Category Archives: Drama

The focus is on emotional conflict.

Bokurano – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bokura no

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Fafner of the Blue Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great opening song
  • Easy premise

Negatives:

  • Every male is evil
  • Every female is meek
  • The structure preceding each death lowers drama and mystery

(Request an anime for review here.)

Bokurano is an easy anime to sell with a premise such as this. A giant machine is the only thing that stands between the monsters and Earth. However, each use of the weapon requires a blood sacrifice. The life of a child. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Alas, here we have a perfect example in the importance of character over premise.

These 15 children don’t have the qualities to make an audience care for their fates and ultimate demises. The boys – bar one – are evil, one of them even forcing himself on a girl. The first episode has one guy slap the life out of the smallest girl and no one does anything about it. “Stop it,” they say with as much energy as a sloth. He will do this again in future, many times. Are we to feel sorry that these kids will die? The girls are all meek, spineless. It takes attempted rape for one to fight back. These kids don’t make sense as friends. I don’t see the point of having 15 kids, other than to give more sacrifices for more episodes, when they are all so similar. For such a group, the logical direction would be to have a variety of personalities. Go for the sentai archetypes. That might come across as generic, but killing them off one at a time is different.

Fewer characters would also help, as it gives more time for development. The structure of Bokurano is to dedicate a couple of episodes leading up to someone’s sacrifice. We see their entire sob story in this time to make us care for the death. This structure has three problems. This first issue is that it lowers the drama and mystery when you already know who will die. The second is that two episodes isn’t enough to kill off what essentially becomes the protagonist for that short time. Two episodes is what you dedicate to the old lady in the village that helped our adventuring party before the villain kills her for information on their whereabouts. The writing also needs a more subtle hand at characterisation. And lastly, most kids disappear from the story until it nears their time to die.

I have the impression that the author had the wrong approach in thinking about this story. Instead of planning for, “Alright, I need to kill someone every second episode or so, because that’s the premise,” one should think of it free from the premise for a second (and cut down the character count). Let’s say you had a party of seven friends and your story idea was to see what it would be like to kill each off one at a time (no special mechanic to kill them), rather than the usual story of everyone surviving to the end with the power of BFF friendship. How would you plot that? Would you kill them off at equal intervals or keep the audience on their toes about who will die and when? Bokurano uses the former method.

It’s hard to describe the boredom in the face of imminent death when a story tells you everything that is yet to pass. Add in the not-so-subtle yet flat characters and I am on cruise control from start to finish. And what’s with all the rapists?

Bokurano isn’t a bad anime. This is a case where every element except for the music (love the OP song) has an obvious flaw weighing it down. Confining everything within this predictable structure just to fit the initial idea of the premise means Bokurano can never be more than average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Evangelion-like anime. You have to be in it for the premise, as the execution isn’t up to scratch.

(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

Laughing Salesman / Hayate the Combat Butler / Nichijou – Quick Review

Laughing Salesman

Japanese Title: Warau Salesman

Genre: Comedy Drama

Length: 103 episodes (half-length)

That broad smile. Those dead eyes. That deep laugh sending a chill down your spine. If you see those three traits on someone, then beware for the travelling salesman Moguro is coming for you. What does he sell? Happiness and success. It’s true! Don’t let his unnerving appearance put you off. He will deliver as promised, but he didn’t say anything about you deciding on which form that happiness and success will manifest.

Today I thought we’d look at a trio of comedies (all with requests from several readers) in the quick review format since there isn’t much to say about any individual series, as is often the case with comedy. We start with the oldest and weirdest of the lot, Laughing Salesman.

This is a series of disconnected mini-episodes, each centred on the titular salesman as he travels around Japan to help ordinary citizens in acute need of assistance. His aid has no price, but does have a “deal with the devil” slant that leaves his clients with what they asked for, technically, though perhaps they should have been careful of what they wished for. The angle of Laughing Salesman is very much towards comedy.

Moguro’s clients consist of both good, well-meaning people and the ingrates of society. The fun of the series is in seeing how he takes client expectations and twists them. To give a few examples, one episode has a guy who wants to learn to drive yet is unbelievably bad behind a wheel. After a few lessons from Moguro, he grows overconfident while drunk and takes a dump truck for a joy ride. He succeeds in driving, though how many laws does he break in the process? Someone with “grass is greener on the other side” envy gets to experience another life, only to realise it’s far worse than what they already had. Another person may wish for people to notice him, so Moguro puts him in the spotlight, hounded day and night by the press. People will certainly know him now! The episode below is the perfect introduction to Moguro and his deals.

