Miyo is a girl in love. A little too much in love if you ask most people. Her target is Kento, a quiet boy who keeps his troubles to himself. She comes from a disjointed family with an overbearing mother – in Miyo’s view – and a weak father. Instead, this energetic girl throws all attention into drawing the eye of her crush. Nothing works. Opportunity arises when a fat cat sells her a mask that transforms her into a cute little cat, after which she uses her newfound form to visit Kento in disguise. He takes the cat in and calls her Taro.
The girl, I like, particularly the way they animated her. The animators managed to convey how a human would move if inhabited by the spirit of a cat. In one scene, she hears two boys at school making fun of Kento, so she jumps off a walkway, crashes through the branches of a tree, and lands before them like a wild cat. Perfect embodiment of the character. She’s so full of energy and life.
However! She doesn’t quite work in this story. Or is it that the story doesn’t work around her? If I didn’t know A Whisker Away was a children’s film, I would have expected a completely different direction around the halfway mark. Miyo is obsessed with this guy, performs crazy gestures to get his attention and show what he means to her. Unfortunately, there isn’t much of a foundation to the supposed relationship between these two. She comes across as…creepy isn’t the right word – more like crazy. I know this is a children’s film all in good fun, but it doesn’t mesh well. It needed a “before” segment, where we see something that justifies her fanatical behaviour. Perhaps they used to be close friends (and we see this) and she’s trying to break him from depression, or there’s some sort of magic that wiped her from his memory and she can’t tell him about it, but the curse never said anything about making him fall for her all over again. You know, something. The tiny glimpses we receive aren’t enough. At all.
In a more dramatic film, her behaviour would be set up for a confrontation about her one-sided obsession and end in a broken heart. In an adult horror film, she’d pull out a knife. No, wait! Brass knuckles with claws on them that leave scratch marks like a cat. The final twist would be that she was never cat – it was all in her head! Someone get on this film, stat!
Anyway, where was I.
Ah yes, the other piece that doesn’t fit the Whisker Away puzzle is Kento. He’s as bland as a grey cement wall. Feels like she wants to host a pity party for him, not show affection, at times. This is where that before segment would have helped as well. It could setup a personality for him before he breaks and she has to pull him back together again. Furthermore, when he does finally pay attention to her after the real price for the cat transformation is revealed, he changes in a flash to help her, presumably falling in love at the same time. There needs to be more to sell his change. As is, he’s a dull character who feels largely unimportant until the final act. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been surprised if the story had twisted away from him to become a self-discovery tale for Miyo. I half expected it.
A Whisker Away isn’t as good a Mari Okada’s other work (she wrote this one) I recently reviewed, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (wrote and directed). I recommend that film before this. A Whisker Away is still alright though – Miyo cat is adorable. I like all the cat stuff. And it is a pretty film.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For anyone in need of an easy time. A Whisker Away is an overly simple anime film. However, this doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.
Katanagatari is a series of fairy tale-like stories about a woman collecting the twelve “Deviant Blades” across Edo-era Japan (unaffiliated with the Bakemonogatari series – “gatari” means “story” in Japanese, so “Sword Story” in this case). This is based on real events from history, where a Japanese ruler would declare a “sword hunt” to confiscate all swords possessed by those not native to his territory, believing it would prevent them having the means to overthrow him. Togame, strategist to the shogunate, employs the help of Shichika, current master of the Kyotouryuu style that fights barehanded and turns the body itself into a blade.
The storybook art style is immediately striking and the only selling point I needed to try this anime (several readers have since requested it). One may think it cartoonish or that this is a small children’s anime, but children would find Katanagatari unbearably dull in truth. This is for a slightly older audience and the style fits the tone.
