Tag Archives: School Life

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

Silver Spoon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Gin no Saji

 

Similar: Barakamon

Moyashimon

Space Brothers

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Knowledgeable about animal husbandry & agriculture
  • Quite fun

Negatives:

  • Plays it too safe
  • Overblown “City boy” reactions

(Request an anime for review here.)

Silver Spoon comes from Hiromu Arakawa, the mind behind Fullmetal Alchemist. While this shares a theme or two with her more famous work, you are in for a much easier time here.

Hachiken flees to a rural school to escape the stress of the city, thinking rural life will be easy. Babysit a few animals, water a few plants – how hard can it be? This hard working student expects to breeze through classes against these country bumpkins. He’s in for a shock when he learns how they really make the sausage and the backbreaking labour that goes into agriculture. He can barely compete with the country kids who grew up around this. Trying not to vomit during the lecture on the biology of egg laying is the least of his trials ahead.

Silver Spoon’s primary focus is to teach about farm life, agriculture, and animal husbandry. The author grew up on a farm and her passion for country life is clear. And in this respect, Silver Spoon is a success. If you are green to the field, you will learn plenty about where your food comes from, including some of the more disgusting details (though it doesn’t go full slaughterhouse).

Hachiken has to learn to skin a deer before they eat it. The school also makes him raise a piglet to maturity for later consumption. Calls him Pork Bowl. I enjoy the educational side of the anime. It’s engaging, doesn’t preach, and is honest. This isn’t an anime for those who can’t handle animal slaughter, even in an animated form.

The less engaging side is the story and the characters. The characters’ country antics are decently fun, but there is nothing special here. The humour also relies too much on Hachiken’s fish out of water experience. Everything is exaggerated with how incompetant he is at this. After a few instances, you just want to say, “Okay, we get it. Move on.” Perhaps this is where the author’s lack of city life experience bleeds through? Who knows.

The character relationships lack drama. By that, I don’t mean we need a Shou Tucker storyline in Silver Spoon. We do need, however, conflicts between the kids (and their teachers) that challenge who they are and ultimately grow them into stronger people. Almost all challenge and conflict in this story comes from the school and farm work. Audiences tend to remember characters for those great character moments, where we see them struggle, see them fail, and see them shine. Without these moments, nothing makes this particular character stick to the story. Let’s use a simple example. Think of a generic action film, a “bang bang, shooty shoot” type. Could you replace the protagonist with another protagonist, changing little in the process? If so, then the character doesn’t matter, no matter how good the action is.

Hachiken and company aren’t quite that replaceable, of course. However, they aren’t memorable. They serve their function to carry you through the episodes and education segments. You’ll find them pleasant people for a few hours, part on good terms, and not think of them again.

Barakamon is an example of doing the simple slice of life story with memorable characters. Even though that anime has less physical challenges, the conflict is greater because of the personality clashes. Those characters are so full of life that they stick with you.

Silver Spoon plays it too safe. You should predict the story and characters arcs from the outset, something one cannot say about Fullmetal Alchemist. The association with the author’s pedigree will likely set expectations too high here. This is a good anime to watch if you need a break from the heavy stuff.

Art – Medium

The art is average in a positive way. It has a clean consistency and enough animation to avoid becoming a slideshow.

Sound – Medium

The acting is quite good, though I can’t say the same for the music.

Story – Medium

A city boy must hold his lunch as he learns of agriculture and animal husbandry in the country. A typical and predictable story carries the interesting and detailed knowledge of these professions and country life.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Silver Spoon is quite fun despite the simplistic story, though it may not be enough to keep your attention to the end. You will learn more than you may every want to know about farming and animals though.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Hanebado – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hanebado

 

Similar: Haikyu!!

Free! Iwatobi Swim Club

Stars Align

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Sports

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The badminton is great

Negatives:

  • What is with the protagonist?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • Split personality storytelling
  • Worst parent in anime

(Request an anime for review here.)

What a rollercoaster of opinion Hanebado is for me! This was a request from a dear reader for an anime I hadn’t heard of (though did see a clip of the badminton). When I looked it up to see what it was about, I noted the poor ratings. Didn’t think anything of them at the time. We fast-forward to this week, where I am supposed to review Yowamushi Pedal (finished watching it over a month ago) and am watching Hanebado for the future. Hanebado turns out to be such a baffling anime that I must talk of it immediately.

The story is about high school girl Ayano who reluctantly joins the badminton team. This prodigy had stayed away from the game for a while after her mother, a 10-time badminton champion, abandoned her.

Or!

