AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day – Review

Japanese Title: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.

 

Related: AnoHana: The Movie (sequel)

Similar: Angel Beats!

Waiting in the Summer

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Young Adult Drama

Length: 11 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Emotionally powerful story surrounding a strong cast of characters with development.
  • Proper opening and closing.
  • Good animation with an attention to character movement details.
  • Great voice acting that conveys the characters’ emotions.
  • Oozes charm.

Negatives:

  • Characters’ side plots needed more time.
  • Visual character detail drops at times.
  • Too few music tracks.

Ano Hana, or the excessively long name above, is a show I went into not knowing what to expect. By the end of its eleven episodes, I was impressed at its ability to weave charm, emotion, character, humour, and conflict into one. This is an anime not to be missed.

We arrive as high school student Jintan is shadowed by the ghost of his childhood friend, the late Menma. She pesters him non-stop and eats his food. As kids, they were part of a group of six friends called the ‘Super Peace Busters.’ Since the death of Menma, they drifted apart, venturing down different paths in life. Jintan fell into a state of depression, failing exams, avoiding school, all the while attributing the hallucination of Menma to stress. The adorable Menma tries her best to cheer him up with her loony antics; she’s a cute character with the heart of a child and innocence to match. She isn’t overdone either, keeping her from becoming an irritation, as is often the case with her character archetype.

Jintan soon realises she will move on if he completes her wish, only, she can’t remember what it is, the scatterbrain. They figure it involves getting the old group back together. This is harder than thought since everyone has changed after so many years, and only Jintan can see Menma. Former friends have turned either pretentious like the black-haired girl, Tsuruko, or callous and heartless as Yukiatsu, the light-haired boy. Only Poppo, the boisterous traveller believes Jintan that Menma has returned. Lastly, there’s Anaru, who has joined the trendy girls out of low self-esteem despite being little like them. The acting is fantastic, particularly for Anaru.

The struggle is on for Jintan, with Menma’s well-meaning help, to rekindle their friendships. Even Pokémon games are used (or Nokémon as they retitled it here) to bring back the memories – they incorporated it accurately from the three starters, trading to evolve, hunting in grass, and even using a link cable for Gold Version!

Conflict is interspersed with light-hearted humour that never overpowers the emotion of the show. An adorable charm complements the heavy moments, creating a good balance where no single aspect becomes too much. With a well-crafted plot built on a foundation of believable, three-dimensional characters, you feel the emotions, the trials and triumphs of everyone. The side plots are relevant, as they have to deal with problems like any other teenager; often, writers will forget that problems don’t go away just because another arises. We still see jealousy, selfish motives in relationships, and doubt at capabilities. Jintan especially has to overcome great adversity before the end. Looking at a poster or screenshot doesn’t do this anime’s depth justice.

Warning: if you are the sort who shows emotion in times of sadness for a show or movie, prepare for rivers here.

My one complaint in terms of plot is how little time some of the side stories get to develop. Another episode or two could have satisfied every thread.

You won’t go wrong in watching Ano Hana. You will feel joy and sorrow simultaneously for deep characters brought to life by the right voices, leaving no reason not to spend time with the Super Peace Busters.

Art – High

The art leans towards charm rather than the emotion. That’s not to say the emotion won’t come through their expressions – the opposite in fact. Menma’s cute design enhances the sorrow you feel for her, while making her more adorable during her wacky moments. No compromises were made with the environmental art; however, the same can’t be said for the characters. There are times when the quality slips, in particular regards to light and shadow.

Sound – High

An aspect I rarely comment on, for it is usually unremarkable either way is the opening and ending sequences. Ano Hana manages to do both beautifully, music and art matching the story well. It is unfortunate the same can’t be said for the background tracks, which are lacking. At first, I thought the acting was nothing special outside of Menma – who sounds adorable – but was pleased to concede defeat when the emotions hit their high notes, delivered with skill by the actors. Anaru the trendy girl is especially good.

Story – High

A coming-of-age story that looks to the past filled with depth, emotion, and conflict. Brilliant.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Ano Hana surprised me with the quality of its narrative, delivering mature drama rarely found in teen stories.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

CharmExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat OP or ED SequenceStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

 

Angel Heart – Review

Japanese Title: Angel Heart

 

Related: City Hunter ’91 (alternative version)

Similar: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom

Noir

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 50 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Has a good sense of humour, particularly involving City Hunter.
  • City Hunter is a great character with an equally good voice actor.
  • Haunting music enhances the sombre moments.
  • Starts strong, but…

Negatives:

  • …the plot wanes after thirteen episodes and goes on too long.
  • Start isn’t indicative of the remainder of the series.
  • The few supernatural elements are vague.