Despite the action sounding title, dialogue is the dominant form of this anime. Each episode is double length to fit the story associated with each sword in a single uninterrupted session. While I like this idea, I don’t feel each episode justifies the extra screen time, as it does drag often for a mere 12 episodes. A variable episode length would be better – I wish all series would do this, just like the variable length of book chapters. It took me a long time to finish this series (to be fair, life keeps getting in the way too). I recommend one episode per session. However, outside of that, I can’t present any other barriers to finishing the series. Katanagatari is a good anime.
First, the main duo is tons of fun. Shichika is muscle over brains taken to an almost extreme. “I’m bad at thinking” – his words. He’s also oblivious to how to treat Togame, the woman he claims to love. He’s humorously embarrassing. By contrast, Togame is all brains and no brawn. She’s a proper lady of good upbringing, unlike this hick country fella. Yet she trips on first meeting him. She talks too much, too many big words, is carried away with her monologues, and assumes other people’s answers only to realise she misheard a minute later. A perfect contrast to Shichika.
The meeting of this art style, whimsical score, and mystical stories reminds of fairy tales, as mentioned earlier, for which you need the right mindset. Each episode is about confronting an owner of one of these swords. Naturally, they are reluctant to relinquish their powerful weapons, so a conflict ensues. Sometimes it’s a typical action scene, though often there’s more thought to it, like a moral quandary or a puzzle to solve – as seen in fairy tales.
For example, one wielder is the last swordsman in a fallen kingdom swallowed by sand. He sits in a room in the castle with his sword at the ready, capable of slashing faster than light at anyone who dares enter. If you think logically, this falls apart. How does he eat? Go to the bathroom? Why don’t they fire a cannon from outside behind him? Those aren’t questions for this type of story. In Little Red Riding Hood, you don’t worry about how the hell a wolf could ever pass for an old granny. Approach Katanagatari with that mindset and you will have a good time. I mean, one guy punches with his guns. Need I say more?
Why is it okay to ignore those questions here but not in, say, Sword Art Online 2, you may ask? No story can encompass everything, account for every possibility, or factor in every detail from reality. Would make for rather boring stories. Instead, stories choose what focus on and the style in which to deliver the message, the morality, the character study, the action – whatever. Weak stories will either execute this vision poorly or sometimes not account for something that within the logic of its world breaks the story. Sword Art Online is garbage for many reasons, but the sword versus guns problem is idiotic because if a sword is so effective and bullets are so slow, why would anyone ever choose a gun in competitive play? By the logic established within that world, no one would use a gun.
Thankfully, Katanagatari isn’t Sword Art Online.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Watch it. Katanagatari is unexpected in style and execution and I recommend it taken one episode per session. Cheerio!
Horimiya was the popular rom-com of the previous season, drawing attention for adapting a well-received manga and its beautiful character style. Behind this pleasant, easy going anime lies a bit of a kerfuffle over whether is it a good or a bad anime. Who would have thought this would be the contentious one of the season?
In the vein of His and Her Circumstances, this romantic comedy centres on a couple of teens with home lives they keep secret from school friends. Hori is beautiful, smart, and popular. She has the easy life. Miyamura is a feeble guy who keeps to himself. At home, however, Hori is the mother of the household, taking care of her brother and doing the chores, as her parents are always busy with work. Meanwhile, Miyamura is nothing like his school persona. Outside, he has several prominent piercings, tattoos, and is much more energetic than you’d guess. You wouldn’t recognise him if you passed on the street.
These two opposites attract and make for a good couple. When I discovered his bad boy secret identity, I expected him to be that clichéd shoujo romantic interest. You know the type – a troubled guy that’s just misunderstood and the main girl can “fix.” Pleasant surprise to find Miyamura to be otherwise. She’s a more typical character, though a well-executed one. They are the lynchpins of the story amid a rather large cast. One the side, we have Hori’s brother and parents, a dozen prominent classmates, many of them coupling up later, and more.
