Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Bang Dream / IDOLiSH7 / White Album 2 – Quick Review

Bang Dream!

Japanese Title: Bang Dream!

Genre: Music

Length: 13 episodes

I touched on the notion of creating anime to sell idol singers in Fancy Lala. As with all good ideas, someone will boil it down the laziest corporate product. Enter Bang Dream.

The story centres on Kasumi and her goal to start a band in high school. Her journey will require making friends, learning music, and putting on a show.

Bang Dream encapsulates everything that keeps me away from music anime. The predictability of the cast of characters coupled with the barely-there conflict and music indistinguishable from your average J-pop band has no appeal to me. This story and its characters is as paint-by-numbers as you can imagine. Kasumi is so “genki” to forbid you from disliking her an iota. The cat ears hair is the least sickly sweet thing about her. No one in this series has any real problems, for conflict may alienate a potential customer from buying the CDs, figures, and games. The voice actors also perform in live concerts.

The intent of Bang Dream is clearly to sell merchandise. This is a 13-episode ad. And there are more seasons.

Watching Kasumi is exhausting with her impossibly upbeat personality and squeaky lines about wanting to become a pop star. The marketing department is so desperate to have you fall in love with her that they make her brainless. She has this “Disney eyed” moment when she discovers that strumming a guitar produces sound. Furthermore, she goes from mind blown that guitars make music to smash hit professional concert in the span of a year? I mean, of course she does. The figurines and miniskirts (the camera is obsessed with the swish of skirts) are pouring out of factories by the hour. Can’t allow something as trivial as plotting and development to get in the way of merchandise.

I can imagine that if you like the music, then none of this bothers you. Fans probably know this is an ad – they just like seeing the characters on screen and realised through animation. I don’t fit in that group, so this is far from what I’m after.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of the band only.

*     *     *     *     *

IDOLiSH7

Japanese Title: IDOLiSH7

Genre: Music

Length: 17 episodes

Similar to Bang Dream, the purpose of Idolish7 is to sell music and the rhythm game from whence it came. The game was first with a manga series commissioned shortly after, followed by more manga, another game, and the anime a few years later, which will be our subject today.

At first impression, Idolish7 seems to be like Bang Dream, a soulless corporate product to flog more merch across the waiting palms of fan girls. Early episodes introduce us to the seven guys of the group and their new young manager, Tsumugi, on her first managerial assignment. The first point of conflict is that four of them must go. This is an audition for a three-man group, like that of their rival company. However, Tsumugi convinces the president of the agency (and her father) that the group works best as a seven-man unit because of the power of friendship, teamwork, and all that jazz pop. With this resolved, I assume that’s as complex a plot that we are going to get. A concert for a theatre of thousands is on the cards.

To my surprise, their first concert is a commercial failure. You can count the members of the audience on two hands. Alright, no instant success. That’s good. Tsumugi’s optimism and go-getter personality is also a plus (she would become my favourite character – great design too).

Unlike Bang Dream dealing with amateurs, these guys are already professional – they can sing and dance, no problem – so the writer can’t rely on the usual plot of learning the skill with the goal of winning in the final showdown. Instead, focus shifts to the challenges of the idol industry and its crushing competitiveness. These are handsome guys (the anime makes no secret of it) with several talents. It should be a breeze. But in the idol industry, nothing is good enough.

These guys have to start by handing out flyers, hand selling music, and just hitting the streets to entice potential fans. We learn about the guys a little, each one coded by hair colour, of course. The series is quite decent.

Then around the halfway point, the story ups the tempo. We have drama – both internal from the pressure to succeed and external from rival group Trigger – meltdowns, dark pasts, and even plagiarism. The cylinders are firing! It’s no Beck, but it’s a ton better than Bang Dream. The plagiarism plot is solid.

In case you’re wondering, the group Trigger had no association with Studio Trigger. That was until Studio Trigger made a music video for Trigger in collaboration with Bandai Namco. I wonder if that was the writer’s intention all along. Hmm…excuse me while I name a character Maaya Sakamoto in my very real anime.

