Category Archives: Slice of Life

Depiction of ordinary life, often without serious conflict.

Aggretsuko – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aggretsuko

 

Similar: Detroit Metal City

It’s Difficult to Love an Otaku

GeGeGe no Kitaro

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 10 episodes (15 minutes each)

 

Positives:

  • Adorable art.
  • The characters are great.
  • Humorous commentary on life in a Japanese office.

Negatives:

  • Doesn’t escalate.

(Request an anime for review here.)

From the outside, Japanese corporate culture has a reputation for hard work, efficiency, and quality. Beneath that highly organised exterior, however, lies an environment of rigid hierarchy and stress that results in Japan having a high suicide rate. (If you’re waiting for a delayed train in Tokyo and the staff cite a “human accident” as the cause, know that it was no accident.) Office work is so structured that employees must change their entire vocabulary to fit in and not appear rude or worse, lose their jobs. Word choices vary greatly depending on your rank in the company, whether you are talking to a superior or subordinate (mixing those up is equivalent to swearing at someone), and the time of day. There’s an entirely separate dictionary just for business vocabulary.

I don’t tell you these things as criticism of the system, but as a point of fact. And, of course, not all workplaces are like this. It’s usually reserved for the large and old corporations that will stick to tradition until death.

Netflix’s Aggretsuko takes this workplace culture and runs a commentary on it through humour and adorable characters. Retsuko is the typical image of a Japanese office lady as a red panda. She is at the bottom of the social ladder in her workplace. Her subservience and need to please everyone, to never let someone down makes her an easy target for abuse by superiors. “Extra paperwork? Just get Retsuko to do it.” And she will. She’s so subservient that when she goes into a clothing store, she will buy socks just to seem like she wasn’t wasting the shopkeeper’s time. Even subordinates will pawn off work onto her.

How does she survive the daily abuse from her komodo dragon of a supervisor and literal chauvinist pig of a boss? By counting to 10 to centre herself (good technique, by the way) and later locking herself inside a karaoke booth and screaming heartfelt heavy metal. Fans of Detroit Metal City will find familiarity here.

This gag is a funny one, yet it could have easily grown old within a few episodes. You know me; I hate “the one joke” anime type. Thankfully, the heavy metal isn’t the punch line to every joke. In fact, Aggretsuko’s best humour comes from the character interactions at work. You have Fenneko the fennec fox, friend to Retsuko, with the best emotionless laugh in fiction, Haida the hyena with a crush on our protagonist, that co-worker who always gives too much personal information, and let us not forget the protein guy. Every character is great.

Some of the best scenes come from Ton, her pig boss. He’s such an arse. Retsuko’s bottled rage around him is hilarious.

I love the choice of using animals for contrast against the adult subject matter, much like other “cute but dark” anime that came before. The company president’s secretary is a secretary bird… Perfect!

The problem Aggretsuko has is one of escalation. It reaches a peak in humour and setting within a few episodes and stays there to the end. Scenarios don’t really escalate – except outside of the protein guy – or become more ludicrous as it goes, to build up to something spectacularly hilarious. The mild office romance isn’t enough. If they were to make as sequel, I hope it reaches for a higher level.

Contrary to the cute art style reminiscent of Hello Kitty (made by the same company), Aggretsuko won’t appeal to a teenaged audience. This isn’t a slight against them. The jokes play on adult life in an office job, so you need to relate on some level to enjoy it. Even more so, a familiarity with Japanese office life will make the series better. I can see this as boring and unfunny to many. That’s not to suggest you need to work in a Japanese office or the jokes will go over your head. Some knowledge of it is enough. (I covered the basics above.)

If I hadn’t heard of Aggretsuko from several trusted sources (and had it requested by a dear reader), I wouldn’t have given it a chance. The “book cover” doesn’t give the impression whatsoever that it would be something I might enjoy. It’s always a pleasant surprise when that ends up false.

