Review: Beyond the Boundary

Beyond the Boundary (known also as Kyoukai no Kanata) marks the fourth show since Kyoto Animation began treading its own path with Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions. Despite me having become a fan of KyoAni by the time this show came out, I wasn’t really as much of a fan to know what the studio was actually putting out.

So when I suddenly discovered the night of my birthday, October 2013, this brand new show being animated by Kyoto Animation, I watched the first 3 episodes that night. And then I stayed with the show all the way to the end. I remember enjoying it a lot, and that feeling of enjoyment stuck with me when Sentai Filmworks brought out the Premium Edition box for the show here in the US – which I went for.

Despite that, I never thought much or said much about this show since then, beyond simply saying “I liked it a lot”. Since I’ve recently been going through a lot of shows I enjoyed in my formative years as an anime fan, I figured I may as well return to this one as well.

An Introduction

While walking home one day, young Akihito Kanbara happens to look up and see a girl, standing on the edge of a school building, about to fall. A split second later, and he decides someone has to do something about this. And so up he runs onto the roof to try to talk her down.

This girl isn’t just some ordinary girl, though… which Akihito soon discovers, as her blood manifests into a sword and stabs him in the chest. Her name is Mirai Kuriyama, and she’s a Spirit World Warrior. But not just any; she’s the last of her clan, a clan with blood powers. Spirit World Warriors have one main goal: to exterminate “yomu”, magical monsters that cause havoc but can’t be seen by regular humans.

Akihito, our protagonist, is one such yomu… actually, a half-yomu to be precise. An extremely rare case indeed. But his yomu half grants him the power of immortality. So that blood-sword stab? It hurts, but it’s not gonna do much.

But Akihito is often seen as an outsider, a monster, a freak due to his yomu half. He’s really not a yomu, but he’s not really a human either. Mirai, on the other side, is seen as an outsider, a monster, a freak due to her unusual blood powers, which no other (alive) Spirit World Warriors possess.

And so with that single blow with fatal intentions, the two outsiders begin to forge a bond…

The Plot and Characters

It fascinated me, rewatching this show, going from “why did I even like this so much?” in the beginning to becoming enamored with it all over again towards the end.

I think I’ve talked about it before in my Nagi no Asukara review, but I’ve had times where I’ve finished a show feeling happy or satisfied, and those positive feelings will still be associated with the show as the years go on. It even lead up to the point where I got the premium edition Blu-Ray box for both of them. But when I came back to both of these shows, I wasn’t nearly as floored as I was the first time around.

Still both worth the premium box purchase though.

Beyond the Boundary sets up an interesting world, and even though today this setting is far from unique, it felt a bit newer back in 2013. (“Back in 2013″… I can’t believe I just said that.) Living secretly among us humans are these monstrous apparitions called “yomu” that feed off the despair of the people around them, and can only be seen by special people, here called Spirit World Warriors. A lot of these warriors are organized under various clans, such as the Nase clan, Inami clan, and Kuriyama clan, and these clans each exert control over all warriors in their respective area. At the same time, there exists a central Society of Spirit World Warriors which seems to operate all over Japan.

Here, through the eyes of Akihito, we see his unique experiences with one such clan, the Nase family. His closest friends are Mitsuki and Hiroomi Nase, the youngest of the Nases – and thus due to their age, they’re kept out of the dark to all the inner workings of the family, even though they both so strongly want to prove themselves. Sitting as one of the heads of the clan is their older sister, Izumi, who, like the other clan leaders, shares very little and is instead fine with being distant and cold. While the Nase siblings (and others) are all pretty definitively in the “secondary character” box, they do their role well as a supporting cast – although it would’ve benefitted the show greatly to have Izumi appear more often earlier on in the show.

Unfortunately, while something like Madoka Magica takes this idea of secret magical warriors and brings it to its logical conclusion, Beyond the Boundary is content with not going any further with its worldbuilding. Its casual approach to establishing how this world operates and showing the relationships between the secondary characters end up hampering it even when the biggest secrets and plot twists come to light in the final third of the show.

Spirit World Warriors can turn in the remains of yomu they defeat for profit, but what value these stones even have is left unanswered. The role of the Society of Spirit World Warriors is left a mystery, as is the actual relationship between the clans and this Society. Add onto this that the one character in the show said to represent said society, Miroku, may not actually represent them at all. Most egregiously, Miroku is never given a true motivation for his actions, even though the show builds him up as an antagonist from about episode 4.

Instead, the focus all comes down to the main pair: Akihito and Mirai. Pretty much everything that happens in this show, at some point, leads back to them. Akihito and Mirai are both oddballs, the weird special edge cases, that breaks the other characters’ conception of the world, so on some level, the attention they receive and the amount of conversation that centers on them does make sense. At the very least, Beyond the Boundary is clear on its intentions: these two are the ones we’re gonna talk about here, so if you’re not down for that, then get off the ride. But at the same time, the world here all centers around them, so we never get to see what the world is like outside these two; thus, the worldbuilding issues above.

To be fair to the show, though, they build up the relationship between the main pair surprisingly well. It’s not to say that how they wrote the romance between Akihito and Mirai is something that should be showcased as a prime example moving forward, but it’s a competent job that seeks to be different in a genre filled with clichés and repeated storylines. We get to see them explore a lot about each other (by actually physically confronting specters from each other’s pasts, a nice way to do show-don’t-tell), and they grow from a mutual dislike and “putting up” with each other, to a more compassionate friendship, and then to something deeper after that.

There’s another unusual sight, in which they’re able to build up this romance while also putting out your standard jokes about fetishes to the degree they have, and they still grow old just as quickly as they do in other shows. Akihito is all about glasses and “bespectacled beauties” (and, of course, Mirai wears glasses) while Hiroomi openly admits to a “sister complex”, to his younger sister Mitsuki’s chagrin. This show cannot go 10 minutes without mentioning one of these fetishes, and it gets tired fast. You early on get the feeling the fetishes were added in to check off that “personality quirk” box for these characters, but then they double down on it.

This high amount of focus on fetishes is most evident in episode 6, which – while being a fanservice-y filler episode – is arguably more popular than the rest of the show.

At the end of the day, Beyond the Boundary has a lot of drama going on, surrounding and including the main romance, and it’s a lot of fun to watch. This show ends up keeping everything a bit too close to its chest until episode 9, so it expects you a lot of the time to just “roll with it” until then, but even so, there’s enough intrigue, drama, and action to keep you watching – and then it all pays off well in the final episodes.

The Atmosphere

As yet another show that was animated by Kyoto Animation, you probably know what my thoughts are about them by this point. They’re good at what they do.

Beyond the Boundary relies on darker colors than you see in most of the studio’s other works. A lot of purples, blacks, dark reds, a lot of night scenes… a loooot of night scenes. It’s a darker tone that matches the more serious dramatic feel the show is going for. The animation is really well done, as you’d expect with KyoAni, with the characters staying fluid throughout the entire show. In the years since they made Munto, they’ve improved a lot on action scenes, and it really shows here. The action is interesting to watch, fluid, and paced better. Throughout every scene – action, sad, or anything else – Kyoto Animation continues to shine when it comes to character expressions as well.

The overall designs of these characters are pretty good here too, which each one being distinct. As you’d expect, Mirai’s is the most memorable design in the show. But Ayaka and Ai, the yomu stone appraisers, are both stand out designs as well.

Yet another good thing on display here is the show’s background music, although it doesn’t stand out nearly as well as the visuals. There’s a lot of bells and symphony, to give that “magic” feel (as you’d hear in, say, Harry Potter) with choruses used to deliver the main melodies. It all stands out as unique and distinctive to this show, and also thoroughly cohesive thematically from start to finish, but doesn’t stand out enough to really be worth listening to on its own.

