Tag Archives: Romance

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

Please Teacher! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Onegai Teacher

 

Related: Please Twins! (Same setting)

Similar: Midori Days

Waiting in the Summer

To-LOVE-Ru

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Romance Comedy

Length: 12 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Several genuinely funny moments.
  • The teacher is a fun character with her kind heart, ditziness, and jealousy.
  • Tsutaetai Koto ga Arunda’ is a gorgeous piano track.
  • Looks surprisingly polished considering the low budget narrative.

Negatives:

  • Suffers from several anime romantic comedy clichés, especially the ‘interrupted kiss’ a dozen times.
  • The most contrived twist occurs in the final third to force “meaningful” drama before the conclusion.
  • The teacher’s family is irritating, her sister in particular, for the few episodes they are in.

I really wanted to like Please Teacher more than I do. It could have either been a great piece of socially commentary or death-by-laughter hilarious and charming – or both. Unfortunately, it didn’t even come within the horizon of what I wished. And no, it isn’t because of the student-teacher relationship premise; that premise is Please Teacher’s most interesting aspect. In the real world, a student-teacher relationship isn’t alright because it’s a breach of trust and abuse of power (even if of consenting age, as in the case of Please Teacher). In the real world, there also isn’t a disease that comatoses people at random, halting the ageing process while unconscious. However, in fiction, you are free to explore ‘what if.’

What if your teacher was an alien? What if you have to pretend to be in a relationship with her to cover up the fact that she is an alien from your family? Then what if you have to marry her to cover up the fact that you are in an illicit relationship with your teacher from the principal, saving her job, which is a cover up for the fact that she is an alien? (Breathe!) It’s an interesting scenario, and the one of Please Teacher.

Kei is a fifteen-year-old (in appearance) high school student who witnesses the teleportation of a beautiful alien woman with pink hair to his town’s lake. I say in appearance because he is eighteen, but suffers from an affliction that causes blackouts referred to as ‘stand stills,’ one lasting three years, throughout which he didn’t age a day. The morning after the alien arrival, he is shocked to see that she is his new schoolteacher, Ms Kazami. Furthermore, she moves in next door to him. After a series of mishaps involving her TARDIS-like alien complex, resulting in a compromising situation between the two, Kei lies to his uncle about them being in a relationship with her. Kei’s uncle goes along with it (he has the hots for the voluptuous teacher despite his wife standing over his shoulder), and is the funniest character in the series.

Matters escalate further, when the school principal finds Kei and Ms Kazami locked in the sports equipment room. The uncle comes up with the genius idea that they are married, saving her job and his place in school (true age revealed to address the legality). She is a charming character.

Much of the humour comes from them hiding the relationship, especially from Kei’s school friends, and his awkward inexperience with women. Make no mistake; there are plenty of risqué moments and clever sexual innuendos, but nothing explicit. Though Please Teacher isn’t gasping-for-air hilarious, it still has a good number of gags, most of which are in the first half and the OVA (the funniest episode). Past the halfway mark, the humour declines to make room for “drama.”

This drama is utter rubbish. There is the most contrived twist with Kei in the final third attempting to bring depth the narrative. To call it a twist is generous. I won’t spoil it, but if it were spoiled, you would be dumbfounded by its stupidity. One would think that the greatest opportunity for drama in a student-teacher relationship is the illicit nature or at least the age difference. Nope, nothing to do with the relationship at all. Pathetic. I am all for drama, but this… And it came at the expense of all humour. At least the funny OVA that follows afterwards set the record straight.

In the end, Please Teacher is an enjoyable show outside of the final third’s swan dive into arse gravy. The dynamic between Kei and Ms Kazami is fun to watch as they hide their relationship. Recommended for an easy viewing experience.

Art – High

Sports surprisingly polished art and character design considering the easy-money narrative. Doesn’t feel cheap.

Sound – Medium

Good voice work in both languages and one particularly great piano piece. The rest of the music is bland.

Story – Medium

A pleasant and fun story about a boy forced to marry his teacher…until the final third that decapitates the humour for terrible drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If you want something fun to watch with an interesting premise and a good amount of polish, then Please Teacher is for you. Also, you must be able to look past the student-teacher relationship.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

Awards: (hover mouse over each award to see descriptions)

Positive: None.