If only Studio Trigger animated the whole series. And here we come to the negatives, of which there are two notable ones. The first is the inconsistent visual quality. We have unrefined edges, such as the crowds repeating one stiff motion during performances, and some truly lousy CG animation for the guys when they dance. I can’t decide which is worse: the constant flipping between 2D (close ups) and CG (sweeping long shots) or the fact that they don’t look like the same people. The character models aren’t of the highest quality. The rigging is certainly not up to par. When they raise their arms in the air, as they often do for a routine, one can’t help but notice the lack of armpits. It’s a smooth pack of flesh from pectoral to lateral muscle. So distracting.

The other issue is the oversized cast. This first season is 17 episodes, yet has introduced the cast of a 52-episode anime. Seven guys for Idolish7, three for Trigger, other idol groups, their managers, production staff, key fans, and more populate this world. It’s too much. This is an unfortunate side effect of the source material, where I’m sure the longer game works better with the larger cast. If I were to edit this, as an original anime, I would cut the main group to four members. Some of these guys become lost in the crowd and could do with merging personalities. Why four? One of Trigger’s three members is brother to one from Idolish7. I would create a point of conflict centred on the Idolish7 brother’s insecurity in the shadow of his brother. Are the other three carrying him? If Trigger only has three, then is he of any use as the “fourth wheel” on Idolish4? The growth would come from the realisation that they can do more as four, which Trigger can’t compete with.

Anyways, the cast is too big. I don’t remember much about most of these characters, though to a fan of the franchise, it’s probably common to know everything about them, right down to their shoe size.

If I were a fan of the game or other material, I would be happy with this. I’d want more, of course, as most fans do, but this wouldn’t give me the impression that the company is just taking advantage of me to swipe a quick buck.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For J-pop fans. Even if you aren’t a fan of the group, there is enough of a story and plot here to interest the J-pop crowd in general.

*     *     *     *     *

White Album 2

Japanese Title: White Album 2

Genre: Drama Music Romance

Length: 13 episodes

Now for a different type of music anime, we have the music drama, where music is the centrepiece but drama is the story. In White Album 2, we follow Kitahara on his mission to revive the ailing music club ahead of the school festival. He hears an angelic voice coming from the school roof, finding it belongs to the kind Setsuna. Along with her and the aloof Touma, a piano prodigy that keeps everyone at room’s length, the trio works hard to put on a good show at the festival. Along the way, Kitahara needs to learn that it takes dedication and hard work – something Touma has no shortage of – to master the language of music, while he will teach Touma that it’s worth having friends, that it’s worth letting people in. Setsuna will also need to emerge from her shell and show her true self as more than just the popular girl outlined by everyone in school.

On a surface level, the story is about practicing music and going about the anime school life. However, underlying these fun youthful months is a brewing love triangle of melodrama. By being the one to crack their emotional armours, Kitahara draws the attention and feelings of both girls and neither is sure what the other wants him too or if he likes them, for that matter.

Quick aside. This isn’t a sequel despite the 2 in the title. It’s merely set in the same world as White Album and covers some of its songs. To confuse matters further, should you be interested in the source material, White Album 2 is its own trilogy of visual novels (if the character designs didn’t it away). No, there is no reference to The Beatles’ White Album, which is surprising (let me know, should this not be the case).

Music is only a focus of White Album for the first half of the series until the big performance at the school festival, marking the midpoint rather than the finale, as one would expect. A definite coupling occurs as well around this time, which I didn’t expect either. In a scenario like this this, especially one adapted from a multi-choice visual novel, you predict it to leave things vague as to not upset anyone in the “waifu wars” or to make the “one true pairing” clear from the start to commit to in act three. So when there’s a commitment halfway, my drama sensors tingle and ask, “How is this all going to go wrong?” The protagonist does look similar to the guy from School Days

White Album proceeds down an interesting road by rewinding time and showing us the perspective of the “other girl”, as if this were a visual novel with two equally valid romantic candidates. Quite often in romance VNs, once the player commits to the one love interest, the rest of the prospects suddenly act as though there was never anything between the MC and them. The story pretends that the choice made by the player was the plan all along. There was never any doubt of this coupling. So it’s interesting to see this second perspective and it extracts sorrow for the other girl. Her emotions tug at my heartstrings.

