Review: Baka and Test (Funimation February?)

 

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

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

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

An Introduction

Another anime, another high school.

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: Tokyo Ghoul Root A (Funimation February)

 

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, skip the openings and watch the endings.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: My Hero Academia (Funimation February)

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: The Devil is a Part-timer (Funimation February!)

I mostly heard of this series after it finished airing. There was a little bit of talk about it during its runtime and stuff, but it wasn’t until after it finished that I began to hear more and more about it. I heard pretty positive things, but I somehow got it into my mind that this show was not that good and not worth my time. One of my closest friends got me to see otherwise.

An Introduction

Aside from Earth, there exists another world (dimension?) filled with angels, demons, along with humans. Its name is Ente Isla. Throughout the history of Ente Isla, the demons have always wanted to conquer the entire world, and they were led by the Lord Satan himself. However, as of late, the demons and Lord Satan have found themselves overwhelmed and surrounded by the resisting angels and humans. Left with few other options, the Lord Satan made his decision: a tactical retreat into another world!

Thus, the Devil himself, along with one of his closest army generals, Alciel, wind up lost and confused in a dark alleyway in Tokyo, Japan. After a short run-in with the police, the two of them found themselves needing to adjust to life here in this strange country. After getting themselves a place to stay, they assume new identities: the Devil renames himself Mao, and Alciel gets the name Shiro. Next, Mao (the Devil) unfolds the next part of his new evil plan: to get a part-time job at a fast food restaurant!

The Devil and Alciel are not alone, though. A “hero” from Ente Isla has followed them through the portal, sworn to protect both Ente Isla and this other world from the Devil and his evil ways. The hero, Emilia, (going under the name Emi in this world) will stop at nothing to reach her goal… as long as it’s made clear that her and the Devil are not dating.

The Plot and Characters

I had this show sold to me as more of a pure, straight up comedy… Something maybe a bit closer to shows like GJ Club or D-Frag!, that take an original concept and just run with the antics. Instead, what we really got was a show with an actual plot, but didn’t take itself seriously with every turn that occurs. It’s up to personal preference how much plot you want in a comedic show (or how much comedy you want in your plot-centric show). I feel this show sits in the middle. There is a coherent (if not deep) plot here, and it’s basically the vehicle that the comedy rides on to keep itself from getting stale.

When it comes to the comedy, I think it’s fairly well done. I won’t say that every joke hits its mark, but I only really saw a rare few of them as “stupid”. There’s a decent share of jokes and moments that were down-right hilarious though. You can never be too sure as to when the show will or won’t throw a joke at you, and I think that part of what makes those jokes so funny: they come at the most unexpected of times. Overall, it felt fairly well-written. Most jokes, though, will just be pretty amusing, making you smile and give the occasional chuckle.

I’m happy the plot doesn’t feel half-hearted. No obvious plot holes present themselves to me, and while there may be an occasional deus-ex-machina-ish moment, it really isn’t that bad. Overall, we could’ve gotten something a whole lot worse, especially since the original idea of the Devil working part-time in a restaurant could lead to something stale really quick (although slice-of-life shows do just fine doing something similar though).

My biggest issues tend to revolve around how the show treats some of its characters, actually. The character Suzuno has a big (but not long) arc near the end of the series, leading up to a big heel-turn (that frankly isn’t that surprising), but she appears too late in the show and things develop with her too fast for it to really feel effective. I wish the show was able to make her development seem more natural. Secondly, there are some villains that are introduced early on, and they get dealt with halfway into the series with a big dramatic battle; after that, the main characters all return to their normal lives until another dramatic battle happens towards the end of the series. For this second battle, one of the villains from the first battle re-appears again, but I had honestly forgotten about him by that point. Honestly, the show could’ve gotten by just fine without him even making a re-appearance there; he didn’t even do much of anything. Lastly, the running joke of Mao and Emi always mistaken to be dating got old on me after a couple times of it happening. It felt clichéd to me and more forced in, or at least unnecessary, later on in the series.

All in all, though, I enjoyed it a lot. Even with these complaints, I walked away from this show with a really positive experience. I don’t think I’ll watch it again until years later on, mainly because it felt like an experience that doesn’t really feel like it warrants a re-watch this quickly, but I’ll definitely show it to friends who haven’t already seen it.

The Atmosphere

The art of this show is really not that bad. However, that being said, it’s not all too amazing either. It kind of sits around “average to good” territory, and personally, I think that’s fine; this show’s focus is on its writing. They don’t need to go 110% on making it look super ultra beautiful. That being said, episode 10 was not all too fun to me to sit through: the animals shown in the episode, along with the lack of establishing shots and an otherwise not-that-special looking attraction park, made this episode stand out to me as one of the least visually-pleasing episodes in this show. Beyond that, though, the show’s visuals shouldn’t scare anyone off.

