Category Archives: Romance

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

Sweet Blue Flowers – Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Hana (Not to be confused with Ano Hana)

 

Similar: Maria Watches Over Us

Whispered Words

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Yuri Romance

Length: 11 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Nice backgrounds.

Negatives:

  • Terrible characters void of meaningful emotion in empty relationships.
  • Mary-Sue character praised as a goddess.
  • Stiff animations.
  • Lifeless voice work delivers unnatural dialogue.
  • Dull start, middle, and end.
  • Repetitive music.
  • Thinks Wuthering Heights is good.

Even with all the above, one still can’t grasp the drivel that is Sweet Blue Flowers. It’s so bad that I wonder how a studio green lit this loathsome rubbish. One look at the script would turn even the most novice of readers into twitching masses of ooze from the sputum this show vomited all over them.

It’s supposed to be about the budding romance and troubled relationships of teenage lesbian girls, yet it is so far from it; oh, you have no idea. The lead characters are supposed to be Fumi the spineless, and her brunette childhood friend, Akira, who is a friendly girl and stands up for others. I say supposed to be because a supporting character, what’s-her-name, girl with short black hair, Mary-Sue… She is in the anime more than Akira and at least as much, if not more so, than Fumi.

Fumi suffers heartbreak when her cousin marries a man. They were in a secret sexual relationship, but this cousin must be at least five years older for her to be getting married – remember, Fumi is about fifteen at this point and we are never told how long ago this relationship started. To get over it, Fumi falls instantly in love with Mary-Sue wench, they break-up after what is supposed to pass for a relationship, and we are now almost done with the show. I can’t spoil anything, for nothing happens! They fall in ‘serious’ love, have empty conversations, looking dead all the while, split for…what amounts to nothing, and act heartbroken. Again, act, because it’s so lifeless and pathetic that I experienced more emotion playing Hearts on the computer while watching this. (Gah, Queen of Spades on second clubs drop!)

Meanwhile, Akira does…nothing. Every girl in two neighbouring all-girls schools (one of them Catholic) turn lesbian for bitchy Mary-Sue wench – I jest you not, she’s a total jackass, even to the girl she ‘loves,’ and still everyone wets their knickers at the sight of her. You are told that she’s oh-so-amazing at everything, but it’s never shown. Even her family, who are high-society, don’t raise a single objection when their daughter announces she’s a lesbian nor do they have a problem with her trying to have an affair with her teacher – of course they don’t care that the teacher and seventeenish-year-old bitchy Mary-Sue trull-wench see each other regularly at school either. Oh yes, she did move away, after rumours started, all the way to – drum-roll please – next door!

We still aren’t done. It’s perfectly normal for fifteen-year-old catholic school girls to be engaged to adult men. What was that? I just made that up? No, even the school acknowledges this. In the advertisement for the school play of the vomit inducing novel Wuthering Heights, it states that the only males who can attend must be family or fiancés of the girls. Nothing is addressed, nothing is questioned; just like the farcical relationships, we see no conflict. No one has a problem with anything, no matter how sordid – especially if it involves bitchy demimondaine Mary-Sue trull-wench.

Look, the problem has nothing to do with them being lesbians. The truth is that no one, not even a lesbian herself, would give no reaction to their daughter being one (never mind the affair with a teacher). It’s out of the norm. You don’t bring in such subject matter without giving the attention and conflict it deserves. It’s pathetic. This reminds me of tokenism, where a minority or gay guy is forced into a plot to give the illusion of being progressive, when in reality it is nothing more than insulting.

So what do they do if not overcome conflict? Nothing, in fact…the dialogue is mere filler on irrelevant rubbish such as the school’s value on height and how it makes you tough, for some reason. (Don’t look at me, I don’t get it either.) Not a single conversation is natural. It’s all so rigid and slow like these girls have trouble understanding a word spoken. The girls cry at the drop of a hat. We have no real characters, little personality and no depth. The most exciting event for them is seeing the school chapel and tearoom.

Voice work is just as stimulating with its monotone drones, sad sack vocals and unnatural speech. Only Akira differs, but is still bland. Most scenes have no music, making the dialogue feel even slower…

Sweet Blue Flowers does not have a gram of potential. In the end, we are left with atrocious characters, no development, nothing redeemable, and let’s not forget, super bitchy demimondaine Mary-Sue trull-wench.

