Tag Archives: Romance

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

Lovely Complex – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Lovely Complex

 

Similar: Toradora

From Me to You

Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fun main couple
  • Plenty of hilarity
  • Great acting

Negatives:

  • Visuals haven’t aged well
  • Annoying contrivances to stall the romance at times

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Lovely Complex takes the usual romance trope of tall guy with shorter girl and flips it. She’s the tall one (“Amazon”) and he’s the short one (“midget”). Risa and Ootani are two high school students looking for love, her insecure about being taller than every other girl and him insecure about being so short, even for a Japanese boy. His ex-girlfriend is now with a tall guy. These two friends – often referred to as a comedy duo by schoolmates – are helping each other find love. However, Risa soon develops feelings for Ootani beyond friendship, but how is she to convince a guy who only sees her as a freakishly tall friend?

This couple is different from most anime couples in that they start as friends. The conflict doesn’t derive from what they think it does – their heights – but from the fact that they are friends. It is easier to start an intimate relationship with a stranger than it is with a lifelong friend. She takes longer than she should to realise that she’s in love with him, while he thinks she’s just joking. Just a joke between friends, right? However, a relationship founded on friendship is more likely to succeed and have deeper roots.

Their relationship is endearing. They’re nervous about the most trivial matters, but that’s what it’s like in early love. Best of all is how believable they are as friends first. The comedy duo dynamic works at both delivering tons of comedy and selling us on their friendship. From there, the romance builds.

Early conflict comes as they look outside of themselves. Ootani is interested in another girl, Risa is interested in another guy – the typical situation (this is before Risa realises her true feelings). Once Risa fixates on Ootani, it becomes a back of forth of “will she, won’t she,” and, “Will he, won’t he.” Will she confess? Will he accept? Will she try again? Will he change his mind? And this is all good except for a couple of annoying and contrived scenes to set the relationship progress back to square one.

In an early episode, Ootani kisses Risa, ending the episode on that pivotal moment. But then next episode, he says, “Oh, I don’t remember doing that. I was sick.” A later episode has him pour his heart out with the camera close up on his face, before it pulls back and reveals that she was asleep all along. This type of moment happens several times across the 24 episodes and only make you pinch the bridge of your nose in frustration each time. There is even a moment like this ahead of the climax!

They are cheap and lazy solutions to delay progress in the relationship. You get maybe one use of these before the viewer finds it contrived and tedious. It would also help if the roadblock were more believable. No one would believe that Ootani doesn’t remember kissing her (not even if he were trying to pass it off as a lie). A believable example of this happens at the end of Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun. It would have simply been better to have setbacks that are more dramatic. The moment Ootani tells Risa that he’s not sure he feels the same way as she does is a perfect example of stalling the romance correctly.

Even with these scenes accounted for, Lovely Complex is still fun. Yes, these moments are artificial setbacks, but everything between them still works. And much to my delight, we have a complete arc here. There is a definitive coupling, a proper and satisfying conclusion, and no loose ends.

I am content.

Art – Medium

The art is easily Lovely Complex’s weakest quality and hasn’t fared well with age. Some of the visual humour, especially the facial expressions, is still hilarious.

Sound – High

Great voice acting for the two leads. You can hear two real people bickering back and forth like a real couple. Supporting cast is good too.

Story – High

A tall girl has trouble convincing her short best friend that they should be a couple. While it does have a few frustratingly clichéd moments to prolong the conflict, Lovely Complex is a successful romantic comedy that flips a classic trope on its head.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For rom-com fans. Lovely Complex may be a little old now, but it holds up with a fun couple and some hilarious hijinks.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Weathering With You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Tenki no Ko

 

Similar: Your Name

Patema Inverted

The World is Still Beautiful

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 1 hr. 54 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art, particularly the weather
  • Great cast of characters
  • Unconventional story direction
  • Beautiful music complements the emotional moments

Negatives:

  • Minor animation shortcuts

(Request an anime for review here.)

For a man who loves the weather as much as Makoto Shinkai does, it was inevitable that he would release a movie about weather itself. After missing the opportunity to see this in theatres, I finally have access to the blu-ray of Weathering With You. Was it worth the anticipation?

Look, I love Shinkai’s visual style so much that even with a mediocre story it would still be worth the wait. He builds such atmosphere, such ambiance in his films that I simply like being in them. However, having a great story as well never hurts.

