The Dark Maidens / Girls in the Dark

When I write articles, I want my audience to come out with something relevant by the time they get to the end. Otherwise, I feel like I wasted their time: a precious commodity which, at least for myself, is decreasing at a gradual rate. It’s for that reason I hate to gush about a subject for the sake of it. This time though, you’ll have to forgive me. The only message I can muster is that you should buy a copy and immerse yourself in the writing of a brilliant author. 

The topic today is The Dark Maidens, otherwise known as Girls in the Dark, a novel by Rikako Akiyoshi. 

**I’ll be careful not to spoil anything.

Stumbling around on the second floor of a bookstore, I aimlessly picked books out and read their synopses and beginning pages. It was only by chance that I stumbled upon a pair of novels with a black spine. They were the only two copies in the entire store on the highest shelf no less. Printed on them was the title: The Dark Maidens

Its synopsis is as follows:

“At a prestigious girls’ school, a student has died. Itsumi was the most beautiful, charismatic, and popular girl at St. Mary’s Academy for Girls. She was also the president of the exclusive and tight-knit Literature Club. One week after her death, the members of her beloved club gather in her memory. But as they each testify to what happened in the days leading up to the tragic event, their accusations turn shocking-

Why, and how, did Itsumi really die?

In this glittering and gripping murder mystery, everyone has their own motivations and version of the truth. In its portrayal of the alliances, treacheries, and invisible tensions between friends and frenemies, The Dark Maidens keeps readers guessing and shows that what is sweet can just as easily be poisonous.”

The writing continued, detailing who Rikako Akiyoshi was as an author: degree attainment, other works, awards, and the adaptation of The Dark Maidens to film. 

The synopsis undoubtedly worked as a hook for me. Although, I am and have always been a fan of mystery so there is some bias involved. Nevertheless, I believe it would still pique the interest of others given the setting, suspects highlighted, and style of writing.

Finished with the synopsis, I moved on to the content. Oh, how quickly I was whisked away. Its very first page had, in a sense I’ve never experienced before, immersed me in the world. It was as if the author and character speaking had merged; incarnating the setting and welcoming me to the Literature Club. Indeed, from that first page, my mind was made up to buy the novel.

I said I wouldn’t spoil anything which makes it very difficult to explain my love. Let me expound on what the synopsis briefly touched on then and go from there: the style of the entire novel.

The novel is written in Rashomon-style. This style depicts an event from the perspective of multiple characters. What this means for the novel is that the accounts referenced in the synopsis are able to be explored in full, and gloriously subjective, detail. It becomes even more flavorful when the chapters of the novel are the stories written by the club members. The reader can then match up timelines, point out inconsistencies, mark the gaps in recounts; all exactly as you’d want from a mystery novel. 

Even still, this in itself isn’t avant-garde. Many mystery novels have, to my knowledge, done this in the past. What marks it as brilliant to me is the particular style of each account. Each student’s personality is uniquely conveyed through word choice and distinct literary devices. Neither the story written by them nor the one they recall is exactly alike. This where Rikako Akiyoshi takes the crown. Representing unique character personalities alone is a difficult task for some writers, myself included. Yet, she did more than that. I’d posit that if you gave her the task of talking about the mundane from each character’s perspective, you would be able to tell who was speaking.

The chimes of Sayuri, the effective narrator of the book who closes each chapter, also was wonderfully done; reflecting the mind of the reader and asking questions which spark relevant curiosity. Sayuri was a favorite of mine, always waiting to hear her comments on the story presented. 

This was the first story I’ve read by Rikako Akiyoshi and I’m more than interested in reading more. In fact, I may just pick up every story written by her; a testament to how enamored I was by the writing. After all, Christmas is nearly upon us. What could be a better gift? In the meantime, I’ll be rereading The Dark Maidens and mulling upon the fact that there were only two copies at the bookstore. Also, I have to see about that movie adaptation. Hopefully it’s just as good as the novel.

