Bakemonogatari – Review

Japanese Title: Bakemonogatari

 

Related: Nisemonogatari (sequel)

Similar: Katanagatari

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 13 episodes (12 is the finale; 13 is a bonus)

 

Positives:

  • Fantastic art style and animation to create a vibrant, yet haunting world.
  • Well-suited music to the dialogue heavy plot.
  • Strong male and female protagonists.
  • Solid voice work to accompany the varied dialogue.
  • Dark humour from lead female is a pleasant change of pace.

Negatives:

  • Incoherent story overall marred by throwaway side characters.
  • Random screens of text flashing every few seconds.
  • Sexually creepy at times.
  • Too little character development, even from the protagonists.
  • No world building despite the incredible visual design.

Bakemonogatari is one weird anime. You don’t get many as weird as this one. This anime has people with spaghetti for brains and staplers as weapons. Probably the most normal thing here, as far as anime goes, is starting with a pantie-shot. From then on, it goes to a whole different dimension. The question we ask ourselves: Is this weirdness good? It does create greatness, but unfortunately, it brings several poor decisions along for the ride.

Immediately, I was struck by the vivid art of Bakemonogatari. Its brilliant use of light, shade, and colour is gorgeous. There is style here, plenty of it. Gradients give backgrounds depth on top of the multi-layering. All colour choice is deliberate, intended to match the mood and atmosphere of the characters and their situations, even at the cost of continuity – a room could be bright one moment and change to dark if the situation called for it, regardless of realism.

It is a shame then that poor choices mar these visuals. Bakemonogatari use a mix of live-action, stop-motion, collage pages, and text for metaphors and similes. At times, the change in art is both hilarious and clever, the rest, tedious and forced. The worst offenders are the screens of text; they flash at random intervals for no purpose. Every instance broke my immersion. Get used to seeing a flat colour with Japanese lettering and the subtitle ‘unidentified cut’ underneath. A dozen times. Per episode. Every episode. Unbelievably stupid decision to kill the atmosphere. It feels as though they had a great idea to use live-action, collages, and so on, and found them to work so well that they thought, ‘why not add more?!’ only to kill it all by going too far. Such a shame.

The plot swims in much the same ocean as the alternative art styles: greatness weighed by poor decisions. We start with protagonist, Araragi, running up a grand spiral staircase in what you can assume is his high-school (most expensive high-school I have ever seen, especially considering no one goes there – more later). He looks up to see a girl falling down the hundred-meter tower. He catches her (don’t question how she drifts twenty meters from the central axis into the stairs) only to find she weighs five kilos (still enough that it should have broken his arms from that height, however). With Senjougahara’s secret revealed, she cannot let him go; she attacks armed with a box cutter and a stapler. After she staples the inside of his cheek for the fun of it, he pulls open his mouth to show no wound. Turns out Araragi recently reverted to human after a stint as a vampire. They become tenuous allies to return Senjougahara’s stolen weight (from a giant ghost crab that also took her memories) with the help of his acquaintance who cured his vampirism.

This initial premise captured my interest; unfortunate then that it lasted but a few episodes before it took a tangent about a little girl with another supernatural problem. The tangent itself wasn’t poor, but lacked development of the main plot and romance. When yet another girl with a paranormal issue enters afterwards, one realises this show is on a formulaic cycle and has little to do with the initial promise. His former life as a vampire has no bearing on the plot. Senjougahara’s backstory seems forgotten, and the relationship development stalls until episode twelve – a fantastic episode, admittedly.

In all, five girls partake, including the lead female, which is why you see Bakemonogatari categorised as a harem anime, yet this isn’t one. Yes, creepy sexualisation exists with a side character or two, but nothing that constitutes a relationship or even a crush required by harem anime. At least they made the correct decision in that aspect.

