Review: The Maid I Recently Hired is Mysterious

Yuuri (left) and Lilith standing in a colorful void, with Yuuri being upset at Lilith and Lilith blushing.

Around the same time that I picked up anime again and started with Spy X Family, I decided I needed a few other shows on my plate to try, preferably not an action or stereotypical “shounen” type. I’m not super sure what ended up drawing me to this show though; it might’ve been the title, seeing an image of Lilith being cute, or it might’ve been a blog or post somewhere that caused me to turn this way. Either way, uhhh… well, you’ll see.

An Introduction

Yuuri (last name unknown) had a decent life in a small rustic mansion, nestled in the corner of a Japanese countryside… unfortunately, things would change when his parents suddenly passed away in a car accident. Rather than letting this keep him down though, he decided he would step up, inherit his parents’ mansion, and continue to live his normal life all on his own!

But maintaining a mansion, even a “small” mansion, is still hard work! And something he hasn’t done much of before. Yet another unexpected twist occurs when on one evening, he hears a knock on the front door. He opens it up, and a tall, beautiful woman with striking purple eyes is standing there, in a full traditional maid outfit. This woman, Lilith, asks Yuuri a simple request: if you let me stay in this mansion for you, can I be your maid?

Yuuri is hesitant, but he says yes… but there’s something mysterious about her…

The Plot and Characters

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. So you have this maid that lives with you, right? You wake up in the middle of the night, you go down to the kitchen to get yourself a glass of water… and when you peek in, you see your maid reading from a book and messing with a pot on the stove. Hmm, you think to yourself… clearly, she’s trying to brew an insidious potion to put into my next meal! Only obvious explanation!

The show starts off with this recurring gag about how “suspicious” Yuuri finds his maid Lilith to be. Lilith may be a tad unorthodox in a number of ways, but so many of his accusations and suspicions are so off-base on their own (generally in the theme of her being a sorceress using spells/potions on him) or the events have simple explanations like her just being dedicated to her job. Things like how she keeps his clothes pristinely clean, how she prepares such delicious meals for him, and how she keeps the whole mansion clean. Especially in the first three episodes, we just see this done again and again. That’s not to say we don’t see anything else in these first three episodes, but most of the “comedy” is some form of this.

His accusations also turn into rambling explanations of how he finds her cute or attractive and that he misses her every moment that they’re separated. Either that, or he’ll drop a phrase that can be misconstrued as a sexual innuendo or a suggestion that he’s going to marry her. The unintentionally romantic leanings of his outbursts are clearly that: unintentional. He’s just blurting out whatever crosses his mind, and hasn’t actually considered other possible meanings of the words he just said. This is essentially our male lead, Yuuri: innocently blunt and also somewhat dense. If you imagine how brutally honest and blunt a little kid can be (purportedly; I don’t have any of my own) in the whole “kids say the darndest things” sense, that is Yuuri to a T – maybe even an over-exaggerated version of that.

To Yuuri’s credit, though, Lilith doesn’t make any of this easy for him. She literally appeared on his doorstep unannounced, begged him to accept her as his maid with no salary, and does her job with diligence and no complaints – this is indeed a tad suspicious. And the show does clearly hint at us about her having some “mysterious past” (which almost feels like a plot hook only here to try to keep you engaged), but beyond that, we don’t see much of a personality from her. Yuuri, by his own admission, doesn’t know much about her, but also any attempt he may have to try to learn more about her instead spirals into another wacky accusation.

We can tell she does get a tad annoyed about being accused of “suspicious” things (due to her being the narrator in episode 4) but his angrily tossed-out compliments on her appearance or his feelings for her causes her to become endlessly flustered and turning as red as a tomato. Thus, with the flustering and blushing, she never actually corrects him; in fact, she’ll occasionally jokingly go along with whatever accusation he set down, which sets him off even further with more sentences with unintended double meanings. That’s… all we really know about Lilith at this stage, 3 episodes in. She’s a hard worker, she’s easily flustered, she likes to do a bit of teasing, and she has some secrets about her past that she isn’t sharing – that’s it. It’s difficult for me to get invested in her character when she doesn’t really have much of a personality; that’s what’s mysterious about her: not her past, but her personality.

Thus far, the show just seems much more interested in doing light, repetitive comedy, rather than trying for anything deeper. As you might be able to tell, I found the joke tiring. On its own, I didn’t think the joke was particularly funny, but just repeating anything multiple times with little substantial variation will make anything tiring. However, it’s not like anything else happens in these first 3 episodes though.

Episode 2 introduces two cats… alright, I guess.

But episode 3 does actually have a bit more. Yuuri returns back to school for the first time since his parents’ passing; so now there’s the school setting and we meet his classmate Tsukasa Gojouin – she’s another young kid living in a mansion of her own with parents and a full staff of servants, including her own well-dressed maid named Fujisaki. However, we fall back into the same rut once Lilith gets reintroduced, and on top of that, Tsukasa overhears their exchanges and becomes smitten for their relationship, as she sees it akin to a romance novel playing out right in front of her. … So her and Fujisaki don’t exactly shake things up that much. Episode 3 also ends with a drawn-out sequence that was supposed to feel heartfelt but missed the mark, and instead just made it look like Lilith trying to comfort a whiny baby.

So yeah, at this point, I was about ready to drop the series. The joke I was seeing over and over was tiring, none of the characters were doing it for me, I was having issues with the show’s visuals (we’ll get to that), and… thinking about this logically: why are Yuuri and Lilith subjecting themselves to such a relationship? Lilith is being met with suspicion and doubt while trying to do her job, and this all seems like a waste of time for Yuuri. I questioned what appeal one would even see in this show.

However, the show starts to reinvent itself in the fourth episode.

The “Yuuri finding Lilith suspicious” thing was dialed down a lot, and instead formed the basis of exploring Yuuri’s actual thoughts and feelings about Lilith. We get actual character depth and development now. Episodes 4, 5, and 6 had proper emotional moments, where we got to see Yuuri and Lilith acting a bit more naturally and start to see a proper bond and connection with them, as well as delving deeper into the feelings and backstories of both of them. This was honestly quite wonderful to see, I enjoy seeing characters forming an actual bond on screen. This is the stuff that I was missing!

Episode 6 completed the transition, and the last 5 episodes (7 through 11) were just straight up, full-on romance anime.

It was nice to see Yuuri grow up and develop into a proper and more emotionally mature character, and seeing Lilith with a genuine smile was very nice. Also, it was good that they did more with Tsukasa than strictly keeping her to her shtick. The character development we got in the middle was all I needed to root for this main duo as the plot started moving. We, of course, got to see more of Lilith’s backstory, and enough things were answered or wrapped up decently well to finish the show with a satisfactory ending – not some “you gotta read the manga to find out what happens next” type of thing.

Needless to say, this was pretty surprising to me. This show pulled itself back from the edge of being dropped and forgotten, and now the final episode ends on a note that I had zero expectations of reaching after I watched episode 1. To be fair, it’s not like the final episodes were so completely different from the first ones that you couldn’t possibly expect them to be from the same series: the earlier episodes clearly had romantic undertones (although more done for laughs) and the later episodes still had some comedic moments – especially with the introduction of another character who surprisingly didn’t annoy me nearly as much as I thought she would.

The transition and slight shift from “romantic comedy” to “comedic romance”, with the added focus on character development, somewhat made the journey worth it… but doesn’t fully redeem this anime for me.

The first episodes were still unfunny and a slog to get through, and getting proper character depth and a bond between the main duo shouldn’t be “the reward” for getting through those episodes. We should’ve had more moments focusing on developing these characters, especially Lilith, well before they started toning down the comedy bit. Trying to tease Lilith’s “mysterious backstory” doesn’t give her a personality, and the final episodes had to rush a lot of development for her that could’ve been brought up sooner. The story that we finally end up with isn’t particularly unique or ground-breaking, either, with romance anime tropes to boot; in fact, I’d argue that it was maybe a bit over the top with some parts drawn out more than necessary and other parts (including Lilith’s backstory) not getting enough focus. (Thankfully, they didn’t end up going down the “misunderstanding” trope path, at least for any longer than they needed to make a quick joke and then move on.)

There’s also definitely questions here about what is really appropriate for the main duo’s relationship. We’re never explicitly told the age of Lilith or Yuuri – the Wikipedia article suggests they’re both under the age of 18, but Yuuri comes across as awfully young and Lilith as awfully… not under 18. Age thing aside, Lilith fills the roles of employee, parental figure, and romantic partner all in one for Yuuri. This isn’t a particularly healthy setup for either of them, especially Yuuri, but the anime seems more than okay about this. To be fair, this is far from the first show to tread this path.

Frankly, the tonal shift this show completed might be its only real claim to fame. If this was just a direct adaptation of the manga… part of me wonders if maybe the mangaka was just making some of this up as she went along (and if this wasn’t a direct adaptation… then just, why??). Such a tonal shift also has the potential to lose your audience. I personally am glad that this wasn’t just 11 episodes of that same comedy routine, but someone else might’ve come into this expecting to be just that (maybe similar to Master Teaser Takagi-san or Tanaka-kun is Always Listless)… and on the other hand, those looking for a more serious romantic plot would’ve looked over this show for being too comedic at first.

All of this leaves me in a kind of conflicted state. On one hand, this was a complete production with two characters that got a proper romance that other shows only hint at, presented through a story that doubled down on its characters rather than sticking to a cheap surface level joke for the whole run. On the other hand, the joke was a poor starting point that doesn’t gel with the more mature tone of the second half, and it glorifies a relationship whose appropriateness is questionable at best. And is the deeper character connections and proper development really something that should be doled out as a “reward”, rather than something the show had built in and executed beautifully from start to finish?

Ultimately, I did enjoy my time with this show, I’m happy with how it ended and I’m glad I stuck around to see that ending… but I don’t think I’ll ever watch this show again. And it’s debatable if I’d ever recommend it to someone else to watch.

Art, Animation, and Audio

The longer that I watched this show, the more annoyed I got with the visuals and animation. I realize not every production is going to be on the same level as Kyoto Animation, Studio Ghibli, or Trigger, but this feels below par – dare I say, a bit cheap at times.

It’s honestly a lot of smaller things. There’s heavy usage of panning shots or just still shots where the only movement is characters’ mouths, characters occasionally move in a way that looks more robotic and unnatural, and it sometimes feels like characters are just layered on top of the scene like a Photoshop image – rather than feeling like they’re actually in it.

Not even when you pause the anime and look at the still frames, are you safe from some slight jankiness. At least a few times each episode, there will be some shots where a characters’ eyes are placed a bit weirdly in comparison to each other or to the overall face – more often than not, that character is Yuuri. Also I invite you to pause the anime at any scene where you see Lilith and Yuuri walking down a hallway with windows – pause the video and just look at those windows, maybe even compare them to actual windows nearby you IRL. These windows look flat, don’t they? Almost as if they’re actually wallpapers that were plastered onto the wall to give the impression of windows. It’s surprisingly cheesy and bad looking (although I’d suppose that if you aren’t paying that close attention to the backgrounds and visuals, you might not notice right away).

Now, nothing here is that glaring that you’ll end up saying “wow, they really dropped the ball with this one”, but definitely a number of moments where I wondered if the animators were under a time crunch or if this was really the best they could do. No shots really appear that ambitious to me, in terms of framing or scene composition. Even if the quality did improve a bit towards the end, this still has to be considered below average, hasn’t it?

One major thing I do like though is the character designs. Lilith looks exceptionally pretty and cute with her round face, brilliant purple eyes, and a maid outfit that isn’t too complex and over designed. Yuuri usually sports a surprisingly involved outfit even when lounging at home, with a button-up shirt, suspenders on his shorts, and garter belts for his stockings. It looks and feels like something out of last century, which I suppose also fits in well enough with the traditional (if not antiquated) mansion; I do wonder if it would look a bit jarring if he roamed around in a baggy T-shirt and gym shorts while still in the same mansion.

I did actually wonder at first what time period this took place in, given that the mansion has such an older style and look and the main duo walks around in such outfits – but at the same time, they have a modern washing machine, Yuuri has a Nintendo Switch, and Lilith has a smart phone. As time goes on, you realize these two are the odd ones out; still, I don’t particularly get why Yuuri is dressed the way he is, even when just hanging about at home.

I’ll also note that aside from the impossibly thin windows and some weird line art stuff, I also find the backgrounds to be decently good. The warm, rich colors are nice and these artists are able to put together a pretty outdoor scene.

I feel the character designs and outdoor backgrounds do a lot of heavy lifting for this show visually, but again, there’s nothing outrageously egregious here. This isn’t unbearable, and indeed others might be better at overlooking these visual issues than I can. But still, I have to believe this is considered worse than average.

Okay, let’s move on to something else. How about the audio?

The soundtrack is a fairly standard combination of strings, woodwinds, and piano, used in a relatively light-hearted manner. However, there is the occasional track that introduces more of a drumset and adds a more industrial-ish sound to it that I do like – I call it the “Let’s do this!” theme. There’s a few other recurring themes I can recognize, but ultimately the soundtrack is forgettable. It isn’t a bother though, it serves its job well enough, and I also only tend to remember the soundtracks that aim to stand out on their own.

The opening song is strangely too highly energetic given what is shown in the opening animation. Minus a few panning shots, the animation is mainly Yuuri going about an average day, and the song has a very energetic drumbeat and multiple vocalists chanting the lyrics at points. It’s not too bad a song on its own – perhaps a tad generic – but it should’ve had a more energetic animation to match.

The ending theme is relatively cute, and the ending animation is also fairly tame and calm. There’s a bubble motif and a number of panning shots here too. It’s standard, but it’s all functional for an anime ending/credits roll.

I think Saori Hayami does a great job as the voice of Yuuri; it is interesting that this is also the same voice actress as Yor Forger from Spy x Family, given I often watched an episode of this after finishing an episode of that. Rie Takahashi does good as Lilith too, with good emotion, and I also have to shout-out Yui Horie for her performance of Tsukasa Gojouin.

Crunchyroll made an English dub for this anime as well – I guess this show was popular enough to warrant making one? After the initial hurdle of getting used to characters’ voices in another language, I think the dub is okay. Macy Anne Johnson does well enough as Yuuri, but I wish Natalie Van Sistine had a tad more emotion and energy in her performance as Lilith – at least more than the obvious outburst moments; some energy during the other parts too would’ve done better I think. All the other voice actors I think are pretty good, so overall the English side isn’t that bad; I personally would still prefer the Japanese side, but if you want to enjoy the show in English, the option is there and it’s not a real downgrade.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Maid I Recently Hired is Mysterious has the setup and appearance of being a single-gag show like Master Teaser Takagi-san was, with repeating the same joke and making slight romantic undertones… but the show turns into something else by reinventing itself halfway through into a full-on romance. It was nice to see Yuuri and his maid Lilith turn from shallow vessels for a tiring joke, into proper characters with feelings and bonds.

I would’ve dropped this show due to that repeating gag and lackluster visuals, had it not been for the tonal shift. But was putting up with the initial episodes worth it to get to the good stuff? I’d argue probably not. Maybe if you’re looking for a comedy show with a bit more meat on its bones, you could find enjoyment here, but I’d probably recommend most people move on to other shows that cater better to what they actually want.

Rating: Poor

Recommendation: Probably Pass

Plusses: good character moments, nice outdoor backgrounds, Lilith is cute

Minuses: first episodes are an unfunny slog, opening animation didn’t fit the song

Review: Spy X Family (Part 1)

The three main characters of Spy X Family dancing in their living room (ED1)

As I recently (rather, not so recently) posted, I’ve gotten back into anime! After poking the nearly-dead corpse of VRV and then turning to Crunchyroll to thrust myself back into this medium, I knew immediately what show I needed to watch first: Spy X Family.

Every now and then, there’s a big show that rises above the quarterly tumble of seasonal shows, and Spy X Family is one of the latest ones to do so. Anyone around me (in person or online) who was still talking anime, this was one of the biggest points of discussion. So… it’s time to jump on that bandwagon!

An Introduction

Spy X Family has a pretty basic concept: we follow the life of a spy man who’s introduced to us by his secret spy name: Twilight. Twilight is cunning, smooth-talking, and efficient – overall very good at his job at being a spy. So good that the country he’s working for – Westalis – has tasked him with the highest priority and hardest job yet: to start a family.

More specifically, he needs to get in and cozy with a certain Ostanian politician named Donovan Desmond, and Westalis determined the best way to do that is to have a spy shove together a fake family and use their fake child to get into the same academy that Donovan’s son is currently attending. Son and fake child become friends, and thus Twilight and Donovan become friends, and then Twilight can feed all of Donovan’s thoughts back to Westalis. Totally the most direct, un-convoluted path to that end goal.

So that’s what happens. Twilight doesn’t seem a good name for an affable middle-class father, so instead he takes the name of Loid Forger (which I’ll use from this point on). And of course, if there’s a father, there has to be a child… this random kid from the orphanage named Anya will do, I suppose. Father… child… what else… oh! A mother! Luckily a woman named Yor Briar pretty much lands right in Loid’s lap. Alright, family put together, step 1 done!

Turns out, no one is this family is just some normal person though. Obviously we all know that Loid is secretly super spy “Twilight”, but soon we see Anya is an esper – a mind reader. And Yor too, she’s actually secretly a super deadly assassin. So the real question here is, are these three able to keep together the appearance of a loving family while also avoiding revealing their secret identities to the world (or each other)? Well, the rest of this show is answering that very question!

This takes place in what’s essentially Cold War-era Europe – I’m thinking around 1970s. Westalis and Ostania are thinly veiled imitations of West and East Germany, and I mean thinly veiled. The city this takes place in is called Berlint, for goodness’s sake.

The Plot and Characters

When I heard that this show was becoming popular for the spring 2022 anime season, and I heard the basic synopsis… I was a little underwhelmed. This sounded like a permutation on an existing trope, something akin to Nisekoi or How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days… One or both characters enter a relationship under false pretenses, end up falling for each other, and then drama begins when they have to choose between the relationship or those original “false pretense” goals. I figured this was going to go down the same path, and surprisingly, it kinda did but also mostly didn’t.

Let’s take a step back though. Throughout the whole series, Operation Strix (the name given to Loid’s totally not-convoluted spy mission) forms the backbone of this show’s plot – which isn’t that surprising, given the premise of the whole show is seeing Loid pull off all parts of Operation Strix as excellently as a professional spy usually does. Pretty much every episode does tie back to it in some way, even the later episodes after he’s already put together his “family”. Once the family is established, the operation and the plot moves forward to getting the kid Anya into the academy and going from there, but I’ll circle back around to all of that later. I’ve seen a number of slice of life shows which start off with such a serious premise but uses that to simply establish a status quo that later episodes can draw from for random daily adventures; Ouran High School Host Club comes to mind. Here, however, there’s an actual advancing plot from episode to episode, with the goals of Operation Strix being the major driver that doesn’t get cast aside for random adventures (usually).

