Tag Archives: School Life

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

Rent-a-Girlfriend – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kanojo, Okarishimasu

 

Similar: Nisekoi

Golden Time

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Harem Comedy Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The art is nice

Negatives:

  • This time we do have anime’s worst protagonist
  • A reprehensible quartet of women
  • Repetitive dialogue
  • Goes nowhere
  • Not funny

(Request an anime for review here.)

All around the world, you can rent people to play almost any role. Acting doesn’t just live on stage or screen. Companies will hire crowds to augment the apparent numbers at an event or party, an individual can hire a “friend” to stage a moment, or one can even hire a family. Japan knows particularly of the latter, where concern over social appearances and saving face are worth the hefty prices. An orphaned adult might hire parents to appear respectable and “normal” before their boss. Others will hire grandparents to attend their wedding or perhaps employ a few “friends” to fill their half of the church. In fact, Caucasian foreigners in Japan are particularly popular for weddings to add to the Western authenticity of a church ceremony. An English officiant is hot stuff.

So for an anime to explore the idea of renting a girlfriend could be interesting. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t the anime to succeed, but it could still be interesting elsewhere.

Where to start with describing this anime? Kazuya, the protagonist, is the most pathetic person you could imagine, real or fictional. I have read passages and seen videos of some truly pathetic people, yet none compare to this loser. Kazuya is a university student characterised by his virginity. After his girlfriend Mami dumps him, he can’t handle it and rents Chizuru to be his girlfriend for an afternoon. He falls madly in love with her until he reads her reviews online, realising she is like this with everyone. He is intent on giving her a piece of his mind during their second “date” (why is there a second at all?), but a call from the hospital pulls them away to see his grandmother, where he lies about Chizuru being his real girlfriend. Now he begs her to keep “going out” with him to “not disappoint his grandmother”.

This all happens in the first episode, which while not awful (that comes later), does have a problem. The premise is backwards. For a rom-com of this kind, you need a goofy setup that keeps growing funnier as it doesn’t stop escalating into a worse scenario. By the time the protagonist realises he/she is in too deep, it should be too late to back out before all comes crashing down for the finale – all in a comedic manner, of course.

Think 10 Things I Hate About You with Heath Ledger hired to be a woman’s boyfriend so that the guy who paid him can date the younger sister (girls’ father said that the younger can only date if the older has a boyfriend first). He does the job because the pay’s good, but he soon falls in love with her and can’t tell the truth or he would lose her. While funny throughout, it culminates in a famous emotional moment. (Great film, by the way. Recommended.)

Rent-a-Girlfriend’s premise should have been that Kazuya had been bragging to his family about his first ever girlfriend, but she dumps him the night before he promised to introduce her to the family. Being a spineless coward, he can’t admit the truth and so hires Chizuru to stand in for her. “It’ll only be for one day. Then I can say it didn’t work out and we broke up,” he thinks to himself. Better yet, make it a random girl from the service. Have him not care about the girl at all. He just wants to save face. However, she delights his grandmother (it’s her job to delight, after all), who invites them over for the weekend – soon enough where a sudden breakup is unrealistic. And being the spineless coward that he is, Kazuya can’t say no and hires her again.

This scenario is ripe for escalating hijinks. The insistent family with no resistance from spineless wonder keeps pushing for more and more meet ups, they start giving her gifts (“For my future daughter-in-law. I insist.”), and ask the big questions. Chizuru is getting out of her depth here, so she stages secret meetings with him in the bathroom to discuss a plan and answers for those questions (the family would imagine something lewd is going on instead). Keep making the situation worse. In the process, they come to actually like each other, which you can draw out by having both think that the other just sees it as a professional arrangement.

But no, Rent-a-Girlfriend has none of that. Kazuya and Chizuru’s relationship starts out of loneliness, which isn’t funny. I think him being a lonely virgin is meant to be funny. From here on, assume that any scene I describe is meant for comedy despite how unfunny it is. There isn’t a single good joke. Anyways, he takes her to his grandmother and has an out, but still says she’s his girlfriend. Also, her grandmother is friends with his grandmother at the same hospital, though it amounts to little. Then he learns that Chizuru not only goes to his university, but also lives next door! It could work with this setup, though you need a much better writer. Kazuya keeps apologising for getting her involved yet keeps saying they’re going out. He kowtows to her like a peasant, promising he will pretend as if he doesn’t exist next door and he will take out his trash when she’s not around.

