Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

 

Similar: My Neighbour Seki

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto

Tsukigakirei

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good chemistry in the main couple.
  • Sweet and innocent.

Negatives:

  • Female trio of supporting characters.
  • Episodes are too long.

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Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san, which roughly translates to “Skilled Teaser Takagi” with no official English title, is about middle schooler Nishikata who tries his utmost to embarrass his next-seat neighbour Takagi in class. He attempts this by pulling pranks to catch her out in moments of humiliation. Trouble is, she’s too skilled and always manages to turn the tables on him.

This innocent anime harkens back to the childhood days of boys and girls teasing the ones they secretly like. Nishikata and Takagi obviously like each other, though he doesn’t realise it and she’s too inexperienced to know what to do with these feelings. Karakai very much succeeds in capturing that age of innocence. Those of you looking for something light and sweet are in the right place.

The first episode has him making a paper jack-in-the-box (alternate folding two strips of paper to make a spring) when she interrupts by saying she can’t open her pencil case. It must be stuck. She asks if he can try. He does and it opens easily, only to have a paper jack-in-the-box spring out and surprise him. Drat! She got him first. And so this pattern goes each episode. It stays in the classroom for a few episodes before it goes beyond to places like the walk home and out in town.

My first issue in Karakai lies with Takagi. She’s too infallible, never losing to Nishikata. Once you catch on that she will always flip the script, it loses some of the engagement and makes the story’s core loop grow old before long. Having him win occasionally would pleasantly surprise the audience. The 20-minute episodes exacerbate this issue, as they drag for so little content. Ten minutes an episode would have sufficed. Three to five “skits” from the manga go into each episode, yet it still feels too thin.

However, the chemistry between the two leads goes a long way towards redeeming this situation. They have more chemistry than most couples do in romance anime.

With each failed stunt, his frustration grows and he must spend more time with her outside of school for any opportunity to beat her. He always overthinks it, stressed, and seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown over being embarrassed each time. Her underlying agenda is to get to know him better and though she may not admit it, you can see that enjoys his pranks. It’s sweet.

Now when it comes to the supporting cast, I haven’t anything positive to say. Most are forgettable, in the background, which is fine for a small series focused on its principal couple, but these three girls are an annoyance.

I don’t know why they have a sub-plot, why the camera ever cuts to them, or why they are even in this anime. As I understand it, they come from another manga by the same author as Karakai – an unpopular manga at that – but why are they here? They add nothing to the main couple or the theme. Cutting them would have gone a long way to tightening the pace of the whole series. Even so, they aren’t an issue serious enough to make you drop the anime.

I didn’t love Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san. It isn’t the right sort of series for me to love. But I enjoyed the first few and the last few episodes enough for me to recommend that you try this niche title. It has a good heart.

Art – Medium

The big heads and even bigger foreheads are the perfect art style for this innocent middle school comedy.

Sound – Medium

The acting from the two leads is serviceable, while the other characters don’t do enough to matter – except those three girls who sound annoying, though that may be as directed. The Pink Panther-esque mischief music is fun.

Story – Low

A middle school boy keeps trying to get one over on the girl next to him in class with his pranks. Though the scenario is a tad repetitive and goes for too long, the innocence of Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is quite refreshing.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is better than the sum of its parts, but it will only take one episode to know if it’s for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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High School of the Dead – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakuen Mokushiroku: High School of the Dead

 

Similar: High School DxD

Gantz

School Live!

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Harem Supernatural Action Horror

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The otaku.

Negatives:

  • Every other character.
  • Takes itself too seriously.
  • Zombies aren’t a real threat.
  • No effort fan service.
  • Episode 4 recap in a 12-episode series.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I watch a trashy anime expecting silly fan service and dumb action against zombies, but all I get is trash? What is this nonsense? High School of the Dead should have made for a great terrible anime that has you laugh at its ludicrousity. What it presents us instead is trash that takes itself too seriously and fails to understand everything about its genre.

A sudden zombie attack on the high school leaves a group of teenagers and a few staff members as survivors in a society descended into madness. It’s a fight for survival as they flee in search of loved ones.

 

The main group consists of Mr Bland the usual harem protagonist, useless main girl, a kendo girl (obviously), a fat otaku, some screeching wench, and the dumbest nurse alive (perhaps literally, at this point). Of this group, the otaku is the only passable character. He represents a glimpse at what High School of the Dead should have been.

You see, every other character is taken seriously. I don’t mean a joke played with a straight face. Rather, the series expects us to take the kendo girl choosing to fight with a wooden training sword for her life, wearing nothing but an apron and panties, as serious. It demands that we pay attention to teenage whining about which nobody cares (reason enough to take your own life after listening to them). The screeching wench, a totally serious character, has the defining trait of yelling at everyone that she is smarter than the rest. If High School of the Dead understood itself, it would have killed her in the first episode for doing something stupid. And finally, how can anyone take the zombies seriously when they can neither see nor smell people? No one would die to these things. You need skill on the level of Shaun of the Dead to make this work.