A big part of this is Loid himself. I said Operation Strix is a major driver, but really, Loid is the one in the driver’s seat. His spy training and personality causes him to try to plan out every single move ahead of him, and it can lead to him dominating a lot of conversations and what other characters do. There’s a lot of “okay, you’re going to do this, and this will be happening, and then you’re going to have to do this because of that”; even when he doesn’t actually say it out loud, he’s still thinking it and then he ensures things play out in just that way. While it certainly can be fun to see a plan come together (or see Loid and the cast make adjustments as new problems arise), it also comes across as a bit suffocating and limiting too. No one’s allowed to stray too far from “the objective”.

Of course, this does keep the anime focused. Sometimes, you do need that “driving force” or otherwise a show can become aimless and lose what originally drew people to it in the first place (or you end up with tonal whiplash with one episode being a fun, relaxing beach episode and the next one being like “oh yeah, the whole planet is at risk”). But I guess I wish there was a bit more of a middle ground here, where sometimes Loid would loosen up a bit. Episode 5 is a great example of that, and I wish there was juuuuuuust a bit more.

Unfortunately, Loid doesn’t really have much of a personality beyond this goal-oriented thing though. He comes across to others as a mild-mannered, positive and relatively charismatic guy, but we the audience know this is him keeping up a ruse. Is this his actual personality though, or is there more to him that we don’t know? We only rarely get glimpses into what he’s thinking, other than “Strix Strix Strix Strix Strix”. (Although, there is some fun to see him having to juggle and mode switch between being a serious spy and a mild family guy, without letting anyone be the wiser.)

On the other hand, we have Yor, who makes for an excellent character and a joy to watch, but her real job as an assassin is brushed aside pretty quickly in comparison to Loid’s spy profession. Yor is gentle and caring, and while she’s clearly still learning about what it means to be a mother and a wife, she’s putting her all into it. We rarely actually see her acting as an assassin, and never at all after episode 5 (and even in that episode, that was an imagined scenario); the only reminders we really ever get about her actual profession are her showing off her impressive hand-to-hand combat skills or Anya overhearing (overreading? overthinking?) Yor’s thoughts about how bloody or deadly her job is; if we didn’t actually know Yor was an assassin, one could excuse her thoughts as simply Yor having a quirkily morbid, macabre inner dialogue. I would’ve enjoyed seeing more of Yor in her element, as I think it’d make a fun juxtaposition to her kinder appearance, but I’m not going to complain about what we got. Seeing Yor trying her best each day is a pleasure all in itself.

Actually, now that I think about it, of the main 3, Yor is the one who doesn’t really have a goal here. In regards to Operation Strix, as long as she exists as part of the “family”, that’s kind of all Loid needs out of her (and her having a husband of any sort is kind of all she needs for her own goals). Anya has goals she needs to accomplish in the academy, and Loid needs to make sure his whole plan doesn’t go belly up. As of these 12 episodes, Yor’s accomplished the goals she’s had. I suppose the development she has now is working on becoming a better wife and mother, but that seems supplementary to her character and goals, not a core part of it. But while anyone technically could’ve filled the role of “wife”/”mother” here, I’m glad the one we got is Yor as she is a joy to have on screen.

Lastly in this little family here, we have young Anya. Being a little kid, it’s fun to just watch her doing little kid things (similar to Kanna from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid), with a wonky, childish train of thought, and her applying advice given to her in an inappropriate but amusing way. The show is definitely aware of how enjoyable she is to watch, given how much screen time is devoted to her (and also the focus on her in the opening and ending credit animations), but she is also a plot-critical character.

After getting into the academy, Anya has to acquire 7 golden Stella Stars (awarded for impressively good deeds or exemplary… student-ness) whilst also avoiding 8 Tonitrus Bolts (which is grounds for immediate expulsion). Getting 7 Stella Stars and befriending Damian, the son of the target Donovan Desmond, is what Anya needs to accomplish to further Loid’s goal… So naturally, her first day at the academy involves her getting into a fight with Damian and earning a Tonitrus Bolt. Great work! Such a numerals- or ranking-based system is so common in anime, that when the concept of stars and bolts were introduced, I rolled my eyes a bit. It is what it is though, and having a definitive measurement of how close Anya is to her end goal is kind of nice.

On top of all of that, as a telepath, Anya’s pretty much with the audience as the only character knowing what’s truly going on here. A number of gags involve her overhearing Loid or Yor thinking about a deadly or serious part of their actual job and reacting in shock (I suppose in shock of how casually they think about this cool-sounding thing), similar to how an audience member like you or I may react – maybe a bit less exaggerated though. She’s not just an “audience insert” though, as beyond her being an adorable kid, she was able to discern the goals of Operation Strix from Loid’s thoughts, and so she genuinely tries on her own to accomplish what’s needed of her too, which is admirable and enjoyable to watch.

In fact, she uses her telepathy in a number of interesting ways throughout the show. Some of the examples I like the most are when she’s trying to further another character’s goals without revealing that she read their thoughts. For example, in episode 3, Loid’s thinking about trying to find a purse snatcher in a crowd, and Anya finds the criminal via telepathy. Then, she points out a bakery saying “I want to eat there!”, drawing Loid’s attention to the bakery that the purse snatcher also just happens to be running in front of. Really fun stuff.

I’m not sure I’d classify this as an action anime, as although we definitely do get a handful of scenes where Loid is showing off his abilities and/or Yor pulling some sick moves of her own, the actual fights are relatively short and more feel like something the characters have to get through to get to their end goal. Instead, I’m more inclined to put this in the “drama” genre, with an ongoing solid plot and a lot of time spent on watching characters talk and think their way through a situation – sometimes with some comedy too, and sometimes with some juicy action. Either way, the characters is definitely what sells the show and makes this a good watch.

The pacing here is good too, slow enough to give scenes what they need and not lose any viewers, but also fast enough that people don’t end up becoming bored… that being said, this anime does occasionally fall into the age-old trope of action taking a while because we need to watch an inner monologue and a flashback before a character can make a single move. But I’m being nitpicky here, and the biggest “offender” that uses this does it for comedic effect. That said, there’s some fairly good comedic timing here – there’s a number of small jokes that they will just casually toss out, and it’s done well.

Unfortunately, with only 12 episodes out for this first cour, it felt like things were starting to get real interesting before the run came to an end. Luckily, there’s also the second cour of 13 episodes (which I’ll cover later), and recently a proper 2nd season and even a film were announced too.

Similar to Nisekoi, each of the main characters are hiding something from each other. But while Nisekoi has its main cast hiding their romantic feelings from each other and each episode had the characters inching just the tiniest bit towards confessing (but yet it never happening), Spy X Family has the parents hiding their true professions (and Anya, I suppose, hiding her superpower). This does make a notable difference… but there’s some cracks. To a reasonably understandable extent, it makes sense why Yor and Loid aren’t sharing their true professions with one another: Loid is living in enemy territory, specifically that of an enemy with a strong, pervasive counter-spy operation and so blowing his cover to anyone would be a bad idea. For Yor, simply revealing she’s an assassin would probably scare off this (as far as she knows) normal family, which she doesn’t want to do (as a single woman at her age actually raises the suspicions of said counter-spy operations, and she definitely doesn’t need the government knowing her real job). Anya, for her part, actually had a bit of trauma growing up, and it was drilled into her that no one can know her true powers.

Of course, as the omniscient audience, we know all these things, and it is relatively easy to look in from the outside and say “things would be so much easier for everyone if they were just honest with each other”, and I’ll admit I had felt such an annoyed feeling at times. But of course, none of these people suspect such a thing at all from each other (although I’m surprised Loid isn’t more questioning given he’s seen a glimpse of Yor’s skills), and are more concerned about not blowing their own individual covers. You could also probably argue part of the tension and conflict with this series might be ruined if each of their abilities are revealed, as part of the fun is seeing Loid and Yor pulling off their main professions while also attempting to look like a normal family. Episode 12 is a prime example of this.

Also unlike Nisekoi, we don’t really see Loid and Yor falling in love with each other over the course of these 12 episodes, as I expected I would. It’s definitely clear that they’ve gotten closer and begun to feel comfortable with the life situation they’ve arranged here, but you’ll constantly still hear them reminding themselves that this family is just a front. I’m… not sure if this is what I wanted or not, to be honest. On one hand, I’ve already seen the “secretly falling for each other” situation play out in in other anime already (such as Nisekoi or B Gata H Kei) and it also feels like the predictable and obvious end result… but on the other hand, seeing these people put together a family built on convenience and not love makes the whole relationship feel a tad cold and forced, which also isn’t as fun to watch. This could be a slowly developing thing though, so future episodes/chapters may have them getting even closer; a slower, more realistic progression may be the best choice here.

All in all, I do feel for these characters though. I want Loid to succeed in his spy mission, I want Anya to succeed in the academy, I want Yor to… keep being Yor. The setting is interesting, and the premise was surprisingly interesting too, regardless of my first impressions when I first heard of it.

Art, Animation, and Audio

This animation team don’t seem to have the most confidence in producing action scenes, a bit of a surprising lack given the fact that two of the characters here are a spy and an assassin. While it’s possible they may be directly adapting what was in the original manga (which for anime I review, I usually have not read, I’ll add), one would expect that adding more choreographed action would be something one would do in an anime adaptation. Instead, a lot of action scenes use still frames or have the action occur mostly off-camera and we simply see people or things fall into the scene. It is effective enough for what needs to be done, and there are definitely times where they do bring their A-game and something cool happens on camera, but it would’ve been even better to see them step up to this more often. (Was this maybe done as a clever way to implement any needed censorship of violence/gore? If so, that isn’t the impression this framing gives.)

Otherwise, the animation is rather decent, if not a bit reserved. Characters move well and have strong and memorable reactions, with a look of shock being a common sight – especially from Anya as she “overhears” thoughts from her spy of a father and assassin of a mother. The show lacks the fascinating cinematography or over-the-top fluidity of animation as you’d find from shows that top my list of favorites, but what’s here is good, if not great, and we do not always need something that goes extra and strays from par. Just as well, there’s never a scene that makes me feel “ooh, that could’ve been done better” or anything like that; there was never really a bad moment of animation present here.

All in all, it’s clear the artists here are definitely talented. You can pause this anime at pretty much any frame and it’ll be a well-drawn and good looking shot. Colors are vibrant (but not crazy), and the artists definitely nail the feel and look of a mid-20th century German town. The characters always look on model and on point, and they usually do not fail in making Loid look cool, Anya look cute, and Yor looking cool or cute as needed.

Some details I want to point out in episode 4: first, a broken table, smashed by Loid, in particular shocked me with how detailed that was drawn. I also want to point out the scene of animals rushing into the courtyard earlier in that episode: the horse in the top-left is flailing its head around wildly like it’s one of those air dancing tube guys, and it cracked me up. This is absolutely not a complaint at all, minor things like that actually help with the personality and memorability of a show – this is, I’ll note, extremely minor, but it’s permanently reserved a spot in my brain.

Ahem, anyway, moving on from that, the voice acting is pretty dang good, I’d say.

Takuya Eguchi plays the role of Loid Forger, and he expertly pulls off the voice of both a cool, suave spy and a charismatic, affable dad. Saori Hayami also sounds great as Yor, and Atsumi Tanezaki knocks it out of the park as Anya. Of pretty much all of the recurring Japanese cast here, there’s not really a single voice I’m upset with: maybe how Natsumi Fujiwara voices Damian Desmond could be a bit annoying, but it seems in line for a voice of a young boy. So yeah, no real complaints.

Of course, getting used to the voices in one language will make hearing the characters portrayed by actors in another language a bit of a challenge. Alex Organ actually sounds decent enough as Loid; he doesn’t provide the vocal range to pull off the suaveness and gentleness that Takuya Eguchi can do, but he gets the job done. Natalie Van Sistine is also alright as Yor. However, I’m not sure about Megan Shipman’s portrayal of Anya – it sounds weird at points – although if I watched this show in English first and not Japanese, I might feel differently. There’s also the occasional issue where it’s not always clear when a character is saying something or thinking something in their head; this could give the wrong impression of characters blurting out things where they’re actually just thinking it… that being said, the Japanese side isn’t exactly perfect in this regard either, but I think it is a bit easier to tell. Overall, I’d say the Japanese voice acting is the better way to go, but it’s not like the English side is rough or bad.

Spy X Family’s soundtrack is just as varied as the differing moods present here: more industrial, cooler sounds for the action parts (as well as bringing in the brass and even bongos for the stereotypical spy themes), a combo of piano, guitar, and drums for the more casual moments, and an even gentler piano and strings when it’s sad backstory time. I do applaud the variety of instruments utilized in the soundtrack here; I especially like the acoustic guitar and drums really help give a different vibe than something you might find in a slice-of-life or more straightforward action anime. I’d definitely call this a good soundtrack, although, as is common for me, nothing here yet has driven me to try to listen to it on its own.

The opening theme “Mixed Nuts” by Official HIGE Dandism is a pretty fun song, and feels appropriate. The opening animation is wild, to say the least. A lot of it is displayed in a more abstract art style with little to no line art and less defined character shapes, with Anya running around the city while secret spy and assassin related stuff goes on in the background. It’s fun, and I kind of wish the whole opening was depicted in this style rather than switching to the more standard anime style during the chorus of the song. The “upset stomach” icon used towards the end of the opening animation also confuses me, although I’d bet it’s some reference to something in the manga. Regardless, I quite enjoy the opening theme and animation a lot.

I have slightly more mixed feelings about the ending theme, “Comedy” by singer-songwriter Gen Hoshino. It’s not a bad song, but I do wonder about the choice to use it as the ending theme. The ending themes do tend to be on the more mellow side though, so I suppose this fits. Either way, I always enjoy shows that put time and effort into a cool ending animation, and that’s 100% the case here. I love the ending animation a lot – is it overboard? Who cares, it’s great. And any complaints I have about the song all wash away when the chorus kicks in and we see Anya, Loid, and Yor all dancing in their living room – the chorus is a bop and the animation is just exceedingly cute.

As previously mentioned, the second half of this first season aired towards the end of 2022, and we’ve now gotten confirmation of both a second season and a film coming up. So there will be more of this little faux-family for us to watch for a while. Crunchyroll is handling all international streaming, including also producing an English and Spanish dub (and maybe even others). A bit surprisingly though, I’ve not seen any news yet about a Blu-Ray release coming, at least in the US. Perhaps right now is still a bit too close to the end of the second cour, but I still would’ve expected at least an announcement by this point.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Despite how much this anime was talked about, I came into this show expecting myself to enjoy Anya but otherwise be underwhelmed (it’s happened before). However, probably to no one’s surprise, I had a really fun time here, and I liked how all of this came together. I could sit here and try to draw similarities to Nisekoi or spy films or whatever, but this show has forged its own identity, and I’m looking forward to watching more of the Forgers.

Anya is just as cute and fun as expected, and Loid was executed well as a cool and resourceful spy, but the big surprise for me was how much I enjoyed seeing Yor on screen. Combine this lovely trio of characters with an impactful and ever-forward-moving plot, with a mixture of action, comedy, and more heartfelt moments, and this show is a winner.

Spy X Family probably has enough action and fun stuff going on for the standard shounen fan, but even those who usually stick more to the romance or slice-of-life genres can get some fun here too. Gore isn’t frequent and isn’t excessive when it is present, and the wholesome moments of the main cast acting as a family is just nice. This anime seems like a nice middle ground that pretty anyone can get some enjoyment out of.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
Plusses: Anya and Yor are delights, great visuals, great opening and ending themes/animations
Minuses: things got interesting just as this run ended, not enough of Yor in her element, please show us your true feelings Loid

Additional Thoughts: Returning to Flying Witch

I decided to sit down and give Flying Witch another chance.

I reviewed this show a decent while back, but I wrote the review after I had dropped it halfway through (after episode 6). In said review, I did float the idea of coming back to finish the show, but once I posted the review to the website, I was content to just move on to something else.

Rereading that review a few weeks ago, I was a bit surprised with how harsh I was towards this show, especially given this is some cheerful, colorful slice of life show. Does something with that sort of vibe really deserve that much… criticism? I guess that’s what spurned me to at least try it a bit more, and well, here we are!

I went back and rewatched episode 6 to get myself back into the show, and then went from there, buuuuut I decided to drop it again after finishing episode 9. While I could sit here and finish the rest of the series, I think I’m satisfied for now and ready to watch other stuff instead. Also, I’ve decided to do this more freeform discussion piece, rather than making an updated formal review.

For this piece, I’ll be sharing my experiences watching episodes 7, 8, and 9 (so spoilers ahead, for anyone who actually cares), and comparing that against what I had written down as my thoughts in the previous review. Soooooo let’s begin!

An Updated Look

Flying Witch, as a mini refresher, is about the witch (in training) Makoto, who decided to move out to her relatives’ house in a more remote, sleepy town. While here, Makoto explores various aspects of the world of magic and she often brings along her cousins Chinatsu and Kei for the ride as well (and in episode 6, young Chinatsu decided that she wants to become a witch too).

Each episode features Makoto (usually with cousins in tow) going to a new place or discovering a new thing. A relatively minor complication occurs, but it gets sorted out in no time and the episode usually ends with the everyone making it back home and doing a bit of chit-chat.

I’d say, however, that there are 3 core issues with this show (two of which I’ve touched on in my review): 1. the joke delivery is just terrible; 2. the characters are all the same, essentially; and 3. the pacing is sooooo slow – even for a slice of life show.

These 3 issues reared their heads in full force in episode 8, which is what ultimately prompted me to drop the show again. Episode 8 involves Makoto, Chinatsu, and Kei all hanging out in a magical café and interacting with the other magical beings or creatures that come in to frequent the café. Not particularly bad as an idea, but the execution was just… weird.

A strange issue with this episode and the one prior (where they discovered the cafe in question) was that the main cast seemingly forgot about the existence of personal boundaries and comfort levels. They came across a ghost that hid herself because she was shy, but rather than respecting that, Makoto casted a spell to make her visible, just because Chinatsu wanted to see what a ghost looks like. Episode 8 had other patrons arriving at the cafe, and Chinatsu would just walk up to them, start throwing a barrage of questions, and touching them. Even when she started asking for permission (like touching a person), she asked the cafe wait staff for permission, rather than the person she was touching. It was just kind of uncomfortable to watch, as someone who tries to be a bit more respectful of others’ preferences.

However, ultimately no one took issue with any of Chinatsu’s or Makoto’s actions; the ghost got a bit flustered, but that was it.

Really, when I’m thinking about all of the characters in this show, everyone is always super friendly, pretty kind, and rather easy-going; no one has any form of attitude or is overbearing or anything. I mentioned in my review that “I feel almost all of the characters in Flying Witch would react the same way no matter what situation you threw at them”, and that’s kind of the same conclusion I came to again. Each character does have a slight quirk or difference, like Chinatsu being notably bubbly, Kei being a bit more detached, Akane being a bit more casual and lax, et cetera. But it does feel like you’re just watching carbon copies of the same character interact with themselves. (Actually, Kei being detached is maybe an understatement – I think the show just kind of sweeps him under the rug sometimes, like they somehow don’t know what to do with him. He’s present in most scenes but relatively rarely interacts or says anything.)