The opening theme, also named Kyokai no Kanata (sung by Minori Chihara), is pretty good, but probably not what I’d want to listen to a lot on my own. But it goes along with an opening animation which I actually really love because (minus the random sequence of clips in the second half of the opening) it shows Mirai coming into town for the first time – thus, kind of a prequel of the events of the show itself. It’s a small thing (it’s not like anything that exciting happens), but it’s a thing I like regardless.

The ending theme, Daisy by Stereo Dive Foundation, is absolutely amazing. I’ve put that song into my usual rotation of songs, I love it so much. The ending animation is flashy with colors and quick cuts and what-not; I like it a lot, even if it doesn’t have much substance to it.

Finally, we arrive to the voice acting. The English and Japanese voice acting are both at comparable quality here. Specifically, this quality is “oh, is that really how Mirai sounds like? That’s the voice they chose for him? Okay…” but by the end of the first episode, you’ve already gotten used to it. Mirai sounds squeaky on both sides (voiced by Risa Taneda in Japanese, and Krystal LaPorte in English), but after some reflection, I’m not sure if I’d have it any other way; it reflects Mirai’s inexperience and lack of assertiveness, but she begins to sound stronger and more sure of herself in both languages the further the show progresses. I’m impressed with how Sentai’s writers were able to translate over the various characters’ mannerisms and catch phrases (such as Mirai’s “Fuyukai desu” into “How unpleasant”). So my suggestion is, choose whatever side you want (sub or dub), and stick with it. You’ll do fine either way.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Coming back to Beyond the Boundary, I found myself liking it almost as much as I did the first time around. What the story lacks in worldbuilding and handling its antagonists, it makes up for with its romance elements and good visual and audio production. It’s a darker, more dramatic story than Kyoto Animation had animated in a while, and I think they did pretty well. There’s only so much you can do in 12 episodes.

If you’re into drama or magical action-y stuff mixed with drama, I’d say give this show a try, and see how you feel after a few episodes. If you’re a romance fan, however, I’d give this a pretty solid recommendation. Those last few episodes will really make you fall for the main two.

Lastly, give me a few moments to talk about the home releases here in the US, as there’s two versions: the standard edition and limited edition. They’re both essentially the same in terms of content, except the limited edition comes with the Episode 0 OVA (along with some small physical goodies). If you find yourself liking Beyond the Boundary, I’d suggest going for the limited edition, if possible, for access to that OVA. It’s some extra fun times for fans of the series. If you’re on the fence about the show, you can find it online at Crunchyroll and Hi-Dive. (In fact, Hi-Dive also has the Episode 0 OVA on there too!) Both come with the Idol Trial mini-series too, which is… meh.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ romance between Mirai and Akihito, ending theme (Daisy), interesting world/story
— lack of worldbuilding/antagonist motivations, bit too much fetish jokes, voice acting takes a bit to adjust to

Review: No Game No Life Zero

After the cliffhanger of an ending that No Game No Life left us on, fans were clamoring for a second season or some sort of continuation of the anime… but as more time passed by, the more hopeless we became.

But then, suddenly, there was the announcement of the movie, No Game No Life Zero. We were excited to delve back into this world, to see more of the characters we got to learn and become attached to… but then we learned it was a prequel, with most of the main characters not being there.

I still kept some hope for this movie, though. And when it was announced it would be playing in theaters here in the US, I was excited to hear it’d be playing near where I live! So on the night of October 5, my friend and I made it to the theater, about 45 minutes before the show was to start. We got the tickets we preordered, grabbed some food, and made our way to the theater… and no one else was there.

An Introduction

Taking place 6000 years before the events of the TV anime, we see a world of Disboard that looks very different from the vibrant, colorful one we’ve been introduced to.

Instead, at this time, Disboard is locked into a full-on war between three of the most powerful races of the world – the warbeasts, the elves, and the Flügel – with a god backing each of them. There’s no games, no 10 pledges… just battles and destruction. In the middle of the frontlines of this war lives the human race, who were pushed to near extinction due to the major super-magical battles these greater races had. Only a single colony (of maybe 100 people tops) remains.

This colony is led by a man named Riku, who’s cold, calculating, and just wants to keep humanity alive. He spends his time investigating, searching for information among giant destroyed ruins – and trying to not be killed by anything menacing while doing so. Meanwhile, the remainder of the colony lives in an underground cave system, with dwellings, walls, and other amenities simply thrown together.

Upset over his latest mission where one of his teammates was killed, Riku decides to head out to the ruins of an old elven capital alone to gather some information about their battle plans. While there, however, he ends up spotted by a lone Ex Machina soldier (Ex Machina being another race of this world, a hivemind cyborg-type thing). This soldier, however, isn’t connected to the rest of her “cluster”, and instead she has her own goal: to understand the human heart.

Thus, with this strange Ex Machina girl in tow (who ends up with the name Schwi) Riku tries to figure out if he can do anything about this war to end it… or at the very least, keep humanity safe.

The Plot and Characters

I’m… not going to pull any punches here.

Unfortunately, with any film, you never quite know walking into it if it really is worth your money or not. Critic reviews and Rotten Tomatoes scores definitely help to steer you away from the real stinkers, but I don’t know how much those really existed for this anime film, which was only shown nationwide for two (non-consecutive) days. To be fair, I probably should’ve at least attempted to look, because I do feel this movie wasn’t worth my money.

I’ll begin by talking about the fact that this film rather failed with explaining or providing much tension.

It’s definitely more a story about Riku and Schwi, rather than a story about the colony or humanity as a whole. For a bit-under-2-hours movie, that’s understandable, since I think a larger scope like that would cause the plot and pacing to buckle under pressure. However… there really isn’t much to Riku and Schwi. After we get some time to learn about Riku, we’re introduced to Schwi, and there’s some fun moments of the two of them together trying to figure each other out. However, after that… not much happens.

As the film continues on from the two of them starting to get used to each other (and a few suggestive scenes which are the only times you’ll see fanservice in the entire film), we really don’t see any factor or element that arrives to provide tension or urgency; although there’s definitely an assumed idea that there’s danger due to them being in a war zone, we never see humanity actually become threatened or what kind of foes they’re put up against. The film continues to focus on the relationship of Riku and Schwi, and on Riku’s continued desire to keep humanity alive, although it fails to delve deep enough into either of those to really get invested in them. Riku develops a master plan partway through the movie (which amuses me because some of the ideas in it, one would think he’d already be striving for), but we don’t have most of it explained to us until just about when the main operation is about to happen – something that would’ve been okay if the film didn’t also show him performing actions and setting up for this master plan; at first thought, we’re just being shown random scenes without much explanation or that don’t seem to tie into anything.

Honestly, this film does touch multiple topics, but doesn’t really describe much about any of them. There’s talk about weapons of mass destruction, some mystical artifact that appears after a display of total power, and a discussion about some human village or something. But it only just touches them, enough to say “hey, this exists, but we’re not going to say anything more” … but it left me feeling like the film was just throwing words and concepts around, rather than teasing into a deeper world than they can show. One weapon of mass destruction, for example, is first displayed and hinted at when Riku and Schwi meet, and they did a decent job of setting it up to appear to play a bigger role into the latter portion of the movie. However, ultimately, it only kind of does, and next to nothing else is said or shown about it after that one scene (there is a single other scene later where it’s discussed at length but the info we get out of it ends up being pointless). There’s other such weapons too, but they never get brought up until the film decides “oh yeah, I guess they have some too or something”.

