Category Archives: Slice of Life

Depiction of ordinary life, often without serious conflict.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku– Anime Review

Japanese Title: Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii

 

Similar: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Aggretsuko

Recovery of an MMO Junky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance Slice of Life

Length: 11 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The author knows her games.
  • Always charming and funny.
  • Believable couple.

Negatives:

  • Could do with more romance.

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It is Narumi’s first day at her new job. She has but one mission: no one can find out that she is an otaku, and not just any otaku, but the worst kind – a filthy fujoshi. Absolutely, under no circumstances, should a guy hear of her dark secret, for even if he is accepting of her perverted ways, then that must mean he’s an otaku too. And who would want to date an otaku!? This is a chance at a new life. No one will ever realise they are working right next to a yaoi loving degenerate. No one will ever know of the smut she hides on her hard drive. NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW THAT SHE SHIPS GUYS TOGETHER AFTER THEY SAY ONE WORD TO EACH OTHER! Oh crap, her boss found out!

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is an adult rom-com in an office setting. It is packed with nerd humour, pop culture references (the deep cuts), sweet romance, and fun all around. I love it.

Narumi is such a lovable protagonist. The scene when Hana, her boss, uncovers her secret – turns out she is a mega nerd as well, cosplaying regularly as a bishounen (feminine handsome man) Narumi is a fan of – makes you fall in love with her. Turns out, Hana is also a fan of Narumi’s yaoi fan fiction written under a pen name.

Narumi is rather goofy and the show plays most jokes at her expense (they have to flash a “please don’t run for departing trains” sign every time she’s late, which is often), but she isn’t stupid. It would have been so easy to make her a moron to have otaku go, “Gosh, isn’t she adorable. I would love to have a stupid girlfriend,” something you often see in moe anime.

Then you have her dynamic with the guys at work, who are also into nerd stuff. You have Tarou – Hana’s future boyfriend – and Hirotaka, who has a preference for games and a disdain for yaoi (in a humorous way). He is Narumi’s love interest. These characters – not just the main couple – make for a great group. You can easily see them as friends in real life, relatable to anyone who likes hanging out playing couch co-op games such as Mario Kart (called “Mari Ka” in Japanese, for short, as I learned), adventuring together in MMOs or just chatting over a meal.

Harumi and Hirotaka are a sweet couple. The arguments they have over trying to get the other person into the things they like is endearing. However, I do wish there was more to this romance. It’s certainly a believable one (often, the problem with anime romance is the lack of foundation in the romance to begin with), yet doesn’t go into enough depth for how they work as a couple in private. It has the fun side of the romance without enough of the drama side. Doesn’t have to be heavy conflict – just give me something so I can say, “You know what, they’re going to make it.”

Now, the fun side is a success. When they go on a date to the theme park, they set a “no nerding” rule with a 500-yen penalty to the piggy bank for breaking it. She can’t resist making the perfect JoJo reference while he can’t miss the chance to catch a rare Blissey in Pokémon Go (fun fact: Blissey in Japanese is called “Happiness” – the English word happiness).

The nerd humour is on point. Hirotaka is a pro at Monster Hunter, even playing it at work. They play together on a hunt for a rare ruby she wants from a monster, but when she gets none and he gets two, not needing any himself, she says, “The Desire Sensor must’ve activated!” I love the inclusion of this joke. This author, she knows the gamer’s mentality. It feels authentic and not tacked on because market research says that anime for adult nerds must have adult nerd references. How often have you seen a US TV show try to make a gaming reference, for whatever is the big thing at the time, and come across as painful to watch? The Big Bang Theory still makes me cringe in memory of that MMO episode.

Wotakoi makes meta references to games, using mechanics like action choices for humour and I love the character stat sheets marking ad breaks (check out that yaoi stat!):

I even learnt a new term from this anime: the reverse cover scam. “I see the cover [of a manga] and buy it for the sex scenes, but the story turns out to be good!” That is perfect. I have to use that phrase in real life at some point.

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku gets my heartiest recommendation. It is a refreshing change from the sea of high school rom-coms and I hope to see more of this kind in future.

Art – Medium

It’s not a flex show, but the art is good. The colours and character designs pop!

