Long unavailable in English followed by years of waiting for the release to come out, Yamibō is now available in the anime streaming world. But what is this world-hopping story starring a lady with a floppy hat and a stoic school girl even about? Turns out the story is just as cryptic as the anime's title. This Week in Anime's new co-host and Carnelian fan Jean-Karlo teams up with Nicky to try to parse just what is happening.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Hey, everybody! It's Nicky here and I'm here to tell you that October may be over but that's no reason to stop being spooky! Today, with the help of my good friend and new to the column, Jean-Karlo, we're here to tell you to hold onto your Big Floppy Hats, keep reading your magical books, and to keep that 300 ft skeleton out of your closet just a little longer because we're gonna be talking about an anime with Witches who Wander and the tales that they tell!
As it is written, I descend from the mountain...
This is a very special thing for me. You remember the late '00s, when people were going nuts about the Caribbean Pirates and the House doctors and the Dexters? Well in those days, I was hyper fixating on Carnelian, a Japanese artist what worked on a number of visual novels that got adapted into a variety of animated works of varying content ratings, and one of them is Yamibo - Darkness, the Hat, and the Travelers of the Books, which Nicky and I get to talk about today. Most people dream of a chance to gush about their decade-old hyperfixations. Me? I get to live it.
Yamibō is a 2003 anime produced by Studio DEEN based after an adult visual novel of the same name. Both feature a Witch, Lilith, the keeper of the library where books hold every universe. As the title suggests, she's also got a WICKED hat.
Lilith here was living in the year 11945 while us smooth-brained folk were living in 2003. Boob-ribbons? Naw man, the real galaxy-brain character designs are pencil skirts, garters, ruffled blouses, capes, and a six-foot hat with a massive eye that gazes into the infinite. It legit galls me there isn't more cosplay of this woman.
Anyway, Lilith is only the reluctant cosmic librarian with the sweet chapeau. See, the real librarian is a girl named Eve (get it? Get it?). But Eve vanished into a book-hopping trip [x] years ago, so Lilith has to watch over countless books, each containing their own world filled with people and hopes and dreams.
Lilith is a fun character but she's also not actually the protagonist. That title belongs to Hazuki, a teenage girl unfortunately in love with her mute, older step-sister, Hatsumi. The opening minutes of this show basically feels like a completely different series and forbidden sister-love is just one of the many genres that Yamibō tries to cover.
Hazuki struggles to make her feelings known and resides to be tragically one-sided before her sister just straight up vanishes into a mysterious green light at the stroke of midnight.
Heeeeey. Lilith is looking for a world-hopping girl. Hazuki is looking for a world-hopping girl. And Hazuki finds herself in the cosmic library with Lilith. Start talking about how beautiful the moon is tonight, because "sapphism" is the word of the day!
After her sister disappears, Hazuki gets pulled into things by this little yellow cockatiel named Ken-Chan. who happens to be Lilith's familiar. Turns out her sister is actually the world hopping entity known as Eve and together they go through story after story to try to find her. All the while rejecting Lilith's advances and meeting new friends.
You say "story" and talk about how the first episode feels like a completely different show, and frankly that's really spot-on. Because not only is Hazuki hailing from a girls' love show and Lilith from some forgotten 1990s anime featuring Megumi Hayashibara, we also have this Sailor Moon-looking, Tatsunoko Studios-style villain with really nice legs: Gargantua. He's also after Eve, for Reasons™️.
When Yamibō travels it travels FAST because even half-way through the first episode it suddenly drops the characters into a 1940s spy battle on a train with pretty much no explanation of how they got there should be there other than it's kinda cool and also to look at this big boobed lady-spy, Yoko. All the details I just wrote in the previous few paragraphs basically took most of the series to fully grasp for me because the details are jumbled and sparing between each of the stories.
And then there's still some things that I may never really understand, like HOW DID KAZUKI GET A SWORD? WHERE DID SHE LEARN HOW TO USE IT LIKE THAT?
I'm gonna be "that guy" and say it's actually the letter opener from the first episode that got infused with Hazuki's "soma" after an accident involving Hazuki catching Hatsumi opening a love letter and Hatsumi getting cut and I guess cosmic lesbian librarian blood turns letter openers into magic swords that shatter unless held by the gentle touch of another lesbian?
Lemme refresh folks' memory here: I was hyper fixating on Carnelian stuff in the late '00s.
But that doesn't really change the fact that so much lore about this show is kinda blink and you miss? I feel like part of it is just trying to cram the details from the visual novel but not translating to the show. However, I don't think that's always a bad thing since the mystery of Yamibō itself is enjoyable and so are many of the stories being told.
It's my understanding that Yamibō plays it fast-and-loose as an adaptation, and may well be better for it. I mean, the VN had a faceless Potato-kun as a protagonist. Having the courage to replace Potato-kun with Lesbians™️ is pretty stellar in my book, even if Lilith wasn't nearly this ditzy or airheaded in the VN. But hey, sometimes all you need is an airhead doing baby tricks for your brain to produce the Serotonin.
