Tag Archives: Melancholy

Particularly sad or subdued for most of the time.

Scum’s Wish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuzu no Honkai

 

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

White Album

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and shot composition.

Negatives:

  • Immature view of sex, masquerading as maturity.
  • So much ‘almost sex.’
  • Boring lead.
  • Everything is a few beats slow.

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You want a messed up love polygon? Hanabi is in love with her brother and teacher, but he’s interested in another teacher. Meanwhile, Hanabi’s classmate is in love with that other female teacher. To cope with the heartache of unrequited, forbidden love, Hanabi and the guy date each other for sexual and emotional comfort. They are each other’s replacements. However, another girl is in love with Hanabi, while the pretend boyfriend’s loli sister is also in love with him. Got all that? Lesbian -> Hanabi -> brother/teacher -> co-worker/teacher <- pretend boyfriend <- little sister.

Despite the messed up premise, my first thought was to question if Scum’s Wish would go far enough. The crueller the setup, the more likely an anime drama will chicken out before the end and not deliver the promise. When Scum’s Wish revealed that the brother wasn’t Hanabi’s real brother, I knew how this would end.

Scum’s Wish engaged me with its beautiful cinematography and emotional weight. Hanabi latched onto her brother and father figure, thinking they’d be together forever after the lack of a real father left her with emotional issues. It’s tragic.

Then the classmate’s little sister enters the picture, breaking the tone. She feels like a character from a trashy harem, not a tragic romance. Throw in the lesbian best friend with the hots for Hanabi, and the love polygon goes from tragic to comical. The teachers and students were enough. These extras comes across as characters meant to distract you from the shallowness of the main threads.

The ‘doesn’t go far enough’ problem is no more prevalent than in sex scenes. There’s a lot of almost sex. The artists put their all into animating each sex scene with smoothness and detail to maximise sensuality and eroticism. (Just imagine One Punch Man’s action scene animations, but for characters feeling each other up.) Yet, someone always backs out at the last moment.

Scum’s Wish was pitched to me as “the anime most mature about sex in years.” Now I don’t know what to think of the people who told me this – they were adults, too. Look, just because you censor less than a shoujo romance, it doesn’t make the sex any more mature. Almost every sex scene is “Gyaaah! Not there! Don’t look at me. Nyaaah!” They sure use the ‘one character on top of another, when the top starts crying and tears fall on the other’s face’ scene five times too many. It’s no different from any other immature relationship anime.

The villain of this story is the female teacher, surprisingly enough. She is aware of Hanabi’s desire, as well as all those who are after her, and she loves it. The teacher thrives on how much people want her – if she’s taking away someone’s crush in the process, then all the better. A unique villain, to be sure. Sadly, even she doesn’t go far enough. Her arc – hell, everyone’s arcs – resolves with the tension of wet toilet paper. Scum’s Wish simultaneously puts its characters in cruel scenarios while treating them like fragile ornaments that can’t suffer the slightest nudge, lest they break.

The fragility also weakens any emotional impact. March Comes in Like a Lion conveys emotion much more effectively, all while using a quarter of the words – silence instead of the excessive internal monologue found in Scum’s Wish.

The story has nothing beyond the relationship drama – no one feels like a real person with a life, even if a miserable one. Hanabi is worst of all. She is a passive, feeble character that rarely takes action. The plot doesn’t move forward at her behest. Someone else takes charge while she lies there going, “Gyaah! No…”

Maturity? Look elsewhere.

Art – High

The art is gorgeous, soft and elegant – I love the eyes. The shot composition is great at conveying multiple perspectives and emotions at once. Editing could be quicker. Character heights are oddly inconsistent – in the first scene, Hanabi bumps into a guy, coming up to his chin, but then two shots later, she is half a head taller than before!

Sound – Medium

Decent acting and calm music.