Weathering With You opens with a teenaged boy called Hodaka on his way to Tokyo. He’s on the run to what he assumes will be a better life. Little does he know that Tokyo has few favours in store for him, gives no pity. Someone takes advantage of him before he even arrives! Then there’s the rain. An eternal torrent of rain has settled over Tokyo and it shows no signs of abating.

Wandering the streets and starving after some horrendous financial planning (why go to McDonalds when low on funds? If you can’t cook, at least choose the convenience store), he finds a job at a small publishing house, where he becomes the jack-of-all-trades. Assistant, note taker, cleaner, cook, shopper, and writer, he does it all. It’s rough, but the people are nice. Things are looking up! All of this changes – for better and worse – when he meets Hina, a desperate girl about to make a horrible career decision with some shady dudes and he yanks her out of there. Somehow, she has the ability to “pray” the rain away and bring out the sun. Hodaka and Hina have the idea to sell her services as the “Sunshine Girl” for your event, where it’s a market, a wedding, or meteor shower viewing party.

One will immediately feel similarities to Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name, when watching Weathering With You – and will appeal to the same fans. No works of his have been more similar than these two films. However, Weathering With You is much simpler in premise and execution. You don’t have to ask yourself, “Wait, when he was doing this, she was doing that, yeah? And this lines up with that other thing?” It’s much more straightforward and refined here. The concept of Weathering With You is not as initially gripping as Your Name was. It doesn’t summarise itself in that one neat sentence that can sell the idea without further explanation.

As such, Weathering With You does not grab me from the outset – storywise, of course; visually, amazing from the first frame. It isn’t until the first downward turn in Hodaka and Hina’s relationship when we realise there is a cost to her power that I get that, “Yes, now I’m really in,” feeling. Once the story hits that point, I love every moment of the tumultuous ride we go on as they struggle with her destiny and the past catches up with them. What, you thought being a runway kid with a gun wouldn’t have consequences? And what of her, an underage girl with a small brother in her care?

Most of Shinkai’s protagonists have this element of deep-seated sadness that drives so much of what they do. The characteristic has recurred so often, that I wonder what Shinkai experienced himself to compel him to write such protagonists. All characters in Weathering With You are believable and relatable on some level, from the publisher trying to visit his daughter against the objections of his ex-mother in law to Hina’s surprisingly mature little brother in affairs of the heart (my favourite character).

This is a delightful film.

If you were to ask for some negatives though, apart from that slightly weaker start, I wouldn’t have much to say. It is noticeable that the subplot of his job at the publisher stops about halfway, its purpose being to discover the cost of Hina’s power. There should have been a little something to keep it going, though thankfully the two characters from his job are always relevant. The lyrical music can be a bit much at times as well. There are a few little things here and there, but nothing is a big enough problem to detract from the overall experience.

Some people may take issue with the magic element of Hina’s power, but I don’t see it as a problem. Not everything needs encyclopaedic explanation. It all depends on how prevalent the magic is. The main reason we have explanations for magic systems is to avoid things like deus ex machina or general confusion. A writer needs to strike that balance of explaining enough to sell the audience on the premise without drowning them in exposition. Weathering With You gets it just right.

Art – Very High

You have never seen animated weather look as good as this. The other elements are great too. The only visual flaws are a few CG assets – wouldn’t have been much more work to do them normally, so they must have been pressed for time, but these are minor problems.

Sound – High

The soundtrack is beautiful, though a little overpowering at times with some lyrical tracks, as if there were product placement requirements in place that mandated a minimum runtime and volume to make sure the audience picks it up. Acting is good.

Story – Very High

A runaway teen meets a “Sunshine Girl” amid a dark and rainy Tokyo. Though it has a slow start, Weathering With You soon ramps up to become a dramatic journey of love, sacrifice, and eternal rain.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Weathering With You is perfect for Shinkai fans and will even appeal to non-anime fans with its simple premise into great execution.

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStrong Lead CharactersStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Beastars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Similar: Land of the Lustrous

Aggretsuko

Shiki

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Successful CG
  • Engaging characters
  • A different setting and focus than usual

Negatives:

  • Needs more world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

I can’t believe I am saying this – I mean, it would have happened eventually – but I still can’t believe there is a great looking CG anime. Not only that, it has a great story too.

