Review: Daily Lives of High School Boys

My first experience with this show was during my freshman year of college. I had a friend for a short while whom I’d spend a lot of time with, and she was a huge anime fan (especially One Piece). One day, while going through her to-watch list, she picked this one out and we decided to just go through it as much as we could. We completed the entire series in 2 sittings, but honestly, most of those 2 nights were a blur. The show did stick with me, though, and eventually I decided to buy the premium edition Blu-Ray release.

After my recent rewatch of Nichijou, I decided to jump straight into rewatching this show afterwards. I didn’t remember much of this show, but I did remember it being similar to Nichijou, and I wasn’t ready to be done with sketch comedy anime yet.

An Introduction

In a sleepy, average Japanese town, our main character Tadakuni runs out the front door of his house, toast in mouth, knowing he’ll be late for school. He soon runs into his two best friends, also running late: Yoshitake and Hidenori. … But rather than the traditional toast in mouth, Yoshitake is running with a plate of curry and Hidenori is slurping up a bowl of noodles.

And on top of that, a light beam comes out of the sky, destroys half the city, and the three boys find themselves face to face with a giant mecha. Luckily for them, a magical book appeared, transforming them into warriors and wizards, ready to fight. Yep, just another day in their normal lives.

… Wait, that’s that normal? Then, what does the average life of a high school boy look like? Well, I’m glad you asked, because this anime will gladly answer!

The Plot and Characters

It’s kind of hard not to compare this show to Nichijou, and it’s especially harder when you watch them back to back as I have.

On the surface, the premise of the two shows is similar: a sketch comedy series focused upon the surprisingly-interesting daily events of a group of high school friends (and others around them). What sets Daily Lives of High School Boys apart from Nichijou, though, is that while the latter tends to be absurd and go beyond what’s physically possible, this show more focuses on social issues and perceived societal norms. (This doesn’t necessarily mean this anime doesn’t ever have absurd moments, nor does Nichijou avoid social topics, however.)

Ultimately, Daily Lives feels like the “manly” version of Nichijou. It lacks the playfulness and purity present in Nichijou, and this is apparent out of the gate with the very first sketch featuring the main three boys trying on Tadakuni’s sister’s underwear. Masculinity (and quasi-punkishness) runs rampant throughout the series, both in the sense of “guys doing guy things” and acting tough, and with guys struggling to conform to societal pressures of what a guy should be/do. Although that sounds deep and philosophical, the show rarely ends up going far that direction, though; this is a comedy, after all.

And the jokes here aren’t half bad… most of the time. Most sketches in Daily Lives last over a minute, so the funny ones have the time to build up to a great punchline, but the unfunny ones… they can cause me to lose interest in the show altogether. However, this most likely comes down to the show’s tone just not matching up to my sense of humor, though. I honestly have to say Daily Lives has some pretty dang good writing, even if every joke wasn’t to my taste.

What helps this anime stay intriguing is the constant influx of new situations we’ll find characters in. Jokes and sketches certainly get reused, but I’d say there’s only about one-to-two per episode. New characters get added, the same characters are presented new challenges, and are sometimes put into new settings. There’s a certain level of unpredictableness and new situations in Nichijou, but a lot of it would still result in an overdramatized (although still funny) reaction. Here, though, they’re truly unique and different situations, and you see new characters deal with new problems they’ve never encountered before, and it’s just fun to watch.

There is a wide cast here, and as I mentioned, new characters are added at the rate of about 3 per every 2 episodes. In the end, it does mean we end up with some characters (including supposed “main character” Tadakuni) not even appearing for some episodes. Each character has their own personality and traits, though, which allows the writers to approach various situations and topics from a variety of angles. (Although very few end up being very deep, which

The main trio of Tadakuni, Hidenori, and Yoshitake are basically just the straightman and two jesters. The show doesn’t stick to the “funnyman and straightman” schtick though, and it honestly has more comedic variety than Nichijou itself. Beyond the main three, there’s other boys, like the student council (including Motoharu, the intimidating-looking-but-kindhearted; Karasawa, the stone-willed one with the hat; and the council’s president, who is charisma incarnate) and characters from other high schools, such as Literature Girl – a girl who wants to see her own written stories acted out in real life, with strangers unwittingly playing the main role.

A number of episodes also end with a segment called High School Girls are Funky, which features three girls who, like Tadakuni, Yoshitake, and Hidenori, just hang out together and do stuff… although a lot of that “doing stuff” usually leads to harassing Karasawa (one of the few characters who appears in both this ending segment and the main show).

The entire show carries the same tone, even in the High School Girls sketches, despite the content of various sketches and mannerisms of characters being completely different. It never feels like you’re not watching a Daily Lives episode. The show’s pacing is also excellently done (and surprisingly consistent) up until near the end of the show. In the final episodes, it felt like they were starting to run out of steam and padded some of the sketches so the punch line didn’t arrive too early. It’s a difficult balance not having a joke run too short or too long, and the writers came so close to doing it perfectly for the entire series.

All in all, though, I can’t praise the writing enough. If you’re a fan of sketch comedy anime, including Nichijou, this is the next show you should watch.

… But don’t watch them back to back as I have. Watching them back to back made me hyperaware of the (even minute) differences between Nichijou and Daily Lives, and showed a few more cracks in Nichijou than I had even expressed in my review of the show (and, likewise, a few cracks in this show as well). No show is perfect, of course, but I feel that Daily Lives of High School Boys stands best when it’s not put directly beside another show.

