Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

A Whisker Away – One True Cat Girl?

Japanese Title: Nakitai Watashi wa Neko wo Kaburu

 

Similar: The Cat Returns

A Silent Voice

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 1 hr. 44 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The girl’s cat-like behaviour
  • The cats
  • Animation is brilliant

Negatives:

  • The boy is bland
  • Romance doesn’t really work

(Request an anime for review here.)

Miyo is a girl in love. A little too much in love if you ask most people. Her target is Kento, a quiet boy who keeps his troubles to himself. She comes from a disjointed family with an overbearing mother – in Miyo’s view – and a weak father. Instead, this energetic girl throws all attention into drawing the eye of her crush. Nothing works. Opportunity arises when a fat cat sells her a mask that transforms her into a cute little cat, after which she uses her newfound form to visit Kento in disguise. He takes the cat in and calls her Taro.

The girl, I like, particularly the way they animated her. The animators managed to convey how a human would move if inhabited by the spirit of a cat. In one scene, she hears two boys at school making fun of Kento, so she jumps off a walkway, crashes through the branches of a tree, and lands before them like a wild cat. Perfect embodiment of the character. She’s so full of energy and life.

However! She doesn’t quite work in this story. Or is it that the story doesn’t work around her? If I didn’t know A Whisker Away was a children’s film, I would have expected a completely different direction around the halfway mark. Miyo is obsessed with this guy, performs crazy gestures to get his attention and show what he means to her. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a foundation to the supposed relationship between these two. She comes across as…creepy isn’t the right word – more like crazy. I know this is a children’s film all in good fun, but it doesn’t mesh well. It needed a “before” segment, where we see something that justifies her fanatical behaviour. Perhaps they used to be close friends (and we see this) and she’s trying to break him from depression, or there’s some sort of magic that wiped her from his memory and she can’t tell him about it, but the curse never said anything about making him fall for her all over again. You know, something. The tiny glimpses we receive aren’t enough. At all.

In a more dramatic film, her behaviour would be set up for a confrontation about her one-sided obsession and end in a broken heart. In an adult horror film, she’d pull out a knife. No, wait! Brass knuckles with claws on them that leave scratch marks like a cat. The final twist would be that she was never cat – it was all in her head! Someone get on this film, stat!

Anyway, where was I.

Ah yes, the other piece that doesn’t fit the Whisker Away puzzle is Kento. He’s as bland as a grey cement wall. Feels like she wants to host a pity party for him, not show affection, at times. This is where that before segment would have helped as well. It could setup a personality for him before he breaks and she has to pull him back together again. Furthermore, when he does finally pay attention to her after the real price for the cat transformation is revealed, he changes in a flash to help her, presumably falling in love at the same time. There needs to be more to sell his change. As is, he’s a dull character who feels largely unimportant until the final act. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the story had twisted away from him to become a self-discovery tale for Miyo. I half expected it.

A Whisker Away isn’t as good a Mari Okada’s other work (she wrote this one) I recently reviewed, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (wrote and directed). I recommend that film before this. A Whisker Away is still alright though – Miyo cat is adorable. I like all the cat stuff. And it is a pretty film.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anyone in need of an easy time. A Whisker Away is an overly simple anime film. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana wo Kazarou

 

Similar: Wolf Children

Violet Evergarden

Mirai of the Future

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy

Length: 1 hr. 55 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful to behold
  • Emotionally resonant main story
  • Great acting

Negatives:

  • Subplots are underbaked

(Request an anime for review here.)

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms comes from Mari Okada, a veteran screenwriter of the industry, having adapted many manga to animation. She’s been involved in some anime I enjoy (Iron-Blooded Orphans, AnoHana, for example) and some I don’t think highly of (Vampire Knight chief amongst them). This is her first time directing. And what a promising debut it is.

Maquia, at its heart, is a story about motherhood and mortality. In this world reside the Iorph, an elf-like race that lives hundreds of years separate from the rest of the world. They pass the days weaving a magic cloth that records the totality of their memories as one endless history. Though Iorph live in peace, the world outside marches on with the unstoppable tide of progress and evolution. The royal family of the nearby Mezarte kingdom have long used the dragon-esque Renato as their symbol of power, but a disease has afflicted the creatures and it kills them one at a time. In search of a new symbol to prove their “divine” status, the king sends his soldiers to capture an Iorph and discover the secret to their long life – one will have to marry his son, if forced to.

The titular Maquia escapes the onslaught atop a sick Renato. As she flees into the outside world, she happens upon a camp of travellers, all slaughtered by bandits save for a lone baby. She pries the crying thing from her mother’s rigid fingers and sets her sole mission in life to protect this child at all costs. Her journey will take her into foreign lands of varied people, both good and bad, and there will be many challenges for someone so naïve of reality. However, she could have never anticipated her long life to be the greatest challenge of all.

