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Posts Tagged ‘coming of age’

Houseki No Kuni is one of those shows with a fantastic premise, but which takes forever to unwind while only one character in the cast ever undergoes any character development. Each episode is semi-autonomous in that few characters return from episode to episode, so even at the end of twelve episodes, you know very little of the characters. I’ve never seen something quite as frustrating. It begins with heaps of promise and it ends with heaps of promise, but no delivery.

It’s so static that it’s bewildering. Large spans of time are covered and yet the obvious questions that the audience has are never asked by the characters. Ideas are introduced in an episode which are never explored. Plot threads never connect.

Here’s an example — Rutile, the doctor, has been working to restore a character to life. She has been working on this for 321 years. This fact is only mentioned in episode 11. So for 10 episodes, you have one impression of Rutile, then you have a completely different impression after this episode, again, not because something happens to her, but rather an important fact about her was hidden until nearly the end of the season.

If this was based on a manga, did they leave so much out to focus on the simple plot? Was there just not enough there? If this is an original effort, there’s so many things wrong that I can’t imagine how it go through editing. Sentai Filmworks aren’t newbies either, so what happened guys? This is a fail on four cylinders.

Why did I watch it this long? The old familiar reason — I kept hoping it would turn the corner. It wasn’t trashy. Great premise. It just went nowhere, and really, although episode 12 is no ending, I don’t care what happens next because ep 12 was such a ridiculous and unnecessary cliffhanger. The soup is too thin, guys; you’ve stretched it and my patience, long enough. So even if you’re enchanted by the premise, there’s nothing for you there after twelve episodes.

Welcome to the graveyard, Houseki no Kuni.

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The Place Promised in Our Early Days: Beyond the Clouds (for this review, Beyond…) is a 90-minute animated movie by ComixWave. It takes place in the near future and is told in a bittersweet coming-of-age retrospective narration. It’s a soft SF setup that involves parallel worlds. All of these things appeal to me, which is why when they don’t work, I feel more let down than most, and Beyond… lets you down.

The overall problem with Beyond… is the usual lack of focus and editing that plague anime` movies; there’s simply not enough done to make it shine, and so it ends up as this less-than-stellar, but not altogether bad concoction. The material is often slice-of-life (which isn’t bad by itself), but it doesn’t crystallize moments and then use them to connect to the plot trajectory. Too many things are unexplained. [Warning: spoilers ahead!]

Take the loose connection between Sayuri and the parallel worlds, for starters. Then, why is it a problem if a parallel world overwrites a certain square mileage? How did they figure out that the tower was actually a weapon? What is the NSA doing in Japan (probably the most annoying stretch of all)? While I can understand that Takuya and Hiyakuri like Sayuri, that is always more suggested than shown. Yes, she’s supposed to be this soul out of time, but the movie doesn’t really make the case for it, or it’s just too subtle for non-Japanese people to get. Yes, there’s SOME work there by referencing the poet Miyazawa Kenji, but really, a movie needs to SHOW more. Why Hiyakuri falls for Sayuri isn’t really shown or explained, and the whole time you wonder why Takuya let her go; that’s not explained either. The movie concludes convincingly ending on a bittersweet note though, so points for that, but the plot, pacing, and editing are serious minuses.

The animation style is not photorealist, but a softer detailed style when it comes to scenery, vehicles, landscapes, and so on. The characters share the same color palette, and aren’t given the same level of detail, but it works and isn’t jarring. There are quite a few beautiful scenes of stilled time, and you almost get the experience of having been there, smelling the wind, and feeling the hot pavement beneath your feet. Very well done. The music is minimal except for the main theme, which is emotive but never really expanded; the closing song is haunting and the quality of the singer’s voice is excellent.

Emotionally, the movie collapses under the weight of its own sentiment. Even the retrospective narrated style doesn’t save it (and it actually has problems because the whole story isn’t told through Hiyakuri’s eyes, so why is he narrating something he couldn’t have experienced?). It’s often lovelorn for no purpose and descends into irritating mawkish sentimentality. Editing and a few different scenes would have saved it, and brought the other themes into greater relief.

