The Hilarious “Notorious” Herbivorous Dragon

This has got to be one of the cutest and most hilarious takes on the usual fantasy tropes that I have yet seen!

And this is definitely a first! Since the Chinese dub of this anime aired before the Japanese dub, incoming in January of 2023, I am technically reviewing it before it even airs in Japan, let alone in America. If it gets an English dub, which would not surprise me, I would get to watch it in three different languages, another first. Heh, somehow that makes me smile, though not nearly as much as the anime itself!

The long, technical title is, A Herbivorous Dragon of 5,000 Years Gets Unfairly Villainized. I’ve seen it referred to more simply as The Notorious Herbivore Dragon (more of the wonderful delights to be found between translations and the Western desire for brevity). For the sake of simplicity, I am going to go with the latter title during this review.

The dragon in question is, indeed, an herbivore, eating fruits, veggies, and grass instead of meat, and he is both a coward and an absolute pushover. But he has lived for five thousand years (by hiding in a cave) so the locals (erroneously) insist that he must be very powerful. Furthermore, he must surely be the strong right hand of the demon lord who seeks to conquer the entire world! Seeking (needlessly) to placate him, and to persuade him (in vain) to protect their village from the minions of the demon lord, they send to him a young girl, an unwanted orphan, as a sacrifice.

Not about to actually eat her, the dragon tricks her and the village, saying he has eaten her soul and he doesn’t want another, so they should give the girl, as his emissary, a good house and whatever she needs! …only for it to turn out that the girl has magic of monstrously-powerful proportions, which she now attributes to the dragon who “ate her soul,” and she intends to use it to defeat the demon lord… dragging the poor, innocent dragon along for the ride!

The girl’s overwhelming power is dwarfed only by her ability to make whatever she sees and whatever the dragon does fit into her own pre-existing view of things. (…must resist urge to insert political joke!) When the dragon tries to tell her he’s a vegan, she lies down like the main dish surrounded by garnish. When a young boy who obviously loves her tried to give her supplies to escape being sacrificed, she thought he was trying to take her place as a rival, rather then trying to save her life. (Said boy, upon learning that the dragon “ate her soul,” vows to slay the dragon and take her soul back!) When the dragon quails before wolves, she takes it to mean his pride is affronted and deals with the wolves herself. And so it goes, right down to telling herself that she’s hallucinating when she sees the dragon eating grass alongside the sheep.

Now, one might think that it would eventually make sense for the dragon to somehow, someway make the truth clear to the girl. However, it doesn’t take long to realize that he is all this girl has ever had. To shatter her illusions about him could well drive her mad and send her, with all her power, on an absolute rampage. Preferring to avoid that, he keeps up the act, pretending to be what she thinks he is, even while trying to explain to others that he isn’t really a bad dragon at all.

Add in a few other characters, like a friendly guard captain, a spirit of hunting, a real dragon general of the demon lord’s army, a dark spirit that tries to turn people evil, various minor characters, and a water demon who tried to be evil but failed at it so much that she’s worshiped as a saint, and you have the recipe for some hilarious hijinks as a girl and her dragon make their way around the countryside, doing good as they go.

It’s funny, endearing, and wholesome. And the episodes are shorter than most anime, which makes it an even quicker binge than most, if you want to sit back and laugh for a few hours. I highly recommend it!

Grade: 9 stars out of 10.

Grade: A-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #420: Love Thy Enemy

“The worthy opponent must be honored and valued with the same regard one has for a friend.”
– Centaur, Monster Rancher
Season 1, Episode 25, “Warriors of the Ruins”

Come December, come all manner of thoughts surrounding Christmas. Of late, I’ve been thinking of the famed Christmas Truce of World War I, and I may quote something about that a bit more directly another time. But I’ve been looking back at the anime I viewed as a kid, contemplating what they are worth to me now, as an adult with a perspective that has entirely changed, and lo and behold, I find this, the words of a warrior as depicted in a children’s anime, and I could not help but make a connection.

