Tag Archives: Romance

One or more romantic relationships play an important role. Not applied to tacked-on or minor romances.

Stupidity, Secrets, and Salacity – October 2020 Manga

Astra Lost in Space

Japanese Title: Kanato no Astra

Genre: Action Science Fiction

Length: 49 chapters

As I read manga by the truckload these days, I think it best to review some of them in quickfire batches. I won’t be reviewing all that I read. These won’t be the best, most likely not even good. I simply have a little to say about them. This is a selection of my October reads.

Astra Lost in Space caught me with the cover image and title. A sci-fi story about people lost in space? That’s my kind of story. It does deliver on that promise, but I don’t remember anywhere in the contract that said it would include asinine characters and misplaced dialogue.

The story follows a group of teens sent off to space camp on another planet free of adult supervision. When they arrive on this planet, however, a sphere of light swallows them up and transports them into distant space with only an abandoned spaceship nearby (they survive the teleport by having space suits on from the previous journey). These teens must operate this ship and survive the unknown journey home.

I love this premise. It should give me that “cosy” feeling of a crew on a long journey through a harsh environment, but with a safe home base. Astra Lost in Space couldn’t be further from.

In past reviews, I’ve talked of how if you see errors in the first episode / first chapter of a story, those errors will echo through to the finale. Astra Lost in Space is a perfect example of this and one people could use as a case study. For example, the first chapter has an instance of misplaced dialogue. The instructor tells the kids, before their trip, that they will have one more student than normal with them and that their special task (every group has one) is to teach a little girl. He tells them this and then immediately, a student asks, “Hang on, didn’t you mention something about an extra member?” (paraphrasing) as if it had been said a while ago and everyone had forgotten. It’s very jarring, akin to taking censorship edits of Hollywood films in foreign countries, where they do a hard cut mid-scene spliced with dialogue a few sentences later. Except this doesn’t have the excuse! A few chapters later, a second line that doesn’t fit what came prior.

Another example of error echo is with the characters. The opening scene is of protagonist guy coming to the rescue of love interest girl. Within the same volume, after they teleport, he once again has to rescue her (just her) out in space. Is her role to remain as the rescue baggage for protagonist? Research into later volumes reveals that this is indeed the case. Her personality is dumb anime girl. Her purpose is to be rescued all of the time.

Possibly the worst moment of volume one involves the “high IQ” guy of the team. They’re on this ship, in the middle literal nowhere, with seemingly no way of getting home since none of them can pilot the thing. Except, one person does question if Mr High IQ is a pilot, no? Yes, he is. Why didn’t he say it sooner in this life or death scenario? “It was too troublesome.” Please jettison yourself from the airlock. Look, just because Shikamaru managed to pull off the lazy genius, doesn’t mean you should go copying it. The type has become such a cliché amongst bad writers.

This manga (and the inexplicable anime adaptation) is nothing but asinine characters living behind a premise to draw suckers in. Art is weak too.

Overall Quality – Dropped

Result: Dropped in one volume. Garbage.

*     *     *     *     *

A Fool and a Girl

Korean Title: Babogaewa Agassi

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Length: 35 chapters

I’ll keep this short. A Fool and a Girl is a bad ℌệ𝔫𝔱ằ𝔦 masquerading as romance. It’s about a virgin woman and a wolf boy (?) who fall into lust then into love.

This story is actually about rape. The only question is, “Who is the rapist?” Either he is the rapist for never taking “no” for an answer and forcing himself upon her, or she is the rapist for taking advantage of a guy with the mind of a three-year-old.

It tries to sell this as romantic, but it is vile. The attempts at romantic dialogue make one want to throw up.

The art is okay for a full colour strip, though has zero creativity.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Result: Finished. Wasted my time.

*     *     *     *     *

6000: The Deep Sea of Madness

Japanese Title: 6000: The Deep Sea of Madness

Genre: Supernatural Horror

Length: 22 chapters (4 volumes)

6000: The Deep Sea of Madness is a horror manga about a group of scientists and engineers sent to a deep-sea facility to investigate a past disaster that left many dead. It’s The Thing meets Dead Space underwater.

