Category Archives: Romance

One or more romantic relationships play an important role. Not applied to tacked-on or minor romances.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

 

Similar: My Neighbour Seki

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto

Tsukigakirei

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good chemistry in the main couple.
  • Sweet and innocent.

Negatives:

  • Female trio of supporting characters.
  • Episodes are too long.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san, which roughly translates to “Skilled Teaser Takagi” with no official English title, is about middle schooler Nishikata who tries his utmost to embarrass his next-seat neighbour Takagi in class. He attempts this by pulling pranks to catch her out in moments of humiliation. Trouble is, she’s too skilled and always manages to turn the tables on him.

This innocent anime harkens back to the childhood days of boys and girls teasing the ones they secretly like. Nishikata and Takagi obviously like each other, though he doesn’t realise it and she’s too inexperienced to know what to do with these feelings. Karakai very much succeeds in capturing that age of innocence. Those of you looking for something light and sweet are in the right place.

The first episode has him making a paper jack-in-the-box (alternate folding two strips of paper to make a spring) when she interrupts by saying she can’t open her pencil case. It must be stuck. She asks if he can try. He does and it opens easily, only to have a paper jack-in-the-box spring out and surprise him. Drat! She got him first. And so this pattern goes each episode. It stays in the classroom for a few episodes before it goes beyond to places like the walk home and out in town.

My first issue in Karakai lies with Takagi. She’s too infallible, never losing to Nishikata. Once you catch on that she will always flip the script, it loses some of the engagement and makes the story’s core loop grow old before long. Having him win occasionally would pleasantly surprise the audience. The 20-minute episodes exacerbate this issue, as they drag for so little content. Ten minutes an episode would have sufficed. Three to five “skits” from the manga go into each episode, yet it still feels too thin.

However, the chemistry between the two leads goes a long way towards redeeming this situation. They have more chemistry than most couples do in romance anime.

With each failed stunt, his frustration grows and he must spend more time with her outside of school for any opportunity to beat her. He always overthinks it, stressed, and seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown over being embarrassed each time. Her underlying agenda is to get to know him better and though she may not admit it, you can see that enjoys his pranks. It’s sweet.

Now when it comes to the supporting cast, I haven’t anything positive to say. Most are forgettable, in the background, which is fine for a small series focused on its principal couple, but these three girls are an annoyance.

I don’t know why they have a sub-plot, why the camera ever cuts to them, or why they are even in this anime. As I understand it, they come from another manga by the same author as Karakai – an unpopular manga at that – but why are they here? They add nothing to the main couple or the theme. Cutting them would have gone a long way to tightening the pace of the whole series. Even so, they aren’t an issue serious enough to make you drop the anime.

I didn’t love Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san. It isn’t the right sort of series for me to love. But I enjoyed the first few and the last few episodes enough for me to recommend that you try this niche title. It has a good heart.

Art – Medium

The big heads and even bigger foreheads are the perfect art style for this innocent middle school comedy.

Sound – Medium

The acting from the two leads is serviceable, while the other characters don’t do enough to matter – except those three girls who sound annoying, though that may be as directed. The Pink Panther-esque mischief music is fun.

Story – Low

A middle school boy keeps trying to get one over on the girl next to him in class with his pranks. Though the scenario is a tad repetitive and goes for too long, the innocence of Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is quite refreshing.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is better than the sum of its parts, but it will only take one episode to know if it’s for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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The World God Only Knows – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai

 

Related: The World God Only Knows II (included in review)

The World God Only Knows III: Goddesses (included in review)

Similar: Date a Live

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

No Game No Life

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Harem Romance

Length: 36 episodes (3 seasons), 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Humorous incorporation of gal games into the comedy.
  • His super mode.

Negatives:

  • Disposable girls.
  • Season one is useless when season two repeats the same material.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Keima is the self-proclaimed führer of gal games (objective: romance pretty girls). When someone challenges him to prove his dating greatness, of course he accepts without hesitation. But oh no! The challenger didn’t mean 2D waifus. Keima has to venture into the real world and seduce the three-dimensional variety. Disgusting.