Altogether, this brings us to the climax, which as a whole was very clichéd – from the events leading up to it, to the tension happening during it, to what happens as a result of it. However, it does have this film’s one cool action scene (actually, I think it’s the only action scene this movie has), featuring one of the few characters that recur from the TV anime. There’s a lot of big, fancy explosions as the characters fly around and do big, powerful moves and what-not… but the enjoyment was brought down by the aforementioned clichés; we knew exactly how things were going to turn out. I really wish I could delve into details, but I don’t want to give spoilers for those who really care about being spoiled for this film.

Instead, let’s pivot towards the characters.

Riku and Schwi’s story is basically the “teaching a robot to love” type thing, except executed poorly. Excepting the few scenes towards the beginning of the film, we really don’t see the two of them forging a bond or anything like that; all of a sudden, though, we’re given this big, romantic scene that’s supposed to be emotional and dramatic and whatever as Riku proposes to Schwi… the scene felt like it went on for far too long. These are characters we really haven’t had any time to make a connection with or become invested in. Its impact was further undermined by Schwi confessing something to Riku, and despite how actually terrible this thing she confessed is: 1) None of the other characters, including Riku, had ever mentioned this event before or after this point, nor did it seem to weigh on them much at all. 2) Riku immediately forgives her for it, casting it aside without another thought, despite how much one would think it’d affect him. All in all, this scene just made me wonder “why? Why are we watching this?” My friend actually got up and left the theater during this scene, she was so bored.

The only other characters I’ll mention are Couronne and Tet. Couronne is actually the far ancestor of Steph, something you can kind of quickly tell due to the hair color. Unlike Steph, though, Couronne is given a bit more respect as a character, although she’s definitely displayed as being a bit strange. She acts as an older sister to Riku (and to much of the colony in general), and for her being what she is… she’s okay. Provides some comic relief moments, can do the serious stuff when needed, all in all okay. The other I’ll mention is Tet, the god of games who also reappears from the TV anime; I won’t talk much about him, but he is an invisible presence throughout a lot of the film – although, again, I feel the film failed to capitalize on what it could do with him.

Finally and ultimately, though, I do wonder, “why did this film even get made?” Sure, I suppose it does answer some questions and set up a bit of the premise and world that Sora and Shiro find themselves in during the TV anime… but I felt the TV anime did a fine enough job explaining that, and the open questions that this film went to answer honestly were kind of okay just being left unanswered. If anything, it felt like this film just raised more questions, due to its failure of explaining things, than it actually answered. I just… don’t really see the point of this, like at all. Is there really some major bigger reason why this story was brought up in the grand scheme of things, or did the author really feel like this needed explaining? (This film comes directly from volume 6 of the light novel, and these questions definitely apply to that too.) Given all the complaints I have above, I just really wonder if this really was a story that was itching to be told. And I also wonder (and hope) that there’s even more content in the light novel that was cut from the film, that more explains things that desperately needed an explanation.

As a fan of the original TV anime, there really wasn’t much anything in this film that even attempted to scratch the same itches the TV anime did. The only comedy and lightheartedness was in the beginning of the film, and there’s a big focus on romance and marriage rather than on games and outwitting opponents. In fact, we really don’t see many opponents (as previously mentioned), and the only game that is ever mentioned throughout the whole thing is chess – and we don’t even see a full chess game played! There’s next to no fanservice, there’s like no references to other shows, and Riku isn’t nearly as riveting nor charismatic as Sora is. Just everything about this film really doesn’t seem to appeal to fans in my mind.

All in all, do I really have anything positive to say about this film at all? Like, Couronne was… okay, and the climax’s action scene was… kind of cool, but is that really it? I’m honestly sitting here wondering what positive things I can say about the characters and plot, and not much really comes to mind. There’s some really tiny moments, I suppose, but they’re so small that it isn’t worth the effort to mention, and most all of them occur in the (relatively) more enjoyable beginning part of the movie. Honestly, I really don’t have much positive to say. This just was a waste of my money and a waste of my time.

The Atmosphere

Gone are the bright greens, blues, and weird mixes of colors that made up Disboard during the TV anime.

Instead, we’re greeted with reds, browns, and other murky colors that paints a picture of a war-torn land before games became the biggest rule. The colors are still relatively bright, although it definitely felt more muted and darkened than the TV anime. There are other colors that appear as well, such as some greens and more natural tones while in the elven areas, and light blues while Riku and Schwi were in some weird ice area, but it’s going to be mostly red and browns you’ll see on screen. Gone as well are the red outlines, which is probably okay. Honestly, I’d bet that if you put images from the TV anime and this film side by side and showed them to people unfamiliar with both, those people would think they’re from two separate shows.

All in all, the art design and animation are definitely pretty good, as you’d hope them to be for a film. The TV anime also had rather good quality over its run, and the same applies here. However, there doesn’t really seem to be much of a visual or animation improvement over the TV anime, excepting maybe how the action scenes are done, and the detail of the backgrounds. I kind of like watching anime films for seeing how more visually impressive they can be, but this one really didn’t seem like much of a cut above. A bit disappointing, sadly, but it’s okay; it’s still pretty good quality.

I will say, though, I did rather like the rocks that gave off light while in contact with water. The film offered literally no explanation about them at all (which isn’t surprising), but they really intrigued me.

The sound design, however, was pretty awesome. There was a sound effect used for a magical beam attack that sliced the land from the left side of the screen to the right side, and it sounded really cool because it also “vwoomed” from the left side of the theater to another. Of course, theaters have a surround sound system, that’s part of what makes the experience special, but still, moments like that won’t stop me from going “wow”. Equally as cool was how the effects were done for the voice of the gods in the film; it’s a bit hard to explain off the top of my head, but the effects used definitely made them sound like large, booming creatures with no parallel, which is pretty much what they are.

The background music, I don’t remember much of, as is common for me. There was a lot less of a focus on the electronic sounds that made up the TV anime’s soundtrack, as your more standard orchestra sounds were brought in instead. For what they do, they serve their purpose well enough (although that super-long stupid marriage scene in the middle had some overdramatic emotional music); it would’ve been kind of cooler, though, if they stayed with more of the electronic sounds – maybe something a bit like Attack on Titan’s soundtrack?

The ending theme is “There is a Reason”, sung by Ai Kayano. It’s… decent. I really don’t have much to say about it. The ending credits are relatively uninteresting visually, and the only after-credits scene was just short clips of that stupid marriage scene.

I watched the movie with the Japanese voices and subtitles (because I wouldn’t be able to do the October 8th showing, and I watched the TV anime in subs anyway). Frankly, if my friend hadn’t told me that Riku, Schwi, and Couronne had the same voice actors as Sora, Shiro, and Steph (respectively), I wouldn’t have been able to guess otherwise. She said it was supposed to draw a parallel between the two characters each actor voiced, but honestly, I didn’t really see it. For what the voice acting was, it was… okay. As Riku, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka had a long monologue partway through the movie where he listed off all of his friends who died, and that came across as rather weird-sounding (especially since a lot of them were Western-sounding names). Otherwise, he did a pretty alright job as Riku. Ai Kayano played Schwi, and there were definitely some moments that bothered me (such as when Schwi was going through different inflections in the beginning of the film); again, though, it was okay. Yukari Tamura actually sounded kind of cool doing her role as the primary Flügel character.

Conclusion / TL;DR

Any positive things I have to say about the film in the audio department is definitely outweighed by the many issues I have with the lack of tension or… really anything to keep me interested. The characters aren’t that interesting, there’s clichés all over the place, and things are casually thrown out and never explained well. I really wonder why this story even exists; in the scheme of how things went in the TV anime, the answers this film gives are for questions that were perfectly okay without them.

I don’t like being the type of person to say nothing but negative things about a show or film, or any piece of media I consume. I’m not like Zero Punctuation. I like focusing on the positives, the things I enjoy… but this film really has nothing for me here. Somewhat to my surprise, this film definitely has some fans online, but if you ask me, this isn’t something to bother watching.

