Category Archives: Romance

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

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.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

School Rumble – Anime Review

Japanese Title: School Rumble

 

Related: School Rumble 2nd Semester (included in review)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Toradora!

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny.
  • Kenji Harima.
  • Quick pace.

Negatives:

  • Plot goes nowhere.
  • Low-end art.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When School Rumble introduces its main girl with the caption “Kinda stupid,” I know I am in for a good time. School Rumble hits with the jokes hard and fast, never slowing down to let us breathe, even to the detriment of its plot.

We follow the kinda stupid Tenma in her mission to confess love to Karasuma. Meanwhile, the almost as stupid delinquent-turned-supposed-softie Harima tries to complete his mission of confessing to Tenma. And then another student wants to confess to Harima, but then another guy wants to confess to her, and so on this love chain goes surround by hectic comedy.

Tenma’s introductory caption is accurate, for she truly is a ditz, which is usually not my kind of character. However, School Rumble treats her like a ditz and doesn’t allow her to get away with it – a nice change. In one dilemma, Tenma can’t exit the girls’ bathroom with Karasuma outside because if your crush sees you exit the bathroom it is embarrassing, or shameful, or something. I don’t know – this girl’s crazy!

Her target of desire, Karasuma, is similarly an inverse of the usual guy the main girl wants. He is boring. Not the ‘we tell you he’s cool to explain why the girl loves him but he’s actually boring’ kinda guy. No, Karasuma is boring by design. From his personality to his no-detail art, he is the definition of boring and treated as such. The humour surrounding Tenma’s inexplicable obsession with him is hilarious. Finally, a high school anime knows what the audience is thinking when Main Girl swears it’s True Love with Boring Guy.

The best character of all however, is Kenji Harima. Again, I am not a fan of the delinquent thug archetype due to their predictable arcs, yet with Harima and his depth of character and complexity, he’s nothing like the usual delinquent stock. The humour derived from fancying himself a sensitive guy now that he’s in love, while beating the snot out of people, works well. The episode when he becomes a Jesus/Buddha/Noah hobo with a flock of animals after he thinks he can never get Tenma gives me stitches. To cope with his unrequited love, he creates a manga about a guy and girl falling in love that look like him and Tenma, though he swears they totally aren’t the same!

His and Tenma’s schemes to show love towards their crushes are equally idiotic and hilarious. One early episode has Harima trying to tell Tenma that she’s forgotten to write her name on her test paper, which will fail her. He comes up with crazy yet clever ways of telling her without being caught by the teacher, but Tenma is so stupid that she doesn’t notice his hints. He even writes, “You forgot to write your name,” on his paper and shows it her, but she takes it as the literal answer to one of the questions… Oh boy, this is gonna be a long journey of love.

And a long journey it is, as the plot barely coughs forward after 52 episodes. To pre-empt any disappointment, let me tell you that the goal of saying ‘I love you’ to their crushes amounts to nothing. Even if the manga does give resolution somewhere in its 22 volumes, this go-nowhere plot is still a problem. “But it’s a comedy! Story doesn’t matter in comedy,” I hear you say. That is the case, sometimes, but not when the comedy presents its story so much. School Rumble keeps going back to Tenma and Harima’s story of confessing love, almost moving it forward, before resetting everything back to zero with some misunderstanding so they can play the same joke again a few episodes later. I get the impression that the writer didn’t know what to do for humour once the confessions were over, and so stayed in the ‘safe zone.’

To contrast with the similar Ouran High School Host Club, I find School Rumble has the better jokes, but am more satisfied with Ouran due to its conclusion. Nevertheless, School Rumble’s comedy is sharp enough to engage you. The quick pace of having 2-3 mini-episodes per full episode, rather than dragging one joke for 20 minutes, also helps. Though by the second season, I do get tired of episodes that focus on the confessions since it’s obvious they go nowhere.

Art – Low

School Rumble hails from the early days where computers replaced cel animation, and as such, looks serviceable, at best. One scene that stands out is when two characters are supposed to dance. One complements the other about how good a dancer she is – except they aren’t animated!

Sound – High

Energetic voice acting in English and Japanese provided by a great script of non-stop jokes.

Story – Medium

High school teens try to say, “I love you,” to their crushes, but fail amidst a whirlwind of misunderstanding, hijinks, and comedic chaos. Solid characters and excellent comedy make up for School Rumble’s go-nowhere plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school comedy fans. I give School Rumble a High rating, despite its story problems, because the humour saves it. One episode is all you need to know if School Rumble is for you. Give it a chance.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: None

Whisper of the Heart – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mimi wo Sumaseba

 

Related: The Cat Returns (spin-off)

Similar: From Up on Poppy Hill

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Garden of Words

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 51 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful small character details.
  • Full of heart.