I know that this is meant to be a very easy-going slice of life show, and in comparison to shows like GJ Club, Arakawa Under the Bridge, or Daily Lives of High School Boys, it is nice to have a show where someone isn’t always the butt of a joke. It doesn’t seem too often that I find an anime where everyone is just generally nice to each other. But making all the characters carbon copies of each other to the point where most everyone feels the same way about everything isn’t the best way to go about it; instead, you’re just kind of left with everything feeling bland and flat. You can have shows with a laid-back attitude, where everyone has differing personalities but still get along well, as shown in New Game!, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless, or Non Non Biyori (that last one might be debatable).

Also in episode 8, we see two ladybugs fly in and hang out in the café (like, actual ladybugs). One of the waitstaff mentions “you know a ladybug brings good fortune if it lands on you”, clearly meaning to be the setup of a joke. But then rather than cutting to the punchline of seeing Makoto and Chinatsu running around, trying desperately to get a ladybug to land on their finger… there’s all this build up instead that takes the air out of the joke before actually showing that punchline. Scenes like Makoto and Chinatsu prepping to hop out of their spots, multiple zoom-in shots on the ladybugs, and then a shot of Makoto and Chinatsu just standing in place with their fingers in the air and grunting… all this stuff just took what could’ve been a funny scene or moment and just turned it into… meh.

A lot of other jokes in this show are also just set up weirdly or are just weird in general.

But a big part of the issue with the jokes, and kind of a lot in this show, is the slow pacing. Slice of life shows are known for taking a more leisurely pace, focusing on nice moments with the cast and breathing in the scene. But slow pacing is also pretty bad for comedy, so we’ll see other slice of life shows with snappier moments or editing to deliver a punchline or keep a joke rolling. Flying Witch… doesn’t do that. A lot of its potentially funniest jokes tend to become unfunny because it takes too long to actually get to somewhere. This was an issue in the latter half of episode 6 as well, where I dropped the show last time.

Slow pacing is present throughout the entirety of episodes 7 and 8, though, not just during the jokes. It feels like it takes this anime a decent while longer to get through a scene than it would in a different slice of life show. Maybe part of it is I’m more used now to how other genres are paced in comparison, but thinking of shows like all that I had mentioned a handful of paragraphs ago, I feel like these shows wouldn’t go this slowly either. I recall multiple moments while watching Flying Witch where I was like “soooo… where is this going?” and waiting for the show to do something. These two episodes featuring the cast searching for, arriving at, eating at, and interacting with others in the café… this would’ve been just a single episode in most other slice of life shows. There’s not enough going on in the cafe to warrant this single trip to it taking multiple episodes. Luckily, episode 9 was a bit better in this regard, although it still felt a bit sluggish at points.

I didn’t take much of an issue with the pacing in my original review, although I did comment that it could’ve been a bit tighter. And to be fair, it’s not like the pacing is really that horrendous. But I don’t know, it got to me more this time than it did before… maybe it’s just me.

One thing that did bother me in my original review though, was Chinatsu. But during my time coming back and revisiting this show, I didn’t take as much offense to her this time around. Perhaps it was because I didn’t start back with episode 1, where she was super shy in comparison to how bubbly she is in future episodes, but yeah, Chinatsu is fine… beyond her being really rude in episode 8. The bubbliness and lack of personal boundaries is a bit much, but I’d chalk that up to her being a whimsical child still learning rather than her being a terrible character.

I also lamented in my review about how, despite Makoto being a witch in training and the show ultimately being about exploring the world of magic that exists all around you… there wasn’t a lot of magic exploring. There wasn’t no magic exploring, but it felt paltry in comparison to how much world building and intriguing concepts we could’ve gotten. I was definitely looking more for something like Little Witch Academia or Disney’s Owl House. And to be fair, like I predicted in my review, episodes 7, 8, and 9 did start to show more magic and magical creatures beyond how much we’d get in an episode before that… but it does still feel like we were just scratching the surface with how much we could explore or get into.

Overall Thoughts

The more I think about this show, this show kind of more feels like a more natural, realistic take on a group of people hanging out… and there happens to be some magic lightly involved. In comparison to other anime (or most TV in general), nothing here ever feels played up for drama or laughs; things stay relatively calm and light-hearted. In fact, episodes don’t even really have much of a conflict at all; if there is a hurdle, it’s usually easily dismissed or overcome.

It gives more of a feeling of watching an accidentally recorded adventure of 3 normal but imaginative kids, rather than an intentionally put together show.

And for some people, that might be the type of vibe or atmosphere they want. I think I would’ve actually enjoyed this show more if I watched it in English, as it’s something I could have on in the background while I’m doing other things; the pacing is slow enough that you don’t need to keep your eyes on the screen every second. Luckily, Sentai Filmworks has indeed made an English dub (although that isn’t present on Crunchyroll). However, of course, if you’re going to be reading subtitles, you kind of need to be facing the screen for that, which kind of defeats the purpose in that sense. (And my Japanese isn’t nearly good enough to attempt watching this without subtitles.)

Overall, this show isn’t problematic. It isn’t really a bad show, and the slow pacing and general lack of conflict, again, may be something that someone else explicitly wants. I think there is a place for this kind of show; I’ve definitely watched shows where I felt there really wasn’t a reason for it to exist, and Flying Witch isn’t one of them. I’m sure others have a soft spot in their heart for this show, while acknowledging or even welcoming the “flaws” I pointed out here.

(Oh! Also, the commentary I had on the visuals, animation, music, and other stuff in the “Atmosphere” section of my old review ultimately didn’t change at all, so if you wanted to know my thoughts on those, just check back on the original review. It didn’t feel worth it to rehash the same thoughts over again.)

At the end of the day though, I find myself in roughly the same place I found myself at the end of my old review. I think the… emotion I had has faded, and coming at it again with a cooler head, I’m a bit more understanding of what’s happening here, but the problems I had the first time around are still persistent here. This just doesn’t do it for me. The lackadaisical attitude and slowly timed comedy isn’t what I want in a show. At least, not here, not now. But I gave it another shot, got a bit further, and yeah, I’m good with that. I’ll leave this show for the fans who truly appreciate it, and I’ll move on to something that’ll be more engaging to me.

Review: Arrietty / The Secret World of Arrietty

Unlike a number of anime fans, growing up I didn’t really know anything about Studio Ghibli. I think at some point in high school I began to hear mentions of movies like “Laputa” and “Kiki’s Delivery Service”, but I’ve never seen any myself and knew pretty much nothing about any of them.

Then one day, while watching Disney Channel (I was a big fan of Wizards of Waverly Place growing up, don’t judge me!), they had a short special on a new movie that Disney was publishing: The Secret World of Arrietty. It had a few known Disney Channel stars (namely David Henrie (whom I keep calling Justin in my head for some reason) and Bridgit Mendler)  and some other actors too… Anyway, long story short, this is how I ended up watching my first ever Studio Ghibli film: they aired it one time on Disney Channel!

Since then, I’ve now watched a handful of other films, but I still have a long way to go before I’d consider myself up to speed on all things Studio Ghibli. But hey, gotta start somewhere, right?

An Introduction

Needing somewhere quiet and relaxing to rest before an upcoming heart surgery, Shawn spends a week with his great aunt Jessica who lives in a more rural area. Just his great-aunt Jessica lives out here, alongside her caretaker and housemaid Hara (who also becomes Shawn’s caretaker while he’s visiting). It’s a quaint little house with a nice backyard and garden, filled with decorations and knick-knacks collected over the years, and also a small family of tiny people who come out at night to “borrow” some things.

Oh, yes, you read that right. These little people, who call themselves “Borrowers” and can fit into a human’s hand, have found a nice spot to build themselves a little home underneath the floorboards of a closet in the house. They do everything they can to stay out of the way of the humans and not get noticed or caught, but at night, they’ll climb out and grab a few things that they need to survive, which their human hosts probably won’t notice missing: a single tissue from a tissue box, or a single leaf of a plant.

While there used to be more Borrowers living in Aunt Jessica’s house, now it’s just one small family of 3: Pod, the father; Homily, the mother; and their young daughter Arrietty. And they’re peacefully living their lives, until one day the human boy Shawn thinks he’s caught a glimpse of a tiny young girl climbing among some leaves in a garden…

(And yes, I realize that Disney renamed some of the characters when the brought the film over to the United States in an attempt to “American-ize” the film. As these names are the ones I’m most familiar with though, they’ll be the ones I’ll stick with. The differences are: Sho (the young boy) is now Shawn, Haru (the caretaker) is now Hara (a strange minute difference, maybe Haru “didn’t sound feminine enough”?), but then there’s great-aunt Sadako, which they just changed to… Jessica. We’ll discuss more of the regional differences later.)

The Plot and Characters

(Editors note: added an extra paragraph since the initial publish.)

One of the best things about a Studio Ghibli production is the film’s ability to whisk you away on a journey. While some films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke are more clearly framed as an actual journey, their other films also have a journey of their own, even if you aren’t venturing into some other world. My Neighbor Totoro, while more akin to the slice of life anime of today, is still a journey, following Mei and Satsuki as they encounter Totoro and how they handle things just not going their way. The Secret World of Arrietty is definitely a journey too, but one that entirely takes place within a cozy rural home.

The concept and world of “Borrowers” is fascinating to me. These tiny, resourceful people that reside in some makeshift home underneath the floorboards of your house, occasionally emerging from hiding spots to pick up discarded and misplaced items and sneaking into your kitchen for a single tissue or sugar cube. There’s a lot of details and small quirky-but-world-building things that we see which helps sell the realism of such an idea, and gives character to these… characters. While practically impossible, I wouldn’t mind finding myself the unwitting host of such a little family, giving new purpose to various small items that I probably wouldn’t have noticed had gone missing. May as well have someone making use of my junk if I’m not!

Unfortunately, while some of us might find fascination or amusement with such an idea, others might see such a scene and start freaking out about little pests or thieves living in the walls (and arguably, they’d be justifiable in their feelings). I’d liken myself to Shawn, while others would be more like the character who winds up being the eventual antagonist in this story.

And on a basic level, that is the main conflict here. While a family of Borrowers would probably love to have a Shawn to live with and assist them, they can’t take the risk of being found out by some human who would trap their family in a jar and call in some pest exterminator once they’re discovered.

For our protagonist – little Arrietty, age 14 – this would be, I’d imagine, the biggest lesson that gets drilled into her from birth: don’t get seen by a human, don’t trust humans, avoid humans at all costs. However, after accidentally exposing herself to Shawn, she seemingly almost immediately throws out her family’s wisdom and instead makes herself obviously known to Shawn to say “hey, leave us alone” (rather than staying hidden and extra cautious, leaving Shawn to believe he was imagining things), thus setting up the events that transpire from there. While obviously this entire movie wouldn’t exist at all if Arrietty didn’t make that move, it does seem a bit strange to me that she would go against her father’s warnings and do the things she’s explicitly told is the biggest of big no-no’s. At the same time though, she’s young and headstrong, boldly making decisions although she doesn’t always consider the consequences all the way through. That’s not to call her bullheaded or stupid, however, and her impulsiveness has helped her just as much as it had hindered her.

This makes her an interesting contrast with her parents. Her mother, Homily, is skittish and full of worries, but it comes from a place of love and caring, and she does what she can to bring comfort to herself and her family. Arrietty’s father, Pod, is more a man of action rather than words, and always has a plan; setting out at night on “borrowing” expeditions to collect items from around the house and spending his days tinkering to make clever tools to use on future nights. Not sure how these risk-averse parents ended up with the adventurous spirit that is Arrietty.

Immediately coming out of the movie, Shawn – the movie’s other protagonist, and eventually the human helping hand for Arrietty – seemed like he didn’t have much of a personality beyond being simply selfless and caring. However, upon further thought, I think the movie does subtly give us a bit more to him. We learn that he has some heart condition, about to undergo an operation with only a chance of success. This boy is staring at his own mortality right in the face, so he decides he may as well try to enjoy the time he has and help those who he can. This explains the weirdly morbid turn one of his conversations with Arrietty goes. However, unfortunately, he isn’t quite that interesting to watch while on his own, as he’s very quiet and soft-spoken, in comparison to the animated Borrower family or the industrious Hara. The scenes and moments where he’s interacting with Arrietty are genuinely fun though.

And overall this movie is a genuinely fun time. I’m drawn in on concept alone, and – although it has the pacing of a relaxed afternoon walk, allowing us to truly breath in this world at times – the plot and its turns are engaging and keeps me interested in how events will unfold from here.

The big question Arrietty ends up facing is, how do you put a lid back on a secret (like, you and your family’s entire existence) after very openly and clearly making yourself known to a human? Because now that human is going to start acting a bit funny too, and then other people will catch on, it’s going to be a big whole thing… how do we balance the safety of our tiny little Borrower family and this newly-made friendship with a surprisingly nice human? It’s an interesting little story and situation, and each of the characters act realistically, with their own best intentions and putting their priorities first. You just want everything to be okay for everyone, but the further this plot goes, the more you realize something around here needs to change. It’s an entertaining piece of animation, and it ever so gently touches my emotions as it goes on.

However, I also can’t help but feel that this film does feel like it’s missing… something. There’s no shocking twists and a savvy viewer will know how it ends before you even reach the halfway point. There’s no edge-of-the-seat action or drama. But I don’t think that’s the missing thing that bothers me so much. While the relaxed pace is great, it combined with the 1.5 hour runtime results in each scene needing to do something to advance the plot or tie into something later in the movie. Us being able to “breath in the world”, like I mentioned, only occurs at the times that characters are doing mundane things and not reacting to the events unfolding around them. The sequence of Arrietty going on a borrowing mission with her dad was great, and I wish we had more of that, to be honest. Once the plot gets going, there’s no stopping or detours. While one could say this film is “unwaveringly focused” and “has no filler”, it would’ve been nice to have more time seeing these characters just being themselves. And ultimately, Shawn and Arrietty only have 3 proper conversations with each other throughout the whole film; surprisingly few (and with no other conversations implied) for two characters whom we’re supposed to believe have developed some unspoken bond during the course of this story.

I do wonder sometimes if Studio Ghibli’s writers try to impart lessons onto us viewers as we watch their films. Princess Mononoke certainly seems to have a lesson to take away from it, but I’m not sure if Secret World of Arrietty is supposed to teach you something. There could definitely be lessons to infer from it, like sometimes a risk is worth it as you can end up with a dependable friend, but I wonder what the writers intended while crafting this journey.

Either way, I’m glad this was a journey I embarked on.

Art, Animation, and Audio

A big part of Studio Ghibli’s films’ capabilities to take us on journeys comes from how gosh darn pretty so many of their scenes look, and this film is definitely no exception. The bright greens of the grass and gardens, the more subdued, realistic yet still enticing colors of the interior of the houses (both the humans’ and the Borrowers’) – combined with the amount of clutter and detail that added to so much of the interior backgrounds – this is a world that I wish I could just jump into and experience with my own eyes and senses. Ghibli is great at eliciting such a desire.

But of course, another big part of any animated film is… the animation. And Studio Ghibli, at that time, was probably only beaten by Kyoto Animation in respect to adding expressiveness to their characters. Shawn is animated decently (although he expresses more through body posture and movement than his face), Homily is even more expressive and dynamic, and with Arrietty, you can tell every thought going through her head with how expressive her face is. However, the one who takes the cake for facial expression and contortion is definitely Hara, although the cat Niya is also a top contender.

As far as the character design of the humans go, it’s kind of a bit plain. Shawn in particular doesn’t have that distinct or unique a design. But I suppose the idea is that they’re supposed to look a bit plain. Hara’s design is pretty good though, with a face good for molding the afore-mentioned expressiveness onto. On comparison, the Borrowers are way more memorable. Arrietty’s character design is simplistic, but pretty, with the distinctive wavy, red hair. It’s a decent design, and she looks even better with her signature red dress. But my favorite design is Homily’s, with her wavy hair, the slight wrinkles on her face, and the yellow apron on purple dress… it’s distinct and memorable, I love it.

The sound design for this movie is interesting, during the scenes and moments where we’re following these tiny people around a much larger world that humans have made for themselves. Arrietty and her dad travel into a bedroom, and the ticking of a clock sounds so loud, due to the fact that this clock is really probably 5 times the size of Arrietty herself. It echoes, tick tock tick tock, throughout the entire scene, and just sells the feeling of a small person in a big world. There’s other moments like this throughout the movie as well, like the footstep sounds of rats and insects, but there’s also a few choices that were… amusing.

This could be a bit nitpicky, but the scene where Arrietty’s dad shows her the kitchen for the first time, she looks around and the screen flashes through a few shots of various parts of the kitchen (the sink, some plates, the stove, etc.) while sound effects related to those things played (water running, silverware and plates clattering, something simmering in a pan, etc.) It probably helped fill the soundscape of the scene and quickly establish familiarity for a viewer, but it felt a bit strange to me to have these sounds present while presenting a quiet kitchen at nighttime. I might’ve more preferred an appropriate piece of soundtrack to play instead, something a bit mellow and subdued, but filled with wonder.

However, background music isn’t really used a lot for Secret World of Arrietty. It’s certainly present in various establishing shots and shots where there isn’t dialogue and it’s just a character doing some stuff (like walking from one place to another), but a lot of this film’s audio scape is filled with the sounds of the world around the characters instead. When there is music, it’s primarily piano, with some stringed instruments brought in for good measure (and rarely, some woodwinds). It’s very whimsical and a bit folky, reminding me a bit of traditional Celtic music, I like it!

There’s also two songs with lyrics in them as well: “Neglected Garden” played at two points in the beginning of the film, and “Arrietty’s Song” played at the end; these can probably be seen as the opening and ending themes, if we needed to force them into that sort of categorization. Neglected Garden, which is sung in English no matter the dub language, has lyrics that doesn’t immediately seen relevant to me, but perhaps I’m thinking about them too literally; either way, it is a nice song. Arrietty’s Song is also really pretty and nice, and apparently Cecile Corbel, the composer of the film’s soundtrack, sang this song in 6 different languages for various international releases.

In Disney’s North American release, they also added one more song onto the credits: the song “Summertime” sung by Bridgit Mendler (the American voice of Arrietty). It’s… not a bad song, per say, but its 2010s pop sound is a rather jarring genre switch, and the lyrics are a bit more generic and more romance-leaning.

I suppose that’s a good enough point to segue into discussing Disney’s release as a whole, and the various dubs. The English dub Disney produced is actually pretty decent, with Bridgit Mendler doing a fine job as Arrietty and Carol Burnett as Hara. However, David Henrie’s performance of Shawn left a bit to be desired – he sounded kind of bored. I’ll chalk that up to voice direction though, as I figured they were trying to have him go for “sick, low-energy kid”; I also wish the voice directors gave Hara’s portrayal some more subtlety, like in the Japanese version. There were some kinda big names in the English cast, like Carol Burnett, but also Amy Poehler (who knocked it out of the park as Homily!) and Will Arnett playing the father Pod, doing a better job than his Japanese counterpart. Disney’s dub came out 1.5 years after the film debuted in Japan – the film hit Japanese cinemas in July 2010 and American ones in early 2012. The dub stays pretty faithful to the original script, but there are some differences that left me a bit confused as a viewer, confusions that cleared up when I rewatched the film in Japanese with subtitles. Disney’s dub also adds a small post-credits monologue by Shawn that is totally not present in the original release; I guess they wanted even more of a resolution.

