Review: The Maid I Recently Hired is Mysterious

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

Episode 2 introduces two cats… alright, I guess.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art, Animation, and Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

Rating: Poor

Recommendation: Probably Pass

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

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

Review: Spy X Family (Part 1)

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art, Animation, and Audio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

Additional Thoughts: Returning to Flying Witch

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

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

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

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

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

An Updated Look

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overall Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crunchyroll/Sony on a Buying Spree

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

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

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

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

Buying and Growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All Crunchyroll Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominating the Market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part of a Larger World

There is another angle to look at this though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Things Go From Here (The Future…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I feel… well, not the best.

Review: Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Space Patrol Luluco – One Year Later

To be honest, in the past few years, it’s been harder for anime to really reach out and grab me, draw me in, and get me whole-heartedly invested. I’d say there’s a couple reasons as to why, but that’s another discussion for another time.

One of those exceptions, though, was Space Patrol Luluco. It caught my eye in April of 2016 due to it being a new short-length series created by animation studio Trigger, the animation studio that had recently gained fame for its work on Kill La Kill (and Little Witch Academia, to a lesser extent). When I saw that first episode drop, I was like “sign me up!”

The first episode did really well to draw me in that day due to its fascinating background work, its highly-cartoonish character designs and animations, and its sense of timing for its comedic moments, with a small dosage of overdramatization on top of it.

The series as a whole is hyper, chaotic, dramatic, and aware of all of it.

I wrote my review for Space Patrol Luluco relatively soon after I had finished the series, and even wrote an accompanying piece for it talking about the forces behind the show’s creation (although I feel that’s of my lower quality pieces on this site). It’s been a full year since the release of that final episode, and four days short since the release of my review. I rewatched the entire series today to somewhat celebrate and commemorate the anniversary, so the big question is… what do I think of the show now?

(Warning: since this is my reflection on this series, I’m not going to be devoting paragraphs to explaining the plot/setting, and my discussion is also going to be pretty spoiler-laden. Soooo… yeah.)

Honestly, the show is a lot of fun. If you simply let yourself just get caught up in the action, drama, and the quick, snappy flow from one scene and episode into another, you find yourself in a storm of excitement as everything falls into place in the final two episodes. If you sit down and give thought to everything happening on screen too, the show did its job well enough for things to make a relative amount of sense, although the fast pacing may muddle that.

For my first watch-through last year, I didn’t notice (or give much thought to) Nova’s indifference to everything throughout nearly the entire series (due to him being a Nothingling). Thus, I sensed Luluco’s frustrations with his mixed messages and such as just her “being a flustered teenage kid”. This led to me being a bit more confused as well when the plot twist occurred in episode 10 where his double agentry was unveiled.

This show revels in being dramatic, over-the-top, and ridiculous. This all lended itself well to the comedy of the first episode, and also to quick pacing and tone of the overall series. Indeed, Space Patrol Luluco seemed to be at its weakest point at episode 10 (and also episode 8), which was basically the plot dump episode. The show quite literally had the characters all sit down so the main villain could spout backstories and explanations at them, instead of their usual antics of action-explosions-justice! that was present throughout pretty much the rest of the series.

I could sense the show was trying to add some levity and silliness to it with Midori’s moments in that episode and the Blackholeian’s long-winded descriptions of middle schoolers. As well, honestly, the plot as a whole isn’t nonsensical either. It didn’t seem like it was pulled out of their you-know-where, and the show gives you just enough time for you to think yourself “Huh, I guess that does make sense” before ending the episode or whisking you off to another thing. The plot isn’t the most deep or groundbreaking, and it ends on this “love conquers all” thing we’ve seen many a time before, but it’s overall not bad. For the show’s purposes, it does fine enough. You can tell the creators have more fun with the action-explosions-justice! though.

