Category Archives: Romance

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

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.

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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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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru

 

Similar: Toradora

Bakemonogatari

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Second season looks better.

Negatives:

  • Unlikeable protagonist throughout.
  • “Deep” thoughts.
  • The drama isn’t really drama.
  • Hard to care.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I only watched this anime because of the title (“What is a snafu…?”) and came out wishing I hadn’t bothered. There is a subreddit called r/im14andthisisdeep that collects “deep” thoughts that are actually basic to the average person. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is that subreddit in anime form.

It follows the nihilistic high school years of Hachiman, who is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club as punishment for imposing his “deep” worldview on everyone. This club, which includes the ice queen Yukino, has the sole purpose of helping students in need achieve their goals. It’s a club about helping people, in short, with the hope of making Hachiman less of a douche.

As an example of the club’s activities, the first case is helping a girl who can’t cook, where the real lesson is that it’s the thought and effort that counts among friends. She soon joins the duo along with several others to create the typical group of high school friends.

SNAFU presents itself as a meta anime on the “high school friendships” genre, commenting on how much the genre overblows high school and how it doesn’t define your life, but ends up eating its own tail to become a pretentious, overblown high school friendship anime. It goes through the usual episodes – beach, summer festival, sports day, etc. However, instead of thinking, “You’re right, it is really stupid how big of a deal they make out of these events,” I just see SNAFU doing the same as the anime on which it comments.

The one differentiating factor is that the characters aren’t cheerful. Hachiman is anti-social, Yukino is anti-social, another girl is bad at socialising, and even the popular girl doesn’t have anyone who cares for her. Despite this difference, the story and characters play out much the same way as your average anime from this genre.

Initially, I thought that Hachiman’s musings were meant to be taken as the pretentious ramblings of some kid who thinks he has the world figured out, that we were meant to see him as unlikable before the story turns our opinion of him. He does grow less unlikeable, sure, but I don’t know anyone who would want to hang around such a boring person.

I considered the idea that the author was trying to emulate the deep (read: stupid) thoughts we all had as teenagers, and that this nonsense was accurate for a kid his age, but it never calls him out on it. Hachiman doesn’t sound like a teenager in over his head; he sounds like an adult failing to write a teenager. No one with any life experience would believe this author’s life lessons and witty advice – and by any, I mean any, even a few months out of high school would dissolve such notions. It’s weak.

The drama isn’t really drama either. It’s just students interacting lightly in a slice of life way to resolve petty affairs. It’s hard to care about such minor problems. Oh, your life hinges on being elected class president? Oh wow, so rough. It takes a council of 40 students to organise the same sports day as every year and if it fails, all is lost? What a tough life. Perhaps this is meant as satire, though if the case, then it flops.

It also bothers me that there is seemingly only one teacher in this school, who acts like one of the students and barely looks older than they do. This world, this anime feels so empty.

SNAFU isn’t funny enough to recommend as a comedy, doesn’t have enough tension for a drama, and shouldn’t even have the romance label. The worst thing about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is to see studio Brain’s Base, responsible for unconventional greats like Baccano and Princess Jellyfish, forced to make an anime so visually and narratively bland.

Art – Medium

Average art, indistinguishable for other anime of the era, until a different studio takes over in season 2 and does a better job. Cinematography is still stock.

Sound – Medium

Acting is average as well. Not bad, though nothing memorable.

Story – Low

A nihilistic student is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club, which helps other students achieve their goals. This story and its unlikable protagonist won’t appeal to anyone with a drop of life experience.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For 14-year-olds only. If you are above that age, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU’s deep messages will be laughable.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

Nisekoi: False Love – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nisekoi

 

Similar: Toradora

My Bride is a Mermaid

Golden Time

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Comedy Romance

Length: 32 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Reasonably funny.
  • Beautiful art.

Negatives:

  • Goes nowhere.
  • Same harem clichés.
  • The promise pendant gimmick is moronic.
  • Initial setup doesn’t matter.

