Tag Archives: Romance

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

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

Aldnoah.Zero – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Aldnoah.Zero

 

Related: Aldnoah.Zero 2nd Season (included in review)

Similar: Gundam SEED

Code Geass

Mobile Suit Gundam

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A few good music tracks.

Negatives:

  • Possibly anime’s worst protagonist.
  • Everyone is an idiot.
  • Illogical story directions.
  • The CG is distracting.
  • Forced exposition dialogue that never ends!
  • Laughable romance chemistry.

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Why didn’t I listen? I don’t know why, but whenever I hear of genre plus premise combination I love, I underestimate the warnings. “How bad can it be?”

Humanity spread to space and settled on Mars, where they discovered a machine called ‘Aldnoah’ that gave them immense technological power. Not wanting to share this technology, the Vers Empire of Mars declared war on Earth. This war shattered the Moon’s hypergate that facilitated quick travel to Mars, leading to a ceasefire. Fifteen years later, the war restarts when the Martians assassinate their own Princess Asseylum, peace ambassador to Earth. The war sweeps up high schooler Inaho and his friends into the fight.

If you’ve seen Gundam SEED, Aldnoah.Zero’s story should sound familiar. It’s a shame they didn’t take anything else from SEED, like good characters…or strong conflict…or romantic chemistry…or anything.

Aldnoah.Zero’s problems start with its writing, exposition dialogue in particular, which introduces itself to us a few minutes in as Inaho and the gang ride a bus past a construction site repairing damage from the war. Each character takes their turn to dump exposition on us, all but talking into the camera. They are telling each other things they already know, for the audience’s sake. Could the exposition be any clumsier?

Yes, yes it can. Almost every scene in episode one has someone exposit in this manner. One villain tells another villain about the super secret plan to attack Earth. “We have been setting this plan for 15 years!” “Yes, I know, dumbass, I’m part of the plan.” (If only he had said that.) Even when in the middle of resuscitating someone, Inaho has to exposit about how and when he learnt CPR. (I wish I were the one dying.) Bloody hell, the writer needs to find a different line of work.

Next, let’s talk characters.

I’ve done it. I have found the worst protagonist in anime. I have found the One, the protagonist with no redeeming quality. Let me introduce you to Inaho. He has no personality and no emotion. Oh, they tell us he has personality and emotion, but they lie! One scene has the protagonist witness a missile flying through the air towards the princess’s convoy and he just stares at it. “Oh hey, it’s a missile. Quite interesting. Maybe we should move, I guess…whatever.” I assume he’s supposed to be the stoic type, but he comes across as dead. Delete him from the story and you wouldn’t notice the difference. He also knows how to pilot a mech better than trained veterans can because…reasons.

The chemistry between him and the princess is laughable (surprise, she didn’t die in the assassination – there are no twists in Aldnoah.Zero). You know how when a relationship reaches its emotional peak, series will often flashback to a compilation of ‘best bits’ in their relationship? Well, the most romantic moment Aldnoah.Zero could find in Princess and the Dude’s relationship was him giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. What was supposed to be a dramatic, emotional scene had me laughing into pain. Pro tip: If that’s the most romantic scene you have, then you must rethink your main couple.

As for the rest of the cast, we have a bunch of idiots. An eight-year-old girl is the bodyguard/assistant to the royal princess? Genius! The admiral on the front line to defend your planet is more concerned about the dating lives of her crew than training them for combat? We’re so going to win this war! Every military expert in this anime sounds as though they know nothing about war. Only idiots survived the first war, it seems.

Oh yes, there is a third major character, some Terran servant with the Martians. He has military training and the Martians allow him to pilot, for some inconceivable reason, and give him a promotion in season two, for another inconceivable reason. One would imagine that a Terran among the Martian creates interesting conflict, but no, he’s just there to make a love triangle with the princess. It takes no effort to have more complexity and depth than what Aldnoah.Zero offers. I care for none of these characters. They never develop a character. All they do is state the plot or exposition.

