Tag Archives: Comedy

Good for laughs. This tag only applies to shows that have consistent attempts at humour or are particularly funny.

Hikaru no Go – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hikaru no Go

 

Similar: Yu-Gi-Oh!

March Comes in Like a Lion

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Sports

Length: 75 episodes & 1 movie

 

Positives:

  • Go is interesting and portrayed well
  • Sai is a fun character

Negatives:

  • Low production values
  • Loses steam in the finale and remains incomplete

(Request an anime for review here.)

The East Asian game of Go has made many appearances throughout the medium of anime, yet I never had any idea what it was about. Unlike chess or shogi, where you get a sense of how the game works just by looking at the board, Go looks like a mess of black and white dots to the untrained eye. My greatest concern going into Hikaru no Go was the game itself. Being a shounen sports anime (the focus is on the sport), would I lose interest because I knew nothing about Go?

The story begins when Hikaru, a young boy, stumbles upon a Go board with a bloodstain in his grandfather’s attic. Weirdly, his friend can’t see the blood. Touching the board awakens the spirit of Sai, an ancient Go master wronged in his time by a cheater during a show match before the emperor. He only has one goal – to play Go! Unfortunately, Hikaru has no interest in the game. Fortunately, Sai is a ghost that only Hikaru sees and can pester him all day to play. Sai plays his first game in this era – by telling Hikaru what moves to make – against the Go prodigy Akira Touya of Hikaru’s age. Sai wins. From the outside, this looks as if a total novice beat the best junior player in his first game. Touya grows obsessed with this kid and the secret to his talent. Meanwhile, an interest in the game begins to blossom within Hikaru.

The first thing to draw attention with Hikaru no Go (apart from Hikaru’s ridiculous hair) if watching it today is the poor art. This is a budget kids’ anime, so you know what to expect. It’s almost enough to make non-Go enthusiasts turn off the series. Then you meet Sai. What a delightful character. As you would anticipate from a tagalong ghost sidekick, the writers played much of his character for laughs. He’d be pestering Hikaru about something only for Hikaru to shout at him, appearing to yell at the wind from a spectator’s point of view. His enthusiasm for the modern is great. His love of Go is even better. Since he can’t interact with anything, he relies on Hikaru to make the moves for him and is like a nagging child when Hikaru won’t play for him. He’s not annoying though.

Sai also plays the role of mentor, providing Hikaru – and the audience – a commentary on the game, like an analytical shoutcaster, while also teaching rules and strategies. It’s a natural way to convey such information without seeming like a stilted info dump. Other mentors enter the story to teach more about the game when Hikaru attends classes or seeks tutoring later on. All of this makes it easy for the unaware (like me) to understand the complexities of the game and follow the action. After each episode is a live action segment with a real Go teacher explaining the finer details of the sport to kids. Hikaru no Go take the game seriously.

I am a major strategy player across video and board games (one of the things I’m known for). However, I have never had much interest in chess and I assumed that Go was in the same vein. It couldn’t be more different. To give you a basic idea of Go, think of it as territory control meets 2-player Snake (the mobile game). Players each take turns placing pieces (called “stones”) with the objective of surrounding the opposing stones. Once you’ve “fenced off” a section of the board, any stones within that section are yours. The game seems so interesting to play.

It was a smart move to make the first game between Hikaru (a.k.a. Sai) and Touya, giving the audience a taste of high-level play and the depth inherent in Go. This match engages you from the start. Then the story has time to rewind Hikaru back to the basics as he learns to play without Sai’s help. That reminds me of my major concern following the Sai-Touya match. I was worried that we would have a Yu-Gi-Oh situation, where the protagonist relies on an ancient spirit to win for him. In other words, cheat. I am happy to report that Hikaru no Go does no such thing. When Sai plays, it’s clearly a Sai game against other high-level players. Hikaru, on the other hand, pairs up with players around his level. He does have the advantage of an excellent private tutor, but he wins matches on his own merit. The only times Hikaru “cheats” are against nasty opponents, such as scammers.

The story spans a few years and goes in depth with the world of Go – tournaments, ranking, practice, etiquette, and so on. Should you watch a few episodes and not find Go engaging, I recommend dropping the anime. It’s not worth it otherwise. If you stick around, you should know that Hikaru no Go is incomplete, the anime ending shortly after a significant turn and from what I hear, the manga is incomplete and shelved. It’s a shame. Regardless, I enjoyed most of my time with Hikaru no Go.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Even if you’ve never heard of go, give Hikaru no Go a shot. It is beginner friendly and the strategy makes for great duels.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Incomplete

Laughing Salesman / Hayate the Combat Butler / Nichijou – Quick Review

Laughing Salesman

Japanese Title: Warau Salesman

Genre: Comedy Drama

Length: 103 episodes (half-length)

That broad smile. Those dead eyes. That deep laugh sending a chill down your spine. If you see those three traits on someone, then beware for the travelling salesman Moguro is coming for you. What does he sell? Happiness and success. It’s true! Don’t let his unnerving appearance put you off. He will deliver as promised, but he didn’t say anything about you deciding on which form that happiness and success will manifest.