Story – Low

A love polygon of ridiculous dimensions messes with the emotions of every student and teacher involved. Scum’s Wish tries to be mature about sex, but devolves into immature melodrama that stretches reason beyond intrigue.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Scum’s Wish won’t be for you unless you love sexual melodrama.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow

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March Comes in Like a Lion – Anime Review

Japanese Title: 3-gatsu no Lion

 

Related: March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 (release: 2017)

Similar: Your Lie in April

Ping Pong the Animation

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Slice of Life Drama

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The protagonist.
  • Portrayal of depression.
  • So many gorgeous scenes.
  • OPs and EDs.

Negatives:

  • Facial close-ups.
  • Could do with compacting.
  • The talking animals.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Depression, an all-powerful force that colours our world in bleakness. Hope doesn’t exist in this world, nor does happiness. So why do those around us seem happy? How can they be happy when there is nothing to be happy about in life? Because depression is in our heads alone. Despite what we perceive, depression doesn’t bleed beyond the confines of one’s brain. The happiness of others is safe. March Comes in Like a Lion shows us this mental phenomenon through the eyes of Rei, a 17-year-old orphan and shogi professional.

I must first commend this anime for its portrayal of depression, which is often mischaracterised as a synonym for sadness. Sadness is losing your pet to old age and moving on after a period of mourning. Depression is losing your pet to old age and seeing this as to end of everything in your life. Sadness stops at a point; depression spirals ever downwards into a pit that exploits your greatest fears and most taut emotions. This is all in your head, of course, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When Rei is alone with no more than his mind for company, we see his descent. The loss of his family, the hatred from his adopted sister, and the lack of friends has morphed into a beast way beyond grief.

However, the moment others are around him, happiness bursts into life. The three sisters that live nearby are happy, despite their own loss, and their happiness infects him like an extended family. So what if he’s depressed? The world doesn’t stop spinning. Others don’t stop smiling. These are lessons Rei needs to learn if he is to grow out of his present state. As for friends, who says he has none? His self-proclaimed rival, Harunobu, regularly barges into his life and home to keep Rei company as his best friend – also self-proclaimed. Studio Shaft handled the balance between light and dark with deft mastery, thanks in no small part to the art, which conveys more emotion than the words.

Rei’s backstory is riveting as well. After losing his parents, his father’s friend and shogi rival takes him in to raise as a shogi professional like his own kids. However, when he surpasses those kids, the animosity reaches breaking point and he moves to his own place before the daughter can strangle him. You want to know the kicker? He didn’t even like shogi. He said what he had to. This backstory is what I would use to teach how to write conflict in a character’s past.

Where March Comes in Like a Lion falters is largely in two areas. The first is the shogi. Don’t watch this for the sport like you would Haikyuu and its brethren. The story does little to teach you the game as a newcomer, while also doing little to engage veterans. Shogi scenes serve to present mental conflicts only, which would be acceptable if there weren’t so much shogi. The best way I can put it is that the writer knows little about shogi – at least, that’s how it feels. I imagine the script read, “and then they played shogi,” for each shogi scene.

The second fault is with tangents. Several episodes abandon the protagonist and plot in favour of side characters – not particularly important ones at that either. These episodes should have waited for the OVAs, you know, the optional content that interrupts the flow of the main story. Thankfully, these faults don’t lessen my recommendation to watch at least half of the season. Oh yeah, there’s those creepy talking cats, who explain their jokes each scene. Maybe they are reason enough to skip this… No, even with Satan’s pets, March Comes in Like a Lion earns your attention.

Art – High

Studio Shaft did an incredible job with some of the scenes in March Comes in Like a Lion – the OPs and EDs are so gorgeous. The animation is a far cry from the static that was Honey and Clover. However, adherence to the mangaka’s art style has kept those dead eyes and ugly mouths, regularly highlighted by overused close ups of the faces.

Sound – High

The voice work is strong, except for those creepy cats and the little girl, who doesn’t sound like a little girl. I can see several music tracks being added to my playlist in future.

