Review: Pop Team Epic

I wouldn’t call Pop Team Epic a truly unique show, but it is definitely one of an incredibly rare breed: a referential sketch comedy anime. While a decent amount of anime do at least make one reference to another show (whether it’s direct or not), few anime are actually built up around the idea of making a bunch of references in a variety of situations.

The Pop Team Epic manga had some fans here in the West before the anime began airing, but its popularity exploded after the first episode. There’s just something about those simply drawn, cute-looking characters walking around and flashing you a hyper-realistic middle finger.

An Introduction

This show centers around a guy named Daichi Taira. His family is leaving for a vacation (which Daichi decided to not go on), and his mom reminds him to take care of Sosogu while they’re gone. … Wait, who’s Sosogu?

As it turns out, Sosogu is part of an “epic” pop idol group called Drop Stars, but was also a childhood friend of Daichi’s! It’s been years since Daichi has seen Sosogu, and unfortunately he doesn’t remember her at all. But she’s moved into the Taira house and has begun going to the same school together, so the new housemates and classmates will have a lot of time to reconnect. … Well, maybe not a lot of time, the idol business is a constantly active one. But that’s not all!

The real twist is… none of that is true!

The Plot and Characters

Pop Team Epic is a sketch comedy show, which differentiates itself from its peers through the sheer variety of subjects it will parody or reference in its sketches.

From strange romance anime tropes (akin to Citrus which also ran in the same season), to The Shining, to Undertale, to the band Earth Wind and Fire, and to highlighting French stereotypes of foreign tourists… this anime touches on so many things, it may be easier to say that no topic is safe from the fingers of the creators behind the show and manga. The extensiveness and depth of these references generally aren’t too deep, ranging from an aspect of the media in question being totally recreated in the show’s format, to Pop Team Epics’s main characters simply being silent witnesses to the parody being written around them.

Despite the various references and parodies that the show makes though, there’s a decent amount of original jokes and skits as well, such as the “Eisai Haramasukoi dance” and “Hellshake Yano” being some of the more elaborate ones. Unfortunately, these original skits tend to be less funny and more “what the hell am I watching”.

In fact, to be fairly honest, the biggest things that got me to laugh were the moments when the show genuinely managed to catch me off-guard, such as putting in a reference I didn’t even think to expect. A large majority of the show more left me simultaneously amused and bemused. This is a sketch comedy show, but Pop Team Epic seems more primarily concerned in attempting to do something weird or unexpected rather than actually develop and execute jokes. Unfortunately, a lot of its weirdness becomes expected and the new norm for this show – the main characters never take the straight answer out of a situation – and once you realize this, a lot of this show’s magic is ruined for you.

Each episode features a large primary skit surrounded by multiple smaller skits and recurring segments. The large primary skit is the longest skit of each episode, and is usually the most narratively complex and visually involved one as well; generally, it references or parodies something, such as the above examples of The Shining or romance tropes. The smaller skits last anywhere between a handful of seconds and two minutes, and will be the abovementioned original skits, various smaller/less elaborate references, or are just sheer randomness. The recurring segments include Bob Epic Team (featuring more skits but poorly drawn), Japon Mignon (short skits about France, made by a French person, all done in French), and Pop Team Cooking (which parodies cooking shows).

The only recurring characters throughout the entire series are Pipimi and Popuko, the blue and yellow haired cute-looking girls. Every single skit features them, and for a lot of the smaller ones they’re the only two characters. When additional characters are required though, brand new ones will be created specifically to fill whatever role is needed. Although Pipimi and Popuko’s personalities are left pretty vague to fit whatever the current skit needs, they’re generally seen as surprisingly brash, violent, and impure, with a decent knowledge of anime subculture layered on top.

However, all of this happens within the first half of the episode. After it all finishes, the same half is repeated, but swaps out the female voice actors for Popuko and Pipimi with male ones. Depending upon the episode, they write in some differences in the script (and sometimes visuals) to make the two stand apart, but in general, you’re just watching the same exact episode twice in a row. The joke was a funny thing to do for the premiere episode, as it was unexpected and strange… but for them to go and repeat it for the rest of the series ends up with killing the race horse in episode 2 and proceeding to beat it every single episode from there afterward. The joke gets old really quickly and the differences between the two sections are usually so minimal, it doesn’t even feel worth watching the second half.

All in all, it’s still an enjoyable experience. I think Pop Team Epic’s referential nature and the strange direction its comedy goes in makes it a fun time for a lot of people, but I highly wonder how many will really want to sit through multiple watchthroughs of this. Pop Team Epic’s humor relies upon being able to catch you off guard will only work on your 1st (and maybe 2nd) watchthrough; after that point, you know what’s coming – the “run the same episode twice with different voice actors” shtick is something that’ll probably get old too.

The Atmosphere

Visually, Pop Team Epic doesn’t exactly push the envelope in any sort of way. In fact, if you just look at a randomized selection of still shots from the show, you may even say it’s not all that impressive at all.

But the show is extremely clean (art-wise), the colors are all bright, and the animation is smooth like butter. Popuko and Pipimi both look scientifically engineered to look as cute as possible, and for the most part, they succeed. This is, of course, intentionally offset by their surprisingly realistic (and veiny) hands, as well as the more standard (albeit low-standard) appearance most other characters in their primary skits have. All in all, it’s a style and juxtaposition that fits this show – it won’t win any awards, but it’s good enough to do the job for this comedy show.

Of course, there are also segments that are intentionally poorly-made, the above-mentioned Bob Epic Team segments. It honestly surprises me, but they just look uglier and uglier with every episode.

The show goes for a majority of the time without a soundtrack. Most skits are short enough to not even warrant creating background music, and most other skits just don’t have any to let the joke take the entire audial attention. When songs are introduced though, they’re either in the style of the media they’re referencing, or they’re synth/electronic sounding if there isn’t anything being referenced at the time. You don’t really notice the lack of a soundtrack.

The opening theme “Pop Team Epic” is infectiously good. I love the opening theme and the opening animation is also really good. It’s a high-intensity electronic opening theme, and I’m a big sucker for electronic. Unfortunately, listening to it around 20 times (twice per episode, most episodes) starts to make it sound a bit old after a while. The ending theme is “Poppy Pappy Days”, and the show actually uses multiple versions of it throughout the show. Generally, the only difference is who’s singing it; all in all, the song is pretty decent and relaxing, as expected for an ending theme. The animation is also nice.

For the voice acting, new voice actors are brought in to voice Popuko and Pipimi every episode (on both the male and female side). It does surprise me that, despite that fact, Popuko and Pipimi sound pretty nearly the same each episode – one would think that since they switch it up each episode, perhaps they’d have the voice actors leave a more unique mark in their playing of the role. Beyond the meta knowledge of “hey, this voice actor also played this character that they parodied here”, I don’t particularly see the point of bothering to do it. I guess I won’t complain though, it’s kind of an ambitious idea.

I haven’t experienced the English voice acting for this show, so I don’t particularly know what to expect in that regard.

I think the Western licensing for this show is fascinating, though – most shows have exclusivity contracts: when you license a show, you alone have the rights to air it/stream it/release it, whatever (it’s not quite that simple, but you get the idea). Thus, when Funimation licenses a show, it appears on Funimation’s website and services (and Crunchyroll), and not on Sentai’s Hi-Dive service. However, Pop Team Epic is unique in that there was no exclusivity clause: both Funimation and Sentai were able to get the license to stream the show, and the reaction to this online amused me. Time will tell to see who gets the honors of making that Blu-Ray box version of the show, though.

Lastly, speaking of English voice acting, I should probably mention the YouTuber “The Anime Man”, who through some lucky connections, was able to voice a few roles in Pop Team Epic, episode 9. Although not the first time a YouTuber has entered into the world of anime dubbing, The Anime Man’s case is particularly rare in that his voice acting was for the Japanese version. It’s a weird and funny opportunity, but a really cool one nonetheless. Many people, I’m sure, are jealous.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Pop Team Epic, the referential comedy anime, relies upon its references and non-sequitur for its comedy. This will work out well enough for the first watchthrough, but it comes at the cost of subsequent watchthroughs being less enjoyable: you already know what the joke’s going to be. The recurring joke to run each episode twice, with female and then male voice actors, ultimately ends up being to the show’s detriment as well.

However, that isn’t to say the show isn’t even trying. The media you’ll find in the show reaches across generations and cultures, and the decisions in and of themselves to have various voice actors for the two leads every single episode, along with the implementation of segments like Bob Epic Team and Japon Mignon, all make for a show that is almost certainly a one-of-a-kind experience.

It’s reliance upon trying to do random unexpected things for laughs have certainly made the show divisive already, but I would suggest that you haven’t seen it, at least give it a shot. It’ll either be an extremely fun ride or an utter waste of time, but either way, you can at least say you’ve watched it.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ the more out-there references and jokes, overall visual design, opening theme song
— relies too much on trying to be unexpected, running each episode twice, references generally aren’t deep

Review: Baka and Test (Funimation February?)

 

This will be my last review for Funimation February of 2018! It’s coming out just in the nick of time too! (If you’re in the US Central time zone, that is.) As seems to be the trend with shows this month, we’re going from another show I enjoyed quite a bit to a show I… had a not-so-fun time with.

For multi-season shows, there’s always two ways you can review them: either review each season separately, or review them all together as one show. For me, it comes down to the differences I discern between seasons and whether I have enough to say anything unique about the later seasons. And in this case… I do not.

So everything I say here, applies to both the first and second season! (I’d also add in the OVAs, because I did watch them, but I honestly don’t remember anything about them anymore.) This is my review for the entire show!

An Introduction

Another anime, another high school.

In this particular high school, all incoming students are forced to take a placement test that scores them on every subject the school teaches. Then, each student is divided into classes based upon their scores, with class A having the best scoring students, and class F having the worst. Class A has this luxurious, fancy classroom with a coffee bar and everything… class F gets this run down wooden classroom with broken chairs and desks.

So enter in Akihisa, Himeji, and Shimada: a boy and two girls. Akihisa is, well, pretty idiotic, and unsurprisingly winds up in class F. Himeji is actually of class A-rank material, but she was absent from the placement test due to illness, and wound up being thrown into class F with a score of zero. Shimada is a Japanese student who returned from Germany and failed the placement test due to her unfamiliarity with written Japanese.

These three are upset with being stuck in this shoddy classroom, and decide their only course of action is a Summoner War. Summoner Wars are AR battles waged between chibi avatars of each class member, who’s HP are determined by test scores. Classes pit their avatars against each other in Summoner Wars to attempt to win things over each other, such as getting better desks/school materials or forcing the other class to do something.

With the help of class F’s representative, Yuuji, class F may actually have a chance to win a Summoner War in the first time in the school’s history, fighting up the ranks to class A, and giving our main characters the education they so desire.

The Plot and Characters

After a surprising win in a Summoner War against class E, class F’s members become fully engrossed in these Summoner Wars and just making their way to the top. After this point, unless it can improve their abilities in the Summoner Wars, class F loses all interest in education. I honestly don’t even remember who the teacher is for this classroom – obviously, it wasn’t important.

Due to school policies about cooldown times between Summoner Wars – and also the administration wanting to implement new (weird) ideas from time to time – a lot of the anime’s time isn’t even spent on the Summoner Wars. Instead, most of the focus is on random situations and conflicts our main characters find themselves in, and how they operate around that. Examples include class F’s boys getting almost all of the grade’s guys to storm the ladies’ hot spring room during a class trip to see them naked, a school-wide treasure hunt for some random reason, a girl in another class that declares Yuuji to be her fiancé, and a beauty contest which both the girls and guys find themselves entered into against their wishes.

I’ll give credit to this show for the variety of situations you find the characters thrown into. You can’t quite predict how this series is going to go, and it’s always one ridiculous thing after another. This is definitely more of a comedy show, and not so much an action show. When the Summoner Wars do come around, though, there is enough combat and strategy discussed to not make the wars feel cheaply produced or anything… but, again, don’t come to Baka and Test if you’re looking for continual action.

However, to be honest, I didn’t pay the most attention to this show. I followed along enough to know what was going on in the episodes and to tell one character apart from another. It wasn’t a particularly bad or boring show (although I could perhaps argue for the latter), but there were things that specifically bother me.

I’m a firm believer in getting rid of gender stereotypes, the idea that a man or woman can’t do certain things because they’re a man/woman. Class F not only implements gender stereotypes, but even has an enforcement squad that target males who don’t stick to these made-up guidelines. Class F’s females would probably have such an enforcement squad too, if it weren’t for the fact that Himeji and Shimada are the only two girls in that class… and they both have a crush on Akihisa. So a love triangle develops as well.

It bothers me to see Himeji bring in a lunch box to give to Akihisa, Akihisa wanting to eat the lunch and debating it with Yuuji, but being forced to say no due to the pressure of the enforcement squad (called the FFF Inquisition). With the love triangle as well, it doesn’t go anywhere because the FFF Inquisition (and eventually even Akihisa’s own sister) will brutally penalize Akihisa if he even unintentionally appears to be getting closer to either of the girls. I really dislike these pressures and characters that actively force these ridiculous ideals onto themselves and others.