Rating: Terrible
Recommendation: Don’t Watch
+++ some really nice audio effects, cool light rocks, Yukari Tamura
— seriously wonder why this film even exists, long marriage scene in the middle, raises more questions than answers

Review: No Game No Life

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

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

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

An Introduction

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

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

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

The Plot and Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Remarks / TL;DR

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

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

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

Review: Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions

Known as “Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai” in Japan, this show marks a turning point for Kyoto Animation. Prior to this, KyoAni was like most other anime studios, vying for contracts to animate a show from a publisher. This led them to creating shows like “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya” for Kadokawa, “K-On!” for TBS, and “Clannad” for Visual Arts. However, when it decided to publish its own light novel, and then turn it into this very anime adaptation, we knew something different was happening. Kyoto Animation was now going to start making its own shows, about the stories the company itself wanted to animate.

So Chu2koi (as this show is often abbreviated to) had a lot to live up to. If this show did well, it meant KyoAni could continue making its own light novels and anime, not having to deal with publishers and some of the other pains of anime production. If this show tanked, though, it would’ve been a big waste of Kyoto Animation’s time and money, and the company itself would have to pay for it.

All the better that this show did fairly well in Japan, then.

An Introduction

Do you remember when you were a little kid, and you thought you were the coolest kid out there? Maybe you thought you had superpowers, and you were destined to save the world. Maybe you were a magician, your abilities leaving everyone else around you in awe. No matter what you thought as a kid, you thought it was all real, and that you were involved in some pretty cool things.

Or at least, I had memories like these. And, if you were like me, you look back on these moments with embarrassment. Thinking I really had superpowers that could defeat the strongest of foes? Yeah, no. No way I really possessed such things. Or anyone did, for that matter. Having delusions of such grandeur is called “chuunibyou” in Japanese (“middle schooler disease”). These are some of the same experiences the main character of this show, Yuuta, has to deal with.

Yuuta moves into a new high school, wanting to get away from all the middle school kids he previously knew (and told that he was some gothic swordsmaster named Dark Flame Master). Ready to put his embarrassing past behind him, he wanted to start off a normal high school life, hanging out with normal high school friends, and having crushes on normal high school girls.

Of course, that doesn’t start to go well when he gets himself intertwined with a girl in his class named Rikka. Like Yuuta, Rikka has believed herself to be some gothic superpowered being who must wear an eyepatch at all time (lest the power of her Wicked Eye Shingan be fully unleashed, should the eyepatch be removed!). Unlike Yuuta though, she still is head-over-heels deep into this chuunibyou delusion of hers, and she decided to get Yuuta roped into her random activities.

From there, we follow the start of a cute but awkward friendship, leading into a romantic story, as Yuuta and Rikka explore more about each other, about high school, and about chuunibyou.

The Plot and Characters

One of the biggest things that sets this show apart from others in its genre is the whole dealing with “chuunibyou” and the weird words and explanations Rikka gives to what’s going on around her. The stuff she says can be a bit confusing (going on about her powerful eye, and looking for invisible boundary lines), but once you think about it a bit, you can tell she’s just seeing the world through an imaginative mind. It ranges from annoying to endearing, depending upon the context, but never to the point that it made me dislike her character; if anything, it made me feel for her.

We see Yuuta go from trying to push her away, as she reminds him of his embarrassing middle school experiences, to slowly beginning to accept her. A lot happens to get these characters to the end of the last episode though, and it’s a bit of a ride. Rikka and Yuuta, of course, are right in the middle of it, and there are twists and topics in the latter half that you wouldn’t have expected going in. I won’t say this anime has the most dramatic twists or reveals out there, though, but it does have some teeth to it.

The show’s supporting cast includes Shinka Nibutani, a girl who’s popular, pretty, and smart; Sanae Dekomori, Rikka’s faithful and energetic assistant; Kumin Tsuyuri, an airhead upperclassmen who loves to sleep; Makoto Isshiki, a guy trying to do all he can to get a date; and Toka Takanashi, Rikka’s older sister that just wants Rikka to be rational about what’s going on around her.

The characters in this show are relatively well developed, with Rikka being the most rounded. However, that being said, Yuuta seems mostly defined by just his embarrassing middle school days, and little else. He ended up being the character I liked the least in this series, and I do wish he got a bit more time to come into his own. It’s obvious the show wanted to put more attention on Rikka and her chuunibyou. Even saying that, though, I didn’t dislike Yuuta at all, and he had his fun times too; I just wish there was a bit more complexity to him.

The supporting cast doesn’t receive much development until near the end of the series, when we see them respond to all the drama going on. However, the supporting cast was what really made this show for me. The interactions with all of them, especially Dekomori, Shinka, and Makoto, are what really help to keep this show entertaining and fun, even when we’re waist-deep in emotional scenes in the latter half of the series. The various anime references that Dekomori and Rikka make are fun to pick up on too, when you can pick up on them.

In regards to the pacing, it starts off relatively slow, and continues at a rather relaxed pace for the majority of the series, only picking up speed during dramatic moments and scenes.

The Atmosphere

Chu2koi, being animated by Kyoto Animation, of course already meets a certain level of quality, so you can be sure you’ll be watching a good-looking show. I wouldn’t call this Kyoto Animation’s finest work in recent times, but it still looks great regardless.

The character designs are akin to the Kyoto Animation standard that’s been used since K-On! (if not earlier), and I like them. I particularly like the designs of Rikka, Toka, and Dekomori. Oppositely, Yuuta’s design comes off as a bit too bland to me, which probably helped make him the one I liked the least. The backgrounds in general look pretty great, but there’s certain scenes, including one in episode 8 with Rikka and Yuuta sitting near a river admiring the city lights, where the backgrounds are particularly gorgeous.

Watching the show as it aired, I of course could only see it in Japanese. I think there was a lot of great vocal performances in this show on the Japanese side. I’ve not seen it in English.

When it comes to the music, it stays relatively subtle, really only peaking up during the dramatic battle scenes (because, yes, there are dramatic chuunibyou battle scenes the characters take place in) and during the really emotional parts of the series. The music tends to be pretty good, but there’s not really any tracks that are that defining or memorable; even the themes during the battles aren’t all that noteworthy. The music is just… there, and that’s about it.

The opening theme, though, I think is really great. The first few seconds of the song gets stuck in my head a lot, and I think the whole song is powerful and just sounds good. It’s put alongside a simplistic but mesmerizing opening animation, with it flashing between each of the main characters doing various activities. It’s not something easily described, and when you see it, it’s somewhat entrancing. The ending theme is also pretty good, but I don’t enjoy it quite as much. The ending animation is also pretty awesome, though, and I especially enjoyed the scene featuring Rikka standing outside with the factory in the distance, for some odd reason.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

This show isn’t exceptionally emotional and deep, but it’s not all light-hearted and sunshine either. It’s somewhere in the middle, incorporating a fair amount of both, and I think it does a good job. On top of that, it develops a sweet romantic story, all while being told by a talented and quality animation studio. However, looking back on this show, the funny jokes and scenes stick out more to me than the plot.

I wouldn’t say this is a show for you to go out of your way to watch, but it’s certainly not a waste of time either. I suggest giving it a shot if you were even somewhat interested in it, because it isn’t a bad choice, but don’t feel too ashamed about skipping it either.

