Review: Karakai Jozu no Takagi-san

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: Free! Eternal Summer

(Editor’s note: I know this image is from the movie. But, hey, it features all the characters mentioned here, so… it works.)

With a smash hit (or should I say, “splash” hit) on their hands, everyone expected Kyoto Animation to continue with a second season of their show Free!, and indeed, this second season did come the following summer, 2014.

It was fun to jump back into this series, and I was curious to see where the show’s staff would be taking it next. Free! does have source material, the book called High Speed!, but that took place in the characters’ elementary school days, leaving the show’s writers with a lot of wiggle room to decide to do whatever they wanted.

And so, they moved forward to the next year in high school.

An Introduction

A new school year begins for all of our favorite swimming anime boys.

For Haru, Makoto, and Rin, this is now their final year of high school. If they want to make things count, now is the time to do it, as scouts from colleges all over Japan (and the world) are watching them. If you want to keep being a swimmer after high school, they’re the ones you’ll want to impress.

After getting over his own angst in the first season, Rin has reconciled with his old friends (Haru, Makoto, and Nagisa) and even made a few new friends in Rei and Ai. By sheer luck, he’s also found himself captain of Samezuka’s swim team, and he even has a nice plan set up with a college back in Australia. Indeed, life’s looking good for him.

On the Iwatobi side, though, there’s some troubles. Makoto doesn’t exactly know what he wants to do post-high school, although he has some ideas… but Haru? He doesn’t have any clue at all. Haru just wants to “swim free”, like he always has… but that’s not a job. Haru has one year of high school left to spend with his friends and to also figure out what he wants to do with life, and time is quickly ticking away…

That’s not all though. To add to Rin’s perfect life, he’s even reconnected with an even older elementary school friend: a muscular chum named Sousuke who is Rin’s equal (or more) in every way when it comes to swimming. Rin gets to spend his last year of high school surrounded by all his friends and with everything in order, but… something seems off about Sousuke…

The Plot and Characters

When it came to this new season of the show, people were probably just looking for “Free!, but more”. The show’s writers could’ve given us just that – a retread of the first season – and we’d probably be satisfied (although perhaps a bit underwhelmed), but instead, they went much further.

The issue of figuring out what you want to do after high school is something a lot of teenagers deal with every year. Although there’s been some shows that dedicate themselves to this issue, most of them simply lightly brush the subject or simply play it off as a joke or character trait. Here in Free! Eternal Summer, we dive right into this issue and with more time and gravity than other anime tend to.

And Haru is the perfect character to tackle this with. The first season saw him set in his ways of only swimming freestyle, doing only what he needs to do to keep his precious swim club running and enjoy it with his friends… but ultimately, he’s of a one-track mind and is relatively immature. At some point, he’s due for a rude awakening that he’s going to need to adjust to the world around him, and this is a nice setup for that. He’s conflicted, he’s unsure, and this really isn’t an issue he wants to even think about. Why can’t life be as simple as it has been? Even with his friends around him to help him out, they more become a source of stress rather than one of relief. This entire journey is executed extremely well, leading up to an amazing pre-climax episode 12. It is here that Haru is finally able to come to a decision; I’ll say that it left me a bit confused and maybe a bit underwhelmed, but it’s not mishandled either.

Beyond this more serious conflict, however, this 2nd season is still the same sports anime at its core.

Makoto, Haru, Nagisa, and Rei are still best friends and members of Iwatobi’s swim club. They take their friendship seriously and take their swimming twice as seriously. Their big goal this time: the Nationals competition. With all the introductions and getting-to-know-each-other moments all taken care of, we’re given the opportunities to do more deep dives into each of these characters. Nagisa, Rei, and Makoto each get a focus episode, and it’s honestly great. These characters are more fleshed out, and their interactions and lighter moments are as great as they’ve ever been. There’s still a lot of fun with this group.

On the other side, though, Rin and the Samezuka group as a whole got fleshed out as well. While I’ve had a lot of praise for Haru’s conflict and the Iwatobi side as a whole so far, there is one part that has bothered me consistently this entire season. (And, as much of a surprise it may be, it’s not Ai.)

Ai, this time around, isn’t quite as intolerable. A big part of the reason why is because Rin is past his angsty teenage phase and is actually a lot more mature now. He’s rekindled his friendship with the Iwatobi group, and while he still acts as their fierce competitor, it’s in good fun now and not really a toxic situation. This still isn’t done out-of-character for Rin either, where we’ll still see moments of him being angry and emotional, but we no longer need Ai to be the metaphorical punching bag for him now, and thus Ai can blossom into his own as a character.

As his own character though, Ai still isn’t particularly great, if I’m honest. He puts Rin up on a pedestal still, and his personality is basically “I’m going to grow up to be just like you, Rin” – which, to be fair, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it just feels a bit too innocent for my tastes, especially given that this is pretty much his only personality trait.