My issues continue, though: there’s a running joke about one classmate named Hideyoshi, who’s constantly called a girl despite asserting multiple times that he’s actually a guy. There’s a guy called the Ninja Pervert who constantly tries to get pictures of the girls’ underpants (although I can’t call this uncommon in anime). I don’t find either of these recurring jokes/gags funny. Finally, Baka and Test has some weird handling of LGBT characters/relationships – as if it’s holding something slimy, and is kind of disgusted by it, but still wants to show to others that it can hold this slimy thing.

Speaking more about the characters though… beyond my issues above, I think they’re pretty okay, if not a bit standard. Akihisa is your dense but kind protagonist, with an extra helping of stupid. Himeji is shy, timid, but dedicated… and also has a large bust – which is referenced on multiple occasions. Shimada is more coarse and can basically be described as a tsundere. Yuuji basically tries to act like the “cool dude” (and generally succeeds), Hideyoshi is go-with-the-flow (which probably describes why he doesn’t more seriously voice his issue), and Kouta the Ninja Pervert is… well, perverted.

The second season actually has a flashback episode from when Shimada first met Akihisa which was surprisingly sweet and could honestly help me see why she would eventually have a crush on him. I wish there were more moments like this in the series. I’d like to see more genuine bonding moments, see these characters becoming closer friends, and not have to rely on wacky and sexist hijinks to keep this ragtag group of teenagers together.

I won’t hold my major complaints totally against this show, though. I’m not going to tell you to boycott it or to never, ever watch it. I know a number of my friends really got a kick out of this show, and I’d believe others can too. However, reviews are, by their nature, subjective – even when we try to be objective – and my opinion is, I don’t really like a lot of what Baka and Test offers.

The Atmosphere

The presentation of Baka and Test is what I’d call pretty standard for a comedy anime.

The character designs look a bit dated, but I suppose the first season did air in 2010. All in all, the designs aren’t bad, though, but I’d probably complain that they’re a bit too plain. For this show, though, it works; more serious, detailed designs aren’t particularly necessary. The backgrounds are also okay; they’re definitely water-colored art, and as far as watercolor goes, it’s pretty decent, but a large majority of the background art is covered in this dot matrix style that I’m not a particular fan of. It just seemed a bit weird for this show, and kind of unnecessary, but I wouldn’t go far enough to say it looked terrible. (The second season uses it a bit less, though, more reserving it for areas in shadow.)

Animation is also handled pretty alright. As I’ve mentioned above, Baka and Test is more of a comedy show, and comedy shows tend to not really need as impressive animation work. The characters definitely are a bit rigid, with the show preferring to have the characters stay in a pose and just move their mouths. The show is able to animate its gags pretty well. Action is primarily done through something appearing like an RPG battle screen, which allows them to get away with showing battles without having to display actual action animation. (This being said, that doesn’t mean the show shies away from showing off action scenes when it so needs to.)

I definitely give them big props for how they handle displaying tests during a Summoner War: they scroll the test questions along the bottom or top of the screen, moving them as the character taking the test answers them, while the main portion of the screen can be used to show the action or display another scene. It’s an ingenious way to keep the flow of the scene going without having to cut to the characters taking the remedial tests. I wish other shows used such methods to more fully utilize their screen space as well.

The soundtrack is quite generic, to be honest. Piano pieces are used for the more heartfelt scenes, synthesized sounds used primarily everywhere else. Unless you’re specifically looking for the soundtrack, though, you probably won’t give any notice to it, nor any notice to the various scenes and times where music isn’t even used. As has been said, a soundtrack that blends in well into its movie/show, and makes you forget it’s even there, is doing its job. Wouldn’t make me want to buy a CD featuring it though.

The opening song for the first season, Perfect Area Complete, is not bad, but lacks the energy I really enjoy in songs, especially opening songs, and the opening animation was also fairly lackluster. The ending song Baka Go Home is an amusing one, but it also never moves beyond just being okay for me. The ending animation includes snippets of some random English poem, though, which amused me greatly. The second season’s opening song and animation were both a more energetic and enjoyable; I liked them much more. The ending, Eureka Baby, was also enjoyable, although I still liked the opening more. (To be honest, I don’t remember what the OVA’s opening or ending songs were.)

Both the English and Japanese side do well for voicing the show. I did watch the show in English first, so that has colored how I perceive the voices of the characters, but you certainly wouldn’t go wrong with the Japanese side either. Honestly, you could choose one, enjoy the show all the way through, and then watch the show again with the other without a problem.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Baka and Test is not really an action series, although a short description of the show may lead you to believe so. It’s more of a situational comedy, with one wacky hijink or situation after another. These provides variety to the show, and it’s sometimes fun to see these characters push through them. However, the reliance on sexism, its attitude of masculinity, and number of other issues keep me from liking the experience I had.

It’s hard for me to talk about Baka and Test without leaving a sour taste in my mouth. I’m sorry, I know it has its fans, but I cannot count myself among them. Anything I did enjoy about this series was overshadowed by the problems I had with it – I can’t expect others to have the same problems I did though. Honestly, if you’re on the fence about watching this, I’d suggest you keep my comments in mind, but also see how another person views this show. Second opinions never hurt, right?

Rating: Poor
Recommendation: If You Like This Genre
+++ great variety of situations, backstory in season 2, Summoner Wars
— heavy reliance/reinforcement of gender stereotypes and sexism, weird handling of LGBT characters/issues, Hideyoshi

(Image by Alexander Nipal. I’m fairly certain this person just took still shots from the show and combined them into this one image, though, which is why I’m fine with using it. I try to stick with only using official artwork though.)

Review: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon-Maid (Funimation February!)

I’ve already talked about the unique position that Kyoto Animation stands in right now as a truly independent anime studio; if you want more details about that, though, check Ultimatemegax’s post talking about KyoAni’s transition over the years.

Anyway, today’s show is Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, which I shared my first impressions of back when it began airing. At first, I didn’t actually know it was a KyoAni-animated show; I didn’t think they were animating anything that season, but obviously, I was mistaken. It makes me happy to see how popular the show has become since its airing as well. KyoAni has certainly made a lot of hits, even after becoming producers, but I somehow felt that this show wouldn’t become as popular as it did. I like seeing other people enjoy the same shows I do.

An Introduction

After a night of drinking, our protagonist Miss Kobayashi wanders into a forest and stumbles across a dragon. (Yes, a dragon, from an alternate dimension.) She sits and talks with it for a while, and offers for it to stay at her place.

Thus, the next morning, she opens up the door to her apartment to make her way to work, and is greeted by a giant dragon’s eye right outside. Almost immediately, she transforms into a maid girl (to be more approachable to the lowly human, I’m sure) and introduces herself as Tohru. Tohru’s all prepared to move in and be a maid for Kobayashi… who, unfortunately, doesn’t remember anything from her drunken escapade the night before.

However, we can’t have a plot if the main character says ‘no’, so she lets Tohru in as her maid! Kobayashi learns pretty quickly though that Tohru doesn’t really know much about human society… at all. And so the comedy begins! … With even more dragons quickly being dragged in as well.

The Plot and Characters

This show is a comedy/slice-of-life anime, with the biggest focus on Kobayashi, Tohru, and another young-girl dragon named Kanna. Tohru and Kanna (along with some side characters who get a surprising amount of screen time, I’ll talk more about them later on) are dragons transformed into human girls, living with Miss Kobayashi (or one of her friends). And these dragons are what sets this show apart. These dragons’ differences from humans, especially in culture and perceptions, are used primarily for comedy’s sake, although Dragon Maid isn’t afraid to show us glimpses into their full potential: powerful, godlike beings capable of wiping out an entire city in minutes.

The first episode in particular really strikes this well, I think. After setting up Tohru as Kobayashi’s maid, we see the two of them start to go through what being a maid means to both of them. There are some really funny moments in here, including Tohru calling her friends Quetzalcoatl and Fafnir to ask their opinions, both leading to… unhelpful results. It’s a great and really funny start to the series.

Later episodes see these characters in a variety of settings, scenarios, and situations, usually one per episode – whether it’s celebrating Christmas, moving to another apartment, or the school’s athletic festival – with some extra little scenes in the middle or end of the episode. Due to the end of the episode usually containing an extra scene or two without a “to be continued” or anything, the ending of each episode always comes as a surprise to me… and it saddens me a bit too, since that means the episode’s over.

For most of these later episodes, though, there wasn’t a lot of outright laughing at the funny moments, nor a lot of emotions during the more heartfelt moments. I saw them more as quirky and endearing, respectively, but it was still enjoyable to watch and at the right times, brought a smile to my face. Despite not being the funniest comedy or slice-of-life-iest slice-of-life, this show’s still able to move you, even if it’s just the slightest amount. My favorite episode is episode 11, where we have a lot of quiet moments with the main three for the first 2/3rds of the episode.

The pacing of the show is pretty good as well. Scenes move along at a good enough pace so that nothing feels like it’s lingering, but not too fast where it becomes a bit hard to swallow. There are slower, quieter moments too (such as episode 11) that really allow you to reflect with the characters on their adventures so far, and I definitely appreciate them a lot. However, despite all I just said, episode 13, the final episode, does move a bit fast. I kind of wish it was split into two episodes (either make it a 14-episode series, or drop parts of episode 12), rather than trying to do the entire dramatic ending all in one 24-minute segment. (There is a 14th episode, but it’s an OVA that takes place at a later time.)

Anyway, let’s not ahead of ourselves. We begin the story with only Kobayashi and Tohru, the titular human and her dragon maid.

Tohru is really fun; she’s energetic and hard-working, and she throws herself fully into her new role as a maid for Kobayashi. She can be the source of a lot of funny moments and a couple heartfelt ones too; however, she becomes a bit stilted and plain when she’s delegated to the background for a scene. Throughout Dragon Maid, we see Tohru develop feelings for Kobayashi, although that doesn’t really go anywhere.

Kobayashi fills the “only sane one” role, acting as a voice of reason and the straightman throughout the series. Personality-wise, she seems to be quiet, keeping-to-self, and work-focused; she does seem to have a thing for maids, but this weird gimmick only appears a few times throughout the series. It’s funny to see how she copes with these major changes in her life situation, especially with the energetic Tohru. We see her awkwardly transition into being the caretaker of Kanna (the next character I’ll discuss) as well, which I really enjoyed. With perhaps the exception of the heightened drama of the final episode, she’s the ground for this series and its cast, and it’s hard not to relate to her. Being a programmer myself, I personally also definitely relate to her in her troubles with her profession.

As for Kanna, she quickly becomes the third main character after being introduced in the second episode. She’s a weird 3rd-grade kid-dragon, basically becoming the adorable little kid doing adorable little kid things. Although she certainly has some really cute and funny moments (including some gags that play out in the background), I could honestly take her and leave her. I became invested in this show for the relationship between Kobayashi and Tohru, but Kanna’s addition isn’t much a hindrance. There is a lot of attention on her throughout the series, perhaps a bit more than is really needed.

Speaking of Kanna, though, I should mention another character… one that rather bothers me: another 3rd grader named Saikawa. She originally starts off as bossy and mean towards Kanna, but quickly becomes infatuated with her and falls over backwards at even the slightest touch. I more liked Saikawa’s original bossy self, rather than acting romantically attracted to Kanna when she’s at an age that really doesn’t understand romance and love. I don’t get anything out of the interactions between Kanna and Saikawa; it’s the same joke over and over, honestly. One time they did extra for the joke, though, was in episode 6, where the show implied that Kanna and Saikawa were quite nearly about to have sex. This was not a scene I enjoyed watching. I honestly think the show would’ve been better off without Saikawa.

I’ll finally somewhat-quickly mention the other major characters:

Quetzalcoatl (often called Lucoa) seemed interesting at first, but she can be easily summed up in four words: “spacecase with big boobs”. Her chest is basically the only source of comedy from her, with jokes that range from unfunny at best to  tasteless at worst. Elma is the 4th dragon in the opening and ending animations, but she doesn’t appear until episode 8; she’s okay. Finally, there’s the two male characters: Makoto and Fafnir. Fafnir, a male dragon, also starts off interesting, but after associating with Makoto, the two turn into otaku nerds; they’re both not bad, but they’re usually pushed aside to focus on the mostly-female cast.

Dragon Maid is a number of things, but “a waste of time” isn’t one of them. Despite some jokes that got no (positive) reaction out of me, there were a lot of good moments in this show – especially with the main three. There’s emotion and enjoyment to find here, the show does not fail to deliver in this regard. I definitely walk away from each episode feeling more positive than I was going into it.

The Atmosphere

Kyoto Animation has definitely been known for its quality over the years, and although I wouldn’t say this show is pushing the envelope of what the studio can do, it’s still definitely good.

Unlike a number of their previous works, their lines in Dragon Maid seemed softer, characters seemed flatter (no shine), and the backgrounds looked very much watercolored. It’s a visual presentation that strays a bit from Kyoto Animation’s standard appearance, and a bit closer towards your standard slice-of-life, but their quality of work still shows through in how they were actually animated. The animation was fluid the entire time, with there never being a noticeable drop of quality in any of the episodes. (This being said, the first and last episode definitely did have some quality bumps.)