Speaking of themes, the growing up theme works, the love theme frays (due to the parallel worlds and the hospital angles). War is mentioned just as something that people want to start for no real reason, and its cost is shown a few times, demonstrating a typical pacifist non-understanding of war. Positive and critical references to prayer and a single God appear, but these are strictly to gain human love. I don’t recall any profanities. Some arguably sensual shots occur here and there, but nothing overt. On the whole, nothing bad, but nothing monumental either.

Thora does a great job on the subbing. The font is easy to read, and even the song at the end is done (kudos!). They even did many of the signs so you can see what the narrator sees. The translation appears accurate, but I didn’t focus on that. I only watched it once and I might watch it again someday, but probably not — I just don’t have the interest to sit through the whole thing again.

Hunt your favorite torrent holes if you want it. I suspect it is actually available to buy, but not subbed or dubbed.

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Every so often a series comes along that is a haven, a resting place, a place of nourishing and respite where you catch a glimmer of something longlasting. Such a series stands out from the crowd the way that a single ray of light slices through an entire overcast sky. Chuunibyou Demo Kai ga Shitai is a series like that; it is heartwarming, innocent, hilarious, fragile, beautiful, real, and far, far, too short. I’ve put off writing about it because summarizing it meant an end to the dream.

Chuunibyou is the story of Rikka, who has a serious case of 8th-grade syndrome. What is that? Eighth-grade syndrome is the (over-)dramatic expression of living as your own self-created super-hero, at least that’s what it means initially. The problem is that she is an admirer of her next-door neighbor, who is one year older. He too was once in the grip of eighth-grade syndrome, but has abandoned it (mostly) now that he is in high school. Rikka has not.

The main characters are:

  • Rikka Takanashi (Wielder of the Tyrant’s Eye)
  • Tooka Takanashi (The Priestess) — Rikka’s older sister
  • Yuuta Togashi (Dark Flame Master)
  • Sanae Dekomori (Mjollnir Hammer) — Rikka’s faithful servant
  • Shinka Nibutani (Mori Summer) — Sanae’s foe
  • Kumin Tsuyuri — the nap girl
  • Isshiki — Yuuta’s friend, hopelessly in love with Kumin

The story charts, with tender detail and depth, the relationships between each of these characters as they get to know one another, and as the winds of romance whirl through their lives. There is character development in spades, and the plot flows from that, as they struggle to keep their club in good standing, and as the school year begins and ends.

I haven’t included a guide because each and every episode is worth watching, with the last four or so the best of all. However, if you want a feel for the show, check out the Chuunibyou Demo Kai ga Shitai Lite mini-episodes. If you can’t find them, then I’ve hosted episode #3 here.

There are rare bits of uncool material, and by rare, I mean a few seconds worth once in a while. For instance, two moments during the beginning and ending themes; profanity crops up now and again, but nothing blasphemous. There’s one non-serious reference to a black mass. Some risque material crops up with the same frequency, but it’s openly derided; no pervy camera angles in the series itself.


Rikka






Sanae (Dekomori)





Highly recommended by OO.

Visit the following fansub groups or the torrent hole of your choice:

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This show has all the ingredients to be something remembered for generations, but it doesn’t know what to do with them. It doesn’t resort to perv material to make up for it, and so it doesn’t fail spectacularly either. It just bubbles along, slowly, like someone dancing in place. The music is almost better than the series, in a way; the music is memorable — both themes — and even the music used in the show itself, while the show just doesn’t have the character development, and the growth that makes a series worthwhile. With that said, the best episode of the series is the last. It has character development, timelessness, and the painful, yet necessary maturation of growing up. The next-best episode is the first. The rest range from good to somewhat questionable (some risque insinuations show up from time to time), but the whole innocent sheen remains intact.


Rin, Natsume, Yuka, and Saki

Natsuro Kiseki tells the story of four jr. high girls — Rin, Yuka, Natsume, and Saki — in their last summer together, as Saki is moving to a new school on a remote island. They have many memorable experiences along the way, beginning with flying about 100 feet in the air in the first episode. This is a wish granted to them by the rock-sama at Rin’s shrine. (Yeah, rock-sama. Whatever.)

The tone has sensitivity and honesty high on the charts. The dialog is realistic, too, and the characters are sharply defined. At the best, it’s simply delicious, wistful, and yet, sadly inexorable. At worst, it’s just there, like images moving on a screen.

