The East Asian game of Go has made many appearances throughout the medium of anime, yet I never had any idea what it was about. Unlike chess or shogi, where you get a sense of how the game works just by looking at the board, Go looks like a mess of black and white dots to the untrained eye. My greatest concern going into Hikaru no Go was the game itself. Being a shounen sports anime (the focus is on the sport), would I lose interest because I knew nothing about Go?
The story begins when Hikaru, a young boy, stumbles upon a Go board with a bloodstain in his grandfather’s attic. Weirdly, his friend can’t see the blood. Touching the board awakens the spirit of Sai, an ancient Go master wronged in his time by a cheater during a show match before the emperor. He only has one goal – to play Go! Unfortunately, Hikaru has no interest in the game. Fortunately, Sai is a ghost that only Hikaru sees and can pester him all day to play. Sai plays his first game in this era – by telling Hikaru what moves to make – against the Go prodigy Akira Touya of Hikaru’s age. Sai wins. From the outside, this looks as if a total novice beat the best junior player in his first game. Touya grows obsessed with this kid and the secret to his talent. Meanwhile, an interest in the game begins to blossom within Hikaru.
The first thing to draw attention with Hikaru no Go (apart from Hikaru’s ridiculous hair) if watching it today is the poor art. This is a budget kids’ anime, so you know what to expect. It’s almost enough to make non-Go enthusiasts turn off the series. Then you meet Sai. What a delightful character. As you would anticipate from a tagalong ghost sidekick, the writers played much of his character for laughs. He’d be pestering Hikaru about something only for Hikaru to shout at him, appearing to yell at the wind from a spectator’s point of view. His enthusiasm for the modern is great. His love of Go is even better. Since he can’t interact with anything, he relies on Hikaru to make the moves for him and is like a nagging child when Hikaru won’t play for him. He’s not annoying though.
Sai also plays the role of mentor, providing Hikaru – and the audience – a commentary on the game, like an analytical shoutcaster, while also teaching rules and strategies. It’s a natural way to convey such information without seeming like a stilted info dump. Other mentors enter the story to teach more about the game when Hikaru attends classes or seeks tutoring later on. All of this makes it easy for the unaware (like me) to understand the complexities of the game and follow the action. After each episode is a live action segment with a real Go teacher explaining the finer details of the sport to kids. Hikaru no Go take the game seriously.
I am a major strategy player across video and board games (one of the things I’m known for). However, I have never had much interest in chess and I assumed that Go was in the same vein. It couldn’t be more different. To give you a basic idea of Go, think of it as territory control meets 2-player Snake (the mobile game). Players each take turns placing pieces (called “stones”) with the objective of surrounding the opposing stones. Once you’ve “fenced off” a section of the board, any stones within that section are yours. The game seems so interesting to play.
It was a smart move to make the first game between Hikaru (a.k.a. Sai) and Touya, giving the audience a taste of high-level play and the depth inherent in Go. This match engages you from the start. Then the story has time to rewind Hikaru back to the basics as he learns to play without Sai’s help. That reminds me of my major concern following the Sai-Touya match. I was worried that we would have a Yu-Gi-Oh situation, where the protagonist relies on an ancient spirit to win for him. In other words, cheat. I am happy to report that Hikaru no Go does no such thing. When Sai plays, it’s clearly a Sai game against other high-level players. Hikaru, on the other hand, pairs up with players around his level. He does have the advantage of an excellent private tutor, but he wins matches on his own merit. The only times Hikaru “cheats” are against nasty opponents, such as scammers.
The story spans a few years and goes in depth with the world of Go – tournaments, ranking, practice, etiquette, and so on. Should you watch a few episodes and not find Go engaging, I recommend dropping the anime. It’s not worth it otherwise. If you stick around, you should know that Hikaru no Go is incomplete, the anime ending shortly after a significant turn and from what I hear, the manga is incomplete and shelved. It’s a shame. Regardless, I enjoyed most of my time with Hikaru no Go.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Even if you’ve never heard of go, give Hikaru no Go a shot. It is beginner friendly and the strategy makes for great duels.
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.
All around the world, you can rent people to play almost any role. Acting doesn’t just live on stage or screen. Companies will hire crowds to augment the apparent numbers at an event or party, an individual can hire a “friend” to stage a moment, or one can even hire a family. Japan knows particularly of the latter, where concern over social appearances and saving face are worth the hefty prices. An orphaned adult might hire parents to appear respectable and “normal” before their boss. Others will hire grandparents to attend their wedding or perhaps employ a few “friends” to fill their half of the church. In fact, Caucasian foreigners in Japan are particularly popular for weddings to add to the Western authenticity of a church ceremony. An English officiant is hot stuff.
