Beastars was a surprising hit for many people, including myself, back in 2019. Who would have thought “that CG furry anime” could have such great characters, killer music, and non-horrible CG? It’s back again for a second season and I am very intrigued, even more so because I have read the manga to conclusion. Those who have done so as well will know what I’m hinting at.
Legosi of Cherryton Academy for herbivores and carnivores continues his search for the killer of his friend, a sweet alpaca. Meanwhile, star of the academy and leading candidate for the prestigious Beastar position, the red deer Louis, has fallen in with a back alley gang of lions after killing their leader. They don’t want to eat him, however – they want him to lead.
The story picks up where season one left off, but there are immediate and noticeable changes from the source material. If you haven’t read the manga but have seen season one, the only notable change there was in cutting down that finale’s action scene from a typical shounen anime brawl into something that fit the tone more. It was a great change. Season two changes far more and for the better.
A new character to the series is the school security guard, a giant snake, who had a tiny presence in the manga (one or two chapters?) after an impactful introduction. We never saw her again (a problem to discuss in tomorrow’s manga review). The anime gives her the time she deserves and delivers a couple of great horror episodes with a feel of high school myths told around a torch late at night. Let’s hope the anime further fixes the manga’s mistake and brings the snake back in future. Also, Haru (the white bunny and Legosi’s love interest) gets more screen time of importance, which is better treatment given to her than by the manga.
The focus of this season is the murder mystery. Who killed the alpaca? I love this story thread. The hunt for the killer and the several scenes with said killer have great tension and the snap between killer situation and ordinary school life works perfectly here and are some of my favourite scenes. The way Beastars handles juxtaposition of carnivore versus herbivore, fight to the death versus living ordinary life is simply brilliant (done better than in the manga too). This isn’t just an anime with “furry” characters.
Not all changes are for the better. The story falters in the finale at the apex of Louis’s arc, cutting a pivotal moment short and lessening the impact. If you haven’t read the manga, then this will still be noticeable, though you won’t have the source to fill in what the director was trying to do. Should you feel dissatisfied, watch this excellent extended ED videoonly after you have watched episode 12 (spoilers). A deer leading a gang of lions sounds ludicrous if you haven’t seen Beastars, but man does it work and make for a compelling subplot. The mirroring of Legosi’s and Louis’s arcs continues to impress.
The visuals are the same as the first time around, so if you couldn’t stand it then, you won’t handle it now. Despite some slippery animation issues, I still find that it works. The compositions and visual metaphors sometimes have me forgetting the CG.
Acting, still just as good. Love Orochimaru’s voice actor for the snake! The music has a tough act to follow after that quality season one soundtrack, and while few could match that original stop motion OP, every new song in season two is excellent.
In all, Beastars delivers another quality season. Now, season three – should they announce it – promises some excellent content, particularly in the world-building department as we explore wider society. However, to avoid the downward trajectory brought on by the manga, it would need even more changes than this season. What downward trajectory? That’s for tomorrow’s review.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Keep watching. And if you haven’t started Beastars, then what are you waiting for?
Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.
The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.
One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.
Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).
The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.
Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.
If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”
Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.
Macross, often known as Robotech in the West (more on that saga later), is a classic of mecha sci-fi anime. A cursory glance at the series paints a picture of a Gundam clone. As a fan of Gundam, I had no problem should that be the case. However, the differences are significant.
They make Macross worthwhile.
Today, we focus specifically on the first entry of this long running franchise, Super Dimension Fortress Macross (like the first Mobile Suit Gundam, they needed to change the name to differentiate from other entries). Shortly before the new millennium, an alien spaceship crash-landed on Earth. A united humanity worked for a decade to reverse-engineer this technology in anticipation of the aliens’ return. They succeed in creating SDF-1 Macross, a city sized spaceship, but its maiden voyage also alerts the Zentradi aliens out in space, bringing them back to Earth. An attempt to escape and draw alien attention goes awry and the Macross teleports deep into space, taking the nearby water and town with it.
A hasty salvage mission brings much of these surroundings – civilians included – on board the gargantuan ship. They must now make their way home while establishing a normal life inside and fighting off threats outside. Amongst the crew is Hikaru, a young pilot, and Lynn Minmay, a flighty singer and the target of his affections.
Macross’s first hook into me is the teleportation of the town alongside the ship. Bringing an entire town aboard a ship is something different indeed and is a clever way of having ordinary civilian life within a grand space journey. In long journey Gundam series – a much more serious and realistic franchise – you can’t get away with this. The most Gundam can sell to the audience is bringing a few civilians aboard the main ship, while cutting away to other characters elsewhere amongst the populace. Macross can go from dogfights in space one episode to a walk in the park next episode for the same characters. This completely changes the tone of the series. I love the cosy feel and balance offered by this dynamic. It’s more fun than Gundam. Not to suggest it lacks dramatic moments, of course.