The stories are straightforward and good in small doses. This isn’t an anime to binge.

Laughing Salesman is a fun anime from a different time. Nothing special, but decent nonetheless. Also, fun fact: the voice of Moguro did Darth Vader in Japanese. No surprise with that deep bass!

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Give the episode below a try to see if Laughing Salesman is your cup of humour. (Don’t bother with the 2017 remake.)

*     *     *     *     *

Hayate the Combat Butler

Japanese Title: Hayate no Gotoku!

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 52 episodes

You couldn’t pick this anime out of a line-up. Hayate the Combat Butler looks as generic and forgettable as you can imagine for a 2000s anime. It doesn’t give a good impression when judging by the cover, nor does the first episode help. I had watched episode one a few months ago to get an idea for the series and know where to slot it for my mood. I keep 6-12 anime going at one time, so I have a variety to watch based on what I’m feeling in the now. I found it counterproductive to force myself to finish one series before starting another. That said, if I have 12 going, it means around half are boring me to death and I should force myself a little more before I open up anything else.

To get back on track, Hayate the Combat Butler doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time at first glance. The story is about a poor boy, Hayate, who works as the personal butler to billionaire girl Nagi to pay off a massive debt. It’s a comedy of errors and disasters when it comes to protecting the oblivious Nagi from all the dangers in the world. No matter how bad things get, they will always get worse.

By all accounts, this shouldn’t be a good anime. Apart from the poor art, there is the standard premise and seemingly generic characters. However, the quick wit and sharp pace of the humour, which often goes meta, makes it work. I do find the overall series to be too long at 52 episodes (and there are sequels), but any given episode moves at a good clip and packs in the jokes. The meta humour garners frequent laughs from me. Characters complain about lack of screen time; someone breaks anime cliché and characters will discuss it like critics; commentary on episode structure is common or on anime tropes. References to other anime of all genres are common too. As such, this is an anime for viewers familiar with anime, especially the school comedies that one would put in the line-up previously mentioned.

The other jokes are most often about Hayate covering for Nagi or saving her life. Her arc is about relating to other kids at school, which she skips every day to play video games (who needs an education when you drown in money). She has to learn what peasants normal people do in life. However, she is terrible at everything. Can’t even make a cup of tea. Her brew is tantamount to poison, so Hayate secretly replaces it with his work to save the recipient and Nagi’s dignity. Good stuff.

I am surprised that I enjoy Hayate the Combat Butler. You wouldn’t think so if you saw my eye roll at the start.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Hayate the Combat Butler’s meta heavy humour is for seasoned anime fans. Only they could look past the art as well.

*     *     *     *     *

Nichijou – My Ordinary Life

Japanese Title: Nichijou

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 26

Inverse to my surprise enjoyment of Hayate the Combat Butler, we have Nichijou. I had seen a couple of funny clips over the years prior to this viewing, which had put it on my to-watch list. I always intended to watch Nichijou and looked forward to it – was only a question of when. I did not laugh half as much as anticipated.

Nichijou is a slice of life comedy with three primary duos for the three humour threads. The main duo are two high school girls. Their humour is a heightened view of ordinary school situations. The second duo is a robot maid and a little girl, with the skits focusing on the domestic (later blends into school with the other girls). The final duo are from a club (student council?), an aristocratic boy and the tsundere girl that likes him. Theirs is the most violent humour as she expresses her emotions by pulling out bigger and bigger guns. Aside from them, there are a smattering of side characters with the occasional skit, such as the school principal, a meek female teacher, some kid with a Mohawk, or an army of cloned soldiers.

Skits will vary from a 15 seconds to a few minutes long. There are over 110 “Ordinary Life” skits and a dozen or so for each of the other skit types. An episode has around eight different bits. On paper, this sounds like plenty of variety and with each skit lasting a few minutes maximum, one would expect sharp, punchy jokes. I think of skit shows such as A Bit of Fry & Laurie, That Mitchell & Webb Look, or Brass Eye and how frequently they have me rolling with laughter. It’s hit after hit. Nichijou presents itself in the same vein, albeit about different subject matter. So it surprises me how often Nichijou’s skits drag for twice as long as needed – two minutes feels like eons sometimes – and how repetitive the shorter ones are.