The animations is also in that “average to good” territory. Again, I think that’s pretty fine. The fight scenes in this show are pretty alright actually; if they were actually bad, it would really detract from my enjoyment of the series.

When it came to the opening and ending songs, I have to say… I wish they were better. The opening sounded like an overly cheerful, peppy, pop song that I just felt didn’t fit with the show; if it were a slice-of-life or romance show, I’d be more okay with it; this show is neither though. The opening animation is alright, I guess; again, I would’ve wanted better. The only two parts I really liked during the opening animation was the scene where Mao changes from the Devil to looking out the window in his apartment, and then a cut to Chiho in her bed.

The ending song reminded me of something out of Non Non Biyori. Non Non Biyori is a wonderful show (just mentioning it here makes me want to rewatch it again), but it’s rather different from what this show is. The ending song isn’t offensive though, and fits more if you see it as something Chiho sings. The ending theme, which is just a pan up on an image of Chiho, is uninspiring though. This anime also had two other ending songs, but I frankly don’t remember them at all.

Funimation did really good on its dub for this show… 95% of the time. I really liked a lot of the voices that got picked: special shout-outs to Anthony Bowling and Alex Moore for voicing Shiro and Suzuno respectively. My biggest complaint is with those rare moments that Chiho had to say anything longer than a sentence; it just sounded bad with the high-pitched voice. There’s a specific scene I’d cite as an example, and I believe it’s in episode 8. Considering everything though, I do like the dub quite a bit.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Devil is a Part-Timer is more a show with a semi-serious plot, but with writing that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. The fact that the writing does this makes it really funny, especially in rather opportune moments, and makes this show a really fun experience. This is further helped by a pretty good dub from Funimation. I have complaints and issues with the show, especially with its forgettable opening and ending songs, but it doesn’t stop me from having really enjoyed myself watching it.

Lovers of comedy won’t want to skip over this show. Honestly, lovers of more straight drama or action shows won’t want to skip this over either: you’ll get your drama and action here, and the funny parts are just the icing on the cake. As well, those of you looking for an anime you want to share with your not-anime-obsessed friends have another contender right here.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ good dub, comedic writing really takes advantage of its situations for jokes, still has a semi-serious plot too
— opening and ending songs/animations could’ve been so much better, Suzuno’s arc too fast, Chiho doesn’t sound good when saying a long piece of dialogue

Review: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Funimation February!)

After my chance to watch The Boy and the Beast in a theater near the end of last year, I’ve since had more chances to enjoy more of Mamoru Hosoda’s works. That includes this, Wolf Children and Summer Wars (both of which, I’ll talk about at some point!). I’ve been wanting to watch this film ever since I’ve heard of it, and I’m so glad I finally had the chance.

An Introduction

Makoto Konna lives a pretty alright life. She sleeps in past her alarm, but wakes up and rushes out the door to make it to school just in time. She gets through the school day with (usually) little incident, and then spends the afternoon playing baseball with her best friends, Chiaki and Kousuke.

While biking to a nearby museum to meet up with a relative there, she realizes the brakes on her bike stop working. … Unfortunately, she realizes this while speeding downhill towards a railroad crossing where a train is about to pass by. Unable to stop herself, she (and her bike) flips over the boom gate and into the path of the train.

Any person would expect themselves to die in such a situation… but after Makoto opens her eyes, she finds herself sitting on that hill, next to her bike. She sees the train pass through the crossing uneventfully.

She just leapt back in time a few minutes.

After talking with this relative, she decides to test this ability, and begins to use it to prevent unfortunate things happening in her life. But when has messing with time travel ever not lead to complications?

The Plot and Characters

I am pleasantly surprised by the film’s treatment of Makoto. She wears baggy, boyish clothing, plays baseball with two boys and gets along great with them, and overall, lacks much femininity. If there was a character like this in any TV anime nowadays, I’m fairly certain they could not do this without once calling attention to it. This movie doesn’t though; it treats Makoto, her lifestyle, and her friendships as perfectly normal. I think this is really awesome.

This doesn’t mean Makoto is perfect, though; any good character is flawed, and Makoto’s flaw is the fact that she tends to run from her problems. And now that she has the time leaping ability, this “running” ends up her going back in time to make sure this problem never begins in the first place. While watching this, I was a bit annoyed by her doing this, but this may be because it’s a standard sight nowadays to see anime characters running from their problems. Taking a step back and thinking objectively, though, I can’t exactly fault her for this. It’s not like I haven’t run from my own problems in high school.