War is a reality. It has always been part of the human story, and it has always been brutal, bloody, and horrific. Of course we look up to those who willingly step onto the battlefield, who endure all the horror and come back home in victory, or at least we used to. We’ve always needed heroes to protect us and inspire us to our best selves. But what of the cost they pay on that field of blood and carnage? What humanity remains in them when they are fighting for their lives and their cause, having to kill or be killed by people who are often exactly like themselves?

This, I think, is why we have such things as codes of honor in battle and articles of war. They may vary from one culture to another, but what they ultimately boil down to is this: love thy enemy as thy friend.

That is how they retain their humanity even in the midst of hellish war. In a place where it is so easy to hate, they choose to love instead. To show mercy when they can. To capture one’s most dangerous and worthy opponents instead of killing them. To tend each other’s injuries and permit medics to roam the battlefield without trying to kill them. To share provisions with starving enemies or even help them escape a danger which threatens all sides. To call a truce for a moment, to refuse to stain a holy day with blood.

An army which loves their enemies may be resigned to killing them in battle, but will behave as decent men either in victory or defeat.

Love is what keeps us human even in Hell, and its lack is the root and stem of evil itself.

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Black Summoner is a Fun Ride

This is one of those anime that doesn’t simply have the usual tropes of an overpowered protagonist in another world with a bountiful harem… it celebrates and has fun with these tropes! And, based on the ending to its first season, the creators behind it are definitely hoping to keep the party going at some point.

Black Summoner follows the adventures of its titular character, Kelvin. The “black” part refers to his dark raiment and his aggressive demeanor – he’s a battle junkie, loving the thrill of a good fight with someone strong – but the “summoner” part is not entirely accurate. Yes, he is a summoner, and it’s easy to see how that can be a very potent ability, depending on how it’s used, but it’s only a small part of his overwhelming power, and one which comes up less and less as things progress. He brings a lot of firepower to the party with his elemental magic, his powerful combat techniques, and his arcane artifice by which he easily crafts numerous powerful items for himself and his growing team, which is mostly made up of his growing harem.

Said harem begins with Melfina, the goddess of reincarnation, who, as Kelvin wakes up in a fantasy world with no memories, informs him of his situation. He was reincarnated from his previous life, and traded his memories for higher stats in his new life. He also apparently fell for her the first instant he saw her and was so charming that she decided to take a vacation from her duties as a goddess, accompanying him first as a disembodied voice in his head, awaiting the rise of his levels to a point high enough to summon her. Once he does that, she quickly gets herself a physical body so she can win his heart instead of any of the increasing amount of competition.

Said competition thus far primarily consists of Efil, a half-elf ranger who is a slave for some stupid reason and who is apparently condemned to be dressed as a maid forever, and Sera, a demon princess entrusted to Kelvin’s care by her guardian upon said guardian’s defeat. There’s also a magnificent queen who has her eye on Kelvin, and the more probable additions (in due time) of the human princess of an enemy kingdom and a local secretary girl who is more than she seems (in the manga, at least). Another girl, Rion, is more a little sister figure and will hopefully stay that way, but it’s the presence of Gerard, an imposing black knight ghost, and Clotho, a cute slime, which thankfully balance out the usual harem hijinks.

On the note of Rion, especially, I want to mention the presence and influence of other isekai figures. Kelvin was reincarnated because he was killed by mistake, while Rion is reincarnated via a summoning by Kelvin and Melfina, as a hero and an addition to their family. Her life was apparently cut tragically short and was not a pleasant one, so she’s grateful beyond words to be living a new life, better than the last, having adventures with her new older brother and her dog, Alex, a shadow hound that Kelvin tames for her. But it doesn’t end there. No, there are plenty of other people who’ve had and are having isekai adventures, and they provide an interesting flavor for this story.

There’s a quartet of summoned heroes, a boy and his obvious harem of three girls. They’re nice people, selfless and brave, and Kelvin unofficially takes them under his wing a little, teaching and training them for a time before sending them on their way.

There’s some indication that the ancestor of that queen I mentioned was from Japan as well, and evidently he somehow introduced rice to the world.