Art – High

The Hello Kitty style is the perfect choice for this workplace comedy. I love the character designs and their expressive faces. Adorable!

Sound – High

The voice acting is great no matter the language, but I preferred the Japanese because Retsuko’s voice was a tad cuter, which upped the contrast with her miserable life. To see Netflix put the extra effort of making the heavy metal work no matter the language is highly commendable.

Story – Medium

A red panda office lady vents her daily frustrations from work via heavy metal karaoke. The setting and characters are better than the story. More escalation in the scenarios and workplace crises, as you see in sitcoms, would help.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For adult anime fans. Aggretsuko’s episodes are short and there aren’t many of them, so what do you have to lose?

(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: 

Charm

Negative: None

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Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san

 

Similar: My Neighbour Seki

Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto

Tsukigakirei

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good chemistry in the main couple.
  • Sweet and innocent.

Negatives:

  • Female trio of supporting characters.
  • Episodes are too long.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san, which roughly translates to “Skilled Teaser Takagi” with no official English title, is about middle schooler Nishikata who tries his utmost to embarrass his next-seat neighbour Takagi in class. He attempts this by pulling pranks to catch her out in moments of humiliation. Trouble is, she’s too skilled and always manages to turn the tables on him.

This innocent anime harkens back to the childhood days of boys and girls teasing the ones they secretly like. Nishikata and Takagi obviously like each other, though he doesn’t realise it and she’s too inexperienced to know what to do with these feelings. Karakai very much succeeds in capturing that age of innocence. Those of you looking for something light and sweet are in the right place.

The first episode has him making a paper jack-in-the-box (alternate folding two strips of paper to make a spring) when she interrupts by saying she can’t open her pencil case. It must be stuck. She asks if he can try. He does and it opens easily, only to have a paper jack-in-the-box spring out and surprise him. Drat! She got him first. And so this pattern goes each episode. It stays in the classroom for a few episodes before it goes beyond to places like the walk home and out in town.

My first issue in Karakai lies with Takagi. She’s too infallible, never losing to Nishikata. Once you catch on that she will always flip the script, it loses some of the engagement and makes the story’s core loop grow old before long. Having him win occasionally would pleasantly surprise the audience. The 20-minute episodes exacerbate this issue, as they drag for so little content. Ten minutes an episode would have sufficed. Three to five “skits” from the manga go into each episode, yet it still feels too thin.

However, the chemistry between the two leads goes a long way towards redeeming this situation. They have more chemistry than most couples do in romance anime.

With each failed stunt, his frustration grows and he must spend more time with her outside of school for any opportunity to beat her. He always overthinks it, stressed, and seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown over being embarrassed each time. Her underlying agenda is to get to know him better and though she may not admit it, you can see that enjoys his pranks. It’s sweet.

Now when it comes to the supporting cast, I haven’t anything positive to say. Most are forgettable, in the background, which is fine for a small series focused on its principal couple, but these three girls are an annoyance.

I don’t know why they have a sub-plot, why the camera ever cuts to them, or why they are even in this anime. As I understand it, they come from another manga by the same author as Karakai – an unpopular manga at that – but why are they here? They add nothing to the main couple or the theme. Cutting them would have gone a long way to tightening the pace of the whole series. Even so, they aren’t an issue serious enough to make you drop the anime.

I didn’t love Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san. It isn’t the right sort of series for me to love. But I enjoyed the first few and the last few episodes enough for me to recommend that you try this niche title. It has a good heart.

Art – Medium

The big heads and even bigger foreheads are the perfect art style for this innocent middle school comedy.

Sound – Medium

The acting from the two leads is serviceable, while the other characters don’t do enough to matter – except those three girls who sound annoying, though that may be as directed. The Pink Panther-esque mischief music is fun.

Story – Low

A middle school boy keeps trying to get one over on the girl next to him in class with his pranks. Though the scenario is a tad repetitive and goes for too long, the innocence of Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is quite refreshing.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is better than the sum of its parts, but it will only take one episode to know if it’s for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Violet Evergarden – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Violet Evergarden

 

Similar: The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Kobato.

