Thursday, December 22, 2016

Yuri!!! on Ice Anime Review: Best Anime of 2016

Yuri!!! on Ice is undoubtedly my favorite anime of the year, if not past several years. Just when you think that nothing new, impressive, or original in anime can be made, this jewel of a show shot into the scene. I was intrigued by the premise of the show, a male figure-skating sports anime, when it was announced, but nothing prepared me for how good it actually would be. I was expecting light entertainment, but what we all got goes way beyond, it's an ambitious show but it sticks to its routes--figure skating. And I always believe, characters drive a show, and you get so much character development in the course of 12 episodes, not only of main character self-purported "dime-a-dozen" figure skater Japanese Yuuri Katsuki but world champion and coach Viktor Nikiforov of Russia and 15-year-old rival Yuri Plisetsky--as well as a bunch of other interesting competitors as well. I don't know if there is an anime where I've liked all the characters in the show so much since Card Captor Sakura. It's a rare show that I want to rewatch the moment I finish watching the episode, over and over again and puts a stupid grin on my face for the whole duration of the 23 minutes. Kudos to both director Sayo Yamamoto and writer Mitsuro Kubo for putting together an outstanding anime that remains authentic yet visionary. And of course, the choreography throughout the show is lovely since Japanese figure skater Kenji Miyamoto choreographed it. There may be some spoilers below if you haven't seen the show already. 

Viktor Nikiforov: Loss, Loneliness, Love, Life by wishluv on DeviantArt

From the first few seconds of the first episode, I was hooked to this show, that moment where young Yuuri is looking upon his idol Viktor skating, first the younger version with long hair and then the current version. The shadows in the animation, the sound of the blade hitting the ice, everything is so satisfying. I don't think there can be a more perfectly made first episode, from Yuuri's narration and flashbacks to his childhood, skating Viktor's routine for his childhood friend Yuko, to that penultimate seen in the onsen with the arrival of a naked Viktor. 

My favorite sports anime to date is Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue, which I think is the golden standard of all shounen sports manga and anime. Yuri!!! on Ice I believe is in its own genre, because technically it is a sports anime, which is not usually my favorite genre but occasionally I can really get into it, but because the characters are generally older and more mature, and it is a late-night anime. It almost narrates rather as a life a slice of life show. The hints of nostalgia, that heartrending moments when Yuuri declares this Grand Prix Final will be the final season of his skating career, the fact that Yuuri himself is not a teenager but a 23-year-old adult (considered old in figure skating age) who has come far but is finding his place as a figure skater, lets the show avoid all the common cliches of a sports anime. It's an odd comparison, but it hits similar notes for me that Honey and Clover did, my favorite slice of life anime ever. Yurio, or the other Yuri, would make the typical shounen anime protagonist as a 15-year-old prodigy/brat, but he too is developed beautifully. One of my favorite Yurio moments is that moment after the Agape short skate piece where he is staring at the ice, exhausted and disappointed in his performance, but then looks up at the audience with a smile, showing professionalism. The anime's note to these tiny details makes it so great. 