I’m going to be honest, in Kel’s place, with a queen like her throwing herself at me? I would have stood zero chance!

There’s an enemy general who has a good deal of power and is hugely self-centered. This one clearly bought into all the worst parts of these stories, wherein he thinks of himself as the protagonist and everyone else as his playthings, including a large harem that he forced to be his with magic to bespell their minds. When he encounters Kelvin, he tries to say Kelvin is reveling in his greater power, enjoying a good fight, but the key difference is obvious: Kelvin does not trample on others for his own amusement, actually cares about others, and does not enslave anyone’s minds. (Though he does still have Efil as a slave, which, why not just free her already?)

If we get a second season or more, I am intrigued to see what else they do with this trope, but, on that note, I want to dwell on Kelvin himself. It is well-known that most of the protagonists in harem and isekai anime these days are bland self-inserts for the audience, but Kelvin is not. The thrill he gets from a good fight is proof enough of that, but it’s balanced with a kindness and consideration for those around him. He understands people and gets along well with them, not arrogant but also not wimpy or meek either. There is something refreshing about that. About the only thing he has in common with those usual protagonists is how passive he is with his harem. They don’t do anything bad to each other or to him, which makes them one of the more favorable harems out there, but they clearly vie for his attention and affection, and he’s not doing much to pursue any of them.

And then there’s how Kelvin spends the entire first season being consistently stronger than everyone else. In most cases, that gets boring, even annoying, but Black Summoner manages to make it a lot more fun than it usually is. When he plays a little trick on the party of heroes, he is clearly much stronger than them, but not too much. He needs to use his wits more than most other overpowered protagonists, and there are enough people as strong as he is that the humor of stomping on weak enemies is often followed by something more exciting. Finally, it’s outright stated that there are plenty more figures that we haven’t met yet, plenty who are just as strong as him or even stronger, which promises more thrills and fun in exchange for Kelvin having it easier in most fights. Not to mention the promise of demons lords rising, would-be empires invading, and the promise of revenge on an enemy kingdom. There’s a good deal of material still to work with here in future seasons, assuming we get them.

If there is anything that I would change, it would be the sudden change to CGI for some of the fights. It’s unexpected, jarring, and leaves a great deal to be desired. Outside that, it’s just a matter of details, like the whole “slave” thing with Efil.

All in all, it’s a fun ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with interesting tweaks on the usual tropes, lovable characters, and interesting, though not exactly complicated, plots. Reminds me a bit of Skeleton Knight that way.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #419: What to Do With the World

“Or, you could take the world as you find it, broken and jagged and weak, and you could step right into the midst of it. Take what it is and spend yourself making it what it should be.”
– Flibbet the Peddler, Raven’s Ruin
The Keeper Origins
, by JA Andrews

This is part of a conversation which Flibbet, a peddler that passes through the story every so often, is having with the main protagonist at a moment when she feels very low and very disheartened. The one hope she had seems to be dashed to pieces, the one place she thought she could be free from the corruption of the world is flawed in a way she cannot overlook. In the course of their talk, he points out that ultimately she has only two choices. One is to pack it all in, give up, run away from the world, and find some place of peace on her own. Or go the other way, as he says in this quote, and do what she can to make the world a better place.

I think, perhaps, it is not exactly uncommon for us to pick that first option, on some level. It might not always involve going out to a cabin in the woods, washing our hands of all civilization and such. It can be as simple and everyday as just going about our lives and leaving the fate of the world for others to decide. Nothing wrong, I rush to add, with the decision to focus on putting food on the table instead of launching ourselves on some fool, idealistic, one-man crusade to save the world. Balance is key, after all. But every time we look away from the world, away from how things are, and away from the people who need help, just so we can stay put in our quiet little corner, well… we’re not going to improve our world like that, are we?

