5 Speculative Anime You Must Watch!

This post caters towards those who have already watched most, if not all, of Studio Ghibli’s classics such as Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Princess Mononoke, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, The Cat Returns, and so on. All of the anime on this list include either fantastical or science-fiction themes, and are highly recommended for anime-loving enthusiasts of speculative fiction.

These are five of my favorite anime that have not been produced by Studio Ghibli. They are beautifully illustrated, and have plots that truly touch your heart. If you haven’t watched these shows already, I recommend that you do so!

  1. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
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Image from filmtakeout.com

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is a science-fiction romance that centers on a girl who accidentally gains the power to travel through time. Although a bit more slow-paced and less well-known than the other films on this list, this movie remains one of my favorites. It leaves a subtle but lasting emotional impact that will remain long after the ending credits roll through. Recommended for solo viewing on a quiet or rainy night.

  1. Paprika
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Image from leffatykki.com

Paprika will leave you wondering if you were hallucinating straight from the beginning to the end of the movie. It is based on the novel Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui—the same novel that inspired the influential blockbuster film Inception. Although both Inception and Paprika revolve around the concept of dreams and the illusion of reality, Paprika has less of a structured plot, and the animation lends a fluidity to the scenes that is not achievable in Inception. Be prepared to absorb the mass of color that will entrance your eyes, and let the wonder of visuals and plot twists entangle your mind.

  1. Your Name
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Image from thehypedgeek.com

Your Name follows two Japanese high school students that miraculously swap bodies in the aftermath of a celestial event. It offers a light-hearted depiction of their individual hardships of living life in a body that doesn’t align with their gender. Yet viewer anticipation gradually builds up as the possibility of the two protagonists meeting grows. Your Name is irresistibly sweet yet frustrating—what you want the most seems to always slip through your fingers—and it is a must-watch film. Recommended for dual-viewing so you can squeeze each other’s sweaty hands in anticipation of what’s to come next. P.S.: Don’t forget the tissue box.

  1. Parasyte -the maxim-
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Image from pageprophet.blogspot.com

Parasyte -the maxim- is not a show for the faint-hearted (if you don’t like blood, beware!). It’s a science-fiction horror anime series where parasites take over human hosts. What’s engrossing about this show is that there’s no clear black-and-white division between the parasites and the humans—we are shown different perspectives that allow us to form a holistic view of this particular world. The animation is stunningly created, and I personally thought Migi was the cutest alien I’d ever seen. I don’t usually recommend pulling all-nighters, but it’s definitely worth considering for this show.

  1. Psycho-Pass
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Image from moarpowah.com

The society of Psycho-Pass revolves around a system that dictates how people should live to obtain maximum security and happiness. The system determines their medical needs, job prospects, potential for criminality, and their potential for treatment (e.g. through therapy). It’s set in a pretty depressing and dystopic world, but the show is filled with action and drama that allows you to be entertained while wondering if that’s what our future could possibly look like. Recommended for those late nights when you feel like being distracted from your work.

I hope you enjoy these recommendations. Let us know below if you have any differing opinions, or if there’s another list you’d like us to make!

-Contributed by Ariana Youm

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Seven Anime That Require Your Viewership in 2017

I’m just going to say it: 2016 was a good year for anime. New titles like Re:Zero and Mob Psycho 100, and sequels such as Haikyuu and Assassination Classroom were everything that we could have asked for and more. Yes, there were a few disappointments (we’re looking at you, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress), but 2017 offers restitution for every show that made you feel like you wasted your time putting it through the three-episode test. Big names like Attack on Titan and One Punch Man are putting out a second season, but there are other shows that deserve your attention too. They’re great. They’re fantastic. Trust me.

