Miyo is a girl in love. A little too much in love if you ask most people. Her target is Kento, a quiet boy who keeps his troubles to himself. She comes from a disjointed family with an overbearing mother – in Miyo’s view – and a weak father. Instead, this energetic girl throws all attention into drawing the eye of her crush. Nothing works. Opportunity arises when a fat cat sells her a mask that transforms her into a cute little cat, after which she uses her newfound form to visit Kento in disguise. He takes the cat in and calls her Taro.
The girl, I like, particularly the way they animated her. The animators managed to convey how a human would move if inhabited by the spirit of a cat. In one scene, she hears two boys at school making fun of Kento, so she jumps off a walkway, crashes through the branches of a tree, and lands before them like a wild cat. Perfect embodiment of the character. She’s so full of energy and life.
However! She doesn’t quite work in this story. Or is it that the story doesn’t work around her? If I didn’t know A Whisker Away was a children’s film, I would have expected a completely different direction around the halfway mark. Miyo is obsessed with this guy, performs crazy gestures to get his attention and show what he means to her. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a foundation to the supposed relationship between these two. She comes across as…creepy isn’t the right word – more like crazy. I know this is a children’s film all in good fun, but it doesn’t mesh well. It needed a “before” segment, where we see something that justifies her fanatical behaviour. Perhaps they used to be close friends (and we see this) and she’s trying to break him from depression, or there’s some sort of magic that wiped her from his memory and she can’t tell him about it, but the curse never said anything about making him fall for her all over again. You know, something. The tiny glimpses we receive aren’t enough. At all.
In a more dramatic film, her behaviour would be set up for a confrontation about her one-sided obsession and end in a broken heart. In an adult horror film, she’d pull out a knife. No, wait! Brass knuckles with claws on them that leave scratch marks like a cat. The final twist would be that she was never cat – it was all in her head! Someone get on this film, stat!
Anyway, where was I.
Ah yes, the other piece that doesn’t fit the Whisker Away puzzle is Kento. He’s as bland as a grey cement wall. Feels like she wants to host a pity party for him, not show affection, at times. This is where that before segment would have helped as well. It could setup a personality for him before he breaks and she has to pull him back together again. Furthermore, when he does finally pay attention to her after the real price for the cat transformation is revealed, he changes in a flash to help her, presumably falling in love at the same time. There needs to be more to sell his change. As is, he’s a dull character who feels largely unimportant until the final act. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the story had twisted away from him to become a self-discovery tale for Miyo. I half expected it.
A Whisker Away isn’t as good a Mari Okada’s other work (she wrote this one) I recently reviewed, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (wrote and directed). I recommend that film before this. A Whisker Away is still alright though – Miyo cat is adorable. I like all the cat stuff. And it is a pretty film.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For anyone in need of an easy time. A Whisker Away is an overly simple anime film. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.
Horimiya was the popular rom-com of the previous season, drawing attention for adapting a well-received manga and its beautiful character style. Behind this pleasant, easy going anime lies a bit of a kerfuffle over whether is it a good or a bad anime. Who would have thought this would be the contentious one of the season?
In the vein of His and Her Circumstances, this romantic comedy centres on a couple of teens with home lives they keep secret from school friends. Hori is beautiful, smart, and popular. She has the easy life. Miyamura is a feeble guy who keeps to himself. At home, however, Hori is the mother of the household, taking care of her brother and doing the chores, as her parents are always busy with work. Meanwhile, Miyamura is nothing like his school persona. Outside, he has several prominent piercings, tattoos, and is much more energetic than you’d guess. You wouldn’t recognise him if you passed on the street.
These two opposites attract and make for a good couple. When I discovered his bad boy secret identity, I expected him to be that clichéd shoujo romantic interest. You know the type – a troubled guy that’s just misunderstood and the main girl can “fix.” Pleasant surprise to find Miyamura to be otherwise. She’s a more typical character, though a well-executed one. They are the lynchpins of the story amid a rather large cast. One the side, we have Hori’s brother and parents, a dozen prominent classmates, many of them coupling up later, and more.
Horimiya, at its core, is a feel good rom-com to a fault. So set is it on making you feel good that at the first sign of drama, everything will speed up to get you back to the happy times. I’m not kidding. For instance, there is an early confrontation between Hori and the student council (a frankly forced scene to begin with). They accuse her of having forgotten some file. People crowd around, tensions rise, and then…it dissipates and we move on as if nothing happened. Another example is a point of jealousy later, setting up that “I’m not talking to you until I realise my mistake and look like an idiot before I come back to apologise” scenario. But no, it lasts, what, 30 seconds?
I’m not sure if this is a consequence of truncating the manga or if it’s meant to be this way. The rush to get to the ending in the final episode does make me think it’s the former. I would have to read the manga to be sure.
