Category Archives: Slice of Life

Depiction of ordinary life, often without serious conflict.

Hyouka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hyouka

 

Similar: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Gosick

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Mystery

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant art and animation details.

Negatives:

  • So boring.
  • No obstacles to the mysteries.
  • No reason to care.

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Imagine a mystery where characters sit around and talk about the mystery instead of facing obstacles in the pursuit of answers. Now imagine that halfway through this series, what little mystery there was dwindles to a mere ember dying out in Sherlock Holmes’s fireplace. There you have Hyouka.

Oreki is a high school student who doesn’t like to expend energy unless absolutely necessary. He joins the school’s Classic Literature Club thinking it will be an easy ride without energy required, but when the inquisitive Eru begins an investigation into a mystery connecting her uncle and the club, his plans of laziness vanish.

Damn Hyouka is boring. This mystery they speak of is so uninteresting. It involves old books and finding meaning behind a passage, uncovering the author, getting the facts of a past incident, etc. The answer, which I won’t give away, feels so unimportant and is so unremarkable that I would understand if you thought it was a minor detail before the real solution.

It’s the journey, not the destination, you say? Well, the journey is a chore of bland dialogue replacing actual investigation. Where Sherlock Holmes – an inspiration for Hyouka (apparently) – would hit the streets looking for clues and talking to unusual witnesses, Oreki and co. chat with a librarian and then return to the clubroom to talk about the rest of the case. Hyouka has no flair, no style – no tension. Nonsense slice of life punctuates the investigation, though has no effect on the monotony, making Hyouka even duller.

Having a light mystery can work – we see it all the time in one-shot sitcom episodes – but you must have great characters to hang out with for the duration. Such pieces are more about having a good time with interesting people than about solving some deep mystery. Oreki’s trait of energy conservation has no purpose to the story. It’s a gimmick and nothing more. When a protagonist has ‘the trait,’ it must mean something to the story at large. As an example, Holmes’s abrasiveness gives him the ability to ask insensitive but necessary questions of witnesses and suspects alike. Yet this abrasiveness also makes him difficult to work with. Oreki’s laziness doesn’t do anything because he completes his task anyway with no meaningful conflict. Remove his gimmick and nothing changes.

To worsen matters, the second half of Hyouka devolves into meaningless slice of life – the Sherlock Holmes motif in the second ED is an insult, at this point. Hyouka’s mysteries are so few, so uninteresting that they run out of steam halfway through the series.

Honestly, I have so little to say about Hyouka that this feels like a waste of a review. It never gave me a reason to care about any of its characters or mysteries. So what drew me to this in the first place? When I was in Takayama (a town close to Shirakawa-go of Higurashi fame) for a festival, I saw in the hotel’s window a poster for Hyouka’s Blu-ray, which is set in fictional Kamiyama based on Takayama. When an anime takes place in a real Japanese location, the locals of said location size the opportunity to attract fans for tourism. ‘Location pilgrimages’ are common among otaku – similar to how Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fans go on holidays to hunt filming locations. I was doing the reverse, interested in the fictional portrayal after visiting the real place. And as it turns out, the real place is far more engaging.

Art – High

The art is Hyouka’s best quality with its bright palette and great animation. The little movements in each scene are a nice touch.

Sound – Medium

Even top actors could not make this dry dialogue engaging. Characters talk a lot without saying much.

Story – Low

A lazy guy is roped into a literature club that seeks to uncover mysteries surrounding their clubroom and its books. Never have I seen mysteries less interesting nor so boringly told than in Hyouka.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Hyouka is so boring that I can’t see reason to recommend it.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Natsume Yujincho

 

Related: Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 5 (starts October 2016)

Similar: Mushishi

xxxHOLiC

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Cardcaptors

My Neighbor Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • More substance than most slice of life.
  • The cat sidekick.
  • Good-natured feel.

Negatives:

  • Becomes invariable after a while.

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I kept putting this review off in the hopes I would find more within Natsume’s Book of Friends. “I’ll get to it next review. No, the one after,” I kept telling myself for three months. This time, I have to finish it. I wanted to find what it is that the fans love so dearly about this anime. I found the quality they love, but not why they love it this much.

