Category Archives: Comedy

Good for laughs. This tag only applies to shows that have consistent attempts at humour or are particularly funny.

xxxHOLiC & A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Review

Japanese Title: xxxHOLiC & xxxHOLiC: Manatsu no Yoru no Yume

 

Related: xxxHOLiC Kei & Rou & Shunmuki (sequel)

Similar: Natsume’s Book of Friends

Bakemonogatari

Mushi-shi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Mystery

Length: 24 episodes (Season 1) & a 1 hr. movie

 

Positives:

  • The sultry and seductive Yuuko is a great character shrouded in mystery.
  • A great English voice track that brings out the protagonists’ nuances.
  • Insightful looks into life morals and philosophies regarding addiction.
  • Enjoyable and light-hearted humour.
  • A sharp art style that accentuates Yuuko’s personality and power.

Negatives:

  • Lacks direction in the episodic format without an overarching plot.
  • You have to like the CLAMP hyper-stretched art style, especially here.
  • The majority of ambient characters are no more than sketches filled white.
  • Fluctuation in character proportions breaks immersion.

(Note: The film xxxHOLiC: A Midsummer Night’s Dream is included in this review, as its qualities are the same as season 1 of xxxHOLiC.)

Watanuki spends his days chased by spirits only he can see. One afternoon, while dealing with a particularly troublesome horde of spirits, he stumbles into a shop run by the mysterious and seductive Yuuko, a sorceress who grants wishes in exchange for payment equal to the wish – usually an object precious to the customer. In exchange for his servitude, she agrees to work on removing his curse. And so begins his servitude as her personal chef, errand boy and chore slave.

The title refers to addiction, xxxHOLiC’s theme. The ‘x’s are Japan’s version of blank spaces, just as we use ___. So the title is a multi-purpose term for addictions like alcoholic, workaholic, or even chocoholic. Despite the supernatural slant on the narrative, each case is interesting because xxxHOLiC portrays the addiction and resulting struggles in a realistic way. xxxHOLiC’s acknowledgement that people will lie and deny any problem with their addictions, and the reality that some addictions have long-lasting consequences, is the key that turned the series from something forgettable to an anime worth my time. Many customers end up in the shop without meaning to, without realising that they need help – a great metaphor for reality. Not all cases have a happy end.

The life lessons Yuuko brings to the table have actual depth rather than being “philosophical” one-liners. The shop’s first customer since Watanuki, for example, is losing the use of her arm and can’t understand why. Watanuki investigates to find that she is a serial liar, concocting falsehoods in conversations with friends and acquaintances to make herself look better in their eyes. While these lies seem innocent, the supernatural is using her addiction as an opening to infect her. Watanuki asks Yuuko why they didn’t just tell the woman to stop lying. Yuuko explains that the woman lies for her own sake and nobody else’s. It wouldn’t make a difference if told of the consequences; she would still lie, addicted to the feeling of looking good in front of others, until she experienced the consequences for herself. I appreciated this more realistic view on the problem rather than waving a magic wand to fix fundamental issues within a person’s character.

Yuuko steals the show. She is an inter-dimensional sorceress with great fashion sense, an insatiable appetite, confidence, and isn’t afraid to be seductive when needed, reminding me of Bayonetta. Actress Colleen Clinkenbeard brings her to life especially well in English with a sultriness and nuance to her voice not found in Japanese.

Another great character is Doumeki – popular, talented, good looking, better at soccer than Watanuki – a guy too aloof to be scared by spirits, which infuriates Watanuki. He has this great deadpan voice at all times (the similarity in voice for both languages is uncanny).

xxxHOLiC’s main potential turn off, outside of the CLAMP’s stretched art style (full Jack Skelington here), is the episodic format. The lack of overarching plot to the series makes the show lack direction, even if each individual episode is interesting. If you accidentally skipped a few episodes, you wouldn’t notice.

Regarding the movie, there isn’t much to say. It is essentially an extended episode with a bigger budget allowing for grander animation, more variety in environments, and a larger cast of characters. The overall quality is similar with the same strengths and weaknesses as the series. Watch it after the season for full context. xxxHOLiC is an enjoyable, fun show. It is a pleasure to watch the dynamic between the calm Yuuko and Watanuki’s hysteria.