This wasn’t a bad series, but I wasn’t emotionally moved enough by it to bother listing out short descriptions of each episode. They were all stand-alone episodes anyways except for 1,11, and 12 — and that’s sad. Natsuro Kiseki, like a lot of people, and a lot of days in our lives, self-immolates in unused potential.

Fansubbed by Rori and by Tasty-Anmitsu.

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The Borrower Arrietty is a poignant, bittersweet tale from Studio Ghibli. Released in 2010, and apparently not available in North America (why?), REVO subs has picked up the slack by making it available to us with a 1.4 Gb download. Is it worth it? I’d say yes, but the film is not perfect.

To be sure, the animation is flawless. Studio Ghibli has only improved on their already excellent credentials, and if you’re someone who watches films only for the animation quality, this is your dream come true. There are moments where I’m holding my breath because the visuals are that good. Quality and dedication to detail simply burst from the screen; care of craft is evident in spades. However, there is more to any film than how it looks.


Arrietty

The Borrower Arrietty improves upon SG’s inattention to music. The songs here are memorable, evocative, timeless, and replete with wistful innocence. The audio quality is not compromised, and the songs fit into the film’s action, supporting it and uplifting it. SG has finally learned from their previous outings.

The characterization is probably the weakest part of the film. While our hearts sing and soar with Arrietty, the spunky, flame-haired teenage Borrower, and while we sympathize and root for Sho, the rest of the characters are portrayed realistically or fairly unflatteringly.


Sho

Among the humans, Sho’s mom is a selfish career woman, his dad is a divorcing deadbeat, his grandmother is kindly but overly trusting and a bit naive; Haraku, the housekeeper, is an ugly, troll-like, calculating and deceptive person. Among the Borrowers, Arrietty’s mom is a hysterical, anxious, high-strung, worrying mess. Her dad is a silent, but strong type, who is probably a little too distant.


Haraku

I suppose this stems from themes which carry the film: 1) adults have screwed up the world (true enough), and 2) the people who don’t respect / can’t bother to observe the Borrowers operate out of selfish, cruel, vanity. It just feels a bit too heavy-handed and stereotypical to me.

I’ve struggled with why it has this effect when I enjoy the film overall and some parts of it, quite a bit. The problem is that the film is too short. If it were longer, then we could see more the characters and they would be rounded out a bit. As it stands, we don’t see much of say, Sho’s grandmother or Arrietty’s mom, and so their unflattering aspects seize the day. This is a typical Ghibli flaw, of making movies that feel rushed or shallow because they exclude too much of the source material.

Plotwise, Sho is heading to his grandmother’s house in the country to rest for his upcoming operation. He has a weak heart and he doesn’t have much hope that it will actually help. He’s never been able to run or play with the other children, so he operates with a quiet sense of hopelessness. His eyes are opened to a whole new world when he catches a glimpse of Arrietty in the garden, making off with bay and shisto leaves.


Earrings as climbing hooks — kawaii!

The film touches on the joy and the pain of growing up, as their two worlds collide. Each of them has a duty to social stability that brings the Japanese concept of rigid social classes into high relief. She is a Borrower, 1/100th his size. He is a human, who barely understands her, though he is stricken by her beauty. They can never love, and the ending is perhaps the most Japanese of all: they both declare that their experiences have changed them for the better, giving them hope for the future.

Honestly, I felt the ending to be hopeless and heart-wrenching. Whether this is true to the original story, I do not know, but now I am quite curious. It definitely fits a Japanese view of life — Sho and Arrietty uphold the social strata, even though it costs them much pain and tears. The Borrower Arrietty illustrates that there are some things love cannot overcome; whether that is mature or crushingly sad depends on your own perspective.

A gem scintillates no matter which direction you view from (assuming it is cut well, of course); this film is almost gemlike. Some angles reveal its shortcomings. Still, I have seen worse films, and it is an improvement upon previous Ghibli outings. There is a whole lot of wonder, innocence, purity, and beauty here. Again, it’s just too short.

Available from your favorite torrent hole or from REVO subs.

