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The Pet Girl of Sakurasou – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sakura-sou no Pet na Kanojo

 

Similar: Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend

Toradora

Princess Jellyfish

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance Slice of Life

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colours

Negatives:

  • Sleazier fan service than usual
  • Deeper moments fall flat against this tone
  • Too many obnoxious characters

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When you’ve consumed enough anime with an analytical eye (or books or movies), judging the quality of series within one episode becomes easy. It may sound unfair – “You have to finish or it doesn’t count!” If a first episode is full of problems, then expect those same problems to echo throughout the series. Core elements don’t magically go from bad to great by the end. Not to suggest they can’t get better. You might get a 10% improvement by the end or an element that isn’t working falls away, elevating the rest in the process without much change. When a story has potential for greatness, the seeds are present from the start. What about judging the ending if you only watch one episode? You won’t be able to tell how good the ending will be (though a bad series ending is often predictable), but you can judge whether the journey is worth it. Remember, the end is a fraction of the overall experience.

And so, we come to The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Let’s go through episode one for all the markers of how this series will be.

Opening scene, protagonist Sorata looking out of the classroom window at a bright but uneventful day, indicating his boring but easy life. He then tells us as much. Unnecessary showing plus telling. Not a big deal, but I expect to see this a lot, where they will show something (should stop there), but then have someone vocalise it as if the audience can’t infer on their own. Anime does this often. Problem repeats next moment when he wakes up (pointless dream opening scene is also a red flag) with a cat’s arse on his face – not a pleasant experience – and then has to tell us how it’s not a pleasant experience, a simile for his adolescent life.

Turns around to find his face now in a girl’s arse (camera about to perform a colonoscopy of course). Tells me the fan service will be non-stop and sleazy. She wakes up and her first line, yelled with extreme energy, is, “I want to be a bride when I grow up!” Atrocious introduction to an obnoxious character. She only gets worse as the scene continues.

Less than two minutes in and this tells me about 70% of what I need to know. There will be too much telling, sleazy fan service, and bad characters. All that remains is to see the narrative drive, which I expect within a few minutes, and I could give a recommendation.

Escapes into the hall where he runs into his teacher, whose priority one the first day of school is showing off her cleavage, as stated by her. She hands him a toolbox to fix the sign out front. This is Sakura Hall, a dorm notorious for housing the problem students of this art school. Sorata’s plot goal is to get out of this hellhole of a living situation. A funny premise, to be sure, but it hinges on having great characters in the dorm for comedy and all you’ve given me so far is sleaze and a colonoscopy.

There’s another minor instance of show and tell here. A couple of girls walk past and whisper about Sakura Hall’s reputation, which is all we need. Then Sorata tells us the same information again a second later.

Predictably, the panty girl from the start throws a window open and yells to him about how hot she is naked, reinforcing my judgment of obnoxious fan service and this character. A little over three minutes in and I’ve seen more than enough. Let’s keep going though.

Now we have the character bios. Panty girl is an animator, in comes a playboy guy (anime screenwriter and high school gigolo), the teacher we’ve met, and there is a NEET programmer no one has ever seen. Sorata is an average guy amongst a bunch of freaks. I’m not a fan of rapid-fire inductions like scrolling through game profiles, as they just info dump without engagement. At least it isn’t as bad as the one in Wave! Let’s Go Surfing! and they did intersplice character moments to give a bit of personality.

After classmate introductions and more talk of Sakura Hall’s infamy, we flashback to Sorata adopting a stray cat and being forced to move to Sakura Hall since regular dorms don’t allow pets. Bit of a forced scenario set up, but alright, works for comedy. He’s had stray cats come to him ever since. This is foreshadowing for later.

Side note: the bloom is too strong and ever-present.

The teacher introduces the foil in the story. Her cousin is coming from England (prediction: she will be nothing like a British girl) and will be staying in Sakura Hall. Sorata has to pick her up from the station. He finds the girl and the first thing she says is, “What colour do you want to be?” A feeble attempt at a philosophical conversation follows (purpose: on the nose metaphor of the theme). This tells me the story will try to cram a deeper meaning in somewhere (prediction: the ending, with sudden drama) that will utterly fail in the face of the sleaze and shallow characters. Her colour is white, like the stray cat. A bad introduction via writing from a film school student’s first indie movie.