And of course, 27-year-old Viktor Nikiforov is the most enigmatic character and we don't really get into his head, his motivations and what makes him click until his full narration in Episode 10, though we get a little insight starting from Episode 5 during Yuuri's free skate routine. There was always the lingering question of why Viktor chose to coach Yuuri when he did, and also, the question of whether he was going to return to competitive figure skating, and I am glad they addressed this issue straightforwardly in the last episode. In my head, I was certain Viktor would return to competitive skating, especially since he is said to be partially inspired off of real-life figure skating champion Evgeni Plushenko. And it was clear in Episode 11 when he watched Yurio break his short skate record that he wanted to skate as a competitor again. Viktor's loss of motivation after being a five-time Grand Prix champion, his desire to continuously surpass himself, push the limits and shock his audience, his awareness of his popularity and legendary status paired with an introspective nature, makes him a fascinating character to analyze. Again, Episode 10 was one of my favorites, though there are many to choose from, since it was one devoted to character exposition off skate in Barcelona before the Grand Prix. It's a rare anime episode that I caught airing live because I was in Japan that time. I can't believe I stayed up till 3 a.m. to catch that episode and was sitting in a hotel room squealing by myself.That scene by the beach, when Yurio kicks Viktor's back numerous times, a move that would send Yuuri flaying over, can seem like a comedic moment, but rather, it symbolized that Viktor, who does not budge, is staying put. That line Viktor thinks, about how if he stayed in Russia as a competitor, neither Yurio nor he himself would have been as motivated, was very poignant. It wasn't touched upon earlier in the story, but Viktor, decided to take the season off, could also be seen as his gesture to let Yurio, the next-generation of skaters of Russia, to take the limelight and also grow as a skate in his senior debut. And of course, I love that revelation of the banquet after the Grand Prix Final the previous year where Yuuri gets drunk on champagne and proposes a dance-off with Viktor, asking him to become his coach. And how fun is it that the director switched up the ending theme to photos of the dance-off and pole dancing with Chris, and that light in Viktor's eyes at the end is just about the most heartwarming reaction ever. But perhaps the most poignant line by Viktor is how he recalls that he has been neglecting two L words for nearly 20 years: Life and Love. It's a pleasure to see Viktor go from the troubled, distant, lonesome man who has lost motivation in life, hiding behind his flirty, jovial facade, fill that empty void in him through being by Yuuri's side. Again, a sign of a healthy, mutual relationship.

Finally, the relationship between Viktor and Yuuri is developed organically yet fabulously, from Yuuri idolizing Viktor, learning to trust him, standing up against him, at time rebelling, and then standing on equal grounds. Their love for each other can be seen through the animation, the sparkle in the eyes, their gestures, and again, that shows the importance of animation and directing. I am not as devastated as I thought I would be that Yuuri did not win gold in the end, because I believe it sets stage for a second season. I started this show thinking I can fully be satisfied with one season, and these 12 episodes give more character growth and exposition than you would get in 200 episodes of some shounen anime, but I would be ecstatic for a second season, OVAs, or a movie (or all) with Viktor and Yuuri both returning as competitors, Yurio undergoing puberty and overcoming changes in his body as a competitor, an important issue raised in the first season, more insight into his burgeoning friendship with Kazakhstan skater Otabek Altin, and some more development for the rest of the skaters who did not get much air time because all the characters are so much fun and I especially love their dynamic together. 

Some other things to note is that the show makes seamless references to 2016 technologies and social media including Instagram and Yuuri gaining Viktor's attention through a Youtube video of his performance of his idol's routine "Stay With Me" which is probably the best animated routine in the show. I was thrilled that we get a duet version with Yuuri and Viktor in Episdode 12's ending credits, as if Sayo Yamamoto was granting everyone's wish to see the pair skate together.

The music for this show is amazing, as expected from a figure skating show, from the iconic "Yuri on Ice" piece for Yuuri's free skate routine to that catchy rap piece for American skater Leo de la Iglesia's short routine "Still Alive." The opening theme of the show, "History Maker" by Dean Fujioka is so fun and the best OP of the year in my mind. Plus, Dean Fujioka, also an actor, is really hot if you didn't know, and fluent in English. I don't think there has been a figure skate choreography anime OP ever before, and I love how the anime switches up the OP each week to make it more colorful--again the attention to the details. I never want to fast forward through the OP. And the ending theme, "You Only Live Once" by Wataru Hatano, is almost as catchy, but I do love episodes where they forgo the ending all together for more air time, such as Yuuri's press conference in Episode 5 (by the way I love that this anime does not forget earlier jokes and Viktor does end up buying Yuuri a whole new suit later after declaring he wants to burn the unfashionable tie), or the Episode 10 banquet scene, or Episode 12's duet exhibition to "Stay With Me." 

I think this opening captures the show so well. These characters really were born to make history. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween 2016!!!

Happy Halloween 2016! I was supposed to have New Trials of Card Captor Sakura Chapter 73, Part I ready by today in my head, but of course I don't. Fear not, I've not been slacking off. I do try to allocate quite a bit of time a week to writing, but I'm not sure why this chapter is taking so long. I guess I'm cherishing the fluff while it lasts.