There is also one other English dub though, that came out in between the Japanese release and Disney’s dub. Released in British theaters in late 2011 and then out on DVD in 2012 while the film hit theaters in the US, Studio Canal did their own dub for the UK audience. I don’t really have an easy way to hear this dub of the film though, excepting through some clips on YouTube… it sounds like Tom Holland does a pretty good job as Shawn/Sho though (yes, that Tom Holland). There’s some other relatively big names like Olivia Colman and Mark Strong as well; overall, the UK dub sounds pretty decent from what I’ve heard, although I wonder if the sound mixing is a bit off or if it’s the low-quality YouTube clips I found…

Circling back to the Japanese dub, it’s alright. Kind of difficult for me to judge a bit fairly given I’ve always grown up with Disney’s dub, but I finished the rewatch feeling Mirai Shida did an okay job as Arrietty and Ryunosuke Kamiki’s performance of Shawn/Sho was… at least better than the English version. I’ll also call out Kirin Kiki who played Hara/Haru (and kinda looks like her too!) and Shinobu Otake, who was also amazing as Homily. I think she’s my favorite character! Anyway, Disney’s dub is actually not a bad way to go to experience the film, for us in the United States.

Although Disney no longer holds the distribution rights to the Studio Ghibli films in the US, G Kids’ re-release of the Blu-Ray and posting of the film on HBO Max still maintains the Disney dub (common practice with anime changing licensors), and you also have the original Japanese version available on both mediums as well, in case you want that. (Let’s hope it doesn’t get kicked off HBO Max…)

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Secret World of Arrietty is another example of Studio Ghibli doing what they do best: whisking you away on a journey within a different setting and experience. The concept of “Borrowers” had me hooked from the beginning, and while the film could’ve done more to show the characters just living and being themselves, the relaxed pace and engaging story makes this a fun watch the whole way through.

For some people and groups, Studio Ghibli and their films is a sizeable part of their childhood and experience growing up. I didn’t really have that as a kid; for me, this was the first Studio Ghibli film I ever saw, and I was about halfway through high school when this came out. I have a decent appreciation of this film as a result, maybe more than others as I don’t hear this one talked about as much as Ghibli’s older classics. Either way, whether you grew up on Ghibli or you didn’t, I don’t think this is a film to skip over. Especially if you want to spend an evening with something not too intense but still enthralling.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ Homily, great execution of “Borrowers” concept, Ghibli’s art and animation
— bit too focused on the plot, Shawn is the weakest link , Arrietty is a bit too foolhardy (although that isn’t always bad)

Crunchyroll/Sony on a Buying Spree

So I was hoping to publish this faster, so that this think piece was a bit more timely in regards to the recent news, but… yeah, that didn’t happen. Either way, I wanted to share my thoughts on things and also give a bit of an overview on how big of a company Crunchyroll has now become.

But anyway, a bit over a week ago, it was announced that Crunchyroll is buying RightStuf. For those who aren’t aware, RightStuf is an online store operating here in the US and Canada (and maybe other regions?) that specializes in anime, manga, figures, and any sort of physical stuff that exists in our little corner of the world. One could always hop onto Amazon to buy anime DVDs and other stuff if desired, but RightStuf was usually comparable in price and tended to have a slightly larger selection (especially when we got to things like merchandise), and you also had the warm feeling of knowing you’re supporting some small business rather than a mega-corporation. For all intents and purposes, RightStuf is the online anime store.

Crunchyroll also operates its own online store too, also selling merchandise, anime DVDs, manga, and more. Since Crunchyroll holds the rights to a number of shows, they also occasionally have exclusive merchandise not available on RightStuf or Amazon.

But, this is just the latest in a string of acquisitions and mergers involving Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Buying and Growing

Sooooo let’s do a little overview of what all companies and stuff are now under the Crunchyroll brand. Or more specifically, the Funimation brand before Crunchyroll was purchased by Funimation.

Firstly, backing up a bit, let’s recall that Funimation was purchased by Sony back in 2017. Specifically, Funimation was under the Sony Pictures wing; and under the Sony Music wing is Aniplex, one of the biggest names in the anime market in Japan. Funimation was one of the largest anime distributors here in North America, and the biggest thing to rival Crunchyroll (which was a separate company at this time). Funimation already had the licenses to a loooot of popular shows, including Attack on Titan, Cowboy Bebop, My Hero Academia, Tokyo Ghoul… the list goes on. Funimation also licensed a lot of Aniplex’s shows, such as Fullmetal Alchemist, Black Butler, Baccano, Soul Eater, and more; one could dive into the minute details of how the licenses and availability of these shows changed over the years, but because Aniplex and Funimation are now under the same parent company Sony, it doesn’t really matter.

That being said, since Funimation and Aniplex are technically under separate wings of Sony, they still operated independently; it was pretty much assumed that Aniplex-produced shows would end up on Funimation’s streaming service here in the US though, and then after 2019, Sony rearranged these companies so that Aniplex technically co-owns Funimation (with Sony Pictures being the other co-owner… so Funimation is really co-owned by Sony and Sony, but although they’re the same Sony overall, it’s different Sonys)… uhh, this can start to get confusing, so for the sake of simplicity and moving on, we’ll just say that now Aniplex owns Funimation.

Funimation isn’t the only purchase that Aniplex/Sony made in the past few years though. Outside of North America, other purchases have been made:

  • Wakanim: a European anime streaming service (kind of like HiDive here in the US). Purchased by Aniplex in 2015, its own website is still up and running, but that’s going to change soon enough.
  • Madman Anime Group: the anime arm/division of Madman Entertainment in Australia/New Zealand. By February 2019, Aniplex had gained full ownership of this, and this was kind of big. Madman licensed a loooot of anime in Australia, probably even more than Funimation had licensed in the US, and they also had their own streaming service (AnimeLab), sold anime DVDs and merch, and ran an anime convention called Madman Anime Festival. After this purchase, Madman Anime Group was folded into Funimation, and AnimeLab was shut down in 2021 (with its content being moved to Funimation). Madman as a company still exists, but doesn’t deal with licensing anime anymore, although you can still buy anime DVDs and merch from their website, strangely enough.
  • Manga Entertainment: also purchased by Funimation/Aniplex in 2019. Despite the name, Manga Ent. mainly handled anime licensing and distribution in UK and Ireland. They were pretty quickly folded into Funimation UK, although it’s said that Manga Entertainment’s brand will still be used in certain places in this market (sounds familiar?). At the current time though, Manga Entertainment’s website straight up doesn’t load for me.
  • Viz Media Europe: also during this same year (2019), Crunchyroll purchased Viz Media’s European business. Reminder that at this point, Crunchyroll and Funimation/Aniplex are still separate companies. Viz Media Europe gave Crunchyroll a foot in the door in the European, Middle Eastern, and African markets in regards to anime Blu-Rays and manga volumes (rather than just streaming). Kazé (a French anime distributor) was also included as part of the purchase.

And again, it’s important to reiterate that Aniplex is a big name in Japan, being one of the biggest production companies behind a lot of shows: Fullmetal Alchemist, Anohana, Bakemonogatari, Sword Art Online, Cells at Work, Demon Slayer, Madoka Magica, Soul Eater, the list goes on and on. They own entire anime studios: A-1 Pictures and Cloverworks. Now, this doesn’t mean Aniplex itself directly animated many of the shows they produced, but they were the company that helped foot the bill, get ideas off the ground, and had services like musicians (for OPs and EDs), a merch shop, a distribution network for getting DVDs and Blu-Rays out there, and a team to put on events and concerts to promote the shows in Japan. Aniplex was pretty much a one-stop shop for an anime production in Japan… if they felt a production was worthy of their time and business.

Anyway, finally, we come to the big purchase: Funimation/Aniplex purchased Crunchyroll in 2021 (buying the company from its previous owner, AT&T). Although Funimation and Crunchyroll did work together for a time before this, it seemed destined the two companies would be the two big rivals here in North America, forming a large duopoly (while Sentai and other companies got table scraps or stuck to their niches). That’s not so much the case anymore, huh?

It’s All Crunchyroll Now

No matter where you live in the world, I shouldn’t have to explain Crunchyroll to you if you’re in the anime scene. They have pretty much taken the anime world by storm as the big king anime streaming service, operating in dozens of countries and a large handful of languages. Even if Crunchyroll wasn’t the biggest service in your particular country, you were at least aware of it and they definitely had a number of shows available to you in your area.

So yeah, the purchase of Crunchyroll by Funimation/Aniplex/Sony was kind of a big deal. Reminder, Aniplex already owned a lot of anime licensing and streaming companies around the world at this point, but now they’ve gone and purchased the biggest one of them all.

And what’s the next thing they do? Start renaming everything to be called “Crunchyroll”.

It’s no longer Manga Entertainment, it’s “Crunchyroll Manga Ltd.”. No longer Madman Anime Group, it’s “Crunchyroll Pty” Australia (and also no longer Madman Anime Festival, now it’s “Crunchyroll Expo Australia”). Viz Media Europe, Kazé… now it’s “Crunchyroll EMEA”. Even Funimation, the brand name that helped kick off and expand the anime market in North America, will soon be no more: Funimation in its entirety has been renamed “Crunchyroll LLC” and Funimation’s name will no longer be used for new dubs and new Blu-Ray releases.

On a low-key level, this disappoints me. For thousands upon thousands of people, these are the brands that helped introduce people into anime and became well-known names in the countries they operated. Here in the US, the name Funimation brings nostalgia from when Dragon Ball played on Cartoon Network on weekday evenings, this being one of the shows that brought a lot of Americans into anime.

And by the end of 2022, all these names will just be… memories.

Now, I do love Crunchyroll. It’s hard to deny the positive impact it had on the world of anime. It introduced a level of availability and discoverability to anime (with the added bonus of being a fully legal avenue to consume this media), allowing it to reach a muuuuch larger audience than ever before. I can certainly say I wouldn’t be watching anime now without Crunchyroll, and I feel that isn’t a statement unique to me. It introduced the idea of anime being available to watch in English (subtitles) within a week of it first appearing on Japanese TVs. This was mostly unheard of beforehand, and introduced the concept of seasonal anime to the West. Even today, when I want to watch anime, Crunchyroll is the first place I turn to.

Crunchyroll definitely doesn’t have a clean track record though. It did start off as yet another anime piracy site, for goodness’s sake, but beyond that, it does have its fair share of logistical and design issues, being behind on the times, and weird/bad business decisions over the years. I certainly can’t call it perfect, but I can certainly call it successful. It’s definitely a global brand, and it makes sense why Aniplex is moving forward with this being the name of all these companies.

Dominating the Market

Now, here’s where we run into the big issue that I have though. (And this is also where the purchase of RightStuf comes back into play.)

We’ve certainly seen a number of headlines over the years of media companies being bought out by even bigger media companies. Disney is the big culprit that comes to mind, and arguably now Warner Bros Discovery is just as big a conglomerate.

Crunchyroll (and Aniplex) is now kind of the same boat as those… but it’s actually also kind of worse. See, with Disney and Warner Bros Discovery, although they definitely do license a decent amount of content, they have enough studios and people to pump out original content of their own constantly in various forms of media. Aniplex (and thus, Crunchyroll) definitely does have a fair share of original content as well, through the various shows it produces and funds. (Let’s set aside that the big differences in how anime is produced and funded in comparison to most Western media.) But Crunchyroll doesn’t just have all of Aniplex’s shows available to show… it also licenses all kinds of other anime too, produced by all kinds of other companies.

Even as of right now, if they don’t license another anime show again, Crunchyroll has an absolutely massive catalogue of anime shows it holds the licenses to. Here in the US, I’d venture that 4 out of every 5 at least mildly popular anime from 2016 and onward are all licensed under the merged Crunchyroll brand. That is a lot of the available market of anime controlled under one brand. This isn’t just streaming online either, but also producing the DVDs, Blu-Rays, merch, getting them on TV, and now (with the purchase of RightStuf) one of the largest direct avenues for Americans to get their hands on said Blu-Rays or merch.

From licensing to streaming to dubbing to Blu-Ray-ing to selling, Crunchyroll now it’s hands on every part of the anime market here in the US (and is also set up similarly in the UK and Australia). Sure, Crunchyroll and Funimation both had their own online stores before this, but RightStuf (and Amazon, I guess) were always available to purchase shows and stuff from all North American anime companies.

Now, of course, Crunchyroll doesn’t have an absolute monopoly on anime distribution, at least in the larger Western anime markets. Here in the US, there is still Sentai and Hi-Dive, which both get a decent amount of shows each season (last I checked, although they’re often not the most hyped up shows in their season), as well as other smaller companies like Discotek and the occasional show or two which gets scooped up by a larger media company like Netflix or Disney. In Australia they have Hanabee, and I’m sure they have other similarly-sized companies in the various European markets too.

But with how much money Crunchyroll already had, plus the financial backing from Aniplex and Sony, I’m sure Crunchyroll will keep shelling out all this money to continue picking up licenses to most shows (including – of course – all the popular, big ones) every season, and probably for every market outside of Japan (and East Asia). It’s hard to deny… Crunchyroll is pretty much the anime distributor. If you want anime, you go to Crunchyroll. That’s it.

All this being said, it’s also hard to deny that (beyond what gets scooped up by the other companies I listed a bit ago) it’ll be nice to just have one website and service I can go to to watch all the new anime that comes out in a given season, along with so many of the popular shows from past seasons and years. This has been a big complaint a lot of us have had with so many streaming services popping up is that one has to subscribe to six different services just to watch all the various shows being talked about; in the world of anime, now that problem’s been greatly reduced.

But it still does kind of feel weird and frankly a tad spine-shivering-y to have so much of this one particular market under one company… in practically every Western country in the world. I’m not as much of a vocal “these companies are too big and should be broken up” type as others are (not to say I’m disagree with that though, otherwise why would I write this entire piece?), but the knowledge that “anime” is likely to become synonymous with “Crunchyroll” outside of Japan doesn’t sit quite right with me.

Part of a Larger World

There is another angle to look at this though.

For millennials like me, it can sometimes be hard to remember that anime isn’t as niche and small of a thing as it once was. If you got into anime, you’d have to seek out other people who watched anime (not even mentioning watched the specific types of anime you do) to even have someone to talk about it with. Anime and manga were relegated to quiet conversations in the corner, a single shelf at bookstores if you were lucky, and specialty clubs and meetups.

Nowadays anime isn’t quite as mainstream as the major hit shows that Netflix, Disney, or HBO come out with, but it’s not nearly as hard to find someone who’s at least watched an anime show or two, or at the very least know what anime is. A number of celebrities and others have talked about having watched a few anime shows. Again, anime isn’t popular, but it isn’t unpopular either.

Major streaming services like Netflix, HBO Max, and Hulu now have a prominent anime section, and that’s where we come to the point of this section: under these streaming services, anime is shown as another category, another genre, from the list, next to “Drama”, “Horror”, and “Romance”. For these larger services and companies, anime is just another type of audiovisual content.

So in the grander scheme of media and streaming and what-not, anime can be seen as just another genre. A subset. Which… probably isn’t an incorrect way to look at it. For those of us who have really fallen into anime, we know that anime itself has a lot of genres, like “isekai”, “action”/”shonen”, “magical girl”, “slice of life”, and also more traditional genres like “romance” and “comedy”. So it may feel weird to consider anime itself a genre of its own… but at the same time – although some anime shows can definitely differ heavily from other shows – anime does kind of have a similar style; not just in appearance (character design), but also just the… vibe and just how a production is done, a lot of anime start looking like they’re cut from the same cloth. And for these giant companies like Disney, HBO, and Netflix, which have such a large catalogue overall, it’s easier to just lump all anime together rather than further dividing and specifying.

Looking through the perspective of anime just being another genre of the larger world of media, you can argue that Crunchyroll/Aniplex doesn’t really have a monopoly or a large portion of the market… they’re just a company that really caters to a particular genre or niche. Similar to, say, Shudder, for horror films or Curiosity Stream for documentaries… or YouTube for online indie productions. Each of these companies have a specific genre or style, and have a looooot of it, but although they’re big in their specific circles, they’re still just a part of the overall piece of audiovisual media. I think a big difference with anime is that it has a large, vocal, and dedicated fanbase (not that other genres don’t, but, well… the reputation of collective fanbase of anime precedes us).

In this larger world of media, Disney and Warner Bros Discovery are the mammoths. And Sony is definitely also a pretty big company itself, but Crunchyroll/Aniplex specifically? Not quite as much. So I think this might be the counterargument used when it comes to accusations of being a monopoly or anything like that.

EDIT: After looking at a FAQ article that Crunchyroll posted in relation to the shuttering of the brand Kazé, they talked a bit about the whole “monopoly” accusation, and indeed provided an answer similar to what I talk about here (the answer, given that Kazé is a French brand, is in French… so here’s the Google translation):

The streaming industry has changed a lot since Crunchyroll was established over 15 years ago and Funimation 25 years ago, and now anime is a big part of almost every major streaming platform. Crunchyroll hasn’t cornered the anime [market] but the brand aims to be the best destination for tens of millions of global fans.

Where Things Go From Here (The Future…)

So what do I, some random guy on the Internet, think is going to happen from here?

Well, Crunchyroll is already underway with renaming all the various companies and bringing everything together under the Crunchyroll banner. So it’s only a matter of time before sites like Funimation Now, VRV, and Wakanim are going to be fully shut down, and all their catalogues will be on Crunchyroll. (Plus also now the catalogue of RightStuf’s Nozomi Entertainment.)

I suspect the same will eventually happen to RightStuf itself, where RightStuf will be shut down as an independent thing, and either renamed to “Crunchyroll Store” (or something) or subsumed into the existing Crunchyroll Store. It’s possible the opposite might happen where the Crunchyroll Store and other various online stores get shut down, and RightStuf becomes the “store” part of the whole company, but given the trend so far has been to collect everything together under the Crunchyroll name, I don’t see this being as likely. We’ll start to see this transition happen slowly, as RightStuf will probably lose its identity and unique flairs or quirks as it’s absorbed in (for better or worse). I’ll also note that I don’t think this is a scenario where Crunchyroll is buying RightStuf simply to remove this storefront/avenue; selling physical media and such is still a potential source of revenue, and I think Crunchyroll is more likely to just take the systems, processes, and relationships that RightStuf has and just incorporate them into the larger company. Note that I didn’t say “staff”; I suspect there will be a lot of redundancies, and a lot of people back on the job market in the coming months.

Also, as a side note (I didn’t know where else to fit this in), in regards to RightStuf removing all 18+ and hentai stuff, and distancing themselves from those things, post acquisition… once I had heard this, I honestly wasn’t surprised that happened; it’s a little disappointing, for sure, for those who purchase such products, but I suspect some other smaller company will pop up to fill the void that’s been left by that decision.