But no, my bigger problem is with the new character introduced this time, Sousuke. Sousuke is Rin’s elementary school friend before he met Haru and Makoto; Sousuke wasn’t so much as even mentioned before his sudden appearance this season, but yet he comes in and starts to act as an artifical divider between Rin and Haru. This seemed strange to me, and felt unnecessary and also highly unwarranted (Sousuke, you haven’t seen Rin in years, you don’t really have any right or reason to be protective of him). I feel the writers primarily wanted to write Sousuke as this season’s new big rival/antagonist, but they kind of back off it after the first few episodes.

(And to be fair, as far as new previously-unmentioned-childhood-friend characters appearing goes, Sousuke’s sudden appearance honestly isn’t too bad… Just wait until next season…)

Instead, Sousuke turns into another source of drama for this season, with his own (admittedly somewhat important) conflict. However, he blows his issue into something much larger by attempting to simply cover it up and not talk about it, when talking about it would’ve been the best idea all along. All in all, Sousuke’s problems and how they were written into this show seemed a bit half-baked and not done to the best of its ability. It comes off to me as “well, we have to do something with him now that he’s here”, but to be fair, a large majority of the show’s time is focused on Haru so they didn’t give Sousuke’s conflict the time it needed. It kind of stinks because it would’ve been a really good thing to focus on, just as much as the deciding-what-to-do-after-school issue, but it was shortchanged and then blown up into this coverup-attempt issue instead.

Another character is added on to the Samezuka side as well: Momotaro Mikoshiba. I didn’t really have a natural way to bring up his older brother Seijuro in the first season, but the connection between the two isn’t super important. Momo is primarily a comic relief character, and is generally a joy to have on screen. Sometimes he can be a bit much though.

Well, at the end of the day, what does this second season provide us? Well, more fun antics and a heck of a lot of swimming, that’s unchanged from the first time, but there’s also a much heavier heaping of drama and conflicts than the first season ever had. It’s honestly a good pivot for the second season to have, and despite my issues with Sousuke, it’s all handled pretty darn well. It can be hard as a sequel to tread the line between “sticking with what’s familiar” and “trying something different/new”, but I think this second season was pretty effective.

The Atmosphere

Much like the second season’s writing takes the first season and adds more stuff on top to good effect, the visuals do as well.

KyoAni, like any other studio or person, is always working on refining its work and improving – It’s easier to compare and tell since Kyoto Animation uses essentially the same style between most of its shows for at least a decade now – and you can definitely see some improvements between the first and second seasons. The improvements aren’t like earth-shattering or anything like that; the differences are more subtle, but still makes for a nicer looking experience.

Shading and lighting is handled a bit better, the characters have a bit more contrast and presence now, and the background work is handled a lot better this time around as well. The level of detail is even higher this time around, and it pays off with an absolutely great-looking anime. Episode 12 stands out as a very special mention, but I think episode 12 is just a very memorable episode overall.

While I described the first season as “playing it safe”, (and I can’t necessarily disagree with that assessment here either) I think that given the higher level of detail and simply this becoming the visual style to expect with this anime, it’s not really a complaint worth lobbing here. It would be cool to see the visuals push the envelope a bit more this second time around, but seeing the writing has already done that (for this show’s standards), that’s honestly enough for me. This season, since there’s a lot more serious moments and such, we’re treated to the darker color palettes a lot more often that the first season.

The music continues to be as awesome as it was in the first season. There are some great vocal rap tracks that play, such as the one when Sousuke confronts Haru for the first (and honestly only) time, but I feel they play them a little too short. I wish I got more of a chance to enjoy the great tracks, but I guess I can’t complain about any staying past its welcome, now can I? Either way, I would love to enjoy this soundtrack on its own… just haven’t gotten around to doing so.

Oldcodex comes back for the opening song, this time called “Dried Up Youthful Flame” (that’s a bit of a mouthful). The opening song is nice, but I still find “Rage On” (the first season’s opening theme) more enjoyable. The opening animation is a bit more fluid than the first season’s, and is also rather good and especially fitting for a 2nd season. The ending “Future Fish” is really enjoyable (again sung by the main 5’s voice actors), primarily because of the animated sequences that go along with the ending song. The characters dress up as various professions (such as Rin as a police officer and Nagisa as an astronaut) and are shown in various situations interacting with each other. It’s a lot of fun, and the song itself is pretty good too!

Just like the first season, the final episode has this ballad-sounding song used for the ending. Unlike the first season, though, I enjoyed this one a decent amount too. Alongside it was a slideshow of what the characters did after the ending, showing Makoto in college and the Iwatobi Swim Club getting new members. It makes for a nice final wrap-up of the season (and series, prior to the later movies and 3rd season coming along). At the very end is a small post-credits scene that calls back to that old commercial from 2013, which I found fascinating. Did KyoAni know how much attention it got in the West, or did they call back to it for some other reason? Either way, all this together left the season with a good and satisfying ending.

The voice acting continues to be great as well. The choice for Sousuke was really good, Yoshimasa Hosoya does a great job. I honestly haven’t heard the English dub for the 2nd season at all (since I no longer have access to Funimation’s dub library (thanks Sony)), but given how all over the place the voices were last time, I’m not expecting much better this time either. I recommend watching the series with subs.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Sequels always play the line between “sticking to what’s familiar” and “doing something new/unexpected” – going too far one way or the other can be underwhelming or alienating. Luckily, Free! Eternal Summer succeeds in combining both well by keeping the same formula but adding some extra elements of drama in a realistic and expected fashion. While there are some hiccups along the way, this second season proves to be just as great a time as the first.