I haven't been working on any new fanart because my top priority is Chapter 73, but I am sharing an unfinished doodle from a certain scene in Chapter 72. It is very shoujo-esque and also the reverse of the thunderstorm fanart from year's ago.

I had an awesome dream over the weekend, CCS related. Maybe it's because of the Clear Card Arc and the anticipation of a new movie. But I had a dream I was in a theater and was totally not expecting it but ended up watching a new, never-seen before Card Captor Sakura feature film. The animation quality and cinematography was amazing. Even in my dream though, I knew it was just a "preview" not a whole full movie. I was not expecting it at all, but then Syaoran showed up in the movie too, looking very cool in a new battle costume. That was about it. I came out of the movie and there was a darned long line to get the movie merchandise. How realistic can my unrealistic dreams get? The next night, then, I had an awful but interesting sci-fi dystopian dream of being stuck in a time loop over and over again, where everybody ends up getting killed and I need to find a way to stop the cycle. But it turns out everybody is connected to a pod and the world is just a dream world. What a befitting birthday dream.

Maybe it's because I fell asleep listening to Coldplay's Scientist last night.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Happy International New Trials Day 2016!

Happy International New Trials Day 2016!!! by wishluv on DeviantArt

I wish I could have finished the full version of this fanart, but I didn't think I would have time to color it in. Syaoran, unfortunately, is cut out but he's there, besides Sakura. 

I was trying to figure out how many years have passed since I began writing New Trials, and this year, I just couldn't do the math until I saw a Facebook post which said it's been 17 years! I realize now that I picked the right fandom to pursue when I chose to begin writing New Trials in fall 1999. I seriously think CCS has the best and most united fandom out there, and it hasn't disappointed in the near 20 years that I've known this series.

I think I mentioned before that one of the reasons I began writing a fanfic for CCS was because I was dead sure that CLAMP would never write a sequel for it. Boy was I wrong. I'm so excited that CLAMP did choose to write a sequel for the 20th anniversary of CCS, other than Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles of course. It means new artwork, new merchandise! And I'm hoping that the Card Captor Sakura Clear Arc will be animated as well. Dare I dream of a new collaboration between Yoko Kanno and Maaya Sakamoto?

Of course, I am so far along in New Trials that a new sequel really has no impact on the story I have in mind. I didn't get much of a chance to work on Chapter 73: The Other Side of Midnight over my summer break, but it's a chapter I'm really excited about. 

So, thank you for supporting New Trials and for us for supporting CCS for so long that CLAMP felt compelled to revisit their pet series. I swear, I think they must love Sakura and Syaoran as much as we do. I once wrote in some post long ago that though CCS is my favorite of CLAMP's works by far, I believe X, though yet unfinished, to be CLAMP's magnum opus. But perhaps, I was wrong, and it will be Card Captor Sakura, after all. I can go with that. 

Do check out the fabulous artwork being posted on Facebook celebrating New Trials Day!

Music Spotlight is Yui's Gloria. I listened to Yui's Orange Garden Pop album on the airplane and remembered how much I liked her music all over again. She has such a poignant voice. This song's been stuck in my head for some reason though.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

New Trials Chapter 72 Part 2 is up on

Apologies for the two-week delay but Chapter 72: Almost Left Behind Part 2 is up on I've been working diligently to post this before I head off to vacation this weekend. I thought I could edit this half quicker, but it's hard to get through more than one scene at a time per sitting because I've been so busy. When I'm at home, I almost always have the New Trials Word document open though I'm not necessarily working on it, to squeeze in any editing or writing. The problem with going on vacation is that it takes more work to take time off sometimes. 

I'll publish the final edited version of Chapter 72 on my website when I come back. A bulk of Chapter 73 is written, and I'm taking my laptop with me so hopefully I can work on that a little bit over break.

Hope all of you are enjoying your summer and staying cool. 