Thus, after Luluco goes through the essential character development scene in episode 11 and comes back from Hell, the show basically says “okay, back to the fun stuff” and it becomes hyper-awesome-action for the final two episodes. As I said a number of paragraphs ago, though, the hyper-action and overdramatics of it all is really exciting and a lot of fun. To be honest, I think that’s mostly what this show strives to be, is just super-fun, super-action, and over-the-top, and it very well succeeds in that regard.

It also sets up Luluco as Trigger-chan, basically the mascot for the entire animation studio, so that’s cool, I guess. I honestly don’t really fully understand the idea of a company mascot (such as Super Sonico), but hey, whatever.

My feelings towards the episode-long cameos to other series are not as negative as they were in the past. I’ve still yet to watch any of the shows that got cameoed here… Anyway, the cameos, although they definitely do serve to give fans of those shows a wink and a nod, also usually tie in fairly well into the main plot, overall (if not in somewhat contrived ways). Like the rest of Space Patrol Luluco, the cameo episodes are all intense, quick-paced, and usually full of action… with the exception of Episode 8, “The Trap of the Mystical Power”. This episode was slower paced, and everything in it seemed to drag just as much as well. It’s a relatively important episode to the overall plot (although, again, the situations in it are fairly contrived), but it still feels like this show’s other weak point.

All in all, though, I have a lot of positive feelings about this show. Rewatching it all today was a lot of fun, and it got me motivated and excited enough to want to come here and write this reflection!

My biggest hope, now, is that Crunchyroll/Funimation will go ahead and release a physical copy of this show. Since Crunchyroll is on the production committee for this show, they assumedly have all distribution rights outside of east Asia. Short-length anime usually don’t see a physical release, however, but I’m still going to hope for this one!

What are your thoughts on the show, one year later? Has it brought you as much excitement and enjoyment as it brought me? Or maybe you got other feelings out of it? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Geez, I’m bad at staying current with the times, huh? I’ve heard people talk about this show throughout the entire time it aired, and, even though I could, I didn’t sit down to give it a chance. It seemed like a romance anime to me with weirdly oversaturated colors (which isn’t necessarily bad, but I have to prioritize what I watch). After months and months of a friend recommending I give it a try, I finally did.

An Introduction

Allow me to shatter some minds here: despite this show quickly coming off as a romance show, you’ll realize soon enough that it is really a comedy show instead.

Our main character is a girl named Chiyo, who has this crush on this quiet, tall, and kind-looking guy named Nozaki. She finally works up the courage to confess her feelings to him one afternoon, but all she manages to squeeze out is “I’ve always been a fan of yours!” and in response, he gives her his autograph.

She quickly learns afterwards that Nozaki is not just some tall, quiet guy… he’s actually a somewhat-famous manga author, working on a romance manga for a monthly magazine. On the premise of bringing Chiyo to his apartment, he enlists her to help with his manga. Now, Chiyo has entered into Nozaki’s world, and all the wacky trappings that come with it…

The Plot and Characters

It’s hard to describe this show as anything beyond “new, wacky hijinks every episode”; although there’s a semblance of a running plot (usually due to there being running jokes), each episode basically is about putting characters in new situations and seeing the comedy that comes out of it. It’s a system that worked for the more romance-oriented Nisekoi (for the most part), and it doesn’t really fail here either.

However, just like Nisekoi, the comedy revolves around each character staying to their shtick, and not developing much further. Nozaki is inhumanely focused on his work as a manga author, using literally every chance given to him as a way to do research for his story. As much as I would’ve liked to learn more about Nozaki and his other interests and hobbies, it simply doesn’t happen, for the sake of relying on his shtick.

