Category Archives: Anime Reviews

Rent-a-Girlfriend – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kanojo, Okarishimasu

 

Similar: Nisekoi

Golden Time

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Harem Comedy Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The art is nice

Negatives:

  • This time we do have anime’s worst protagonist
  • A reprehensible quartet of women
  • Repetitive dialogue
  • Goes nowhere
  • Not funny

(Request an anime for review here.)

All around the world, you can rent people to play almost any role. Acting doesn’t just live on stage or screen. Companies will hire crowds to augment the apparent numbers at an event or party, an individual can hire a “friend” to stage a moment, or one can even hire a family. Japan knows particularly of the latter, where concern over social appearances and saving face are worth the hefty prices. An orphaned adult might hire parents to appear respectable and “normal” before their boss. Others will hire grandparents to attend their wedding or perhaps employ a few “friends” to fill their half of the church. In fact, Caucasian foreigners in Japan are particularly popular for weddings to add to the Western authenticity of a church ceremony. An English officiant is hot stuff.

So for an anime to explore the idea of renting a girlfriend could be interesting. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t the anime to succeed, but it could still be interesting elsewhere.

Where to start with describing this anime? Kazuya, the protagonist, is the most pathetic person you could imagine, real or fictional. I have read passages and seen videos of some truly pathetic people, yet none compare to this loser. Kazuya is a university student characterised by his virginity. After his girlfriend Mami dumps him, he can’t handle it and rents Chizuru to be his girlfriend for an afternoon. He falls madly in love with her until he reads her reviews online, realising she is like this with everyone. He is intent on giving her a piece of his mind during their second “date” (why is there a second at all?), but a call from the hospital pulls them away to see his grandmother, where he lies about Chizuru being his real girlfriend. Now he begs her to keep “going out” with him to “not disappoint his grandmother”.

This all happens in the first episode, which while not awful (that comes later), does have a problem. The premise is backwards. For a rom-com of this kind, you need a goofy setup that keeps growing funnier as it doesn’t stop escalating into a worse scenario. By the time the protagonist realises he/she is in too deep, it should be too late to back out before all comes crashing down for the finale – all in a comedic manner, of course.

Think 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger hired to be a woman’s boyfriend so that the guy who paid him can date the younger sister (girls’ father said that the younger can only date if the older has a boyfriend first). He does the job because the pay’s good, but he soon falls in love with her and can’t tell the truth or he would lose her. While funny throughout, it culminates in a famous emotional moment. (Great film, by the way. Recommended.)

Rent-a-Girlfriend’s premise should have been that Kazuya had been bragging to his family about his first ever girlfriend, but she dumps him the night before he promised to introduce her to the family. Being a spineless coward, he can’t admit the truth and so hires Chizuru to stand in for her. “It’ll only be for one day. Then I can say it didn’t work out and we broke up,” he thinks to himself. Better yet, make it a random girl from the service. Have him not care about the girl at all. He just wants to save face. However, she delights his grandmother (it’s her job to delight, after all), who invites them over for the weekend – soon enough where a sudden breakup is unrealistic. And being the spineless coward that he is, Kazuya can’t say no and hires her again.

This scenario is ripe for escalating hijinks. The insistent family with no resistance from spineless wonder keeps pushing for more and more meet ups, they start giving her gifts (“For my future daughter-in-law. I insist.”), and ask the big questions. Chizuru is getting out of her depth here, so she stages secret meetings with him in the bathroom to discuss a plan and answers for those questions (the family would imagine something lewd is going on instead). Keep making the situation worse. In the process, they come to actually like each other, which you can draw out by having both think that the other just sees it as a professional arrangement.

But no, Rent-a-Girlfriend has none of that. Kazuya and Chizuru’s relationship starts out of loneliness, which isn’t funny. I think him being a lonely virgin is meant to be funny. From here on, assume that any scene I describe is meant for comedy despite how unfunny it is. There isn’t a single good joke. Anyways, he takes her to his grandmother and has an out, but still says she’s his girlfriend. Also, her grandmother is friends with his grandmother at the same hospital, though it amounts to little. Then he learns that Chizuru not only goes to his university, but also lives next door! It could work with this setup, though you need a much better writer. Kazuya keeps apologising for getting her involved yet keeps saying they’re going out. He kowtows to her like a peasant, promising he will pretend as if he doesn’t exist next door and he will take out his trash when she’s not around.

This pathetic guy won’t stop apologising. I know the terms have seen overuse and almost lost all meaning, but “simp” and “cuck” have never been more appropriate. Let me list a few of his highlights:

  • His ex-girlfriend throws herself at him after she finds out he has someone else. He masturbates instead of taking her offer despite being into her and with sex as his primary goal.
  • He keeps up the fake girlfriend lie instead of getting an actual girlfriend when given the opportunity.
  • Apologises for hiring a rental girl to be his rental girl. Multiple times.
  • Offers to give a rental girl money in exchange for no service.
  • He masturbates to one girl while thinking of another girl having sex with another guy.
  • He stalks her on service with other clients.
  • He sends his “girlfriend” to comfort another guy.