When it comes to recommendations of a 2nd season of a show, it’s pretty obvious: if you’ve seen the first season, you’ll like the second. If you didn’t like the first season, you won’t like the second. Even though this second season adds a bit more drama and tension, it’s nowhere near enough to capture those who passed on this show the first time around.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ continues with the first season’s strengths, deeper dives into each character (especially Haru), visuals get an upgrade
— Sousuke’s addition seemed not planned out, Ai is better but still a one-trick pony, ending of main conflict left a bit to be desired

Additional Thoughts: The Success of Nichijou

This wasn’t planned to be a long post, but it’s turning into one… either way, I just wanted to share some additional history and trivia that you might not know about this show.

(Also, as a quick update, I did update my review for Nichijou to add and change some stuff, as I wasn’t happy with how it was. No changes in opinion or anything, but wanted to let you know.)

So despite how much people seem to be enjoying it in recent years, Nichijou actually didn’t see too much success right out of the gate, either in the US or Japan.

Japan

In 2011, the Nichijou anime was about to start airing. This anime project came after tremendous success with the producers’ two previous shows: Haruhi Suzumiya and Lucky Star. Haruhi Suzumiya blew up like nothing else, and people around the world clamored to get any tiny bit more Haruhi anything they could get their hands on. Lucky Star, although it rode a bit on the success of Haruhi Suzumiya, was a great hit in its own right and helped to define the genre of “slice-of-life anime”.

Naturally, they expected Nichijou to be another hit out of the park. A lot of time, money, and work was put into getting that 3rd major success: many character single CDs were made, advertisements were put all over, they opted for a full 26 episodes right off the bat, it was aired and streamed everywhere, limited edition DVD/Blu-ray boxes were lined up, merchandise (and video game) deals were made…

But it didn’t turn into the success they wanted it to be. Manga sales were actually pretty good, maybe some of the music CDs did well… but in general, people weren’t buying up the DVDs, other music CDs, and merchandise as well as they hoped.

This didn’t mean that Nichijou was a complete financial disaster, however. It still performed pretty alright. Other anime production committees would probably be pretty happy with the numbers Nichijou brought. … But it wasn’t on the level of Haruhi or Lucky Star. And with how much extra money they poured into this, expecting it to be on that level, it just didn’t return as much money as they put into it.

There’s a lot of speculation and theorizing on to why Nichijou didn’t play out as much as expected. It could’ve been that the content is more suited for a Western audience rather than a Japanese one. It could’ve been the fact that the show was split into 13 separate DVD boxes sold over a year which people didn’t want to get behind. It could’ve been the over-usage of the then-already-overused voice actor Minoru Shirashi in the bonus content on the DVDs. Either way, that’s what it was.

The manga division of Kadokawa, which published the Nichijou manga, certainly saw some success, and Kyoto Animation and Klockworx probably came out alright… but Kadokawa’s anime division, along with Lantis and Movic (who produced the music and merchandise, respectively) probably didn’t see the numbers they wanted.

Kyoto Animation would soon after move into producing its own shows, but it’d be wrong to say that Nichijou was what caused them to do so. They were planning the move into self-production for a while, starting with a book writing contest that first ran in 2009 that gave way to shows like Chunnibyou, Free!, Beyond the Boundary, and Violet Evergarden.

Japan – NHK-E version

The following year (2012), though, the TV station NHK re-aired Nichijou. They cut down the original 26 episodes, taking the best sketches from the show and reorganizing them to fit into 12 episodes. This ended up being referred to as the NHK-E version or Director’s Cut version of Nichijou.

Ultimatemegax translated a compiled listing of what made the cut in the NHK-E version.

(Side note: isn’t a “Director’s Cut” supposed to be like… longer than the original (theatrical) release? Have extra stuff? The 12 episode re-release is half as long as the original 26, but yet it’s sometimes referred to the Director’s Cut…)

The NHK-E version of Nichijou actually performed well enough that they ended up re-airing that version again later that year and also releasing that on DVD. So at least the Nichijou anime did have some success in the end… even if that meant cutting half of it out.

United States

However, now we turn our attention to the United States. Other overseas regions, like Europe and Australia, don’t necessarily apply here. (Madman Entertainment released Nichijou in Australia in 2013.)

In the early 2000s, Bandai (yes, that Bandai) had an anime distribution division in the US, and released DVDs just like Funimation or Sentai. Bandai were the ones to bring over Cowboy Bebop, Haruhi Suzumiya, Code Geass, and K-On! to the United States. For Haruhi’s 2nd season, they even did live events and promotions for it.

When 2011 came around, Bandai would acquire the license for Nichijou with plans to release it in 2012. However, it would end up not to be.