The only characters that seemed to develop further was Seo (Chiyo’s abrasive, talented friend) and Ken (Nozaki’s editor); for Seo’s case, it was because extra nuances and gimmicks were added on to her original shtick every time she was reintroduced (which kept her fresh); for Ken, he was kept loosely defined as a character (relatively speaking) and so didn’t develop a core gimmick. A few of the other characters, I simply didn’t understand or enjoy their gimmick. Mikoshiba is Nozaki’s first assistant, and his shtick is appearing to be tough and charismatic on the outside, but secretly is self-conscious and unsure – not that bad of a shtick, but I didn’t really get much out of it. Two other characters are Kashima and Hori, a girl and guy who are friends of Mikoshiba’s. Kashima is a ladies lady, and Hori’s shtick seems to be “always be mad at Kashima” for some reason. Hori probably annoyed me the most throughout the series due to this.

All in all, though, the comedic writing here is not bad. The situations usually are pretty funny, and although some jokes get old (due to the shticks they rely on getting old), there’s usually at least one or two things per episode that will give you a chuckle. As far as comedy series go, this was pretty entertaining, but probably won’t be at the very top of the list for me. (Now that I think about it, what even is at the top of my comedy anime list?)

However, don’t come to this series expecting an actual romance plot, or really much of a plot at all. Although I mentioned there’s a semblance of one, it mainly comes through running jokes, and characters stating a holiday is occurring for a particular episode. If it weren’t for the latter, the events of the entire series could’ve probably happened all within a few weeks. Again, the romance is pretty lacking here: after the first episode, it doesn’t really get focused on again until the last episode, and in neither case does anything really progress (again, due to Nozaki staying to his shtick).

Of course, all of that being said, one notable difference/change is this show, along with being a comedy show, is always focused around manga and being manga creators. Although it doesn’t get all that deep into the world of being a manga author, you’ll take away a few new tidbits of knowledge if you don’t know much about manga. However, the characters being manga authors (more specifically, assistants to the manga author, Nozaki) and specific things related to their roles is often more used as a source of comedy rather than actually being truly focused on.

The Atmosphere

In the lead, I said this show had oversaturated colors, and I don’t necessarily disagree with that… it’s simply that these oversaturated colors are on the character designs. Chiyo’s hair color is a bright orange, and she’s almost always seen wearing two big ribbons on either side of her head. It’s a bit weird-looking at first, but I ended up liking it quite a bit, actually. Each of the other characters also has their own hair color: Mikoshiba is bright red, Nozaki is jet black, Seo is yellow-gold, Kashima is dark blue, and Hori is just plain brown. The character designs, all things considered though, are not bad, if not a bit standard for today’s anime.

The backgrounds for the show are also pretty decent. The colors are saturated to just the right amount that they don’t fade away, but don’t overshadow anything. Not unsurprisingly, the colors are pretty calm and light, usually relying on light browns, yellows, whites, and such things. At times, though, the show does effectively pull off a sunset lighting for certain scenes.

As is usually the case, the background music of an anime only really stands out to me when it’s particularly distinct or unique, and the background music here is not. This is not to say it’s bad; the music is light and airy, to match the series’s overall tone, with synthesized string and woodwinds as the instrumentation. Again, it’s not bad, it’s in fact pretty alright… but I don’t think you’ll remember it much.

The opening and ending songs are both pretty good; the opening song will make you want to jam out, and the more-pop-sounding ending song is bound to get stuck in your head. The opening theme animation is also pretty interesting; it won’t be winning awards, but I like it. The ending animation, though, is only okay; ending animations tend to be less flashy and exciting anyway, but still, they could’ve done more.

I watched the show in English, and I must say, I’m pretty impressed with the dub. I don’t really associate Sentai Filmworks with great dubs, but this is one of the exceptions for me. Juliet Simmons hits it out of the park as Chiyo, with great inflection and emotion added to her role. I also enjoyed Joanne Bonasso as Seo, but all in all, I can’t really say any of the dub cast was really bad.