Today I thought we’d look at a trio of comedies (all with requests from several readers) in the quick review format since there isn’t much to say about any individual series, as is often the case with comedy. We start with the oldest and weirdest of the lot, Laughing Salesman.

This is a series of disconnected mini-episodes, each centred on the titular salesman as he travels around Japan to help ordinary citizens in acute need of assistance. His aid has no price, but does have a “deal with the devil” slant that leaves his clients with what they asked for, technically, though perhaps they should have been careful of what they wished for. The angle of Laughing Salesman is very much towards comedy.

Moguro’s clients consist of both good, well-meaning people and the ingrates of society. The fun of the series is in seeing how he takes client expectations and twists them. To give a few examples, one episode has a guy who wants to learn to drive yet is unbelievably bad behind a wheel. After a few lessons from Moguro, he grows overconfident while drunk and takes a dump truck for a joy ride. He succeeds in driving, though how many laws does he break in the process? Someone with “grass is greener on the other side” envy gets to experience another life, only to realise it’s far worse than what they already had. Another person may wish for people to notice him, so Moguro puts him in the spotlight, hounded day and night by the press. People will certainly know him now! The episode below is the perfect introduction to Moguro and his deals.

The stories are straightforward and good in small doses. This isn’t an anime to binge.

Laughing Salesman is a fun anime from a different time. Nothing special, but decent nonetheless. Also, fun fact: the voice of Moguro did Darth Vader in Japanese. No surprise with that deep bass!

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Give the episode below a try to see if Laughing Salesman is your cup of humour. (Don’t bother with the 2017 remake.)

*     *     *     *     *

Hayate the Combat Butler

Japanese Title: Hayate no Gotoku!

Genre: Action Comedy

Length: 52 episodes

You couldn’t pick this anime out of a line-up. Hayate the Combat Butler looks as generic and forgettable as you can imagine for a 2000s anime. It doesn’t give a good impression when judging by the cover, nor does the first episode help. I had watched episode one a few months ago to get an idea for the series and know where to slot it for my mood. I keep 6-12 anime going at one time, so I have a variety to watch based on what I’m feeling in the now. I found it counterproductive to force myself to finish one series before starting another. That said, if I have 12 going, it means around half are boring me to death and I should force myself a little more before I open up anything else.

To get back on track, Hayate the Combat Butler doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time at first glance. The story is about a poor boy, Hayate, who works as the personal butler to billionaire girl Nagi to pay off a massive debt. It’s a comedy of errors and disasters when it comes to protecting the oblivious Nagi from all the dangers in the world. No matter how bad things get, they will always get worse.

By all accounts, this shouldn’t be a good anime. Apart from the poor art, there is the standard premise and seemingly generic characters. However, the quick wit and sharp pace of the humour, which often goes meta, makes it work. I do find the overall series to be too long at 52 episodes (and there are sequels), but any given episode moves at a good clip and packs in the jokes. The meta humour garners frequent laughs from me. Characters complain about lack of screen time; someone breaks anime cliché and characters will discuss it like critics; commentary on episode structure is common or on anime tropes. References to other anime of all genres are common too. As such, this is an anime for viewers familiar with anime, especially the school comedies that one would put in the line-up previously mentioned.

The other jokes are most often about Hayate covering for Nagi or saving her life. Her arc is about relating to other kids at school, which she skips every day to play video games (who needs an education when you drown in money). She has to learn what peasants normal people do in life. However, she is terrible at everything. Can’t even make a cup of tea. Her brew is tantamount to poison, so Hayate secretly replaces it with his work to save the recipient and Nagi’s dignity. Good stuff.

I am surprised that I enjoy Hayate the Combat Butler. You wouldn’t think so if you saw my eye roll at the start.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Hayate the Combat Butler’s meta heavy humour is for seasoned anime fans. Only they could look past the art as well.

*     *     *     *     *

Nichijou – My Ordinary Life

Japanese Title: Nichijou

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 26

Inverse to my surprise enjoyment of Hayate the Combat Butler, we have Nichijou. I had seen a couple of funny clips over the years prior to this viewing, which had put it on my to-watch list. I always intended to watch Nichijou and looked forward to it – was only a question of when. I did not laugh half as much as anticipated.