Welcome to the Ballroom – Premiere: July 2017

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Image from animenewsnetwork.com

Welcome to the Ballroom (Japanese title: Ballroom e Youkoso) promises to be a powerhouse of its own. The show will be based on Tomo Takeuchi’s manga of the same name and will be produced by Production I.G. Their involvement with the show is the most promising evidence of its quality. I.G has been responsible for some of the best sports anime shows in recent memory, such as Kuroko no Basuke and Haikyuu. The studio’s best work comes into play in scenes requiring fluidity and attention to detail, both of which will be put to the test in the intense dance competitions that Welcome to the Ballroom promises to offer.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Premiere: TBA 2017

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Image of the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes from animeblob.wordpress.com

Although advertised as a remake of the 1988 original space opera, the forthcoming Legend of the Galactic Heroes is supposedly a new take on Yoshiki Tanaka’s lauded story. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has the reputation of a cult classic in the anime community. Though I have not seen the original and cannot speak from personal experience, many have called the show the absolute zenith of Japanese storytelling. Others can’t bear the animation style of the late 1980s, which has continued to be the show’s greatest obstacle in reaching viewers. However, just as hope faded away, in swooped the hero of the hour: Production I.G. Their mastery of dynamic action sequences will surely spread the renowned tale to a larger audience.

Berserk – Premiered: April 7th, 2017

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Image from reddit.com/r/Berserk/

Have you ever found yourself playing a fantasy RPG with a severely overpowered character? Has their total badassery and inability to die made you ponder how awesome a show based around them could be? If so, you’re in luck! Berserk is a fantasy juggernaut that takes place in the war-torn country of Midland. It is based on Kentaro Miura’s original manga, which plays out more like a collection of Hieronymus Bosch’s best works than a manga series. The one downside of the show is that Miura’s incredible attention to detail is lost on the 3D animation and cel shading used in the show’s production. Nonetheless, Berserk‘s story and character roster are reasons enough to give this show a chance. The 2017 season will be the second of the most recent series, the first season of which came out last year. Although the latest series does not provide viewers with the earlier portions of the story, anime-film adaptations of the manga’s prologue arc are available in a trilogy titled Berserk Golden Age. These movies are: The Egg of the King, The Battle for Doldrey, and The Advent.

Gintama Season 4 – Premiered: January 9th, 2017

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Image from showprobe.wordpress.com

We are talking indestructible wooden swords that are made from alien trees and dispense soy sauce. We are talking some of the most out-of-the-box penial humour ever. We are talking Gintama. I know that I said I’d be talking about anime that weren’t big name sequels, but I’m breaking the rules, and for good reason too. Gintama simply does not get the love that it deserves, at least not from Western audiences. Furthermore, good shonen anime have been few and far between recently. Bleach has been discontinued, Naruto Shippuden has ended, and One Piece also threatens to end prematurely as it approaches the most recent source material. Though Attack on Titan season two and Boruto: Next Generation are within our sights, some of us just need more shonen sooner. Gintama is the answer.

Yami Shibai Season 4 – Premiered: January 16th, 2017

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Image from moesucks.com

Ever miss that creepy feeling of being watched just beyond your field of vision? Then Yami Shibai is the anime for you. However, calling Yami Shibai an anime the same way you might call Sword Art Online an anime is odd, as its production bears no resemblance to the glossy, computer-generated animation of today’s market. Yami Shibai is an anthology of Japan’s most spine-tingling folk-stories, and boy, does it tingle some spines. What this show offers is freshness, especially as Hollywood’s adventures into the horror genre have been lackluster and repetitive in recent years. So throw on the show, pop some popcorn, and break out the vacuum for the eventual jump-scare spillage.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection – Premiere: TBA 2017

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Image from ukiyaseed.weebly.com

Who was asking for this? Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion had the perfect ending, which I will not be spoiling for those who haven’t seen Code Geass and most likely live in a cave somewhere. Many have considered the two-season series as one of the greatest anime of all time and an effective gateway show into the vast medium. Although it does not currently have a concrete release date, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection has been promised as a 2017 release. Sunrise Incorporated will be returning to produce another (hopefully great) season of this classic.