The Atmosphere

The animation and art for this show is, surprisingly, average. Again, this may be the result of me jumping straight to this show from Nichijou, but characters don’t move as frequently (or fluidly) as I expected them to.

The background art has this strangely clean, almost-blocky look to it – due to the usage of perfectly straight lines everywhere, with no blemishes or imperfections anywhere unless it was intentional. It almost feels a bit surreal and manufactured, rather than a lived-in place, and didn’t seem to match up too well with the somewhat impure, punk-ish tone of this show. This problem is further exacerbated by the bright color scheme used throughout as well; the background colors look mostly washed out, though, and overall seems a bit too watercolor painting-y.

This is contrasted by the character designs which tend to feature darker, deeper colors, and (despite their simplistic look) display more expressiveness and individuality. The characters do sometimes have a problem of looking a little bit too similar, but the show constantly reminds us that it doesn’t matter for us to keep track of who is who (a sentiment I don’t necessarily agree with, especially given the ending sketch).

This is not all to say that Daily Lives is a bad-looking or poorly-produced show, no. This show is truly enjoyable, and there’s no “in spite of” at the end of that sentence. It just surprises me a bit to not see more invested into the visuals side of things, although I’ve certainly been very spoiled by the absolute fluidness and quality of Nichijou’s visuals.

Daily Lives’s soundtrack relies heavily upon electric guitar, unsurprisingly, but it all feels very same-y to me. I’m certainly no guitar aficionado (especially of the electric kind), but the music just kind of blends together and nothing really sticks out… excepting for the pieces that actually introduce other instruments, such as piano. All in all, the soundtrack is pretty decent, though, and it blends beautifully into the energy and tone of the show (as a good soundtrack should), but the lack of any individual track standing out keeps me from really wanting to listen to it on its own.

The opening theme is Shiny Tale, by Mix Speakers Inc., and it’s pretty good, if not a bit too action anime-esque (although I’d bet that’s probably the feeling they’re going for, as the opening animation also is quite action anime-esque).

However, the ending theme – O-hi-sama by Amesaki Annainin – frankly sounds a bit too quirky and cheery for this show. It’s a totally fine song in its own right (although, honestly, it kind of sounds like two people who found some cheap instruments online and decided to jam one day in a garage), but I’m always taken out of my suspension of disbelief once the song starts. Despite the show’s consistently good writing, O-hi-sama (and the accompanying ending animation) is the one exception to the consistent tone; it just feels strange and too different from everything else and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Funnily enough, O-hi-sama wasn’t originally intended to be the ending theme of Daily Lives. A different band was meant to perform the ending theme, but after some band members made a blog post publicly insulting the show and one of the voice actors, their song was taken out and Sunrise improvised together a clip show for episode 1’s ending while a new ending song and animation were made.

Daily Lives shines spectacularly with its voice acting, though, and I have to give major praise to the voice actresses of the three girls in the High School Girls segments: Yuu Kobayashi, Chiwa Saitou, and Yukana. They do absolutely wonderfully in their roles and sell their characters 110%. Tomokazu Sugita does a great job as Hidenori as well.

If you’re looking to buy this show in physical form in the US, NIS America is the company that holds the license. NIS America tends to do good work when they bring over anime to the West and this is no exception. There is no dub here, but that’s alright. However, you should save yourself the trouble and not bother with the premium edition box; not only is weirdly long (which makes it awkward to fit onto an anime collection’s shelf), but the included art book has little more than a character list and an episode list. Granted, the entire book is written in the tone of a survival guide for high schoolers, which is amusing, but none of it is worth the extra time/money to try to find and acquire.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Daily Lives of High School Boys is another example of a well-executed sketch comedy anime. The writing is awesome, even if not every joke lands the mark. The show’s presentation is marred by unnaturally-clean background art and an out-of-place ending theme, but there’s twice as many positives as there are negatives.

As I mentioned in the review proper, Daily Lives is seen as the “manly” version of Nichijou. Cuteness and cheerful purity gives way to punk vibes and discussion of social issues. Unless the cuteness is what keeps you attached to Nichijou, you’ll be sure to find some laughs in Daily Lives. This is another comedy anime that should be put onto your to-watch list.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ excellent writing throughout, character designs, High School Girls
— weirdly too-perfect background art, ending theme, not every joke lands

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.

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

 

My Look at the Spring 2018 Season

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

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

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

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

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

Steins;Gate 0

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

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

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

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

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

Megalobox

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

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

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

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

Persona 5 the Animation

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

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

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

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

Magical Girl Ore

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

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

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

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

Umamusume

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

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

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

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

Crossing Time

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

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

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

Wrap-Up

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

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

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

Anyway, until next time, talk to you later!

Review: Pop Team Epic

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

The real twist is… none of that is true!

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

Review: Baka and Test (Funimation February?)

 

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

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

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

An Introduction

Another anime, another high school.

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

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

Review: Tokyo Ghoul Root A (Funimation February)

 

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yeah, skip the openings and watch the endings.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: My Hero Academia (Funimation February)

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

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: Bakemonogatari

 

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

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

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

An Introduction

Crab. Snail. Monkey. Snake. Cat.

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

 

Review: Aldnoah.Zero

 

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

Ooooooooohhhh man.

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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