For most of these 22 chapters, the horror is of the “was that real or my imagination” variety as the claustrophobic and isolated location begins to drive people mad. Claims of monster sightings start and the sounds of past horrors echo in the dark. I am making 6000 sound better than it is, for in truth, this is one boring horror series.

First issue, the art. It is too messy, often difficult to discern (I’m sure this was intended to emulate unknown shapes in the dark), and has the equivalent in movies of making the set and lighting so dark that you can’t see anything. When you don’t have the sound of a movie to terrify the audience in pitch-blackness, you need to compensate with horror art. A black comic panel isn’t scary!

Author Nokuto Koike had a horrible time conveying a sense of space and location. Even with pictures, we have no idea of what this place is really like. Apart from a couple of rooms, it is hard to know where anyone is in a given scene.

One could still have a good manga, albeit not a frightening one, if the story and characters were good. This story is standard for the premise and the characters have no personality. None. The one character with a hint of it is the douche manager, who is as complex as the douche manager stereotype.

Though I finished 6000: The Deep Sea of Madness (it was short), I didn’t care for it.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Made me want to play Dead Space instead.

*     *     *     *     *

 

Ayeshah’s Secret

Chinese Title: Ayeshah’s Secret

Genre: Drama Horror

Length: 11 chapters (2 volumes)

For a different kind of horror, we have Ayeshah’s Secret, a dark take on the classic Cinderella. A girl’s father remarries to a nasty woman with three sons and as is of the fairy tale, the mother and children torment the girl, even turning her into a servant after the father dies. Where Ayeshah’s Secret differs from the norm is in what occurs after that point.

There is no fairy godmother, magical ball, or glass slipper. Ayeshah’s Secret turns into a story of murder and revenge. I’m going to have to spoil a little here to talk further, so skip to the next review below if you want to read this manhua (I don’t recommend it). So, a lawyer comes to visit soon after the father’s death with his will, which the mother reads to discover that his vast estate and fortune are to go to Ayeshah. Before the lawyer can reveal this truth, however, the mother kills him and buries him in the woods. This one act cascades into further atrocities, including the mother taking an axe to Ayeshah’s throat and burying her as well.

At this stage of the story, I am interested and eager to turn the page (I read all chapters in one sitting). The art is good, suitably creepy for this domestic horror, and the twist on Cinderella has me hooked, especially when Ayeshah stumbles back into the mansion – alive – with a wound sealing on her throat. She begins her revenge.

Then the final act arrives and everything goes down the toilet. The reveal of Ayeshah’s backstory? Absolute nonsense. The shoehorned romance? Worse than Domestic Girlfriend. The big twist? Undoes everything good about this story.

I have to talk about these points, so if you still don’t want to have the finale spoiled, skip to the next review.

Alright, the three twists are that Ayeshah is actually an identical twin; the sisters would swap places with one living in a shack by the woods and no one came back from the dead (the kinder sister did die); and that she ends up with the eldest and nastiest of the three brothers. (The mother accidentally kills the other two in trying to kill her.) The explanation for keeping the twins a secret is that it was their mother’s dying wish. It’s so stupid. This pathetic idea exists solely to setup the twist. There is no logic. This is clearly a case of someone having an idea for a twist with no clue how to set it up.

The reveal that nothing supernatural was at work is a classic twist of domestic crime (Agatha Christie used it several times), but when the reveal is this twin situation, it would have been better to keep it supernatural. And lastly, the romance, the dumbest of them all. This guy is an abusive twat without a moment of kindness for her, yet a few clichéd lines later – “We aren’t so different, you and I” and the like – she falls for him and the series ends on scenes of them living happily ever after. There isn’t even an attempt to make us believe that while we may see him for a monster, she sees him as a saviour in this messed up world she’s endured. Romantic, we are to find them. Never mind that he’s barely a character until the end.

