Category Archives: Romance

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

Gosick – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gosick

 

Similar: Black Butler

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Heaven’s Memo Pad

Ghost Hunt

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mystery Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pretty environments.
  • Good acting.

Negatives:

  • Omnipotent detective.
  • Whiny guy and tantrum girl don’t make for great leads.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I love how anime schools are beyond reality. Some go so grand, so outlandish that no real school would ever look like this. I think of Bakemonogatari’s school often, with its sky-scraping glass tower that serves no purpose other than great cinematography. Only anime can abuse the “rule of cool” so much for a mere school. Gosick has one such school. It’s a grand gothic and Victorian mix with an indoor botanical garden large enough to fit another school. And I love it. Not particularly relevant to this review – just thought I’d mention it!

As for the story proper, Gosick is about a 13-year-old Kazuya, who happens upon a doll-like girl around his age called Victorique de Blois in the school’s grand library. She’s an odd girl, keeping to herself and not possessing particularly keen manners, despite her prim appearance. Kazuya intrigues her, however, and she decrees that he is to be her plaything to entertain her with stories in the garden atop the school, when not joining her in solving mysteries, of course. She throws tantrums when bored, but switches on her genius when summoned for a case.

Contrary to the goth loli design, she isn’t lewded to sinful heaven like most of her archetype. Frankly, I consider this a miracle. There is a mild explanation for her petite stature in her backstory, but I think the artist just liked the look. She truly is a dress-up doll. I’m still not a fan of the type, though I do appreciate some effort went into incorporating her design into the rest of the art.

The story, for the most part, is Sherlock Holmes & Watson style crime mysteries. Now that, I love. They start with a few small cases, including a ghost ship, that last a few episodes each before it delves into a grander story about her origins and the tale of her cursed mother. More on this later.

I’m sorry to report, however, that these mysteries aren’t going to impress anyone with a modicum of experience in the genre. The major issue is Victorique’s omnipotence. She will say exactly what happened in some cases without ever going to the scene. It’s not as though she makes an educated guess, which she adjusts and confirms later on through investigation. No, she says exactly how it transpired. Furthermore, the audience can’t solve these mysteries ahead of time by catching clues. I don’t know if this was intentional by the writer to make her seem smarter or if the writer didn’t have the skill.

This wouldn’t be as big of an issue if it had something else going for it, such as strong characters you want to join in the adventure. Here too we have a problem. Kazuya is weak – too wimpy for a Watson substitute. I don’t get his personality choice. The dynamic between him and Victorique is for him to be her pet, her plaything, yet he doesn’t have a strength to counterbalance this weakness. He’s loyal and kind to her, but that just makes him a better servant. The original Watson is a good sidekick to Holmes, yes, but he also brings common sense and a clarity Holmes lacks when tunnel-visioned on a case. Watson must take charge at times. Kazuya doesn’t feel like an independent character who would exist without her.

As for Victorique, her tantrums are annoying. I assume (correctly) that it’s meant to endear her towards us and fit her child-like design. I just find it tiresome. They don’t make sense with her otherwise “mature” persona – not played as some flaw, like a mature outward façade covering a vulnerable inner core either. It comes across as an excuse to have a loli throwing tantrums because that’s what the writer likes. It doesn’t mesh.

Humour arrives in the form of her brother, who has hair that could pierce the heavens. He also works as a detective, but with his inferior skills, he often resorts to taking credit for his reclusive sister’s work. He’s a bit on the weird side for a gothic mystery, though is more memorable and focused than the other two.

Back to the story, once the opening cases are over with, the main story is more interesting, yet becomes less of a crime mystery. Gosick ends up losing its genre focus halfway through. More interesting on one hand – loses the genre on the other. It’s leans action over mystery by the end, which I take as a positive after the mediocre cases in the early game.

I want to be clear: Gosick never becomes bad. This is simply an example where once you’ve seen better, it is difficult to go backwards. I could see myself recommending this had I watched it a decade ago.

Art – High

I wouldn’t expect a series reliant on a goth loli to put any effort in the art. Gosick has surprisingly high production values. The environments look particularly good.

Sound – High

The music is appropriately gothic and the acting is good. No notable complaints here.