(Request an anime for review here.)

There’s something to be said about watching a certain type of anime for first time. I remember thinking Elfen Lied was great, believing Emma: A Victorian Romance was a superior romance, and dubbing Scryed as one of action anime’s best. These were the first anime of their kind I had seen and as such, I didn’t have a measuring stick to compare. Sure, I had seen other gore stories like Elfen Lied, but never one centred on innocent girls. Emma came to me before my love of period romances and Scryed, despite being action – one of the few genres I watched back then – was so different in its powers and commitment to characters. Not to suggest that I find these series bad today. However, I have seen many better cases since. I am sure you can all relate.

Coming to Nisekoi, it is the 30th of its kind that I have seen, which does no favours for its cliché-riddled characters and head-smacking plot. I had heard sound bites of negativity from several people, including from some of my readers. This seemed odd, for Nisekoi is from studio Shaft known for quality works like Bakemonogatari and Madoka Magica. And what screenshots I had glimpsed looked great.

Having finally seen it, the art is great – better than I had imagined – but the story…well, I’ll get to that. 

Nisekoi is a comedic reverse Romeo & Juliet, of sorts. Raku, heir to a yakuza family, enters into a forced engagement with Chitoge, granddaughter of the mafia’s leader, as a way to bring peace between the gangs. The only problem is that they hate each other and thus must pretend to be in love for the sake of duty. To further complicate matters, Raku made a promise with a girl 10 years ago, but he can’t remember who she was. He just knows she will have the matching key to the pendant around his neck. Also, he has a crush on his school friend Onodera. 

The first episode has so many clichés – toast in mouth, guy falls on top of girl, fawning over transfer student, girl punching guy – that it immediately makes one lose hope. However, once episode two introduces the key event of Raku’s engagement to Chitoge, my opinion reverses. The premise is genuinely funny. Seeing these two pretend to be in love while yakuza and mafia thugs spy on them from behind trees, yet not be in love when classmates are around to make sure everyone knows they hate each other had me laughing plenty.

So where does it go wrong? If you’ve noticed the harem genre above (or tag below) and this isn’t your first rodeo, you can guess with 100% accuracy. More girls for the harem. 

Nisekoi’s premise barely lasts a few episodes before it spirals into harem wheel spinning. A third girl joins the cast, and then another soon after. Each settles into her dutiful role as a harem girl, never deviating from the mould or advancing the plot. Even the Raku-Chitoge relationship that gave hope earlier thanks to their stronger personalities falls right into place. The wrong place.

It’s the same harem garbage you see everywhere. The bathhouse, beach, and school play episodes are the same, tsundere behaviour is the same as ever, and even Kamino itself couldn’t have made a better clone for the childhood friend. It is good-looking garbage of course – Shaft brings their signature cinematographic flair and unique art style to make this the most beautiful harem of all time (sorry, War on Geminar; you can’t compete anymore). 

The one story distinction Nisekoi has over its kin is the idea of his “one true waifu” to end up with, but even that goes nowhere, so it doesn’t matter.

In reality, the plot centres on that pendant of his. The gimmick is lame. For one, the pendant looks too stupid for anyone to wear at all times. Second, it’s a contrived way of tying two people together because we are somehow to believe that a 10-year-old promise magically makes people compatible. It hints early on that Onodera has the key. Turns out, it may not be her but Chitoge he made the promise with (she too has a key). But wait! It may not be either of them. Yet another girl from his childhood has a key and swears they made a promise. (She is from the city’s third “gang” – the police.)

Give me a break. 

See, I can imagine that had Nisekoi been my first harem anime, I would have enjoyed it. I would have still been disappointed by the lack of direction, naturally, but I would have laughed a lot (remember, the clichés wouldn’t have been clichéd to me yet) and the visuals would have suckered me in. Now though, having been through the trenches fighting off the same old harem thots for years, my eyes glaze over. Unless you’re new to the genre, don’t bother with this one. 