This pathetic guy won’t stop apologising. I know the terms have seen overuse and almost lost all meaning, but “simp” and “cuck” have never been more appropriate. Let me list a few of his highlights:

  • His ex-girlfriend throws herself at him after she finds out he has someone else. He masturbates instead of taking her offer despite being into her and with sex as his primary goal.
  • He keeps up the fake girlfriend lie instead of getting an actual girlfriend when given the opportunity.
  • Apologises for hiring a rental girl to be his rental girl. Multiple times.
  • Offers to give a rental girl money in exchange for no service.
  • He masturbates to one girl while thinking of another girl having sex with another guy.
  • He stalks her on service with other clients.
  • He sends his “girlfriend” to comfort another guy.

You might astutely be thinking that this all makes sense to set him up as some repugnant dipshit before the story takes him on an arc of growth. Well that’s where you’d be wrong. He gets worse as the series progresses and women encourage his bad behaviour as though this is the “Simp Manifesto”, containing all the secrets to getting a girlfriend for losers. (By Aphrodite, I hope otaku aren’t taking any advice from this rag.) When Chizuru catches him stalking her, she isn’t angry about the stalking. She’s just mad that he thought her actor friend was a client. Yes, you will find clips of her chastising him for some of his actions. Do you know what the next scene shows? Her enabling him and accepting his money anyway.

Now let’s talk about her. He’s not a bad person, just an absolute loser no one would want to be around. She is a bad person though. She’s uppity about her job yet ashamed for others to know of this “perfectly fine” work. Her work is to manipulate lonely people into giving her money in exchange for nothing. To call her a sex-free prostitute is an affront to prostitutes. With sex workers, you pay for sex and you get sex. It’s two adults in a consenting transaction. Or to use a platonic example, some Japanese women hire a man to help them vent emotion and hold her when she cries. They want to let it all out. These women don’t assume the man is now their boyfriend and never expected him to be one (they may develop feelings in a vulnerable moment, sure, and he is attractive by intention).

Chizuru pretends to be a guy’s girlfriend yet does nothing like a girlfriend. Emotional support? No. Any intimacy? No. Anything at all like a girlfriend? You know the answer.

A real version of this (non-sexual) service wouldn’t be about the guy hanging out with this girl. It would be – as I said at the start – about saving face or avoiding drama in front of others. A company man would hire a woman to play the part of his girlfriend at a company gala so that he doesn’t attend alone, for example. Once they step out of that event, they go their separate ways. The alternative version is more or less hiring a friendly tour guide to spend the day with. Rent-a-Girlfriend’s version is about stringing people along for exorbitant amounts of money (more than a prostitute), as Kazuya’s first date cost 40,000 yen (~$400 US) for a few hours. Chizuru is their most popular girl (the sub plot about her being poor doesn’t make sense either). Sex work is far more respectable than this job.

Beyond her exploitative work, she’s an all-round unlikeable character. When she plays the part of girlfriend around his friends and family, it doesn’t come across as her helping him out. She’s just manipulative. I have the feeling she gets off on weak guys like him prostrating themselves at her feet.

As expected, she starts to like him for no explained reason. It happens because that’s what the author says is to happen. Rent-a-Girlfriend presents itself as a love triangle at first, between these two and the ex-girlfriend. However, another girl joins halfway through the season and falls in love with him after he grabs her boob (I’m not kidding). Then another joins in the third act and falls for him as well. This anime pretends not to be a harem and turns out to be worse than a harem.

Even if one were to look at Rent-a-Girlfriend on its own merits, it’s a garbage anime. The repetition is insane. “She is just my rental girlfriend. I am just paying her to be my girlfriend. We aren’t really a couple,” or some variation of repeats several times each episode.

The dumbest line has to be after he nearly drowns saving her and she resuscitates him. “Why did you go to such lengths to save me on the beach while I wasn’t breathing? I mean, I’m just a client right.” “Such lengths” was mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, as you do in all drowning cases. What a piece of shit.

Nothing really happens in these 12 episodes. There are no arcs, no growth, no changes. It’s a series of introductions for one vile character after the other and most conflict stems from improbable coincidence, which is the crutch of lazy writers. The grandmother molests Chizuru in the bath cliché instead of another girl from the harem – that’s different, I suppose (end my suffering). This is the sort of anime to go for four seasons of filler with a meaningless ending.