I mentioned in the previous section about Dragon Maid really being able to show the dragons as feared godlike creatures, and this is shown in no better way than through the animation and visual effects. Tohru and Kanna play around in a field in episode 2, and their play battle with its giant energy beams and whatnot were glorious and terrifying. How they draw Tohru as a dragon looks realistic and is also animated well (something I feel another studio may not do as well), and they even made a chibi dragon-form Tohru for later episodes as well.

The colors for this show were always bright, all of the time – from the brightly colored characters to the brightly colored backgrounds to the bright yellow transition screen for scene changes. Each of the characters in this show, excepting Elma and Fafnir, have weirdly-colored hair (an anime staple), but their hair (although still bright) is muted to not draw attention to itself – especially in combination with the flatness that is this show’s art style.

All in all, the character designs were good, and embrace KyoAni’s affinity to make everything cute, but are otherwise not too noteworthy… excepting these notes: there are times where Tohru’s tail just looks way too large for her human body… unless she just simply doesn’t have a butt. Lucoa’s design seems like it was made solely for her recurring gag, and I wish we got to see her differently colored eyes more often. Makoto’s design looked very plain, though, almost boringly so, and Fafnir looks like an attempt at making Sebastian from Black Butler.

Music-wise, Dragon Maid tends to rely a lot on the same handful of themes episode after episode… either that, or the various themes just sound so similar. Since most of the focus is on the dialogue and the situations, though, the music repetition doesn’t really become noticeable. The tracks of this show are certainly identifiable (if only because of their instrumentation choices), and they are definitely good background tracks, but only a few of the few, I would actually want to listen on their own (such as the track with a-cappella and strings for more thoughtful scenes).

The opening theme, Aozora no Rhapsody, is very high-energy and cheerful, and I do enjoy it (although Towana’s singing wouldn’t be my first choice for my music listening tastes), and the opening animation is high-energy to match. It’s a flurry and fun to watch… and although Dragon Maid itself certainly has some high-energy moments, part of me wonders if perhaps this isn’t the most fitting opening theme. Perhaps if I looked up the lyrics to it though… The ending theme, Ishukan Communication, is really cute, though, and the animation is just as cute. I have nothing but positive things to say about the ending theme and animation.

I watched the show on Crunchyroll, meaning it was subtitles the entire way. I give props to the main three – Mutsumi Tamura, Yuki Kuwahara, and Maria Naganawa (as Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna respectively) – for their acting, and Daisuke Ono as Fafnir was also good. I’ll be curious to see how the show is with Funimation’s English dub, but I don’t know when I’ll have the chance to experience it.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is one part comedy, one part slice-of-life, and one part unfunny-recurring-gags. Some characters and their gags never got a positive reaction out of me, but that’s not all this show has to offer. I really don’t want to underplay all the enjoyment I got out of this series, especially alongside its high quality visual production work by Kyoto Animation.

Some of the friends I showed this series to weren’t that interested… but a lot of them, when I recommended it, told me they’d already seen it! And for good reason. If you’re in the mood for something silly, soulful, and colorful, Dragon Maid has you covered. It won’t be the most hilarious or slice-of-life-iest out there, but there’s still a lot to enjoy here. If for no other reason, you should consider it if you just want something fun.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ Tohru, great animation and visual effects, really fun time
— Saikawa (especially in episode 6), Lucoa’s repetitive gag, I can take or leave Kanna

Review: Tokyo Ghoul Root A (Funimation February)

 

How do you write that? Tokyo Ghoul… Square Root A? Tokyo Ghoul Root A? Just… Tokyo Ghoul A? I guess the most correct way would be Tokyo Ghoul √A… but there’s also the question of how do you even pronounce it?

Anyway, this is the second season of Tokyo Ghoul. It was the second show I reviewed for Funimation February last year, so let’s make it the second one for this year too! This season picks up almost immediately where the first season left off, and going from there. But if you expected the second season to be more of the same, you’re sorely mistaken.

An Introduction

We once again meet up with our valiant young hero Kaneki Ken, as he and his fellow ghoul mates from Anteiku are in the midst of a giant battle with the Aogiri Tree, a violent vigilante gang from a few districts over. Soon enough, the Anteiku mates are able to fend off Aogiri Tree… and then Kaneki decides he’s gonna join them! Yeah, he’s valiant, alright.

So, as Kaneki runs off with his newfound friends, he leaves his buddies from Anteiku to start picking up the pieces and begin to return to a normal life. At the same time, the CCG is now redoubling its efforts to clean all of Tokyo of these ghoul pests…

The Plot and Characters

I know I’m not the first to complain about it, and I probably won’t be the last, but Kaneki’s distinct change in personality is weird, to say the least. In fact, from a writing perspective, I’d say it’s baffling and kind of stupid, to be honest. Kaneki, who was awkward, careful, and worried in the first season, has now suddenly become cold, distant, brooding, and power-hungry. Although he offers a reason for doing so partway into the season, the reasoning is about as thin as paper.

This ultimately makes Kaneki next to impossible to connect to, unlike the first season when he and us (the audience) were both exploring the world of ghouls together. Now that he’s become more disconnected, though, we see Touka be promoted to the main character status (being a major supporting role in the first season). We’ll see glimpses of Kaneki doing something ominous or dark throughout the series, but for the majority of the time, we’re following Touka and Amon, the CCG investigator who was a main character in the first season as well.

Touka and the rest of the Anteiku group are shown doing their best to return to a normal life, but for her and little Hinami, it’s kind of hard. Kaneki pretty much leaves with barely a goodbye, and you see her really struggle with his sudden disappearance. She’s sad, lonely, and, most of all, confused. In fact, it’s kind of hard not to feel for her at least a bit. I didn’t feel as connected to her as I did to Kaneki in the first season, but I think she does a fair enough job taking the main character role here.

On the CCG’s side, the organization is more shown as, well, an organization – all its agents working in a giant, chrome building with offices, meetings rooms, laboratories, and even a war room. Battles become more large coordinated assaults between the CCG and organized ghoul gangs, and less about the smaller duo combos of CCG investigators picking one-on-one or two-on-two fights like in season 1. After the death of Kureo Mado in the first season, we’re introduced to his daughter, Akira, as Amon’s new partner. Akira is super professional and dedicated to her work, and highly intelligent to boot. There are other CCG agents that we see more of as well, such as the unstable Suzuya – whom I grew to somewhat like.

While in the first season, it seemed like it was only a few steps away from becoming a nice metaphor for ethics or genocide, with one scene where Amon and Kaneki seemed just about to have a rational conversation with each other… none of that is present here. We’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, end of story. There’s nothing really complex about this anymore; although the show still shows you a decent amount about the CCG and (feebly) attempts in some ways to humanize them, it definitely wants you to root for Touka, Kaneki, and the rest of the ghouls. It’s just another two-sided, black and white battle, and that’s it.

This season is a lot more focused on broodiness, freakiness, and action. Kaneki is dealing with the trauma he experienced at the end of season 1, newcomer Suzuya gets fleshed out, and more. There are still quieter, sweeter moments, but they’re fewer and farther between, and a lot of these moments are moments of sadness, focusing on Touka and Hinami. There are a number of major fights that occur in this season, all culiminating in a bleak, but also ungodly long ending scene in the final episode. I get that it’s supposed to feel emotional – and this show definitely tries to draw out as much emotion as it can from here – but given the events of this season, I found myself wondering “is this done yet?” more than anything else.

Frankly, what I enjoyed about Season 1 just doesn’t seem to be here anymore. There isn’t a complex morality thing at all anymore, there isn’t a character you can wholly relate to and root for with all your being, there’s no sense of community or family here, and the only big events here are just seeing (what’s essentially) armies clash with each other. This felt more like “just another action series”, and that wasn’t how I saw the first season. It’s not to say that what it turned into is terrible or anything, but it just doesn’t feel the same.

Summing it up, I can’t say I hate this season. It may have lowered my overall opinion about Tokyo Ghoul, but it isn’t the worst thing ever. The changes from the first season to this one make it a different show, though – not the one I signed up for when I watched the first episode of the first season.

The Atmosphere

Presentation-wise, this season continues pretty much the same as the first.

The action scenes tend to get darker and darker in coloration the further into the battles we go, but beyond that, the lighting is still the same. Anteiku still has that warm feel to it, the outside still looks bright and colorful, but everything has that tint of sadness and coldness to it. The CCG’s corporate headquarters is large and chrome, trying to look industrial and business-like, and their other buildings (such as the ghoul prison, Cochlea) all feature this similar look.

The fight choreography in this season is either really good or really bad, depending upon the scene. Was the first season actually this way too, and I just didn’t notice? Maybe… The kagunes and quinques are what makes this series stand apart from other action series, as extensions of their wielders. However, when the choreography is bad, the show really fails to make them stand out and look cool. I do like the designs of the kagunes and quinques, like in the first season, but I’ll admit that it feels kind of hard to distinguish a number of the kagunes apart. The special quinque armor that we see the CCG use looks a bit stupid to me, to be honest.

When it comes to the character designs, in general, they’re still pretty alright. A number of the new ghoul characters look kind of cool, like Kurona and Nashiro. The CCG still has its problem of the characters being hard to distinguish, especially since everyone is now in a suit and tie – this leads to me only remembering characters as “eyebrows guy” or “angry kid” and that’s it. Suzuya, though, is quite different, and I appreciate his design.

For this season, I saw a lot of it in both Japanese and English, although I don’t quite remember the Japanese side all too much anymore. The voice actors for Suzuya on both sides – Rie Kugimiya on the Japanese side, and Maxey Whitehead on the English side – are both pretty good and make him sound interesting and like a kid with weird, creepy interests. In total, I feel there really isn’t one side or another that I can full-heartedly recommend; it’s good enough between both that the one you choose should be enough to satisfy you. As is usual with watching anime, though, once you choose a subbed or dubbed side, it’s not quite easy to jump to the other.

It kind of feels like they were trying to go for this over-dramatic movie soundtrack for this season (and they probably did so, at least to some degree, in the first season too). These intense strings will play during tense moments, dirty synthesized sounds play during a heated moment in a battle, and the piano will saunter in during quieter moments. The soundtrack isn’t bad, but it also doesn’t stand out in any way. There is a pretty cool insert song called Glassy Sky that I do enjoy, but it plays 4 times throughout the season. By the third time, I was like “isn’t this that same song?” – it may be a bit overused.

The opening song, Munou, is an interesting one. I can’t say I dislike the song, but I probably won’t go out of my way to listen to it at all. The song has this off-kilter feel to it, even during its “prettier” parts, which I suppose isn’t too unfitting for this season. Its lyrics are weird. The opening animation, though, is fairly uninteresting, just showing a shirtless Kaneki standing there. I’m not usually a big proponent of skipping openings, but this one honestly doesn’t have anything at all that makes it worth watching 12 times.

The ending song though, I rather enjoy. I also really enjoy how the ending animation changes for each episode too, showing different characters and situations painted in this watercolor style the manga covers also use.

So yeah, skip the openings and watch the endings.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Although Tokyo Ghoul Root A picks up almost immediately after the first season ends, it sets off to go in a very different direction. The CCG unquestionably become the villains and the Anteiku crew become the good guys, while Kaneki just runs off with some random other ghouls for no good reason. A lot of what I personally liked about the first season – the gray morality, our connection to Kaneki – is missing. It isn’t a bad season, but to say I’m less than thrilled about it may be an understatement.

For fans of the first season, you may as well watch the first episode of this season to resolve how things ended off. However, after then, I’d say it’s up to you if you want to continue or not. The second season isn’t necessarily a waste of time, but it won’t be the same as the first. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind if you decide to not even bother with it; I guess the worst that can happen, though, is you try a few episodes and see what you think.

Rating: Bad
Recommendation: Give It a Try
+++ ending theme and animation, Suzuya, connection to Touka
— anything and everything Kaneki, opening animation (song is decent), no complex morality

Review: My Hero Academia (Funimation February)

As is common for me, a new action show will appear on the scene and garner a large following, but I won’t jump on the bandwagon until much later.

For My Hero Academia, I probably only got onto watching this show through the insistence of multiple friends. With shows like Attack on Titan or Tokyo Ghoul, I didn’t have anyone pushing or urging me to watch it, but with My Hero Academia, almost every anime-watching friend I have told me to “get on watching MHA already”! … And also Yuri On Ice, which I’ve still yet to see. Oops. (EDIT: I’ve seen it since writing this!)

Anyway, this review will only be of the first season, since I paused between the first and second seasons to watch another show. … And I have yet to actually return to the second season. Oops again.

An Introduction

In an alternate universe, most of humanity have these genetically-inherited abilities called Quirks, which can range from anything like being able to create both fire and ice from thin air, to simply having a snake head. In essence, Quirks are like superpowers, and with superpowers come superheroes (and supervillains)! The Japanese government pays heroes to patrol the country and dispatch villains, and the most famous of these superheroes is All Might (basically, this world’s version of Superman).

For middle school kids set on becoming a superhero, the high school that is the school to go to is U.A. Academy. We meet Deku and Bakugo, two kids who’ve known each other since preschool, although their friendship is… rocky. Both of them want to apply at U.A. Academy, but Deku has one problem: he never actually got a Quirk (a superpower), despite having wanted to become a superhero and fight alongside his idol, All Might, his entire life.