Horimiya, at its core, is a feel good rom-com to a fault. So set is it on making you feel good that at the first sign of drama, everything will speed up to get you back to the happy times. I’m not kidding. For instance, there is an early confrontation between Hori and the student council (a frankly forced scene to begin with). They accuse her of having forgotten some file. People crowd around, tensions rise, and then…it dissipates and we move on as if nothing happened. Another example is a point of jealousy later, setting up that “I’m not talking to you until I realise my mistake and look like an idiot before I come back to apologise” scenario. But no, it lasts, what, 30 seconds?
I’m not sure if this is a consequence of truncating the manga or if it’s meant to be this way. The rush to get to the ending in the final episode does make me think it’s the former. I would have to read the manga to be sure.
The side characters exacerbate the truncation. Some episodes, notably in the latter half, cut away to dedicate a significant amount of screen time to pairing up several of the schoolmates. Because there are so many for a 13-episode series, the time given feels both too long – we should spend more time with less characters – and too short to really feel invested in them. You might care about some, but all, unlikely. I’m sure this isn’t a manga problem.
Now, as a feel good anime, Horimiya works quite well. If you want to get away from those dangerous spirits in Jujutsu Kaisen, if Wonder Egg Priority is too depressing with all that suicide, or if Ex-Arm is making want to commit suicide, then Horimiya is the antidote. In fact, the rushing past drama discussed earlier might be a positive aspect to those wanting the pure goodness.
As for me, I’m up and down in places. I like the main couple and their chemistry. Her younger brother as well, good character. One of few kid brothers that isn’t annoying in this type of story. The schoolmates are my main issue alongside the rushed conflicts. With the students, I stop paying attention when they are the focus. It’s too uninteresting. Which leads into the conflict. Probably would have been better to not have it at all and go for pure comedy, akin to the superior Kaguya-sama: Love is War. Or you cut down on characters to make room for drama.
The visuals and music do most of the heavy lifting to me. Had studio CloverWorks not leant all effort into the production, Horimiya would have been one to pass by in the sea of seasonal anime. I like the uneven line work on the characters.
I’m on the positive side of the scale overall with Horimiya. However, I didn’t come from the manga. Fans are divided.
This is one of the few times where I went online to read opinions on a series shortly after finishing it. The manga is 16 volumes long. There are more volumes than episodes, yet both have the same end, with the final chapter released less than three weeks before the last episode. There is a significant time skip in the anime to make this happen. Of course, a lot was cut and manga readers aren’t happy. This wasn’t much of an issue for me, but I can relate, having experienced what they’re feeling in other anime. On the other side, anime only viewers are quite positive.
Seems to be that if you read the manga, the adaptation was disappointing and rushed. If you hadn’t read the manga, this was great and now you will go read the manga. I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t have the urge to consume the manga and I thought the anime was just fairly good.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For light-hearted romance fans. Reading the Horimiya manga seems to be the true recommendation in this case.
When you’ve consumed enough anime with an analytical eye (or books or movies), judging the quality of series within one episode becomes easy. It may sound unfair – “You have to finish or it doesn’t count!” If a first episode is full of problems, then expect those same problems to echo throughout the series. Core elements don’t magically go from bad to great by the end. Not to suggest they can’t get better. You might get a 10% improvement by the end or an element that isn’t working falls away, elevating the rest in the process without much change. When a story has potential for greatness, the seeds are present from the start. What about judging the ending if you only watch one episode? You won’t be able to tell how good the ending will be (though a bad series ending is often predictable), but you can judge whether the journey is worth it. Remember, the end is a fraction of the overall experience.
And so, we come to The Pet Girl of Sakurasou. Let’s go through episode one for all the markers of how this series will be.
Opening scene, protagonist Sorata looking out of the classroom window at a bright but uneventful day, indicating his boring but easy life. He then tells us as much. Unnecessary showing plus telling. Not a big deal, but I expect to see this a lot, where they will show something (should stop there), but then have someone vocalise it as if the audience can’t infer on their own. Anime does this often. Problem repeats next moment when he wakes up (pointless dream opening scene is also a red flag) with a cat’s arse on his face – not a pleasant experience – and then has to tell us how it’s not a pleasant experience, a simile for his adolescent life.