Sound – High

The music matches the fun tone – super catchy OP – and the acting is strong overall. Narumi may sound too young for an “office lady”, but it matches her young-at-heart fangirl personality.

Story – Medium

An omega nerdy office lady has her cover blown at work, only to find out her colleagues are nerds themselves. This light-hearted rom-com is a fun 11 episodes that I wish leant more into the romance.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For adult nerds. Wotakoi is an easy anime to watch, though with its slant towards adult life and adult humour, you need to be part of the older crowd to find it fully relatable. Still, don’t let that stop you.

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

Positive: 

Charm

Negative: None

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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru

 

Similar: Toradora

Bakemonogatari

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Second season looks better.

Negatives:

  • Unlikeable protagonist throughout.
  • “Deep” thoughts.
  • The drama isn’t really drama.
  • Hard to care.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I only watched this anime because of the title (“What is a snafu…?”) and came out wishing I hadn’t bothered. There is a subreddit called r/im14andthisisdeep that collects “deep” thoughts that are actually basic to the average person. My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is that subreddit in anime form.

It follows the nihilistic high school years of Hachiman, who is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club as punishment for imposing his “deep” worldview on everyone. This club, which includes the ice queen Yukino, has the sole purpose of helping students in need achieve their goals. It’s a club about helping people, in short, with the hope of making Hachiman less of a douche.

As an example of the club’s activities, the first case is helping a girl who can’t cook, where the real lesson is that it’s the thought and effort that counts among friends. She soon joins the duo along with several others to create the typical group of high school friends.

SNAFU presents itself as a meta anime on the “high school friendships” genre, commenting on how much the genre overblows high school and how it doesn’t define your life, but ends up eating its own tail to become a pretentious, overblown high school friendship anime. It goes through the usual episodes – beach, summer festival, sports day, etc. However, instead of thinking, “You’re right, it is really stupid how big of a deal they make out of these events,” I just see SNAFU doing the same as the anime on which it comments.

The one differentiating factor is that the characters aren’t cheerful. Hachiman is anti-social, Yukino is anti-social, another girl is bad at socialising, and even the popular girl doesn’t have anyone who cares for her. Despite this difference, the story and characters play out much the same way as your average anime from this genre.

Initially, I thought that Hachiman’s musings were meant to be taken as the pretentious ramblings of some kid who thinks he has the world figured out, that we were meant to see him as unlikable before the story turns our opinion of him. He does grow less unlikeable, sure, but I don’t know anyone who would want to hang around such a boring person.

I considered the idea that the author was trying to emulate the deep (read: stupid) thoughts we all had as teenagers, and that this nonsense was accurate for a kid his age, but it never calls him out on it. Hachiman doesn’t sound like a teenager in over his head; he sounds like an adult failing to write a teenager. No one with any life experience would believe this author’s life lessons and witty advice – and by any, I mean any, even a few months out of high school would dissolve such notions. It’s weak.

The drama isn’t really drama either. It’s just students interacting lightly in a slice of life way to resolve petty affairs. It’s hard to care about such minor problems. Oh, your life hinges on being elected class president? Oh wow, so rough. It takes a council of 40 students to organise the same sports day as every year and if it fails, all is lost? What a tough life. Perhaps this is meant as satire, though if the case, then it flops.

It also bothers me that there is seemingly only one teacher in this school, who acts like one of the students and barely looks older than they do. This world, this anime feels so empty.

SNAFU isn’t funny enough to recommend as a comedy, doesn’t have enough tension for a drama, and shouldn’t even have the romance label. The worst thing about My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU is to see studio Brain’s Base, responsible for unconventional greats like Baccano and Princess Jellyfish, forced to make an anime so visually and narratively bland.

Art – Medium

Average art, indistinguishable for other anime of the era, until a different studio takes over in season 2 and does a better job. Cinematography is still stock.

Sound – Medium

Acting is average as well. Not bad, though nothing memorable.

Story – Low

A nihilistic student is forced to join the Volunteer Service Club, which helps other students achieve their goals. This story and its unlikable protagonist won’t appeal to anyone with a drop of life experience.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For 14-year-olds only. If you are above that age, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU’s deep messages will be laughable.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

Wandering Son – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hourou Musuko

 

Similar: Sweet Blue Flowers

Koi Kaze

One Week Friends

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring.

