Tag Archives: Romance

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

Fate/stay night – Visual Novel Review

Related: Fate/stay night (arc 1 anime)

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (arc 2 anime)

Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel (arc 3 anime)

Fate/Zero (prequel anime)

 

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Action Romance

Length: 45-60 hours (15-20 hours per arc, depending on reading speed)

 

Positives:

  • Good concept.
  • Starts well.

Negatives:

  • 50% word count in excess.
  • More telling than showing.
  • Idiot protagonist.
  • Useless ‘gamey’ elements.
  • Poor lore and mechanic explanations.
  • Circular dialogue.
  • World feels empty.
  • No basis to the romance.
  • Worst sex scene ever put to fiction.

Fate is a massive franchise, having mutated from a visual novel of three arcs into a tentacled monster of anime, games, and spinoffs. Due to its size and popularity, I followed a ‘watch order’ guide and started with the Fate/stay night visual novel since the anime Fate/stay night mashes all three arcs into one mess.

The story opens strong in the prologue with the red girl, Rin, a few character/world building scenes, and Rin summoning her servant Archer. We meet much of the human cast in efficient time and the stakes are clear. Seven mages will summon legendary figures from history or mythology to fight for the Holy Grail, granting a single wish. We also learn that a servant’s identity is of utmost importance, for knowing the hero is to know their weakness and ultimate weapon. Instead of names, they go by their class – Saber, Archer, Berserker, Rider, Assassin, Caster, and Lancer. (This cleared much confusion about why I had seen characters with the same names across the Fate franchise.) Typically, only the servant and master know the true name. Archer, however, can’t remember his identity.

So, we have the characters, the world, the stakes, interesting lore, a good concept, and a decent pace in a short period. The writing could use work, but it’s not bad.

Then the story resets once you start the first arc proper, titled Fate, where we now follow the actual protagonist, Shirou (introduced in the prologue), only to repeat the same story save a change or two, and dump a ton of exposition. The writing nosedives and the pacing stalls, which coupled with the bad art, makes Fate/stay night a difficult journey to complete.

First, Shirou is a rubbish character, only marginally better than your usual idiot harem protagonist. Fate/stay night is a harem of sorts, with each arc defined by which of the three girls Shirou pursues. And by pursues, I mean makes no effort to attract. He also gains free power when convenient for the plot.

Arc one centres on Shirou paired with his servant, the blonde knight Saber, who is one of the few good features of the story thanks to her backstory. The second arc, Unlimited Blade Works, has Rin as the love interest with Saber shifted to a minor character, which feels clumsy because she’s still crucial, yet forgotten most of the time in favour of Archer. Heaven’s Feel switches the romance to childhood friend Sakura. Each arc builds on the previous, so it’s important to play them in order if you want the full story, though expect a lot of repetition for the mechanics, rules explanations, and introductions. Characters also have inconsistencies across arcs.

Back to Shiro, much of the first act is girls fawning over him, when not expositing. An early scene has Shirou and three girls yammering on about him and food. I set the novel to auto, left for dinner, and returned to find then still at it. Almost all 15 days per arc has one of these ‘eating’ scenes that drones on for hours. These conversations don’t advance the plot or develop character either, often going in circles to repeat the same garbage until you want to choose one of the bad endings, just to end it all. They are filler, proven no more effectively than by their marked absence in the Unlimited Blade Works anime. There’s more food related scenes than action in this “action” series.

The exposition may be worse. Repeated exposition from the prologue aside, the way Rin explains the lore (exposition parrot is her main job) and mechanics is like a poorly written dictionary. Furthermore, the Fate series has these pointless game elements such as grades for character attributes and magic levels. What a lazy and binary technique of representing character power. Worse yet, they don’t matter. If the plot needs an A+ servant injured by a weak attack, then it will happen. Remove these statistics and nothing is lost. Instead, why not build the world. Fate/stay night gives the impression of having 20 people in existence. So many words, yet such an empty world.