However, a good film will usually show a character learning to get over (or accept) their flaws. The Girl Who Leapt Through Time does ultimately show Makoto becoming a bit more confident, but I feel that gets a bit sidetracked in a romance subplot and explaining the time-leaping ability in the latter portion of the film. The romance subplot isn’t bad, and it’s not shoe-horned in, but I could get nit-picky about a few things if I wanted to. But I won’t.

Speaking of the time-leaping ability explanation: as far as time travel explanations go, it’s a pretty alright one. On the surface, it makes a decent amount of sense, and it leaves enough things ambiguous that the film doesn’t get bogged down in its explanations and open itself to more holes in its logic. That being said, there is one notable hole that bothered me, but it revolves around the climax of the film, so I won’t spoil things.

Makoto is the only character here who really gets any development, although one could maybe make an argument for Chiaki. You won’t be getting deep, intense views into the minds of these characters, but I’m not that miffed about that. Chiaki and Kousuke, overall, are kept at their surface level appearances, with a few scenes each expanding on who they are. However, this film does a really good job of portraying these characters as best friends; their interactions really come off as such.

Getting back into a more general look at the film, it’s an entertaining ride. There is a sharp turn between the light, super comedic first half of the film, and the more serious second half, but you know that something had to give at some point anyway. This film does pretty good at managing its pacing too; it really slows down at a number of stages to help you take in the scenes and the world around these characters, and it speeds up a number of times too to help move the plot along and keep the audience from getting bored.

Honestly, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time will hook itself into your emotions. It won’t be the saddest or most dramatic story you’ve ever seen, but has some really great funny moments and gets you attached to Makoto just in time for when the roller coaster takes the dive down into problems town.

The Atmosphere

Although I complained about it in The Boy and the Beast, I liked the decision to not use shading on the characters in this film. The simpler character designs and lack of shading work well with the not-as-realistic (but still beautiful) backgrounds here.

Makoto is expressive and quirky, and really comes across as an individual person through her actions alone. How she was animated is gloriously done throughout the entire film. Not that the other characters aren’t either; I honestly don’t really have anything I can complain about with the animation and art (excepting a single scene that was just a tad less quality than the rest of the movie).

This world is bright and colorful. The greens of the leaves and grass stand out with the blues of the sky and the browns of the rocks and dirt. Even at its more serious and saddening moments, color (or at least bright whites) is everywhere in this film.

Moving to another topic without transition… I feel that we never get a good look at Chiaki’s or Kousuke’s faces. I know this isn’t true, I specifically remember scenes where they are in the foreground. However, I still feel this way – a lot of the first portion of the film had Chiaki and Kousuke in the middle ground or background, and not the foreground. Thus, these characters got established without me really getting a good idea of their faces. It felt awkward and distant, and I think it really kept me from connecting more with Chiaki and Kousuke in the film. … I don’t know if I’m rambling in a nonsensical direction, but that’s how it felt to me.

Another thing that really annoyed me with the presentation is the super tech-y looking, mechanical parts moving dimension or whatever that Makoto travels through when she does her time leaps. It felt so sci-fi-y out of place in a film that (beyond the time travel) isn’t really technology focused. I wish the time leaps more looked like the scene when she acquired the ability, with the sketched drawings that flowed from one thing to another. That was cool looking.

The audio of the film is pretty good. I watched the film in Japanese, so I didn’t get to experience how the English dub was, but I’d bet the dub probably isn’t that bad. Makoto’s voice is perfect for her character; it matches everything about her – Riisa Nike, who voiced Makoto, is a live-action TV drama actor, so her good performance is probably not surprising, but she still deserves mad props. In fact, she even was the main lead again in a 2010 live-action re-adaptation of the original novel this movie was based upon. Takuya Ishida as Chiaki and Yuki Sekido as Makoto’s sister Miyuki are also memorable performances to me.

The background music was very piano-heavy, and I don’t really have much to complain about it. Although I may have enjoyed something with more instruments, this is still pretty good, and it’s fitting. I can’t remember specific examples, to my own discontent, but there were good tracks used in this film.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time is an anime movie that you hear about a lot, but may or may not have had the chance to watch it. With Funimation now holding the license, though, now’s as good a time as any to get your hands on it and enjoy the experience.

This film does a great job with Makoto as a character, and her story is a fun and interesting one too; you’ll get laughs out of the film, but like all time travel stories, there’s more serious turns too. It’s not the most dramatic or saddest of stories, but it’s still a pretty good one. If you’re looking for something to entertain you in the span of 90 minutes, this is a choice I’d easily recommend. Frankly, I think this is something any anime fan should see at one point or another.