So for an anime to explore the idea of renting a girlfriend could be interesting. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t the anime to succeed, but it could still be interesting elsewhere.
Where to start with describing this anime? Kazuya, the protagonist, is the most pathetic person you could imagine, real or fictional. I have read passages and seen videos of some truly pathetic people, yet none compare to this loser. Kazuya is a university student characterised by his virginity. After his girlfriend Mami dumps him, he can’t handle it and rents Chizuru to be his girlfriend for an afternoon. He falls madly in love with her until he reads her reviews online, realising she is like this with everyone. He is intent on giving her a piece of his mind during their second “date” (why is there a second at all?), but a call from the hospital pulls them away to see his grandmother, where he lies about Chizuru being his real girlfriend. Now he begs her to keep “going out” with him to “not disappoint his grandmother”.
This all happens in the first episode, which while not awful (that comes later), does have a problem. The premise is backwards. For a rom-com of this kind, you need a goofy setup that keeps growing funnier as it doesn’t stop escalating into a worse scenario. By the time the protagonist realises he/she is in too deep, it should be too late to back out before all comes crashing down for the finale – all in a comedic manner, of course.
Think 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger hired to be a woman’s boyfriend so that the guy who paid him can date the younger sister (girls’ father said that the younger can only date if the older has a boyfriend first). He does the job because the pay’s good, but he soon falls in love with her and can’t tell the truth or he would lose her. While funny throughout, it culminates in a famous emotional moment. (Great film, by the way. Recommended.)
Rent-a-Girlfriend’s premise should have been that Kazuya had been bragging to his family about his first ever girlfriend, but she dumps him the night before he promised to introduce her to the family. Being a spineless coward, he can’t admit the truth and so hires Chizuru to stand in for her. “It’ll only be for one day. Then I can say it didn’t work out and we broke up,” he thinks to himself. Better yet, make it a random girl from the service. Have him not care about the girl at all. He just wants to save face. However, she delights his grandmother (it’s her job to delight, after all), who invites them over for the weekend – soon enough where a sudden breakup is unrealistic. And being the spineless coward that he is, Kazuya can’t say no and hires her again.
This scenario is ripe for escalating hijinks. The insistent family with no resistance from spineless wonder keeps pushing for more and more meet ups, they start giving her gifts (“For my future daughter-in-law. I insist.”), and ask the big questions. Chizuru is getting out of her depth here, so she stages secret meetings with him in the bathroom to discuss a plan and answers for those questions (the family would imagine something lewd is going on instead). Keep making the situation worse. In the process, they come to actually like each other, which you can draw out by having both think that the other just sees it as a professional arrangement.
But no, Rent-a-Girlfriend has none of that. Kazuya and Chizuru’s relationship starts out of loneliness, which isn’t funny. I think him being a lonely virgin is meant to be funny. From here on, assume that any scene I describe is meant for comedy despite how unfunny it is. There isn’t a single good joke. Anyways, he takes her to his grandmother and has an out, but still says she’s his girlfriend. Also, her grandmother is friends with his grandmother at the same hospital, though it amounts to little. Then he learns that Chizuru not only goes to his university, but also lives next door! It could work with this setup, though you need a much better writer. Kazuya keeps apologising for getting her involved yet keeps saying they’re going out. He kowtows to her like a peasant, promising he will pretend as if he doesn’t exist next door and he will take out his trash when she’s not around.
This pathetic guy won’t stop apologising. I know the terms have seen overuse and almost lost all meaning, but “simp” and “cuck” have never been more appropriate. Let me list a few of his highlights:
His ex-girlfriend throws herself at him after she finds out he has someone else. He masturbates instead of taking her offer despite being into her and with sex as his primary goal.
He keeps up the fake girlfriend lie instead of getting an actual girlfriend when given the opportunity.
Apologises for hiring a rental girl to be his rental girl. Multiple times.
Offers to give a rental girl money in exchange for no service.
He masturbates to one girl while thinking of another girl having sex with another guy.
He stalks her on service with other clients.
He sends his “girlfriend” to comfort another guy.
You might astutely be thinking that this all makes sense to set him up as some repugnant dipshit before the story takes him on an arc of growth. Well that’s where you’d be wrong. He gets worse as the series progresses and women encourage his bad behaviour as though this is the “Simp Manifesto”, containing all the secrets to getting a girlfriend for losers. (By Aphrodite, I hope otaku aren’t taking any advice from this rag.) When Chizuru catches him stalking her, she isn’t angry about the stalking. She’s just mad that he thought her actor friend was a client. Yes, you will find clips of her chastising him for some of his actions. Do you know what the next scene shows? Her enabling him and accepting his money anyway.
