My Look at the Spring 2018 Season

(Note: I expected this to come out in mid-April, not mid-May, so… whoops! Better late than never though!)

It’s the middle of April, but as I look outside, there’s more snow than you can even believe. This is spring, isn’t it? Where’s the butterflies? The colorful flowers? The constant rain storms that make the ground all soggy and the sidewalks all slippery? I don’t know, but they aren’t here!

One thing to enjoy about spring though: the new anime season! For this season, I’ll only be looking at a handful of shows, for a few reasons:

  1. There’s a lot of sequels this season. There’s a lot of sequels every season, but it feels like a lot this time. There’s not much point of me watching the sequel if I haven’t seen the season prior, so almost all of them, I’m not watching.
  2. Beyond that, a number of the new (non-sequel) shows don’t seem all that interesting. I’ve picked out the ones that did catch my eye, and I also checked out some that other people have been talking about. Beyond that, though… everything else seems meh.
  3. I don’t really trust Tokyo Ghoul Re to be any good. I really don’t.

Anyway, all of that out of the way, let’s get to reviewing:

Steins;Gate 0

26cab01d95a04956bd5a1a2994d231ea1523422286_fullDespite my talk about sequels above, this is one sequel where I’ve seen the show immediately prior to it. So, this ends up with the title of the only sequel I can/will touch here and now.

Steins;Gate 0 takes place in the winter after the events of the first anime. It’s on a separate timeline from the very last episode, where Rintaro decided to walk away from time travel rather than using it one last time (trying to be vague to avoid spoilers). As you’d expect, the sequel definitely demands that you have seen the first show, and it doesn’t give any time at all (beyond some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flashbacks) to refresh viewers on the show either. If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Steins;Gate, you’ll probably be a bit confused.

For me, this also isn’t helped by the fact that I’ve grown very accustomed to the English dub of the first series. The Japanese voices aren’t too bad (with the exception of Daru), I guess… but it doesn’t sound/feel the same.

Anyway… Three episodes in, I’m quite enjoying Steins;Gate 0. It has the same tone, art style, and character designs from the original anime. It proves to be an interesting premise about how this alternate-timeline Rintaro is dealing with the outcome of his decision to walk away. (Again, trying to be vague.) My biggest concern, though, is that the original Steins;Gate was a slower-paced, atmosphere-heavy, and character-heavy show… and this sequel seems more willing to move more quickly, and to push aside almost everyone to focus on Rintaro and a new cast member named Maho.

Part of it may be the fact that this is airing in Japan as a direct continuation from the original. I also wonder if they’re doing this as a 12/13 episode series, as having it be 24-to-26 would allow them to slow down a bit more, I’d think. Either way, only time will tell to see how it all turns out, and I am excited to see where this goes.

Megalobox

75c8ff7a84bac94f275d2a1c0c8f05601522906376_fullI went into this not knowing what to expect; the name sounded cool and it being an original anime helps too. I was curious about it and honestly, even after the first episode, I was hooked.

Megalobox takes place in some sort of post-apocalyptic Japan, but with this major 1970s punk vibe. Junk Dog, our main character, is an underground boxer with no legal ID; he and his mentor Nanbu stay out of debt by agreeing to throw matches and manipulate bets. Boxing here is done with special equipment called “Gear” strapped onto your arms and back (which helps add more power to their punches). After a run-in with the world champion Megalobox fighter, Yuri, and the businesswoman financing the worldwide Megalomania competition, JD decides he wants in. With a forged ID and the name “Joe”, he enters Megalomania and aims for the top.

This show is gritty, well-paced, dramatic, dark, and keeps you engaged from start to finish. Everything has this hand-drawn vibe to it, the lines don’t have that particular look of having been touched by computer animation (even though it probably has been). The music is also awesome. This show is actually a celebration for the 50th anniversary of the anime Ashita no Joe, but you don’t need to have seen that show to watch this one.

And, please, do watch this one. Whether you’re all about action or you like some drama, Megalobox has a lot here going for you. I’m loving this show, and I think you will too.

Persona 5 the Animation

1ac5964acca6075b83c1dd8329ce76661523323666_fullMy feelings about Persona 5 aren’t easily explained, but it’s best summed up as “I like some parts, and dislike others”. Unfortunately, the game’s story was one of those dislikes, but it won’t stop me from giving the anime a shot.

Visuals and aesthetics wise, the anime feels very much like the game, featuring screens, animations, and transitions that were present in it. Indeed, it feels like they cut them straight out of the game and lifted them into the anime. It’s impressive.

