Kotaro Lives Alone: Blind Watch Ep. 1

*No Spoilers* Kotaro Lives Alone is…um…confusing but weirdly promising. Ok, so this was not a planned watch. I got home from work and was just browsing Netflix while having my usual evening tea. It’s been prompting me with this show for a while so I just clicked on it. The first episode was rather…peculiar so now I have to both write about it and also watch the rest (10 episodes in Season 1 so manageable). I’m calling this a blind watch because I know zilch about this show and since it’s so weird I kind of want to watch it all without reading anything about it. If you’re reading this and I’ve dragged myself into some super controversial pile of goo please be a pal and let me know.

Kotaro Lives Alone

This one is just a few observations from the first episode. Will probably not do an episode by episode thing from here on and will club 3-4 of them together but depends on how the show turns out really. I’ve learned better by now than to commit to the length of my engagement with anything up-front since the article Goodnight Julia was supposed to be both the beginning and end of my return to anime writing so…four months and forty plus pieces later (of which like 30 are just Bebop) I’m gonna zip it.

The Premise of Kotaro Lives Alone

Honestly, you don’t get any context. It just starts and moves fast. Commendably though the pace wasn’t bothersome and I didn’t get the sense of missing out on anything. It starts with Kotaro standing alone with his luggage in front of a building which has apartments available. Next, he is in a supermarket buying boxes of tissues and quoting life philosophy to the store attendant. On the way out, he also buys a toy sword and goes home mumbling about enemies.

We are next introduced to our other hero, a struggling Mangaka Shin Karino who is apparently Kotaro’s neighbour. We know this because Kotaro shows up at his door to gift him a tissue box. We also find out Kotaro does not consider himself a child since he informs Shin that there are no small children staying with him and he is living alone.

Kotaro’s Adorably Bizarre Personality

He actually gives me war veteran vibes rather than child and he seems to view himself that way too, claiming he is a feudal lord. He speaks in a deadpan, very formal manner, carries a post-traumatic air, says things which are wise way beyond his years, and seems determined to prove to everyone he can do this on his own. He is also exactly four years old. At one point, he informs he no longer has his parents though does not elaborate and at another he tells Shin no one has washed his hair for him in a long time.

During this episode, we are also shown he is no stranger to grief or managing it in others as he gauges another neighbour has been crying when Shin remains clueless. He is also constantly ready for battle resulting in a rather funny conversation where Shin is talking to him about bathtubs and he first assumes Shin is asking him to build one of his own and then mistakes the word “bathhouse” for “battlehouse,” resigning himself to war immediately and indicating he has fought to stay alive before too (whether actually or he just thinks so is yet to be seen).

What makes me want to watch Kotaro Lives Alone

  • Kotaro reminds me of Kino from Kino no Tabi. In fact, right now the whole show seems to have a similar vibe with this quiet, collected, very young protagonist who has clearly seen a lot before and is damaged by it but still retains humanity under a stoic facade
  • The equation of Kotaro and Shin. Shin seems like a lost cause but he also seems unable to keep himself from surreptitiously watching out and taking care of Kotaro. They even get mistaken for father and son, which neither is too happy about. Kotaro remarks Shin is inferior to him, calling him servant but it feels like something which has the potential for great poignance and growth since Kotaro seems in need of care and Shin seems unable to stop himself from giving it.
  • It’s made me curious to know more. Who is Kotaro? How did he become this way? The whole idea of a four year old acting like he does is way outlandish so I want to know how the show will justify it.
  • It’s moving pretty fast and seems to be intelligently written with the undertones telling the story as much as the overt which is very much my cup of tea. Hoping it stays the course.

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Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: 1 #Mechamarch2022

The Beginning

If you are here reading this I don’t think I need to explain the above two images to you. They are common in both versions and pretty iconic for Macross Plus. The Macross Plus OVA begins with the song Voices and a sequence from the main trio’s past where Isamu is flying a makeshift aircraft that looks like the Pterosaur bird of Eden. We come to see the two boys side by side in what looks like a rivalry sequence initially but turns out to be just the three of them having fun with Guld and Myung waving at Isamu as he flies off. Incidentally, this is actually the last scene in the movie but we will come to that.

The Macross Plus movie starts on a different note. Instead of the song, we have just the melody, no words. Young Myung makes a brief appearance for a few seconds commenting on blue skies and then we directly move to Myung and Sharon Apple appearing in front of the crowd followed by a sequence of Guld flying the YF-21.