Beastars is Zootopia meets high school anime drama. In this world, all animals live together in a passable sense of harmony. We focus on Cherryton Academy where a drama club prepares for a grand performance before the school. Our protagonist, Legosi the grey wolf, hides in the shadows behind the stage lights. His shyness is nothing like the red deer Louis, who commands enormous respect driven by ambitions of becoming a Beastar, the highest possible honour for any animal, achieved only by demonstrating excellence for the betterment of society.

The story kicks off when a carnivore kills Legosi’s friend, an alpaca. In a twist of world building for the premise, carnivores are the discriminated group in this world. They have the presumption of guilt against them – “Most kills are by carnivores, therefore all carnivores are killers.” Legosi does everything he can to go unnoticed at school. Even so, everyone finds his large stature and sombre tones intimidating. He must be up to something! On the opposite end, you have Louis, a deer that desperately wants to be a carnivore. He wants that strength, that power, that intimidation and though he is friends with Legosi (or is he?), he resents the wolf’s efforts to throw all his gifts away. I love these two characters. They by far and away are the stars of the show. The complexity of character versus their place in the world and the dynamic with those around them is compelling. You want to see what they’ll do next.

Supporting them are other members of the drama club, including a tiger jealous of Louis’s popularity, and a slutty bunny called Haru. There’s no other way to put it. She will jump anything with an extra leg. She is a small creature, often taken advantage of or treated as a fragile thing, so she uses her sexuality to take control. Another good character. She doesn’t deserve my boy Legosi, but a good character nevertheless.

Their relationship begins when he catches her scent one night and almost kills her. The next day, he sees her at the garden club when tasked with collecting flowers for the stage play. She assumes he’s like the others and does her thing on him. Legosi manages to escape her evil clutches (you go, Legosi, stay away!) but can’t stop thinking of her. This unconventional relationship works well to complement Legosi’s theme of fighting against his nature, as any good subplot should do.

This is a good time to talk about the world building. Beastars has good social world building – the “speciesism” against carnivores, Louis craving for strength he can’t have, Legosi’s personality through environment, to name a few. However, it lacks physical world building. How does this world operate? How is it that all of these different animals can live in the same place? How does anything work?

To put it simply, think of how our world accommodates people with different disabilities. Imagine there was a story focusing on a paraplegic. And in that story, we are told that he lives a rather normal life considering his circumstances. The paraplegic travels a lot, yet the story never shows us how he manages this (also imagine you don’t know how this works in real life, so you can’t fill in the gaps). They would need to show the wheelchair, the mechanisms of an accessible home, and the ramps and lifts around the world. Go into detail.

Beastars, for the moment (it will eventually go into detail, surely), assumes too much of the audience’s suspension of disbelief. “What do you mean you don’t see how you can have a city that works for both the elephant and the mouse – isn’t it obvious?” No, it isn’t. I’m not asking for the Encyclopaedia Beastarica. But I do want something. Keep in mind that this isn’t the same as classic Disney films with animals instead of humans, like Robin Hood, where these details don’t matter. Beastars is going for a serious take, made all the more important when the conflict centres on the dynamics of this world.

One can’t help but draw comparisons to Zootopia with its brilliantly realised world. That film managed to create a world easily five times more complex than Beastars did and in less than half the minutes. First to mind is the detail of how a street vendor sells to a rodent class animal by dropping the drink down a chute to collect at the ground. Beastars has glimpses of great world building. In fact, the best episode is all about expanding this world through the illegal meat market and Legosi’s reaction to it. This episode elevates Beastars beyond an interesting premise. The goat with price tags hanging off his fingers for sale is one of the most unsettling moments in anime. Give me more.

Finally, I can’t end without going into the art, specifically the CG. Like all of you, I imagine, hearing the term CG in any relation to anime makes me uneasy to the stomach. Good CG doesn’t exist on a budget and the reason they use it for anime is budget. An association with CG characters alone put Beastars on my “not interested” list. It wasn’t until a friend raved about it that I moved it to the watch list, yet with a sense that it would be an endurance test. Imagine my surprise when I open Beastars and it isn’t just better than other CG anime, it is great. Studio Orange did a fantastic job at making the 3D look like anime 2D. The trick is in the lighting, colouring, and outlines to mask the 3D coupled with 2D for environments where suitable. Look at the screenshots in this review. They seem 95% made in 2D. It is a truly impressive job.

