In 2005 an idea to make Japanese pop culture connect with the world became The Anime Blog. The Anime Blog was accessible to everyone—from hobbyists who knew tsundere from moe, to folk who didn’t know Pokémon from Pocky. Pop culture from across the Pacific was brought to them in conversational articles, authentic Japanese recipes, anime reviews and interactive posts.

The Anime Blog’s motto was “We Go Beyond Anime“. We did that with building a community where every voice mattered, and by listening to what our readers wanted. What our readers wanted was to learn more about and to better understand the culture behind the genre in ways that connected with them. Our food and pop culture articles helped readers find that connection. When it came to anime, the reviews were broken in digestible sections, written in dialog that spoke with people.

We grew to the number one anime blog spot, with over 25,000 unique hits a month in 2009. The average unique hits for anime blogs per month is 7,000.

Unique hits per month

Below are four articles from The Anime Blog:

  1. an anime review
  2. an interview with Wen-M, anime anime-style artist
  3. a Japanese snack review
  4. a Japanese cultural article

Afro Slices His Way Back to the Top in Afro Samurai: Resurrection

Posted on February 4, 2009 by Rachel

Seldom is a sequel ever as good as the original. In Afro Samurai: Resurrection, the movie sequel to the five episode-long series, Afro returns after meting out the pain to his father’s killer.

Plot Summary

Years after Afro Samurai avenged his father, the deadly warrior has laid down his sword and tries to live a life of peace. But one cannot don the Number One headband and have a tranquil ever after.

Those who have lost loved ones under Afro’s skilled blade have come back to exact payment for the pain he’s inflicted, and the price is too high for the silent samurai to meekly pay. Once again Afro must sharpen his sword and slice his way back
to the top. This time, it isn’t revenge– it’s personal.

Review

Afro Samurai: Resurrection is a rare gem in media– it’s a sequel which isn’t just as good as its predecessor, it’s better.

Soi and boob-obsessed evil scientist, ©Funimation 2009

 

The movie is more of an adventure than the slice and dice gore fest of the first series. Afro is back with his side kick Ninja Ninja to put the hurt on some vengeful ghosts made in Afro’s bloody wake. It’s a solid telling of tables turned and whirlwinds reaped.

 

In its ninety minutes, Resurrection takes us back to the motley world of hip hop and history, rap and rice paddies. Afro comes face to face with those who felt the bitter bite of his vengeance. And payback’s a bitch.

Resurrection is beyond entertaining, it’s entrancing. The fights, imagery, story and dialog make this sequel hard to look away from. It pulls viewers in from the first scene and is relentless with the way it shoves its gorgeous animation down their throats. Anime fans will get a much needed breather from the usual anime fare, and non-fans will get an introduction to the anime world in a way that won’t scare them off.

Character Development

It’s obvious viewers who watched the Afro Samurai series will know the characters better than those who watch Resurrection cold. However, there is enough development for newcomers to piece together Afro’s past history with the antagonists. It’s not much, but it’ll clue viewers in why Afro is who he is and does what he does.

Ninja Ninja is Afro’s voice of “reason”, ©Funimation 2009

Afro this time around has a new purpose, and it colors his actions and perspective. This time around, he’s more thoughtful and precise. He’s still a bastard, but he’s a bastard who has some reserve and cognizance of who he’s affecting. It doesn’t hold him back much, but it deepens his character considerably.

Ninja Ninja, the voice of self-preservation, is louder now than in the series. He still has all the best lines and still adds lightness to the violence and sexuality of Resurrection, but he urges caution even more.Some of Ninja Ninja’s choice lines, voiced by the bad ass motherf*#er himself, Samuel Jackson:

 

  • This is the best?! Maybe you aughta kill this motherf*#er too…for ly’n!!
  • I mean, he cool and all, but he ain’t yo’ pal. Just dead this fool!
  • Aw, shit, this guy’s slick! I’m impressed. He just might kill yo’ ass.

 Character Design

Designs are once again top-notch and totally over the top. The meshing of hip hop culture and traditional Japanese culture creates an unique one all its own. If I were asked to describe the movie’s designs in one word I’d have to invent one: Cyber-feudal. The merging of advanced technology with traditional Japanese styles for Resurrection makes steampunk look tired. Nothing like it exists in the anime world, which makes this hybrid a refreshing stand-alone.