Turns around to find his face now in a girl’s arse (camera about to perform a colonoscopy of course). Tells me the fan service will be non-stop and sleazy. She wakes up and her first line, yelled with extreme energy, is, “I want to be a bride when I grow up!” Atrocious introduction to an obnoxious character. She only gets worse as the scene continues.
Less than two minutes in and this tells me about 70% of what I need to know. There will be too much telling, sleazy fan service, and bad characters. All that remains is to see the narrative drive, which I expect within a few minutes, and I could give a recommendation.
Escapes into the hall where he runs into his teacher, whose priority one the first day of school is showing off her cleavage, as stated by her. She hands him a toolbox to fix the sign out front. This is Sakura Hall, a dorm notorious for housing the problem students of this art school. Sorata’s plot goal is to get out of this hellhole of a living situation. A funny premise, to be sure, but it hinges on having great characters in the dorm for comedy and all you’ve given me so far is sleaze and a colonoscopy.
There’s another minor instance of show and tell here. A couple of girls walk past and whisper about Sakura Hall’s reputation, which is all we need. Then Sorata tells us the same information again a second later.
Predictably, the panty girl from the start throws a window open and yells to him about how hot she is naked, reinforcing my judgment of obnoxious fan service and this character. A little over three minutes in and I’ve seen more than enough. Let’s keep going though.
Now we have the character bios. Panty girl is an animator, in comes a playboy guy (anime screenwriter and high school gigolo), the teacher we’ve met, and there is a NEET programmer no one has ever seen. Sorata is an average guy amongst a bunch of freaks. I’m not a fan of rapid-fire inductions like scrolling through game profiles, as they just info dump without engagement. At least it isn’t as bad as the one in Wave! Let’s Go Surfing! and they did intersplice character moments to give a bit of personality.
After classmate introductions and more talk of Sakura Hall’s infamy, we flashback to Sorata adopting a stray cat and being forced to move to Sakura Hall since regular dorms don’t allow pets. Bit of a forced scenario set up, but alright, works for comedy. He’s had stray cats come to him ever since. This is foreshadowing for later.
Side note: the bloom is too strong and ever-present.
The teacher introduces the foil in the story. Her cousin is coming from England (prediction: she will be nothing like a British girl) and will be staying in Sakura Hall. Sorata has to pick her up from the station. He finds the girl and the first thing she says is, “What colour do you want to be?” A feeble attempt at a philosophical conversation follows (purpose: on the nose metaphor of the theme). This tells me the story will try to cram a deeper meaning in somewhere (prediction: the ending, with sudden drama) that will utterly fail in the face of the sleaze and shallow characters. Her colour is white, like the stray cat. A bad introduction via writing from a film school student’s first indie movie.
We are a little past halfway in the first episode now and I have yet to find much positive to say. The colours are nice, though marred by the overbearing bloom. A couple of funny lines as well, yet far outweighed by the unfunny ones.
Next day, he has to wake her up for school, only to find her room in a disaster state as if the FBI had rifled all her clothes for secret intel. She’s a manga artist and sleeps under the desk. She comes out from blanket to stand before him naked. Nothing has changed from that first scene when he woke up. Turns out, she’s an absolute idiot for the sake of fan service, underage nudity, and comedy. The explanation is that this is normal because the culture in England is different? Yeah, I doubt the author has ever been to England. He has to get her ready like a child. This is the pet of the title and from all that foreshadowing. I get she is supposed to be like a stray cat to care for, like his many other stray cats, but did they have to make her mentally deficient just to fulfil his fetish?
And so ends the episode.