Unfortunately for the anime, it also feels like they cut the story beats straight out of the game and lifted them into the anime. Things move along at a bit too fast of a pace, things only ever seem surface-level, and they seem content with just mentioning the main points and moving on. It’s difficult to take a video game (where you yourself can control the pace) and implement it into a non-interactive medium, but Persona 5 the Animation feels like a clip show rather than an actual animated retelling of the story. I wish there was more expressiveness, or they at least let scenes stay their welcome. I will certainly commend them, though, for sticking extremely faithful to the story thus far.

Ultimately, the anime’s goal is to get more people interested in the game and playing it. Or, at least, that’s what I assume its goal is, because I, as a fan of Persona, feel underwhelmed by what we’ve gotten here. I probably won’t be continuing with this show.

Magical Girl Ore

3c7c9222cfa33e21bdcae187bdd007591521854044_fullI knew the basic idea of this show was about magical girls that transformed into muscular boys in their magical form. … What I did not know was how far they’d go to take the idea of magical girls and knock on its side.

Magical Girl Ore is the story about a young duo named Saki and Sakuyo who are trying to form an idol group but happen to just be terrible at it. Due to the power of love triangles, Saki and Sakuyo realize they can turn into “magical girls”… which are more like magical boys. They use their magical boy-girl forms to defeat demons and to protect each other and protect Sakuyo’s brother, Mohiro, who’s part of a much more successful male idol duo.

This anime enjoys doing everything out of the ordinary. The “mascot” character looks like a yakuza boss, the leads themselves look like overly-muscular guys in cute magical girl outfits, the demons they fight are these muscular humanoids with cute faces, and they fight them by literally punching/beating them to death. It plays on even more tropes as well (such as the “running to school late with toast in your mouth”) and also manages to do this all with a bright color palette and more expressiveness than you’d ever expect. It’s a magical girl show that’s also a comedy and is just full of contradictions.

This show is weird. But probably in a good way. I’d recommend giving it a look, I plan on sticking with this myself.

Umamusume

11d01819ab5ca0f94ebdbc1f82f345181525472777_fullI’ll be honest. I only looked at this series because it seemed the most-talked about new anime of this season. I came into it expecting myself to not like it. I know it’s not a great way to come into a show, but here we are. And the end result is… it’s surprisingly pretty okay.

Umamusume seems to be a cross between a slice of life anime and a sports anime, with a sprinkle of idol and fantasy animes for good measure. It’s the story of Special Week, a horse-girl whose mom got her enrolled in the most prestigious horse-racing academy in Japan, Tracen Academy. Upon arriving at the campus, she came across the most famous horse-girl in Japan, Silence Suzuka, winning yet another championship. Special Week became inspired and vowed to join the same horse-racing team as Silence Suzuka, so that she too can become among the best racing horse-girls in Japan!

To me, this show seems like a strange concept (although a lot of anime is just a strange concept taken to its extreme), but it seems to be delivering upon it fairly well. Special Week, although perhaps a bit too ditzy or naïve, seems interesting enough on her own, and I enjoy a number of her friends. That being said, I quite despise the character Trainer (seemingly the only male character in this show). They say first impressions are important, and my impressions of him were nothing good. I’m honestly over creepy/pervy male characters in anime.

All in all though, like I said, it’s a pretty okay show. I’d suggest finding someone else to tell you if Umamusume’s worth your time, but I won’t say it’s not. I expected it to be bad, and I came out pleasantly surprised, but not surprised enough to want to stick with it. But if it piques your interest, go for it!

Crossing Time

0a87bda81e1bf231e22dbece79f5eb411523241970_fullI’m adding onto my plate, once again, a short-length show. I get a real kick out of them, but short-length anime are really only the side dishes for the main course meal that is the full-length shows I’ve reviewed above.

Crossing Time operates on a simple premise: two people are stuck at a railroad crossing waiting for a train to pass, what happens next? Each episode features two different people having different conversations and different relationships (classmates, senpai/kouhei, teacher/student, etc.). The anime had a surprisingly emotion-filled first episode (and it saddened me that we probably won’t see those girls again), but I believe it to be a comedy show. The 3-minute length usually leads to a quick turnaround from setup to punchline, which is effective.

This show proves to be an interesting one, and I’ll be keeping it around on my watch list. It won’t be the funniest or most serious thing you see, but like I said, it’s a side dish, for those times the main course just isn’t enough to fill us up.

Wrap-Up

This season doesn’t stand out to me as one of the best, but there’s still certainly things to enjoy.

I think my biggest problem, personally, is I don’t have much time to devote to watching the current shows, since I have other projects and things to take up my time, in addition to working. Beyond this list, there may be a few other shows that I could push myself to try, but I’d say 3 shows is enough for me (along with 1 short-length one) right now.