Music Spotlight: One of my favorite pianists Yundi Li performing Paganini's La Campanella, in reference to Chapter 72 Part 2. 


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Happy Birthday Syaoran 2016!

The last time I updated the blog was for Sakura's birthday! I'll keep this short, but to the point. Chapter 72: Almost Left Behind Part I is up on Part II should be up within several days--I was trying to have the whole chapter up, but I just didn't have time to finished editing. The truth is, Chapter 72 was so long that I had to split it up into two chapters, so a bulk of Chapter 73 is also written as well.

But without much ado, Happy Birthday to our dearest Li Syaoran! I am so excited about the new Card Captor Sakura Clear Card series to celebrate Card Captor Sakura's 20th anniversary. But I will focus on finishing up the next few chapters first before I start gushing. 

Question of the day: Does anybody know which song the title of this chapter was inspired from? Hint: the answer can be found in a past blogpost. I had the hardest time coming up with a title for this chapter, though I already have a title for Chapter 73. It's probably because it was supposed to be one chapter. 

Music Spotlight: Lukas Graham's "7 years old"  

I probably should have a more cheerful song for Syaoran's birthday post, but this song makes me tear up.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Card Captor Sakura 20th Anniversary Artbook Review (Happy Birthday Sakura!)

I posted over on the New Trials Facebook group on whether I should get the Cardcaptor Sakura 20th Anniversary 20th Anniversary Illustration Collection, and of course, I did give in and buy it at the bookstore on April 1, for Sakura's birthday. The main reason I debated on whether to buy this artbook was because it is a compilation of older, already published artwork, and I wished it included some of the newer pictures CLAMP drew. There are 100 pictures supposedly handpicked by CLAMP, and while the book did not include all the pictures I liked, since there are so many out there, it included many pieces I do love. I knew I had to get it after seeing the book in person, though it is somewhat pricey, and more pricey because it's imported. I believe its 3,600 yen in Japan. There are several books that I really regret I was not able to get a hold of, such as the Card Captor Sakura Nakayoshi 60th Anniversary Edition Vol. 9 Special Edition version. Another limited edition artbook I've been dying to get my hands on is the Card Captor Sakura Animated Artworks. Please do let me know if you any of you have any information on how to get a hold of these for a reasonable price!

First off, when I picked up the 20th Anniversary artbook, which I've been debating purchasing since it was released one week ago on March 24, I was very happy with the size and how it fits in my hand. I don't like oversized books, and this one is just the perfect size. The books is hardcover and pink and pretty, with new artwork on the cover of a dress that will be a collaboration project with lolita brand Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. I was introduced to the brand through the 2004 film Kamikaze Girls, an awesome movie. I love that the artbook comes with a clear plastic case, which is printed with a gold border. I guess to better to protect the book's pretty cover. I love the back just as well because it has Sakura's two magic circles in gold. And the chronology poster, above, I don't think I will unfold again because it's so huge, I could barely find a flat surface large enough to photograph it. But it is very interesting, looking back at the "history" of CCS. 

As for the artbook itself, I would say it is very Sakura-centric, as can be said about the entire CCS franchise. If I have a secret confession to make, I could do less with less solo Sakura pictures in general and more group pictures. Which is why I'm loving all the new artwork that has been streaming out. I don't think there is a shoujo heroine who has had more solo pictures of her in different outfits than any other franchise. I have included some of my favorite spreads though. Some pictures I like were missing, such as Touya playing the violin. But I do love how some of the artwork was paired, and there was clearly thought put into their arrangement and order. I wish I could read CLAMP's descriptions in the back though. The spread with Sakura with the clear flowers on the left and Sakura and Syaoran holding the star on the right might be one of my favorite face-to-face pages in the book because that is probably one of my favorite solo Sakura artwork, while the star picture as you know is used on my website, and I think the picture that best represents the two together.


And this spread with Tomoyo, paired with the Eriol and Clow Reed reflection.They go so well together. Surely CLAMP secretly ships the two based on that spread. The artbook progresses to the Card Captor Sakura Movie 2 artwork toward the end, and generally does a good job in including most of the iconic S+S artwork. It also includes Sakura in her most most popular outfits as well. I love CLAMP's new artwork and the details in them, as well as the more sophisticated coloring style. But I rather prefer Syaoran's old character design, where his features were sharper and less shouta-fied. 