If you’re even remotely interested, please consider buying the novel as a gift to yourself or another. I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Here’s an Amazon link.

My Experience At Anime NYC 2019

Anime NYC was a phenomenal convention with little downside. First though, maybe I should preface this by saying two things. I live in New York, going back and forth from Manhattan everyday so I’m very used to it. Also, I attended through professional registration. I say “maybe” because the latter didn’t mean much. 

For all intents and purposes, it functioned the same as a 3 day pass with a discount. Normally, the 3 day pass costs $70. A professional pass costs $45. Besides that? I suppose there was early access to the exhibition hall. By a few minutes. On the first day, Friday, I attended late due to my schedule. However, on Saturday, I did go to take advantage of the so called early access. While the “professionals” were the first group to enter the hall (With the exception of those with disabilities; completely understandable and I have no qualms with that), it was about 10:00 AM on the money, the time the hall was supposed to open.

Moreover, while hearsay, I overheard from a person on the professional line that on Friday, those with pro passes weren’t the first to enter the hall, preceded by those with normal passes who arrived early. All that to say I have no bias just because of a dinky badge. (But I appreciate the discount! Accept me next year AnimeNYC!). 

Anyway, on to stuff you might actually care about. The booths! Oh man. I’m still gushing over everything. If you’re looking for any merch, search around enough and you’ll find something to your liking. This is especially true in Artist Alley. Walking around and seeing the variety of art styles, it almost prompted me to ask for commissions (some artists were publicly advertising their willingness to do so too!). If you’re not too interested in artwork or posters, there were many custom badges, pins, and jewelry. I also feel the need to apologize. Some booths got less attention from the public than others and the people running them appeared fairly down. I wish I had enough spare money to give to all of them.

For the purpose of not making this article too long, I’ll cover what I thought was the best booth and one that was… problematic.

One booth in particular that kept me coming back for more was Katana/Sakana. I can’t sing enough praises about them or their products. Admittedly, my fashion isn’t overtly anime regardless of the setting. Thankfully, their booth was perfect for me! Designed with the intent to be “subtle and minimal for everyday wear,” they work as great designs for the unaware and wonderful homages to the knowledgeable. Here are two pictures of what I bought: 

Additionally, the two guys running the booth were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I talked with them all three days of the convention and their charisma and passion for the entire medium was evident. These “two guys,” who came down to New York from Toronto, designed all merch themselves and are deserving of so much credit. Go check them at their site here

However, there was one booth which I deemed problematic. I didn’t get their booth name but it was one of various prop sellers, selling foam and plastic swords, as well as other replicas from games and anime. What was problematic about it? The prices.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying this because I couldn’t afford them. I’m saying this because they were constantly changing; not from day to day, from person to person. To make sure this was the case, my friend and I tested it. Two people were running the booth when we were there. Let me provide an approximate transcription of the conversation.

**There were no price tags on the props.

Pointing to a sword, my friend asks:

[Friend]: Excuse me. How much is this?

[Seller 1]: $40.

[Friend]: Okay. Thank you.

The seller moves on to help other people while my friend continues to eye the props. Waiting until he is out of earshot, not far giving how noisy the convention was, he points to the sword again and asks the other seller:

[Friend]: Excuse me. How much is this?

[Seller 2]: $50.

With a scrunched face, he shakes his head in disapproval.

[Seller 2]: I’ll give it to you for $45.

What does this indicate? There are two possible explanations.

  • The two sellers were ignorant of the price they were selling the props at.
  • Either of the sellers misspoke. 
  • Seller 2 is hiking up the prices purposefully.

If (1), that’s a serious issue. People are getting priced more than they should unfairly. It also shows a lack of awareness and care on behalf of the sellers. However, I struck a conversation with Seller 2 who stated that he had run many booths before. 

If (2), that’s still a serious issue but perhaps an isolated incident; however it’s not excusable. While the explanation is valid, it’s not a justification.