Art – Medium

xxxHOLiC uses CLAMPS’s iconic thin art style to the extreme here. It may turn some away. Crowds could use detailing.

Sound – High

A solid Japanese track with a better English one accompanied by pleasant and mysterious instrumental music. Plenty of violin.

Story – Medium

xxxHOLiC’s supernatural angle on the exploration of addiction is interesting and unique. However, the lack of continual plot between episodes can reduce compulsion to keep watching. (Is that the show’s way of telling you not to get addicted to anime…?)

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Great for anyone who likes humour undercoated by deep morals with an air of mystery about it. Worth watching for sorceress Yuuko alone.

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

Positive:

Positive Recommended English Voice TrackStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Bakemonogatari – Review

Japanese Title: Bakemonogatari

 

Related: Nisemonogatari (sequel)

Similar: Katanagatari

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 13 episodes (12 is the finale; 13 is a bonus)

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic art style and animation to create a vibrant, yet haunting world.
  • Well-suited music to the dialogue heavy plot.
  • Strong male and female protagonists.
  • Solid voice work to accompany the varied dialogue.
  • Dark humour from lead female is a pleasant change of pace.

Negatives:

  • Incoherent story overall marred by throwaway side characters.
  • Random screens of text flashing every few seconds.
  • Sexually creepy at times.
  • Too little character development, even from the protagonists.
  • No world building despite the incredible visual design.

Bakemonogatari is one weird anime. You don’t get many as weird as this one. This anime has people with spaghetti for brains and staplers as weapons. Probably the most normal thing here, as far as anime goes, is starting with a pantie-shot. From then on, it goes to a whole different dimension. The question we ask ourselves: Is this weirdness good? It does create greatness, but unfortunately, it brings several poor decisions along for the ride.

Immediately, I was struck by the vivid art of Bakemonogatari. Its brilliant use of light, shade, and colour is gorgeous. There is style here, plenty of it. Gradients give backgrounds depth on top of the multi-layering. All colour choice is deliberate, intended to match the mood and atmosphere of the characters and their situations, even at the cost of continuity – a room could be bright one moment and change to dark if the situation called for it, regardless of realism.

It is a shame then that poor choices mar these visuals. Bakemonogatari use a mix of live-action, stop-motion, collage pages, and text for metaphors and similes. At times, the change in art is both hilarious and clever, the rest, tedious and forced. The worst offenders are the screens of text; they flash at random intervals for no purpose. Every instance broke my immersion. Get used to seeing a flat colour with Japanese lettering and the subtitle ‘unidentified cut’ underneath. A dozen times. Per episode. Every episode. Unbelievably stupid decision to kill the atmosphere. It feels as though they had a great idea to use live-action, collages, and so on, and found them to work so well that they thought, ‘why not add more?!’ only to kill it all by going too far. Such a shame.

The plot swims in much the same ocean as the alternative art styles: greatness weighed by poor decisions. We start with protagonist, Araragi, running up a grand spiral staircase in what you can assume is his high-school (most expensive high-school I have ever seen, especially considering no one goes there – more later). He looks up to see a girl falling down the hundred-meter tower. He catches her (don’t question how she drifts twenty meters from the central axis into the stairs) only to find she weighs five kilos (still enough that it should have broken his arms from that height, however). With Senjougahara’s secret revealed, she cannot let him go; she attacks armed with a box cutter and a stapler. After she staples the inside of his cheek for the fun of it, he pulls open his mouth to show no wound. Turns out Araragi recently reverted to human after a stint as a vampire. They become tenuous allies to return Senjougahara’s stolen weight (from a giant ghost crab that also took her memories) with the help of his acquaintance who cured his vampirism.

This initial premise captured my interest; unfortunate then that it lasted but a few episodes before it took a tangent about a little girl with another supernatural problem. The tangent itself wasn’t poor, but lacked development of the main plot and romance. When yet another girl with a paranormal issue enters afterwards, one realises this show is on a formulaic cycle and has little to do with the initial promise. His former life as a vampire has no bearing on the plot. Senjougahara’s backstory seems forgotten, and the relationship development stalls until episode twelve – a fantastic episode, admittedly.