However, through a chance encounter and a display of his… self-threatening sense of determination, Deku meets All Might, and learns his deepest secret. All Might himself been searching for a successor to his unique, not-genetically-inherited Quirk, and Deku has impressed him so much that he’s decided upon our young protagonist!

However, as Deku soon learns, this Quirk proves difficult to even utilize well, and All Might has more enemies than it first appears…

The Plot and Characters

My Hero Academia is fully content with being your standard underdog story, where our lead rises up against all odds to prove to be something greater than first meets the eye. It’s a story progression we’ve seen many a time before, and even within anime, it’s not all that new an idea.

Deku constantly teeters on the edge of losing his dream and being able to pull it off. The question constantly changes from “Can Deku become a hero?” to “Can Deku get into UA Academy?” to “Can Deku avoid being expelled from UA Academy?” and so on. Ultimately, though, we know he’ll pull through whatever is put in front of him, because we wouldn’t have a show otherwise.

However, MHA still does a good job of delivering that suspense and forging a connection to Deku.

The first two episodes shows Deku being beaten down and rejected by everyone around him, told that his dreams can’t become a reality. It’s a difficult thing for any person to hear, and the way these scenes were done and the emotions Deku has really sets us up to become attached to him, and root for him to persevere and rise up against those odds. When All Might tells him at the end of episode 2 that he can become a hero, we already feel that payoff of “yes, he can do it!” and we cheer and stand in awe alongside Deku.

Despite this, Deku didn’t seem to really grow much throughout the latter portion of the season. After he reached a certain point in episode 5, he didn’t seem to be making any progress as a superhero and barely any as a character. Part of what draws me to this show is seeing Deku grow, and for that to not really progress at all is a tad disappointing/underwhelming.

When it comes to Bakugo, I’m not entirely certain I understand him as a character, and as to why he has this giant beef with Deku. The show spent a decent amount of time on their background; I can see that Bakugo’s become conceited and this has perverted him, especially when up against Deku’s kind-hearted nature, but how does this translate into him wanting to be heroic? He seems to be more selfishly in it for the gains, but I’d suspect we’re not done exploring his character.

Oppositely, All Might is a pretty cool character. I like him a lot. Despite being one of Japan’s strongest superheroes, he’s more used for comic relief for a majority of the series, and he does well with it (and he can also be more serious when the show needs him to be too). His genuine dedication and feelings for Deku come across.

For the other characters, part of me wishes we got a bit more time with them… although I’d probably wouldn’t want it to turn into a The Lost Village-type situation, because that becomes unwieldy. A number of them get enough screen time for us to learn what their Quirk is and a general idea of their personality, and that’s kind of it. With Ochaco and Iida becoming Deku’s friends, those two squeezed just a tad more screen time out of MHA – but I’d like to see more of them, and more friendship bonding moments, maybe even see Deku, Ochaco, and Iida fight as a team at some point. I guess that’s my biggest hope for the second season (once I start watching it).

Lastly, there is one final thing to discuss: pacing.

MHA is a tad reminiscent of the running joke with Dragon Ball: nothing ever finishes in one episode and there’s always a cliffhanger to get you to come back next week. It’s not quite as bad as shows like Dragon Ball, but it is reminiscent of it. Episodes, especially the earlier ones, like to spend a decent amount of time recounting events from the previous episode or having flashbacks to earlier events or just having characters doing internal monologues.

This being said, each episode does feel like something gets accomplished. Something happens, the plot gets pushed forward somehow. And each episode feels like it’s over in a breeze; I’ll be like “what, it’s done already?” and then promptly make my way to the next one. Whether it’s how they handle their progression or I’ve just become that invested, I don’t know, but either way I’m glad I binge-watched it rather than going episode by episode.

All in all, though, my above complaints are just smaller quarrels against what’s still a mighty fine show. These characters are likeable, the world is interesting, and this story has gotten me invested (especially since they like to do cliffhangers like nothing else). I’m probably going to dive into the second season after I finish writing this, because I want to see more. I can’t say there’s much else I can state to share my appreciation for this show.

The Atmosphere

Unsurprising for both a superhero show and a high school anime, My Hero Academia is bright with colors. It’s not bursting out the seams with them in the way No Game No Life is (very few can compare to that), but colors in MHA are distinct and contrasting. It’s a color scheme that works well for this show, too; scenes pop out at you and keep your eyes on the screen, regardless of whether there’s actual action going on or not.

When there is action, though, the animation is able to deliver for it. The show’s pacing – where every move in a fight requires everyone to give their reactions and monologues – means fluid, quick motion isn’t generally needed, but even when it is, the show is able to do it. Fights are well done, and the show does well in non-action segments as well – although I don’t really have much to write about for that part.

Character designs are also very distinctive and well-done; they’re not particularly unique among anime as a whole, but within the show itself, I think one would be hard-pressed to actually confuse two characters for each other. Each one has their own distinctive appearance and display of emotions. The way lines are drawn and shading/shadows is done helps lend to this show’s visual style. I can’t remember the last time I was able to praise a show for its character designs  and specifically their distinctiveness, but My Hero Academia does good here.

Backgrounds are standard-fare for 2016; they’re good, they’re detailed enough to do what needs to be done, but there’s not really much to write home about. You may know I’m picky about background art, though, so, honestly, don’t take what I say here about MHA as a criticism.

The show’s music certainly succeeds in sounding heroic.  A particular piece with blaring instruments and rap vocals come to mind nearly immediately (and to be fair, it is used in multiple occasions). In general, a lot of orchestral instruments are put to use here: trumpets, violins, clarinets, the works. Not the entire orchestra all at once, of course, but the best chosen instruments are used for the right tracks. I’m a bit impartial to electronic/pop sounds, but this soundtrack is certainly nothing less than phenomenal. It fits right well into the show, helps reinforce the superhero genre feel, and at the same time, a number of pieces also stand out on their own.

The opening theme, THE DAY (sung by Porno Graffiti), although it definitely has energy and drive, feels like it’s lacking that bit of a punch or something to really become impactful. It’s not a bad song, though, and the opening animation is also pretty good. I’m a big fan of things being flashy and flamboyant, and this plays it relatively safe. Again, though, it’s good. The ending theme, “Heroes” by Brian the Sun, is pretty good, and works as an ending song. The ending is primarily just Deku running on a trail, which is pretty underwhelming. I’ll shrug it off though.

Finally, we come to the voice acting. All in all, I think I enjoy the subtitled version just a bit more. I may be a tad impartial due to listening to that first, but only about 1/3 of all the voices on the English side sound just as good or better in my mind. Particularly, I enjoy the voices of Bakugo and All Might, played by Clifford Chapin and Chris Sabat, respectively, but I feel the casting of Justin Briner as Deku wasn’t the best move – it more sounds like the voice of a romcom male character, not so much an up-and-coming superhero. I would’ve more enjoyed someone like Micah Solusod, I feel. I won’t call the English dub bad, though, but if you were to ask me which one to go for, I’d probably suggest subbed.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

My Hero Academia, coming into it, seems like an action series that shouldn’t really rise up as anything that noteworthy. However, its good execution of its underdog story, and the full committal to its superhero theme really helps it out. It’s mired by Deku’s lack of growth in the latter half and not enough time with the supporting cast, but those are small potatoes to the 5-course meal this show has packed for you.

Action shows are a stereotypical favorite of anime fans, but when they’re good, they’re good. There are those who really don’t have much interest in action, though, and My Hero Academia is a tad too far within its genre to appeal to those people, but if you’re looking for an action series and you’ve not yet given it a try, I highly suggest you do so! This first season is only the start, too, as there’s 26 more episodes after this, followed by a 3rd season and movie further down the line.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ our connection to Deku, production quality, All Might
— Deku stops growing after episode 5, not enough of Ochaco and Iida, English dub has room for improvement

Review: Bakemonogatari

 

When I first got into anime, this is a show that seemed to be more on the fringe; some anime fans knew of its existence, but even fewer have actually seen it. (This is not so much the case nowadays, I feel.)

My first experience was actually when I was very heavily into Vocaloid (I was introduced to Vocaloid before anime). I came across a Vocaloid cover of one of this anime’s openings (Renai Circulation), and I had the hardest time remembering its name because it was so long and just sounded so odd.

Eventually, though, I sat down one day and simply decided to give it a try. And I must say, I’m glad I did.

An Introduction

Crab. Snail. Monkey. Snake. Cat.

Not too long after dealing with his own encounter of the supernatural kind, Koyomi Araragi finds himself running into new and different situations with various girls. All also of the supernatural kind.

All around us, and yet also nowhere at all, live these supernatural beings, these apparitions. Some are just lowly spirits, not intentionally causing harm, but the range goes up to demons, spiritual gods, and other scary forces to be reckoned with. And either by sheer unluckiness or his unceasing desire to help all those before him, Araragi finds himself tackling these problems, one by one.

These girls are Hitagi Senjyogahara, the weightless “tsundere”; Mayoi Hachikuji, the lost grade-schooler; Suruga Kanbaru, the raincoated athlete; Nadeko Sengoku, the cursed childhood friend; and Tsubasa Hanekawa, the class president among class presidents.

Although Araragi can certainly rely upon Hanekawa and Meme Oshino (a self-proclaimed apparition expert), and the lingering abilites from his time as a vampire, will that be enough for him to solve all of these problems and still keep his own life?

The Plot and Characters

These characters and the apparition-filled world they inhabit set up for a really interesting story to unfold that lasts well beyond these 15 episodes. I was captivated by the characters’ distinctly unique and memorable personalities and mannerisms, and by the world’s constant mysterious forces that meddle in affairs and make nothing straightforward.

The 15 episodes are divided into 5 arcs, each one dedicated to each girl and her affliction. After a girl has been saved, she winds up appearing in later arcs either to just hang around and cause more trouble for Araragi, or to begin actively helping him with later cases and to provide support. These arcs are, for the most part, formulaic: Araragi encounters the girl, she explains her problem to him, and they run off to Oshino who, usually by that very night, has her problem solved. However, the formula here doesn’t quite bother me as much; Bakemonogatari’s plot structure really isn’t what makes it interesting.

What’s really the most interesting is the show’s writing and the various conversations that are had. Each of these characters have their own quirks and styles of talking, and most have distinct catch phrases/running jokes. You can quite noticeably sense a difference between each of their tones, from Hitagi’s scaldingly vile insults, to Suruga’s kinkiness, to Hanekawa’s upstanding intelligent remarks. Araragi, for the most part, acts as the straight man, from grumpily responding to the insults casually flung at him, to yelling out loud retorts to the more ridiculous and off-topic statements. Every scene with these characters is just fun to watch, just to see these different personalities shine, even if Araragi bounces off each of them in a similar way.

Bakemonogatari’s characters and writing are relatively aware of the anime culture as well, using references to other shows and utilizing terms – sometimes with a twist – that fans themselves will use. They even go to approach topics of sexual acts and sexuality without fear or hesitation, unlike most other anime. However, like most things in this show, they’re not the most direct about it.

Bakemonogatari is called, jokingly and unjokingly, the “a lot of talking” anime. It can sometimes take a character up to a whole minute to reach the point they could easily say in just a few seconds, but this anime loves to indulge itself with word riddles, double meanings, and straightly-told puns. This whimsical, fascinating, and somewhat-rambling dialogue helps to give this show its charm, but the most impatient of anime fans may see themselves saying “what is the point of all of this?”

For those of you who do enjoy the metaphors and things having deeper meanings beyond what’s said and shown, though, Bakemonogatari will have you covered; people on the Internet have analyzed nearly every moment of this show, and it provides you quite a bit to look into. It doesn’t require you to get waist-deep into the analyzing scene, though, and you can still follow along the show fairly well as long as you just pay attention to the dialogue. There are a lot of interesting extra bits of information and such that can be discovered by discerning and quick eyes, but you can still get just as much enjoyment without doing any of that; the main plot is told right to you (albeit after some rambling). It appeals to both crowds in that way.

I’d say my biggest issue with this show is how little time we actually get to spend with these characters. While this issue can certainly be seen as a “always leave them begging for more” type of thing, I kind of see it a bit more as a flaw. If each character’s arc wasn’t just relegated to two or three episodes, we’d actually get to spend more time with them and grow to become more attached to them. These characters and their problems are resolved by just that day alone, and then we’re done with them. That’s it. I would also say this is kind of a flaw of Araragi, the sole narrator, as well – he seems more primarily interested in just helping people around him, rather than actually developing a true friendship with them. (In fact, to be fairly honest, Araragi is probably the least interesting character in this show, although it probably helps market the female characters.)

Tsubasa Cat, the final arc, is an exception, though. Not only do we get even more time with Tsubasa and Hitagi, which is well appreciated, but Araragi grows a little bit as well, becoming something more than just a rescuer that yells retorts. The episode that stands out the most is episode 12 – most Monogatari series fans will remember this episode. I won’t really say much about it, but it is really something special, and it still makes me tear up even after multiple viewings. At the risk of ruining its specialness, I do wish Bakemonogatari had more moments like this episode.

