Category Archives: Romance

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

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

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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

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tsubasa Chronicle

 

Related: xxxHOLiC (same universe)

Similar: Cardcaptor Sakura

Pandora Hearts

InuYasha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Good music.

Negatives:

  • No style.
  • No tension.
  • No reason to care.
  • No interesting characters.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is so boring that I only tried to answer one question before its end: Is this Sakura the same as the one from Cardcaptor Sakura? They look the same and share a name. Turns out, no, they aren’t the same. The author was just too lazy to come up someone new. Well, that’s it, end of review – see you next time!

What, you want me to talk about this anime? What is there to say? Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle is so full of nothing that there is nothing to talk about.

Syaoran and Sakura are a young teen couple madly in love, but when she grows wings and her feathers disperse into other dimensions, she loses her precious memories including those of him. Syaoran starts hopping through dimensions to different worlds, where he meets a ninja torn from his world, a magician, and the rabbit thing Mokona from xxxHOLiC (one of the dimensions), who help recollect her feathers.

Initially, I liked how Syaoran and Sakura started as a couple – unusual for teen anime – as I believed it meant skip over the shy “will they, won’t they” nature of anime romance and go straight to developing them as a couple. Unfortunately, when she loses her feathers, she transforms into a comatose slab of boring that occasionally wakes up.

The narrative doesn’t take time to establish these two in our hearts for us to care when Sakura goes down. Why do they love each other? This is supposedly a love so strong it transcends time and space, yet we have no reason to believe it. Even once she stops sleeping so much in later episodes, she’s as empty headed as one can imagine. The author wanted to start on the big moment of her losing her memories, which is fine, but she then needed to work harder to make us care through flashbacks, or something.

Looking past this empty couple, there is nothing else to see. The action is boring as sin with its series of meaningless fights and poor animation. Cardcaptor Sakura has better action than this action series (and its collecting element is stronger). Not even using a Pokémon-like approach to the battles with magical companions can make it interesting. The action feels like filler with no end in sight since they extend the quest on a whim by saying, “Well, you’ve collected 200 feathers so far, but there’s another 100 to go! … Wait, did I say 100? I meant 300!”

Don’t fall for it. Don’t waste your time with Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle. This is a contender for the Most Boring Anime of All Time award.

Art – Low

The characters look too similar to other CLAMP titles, the animation is poor, and the colouring is desaturated in season 1. It’s hard to take the drama seriously when everyone looks like Jack Skellington with giant hands. This is moving manga with worse character art than the manga.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine, I suppose, considering the script has nothing to say. The music is the only good element, a little reminiscent of .hack//Sign’s excellent soundtrack.

Story – Low

A boy travels to different dimensions to recollect his girlfriend’s lost memories with the aid of unlikely allies. So full of nothing, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle gives you no reason to care.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. There isn’t anything awful about Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle, but that’s not a reason to watch something.

(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

ReLIFE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ReLIFE

 

Similar: Welcome to the NHK

Orange

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 4 OVA (conclusion)

 

Positives:

  • Strong character designs.
  • The light-hearted approach is different.
  • Good use of chibification.
  • Chizuru’s smile.

Negatives:

  • A subplot overshadows main plot for a few episodes.
  • Arata’s backstory is flat.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Anime has a fair number of stories about a character going to the past to fix mistakes in their life. ReLIFE take a different approach by eschewing the time travel element and sending protagonist Arata to present day high school disguised as his young self instead.

This opportunity comes by way of the ReLIFE Research Institute, whose mission statement is to help those that have given up. In the middle of the night, a dimly lit back alley, some random guy comes up to him knowing his full employment history and offers a pill to take a second chance. A 27-year-old man pretending to be a 17-year-old in high school should be easy for him, right? (How many times have you thought, “If I knew everything I know now, I would ace school!”?) Unfortunately for Arata, wasting away in life doesn’t help even if he’s been through high school already, and he fails at everything whether mental or physical. He pulls his shoulder throwing a ball. Fortunately for Arata, the experiment isn’t about achieving better grades.

Upon first seeing this setup, I assumed the story would take the dramatic route along the likes of Orange, where everything in the protagonist’s life went wrong because of one year of high school. I know high school seems like a massive deal when you’re going through it, but in reality, it’s a minor part of life, so I’m glad the writer didn’t overblow it. This light-hearted approach makes ReLIFE something different from similar titles. The only significant element of drama comes from the knowledge that everyone will forget him once the experiment is over. I love this catch for not only making sense as a way to cover up once complete, but also working as a metaphor for how friends drift apart after graduation despite swearing we will all keep in touch.

The heart of ReLIFE is its characters, who are so lovable and enjoyable to be around that they make this journey a pleasure. My favourite character – no contest – is Chizuru, an awkward yet smart girl who has difficulty making friends and has a terrifying smile. Her and Arata’s dynamic is so much fun while their relationship develops – he’s really an adult, so he can’t think further than friendship though! Her smile is perfect.

All these characters feel natural as friends. They avoid the feeling that each is there to fill the token slots of a slice of life cast. Each has a problem to overcome before year’s end. As my readers will know, I’m not a fan of protagonist’s whose job is to solve everyone else’s problems like in Clannad, not least of which is because those character either have no life wisdom to impart or are losers themselves that couldn’t fix a scraped knee. Thankfully, Arata isn’t a problem-solving angel. Progression comes naturally through group effort.

ReLIFE isn’t without its flaws, however. Arata’s backstory on how he came to give up on life is two-dimensional. He worked an office job where everyone was evil except his mentor, who killed herself when bullied by these cartoon villains. Weak. Then there’s a subplot between the two sports girls in the group that halts all main story for a few episodes between the mid-point and act 3.

Lastly, the ending takes place in the 4-episode OVA that suffers from a drop in art quality and feels rushed storywise in parts. The anime series of 13 episodes only adapts about half of the manga, while the OVA hits key points from the remainder. The bittersweet ending is still satisfying, all considered. It has made me consider reading the manga for the full experience, should I ever find the time (I won’t…probably).

ReLIFE was a journey I can easily recommend to anyone. It isn’t as good as the likes of Kids on the Slope or Nodame Cantabile for high school anime, but gets my recommendation nevertheless.

Art – Medium

The character designs and colouring carry ReLIFE’s art department, for there isn’t much in the way of animation, though this isn’t the sort of anime where you can flex. I love the designs – simple yet distinguishable – and funny use of chibification. The OVA really skimps out on the art budget, replacing unnamed characters with silhouettes at school.

Sound – High

Charming music matches the light-hearted approach to reforming one’s life. Great acting in both Japanese and English. I preferred the latter for adding more voice to the dialogue. In an unusual though welcome twist, ReLIFE has a different ending song each episode with some pieces by bands I’ve loved in other anime.

Story – High

Offered a chance at reforming his life, a 27-year-old man goes back to high school transformed into a 17-year-old boy to make friends and live a little. A great group dynamic and fun approach makes this anime enjoyable.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. ReLIFE is such an easy viewing experience with such broad appeal that only the most ardent anti-slice of life crowd won’t enjoy it.

(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