Maison Ikkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Maison Ikkoku

 

Related: Maison Ikkoku: Final Chapter (sequel movie)

Similar: Kimagure Orange Road

Ah! My Goddess

Ai Yori Aoshi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Comedy

Length: 96 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Supporting cast is better than the main.
  • Occasional good comedy.

Negatives:

  • One season of content stretched across four.
  • Side relationships amount to nothing.
  • So repetitive.
  • That dog’s eyes…

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Maison Ikkoku is a classic of anime romance. Does this timeless classic endure, appreciable by anyone whether watched at release or 30 years later?

It follows 20-year-old Godai, a failed student looking to pass his exams this year, who finds himself unable to study when surrounded by the rowdiest tenants imaginable in his boarding house. A greater distraction arrives in the form of the beautiful Kyoko, new manager at Maison Ikkoku, but Godai’s feelings of instant love look forever unrequited when he learns she is a widow clinging to her dead husband.

I like this premise for three reasons. One: she’s a young widow, a rarity amid a sea of “first love only” anime teen romance. Her experience promises a more mature relationship. Two: the challenge Godai faces in her husband’s shadow is ripe for conflict and emotion. Three: the cosy nature of having everyone under one roof makes it an intimate affair.

Maison Ikkoku doesn’t take advantage of this potential.

On the first point, Godai and Kyoko’s coupling is anything but mature. Godai is a child. This would be good as the starting point of Godai’s character arc, but we never see him mature into a man. He is ever the child in love and life. My big problem with Maison Ikkoku, regardless of any other issues I cover, is the lack of chemistry between these two and how poor of a job it does at convincing us that this is a real relationship. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful moments between these two – with fingers to spare. His first romantic act is trying to kiss her while she’s napping on the roof. We have a Casanova over here!

Their relationship is “cockblocking the anime.” The first few episodes consist of Godai trying to tell her how he feels and to give her a present, only to have someone or a random event stop him. This isn’t story. It is no adversity. It’s just distraction after distraction thrown at him by the writer.

You might imagine that this is just the slow start to a 96-episode series. Except, this is the series. Their first truly romantic moment is in episodes 39 & 40, only to have it regress into meaningless distractions afterwards.

The story has a love polygon for the two leads, yet even these are just cockblockers instead of opportunities at character development. For Kyoko, we have her handsome tennis coach that falls for her charms against his parents’ wishes, who have arranged a marriage with the woman of peak meekness. You know the type – eyes always downcast as if it is an offence to look at others, hands clasped in prayer to her chest, and not a bone in her spine. Godai, on the other hand, has a headstrong and naïve teenage stalker. I thought she would be a one-off character for a few episodes, a gimmick to create misunderstandings with Kyoko, but she returns. And for longer!

I must reiterate that the problem isn’t with the ideas and slice of life episodes. Execution is the culprit. When Godai and the coach compete for affection, it isn’t through conflict that promotes growth. They’re petty squabbles made worse by the fact that they go nowhere. Honestly, Maison Ikkoku has barely enough content for 24 episodes and stretches it to 96 with every fake-out and anti-climax in the book. The dead husband element also doesn’t feel like a source of turmoil for Kyoko. Instead, it comes across as a crutch by the writer to keep the couple apart. “She would kiss him, but she’s still not over the dead guy. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have them kiss next episode. Stay tuned to find out!”

It’s not as though it’s a slow burn building and building to this great romance where you cheer for the couple when united, your heart lifted with joy. If the romance was worth it in the end, that would be the quality to make it a lasting classic. The fact that it’s slow and rather repetitive would be fine when threaded by a great relationship. We would criticise it for these issues but always add on, “It’s worth it for the romance.” I sadly cannot say that here.