… Geez, I went through this entire review without a single time-related pun? Well, I guess I should leap back in time and fix that particular issue…

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
+++ film’s treatment of Makoto, great visuals, good handling of the pacing (slow scenes are really effective)
— Mechanical-gear filled dimension that appeared during time leaps, Chiaki and Kousuke felt awkwardly distant due to not seeing their faces, logic hole during the climax

Review: Tokyo Ghoul (Funimation February!)

Like I’ve said in my Assassination Classroom review, action shows aren’t something I watch all too particularly often. This doesn’t mean the few-off action shows I watch aren’t fun, but it does mean I’m usually relatively behind on the times when it comes to watching these shows.

Here is yet another prime example: Tokyo Ghoul. The show has risen in popularity since its 2014 release, and despite an ever-growing number of people telling me I really need to give it a shot, Tokyo Ghoul was never at the front of my mind when I asked myself what show I should start next.

Finally, however, this show was pretty much presented in front of me without me even being able to protest. … Well, I guess I could’ve, but Tokyo Ghoul soon showed me I didn’t really have a reason to.

An Introduction

In an alternate universe, near-human beings have appeared and live relatively undetected among us humans, the ghouls. Ghouls live, breath, and enjoy life in almost every single way a human does… there’s just one prime difference: they eat human flesh to survive.

It’s created an uneasy disturbance between humanity and the ghouls. While most common people see ghouls as unfamiliar creatures that “would never eat someone like me”, some of humanity has become riled up enough to create an organization called the CCG, focused on the extermination of ghouls. On the opposite end, a number of ghouls simply wish to just survive, being horribly treated and oppressed by the CCG, although some ghouls have lashed back out in violence – and have even created organized criminal organizations to combat the CCG and to bring general chaos.

It’s in this turbulent world that we meet our main character, Kaneki Ken. Kaneki is a book-loving college guy, but after a fatal accident while on a “date” with a girl named Rize, who turned out to be a ghoul, he wakes up feeling different. An ethically-questionable surgery replaced his failing organs with those of the ghoul Rize. Soon enough, Kaneki discovers himself to be something quite rare: a half-ghoul.

Now awkwardly trying to keep his human side while also finding a way to deal with this new ghoulish sense of hunger, another ghoul named Touka delivers him to Anteiku, a small coffee shop in his neighborhood that doubles as a secret safe-haven for ghouls.

The Plot and Characters

The world of Tokyo Ghoul is a complex one, and I’m personally happy that this show doesn’t shy away from its complexities to only focus on Kaneki, and his plight as a human-turned-(half-)ghoul.

Although Kaneki is certainly the main character of the show, and he gets the majority of the screen time and focus, a decent amount of time is also spent on someone on the flip side of the coin: a 30-something CCG investigator named Amon. It provides a decent amount of insight into both sides of this conflict, and at its best moments, Tokyo Ghoul is able to show that neither side is really in the wrong here. The CCG, afraid of the ghouls and scared of what they could do to humanity, determined the ghouls are an enemy that must be stopped.

However, as the anime spends more time on Kaneki’s side of things, the CCG are more often than not painted in a bad light. The show does a really good job of showing the humanity (in essence and appearance, not in physicality) of these ghouls, showing them to also be caring and feeling, that simply want to live their lives, but are also stuck with necessity to eat human flesh. It really gets you to care for and connect to these characters, and to root for them as they continue to hope they can live without fear and persecution.

It seems inevitable, though, that violence enters into the picture with Tokyo Ghoul; this is an action show, after all. Although a lot of the violence in the first half of the series stems from Kaneki stumbling into various parts of the ghoul world/way of life, we soon see the CCG become the antagonist to the actions of the ghouls, and we finally see Amon (and company) fighting against Kaneki (and company). It leads to an even-bigger enemy appearing at the very end of the series as well.

Although there was one fairly emotional scene when Amon and Kaneki first stood face to face, where Kaneki tried to show he was peaceful… there really isn’t much effort on Kaneki’s side to try to open a line of communication between the two groups. Of course, when both are so enraged on the other side, it’s hard, but I feel Kaneki could’ve gone further.

The final episode of this show, as well, is a really fascinating one, especially for Kaneki. I won’t say much about him in this episode, but needless to say, we really see him begin to come into his own, and actually go through an entire character arc in one episode. The episode does it in an artistic, realistic, and disgusting way that makes you want to look away but yet stay glued to the screen the entire time… and it’s awesome. That being said, though, those looking for a resolution will not find that here at the end of this final episode.