The worst skits, no contest, centre on the robot woman and little girl. I wanted to trip over a take a stake to the roof of my mouth after watching a few of their bits. By around episode 10, I started skipping ahead when I saw them come on screen. Painfully unfunny. Their humour is about her being a robot yet no one notices and the girl being inept at everything. There are no punch lines. The joke is that these characters are “cute” and therefore anything they do is hilarious. Their eyecatch bits of scissor-paper-rock to mark the ad break is the lamest repetition of humour in the anime world.

Nichijou relies on moe as a substitute for character and structure. And I don’t like moe. At all.

I find the main girls to be hit or miss (more misses) and most often responsible for dragging out the joke (when there is one). They are meant to be high school girls with high school situational comedy, yet there is nothing high school about it. This is middle school material. The character designs don’t help. This is no Cromartie High School.

The aristocrat and tsundere give the best first impression. He is an over-the-top stereotype of what people think of British aristocracy. Everything is wrong – pinkies up when drinking tea, the belief that a servant holds the master’s sea biscuit when urinating, and so on – but that’s what makes it funny. Seeing the butler smoothly dress him up while he keeps walking after using the bathroom is hilarious. The tsundere finds his demeanour infuriating and reads too much into his words and actions, ending in her pulling a weapon on him. However, even their skits become repetitive because of her. Pulling out the big guns is almost the same joke every time.

The principal versus the deer (see video above) was one of clips I had seen previously and the absurdity was hilarious at the time. I added Nichijou to my list because of it. However, it is less funny in context and the reaction shots from one of the main girls weighs the scene down. It’s as if she’s explaining the joke.

Before watching any of these comedies, I would have said Nichijou is probably the best. Now though, I easily consider it the weakest. I am wavering on whether to put in the Low tier of quality, but when I am unsure like this, I er on the side that brings a series towards the middle to avoid seeming too harsh or too favourable. (A borderline High/Very High anime sits in the High tier until I am certain it should go in the top bracket. Conversely, a Low/Very Low anime will stay in Low if I am undecided.) Especially with comedy, it’s hard to rate. I suspect I will bump this down in time. (Edit: I dropped it to low in the final revision before publication, two weeks after writing the review.)

I’m not surprised Nichijou was an absolute flop in Japan. It found success in the West years later because of the internet in a manner that wasn’t prevalent in Japan at the time.

I have not met, in person, anyone that likes Nichijou, yet I have read of a fair number online that consider it sidesplitting. Although, I do wonder if they love it as much as they claim. They always share the same five or so skits…

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Watch the best bits of Nichijou online. Go for the full series if you want more.

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

Major – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Major

 

Related: Major 2nd (next generation series)

Similar: Cross Game

Ace of Diamond

Big Windup

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Sports

Length: 154 episodes (6 seasons) & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Excellent baseball
  • Complex protagonist with a full career arc
  • Great life lessons
  • Breaks clichés

Negatives:

  • Each season has production values five years out of date
  • Season 3, ahem, fumbles the ball

(Request an anime for review here.)

In general, there are three types of sports anime. The first, and most common, is the “shounen” sports anime almost always set in high school and covers those last three years of youth (some will limit themselves to the final year to heighten the stakes with one last chance at the championship before adulthood kills). Most of the popular sports titles fall under this type, featuring the likes of Haikyu, Ace of Diamond, and Slam Dunk, and is the easiest to write but must have engaging matches to retain viewers. Second is the “drama” sports anime, where the focus is on characters and personal conflict with the sport as a backdrop. In fact, the choice of sport is interchangeable. March Comes in Like a Lion (need to review season 2) and Ping Pong the Animation are exemplars of the genre. Lastly, we have the “career” sports anime, which as the name suggests tracks the protagonist’s rise from a nobody into a star of the professional scene. This type has a balance between drama and sport. We will be looking at the third option today with the six seasons of Major.

We start this career journey in pre-school following Goro Honda, son of professional Japanese baseball player Shigeharu Honda. With his mother dead from a sudden illness a few years ago, Goro only has his father left and adores him. He idolises him as a father and a player. Just as the family is set to expand with the engagement between Shigeharu and Momoko, Goro’s pre-school teacher, his father takes a fastball to the head from American transfer, Joe Gibson. All seems fine at first, but brain injuries don’t play fair. Goro loses his second parent. His almost stepmother and ex-pre-school teacher takes him in.

Here’s the thing about Goro. He’s good at baseball. Excellent. He has baseball in his veins. Major will take us from casual games to little league to high school and onto major leagues. Rejection, failure, fear, and injury are but a few of the things he will experience along the way. There is good too – triumph, pride, satisfaction, love. When people describe Major as a career anime, they don’t exaggerate.