Think of Natsume’s Book of Friends as a reverse Cardcaptor Sakura. Instead of capturing spirits like Sakura, Natsume works to release all spirits bound to the magical book he inherited from his grandmother. Until he does so, the spirits will follow him everywhere. Alongside him is a cat that claims to be an almighty spirit, yet why does he fall for every cat trap in the book? Tsk, tsk. More competent is the Okami-like wolf companion (voiced by Kakashi), who can transform into a tough high school girl.

The difficulty I have with Book of Friends is its laid back, easy-going nature. It’s too easy going, too laid back. It follows a ‘spirit of the week’ structure that feels repetitive before the first season is over. Each episode, a spirit follows Natsume, we flashback to when the grandmother bested them, they show a tragic backstory, and he gives the spirit peace. I have enjoyed many ‘of the week’ shows before, so why the difficulty here? The tone never changes. The episodic stories are always light, even when they should have intensity. Some stories are touching, yes – they’re dead, after all – but it feels so tame, so catered for children, as though afraid to cause heartache. Have light-hearted as the primary tone by all means, but some variance would keep the stupor at bay.

The best change would be to have fewer spirits, yet give each more time to develop – make some nastier, give proper arcs that twist left and right. Surprise me!

The spirit design and lore could also use work. Ninety percent of the spirits look like throwaway enemies from a generic JRPG or monster collect game. When looking at Doctor Who and all the creative monsters it comes up with (and the variance in tone), I expect more from Book of Friends in a medium that doesn’t have the limitations of live action. Now, if you’ve never seen these designs before, like the target audience, it won’t be much of a problem.

When not helping spirits, Natsume’s life consists of covering up the strange things that happen around him, inexplicable to all but himself. The overarching plot sees Natsume progress through the stages of school, which I like; however, this is far in the background. The episodic spirits take most attention.

Having light-hearted anime on occasion is a good thing – anime of any type can be a good thing – as long as it’s good. I don’t want to turn Natsume’s Book of Friends into a different anime. I want it to be a more interesting version of itself.

Art – Medium

Average if nice art that could use more animation and greater creature creativity. None of the creature’s surprised me in their design. With possibilities boundless, it’s disappointing they stuck to an unvarying design folio.

Sound – High

Good acting, especially the cat’s old man voice. I love the folk ED song from season one – listened to it every time. The music in general is nice.

Story – Medium

A boy releases the spirits from his ‘Book of Friends’ one by one so that they will leave him alone for once. A pleasant show about ‘reverse’ monster hunting each episode, but it plateaus quickly.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Those looking for an easy-going supernatural anime to watch one episode at a time will find pleasure in Natsume’s Book of Friends.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Honey and Clover – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hachimitsu to Clover

 

Related: Honey and Clover II (included in review)

Similar: Nodame Cantabile

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Eden of the East

Nana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes (season 1), 2 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • The older characters and their arcs.
  • Second season.
  • Some hilarious moments.

Negatives:

  • The dull protagonist and his meandering story.
  • Minimal animation.
  • Poor exposition.
  • Unfocused structuring.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Yuuta lives the life of a harassed art student, penny-pinching like Scrooge to survive the week on bread crusts while dealing with his eccentric roommate, Shinobu. A ray of sunshine enters his life when his art teacher brings his cousin’s daughter and talented artist, Hagumi, to class. Wait, wait! Sorry, wrong anime. Honey and Clover is actually the story of Ayumi, a pottery student with her heart set on a man obsessed with the wife of a dead man. Hang on – sorry – what’s this about Shinobu’s brother and getting back their father’s company?

Honey and Clover tries to tell too many stories. As a result, this feels like two different anime mashed together without interconnecting threads that weave them together. The stories don’t affect each other. This wouldn’t be much of problem if both anime were great, but this isn’t the case. Yuuta’s piddling romance with Hagumi, an eleven-year-old we’re told is eighteen, and his later pilgrimage to Japan’s north for self-discovery – a less funny Golden Boy – is so standard, so empty that he’s barely in the second season. The production team found him so boring that he becomes an extra in his own story! He only showed up so he wouldn’t get fined.