What shows have you enjoyed thus far this season? Any thoughts you have so far? Let me know below! I honestly was a bit surprised by how underwhelmed I was by Persona 5 the Animation, I was expecting myself to stick with that one.

Anyway, until next time, talk to you later!

Review: Pop Team Epic

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

The real twist is… none of that is true!

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

Review: Baka and Test (Funimation February?)

 

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

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

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

An Introduction

Another anime, another high school.

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

Review: Tokyo Ghoul Root A (Funimation February)

 

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, skip the openings and watch the endings.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: My Hero Academia (Funimation February)

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: Bakemonogatari

 

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

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

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

An Introduction

Crab. Snail. Monkey. Snake. Cat.

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

 

My Look at the Winter 2018 Season

I’ve done this once before, so why not do it again? Funnily enough, the last time I did it was for the winter season last year… I doubt I’ll end up doing this for every new season, but I wonder if this will really end up being only a winter season thing lol.

So my life has changed a lot since last winter. Free time is something I have a lot more of now, and I actually feel motivated and interested in anime again. It’s been quite a while since I’ve actually felt interested in anime, and it’s kind of refreshing.

Anyway, we’re not here to be sentimental! Let’s get down to the shows!

Pop Team Epic1768802a0cdfbcf8842dc17e39b06d381511957656_large

This show is something I’ve heard about long before its airing; images of the manga are relatively easy to find online, featuring the simply-drawn main characters sporting some highly-detailed middle fingers. So coming into this season, I was at least curious how the anime was going to go.

My verdict: the anime is actually quite a bit of fun. It’s a sketch comedy show, but you never quite know what you’re gonna get with each new sketch. The first (and 3rd) episode featured a sketch taking place in France, introduced by some random French animator, all done entirely in French. A number of sketches poke fun at the anime industry and anime production itself, but beyond that, there’s other sketches that are just the two main characters, Pipimi and Popuko, screwing around with each other.

All in all, I think it’s really enjoyable. The comedy pacing is really good, and the show just keeps them coming and doesn’t stop. This anime is being called the “shitposting” anime online, and it probably isn’t an untrue statement; in reality, though, this is an adaptation of a parody 4-koma manga (meaning, every “story” is told in just four panels).

The show probably won’t win in the visuals department, but it’s good enough to get across what they need to. (Also, some sections are intentionally drawn really bad). The opening theme (shown from episode 2 onwards) is really cool sounding and the animation is great; the ending theme and animation are both okay.

I only see a few downsides to this show. Firstly, the running joke where each episode is the same thing twice – only with different voice actors and slightly different lines – is gonna get old pretty quickly, I think. In fact, I think it’s already pretty old by episode 2. It was a fun gag for the first episode, but, I am tempted to just turn off each new episode after the halfway point. Secondly, I really wish there were more long segments/sketches. Obviously they’re limited with how far they can stretch the source material, but so much of each episode is just seconds-long sketches, and it’s… I dunno… hard to keep your enthusiasm? I’m failing to describe it properly at the moment.

Gripes aside, this is a lot of fun, and I’ll certainly be continuing with it for this season. I suggest you try it out too!

Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san89990

This anime, I’ve seen going by a number of English names, such as “Skilled Teaser Takagi-san” and “Takagi-san, the Master of Teasing”. I saw this show mentioned on Twitter (I forget by who), and I decided to take a look.

As you can kind of guess by the English title, this show is about a girl named Takagi and a guy named Nishikata – Takagi is really good at teasing Nishikata, and oppositely, his attempts to get back at her fail spectacularly every time. Each episode is divided up into segments, also sketch-comedy style; the premise of the show is pretty much established in the first segment of the first episode, and it’s stays just like that for the rest of the runtime – excepting the few moments where you see hints of an actual friendship between these two, which the show likes to throw to you every now and then.

It’s hard to call this show really entertaining, particularly because its central joke is pretty repetitive: Nishikata tries to do something to tease Takagi and gets out-teased by the master, or master Takagi sets up Nishikata to be teased and he overthinks it. It’s fun as something to just have on and relax to, though; it’s not going to wow you in any regard, but it’s easy to digest and it helps distract your brain for a little while.

I do wish we had more moments with these two actually being friends without all this teasing thing going on, but I think those rare appearances are all we’re gonna get every episode. It’s a bit of a different dynamic if you look at it as two friends teasing and playing around with each other, rather than as one classmate who decided to pick on the other and it delving into a competition.

We’ll see how the rest of the series goes, though. I’ll be sticking around for this one.