In all, five girls partake, including the lead female, which is why you see Bakemonogatari categorised as a harem anime, yet this isn’t one. Yes, creepy sexualisation exists with a side character or two, but nothing that constitutes a relationship or even a crush required by harem anime. At least they made the correct decision in that aspect.

One of the strangest factors is how the entire world’s population is nine: protagonist, five girls, mystic, minor vampire girl, and Senjougahara’s father. That’s it. No background characters at all, not even in a school big enough to have a glass tower of no purpose, and parking for a thousand bicycles. Is this a problem though? Not really, but it did reduce world depth. This brings me to another negative: no world building. Why is this ghost crab after her? Where do all these supernatural elements come from? Where is the lore, the backstory? You get nothing. The world feels empty despite the visual depth.

Bakemonogatari is heavily dialogue driven. You have to pay attention, as it moves at a brisk pace while you extrapolate what is relevant from the random junk littered throughout. Episodes tend to diverge halfway through into some long-winded tangent before they return on track – medium success rate. The camera likes to cut away to different angles during dialogue. Focus on someone’s feet, then their hands, the corner of the table, the wall, a badly framed shot of the face. Prepare for irrelevance as well. The side of a building, some grass, a window, dirt, more grass…

Allow me to stress that this isn’t for children, and not because of the nudity. Topics of discussion range from Araragi’s virginity to Senjougahara’s choice of clothing and even to some specific types of incest-like fetishes. Honestly, I didn’t even know those were actual fetishes… Anyway, they deal with deep psychological issues caused by broken families and assault on loved ones. Dialogues are largely between the two lead characters, where Bakemonogatari is at its best. The dynamic between these two is a pleasure to watch. I find it hilarious how her attempts to help him with problems (she’s the more mature of the two), end up abusing him instead, making things worse, except, she honestly believes she’s helping. The humour is along those lines: serious in delivery, ironic in reception. His stray lock of hair being a symbol for his arousal level is clever too.

Despite the negatives, Bakemonogatari is still an anime worth watching. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend you watch no more than three episodes at a time to avoid overload and to maintain your focus throughout. Marvel at the art, focus on the lead characters, and you will end with a positive opinion.

Art – Very High

Truly spectacular. From the light to the shade, marvellous work here. However, it is brought down by some obnoxious screen flashes that occur far too often.

Sound – High

The right actors to match the great dialogue. Music is enjoyable too, outside of the opening and closing sequences.

Story – High

Moments of greatness distracted by random elements thrown in for the sake of being random. Three of the five story arcs fall flat.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch this for what it does right. Take Bakemonogatari in small doses to stave off what it does wrong.

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

Positive:

Engaging DialogueStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingIncoherentMisleading

Azumanga Daioh – Review

Japanese Title: Azumanga Daioh the Animation

 

Similar: Lucky☆Star

Nichijou

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 26 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Everything…
  • Not funny for a comedy.
  • Clichéd characters (how are they still so lifeless?) meandering through an empty plot with no conflict.
  • Forced cuteness.
  • Waste of time.

Azumanga Daioh is one of those shows that I heard about when I first got in anime. I would hear how funny of a show it was and how it was so cute, and all that. At the time, I was in my early teens, so based on the character art alone, I knew it wasn’t my sort of thing. Now, over a decade later, when every show can be ‘my sort of thing,’ I decided to give it a go and write the review I couldn’t as a teenager.

My opinion of Azumanga is worse now than all those years ago. Truly, this is one of the worst shows I have ever seen. I have spent more time thinking of what to write about this anime than actually watching it. There is nothing to write when nothing happens! I will paste the notes I made during the viewing and see where we go from there. For other shows, I usually have pages of compressed speed notes, but here I couldn’t even manage a page.

  • Forced cuteness. Not really cute.
  • Nothing happens.
  • Not really funny.
  • Really, what is this show about?
  • It’s just random crap with no conflict or tension of any kind.
  • This is rubbish.
  • Every joke falls flat. Are these even meant to be jokes?
  • Paedophilic humour(? – not sure if joking)
  • Every character is stupid.
  • Episodes are about someone buying lunch, or cleaning a classroom, or other such rubbish.
  • Really, NOTHING HAPPENS!
  • This show is terrible.
  • Such a waste of time.
  • High school setting.
  • Bunch of one-dimensional schoolgirls.
  • Can’t remember any of their names.