I don’t know where Crunchyroll would go next in regards to more acquisitions, at least here in the US. They could continue purchasing up other anime distributors and streaming services, like Sentai / Section 23 or HiDive, but Crunchyroll also could just strong-arm these companies out of business instead. Here in the US, I think this will end up being the last big purchase in the anime scene out of Crunchyroll. (There may be more purchases, but they’ll either be 1) relatively smaller purchases by Crunchyroll, who’s already the de facto “winner” in this market or 2) an outside company pushing itself into the scene by purchasing up Sentai or something.)

Given that Crunchyroll is owned by Aniplex, which is owned by Sony, I also don’t suspect the brand and company is going to change hands anymore, unless Sony decides they really want out of the anime business.

And from there… I don’t think there’s going to be enough public outcry or other issues to dissuade Crunchyroll or Aniplex to reverse course in any fashion. In general, people are looking for a hassle-free way to watch and buy anime, and Crunchyroll is handing that to you on a silver platter, no matter where you live. So barring any major scandal or shift in the market, I think things will keep keeping on like this. Crunchyroll will become an even bigger name in anime than they’ve already been, and pretty much become the one site you go to for anything anime-related. (Minus the few shows that are either picked up by the smaller niche companies, or by the larger corporations like Netflix or Disney.)

There may be the chance that other anime producers in Japan (like Kadokawa or Square Enix) might want to switch things up, and start building their own alternative(s) to Crunchyroll to stream or sell anime in other markets, but Crunchyroll may also have enough cash in hand and enough incentives to just keep these companies selling licenses to them. Time will tell with that, but I’m not holding my breath.

But yeah. Anime isn’t just some weird small market anymore, filled with a handful of independent companies in small offices dotted around the country. Anime is a big thing now, and now the companies behind it are big things too. Ultimately, this may just be another page or footnote in the chapter that is the recent “media conglomeration” trend, but it’s still notable news of the times regardless.

And I feel… well, not the best.

I’m Back into Anime! (What’s been going on with me?)

Hello! It’s been a while again, huh?

(This is going to be super lengthy, so I’ll post a TL;DR at the bottom.)

Since the Last Post

My last post featured an outlined plan that I was going to follow to get back into posting on this site, starting with a review as a part of a block called “Funimation February”. I even hinted at one of the shows I was going to be reviewing as a part of that post… obviously, that didn’t pan out.

Sooooo there’s been a couple things that happened since then. Let’s talk about this, and then try to take a frank look at what I’ll be doing from here.

So that last post, I published in December of 2019. There’s… something major that certainly occurred since that day. Still kind of ongoing in a sense, but yeah, there was this whole pandemic thing.

My experiences with the pandemic was not great, but not nearly as bad as others had it. But suffice to say, the job I had back then (in December 2019) is now two jobs ago for me. I’ve had other major changes in my life too, such as moving to a new place and getting a dog, and I’ve been thinking a bit about where I want to go with my life, given that I’m nearing the end of my 20s.

Those things alone are enough of a distraction for me to not really want to put time and effort into this blog. I’m sorry I didn’t come here to post more about it, but frankly, I had other things on my plate and I was worried about filling up the front page of my site with just update posts, rather than actual reviews (especially if I set a new date for returning in an update post, and then missed that date, prompting another update post, and… yeah). There’s already a number of update posts like these on my front page, and that’s after I went back and hid some of them. It doesn’t really look good for an anime reviewing website’s front page to… not have anime reviews.

Falling Out of Anime

Anyway, that’s not all. There’s also the ongoing issue of… me just kind of falling out of anime for quite a while. Looking back, that post I made about the Spring 2019 anime season, that was the last anime season that I actually tried to sit down and keep up to date on the new shows. And of those shows that I talked about there, guess how many I actually kept with all the way to the end… 0. (And some of them, like Ao-chan Can’t Study, I really enjoyed too!)

This has been an issue for me since like 2018, maybe even a bit earlier. Part of what kept me engaged in anime was the college life, where I had friends with me to talk about anime and enough openness in my schedule that I could sit down and watch these shows. And at the time, for me, anime was a relatively new thing too; I only really got into anime just before college.

By 2018, I was out of college and moving on to other things in my life: getting a job, finding a place to live, paying for things… you know, fun adult things. I was also running into the issue where a lot of the anime I was looking at, the new stuff coming out… didn’t interest me as much. There were some excellent, stand-out, and unique shows for sure, but there were also a lot of shows where I read the synopsis or even just saw the title, and I was like “okay, I don’t think I need to delve more into that one”. A lot of repeats, rehashes, similar concepts done again but with small twist that I’m sure made it suuuuuper unique (also a number of sequels to shows that I never watched the original season of, sooo yeah). There’s been a big influx of isekai-style shows in the past few years, for example, with lengthy and ridiculous titles, taking a page out of the book of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon and others. Which made for a kind of funny, unique thing when done once or twice, but when it’s every other show…

Anyway, I’ve ended up turning to getting entertainment from elsewhere. The Nintendo Switch came out in 2017; I was a casual fan of video games at that point (and still kind of am), but I’ve spent more time on the Switch than I have pretty much any other game console since, like, the Wii. That’s taken a decent amount of time.

I’ve also been watching Western animated shows, like Steven Universe, Adventure Time, She-Ra: The Princesses of Power, Amphibia, The Owl House, and more. I was hooked into one of these shows (Steven Universe) and from there, realized there was a whole slew of stuff coming out here that I hadn’t caught up on. I ignored Western animation for quite a while, as a number of shows coming out for a handful of years didn’t interest me (and many still don’t), but there’s been a number of gems to appear as well. So I slowly dropped more and more anime and instead started watching more and more Western cartoons.

I’ve debated a few times about posting reviews of these Western shows on this blog, and I even wrote up an entire review of Steven Universe (mid Season 2), but I never got around to actually posting them. I might go ahead and write up some at some point, but let’s not promise anything.

Life of a Reviewer

Part of the issue that I’ve had too is this internal expectation that when I watch an anime, I’m supposed to then turn around and crank out a review of it to post here. That’s partly because that’s what I’ve been doing for about 2 or 3 years, at least. Finished a show? Okay, let’s get that review over the finish line and into the backlog so it can be posted here in the near future!

Although my writing skills have certainly improved since I began this website, I’m not a quick writer and after starting the site, I was going through my backlog of finished reviews faster than I could write new ones. This, in turn, turned up the pressure for me even more to get a review out for any show I finish, because… otherwise, there just wouldn’t be a review to post. Part of being a content creator online is being consistent, right? Something new every week? What would I do if I didn’t have that something new?


I’ve said multiple times, in multiple places, that I ran this review site as a hobby, not intending to “make it big” or make this my job or anything. I’m not here for the numbers, although I did appreciate seeing people comment and like my posts. … But in a sense, it kind of did become a job. I couldn’t watch an anime without also thinking about “how am I going to word this concept” or “how do I explain my thoughts on this character”. Sentences and paragraphs would flow through my head, trying to formulate a review on the fly, while I was still watching an episode. Watching an anime without writing a review about it just wasn’t a thing. There’s so many anime that I’ve watched over the years that, right now, have half-written reviews. A handful of these reviews likely won’t ever see the light of day.

That’s probably also partly why I turned to Western animation for a while too. It was freeing, watching a well-constructed story with great characters and good animation… and without the expectation that I’d have to take my esoteric, fleeting, hard-to-define thoughts and shove them into words on a screen. The most I’d really ever talk about a cartoon online is a few tweets, which also has a much lower bar of quality to reach too.

Naturally, as I continued to write and write, my reviews got lengthier and my ability improved. But as my writing quality increased, so does the bar I set for myself and the amount of work that goes into it. With my earlier reviews, I could pound out a whole review the day after finishing a show without needing to look back or do anything extra most of the time. Sometimes if I wanted to reference a specific scene, I’d go back and rewatch it to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it.

But as I became more thorough and I set more of a bar for myself, writing a review went from taking a night or two, to taking multiple days, and then a week, and then even more. I created a checklist in my mind, things like “paragraph about the minor characters, discussing the color scheme, sharing thoughts on the BGM”, a review couldn’t be done unless I hit all these points. I’d rewatch multiple scenes or whole episodes, so I could reference them all in detail in my writing. I’d have to track down clips of the dub (or rewatch a few episodes dubbed) if I watched a show with subtitles – and vice versa if I first watched it dubbed. I’d go out and re-listen to the OP and ED songs, I’d pull up the list of voice actors on Wikipedia or ANN so that I could find a few I could “shout-out” in my review. I found myself going back and rewriting the words I wrote: I didn’t explain myself enough, I was too wordy, I didn’t actually get to the heart of what I felt, this paragraph could be written better to flow into the rest of the review more smoothly.

While, again, this was part of me getting better at my craft and me caring more about what I put out, it all added up. And again added to the pressure that this felt like a job, rather than just something to do for fun, because these thoughts were just swirling around in my head anyway, may as well dump them somewhere because… why not? That was why I started this.

But it kept adding up and adding up, and then… my Beyond the Boundary review came out.

I put my all into that review, and threw out any semblance of trying to stay within a word count. I read and reread and rewrote my sentences and paragraphs so much until I was fully satisfied with what was on the screen before me.

The Beyond the Boundary review got a decent amount of attention as well, at least comparatively to what everything else on my website had gotten before (or since). I chalk a lot of that up to being mentioned and linked on Crow’s anime mentions weekly post. Again, I’m not here for the numbers and I shouldn’t read too much into one review being mentioned on a larger blog, but… at the time, I was a bit swayed by the attention I got then and decided I had to push myself just as hard for every review since.

I’ve been proud of that review and every review afterwards. I feel like they all capture my thoughts and feelings exactly – not that I’m not proud of some of my earlier reviews nor that my earlier reviews don’t show my feelings, but these newest reviews felt like I put it all out there, precisely and completely.

But that review took multiple days, multiple weeks to make. Every review since then has taken multiple days, that whole process I outlined, to put together. And even if there was a show that I just finished watching and wanted to share my thoughts about… if I didn’t go through this whole process and check all the boxes in my mental list It was… then the review wasn’t done, it wasn’t ready, it can’t be posted. It became a bit draining sometimes.

Stepping Away…

The results of this sometimes played out right in front of my readers on this website. I’d make update posts saying that I was taking a break, and maybe sometimes referencing or mentioning a show I was planning to review soon… but then breaks would take longer than expected, and the reviews I mentioned never came about.

And when I did come back, I’d post 2 or 3 reviews and then disappear again.

My backlog was mostly dried up, I wasn’t writing enough new reviews fast enough, and I wasn’t in the mood or mindset to even watch anime, much less write reviews for even those.

After my review of Madoka Magica, I ended up planning a break, where I expected I’d take some time to reset myself, spend time working on some other projects I had, and then come back to anime with a refreshed mind and ready to write some new reviews. I watched shows like Little Witch Academia, Made in Abyss, Typhoon Noruda, and some others. I’ve started reviews on all these shows, but, like mentioned above, they’re still in a half-finished state, if even that.

I do have thoughts on these shows. I’d love to post reviews for them. But I just couldn’t get myself back into the headspace for going through the hoops and process I’ve done before to drag a review along to the finish line. Soooooooo I just continued to sit here, with half-done reviews, and no will to actually do anything with it or with this site.

And the longer I went without posting a review here, the longer that I felt bad about not posting a review and the guilt made me not want to return back to this website. Which then kind of snowballed and snowballed.

But I had 2 yearly reminders, when WordPress would send me an email about renewing the WordPress plan I had, and my domain registrar sent me a reminder to extend my registration for I recall sitting there for a week in 2021, thinking for a short while about what I wanted to do with this website. I could pull the plug on the domain registration and just kind of let this site fade into obscurity. I didn’t want to keep paying for this website if I wasn’t going to use it… Ultimately, I decided that I did want to return to doing something with this site, and so continue paying for it I did. But, clearly, nothing happened in 2021.

It was always a kind of “I want to get back to this at some point” thing in the back of my mind, but I never actually sat down at all and said “yes, I’m going to do this now”.

… And Stepping Back In

I’m not quite sure what changed, really.

I think what triggered it was the recent(ish) announcement that the Funimation and VRV brands and services are being retired in favor of Crunchyroll.

Throughout all these years, even when I wasn’t even using the service at all, I still kept paying monthly for a VRV subscription. For those outside the US (or in the US who don’t recall), VRV was put forward by the same media group that owned Crunchyroll, back in 2016. It was kind of awesome as it was a single streaming service at a decently low price, and it bundled other services with it: Crunchyroll, Funimation, Mondo Media, Rooster Teeth, Curiosity Stream, and more.

The website was attractive (even if it was maybe a bit barebones and occasionally buggy) and it meant a laaaaarge majority of anime released in the West was right at my fingertips in one place. They created original series with online content creators too, like Epithet Erased and Shadowstone Park. It was actually pretty nice, in my opinion.

But a lot changed between 2018 when I stopped with anime and 2022 when that announcement came out. Of course, with an aggregate service like that, services will come and go. Funimation was replaced with HiDive at some point. But when the announcement came out that VRV would be eventually shuttered and those with VRV accounts should move to Crunchyroll Premium, I logged into the site to start that process and was surprised by what I saw.

There was only three services available on VRV when I logged in in 2022. One was Crunchyroll, of course, and there was “VRV Selects”, which was the banner for VRV’s original content and some other stuff… and Mondo Media, randomly lol. The site felt empty, a kind of husk of its former self. I found since-deleted support articles talking about various services leaving VRV, with the vague promise of “we’ll still continue to work on delivering great content” every time. It was a little sad, but it wasn’t really surprising. The streaming landscape has changed a lot since 2016.

So yeah, I cancelled with VRV, and just got myself a regular Crunchyroll subscription. And once that process was done, I sat there, looking at the main site… “You know, I’ve heard people talking about Spy X Family, let’s take a look at that.”

Where I’ll go from here (Welcome back!)

When I originally started with this website, years and years ago, the idea was that I’d post something every weekend, and if I had any additional thoughts or extra things to say, I could put that out sometime during the week. While that worked well while I had a large backlog to go through, that started to sputter out once the backlog started to dry up, and I relied more on stuff I was finishing writing that week.

Even after taking various breaks, and even now, I wanted to adhere to some form of schedule. Not weekly, heck no, but dialing it down to only posting monthly feels really unappealing. That’s only like… 12 posts in a year? What is that? So my goal for a long time has been trying to do 1 post every 2 weeks. It’s probably not wise to come back into this with an expectation of a schedule, but that’s what I think I want to aim for. This could be a review, me revisiting a show I reviewed in the past, or maybe some other kind of think piece or post.

There is the issue of me disappearing without warning from this site for months (or years), and while every time I come back, I’ll say that I’ll get better at reporting when I’ll be gone, the reality is… I still certainly could and am kind of likely to disappear without warning again. For sure, I’d expect there will be times where I’ll skip a month or two (especially when I have real-life stuff to focus on), but, for real, I’ll try to write a short update post when I think that time is coming.

I need to get the expectation out of my head of making sure I have something to post each 2 weeks, because even if I can push myself to get things out, I also don’t want to fall into the same patterns and issues I had before I took this lengthy hiatus. It’d be better to say I’m taking a break when I run out of pieces to post, rather than trying to pull something out of my butt to get put onto here.

I already have in mind what reviews and shows I’ll be posting about first, and it’d be great to build up even more of a backlog before I hit the ground running… so let’s aim for the first week of September for when I’ll begin posting! This gives me all of August to wrap up the multiple posts I’m working on. This will indeed include full on reviews like I’ve done in the past, but I also have plans for revisiting various shows that I had reviewed before. I’m also also considering a newer “quick review” type of thing, where I put out my thoughts on 3 or so shows, without putting in all the time and effort of making a large review. That way, I can try to cover shows that I have a review half-written for, but I doubt I’ll be able to quickly get over the finish line.

One other major thing I’ll be doing: retiring the @AnimeBirdTweet Twitter account. (Or more specifically, rebranding it.)

I originally set up the Twitter account around the same time I set up this blog, back when I thought it’d be cooler to have an alias and alternate identity and you didn’t know who was actually running this site. At some point along the way, I dropped that whole schtick, as I felt there really wasn’t much of a real reason for me to keep it up… and frankly, if this blog actually went anywhere, smart internet sleuths would surely be able to connect this back to me anyway.

Anyway, I haven’t had much to do with that Twitter account, even when this blog was in full swing. I had followed a couple fellow anime reviewers here on WordPress, but I barely went on that Twitter account often enough to actually meaningfully interact in any way. I had considered using the account to live-tweet anime shows I was watching, but putting in the effort to pause the show, take a screenshot, and write thoughts with it… multiple times in a single episode, that got old quick. During my hiatus from this blog, I used the account to live-tweet reactions to various online concerts I watched, like Miku Expo or some Hololive stuff… but otherwise, the account just sat there, dormant.

So I think I’m going to instead transition to having all of my stuff being posted onto my main Twitter account (@JaykeBird), and have that be my main social media base of operations instead.

I do have plans for what I’ll do with the AnimeBirdTweet account, but it’s going to be wholly unrelated to this blog, and so I’d rather have a few months break where that account goes unused before starting to transition it to something else.

Anyway, yeah!

I’m back, I suppose! I don’t know how much of an audience I have left here (how much of an audience did I even have before?), but hopefully people will enjoy once I start posting things here again in September. I’ll keep in touch about any changes I’ll need to make along the way with this blog, but I hope we’ll all have fun together!

For now, though, I’ll see you around!

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)

I realize this was a super lengthy post. Here’s a summary.

I had a number of reasons to take a (super long) break away from this blog. Some of them involved becoming an adult and doing adult things, but one big part of it was how I just wasn’t watching anime much anymore. Adult stuff got in the way, anime wasn’t interesting me as much anymore, and the internal expectation I had of “you watched an anime, now write a review about it!” (along with the super high bar of quality for a review that I set for myself) all contributed to me dropping anime, and by extension, this site.

But I dunno, something happened, and now I’m back! I have anime to watch, thoughts to share, and I want to get going on it! I have ideas about what I want to post, and my goal is to start posting in September! Once every 2 weeks, I’ll write a new post, and I’m going to get better and sharing an update when I need to take a break away from this for a while.

I’m also dropping the AnimeBirdTweet Twitter account. I’ll be primarily using my main Twitter account, JaykeBird, from now on in relation to this site.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the stuff I have to share, and I’m looking forward to coming back!

Review: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Alright, alright, let’s not pretend this is something that it isn’t. You know why I’m here, I know why I’m here.

Madoka Magica received resounding popularity and praise, and completely upended the idea of what it meant to be a magical girl back in 2011. The ripples it made through the anime subculture is palpable, and it overcame the rolling tide that is seasonal anime to become a lasting major success.

If you’ve spent more than a few months in the anime world, I’m sure you’re more than aware as to what Puella Magi Madoka Magica is, and what its big twist is. If not… well, why don’t we get started?