One element that shows promise, at first, is the Martian technology. Where the Terrans use the generic mech seen on the cover, Mars’s Orbital Knights each have a unique mech with some special power granted by Aldnoah. The first such mech has an energy shield that disintegrates any matter it touches. It literally walks through buildings when chasing the heroes, which is rather cool. Yet even this goes bad. You see, Aldnoah.Zero’s plot devolves into a mech-of-the-arc affair. A unique mech appears with some unbeatable power, it blows everything, and all seems lost until Inaho snaps his fingers and finds the weak point. Each mech has a few episodes to shine before the story discards it for the latest model. These mechs have no character. The author had a bunch of ideas for mechs with unique powers, but rather than choose a few to build up for us to invest in, he threw them all at the heroes to die one after the other. Think of the Death Star, just about any main Gundam, or even an iconic sword in anime. Think of the story, the mythos that builds around these devices and the impact it leaves on the audience during those major encounters. “Oh shit, he’s drawing the big sword! You dead!” Aldnoah.Zero’s mechs have the same impact as cannon fodder.

So, even the one good idea dies within a few episodes. Do I have anything nice to say about Aldnoah.Zero? I like some of the music… And that is all. Aldnoah.Zero is the worst mecha anime I have seen and one of the worst anime to air.

Art – Low

The CG mechs are mediocre at best, which isn’t good enough as it’s a constant eyesore. It either needs to be great or not there at all. Anime a decade ago had better CG. Stiff animation in dialogue scenes with only mouth movements.

Sound – Very Low

This on the nose, in your face script is painful. The decent music offers little redemption, like trying to plug a sinking ship with your dingaling.

Story – Very Low

Earth defends against Martian separatists looking to claim the bountiful planet for their own. Aldnoah.Zero boasts an atrocious protagonist swathed in a plot run by idiots to execute the worst of mecha anime.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Aldnoah.Zero, you have reached the bottom. Any mecha anime has to be better than this.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueHollow World BuildingInduces StupidityRubbish Major CharactersShallowUseless Side Cast

School Rumble – Anime Review

Japanese Title: School Rumble

 

Related: School Rumble 2nd Semester (included in review)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Toradora!

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny.
  • Kenji Harima.
  • Quick pace.

Negatives:

  • Plot goes nowhere.
  • Low-end art.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When School Rumble introduces its main girl with the caption “Kinda stupid,” I know I am in for a good time. School Rumble hits with the jokes hard and fast, never slowing down to let us breathe, even to the detriment of its plot.

We follow the kinda stupid Tenma in her mission to confess love to Karasuma. Meanwhile, the almost as stupid delinquent-turned-supposed-softie Harima tries to complete his mission of confessing to Tenma. And then another student wants to confess to Harima, but then another guy wants to confess to her, and so on this love chain goes surround by hectic comedy.

Tenma’s introductory caption is accurate, for she truly is a ditz, which is usually not my kind of character. However, School Rumble treats her like a ditz and doesn’t allow her to get away with it – a nice change. In one dilemma, Tenma can’t exit the girls’ bathroom with Karasuma outside because if your crush sees you exit the bathroom it is embarrassing, or shameful, or something. I don’t know – this girl’s crazy!

Her target of desire, Karasuma, is similarly an inverse of the usual guy the main girl wants. He is boring. Not the ‘we tell you he’s cool to explain why the girl loves him but he’s actually boring’ kinda guy. No, Karasuma is boring by design. From his personality to his no-detail art, he is the definition of boring and treated as such. The humour surrounding Tenma’s inexplicable obsession with him is hilarious. Finally, a high school anime knows what the audience is thinking when Main Girl swears it’s True Love with Boring Guy.

The best character of all however, is Kenji Harima. Again, I am not a fan of the delinquent thug archetype due to their predictable arcs, yet with Harima and his depth of character and complexity, he’s nothing like the usual delinquent stock. The humour derived from fancying himself a sensitive guy now that he’s in love, while beating the snot out of people, works well. The episode when he becomes a Jesus/Buddha/Noah hobo with a flock of animals after he thinks he can never get Tenma gives me stitches. To cope with his unrequited love, he creates a manga about a guy and girl falling in love that look like him and Tenma, though he swears they totally aren’t the same!

His and Tenma’s schemes to show love towards their crushes are equally idiotic and hilarious. One early episode has Harima trying to tell Tenma that she’s forgotten to write her name on her test paper, which will fail her. He comes up with crazy yet clever ways of telling her without being caught by the teacher, but Tenma is so stupid that she doesn’t notice his hints. He even writes, “You forgot to write your name,” on his paper and shows it her, but she takes it as the literal answer to one of the questions… Oh boy, this is gonna be a long journey of love.