Nichijou is a slice of life comedy with three primary duos for the three humour threads. The main duo are two high school girls. Their humour is a heightened view of ordinary school situations. The second duo is a robot maid and a little girl, with the skits focusing on the domestic (later blends into school with the other girls). The final duo are from a club (student council?), an aristocratic boy and the tsundere girl that likes him. Theirs is the most violent humour as she expresses her emotions by pulling out bigger and bigger guns. Aside from them, there are a smattering of side characters with the occasional skit, such as the school principal, a meek female teacher, some kid with a Mohawk, or an army of cloned soldiers.

Skits will vary from a 15 seconds to a few minutes long. There are over 110 “Ordinary Life” skits and a dozen or so for each of the other skit types. An episode has around eight different bits. On paper, this sounds like plenty of variety and with each skit lasting a few minutes maximum, one would expect sharp, punchy jokes. I think of skit shows such as A Bit of Fry & Laurie, That Mitchell & Webb Look, or Brass Eye and how frequently they have me rolling with laughter. It’s hit after hit. Nichijou presents itself in the same vein, albeit about different subject matter. So it surprises me how often Nichijou’s skits drag for twice as long as needed – two minutes feels like eons sometimes – and how repetitive the shorter ones are.

The worst skits, no contest, centre on the robot woman and little girl. I wanted to trip over a take a stake to the roof of my mouth after watching a few of their bits. By around episode 10, I started skipping ahead when I saw them come on screen. Painfully unfunny. Their humour is about her being a robot yet no one notices and the girl being inept at everything. There are no punch lines. The joke is that these characters are “cute” and therefore anything they do is hilarious. Their eyecatch bits of scissor-paper-rock to mark the ad break is the lamest repetition of humour in the anime world.

Nichijou relies on moe as a substitute for character and structure. And I don’t like moe. At all.

I find the main girls to be hit or miss (more misses) and most often responsible for dragging out the joke (when there is one). They are meant to be high school girls with high school situational comedy, yet there is nothing high school about it. This is middle school material. The character designs don’t help. This is no Cromartie High School.

The aristocrat and tsundere give the best first impression. He is an over-the-top stereotype of what people think of British aristocracy. Everything is wrong – pinkies up when drinking tea, the belief that a servant holds the master’s sea biscuit when urinating, and so on – but that’s what makes it funny. Seeing the butler smoothly dress him up while he keeps walking after using the bathroom is hilarious. The tsundere finds his demeanour infuriating and reads too much into his words and actions, ending in her pulling a weapon on him. However, even their skits become repetitive because of her. Pulling out the big guns is almost the same joke every time.

The principal versus the deer (see video above) was one of clips I had seen previously and the absurdity was hilarious at the time. I added Nichijou to my list because of it. However, it is less funny in context and the reaction shots from one of the main girls weighs the scene down. It’s as if she’s explaining the joke.

Before watching any of these comedies, I would have said Nichijou is probably the best. Now though, I easily consider it the weakest. I am wavering on whether to put in the Low tier of quality, but when I am unsure like this, I er on the side that brings a series towards the middle to avoid seeming too harsh or too favourable. (A borderline High/Very High anime sits in the High tier until I am certain it should go in the top bracket. Conversely, a Low/Very Low anime will stay in Low if I am undecided.) Especially with comedy, it’s hard to rate. I suspect I will bump this down in time. (Edit: I dropped it to low in the final revision before publication, two weeks after writing the review.)

I’m not surprised Nichijou was an absolute flop in Japan. It found success in the West years later because of the internet in a manner that wasn’t prevalent in Japan at the time.

I have not met, in person, anyone that likes Nichijou, yet I have read of a fair number online that consider it sidesplitting. Although, I do wonder if they love it as much as they claim. They always share the same five or so skits…

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Watch the best bits of Nichijou online. Go for the full series if you want more.

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

Rent-a-Girlfriend – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kanojo, Okarishimasu

 

Similar: Nisekoi

Golden Time

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Harem Comedy Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The art is nice

Negatives:

  • This time we do have anime’s worst protagonist
  • A reprehensible quartet of women
  • Repetitive dialogue
  • Goes nowhere
  • Not funny

(Request an anime for review here.)

All around the world, you can rent people to play almost any role. Acting doesn’t just live on stage or screen. Companies will hire crowds to augment the apparent numbers at an event or party, an individual can hire a “friend” to stage a moment, or one can even hire a family. Japan knows particularly of the latter, where concern over social appearances and saving face are worth the hefty prices. An orphaned adult might hire parents to appear respectable and “normal” before their boss. Others will hire grandparents to attend their wedding or perhaps employ a few “friends” to fill their half of the church. In fact, Caucasian foreigners in Japan are particularly popular for weddings to add to the Western authenticity of a church ceremony. An English officiant is hot stuff.

