Today’s review will be a short one, as I’m working a massive triple review for release in the next few weeks. This time, we look at one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser-known films, My Neighbors the Yamadas.
It follows the lives of a quirky Japanese family, telling life stories in a series of vignettes. It covers subjects such as where children come from (incorporates the myths of the stork and the bamboo) and secrets to a happy marriage. It talks of the importance in working together as a family team, otherwise you’ll be surrounded by sharks before you know it. This film loves it’s visual metaphors and are what make it engaging to watch, even as an adult.
The family are an interesting cast of characters. My favourite is the grandmother who has been around long enough not to care what other people think. She speaks her mind and imparts sage advice on those around her. The father is a typical salaryman and a good husband. He and his wife make a daggy couple that their teenage son wishes were much cooler. Then we have the daughter, a bundle of joy and innocence. Super adorable.
The lessons are a little more geared towards children, explaining life concepts in easy to understand ways, though they aren’t particularly complex. The visuals alone do a good job of conveying the messages. If nothing else, My Neighbors the Yamadas will facilitate a conversation between children and their parents about some of the tougher questions.
On the flip side, I don’t see much appeal for anyone outside of children or parents. For myself, I enjoyed the art and animation most, the metaphors and ideas, but I won’t push this as essential viewing. It’s a charming film for those looking to complete the Ghibli collection.
Art – High
This animated picture book has the perfect style for this children’s story. A little rough and unpolished around the edges.
Sound – High
The acting is great. Even the kids, played by real children, are a success and add a charming innocence to the cast.
Story – High
The daily life of the quirky Yamada family is an endearing slice of life perfect for parents to watch with their kids.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For kids and parents. My Neighbors the Yamadas explains life in an easy manner for children to understand, while also offering entertainment to parents. However, if you don’t fall into either group, then this isn’t necessary viewing.
Silver Spoon comes from Hiromu Arakawa, the mind behind Fullmetal Alchemist. While this shares a theme or two with her more famous work, you are in for a much easier time here.
Hachiken flees to a rural school to escape the stress of the city, thinking rural life will be easy. Babysit a few animals, water a few plants – how hard can it be? This hard working student expects to breeze through classes against these country bumpkins. He’s in for a shock when he learns how they really make the sausage and the backbreaking labour that goes into agriculture. He can barely compete with the country kids who grew up around this. Trying not to vomit during the lecture on the biology of egg laying is the least of his trials ahead.
Silver Spoon’s primary focus is to teach about farm life, agriculture, and animal husbandry. The author grew up on a farm and her passion for country life is clear. And in this respect, Silver Spoon is a success. If you are green to the field, you will learn plenty about where your food comes from, including some of the more disgusting details (though it doesn’t go full slaughterhouse).
Hachiken has to learn to skin a deer before they eat it. The school also makes him raise a piglet to maturity for later consumption. Calls him Pork Bowl. I enjoy the educational side of the anime. It’s engaging, doesn’t preach, and is honest. This isn’t an anime for those who can’t handle animal slaughter, even in an animated form.
The less engaging side is the story and the characters. The characters’ country antics are decently fun, but there is nothing special here. The humour also relies too much on Hachiken’s fish out of water experience. Everything is exaggerated with how incompetant he is at this. After a few instances, you just want to say, “Okay, we get it. Move on.” Perhaps this is where the author’s lack of city life experience bleeds through? Who knows.
The character relationships lack drama. By that, I don’t mean we need a Shou Tucker storyline in Silver Spoon. We do need, however, conflicts between the kids (and their teachers) that challenge who they are and ultimately grow them into stronger people. Almost all challenge and conflict in this story comes from the school and farm work. Audiences tend to remember characters for those great character moments, where we see them struggle, see them fail, and see them shine. Without these moments, nothing makes this particular character stick to the story. Let’s use a simple example. Think of a generic action film, a “bang bang, shooty shoot” type. Could you replace the protagonist with another protagonist, changing little in the process? If so, then the character doesn’t matter, no matter how good the action is.
Hachiken and company aren’t quite that replaceable, of course. However, they aren’t memorable. They serve their function to carry you through the episodes and education segments. You’ll find them pleasant people for a few hours, part on good terms, and not think of them again.