Frickin' superb, you funky little librarian.
But yeah, all the various books and stories are interesting even on the surface, at least. Yoko's book has it all: spies, bombs, Sean-Connery-Bond-era sexism, and an elf boy in a costume. Quill also has it all: cave-girls, a cat doing the Masami Obari Laser Eye Shadow Face, and elf boy in a costume.
I do agree that it is more fun that the girl-of-the-week is flinging themselves at the stoic Hazuki who only has eyes for her sister rather than a piece of wet-bread, not that Hazuki really has any personality other than being too gay to live, apparently. She sometimes makes a good straight-woman for someone 0% heterosexual.
The anime doesn't really seem that interested in either of them though and much more interested in the antagonist(?) Garf, I mean Gar, Short for Gargantua.
Ah yes, the aforementioned Tatsunoko-Studios-Sailor Moon villain. Who has a body count.
I enjoy the stuff about going to feudal era japan and also SPACE but more episodes focus on what happened to Gar than anything else. Once a young boy, without a mother, Gar grows up with his friend Ritsuko and is introduced to one of Eve's incarnations, Jill, who is not only motherly towards them but also displays her amazing ability to heal. Also, they waste no time showing how Gar is an incredible little shit.
I don't want to think about what has to happen to a child to make them end up... like that, simultaneously rejecting altruism but also so desperate for affection you seek it from a statue. Look, I'm a bleeding heart and there are a lot of people I wish I could give Happy Meals to. Kid-Gar? He's one of them.
And he's so desperate to possess Jill and her kindness that he, uh. Stabs her? By accident? Then he's caught by Ritsuko, the other orphan he competes with for Jill's attention (and skill with magic)?
I'm not really here to make sense of all the Freudian motivations in Yamibō, because there's a lot of them. The reason Lilith falls for Hazuki immediately is supposedly just because she smells like Lilith's Dad and then it's not really talked about again. But I do enjoy when it's a vehicle for melodrama. Like "stabby, stabby, go ouchie" here.
Though instead of dying, Jill just kinda splooshes into green stuff again, getting it all over Ritsuko and Gar. Gar also loses his memory of this event for some reason???? The next time we see Ritsuko is 100 years later wearing BDSM gear because apparently she doesn't age now and also just because.
You forgot the snake tattoo on her crotch. You can't be an effective healer if you don't dress like you're fresh out from a Rocky Horror shadowcast.
Is this a good time to point out that this show is both sapphic and horny? Because it's both sapphic and horny.
I honestly didn't notice the tattoo until just now because I was trying to avoid looking at it with how much the show uncomfortably leers at the characters. Early-00s anime fanservice isn't really my cup of tea.
I think part of the reason I'm put off by it is because Yamibō is primarily a drama and sometimes the boobed-breastedly aspect really does pull me away from the stories it is trying to tell. When effective the stories can be intriguing, melancholy, heartwarming but when it's not it's a glowing taint shot in-between scenes that are supposed to be dramatic.
Oh hey, I remember the glowing taint shot. Also, shout-out to that first episode with Yoko where the highly-trained spy gets outed while cross-dressing, has their bindings cut off with a knife, fights off her attacker topless and one-handed, then is seemingly humiliated further by being forced into a cheongsam.
I'm not saying I mind random boobilies in my anime. I'm just saying that if you've got pretense that your story doesn't need folks doin' it to be engaging, commit to it.
It sucks because I think the direction is actually quite good. It's easy for me to believe that this is the same director that did that highly-influential Fate/stay night anime adaption, but also the same person that though CG dragons as a metaphor for sex was a good idea.
I dunno, I personally found my enjoyment of the series hampered a little. See, Hazuki and Gar each get three episodes to introduce their relationship to Eve/Jill/Hazuki/the girl reading this, establish their reason for wanting to find them, and then conclude that story. And it's good stuff! Hazuki has a lot of very satisfying emotional pining: she is deathly ashamed by how much she's attracted to Hatsumi, but also not afraid to recreate the mule noises scene from DEVILMAN crybaby while thinking of her. Her arc with Hatsumi is honestly the stuff that tragic fantasy girls' love is made of.
Likewise, as silly as Gar/Gargantua is, his story also runs a really great arc of childhood tragedy, young-adult evil, and foppish pantomime-y adulthood. His story, goofy as it is, works. He earns his ending.
A pity, then, that the other six episodes are all over the place.
They're both really melodramatic and don't make a whole lot of sense when you try to write them out in text like we are here but they have some of the strongest emotional punches the series has to offer, it's a shame that they feel a bit short and undeveloped as it tries to tie in all the other stories into the mix.
I mean... what are we supposed to take away from Excuse Me, I'd Like You To Know My Name Is Quill?
Or Kidz Bop Presents Gravity?
