Category Archives: Romance

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

Fate/stay night – Visual Novel Review

Related: Fate/stay night (arc 1 anime)

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (arc 2 anime)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (arc 3 anime)

Fate/Zero (prequel anime)

 

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action Romance

Length: 45-60 hours (15-20 hours per arc, depending on reading speed)

 

Positives:

  • Good concept.
  • Starts well.

Negatives:

  • 50% word count in excess.
  • More telling than showing.
  • Idiot protagonist.
  • Useless ‘gamey’ elements.
  • Poor lore and mechanic explanations.
  • Circular dialogue.
  • World feels empty.
  • No basis to the romance.
  • Worst sex scene ever put to fiction.

Fate is a massive franchise, having mutated from a visual novel of three arcs into a tentacled monster of anime, games, and spinoffs. Due to its size and popularity, I followed a ‘watch order’ guide and started with the Fate/stay night visual novel since the anime Fate/stay night mashes all three arcs into one mess.

The story opens strong in the prologue with the red girl, Rin, a few character/world building scenes, and Rin summoning her servant Archer. We meet much of the human cast in efficient time and the stakes are clear. Seven mages will summon legendary figures from history or mythology to fight for the Holy Grail, granting a single wish. We also learn that a servant’s identity is of utmost importance, for knowing the hero is to know their weakness and ultimate weapon. Instead of names, they go by their class – Saber, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Assassin, Caster, and Lancer. (This cleared much confusion about why I had seen characters with the same names across the Fate franchise.) Typically, only the servant and master know the true name. Archer, however, can’t remember his identity.

So, we have the characters, the world, the stakes, interesting lore, a good concept, and a decent pace in a short period. The writing could use work, but it’s not bad.

Then the story resets once you start the first arc proper, titled Fate, where we now follow the actual protagonist, Shirou (introduced in the prologue), only to repeat the same story save a change or two, and dump a ton of exposition. The writing nosedives and the pacing stalls, which coupled with the bad art, makes Fate/stay night a difficult journey to complete.

First, Shirou is a rubbish character, only marginally better than your usual idiot harem protagonist. Fate/stay night is a harem of sorts, with each arc defined by which of the three girls Shirou pursues. And by pursues, I mean makes no effort to attract. He also gains free power when convenient for the plot.

Arc one centres on Shirou paired with his servant, the blonde knight Saber, who is one of the few good features of the story thanks to her backstory. The second arc, Unlimited Blade Works, has Rin as the love interest with Saber shifted to a minor character, which feels clumsy because she’s still crucial, yet forgotten most of the time in favour of Archer. Heaven’s Feel switches the romance to childhood friend Sakura. Each arc builds on the previous, so it’s important to play them in order if you want the full story, though expect a lot of repetition for the mechanics, rules explanations, and introductions. Characters also have inconsistencies across arcs.

Back to Shiro, much of the first act is girls fawning over him, when not expositing. An early scene has Shirou and three girls yammering on about him and food. I set the novel to auto, left for dinner, and returned to find then still at it. Almost all 15 days per arc has one of these ‘eating’ scenes that drones on for hours. These conversations don’t advance the plot or develop character either, often going in circles to repeat the same garbage until you want to choose one of the bad endings, just to end it all. They are filler, proven no more effectively than by their marked absence in the Unlimited Blade Works anime. There’s more food related scenes than action in this “action” series.

The exposition may be worse. Repeated exposition from the prologue aside, the way Rin explains the lore (exposition parrot is her main job) and mechanics is like a poorly written dictionary. Furthermore, the Fate series has these pointless game elements such as grades for character attributes and magic levels. What a lazy and binary technique of representing character power. Worse yet, they don’t matter. If the plot needs an A+ servant injured by a weak attack, then it will happen. Remove these statistics and nothing is lost. Instead, why not build the world. Fate/stay night gives the impression of having 20 people in existence. So many words, yet such an empty world.