Barakamon is an example of doing the simple slice of life story with memorable characters. Even though that anime has less physical challenges, the conflict is greater because of the personality clashes. Those characters are so full of life that they stick with you.
Silver Spoon plays it too safe. You should predict the story and characters arcs from the outset, something one cannot say about Fullmetal Alchemist. The association with the author’s pedigree will likely set expectations too high here. This is a good anime to watch if you need a break from the heavy stuff.
Art – Medium
The art is average in a positive way. It has a clean consistency and enough animation to avoid becoming a slideshow.
Sound – Medium
The acting is quite good, though I can’t say the same for the music.
Story – Medium
A city boy must hold his lunch as he learns of agriculture and animal husbandry in the country. A typical and predictable story carries the interesting and detailed knowledge of these professions and country life.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Silver Spoon is quite fun despite the simplistic story, though it may not be enough to keep your attention to the end. You will learn more than you may every want to know about farming and animals though.
I have known of Fruits Basket for a long time. It was a big deal shortly into the new millennium and I’ve never had the urge to watch. A reader requested it, so I guess I have to give it try at least. To my surprise, it isn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I did stick to the new 2019 edition where the art isn’t hideous like the 2001 version, which made all the difference (goes back to the higher standards in art demanded by the core demographic, as I mentioned in Snow White with the Red Hair).
Tohru Honda is a girl down on her luck. She lost both parents, her grandfather can’t keep her any longer, the rest of the extended family hates her, and her tent barely holds it together in the woods. All of that changes when, one day, she stumbles upon the house of Shigure and Yuki, a popular boy from her school. Alongside Kyo and others, they make up the Souma family. However, should any of them hug the opposite sex, it would reveal their true form as an animal of the Chinese zodiac. Seeing her pitiable state, they agree to take her in on condition that she never reveal their secret.
Young girl surrounded by handsome boys, each one fitting an archetype of the reverse harem as they obsess over her. This is as classic shoujo as you can get!
Fruits Basket was an influential manga of the genre in the 90s & 00s, which can be a curse, especially if it is so easy to imitate and, more importantly, outdo. There is no complexity here, whether of story or of character. The reverse harem shoujo formula is as plug and play as the shounen battle anime. This isn’t like Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, or Death Note, where you can copy them, change a little, still expecting to have something decent of your own. It takes more than the formula. Every successful anime has galleries of imitators, but the best anime have few that come within arm’s reach of competing in quality.
As such, if you have any familiarity with shoujo anime/manga, nothing – and I mean nothing – will be of surprise in Fruits Basket. It doesn’t feel outdated after the polished remake, yet it doesn’t feel new.
However, let’s look at it for what it is or for the uninitiated.
The protagonist Tohru, I am not a fan. She is too nice. She’s nice it that annoying sort of way, where if she were a real person, you’d suspect it’s all a façade to cover the truth that she abuses animals in private. I exaggerate of course. She is impossibly happy and unbeatable in life to the point that conflict doesn’t matter. The story is structured as a collection of subplots for each character, as seen through the eyes of Tohru. We go through several of the zodiac boys with their tragic backstories and her school friends. Throughout this, nothing makes Tohru flinch. She is an upbeat, sunshine-filled, empty vessel to navigate the subplots. Fruits Basket desperately want you to feel sad for her, from the endless tragedy in her life down to the opening ballad carefully crafted to tug at your heartstrings. When you have a character as unrelatable as Tohru, none of this moves me a millimetre.
The supporting cast is more interesting and the reason the core demographic is here. Each boy fits a type, so one can pick a favourite. It’s unrealistic to have a teenaged girl surrounded by guys like this, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s yaoi baiting, naturally – wouldn’t be shoujo otherwise.
The boys’ conflicts centre on the zodiac “curse”. The curse is simply the transformation, but it is enough to wreck their relationships and their lives. The shouta kid (he’s older than he looks, they swear) transformed into a rabbit when his mother held him, which filled her with disgust and anger, driving her to attempted suicide. In the end, the Dragon of the zodiac erased her memory of him to give peace. This is a common story with the members of the zodiac. Some fall in love, their partner can’t handle the truth and have their mind’s modified, while the zodiac has to live with the memories and broken heart. The stories are simple and as I said earlier, done to death. You should see it all coming.
