Category Archives: Slice of Life

Depiction of ordinary life, often without serious conflict.

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.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

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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!

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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.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Toradora! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Toradora

 

Similar: Great Teacher Onizuka

Lovely Complex

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dynamic between main characters.
  • Consistently funny.
  • A touch of heart.

Negatives:

  • Still very much like other high school anime.
  • Tries too hard to make Taiga seem tough at times.
  • Weak theme songs.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In a world where everyone has large anime eyes, Ryuuji’s narrow eyes and pinpoint irises mark him as a thug, the worst kind of thug, a thug that is…nice. Taiga is a doll of a girl, tiny, cute, and a bundle rage that hates her public image of a fragile midget. As is natural, these two opposites collide and help set each other up with their crushes – Ryuuji likes Taiga’s best friend, while Taiga likes his best friend. And they’re neighbours. What a coincidence! But could it be that they are meant to be with each other? Find out in Toradora!

I have watched too much anime. Watching Toradora, I realised I had seen it all before several times, though not to this anime’s fault. I have to shift my mindset if I want to analyse it fairly. Ever wonder why all of those atrocious games journalists think “artsy” indie games are masterpieces? It’s because they’ve played too many games and those faux-deep indies are something different from the popular titles. Something different can instil a false sense of quality to a lazy “critic”. Ironically, they probably haven’t played enough games or they would have experienced the inspirators already. I never want to be in that cesspool.

So, to give Toradora a fair chance – or honestly, any art a fair chance – I look at its own merits. Of course, part of that merit is to see if it learnt from its predecessors. You can’t release a story without character development and claim it’s a masterpiece just because that’s how stories were thousands of years ago. It is important to note that nothing in fiction is original. Nothing. Instead, what we mean by originality is how an artwork brings all its pieces together and at what skill level.

Alright, Toradora has the ‘opposites attract’ main couple, and its initial plot is the ‘help each other find love, only to realise it was beside us all along’ type. I am sure that all of you, dear readers, can think of several stories to have these two tropes. However, these two together is rarer. The more you mix elements, the more ‘original’ something feels. (Keep in mind not to be different for the sake of being different.) Toradora uses these two elements to great comedic results.

Ryuuji and Taiga concoct ridiculous schemes to pair the other up with his/her crush. Ryuuji knocks out his friend in sports class and takes the friend to the med bay so Taiga can spend time with him. Genius plan! She could just ask him, but noooooo… (Where have I written that before…?) I love the ludicrousness of anime romantic comedies.

One episode has Taiga give her love letter to the wrong guy. Hell, she doesn’t even put the letter in the envelope. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. Everything goes wrong when her breast padding slips out in the school swimming pool. No one can know she is flat. I do have a problem with how hard they try to make her seem tough sometimes. It weakens the joke.

The supporting cast complements the main, particularly Taiga’s best friend/Ryuuji’s crush, reminiscent of Kill la Kill’s Mako (or rather, vice versa). I love that cheerleader type sidekick and wouldn’t say no to more of them.

Toradora isn’t without its touches of drama. The core theme of finding and being honest about yourself works well in bringing conflict amidst the comedy. One drama subplot that falls flat involves Taiga’s absentee father. He storms back into her life making promises, only to leave her disappointed. The subplot lacks impact (like her father, aye?) and could have gone further. It’s a minor point, regardless.

The ending plot is a bit…odd, but oddness is the hallmark of anime. And the end is rather sweet.

Alright, I’m going to leave it here. I have my first moment of free time in three months, so I finally have the opportunity to play some games. Reviews should be back to routine as well.

Art – High

Good character designs – distinctive protagonists. I wish the rest had the same level of effort. The animation is nice too.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The same actress voices taiga’s best friend and Mako from Kill la Kill for a hilarious sidekick. I didn’t like any of the theme songs in the slightest.

Story – High

A guy that looks like a thug and doll-like midget girl try to break free of the prejudice of others. Toradora mixes humour, heart, and a touch of drama to make a solid high school anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school anime fans. If you haven’t seem much of the genre, then Toradora will likely impress. However, if you are familiar, then you won’t find much new here. Good series nonetheless.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

March Comes in Like a Lion – Anime Review

Japanese Title: 3-gatsu no Lion

 

Related: March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 (release: 2017)

Similar: Your Lie in April

Ping Pong the Animation

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Slice of Life Drama

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The protagonist.
  • Portrayal of depression.
  • So many gorgeous scenes.
  • OPs and EDs.