Ever watched a show that starts about one thing, only to change direction part way in? Angel Heart is one such show.

Angel Heart starts regarding an accelerated growth fourteen-year-old assassin, codename Glass Heart, who has a sudden moral crisis after killing a little girl’s father. Glass Heart kills herself by leaping off a tall building. However, the organisation she worked for revives her using advanced medical technology and transplanting a new heart into her. This heart belonged to recent accident victim, Kaori, and causes problems for Glass Heart, as she recalls memories and emotions of its original owner.

We are plunged into two minds: the killer instinct of Glass Heart and the kind mercy of Kaori. As Kaori’s thoughts seek out her fiancé, City Hunter – a former assassin turned good guy for hire – police officer Saeko investigates the theft of the donor heart alongside City Hunter, who swears to kill whoever has it. Memories flash through Glass Heart’s mind, conflicting opinions of what she feels for people, and which sentiments are truly hers.

Thirteen episodes in, all this changes as the psychological conflict is no more, the serious tone dropped for a lighter-hearted atmosphere, and the show loses any central plot. It becomes a case-by-case serial where City Hunter takes on various clients. For the most part these individual cases are interesting in their own few-episode stories, but with no overarching plot, there’s nothing to keep me going. Unless it’s a comedy or a near movie-length detective serial (think Poirot), one simply can’t follow this format – yes, one could have a few individual stories peppered throughout, just not as a basis for the show. The arcs themselves also linger for an episode after resolution. The intricate web of X is related to Y, but Y works for Z, while Z wants to kill X, however, A is spying on Y, yet A isn’t what he seems, etc. from the first arc is swept away.

There are a few other minor story related problems; the occasional supernatural elements are poorly explained or vague. The blind barman for example, can know who people are by simply being near them. In fact, this show has that whole ridiculous ‘sense someone’s aura’ to know what sort of a person they are – assassins identify each other this way. Fortunately, this doesn’t amount to much as no conflict is solved through this, meaning it could be removed without effect. There is also that common action trope where bullets seem incapable of hitting a target when convenient, despite being surrounded.

It’s all a real shame, as the characters are quite good: Glass Heart with her dual mind, Mochi the sissy son of a Yakuza boss who has to do whatever people can rope him into, and the blind barman who knocks sense into City Hunter when needed. City Hunter himself is the strongest of the lot, equal parts comedic perv and action man; he’s a good character with plenty of diversity to him. His voice actor does an exceptional job of transitioning from his serious tone to his comedic idiolect. The humour of this show is well executed, even during its occasional presence in the first thirteen episodes, yet it still isn’t enough to carry like in other anime – FMP: Fumoffu, Trigun, etc.

Angel Heart could have been a great show if it had stuck to its original idea of exploring the morality of an assassin. Instead, we are left with many tacked on episodes. It should have been no more than thirteen to sixteen episodes like the original series, City Hunter ’91.

 

Art – Medium

The art matches the tone of the show’s first thirteen episodes with a mature style found in films such as Perfect Blue and Ghost in the Shell. There is some creative psychedelic imagery at the start, but along with the tone change, such creativity is lost, leaving the unimaginative behind.

Sound – High

The acting is great, even for side characters, and I was pleased to see use of other languages (Chinese, Korean) not just Japanese – in anime, everyone tends to speak Japanese as a first language regardless of what country they hail from. The music is good, ranging from mystery to pop to electro.

Story – Medium

Strong start with the story of a conflicted assassin that unfortunately wanes too soon and stretches too far.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Watch the first thirteen episodes, rest at your own discretion.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative:

DissapointingMisleadingWeak End

Allison and Lillia – Review

Japanese Title: Allison to Lillia

 

Similar: Last Exile

The Pilot’s Love Song

 

Genre: Adventure Romance

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A real sense of charm from its beautiful, storybook visuals populated by good characters with believable relationships.
  • Strong sound effects, for the action in particular.

Negatives:

  • Story never hits a high note.
  • Ambiguous character ages.
  • Final twist is…unexplained.

In a world based on Europe’s 1920s, there lays a continent divided by a gargantuan river into the two regions of Roxche and Sous-Beil. Both sides were at war for one-hundred-and-thirty years, but are currently in cease-fire. Tensions are still precarious as neither side is willing to give way in the issue over which region existed first; the older believes they have rightful ownership of the younger’s land. A feeble cause, I know, but wars have been fought over far less.