Around 2011 is when the American anime industry was hitting a problem: people just weren’t buying DVDs as much anymore. The Internet was becoming the next big thing, and piracy and torrenting sites allowed people to watch anime without paying a dime. On top of all of this, as well, was the larger economic recession happening in 2010/2011; people just didn’t have the extra money to spend on things like DVDs (and why would they, when they could just hit up their favorite site and watch a show with just a click of a mouse).

For Bandai America’s anime and manga division, this wasn’t an obstacle they could afford to overcome. The parent company back home in Japan wasn’t happy with how things were turning out, and when they decided to merge all their Japanese anime companies into one, they also decided to leave the American anime industry in steps.

The discs for Nichijou, Gosick, and Turn A Gundam were cancelled in January 2012, and all of the manga they were publishing were cut short. In August, they stopped selling all of their DVDs altogether, and by December 2012, they were totally out of the American anime industry.

Nichijou would still end up on Crunchyroll (under the translated name My Ordinary Life) as part of their premiere lineup for this new “legal anime streaming” thing they were trying out. But there was no company in the US to advertise and support the show, to make and put out DVDs and put it into catalogs and on retailer websites like Amazon. And so for the US, the show never raised above cult hit status, and in 2014 when Crunchyroll lost the license to Nichijou, there ceased to be a legal way to even watch the show in the US.

Things seemed to change around a little bit when Vertical Comics announced their acquisition of the Nichijou manga at AX 2015. It still wasn’t the anime, but there was at least some way for people to enjoy Nichijou. I excitedly purchased the first 3 volumes right away from them, and I still support them now (especially since they also have the Monogatari series books too).

Finally, at YoumaCon 2016, Funimation announced they got the license to Nichijou. February 2017, a month short of a full 6 years since the 1st episode aired, American anime fans could enjoy this comedy show with the Blu-Ray box in their own hands.

Unfortunately, Nichijou’s time in the limelight has passed, as there’s new shows to produce and promote, and new DVDs and Blu-Rays to make. But the show’s popularity, hopefully, will continue to grow and expand online, as more and more fans come across this awesome show.

Until next time,

Jayke

Review: Nichijou

Nichijou header image, featuring the three main leads (Mai, Yukko, Mio)

Edit: I added and changed some things in this review after its initial posting. I wasn’t truly happy with how this review turned out, and so I made some adjustments. No changes in opinion or anything, but hopefully it reads a lot better than it did originally.

Years and years ago, I watched my first ever anime: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003). I fell in love with it immediately, and was excited to see more anime from there. The second one was the romance anime B Gata H Kei (truly a generic romance show, but I still love it). And anime number 3 I completed: Nichijou.

I can’t remember when or how I came across it, but I bet it was due to me finding a random GIF or video from it on Tumblr. It intrigued me enough to look out for it, and I was happy to find that it was available on Crunchyroll at the time, and so I sat down and gave it a go!

Now, years later, I’ve been revisiting a lot of the first shows I watched, and I was excited to jump back into Nichijou again.

An Introduction

In the city of Tokisadame in central Japan, a new school year begins. Three high school freshman become new friends, named Yukko, Mio, and Mai. Yukko is energetic and overdramatic, Mai is super quiet and super eccentric, and Mio is the straight woman (and closet manga artist).

Elsewhere in the city, there’s a young eight-year-old girl named Hakase (Japanese for professor), and beyond her youthful desires for fun and cuteness, she’s super smart and has created a robot teenager named Nano. Nano wants nothing more than to be a normal teenage girl, but that’s hard with a giant wind-up key sticking out of her back. Soon enough, they are joined by a new pet cat named Sakamoto, and he’s been given the ability of speech through yet another invention of Hakase’s.

Every day is a new (strange) adventure for each one of these people, and others not listed above. With the different personalities, senses of humor, and mental states, anything is possible. While all these things may look weird to us, for these characters, this is just another part of their ordinary life.

The Plot and Characters

Nichijou is truly a fascinating show.

At its core, Nichijou is a sketch comedy show, but its focus is on the day to day lives and activities of the people in the town of Tokisadame. There aren’t really any truly dramatic moments in the show (some heartwarming ones towards the end), but one of the things that makes it great is how it overdramatizes the otherwise inane snippets of life.

There are about 10 to 15 sketches per episode, but a number of them are the shorter couple-second-long ones, like characters trying to jump rope, and some recurring segments, such as Helvetica Standard (a random grab-bag of jokes), Things We Think Are Cool (which speaks for itself), and Like Love (heartwarming stories of kindness and love). These shorter segments tend to be more straight setup-punchline jokes, while the longer segments have longer or more complicated setups and tend to be more overdramatic. These sketches can range from Yukko trying to understand a new coffee shop’s menu, to one character trying to disprove the existence of supernatural beings, to Nano figuring out what to do with a cockroach she found, to the three main girls putting together a house of cards. The wide variety and the unpredictability are some of this show’s strengths.

A sketch featuring any combination of Mai, Yukko, and Mio make up about 55% of the total sketches, I’d say, with Nano and/or Hakase (sometimes appearing alongside the main three) being another 35%. The remaining 10% are random other characters around the town, such as the main three’s homeroom teacher, or an older tsundere girl with a crush on a “rich” farm boy named Sasahara, or a club president who created the Go+Soccer club to skirt around school regulations coming to learn that Go+Soccer is a real sport.