Any editor can remove half the text with a cursory glance from all the filler. Even plot text is over written, full of stating the obvious and explaining an action just before doing it.

‘I should go to the kitchen.’

‘I go to the kitchen.’

‘I should eat something.’

‘I eat something.’

Imagine that, but with five times the words.

Arriving at the plot, matters improve little. After spending so much time establishing the rules, insisting upon the importance of character statistics and each servant’s power, Fate/stay night throws all the rules out the window and does whatever. I don’t imagine the writer bothered to edit for consistency. I don’t imagine he edited at all.

For a plot that’s about everyone fighting to the death, few characters actually fight to the death. I can’t remember how many times a good guy lives because a villain just lets them go. Hell, the loli girl, master of Berserker, captures Shirou and instead of killing him, takes him home to become her slave (of sex?). Of course he gets away, rendering the event pointless. The alliance between Rin and Shirou also makes little sense, stretching the limits of plausibility for why a girl, whose life training prepared her to crush mages and servants, would forget all that faster than a sneeze.

But, none of the above makes Fate/stay night a terrible visual novel. Amateurish, sure. Requiring an editor? Certainly. Only once you find the true purpose for this game’s creation can you witness its soul. Much like the Holy Grail isn’t what it seems, Fate/stay night isn’t an action series, nor is it a fantasy – well, yes, it is a fantasy, though not the sort one normally thinks of. All of this – the legendary heroes, the magic, the violence, the lore – serves as a self-insert fantasy for the author to get it on with the ladies.

If you are of innocent mind, then avert thine eyes and skip the next paragraph, for I have to describe the first “session of love” if I am to truly impress upon you the horrendousness of this text. The excuse to have sex is retardedly hilarious. Prepare yourselves (or your anus, in Rin’s case), we are about to enter the worst erotic fiction ever conceived.

After a lost battle, Shirou, Saber, and Rin flee to an abandoned house in enemy territory. Saber has little energy left and with Berserker on the hunt, they need to recharge her before the next fight. What’s the one surefire way to recharge a servant? You guessed it: have sex. Feeding her energy had never been a problem until now, but hey, we have to ram sex scenes in somehow. Saber is hesitant, so Rin must take charge and ready her for the ritual by lubricating the knight. Rin becomes an instant bisexual, Saber – the all-powerful Saber – a weak, quivering girl, whose lips say no but her body says yes. Then Shirou mans up to do his duty, despite being so totally against it all, and the self-insert fantasy enters full swing in an orgy of awkward prose, bad anatomy, and most importantly, cringe. The way actions and sensations are described gives the impression that the author had never had sex before.

These characters change into new people for the scene (except Shirou – he’s always a loser) to justify sex. I should mention that this forms the basis of Shirou and Saber’s romantic thread… This scene is so bad that I considered the idea someone had pranked me by modding my game with fan fiction. I didn’t know this was an eroge beforehand.

The second sex scene with Saber is vanilla, but full of, “No, you mustn’t…” “There’s no need to suck that…” “No, don’t touch me there…” The other arcs also have their share of ridiculous erotica, though none as hilarious as the Shirou-Saber-Rin bender. Like the exposition and food scenes, the erotica contributes nothing. The author has no sense of focus.

What does Fate/stay night look like when it isn’t about the sex? We’ll find out in the next review, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Or better yet, when the author isn’t involved? See the Fate/Zero review after that.

Art – Very Low

The character art looks like amateur work you find on DeviantArt, as if the artist copied someone else. With no animation to contend with, the art has no excuse looking this cheap. A later port added some improved art shots.

Sound – Low

The music is bland, the voice work stiff.

Story – Low

Mages summon heroes of mythology and history to fight to the death for the Holy Grail. Fate/stay night’s good concept receives no help from the writer, who can’t do exposition, or romance, or pacing.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it…then again, you may want to play the first arc to see what horrific writing looks like. Fate/stay night is worse than the sum of its parts thanks to its atrocious technical writing, filler, and most particularly, the sex scenes. Watch Fate/Zero first, since this game spoils parts of that superior series.