This is a romance for the YA Twilight, Mortal Instruments crowd with the tragic protagonist meets handsome boy who is actually an abusive brute.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Volume two takes a nosedive into awful.

*     *     *     *     *

Doctor Du Ming

Chinese Title: Yisheng du Ming

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 15 chapters (1 volume)

Now a manhua that never showed any promise beyond the front cover, I present to you Doctor Du Ming. Don’t be fooled by the nice cover – the art inside is ugly. The writing is even uglier.

I’m going to tell you everything that happens because one of Doctor Du Ming’s failings is lack of clarity. The first half of the series seems entirely pointless because there is no direction to the story, obfuscated by a nonsensical non-linear narrative that jumps between past and present (maybe future as well – not sure). At first, you think it’s about a doctor struggling with the pressure of work, but that’s irrelevant. It turns out to be a revenge story over the suicide of a woman this guy had a crush on. Her roommate, bribed by a group of men, left her alone to be raped. The shame circus that followed led her to suicide. (The rape is the twist used to explain his murderous actions and finally tell us what the hell is going on.)

Doctor Du Ming is too vague at the beginning and remains dull throughout that even when he kills a seemingly innocent woman, you don’t care. It also uses one of my most hated writing techniques of Eastern media: the cut away in the middle of scenes (often mid-sentence) to add artificial “mystery”.

The idea could have worked with better structure and more character development to make the audience give a gram of a damn.

Overall Quality – Low

Result: Fooled by the cover.

*     *     *     *     *

Beloved

Chinese Title: Beloved

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 16 chapters (1 volume)

Now for another Chinese manhua – one that has good qualities.

Before I even touch on the story, I must praise the art. This long strip comic painted in gorgeous watercolours evokes a strong sense of place and emotion. It isn’t just beautiful. It amplifies the story. Shame then that the story doesn’t live up to the art.

Beloved is a story of taboo love between a 34-year-old woman and a 16-year-old girl. The older woman, a doctor, met the girl at a bar she had no place being in and didn’t know she was so young. The doctor tries to get rid of the girl and pretends it never happened, but the girl is clingy and does several stupid things to get her attention. Before long, the doctor realises she can’t get the girl out of her head and must decide what to do.

Do note that this take place in China, where the age of consent is 14 (there are no consent “brackets” either, so as long as both people are over 14 and consenting, it’s legal [there has been a recent push to up the age]). However, just because something is legal, it doesn’t make it morally acceptable (morality will vary by the individual of course), so this woman still faces a tough decision and my following opinion of the story would be the same if the girl was 20 in university and the doctor was 40.

Beloved is a drama that sits in the doctor’s head most of the time. We have many point of view shots, vivid memories of hers, and swirling thoughts as she tries to grapple with her feelings. There is a bit of humour, but this is serious drama for the most part. Additional drama stems from her former first love, who also works with her at the hospital and plays a voice of reason, in a sense.

This drama, despite being quite depressing and all about the mental, doesn’t push far enough. Too optimistic. Even though this takes place where the relationship is legal, there are many tough questions and challenges to face, which it does offer to the story, but then ends on, “It will all be okay.”

Beloved could do with more depth and exploring the dicey content on more levels. This manhua is only half way there.

Overall Quality – Medium

Result: Love the art! Story needed another few layers.

Eve: The Beautiful Love-Scientising Goddess – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Eve: Koi wo Kagaku suru Uruwashiki Megami

 

Genre: Romance

Length: 71 chapters (7 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Good dating advice
  • Fun characters
  • Surprisingly compelling for such a simple premise

Negatives:

  • A little too intent on happy resolutions

I picked up reading manga again about a month ago and have since been on a tear, completing or starting a few dozen series. Unlike when I started my catalogue of anime, where I compiled a list of 500 titles based on the slightest recommendation, I’ve taken the explorer’s approach to manga. I already had 20 or so series in mind to read, but outside of that, I’m going in as if browsing a bookstore alone. Does the cover grab me? What about the title? That blurb sounds interesting. Why don’t we concentrate of one genre’s section of the store?

