Life Is a Penguin Highway

hisui_icon_4040 I saw Penguin Highway in theaters during the New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival. I was sitting next to two women in their late 20s who were discussing where to get artisanal haircuts. If that does not paint a picture of who was sitting next to me I’m not exactly sure what will. After the movie ended one of them commented that the story distinctly had the feel of what she expected from one of those “Japanimation cartoons”. Before I say anything else I do have to address the elephant in the room: I’m just as shocked as you that anyone still says “Japanimation cartoons” let alone two young women. But it does give you a sense of how Penguin Highway feels very different when your baseline for anime is just seeing Ghibli movies and Adult Swim shows. That said I would argue that Penguin Highway falls into that realm of your stereotypical “anime” either.

That is a fairly weighty statement to make so I think it requires some justification beyond “Penguin Highway gets lots of critical praise so it has to be different.” Let us see if I can back up my claim.

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Fullmetal Alchemist: Comprehension, Deconstruction, Reconstruction

hisui_icon_4040 I recently had to take a Friday off of work after I had spent most of Thursday expelling the contents of the digestive system. That meant I spent a good deal of two days mostly lying in bed. While the experience was hardly pleasant it did give me a good deal of time where I needed to entertain myself passively as I recovered. This gave me a good chance to knock out a very vital title in my pile of shame.

A while back Kate and I were asked if we could get the other host of the Speakeasy to watch one show what would it be. Kate said that she would get me to finish Fullmetal Alchemist. Fullmetal Alchemist was an odd case in my library. I started watching the original TV series but then the overwhelming outcry was the original manga was better. (If this is true is a matter of contention I will touch on later in the post.) So I put the TV series on hold and started reading the manga. I played with the idea of watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood but I was already decently invested into buying the manga and I heard that while Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood only got really good when it got into new material as the first parts of the story were extremely rushed since they were in the 2003 TV series. The problem was that halfway through the Fort Briggs storyline I got outsourced at work and my pay was significantly cut. This meant that I stopped buying a lot of manga series and one of those titles was Fullmetal Alchemist. I always meant to finish off the series but I just never got around to it.

So Fullmetal Alchemist fell into this limbo where I had gotten fairly far into the story so there was a drive to finish off the series but starting over from the beginning was a bit of a pain in the ass. I’m definitely in that position with Nodame Cantabile. I was really hoping that someone would get the itch watch Fullmetal Alchemist and I could tag along with them but that never happened. So I was in limbo until I got sick. It seemed to be the perfect catalyst. It also worked really well since I was a little loopy during the episodes I watched on Friday but that was mostly when I watched the part of the story that I had experienced multiple times. By the time I was generally feeling better on Saturday I had caught up to where I was in the manga. I then just spent the next week finishing off the series.

Now a LOT of ink has been split on Fullmetal Alchemist. If you want a complex analysis of the themes, characters, and plot it is not too hard to find. I instead wanted to just go over five things I noticed since I watched all of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in 2019. There are certain observations that are easier to make a full decade after the show premiered. Some might only be possible with that much distance. That is worth talking about thanks to perspective.
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Manga of the Month: Holmes of Kyoto

Holmes of Kyoto (京都寺町三条のホームズ) by Ichiha Akizuki

 Based on the ongoing novel series, Holmes of Kyoto brings Holmes into the modern era as a young graduate student and apprentice in an antiques shop.

Aoi has only recently relocated to Kyoto. When we first meet her she is skulking outside the Yagashira antique shop debating whether to go in for an appraisal. There she meets Kiyotaka (aka Holmes) who not only reveals much about the items she brings in, but also reads her intentions like an open book. Before Aoi knows it, she has agreed to work part-time at the shop and hone an eye for antiques. Together they find themselves wrapped up in minor mysteries around the Kyoto area.

The Holmes of this story possesses many qualities that have become a staple of the character like being able to read deeply into tiny details of a person’s demeanor, words, clothing, and other attributes; a penchant for being aloof; and not always being completely tactful. Kiyotaka is far less abrasive that some versions of the character. He does have a teasing streak, but is often kind and shows himself to be vulnerable early on.

Both Aoi and Kiyotaka are dealing with loses of love and form a bond over it. While Kiyotaka is further along in his recovery, and has wisdom to share on the subject, it is still clearly a painful piece of the past.

So far the mysteries they’ve encountered have been family affairs where Holmes is brought in to quietly decipher the answer. He gets to the bottom of things, but not without dredging up some family troubles or secrets along the way.

What I enjoy most in the series is the interjection of bits of history whether it be on the intricacies of antiques like pottery and paintings, or on Kyoto’s traditions like the Saio-dai chosen for the Aoi Festival or the Tengu spirits of Kurama-dera.

I initially started watching the anime for this, but I’ve put it aside in favor of the manga. Both are adaptations, but I found the pacing and artwork in Ichiha Akizuki’s version a better matched to the atmosphere of the series.

~kate