Negative: 

ShallowWeak End

The Garden of Words – Review

Japanese Title: Kotonoha no Niwa

 

Related: 5 Centimetres per Second (same director)

Voices of a Distant Star (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

Similar: Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance

Length: 45-minute movie

 

Positives:

  • Heartbreakingly beautiful art in every aspect.
  • Rain and thunder ambience that creates an absorbing atmosphere.
  • A subtle soundtrack of piano and violin to fit the emotions.
  • The details in the animations.

Negatives:

  • Too short, making for an abrupt ending.

The Garden of Words is the latest in visual master Makoto Shinkai’s library of anime. Just like 5 Centimetres per Second, The Garden of Words more than lives up to Shinkai’s legacy of pushing art to the limits in anime.

This time we see Takao, a high school student, who skips school during the rainy season to sketch under a gazebo in a Japanese garden park, where he meets older woman Yukino. She drinks beer all day and mountains of chocolate. The two start meeting in the park regularly, knowing that the other will be there when it rains and slowly begin to talk to each other. She has problems at work to deal with while he wants to become a shoemaker, hoping to have a more fulfilling life. Though what will they do when the rainy season ends?

I can’t get the art out of my head – it’s so incredibly beautiful. To see how much attention to detail the artists put into the work is mind-blowing. There are no shortcuts here. Greens and greys dominate the colour pallet, invoking beauty and a sense of sorrow at the same time, a loneliness in pursuing what one finds precious. Everything from the rain to lightning is stunning. When the wind hits the rain…chills, my friend…chills.

The little things make this art a cut above the rest. My favourite detail is the reflective distortion for every single raindrop hitting the water. There are even things that most people wouldn’t pay attention to like clouds of different sizes and distance moving at varying speeds. Even the lightning has full animation; rather than flashing a single frame, the artists animated the growth of the lightning across the sky. Phenomenal.

The sound effects match the visuals with an orchestra of rain, thunder and wind, one of the most pleasant sounds on Earth. A few music pieces accompany the ambience to great effect. Piano plays in an agitated manner, getting faster with the rising desperation of Takao, until violin comes in for the uplifting moments. The only flaw in terms of audio is the voice work. It isn’t bad by any means – good, in fact – but the limited scope of the narrative and sombre mood doesn’t allow for much range or a variety of expressions.

The Garden of Words is very much a short story in scope; two protagonists, each with a thread, entwine their lives with one another. Takao’s brother is ancillary to Takao himself, acting as a father figure simply to avoid Takao being a lone child. If Takao were older, I believe Shinkai would have cut the brother – that’s how small a part the supporting cast plays. Shinkai is known for stripping his stories down to the bones, which is great when wanting to focus on a single topic, but does result in a limited scope. Here, the focus is on loneliness and finding comfort in an unlikely place with unexpected results. We don’t see a whirlwind of emotion, two strangers caught up in a romanticised drama woven from their desire to find comfort in the company of a stranger. No, these two are subtle in their interactions, slowly building up to heightened drama as they deal with their problems. In short, for the narrative to grip you, this focused storytelling has to be your cup of tea. Takao and Yukino will either captivate you or bore you – nothing in between.

If I had to level a complaint against The Garden of Words, it would be towards its length. The story feels like it ends much too soon. It needed at least another fifteen minutes to get the full message out – ideally, twice the total length for some in-depth exploration of the characters and their lives. (Or am I just saying that as an excuse to feel more of the atmosphere?)

The Garden of Words nails atmosphere at a master class level with its art and audio mixing, and is a must watch for any pluviophile, even if the story isn’t particularly to your tastes.

Art – Very High

One of the most beautiful pieces of art put to screen.

Sound – High

I could listen to the stormy ambiance forever. Good voice work as well.

Story – High

A heartfelt story of moving forward in life. Shame about the length.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for 45 minutes of your life. The Garden of Words is a film for those looking to relax and listen to the sound of rain.

(Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: 

Fluid AnimationGreat MusicStunning Art Quality

Negative: None.

Voices of a Distant Star – Review

Japanese Title: Hoshi no Koe

 

Related: 5 Centimetres per Second (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

The Garden of Words (same director)

Similar: Pale Cocoon

Gunbuster

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance

Length: 25 min. OVA

 

Positives:

  • The tragic narrative hits the right emotional notes with its interesting premise.
  • Beautiful environmental art, especially the grand shots of the cosmos and planets.