Darling in the Franxxb6e8676f48c62513e4ae065395b2d0c61499270624_full

At Studio Trigger’s panel at AX2017, this is one of the shows that they announced, being done as a co-production with A-1 Pictures. Having recently finished Kill La Kill and already being a big fan of Space Patrol Luluco, I was certainly interested to see what would come of this.

In a post-apocalyptic world, humanity has been ravaged by these giant beasts called klaxosaurs. They’ve concentrated themselves into these city-sized domes called Plantations, where they train special kids in boy-girl pairs to be able to pilot these giant mechas called Franxx, which can be used to beat back the klaxosaurs. Our main characters here seem to be Zero Two, an outsider who’s a bit of a wild child, and Hiro, a boy who felt like a bird with clipped wings.

But that’s all the information I can really tell ya. We’ve established (to some extent) what the world is… but where are these characters going from here? What’s the point of any of this? I feel this is one of those slow-start plots where things will ramp up later, but it’s weird coming into this from Kill La Kill where everything you needed to know was established by the end of episode 1.

Combine with this the fact that I’m not liking the character Zorome (who Hiro is currently battling against), the fact that the Franxx are controlled by the guys who hold handles that stick out of the girls’ butts (seemingly just to make a suggestive-looking pose), the fact that the main character looks super plain and doesn’t really have that engaging a personality, and the fact that I’m getting some Aldnoah.Zero-esque vibes out of this show… I think I’m gonna sit this one out. I’ll be listening to see what others say about this show as it keeps going, though.

Despite this being touted as a collaboration between Trigger and A-1 Pictures, I really wonder how involved Trigger actually is with this show. I suppose that without reading the Japanese credits and learning more about what company is filling what roles, though, I won’t know for sure. This feels very much like an A-1 Pictures-esque show (as meaningless as that is to say, though, because anime studios are commonly not the ones that direct the course of a show).

Mitchiri Nekodf36a4d78ce8b599d40f325e7cc7349d1514516525_full

Do you remember that video/GIF that’s gone around featuring a bunch of cats in a marching band? If you don’t remember or haven’t seen it, feast your eyeballs on this adorableness! Anyway, so that’s an anime now. (Actually, it’s been a manga since 2012…)

This show is, oh my gosh, another sketch comedy. Instead of two main characters, though, our cast is a bunch of cats – although a few of them do get named and short descriptions. The sketches in the comedies are relatively simply affairs, like cats getting their head stuck in a box, or a bunch of them finding a pot to fit themselves into (it’s actually surprising how many bags/pots/balls full of cats there are here).

When you get right down to it, it’s simple, it’s adorable, it’s colorful. It’s probably aimed at kids, but that wouldn’t stop an older audience from enjoying it as well. Each episode is only 3 minutes each so it’s a pretty easy thing to get through either way.

A Place Further Than the Universed2ba2e4ecb30e63da5ab3751116eec561510960628_full

I first heard about this show as “the girls going to Antarctica anime”, and it didn’t really pique my interest. I felt that it’d be a slice-of-life anime where cutesy girls just screwed around in Antarctica, playing down any downsides and promoting the upsides.

A Place Further Than the Universe, though, is more like a drama anime. Yes, all the main characters are girls, and they’re as energetic and cute as they come, but this isn’t a slice-of-life show.

Our first main characters are Shirase and Kimari. Shirase is the daughter of an Antarctic expedition member, and has wanted to travel to the continent herself to try to find her mother, despite receiving backlash and ridicule from those around her. Kimari has felt like she hasn’t been taking advantage of the life she’s been given, following through the paces of going to school and home each day without ever doing anything spontaneous or incredible. They’re quickly joined by two more girls: Hinata, who’s gung-ho and charismatic, and Yuzuki, a child actress who’s always felt alone. The four of them don’t even start as friends (as they admit in episode 3), but have instead bonded over their mutual desire to travel to Antarctica.

It’s hard to describe the feelings this show gives you. As someone who came into this sure that I wasn’t going to like it, I have to really stress how much the show got me to turn that opinion around. The plot goes through its process of ups and downs, the downs making those ups feel all that more exciting; you get engaged, excited when at least one small thing goes these characters’ way, and feeling worrisome when it seems their plan is falling apart. Tie this together with some amazing visuals and a nice sense of comedic timing, and all in all, this show is just a fun ride.

I’m for sure sticking with this anime, and I recommend you try out the first two episodes to see if this is an adventure you’ll want to embark on as well.

Slow Startdgc8dgdxcae3svl

I honestly can’t remember where I heard about this show. Probably from Twitter. Either way, here we are.