I’ve went and watched a bit of it in Japanese as well, and, although I’d probably suggest people go with the dub when available, you can get by with it in Japanese as well. Chiyo’s voice is a bit higher-pitched in comparison, which I didn’t enjoy quite as much as it sounded a bit more like just another standard “high school girl”, but it’s not bad.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, despite first appearances, is a comedy series rather than a romance one. The writing in it is still pretty good, even if the comedy very heavily relies upon shticks and gimmicks for each character. Since the comedy does so heavily rely on them, it makes the characters with the shticks I don’t enjoy (or understand) less enjoyable for me. All in all, though, this was a good time.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to go out and so vehemently tell everyone and their dog to watch this, over and over until they finally sit down with it (which is what my friend did). This is a fun show, and for those who really like comedy shows, this is worth your time if you can give it. If you’ve been on the fence to try this, I say you should dive in. However, for someone new to anime or new to comedy shows, I feel there’s better places to start than this. Again, it’s a good and fun show, but it isn’t the good-est or fun-est show.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: If You Like This Genre
+++ good comedy, Juliet Simmons as Chiyo is great, Chiyo’s design
— comedy relies fully on shticks, Mikoshiba, ending animation is only okay

Review: New Game!

From 2014 to 2015, a drama anime aired called Shirobako, and it was pretty successful. I watched it episode-by-episode myself, and I rather enjoyed it. More specifically, this show was about an employee of an animation studio in Japan; it’s an anime all about making anime.

When New Game came onto the scene for the Summer 2016 series, people instantly began comparing the two, calling New Game “the Shirobako for the video game industry”. I was intrigued enough to sit down and start watching a few episodes. Unfortunately, just like Orange, I hadn’t had the chance to finish the show until much later.

An Introduction

Aoba is fresh out of high school, and excited to move on to the next big thing in her life. She just recently got hired on as a character artist for the game studio that impressed her as a little kid: Eagle Jump.

Walking into her new workplace on the first day, though, she realized that she’s entering into very unfamiliar territory here. She doesn’t know anyone else here, and everyone’s all holed up in their cubicles, staring at their screens, getting work done. Where does she go? Is she even in the right place? Who does she even talk to?

Soon enough, though, the nervousness goes away and we see her enter into the world of game development. She meets her coworkers: Hifumi, who’s super-cute but super-shy, and Yun and Hajime, two girls that seem like total opposites. Hajime is loud, bubbly, and laid back, while Yun is proper and quiet. Aoba also quickly meets her bosses: Rin Toyoma, the art director, and Ko Yagami, the lead character designer. Ko was Aoba’s inspiration when she was young, so working alongside her is like a dream come true! But that’s not all…

The next big game that Aoba is helping to work on: the third installment in her most favorite video game franchise.

The Plot and Characters

Although I’ve first heard this show described to me as Shirobako for game making, like I said above, I don’t really feel that’s true.

While a decent amount of time each episode does feature some sort of game design progress, a lot of time is spent more on the characters and random hijinks related to them. I feel it’s partway between K-On! and Shirobako; there’s even a pull-out tea cart that the characters sit around during the middle of work to just sit and chat.

Delving more into that last paragraph, the sections of New Game that are about the actual game design process are pretty cool, and will probably be at least kind of insightful for those who don’t know much about it. As Aoba is the main character, her perspective as a character designer is what gets mostly shown. Nearly any other context of video game development is quickly brushed over or not even mentioned. I really connected with Aoba and her coworkers in the earlier episodes, as New Game took her experience a few days at a time. The final episodes, though, simply showed the major milestones of the game development, meaning days or weeks could skip between episodes. My connection with the characters was certainly strained by this.

Starting around halfway into the show, there is also an additional focus on Ko Yagami as well, especially her relationship to her job and to Rin Toyoma. It’s relatively cute and nice to see; it was a bit unexpected because I wasn’t seeing Ko as being a lead character in the series. Another addition to the cast was Aoba’s high school friend, Nene, who comes in a bit over halfway to be a QA tester. She acts rather childish and silly, which the show does point out a number of times, but she overall seemed like an unnecessary addition.

