Kodocha – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kodomo no Omocha TV

 

Related: Kodomo no Omocha OVA (alternate version)

Similar: Super GALS!

Gakuen Alice

Marmalade Boy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English (anime is dubbed up to ep. 51)

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 102 episodes

 

Positives:

  • So funny.
  • Understands children, girls in particular.
  • High energy.

Negatives:

  • The art is ugly, to put it nicely.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did I really just see what I saw? Was what I saw really what I thought it was? Were my eyes playing tricks on me, my ears dancing with the devil? Is a show for little kids – an ugly show for little kids – truly this good? How?

I love Kodocha. When a dear reader requested Kodocha for review in the erstwhile era called January, I added it to my list for review, though told him that due to its length, it may take some time. What I didn’t say was that the art and premise made me, hmm, unenthusiastic (let’s leave it at that word) about watching it. A week ago, I found myself doing mundane work requiring little attention yet a lot of time, so I threw the first anime I estimated wouldn’t need much effort on my part – Kodocha. And slay me sideways if I didn’t laugh for hours on end. This anime I thought would take months of forcing myself to watch breezed by in a week, an effortless week.

Under the spotlight of Kodocha is child star Sana. Talented, successful, daughter of a famed author, popular – Sana has it all. The perfect life. Well, except for that brat Akito in her sixth grade class. Man, that Akito, he’s so mean, bullies the teacher, is rotten to the core, and stinks of cooties. Sana just wants to- to- RAAAARGH! (*Image of Sana tearing an Akito effigy in two here*) She will get that Akito back for making the teacher cry if it’s the last thing she does! But wait, could there be a reason why that brat acts out this way?

Kodocha’s heart is in the skill with which it captures children and the inner-child in us adults. These children misbehave, get up to god-knows-what, skip homework, clown around in class, – yes, even the “good” students – and cause an all-round riot. Kodocha allows them to be kids. It may sound simple, but you’d be amazed by how rare it is to find any fiction, never mind anime, that portrays children as real children. The innocent yet endearingly twisted view children have of the world is a difficult quality to distil. The comedy writes itself when you let kids run free.

However, because the team didn’t want to encourage the audience children from causing such trouble in real life, Kodocha often breaks the fourth wall to remind kids that you shouldn’t be imitating these troublemakers. The irony is hilarious.

More than just the mentality, I love the ‘kid’ moments it portrays, such as one kid accidentally calling the teacher “Mum” – been there, mate…been there. Everything from the class’s laughter to his burning embarrassment – perfect. Another joke I remember true to life was after Akito grabs Sana’s chest. “Now I’ll never be pure enough for a husband!” she cries. “Wait, he didn’t squeeze, so I’m okay!” I lost it. One girl in my primary school thought that losing your virginity meant being kissed by a boy – anywhere – so she would run terrified from any boy in class when close enough to “strike.”

After the initial Akito arc, the story goes from showbiz to classmate problems to paparazzi. The story moves at a good clip, covering a variety of scenarios for Sana and co. with the Akito romance overarching the whole. When the pace does slow for an emotional arc, the tone flows well from comedy to drama and doesn’t feel forced like many shoujo stories.

Kodocha isn’t above the shoujo tropes, such as a little girl with a crush on an adult man. Unlike the dregs of shoujo, however, this anime handles it perfectly, turning what is often an incarceration-worthy arc into one that shows true character growth, as Sana learns of the real world. The topic of adoption also receives more thought and care than given by the vast majority of anime. This dingy kids’ anime is more mature than Clannad and its ilk.

The number one shoujo trope – a recurring sequence each episode – morphs into a rap song by Sana, occasionally with backup vocals from her looney mother or caring manager. Yeah, you heard me; a little girl raps each episode as some form of pep talk. It’s corny as hell, but pluck my nose hair with tweezers if I don’t laugh every time.

Now, Kodocha has its faults. Obvious art issues aside, some episodes deliver tepid results and the boys aren’t depicted quite as well as the girls. They’re still great, but they needed to be more disgusting, in my opinion. I remember one classmate of mine used to scratch his healthy skin until it bled and scabbed over, just so he could then pick at the scab… The hell? And he wasn’t the worst. Kids will be kids…

So, here we arrive at the end and I still cannot believe I am about to give Kodocha a high rating and my warm recommendation. Am I really going to give an anime that looks this cheap a high score? Yes, I am.

Art – Very Low

Garbage. Let’s be honest – Kodocha’s art is awful from its animation to its detail. One-hundred and two episodes made on the budget for two, it seems. It at least has the energy and expressiveness to keep up with Sana’s antics.

Sound – Medium

The BGM is a tad generic and the voice work serviceable, but darn it if the enthusiasm doesn’t make you love it through all the flaws. Even the corny raps grow on you before long.