The story is about Nagisa, captain of a high school badminton team, who hasn’t gotten over a 0-21 loss at the hands of prodigy Ayano last Nationals. She takes out her frustrations on members of the team. One day, an Olympic player joins as their coach and he recruits Ayano to the team with sights on Nationals.

I’ll get to the reason for these two versions of the story in a moment. I want to start positive with my first impressions.

Hanebado opens on the Nationals match between Nagisa and Ayano on the verge of a 0-21 finish (perfect game). The animation is fluid, the choreography is tight, and sound design is flawless. Everything about this scene draws you into the sport. If you’ve ever played badminton, you’ll know the feel of flicking the racquet, that ping of resistance when the shuttlecock hits the strings, and the swiftness of your shot into the opponent’s court. Hanebado captures this.

With such a good first impression, those poor ratings return to mind. What could possibly go so wrong?

The first negative, though not a critical one, is indecisiveness on the protagonist. This relates to my two story angles above. It starts by presenting Nagisa as protagonist, but then from episode four, Nagisa is barely in it and Ayano takes the position. It switches again later. Whoever wrote this (or adapted it, if different from the manga), could not decide on a clear direction. We even see a smaller version of this problem later, where some guy we barely know form the boys’ badminton team gets a dedicated episode. If you only watch this one episode, you would be excused for thinking him protagonist. It’s a mess.

Not a deal breaker though.

Early episodes are standard sports anime fair. You meet the team, there’s a bit of comedy, a bit of personality, ambitious speeches, the shy one, the mean one, and the cocky one. The usual. Then it gets stuck into the matches and we see Ayano’s competitive side. During a serious game, this timid girl turns into a coldblooded killer of badminton. She even has the dead anime eyes when “in the zone”. It’s cheesy as hell. More than this, her whole personality changes into a bitch. She becomes so nasty to everyone that no sane person would want to associate with her again. When a friend wishes her good luck, she insults her for it. She even badmouths a teammate for trying hard to win.

What a failure at portraying a “tough” character. She has split personality disorder, surely, but the writer doesn’t treat it as such. Barely anyone even comments on how nasty she is. I cannot emphasise enough how disparate her two versions are, as if replaced by a different character. And if I haven’t made it clear yet, she is trash writing. This also ties back to the protagonist confusion, as when Ayano is “in the zone” she comes across as the antagonist!

The justification for her personality is from past trauma. This is where I introduce you to an even worse character – the mother. Let me give you the 411, as they say, on this woman. She abandons her daughter after she loses a match while sick (the opponent pinned her down and coughed on her because it wouldn’t be fair if only one person was sick). And her justification for this? It’s for Ayano’s good, that it would make her a better player. Which parenting school did she go to? Abandon your kid for years out of some sense that it will be good for her? Ayano spots her years later in a magazine alongside a Danish girl, a badminton champion and her adopted daughter. Replaced… Harsh.

It would be one thing if she were a neglectful parent antagonist to Ayano’s arc. However, Hanebado doesn’t see her that way. When she comes back to Japan, there’s barely a criticism against her. The grandparents on the father’s side don’t seem to care whatsoever for abandoning her infant. Their response is akin to having missed her daughter’s school play. “Oh that’s too bad. Maybe next time.”

As for Ayano’s response, she’s mad at her mother at first, but the final episode cops out and ends with, “Eh, I’m over it.” What just happened?

Usually when a story has a poor writing decision, I can see what the author was trying for. The result may not have worked, but the idea makes sense. In Hanebado, I don’t know what the author was thinking. Either it doesn’t make sense, like I have perceived it, or the author somehow thinks that the mother’s parenting is good and the split personality behaviour is praiseworthy.

When I say author, I want to be clear that I don’t know if it’s this way in the manga. I’m questioning whoever is responsible for putting it on screen.

It’s a shame that the characters and story have such problems, as the badminton itself is great. I love the matches. The animation, the cinematography, and the sound design – all fantastic. Sadly, there isn’t much outside of that to praise.

Art – High

Easily the best aspect of Hanebado, the art is clean, the animation fluid, and the opening sequence is beautiful. Such a waste on this story. I like the practical character designs that make sense in badminton, except for the pink haired girl (should have tied her hair up during the game).

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine in either Japanese or English and the casting is similar. The music is solid as well. Fine all around here.