Furthermore, the challenge came from Death, who will kill him should he fail to seduce the girls and capture the evil spirits attached to their lovelorn hearts. A deadly collar links him to his partner in seduction, the demon from hell Elise.

The idea of having a 2D waifu god using the skills he learnt from games to entice 3D girls is hilarious. The World God Only Knows works as a comedy and is one of the few to do so with the harem label attached. This anime doesn’t half-arse it. Keima sticks to his game strategies in real life to a T even when they are spastic. The ingredient to success is the writer’s knowledge of gal games and ability to parody them.

As a side note, I find it hilarious that anime depict gal game otakus as pros since these games are so easy. I played a few for context with a previous anime and realised that once you’ve played one, you’ve played them all. They are all the same and too easy, which makes the gags in this anime even funnier, especially when Keima activates his Hindu god mode with the ability to play a dozen games at once.

Try as it might, The World God Only Knows cannot escape all problems of harem. Each episode or two is about some new girl with a problem, which has attracted a spirit, for him to help by using his gal game shenanigans. Because it introduces a new girl so often, you don’t grow attached to any of them. They are disposable. Allowing characters to grow would probably make them funnier as well. Furthermore, the girls lose all memory of the romance once the spirit detaches – convenient.

There’s more.

The third season has each girl come back possessed by different goddesses and he must romance them, yet again, to awaken each goddess’s power, which also recovers their memories of the first romance. It doesn’t add any depth to their character or the relationships. You may as well jump straight to season three and avoid the repetition or only watch the first season. Going for the full run did nothing but lower my opinion of The World God Only Knows.

The repeated plot splits the quality. The first arc has the introductions and the jokes, but the Goddess arc has the story, so whichever you pick only has half the relevant content, yet watching both puts you through the grinder of repetition. And not to mention, you have a second season in the middle of these two that adds to neither.

Your long-term enjoyment of The World God Only Knows depends on how much you love the core loop of an otaku using gal game tactics to win over girls. An episode or two will be enough to find out.

Art – Medium

The solid art has good visual humour. Death is an adorable chibi grim reaper.

Sound – Medium

Good acting in both Japanese and English. Nothing peculiar to mention.

Story – Medium

The god of gal games must step into the real world to seduce three-dimensional girls and capture the evil spirits attached to them. Despite one season repeating the other and the tedious harem elements, The World God Only Knows have more than enough comedy to entertain for a dozen episodes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For comedy fans. Don’t let the harem tag stop you from trying The World God Only Knows, as it almost did for me. The comedy is good enough to enjoy beyond the harem, though 36 episodes is a stretch to keep your interest.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Guilty Crown – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Guilty Crown

 

Similar: Code Geass

Neon Genesis Evangelion

The Future Diary

Black Bullet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Romance

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Vibrant visuals.
  • That girl can sing!

Negatives:

  • Protagonist is such a whiner.
  • Corny villains.
  • The girl is flat.
  • Story tries too hard to shock you.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Guilty Crown’s visuals don’t match the audience reception. When I look at a poster or trailer for this anime, I expect higher ratings from your general viewer. Guilty Crown has all the marks of anime destined for popularity – it looks good, has the popular art style of the age, and a young protagonist with a big sword and a girl hanging onto him. Yet, people don’t like it. This discrepancy is the sole reason I watched Guilty Crown.

After a virus crippled Japan, reliance on foreign aid allowed an independent military company called GHQ to control the nation. The guerrilla group Funeral Parlour has fought back for years, finding new hope for victory with the acquisition of a super power – the ability to draw weapons out of people’s souls. However, a failed operation forces the power’s carrier, singer Inori, to bestow it on high schooler Shuu instead of Gai the leader of Funeral Parlour. Shuu becomes an unwilling participant in the fight to reclaim Japan’s freedom.