Plastic Memories

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Slice of Life Drama

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.
  • Elegant character designs.
  • Touching sub-stories.
  • The instrumental soundtrack and great acting.

Negatives:

  • Violet is the weakest part.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I had wanted to watch Violet Evergarden ever since the release of the stunning trailer (above) two years ago. There was no indication as to the contents of the story, but if the series had art and animation half as good as the trailer, then I’d be interested.

I am pleased to say that the art and animation are better than half as good as the trailer, while the story is unexpected. It tells of Violet Evergarden, a former child soldier with mechanical arms in a post-WWI-esque setting, who has to find a new purpose in life now that she has no orders to follow, enemies to kill, or someone to protect. Her life thus far has left her emotionally void. She receives opportunity to fix that when she meets the “Auto Memory Dolls” – letter typists that transcribe a customer’s emotions to the page. Perhaps, given enough time through learning from the emotions of others, she may come to understand the meaning of her major’s final words: “I love you.”

Violet is a blunt girl, unaware of the feelings of others, as is understandable. She writes without heart. When someone confides in her, such as an emotional problem, she doesn’t hesitate to tell others when asked, not realising it should remain private without instruction. She is also rather one note and the weakest element of the series. This wouldn’t be such a problem if Violet Evergarden weren’t an entirely character driven story. Despite the war backstory, expect little action outside two or three episodes. Everything else is about Violet and her interactions with colleagues at the postal service, clients, and a few auxiliary characters.

Her description should remind Full Metal Panic viewers of Sargent Sagara, a child soldier also of little emotion. My readers will know too that I love that character. So why not Violet? She lacks the counterbalance that makes Sagara such a great protagonist. Sagara is deathly serious (often literally) yet unexpectedly hilarious. Violet is just serious.

Now, comedy on the level of FMP wouldn’t fit the tone of Evergarden, so that isn’t the right solution (though a little more levity wouldn’t have gone amiss). Instead, other characters should have shown more emotion and humour in response to her serious behaviour. Her colleagues and clients take her actions too normally. People don’t display enough shock or laughter at some of the things she does. At most, a few clients get angry because she translates their feelings too literally onto paper, such as not getting the hint that one woman wants to play coy with her suitor before accepting his proposal. If done, this would allow Violet to react (and develop) at the reception of her actions. In improvisational acting/comedy, a scene works when one actor initiates for the other to react, which allows the first actor to react in turn, followed by the other again, and back and forth it goes until they have extracted all material. But imagine if one started the scene, only for the other to give a response that doesn’t facilitate further reaction. The scene would end there with nothing worthwhile. Violet is that full stop in interactions all too often.

She does develop by the end and show emotion – enough to avoid the label of a bad or boring character, certainly – but it’s not at a level to make a compelling protagonist.

Where Evergarden finds success is in the supporting cast, particularly the clients. Dolls will travel to wherever the client should require them, allowing us to see much of the country in which she lives and giving the art team an excuse to create more wondrous environments. The clients range from a princess in love to an astronomer that needs help copying rare books. Then there’s her colleagues, such as Iris the country girl whose family wants her to return to the village, quit her job, and get married, much to her protestations. Each of their stories tie into Violet’s theme, as it should be in every story, of understanding emotion. A highlight is episode 10 when she writes letters for a mother and daughter. I truly enjoyed these episodic arcs.

They, alongside the visuals and music, made Violet Evergarden an easy series to finish. I love everything about Violet Evergarden except for Violet herself. Hell, I even love the idea of Violet. Her execution is the problem. This good anime contained potential for greatness, had Violet received slight tweaks that would have opened her up to movement and depth.

Art – Very High

Disgustingly beautiful art and animation in many scenes. Violet Evergarden is not quite movie level consistence, as it does resort to static characters at times, though it never lingers. I love the character designs and attention given to the fashion.