Ultimately, I know that for the Monogatari series, this is just the beginning. This anime (and the two book volumes that it’s based on) is the springboard for a franchise that continues even today, with over 60 episodes and 3 movies under its belt. However, when looking at Bakemonogatari on its own, it feels like it only gives you a small taste, rather than let you really devour this world and these characters.

The Atmosphere

I’ve heard others describe this show’s visuals as avant-garde, which doesn’t really describe much about it beyond simply using a fancy word that means “unique”. However, I also am having a hard time really finding a way to sum it up in just a few words.

Both visually and audibly, Bakemonogatari pulls from a thick book of art and cinematographic styles, although it uses some more than others. Its art style is most distinct with its handling of backgrounds and of extra characters. Backgrounds rely upon a small amount of colors, lines, and shapes (with some detailed objects put in to make a place distinct), creating scenes that aim to be more stylized rather than realistic. It’s really cool and does give this show a unique identity. It’s a bit hard to describe through words alone, but it is certainly something worth witnessing.

When it comes to the show’s animation… there honestly isn’t too much of it, in comparison to other anime series out there. Whenever the show does animate something, it certainly does it justice; from characters walking around a room to full-on gravity-defying battles, they’re all animated well and they also benefit from the show’s interesting art choices. But since a lot of time is spent talking or doing other things, there’s a lot of characters standing or sitting around; the show alleviates the stillness in movement by cutting to static objects (such as phone screens and backgrounds), using weird camera angles, or putting characters in weird positions. There’s always something on the screen to keep you interested.

Bakemonogatari’s background music equally relies upon piano, guitar, synthesizer, and drums, with sometimes other instruments like voice, other strings, and even xylophone being utilized as well. The composer Satoru Kosaki knows the right times to have the right instruments play in the right way to give scenes precisely what they need. The result is a soundtrack that fits its scenes really well (if not a tad on the dramatic side), while doing so in a distinctly Bakemonogatari way. Although not all of the songs on the soundtrack may be memorable, I’d bet that if you heard any of them on their own, you’d say “That sounds like a Monogatari soundtrack piece”.

Going beyond this is the five opening and one ending songs for this series. Each arc has its own opening song (in the Blu-Ray release), and I’d have to say I like all of them. I enjoy how each opening sounds different and unique and the opening animation for each of them is also quite unique and different as well. It’s all pretty cool. If I had to rank them by how much I liked them, though, I’d probably do: 1. Staple Stable 2. Sugar Sweet Nightmare 3. Renai Circulation 4. Ambivalent World 5. Kaerimichi. I enjoy the ending song, Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari, quite a bit as well (especially since it was written by the band Supercell), and the ending animation is also cool – I just wish that they used special character versions for all of the arcs rather than just the last 2. The art style used in the ending animation is cool looking and helps it stand out as its own thing, and this style will continue to be used for further Monogatari endings as well.

There is no English dub for this show, so if you’re gonna watch it, it’ll have to be subtitles all the way. It’s not to say dubbing this show is really impossible, but the cost and effort needed to write such a dub probably was the dissuading factor. I do enjoy the Japanese voice acting, though, and each of the female characters’ voice actors, including the Koyomi sisters Karen and Tsuhiki, are all pretty dang good at delivering their lines. Hiroshi Kamiya doesn’t do a bad job as Koyomi Araragi, either, but you hear one loud Araragi retort, and you’ve heard them all.

There is some unfortunate news, however. If you’re going to be watching this online, most streaming services, including Crunchyroll, only have the first 12 episodes. The reason being is the last 3 didn’t air on TV; instead, they were released online so Studio Shaft could take its time to release them when they’re ready rather than sticking to a strict guideline (this, in the end, resulted in episode 15 releasing a full 9 months after episode 12 aired on TV).

If you’re going to watch the whole series, you’ll have to get a physical copy. In Europe and Australia, they run at an alright price. In the United States, however, it’s a bit of a different story. The series has only ever been released on “limited edition” Blu-Ray over here, and it is expensive! Annoyingly so, since the only special feature is character commentary – in which the characters themselves provide commentary on the episodes as you watch them (which is entertaining, by the way). It’s closer to the Blu-Ray prices in Japan, sure, but for the Western fan, it’s bothersome that paying this much is the only legal way to watch the last 3 episodes. If a friend or the local library has a copy of this show, I recommend just borrowing it from them instead, if you simply just want to get through the series. Personally, I bought the darn thing because I love the Monogatari series… so I suppose the price isn’t quite high enough to really be unjustifiable, but still…

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Bakemonogatari’s two most important things, in order, is its writing and its visuals. The visuals draw people into the show, and the writing and interesting characters get people to stay. Bakemonogatari is a treat to enjoy, and kickstarts the Monogatari anime franchise, as well as the original light novel kickstarting the Monogatari novel series, both of which are still continuing today. Through these 15 episodes, you’ll become interested and attached to (at least some of) these characters and the world they inhabit, and you’ll be wanting in no time to continue on to the later shows.

If you haven’t experienced Bakemonogatari, I suggest you go onto Crunchyroll or Hanabee and get a feel for the series. This is a very dialogue-heavy show, and although there’s almost always something on the screen to keep you interested, some of you may just not like a show with so little physical action. If you’re curious about something a bit more exceptional and breaking-the-norm, though, Bakemonogatari is a wonderful piece to watch. (Do note, however, that most online services will not have the last 3 episodes of the show, as I explain in the previous section.)

Rating: Near Perfect
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ fascinating characters and writing, unique and memorable visuals, great music
— only get a small taste of what all could be potentially offered, show is formulaic, lots of talking and not much action-ing

Review: Revolutionary Girl Utena

Revolutionary Girl Utena was a major hit of 1997, directed by the same director behind Sailor Moon R (Ikuhara Kunihiko). At the time, it was a weird and fascinating series about a high school girl staying true to her identity and fighting against whatever foes, physical and metaphorical, came her way. Today, though, it has become a landmark and inspiration for anime ever since.

Where I first heard of this show, I don’t know. Perhaps it was some random forum thread on Crunchyroll from back when I was first starting out in anime. Maybe it was a high school friend talking about the weirdness of the episode “Nanami’s Egg”. Perhaps it was some random YouTube video I’ve all but forgotten about.

Either way, while perusing the list of shows that RightStuf/Nozomi had the rights to, this show stood out to me. It’s pretty easy to say that this has pretty quickly ascended towards the top of my favorites ever since I started watching it.

An Introduction

Utena Tenjou is a student at the prestigious Ohtori Academy, where the student council has arguably the most power and fame on the campus. After a prince brought her out of a rough time as a child, Utena has always wanted to be a prince herself (is that really a good idea?), and has even begun wearing princely clothing in school. This prince even gave her a ring with a rose emblem on it, as something for her to remember him by. Or was it an engagement ring?

One day, Utena ends up in an argument with student council vice president (and kendo club president) Saionji, and challenges him to a sword duel. He notices the ring on her finger, and immediately accepts the duel – at a special dueling location for those wearing the special ring.

Long story short, Utena surprisingly wins the duel, but little did she know what she ended up entering herself into. The student council has its own competition to see who gets the rights to the Rose Bride, an actual person who does everything her master wants, and harbors the power of “revolutionizing the world”; by winning the duel, Utena wins the quiet, respectful Rose Bride, Anthy, and soon enough, the two end up living in the same dorm room together.

And so the fight for the Rose Bride has one more player.

The Plot and Characters

When it comes to the plot and characters, there’s so much to talk about, it’s hard for me to limit what I want to say.

I’ll start with the characters. Beyond Utena and Anthy, we’ll also get to learn quite a bit about the student council and some other key actors – handled through interactions with said characters themselves, and interactions with characters close to them. With 39 episodes, this show definitely has enough time to delve into each of these key characters, and it does so pretty well, I’d say.

Rather than going through each character sequentially as the show progresses, each student council member (and Utena) develops and changes gradually over the series, the story revisiting them when they inevitably find themselves tied back into the main plot. Even though the student council members act as the antagonists in the first arc, they become uneasy friends with Utena in later arcs as other, bigger antagonists begin pulling the strings.

All in all, there’s three (or four, depending upon the source) arcs, dealing with this ongoing competition for the Rose Bride. Each arc also delves deeper into a bunch of mysteries surrounding the competitions, the powers and role of the Rose Bride, and even the academy itself. There’s a lot of things to be unraveled here, and, similar to other shows like Serial Experiments Lain, Revolutionary Girl Utena doesn’t like to be direct about it. By the final episode, this anime goes full-symbolism, with the on-screen events making no sense if taken at face value. Multiple fan theories and ideas have developed upon what the show was truly about and the meanings behind what was shown on screen. For me, I personally loved it. I really enjoy shows that make you think and that don’t like to show their full hand right away… although even when Utena does finally show you a card, it’s covered in so much symbolism that it’s really hard to tell.

To continue talking about the story, though, we also have to talk about the episode structure. To be honest, it is really repetitive. Although each arc changes up the formula a tiny bit, it’s still basically the same thing. A specific character is presented with an issue, this issue is aggravated to the point where they challenge Utena to a duel, Utena wins the duel, and then it’s all over. Although sometimes this is prolonged to two-part episodes – and there’s also highly entertaining filler episodes beside that do add some variety – the pattern is still there, making it very much feel like a “villain of the week” type thing.

The specificity of each character’s issue and a lot of the buildup and emotion (especially during two-part episodes) that lead up to the sword duels, however, is what makes these episodes watchable for me. The opposing character’s struggles and motivations are unique to each of them – even if they’re sometimes petty. However, it’s still a pattern that’s being followed again and again.

Luckily, all semblance of the pattern breaks down in the last seven episodes, where symbolism, backstory, and who-even-knows galore take front stage. If you look past the repetitive parts, though, there is a lot of entertainment here; a serious story is being crafted, and these characters and their unique and visible personalities help fill each scene they’re in.

Finally, the last thing I’ll go into is the sword battles in this series. These battles aren’t actually lethal: the first one to knock an embedded rose off their opponent’s chest is decreed the winner. Also, these battles are over so fast and end up being so underwhelming. Even in the last few battles, Utena basically wins them in what feels like 2 minutes. There isn’t really a building feeling of intensity and suspense with the battles as the show goes on. It honestly feels that, despite the duels being integral to how this world works, the anime’s producers didn’t know the best way to actually write and animate a sword duel.

All in all, though, this is a great series. Even the characters alone make this series, each one of them is so awesome. I so wish I could go into more details about each one of them, but any more time I spend will just make this review longer and longer. The repetitiveness of the majority of Utena is probably going to turn off a few people for sure. The characters and the hyper-symbolic layered story of this show, however, make this one of the most entertaining things I’ve seen in a long time.

The Atmosphere

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a show that really likes its rituals and patterns, if you couldn’t tell.

For each sword battle, a scene occurs with two shadow actors acting out a skit (of varying relevance to the actual story) followed by a constantly-reused segment of Utena climbing up the stairs (or taking an elevator) to the dueling arena while the exact same song plays. I phrase that as a complaint (and honestly, the latter part kind of is), but it is really a minor annoyance, at best, for me. The shadow acting skits are actually pretty humorous, if not a bit out there, and the two characters, A-ko and B-ko, are some of my more favorites in the series (although I have many favorites).

The choral rock music in this show, though… if you don’t like it at the start, you’ll end up liking it (or at least tolerating it) by the end. Each time that staircase scene is used, or a sword duel is going on, there’s a choral rock song going on as well. Although there are electric guitar and percussion accompaniments, the singing choir is far and away the huge focus of each song, and they’re sung in this distinct way that’s neither great nor terrible.

Beyond that, the instrumental soundtrack is pretty dang good, I’d say. The same basic 6 or so melodies are reused (with varying ornamentations) for a lot of the tracks throughout the series, but each of the melodies are great and memorable. Rather than using the more rock style present everywhere else here, the instrumental themes are more orchestral, relying on piano and stringed instruments a lot more. I guarantee you’ll at least get one of the songs from Utena stuck in your head.

The opening theme – more of a mellow rock style – is also pretty good, but was definitely another thing that took some warming up to. Part of me kind of wishes there was more than one opening to this show, but I’m not too miffed. There were, however, two endings to this series, with the ending changing after episode 25. Although the first song is more traditional rock-sounding, the second ending song is more in the style of the choral rock music used within the episodes themselves. I honestly prefer the first ending song a bit more, but prefer the second ending’s animation (both songs are good, but the second ending’s animation is a lot cooler and more interesting to look at than the first’s animation).

Oh, let’s talk about the visuals though.

This show aired in 1997, like previously said, and it definitely comes off as a 90s show. There are some parts with stiff animation, but even at its smoothest, it’s still not as smooth as today’s shows (although there are some quality exceptions). The character designs aren’t as complex as today’s, either, but they’re still quite detailed. I like the amount of work done with each character’s school uniform; in fact, Utena has some of the most ornate clothing I’ve seen in quite a while.

Each character has their own color, displayed either by their hairstyle, their uniform, or both. This is one of the many things this show uses for symbolism, because oh man, is there a lot of symbolism here. There will be scenes that transpire like normally except with a baseball game happening in the middle of it, or with blinking arrows pointing out random things in the background. I’ve already talked about the symbolism at some length above, but most of it comes through in the visuals – a majority of the time, it isn’t even acknowledged on screen excepting a few small remarks.

