Category Archives: Romance

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

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.

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

Positive: 

Charm

Negative: None

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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.

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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.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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.

(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:

Induces Stupidity