Negatives:

  • The use of CG for aliens and mechs looks out of place, never mind the ugly designs.
  • Character art looks unfinished.
  • Little is established. How did the girl become an elite pilot so quickly? Where are the aliens from? What does the boy actually do?
  • The voice work in English is monotone for much of the time. Japanese isn’t much better.
  • Prediction of flip phones as the standard in 2046. I jest, I jest.

Having recently watched Nolan’s Interstellar, I was reminded of Voices of a Distant Star, first anime feature of director Shinkai Makoto (of Garden of Words and 5 Centimetres per Second fame). Both Interstellar and Distant Star make use of time dilation to create drama with its characters. Distant Star tells the story of a fifteen-year-old girl who joins the space fleet in the fight against aliens, leaving her boyfriend behind on Earth with text messages as their only means of communication. The further she travels into deep space, the longer messages take to transmit – days, months, even years – and because of relativity in light speed travel, a couple of days for her is equivalent to years for him.

This story is a tragic one dealing with love separated, literally, by time and space. Distant Star is a powerful piece when it hits its emotional highs; I felt for these two characters. Unfortunately, the side story of the galactic conflict distracts from these heartstring moments. The writer needed a catalyst to launch the girl into deep space, there’s no disputing that; however, a galactic war isn’t a small plot point. It needed more time and space, so to speak, to develop into a full-fledged plot line. We get no backstory on the war, no information about the aliens, and nothing on how the girl became an elite pilot so quickly. (Aside: How is she allowed to wear her school uniform in the mech? I am guessing that it’s a metaphor for her wanting to be back with him during their school days.)

 

Shinkai could have chosen a simpler premise such as the exploration of distant stars to act as the catalyst rather than a war. This would allow more time to focus on the relationship. All we know about these characters is that they are in love. We know nothing about their interests, strength or weaknesses – who they are, really. Then again, they could have extended the runtime to explore each aspect in depth; at 25 minutes, Distant Star is too short for what it tries to achieve.

When it comes to the art, the war causes more problems. Poor CG was used for the mechs and their alien opponents, which is nothing but jarring, and it doesn’t help that their designs are awful. The cockpit view is cool though, using a lone seat with controls floating in a holographic interface.

Despite all that I have said against Voices of a Distant Star, I enjoyed my time here. The premise alone was worth a watch, and even if you don’t enjoy it, the short length means little time is wasted.

Art – Medium

Beautiful environments and lighting unfortunately tarnished by jarring CG for the hideous alien and mech designs. The character art seems to be in its draft stage.

Sound – Medium

Decent voice work in Japanese, monotone in English. I understand that when people are sad, they speak in sombre tones, but full monotone sounds dull. There are no moments of negative energy, no passion in the words. Half the music doesn’t fit the theme. Also something off about the Foley sounds at times.

Story – Medium

A tragic story of long distance love amid a galactic conflict, which results in neither aspect getting the development they deserve.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Worth 25 minutes of your time for what it does right. Voices of a Distant Star is a nice piece of anime that could have done with a longer runtime to develop the relationship and the war further.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World BuildingShallow

Elfen Lied – Review

Japanese Title: Elfen Lied

 

Similar: When They Cry

Mirai Nikki

Deadman Wonderland

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Horror Action Romance

Length: 13 episodes & 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • An unsettling atmosphere crafted by contrasting the innocence of children with hyper-violent gore.
  • Haunting opening theme and soundtrack inspired by Gregorian chant.
  • The telekinetic protagonist’s volatile nature creates plenty of tension.

Negatives:

  • The clichéd humour doesn’t ever lighten the mood, which can make the constant tension exhausting.
  • The male love interest is a weak character that serves little purpose to the core.
  • In trying to imitate the Japanese voice track too closely, the English voices sound awful despite the skilled actors. The Japanese isn’t ideal either.
  • Outside of action scenes, most animation ceases.

A severed arm twitching in a pool of blood. Decapitated heads sail across the room, blood sprays the walls. Screams fill the air. At the centre of the carnage, a young girl, naked. Don’t be fooled by the innocent looking girl; Elfen Lied is violent and bathed in gore, not an anime for the faint of heart.

