Digging for Delight with School DJs – D4DJ Episode 1 Review and Analysis

The source material feat. Noisy Tribe Mic (because I can’t afford a better one at the moment):

Almost everyone missed D4DJ First Mix in the Fall 2020 season. That’s probably because it officially began airing on October 30, 2020 which is later than usual. It did also stream online a week earlier, but I didn’t watch it at the time.

D4DJ stands for “Dig Delight Direct Drive DJ” (say that 10 times fast). It’s a multimedia project with a mobile game, manga, music and now a sparkling brand-new anime. It was created by the company Bushiroad which also created the BanG Dream! and Revue Starlight franchises – both of them also having a mobile game, manga, music and anime. The D4DJ anime is produced by studio SANZIGEN, a CG studio that has contributed to studio TRIGGER’s Promare and has made shows that are primarily in 3D, one example being Arpeggio of Blue Steel. The director is Seiji Mizushima who directed the original 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, Concrete Revolutio and Gundam 00 just to name a few.

Beginning the dive into the episode proper, at first I was confused. It starts with a brief scene of a girl sitting alone in a forest and instead of setting myself up for a bright time, I was instead prepared for horror like something from Higurashi. This clearly wasn’t helped by the voices of the DJs in the distance seeming like they belonged to spirits of bygone days. It was a bizarre way to begin the series, but the girl is then brought out of the darkness by her moving closer to the concert. In this concert, they’re playing a song called “Wow War Tonight”, a 1995 Japanese groove that’s apparently a classic. Before watching the episode, I listened to different versions of the song but I couldn’t find English lyrics to it. There was no translation in the episode either, as is natural for official subs. That means I unfortunately might not have been able to grasp the true significance of it playing throughout the entire episode, where it’s introduced once again after a time skip. This issue would compound if it played multiple times throughout the series and it’s even the ED.

The concert also has a terrible CG crowd, but that’s the worst the CG will look. In fact, it’s actually quite OK and I got used to it. Regarding other visual aspects, the way the characters move and the good facial expressions are always welcomed.

Those factors are present in the OP, and I could go on about the OP on its own, but I will say here that it includes high school girls doing hip-hop gestures which was a sight to behold. Cute girls doing cute things is evolving and the future is now. Furthermore, it uses poppy colours and stylish imagery like the turning of a record and the song itself uses the onomatopoeia “ぐるぐる”, which means to turn round and round. Overall, my eyeballs and eardrums were delighted.

My eardrums were delighted even more by the background music composed by Ryouhei Sataka, who also composed for Release the Spyce and Gleipnir. If there’s one thing I wanted the most out of this series, it was a jammin’ OST and we got it. After the OP, we transition to the main character, Rinku, running in the school she just transferred to. The music builds up, goes into breakbeat and then blasts Persona vibes. I imagine a Persona main character running down the hallway with one hand in a pocket and it prepares us for the journey about to unfold. The music style is varied throughout, with both chill and hype beats that get me absolutely vibing.

In the scene I mentioned, Rinku’s feet while she’s running are emphasised, which reminds of another series: Love Live! The episode also obviously parallels the Love Live! spinoff, Love Live! Nijigasaki, airing in the same season. This is in 2 ways, the first being the huge and futuristic school. In D4DJ there are digital chalkboards that you can overlay with text and images and everyone has laptops. The two series make me think of what kind of things they will add to schools in future anime as technology becomes a greater part of our lives. It’d pretty cool if someone were to cover different depictions of schools over anime’s history. The second similarity to Nijigasaki is how the main character witnesses a live performance and is then inspired to do the same thing. In D4DJ it’s in a concert hall in the school which hosts raves. This really surprised me, not just in how it went further in modernising the school but also how the students are even trusted in the first place. Having these raves makes me think of them hurting themselves and possibly being involved in some kind of drug ring. Does the school have dark secrets?! Possibly.

Besides this performance, we get very little sense of why Rinku wants to be a DJ; is it just because she saw one performance? However, Rinku does encounter a pink-haired girl who seemingly recognises her, so maybe there’s more to her than meets the eye? Her background is interesting: she used to live abroad on some African island I’d never heard of called Tiotio. I googled it and it apparently doesn’t exist, so it might just be an amusing reference to a certain band that blesses the rains down in Africa. Rinku describes this island as having lots of jungle, and jungle is an actual genre of music. “Wow War Tonight”, at least according to Discogs, is a jungle song. Her name itself – “Rinku” – is like the word “link” and DJs link songs to transition between them. In addition, she says that her mum is an insectologist specialising in dung beetles and we get a beetle rolling something on the ground to accompany it. The beetle is moving rhythmically, in tune with itself and the action it’s undertaking. Maybe her mum was a DJ? We don’t know the answer yet or maybe we never will. Finally, Rinku has a catchphrase – “Happy Around” – and she physically spins when she’s happy, spreading her joyous tune to the surroundings. The anime does not just have music as a subject matter but also incorporates musical themes into the non-DJ segments.