One of the strangest factors is how the entire world’s population is nine: protagonist, five girls, mystic, minor vampire girl, and Senjougahara’s father. That’s it. No background characters at all, not even in a school big enough to have a glass tower of no purpose, and parking for a thousand bicycles. Is this a problem though? Not really, but it did reduce world depth. This brings me to another negative: no world building. Why is this ghost crab after her? Where do all these supernatural elements come from? Where is the lore, the backstory? You get nothing. The world feels empty despite the visual depth.

Bakemonogatari is heavily dialogue driven. You have to pay attention, as it moves at a brisk pace while you extrapolate what is relevant from the random junk littered throughout. Episodes tend to diverge halfway through into some long-winded tangent before they return on track – medium success rate. The camera likes to cut away to different angles during dialogue. Focus on someone’s feet, then their hands, the corner of the table, the wall, a badly framed shot of the face. Prepare for irrelevance as well. The side of a building, some grass, a window, dirt, more grass…

Allow me to stress that this isn’t for children, and not because of the nudity. Topics of discussion range from Araragi’s virginity to Senjougahara’s choice of clothing and even to some specific types of incest-like fetishes. Honestly, I didn’t even know those were actual fetishes… Anyway, they deal with deep psychological issues caused by broken families and assault on loved ones. Dialogues are largely between the two lead characters, where Bakemonogatari is at its best. The dynamic between these two is a pleasure to watch. I find it hilarious how her attempts to help him with problems (she’s the more mature of the two), end up abusing him instead, making things worse, except, she honestly believes she’s helping. The humour is along those lines: serious in delivery, ironic in reception. His stray lock of hair being a symbol for his arousal level is clever too.

Despite the negatives, Bakemonogatari is still an anime worth watching. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend you watch no more than three episodes at a time to avoid overload and to maintain your focus throughout. Marvel at the art, focus on the lead characters, and you will end with a positive opinion.

Art – Very High

Truly spectacular. From the light to the shade, marvellous work here. However, it is brought down by some obnoxious screen flashes that occur far too often.

Sound – High

The right actors to match the great dialogue. Music is enjoyable too, outside of the opening and closing sequences.

Story – High

Moments of greatness distracted by random elements thrown in for the sake of being random. Three of the five story arcs fall flat.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch this for what it does right. Take Bakemonogatari in small doses to stave off what it does wrong.

(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:

Engaging DialogueStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingIncoherentMisleading

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Azumanga Daioh – Review

Japanese Title: Azumanga Daioh the Animation

 

Similar: Lucky☆Star

Nichijou

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 26 Episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nothing

Negatives:

  • Everything…
  • Not funny for a comedy.
  • Clichéd characters (how are they still so lifeless?) meandering through an empty plot with no conflict.
  • Forced cuteness.
  • Waste of time.

Azumanga Daioh is one of those shows that I heard about when I first got in anime. I would hear how funny of a show it was and how it was so cute, and all that. At the time, I was in my early teens, so based on the character art alone, I knew it wasn’t my sort of thing. Now, over a decade later, when every show can be ‘my sort of thing,’ I decided to give it a go and write the review I couldn’t as a teenager.

My opinion of Azumanga is worse now than all those years ago. Truly, this is one of the worst shows I have ever seen. I have spent more time thinking of what to write about this anime than actually watching it. There is nothing to write when nothing happens! I will paste the notes I made during the viewing and see where we go from there. For other shows, I usually have pages of compressed speed notes, but here I couldn’t even manage a page.

  • Forced cuteness. Not really cute.
  • Nothing happens.
  • Not really funny.
  • Really, what is this show about?
  • It’s just random crap with no conflict or tension of any kind.
  • This is rubbish.
  • Every joke falls flat. Are these even meant to be jokes?
  • Paedophilic humour(? – not sure if joking)
  • Every character is stupid.
  • Episodes are about someone buying lunch, or cleaning a classroom, or other such rubbish.
  • Really, NOTHING HAPPENS!
  • This show is terrible.
  • Such a waste of time.
  • High school setting.
  • Bunch of one-dimensional schoolgirls.
  • Can’t remember any of their names.