So for an anime to explore the idea of renting a girlfriend could be interesting. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t the anime to succeed, but it could still be interesting elsewhere.

Where to start with describing this anime? Kazuya, the protagonist, is the most pathetic person you could imagine, real or fictional. I have read passages and seen videos of some truly pathetic people, yet none compare to this loser. Kazuya is a university student characterised by his virginity. After his girlfriend Mami dumps him, he can’t handle it and rents Chizuru to be his girlfriend for an afternoon. He falls madly in love with her until he reads her reviews online, realising she is like this with everyone. He is intent on giving her a piece of his mind during their second “date” (why is there a second at all?), but a call from the hospital pulls them away to see his grandmother, where he lies about Chizuru being his real girlfriend. Now he begs her to keep “going out” with him to “not disappoint his grandmother”.

This all happens in the first episode, which while not awful (that comes later), does have a problem. The premise is backwards. For a rom-com of this kind, you need a goofy setup that keeps growing funnier as it doesn’t stop escalating into a worse scenario. By the time the protagonist realises he/she is in too deep, it should be too late to back out before all comes crashing down for the finale – all in a comedic manner, of course.

Think 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger hired to be a woman’s boyfriend so that the guy who paid him can date the younger sister (girls’ father said that the younger can only date if the older has a boyfriend first). He does the job because the pay’s good, but he soon falls in love with her and can’t tell the truth or he would lose her. While funny throughout, it culminates in a famous emotional moment. (Great film, by the way. Recommended.)

Rent-a-Girlfriend’s premise should have been that Kazuya had been bragging to his family about his first ever girlfriend, but she dumps him the night before he promised to introduce her to the family. Being a spineless coward, he can’t admit the truth and so hires Chizuru to stand in for her. “It’ll only be for one day. Then I can say it didn’t work out and we broke up,” he thinks to himself. Better yet, make it a random girl from the service. Have him not care about the girl at all. He just wants to save face. However, she delights his grandmother (it’s her job to delight, after all), who invites them over for the weekend – soon enough where a sudden breakup is unrealistic. And being the spineless coward that he is, Kazuya can’t say no and hires her again.

This scenario is ripe for escalating hijinks. The insistent family with no resistance from spineless wonder keeps pushing for more and more meet ups, they start giving her gifts (“For my future daughter-in-law. I insist.”), and ask the big questions. Chizuru is getting out of her depth here, so she stages secret meetings with him in the bathroom to discuss a plan and answers for those questions (the family would imagine something lewd is going on instead). Keep making the situation worse. In the process, they come to actually like each other, which you can draw out by having both think that the other just sees it as a professional arrangement.

But no, Rent-a-Girlfriend has none of that. Kazuya and Chizuru’s relationship starts out of loneliness, which isn’t funny. I think him being a lonely virgin is meant to be funny. From here on, assume that any scene I describe is meant for comedy despite how unfunny it is. There isn’t a single good joke. Anyways, he takes her to his grandmother and has an out, but still says she’s his girlfriend. Also, her grandmother is friends with his grandmother at the same hospital, though it amounts to little. Then he learns that Chizuru not only goes to his university, but also lives next door! It could work with this setup, though you need a much better writer. Kazuya keeps apologising for getting her involved yet keeps saying they’re going out. He kowtows to her like a peasant, promising he will pretend as if he doesn’t exist next door and he will take out his trash when she’s not around.

This pathetic guy won’t stop apologising. I know the terms have seen overuse and almost lost all meaning, but “simp” and “cuck” have never been more appropriate. Let me list a few of his highlights:

  • His ex-girlfriend throws herself at him after she finds out he has someone else. He masturbates instead of taking her offer despite being into her and with sex as his primary goal.
  • He keeps up the fake girlfriend lie instead of getting an actual girlfriend when given the opportunity.
  • Apologises for hiring a rental girl to be his rental girl. Multiple times.
  • Offers to give a rental girl money in exchange for no service.
  • He masturbates to one girl while thinking of another girl having sex with another guy.
  • He stalks her on service with other clients.
  • He sends his “girlfriend” to comfort another guy.

You might astutely be thinking that this all makes sense to set him up as some repugnant dipshit before the story takes him on an arc of growth. Well that’s where you’d be wrong. He gets worse as the series progresses and women encourage his bad behaviour as though this is the “Simp Manifesto”, containing all the secrets to getting a girlfriend for losers. (By Aphrodite, I hope otaku aren’t taking any advice from this rag.) When Chizuru catches him stalking her, she isn’t angry about the stalking. She’s just mad that he thought her actor friend was a client. Yes, you will find clips of her chastising him for some of his actions. Do you know what the next scene shows? Her enabling him and accepting his money anyway.