We are shown sequences of him tuning into his aircraft which runs on his brainwaves, imagining parts of the aircraft as parts of his own body to controls it. He is seen using the same association in a later battle too.

Isamu’s Introduction

Unlike the movie, the OVA begins with Isamu. Post the childhood sequence, the OVA narates why Isamu gets sent to EDEN in the first place, a sequence which is completely cut from the movie. We start with a mecha battle in deep space during the year 2040 featuring Isamu where it’s pretty clear to see this is an arrogant/overconfident and rather reckless fighter. Aptly, it is followed by him in his supervisor’s office hearing his transfer orders accompanied by his instances of infractions being listed out and a warning that he should have been court-martialled already. No one wants him so they have decided to send him as a test pilot to New Edwards base. It’s supposed to be an unsavoury prospect but Isamu is overjoyed by it. That sequence in the OVA is followed by the one of Guld tuning into his aircraft already shown in the movie, which is largely same in both versions, just somewhat more detailed in the OVA.

Isamu’s introduction in the movie is not quite as dramatic. We see him standing in a field making airplanes with his hand, already a test pilot. He and Guld seem to be on the same base though they have apparently not met yet. Isamu takes his test flight during which he launches into showing off, flying the craft erratically to draw the Pterosaur in the sky. Guld, who is watching from the control room, is shocked to see this, getting reminded of Isamu doing something similar with his aircraft (same as the one seen at the beginning of the OVA) to do a sky drawing as a kid with him and Myung watching from the ground. He wonders if this is the same person though doesn’t seem happy about it. Incidentally, the same scene happens later in the OVA too but without the childhood flashback.

The Frenemy Reunion

I am talking, of course, about the first time that Isamu and Guld interact (though honestly it can apply beyond that too since everyone seems to be frenemies here). In both the movie and the OVA, this is again played out radically differently. Personally, I prefer this sequence how it plays out in the OVA versus the movie because it allows more of a chance for character development and understanding of these two as individuals.

The movie sequence is rather short and simple. Isamu lands from his test flight all happy, alights from the YF-19 by stepping on Yang’s head even as Yang is yelling at him for his barbaric flight, asks Lucy if she saw his Pterosaur claiming it was for her and then casually mentions a date, not seeming particularly romantically interested in her. Guld shows up in the hangar and Yang introduces him as the rival team’s pilot. Isamu says Guld’s name without being told and we see a sequence hinting that they know each other and there is an ongoing animosity with Guld calling Isamu a plague and Isamu getting very angry at that.

In the OVA, the meeting happens in a completely different way. Their first encounter is just a quick accidental brush. Isamu is heading to the base and Guld flies past him making him realise this is the test aircraft he is here for and become excited again. They don’t speak or even see each other though.

Once at the base, Isamu reports for a meeting of the two design teams of each aircraft. As they start, Chief Millard introduces himself and again these sequences help establish Isamu as a character rather well. His first question is to just ask when he gets to fly. Millard is cautious and mentions maybe Isamu should take a break since he has a reputation for being a hothead. He mentions Isamu does not want to get a promotion and the younger man responds it’s because then he won’t be able to fly. So overconfident, irreverent, hotheaded and loves flying is the context set for him.

There is a presentation giving background to the two fighters YF-19 (Isamu’s) and YF-21 (Guld’s) which are to be tested. Deepening his dubious image, Isamu insults Yang, calling him a kid only to find out he is the Design Chief for the YF-19. While this is going on Guld shows up and it becomes very clear from both his and Isamu’s reaction that they know each other and are not happy to see the other.

Their rivalry is pretty apparent but Guld calmly walks to his seat giving his report to Millard. Honestly, at this point Isamu does not seem too interested in fighting and he just reponds to Guld directly stating it must have been him that he saw in Area Seven earlier while coming. He says this in a pretty benign way, the way you would address a friend or a colleague you were on good terms with. However, Guld ignores him and instead tells the Chief Isamu would be a waste of time leading to an explosive reaction from Isamu. Guld just calmly enjoys the situation stating Isamu is just proving his point. Lucy observes that they seem to know each other.

In the OVA this sequence is followed up by Guld looking up Isamu’s personal record and his Zentradi blood acting up, something which the movie shows much later.