With the buildup of symbolism in the second and third arcs, that is when we get to see this show begin to become more unique and fascinating, visually. Scenes of a hallway, both sides lined with chairs, each holding a sign with a finger pointing towards a door, still appear when I close my eyes. There is this weird hybrid of realism and fairy-tale-ism in this series, and the show takes full advantage of that with its visuals. It’s sometimes hard to remember that this takes place in modern day, with Anthy watching a small “portable” TV and characters using flip phones. (Well, this was modern back in the 90’s, okay?)

Despite this, there are times where the visuals were not always up to snuff. I particularly remember episode 23, the finale of the second arc. An important conversation is had early into the episode showing either Utena and the antagonist facing away from the camera (so they don’t have to animate their mouths), or showing random background shots of the school (doing the same shot twice in a row before moving on). It was obvious they were in a time crunch to finish this episode, but it’s annoying that this happens during an arc finale. There are other cases like this as well, but this is probably one of the most visible in the series.

Finally, I’ll discuss the voice acting. Being a very character-focused show, I’m happy to mention the voice acting is pretty good… on the Japanese side.

Tomoko Kawakami (as Utena) is able to handle both the louder and quieter moments wonderfully, and Yuriko Fuchizaki does well to add onto Anthy’s character and her mystique. The voice acting is also done well for the student council members, and I think Takehito Koyasu and Yuri Shiratori (as council president Touga and his sister, Nanami) each fill and expand their characters with their acting. Honestly, I have nothing but praise for them all.

There is an English dub for this series as well, but RightStuf’s DVDs default to Japanese – an uncommon thing for dubbed anime DVDs, but I’m thankful for it. The dub was created by the now-defunct Central Park Media, and it’s… pretty bad. I honestly can’t think of a single voice that’s better in English than in Japanese. Few get close, such as the second arc’s antagonist, but… the dub is not worth your time. Truly, it isn’t. I’d like to think I don’t have high standards for dubs, but this… this is just… no. I expect the Blu-Rays to be the same (see below).

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a remarkable show from the 1990’s. Within the span of its 39 episodes, we meet a variety of unique, complex characters, and see them deal with their own issues while also finding themselves trapped within the main plot of the show. The story doesn’t like to give all the answers, though, and this is reinforced by the constant symbolism in the visuals. I certainly can’t call Utena perfect, but it’s hard for me to not call this show “amazing”.

Honestly, this is one of those shows that I think everyone should at least give a try at watching. I’m sure that not everyone will get through it due to the repetitiveness of the episodes and the older animation, but I think those that stick with it will end up with an experience that sticks with them. That being said, you’ll also probably not like this series if you don’t like the super-symbolic, think-for-yourself endings, because this show doesn’t reveal much to you in that regard. Either way, though, I still highly recommend it.

Also, if you’re looking for a Blu-Ray release, good news! One is forthcoming, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the show. You can pre-order it online from Amazon or RightStuf (maybe elsewhere too?); I’ve already pre-ordered mine. 🙂 If the extras in the limited edition Blu-Ray box is anything like what’s in the DVDs (and I’m sure it will be), the limited edition one will be more than worth it for fans of the show.

Rating; Great
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
+++ amazing characters, the final seven episodes, fascinating visuals in latter half
— very repetitive, sword battles leave room for improvement, English dub is just bad

 

Review: Aldnoah.Zero

 

Hey, look at our totally awesome show that has all these famous names attached to it; it’s really not terrible at all! Yeah, I’m coming out of the gate swinging. This show was announced with Gen Urobuchi’s name (of Fate/Zero and Madoka Magicka fame) slapped in big letters right on top, and that it featured Kalafina and Hiroyuki Sawano (the composer from Attack on Titan), and so on and so on. So I, like a lot of people, thought, “hey, these big names working on a cool-sounding, emotional story involving mechas. This seems like a good show.”

Ooooooooohhhh man.

(Note: In my searches, most reviews of this show I’ve seen only talk about the first 12 episodes of the two-cour series. They took a six month break between airing episode 12 and episode 13, so I feel I’m in the minority by actually sharing my thoughts on the entire 24 episodes.

Also, fair warning: this is a long review.)

An Introduction

This show’s premise is one of those things that makes a lot of sense, but is really hard to put into words. I’ll try though:

So in an alternate universe, the Apollo 17 mission discovered some ancient Martian technology on the Moon that allowed people to travel to and colonize Mars. Some of these first colonists created an empire on Mars: the Vers Empire. Ever since this empire was created, the humans on the two planets have drifted further and further apart. This led up to a giant interplanetary war in 1999, where Vers tried to take over the Earth. They really only succeeded in blowing up half the moon though (in an event called “Heaven’s Fall”), leaving random Martian spaceships among all the space debris. Since then, there’s been an uneasy peace, although some in the Vers Empire secretly still want to show Earth what-for.

It’s now 2014, 15 years later. The show starts off with Princess Asseylum of the Vers Empire arriving in Japan to try to negotiate a more solid peace between the two planets. But, as she’s being escorted in a limousine, a missile suddenly appears and “KA-BLAM!”; no more Asseylum. So, naturally, the Martians, upset by this sudden regicide, declare war against Earth. Martian ships and mechas rain from the sky, and suddenly Earth’s fight for survival begins!

Here, I’ll introduce one of our main characters. Inaho, one of those cold and calculating types, finds himself in the front lines when one of Vers’s first waves of attack appear in Japan: a giant, superpowered mecha. Through pure cunning, he manages to find a way to best it. Soon afterwards, Inaho, his high school friends, and a few others, arrive on a ship alongside some other “refugees”, trying to make their way to a global army headquarters to figure out where to go from there. And on this ship is someone that looks suspiciously Asseylum-like…

The other main character we have is Slaine. An Earth-born human that ends up on Mars after a crash landing, he became one of Asseylum’s closest friends, teaching her about the wonders of Earth. At the same time, the rest of the Martians treat him terribly, calling him names, pushing him around, whacking him with canes, and even worse. After the explosion and second Vers-Earth war began, Slaine enters the fray to find those responsible for Asseylum’s death.

The Plot and Characters

The fascinating thing about this story is just how much potential there is here, right from the get go. The first few episodes not only set up this really fascinating premise, but you also have: a main character (Inaho) that uses plausible science to back up the cool action stuff he does, a view into the complex political world of a war nation, a character (Slaine) dealing with and growing from his terrible treatment as a minority, and overall, we have this underdog story where everything’s on the line. There’s even a supporting character who’s a recovering alcoholic with PTSD, having been in the army during the Heaven’s Fall war 15 years prior, which is pretty cool.

The sad thing is, though, that these beginning few episodes (and a couple other cool points in the first half) are about as good as this show ever gets. As the story moves on, things become more contrived, unbelievable, and clichéd.

Inaho is completely emotionless, from the very start to the very end. His older sister seems to imply there is some reason for it, but if there is, we never see it (or at least, it isn’t made clear). I can understand a relatively silent character; they can be pretty cool. However, Inaho is darn-near robotic with his actions, forgoing absolutely everything for the sake of him kicking some Martian butt. (Why he gets himself so involved with this war, we also don’t really know. My guess is he just kind of went with the flow.) In fact, in the second half, one of his body parts gets replaced with some cybernetic technology. We’re supposed to feel sympathy and sorrow for him about that, but it did nothing. I couldn’t make myself care more about his situation than he does, which is not at all.

As well, Inaho, this empathy-lacking high school kid, ends up becoming “humanity’s only hope”, as Earth’s forces kept getting pushed more and more into a corner. He became the only one on Earth’s side that ever got to do anything cool, or he orchestrated it for others to look cool. It came to a point where I began rooting for the other Earth characters whenever a battle happened, hoping that they’d get to show off a bit on their own without Inaho being the only one worth the attention. The show relied too much upon Inaho when he wasn’t even a character we could relate with. He had no internal conflict that got us to really connect with him and sympathize with him, leaving him this cold shell.

Of course, there’s the flip side of the coin: the Vers Empire side.

Throughout each episode, Aldnoah.Zero splits up its time between Inaho and Earth’s forces, and Slaine and the politics of the top Martian generals. For the first half of the show, I actually enjoyed watching Earth’s side more as the adventures and drama of the characters upon the ship were actually rather riveting and fascinating. The Mars side was cool to watch too, with us witnessing all the scheming and treachery of the Vers Empire’s top leaders, and also seeing Slaine trying to reach his Asseylum-related goals, but it wasn’t quite as attention-grabbing.

The second half, the side I enjoyed completely switched. Earth’s side became almost cringe-inducingly hard to watch, with the Our-Only-Hope-Inaho-Fest turned up to 11. Luckily, the show seemed to focus more on Slaine’s side for the second half; Slaine, through a series of well-timed events, got himself into power as one of the counts/generals of the Vers Empire, and used his influence to rally the Martian side to continue the war against Earth. Slaine, with his newfound power, had begun to grow mad, and built up this corrupted system around him, even more so than the Vers generals he had overthrown. It was fascinating to see how far things could build up before the inevitable point where they’d all come crashing down around him.

However, I can’t really say the ending to the show was all that satisfying. I won’t even hint at what happened (partly because, frankly, it left me confused, and I can’t be bothered to attempt rationalizing it right now), but I had wished for something a bit more epic and grandiose than what we got. Of course, there was this big space battle beforehand between Inaho/Earth and Slaine/Vers that the show tried to build up, but it wasn’t much more than what we’ve already seen throughout most of this second half by this point. The end of episode 12 (the end of the first half) was more dramatic and tense than the actual end of the series was.

The secondary characters on Earth’s side were relatively flat, with small exceptions here and there when some did receive some development. For the most part though, they stuck to their tropes and one-line gags, disappointingly so. The character with PTSD, by far, had the most development, but the conclusion to his side plot seemed a bit rushed to me. On the Martian side, though, there were some interesting characters. The show tried to develop some of the Martian counts and a few of the others we see… although a number of them receive as much development as the Earthlings, but hey, at least there’s something. On both sides though, even if there wasn’t the most development, a number of the supporting characters were certainly memorable in their own right, which is a plus.

Worldbuilding in this show also wasn’t particularly great. I wish we got to see more of the impact this Heaven’s Fall war left behind (all the main Earth characters look at some meteor or something in the first episode as their bus rolls by it, but we never see it), beyond the PTSD character. There was a hearty attempt on the Martian side to build how the Vers empire worked and to a decent extent, it’s definitely well appreciated. At the same time, though, we really never got a good look at what Mars itself actually was like (the most we ever see of that world is the inside of the royal palace).

All in all, though, the show’s story felt poorly done. They had this excellent start, and built it fairly nicely in the beginning (probably because of Gen Urobuchi’s help), but someone dropped the ball somewhere after that. Aldnoah.Zero started off as “great” and “attention-grabbing”, and it became barely tolerable at the end. I can’t feel anything but disappointed, because it could’ve given us something so much better than what we got. But yet, no matter how crummy the plot got, the show still treated itself super-seriously, sometimes to the point where it was a bit overboard and pretentious.

The Atmosphere

The production value of the show is where things really shine with this show. While the story had a one-way ticket to Suck-burg, at least the train ride was a very pretty one.

Aldnoah.Zero’s background work looks really cool, especially the designs (inside and out) of the giant Martian spaceships. I can’t say it’s the best art work I’ve ever seen, but gosh darn it, that doesn’t stop me from appreciating how cool some of these places looked. If there was anywhere needing improvement, I would say the ship(s) that the Earth side usually resided upon – they looked drab and boring.

A dynamic color scheme, with the darkest of darks and the lightest of lights, was used throughout (although more on the dark side), which I don’t think hindered its presentation, but it didn’t make it better either.

The character designs are also really good. They’re clean and smooth, and each character stands out enough and looks unique in their own right. If I were to complain, it’d be Asseylum’s design, but otherwise, I like it. I was especially intrigued by the visible difference between the Earthlings and Martians. There is the usage of CG with the mechas, but it’s not the worst I’ve ever seen (although that’s not really saying something, because I’ve seen some pretty bad stuff). I wouldn’t know if it’d qualify as the best CG ever, but I found it to not be too much of a distraction. Either way, the mecha designs, at least on the Martian side, look rather good.

The music for the show is also really great. Like I said, they had the music composer from Attack on Titan on this show, and it sounds great. The music here is so memorable and unique, I’ve actually considered buying a copy of the soundtrack. However, I even have a complaint here: the show replays so many of the tracks that the feeling of the great-sounding tracks start to lessen. It’s disappointing, because I do really like the music. The opening and ending songs also sound really cool for this series, although the ending animations tend to not be too flashy.

I haven’t seen this show dubbed. Watching it subbed, the voices of Inaho and Slaine sometimes sounded a bit too close to one another, but it generally wasn’t too much of an issue. I really enjoyed the voice of Eddelrittuo a lot.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

If you looked up “wasted potential” in the dictionary, you’d find an image of Aldnoah.Zero there. (You’d also see a picture of my face, but that’s a different thing altogether.) This show had such a great start, with so many things going right, but it just couldn’t stay at its high. Even if I’ve heard praise for the show after the end of the first half, there was absolutely nothing by the end of the second half. While the show looks cool and sounds awesome, the story falling on its own face keeps Aldnoah.Zero from being anything good.