Now let’s talk about her. He’s not a bad person, just an absolute loser no one would want to be around. She is a bad person though. She’s uppity about her job yet ashamed for others to know of this “perfectly fine” work. Her work is to manipulate lonely people into giving her money in exchange for nothing. To call her a sex-free prostitute is an affront to prostitutes. With sex workers, you pay for sex and you get sex. It’s two adults in a consenting transaction. Or to use a platonic example, some Japanese women hire a man to help them vent emotion and hold her when she cries. They want to let it all out. These women don’t assume the man is now their boyfriend and never expected him to be one (they may develop feelings in a vulnerable moment, sure, and he is attractive by intention).

Chizuru pretends to be a guy’s girlfriend yet does nothing like a girlfriend. Emotional support? No. Any intimacy? No. Anything at all like a girlfriend? You know the answer.

A real version of this (non-sexual) service wouldn’t be about the guy hanging out with this girl. It would be – as I said at the start – about saving face or avoiding drama in front of others. A company man would hire a woman to play the part of his girlfriend at a company gala so that he doesn’t attend alone, for example. Once they step out of that event, they go their separate ways. The alternative version is more or less hiring a friendly tour guide to spend the day with. Rent-a-Girlfriend’s version is about stringing people along for exorbitant amounts of money (more than a prostitute), as Kazuya’s first date cost 40,000 yen (~$400 US) for a few hours. Chizuru is their most popular girl (the sub plot about her being poor doesn’t make sense either). Sex work is far more respectable than this job.

Beyond her exploitative work, she’s an all-round unlikeable character. When she plays the part of girlfriend around his friends and family, it doesn’t come across as her helping him out. She’s just manipulative. I have the feeling she gets off on weak guys like him prostrating themselves at her feet.

As expected, she starts to like him for no explained reason. It happens because that’s what the author says is to happen. Rent-a-Girlfriend presents itself as a love triangle at first, between these two and the ex-girlfriend. However, another girl joins halfway through the season and falls in love with him after he grabs her boob (I’m not kidding). Then another joins in the third act and falls for him as well. This anime pretends not to be a harem and turns out to be worse than a harem.

Even if one were to look at Rent-a-Girlfriend on its own merits, it’s a garbage anime. The repetition is insane. “She is just my rental girlfriend. I am just paying her to be my girlfriend. We aren’t really a couple,” or some variation of repeats several times each episode.

The dumbest line has to be after he nearly drowns saving her and she resuscitates him. “Why did you go to such lengths to save me on the beach while I wasn’t breathing? I mean, I’m just a client right.” “Such lengths” was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as you do in all drowning cases. What a piece of shit.

Nothing really happens in these 12 episodes. There are no arcs, no growth, no changes. It’s a series of introductions for one vile character after the other and most conflict stems from improbable coincidence, which is the crutch of lazy writers. The grandmother molests Chizuru in the bath cliché instead of another girl from the harem – that’s different, I suppose (end my suffering). This is the sort of anime to go for four seasons of filler with a meaningless ending.

Whether you are male or female, adult or teenager, please do not follow anything that Rent-a-Girlfriend is trying to teach. Don’t debase yourself like this guy – for anyone – and don’t manipulate people as she does. Don’t waste your time with this. Rent-a-Girlfriend doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining trash. Kazuya should have gone to visit Doctor Eve in the next review…

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t just full of bad advice and behaviour that no one should emulate – it isn’t even funny.

(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:

Atrocious PlotInduces StupidityNot FunnyRepetitiveRubbish Major Characters

Sailor Moon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

 

Related: Sailor Moon R, Sailor Moon S, Sailor Moon SuperS, Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (seasons 2-5 – included in review)

Sailor Moon Crystal (remake – review further down)

Similar: Cardcaptors

Little Witch Academia

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 200 episodes (5 seasons) & 3 movies

 

Positives:

  • Villains are on theme
  • Knows its target audience
  • Crystal: less filler

Negatives:

  • Several minutes of repeated animation each episode
  • Original Japanese and first dub aren’t good
  • Villain of the week structure throughout
  • Chibiusa
  • Crystal: adopts the manga’s shortcomings

(Request an anime for review here.)

My interest in revisiting Sailor Moon piqued with all that I had heard about the edits and censorship of the original dub. I had seen a fair amount of scattered episodes as part of the morning cartoon block for the “big three” – the original big three of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon.