Story – High

A young man deals with depression punctuated by the happiness of those around him as he competes in shogi. Even if too long and off on a few tangents too many, March Comes in Like a Lion’s depiction of depression is top tier and balanced well by the humour.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for slice of life fans. March Comes in Like a Lion manages to convey the effects of depression in a relatable manner to those who have experienced it, and an understandable manner for those that haven’t. For this reason, it warrants at least a few episodes of your time, if not enough for the whole season. The first half is stronger than the second half.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Aoi Bungaku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Bungaku

 

Similar: Monster

Ayakashi: Japanese Classic Horror

Box of Goblins

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Historical Drama Thriller

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Something different.
  • Stories three and six.
  • Complex characters.
  • Dark and twisted imagery in some stories.

Negatives:

  • Stories two and four.
  • First story needs more episodes.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Aoi Bungaku is an adaptation of six Japanese literary classics, each sharing a facet of the authors’ lives and psychology. This makes the second short story collection I’ve reviewed recently, but where Diamond Daydreams is an easy viewing experience, Aoi Bungaku is intense, dark, and often twisted.

No Longer Human, the first story, follows the descent into darkness of a high school student after losing his way into drugs and abuse. This noir-esque tale shows his life at different stages in four episodes, each stage worse than the last. He sees a ghost of his former self in reflection, void of identity, a hollow shell with no purpose.

The most depressing story in the collection, scholars consider No Longer Human to be autobiographical, explaining why the author killed himself after its completion. This story most needed the extra space – likely a series of its own – out of all works presented, even though it receives the most episodes.

Too heavy for you? Well, In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom, changes gear with its comedic tone as it tells of a bandit and his love for a beautiful yet spoilt woman. She agrees to marry him if he fulfils her request, and in his blindness, he agrees to all she asks. Her requests keep getting more and more outlandish. She starts with a simple ride up the mountain, then it’s to kill his other wives without question, and she only demands worse from there on.

On paper, this story sounds brutal. However, the comedy gives the opposite result. There’s a talking boar, for example, trying to reason his way out of becoming dinner for the wives, one of whom speaks English, for some reason. Sudden chibi comedy bursts on the scene as well. Honestly, I’m not sure what the intent was with this one. It doesn’t work as a comedy nor as a dark tale – though one of the woman’s final requests is truly messed up. A weak story, in the end.

Kokoro, story three, takes us in yet another direction to deliver the best of the series. It explores the friendship between a scholar and a wanderer. The scholar begins to regret inviting his friend to use the spare room when he takes an interest in the landlady’s daughter, for whom the scholar has designs. In a single episode, we see a full character arc pass from friendship and trust to jealousy and egoism. We see more development here than some anime have in a season. And that’s not even Kokoro’s greatest strength.

The next episode goes back to the start of the tale, but this time shows everything from the wanderer’s perspective. It’s brilliant to see how versions of events differ and exemplifies the ‘Unreliable Narrator’ device. Kokoro handily wins best story in this anime.

Run, Melos! comes next, killing the momentum by being the weakest of the lot. It’s a contemporary take on a Greek classic, focusing on unwavering friendship no matter what life may throw. The story hasn’t much to it, no real turns or points of interest – the shortness doesn’t help.

The Spider’s Thread – story five – puts an assassin to the test in redemption at the end of his life. He lived a life without concern for anyone or anything but himself – he even kills a woman that fed him in kindness – and goes to Hell for his actions. However, he receives one final chance at redemption when a spider’s thread descends from Heaven.

The most psychedelic of the stories, The Spider’s Thread almost reaches greatness. I like its idea – reminds of Death Parade. Yet with most of the conflict occurring in his mind it lacks the weight, the impact, it could have had if he had faced other people as well.

Lastly, we end on Hell Screen. A lord commissions a famous artist to paint an epic depiction of ‘Buddhist Hell’ in all its facets. The artist’s superior skill stems from his ability to capture the emotion of reality like no other. The catch is that he must witness these emotions for himself, and the commission being one of hell, his research turns to madness. Life begins to imitate art as the lord’s people go mad.