However, you can probably get some sort of idea of what happens after the end of that episode. … And after you develop and believe in that idea, move on to the second season.

The Atmosphere

Tokyo Ghoul, probably unsurprisingly, is a very dark series. Blacks and dark greys are used throughout, and even in the scenes with warmer tones and a calmer atmosphere, the show still felt distant and uninviting with its colors and visuals. I wouldn’t expect it to allow me to get too comfortable, honestly, but it also seemed like it didn’t want me to ever be comfortable at all, while watching it.

The visuals doesn’t leave me with much to complain, but it doesn’t particularly awe me all that much either. It’s not hard to keep track of what’s going on in fights, even if the animation isn’t the most fluid. The slower scenes allow some of the more artistic background visuals to shine at times, though. All in all, though, the quality does stay pretty consistent, and I didn’t really notice any glaring issues.

However, there will be one scene that I’ll probably end up remembering for a good while: in episode 1, after Kaneki returns to his apartment, he tries out a variety of foods, and slowly (and with little dialogue) realizes that he can’t eat human food anymore – he’s a ghoul. The emotions of the scene were shown in Kaneki’s panicked, hurried actions, and his eventual crying at the end, and it was honestly kind of moving.

The character designs are pretty standard for a 2014 anime; it’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not pushing the envelope either – it’s safe. The design of Kureo Mado (Amon’s older/wiser CCG partner) is the only one that really stood out to me; the other standard designs actually became a problem for me. I ended up mixing up or not recognizing a number of the supporting cast simply because they weren’t distinguishable or different enough. On a related note, though, the designs of the quinques (the weapons the CCG use) were pretty cool (I liked them even more for story reasons that I won’t spoil).

The show’s soundtrack ranges from big and grandiose, to quiet and timid, when the scene so needed it to be. Of course, any decently done soundtrack can do so. The reliance upon strings and the occasional electronic instrument or vocal for the action scenes do lead to some pretty cool songs, though. The piano is brought out for the more quieter and somber moments, and it also serves the show fairly well.

Speaking of voice acting, since I watched Tokyo Ghoul first in Japanese, I’m more used to the Japanese voices. The performances of Shu Tsukiyama and Nishiki were my favorite. This is one of those shows where you’ll get attached to either the Japanese or the English side, though. I’ve listened to parts of the series in English, and although the English cast sounds overall fine, it still feels off because I’m so used to them in Japanese. Touka’s performance in English seems pretty decent, but I feel Austin Tindle as Kaneki isn’t the best at monologues.

If I really had to tell you which one to choose, I’d probably tell you to just watch the show in Japanese. The subtitles aren’t that bad to follow, anyway. That being said, whatever one you choose, you’re probably gonna end up not liking the other all that much.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

I really like the story of Tokyo Ghoul; it does a really good job of presenting the life of a ghoul, the troubles they face, the issues they want to save, and the eventual fighting that seems inevitable for them. It seems a bit of a shame that the show couldn’t completely show the CCG as morally grey though; I would’ve liked this show more if it were more dedicated to showing neither side as black or white. Kaneki’s plight is an adventure to watch, though, for sure.

Action fans will probably have already seen this. If action isn’t your main jam, though, it may get a bit more murky for you: the story is interesting and the show does allow you to connect with its characters, but you will also have to put up with a decent amount of gore. Give it a few episodes and see what you think.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ really allows to connect to the ghoul characters, the final episode, not straight good guys and bad guys
— could’ve gone further to show CCG as morally gray, Kaneki’s attempts to communicate with CCG could’ve been better, standard (not bad nor super-amazing) presentation

Review: Death Parade (Funimation February!)

Death Billiards was a short film created by Madhouse. It was part of a project for young and upcoming animators to learn under major anime studios. This same project is where Little Witch Academia first started as well, and now both  have had sequel TV series come out. (In fact, both Death Billiards and LWA were both made for the project’s 2013 results.)

Thus, Madhouse (along with NTV and Vap, a Japanese TV station and a DVD producing company) came out with Death Parade in early 2015. I, however, didn’t take the chance to watch it until a year later, in January 2016, and I wish I had earlier…

An Introduction

Knowing where you go after you die has always been one of humanity’s biggest mysteries.

This anime puts forth the idea that when a person dies, their soul is sent down to this special supernatural realm, where beings called arbiters judge them, and decide where they go from there. Any human soul has two possible destinations: reincarnation (being brought back up to the living world – with no memory of your past life), and “the void” (a bottomless pit where souls marked irredeemable are doomed to be constantly falling in forever).