 

Look, this anime isn’t bad. It’s bloated and hard to recommend when you could complete three to six other romances in the same time. If you have a love for old anime and go in knowing not to care about relationship growth, you could enjoy Maison Ikkoku. The comedy is decent thanks to the eccentric support cast (except the ever-annoying kids). My favourite is the tenant that dresses like an old FBI agent. He comes and goes from the house to escapades unknown and infiltrates other people’s rooms when at home. (No respect for privacy.) The older lady looks for any excuse to throw an alcohol-fuelled party and leads the charge in disrupting Godai’s studies. There’s a lot more fun when it spotlights them.

I wanted Maison Ikkoku to be great. Imagine, 96 episodes of romantic goodness. Anime could do with more romance series, as much of the best romantic relationships are subplots to other genres, like an action series. Or they’re in heavy dramas, which I love of course, but it’s good to balance it with a wholesome romance. My search continues.

Art – Medium

This is 80s anime art at its most classic – poufy hair included. What is with that dog’s eyes though? Are they mouths!? The animation is decent for the time and the exterior establishing shots are nice at setting mood.

Sound – Medium

It sounds old in Japanese, as expected, though the dub doesn’t sound much better either, which is odd considering how much later it released in the West. I’m not fond of either version. That has more to do with my lack of character interest, however.

Story – Low

A failed student joins a boarding house to focus on his studies, where he falls in love with a young widow chained to the past. Maison Ikkoku’s suffers from constant delays, setbacks, and side relationships that go nowhere to drag out the main relationship, which in itself is rather shallow.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For vintage anime fans only. I can’t imagine many people will want to sit through a romance as drawn out as Maison Ikkoku when we have so much choice today.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Repetitive

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Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher

 

Related: Marvel Future Avengers

Similar: Iron Man

Canaan

Spriggan

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 1 hr. 22 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Animated well.

Negatives:

  • Action is repetitive.
  • No mystery or suspense.
  • Generic scientist villain.
  • Royalty-free rock music?

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I just watched this out of curiosity to see what they would do with a Marvel anime film instead of a series. I shouldn’t have bothered.

After the Punisher disrupts a secret S.H.I.E.L.D mission, the agency forces him to team up with Black Widow to fight Leviathan, a terrorist organisation selling stolen S.H.I.E.L.D tech. The vigilante and hero will have to put their differences aside to save the world.

Action, action, and more action constitute Avengers Confidential’s runtime. There’s a fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against some thugs, another fight between the Punisher and Black Widow, a fight against the generic weapons scientist enemy, and, of course, yet more combat between the two leads. Honestly, these two fight each other more than they do enemies.

The action is so repetitive as well. How many times do they hit fist to fist? It must be at least once per fight. Avengers Confidential has no mystery or suspense to keep you watching. It has as much content as an episode from the Marvel series anime. There is no substance here, no character and little story to speak of. I wonder how this anime would look from the perspective of someone who knows nothing about these characters. Would such an audience have any sense for whom these characters are and for what they are meant to stand?

There’s nothing more to say other than don’t waste your time as I did with this incredibly boring film. It’s made to look even worse should you come at it from Marvel’s Hollywood movies.

And with that, I am done with Marvel’s foray into anime, unless they try again with something better at a later date. Overall, I am not impressed with these Marvel anime. X-Men had good qualities, but the rest…I doubt people will even remember which characters received adaptations in a few years.

Art – Medium

Avengers Confidential is well animated, though the anatomy looks off at times, particularly faces, as if two studios worked on separate scenes independently.

Sound – Low

The acting is decent with little to say while the music sounds like royalty-free rock.

Story – Low

The Punisher and Black Widow team up to defeat Leviathan, a terrorist organisation looking to sell S.H.I.E.L.D technology to super villains. You need more than straightforward action to have a good story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Watch any Avengers animated series instead, or you have a hundred more engaging action anime than Avenger Confidential.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

RepetitiveShallow

Lucky Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Lucky Star

 

Similar: K-On!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Nichijou – An Ordinary Life

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The smug.

Negatives:

  • Moe over substance.
  • Writing isn’t witty enough.
  • Mundane humour.

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Lucky Star is known for its moe characters, dance routine, and smug memes. At least, that’s what I knew it for. It follows the daily happenings of four girls at high school (yes, high school) and outside, with a commentary on mundane life led by lazy otaku Konata. School, food, video games, anime, and daily hygiene are but a sample of the fields these girls discuss to no end.