As for the antagonists – if you could even call them that – they are comical. They are the flattest characters of them all. The head of the Souma family just leers at everyone and makes threats. I don’t know how anyone can keep a straight face at the things she utters. The most hilarious villains have to be Tohru’s extended family. Her cousin, who is supposed to be respectable and wants to be an officer, goes on a rant about how she’s a slut for staying with boys. How comically flat can you get? These people are funny, not threatening.
If one were of the core demographic for Fruits Basket, a tween girl, there would be stars in her eyes as she dreams of her best boy and yadi yada lovey dovey stuff. For everyone else, there is plenty better shoujo anime out there. If you want a comedy that parodies the genre, I can’t recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun enough, or you’ve got Little Witch Academia and Kodocha.
Art – Medium
The production across the board is much improved over the original, though it isn’t anything to write home about. The art is pleasant enough to match the story’s tone. Could do with less full screen bloom. Go easy on my eyes, please.
Sound – Medium
The acting and the script is fine middle-of-the-road quality that gets the job done but won’t stick with you. All that stands out is the extra mountains of sugar. The first opening song is a little much in forcing you to feel sad for Tohru.
Story – Medium
An orphaned yet upbeat girl finds lodging with a group of handsome boys that turn into the animals of the zodiac when hugged. She grows close to them as she unravels their mysterious pasts. Each character gets their time in Tohru’s arms for her to learn their backstories. None of them rises above average.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For shoujo fans only. You have to be a shoujo fan to enjoy Fruits Basket. It is as typical shoujo anime as you can get.
I hate this anime. Maybe it’s because I’m not a drunken frat boy nor have I been one that this humour isn’t for me. Yet, I can tell you why Grand Blue is a failure beyond taste.
It follows Iori as he moves to a coastal town for university and stays with his uncle, who owns the diving shop Grand Blue. The debauchery begins immediately. Seniors of the uni’s diving club convince him – with little effort, mind you – to have a drink. It isn’t long before he’s as drunk as a sailor and puking his guts all over town.
That’s all there is Grand Blue. It’s one drunken party after the other – naked, of course (just the men) – with a sprinkling of class time and the fleeting mention of a scuba diving lesson. Grand Blue is amusing for a moment in episode 1, when there is a difference between Iori and the frat boys. One imagines this comedy is about a normal guy trying to survive university amongst the worst his institute has to offer (a little like Keiichi and his seniors from Ah! My Goddess). However, he goes from outsider to one of the boys in two episode flat, so we lose that contrast. Then the jokes go on repeat.
It is amusing the first time you see the seniors, stark naked, chasing someone down to join their club (would have been great as part of the “university survival” plot I talked of earlier). Once you see a variation of this each episode though, it no longer gets the sharp exhalation of air from my nose that it did the first time. I only realise, as I write this, how desensitised I became to the nude humour. These guys are naked so often that another arse barely registers in one’s eyes. The jokes are: get naked, get drunk, pull an ugly face. No more.
More to the plot could help break repetition. An early episode promises diving to be a core of the story (don’t forget the OP is all about diving). To my great disappointment as a lover of diving, this doesn’t come to fruition. Late in the series, they take the occasional break from drinking to scuba dive, but the author couldn’t bear to see a sober person, so that doesn’t last. There is also a hint at romance (Iori wants to bang his cousin, amongst other girls), which amounts to little.
Then we end on the characters. Not a likeable quality between them. I don’t want any of them to succeed in uni or life. The girls are probably the worst with their one-note characters. One hates him (the cousin), the other is bashful, which doesn’t make sense as she sees these nude frat boys every day working her job in the scuba store. She blushes at the cover of a raunchy manga. Why am I surprised though? As much effort went into giving her a personality as went into the decision to use the naked joke for the umpteenth time.
Grand Blue isn’t the worst anime I’ve seen. I considered drowning this in the lowest rating tier for how I felt after the final episode concluded. Then I remembered some of truly worst anime out there – Clannad’s support of threatening suicide to solve problems, Vampire Knight’s incest love triangle, Hand Shakers’ mere existence, to recall a few – and Grand Blue doesn’t seem that bad anymore. I still have no positives to say other than, perhaps, it could be worse.
Grand Blue isn’t an anime about youth, about grabbing life by the horns, about giving it your all. It’s about unlikeable drunks spewing the same jokes on a loop.