I remember a passing moment on a perfectly ordinary day, where I was going from one place to another, my mind set entirely on where I was going and what I was doing as I walked among a flowing crowd. Along the edge of the crowd was a girl, a young lady with blonde hair and a troubled, upset expression. She was going one way, and I was going another, so I walked past her and that was it. I kept going. And going. And going. It couldn’t have been more than a minute, but it might as well have been an eternity for the moment that I had missed. I turned back, cursing myself with a dozen faults and ran back the way I had come, but it was far too late. I never found that girl who might have been in need of nothing more than to know that someone, even a perfect stranger, could still care about her.

That was around fifteen years ago, now, and I still remember, and regret, that moment where, in my haste, I turned away and failed to do something that might have been nothing, or it might have been good. I have applied that lesson once or twice since, but I still regret that little bit of good which I did not do, that little bit of me which I did not give.

It’s a small thing, a small moment, I know. But that’s what life is made up of: moments. The entire world, the entire universe, is made up of smaller things. Maybe if we all took better care of the small things, perhaps the world itself would be a better place, with less suffering, less hate, and less apathy, and more kindness, more courage, more justice and mercy.

We all have our own strengths, our own spheres of influence, our own little corners of the world. We all have ways in which we would want to see the world improved, and we all know the urge to step away from it all, for changing the world is a mighty thing and we are all so weak and powerless. But if each of us can find within us the resolve to act, not to save the entire world but to improve things in our own way, in our own corner, then all of that will run together, and together, all of us can do much to make the world what it should be.

It requires much. Indeed, it requires everything we can give of ourselves. But it all starts with a choice to either reject the world for all its imperfections and try to keep ourselves apart from it, or we step into it and try to make things right.

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Anime Review: Parallel World Pharmacy

Wait, a pharmacy isekai anime that has some actual plot?!

The first anime like that I encountered completely failed to pass my one-episode rule. The second had a contrived plot in which the pharmacy was ultimately irrelevant. This is the third one I’ve encountered, and I was rather surprised when I realized that there was, indeed, a real plot to the story, and one in which the pharmacy had some relevance. Mind you, this one has issues of its own, mostly involving the world-building, but we’ll get to those in a moment.

Parallel World Pharmacy follows the soul of a driven, dedicated doctor as his soul leaves this world and is sent into another one, possessing the body of a young boy in a Medieval European sort of empire. The boy, Farma, got struck by lightning and died, leaving the vessel open for the new Farma to move in. Now being raised in an affluent family of pharmaceutists, as they’re called, Farma possesses an immense wealth of magical power and ability, with which he is able to diagnose any ailment and create medicines for them, using knowledge from his previous life. It becomes quickly apparent that his soul was sent there by the family’s godly patron, called the Panactheos, not only through his unique abilities and great power, but also as his actions and contributions to their medical knowledge soon have vast repercussions throughout the empire and the world.

And all Farma really wants to do is open a pharmacy of his own, to help heal as many people as possible and alleviate suffering. It’s a noble desire, born of a loss suffered in his previous life, but apparently his new patron deity has a bit more in mind for him, namely stopping some other, more nefarious entity in its tracks.

Pausing on that note, I have to admit I was a little put off by the whole idea of a god killing a child and shoving another soul within his body to do its work. I still am, actually. It might have been a bit more benevolent if, say, the doctor’s soul had become a companion within the boy’s mind instead, allowing for an entirely different dynamic. That said, when I take into account that there is clearly another force at work, one which is bringing suffering and death to people very quickly, I have to wonder if the more benevolent deity simply had to take drastic action immediately and could not be kinder about it. Either way, though, it was this sudden showdown with an evil force that suddenly shook me, realizing that everything up until this point might have been tedious and a bit awkward, but it was meant to set the stage.

Farma’s abilities enable him to command a tremendous amount of elemental magic, in addition to an ability to create raw materials from nothing or render them into nothing, topped off with a mystical eye that lets him see and accurately diagnose any sort of malady. It’s a perfect combination for one with his medical knowledge, and it leaves him quite overpowered, practically a god among mortals. All of these turn out to be vital in his sudden confrontation with the villain of the story, but it is his kindness and caring which win him the many friends he needs at the moment of crisis.

