After the Rain, Ristorante Paradiso, and the delicate art of the age-gap romance

Power, perspective, and how little decisions can make a big difference.Two side-by-side shots of a young woman with short hair (Nicoletta) and a teen girl with long dark hair (Akira). Reflected in both of their eyes is a different middle-aged man.

At first glance, Ristorante Paradiso and After the Rain bear remarkable similarities. Both are anime adaptations of manga series written by women that center around a May-September romance. Both star a young woman and a middle-aged divorcee. Both even feature characters who work at a restaurant together! So why does Ristorante Paradiso leave me with the warm fuzzies, while After the Rain just leaves me feeling vaguely skeevy?

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My Fave is Problematic: Fushigi Yugi

A little battered, but still beloved.

A dirty, scuffed photo of a group of eight people in two rows. The top row features four people in China-inspired fantasy clothing: A feminine person, a tall man, a grinning redhead, and a smiling monk. The bottom row features another four people: Two young men, a boy, and a teen girl flashing a "victory" sign. Everyone but the girl is wearing China-inspired fantasy clothes, while the girl is wearing a school uniform. The photo is held in someone's hands.

As a companion piece to the recent Chatty AF Fushigi Yugi watchalong podcasts, I spent some time (and lots of words) sorting through fifteen years’ worth of feelings on the messy, sincere, flawed, emotional shoujo fantasy that’s been a part of my life since middle school.

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Life After Failure in Sakura Quest

Roadblocks and scenic detours on the winding career path.

Since its very first promo video, Sakura Quest has been drawing comparisons to SHIROBAKO, and it’s easy to understand the impulse. Both are produced by P.A. Works, have similar character designs by Sekiguchi Kanami, and focus on five young women in the workplace. In a way, they’re also both about what happens after the credits roll on a typical high school anime, providing a refreshingly honest portrayal of the sometimes harsh realities of adulthood while still maintaining a relatively upbeat, optimistic tone.

Those “harsh realities” are where the two series diverge, though, because while SHIROBAKO focuses on what happens after people land their dream jobs, Sakura Quest is attempting something a bit trickier: what happens if they don’t? Can you still find happiness even if you don’t fulfill your childhood dream? What does life look like on the other side of failure?

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Know When to Fold ‘Em: Princess Principal and the feel-good feminism of “Loudly Laundry”

Working girls working together? Works for me!

In case you missed me heaping praise on it in my midseason review, I’m pretty fond of Princess Principal. It’s an entertaining spy caper with an unexpectedly progressive core, not just because of its cast of capable, complex female leads and light yuri undertones (although all of that is pretty great), but also because of its central focus on tearing down barriers. Some of those barriers are literal, like the wall that splits alternate-history London into two warring nation-states, but most of them are figurative, dealing with the sharp social and economic divisions present in this world.

Many of Princess Principal’s stories discuss the hardships inherent in these divisions, such as the poverty that’s influenced many characters’ lives or the walls that prevented our two protagonists from being together. All of that is valuable, as it both shows how these barriers negatively impact individuals and helps explain why Princess Charlotte is so determined to change things. But it’s the upbeat and inspiring Episode 7, “Loudly Laundry,” that offers perhaps the show’s most nuanced depiction of inequality to date, asking our central cast to acknowledge their own privilege—and encouraging them to find a better way forward.

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Failed Tanuki and Half-Baked Tengu: Identity & Community in The Eccentric Family – Part 2

Picking up right where we left off…

“Tengu, tanuki, humans… why are all of you so foolish? I’m completely surrounded by fools!”

In Part One of our winding two-part Tour de Kyoto, we talked about the assumptions and expectations attributed to the tanuki, tengu, and human populations that inhabit The Eccentric Family‘s world, as well as how the pressures to live up to an unattainable group ideal affected Akadama and the four Shimogamo brothers. Here in Part Two, we’ll take the show’s exploration of personal and group identity one step further, looking at the characters who defy their “natures” and deny their names, and how the lines between the three groups get blurrier as the series progresses.

What does it mean to be a tanuki? A tengu? A human? Is there any real distinction at all? Our characters insist there is, but their actions tell a different story.

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Failed Tanuki and Half-Baked Tengu: Identity & Community in The Eccentric Family – Part 1

I always said I’d write a bunch of words about this series someday. Who knew I’d write them all in one go?

“Humans live in the city, tanuki crawl the earth, and tengu fly through the air. Since the Heian era relocation, humans, tanuki, and tengu have maintained a delicate balance. That’s what keeps the great wheel of this city turning round and round. More fun than anything is watching that wheel spin.”

Right from its opening lines, The Eccentric Family establishes Kyoto as a city inhabited by three groups—tanuki, tengu, and humans—with clearly defined traits and domains. Through first-person narration and character dialog, we’re given a general idea of how each group thinks, feels, and acts. The series then proceeds to spend two seasons quietly but systematically tearing those assumptions apart.

As the story progresses, it challenges its characters’ strict ideas about identity by depicting a variety of individuals who either can’t or won’t adhere to the group they belong to, blurring the boundaries both within and between the three spheres so that it becomes less and less clear what it means to be “a tanuki” or “a tengu” or “a human” at all. Through its colorful world and unique individuals, The Eccentric Family asks us what makes us who we say we are—and wonders how we’d find that answer in the first place.

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A Dream of One’s Own: Finding a home outside femininity in Chihayafuru

Cards against gender conformity.

Chihayafuru is one of my all-time favorite anime series, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when Kodansha announced they’d licensed the manga for an English-language digital release. While devouring the first volume, I once again fell in love with this endearing, intense, emotional rollercoaster of a sports series about three friends in the world of competitive karuta–and was also struck for the first time by how insightfully Chihaya’s childhood arc depicts the plight of the “tomboy.”

Sometimes wrenching but ultimately inspiring, Chihayafuru’s first volume quietly challenges traditional gender norms and offers the hope of a supportive community to anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t quite fit society’s gendered expectations of who they’re “supposed” to be.

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