We are a little past halfway in the first episode now and I have yet to find much positive to say. The colours are nice, though marred by the overbearing bloom. A couple of funny lines as well, yet far outweighed by the unfunny ones.

Next day, he has to wake her up for school, only to find her room in a disaster state as if the FBI had rifled all her clothes for secret intel. She’s a manga artist and sleeps under the desk. She comes out from blanket to stand before him naked. Nothing has changed from that first scene when he woke up. Turns out, she’s an absolute idiot for the sake of fan service, underage nudity, and comedy. The explanation is that this is normal because the culture in England is different? Yeah, I doubt the author has ever been to England. He has to get her ready like a child. This is the pet of the title and from all that foreshadowing. I get she is supposed to be like a stray cat to care for, like his many other stray cats, but did they have to make her mentally deficient just to fulfil his fetish?

And so ends the episode.

Let’s summarise. The characters are obnoxious, the love interest is imbecilic, the humour repeated itself several times within a single episode, the “serious” dialogue is laughably bad, showing plus telling, and fan service takes priority over all else. A thick blanket of anime clichés wraps this up.

One episode was too much to know The Pet Girl of Sakurasou isn’t an anime worth watching. Yes, there are many far worse than this, but also a thousand high school anime that you could watch first. Toradora is a much better version of this anime type.

For the sake of thoroughness and this review, I watched the series in full and nothing changes about the quality of this series. The characters are still weak stereotypes, the fan service is still sleazy, and the few good jokes are buried under the mountain of same tired lines in every high school anime. The feeble deeper messages die under the tonal nonsense of the sleaze. My only off prediction was the dramatic ending. It wasn’t as dramatic as expected, instead mirroring the first episode with nostalgia. The end was a typical graduation moment filled with crying people (understandable). It’s clear the main couple has barely evolved.

I could apply the above analysis to the first episode of any series, whether good or bad, and highlight the markers that predict overall quality. Maybe I should do it in future with some excellent series. Sounds like a good idea.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou isn’t worth your time in a sea of high school anime.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Ghost Stories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gakkou no Kaidan

 

Similar: Ghost Hunt

Pop Team Epic

Cromartie High School

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: [Comedy] Horror Mystery

Length: 19 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The masterpiece dub

Negatives:

  • Everything else

(Request an anime for review here.)

Ghost Stories is a rubbish anime. The characters are forgettable, the horror is laughable, the mysteries put one to sleep, and the art is crap. Watch it in English, however, and Ghost Stories is a great anime. If you haven’t heard of this gem, Ghost Stories was a flop in Japan (shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with eyes and ears) and the studio said that ADV, the dubbing company, could do whatever they wanted to the show as long as they followed three rules. Don’t change names, don’t change how the ghosts die (part of the Japanese folklore), and don’t change the meaning of each episode. Other than that, fair game. And they were merciless.

What resulted was one of the most hilarious anime ever made in the style of an “abridged” parody series, before abridged anime were all the rage. Almost all dialogue was improvised, and since they record dubs one actor at a time (to match the visual timing), whoever got in the booth first for a scene, set the improv direction and the rest played off it. They just had to follow the purpose of the scene.

When told they could change anything except for the above three rules, they took that to heart. None of the original feel or tone of Ghost Stories remains in the dub, much to everyone’s delight.

The most notable change is personalities. Gone are the clichéd and bland school kids. In are the most offensive twerps since South Park. The protagonist has a mouth to make a sailor blush, a true hatred for lesbians, and is obsessed with her body. Her younger brother is retarded (literally) mumbling gibberish that gets more incomprehensible as he grows upset. Only she can decipher his speech. The love interest is a degenerate perv, while the nerd is even more stereotyped and Jewish, thus the butt of Jew jokes (like South Park). My favourite is the prim and proper girl turned into a fanatical born again Christian, calling everything a sin and reminding you every second of every day that you must find Jesus. Each line out of her mouth cracks me up.