Rating: Good
Recommendation: Give It a Shot
+++ emotional latter half with Rikka and Yuuta, funny comedic moments, quality animation
— jokes more memorable than the plot, okay ending song, Yuuta needed more time to develop

Review: Higurashi When They Cry (Season 1)

Also known as “Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni”, this show has had a bit of a licensing issue here in the United States. Geneon originally picked up this show, dubbed it, and titled it “When They Cry” (not a title I’m the happiest about). But, well, Geneon ended up closing its doors. Luckily, Geneon made a deal with Funimation to have them package and sell the DVD, up until Funimation let the license expire in 2011 (and thus, the DVDs went out of print). After that, the only way to get the series was to pony up over $100 to get your hands on one of the few Geneon/Funimation releases still rolling around. As well, there is the second season that never got touched.

However, each story has its happy ending (well… not always, especially with this anime’s content). Sentai Filmworks ended up picking up this series, and the second season, in July 2015. As of writing, we don’t yet know when they’ll be releasing it, but the fact that the show will once again become available (along with the never-before-released second season) is very exciting. (EDIT: The series has since come out on DVD.)

Higurashi was always one of those shows that I heard a lot about on the Internet and talking to friends, with people talking about how gory the series is, with all the kids murdering each other and what-not. One of my friends, luckily for me, had spent his money on a Geneon/Funimation release a few years ago, and, of course, I wanted to sit down and check it out.

An Introduction

Higurashi follows an isolated village in the countryside named Hinamizawa. Every year, the village puts on a festival called the Cotton Drifting Festival. There’s cotton, it drifts, you have a party, fun times all around to be sure. Except for one thing: Oyashiro-sama’s curse, which was cast upon this small town. This curse dictates that every year, on the day of the festival, one person will be murdered, and another will disappear.

Caught up in the middle of the curse this year are five school friends: Rena, Mion, Rika, Satoko, and the only boy, Keiichi. As well, there is Mion’s twin sister, Shion, whom you’ll meet on occasion. These six, while they tend to have a fun time together playing games and what-not, all have a bit of a dark past, some related to past instances of the curse, and some related to other incidents. Once the Cotton Drifting Festival of this year rolls around though, one or more of these characters start to go off the deep end, leading to killing, torture, and sadness.

I mean “one or more” like this: this anime is divided into 6 different arcs (or “chapters”), with each arc starting over fresh, with everyone happy and no blood spilled. This means, as time goes on with each arc, insanity happens, along with all the above-mentioned killing, torture, and sadness. Then the arc ends, a new one begins, and we restart with everyone all nice and dandy again!

The Plot and Characters

One of the most difficult things that you’ll have to get through with each of these arcs are the cheerful parts at the beginning of each of them before the Cotton Drifting festival starts to get underway. I like slice of life shows, but only if they have something that keep them from being too generic, and in this case, it’s not. However, we do have to get through the fluff to get to the exciting horror parts, and as we get into the further arcs, the “generic slice of life” stuff doesn’t stay around as long.

Besides, the slice of life parts help to add a bit more depth to the characters. To be frank, the first arc may not have gone as well as it did, with one of the characters inching closer and closer to insanity and paranoia with each episode, without having all the happy friendship scenes in the beginning to start it all off. Even so, spending the first episode and a half on that stuff seems like a tad too much when the show’s draw is its horror.

Other than that though, the show’s story is pretty great, if not a tad confusing at times. A lot of information is thrown at you in the course of these 26 episodes, and it’s not easy to remember all the details, especially if you don’t watch it all in one sitting. The show will remind you of some of the bigger things in each arc, but you’re left to keep the finer details in mind. These finer details are good to know, too, as they’ll help fill in some of the gaps the show leaves open later on. There is a lot to learn about this village and everything that happens in it, so for those of you who get a kick out of unraveling the mystery, this show will provide that for you.

It’s really hard to place where I find my enjoyment in Higurashi. It’s not that easy to get me deeply invested in a show, but this one managed to hook me in pretty well. While I enjoy the character interactions, and the various ways that the torturing and killing can be a source of entertainment all their own, I’d say for me, it’s the most fun getting to delve into the mind of whatever characters get the most focus in an arc, and see how their surroundings and reactions lead to that inevitable bloody end.

Throughout the six arcs, we get to know the six main characters (Rena, Mion, Rika, Satoko, Keiichi, and Shion), as one or more of them became the focus of that arc. However, it wasn’t until the final arc that we even got to learn a decent amount about Rena, and by that point, she had become more of a nuisance to me than a character I cared about. The time for me to care about her character had already come and passed by the time she got the main focus, disappointingly so for her. My favorite characters were both Mion and Shion. They’re fascinating to watch, although they probably received the most attention in the series out of the six of them (a Shion-centric arc in the latter half of the series cemented my love for this series). I also like Rika and Keiichi, although not quite on the same level.

The pacing is not always consistent, with the slice of life parts staying pretty slow, and the pacing picking up once more of the horror stuff starts to happen. Even so, there will be faster and slower moments; so, yeah, not always consistent is more or less the only way to describe it. However, excepting some of the slice of life parts, it’s nothing that painful or bad.

The Atmosphere

Another inconsistent thing about this show is how its characters are drawn. It not only changes from episode to episode, but doesn’t even stay consistent within an episode. Sometimes, the body proportions are just right, and the faces drawn really well, but then there’s times where the arms are extremely skinny (like noodles), or times where the eyes are just spaced too far apart (or something else is up with the facial structure), or times where other proportions of the characters just look off somehow, but I can’t put my finger on it. The inconsistent drawing isn’t necessarily a showstopper as much as it is a constant bother throughout the anime.

Overall, the character designs look simple, and I think that works well for the series. The simple designs are certainly well suited for the light-hearted slice of life moments, but they also work pretty well once the horror parts start to happen (a bit to my surprise). During the horror parts as well, hatching is applied to certain parts of the face, and the pupils are drawn almost like cat pupils, making these characters look the part.

Other than that, appearances wise, this show’s art is of a fair quality for 2006. It’s pretty alright. Certainly not bad. But there undeniably is room to improve. The show’s animation does falter at moments, but it’s not common; otherwise, it’s also pretty okay.

The background music of the show is relatively subtle, generally not getting that intense or dramatic, but it sounds good and fitting for this series, and I do like it. I’d probably be able to recognize this show’s music on its own, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to it. The opening song is also really awesome (it’s been stuck in my head for days), although the opening animation is maybe a bit lacking in… flair or something. The ending song is also pretty cool, sung in some not-that-great English, and I really enjoyed the ending animation that accompanied it.

I watched the show in Japanese, and I really enjoyed what I heard. I’ve heard a couple people say the English dub was bad; I sat down and listened to a few scenes of episode 19 in English to compare it to the Japanese, and I found it alright, able to sit through, but I can see where people had their issues with it. I would recommend people watch it in Japanese if they get the chance. (Of course, though, if Sentai decides to re-dub the series, which I’d appreciate, we may get notably better results; however, I doubt they will.) (EDIT: They didn’t re-dub it.)

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni, otherwise known as When They Cry, is a horror series that managed to get me hooked. Even after I finished it, I want to go back and watch it again. The slice of life sections are parts you have to get through to get to the parts filled with the torture and death, but the show’s great plot and memorable characters really makes the entire experience fun. The characters being inconsistently drawn was a constant source of annoyance to me though.

Unless you really can’t handle the horror type of stuff, which I know some people can’t, I would really recommend people sit down to watch this. I’ve heard people recommend that the second season be watched with this too so that we can fully understand everything going on, but even standing alone, I think this series is a blast. There’s a lot to uncover and think about in this show, and we get to see people losing their minds and their blood along the way.

Rating: Near-Perfect
Recommendation: Put It On Immediately
+++ great story with a lot to think about, really get to see into the characters’ minds, Shion is fascinating to watch
— slice of life sections can be boring, inconsistent art is a bother, you only learn about Rena after you stop caring about her

Review: Himouto! Umaru-chan

We’ve all been there. There’s this one show that all of your friends like, they talk about it all the time, and you… you just don’t really get it, for one reason or another. It didn’t “click” with you. You just don’t enjoy it that much. Unfortunately, it leaves you a little bit out of the group, as everyone wants to talk about it, and you just don’t see its appeal.