The character designs are overly emphasized and sometimes exaggerated, but mostly different from what one would expect from the medium. The women are ridiculously endowed and scantily clad, not new in anime, but nary a bishonen can be found, nor cutesey giant eyes nor tiny mouths.

Resurrection is a blend of the best of comic and anime standards. The seasoned anime eye won’t glaze over from repetitious character designs, and newbies to the anime world won’t be bored by typical American animation. Resurrection has visual offerings for everyone.

This DJ plays killer tracks, ©Funimation 2009

 

Color plays a big part in Resurrection’s designs, the colors being intense and muted simultaneously. They play off each other, creating tension in the appropriate moments. Some parts of Afro Samurai are black and white with a monochromatic overlay of a saturated color. The effect is cinematic and dramatic. It’s an intense device which works well to create mood.

The background shots must be mentioned as well. Details and colors make them more than just set pieces and more a part of the plot.

Animation

There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe how implicitly awesome the animation is. Gonzo, the studio responsible, gets a pass on some of the craptacular animation it’s done in the past few years for the breathtaking work it’s done on Resurrection. The skillful set lighting, shading and perspective in the animation gives the movie the chops to flirt with the moniker, “Work of Art”.

Speaking of art, the final fight scene is artistic and minimal, and a good call on the writers’ part. The rest of the fights wow with their originality and intensity. Afro has a more refined approach to his fighting style this time, but the fights are still a lot of sloppy fun to watch.

The animation itself is devoid of hinky motions, shortcut movements and other substandard marks of poor animation. It’ll spoil anime fans.

Music

RZA returns to set the mood to the Afro sequel with his throbbing beats and swanky seventies era vibe. The music flows from danceable hip hop to funky rock to soulful R&B in the space of minutes. It’s the perfect eclectic accompaniment to this jaw-dropping, eclectic movie.

Voice Acting

Samuel Jackson reprises his roll as Ninja Ninja and Afro Samurai, and Lucy Lui makes an appearance as the voluptuous Sio. They do a good job, and are very convincing in their roles. The rest of the cast is surprisingly good as well, which is hard to find among anime English vocal casts.

Production

The movie comes as a 2-disc special edition director’s cut and has a DVD full of extras along with a liner notes booklet. All of which fit handily in a slim, attractive box.

Conclusion

Afro Samurai: Resurrection, is a fantastic movie and an unbelievable sequel. I enjoyed this movie immensely and would recommend it to any fan of kick ass flicks and cultural romps. This co-production is a fine example of America and Japan working together to make an anime that bridges the gap between our pop cultures.

Rating

Afro Samurai: Resurrection gets 5 outta 5 Hammies!

 

 

 

Retail Info

Publisher: Funimation
Release Date: February 3, 2009
Retail Price: $34.98
Number of discs: 2
Run Time: 90 minutes
Rating:TV MA
Language: English
Format: Animated, Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, NTSC

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The Anime Blog Artist Interview: Wen Li

Posted on February 15, 2007 by Rachel

When going through DeviantArt last year I came across an artist with a portfolio so massive it took almost an hour to enjoy all his work. Almost a year later and it now takes me about an hour and a half to fully appreciate all his pieces. And you can’t just click, scan, and move on to the next pic with this artist. That’d be unfair to you and to him, him being Wen Li.

Wen is an anime artist with quite an imagination. He creates original characters with imaginative garb and fantastic weapons. Each pic has many layers along with serious depth. One would be cheating themselves by not taking the time to soak in all the textures and colors. I can’t even start to conjure up the minute details he incorporates into his pieces. Not only does he create detailed pics with such unique flair, he creates many, many, unique works of art while not repeating himself.

Some of Wen’s pieces have a decidedly shrouded feel of menace to them, while others seem as sweet as sugar. While darkness is a theme in lots of his pictures, light does shine in Wen’s art. He told me how he creates the dichotomy in his work.

Rachel: You have a couple of awesome picture series on your DA page:  Anima: Beyond Fantasy and Anathema. What can you tell us about them?
Wen: They are both traditional RPGs but very different in vision.

Rachel: How are they different in vision?
Wen: Anima feels more to the “pretty” side when Anathema is rough and gritty.

Rachel: What would you like to see done with Anima?
Wen: That it becomes successful.