The alien Zentradi are humanoid giants obsessed with war. Everything in their society revolves around combat. And this is where Macross’s greatest difference and best selling point compared to its peers comes into play. What starts as a war of weapons and bodies soon turns into a war of culture. Culture is humanity’s secret weapon.
One of the first major social events aboard the Macross, in an effort to create a normal life, is the Miss Macross contest. Minmay wins, which launches her off to stardom as the most famous person in Macross “city”, netting music, film, and sponsorship deals. Her music inspires the people. She will even perform live to calm everyone as war rages outside. The Zentradi intercept her broadcast and have no idea what’s going on. They’ve never heard music before. This launches infiltration missions to figure out what’s going on and perhaps capture some of this…whatever this is! The more they encounter human culture, the more bleeds out to the aliens. “I like this ‘music’ thing,” some think to themselves. “Why are we trying to destroy it again…?” A song called Lili Marleen inspired Minmay’s character, as it was popular by both the Allies and Axis during WW2.
This very much mirrors accounts of North Korean defectors. Most North Koreans would swear up and down that their country is great, superior to other countries, but they don’t know any more of the real world than what the government propaganda feeds them. However, there are leaks. South Korean TV dramas are a favourite with North Koreans, surreptitiously watched on smuggled discs with the threat of eternal labour or death hanging over their heads. In these k-dramas, they see a version of life beyond the border and begin to long for it. (I recommend Crash Landing on You on Netflix if you want a great k-drama involving North Korea.)
Needless to say, this aspect of Macross is excellent. It also leads to the most hilarious kissing scene in anime history in the third act. One of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen. Pure gold.
To talk of the characters, there isn’t too much to say. Most are solid, decent characters for their roles. If you are familiar with the casts of old Gundam series, you will see similarities, which is fine. An all-round decent cast. The only one to stand out is Minmay and I wouldn’t say for good reasons. The kinda romance between her and Hikaru isn’t engaging. First, she’s far too flaky and meek for someone like him. Young guy sees pretty girl, his brain shuts off, he “falls in love”, yes, but I don’t buy that he would keep chasing after another more mature woman shows interest. Minmay is the sort of woman that would have men leaving her every few months as her fans cry, “Are they crazy? How could they leave someone as kind, attractive, and famous as her!?”
Yet others would say, “No matter how hot she is, someone out there is sick of dealing with her shit.” Discussing the series with friends after finishing it revealed that I am not alone in my sentiments towards her. She is a divisive one. Her role in the story is great, don’t misunderstand me, but her character is irritating.
Before I leave you with my recommendation for Macross, I must talk of its release in the West and why you may have never heard of it before, despite a new release every few years. Macross first came out in English as Robotech in 1985, combing three different series and not even from the same franchise – Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. The explanation was that one series alone was too short for American TV at the time (required 65+ episodes), so they decided to combine three and make a new story. It doesn’t end there!
Macross wouldn’t receive an unedited, clean release with a dub until 2006, almost 24 years after creation. Interestingly, Minmay has the same voice actress and singer in both Japanese and English. Her voice stands out amongst the Americans, though it is authentic. The distribution rights are still a nightmare. The US distributor only has rights to SDF Macross as a legal battle over the Japanese rights has circled back to throw the English rights into question. The other series, as far as I’m aware, have never had foreign release. Absolute mess!
This dub comes with the advantage of remastered audio, should Macross’s age be a turn off, and it is a good dub. The animation is a bit jank, a far cry from what the likes of Gundam was putting out at the time, though it has charm.
I thoroughly enjoyed Super Dimension Fortress Macross and I will be going onto the next series.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For classic anime fans. It may be a little rough around the edges, yet Macross still holds up as a worthwhile anime today.
That broad smile. Those dead eyes. That deep laugh sending a chill down your spine. If you see those three traits on someone, then beware for the travelling salesman Moguro is coming for you. What does he sell? Happiness and success. It’s true! Don’t let his unnerving appearance put you off. He will deliver as promised, but he didn’t say anything about you deciding on which form that happiness and success will manifest.
Today I thought we’d look at a trio of comedies (all with requests from several readers) in the quick review format since there isn’t much to say about any individual series, as is often the case with comedy. We start with the oldest and weirdest of the lot, Laughing Salesman.
This is a series of disconnected mini-episodes, each centred on the titular salesman as he travels around Japan to help ordinary citizens in acute need of assistance. His aid has no price, but does have a “deal with the devil” slant that leaves his clients with what they asked for, technically, though perhaps they should have been careful of what they wished for. The angle of Laughing Salesman is very much towards comedy.