Story – Very Low

A girl reluctantly joins the badminton team after bad memories of her mother kept her away from the game. Hanebado starts as a standard sports anime before it takes a turn for the stupid with baffling character choices and drama.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you want to see some well-animated badminton, stay away from Hanebado. I still don’t understand the story choices.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: 

Induces StupidityRubbish Major Characters

Beastars – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Similar: Land of the Lustrous

Aggretsuko

Shiki

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • Needs more world building

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – High

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

Sound – High

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

Story – High

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

Overall Quality – High

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

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

Positive:

Great OP or ED SequenceStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None

Cromartie High School – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sakigake!! Cromartie Koukou

 

Similar: School Rumble

Pop Team Epic

Detroit Metal City

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy

Length: 26 episodes (half-length)

 

Positives:

  • Surprisingly funny
  • Consistent in humour and style

Negatives:

  • Dirt cheap visuals

(Request an anime for review here.)

When I first start Cromartie High School, I think it will end up as a “Quick Review” alongside several other requested comedies. However, I watch a few episodes (they are half-length) and then find myself wanting more the next day. And more the day after that. Before I know it, I have watched the series in full and enjoyed myself throughout.

Cromartie High School is about an eclectic group of high schoolers doing seemingly ordinary high school things in the most unordinary ways. I have never meant eclectic more than here. The first episode introduces a few characters, including a guy who looks like Freddie Mercury that they decide to call Freddie. It’s Freddie Mercury, okay – clearly him! He never says a word, though he can sing like a superstar. He also rides to school on a horse. Why? He’ll never tell. There’s a robot (often mistaken for a vending machine), a gorilla, and even the yakuza as part of the class.

One episode about a rival gang wanting to get the leader of the Cromartie gang has them spooked when they meet the increasingly weird characters in attendance at Cromartie High School. Aliens pay a visit.

The humour in Cromartie takes the absurd and places it in the normal. The gorilla, for instance, is like an ordinary student, except, you know, a gorilla. The running joke with his is everyone trying to determine if he is actually a student. One gang leader, despite his outward tough guy persona, just wants to be a great comedian. He internal monologues everything as a comedian critiquing other people’s comedy. The running joke with him is how he takes everything as an attempt at comedy. Absurd meets ordinary.

Consistency of humour and style makes Cromartie High School a success for me. It isn’t a random collection of unrelated jokes, jumping from one wacky scenario to another wacky scenario from a different anime. The consistency, the running jokes, allows the humour to build over time. The escalation makes me enjoy it more the later we get into the series.

One character I particularly like is the gangster who gets motion sick easily, but can’t let anyone know lest it ruin his image as the toughest guy around. He can’t open his mouth or he will surely vomit, so we hear his thoughts about how he does all in his power to keep it down. He’s willing to help hijackers if it means avoiding a plane trip. His classmates throw him a birthday party on a boat. He can’t ever voice his objections, of course, so he must endure as things only get worse. It’s great!

The cast is great in general. I love how none of them look like high school students whatsoever. I laughed hardest when they see a new guy and are like, “What’s he doing here? He must be 30!” Bruv, he looks the same age as you lot!

Humour is highly subjective, so we could have one person look at this and say, “I don’t get it. This just isn’t funny. Too random.” While another could say, “Funniest shit I’ve ever seen!” For me, it’s not Fumoffu or Nozaki levels of funny, but it is humorous enough and consistent to see me through to the end. The half-length episodes are a plus in avoiding drag.

On another note, I can imagine the art will put off some people. There is no getting around it – Cromartie High School looks like crap. There is barely any animation and they reuse stills. Even still frames are minimal in quality. Wouldn’t surprise me to hear the art team consisted of one artist for drawing, animation, and colouring. The only nice thing to say about the art is the occasional visual gag.

Cromartie High School is a niche comedy on a niche budget.

Art – Very Low

This doesn’t look good with barely any animation, repeated stills, and shoddy line work. Some visual humour is nice, but there isn’t much.

Sound – Medium

The voice acting, whether in English or Japanese, is surprisingly good when compared alongside the art. Music is weak.

Story – Medium

An eclectic group of high school students get up to who knows what. With consistent humour that builds over short stories in a variety of scenarios, Cromartie High School is an enjoyable romp of older anime comedy.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime comedy fans. One episode probably isn’t enough to get a feel for Cromartie High School. Give it a few. Besides, they’re short.

(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:

Ugly Artistic Design

ef – A Tale of Memories – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ef – A Tale of Memories.

 

Related: ef: A Tale of Melodies (sequel)

Similar: Rumbling Hearts

Sola

Bakemonogatari

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

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

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Very Low

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

Sound – Low

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

Story – Low

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

Overall Quality – Low

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

(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: 

Awful DialogueNo Development