Art – Medium

A filter of mist hangs over to give this anime a faded look. While the backgrounds look nice in colour sketch art, they have no movement to them with immobile characters – no nod, no moving mouth in speech, no waver of wind, nothing. Something as simple as a shift in light and shadow on trees when they rustle could have been a huge improvement. Characters don’t even project shadows (a patch the size of your foot doesn’t count).

Sound – Very Low

Music consists of slow piano pieces – a few tracks or many, not sure, since they all sound the same. String instruments occasionally take over, but they don’t add another layer. Dead acting.

Story – Very Low

What more is there to say?

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time in the least. Sweet Blue Flowers is eleven episodes too long. Forget I ever mentioned it.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None.

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueInduces StupidityLacks ConflictMary SueNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersShallowTorture MusicUseless Side Cast

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Allison and Lillia – Review

Japanese Title: Allison to Lillia

 

Similar: Last Exile

The Pilot’s Love Song

 

Genre: Adventure Romance

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A real sense of charm from its beautiful, storybook visuals populated by good characters with believable relationships.
  • Strong sound effects, for the action in particular.

Negatives:

  • Story never hits a high note.
  • Ambiguous character ages.
  • Final twist is…unexplained.

In a world based on Europe’s 1920s, there lays a continent divided by a gargantuan river into the two regions of Roxche and Sous-Beil. Both sides were at war for one-hundred-and-thirty years, but are currently in cease-fire. Tensions are still precarious as neither side is willing to give way in the issue over which region existed first; the older believes they have rightful ownership of the younger’s land. A feeble cause, I know, but wars have been fought over far less.

We follow the tales of two Roxcheans: Wil, a down-to-earth, book smart, loyal, peace-loving guy, and his friend, Allison. She’s an adventure girl, feisty, reckless, defiant, likes to ‘borrow’ without asking, sleeps way too much, and is a classic cover-hog. Her escapades get him into trouble, dragging him along for the ride. Their teamwork, complementing personalities and natural behaviour to each other makes for a believable friendship. Their ages are difficult to surmise, for Wil is in the fifth grade at the start, but they obviously aren’t eleven. A quick search revealed they are both seventeen, yet there is still one problem: how is a seventeen-year-old girl a proper military pilot? Maybe things were different in the twenties…

Another time it may be, and yet, I still felt uncomfortable at the relationship of two support characters, pilot Carr the charming love letter guy and Fiona, Princess of Ikstova (a small country between both regions). This isn’t a spoiler, as it happens quickly – which isn’t a problem – he looks twenty-something and she, ten (another search reveals her as twenty years old. Twenty!) No matter how hard you try, you can’t skew her appearance to adulthood. Their relationship isn’t explicit or ‘icky’ in anyway, it just looks inappropriate. And no, it isn’t a childhood crush you have on a celebrity; he is the instigator.

Back to Allison and Wil. When an old codger tells them of a treasure about a cover-up in the war that could end all strife, they are dubious. Then the old man is kidnapped and the adventure is on! They give chase into Sous-Beil using a seaplane. The conflict isn’t simply good versus bad. Both sides have positive and negative aspects, no outright evil nation.

Allison and Lillia’s narrative is more a series of short stories rather than a single large story. Yes, the characters and their lives link each; however, they are also self-contained arcs. I don’t understand this structural choice since they could have had the same stories, but with more ties between them. As it is, the plot doesn’t get a chance to escalate, build mystery, hit that high point in tension where everything comes together. You will see twists and have those tense moments, only without that expected crescendo. In fact, the pace slows the further the show progresses.

This show is loaded with charm. From the light-hearted and well-timed humour to the innocence of youth, and the beautiful storybook style art, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

Allison and Lillia is an enjoyable show – even for the kids – that captures a sense of family and friendship, and what people are willing to do to protect those important to them. If only the plot had more heft and mystery to it…and characters’ ages were clearer (yes, it bothers me that much).

Art – High

Beautiful art full of charm. Magnificent vistas inspired by European countrysides are a pleasure to behold with the splendid environmental lighting effects.

Sound – High

The music throughout is well composed, matching the show in its European inspirations. Sound effects for the inorganic things are excellent. You feel bullets whiz past, explosions shake the ground, and hear planes fall to the horizon. The right actors for each character, especially for Allison, who could have gone the obnoxious road often associated with the young, strong female types.