Arbiters decide a soul’s destination by a rather interesting manner: by having them play a game. Souls come down in pairs of two, most commonly, with only some memory of who they were, but absolutely no memory that they themselves had died. These soul pairs find themselves, confused and lost, in a mysterious bar, where the arbiter acts as bartender. The arbiter strong-hands the two into playing a game; as they play the game, their memories begin to return to them, and they begin to show their true nature – who they really are as a person. Things tend to turn really emotional as the visiting souls realize they are dead and what is really going on here. Once the arbiter sees enough of the souls’ true selves, he (or she) can make the judgement, and decide where each of these souls will go.

The anime mainly focuses on one particular bar with one particular arbiter: Decim, of the bar Quindecim (and his name is pronounced like “De-keem”). He’s a relatively quiet and polite person, standing up straight and sticking to his role and his rules, and never beating around the bush. His boss, a girl named Nona, assigns to him an assistant, who we’ll call “the black-haired woman”. Strong, fierce, and full of emotion and ideas, the black-haired woman has no memories of who she is, nor even what her name is.

All in all, this starts off the ride of an interesting and unexpected adventure, and Decim, unknowingly, is at the center of the stage.

The Plot and Characters

As the black-haired woman becomes Decim’s assistant, she offers her critiques and thoughts on the situations in later episodes, sometimes even directly intervening with the other characters to keep them from going too far.

When it’s all boiled down, this anime is all about the question of “is this the right way to be doing these judgements?” All of the protagonist characters here, whether you see it on the surface or not, are trying to figure out their own answer to that question. For Decim and the black-haired woman, she helps him by exposing him to new, different trains of thoughts and expanding his views on how things can be done.

While Death Parade does provide some sort of answer to that central question, the final episode seemed a bit more focused on finishing the black-haired woman’s character arc, more than accomplishing anything else. It still felt dramatic though, and wasn’t unsatisfying, but I do wish they there was a bit more about the arbiter business side of things. The character who’s been built up to be the antagonist of the series, honestly, seemed like he was gibbed, not really getting much time to shine. Overall, the overarching plot could’ve used a bit more meat to it, but it was not underwhelming.

That all being said though, the storytelling isn’t bad here. For Death Parade, it’s great stories are in the individual episodes. Each episode has a start, middle, and end of its own, and a lot of them feature a game and judgement. We get to meet and react to a number of fascinating characters, and see them break down and show their true colors to Decim and the audience. It’s rather cool.

However, during the big climaxes of a lot of these episodes, the characters talked a bit too vaguely (using metaphors and vague words) for me to really understand what was being said. That is, unless I paused the video and thought through the words, which resulted in these scenes not coming across quite as impactful for me.

Each and every episode always seemed to be over before you’d ever expect it. When you sit down to watch an episode of this, the time just flies right by. It really sucks you in, and it’s hard to resist clicking that “Next Episode” button once you finish one. It’s said to be one of the best things one can say about a show: it leaves you wanting more. Say what you want about anything else in the show, but it’s certainly very entertaining to watch.

The Atmosphere

The visuals for this show are nothing short of impressive. It’s clear that Madhouse had put the most effort into the 1st episode, trying to sell people on the show, but even so, the animation and art quality throughout the entire show was overall outstanding. There was a lot of fluidity to the motion, and a lot of the special effects, coupled with some pretty cool audio effects at times too, really helped make it really stand out. One of my most favorite things was the billiards table where the billiard balls were actually the planets of the solar system (and the moon), and the sun was the cue ball.

I rather liked the character designs for the visitors because of their clothing; it just really hits home that these people came from the world of the living to me. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but I really liked them.

For the characters of this actual realm, they were also good, but not anything really outstanding. That being said, I liked the hair on the black-haired woman, and the cross shape that is in each of the arbiters’ eyes was pretty cool (I do wish they looked a bit more glossy though, but it’s frankly more of a nitpick by this point). I also liked the design for the smiley elevator guy (who’s apparently named Clavis, according to Wikipedia). He doesn’t receive too much attention throughout the show, but he recurs a lot, and I like him.

The show utilized various color schemes for its various settings. Quindecim has a lot of dark purples and blues, which looks cool, but also tends to make it seem a bit more mysterious and creepy, where I may have expected something a tad bit warmer. In stark contrast, the bar of another arbiter, Ginti, who gets shown a few times, tend to rely on bright reds and tans, and it looks cool in a different way, and also seems more inviting. Other places in this realm tend to go with a greenish-blueish thing and occasionally a yellow or orange. Overall, the whole place has this cold, damp, eerie look; I can’t say it’s not befitting, because it kind of is, but there’s still… just something to it I’m not enamored with.