Story – Medium

A boy helps a doll-like girl with her hobby of playing detective – then the cases get personal. The mysteries are good enough to hold one’s attention, but if you’ve seen better, you’ll crave something more.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For mystery beginners. Gosick is an easy enough anime to watch unless you are used to more captivating mysteries.

(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

From Me to You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kimi ni Todoke

 

Similar: Lovely Complex

My Love Story

Maid Sama!

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Slice of Life

Length: 37 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A sweet romance.
  • Cute art.

Negatives:

  • Hits its peak within a few episodes.
  • Plays it too safe.

(Request an anime for review here.)

For those who aren’t aware, the movie The Ring (or just Ring in Japanese) is a cultural icon in Japan. It’s their Jaws or Dracula. In particular, the ghost girl with long black hair over her face is recognisable to all the Japanese. Unfortunately for our protagonist Sawako, she looks just like the Ring girl and terrifies her classmates at every turn. Down the empty school corridors, in the damp bathrooms, behind the schoolyard trees lurks the shy, sweet, introverted and utterly terrifying Sawako. Fear her.

Of course, she’s a harmless girl just trying to make friends. She has a crush on the most popular guy in class, Kazehaya, who turns out to be the one person not afraid of her. He doesn’t have trouble talking to the horror that is Sawako.

Despite the ghostly premise, From Me to You gives off feel-good romance vibes from the beginning. I would go so far as to say that it gives these vibes too early. Kazehaya likes her right away and they got along without delay, so it already feels like the conflict is over. They keep the drama going with so much self-pity and unspoken misunderstandings that it makes for a weak romance. Her core personality trait is shyness, true, but not saying anything at every convenient moment is just dim-witted. Too much time is spent with her watching shyly, too timid to talk to the guy, too timid to do anything. Grows old fast. Her flabbergasted expression by someone merely talking to her also wears thin before long (and she cries each time). If everything is flabbergasting, nothing is.

There is no inherent problem with the feel-good direction – I’m not advocating Shakespeare come in to dramatise every romance – yet if taking that route, a story needs another driving force. Comedy is the most common substitute. Romantic sitcoms can go for seasons on end with little true progression. Doesn’t mean it will be great – viewers will want progress and a conclusion eventually. Regardless, the audience needs something. From Me to You, while amusing in a charming way, isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. These characters aren’t compelling enough either to want to observe in daily life, intrigued by what they will do next.

As for the episodic story, we have the usual high school fare of festivals, classes, and school events. It’s what you expect from a high school anime. I see this as neither positive nor negative. Using these events in a more interesting way with actual conflict (i.e. something other than shyness) even if done for comedy matters more.

For some positives though, it is a pretty anime. You can feel the manga artist’s touch in the visual style (needs more animation than a manga page though). It has a strong shoujo flair that brightens up the screen. It makes for a nice compliment to the feel-good romance. The chibi humour is also amusing – not as funny as the likes of Get Backers, but successful nonetheless. The characters are most likeable (though not particularly memorable).

From Me to You is a difficult anime to dislike. I think that’s the secret to it’s success. Pleasant best describes it. However, while I did finish the series, I would not have gone beyond six or so episodes had it not been for the purposes of this review. Pleasantry can only keep me going for so long. Give me pleasantry plus something else and I could go forever, but not by itself. I feel this pleasantry makes it difficult for people to be critical of the series. It’s like telling the girl scout that her cookies taste awful. Makes one feel mean.

Now, if such pleasantry sounds appealing to you, then by all means, give this anime a go. From Me to You is an innocuous romance that pleases the eyes.

Art – Medium

The art is cute – pretty and feminine, reminiscent of Nana – with frequent use of chibification. The animation, however, has little to show for itself.

Sound – Medium

I am not a fan of Mamiko Noto’s meek voice, but it works here for the timid Sawako. Even so, I couldn’t take it for long periods at a time. Like the pleasant music.

Story – Medium

A girl that reminds every one of the creature from Ring struggles with love and friendship at school. Though a sweet love story, From Me to You resolves its major conflicts early on and makes the rest feel like an extended epilogue.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime romance fans only. From Me to You is for those who like their conflict light and their romance safe.