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Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata

 

Related: Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend .flat (sequel – included in review)

Similar: The World God Only Knows

Welcome to the NHK

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Ecchi Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Episode 0s.
  • Proper challenges in creative professions.

Negatives:

  • Can’t focus.
  • Too much harem filler.
  • Becomes what it parodies too often.

(Request an anime for review here.)

It’s no secret that trash overwhelmingly populates the harem genre. It’s also common knowledge that harem is mainstream among anime fans, as a harem entry hits the charts each season. Fans also forget them just as quickly when the next season throws a new batch of waifus to pick from.

Harem anime is the easiest genre to make and thus floods the new release list every few months. To stand out from the orgy, studios select series that can bait the reader in, whether through an all-monster-girl cast, picking up girls in a dungeon, or making every girl be the guy’s teachers. A-1 Pictures’ gamble to go meta-harem with Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend paid off, wedging it between the breasts of fellow harems The Testament of Sister New Devil (what is this name?) and Absolute Duo in that season’s top 10. Parodying the genre elevates you above the genre, yes? Well, let’s find out.

Saekano follows high school otaku Tomoya in his dream to make the most compelling harem visual novel. To this task, he recruits illustrator Eriri, bestselling author Utaha, and boring girl Megumi as model for the main character. However, to tap into the emotions required for a compelling visual novel, he and his ‘super team’ must experience these emotions themselves.

So, the excuse for a harem this time is the creation of the visual novel, where 99% of harem anime come from, which is a better excuse than most. The characters comment on the harem – get down with the meta – in the process of crafting the game characters, writing the story, and designing the illustrations, often to comedic results. Episode 0 is full meta, as it assigns each character a role in the harem anime – think of a harem LARP. This Episode 0 deceptively sets up the idea that Saekano is a meta harem, which is not the case, as it’s more of a workplace anime like Shirobako and New Game before it then becomes an ordinary harem.

Giving the characters jobs that drive their progression is a nice addition. (Ever notice how most harem characters do nothing in life?) Even so, Tomoya isn’t much more interesting than your average harem protagonist. He’s about light novel protagonist level. The greatest missed opportunity lies in Megumi. It would have been much more interesting if she were nothing like the ‘boring girlfriend’ archetype required for the game. Instead, make her the opposite but have to act like the generic harem main girl. What we have is an unironic bland girl with no arc, whose main purpose is to create the clickbait title of the anime.

The third act of season one introduces Tomoya’s cousin, a musician, whom he recruits to compose music for the game. Up to this point, most episodes focused on each character’s role (Saekano still uses the harem structure of ‘let each girl have their turn’). When the cousin enters, it’s her turn to jump Tomoya and there’s nothing meta or ironic about the cousin-cest. The usual accidental flashing, towel drops, no boundaries, and shallow titillation fill the screen time. Saekano becomes the cliché it’s supposedly parodying. Season one is a bore.

Funnily enough, season two opens with new meta about the first season, mocking it as boring and clichéd. “How did such a generic anime get a second season?” And Saekano sees a marked improvement from there. Work takes centre stage with serious conflict. The team struggles with finding the answers to what will make for a compelling game in the face of deadlines. Eriri and Utaha also receive an offer to work on a professional project. This creates Saekano’s best moment, when Tomoya has to face the reality that he isn’t cut out to lead a team of professionals. Eriri and Utaha aren’t amateurs, yet he treats them as such, not demanding of them the same quality as you would of a professional. For the first time in a harem, the protagonist is punished for being too nice. Progress!

You may be asking yourself about what happened to the meta. Saekano’s core failure is a lack of focus. Is it a harem parody? No, it’s a romance. Wait, no, it’s about finding success in life. Saekano needed to choose one and relegate the others to subplots instead of giving each one main plot time in turn (ironically, just as harem does with its girls). A symptom of this failure is no more evident than when Tomoya fades as protagonist in season two. He becomes a supporting character in his own story! (Not a great loss, if I’m honest.)