If (3), I’m not sure. Booths are expensive and you’re trying to advertise and make money. Yet, I posit that this takes it too far. Forcing customers to have to bargain for a lower price is unethical to me. This is especially the case when you’re targeting the community you supposedly love.

**There were other booths selling extremely similar weapons. The prices of these other booths were lower than the aforementioned. Take away what you will from that. 

**Also, every product they sold was “the last one they had.” Now that’s shady.

There are a few things which could be improved upon. I got the feeling that the Javits Center wasn’t used to its fullest potential. The crowd at large mainly stuck to one floor, only separating when going to panels. Perhaps they should consider separating Artist Alley and the exhibitors. 

Additionally, the lines for panels were a bit jumbled. At least, they were for the FGO and Code Geass panels. I’m not sure what a solution to this would be though. The same can be said for the Aniplex store. 

These critiques are largely minor and there’s a reason for that. Anime NYC 2019 was lovely and the critiques I give are small because everything else was great. It truly felt like the community was being catered to in the perfect way. All people who ran the booth felt genuinely nice, a shout out once more to Katana/Sakana as well as STL Ocarina (The woman running the booth took song requests. I talked with her about my inexperience with wind instruments, though she ultimately convinced me that they were intuitive to learn and so I did end up buying one.). Go and check out their products!

This ocarina I bought wasn’t themed on anything in particular, but maybe you’d be interested in these:

The atmosphere was so friendly that I felt comfortable to compliment every cosplay I saw, the antithetical action of the introvert that I am. Some were cosplaying Sailor Moon, Soul Eater, Fate, and prominently My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer.

Would I recommend going? Of course! It would be lovely to meet you all there in November of 2020. Whether you’re a local, from another state in the US, or farther; I extend the welcome I received to you!

Sora no Woto – My Love Note

I never expected to watch Sora no Woto. Not because I heard bad things about it, conversely because I had never heard anything about it. While it does seem ignorant to only watch anime that has gained renown, there’s dwindling time in my schedule. I can’t watch every episode of every airing anime. (Although, there was a time when I did. Bad call.) My “to watch list” is only growing by the day as new anime airs and old anime resurfaces as purported hidden gems. Only by sheer chance did I even see artwork for Sora no Woto, a random thumbnail from a YouTube suggestion. “Cute girls doing cute things with a military aesthetic. Yeah, I’m down.” I silently thought. If you think the same way, then I encourage you to watch it. It’ll definitely scratch the itch you’re looking for. If you need a bit more persuading, read on. 

A basic summary: Sora no Woto features a band of five military girls. Stationed on the border of their nation, they post-up in a fortress overlooking an old town. While they are formally tasked with defending the border, their military might is close to null. The audience is witness to their coexistence with the town and what their role actually entails. 

Let’s get the basic checklist out of the way. Is the animation good? Asking if something is “good” is of course subjective. Nevertheless, let me frame it in an objective way. First, let’s put this into perspective. Sora no Woto isn’t a recent anime; it aired in January of 2010. That means we’re nearing the tenth anniversary of the show. Despite that, I posit that the quality is similar to that of modern anime. Similar to KyoAni’s K-On!, there’s a sense of timelessness. The animation is smooth, characters appearing alive in a moving world, their hair flowing to and fro. If this aired today, minus a few characters in the background (and the use of CG, though not egregious), there would be no qualms about it. 

Speaking of the world, instead of acting as a backdrop, it’s paid intricate attention to. That may be what differentiates it so much and why I’m writing this in the first place. Everywhere the audience is taken, we can feel the history intrinsic to the wider narrative. If it’s not reflecting history, it’s evoking a sense of normalcy: chairs rotated to be slightly askew or a table chipped to show its wear. The homes we’re given the privilege to see are truly theirs, a window into their lives. While doing this, it remains remarkably consistent in tone. 