Observations: The OVA begins on the note of childhood and goes deep into character building, especially for Isamu. We get a good understanding into his reckless and irreverent nature, why he ended up here etc. Having seen the scene of their friendly childhood at the beginning, when you are suddenly confronted with their abject animosity, you do wonder what could have happened to those children which resulted in these adults. The OVA also gives a fair bit of context into the aircrafts themselves, who Yang is etc. Without all this context-setting, the beginning of the movie feels a bit rushed.

Also, the movie begins with adult characters largely except the one shot of Myung so that note of loss of innocence is missing. It does build this up a bit with the sequence of Isamu drawing the Pterosaur in the sky but for me personally, that impact is not as strong. Where the OVA seems to set an expectation that people and their relationships will likely be a big focus area for this story with a lot of time spent on interactions of people with each other, the movie seems to set a context that the focus will be on the man-machine interface situation since that is where it begins with Myung and Guld. Not saying it stays there but watching the two back to back, that’s the impression I got.

Since this is a multi-part series, if you’d like to keep tab you can subscribe with your email ID in the menu on the left.

The Macross Plus Series:

  1. Introduction: The Macross Plus Series
  2. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Introduction
    1. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 1
    2. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 2
    3. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 3
    4. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 4
    5. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 5
    6. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Reflections
  3. Macross Plus: Key Themes
  4. Macross Plus: Characters and Relationships
  5. Macross Plus vs. Macross Franchise
  6. Macross Plus: Creators and Legacy

Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: #Mechamarch2022

Comparing the Macross Plus OVA and the movie has been an informal anime life goal for me. Why? Because while both are constructed from mostly the same material they are somewhat different creatures. Not entirely different but enough to not make them the same experience. There are times when each enunciates on different themes or presents the same situation divergently, representing or developing characters a bit distinctly, and telling the same story in but in different ways.

macross plus ova and movie

Background to Both Versions: Macross Plus was initially released in 1994 as a four part OVA (of around 40 mins each) in Japanese and subsequently in English for International markets. It was initially conceived as a feature-length piece by Keiko Nobumoto and hence in 1995 a Movie Edition was released which is 1 Hour 54 Minutes long featuring mostly the same footage as the original but often realigned or restructured and with 20 minutes of new or alternate footage.

When I started writing my analysis on Macross Plus I realised I simply cannot do justice to some of it without doing this analysis first so here we are. This series will go sequence by sequence over a set of articles analysing the variations, their significance, and impact. I’ll keep each short so they are easier to consume. Not sure if something like this already exists but I couldn’t find it. Please share with me if you are aware of something.

A big thanks to Scott at Mechanical Anime Reviews for showing enthusiasm about my plans to write about Macross Plus (though he now needs to judge how justified that was) which was a great bit of motivation. He does an annual event called Mecha March which you should check out. I’ll tag this and the next post with his hashtag #Mechamarch2022 in honour of that.

This took me a good four weeks to get through since it meant watching bite sized footage of each simultaneously, making notes, screenshots etc. but I’m happy I did it. Not sure how many Macross Plus aficionados are out there who would want to go this detailed and actually read it all. If I make mistakes please bear with me and just point them out. I’ll go back and fix them. I will be doing more detailed analyses on some of the overarching themes/characters etc. of Macross Plus separately so might not go into too much detail on those here beyond comparison/observations in these pieces. You can check the list of planned articles below.

Since this is a multi-part series, if you’d like to keep tab you can subscribe with your email ID in the menu on the left.

The Macross Plus Series:

  1. Introduction: The Macross Plus Series
  2. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Introduction
    1. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 1
    2. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 2
    3. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 3
    4. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 4
    5. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Part 5
    6. Macross Plus OVA vs. Movie: Reflections
  3. Macross Plus: Key Themes
  4. Macross Plus: Characters and Relationships
  5. Macross Plus vs. Macross Franchise
  6. Macross Plus: Creators and Legacy

Genjo Sanzo and Tripitaka: Saiyuki vs. Journey to the West

The anime Saiyuki is based on the 16th Century Chinese novel Journey to the West with Genjo Sanzo as its main character and I’ve compared the two works in this article so if you would like more background, please read that before proceeding. Over this and subsequent articles, I’ll focus on comparing some of the main characters in terms of depiction in the show versus the original novel. This one focuses on Genjo Sanzo.

So the ‘Sanzo Ikkou’ i.e. Sanzo’s gang in Saiyuki are about as alike to their Journey to the West counterparts as I am alike to Daffy Duck (except maybe Goku) but they do have some similarities (as do me and Daffy) and are definitely directly based on the characters from the original so it’s worth a look even if just for the sake of hilarity. Jury is still out on whether I am based on Daffy or not so we’ll get there some other day.