(Seriously, if you don’t know what Madoka Magica is about, you’ll be seeing some spoilers down below! … Up to episode 4.)

An Introduction

Madoka Kaname had a weird dream last night.

There was this mysterious girl, she was jumping around and fighting against something big, and there was also this white cat-thing… Well, dreams are just that way, I suppose. But when Madoka arrived at school that morning, a new transfer student came in: Homura Akemi. Wait, Homura looks just like that girl in that dream last night! She seems to know who Madoka is too, and she gives Madoka a cryptic message: if you cherish the ones you love, don’t do anything to change yourself. Stay as you are.

This only left Madoka confused, and her confusion grew even more when she heard a voice calling out to her: the source was that same white cat-thing (which called itself Kyubey) as it was being chased down and shot at by Homura. After stumbling into Kyubey, she also wound up face-to-face with Mami, and the world of magical girls was opened up to her.

It’s a bit overwhelming and sounds pretty dangerous, but Kyubey makes a pretty nice offer: if you become a magical girl, he will grant you one wish – no matter what that wish is.

Suddenly, Madoka finds her life has been turned upside down. She and her best friend Sayaka experience first-hand how dangerous being a magical girl can be, by watching Mami die in front of them. In the void of Mami’s absence, Madoka finds herself needing to answer a number of questions: Does she want to become a magical girl, even after learning the price you pay as one, as well as the ultimate fate all magical girls face? What does she even want to wish for? And will she lose all her friends in the process?

The Plot and Characters

Writing a cohesive, well-paced, all-ends-tied-up, satisfying story for a 12-episode series is really hard. That honestly isn’t a lot of time. Given that the first 2 or 3 episodes are usually dedicated to introducing the characters and the world, and the final 3 are the main climax and the buildup to it, you’re already left with about 6 episodes – half the total amount – to add suspense, worldbuilding, and depth. If you do one adventure or one topic per episode, that’s already a tough time. (On top of that, movies have even less time to tell a story, so it’s even more of a feat when a film is able to pull off a wholly satisfying plot.)

So when it comes to 12-episode (1-cour) shows, Madoka Magica often stands out in my mind as the ideal example as to how to write a plot for this short period of time.

Usually, when trying to create a whole story in a single cour, something ends up suffering. Sometimes it’s a character’s backstory or motivation, other times it’s just failing to fully realize the story’s premise or idea (like Yuri on Ice), or you’ll see the pacing falter (as in Brynhildr in the Darkness), and in some cases (such as Beyond the Boundary) it’s the worldbuilding that ends up lacking. In the case of Madoka Magica, however, it’s hard to find anything that really felt underdeveloped. Everything they do, they do in the perfect amount, and (almost) all of it ties back into the main storyline somehow. Devilman Crybaby, which I recently reviewed, also does exceptionally well at crafting a story in so few episodes, and Madoka Magica is even leaner than that show.

In essence, the point of Madoka Magica is to present a different take on how being a magical girl works. It takes the elements of the genre – the transformations, the magical powers, the never-ending onslaught of enemies to fight – and bases them in reality in a different way. The big baddie of the day here are “witches”, mysterious creatures that bring despair and sadness to their victims through this weird zombie-like mind-control state. Witches must be confronted in their labyrinths: reality-bending dungeons where minions can come out and attack you. And as the show does a deeper dive into all of this stuff and more, it reveals a surprisingly dark underbelly as the tone grows more and more grim. This also becomes the focus of the worldbuilding, a task they could do as beyond this whole magical girl thing, the world is just like our own – just maybe a few years in the future.

Madoka Magica, rather than throwing all of its secrets and info at you right out of the gate, though, withholds these revelations and plot twists, like cards in a hand, only to be shown at precisely the right time.

And it’s this withholding of information, both through the “mascot” character Kyubey in-universe and through what the camera and writing direction allows us (the viewers) to see, that makes Madoka Magica so effective. We’re brought into this show expecting it to be some visually-impressive but otherwise standard-fare entry into the magical girl genre, and Madoka Magica plays with this expectation we have, allowing it to misdirect us and bring us on this path that slowly takes apart everything we expect and replaces it with something completely different.

But on top of that, the show never directly lies to you either. Mami and Homura in the beginning tell Madoka and her friend Sayaka, in no uncertain terms, how dangerous being a magical girl is, and that it’s not as pretty as it seems; Kyubey – the all-knowing reference guide on “how to magical girl” – is consistent in his explanations and tone, the biggest fault he has is that the info he provides comes down to the questions you ask him. Once you watch the whole show the first time through and everything is revealed to you, you can go back and watch it all a second time and see the true meaning behind everything that gets said, every action that is taken. But even if you only watch it once, you still learn exactly everything the show wants to tell you – you really don’t need multiple viewings to truly “get” Madoka Magica the same way you have to with other shows, which is great.

The first two episodes maintain a slightly lighter tone in comparison to how dark the rest of the series can get. The writers had intended to blindside their viewers back in 2012 with a tone shift, but at this point now, given the popularity of the series, it’s hard to really take the lighter tone seriously as most anime fans know the show by reputation alone. To be fair, the show isn’t exactly coy about its darker inclinations in these first episodes either, so it’s hard to really call it an unforeseeable tone shift in any case. And I will note, despite how much I (and other reviewers) talk about how dark this show is/can get, it’s definitely not the darkest thing you’ve seen out there, nor is it the darkest anime ever made – even among magical girl shows. There’s definitely parts and revelations that can make you gasp, but the show stops short of presenting anything truly deplorable on screen – even with characters dying, I don’t think we see that much blood. This is still being made for TV, after all.

From an overall cast of about 14, six of them can be pretty much considered the main lead roles. One of these six is the mascot character, Kyubey; Kyubey and Madoka both end up being the catalysts to this entire plot, with Kyubey more visibly so.

The other five are the five magical girls (or non-magical humans) that we use to explore this show’s world: Madoka, Sayaka, Mami, Homura, and Kyoko. Homura, Kyoko, and Mami start off the series already turned into magical girls, and they enter into Madoka and Sayaka’s lives for each their own reason. Since each of the five has a different personality and outlook on life, and a majority have varying levels of inexperience as a magical girl, the show expertly utilizes this to explore this world from different angles and through different lenses. Mami, despite her attention in the fandom (and promotional artwork) and her importance to the others in the main group, is not present for the majority of the series. She’s the one that introduces Madoka and Sayaka to the world of magical girls, and the two look up to her as their mentor and friend – which makes for a fitting change in tone when she’s suddenly killed at the end of episode 3.

Rather than escaping the underground world of magical girls after Mami’s death, though, Madoka and Sayaka stay roped in as Sayaka decides to turn into a magical girl herself. The absence of Mami’s guiding hand turns the whole experience into a frightening one for them, though, as they stumble through it all themselves, only given help when they know what to ask Kyubey. And the further they dive in, the more they see and the more emotional baggage and trauma they accumulate. On top of that, they’re pitted up against Kyoko (a bona fide veteran) and Homura (who’s been antagonistic from the start), who both have their own reasons for intervening. They’re antagonistic, but it’s justifiable as we delve more into their characters in turn: they both already have a tremendous amount of baggage – due in part to being magical girls and also due to their respective backstories.

The rest of the cast are supporting roles, quite literally, as their actions and existence are there to support the personalities and motivations of the main cast. They’re present in the story for a purpose, and once they fulfill their purpose, they fade into the background so the show can focus in on our five leads. As a result, there’s not a lot of extraneous characters here. The only ones I could consider pretty much unnecessary are Madoka’s dad and her homeroom teacher: two characters that would leave more questions if they were absent.

Madoka Magica’s pacing is another thing to marvel. It’s fast, so that they’re able to get through everything that there is to explore, but it’s extremely consistent, and it’s not too fast so as to leave you overwhelmed. With this pacing, along with how they drop-feed you information, the show does a good job at making sure you’re not left behind when it reveals its next card.

If I were to level any complaints at this show, I’d only have two:

First, I have a bit of a love-and-hate relationship with Madoka. She’s definitely the main character of the show (her name is in the title), but she lacks a goal until well into the second half of the series. The only thing she seems to want is for everyone to be happy – an admirable goal, sure, but it doesn’t really answer what she actually wants to do with her own life. Everything else, she just kind of hems and haws about. While she jumps in and helps out when others around her jump to action, she doesn’t really take any initiative herself until the end. But at the same time, that’s kind of the goal of her personal arc. We don’t know what she wants to do with her life because she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life; it’s something that’s focused on and returned to throughout the series, so there’s character growth and all that stuff. Given how high-stakes some of the situations are and how much pressure she’s under, it’s no surprise that she has a hard time immediately making a decision. A lot of this is still new to her, and she’s still young and has a lot to figure out. But I have a hard time getting behind indecisive characters, and even though the show does ultimately sell her story to me, I feel this is a character arc they could’ve spent a bit more time on in the first half.

My second complaint is in regards to Homura, but I don’t want to give out any more spoilers than I already have, so I’ll try to keep it vague: I love a lot of what they did with her and her character, but there’s a few points where I wonder if the things she does are realistically the actions Homura would take. To an extent, the show kind has a counterargument against my complaint, but I feel some of her actions (or inactions) were simply done so that the writers could keep the mystery and intrigue.

Honestly though, I don’t even think about these complaints while I’m in the middle of watching this show. Even though I’ve seen it a handful of times already, I still get sucked in and fall in love all over again every time I put it back on. It’s definitely hyperbolic to call this is one of the best anime shows ever made, as others have done, but it is certainly up there on my personal list.

The Atmosphere

Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s visuals are striking, but beyond the grandiose architecture used in backgrounds and the avant-garde witch labyrinth sections, as well as the intentional disconnect between the less-assuming character designs and the darker tone, there honestly isn’t that much that I can consider truly amazing. The animation and art quality is well-done and fluid throughout the entire series, including the nicely-choreographed action scenes, but Madoka Magica could be considered just a solid production if it weren’t for those 3 elements I listed above.

But indeed, it’s those elements that help elevate this show’s visuals into something more memorable. Shaft, the main animation studio behind Madoka Magica, are often guilty of extraordinary architectural works in their shows, such as the Koyomi bathroom in the Monogatari series, and this is no exception; Madoka’s middle school is a combination of futuristically stark and traditionally ornate and seems as large as a college campus. The witch labyrinths are where Shaft’s visual effects muscle can flex (alongside some outside help, as well), producing some truly memorable artwork. The labyrinths tend to incorporate some real-life craft materials and other photorealistic objects, in some middle step between Terry Gilliam’s sections in Monty Python and the fully-realized craft aesthetic in Yoshi’s Crafted World. It would’ve been costly and difficult for the animators to use this aesthetic for the entirety of the show – as much as I would’ve loved to see it – but I’m glad they went all out in these sections.

Lastly, we come to the character designs, created by Ume Aoki. Aoki is the creator of Hidamari Sketch, a lighthearted slice-of-life manga that has essentially no tonal connection to Madoka Magica – and thus her designs are likewise lighter, cuter, and extremely moe. These descriptions also match her designs for the characters in this show as well, which helped with the producers’ intentions to blindside viewers with the darker tone. Even when the darker moments began, though, the designs (somewhat surprisingly) didn’t seem too out of place though; part of it was that they were adapted to be more flatter and fit in more by Takahiro Kishida.

Each character has their own distinct color and overall look, which really helps keep each one distinct; even if you’re terrible like names (like I am), you can instantly tell apart who is who in any given scene. Wild hair colors is super common in anime, and those same colors also extend to the characters’ clothes and eyes as well. Whether it’s the more casual/school-outfit look or the magical girl forms, I think the designs for all the human characters here are good. I also do have to praise the designs for Kyubey and the witches as well, they are truly awesome – although I wish they did more with Kyubey’s face than a simply pair of 2 circular pink eyes; it sometimes does seem a bit odd in the more serious moments of the show.

One amusing aspect of Madoka Magica’s visuals, though, is how the human characters are drawn when they’re in the distance or out of focus (and sometimes Kyubey as well). So much detail was omitted or changed at times that the results can look pretty comical – these drawings became the basis of the in-fandom meme Meduca Meguca.

It is, of course, impossible to talk about Madoka and its visuals without mentioning the disparity between the broadcast and Blu-Ray versions of the show. It isn’t uncommon for studios to return to earlier episodes and try to clean them up and improve them between the broadcast and the eventual Blu-Ray release, but what’s more noteworthy for Madoka is how much of a difference there can be.

Entire backgrounds were re-constructed for episode 2’s Blu-Ray release, for example, including adding and rearranging furniture to Mami’s room and changing her coffee table to glass. That one is a more well-known example, but you can go online and find a number of comparison images between the TV (broadcast) and Blu-Ray versions of a lot of the examples. It was no secret that Shaft was running right up until airtime to complete some of the episodes. The tragedy that was the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami and the nationwide mourning that followed gave the staff enough time to finish up the last 2 episodes without needing to delay further – I do wonder how the show would’ve turned out if that disaster hadn’t happened.

Madoka Magica has a distinct soundtrack, but I wonder how much of me saying that is simply because I’ve listened to it on its own? It is a great soundtrack, and – with the consistency with the instrumentation – feels like an integral part of the show; I doubt any other sound could really fit in quite as well. But beyond maybe a handful of tracks, I feel a lot of it isn’t really memorable outside of the show. That handful, though, really are great and stand out very well – such as the rocking guitar-heavy jam that is Magia, the uplifting track used for transformations called Credens Justitiam, and the mysterious but bouncy track played while Kyubey explains a facet of magical girl-ness called Sis Puella Magica! Yuki Kajiura does a great job, but she’s known for the quality of her work, so that shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Once the darker tone of the show comes more into the forefront in episode 3, the show also begins using Magia for the ending theme. I do wonder if, perhaps, the song is a tad over-used by the time the series is done, but at the same time, with a killer tune like that, they’d want to get as much out of it as they can. Two other songs are used for ending themes – Mata Ashita for episodes 1 and 2, and And I’m Home for episode 9 – although it’s possible these may’ve actually been added in during the Blu-ray release. Magia, as I’ve said, is pretty awesome (and the other two songs are nice and fitting for their episodes, even if they’re a bit generic), but all the ending animations tend to be pretty lackluster: either an image slowly scrolling or a silhouette of Madoka walking as she passes by other characters’ silhouettes.

The opening song is Connect, sung by Claris, and it’s pretty fun and upbeat, amusingly so given the direction of the later episodes at times. Unlike what others say though, I don’t think it feels as out of place in the latter episodes myself – it may be that I’ve simply accepted this song as a part of the Madoka experience. I enjoy the opening animation a lot though, and with every new rewatching of the show, I find something else in the animation I like.

While I don’t necessarily think the transition from dubs or subs to the other in this show is as smooth as it may be in others, I have seen and appreciate both. I think you’ll have a good time no matter which language you choose; there isn’t necessarily anything the English nor Japanese cast do that blows the other’s performance out of the water, so I can recommend either. I do want to praise Madoka and Kyubey’s voice actors on the Japanese side (Aoi Yuki and Emiri Kato, respectively) and Madoka and Sayaka’s voice actors on the English side (Christine Marie Cabanos and Sarah Anne Williams, respectively) – the English voice actor for Kyubey, Cassandra Lee, does an overall good job too.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Honestly, at this point, there’s not really anything that can be said about Madoka Magica that others haven’t already said. That’s why this review ended up turning into the longest piece I’ve written yet; I’m not aiming this at people who are unfamiliar at the show – instead, I’m aiming this towards existing fans that want to see another person’s thoughts on the experience. At this point, I’m assuming pretty much everybody knows about this show.

Madoka Magica truly is great, though. There’s so much this show does right, it can be hard to come up with any criticisms at times. It’s an emotional, high-stakes, no-punches-held story, combined unexpectedly with middle school girls and the magical girl genre. If you haven’t seen it yet (somehow), I highly suggest you go and do so. And if you decide to jump off, make sure you do after episode 3 or 4, just so you’re not jumping off before Madoka Magica finally bears its teeth.

Rating: Near Perfect
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
+++ great story told in 12 episodes, fascinating world and mechanics, Magia (ending theme)
— Madoka is indecisive and unsure (although she’s written that way), Homura’s characterization, ending animations

P.S. If you’re curious about hearing the thoughts of some people who are just now watching the series for the first time, I humbly suggest you check out the podcast Madoka Magicast to get their episode-by-episode reactions.


My Look at the Spring 2019 Season

Hey hey! I didn’t think I’d be doing one of these again! Welp, an anime season just started, some shows seem kind of interesting, and I happen to have had some free time this past week. If my most recent review of Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san didn’t inform you, I have a terrible time at actually keeping up with seasons, and even for the shows that do capture my interest, it can still take me a while (well beyond when the show is done airing) to actually finish it.

But I’m curious about a few of them, and there may be some I want to keep around. So let’s get started, shall we?

Fruits Basket

Fruits_Basket_2019_Poster_3The original Fruits Basket anime from 2001 was a well-received (and award-winning) adaptation of the popular (and also award-winning) manga Fruits Basket. Even today, loads of people are still a huge fan of the franchise, and this show helped establish Funimation as a source for anime in the US. However… I’ve actually never seen anything beyond just the first few episodes. I honestly know very little about Fruits Basket, so for me, this is my first time experiencing this!

This show’s premise is interesting, that’s for sure: the main girl Tohru finds herself moving into the Soma household, a local wealthy family that not many seem to know much about; and for good reason, the Somas have a secret! If one gets sick or hugged by a member of the opposite sex (although the definition of “hugged” seems pretty lenient and inconsistent), they’ll turn into an animal! Only for a few minutes, but still, enough to bring some unwanted attention. Each member of the Soma family has their own animal they turn into, and it’s based upon the (Chinese) Zodiac… plus the Cat. So now all these boys have to deal with a girl living in their own house… so let the hijinks ensue!

I have to say, though, thus far… I’m not that hooked. It’s an interesting premise, but there really isn’t anything to keep me coming back. I’m not even sure what the plot is even setting up to be. So far, Fruits Basket seems to be a slice-of-life or sitcom-type situation with the undertones of romance and mystery, but it’s not slice-of-life enough nor is there enough mystery nor has the plot gained enough momentum yet, to really reach out and grab me and make me want that next episode right now. It may be a slow ramp-up, though, and given the franchise’s popularity, I’ll give it a bit of slack for right now.

On top of that, I feel the visuals and animation really have that potential for so much more, but yet they’re not doing it. I’m sorry, if I had the chance to have my award-winning manga re-adapted, I’d pull out all the stops this second time around. The character designs are great, but I expected some more fluid subtle animation as characters talk and react – I mean, they’re not not fluid, but they are a bit stiff at times. I’m also kind of put off by the texture work done on some of the backgrounds, such as the inside of the Soma house. I like the coloring, though, and like I said, the character designs really are great.

I’m not trying to sound negative about the show, I promise. A part of it definitely is that underutilized potential in the visuals department, but there’s also probably a part of me that was swept up in the hype and now I’m feeling underwhelmed that it isn’t matching some form of lofty expectations. I’ll keep going because I do want to experience the Fruits Basket story, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.