Saekano is still above most harem, but only average by other standards, which is far better than anyone should expect.

Art – Low

Saekano uses the style of coloured lines instead of black for character outlines – as seen in Bakemonogatari – but at random, giving characters an off-putting neon glow. A-1 Pictures tried copying Shaft without purpose. Bad CG intrudes at odd times, such as when the author is typing. No artistry either. It really wants you to find these girls sexy with how it pans across anywhere but the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine with nothing outstanding. Music is forgettable.

Story – Medium

A visual novel aficionado convinces a bestselling author, a respected illustrator, and a random girl to join his project of creating the best harem visual novel. A lack of focus holds this story back, though still succeeds in parts.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For harem fans only. Saekano’s meta humour and effort at conflict make a more interesting anime than the usual harem. Its faults still confine it to the genre.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

Video Girl AI – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Den’ei Shoujo Video Girl Ai

 

Similar: Ah! My Goddess

DNA2

Chobits

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Ecchi Romance Drama

Length: 6 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Remote control of the video girl.

Negatives:

  • No foundations to the infatuation.
  • Dumb as bricks characters.
  • Little happens.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I feel like a broken record at this point – when you write a romance, you must give reason for the characters to love each other. Starting with lust is fine, common even, but if you want the audience to believe in the ‘true love’ your characters profess, there must be more. Video Girl Ai is yet another romance without foundations.

Homeward bound after a heart-breaking rejection, Youta stops by a video store to make a purchase in the hope of a distraction. He gets more than he bargained for when a video girl called Ai emerges from the TV. He can control her with the remote – slow-mo, rewind, frame-by-frame, and even adjust boob size. He flattens them. She’s supposed to be meek, but damage to the VCR gives her a feistier personality than intended. Even so, she promises to help him find love.

Youta’s object of obsession is Moemi, a girl at school who only has eyes for the popular Takeshi. Really though, the key player in this relationship is Youta. He will do anything for Moemi, even help with a gift for Takeshi. He has the classic “nice” guy mentality. “If I do everything she wants, eventually she’ll break up with her boyfriend and realise I’ve been beside her the whole time!” Thankfully, Ai makes fun of him for it and Takeshi calls out Moemi’s selfishness, which points to the writer almost getting it right. Had the story been one of a wimpy guy realising he’s acting the loser, clinging to a bimbo with no interest in him, it could have been interesting. As is often the case with wimp romances however, this isn’t meant to reflect reality. It wants to give false hope that having no spine will make you attractive.

The cringe reaches new heights when he confesses to her loudly in public, but she thinks he’s just practicing to tell someone else… Really? Forget him having no spine – why would he be interested in such a dimwit?

To no one’s surprise, the twist is that he should have realised he had a loving girl in Ai beside him this whole time. Gasp! And he sure jumps into her arms quickly after it fails with Moemi. What a nice, considerate guy. After this, the finale involves a test of true love decreed by the villain in a visually creative setting. But remember what I said about foundations? Well, when you have no foundations, the audience is unlikely to make an emotional connection with the couple in a life or death struggle. Youta is screaming about his love for Ai, yet his words are hollow. He never showed us he loved her when he had nothing to gain.

Did he once get to know her?

Did he ever do anything selfless for her?

Did he share an interest with her?

Anything?

He’s so obsessed with doing frivolous favours for Moemi that he ignores Ai until the end, where – if realistic – would have made her little more than a stranger, not the object of true love.

Never forget your foundations. There is more emotion to be found in a man asking a woman how she has been lately than in a grand stunt off the Eiffel Tower to impress her. Yes, the stuntman is more impressive, but emotional resonance is about more than being impressive.

Art – Low

Video Girl Ai looks the same as DNA2, down to a girl cloned across both series.

Sound – Medium

The acting is average either way, as is the music.