The Kidz in Space story at least had this cool-ass corpse reveal!
I enjoyed that a lot more than the attack of the booby ninjas.
That's still four episodes that do jack-all but show off Hazuki being an angry, disaffected teen and Lilith mugging for the camera--and Hatsumi/Eve has nothing to do with any of them! Like, Milka and her protective tiger is a cute concept, and the idea that their world is literally falling apart because the book it's contained in is falling apart is creative. And it means literal bupkis because the episode lets us know Milka gets to grow up and be a real girl and marry a man and have kids in the intro. And then they throw Tamamo-no-Mae (not that one) into the mix. Because.
One character, Seiren, supposedly a creation of Lilith is also pretty much introduced and then, kinda just dropped never to be seen again after this episode? I'm not totally sure what happened to her because the timeline of this show is also all over the place.
I forgot all about Seiren.
I took notes, even.
And I know Lilith is supposed to be forced into this position but for a being that's supposedly omnipotent and make stuff appear out of thin-air she's pretty bad at her job if all she does most of the time is just futz around walking from place to place?
This is one of those things where the VN probably explains things better (but I didn't even get to the point where I'd play untranslated VNs). But I guess it tracks because it turns out Eve is pretty garbage too.
Her presence causes heartbreak (at best) and someone's lifetime imprisonment (at worst) because she got bored and decided to stroll in some books for a few millennia. And I don't think she ever really appreciated just how much people were willing to fall onto their swords for her? Like, I dunno man, when someone bares their heart to you after chasing you through who-knows-how-many books, maybe don't offer them the chance to give birth to you in a few years as a consolation prize?
Nevermind the fact that you're forcing your sapphic would-be love interest into a hetero pairing because you can't commit to a relationship... like... what? Is this how you culminate a world-hopping search for your lost love?
Yeah, the anime never really goes into Eve's reasoning for leaving or living so many different lives other than wanderlust. We barely ever learn anything about her and more about the mystery of her because she's the godly person that everyone has fallen for. It feels like there has to be some sort of bigger force driving her or that maybe she's just a free spirit but we never really learn why.
And the series ends with... Eve heading out on another adventure, only now Lilith is in tow! It's okay, Hazuki is gonna give birth to her own Hatsumi someday.
Weirdly, I can't say dislike Yamibō. I don't love it but I also can't say that it's bad or that it doesn't try. But so many times it also just feels like I'm looking at half of what should be a full show. There's lots of neat concepts here and I think the characters are fun albeit sometimes cringey and their motivations never totally make sense. I just wish I could have spent a little more time with them and maybe a little less time looking at girls from awkward angles.
I would've loved to spend more time with Aya, who despite making a cameo in every episode and BEING THE NARRATOR, I don't really know much about. Or Gar's weird henchmen that he made with his brain.
I've seen two out of the three animated Carnelian adaptations (alas, poor Touka Gettan). And with the full knowledge that the other one was adult-rated and written as such, I honestly think Yamibō let me down. I don't feel like I wasted my time here, but there's definitely a world out there where alternate-Jean-Karlo and alternate-Nicky are talking about how the Yamibō adaptation crushed it and stuck the landing and Quill and Milka and Meirin all helped push the show along and underline Hazuki's growth. And that is what a series with Lilith in it deserves. Provided, there's probably also a world out there where Yamibō was just a three-episode video nasty and only Alternate-Jean-Karlo knows or cares of it, but I guess he'd be fine with that outcome too.
Yeah, I think it speaks to how Yamibō is ultimately a victim of Too Many Ideas where you can see two separate versions of the thing from the twelve episodes that already exist. It makes me really sad that there's no translated source material for me to really compare it to, but I do think the story of Hazuki and Gar, and a few moments from the other stories were strong enough executed to leave a sort-of favorable impression on me despite being a show from the 00s based on a porn game.
Hey, that's why I became fixated with Carnelian's workin the first place-- because of that other series I refuse to mention!
Though, I also do think it's saying something that this definitely wouldn't be something I would've watched on my own accord if I wasn't talking about it for this, even if I enjoyed it anyways. Maybe like Yamibō, I actually do have an inherent love of stories that drives me to seek new and different experiences all the time no matter how scattered-shot successful it is.
Same here. I enjoyed getting the chance to watch this after years of being the only Carnelian fan alive, and I'm amused Media Blasters got it streaming, but I can't really recommend this to anyone except for that alternate-universe Jean-Karlo who is currently gazing at that 2020 reissue of that beloved Lilith Figma and wondering, "What if Yamibō were a messy 12-episode adaptation by Studio DEEN?" You keep dreaming that beautiful dream, Alternate-Me. I lived it. S'alright.
Me? I need a new dream now. What does an anime fan do once they've finally talked about their years-old hyperfixation? What will I do? Where will I go?
Well I'm still glad to have had this conversation with you, and also many conversations in the future! It's a big anime world out there!