Though it may come as a spoiler, I believe it’s necessary to be said. Sora no Woto is not a pure “slice of life.” Scattered throughout are fragments that, when pieced together, reveal a bleak possibility for the future. It’s the personality of the characters when faced with that adversity, when realizing their significance, that makes such a warm show. On that note, let me touch upon the characters as a whole. Are they modeled on established archetypes? For the most part, yes. Does this negatively affect the story? Not at all. Instead, it once again adds to the sense of normalcy similar to the detail in wear. By following characters we can understand, we can not only predict some of their actions, but understand and empathize with the actions they take. 

With the animation covered and the story related without any major spoilers, let’s close on the music. The English translation of Sora no Woto is Sound of the Sky. As the name suggests, music is integral to the entire show. It plays into the main theme as a recurring element by proxy of what it represents as a concept. If this is the case, it must be pleasant to the ear in order to fully express its message. In that respect, I completely understand that a small subsection of viewers may be disappointed at the chosen song repeatedly used. It exists in modern day and people in the US hear it often. Nevertheless, even if you are of that small percentage and have an aversion to it, I still believe you will be persuaded by the calming audial relaxant. To those outside of the US, I sincerely hope you’ll be touched. Outside of this, the tracks of the OST are universally enchanting with a folk tune. 

There’s no doubt in my mind to recommend this. Is it an anime that you must watch under any circumstances? No. It’s not so avant garde as to claim that. Yet, its charm is evident to any viewer. Who should watch this then? Whoever feels like it. I’m sure you feel that such an answer is idiotic. I agree. Although, there’s no better way to say it. If you feel any attraction to the concept, you’ll simply enjoy it. Perhaps this stems from what I dub the “slice of life curve.” That though is something for another day. I have nothing more to say without spoiling the contents of Sora no Woto except this: If you do end up enjoying Sora no Woto, I’d be grateful if you took the time to send the creators and publishers a message saying so. However you interpret what I mean by “message” is up to you.

If you’ve already watched Sora no Woto and want to hear another small blurb about how I felt, it’s the mess below. Brace yourself. There’s no refinement here compared to the text above. It’s all stream of consciousness, immediately written with the only saving grace being correct grammar. 

I’m frankly amazed. Kureha, Kanata, Noel, Rio, Felicia; they’re incredibly endearing. Even in the closing arc, with Kureha playing devil’s advocate as Rio was gone, I can still empathize with her. Maybe it’s because of my age. When I was younger, I would’ve registered the cast as friends. Now, I think of them more as children. Albeit, that does sound fairly creepy now that I’ve typed it out. It’s just that when the characters are emotionally in pain, you want them to feel that everything’s going to be alright. Besides those moments with Kureha, there was the exploration of Noel’s backstory. Her trauma about killing so many people as a result of her research and inventions was heartbreaking. That said, Aisha’s gradual acceptance of her tipped the scales back to heartwarming. 

The thing is, I’ve seen everything presented in the show before. Even Noel’s entire arc is a bit of a cliche. I’m still singing my praises about the show anyway. Oh well, a review is ultimately subjective no matter how hard I tried to put an objective lens on it. Besides Sora no Woto, I loved Girls und Panzer and High School Fleet. That reminds me! The spider tanks were… interesting? I won’t lie. I would’ve preferred regular treads compared to the quadruped and spider leg style. That’s just a small critique though. And now, recognizing that technology, I’m brought back into the world of Sora no Woto. Think about it this way: How many shows could exist within the universe of Sora no Woto? How many genres? The answer is limitless. There could’ve been an entire show portraying the horrors of the war between the SDF and aliens. That’s the most intriguing part in the end. All that said, a small look into the production history of Sora no Woto reveals it was part of a handful of anime written to be anime originals. For that reason, I believe the plot that finally landed on was the correct one. Only through anime could the theme of music be capitalized on so well. Notable exceptions exist and… Well- I suppose those are a topic for another day as well. I hope you could get through this wall of text at the end. Thank you for reading and have a pleasant day.