This story recalls the Warhammer novel Fulgrim, where Slaanesh, Chaos God of Pleasure and Excess, corrupts a legion of Space Marines in their quest for perfection in art and battle. The corruption goes so far, drives the legion so mad that one artist paints his magnum opus from his own blood, sweat, and faeces – literally. Highly recommended book. Without giving anything away, the painter’s final masterpiece in Hell Screen is similar to that – twisted yet riveting.

Aoi Bungaku slips under the radar of most anime fans. I had never heard anyone mention it before unless I specifically searched for material on it. Those looking for a hidden gem may find it in Aoi Bungaku.

Art – High

Despite being low on animation, Aoi Bungaku has some great imagery and compositions in several stories. The art style changes for each story to match the tone – dark and grainy for the heaviness in No Longer Human, vibrant for In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom’s comedic angle, and so on. I liked Kokoro’s camerawork and framing most.

Sound – High

The protagonist in each story shares the same actor, who also plays host, and the acting is good overall. Music effectiveness seems to match story quality.

Story – High/Medium

A series of Japanese classics with a focus on character study get anime adaptations, succeeding to varying degrees. Stories three and six rise above, while two and four lack presence. The split rating is for the varying quality between stories.

Overall Quality – High/Medium

Recommendation: Watch Kokoro (episodes 7 & 8) and Hell Screen (episode 12) – give or take the rest. Even if interested in seeing all stories, Aoi Bungaku is only twelve episodes long and presents something new every few, so it won’t take much time to experience this distinct anime.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Diamond Daydreams – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kita e.: Diamond Dust Drops

 

Similar: Hatsukoi Limited

Shirobako

Only Yesterday

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Well-paced short stories.
  • Doesn’t always end as the characters would wish.

Negatives:

  • Plays it safe.
  • Pre-opening sequence gives away the upcoming episode.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Diamond Daydreams is a series of short stories about women dealing with love, careers, competition, marriage, or affairs. The pitch includes something about a couple that sees the diamond dust together will be happy forever, which is largely irrelevant to the anime. I think the writer was trying to be more poetic and mystical than necessary. No, these stories are down-to-earth, grounded in very human problems.

We have six stories here, the first of which focuses on Atsuko, a women set for an arranged marriage. She feels stifled by her mother and the responsibilities with their fish shop in severe debt. This marriage to a rich man could solve everything. But he doesn’t do anything for her emotionally, not like one of her regulars to the market. Will it be love or security in the end?

The second story moves to a girl in hospital with a fatal lung condition, which surgery could fix, if it weren’t for her fear of surgery after her father died on the table. Perhaps her crush on the handsome new doctor may give her courage.

The third goes to a vastly different field as it follows a talented indie filmmaker, whose drive for success makes her unbearable to colleagues and her boyfriend. Number four is about a junior figure skating champion and the rivalry with her childhood friend (the OVA fits here). Five veers off at a ninety-degree angle to explore an extramarital affair by a radio woman who claims to be an authority on relationships. And the last covers the pursuit of your dreams.

So, as you can see, this is an assortment of premises, each focused on a different challenge in life, which brings good variety. However, the core remains the same – emotion.

I found my enjoyment varying from story to story. The fish market woman and the radio host have interesting stories, while the filmmaker’s ordeal is personally relatable to me (a friend of mine in high school made fun of me for being too grown up when we were supposed to be having fun). The ice skating rivalry and dream chasing arcs bored me, if I’m honest.

The best quality of Diamond Daydreams is how not everything in these women’s journeys wrap up perfectly, which is true to life. Despite what the magazines claim about successful people, one cannot have it all. Wishing upon a star doesn’t do diddly.

That in mind, Diamond Daydreams does feel too safe. I don’t mean to say it’s predictable. Rather, it feels written by a good writer that didn’t push further on the project, extract that little something extra from these women and their stories. As such, Diamond Daydreams is easy to watch, yet not surprising.