Now let’s talk about her. He’s not a bad person, just an absolute loser no one would want to be around. She is a bad person though. She’s uppity about her job yet ashamed for others to know of this “perfectly fine” work. Her work is to manipulate lonely people into giving her money in exchange for nothing. To call her a sex-free prostitute is an affront to prostitutes. With sex workers, you pay for sex and you get sex. It’s two adults in a consenting transaction. Or to use a platonic example, some Japanese women hire a man to help them vent emotion and hold her when she cries. They want to let it all out. These women don’t assume the man is now their boyfriend and never expected him to be one (they may develop feelings in a vulnerable moment, sure, and he is attractive by intention).
Chizuru pretends to be a guy’s girlfriend yet does nothing like a girlfriend. Emotional support? No. Any intimacy? No. Anything at all like a girlfriend? You know the answer.
A real version of this (non-sexual) service wouldn’t be about the guy hanging out with this girl. It would be – as I said at the start – about saving face or avoiding drama in front of others. A company man would hire a woman to play the part of his girlfriend at a company gala so that he doesn’t attend alone, for example. Once they step out of that event, they go their separate ways. The alternative version is more or less hiring a friendly tour guide to spend the day with. Rent-a-Girlfriend’s version is about stringing people along for exorbitant amounts of money (more than a prostitute), as Kazuya’s first date cost 40,000 yen (~$400 US) for a few hours. Chizuru is their most popular girl (the sub plot about her being poor doesn’t make sense either). Sex work is far more respectable than this job.
Beyond her exploitative work, she’s an all-round unlikeable character. When she plays the part of girlfriend around his friends and family, it doesn’t come across as her helping him out. She’s just manipulative. I have the feeling she gets off on weak guys like him prostrating themselves at her feet.
As expected, she starts to like him for no explained reason. It happens because that’s what the author says is to happen. Rent-a-Girlfriend presents itself as a love triangle at first, between these two and the ex-girlfriend. However, another girl joins halfway through the season and falls in love with him after he grabs her boob (I’m not kidding). Then another joins in the third act and falls for him as well. This anime pretends not to be a harem and turns out to be worse than a harem.
Even if one were to look at Rent-a-Girlfriend on its own merits, it’s a garbage anime. The repetition is insane. “She is just my rental girlfriend. I am just paying her to be my girlfriend. We aren’t really a couple,” or some variation of repeats several times each episode.
The dumbest line has to be after he nearly drowns saving her and she resuscitates him. “Why did you go to such lengths to save me on the beach while I wasn’t breathing? I mean, I’m just a client right.” “Such lengths” was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as you do in all drowning cases. What a piece of shit.
Nothing really happens in these 12 episodes. There are no arcs, no growth, no changes. It’s a series of introductions for one vile character after the other and most conflict stems from improbable coincidence, which is the crutch of lazy writers. The grandmother molests Chizuru in the bath cliché instead of another girl from the harem – that’s different, I suppose (end my suffering). This is the sort of anime to go for four seasons of filler with a meaningless ending.
Whether you are male or female, adult or teenager, please do not follow anything that Rent-a-Girlfriend is trying to teach. Don’t debase yourself like this guy – for anyone – and don’t manipulate people as she does. Don’t waste your time with this. Rent-a-Girlfriend doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining trash. Kazuya should have gone to visit Doctor Eve in the next review…
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t just full of bad advice and behaviour that no one should emulate – it isn’t even funny.
The typical shounen sports protagonist will be the most energetic and often most arrogant player in the game (see Major and Ace of Diamond). Apart from being one of the easier archetypes to write, his personality facilitates big plays and big drama. If he’s arrogant enough to get into someone’s face to grandstand ahead of a match, he’ll have the confidence to go for the long shot that moves you to the edge of your seat. Big Windup goes for the opposite and in the process demonstrates why the high tempo protagonist is so common.
Mihashi isn’t just an underdog. He’s a crybaby – I’m not using hyperbole. This guy is on the verge of tears when someone merely looks at him. On the pitcher’s mound, on the sidelines, at school, at home, hanging out with friends, wherever, it doesn’t matter, this dude wants to cry about anything and everything. That’s not all. He’s supposed to be the team ace. I’m not sure if we’re meant to feel sorry for him or to find his social ineptitude humorous. I could argue either way.
