SZA Proves Herself As A Musical Force On The ‘Ctrl Tour’

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The singer/songwriter Solána Imani Rowe, better known as SZA, is an R&B/Soul artist who can be best described as someone who is recognized for her tremendous talent and unconventional melodies that captivate listeners almost instantly. When I first sampled the album, I was drawn in by the emotional depth and truth sung through her song “Supermodel” and from there, every song on the first studio album (Ctrl) demanded you listen to better understand her life stories through her unique sounds and vocal range. Upon listening, I knew that SZA was the kind of artist you must see live – because her music comes from within, and live music from someone who creates their own work masterfully shines best when witnessed in the moment.

By the time SZA entered Sacramento’s Ace of Spades, the room erupted with cheers and there wasn’t a single person in the sold-out venue who didn’t visibly become excited to see her take the stage. With songs like “Supermodel” and “Normal Girl”  SZA is given the opportunity to belt the soulful tunes that show a more vulnerable side as well as the complications of her relationships. SZA doesn’t simply sing these songs though, she actually prefaces them by relating to each issue or emotion she felt while penning the tracks – bringing in that element of relatability to her artistry in ways that people are quickly realizing resonates with their own lives.

When it comes to her album, SZA performed the entirety with songs such as “Love Galore” giving SZA the chance to really showcase herself as a performer, dancing around the stage to the bass-heavy beat and singing along to the Travis Scott verses as if she herself is able to enjoy the captivating synth additions and arrangements that set her music apart from other mainstream artists. Despite the venue starting later than usual, SZA made a point to acknowledge she was going to utilize every moment – even going as far as adding a few songs and coming out for an encore performance of “twoAM.”

SZA has (and radiates) the epitome of individuality, as she took the time to dance across the stage feeling unrehearsed and providing that carefree cool factor that makes her a force in the industry when mixed with her musicality. The Ctrl singer has no need to follow traditional paths to gain notoriety being someone who wears what she wants, sings what she wants and spreads messages that promote self exploration and the hardships that sometimes force you to reach that point. This is better told through her song “20 something” detailing her feelings of being stuck in between transition with love and maturing – a self analytical anthem for a generation that was one of her most intimate performances that exceeded any potential studio produced version of her talent.

Aside from some of the slower ballads, SZA has other offerings such as “Go Gina” the jazz-themed song that will inspire you to move to the mesmerizing rasp in the artist’s range. Though SZA has her own distinct voice, her songs all manage to feel entirely different than each track with her eclectic song “Anything” to laidback hypnotizing sounds of “Broken Clocks” and “Doves in the Wind” featuring Kendrick Lamar. As SZA performed the album to the changing neon Ctrl sign behind her, it sparked an epiphany that she is going to become a prominent singer/songwriter for years to come, and if there’s any musical justice in the world – we’ll be seeing SZA receiving much more well earned respect and praise ( my money is on a few Grammys as well.)

If you will be seeing SZA live on her Ctrl Tour, the one thing you should feel is genuine excitement because with an inspiring artist like this, you won’t be disappointed.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name Is An Anime With Drama, Romance and Supernatural Fun

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Anime: The Betrayal Knows My Name

Relased By: Funimation

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Retail Price: $59.99

Once in awhile, an anime series comes along that is full of surprises, and the series The Betrayal Knows My Name is certainly one of those rare instances. Originally based on manga by Odagiri Hotaru, the genre-bending series brings drama, gothic/supernatural and romance into one with sprinkles of action to add even more variety in the series makeup. The Betrayal Knows My Name starts off by introducing us to the meek and “kind hearted” Yuki Sakurai who is a young man who was abandoned at an orphanage and developed a mysterious ability that made him tuned to other emotions via physical contact. It takes a toll on the protagonist, who doesn’t have any recollection of his family or prior life (past lives are an important part of the plot), but his life begins to change after encountering a stranger shrouded in mystery.