©2006-2012 Wen-M

Rachel: Who else worked on Anima with you, if there was anyone else?
Wen: I am not familiar with the other team mates, as they are all over the world.

Rachel: Anima is a traditional RPG but will it be online or real life?
Wen: The main RPG can be played online I think…I am not too sure for I have yet to try it because the US version is still in translation phase. I do have the card game however, and that is played in person.

Rachel: All your pics can stand alone as works of art outside of your series. What do you draw outside of the series?
Wen: Whatever interests me at the time, today I sketched a few bikes for my small comic project.

Rachel: There are some pages on your site for tattoo designs and you also have people lining up to get ‘em. How did you set started with that and why?
Wen:
Back in 2004 a couple of friends on DevianArt wanted a design for their personal signature, that’s what started me on the tattoo designs. Later on I find them interesting and I haven’t stopped since then.

Rachel: How would you like to use your mad tattoo designs outside of DA?
Wen: I had wanted to sell them to tattoo shops.

Rachel: The expressions on your characters are very emotive. How do you convey this through pen and ink? Where does it come from?
Wen: To be honest, I feel that my expressions are not good enough, so I cannot answer this question…

Rachel: There’s quite an arsenal on your DA pages. What do you like the most about drawing weapons? Where do you get the inspiration for ‘em?
Wen: Weapons have a different silhouette that can sometimes be even more enjoyable than characters. I get my inspirations from seeing artworks or listening to music.

Rachel: What kind of music inspires weaponry?
Wen: Serene music would inspire the girly, feminine looking designs, while the
rock, heavy metal type would inspire the more vicious looking ones.

Rachel: Which do you prefer drawing; people or weapons?
Wen: I think I like drawing people more, just by a tiny bit.

Rachel: Going through your vast and impressive portfolio on DA I noticed several different styles. Your work on Anima, for example, varies from Kiss on Arielle’s Ring, to OMG cell shading, to Lucent with the lute. What can you say about these differing styles?
Wen:
They are a witness to my journey of finding a comfortable style.

Rachel: What would you consider to be a comfortable style for you now?
Wen: I was a lot more towards realism in 2006, with the new year, I want to go back to a little bit more anime-ish in design while the coloring stays a bit more towards realism. I think I have always wanted that style, but from time to time my work would ask different things so I had to follow those guidelines.

Rachel: Why do you draw so many angels? I think I saw the whole heavenly host on your site. I also saw some of the un-heavenly host as well…
Wen:
The angels and demon series is just one of the series that I enjoyed drawing, much like other series I had done in the past. I started that series simply because I have not drawn them before, no special reason.

Rachel: When you refer to series, could you describe what do you like about them that you produce so many?
Wen: As for the angels series, I love drawing them because they have wings, more space for me to go crazy with detail, and I drew the demons just so I can draw the opposite side of things, to exercise my design skills. As for series itself, I love designing different things, and I usually make a series so that I will work within the theme and vision. Again, just to exercise my design skills.

©2006-2012 Wen-M

Rachel: About how long does it take to finish a drawing from start to finish?
Wen: A character with no background takes about 6 hours. A full scene can be anywhere from 25 to 40 hours depending on size and complexity.

Rachel: Do you make a sketch first and then scan it in or do you the whole process on the computer?
Wen: Yes, I sketch on paper first.

Rachel: Do you use models?
Wen:
When the job situation calls for it.

Rachel: What would you say is your favorite style of art?
Wen: Art Nouveau is one of the many that I like.

Rachel: Who is your favorite artist and why?
Wen: Alphonse Mucha, his Art Nouveau style had influenced me before I knew who he was and what the style was called.

Rachel: Where do you find your inspiration for your work?
Wen: I visit my local bookstores a lot.

Rachel: Which books do you peruse to for that reason?
Wen: Fashion magazines, often teen fashion because I am really not into the crazy $50,000 Vogue pieces. Teen fashion is practical, eye catching and usually easily appreciated by my audience, who are mostly teenagers.

Rachel: What kind of routine do you have when you draw? What kind of schedule do you have if you have any?
Wen: This is the usual routine: decide on subject matter, research if needed, concept sketches, revision on concepts, final sketch, ink and color. I usually don’t have a schedule outside of work deadlines.

Rachel: Just out of curiosity where do you work that you get to utilize your talents?
Wen: I work for Anima studio now, from home.

