Category Archives: Romance

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

Guilty Crown – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Guilty Crown

 

Similar: Code Geass

Neon Genesis Evangelion

The Future Diary

Black Bullet

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Romance

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Vibrant visuals.
  • That girl can sing!

Negatives:

  • Protagonist is such a whiner.
  • Corny villains.
  • The girl is flat.
  • Story tries too hard to shock you.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Guilty Crown’s visuals don’t match the audience reception. When I look at a poster or trailer for this anime, I expect higher ratings from your general viewer. Guilty Crown has all the marks of anime destined for popularity – it looks good, has the popular art style of the age, and a young protagonist with a big sword and a girl hanging onto him. Yet, people don’t like it. This discrepancy is the sole reason I watched Guilty Crown.

After a virus crippled Japan, reliance on foreign aid allowed an independent military company called GHQ to control the nation. The guerrilla group Funeral Parlour has fought back for years, finding new hope for victory with the acquisition of a super power – the ability to draw weapons out of people’s souls. However, a failed operation forces the power’s carrier, singer Inori, to bestow it on high schooler Shuu instead of Gai the leader of Funeral Parlour. Shuu becomes an unwilling participant in the fight to reclaim Japan’s freedom.

This setup should sound familiar to any who have seen Code Geass. In fact, most of Guilty Crown feels inspired by that much-loved series – oppressed Japan, rebel force, unique power with dire consequences later on, and given by a girl. The problem with taking such obvious elements from a great story is that it increases expectations and thus the pressure to succeed. “You took a leg up from that giant and yet you still failed?”

Sadly, this feels closer to Aldnoah.Zero in quality. The protagonist even has “anti-social” as his defining trait, though is not as brain-dead as Aldnoah’s counterpart (and they share a villain whose personality is being disgusted at the dirty lower class). Just like that guy, Shuu isn’t actually anti-social – he’s boring, which the lazy writer shoved under the anti-social blanket as a defence.

Shuu’s introduction presents him as a kid with no power, no spine, and no purpose in life, allowing for plenty of growth, as is typical for a character of this story type. Minutes later, a girl with more cleavage than anything else says to this horny kid, “Take me, Shuu. You can use me!” and all of the character setup evaporates. Giving him instant power with little learning curve and no real competition undermines the position he started in. It shortcuts him out of his personal conflict. Look at Code Geass instead, where Lelouch has to experiment with the limitations of his power and find clever strategies to maximise his ability within its limitations. Shuu simply draws a giant sword from Inori’s chest and destroys everything.

Oh, I almost forgot, they do try having a learning curve, but that’s just an excuse to have the most forced boob grab in anime history as Shuu tries to draw a weapon from his classmate. Silly me for forgetting this crucial story point!

Remember how annoying Anakin is in the prequels, always whining about how Obi-Wan didn’t let him do whatever he wanted? That best describes Shuu. Most of his dialogue is whining. With no likeable quality, no girl would be after this guy, let alone three. Speaking of girls, Inori has no personality. Her job is arm candy, submissive to every guy around her. Pathetic character.

Why didn’t these writers put more effort into creating layered characters? When the plot shifts the landscape dramatically for the third act, Shuu has to make difficult decisions (just like Lelouch), but because he’s such a flat character, you don’t root for him to succeed. When supporting characters hate him, you agree with them. A better writer would have you feel sorry for him or understand his perspective even if you don’t agree with him. In Guilty Crown, I didn’t care who the hero was or who’s in charge as long as they got this series over with.

Guilty Crown has the elements for a great story – see Code Geass for it done correctly – but it just happens to have executed every one of those elements incorrectly. Production I.G.’s quality art was wasted on this anime.

Art – High

Production I.G. of Psycho Pass fame always puts effort in the visuals, regardless of story quality. Good animation, beautiful lighting, and vibrant effects made me want to watch Guilty Crown in spite of the negative buzz.

Sound – Low

I love that the girl, whose profession is singer, can and does sing. I wish they had used similar music for the theme songs. The script needs a top-to-bottom rework including character edits to succeed.

Story – Low

A teen gains the power to draw weapons from people’s souls and must fight to reclaim his country from external forces. Guilty Crown feels like any light novel anime, despite coming from a manga. Less clichés and more effort at originality would have gone a long way.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Guilty Crown tempts you with its visuals, but don’t fall for it. There is nothing for you here.