What was quite few years ago now, I tried the Japanese version to see it unaltered but I couldn’t make it more than two or three episode before I had to stop. The acting was bad and the audio quality was so tinny that it was an uncomfortable experience. Usagi in particular was a cheese grater on my eardrums. With an intolerable original track and a censored dub, that seemed it. However, Viz Media swooped in, snatched the English rights to the franchise, and re-dubbed the whole thing, including the movies, with higher fidelity sound effects as well. Add in the remastered visuals and this is a worthwhile revival. Viz gave Sailor Moon the Funimation One Piece treatment, which I’m sure is a delight to fans.

Before I dove into the remaster, I tried the Japanese to be sure – yep, still bad – and watched about a season’s worth in episodes of the old dub to establish a baseline for the remaster. I’ll talk about the old version first.

Wait – the premise! I forget that no matter how popular a series, someone will know nothing about it. Sailor Moon follows crybaby middle schooler Usagi (called Serena in the old dub) who receives the power to transform into the titular magical girl. Four other Sailor Guardians soon join her fight against evil creatures (more guardians join in later seasons) – the smart Ami as Sailor Mercury, the popular Minako as Sailor Venus, the disciplined Rei as Sailor Mars, and the strong Makoto as Sailor Jupiter. The two cats Luna and Artemis guide the girls in their missions. All of the girls – and many villains – have different names in the old dub for marketability reasons, which are usually similar to the original (e.g. Rei = Raye, Ami = Amy).

If you were to watch the old dub without knowing it was censored, you wouldn’t notice much wrong. This isn’t like One Piece, where it’s obvious that that pirate is supposed to have a gun to someone’s head, not…whatever that is. The Sailor Moon edits are mainly in dialogue, which is easy to blend in – renaming steamed buns to donuts was a stretch though. When a male cross dresser already looks like a woman, it’s as simple as changing a few words here and there to say it was always a woman. The most infamous edit is the relationship between Sailors Uranus and Neptune, changed from a lesbian couple to cousins. Everyone has heard of this change, so when watching the remaster, I was most curious to see what all the fuss was about.

What a letdown! This relationship is so tame that most kids would have no idea that they’re a couple. Censors overacted over nothing. Not to mention they are some of the least interesting characters in the series.

The only thing I like about the old dub was making Luna a bossy older woman like a British governess, reminding me of Professor McGonagall, which is always a good thing. Alas, it is not true to the source material, so it must go.

Enough of the old; let’s begin on the new.

Sailor Moon uses a villain of the week structure for 95% of its 200 episodes. The henchmen descend upon Earth like Rita’s cronies from Power Rangers, each tapping into a vice, theme, or activity often associated with girls. It was a good idea to make the subjects relevant to the target shoujo audience. Usagi and her friends care about jewellery, dating, friends, exams (begrudgingly), dancing, clothes, marriage, fitness, and so on, and so does the shoujo audience. Also, notice how they make the characters seem more mature by giving them activities and interests for girls a few years older than 14. This plays to a girl’s fantasy of looking up one age group. A villain’s plot will generally involve corrupting the good quality of a person and turning it against the girls. For example, a tennis student becomes hyper-competitive to the point of destruction. This is a good angle to take rather than summoning some monster to fight each episode. It feels more relevant. Sailor Moon R does away with this until the variations return in later seasons.

The main Sailor Moon S villain is hilarious. Mad scientist over the top but also has to do regular things like shop, but stays in mad scientist character. Direct quote, “That took longer than I thought. So hard to find a good gluten free snack these days.”

One early plan involves stealing people’s love (a strange, human concept) by hosting a late night radio show where women send in secret confession love letters, in return for a corsage that drains the energy and love of the woman who wears it. Having some evil handsome villain reading saucy letter on air is so corny. Quite nostalgically charming. However, there is only so far this format can get you and let me tell you, it grows tired well before the first season is over at episode 46.

Much of season one goes something like this: introduce theme, escalation, girls transform, Usagi throws tiara, and win. Oh, let’s not forget the useless Tuxedo Mask who shows up to spout some platitude before he buggers off. That meme of “My work here is done!” “…But you didn’t do anything,” is too accurate.

Is season two any different? Well, the Guardians do receive a new attack each, which they will use every episode right after they transform. Several minutes of each episode is repeated animation sequences: transformations, catch phrases, and special attacks. The more Guardians that join the series, the more time we lose to these animation sequences. Nice animation, sure, but it’s the same thing over…and over…and over…and over.

Sailor Moon only deviates from the formula for the first few and last few episodes of each season, where the entire plot occurs. The final season, Sailor Stars, does have a little more going on than the others. Not much more. One thing to note is that the finales are largely the same. A cataclysmic phenomenon will blanket the world (a.k.a. wherever the girls live) and all seems lost until Sailor Moon uses a super move to reverse the effects. Repetition is the name of Sailor Moon’s game. Each season may introduce new Guardians and new villains, but like the animation, there are levels of recycling here that no environmentalist could hope to compete with.