In the world of Elfen Lied (German for ‘Elven Song’) exists a race known as Diclonius. Human in appearance other than small horns protruding from the skull, Diclonii control telekinetic arms called vectors capable of tearing people in two with a flick. Their purpose is to eliminate humanity and spawn a population of their own. Lucy, the protagonist, is one such Diclonius, who escapes from the laboratory, massacring guards and researchers on the way out. She ends up on a beach in front of Kouta, the male love interest, and his friend Yuka. Her mind traumatised by a gunshot, Lucy now lies dormant, replaced by Nyuu, an innocent alter-personality with the mental development of a child. The laboratory dispatches other Diclonii and a mercenary to hunt Lucy down.

Elfen Lied is an anime of tension. It juxtaposes the young innocence of the characters with the violent nature of their telekinetic powers. How can something so small be so psychotic? Every scene with Nyuu is tense, for she could snap at any moment. A mere second of lost control and a character loses a limb or their head. A Diclonius doesn’t discriminate. Man, woman, child – all die in Elfen Lied. Elfen Lied is brutal and gory, contains child and animal abuse on physical and emotional levels. Do not watch this if you are prone to nightmares.

Nyuu/Lucy duality brings an interesting dynamic to the story. While her innocence is what keeps the power at bay, it is also her greatest weakness, as she is too naïve to control her power. It reminds of the 1931 Frankenstein film (which I highly recommend, by the way) where the monster doesn’t comprehend that actions have consequences, especially when those actions can be so destructive. Elfen Lied explores the nature of humanity, and what can come from it when a child is isolated, abused, and pushed to the limit. It accomplishes this goal rather well.

Music enhances these moments where a character’s psyche breaks and violence paints the screen. The opening is a tragic Latin opera called ‘Lilium,’ set to bizarre symbolist art inspired by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. The hymn unsettles, a warning for what is to come. Several versions of ‘Lilium’ play throughout the series and are an important role in the narrative.

Unfortunately, that’s where the positives end. Outside of the Diclonii, the rest of the characters are either underdeveloped or dull. Kouta in particular is weak. While his backstory is good and ties with Lucy’s plot line, as a character he has no purpose other than to serve as a romantic device. He is just so dull. A street lamp with a blown bulb would be more interesting. Yuka is even more useless. She is nothing more than the third point for a love triangle. The writers could have cut her from the series with no effect on the plot. The romance between her and Kouta is lame, filled with generic misunderstandings and anime romance tropes. What little humour Elfen Lied has is trite, seen in every anime teen romance – trip over each other, grabbing the breast, up-skirts, etc.

The average voice acting doesn’t help either. Even though Japan records all actors at once, here they sound stilted with no interactions off each other. The dub is even worse. Kouta’s voice actor is as deadpan as the character, and the female actors tried too hard to imitate their Japanese counterparts, resulting in these awful squeaky voices. No child sounds like that! What’s strange is that the English cast has done great work elsewhere (same team as Full Metal Panic and RahXephon, both great English tracks), but here they sound like amateurs.

Despite all Elfen Lied does wrong, I enjoyed the story. It’s a great example of using gore to enhance the narrative surrounding innocent characters.

Art – Medium

Mouth movements comprise all the animation in most non-action scenes; sometimes, even the mouth doesn’t bother, too exhausted it seems. Other than the action scenes, visual details are low. The manga creator intentionally chose a ‘moe’ artist for the anime to enhance the contrast between innocence and violence. However, this style doesn’t look the greatest, especially on Kouta. Gore and action is great.

Sound – Medium

A great Gregorian chant-inspired soundtrack and tension music brought down by an average Japanese voice track, and an even worse English one.

Story – Medium

Protagonist Lucy carries the violent narrative with her dual personas and volatile nature. Shame then that the other pieces of her love triangle are worthless.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Elfen Lied is a worthwhile anime for fans of uncensored violence. Watch in doses of three episodes at a time to avoid exhaustion from the constant tension.

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

Positive:

Great MusicGreat OP or ED SequenceHoly S***

Negative:

Useless Side Cast

Avatar the Last Airbender – Review

Japanese Title: Abatā Densetsu no Shōnen An

 

Related: The Legend of Korra (sequel)

Similar: Fullmetal Alchemist

Gundam SEED

Vision of Escaflowne

 

Watched in: English

Genre: Fantasy Action Adventure

Length: 61 episodes (3 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Excellent, thoroughly developed characters.
  • Fluid and awesome action with magnificent spell effects.
  • Perfect pacing.
  • Great for children and adults alike.
  • Pleasant Humour.
  • Engaging story that keeps getting better, particularly in the third season.