The humour is more than offensive jokes. There are pop culture references, social commentaries, mocking of anime clichés, and meta humour on the atrocious animation quality of Ghost Stories. The mockery of the lip flaps always gets me. The animation was clearly a rush job and is perfect fodder for the actors. Lip flap matching is far superior in the improvised dub than it is in the structured original.

Looking at the Japanese version, Ghost Stories is a total snooze fest. The structure is that of a “monster of the week” type, with a new haunting for the kids to investigate each episode and it couldn’t be more paint-by-numbers. This isn’t a case where the original is “so bad it’s good” and the dub parodies it. No, the original is mind numbing – certainly not helped by the art either. Character faces aren’t even consistent from scene to scene. I’m not convinced they had an art director on staff. What truly baffles me though is the ending theme song. I first thought it was part of the parody with lyrics like, “I miss you, I miss you. I need you, I need you. Sexy, sexy!” Lost my mind when I discovered it’s the original song. Whose idea was that!? Keeping it for the dub only makes it better.

Ghost Stories is a wild ride. Even if the humour isn’t to your taste, it’s still an interesting study for a few episodes in how it changed between versions. A few “best of” clip compilations are also available on YouTube if you don’t want to watch the full 19 episodes.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch in dub. Ghost Stories is legendary in anime circles for a reason.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: 

Ugly Artistic Design

ES: Eternal Sabbath – Manga Review

Japanese Title: ES: Eternal Sabbath

 

Genre: Supernatural Drama Science Fiction

Length: 83 chapters (8 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • An engaging plot of nature vs. nurture
  • Villain is genuinely threatening
  • Cool psychic powers

Negatives:

  • Character art is a little lopsided

Eternal Sabbath entered my radar over a decade ago through a passing recommendation, which I wouldn’t have remembered were it not for that absolute metal name. This turned out not to be a story I expected, though still a welcome one.

Eternal Sabbath is about two psychic beings born from experimentation, one of them a success, the other a failure and clone of the former, and how the difference in treatment of these two affects temperament. Akiba is the original, possessing immense mental powers to invade the minds of others, project hallucinations, and even kill with a mere thought. Isaac, the child clone, has the same power but without the maturity. He’s a test tube child, never intended for the real world until he breaks free and roams the streets with the power of a god. An unloved child is tragedy. An unloved god child is a catastrophe.

The protagonist of this story, however, is human woman by the name of Mine. She’s a neurologist brought on the case when a victim suffers an odd mental attack, seemingly all in the victim’s head yet with very real injuries. Interestingly, she’s immune to the more dangerous telepathic powers. This draws Akiba’s attention.

I want to start with Akiba. What a great character. First impressions establish him as someone with a sense of justice yet an absolute prick as well, uncaring for those around him and inconsiderate of the privacy and autonomy of others. After all, why does he need to care when he is, in essence, a higher being? He can walk into someone’s house, eat their food, rifle through their things, and leave without a trace in the owners’ minds. He isn’t cruel though. When he meets Mine, finding much of his power blocked and her calling out his behaviour, he can’t help but feel drawn to her. His arc sees him turn from a selfish individual into a caring human.

I love the subplot of his fake identity. Akiba isn’t his real name – it belonged to a man who died. “Akiba” took his place and manipulated the man’s relatives into believing he was the real Akiba who had never left. Even if it does bring them joy to see their Akiba again, it is quite cruel when you consider it. He treats them well, of course, but it’s just a cover for him. However, as Akiba grows into a real person, thanks in no small part to Mine and seeing his evil reflection in Isaac, this identity becomes more than a cover. You don’t need this subplot to tell the main story, but it enhances character and theme, as every good subplot should. It works as a perfect tracker for his change in emotion.

Similarly, Isaac takes over another child’s life. Here we have the opposite to Akiba. Isaac mistreats the parents, always acting like a spoilt child, mind controlling them to do his bidding. As Akiba improves, Isaac declines further into cruelty, psychopathy, and eventually, depravity. The closest thing he has to a friend is Yuri, a little girl from school. She too is a neglected child, though not an evil one, but her poor understanding of morality and consequences leads her to encouraging Isaac’s evil for her benefit.