Story – Medium

A tale of adventure against a backdrop of war torn countries. A missed opportunity, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A good show. Allison and Lillia is the ideal anime to watch with your kids, as it offers a fun adventure for all.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Charm

Negative:

DissapointingWeak End

Air TV (& Movie) – Review

Japanese Title: AIR & Gekijouban Air (Movie)

 

Related: Air Movie (included below in review)

Similar: Kanon

Clannad

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance.

Watched in: Japanese.

Length: 13 episodes, 2-episode special & a movie (retelling of the series).

 

Positives:

  • Has nice environmental art.

Negatives:

  • Dopiest character design in anime.
  • Vague story.
  • Moments meant to be deep are laughable.
  • Weak characters, most notably the lead female, surrounded by a glut of stereotypes that develop poorly.

You have not seen bad character art until you watch Air, an anime about…something – there isn’t much of a story. But first we have to talk about the characters. A hamster riding a t-rex in a tutu wielding a turnip is less ridiculous than this! You will either fall out of your chair with laughter or vomit with disgust at how terrible the characters are designed, more specifically the females.

Now we all know that your typical anime facial proportions are a little skewed, but as it is animation, it looks fine. Here we have what can only be described as caricatures of anime characters. The eyes are bigger than your fist, while the mouth is so minuscule it is often no more than a dot. Seriously, if the eyes were out of their sockets, they would be the size of American footballs. The girls look permanently drugged; hell, one of them even sounds it.

And that’s just the start of the problems. The characters themselves are just as dopey. Lead female Misuzu is supposed to be cute, but with the tripping, squeaky voice, clumsiness, overused ‘cute’ noises, cutesy honorifics, and drug-addled face, it’s a wonder they didn’t make her hiccough rainbows, shoot love hearts out of her chest, and have candy floss for snot since they had already overdone every cliché. Closing my eyes whenever I talk makes me cute! (Every girl does this, jealous of Brock from Pokémon.) The creators have never heard of ‘less is more.’

Even the dog, Potato, who was cute enough being small and fluffy has to say ‘piko’ constantly as if that is a must or he just won’t be cute. Instead, it’s irritating and tiresome. If that isn’t enough, we have her friends, Kano – also drugged – and Minagi, who looks and sounds drugged. She’s meant to be gentile and smart, but you really don’t see it – unless being more addled than the rest counts. The I’m-aggressive-but-it’s-cute slot is filled by Michiru, the youngest of the girls with obligatory cutesy noises added to everything, and to top it off, is played by the same voice actress who does all characters of that stereotype.

Okay, you may ask, they look and sound stupid, but if the story is good, it’s still worth my time, right? I am forever and truly sorry; the plot is utter nonsense. See, one of the problems is that to tell you what it’s about, I would have to spoil some for you as the story doesn’t begin till episode nine. What, nothing happens for eight episodes in a thirteen episode series? Oh, stuff does happen, it is simply irrelevant to the larger plot. Even lead male Yukito is irrelevant throughout this, as he does nothing until episode ten. Friend Kano gets magically possessed (her eyes were vacant enough already) by something, but that goes nowhere. Minagi the Addled is so far gone that her imaginary friend is real, which is also immaterial. And the small things that do matter are in fact retold in episode ten! Even the two-episode special is simply a stupidity-padded version of the flashback episode nine.

So, the plot, the plot…where did it go… I have no choice but to start at episode nine.

A princess in the past had the ability to fly with cursed wings and is hunted for it. Her ability is passed down through someone else’s line because of “willpower,” but it kills the descendants through dreams as kids. (How they get old enough to bear offspring for the bloodline, I don’t know – don’t think about it. The only answer is too twisted.) And, that’s it.

No character development either. To develop, you need a catalyst (usually an event or conflict), a reaction from the character, and then overcome the conflict (failure to overcome can also be growth), but in Air, there is no catalyst; characters cry or get angry out of nowhere, subsequently it dissolves without effort, and is forgotten. The only growth comes from the lead female’s mother (who looks eighteen – also vacant) starting as an irresponsible drunk before learning to care for her adopted daughter. Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect the main plot either. What moments intend to be poignant and heartfelt are empty since the characters aren’t developed enough and I couldn’t imagine anyone caring for them.