Sound – High

Strong acting and a lovely instrumental soundtrack complement the story and visuals.

Story – Medium

A child soldier learns the meaning of emotion through writing letters on behalf of clients. The supporting cast and their sub plots help prop up a mediocre protagonist in Violet Evergarden.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Violet Evergarden is worth a shot for the art alone – could be enough to carry you to the end. However, Violet as a character may cause some viewers to lose interest after a few episodes. Watch episode 10 if you only have time for one.

(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:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

A Place Further than the Universe – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho

 

Similar: Yuru Camp

Girls’ Last Tour

Space Brothers

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good finish.
  • Pleasant art.

Negatives:

  • Frequent immaturity to force cuteness.
  • First act is rather boring.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I don’t have much to say on A Place Further than the Universe, which comes as a pleasant change after Hunter x Hunter’s review.

It is a story about spirit and youth. Mari feels trapped in her ordinary Japanese life and craves to do something impulsive, go on an adventure! But after she chicken’s out on an impromptu adventure, all seems set to return to normal – that is until she meets Shirase, a girl determined to go to Antarctica, where her mother went missing. A third girl joins them soon. However, not just anyone can go on an Antarctic expedition, especially not a trio of high school kids. Their ticket to the frozen land appears in the form of Yuzuki. If they can convince this idol to go, they can accompany her as companions.

Like all anime about cute girls, acting cute is a top priority for the characters and the main reason I’m not into these shows. Cuteness doesn’t bother me – it’s the forced cuteness. The first scene has Mari suddenly bawl her eyes out in front of her mother, which I assume is meant to be cute, but is just immature. Not even an infant would act this way. The difference between A Place Further than the Universe and Girls’ Last Tour, where the cuteness worked for me, is in how much they draw attention to it. Here, the girls have these overreactions and pantomime-like performances as if to say, “Look at me – I’m cute! You agree, right?” The girls in Last Tour simply are cute, so they don’t have to demand your attention every few minutes.

 This immaturity, often from Mari, is a recurring annoyance and seems to replace story and development for act one. Act two is a little more interesting as they train and prepare for the expedition. It’s still too much “cute girls being cute”, but the Antarctic knowledge from a mature adult character improves matters. The episodes aren’t bad, though I routinely found my focus slipping, only to snap back a few minutes later and realise I was still watching this anime.

The Antarctic portion doesn’t start until act three. At last, the girls have things to do other than act cute and seeing daily life in the Antarctic is fascinating – how a ship breaks through the ice, how supplies come in, sunburn, the dangers of a blizzard, and so on. There isn’t any great disaster for them to contend with – things are still light-hearted – but it’s more than just the girls now, as it should have been from the start. It also closes Shirase’s arc in the search for her mother in a heartfelt and satisfying way. The third act is far superior to what came previous and as such, leaves you with a positive impression.

Fans of cute girls anime will love this more than I did, of that I have no doubt. A Place Further than the Universe doesn’t pretend to anything beyond its initial impression. It doesn’t lie, bait, or emotionally manipulate you. It’s about high school girls going on an adventure to Antarctica with a lot of silliness and a touch of emotion. And that’s fine.

Art – High

This anime’s strongest quality, the art, uses bright colours and pure white highlights to complement the energetic and uplifting feel of the story.

Sound – Medium

The acting is alright – a little overdone to the point of becoming pantomime at times.

Story – Medium

A group of high school girls set their adventurous hearts on reaching Antarctica to accomplish something with their youth. A Place Further than the Universe keeps things light, which does limit depth and makes it hard to keep paying attention, but the end is strong enough to leave on a good note.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the cute girls doing things genre. We’ve had cute girls in bands, in tanks, on battleships, and now in Antarctica. Fans of the genre are spoilt for choice!