(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:

Rubbish Major Characters

Advertisements

Valkyria Chronicles – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Senjou no Valkyria

 

Related: Valkyria Chronicles 3: Unrecorded Chronicles

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Allison & Lillia

Alderamin on the Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Action Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Faithful look and feel of the game.
  • Welkin’s goofiness.
  • Well-realised world.
  • Don’t need to play the games to get it. Miracle!

Negatives:

  • Added several unnecessary and dull characters.
  • Some episodes are a distraction.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A game to anime adaptation that doesn’t require you having played the source material? What world am I living in? Valkyria Chronicles may not be as good as the game, but it’s still a fun anime.

It follows Squad 7 led by biologist Welkin Gunther in the war effort to protect Gallia from the Empire and its Valkyria soldier. Accompanying him is his Darcsen sister Isara, childhood friend and baker Alicia, and an assortment of other mismatched Gallians. They’re just going to have to get along if they desire to make it out alive.

One can draw obvious parallels between World War II Europe (eastern France specifically, judging by the landscapes) and the world of Valkyria Chronicles, which it differentiates with the fantasy element of the Valkyria and a slight magi-tech twist to its weapons and vehicles through the use of ragnite. The Valkyria is a goddess-like angel capable of wiping out armies with a single shot of her lance. You feel the threat she poses to the Gallia, though not as much as in the game when she can wipe your team.

The game is a turn-based strategy that progresses from mission to mission with story cutscenes and dialogue in between. You can’t use that format for a series though, as who would want to watch a battle every episode bookended by bits of story? Instead, the team smartly took the story, characters, and world of Valkyria Chronicles and turned it into an enjoyable, though still flawed anime. It feels right, art style included. I get the cosy feeling from the anime as I did from the game. Not as strongly, mind you, but enough not to be disappointed.

The sense of fun remains as well, which is nice. When Welkin first returns to his village after years away on study, Alicia mistakes him in a hilarious scene for an enemy spy sketching out the terrain. He’s actually sketching a trout. Mid-interrogation, the village comes under attack and his sister, Isara, happens to keep a custom tank in their barn! They fight off the attackers and thus begins their war effort. The army gives command of Squad 7 to Welkin with Alicia below him, much to her irritation.

The game had a good balance between drama and fun, so expect anime tropes in this war story. However, the adaptation does go too far at times. For instance, a war reporter follows Squad 7 to report their triumphs and to score interviews with its heroes. Where she was a minor character in the game, popping up between levels for a little fun dialogue, the anime dedicates too much time to her, including a full episode of her playing hide and seek to land an interview with Welkin. There is no plot or character advancement through any of this. All extra story added to the anime that wasn’t in the game doesn’t succeed.

I wonder why they added these sections when there is already so much good unused material at the source. Most baffling of all are the new characters, a group as bland as mud, including this generic shounen anime kid. Who invited these people? They have a purpose, as shown later on, but why add new characters when you still have dozens unused from the original cast? Using the old might change the story a little, but that’s acceptable. I don’t get it.

Thankfully, the proper characters are solid. Welkin’s head-in-the-trees personality is always great, as skilled at war strategy as he is at animal study. He uses his knowledge of birds to read signs of incoming fog in their next skirmish. This use of his non-combat skillset in the plot shows good character design. Alicia’s baking sadly isn’t prevalent (does make for an omega cute ED animation though).

Not everyone gets along in Squad 7. Several members don’t take kindly to Isara’s presence in the group, for she is a Darcsen (marked by her black hair) and the animosity towards then hasn’t died down after a thousand years. This parallels the Jews in WWII, somewhat. The interpersonal conflict is solid, culminating in a satisfying subplot.

I wish they had kept the character classes, as they would provide extra flavour to the supporting cast. The game had you make teams comprised of scouts, engineers, lancers, and shock troopers, which gave more of an identity to each character as their class worked into their personality. Here, it doesn’t feel the same to have most of the squad fight in a common manner. Once more, I wonder why they made this change. It took more effort to remove the class identities than to keep them in.

The anime will never match the game – no one should have expected it to – yet it is still a damn good effort. You don’t need any prior knowledge to enjoy Valkyria Chronicles. That said, I don’t want to oversell it – this isn’t going to blow your mind. It’s…pretty good. And much better than I had anticipated.