Let’s get down to it: I don’t recommend this show to really anyone. This show sounds and looks cool, yes, but unfortunately, that’s only a façade. If you were to watch all 24 episodes, I’m confident you’d see where my issues with this appear. We’d all appreciate an emotional mecha story, but Aldnoah.Zero isn’t where to look.

Rating: Bad
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ great premise, awesome music, Slaine
— story goes way downhill, awesome music gets replayed too much, Inaho… just Inaho

Review: A Silent Voice

There were two anime movies that I was excited to watch this fall: the first being No Game No Life Zero, and the second being A Silent Voice. No Game No Life Zero ended up being a total waste of time, and so a small part of me hoped that it wouldn’t be the same here.

I’m a huge fan of Kyoto Animation and their works, though; they’re unique in the anime industry in which they’re not stuck in a loop of bidding on and completing contracts. Instead, they’re the ones writing the contracts. This studio, which has animated some of my most favorite ever works, has total freedom over the types of shows/movies they want to make, and overall, I find that to be pretty awesome. But even so, my confidence in them was shaken by shows like Phantom World.

I first heard about A Silent Voice through a high school friend who had enjoyed the manga. When I saw the announcement that Kyoto Animation was going to animate the movie for it, I was kind of intrigued. Unfortunately, unlike movies like Your Name and No Game No Life Zero, none of the big anime licensors here in the US decided to pick up A Silent Voice for the longest time. Time went by as a British anime licensor picked up the film, showed it in theaters over there, and had a Blu-Ray release announcement while there was silence over the pond.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a company named Eleven Arts (whom I’ve never heard of before) licensed it here in the US and would be airing it in theaters – around the same time British people are getting the Blu-Ray release in their hands.

Either way, I was determined (almost absurdly so) to watch it in theaters, and after asking nearly every friend I could, I hopped in a car and made the trek to the next city over to watch it there. And my goodness, it was such a good movie.

An Introduction

Shoko Nishimiya is the new kid in elementary school. As happens when you transfer, she’s brought to the front of class, and asked to say a few words. Rather than speaking, though, she pulls out a notebook and shows it to the class. Among the generic niceties and good will written on the notebook, the following words are written: “I’d like to get to know everyone through this notebook.” As the class learns, Shoko is deaf, unable to hear.

This opens up various other kids in the class the opportunity to begin picking on her, because of her difference. The biggest instigators are the two who sit behind her: the boy Shoya Ishida and the girl Naoka Ueno. Alongside them are their friends, the boys Shimada and Hirose and the girl Miki Kawai. The bullying starts with small remarks behind Shoko’s back and making noises to try to get her attention, but later turns into something much more visible and damaging: like pulling out her hearing aids, throwing her notebook out the window, writing mean messages meant to demean her.

Despite it all, for the longest time, Shoko takes it all in stride. She smiles, says “thank you”, and moves on – much to the confusion of the kids causing her harm. The bullying never stops, though.

However, Shoya does end up getting a taste of his own medicine. When the principal confronts the class to ask about the bullying, they all through Shoya under the bus – he ends up being cast out himself when he tries to say that he wasn’t alone in the bullying. Shoya the bully has become the bullied. Even at this stage, though, he still pushes Shoko away, getting angry and aggressive towards the girl while he himself is in the same boat. Eventually, Shoko transfers out to another school.

Now, Shoya is all alone – his friends have turned against him and now bully him, and he becomes afraid to look anyone in the eye. This continues all the way up to his senior year of high school. Shoya realizes his life isn’t going anywhere… so why bother continuing with it? Before ending it all, though, he decides he needs to repay his debts… including apologizing to Shoko for that vicious bullying all those years ago.

The Plot and Characters

You may not be able to fully tell from how I introduced this film, but A Silent Voice is a drama/romance story. The core theme and idea of the film is about reconciling past mistakes, and figuring out how to live with your actions and flaws.

Shoya and Shoko are, of course, the central characters here, and a majority of the film takes place in their senior year of high school. Pretty obviously, Shoya does of course end up walking away from killing himself, after he stumbles into Shoko, awkwardly trying to apologize to her and inadvertently ending up asking for friendship instead. This scene ends up kickstarting the events for the rest of the film.

My friend had some concerns (and frankly, I can relate) that this film was going to be a story of a girl falling in love with her own bully. While at the surface level, it can seem that way, this story is more about delving into complex feelings and thoughts that have been left without closure for years – not only for Shoko, but also for Shoya. The bullying that happened in elementary school becomes a backdrop to the overall plot, only taking up a portion of the film’s runtime.

As I previously noted, their senior year is what this film focuses on. While Shoya and Shoko begin a new, not-antagonistic relationship with each other, others from that time past begin to come back into the picture, alongside some new faces.

A lot of the actors from that time have grown up and dealt with (or haven’t dealt with) what happened in their own ways – it’s these people coming back together years later that this drama-romance story gets its “drama” from. Each of them act and react differently, and have their own thoughts, concerns, and flaws they deal with. Although it certainly isn’t enough for me to consider these others fully fleshed out, it does surprise me a bit how much attention they and their thoughts/concerns receive.

Of the side characters, the ones that get the most attention are Yuzuru and Nagatsuka – ironically, the two in this story who weren’t directly present when the bullying went down. Yuzuru is Shoko’s sibling, and (understandably) first looks at Shoya with a lot of distrust and discomfort; for quite a while, Yuzuru actively tries to protect Shoko from Shoya, barring the two from ever seeing each other. Nagatsuka is on Shoya’s side; the two become high school friends as Nagatsuka himself was cast out and left alone, just like Shoya. (The interactions the two have together are actually rather charming and fun to watch.)

(To be fully honest, I don’t really know if I could even call Shoko or Shoya entirely fleshed out either. I can’t really answer the question of what either of them enjoy doing or what either of their aspirations are. I become too swept up in the drama and events of the film to really give these things much thought though.)

Ueno, of all these characters, probably has the biggest claim to the “antagonist” title in this film; in this reformed friend group, she’s the one who keeps trying to drudge up the past. It’s a safe claim to make that a lot of the drama and tension in this film solely comes from her, as she continues to reopen wounds and be mean to Shoko, while everyone else is attempting to look forward and accept Shoko. Despite this and the amount of screentime she receives, the film ends with her seemingly unchanged from the beginning.

There is definitely closure for Shoya and Shoko by the end, though – and I would’ve certainly hoped so, given the dramatic events that make up the climax.

Overall, I do rather like the plot and characters here. I got sucked into the emotions, the drama, wanting to see things get better for Shoya and him and Shoko becoming closer. I felt the events and dialogue in this film was rather human and felt realistic (with some exceptions). I certainly wouldn’t rush to call this film perfect; it definitely could’ve gone further to have longer, deeper, more human conversations, but it was definitely an experience I was happy to have had. (It certainly helped that I was in a theater filled with other fans as well; there was a lot of unison reactions to events in the film lol.)

When it comes to fact that Shoko is a deaf person, this, again, ultimately only ends up as a backdrop to the plot. This film doesn’t attempt to be a story about Deaf people as a whole; instead, it’s simply about one deaf character and the experiences she has. Beyond the bullying, her deafness has a non-crucial impact on how everyone acts and interacts: most characters (Ueno being the biggest exception) talk with Shoko through sign language as they would talk to each other with their voices, Shoko’s borderline-unintelligible speech and other vocal sounds come off as adorable rather than a point to focus on, and – excepting a major scene in the middle – her deafness doesn’t really exclude her from what all happens around her.

Ultimately, I am happier that A Silent Voice did things this way; her hearing impairment doesn’t become something the film constantly harps on about and comes back to. A Silent Voice realizes and respects that there’s more to Shoko beyond her impairment, and doesn’t aim for something bigger than it’s able to handle. At the same time, though, it does somewhat feel like this film doesn’t really give any attention to her deafness at all. I wasn’t coming into A Silent Voice expecting it to answer any and all questions I may have about what makes a deaf person’s life different, but I somewhat wish we saw its effects more, on how Shoko lives and how others around her live. Shoya is definitely the true protagonist of this story.

When it comes to the film’s pacing… I have more thoughts on it than I thought I would.

The beginning of the film, with the extended flashback to elementary school… despite that only being a portion of the entire thing, like I wrote above, it definitely lasted long enough to make me wonder “is this actually the entire film?” The film could’ve benefitted from a tighter first third, although I have a hard time thinking about how exactly to go about making it tighter. Oppositely, the rest of A Silent Voice’s scenes seem to err on the side of just not being long enough. There’s a lot of scenes, locations, and events we end up seeing during this 2-hour runtime, and so A Silent Voice went for a large number of shorter scenes, rather than fewer – but more meaningful – longer scenes. Despite all this though, the pacing isn’t really all that bad, and certainly isn’t enough to keep you from watching this film.

The Atmosphere

When it comes to Kyoto Animation, I expect a lot out of them because they almost always put out high-quality work.

I wouldn’t consider this an exception. The animation is super smooth, the backgrounds are colorful and great looking, and the character designs are also wonderful – and still done in KyoAni’s signature style. This studio is capable of drawing some truly human moments, and A Silent Voice definitely features a couple of them.

To be specific, though, Shoya is designed a little bit differently from Kyoto Animation’s signature style. His eyes are bigger and his pupils smaller; it’s closer to how he looks in the manga, and while he isn’t quite different enough to really truly stand out, he does still look different. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, simply something I noticed.

The visuals for this film are primarily brightly colored, which isn’t an uncommon thing for a KyoAni production. Colors pop no matter what the setting is, but don’t become too much to detract from what needs attention; at the same time, when the scene or mood requires something with a more narrow contrast range, this is provided for as well. Generally, one would question if these things even deserve mentioning, and I would somewhat agree, but given what some peoples’ first ideas of this film may entail, they may be expecting something a bit more darker in visual tone than what’s actually given to them.

Interesting camera angles and shots help give a sense of the world and the space (physical or emotional) between people, and are used throughout. People’s faces are avoided as Shoya feels pushed back into his shell, and the film has a great way of keeping tension or hiding things to be revealed later as the camera focuses on other things. As well, a big X is drawn over the faces of people Shoya feels uncomfortable talking with. Entering into the high school with Shoya for the first time, the X’s dominate the view, with us being unable to look at anyone’s face at all except for Shoya, who himself is shoved into a small portion of the screen. As Shoya interacts with people and his relationships with them change, the X will fall off their face or become stamped right back upon them to serve as symbolism for Shoya’s comfort levels. Certainly not subtle as far as symbolism goes, but it does its job.

Excepting the climax and a few other key moments, this film feels otherwise visually restrained, though. Digital effects, strange colorizations, and other stylings are kept only for those key moments (and some interesting transitions). It definitely makes these moments stand out more as they occur, though, and when these effects are used, they’re wonderfully (and subtly done).

On top of that, as well, is the soundtrack.

The piano- (or music box/synth-)heavy melodies have an immense sense of energy to them; not just in bombastic overtures or sequences, but also through their more quiet, poignant moments as well. The soundtrack was written exceedingly well at being able to melt into these modern, urban scenes as if the music naturally belonged there, along with standing out on their own to become memorable and remarkable in their own right. Percussion instruments are notably absent here, and when they are used, it’s primarily just the cymbals. Listening to these tracks on their own, I’ll get shivers sometimes; there’s nothing but praise I can give to the music here.

That being said, there is one glaring exception: the song “My Generation” by The Who is played during one of the first scenes of the film, when the extended flashback begins, and it came so out of nowhere and felt so odd that I wondered for quite a while if the American licensor had decided to add in this song in a pitiful attempt at Westernizing the film. Honestly, I think this film would’ve sufficed without it, or would’ve done better with a tune that more matched the tone of the soundtrack. I like The Who quite a bit, but they weren’t exactly a band I was expecting to encounter in an anime film.

Miyu Irino does a great job at having Shoya sound like a teenager who’s lost his confidence and purpose. Saori Hayami takes up the mantle of voicing the mostly-mute Shoko; the occasional grunts and other utterances punctuate the scenes well, and her voicing of Shoko’s rare attempts at speaking come across as believable (seeing as I’ve not actually met a deaf Japanese person to compare it to).

I only became aware after watching the film that an English dub is actually being made for it, being done by the UK licensor Anime Limited (despite this, the dub is being produced in the US by NYAV Post). The English dub didn’t seem to be present at the British theatrical screenings and weren’t even mentioned at all here in the US, but it’s making its way to the UK home disc releases – I do wonder if it’ll be brought to the American Blu-Ray release, if we get one. From the clips Anime Limited has shared, the dub sounds reasonable enough, but not unbelievably amazing. For Lexi Cowden playing Shoko, it sounds like she stuffed her face with marshmallows while doing her lines, rather than coming across as a believably deaf person. (Though, I’ve also not met a fully deaf American person either.)

The ending theme, Koi wo Shita no wa, I rather like how it starts, but otherwise it’s just okay.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

A Silent Voice is a movie about complex feelings, about wounds that have been left unclosed for years, and about flaws in people. This film delivers in providing an experience about these ideas, and it’s a glorious one at that – sucking the audience into the drama, with great visuals and soundtrack to go alongside it. But it’s important to note that the film isn’t perfect, and it certainly isn’t the deaf kid story.