The side characters exacerbate the truncation. Some episodes, notably in the latter half, cut away to dedicate a significant amount of screen time to pairing up several of the schoolmates. Because there are so many for a 13-episode series, the time given feels both too long – we should spend more time with less characters – and too short to really feel invested in them. You might care about some, but all, unlikely. I’m sure this isn’t a manga problem.
Now, as a feel good anime, Horimiya works quite well. If you want to get away from those dangerous spirits in Jujutsu Kaisen, if Wonder Egg Priority is too depressing with all that suicide, or if Ex-Arm is making want to commit suicide, then Horimiya is the antidote. In fact, the rushing past drama discussed earlier might be a positive aspect to those wanting the pure goodness.
As for me, I’m up and down in places. I like the main couple and their chemistry. Her younger brother as well, good character. One of few kid brothers that isn’t annoying in this type of story. The schoolmates are my main issue alongside the rushed conflicts. With the students, I stop paying attention when they are the focus. It’s too uninteresting. Which leads into the conflict. Probably would have been better to not have it at all and go for pure comedy, akin to the superior Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Or you cut down on characters to make room for drama.
The visuals and music do most of the heavy lifting to me. Had studio CloverWorks not leant all effort into the production, Horimiya would have been one to pass by in the sea of seasonal anime. I like the uneven line work on the characters.
I’m on the positive side of the scale overall with Horimiya. However, I didn’t come from the manga. Fans are divided.
This is one of the few times where I went online to read opinions on a series shortly after finishing it. The manga is 16 volumes long. There are more volumes than episodes, yet both have the same end, with the final chapter released less than three weeks before the last episode. There is a significant time skip in the anime to make this happen. Of course, a lot was cut and manga readers aren’t happy. This wasn’t much of an issue for me, but I can relate, having experienced what they’re feeling in other anime. On the other side, anime only viewers are quite positive.
Seems to be that if you read the manga, the adaptation was disappointing and rushed. If you hadn’t read the manga, this was great and now you will go read the manga. I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t have the urge to consume the manga and I thought the anime was just fairly good.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For light-hearted romance fans. Reading the Horimiya manga seems to be the true recommendation in this case.
When you’ve consumed enough anime with an analytical eye (or books or movies), judging the quality of series within one episode becomes easy. It may sound unfair – “You have to finish or it doesn’t count!” If a first episode is full of problems, then expect those same problems to echo throughout the series. Core elements don’t magically go from bad to great by the end. Not to suggest they can’t get better. You might get a 10% improvement by the end or an element that isn’t working falls away, elevating the rest in the process without much change. When a story has potential for greatness, the seeds are present from the start. What about judging the ending if you only watch one episode? You won’t be able to tell how good the ending will be (though a bad series ending is often predictable), but you can judge whether the journey is worth it. Remember, the end is a fraction of the overall experience.
And so, we come to The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Let’s go through episode one for all the markers of how this series will be.
Opening scene, protagonist Sorata looking out of the classroom window at a bright but uneventful day, indicating his boring but easy life. He then tells us as much. Unnecessary showing plus telling. Not a big deal, but I expect to see this a lot, where they will show something (should stop there), but then have someone vocalise it as if the audience can’t infer on their own. Anime does this often. Problem repeats next moment when he wakes up (pointless dream opening scene is also a red flag) with a cat’s arse on his face – not a pleasant experience – and then has to tell us how it’s not a pleasant experience, a simile for his adolescent life.
Turns around to find his face now in a girl’s arse (camera about to perform a colonoscopy of course). Tells me the fan service will be non-stop and sleazy. She wakes up and her first line, yelled with extreme energy, is, “I want to be a bride when I grow up!” Atrocious introduction to an obnoxious character. She only gets worse as the scene continues.
Less than two minutes in and this tells me about 70% of what I need to know. There will be too much telling, sleazy fan service, and bad characters. All that remains is to see the narrative drive, which I expect within a few minutes, and I could give a recommendation.
Escapes into the hall where he runs into his teacher, whose priority one the first day of school is showing off her cleavage, as stated by her. She hands him a toolbox to fix the sign out front. This is Sakura Hall, a dorm notorious for housing the problem students of this art school. Sorata’s plot goal is to get out of this hellhole of a living situation. A funny premise, to be sure, but it hinges on having great characters in the dorm for comedy and all you’ve given me so far is sleaze and a colonoscopy.
There’s another minor instance of show and tell here. A couple of girls walk past and whisper about Sakura Hall’s reputation, which is all we need. Then Sorata tells us the same information again a second later.
Predictably, the panty girl from the start throws a window open and yells to him about how hot she is naked, reinforcing my judgment of obnoxious fan service and this character. A little over three minutes in and I’ve seen more than enough. Let’s keep going though.