The brilliance of Major isn’t solely in the breadth of its story. None of this would matter if not for the execution that grips from first episode to last. The first season alone of Major is better than anything you will find in Ace of Diamond, Cross Game, or Big Windup. I don’t know which element to elaborate on first. There’s so much to talk about! I went into these four anime with no expectations and ended up with the full gamut of baseball anime.

Looking at my notes, the first point I made sure to record (other than story events) was the relationship between father and son – how real it felt, full of turmoil and love. The author understood the struggles of a working single father and the frustrations of a lonely child. The father dies early on yet is a complete character is so short a time. There’s drama without being melodramatic. Kid Goro acts like a real kid as well. When his dad thanks him in a post-match interview, Goro says to Momoko, “Hey, that’s me! He’s talking about me!” as all kids do before they learn of basic context. I love the dad advice too about never admitting that pee splashed on your pants. “Always claim it’s water from your hands.”

Then we have the teacher turned mother. She was a mother figure to him before she dated the father. She plays catch and takes him to the games to watch Dad live. So wholesome. Within a few episodes, we already have meaningful, well-developed relationships. Such a good start raises high expectations for characters in the rest of the series. It delivers.

In Cross Game, I talked of how predictable it was. Major is the opposite. From the characters to the baseball, this anime isn’t predictable. It doesn’t invert everything, of course (that would make it predictable, ironically). The subplot of Joe Gibson, the man responsible for killing Goro’s father, and Joe’s son is excellent. It occurs in later seasons, so I can’t talk about it much, but it combines family drama with high expectations to create the tensest baseball. Gah! It’s so good.

The writers use this great technique to keep the audience on their toes about who would win. You know the build up to a big moment in sports anime – the last second slam dunk, the mad dive to block a shot, the winning homerun? Usually, this tells you what is about to happen and who will win. Major mixes it up by giving both teams that inspirational build up. Both teams “deserve” to win after such emotional hype.

We can’t talk about excellent characters without mentioning the main kid himself, Goro. On the surface, Goro is the typical arrogant sports protagonist, which normally indicates the first of many problems (see Ace of Diamond). Goro is the arrogant ace, yes, but they don’t let him get away with bad behaviour. When his arrogance interferes with the game or affects others, people call him out and it shows how much he has to learn. Natural talent isn’t anywhere near enough. In one game with a bunch of kids, he tries to do everything and yells at his teammates for doing it wrong. He believes he’s untouchable. There’s a harsh lesson waiting for him. Baseball is a team sport and even the best player needs support. At the same time, it doesn’t go soft and say friendship will win everything.

That’s just the beginning. Major deftly evolves the character conflict at each stage of life. We aren’t dealing with the same issues in the Majors than from his time as a kid. The power curve across the six seasons is fantastic. He’s so much better than everyone else is on the first team, but as he works his way up to the Majors, the skill gap closes and competition becomes more intense. The importance of the team grows ever stronger. This constant evolution keeps games engaging. There isn’t a single boring match. Starting with Goro’s father in the professional games was a good idea, as it indicates where we are headed with the kid. It’s like the Metroid games that give you one level of Samus with a full arsenal before you lose most gear. You know what you’re in for.

One aspect that surprised me here is the changing cast each season. In your standard anime, when they introduce a team, we stick with that team to the finish. There might be an addition or subtraction here and there, though it’s in effect the same team. Season 1’s team of little guys receive full attention and development. Convention dictates that they will be staples. Nope, season 2 brings on a completely new team. His closest friend of the time soon realises that he isn’t good enough to stay in the same league as Goro. It does make sense – wouldn’t be realistic if everyone could reach the Majors. It shakes things up each season without losing progress on Goro.

The baseball industry outside of games is also far above the competition. It places a huge emphasis on player injury, from the dangers of permanent damage should you start a child too early in life to career ending injuries that crush dreams. Psychological blocks also enter the field to demonstrate how important mental state is to star athletes. Injuries, I’ve noticed, are the most neglected aspect of sports anime, which is surprising when one considers how impactful they are to real sport and all the opportunities for drama they bring.

Even training arcs are good. The writer understands that this is a good time to build characters, not repeat the same exercises a thousand times.

Other baseball areas Major explores include scholarships, scouting, trading players, tryouts, language barriers, the different tiers of teams, and so much more. This is a comprehensive dive into baseball. If you know nothing about baseball, fear not, this is the perfect anime to learn from. Prior to this baseball quartet, I had only watched a few baseball games in my life from various hotel rooms while on holiday (when you don’t speak the language in some countries, sport is all that makes sense).

