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Heather’s top 10 Anime of 2018

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

Hey guys, 2018 was the year we decided to invest in some great anime streaming services (thank you VRV). I figured it was time to give my personal top 10 picks of the year. Also this might be the time to announce that in 2019 I am planning on launching an anime Podcast based off of my panel at Connecticon 2018, “Anime That Changed the Game.” Stay tuned for more details. Now for this list it’s just my personal picks of the year, they’re not necessarily worthy of critical acclaim or what I would classify as game changing- though I will specify if they are since a couple of them would make the cut. For a series to qualify it had to premiere in 2018; sequels and new seasons of continuing series do not count and we’re counting this by Japanese release date, not American air date. Also I haven’t seen every single series that came out so if it looks like I missed a pretty cool one, feel free to leave a comment with your recommendation. Alright so here we go!

10. Hataraku Saibou (Cells at Work!)

            Summer 2018

            Episodes: 13, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Shounen

            Full disclosure, I haven’t had the chance to finish this series yet which is why I have to put it at number 10. Purists may cringe but I actually stopped because I wanted to wait for the dub to finish before watching this one. The premise is pretty neat; it’s a depiction of the inner workings of the human body starring a red and white blood cell. Viruses are appropriately depicted as these creepy alien invaders and platelets look like kindergartners, so cute. If you remember that movie Osmosis Jones from the 90s, it’s like that but more anime if that makes sense. Clever and comedic. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to finish this one.

9. Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san (Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 22 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life

            This is a total guilty pleasure pick. Koizumi-san is a sub-genre of anime referred to as “cute girls doing cute things.” Typically these aren’t valued for their depth or character development. The plot is incredibly simple. Ms. Koizumi’s favorite food is ramen and each episode depicts another of her favorite ramen joints. Oh and one of her classmates seems to have a thing for her and follows her to said ramen places and then more cute girls start eating ramen. Yeah it sounds dumb, so why did it make the list? The sequences with broken English and German are hilarious. I give voice actress Ayana Taketatsu props, she really made the character fun. Also found out there’s a lot of ramen in Hawaii so more incentive to go, haha.

8. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san (Teasing Master Takagi-san)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Romance, Comedy, School, Slice of Life, Shounen

            Most of the time anime is known for being weird, but sometimes a series comes along that’s just super wholesome and a gem of the slice of life genre. Which gave us Takagi-san, about two school kids Takagi and Nishikata and their constant trying to one up each other with a better prank. With Takagi being the master of this and always 5 steps ahead of Nishikata. Cute, simple, a feel good show reminiscent of childhood memories. 

7.  Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken (That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime)

            Fall 2018

            Episodes: 24, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Fantasy, Shounen

            Back to what you usually think of when someone says anime, a fantasy adventure that takes place in a world outside of our own. The set up for this one is a little dark for such a light hearted series.  37-year-old human Satoru Mikami is killed on his way to work one day and in his dying breath hopes to be reincarnated as “someone cool, like a wizard or great sage.” Next thing he knows he wakes up in a RPG like world as a slime monster, an incredibly overpowered one at that. And so begins the adventures of Rinmaru Tempest. This series has not yet finished and will continue in 2019.

6.  Ninja Batman

            June 2018

            Feature Film: 1 hr 25 minutes

            Genres: Action, Martial Arts, Samurai

            So the anime community on the whole has found Hollywood adaptations of anime to be underwhelming to say it nicely. We won’t even mention that “thing” Netflix barfed out and tried to label as “Death Note,” we’ll see about Alita in the coming months… So Ninja Batman is interesting because this reverses that concept with an American property getting the anime treatment. It delivers in the way that a Jim Dandy sundae delivers everything you could possibly want on your ice cream and as many calories as it takes to break your suggested daily allotment. It’s got Batman working with a ninja clan that worships a legendary Bat-Shogun who is said to come from another world and save feudal Japan. Batman becomes said shogun, oh and there’s a giant mecha fight. It’s fanfiction quality, and you can tell the team behind it just had a whole lot of fun working on this project.