You might astutely be thinking that this all makes sense to set him up as some repugnant dipshit before the story takes him on an arc of growth. Well that’s where you’d be wrong. He gets worse as the series progresses and women encourage his bad behaviour as though this is the “Simp Manifesto”, containing all the secrets to getting a girlfriend for losers. (By Aphrodite, I hope otaku aren’t taking any advice from this rag.) When Chizuru catches him stalking her, she isn’t angry about the stalking. She’s just mad that he thought her actor friend was a client. Yes, you will find clips of her chastising him for some of his actions. Do you know what the next scene shows? Her enabling him and accepting his money anyway.

Now let’s talk about her. He’s not a bad person, just an absolute loser no one would want to be around. She is a bad person though. She’s uppity about her job yet ashamed for others to know of this “perfectly fine” work. Her work is to manipulate lonely people into giving her money in exchange for nothing. To call her a sex-free prostitute is an affront to prostitutes. With sex workers, you pay for sex and you get sex. It’s two adults in a consenting transaction. Or to use a platonic example, some Japanese women hire a man to help them vent emotion and hold her when she cries. They want to let it all out. These women don’t assume the man is now their boyfriend and never expected him to be one (they may develop feelings in a vulnerable moment, sure, and he is attractive by intention).

Chizuru pretends to be a guy’s girlfriend yet does nothing like a girlfriend. Emotional support? No. Any intimacy? No. Anything at all like a girlfriend? You know the answer.

A real version of this (non-sexual) service wouldn’t be about the guy hanging out with this girl. It would be – as I said at the start – about saving face or avoiding drama in front of others. A company man would hire a woman to play the part of his girlfriend at a company gala so that he doesn’t attend alone, for example. Once they step out of that event, they go their separate ways. The alternative version is more or less hiring a friendly tour guide to spend the day with. Rent-a-Girlfriend’s version is about stringing people along for exorbitant amounts of money (more than a prostitute), as Kazuya’s first date cost 40,000 yen (~$400 US) for a few hours. Chizuru is their most popular girl (the sub plot about her being poor doesn’t make sense either). Sex work is far more respectable than this job.

Beyond her exploitative work, she’s an all-round unlikeable character. When she plays the part of girlfriend around his friends and family, it doesn’t come across as her helping him out. She’s just manipulative. I have the feeling she gets off on weak guys like him prostrating themselves at her feet.

As expected, she starts to like him for no explained reason. It happens because that’s what the author says is to happen. Rent-a-Girlfriend presents itself as a love triangle at first, between these two and the ex-girlfriend. However, another girl joins halfway through the season and falls in love with him after he grabs her boob (I’m not kidding). Then another joins in the third act and falls for him as well. This anime pretends not to be a harem and turns out to be worse than a harem.

Even if one were to look at Rent-a-Girlfriend on its own merits, it’s a garbage anime. The repetition is insane. “She is just my rental girlfriend. I am just paying her to be my girlfriend. We aren’t really a couple,” or some variation of repeats several times each episode.

The dumbest line has to be after he nearly drowns saving her and she resuscitates him. “Why did you go to such lengths to save me on the beach while I wasn’t breathing? I mean, I’m just a client right.” “Such lengths” was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as you do in all drowning cases. What a piece of shit.

Nothing really happens in these 12 episodes. There are no arcs, no growth, no changes. It’s a series of introductions for one vile character after the other and most conflict stems from improbable coincidence, which is the crutch of lazy writers. The grandmother molests Chizuru in the bath cliché instead of another girl from the harem – that’s different, I suppose (end my suffering). This is the sort of anime to go for four seasons of filler with a meaningless ending.

Whether you are male or female, adult or teenager, please do not follow anything that Rent-a-Girlfriend is trying to teach. Don’t debase yourself like this guy – for anyone – and don’t manipulate people as she does. Don’t waste your time with this. Rent-a-Girlfriend doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining trash. Kazuya should have gone to visit Doctor Eve in the next review…

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t just full of bad advice and behaviour that no one should emulate – it isn’t even funny.

(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:

Atrocious PlotInduces StupidityNot FunnyRepetitiveRubbish Major Characters

Sailor Moon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

 

Related: Sailor Moon R, Sailor Moon S, Sailor Moon SuperS, Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (seasons 2-5 – included in review)

Sailor Moon Crystal (remake – review further down)

Similar: Cardcaptors

Little Witch Academia

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 200 episodes (5 seasons) & 3 movies

 

Positives:

  • Villains are on theme
  • Knows its target audience
  • Crystal: less filler

Negatives:

  • Several minutes of repeated animation each episode
  • Original Japanese and first dub aren’t good
  • Villain of the week structure throughout
  • Chibiusa
  • Crystal: adopts the manga’s shortcomings

(Request an anime for review here.)