And that’s it. All of it after 26 episodes. I could just leave it that, but it would be lazy. (I am being forced to pad content – I never do that!)

I understand that the genre doesn’t demand much in terms of depth and plot, but really, this is pushing the limits of shallow. Nothing happens in this story; there is no continuity and a distinct lack of character development. Even a day in the life of Earth’s most boring person would hold more intrigue than this. Each episode consists of the stupidest characters you have ever seen doing the most mundane of things: buying lunch, cleaning the floor, sitting in class, jumping in the pool, talking about how cool the tall girl is…

This must all be a mere jest, right? There has to be more, no? There isn’t. The characters start and end the same. No conflict is overcome, no tension is experienced. There is literally no drive or reason to keep watching. Now, if it was mind-blowingly hilarious, I could understand (yet, all the funniest shows have conflict). However, Azumanga doesn’t even accomplish that. I may have laughed once in this twenty-six episode run. The jokes are so bad that they aren’t even lame. I spent most of my time trying to find the jokes, questioning if that scene I just watched was intended to be funny or not. I assume the cuteness was to add charm and humour, but is so forced, so overdone that it becomes tiresome before first episode’s end.

In the end, I have nothing more to say than don’t waste your time with this show. Which, ironically enough, is more than Azumanga Daioh has to say. Characters and plot are empty, audio and video you have experienced before, and overall stupidity give no reason to try this anime.

Art – Low

The visuals are unremarkable. Generic. In the animation department, unsurprisingly it disappoints again with little motion and a low frame rate.

Sound – Low

Sound follows the footsteps of art like a shadow – unremarkable and forgettable. What music? These characters are so stereotypical that even the voice work sounds too familiar. There is the overly cute one, the quiet tall one, the annoying hyperactive one, the immature teacher, and the supposedly wise one. This entire genre seems to be a copy paste of the above, voice actors and all.

Story – Very Low

There is none. The characters have the same depth as the plot.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Don’t put yourself through this. After watching Azumanga Daioh, I can see why the original manga author refuses to allow his current and excellent series Yotsuba to receive an anime adaptation. 4-panel comic stories don’t convert well to full episodes.

(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 PlotAwful DialogueInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

Asura Cryin’ – Review

Japanese Title: Asura Cryin’

 

Similar: A Certain Magical Index

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action

Length: 13 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • The spell effects and mech summonings look nice.
  • Well-designed and animated mechs.
  • Good opening and closing sequences (that likely setup false expectations).

Negatives:

  • Frame rate drop in character animation.
  • A poorly setup start that quickly loses focus, ending in a weak finale.
  • Generic high school side plots.
  • Several androgynous characters, while pretending that they aren’t.
  • Muddled lore rules.
  • Many useless side characters, particularly the harem.

Asura Cryin’ is one of those shows you know is incomplete. It feels like they had a good idea and some general framework around it, but in the end too much was missing to have a solid final product. Rather than waste their time designing too many side characters, shoehorning in generic scenarios and random sleaze, they should have focused on the core concept.

Three different groups battle over a mech known as Asura Machina owned by Tomo, a wimpy high-school student. The mech is bound to him because of spirit girl Misao, who follows him around like a lost puppy. She’s still obsessed with fashion, even though she’s dead. So, Dark Society, the Divine Guards, and a demon faction all require this mech, ready to fight to the death. That is, until three episodes in where they’re all chums going on picnics, having casual chats while taking a leak…you know, the uje… Then the focus is on preventing Tomo and a demon girl Kanade (human in every way except with large fun-bags – how creative – and can use fire magic) from…getting busy…because the resulting contract plus his mech would create some powerful evil. More characters are introduced at this point – all of them female – until…they become ‘best buds’ and all’s cool despite having just tried to kill each other. Don’t confuse this with development, as no event changes these allegiances; it just happens.