And a long journey it is, as the plot barely coughs forward after 52 episodes. To pre-empt any disappointment, let me tell you that the goal of saying ‘I love you’ to their crushes amounts to nothing. Even if the manga does give resolution somewhere in its 22 volumes, this go-nowhere plot is still a problem. “But it’s a comedy! Story doesn’t matter in comedy,” I hear you say. That is the case, sometimes, but not when the comedy presents its story so much. School Rumble keeps going back to Tenma and Harima’s story of confessing love, almost moving it forward, before resetting everything back to zero with some misunderstanding so they can play the same joke again a few episodes later. I get the impression that the writer didn’t know what to do for humour once the confessions were over, and so stayed in the ‘safe zone.’

To contrast with the similar Ouran High School Host Club, I find School Rumble has the better jokes, but am more satisfied with Ouran due to its conclusion. Nevertheless, School Rumble’s comedy is sharp enough to engage you. The quick pace of having 2-3 mini-episodes per full episode, rather than dragging one joke for 20 minutes, also helps. Though by the second season, I do get tired of episodes that focus on the confessions since it’s obvious they go nowhere.

Art – Low

School Rumble hails from the early days where computers replaced cel animation, and as such, looks serviceable, at best. One scene that stands out is when two characters are supposed to dance. One complements the other about how good a dancer she is – except they aren’t animated!

Sound – High

Energetic voice acting in English and Japanese provided by a great script of non-stop jokes.

Story – Medium

High school teens try to say, “I love you,” to their crushes, but fail amidst a whirlwind of misunderstanding, hijinks, and comedic chaos. Solid characters and excellent comedy make up for School Rumble’s go-nowhere plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school comedy fans. I give School Rumble a High rating, despite its story problems, because the humour saves it. One episode is all you need to know if School Rumble is for you. Give it a chance.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: None

Moonlight Mile – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Moonlight Mile: Lift Off

 

Similar: Space Brothers

Planetes

Armageddon (Hollywood movie)

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Adventure Drama

Length: 26 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Science and engineering detail.
  • Some tense dilemmas.

Negatives:

  • Disjointed storytelling.
  • Characters don’t have time to develop amidst the dilemmas.
  • Junk animation and CG.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What made me curious to watch this anime? Was it a) space, b) the engineering, c) premise, or d) sex? The answer is a), of course – I love space! Alright, I admit, it was the sex, okay. Happy? But no, in all seriousness, when I was at the Kyoto International Manga Museum, they had an exhibition spotlighting civil engineering in manga – infrastructure, architecture, development, etc. – as the Japanese take great pride in their civil engineers (when you watch them build a house in a day, you can see why [turn on captions for subtitles]). I picked up Moonlight Mile because it had an astronaut on the cover (I am serious about the loving space part), but was struck by how sexually graphic the opening scene was. If I hadn’t seen the cover first, I would have assumed this belonged in the section you wouldn’t mention to your parents. This scene is so graphic that I was curious if they got away with it in the anime adaptation. Spoiler: they don’t.

But first, the story. Two climbing buddies, Gorou from Japan and Jack “Lostman” Woodbridge from the US, make a pact atop Mount Everest to see each other in space as they look to the sky above. They soon part and set about achieving this goal in their own manner. Gorou takes the path of an engineer, while Lostman goes the air force route (two-thirds of US astronauts come from the military). Becoming an astronaut is no easy journey and each will face trials and setbacks, even more so than real astronauts, for Moonlight Mile loves to throw one disaster after another at the protagonists.

Now, you know me, I love conflict – it’s the engine of fiction – but there comes a point where you need to allow characters to grow. In fiction, scenes follow the rough pattern of action and reaction. Something happens in a scene (action) and the characters react/reflect on this action in the next scene (reaction). Moonlight Mile rarely stops for the reaction. All space movies have those disasters – oxygen leak, broken thruster, power failure, etc. – for the astronauts to solve. These moments are exciting edge-of-your-seat tense, yet if you have nothing but this, as Moonlight Mile does, the tension wanes. The characters, while decent, feel like mere nuts and bolts to this story, rather than driving agents.

The first episode is nothing but a disastrous climb up Everest to establish the characters. This should have taken a few minutes. Well, there is Gorou’s butt as well.

As for my initial curiosity, while most episodes have a sex scene, it isn’t graphic. Still certainly not for kids, though is a far cry from the manga. It also doesn’t add to character, for Gorou falls in love with a new girl faster than a shooting star. This wouldn’t be an issue if he grew from each relationship. Alas, a new girl means a clean slate of development, so what’s the point?