The side characters honestly are fascinating, but although I do wish we got to see more of them at times, the show made sure they got as much mileage as they could and didn’t go any further. None of these characters overstayed their welcome, and the only one that felt underutilized was Nakamura, the teacher dead-set on proving Nano is a robot. Some of them definitely only had one or two recurring gags, though, such as Nakanojou.

However, we spend a lot more time on the main characters. All in all, I’d say they’re pretty good, but I do feel they relied a bit too heavily on one or two key traits for each of them. Mio is pretty well-rounded (and feels like an actual person with real goals and desire for order, even in this world of chaos), but still gets left as the straightman most of the time. Yukko is the try-hard comedian, but she’s constantly portrayed as lazy, unreliable, and idiotic, sometimes to the point where these traits overshadowed who she is as a person. This, unfortunately, can lead to Yukko sometimes becoming stale as she keeps being cast under the same light over and over again. The only relief she gets from this is when she’s cast as the straightman instead, which frankly doesn’t make things much better for her character. Mai is, frankly, an enigma, and can sometimes be on a level of comedy never before encountered; her actions don’t make much sense in the grand scheme of things, but she’s a lot of fun… even if sometimes her actions are counterproductive. However, of the three of them, we know the least about Mai, and she frankly feels the least like an actual person, and more like some weird caricature of comedy.

For the other three of the main cast – Nano, Hakase, and Sakamoto – they do feel like actual people, but still get stuck in their ruts. Nano and Hakase are both equal parts strange and fascinating; there’s a conflicting power structure as Nano acts as the mother figure, but yet 8-year-old Hakase is Nano’s creator and holds the keys. Hakase’s childish nature is portrayed pretty well in the show, even if it means her childishness sometimes leads to skits that all just feel the same as a result of her poorly-thought-through actions. The last addition, Sakamoto, is more like the outsider trying to wedge himself in as the top dog (err, cat) of this strange power dynamic, but is constantly being pulled down into the wackiness of the other two. Of the two main trios, this trio tends to be a bit less enjoyable to me, but I still get a lot of fun out of these three and it certainly doesn’t taint my experience with the show.

A lot of the sketches are pretty stand-alone affairs, and little context (beyond knowing who’s who and basic connections with each character) is needed to watch most any skit. There is an overarching story, told through the My Ordinary Life segments and some accompanying ones, but it’s pretty thin. All in all, this show is more about what’s happening in the moment.

Nichijou is commonly said to just throw out a bunch of humor styles and aim to please everyone, which I once believed to be true. However, to be honest, Nichijou’s bread and butter comes down to people dramatically overreacting to events, or people zigging when you expect them to zag (and then doubling-down on it). Nichijou tends to be downright absurd and over-the-top, and it revels in it. Things explode and litter the city in garbage, planets get destroyed, and there can be a lot of yelling. The absurdity is absolutely part of the fun of the show, and it’s present throughout. There are certainly the occasional sketch that’s truly different (such as My Ordinary Life Part 33 and Part 69, and the Helvetica Standard sketches), but if overdramatization and absurdness aren’t your cup of tea, the rare moments where they aren’t present won’t be enough for you to keep your interest in the show.

All in all, though, this show is a blast, and a lot of is pretty funny or at least highly entertaining. I had forgotten about a majority of this show in the many years between my first watchthrough and this recent one, and so it was almost like I discovered it all over again. Sometimes, I’ll admit, the overdramaticness and strangeness did sometimes start to drag on a bit, but Nichijou is generally written well enough to not let anything become too stale. At the end of the day, it was just great to be able to experience it all over again.

At the end, Nichijou left the same hole in my heart as the one I had when I first finished it years ago.

The Atmosphere

I’m going to try my best to not come across as a major Kyoto Animation fan that gives them too much credit, but we’ll see how that goes. While I’d say that not many studios would be able to execute Nichijou with such consistently high visual quality, I don’t want to say it’s a show only Kyoto Animation could’ve done.

For sure, though, the animation and visuals are certainly wonderful. Kyoto Animation’s photorealistic style was dialed back to only being used in transition scenes, but it allowed them to give 110% into fluidly giving life and style to the more-simply-drawn characters and backgrounds. It feels what would be the quality of your generic slice-of-life anime’s final episode is reached in Nichijou almost every single episode. The motion is just fluid, the colors are light and pastel, and they’ll play with colors and cinematography to help make scenes better as well.

That isn’t to say that every single scene is a truly arthouse masterpiece – there’s the quieter, simpler moments too – but I honestly can’t think of a single situation where Nichijou didn’t look at least “good”.

The character designs, in general, are pretty simple; you could probably assemble the looks of most of these characters while only using basic shapes, but the rounded corners, expressiveness, and eye design still made them pretty adorable and fun to watch. The design style fits into the colorful and light nature of the show, and surprisingly doesn’t feel out of place in the more intense, absurd moments either. That’s probably helped by the fact that characters don’t necessarily stay on-model, but this happens at carefully planned times to make sure the most impact is given to the script.