It isn’t perfect. The 3D stands out much more in motion, particularly in mouth movements. In traditional animation, one’s mouth jumps from position to position with perhaps extra frames in between for the larger movements. CG however, is smooth from one position to the next – like reality. The increased smoothness of CG animation makes it look worse when trying to be 2D. You need the mouth to jump frames for it to work. Smooth animation works when aiming for a high quality CG scene, such as a game cutscene or trailer. Such quality is expensive though. Beastars needs to, ironically, lower the animation in parts to improve the final effect.

I am excited for more of Beastars. I’ve started on the manga at a friend’s request, as he doesn’t have the patience to wait for spoiler discussions. Don’t miss out on this one either.

Art – High

The CG is great in Beastars, as unbelievable as this sounds. This CG is a success with real effort in texture, lighting, and a mix of 2D. Only the unnatural smoothness of the animation really stands out as a problem. I love the stop motion opening.

Sound – High

The original Japanese track is superior here. The dub is fine, if that’s what you always go for, but the Japanese casting and energy is notably better. Great opening song to go with the stop motion. The rest of the music isn’t memorable, however. The script is solid and better written than the manga – more dramatic.

Story – High

A wolf deals with school drama as he develops feelings for a rabbit, his prey. With great characters, high conflict interspecies drama, and an engaging premise, Beastars is a hit. That said, it needs more in the world-building department.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Even those averse to CG anime should watch Beastars.

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

Positive:

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Snow White with the Red Hair – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Story of Saiunkoku

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Protagonist has purpose and agency
  • World feels cosy and lived in

Negatives:

  • Not enough intensity
  • Needs more romantic conflict

(Request an anime for review here.)

Of the shoujo story types, I tend to like the “ordinary girl draws the attention of an important guy (or the reverse)” type the most, especially in a fantasy setting. I like how it gives a clear coupling to the romance. I never hide my dislike for harems (inc. reverse harems) due to the lack of direction in relationship developments – doesn’t help that the characters are often atrocious. By giving me an indication of where the story intends to go, I don’t feel like I am wasting my time before things even begin. The fantasy setting is an added bonus, as it requires more effort in world building.

Snow White with the Red Hair follows a young herbalist in training called Shirayuki with shockingly red hair that draws much attention, including the unwanted infatuation of her nation’s prince. She only manages to escape life as a concubine when Prince Zen of the neighbouring country of Clarines comes to her rescue. Her new ally also opens the opportunity to become a palace herbalist. Passing the exam – and curing the prince from a poisoned apple – sets her on a path to success she could only dream of in her sheltered life.

Seeing this premise of a girl with [insert profession here] meeting [insert rich handsome guy here], I assumed her skill with herbs would be irrelevant. This is a common failing of shoujo anime and rom-com films. How often is the protagonist a journalist/architect/ad executive/author/etc. and it never plays a part in the story? You know it’s only there because it would be weird if she didn’t have a job. I assumed the same of Shirayuki. When a scoundrel kidnaps her, the expectation is that someone rescues her or she lucks her way out. To my surprise, however, she uses her knowledge to burn the right herbs together for a paralysing effect on her attacker. Alright! That’s what I want to see. She still needs some help in the end, but she did something and used her brain. I like an active protagonist with intelligence. Shirayuki endeared herself to me with that single action.

Further on, her studies and career as a herbalist continue to hold relevance throughout the story. We see her studying new mixtures, experimenting with ideas, researching plants, and taking exams. Probably my favourite element of the story. It adds depth to the world and makes her environment lived in.

The romance with Prince Zen is typical shoujo fare and works, for the most part. You do have to suspend your disbelief that a prince of the realm can have a public relationship with a commoner against little opposition, but that’s the way of the genre. They do make for a good couple and complement each other’s qualities.

Where Snow White with the Red Hair fails is in the UTTER LACK OF DWARVES! WHERE ARE THE DWARVES?! I kid, I kid. No, the problems are in the lack of escalation. Conflict starts well with Shirayuki’s sudden move to a new country, a new life, and while we do have some political, physical, and romantic conflicts afterwards, none of them hit a high-tension point. For instance, one romantic conflict arises when Zen has to “interview” a prospective wife for a royal marriage. Shirayuki isn’t bothered by this, and why would she be when nothing comes of it. When you have a cross-class romance, there should be a question of “Will they end up together despite the difference in status?”