Genjo Sanzo vs. Tang Sanzang (Tripitaka)

Let me paint you a picture of this comparison through quotations. Can you guess which version of the same monk said which to his companions and friends?

“…If you have such abilities, you should have chased them away. Why did you slay them all? How can you be a monk when you take life without cause? … You showed no mercy at all! …”

“Quiet down or I’ll shoot you bastards!”

Sanzo the monk is our main character in Saiyuki and this guy is the wildest when it comes to the “departure from the original” department. He is based on the Buddhist monk Tang Sanzang, who is also known as Tripitaka in Journey to the West, and I feel if Tripitaka actually ever saw Sanzo in any episode of Saiyuki he would go into apoplectic shock.

Tripitaka in the book is a representation of the soul which seeks enlightenment and is this extremely wise man who is very holy, revered, the embodiment of calmness, wisdom, and being centered. He keeps reminding the more violent and impulsive members of his posse, especially Sun Wukong, to be compassionate and think things through before acting, to avoid killing. He is also the book’s resident damsel in distress cause everybody wants a piece of him…no literally. Demons believe his flesh will give them immortality so they want to eat him and hence in most arcs he ends up with a kidnapping attempt or being actually kidnapped.

Sanzo is nothing like Tripitaka. He smokes, wears Jeans and a turtleneck under his robes, carries a gun for dispatching demons, keeps smacking people with a fan (mostly Goku and Gojyo) when they don’t toe the line, and has zero patience for anything and anyone. He can also kick ass, never actually took monastic vows, doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for any of the bureaucratic divine folk in his life, doesn’t want to preach wisdom, has no patience for “weaklings” (with some exceptions) and can’t really be bothered by a whole lot though he does take his responsibilities seriously.

So yeah, not the same guy at-all. Sanzo’s background arc is rather sad just like everyone else in the show and he even has a previous incarnation who has a whole paternal arc with Goku. What I love about his character is that he is the very representation of Minekura staying both reverent to the original while also completely doing his own thing. Sanzo is very much a monk even if he never took monastic vows and he fulfills his quest, lives a pretty frugal life, and has amazing moments of wisdom so his role as the wise leader of the group is pretty much a given but like I said, Tripitaka’s benevolence is nowhere a part of this character and he is often very anti-establishment, thus setting the tone for the edginess of the entire show.

His interaction with his companions is also most often ballistic but he knows how to get them going as well. He travels in the company of three half demons but is still definitely the most savage of the lot. All in all, Sanzo is a pretty awesome character and super fun to watch. I love him and he is honestly one of the very few characters in anime who can actually awaken the fangirl in me (who even knows why I want a belligerent monk but that’s for my shrink to figure out) but his general aura of not giving a damn which hides a much deeper and softer side is fairly fitting (and a common main character trope). The manga covers his previous incarnation’s paternal arc with Goku which is just beautiful.

Other Articles in this series:

  1. Comparing Saiyuki and Journey to the West
  2. Genjo Sanzo vs. Tripitaka
  3. Son Goku vs. Sun Wukong
  4. Sha Gojyo vs. Sha Wujing
  5. Cho Hakkai vs. Zhu Bajie
  6. Special Mention: Kanzenon Bosatsu vs. Guanyin

For more articles on anime click here

Comparing Saiyuki and Journey to the West

Spoiler Free: I was re-reading parts of Journey to the West and Saiyuki and posting random thought dribbles on Twitter for two days before finally realising I was sending myself subconscious messages to write on them. Most likely something highly pointless but I want to do it. This will sort of be a silly post mostly off the top of my head because I’m tired out by a lot of IRL stuff these days. It’s also likely been done already hundred times but oh well.

Retrospective note: It was getting too long so I split it into two parts, the first comparing Journey to the West and Saiyuki and the second part comparing the four Saiyuki boys to their novel counterparts….which is one crazy departure.

I watched Saiyuki years ago as a kid knowing it was based on some Chinese novel called ‘Journey to the West’ but with zero context to what the novel was about. Then I grew older and gradually learned more about the source material. As I did, my love for Saiyuki and admiration for the sheer insanity of its mangaka Kazuya Minekura in creating something like this went up a hundredfold. I have promised myself I will keep this post short because meandering writing is my default.