(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

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku– Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii

 

Similar: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Aggretsuko

Recovery of an MMO Junky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance Slice of Life

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The author knows her games.
  • Always charming and funny.
  • Believable couple.

Negatives:

  • Could do with more romance.

(Request an anime for review here.)

It is Narumi’s first day at her new job. She has but one mission: no one can find out that she is an otaku, and not just any otaku, but the worst kind – a filthy fujoshi. Absolutely, under no circumstances, should a guy hear of her dark secret, for even if he is accepting of her perverted ways, then that must mean he’s an otaku too. And who would want to date an otaku!? This is a chance at a new life. No one will ever realise they are working right next to a yaoi loving degenerate. No one will ever know of the smut she hides on her hard drive. NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW THAT SHE SHIPS GUYS TOGETHER AFTER THEY SAY ONE WORD TO EACH OTHER! Oh crap, her boss found out!

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is an adult rom-com in an office setting. It is packed with nerd humour, pop culture references (the deep cuts), sweet romance, and fun all around. I love it.

Narumi is such a lovable protagonist. The scene when Hana, her boss, uncovers her secret – turns out she is a mega nerd as well, cosplaying regularly as a bishounen (feminine handsome man) Narumi is a fan of – makes you fall in love with her. Turns out, Hana is also a fan of Narumi’s yaoi fan fiction written under a pen name.

Narumi is rather goofy and the show plays most jokes at her expense (they have to flash a “please don’t run for departing trains” sign every time she’s late, which is often), but she isn’t stupid. It would have been so easy to make her a moron to have otaku go, “Gosh, isn’t she adorable. I would love to have a stupid girlfriend,” something you often see in moe anime.

Then you have her dynamic with the guys at work, who are also into nerd stuff. You have Tarou – Hana’s future boyfriend – and Hirotaka, who has a preference for games and a disdain for yaoi (in a humorous way). He is Narumi’s love interest. These characters – not just the main couple – make for a great group. You can easily see them as friends in real life, relatable to anyone who likes hanging out playing couch co-op games such as Mario Kart (called “Mari Ka” in Japanese, for short, as I learned), adventuring together in MMOs or just chatting over a meal.

Harumi and Hirotaka are a sweet couple. The arguments they have over trying to get the other person into the things they like is endearing. However, I do wish there was more to this romance. It’s certainly a believable one (often, the problem with anime romance is the lack of foundation in the romance to begin with), yet doesn’t go into enough depth for how they work as a couple in private. It has the fun side of the romance without enough of the drama side. Doesn’t have to be heavy conflict – just give me something so I can say, “You know what, they’re going to make it.”

Now, the fun side is a success. When they go on a date to the theme park, they set a “no nerding” rule with a 500-yen penalty to the piggy bank for breaking it. She can’t resist making the perfect JoJo reference while he can’t miss the chance to catch a rare Blissey in Pokémon Go (fun fact: Blissey in Japanese is called “Happiness” – the English word happiness).

The nerd humour is on point. Hirotaka is a pro at Monster Hunter, even playing it at work. They play together on a hunt for a rare ruby she wants from a monster, but when she gets none and he gets two, not needing any himself, she says, “The Desire Sensor must’ve activated!” I love the inclusion of this joke. This author, she knows the gamer’s mentality. It feels authentic and not tacked on because market research says that anime for adult nerds must have adult nerd references. How often have you seen a US TV show try to make a gaming reference, for whatever is the big thing at the time, and come across as painful to watch? The Big Bang Theory still makes me cringe in memory of that MMO episode.

Wotakoi makes meta references to games, using mechanics like action choices for humour and I love the character stat sheets marking ad breaks (check out that yaoi stat!):

I even learnt a new term from this anime: the reverse cover scam. “I see the cover [of a manga] and buy it for the sex scenes, but the story turns out to be good!” That is perfect. I have to use that phrase in real life at some point.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku gets my heartiest recommendation. It is a refreshing change from the sea of high school rom-coms and I hope to see more of this kind in future.

Art – Medium

It’s not a flex show, but the art is good. The colours and character designs pop!

Sound – High

The music matches the fun tone – super catchy OP – and the acting is strong overall. Narumi may sound too young for an “office lady”, but it matches her young-at-heart fangirl personality.

