Poor Direction Leads to Inconsistency

Reviewing Episode 15 of the Dororo 2019 anime!

Need to catch up with the series? Use this link for a free 30 day Amazon Prime Video trial and support the anime legally! Check out last week’s Episode 14 review here!

I found out on Reddit that this episode had a different director. Apparently this director will not have any more involvement in the show, and he is also credited with “ruining” episode four of Gurren Lagann.

It felt like the original plot was lost in favor of edgy jump cuts, pans, and experimental animation that had not been previously shown. Which is fine to switch it up, but not if it affects the story negatively.

Given the past cour’s attention to detail and respect for its characters, I could not focus on what was happening in this episode. We were not allowed to see the expressions on Hyakkimaru or Dororo’s faces, and there was this persistent awkwardness of their motivations.

Hyakkimaru and foe, Episode 15, 2019
Hyakkimaru and foe, Episode 15, 2019

Clearly, Hyakkimaru is being corrupted by the darkness within his spirit. That is nothing new however, there has been abundant foreshadowing and Biwamaru gives cryptic warnings every time he runs into the pair. Dororo had been getting fed up and needed a catalyst to motivate her to find her father’s fortune, but not like this. It came out of left field that she would be this upset over a random podunk village.

Sure, they had been kind to her but at what expense does that kindness nullify their actions? They murdered an entire convent with children and lied to gain sympathy. Using this sympathy, Sabame and his villagers systematically isolated and murdered countless other travelers all for their gain. Dororo blames herself for the destruction of the village, but they were their own undoing.

Maimai-onba’s baby flew into the lookout tower and knocked into the torch, causing the thatch roofing to light up like a tinderbox. And where was Maimai-onba? In the ocean, hiding as her husband and their community burned to the ground. The demon had a sinister smile in last week’s episode when Sabame vowed to protect them, which (unsurprisingly) foreshadowed that he was being used. The oni exploited his love for his people and the dire circumstances surrounding them.

The only good thing I see coming out of this is that Dororo may have an idea of what type of community she would like to build in the future. I don’t think the little lady will be tempted by these otherworldly forces, especially after seeing the effects firsthand.

Hyakkimaru received a body part this episode, although I didn’t expect it to be his spine. I’m surprised he has been able to function thus far, with spools of thread and twine holding up his core. I also have no clue when he had the time to make an interim prosthetic leg and tour the destruction of the village with Dororo before they went their separate ways.

Again, the pacing was super off.

Dororo, Episode 15, 2019.
Dororo, Episode 15, 2019

Hyakkimaru was so lost in grief over his familial ties he failed to notice Dororo was no longer there. We received a random training montage with Tahomaru and his charges. No doubt the two brothers will fight once more, although once Hyakki receives his eyes he may feel differently about revenge. If he could see the enemies he faces, it would scare him. Hyakkimaru would have to rely on his intuition rather than seeing the make of a person’s soul. Things would become less white and red, so to speak.

Ah, I wish I could say I enjoyed this episode but I didn’t.  I’m not one who cares about animation quality usually but my gosh did it ruin this week’s tale…

Dororo to Hyakkimaru, On to the next adventure...
Dororo to Hyakkimaru, On to the next adventure…

How do you think Itachi got the second half of the map? How will Hyakkimaru find Dororo? Do you think it was the village’s fault they are suffering, or the dynamic duos? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more anime episode reviews!

See you back here next Monday for another one!

次の巻: Dropping Expectations for an Anime Series

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Demonic Pacts Ain’t Easy

This is a review for episode 14 of the Dororo (2019) anime.

Need to catch up with the series? Use this link for a free 30 day Amazon Prime Video trial and support the anime legally! Check out last week’s Episode 13 review here!

Okay, so I don’t know if this is intentional on the story’s part, but I distrust every wealthy person Dororo and Hyakkimaru encounter. Either the rich person made a soul pact with a demon in exchange for wealth, or they are a vicious, murderous, psychopath who took what they wanted by force. And on top of that, you have various youkai running around the rural villages of Nippon wreaking havoc and eating people. Needless to say, I don’t think the warring states period in Japan was easy at all. This train of thought is doubled by the fact that I am an active believer in native folklore across the globe. These stories all have common denominators when you really look closely and examine them.