The drama present in this show never really gets that deep or troublesome, despite what some episode titles may lead you to believe. There are also portions of many episodes that are simply focused around the characters sitting around and talking (including around the pullout tea cart). Episode 4, in particular, brings pretty much everything to a halt to have all the characters in the show sit around and talk about their experiences getting paychecks. Although these scenes are pretty nice for helping to add some depth to New Game’s characters, it does mean the show’s pacing tends to be a little bit all over.

All in all, though, it was a fun little series to sit and enjoy. It’s something I could see myself watching after a stressful day, the cheerfulness of the series is a tad contagious. The show also allows you to become attached to its characters as well, and even though its drama never gets all that deep, it’s still there to keep you interested in seeing the next episode.

The Atmosphere

To match the overall cheeriness of the series, a lot of bright colors are used for the art, along with simplistic, moe-esque (and also rather cute) designs used for the characters. It’s yet another thing to contrasts the series with Shirobako, which focused a bit more on being realistic and mature-looking. New Game’s art and designs, though, are fun and fit with the mood of the show, and all in all, they look pretty great.

I particularly like Aoba’s and Hifume’s designs, and think they both look pretty cute in variety of settings; Hajime also looks pretty good at some points. Honestly, though, there are no particularly bad character designs; I rather like all of them. If there’s any I could give any complaints to, it’d be Umiko (which is probably because her obsession with military weaponry is kind of odd in this light-hearted show) and Nene (whom I don’t really like that much in the first place).

The background art, despite being mostly within a game studio, can get rather detailed at points, and I appraise the show’s designers for creating relatively realistic-looking computer program designs (my day job is programming, so of course I get hooked up on computer programs that look weird or overly complicated for the sake of looking so). Nothing in the game studio ends up looking super realistic or anything, though, always staying within its brightly-colored style.

The show’s opening, Sakura Skip, is also kind of catchy, and appropriately upbeat. The song isn’t the best thing I’ve ever heard, but I’d say it’s pretty good, and fits pretty well. The opening animation is also pretty awesome, featuring some Studio Shaft-esque vector art alongside some nice-looking shots with Aoba in a sakura forest. It’s probably among my more favorite openings of 2016, but to be honest: I haven’t seen many openings, and there really hasn’t been any (in my recollection) that have really blown me away. This opening doesn’t blow me away either, but it’s well done.

The ending song is a bit more mellow in comparison, but doesn’t seem out of place either. It’s a pretty alright song too, but I feel I prefer the opening a decent amount more. The ending animation is rather simple, featuring a lot of the characters in various poses or images of various other game-y objects. It’s a mellow ending for each episode, and it works. It seems the ending song is a bit more popular on the Internet than the opening though, according to a quick cursory Google search for both songs.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

New Game! is a light-hearted show about video game development, featuring bright colors, cute characters, and a cheerfulness to it that ends up being infectious. The show provides you an insight into the life of a character designer, and gives you a chance to become connected to its characters as they progress as game designers. Altogether, this show is a lot of fun.

If you’re looking into this show hoping for a major insight into game development, you probably won’t find all the details you’re wishing for, as New Game is pretty focused on Aoba’s journey as a character designer and that’s mainly it. That’s said, it shows the character design parts fairly well. Other than that, this is a fun show for slice-of-life fans, and those just looking for something nice to take your mind off things for a while.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ great and cute character designs and bright colors, can connect with Aoba and Ko throughout the series, opening song/animation is pretty good
— Nene feels like an unnecessary addition to the cast, final episodes skip between days and weeks straining connection to characters, most aspects of game development barely mentioned

Review: Orange

To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the anime of Fall 2016, even though there were some really good shows that people are constantly going on about. October was a busy time in my life, and any shows I had put on my list to watch for the final season of 2016, I promptly forgot to even pay attention to, as I had other things to accomplish.

