I just finished watching the second season of Sword Art Online. This is an anime about virtual reality and MMORPG worlds. There are a few series out there that explore this theme, but Sword Art stood out to me by how it explores a wide range of issues in relation the emerging virtual reality. It also provides enough explanation for it to be believable (I actually think something like this could be possible one day.) The characters are likeable too. Each season is divided into story arcs. I found it jarring when I first switched arcs as they changed many of the rules I had become accustomed to. The problem with setting stories in a virtual world is that they lack risk which can remove some of your engagement. Sword Art reveals a number of ways in which being in such a world could be dangerous to the player however. It covers some benefits of virtual reality as well, providing a balanced feel on the subject. The soundtrack is also excellent. It’ll be brief, but there will still be some minor spoilers ahead. I recommend giving this anime a try if you like MMORPGs (I watched the first season on Netflix.)
I don’t often get to see new Ghibli films at the cinema. Despite having a poster up for ‘When Marnie Was There,’ they didn’t have any showing times for it. On hearing about the closure of Studio Ghibli with the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss what could be their final film. Luckily I located a smaller cinema that specialises in screening a wider variety of films from around the world. I knew I was up for an emotional experience as reviews were claiming the film to be upsetting. The opening also contained warnings of emotional distress. I found it more to be bittersweet. It was very touching in places, but the ending felt like a happy one that resolved the main character’s conflicts. I think much of it was tinged by thoughts of how the studio is changing. When Marnie Was There is based on a children’s book of the same name, written by Joan G Robinson.
The beginning of the film was a little slow. They didn’t seem to be making any efforts to create a likeable main character. She was aloof with those around her. I could still empathise however, as I sensed that this character was deeply troubled and this maintained my interest through the start. I wanted to learn more about why she was this way. Although many will take it to be the usual problems faced while growing up, it struck a chord with me due to my own struggles to connect with others. I loved that she was also a keen artist, carrying her sketchpad with her everywhere. The film is about friendship and self-discovery, which feels all the more powerful in contrast to how we’re initially introduced to the character. Her friend contrasts her well and seems to be everything that she is not. She also becomes more expressive of her emotions as the film continues.
During this new found friendship it’s immediately apparent that there’s something unusual going on. I like that they didn’t obscure this fact just to get a twist at the end. Instead, it keeps you guessing all the way through to try and figure out what the story is behind this girl is. The final explanation is satisfying and believable. I like that it was all finished up properly and made sense. As you’d expect, there are some upsetting moments, but overall I felt happy for the main character who had undergone an arc during the story. It’s difficult to write much more about it without giving too much away.
I really enjoyed When Marnie Was There. It’s a sweet tale, beautifully animated and I loved the music too (‘Fine On The Outside’ by Priscilla Ahn is such a fitting song.) It’s not one of my favourites (I prefer the more fantastical films such as Nausicaa, Laputa and Howl’s Moving Castle), but it’s certainly high on my list as being one of their better films.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become more mature in my own ability to admit to the things I like without feeling embarrassed (interests that were intended for children in particular.) Now let me explain what I mean by this. When Pokemon first became popular I was actually too embarrassed to admit that I liked it. The rest of my family thought it was terrible from what they’d seen of the anime, but they probably wouldn’t have judged me for disagreeing. Still I missed out on the show and the cards and kept my own secret stockpile of Pokemon stickers under my bed (I gave my friends my pocket money to buy them for me.) Years later when my stack of stickers were discovered I pretended that I’d been looking after them for a friend who had never reclaimed them. I also kept my like of Anime in general a secret for a long time.
I eventually made some new friends who were all avid Pokemon fans and encouraged me to try the game. They taught me everything I know about how to breed and train Pokemon. It was amazing knowing people to share this interest with and it felt a bit like I was making up for missing out during my childhood. I felt like such a newbie, but in time I was soon able to battle them as an equal. I even entered myself into a Pokemon tournament.
At the start of the year my boyfriend treated me to my first ever pack of Pokemon cards. To be honest I wouldn’t advise starting the craze – it’s expensive and terribly addictive – but all I could think about was how cool it was to finally own my own set. I was also given a box full of old Pokemon cards recently from a friend who wanted to make space. Oh how far I’ve come as a Pokemon trainer.
At some point many of us feel like we have to show how grown up we are by selling our old toys. We got rid of all our Disney films and some of our cuddly toys too. Despite the clearance effort, the old cuddly toys began to be replaced by new ones and sure enough we even found ourselves buying new copies of the films we use to own. Just because something is for kids, it doesn’t mean there’s no value in it to be had anymore. I think nostalgia can also be comforting and it reminds you of a time when life was simpler.
There are times when you feel like you have to change for the sake of others – I was once told that I was an embarrassment for playing Pokemon on my DS in public. I’m personally not that embarrassed about my own interests anymore and no longer feel the need to keep up a pretence about who I am; I think that realizing this is rather oddly a sign of maturity in its own right. Life’s too short to allow yourself to miss out on the things you enjoy just because other people don’t like it or regard it to be childish. I regret not being able to enjoy Pokemon from an earlier age.
Planes and airships often make regular appearances throughout Ghibli films; in fact the studio is named after an aeroplane. The new film by Studio Ghibli ‘The Wind Rises’ is all about planes as it follows the life of a man who has always dreamt of being an aeronautical designer. Living throughout a number of different historical events the main character grows into an accomplished engineer. Many of his tasks involve having to design planes that can push Japanese technology forward and help them during the war, although his main goal always seems to be the desire to simply build beautiful creations. A touching love story also unfolds towards the end of the film.