This blind dive does find more duds than successes, but it’s fun to explore and I never know what I’m going to get.

One hidden gem I found that I’ve never seen anyone mention is Eve: The Beautiful Love-Scientising Goddess. It follows the titular Eve and her assistant at a love research centre. Clients with relationship troubles – sometimes unknown to them – come to Eve in desperation for advice. She has all sorts arrive on her doorstep from playboys to desperate women and everything in between.

Most surprisingly with Eve is how much good relationship advice it has. Anime and manga don’t have the best track record in this department (see Rent-a-Girlfriend). The first case is of a man who fell for a “business date”, which involves a materialistic girl asking her new sugar daddy boyfriend to buy expensive things. After the purchases, she disappears. The items turn out to be fake, of course, and the girl received a commission for each sale. Of course. No sensible person would fall for this. However, take a lonely guy with no idea how to talk to women, with his head in clouds that true love will only drop into lap if he waits long enough, if he’s nice enough, and you have a grade A sucker. One of Eve’s pieces of advice to him is to go for quantity over quality. Yes, you might meet the perfect person in an unexpected place, but to find “the one”, it’s much better to meet lots of people (you don’t have to sleep with them) and see with whom you form a connection. Hell, those who wait around are likely to miss the ideal partner because they live under this delusion that the one will be perfect at first sight. How can they be perfect if you know nothing about them? And how can you get to know them if you don’t talk?

The cases follow a detective mystery structure, wherein a client will approach with what he or she think is the problem, but as Eve investigates further, there’s more to the story. She will talk to friends, family, colleagues, and exes to complete the picture before arriving at a conclusion. They test ideas and theories, much like a crime case, and adjust based on findings. And along the way, some will challenge her views and her own love life, so there is a through line that carries across the cases. A case or two even get personal.

The mystery compels you to finish the case. The characters make you want to read the next one.

A favourite case and character combo of mine is that of Leon, the rich playboy. This guy struts into the centre with such confidence that he doesn’t even see he has a problem. He’s God’s gift to women after all. I love the way Eve crushes his ego by talking to his exes to see what they actually thought of him. He becomes a permanent character and the manga is all the better for it. His dynamic and humour with Eve is great.

Apart from so-so art, Eve’s main negative point is the insistence on positive endings for each case (except one, if I recall). Sometimes, it would be more satisfying and interesting if it didn’t work out, the lesson being to pick yourself up and move on. I suppose that might be too heavy for the tone intended by the author. Though Eve deals with serious relationship issues, it keeps matters fairly light-hearted and away from dark territory. You won’t see a guy blow his brains out because his girlfriend cheated on him in this manga, for instance.

I had a good time with Eve, finishing all seven volumes in about a week and I could keep going for more. It is complete, however, to a satisfying end and so, as Eve would suggest after something ends, it is time to move on and see what else is out there.

Art – Medium

The characters are a little…chunky in the face. Everyone has the same face type, which is off-putting at times when all the bodies are different. In fact, I confused a panel from another of the author’s manga with Eve because the protagonists look the same. The environmental art is a little rough. If you pause to take it in, you notice how unpolished it looks. It’s decent overall.

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. Eve: The Beautiful Love-Scientising Goddess is a fun read, easy to pick up for a few chapters at a time, and full of good relationship advice built on a framework of odd characters.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation 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).

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Repetitive

Major – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Major

 

Related: Major 2nd (next generation series)

Similar: Cross Game

Ace of Diamond

Big Windup

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Sports

Length: 154 episodes (6 seasons) & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Excellent baseball
  • Complex protagonist with a full career arc
  • Great life lessons
  • Breaks clichés

Negatives:

  • Each season has production values five years out of date
  • Season 3, ahem, fumbles the ball

(Request an anime for review here.)

