-rock ADAMS returned with more homoeroticism.  Although Japan has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQIA rights and visibility and the yaoi genre contains a lot of problematic elements, 2014 seemed to be a year of oncoming change, especially when it ended with the news of Shikoin Temple offering gay weddings.

Of course, one theme cannot encompass at the past year’s greatest hits in entertainment so read on for my picks.  Also, don’t forget to check out JRock247‘s and NekoPOP‘s top album covers of 2014.

Single – “FxxK Boyz Get Money” by FEMM
With an in-your-face title like that, how can you not give this song a listen?  It evokes memories of early Lady Gaga and Ke$ha and is the perfect anthem for a party’s girl night out.

MV – “White Caress” by ADAMS

A lot can be said about ADAMS’ use of homosexuality as their central theme (I could probably write an entire essay on it), but it cannot be denied that they make a great team with director Ryota Sakai.  “White Caress” is a perfect example of the raw emotion and beautiful symbolism that makes their videos so hard to tear your eyes away from.

Album – Roclassick2 by BIGMAMA
Hard rock-classical music mash-ups are not a new thing, but rather than insert a classical sampling into an original song, BIGMAMA has done the opposite and created a fresh new take on old favorites.  You’ll never think of “Swan Lake” and “Pomp and Circumstance” the same ever again.

Artist – Wagakki Band
 photo 2014recap2_zps7979ae50.jpg From Rocket News 24
Although they debuted the previous year, Wagakki Band started to really attract attention in 2014.  They truly blend the past, present, and future with their rock-meets-traditional Japanese instruments covers of Vocaloid songs.

Live-action Character – Lynn (Black Butler)
The live-action equivalent of Mey-Rin turned out to be the epitome of moe.  Her clumsiness is more endearing, and she has one of the coolest fight scenes.

Actor – Fuka Koshiba
Fuka Koshiba is a fairly new face, but she’s making a name for herself.  First, she excelled in Kiki’s Delivery Service, carrying the whole movie on her shoulders as the eponymous protagonist.  Then her heart-breaking portrayal of a bullied student in the second season of GTO made her one of the most memorable cast members.

Drama – Boku no Ita Jikan
This show was raising awareness on ALS before the ice bucket challenge.  Not only that, it depicts a common struggle of today’s college grads: the often frustrating search for a job.  Haruma Miura deserves lots of recognition for his portrayal of a young man who discovers that he has ALS, and seeing him share the screen again with Mikako Tabe in a more mature role was really sweet.

Film – Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
 photo 2014recap3_zpsa6281074.jpg
I haven’t seen The Legend Ends (which was released late 2014) so I can’t comment on that.  While this one leaves the audience hanging at the end, it is still one of the most stunning anime adaptations that does not shy away from the gritty realism of war.

Anime Character – Shogo Senga (Love Stage!!)
How can you not love the idea of Daigo voicing a caricature of himself, created by his sister no less?  Shogo is also the only character who had enough sense to do something about his brother’s rape. While the seriousness is downplayed as part of his outrageous devotion, he is a rare voice of opposition that yaoi needs more of.

Anime – Sailor Moon Crystal
Even with the weird animation (particularly in the transformation sequences), this series deserves accolades for promoting female strength and friendship.  It’s inspiring a new generation of girls to overcome their insecurities and provides a breath of fresh air from all the reverse harems and all-male series.

Series to Cosplay – Attack on Titan
This anime made Kareshi, who doesn’t normally cosplay outside of my dragging him into couples costumes, actually work on a costume on his own.  The design is iconic and so cool that even my friends who don’t watch anime love it so this trend is going to continue past 2014.
DSC_2093 Overbeck as Dot Pixis

Listening to: “Swan Song” by BIGMAMA

xxxHOLiC review at Drama-MAX

This review explains, in more detail, why I chose xxxHOLiC as the Best Drama of 2013.

2013recap2 photo 2013recap2_zps344756b3.jpg

The live-action adaptation of CLAMP’s hit manga, xxxHOLiC (pronounced “holic”), is part gothic thriller and part fairy tale, wrapped up in a coming-of-age story. High schooler Kimihiro Watanuki (Shota Shometani) would rather be haunted by romantic feelings for his crush instead of ghosts so he makes a deal with the mysterious Yuko Ichihara (Anne Watanabe). As a result, he and his friends get pulled into her supernatural world of Faustian pacts and sinister secrets.