Story – High

A child star gets up to all sorts of shenanigans at school and in life with her oddity of a mother, loyal dog of a manager, and the naughty boy in class. Kodocha’s constant laughs – only interrupted by thoughtful emotion – and understanding of how children think and behave made it an easy journey to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for anyone with a piece of childhood still burning in their hearts. Kodocha is too much fun to pass up. Even if you don’t want to go the distance, a dozen episodes will brighten your life.

(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:

CharmHilarious

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Tetsuwan Girl – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Tetsuwan Girl

 

Genre: Sports Historical Drama

Length: 9 volumes

 

Positives:

  • (Not sure)

Negatives:

  • Strawman antagonists.
  • One-note protagonist.
  • The confrontational dialogue is painful.
  • The eyes!

I don’t remember how Tetsuwan Girl got onto my manga list. The art doesn’t catch my eye, the premise reeks of strawmen, and nothing about it would make me pause while scrolling down the endless manga database. How did this get here…?

Tetsuwan Girl is about the start of women’s baseball in Japan and its players after WW2. In typical fashion of sports fiction, the team consists of the usual suspects of character types – the tough one, the butch one, the quiet one, etc. However, where good sports fiction will have this trait as the mere surface with depth underneath, Tetsuwan Girl stays at the surface. None of these women strays outside of their one note.

Take the protagonist. The author didn’t allow her to show natural toughness. Instead, her scenes feel like a reality show where the producer tells the “star” to act tough in front of the camera, manufacturing conflict for the dumb audience. They’ll even have some passing stranger pretend that he has a problem with women living to spice it up. I’d be more convinced this was real if Godzilla stomped onto the stadium.

The antagonists are worse. Each is a strawman setup to allow the protagonist to win effortlessly through some horrendous dialogue. The confrontations are so bad that I couldn’t take the struggle seriously. Did people really struggle for women’s baseball after the war? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t believe it after reading this. If it were real, Tetsuwan Girl’s conflict wouldn’t be so fake.

Art – Low

The art looks rough, unfinished, the draft stages of a painting. Every character has this peer-into-your-soul stare. Creepy.

Story – Very Low

A woman joins the first professional women’s baseball team in Japan after WW2. Flat characters, rubbish antagonists, and no direction make Tetsuwan Girl a mind-draining experience.

Recommendation: Avoid it. Tetsuwan Girl feels as fake as Jerry Springer but without the absurdity to make it entertaining.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Noragami – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Noragami

 

Related: Noragami Aragato (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Kamisama Kiss

Soul Eater

Bleach

Ah! My Goddess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Solid all-round.

Negatives:

  • Nothing stands out.
  • First season has little plot.
  • Lots of side tracking.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Japan’s Shinto religion, which Noragami borrows from, has hundreds of gods across all levels, from the goddess Amaterasu to your dead granny. With so many gods, some of them, surely, must be trash. Yato is one such trash god. The toilet god gets shrines, but this God of Calamity Yato doesn’t even have a birdhouse for people to pray at.

On a quest to build a shrine of his own, he takes odd jobs – bathroom cleaner, babysitting, etc. – for 5-yen payments at a time. Maybe his problem is that he’s so bad at business. Who knows…? High school girl Hiyori saves him from becoming road kill on one such odd job to find a lost cat. Alas, she takes the truck hit in his place, but instead of meeting death, it kicks her spirit from her body. While she can re-enter her body, she now periodically falls asleep and separates again to roam as a spirit with Yato.

Noragami tells us its main goal is to fix Hiyori’s predicament. However, it quickly abandons this direction to focus on Yato’s predicament as a trash god and his dark past that led him here. Before this, he needs a new spirit weapon after his previous weapon demanded release from serving such a trash god. Weapons in Noragami are born of human-like spirits, who transform into a weapon at their master’s command. Yato finds Yukine, a nubile spirit with potential that first needs human discipline. The weapons being people with emotions and a consciousness raises several interesting questions about the morality of their servitude. Either way you shake it, these spirits are slaves to the gods. One god may claim all her weapons are family, yet it doesn’t erase that their will is bound to her whims. This element, which many anime would have forgotten, is Noragami’s strongest and a thoughtful addition to character-with-monsters-for-weapons anime.

Once Yukine establishes himself as Yato’s new weapon, the plot moves onto another god and her obsession with killing Yato for a past crime. This is when the plot gets going and largely takes place in season 2. The first season is a lot of meandering and side tracking. Yukine as the focus isn’t interesting enough to warrant stalling the main plot for so long, more so because he’s the weakest of the cast. Noragami has a problem with being side tracked. If it’s not Yukine’s problem, it’s some other supporting character than needs help in a way that doesn’t influence the main plot. Season 1 comes down to a monster-of-the-week formula.

