Take the Red Ranger from Power Rangers, make him an arse leeching off his girlfriend and surround him with a muscled chicken, two Team Rocket grunts, a werewolf, the creature from the black lagoon, mecha rabbit, and Galactus. With all this combined, you have Astro Fighter Sunred. It’s the humour of One-Punch Man mixed with the Justice Friends from Dexter’s Laboratory, and structured as poorly (or as brilliantly) as Pop Team Epic.
What an odd anime.
Astro Fighter Sunred is a retired superhero story in the vein of One-Punch Man and The Incredibles, only more vulgar and animated far more poorly. Sunred is a bum, while the evil villain is really a grandmother whose greatest worries are about cleaning up after his minions.
Each episode consists of several shorts of varying lengths. As alluded to by the Pop Team Epic comparison, anything goes. Sometimes it’s a cooking show with the lamest recipes, at other times it’s a slapstick cartoon.
I don’t have much to say on this one. It’s one of those anime where you need to see it to understand what I mean. (You can find it on YouTube, I believe.)
This is a peculiar kind of humour for a much older generation. It’s parodying anime most of us have barely heard of. If you are part of the target audience, this may be the most hilarious thing you have ever seen. For everyone else though, I think it takes too much “effort” to figure out the references for a show meant to be dumb simple fun.
Art – Low
Technically, the art sucks. However, it does save itself from the pits by working with the style of humour, similar to how King of the Hill is a fit to its sensibilities. It’s clear many characters weak masks to avoid mouth animations.
Sound – Medium
The acting is quite good – nothing great, but serviceable to the script, which itself is snappy as it rolls from one joke into the next.
Story – Medium
A superhero bickers with his arch nemesis, a motherly fellow surrounded by his sensitive minions, as they stave off everyday life. The overall story lacks direction, but the episodic scenarios are a humorous little exploits.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. One episode. One episode – less even – is all you need to know if Astro Fighter Sunred’s peculiar humour is to your taste. It probably won’t be, yet you won’t know until you try.
Nobuyuki Fukumoto has spoiled me. He pioneered a manga genre (later adapted into anime) that manages to take the ridiculous and turn it into a tense battle unlike any battle anime. Oh, he has nothing to do with No Game No Life – just wanted to start on something positive about the genre of extreme gambling.
No-life virgin siblings Sora and Shiro find themselves sucked into another world when they accept a challenge online. In this new world called Disboard, games rule everything. Everyone settles disputes – no matter how petty – through games, which can vary from something as minor as rock-paper-scissors to as grand as VR showdowns in a stadium. Ten rules govern these games. These rules are law, bindings created by the God of Games. The genius gaming duo accept the god’s trial and set out to conquer this bizarre world and challenge his might.
No Game No Life is another isekai with a gamer protagonist sent into a world where their seemingly useless skills IRL are the ultimate talent. This anime takes it to an extreme. These two are apparently unbeatable at games. The opening scene has them taking out thousands of players in an MMO using just their four characters. Yes, they can control more than one character at a time and still beat anyone without a sweat – Sora even controls all four at one point (uses two mice with his feet) when Shiro passes out.
Of course, this level of skill is ridiculous. However, with an intention to go big, to go ludicrous with the comedy, it works…for a time. With the ten commandments of Disboard laid out, one expects nonsensical contests in this idiotic world. And you get that…for a time. A game of rock-paper-scissors just about determines a kingdom’s monarch. According to the rules, it is binding! Even cheating is permitted, as long as you’re not caught.
The first cracks in the narrative appear when you see how basic the games are in these challenges. Poker, chess, blackjack – is that the best you can do?
You can tell the author has no understanding of the likes of poker or chess because he never makes use of their rules and metagame, not even in a creative way. During the chess match, the only similarity with chess is the names and number of pieces. There is nothing chess-like about the contest. May as well not even call it chess.
I wager that he picked chess at random because chess is something everyone has heard of, requires less work explaining the game and he hoped no one would notice the chess reference is irrelevant. It would have been more logical and more engaging to come up with something original that drew inspiration from chess. Or better yet, since these kids just play video games all day, why not draw on some popular real time strategy game? (Answer: The author knows even less about RTS.) If Nobuyuki Fukumoto were here, there would be some actual tension, perhaps even a few missing fingers? (Please?) Sora could do with a few life-threatening games of mahjong. I’m just sayin’.