Negatives:

  • Weak protagonists.
  • Too many characters.
  • Lacks weight.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wandering Son is a coming of age story about Shuichi, a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy, going through school. It touches on the subjects of cross-dressing, transgenderism, and puberty. I say touches because it barely delves below the surface on any of its primary topics.

Firstly, it has too many characters – way too many characters for a 12-episode anime (11 in the broadcast version), spreading the screen time too thin. There are so many characters, most of which are similar in both personality and design, that one loses track of who’s who, especially when cross-dressing – “same face” syndrome is a notable problem. They describe Yoshino as “a masculine girl” and Shuichi as a “feminine guy”, but due to the lack of design variety, everyone looks just about equally masculine and feminine. Swap hairstyles and anyone could pass for the opposite gender.

Shuichi lacks presence for a protagonist, often feeling like part of the background. These characters don’t have the emotional weight to make me care for their struggles. Hell, I’m not even sure if struggles is the right word, since the conflict is so light. One gets the feeling that it will all resolves itself on its own in time, just like puberty problems everyone goes through.

Speaking of, puberty is a boring subject for a story to focus on. Might just be me though. I am far more interested in the growing responsibilities that come with approaching adulthood and the struggles of finding a purpose in life before thrown into the real world.

As for the transgenderism, much like the protagonist, it doesn’t have a strong presence. The story doesn’t make a big deal about the transgenderism – it’s light on conflict – which is want you want, I suppose, in a general sense. You want characters defined by more than a single factor like identity or sexuality. It recalls the history of gay characters in Hollywood. First, they didn’t exist. Then, they were villains, followed by comic stereotypes, until finally we’re seeing “no big deal” gay characters, which is where you want to be. How many straight characters have no attention drawn to their sexuality? Almost all of them. However, in the case of Wandering Son, where transgenderism is the core theme, you need to give it more attention. On the flip side, that can’t be all there is to the characters either otherwise they end up flat, which is the case here.

If you have reached the stage of your anime journey where you are looking for something different because you have seen enough shounen action/isekai/mecha/teen melodrama to last a lifetime, then Wandering Son is that something different with its subject matter. However, being different isn’t reason to worship something. There is nothing truly bad about this anime. Nor is there anything particularly good. I find it unmemorable.

Art – Medium

Wandering Son uses a nice watercolour style, fitting for the tone and mood of the series. I don’t know why they had to use this faded white vignette, usually reserved for dreams and flashbacks, all the time though. It’s like having someone’s finger in the corner of every photo. Characters need to look more different as well, particularly in the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine and music is pleasant enough.

Story – Low

A boy who wants to be a girl meets a girl who wants to be a boy and they go through school together alongside other friends. The main characters in the bloated cast don’t have enough emotional weight to lead this passive story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Wandering Son is only for those wanting something different, even if it isn’t interesting.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

ReLIFE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ReLIFE

 

Similar: Welcome to the NHK

Orange

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 4 OVA (conclusion)

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Medium

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

Sound – High

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

Story – High

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

Overall Quality – High

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

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Maison Ikkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Maison Ikkoku

 

Related: Maison Ikkoku: Final Chapter (sequel movie)

Similar: Kimagure Orange Road

Ah! My Goddess

Ai Yori Aoshi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Comedy

Length: 96 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Supporting cast is better than the main.
  • Occasional good comedy.

Negatives:

  • One season of content stretched across four.
  • Side relationships amount to nothing.
  • So repetitive.
  • That dog’s eyes…

(Request an anime for review here.)

Maison Ikkoku is a classic of anime romance. Does this timeless classic endure, appreciable by anyone whether watched at release or 30 years later?

It follows 20-year-old Godai, a failed student looking to pass his exams this year, who finds himself unable to study when surrounded by the rowdiest tenants imaginable in his boarding house. A greater distraction arrives in the form of the beautiful Kyoko, new manager at Maison Ikkoku, but Godai’s feelings of instant love look forever unrequited when he learns she is a widow clinging to her dead husband.

I like this premise for three reasons. One: she’s a young widow, a rarity amid a sea of “first love only” anime teen romance. Her experience promises a more mature relationship. Two: the challenge Godai faces in her husband’s shadow is ripe for conflict and emotion. Three: the cosy nature of having everyone under one roof makes it an intimate affair.