I’ve heaped much praise on Major, so what’s wrong with it? Most notably? The art. If anything is keeping more people away from Major, it has to be the art. The first season released in 2004, yet wouldn’t have looked good for 1999. The final season was in 2010 – looks like it time travelled from 2004. I do like the character designs. No monkey ears is a plus. Another negative of Major is season 3, where the high school situation and team leans a little towards the unrealistic. It’s good in the end, though there was no need to go that underdog. Season 3 is certainly the weakest. All up from there, however.

If you’re looking for that “capital A” Anime type baseball and you’re concerned Major will be a bit too serious, then you have nothing to worry about. This still has the classic shounen tropes of hot heads, sideline commentary, overconfidence, etc. They simply have balance.

In a contest against the other baseball anime, Major is the instant winner. It was better than the others before Goro even played his first game.

Art – Low

Why did this have to be the worst looking of the baseball anime? At least they assigned more of the budget to pitches and hits.

Sound – High

Thank heavens they changed actors as Goro aged, unlike too many other sports anime. Great acting for the Japanese characters, though it’s a real shame they went full Engrish with the Americans, which is odd since they used real Americans for minor roles. Nothing breaks immersion more than hearing a hard ass American – with not a word of Japanese in him – speak English like a Japanese actor after one lesson.

Story – Very High

From fanatic as an infant to little league and onto the Majors, we follow one guy’s baseball journey. Major has everything you want from a baseball story – characters to cheer for, others to hate, consequential drama, a bit of romance, and excellent baseball games.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch for sports fans. Don’t let the poor art deter you from watching what might be the best sports anime.

(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:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Cross Game – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Cross Game

 

Similar: Major

Ace of Diamond

Big Windup

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Sports

Length: 50 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Scoundrel protagonist
  • Adorable main couple
  • More heart and story outside of the baseball

Negatives:

  • Monkey ears
  • Not much baseball for a baseball anime

(Request an anime for review here.)

Cross Game is a story about two families connected by business, baseball, and tragedy. Ko is son to the owner of the local sports shop and Wakaba is daughter to the owner of the batting centre. These two are as close as kittens wrapped in the same blanket. They even share a birthday. An accident sadly takes Wakaba from this world, shattering the lives of both families and many more in the tightknit community. Wakaba’s younger sister, Aoba, who was always jealous of the close bond between those two, starts to befriend him in later years as he looks to honour his friend’s memory.

Cross Game’s first impression is that of an anime for kids with those character designs and bright colours, but with the death of Wakaba in the first episode, it tells viewers that it’s being serious for a kids’ anime. I appreciate that it doesn’t talk down to the audience. It handles death with an honest reality. From there, Ko has to move on and grow up.

Characters are one of Cross Game’s strengths. I love how Ko is such a scoundrel. At one point, he pretends to be interested in forming a baseball team at his school, which he succeeds with, but it was all a ploy to have the team buy equipment from his family’s store. Then he bails on the team. However, when confronted by bullies, he has to divert and hide in the team again for protection. Awful at the game though. He’s a good character. I like the relationship between him and Aoba, keeping each other in check and making for believable kids.

The general plot jumps back and forth between the high school and childhood years. Emphasis here is more on the characters rather than the baseball, opposite to the likes of Ace of Diamond. Matches don’t drag into dozen-episode epics. So if you’re here for the baseball, Cross Game isn’t the best choice. Not bad baseball, by any means, just not much of it.

One notable flaw of Cross Game for an older audience is its predictability – not in a “the butler did it” sense, but if you ask, “What’s the most obvious thing to happen next?” you will answer correctly nine times out of ten.

This is a simple anime, good for those that want something with drama, but whoa, not too much. Some baseball as well – easy there, not too much. Perhaps this game plan of playing it so safe prevented it from reaching greater heights.

Art – Medium

The style suits the younger slant of Cross Game and it’s a unique look. However! Those monkey ears. On everyone. God damn. I don’t blame the anime artists. I blame the manga artist, who – I’d wager – didn’t know how to draw ears, let alone differentiate them in profile and portrait.

Sound – Medium

Acting is good (except from the cat, but bad animal acting in Japanese is never a surprise) and the music is that fun kids’ fare.

Story – Medium

A kid swears to become an excellent baseball player to honour his lost childhood friend. Cross Game is for kids and as such hasn’t the most complex story, but it is solid without glaring faults.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For kids. To adults, Cross Game and its predictability may not have much appeal unless you can relate on a personal level. You must tolerate monkey ears.

(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

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.

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