Whether you are male or female, adult or teenager, please do not follow anything that Rent-a-Girlfriend is trying to teach. Don’t debase yourself like this guy – for anyone – and don’t manipulate people as she does. Don’t waste your time with this. Rent-a-Girlfriend doesn’t even have the decency to be entertaining trash. Kazuya should have gone to visit Doctor Eve in the next review…

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Rent-a-Girlfriend isn’t just full of bad advice and behaviour that no one should emulate – it isn’t even funny.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Atrocious PlotInduces StupidityNot FunnyRepetitiveRubbish Major Characters

Sailor Moon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon

 

Related: Sailor Moon R, Sailor Moon S, Sailor Moon SuperS, Sailor Moon Sailor Stars (seasons 2-5 – included in review)

Sailor Moon Crystal (remake – review further down)

Similar: Cardcaptors

Little Witch Academia

Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Romance

Length: 200 episodes (5 seasons) & 3 movies

 

Positives:

  • Villains are on theme
  • Knows its target audience
  • Crystal: less filler

Negatives:

  • Several minutes of repeated animation each episode
  • Original Japanese and first dub aren’t good
  • Villain of the week structure throughout
  • Chibiusa
  • Crystal: adopts the manga’s shortcomings

(Request an anime for review here.)

My interest in revisiting Sailor Moon piqued with all that I had heard about the edits and censorship of the original dub. I had seen a fair amount of scattered episodes as part of the morning cartoon block for the “big three” – the original big three of Pokémon, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon.

What was quite few years ago now, I tried the Japanese version to see it unaltered but I couldn’t make it more than two or three episode before I had to stop. The acting was bad and the audio quality was so tinny that it was an uncomfortable experience. Usagi in particular was a cheese grater on my eardrums. With an intolerable original track and a censored dub, that seemed it. However, Viz Media swooped in, snatched the English rights to the franchise, and re-dubbed the whole thing, including the movies, with higher fidelity sound effects as well. Add in the remastered visuals and this is a worthwhile revival. Viz gave Sailor Moon the Funimation One Piece treatment, which I’m sure is a delight to fans.

Before I dove into the remaster, I tried the Japanese to be sure – yep, still bad – and watched about a season’s worth in episodes of the old dub to establish a baseline for the remaster. I’ll talk about the old version first.

Wait – the premise! I forget that no matter how popular a series, someone will know nothing about it. Sailor Moon follows crybaby middle schooler Usagi (called Serena in the old dub) who receives the power to transform into the titular magical girl. Four other Sailor Guardians soon join her fight against evil creatures (more guardians join in later seasons) – the smart Ami as Sailor Mercury, the popular Minako as Sailor Venus, the disciplined Rei as Sailor Mars, and the strong Makoto as Sailor Jupiter. The two cats Luna and Artemis guide the girls in their missions. All of the girls – and many villains – have different names in the old dub for marketability reasons, which are usually similar to the original (e.g. Rei = Raye, Ami = Amy).

If you were to watch the old dub without knowing it was censored, you wouldn’t notice much wrong. This isn’t like One Piece, where it’s obvious that that pirate is supposed to have a gun to someone’s head, not…whatever that is. The Sailor Moon edits are mainly in dialogue, which is easy to blend in – renaming steamed buns to donuts was a stretch though. When a male cross dresser already looks like a woman, it’s as simple as changing a few words here and there to say it was always a woman. The most infamous edit is the relationship between Sailors Uranus and Neptune, changed from a lesbian couple to cousins. Everyone has heard of this change, so when watching the remaster, I was most curious to see what all the fuss was about.

What a letdown! This relationship is so tame that most kids would have no idea that they’re a couple. Censors overacted over nothing. Not to mention they are some of the least interesting characters in the series.

The only thing I like about the old dub was making Luna a bossy older woman like a British governess, reminding me of Professor McGonagall, which is always a good thing. Alas, it is not true to the source material, so it must go.

Enough of the old; let’s begin on the new.

Sailor Moon uses a villain of the week structure for 95% of its 200 episodes. The henchmen descend upon Earth like Rita’s cronies from Power Rangers, each tapping into a vice, theme, or activity often associated with girls. It was a good idea to make the subjects relevant to the target shoujo audience. Usagi and her friends care about jewellery, dating, friends, exams (begrudgingly), dancing, clothes, marriage, fitness, and so on, and so does the shoujo audience. Also, notice how they make the characters seem more mature by giving them activities and interests for girls a few years older than 14. This plays to a girl’s fantasy of looking up one age group. A villain’s plot will generally involve corrupting the good quality of a person and turning it against the girls. For example, a tennis student becomes hyper-competitive to the point of destruction. This is a good angle to take rather than summoning some monster to fight each episode. It feels more relevant. Sailor Moon R does away with this until the variations return in later seasons.