My interest in revisiting Sailor Moon piqued with all that I had heard about the edits and censorship of the original dub. I had seen a fair amount of scattered episodes as part of the morning cartoon block for the “big three” – the original big three of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon.

What was quite few years ago now, I tried the Japanese version to see it unaltered but I couldn’t make it more than two or three episode before I had to stop. The acting was bad and the audio quality was so tinny that it was an uncomfortable experience. Usagi in particular was a cheese grater on my eardrums. With an intolerable original track and a censored dub, that seemed it. However, Viz Media swooped in, snatched the English rights to the franchise, and re-dubbed the whole thing, including the movies, with higher fidelity sound effects as well. Add in the remastered visuals and this is a worthwhile revival. Viz gave Sailor Moon the Funimation One Piece treatment, which I’m sure is a delight to fans.

Before I dove into the remaster, I tried the Japanese to be sure – yep, still bad – and watched about a season’s worth in episodes of the old dub to establish a baseline for the remaster. I’ll talk about the old version first.

Wait – the premise! I forget that no matter how popular a series, someone will know nothing about it. Sailor Moon follows crybaby middle schooler Usagi (called Serena in the old dub) who receives the power to transform into the titular magical girl. Four other Sailor Guardians soon join her fight against evil creatures (more guardians join in later seasons) – the smart Ami as Sailor Mercury, the popular Minako as Sailor Venus, the disciplined Rei as Sailor Mars, and the strong Makoto as Sailor Jupiter. The two cats Luna and Artemis guide the girls in their missions. All of the girls – and many villains – have different names in the old dub for marketability reasons, which are usually similar to the original (e.g. Rei = Raye, Ami = Amy).

If you were to watch the old dub without knowing it was censored, you wouldn’t notice much wrong. This isn’t like One Piece, where it’s obvious that that pirate is supposed to have a gun to someone’s head, not…whatever that is. The Sailor Moon edits are mainly in dialogue, which is easy to blend in – renaming steamed buns to donuts was a stretch though. When a male cross dresser already looks like a woman, it’s as simple as changing a few words here and there to say it was always a woman. The most infamous edit is the relationship between Sailors Uranus and Neptune, changed from a lesbian couple to cousins. Everyone has heard of this change, so when watching the remaster, I was most curious to see what all the fuss was about.

What a letdown! This relationship is so tame that most kids would have no idea that they’re a couple. Censors overacted over nothing. Not to mention they are some of the least interesting characters in the series.

The only thing I like about the old dub was making Luna a bossy older woman like a British governess, reminding me of Professor McGonagall, which is always a good thing. Alas, it is not true to the source material, so it must go.

Enough of the old; let’s begin on the new.

Sailor Moon uses a villain of the week structure for 95% of its 200 episodes. The henchmen descend upon Earth like Rita’s cronies from Power Rangers, each tapping into a vice, theme, or activity often associated with girls. It was a good idea to make the subjects relevant to the target shoujo audience. Usagi and her friends care about jewellery, dating, friends, exams (begrudgingly), dancing, clothes, marriage, fitness, and so on, and so does the shoujo audience. Also, notice how they make the characters seem more mature by giving them activities and interests for girls a few years older than 14. This plays to a girl’s fantasy of looking up one age group. A villain’s plot will generally involve corrupting the good quality of a person and turning it against the girls. For example, a tennis student becomes hyper-competitive to the point of destruction. This is a good angle to take rather than summoning some monster to fight each episode. It feels more relevant. Sailor Moon R does away with this until the variations return in later seasons.

The main Sailor Moon S villain is hilarious. Mad scientist over the top but also has to do regular things like shop, but stays in mad scientist character. Direct quote, “That took longer than I thought. So hard to find a good gluten free snack these days.”

One early plan involves stealing people’s love (a strange, human concept) by hosting a late night radio show where women send in secret confession love letters, in return for a corsage that drains the energy and love of the woman who wears it. Having some evil handsome villain reading saucy letter on air is so corny. Quite nostalgically charming. However, there is only so far this format can get you and let me tell you, it grows tired well before the first season is over at episode 46.

Much of season one goes something like this: introduce theme, escalation, girls transform, Usagi throws tiara, and win. Oh, let’s not forget the useless Tuxedo Mask who shows up to spout some platitude before he buggers off. That meme of “My work here is done!” “…But you didn’t do anything,” is too accurate.

Is season two any different? Well, the Guardians do receive a new attack each, which they will use every episode right after they transform. Several minutes of each episode is repeated animation sequences: transformations, catch phrases, and special attacks. The more Guardians that join the series, the more time we lose to these animation sequences. Nice animation, sure, but it’s the same thing over…and over…and over…and over.