What is Journey to the West?

Journey to the West is a 16th century Chinese classic novel written during the Ming Dynasty by a person called Wu Cheng’en and is the story of a monk Tang Sanzang (name changes depending upon culture) and his travel to India from China in quest of sacred Buddhist sutras. This is a dramatised version of the autobiographical account written by the actual monk who did undertake such a travel. He took some super convoluted route which took him West to Afghanistan and Uzbekistan before arriving finally at Vulture Peak in India (which is actually South of China) likely the Silk Road which was a common route of the time designed to avoid crossing the Himalayas.

This ode-to-terrible-geo-mapping of a novel has had a very strong impact in Chinese culture over the years and has been adapted way too many times to keep count. How it is adapted and which messages the end product enunciates has also changed drastically over the years as the country has transformed. By osmosis, influence of the novel also flowed into Japanese media resulting in stuff like this:

Dragonball Z, Saiyuki, Monkey Typhoon, Goku no Daiboken, Shinzo etc. are all loosely based on Journey to the West with references to the novel also made in other sundry anime including Love Hina, Doraemon, Digimon etc.

The whole story is one giant allegory for the journey each individual soul has to undertake to achieve Nirvana/enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal of a human life within Buddhism. The struggle is both against external stimuli which may distract the soul from its journey and also against one’s own distracted mind, lusts, desires, and the failings of the human body. The story is 100 chapters long and has four main characters plus a transforming dragon/horse along with a sundry pantheon of supporting characters and a major “guide” for our protagonists in the Bodhisattva Guanyin. All of our main characters are metaphors too. Sounds cool right? Well, Kazuya Minekura took a look at all that and went…well…

Saiyuki versus Journey to the West

The Similarities

As per the Saiyuki wiki, the name translates to “Journey to the Extreme” which is a pun on “Journey to the West.” The show was broadcast on Animax over here under the title ‘Journey to the West’ so at-least Animax takes that connection seriously. Saiyuki is both almost exactly like Journey to the West while simultaneously being absolutely nothing like it. How is it alike? Well, its essence is the same with the general premise of a monk (Tang Sanzang/Tripitaka in the novel and Genjo Sanzo in the anime) setting off to India with his three companions on a quest. There is also involvement of Gunayin (called by her Japanese name Kanzeon Bosatsu) who helps the boys during their quest. The three companions do have some resonance with the metaphorical significance of their original counterparts as well. They encounter multiple demons and obstacles in this journey which they must overcome to keep achieving their goal….and that’s about where the similarities end really.

The Dissimilarities

Saiyuki is on a trip of its own and starts right at the quest unlike the book which has a whole arc of the Monkey King Sun Wukong (Sun Goku in Saiyuki) followed by introduction of our main man Tripitaka the monk, holiest of the holy. The book spends 12 chapters on this while the series spends around 10 minutes on it. The other two companions, whom Tripitaka travels to find, are already known to Sanzo and show up to meet him on their own like another 10 minutes later. The quest itself is being undertaken for very different reasons in both stories. Tripitaka travels on a horse which is actually a dragon. In the series, the dragon is tiny (and cute AF), turns into a jeep, and is owned by Hakkai, one of the other two companions.

Goku and Gojyo (the fourth companion based on the pig spirit Zhu Bajie) were the main fighters in the novel but in Saiyuki everybody is a fighter (even Sanzo). It seems set in an ancient time but there are random anachronisms like the presence of pistols, beer, cigarettes, motor vehicles, jeans etc. and the story arcs seem somewhat reminiscent of the demon-fighting of Journey to the West but not quite the same since the original involves Tripitaka getting kidnapped a whole lot which I don’t think is the case with Sanzo (been a while since I saw it so might need a refresher on this). The story doesn’t even try to stick to the original really with all the characters having their own new arcs and background stories more fitting to an anime. Also, the characters themselves are entirely rehashed versions of the originals, which I’ll cover in the next thing I am writing simply for the purpose of fangirling on Hakkai and Sanzo for a bit. Overall, if you like the typical quest, action, and humor anime, Saiyuki is a pretty decent watch.

Other Articles in this series:

  1. Genjo Sanzo vs. Tripitaka
  2. Son Goku vs. Sun Wukong
  3. Sha Gojyo vs. Sha Wujing
  4. Cho Hakkai vs. Zhu Bajie
  5. Special Mention: Kanzenon Bosatsu vs. Guanyin

For more stuff on anime, click here