And that’s it. All of it after 26 episodes. I could just leave it that, but it would be lazy. (I am being forced to pad content – I never do that!)

I understand that the genre doesn’t demand much in terms of depth and plot, but really, this is pushing the limits of shallow. Nothing happens in this story; there is no continuity and a distinct lack of character development. Even a day in the life of Earth’s most boring person would hold more intrigue than this. Each episode consists of the stupidest characters you have ever seen doing the most mundane of things: buying lunch, cleaning the floor, sitting in class, jumping in the pool, talking about how cool the tall girl is…

This must all be a mere jest, right? There has to be more, no? There isn’t. The characters start and end the same. No conflict is overcome, no tension is experienced. There is literally no drive or reason to keep watching. Now, if it was mind-blowingly hilarious, I could understand (yet, all the funniest shows have conflict). However, Azumanga doesn’t even accomplish that. I may have laughed once in this twenty-six episode run. The jokes are so bad that they aren’t even lame. I spent most of my time trying to find the jokes, questioning if that scene I just watched was intended to be funny or not. I assume the cuteness was to add charm and humour, but is so forced, so overdone that it becomes tiresome before first episode’s end.

In the end, I have nothing more to say than don’t waste your time with this show. Which, ironically enough, is more than Azumanga Daioh has to say. Characters and plot are empty, audio and video you have experienced before, and overall stupidity give no reason to try this anime.

Art – Low

The visuals are unremarkable. Generic. In the animation department, unsurprisingly it disappoints again with little motion and a low frame rate.

Sound – Low

Sound follows the footsteps of art like a shadow – unremarkable and forgettable. What music? These characters are so stereotypical that even the voice work sounds too familiar. There is the overly cute one, the quiet tall one, the annoying hyperactive one, the immature teacher, and the supposedly wise one. This entire genre seems to be a copy paste of the above, voice actors and all.

Story – Very Low

There is none. The characters have the same depth as the plot.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Don’t put yourself through this. After watching Azumanga Daioh, I can see why the original manga author refuses to allow his current and excellent series Yotsuba to receive an anime adaptation. 4-panel comic stories don’t convert well to full episodes.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

Angel Heart – Review

Japanese Title: Angel Heart

 

Related: City Hunter (main series)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Noir

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 50 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a good sense of humour, particularly involving City Hunter.
  • City Hunter is a great character with an equally good voice actor.
  • Haunting music enhances the sombre moments.
  • Starts strong, but…

Negatives:

  • …the plot wanes after thirteen episodes and goes on too long.
  • Start isn’t indicative of the remainder of the series.
  • The few supernatural elements are vague.

Ever watched a show that starts about one thing, only to change direction part way in? Angel Heart is one such show.

Angel Heart starts regarding an accelerated growth fourteen-year-old assassin, codename Glass Heart, who has a sudden moral crisis after killing a little girl’s father. Glass Heart kills herself by leaping off a tall building. However, the organisation she worked for revives her using advanced medical technology and transplanting a new heart into her. This heart belonged to recent accident victim, Kaori, and causes problems for Glass Heart, as she recalls memories and emotions of its original owner.

We are plunged into two minds: the killer instinct of Glass Heart and the kind mercy of Kaori. As Kaori’s thoughts seek out her fiancé, City Hunter – a former assassin turned good guy for hire – police officer Saeko investigates the theft of the donor heart alongside City Hunter, who swears to kill whoever has it. Memories flash through Glass Heart’s mind, conflicting opinions of what she feels for people, and which sentiments are truly hers.

Thirteen episodes in, all this changes as the psychological conflict is no more, the serious tone dropped for a lighter-hearted atmosphere, and the show loses any central plot. It becomes a case-by-case serial where City Hunter takes on various clients. For the most part these individual cases are interesting in their own few-episode stories, but with no overarching plot, there’s nothing to keep me going. Unless it’s a comedy or a near movie-length detective serial (think Poirot), one simply can’t follow this format – yes, one could have a few individual stories peppered throughout, just not as a basis for the show. The arcs themselves also linger for an episode after resolution. The intricate web of X is related to Y, but Y works for Z, while Z wants to kill X, however, A is spying on Y, yet A isn’t what he seems, etc. from the first arc is swept away.