There is always some demon that will promise wealth in exchange for a sacrifice. Some creature looking to simply murder humans for the sake of evildoing, or in their warped view as a cleanse to this world. Our universe is so much more than it seems on the surface and although we don’t hear about reports of ghouls and primordial beings anymore, I am sure they are still here. Lurking, waiting for their time on this earth to begin anew once more.

But I digress, you all came here for the Dororo episode 14 review, correct?

This week was a two-parter episode, the latter half of the story sure to concede next week. Another Podunk village, another bunch of demons trying to possess the local residents. I may be severely off topic at this point, but I don’t understand why certain people never fail to engage in soul pacts with these darker entities. It is almost always most certainly a trick.

I grew up reading and hearing oral traditions of folklore, mainly concerning here – in indigenous America. Those guided by greed or blind obsessions chose to make bargains that they could never keep, or ended up dying when the demon proved its nature and exploited a loop hole.

You never get what you truly ask for, and what you seek is warped in a sick way that you realize all but too late. While I’m writing this I have The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina in my head (mainly because I’m working on a review for my other website). In season 2, Lilith (a big baddie who acts like a Scooby Doo villain in her pursuit to murder the show’s namesake, Sabrina) glamours herself as a fortune teller and gives one sided prophecies to the inhabitants of Greendale by manipulating their inner insecurities. Harvey (Sabrina’s ex) is shown a vision where an artist is gaining his work subjects though communications with entities. They came during the witching hour through a portal in his room, whispering secrets of the universe in exchange for their image being brought to the human realm.

Once the artist tells Harvey his secret, the entities drive the young man to kill himself.

There is always a hidden, sinister clause or agenda. When Dororo and Hyakkimaru meet Sabame at the burned down temple, I just knew he had something to do with the disappearances of travelers at night. However, I was surprised he wasn’t actually the monster. I mean the dude doesn’t even blink and he has turquoise colored eyes, I don’t know why none of the villagers found that strange.

Then again, a united Japan doesn’t exist yet and each state is warring. Lord Daigo’s lands were the only prosperous ones for miles around and even then, its citizens were just happy to be safe – magical interference be damned. So I can understand the residents of Sabame’s hamlet truly not caring what is going on outside of their safe space in a cruel world.

In exchange for safety and power, the baddie of the week needs life forces to feed on. As usual, they made the mistake of assuming the blind young man and the little girl would be easy targets. I am truly glad Hyakkimaru was awake and feigning sleep when the monster showed its intention to attack because the way he was treating Dororo earlier I thought he was lost.

Poor Dororo was being molested by a big belligerent baby reminiscent of Boh from Spirited Away. For those of you who may not have seen the film or forgotten his role, Boh was the name-stealing witch Yubaba’s child.

Bō , the belligerent baby from Miyazaki's Spirited Away

Bō , the belligerent baby from Miyazaki’s Spirited Away

Bō enjoyed being a holy terror and threatened to break Chihiro’s arm if she didn’t play with him. Towards the end of the film he has a change of heart and stops his mother from hurting her.

Dororo being accosted by a devilish fiend.
Dororo being accosted by a devilish fiend.

The complete disregard for anything not an oni by Hyakkimaru is starting to bother me. He wasn’t even sure if they encountered neutral spirits or evil ones with a dormant intent, but allowed the harassment of Dororo. The blind priest Biwamaru may be correct in reminding Dororo that she has options, and urging her in subtle ways to plan for the future. Biwamaru, as well as us – the audience, can see the negativity infiltrating Hyakkimaru’s fragile soul.

I wonder what she will do with the money in the end. Dororo cried when thinking about her parent’s sacrifice, so I don’t think she will abandon their life mission just to watch her big bro Hyakki. Either way, I’m excited to see what she chooses, and how that will affect her and whomever else she decides to live by.

Hyakkimaru to Dororo, On to the next adventure...
Hyakkimaru to Dororo, On to the next adventure…

Do you think the map on Dororo’s back was intended to be seen by a lover? What do you think Hyakkimaru’s fate will be? Would you make a pact with a demon? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you. Also be sure to follow us for more anime episode reviews of the spring 2019 season!

See you back here next Monday for another one!