Story – Medium

An omega nerdy office lady has her cover blown at work, only to find out her colleagues are nerds themselves. This light-hearted rom-com is a fun 11 episodes that I wish leant more into the romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For adult nerds. Wotakoi is an easy anime to watch, though with its slant towards adult life and adult humour, you need to be part of the older crowd to find it fully relatable. Still, don’t let that stop you.

(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: 

Charm

Negative: None

The Story of Saiunkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saiunkoku Monogatari

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Twelve Kingdoms

Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Comedy Fantasy Romance

Length: 78 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Nice music.
  • Surprisingly well paced for a large cast and long series.
  • Knows its audience.

Negatives:

  • No historical authenticity.
  • Needs more animation.

(Request an anime for review here.)

With her family estate declining and her future uncertain, the young librarian and teacher Shuurei accepts the court’s offer to become the lazy emperor’s concubine and instructor in exchange for 500 gold pieces. She has no reason to turn down the offer, as the new emperor prefers the company of men (or so he likes everyone to believe). Plus, this could be the opportunity to fulfil her dream of becoming a member of the court, where the fate of the people is decided. Her innocence and focus teeter on the brink however, when her job puts her in the path of several handsome men, never mind the emperor’s stupidity.

The first impressions of The Story of Saiunkoku gave me hope of seeing another Twelve Kingdoms (still have my fingers crossed for a conclusion) with its bishounen artwork set to a vast kingdom and mystical backstory. I expected far too much. It is partially my fault, likely generated out of desperation to see more of The Twelve Kingdoms sort. So, I adjusted my expectations and saw Saiunkoku for what it is – a shoujo historical fantasy romance that pays no attention to historical realism in exchange for dreamboat men.

First off, I believe this anime conveniently ignores what a concubine actually is (we call them something very different today). It wouldn’t do to have the protagonist called a whore every scene in a show for young girls, now would it?

Changing some historical nuance isn’t a deal breaker for a show such as this, full of fantasy and no “true story” adaptation. The real issue is the complete lack of feeling that this takes place in a period gone by. This is a very “anime” anime for teenage girls with its modern humour and contemporary mannerisms. I wouldn’t call this a historical piece. I liken Saiunkoku to characters dressing up for a period piece rather and actual period piece. Whether the author wasn’t skilled enough to write a period piece or the team thought it would be too difficult for the target audience to understand, Saiunkoku isn’t a period romance.

Barring that, it does have strengths. For one, the aesthetic is lovely, suits the tone of the series, and no doubt makes the bishounen even more appealing to the audience. While this is a reverse harem, matters never descend into garbage harem territory. It also has many elements, from the intricacies of government to wider cultures and a large cast of character without dragging down proceedings. The story moves at a good pace and never feels tired. The top-level plot progress slows at times, though this is in exchange for more exploration of a subplot. I cannot impress upon you enough how surprised I am by this. Too often, such a volume of elements results in a bloated mess where everything competes for attention, nothing sticks with the audience, and you just want to drop the series.

We have plenty of politics within and without as Shuurei navigates the imperial court and all its conniving players. She faces a greater challenge than others do, being a woman in the territory of men while falling for some of them. The drama never gets heavy, yet it has enough to deliver the audience to the conclusion. It maintains the mask of shoujo romance, yet doesn’t do so at the total expense of depth.

The Story of Saiunkoku is quite good for young girls – there is a lot here for the right audience – but anyone desiring an experience that takes you back in time with a touch of fantasy will find this piece too modern.

Art – Medium

Most of the effort went into the character designs and aesthetics, which look nice, instead of animation, which needs work.

Sound – Medium

Music is the best part of The Story of Saiunkoku. I like the OP and classical Asian instrumental soundtrack. As for acting, the Japanese fine. I would avoid the dub, as a couple of characters are jarring. One kid has so much nasal on top of being a kid everyone would punch on first meeting.

Story – Medium

A girl agrees to become concubine to the new emperor in exchange for a hefty reward, but the simple proposition complicates itself when feelings get involved. While not a period piece whatsoever, The Story of Saiunkoku is a good shoujo romance.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. The Story of Saiunkoku is shoujo within and without – unfortunately at the expense of historical realism. It knows its core demographic.