Black Clover – Premiered: May 2nd, 2017

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Image from snapthirty.com

If last year’s Boku no Hero Academia and Shokugeki no Soma: Ni no Sara weren’t enough to whet your appetite, then Black Clover is an event to look forward to. With the stampede of incoming sequels and the hype surrounding Boruto: Next Generation, Black Clover simply isn’t receiving the recognition that an original shonen deserves. The story follows Asta, a boy born into a fantastical world of magic lacking any form of magical power. He chases his dreams of being the Wizard King nonetheless, and if that isn’t the premise for a great shonen saga then I don’t know what is. The potential of this anime is heightened by Studio Pierrot’s involvement, the animation giant that brought us crowd favourites like Naruto, Bleach, and Tokyo Ghoul.

-Contributed by Giordano Labrecque

3 Movies To Change Up Your Holiday Viewing List

It’s that time of year again when people are pulling out boxes with Christmas ornaments and fairy lights, and getting into the spirit of the holidays with nostalgic, classical holiday movies. But while some might say they grew up watching movies like How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf, or even The Nightmare Before Christmas, I’ll admit I never did.

It’s hard to say whether it’s the result of being a first-generation child who, despite moving to Canada, still grew up on European stories and movies, or whether I simply didn’t like them. The holidays for me have always been marked by a rather different set of movies. Now, these non-traditional films are what I associate with winter and the magic and spirit of the holidays.

So whether you’re looking for something different to spice up a yearly tradition, or are just generally curious, here are three alternative speculative films to watch these holidays:

1. Tři oříšky pro Popelku (translated: Three Wishes for Cinderella; 1973)

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Still from the movie Three Wishes for Cinderella

Though it is considered a holiday classic in some European countries, Three Wishes for Cinderella has nothing to do with the holidays. The only Christmas aura you’ll get from this film is the the stunning snowy Czech landscape, and the evergreen trees.

Three Wishes for Cinderella tells the story of a male servant, who is sent to a marketplace to pick up fabric for the stepmother and stepsister of the classic Cinderella tale. After asking Cinderella what she’d like for him to bring back, the servant is told to bring the first thing that falls on his nose. This happens to be a trio of hazelnuts which, when cracked open throughout the movie, reveals a new outfit that Cinderella needs.

The movie features a rather sassy and badass Cinderella (for her time period, at least), who is nostalgic for the days she used to go hunting with her father, and even mocks the prince when she meets him in the woods. Viewers also get to see a bit of the prince’s character, as opposed to the very bland and cookie-cutter Disney version.

Three Wishes for Cinderella brings with it a quality that’s very much in the style of European fairy and folktales. It takes its time to create an atmosphere rather than simply powering through the story. And the best part is the main theme in the soundtrack, which has a light, twinkling quality to it, guaranteed to make you imagine galloping on a horse through large piles of snow, feeling the pleasant crispness of winter all around.

2. A Little Snow Fairy Sugar (anime series; 2001-2002)

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Still from the anime A Little Snow Fairy Sugar

While the most well-known anime series focus on creating elaborate fantasy worlds and introducing viewers to a cast of emotionally complex characters, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar quietly tiptoes the line between the child and adult realms.

Luckily for you, A Little Snow Fairy Sugar is a short series, so it’s perfect to blaze through this winter season. The show is twelve episodes long, and tells the story of a highly organized and studious girl named Saga, who lives in a small German town with her grandmother and works in a coffee shop. But one day everything changes when Saga discovers a tiny starving fairy and feeds her a waffle, and meets a snow fairy apprentice named Sugar.

Beyond being simply adorable, what with Sugar’s addiction to Belgian waffles and the constant mishaps she gets into with fellow friends Salt and Pepper, the series also addresses themes of growing up and dealing with the loss of a loved one. At times, it is hard not to get emotional while watching. The show has a natural and heartfelt tone to it that make the series stand out in the anime genre.

Sugar’s constant practicing with conjuring snowflakes makes winter feel like it can be found at any time of the year, but also gives a different—and cuter—association to the season. If anime is for you, be sure to give this series a shot!