The main Sailor Moon S villain is hilarious. Mad scientist over the top but also has to do regular things like shop, but stays in mad scientist character. Direct quote, “That took longer than I thought. So hard to find a good gluten free snack these days.”

One early plan involves stealing people’s love (a strange, human concept) by hosting a late night radio show where women send in secret confession love letters, in return for a corsage that drains the energy and love of the woman who wears it. Having some evil handsome villain reading saucy letter on air is so corny. Quite nostalgically charming. However, there is only so far this format can get you and let me tell you, it grows tired well before the first season is over at episode 46.

Much of season one goes something like this: introduce theme, escalation, girls transform, Usagi throws tiara, and win. Oh, let’s not forget the useless Tuxedo Mask who shows up to spout some platitude before he buggers off. That meme of “My work here is done!” “…But you didn’t do anything,” is too accurate.

Is season two any different? Well, the Guardians do receive a new attack each, which they will use every episode right after they transform. Several minutes of each episode is repeated animation sequences: transformations, catch phrases, and special attacks. The more Guardians that join the series, the more time we lose to these animation sequences. Nice animation, sure, but it’s the same thing over…and over…and over…and over.

Sailor Moon only deviates from the formula for the first few and last few episodes of each season, where the entire plot occurs. The final season, Sailor Stars, does have a little more going on than the others. Not much more. One thing to note is that the finales are largely the same. A cataclysmic phenomenon will blanket the world (a.k.a. wherever the girls live) and all seems lost until Sailor Moon uses a super move to reverse the effects. Repetition is the name of Sailor Moon’s game. Each season may introduce new Guardians and new villains, but like the animation, there are levels of recycling here that no environmentalist could hope to compete with.

So, do I recommend Sailor Moon? It is dated in many ways by today’s standards. There is the animation, of course, and the formula, but then we have the power progression, which consists of being handed new powers without effort, and the character work. Take Usagi and Mamoru’s (Tuxedo Mask) relationship. This romance spans almost the entire 200-episode runtime, yet jack all happens. The relationship only exists because the story tells us they’re destined to be together. Creepy age gap aside (excused by the whole destiny lark), nothing about Usagi would recommend her to this guy. Meanwhile, he has the personality of dead wood.

I had hoped that the introduction of Chibiusa (Usagi’s time travelling future daughter) would mature Usagi, that realising she has the same maturity as an infant makes her grow up. Alas, this would deviate too much from the formula.

As for the rest of the Guardians, most viewers would expect more depth from the full cast. They are better than any run-of-the-mill high school anime cast found today at least. Sailor Jupiter is my favourite of the group, as she is the most well rounded in terms of humour vs. seriousness, contributes her part without overshadowing others, has brains unlike Usagi, and I like her personality. They aren’t bad characters. However, the rigid formula for each episode means that we can never truly explore these people because the villain of the week has to show up at this point, everyone has to transform at that time, and all must go back to normal before the credits roll.

Classic Sailor Moon is best when seen in the context of its release – a girls’ cartoon meant for one episode each morning. The repetitive nature wouldn’t feel so bad there. To watch it today, in the binge sphere? Not a chance. Only powerful nostalgia can tempt viewers into these 200 episodes.

Sailor Moon Crystal

Sailor Moon Crystal is the recent remake of the franchise, promising to stick close to the source manga. This has resulted in a near polar opposite adaptation of Sailor Moon that is possible while remaining recognisable. The ~40-episode seasons are now 13 episodes each (fourth season will be two movies) as all filler falls to the wayside.

For those wanting a better main plot – the Usagi and Mamoru thread – without padding, then Crystal is better. However, the manga, and therefore this adaptation, do a poor job with the supporting cast. The old anime filled its seasons between openers and finales with standalone stories often focused on a side character. One episode might show us one of Jupiter’s hobbies (the episode’s villain relates to this hobby) and in the process, develop her further. Next episode, we’ll see what Venus is up to with a guy she crushes on (99% chance he’s a villain in disguise). These episodes improved on weak parts of the manga despite being formulaic and non-canon. By returning to the original blueprint, Crystal loses a quality of the original in exchange for a faster pace and more central focus.