If you’re looking for something more character-heavy, with emotions, thoughts, and words at the forefront, this will very well be something for you. There’s a lot to enjoy and get attached to in these 2 hours, and it’s been a treat all the while. Sadly, if you haven’t gone to see it in theaters, it may be a while until Americans get a legal way of watching it again.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ really sucks you into the characters and drama, great soundtrack, not just a girl falls in love with her bully story
— pacing leaves some room to be desired, Ueno is the biggest/only one to drive tension, My Generation was unexpected and kind of unnecessary

 

Review: No Game No Life Zero

After the cliffhanger of an ending that No Game No Life left us on, fans were clamoring for a second season or some sort of continuation of the anime… but as more time passed by, the more hopeless we became.

But then, suddenly, there was the announcement of the movie, No Game No Life Zero. We were excited to delve back into this world, to see more of the characters we got to learn and become attached to… but then we learned it was a prequel, with most of the main characters not being there.

I still kept some hope for this movie, though. And when it was announced it would be playing in theaters here in the US, I was excited to hear it’d be playing near where I live! So on the night of October 5, my friend and I made it to the theater, about 45 minutes before the show was to start. We got the tickets we preordered, grabbed some food, and made our way to the theater… and no one else was there.

An Introduction

Taking place 6000 years before the events of the TV anime, we see a world of Disboard that looks very different from the vibrant, colorful one we’ve been introduced to.

Instead, at this time, Disboard is locked into a full-on war between three of the most powerful races of the world – the warbeasts, the elves, and the Flügel – with a god backing each of them. There’s no games, no 10 pledges… just battles and destruction. In the middle of the frontlines of this war lives the human race, who were pushed to near extinction due to the major super-magical battles these greater races had. Only a single colony (of maybe 100 people tops) remains.

This colony is led by a man named Riku, who’s cold, calculating, and just wants to keep humanity alive. He spends his time investigating, searching for information among giant destroyed ruins – and trying to not be killed by anything menacing while doing so. Meanwhile, the remainder of the colony lives in an underground cave system, with dwellings, walls, and other amenities simply thrown together.

Upset over his latest mission where one of his teammates was killed, Riku decides to head out to the ruins of an old elven capital alone to gather some information about their battle plans. While there, however, he ends up spotted by a lone Ex Machina soldier (Ex Machina being another race of this world, a hivemind cyborg-type thing). This soldier, however, isn’t connected to the rest of her “cluster”, and instead she has her own goal: to understand the human heart.

Thus, with this strange Ex Machina girl in tow (who ends up with the name Schwi) Riku tries to figure out if he can do anything about this war to end it… or at the very least, keep humanity safe.

The Plot and Characters

I’m… not going to pull any punches here.

Unfortunately, with any film, you never quite know walking into it if it really is worth your money or not. Critic reviews and Rotten Tomatoes scores definitely help to steer you away from the real stinkers, but I don’t know how much those really existed for this anime film, which was only shown nationwide for two (non-consecutive) days. To be fair, I probably should’ve at least attempted to look, because I do feel this movie wasn’t worth my money.

I’ll begin by talking about the fact that this film rather failed with explaining or providing much tension.

It’s definitely more a story about Riku and Schwi, rather than a story about the colony or humanity as a whole. For a bit-under-2-hours movie, that’s understandable, since I think a larger scope like that would cause the plot and pacing to buckle under pressure. However… there really isn’t much to Riku and Schwi. After we get some time to learn about Riku, we’re introduced to Schwi, and there’s some fun moments of the two of them together trying to figure each other out. However, after that… not much happens.

As the film continues on from the two of them starting to get used to each other (and a few suggestive scenes which are the only times you’ll see fanservice in the entire film), we really don’t see any factor or element that arrives to provide tension or urgency; although there’s definitely an assumed idea that there’s danger due to them being in a war zone, we never see humanity actually become threatened or what kind of foes they’re put up against. The film continues to focus on the relationship of Riku and Schwi, and on Riku’s continued desire to keep humanity alive, although it fails to delve deep enough into either of those to really get invested in them. Riku develops a master plan partway through the movie (which amuses me because some of the ideas in it, one would think he’d already be striving for), but we don’t have most of it explained to us until just about when the main operation is about to happen – something that would’ve been okay if the film didn’t also show him performing actions and setting up for this master plan; at first thought, we’re just being shown random scenes without much explanation or that don’t seem to tie into anything.

Honestly, this film does touch multiple topics, but doesn’t really describe much about any of them. There’s talk about weapons of mass destruction, some mystical artifact that appears after a display of total power, and a discussion about some human village or something. But it only just touches them, enough to say “hey, this exists, but we’re not going to say anything more” … but it left me feeling like the film was just throwing words and concepts around, rather than teasing into a deeper world than they can show. One weapon of mass destruction, for example, is first displayed and hinted at when Riku and Schwi meet, and they did a decent job of setting it up to appear to play a bigger role into the latter portion of the movie. However, ultimately, it only kind of does, and next to nothing else is said or shown about it after that one scene (there is a single other scene later where it’s discussed at length but the info we get out of it ends up being pointless). There’s other such weapons too, but they never get brought up until the film decides “oh yeah, I guess they have some too or something”.

Altogether, this brings us to the climax, which as a whole was very clichéd – from the events leading up to it, to the tension happening during it, to what happens as a result of it. However, it does have this film’s one cool action scene (actually, I think it’s the only action scene this movie has), featuring one of the few characters that recur from the TV anime. There’s a lot of big, fancy explosions as the characters fly around and do big, powerful moves and what-not… but the enjoyment was brought down by the aforementioned clichés; we knew exactly how things were going to turn out. I really wish I could delve into details, but I don’t want to give spoilers for those who really care about being spoiled for this film.

Instead, let’s pivot towards the characters.

Riku and Schwi’s story is basically the “teaching a robot to love” type thing, except executed poorly. Excepting the few scenes towards the beginning of the film, we really don’t see the two of them forging a bond or anything like that; all of a sudden, though, we’re given this big, romantic scene that’s supposed to be emotional and dramatic and whatever as Riku proposes to Schwi… the scene felt like it went on for far too long. These are characters we really haven’t had any time to make a connection with or become invested in. Its impact was further undermined by Schwi confessing something to Riku, and despite how actually terrible this thing she confessed is: 1) None of the other characters, including Riku, had ever mentioned this event before or after this point, nor did it seem to weigh on them much at all. 2) Riku immediately forgives her for it, casting it aside without another thought, despite how much one would think it’d affect him. All in all, this scene just made me wonder “why? Why are we watching this?” My friend actually got up and left the theater during this scene, she was so bored.

The only other characters I’ll mention are Couronne and Tet. Couronne is actually the far ancestor of Steph, something you can kind of quickly tell due to the hair color. Unlike Steph, though, Couronne is given a bit more respect as a character, although she’s definitely displayed as being a bit strange. She acts as an older sister to Riku (and to much of the colony in general), and for her being what she is… she’s okay. Provides some comic relief moments, can do the serious stuff when needed, all in all okay. The other I’ll mention is Tet, the god of games who also reappears from the TV anime; I won’t talk much about him, but he is an invisible presence throughout a lot of the film – although, again, I feel the film failed to capitalize on what it could do with him.

Finally and ultimately, though, I do wonder, “why did this film even get made?” Sure, I suppose it does answer some questions and set up a bit of the premise and world that Sora and Shiro find themselves in during the TV anime… but I felt the TV anime did a fine enough job explaining that, and the open questions that this film went to answer honestly were kind of okay just being left unanswered. If anything, it felt like this film just raised more questions, due to its failure of explaining things, than it actually answered. I just… don’t really see the point of this, like at all. Is there really some major bigger reason why this story was brought up in the grand scheme of things, or did the author really feel like this needed explaining? (This film comes directly from volume 6 of the light novel, and these questions definitely apply to that too.) Given all the complaints I have above, I just really wonder if this really was a story that was itching to be told. And I also wonder (and hope) that there’s even more content in the light novel that was cut from the film, that more explains things that desperately needed an explanation.

As a fan of the original TV anime, there really wasn’t much anything in this film that even attempted to scratch the same itches the TV anime did. The only comedy and lightheartedness was in the beginning of the film, and there’s a big focus on romance and marriage rather than on games and outwitting opponents. In fact, we really don’t see many opponents (as previously mentioned), and the only game that is ever mentioned throughout the whole thing is chess – and we don’t even see a full chess game played! There’s next to no fanservice, there’s like no references to other shows, and Riku isn’t nearly as riveting nor charismatic as Sora is. Just everything about this film really doesn’t seem to appeal to fans in my mind.

All in all, do I really have anything positive to say about this film at all? Like, Couronne was… okay, and the climax’s action scene was… kind of cool, but is that really it? I’m honestly sitting here wondering what positive things I can say about the characters and plot, and not much really comes to mind. There’s some really tiny moments, I suppose, but they’re so small that it isn’t worth the effort to mention, and most all of them occur in the (relatively) more enjoyable beginning part of the movie. Honestly, I really don’t have much positive to say. This just was a waste of my money and a waste of my time.

The Atmosphere

Gone are the bright greens, blues, and weird mixes of colors that made up Disboard during the TV anime.

Instead, we’re greeted with reds, browns, and other murky colors that paints a picture of a war-torn land before games became the biggest rule. The colors are still relatively bright, although it definitely felt more muted and darkened than the TV anime. There are other colors that appear as well, such as some greens and more natural tones while in the elven areas, and light blues while Riku and Schwi were in some weird ice area, but it’s going to be mostly red and browns you’ll see on screen. Gone as well are the red outlines, which is probably okay. Honestly, I’d bet that if you put images from the TV anime and this film side by side and showed them to people unfamiliar with both, those people would think they’re from two separate shows.

All in all, the art design and animation are definitely pretty good, as you’d hope them to be for a film. The TV anime also had rather good quality over its run, and the same applies here. However, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a visual or animation improvement over the TV anime, excepting maybe how the action scenes are done, and the detail of the backgrounds. I kind of like watching anime films for seeing how more visually impressive they can be, but this one really didn’t seem like much of a cut above. A bit disappointing, sadly, but it’s okay; it’s still pretty good quality.

I will say, though, I did rather like the rocks that gave off light while in contact with water. The film offered literally no explanation about them at all (which isn’t surprising), but they really intrigued me.

The sound design, however, was pretty awesome. There was a sound effect used for a magical beam attack that sliced the land from the left side of the screen to the right side, and it sounded really cool because it also “vwoomed” from the left side of the theater to another. Of course, theaters have a surround sound system, that’s part of what makes the experience special, but still, moments like that won’t stop me from going “wow”. Equally as cool was how the effects were done for the voice of the gods in the film; it’s a bit hard to explain off the top of my head, but the effects used definitely made them sound like large, booming creatures with no parallel, which is pretty much what they are.

The background music, I don’t remember much of, as is common for me. There was a lot less of a focus on the electronic sounds that made up the TV anime’s soundtrack, as your more standard orchestra sounds were brought in instead. For what they do, they serve their purpose well enough (although that super-long stupid marriage scene in the middle had some overdramatic emotional music); it would’ve been kind of cooler, though, if they stayed with more of the electronic sounds – maybe something a bit like Attack on Titan’s soundtrack?

The ending theme is “There is a Reason”, sung by Ai Kayano. It’s… decent. I really don’t have much to say about it. The ending credits are relatively uninteresting visually, and the only after-credits scene was just short clips of that stupid marriage scene.

I watched the movie with the Japanese voices and subtitles (because I wouldn’t be able to do the October 8th showing, and I watched the TV anime in subs anyway). Frankly, if my friend hadn’t told me that Riku, Schwi, and Couronne had the same voice actors as Sora, Shiro, and Steph (respectively), I wouldn’t have been able to guess otherwise. She said it was supposed to draw a parallel between the two characters each actor voiced, but honestly, I didn’t really see it. For what the voice acting was, it was… okay. As Riku, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka had a long monologue partway through the movie where he listed off all of his friends who died, and that came across as rather weird-sounding (especially since a lot of them were Western-sounding names). Otherwise, he did a pretty alright job as Riku. Ai Kayano played Schwi, and there were definitely some moments that bothered me (such as when Schwi was going through different inflections in the beginning of the film); again, though, it was okay. Yukari Tamura actually sounded kind of cool doing her role as the primary Flügel character.

Conclusion / TL;DR

Any positive things I have to say about the film in the audio department is definitely outweighed by the many issues I have with the lack of tension or… really anything to keep me interested. The characters aren’t that interesting, there’s clichés all over the place, and things are casually thrown out and never explained well. I really wonder why this story even exists; in the scheme of how things went in the TV anime, the answers this film gives are for questions that were perfectly okay without them.

I don’t like being the type of person to say nothing but negative things about a show or film, or any piece of media I consume. I’m not like Zero Punctuation. I like focusing on the positives, the things I enjoy… but this film really has nothing for me here. Somewhat to my surprise, this film definitely has some fans online, but if you ask me, this isn’t something to bother watching.

Rating: Terrible
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ some really nice audio effects, cool light rocks, Yukari Tamura
— seriously wonder why this film even exists, long marriage scene in the middle, raises more questions than answers