3. Vechera na Hutare Bliz Dikanki (translation: Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka; musical, 2001)

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Still from the movie Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka

For a rather long time, there was a different kind of holiday tradition that developed in Russia and Ukraine: that of the musical.

While this trend lasted for over a decade, only the first four or so were genuinely any good. However, I’d argue that the best is the one based on the work of Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol, called Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka.

Set on New Year’s Eve in the small village of Dikanka, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka is the story of a blacksmith named Vakula, who is rejected and mocked by the beautiful Oksana. She gives him a challenge: he can marry her only if he brings back the red shoes worn by the tsarina in St. Petersburg. While the task initially seems impossible, a lucky run-in with the Devil himself proves to be helpful and Vakula, after some blackmailing, is flown across the night sky to St. Petersburg to bring back the shoes and marry Oksana.

The story will most likely sound bizarre to people outside of the culture, but the film does a pretty good job in both presenting and stressing the importance of New Year’s Eve, as opposed to Christmas Day, in Ukrainian culture. It is considered to be the most magical night of the year when all the magical forces come out to play. This version features a talented cast and hilarious lyrics (for those who don’t mind quickly learning Russian/Ukrainian, or can find a version with subtitles), adding a touch of comedy and music to a beloved cultural classic.

So, if you’re still in search of some new and different films to change up your holiday movie list, be sure to give some of the wildcards above a try. And happy holidays to you all!

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko

No Ghost, Just Shell

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image source: imgur.com

The speculative community has been nurturing a climate of social equity in the past few years. From the removal of statuettes depicting the openly racist H.P. Lovecraft from the World Fantasy Awards, to Cixin Liu winning the Best Novel Award at the 2015 Hugo Awards (the first Asian novelist to do so),  it is clear that mind-sets are changing.

However, with each step forward, there is always a step back.

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image source: myanimelist.com

When I heard that Hollywood was casting Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming adaptation of the manga Ghost in the Shell, I knew there was going to be trouble. Ever since the news was released, many fans have criticized the studio’s decision to cast Johansson in the role of an Asian character. Hollywood’s casting decision goes against the speculative community’s goal of social equity by perpetuating misrepresentation, while also revealing an integral flaw within their understanding of the manga.

Whitewashing is still commonplace among Hollywood films—just think The Last Airbender and Gods of Egypt. Moreover, Paramount and Dreamworks studios’ choices to whitewash their major characters reveals a very common and deep-seated fear: almost every big studio is afraid of losing money on film projects. According to Max Landis, a Hollywood screenwriter who defended the Ghost in the Shell casting decision in a YouTube video, there simply aren’t any A-list Asian actors that would ensure the film’s financial success. Not only is this assumption wrong (fans were hoping that Rinko Kikuchi would get the role), it is offensive, and indicates the industry’s financial motivations for the film above all else. Apparently, offering break-out opportunities for the many Asian-American actors struggling to find work in the industry just doesn’t seem to be an option. While this decision affects the social aspect of the film, it also affects its merit as an adaptation.

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image source: nerdreactor.com

The studios’ selection of the film’s lead, screenwriters, and director indicates an important misunderstanding of the concepts established by its Japanese predecessors. Scarlett Johansson is most well-known for her action-oriented roles in The Avengers films, while screenwriters Jamie Moss (Street Kings) and Jonathan Herman (Straight Outta Compton) have only ever written action-thrillers. To top it all off, the film’s director is Rupert Sanders, whose only movie is Snow White and The Huntsman. The fact that the director and screenwriters are all inexperienced new members of the industry who have only ever done action films, with action-star Scarlett Johansson in the lead role, definitely points to a focus on action over thought.