There are a few other minor story related problems; the occasional supernatural elements are poorly explained or vague. The blind barman for example, can know who people are by simply being near them. In fact, this show has that whole ridiculous ‘sense someone’s aura’ to know what sort of a person they are – assassins identify each other this way. Fortunately, this doesn’t amount to much as no conflict is solved through this, meaning it could be removed without effect. There is also that common action trope where bullets seem incapable of hitting a target when convenient, despite being surrounded.

It’s all a real shame, as the characters are quite good: Glass Heart with her dual mind, Mochi the sissy son of a Yakuza boss who has to do whatever people can rope him into, and the blind barman who knocks sense into City Hunter when needed. City Hunter himself is the strongest of the lot, equal parts comedic perv and action man; he’s a good character with plenty of diversity to him. His voice actor does an exceptional job of transitioning from his serious tone to his comedic idiolect. The humour of this show is well executed, even during its occasional presence in the first thirteen episodes, yet it still isn’t enough to carry like in other anime – FMP: Fumoffu, Trigun, etc.

Angel Heart could have been a great show if it had stuck to its original idea of exploring the morality of an assassin. Instead, we are left with many tacked on episodes. It should have been no more than thirteen to sixteen episodes like the original series, City Hunter ’91.

Art – Medium

The art matches the tone of the show’s first thirteen episodes with a mature style found in films such as Perfect Blue and Ghost in the Shell. There is some creative psychedelic imagery at the start, but along with the tone change, such creativity is lost, leaving the unimaginative behind.

Sound – High

The acting is great, even for side characters, and I was pleased to see use of other languages (Chinese, Korean) not just Japanese – in anime, everyone tends to speak Japanese as a first language regardless of what country they hail from. The music is good, ranging from mystery to pop to electro.

Story – Medium

Strong start with the story of a conflicted assassin that unfortunately wanes too soon and stretches too far.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch the first thirteen episodes, rest at your own discretion.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

DissapointingMisleadingWeak End

Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings – Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami-sama! Tatakau Tsubasa

 

Related: Ah! My Goddess TV (main story)

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie

 

Genre: Fantasy Romance Comedy

Watched in: Japanese & English.

Length: 2 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and effects.

Negatives:

  • Poor resolution to the narrative with a feeble climax.
  • There is not much here unless you are familiar with the main Oh My Goddess! series.

Fighting Wings is a two-episode special of the celebrated Ah! My Goddess series. It fits in somewhere after the second season, though there isn’t a direct link between the stories beyond the general premise of the show: university student Keiichi accidentally called the Goddess Hotline, summoning the goddess Belldandy, who has been his girlfriend since.

For those wanting this special to further the main plot, you will be disappointed as this focuses instead on side character, Lind a Valkyrie warrior goddess, who made a few appearances in earlier shows. When a phantom known as the Angel Eater goes on a rampage in Yggdrassil (heaven), Lind descends to Earth, the next target, where Keiichi and the goddesses reside. The plot moves at an improved pace from the second season, and sports a good amount of action with cool magic enhanced by the clean and beautiful art you can expect from the Ah! My Goddess series. The symbiotic angels of the goddesses are of particular beauty. If only the new angels didn’t have names like Cool Mint (spoken in poor English by the Japanese voice actors).

Cheesiness is Fighting Wings’s biggest flaw. With humour thrown into the middle of serious scenes, it makes you wonder if comedy wasn’t an afterthought once they realised that there was going to be none in this romantic comedy. To exacerbate matters, the humour isn’t a success, falling far short of the main series.

The turnabout for the heroines is also rather lame, far too convenient without much of a struggle or conflict. Suffering in a similar manner is the side plot of Skuld, the youngest goddess, unable to summon her angel, resolved with zero effort. With a lack of resolution against the villainy, I was unsatisfied and questioned why they bothered. Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t hate these episodes – Lind’s story has closure at least – they are merely disappointing. Yes, the voice acting is good with the regular voices from the series, and the music matches the Celtic and Nordic tunes of norm, but none of these live up to the equivalent in the first season, and more particularly, the movie.

It has left me with one positive though; I do want to see more of Lind’s story and hope she does make a return in future.

 

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of Ah! My Goddess only. You aren’t missing out on much if you choose to skip Fighting Wings.

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

 

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A