Any editor can remove half the text with a cursory glance from all the filler. Even plot text is over written, full of stating the obvious and explaining an action just before doing it.

‘I should go to the kitchen.’

‘I go to the kitchen.’

‘I should eat something.’

‘I eat something.’

Imagine that, but with five times the words.

Arriving at the plot, matters improve little. After spending so much time establishing the rules, insisting upon the importance of character statistics and each servant’s power, Fate/stay night throws all the rules out the window and does whatever. I don’t imagine the writer bothered to edit for consistency. I don’t imagine he edited at all.

For a plot that’s about everyone fighting to the death, few characters actually fight to the death. I can’t remember how many times a good guy lives because a villain just lets them go. Hell, the loli girl, master of Berserker, captures Shirou and instead of killing him, takes him home to become her slave (of sex?). Of course he gets away, rendering the event pointless. The alliance between Rin and Shirou also makes little sense, stretching the limits of plausibility for why a girl, whose life training prepared her to crush mages and servants, would forget all that faster than a sneeze.

But, none of the above makes Fate/stay night a terrible visual novel. Amateurish, sure. Requiring an editor? Certainly. Only once you find the true purpose for this game’s creation can you witness its soul. Much like the Holy Grail isn’t what it seems, Fate/stay night isn’t an action series, nor is it a fantasy – well, yes, it is a fantasy, though not the sort one normally thinks of. All of this – the legendary heroes, the magic, the violence, the lore – serves as a self-insert fantasy for the author to get it on with the ladies.

If you are of innocent mind, then avert thine eyes and skip the next paragraph, for I have to describe the first “session of love” if I am to truly impress upon you the horrendousness of this text. The excuse to have sex is retardedly hilarious. Prepare yourselves (or your anus, in Rin’s case), we are about to enter the worst erotic fiction ever conceived.

After a lost battle, Shirou, Saber, and Rin flee to an abandoned house in enemy territory. Saber has little energy left and with Berserker on the hunt, they need to recharge her before the next fight. What’s the one surefire way to recharge a servant? You guessed it: have sex. Feeding her energy had never been a problem until now, but hey, we have to ram sex scenes in somehow. Saber is hesitant, so Rin must take charge and ready her for the ritual by lubricating the knight. Rin becomes an instant bisexual, Saber – the all-powerful Saber – a weak, quivering girl, whose lips say no but her body says yes. Then Shirou mans up to do his duty, despite being so totally against it all, and the self-insert fantasy enters full swing in an orgy of awkward prose, bad anatomy, and most importantly, cringe. The way actions and sensations are described gives the impression that the author had never had sex before.

These characters change into new people for the scene (except Shirou – he’s always a loser) to justify sex. I should mention that this forms the basis of Shirou and Saber’s romantic thread… This scene is so bad that I considered the idea someone had pranked me by modding my game with fan fiction. I didn’t know this was an eroge beforehand.

The second sex scene with Saber is vanilla, but full of, “No, you mustn’t…” “There’s no need to suck that…” “No, don’t touch me there…” The other arcs also have their share of ridiculous erotica, though none as hilarious as the Shirou-Saber-Rin bender. Like the exposition and food scenes, the erotica contributes nothing. The author has no sense of focus.

What does Fate/stay night look like when it isn’t about the sex? We’ll find out in the next review, Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works. Or better yet, when the author isn’t involved? See the Fate/Zero review after that.

Art – Very Low

The character art looks like amateur work you find on DeviantArt, as if the artist copied someone else. With no animation to contend with, the art has no excuse looking this cheap. A later port added some improved art shots.

Sound – Low

The music is bland, the voice work stiff.