However, gunfights and action scenes were never the focus of Ghost in the Shell. Of course violence is present, but its use is minimalistic and often only as a last resort. The point of the series has always been about asking questions that challenge the concept of the human condition. What does it mean to be human if your body is entirely prosthetic? Is artificial intelligence humanity’s next evolutionary step? What defines individuality if memories and thoughts can be hacked, deleted, and replaced? These are all questions that the original manga and its anime adaptations successfully tackle, with the cyborg Major Kusanagi being the embodiment of those themes as she is literally a ‘ghost’, or collection of her original memories, within a prosthetic body or ‘shell’. Ghost in the Shell is about questioning the human condition. It is quiet, introspective, and delicate—never loud.

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image source: rogerebert.com

While I have no doubt that a successful live-action adaptation of the manga can be pulled off, Hollywood’s decisions should serve as a warning for most fans to prepare for disappointment. Ghost in the Shell would’ve been a perfect opportunity for an Asian actor to play an intriguing character and to potentially break out into the mainstream. Instead, Hollywood is content to stick to its routine of whitewashing roles, perpetuating cycles of misrepresentation, and creating adaptations which fail to convey the themes of the source material. This film may have the title Ghost in the Shell, but I doubt it will have the heart of its predecessors.

The only good thing that has come out of this controversy has been the response from fans and the wider speculative community as a whole. By forcing Hollywood to recognize that their actions are outdated and harmful, hopefully the industry will be forced to change its behavior in the future. While the outlook of this film may seem bleak, as it is scheduled to be released in 2017, with not enough time for any major changes, perhaps enough time for its studios to at least consider the community’s response.

-Contributed by Lawrence Stewen

I Am the Devil, How Can I Help You?

Devil is a Part Timer
Illustration by Sonia Urlando

The devil as typically presented in literature and the arts strikes a red, bloody figure. Often with horns and pitchfork included.

But as a fast-food franchise employee?

I’ll bet you’ve never seen the devil like this.

The premise for the light novel turned anime series The Devil is a Part Timer! is as quirky as it is bizarre. It follows the adventure of Maou Sadao, the titular devil from the realm of Ente Isla. In the midst of a battle to determine the fate of his world, Sadao and one of his generals, Alciel, are transported to modern day Japan and forced to assume human form. Also unceremoniously hurtled through the void is the hero of Ente Isla, Emilia Justina, whose mission to stop Sadao extends beyond worldly borders.

The three must then settle on Earth until they fulfill their purpose: whether to return to Ente Isla (Sadao and Alciel) or to stop the devil (Emi). Sadao, Alciel, and Emi were all equipped with magic in Ente Isla but their magic is ineffective on Earth, making their respective missions very difficult to fulfill.

Surprisingly, the first of the group to recognize the necessity of blending in as well as the means to do so is Sadao. He finds a job at MgRonalds (McDonalds much?) as a part-timer, hence the title.

Here’s where the humour kicks in.

Sadao approaches his job in the same way he approaches his plan to conquer the world. He has ambition and drive, which makes him the perfect employee. When a KFC opens across the street from MgRonalds, Sadao approaches the situation with the gravitas of a war: spies are sent out, tactics observed, and a counter-attack prepared. Meanwhile, Emi takes up a cubicle job and plans to watch over Sadao.

I’m not someone that usually laughs out loud over movies or TV shows, but specific scenes of this anime had me laughing until I cried. The anime thrives on moments such as when Sadao tirelessly promotes the various specials of the day or when he learns how to use a fryer for the first time.

Up to this point the anime appears to be a typical fish-out-of-water comedy. Don’t misunderstand, it adopts those elements very well. But what makes this anime special is its balance of action and humor.

Underneath the glossy veneer of humour and incongruity, the characters of the anime break free of conventional tropes and engage in complex moral dilemmas.

Emi is presented as the classic hero. She is a powerful general who seeks to defeat Sadao, who she has always viewed as the personification of evil. She prepares to destroy him in Japan as soon as her powers allow.

However, Sadao behaves differently in the human world and his actions are kind, generous, and, dare I say, a little heroic. Sadao’s changed nature forces Emi to question her entire purpose. It makes her doubt her role as a hero and forces her to reconsider her desire to finish him off.

In the beginning, Sadao occupies the traditional role of a villain. After all, he is the Demon King who led an army that killed thousands of people, civilians included.