In general, there are three types of sports anime. The first, and most common, is the “shounen” sports anime almost always set in high school and covers those last three years of youth (some will limit themselves to the final year to heighten the stakes with one last chance at the championship before adulthood kills). Most of the popular sports titles fall under this type, featuring the likes of Haikyu, Ace of Diamond, and Slam Dunk, and is the easiest to write but must have engaging matches to retain viewers. Second is the “drama” sports anime, where the focus is on characters and personal conflict with the sport as a backdrop. In fact, the choice of sport is interchangeable. March Comes in Like a Lion (need to review season 2) and Ping Pong the Animation are exemplars of the genre. Lastly, we have the “career” sports anime, which as the name suggests tracks the protagonist’s rise from a nobody into a star of the professional scene. This type has a balance between drama and sport. We will be looking at the third option today with the six seasons of Major.

We start this career journey in pre-school following Goro Honda, son of professional Japanese baseball player Shigeharu Honda. With his mother dead from a sudden illness a few years ago, Goro only has his father left and adores him. He idolises him as a father and a player. Just as the family is set to expand with the engagement between Shigeharu and Momoko, Goro’s pre-school teacher, his father takes a fastball to the head from American transfer, Joe Gibson. All seems fine at first, but brain injuries don’t play fair. Goro loses his second parent. His almost stepmother and ex-pre-school teacher takes him in.

Here’s the thing about Goro. He’s good at baseball. Excellent. He has baseball in his veins. Major will take us from casual games to little league to high school and onto major leagues. Rejection, failure, fear, and injury are but a few of the things he will experience along the way. There is good too – triumph, pride, satisfaction, love. When people describe Major as a career anime, they don’t exaggerate.

The brilliance of Major isn’t solely in the breadth of its story. None of this would matter if not for the execution that grips from first episode to last. The first season alone of Major is better than anything you will find in Ace of Diamond, Cross Game, or Big Windup. I don’t know which element to elaborate on first. There’s so much to talk about! I went into these four anime with no expectations and ended up with the full gamut of baseball anime.

Looking at my notes, the first point I made sure to record (other than story events) was the relationship between father and son – how real it felt, full of turmoil and love. The author understood the struggles of a working single father and the frustrations of a lonely child. The father dies early on yet is a complete character is so short a time. There’s drama without being melodramatic. Kid Goro acts like a real kid as well. When his dad thanks him in a post-match interview, Goro says to Momoko, “Hey, that’s me! He’s talking about me!” as all kids do before they learn of basic context. I love the dad advice too about never admitting that pee splashed on your pants. “Always claim it’s water from your hands.”

Then we have the teacher turned mother. She was a mother figure to him before she dated the father. She plays catch and takes him to the games to watch Dad live. So wholesome. Within a few episodes, we already have meaningful, well-developed relationships. Such a good start raises high expectations for characters in the rest of the series. It delivers.

In Cross Game, I talked of how predictable it was. Major is the opposite. From the characters to the baseball, this anime isn’t predictable. It doesn’t invert everything, of course (that would make it predictable, ironically). The subplot of Joe Gibson, the man responsible for killing Goro’s father, and Joe’s son is excellent. It occurs in later seasons, so I can’t talk about it much, but it combines family drama with high expectations to create the tensest baseball. Gah! It’s so good.

The writers use this great technique to keep the audience on their toes about who would win. You know the build up to a big moment in sports anime – the last second slam dunk, the mad dive to block a shot, the winning homerun? Usually, this tells you what is about to happen and who will win. Major mixes it up by giving both teams that inspirational build up. Both teams “deserve” to win after such emotional hype.

We can’t talk about excellent characters without mentioning the main kid himself, Goro. On the surface, Goro is the typical arrogant sports protagonist, which normally indicates the first of many problems (see Ace of Diamond). Goro is the arrogant ace, yes, but they don’t let him get away with bad behaviour. When his arrogance interferes with the game or affects others, people call him out and it shows how much he has to learn. Natural talent isn’t anywhere near enough. In one game with a bunch of kids, he tries to do everything and yells at his teammates for doing it wrong. He believes he’s untouchable. There’s a harsh lesson waiting for him. Baseball is a team sport and even the best player needs support. At the same time, it doesn’t go soft and say friendship will win everything.