I went into this film blind and I didn’t expect it to hit so hard. The main story of Maquia and her son is a beautiful one loaded with goodness and a pure heart. The question of what would happen if someone seemingly immortal had to raise a mortal in mortal society is a fascinating one. I love stories that explore the challenges of immortality. There is a hint of this in The Lord of the Rings, of course, and I recently saw the film The Age of Adeline about a woman who stops aging after an accident and must move house every decade to avoid anyone noticing. However, I’ve never seen one focus so wholeheartedly on the child of the immortal. They are usually a subplot. Maquia dedicates almost all attention to this emotional thread and it is a triumph. I won’t talk of it further. Experience it for yourself – the perfect Mother’s Day film as well.

Complementing the beautiful story are beautiful visuals. The film opens on the Iorph town in the mountains, a sparkling paradise of ivory towers, glittering pools, and greenery that lifts the spirits. It even does bloom correctly! The wider world has just as much detail and visual greatness to drink in. I love it all, from the design of the main city of Mezarte to the wrought wood interior of a village shop. Nothing feels lazy or cut short by the art department.

However, not all is great in the world of Maquia, for now I must talk of the subplots. I don’t think a single one succeeds. There are three subplots. The most important is that of the kidnapped Iorph woman forced to marry the human prince and bear his child. Then we have the Iorph man on a quest to rescue her. And lastly, there is the involvement of other nations in a war. All three threads are so underbaked that the viewer has to make so many assumptions and fill in so many gaps to make them interesting.

It feels as if there wasn’t enough screen time for everything, so cuts were made to preserve the main story. Of course, the main is most important, but if a subplot no longer fulfils its purpose, then it has to change or leave altogether.

The problems are most notable with the kidnapped Iorph. The king orders her kidnapping, marriage, and child bearing to add the Ioprh’s long life to his bloodline. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is just about everything else. First, the knight who leads the raid on the Iorph town. He orders the killing of anyone who resists – not a kind bone in his body – yet later scenes have him acting as if he cares for the woman. Did he fall in love with her at some point? If so, and you want us to care an iota, you need to show this transformation. How are we supposed to believe he goes from one of the most evil people in her life to someone that cares about her? Maybe that isn’t even the case and he’s the same as ever. Who knows? Maquia doesn’t show us enough to get answers.

Deeper in the same thread, I have more questions. Why doesn’t she escape when given the chance? She tries to explain that she can’t because of her daughter, but she’s never seen her and there’s no reason she can’t leave now and get her daughter out later. Will the king kill the daughter if the mother leaves? Maybe. There’s no indication of the sort because, again, there isn’t enough time in this thread. Why didn’t she escape before the birth when able? I keep waiting for it to go into detail, but nothing unfurls before the finale.

The Iorph lover’s subplot has too many spoilers to detail here, but it’s the same case of missing detail. We cut to these subplots in between extended sections of great main story content, with timeskips in each case, though the detail worsens the further we go. The problem isn’t confusion. None of these are hard to understand. They are just so listless, void of the emotion that permeates the main plot. A woman forced into marriage, separated from her own child; a man out to rescue his lover for decades – these stories should hit hard, just like the primary thread. They don’t. The contrast in narrative quality between the main and subplots is night and day.

All considered though, main story is most important and Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms executes that brilliantly, well enough to recommend itself despite any side issues. It is worth your time.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a beautiful, heartfelt film I can recommend to anyone.

(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:

Extensive Character DevelopmentFluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

(Request an anime for review here.)

Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

(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: 

Hollow World Building

Golden Time – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Golden Time

 

Similar: Toradora

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Rumbling Hearts

A Lull in the Sea

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Funny, at first
  • Fashionable

Negatives:

  • The drama blows!
  • Bland as bricks protagonist
  • Bad amnesia plot
  • This isn’t a relationship

(Request an anime for review here.)

Golden Time looks good on paper. Or rather, it looks good in stills, thanks in particular to the fashionable character designs. However, once the CG extras and lack of animation come into play, it’s a letdown. Or rather, the start of the letdown. Posters, stills, and snippets from early episodes of Golden Time promise a fun romantic comedy, but lurking in later episodes is face clawing melodrama, a shockingly bad twist, and no romance.

I had an inkling things were off from the start when the protagonist had amnesia. “No,” I thought, “there must be a good reason for it. They aren’t going to pull off that twist, surely.”

They did.

Banri is a first-year university student with amnesia. Lost and confused, he makes a friend on his first day only to have some random girl slap his new friend, Mitsuo, with a bouquet of flowers. Turns out, this fashionable beauty is an absolute psycho of a childhood friend that stalked Mitsuo to this university after he kept it secret to escape her. Banri has the hots for this crazy Kouko and thinking with his pants rather than his head, he allows her to drag him off to whatever university adventure catches her fancy.

The early episodes of Golden Time are the fun one would expect. Early focus goes to club recruitment, which is rather humorous from the demonic Tea Club to the Scientology-like cult that ropes in Banri and co. The Festival Club has his apparent high school crush, unbeknownst to him.

Fun soon gives way for banality and cliché of anime romcoms before it takes a sharp turn into melodrama with an amnesia twist so widely known to be horrendous that you’d think no one would use it. If the protagonist doesn’t remember anything, then we have little to go on, little for him to develop from, and little for us to care about. Amnesia, more often than not, creates false conflict through contrivance. It can work – see the excellent film Memento – but this writer is certainly not good enough to pull it off. And when Banri does remember the past, he forgets everything that happened after the initial memory loss just to double down on the worst amnesia twist of all time.