But sometimes, you watch the show anyway, just so you can watch it with your friends and talk with them about it. And sometimes, in those cases, you actually end up growing to enjoy the show yourself.

An Introduction

Umaru is your standard super pretty, extremely nice girl by day, but at night, she turns into Umaru-chan (also known as UMR or Komaru), an anime-loving, video game-playing slob that lazes around. Umaru’s dual identities formed as the result of a snowball effect: one small story was told at the school that wasn’t entirely true, which lead to another not-entirely-true story or piece of gossip, which lead to another… soon enough, the discrepancy got large enough that Umaru had to take on that super nice personality to keep up with what gets said about her at school.

Umaru lives in a small apartment with her older brother Taihei, who usually spends most of the day working. Taihei is one of a select few that get to see Umaru’s slobby otaku side, and, indeed, is the one to deal with it most of the time. He acts as a foil to Umaru, trying to keep her grounded, and acting as the professional, responsible older brother when Umaru is being messy and a nuisance.

Alongside Taihei, some of the other people we get to meet is Ebina, Umaru’s best friend from school. Although Ebina lives in the same apartment complex as Umaru, she’s never seen Umaru’s otaku side. Tachibana Sylphynford (whom I’ll refer to as TSF-san) is Umaru’s self-proclaimed rival, despite how she usually fails to outwit Umaru is nearly anything, but at least she has enthusiasm. Finally, Kirie is an extremely shy girl in Umaru’s class that wants to befriend Umaru, but doesn’t quite know how to. She stumbles across otaku-Umaru, and takes otaku-Umaru to be her master.

Each episode has at least two stories, which detail random events in Umaru’s life (and sometimes the lives of others, such as Taihei), usually done for comedy.

The Plot and Characters

This is my personal taste, but I have a hard time enjoying a show where it features a lot of one character being a brat (in substitution of more crass language) towards another one. And that’s the case here, with Umaru being whiny, childish, and simply ungrateful towards Taihei. It was uncomfortable for me to watch, which is why I had a hard time getting into this anime when it started. I almost nearly dropped the series partway in because of that. Luckily, after the first few episodes, they toned it down. It was still present, but it wasn’t uncomfortably too much. Sometimes, especially in the latter half of the series, Umaru actually started to show some sympathy towards Taihei, which I really appreciated and enjoyed.

Many of the show’s stories basically were just what Umaru did on a particular afternoon. About 60 to 70% of the show takes place in Umaru and Taihei’s apartment, so we see a lot of interaction between the two of them. There was quite a bit of Umaru lazing around, being irresponsible, and Taihei scolding her. Or a lot of Umaru explaining her take on being an otaku (simply put, Umaru’s “life hacks”; here’s one: cola is amazing and goes great with everything). There’s also a notable amount of Umaru visiting arcades and basically robbing them with how unbelievably successful she is at winning almost every single game.

While some repetitive themes and other things do show up throughout the show, it didn’t come off as too repetitive. The show did pretty good to keep things fresh throughout the series, despite Umaru simply being an otaku that tends to get her way.

Indeed, Umaru could basically be summed up as just that: an irresponsible, whiny, sloppy otaku that tends to get her way. There’s not really much more to her than that, and I wouldn’t think she needs anything more to her character, with worries that anything extra would bog down the simple enjoyment of the show. Ebina, TSF-san (heck if I remember her full name), Kirie, and most other recurring characters can be similarly summed up in a single sentence; they stick as one-trick ponies, archetypes and all, throughout the entire show, for better or for worse. Taihei, though, I found quite rounded; we get to see both his home life, and his work life, and we even get glimpses of his time as a high schooler. Overall, I feel like Taihei was quite developed, and it made me more even more sympathetic of his plight.

Overall, I did find myself quite entertained, especially after the first few episodes, where they introduced more situations, settings, and characters that would reappear later on. I can’t really say the show got me to laugh (excepting some of the products they created that was totally just a substitution for a real-life copyrighted product), and it probably wouldn’t do all that much to really brighten up my mood after a tough day, but it still was simple fun. There’s something just relaxing to it; you feel so relaxed while watching an episode. It has this charm to it that just gets you to like the show, no matter how hard you try to hate it. It did take those first few episodes to get actually invested in the show though.

The Atmosphere

The art for Umaru-chan wasn’t anything that stellar, but it certainly wasn’t bad. It was most definitively “good”. They tended to not be too detailed with the backgrounds or anything, and the character designs were also relatively simple. Overall, the show had this simple look to it that worked in this case. The animation was fluid at some points, and not so much during others.

Umaru switched between this “standard” design while under her super-pretty, super-nice girl persona, and this “chibi” design while under her otaku persona. It was a bit odd at first, but it’s a quick enough thing to get, and it most visibly shows what mindset Umaru has at that time. What I found odd is that while Umaru was in her chibi form, pretty much all the other characters acted as if she was that short.

The opening theme song was another thing that really annoyed me at first when I began the show, but as time went on, it grew on me, and I found it alright. The opening animation was also pretty cool, and was pretty much the one thing that got me to not skip it all. The ending is skippable though; it’s a fine enough song and a fair enough slide-show type animation, but it feels relatively generic.

The show’s soundtrack is actually pretty nice. You wouldn’t expect something of this genre to really have anything that noteworthy, BGM-wise, but in this case, it does. I wouldn’t say it’s the most memorable of soundtracks, with an unusual instrumentation or genre, but it just works so well for this series. There’s one theme that plays a lot while at the apartment, and it’s quite simple, relying on strings and woodwinds, but it’s unique. The soundtrack gives this relaxing feeling to the entire show, even when things get a bit hectic sometimes, and it helps to keep the mood calm and not get the viewer all anxious. I’d listen to the soundtrack on its own if I could.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

To sum this show up in one word, it’s simple. Its art is simple, its characters are simple, the stories are pretty simple and straightforward, the premise is relatively simple. Simply put, it’s simple to understand, it’s simple to get into, and it’s simple to enjoy. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; if this was their goal, they succeeded. However, it’s not going to make you laugh or cry or get you super invested.

At its core, it’s a slice-of-life show, featuring the lifestyle and adventures of our main character, Umaru. The crowd of anime watchers that watch primarily slice-of-life will know what they want to get out of this show. This show could maybe attract more people than an average slice-of-life with Umaru being who and what she is, but I don’t know. This show will not cause you to fall in love with it right away; it’s more something you’ll become, bit by bit, more appreciative of as time goes on, so expect yourself to need a bit of time with this show.

Rating: Average
Recommendation: Give It A Shot

+++ nice simple story and visuals, decently good soundtrack, Taihei is a surprisingly developed character
— Umaru is sometimes bratty, supporting cast are one-trick ponies, first few episodes not the best

Review: Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Short answer: maybe.

Long answer: well, depending upon who you are, who the girl is, where in the dungeon you are, what you’re doing in the dungeon, and what kind of equipment and party members you have. There’s a lot of variables in play here, you see.

Anyway, this show’s long and strange title captured the attention of a few of my friends; thus, they started watching it, and pulled me in as well. I frankly probably wouldn’t have bothered with this series if it weren’t for those friends.

(The show’s title is usually shortened down to “DanMachi”, based upon the Japanese title.)

An Introduction

This alternate universe is basically an RPG come to life. Concepts like “levels”, “status points”, “item drops”, and so on are real things that each person deals with in one way or another. The economy revolves around people called warriors entering into dungeons, defeating monsters at a level they can do well at, and use the monster’s drops in exchange for money and goods. Like I said, it’s like a real-life RPG.