Story – Low

A heartbroken teen thinks that watching a video will get his mind off things, only to have a girl emerge from his TV. What should have been a fun anime devolves into a romantic drama with no foundations.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Video Girl Ai needed a lot of work in the draft stage – more chemistry, conflict, and complexity. DNA2 is so much more fun.

(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:

Lacks Conflict

Planetes – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Planetes

 

Similar: Moonlight Mile

Space Brothers

Cowboy Bebop

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Drama

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Final act.

Negatives:

  • Romance has no chemistry.
  • No characters of note.
  • More slice of life than drama for acts one and two.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Does this really fall under the ‘drama’ category? I asked myself this question a lot when watching Planetes. Until the third act, this should be classified as ‘slice of life’ for how little occurs and how dull the characters are.

Planetes is about a crew aboard a space station and their jobs as space debris collectors. The opening scene is of a loose screw shattering a space liner’s window, killing all inside. Ever since then, Earth has made an effort to clean up space. Tanabe is the newest member of the collection crew, joining an odd bunch of misfits who have no manners, including Hachimaki, a 25-year-old with dreams of owning a spaceship of his own. Their equipment is trash. At this rate, they are likely to add more trash to space instead of reduce it.

After the disaster in the opening, I expected similar tense situations to be a regular occurrence, similar to Moonlight Mile. A few episodes in, no such event has occurred. Alright, Planetes is a better Moonlight Mile, giving characters time to grow in between disasters rather than the end-to-end disasters of the latter. The characters still haven’t given me reason to care, but let’s give them a chance. So far, it’s mostly about putting up with living with each other, bickering, and corporate bureaucracy.

Several more episodes pass, and still no significant events wake me up from my stupor. They had time to give us an episode on space weeaboos – funny, but does nothing for the plot – though not a moment of tension. The downtime with character hasn’t developed them into anything interesting either.

It is at this point I realise Planetes isn’t good. It’s middle-of-the-road boring.

You have a mismatched crew trying to emulate Cowboy Bebop with none of the chemistry that made Bebop’s crew great. Tanabe using the clichéd anime introduction of yelling your profile put me off her right away. A story-lite series can’t sustain itself unless the characters are some of the best in the business. The episode about the girl born and living on the moon for research on the human body is interesting, though still not about the main story.

You have a romance between Tanabe and Hachimaki with as much electricity as a rubber gasket. He’s an ego-driven brute who constantly reproaches her and keeps flaking on the relationship, while she’s a woman of zero strength that rarely stands her ground against his selfishness. I despise female leads that never find strength.

Even so, I stuck with it for the sake of the review and to my surprise, the third act finally starts the story. Hurrah!

Humanity prepares to send a manned mission to Jupiter, calling on everyone in the world to apply. Hachimaki signs up in some desperate bid to do more with life. What follows is a series of trials to find the best candidates – Tanabe is a background character by now. Finally we have intense character-to-character conflict that isn’t the bickering of daily life. The theme of corporate morality also becomes a focal point, as only the rich will get richer when they colonise Jupiter, widening the wealth gap for the rest.

Planetes is quite preachy in its morals. It is many characters telling you how you should feel, rather than expressing their own opinions and leaving it to audience interpretation. Even though the story picks up in the third act, I don’t find myself much invested because the characters mean nothing to me. Those prior episodes didn’t use their time well.

Planetes and Moonlight Mile need to have a baby, combining the former’s ability to slow down with the latter’s penchant for disasters.

Art – High

Clean character art and detailed enough environments are nice, but the tech detail is where it’s at.

Sound – Medium

Voice work could be better – why is there so much shouting? Tanabe’s girlfriends sound so annoying.

Story – Low

Planetes tells of the lives of a crew aboard a space station collecting space debris. With so many characters, few of which have much to say, a flaccid romance, and conflict that doesn’t start until the third act, this story is more slice of life than drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. You may find Planetes more interesting than I did. Outside the third act, it has no pulse.

(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:

Poor Pacing

Scum’s Wish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuzu no Honkai

 

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

White Album

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and shot composition.