Art – High

Nisekoi looks great with extensive effort gone into the cinematography, colouring, and animation. That’s how it gets you. It looks too good for a bad anime. Several girls do look too much like Monogatari characters.

Sound – Medium

I like the lead girl’s performance and the others are fine too. Music is serviceable.

Story – Low

The son of a yakuza leader must pretend to love another gang leader’s daughter – someone he hates – to keep the two groups from war, all while searching for the girl he made a promise with in childhood. Nisekoi is as generic a harem as any other that goes nowhere.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. No amount of fancy art can turn Nisekoi into a good anime.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Induces Stupidity

Skip Beat! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Skip Beat!

 

Similar: Maid-sama!

Ouran High School Host Club

Glass Mask

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Often funny.
  • Doesn’t make protagonist instantly great.
  • The visual humour.
  • Energetic performances.

Negatives:

  • Just getting started.
  • The love interest is too stiff.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Great, another title to add to the list of anime that deserves completion. Why does Glass Mask get 51 episodes while Skip Beat, the superior anime of the arts, only has 25 episodes? Shameful!

Skip Beat is a romantic comedy centred on the lovable goof that is 16-year-old Kyouko. She is a diligent supporter of her childhood friend turned idol Shoutarou Fuwa, acting as a de facto housewife – away from her family – while he climbs in popularity. Little did she know that he is scum! All this time, he was taking advantage of her kindness to have a free maid that will cater to him. Kyouko swears revenge by aiming to do the one thing Shou would hate more than anything: become an idol more popular than him and work with his rival, the enigmatic Ren.

There is only one problem with her plan. She has no talents.

Kyouko is a fantastic character. I love her determined naiveté towards the entertainment industry. After a makeover from frump to fashionista, she spends her time walking around the trendy districts of Tokyo just waiting to be discovered. Love it! When that doesn’t work, she barges into a talent agency demanding to become a star. That goes nowhere fast. (A chibi devil Shou in her head taunts her after every failure.)

However, after a bout of stubbornness, an agent does take pity and allows her to join as a low-level assistant, performing janitorial and porter duties to earn “the people’s love”. So committed is she to the task that she cleans the floors to a perfect polish, which has everyone slipping down the corridors.

If I haven’t made it clear already, Skip Beat is heavy on comedy to much success. Eventually she does more than clean and gets to perform before the camera, leading into the light drama of the story.

I like how it doesn’t take the Glass Mask approach of making her a prodigy overpraised by all. Her first performance is a scene doing a tea ceremony opposite Ren, something she learned from her time working at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), so it makes sense that she executes it better than the rival actress when it needs little acting on her part. And the surrounding crew don’t have their minds blown by her every gesture either, as they would in that other anime. It only becomes a little silly about over exaggeration for the final performance rehearsal of the show.

Where Skip Beat faceplants in the arts aspect is with Ren. He supposedly never does more than one take of a scene, which is stupid. For one, no director would accept this. For two, if there is one thing I can tell you about J-drama actors is that they could do with more takes. Also, Ren isn’t much of an engaging character. He’s the stoic type – “OMG! He’s so quiet and mysterious. I’m in love!” He seriously needs more expression. Perhaps that would come later in the story.

This leads to the next and most significant problem with Skip Beat. It is incomplete. And when I say incomplete, I mean barely getting started before it halts. This may be the worst case I have encountered of an incomplete good anime. At least Berserk can be taken as a series with a “villain wins” ending. For Skip Beat, it is little more than the first act in these 25 episodes and leads to all sorts of problems, not least of which is in the romance.

To no one’s surprise, the story setups up a love triangle with Shou, Kyouko, and Ren, but we never even reach that point when the triangle is official. In fact, Shou is barely in the anime after she learns of his true nature. In isolation, it’s fine – it makes sense to keep him aside while she grows closer to Ren first, but when the script stops suddenly, it’s so unsatisfying to have zero resolution on anything.