Story – Low

Mages summon heroes of mythology and history to fight to the death for the Holy Grail. Fate/stay night’s good concept receives no help from the writer, who can’t do exposition, or romance, or pacing.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it…then again, you may want to play the first arc to see what horrific writing looks like. Fate/stay night is worse than the sum of its parts thanks to its atrocious technical writing, filler, and most particularly, the sex scenes. Watch Fate/Zero first, since this game spoils parts of that superior series.

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Tales from Earthsea – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gedo Senki

 

Similar: Castle in the Sky

Princess Mononoke

Howl’s Moving Castle

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Fantasy Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 55 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Gorgeous art.

Negatives:

  • No depth to the characters.
  • Lacks engagements.
  • Doesn’t explore anything.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Tales from Earthsea is often the lowest rated feature film by Studio Ghibli on anime database sites, sometimes by a significant margin. This discrepancy for such a venerable studio has always made Tales from Earthsea stand out to me. It looked like a Ghibli movie, so what could be wrong?

The world is deteriorating. A division of desires between dragons and humans has thrown nature off balance. Archmage Sparrowhawk goes on a journey to find the cause, meeting Arren, young prince of the kingdom, who has just killed his father and is on the run. The prince harbours a darkness within that grants him both strength and cruelty. The sorcerer Cob sees Arren’s weakness as an opportunity to tip the balance further and open the gate to immortality.

Confusion. I characterise Tales from Earthsea best with the word ‘confusion’. The above plot outline isn’t clear until the movie is almost over. The storytelling is so vague. It doesn’t lay out any clear information at the start. You don’t know what any character wants, where anything is going, or why anything is this way. In any story, you must give the audience something to care about from the beginning, whether it is a character motivation, a goal, or an ideal. You wander aimlessly through Tales from Earthsea. I paused several times to watch a YouTube video out of boredom. I care nothing about this film.

Sparrowhawk is a one-note noble wizard, Arren doesn’t have anything going for him outside of these visually intriguing nightmares, and Cob is just Evil Guy 63728. His subordinate slaver is more interesting. We don’t receive reason to care for their actions or their fates. Lacking are the ‘human’ moments that make us love Ghibli’s other characters. How charmed are we by Howl’s first interaction with Sophie? How lovable is Chihiro within minutes? Who could say no to the fluffy Totoro after a single yawn? How strongly did we feel for Seita’s predicament before we even knew his name?

The world of Earthsea almost made me care. When the main characters reach the town of Hort, it’s a magnificent sight, hinting at a deeper world. A back alley shows us citizens crippled by an opium-like substance. A slaver insinuates he will sell a girl into sex slavery. Drugs, slavery, and other dark elements speak of a depth created by the novel’s author, yet not translated by the film studio. These dark elements don’t matter in the movie.

I can see why praise is scarce for Tales from Earthsea with so little to recommend itself. With the basics of storytelling and characters missing from here, there’s no point commenting on the higher layers, such as the scene-to-scene. It’s a waste of time when every problem could be summed up with, “You need to go back to the story/character and fix it first.”

Tales from Earthsea was the first feature film directed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Goro, and he hadn’t grasped the Ghibli magic that made the studio’s films stand out.

Art – Very High

Even with a bad story, Studio Ghibli delivers quality art. The shot of the city impresses me in particular, as does the cinematography on the dragon’s back in the opening scene.

Sound – Medium

The acting is decent. The dub needs more energy, especially from the girl. In the dub, Willem Dafoe replaces a Japanese woman as the sorcerer, oddly enough.

Story – Low

A boy combats his inner demons as an evil sorcerer seeks immortality. Tales from Earthsea lack direction, foundation, development, and depth to make a compelling story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you must watch Tales from Earthsea to complete the Ghibli library, there is no reason to waste your time on this film.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative:

DissapointingHollow World BuildingShallow

Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata

 

Related: Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend .flat (sequel – included in review)

Similar: The World God Only Knows

Welcome to the NHK

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Harem Ecchi Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Episode 0s.
  • Proper challenges in creative professions.