So, do I recommend Sailor Moon? It is dated in many ways by today’s standards. There is the animation, of course, and the formula, but then we have the power progression, which consists of being handed new powers without effort, and the character work. Take Usagi and Mamoru’s (Tuxedo Mask) relationship. This romance spans almost the entire 200-episode runtime, yet jack all happens. The relationship only exists because the story tells us they’re destined to be together. Creepy age gap aside (excused by the whole destiny lark), nothing about Usagi would recommend her to this guy. Meanwhile, he has the personality of dead wood.

I had hoped that the introduction of Chibiusa (Usagi’s time travelling future daughter) would mature Usagi, that realising she has the same maturity as an infant makes her grow up. Alas, this would deviate too much from the formula.

As for the rest of the Guardians, most viewers would expect more depth from the full cast. They are better than any run-of-the-mill high school anime cast found today at least. Sailor Jupiter is my favourite of the group, as she is the most well rounded in terms of humour vs. seriousness, contributes her part without overshadowing others, has brains unlike Usagi, and I like her personality. They aren’t bad characters. However, the rigid formula for each episode means that we can never truly explore these people because the villain of the week has to show up at this point, everyone has to transform at that time, and all must go back to normal before the credits roll.

Classic Sailor Moon is best when seen in the context of its release – a girls’ cartoon meant for one episode each morning. The repetitive nature wouldn’t feel so bad there. To watch it today, in the binge sphere? Not a chance. Only powerful nostalgia can tempt viewers into these 200 episodes.

Sailor Moon Crystal

Sailor Moon Crystal is the recent remake of the franchise, promising to stick close to the source manga. This has resulted in a near polar opposite adaptation of Sailor Moon that is possible while remaining recognisable. The ~40-episode seasons are now 13 episodes each (fourth season will be two movies) as all filler falls to the wayside.

For those wanting a better main plot – the Usagi and Mamoru thread – without padding, then Crystal is better. However, the manga, and therefore this adaptation, do a poor job with the supporting cast. The old anime filled its seasons between openers and finales with standalone stories often focused on a side character. One episode might show us one of Jupiter’s hobbies (the episode’s villain relates to this hobby) and in the process, develop her further. Next episode, we’ll see what Venus is up to with a guy she crushes on (99% chance he’s a villain in disguise). These episodes improved on weak parts of the manga despite being formulaic and non-canon. By returning to the original blueprint, Crystal loses a quality of the original in exchange for a faster pace and more central focus.

The other notable change when staying truer to the manga is the art. Crystal, in terms of design, is closer to the original art except with a new paint job. It does not look good. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Usagi’s tiny mouth with fat lips (relative to the size of her mouth) and giant eyes creeps me out. The director also loves close ups of her face, making me recoil each time. Then we have the shading. If it looks like someone did it in MS Paint for a DeviantArt OC, then please don’t use it. There is also the general lack of cinematography. Season 1 doesn’t feel storyboarded, as if they went from one shot to the next without planning. And let’s not forget the crime greater than anything a Sailor Moon villain could have dreamed of! The CG transformation sequences. How did anybody look at those rubber puppets pirouetting on screen and say, “Ship it!” without a hint of irony? Furthermore, these sequences see almost as much use per episode as in the original, so I must ask, why not dedicate the appropriate resources?

Crystal’s art does improve in time with a big leap forward for the third season. Gone is Usagi’s devil mouth. Gone is the MS Paint highlighting. And gone are the CG transformations. Crystal should have looked like this from the start. Many manga styles simply don’t translate well to animation.

If I were to pick just one adaptation to watch, I would pick neither – one is too long and repetitive, the other is quite an eyesore, and neither has anything I consider brilliant. But if you twisted my arm and I had to watch one, it would be Sailor Moon Crystal. Brevity makes all of the difference. Or I would watch just one season of the original – Sailor Moon S, most likely. I find them to be overall around the same quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For young girls and nostalgia. You need something as strong as nostalgia to draw you into Sailor Moon in this era or you can recommend Sailor Moon Crystal to young girls (they won’t care about the art issues).

(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: 

Repetitive

One Piece: Alabasta Arc (Season 4) – Anime Review

Related: One Piece: East Blue Arc (Season 1)

One Piece: Grand Line & Chopper Arcs (Seasons 2 & 3)

Length: 38 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Meatier story arc than before
  • Multiple layers to the conflict
  • Nami and the weather sticks
  • Good villains

Negatives:

  • Nothing really

(Request an anime for review here.)