72dc50e78c6a6dff1d5dbcf86bbf449dBefore I even got around to delving into this show, I knew that it was going to be something… different. Not sure how it would, but it would. Sarazanmai has the name of Kunihiko Ikuhara attached to it (of Sailor Moon S and Revolutionary Girl Utena fame), and the small but ever-present Utena fandom on Twitter was excitedly awaiting its release.

Even as I saw people post onto social media that this show is just weird, though, I wasn’t really prepared for how weird it was. I’ve seen a lot more kappas and buttholes in that first episode than I think I would’ve ever willingly signed up for otherwise. But I do have to say… the weirdness intrigues me.

Sarazanmai is about three middle school boys – Kazuki, Toi, and Enta – who angered a kappa spirit by knocking over the Kappa Prince statue and calling the spirit a frog. So, the spirit does what any good kappa spirit should do and curses the three boys, transforming them into kappas and forcing them to fight large kappa-zombies and take each kappa-zombie’s soul ball (“shirikodama”) which is said to reside in their anus. (You read that right.) And this fighting seems to involve holding hands and spinning around in the air, a song-and-dance routine, and the “Sarazanmai”, a ritual where the three link consciousnesses and their innermost secrets come out. Each shirikodama the trio collect, they gain a wish they can use on anything they want. So even if they’ve been cursed, at least they get something out of it…

This show seems to pretty wholly incorporate the lore of the kappa creature (which does include the whole shirikodama in the butt thing), which I’ll admit is a creature… I never really had much interest in. This show doesn’t exactly make me more interested in kappas (in fact, if anything, it makes me less) but I’m fascinated at how far they went to include everything about the creature. However, to that extent, kappas are definitely everywhere in this show, including a kappa-loving idol named Sara Azuma that gives a daily Kappa Lucky Fortune. It’s honestly a bit much, and can at times leave Western audiences a tad puzzled.

It also amuses (and confuses) me that the first half of the first episode is so slow and boring. People are randomly walking around with boxes while the whole Kappa Lucky Fortune thing plays out… but once the three boys meet the spirit, that’s when the story kicks it up to 11. Suddenly, they’re thrust in front of the Box Kappa-Zombie, and they’re somehow highly coordinated in battle (and dancing) despite it being their first time ever doing this together. It’s a highly surreal experience, but the visuals are flashy and well-done and it somehow manages to keep your eyes glued to the screen even if your mind is going “omg, is this really happening right now?” The first episode left me feeling bewildered, but also wondering what the hell is even going to come next. (It also left me with this awesome ending song!)

So I think I’ll stick around with Sarazanmai for at least a little bit. I’m not sure if I’m completely sold on the concept yet, but the high production values and WTF factor may just be enough to keep me watching until the finish.

Demon Slayer

Demon_Slayer_2019Every time I write these “look at a season” posts, I usually end up looking at a show or two that’s outside my usual realm of anime experiences (drama, comedy, and romance). I try to find what seems to be the popular shows of the season as well, so I can share my thoughts on those too. If it weren’t for that, I don’t think I’d ever bother with this show.

And, well, I kind of like Demon Slayer.

It focuses around a young man named Tanjiro who came back to his rural home (from a visit into the village) seeing his entire family dead, blood everywhere. The work of demons. Somehow, luckily, his sister Nezuko survived, but not without being transformed into a human-eating demon herself. After a run-in with the Demon Slayer named Giyo, Tanjiro learns of a master named Sakonji Urokodaki, who lives on a faraway mountain and who can help him train to become a Demon Slayer himself. So Tanjiro sets off with his neutralized sister to find this master – so that he can transform his sister back into a human, and take revenge on the demon that killed his family.

My biggest issue, I’ll admit, is that a lot of this is simply thrust onto Tanjiro, “this is what you must do”. Giyo said he must seek out the master, master Urokodaki told him he must keep his sister from eating humans, must do this, must do that. Tanjiro doesn’t seem to decide much for himself, only doing what the others tell him to do. Although this could be part of his personal arc if the author leans into this more… Beyond that, you hear the whole “you are weak, but I can sense something special in you” thing in regards to Tanjiro a lot too, which comes off a tad unoriginal.

Beyond these action tropes, though, you have an interesting show and premise. Tanjiro does have a personal stake in fighting these supernatural beings, and those same supernatural beings lead to some very fascinating battles and situations. The pacing is good, and I’m curious to see what kind of world this show will unfold before us. On top of that, the animation and visuals for this show are absolutely amazing (with ufotable being the main animation studio, this shouldn’t be surprising) and I hope they can keep up the quality. The music is also pretty nice, and fitting given the feudal-era Japan time period.

I’m interested in continuing this week-by-week, but since action shows generally aren’t my wheelhouse, I’m not sure how well I’ll stick on that! We’ll see how well I can do, but either way, like I said, I am interested. And if I know any friends looking for an action series right now, this’ll definitely be one I recommend.

Hitori Bocchi no Marumaruseikatsu

02c4bcdd4923f6683cb849e16f310a8b1554444760_fullI don’t know if I’ve swung so hard from “I’m really disliking this” to “this is a lot of fun” in a show’s first episode before.

Hitori Bocchi no… yadda yadda, has a pretty simple premise: Hitori Bocchi, who just started middle school, promised she would befriend everyone in her class. The biggest snag in that plan, is that Bocchi has absolutely no idea how to actually talk to people. At all.

The first few minutes of the first episode focus around her on the first day of middle school, as she imagines the idyllic world of having no one else in her class. No one in her class means no one to befriend. But this entire first section is written so extremely awkwardly and poorly-paced that it turned me off pretty quickly. I paused the show 8 minutes in and actually debated stopping right there. I don’t really feel like going back to analyze what it was that bothered me right now, but needless to say, I wasn’t having fun.

However, the episode picks up once Bocchi sets her sights on trying to befriend the girl sitting in front of her: Nako. The writing, rather than being awkward itself, shifted to being able to skillfully portray an awkward character, as Bocchi tried her best and stumbled her way through trying to have a conversation and trying to gain Nako’s affection, leading up to asking Nako to be her friend in a love-confession-esque way. It was charming, as well as painfully accurate and hit close to home in a lot of ways. At one point, Bocchi had a list of conversation points on her hand, and when Nako gave an answer that Bocchi didn’t prepare a response to, she simply asked Nako to skip over to the next topic. I honestly can relate pretty well in the almost-formulaic and cut-and-dry ways that Bocchi approached friendships and achieving them.

Luckily, the show has continued to stay amusing and fun since that point. The visuals and character designs are serviceable, although I wish they added some more detail to the backgrounds, as it feels pretty plain.

I’ll be a tad disappointed if this show doesn’t end with Bocchi actually making friends with everyone in her class. I’ll also be curious about how they’ll handle the “foreigner” girl in her class, as she appears in the OP… I’m expecting stereotypes. But either way, I suppose I’m having enough fun with this to be curious about where it goes next. So I’ll stick with it; I just wish the first few minutes weren’t so off putting.

Ao-chan Can’t Study

946a165bc3a7eacfe7812363ef841eec1555109861_fullI’m a big fan of short-length shows, and even though Ao-chan Can’t Study is half the length of a full episode (only 13 minutes), it’s paced well enough to still feel like a full episode.

So who is Ao-chan and why can’t she study? Well, there’s a certain guy that has her attention… WINK, WINK. Those are not subtle tiny little *wink, wink*’s, oh no, those are big-chested WINK, WINK’s. The guy in question is Kijima, who seems like a well-meaning soft-spoken guy, or “King of the Normies” as Ao refers to him. But the issue is, high schooler Ao doesn’t have time to worry about some stupid guy, she has books to study, classwork to do, a university to apply to, an adult life she can’t wait to get started on. All Kijima-kun is going to do is just get in her way and waste her time.

And yet, she can’t stop herself from thinking about him. I mean, the guy literally confessed to her in the nurse’s office, just before she was going to tell him to get lost. So now, she’s overhearing people talk about his *ahem* assets, her lewd father is helping out with some “training” books, and it doesn’t help that every time the two of them talk, the double-entendres and euphemisms really mess with her head. So what is this poor girl to do?

I’m surprised that I’m enjoying Ao-chan Can’t Study so much. Conversations being misunderstood and characters hiding their feelings are annoying tropes of anime shows, but yet somehow, I’m having fun while this show does the same thing. I think the differences is that while conversations are being misunderstood, she’s not committing herself to anything she doesn’t want – although she originally just wanted to be rid of him, so it is surprising that she’s continuing to let him in. And, well, there is the fact that everything they talk about takes on a more sexual meaning in Ao’s mind.

I think we all know where this show is headed (2 tickets for the next train to Lovebirds-Town), but I think the fun is going to be in the journey, not the destination. And it is helped along by a killer opening theme, I want to get that full song right now! Visuals and pacing are also pretty good, so all in all, yep, I’m curious to see what happens next.

Joshi Kausei

fa1ecb900e0aba66d36e861897c54d091554507891_fullJoshi Kausei follows the high school girl Momoko, who lives her life day by day with her friends Shibumi and Mayumi. It’s a slice-of-life anime through and through, but the big difference with this one is that the only (intelligible) words you’ll hear is the ending theme. Everything else, no one actually says a word. It’s an interesting idea, but they failed the execution due to one major thing.

See, the characters don’t say words, but they do make noises. A lot of them. Grunting, giggling, growling, gasping, other mouth sounds that may also start with the letter “g”. They seem to do everything but talk, and at that point, it kind of makes me wonder why they even bother. In fact, in the second episode, we see characters on-screen (like Momoko’s mom) actually doing lip movements – as in, actually talking – but we just hear absolutely no dialogue. As if they’re just mouthing their words. It’s just strange and kind of self-defeating to have the characters make noises and to animate them talking (but not have us hear any words), rather than simply having them all be mute and letting the music and visuals carry the story and emotions.

On top of that, I’ll also admit that the writing and visuals… just aren’t very good. The gag for the entire first episode was that Momoko had her legs splayed out on a school desk and she and her friends played with them. Really strange thing to start your series off with, and I think it turned away a lot of prospective fans. The second episode was about Momoko just having an unlucky day, but the slightly-underwhelming visuals ended up hindering that episode. (The animation and drawings would’ve been good a decade ago, but not now.)

All in all, we’re left with a pretty underwhelming series. I think they just made the wrong decisions when figuring out how to adapt the manga, and as a result, the show is just going to suffer. So like other reviewers have done, I’m going to skip out on this one too.

Why the Hell Are You Here, Teacher?

2a48c0fc5205a27b2352b5aeca9f5dab1555113949_fullThis is, uhhhh, a show. That’s for sure.

At Ichiro’s high school, there’s a young female teacher that’s known as “Kojiro the Demon” – she’s extremely strict, uptight, and can get anyone to fall in line. But somehow, Ichiro keeps running into her in all sorts of unexpected places – even in her own family’s home – and ending up in compromising positions.

Ichiro walks into the bathroom, and he finds her sitting on the toilet. He goes to the school nurse’s office, and he finds her lying in bed. Even if these situations don’t start off compromising, they somehow turn that way (buttons snapping off a shirt is not uncommon) as Kojiro’s private parts become exposed. It’s the same kind of joke and scenario, over and over again, the big difference being the weird places the two keep running into each other. On top of that, the show somewhat hints Kojiro is falling for her student now, and she acts very tsundere towards him as a result.

I’m gonna be honest, there’s not really much that makes this show intriguing to me. The unrealistic-ness of it all set aside, this is obviously just a bunch of setups to show off a woman in risqué situations – if this is something you want, I don’t understand why you don’t just go the rest of the way and find a hentai to watch? I just don’t fully understand what point there is for this show, unless you just want to get people’s minds racing.

At the very least, the visuals are nice? Character designs are good (I enjoy Ichiro’s friend, Suzuki a lot), animation is fluid, and it has a surprisingly good soundtrack as well. But, still, not something I’m going to be continuing with…


If you notice that I didn’t cover One Punch Man’s 2nd season, there’s two reasons for that: 1) it’s not available on VRV or Netflix in the US (right now, at least) and 2) I honestly felt “meh” about the first season, and so I don’t have much interest in the 2nd one. One Punch Man is not bad, but I’ll leave the 2nd season for those who enjoy it more.

One other one I’ve seen a lot of people talk about is “Carole and Tuesday”. I’ll be honest in that the story synopsis I saw for the show didn’t seem that interesting to me, but given how many friends I know are interested in it, it seems like something I should give a chance… if Netflix actually released it as it aired in the US – which they don’t. So I’m going to be stuck until Netflix puts it up for me to be able to give it a look.

Minus that, though, I’ve seen some interesting shows. I felt like I had a lot of criticisms to level at all of them, and I don’t want to sound negative and seem like “nothing new is ever good”, but I don’t want to come across as disingenuous either. Truth is, I wasn’t blown away by any of them, but there are some good ones. Demon Slayer is shaping up pretty nicely, Ao-chan Can’t Study is somehow a lot of fun, and Sarazanmai is a flashy, but strange, ride. I’ll also be holding out to see if Fruits Basket can hook me in the next few weeks.

The big question is going to be if I can keep up with these shows weekly. My money is on me falling behind around mid-May.

Is there any shows you watched that I didn’t mention? Or do you have differing thoughts on the shows I talked about here? Let me know what you think below, and until next time, have a good week!

Review: Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

Editor’s note: I swear, I proofread these things! Please believe me lol… (fixed a lot of embarrassing grammatical errors. Like, how do I not even notice… ugh, whatever…)

When the Winter 2018 season began, I was excited to see what new cool anime shows were coming out, and this was one that caught my eye with it’s fascinating name: Master Teaser Takagi-san. I was watching this week by week as it was coming out, but (unsurprisingly to me) I ended up falling behind at some point. A full year later, I finally finished it!

I wonder if I’ll finish any of the other shows in that season… (minus Pop Team Epic, which I stayed on top of every week somehow).

An Introduction

In some undisclosed city of Japan, we see two middle schoolers sitting next to each other in the back row of a classroom: a boy and a girl.

The boy, Nishikata, tries to come up with a plan for a joke he can play on the girl next to him. Maybe some folding paper toy that pops out and scares her, a funny face he can pull to throw her off, something… you may think this is a bit mean or unkind, but the reality is, that girl is Takagi, the master of teasing.

No matter what Nishikata tries to do, she seems to always be a step ahead. Pop out scary toy, she’s made a better one. Funny face, she has a funnier one. Takagi teases him constantly, day in day out, and now Nishikata is just waiting for his chance to get back to her.

Sometime, somewhere… walking to school, in the classroom, at a store together, Nishikata always has a new plan in mind and he won’t quit until he succeeds…

The Plot and Characters

Takagi-san is another example of a sketch comedy, slice-of-life type show, something I haven’t touched in a little while. This genre is honestly something I’m usually a big fan of, loving shows like Nichijou and Squid Girl. Takagi-san falls pretty much right in line with them on paper, but there’s some dissimilarities that do make this a different experience. As is normal with a sketch comedy, each episode is divided into a handful of smaller segments/parts, with each part usually focusing around a distinct topic. The parts can often times blend together or feature some transition from one to the next, but they generally stand on their own without any additional context needed.

Almost every part in Takagi-san (we’ll discuss the outliers shortly), though, feature one of two premises: either Takagi is teasing or flustering Nishikata, or Nishikata is trying to get back at Takagi but fails at the critical moment (often times by being flustered or overthinking things). When boiled down, every single segment fits into one of those two categories, all the way from episode 1 to episode 12.

In fact, we see exactly the same structure used three times in completely different occasions: episode 5 (“Bookstore”), episode 8 (“Typhoon”), and episode 11 (“Cat”). There may be more, I don’t recall, but they all go as such: Takagi comes across Nishikata doing something he finds embarrassing, she tries to get him to admit the embarrassing thing, and after he finally admits or Takagi drops the subject, she nonchalantly reveals that she knew all along. This is the same story being told 3 separate times, the only difference being the “embarrassing thing” in question (ooh, Nishikata likes cats, how scandalous!). There are some minute variations, if you really want to be pedantic, but since they’re spaced apart in different episodes, it makes those variations even harder to notice and thus makes the sketches feel even more repetitive.

This show is pretty much the definition of “formulaic”.

In my experience with slice-of-life shows, I usually see them do a couple things to break up the monotony and keep things from feeling stale. Most shows have multiple characters to split their attention across, and you’ll see the characters (and their varying personalities) in different combinations throughout the show’s run – Daily Lives of High School Boys takes this idea in particular to the extreme, by introducing a handful of new characters every other episode. You’ll see shows introduce more traits or twists to a character’s personality partway through the series, such as Kyoya brushing the girls’ hair in GJ Club, or Seo in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. These twists and additions keep it from being the same setup-punchline over and over with a particular character (sadly, I wish this was something they applied to the rest of Nozaki-kun). Lastly, some shows will put in some sketches with differing tones to help keep things fresh, such as Squid Girl’s highly effective dramatic segments, or a number of various recurring segments in Nichijou (such as Like Love). Even with the same characters, the same personalities, it’s enjoyable to see them painted in a slightly different light.

Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san, however, lacks most of that. 80% of the show’s sketches are just Takagi and Nishikata, with Takagi teasing Nishikata or Nishikata being flustered. It’s the same setup and punchline, over and over again; sure, there’s variation in the setting and topic of the sketch (from calligraphy to playing with smartphones to making a game around throwing cans in the garbage), but there’s no changes in how the two interact, and it’s always presented in the same light comedic tone. A few sketches (as in, once per 2 episodes) have the rare heart-string pluck, but those come at the end of the usual comedic banter. Takagi does have feelings for Nishikata, which she isn’t subtle at sharing in those rare moments, but – as you’d expect – these feelings go nowhere (in the original series).

The other 20% (the aforementioned “outlier” segments) is focused around 3 other girls: Mina, Yukari, and Sanae – so the show does try to break up the monotony in one form, at the very least. These are actually the main three characters from Ashita no Doyobi, a spinoff that takes place in the same school/classroom. Especially with Mina, these three are best described as comic relief; their sketches show them light-heartedly explore various topics in school life and early teenage years, and with the three different personalities, you’re bound to relate to at least one of them. They’re a fun distraction, but unfortunately, they’re not enough to really break up the otherwise incessant march of repetitive Takagi/Nishikata sketches.

I would’ve been interested to see the show delve more into some of the other supporting characters that otherwise only get a few lines throughout the whole series. Seeing something like Nishikata hanging out with his male friends, or that other couple Nakai and Mano… heck, even just seeing Takagi by herself, showing us what kind of “cute anime girl” things she does without having a Nishikata to tease… these things would’ve added some great variety. Maybe they could’ve gone somewhere with Takagi’s feelings for Nishikata, something genuinely sweet or fluffy, or at least a side of their friendship that is more than just teasing/being teased – some form of actual, genuine acts of friendship and connection between the two of them. There has to be some reason why Nishikata continues to subject himself to her teasing (minus simply “because he likes her too”). The show hints at and implies these things, but I feel they could’ve really gone much further to show us this; they had the perfect situation too with the tandem biking segments, but most of that happened off-screen. Just… any form of variety like this would’ve really helped this show a lot.