No Game No Life thinks it’s a lot smarter than it really is, which is to say, extremely dim. It only succeeds on a prayer that the audience doesn’t ask questions.
I return to my earlier point though, that this would be fine if it all served the comedy. It wouldn’t matter that this chess game has no chess in it or that this FPS match is moronic if it were all a means to great jokes. Lamentably, No Game No Life begins to huff its own farts and think the games are of genius-level strategy, refocusing on the serious rather than the humour. Making the characters overpowered to a laughable degree works for comedy, but once you do that, you can’t go back. You write yourself into a hole. You can’t expect people to take it seriously when you want to be dramatic and serious all of a sudden.
As you have likely guessed as well, the “genius” of these characters only stems from the author saying so, not because we ever see any actual genius strategy on screen. The rules bend in convenient service to these geniuses and worst of all, their opponents are all idiots (by author decree, naturally). The author also made little effort with the characters. For instance, why is it that two socially inept kids, as labelled by their introductions, face no social problems except when an ecchi gag calls for it?
No Game No Life is at its best in the first few episodes, when you don’t know that the author has nothing up his sleeve, when the outlandish world is all about delivering jokes, when the coronation of the cheating queen is a parody of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with the archbishop as the judge and Sora plays the game’s theme tune on his phone. I genuinely laughed for the first act.
After that, it goes downhill. The premise dies when it thinks it’s actually clever. The humour dies when excessive fan service takes over after running out of jokes. The once funny-in-a-creepy way relationship between Sora and Shiro becomes plain creepy.
With how No Game No Life ends up, I’m surprised there was anything good at all in the beginning.
Art – Medium
Colourful and vibrant, the art style suits a game world created by a childish god. That said, it lacks creativity in design. For a world run on games, it doesn’t look like a world of games. And no, plonking down giant chess pieces on the landscape doesn’t count. Like the chess event itself, this was done at random, it seems.
Sound – Medium
I cannot stand forced moe voices, so the original Japanese track is torture to me. I find the dub does a much better job with comedic timing and even tightens up some of the jokes. The ex-princess is particularly better in English. This is a preference, so go with whichever suits.
Story – Low
Genius gamer siblings must rise up in a fantasy world run on games to unite the people and challenge the God of Games himself. After an entertaining start, No Game No Life loses track of what works – the comedy – and begins to take itself too seriously.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: For isekai fans only. No Game No Life runs on its premise and no one asking questions. If you can do that, you may enjoy it. But if you want to see what could have been instead, watch Kaiji or Akagi.
It is Narumi’s first day at her new job. She has but one mission: no one can find out that she is an otaku, and not just any otaku, but the worst kind – a filthy fujoshi. Absolutely, under no circumstances, should a guy hear of her dark secret, for even if he is accepting of her perverted ways, then that must mean he’s an otaku too. And who would want to date an otaku!? This is a chance at a new life. No one will ever realise they are working right next to a yaoi loving degenerate. No one will ever know of the smut she hides on her hard drive. NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW THAT SHE SHIPS GUYS TOGETHER AFTER THEY SAY ONE WORD TO EACH OTHER! Oh crap, her boss found out!
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is an adult rom-com in an office setting. It is packed with nerd humour, pop culture references (the deep cuts), sweet romance, and fun all around. I love it.
Narumi is such a lovable protagonist. The scene when Hana, her boss, uncovers her secret – turns out she is a mega nerd as well, cosplaying regularly as a bishounen (feminine handsome man) Narumi is a fan of – makes you fall in love with her. Turns out, Hana is also a fan of Narumi’s yaoi fan fiction written under a pen name.
Narumi is rather goofy and the show plays most jokes at her expense (they have to flash a “please don’t run for departing trains” sign every time she’s late, which is often), but she isn’t stupid. It would have been so easy to make her a moron to have otaku go, “Gosh, isn’t she adorable. I would love to have a stupid girlfriend,” something you often see in moe anime.