This setup should sound familiar to any who have seen Code Geass. In fact, most of Guilty Crown feels inspired by that much-loved series – oppressed Japan, rebel force, unique power with dire consequences later on, and given by a girl. The problem with taking such obvious elements from a great story is that it increases expectations and thus the pressure to succeed. “You took a leg up from that giant and yet you still failed?”

Sadly, this feels closer to Aldnoah.Zero in quality. The protagonist even has “anti-social” as his defining trait, though is not as brain-dead as Aldnoah’s counterpart (and they share a villain whose personality is being disgusted at the dirty lower class). Just like that guy, Shuu isn’t actually anti-social – he’s boring, which the lazy writer shoved under the anti-social blanket as a defence.

Shuu’s introduction presents him as a kid with no power, no spine, and no purpose in life, allowing for plenty of growth, as is typical for a character of this story type. Minutes later, a girl with more cleavage than anything else says to this horny kid, “Take me, Shuu. You can use me!” and all of the character setup evaporates. Giving him instant power with little learning curve and no real competition undermines the position he started in. It shortcuts him out of his personal conflict. Look at Code Geass instead, where Lelouch has to experiment with the limitations of his power and find clever strategies to maximise his ability within its limitations. Shuu simply draws a giant sword from Inori’s chest and destroys everything.

Oh, I almost forgot, they do try having a learning curve, but that’s just an excuse to have the most forced boob grab in anime history as Shuu tries to draw a weapon from his classmate. Silly me for forgetting this crucial story point!

Remember how annoying Anakin is in the prequels, always whining about how Obi-Wan didn’t let him do whatever he wanted? That best describes Shuu. Most of his dialogue is whining. With no likeable quality, no girl would be after this guy, let alone three. Speaking of girls, Inori has no personality. Her job is arm candy, submissive to every guy around her. Pathetic character.

Why didn’t these writers put more effort into creating layered characters? When the plot shifts the landscape dramatically for the third act, Shuu has to make difficult decisions (just like Lelouch), but because he’s such a flat character, you don’t root for him to succeed. When supporting characters hate him, you agree with them. A better writer would have you feel sorry for him or understand his perspective even if you don’t agree with him. In Guilty Crown, I didn’t care who the hero was or who’s in charge as long as they got this series over with.

Guilty Crown has the elements for a great story – see Code Geass for it done correctly – but it just happens to have executed every one of those elements incorrectly. Production I.G.’s quality art was wasted on this anime.

Art – High

Production I.G. of Psycho Pass fame always puts effort in the visuals, regardless of story quality. Good animation, beautiful lighting, and vibrant effects made me want to watch Guilty Crown in spite of the negative buzz.

Sound – Low

I love that the girl, whose profession is singer, can and does sing. I wish they had used similar music for the theme songs. The script needs a top-to-bottom rework including character edits to succeed.

Story – Low

A teen gains the power to draw weapons from people’s souls and must fight to reclaim his country from external forces. Guilty Crown feels like any light novel anime, despite coming from a manga. Less clichés and more effort at originality would have gone a long way.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Guilty Crown tempts you with its visuals, but don’t fall for it. There is nothing for you here.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Rubbish Major Characters

Valkyria Chronicles – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Senjou no Valkyria

 

Related: Valkyria Chronicles 3: Unrecorded Chronicles

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Allison & Lillia

Alderamin on the Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful look and feel of the game.
  • Welkin’s goofiness.
  • Well-realised world.
  • Don’t need to play the games to get it. Miracle!

Negatives:

  • Added several unnecessary and dull characters.
  • Some episodes are a distraction.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A game to anime adaptation that doesn’t require you having played the source material? What world am I living in? Valkyria Chronicles may not be as good as the game, but it’s still a fun anime.

It follows Squad 7 led by biologist Welkin Gunther in the war effort to protect Gallia from the Empire and its Valkyria soldier. Accompanying him is his Darcsen sister Isara, childhood friend and baker Alicia, and an assortment of other mismatched Gallians. They’re just going to have to get along if they desire to make it out alive.