Then we have Mine, a strong woman balanced by uncertainty about her role in all of this. When the case starts affecting people around her, she questions if there is something she could have done better, if she is responsible in some way as a person aware of these supernatural beings and largely immune to them. What she goes through would certainly drain the mentally toughest of people.

Eternal Sabbath is a page-turner laced with tension. Isaac is a genuine threat. It’s good to see a villain with a personality for wanton killing actually kill people indiscriminately, and it never feels forced like those villains that “shoot the dog” just to show how evil they are. His actions are always in line with his character. This doesn’t mean he is predictable, mind you, as he is complex despite his immaturity. From his perspective, he feels justified in his actions, sometime even committing what we see as evil to “help” others. Most chapters end on cliffhanger once things get going, so I have to read the next to find out what happens.

I’m glad I remembered Eternal Sabbath. It was a worthwhile read and receives my recommendation.

Art – Medium

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. Eternal Sabbath is a simple yet tense manga that holds your attention to the end.

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

K-On! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: K-On!

 

Similar: Sound! Euphonium

Lucky Star

Bang Dream

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Music Slice of Life

Length: 39 episodes (2 seasons), 2 specials, 1 movie

 

Positives:

  • Visually dynamic for a slice of life anime
  • Characters aren’t just moe
  • Fair number of laughs

Negatives:

  • The music is a little weak for a music show

(Request an anime for review here.)

It is no secret that I’m not a fan of moe anime. Apart from usually looking hideous, they bank everything – character, plot, personality, effort – on the moe. The characters are insufferable, one-note, and what passes for humour is non-stop screeching. Oh god, the voices. They’re torture. So, what does a seemingly stereotypical moe anime with good characters, restraint on the screeching, and real humour look like? Meet K-On.

This anime revolves around the daily school life antics of a girls’ music club. They claim it’s a music club, but they spend more time drinking tea, eating cakes, and doing odd activities to promote the club. K-On is more a slice of life than a music anime. We have Yui the protagonist on the guitar, Mio on bass, Mugi on keyboard, and Ritsu banging the drums. A fifth joins the club later. Each girl fits one of the main archetypes of the typical “cute girls doing cute things” cast. Yui, for instance, is a clumsy airhead, which sounds clichéd. Another girl is the shy, self-conscious type yet popular with the boys. Also sounds clichéd. Their teacher is more of a child than half of her students. Sound familiar?

In fact, if I were to detail K-On in full on paper from its characters to the episodic scenarios, it would be normal for you to dismiss it as more of the same clichéd moe fare. To own a truth, though this had been on my list to watch since before my first review, I always suspected it as more of same that a hardcore fanbase overhyped to outsiders. Probably why I took so long to get to it. I was right, in a sense. K-On is more of the same, technically. However, it takes that sameness and executes it so much better than the competition that it makes me think even less of those other anime. Yes, K-On had many imitators in the years that followed, but it wasn’t an original idea either. I look at this anime and can’t pick out anything I would call different or innovative for the genre, apart from caring about more than the moe. Here we have a great example of the importance of execution over idea. I talk of this plenty in isekai reviews, where all they have going for them is that one change from other isekai, as if that alone will make for a great story. You could change nothing at the core but execute in a great way and now sentiment won’t be, “Oh, it’s just a rip-off of [other anime here].” Instead, viewers will say, “It’s like [other anime] but actually good.”

These characters are fun and the scenarios are fun, especially in season two when the series hits its stride. The humour works and has more than “it’s funny because she’s cute” as the joke. K-On is, in simple terms, fun. Who knew that having good characters with depth would make for an enjoyable experience, aye?

Huge praise must go to Kyoto Animation for applying their considerable artistic talents to the series. Nothing about K-On visually feels template. When the girls have those expected moe and anime reactions, we aren’t getting stock animation you see copied and pasted across the seasonal clones. These characters have such life and energy, such expression thanks to caring artists. Very giffable too, as I’m sure you’ve seen around the net.

