A Lull in the Sea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Nagi no Asukara

 

Similar: AnoHana

Ponyo

Tsuritama

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful underwater city.
  • Gorgeous song in first ED.

Negatives:

  • The melodrama drags on.
  • Little underwater world building.
  • Too many dull characters.
  • Characters’ eyes are melting.

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Oh wow, an anime set in an underwater town. Look at those colours, those fish! I love the sea and marine life, so this is going to be good. I’m excited!

Aaaand it’s gone.

That’s how long my excitement lasted for A Lull in the Sea. It starts with beautiful colours in this magical underwater town teeming with life and detail, but not five minutes later, you see that the sea people move underwater no differently than someone on land. Everything has the same weight as on land, people stroll down the streets like on land, they speak the same as with surface air, and they even watch TV like on land. On land, on land, ON LAND! What is the point of setting it underwater if everything functions the same as on land? All they show is one scene of a guy doing a floaty jump with the aid of water and characters swimming on occasion – no faster than ordinary humans! Argh, if they swim the same as we do, then why doesn’t the water affect all else that they do? How lazy can one be in creating a world? Effort went into figuring out how they can survive on land without salt water – take regular salt baths – so why not put a day’s work into the rest of the lore? And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

Right, after presenting us with this lazy world, we learn that the teens from the sea must start attending school on the surface, as their high school closed down due to dwindling birth rates. Hikari and his friends have trouble fitting in with the surface kids, for a deep-seated hatred simmers between the two societies. However, when the fisherman’s son Tsumugu accidentally catches the sea girl Manaka, there may be a chance at bridging the gap before the sea people hibernate.

The story isn’t much better than the world building. Hikari is a shouty protagonist – always annoying – and his first character moment is yelling at Manaka for wearing the surface school uniform, instead of their old one like the rest of the group has. She makes friends with Tsumugu and all Hikari does is spew bigotry at the guy. He’s the most bigoted of the lot. This is obviously to set him up for change later on, but you have to give us something to like about the character from the start. No, he’s just a prick – doesn’t come around to be likeable or interesting either.

The rest are the usual forgettable players in slice-of-life-turned-melodrama anime. People butt heads here and there, some fall in love, others fall out of it, people grow jealous, all dragged out for too long. Everyone loves someone who doesn’t love them, creating this massive love circle. It’s tedious.

With the way these kids act about romance and relationships, you would imagine they have been through the most brutal hardships in love. But no, they’re immature kids and this is garbage melodrama.

There are some good moments, however. I like the conflict stemming from banishment should a sea person marry a surface human. The local fisherman have nice stories to tell as well. In fact, the less important a character seems to be, the more interesting their story.

What really knocked this anime down an entire tier was the pacing in the second half. These 26 episodes could have fit into 13 had one character’s amnesia arc not gone on forever for no good reason. Just end already! I cannot impress upon you how much this play reeks of desperation to extend the story and heighten the stakes. Since these stakes don’t matter relative to the rest, it only weakens the overall effect.

A Lull in the Sea is a standard high school drama that goes for the heart with a supernatural twist. I wager it would have affected me a decade ago, but my heart has since turned to ice. In all seriousness, you’ve seen this all before, which coupled with the padded second half and lazy world building makes this a no from me. Don’t waste your time.

Art – Medium

The underwater environment looks gorgeous with light refraction, Greek architecture, and the abundance of fish, though they should have put more effort into the submerged physics. Sadly, we spend little time underwater. Land scenes are still rather good. Character faces are munted with eyes melting and some profile shots don’t look human.

Sound – Medium

The first ED song is gorgeous (going on my playlist) while the rest of the music is good and the acting is fine. However, the script needs a trim and more punch.

Story – Low

A group of friends from the underwater city must get along with other students at their new land school, but the impending hibernation threatens all they have worked for. A Lull in the Sea overindulges in melodrama, dragging out a good concept into a chore to complete, and the world building is lazy.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A Lull in the Sea is a waste of time unless you love overwrought melodrama. A better-realised water world would have been enough for me. They failed.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingPoor Pacing

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Little Witch Academia – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Little Witch Academia

 

Related: Little Witch Academia (original movie – included in review)

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (sequel movie – included in review)

Little Witch Academia TV (alternate series – included in review)

Similar: My Hero Academia

Cardcaptor Sakura

Orphen

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Comedy Adventure

Length: 2 short films, 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • So much fun!
  • Consistently funny.
  • Gorgeous colours and animation.
  • Excellent dub.

Negatives:

  • Movies rendered redundant by series and lack of originality.
  • Weak overarching plot.
  • Sub-par Japanese track.

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Little Witch Academia started out as a short film project made possible through a government grant to have veterans train young animators. Its massive success led to a Kickstarter for a sequel film and funding for a full TV series after that.

It follows the adventures of Akko, a girl with big dreams of becoming like her performing witch idol, Shiny Chariot, as she attends Luna Nova Academy for training. Alongside her are Sucy, the diabolical apothecary, and Lotte, a witch that can talk to…old junk? Let us not forget the queen ego, Diana, who has the audacity of being great at magic and focusing on school. Disgusting. In her quest for greatness and answers on what happened to Chariot, Akko must unlock the seven secrets of Chariot’s old weapon, the Shiny Rod.

I want to start with the short film before we dive into the heart of the series.

I had always heard of Little Witch Academia as ‘Harry Potter for girls’, which I can confirm is absolutely true of the first film. There is no denying the inspiration drawn from Harry Potter book one, The Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US). The schools are similar with the same quirky magic, have a boring History of Magic class, broom flying with the same teacher and someone showing off, a snooty blonde rival from a ‘pure’ bloodline, a Forbidden Forest, a rampaging monster from the dungeons, a sorcerer’s stone of importance, and the list goes on. The main differences are with Akko, who is more like Neville with her levels of incompetence (and secret greatness), and that Little Witch Academia is all about fun instead of a serious plot.

I don’t begrudge it for the similarities – the tone makes a big enough difference – but the story isn’t of particular interest. The sequel movie is about setting up a parade and utterly unmemorable. I only recommend the movies for completion’s sake or the visual spectacle, nothing more.

Here we come to the series, which keeps the same premise and characters, though otherwise goes back to the start to give us more depth in every aspect. Many of the Harry Potter similarities beyond the magic school leave the stage as well.

Each episode is a mini adventure with Akko and friends trying to overcome some task, such as learning to speak to fish. Akko is so disaster prone that nothing ever goes according to plan. After accidentally flushing the fish, who happens to be the professor, down the drain, she must enter the sewers to mount a rescue. She is so much fun and bursting with such energy that I can’t help but smile at everything she does. However, my favourite character has to be Sucy. She’s always concocting potions and growing special mushrooms, which she gives to her friends as guinea pigs in dire situations, just to see what happens. Her bored monotone voice matches her dry wit perfectly. Imagine a young Snape if he weren’t a total prat.

Little Witch Academia’s humour is a smash hit in general. I particularly enjoy the humour that pokes fun at the magic society. Why don’t witches use cell phones? It sure would help. In this world, humans are aware of witches and don’t have a high opinion of them. A sub plot involves improving relations with humans and has the girls attend a ball with human guys. The dynamic between the pretentious guy and Akko is great, for he can’t resist her energy despite his disdain for magic.

The one significant problem with Little Witch Academia is in the overarching story about reactivating the Shiny Rod and uncovering what happened to Shiny Chariot. It isn’t engaging. I couldn’t care less about this thread because it doesn’t feel as though it matters much. For one final Harry Potter comparison, think of Voldemort’s story and all the conflict he brings. We are looking at opposing ends of the same scale for engagement. Now, Little Witch Academia is a light-hearted series and such a dark plot wouldn’t fit the tone, but there is still no reason they couldn’t have made the Shiny Chariot history more relevant and interwoven with the rest of the narrative. It feels almost tacked-on simply to have some overall story. As a result, the final few episodes that resolve this plot are the weakest. The conflict lacks a real villain as well. There is one of sorts, but again, she’s so minor in the grand scheme that she feels added in just to fill the villain slot.

It’s a testament to the quality of the episodic content that this is great anime in the face of the overall story problems.

The ‘Harry Potter for girls’ label is misleading, as this is an anime for everyone. It doesn’t have most shoujo tropes, such as the crush on an older man or the endless “what do I do?” staring at her feet weak characters. Anyone can love Little Witch Academia and it is my favourite Studio Trigger anime. Akko may be terrible in class, but she gets an A+ from me. I love that girl.

Art – Very High

The art adds so much fun and energy to the series through its colour and animation. Little animation details make every episode visually engaging and an absolute delight to witness.

Sound – High

I am thankful for the excellent dub, as the original Japanese is sub-par, particularly for the main trio. Sucy in English is perfect and bad in Japanese, while Japanese Akko doesn’t have enough energy. The music reminds me of Disney’s Cinderella – never a bad thing.

Story – High

A young girl attends witch school in the hopes of becoming as adept in magic as her idol was, and to do so, must activate the many secrets of a magic rod. Little Witch Academia’s episodic content and boundless fun makes up for the weak overarching plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Little Witch Academia the series is for all ages and an anime to be loved by all. I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy it, even a little.

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

Positive:

CharmFluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Durarara!! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Durarara!!

 

Related: Durarara!!x2 Shou, Ten, and Ketsu (sequels)

Similar: Baccano!

K

Darker than Black

Death Note

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Mystery

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • High visual and audio production values.

Negatives:

  • Excess dialogue.
  • Get to the point already!
  • Poor structure and storytelling.
  • Many characters have no purpose.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Durarara is Baccano, but bad. I consider few anime that I’ve finished as a waste of time. Even the worst anime has value to me, for it gives something to discuss and lessons to learn in character and storytelling. This is one of the few exceptions. A chore to finish, an effort to enjoy, and with little to discuss or learn, Durarara was a waste of time.

The story focuses on the legend of the Black Rider, a headless motorbike rider that prowls the streets of Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district amid increasing gang activity. Mikado is caught up in the commotion when he witnesses the Black Rider on his first day in Tokyo. He will rely on friend and failed flirt Masaomi to guide him through the supernatural events and all manner of strange characters.

Durarara doesn’t open with great promise that derails later on. This is a case of never showing any promise to begin with, leaving us waiting for when it will get to the point, show us it purpose. It seems to do everything it can to avoid showing us its story, as if under the misapprehension that by doing this, it will make the final revelation a masterstroke.

Durarara wants to be character driven with its large cast, each exhibiting grey qualities, which is one of the elements that made Baccano a success. However, it wastes far too much time repeating conversations where characters explain their motivations. Because so little time is spent on events to drive story, characters don’t have much opportunity to show us who they are. As a result, they have to tell us and then repeat it again later. This is only for major characters. Minor characters, on the other hand, don’t even exposit or discuss events. They chat about random nonsense that tests one’s patience. There is so much excess dialogue.

All of this makes Durarara comes across as more slice of life than action.

Most story is end loaded in the final few episodes. When the big revelations about character identities and gang power plays come out, the series goes, “While all those useless characters where chatting about whatever, these other characters were secretly manoeuvring behind the scenes. Surprised you, didn’t I?” Yes, I’m surprised – surprised that you managed to squeeze out any story at all.

I had wanted to watch Durarara for the longest time after Baccano, one of my first reviews, hoping to find a similar experience. What a letdown. Had the characters been close to the level of Baccano’s cast, I likely would have enjoyed it despite the poor story, but these aren’t interesting. One guy’s gimmick is getting angry at the slightest provocation. It’s funny the first time, sure, but it’s the same joke every episode. Grow some dimension! The black Russian advertising his sushi restaurant on a street corner is also amusing, yet that joke too grows old.

Everyone is forgettable save for perhaps the Black Rider searching of her head. Bringing the Dullahan myth to modern Tokyo on a bike instead of a horse is a cool idea. Her story is decent as well, though she only has material for a few episodes – not enough to carry the team.

This anime was a personal choice I wanted to watch amidst the reader requests. I was certain this would be a hit. I don’t blame the production crew – Durarara looks and sounds great. The source light novel is a mess to begin with, as are the Baccano light novels, incidentally, which make me more impressed with the latter’s anime adaptation.

The first season wraps up its plot, so I have no attraction to watch the sequels. I usually finish every direct sequel for my reviews, but I won’t bother with Durarara.

Art – High

Durarara uses the same style as Baccano, crazy opening included (without the great song, though), has great animation, and with normal yet distinct character designs. However, background characters are often greyed out – budget or style?

Sound – Medium

The acting is great, in either language, but the script is so damn bloated. Characters repeat themselves often and minor character dialogues are a waste of time. The ED is catchy.

Story – Low

The new kid in Tokyo finds himself mixed up in gang wars amidst events involving the mysterious Black Rider, a supernatural biker in search of her head. A single strand of good story resides among the tangle of threads that is the mess called Durarara.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Durarara takes such effort to enjoy that I would recommend almost any other anime instead.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor PacingShallow

Outlaw Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star

 

Related: Angel Links (spin-off)

Similar: Cowboy Bebop

Trigun

Space Dandy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Action Adventure Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Creative art.
  • Surprisingly good dub.
  • Sense of fun.

Negatives:

  • Melfina is empty.
  • The catgirl is irritating.
  • Never hits a high note.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Combine Trigun with Cowboy Bebop and you have Outlaw Star. While not as good as either, it is not without merit. Nostalgic art and a mix of samurai, cat girls, sorcerers, pirates, bounty hunters, gunslingers, cowboys, and cyborgs make for an unusual universe.

Gene Starwind, sufferer of space sickness, wants to become a space pilot but remains earthbound as a gun-for-hire with partner James Hawking. They take the simple job of escorting a beautiful woman with a suitcase, only to get more than they bargained for. The woman isn’t an innocent dame – she’s a grizzled outlaw – and the suitcase doesn’t contain her clothes and unmentionables. Inside is a girl called Melfina, asleep, naked, and hunted by several factions. They escape together aboard the advanced Outlaw Star to survive and find the mysterious ‘Galactic Leyline’.

For the most part, Outlaw Star pits Gene and company against one of the aforementioned groups each episode. Races, heists, a wrestling tournament, and space battles are a mere sample of the adventures on which they embark. Early on, they clash with the cat people of the Ctarl-Ctarl Empire and find themselves burdened with the company of the most annoying character in the universe, Aisha Clan-Clan (yes, everything in cat society has a duplicated word name. Yes, it does get annoying). Even her introduction is idiotic. She argues with Gene over right of way in space! She knows that space is an infinite nothingness, right? After failing in her mission, she seeks revenge against Gene, which she reminds us every episode with her screeching voice, before joining the team in search of the Leyline.

I suppose that her high-energy personality was to counteract Melfina, who has no personality. Melfina is yet another example of a writer believing that quiet plus introverted must be boring. At least she has a purpose in the story. That’s something, I guess?

Characters and the Leyline, which I will get to in a moment, are the primary components holding Outlaw Star back. Gene is too much your typical space gunslinger (the space sickness gag lasts a couple of episodes), James is little more than his babysitter (most of his dialogue is warning Gene not to do something), and the samurai woman that joins later is as you would imagine on first impression. None are bad – except Aisha and the empty Melfina – but when you have Cowboy Bebop, Trigun, or Firefly in the live-action realm sitting right next to this anime, it’s hard to compete. Throw in the original Star Wars, Gundam SEED, Star Trek if you want something more measured, and you realise that great sci-fi with everyone on a single ship needs a great crew.

As for the Galactic Leyline, said to hold the knowledge of the universe, it isn’t an interesting goal. For one, it doesn’t fit into the rest of the series. You have this adventure series of gunfights and space battles for 23 episodes and then it turns into an exploration of the existential. The story never cared about themes of knowledge or existentialism before this. It doesn’t fit.

Outlaw Star plays its best cards during self-contained adventures over an episode or two. It’s worth your time for a few such adventures. If you want to go for the long haul, select one of the other titles I’ve mentioned in this review. Except Firefly because that was cancelled. Kidding, great show, wish it had more.

Art – High

Outlaw Star looks great, particularly in action scenes. I love the old school feel of its hand drawn art and world design.

Sound – Medium

The first ED may be one of my favourites of all time. I love the gentle song accompanied by gorgeous single-colour art sketches. The dub is surprisingly good for the era.

Story – Medium

An odd bunch of space farers gather aboard the Outlaw Star as they get up to all sorts of adventures against catgirls, mercenaries, and assassins. Outlaw Star is a space adventure of fun and action that doesn’t go for the high notes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of older anime. Outlaw Star won’t entice among all the glitz and glam of modern anime, but if you want to return to a simpler time, a time of space ships and space babes, then try this.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Tsukigakirei – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tsuki ga Kirei

 

Similar: Orange

My Love Story

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Romance

Length: 12 Episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Nice music.

Negatives:

  • No chemistry.
  • Artificial drama with little conflict.
  • The shyness is tiring.
  • CG crowds and horrendous shading.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tsukigakirei’s unique selling point is its ‘plain’ romance free of the usual anime romance trappings. It doesn’t wish to overdramatize a relationship that isn’t the centre of the universe, as anime often does, nor does it desire melodrama to manipulate the audience’s hearts. This is a commendable idea. Sadly, in its effort to be different from the rest, it forgot to replace the elements it took out with anything compelling.

In their final year of middle school, Kotaro and Akane strike up a reserved friendship. Both wish for more than friendship, but mutual shyness holds them back and keeps their intimate conversations to text messages. If they are to progress in their relationship, they will need to get off the phones and talk IRL.

Shyness is the defining and only characteristic of this couple, which becomes tiring within a few episodes, particularly from the girl. Whenever someone asks her anything related to boys or relationships, it’s her staring at her feet going, “Um, er, ooo,” and other effort sounds we are meant to find endearing. Crippling shyness is a real condition, obviously, but not as depicted here. If she did suffer from crippling shyness, it would affect her in all areas of life. Here, however, she’s only shy when it’s convenient to have a scene go nowhere from her utter inaction and incompetence. The guy certainly doesn’t help. This shyness means they do nothing for 80% of the series and thus have no real connection, making one wonder where the attraction lies.

Kotaro and Akane have no chemistry to speak of. Again, teen attraction without chemistry is a real ‘affliction’, but not as depicted here. They wouldn’t swear undying love and do everything to stay together in the coming high school years with nothing more than hormones on which to plant their relationship. Considering they go for each other at the exclusion of all other confessions, you would imagine that something draws them together more than he’s a boy and she’s a girl. Why couldn’t the story have these two shy kids open up to each other first and then in turn develop deeper feelings? Instead, they have an immediate attraction and all they need is the courage to confess to solve everything. They develop neither as characters nor as a couple.

Because they don’t do much of anything, the story has to force artificial drama to justify a 12-episode runtime (several episodes don’t even have a purpose, such as the first, which you can skip). In one episode, a teacher confiscates Kotaro’s phone while he’s organising to meet with Akane during an excursion. His friends rope him into something the next day (of course he doesn’t tell them he’s busy), causing him to run late, but he can’t inform her without his phone. He ends up using the phone from a friend of hers. Does he explain what happened? No, that would be inconvenient. She gets all moody, accuses him of being too close to her friend (what?) and then gets over it just in time for the episode to end. I despise drama created by a lack of basic communication between characters. When the series has no actual drama to work with, it can’t pass an opportunity to force this nonsense on us, now can it? By the way, this cliché appears in most mediocre anime romances.

The side characters are forgettable and pointless, save two that have a modicum of use. One is a boy with the purpose of confessing to Akane – rejected – and one is a girl to confess to Kotaro – rejected – both of which resolve with no conflict. What’s the point? Tsukigakirei is so afraid of conflict that the confessors tell their competition of these plans and still nothing comes of it.

It’s great that you wanted to be something different, Tsukigakirei, but you don’t deserve applause for intent alone, not when you deliver a shallow relationship with no chemistry or reason to care. To those who love Tsukigakirei for being different, I suggest expanding your romance library beyond anime, where this type of story is not only common but also vastly superior. This anime has its sweet moments and I certainly wouldn’t call it terrible, yet I don’t recommend it either. I still seek a good plain anime romance. It has been a while.

Art – Low

Cheap. The tone gradients look auto filled. It’s meant to emulate watercolours, but just looks cheap. Regular use of CG crowds is hideous.

Sound – Medium

The acting is good and the music pleasant to match the romantic style.

Story – Low

Two shy high school kids fall in love and struggle to communicate. A serious lack of chemistry and motion in this relationship gives little reason to care for a tepid high school romance.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you are desperate for ‘plain’ romance and are unwilling to look beyond anime, Tsukigakirei is a waste of time.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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