Sadao’s human form is deceiving.  It allows the viewer to condemn his actions and furthers the belief in an evil Satan. However, as the anime progresses, it becomes apparent that Sadao never saw his actions as being good or bad. For him, morality was not apparent in the furthering of his goals;  his actions were simply a means to an end.

Now, this doesn’t mean that Sadao should simply be forgiven, and the anime makes no attempt to fully exonerate him. It simply juxtaposes his past evil with his present goodness and leaves the viewer and Emito decide his fate.

I’m not going to deceive any of you. The second arc of this thirteen-episode series appears weaker than the first. Jokes are more worn-out and the absurdity of Sadao’s situation becomes wearying. The second half is more character-packed and loses the perfect balance of humour and action championed by the first arc. There are plot details left unexplained which heightens desire for a second season.

I must confess that prior to this, I had exclusively invested my time in the Shoujo genre (a guilty pleasure of mine). The Devil is a Part Timer! is my first venture into an anime with action fantasy and it took me for an amazing ride.

While it is not perfect, The Devil is a Part Timer! is humorous and relatable, and with empathy and compassion it addresses the problems of simply being human—such as working a part-time job, struggling with living expenses, and dealing with your own convictions in life. Go watch it if you like day jobs, epic battles in the sky, and the devil, of course.

-Contributed by Molly Cong

Passably Psychotic: A Review of Psycho-Pass

I have never committed a crime (well, I’m not counting that one time when my six-year-old self treated Bulk Barn as though it was a buffet). If I did, I have no doubt I’d be caught. I say this not out of any particular confidence in the police, but because I am an awful liar. My guilt would doubtless be written all over my “who, me?” expression.

How long would I last, then, in a world where people are condemned simply for their ability to commit a crime? It would not matter whether a law had actually been broken; I would be arrested for the passing thought, that idle admiring of a Corvette and the accompanying Thelma and Louise flash of criminal intent.

Such is the basis for the anime Psycho-Pass.

Writer Tow Ubukata, of Ghost in the Shell: Arise and Alternative Architecture, obviously draws from popular American science fiction in the creation of Psycho-Pass. In the first few minutes of episode one, the visual style strongly echoes that of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. The world design is eerily similar, with flashy visuals and gorgeous backgrounds. Kudos must be given to the artists for their dedication to making the aesthetics of every set piece match the incredibly dark tone of the story. In a market with anime like Tokyo Ghoul, Steins;Gate, or Sword Art Online, it is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve a distinct visual style. Blade Runner similarities notwithstanding, Psycho-Pass succeeds in spades.

With his 2009 anime series Phantom: Requiem for a Phantom, writer Gen Urobuchi was introduced to popular culture. He has been writing ground-breaking anime ever since. With shows like Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Fate/Zero, and Aldnoah.Zero under his belt, Urobuchi began writing for Psycho-Pass. He, like Ubukata, also openly draws from science fiction, namely Philip K. Dick’s novel Minority Report.

In Psycho-Pass, the main characters are all part of a task-force designated to find and detain those with “cloudy” psycho-passes. These people either have criminal thoughts, or their psyche has been warped to the point that their mental stability is compromised. Sybil, an omniscient AI, reads the stability of people’s minds and assigns a number rating. The higher the rating, the more the mind is compromised. Depending on the rating, a person is either taken to be “rehabilitated”, or, in more extreme cases, is subjected to the Dominator, a gun tied directly into the Sybil system. If Sybil determines a person “irretrievable”, the Dominator activates and quite violently destroys them.

Conflict arises in the form of the show’s antagonist, Shogo Makishima, a man responsible for committing numerous horrible crimes and yet somehow able to remain undetected by Sybil. His character, unabashedly evil and yet scarily relatable, is one of the best villains in my recent memory. Despite limited screen time, he manages to grow as an opposing force while acting as a conduit for the show’s deeper themes. These themes, it must be said, have been explored before—but never quite in this context. Psycho-Pass brings novelty to a genre that has recently been weighed down with watered-down copies of older, better stories. The storytelling and visual style remain with the viewer long after the series has ended, as we keep finding snippets of references and understated metaphors that result in many a “Ha, look at this!” Tumblr post.