He is kind to a tutor who became overwhelmed and fearful in the face of his power, he saves the empress from a fatal illness, he saves his little sister from drowning, he provides useful treats for sailors to combat scurvy among them, he cares for a young girl with all the professionalism he had in his previous life, and he saves the life of an inquisitor who mistook Farma for some kind of demon. Thus, he gains helpers, assistants, protectors, allies, coworkers, colleagues, and more, all of which play their pivotal role in the face of an enemy’s nefarious attack: an unleashing of the Black Death upon their people.

Thus does Farma come face to face with a true evil, a man who perverted the selfless medicine of the pharmaceutists and turned it towards the inflicting of suffering instead of the alleviating of such, striving to kill instead of save, and on a massive scale. We see him for exactly one episode, but between his wicked works, his deranged mentality, his love of pain and death, and how he hurts the most innocent members of the entire cast, it’s safe to say that one episode was enough for me to absolutely hate this man, this Camus de Sade, who had become an evil spirit of pestilence and plague. He may have stood absolutely zero chance against such an overpowered foe as Farma, but this time it simply felt right, that such a degenerate devil of a man and all his works should be undone so quickly and easily by the true servant of a divine being.

A surprisingly potent villain for lasting only one episode.

And everything tedious, which set up every aspect of what Farma needed to lead the fight against the Black Death and to undo de Sade himself, took the patience I needed to endure some relatively dull episodes, and rewarded it with a most satisfying victory.

Mind you, there are still some world-building issues in the background. In particular, it is established that Farma alone has the skills to make many of his medications, especially in a Medieval world that very much lacks any industrial technology. Thus, this begs the question of how Farma is able to keep his large pharmacy properly supplied, and, even more, how he is able to supply the partner shops that open up as part of his guild. I mean… how?

The other world-building detail that kept bugging me was the entire dynamic between the nobles and the commoners. Specifically, with what I know of history, the notion of this Medieval Empire wherein the commoners actually became wealthy on their own without the nobles. That was not exactly a common thing back then. The rich people were the nobles who had the financial means to fund their various business ventures. They were the big business elite. Now, I can understand nobility being based on one’s divine arts – aka, having magic – but the notion of that commoners owned wealthy businesses while nobles just sat on their butts, in a society based on our own real history, just strains credulity a little too much for me.

If one can set those issues aside, though, then Parallel World Pharmacy remains a simple, somewhat tedious story of a human being who wants to help his fellows being blessed with the opportunity to do so at a pivotal moment in history. He may well become a legend among the people for his kindness, compassion, and his tireless effort to heal people. Which is something of a welcome departure from every hero being overpowered only in ways which destroy and are meant to kill demons but which can hardly save anyone at all. It’s a very wholesome, uplifting sort of anime, though not always exciting.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Grade: B-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #418: Love, More Than Money

“I must say, Regina, now our son really is the richest boy in the world.”

“He has friends.”

– Richard & Regina Rich, Richie Rich

This comes at the end of a movie which, from beginning to end, is about how money is not everything. It’s not even the “best” thing. It is a very useful thing, perhaps, but it’s worth a lot less than people sacrifice for it. People think that if they had enough of it, all of their problems would disappear, and then they would be happy. But nothing about that is true. Not only does happiness not mean “a lack of problems,” but money is inherently limited, so it doesn’t simply make every problem vanish in the first place. It certainly does not bring happiness, else why would so many of the richest people in the world be so miserable?

Money can buy many things, but not happiness, and not love.

That is what makes the son of these two so rich. It’s not his bank account, or his popularity – and, yes, he is rather popular at the moment, but that is not remotely the same thing as being loved. Love is the greatest wealth in the universe, for from love springs the loyalty of comrades, the treasure of kindness, and the joy of family and friendship. Love takes all sorts of perfectly ordinary things, common items and everyday moments, and turns them into priceless treasures. Priceless in the truest sense of the word, being beyond the power of money to buy, barter, borrow, or exchange, or take, or lose in any way. You can lose a house because of money, but money cannot make you lose the joy that was known within its walls.