次の巻: Poor Direction Leads to Inconsistency  

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Deception on Buddha’s Mountain Top

Reviewing Episode 13 of the Dororo 2019 anime!

Welcome to my first Dororo review!

As I mentioned in this post, I decided to start reviewing this show in its second cour. I am starting with episode 13, you will not find any prior reviews on this blog. Do you need to catch up with the series? Use this link for a free 30 day Amazon Prime Video trial and support the anime legally.

With that being said, let’s get jump into it!

I guess carrying on with last episodes theme, this weeks could be “eye-deceiving” which “lack in reality or substance or genuineness; not corresponding to acknowledged facts or criteria.”

When shown last week’s flashback, I still can’t help but be annoyed at the irony of Hyakkimaru’s mother. Oku prayed to Kannon for her son’s life each day for seventeen years, even seemingly neglecting her second born son Tahomaru growing up. The mother finally gets to meet the boy and she decides…she’d rather he die to retain the feudal land’s comfort and wealth? That was a total deception on our, the viewers, part as (most of us who had no familiarity with the series) assumed she regretted letting Hyakkimaru go. I personally thought she wanted to reunite with Hyakki and bring him into their household, not side with her son and husband in securing his demise. It totally left a bad taste in my mouth and since Kannon saved Oku, I’m sure we will see more of her before the series ends.

An unspecified time skip shows us that Hyakkimaru has ran himself to near exhaustion after the events near Asakusa. He has not reclaimed any body parts in some time, and that can no doubt be extremely frustrating to him. So much so, that he has decided to speak more – to Dororo’s delight. She must get lonely. I’m glad her character is there to ground him, he has become far too reckless after meeting his family.

This episode revolved around a sculptor named Okaka. With war in the air, his patrons demanded depictions of Fudo Myo-o. Fudo Myo-o (or Acala) is a deity that protects his believers and burns away all “impediments and defilements” that block the way towards enlightenment. The sculptor could not find a suitable face for the deity, and ends up dying in ruin. A demon enters the sacred statue and revives Okaka, changing him from male to female in his new life.

It is quite ironic that Fudo Myo-o protects his followers by clearing obstacles, and a demon enters his statue and reanimates Okaka to prevent him from finding salvation in the afterlife.

The act of stealing faces for the statue who was never satisfied reminded me a lot of Koh, the Face Stealer from Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Koh, the Face Stealer from Avatar: The Last Airbender

Only Okaka seems to take it one step further, by putting her victims under a spell while using their loved ones image. Dororo falls under this spell, but then again the little girl finds her mother’s face in many other women in the series. Okaka exploits the child in order to get to Hyakkimaru because she desires his face. Which was…odd. He recently just got his skin back and his ears, but he still doesn’t have eyes.

Would a prosthetic face really be that unique amongst the faces of villagers?

Okaka drugs the pair and after Dororo realizes what is going on, she saves Hyakkimaru. The sculptor then tries to fool a blind man with the face and voice of his mother and is then…surprised that he sees through the genjutsu. Okaka remarks “you’ve never seen your mother’s face before?” in shock that her ‘gift’ didn’t work. I love this show, but I don’t understand why Hyakkimaru would have supposedly fallen for this rouse. Upon their first meeting he isn’t even sure if the woman is human. I don’t understand why the baddie of the week thought he would, it was quite silly.

With death upon her, Okaka realizes the error of her ways and remarks that Dororo’s face is that of a smiling Buddha. Then Dororo deals with the pain of losing her mother all over again.

Towards the end of the episode the two go to an onsen, and meet the blind old man who often shows up in their travels. We then learn of a map Dororo has on her back that looks more like a flower to me.

A map on Dororo’s back.

I am surprised the priestess episodes back (when we learned Dororo’s gender) never said anything. Either way, I’m sure we’ll find out more next week concerning the map and why this show is called Dororo and not Hyakkimaru.

Dororo to Hyakkimaru, On to the next adventure…

Where do you think the map on Dororo’s back leads? Why do you think Okaka couldn’t find the face she was searching for (until seemingly the end)? Do you think Hyakkimaru will get his eyes back soon?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more episode reviews! See you again next Monday!

次の巻: Demonic Pacts Ain’t Easy

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I’ve been Nominated!