More useless and irrelevant side characters enter to fill time, all the while, anyone who is relevant breaks the rules established by the world. A character’s powers seem selected at random. One has the ability to drain ‘luck’ from something by biting it (with no comprehension of how probability works); another can somehow fight these supposedly all-powerful mechs with nothing more than a sword; there’s even a guy who invents powers as he goes, and yet, somehow forgets he has them the next battle where it would be a free win. This plot doesn’t take itself seriously enough and is all over the place in its tone.

The concept and acquisition of the mechs is interesting, along with the idea of various factions vying for control over them, but beneath that, it’s just weak. For example, the demon’s mention they control the city, but this translates to nothing in the plot. Similarly, the Divine Guards work for the douchebag pope to eradicate demons; however, this too is worthless as they’re chums like no other. And Dark Society? You never see them, nor hear about them, or anything useful.

On the character front, it’s no better. Tomo and the ghost are decent enough. The Dark Society woman with glasses is a cyborg with the ability to pull guns out of nowhere (ones even bigger than her) and is a sleaze to a creepy degree. Sleaze is a common trope in this show – not to the extent that most straight up harem anime have. Kanade’s sole purpose is to pitch Tomo’s tent several times an episode; oh yes, she does fight…once.

Dialogue is hilariously bad: “It’s a forbidden existence that shouldn’t exist” – you know they were trying to be deep but failed miserably. Some forgettable girl says, “The world was created from an explosion once, correct? Well then, that means that an explosion carries with it the entirety of the world.”

Asura Cryin’ does have some redeeming qualities. The music is good, especially the opening and closing themes, accompanied by nice visuals in a heavy palette of purples and greens – this scheme translates to much of the show.

Asura Cryin’ can’t seem to avoid a dozen awful things for every one good choice in the same field. A sequel season is out for this, but I doubt I will get around to it unless requested, since I don’t see improvements on the horizon. What a waste.

Art – Medium

Animation and visual design is a mixed bag. Environments, mechs and spells look great using dark colours when necessary. The mechs remind of Warmachine’s Cygnar Warjacks, which is nothing but praise from me. A character’s shadow turning to dark matter from which the mech grows is a particularly cool effect. Where it falls is with the characters. Every male has girlish attachments to their hair, and styles are inflated. While the mechs have great animation (though at times you see more CG than anime) the characters suffer from a low frame rate in action.

Sound – Medium

I don’t know why I enjoy the opening song’s techno and ethereal lyrics – catchy. Background music consists mostly of brass instruments and violin with the occasional pipe organ, with electronic added for the action sequences. Rubbish acting.

Story – Very Low

Doesn’t know what to do with all the magic lore, supernatural factions and mecha it created. Pathetic characters.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time unless you’re desperate. Asura Cryin’ needed a few more months’ incubation before being ready for production.

(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 PlotAwful DialogueIncoherentUseless Side Cast

Aria the Animation (all 3 seasons) – Review

Japanese Title: Aria the Animation

 

Related: Aria the Animation; Aria the Natural (season 2 – included in review)

Aria the OVA: Arietta (included in review)

Aria the Origination (season 3 – included in review)

Similar: Sketchbook: Full Color’s

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Fantasy (-ish)

Length: Season one – 13 episodes; Season two – 26 episodes; 1 OVA; Season three – 13 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Nice Venetian architecture.
  • Beautiful water effects and reflections.

Negatives:

  • No tension, excitement, or danger.
  • Little plot to speak of with no progression.
  • Poor twists.
  • Too long and slow all the way.

With three seasons and a special, you would expect Aria the Animation to be something good, if not great, to garner so much support. It didn’t deserve such patronage. Now, it isn’t bad, I just can’t fathom how this got renewed after the first season. This story has no substance. It is difficult to place the genre. There is no relationship conflict to be a drama, not enough humour to be comedy, no action, not enough fantasy or science fiction, and no romance. I had to check the genre online, the first time I’ve ever needed to.