Negatives:

  • Can’t focus.
  • Too much harem filler.
  • Becomes what it parodies too often.

(Request an anime for review here.)

It’s no secret that trash overwhelmingly populates the harem genre. It’s also common knowledge that harem is mainstream among anime fans, as a harem entry hits the charts each season. Fans also forget them just as quickly when the next season throws a new batch of waifus to pick from.

Harem anime is the easiest genre to make and thus floods the new release list every few months. To stand out from the orgy, studios select series that can bait the reader in, whether through an all-monster-girl cast, picking up girls in a dungeon, or making every girl be the guy’s teachers. A-1 Pictures’ gamble to go meta-harem with Saekano: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend paid off, wedging it between the breasts of fellow harems The Testament of Sister New Devil (what is this name?) and Absolute Duo in that season’s top 10. Parodying the genre elevates you above the genre, yes? Well, let’s find out.

Saekano follows high school otaku Tomoya in his dream to make the most compelling harem visual novel. To this task, he recruits illustrator Eriri, bestselling author Utaha, and boring girl Megumi as model for the main character. However, to tap into the emotions required for a compelling visual novel, he and his ‘super team’ must experience these emotions themselves.

So, the excuse for a harem this time is the creation of the visual novel, where 99% of harem anime come from, which is a better excuse than most. The characters comment on the harem – get down with the meta – in the process of crafting the game characters, writing the story, and designing the illustrations, often to comedic results. Episode 0 is full meta, as it assigns each character a role in the harem anime – think of a harem LARP. This Episode 0 deceptively sets up the idea that Saekano is a meta harem, which is not the case, as it’s more of a workplace anime like Shirobako and New Game before it then becomes an ordinary harem.

Giving the characters jobs that drive their progression is a nice addition. (Ever notice how most harem characters do nothing in life?) Even so, Tomoya isn’t much more interesting than your average harem protagonist. He’s about light novel protagonist level. The greatest missed opportunity lies in Megumi. It would have been much more interesting if she were nothing like the ‘boring girlfriend’ archetype required for the game. Instead, make her the opposite but have to act like the generic harem main girl. What we have is an unironic bland girl with no arc, whose main purpose is to create the clickbait title of the anime.

The third act of season one introduces Tomoya’s cousin, a musician, whom he recruits to compose music for the game. Up to this point, most episodes focused on each character’s role (Saekano still uses the harem structure of ‘let each girl have their turn’). When the cousin enters, it’s her turn to jump Tomoya and there’s nothing meta or ironic about the cousin-cest. The usual accidental flashing, towel drops, no boundaries, and shallow titillation fill the screen time. Saekano becomes the cliché it’s supposedly parodying. Season one is a bore.

Funnily enough, season two opens with new meta about the first season, mocking it as boring and clichéd. “How did such a generic anime get a second season?” And Saekano sees a marked improvement from there. Work takes centre stage with serious conflict. The team struggles with finding the answers to what will make for a compelling game in the face of deadlines. Eriri and Utaha also receive an offer to work on a professional project. This creates Saekano’s best moment, when Tomoya has to face the reality that he isn’t cut out to lead a team of professionals. Eriri and Utaha aren’t amateurs, yet he treats them as such, not demanding of them the same quality as you would of a professional. For the first time in a harem, the protagonist is punished for being too nice. Progress!

You may be asking yourself about what happened to the meta. Saekano’s core failure is a lack of focus. Is it a harem parody? No, it’s a romance. Wait, no, it’s about finding success in life. Saekano needed to choose one and relegate the others to subplots instead of giving each one main plot time in turn (ironically, just as harem does with its girls). A symptom of this failure is no more evident than when Tomoya fades as protagonist in season two. He becomes a supporting character in his own story! (Not a great loss, if I’m honest.)

Saekano is still above most harem, but only average by other standards, which is far better than anyone should expect.