Rachel: Can you describe your workstation at your computer or drawing board?
Wen: I use a Pentium 4 PC with 1 gig of RAM, Photoshop 7 with a Wacom intuos 2 Tablet. I have an HP1220 printer and a flatbed scanner. I sketch at various places.

Rachel: What do you do if you ever get writer’s block or in this case drawer’s block?
Wen: I would stop drawing and figure out what the problem is, if my work schedule allows me to do so.

Rachel: What kind of artist would you consider yourself?
Wen: Anime style.

Rachel: What would you like to do with your drawing skills?
Wen: I draw what I want and what I do not have.

Rachel: What kind of art do you do besides drawing if you do other stuff?
Wen: I had wanted to learn sculpting but since I am still not happy with my drawing skills, I have yet to try that out.

Rachel: Where do you see yourself at 15 years in the future with your art?
Wen: Perhaps becoming an art teacher for a high school.

Rachel: What do your friends and loved ones think of your art?
Wen: My parents think I lack a lot of knowledge in realistic faces and I agree. My friends think my art has a lot of details.

Rachel: Your name on deviantArt is Wen-M. Real name or pen name and does it have any meaning?
Wen: Wen-M is a pen name, but not so far from my real name, since it is Wen. Back in 2001 I joined a local artist group called BAAU (Bay Area Artists Unite, for the San Francisco Bay Area). In the group is a girl also named Wen. To keep things clear, our friends invented the whole Wen-M and Wen-F business.

Rachel: You refer to yourself in your devious information as “Wen-monster” who is a “money hungry monster”. Apt or do you just have a wicked sense of humor?
Wen: I was just being silly.

Rachel: You have excellent fashion sense when it comes to your character design. How do you feel your personal fashion sense compares to that?
Wen: I spent too much time on my characters’ fashion and left none for myself.

Rachel: What kind of anime and manga do you like, if any? What titles or genres?
Wen:Recently watched Samurai Champloo, I don’t follow any anime series. I follow a few manga, one of them being Air Gear. I usually go for series that has good art.

Rachel: You’re working on a role-playing game with Anima, yes? How big of a fan are you of RPGs in actuality? What kind of RPGs do you prefer; live action, video games, etc.?
Wen: I have actually never played a traditional RPG like Anima, so it will be interesting to try it when it comes out in the US. I prefer video game RPGs but I could be biased since I have not played a traditional RPG yet.

Rachel: You mentioned that you draw “what I want and what I do not have.” If you had the power to draw anything and have it become a reality, just once, what would it be and why?
Wen: Money. There’s a lot of people, many of my friends included, that could use some of that.

 

We appreciate the time you spent with us for the interview, Wen! To check out more of Wen’s art, you can go to his deviantArt gallery. To purchase his artwork, you can do so by visiting his deviantArt prints gallery.

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Cheese Kamaboko

 Posted on July 29, 2007 by Rachel

Here’s an East meets West snack I’ve been putting off reviewing for a loonngg time. I usually don’t mind chowing down on the new and unusual, but something about the packaging gave the product a sinister quality. Maybe it’s the command, “Just Pack” or maybe it’s the way the product’s wrapped like cheesey, overly processed sausage, OR maybe it’s because the product actually IS cheesey, overly processed fish sausage.

Fish cake, aka fish sausage, is called kamaboko in Japan. I like kamaboko. I think it’s great in soup, tempura, noodles, or by itself. I’m a big fan of cheese too—the stinkier and older the better. However, cheese kamaboko doesn’t sound too appealing. I’ve experienced an interesting range of fish products in my life (fish ham was…interesting) and my cheese intake has been varied, but never have I seen cheese fish cakes.

At a quick glance, there’s nothing too outré about the packaging. Kanji aside, the packaging could belong to any other processed meat/cheese stix at a local Quickie Mart. In fact when I first spied it in the store, my eyes did an automatic pass over of it. I don’t buy that kinda crap so it doesn’t even register. But at second glance, yes, the romanji says “cheese kamaboko” and I do make exceptions to the no-crap-purchase rule.

The sticks are heavy. I paid about $3.50 for the bag and it seems like I got my money’s worth in the form of four sticks. At the gas station one “normal” cheese stick is about $1.00. These chi-kama, as they’re known across the Pacific, are also sold in convenience stores just as their nitrate-heavy counterparts are.