Then you have her dynamic with the guys at work, who are also into nerd stuff. You have Tarou – Hana’s future boyfriend – and Hirotaka, who has a preference for games and a disdain for yaoi (in a humorous way). He is Narumi’s love interest. These characters – not just the main couple – make for a great group. You can easily see them as friends in real life, relatable to anyone who likes hanging out playing couch co-op games such as Mario Kart (called “Mari Ka” in Japanese, for short, as I learned), adventuring together in MMOs or just chatting over a meal.
Harumi and Hirotaka are a sweet couple. The arguments they have over trying to get the other person into the things they like is endearing. However, I do wish there was more to this romance. It’s certainly a believable one (often, the problem with anime romance is the lack of foundation in the romance to begin with), yet doesn’t go into enough depth for how they work as a couple in private. It has the fun side of the romance without enough of the drama side. Doesn’t have to be heavy conflict – just give me something so I can say, “You know what, they’re going to make it.”
Now, the fun side is a success. When they go on a date to the theme park, they set a “no nerding” rule with a 500-yen penalty to the piggy bank for breaking it. She can’t resist making the perfect JoJo reference while he can’t miss the chance to catch a rare Blissey in Pokémon Go (fun fact: Blissey in Japanese is called “Happiness” – the English word happiness).
The nerd humour is on point. Hirotaka is a pro at Monster Hunter, even playing it at work. They play together on a hunt for a rare ruby she wants from a monster, but when she gets none and he gets two, not needing any himself, she says, “The Desire Sensor must’ve activated!” I love the inclusion of this joke. This author, she knows the gamer’s mentality. It feels authentic and not tacked on because market research says that anime for adult nerds must have adult nerd references. How often have you seen a US TV show try to make a gaming reference, for whatever is the big thing at the time, and come across as painful to watch? The Big Bang Theory still makes me cringe in memory of that MMO episode.
Wotakoi makes meta references to games, using mechanics like action choices for humour and I love the character stat sheets marking ad breaks (check out that yaoi stat!):
I even learnt a new term from this anime: the reverse cover scam. “I see the cover [of a manga] and buy it for the sex scenes, but the story turns out to be good!” That is perfect. I have to use that phrase in real life at some point.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku gets my heartiest recommendation. It is a refreshing change from the sea of high school rom-coms and I hope to see more of this kind in future.
Art – Medium
It’s not a flex show, but the art is good. The colours and character designs pop!
Sound – High
The music matches the fun tone – super catchy OP – and the acting is strong overall. Narumi may sound too young for an “office lady”, but it matches her young-at-heart fangirl personality.
Story – Medium
An omega nerdy office lady has her cover blown at work, only to find out her colleagues are nerds themselves. This light-hearted rom-com is a fun 11 episodes that I wish leant more into the romance.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For adult nerds. Wotakoi is an easy anime to watch, though with its slant towards adult life and adult humour, you need to be part of the older crowd to find it fully relatable. Still, don’t let that stop you.
With her family estate declining and her future uncertain, the young librarian and teacher Shuurei accepts the court’s offer to become the lazy emperor’s concubine and instructor in exchange for 500 gold pieces. She has no reason to turn down the offer, as the new emperor prefers the company of men (or so he likes everyone to believe). Plus, this could be the opportunity to fulfil her dream of becoming a member of the court, where the fate of the people is decided. Her innocence and focus teeter on the brink however, when her job puts her in the path of several handsome men, never mind the emperor’s stupidity.
The first impressions of The Story of Saiunkoku gave me hope of seeing another Twelve Kingdoms (still have my fingers crossed for a conclusion) with its bishounen artwork set to a vast kingdom and mystical backstory. I expected far too much. It is partially my fault, likely generated out of desperation to see more of The Twelve Kingdoms sort. So, I adjusted my expectations and saw Saiunkoku for what it is – a shoujo historical fantasy romance that pays no attention to historical realism in exchange for dreamboat men.
First off, I believe this anime conveniently ignores what a concubine actually is (we call them something very different today). It wouldn’t do to have the protagonist called a whore every scene in a show for young girls, now would it?
Changing some historical nuance isn’t a deal breaker for a show such as this, full of fantasy and no “true story” adaptation. The real issue is the complete lack of feeling that this takes place in a period gone by. This is a very “anime” anime for teenage girls with its modern humour and contemporary mannerisms. I wouldn’t call this a historical piece. I liken Saiunkoku to characters dressing up for a period piece rather and actual period piece. Whether the author wasn’t skilled enough to write a period piece or the team thought it would be too difficult for the target audience to understand, Saiunkoku isn’t a period romance.