So who’s our protagonist? Why, he’s this white-haired, young warrior with a lot to learn, named Bell Cranel. Bell is your well-meaning good guy, just wanting for himself and those he cares about to be happy. He goes out to the dungeon each day, sticking to the low-numbered levels (as he’s not that strong yet), and uses whatever items he gets for money so he can live in a cozy house, just himself and the goddess he’s sworn loyalty to, Hestia.

Our story begins with Hestia discovering a powerful ability that Bell possesses, but she keeps it a secret from him. Sure enough, thanks to this ability (along with some pure luck), he becomes an increasingly powerful warrior with almost unprecedented speed. However, his quick rise towards the top has not come without catching the attention of a few shady folks…

The Plot and Characters

The world these characters are in was one of the most fascinating things I find about this series, and I’m glad they spent a decent amount of time on world-building here. As much as I might (and shall) complain about everything else, the world and concept of this story keeps me fascinated and enticed.

DanMachi’s plot surprised me to some extent with a few of its unique plot points and characters. Liliruca, Bell’s “supporter” (someone who follows you around in a dungeon, carrying everything you could want or need) first appeared in episode 3 and I found her backstory surprisingly emotional (well, for this show, anyway), and she became my most favorite character in the series (her snarky comments in later episodes solidified it for me). The conflict between Hestia and the other gods also intrigued me too.

However, this all being said, the show has some generic-ness to it. Bell, for all intents and purposes, is your generic kind-hearted protagonist: he’s extremely powerful, attracts the attention of multiple girls, but yet is ridiculously kind and ridiculously dense. Hestia plays the generic jealous love interest in most aspects, although she sometimes has some interesting moments. Most notably, though, is the generic ending to the anime series. To not give away too many spoilers, the ending focuses upon a battle against a giant monster, with everyone “holding the monster back” until Bell could show up in the last two minutes and use this brand-new, super-powerful finishing move. The show’s ending really wasn’t that impactful, and I wish they went with something more clever.

Other supporting characters in the show are: Aiz Wallenstein, a revered warrior filling the “silent but deadly” trope, she caught Bell’s eye after she saved him from a minotaur (admittedly, seeing the two of them grow a bit closer later on in the series is a bit cute); Welf Crozzo is a blacksmith-turned-warrior who appears too late in the series to really leave much of an impact (despite him being shown prominently in both the opening and ending animations. You’d think that when he finally makes his appearance, he’d instantly become someone really memorable, but unfortunately, he’s not); Syr Flova and Eina Tulle are two girls that work at a pub and the guild building, respectively, and both have feelings for Bell, but are overall not too noteworthy.

I really liked DanMachi when it focused upon the world and the actual conflicts, and those were enough to keep me intrigued week after week while it aired. However, when it spent time on Bell’s interaction with all these girls that had crushes on him, that’s where it started to drag. If the characters were less generic or if there was less of the generic dense-male-lead-with-harem going on, I would have enjoyed the series a lot more. The generic ending really disappointed me too, keeping me from walking away from the show with a positive reaction.

In fact, there’s something called the Bechdel test, which basically states that for a show/movie/etc. to pass, it must have two women talk to each other about something other than a man. I don’t generally like to spend my time talking about such tests, as something like that never tells the whole story, but I would say that this show probably doesn’t pass this test. Where the show’s female characters do interact, it’s usually to continue with the whole harem thing the show is trying to push on us. DanMachi can do better without it being there. But of course, it’s what helps sell anime (or what the companies think help sell anime).

The show’s pacing was as you’d expect for an action series, with it generally sticking to a rather decent not-too-fast-but-not-that-slow pace, and with it sometimes picking up and slowing down depending upon the scene and action.

The Atmosphere

The show’s visuals are good. I really liked the color scheme used in the show, with a variety of colors used, and a number of them being bright and vibrant. The backgrounds are detailed and the character designs just work for the show. The animation was good, even during the action sequences. Simply put, the battles were really cool to watch.

(Actually, one other thing about character designs: that of Hestia. That small purple ribbon that’s purported to hold up her breasts ended up creating a bit of a meme in Japan as the show started up; halfway through the show’s airing though, the interest in it died down. Personally, I don’t really have much an opinion on the design, but if I were forced to say something, I’d have to say it looked a bit ridiculous.)

Audio-wise, it’s basically your standard orchestral stuff you hear in most anime nowadays. Frankly, unless a show does something special or uncommon with its background music, I won’t even remember it when I look back on the show. So that being said, there’s nothing really memorable about this one’s, but it does suit the show well enough. DanMachi’s opening theme isn’t particularly great, but it’ll get stuck in your head, whether you like it or not. I also took a liking to the opening animation, although it wasn’t really that extraordinary. The ending theme and animation are, in my opinion, great, though; I really like the bright colors and the upbeat song with the interjecting horns.

I almost wish they casted someone else for Bell other than Yoshitsugu Matsuoka. His voice isn’t annoying or anything, and there were spots where I think he was voiced rather well. I also know the voice actor is talented due to how he does Sora in No Game No Life. However, I feel someone else’s voice may have hit Bell’s character more on the mark than his. Other than that, in regards to the voice acting, there really isn’t anything to mention. I don’t know if Sentai will dub it, but if they do, I’ll be expecting a “decent-but-not-great” performance. (EDIT: Sentai announced at Anime Expo 2016 that they will be dubbing it. I stand by my remark.)

Final Remarks / TL;DR

The most interesting parts about Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, besides its title, are its fascinating world and the points where it stayed away from all the girls and their crushes on Bell. The show’s visuals are deceptively good though. All in all, the show kept intrigued and coming back week after week; however, the generic elements and disappointing ending soured my experience of the whole thing.

Despite everything though, I can’t not recommend this show. The action is definitely present in this series, and it is a lot of fun to watch. The way that RPG elements are handled here, as if they were real life concepts, is an interesting concept that will add to people’s enjoyment. This is an obvious choice for action series lovers. For those wanting a show that stays away from some of the more common pitfalls of anime though, DanMachi probably won’t cut it for you.

Rating: Average

Recommendation: If You Like This Genre

+++ great visuals featuring bright colors and well-animated action, fascinating world, Liliruca is a fun character

— harem stuff detracts from enjoyment, ending is disappointing, Welf doesn’t show up until too late in the series

Review: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless

I feel this is one of those anime titles that just doesn’t sound right in English, mainly because they picked a relatively-obscure word that isn’t used as much in everyday conversation. Perhaps that’s my experience though; maybe elsewhere in the English-speaking world, “listless” is used all of the time. I can’t say I’ve never heard of this word, although it’s usually the adverbial form “listlessly”. Regardless, we’re here to actually talk about the show itself, not its title!

An Introduction

Our main character is a relatively skinny and unassuming high school guy named Tanaka-kun. He generally means well – he’s not really malicious or anything of the sort – but he tends to prioritize his own laziness and care-free nature over pretty much everything else. He sleeps in class, he slowly moves from place to place, he gets just the least amount of work done to get by, and just lazes around for everything else. Honestly, one could question how he’d ever be able to get through life.

The answer to such a hypothetical question: Ohta-kun. Big, tall, and blonde, he’s Tanaka-kun’s classmate and best friend, doing his best to make sure Tanaka-kun is doing alright (or at the very least, staying out of trouble). While you may think Ohta could be menacing and scary looking, he’s more of a big, soft, kind bear. He goes way out of his way to help everyone he can, even if it puts himself in danger. The sight of Ohta carrying Tanaka from class to class is a common thing in this high school.