5. Hinamatsuri (Hina Festival)

            Spring 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Supernatural, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life, Seinen

            This show caught me off guard. The trailer did a good job of peaking your interest but then the actual show was just so earnest and fun with a very anime premise. One night, a strange object falls on the head of Nitta, a member of the yakuza. Inside the box is a strange young girl named Hina. She has tremendous supernatural powers, and Nitta finds himself reluctantly taking her in. So Nitta ends up becoming a father figure for Hina and heartwarming comedy ensues. It’s a show that hits a bunch of high notes especially in terms of character development and character relationships. Highly recommended.

4. Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san (Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san)

            Fall 2018

            Episodes: 12, 11 minutes per episode

            Genres: Slice of Life, Comedy

            A delightful series from the Fall season which no one saw coming. Based on a manga based on the author’s actual life when he worked as a clerk at a bookstore, the skeletons are avatars for the author and all of his co-workers. The show follows their day to day activities working in a Japanese bookstore, hilarity ensues. The show is also clever and brings up some interesting aspects of Japanese culture- such as the difference between how there is a difference in Japan between Gay Romance Books and Boy Love. While these sound like the same genre, they are not. Think of a high budget Biopic versus a Lifetime movie- this is the level of difference between those two genres. Also another great sampling of some hilarious Engrish scenes.

3. Poputepipikku (Pop Team Epic)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 12 minutes per episode (with a rebroadcast of each with different voice actors)

            Genres: Comedy, Parody, Dementia

            The best way to describe this is “internet memes” the anime. This was also one of my featured series for Anime That Changed the Game. Adapted from a 4-koma or 4-panel manga, think Sunday morning comic strips- it follows the exploits of Popuko and Pipimin through different sketch comedy pieces. With pop culture references from video games, other anime and even a parody of Earth Wind and Fire’s Let’s Groove Tonight; it’s a series that’s a whole lot of fun.

2. Mahou Shoujo Ore (Magical Girl Man)

            Spring 2018

            Episodes: 12, 23 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Fantasy, Magic

            I’m surprised this series wasn’t received as well by the anime community on the whole only scoring a 6.7 on My Anime List. Admittedly it did take about 3 episodes to really get the whole set up going, but once it did it so delivered. The series is also very LBGT friendly like in a progressive way that doesn’t feel like pandering. Okay so you’ve got you protagonist who has a crush on a guy, well the guy likes her in her man form but doesn’t realize it’s the same person, then the protagonist’s best friend is hard core crushing on her and doesn’t care if she’s a girl or in Ore form. Hooray for love triangle equality. Simultaneously displaying and deconstructing some of the biggest anime tropes, a commentary on the idol industry as a whole- it just feels like a giant love letter written to those anime fans who are approaching their 30s and older. It will leave you wondering what Mahiro’s song was all about with lyrics including, “I don’t really like carrots, but I like them better then cellophane tape.” The world may never know…

1. Miira no Kaikata (How to Keep a Mummy)

            Winter 2018

            Episodes: 12, 24 minutes per episode

            Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life, Supernatural             We made it to my favorite series of the year. Oh my god I can’t get over how cute this show is. Another one with a very simple set up, our protagonist’s father is an archaeologist and sends a mummy home for him to take care of. But since this is anime the mummy is pint sized and absolutely adorable. Oh and he barks. Like a puppy. SQUEEEEE. The series is cute in a feel good way and features some other adorable critters such as a baby ogre, a dragon and a baku. Baku is a Japanese dream eater for those who have never heard of them. My only complaint is the show gets really dark in the end of the second to last episode just to give a cliffhanger that gets resolved in the first 2 minutes of the finale and then it’s back to being cute. It was just an odd curve ball to throw in there at the last minute. Granted there were some hints at darker things having happened in the human character’s pasts but it feels more forced than a plot twist. Otherwise it’s a fun show, the characters are likable and you just feel happy when you watch it. It’s a good escape from the daily grind.

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

A Night at the Cinema- A Bohemian Rhapsody review

By Heather Nichols, Tawfik Zone Contributor

So right off the bat I just gotta say, this whole movie is very reminiscent of that VH1 Behind the Music series they used to do, but on a larger budget. Also this review is coming a bit later because I had to see it twice to really break it down. By the way if you haven’t seen it yet and you’re a fan of Queen, just go see it because there’s no real point in putting up a spoiler warning. I’m going to talk about the whole film.