So can anything good that can be said for AIR? The art outside of the characters is quite nice, I guess, plenty of colour. That’s pretty much it. The series isn’t terrible in the sense that everything is outright bad; it’s just that nothing is developed, no relevant plot goes anywhere, and it all-round feels…empty.

Art – Very Low

Can anything else be said about this drug-addled character design? The environments are passable.

Sound – Medium

Some decent tunes and acting, except for the little girl and the cutesy noises.

Story – Very Low

The plot doesn’t begin until the ninth episode, at which point you can expect one of the most empty and underdeveloped stories in anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid this at all cost. Hit the random button in an anime database and you will likely find something better than AIR.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None.

Negative:

Atrocious PlotNo DevelopmentRubbish CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

 

AIR the Movie – Review

AIR the Movie came out during the series (they are both based on a game of the same name and tell the same story) and is better in every way. Now, don’t get excited, I’m not saying it’s amazing; it simply has much of the rubbish removed from the series. For one, the characters don’t look so addled – it makes you wonder why they made the ridiculous art style choice for the series in the first place. The level of detail in the visuals is much higher overall.

At an hour and a half long, there isn’t the gargantuan amount of padding from the episodes. The story is also better told with much clearer dialogue and scenes. The relationship of the two lead characters is far more believable since it isn’t forced here, and the characters actually look closer in age (not twelve and twenty like the series). All the trash side characters, particularly her drugged friends, are non-existent in this. ‘Willpower’ also doesn’t carry on the curse and what triggers it also makes sense here (and you don’t have to wonder how they get old enough for children).

Unfortunately, Misuzu’s cuteness is still overdone, though as she is the only young girl this time, it feels lessened. The finer details of the plot are still a little vague, with plot holes, and a distinct lack of twists. I don’t think it achieved the intended depth. Still better than the series.

Overall Movie Quality – Medium

Ah! My Goddess: Fighting Wings – Review

Japanese Title: Aa! Megami-sama! Tatakau Tsubasa

 

Related: Ah! My Goddess TV (main story)

Ah! My Goddess: The Movie

 

Genre: Fantasy Romance Comedy

Watched in: Japanese & English.

Length: 2 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and effects.

Negatives:

  • Poor resolution to the narrative with a feeble climax.
  • There is not much here unless you are familiar with the main Oh My Goddess! series.

Fighting Wings is a two-episode special of the celebrated Ah! My Goddess series. It fits in somewhere after the second season, though there isn’t a direct link between the stories beyond the general premise of the show: university student Keiichi accidentally called the Goddess Hotline, summoning the goddess Belldandy, who has been his girlfriend since.

For those wanting this special to further the main plot, you will be disappointed as this focuses instead on side character, Lind a Valkyrie warrior goddess, who made a few appearances in earlier shows. When a phantom known as the Angel Eater goes on a rampage in Yggdrassil (heaven), Lind descends to Earth, the next target, where Keiichi and the goddesses reside. The plot moves at an improved pace from the second season, and sports a good amount of action with cool magic enhanced by the clean and beautiful art you can expect from the Ah! My Goddess series. The symbiotic angels of the goddesses are of particular beauty. If only the new angels didn’t have names like Cool Mint (spoken in poor English by the Japanese voice actors).

Cheesiness is Fighting Wings’s biggest flaw. With humour thrown into the middle of serious scenes, it makes you wonder if comedy wasn’t an afterthought once they realised that there was going to be none in this romantic comedy. To exacerbate matters, the humour isn’t a success, falling far short of the main series.

The turnabout for the heroines is also rather lame, far too convenient without much of a struggle or conflict. Suffering in a similar manner is the side plot of Skuld, the youngest goddess, unable to summon her angel, resolved with zero effort. With a lack of resolution against the villainy, I was unsatisfied and questioned why they bothered. Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t hate these episodes – Lind’s story has closure at least – they are merely disappointing. Yes, the voice acting is good with the regular voices from the series, and the music matches the Celtic and Nordic tunes of norm, but none of these live up to the equivalent in the first season, and more particularly, the movie.

It has left me with one positive though; I do want to see more of Lind’s story and hope she does make a return in future.