The other notable change when staying truer to the manga is the art. Crystal, in terms of design, is closer to the original art except with a new paint job. It does not look good. I don’t know if it’s just me, but Usagi’s tiny mouth with fat lips (relative to the size of her mouth) and giant eyes creeps me out. The director also loves close ups of her face, making me recoil each time. Then we have the shading. If it looks like someone did it in MS Paint for a DeviantArt OC, then please don’t use it. There is also the general lack of cinematography. Season 1 doesn’t feel storyboarded, as if they went from one shot to the next without planning. And let’s not forget the crime greater than anything a Sailor Moon villain could have dreamed of! The CG transformation sequences. How did anybody look at those rubber puppets pirouetting on screen and say, “Ship it!” without a hint of irony? Furthermore, these sequences see almost as much use per episode as in the original, so I must ask, why not dedicate the appropriate resources?

Crystal’s art does improve in time with a big leap forward for the third season. Gone is Usagi’s devil mouth. Gone is the MS Paint highlighting. And gone are the CG transformations. Crystal should have looked like this from the start. Many manga styles simply don’t translate well to animation.

If I were to pick just one adaptation to watch, I would pick neither – one is too long and repetitive, the other is quite an eyesore, and neither has anything I consider brilliant. But if you twisted my arm and I had to watch one, it would be Sailor Moon Crystal. Brevity makes all of the difference. Or I would watch just one season of the original – Sailor Moon S, most likely. I find them to be overall around the same quality.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For young girls and nostalgia. You need something as strong as nostalgia to draw you into Sailor Moon in this era or you can recommend Sailor Moon Crystal to young girls (they won’t care about the art issues).

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Repetitive

Cross Game – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Cross Game

 

Similar: Major

Ace of Diamond

Big Windup

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Sports

Length: 50 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Scoundrel protagonist
  • Adorable main couple
  • More heart and story outside of the baseball

Negatives:

  • Monkey ears
  • Not much baseball for a baseball anime

(Request an anime for review here.)

Cross Game is a story about two families connected by business, baseball, and tragedy. Ko is son to the owner of the local sports shop and Wakaba is daughter to the owner of the batting centre. These two are as close as kittens wrapped in the same blanket. They even share a birthday. An accident sadly takes Wakaba from this world, shattering the lives of both families and many more in the tightknit community. Wakaba’s younger sister, Aoba, who was always jealous of the close bond between those two, starts to befriend him in later years as he looks to honour his friend’s memory.

Cross Game’s first impression is that of an anime for kids with those character designs and bright colours, but with the death of Wakaba in the first episode, it tells viewers that it’s being serious for a kids’ anime. I appreciate that it doesn’t talk down to the audience. It handles death with an honest reality. From there, Ko has to move on and grow up.

Characters are one of Cross Game’s strengths. I love how Ko is such a scoundrel. At one point, he pretends to be interested in forming a baseball team at his school, which he succeeds with, but it was all a ploy to have the team buy equipment from his family’s store. Then he bails on the team. However, when confronted by bullies, he has to divert and hide in the team again for protection. Awful at the game though. He’s a good character. I like the relationship between him and Aoba, keeping each other in check and making for believable kids.

The general plot jumps back and forth between the high school and childhood years. Emphasis here is more on the characters rather than the baseball, opposite to the likes of Ace of Diamond. Matches don’t drag into dozen-episode epics. So if you’re here for the baseball, Cross Game isn’t the best choice. Not bad baseball, by any means, just not much of it.

One notable flaw of Cross Game for an older audience is its predictability – not in a “the butler did it” sense, but if you ask, “What’s the most obvious thing to happen next?” you will answer correctly nine times out of ten.

This is a simple anime, good for those that want something with drama, but whoa, not too much. Some baseball as well – easy there, not too much. Perhaps this game plan of playing it so safe prevented it from reaching greater heights.

Art – Medium

The style suits the younger slant of Cross Game and it’s a unique look. However! Those monkey ears. On everyone. God damn. I don’t blame the anime artists. I blame the manga artist, who – I’d wager – didn’t know how to draw ears, let alone differentiate them in profile and portrait.

Sound – Medium

Acting is good (except from the cat, but bad animal acting in Japanese is never a surprise) and the music is that fun kids’ fare.

Story – Medium

A kid swears to become an excellent baseball player to honour his lost childhood friend. Cross Game is for kids and as such hasn’t the most complex story, but it is solid without glaring faults.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For kids. To adults, Cross Game and its predictability may not have much appeal unless you can relate on a personal level. You must tolerate monkey ears.