All in all, with the pastel colors and fun character designs, Nichijou has a fun, bright, positive look to it. It just looks inviting and playful, which matches perfectly with the writing’s tone.

While the visuals were fantastic though, the background music left a bit to be desired. I noticed a lot of the same tracks being repeated over and over; it’s to be expected in comedy/slice-of-life anime, sure, but it felt a bit much. A lot of the tracks rely upon wind instruments, such as the flute and trumpet, although a capella singing does make its appearances at times (and those times do help set the soundtrack apart). The tracks are pretty good, but a lot of them are reused so often, though, that it’s hard for me to really know what “feel” they’re going for… although I wouldn’t go as far as to say they fail at bringing anything to the table. I just wish there was a bit more variety.

The two opening themes were sung by Hyadain, and I do prefer the first one (Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi-C) a bit over the second, but they’re both energetic and upbeat and fun, and the opening animation matches that as well. When it comes to the ending themes, the song Zzz was used for the first 13 episodes, and then a unique song was used for the last 13. There were actually three renditions of Zzz: the original one, the a capella one, and the bossa nova one, and they switched between them throughout the 13 episodes. I rather like Zzz (although the a capella version wasn’t my favorite) and the ending animation was also cute. The last 13 episodes’ ending themes ranged in quality, but were generally pretty alright; the ending animation for them (they shared the same one) was a bit simplistic, though, but still not bad. It was kind of fun to try to identify everyone walking along in the animation, since some of the characters were super minor.

Funimation did not make a dub for the show when they brought it over to the US, which is kind of saddening, but with it coming out on Blu-Ray in the US 5 years after it aired, I’ll take whatever I can get. Either way, the Japanese voice actors did pretty well in their roles. I wouldn’t call the performances spotless (in regards to the female leads not sticking to their voices), but all in all, it’s pretty good. Major props to Yoshihisa Kawahara, voice actor for Kojiro Sasahara, who did a tremendous job.

(EDIT 6 June 2019: So Funimation did go back and announce a dub for Nichijou, and will be releasing a new Blu-Ray with the dub. Probably means I’m gonna have to sell off my sub-only copy of Nichijou, because man I want that dub. The few videos that Funimation have put out so far look really promising. Morgan Garrett seems to take on the role of Yuuko really well. We’ll have to see if the dub actors can consistently match the energy of the various scenes in these 26 episodes, but given what I’ve seen thus far, I don’t feel too worried about that.

I think the dub will be a good thing for Nichijou. It’ll open up this show to a broader group of more casual anime fans that would’ve otherwise skipped over a subs-only show. And if the dub as a whole is as good a quality as their videos seem to suggest, I think it’ll be a great way for people to get into and watch the show.)

Final Remarks / TL;DR

This is a sketch comedy anime that other sketch comedy anime should take notes from. Although a lot of its jokes relied upon just being overdramatic, Nichijou never failed to be a fun time and to bring a ton of variety and wackiness to the table. The writing was backed by an awesome presentation put on by Kyoto Animation, with truly quality animation from start to finish and wonderful opening and ending songs.

Nichijou was a cult hit for a long time, but it’s unavailability overseas (unless you were Australia) hampered its exposure in Western markets. Now that it’s out on Blu-Ray in the US, I’m excited to see what levels of popularity it can reach now. I highly recommend everyone give it a watch, you’ll know by the end of episode 1 if it’s for you.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ awesome comedy, animation is consistently good, ending song Zzz is awesome
— Hakase can sometimes be a bit much, soundtrack lacked variety, show’s treatment of Yukko

Review: Yuri!!! On Ice

 

I did it, everyone! I finally watched the one show that everyone and anyone around me has been telling me to watch! I’ve done it! … Can I go back to bed now?

As a LGBT person myself, one may have expected me to have immediately begun eating this anime wholesale the moment I heard that it had a gay romance. Honestly, though, although such a thing intrigued me, I was more worried than anything. Japan isn’t exactly as open about LGBT issues as we are in the West, and anime has been rather troubling about its handling of LGBT people in the past. While I expected Yuri On Ice (I’m not gonna type those exclamation marks every time) to be a positive step in the right direction, I was only expecting it to be a step, and not something too monumental.

The show exactly met these expectations.

An Introduction

Yuri Katsuki has been doing figure skating for years, and at one point, was at one of the world’s largest competitions, competing against his childhood idol, Victor Nikiforov. However, sadly, Yuri came in dead last place and was talked down to by his idol – demoralized, he found himself unable to win any other competitions, and resigned himself to taking a break from the sport while he tried to figure out his life.

He returns to his hometown, meeting back up with his family and friends, including Yuko, the girl who encouraged him to start ice skating in the first place. At the local ice rink, he decides to show Yuko a surprise: he’s been practicing Victor’s competition-winning routine just to show it to her. However, as he was showing it to her, he was also showing it to a concealed camera… the video of him ended up becoming a viral hit online, even going so far to attract the attention of Victor himself.