In regards to the engineering, Moonlight Mile succeeds in taking care to do the math and science in a disaster. I’m not a rocket scientist, so someone more qualified may find great flaws here, but Moonlight Mile doesn’t try to convince us that training oil drillers to become astronauts is easier than training astronauts to operate a drill.

Art – Low

The 2D animation is junk, whereas the 3D sees overuse for vehicles and sweeping shots. Even the ground is CG in these scenes – so distracting.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese script is a bit dry, so go with the English, which added more banter and a natural flow to the dialogue.

Story – Medium

Two friends and rivals vow to meet each other as astronauts in space. This is their journeys to meet that goal. Moonlight Mile suffocates its characters in disaster after disaster for them to resolve, giving little room to develop. At least the disasters are tense.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For space fans. Did you like Armageddon? If yes, then Moonlight Mile is the anime version. If you thought that movie needed better science, Moonlight Mile will also satisfy in that regard.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Whisper of the Heart – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mimi wo Sumaseba

 

Related: The Cat Returns (spin-off)

Similar: From Up on Poppy Hill

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Garden of Words

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 51 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful small character details.
  • Full of heart.

Negatives:

  • Empty first act.
  • Ends just as it gets going.
  • Doesn’t give characters the whole stage to perform.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Shizuku loves books more than anything else in the world. Peculiarly however, in the borrowing card for each book she reads, someone else had borrowed them from the library before her. Who is this Seiji Amasawa? He must be a wonderful guy.

One day while going about her easy life of books and snacks, she follows a cat on the train, who leads her to a workshop of antique wonders and classical instruments run by an old man. He turns out to be the grandfather of the boy who makes fun of her at school. Worse yet, this boy is her perfect match in literature!

Whisper of the Heart is another lite-n’-easy film from Studio Ghibli, similar to the likes of Only Yesterday and From Up on Poppy Hill. But where I found those two rather dull with little to recommend themselves in terms of engagement, I enjoyed my time with Whisper of the Heart because of its characters. And just as it was drawing me in close, it ends. The first act being so empty made this more frustrating. What amounts to the equivalent of Chihiro and her family driving to the fairground in Spirited Away (several minutes) requires half an hour in Whisper. It takes too long to get to the point.

I like the scenes with the grandfather in the workshop, but these are rare. Most scenes involve Shizuku doing ordinary every-day activities like household chores or attending school. The first act has enough of these ‘nothing’ scenes to fill an entire film, so having even more than that makes the film feel like half filler to reach feature length. If Makoto Shinkai had directed this film, which is in his wheelhouse, he could have conveyed the same story in half the time with more said by the end.

Outside the filler, we spend most time with Shizuku and Seiji growing closer. Conflict arises from his goal to become a violin craftsman, which will likely send him overseas, whereas she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She finally finds her match and now he’ll probably be gone forever. However, these plot beats pop up and dissipate without much impact.

This story gets everything right, except for the plot. Whisper of the Heart’s events aren’t as strong as they could be, don’t challenge the characters as they should, and don’t give these brilliantly written children the whole stage to work with. Their small details are beautiful, such as how a girl reacts to seeing her crush or in the way a boy goes crazy at the roundabout way girls drop hints (pro tip: hints don’t work on guys). The Miyazaki touch is clear.

The poster for Whisper of the Heart shows Shizuku flying through the air alongside a gentleman cat, giving the impression of a strong fantasy element. This is deceiving. We only get one such scene inside her imagination, which is a shame, for it is a beautiful scene. We should have returned to her imagination several times as a metaphor for her inner growth, later reflected in her outer growth. These could have added depth instead of the filler scenes that serve little purpose to character or story.

I love much about this film, characters in particular, yet I want so much more.

Art – Very High

Studio Ghibli.

Sound – High

Good acting and solid music – it is interesting to hear an American classic in Japanese (Take Me Home, Country Roads).

Story – Medium

A fateful encounter with a cat leads Shizuku to solve the mystery of who had borrowed all her favourite books from the library before her, and she may even find inspiration for a purpose in life. Whisper of the Heart’s charming character barely get going when the story ends, making one wonder why so much empty space remained unfilled.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of other light Studio Ghibli movies. If you enjoy the more slice of life-type anime movies, Whisper of the Heart is another to add to your folio.

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None