 

The otaku stands alone as he has some fun and cracks jokes in this borefest of an anime. He finally has opportunity to put his gun obsession to use when the world goes to hell, relishing in shoving a nail gun up zombie arse. He’s also – seemingly – the one character to acknowledge the ecchi. It isn’t some running joke that everyone is blind to it either. Again, we are meant to take it seriously.

The ecchi and fan service in general is garbage, even by the standards of a fan service anime. (Don’t you have to be a fan for it to be a service, and who would be a fan of High School of the Dead?) The camera does all it can to focus on the flailing boobs and pantie shots. Every movement has to have jiggle that puts Dead or Alive to shame. If there is no jiggle, the world will end. It doesn’t try to do anything clever with the ecchi, surprise you with a sudden angle change, or make a joke of it. I cannot recall an ecchi joke save one – the sniper rifle support. Mr Bland uses a girl’s chest as a rest to steady his rifle in one scene. Naturally, because they take the scene seriously, it loses the humour anyway. It was genuinely funnier when I saw that scene as an out of context gif.

 

I guess there is the recurring joke of the school nurse with boobs so big she uses them as pillows when asleep at her desk, but the joke is just that she’s a bimbo every episode. If I were a fan service otaku, I would feel insulted by the laziness with which High School of the Dead treats the sacred art. This is Boobs the anime and they couldn’t even get that right. Did I mention episode 4 is a recap in this single-cour anime? The lazy is almost impressive.

If you want to see the “raunchy + undead” concept done right, look to the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers, which is not only hilarious but also far less safe for work. It knows how to make humour of fan service.

 

Art – Medium

The entire budget went into the jiggle physics and the action, which has plenty of animation, though is a bit jerky at times – needs more in-between frames.

Sound – Low

The acting and music are so-so. Certainly not the worst things about this anime.

Story – Very Low

A group of slutty high school kids and their bimbo school nurse try to survive the zombie outbreak with their jiggle and panties. High School of the Dead is trash that fails to understand fan service, comedy, and zombies.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. There must better fan service anime out there than High School of the Dead. I do recommend the movie Lesbian Vampire Killers instead, and Shaun of the Dead of course.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous ActionInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersUseless Side Cast

The World God Only Knows – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai

 

Related: The World God Only Knows II (included in review)

The World God Only Knows III: Goddesses (included in review)

Similar: Date a Live

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

No Game No Life

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Harem Romance

Length: 36 episodes (3 seasons), 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Humorous incorporation of gal games into the comedy.
  • His super mode.

Negatives:

  • Disposable girls.
  • Season one is useless when season two repeats the same material.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Keima is the self-proclaimed führer of gal games (objective: romance pretty girls). When someone challenges him to prove his dating greatness, of course he accepts without hesitation. But oh no! The challenger didn’t mean 2D waifus. Keima has to venture into the real world and seduce the three-dimensional variety. Disgusting.

Furthermore, the challenge came from Death, who will kill him should he fail to seduce the girls and capture the evil spirits attached to their lovelorn hearts. A deadly collar links him to his partner in seduction, the demon from hell Elise.

The idea of having a 2D waifu god using the skills he learnt from games to entice 3D girls is hilarious. The World God Only Knows works as a comedy and is one of the few to do so with the harem label attached. This anime doesn’t half-arse it. Keima sticks to his game strategies in real life to a T even when they are spastic. The ingredient to success is the writer’s knowledge of gal games and ability to parody them.

As a side note, I find it hilarious that anime depict gal game otakus as pros since these games are so easy. I played a few for context with a previous anime and realised that once you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. They are all the same and too easy, which makes the gags in this anime even funnier, especially when Keima activates his Hindu god mode with the ability to play a dozen games at once.

Try as it might, The World God Only Knows cannot escape all problems of harem. Each episode or two is about some new girl with a problem, which has attracted a spirit, for him to help by using his gal game shenanigans. Because it introduces a new girl so often, you don’t grow attached to any of them. They are disposable. Allowing characters to grow would probably make them funnier as well. Furthermore, the girls lose all memory of the romance once the spirit detaches – convenient.

There’s more.

The third season has each girl come back possessed by different goddesses and he must romance them, yet again, to awaken each goddess’s power, which also recovers their memories of the first romance. It doesn’t add any depth to their character or the relationships. You may as well jump straight to season three and avoid the repetition or only watch the first season. Going for the full run did nothing but lower my opinion of The World God Only Knows.