Gone are the cute creatures and comically exaggerated personalities from the manga and anime. The playful antagonism with Watanuki and Yuko is still present, but the characters are more somber…

Click here to read the rest.

Listening to: “sirius” by Eir Aoi

CLAMP Drama xxxHOLiC / Japanese TV Series
Japanese TV Series

Hibari-sensei’s best of 2013

Since I don’t delve as deeply into Japanese media as I have in the past, I’ve combined my year-end recap into one post, hitting upon the big points.  The theme this year seemed to be “girl power” with unconventional girl groups,  exist†trace coming to town, and well-written female leads.  Of course the guys still get their nod, but for once there’s an anime series devoted to showcasing fanservice for straight women.  Before we get started with my list, have you seen my picks for Best J-Rock and J-pop Album Covers on JRock247 and NekoPOP?

Single – “Girl Digger” by FAKY
On top of being a clever turnabout on a sexist term, “Girl Digger” features a much-needed amount of attitude from a girl group and powerhouse vocals.  The song is catchy and a fantastic girl power anthem.

PV – “The Assassin’s Assassin” by Shiina Ringo x SOIL & “PIMP” Sessions

Yuichi Kodama has managed to create a film noir that’s under three minutes long.  There’s costume eye candy and lot of action with a parting shot that is sure to haunt you for the rest of the day.

Album – Ciao, Fake Kings by WHITE ASH
It’s easy to write off this album as typical alternative rock, but the versatility and polished sound is definitely worth noting.  Plus there’s no denying the overseas potential with the bilingual tracks.

Artist – BiS
2013recap1 photo 2013recap1_zpsb6229d18-1.jpg Photo from FAN48
In the past couple of years, Brand-new Idol Society has challenged the aesthetic of idol groups.  With new members, they’ve continued to shock and rebel with outfits that would make Lady Gaga jealous and videos that are absurdist commentary on beauty and J-pop.  They’ve even teamed up with noise rock group Hijokaidan.

Live-action Character – Mako Mori (Pacific Rim)
Despite the large number of Japanese actors starring in overseas productions this year, many played second fiddle.  Not Mako Mori.  She was the true star of Pacific Rim, a character who is strong yet still maintained Asian values of respect and filial piety,  and the new face of feminism in film.

Actor – Yuga Yamato
Casting a former Takarazuka otokoyaku was the best thing Pretty Guardian Sailor MoonLa Reconquista could have done.  Tani’s training has allowed her to capture the nuances of Mamoru, Tuxedo Mask, and Prince Endymion while melting every single lady’s heart.  In addition to the musical, she’s made her TV debut as a female vampire in the drama Higanjima.

Drama – xxxHOLiC
2013recap2 photo 2013recap2_zps344756b3.jpg  Photo from xxxHOLiC Wiki
Darker than the original manga and anime, this drama eliminates all the kawaii fluff to provide an allegory to real-world struggles, particularly those of adolescence.  Every episode ends with a moral without coming across as preachy, and Anne Watanabe is perfectly enigmatic as Yuko.

Film – Strawberry Night
This movie cleverly reverses the gender of archetypal noir characters.  Reiko Himekawa is both fearless and fallible, and her crusade for truth and justice is a rollercoaster ride fulls of unexpected turns.

Anime Character – Levi (Attack on Titan)
While he’s an utter badass and the embodiment of stoicism, “humanity’s greatest soldier” is a neat freak who looks like grumpy cat most of the time.  It’s these little quirks that make Levi endearing. Plus he seems to have a sadistic streak that’s fun to think about.

Anime – Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club
 photo 2013recap3_zpse7dacf79.jpg Photo from Crunchyroll
It was a tough battle between Attack on Titan and Free!, but the swimming anime won out for defying expectations.  Past the eye candy and bromantic (romantic?) moments, there was complexity in the characters and story.  Tidbits like Makoto’s goldfish sucker punch you in gut with all the feels.

Series to Cosplay – Sailor Scouts
This is technically not a series because I don’t mean Sailor Moon.  While there were plenty of the original Scouts, there’s been a ton of other characters, particularly those from Western comics and animation, reimagined in the easily-recognizable and nostalgic serafuku.

Listening to: “NEXT STAGE” by Gacharic Spin