One can draw obvious parallels between World War II Europe (eastern France specifically, judging by the landscapes) and the world of Valkyria Chronicles, which it differentiates with the fantasy element of the Valkyria and a slight magi-tech twist to its weapons and vehicles through the use of ragnite. The Valkyria is a goddess-like angel capable of wiping out armies with a single shot of her lance. You feel the threat she poses to the Gallia, though not as much as in the game when she can wipe your team.

The game is a turn-based strategy that progresses from mission to mission with story cutscenes and dialogue in between. You can’t use that format for a series though, as who would want to watch a battle every episode bookended by bits of story? Instead, the team smartly took the story, characters, and world of Valkyria Chronicles and turned it into an enjoyable, though still flawed anime. It feels right, art style included. I get the cosy feeling from the anime as I did from the game. Not as strongly, mind you, but enough not to be disappointed.

The sense of fun remains as well, which is nice. When Welkin first returns to his village after years away on study, Alicia mistakes him in a hilarious scene for an enemy spy sketching out the terrain. He’s actually sketching a trout. Mid-interrogation, the village comes under attack and his sister, Isara, happens to keep a custom tank in their barn! They fight off the attackers and thus begins their war effort. The army gives command of Squad 7 to Welkin with Alicia below him, much to her irritation.

The game had a good balance between drama and fun, so expect anime tropes in this war story. However, the adaptation does go too far at times. For instance, a war reporter follows Squad 7 to report their triumphs and to score interviews with its heroes. Where she was a minor character in the game, popping up between levels for a little fun dialogue, the anime dedicates too much time to her, including a full episode of her playing hide and seek to land an interview with Welkin. There is no plot or character advancement through any of this. All extra story added to the anime that wasn’t in the game doesn’t succeed.

I wonder why they added these sections when there is already so much good unused material at the source. Most baffling of all are the new characters, a group as bland as mud, including this generic shounen anime kid. Who invited these people? They have a purpose, as shown later on, but why add new characters when you still have dozens unused from the original cast? Using the old might change the story a little, but that’s acceptable. I don’t get it.

Thankfully, the proper characters are solid. Welkin’s head-in-the-trees personality is always great, as skilled at war strategy as he is at animal study. He uses his knowledge of birds to read signs of incoming fog in their next skirmish. This use of his non-combat skillset in the plot shows good character design. Alicia’s baking sadly isn’t prevalent (does make for an omega cute ED animation though).

Not everyone gets along in Squad 7. Several members don’t take kindly to Isara’s presence in the group, for she is a Darcsen (marked by her black hair) and the animosity towards then hasn’t died down after a thousand years. This parallels the Jews in WWII, somewhat. The interpersonal conflict is solid, culminating in a satisfying subplot.

I wish they had kept the character classes, as they would provide extra flavour to the supporting cast. The game had you make teams comprised of scouts, engineers, lancers, and shock troopers, which gave more of an identity to each character as their class worked into their personality. Here, it doesn’t feel the same to have most of the squad fight in a common manner. Once more, I wonder why they made this change. It took more effort to remove the class identities than to keep them in.

The anime will never match the game – no one should have expected it to – yet it is still a damn good effort. You don’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy Valkyria Chronicles. That said, I don’t want to oversell it – this isn’t going to blow your mind. It’s…pretty good. And much better than I had anticipated.

Art – High

If they hadn’t made the effort to texture and shade the art in the same style as the game, I would have been sour. However, character faces look different and I can’t figure out why. They didn’t improve. The great world and character designs carry from the game (except for the new characters, who look like background extras).

Sound – Medium

The voice work is decent. I preferred the English in the game, though the anime has no dub. Good soundtrack. ED is disgustingly cute!

Story – Medium

A biologist, a baker, and an engineer join the army to fight off invaders in this WW2-inspired adventure based on the Valkyria Chronicles video game. Fun characters balance well against the war drama, though it does play it a little too safe.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. This is a fun war anime. You don’t even need to play the game to enjoy Valkyria Chronicles – I do highly recommend the game though. (Can’t wait for Valkyria Chronicles 4!)