Now, imagine chilling at lunch thinking about life when anime eyecatch music starts playing, literally representing the half-time break in school. In D4DJ, you’re listening to the announced “Lunchtime Groove!” featuring a song sung by two artists: one of them being none other than Nana Mizuki. I’d actually have enjoyed going to school every single day if I were a student here. I imagine Tsubasa from Symphogear live DJing on the battlefield while spinning around and saving the day. Also related to Symphogear is the group Elements Garden, which is credited for the music in the live performance Rinku witnesses. Nana wills it.

In school, Rinku eventually encounters Maho, a “rookie star” DJ. Rinku eventually convinces Maho to show her what DJs do. Maho explains BPM (beats per minute) while we see the DJ set, gradually showing us what it’s all about and easing us into the premise.

Rinku then makes a suggestion for a transition and Maho sees that Rinku might have potential. That’s when we move to the ED with Maho dancing to “Wow War Tonight” and having a good time, just like I was. She even does a charming gesture to us at the end. The next episode preview follows with music that slaps and so the episode concludes. I’m definitely continuing this. It’s dope and hopefully it keeps being a jam and a vibe.

What did you think of the episode, or my own thoughts on it? Feel free to leave a comment below. And as always, you can find me on Twitter and Twitch.

Check it out!

The Future Is in Your Hands: Witnessing the Suffering of Kaiji

I re-watched the thrilling Kaiji some time ago and it became one of my favourite anime. Along the way, I wrote about each arc. Let me tell you why you should watch Kaiji, based on the first arc.

The main character is Kaiji Itou – a young unemployed bum – who receives a debt from one of his former co-workers after the co-worker vanishes. This is because Kaiji co-signed the loan. It’s way too much to pay off, but he’s offered the chance to repay the debt by means of participating in a gambling game involving other strugglers. It’s very clear that isn’t going to be pretty since the yakuza are obviously involved.

The story introduces the psychological elements step-by-step. The first gamble is a modified version of rock-paper-scissors. We are all familiar with the original game, so we have an easier time processing the modified rules and are thus eased into the story. Narration clearly explains various situations, though it does hamper the experience when the narration describes actions Kaiji performs rather than showing them.

The whole arc is a tonal adventure as there are numerous high and low points and the transitions between them aren’t sudden. The different situations and the methods and theories Kaiji uses to overcome challenges keep you engaged throughout. Kaiji is a bum but he’s actually kind of smart, which while you can argue is how the arc is ever able to last as long as it does (or else Kaiji would’ve been eliminated from the game earlier), he’s not so smart as to seize constant victories. This keeps things from getting stale and contributes to the overall mood curve.

What really makes Kaiji stand out though is the imagery it uses in desperate situations. This aspect is introduced with a rather simple example before ramping up the intensity.

The overall colour scheme can sometimes change during these sections which make them otherworldly and characters’ appearances can be physically distorted when they’re experiencing intense fear or nervousness. In addition, the narration in these segments strongly emphasises the images presented. Finally, there are the famous ざわ (zawa)’s, which is onomatopoeia for an uneasy atmosphere. The extensive usage of this is a distinct trait of the works of the original mangaka, Nobuyuki Fukumoto. They are visibly shown during multiple scenes and emphasise not only the characters’ emotions but our uneasiness as well.

My favourite moment of the arc might be the ending, which I won’t spoil here but it’s effective because we’ve experienced the gradual ups and downs of the arc along with Kaiji. We’ve delved deep into his lowest points, making us very empathetic for him. Kaiji’s empathy also boosts his likeability.

The last thing I’ll mention is the themes, one of which is how “the future is in our hands” (the name of the OP song). Most of the other players are in a similar life situation as Kaiji and being successful at the gamble is the means of restarting their lives not only with more financial means but also metaphorically, as the thrill of the gamble has made them realise what it means to feel alive. The series also explores how selfish humans are, how we can turn into monsters in dire circumstances and other standard fare among stories such as these.