The next day, Yuri finds himself face to face with his idol once again… with said idol standing buck naked before him. Proudly, Victor declared he’ll be taking a year off from figure skating himself to become Yuri’s coach and re-teach him the passion of figure skating… and the passion of having an unreserved ball of energy as his coach and mate.

The Plot and Characters

I wanted to go into Yuri on Ice really liking it. I really did. And I did definitely have a positive, fun experience out of this. It certainly was worth my time. … But it didn’t nearly come close to blowing me away as much as it was hyped up to do.

I think Yuri On Ice would’ve benefitted really well from being a 2-cour series, rather than just the 12 episodes we got. Especially in the latter half, I wish the scenes and pacing would just slow down. I wanted to feel the emotional impact of what was going on, I wanted to see these characters become fleshed out and have some actual depth, I wanted to just delve deeper into this world and into these people… but it just wasn’t there. This is an original anime series as well, so they could’ve done that too.

That being said, doubling the show’s length probably would’ve been a risky move, given the fact that it is an original anime, and that there is a notable focus on the relationship between Yuri and Victor. This show, I believe, has made more of an impact here in the West by having a canon gay relationship over being a figure skating anime. Let’s be honest, though, a lot of this relationship is rather subtextual. There’s the highly-debated kiss, but even when the show is yelling in your face about them being together, it doesn’t actually stick itself to it. It may push the needle a bit in the generally more-homophobic world of anime, and I certainly do applaud it for what it does (because it doesn’t do it badly), but it’s nowhere near the pinnacle of great LGBT representation.

I may be getting ahead of myself. But these first paragraphs are going to set the tone for the rest of my review.

My running complaint with pretty much all of the show’s characters is “they seem interesting, but I wish we got to learn more about them”. Not even the titular character himself, Yuri Katsuki, is immune to this; his life pre-episode 1 seems to be mostly forgotten excepting a few bits, leaving him to be seemingly only defined by professional figure skating and his relationship with Victor. Speaking of whom, on a positive note, Victor’s personality comes off really well, and he acts as a great foil for Yuri, adding spontaneity and confidence into the life of someone who needs these things. However, we also know nothing about his upbringing or really much anything else at all baring a few “character trait”-esque details.

However, my biggest complaint with Victor is more about the world around him rather than the man himself. I recognize that Victor is a very rash, shoot from the hip type of person, and I’m not questioning his decision to begin coaching Yuri… but I wish there was more of an emphasis on how this decision affected his colleagues and the figure skating world at large. He was at the top of the top, and so him making such a sudden move wouldn’t not have its consequences. There’s tidbits here and there, but generally, it feels like the whole world just got over it pretty immediately.

The Russian Yuri, Yuri P., Yurio… whatever, you know who I’m talking about. He’s pretty much set up as the usual rival character – the Bakugo to Deku, the Rin to Haru. He’s grumpy, he’s distant, he wants to be better than Yuri K., and although there’s certainly times he develops more, that’s still what he boils down to. He’s not a bad character, per say, but he doesn’t particularly stand out (although in the final episodes, a running gag with him and cats begins which does make him a bit more memorable).

For all the other side characters, from the fellow figure skaters to Yuri’s family and high school friends, that running complaint is strongest here. Each of them is given some time to gain our interest, and that’s about it. If a character’s lucky, they’ll become recurring comic relief for a few episodes. It’s sad, actually; some of them really do seem interesting and could create a great supporting cast, but Yuri on Ice’s 12-episode runtime prevents it from being able to effectively utilize them.

Pacing issues aside, though, the show’s story is definitely set up rather decently. It does feel like I’m following the career of a pro figure skater on his last shot at reaching the top, and I wanted to see Yuri do well. To be honest, most of the time (especially in the latter half) is only focused on competitions though; there’s rarely much time spent on practice or training throughout the entire series – the show doing a bit of a disservice to itself, as seeing Yuri struggle would’ve really made resulting moments of success all the more worthwhile. However, the story still does fine enough without them.

Yuri on Ice doesn’t actually delve very deep into the sport, though, unfortunately. I definitely did learn from this show, of course, but it’d be comparable to day 1 of a Figure Skating 101 class. We learn a skating routine is made up of sections of step routines, jumps, and (seemingly) just faffing around, and we learn that quadruple spin jumps are harder than triple spin jumps… but that’s about it. I could’ve totally become engrossed in this entire sport, and while the show does give you more than nothing, it still feels like it fell short in this regard as well. What different kinds of jumps are there? What is a “good” step sequence? Why and how are routines put together this way? The show doesn’t even attempt to touch these questions.

All in all, Yuri On Ice feels like it’s trying to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to focus on the figure skating, the side characters, and the relationship between Yuri and Victor… but there just isn’t enough time here to do all of that. It becomes a show that’s good/decent at a number of things, but a master of none of them. I’m not the type of person to hate something because it’s popular, but I’m not about to blindly jump on the bandwagon either and give unwavering praise to a show that, ultimately, is only just okay.