Art – Medium

The faces don’t look quite right at an angle – the artists weren’t consistent. Art is decent otherwise.

Sound – Medium

Good acting in both languages. Pleasant music – I like the string tracks.

Story – Medium

Six short stories on the struggles of six women in ordinary life. Varying in engagement, these well-paced stories are enjoyable overall.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For romance fans. Diamond Daydreams’ bite sized stories lend themselves to an easy viewing experience. Make sure to skip anything before the opening credits, as it gives away what’s to come in the episode.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Koi Kaze – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koi Kaze

 

Similar: Wandering Son

OreImo

Rumbling Hearts

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The ending.
  • Common sense not forgotten.
  • Cliché-free.

Negatives:

  • Thin on content.
  • Lacks relationship scaffolding.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is the real scientific theory of sexual attraction between two relatives who meet after separation since birth or infancy. GSA forms the basis of Koi Kaze. 27-year-old Koshiro works as a marriage matchmaker, despite incompetence in his own relationships, and an encounter with a teenage girl rekindles hope of love within him. However, Nanoka reveals herself as his sister, not seen since their parents divorced long ago, each taking custody of one child. She will be staying with him and their father for school from now on. Sexual tension bubbles under one roof.

Where incest most often plays a comedic role in anime (Ouran High School Host Club), or as drama so laughable it may as well be comedy (Vampire Knight, Please Twins), Koi Kaze is one of the few that takes a serious angle and knows what that requires. Most notably, people actually bloody question the morality of the relationship. Thank the anime gods – some sense! When the mother insinuates she would kill Koshiro if he does anything to her daughter, I sat up, impressed the writer included an authentic reaction to the thought of one’s children getting amorous. This is especially important with the 12-year age gap between the two.

The relationship spawns in a time of heartbreak for both. Their vulnerability and desperation for comfort coupled with GSA, and our general attraction to people who look similar to ourselves, sells us on the inception of the taboo path they tread. Many writers don’t realise how biologically difficult it is for an incestuous union to form, so the setup is crucial. Furthermore, they don’t dive right into each other’s pants. Koshiro hates his feelings and himself, lashing out at Nanoka, while she, the younger of the two, doesn’t know what to make of any of this. I’m glad this wasn’t a case of “This is wrong, but take me anyway!” The story has conflict and inner turmoil.

Where Koi Kaze falls flat is beyond the setup. Alright, an unfortunate concoction of circumstances and lust triggers this relationship, but what keeps it going? For a moment, think of this as a normal relationship – no taboo, no age gap, just two people yearning. What interests them beyond the initial burst of endorphins? Act 2, the middle development of their relationship is lacking and thin of content. He’s a dick and a loser while she’s emotionless. This doesn’t make them bad characters, of course, – we’ve all met such people – but if this were a normal relationship, would they remain or even become a couple? I don’t think so.

That said, if the story had gone longer, maybe we would have seen them realise they have no interest in each other beyond lust. It would be intriguing to see the slow destruction in their relationship, which the sober ending hints at. If the writer had included this stage – delete act 2, move the current solid act 3 up to 2, followed by new act 3 – Koi Kaze could have been great.

This anime is decent, regardless. I am surprised to see genuine thought and effort go into such a complex subject. It’s worth a look for being something different.

Art – Medium

Average art and animation – many static shots with mouth movements only. The white mouths look odd, or have I become too used to black mouths? Every shot seems a beat too long. Each line has a beat too much before the next.

Sound – Medium

Nanoka is rather flat in Japanese. Give some emotion! The dub is fine, though the script hasn’t much opportunity for range. The music is appropriately melancholic.

Story – Medium

Two siblings estranged by their parents’ divorce reunite and develop feelings for each other against better judgement. Despite lacking act two content, Koi Kaze’s serious take on a taboo relationship is solid.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If the subject matter and melancholic romance interests you, then give Koi Kaze’s taboo story a chance.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None