This anime, though, was one from the Summer 2016 season that I didn’t get around to finishing either. Now, finally, I had the chance.

An Introduction

In the city of Matsumoto, away from the urban life of the mega-cities of southeastern Japan, a quiet high school girl named Naho is about to start her second year of high school. Before the school’s entrance exam began, though, Naho received a peculiar letter in the mail. Inside were pages upon pages of writing.

Upon starting to read the letter, Naho realized this letter was actually from herself… 10 years in the future! “I need you to do me a big favor,” the letter says. As Naho begins her first day of school as a second-year, the letter matches exactly what happens to her, even down to the detail of her oversleeping. That day, her class got a new transfer student: a guy named Kakeru Naruse.

Kakeru moved into Matsumoto from Tokyo, and so he’s a bit less familiar with the non-hectic lifestyle here. Instantly, Naho and her friends – Suwa, Takako, Hagita, and Azusa – add Kakeru into their group, and they all get along really well.

“Now, ten years in the future, Kakeru is no longer with us. Please keep a close eye on Kakeru.”

The Plot and Characters

The idea behind the story is an interesting one. Naho does what she can to protect Kakeru and to make sure that he doesn’t die within 10 years, through the guidance of a letter from her future. This letter details the events around her on a day-to-day basis, usually in relation to Kakeru. Each day, the letter usually ends with something that future-Naho regrets, and asks the present-Naho to do or not do. The hope is, with each bit by bit of change, it’ll lead to a future where Kakeru still lives. It’s an interesting concept.

Orange doesn’t do a bad job of giving realistic reactions to this letter, too. Of course, we see Naho be skeptical of the letter, and surprised to see it match up to things around her, and going through a number of steps from there revolving this relationship between her and this letter. Her trouble with how closely and how blindly she should follow this letter, combined with the situation around her that continues to diverge from the path of this letter, feels human and relatable. I give Orange respect for that.

Despite that, the biggest source of my frustration with this show also came from Naho. Pretty early on, we see Naho realize that she’s starting to fall for Kakeru. I can understand her being a shy, timid girl, afraid to speak up when there’s something she wants to say. However, there are times where Kakeru, and others, ask her whether she wants something. Deep down, she does want it, and at times it would take her more effort to say she doesn’t, but yet she denies it anyway. I feel there’s a difference between being characteristically shy, and being shy and “I’m okay as we are” for the sake of padding out the story.

The big focus of Orange is definitely on Naho and Kakeru, their relationship to each other, and how to ensure a future together. Suwa also is pretty instrumental in this as well, and he gets a lot of screen time alongside the main two. However, Azusa, Takako, and Hagita all get sidelined a decent amount in the series. They appear more on screen towards the latter end of the series, but at that point… Naho, Kakeru, and Suwa have already gone through some emotional experiences without them, and it feels a bit like they’re the lesser friends to this smaller, closer group – friends that have been put out of the loop.

I know it’d be kind of hard for a 13-episode anime to make all six of its main cast get a comparably decent amount of time to develop (not impossible, but not the easiest), but I wish that more than just Suwa and the main couple got really developed. To be honest, it seems more like Azusa and Hagita were more meant to be comic reliefs in this series anyway, and they both get some pretty funny lines (usually playing off each other). Takako… I don’t really know much about her. I feel she really didn’t get any time at all to actually become interesting in her own right.

Kakeru is the final piece of the puzzle that is this list of characters. He’s the focus of everyone’s efforts, and the one that, unfortunately, deals with the most hardships. I really feel for the guy at times. The anime does a really good job of really showing him being emotional and showing a human reaction to the difficult things that gets thrown at him in his life. Where lesser shows would’ve handled these issues with disrespect or misinformation, Orange treats the issues as real, and presents them appropriately. He and Suwa are definitely the strongest characters in this series.