Moguro’s clients consist of both good, well-meaning people and the ingrates of society. The fun of the series is in seeing how he takes client expectations and twists them. To give a few examples, one episode has a guy who wants to learn to drive yet is unbelievably bad behind a wheel. After a few lessons from Moguro, he grows overconfident while drunk and takes a dump truck for a joy ride. He succeeds in driving, though how many laws does he break in the process? Someone with “grass is greener on the other side” envy gets to experience another life, only to realise it’s far worse than what they already had. Another person may wish for people to notice him, so Moguro puts him in the spotlight, hounded day and night by the press. People will certainly know him now! The episode below is the perfect introduction to Moguro and his deals.
The stories are straightforward and good in small doses. This isn’t an anime to binge.
Laughing Salesman is a fun anime from a different time. Nothing special, but decent nonetheless. Also, fun fact: the voice of Moguro did Darth Vader in Japanese. No surprise with that deep bass!
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Give the episode below a try to see if Laughing Salesman is your cup of humour. (Don’t bother with the 2017 remake.)
You couldn’t pick this anime out of a line-up. Hayate the Combat Butler looks as generic and forgettable as you can imagine for a 2000s anime. It doesn’t give a good impression when judging by the cover, nor does the first episode help. I had watched episode one a few months ago to get an idea for the series and know where to slot it for my mood. I keep 6-12 anime going at one time, so I have a variety to watch based on what I’m feeling in the now. I found it counterproductive to force myself to finish one series before starting another. That said, if I have 12 going, it means around half are boring me to death and I should force myself a little more before I open up anything else.
To get back on track, Hayate the Combat Butler doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time at first glance. The story is about a poor boy, Hayate, who works as the personal butler to billionaire girl Nagi to pay off a massive debt. It’s a comedy of errors and disasters when it comes to protecting the oblivious Nagi from all the dangers in the world. No matter how bad things get, they will always get worse.
By all accounts, this shouldn’t be a good anime. Apart from the poor art, there is the standard premise and seemingly generic characters. However, the quick wit and sharp pace of the humour, which often goes meta, makes it work. I do find the overall series to be too long at 52 episodes (and there are sequels), but any given episode moves at a good clip and packs in the jokes. The meta humour garners frequent laughs from me. Characters complain about lack of screen time; someone breaks anime cliché and characters will discuss it like critics; commentary on episode structure is common or on anime tropes. References to other anime of all genres are common too. As such, this is an anime for viewers familiar with anime, especially the school comedies that one would put in the line-up previously mentioned.
The other jokes are most often about Hayate covering for Nagi or saving her life. Her arc is about relating to other kids at school, which she skips every day to play video games (who needs an education when you drown in money). She has to learn what peasants normal people do in life. However, she is terrible at everything. Can’t even make a cup of tea. Her brew is tantamount to poison, so Hayate secretly replaces it with his work to save the recipient and Nagi’s dignity. Good stuff.
I am surprised that I enjoy Hayate the Combat Butler. You wouldn’t think so if you saw my eye roll at the start.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation:Hayate the Combat Butler’s meta heavy humour is for seasoned anime fans. Only they could look past the art as well.
Inverse to my surprise enjoyment of Hayate the Combat Butler, we have Nichijou. I had seen a couple of funny clips over the years prior to this viewing, which had put it on my to-watch list. I always intended to watch Nichijou and looked forward to it – was only a question of when. I did not laugh half as much as anticipated.
Nichijou is a slice of life comedy with three primary duos for the three humour threads. The main duo are two high school girls. Their humour is a heightened view of ordinary school situations. The second duo is a robot maid and a little girl, with the skits focusing on the domestic (later blends into school with the other girls). The final duo are from a club (student council?), an aristocratic boy and the tsundere girl that likes him. Theirs is the most violent humour as she expresses her emotions by pulling out bigger and bigger guns. Aside from them, there are a smattering of side characters with the occasional skit, such as the school principal, a meek female teacher, some kid with a Mohawk, or an army of cloned soldiers.
Skits will vary from a 15 seconds to a few minutes long. There are over 110 “Ordinary Life” skits and a dozen or so for each of the other skit types. An episode has around eight different bits. On paper, this sounds like plenty of variety and with each skit lasting a few minutes maximum, one would expect sharp, punchy jokes. I think of skit shows such as A Bit of Fry & Laurie, That Mitchell & Webb Look, or Brass Eye and how frequently they have me rolling with laughter. It’s hit after hit. Nichijou presents itself in the same vein, albeit about different subject matter. So it surprises me how often Nichijou’s skits drag for twice as long as needed – two minutes feels like eons sometimes – and how repetitive the shorter ones are.
The worst skits, no contest, centre on the robot woman and little girl. I wanted to trip over a take a stake to the roof of my mouth after watching a few of their bits. By around episode 10, I started skipping ahead when I saw them come on screen. Painfully unfunny. Their humour is about her being a robot yet no one notices and the girl being inept at everything. There are no punch lines. The joke is that these characters are “cute” and therefore anything they do is hilarious. Their eyecatch bits of scissor-paper-rock to mark the ad break is the lamest repetition of humour in the anime world.
