Tag Archives: School Life

Set in school of all stages, though high school is most common.

Zegapain – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Zegapain

 

Similar: RahXephon

Fafner of the Blue Sky

Mobile Suit Gundam SEED

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Mecha Action Science Fiction Romance

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • A premise worth watching for.

Negatives:

  • Just about everything else.

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Look at any poster, video or screenshot of Zegapain. It looks like trash. It requires effort to make characters this generic and to have mecha designs this ugly. This doesn’t happen by accident. The dialogue is just as you imagine accompanying that art. So why would a reader recommend I review Zegapain, likening it to RahXephon in the process? I was even more confused after the first episode – one of anime’s worst starts.

It opens on protagonist Kyo having to kiss a guy disguised as a girl for a student film by his friend Ryoko. He refuses, notices a buxom babe on the high dive outside, strips to his Speedos, and charges off to meet her. (Does he always wear swimmers instead of underwear?) His enthusiasm comes from finding a new recruit to his dying swim club. Next thing he knows, he’s part of a conference call with the military. The girl, Misaki, puts his hand on her boob, pulls him into her chest, and they teleport aboard a mech. (Right…) She tells him to treat the battle like a VR game. I laughed when the mech warns of incoming enemies, but Misaki praises Kyo for spotting them so quickly – girl, he didn’t do anything! He fights perfectly without training. Though there is more to his story, it’s still a cataclysmically stupid idea to bring him to the front line. A better writer would sell the situation.

Before first episode’s end, it is evident that the characters have no depth – I imagine the brainstorm session took five minutes. Only a couple have goals and motivations. The battle tech is a bunch of ‘stuff’ doing ‘things’ cobbled together without thought of how this works or how it came to be.

Needless to say, but Zegapain seems like a bottom-dwelling anime at this point.

However, after a few more battles of floaty CG and meaningless action, Kyo finds a glitch on the battlefield. A message tells him not to believe his world. And that’s where things start to get interesting. We have a Matrix situation here, except he can’t be sure of which world is reality. If his high school is virtual, then who are all these people? And how did the outside world turn to ruin? More and more mysteries unfold as the plot develops, resulting in an intriguing storyline. I’m as astonished as you are.

Of course, it doesn’t erase the fact that the script seems randomly generated or that the characters are surface deep, but this one strength is enough for me to enjoy Zegapain to the end.

Kyo is still a bad protagonist. He’s far too accepting of everything for the convenience of the writer’s laziness. He teleports suddenly from school to the battleship thanks to a gizmo in his forehead, is about to ask where the gizmo came from and how he got it, when he says, “Ah, whatever, it got me here after all.” Even more reason to question it, you idiot! And what is the obsession with returning to this swim club subplot every episode? It doesn’t matter! Hell, why swimming? It isn’t realistic that a swim club in the heat of Japan’s summer would struggle for members. It’s for Misaki in the swimsuit, isn’t it?

Several episodes that lean more slice of life are a waste of time as well and the antagonists are as weak as the heroes. Despite all these faults, something about the reality versus virtual reality plot gets me. It just gets me.

Zegapain is a hidden gem— well, gem is a bit much. More like a peculiar stone on the riverbank with an unusual texture that a few will find interesting.

Art – Very Low

Zegapain approaches Hand Shakers level of CG with its mechs. Furthermore, why make them CG if you aren’t going to take advantage of the easier animation tools? What was the point? The regular art has zero creativity and even randomly drops in quality on occasion.

Sound –Low

The voice actors do the best they can with this bad script. I think the music came royalty free.

Story – Medium

A teen has to distinguish between reality and the virtual world amidst an alien occupation and high school troubles. The characters and action may have no merit, but the plots works well.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Give it a chance. Zegapain is most engaging if you can enjoy a good story in the face of weak characters and ugly art.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous ActionUgly Artistic Design

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Toradora! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Toradora

 

Similar: Great Teacher Onizuka

Lovely Complex

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dynamic between main characters.
  • Consistently funny.
  • A touch of heart.