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

 

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai?: Tensai-tachi no Renai Zunousen

 

Related: Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 1

Similar: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Ouran High School Host Club

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Even better than season 1
  • Perfect match of humour, character, and teenage romance
  • New characters are a great addition
  • Another brilliant OP

Negatives:

  • Where is season 3?

(Request an anime for review here.)

Kaguya-sama: Love is War returns for its second season. We get to hang out with one of the most delightful casts of high school characters for another 12 episodes! A student council election, a sports festival, stargazing, and shopping trips are but a few of the adventures Miyuki and Kaguya will go on in their mission to break the other into a confession of love.

What an excellent follow up to the introductory season. Comedy is the most difficult genre to review. Explaining the joke is the death of comedy. There are only so many ways I can say, “It’s hilarious,” (or “It’s just not funny,” for a bad comedy). However, I can pinpoint why this anime comedy hit the mark with me, as a few have done in the past.

The secret is in the characters more than the humour.

I’m sure if you thought for a moment, you would recall several anime/films/TV shows that made you laugh at the time, yet didn’t stick with you. Hell, you may remember laughing but not what made you laugh.

For me, what makes a comedy have a lasting impression is my liking of the characters and how well the humour uses them to craft and deliver jokes. More specifically, the humour needs to fit the characters. When Sagara blows up a classroom in Full Metal Panic because he suspects a student’s backpack is a bomb, it works because it fits his personality. It’s what he would do. And that’s hilarious. So when Miyuki and Kaguya sit down to play the game of life – as created by Fujiwara – with the rest of the student council, it makes sense that Kaguya would have a mental breakdown after Miyuki draws the marriage card, which ties him to Fujiwara. It’s only a game. Not to Kaguya though.

And that’s hilarious.

Combing complex characters with humour derived from their personalities is the magic formula to a great comedy. Certainly, you want a sharp script and perfect timing as well.

For the inverse, think about those dime-a-dozen harem comedies. Characters there have no real personality. They’re clichés of the genre. When the pervy guy cracks a pervy joke, you don’t see him making you [possibly] laugh. The cliché of his character type makes the joke. If you can transplant all humour from Harem Protagonist X to Harem Protagonists A through W, then you don’t have a real character. Just a mouthpiece for jokes. There’s a reason nobody can tells Bill Burr’s stories better than Bill Burr can. It’s all in the personality that informs the humour.

Ever notice how the anime clichés like the tripping over, the boob grab, the punch to the face of misunderstanding, etc. is rarely funny, and yet there is the occasional instance where it kills you into breathless laughter? It’s the same joke, but that slight shift in shaping it to fit the characters – fit the scene – makes all the difference. Actual thought went into the joke and it wasn’t included simply because it’s an anime and all anime must have these same five jokes. Konosuba is a good case of taking the typical and making it novel.

A simple example that encapsulates all of what I’m saying is in the first episode’s coffee scene of Love is War 2. Kaguya, with the help of her faithful assistant, gives Miyuki decaffeinated coffee to have him fall asleep. He’s that sleep deprived from all his work as the best student and council president that he falls asleep instantly without his coffee on the dot. Great moment. Replace him with any other character in the show for this situation and the joke is no longer funny – it’s “lol random”. When his head falls onto her shoulder, blushing her into paralysis and halting her plan, the joke works because it’s Kaguya. Swap her with Fujiwara and you’d be left asking, “Where did that come from?” instead of laughing.

I hope I have managed to convey why I find certain comedies better than others.

Beyond the humour, Love is War is a triumph in visual creativity and acting. Too many high school comedies are flatly shot with standard high school environments and framing, as if generated by AI. Love is War is so much fun to watch. A delight to listen to as well. The dynamic range of these actors, able to switch from friendly to arctic in one sentence is perfect. And of course, I cannot forget to mention the inclusion of another great OP, which in itself is a mini episode.

I said in my review for season 1 that Love is War needed just a little more to elevate itself to the ranks of all-time anime comedy greats. It has succeeded.

Overall Quality – Very High

Recommendation: Watch it. Kaguya-sama: Love is War only got better with season 2 and has established itself as an all-time great of anime comedy.

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

 

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

Positive:

CharmGreat OP or ED SequenceHilariousStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead CharactersStrong Support Characters

Negative: None

Bang Dream / IDOLiSH7 / White Album 2 – Quick Review

Bang Dream!

Japanese Title: Bang Dream!