Let’s summarise. The characters are obnoxious, the love interest is imbecilic, the humour repeated itself several times within a single episode, the “serious” dialogue is laughably bad, showing plus telling, and fan service takes priority over all else. A thick blanket of anime clichés wraps this up.
One episode was too much to know The Pet Girl of Sakurasou isn’t an anime worth watching. Yes, there are many far worse than this, but also a thousand high school anime that you could watch first. Toradora is a much better version of this anime type.
For the sake of thoroughness and this review, I watched the series in full and nothing changes about the quality of this series. The characters are still weak stereotypes, the fan service is still sleazy, and the few good jokes are buried under the mountain of same tired lines in every high school anime. The feeble deeper messages die under the tonal nonsense of the sleaze. My only off prediction was the dramatic ending. It wasn’t as dramatic as expected, instead mirroring the first episode with nostalgia. The end was a typical graduation moment filled with crying people (understandable). It’s clear the main couple has barely evolved.
I could apply the above analysis to the first episode of any series, whether good or bad, and highlight the markers that predict overall quality. Maybe I should do it in future with some excellent series. Sounds like a good idea.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Skip it. The Pet Girl of Sakurasou isn’t worth your time in a sea of high school anime.
My first impression of Oldman: “Is that Sean Connery?” “Is that Cate Blanchett as the queen on the key art?” “Is that Rhys Ifans as the doctor?” Apparently so. The author Sheng Chang uses real actors for reference with his characters, as if casting them in a film (and in the hopes that someone like the late Sean Connery would act in an adaptation).
Oldman is a medieval action manga with one fantasy element. The titular Oldman, imprisoned son of the queen, breaks out of jail to enact revenge on his ageless mother. On the way out, he grabs Rebecca, a once legendary warrior doomed to rot in her cell with both arms and legs severed from her body. They join a few other characters on the quest, including a doctor to construct a new set of limbs for Rebecca.
The opening volume of Oldman is excellent and shows so much promise. The conflict inherent between Oldman and the queen is obvious, but the questions garner much intrigue. How is such an old man the son of a young queen? What the hell happened to Rebecca? Who is the other girl with amnesia yet friends with Oldman? Can he do real magic or is it all trickery? Volume 1 made me binge this series in a single sitting.
Sadly, it doesn’t hold up through to the end. The middle section flakes on the detail as it sets up a decently complex two-thread plot, with the final act rushing to the finish line. There is a great story here that needs at least 10 volumes to do it justice. I can see this making for a good 26-episode anime should one flesh out the skeleton presented.
The mix of action and surprising amount of comedy layered with mystery succeeds well. However, the action physics need work. Take Rebecca’s mannequin limbs. They have built in enhancements, including explosives that create rocket-like punches. Except, these explosives would shatter her arms to splinters before anything else. It doesn’t makes sense. Also, taking a few lessons from Shadiversity on the effectiveness of arrows and full plate armour wouldn’t go amiss. Just because you use Hollywood actors for reference, doesn’t mean you should use outdated Hollywood medieval action as well.
I do wish Oldman had more time.
Overall Quality – Medium
Result: Give me a fleshed out remake.
* * * * *
Korean Title: Diamond Dust
Genre: Drama Music Romance
Length: 40 chapters (3 volumes)
Diamond Dust is a manhwa webtoon about a piano prodigy with strict parents and the terminally ill underground musician she falls in love with. If you are imagining the stereotypical strict Asian parents forcing their child down one career path from birth, then you’d be right. And if you imagine the romance is the usual misery lit, then you’d also be right. In essence, Diamond Dust is predictable. Yet, the merging of the two story types makes it more engaging than seeing either apart.
The piano career side features a father that resents everyone in his family without prodigious talent (the mother is just as bad). He forces the girl to practice piano 12 hours a day, bans socialising, and freaks out at the slightest action that could endanger her golden hands. The parents are truly nasty, but in that believable sense where you see they believe that they’re doing what’s best for their daughter. She does find massive success until she (obviously) has a breakdown after one too many high-pressure performances. Her fingers cramp up. She cannot play.