Maison Ikkoku doesn’t take advantage of this potential.

On the first point, Godai and Kyoko’s coupling is anything but mature. Godai is a child. This would be good as the starting point of Godai’s character arc, but we never see him mature into a man. He is ever the child in love and life. My big problem with Maison Ikkoku, regardless of any other issues I cover, is the lack of chemistry between these two and how poor of a job it does at convincing us that this is a real relationship. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful moments between these two – with fingers to spare. His first romantic act is trying to kiss her while she’s napping on the roof. We have a Casanova over here!

Their relationship is “cockblocking the anime.” The first few episodes consist of Godai trying to tell her how he feels and to give her a present, only to have someone or a random event stop him. This isn’t story. It is no adversity. It’s just distraction after distraction thrown at him by the writer.

You might imagine that this is just the slow start to a 96-episode series. Except, this is the series. Their first truly romantic moment is in episodes 39 & 40, only to have it regress into meaningless distractions afterwards.

The story has a love polygon for the two leads, yet even these are just cockblockers instead of opportunities at character development. For Kyoko, we have her handsome tennis coach that falls for her charms against his parents’ wishes, who have arranged a marriage with the woman of peak meekness. You know the type – eyes always downcast as if it is an offence to look at others, hands clasped in prayer to her chest, and not a bone in her spine. Godai, on the other hand, has a headstrong and naïve teenage stalker. I thought she would be a one-off character for a few episodes, a gimmick to create misunderstandings with Kyoko, but she returns. And for longer!

I must reiterate that the problem isn’t with the ideas and slice of life episodes. Execution is the culprit. When Godai and the coach compete for affection, it isn’t through conflict that promotes growth. They’re petty squabbles made worse by the fact that they go nowhere. Honestly, Maison Ikkoku has barely enough content for 24 episodes and stretches it to 96 with every fake-out and anti-climax in the book. The dead husband element also doesn’t feel like a source of turmoil for Kyoko. Instead, it comes across as a crutch by the writer to keep the couple apart. “She would kiss him, but she’s still not over the dead guy. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have them kiss next episode. Stay tuned to find out!”

It’s not as though it’s a slow burn building and building to this great romance where you cheer for the couple when united, your heart lifted with joy. If the romance was worth it in the end, that would be the quality to make it a lasting classic. The fact that it’s slow and rather repetitive would be fine when threaded by a great relationship. We would criticise it for these issues but always add on, “It’s worth it for the romance.” I sadly cannot say that here.

 

Look, this anime isn’t bad. It’s bloated and hard to recommend when you could complete three to six other romances in the same time. If you have a love for old anime and go in knowing not to care about relationship growth, you could enjoy Maison Ikkoku. The comedy is decent thanks to the eccentric support cast (except the ever-annoying kids). My favourite is the tenant that dresses like an old FBI agent. He comes and goes from the house to escapades unknown and infiltrates other people’s rooms when at home. (No respect for privacy.) The older lady looks for any excuse to throw an alcohol-fuelled party and leads the charge in disrupting Godai’s studies. There’s a lot more fun when it spotlights them.

I wanted Maison Ikkoku to be great. Imagine, 96 episodes of romantic goodness. Anime could do with more romance series, as much of the best romantic relationships are subplots to other genres, like an action series. Or they’re in heavy dramas, which I love of course, but it’s good to balance it with a wholesome romance. My search continues.

Art – Medium

This is 80s anime art at its most classic – poufy hair included. What is with that dog’s eyes though? Are they mouths!? The animation is decent for the time and the exterior establishing shots are nice at setting mood.

Sound – Medium

It sounds old in Japanese, as expected, though the dub doesn’t sound much better either, which is odd considering how much later it released in the West. I’m not fond of either version. That has more to do with my lack of character interest, however.

Story – Low

A failed student joins a boarding house to focus on his studies, where he falls in love with a young widow chained to the past. Maison Ikkoku’s suffers from constant delays, setbacks, and side relationships that go nowhere to drag out the main relationship, which in itself is rather shallow.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For vintage anime fans only. I can’t imagine many people will want to sit through a romance as drawn out as Maison Ikkoku when we have so much choice today.

(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:

Repetitive