I’ve been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award! It’s such an honor and has taken me by surprise. I would like to thank Andrew Comte of excuse my Thai (@excusemythai ) for thinking of me and the work we do on the blog. Please check out his blog, he does some amazing work concerning Thailand and ultimately has a goal of creating a non-profit to help provide rural Thai families with children’s school supplies.

So the rules are to nominate fellow bloggers, and list seven things about myself.

I nominate:

K, Amalog – A millennial lifestyle blog with a focus on underrated locations in Europe. (@amalog)

Mikhail Koulikov, Anime and Manga Studies – Takes an erudite approach to Japan through the cultural mediums of anime and manga. (@AnimeStudies)

Simon Gao, I can’t believe it’s not animeFeatures wacky and obscure Japanese film reviews that lend great insight into J pop culture and the inner society as a whole.

Japanese Tabi – An expat living in Japan and experiencing the country as the locals would. Hopefully they come back from hiatus soon! (@japan_tips17)

Jennifer, Japan’s Wonders – A glimpse into the lesser known areas of Japan, coupled with phenomenal photography!

Kay, Kdrama Kisses Brings you the latest in kdrama news, media and reviews. It is a great site to find your next new seasonal obsession! (@Kdrama_Kisses)

Karandi James, 100 Word Anime – Your one stop source for a spotlight on the anime community and reviews for ongoing shows! (@100wordanime)

7 Things About In Asian Spaces

I really enjoy taking walks in the rain. I don’t know what it is, but it creates an extremely peaceful atmosphere. The air smells fresh, the earth is quiet and cars move more slowly. No one is rushing and the earth seems still for a few hours.

I’m a huge fan of Lofi music and lately I’ve been getting back into Bon Iver.

I’m a woman! Lol. I’m intentionally vague on this blog and I notice that when interacting with people on social media they assume I’m a man for some reason. It’s actually kind of funny.

When I was younger, my mom used to have this elaborate plant wall in the house. As I’ve grown, it doesn’t look as big anymore but she has a green thumb for sure. Me? Not so much. Luckily, succulents (desert plants) seem to like me…so there’s that haha.

I grew up and still live by the ocean and miss it when I’m far away. On warm days or after a storm the air smells like salt water and sometime seagulls fly overhead.

Shinkai Makoto is my favorite animation director, and Children Who Chase Lost Voices (from Deep Below) is my favorite film by him.

I absolutely ADORE period dramas of any kind! Some of my favs are: The Borgias, Reign (some differ on calling it a “period drama” because it aired on The CW but I digress) and The Last Kingdom. I would add Game of Thrones, but only before season 5 – after that it kind of went to shit.  I may be turning into A Song of Ice and Fire book snob…

Thank you again Andrew for the nomination (and sorry I’m getting to this so late!!)

I never thought I’d receive something like this! Everyone, please check out the bloggers I’ve nominated! They are all gems!

✰In Asian Spaces

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Upcoming Reviews for the Spring Anime Season 2019

A blog announcement for planned weekly reviews of the animes Dororo and Shingeki no Kyojin.

Howdy Everyone!

I hope your spring has been green and less rain-filled than mine so far.

I started watching anime again last season, and winter turned out to have hidden gems. One of those gems happened to be Dororo. Set in the Warring States period (Sengoku Jidai, abt. 1467 – 1600), it follows Hyakkimaru (“One Hundred Demons”) and Dororo (“thief”) through Japan in search of demons to slay.

Coupled with the heavy focus on Shintoism, Buddhism, and Youkai – it was love at first episode. The second cour is due to air in about two days and I will be reviewing episodes 13 – 24 weekly on the blog.

I tend not to do weekly reviews because if it’s a newer show, I could lose interest or if it’s a beloved older show with new seasons, sometimes I have nothing to say until the very end. Besides, after the stunt Samurai Flamenco pulled in 2013 I developed severe trust issues. The three episode drop rule doesn’t apply to them all…so I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.

The next and last anime I will be reviewing this spring will be Shingeki no Kyojin 3, part 2. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I have read the manga until a certain point in the story after a particularly brutal cliff hanger last season. I’ll try not to talk about any plot spoilers and focus on the adaptation as – is.