Negatives:

  • Empty first act.
  • Ends just as it gets going.
  • Doesn’t give characters the whole stage to perform.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Shizuku loves books more than anything else in the world. Peculiarly however, in the borrowing card for each book she reads, someone else had borrowed them from the library before her. Who is this Seiji Amasawa? He must be a wonderful guy.

One day while going about her easy life of books and snacks, she follows a cat on the train, who leads her to a workshop of antique wonders and classical instruments run by an old man. He turns out to be the grandfather of the boy who makes fun of her at school. Worse yet, this boy is her perfect match in literature!

Whisper of the Heart is another lite-n’-easy film from Studio Ghibli, similar to the likes of Only Yesterday and From Up on Poppy Hill. But where I found those two rather dull with little to recommend themselves in terms of engagement, I enjoyed my time with Whisper of the Heart because of its characters. And just as it was drawing me in close, it ends. The first act being so empty made this more frustrating. What amounts to the equivalent of Chihiro and her family driving to the fairground in Spirited Away (several minutes) requires half an hour in Whisper. It takes too long to get to the point.

I like the scenes with the grandfather in the workshop, but these are rare. Most scenes involve Shizuku doing ordinary every-day activities like household chores or attending school. The first act has enough of these ‘nothing’ scenes to fill an entire film, so having even more than that makes the film feel like half filler to reach feature length. If Makoto Shinkai had directed this film, which is in his wheelhouse, he could have conveyed the same story in half the time with more said by the end.

Outside the filler, we spend most time with Shizuku and Seiji growing closer. Conflict arises from his goal to become a violin craftsman, which will likely send him overseas, whereas she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She finally finds her match and now he’ll probably be gone forever. However, these plot beats pop up and dissipate without much impact.

This story gets everything right, except for the plot. Whisper of the Heart’s events aren’t as strong as they could be, don’t challenge the characters as they should, and don’t give these brilliantly written children the whole stage to work with. Their small details are beautiful, such as how a girl reacts to seeing her crush or in the way a boy goes crazy at the roundabout way girls drop hints (pro tip: hints don’t work on guys). The Miyazaki touch is clear.

The poster for Whisper of the Heart shows Shizuku flying through the air alongside a gentleman cat, giving the impression of a strong fantasy element. This is deceiving. We only get one such scene inside her imagination, which is a shame, for it is a beautiful scene. We should have returned to her imagination several times as a metaphor for her inner growth, later reflected in her outer growth. These could have added depth instead of the filler scenes that serve little purpose to character or story.

I love much about this film, characters in particular, yet I want so much more.

Art – Very High

Studio Ghibli.

Sound – High

Good acting and solid music – it is interesting to hear an American classic in Japanese (Take Me Home, Country Roads).

Story – Medium

A fateful encounter with a cat leads Shizuku to solve the mystery of who had borrowed all her favourite books from the library before her, and she may even find inspiration for a purpose in life. Whisper of the Heart’s charming character barely get going when the story ends, making one wonder why so much empty space remained unfilled.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of other light Studio Ghibli movies. If you enjoy the more slice of life-type anime movies, Whisper of the Heart is another to add to your folio.

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Kodocha – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kodomo no Omocha TV

 

Related: Kodomo no Omocha OVA (alternate version)

Similar: Super GALS!

Gakuen Alice

Marmalade Boy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English (anime is dubbed up to ep. 51)

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 102 episodes

 

Positives:

  • So funny.
  • Understands children, girls in particular.
  • High energy.

Negatives:

  • The art is ugly, to put it nicely.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did I really just see what I saw? Was what I saw really what I thought it was? Were my eyes playing tricks on me, my ears dancing with the devil? Is a show for little kids – an ugly show for little kids – truly this good? How?

I love Kodocha. When a dear reader requested Kodocha for review in the erstwhile era called January, I added it to my list for review, though told him that due to its length, it may take some time. What I didn’t say was that the art and premise made me, hmm, unenthusiastic (let’s leave it at that word) about watching it. A week ago, I found myself doing mundane work requiring little attention yet a lot of time, so I threw the first anime I estimated wouldn’t need much effort on my part – Kodocha. And slay me sideways if I didn’t laugh for hours on end. This anime I thought would take months of forcing myself to watch breezed by in a week, an effortless week.

Under the spotlight of Kodocha is child star Sana. Talented, successful, daughter of a famed author, popular – Sana has it all. The perfect life. Well, except for that brat Akito in her sixth grade class. Man, that Akito, he’s so mean, bullies the teacher, is rotten to the core, and stinks of cooties. Sana just wants to- to- RAAAARGH! (*Image of Sana tearing an Akito effigy in two here*) She will get that Akito back for making the teacher cry if it’s the last thing she does! But wait, could there be a reason why that brat acts out this way?