Now we have the character bios. Panty girl is an animator, in comes a playboy guy (anime screenwriter and high school gigolo), the teacher we’ve met, and there is a NEET programmer no one has ever seen. Sorata is an average guy amongst a bunch of freaks. I’m not a fan of rapid-fire inductions like scrolling through game profiles, as they just info dump without engagement. At least it isn’t as bad as the one in Wave! Let’s Go Surfing! and they did intersplice character moments to give a bit of personality.
After classmate introductions and more talk of Sakura Hall’s infamy, we flashback to Sorata adopting a stray cat and being forced to move to Sakura Hall since regular dorms don’t allow pets. Bit of a forced scenario set up, but alright, works for comedy. He’s had stray cats come to him ever since. This is foreshadowing for later.
Side note: the bloom is too strong and ever-present.
The teacher introduces the foil in the story. Her cousin is coming from England (prediction: she will be nothing like a British girl) and will be staying in Sakura Hall. Sorata has to pick her up from the station. He finds the girl and the first thing she says is, “What colour do you want to be?” A feeble attempt at a philosophical conversation follows (purpose: on the nose metaphor of the theme). This tells me the story will try to cram a deeper meaning in somewhere (prediction: the ending, with sudden drama) that will utterly fail in the face of the sleaze and shallow characters. Her colour is white, like the stray cat. A bad introduction via writing from a film school student’s first indie movie.
We are a little past halfway in the first episode now and I have yet to find much positive to say. The colours are nice, though marred by the overbearing bloom. A couple of funny lines as well, yet far outweighed by the unfunny ones.
Next day, he has to wake her up for school, only to find her room in a disaster state as if the FBI had rifled all her clothes for secret intel. She’s a manga artist and sleeps under the desk. She comes out from blanket to stand before him naked. Nothing has changed from that first scene when he woke up. Turns out, she’s an absolute idiot for the sake of fan service, underage nudity, and comedy. The explanation is that this is normal because the culture in England is different? Yeah, I doubt the author has ever been to England. He has to get her ready like a child. This is the pet of the title and from all that foreshadowing. I get she is supposed to be like a stray cat to care for, like his many other stray cats, but did they have to make her mentally deficient just to fulfil his fetish?
And so ends the episode.
Let’s summarise. The characters are obnoxious, the love interest is imbecilic, the humour repeated itself several times within a single episode, the “serious” dialogue is laughably bad, showing plus telling, and fan service takes priority over all else. A thick blanket of anime clichés wraps this up.
One episode was too much to know The Pet Girl of Sakurasou isn’t an anime worth watching. Yes, there are many far worse than this, but also a thousand high school anime that you could watch first. Toradora is a much better version of this anime type.
For the sake of thoroughness and this review, I watched the series in full and nothing changes about the quality of this series. The characters are still weak stereotypes, the fan service is still sleazy, and the few good jokes are buried under the mountain of same tired lines in every high school anime. The feeble deeper messages die under the tonal nonsense of the sleaze. My only off prediction was the dramatic ending. It wasn’t as dramatic as expected, instead mirroring the first episode with nostalgia. The end was a typical graduation moment filled with crying people (understandable). It’s clear the main couple has barely evolved.
I could apply the above analysis to the first episode of any series, whether good or bad, and highlight the markers that predict overall quality. Maybe I should do it in future with some excellent series. Sounds like a good idea.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou isn’t worth your time in a sea of high school anime.
Ghost Stories is a rubbish anime. The characters are forgettable, the horror is laughable, the mysteries put one to sleep, and the art is crap. Watch it in English, however, and Ghost Stories is a great anime. If you haven’t heard of this gem, Ghost Stories was a flop in Japan (shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with eyes and ears) and the studio said that ADV, the dubbing company, could do whatever they wanted to the show as long as they followed three rules. Don’t change names, don’t change how the ghosts die (part of the Japanese folklore), and don’t change the meaning of each episode. Other than that, fair game. And they were merciless.
What resulted was one of the most hilarious anime ever made in the style of an “abridged” parody series, before abridged anime were all the rage. Almost all dialogue was improvised, and since they record dubs one actor at a time (to match the visual timing), whoever got in the booth first for a scene, set the improv direction and the rest played off it. They just had to follow the purpose of the scene.
When told they could change anything except for the above three rules, they took that to heart. None of the original feel or tone of Ghost Stories remains in the dub, much to everyone’s delight.
The most notable change is personalities. Gone are the clichéd and bland school kids. In are the most offensive twerps since South Park. The protagonist has a mouth to make a sailor blush, a true hatred for lesbians, and is obsessed with her body. Her younger brother is retarded (literally) mumbling gibberish that gets more incomprehensible as he grows upset. Only she can decipher his speech. The love interest is a degenerate perv, while the nerd is even more stereotyped and Jewish, thus the butt of Jew jokes (like South Park). My favourite is the prim and proper girl turned into a fanatical born again Christian, calling everything a sin and reminding you every second of every day that you must find Jesus. Each line out of her mouth cracks me up.