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If you are wondering, is Whisper of the Heart worth an 18 Gb Blue-ray download, I’ll set your mind at ease: it’s not. However, it’s far from terrible. While this movie isn’t half-hearted, it’s more like three-quarters-hearted — good, but not excellent. All of its constituent pieces just don’t come together to leave an enduring impression; it begins small and it stays small, and sadly, of little account.

Whisper of the Heart is one of those Ghibli movies, so you know the animation style, and being as it was released in 1995, and a movie, you know that there won’t be photorealistic scenes, but what is here reflects a lot of care, skill, and probably love. The realism of passing clouds, shadows falling away when characters go from shaded areas to light, and the perspective of a train going forward are very nice. The eyes are not very detailed, but the faces are. If you’re a fan of Hime-Chan’s Ribbon, then you’ll be fine with what they do here. The animation doesn’t disappoint for the time period, but I’ve never been a stickler for watching only masterwork animation, anyways; in many places, it’s quite good. Animation is not why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

The music is rarely interesting, and it is, at the beginning, quite confusing. While you’re watching the main character, Shizaru move from place to place in Tokyo, the soundtrack is “Country Roads”, the 1970’s country song. For a good minute, I thought that I had accidentally played something off a web page. It was that jarring. In other places, the music is muddled (sonically) and emotionally, doesn’t add an extra impact to the storyline. It functions often as merely background music, as if the director said, “Hey, we need some music here,” and they just found whatever royalty-free stuff they could toss in. It remains low-key throughout, and that’s a shame. Music is part of why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

The vocal work is mediocre; some of the female characters sound too much alike. The voices are not sharply distinguished as in most anime from the late 90’s forward, and as a result, it’s hard to tell whom is talking from time to time. The men cut a much better form. The vocal work is a small part of why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

The storyline generally works. It skirts the line between fantasy and reality, and depicts Shizaru’s home life in a convincing, realistic way. The challenges she faces, the people she meets, and the situations that she works through all work together, but the emotional depth is missing. Only rarely do you feel the tears that Shizaru cries, or do you feel the heat rush to your cheeks the way it does when love arises. The end waffles off into cheeziness instead of pulling back to an expansive, “open-up” type ending. I don’t know if they compressed too much of the manga here, but it feels like they covered too much ground, and therefore couldn’t go as deep as the story deserved. The characterization is short-changed, as are the emotions, and the overall effect. Whisper ends up feeling like a story that doesn’t matter much, and it should have been the opposite, claiming such ground as To Heart and To Heart: Remember My Memories, at least. This is the big reason why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

As for details, the plot begins when the avid reader Shizaru, notices that someone else has read the books she is reading before she did. (This was back in the day when you used to sign your name on the book card and they would stamp the date after it.) Shizaru follows a cat that leads her to a very strange curio shop, and meets an obnoxious boy. The boy, of course, ends up being the boy who has checked out the books before her; the curio shop (and the boy) spur her to discover her talent, instead of wandering through middle school life without any direction or purpose. In the end, she writes a novella that demonstrates she has talent, and the title of this work is Whisper of the Heart.

I wouldn’t say that Whisper is cheezy, although depending on your tolerance for shojou works, you may find it so. Sometimes it gets perilously close to the edge, but it never wanders over until the very end; sadly, it just doesn’t go far enough the other way to make it recommendable.

Available as an 18-GB huge download from REVO subs, or from your local torrent hole. Note: there are other versions out there, but it looks like no-one is seeding them (aside from the perv-pushers over at Coalgirls).

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Tegami Bachi (Letter Bee) is yet another example of an anime` that starts off well but can’t keep it going. Just when you think you can trust the show, perviness shows up and deflates your enthusiasm. And what’s worse is that the show has every ingredient to be great — emotions, a killer setting, a steampunk vibe, cool technology, and even a bit of Christian symbolism in the mix. I managed to hold out for eight episodes, mostly because I kept hoping that they’d pull it out of the gutter, but they never did.

1. Good. Starts series off well. Cool world. Somewhat emotional, but it looks like it will be a slow burn on the emotions instead of pyrotechnics.
2. Eh, sophomore slump. Maudlin and a few seconds of ribald mockery. It’s mostly a setup for the rest of the series. The ending theme is good though.
3. Geez, what is it with this series? It has all the facets necessary to be great but instead they introduce perviness to dilute what could be good into something lame. Seriously, a chick that never wears underwear?
4. It’s ok. The beginning theme is above average. Fairly predictable. The whole thing with the chick is cleared up — she’s a wild legendary creature that has been living as a creature.
5 A little better than 4.
6 Ok, but a bit maudlin.
* 7 Good. A diversity of emotions.
8 Trash. They can’t keep the pervy references out, and they deflate any unity between animation and emotion; you feel dirty. This is the end of the road for me.