A student who studies and then graduates isn’t an interesting story. A student who fails from laziness, gets his life in order, and then graduates is a story. A coming-of-age story should have more drastic character growth than your typical genre, for we change most when coming of age, whether it is at thirteen or thirty. Yuuta’s story is your generic graduation journey. The writer tried to shake things up with his feelings for Hagumi, but she isn’t an interesting character nor does the relationship matter much between these two, so it falls flat.

A core problem of Yuuta’s story is in how it’s told. I have heard people say that one of Honey and Clover’s greatest qualities is the inner monologues that tell us everything about what a character is thinking and feeling. Notice the key word in that sentence? Tell. These characters are telling us how they feel instead of showing us through actions. Look at it this way – if you muted the monologues, would you still see the same character information? If the answer is ‘no’ then the monologue was the writer’s crutch when lacking the talent to show this information. An angry character doesn’t tell us he’s angry – he punches something. A lonely character doesn’t tell us he’s lonely – he looks with sad envy at a happy couple. I’ll give you one guess as to who has most of his character told to us through inner monologue. Praising the monologue is like praising someone who treats you as an incompetent. The live-action series (Japanese version) does better with Yuuta.

Then we have Ayumi and her ‘love chain’ (it extends through a dozen people, at least, by the end though many of its members are for comedy). The man she loves is in a ‘friendzone’ of sorts with a widow, who is traumatised and has the scars that will forever remind her of the tragic loss. It’s pathetic to watch this man crave her, in the good narrative sort of way, as you think, “I would probably be the same in his shoes.” We see what a potion of love, lust, sadness, and loneliness looks like.

Ayumi is spectator to this display, just as pathetic as the rest of them (again, in a good way). She doesn’t have a monologue that treats the audience like idiots. More importantly, the characters in her story have complexity – I hate most of the men involved, which is great! I find their actions creepy or even despicable, but it works because I buy who they are and why they make these decisions. Honey and Clover is at its best in the second season when Ayumi’s arc reaches the climax. I wish they had made this anime as two separate stories. This would have improved Yuuta’s story as well with Ayumi no longer monopolising all the drama. As is, his conflict-light story seems to serve as a break from Ayumi’s drama more than to tell his story.

One element you should be aware of as a prospective viewer is Hagumi. There is no getting past the fact that she looks, sounds, and behaves like a little girl. Her story ends even creepier than I anticipated. (Notice how neither the Japanese nor the Taiwanese live-action versions of Honey and Clover hired a little girl to play Hagumi.) Even looking past this, her depth amounts to ‘be cute.’ That’s it.

To end on a happier note, I want to talk of the comedy. Honey and Clover is quite funny overall. Shinobu steals the comedic scenes. From his hijinks with his sculpture professor to his work with film director “Peter” Lucas, Shinobu is hilarious. To be honest, he feels like a superfluous character at first, but soon earns his place on the cast.

I debated at length on whether I like Honey and Clover or not. When I think of the Ayumi’s arc, I find myself recommending it. Then I remember Yuuta and I grimace – surely, I can’t recommend this, no? After much deliberation, I concluded that the second season made it worth my time, regardless. If I didn’t know better, I would say season two had a new author.

Art – Low

As with most slice of life anime, the budget wasn’t large. The art looks good in stills thanks to the style, but the motion is rigid and limited.

Sound – Medium

The opening songs sound like a drunk child screaming about their preschool woes during karaoke. Less obvious exposition for the sake of the audience would help this otherwise decent script.

Story – Medium

A group of artistic friends seek meaning and success in life. With too many stories to tell, Honey and Clover oscillates between interesting and bland characters, engaging you one episode and boring you the next. If it were just Ayumi’s story, I would give a high rating.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For slice of life with romance fans. If you aren’t willing to sit through twice as many episodes as necessary, Honey and Clover isn’t worth starting. That is unless you love slice of life and can subsist on a shallow protagonist doing ordinary things.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

School-Live! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakkougurashi!