The humour is more than offensive jokes. There are pop culture references, social commentaries, mocking of anime clichés, and meta humour on the atrocious animation quality of Ghost Stories. The mockery of the lip flaps always gets me. The animation was clearly a rush job and is perfect fodder for the actors. Lip flap matching is far superior in the improvised dub than it is in the structured original.
Looking at the Japanese version, Ghost Stories is a total snooze fest. The structure is that of a “monster of the week” type, with a new haunting for the kids to investigate each episode and it couldn’t be more paint-by-numbers. This isn’t a case where the original is “so bad it’s good” and the dub parodies it. No, the original is mind numbing – certainly not helped by the art either. Character faces aren’t even consistent from scene to scene. I’m not convinced they had an art director on staff. What truly baffles me though is the ending theme song. I first thought it was part of the parody with lyrics like, “I miss you, I miss you. I need you, I need you. Sexy, sexy!” Lost my mind when I discovered it’s the original song. Whose idea was that!? Keeping it for the dub only makes it better.
Ghost Stories is a wild ride. Even if the humour isn’t to your taste, it’s still an interesting study for a few episodes in how it changed between versions. A few “best of” clip compilations are also available on YouTube if you don’t want to watch the full 19 episodes.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must watch in dub. Ghost Stories is legendary in anime circles for a reason.
It is no secret that I’m not a fan of moe anime. Apart from usually looking hideous, they bank everything – character, plot, personality, effort – on the moe. The characters are insufferable, one-note, and what passes for humour is non-stop screeching. Oh god, the voices. They’re torture. So, what does a seemingly stereotypical moe anime with good characters, restraint on the screeching, and real humour look like? Meet K-On.
This anime revolves around the daily school life antics of a girls’ music club. They claim it’s a music club, but they spend more time drinking tea, eating cakes, and doing odd activities to promote the club. K-On is more a slice of life than a music anime. We have Yui the protagonist on the guitar, Mio on bass, Mugi on keyboard, and Ritsu banging the drums. A fifth joins the club later. Each girl fits one of the main archetypes of the typical “cute girls doing cute things” cast. Yui, for instance, is a clumsy airhead, which sounds clichéd. Another girl is the shy, self-conscious type yet popular with the boys. Also sounds clichéd. Their teacher is more of a child than half of her students. Sound familiar?
In fact, if I were to detail K-On in full on paper from its characters to the episodic scenarios, it would be normal for you to dismiss it as more of the same clichéd moe fare. To own a truth, though this had been on my list to watch since before my first review, I always suspected it as more of same that a hardcore fanbase overhyped to outsiders. Probably why I took so long to get to it. I was right, in a sense. K-On is more of the same, technically. However, it takes that sameness and executes it so much better than the competition that it makes me think even less of those other anime. Yes, K-On had many imitators in the years that followed, but it wasn’t an original idea either. I look at this anime and can’t pick out anything I would call different or innovative for the genre, apart from caring about more than the moe. Here we have a great example of the importance of execution over idea. I talk of this plenty in isekai reviews, where all they have going for them is that one change from other isekai, as if that alone will make for a great story. You could change nothing at the core but execute in a great way and now sentiment won’t be, “Oh, it’s just a rip-off of [other anime here].” Instead, viewers will say, “It’s like [other anime] but actually good.”
These characters are fun and the scenarios are fun, especially in season two when the series hits its stride. The humour works and has more than “it’s funny because she’s cute” as the joke. K-On is, in simple terms, fun. Who knew that having good characters with depth would make for an enjoyable experience, aye?
Huge praise must go to Kyoto Animation for applying their considerable artistic talents to the series. Nothing about K-On visually feels template. When the girls have those expected moe and anime reactions, we aren’t getting stock animation you see copied and pasted across the seasonal clones. These characters have such life and energy, such expression thanks to caring artists. Very giffable too, as I’m sure you’ve seen around the net.
One problem tangential to K-On is the ease in which it is to imitate. Imitating well is a different matter, but to create a clone (similar to how easy it is to clone Sword Art Online) takes little effort and had caused a flood on the market. If you have seen its imitators already, I can imagine them lessening your experience with K-On, for while this is better, you could feel as if you know everything about K-On before you even start. That said, should you have an inclination for the genre as an outsider, I do recommend this one. Actually, this is the only anime of the typical moe variety that I would recommend to non-core fans.
I want to be clear. You aren’t finding anything revolutionary here or the anime to change your mind on moe, but it is still a good anime regardless.
One final note – should a dub be your preference, avoid the original Animax dub. Absolutely lifeless. The Bang Zoom redub is close to the Japanese in tone and energy and a fine experience.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: A must for “cute girls doing cute things” fans. This might appeal to those not already predisposed to the moe genre. K-On is good though still very moe.