One problem tangential to K-On is the ease in which it is to imitate. Imitating well is a different matter, but to create a clone (similar to how easy it is to clone Sword Art Online) takes little effort and had caused a flood on the market. If you have seen its imitators already, I can imagine them lessening your experience with K-On, for while this is better, you could feel as if you know everything about K-On before you even start. That said, should you have an inclination for the genre as an outsider, I do recommend this one. Actually, this is the only anime of the typical moe variety that I would recommend to non-core fans.

I want to be clear. You aren’t finding anything revolutionary here or the anime to change your mind on moe, but it is still a good anime regardless.

One final note – should a dub be your preference, avoid the original Animax dub. Absolutely lifeless. The Bang Zoom redub is close to the Japanese in tone and energy and a fine experience.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for “cute girls doing cute things” fans. This might appeal to those not already predisposed to the moe genre. K-On is good though still very moe.

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

Positive: 

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Utawarerumono – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Utawarerumono

 

Related: Utawarerumono: The False Faces (sequel)

Similar: Tears to Tiara

Vision of Escaflowne

Scrapped Princess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Fantasy Science Fiction

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Sounds good on paper, I guess?

Negatives:

  • Lazy fantasy
  • Packed with anime clichés
  • No interesting characters
  • Final act twist

(Request an anime for review here.)

Utawarerumono, an anime I remember most for the long title and whose review I’ve had in the bank waiting for completion since a year ago. Two? I don’t remember. Wait… Yep, file created January 2019. I am not keen to write this review because, simply, I am not keen on this anime. Frankly, it’s boring. The clichés are numerous, the fantasy is lazy, and no character grabs my attention. You know you’re in for a rough time when even the OP doesn’t have great art or animation.

This anime centres on a mysterious man found in the woods. He can’t remember his past, who he is, and he wears a mask that can’t come off. A local village of animal people take him in and call him Hakuoro, curious about his lack of a furry tail or ears. Whatever he was in the past, Hakuoro becomes a leader in this village and leads a revolution against the oppressive emperor.

The story isn’t immediately boring. I like a good revolution. The character designs scream laziness and their implementation are the first warning sign that little effort will go into anything. These villagers have animal tail and ears, yet are human in every other way, from behaviour to society. Their part-animal design is pointless. There’s also something I hate about Hakuoro’s one defining characteristic of wearing a mask all the time. Is try hard the phrase I’m looking for? I don’t know. Just lame. I can’t imagine anyone caring about the mystery of who’s under the mask.

Before long, the story shows similar flaws by dipping into every shounen cliché in the library. Honour at the risk of everyone’s lives, grandstanding, characters than can’t contribute on the battlefield because they aren’t main characters, and the skinny girl with a giant sword no one else can lift for some inexplicable reason are but a few examples. Some characters have supernatural abilities with no explanation of how or the limitations of said powers.

For an anime with significant time dedicated to battles in the uprising, the strategy isn’t clever. At all. Did any second thought go towards this? Don’t know.

On paper, this story sounds good – a man rises up to become emperor with the aid of a part-animal race, yet everything has such average execution and never goes beyond the obvious that it isn’t interesting. One leader is joyous and rearing to tell how he slaughtered the enemy one second, then becomes melancholic the next. That’s Utawarerumono’s attempt at conflict.

So bored am I with Utawarerumono that when the big act three twist reveals itself, I just sigh. The twist upends everything in the plot, which sounds like it should wake me up, but when elements prior offer no engagement, it’s hard to care. Also, I don’t like when this twist type is in the third act. Not to give too much away, though using such a twist so late tends to nullify much of the build-up and work put in by earlier acts. It benefits as a first act twist to invert the protagonist’s world and throw them into the unknown, or as the mid-point turn (if well foreshadowed) to shake things up. Using it late has an effect similar to an amnesia twist, just not as bad. Utawarerumono does make it worse by having an amnesiac protagonist. Ironically, I almost forget that detail.

I’m not sure why Utawarerumono is even on my list. I can’t remember.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For specific fantasy anime fans only. Being a fantasy fan isn’t enough to enjoy Utawarerumono. You must also be a fan of specific anime fantasy clichés.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building