We follow the tales of two Roxcheans: Wil, a down-to-earth, book smart, loyal, peace-loving guy, and his friend, Allison. She’s an adventure girl, feisty, reckless, defiant, likes to ‘borrow’ without asking, sleeps way too much, and is a classic cover-hog. Her escapades get him into trouble, dragging him along for the ride. Their teamwork, complementing personalities and natural behaviour to each other makes for a believable friendship. Their ages are difficult to surmise, for Wil is in the fifth grade at the start, but they obviously aren’t eleven. A quick search revealed they are both seventeen, yet there is still one problem: how is a seventeen-year-old girl a proper military pilot? Maybe things were different in the twenties…

Another time it may be, and yet, I still felt uncomfortable at the relationship of two support characters, pilot Carr the charming love letter guy and Fiona, Princess of Ikstova (a small country between both regions). This isn’t a spoiler, as it happens quickly – which isn’t a problem – he looks twenty-something and she, ten (another search reveals her as twenty years old. Twenty!) No matter how hard you try, you can’t skew her appearance to adulthood. Their relationship isn’t explicit or ‘icky’ in anyway, it just looks inappropriate. And no, it isn’t a childhood crush you have on a celebrity; he is the instigator.

Back to Allison and Wil. When an old codger tells them of a treasure about a cover-up in the war that could end all strife, they are dubious. Then the old man is kidnapped and the adventure is on! They give chase into Sous-Beil using a seaplane. The conflict isn’t simply good versus bad. Both sides have positive and negative aspects, no outright evil nation.

Allison and Lillia’s narrative is more a series of short stories rather than a single large story. Yes, the characters and their lives link each; however, they are also self-contained arcs. I don’t understand this structural choice since they could have had the same stories, but with more ties between them. As it is, the plot doesn’t get a chance to escalate, build mystery, hit that high point in tension where everything comes together. You will see twists and have those tense moments, only without that expected crescendo. In fact, the pace slows the further the show progresses.

This show is loaded with charm. From the light-hearted and well-timed humour to the innocence of youth, and the beautiful storybook style art, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.

Allison and Lillia is an enjoyable show – even for the kids – that captures a sense of family and friendship, and what people are willing to do to protect those important to them. If only the plot had more heft and mystery to it…and characters’ ages were clearer (yes, it bothers me that much).

Art – High

Beautiful art full of charm. Magnificent vistas inspired by European countrysides are a pleasure to behold with the splendid environmental lighting effects.

Sound – High

The music throughout is well composed, matching the show in its European inspirations. Sound effects for the inorganic things are excellent. You feel bullets whiz past, explosions shake the ground, and hear planes fall to the horizon. The right actors for each character, especially for Allison, who could have gone the obnoxious road often associated with the young, strong female types.

Story – Medium

A tale of adventure against a backdrop of war torn countries. A missed opportunity, but enjoyable nevertheless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: A good show. Allison and Lillia is the ideal anime to watch with your kids, as it offers a fun adventure for all.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

CharmStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

DissapointingWeak End

Akagi – Review

Japanese Title: Touhai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai

 

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

One Outs

Genre: Gambling Sports Thriller

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 26 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • The music, character reactions, and inner thoughts combine to build good tension.
  • Comprehensive strategy alongside in-depth analysis of mahjong.
  • Interesting lead character with a sense of cunning, ruthlessness and insanity.

Negatives:

  • Limited in scope.
  • Art style may put you off.
  • Akagi’s origin story lacks realism.
  • Slow finale.

Akagi loves his mahjong like Yugi loves his children’s card games. In fact, the entire underground seems to love mahjong a whole lot. Mahjong is what makes the Yakuza go round; it takes lives, passes around exuberant amounts of money, induces insanity – it is lifeblood.

Mahjong, for the uninitiated, is a Chinese four-player game similar to most card games where the objective is to make pairs or straights of different tiles, only with more suits and pieces. You have a large hand of hidden tiles and the first to have it full of pairs and/or straights, wins the game. The key to the game is being able to read your opponent’s hand based on what they take and throw into the pond (the discard piles in the middle), and their reaction to each play. Think of it as poker, only requiring more skill and the game pieces matter.