Sailor Moon only deviates from the formula for the first few and last few episodes of each season, where the entire plot occurs. The final season, Sailor Stars, does have a little more going on than the others. Not much more. One thing to note is that the finales are largely the same. A cataclysmic phenomenon will blanket the world (a.k.a. wherever the girls live) and all seems lost until Sailor Moon uses a super move to reverse the effects. Repetition is the name of Sailor Moon’s game. Each season may introduce new Guardians and new villains, but like the animation, there are levels of recycling here that no environmentalist could hope to compete with.

So, do I recommend Sailor Moon? It is dated in many ways by today’s standards. There is the animation, of course, and the formula, but then we have the power progression, which consists of being handed new powers without effort, and the character work. Take Usagi and Mamoru’s (Tuxedo Mask) relationship. This romance spans almost the entire 200-episode runtime, yet jack all happens. The relationship only exists because the story tells us they’re destined to be together. Creepy age gap aside (excused by the whole destiny lark), nothing about Usagi would recommend her to this guy. Meanwhile, he has the personality of dead wood.

I had hoped that the introduction of Chibiusa (Usagi’s time travelling future daughter) would mature Usagi, that realising she has the same maturity as an infant makes her grow up. Alas, this would deviate too much from the formula.

As for the rest of the Guardians, most viewers would expect more depth from the full cast. They are better than any run-of-the-mill high school anime cast found today at least. Sailor Jupiter is my favourite of the group, as she is the most well rounded in terms of humour vs. seriousness, contributes her part without overshadowing others, has brains unlike Usagi, and I like her personality. They aren’t bad characters. However, the rigid formula for each episode means that we can never truly explore these people because the villain of the week has to show up at this point, everyone has to transform at that time, and all must go back to normal before the credits roll.

Classic Sailor Moon is best when seen in the context of its release – a girls’ cartoon meant for one episode each morning. The repetitive nature wouldn’t feel so bad there. To watch it today, in the binge sphere? Not a chance. Only powerful nostalgia can tempt viewers into these 200 episodes.

Sailor Moon Crystal

Sailor Moon Crystal is the recent remake of the franchise, promising to stick close to the source manga. This has resulted in a near polar opposite adaptation of Sailor Moon that is possible while remaining recognisable. The ~40-episode seasons are now 13 episodes each (fourth season will be two movies) as all filler falls to the wayside.

For those wanting a better main plot – the Usagi and Mamoru thread – without padding, then Crystal is better. However, the manga, and therefore this adaptation, do a poor job with the supporting cast. The old anime filled its seasons between openers and finales with standalone stories often focused on a side character. One episode might show us one of Jupiter’s hobbies (the episode’s villain relates to this hobby) and in the process, develop her further. Next episode, we’ll see what Venus is up to with a guy she crushes on (99% chance he’s a villain in disguise). These episodes improved on weak parts of the manga despite being formulaic and non-canon. By returning to the original blueprint, Crystal loses a quality of the original in exchange for a faster pace and more central focus.

The other notable change when staying truer to the manga is the art. Crystal, in terms of design, is closer to the original art except with a new paint job. It does not look good. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Usagi’s tiny mouth with fat lips (relative to the size of her mouth) and giant eyes creeps me out. The director also loves close ups of her face, making me recoil each time. Then we have the shading. If it looks like someone did it in MS Paint for a DeviantArt OC, then please don’t use it. There is also the general lack of cinematography. Season 1 doesn’t feel storyboarded, as if they went from one shot to the next without planning. And let’s not forget the crime greater than anything a Sailor Moon villain could have dreamed of! The CG transformation sequences. How did anybody look at those rubber puppets pirouetting on screen and say, “Ship it!” without a hint of irony? Furthermore, these sequences see almost as much use per episode as in the original, so I must ask, why not dedicate the appropriate resources?

Crystal’s art does improve in time with a big leap forward for the third season. Gone is Usagi’s devil mouth. Gone is the MS Paint highlighting. And gone are the CG transformations. Crystal should have looked like this from the start. Many manga styles simply don’t translate well to animation.

If I were to pick just one adaptation to watch, I would pick neither – one is too long and repetitive, the other is quite an eyesore, and neither has anything I consider brilliant. But if you twisted my arm and I had to watch one, it would be Sailor Moon Crystal. Brevity makes all of the difference. Or I would watch just one season of the original – Sailor Moon S, most likely. I find them to be overall around the same quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For young girls and nostalgia. You need something as strong as nostalgia to draw you into Sailor Moon in this era or you can recommend Sailor Moon Crystal to young girls (they won’t care about the art issues).

(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

One Piece: Alabasta Arc (Season 4) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: East Blue Arc (Season 1)

One Piece: Grand Line & Chopper Arcs (Seasons 2 & 3)

Length: 38 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Meatier story arc than before
  • Multiple layers to the conflict
  • Nami and the weather sticks
  • Good villains

Negatives:

  • Nothing really

(Request an anime for review here.)