Kodocha’s heart is in the skill with which it captures children and the inner-child in us adults. These children misbehave, get up to god-knows-what, skip homework, clown around in class, – yes, even the “good” students – and cause an all-round riot. Kodocha allows them to be kids. It may sound simple, but you’d be amazed by how rare it is to find any fiction, never mind anime, that portrays children as real children. The innocent yet endearingly twisted view children have of the world is a difficult quality to distil. The comedy writes itself when you let kids run free.

However, because the team didn’t want to encourage the audience children from causing such trouble in real life, Kodocha often breaks the fourth wall to remind kids that you shouldn’t be imitating these troublemakers. The irony is hilarious.

More than just the mentality, I love the ‘kid’ moments it portrays, such as one kid accidentally calling the teacher “Mum” – been there, mate…been there. Everything from the class’s laughter to his burning embarrassment – perfect. Another joke I remember true to life was after Akito grabs Sana’s chest. “Now I’ll never be pure enough for a husband!” she cries. “Wait, he didn’t squeeze, so I’m okay!” I lost it. One girl in my primary school thought that losing your virginity meant being kissed by a boy – anywhere – so she would run terrified from any boy in class when close enough to “strike.”

After the initial Akito arc, the story goes from showbiz to classmate problems to paparazzi. The story moves at a good clip, covering a variety of scenarios for Sana and co. with the Akito romance overarching the whole. When the pace does slow for an emotional arc, the tone flows well from comedy to drama and doesn’t feel forced like many shoujo stories.

Kodocha isn’t above the shoujo tropes, such as a little girl with a crush on an adult man. Unlike the dregs of shoujo, however, this anime handles it perfectly, turning what is often an incarceration-worthy arc into one that shows true character growth, as Sana learns of the real world. The topic of adoption also receives more thought and care than given by the vast majority of anime. This dingy kids’ anime is more mature than Clannad and its ilk.

The number one shoujo trope – a recurring sequence each episode – morphs into a rap song by Sana, occasionally with backup vocals from her looney mother or caring manager. Yeah, you heard me; a little girl raps each episode as some form of pep talk. It’s corny as hell, but pluck my nose hair with tweezers if I don’t laugh every time.

Now, Kodocha has its faults. Obvious art issues aside, some episodes deliver tepid results and the boys aren’t depicted quite as well as the girls. They’re still great, but they needed to be more disgusting, in my opinion. I remember one classmate of mine used to scratch his healthy skin until it bled and scabbed over, just so he could then pick at the scab… The hell? And he wasn’t the worst. Kids will be kids…

So, here we arrive at the end and I still cannot believe I am about to give Kodocha a high rating and my warm recommendation. Am I really going to give an anime that looks this cheap a high score? Yes, I am.

Art – Very Low

Garbage. Let’s be honest – Kodocha’s art is awful from its animation to its detail. One-hundred and two episodes made on the budget for two, it seems. It at least has the energy and expressiveness to keep up with Sana’s antics.

Sound – Medium

The BGM is a tad generic and the voice work serviceable, but darn it if the enthusiasm doesn’t make you love it through all the flaws. Even the corny raps grow on you before long.

Story – High

A child star gets up to all sorts of shenanigans at school and in life with her oddity of a mother, loyal dog of a manager, and the naughty boy in class. Kodocha’s constant laughs – only interrupted by thoughtful emotion – and understanding of how children think and behave made it an easy journey to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for anyone with a piece of childhood still burning in their hearts. Kodocha is too much fun to pass up. Even if you don’t want to go the distance, a dozen episodes will brighten your life.

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

Positive:

CharmHilarious

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Nana – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nana

 

Similar: Paradise Kiss

Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Music Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 47 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Instantly likeable characters, flaws and all.
  • Balance of comedy and drama.
  • Punishes mistakes.

Negatives:

  • Poor structuring at times interferes with the flow.
  • Doesn’t do the music element as strong as other music-centric anime.
  • The end.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A train delayed by snow brings two women called Nana together. One Nana has no goals in life other than to be independent, hopefully breaking away from her incessant need to fall in love with every guy she meets. The other Nana, fiercely independent, seeks stardom as a punk rock vocalist while burying the hurt she feels from her ex-boyfriend, who abandoned her for another band. Love is far from her mind.

To make things simpler, I will refer to one Nana as Hachiko (her nickname given in the show) and the other as Punk Nana. As always, the anime’s name is in italics – Nana.

These women present themselves as likeable characters right away, conveying their personalities in an authentic manner on the train. Hachiko’s bubbliness spills forth as she gives Punk Nana an earful on her amazing current boyfriend. Meanwhile, Punk Nana’s reserved nature and maturity billows off her like the smoke from her cigarette. The two may be opposites but she can’t help smiling at the endearing Hachiko. The first encounter between these two girls is a masterclass in giving the audience a feel for the characters in minutes.