I watched Death Parade in Japanese, and I generally liked everyone’s performance except the voice chosen for the eventual antagonist; he either sounded bland or creepy (in a pervy old man type of way) which I don’t think fit. If he sounded more quirky or something, I would’ve liked that better. My other issue is with Ginti, but really an issue with the character himself. The show’s mythos states that arbiters can’t feel emotion, but yet, Ginti tends to sound (and look) angered or annoyed a lot; that just seems contradictory. This character going against the show’s stated rules stuck in my mind a lot throughout the series.

The other great thing about this anime is its music. The opening song is great, and infectiously easy to get stuck in your head, with a rather cool opening animation to match. The background music for the series was also really great, and rather unique. It fit this series really well and just sounds awesome. I’d love to listen to that music on its own.

I’d gripe over the fact that they play the same 5 or 6 cool tracks over and over again, but frankly, the series is over before the music loses its feeling and edge. The ending song was alright, in comparison; for some episodes, they showed scenes from the visiting souls’ time among the living or other points while the credits played, and I liked that a lot more than the standard ending animation.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Death Parade does a lot right. It provides an interesting premise, has great animation and music, and provides really cool drama and storytelling. That being said, I’d say the thing that suffered was the overarching plot, sadly. The individual episodes on their own are absolutely wonderful, and you just wanted more after you finished each one. However, the relatively small issues I have with this show keep me from calling it a “masterpiece”.

Honestly, if you haven’t seen this show, do so as soon as you get the chance. I highly doubt anyone will walk away disappointed. This will especially work well with people who really like character-based stories. No matter who you are and what you like though, I think you’ll find something to be entertained with down in Quindecim.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Put This On Immediately
+++ great animation and music, individual episodes are awesome, black-haired girl
— eventual antagonist doesn’t get his time to shine in overarching plot, Ginti as a character seemed to mess with the show’s own mythos, dramatic scenes sometimes a bit vague

Review: Mushi-shi

I can sit here and say that Mushi-Shi is like a cross between X show and Y show, or two other shows, or something, but I feel that no matter how many comparisons I try to make, none of them will really explain or show what Mushi-Shi actually is. This show can really only be explained by explaining it itself; no comparisons will really help that much.

This show never really caught my interest when it was airing. It seemed okay, maybe a bit intriguing, but not something I wanted to sit down to really look at. However, a few friends of mine saw the show and loved it, and, with a certain amount of pushing, got me to sit down and try it too.

An Introduction

In 1800’s Japan, our main character, Ginko, travels around the country, offering to help people, families, and even entire villages, as they face problems with a certain kind of supernatural being.

These beings are “mushi”, small spirits that are life in its most basic essence. They come in varying shapes and sizes (although most are relatively small), and they tend to keep themselves separate from humanity, but not always. And when the mushi do get involved with humankind, it usually isn’t in the human’s favor. It’s not that mushi are intentionally harmful creatures (most of the time); they simply have supernatural abilities or properties that tend to interfere with a human’s ability to have a normal life when the two come into contact.

Each episode features Ginko traveling to a new location. Ginko is a white-haired, middle-aged man with an eye missing (not that you can usually notice, though) and a proclaimed “mushi master”. He generally tries to be helpful (he’s also relatively forward), but he tends to like his privacy and isolated-ness as well. Ginko doesn’t have a place to call home, and he just continues to travel, with every new place and every new person he meets providing him a chance to interact with a new type of mushi.

Some of the mushi he ends up meeting include mushi that consume sound (quite literally), a living and traveling swamp mushi, and mushi that live within the writings in paper. There’s even one that is basically a physical rainbow. In any case, every new episode features a new mushi to talk about, and a new adventure to be had.

The Plot and Characters

Mushi-shi is very episodic; the events in every individual episode never overlap, and in general, it tends to work in the show’s favor, allowing them to show you a wide variety of situations with a wide variety of mushi. This does mean that the characters we meet in one episode are never seen (or mentioned) ever again though. In some cases, it kind of stinks, because I’d like to see more of these characters, but at the same time, the episodic nature keeps things new and fresh.

However, the show’s episodic storytelling also leads to it being annoyingly inconsistent, from a worldbuilding perspective (which is something I really focus on). There is an archive of tales from mushi masters all over Japan, for example, that’s never mentioned prior or after that episode. And while this series writes off many of the mushi we see as “rare” or “only lives in a specific place”, there are some that you’d expect to be more present in multiple episodes. While the lack of a consistent world doesn’t hinder you from enjoying what Mushi-shi has to offer, it makes it hard to wrap your head around the lore that the show presents to us.