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Higurashi: When They Cry

High School of the Dead

Perfect Blue

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Horror Mystery Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good contrast.
  • The opening sequence.

Negatives:

  • Moe over world building.
  • Beach episode.
  • Unexplored psychosis.

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NOTE: In order to review School-Live, I must spoil an early point in the series. If you want to go in blind, do not read further.

Though the ‘moe gone dark’ genre is a congregation of mediocrity, whenever a new one releases, I can’t help but give it a shot. I try to ignore it, but it keeps nudging me, “Hey, I might be as good as Madoka Magica. You won’t know until you watch me. Eh? Eh?Yeaaaargh…alright. School-Live, show me what you got.

Four girls and a teacher find themselves trapped inside their school after a zombie outbreak. As the last survivors in the area, they hole up and do their best to make school a home, going out on excursions for supplies. School-Live’s angle to stand out lies in its protagonist, Yuki. She has no idea they live in a zombie apocalypse. The ruined school is still whole, the zombies are still her classmates, and the foraging excursions are merely class trips or ‘Tests of Courage’. Well, you’ve hooked me.

Unlike other psychosis stories where the mental breakdown is the climactic twist, School-Live reveals the secret in the first episode. It instead focuses on how the characters around Yuki deal with her psychosis. Everyone plays along with her idea that all is normal, which creates great contrast between her happy world and the tragic reality. I felt sorry for her.

And School-Live almost nails it.

Alas, we now turn to the ‘moe’ part of the ‘moe gone dark’ genre. Unlike Madoka, where moe is just the outer shell, the style, School-Live’s moe is the focus. When given the choice to show girls doing moe things or girls developing character, this anime chooses moe nine times out of ten. School-Live is the perfect example of what I mean when I say that moe ruins shows – it’s not the ugly character design or the terrible voices, but the story focus.

Imagine you are on episode 9 out of 12 and so far the series hasn’t given much in the way of backstory or world building, and instead of realising the climax is fast approaching, it gives us a beach episode. Are you serious? You haven’t shown how the world got into this state or how the zombies overcame everything Japan threw at them! If these girls kept the zombies out by stacking a few desks and if they are so slow, so easily distracted, so easily killed, how did anyone fall to them to begin with? It’s not as though these are the Nazi vampires from Hellsing Ultimate – these don’t wield rocket launchers. Zombie apocalypses are flimsy premises to begin with, but School-Live does nothing to suspend our disbelief. Instead, we get a beach episode. Yay…

Inner-character – motivations, secrets, psyche – has toe-deep exploration. Even Yuki, who is so far broken from reality, has little airtime to unravel her psychology. Give us more to believe such a mental block would occur and in this way. School-Live strays close to having this psychosis for shock value only.

The most glaring absence is the lack of development for the students-turned-zombies. When one girl has to kill a former classmate, I do not care because they were never people to begin with as far as story is concerned. They are faceless zombies included to fill the space. No one outside of the main five and one other girl have any story or personality to them. Again, cut a few moe sequences in favour of showing us life pre-outbreak.

Fans of Higurashi will also find some disappointment in how tame School-Live’s horror is. When things should go from 0 to 100 in a split second – like HigurashiSchool-Live reaches 50 before it’s distracted by more moe. I don’t recall a single scary moment. Tension, sure, plenty of that, but no real horror.

School-Live is still a decent anime. Its greatest tragedy comes from how obvious its faults are throughout the story. The manga apparently has many differences, so may be a better use of your time.

Art – Medium

The colourful palette works well contrasted with the ruined environment. Could do without the auras around the zombies – looks silly.

Sound – High

The cutesy VO, mainly for the protagonist, could have been worse for a moe anime. The cheerful OP is so damn catchy. I like how the sequence grows darker each episode, happy scenes replaced by their current state of ruination.

Story – Medium

Four schoolgirls and an airheaded teacher survive a zombie apocalypse inside their high school. School-Live’s great idea does not live up to its potential – less focus on moe next time, please.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For moe-gone-dark fans. If you love the contrast between moe girls and a dark world, then School-Live is another to add to your library. Others will likely feel disappointed by this anime’s shortcomings.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World Building

Haibane Renmei – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Haibane Renmei

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Angel Beats!