Psycho-Pass, though slightly imitative, embraces its origins. Fans of older science fiction will see flashes of beloved tropes, but with a modern and stylistic twist. It mainly serves as a vehicle to give new life to the science fiction and cyberpunk genres, while reminding us of why antiheroes are awesome.

-Contributed by Rej Ford

Tales about Nine Tails: an Overview of Eastern Fox Spirits

“狐狸尾巴藏不住.” “A fox’s tail is not easily hidden.” – Chinese proverb

Though usually levelled at scheming individuals when their plots are unravelled, this saying alludes specifically to the idea of the fox spirit, a common mythological figure in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean culture. Foxes can be found in folklore all over the world, but Eastern fox spirits often exhibit more specific traits that render them particularly fascinating. With its sly grin and cunning ways, the fox occupies a trickster role in many mythologies. However, in East Asia the fox is also associated with supernatural metamorphic powers and with dangerously seductive women. Although some have compared the fox spirit to English fairies with their whimsical ways, the comparison doesn’t do justice to the diversity of foxes in Eastern mythology.

Within Chinese mythology, the fox occupies a special spot as one of five spiritual animal species. The fox is in good company, sharing this honour with the weasel, the porcupine, the snake, and the mouse. Their nocturnal natures give them plenty of yin energy  in the yin-yang dichotomy, allowing them to have special powers that increase with time and discipline. All five of these animals are said to be capable of training their bodies and hearts to become spirits (仙 xian), in an elevated state beyond mortality. However, the process is long and arduous: a huli jing’s (狐狸精 fox spirit) strength is measured by the number of its tails, and every additional tail up to a maximum of nine (九尾狐 jiuweihu) takes five hundred years of disciplined meditation and training. This includes energy from the moon (阴 yin energy) and energy from humans—which is where the spirit gets its seductive reputation.

In many stories, the huli jing or hu xian (狐仙 fox immortal) takes on the guise of a beautiful woman in order to interact with the human world. At times, this is a convenient way for the spirit to collect energy from human men for the purpose of strengthening herself. However, huli jing also have other relationships to people. As neutral familiar spirits, huli jing are not deified or worshipped in a sacred manner, but are nevertheless accorded respect. One good turn begets another, and if a human does a huli jing a favour, it may repay the good will by imparting knowledge and wisdom, by passing on supernatural powers to foresee the future, or by cleansing the household of evils. Huli jing have even been known to marry good men and to act as ideal wives.

On the other hand, there are occasionally legends of dangerous fox spirits such as the one that possessed Da Ji (妲己). She was the wife of the cruel King Zhou (紂辛) who offended the goddess Nüwa (女娲). Her malevolent influence supposedly drove him to ruin, and ended the Shang (商) dynasty (around 1600-1046 BCE). Though Da Ji is perhaps the most infamous huli jing in Chinese mythology, the figure can be found even earlier in folk stories. Tushan-shi (塗山氏), whose husband was the hero Yu the Great (大禹) and who is known to be the mother of China’s first dynastic ruler (the Xia 夏 dynasty 2070-1600 BCE), is sometimes said to have been a huli jing, or else to have had the nine-tailed fox as a symbol of her clan. Many other stories about huli jing can be found within Chinese mythology, particularly in Pu Songling’s (蒲松龄) 1740 collection of supernatural folktales Liaozhai Zhiyi (聊斋志异 Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio). Though by no means a religious figure, the mythological fox spirit has a sizeable presence in Chinese culture that has persisted to the present. In modern Chinese vernacular, the term huli jing is often derogatory when applied to a woman, implying that she is a homewrecker or otherwise seductively dangerous to men.