The Atmosphere

Visually, Yuri on Ice is a fascinating series. Fascinating because of how absolutely wonderfully it can get some things right and do some things really well, but can also completely drop the ball in other areas – especially areas where you’d think it’d matter the most.

The character designs for this show took me a bit to get used to, but overall, I do like them. Without his glasses, though, Yuri K. is a bit harder to make distinguishable (Yuri P. and Victor, luckily, are quite distinguishable and unique looking in their own rights). These characters can be so expressive at times too, which I really enjoyed a lot. I like exaggerated expressions, and Yuri on Ice does wonderfully in that department. So much so that it feels like the people animating this show seemed more suited for a more slice-of-life or comedy show rather than a sports anime – which is important to mention because…

The biggest thing that disappointed me about this show’s visuals were the ice skating segments. It seems a bit surprising to me that this, which I would’ve guessed to be something extremely vital to this show, is something that they failed to animate and polish well. Free from any physical limitations, the camera is able to be anywhere on the ice rink to follow the characters around during their routines, and Yuri on Ice certainly takes advantage of that… but there are some problems.

Firstly, the background and the skating character don’t always sync up in movement. Sometimes a character will literally just move around the screen without actually moving (as in, animated to move), or the background won’t move at the same rate the character will, or just something else to that extent. Secondly, where there is a jump cut, sometimes the background behind the character just changes. It’ll look similar enough to not completely throw you, but it’s different enough to be noticeable: the positions/order of advertisements on the walls, the distance a character is from said walls, things like that. There was even a single instance of the background literally changing in the middle of a shot (in episode 6, around the 11:50 mark in Crunchyroll’s player)! Thirdly, sometimes the characters’ necks were just drawn super long – especially Yuri K’s. It looked weird, but I’ll concede this leans a bit more on the personal taste side.

Luckily, the animators mostly ironed out these problems in the latter half of the series (excepting the neck thing, that actually seemed to get worse in the latter half). All in all, though, I felt underwhelmed by the ice skating sections of the show. The movement felt shoddy for the reasons mentioned above, and it seemed hard to really get some emotional connection with these sections: the only thing that escalated these segments beyond just watching characters skate and wiggle their arms around was the commentary that gave context to what was going on. I’ll fully admit that I’m a total newbie when it comes to figure skating, so it’s possible that the segments were actually done with a lot of emotion interpreted in other ways, but I’m no newbie when it comes to animation, and especially to animation being able to impart an emotion to you when it really works to do so. I won’t go as far as to say they failed here, but, again, it felt very underwhelming.

The show’s backgrounds, excepting the movement issues mentioned above, are pretty dang well done. There are some very pretty sights to see here, especially in the segments where the characters explore the cities they’ve traveled to. I also particularly love the things like the TV announcer segments and the on-screen score displays and such that they did for this show. It felt like an actual professional sport performance, and did really well to immerse me into this world.

Yuri on Ice’s opening theme, History Maker, by Dean Fujioka, is a great-sounding song, and the opening animation to accompany it was equally as wonderful. I wish the show’s actual figure skating segments looked more like the opening animation. I have nothing but praise for the opening credits. The ending song and animation are also pretty dang good, although they pale in comparison to the opening in my mind.

Having mentioned Crunchyroll earlier in this section, it’s safe to assume that I watched this show there, with subtitles. I think Toshiyuki Toyonaga did a pretty well job as Yuri K., and likewise with Koki Uchiyama as Yuri P., but I have to give praise to Junichi Suwabe for his performance as Victor. I think he played the character really well. Also, special mentions to Mamoru Miyano as JJ Leroy, he did a great job with that, and Kensho Ono as Phichit Chulanont. I seeked out some bits of Funimation’s English dub, and I felt a tad disappointed. It may be that I’m more used to the Japanese voice actors and how they sound, but I felt like the voice actors for Yuri K. and Victor just… didn’t sound as great. However, I think Micah Solusod makes for a great Yuri P. I do enjoy how they gave Victor and Yuri P. Russian accents, though; it seemed corny and it amused me, even though it probably does sound a tad more realistic that way.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

When there is a show or video game or whatever with a lot of hype surrounding it, it’s more common than not that the object in question probably won’t live up to it. That is, unfortunately, the case here. Although Yuri on Ice has a strong fanbase and it’d received a lot of praise for some of the things it did, I walked away from this feeling like there was something missing. This show tried to pull itself in a lot of directions, and it wasn’t able to fully commit to any one of them. Compounded on top of that is its underwhelming figure skating sequences and I could start to build a case for riling against this show.

But I did have fun with it. I enjoyed myself watching this. Yuri on Ice won’t end up on any top 10 list of mine at all, but a show doesn’t have to win gold medals to still be worth the time I put into it. And ultimately, that’s all it was: worth the time I put in. Yuri on Ice is pretty decent, and really makes you feel connected to its characters and the journey they’re on. It also has some great opening and ending songs. Give it a fair shake and see if it’s up your alley.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ really felt like I was part of this journey, great opening and ending theme songs, Victor
— wish we delved deeper with these characters – all of them, figure skating segments had bad motion, felt stretched in multiple directions and failed to deliver on all of them

 

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