Slow Start is basically your standard slice-of-life. Our main character is Hana, who took a year off from school because she was sick. She entered into an all-girls high school not knowing anyone, but pretty quickly found herself three friends: Tama, the energetic girl; Eiko, the reasonable motherly girl; and Kamu, the short and always hungry girl.

As far as slice-of-life shows go, this one’s pretty alright. Slice-of-life shows at this point need something to make them stand out, and for this show, it’s the fact that Hana was out of school for a year. It leads to a lot of misconceptions and Hana telling a lot of white lies because she’s embarrassed to say she’s been out a year. Beyond that, though, this all takes place in an average Japanese high school with the students doing relatively average things. If you compare it to slice-of-life shows like GJ Club or Non Non Biyori, honestly, it’s hard to find anything that really makes this one remarkable. Viewed completely on its own, though, this show is still fun and provides that slice-of-life feel.

The character designs are fine enough, although each girls’ eyes look like something out of 2006’s Windows Media Player. But my goodness, nothing in this anime ever seems to sit still. Characters are always moving, swaying, or doing something. (To be honest, saying “always” is probably a bit of an exaggeration, but still…) The opening and ending themes are both pretty okay, in regards to both song selection and animation quality.

I’ll probably keep this one around, simply because I haven’t jumped into any slice-of-life shows recently. This one isn’t a particularly standout show, but it still isn’t bad.

Citrusdo8lc60ueaa6pfd

This is another one I’ve heard about through Twitter (as will the last show I look at). Specifically, I’ve seen it mentioned due to the fact that it’s a yuri show, and I follow someone on Twitter who’s a particular fan of yuri shows.

Citrus focuses around two girls, Yuzu and Mei. After Yuzu’s mom got remarried, her and Yuzu moved to a new city and Yuzu entered into a new high school. There, after a public argument with a student council member for not following the dress code, Yuzu is introduced to Mei, the student council president, and the two start off on the wrong foot. … Although they’ll have a lot of time to make things better because, as it turns out, Yuzu’s mom married Mei’s dad, making them now step-sisters!

To be honest, the first episode rubbed me the wrong way. From the starting conversation where Yuzu and her old friends were comparing guys and talking about having dumped them, to Yuzu’s confrontation with the student council leading up to Mei feeling her up (in public!) to find her cell phone and take it, to Yuzu stumbling across her homeroom teacher kissing Mei behind a school building, to the highly-awkward interactions between Yuzu and Mei in the bedroom they ended up sharing, leading up to Mei pushing Yuzu over, forcing her into a deep kiss, and then getting up and leaving the room. Episode over.

I don’t have anything against yuri shows. I’m a big fan of Sakura Trick – in that one too, it features multiple characters kissing each other, but the difference is that Sakura Trick establishes these characters as already being friends and having consented to it. In this show, it was pretty much a near-total stranger that forced Yuzu to the ground and kissed her, without being asked “is this okay to do?”

I’ll stop short of calling this a bad show, though. The backgrounds and camera work in this first episode are nice-looking, and remind me of Studio Shaft. But nice visuals won’t make up for how uncomfortable I feel watching it. Sorry, but I’m not going to keep going with this one.

Laid Back Camp5ac5fff410cb66c57ce0d2ea2617d08d1515076527_full

Hey look, another show I heard about through Twitter. Crunchyroll’s Twitter account mentions this one a lot (along with A Place Further Than The Universe), so I decided, okay, let’s take a look.

Laid Back Camp is an anime about camping… and it’s laid back. Yep, that’s all the description you need, alright, good bye!

Okay, to be more specific, Laid Back Camp is about a group of five girls who end up going out and camping together. Our main character seems to be a short girl named Rin, who enjoys just going out and camping by herself, but she ends up becoming a friend to a girl named Nadeshiko, who jumps in head-first into this camping thing with much enthusiasm. The group is rounded out by Chiaki and Aoi, president and vice president of the Outdoor Activities Club, and Saitou, Rin’s friend who brought them all together.

This is a pretty relaxing show. The slow pacing while Rin is out camping somewhere, just sitting, enjoying the scenery and stuff… it’s nice. The show has its energetic moments too, especially where Nadeshiko is involved, but it’s overall a slow and enjoyable ride. The backgrounds are also amazingly done, and the opening credits are done in English, amusingly enough (the opening theme song is also my second favorite of this season, behind Pop Team Epic).

I’ll be sticking with this one as well, although I do feel it may fall to the wayside as I have so many shows to attend to.