It’s a shame they choked on the final verse. After all this building, all this emotional turmoil, all this drama, the best this story can deliver is an unsatisfactory ending without commitment to one direction and it makes all three characters look like bad people. Flawed characters are good, mistakes are good, but you need to nail that high note if you want to audience to walk away a worthwhile impression. I know the story continues in the next visual novel, yet this would still be a bad ending to the first book of a trilogy.

It wasn’t half-bad until then.

Do I recommend it? The music is nice and most to my taste of the three anime featured here. The drama, however, is heavy on the melodrama side of the scale and thus is likely to depress or tire those not into all the crying, dramatic hugs, and Dutch angles.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For melodrama fans only.

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

 

p.s. These “Quick Reviews” are becoming far from quick.

Fancy Lala – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala

 

Related: Fashion Lala: The Story of the Harbor Light (spin-off)

Similar: Magical Angel Creamy Mami

Searching for the Full Moon

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Drama Music

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Holds up well
  • Good lessons for little girls
  • Music is good in both English and Japanese
  • Doesn’t fall into formulaic magical girl episodes

Negatives:

  • Not cautious enough about a lone girl in the entertainment business

(Request an anime for review here.)

You probably haven’t heard of Fancy Lala – I hadn’t until this came in as a review request – and for good reason. If I gave you these two pieces of information, what does that tell you: “magical girl anime” and “1998”? Yes, it matches Fancy Lala, but also matches a titan of the genre, Cardcaptor Sakura. They didn’t just release in the same year. They came out in the same week. And Cardcaptor Sakura eclipsed the anime we will be looking at today.

Fancy Lala is about a third-grade girl with an imagination larger than life. Miho has a chance meeting with two little fairies (more like dragons) who give her a magical pen and notebook. Anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Furthermore, the pen can transform her into the blue-haired teen Lala from her sketches. It isn’t long before an agent discovers her, convincing Lala to become a model and singer. Thus, Fancy Lala is born.

The first thing that strikes me about Miho is what she considers “cool”. Get this, right, she has the power to create any clothes she wants. Anything. So what does she draw? A transparent raincoat. Except it’s not even a raincoat. It’s a plastic wrap. Then we have her stage name, Fancy Lala, of all names. And I love it. I love how nonsensical her imagination is. This is what a nine-year-old would come up with. The brilliance of Miho is that she feels and thinks like a little girl, not what an adult says a little girl is like. I remember this one kid from primary school who said that if he were a billionaire, he would have a McDonalds at his house so he could eat there every day. That was the grandest thing he could think of. Miho captures that child mentality.

There isn’t as much fanfare as you would expect when she discovers the power. She’s rather casual about it, though I suppose transformation magic isn’t far out of the ordinary for a kid full of imagination.

The episode to episode story reminds very much of Clark Kent/Superman from the Lois & Clark TV series, except with modelling and school drama instead of dastardly villains. Lala has a photo shoot today, but oh no, Miho has to do something with her school friends at the same time! There’s plenty of transforming back and forth, Miho pretending to have arrived just as Lala left, and all that fun secret identity stuff. She notices how differently people treat Lala from Miho. The story strikes a good balance between real Miho plot and the Lala work plot. While she’s trying to make it as a model and then as a singer, she also has school events, family conundrums, and personal issues.

The one real gripe I have against Fancy Lala is how it handles the entertainment industry. Now, I know this a cartoon for little girls and not Perfect Blue; however, no one questions why a teenager never has her parents with her at any photo shoot, film set, or performance. You don’t want to teach kids to go into entertainment alone. The closest thing we have is an agent that tries to force her to work for him, from whom she flees, but then the woman she does join is also a stranger. She could be a trafficker for all Lala knows.

Apart from that, this anime has many great lessons to teach young girls. It explores the power of imagination, but tempers it with reality, talks about divorce, emphasises the importance of hard work and becoming someone people rely on, to name a few. When I first started Fancy Lala, it reminded me of Searching for the Full Moon, a similar anime I had seen long ago (in that, a girl with cancer can transform into a teen singer). Turns out it was inspired by Fancy Lala. This reminiscence was not a positive, for Full Moon was atrocious and taught some horrible life lessons. I expected to have much the same here – wish away your troubles, hard work doesn’t matter, and all that idiocy. Thankfully, Fancy Lala proved me wrong before long.