And so, you’re probably thinking I don’t like this anime a whole lot. We’re almost done with this section of the review, and all I’ve done so far is share a lot of negatives and complaints. … But at the same time, I did manage to stick with it all the way to episode 12 (albeit over the course of a full year), so what kept me coming back? Was it simply sheer willpower, so that I could write this review?

The truth is… Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san was still enjoyable. At the core of it, even beyond Takagi teasing a lot and Nishikata being flustered a lot… it shows kids just being kids. They’re middle schoolers, walking to/from school together, hanging out, eventually even texting each other. They have these ridiculous little games and challenges they do; it’s their unique laid-back way to add some levity and spice in their usual routine of going to school every day, dealing with chores and homework and tests. On top of that, they’re awkwardly trying to explore their friendship, themselves, each other, and the world around them. There’s an overall sense of innocence and basic joy that does come from this series, almost to the point of longing for those bygone childhood days of my own. Takagi-san is simply just a fun, relaxing ride; you can put on an episode, lean back, and have a chill alright time for the next 22-ish minutes. This show definitely won’t give you the highest highs you can get from other shows (in fact, it may not even come close), but it also never reaches the lowest lows either… again, not even close. It’s consistent, it’s relaxing, and it’s friends hanging out.

I don’t think the show was truly intended for me, or anyone, to delve so deeply into how the plots are structured, or even how one-note the characters are; it aimed to deliver a consistently light-hearted fun time, and that’s precisely what it does. But that doesn’t invalidate my criticisms either: as it is, I have a hard time recommending this show to my friends or really anyone. There’s other shows out there that deliver the exact same things, but with more variety and fun. Takagi-san is a good time despite the criticisms I’ve leveled at it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t a better time to be had elsewhere.

I am still looking forward to the second season coming out later this year though. I’m hoping there will be something in it that wows me, but I’m not expecting anything except “more of the same”.

The Atmosphere

Although you wouldn’t think it at first, there’s some nicely-done visuals on display here.

The animation is fluid, the characters are expressive and have a sense of liveliness to them. The colors on display are good too; they all stand out, but yet stay subtle enough to not draw attention away from what needs the focus. The backgrounds are also good, with a decent amount of detail and the aforementioned good color (although the quality of detail can vary a bit). But on top of it all, there’s a surprisingly good display of camera usage and shot composition. A lot of scenes will have the camera in a fascinating position, or it’ll quickly focus in on a small detail (a hand moving, the eye of a character) when appropriate, sometimes effects like a wide-angle distortion or Dutch angle will be utlized at times too. The overall quality caught me off guard, they didn’t have to go the extra mile, but I’m soooo glad they spent the thought and time to do it.

This is very well exemplified in episode 9. The first segment, “Cell Phone”, implements a lot of the nice camera work and good background design I just mentioned. One of the middle sections, “Horror”, starts with Nishikata and Takagi erasing drawings on a chalkboard, and the drawing they’re rubbing the eraser over slowly gets blurrier and then disappears as they pass over it again and again. It’s a little detail that surprised me and it stuck with me for a while after that.

If I had to complain at all about the visuals, it would be that there are times the characters are drawn a tad funny or off. It’s not enough to be distracting (most of the time), but it’s enough to be noticeable. Also, strangely, the visuals seemed to have gotten better as the episodes went on, rather than worse. It’s as if the artists/animators needed a few episodes to figure out how to best draw these characters.

The character designs, at least for the main two, are great. Nishikata’s eyes are large with really tiny pupils, they add to his expressiveness, although they can definitely contribute to those off-looking drawings at times. Takagi has a distinctive head shape, with which she looks pretty cute at times – something the animators are very aware of and utilize well. I also like the designs for Mina and Yukari, with Mina’s bushy eyebrows and Yukari’s head shape and eye design. The remaining characters, by comparison, more look like your standard anime high schooler designs, there’s not as much to comment about. Hatching is used for some designs though, and that’s pretty neat.

Takagi-san’s soundtrack tends to rely mostly on woodwinds, which I found interesting. It worked out well for the show overall, as they were able to get emotions across surprisingly well with them. A bassoon (or something like that) is used for when Nishikata is trying a plan to tease Takagi, and it is pretty iconic. Strings and some other instruments do come into play at various points too, but it’s still definitely a lot of woodwinds. The show’s soundtrack isn’t exactly distinct and experimental enough to really become that memorable for me, but it’s still a decently-done job.

I don’t have too much an opinion in regards to the opening animation. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t really do much to differentiate itself at all from other comedy/slice-of-life style anime shows, unfortunately. I think that may be to the show’s detriment because I would’ve enjoyed something a bit more special for this show. Honestly, it’s kind of a pity too, because the show’s opening theme, “Iwanai Kedo ne.” sung by Yuiko Ohara, is actually quite nice and I enjoy it a decent amount.

The show ends up using a lot of ending themes and animations, though. There’s a total of 7 songs, each one is sung by Rie Takahashi, the voice actor for Takagi herself, and the animation is slightly changed for each song as well. The changes aren’t too significant, the ending animation is still primarily just Takagi biking alongside a river or a field or something (with or without Nishikata), and to be honest, the ending songs in particular aren’t that different either. It took me a few episodes to even notice the songs and animations were even changing at the end, and even when I did notice “hey, this sounds/looks different”, I still wasn’t 100% sure. While the opening animation has a hard time distinguishing itself from other anime in the same genre, the various ending animations have a hard time distinguishing themselves from each other. Crunchyroll doesn’t provide subtitles for the songs, but I’d fathom the lyrics are general fluffy love stuff. I’m definitely not opposed to having the different songs and animations and stuff, I genuinely welcome it, but how similar they ended up being, part of me wonders if maybe this time and effort could’ve been put into making one or two killer opening and ending animations.

I’m honestly not really going to complain that much, though. All the songs sound nice, the animations do their job and feel in place with the show. I love shows giving 110% into something, and since the visual quality of the episodes themselves is definitely where the animators did give that 110%, that’s really the most I can ask for.

Voice acting-wise, I was obviously stuck with the Japanese cast on Crunchyroll, but I quite liked it. Rie Takahashi does a pretty nice job as Takagi, although at times the laugh sounded a bit strange and forced to me. (Different people have different laughs, though, so I won’t discriminate.) Nishikata was played by Yuuki Kaji, and he also did a pretty nice job. It’s amusing to hear the same voice actor for Eren Jaeger in Attack on Titan take on this role in a relatively low-stakes setting, but there’s a distinct enough difference in how he voices the characters that you don’t immediately notice.

One thing I did notice though, with Yuuki Kaji playing Nishikata, is when he yelled or exclaimed something, you could definitely tell that he was in a recording studio. The shape and size of the room you’re recording in definitely makes a difference into how the final result sounds (as your voice echoes and different materials absorb or reflect sounds in different ways), and so I could tell this was the sound of an indoor room. It was amusing and a tad immersion-breaking when this happened, though, as it often happened while Nishikata and Takagi were outside or in a larger space, but I can’t imagine there was much they could do about it (probably cost more money that it’d be worth to rectify).

Final Remarks / TL;DR

As far as sketch comedies I’ve watched go, Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san (Master Teaser Takagi-san) fails to place among my favorites. It has a single joke, Takagi teases her friend Nishikata, and it does it over and over again; the differences between the various situations and the attempts to break it up with cameo segments from Ashita no Doyobi don’t do enough to break the repetitiveness either. However, the show was still a nice watch for me, because at the end of the day, it’s kids being kids and there’s a pure simple joy in that.

However, due to that repetitiveness, it makes this show a hard one to recommend. I did ultimately enjoy my time with it, but if someone came to me and asked for a show in this genre, I would’ve pointed them towards something else first (like GJ Club).

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ great animation, simple joy seeing kids being kids, Takagi’s design
— same premise over and over again, didn’t explore Takagi alone or side characters much, multiple ending themes but they all sound the same

Review: Devilman Crybaby

I don’t quite remember if there were any other Netflix-exclusive anime shows that came out before this one, but this was definitely the one that was talked about a lot after its release. As is usual for me, I didn’t get around to watching it until after most of the hype died down. … So, now that it’s 1 year later, how do I feel?

An Introduction

On this lovely planet of ours that we call Earth, two species actually coexist here: humans, and demons.

Well, coexist is a relative term. Most humans don’t actually know demons exist, and most humans that do run into demons… don’t live from the encounter. Demons are powerful, giant, shapeshifting, remorseless beings that simply want one thing: to be on top.

Somewhere in big city Japan, we’re introduced to Akira Fudo, a teenage boy who can’t help but find himself crying when he sees others being hurt. His childhood best friend is Ryo, also a teenager, but Ryo’s day job is being a college professor, and let me tell you: he’s loaded. Cha-ching! On an expedition in South America, Ryo discovered the existence of these demons, and he wants Akira to help bring them to light. It’ll end up turning into a long hard-fought war, humans versus demons, but humanity will end up on top, right?

Well, we can help tip the scales by forcing Akira to fuse with one of these demons, Ryo decides – transforming Akira into something new, something different… a Devilman. Immensely strong, charismatic, but still keeping his human heart and soul, Akira the Devilman and Ryo set out on their new task: it’s time to kill the demons.

The Plot and Characters

The first episode of this show is really fascinating, and helps paint a picture of how the entire series goes. You end up being repulsed by how strange and nonsensical the first episode is, but you’re still intrigued by the bits that do make sense (especially in the latter half) and that’s what keeps you coming back.

Well, there is also the unparalleled amount of nudity and sex present in this show. That may keep you on board… I won’t judge. 😉

You may come into these first few episodes of Devilman Crybaby expecting it to turn into your average monster-of-the-week superhero show, and you’d be forgiven to think so. I certainly did. While there’s a lot of fighting the demons and discovering just how pervasive they already are in the human world, the show turns immensely darker (and it’s already pretty dark in tone) around the halfway point, as the entire world discovers the existence of demons and everyone begins to panic. Akira and Ryo find themselves caught in the middle of this newly begun war of humanity versus demons, and how they react is what will change the tides. At the very end, this show turns itself all the way up to 11.

There is a large, gruesome story being told here, and it’s ramped up surprisingly well.

What surprised me even more, was along with this story going on, they were able to pull off the impression that this is a worldwide panic going on, all while keeping the bulk of the focus on Akira and Ryo. And this is just 10 episodes too. I’ve seen other shows try to portray a global epidemic or panic, but really fail at showing the “global” part of this beyond some spoken dialogue or a few generic shots (such as Aldnoah.Zero, although that’s far from the worst offender). In this anime, through the dedicated scenes of random unnamed people out there that our main cast comes across, you can see how the rest of the world is reacting too – it’s a show-don’t-tell setup that performs well enough for us to get the idea.

When you get right down to it, this show is excellently written, and a big part of that is its expertly crafted scenes. Every character you see on screen, you know what they’re here for and what they’re trying to do. You can really sense the impact of each scene, whether on the characters themselves, or on the world around them. There’s yelling, there’s panic, there’s heavy silence, and there’s true compassion shown on screen here; all these emotional notes are hit just right to allow us to see straight into the minds of these characters. Of course, not every single scene is a winner, but most of them are, and they’re able to . Devilman Crybaby has twists that don’t feel like plot twists, because its clever writing keeps you engaged and lets progression in the plot just come off as completely natural.

And indeed, every character here that’s given a name, they have a role and purpose in this story, even if it’s just a small one; without them, events would’ve played out differently. Even the random rapping teenagers from the first episode, most of them end up having a significant role to play, and – bonus – through the raps they make throughout the series, they do an excellent job at providing worldbuilding and painting the mood.

Miki Makimura is Akira’s long-time crush and other best friend (as well as a well-sought-after track athlete), and he actually lives with her and her family. Miki helps Akira not forget his humanity, and also helps Akira paint his moral compass as well. Miko Kuroda, while still friendly with Miki and Akira, really has a growing resentment for Miki and her track-star fame – she’s cast in the shadows while Miki soaks up all the attention. She gets some important characterization and plays a major helping role in the latter half of the series. And indeed, track and field is the sport majorly present here, although its inclusion seems odd and borderline unnecessary, beyond using the relay run as a metaphor towards the end of the series.

One major flaw with this show’s plot, however, is just how globally-famous a lot of these characters are. Ryo, along with being a super-rich college professor at the age of 16, garners a global audience through his weekly TV talk show. Miki and another world-famous track star Koda both have large followings on social media, capturing the attention of tabloid magazines and sports TV networks. It just feels unrealistic, all these characters with global attention and fame, as global fame isn’t nearly as fantastic and easy as this show makes it out to be. And unfortunately, this show relies upon this one flaw, as without them having this fame and adoring audience, this story wouldn’t be able to happen at all.

Overall, though, this show’s plot is very nicely tied in and cohesive. There may be small time jumps from episode to episode, but you can figure out what’s changed between then; the show feels like it doesn’t need to bog you down with the play-by-play, and honestly, it really doesn’t have to. This show doesn’t take its audience to be mindless or stupid, and because of that, it’s able to get through a lot in these 10 episodes.

However, getting through as much content as it does also means the show’s pacing does take a hit. It isn’t as wildly inconsistent as (insert train wreck show here) and it isn’t too fast as to leave scenes feeling unsatisfyingly short… but it’s not consistently great either. The important bits, the show will take its time on to let the full emotional impact soak in, but sometimes it goes a bit too slow. There’s a scene in episode 9 that is really important, but really kills the pacing for that episode, a sad fact given that it’s the second-to-last one. As well, the pacing in episode 1 also really isn’t great, and I suspect that may have dissuaded people from continuing this otherwise awesome show… at the same time, though, I feel I’m a bit more of a stickler for pacing than others may be though.

At the end of the day, though, Devilman Crybaby is a fantastic and unique experience, which was very obviously carefully crafted from beginning to end. It feels hard to believe this show which begins with a track and field practice in some high school in Japan moves on to an earth-shattering storyline and ending – an ending that is quite unique and definitively wraps up the show in the only possible way it can.

The Atmosphere

The visuals and character designs in Devilman Crybaby remind me of something out of a Mamoru Hosoda film, and I think this similarity comes down to one reason: a lack of gradient shading. Most other anime shows will use gradients to portray shadows and the roundness of people’s faces or body parts. Instead, here, there’s either no shading or highlighting at all, or even when there is shading, it’s a simple two-tone thing: one color for shadow, another color for not in shadow. Instead, a lot of the characters here just appear… flat. It’s not necessarily a good thing or bad thing; at the end of the day, it’s just something I’ve noticed.

Overall, the show’s art style and visuals seem to err more on the simplistic side. The flatter characters, the relatively featureless backgrounds, even the designs of the characters themselves. The demons we encounter throughout the series are probably the most complex designs on display here; each human character does look distinct however, such as with Akira’s cleft chin or the different hair styles and colors on display. The male characters here have quite varied hair styles, honestly. I also like the visual distinction between the Devilman (I.e. Akira) and regular humans – the eyeliner and darker skin tone; it’s a helpful visual distinction that the show uses to a decent effect.

The show’s animation tends to be pretty good, overall. There’s some surprisingly fluid areas, especially with character expressiveness in the lighter scenes; when they want a scene to flow smoothly, they’re capable of it. Unfortunately, the animators seemed to not have the ability to get around to applying this fluidity evenly across the series; you can notice some poorly choreographed action bits or less-than-stellar camera work. There’s also some scenes and moments with just still frames and shots. While some of it can be dismissed as a stylistic choice, it doesn’t shake off the feeling that this anime felt rushed in certain areas, especially towards the end. I could be wrong, but if it was released as the full 10-episode batch on Netflix even in Japan, then I don’t see why there would’ve been an issue with simply delaying the release a few weeks to clean it up a bit.

One positive – or at least interesting – thing that came out of Netflix being the platform of choice is the high amount of sexual content and nudity present in this show.

Even in the first episode, Akira and Ryo enter into a “Sabbath” party, with a large amount of naked people dancing and openly having sex. While obviously Devilman Crybaby doesn’t focus on these scenes long enough to really be considered a hentai, it definitely does toe the line a decent amount throughout these 10 episodes. This is all stuff you wouldn’t be able to get away with on actual TV, at least not without a large amount of the censoring white clouds of steam.

Amusingly, the English dub seems to shy away from the more sexual dialogue in the few places it comes up. Netflix allows you to display the subtitles while still watching the dub (something I really enjoy because I can compare the dub script to the more-direct translation), so when actual sex is displayed in the episode, the dub goes for more tame words than the subtitles seem to suggest. The dub, by the way, is surprisingly pretty good, with one exception: the young child versions of Akira and Ryo. Griffin Burns and Kyle McCarley do a great job as teenage Akira and Ryo, respectively. Also props to Johnny Young Bosh and Keith Silverstein for their portrayal of two of the rapping teenagers. I haven’t really tried out the Japanese voices much, but I have absolutely no troubles with recommending the English dub.

Devilman Crybaby’s soundtrack is, in lack of better terms, jammin’. While some of the music pieces go towards more your standard loud-male-choir-and-orchestra sound, most of the background songs rely a lot more on synthesizers and a groovy drum beat – something that wouldn’t be too out of place in the 80s or 90s. There is an everpresent undercurrent of something deeper or darker throughout all the songs, though, which is fitting. Admittedly, however, the soundtrack tends to fade a bit into the background with the various sound effects and people talking over it.

The opening theme is “Man Human”, by Denki Groove. It’s a strange song, the lyrics consisting of only the words “man” and “human”. The vocals are distorted and it also goes for that dark synth-heavy sound the rest of the soundtrack uses. It did not fail getting stuck in my head. The opening animation is a fluidly-moving series of black-and-white silhouettes, displaying Akira, Ryo, Miki, and some of the various demons they encounter throughout the series. I thought of it as little more than fancy Rorschach test blots at first, until I recognized the subtle shapes about halfway in.

The ending music is usually just one of the soundtrack pieces extended into the ending credits, with one stand-out exception later in the show: the theme “Konya Dake” by Takku to Tabibito is a slower guitar-backed ballad, with some synth-y sounds coming in a bit later on. It’s meh on its own, but given its contrast and placement in regards to the rest of Devilman Crybaby’s music, it stands out a lot more.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Devilman Crybaby is a fascinating series in a lot of ways, if not because of its exclusive airing on Netflix alone. It focuses in on the conflict between humanity and demons, with Ryo and Akira right in the center, and it goes through a lot in just 10 episodes. It’s backed by a rocking soundtrack, excellent writing, and a surprisingly good English dub.

This show is an easy recommendation for those who enjoy drama shows with a darker tone, and there’s probably enough action scenes in it to appease action fans… if you are on the fence, though, give the first few episodes a shot and see how you feel – assuming you have a Netflix account. As long as the explicit parts aren’t too much for you, I think it’ll be an engaging time for you.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ great writing, surprisingly good English dub, fun soundtrack
— visuals feel rushed at certain points, pacing takes a hit, characters are unrealistically famous