Now this is more like it. I was told that the Alabasta arc was generally seen as the point where One Piece picks up. They were right. Being the first arc that isn’t about recruiting someone – where everything must tie into the new member – allows Alabasta episodes to broaden the scope and delve into a multi-layered cake of story.

The Straw Hats and Princess Vivi arrive at their destination, the kingdom of Alabasta, which is in turmoil from three factions amid a drought – the royal army, the rebels, and the sinister Baroque Works. The situation is bad when the crew arrives. They only become worse by the hour.

Alabasta is the largest dominion in the series so far with multiple territories on the one island. The king of Alabasta (Vivi’s father) is under fire for “stealing” rain from other islands by using a substance called Dance Powder that forces clouds above to rain early. Naturally, this means that those clouds will no longer rain further along the journey. In a desert region, there can be no higher crime than stealing the lifeblood of the people. Did you know that this is based on a real technique called cloud seeding? Scientists can “sow” special particles into clouds to make them rain sooner, often to increase rain in water catchment areas or to weaken incoming storms. Not as effective as the magical Dance Powder, though.

Where to start with great points of this season? The villains. I like the Baroque leader, Crocodile, and his ability – great fights versus Luffy. What an interesting coincidence that the authors for One Piece and Naruto had the idea for a sand-powered villain at the same time, yet luckily made them quite different. As cool as Crocodile is, no villain is better than the shapeshifting ballerina, Mr 2 Bon Clay. I love this crazy dude. Every minute he is on screen is a delight. He’s funny, has an interesting ability, and you never know what he’s thinking. I want to see more of this guy.

As for best fight of the season – no, best fight of all seasons so far, it has to go to Nami versus Ms Doublefinger. As Nami has no special power, she consults fellow power-free pirate, Usopp, for a weapon to match Baroque Works. (Good idea to address their “normal” status, by the way.) Usopp provides her with a staff that breaks into three segments, each capable of various weather based abilities. It is so goofy that I love it. This fight keeps growing sillier and sillier to the point where I have my head in my hands in disbelief at what they will do next. This is One Piece action to me. And as someone who values time more than anything else, I appreciate the brevity of these fights.

On the good guys team, Vivi has more opportunities for development and works well as a “guest” character. The appearance of Luffy’s brother Ace was a surprise. Funny story: I have seen Ace many times before, often featured in display cases of Akihabara figure stores. Thing is, I thought that was older Luffy. One Piece has been going for so long that I figured the characters aged, like in Naruto, at a certain point and this guy was Luffy Shippuden. He was a good addition to the story for adding a little more to Luffy, though he didn’t stay long enough. He doesn’t feel relevant yet. I look forward to his return.

Can’t forget Smoker, one of my favourites, whom I never say no to see more of. It is a good idea to have players in the game with direct conflict to Luffy, increasing personal tension. You don’t want the protagonist’s sole motivation to be helping others – one of Bleach’s many flaws after a few seasons. If the protagonist is only around because there are random bad guys to fight, the audience loses connection.

We’ve had good characters and good fights before, so those alone wouldn’t make Alabasta great. The layers and effort in a more complex story place this season well above previous ones. This feels like the first season where the author could flex some storytelling, now that introductions are out of the way. Crocodile’s plan is interesting, with many moving parts that involve the whole kingdom and every character, coated in a nice layer of politics, justifying the time spent on developing an entirely new society. It makes everything feel relevant. No filler. These 38 episodes could almost be a standalone anime.

In fact, I would use this season as the selling point for those hesitant to start One Piece. Rewind a bit and begin at the island where they meet Vivi and go from there. After Alabasta, which ends on a satisfying cut off, then there is investment to sit through over 60 episodes of backstory and introduction. If someone isn’t feeling it after watching Alabasta, then I can’t imagine any other season would sell them on One Piece. This has everything that represents One Piece. However, if someone quits after the third arc in a row about a pirate’s tragic backstory, I can understand. I don’t know if Eiichiro Oda planned the story so far before he began, but it doesn’t feel like it. This needs a bit of a restructure. Shifting most of the backstory arcs to later on helps with more than flow and pacing. It increases mystery. Naruto does character mystery so much better. At this point in One Piece, I don’t have an urge to learn more about the main six. I want to see them do great new things, yes, but who they are, where they come from, ghosts of the past, etc. hold no interest over me. That could change. Oda could retcon in new past mysteries that were “totally planned from the beginning”. It can work.

In short, loved this season. Should have come sooner in the series.

Quality so far – High

Current thoughts: This is easily the best season of One Piece so far. I hope for more of these deeper arcs. See you in the next one!

Major – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Major

 

Related: Major 2nd (next generation series)

Similar: Cross Game

Ace of Diamond

Big Windup

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Sports

Length: 154 episodes (6 seasons) & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Excellent baseball
  • Complex protagonist with a full career arc
  • Great life lessons
  • Breaks clichés

Negatives:

  • Each season has production values five years out of date
  • Season 3, ahem, fumbles the ball

(Request an anime for review here.)