Art – Low

Saekano uses the style of coloured lines instead of black for character outlines – as seen in Bakemonogatari – but at random, giving characters an off-putting neon glow. A-1 Pictures tried copying Shaft without purpose. Bad CG intrudes at odd times, such as when the author is typing. No artistry either. It really wants you to find these girls sexy with how it pans across anywhere but the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine with nothing outstanding. Music is forgettable.

Story – Medium

A visual novel aficionado convinces a bestselling author, a respected illustrator, and a random girl to join his project of creating the best harem visual novel. A lack of focus holds this story back, though still succeeds in parts.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For harem fans only. Saekano’s meta humour and effort at conflict make a more interesting anime than the usual harem. Its faults still confine it to the genre.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Incoherent

A Silent Voice – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koe no Katachi

 

Similar: Your Name.

The Anthem of the Heart

Your Lie in April

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama

Length: 2 hr. 10 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The girl is adorable.
  • Great lead characters.
  • Top-notch voice acting.
  • Narrative symmetry.

Negatives:

  • Supporting cast is so bloated.
  • Untapped potential.

(Request an anime for review here.)

A Silent Voice has the marks of an Oscar bait movie. Handicapped character, attempted suicide, depression, someone different, love, heartbreak, and moody directing – make the girl Jewish with dreams of becoming an actress and the golden statue is yours! Surprisingly, it doesn’t fall into the traps that often characterise those sorts of films.

The story focuses on Ishida, a bully, and Shouko, the deaf girl he bullies. When she first joins primary school, the kids are receptive, helpful, taking class notes for her, and correcting her where needed. But they soon grow tired of her and the preferential treatment by teachers, even though she needs it. So, they start to bully her. Ishida likes the attention he gets from the bullying, so leads the gang. He suddenly yells at her, thinking it won’t matter to a deaf girl, writes things on the blackboard, and steals her cochlear implants. It goes without saying, but he’s an arsehole – they all are. He goes too far one incident and the administration finally intervenes. However, Ishida’s friends dodge responsibility, blaming him for everything.

You see, the thing about bullies who don’t learn their lesson is that they find another target. A bully must have a victim. Ishida becomes that victim.

We jump to high school, where Ishida has lived in depression for years, shutting out the rest of the world. Having suffered as a victim of bullying, he feels compelled to make it up to his victim, Shouko.

A Silent Voice is a story of symmetry.

The setup of the bully becoming the bullied and making amends with his target is a powerful one. It’s unrealistic for a victim to want anything to do with someone who brought her so much pain. But A Silent Voice succeeds in this respect by dragging Ishida into the deepest pit of despair, which coupled with some kindness from Shouko, creates a believable path to redemption. You wouldn’t imagine that you’d have any sympathy for Ishida after his cruelty, but against all odds, this film succeeds.

The dynamic between Ishida and Shouko is a fantastic one with heartbreak, humour, and everything in between. She’s such a sweet girl. I love the moment when she says she loves him (‘suki’), yet he interprets her as talking about the moon (‘tsuki’) because of her impaired speech. Her frustration is adorable.

Now, where A Silent Voice fails story-wise is just about everywhere else. The main couple: excellent. The supporting cast: ehhhh… Line up the characters – remove half of them. It’s evident that this film comes from a manga with more characters than usable in a two-hour movie. We have a half-dozen kids from primary school, Ishida’s family, Shouko’s family, and two new kids in high school. The story gives them too much time for an incidental, yet not enough for a proper support.

When one of them returns to the plot in high school, I thought she was a new character. I can’t remember most of their names or their purposes. Other than the families, there are only two notable characters. The first is Ishida’s one friend in high school who serves as comic relief (he “smokes” French fries), though even he needs work. The other is the nastiest of the children, Ueno.

In a move that baffles me, A Silent Voice reconciles her and Shouko. Where Ishida and Shouko’s reconciliation is a brilliant weave of drama and turmoil, Ueno and Shouko resolve their problems with no effort. Keep in mind that when things are good between Ishida and Shouko, Ueno still bullies her in high school. And we are supposed to believe that Shouko would be okay with having her around?