Now this is more like it. I was told that the Alabasta arc was generally seen as the point where One Piece picks up. They were right. Being the first arc that isn’t about recruiting someone – where everything must tie into the new member – allows Alabasta episodes to broaden the scope and delve into a multi-layered cake of story.

The Straw Hats and Princess Vivi arrive at their destination, the kingdom of Alabasta, which is in turmoil from three factions amid a drought – the royal army, the rebels, and the sinister Baroque Works. The situation is bad when the crew arrives. They only become worse by the hour.

Alabasta is the largest dominion in the series so far with multiple territories on the one island. The king of Alabasta (Vivi’s father) is under fire for “stealing” rain from other islands by using a substance called Dance Powder that forces clouds above to rain early. Naturally, this means that those clouds will no longer rain further along the journey. In a desert region, there can be no higher crime than stealing the lifeblood of the people. Did you know that this is based on a real technique called cloud seeding? Scientists can “sow” special particles into clouds to make them rain sooner, often to increase rain in water catchment areas or to weaken incoming storms. Not as effective as the magical Dance Powder, though.

Where to start with great points of this season? The villains. I like the Baroque leader, Crocodile, and his ability – great fights versus Luffy. What an interesting coincidence that the authors for One Piece and Naruto had the idea for a sand-powered villain at the same time, yet luckily made them quite different. As cool as Crocodile is, no villain is better than the shapeshifting ballerina, Mr 2 Bon Clay. I love this crazy dude. Every minute he is on screen is a delight. He’s funny, has an interesting ability, and you never know what he’s thinking. I want to see more of this guy.

As for best fight of the season – no, best fight of all seasons so far, it has to go to Nami versus Ms Doublefinger. As Nami has no special power, she consults fellow power-free pirate, Usopp, for a weapon to match Baroque Works. (Good idea to address their “normal” status, by the way.) Usopp provides her with a staff that breaks into three segments, each capable of various weather based abilities. It is so goofy that I love it. This fight keeps growing sillier and sillier to the point where I have my head in my hands in disbelief at what they will do next. This is One Piece action to me. And as someone who values time more than anything else, I appreciate the brevity of these fights.

On the good guys team, Vivi has more opportunities for development and works well as a “guest” character. The appearance of Luffy’s brother Ace was a surprise. Funny story: I have seen Ace many times before, often featured in display cases of Akihabara figure stores. Thing is, I thought that was older Luffy. One Piece has been going for so long that I figured the characters aged, like in Naruto, at a certain point and this guy was Luffy Shippuden. He was a good addition to the story for adding a little more to Luffy, though he didn’t stay long enough. He doesn’t feel relevant yet. I look forward to his return.

Can’t forget Smoker, one of my favourites, whom I never say no to see more of. It is a good idea to have players in the game with direct conflict to Luffy, increasing personal tension. You don’t want the protagonist’s sole motivation to be helping others – one of Bleach’s many flaws after a few seasons. If the protagonist is only around because there are random bad guys to fight, the audience loses connection.

We’ve had good characters and good fights before, so those alone wouldn’t make Alabasta great. The layers and effort in a more complex story place this season well above previous ones. This feels like the first season where the author could flex some storytelling, now that introductions are out of the way. Crocodile’s plan is interesting, with many moving parts that involve the whole kingdom and every character, coated in a nice layer of politics, justifying the time spent on developing an entirely new society. It makes everything feel relevant. No filler. These 38 episodes could almost be a standalone anime.

In fact, I would use this season as the selling point for those hesitant to start One Piece. Rewind a bit and begin at the island where they meet Vivi and go from there. After Alabasta, which ends on a satisfying cut off, then there is investment to sit through over 60 episodes of backstory and introduction. If someone isn’t feeling it after watching Alabasta, then I can’t imagine any other season would sell them on One Piece. This has everything that represents One Piece. However, if someone quits after the third arc in a row about a pirate’s tragic backstory, I can understand. I don’t know if Eiichiro Oda planned the story so far before he began, but it doesn’t feel like it. This needs a bit of a restructure. Shifting most of the backstory arcs to later on helps with more than flow and pacing. It increases mystery. Naruto does character mystery so much better. At this point in One Piece, I don’t have an urge to learn more about the main six. I want to see them do great new things, yes, but who they are, where they come from, ghosts of the past, etc. hold no interest over me. That could change. Oda could retcon in new past mysteries that were “totally planned from the beginning”. It can work.

In short, loved this season. Should have come sooner in the series.

Quality so far – High

Current thoughts: This is easily the best season of One Piece so far. I hope for more of these deeper arcs. See you in the next one!