Serial Experiments Lain

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Psychological Mystery Fantasy

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • Symbolism over substance.
  • Useless cast.
  • Dull world building.
  • Thinks open-ended = depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Not again. Not another empty series. I feel like I am on a roll of mediocre anime (thank Nodame Cantabile for being a temporary sanctuary!). Please get me out of this Purgatory.

Speaking of Purgatory, Haibane Renmei is the story of amnesiac angels living in a walled city, trapping all but a select few in this limbo-like world. Rakka, newly born angel or Haibane, has visions of falling from the sky. As with all Haibane, the vision each sees before birth holds the answer to their purpose in life.

It takes the entire first episode for Rakka to hatch from her egg (looks like a giant veiny testicle – cannot unsee), grow her wings, and get clean. It’s like watching a twenty-minute birthing scene. Bloody hell is this a boring start. It doesn’t get better soon after either. Not until the seventhseven out of thirteen! – does the plot kick into gear.

Before then, Haibane Renmei is a test of endurance to stay awake (perhaps this is my purgatory trial). Rakka and her friends wander around the walled town of Grie doing menial jobs as we learn of the “rules” for Haibane. They can only wear second-hand clothes – why? They can’t handle money – why? They can’t touch the outer wall – why? They can only live in abandoned places – why? Rakka was born as a teenager, yet there are infant angels as well – why? They have wings that can’t do anything – why? I am watching this anime – why? Why seems to sum up Haibane Renmei. It gives a whole lot of questions and few answers in an effort to appear deep.

Symbolism replaces substance. To make matters worse, the symbolism is so obvious, so on the nose with the abundance of Christian symbols, parallels to limbo and the state of purgatory. Symbolism isn’t enough to make a great series. Just as a great twist cannot save a bad story beforehand, symbolism needs a backbone to hold it up.

In such a story, characters would be the backbone. Haibane Renmei does not have those characters. The supporting cast in particular feels like dead weight in this already thin anime. You would imagine that the first six episodes with no content could have gone to justifying these characters’ places in the story. And Rakka, she has some strength, but not enough to carry the team.

There is a reason no reputable writer would recommend an amnesiac protagonist unless you truly know what you’re doing. When a protagonist doesn’t know anything about themselves, we don’t know anything either, giving us little reason to care for them. Writers usually resolve this by giving us a flashback thread with information before the amnesia, or through a parallel thread of a third-party view on the protagonist. Unfortunately, either of these would give away Haibane Renmei’s mystery, which leaves one solution: action. Not guns and swords action, but ‘doing something’ action. This is what finally starts in episode seven, when Rakka drops the dead weights and tries to solve the mystery of Grie and her vision. I can’t say much on this, as it would give away the anime’s best element. Honestly, Haibane Renmei should have been a movie with only the second half of the series.

A greater effort into world building would not have gone amiss. In a blind rush to be as symbolic as possible, the author left his world bare, fearful that developing anything would undo the symbols. The opposite is true: a strong world creates stronger symbolism. This angel lore is so dull – I honestly can’t discern what the author was going for with them. They’re like having demons with nothing demonic about them. They only seem to be angels to hammer that symbolism harder into your nose. Could have made them fairies, mermaids, humans, whatever, and it’d lose naught.

Despite Haibane Renmei’s few good elements, I am so glad this is over. I know this series has a small but hardcore fanbase, but this wasn’t for me.

Art – Medium

The visuals look nice technically, but they are all so boring, forgettable.

Sound – Medium

Average VO in both languages. This script has little to say. With so little going on, the ordinary dialogue needs to stand out with sharp wit or insight. The soundtrack is effective.

Story – Low

An angel tries to solve the mystery of her walled town and the vision in her head. Haibane Renmei prioritises symbolism over its plot and characters to subpar success.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. If you like slow ‘up in the air’ stories, Haibane Renmei will be your soulmate.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building