As a brief side note, Fancy Lala itself took from another series, as is the case with all art, called Creamy Mami, the anime that invented the idea of using an anime to promote idol singers. Fancy Lala’s twist was adding an actual story and drama.

Is it fair that Cardcaptor Sakura pushed this anime into obscurity? No, not in the slightest. Fancy Lala is the better anime. I like Cardcaptors well enough, but this not only avoids a formulaic structure each episode, the characters have more depth and the life lessons are far stronger. Fancy Lala has an ending I would not expect of the magical girl genre. It is a poignant end that leaves the audience with the best message of the series, while instilling inspiration and joy.

Art – Medium

The art is notably aged, but it holds up well and cel animation always has that textured beauty to it.

Sound – Medium

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn – considering the genre – that a first timer, an idol with a short-lived career after the series, voices Miho/Lala. Her acting is alright, better than one would expect. She’s here for the singing talent. The OP screams ‘90s magical anime. The dub actress is similar, whereby her musical ability is stronger than her acting. She’s fine in that regard as well. They did a good job translating the songs.

Story – High

A little girl finds a magic pen that transforms her into a teenager, soon becoming a model and singer. Packed with good lessons, escapist fun, and some nice music, Fancy Lala is a strong offering from the magical girl genre.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For young girls. I like Fancy Lala. Do I recommend it? Not quite. Not unless it’s to a child or an adult who has fond memories of being the sort of child who would have loved this anime, ready for a comfort trip back in time.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Mysterious Girlfriend X / Domestic Girlfriend / After the Rain – Quick Thoughts

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Japanese Title: Nazo no Kanojo X

Genre: Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 1 OVA

Today we look at a trio of romance anime with a taboo or socially repugnant theme, all requested by readers like you (some to torture me. I am a glutton for sufferring after all). First up is Mysterious Girlfriend X, about a boy who falls in love with a girl after tasting her drool. This drool once tasted creates an unbreakable dependency.

Is it as disgusting as it sounds? No, it’s worse. Off the desk, out of a test tube, and off her finger are but a few ways in which he consumes drool. If you don’t have a drool fetish, you will likely find this disgusting.

Magic drool is the only unique selling point of Mysterious Girlfriend X, for what we have here on closer inspection, once past the urge to vomit, is a boring high school romance. This is a perfect example of why a unique premise is the least important part of a great story. I’ve certainly never seen a story about a guy addicted to drool, and yet this is one of the worst romances in existence. It tries to sell you on the idea of how “mysterious” the girl is, both in the title of the show and the pitch – the guy even repeats how mysterious his girlfriend is to close off several episodes (“Did you notice him mention the title? Did you get it!?”)

The drool is a metaphor for love – when he’s sick, he’s actually lovesick, for example – and lust comes in the form of another girl’s drool for a forced love triangle at the last minute. Until that “twist”, nothing happens. It’s just the same events each episode. The characters are insufferably dull. He’s the clichéd shy guy and she is as mysterious as an open, empty box. Her other defining characteristic is carrying a pair of scissors in her panties and her inability to hold hands or accept a hug from the guy she feeds drool to. (Kill me slowly, why don’t you.)

The drool is an immediate putoff, but I hoped that at least there would be something more to it such as absurd comedy (think Chunibyo). Mysterious Girlfriend X can’t even be funny.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Even if you have a drool fetish, surely you want a better story and characters than this?

*     *     *     *     *

Domestic Girlfriend

Japanese Title: Domestic na Kanojo

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

Now for a change of pace, we have a taboo relationship fetish. It follows Natsuo, a guy who just lost his virginity to some girl called Rui that he met at a party, as consolation for not believing he could sleep with his teacher, Hina (why such little faith?) Things take a shocking – shocking, I tell you – turn when his father announces that he is remarrying to a woman with two daughters. And who should those daughters be that step through the door? His first time girl Rui and his teacher Hina. And they’re all going to live together! Awwwkwaaaard

Well, it would be awkward if Rui didn’t keep trying to gobble his flight stick in the bath (he barely objects) and if he wouldn’t keep kissing his teacher (she objects by climbing on top of him for a bit of frottage). He may be a pervert as a teenager, but his teacher wouldn’t behave like this. If nothing else, she wouldn’t move in with the family. It certainly doesn’t gel.