I’ve never thought about reviewing this one before (as everyone does it) but since I have decided to review both Game of Thrones S8 and The 100 S6 on my other website, I should do two shows here as well.

Consistency is something I struggle with despite having content lined up, so this spring I would like to get a schedule going on In Asian Spaces. It’s going to be a fun Q2, and I can’t wait to share the enjoyment with you all!

☆ In Asian Spaces

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Rebirth in Kimi no Na wa

I wrote this post a very long time ago for another blog I held. I really liked the initial ideas I had, so it will now live here. After recently re-watching Kimi no Na wa, I think I’ll do more theories surrounding it. Shinkai Makoto is one of my favorite directors and this gives me an excuse to revisit all of his works.

小野小町の恋歌の一節。「思いつつ寝(ぬ)ればや人の見えつらむ 夢としりせばさめざらましを」

“Yume to Shiriseba V” – Ono-no-Komachi

I wonder if he appeared in my dream because I fell asleep thinking of him.

I think the basis of Kimi no Na wa is the exploration of adolescence and the bonds we share– whether made organically with friends or spiritually like Taki and Mitsuha. I want to take a different route, and explore the spiritual significance of their bond.

To begin, I want to establish the fact that these events do take place three years after Mitsuha’s death.

By going to the mouth of the god, journeying to the “underworld”, and drinking the kuchikamizake – Taki brought Mitsuha’s timeline back.

If you remember, the “dream sequence” (dream because I’m sure Mitsuha was already dead at that point) the grandmother explains to the girls that they are passing into the underworld to leave half of themselves there, which can be inferred as their souls.

I plan on covering this in later posts, but in Japan sake is believed to have its own spirit. A spirit that has the power to either help the user or harm the user.

One example that comes to mind is the character Gin from Mushishi. 光の流れ [kononagare] or  the river of light was a golden, glistening river of mushi connected throughout the known world. The “kouki” mushi gave life to the forests, the mountains, and even spirited away humans who lost themselves should they indulge in the intoxicating nectar.

Another that comes to mind is the tale of Orochi from the video game, Ōkami. I’ve spoken about this game once before, but it still holds relevant in this context.

A tale of Japanese mythology in its finest, Ōkami tells the tale of Amaratsu, or “Ammy” for short. The sun goddess is reincarnated into a wolf statue and called forth during a time of great turmoil. One hundred years prior to the story, a legendary warrior by the name of Nagi used a special golden sake to intoxicate and kill Orochi.

The 8 Purification Sake rendered the demon weak, and allowed for its own exorcism.

“In exchange for returning to this world, you must leave behind what is most important to you.”

When Taki is presented with crossing the river, the younger sister Yotsuha gleefully crossed the threshold to Kakuriyo [隠り世], the underworld. It is worth mentioning that the location of the shrine is in the middle of a crater. A place of death where the comet last hit.

Grandmother notices that Mitsuha is “dreaming” and Taki wakes up and sees he cannot contact Mitsuha.

Taki sees the girl’s life flash before his eyes and also sees Comet Tiamat split, painted on stones within the god’s mouth. During the Shinto ceremonies that Mitsuha felt were embarrassing, the sisters performed a ritual to make sake. Using their own saliva and chewing rice, they left a “part” of themselves behind in the cave to be called upon should disaster strike. Rivers, streams, and really any body of water serve as purification. Rice is grown in water, and sake is made by distilling and fermenting this product of the earth.

Let’s take a look at Mitsuha and Taki meeting on the mountain, the crater of the past catastrophe, and the ritual.

Mitsuha and Taki meet at Kataware-doki, Tasogare – Twilight; when the sun is setting.

There are historical associations within religions that twilight or dusk brings about differences to the earth – it allows being that cannot exist in light fruition. Think of it as a ‘witching hour’, where supernatural activity is more common for a period of time. They are able to meet in the darkness because it’s a reset. They’ve swapped and we’re in Mitsuha’s timeline – years prior. That’s why Mitsuha in Taki’s body does not leave the edge of the God’s crater, until they switch again. She is not of the world they met in, and only after the switch she is permitted mobility in her realm, her universe, her time line, her world. Again, Taki lost consciousness in the god’s mouth, so he would not wake up back in his timeline if he drank the Musubi [a term for soul, or a bond].