People in dire deprivation have known more joy in their lives than the wealthiest of the world’s elite, so long as they have had love. People facing death itself have known more peace than the safest person behind all of their walls and guards, because they have loved and been loved by the people who faced death alongside them. The humblest of the humble have been richer in the things that truly matter than the proud and mighty, because their treasure has been eternal, beyond the power of thieves and rust and inflation.

I know that I do not have much in my life, not in the eyes of the world, neither money nor status nor great, fancy toys the worth of which could feed a man for years on end. I know that I have indulged in far too many fantasies of having all those worldly things. I know that, whatever I do have, I am still squarely at the bottom of the totem pole.

And yet, I have so much. So much!

I do not suffer from deprivation. I have all my needs met, as well as many luxuries. I have an ocean of stories to swim in, sating my mind and my sanity. Most of all, I have love in my life. I have my family, and my adorable pets, and, though many have gone away from me, a weight which lingers on my heart, I do still have friends. True friends, and loyal.

I have so much to be thankful for, treasures which are beyond the price of money.

I am thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Anime Review: Bucchigire!

The English translation of the title is, “Shine On! Bakumatsu Bad Boys.” Somehow, I have difficulty taking that title seriously, so I still think of it as Bucchigire.

It’s an alternate history that puts a rather fantastic twist on the famed Shinsengumi. It starts out very strong, with a group of criminals being forcibly recruited as substitutes for seven of the Shinsengumi leaders, all but one of whom were assassinated. They are to fight for the nation and people of Japan, and their enemies are the Masked Demons, who have their own view of what the future should be and do not hesitate to kill anyone in order to further their goals. Indeed, much of what the Masked Demons do is simply to kill people, to collect their souls and use them to power some very futuristic weaponry. Against this, the substitute Shinsengumi leaders have only their own swords, but which are empowered more willingly by the souls of their deceased predecessors.

I’m going to be blunt here: this was not a very surprising show. It was fun, in its way, but it was also cliche, predictable, and filled with by-the-numbers tropes, with a plot that mostly happens just because it needs to happen that way.

The leader is a reckless, loudmouthed fool with big dreams of changing the world, as per usual. The enemy commander is the leader’s long lost brother, complete with a tragic redemption arc, as per usual. The girl of the group is one of the best fighters and has a romantic subplot, as per usual. A cold, ruthless assassin with a tortured past is both foible and strongest support to the leader, as per usual. The others include a priestly pacifist, a mad scientist, a gun-toting ruffian, a huge idiot with a huge appetite, and the lone survivor of the previous generation of leaders, now trying to bear the weight of all of them, all as per usual. The witty mentor figure is assassinated and leaves a clue to the enemy’s plans, as per usual. The true enemy is a highly-placed official, a traitor, with occult knowledge and a desire to keep the world from changing, so he does not lose his place in it, all as usual. And after a dozen episodes of growing accustomed to these colorful characters, we have a showdown that is suddenly reminiscent of The Magnificent Seven, or, rather, Seven Samurai. Except, of course, that none of the main heroes actually die or suffer much in any way.

So, it’s not any sort of revolutionary anime. No great twists and turns and shocking reveals here. And yet there is a certain… resonance. Something which draws on truth and speaks to the soul, rather than to the mind.

Japan had a long history of self-isolation, so much so that they had to have their doors kicked down and their teeth kicked in, dragging them kicking and screaming into the modern era. Once that was done, they quickly became a dominant power in their sphere again, enough to take on much of the world. Still, to this day, Japanese culture is not much accepting of outsiders, irregulars, and foreigners. One can hardly blame them, given how radical were the changes forced upon them, no matter how much they have made those changes their own and thrived for it. Anyone would be angry for a very long time in the wake of losing so much of their ancient traditions, and all that accompanies such.