Inconsistency is a serious issue of Domestic Girlfriend. Tone is all over the place. The love triangle (yes, it is serious about the idea) tries to be mature at times, but when no one truly objects to what is going on (even the authorities hand wave it clean), this feels written by a teenager who has never seen an adult relationship and self-inserted into a story. The next episode, it tries to play for comedy, such as when Natsuo and Rui stalk the teacher after work to uncover who she is in an affair with. Oh yes, there is an affair in this triangle as well. And I’ll give you one guess how the man knows Hina… He was her teacher! Such masterful plotting.

That’s not all. When Natsuo goes to the library one time, he sees what he thinks is the literature teacher kissing a student from the literature club. Turns out it was a misunderstanding from his viewing angle (she was getting an eyelash off his face – still inappropriate, by the way). But get this turn of events no one saw coming: the girl does have a thing for him and it is implied that she will make a move and the teacher would reciprocate. Hell, the literature teacher has a yaoi bait moment with Natsuo when they first meet.

Whenever I think Domestic Girlfriend can’t get any worse, it takes my expectations and does to them what Roy Mustang did to Lust, revealing even greater levels of idiocy. This is worse than a daytime soap opera. At least those are consistent and know how to play up the cheesy drama.

During the confrontation between Natsuo and the married man, we have the restaurant staff (friends to Natsuo) playing the overreacting comedic audience. Am I supposed to take this seriously or not? In case you were wondering, no, Natsuo isn’t presented as hypocritical.

The premise, as I reiterate often, doesn’t automatically make the story a failure. It’s about the execution. If a premise could sink a story before it begins, we would never be able to have protagonists that are murderers, for instance. What if such a situation did happen? What if the girl you slept with the other day did turn out to be your new stepsister? (Let’s keep the teacher out of this for the moment – would have been better cut it down to one character anyway.) You can’t blame the guy for what happened at the start. How was he to know, right? The question is what happens next. One would look at the psychology of it, the social connotations, and how people would react. Domestic Girlfriend merely pretends to do this. As for the teacher relationship, the idea isn’t unthinkable. It does happen, after all. So what if it did to this guy? Well, we ask the same questions as we did with the younger sister. Even if he were an adult, it wouldn’t be as simple as presented here. There is a reason any good university doesn’t allow relationship between professors and their students or why doctors can’t date patients. Asking the question, “What if?” isn’t a problem. How you go about answering that question is what matters.

Maybe Domestic Girlfriend isn’t trying to tackle this subject matter seriously, you ponder. What if it’s just smut? You would have a case to make if not for the novel subplot. Natsuo’s dream is of becoming an author like one of the Japanese dramatic greats, and he finds help in achieving this through the literature teacher. At the end of the series, his first novel, which he shits out in a few months, wins first prize at a contest and is celebrated by all. And what is this novel about? A student in love with his teacher.

I’m not sure I have seen a more pathetic anime than Domestic Girlfriend.

Given that the manga has far more volumes than what could fit in 12 episodes, I gave the final two volumes a gander only to find quite a different scenario, as expected, and a far worse ending, which didn’t go over well with fans, as I understand it. So you can’t even go to the source for a good version of this story.

Tackling such a difficult topic requires great skill and understanding of the human condition. You have three avenues to take that can turn out well – go serious and make a gripping drama, go full comedy and laugh at the absurd, or go maximum cheese like a soap opera. Failing those leaves you in this middle ground of nonsense. There is always the fourth option, of course. Go full lewd.

Domestic Girlfriend doesn’t have the balls to be hentai.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Domestic Girlfriend has nothing to recommend about itself and plenty to keep you away. I would have dropped this at episode one if not for review. Wait, I do have a positive. The opening song is great, far too good for this.

*     *     *     *     *

After the Rain

Japanese Title: Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

Genre: Romance

Length: 12 episodes

Lastly, we have After the Rain, also about a taboo potential relationship. Tachibana is a high school girl that keeps to herself as she works at a restaurant ever since a crippling injury knocked her out of the track team. Her manager, Kondo, is seen as quite the weakling for how much he apologises to everyone and puts the customers above himself, even when they are in the wrong. He’s 45 years old and unfortunately for Tachibana, she has feelings for him.