In general, there are three types of sports anime. The first, and most common, is the “shounen” sports anime almost always set in high school and covers those last three years of youth (some will limit themselves to the final year to heighten the stakes with one last chance at the championship before adulthood kills). Most of the popular sports titles fall under this type, featuring the likes of Haikyu, Ace of Diamond, and Slam Dunk, and is the easiest to write but must have engaging matches to retain viewers. Second is the “drama” sports anime, where the focus is on characters and personal conflict with the sport as a backdrop. In fact, the choice of sport is interchangeable. March Comes in Like a Lion (need to review season 2) and Ping Pong the Animation are exemplars of the genre. Lastly, we have the “career” sports anime, which as the name suggests tracks the protagonist’s rise from a nobody into a star of the professional scene. This type has a balance between drama and sport. We will be looking at the third option today with the six seasons of Major.

We start this career journey in pre-school following Goro Honda, son of professional Japanese baseball player Shigeharu Honda. With his mother dead from a sudden illness a few years ago, Goro only has his father left and adores him. He idolises him as a father and a player. Just as the family is set to expand with the engagement between Shigeharu and Momoko, Goro’s pre-school teacher, his father takes a fastball to the head from American transfer, Joe Gibson. All seems fine at first, but brain injuries don’t play fair. Goro loses his second parent. His almost stepmother and ex-pre-school teacher takes him in.

Here’s the thing about Goro. He’s good at baseball. Excellent. He has baseball in his veins. Major will take us from casual games to little league to high school and onto major leagues. Rejection, failure, fear, and injury are but a few of the things he will experience along the way. There is good too – triumph, pride, satisfaction, love. When people describe Major as a career anime, they don’t exaggerate.

The brilliance of Major isn’t solely in the breadth of its story. None of this would matter if not for the execution that grips from first episode to last. The first season alone of Major is better than anything you will find in Ace of Diamond, Cross Game, or Big Windup. I don’t know which element to elaborate on first. There’s so much to talk about! I went into these four anime with no expectations and ended up with the full gamut of baseball anime.

Looking at my notes, the first point I made sure to record (other than story events) was the relationship between father and son – how real it felt, full of turmoil and love. The author understood the struggles of a working single father and the frustrations of a lonely child. The father dies early on yet is a complete character is so short a time. There’s drama without being melodramatic. Kid Goro acts like a real kid as well. When his dad thanks him in a post-match interview, Goro says to Momoko, “Hey, that’s me! He’s talking about me!” as all kids do before they learn of basic context. I love the dad advice too about never admitting that pee splashed on your pants. “Always claim it’s water from your hands.”

Then we have the teacher turned mother. She was a mother figure to him before she dated the father. She plays catch and takes him to the games to watch Dad live. So wholesome. Within a few episodes, we already have meaningful, well-developed relationships. Such a good start raises high expectations for characters in the rest of the series. It delivers.

In Cross Game, I talked of how predictable it was. Major is the opposite. From the characters to the baseball, this anime isn’t predictable. It doesn’t invert everything, of course (that would make it predictable, ironically). The subplot of Joe Gibson, the man responsible for killing Goro’s father, and Joe’s son is excellent. It occurs in later seasons, so I can’t talk about it much, but it combines family drama with high expectations to create the tensest baseball. Gah! It’s so good.

The writers use this great technique to keep the audience on their toes about who would win. You know the build up to a big moment in sports anime – the last second slam dunk, the mad dive to block a shot, the winning homerun? Usually, this tells you what is about to happen and who will win. Major mixes it up by giving both teams that inspirational build up. Both teams “deserve” to win after such emotional hype.

We can’t talk about excellent characters without mentioning the main kid himself, Goro. On the surface, Goro is the typical arrogant sports protagonist, which normally indicates the first of many problems (see Ace of Diamond). Goro is the arrogant ace, yes, but they don’t let him get away with bad behaviour. When his arrogance interferes with the game or affects others, people call him out and it shows how much he has to learn. Natural talent isn’t anywhere near enough. In one game with a bunch of kids, he tries to do everything and yells at his teammates for doing it wrong. He believes he’s untouchable. There’s a harsh lesson waiting for him. Baseball is a team sport and even the best player needs support. At the same time, it doesn’t go soft and say friendship will win everything.

That’s just the beginning. Major deftly evolves the character conflict at each stage of life. We aren’t dealing with the same issues in the Majors than from his time as a kid. The power curve across the six seasons is fantastic. He’s so much better than everyone else is on the first team, but as he works his way up to the Majors, the skill gap closes and competition becomes more intense. The importance of the team grows ever stronger. This constant evolution keeps games engaging. There isn’t a single boring match. Starting with Goro’s father in the professional games was a good idea, as it indicates where we are headed with the kid. It’s like the Metroid games that give you one level of Samus with a full arsenal before you lose most gear. You know what you’re in for.