Honorable Mentions

I’ve sat here and gone through eight different shows here, but there may be some names you’re surprised to not see on here. So let’s run through them:

Violet Evergarden – Trust me, I want to watch this so badly. I really do. But unfortunately, Netflix isn’t simulcasting this show here in the US, like it is in many other countries around the world (including Canada!). It disappoints me, because lack of simulcasting is pretty much the biggest complaint I think a lot of people have with Netflix, but at least most other people in the world get to enjoy it weekly. I will be watching it once it comes out on Netflix here!

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m still a relatively new fan to anime. The first show I watched was the original FMA, back in 2012. It’s been a bit over 5 years for me, and there’s a lot of classic shows that I haven’t yet gotten around to (if I ever will). Cardcaptor Sakura is one of those.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride  – This is a show that has been recommended to me. However, I’m not going to delve into it just yet… besides, it didn’t even start airing this season; this is the second cour, as it began airing last season. Hard to count that on this list.

Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles – This is like the last show I’ve heard mentioned a lot for this season. It doesn’t seem like a bad show, but given how I already have about 6 I’m already planning to watch this season, I think my plate’s a bit full right now. This may be one of the ones I return to later on down the line!

Wrap-Up

So that’s my thoughts on a number of shows this season. What do you think about them? Are there any that I haven’t mentioned that are worth checking out? Do you have different opinions on the shows I’ve talked about here? The comment section below is open and it’s hungry for people’s words! So please don’t keep it starving!

Anyway, my next review is coming up this Friday as well! And then starting next week is Funimation February! See you all then!

Review: Aldnoah.Zero

 

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

Ooooooooohhhh man.

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: A Silent Voice

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

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

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

 

Review: No Game No Life

This show came out at a time where I was fully and completely invested in anime and being an anime fan, and I went out and grabbed nearly any current running show I could to try to fill my ever-hungry stomach with more. I had a number of shows I was watching this season. Some of which were totally forgotten (sorry, Nanana’s Buried Treasure!) and some stuck around and continued to be enjoyed today, like this show.

However, that was long ago (in my mind lol), and heck if I can recount much anything from that time. Prior to me watching the new prequel movie, No Game No Life Zero, I figured I’d revisit this series again to refresh my memory.

An Introduction

No Game No Life is another take on the “stuck in a video game world” genre of anime.

We meet siblings Sora and Shiro, who together form the unstoppable gaming duo, “Blank”. They spend all of their time sitting in their room, playing video games. In their eyes, the outside world isn’t worth their time to deal with; it’s complicated and its rules aren’t straightforward nor logical.

Then, suddenly, a mysterious message. A challenge to a game of chess. This game takes a ridiculously long time to complete, but like always, Blank wins the game. Impressed by their skills, the message’s sender offers to rebirth them into a new world, a world governed solely by games. The gaming duo accept.

Next thing they know, Sora and Shiro find themselves plummeting down towards an unfamiliar earth, while their correspondent – who ends up being this world’s One True God, Tet – lays down the rules for them. Specifically, 10 rules. All conflicts are resolved through games – one person challenges another to a game, each person offers something of equal value for betting, and the challenged party decides the game to play. There is no murder, no robbery, no crime… everything is done through games.

As for our protagonists, the unstoppable gaming duo, now stuck in this world without a seeable way out… they love it. Why would they ever want to leave?

The Plot and Characters

No Game No Life sets up a very interesting world, in large part due to the 10 pledges that every sentient race is expected to adhere to. In this world, there are 16 sentient races, ranked by magical ability. Rank 1, the most powerful race, is Old Deus – the race of gods. Rank 16, with absolutely no magic power at all, are humans – collectively called Imanity for some reason. As Sora and Shiro explore this new world, I as a viewer am too, which is pretty cool… but then their goals change. Nearly immediately, the gamer twins get enough of a grasp of what’s going on to start aiming for something else: to rise to the top of this world, even rivaling the One True God himself!

Frankly, that is what this show is really about: watching Sora and Shiro brain-battle their way through various games and somehow overcome them all. Add a dash of melodramatic speeches about weaknesses/strengths/faith, and a whole heaping of otaku-pandering fluff, and that’s pretty much this show. And for what it is, it’s pretty decent.

Every game and situation that Sora and Shiro get into, you’re fairly confident they’ll pull it off – a majority of the time, the duo themselves are confident too. Pretty much all of the games we come across are games we’ve seen in the real world, from chess to shiritori to even the simple coin flip – although most of them usually have a twist to them, such as the chess pieces having their own will and motivations. In all situations though, Sora (the older brother) knows how to use and bend the rules he’s given to make what he wants happen, such as turning said chess game into a 3-sided war, or causing his opponent to overthink a simple Rock-Paper-Scissors game. He has the wits, the resources, and the charisma to pull off pretty much whatever he wants to happen.