Now unlike Domestic Girlfriend, After the Rain doesn’t dive head first into the mire of taboo. It asks the “What if” question and then seriously considers it in a light drama way. He shuts her down when she confesses, but due to his weak and caring nature, he also can’t push her away outright.

At its heart, this story isn’t about the “romance” (it remains platonic). Every important character in a story should have a want and a need. The want is what they think will bring them success/happiness/whatever. The need is what will actually do it, unknown to them. She wants to be in a relationship with him to make herself happy. She needs to get back out there and stop using her injury as an excuse to hide. He wants to feel young again. He needs to grow a spine and take charge, do something for himself for once. The taboo is almost bait. They find comfort in each other (doesn’t cross the line) as they slowly discover these truths.

I say slowly because After the Rain is as slow as swimming in a honey lake. It could have handled the story in half the episodes and still not felt like a fast show. If one were to keep to 12 episodes, then we need more development, particularly from side characters. Tachibana’s best friend and running partner, who plays an integral role in her need, is barely a character considering her importance. The closest thing to an antagonist is a chef at the restaurant, who figures out Tachibana’s secret and blackmails her into a date. There is mixed messaging around the guy, as he is the one to truly point out how bad of an idea a serious relationship would be with the manager, yet the way it is presented with him as villain, makes it sound as if we are meant to disagree with him. Then the story drops him after the confrontation.

After the Rain ends up being a whole lot of nothing. The characters do have arcs, there is change by the end, yes, but those arcs are so small that I wonder if it was worth experiencing. Without the visual department working some absolute magic in the atmosphere, this anime wouldn’t have much going for it.

Artistically, there are some beautiful shots in After the Rain. Whoever did those clouds deserves a raise! The OP and ED songs are lovely as well.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it if you are an unrequited romance fan. After the Rain doesn’t have anything crippling against it, yet doesn’t much going for it either. You may be in the mood for something light with pretty colours.

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

Weathering With You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenki no Ko

 

Similar: Your Name

Patema Inverted

The World is Still Beautiful

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 1 hr. 54 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art, particularly the weather
  • Great cast of characters
  • Unconventional story direction
  • Beautiful music complements the emotional moments

Negatives:

  • Minor animation shortcuts

(Request an anime for review here.)

For a man who loves the weather as much as Makoto Shinkai does, it was inevitable that he would release a movie about weather itself. After missing the opportunity to see this in theatres, I finally have access to the blu-ray of Weathering With You. Was it worth the anticipation?

Look, I love Shinkai’s visual style so much that even with a mediocre story it would still be worth the wait. He builds such atmosphere, such ambiance in his films that I simply like being in them. However, having a great story as well never hurts.

Weathering With You opens with a teenaged boy called Hodaka on his way to Tokyo. He’s on the run to what he assumes will be a better life. Little does he know that Tokyo has few favours in store for him, gives no pity. Someone takes advantage of him before he even arrives! Then there’s the rain. An eternal torrent of rain has settled over Tokyo and it shows no signs of abating.

Wandering the streets and starving after some horrendous financial planning (why go to McDonalds when low on funds? If you can’t cook, at least choose the convenience store), he finds a job at a small publishing house, where he becomes the jack-of-all-trades. Assistant, note taker, cleaner, cook, shopper, and writer, he does it all. It’s rough, but the people are nice. Things are looking up! All of this changes – for better and worse – when he meets Hina, a desperate girl about to make a horrible career decision with some shady dudes and he yanks her out of there. Somehow, she has the ability to “pray” the rain away and bring out the sun. Hodaka and Hina have the idea to sell her services as the “Sunshine Girl” for your event, where it’s a market, a wedding, or meteor shower viewing party.

One will immediately feel similarities to Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name, when watching Weathering With You – and will appeal to the same fans. No works of his have been more similar than these two films. However, Weathering With You is much simpler in premise and execution. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Wait, when he was doing this, she was doing that, yeah? And this lines up with that other thing?” It’s much more straightforward and refined here. The concept of Weathering With You is not as initially gripping as Your Name was. It doesn’t summarise itself in that one neat sentence that can sell the idea without further explanation.