Skip Beat the manga has 43 volumes so far and is still ongoing (not on hiatus), so if you intend to get into this anime and want closure, prepare to read. So frustrating! Perhaps it could see a revival like many others chosen in recent years.

Art – Medium

The art is dated at this point. It is expressive though and sports good visual humour, which is perfect for Skip Beat.

Sound – High

Interestingly, the dub translates everything, including the songs and does it well. The songs sound as if the same people performed them in both languages with perfect fluency. The dub acting is great too. I prefer it for making Kyouko more manic and Shou goofier, leaning further into the comedic side. Of course, the Japanese works great too.

Story – Medium

A girl decides to become a mega star in revenge for being used by another star she thought was her friend. Skip Beat is funny, often unexpected, and too criminally incomplete to reach its full potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For those willing to read the manga afterwards. Skip Beat is tons of fun, but it’s also the mere start of the story, so prepare to get into a lengthy manga if you desire closure.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incomplete

Wandering Son – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hourou Musuko

 

Similar: Sweet Blue Flowers

Koi Kaze

One Week Friends

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring.

Negatives:

  • Weak protagonists.
  • Too many characters.
  • Lacks weight.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wandering Son is a coming of age story about Shuichi, a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy, going through school. It touches on the subjects of cross-dressing, transgenderism, and puberty. I say touches because it barely delves below the surface on any of its primary topics.

Firstly, it has too many characters – way too many characters for a 12-episode anime (11 in the broadcast version), spreading the screen time too thin. There are so many characters, most of which are similar in both personality and design, that one loses track of who’s who, especially when cross-dressing – “same face” syndrome is a notable problem. They describe Yoshino as “a masculine girl” and Shuichi as a “feminine guy”, but due to the lack of design variety, everyone looks just about equally masculine and feminine. Swap hairstyles and anyone could pass for the opposite gender.

Shuichi lacks presence for a protagonist, often feeling like part of the background. These characters don’t have the emotional weight to make me care for their struggles. Hell, I’m not even sure if struggles is the right word, since the conflict is so light. One gets the feeling that it will all resolves itself on its own in time, just like puberty problems everyone goes through.

Speaking of, puberty is a boring subject for a story to focus on. Might just be me though. I am far more interested in the growing responsibilities that come with approaching adulthood and the struggles of finding a purpose in life before thrown into the real world.

As for the transgenderism, much like the protagonist, it doesn’t have a strong presence. The story doesn’t make a big deal about the transgenderism – it’s light on conflict – which is want you want, I suppose, in a general sense. You want characters defined by more than a single factor like identity or sexuality. It recalls the history of gay characters in Hollywood. First, they didn’t exist. Then, they were villains, followed by comic stereotypes, until finally we’re seeing “no big deal” gay characters, which is where you want to be. How many straight characters have no attention drawn to their sexuality? Almost all of them. However, in the case of Wandering Son, where transgenderism is the core theme, you need to give it more attention. On the flip side, that can’t be all there is to the characters either otherwise they end up flat, which is the case here.

If you have reached the stage of your anime journey where you are looking for something different because you have seen enough shounen action/isekai/mecha/teen melodrama to last a lifetime, then Wandering Son is that something different with its subject matter. However, being different isn’t reason to worship something. There is nothing truly bad about this anime. Nor is there anything particularly good. I find it unmemorable.

Art – Medium

Wandering Son uses a nice watercolour style, fitting for the tone and mood of the series. I don’t know why they had to use this faded white vignette, usually reserved for dreams and flashbacks, all the time though. It’s like having someone’s finger in the corner of every photo. Characters need to look more different as well, particularly in the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine and music is pleasant enough.

Story – Low

A boy who wants to be a girl meets a girl who wants to be a boy and they go through school together alongside other friends. The main characters in the bloated cast don’t have enough emotional weight to lead this passive story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Wandering Son is only for those wanting something different, even if it isn’t interesting.

(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