Genre: Music

Length: 13 episodes

I touched on the notion of creating anime to sell idol singers in Fancy Lala. As with all good ideas, someone will boil it down the laziest corporate product. Enter Bang Dream.

The story centres on Kasumi and her goal to start a band in high school. Her journey will require making friends, learning music, and putting on a show.

Bang Dream encapsulates everything that keeps me away from music anime. The predictability of the cast of characters coupled with the barely-there conflict and music indistinguishable from your average J-pop band has no appeal to me. This story and its characters is as paint-by-numbers as you can imagine. Kasumi is so “genki” to forbid you from disliking her an iota. The cat ears hair is the least sickly sweet thing about her. No one in this series has any real problems, for conflict may alienate a potential customer from buying the CDs, figures, and games. The voice actors also perform in live concerts.

The intent of Bang Dream is clearly to sell merchandise. This is a 13-episode ad. And there are more seasons.

Watching Kasumi is exhausting with her impossibly upbeat personality and squeaky lines about wanting to become a pop star. The marketing department is so desperate to have you fall in love with her that they make her brainless. She has this “Disney eyed” moment when she discovers that strumming a guitar produces sound. Furthermore, she goes from mind blown that guitars make music to smash hit professional concert in the span of a year? I mean, of course she does. The figurines and miniskirts (the camera is obsessed with the swish of skirts) are pouring out of factories by the hour. Can’t allow something as trivial as plotting and development to get in the way of merchandise.

I can imagine that if you like the music, then none of this bothers you. Fans probably know this is an ad – they just like seeing the characters on screen and realised through animation. I don’t fit in that group, so this is far from what I’m after.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For fans of the band only.

*     *     *     *     *

IDOLiSH7

Japanese Title: IDOLiSH7

Genre: Music

Length: 17 episodes

Similar to Bang Dream, the purpose of Idolish7 is to sell music and the rhythm game from whence it came. The game was first with a manga series commissioned shortly after, followed by more manga, another game, and the anime a few years later, which will be our subject today.

At first impression, Idolish7 seems to be like Bang Dream, a soulless corporate product to flog more merch across the waiting palms of fan girls. Early episodes introduce us to the seven guys of the group and their new young manager, Tsumugi, on her first managerial assignment. The first point of conflict is that four of them must go. This is an audition for a three-man group, like that of their rival company. However, Tsumugi convinces the president of the agency (and her father) that the group works best as a seven-man unit because of the power of friendship, teamwork, and all that jazz pop. With this resolved, I assume that’s as complex a plot that we are going to get. A concert for a theatre of thousands is on the cards.

To my surprise, their first concert is a commercial failure. You can count the members of the audience on two hands. Alright, no instant success. That’s good. Tsumugi’s optimism and go-getter personality is also a plus (she would become my favourite character – great design too).

Unlike Bang Dream dealing with amateurs, these guys are already professional – they can sing and dance, no problem – so the writer can’t rely on the usual plot of learning the skill with the goal of winning in the final showdown. Instead, focus shifts to the challenges of the idol industry and its crushing competitiveness. These are handsome guys (the anime makes no secret of it) with several talents. It should be a breeze. But in the idol industry, nothing is good enough.

These guys have to start by handing out flyers, hand selling music, and just hitting the streets to entice potential fans. We learn about the guys a little, each one coded by hair colour, of course. The series is quite decent.

Then around the halfway point, the story ups the tempo. We have drama – both internal from the pressure to succeed and external from rival group Trigger – meltdowns, dark pasts, and even plagiarism. The cylinders are firing! It’s no Beck, but it’s a ton better than Bang Dream. The plagiarism plot is solid.

In case you’re wondering, the group Trigger had no association with Studio Trigger. That was until Studio Trigger made a music video for Trigger in collaboration with Bandai Namco. I wonder if that was the writer’s intention all along. Hmm…excuse me while I name a character Maaya Sakamoto in my very real anime.

If only Studio Trigger animated the whole series. And here we come to the negatives, of which there are two notable ones. The first is the inconsistent visual quality. We have unrefined edges, such as the crowds repeating one stiff motion during performances, and some truly lousy CG animation for the guys when they dance. I can’t decide which is worse: the constant flipping between 2D (close ups) and CG (sweeping long shots) or the fact that they don’t look like the same people. The character models aren’t of the highest quality. The rigging is certainly not up to par. When they raise their arms in the air, as they often do for a routine, one can’t help but notice the lack of armpits. It’s a smooth pack of flesh from pectoral to lateral muscle. So distracting.