After the opening episode, we go back several years with Hachiko to her high school life of moving from one love to the next (Punk Nana receives similar flashback treatment later). Hachiko keeps falling for one guy after another, each older than her. She gives new meaning to falling in love at first sight. Guy delivers pizza – she’s in love. Guy cooks at the restaurant – it must be love. Guy breathes – love! Get a grip, Hachiko! None of these men return her attention except for a married man a decade her senior. Like the introductions, this is another case of excellent writing, for it establishes her flaw and its resulting conflict without a drawn out explanation.

Hachiko is a stupid girl, a girl that claims independence, but is entirely dependent on others, has no skills and no direction in life. She sounds like a terrible character, so why do I like her? She is authentic and the story doesn’t let her get away with anything. Her hypocrisy about independence leads to the negative turn after act 1. Her stupidity results in…well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say I hope none of you, dear readers, makes the same mistakes she does. Her romantic view of life and love is punched in the ovaries by reality and maturity. A craving for love or rather, what she thinks is love leads her down a path of mistakes – to put it mildly. And as any great writer will tell you, the theme for your ultimate conflict works best when you start it early, giving the conflict time to resonate throughout the story until it builds from a ripple into a tidal wave that crashes over the protagonist.

Ever wonder why a story that suddenly goes dark in the finale never feels right, even if you can’t quite put your finger on the reason? It’s because it lacks that resonance. The story didn’t foreshadow properly, obfuscating its goal for the sake of shock value. Nana doesn’t make that error. Now, it never becomes dark like those other anime, but my point is that its heavy drama never comes out of nowhere, even when it barges into what we thought was a comedy episode. When a dramatic change occurs, it feels right because Nana never lied to us. It makes sense.

The relationship pacing for both Nanas and their respective boyfriends recalls His & Her Circumstances (don’t remind me of that ending! T_T) in how well they move forward, free of artificial stalling. The story does slow when needed through effective use of internal monologue in contemplative moments, which unlike Honey and Clover doesn’t tell us how the characters feel.

Due to the strong writing and fast pace, I couldn’t stop going from one episode to the next, watching 20 in my first sitting – even the terrible idea to repeat episode 1 as episode 6 didn’t stop me. However, the second act seems to double the cast overnight and both old- and new-comers must have their dedicated arcs. Like the author’s other famous work, Paradise Kiss, this doesn’t work. Side characters are side characters for a reason. You can’t make everyone lead singer. This is especially noticeable in the third act, where seemingly everyone must wrap their respective arcs before the Nanas can take their bows. The finale feels like having to shake everyone’s hand at the end of a wedding rather than riding off to the honeymoon. Between the flashbacks, repeats, and tangents, I could make a case to remove near 10 episodes’ worth of content from the total. The worst part? A random time-skip in the final episode raises several new questions with the Nanas and gives no answers. The manga is on permanent hiatus, I understand, but one has to choose such a weak end by design.

The end is similar in unconventionality to Paradise Kiss, which I liked in that anime, but Nana doesn’t guide us to that end with the thoroughness it requires. Relegating protagonists to the sidelines before the finale is not a good idea.

My other serious complaint would be with the music side of the story. After Beck, Nodame Cantabile, and Your Lie in April had such strong understanding of music and the industry, it’s a shame to see Nana offer so little. The bands don’t have many songs, there are no standout musical performances (the aforementioned three feel like nothing but standout performances at times), the concerts lack animation, and the industry insight only meets minimum requirements for fiction. The best music is in the opening and ending credits, not within the story. The sole detail of the music plot that stood out to me was its exploration of one’s fame affecting friends and family around you. I like how some react with joy, others with jealousy.

Ultimately, the characters carry Nana, especially with many being such engaging train wrecks. You can learn many lessons on what not to do in life here, which is where great drama originates.

Art – Medium

The characters have a distinct style and their animations are expressive, but that’s really it. Everything else from environments to animation is average.

Sound – High

I listened to the OP and ED most episodes. Sadly, music within the story is nowhere near the level achieved by other music anime. The voice work is great in Japanese and English, though I preferred the latter for giving Punk Nana a raspier voice.

Story – High

A fateful encounter brings two women with the same name yet opposing personalities together as they deal with love and life in Tokyo. Nana’s strong characters, complemented by punishing drama, make this anime an engaging ride despite some excess fat in the structure.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for fans of intense drama meets comedy. Though Nana is a great anime, its crazy drama and ditzy protagonist may make your head spin before you reach the end of its long runtime.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative:

Weak End