Art – High

If they hadn’t made the effort to texture and shade the art in the same style as the game, I would have been sour. However, character faces look different and I can’t figure out why. They didn’t improve. The great world and character designs carry from the game (except for the new characters, who look like background extras).

Sound – Medium

The voice work is decent. I preferred the English in the game, though the anime has no dub. Good soundtrack. ED is disgustingly cute!

Story – Medium

A biologist, a baker, and an engineer join the army to fight off invaders in this WW2-inspired adventure based on the Valkyria Chronicles video game. Fun characters balance well against the war drama, though it does play it a little too safe.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. This is a fun war anime. You don’t even need to play the game to enjoy Valkyria Chronicles – I do highly recommend the game though. (Can’t wait for Valkyria Chronicles 4!)

(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

A Lull in the Sea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nagi no Asukara

 

Similar: AnoHana

Ponyo

Tsuritama

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful underwater city.
  • Gorgeous song in first ED.

Negatives:

  • The melodrama drags on.
  • Little underwater world building.
  • Too many dull characters.
  • Characters’ eyes are melting.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Oh wow, an anime set in an underwater town. Look at those colours, those fish! I love the sea and marine life, so this is going to be good. I’m excited!

Aaaand it’s gone.

That’s how long my excitement lasted for A Lull in the Sea. It starts with beautiful colours in this magical underwater town teeming with life and detail, but not five minutes later, you see that the sea people move underwater no differently than someone on land. Everything has the same weight as on land, people stroll down the streets like on land, they speak the same as with surface air, and they even watch TV like on land. On land, on land, ON LAND! What is the point of setting it underwater if everything functions the same as on land? All they show is one scene of a guy doing a floaty jump with the aid of water and characters swimming on occasion – no faster than ordinary humans! Argh, if they swim the same as we do, then why doesn’t the water affect all else that they do? How lazy can one be in creating a world? Effort went into figuring out how they can survive on land without salt water – take regular salt baths – so why not put a day’s work into the rest of the lore? And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

Right, after presenting us with this lazy world, we learn that the teens from the sea must start attending school on the surface, as their high school closed down due to dwindling birth rates. Hikari and his friends have trouble fitting in with the surface kids, for a deep-seated hatred simmers between the two societies. However, when the fisherman’s son Tsumugu accidentally catches the sea girl Manaka, there may be a chance at bridging the gap before the sea people hibernate.

The story isn’t much better than the world building. Hikari is a shouty protagonist – always annoying – and his first character moment is yelling at Manaka for wearing the surface school uniform, instead of their old one like the rest of the group has. She makes friends with Tsumugu and all Hikari does is spew bigotry at the guy. He’s the most bigoted of the lot. This is obviously to set him up for change later on, but you have to give us something to like about the character from the start. No, he’s just a prick – doesn’t come around to be likeable or interesting either.

The rest are the usual forgettable players in slice-of-life-turned-melodrama anime. People butt heads here and there, some fall in love, others fall out of it, people grow jealous, all dragged out for too long. Everyone loves someone who doesn’t love them, creating this massive love circle. It’s tedious.

With the way these kids act about romance and relationships, you would imagine they have been through the most brutal hardships in love. But no, they’re immature kids and this is garbage melodrama.

There are some good moments, however. I like the conflict stemming from banishment should a sea person marry a surface human. The local fisherman have nice stories to tell as well. In fact, the less important a character seems to be, the more interesting their story.

What really knocked this anime down an entire tier was the pacing in the second half. These 26 episodes could have fit into 13 had one character’s amnesia arc not gone on forever for no good reason. Just end already! I cannot impress upon you how much this play reeks of desperation to extend the story and heighten the stakes. Since these stakes don’t matter relative to the rest, it only weakens the overall effect.

A Lull in the Sea is a standard high school drama that goes for the heart with a supernatural twist. I wager it would have affected me a decade ago, but my heart has since turned to ice. In all seriousness, you’ve seen this all before, which coupled with the padded second half and lazy world building makes this a no from me. Don’t waste your time.

Art – Medium

The underwater environment looks gorgeous with light refraction, Greek architecture, and the abundance of fish, though they should have put more effort into the submerged physics. Sadly, we spend little time underwater. Land scenes are still rather good. Character faces are munted with eyes melting and some profile shots don’t look human.