This is where the manga-to-film adaptation problem is most evident. In fact, we get a taste of what’s missing in translation. One scene has Ueno express her frustration at Shouko for always apologising when she is the victim. Obviously, that is supposed be the culmination of their reconciliatory arc – Ueno toughens Shouko up a little – but we don’t see the steps that came before. The story is trying to cram too many character arcs into so little time. This ultimately results in a great main story surrounded by excess that accomplishes nothing. It disappoints me because every ingredient for greatness was already on the counter. The production team needs at least 12 episodes to flesh out the supporting arcs.

Supporting cast aside, A Silent Voice is a good film well directed with beautiful imagery that conveys Ishida’s turmoil and Shouko’s vulnerability. The visual and auditory components outdo the manga, though you will need to read the source material if you want full satisfaction from the unneeded elements of the film.

Art – High

Nice art, but I wish it didn’t have this chromatic aberration that blurs the periphery of every scene. It’s distracting, low res. They didn’t apply depth of field either – everything is equally blurry – so it looks even worse. Beautiful otherwise.

Sound – Very High

The acting is great, particularly from Saori Hayami, who nails deaf speech. The music too is a success – love the stutter of ‘My Generation’ by The Who.

Story – High

A former bully becomes the bullied. Years later, he tries to reconcile with his victim, a deaf girl, to escape torment. Great leads, bloated supports, strong drama, and untapped potential characterise A Silent Voice’s touching story.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for drama fans. If you focus on the main characters, A Silent Voice is a rollercoaster ride. It has its problems, but it’s still worth your time if you love drama.

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

Positive:

Stellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative:

Dissapointing

Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Overture to a New War – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Ginga Eiyuu Densetsu: Arata Naru Tatakai no Overture

 

Related: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (main series)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Science Fiction War Drama

Length: 1 hr. 30 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Emotion conveyed without words.
  • Theme of opposed power.
  • Great final battle.
  • Excellent audio, as always.

Negatives:

  • Overlap with the series’ start.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In the previous film, My Conquest is the Sea of Stars, admirals didn’t like this young Reinhard Lohengramm upstart gaining glory. They dismissed him, saying he wouldn’t get far. Now he’s on the path to admiral. The position is within his grasp, which rankles other power players due to his royal family connection since his sister married the Kaiser.

For Yang on the opposing faction, we see a more personal side of him, as being a hero in the war requires personal sacrifices. One scene has Yang relinquish his feelings for a woman, and hers for him, when his friend proposes to her. There’s no dialogue – visuals and music convey this emotional moment alone, reminiscent of the final battle from the previous movie.

The villain this time is a warmonger working behind the scene to profit off the war and make sure it goes on forever.

Overture taps into the same themes from early in the main series – command and power. Reinhard was given executive power to override any dissenters, whereas Yang can’t do anything without approval from above. This theme plays out several times to significant effect on the soldiers depending to their commander’s competence, ending in a great battle. I like that these movies use their time to give more perspective from the lower ranks. It builds the society a little each time.

This is more of the franchise I know and love. The writing is engaging, the characters complex, and the conflict ripe. To detail these would be to repeat my Legend of the Galactic Heroes review, so read that for the full picture.

Overture to a New War is the lead up to the start of the series, ending in the show’s first battle, though with a few changes. As such, this is a good taster of what Legend of the Galactic Heroes has to offer.

Art – High

A slight improvement over the main series.

Sound – Very High

The acting and classical soundtrack has not missed a step.

Story – Very High

Overture to a New War tells of events just before the start of the main series, adding a new villain and emotional challenges for Yang. This movie doesn’t deviate in quality from its parent story.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Overture to a New War is a great place to start the venerable series if intimidated by its runtime, though events have added significance if you know what is to come.

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