Akagi is a thirteen-year-old mahjong prodigy who stumbles into the underground scene of gambling and obsessive mahjong playing – any conflict between gangs in this world is resolved through a round of mahjong. After a spectacular first night of play, Akagi is roped in to play for the Yakuza against various expert players. What makes Akagi stand out from the rest is that he is utterly insane. Not in the sense of a raving lunatic, no, he is fearless, thrilled by risking it all for the game – fingers, limbs and even life are gambling tokens. The more he has on the line, the greater the excitement for him. He’s an interesting character in the way he thinks, strategises and tortures his opponents through mental warfare. My only gripe with him is how he becomes professional. I don’t believe for one moment that he would be a genius at the game after five minutes of having the rules explained. They should have instead lied about him being a novice, in my opinion; it wouldn’t have made a difference to anything outside of that unconvincing origin.

As an anime, Akagi is as dramatic as they get. Every tile drawn, every play, every thought is overdramatized to the nth degree. Everyone does act as though mahjong is the creator and bringer of destruction, the answer to life, the secret to the universe. Is this a good thing? Well, think of what any sport anime would be like if they didn’t pile on the dramatic. It wouldn’t be interesting to watch, now would it? You have to like that intrinsic anime over-the-top style…and mahjong. Each game is narrated through a combination of the players’ and spectators’ thoughts and the recount of a narrator – at times it does slow to a crawl as you have to listen to every passing thought. The last few episodes are most guilty of this. They could have cut about four episodes’ worth of mindless rambling throughout the show.

Ninety-five percent of the screen time passes either playing or talking about the game. And that’s where Akagi’s major flaw lies. Normally, in a sport anime, plotlines surrounding the main narrative, therefore even if the sport isn’t your cup of tea, the overall package can hold your interest. Here, it’s nothing but mahjong, so you better love it. Yes, there are other interesting characters, most notably the opponents, ranging from the manic to the blind – each competes to see who is the most dramatic. I swear to you, winning is second to being dramatic. The strategies of each are interesting and varied, with different conditions versus each new opponent. I especially like how cheating is a part of the game, another tool for the utility belt.

Unfortunately, you will cringe in disbelief at times when luck of the draw attains a win. While it is true that luck is a part of any game in real life, here they claim that the luck was created or even ‘destined.’ It doesn’t happen often, but enough for you to notice. On the flip side, chance-heavy wins are illustrated well – i.e. it goes into the habits and psychology of characters to explain everything, even which of two pieces they would discard based on the sort of person they are.

Akagi is a good anime; however, I can only recommend it to those who enjoy and understand mahjong.

Art – Medium

The art will garner widely conflicting opinions; you will either love it or hate it – somewhere in between is improbable. Akagi looks like a woodpecker with that nose of his, the style angular and unique.

Sound – Medium

The music is good, adding to the tension and drama, and rather surprisingly, the opening theme isn’t too bad. Avoid the ending theme, however.

Story – High

Limited to mahjong matches, each one with higher stakes than the last, yet good with what it encompasses.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for the lovers of mahjong and insane competition. Though I rate Akagi highly, I expect this anime to be of niche interest.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Strategic

Negative:

Terrible Start

Air TV (& Movie) – Review

Japanese Title: AIR & Gekijouban Air (Movie)

 

Related: Air Movie (included below in review)

Similar: Kanon

Clannad

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance.

Watched in: Japanese.

Length: 13 episodes, 2-episode special & a movie (retelling of the series).

 

Positives:

  • Has nice environmental art.

Negatives:

  • Dopiest character design in anime.
  • Vague story.
  • Moments meant to be deep are laughable.
  • Weak characters, most notably the lead female, surrounded by a glut of stereotypes that develop poorly.

You have not seen bad character art until you watch Air, an anime about…something – there isn’t much of a story. But first we have to talk about the characters. A hamster riding a t-rex in a tutu wielding a turnip is less ridiculous than this! You will either fall out of your chair with laughter or vomit with disgust at how terrible the characters are designed, more specifically the females.

Now we all know that your typical anime facial proportions are a little skewed, but as it is animation, it looks fine. Here we have what can only be described as caricatures of anime characters. The eyes are bigger than your fist, while the mouth is so minuscule it is often no more than a dot. Seriously, if the eyes were out of their sockets, they would be the size of American footballs. The girls look permanently drugged; hell, one of them even sounds it.