There are a couple of things I have to get right out of the way: how the film handled its PG-13 rating and its portrayal of Freddie Mercury’s sexuality. I am one of the few in camp that think you can make an adult movie with a PG-13, and after seeing the end result I stand by this statement. I also would like to applaud the MPAA for not slapping films with an automatic R just for showing a same sex couple share a kiss; they’ve finally arrived to 2018. While the film doesn’t cover up that Freddie Mercury certainly didn’t live a PG-13 life, it doesn’t feel the need to show all the sex or the drugs. 

As for Freddie’s sexuality, if there’s one scene that really captures the film’s stance it’s where the band is being interviewed and Freddie is clearly on drugs and all the reporters want to know about is his sexuality when in reality the focus should have been on his struggle with the celebrity lifestyle. Some other reviewers have deemed the film “a conservative’s campaign ad against the homosexual agenda.” Politics aside I honestly have no idea what film they were watching. The film doesn’t demonize being gay or even try to point the finger and say he contracted AIDS because he was gay. It takes an almost aseptic approach towards celebrity in general; the constant drugs and the parties and having someone around who isn’t really invested in your well-being is just the perfect destructive combination that has claimed the lives of more than just Mercury.

This is probably a good point to talk about the portrayal of Paul Prenter. For the sake of the film he is the villain and a damn good one.His undermining leads to both the separation of Queen and his drug pushing and enabling guides Freddie Mercury down a destructive path to almost no point of return. In reality Paul Prenter’s relationship with the band played out differently; in the film Mercury fires him for not informing him of Live-Aid,which made for a great cinematic moment. Prenter was believed to have been sexually involved with Freddie Mercury and did threaten him with blackmail as shown in the film but a lot of the rest seems to have been embellished for the sake of the film. Do I think he falls back on an old Hollywood stereotype that depicts Gay men in a bad light? No and I think the film actively tries to avoid that as well. He’s more of a representation of “the wrong crowd” that all kids are told not to hang out with because they’ll get into trouble. In this instance the trouble is cocaine, pill popping with a side of binge drinking.      

So now that we’ve got the hardest parts out of the way let’stalk about the rest of the film. Performance wise I’m very glad that Rami Malek was cast as Freddie versus Sacha Baron Cohen. Not that it wouldn’t have been interesting to see the man who gave us Borat put his spin on Freddie. Evidently Cohen had signed on in 2010 to play the lead role but departed in 2013 due to creative differences with the band as they could not agree on what sort of a film they wanted to make. Cohen wanted to focus on the wilder part of Mercury’s lifestyle and the band really wanted a film about the band and its music. The band also stated in an interview that for the portrayal of Freddie to feel real, the audience had to believe the performer is Freddie and that Cohen’s own sense of theatricality would greatly clash and take away that suspension of disbelief. Malek is really able to sell the character and most critics have agreed no one could have done it better. The fact that the music wasn’t dubbed over and it was actually Queen was something I was unsure of, but really no one can top Mercury’s vocals so another good decision on the part of the filmmakers.

As for the rest of the band, my god if they don’t get hair and makeup awards for transforming those actors into lookalikes of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon I’m going to throw by popcorn at the TV this awards season. Also fun fact, Joseph Mazzello who played John Deacon, was the little kid in the original Jurassic Park.

We of course have to talk about the portrayal of the two major loves of Mercury’s life, Mary Austin and Jim Hutton. Mercury said in a 1985 interview. “The only friend I’ve got is Mary, and I don’t want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife. To me, it was a marriage. We believe in each other, that’s enough for me.” He loved her and she was always his best friend which comes across so strongly in the film. The scene where Freddie says he might be bisexual and she says no Freddie you’re gay, according to interviews is more or less how that conversation went down in real life. The film hooks them up in this sort of a meet cute moment when in reality it was Brian May who introduced them. It also omits the aftermath of their separation where she had asked him to have a child with her and he refused (but said he wouldn’t mind getting another cat). But there’s only so much ground one can cover in a 2 hour and 14 minute run time. Had the film tried to cast all the other women that Mercury had dated there just would have been far too many characters and the focus would have pulled away from the band and just been more focused on his sexuality so again, I think it was a conscious effort to show the film for the artist and the legacy he wanted to be known for.