Which kind of makes me wonder about poor Shiro. Despite the duo and the show asserting multiple times that they’re an equal pair, Shiro only really seems to be needed in these games as “plan B”, in the rare times that Sora can’t do it all himself. Even during the one chance Shiro is given to come into her own, she spends most of her time trying to search for her brother.

That aside, though, these games really are fascinating to watch and experience, primarily just to see “how the heck they’ll pull this off” (which unfortunately doesn’t lend well to multiple viewings since you already faintly remember how they did it). Even when Sora and Shiro seem to have everything going against them, they somehow turn it all around. Their plans to outsmart the smart ones and outcraft the crafty ones are fascinating to behold.

However, this ends up only being a portion of the entire show.

The other half of No Game No Life is spent with a lot of fanservice and anime fan pandering. The show has no trouble showing off Shiro’s underwear multiple times, despite her being age 11. They knowingly devolves into fanservice scenes quite a bit, and as more characters are added on, the further along they push these scenes as well. This is further complicated by Sora playing the all-too-common trait of the desperate virgin – with Shiro being the one to reign him in when he goes off the rails. The fanservice scenes really don’t do much for me, and the amount of times I’ve seen girls’ underwear in this show honestly does make me a bit uncomfortable. However, I’ve pretty fully accepted that this is just one of the main pillars of this series; if you’re looking for a fanservice-free show, this is not the way to go.

This show also likes to make references. In fact, quite a bit of them. It amused me to come back to this series years after my first watch-through, now seeing all of the things that younger me didn’t even realize to be references. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Doraemon, Ace Attorney (this one actually really cracked me up because they did a remix of one of the Ace Attorney themes and one of the characters was a spot-on copy of the judge), and more. Even on this second watch-through, I’m sure there’s references that I still didn’t even get. You really don’t have to get these references to still get the show, as younger me can tell you, but they do add a tiny bit more enjoyment for fans.

So let’s round up this section talking about the supporting cast and the show’s pacing.

Stephanie Dola is the granddaughter of Imanity’s previous king, and honestly, she seems only here to fill this show’s weird definition of “comic relief”. Constantly, she’s portrayed as dumb and incapable. Sora and Shiro constantly belittle and ridicule her, and even the one scene where she displays herself to be fairly intelligent, she isn’t treated seriously. Even when they actually acknowledge her and thank her for something, it more feels like they’re doing it so they don’t lose their plaything rather than because they actually value her. It’s a bit of a shame, because she’d actually be an interesting character if everyone and everything didn’t have it out to make her seem so stupid. She has values, a goal, and drive, but she’s constantly trampled over except for the few times she’s needed for plot reasons.

Jibril is introduced halfway through the series; she’s a Flügel, the angel-like race ranked 6 with super magical abilities. Lacking the ability to be destructive in this game-dominated world, the Flügel all became obsessed with knowledge – thus, the main duo come across Jibril in Imanity’s library. Jibril has an air of self-importance about her, looking down on all lower-ranked races, but when you get past that, you see a fun personality of someone who can be aloof and strange, but yet also at times unnervingly deadly serious. She fits in surprisingly well with Sora and Shiro, and the show’s affection for fanservice. Frankly, she’s just fun to have on screen.

There’s other characters too, like Kurami, Fi, and Izuna… but, we don’t really see them quite as much. They are interesting characters, for sure, but my word count is already super long.

Lastly, the pacing… which is quite good. Each episode feels like something gets accomplished and progress was made. Each scene in this show lasts long enough to do what they need to do, and then finish. Things don’t linger around unnecessarily, nor does anything feel like they’re moving too fast to not be able to achieve their full effect. All in all, pretty well done.

Oop! Surprise final paragraph! Just like the show, which has a surprise final scene… if you’ve heard the term “Gainax ending” before, you may be disappointed to hear this applies here. After everything gets wrapped up well enough in the final episode, the post-credits scene just throws a wrench in it all. It honestly made me relatively upset when I first finished the series – it was the first anime show to do that to me! Unfortunately, with no announcement of an animated continuation of the main story at the time of writing, the only way you’ll be able to continue this sudden ending is by reading the original light novels.

The Atmosphere

No Game No Life is filled with color. Everything is colorful! And not just one or two or a few colors, oh no no no! There’s a lot of them and they’re all over the screen and you can’t escape them!