As such, Weathering With You does not grab me from the outset – storywise, of course; visually, amazing from the first frame. It isn’t until the first downward turn in Hodaka and Hina’s relationship when we realise there is a cost to her power that I get that, “Yes, now I’m really in,” feeling. Once the story hits that point, I love every moment of the tumultuous ride we go on as they struggle with her destiny and the past catches up with them. What, you thought being a runway kid with a gun wouldn’t have consequences? And what of her, an underage girl with a small brother in her care?

Most of Shinkai’s protagonists have this element of deep-seated sadness that drives so much of what they do. The characteristic has recurred so often, that I wonder what Shinkai experienced himself to compel him to write such protagonists. All characters in Weathering With You are believable and relatable on some level, from the publisher trying to visit his daughter against the objections of his ex-mother in law to Hina’s surprisingly mature little brother in affairs of the heart (my favourite character).

This is a delightful film.

If you were to ask for some negatives though, apart from that slightly weaker start, I wouldn’t have much to say. It is noticeable that the subplot of his job at the publisher stops about halfway, its purpose being to discover the cost of Hina’s power. There should have been a little something to keep it going, though thankfully the two characters from his job are always relevant. The lyrical music can be a bit much at times as well. There are a few little things here and there, but nothing is a big enough problem to detract from the overall experience.

Some people may take issue with the magic element of Hina’s power, but I don’t see it as a problem. Not everything needs encyclopaedic explanation. It all depends on how prevalent the magic is. The main reason we have explanations for magic systems is to avoid things like deus ex machina or general confusion. A writer needs to strike that balance of explaining enough to sell the audience on the premise without drowning them in exposition. Weathering With You gets it just right.

Art – Very High

You have never seen animated weather look as good as this. The other elements are great too. The only visual flaws are a few CG assets – wouldn’t have been much more work to do them normally, so they must have been pressed for time, but these are minor problems.

Sound – High

The soundtrack is beautiful, though a little overpowering at times with some lyrical tracks, as if there were product placement requirements in place that mandated a minimum runtime and volume to make sure the audience picks it up. Acting is good.

Story – Very High

A runaway teen meets a “Sunshine Girl” amid a dark and rainy Tokyo. Though it has a slow start, Weathering With You soon ramps up to become a dramatic journey of love, sacrifice, and eternal rain.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Weathering With You is perfect for Shinkai fans and will even appeal to non-anime fans with its simple premise into great execution.

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Beastars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Similar: Land of the Lustrous

Aggretsuko

Shiki

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Successful CG
  • Engaging characters
  • A different setting and focus than usual

Negatives:

  • Needs more world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t believe I am saying this – I mean, it would have happened eventually – but I still can’t believe there is a great looking CG anime. Not only that, it has a great story too.

Beastars is Zootopia meets high school anime drama. In this world, all animals live together in a passable sense of harmony. We focus on Cherryton Academy where a drama club prepares for a grand performance before the school. Our protagonist, Legosi the grey wolf, hides in the shadows behind the stage lights. His shyness is nothing like the red deer Louis, who commands enormous respect driven by ambitions of becoming a Beastar, the highest possible honour for any animal, achieved only by demonstrating excellence for the betterment of society.

The story kicks off when a carnivore kills Legosi’s friend, an alpaca. In a twist of world building for the premise, carnivores are the discriminated group in this world. They have the presumption of guilt against them – “Most kills are by carnivores, therefore all carnivores are killers.” Legosi does everything he can to go unnoticed at school. Even so, everyone finds his large stature and sombre tones intimidating. He must be up to something! On the opposite end, you have Louis, a deer that desperately wants to be a carnivore. He wants that strength, that power, that intimidation and though he is friends with Legosi (or is he?), he resents the wolf’s efforts to throw all his gifts away. I love these two characters. They by far and away are the stars of the show. The complexity of character versus their place in the world and the dynamic with those around them is compelling. You want to see what they’ll do next.

Supporting them are other members of the drama club, including a tiger jealous of Louis’s popularity, and a slutty bunny called Haru. There’s no other way to put it. She will jump anything with an extra leg. She is a small creature, often taken advantage of or treated as a fragile thing, so she uses her sexuality to take control. Another good character. She doesn’t deserve my boy Legosi, but a good character nevertheless.