Sound – Medium

The first ED song is gorgeous (going on my playlist) while the rest of the music is good and the acting is fine. However, the script needs a trim and more punch.

Story – Low

A group of friends from the underwater city must get along with other students at their new land school, but the impending hibernation threatens all they have worked for. A Lull in the Sea overindulges in melodrama, dragging out a good concept into a chore to complete, and the world building is lazy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A Lull in the Sea is a waste of time unless you love overwrought melodrama. A better-realised water world would have been enough for me. They failed.

(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:

Hollow World BuildingPoor Pacing

Tsukigakirei – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tsuki ga Kirei

 

Similar: Orange

My Love Story

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Romance

Length: 12 Episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Nice music.

Negatives:

  • No chemistry.
  • Artificial drama with little conflict.
  • The shyness is tiring.
  • CG crowds and horrendous shading.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tsukigakirei’s unique selling point is its ‘plain’ romance free of the usual anime romance trappings. It doesn’t wish to overdramatize a relationship that isn’t the centre of the universe, as anime often does, nor does it desire melodrama to manipulate the audience’s hearts. This is a commendable idea. Sadly, in its effort to be different from the rest, it forgot to replace the elements it took out with anything compelling.

In their final year of middle school, Kotaro and Akane strike up a reserved friendship. Both wish for more than friendship, but mutual shyness holds them back and keeps their intimate conversations to text messages. If they are to progress in their relationship, they will need to get off the phones and talk IRL.

Shyness is the defining and only characteristic of this couple, which becomes tiring within a few episodes, particularly from the girl. Whenever someone asks her anything related to boys or relationships, it’s her staring at her feet going, “Um, er, ooo,” and other effort sounds we are meant to find endearing. Crippling shyness is a real condition, obviously, but not as depicted here. If she did suffer from crippling shyness, it would affect her in all areas of life. Here, however, she’s only shy when it’s convenient to have a scene go nowhere from her utter inaction and incompetence. The guy certainly doesn’t help. This shyness means they do nothing for 80% of the series and thus have no real connection, making one wonder where the attraction lies.

Kotaro and Akane have no chemistry to speak of. Again, teen attraction without chemistry is a real ‘affliction’, but not as depicted here. They wouldn’t swear undying love and do everything to stay together in the coming high school years with nothing more than hormones on which to plant their relationship. Considering they go for each other at the exclusion of all other confessions, you would imagine that something draws them together more than he’s a boy and she’s a girl. Why couldn’t the story have these two shy kids open up to each other first and then in turn develop deeper feelings? Instead, they have an immediate attraction and all they need is the courage to confess to solve everything. They develop neither as characters nor as a couple.

Because they don’t do much of anything, the story has to force artificial drama to justify a 12-episode runtime (several episodes don’t even have a purpose, such as the first, which you can skip). In one episode, a teacher confiscates Kotaro’s phone while he’s organising to meet with Akane during an excursion. His friends rope him into something the next day (of course he doesn’t tell them he’s busy), causing him to run late, but he can’t inform her without his phone. He ends up using the phone from a friend of hers. Does he explain what happened? No, that would be inconvenient. She gets all moody, accuses him of being too close to her friend (what?) and then gets over it just in time for the episode to end. I despise drama created by a lack of basic communication between characters. When the series has no actual drama to work with, it can’t pass an opportunity to force this nonsense on us, now can it? By the way, this cliché appears in most mediocre anime romances.

The side characters are forgettable and pointless, save two that have a modicum of use. One is a boy with the purpose of confessing to Akane – rejected – and one is a girl to confess to Kotaro – rejected – both of which resolve with no conflict. What’s the point? Tsukigakirei is so afraid of conflict that the confessors tell their competition of these plans and still nothing comes of it.

It’s great that you wanted to be something different, Tsukigakirei, but you don’t deserve applause for intent alone, not when you deliver a shallow relationship with no chemistry or reason to care. To those who love Tsukigakirei for being different, I suggest expanding your romance library beyond anime, where this type of story is not only common but also vastly superior. This anime has its sweet moments and I certainly wouldn’t call it terrible, yet I don’t recommend it either. I still seek a good plain anime romance. It has been a while.