One aspect that surprised me here is the changing cast each season. In your standard anime, when they introduce a team, we stick with that team to the finish. There might be an addition or subtraction here and there, though it’s in effect the same team. Season 1’s team of little guys receive full attention and development. Convention dictates that they will be staples. Nope, season 2 brings on a completely new team. His closest friend of the time soon realises that he isn’t good enough to stay in the same league as Goro. It does make sense – wouldn’t be realistic if everyone could reach the Majors. It shakes things up each season without losing progress on Goro.

The baseball industry outside of games is also far above the competition. It places a huge emphasis on player injury, from the dangers of permanent damage should you start a child too early in life to career ending injuries that crush dreams. Psychological blocks also enter the field to demonstrate how important mental state is to star athletes. Injuries, I’ve noticed, are the most neglected aspect of sports anime, which is surprising when one considers how impactful they are to real sport and all the opportunities for drama they bring.

Even training arcs are good. The writer understands that this is a good time to build characters, not repeat the same exercises a thousand times.

Other baseball areas Major explores include scholarships, scouting, trading players, tryouts, language barriers, the different tiers of teams, and so much more. This is a comprehensive dive into baseball. If you know nothing about baseball, fear not, this is the perfect anime to learn from. Prior to this baseball quartet, I had only watched a few baseball games in my life from various hotel rooms while on holiday (when you don’t speak the language in some countries, sport is all that makes sense).

I’ve heaped much praise on Major, so what’s wrong with it? Most notably? The art. If anything is keeping more people away from Major, it has to be the art. The first season released in 2004, yet wouldn’t have looked good for 1999. The final season was in 2010 – looks like it time travelled from 2004. I do like the character designs. No monkey ears is a plus. Another negative of Major is season 3, where the high school situation and team leans a little towards the unrealistic. It’s good in the end, though there was no need to go that underdog. Season 3 is certainly the weakest. All up from there, however.

If you’re looking for that “capital A” Anime type baseball and you’re concerned Major will be a bit too serious, then you have nothing to worry about. This still has the classic shounen tropes of hot heads, sideline commentary, overconfidence, etc. They simply have balance.

In a contest against the other baseball anime, Major is the instant winner. It was better than the others before Goro even played his first game.

Art – Low

Why did this have to be the worst looking of the baseball anime? At least they assigned more of the budget to pitches and hits.

Sound – High

Thank heavens they changed actors as Goro aged, unlike too many other sports anime. Great acting for the Japanese characters, though it’s a real shame they went full Engrish with the Americans, which is odd since they used real Americans for minor roles. Nothing breaks immersion more than hearing a hard ass American – with not a word of Japanese in him – speak English like a Japanese actor after one lesson.

Story – Very High

From fanatic as an infant to little league and onto the Majors, we follow one guy’s baseball journey. Major has everything you want from a baseball story – characters to cheer for, others to hate, consequential drama, a bit of romance, and excellent baseball games.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch for sports fans. Don’t let the poor art deter you from watching what might be the best sports anime.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Big Windup! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ookiku Furikabutte

 

Related: Big Windup! 2

Similar: Major

Cross Game

Ace of Diamond

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Sports

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • It would be against the Geneva convention to force people to watch this

Negatives:

  • Maybe the worst protagonist in anime?
  • Participation trophy philosophy
  • Perma-blushing cheeks
  • Cheerleading subplot

(Request an anime for review here.)

The typical shounen sports protagonist will be the most energetic and often most arrogant player in the game (see Major and Ace of Diamond). Apart from being one of the easier archetypes to write, his personality facilitates big plays and big drama. If he’s arrogant enough to get into someone’s face to grandstand ahead of a match, he’ll have the confidence to go for the long shot that moves you to the edge of your seat. Big Windup goes for the opposite and in the process demonstrates why the high tempo protagonist is so common.

Mihashi isn’t just an underdog. He’s a crybaby – I’m not using hyperbole. This guy is on the verge of tears when someone merely looks at him. On the pitcher’s mound, on the sidelines, at school, at home, hanging out with friends, wherever, it doesn’t matter, this dude wants to cry about anything and everything. That’s not all. He’s supposed to be the team ace. I’m not sure if we’re meant to feel sorry for him or to find his social ineptitude humorous. I could argue either way.

The arc is obviously to have him come out of his shell and gain confidence through the support of his teammates. However, it starts with a flawed premise. How is this guy an ace to begin with? How does he have the skill? The answer the story gives is that he was on a team in middle school as the ace, but also that he was so bad they could never win…? Is he good at the game or not? Never mind playing baseball – Mihashi would have a mental breakdown from the pressure of having to strike someone out. He should be in therapy, not baseball. I watched the first season, 25 episodes, and he is no less of a crybaby by the end (they still use his frailty for comedy with that chicken face in episode 25, so again, not sure if comedy or serious). There is another season, but surely by this point he would have some change.