This is an anime about nothing. The first conversation covers how to eat certain food. Do you eat a cream cone from the thin and easy end or from the large end where the cream can ooze out? This discussion goes at length. And to be honest, I don’t find it funny. Where is the punch line? I’m clearly not the target audience of this comedy.

Even if you look at the humour with a critical eye, it can be hard to find the jokes. Most of the time, I am unsure about whether any of this is supposed to be funny, or is this designed to be humorous though not laugh-out-loud funny? I laughed perhaps once or twice (it was the smugness). If these are meant to have you laugh, then they drag on for too long to succeed. What should be a two-minute skit takes half an episode.

It’s hard to convey the emptiness of Lucky Star, for there is little to discuss. One scene pauses for a girl to talk about another girl’s pyjamas. Is this funny? No. Does it lead anywhere? No.

The gags lack punch and wit. You know what this reminds me of? Puppies and kittens. When a puppy trips over while going down a step, it’s both funny and cute. You laugh as your heart aches with cuteness. When an adult trips over, you recoil with pain instead. It just isn’t the same. I suppose you must love moe that I don’t to find this interesting. Lucky Star masks the dullness of the conversations with cute art, which is likely the point, and there must be an audience for it to have had 24 episodes.

As I tried my best to watch Lucky Star, I recalled Seinfeld, of all shows. That sitcom too is about “nothing” (it isn’t really, but as close as you can get without having anything but a white wall for nine seasons). It took me several attempts over a decade to get into Seinfeld. But once I was in, I would finish a season every few days. It has wit and precision that Lucky Star lacks and its observations are far cleverer than this anime. When Seinfeld points out some daily oddity through comedy, it makes me think, “Huh, I never saw that way.” When Lucky Star does it, I don’t care and it isn’t something I haven’t heard before.

The catchy dance number you’ve seen online, if nothing else, is more popular than Lucky Star itself. Being a meme machine doesn’t age well. Incidentally, the lines used for memes are funnier online than in context of the anime, as they are to the point in a panel or three.

Lucky Star didn’t bother me, by any means, so don’t let me put you off if it sounds like your thing. It was simply…nothing.

Art – Medium

The most moe of moe art. It’s not to my taste, though it is very expressive and conveys character.

Sound – Low

The acting could have been worse by overdoing the moe voices, like in the post-credit Lucky Channel TV segments. Thankfully, they showed restraint. The dub sharpens up the script a little, less reliant on the “cuteness” to make the jokes, but the casting isn’t as good. Music is mostly small loops, seemingly generated by a moe music algorithm.

Story – Low

Follow a group of girls as they go about their comedic daily lives in high school. This moe comedy is an acquired taste with its story about the mundane.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. An episode or even a single scene will say if Lucky Star’s humour is for you.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative: None

Barakamon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Barakamon

 

Similar: Bunny Drop

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Silver Spoon

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great cast of characters, including the kids.
  • Funny every episode.
  • Nailed accents and dialects.

Negatives:

  • The weakest episodes are at the end.

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I am not a big fan of the slice of life genre, as the dear reader who recommended this anime had pointed out. My reason for disliking slice of life in general is that it’s full of do-nothing and go-nowhere plots. And the counterpoint I always hear to this is, “But it’s not meant to go anywhere! It’s slice of life.” Why am I wasting my time with it if it’s not going to make an effort at presenting anything?

Barakamon defies genre conventions by having great characters, actual story arcs, and a point to each episode. Furthermore, it breaks the mould of the “adult with a problem meets a child that will fix the problem”, a common sub-genre of anime slice of life, by not having everything miraculously resolved by the introduction of a child. At time, I believe that manga writers of this sub-genre have never been around children long enough to realise how much extra work they are, and not some solve-all McGuffin.