The arc is obviously to have him come out of his shell and gain confidence through the support of his teammates. However, it starts with a flawed premise. How is this guy an ace to begin with? How does he have the skill? The answer the story gives is that he was on a team in middle school as the ace, but also that he was so bad they could never win…? Is he good at the game or not? Never mind playing baseball – Mihashi would have a mental breakdown from the pressure of having to strike someone out. He should be in therapy, not baseball. I watched the first season, 25 episodes, and he is no less of a crybaby by the end (they still use his frailty for comedy with that chicken face in episode 25, so again, not sure if comedy or serious). There is another season, but surely by this point he would have some change.
The brilliant ProZD portrays Mihashi perfectly here, just without the badass growth:
Let’s suppose you either don’t care about this character or can tolerate him, is the rest worth it? No. The baseball is rather dull and lacks tension, both in a game and character sense. Most teammates are the same milquetoast person, blending into one forgettable mass. Some are alright, though nothing to write home about.
At its core, these problems all feel like symptoms of the same illness – the aversion by the author to have tough conflict. Meekness characterises Big Windup. I don’t want to sound nasty, but this needed more nastiness. I have the impression that the author leant on wishful thinking for a “nicer” world to craft this story, rather than facing reality, often caused by an author’s fear of hurting their beloved characters. Twilight’s author, Stephanie Meyer, refused to kill off any of her characters because she grew too attached.
An alternate possibility is that Big Windup is about mocking a kid with a mental disability (again, not sure if we are to laugh with him or at him), though I like to give the benefit of the doubt.
A major subplot centres on the cheer team, which is an unconventional side to explore in a boys’ sports anime. It’s insistent on following these characters. However, there isn’t much to see here, which is disappointing, as Japanese cheer squads are rather nuts. They’re nothing like American football cheerleaders. They’re more like choirmasters, leading the crowd into a high energy, disciplined chant for the team. Deafeningly loud too.
The cheer and baseball teams alike are all about the power of friendship, everyone is good, competitiveness is toxic, and other “hippie” philosophies, for lack of a better word. Now, I’m not saying that being nice is a bad thing. Ideally, everyone in the world would be nice at heart. But having your head in the sand and believing that just being nice makes one a great athlete is delusional. This is a baseball team that would fall to a perfect game from any team that takes the sport seriously. Or if this were StarCraft, it would ban the Zerg rush for being unfair, then ban the MMM ball for being too competitive, and forbid everyone from using Stalkers’ blink for being too skilful. It wouldn’t patch the game, mind you, just make everyone promise not to use them. Because being competitive isn’t friendly. It isn’t fun if not everyone gets a medal in the end.
In every story, no matter how bad, I firmly believe there is a kernel of greatness. Having someone like Mihashi as protagonist isn’t the end of the world. What Big Windup needed was an altered backstory and different first act. Remove the baseball past altogether and replace it with a lonely kid suffering from mental illness, who breaks down in tears at the slightest conflict – doesn’t have to be real conflict. The possibility of conflict cracks him. You can make it that the one joy in life he had was watching baseball at home, wishing he had the camaraderie of a team like they do in those stadiums. There’s the baseball connection. Want to provide a little backstory to foreshadow him as a great baseball pitcher? Turns out, he would practice pitches against a tree in his backyard for hours (no friends to spend time with, after all), developing killer accuracy and speed. You could even have the classic sports shounen reveal when a later friend comes over for the first time and sees the dent in the tree – shocked silence, slow pan close up of the face, quivering irises, the whole deal.
We start the series with him moving to high school, where a classmate befriends him (feel free to have Mihashi tremble when he thinks it’s a bully). This friend is on the baseball team. The scene is set.
From here, Mihashi will slowly come out of his shell thanks to his first friend and work on his mental health. An adult at the school would be the perfect mentor character, one to bring awareness to the importance of mental health and explain to Mihashi that he isn’t broken. He just needs help. Want to lean the tone towards the happier Haikyuu end rather than the dour March Comes in Like a Lion side? No problem. Incorporate comedy, from the rest of team perhaps, in the battle against his mental illness.
Episode 3, we have the baseball connection (see backyard tree above). Episode 6, end of act one, Mihashi plays baseball with others for the first time. Season finale, he loses the match with his team – only been playing a few months, after all – but he played the game to his fullest, and that’s what matters. He could even cry, not out of fear or sadness, but out of joy and pride for his progress. We keep the underdog, the reluctant ace, the crying, and power of friendship, but we balance it with pain, struggle, and hard work.