Along with that, we have a few female friends thrown in the mix too. Miyano is a short, super-energetic classmate of Tanaka’s, and puts 110% effort into everything she does… something that doesn’t exactly work when she decides to become Tanaka’s apprentice to learn how to be lazy. Echizen is Miyano’s best friend (and Ohta’s neighbor) with a hard, delinquent-type outside, but a soft, chewy inside. Finally, there’s Shiraishi, the well-adored, popular class president, but with a big secret.

Altogether, we get to see these five friends as they go about their lives, and their laziness, in the slice-of-life adventure that is high school…

The Plot and Characters

I’m a relatively big fan of a show with a relaxed pace. I prefer going through a relaxed pace in my life itself, so it’s cool to see a show that doesn’t need to be throwing stuff at you every second to still be enjoyable. One of the more infamous slow-paced shows of late is Glasslip, which I really enjoyed… when the supernatural stuff wasn’t mucking up the plot.

Tanaka-kun has no supernatural abilities or anything though. This show is pretty squarely in the slice-of-life genre, mainly featuring Tanaka, Ohta, and one or two other characters dealing with one situation or another… usually these “situations” are pretty easily taken care of if you were a normal person, but Tanaka is lazy – very much so.

I really liked this show. Even when I wasn’t enjoying many other shows of the Spring 2016 season, this one was one I usually got happiness out of, if not a laugh or two per episode as well. I wasn’t rolling on the floor laughing, though, as this show is more about the light humor. Tanaka-kun didn’t really have a bad episode. It had episodes that I certainly enjoyed more than others, and that were funnier or had better story ideas, especially the first few episodes, but I still enjoyed nearly every moment of this show.

Tanaka-kun wasn’t afraid to have moments of downtime and to take pauses, to reinforce that feeling of relaxation and laziness throughout the entire series. It worked pretty well for the comedic timing of this series too. I especially appreciated the start of each episode, as they focused on a single small gag or joke, before the show’s title appeared and the theme music got going; some of those were really funny. For me, that opening gag set up how good that episode was going to be.

Tanaka’s thought process and the way he views the world differs so much from many of us simply due to his listless nature, and it generally tends to be a good source of comedy. That being said, I do feel perhaps there were some small “gimmicks” (in lack of a better term) that Tanaka did later on in the show – purportedly, to further his laziness – that I didn’t think were really necessary, but I guess you can only go so far without needing to throw in something fresh.

Ohta also tends to be a source of great amusement throughout the anime, mainly because of his personality, and the way that he interacts with Tanaka. Without a doubt, these two are my most favorite characters in the series (which is a good thing to say as they’re the ones we see the most).

However, the other characters, while still enjoyable, are not on the same level. Miyano is actually also pretty fun to see – almost on the same level as Ohta for me – but after the first few episodes, she begins to appear less and less. Shiraishi doesn’t get quite enough development for me to really get too much enjoyment out of her, although I still liked her. The blue-haired and red-haired guy friends of Ohta’s barely make an appearance in this series, which disappoints me, because I would’ve liked to see more of them. I don’t even remember their names!

The two characters I liked the least, though, were Echizen and Tanaka’s sister. In both their cases, they mainly remain archetypal, even though I feel Tanaka-kun would be a good show to play these types a bit more ironically. Echizen has a few interesting moments to her, and in the beginning, the series even shows Miyano confessing her feelings to Echizen. However, after this, Echizen goes on to mainly play a tsundere, towards both Ohta and Tanaka; it really disappoints me as I would’ve liked to see Echizen and Miyano actually continue together as a canon relationship. Tanaka’s sister is the jealous sibling, wanting Tanaka’s affections all for herself. I’m not really disgusted by her, but more bored; there’s nothing about her that I really find interesting, and I wish there was.

Despite all that though, I did have a lot of fun with this show, like I’ve said multiple times. Even if I didn’t enjoy Echizen or Tanaka’s sister all that much, I still enjoyed every single one of these characters here, and their personalities shone through their actions. The slow pacing and light humor of this show made it one of my more favorites in recent time.

The Atmosphere

The characters in this series are relatively simply-designed, compared to what I feel we generally see in anime of recent. It works pretty well for the series, and even with their designs, Tanaka-kun makes sure each of its characters’ designs are memorable. There’s a recurring character that first appears in episode 9, and when she returns in a later episode, I was able to recognize her with relative ease, despite her wearing a very different outfit.

The animation for the series is also surprisingly pretty good too. There’s not really much need for fast, fluid motion here, as this show primarily keeps a pretty slow pace, but the few moments where it’s a bit more action-y, I don’t feel disappointed. The standard of quality would definitely be higher if this were a combat-heavy, action show, but for a slice-of-life, it is definitely above the bar.

The thing I really want to talk about, though, is the background designs. The high school that these characters spend so much of their time in is freaking beautiful. I’d pause the episodes during wide shots, just so I could look at the designs of the high school’s interior. High-school-me would be so jealous if he had seen this high school back at that time. Throughout the entire series, the backgrounds tend to be these soft, light colors, which are not uncommon in a slice-of-life. Where I wouldn’t generally comment on the color and texture scheme used in a slice-of-life show, something done here makes it feel just a bit different, and fits well for this series, I think. None of the colors are super bright or in your face. There is a dip in quality after the first few episodes, but it really isn’t that noticeable unless you’re really looking for it, I think. Overall, the background designs of this show is one of my most favorite things about it.

The background music tends to rely on piano, woodwinds (particularly flute), and a few other instruments (like… accordion, I think it is?) to provide the friendly and cheerful nature to back the show. I can’t really say I’ve ever really encountered a slice-of-life with a soundtrack I’ve really wanted to own, and this show isn’t quite that different. The show’s music is nice (if not maybe a bit safe), but it’s not anything worth listening to its own. The show also tends to have its moments where there just isn’t any music at all, and I do appreciate a show that can have these silent moments so that the dialogue and visuals can shine on their own.

The opening theme has this mellow, relaxed feel to it, which of course fits the show very well. The opening animation, while not anything particularly special or all that noteworthy, is also rather nice. I definitely enjoyed the ending theme, Bon Bon, as well, though, but I do have a penchant for the more upbeat-sounding songs like that one. The ending animation was also rather cool, although it also featured a decent amount of still frames. Overall, though, I feel it isn’t that common for me to enjoy not only both opening and ending songs, but also the opening and ending animations for a series. However, Tanaka-kun is one of those exceptions.

The voices of Tanaka and Ohta are pretty much on point. Kensho Ono just sells the part of Tanaka, and Yoshimasa Hosoya’s portrayal of Ohta also works well for his intimidating size but kind nature. In fact, I don’t think I really have all that many complaints, if any, about the voices in this series. If I had to be pushed to say some critique, I’d point to the voices of the two guy-friends-of-Ohta, but we didn’t really get to see enough of them to really know what the characters are like.

Final Remarks / TL;DR

Tanaka-kun is Always Listless is a relaxing, sunny anime that’s fun to sit down and enjoy, when you want some time to relax, and get a couple smiles and laughs. The two main characters, and Miyano, are super fun to watch, even when some of the others may not be on that same level of enjoyment. The impressive background designs, and nice opening and ending themes all add up to a pretty nice viewing experience.

As tends to be the case of slice-of-life shows, there’s those that love them, and those that hate them. While this isn’t squarely just playing to the genre it’s in, I don’t feel Tanaka-kun is going to really grab those that generally avoid slice-of-life shows. If you’re okay with something relaxed and simple, without a big drama or plot, you’ll be in for a treat here though.

Rating: Great
Recommendation: Watch It
+++ amazing high school design, Tanaka and Ohta, opening and ending themes/animations
— Echizen and Tanaka’s sister, blue-haired/red-haired guys should’ve gotten more screen time, Miyano’s confession to Echizen didn’t go anywhere