I feel like it’s no surprise that I like Kaiji considering that I began my anime-aware journey with Death Note and Code Geass (and Lucky Star afterwards but that’s a completely different thing).

If any of what I described sounded interesting to you, then I suggest you give Kaiji a shot.

You should pay attention to the OST as well, composed by Hideki Taniuchi:

The rest of the write-ups can be found below. Keep in mind that these were orginally sent over Discord, so there may be a couple of inside jokes. Naturally, spoilers lie in store.

Saying Hi to Dumb Fun: Alice or Alice

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When boob physics is what begins the story, you know exactly what you’re getting.

Alice or Alice involves twin sisters Rise and Airi, their friends, and their brother with a sister complex. Each character could be described in one sentence, the character designs aim to evoke as much cuteness as possible, and the brother isn’t even that important. In fact, there are only a couple of scenes over the 12 3-minute episodes which imply any sort of sister complex.

In actuality, the focus is on the girls, who find themselves in typical slice-of-life situations such as playing at the beach or going to a festival. What distinguishes these situations is the snappy and raunchy humour: quirky sound effects and audible grunts accompanying a character suddenly dropping dead on the floor is followed by one of them obsessively taking pictures of another character in a maid outfit, and it’s definitely the kind of unapologetic humour I dig. It also complements the random or striking facial expressions which add energy and dynamism to the package.

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Concerning the brother, there’s generally more affection from the girls towards him rather than the reverse, and it comes off as adorable. Why the girls who aren’t his direct siblings adore him so much is never explained, and the series doesn’t care enough to do so; it doesn’t need to when the obvious intention is for the viewer to self-insert.

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The most interesting aspect of the series though is the voice actors. It features the talent of Yoshitsugu Matsuoka — who plays Kirito from Sword Art Online — and ones who feature in the Love Live! idol franchise such as Aina Suzuki and Sora Tokui. Listening to the voices of Mari Ohara and Nico Yazawa as they anticipate a prideful battle between themselves is a welcome crossover. What’s funnier is that the girls become idols in the last episode, and it’s an instance of meta-textual aspects representing a noticeable portion of my enjoyment.

At the end of the day, Alice or Alice isn’t a bombastic thrill ride akin to Nichijou, but it knows its target audience and I’m glad to have watched it to the end. It’s a reminder of the fun hidden behind seemingly generic offerings and inclines me to give more shorts an honest shot. I’ll keep saying “hi” to them just like how I raised my right hand in front of my computer screen almost every time the word was uttered in the OP.

Hype Soundtracks: Relaxing Lunch Break (Love Live!)

What better way to kick things off than by writing about something from one of many pieces of media that inspired me to make this blog in the first place: Love Live!

Hype can involve riveting guitar solos, powerful orchestra, ominous chanting, the continuous addition of instruments, etc. Relaxing Lunch Break (Yuttari Ohiruyasumi/ゆったりお昼休み) from the first season of Love Live! School Idol Project is not an overly bombastic piece, but it nonetheless stirs excitement within me.

The first 7 seconds are simple enough: a ringing that establishes the upbeat tone and gives the same impression as a school bell which starts the next period of the day. In fact, I set this part as my wake-up alarm more than 3 months ago.

What follows is the hardest dubstep drop I’ve ever heard. If I come back to this after a while, my mind from here on out goes mental until the end, just as Love Live sometimes does to me.

This isn’t the kind of break where you’re staring out the window, but one where you’re outside and taking in everything around you as the sun shines. You whistle with the birds and search for the best vantage point to see the sights. You then anticipate the meal you’re going to munch on.

35 seconds in, the instrumentation (forgive my very basic music knowledge) evokes a dance through nature and the eclectic chatter between schoolmates. The brass that follows echoes the gradual end of the freedom but carries the happiness that lingers on even when you’re going back to class.

Most importantly, it relates to the series itself. It reminds me of the buzzing energy the main character Honoka possesses as she comes up with the next idea, the girls practising on the rooftop, and the general youthfulness that pervades many school stories. Perhaps when my alarm rings I can jump out of bed with my two feet in unison every day, and not just the first time it chimed from my phone. I could get the courage to overcome any obstacle no matter how trivial, like when Hanayo formally announces that she wants to join the group in episode 4. Perhaps then I can strive to achieve something great.

Or I can just listen to those beautiful 7 seconds repeat themselves and sleep for another hour.

Composed by Yoshiaki Fujisawa (A Place Further Than the Universe, Land of the Lustrous, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE)