ef – A Tale of Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ef – A Tale of Memories.

 

Related: ef: A Tale of Melodies (sequel)

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

Sola

Bakemonogatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Not as bad as it could be…I suppose?

Negatives:

  • Actually pretentious
  • Vomit-inducing character designs
  • No one develops
  • The dub is a special kind of awful

(Request an anime for review here.)

I was meant to review Weathering With You, but as I missed my opportunity to watch it, that will have to wait. Instead, I felt like covering something trashy – an anime I had almost forgotten I had seen.

ef – A Tale of Memories comes from studio Shaft before they were a creator of good anime. You can see hints here of what Shaft would become, particularly in their artistic styling. Thankfully, they abandoned these stories and characters for something more fun.

This story follows six characters that eventually become three couples as they overcome their obstacles along the way. The first couple is the most vanilla of the three, between an aspiring manga artist (or is it hentai?) and an energetic girl with unorthodox interests. The second couple uses the childhood friend + love triangle cliché who eventually realises she’s in love with this photographer kid instead. The third and honestly main couple of Renji and Chihiro (you’ll recognise them by his douche hair and her abhorrent eye patch) face the issue of her constant memory loss. Think 50 First Dates with moe. They work on this by writing a novel together, something she can’t forget.

Barring the third with memory loss, there is nothing too unusual about these romances. Frankly, they are as shallow as can be. However, the studio tries to distract you with “fancy” camera work and visual motifs. I commend people for trying to do something different, but everything in Tale of Memories from the quick cuts to the avant-garde shot compositions feel like difference for the sake of being different. And when they run out of ideas, we have stretches of blandness – still shots, no animation, no style. These stand out badly by contrast. To see this style don’t correctly, one need look no further than Shaft’s own Bakemonogatari.

The dialogue is like the cinematography. It alternates between artsy nonsense for the sake of it and stock dialogue that comes with Microsoft Script Writer 2006. If I haven’t made it clear yet, ef – A Tale of Memories is pretentious garbage. These characters don’t develop. They don’t grow as people discovering true love for the first time. No, they spout nonsense and confess feelings in a mire of melodrama. At least it isn’t insulting.

If you don’t like the idea of 50 First Dates gone moe teen melodrama, humour subtracted, then stay far away from ef – A Tale of Memories. I am so glad Shaft moved onto better projects.

Art – Very Low

Some shots are interesting, others are boring, but the majority are nonsense for the sake of being different. Hate the character designs. That douche’s hair! They are one step away from Clannad and one should never stray that close to cancer. Obnoxious – that is how best to describe the art overall.

Sound – Low

If you want to watch ef – A Tale of Memories, do not go with the dub. The problems range far and wide, though the worst has to be the use of honorifics. They use them, yet don’t speak like the Japanese is any other way, which makes it come across as a weeaboo fan dub. The script sounds better the less you understand the characters.

Story – Low

Three teen couples deal with circumstances that stand in the way of love. The ideas aren’t bad. A less pretentious script and presentation was needed if these couples had any chance at success, however.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. It isn’t as bad as Kanon’s romances. Still doesn’t make ef – A Tale of Memories worth a minute of your time.

(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: 

Awful DialogueNo Development

The Cat Returns – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Neko no Ongaeshi

 

Related: Whisper of the Heart

Similar: Spirited Away

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Fantasy

Length: 1 hr. 15 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Cats everywhere
  • Charming adventure
  • That Ghibli animation

Negatives:

  • Not much to the story

(Request an anime for review here.)

Haru was going about her day as normal. Frantic, late for school, crushing on a boy. When she saves a cat from becoming road kill, he thanks her. No, he doesn’t nuzzle her. He thanks her. With words.

Turns out that he’s the prince of cats. His father and the other cats, so grateful of her actions, shower her with gifts. Cattails blanket her front yard the next morning, a hundred mice await in her school locker, each in a chocolate gift box, and most “generous” of all is her engagement to the cat prince. What does she mean she doesn’t want to get married to a cat? He’s a prince! Then a mysterious voice says there may be a way out.

“Go to the Cat Bureau.”

And so she takes the advice and finds the bureau, where she meets Baron Humbert von Gikkingen, a gentleman of a cat. This is where the real adventure begins.

The Cat Returns is a charming little film, a fairy tale-like adventure into a world of cats. 90% of the characters are cats. What a delightful bunch they are too. Their insistence in thanking her with gifts only a cat would like has me laughing. The mangy cat king is a riot. I particularly like the fat cat that acts as the muscle when she ventures into the cat world. Then we have the baron, all suave and confident.

Despite her insistence to the contrary, Haru finds herself drawn to the whimsy and fantasy of being a cat, especially with the dashing baron by her side. The deeper she ventures, the harder it will be to pull back, and the more out of control the cats become.

Simplicity is the name here. With similarities to Spirited Away, The Cat Returns may set false expectations. Don’t go in with that mentality. Where most Ghibli titles have crossover appeal for adults and children, The Cat Returns favours very much to the latter. This one won’t be for you if you can’t survive on whimsy and charm. Kids will get a kick out of it – the chase scene with a swarm of cats is a ride – but there isn’t much below the surface. The story follows the path you saw in the beginning, ending in a convenient resolution out of a kids’ fairy tale. Nor do any of the characters have that certain something from the Spirited Away or Moving Castle cast that could carry a narrative. They aren’t bad though.

The Cat Returns isn’t essential viewing to any but the Ghibli completionist. Watch it with your kids, if you have any.

Art – Very High

The Cat Returns has that lovely Ghibli style, though doesn’t look as good as their other films. Seeing this art, I assumed this was one of the earlier releases; however, this came out in 2002 and not the 80s. The animation carries the department. That swarm of cats is fantastic.

Sound – High

Go with the Japanese track if you can. The dub has a standard celebrity cast of good screen actors that lack the cartoon voice quality. Not animated enough. Cary Elwes, Hollywood’s most charming man, being the exception as the baron. The Japanese is much better. Adventurous music.

Story – Medium

A girl finds herself dragged into a world of cats after she saves their prince from death. This is a simple fairy tale – fun, charming, limited.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For Ghibli fans or kids. While The Cat Returns is a good film, the limited scope of the story doesn’t have the crossover for adults, as found in the studio’s biggest hits. Kids will love it.

(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:

CharmFluid Animation

Negative: None

Fairy Tail / Bleach – Quick Thoughts

Fairy Tail

Japanese Title: Fairy Tail

Genre: Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 175 episodes

I thought I would try Fairy Tail, watch it casually while doing work to see if I was missing out on anything. This is a battle anime of a bygone era. In today’s market, after Naruto and One Piece raised the bar, audiences want an ongoing story as a framework around the fights. It also makes them care more for the characters even if on a subconscious level and gives more longevity to a series beyond the final episode. Not to say it will be a commercial failure without it – Fairy Tail lasted 175 episodes – but unless it’s Dragon Ball, it won’t be remembered in the long run. That era has sailed.

Fairy Tail’s overall goal is for protagonist Natsu to find his dragon father. However, each arc has the barest of hints at following this story. The gang will hear of some clue or someone who may know something, they follow the trail, and it leads to a completely unrelated adventure. I say adventure. This isn’t like One Piece – Natsu and company didn’t go far in the 75 episodes I watched. The arcs are the basic “enemy declares war against the Fairy Tail guild for a reason, they fight, half the villains are redeemed, and repeat” structure.

What irks me most about this fantasy is the magic system. There are no rules. Every character has a new type of magic that in most fantasy would fall under a different “school”, coupled with an extensive explanation of how their magic works mid-fight. (Why would you reveal the inner workings of your magic to an enemy?) This comes to a particularly stupid peak when a former ally has to explain his magic to a main character that already knows it, all for the sake of the audience. Tension dries up when characters can pull whatever they wish out of thin air. These wizards have exactly as many spells up their sleeves as the author needs for the fight.

Look, Fairy Tail is an easy watch. There is value in simplicity, where you don’t have to invest yourself and pay attention to all the details, tracking the subplots of 50 characters. On the flip side of the same coin, however, I don’t care once I stop watching. (By the way, for years I thought was from the same author as One Piece for how similar the art looks, right down to the main girls having the same breast size. Even the tone is similar.)

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For battle anime fans only.

*     *     *     *     *

Bleach

Japanese Title: Bleach

Genre: Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 366 episodes (including filler)

I wasn’t going to talk of Bleach until this new format gave me opportunity for a few brief words on this train wreck.

Bleach sucks. Plain and simple. Of all the mainstream battle anime I’ve watched over the years, this is easily the worst. It started well. Actually, the second season was good – the first is a mediocre monster-of-the-week affair.

The story follows 15-year-old Ichigo who gains the power and responsibilities of a Soul Reaper. In short, he has a magic sword and must use it to kill corrupt spirits called Hollows. The second season – and only good arc of the show – kicks off when the top Soul Reapers arrest the girl (now friend as well) that gave him power. He gathers a few other magical friends and they bust into Soul Society (heaven), ready to fight their way to her jail cell. There are several great fights along the way with some cool powers all themed around swords. It’s a great ride that ends on a strong twist cliffhanger (especially if you haven’t seen the like before). This is episode 63.

What follows is a decent into anime hell.

You think inserting the worst filler every second season is bad? Wait until you see how bad the non-filler stories are!

Bleach leans on a battle anime trope I loathe – the power reset. After each major arc, Ichigo reverts to a total scrub for some contrived reason and must endure a training arc, which I swear lasts a season each time. I stopped watching weekly during one such torture session populated by obnoxious characters.

I returned a few years ago out of intellectual curiosity once I heard the series was done for good. I had made the correct decision to quit.

That cliffhanger I mentioned at the end of the Soul Society arc doesn’t return to the forefront until the mid-200s episode count. Even if you ignore all filler as I did with the Naruto reviews, Bleach is a chore to get through. The author keeps throwing a new line of enemies for Ichigo and friends to beat in the same formulaic manner. They’ve finally beaten them all; we can finally see the big bad again? Nope! Here’s another set of bland enemies. There’s always more a powerful villain around the corner (what were they doing before this?). This isn’t a story. It’s a grind.

All the good ideas ended in Soul Society. While the ultimate twist that ends this main thread is good, in no way is it worth having your brain liquefy on the way. And the series doesn’t end there either. Bleach, taken as a whole, is a terrible waste of potential.

When I chose to watch Bleach alongside Naruto back in the day, I made a grave mistake. If only I had picked One Piece…923 episodes and counting.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. When canon is indistinguishable from filler, you know drinking bleach is preferable.

Grand Blue – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Grand Blue

 

Similar: Golden Time

School Rumble

Daily Lives of High School Boys

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Relies on the same few jokes
  • No likeable or funny characters
  • Not about diving
  • Poor animation
  • Too much post processing

(Request an anime for review here.)

I hate this anime. Maybe it’s because I’m not a drunken frat boy nor have I been one that this humour isn’t for me. Yet, I can tell you why Grand Blue is a failure beyond taste.

It follows Iori as he moves to a coastal town for university and stays with his uncle, who owns the diving shop Grand Blue. The debauchery begins immediately. Seniors of the uni’s diving club convince him – with little effort, mind you – to have a drink. It isn’t long before he’s as drunk as a sailor and puking his guts all over town.

That’s all there is Grand Blue. It’s one drunken party after the other – naked, of course (just the men) – with a sprinkling of class time and the fleeting mention of a scuba diving lesson. Grand Blue is amusing for a moment in episode 1, when there is a difference between Iori and the frat boys. One imagines this comedy is about a normal guy trying to survive university amongst the worst his institute has to offer (a little like Keiichi and his seniors from Ah! My Goddess). However, he goes from outsider to one of the boys in two episode flat, so we lose that contrast. Then the jokes go on repeat.

It is amusing the first time you see the seniors, stark naked, chasing someone down to join their club (would have been great as part of the “university survival” plot I talked of earlier). Once you see a variation of this each episode though, it no longer gets the sharp exhalation of air from my nose that it did the first time. I only realise, as I write this, how desensitised I became to the nude humour. These guys are naked so often that another arse barely registers in one’s eyes. The jokes are: get naked, get drunk, pull an ugly face. No more.

More to the plot could help break repetition. An early episode promises diving to be a core of the story (don’t forget the OP is all about diving). To my great disappointment as a lover of diving, this doesn’t come to fruition. Late in the series, they take the occasional break from drinking to scuba dive, but the author couldn’t bear to see a sober person, so that doesn’t last. There is also a hint at romance (Iori wants to bang his cousin, amongst other girls), which amounts to little.

Then we end on the characters. Not a likeable quality between them. I don’t want any of them to succeed in uni or life. The girls are probably the worst with their one-note characters. One hates him (the cousin), the other is bashful, which doesn’t make sense as she sees these nude frat boys every day working her job in the scuba store. She blushes at the cover of a raunchy manga. Why am I surprised though? As much effort went into giving her a personality as went into the decision to use the naked joke for the umpteenth time.

Grand Blue isn’t the worst anime I’ve seen. I considered drowning this in the lowest rating tier for how I felt after the final episode concluded. Then I remembered some of truly worst anime out there – Clannad’s support of threatening suicide to solve problems, Vampire Knight’s incest love triangle, Hand Shakers’ mere existence, to recall a few – and Grand Blue doesn’t seem that bad anymore. I still have no positives to say other than, perhaps, it could be worse.

Grand Blue isn’t an anime about youth, about grabbing life by the horns, about giving it your all. It’s about unlikeable drunks spewing the same jokes on a loop.

Art – Low

The ugly character art is intentional for comedic effect, even if overused, so that is excusable. The poor animation isn’t passable though. Also, ease up on the post processing for underwater scenes.

Sound – Low

I like the OP song, but it is deceptive. Promises adventure; delivers none. Shouty acting.

Story – Very Low

A university freshman joins the drunken diving club when he moves to a coastal town. With a shallow pool of jokes to draw from and even less creative characters, Grand Blue is not one to watch.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Stay away from Grand Blue unless you like drunk humour repeated endlessly.

(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: 

Not FunnyRepetitive

Dororo – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dororo

 

Similar: Demon Slayer

Mushi-shi

Sword of the Stranger

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Historical Supernatural Action Adventure

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Brutal depiction of samurai times (even without the monsters)
  • The monsters
  • Hyakkimaru’s lore
  • Beautiful rustic art

Negatives:

  • Visuals dip in the finale

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did you watch Mushi-shi and think, “This anime is too friendly. Needs more violence and demons”? Well, do I have the anime for you!

Dororo takes Mushi-shi’s adventure of roaming rural Japan in search of the unusual, but instead of trying to understand the supernatural like Ginko would do, Hyakkimaru massacres them to the very last. He was born as a child of sacrifice. Though he should have died, missing his limbs, most organs, skin, and even a spine at birth, a prosthetics doctor found him down the river and rebuilt him to survive. Now, with each demon he slays, a part of him regrows. His single-minded focus to cleanse the land of demons and regain his body drives him down a dangerous path. Thankfully, the ever-cheerful street rat Dororo latches onto him and claims him for an older brother.

The feudal world of Dororo is a harsh one. It does not romanticise the samurai era whatsoever. There was a time when a samurai’s primary goal was collecting the heads of enemies, even if it meant taking them by force from allies. After all, the survivor tells the tale. The country is in a state of desolation – Hyakkimaru’s father and lord performed the sacrifice to bring prosperity to his state. Samurai or peasant, honour is a scare resource when starvation grips the soul. Dororo’s parents were victims of a battle, an inconsequential skirmish in the grand scheme of things, fought over scraps of power. He now travels with Hyakkimaru in search of demons to slay and food to survive, all the while making the most of life.

There is so much to like about Dororo. The titular character is likeable from the very first. I love his energy and craftiness. The contrast between him and Hyakkimaru is a perfect balance between the former’s bubbly personality and the latter’s silence. The perfect foil. Hyakkimaru wouldn’t have worked as a protagonist without him. Speaking of, I love the design of Hyakkimaru with the prosthetics, blades hidden inside his arms, and the way he regrows bit by bit. When a new leg shoots out after a kill, it’s painful yet great to watch. The more he regrows, the more human he becomes and learns about the world around him. Smell and sound are a surprise. However, he becomes more obsessed with the next kill the closer he gets to completion. His arc is fantastic, culminating in a crazy scenario that I don’t even want to hint at.

Dororo gripped me from the start. If you want a prime example of how to do a first episode, watch this anime. There are no exposition dumps, no out of place humour (we all know another studio would have forced a boob grab or some such cliché), and the showing of the characters, their motivations, and the world is spot on.

Then we have the world. The watercolour environments give such a rustic, quaint feel that you wish you could roam that countryside. That is, until you face a demon, or worse, the samurai. I can imagine the Japanese tourist board setting up walking tours to visit the modern equivalent, safe from horrors of course. The charming feel to the world was a great decision, for it lulls the audience into thinking perhaps things aren’t so bad, perhaps they have found peace. Then reality hits and all goes to hell.

The variety of demons and the way they fit into this world – like a mini fairy tale each episode – is fantastic. Some are simple beasts of instinct, while others are cunning. There’s always something new over the next mountain. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the action is exciting with great animation. Doesn’t hold back on gore either.

Now, I don’t recommend this as a binge show. Much like Mushi-shi, it’s best to let it sink in every few episodes. I watched Dororo over the course of two months – hence the delay on this request – and would not have had it any other way. The episodic structure (until the final stretch) facilitates this method. Dororo gets better with each episode. Each piece of the puzzles comes together to make one of the decade’s best anime.

Art – Very High

The samurai drama visual style is a success. Plenty of animation too, but it does have to use some TV shortcuts like repeating animations. Beautiful backgrounds are an increasingly rare sight these days.

Sound – High

I almost had a serious negative about a casting choice, but it worked perfectly in the end. Acting is solid, though Hyakkimaru isn’t quite right. I like the first OP and ED, listening to them each time, but I would skip the second set.

Story – Very High

A street rat and a cursed child roam a war torn land in search of food and demons. Dororo doesn’t hold back on the realities of war, starvation, and the desperation to survive as it delivers riveting action and an engaging arc.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Dororo is a surprise hit for me. I wouldn’t want you to miss it (unless you don’t like violence).

(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:

Fluid AnimationRiveting ActionStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

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