Thus, when I look at this anime, I see Japan’s struggle with itself, seeking to increase their strength without cutting the roots of their cultural identity. It is a painful ordeal, to grow and change, not least for what ends up left behind. Within this, there will always be those who greedily strive to hold on to their waning status, even to renew and increase it, no matter whose blood they will spill, whose lives they will trample on, and on whose souls they will feed. The ancient and the occult are merged with frightening futuristic weaponry, playing on the human fears of both science and the supernatural, co-opting humanity’s march into the future and turning it into a backwards slide into stagnation. Against this, the protagonist fights for the dream of a new world, one in which no one gets stepped on. A simple but very high ideal, the hope that shines in the darkness of the enemy’s ultimate despair.

There is something of value in that.

But it’s still a very campy, predictable, and very generic action flick that generally does not excite one’s brain overmuch. It’s fun, but not really thrilling. It’s not quite a children’s anime, but it is close.

Rating: I give it 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: …hmmm, C-Plus seems slightly low, so I’ll be a little generous and say B-Minus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #417: Understanding and Hope

“How to stay afloat in this world and all of its gravity
When every day the pull is grabbing me
And it’s easy thinking, ‘Nobody here’s understanding me’
Maybe I’m not alone
Maybe I’m not alone”
– from “Gravity,” by Irys

Music is the universal language, speaking to us on a level even deeper than emotions.

As I am writing this, the song I’m quoting has just barely been released, sung by a VTuber whose online nom de guerre is Irys, a herald of hope. From the first note to the last, it speaks to me of that hope which she wishes to spread. The song as a whole is about going through the heavy ordeals of this world, lacking energy, feeling like we’re in a bottomless abyss we can’t get out of, and feeling so alone… but we’re not. Right now, someone is feeling the same things we are, countless people knowing exactly the same frustrations that we are enduring. We are not alone.

Misery may love company, but so does joy. Hope is a light that grows ever stronger when we know that we have someone to share it with, as they share it with us in turn. Even for the most independent of souls, it’s comforting to be in good company, people we know understand us.

I say that as one who has often felt alone, in an abyss from which there is no escape. Not alone, at least. Oh, I am not a social butterfly by any means, and I would not survive if I could not retreat and recharge in solitude. But, oh, how thankful I have been when I have found that I was not really alone! Even at those times when I have not been in anyone’s immediate company, I have been able to feel close to others and happy when I have known that they understood me and truly cared for me. My friends have been my angels, lighting my darkness, giving me warmth even in the cold of my despair, and helping escape the inescapable abyss.

Simply being understood is such a powerful blessing, and I thank God for it!

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The Charming Little Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting

With a title like this, one might expect an overwhelming comedy, maybe something like the anime version of Three Men and a Baby, where hilarious hijinks ensue as the big, tough men have to learn to adapt to the task of raising a child and find their lives forever changed as they all become a family. There is a certain element of that, but The Yakuza’s Guide to Babysitting is mostly about the fun, simple, happy, peaceful moments by which a bond is formed and how that bond begins to reshape both man and child.

A yakuza heavy-hitter is tasked with babysitting the adorable daughter of the family. This is partially to ensure that six-year-old Yaeka is looked after and protected, and partially to teach the former heavy-hitter, Kirishima, to be a bit more responsible and less violent. What follows is a series of endearing episodes wherein the loneliness that both of them feel is driven away as they form connections, strong and deep, with each other and with the people around them. New friends are made, old friends return, they adopt a stray kitten, they visit Yaeka’s mother in the hospital where she has been comatose for several years… that sort of thing. They learn to smile, cry, comfort, and support each other.

There is a certain humor to when Kirishima and his comrades have to balance caring for Yaeka, “the little lady,” and seeing to their duties as yakuza, which mostly involves beating down interlopers who tread on their turf and mistreat those under their protection. Still, I have some reservations about such a positive depiction of organized crime. Sure, they might still be human, and they may well have their own code of honor, but they’re still involved in every bit of shady business that goes down in Japan, much of it violent, bloody, and lethal. They’re not gentle protectors, compassionate overseers, and family men who fall for the girl at the flower shop and raise families like normal, peaceful people. Sure, it might be a bit inconvenient for them to have a loose cannon around, but I doubt the head of a powerful crime family would really mind having a one-man army the likes of Kirishima, who can apparently destroy entire rival families single-handed. Thus, it might make sense to make the man a bodyguard to protect the daughter of the family, but not so much to try and tame and pacify him by making him practically solely responsible for the girl.