And that’s just the start of the problems. The characters themselves are just as dopey. Lead female Misuzu is supposed to be cute, but with the tripping, squeaky voice, clumsiness, overused ‘cute’ noises, cutesy honorifics, and drug-addled face, it’s a wonder they didn’t make her hiccough rainbows, shoot love hearts out of her chest, and have candy floss for snot since they had already overdone every cliché. Closing my eyes whenever I talk makes me cute! (Every girl does this, jealous of Brock from Pokémon.) The creators have never heard of ‘less is more.’

Even the dog, Potato, who was cute enough being small and fluffy has to say ‘piko’ constantly as if that is a must or he just won’t be cute. Instead, it’s irritating and tiresome. If that isn’t enough, we have her friends, Kano – also drugged – and Minagi, who looks and sounds drugged. She’s meant to be gentile and smart, but you really don’t see it – unless being more addled than the rest counts. The I’m-aggressive-but-it’s-cute slot is filled by Michiru, the youngest of the girls with obligatory cutesy noises added to everything, and to top it off, is played by the same voice actress who does all characters of that stereotype.

Okay, you may ask, they look and sound stupid, but if the story is good, it’s still worth my time, right? I am forever and truly sorry; the plot is utter nonsense. See, one of the problems is that to tell you what it’s about, I would have to spoil some for you as the story doesn’t begin till episode nine. What, nothing happens for eight episodes in a thirteen episode series? Oh, stuff does happen, it is simply irrelevant to the larger plot. Even lead male Yukito is irrelevant throughout this, as he does nothing until episode ten. Friend Kano gets magically possessed (her eyes were vacant enough already) by something, but that goes nowhere. Minagi the Addled is so far gone that her imaginary friend is real, which is also immaterial. And the small things that do matter are in fact retold in episode ten! Even the two-episode special is simply a stupidity-padded version of the flashback episode nine.

So, the plot, the plot…where did it go… I have no choice but to start at episode nine.

A princess in the past had the ability to fly with cursed wings and is hunted for it. Her ability is passed down through someone else’s line because of “willpower,” but it kills the descendants through dreams as kids. (How they get old enough to bear offspring for the bloodline, I don’t know – don’t think about it. The only answer is too twisted.) And, that’s it.

No character development either. To develop, you need a catalyst (usually an event or conflict), a reaction from the character, and then overcome the conflict (failure to overcome can also be growth), but in Air, there is no catalyst; characters cry or get angry out of nowhere, subsequently it dissolves without effort, and is forgotten. The only growth comes from the lead female’s mother (who looks eighteen – also vacant) starting as an irresponsible drunk before learning to care for her adopted daughter. Don’t worry, this doesn’t affect the main plot either. What moments intend to be poignant and heartfelt are empty since the characters aren’t developed enough and I couldn’t imagine anyone caring for them.

So can anything good that can be said for AIR? The art outside of the characters is quite nice, I guess, plenty of colour. That’s pretty much it. The series isn’t terrible in the sense that everything is outright bad; it’s just that nothing is developed, no relevant plot goes anywhere, and it all-round feels…empty.

Art – Very Low

Can anything else be said about this drug-addled character design? The environments are passable.

Sound – Medium

Some decent tunes and acting, except for the little girl and the cutesy noises.

Story – Very Low

The plot doesn’t begin until the ninth episode, at which point you can expect one of the most empty and underdeveloped stories in anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid this at all cost. Hit the random button in an anime database and you will likely find something better than AIR.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None.

Negative:

Atrocious PlotNo DevelopmentRubbish CharactersShallowUgly Artistic DesignUseless Side Cast

 

AIR the Movie – Review

AIR the Movie came out during the series (they are both based on a game of the same name and tell the same story) and is better in every way. Now, don’t get excited, I’m not saying it’s amazing; it simply has much of the rubbish removed from the series. For one, the characters don’t look so addled – it makes you wonder why they made the ridiculous art style choice for the series in the first place. The level of detail in the visuals is much higher overall.

At an hour and a half long, there isn’t the gargantuan amount of padding from the episodes. The story is also better told with much clearer dialogue and scenes. The relationship of the two lead characters is far more believable since it isn’t forced here, and the characters actually look closer in age (not twelve and twenty like the series). All the trash side characters, particularly her drugged friends, are non-existent in this. ‘Willpower’ also doesn’t carry on the curse and what triggers it also makes sense here (and you don’t have to wonder how they get old enough for children).

Unfortunately, Misuzu’s cuteness is still overdone, though as she is the only young girl this time, it feels lessened. The finer details of the plot are still a little vague, with plot holes, and a distinct lack of twists. I don’t think it achieved the intended depth. Still better than the series.

Overall Movie Quality – Medium

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