Negatives:

  • Immature view of sex, masquerading as maturity.
  • So much ‘almost sex.’
  • Boring lead.
  • Everything is a few beats slow.

(Request an anime for review here.)

You want a messed up love polygon? Hanabi is in love with her brother and teacher, but he’s interested in another teacher. Meanwhile, Hanabi’s classmate is in love with that other female teacher. To cope with the heartache of unrequited, forbidden love, Hanabi and the guy date each other for sexual and emotional comfort. They are each other’s replacements. However, another girl is in love with Hanabi, while the pretend boyfriend’s loli sister is also in love with him. Got all that? Lesbian -> Hanabi -> brother/teacher -> co-worker/teacher <- pretend boyfriend <- little sister.

Despite the messed up premise, my first thought was to question if Scum’s Wish would go far enough. The crueller the setup, the more likely an anime drama will chicken out before the end and not deliver the promise. When Scum’s Wish revealed that the brother wasn’t Hanabi’s real brother, I knew how this would end.

Scum’s Wish engaged me with its beautiful cinematography and emotional weight. Hanabi latched onto her brother and father figure, thinking they’d be together forever after the lack of a real father left her with emotional issues. It’s tragic.

Then the classmate’s little sister enters the picture, breaking the tone. She feels like a character from a trashy harem, not a tragic romance. Throw in the lesbian best friend with the hots for Hanabi, and the love polygon goes from tragic to comical. The teachers and students were enough. These extras comes across as characters meant to distract you from the shallowness of the main threads.

The ‘doesn’t go far enough’ problem is no more prevalent than in sex scenes. There’s a lot of almost sex. The artists put their all into animating each sex scene with smoothness and detail to maximise sensuality and eroticism. (Just imagine One Punch Man’s action scene animations, but for characters feeling each other up.) Yet, someone always backs out at the last moment.

Scum’s Wish was pitched to me as “the anime most mature about sex in years.” Now I don’t know what to think of the people who told me this – they were adults, too. Look, just because you censor less than a shoujo romance, it doesn’t make the sex any more mature. Almost every sex scene is “Gyaaah! Not there! Don’t look at me. Nyaaah!” They sure use the ‘one character on top of another, when the top starts crying and tears fall on the other’s face’ scene five times too many. It’s no different from any other immature relationship anime.

The villain of this story is the female teacher, surprisingly enough. She is aware of Hanabi’s desire, as well as all those who are after her, and she loves it. The teacher thrives on how much people want her – if she’s taking away someone’s crush in the process, then all the better. A unique villain, to be sure. Sadly, even she doesn’t go far enough. Her arc – hell, everyone’s arcs – resolves with the tension of wet toilet paper. Scum’s Wish simultaneously puts its characters in cruel scenarios while treating them like fragile ornaments that can’t suffer the slightest nudge, lest they break.

The fragility also weakens any emotional impact. March Comes in Like a Lion conveys emotion much more effectively, all while using a quarter of the words – silence instead of the excessive internal monologue found in Scum’s Wish.

The story has nothing beyond the relationship drama – no one feels like a real person with a life, even if a miserable one. Hanabi is worst of all. She is a passive, feeble character that rarely takes action. The plot doesn’t move forward at her behest. Someone else takes charge while she lies there going, “Gyaah! No…”

Maturity? Look elsewhere.

Art – High

The art is gorgeous, soft and elegant – I love the eyes. The shot composition is great at conveying multiple perspectives and emotions at once. Editing could be quicker. Character heights are oddly inconsistent – in the first scene, Hanabi bumps into a guy, coming up to his chin, but then two shots later, she is half a head taller than before!

Sound – Medium

Decent acting and calm music.

Story – Low

A love polygon of ridiculous dimensions messes with the emotions of every student and teacher involved. Scum’s Wish tries to be mature about sex, but devolves into immature melodrama that stretches reason beyond intrigue.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Scum’s Wish won’t be for you unless you love sexual melodrama.

(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:

Shallow