Art – Low

Cheap. The tone gradients look auto filled. It’s meant to emulate watercolours, but just looks cheap. Regular use of CG crowds is hideous.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good and the music pleasant to match the romantic style.

Story – Low

Two shy high school kids fall in love and struggle to communicate. A serious lack of chemistry and motion in this relationship gives little reason to care for a tepid high school romance.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you are desperate for ‘plain’ romance and are unwilling to look beyond anime, Tsukigakirei is a waste of time.

(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

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tasogare Otome x Amnesia

 

Similar: Another

Ghost Hunt

AnoHana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Mystery Romance

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Some gorgeous colours.
  • The humour succeeds.

Negatives:

  • The protagonist is as dull as the grave.
  • One of the worst dubs ever made.
  • Empty world.
  • The romance.

(Request an anime for review here.)

After you read the following blurb, I want you to guess what Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is about:

Yuuko has haunted Seikyou Private Academy ever since her death in the basement 60 years ago. Her memories of life lost, she establishes the Paranormal Investigations Club, where she meets Niiya, a boy who somehow has the ability to see her, Momoe, a girl afraid of ghosts, and the distrustful Kirie. They investigate the various mysteries surrounding the school to figure out which one relates to Yuuko’s death.

You’re thinking this is a horror mystery, yes? Well, you’d be wrong. I was wrong. This is a romance with a dash of horror mystery on the side – a romance with as much substance as a ghost.

Any romance with such a wet noodle of a guy as Niiya is doomed to fail. He’s a nobody. I don’t know what personality he’s meant to have. The idea of a ghost with several possibilities pointing to her identity and death is an interesting one. It hooked me. The mechanics of Yuuko’s appearance are interesting, for one.

When Niiya looks at her, he sees a sexy girl, voluptuous and well endowed in the right places, always flirting with him and craving his touch. But in the eyes of Kirie, she’s a monster, an onryo with long, matted black hair and black blood leaking from her skin. Her seductions aren’t for love. They are to ensnare Niiya and do who knows what to his soul. This is a great idea. The romance is obvious from the start and I thought its inclusion was to heighten tension, create uncertainty about whether she wants his love or his life. Unfortunately, this tension doesn’t last.

Another problem is the hollowness of the world. These four characters seem to be the entire population of this school. You see the occasional background character, but they may as well be cardboard cutouts. Imagine if there were more characters, each with a different perception of Yuuko and no one knows her true version.

We have this romance with no ground to stand on instead. Forcibly tripping over to grab both her breasts is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of their relationship (kill me…). Not joking. He’s a harem protagonist without a harem.

Even if Niiya were a great character, the meshing of romance and mystery needs work. The story progresses through a series of cases, investigating phantoms in mirrors, bodies buried under the school, an old myth about a curse on the last kid to leave school each day, and the like. All these mysteries lack layers without time to develop because the romance takes precedence.

Hell, there’s almost more comedy than mystery in this horror mystery. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia opens on a great scene of Momoe in the clubroom writing notes as various objects float around. She freaks out but explains everything away to keep her sanity. Niiya enters and can seemingly read her mind. Then the whole scene plays again, only to reveal Yuuko this time, responsible for moving the objects, drinking Momoe’s tea, and the mind reading is a coincidence. Niiya’s answers to Yuuko’s questions happened to fit Momoe’s thoughts. Great use of a ghost, I must say.

So what we have here is a horror mystery with more comedy and even more romance than either horror or mystery. Did I put in the wrong disc?

Art – Medium

The environments are grim and grungy, reminiscent of a noir detective game, but the characters look too clean, too ‘nice’ for the setting. Some shots have such gorgeous colours that I paused to admire them.

Sound – Low

What is with this dub? How did they make such a bad dub in 2012? This sounds out of the 90s before professionals did the job. Not everyone is bad, of course. That protagonist though…bloody hell. Thankfully, the Japanese is fine, so stick to it. Even so, don’t expect anything above average. The best friend’s freakouts are the best.

Story – Low

The Paranormal Investigations Club unravels their school’s mysteries to recover the memories of the girl that haunts the halls. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia made the grave mistake of focusing on romance with a soggy protagonist instead of the mysteries it had set up.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Even horror fans won’t find something of worth in Dusk Maiden of Amnesia because of the romantic focus.

(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:

Shallow