This chain of side tracking reminds of old point and click games. Alright, your goal is to open that door, so you need a key, but to get that key you need to help the hag on the hill, yet to help the hag, you must learn to cook, though cooking requires a journey to Nepal, where a monk will talk to you about the weather. Only then can you go all the way back to get the key (if you read the manga that is, for the anime doesn’t advance the first thread). Noragami’s threads at least relate to each other more than the nonsense I’ve just spouted, though their disconnected feel stems from each side quest eclipsing the main. It doesn’t feel as though Yato searches for a new weapon while helping Hiyori. Instead, one erases the other from existence until resolved, only for it to face erasure again when a new side quest pops up. This isn’t a serious issue, yet was an easy fix in the draft stage.

The saving grace among side quests is the humour. Noragami is consistently funny. Yato is a comedy machine when paired with Hiyori, whose narcolepsy jokes never get old. That said, a joke seems to act as a full stop to any serious scene, as if the writers were afraid of allowing the story to be serious for a moment.

I haven’t much to say about Noragami, for it doesn’t stand out in any aspect nor does it fail miserably in any either. My above criticisms aren’t experience-breaking issues while at the same time, the parts I like – people becoming weapons, the humour, the morality – don’t carry Noragami beyond the ‘solid’ realm. That’s it – Noragami is a solid show from characters to action. If you’re a fan of the genre and need your fix before the next greatness, Noragami will tide you over in solid fashion.

Art – High

Like the recently reviewed Hyouka, the little movements in Noragami’s animation, such as clothes shifting rather than staying stiff when walking, are a pleasant surprise. Creepy spirit designs – many eyeballs (don’t watch if eyeballs sprouting from human bodies makes you vomit).

Sound – High

Great energy in both languages – pick either – but I preferred the Japanese for having a crazier protagonist. It’s unusual to have legit English songs – it works.

Story – Medium

A low-rent god accompanied by a girl in limbo and his spirit weapon fight off spirits and gods alike, as he escapes his past to become a legitimate god. Noragami’s story is solid in most aspects, with no outstanding problems yet no strengths to stand out.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For contemporary supernatural fans. If you like the high-school-kids-do-supernatural-things-in-our-world anime type, you will enjoy Noragami. Do note that you may have to continue on to the manga for a conclusion to Hiyori’s arc (it truly hasn’t advanced in the anime), as a third season isn’t confirmed.

(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: None

After School Nightmare – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Houkago Hokenshitsu

 

Genre: High School Supernatural Mystery Drama Romance Horror

Length: 10 volumes

 

Positives:

  • Some horror elements.
  • The concept.

Negatives:

  • The execution.
  • Uninteresting characters, despite their flaws and tragedy.
  • Drama undermines the supernatural conflict.

Who would have thought that After School Nightmare could make a love triangle involving someone with a male top half and female lower half so dull.

Students cannot graduate from this school until they find a key, competing against classmates in a nightmare realm for the mysterious object. Sounds interesting, right? Just like the love triangle, the writer couldn’t have made this more boring. In the nightmare, classmates have to “fight” (read: look menacing), which is undermined by having no impact in the real world, where everyone is chummy despite trying to kill each other yesterday.

As for characters, the melodrama is whiny rubbish. The protagonist likes a girl who likes him as a guy, but another guy likes him as a girl. The conflict goes as such: “I’m not a girl! I’m a boy! Waaaaah.” Three volumes in and it has gone nowhere. The first volume had as much happen as a single chapter of a better manga.

These characters are so shallow that I can’t even remember their individual motivations. People seem to think giving characters a trauma or a flaw makes them deep. In great writing, the use and execution of these flaws create a character’s depth, not the mechanics of the flaw. Take Mr Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. His flaw, pride, doesn’t sound great – it isn’t tragic, he didn’t suffer some great loss, he isn’t a war victim, or anything of the sort. However, the use, the impact of his pride gives him that complexity I find lacking in After School Nightmare’s characters.

I could not wait for this manga to end.

Art – Medium

The art often looks weak. Lopsided, inconsistent faces. The horror elements do look cool, however.

Story – Low

Students must enter nightmares to fight each other if they want to graduate. A unique concept sunk by weak conflict, uninteresting characters, and cheesy drama.

Recommendation: Skip it. There must be a better love triangle of confused sexuality in manga than After School Nightmare.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Hyouka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hyouka

 

Similar: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Gosick

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Mystery

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant art and animation details.

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – Medium

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

Story – Low

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

Overall Quality – Low

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

(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: None

Anime and Manga Reviews