As for Jim Hutton, the film really doesn’t have a whole lot of him in it but given the private nature of the couple’s relationship it makes some sense. He’s also a nice counter to the portrayal Paul Prenter, as another gay man who isn’t into the drug or party scene and there’s a sense of respect between he and Mercury. Did the scene with Freddie Mercury’s parents meeting him and being all accepting of their relationship happen in real life? I couldn’t say, but I know that their religious background was not accepting of homosexual relationships and that was a big part of why Mercury was closeted for so long, there just isn’t an interview with them to state if this scene has any basis in reality. For the film though it is a nice moment and creates this nice book end because it’s just before Live Aid he makes his father proud because he performs for the benefit of other people.

So all in all it’s a solid film that really shows some of the band’s most important moments. While some liberties are taken, it doesn’t try to really judge Freddie Mercury for the lifestyle he lead or even use him as a cautionary tale. It’s more about the friendship of the band, how they were like a family and how at the end of the day it’s your real friends that you can always count on.

Take 5 Sarah Vaughan

Courtesy of National Jazz Museum in Harlem

Some singers can have all the formal training in the world and hit the right notes. Others, like Sarah Vaughan, can open her mouth and radiate divine and sassy otherworldliness. Though racism in the country and the conservatories barred her from her dream of studying opera, Vaughan, with her three octave range, had the power and the vibrato to match, even surpass any classical prima donna. Her baroque grandiosity and playful joie de vivre was clearly better suited for jazz where she was equally at home doing scat-filled bebop and searing ballads delivered as torchy arias.

She honed her piano and vocal abilities in church. Initially Vaughan entered herself in the Apollo Theatre’s Amateur Night as a pianist, where she did very well, winning second prize. As good as her piano skills were, her singing was her forte. When she reentered as a singer, she won top honor and scored a recording contract with Mercury Records.

Her warm, personable voice helped her become one of the most in-demand vocalists. Widespread success was a bit of a double edged sword as she wound up recording a fair amount of subpar novelty songs (like “Broken Hearted Melody,” which she later denounced strongly) with maudlin easy listening arrangements. However, she never entirely embraced being a jazz vocalist as she crossed over into other genres. (Some of her pop material like “Brazilian Romance” was quite good).

Later in her career, she boldly displayed her impressive range and cute silly humor in performances. While some critics found some of her later work to be heavy-handed, I found her to be at her best when she was at her biggest (though I will concede that she sometimes took it a bit too far with her rendition of “Send in the Clowns.”)

Although Vaughan chain smoked, boozed and feasted freely, you’d never know by listening to her sing. Her voice and her technique sounded more impeccable and effortless. If her hedonism didn’t tarnish her talent, it eventually got her body. After a year of struggling with emphysema, Sarah Vaughan died in 1990 at the age of 66. Here are five performances that represent her superhuman talent.

Easy Living

She performed several different, but wonderful renditions of this ballad. I like this version best because it’s the most playful (I love the way she delivers “but it’s fun”) and the most virtuosic. The way she slides from baritone to soprano is jaw dropping.

Sassy’s/Scat Blues

This entirely vocalese number demonstrates Vaughan’s brilliant ability to swing, belt, and sound bluesy at the same time whilst switching octaves in split seconds.

I Remember April

Although she more often sang vocalese, she was equally adept at fast paced scat as she does here with gusto. The pianist is also on fire.

Black Coffee

Even at in this minimalist, quiet rendition of this torch song, Vaughan conveys so much. Listen side by side with other versions by Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney and you’ll appreciate how special Vaughan’s voice is.

Bill Bailey

You can tell that Sarah Vaughan loved to perform, and her infectious energy rubs off on this Swedish audience who commanded to take not one, but two encores. Vaughan really works it out here.

Podcast: Alternative Oscars Episode 5 – 1953

The Tawfik Zone Alternative Oscars Podcast Logo

Hi everybody.

It’s been a long gap between episodes. My fault entirely. I’m thrilled to unleash our 5th episode of The Alternative Oscars Podcast. This episode, we discuss movies of 1953. We dish our thoughts on the five films nominated that year and then offer our nominees of films eligible in 1953 that we think are better.

What did you think about the Best Picture nominees? Or our nominees and winners? What would be your picks for 1953?