(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

Kino’s Journey – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kino no Tabi: The Beautiful World

 

Related: Kino’s Journey: Life Goes On (prequel)

Kino’s Journey: The Land of Sickness (sequel)

Kino’s Journey: Tower Country (OVA)

Kino’s Journey: The Beautiful World Animated Series (2017 remake)

Similar: Mushishi

Girl’s Last Tour

Humanity has Declined

Spice & Wolf

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Slice of Life Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Philosophy without the boredom.
  • Intriguing exploration of society.
  • Pleasant yet disturbing.

Negatives:

  • The art is jank.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What a pleasant surprise to find an anime pitched as philosophical that is interesting! Usually, the best philosophy we find in anime is from series that don’t advertise this element, while those that do often curse us into a vegetative state of boredom.

Kino’s Journey follows the titular character Kino on her journey to see everything the world has to offer, meet its people, and learn of its societies accompanied by her talking motorcycle Hermes. They will pass through a town that believes the Apocalypse is tomorrow, discover what happened to a telepathically connected society, meet a robot nanny that cares for a wealthy family, and Kino will even fight for her right to first class citizenship in the most magnificent city.

The magic ingredient to the success of Kino’s Journey is in the ever crucial ‘show don’t tell’ story technique. It’s important in all stories, but particularly so for a philosophical piece if it means to engage the audience. At no point does this story tell you how you should feel or what you should think of a person or society. Do you agree with a town that forces kids to go from 12 years old to adulthood in a day, skipping the teenage years if it means making them better adults in society? What about two countries that go to war without casualties on either side at the expense a few tribesmen between the two? Less people die than if there were a real war, even in the tribe. Is it right? Kino’s Journey allows you to answer for yourself. At no point does it tie you down while it vomits philosophy down your throat until you get the message.

Mystery plays an important part, keeping you curious until the often-disturbing end each episode. Many of the stories are low-key disturbing. No one will overreact or show abhorrence to those involved, which only makes you, the audience, more uneasy. Kino’s Journey is pleasant even when it disturbs you. I love this subtlety.

One episode has Kino visit the greatest library in the land, where one can borrow any book in exchange for another – a bibliophile’s dream! However, writing books is banned. Why? The answer is a great commentary on the balance between creativity and criticism.

Outside of a two parter, each episode is a different story in a different location with vastly different people. The episodes always mix things up. You could easily see another series having dragged out each story for two to three episodes, but not Kino – it takes as little time as is necessary for you to connect to the characters and for the effect to sink in. This is an unpredictable world with threats around every corner. Kino doesn’t know whom to trust. Even during happier episodes, I anticipated it all going wrong in some sick twist at the last second. The nicer stories are a heart-warming change of pace.

I can’t finish without mentioning Kino herself. She is an unusual protagonist, though a perfect fit to the subdued tone. From her soft voice to her contemplative nature, she has subtlety to match the philosophy and rarely shows emotion. It’s rare to have an adventure protagonist that doesn’t explode with excitement at new discoveries. She may seem dull at first – she was for me – but she’s deceptively deep and you soon realise that a more animated lead wouldn’t work.

Like its protagonist, Kino’s Journey doesn’t look like much, yet its exploration of society, psychology, the meaning of life, and the human animal is a must watch for any anime fan.

Art – Low

Though I like the vintage art style, the animation leaves much to be desired. Kino’s Journey secured the budget of a niche title, which is regrettable if understandable. They couldn’t be sure a philosophical series would find success even when adapted from bestselling novels. The folk tale sequences are good storybook moments.

Sound – High

The acting is good in English, though the Japanese has the edge with a better Kino. Pleasant music, even when it gets disturbing – rarely shifts from that pleasant tone.

Story – Very High

A girl rides her talking motorcycle around the world to learn everything its societies have to offer in the understanding of humanity. The use of subtlety, pace, and deep exploration of Kino’s Journey’s themes makes it a resounding success.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch. Kino’s Journey is an excellent anime that even the philosophy-averse should watch. Stick to the original over the 2017 remake despite the polished visuals of the latter.

(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:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None