As such, fully enjoying this anime somewhat depends on being able to forget that the yakuza are violent, despicable criminals, and not thinking too much about how little Yaeka will one day be a queen of crime, and that’s if things go well, with nothing terrible happening to her.

If one can manage that, then this a cute and heart-warming story about people finding more joy and happiness as they bring out the best in each other. This is even contrasted by the villain lurking in the shadows, pulling puppet strings and leaving devastation in his wake as he works to turn Kirishima back into the demonic person he used to be, by orchestrating a threat to Yaeka. It works, for a short time, because who wouldn’t be infuriated beyond reason towards any who would threaten such an adorable, innocent little girl? But it doesn’t last long. The incident is soon resolved, though the puppeteer escapes for the moment, and everyone is back to smiling and making each other better.

Though, if I may… why did they not get to *this* obvious complication?!

Not that everything is unrealistic, undiluted happiness. I mentioned Yaeka’s mother being in a coma, and the series, or at least the first season, ends without her ever coming out of it. It similarly ends with Kirishima visiting the grave of his parents, who died when he was quite young. But there is abiding hope for Yaeka’s mother, and peace within Kirishima as he talks to the grave. Thus, there is a certain balance between the ingredients of happiness and sorrow, though much more favoring happiness.

Basically, this is a charming little anime for when you want something that you don’t have to think much about, and which carries just enough emotional weight to feel good. It’ll pass a few hours pleasantly enough, with some laughs and some tears, without demanding much in return. And it’s mostly wholesome, too, which is a particular plus these days.

Rating: I’ll give it 7 stars out of 10.

Grade: C-Plus.

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Sunday’s Wisdom #416: Our Veterans’ Sacrifice

“When I return home, I will swallow every horrible thing I’ve done here. And I will smile when I’m with her. I swear on my life, I will make her happy.”
– Maes Hughes, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
OVA 4, “Yet Another Man’s Battlefield”

This is part of Maes’ answer to a question from his friend and comrade about when they get home from a terrible war: can he hold the woman he loves in such blood-soaked hands as he has, as they all have? The answer is yes, because Maes is determined to be the man she loves, a selfless man of principle and honor who does what he must to protect himself, his comrades, his country, and her, and then comes home to love his family and make them happy. He will let nothing stop him in that goal, not even the hell of war itself.

This week is my country’s Veteran’s Day. It’s not nearly as honored as I think it should be, but it’s where we are to take a moment and remember the people who have served in our armed forces and come back alive. Memorial Day is where we remember those who died, and Veteran’s Day is where we remember those who survived.

There is very little that we can do, I think, to properly repay what they have given, offered, lost, or had taken from them in service to our nation. Many of those who came back alive came back very different from who they were before. They have come back with injuries to the body, and to the mind, to the heart and soul. They have all but walked straight through a slaughterhouse, and done some slaughtering of their own. One cannot still be human without that leaving some sort of mark.

They come back from all that, from things which shattered them and their comrades, and they resume normal, everyday life: go to work, pay the bills, find someone to love, get married, and raise the kids, with all that entails, including teaching, protecting, playing, etc.

Some men and women have trouble with that. They have trouble leaving the battlefield behind with everything they’ve seen and done. They have trouble healing and moving on. They have trouble being happy and being alive. And yet they persist. They keep trying.

To swallow everything horrible and go on to live a happy life takes a kind of strength that does not come easy. Those who do it are often among the very best and most honorable examples of humanity. And even those who don’t have often given more for their people than their people can ever truly realize.

So, to all of you out there who have served so well and sacrificed so much, I offer my most sincere gratitude. Thank you for protecting everything and everyone which I hold dear. I may be only a civilian, but from the bottom of my heart, I salute you, and I wish you all the happiness in the world.

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