Negatives:

  • Still very much like other high school anime.
  • Tries too hard to make Taiga seem tough at times.
  • Weak theme songs.

(Request an anime for review here.)

In a world where everyone has large anime eyes, Ryuuji’s narrow eyes and pinpoint irises mark him as a thug, the worst kind of thug, a thug that is…nice. Taiga is a doll of a girl, tiny, cute, and a bundle rage that hates her public image of a fragile midget. As is natural, these two opposites collide and help set each other up with their crushes – Ryuuji likes Taiga’s best friend, while Taiga likes his best friend. And they’re neighbours. What a coincidence! But could it be that they are meant to be with each other? Find out in Toradora!

I have watched too much anime. Watching Toradora, I realised I had seen it all before several times, though not to this anime’s fault. I have to shift my mindset if I want to analyse it fairly. Ever wonder why all of those atrocious games journalists think “artsy” indie games are masterpieces? It’s because they’ve played too many games and those faux-deep indies are something different from the popular titles. Something different can instil a false sense of quality to a lazy “critic”. Ironically, they probably haven’t played enough games or they would have experienced the inspirators already. I never want to be in that cesspool.

So, to give Toradora a fair chance – or honestly, any art a fair chance – I look at its own merits. Of course, part of that merit is to see if it learnt from its predecessors. You can’t release a story without character development and claim it’s a masterpiece just because that’s how stories were thousands of years ago. It is important to note that nothing in fiction is original. Nothing. Instead, what we mean by originality is how an artwork brings all its pieces together and at what skill level.

Alright, Toradora has the ‘opposites attract’ main couple, and its initial plot is the ‘help each other find love, only to realise it was beside us all along’ type. I am sure that all of you, dear readers, can think of several stories to have these two tropes. However, these two together is rarer. The more you mix elements, the more ‘original’ something feels. (Keep in mind not to be different for the sake of being different.) Toradora uses these two elements to great comedic results.

Ryuuji and Taiga concoct ridiculous schemes to pair the other up with his/her crush. Ryuuji knocks out his friend in sports class and takes the friend to the med bay so Taiga can spend time with him. Genius plan! She could just ask him, but noooooo… (Where have I written that before…?) I love the ludicrousness of anime romantic comedies.

One episode has Taiga give her love letter to the wrong guy. Hell, she doesn’t even put the letter in the envelope. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. Everything goes wrong when her breast padding slips out in the school swimming pool. No one can know she is flat. I do have a problem with how hard they try to make her seem tough sometimes. It weakens the joke.

The supporting cast complements the main, particularly Taiga’s best friend/Ryuuji’s crush, reminiscent of Kill la Kill’s Mako (or rather, vice versa). I love that cheerleader type sidekick and wouldn’t say no to more of them.

Toradora isn’t without its touches of drama. The core theme of finding and being honest about yourself works well in bringing conflict amidst the comedy. One drama subplot that falls flat involves Taiga’s absentee father. He storms back into her life making promises, only to leave her disappointed. The subplot lacks impact (like her father, aye?) and could have gone further. It’s a minor point, regardless.

The ending plot is a bit…odd, but oddness is the hallmark of anime. And the end is rather sweet.

Alright, I’m going to leave it here. I have my first moment of free time in three months, so I finally have the opportunity to play some games. Reviews should be back to routine as well.

Art – High

Good character designs – distinctive protagonists. I wish the rest had the same level of effort. The animation is nice too.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The same actress voices taiga’s best friend and Mako from Kill la Kill for a hilarious sidekick. I didn’t like any of the theme songs in the slightest.

Story – High

A guy that looks like a thug and doll-like midget girl try to break free of the prejudice of others. Toradora mixes humour, heart, and a touch of drama to make a solid high school anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school anime fans. If you haven’t seem much of the genre, then Toradora will likely impress. However, if you are familiar, then you won’t find much new here. Good series nonetheless.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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

Scum’s Wish – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kuzu no Honkai

 

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

White Album

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Romance Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful art and shot composition.