The story takes place on Aqua, formerly known as Mars until they filled it with water one-hundred and fifty years ago, in the city of Neo-Venice, a replica of Earth Venice. The recreation of Venice is one of the things I do like about Aria. They took care to include famous Venetian landmarks such as the St Mark’s Basilica, the island of Burano, and Plaza San Marco. The architecture and feel of the place is accurate, although it is much cleaner than real-Venice – if you have been there you’ll know the water is more green than blue. However, you have to suspend disbelief since filling Mars with water won’t make it function exactly like Earth.

Akari, the young resident of Neo-Venice dreams of being a professional gondolier (pilot of the boats Venice is famous for) under the tuition of Alicia, the blond-haired lady of the Aria Gondola Company who says ‘my, my,’ a lot. She becomes fast friends with other gondolier women: Aika, the apprentice with blue hair, her bossy teacher Akira, and the studious Alice – far too many similar names. The best character is the cat/teddy creature they have as the company mascot. He is fun to watch when he’s trying to charm the cat mascot of another company.

Each episode follows some unimaginative plot with no excitement, danger, drama, or tension. They are small adventures everyone has seen in one form or another. It would be like making an anime about someone going to the store to buy some milk before returning, and the largest conflict is the lack of exact change, therefore having to break a tenner. Nothing to hold your interest, essentially. No more needs to be said in regards to the story other than it’s pleasant but without substance. The only outright bad things are the twists that happen at random. Let’s time travel! No foreshadowing, no clues, no explanations, they just…happen.

Season 2 is a slight improvement to the first. The adventures they go on each episode actually have an unknown element that drives them to the end – don’t get excited, as it still isn’t anything interesting. On the negative, it’s twenty-six episodes long so you have to sit through twice as much. I guess if you’ve bothered with continuing after the first season, you must like it anyway. Finally, the OVA and season three have another small increment in quality with more shading and layers in the art, but the story is more of the same.

Unfortunately, little good can be said about Aria, and yet, little that is outright bad. It’s just…eh. I simply don’t understand what prompted so many seasons. I can only recommend it if you want to watch something that takes no thought or analysis on your part as you glide over the pleasant waters of Venice.

Art – High

The architecture and water carry the visuals. The wavering reflections of Neo-Venice look nice. Characters have the standard anime look, other than the elegant designs of their gondolier outfits, interspersed with morphs into the adult chibi.

Sound – Medium

Solid guitar tunes take up the majority of the compositions, an apt choice for a gondola ride.

Story – Low

A slow gondola ride through Venice with no conflict, no drama to experience. Sit back, and sleep.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Meh. Watch it if you just want to give your mind a rest. How did Aria receive so many seasons?

(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:

Lacks ConflictNo DevelopmentPoor PacingShallow

Sweet Blue Flowers – Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Hana (Not to be confused with Ano Hana)

 

Similar: Maria Watches Over Us

Whispered Words

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Yuri Romance

Length: 11 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Nice backgrounds.

Negatives:

  • Terrible characters void of meaningful emotion in empty relationships.
  • Mary-Sue character praised as a goddess.
  • Stiff animations.
  • Lifeless voice work delivers unnatural dialogue.
  • Dull start, middle, and end.
  • Repetitive music.
  • Thinks Wuthering Heights is good.

Even with all the above, one still can’t grasp the drivel that is Sweet Blue Flowers. It’s so bad that I wonder how a studio green lit this loathsome rubbish. One look at the script would turn even the most novice of readers into twitching masses of ooze from the sputum this show vomited all over them.

It’s supposed to be about the budding romance and troubled relationships of teenage lesbian girls, yet it is so far from it; oh, you have no idea. The lead characters are supposed to be Fumi the spineless, and her brunette childhood friend, Akira, who is a friendly girl and stands up for others. I say supposed to be because a supporting character, what’s-her-name, girl with short black hair, Mary-Sue… She is in the anime more than Akira and at least as much, if not more so, than Fumi.