The brilliant ProZD portrays Mihashi perfectly here, just without the badass growth:

Let’s suppose you either don’t care about this character or can tolerate him, is the rest worth it? No. The baseball is rather dull and lacks tension, both in a game and character sense. Most teammates are the same milquetoast person, blending into one forgettable mass. Some are alright, though nothing to write home about.

At its core, these problems all feel like symptoms of the same illness – the aversion by the author to have tough conflict. Meekness characterises Big Windup. I don’t want to sound nasty, but this needed more nastiness. I have the impression that the author leant on wishful thinking for a “nicer” world to craft this story, rather than facing reality, often caused by an author’s fear of hurting their beloved characters. Twilight’s author, Stephanie Meyer, refused to kill off any of her characters because she grew too attached.

An alternate possibility is that Big Windup is about mocking a kid with a mental disability (again, not sure if we are to laugh with him or at him), though I like to give the benefit of the doubt.

A major subplot centres on the cheer team, which is an unconventional side to explore in a boys’ sports anime. It’s insistent on following these characters. However, there isn’t much to see here, which is disappointing, as Japanese cheer squads are rather nuts. They’re nothing like American football cheerleaders. They’re more like choirmasters, leading the crowd into a high energy, disciplined chant for the team. Deafeningly loud too.

The cheer and baseball teams alike are all about the power of friendship, everyone is good, competitiveness is toxic, and other “hippie” philosophies, for lack of a better word. Now, I’m not saying that being nice is a bad thing. Ideally, everyone in the world would be nice at heart. But having your head in the sand and believing that just being nice makes one a great athlete is delusional. This is a baseball team that would fall to a perfect game from any team that takes the sport seriously. Or if this were StarCraft, it would ban the Zerg rush for being unfair, then ban the MMM ball for being too competitive, and forbid everyone from using Stalkers’ blink for being too skilful. It wouldn’t patch the game, mind you, just make everyone promise not to use them. Because being competitive isn’t friendly. It isn’t fun if not everyone gets a medal in the end.

In every story, no matter how bad, I firmly believe there is a kernel of greatness. Having someone like Mihashi as protagonist isn’t the end of the world. What Big Windup needed was an altered backstory and different first act. Remove the baseball past altogether and replace it with a lonely kid suffering from mental illness, who breaks down in tears at the slightest conflict – doesn’t have to be real conflict. The possibility of conflict cracks him. You can make it that the one joy in life he had was watching baseball at home, wishing he had the camaraderie of a team like they do in those stadiums. There’s the baseball connection. Want to provide a little backstory to foreshadow him as a great baseball pitcher? Turns out, he would practice pitches against a tree in his backyard for hours (no friends to spend time with, after all), developing killer accuracy and speed. You could even have the classic sports shounen reveal when a later friend comes over for the first time and sees the dent in the tree – shocked silence, slow pan close up of the face, quivering irises, the whole deal.

We start the series with him moving to high school, where a classmate befriends him (feel free to have Mihashi tremble when he thinks it’s a bully). This friend is on the baseball team. The scene is set.

From here, Mihashi will slowly come out of his shell thanks to his first friend and work on his mental health. An adult at the school would be the perfect mentor character, one to bring awareness to the importance of mental health and explain to Mihashi that he isn’t broken. He just needs help. Want to lean the tone towards the happier Haikyuu end rather than the dour March Comes in Like a Lion side? No problem. Incorporate comedy, from the rest of team perhaps, in the battle against his mental illness.

Episode 3, we have the baseball connection (see backyard tree above). Episode 6, end of act one, Mihashi plays baseball with others for the first time. Season finale, he loses the match with his team – only been playing a few months, after all – but he played the game to his fullest, and that’s what matters. He could even cry, not out of fear or sadness, but out of joy and pride for his progress. We keep the underdog, the reluctant ace, the crying, and power of friendship, but we balance it with pain, struggle, and hard work.

Big Windup seems well intentioned. Infantile treatment of characters isn’t the direction to take in what is supposed to be a competitive sport, requiring some level of competitive spirit, drive, and confidence. I don’t know if it’s talking down to the audience, mocking a kid with mental and social issues, or merely an unintentional disaster. Next review, we look to Major for redemption.

Art – Low

Though the environmental texture is nice, it can’t make up for the character designs. What is with everyone blushing as if going through a menopausal hot flush 24/7? Then again, I suppose these blushing brides are an ideal match for the mentality of Big Windup.

Sound – Medium

The acting is better than this anime deserves and the music is alright. I can’t imagine anyone could make this protagonist sound good.

Story – Very Low

A bumbling kid is expected to be his team’s baseball ace. No level of baseball would be worth enduring this character and philosophy of playing a drum circle as a substitute for skill.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. It’s difficult for the protagonist alone to kill a story, yet here we are with Big Windup.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Rubbish Major Characters