Negatives:

  • Facial close-ups.
  • Could do with compacting.
  • The talking animals.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Depression, an all-powerful force that colours our world in bleakness. Hope doesn’t exist in this world, nor does happiness. So why do those around us seem happy? How can they be happy when there is nothing to be happy about in life? Because depression is in our heads alone. Despite what we perceive, depression doesn’t bleed beyond the confines of one’s brain. The happiness of others is safe. March Comes in Like a Lion shows us this mental phenomenon through the eyes of Rei, a 17-year-old orphan and shogi professional.

I must first commend this anime for its portrayal of depression, which is often mischaracterised as a synonym for sadness. Sadness is losing your pet to old age and moving on after a period of mourning. Depression is losing your pet to old age and seeing this as to end of everything in your life. Sadness stops at a point; depression spirals ever downwards into a pit that exploits your greatest fears and most taut emotions. This is all in your head, of course, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When Rei is alone with no more than his mind for company, we see his descent. The loss of his family, the hatred from his adopted sister, and the lack of friends has morphed into a beast way beyond grief.

However, the moment others are around him, happiness bursts into life. The three sisters that live nearby are happy, despite their own loss, and their happiness infects him like an extended family. So what if he’s depressed? The world doesn’t stop spinning. Others don’t stop smiling. These are lessons Rei needs to learn if he is to grow out of his present state. As for friends, who says he has none? His self-proclaimed rival, Harunobu, regularly barges into his life and home to keep Rei company as his best friend – also self-proclaimed. Studio Shaft handled the balance between light and dark with deft mastery, thanks in no small part to the art, which conveys more emotion than the words.

Rei’s backstory is riveting as well. After losing his parents, his father’s friend and shogi rival takes him in to raise as a shogi professional like his own kids. However, when he surpasses those kids, the animosity reaches breaking point and he moves to his own place before the daughter can strangle him. You want to know the kicker? He didn’t even like shogi. He said what he had to. This backstory is what I would use to teach how to write conflict in a character’s past.

Where March Comes in Like a Lion falters is largely in two areas. The first is the shogi. Don’t watch this for the sport like you would Haikyuu and its brethren. The story does little to teach you the game as a newcomer, while also doing little to engage veterans. Shogi scenes serve to present mental conflicts only, which would be acceptable if there weren’t so much shogi. The best way I can put it is that the writer knows little about shogi – at least, that’s how it feels. I imagine the script read, “and then they played shogi,” for each shogi scene.

The second fault is with tangents. Several episodes abandon the protagonist and plot in favour of side characters – not particularly important ones at that either. These episodes should have waited for the OVAs, you know, the optional content that interrupts the flow of the main story. Thankfully, these faults don’t lessen my recommendation to watch at least half of the season. Oh yeah, there’s those creepy talking cats, who explain their jokes each scene. Maybe they are reason enough to skip this… No, even with Satan’s pets, March Comes in Like a Lion earns your attention.

Art – High

Studio Shaft did an incredible job with some of the scenes in March Comes in Like a Lion – the OPs and EDs are so gorgeous. The animation is a far cry from the static that was Honey and Clover. However, adherence to the mangaka’s art style has kept those dead eyes and ugly mouths, regularly highlighted by overused close ups of the faces.

Sound – High

The voice work is strong, except for those creepy cats and the little girl, who doesn’t sound like a little girl. I can see several music tracks being added to my playlist in future.

Story – High

A young man deals with depression punctuated by the happiness of those around him as he competes in shogi. Even if too long and off on a few tangents too many, March Comes in Like a Lion’s depiction of depression is top tier and balanced well by the humour.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for slice of life fans. March Comes in Like a Lion manages to convey the effects of depression in a relatable manner to those who have experienced it, and an understandable manner for those that haven’t. For this reason, it warrants at least a few episodes of your time, if not enough for the whole season. The first half is stronger than the second half.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None