The switch was able to happen between the two due to Mitsuha’s bloodline, and their brief encounter on a train in Tokyo.

“In my next life bring me back as a handsome boy who lives in Tokyo”

As previously mentioned, the high school girl completed a centuries old ritual to leave half of her soul in the God’s Mouth cave. The Great Fire of Mayugoro destroyed any documents relating to the ceremony’s purpose, but its form lived on.

“So the purpose of our festivals became unknown, and only the form lived on. But even if words are lost, tradition should be handed down. That’s the important task we at Miyamizu shrine have.”

The Miyamizu women possessed the ability to merge with another soul, due to the ancient ceremony. This is why Grandma Hitoha accounts “strange happenings” in her youth, and Yotsuha referred to Mitsuha as needing an exorcism when she was “acting funny”.

“Oh, you’re not Mitsuha?”

“You knew, Grandma?”

“No, but watching the way you behaved lately triggered some memories. I also remember seeing strange dreams when I was a young girl. Although I’ve forgotten now whose live I was dreaming about….Treasure the experience. Dreams fade away after you wake up…There were times your mother and I had similar experiences.”

“Maybe those dreams that the Miyamizu people had were all for what would happen today.”

To which Granny Hitoha decides whoever is in her granddaughters body is insane and dismisses the conversation. Which is actual hilarious in the context that she accepts the possession, but does not accept the theory behind the act itself.

“The braids represent the flow of time itself…Musubi- knotting of time”

The Braided Cords of Itomori may have aided in this ability.

In addition to the kuchikamezake ritual, the shrine maidens learned how to weave Kumihimo [組み紐] braids. In Tokyo, Mitsuha gives Taki one such cord. We are all familiar with the East Asian “Red String of Fate” tale in popular media, so I don’t need to recap that in correlation to the girl’s red weaved hairband.

There are a plethora of spiritual gems in this film, but for now I will leave it here. I came across a theory stating that one of the characters from Garden of Words appears in this story, so I would like to investigate Shinkai’s works and confirm any connection for myself.

What do you think Kimi no Na wa was really about? Do you think it could be based on real-life events that are not of public knowledge? Have you read the light novels?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Shinto analysis in films!

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Learning Japanese through Manga

With anime convention season almost around the corner, why not brush up on your foreign language skills? In this post we take a look at easy to read Japanese manga that will help boost vocabulary comprehension (kanji, katakana, and hiragana), grammar, and cultural understanding all from the comfort of your own home.

The warm rays of spring are almost upon us in America which means one thing: convention season is almost here!

Whether you’ve been neglecting your studies or have yet begun, this is a post for anyone who would like to study and improve their Japanese using manga. This takes into account that you have already taken formal classes while learning grammatical rules, the three writing systems of hiragana, katakana and kanji, and have the ability to formulate basic sentences.

If anybody is interested, I can make a post on textbooks and supplementary material recommended for beginners at a later date. Just let me know here or via social media (Twitter, Reddit, IG).

So, we’re looking at five books today and although it may seem overwhelming, I’ll show you how they tie into one another.

In one of my first posts on In Asian Spaces, I talked about religiously reading a manga after finishing an anime series I enjoyed. Or vice-versa.

One of my absolute all-time favorite manga series isAku no Hana [惡の華], or The Flowers of Evil by Oshimi Shuuzo. The work explores themes of deviance, isolation and mental illness surrounding a remote mountainous town in Japan. The characters would all eventually like to “go beyond the mountain” and escape the monotonous daily life of being surrounded by judgmental, close-minded individuals.

I first read the manga while it was still ongoing in 2009 – 2014 and then watched the (unjustly poorly rated) rotoscoped anime adaption in 2013.

In current news, there appears to be a live-action film in the works scheduled to premiere this fall that I’ll eventually have to watch.

Anyway, I go to my local Kinokuniya to purchase the manga in Japanese for a re-read with the show fresh in my mind. I’ve found that it’s easier that way since if you do stumble upon an unknown kanji, the context of the situation is still comprehensible.

Luckily, Aku no Hana uses furigana, or kana by kanji to indicate pronunciation. This is the first book we’ll examine.

The primary focus in this work is Kasuga Takao and Nakamura Sawa, both middle school students. Because of this, a high usage of informal, childish speech can be found coupled with advanced words related to school coursework and studies.