Big Windup seems well intentioned. Infantile treatment of characters isn’t the direction to take in what is supposed to be a competitive sport, requiring some level of competitive spirit, drive, and confidence. I don’t know if it’s talking down to the audience, mocking a kid with mental and social issues, or merely an unintentional disaster. Next review, we look to Major for redemption.
Art – Low
Though the environmental texture is nice, it can’t make up for the character designs. What is with everyone blushing as if going through a menopausal hot flush 24/7? Then again, I suppose these blushing brides are an ideal match for the mentality of Big Windup.
Sound – Medium
The acting is better than this anime deserves and the music is alright. I can’t imagine anyone could make this protagonist sound good.
Story – Very Low
A bumbling kid is expected to be his team’s baseball ace. No level of baseball would be worth enduring this character and philosophy of playing a drum circle as a substitute for skill.
Overall Quality – Very Low
Recommendation: Skip it. It’s difficult for the protagonist alone to kill a story, yet here we are with Big Windup.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War returns for its second season. We get to hang out with one of the most delightful casts of high school characters for another 12 episodes! A student council election, a sports festival, stargazing, and shopping trips are but a few of the adventures Miyuki and Kaguya will go on in their mission to break the other into a confession of love.
What an excellent follow up to the introductory season. Comedy is the most difficult genre to review. Explaining the joke is the death of comedy. There are only so many ways I can say, “It’s hilarious,” (or “It’s just not funny,” for a bad comedy). However, I can pinpoint why this anime comedy hit the mark with me, as a few have done in the past.
The secret is in the characters more than the humour.
I’m sure if you thought for a moment, you would recall several anime/films/TV shows that made you laugh at the time, yet didn’t stick with you. Hell, you may remember laughing but not what made you laugh.
For me, what makes a comedy have a lasting impression is my liking of the characters and how well the humour uses them to craft and deliver jokes. More specifically, the humour needs to fit the characters. When Sagara blows up a classroom in Full Metal Panic because he suspects a student’s backpack is a bomb, it works because it fits his personality. It’s what he would do. And that’s hilarious. So when Miyuki and Kaguya sit down to play the game of life – as created by Fujiwara – with the rest of the student council, it makes sense that Kaguya would have a mental breakdown after Miyuki draws the marriage card, which ties him to Fujiwara. It’s only a game. Not to Kaguya though.
And that’s hilarious.
Combing complex characters with humour derived from their personalities is the magic formula to a great comedy. Certainly, you want a sharp script and perfect timing as well.
For the inverse, think about those dime-a-dozen harem comedies. Characters there have no real personality. They’re clichés of the genre. When the pervy guy cracks a pervy joke, you don’t see him making you [possibly] laugh. The cliché of his character type makes the joke. If you can transplant all humour from Harem Protagonist X to Harem Protagonists A through W, then you don’t have a real character. Just a mouthpiece for jokes. There’s a reason nobody can tells Bill Burr’s stories better than Bill Burr can. It’s all in the personality that informs the humour.
Ever notice how the anime clichés like the tripping over, the boob grab, the punch to the face of misunderstanding, etc. is rarely funny, and yet there is the occasional instance where it kills you into breathless laughter? It’s the same joke, but that slight shift in shaping it to fit the characters – fit the scene – makes all the difference. Actual thought went into the joke and it wasn’t included simply because it’s an anime and all anime must have these same five jokes. Konosuba is a good case of taking the typical and making it novel.
A simple example that encapsulates all of what I’m saying is in the first episode’s coffee scene of Love is War 2. Kaguya, with the help of her faithful assistant, gives Miyuki decaffeinated coffee to have him fall asleep. He’s that sleep deprived from all his work as the best student and council president that he falls asleep instantly without his coffee on the dot. Great moment. Replace him with any other character in the show for this situation and the joke is no longer funny – it’s “lol random”. When his head falls onto her shoulder, blushing her into paralysis and halting her plan, the joke works because it’s Kaguya. Swap her with Fujiwara and you’d be left asking, “Where did that come from?” instead of laughing.
I hope I have managed to convey why I find certain comedies better than others.
Beyond the humour, Love is War is a triumph in visual creativity and acting. Too many high school comedies are flatly shot with standard high school environments and framing, as if generated by AI. Love is War is so much fun to watch. A delight to listen to as well. The dynamic range of these actors, able to switch from friendly to arctic in one sentence is perfect. And of course, I cannot forget to mention the inclusion of another great OP, which in itself is a mini episode.
I said in my review for season 1 that Love is War needed just a little more to elevate itself to the ranks of all-time anime comedy greats. It has succeeded.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: Watch it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War only got better with season 2 and has established itself as an all-time great of anime comedy.