In Japan, the kitsune (狐) carries more Zenko (善狐), the white-furred benevolent foxes who often act as Inari’s messengers, are only one half of the story in Japanese mythology, which also categorizes some foxes as yako (野狐), who tend to be mischievous or malicious. The long-lived Japanese nine-tailed foxes,  kyubi no kitsune (九尾の狐), supposedly gain the power to see and hear anything, or to have infinite wisdom. Like the huli jing, kitsune are known to transform into beautiful young women, often through rituals that involve placing reeds or a skull on its head. The metamorphosis can sometimes be uncovered by searching for ill-concealed foxlike attributes, such as a fox’s shadow or a fox’s tail.

The supernatural powers of kitsune are many, including the power to generate fire or lightning (kitsunebi 狐火), the power to create intense illusions, and the power to possess people. Often kitsune are depicted with their hoshi no tama (ほしのたま star balls—white balls or jewels glowing with kitsunebi), which are said to hold the fox’s magical power or even its soul. These mystical attributes often lend themselves to stories of foxes bewitching powerful people or causing mischief to travellers or within households. In this sense, the kitsune has a more prominent trickster character in Japanese mythology. Nevertheless, they also repay favours and keep promises to humans; they are capable of bringing supernatural good or supernatural evil to the people they interact with.

Given its dual sacred and secular presence within Japanese folklore, the kitsune can be spotted in many modern-day Japanese works that have since gained followings in the West. Popular fantastical manga/anime series such as Naruto or Inuyasha feature characters like the Kyubi/Naruto and Shippo who reference the kitsune figure, as do video game character designs like those of Ninetales from the Pokémon series. The ubiquity of kitsune in Japanese media and its popularity overseas has resulted in this figure becoming the most familiar to outside audiences amongst the three Eastern fox spirits.

While Chinese and Japanese foxes can be positive, negative, or ambiguous forces, Korean kumiho (구미호) tend to be portrayed exclusively as malevolent creatures. These long-lived foxes also have nine tails and some powers, but often strive to become human rather than remaining the spirits that they are. The methods for this permanent transformation differ, but usually require some consumption of human flesh and blood. As such, kumiho are usually depicted as bloodthirsty spirits that can transform into beautiful women to lure their human victims. Rather than possessing young women like some Chinese or Japanese fox spirits, the kumiho often eats and replaces the female victim in order to feast upon her family. Like other fox spirits, the kumiho’s true nature may be perceived because the transformation is incomplete and it still carries fox-like characteristics, such as a tail or whiskers.

One such fairy tale called The Fox Sister tells of a man with three sons who wants a daughter so much that when praying for one, he doesn’t even care if she is a kumiho. After he has a daughter, the family finds that a cow dies mysteriously every night. When two of his sons report seeing their sister enter the barn to eat the cows’ livers, their father throws them out of the home. Years later, the two men return armed with three magical potions from a Buddhist monk. They find their sister living alone, claiming that their parents and youngest brother have all died, and offers them a feast and to stay the night. The oldest brother awakens to find his sister eating his dead younger brother, and flees by defending himself with the potions. As a fox, she fights her way through the first potion’s thicket of thorns, and swims across the second potion’s magical river. However, she is trapped by the last potion of bottled fire and burns to death.

The kumiho also continues to influence modern works. The fairy tale recounted above inspired a webcomic of the same name  by Christina Strain and Jayd Aït-Kaci. Kumiho also feature in a number of fantasy-based Korean dramas, including most notably the 2010 romantic comedy My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox. Even Western media have used the kumiho as inspiration, as can be seen with the popular character Ahri from Riot Games’ popular MOBA League of Legends.

Although all East Asian fox spirits stem from ancient Chinese culture, they have since acquired unique characteristics in the folklore of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean traditions. With such rich histories and diverse depictions, the fox spirit continues to hold sway over modern imaginations and to appear in Eastern and Western speculative works as an enigmatic supernatural figure. It is almost as though the bewitching nature of the creature has infused its myth and captured the attention of people all over the world.

– Contributed by Victoria Liao