Warmth and comfort arrive in the form of a young musician trying to make it in a struggling band. A tumour is pressing into his brain, affecting his memory and ability to concentrate. The romance follows all the beats you expect. She rebels against the parents, his conditions strains the relationship, the parents try to keep him away from her, and so on. Diamond Dust does this well. Don’t expect any surprises.
One last thing I want to note is the design of the two main characters. They suffer from same-face syndrome (until the cancer progresses), which makes them look like siblings – not something you want from a romantic couple. If not for the different hairstyles, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart in close ups.
Overall Quality – Medium
Result: Not bad. Wasn’t disappointed.
* * * * *
Japanese Title: Kyouko
Genre: Action Drama
Length: 14 chapters (2 volumes)
If you know anything about B movies (low budget, non-artsy films), you will be familiar with the hack director’s number one plot device for conflict and motivating the protagonist – rape. There is so much rape. More specifically, the filmmakers don’t understand the crime and no one cares after it happens. They use it like a villain randomly shooting a puppy to show how evil he is.
Kyouko (aka The Accident) is one such example. The protagonist, a woman, is gang raped in the first chapter as her boyfriend watches on, helpless. An American soldier happens to pass by and rescues her. Rather than show any signs of trauma at the experience, she dumps the boyfriend and is ready to jump this American’s bones right away. Then someone assassinates him. Her quest for revenge turns into action schlock with dumb conspiracies.
Another manga I read after Kyouko that fit the mould is Mephisto. That protagonist is a rapist, serial killer, and bathes in the intestines of children and we are supposed to sympathise with him? Ha!
Overall Quality – Very Low
Result: Truly a B movie in manga form.
* * * * *
Cradle of Monsters
Japanese Title: Mouryou no Yurikago
Genre: Action Horror
Length: 41 chapters (6 volumes)
Continuing with the B movie inspirations, we have Cradle of Monsters, a horror manga that blends The Poseidon Adventure with The Walking Dead and a low budget. After a cruise ship capsizes in the middle of the ocean, everything goes to hell as most of the passengers turn into zombies and many of the remaining living become murderers. Amongst this chaos are a few survivors, most of them teenagers from the same school on a trip.
This is not a good manga. Quickly you will notice how the fan service takes priority and how irritating it is. While people are dying, the primary concern of the artist is to have a panty shot or for the writing to mention how a character isn’t wearing panties. Half of the deaths mention this, I swear. The ultimate fan service in Cradle of Monsters (or so the author believes) is the frequent golden showers before or at the moment of death. This guy has a serious fetish.
Should you look past the fan service, there isn’t much on offer anyway. To say the characters are one-dimensional would be to give them too many dimensions. Everyone in this story is evil except for maybe three people. I find it so dull when a disaster story makes everyone incomprehensibly evil. Apart from being unrealistic, it’s also predictable. Furthermore, there are so few survivors. It isn’t as if this situation has been raging for months while the infection spreads. Maybe, what, a few hours have passed since the incident and only 20 or so people are alive out of everyone on a massive cruise liner? The author is clearly lazy.
This story wasn’t planned out either. Characters will teleport around the ship for dramatic ambushes, surprise reveals, and last second rescues. It makes no sense how they catch up or get ahead of the main group when navigation is so limited. Again, lazy.
Character backstories also suffer under the lack of forethought. Many characters have a backstory that suddenly reveals a talent they just so happen to need to get out of a situation. “I never mentioned this before, but in the past I studied this thing, so I can use it to clear this obstacle for us.” I believe they call this an “ass pull” in the business. Happens over and over.
And finally, this horror manga isn’t scary. The art is quite bad, so turns supposed frightening moments into comedy, which combined with the above-mentioned issues makes for a yawn-inducing experience.
Overall Quality – Low
Result: That’s going to be a no from me on the golden showers.