That’s just the beginning. Major deftly evolves the character conflict at each stage of life. We aren’t dealing with the same issues in the Majors than from his time as a kid. The power curve across the six seasons is fantastic. He’s so much better than everyone else is on the first team, but as he works his way up to the Majors, the skill gap closes and competition becomes more intense. The importance of the team grows ever stronger. This constant evolution keeps games engaging. There isn’t a single boring match. Starting with Goro’s father in the professional games was a good idea, as it indicates where we are headed with the kid. It’s like the Metroid games that give you one level of Samus with a full arsenal before you lose most gear. You know what you’re in for.

One aspect that surprised me here is the changing cast each season. In your standard anime, when they introduce a team, we stick with that team to the finish. There might be an addition or subtraction here and there, though it’s in effect the same team. Season 1’s team of little guys receive full attention and development. Convention dictates that they will be staples. Nope, season 2 brings on a completely new team. His closest friend of the time soon realises that he isn’t good enough to stay in the same league as Goro. It does make sense – wouldn’t be realistic if everyone could reach the Majors. It shakes things up each season without losing progress on Goro.

The baseball industry outside of games is also far above the competition. It places a huge emphasis on player injury, from the dangers of permanent damage should you start a child too early in life to career ending injuries that crush dreams. Psychological blocks also enter the field to demonstrate how important mental state is to star athletes. Injuries, I’ve noticed, are the most neglected aspect of sports anime, which is surprising when one considers how impactful they are to real sport and all the opportunities for drama they bring.

Even training arcs are good. The writer understands that this is a good time to build characters, not repeat the same exercises a thousand times.

Other baseball areas Major explores include scholarships, scouting, trading players, tryouts, language barriers, the different tiers of teams, and so much more. This is a comprehensive dive into baseball. If you know nothing about baseball, fear not, this is the perfect anime to learn from. Prior to this baseball quartet, I had only watched a few baseball games in my life from various hotel rooms while on holiday (when you don’t speak the language in some countries, sport is all that makes sense).

I’ve heaped much praise on Major, so what’s wrong with it? Most notably? The art. If anything is keeping more people away from Major, it has to be the art. The first season released in 2004, yet wouldn’t have looked good for 1999. The final season was in 2010 – looks like it time travelled from 2004. I do like the character designs. No monkey ears is a plus. Another negative of Major is season 3, where the high school situation and team leans a little towards the unrealistic. It’s good in the end, though there was no need to go that underdog. Season 3 is certainly the weakest. All up from there, however.

If you’re looking for that “capital A” Anime type baseball and you’re concerned Major will be a bit too serious, then you have nothing to worry about. This still has the classic shounen tropes of hot heads, sideline commentary, overconfidence, etc. They simply have balance.

In a contest against the other baseball anime, Major is the instant winner. It was better than the others before Goro even played his first game.

Art – Low

Why did this have to be the worst looking of the baseball anime? At least they assigned more of the budget to pitches and hits.

Sound – High

Thank heavens they changed actors as Goro aged, unlike too many other sports anime. Great acting for the Japanese characters, though it’s a real shame they went full Engrish with the Americans, which is odd since they used real Americans for minor roles. Nothing breaks immersion more than hearing a hard ass American – with not a word of Japanese in him – speak English like a Japanese actor after one lesson.

Story – Very High

From fanatic as an infant to little league and onto the Majors, we follow one guy’s baseball journey. Major has everything you want from a baseball story – characters to cheer for, others to hate, consequential drama, a bit of romance, and excellent baseball games.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: A must watch for sports fans. Don’t let the poor art deter you from watching what might be the best sports anime.

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

Positive:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None