Nichijou relies on moe as a substitute for character and structure. And I don’t like moe. At all.
I find the main girls to be hit or miss (more misses) and most often responsible for dragging out the joke (when there is one). They are meant to be high school girls with high school situational comedy, yet there is nothing high school about it. This is middle school material. The character designs don’t help. This is no Cromartie High School.
The aristocrat and tsundere give the best first impression. He is an over-the-top stereotype of what people think of British aristocracy. Everything is wrong – pinkies up when drinking tea, the belief that a servant holds the master’s sea biscuit when urinating, and so on – but that’s what makes it funny. Seeing the butler smoothly dress him up while he keeps walking after using the bathroom is hilarious. The tsundere finds his demeanour infuriating and reads too much into his words and actions, ending in her pulling a weapon on him. However, even their skits become repetitive because of her. Pulling out the big guns is almost the same joke every time.
The principal versus the deer (see video above) was one of clips I had seen previously and the absurdity was hilarious at the time. I added Nichijou to my list because of it. However, it is less funny in context and the reaction shots from one of the main girls weighs the scene down. It’s as if she’s explaining the joke.
Before watching any of these comedies, I would have said Nichijou is probably the best. Now though, I easily consider it the weakest. I am wavering on whether to put in the Low tier of quality, but when I am unsure like this, I er on the side that brings a series towards the middle to avoid seeming too harsh or too favourable. (A borderline High/Very High anime sits in the High tier until I am certain it should go in the top bracket. Conversely, a Low/Very Low anime will stay in Low if I am undecided.) Especially with comedy, it’s hard to rate. I suspect I will bump this down in time. (Edit: I dropped it to low in the final revision before publication, two weeks after writing the review.)
I’m not surprised Nichijou was an absolute flop in Japan. It found success in the West years later because of the internet in a manner that wasn’t prevalent in Japan at the time.
I have not met, in person, anyone that likes Nichijou, yet I have read of a fair number online that consider it sidesplitting. Although, I do wonder if they love it as much as they claim. They always share the same five or so skits…
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Watch the best bits of Nichijou online. Go for the full series if you want more.
Deca-Dence is an anime original series that hooks readers with an unusual, easy to grasp premise. The last of humanity lives on a mobile fortress called Deca-dence that roams the land in search of monsters to hunt, their blood a valuable resource. Warriors that fight these monsters are the Gears, most of them alien. Humans, for the large part, work as maintenance and hospitality crew referred to as Tankers. Tanker girl Natsume dreams of rising up to become a Gear, but the system seems stacked against her and denies her at every turn.
Little does she know that the system is in fact against her. Against all humans. Deca-dence and its adventures are actually a playground for cyborgs to fight monsters via humanoid avatars like some video game. The monster blood is worth points and extends cyborg life. High rankers receive handsome rewards. Furthermore, the whole “game” and every human within it belong to a giant corporation. This is Mortal Engines meets The Truman Show.
The reveal of the second reality with cyborgs is jarring if going in blind, as I did, for the visual styles of the two worlds are vastly different. The game world looks normal, albeit barren and grimy, whereas the cyborg world is out of a children’s morning cartoon. We don’t see the latter until episode two. I thought I had changed anime.
This is a good hook for the story and offers many questions that the audience wants answered. Who are these cyborgs? What do they really want? How did the world get this way? Is Deca-dence the only fortress? What’s with the mega corporation? Natsume is found to be a bug in the system, unaccounted for in the corporation records – but how? Will her exterminator friend delete this bug? And of course, we have the usual questions surrounding a dystopian world and its society. So many questions. So many possibilities.
It saddens me to report that the setup is the high point of the series and the story only declines in quality by the episode. The ending, most of all, is weak. For this sort of world, this sort of story with these themes you can’t settle on a utopian conclusion. Since I don’t want to spoil any more, I’ll use a parallel. This ending is like making a WW2 film, but once the Nazis are defeated, there is no other conflict to resolve or logistics to deal with (such as assisting all the homeless civilians). I’m not suggesting your story has to deal with them, yet you can’t pretend they don’t exist. Solving one problem doesn’t magically fix everything.
It’s more than that, however. The answers to those aforementioned questions – what questions they do answer – are frankly predictable and too normal. Deca-Dence is a slowly deflating balloon.
The characters are quite good, Natsume being a fun underdog easy to cheer for. Even so, the story doesn’t take them to interesting places as the themes dwindle to embers.
Deca-Dence never reaches a bad point. At no stage do I think, “This is so stupid.” It’s simply…mediocre.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it, though I am hesitant to suggest even that since the start is the best part of Deca-Dence and doesn’t follow through.