Yuki begins to become hunted by “Duras” or evil entities, showing him a side of the world he wasn’t aware existed. With Yuki thrown into new danger and a power that is still growing, the mystery man by the name of Luka becomes Yuki’s best bet to survive whatever is coming and discover what his past life entailed. Shortly after, Yuki discovers he’s one of the Zweilt Guardians intended to protect humanity and demolish the duras. The other guardians have been watching over him, but Yuki is the only one who can’t recall the past — but is viewed as their beacon of hope in the battle against evil. Even though Yuki wants to stay alive and piece his past together, his former childhood friend Kanata has a past that will pit friend against friend.

Now that you have a grasp on the general storyline of The Betrayal Knows My Name, it’s time to elaborate on the series’ recurring elements. The anime definitely caters to an audience that would appreciate two anime directions; the first is drama and or angst. There is plenty of time spent on conversations that may or may not happen — for example, if portions of the past should be divulged or emotions laid bare. The second aspect that would be worth mentioning is the overarching Shounen Ai genre (with innuendos on same-sex romance that sometimes are in the open). It doesn’t teeter into the graphic series that some would be considered (Freezing, Junjou Romantica) but tries to showcase an importance of the bonds between two male characters in multiple pairings. By using Luca as someone who loves by soul/essence, the series tries to abandon concepts of designated sexuality and embrace love in general.

 In a series with many interesting characters, Yuki is probably the least interesting to focus on. He requires consistent saving, makes poor decisions and often endangers individuals without even realizing it. He additionally fulfills cliches and stereotypes, but, despite Yuki’s occasional annoyance, there are actually plenty of others who carry the extra weight with more positive attributes. His romantic interest (though still considered subtext, they say), Luca, plays the opposite bad-boy role because he’s a leather-clad Duras who more than anything and was madly in love with Yuki in his former life as a woman. Even if Yuki is reborn a man (just as female Yuki wished before dying), Luca will do whatever is necessary to stay by his side creating an undying love and respectable loyalty.

 Of the other Zweilt Guardians, the two that could easily receive a spinoff series of their own would be Hotsuma Renjou and Shusei Usui. Hotsuma was abandoned young and viewed as a monster for his fire-starting ability, often disagreeing with Yuki, who has an opposite persona. Being left behind and feeling cut-off, Hotsuma decided he would end his own life feeling completely alone. At that moment, Shusei stopped him from killing himself and was left with a drastic burn scar in return. Feeling entirely connected to Shusei after seeing his feelings, he dedicates his life to protecting his ally and soulmate without deviation. With Hotsuma finally abandoning his feelings of being a monster, a decision is made that adds true drama and suspense that was arguably the best storyline in the anime. As far as the resolve goes, I won’t give anything away, but I will say that Hotsuma and Shusei together are all around the best aspect of The Betrayal Knows My Name.

The animation quality from The Betrayal Knows My Name is striking while welcoming dark atmospheres. The character designs are above average, with the only oddity being the fashion choices for select characters (looking at you, Luca). The Japanese voice cast does their best work in those moments that capture highs and lows of emotions, so there aren’t any gripes with the production value of the anime series. The plot of Betrayal may not have too much invested, and the lead isn’t the best example of the series, but there are enough avenues to explore with memory and particular characters that make The Betrayal Knows My Name an anime that is more than meets the eye.

Overall Score: 8/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

  • I genuinely admired the relationship dynamic between Shusei & Hotsuma; they felt like crucial puzzle pieces to one another and the anime’s success.
  • I would say Luca and Kanata (who were arguably evil by nature) were more interesting than Yuki.
  • Tsukumo and Toko (sibling Zweilt Guardians) didn’t get mentioned above, but I did want to acknowledge the brother and sister were other supporting roles that filled contributed to positive reception from Betrayal.