Their relationship begins when he catches her scent one night and almost kills her. The next day, he sees her at the garden club when tasked with collecting flowers for the stage play. She assumes he’s like the others and does her thing on him. Legosi manages to escape her evil clutches (you go, Legosi, stay away!) but can’t stop thinking of her. This unconventional relationship works well to complement Legosi’s theme of fighting against his nature, as any good subplot should do.

This is a good time to talk about the world building. Beastars has good social world building – the “speciesism” against carnivores, Louis craving for strength he can’t have, Legosi’s personality through environment, to name a few. However, it lacks physical world building. How does this world operate? How is it that all of these different animals can live in the same place? How does anything work?

To put it simply, think of how our world accommodates people with different disabilities. Imagine there was a story focusing on a paraplegic. And in that story, we are told that he lives a rather normal life considering his circumstances. The paraplegic travels a lot, yet the story never shows us how he manages this (also imagine you don’t know how this works in real life, so you can’t fill in the gaps). They would need to show the wheelchair, the mechanisms of an accessible home, and the ramps and lifts around the world. Go into detail.

Beastars, for the moment (it will eventually go into detail, surely), assumes too much of the audience’s suspension of disbelief. “What do you mean you don’t see how you can have a city that works for both the elephant and the mouse – isn’t it obvious?” No, it isn’t. I’m not asking for the Encyclopaedia Beastarica. But I do want something. Keep in mind that this isn’t the same as classic Disney films with animals instead of humans, like Robin Hood, where these details don’t matter. Beastars is going for a serious take, made all the more important when the conflict centres on the dynamics of this world.

One can’t help but draw comparisons to Zootopia with its brilliantly realised world. That film managed to create a world easily five times more complex than Beastars did and in less than half the minutes. First to mind is the detail of how a street vendor sells to a rodent class animal by dropping the drink down a chute to collect at the ground. Beastars has glimpses of great world building. In fact, the best episode is all about expanding this world through the illegal meat market and Legosi’s reaction to it. This episode elevates Beastars beyond an interesting premise. The goat with price tags hanging off his fingers for sale is one of the most unsettling moments in anime. Give me more.

Finally, I can’t end without going into the art, specifically the CG. Like all of you, I imagine, hearing the term CG in any relation to anime makes me uneasy to the stomach. Good CG doesn’t exist on a budget and the reason they use it for anime is budget. An association with CG characters alone put Beastars on my “not interested” list. It wasn’t until a friend raved about it that I moved it to the watch list, yet with a sense that it would be an endurance test. Imagine my surprise when I open Beastars and it isn’t just better than other CG anime, it is great. Studio Orange did a fantastic job at making the 3D look like anime 2D. The trick is in the lighting, colouring, and outlines to mask the 3D coupled with 2D for environments where suitable. Look at the screenshots in this review. They seem 95% made in 2D. It is a truly impressive job.

It isn’t perfect. The 3D stands out much more in motion, particularly in mouth movements. In traditional animation, one’s mouth jumps from position to position with perhaps extra frames in between for the larger movements. CG however, is smooth from one position to the next – like reality. The increased smoothness of CG animation makes it look worse when trying to be 2D. You need the mouth to jump frames for it to work. Smooth animation works when aiming for a high quality CG scene, such as a game cutscene or trailer. Such quality is expensive though. Beastars needs to, ironically, lower the animation in parts to improve the final effect.

I am excited for more of Beastars. I’ve started on the manga at a friend’s request, as he doesn’t have the patience to wait for spoiler discussions. Don’t miss out on this one either.

Art – High

The CG is great in Beastars, as unbelievable as this sounds. This CG is a success with real effort in texture, lighting, and a mix of 2D. Only the unnatural smoothness of the animation really stands out as a problem. I love the stop motion opening.

Sound – High

The original Japanese track is superior here. The dub is fine, if that’s what you always go for, but the Japanese casting and energy is notably better. Great opening song to go with the stop motion. The rest of the music isn’t memorable, however. The script is solid and better written than the manga – more dramatic.

Story – High

A wolf deals with school drama as he develops feelings for a rabbit, his prey. With great characters, high conflict interspecies drama, and an engaging premise, Beastars is a hit. That said, it needs more in the world-building department.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Even those averse to CG anime should watch Beastars.

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

Positive:

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None