The repeated plot splits the quality. The first arc has the introductions and the jokes, but the Goddess arc has the story, so whichever you pick only has half the relevant content, yet watching both puts you through the grinder of repetition. And not to mention, you have a second season in the middle of these two that adds to neither.

Your long-term enjoyment of The World God Only Knows depends on how much you love the core loop of an otaku using gal game tactics to win over girls. An episode or two will be enough to find out.

Art – Medium

The solid art has good visual humour. Death is an adorable chibi grim reaper.

Sound – Medium

Good acting in both Japanese and English. Nothing peculiar to mention.

Story – Medium

The god of gal games must step into the real world to seduce three-dimensional girls and capture the evil spirits attached to them. Despite one season repeating the other and the tedious harem elements, The World God Only Knows have more than enough comedy to entertain for a dozen episodes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For comedy fans. Don’t let the harem tag stop you from trying The World God Only Knows, as it almost did for me. The comedy is good enough to enjoy beyond the harem, though 36 episodes is a stretch to keep your interest.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Joker Game – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Joker Game

 

Similar: 91 Days

Rainbow

ACCA: 13-Territory Investigation Department

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The spymaster.
  • Improves in the second half.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t know what to do with itself.
  • First episode is one of anime’s worst.
  • Lacks tension half the time.
  • The accents.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The world is on the brink of collapse. World War II is imminent. Sensing the danger and realising the importance of an intelligence network, Lieutenant Colonel Yuuki sets up Japan’s “D Agency” for spies. His eight agents are to spy on enemy and ally nations alike, using their training in manipulation and infiltration to gather intel for Japan.

Accompanying the request, my reader informed me of Joker Game’s divisive reception – liked in Japan, disliked in the West – which had me intrigued. The first episode seemed to make it easy to see which side I would fall on. What a mess of an episode!

It introduces us to D Agency through the eyes of Sakuma, a military police officer that liaises with them for the army. One evening, the spies invite him to join a poker game and he loses. However, they reveal that he didn’t lose. They had cheated by way of having observers to the game signalling the contents of his hand. It goes into this long explanation about cheating techniques, courting allies to your side of the game, and how this “Joker Game” is some elaborate metaphor for international politics. A load of nonsense.

For one, the metaphor doesn’t fit if you think about it for but a moment. One spy reveals that he converted an observer to his side by giving him a cigarette when in need, which is supposed to equate to flipping a political ally in Washington. Except, people don’t flip that easily. This oversimplification of politics, intelligence, and spies undermines the complexity of their work. I cannot stress enough how dumb it is.

Even with the incompetent metaphor, this could have been a great episode had we, the audience, had opportunity to get in on the game. You see, none of these spy tricks and cheats they talk of can we see during the game itself. There’s no opportunity for us to figure it out. They play an ordinary looking game followed by an explanation telling us everything. Why not show us? It couldn’t be less interesting. And you want the cyanide-laced cherry on top? The “Joker Game” is irrelevant to the rest of the plot. Yep, the whole affair doesn’t matter.

The larger series is an anthology, to my surprise, chronicling the spies’ assignments in various countries. Joker Game improves after the opening two-part story, but not by much.

Episode 3 has us travel to France to join a spy among the French Resistance. His plan, as it turns out, is idiotic and relied on sheer luck to succeed. Not the elite spy games promised, is it? Next we move to Shanghai, where a police officer investigates a possible terrorist bombing of his captain’s home. This is a decent episode, but it doesn’t have enough time to get into the details – details that invest the audience in the narrative. Joker Game tries to cram the entirety of Chinatown into 20 minutes.

That’s a core issue with this. The anthological nature doesn’t give a story time to breathe in a single 20-minute episode. Just when it feels like we’re getting started, the episode is over!

Joker Game only works when it focuses on a small event. The best instance of this occurs in episode 11 when a German officer investigates the corpse of a Japanese man, suspecting that Yuuki is somehow involved. The spymaster had escaped his clutches decades ago when Japan and Germany were at war in World War I. The entire episode is about the German trying to find one piece of evidence to confirm his fears.

I liked this episode so much that I feel the story should have been about the conflict between Yuuki and the German. It could have still had subplots spotlighting other spies (episode 12 is a great look at love in a spy’s life) while keeping the focus on the spymaster, Joker Game’s best character. He has such presence, thanks in no small part to his actors in either Japanese or English, that he could carry a series.

By the end, I found several things to like about Joker Game – really, that first episode is such a bad first impression that I could understand if most viewers dropped the anime on the spot. Many of the scenario ideas have potential, but the overall execution makes Joker Game feel as though it doesn’t know what to do with itself. There is too much in this anime. The second half is an improvement, though not enough to redeem the series. So as it turns out, I fall in the middle between Japan’s praise and the West’s rejection of Joker Game.