Unwrapping a chi-kama involves squeezing it out—an act that doesn’t endear it to me. Thus far, it doesn’t smell like fish, which is a plus. I have to tell myself that taking the first bite of this stuff is like tearing off a band-aid: do it quick and get it over with. Ok. Weird. It tastes like any other kamaboko I’ve ever eaten, which is to say: it’s firm, has a sweetish flavor and isn’t overwhelmingly fishy.

But, there are flavor bursts of whipped cheese interspersed throughout the stick. They’re like cheesy land mines that detonate in my mouth with little or no warning. This snack reminds me of the cheese hot dogs of my youth but instead of mystery meat processed ten ways to hell, it’s cod and “cheese” that’s been processed ten ways to hell.

Although the fish flavor doesn’t smack you down, it’s still there and I’m not a fan of these two together. If this had been your average kamaboko, I think I would’ve really enjoyed this snack, but then again, it wouldn’t even be this snack.

The cheese and kamaboko don’t do it for me. There’s a dichotomy of flavors that are so at odds that while I’m not vomiting out my ears, my taste buds are confused and huddling in a corner, not sure what to make of it all. Some East-West snack co-productions are great: custard-filled daifuku are excellent as are the mochi ice cream. This was not one of those successes. To be fair, I would actually recommend trying this snack just for the sake of trying something far outside the realm of “That’s a good idea.” For those who like the unusual, I recommend chi-kama to you, too. Western cheese lovers, I advise you not to sample this snack. Unless you’re a fan of Cheez Whiz and fish.

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Sake, Tea and Hanami: Partying with Petals in a Japanese Rite of Spring! (With Hanami Dango Recipe!)

Posted on March 26, 2008 by Rachel

Spring! It’s officially here—I can smell it. Winter knows its time has come, and even though freak snowstorms batter our doors, they’re merely the death throes of a passing season. Soon the ground will be covered in colorful drifts of crocuses, daffodils, and depending on the locale, cherry blossoms.

Cherry Blossoms, © The Anime Blog 2007

For anyone who’s never sat in the gentle rain of cherry blossoms in spring, I encourage you to do so. It’s an incredible sight to watch as millions of pink petals slowly tumble to the ground and cover it with a pastel carpet. Profuse amounts of cherry blossoms, sakura, are a rare sight in the States (unless you live in Washington D.C.) but in Japan, cherry trees line streets and are common in parks.

It’s a Japanese rite of spring to travel to parks and boulevards filled with sakura to drink sake, sip tea and hang with friends during what’s known as hanami, “flower viewing”. This ancient rite of spring is a way to celebrate the end of winter and to rejoice in one of Japan’s national symbols, the cherry blossom.

Hanami is an old tradition that’s hugely popular. Everyone enjoys hanami in their own way, but most hanami-goers can be put in two categories: those who go to silently contemplate the drifting pink petals and those who bring their stereos, a barrel of sake and as many friends as can sit on a tarp. The latter mostly adhere to the popular adage, “hana yori dango“, translated as “dumplings over flowers”, alluding to the preference of eating dumplings over admiring the flowers.

Hanami is such a big deal in Japan, it continues into the night, when it’s then called “yozakura“, night viewing. I have yet to experience yozakura, but who knows? Maybe this year is my year to see cherry blossoms under the stars.

Cherry Blossoms, © The Anime Blog 2007

Personally, I enjoy both sides of hanami. I like to stroll through MoBot’s Japanese Garden, sit in the mossy alcove by myself and imagine I can hear the sound the petals make as they drop. Then I’ll go home, call my friends, pack a lunch and hightail it to a park to giggle like schoolgirls in the slow warmth of the new season.

There’s much to be enjoyed during hanami, and even if you don’t have a grove of cherry trees handy, you can still celebrate hanami by enjoying a picnic under some dogwoods or other local blooming trees. The spirit of hanami is to have fun, relax, and reflect on the beauty of the season. Create your own hanami this year!

If anyone’s interested in reading more about hanami or in a recipe for one of the star confections of the season, hanami dango, check out my article on Sauce’s website! The article includes a recipe for delicious hanami dango in the right side bar!

 

*Note: The ingredients which have an odd symbol in front followed by “1/2″ should be noted as being “1/2″.

 
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