Negatives:

  • Immature view of sex, masquerading as maturity.
  • So much ‘almost sex.’
  • Boring lead.
  • Everything is a few beats slow.

(Request an anime for review here.)

You want a messed up love polygon? Hanabi is in love with her brother and teacher, but he’s interested in another teacher. Meanwhile, Hanabi’s classmate is in love with that other female teacher. To cope with the heartache of unrequited, forbidden love, Hanabi and the guy date each other for sexual and emotional comfort. They are each other’s replacements. However, another girl is in love with Hanabi, while the pretend boyfriend’s loli sister is also in love with him. Got all that? Lesbian -> Hanabi -> brother/teacher -> co-worker/teacher <- pretend boyfriend <- little sister.

Despite the messed up premise, my first thought was to question if Scum’s Wish would go far enough. The crueller the setup, the more likely an anime drama will chicken out before the end and not deliver the promise. When Scum’s Wish revealed that the brother wasn’t Hanabi’s real brother, I knew how this would end.

Scum’s Wish engaged me with its beautiful cinematography and emotional weight. Hanabi latched onto her brother and father figure, thinking they’d be together forever after the lack of a real father left her with emotional issues. It’s tragic.

Then the classmate’s little sister enters the picture, breaking the tone. She feels like a character from a trashy harem, not a tragic romance. Throw in the lesbian best friend with the hots for Hanabi, and the love polygon goes from tragic to comical. The teachers and students were enough. These extras comes across as characters meant to distract you from the shallowness of the main threads.

The ‘doesn’t go far enough’ problem is no more prevalent than in sex scenes. There’s a lot of almost sex. The artists put their all into animating each sex scene with smoothness and detail to maximise sensuality and eroticism. (Just imagine One Punch Man’s action scene animations, but for characters feeling each other up.) Yet, someone always backs out at the last moment.

Scum’s Wish was pitched to me as “the anime most mature about sex in years.” Now I don’t know what to think of the people who told me this – they were adults, too. Look, just because you censor less than a shoujo romance, it doesn’t make the sex any more mature. Almost every sex scene is “Gyaaah! Not there! Don’t look at me. Nyaaah!” They sure use the ‘one character on top of another, when the top starts crying and tears fall on the other’s face’ scene five times too many. It’s no different from any other immature relationship anime.

The villain of this story is the female teacher, surprisingly enough. She is aware of Hanabi’s desire, as well as all those who are after her, and she loves it. The teacher thrives on how much people want her – if she’s taking away someone’s crush in the process, then all the better. A unique villain, to be sure. Sadly, even she doesn’t go far enough. Her arc – hell, everyone’s arcs – resolves with the tension of wet toilet paper. Scum’s Wish simultaneously puts its characters in cruel scenarios while treating them like fragile ornaments that can’t suffer the slightest nudge, lest they break.

The fragility also weakens any emotional impact. March Comes in Like a Lion conveys emotion much more effectively, all while using a quarter of the words – silence instead of the excessive internal monologue found in Scum’s Wish.

The story has nothing beyond the relationship drama – no one feels like a real person with a life, even if a miserable one. Hanabi is worst of all. She is a passive, feeble character that rarely takes action. The plot doesn’t move forward at her behest. Someone else takes charge while she lies there going, “Gyaah! No…”

Maturity? Look elsewhere.

Art – High

The art is gorgeous, soft and elegant – I love the eyes. The shot composition is great at conveying multiple perspectives and emotions at once. Editing could be quicker. Character heights are oddly inconsistent – in the first scene, Hanabi bumps into a guy, coming up to his chin, but then two shots later, she is half a head taller than before!

Sound – Medium

Decent acting and calm music.

Story – Low

A love polygon of ridiculous dimensions messes with the emotions of every student and teacher involved. Scum’s Wish tries to be mature about sex, but devolves into immature melodrama that stretches reason beyond intrigue.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Scum’s Wish won’t be for you unless you love sexual melodrama.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Shallow