Anyways, that’s beside the point. Barakamon follows young calligrapher Handa, who has his career trajectory derailed after punching an art critic in the face (great way to open a series, by the way) and his father exiles him to a fishing island for self-reflection. As a city boy, rural life doesn’t agree with him, made worse by the local kids that use his house as a hangout. Worst of all is NaruDamn you, Naru! – the rascaliest of the rascals. Her insufferable (to him) levels of energy will never allow him to get any work done – not that he could work when his well of inspiration has run dry. Perhaps the boisterous town and its nosy residents are what he needs…

Barakamon is immediately funny with Handa decking the critic followed by the introduction of Naru and the villagers. If I were to pitch this anime in a single line – artist retreats to countryside for inspiration and maturity – you’d expect it to be full of scenes with Handa staring out at sea, sombre in his musing about what it means to create art and the meaning of life. You know, the boring crap people pretend to think makes for “deep” movies. Instead, Barakamon takes the energetic approach to show us these themes through a variety of scenarios and characters.

This variety of characters is important, for it avoids the contrivance of having Handa’s every problem solved by meeting Naru, as I mentioned earlier. Everyone contributes a piece, just as in real life. And it helps that these characters are so much fun to be around, playing well as contrasts to Handa’s narcissistic Tokyo-kid tendencies. Best of all is Naru herself.

I often find little kids in anime annoying rather than the intended cute. Perhaps it’s just me, but the more annoying something is, the less cute it becomes, especially if it’s human. I’m not conflating being a kid with being annoying either. Anime kids are often nothing like real kids. What makes Naru different is that she doesn’t get her way with everything and she doesn’t come across as a moe character dropped on her head as a baby. When she does something wrong, she realises her mistake and works to remedy it – in her own goofy way, of course. Barakamon strikes a good balance with all the children. She isn’t a whiner either. She’s one of the strongest child characters in anime, no doubt. You wouldn’t know it looking at her face, but she’s excellent.

She’s an endless source of comedy as well. Oh, the way she talks is too precious. The dub is great, but you must watch Barakamon in the original Japanese for the authentic accents and dialects. This is effort. I love it when artists put the effort into capturing the voice of a region. The dialect gags, Naru’s attempts at learning innuendo from the older girls, and the country humour make Barakamon hilarious. Reminds me of the humour in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Simply writing the lines here wouldn’t do them justice. You have to hear them for yourself.

Now, this anime isn’t perfect and I’m torn between where to place it. High or Very High? Its greatest weakness is in the conclusion. Not that’s it’s a bad ending, of course. In fact, I like the plot, the idea of the ending, but the execution feels flat. For one, it doesn’t feel Barakamon-ish, if you get my meaning. The execution feels common, lacking the voice of previous episodes. It’s almost as if they were adapting an incomplete manga and had to hastily throw a finish together to wrap it all up. It’s not bad, yet not up to quality of the overall series.

Regardless, I recommend Barakamon to everyone, even those averse to slice of life like me – especially those people. Naru has joined my favourite anime kids list and I’m sure you will love her too.

Art – High

Uses well-timed “suddenly low quality reactions” as effective punctuation to the jokes and has good animation besides that.

Sound – Very High

Great dub. Still, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t watch it in Japanese. Naru’s accent is adorable.

Story – High

A narcissistic calligrapher finds himself exiled to a lively rural town for some self-reflection. The characters, writing, and comedy make Barakamon a joy.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Barakamon is too much fun for you to miss. I may place this in the Very High tier after it simmers for a little longer.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive:

CharmHilariousStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Ponyo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gake no Ue no Ponyo

 

Similar: Tsuritama

My Neighbour Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 41 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful visuals.

Negatives:

  • Ponyo, the character.
  • No arcs, no development.
  • Drags on.
  • No stakes.

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Ponyo is The Little Mermaid but with children and no consequences. A little fish-human hybrid escapes from her sea wizard father to see the surface world, where she meets human boy Sousuke. The two become fast friends. However, her father, knowing the damage she could unleash on the world, summons the power of the ocean to bring her back. Things deteriorate when Ponyo tastes human blood and begins to transform into a girl with magic that throws the world off balance, causing insurmountable natural disasters.

