Updated Recommendations

Over the past few days, I’ve been updating the “Recommendations” page with movies and shows I’ve watched in the past few months. These are the new entries:

Only Yesterday

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Twenty-seven-year-old Taeko Okajima dreams of the countryside. Despite being born and raised in Tokyo, she has always longed for a small hometown to return to like her classmates’ families. Now, she’s taking a trip to Yamagata to help with the safflower harvest and experience rural life for herself. While on the train, she begins to remember her childhood, and the memories continue flow as she settles into her temporary home.

For many years, Only Yesterday sat in licensing hell, held by a Disney that was mainly interested in the marketability of Hayao Miyazaki’s fantastical, family-friendly worlds while Isao Takahata’s more grounded stories remained in limbo. Now GKids possesses the license, and they have thankfully put in the effort to bring these movies the attention they deserve, including dubs and theatrical releases. Only Yesterday depicts a young woman who feels alienated and dissatisfied with city life, and as the movie examines her adolescence, it becomes clear that she has never truly felt at home. Taeko felt misunderstood by her sisters and stifled by her loving but overly stern father. The bumps and bruises of adolescence, both physical and psychological, are depicted with a sort of softness that doesn’t reduce them but makes them feel more relatable as Taeko reflects on the experiences that made her the woman she is today. Country life is quite romanticized when compared to the disconnect Taeko feels with her city origins, but viewed as a personal journey rather than an indictment of urban lifestyles, it makes for a beautiful, satisfying story.

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Forgotten Realms: The Isekai Boom of the 90’s

There’s no denying it: isekai is the genre of the moment in Japanese nerd culture. The loanword identifying the genre literally means “different world”, and it features a protagonist from our own world suddenly finding themselves trapped in an alternate world, usually one dominated by Western fantasy tropes. The trend reached the US in the early 2010’s with Sword Art Online, with its protagonist Kirito trapped in an MMORPG. Isekai are generally adaptation of light novels, where they are so prominent that last summer, a short story contest banned entries featuring alternate worlds. Like most light novel anime, they’re usually aimed at young men already immersed in the genre, and their protagonists tend to have a degree of self-awareness about their situation.

Despite their recent surge of popularity, isekai series have been around for quite a while. Recently, I stumbled on an article that claimed that the genre barely existed until a 1983 children’s show called Manga Aesop Monogatari and the anime adaptation of Inuyasha, which began in the year 2000. This article is, to put it bluntly, dead wrong. One of the earliest examples of the genre is Crest of the Royal Family, a 1976 shoujo manga that is still running to this day. Inuyasha may have been a breakout hit, but isekai anime and manga thrived during the 90’s. US fans didn’t have a name for it at the time – we generally referred to it as “‘trapped in another world’ anime”. The main difference between isekai then and isekai now is the intended audience – 25 years ago, it was a staple of the shoujo demographic, rather than today’s escapist playgrounds for young men. Ordinary young women were pulled into alternate worlds where attractive young men told them they had a special destiny to fulfill. They went on grand adventures and usually – though not always – fell in love along the way.

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