Based on the selection of this artbook, I'm very confident a second compilation artbook will be released in the near future with the newer artworks, for there were definitely key artwork that I think could have been included in this one and were purposefully withheld. Or so I want to believe. One of my favorite pieces with Sakura and Syaoran in the tree with their teddy bears was missing. So, hopefully, this artbook sells very well, which can warrant a new artbook, whether it be at the end of this year, or more likely, the next anniversary or special occasion. But I hope we don't have to wait till the 25th anniversary for a compilation of the new artwork. And this artbook is definitely a wonderful trip down the memory lane, 20 years back into my childhood, and will be much treasured.

In other news, I've been working on New Trials Chapter 72 like mad to make it in time for Sakura's birthday. And didn't. Hides under a rock. I think I might be able to have Part 1 of 3 up by this weekend, though no guarantees. Who knows, this could be the April Fools' Day joke. My fingers are achy these days and I am sleep deprived.

I included the listing of artworks included for reference, for I'm sure there are those of you wondering if your favorite artwork was included. 


 Happy Birthday Sakura April 1, 2016! So pretty.


Highlight for spoiler for Chapter 72:

Syaoran! Syaoran! Oh my gosh, Code Red!” exclaimed Meilin, her black pigtails streaming behind her.  

Syaoran bolted up from his seat. “What is it? Is the Tang Clan attacking? Is Uncle Wutai staging a coup d’état? Don’t tell me it’s Wu Zino again! Or is it Wu Zilai?”

Meilin shook her head rapidly. “No, it’s worse! Much worse!” She slammed both hands on Syaoran’s desk. “Your sister’s coming to Japan, Syaoran!”

Syaoran paled and gaped at his cousin. “Which one?”

Fuutie,” replied Meilin, catching her breath. “I heard directly from Wei.”

Syaoran groaned. “Why?”

She’s always been threatening to come to Japan forever,” replied Meilin. “You know that Cousin Dairen’s business delegation’s arriving in Tokyo—for the Li Group Japan’s board meeting.”

Oh, they’re flying in next week, right?” asked Syaoran. “We’ve got several days to prepare.”

No, she’s flying in today—Wei already went to the airport to pick up Fuutie,” replied Meilin.

Syaoran turned sheet white as he pushed back his seat. “We’ve got to go find Leiyun.”  


I also saw the first cherry blossoms of the spring today. How befitting on April 1 to celebrate Sakura's birthday! 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Happy Valentine's Day 2016!!!

Tomoyo and Eriol in Seijou High School Uniforms by wishluv on DeviantArt

Do you ever feeling hiding in a hole and not coming out? That's how I feel whenever I do not finish a chapter by my mentally implemented due date. Which is every time. But I thought to drop by here, anyhow. I'm about 90% finished with Chapter 72 of the New Trials of Card Captor Sakura. I think if I had about 48 hours of consecutive uninterrupted time to work on it, I would be able to finish it. Unfortunately, that is impossible. The chapter itself came about quite smoothly, but I've been writing ahead, so it's been taking longer. So, thank you so much for being patient, and it's nearly getting there!

This is a really old fanart, over 8~9 years old, that I decided to post up since it might never see the light of day anyway. It was a character study of Tomoyo and Eriol in their Seijou High School uniforms, a precursor to the Seijou High School uniform group picture. It's not completed; I didn't even shade it. Just think of it as an old character sketch. I was working on a couple Sakura and Syaoran fanart but thought I should focus on finishing the new chapter rather than new artwork.

Happy Valentine's Day 2016! I realized this is my first blogpost of the year, so Happy New Year and Happy Lunar New Year as well!

Music Spotlight: Shimizu Shota - Dream

This feel-good song is a recent discovery, and it fits Valentine's Day, I think. It's the kind of song I would draw to but not cannot write to. Here are the English lyrics.