This show has only one recurring character (well, two, but we only see the other character, like, two or three times), and that is Ginko. Ginko tends to be pretty helpful and kind person, but he has a consistently stoic face. He never displays extreme emotion, in one way or another; I suppose his mellow and calm nature tends to make him more helpful in dire situations and keep others grounded, but it’d also be nice to see the guy get a bit agitated or something at times. His backstory is feebly explained in two different episodes, but it didn’t really do too much. All in all, he’s not a bad character, but there’s not really anything to him that really grabs me and attaches me to him. For him being the protagonist we follow around every episode, that is perhaps a tad disappointing.

When it comes to the show’s pacing, it’s pretty slow. And this isn’t really a bad thing. I feel a lot of today’s shows have grown too fast, so it’s nice to see a slower-going one become a bit more popular. The slow pacing is rather relaxing, and it gives you enough time to really ingest the atmosphere and feelings.

That being said, there are definitely episodes where Mushi-shi lost my attention for a short while because things grew too slow. It generally doesn’t fail in grabbing my interest later in the episode though. I could play this on my TV and have Minecraft running on my laptop and enjoy the both just fine.

The Atmosphere

If there’s one thing I really do have to praise Mushi-shi for, it’s its visuals. I watched this show in late 2015, and I thought it had pretty decent visuals. And then I learn that this show actually came out in 2006 (9 years prior!), and I was flabbergasted. This 2006 show’s art and animation directly competes with the art and animation of shows coming out a number of years later! If you had asked me, I would’ve said it came out in 2011 or 2012, not as far back as 2006. That’s just impressive. This show seriously has not aged.

However, despite how impressed I was with the quality of the visuals, I can’t really say the art is “beautiful” (which is a word I’ve heard a number of people use to describe it). I think, however, this more stems down to what I perceive as “beautiful”, which is usually expansive shots and bright, vibrant colors. In comparison, this show used nearly exclusively muted colors, a choice that does fit the more natural, spirit-y tone of this show. It does have some pretty great looking shots, though; It’s certainly pretty good looking, no matter how you put it.

The show’s background music works pretty well for the show. It generally has this more natural, traditional Japanese sound to it, really fitting the feel of the entire show, as well as blending in with the scenes itself. It is pretty good, but I wouldn’t listen to the soundtrack on its own. The opening song is not something you’d generally hear in anime nowadays, and its relaxed tone sounds good, but I don’t necessarily think the song is that memorable. The opening animation is rather short, and simplistic. It is pretty looking, and fits the show.

In fact, returning to the visuals again, I actually like Mushi-shi’s simplistic take on the common aspects of a TV episode: the opening credits/animation, the ending credits, and showing the episode title. The opening animation is nothing more than a bunch of images of nature, and the ending credits is just white text on a black screen while music from the episode continues through. The episode title is displayed in a colored rectangle that appears within the first few minutes of the episode, usually during an establishing shot. Again, I like the simplistic approach they took here, and I think it really helped with the atmosphere. Anything flashy would be unsettling for this series.

I watched this show in English, and here I present my gripes with Ginko again: I don’t necessarily like Funimation’s casting of Travis Willingham as Ginko. I’m not quite sure if it’s this casting that made me like Ginko less, or if there’s something about Ginko that just caused me to be upset about the casting (although I think it’s the former). It’s not like he did Ginko or this show injustice, but I just wish they had chosen someone else to be him. If I were to watch this show again, it’d be in Japanese.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

I think that throughout the writing of this review, I convinced myself to like this show. When I walked away after finishing the last episode, I thought to myself, “well, that was alright, I guess”, but as I write this now, I find myself saying, “Mushi-shi is pretty good”. The relaxed, simplistic tone and atmosphere of this show really helped keep focus on the various adventures and stories we get to experience in each episode. I still can’t help but be amazed by the fact that the show still looks like it’s barely aged since its airing in 2006. My biggest gripe would be the English casting of Ginko, but if that’s the biggest problem here, that’s saying something.

That being said, though, I have a bit of a hard time making a recommendation for Mushi-shi. I certainly wouldn’t say this show isn’t worth your time if you can give it. However, I wouldn’t imagine this show being the most enjoyable to watch by yourself. I’d suggest you get a group of friends together, pull the first episode up, and go from there. Of course, you and your friends will have to be interested in a show that tends to take things at a slow, more natural pace.

Rating: Good

Recommendation: Give It a Shot

+++ relaxed pace and atmosphere, visuals barely look aged, episodic stories keep things fresh

— something about Ginko irks me (perhaps casting), slow pacing may sometimes lose your attention, inconsistent (or complicatedly expansive?) lore

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