Art – Low
The ugly character art is intentional for comedic effect, even if overused, so that is excusable. The poor animation isn’t passable though. Also, ease up on the post processing for underwater scenes.
Sound – Low
I like the OP song, but it is deceptive. Promises adventure; delivers none. Shouty acting.
Story – Very Low
A university freshman joins the drunken diving club when he moves to a coastal town. With a shallow pool of jokes to draw from and even less creative characters, Grand Blue is not one to watch.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Avoid it. Stay away from Grand Blue unless you like drunk humour repeated endlessly.
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is an anime that came off my abandoned list because a reader requested it for review. I had abandoned seeing this after judging it by the cover, for it has a character design type that I hate: the eye patch girl. You have no idea how much I hate that design. In particular, I hate the medical eye patch. I first encountered it in Ikki Tousen, a fighting anime featuring one such eye patch girl that has her clothes torn every fight. Wanted her to die.
I hate it because it doesn’t make any sense that they wear it all the time – medically irresponsible, even! It’s like those shounen characters with a band aid, usually across the nose. At some point, it has to come off. If you need a permanent eye patch, then get a proper one. The medical one just screams try hard of the lowest order and I have this irrational hatred of it. Before this turns into a full-blown rant about eye patches, I should start the actual review.
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions takes the eye patch design and mocks it for the pathetic tacky fashion statement that it is. Yuuta is trying to escape his middle school past as a “chunibyo” called the “Dark Flame Master”. A chunibyo is the sort to believe that retaining your virginity until 30 turns you into a wizard. He fancied himself a fantasy hero. He was a LARPer who took it a bit too literally. No matter. He’s now in high school, where nobody knows of his dark secret. Time for a new leaf. In comes Rikka to ruin all that!
She is a magician of some renown and power, possessing the “Wicked Eye” that could unravel one’s destiny. Or so she believes. So dangerous is her eye that she covers it with an eye patch.
Try as he might, Yuuta can’t escape her delusions, aided by other classmates that join her magic circle and drag him back to chunibyo hell. The Dark Flame Master rises once more!
I find her a great character from the first episode when he sees her at the train station. The way she pretends to use the Force to open automated train doors and her smug strut on board that follows is simply a perfect introduction to the character. It isn’t long before the eye patch makes sense in completing her farcical appearance. This girl, whom I once hated based on appearance alone, is a delight to be around. My favourite scenes have to be those between her and her sister.
Her sister indulges the delusions on occasion, manifesting as epic duels of magic and comically oversized weapons (I love the cutaway to reality that shows them just smacking each other with an umbrella and ladle). The comedic timing is great throughout the series.
Chunibyo isn’t comedy all the way, however, as it introduces the drama at the heart of Rikka’s condition. Normally, this is where I would tell you that the story goes to crap while the writers try to force some emotion down your throats at the last minute. We’ve seen it time and time again in comedy anime, as though the writer is afraid that if the series doesn’t end with a gut punch, no one will take it seriously. They seem insecure in their comedy. But for Chunibyo, this isn’t the case.
First, it doesn’t bring this out of nowhere for the finale. We see hints of it from the first episode before the midpoint brings it to the forefront and the final act hammers it home. It explores the reason behind her chunibyo condition and her belief that if she can get strong, find just the right spell, she can see beyond the boundary of reality into another realm where her father has gone. It’s a clever way of explaining her character and giving her more depth than expected.
Now Yuuta, he’s rather flat. He works as a compliment to her craziness, but you never get the sense that he is a character beyond this story. He’s fine. I find the supporting cast more entertaining, particularly the girl who believes she wields the power of Mjolnir in her twin tails. I felt so sorry for her at the end.
Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is one of the comedy dramas that manages to end on a satisfying note. Sure, it doesn’t elevate itself to some unmissable masterpiece, yet at no point did I deem it a bad show. It is an enjoyable ride from start to finish. And the eye patch didn’t suck.
Art – High
More animation went into this anime than what was needed, which is appreciated. It allows the fantasies to come to life and lively characters to shine.
Sound – Medium
Neither the music nor script are anything to write home about, though they aren’t bad at all. The acting is the strongest element in the audio department.
Story – Medium
A girl who uses fantasies to escape from reality drags those around her into a world of everyday chaos. This simple plot manages to balance comedy and drama to deliver a satisfying, if predicable, anime.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is better than I expected and you may think so too.