An amnesia twist is bad enough by itself, yet it isn’t Golden Time’s only major failing. The love triangle is as clichéd as you can imagine, which combined with misunderstandings as the primary source of conflict makes for a tedious anime to complete. False melodrama reeks throughout the latter part of Golden Time. Banri also has no personality to show for himself. No girl would be interested in him – never mind more than one – and his relationship (if you can call it that) with Kouko is simply crap. I have nothing positive to say about the romance.

I cannot recommend Golden Time to anyone. Romantic comedy fans won’t like the melodrama. Drama fans won’t like the tonal imbalance. And no one will like the twist.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. I don’t know to whom Golden Time could appeal. The melodrama dampens the comedy, which in itself doesn’t fit the drama, and the romance doesn’t exist.

(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: 

Shyamalamalam-Worthy Twists

Wonder Egg Priority – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wonder Egg Priority

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Digimon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Fantasy

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Great animation
  • The backstory

Negatives:

  • The egg girls have no presence
  • Overstuffed with trauma ideas
  • Doesn’t feel sure about its narrative tone

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wonder Egg Priority is a story of suicide and its causes amongst young girls. While an admirable effort, it ultimately attempts too much in too little time.

Ai Ohto has been a lonely depressed girl for a long while. The one ray of sunshine she had was her best friend, who recently committed suicide by jumping off the school roof. This leaves Ai a wreck. Then, in a surreal twist of fate, she finds an egg in her dream and talking toilet paper tells her to smash it. She does so and out hatches a girl her age. That’s weird. Then come the murder goblins crashing through the school halls of this dreamscape, splattering paint wherever they go. They paint with blood, however. Behind these “Seeno Evil” monsters is a puppet master, a “Wonder Killer” monster that seems made of sacks of paint. Killing the master with Ai’s pen-turned-Keyblade frees the egg girl and she can leave this limbo.

Ai then meets the two people, er, dolls (?) behind these wonder eggs, who tell her that if she helps enough girls, she can revive her dead friend (represented by a statue in the dream world). Furthermore, she isn’t the only one cracking eggs. She teams up with three other girls of varying archetypes (quiet studious girl, pretty tomboy, and the bad girl) and they become friends.

Wonder Egg Priority may sound abstract and odd from my description above, but it is rather straightforward by the second episode. In fact, I’m not sure if it intended abstraction and failed or the creator just thought it was cool. If you’ve seen Madoka Magica (or played Persona) this anime will seem familiar, only not as grim, which is an odd thing to say considering Wonder Egg tackles suicide, abuse, rape, self-harm, bullying, and more (catalysts for the suicides). See, Wonder Egg is overstuffed with these trauma elements that it barely manages to dedicate enough time for more than a couple. In fact, there are so many instances – some character have multiple traumas – that you’d be forgiven for missing a few. I don’t suggest the execution is awful. It’s undercooked.

This isn’t an example like having a happy romance for 90% of the story before someone rapes the lead female in the finale for shock value. Trauma permeates Wonder Egg, so it isn’t out of place when we meet another abuse victim. However, it rarely has the intended impact.

Most egregious are the egg girls. Ai or a friend will hatch one, the enemies will spawn, a chase ensues, and during a moment of downtime before the Wonder Killer confrontation, Ai will get to know the girl and what lead her to suicide. Then they kill the monster and the girl is gone. You can’t expect the audience to feel invested, or truly care, when a character’s trauma boils down to a two-minute scene ahead of her departure for another girl to enter next episode.

The story does spend more time on the four main girls though, yet even then it’s too much for too few episodes. I compare this to Madoka Magica because that anime accomplishes – in terms of tragedy – what this tried to do. Madoka focused on the core character elements, boiled it down to the essentials and gave them the appropriate amount of screen time. Less is more once again.

The best episodes are in the final act when it goes into the backstory for this wonder egg experiment and the two scientists behind it. I’m sorry to say though that it has little to do with Ai and is far more engaging than her story. I wonder if they should have been the mains instead.

Where Wonder Egg succeeds most is in the visual department. This is a beautiful anime with masterful understanding of colour theory, light, and shade. Compositions often remind of the Monogatari franchise. The animation is great, never relying on those slow pans I hate so much, and is at its most fluid during the action scenes, which are more intense than expected for such a bright and colourful anime.

My only visual quibble is with the dream world. Yes, the gremlins and big goobers are imaginative, but the school setting is as generic as any anime school. Think of how Persona 5 turns ordinary locations into crazy realities representing a villain’s psyche. Or how Madoka has that witch magic everywhere. Do something creative. You’re in a dream; you can do anything you want and it can enhance theme and reinforce messages.

Overall, Wonder Egg Priority is a goodish anime, more enjoyable as a visual experience over a narrative one that could appeal to a decent amount of viewers. Do note that the heavy emphasis on trauma may put off some people.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Wonder Egg Priority looks beautiful and is different from other anime this season.

(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:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None