Barring that, it does have strengths. For one, the aesthetic is lovely, suits the tone of the series, and no doubt makes the bishounen even more appealing to the audience. While this is a reverse harem, matters never descend into garbage harem territory. It also has many elements, from the intricacies of government to wider cultures and a large cast of character without dragging down proceedings. The story moves at a good pace and never feels tired. The top-level plot progress slows at times, though this is in exchange for more exploration of a subplot. I cannot impress upon you enough how surprised I am by this. Too often, such a volume of elements results in a bloated mess where everything competes for attention, nothing sticks with the audience, and you just want to drop the series.
We have plenty of politics within and without as Shuurei navigates the imperial court and all its conniving players. She faces a greater challenge than others do, being a woman in the territory of men while falling for some of them. The drama never gets heavy, yet it has enough to deliver the audience to the conclusion. It maintains the mask of shoujo romance, yet doesn’t do so at the total expense of depth.
The Story of Saiunkoku is quite good for young girls – there is a lot here for the right audience – but anyone desiring an experience that takes you back in time with a touch of fantasy will find this piece too modern.
Art – Medium
Most of the effort went into the character designs and aesthetics, which look nice, instead of animation, which needs work.
Sound – Medium
Music is the best part of The Story of Saiunkoku. I like the OP and classical Asian instrumental soundtrack. As for acting, the Japanese fine. I would avoid the dub, as a couple of characters are jarring. One kid has so much nasal on top of being a kid everyone would punch on first meeting.
Story – Medium
A girl agrees to become concubine to the new emperor in exchange for a hefty reward, but the simple proposition complicates itself when feelings get involved. While not a period piece whatsoever, The Story of Saiunkoku is a good shoujo romance.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For shoujo fans. The Story of Saiunkoku is shoujo within and without – unfortunately at the expense of historical realism. It knows its core demographic.
Do you like memes? No, do you love memes? Boy, do I have the anime for you!
Pop Team Epic is trolling made manifest in anime form. When I started the first episode and it played an ordinary idol anime opening, I thought I had put on the wrong series. No, it was just messing with me. When the episode ended with half the runtime remaining, only to restart the episode with the girls voiced by the opposite gender, I…had no words. This is a hard one to describe.
Put simply, Pop Team Epic is a collection of skits lasting anywhere between 10 seconds to a minute long. It pulls from anything and everything. One second, Berserk’s evil egg mutates into the face of the blond girl, the next second we’re waking up in the cart at the start of Skyrim, and then we find ourselves in real life. It is a thousand memes put through a vulgar blender and sprayed onto walls, floor, and ceiling to see what sticks. I take it the studio allowed its artists and voice actors to do whatever they wanted.
My favourite skits are when, rather than bothering to animate a scene, two people flip through storyboard pages or the time we look into the voice-recording studio, where the actors lose their minds over the insanity of the script – full mental breakdowns! The random cuts to a French animator from the studio talking in a calm voice, explain something about the animation, before it cuts to the two girls in France flipping everyone off also got a chuckle.
There’s not much to say about Pop Team Epic. Is it good? Eh… It’s hit and miss from skit to skit – since they don’t last long, the bad ones don’t hang around. I think the biggest problem with Pop Team Epic is watching it in episodic format. This material works best taken in one skit at a time, shared to you online by a friend or stranger like a meme. If someone were to send you a video of the same meme done it different ways over a 20-minute video, you’d stop laughing a minute in. Watching Pop Team Epic as an anime series is just that. And like most memes, this will be dated in a year’s time.
My recommendation, should Pop Team Epic seem of interest to you, is to watch random clips online. It doesn’t really work when put together as an “episode”, too random in its structure and rarely giving time to appreciate the joke. Here, watch one:
Art – Medium
A random collection of visual techniques and styles – sometime with no art whatsoever – works as often as it fails. Or is the other way around? I swear one scene was made in Microsoft Paint.
Sound – Medium
I’ll give it to the actors – they commit. Watch it in Japanese for extra lunacy.
Story – ?
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For meme connoisseurs only. If you must watch Pop Team Epic, do it in random doses like a mad doctor throwing prescriptions at passersby.