Spy stories are a rarity in this medium, so you will be seeing something different, at minimum, which for me is often reason enough to try something.

Art – Medium

Good art as always from Production I.G., but this has little animation – expect many slow pans of characters thinking. A few episodes have superior shot composition, cinematography, and lighting than others such that you could be visually bored one episode and engaged the next.

Sound – Medium

Oof, what a mixed bag we have here. In Japanese, you have the least American sounding Americans in existence, whereas the dub has actors who can’t do accents. Episode 3’s French accents are awful – most sound more German than French! (Unless they’re meant to be German spies… Oh. My. God. What a twist!) The actual German accents are better, though one strays into Russian territory. Yuuki the spymaster has the standout performances in both versions.

Story – Low

Japan’s spy agency sends its agents around the world in preparation for World War II. After a terrible opening episode, matters slowly improve for Joker Game to conclude with a decent finish.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For spy fans only. I can’t see Joker Game going over well with most viewers, especially if starting from the beginning. I do recommend episode 11 to all for a nice tension piece.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Mob Psycho 100 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mob Psycho 100

 

Related: Mob Psycho 100 Season 2 (TBR)

Similar: The Disastrous Life of Saiki K

One-Punch Man

Hinamatsuri

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fluid animation and colourful style.
  • Mob is a great conduit for comedy.
  • Doesn’t drag.

Negatives:

  • First half doesn’t quite align with the second.
  • If you’ve seen One Punch Man, much will feel copy and pasted.

(Request an anime for review here.)

From the creator of One-Punch Man comes the strikingly similar Mob Psycho 100 – a socially repressed, bored, supernatural guy with more power than sense tries to hide from conflict. The difference here is the focus on comedy. Mob Psycho uses a zany comedy style in the vein of The Disastrous Life of Saiki K as Mob works with a psychic fraud performing exorcisms.

I don’t recall the names of the spirits, though I do remember their characteristics thanks to the strong visual style. There’s Balls on Chin. There’s Fart Cloud, and there’s even Car Ghost, the spirit meets exhaust pipes hybrid. They’re a fun time. My favourite episode has a spirit create the cult of LOL, where laughter truly is the best medicine – medicine straight to a frontal lobotomy! He controls everyone by forcing them to smile and feel good in perpetuity. But Mob, being a socially inept kid with zero appeal, wouldn’t know how to have fun even if you played him a marathon of Monty Python’s greatest hits, so the power has no effect on him. He’s too dumb for fun. The face-off that ensues is brilliant comedy.

Mob has to contend with more than just spirits, however, as other psychics exploit their abilities. And unlike Reigen, Mob’s hack fraud of a psychic mentor, they have genuine power. The main opponent among them is Mob’s brother, Ritsu, which leads us into the second half of the series that becomes action heavy. Ritsu was always jealous of Mob’s abilities. He shuffles around bitter at being the lesser son, especially in the face of a brother who doesn’t wish to use his power and finds it an annoyance at times. Imagine the jealousy of having a famous sibling adored by all while you are in the corner, invisible and worthless to the world. Now replace that Hollywood acting career with superpowers and the jealousy increases ten-fold.

The dilemma reminds me of a question posed to me by a reader regarding living with any anime character for a year. Would you choose someone magical to go on adventures with or an interesting but ordinary human? If you go with the magical being, sure, you’ll have adventures you could only dream of for a year, but after that, you have to contend with the rest of your life never living up to that greatness again. It would probably depress me forever. So I can understand where Ritsu is coming from. He makes for a sympathetic villain.

The other psychics and thugs Mob fights aren’t anywhere near as interesting and the comedy takes a hit in the process. The action is good, mind you, and Mob’s mechanic of going into rage mode when his emotions hit 100% (hence the title) looks cool as hell. I still would have preferred the comedy go longer and keep action episodes only related to the brother.

Lastly, I love this recent trend of having shorter seasons but of a higher quality over the budget-stretched seasons of old. Mob Psycho 100 won’t make it to my favourites list or be a must watch recommendation, but it’s a short and sweet experience that respected my time and entertained me to the end.

Art – High

Mob Psycho 100 sports fluid animation and a cool style, though the character colouring is a tad poor. The energy effects and environmental destruction look cool.

Sound – High

The dub is good for those who prefer it, though I find the original Japanese to be more on the money with Mob’s dulcet tones and the crazy villains.

Story – High

A psychic child suppresses his powers to contain the destruction he could unleash if gone unchecked, but his naiveté allows a psychic fraud to take advantage of him to perform exorcisms. A mix of One-Punch Man action and Disastrous Life of Saiki K comedy results in the successful Mob Psycho 100.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For action comedy fans. As long as you aren’t averse to the hectic and out there comedy style of Mob Psycho 100, you will have a great time with this one.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

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