Welcome to the graveyard, Tegami Bachi.

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Taishou Yakyuu Musume (Taisho Baseball Girls) official site (in Japanese) has all the ingredients that make a great show: pastlove (it is set in the 1920s), girls striving for their best in a suffragette sort of way, not a feminist sort of way (think Little Women), and it’s a coming-of-age thing. The plot? In an age of modernization, a guy tells his fiance` that she has no business doing anything but staying at home and raising children. To show him what she’s really made of, she vows to best him in baseball. She has two problems, though. One, she knows nothing about the game. Two, she needs eight other players.

The usual short guide follows, with outstanding episodes starred.

* Ep 1 — In a word, charming. If the series sticks with this humorous and tender approach throughout it will be something fantastic. Here’s hoping.

Ep 2 — It’s still cool, but it loses some of the historical sheen here. Some funny parts this time. The ending theme song rocks. Intro a lot of new characters.

* Ep 3 — A good one. They fill in the positions and have their first practice game against the boy’s middle school. The outcome? It’s not what you might expect, if you’re used to Western animated series. It’s emotionally consistent and funny.

* Ep 4 — Another good one. Character development with Akiko, and Koume grows a bit (though some of this borders on the unrealistic). More humorous bits than last time.

* Ep 5 — Good, but a bit lower-key than last time. Intro the ninth player.

* Ep 6 — Yes. There are some funny parts here and there are parts where the show could have gone in a pervy direction, but it didn’t. Restraint and class? Wow, that’s almost unheard of in a girls’ series, so mad kudos to the writers. Koume`’s life gets very complicated at the end. They find their first opponents and completely suck, but there’s a lot of learning and growing with many of the characters.

* Ep 7 — Another fantastic episode. Very funny and more character distinction. The only drawback is that it is a bit episodic, as there’s no mention of Koume’s husband, Saburo, which you’d think she’d be still freaking out over.

Ep 8 — Not as polished and taut as 7, but there is quite a bit of character development. Saburo shows up and he inadvertently declares his feelings towards her; she is oblivious. There’s some humor as the role that Koume` ends up doing in a movie is totally misunderstood, and the ending bit with Kogishina is charming. More about the magical ball, too. Lower-key.

* Ep 9 — A solid episode with a lot going on. I fear what will happen in the next episode as it looks like it will take the admiration that Koucho has for Tomoe in a hentai direction.

Ep 10 — It’s semi-cute overall, but there is one scene that implies Koucho is a lez. The end of the series though seems to imply that is some kind of immaturity. Is this some kind of cultural thing?

* Ep 11 — A return to form. This has a splash of humor, but it’s mostly serious and tense as the game starts.

* Ep 12 — A beautiful ending, shot-through with failure and success. It’s one of those rare stories where the good guys don’t totally destroy, but they prove themselves worthy opponents, which is no small feat. It’s human and it’s real. The ending bit is totally charming and captures what the series is all about.

There’s really only one fly in the ointment here, and that’s the major subject matter of episode 10. It’s one of those things that seems grafted-on for some sort of shock value, or perhaps to lampoon the silliness of it all. Then again, maybe it’s some cultural thing. I don’t know, but the series would have been excellent without it.

Anyhow, as it stands, this is a very good series with quite a few standout episodes. The profanities are rare and there’s no other objectionable content. Themes are mutual sacrifice, the value of hard work, commitment, and teamwork. There’s no real theology here but there’s nothing blasphemous either.

It’s worth watching and worth keeping, because I doubt it will ever be translated and dubbed. I can’t imagine how they’d do a sequel either, so this is probably it. Grab the fansubbed versions while you can, courtesy of Saizen and Tw-rev/Doremi. Get the first episode by Saizen for lots of cool historical notes!