Fumi suffers heartbreak when her cousin marries a man. They were in a secret sexual relationship, but this cousin must be at least five years older for her to be getting married – remember, Fumi is about fifteen at this point and we are never told how long ago this relationship started. To get over it, Fumi falls instantly in love with Mary-Sue wench, they break-up after what is supposed to pass for a relationship, and we are now almost done with the show. I can’t spoil anything, for nothing happens! They fall in ‘serious’ love, have empty conversations, looking dead all the while, split for…what amounts to nothing, and act heartbroken. Again, act, because it’s so lifeless and pathetic that I experienced more emotion playing Hearts on the computer while watching this. (Gah, Queen of Spades on second clubs drop!)

Meanwhile, Akira does…nothing. Every girl in two neighbouring all-girls schools (one of them Catholic) turn lesbian for bitchy Mary-Sue wench – I jest you not, she’s a total jackass, even to the girl she ‘loves,’ and still everyone wets their knickers at the sight of her. You are told that she’s oh-so-amazing at everything, but it’s never shown. Even her family, who are high-society, don’t raise a single objection when their daughter announces she’s a lesbian nor do they have a problem with her trying to have an affair with her teacher – of course they don’t care that the teacher and seventeenish-year-old bitchy Mary-Sue trull-wench see each other regularly at school either. Oh yes, she did move away, after rumours started, all the way to – drum-roll please – next door!

We still aren’t done. It’s perfectly normal for fifteen-year-old catholic school girls to be engaged to adult men. What was that? I just made that up? No, even the school acknowledges this. In the advertisement for the school play of the vomit inducing novel Wuthering Heights, it states that the only males who can attend must be family or fiancés of the girls. Nothing is addressed, nothing is questioned; just like the farcical relationships, we see no conflict. No one has a problem with anything, no matter how sordid – especially if it involves bitchy demimondaine Mary-Sue trull-wench.

Look, the problem has nothing to do with them being lesbians. The truth is that no one, not even a lesbian herself, would give no reaction to their daughter being one (never mind the affair with a teacher). It’s out of the norm. You don’t bring in such subject matter without giving the attention and conflict it deserves. It’s pathetic. This reminds me of tokenism, where a minority or gay guy is forced into a plot to give the illusion of being progressive, when in reality it is nothing more than insulting.

So what do they do if not overcome conflict? Nothing, in fact…the dialogue is mere filler on irrelevant rubbish such as the school’s value on height and how it makes you tough, for some reason. (Don’t look at me, I don’t get it either.) Not a single conversation is natural. It’s all so rigid and slow like these girls have trouble understanding a word spoken. The girls cry at the drop of a hat. We have no real characters, little personality and no depth. The most exciting event for them is seeing the school chapel and tearoom.

Voice work is just as stimulating with its monotone drones, sad sack vocals and unnatural speech. Only Akira differs, but is still bland. Most scenes have no music, making the dialogue feel even slower…

Sweet Blue Flowers does not have a gram of potential. In the end, we are left with atrocious characters, no development, nothing redeemable, and let’s not forget, super bitchy demimondaine Mary-Sue trull-wench.

Art – Medium

A filter of mist hangs over to give this anime a faded look. While the backgrounds look nice in colour sketch art, they have no movement to them with immobile characters – no nod, no moving mouth in speech, no waver of wind, nothing. Something as simple as a shift in light and shadow on trees when they rustle could have been a huge improvement. Characters don’t even project shadows (a patch the size of your foot doesn’t count).

Sound – Very Low

Music consists of slow piano pieces – a few tracks or many, not sure, since they all sound the same. String instruments occasionally take over, but they don’t add another layer. Dead acting.

Story – Very Low

What more is there to say?

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time in the least. Sweet Blue Flowers is eleven episodes too long. Forget I ever mentioned it.

(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 PlotAwful DialogueInduces StupidityLacks ConflictMary SueNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersShallowTorture MusicUseless Side Cast

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