When reading a chapter, I like to circle a word in pencil that I do not understand. I continue on, but then come back after finishing to see if it makes sense. If I am still stuck, there are two options: either ignore it and keep going, or look the word up using a service.

Luckily in the digital age it is fairly simple to open the google translate app and snap a picture to find out what the word means. You could then input the word into an online dictionary such as Jisho and discern its meaning, see it used within a sentence and even learn the stroke order to practice writing.

Using a spaced repetition method, write the word down at least five times while saying it aloud along with its meaning. A sheet of notebook paper would be fine for this, but if you’d like to get fancy and are serious about your studies look for something called “Kanji Practice Sheets”. These are used in classroom settings to learn the writing systems or for personal study use.

Googling this phrase, you can find PDFs to download for free or you can even make your own. Simply go to the dollar store and purchase unlined paper, a ruler and bam – you have practice sheets! Or if large graph paper booklets are available in an office supply store near your home, that would be even better.

I don’t know what it is, but I just find the official practice sheets for sale often have inflated prices way beyond their usefulness. But, that’s just me.

Aku no Hana Vol 1 and 600 Basic Japanese Verbs
Aku no Hana Vol 1 and 600 Basic Japanese Verbs

One more option for learning kanji and building vocabulary would be investing in a study aid. I purchased 600 Basic Japanese Verbs almost two years ago in anticipation of the December JLPT. I am a terrible test taker, and since I learned Mandarin before studying Japanese I have a tendency to mix up the meaning of kanji characters.

This book is really useful for learning all forms of a verb to truly grasp its usage in written and spoken common speech.

You’re probably wondering where the other books come in, right?

Aku no Hana Vol 1 and Japanese the Manga Way
Aku no Hana Vol 1 and Japanese the Manga Way

In the photo, Saeki-san’s friend asks:

“ねー奈々子聞いて聞いて!”

「“ねーななこきいてきいて!”」

“ん?”

 “Hey Nanako – did you hear? Did you hear what happened?”

 “Huh?” or “No, not yet” could be her interpreted response.

Japanese the Manga Way is great at filling in the gaps that come with Japan’s honorific/hierarchy system from the perspective of an informed outsider. Males speak differently than females, adults differently than children, etc. This book highlights and focuses on patterns of informal speech that would be used by say, our middle school characters in The Flowers of Evil.

Japanese the Manga Way also explains situational differences and gives examples of when informal usage would be acceptable, or solutions of polite speech to use instead.

This book also acts as a great aid for manga that heavily uses katakana, or the Japanese writing system primarily used for foreign words. Shirokuma Café [しろくまカフェ] or Polar Bear Café takes place in Canada.

Shirokuma Cafe Manga Vol 1
Shirokuma Cafe Manga Vol 1

The story follows a group of talking animals in a world that co-exists peacefully with humans. After watching the 2012 anime adaptation, it was great to revisit the world and learn the corresponding characters for Japanese homonyms and homophones.

It also helps that the characters are simply names of animals, so if you ever go to a Japanese zoo you’d be a wizard traversing the different habitats!

Kirby! Star! Volume 1 Manga
Kirby! Star! Volume 1 Manga

The last manga to mention is Kirby. I’ve never really played the games or seen the anime, but this was recommended to me when I first started reading J-manga. I’ll be honest: all I know about the story is that a pink blobby creature has the power to inhale anything, and eats a lot of food.

(Kirby would also be the last survivor should an apocalypse ever happen, as evidenced by the last Super Smash Bros game storyline.)

The manga is simple to read, utilizes all of the writing systems referenced above and it just has a fun, silly story. It’s a stress-free read if you are just beginning your Japanese language journey.

So using these methods – should we call it the In Asian Spaces method? lol- you now know how to look up a new kanji, learn its stroke order, determine its contextual meaning, and how to learn all of the forms it can take during conjugation.

I may do a post that focuses on Netflix shows with colloquial Japanese and great apps you can download to keep your comprehension up to speed at a later date.

Hopefully someone found this information useful!

How do you learn Japanese with manga? What was your favorite Japanese book to read as a beginner? Do you have any recommendations to add to the list?

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, I’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more language learning strategies and skills!

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