For your downloading pleasure:
Saizen and Tw-rev/Doremi

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This is an interesting series; it’s based on the series of books by L.M Montgomery, and if you’ve read Anne of Green Gables, then you know what’s coming your way — tales of provincial Canada around the turn of the 19th century, filled with innocence and Romanticism. With that in mind, there’s little objectionable material here, except for some profanities that show up once in a blue moon.

The animation quality here isn’t the greatest, but it does reflect the spirit (I’m guessing) of the books. Emily could be drawn a little bit more attractively at times, but you get used to it. The voice acting leaves you with no complaints. The intro and outro songs are disposable, but the music used within each episode is high-quality, and the recurring musical themes are unforgettable. The funny thing is that this feels like an 1800’s shoujo series with the bright colors, and you do see some Japanese facial expressions and modern cultural slang that are totally out of place, but the heart remains. It’s not spiked with shoujo dazzle like say Skip Beat, but you can still tell that is aimed at pre-teen girls. However, it is a lot deeper than those series because of the source material.

The animation isn’t the most detailed, but the use of color and light is outstanding. The episodes get better upon repeated viewings, and work even better when you watch them one after another (unlike most anime` which is filled with excessively long recaps for the first minute of the show). Here, the recaps are short and sweet. The music and fx are orchestral and well-done, with only occasional excesses or off moments. Recommended for all fans of 1800’s/turn of the century literature.

1 Kicks things off with a bang, and we get to see a lot of Emily’s spirit. High emotions. Very good.
2 Emotional, but not as gripping as ep 1. It’s still quite good.
3 Very good, but just shy of 1 and 4. The conflicts with Elsie and the relationships among girls are timeless — some things never do change. The music when they meet Teddy is off.
4 Interesting throughout. Here a lot of the plot threads come together. One of the best so far.
5 Ok. Kinda ordinary, but there are some moments of foreshadowing that are interesting and make you wonder how they will play out.
6 Fantastic episode. Drama, innocence, and lots of emotions. This episode captures the heartbreakingly innocent spirit of L.M Montgomery’s works.
7 Ok. Not bad, but not a stand-out episode. A few moments that capture your attention, though.
8 Some great emotions, but gets a little maudlin towards the end. The use of color is fantastic, and I think we see some CGI stuff show up for the first time. I’m bummed how the episodes now seem to be stand-alone and don’t connect to each other anymore.
9 Eeh. Some profanities, no real character development except for the very end.
10 Ok, a little curious. Does Emily realize what she’s saying when she talks about building a future with Teddy? Does he?
11 Eeh.
12 Good, but an overly-sentimental scene towards the end between Emily and Jimmy. It’s another self-contained episode without any character development, really.
13 A little bit of character development, some emotions, but overall too schmaltzy. We do see where the romance is headed though, and I’m already starting to feel badly for the boys — one of them is sure to fail.
14 Ok, some character development.
15 A little bit better than 14. This one is a little bit spooky/eerie.
16 Finally, another excellent episode. I was beginning to despair. Character development, in unexpected ways, and full of emotions, and even some mystery. A positive portrayal of faith. One profanity (perhaps a mistranslation?).
17 Good. A stand-alone episode, but very emotional.
18 Excellent. High emotions, humor, and justice. One profanity.
19 Excellent.
20 Excellent. Heart-rending. Did you think that Aunt Elizabeth could cry?
21 Good. Warm. Kind of low key.
22 Excellent. One profanity, which I believe is a mistranslation (“nondayo” at least in what I’ve seen elsewhere is an emphatic “why” but does not imply cursing). Tons of emotions accentuated by orchestral music and character development. In short, this episode is the reason why the series is good.
23 Another excellent episode, building from bittersweet longing to a heartbreaking dramatic ending.
24 Crushing. Devastating. This might well make you cry.
25. Possibly the most emotional episode in the whole series. This will make you cry. The only thing that keeps it shy of perfection is a lack of divine themes.
26. The series ends, as it must, but it does end convincingly happily. It’s not fake or rushed. It’s not completely predictable either. You’re left with longing and a sense of timeless, piercing beauty. Also, make sure you watch all the way to the end for the closing scene, which is a nice touch.

This is one of the best anime` series I have ever seen, and it earns a spot in my hall of fame.

For your downloading pleasure:

Digital Panic

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