(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

Kemonozume – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kemonozume

 

Similar: Devilman Crybaby

Basilisk

Parasyte –the maxim-

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Action Horror Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Stands out.
  • Great romantic conflict.
  • Fast pace.
  • Satisfying conclusion.

Negatives:

  • Third act focuses too much on action.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t seen this anime. Nor would I blame you. It doesn’t look the most appealing. I only watched it after seeing the following scene (and it’s not even representative of the story):

Kemonozume is a Romeo & Juliet story that pits a monster slayer against the monster he loves. In this world, a species of monsters slinks through society disguised as humans, consuming people to survive in plain sight. The samurai-like Kifuuken clan has one purpose: killing Flesh Eaters. Toshihiko is their leader’s son and an expert slayer who falls in love with beautiful Yuka at first sight. She shows him that there is more to life than the warrior’s code – she even takes him tandem skydiving – and he gives her love she had been taught didn’t exist in return. Their whirlwind romance derails when he discovers her to be a Flesh Eater. Toshihiko must now choose between love and duty.

I do not enjoy Romeo & Juliet. Like every other poor unfortunate soul, I had to study it at school. Hated it then. Hate it now. So to see this anime, with its ragged art and surreal palette that intrigued me, reveal itself as a Romeo & Juliet romance, I braced for stupid. However, Kemonozume did two things that rallied my spirits. First, they are a threat to each other just as much as their respective sides are a threat to them. And secondly, the romance isn’t chaste. This couple doesn’t shy away from sex, from lust, from passion.

I maintain that sex scenes (or risqué fan service, if we’re talking teen anime) are often the biggest waste of screen time in any medium. Even Game of Thrones, which I love, could benefit from removing 90% of the sex scenes. Such scenes rarely add anything to the story.

Kemonozume differs because much of this couple’s personal story occurs during the sex scenes. See, Yuka’s true form is at greatest risk of coming out during moments of heightened sexual ecstasy, a problem made worse by how much these two adore and crave each other. The theme of rebelling against what they were born to be isn’t just seen in them running away from home to go on an adventure. We see it in their most intimate moments. The sex doesn’t overstay its welcome. There’s always a justification for making that scene a sex scene rather than something else. It also helps that the weird art makes these moments something you’ve probably never seen before, visually, and the exaggerated lines amplify the emotions they feel.

Another strength of Kemonozume is its humour. For instance, after encountering Yuka for the first time, falling for her instantly, he starts to see her face on everyone else’s heads in this hilarious scene. Like the rest of this anime, it exaggerates the joke three steps beyond the norm, but it works here. Distracting Flesh Eaters with holograms of dancing nude women is also a good laugh. I will concede that some humorous moments could do with better timing.

Sadly, Kemonozume falls short of excellence with a third act that contains too much action. It’s not that action has no place in this romance. Rather, the action become a bit too shounen, so to speak, albeit surreal shounen action – like the sex, this looks different from other action scenes. Without this third act, it wouldn’t be fitting to give this anime the “Action” label. On the positive side, it’s only a few episodes (being a short, fast-paced anime helps here) and the conclusion is satisfying. If the end weren’t satisfying, I would leave Kemonozume bitterly disappointed. I can thankfully say the opposite.

Now, despite my praises, do keep in mind that this is wildly different from “normal” anime. Should Kemonozume not grab your interest within one episode, you most likely won’t change your mind by the end. Don’t force yourself to watch it on my account – on anyone’s account.

Art – Medium

Visually unusual art – highly stylised on a budget. It’s clear they didn’t have much money to work with, but made the most of it to create something distinct. Allows for plenty of animation, but the art itself is very rough. This style could be a deal breaker for some.

Sound – Medium

The nice jazz soundtrack is stronger than the decent voice acting.

Story – High

The son and heir of a monster hunting clan falls in love with one of the very maneating women he’s born to kill. Fast, savage, and racy, Kemonozume is a unique take on the forbidden love romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. I greatly enjoyed Kemonozume, but I know it won’t appeal to many, so give it a try and see if you feel as I did.

(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