Negatives:

  • Takes a little time to get used to characters sounding American despite none looking so, though this won’t hinder my experience.
  • Finale makes a single poor decision.

I first heard of Avatar the Last Airbender with the announcement of the film by the same name. As an introduction to the world of Avatar, the film couldn’t have gone worse. However, surrounding all this excrement was a fanbase livid at the mutilation of their beloved show. I kept hearing how amazing the show was. Now, source material is often better than adaptations, so I figured the cartoon must be better. But amazing? No, I doubted that. I have encountered many rabid fanbases in my time surrounding anime (I know that this isn’t anime, but the same audience enjoys it) and rarely do they result in something worth your time. In the end, I acquired this show for the sole purpose to educate myself when I argue that the show isn’t all that great. Instead, Avatar turned out to be…phenomenal.

Our story starts with the awakening of Aang, airbender and the next Avatar incarnation discovered frozen in an iceberg by two nomads of the Water Tribe. Aang has little time to learn the remaining three elements (Earth, Water, and Fire) before a comet passes Earth that will empower the current Fire Lord, who seeks world domination, into a being of living destruction – all the while hunted by Fire Prince Zuko.

Aang travels with waterbender Katara and her brother Sokka across the world, encountering a wide cast of characters on their many adventures. The characters are a large part of what makes this a great show. Katara, the motherly type, has to keep her brother’s antics in line. Much of the comedy comes from Sokka, who can’t waterbend like his sister and must fight with his lucky boomerang.

Aang is the weakest of the cast at the beginning; not saying he is a bad character – far from it, great in fact – he simply doesn’t hold up to the rest. He has one of those righteous personalities. You know the type: doesn’t kill people or even really harm them, no matter how evil, vegetarian because he can’t harm animals, and other pious life choices. At first, I thought this would make for great conflict considering his mission, and it does for a while, only to throw a reversal later. While Aang’s story is great, the other major characters experience more interesting story arcs that culminate in epic conclusions. If anything, that is a testament to Avatar’s quality. When the supporting cast has such fantastic arcs that the protagonist’s arc couldn’t possibly live up to them, you know you have something good.

The best character of all is Prince Zuko the firebender. Upon first meeting, he irritated with his whining about lost honour and his obsession with the Avatar. However, my opinion turned around as he developed. Before long, I realised that the writers intended for one not to like him so that his growth will mirror one’s opinion of him. Truly great writing.

Full thought went into every side character – the creators didn’t take shortcuts even for single-episode appearances. From the completely nutters, bad-joke-loving, king of Omashu to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh (voiced by legendary Mako – one of his last roles), I looked forward to each new location for the characters they will meet.

Humour is a strong element of the series. In the first season however, as an older viewer, you may find some moments a little too tailored towards the intended young audience. Thankfully, the third season’s high notes with some truly dark moments well make up for this. Prepare to laugh plenty throughout the show, especially at the hands of Sokka. If you have kids, watch it with them to earn many awesome points in their eyes, and with the show tailored towards them, the pacing is never dull, as the writers knew they could never release their attention. Every single episode captured my interest.

Action never occurs for the sake of action, so you don’t get tired of seeing the elemental powers. Take Naruto, for example, and his overused shadow clone technique that grows old because he whips it out at a whim every few minutes. Yes, it’s great when executed correctly, but could have been better with less airtime. Avatar doesn’t make that mistake.

In the end, Avatar the Last Airbender is a brilliant show. With many likable characters that experience proper development, action and visuals that fit the themes, and an overall plot that concludes with an epic finale, this is easily a must watch.

Art – Very High

Art and animation of a high quality in a colour palette suited to the elemental nature of the powers. It looks particularly great in action – water flowing across the screen as fire rages, wind slicing things apart while earth smashes the environment. Visuals’ only flaw is in the animation of the mouths, where it could have done with a few more frames to match the other smoothness.

Sound – High

Masterful acting once acclimated to the American accents in an Asian setting. Audio effects for spells are great.

Story – Very High

Only a few missteps with the protagonist and a lack of intensity in season one hurt this show’s story. Avatar will still surprise with just how good it is, the final season in particular. Hilarious, too.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Rent it, buy it, watch it. Then you can join in on the discussions as to why the movie is so damn terrible. Get the kids involved as well.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive:

Extensive Character DevelopmentHilariousPositive Recommended English Voice TrackRiveting ActionStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support CharactersStellar Voice Acting

Negative: None