This is the worst Studio Ghibli movie I have seen to date and with only five left for me to complete, it will likely be the worst overall. Yes, worse than Tales from Earthsea. It will be difficult to detail why Ponyo is so bad without revealing the end, so the next paragraph onwards will have spoilers. The short version of my review, for those interested in seeing this film for themselves, is as follows: Ponyo is an obnoxious character, the mother should have Sousuke taken away from her due to recklessness, there is no character development and no arcs, the end is garbage, and the story is boring. I do not recommend Ponyo.

Spoilers from here on.

So, Ponyo’s use of magic and fraternisation with Sousuke’s causes disasters around the world, with a tsunami most notable to our characters. One’s first expectation seeing this is to assume something will occur to halt the tsunami in time or everyone will die. Should the tsunami hit – keep in mind this is a Noah’s ark, God’s judgment tsunami – there is no way you could recover in a children’s movie without some bad writing to fix things, hence the above expectation. But the tsunami goes unchallenged and wipes the landscape. My alarm bells ring. And I am right, for no one dies in the end. There isn’t even any damage. I do not jest – nothing of consequence occurs by the conclusion. How is everything okay? Magic!

Go choke on six pack rings, you garbage movie. What a condescending story, treating children like morons that can’t cope with any stakes in life. Is Ponyo a film for the mentally fragile that cover their eyes and block their ears to reality, pretending everything is perfect?

The problems don’t end there. We’ve had decent stories with bad endings before, but Ponyo makes you suffer along the way by forcing you to sit through dull scene after agonisingly boring scene of Ponyo and Sousuke bonding or Ponyo being obnoxious. If only the fisherman had harpooned her at the start. Their “bonding” not only fails to capture the child spirit, Ghibli’s signature, but the scenes often serve no purpose to the story. I’m sure you’ve seen the infamous scene of Ponyo interacting with a baby. Is Ponyo’s monstrous face supposed to be cute? Nightmares are made of the stuff.

These “whimsical” scenes drag on forever in a vain effort to make this brat charming. Everything in Ponyo is overdone, including the score, which swells up as if at the climax of the film every other scene. This feels like a near 3-hour movie.

With an ending like Ponyo’s, of course there is no character arcs or development. All that changes is Ponyo becomes human because she and Sousuke “love” each other. I don’t need to say it at this point, but those two have no basis for a romance so strong that it fixes the world. If our world were reliant on them to save us, we’d be screwed.

Some things I’ve heard complaints about don’t bother me, such as how did Ponyo’s human-sized father have a fish child with a giant goddess. How did Hagrid’s human father mate with his giantess mother in Harry Potter? Who knows… Some questions are best left unanswered. The small details aren’t the problem in Ponyo. You need to look out for the big things.

There are only two good scenes in the entire film: when Sousuke’s mother flashes in Morse code to his father how much of an idiot he is for cancelling on dinner again (he has to work at sea) and the scene with the sea wizard walking on land. They got a laugh from me.

If you removed Ghibli’s visuals from this movie, no one would remember it.

Art – Very High

There is no denying that we have gorgeous art with a ton of animation. Just look at the opening scene with all the marine life swimming around the sea wizard’s submarine. The amount of effort that scene alone would require is astonishing. Shame it didn’t go towards a better story.

Sound – Medium

The opening opera singer is magnificent. The score, taken as individual tracks, is great too, but the usage is overdone. It’s trying to be Fantasia.

Story – Very Low

A little boy finds a sea creature that begins to transform into a girl, though heralds natural disasters as well. With weak characters, scenes that drag, and the worst ending in anime, Ponyo’s story is utter garbage.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. I haven’t decided on whether Ponyo should be in my lowest tier yet. Regardless, it isn’t worth your time. A few clips of the visually beautiful scenes on YouTube are the best there is from this title.

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Awards: (hover over each award to see descriptions; click award for more recipients)

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotLacks ConflictNo Development

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