The other issue is the oversized cast. This first season is 17 episodes, yet has introduced the cast of a 52-episode anime. Seven guys for Idolish7, three for Trigger, other idol groups, their managers, production staff, key fans, and more populate this world. It’s too much. This is an unfortunate side effect of the source material, where I’m sure the longer game works better with the larger cast. If I were to edit this, as an original anime, I would cut the main group to four members. Some of these guys become lost in the crowd and could do with merging personalities. Why four? One of Trigger’s three members is brother to one from Idolish7. I would create a point of conflict centred on the Idolish7 brother’s insecurity in the shadow of his brother. Are the other three carrying him? If Trigger only has three, then is he of any use as the “fourth wheel” on Idolish4? The growth would come from the realisation that they can do more as four, which Trigger can’t compete with.

Anyways, the cast is too big. I don’t remember much about most of these characters, though to a fan of the franchise, it’s probably common to know everything about them, right down to their shoe size.

If I were a fan of the game or other material, I would be happy with this. I’d want more, of course, as most fans do, but this wouldn’t give me the impression that the company is just taking advantage of me to swipe a quick buck.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For J-pop fans. Even if you aren’t a fan of the group, there is enough of a story and plot here to interest the J-pop crowd in general.

*     *     *     *     *

White Album 2

Japanese Title: White Album 2

Genre: Drama Music Romance

Length: 13 episodes

Now for a different type of music anime, we have the music drama, where music is the centrepiece but drama is the story. In White Album 2, we follow Kitahara on his mission to revive the ailing music club ahead of the school festival. He hears an angelic voice coming from the school roof, finding it belongs to the kind Setsuna. Along with her and the aloof Touma, a piano prodigy that keeps everyone at room’s length, the trio works hard to put on a good show at the festival. Along the way, Kitahara needs to learn that it takes dedication and hard work – something Touma has no shortage of – to master the language of music, while he will teach Touma that it’s worth having friends, that it’s worth letting people in. Setsuna will also need to emerge from her shell and show her true self as more than just the popular girl outlined by everyone in school.

On a surface level, the story is about practicing music and going about the anime school life. However, underlying these fun youthful months is a brewing love triangle of melodrama. By being the one to crack their emotional armours, Kitahara draws the attention and feelings of both girls and neither is sure what the other wants him too or if he likes them, for that matter.

Quick aside. This isn’t a sequel despite the 2 in the title. It’s merely set in the same world as White Album and covers some of its songs. To confuse matters further, should you be interested in the source material, White Album 2 is its own trilogy of visual novels (if the character designs didn’t it away). No, there is no reference to The Beatles’ White Album, which is surprising (let me know, should this not be the case).

Music is only a focus of White Album for the first half of the series until the big performance at the school festival, marking the midpoint rather than the finale, as one would expect. A definite coupling occurs as well around this time, which I didn’t expect either. In a scenario like this this, especially one adapted from a multi-choice visual novel, you predict it to leave things vague as to not upset anyone in the “waifu wars” or to make the “one true pairing” clear from the start to commit to in act three. So when there’s a commitment halfway, my drama sensors tingle and ask, “How is this all going to go wrong?” The protagonist does look similar to the guy from School Days

White Album proceeds down an interesting road by rewinding time and showing us the perspective of the “other girl”, as if this were a visual novel with two equally valid romantic candidates. Quite often in romance VNs, once the player commits to the one love interest, the rest of the prospects suddenly act as though there was never anything between the MC and them. The story pretends that the choice made by the player was the plan all along. There was never any doubt of this coupling. So it’s interesting to see this second perspective and it extracts sorrow for the other girl. Her emotions tug at my heartstrings.

It’s a shame they choked on the final verse. After all this building, all this emotional turmoil, all this drama, the best this story can deliver is an unsatisfactory ending without commitment to one direction and it makes all three characters look like bad people. Flawed characters are good, mistakes are good, but you need to nail that high note if you want to audience to walk away a worthwhile impression. I know the story continues in the next visual novel, yet this would still be a bad ending to the first book of a trilogy.

It wasn’t half-bad until then.

Do I recommend it? The music is nice and most to my taste of the three anime featured here. The drama, however, is heavy on the melodrama side of the scale and thus is likely to depress or tire those not into all the crying, dramatic hugs, and Dutch angles.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For melodrama fans only.

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p.s. These “Quick Reviews” are becoming far from quick.