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

A Lull in the Sea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nagi no Asukara

 

Similar: AnoHana

Ponyo

Tsuritama

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful underwater city.
  • Gorgeous song in first ED.

Negatives:

  • The melodrama drags on.
  • Little underwater world building.
  • Too many dull characters.
  • Characters’ eyes are melting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Oh wow, an anime set in an underwater town. Look at those colours, those fish! I love the sea and marine life, so this is going to be good. I’m excited!

Aaaand it’s gone.

That’s how long my excitement lasted for A Lull in the Sea. It starts with beautiful colours in this magical underwater town teeming with life and detail, but not five minutes later, you see that the sea people move underwater no differently than someone on land. Everything has the same weight as on land, people stroll down the streets like on land, they speak the same as with surface air, and they even watch TV like on land. On land, on land, ON LAND! What is the point of setting it underwater if everything functions the same as on land? All they show is one scene of a guy doing a floaty jump with the aid of water and characters swimming on occasion – no faster than ordinary humans! Argh, if they swim the same as we do, then why doesn’t the water affect all else that they do? How lazy can one be in creating a world? Effort went into figuring out how they can survive on land without salt water – take regular salt baths – so why not put a day’s work into the rest of the lore? And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

Right, after presenting us with this lazy world, we learn that the teens from the sea must start attending school on the surface, as their high school closed down due to dwindling birth rates. Hikari and his friends have trouble fitting in with the surface kids, for a deep-seated hatred simmers between the two societies. However, when the fisherman’s son Tsumugu accidentally catches the sea girl Manaka, there may be a chance at bridging the gap before the sea people hibernate.

The story isn’t much better than the world building. Hikari is a shouty protagonist – always annoying – and his first character moment is yelling at Manaka for wearing the surface school uniform, instead of their old one like the rest of the group has. She makes friends with Tsumugu and all Hikari does is spew bigotry at the guy. He’s the most bigoted of the lot. This is obviously to set him up for change later on, but you have to give us something to like about the character from the start. No, he’s just a prick – doesn’t come around to be likeable or interesting either.

The rest are the usual forgettable players in slice-of-life-turned-melodrama anime. People butt heads here and there, some fall in love, others fall out of it, people grow jealous, all dragged out for too long. Everyone loves someone who doesn’t love them, creating this massive love circle. It’s tedious.

With the way these kids act about romance and relationships, you would imagine they have been through the most brutal hardships in love. But no, they’re immature kids and this is garbage melodrama.

There are some good moments, however. I like the conflict stemming from banishment should a sea person marry a surface human. The local fisherman have nice stories to tell as well. In fact, the less important a character seems to be, the more interesting their story.

What really knocked this anime down an entire tier was the pacing in the second half. These 26 episodes could have fit into 13 had one character’s amnesia arc not gone on forever for no good reason. Just end already! I cannot impress upon you how much this play reeks of desperation to extend the story and heighten the stakes. Since these stakes don’t matter relative to the rest, it only weakens the overall effect.

A Lull in the Sea is a standard high school drama that goes for the heart with a supernatural twist. I wager it would have affected me a decade ago, but my heart has since turned to ice. In all seriousness, you’ve seen this all before, which coupled with the padded second half and lazy world building makes this a no from me. Don’t waste your time.

Art – Medium

The underwater environment looks gorgeous with light refraction, Greek architecture, and the abundance of fish, though they should have put more effort into the submerged physics. Sadly, we spend little time underwater. Land scenes are still rather good. Character faces are munted with eyes melting and some profile shots don’t look human.

Sound – Medium

The first ED song is gorgeous (going on my playlist) while the rest of the music is good and the acting is fine. However, the script needs a trim and more punch.

Story – Low

A group of friends from the underwater city must get along with other students at their new land school, but the impending hibernation threatens all they have worked for. A Lull in the Sea overindulges in melodrama, dragging out a good concept into a chore to complete, and the world building is lazy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A Lull in the Sea is a waste of time unless you love overwrought melodrama. A better-realised water world would have been enough for me. They failed.

(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 BuildingPoor Pacing