Seriously, I do love how bright and colorful this anime is. Not only are there colors, but there’s a lot of textures and details too. No Game No Life’s visual style is like no other, and it’s pretty cool! These visuals really did just make me want to explore this world so much more – a tad saddening, seeing how little of the whole world we really get to see. However, sometimes these bright colors actually do become a bit too much. The backgrounds overwhelm me too much that I can’t really even focus on what’s actually going on in the scene, and I have difficulties discerning the characters from the bright backdrop behind them. Fortunately, though, this only applies to a few scenes, but it’s still enough to warrant a mention.

The interesting visuals also lend itself to the character designs. The main cast all have these distinct shapes to them, although sometimes Shiro looks a bit aged up in the dramatic scenes of the final 2 episodes, amusingly enough. Excepting Sora wearing a T-shirt, an undershirt, and jeans, the whole cast have these flowing, fantasy-esque robes/dresses/outfits they don. The designs are distinct, but not ornate enough to just be too much (except maybe Steph’s dress).

The characters, a majority of the time, are all drawn with red outlines as well, rather than black. It honestly does contribute to the blending-into-the-background problem I mentioned a few paragraphs ago… but still, I respect and applaud shows that do this, because it really makes things look different. I do think having black outlines would just stand out a bit too much with the color-palooza going on in the backgrounds.

Animation-wise, No Game No Life also fares well. Motion flows really well, and the times 2D and 3D are put together really don’t even bother me at all because of all the colors. There aren’t any noticeable drops in quality.

So, let’s talk voice actors. I’d fathom a guess that over half of No Game No Life’s dialogue comes from Sora alone, so you’d hope that whoever voices him does a good job. On the Japanese side, you have Yoshitsugu Matsuoka – the same voice actor for Sword Art Online’s Kirito. And indeed, Mr. Matsuoka does a pretty outstanding job, being able to do all of Sora’s various expressions, and he even gives Sora this distinct voice that stands apart from other anime protagonists. It’s a bit deeper and gravel-y-ier, sounding like it comes more from the back of the throat. It’s cool. On the English side, we have Scott Gibbs. He doesn’t do a bad job, either, although it sounds more like a super-cool, slick action movie star than I’d expect Sora to be. Again, though, not a bad job, it’s an interesting take.

Shiro is handled by Ai Kayano on the Japanese side and Caitlynn French on the English side. Both sound pretty similar, and I honestly feel “meh” about both. Shiro is supposed to be the quiet, almost Yuki Nagato-like type, which I can kind of hear both voice actors going for.

I’ll also give mention to how Jibril’s introduction was done on the English side. Sora and Shiro first come across Jibril speaking in a manner comically unfitting her appearance, which throws them for a loop, but the subtitles failed to really convey this joke. On the English side, the lines were rewritten to sound like someone trying to sound cool and foreign by dropping random French/Spanish words, so they translated it over pretty decently. Just something small I wanted to mention and appreciate.

All in all, for the English dub, it’s of same quality as Sentai’s other dubs. That is to say, it’s pretty alright.

The show’s opening theme is “This Game”, sung by Konomi Suzuki. It’s fast-paced and energetic, with a piano accompaniment (with drums and guitar as well). The opening animation, in turn, is also rather fun, with people and things flying around and the show’s variety of colors on full display. I was actually surprised to have this song get stuck in my head after the fact, it didn’t seem like the type that would. The ending song is “Oracion”, sung by Ai Kayano, and I like how it goes from cold and sad sounding in the beginning to more energetic in the latter half; the ending animation does the same to match. I also recommend you watch the ending in full for episode 8, and also keep in mind that a few episodes have after-credits scenes.

For the show’s background music, it’s a lot of electronic music – some EDM and some more house/chill-like, although some other instruments and sounds do make their way in at times too; it’s distinctive and fits really well for the show. You’ll definitely figure out some tracks as the “explaining/monologuing song” and the “dramatic scenes song” and such, but still, it’s good stuff, and since this show is only 12 episodes, it’s not really long enough for any of them to really start to grate on you.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

No Game No Life is a fascinating ride. From the brightly colored visuals to the intense mental battles of the games to the large amount of fanservice content, this show does enough to stand on its own and make the experience fun. This being said, the fanservice can get a bit much, and the show’s handling of Steph is saddening, but the biggest issue is the cliffhanger ending at the very end.

I bet most of my review came off pretty positive though, if not neutral. I just had that much fun time with the show. Likewise, if you’re looking for something fun and that makes you wonder “how are they going to pull this one off?”, No Game No Life won’t fail to deliver. Just, uhhh… don’t say I didn’t warn you about the ending.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ fascinating to watch Sora/Shiro fight their way through the games, bright colors and red outlines, the various references
— the cliffhanger “Gainax ending”, Steph is constantly belittled and made fun of, Shiro feels a bit unneeded