Overall, the story shown here was really interesting, and I liked it a lot. It’s character-driven, and I like how the characters (at least 90% of the time) acted and reacted as humans would in situations like these. My difficulties with Naho, though, and some unrealistic things in the latter half of the series keep me from feeling the writers (or original material) really hit this out of the park.

The Atmosphere

The first thing that stood out to me in this series, visuals-wise, was the unusual eye design. By the end of the second episode, I found myself thinking, “Now this is what almond-shaped eyes really look like!” I feel they were going for something more realistic-looking than your standard anime eye design, but it ended up just looking a bit… odd.

This show has proven to be inconsistent with its art and animation throughout its 13-episode run. Although the first number of episodes all looked pretty good, there were notable dips in quality during the latter half. Not even the distinctive eye design was immune, and more “standard” eyes made an appearance. Episode 9 was particularly bad, followed by episode 10, which looked pretty good in comparison (episodes 11 and 12 wavered between the two). It seems this show fell victim to the poor time management curse that besets many an anime production, which is disappointing; this show would’ve been more effective to me, emotions-wise, if it were able to keep its quality.

I liked Orange’s character designs overall, moving on past their eyes. There are many a time where Naho just looks absolutely adorable, and Suwa looks all-around great throughout almost the entire series. Azusa also tends to look quite good throughout as well. The background art definitely looks watercolor-painted, and it’s pretty alright looking. Again, I’ve been spoiled by the absolutely stunning work of Kyoto Animation, but this show’s backgrounds are still pretty nice. I honestly don’t have any complaints about that.

The background music for this show, as you’d expect, has a lot of piano-filled pieces that are meant to be tear-jerkers. If the tracks didn’t sound so generic, they may have been more successful in really getting tears to move. Overall, though, the background music is not necessarily bad, but it’s not going to stand out, beyond you noticing that it simply… exists. That being said, there is a particular track used a bit over halfway into the final episode that I actually rather liked. If more of the soundtrack implemented those instruments, the show would’ve really benefited from it.

One thing I also really liked about Orange is how it did its background characters. To most, this will probably be a rather minuscule detail, but I honestly really liked it. For a lot of the scenes, we can hear conversations of the background characters and they sound like actual genuine conversations between classmates or what-not, rather than something standard or plain. It’s little things like that which really gives this world some life. It’s possible that I really only notice this in Orange because Crunchyroll subtitled these conversations here.

The opening song felt rather appropriate for this anime. It isn’t exactly the type of song I go out looking for, but it felt nice here. The opening animation was only comprised of scenes of nature, and the characters standing around or running. It’s a more cliché-looking opening; it’s inoffensive and simple, and it isn’t the worst thing for a more drama-focused show like this, but I may have liked something a bit more interesting.

The ending song, simply called “Mirai” (Future), is more of a ballad song, which isn’t really a song style that’s up my alley, honestly. The song’s not bad though, but I didn’t really have much desire to listen to it. The ending animation usually involves images of the characters panning on screen, which isn’t the most visually engaging, but it’s okay. Overall, the ending was pretty dull for me, but part of it is certainly my personal preferences.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Orange is a story about regrets, and going back to change them. Specifically, it’s about the regret over the death of a close friend. The hardships and feelings of the “friend” in this case, Kakeru, is really well done; the female lead, Naho, also proved to be human and relatable at some points… but at many points, she also provided some of my biggest frustrations for the series. This was not helped by the drop in visual quality for the latter episodes.

All in all, though, if I sent a letter back to myself, I wouldn’t tell myself to avoid this show. I did have fun with this show, and although there are certainly some negatives to its characters and presentation, the positives outweighed them in the end. This is a serious, character-driven drama; if that’s your type of thing, you won’t want to have regrets about missing this show. I recommend it.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ handling of serious issues is well done, Suwa is awesome, Naho’s reaction to the letter from her future
— visual quality is inconsistent especially towards end, Naho’s shyness causes frustrations, some characters in this friend group get short end of the stick development-wise