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“Loved ones will always watch over you” — letters in Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe

“Is this emotionally manipulative?” is a question frequently asked regarding Japanese animation. I first heard it regarding Clannad — particularly in relation to Kotomi Ichinose’s narrative arc, but also about the series as a whole — but this query dogs certain anime, even if the series in question is completely upfront about these goals, like Clannad. The floating teddy bear in the ocean, the empty, overgrown garden, the musical cues, they’re all in service of eliciting tears from the audience. It’s the equivalent of Russell Crowe’s Maximus screaming, “Are you not entertained?” only the unspoken scream is “Cry, damn you!” to the affected viewer.

In the current anime season, two series have fallen into this category according to the community: Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe. Within the past week, both shows told similar but diverging stories regarding mothers, daughters, and letters that play with ideas of time and transience. These stories offer an easy point of comparison between each other while also pushing carefully constructed emotional buttons.

However, the question shouldn’t be whether something is emotionally manipulative, but whether it works, strings and all. Do these feelings still feel genuine despite obvious cues and pre-existing narrative structures? My definitely-not-dry eyes say yes, but whatever personal conclusion you come to, Violet Evergarden and A Place Further than the Universe offer parallel case studies — nearly a week apart in airtime — in what make letters and messages such emotional sucker-punches.

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Atsuko Ishizuka’s clever use of social media in A Place Further Than the Universe

#IFollowEveryoneWhoFollowsMe

Child actress Yuzuki Shiraishi chooses this hashtag for her Instagram post that depicts a fairly candid shot of her stepping away from an older woman splashing water and onto a cat. The woman is Shirase Kobuchizawa’s grandmother. Yuzuki is on her way to request that Shirase take over her job as “high school girl reporter” along for the ride in the Challenge for the Antarctic expedition.

A well-known actress who according to Mari Tamaki’s (Kimari) internet research has 38,000 followers, Yuzuki shouldn’t have to beg for followers in a hashtag. It doesn’t matter that her idol debut was with a horrendously-titled song, “The Follow-backs Don’t Stop,” there’s no world where someone as popular as Yuzuki should be begging for followers, never mind promising to follow them back, which is often seen as social media suicide. Yet she does, in this post that only has two likes, two reblogs, and zero comments, less engagement than I received last night for random musings about Madeline L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door.

The image doubles as A Place Further Than the Universe‘s third episode introduction, an episode where Yuzuki will later learn that she has made friends without having to try — also that having friends doesn’t mean that said friends will be the sycophants she’s used to, which is actually a very good thing. #IFollowEveryoneWhoFollowsMe might be Yuzuki’s #brand, but it doubles as a reflection of her personal insecurities, distain for certain aspects of her job, and desperate desire to have real friends. Yuzuki opens the episode by trying to pass off her job to the ill-equipped Shirase in order to lead a more normal high school life with her classmates. She ends the episode with three new friends — Hinata Miyake, Kimari, and Shirase — and a promise to go to Antarctica together.

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“Avant-Garde,” Revisiting Gatchaman Crowds Episode 1

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“Chaos and threat may not be the same. The judgment is yours to make.”

-JJ Robinson, Gatchaman Crowds, Episode 1

With these words to his G-Crew, JJ Robinson lays out exactly what Gatchaman Crowds intends to explore within the scope of its first season. They are written in each Gatchaman NOTE regarding the “nameless chaos,” which the G-Crew have dubbed “MESS” — the default antagonist of the series’ premiere.

Gatchaman Crowds‘ debut is titled “Avant-garde” — the first in a season’s worth of episode titles dedicated to art history or specific art terms. Avant-garde translated literally means “at the vanguard,” and within an art context identifies something that pushes the boundaries of what is socially acceptable, or calls out pre-existing societal norms and mores. Often the purpose of an avant-garde work is to promote radical social or political change to the current status quo.

For this reason, Gatchaman Crowds doesn’t open with its eccentric newbie, Hajime Ichinose. Instead, it begins with Sugune Tachibana’s morning routine, effectively establishing the status quo, giving it a character of its own within the series.

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What’s in a Name? Mayoiga and Internet Handles

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One of my favorite things to do while playing an online video game is to study the handles of my opponents. Various references to anime, manga, television series, professional players of both sports or esports, and a variety of other media favorites meet to create hilarious and entertaining names.

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