 

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of Ah! My Goddess only. You aren’t missing out on much if you choose to skip Fighting Wings.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: N/A

Negative: N/A

 

5 Centimetres Per Second – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Byousoku 5 Centimeter

 

Similar: Voices of a Distant Star (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

The Garden of Words (same director)

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 1 hr. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art and detail beyond what one expects in anime.
  • Good atmosphere built from snow and rain particle effects combined with excellent environmental noises.

Negatives:

  • Too limited in scope.
  • Second part feels weak compared to the rest.

5 Centimetres per second is a rather unique anime in the sense that it has so few elements to its story, instead choosing to focus on one issue at a time. This allows for a deeper look into a single question or emotion, without distraction from other things.

This single movie is split in three, following different stages of the protagonist’s life. Now, before we dive into the story and characters, I must mention the visuals, as they strike you from the outset. All visual aspects are incredible; from the gorgeous environments to the watercolour art style, they will impress. The artists have taken great care to include plenty of detail in their environments, and made sure every single frame is of the utmost quality, the skies in particular – you see many sunsets and moments of twilight.

Animation is well done, especially with how many assets are animated at once on screen, avoiding that common anime issue where most of the world seems frozen outside of the focal asset. Lighting and shading is another standout area where no shortcuts were taken, no surface neglected. Even more impressive, I find, are the reflections; again, just as much work was put into this aspect as any other.

Now, the story. We follow male protagonist, Takaki and his female friend, Akari as they try to reunite after a few years separation. When they last met, they were graduating from primary school into middle school, only Akari was moving elsewhere with her family. They kept in touch through mail and phone, and at last as they near high school, they have a chance to see each other again. Alas, problems arise when Takaki’s train experiences delay after delay from the blizzard outside.

This first episode is told through a mixture of the present – the train journey – and flashbacks detailing their primary school years. It has a slow start, and never really speeds up to be honest, but it does establish their relationship and the current situation well. You feel the desolation and sorrow faced by Takaki, enhanced by the environment and weather to great effect. I don’t know if it was because I was watching this in a Himalayan winter or if the sense of cold was done especially well, but I felt cold while watching this.

As I said earlier, this story likes to focus on one thing at a time. In this first part, it speaks of an aspect often forgotten in young romance stories, in that their lives aren’t in their control yet, no matter how much they wish otherwise.

For the second episode, we re-join Takaki as he nears high-school graduation, this time told through the eyes of a new female character, Kanae, has been in love with him for years and is desperate to tell him before they leave school. Weather and the environments to symbolise the narrator’s emotions are put to great use; the near constant twilight adds to the imminent – and inevitable – change in her life. It is another look at how little control you have in life, even when you have aged considerably. Kanae struggles to adjust with the forthcoming changes.

Unfortunately, I found this second part to be the weakest of the three, as it doesn’t tie very well into the other two. However, it does contain the most beautiful artistic qualities.

We leap a decade into the future for episode three, Takaki now in the workforce with a dreary, repetitive job and an everyday routine. And again, visuals used to superb effect here. I don’t want to give anything away, but this third part asks the most powerful question of the film: given the opportunity, would you pursue a childhood dream as an adult even though all circumstances have changed? Nothing I have said so far would be constituted as spoilers as it isn’t the set-up of each episode, but rather the characters’ responses that matter.

Overall, 5 centimetres per second is a good movie, with each area seemingly executed exactly as the director wanted; however, this does mean you see a limited scope of this story and world. It feels like the sort of film that a small team would make and enter it in a film festival with the sole purpose of leaving the audience with a question they should ask themselves – oh, and show off amazing visuals in the process.

Art – Very High

Absolutely phenomenal. Worth seeing for the visuals alone.

Sound – High

Audio is the most ordinary of the film’s qualities. With so few characters and a consistent tone throughout, there is no diversity in the voice work. That isn’t to say the acting is bad, simply ordinary. 5 centimetres per second boasts little music, preferring to have ambient sounds and atmosphere take over, which it does superbly; however, due to the constant quiet, it lessens the atmospheric impact in the crucial moments. This seems intentional, in line with the single-minded focus of the narrative.

Story – High

A focused story on romance and coming-of-age that asks deep questions, at the cost of breadth.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A film worthy of an hour of your time unless you require joy in anime. Watch 5 centimetres per second in a winter snowstorm, if able.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None