World’s Greatest First Love Embraces Different Depictions Of Love

Anime: World’s Greatest First Love (Complete Series)

Released By: Funimation

Release Date: March 7, 2017

Retail Price: $59.99

Sekai-ichi Hatsukoi, also known as World’s Greatest First Love, is a “boy’s love” yaoi series that shares a universe with the precursor manga/series Junjou Romantica. Both originally began in the early 2000s but went on to be incredibly different series. While Junjou had taken a more explicit turn towards the genre, Sekai tried to keep things filled with romance and make a name for itself outside the shadow of Junjou. World’s Greatest First Love focuses on Ritsu Onondera, a 25-year-old editor for Marukawa Publishing under the Emerald branch opposite a 27-year-old Masamune Takano, the tough editor-in-chief of the publishing company. The major twist between the pair — they actually have more history than meets the eye.

As we begin to learn about Ritsu, we watch his flashbacks that show he fell in love during high school with an upperclassman that seemed unlikely to begin with. The man actually turns out to be Takano, but that is something that Ritsu doesn’t immediately realize from this encounter years later. When Ritsu does recall the brief relationship between them, his old feelings come rushing back and Ritsu has to sort out his take on what they had then and how to move forward. It begins to take a stroll down a path that asks if one’s first love can be true enough to stand the test of time and the changes accompanying it. The series doesn’t only follow the love story of Ritsu and Takano but brings a group of characters in (including two pairs) that have relationship dilemmas or complications to deal with, too.

The dynamic between Ritsu and Takano is certainly the primary struggle of the series, often proposing the infamous ‘will they, won’t they’ shaky ground love stories explore. There may be occasions where it can appear to be repetitious, but with each internal debate comes some growth and recognition — just through slower motion given the two seasons eloted. Of the pair, Takano seems to be the more grounded one, offering fair explanations on past doubts or conflicts with Ritsu usually misunderstanding situations or jumping to conclusions. Some of the issues can spark a variety of thoughts and opinions on what the two have, but the chemistry was something World’s Greatest First Love lived up to crafting for a series that makes a bold title claim. An episode that gives us an idea of Takano’s perspective on a critical moment brings the series full-circle and resolves any questions viewer’s might have about Takano after many chapters covering their journey.

The anime tackles other same-sex relationships, as well, and the most notable is actually between 28-year-old Yoshiyuki Hatori, who is an editor with a secret admiration for childhood friend and manga artist, Chiaki Yoshino. Hatori isn’t as predictable as the other trope-ish characters the genre can contain, and, even though Chiaki is flawed, oblivious and overly flirtatious with multiple people, he can’t help but feel what he feels for the artist. The love triangle may be something that has been covered relentlessly, but this particular trio tends to steal the spotlight from the focal couple. In many ways, Hatori is one of the best inclusions of World’s Greatest First Love, but, with so many characters, there isn’t always enough time to divide between everyone.

The final pairing that plays a big role in the two-season love series is Shouta Kisa, a 30-year-old editor with a reputation for attracting men and a manga salesman by the name of Kou Yukina, who is 21 and a large fan of Kisa’s work. At first, he seems to think Kisa is younger based on appearance, but the two form an unconventional bond where they quickly develop strong feelings that confuse Kisa regularly. The anime series utilizes three very different examples of love that fit the boy’s love genre and (mostly) avoids delving into anything too graphic. Sure, the anime is still a romance/genre at its core, but there are enough roles to have one resonate with you.

The animation includes strong similarities between their characters provided, but the eyes seem to have specified focus with larger attributes and changing through emotional moments. The general art ranges from pastels and spring colors in their offices to more bland settings in the everyday life. Overall, the animation doesn’t disappoint during the two seasons, with a select number of scenes that still stand out as memorable for writing and art combined. The opening and end themes for World’s Greatest First Love become engrained in your memory for creating catchy tunes, and, finally, the Japanese audio of the anime fits uniquely well — with the exception of some awkward moments because of the occasional adult nature. I would definitely recommend World’s Greatest First Love to anime fans who can appreciate drama, love, or open-minded depictions of love stories that don’t generally come from Japanese animation. If you’re willing to check it out for yourself, both seasons are finally available from Funimation on DVD.

Overall Score: 8/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

  • I liked that it strayed from Junjou Romantica and surpassed the source material.
  • The lack of spotlight on being provocative should be appreciated.
  • Sekai will probably be the best example of a same-sex relationship (as the central plot in a series so far).