The big finale of the series sees Shirayuki kidnapped by pirates. This is disappointing on three counts. First, it’s another kidnapping. Second, the pirate queen is a flat character unworthy of a finale. Third, this conflict doesn’t relate to the core themes of the story or offer any resonance (repeated kidnappings don’t count as resonance). It feels like a side story on the way to the next step of the main story. There is no intensity.

These failings ultimately leave me a little disappointed in how Snow White with the Red Hair turns out. I love the world, find the characters endearing, and had a great time in the first half, but when the “big” romantic, political, and physical conflicts flop like a dead fish on the cutting board, it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm. I think continuing with the manga is in order – another season is unlikely after four years.

Art – High

A great thing about the shoujo market is a higher demand for good-looking art compared to the shounen market. If Snow White with the Red Hair was an isekai for the shounen demographic, it wouldn’t have these beautiful colours and attention to palette.

Sound – High

The acting is good and the music is nice, suited to a fantasy shoujo. Not much to say here.

Story – Medium

A herbalist in training finds the opportunity of lifetime (and a beau to match) when she catches the eye of a prince. This typical shoujo fantasy has all the right ingredients to satisfy the core, though it could do with turning the drama up a level or two.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. Snow White with the Red Hair won’t be dramatic enough for general fantasy fans, but those looking for something fun with that light-hearted shoujo romance will enjoy this anime.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

ef – A Tale of Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ef – A Tale of Memories.

 

Related: ef: A Tale of Melodies (sequel)

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

Sola

Bakemonogatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Not as bad as it could be…I suppose?

Negatives:

  • Actually pretentious
  • Vomit-inducing character designs
  • No one develops
  • The dub is a special kind of awful

(Request an anime for review here.)

I was meant to review Weathering With You, but as I missed my opportunity to watch it, that will have to wait. Instead, I felt like covering something trashy – an anime I had almost forgotten I had seen.

ef – A Tale of Memories comes from studio Shaft before they were a creator of good anime. You can see hints here of what Shaft would become, particularly in their artistic styling. Thankfully, they abandoned these stories and characters for something more fun.

This story follows six characters that eventually become three couples as they overcome their obstacles along the way. The first couple is the most vanilla of the three, between an aspiring manga artist (or is it hentai?) and an energetic girl with unorthodox interests. The second couple uses the childhood friend + love triangle cliché who eventually realises she’s in love with this photographer kid instead. The third and honestly main couple of Renji and Chihiro (you’ll recognise them by his douche hair and her abhorrent eye patch) face the issue of her constant memory loss. Think 50 First Dates with moe. They work on this by writing a novel together, something she can’t forget.

Barring the third with memory loss, there is nothing too unusual about these romances. Frankly, they are as shallow as can be. However, the studio tries to distract you with “fancy” camera work and visual motifs. I commend people for trying to do something different, but everything in Tale of Memories from the quick cuts to the avant-garde shot compositions feel like difference for the sake of being different. And when they run out of ideas, we have stretches of blandness – still shots, no animation, no style. These stand out badly by contrast. To see this style don’t correctly, one need look no further than Shaft’s own Bakemonogatari.

The dialogue is like the cinematography. It alternates between artsy nonsense for the sake of it and stock dialogue that comes with Microsoft Script Writer 2006. If I haven’t made it clear yet, ef – A Tale of Memories is pretentious garbage. These characters don’t develop. They don’t grow as people discovering true love for the first time. No, they spout nonsense and confess feelings in a mire of melodrama. At least it isn’t insulting.

If you don’t like the idea of 50 First Dates gone moe teen melodrama, humour subtracted, then stay far away from ef – A Tale of Memories. I am so glad Shaft moved onto better projects.

Art – Very Low

Some shots are interesting, others are boring, but the majority are nonsense for the sake of being different. Hate the character designs. That douche’s hair! They are one step away from Clannad and one should never stray that close to cancer. Obnoxious – that is how best to describe the art overall.

Sound – Low

If you want to watch ef – A Tale of Memories, do not go with the dub. The problems range far and wide, though the worst has to be the use of honorifics. They use them, yet don’t speak like the Japanese is any other way, which makes it come across as a weeaboo fan dub. The script sounds better the less you understand the characters.

Story – Low

Three teen couples deal with circumstances that stand in the way of love. The ideas aren’t bad. A less pretentious script and presentation was needed if these couples had any chance at success, however.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. It isn’t as bad as Kanon’s romances. Still doesn’t make ef – A Tale of Memories worth a minute of your time.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Awful DialogueNo Development