Tag Archives: School Life

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

School Rumble – Anime Review

Japanese Title: School Rumble

 

Related: School Rumble 2nd Semester (included in review)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Toradora!

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny.
  • Kenji Harima.
  • Quick pace.

Negatives:

  • Plot goes nowhere.
  • Low-end art.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When School Rumble introduces its main girl with the caption “Kinda stupid,” I know I am in for a good time. School Rumble hits with the jokes hard and fast, never slowing down to let us breathe, even to the detriment of its plot.

We follow the kinda stupid Tenma in her mission to confess love to Karasuma. Meanwhile, the almost as stupid delinquent-turned-supposed-softie Harima tries to complete his mission of confessing to Tenma. And then another student wants to confess to Harima, but then another guy wants to confess to her, and so on this love chain goes surround by hectic comedy.

Tenma’s introductory caption is accurate, for she truly is a ditz, which is usually not my kind of character. However, School Rumble treats her like a ditz and doesn’t allow her to get away with it – a nice change. In one dilemma, Tenma can’t exit the girls’ bathroom with Karasuma outside because if your crush sees you exit the bathroom it is embarrassing, or shameful, or something. I don’t know – this girl’s crazy!

Her target of desire, Karasuma, is similarly an inverse of the usual guy the main girl wants. He is boring. Not the ‘we tell you he’s cool to explain why the girl loves him but he’s actually boring’ kinda guy. No, Karasuma is boring by design. From his personality to his no-detail art, he is the definition of boring and treated as such. The humour surrounding Tenma’s inexplicable obsession with him is hilarious. Finally, a high school anime knows what the audience is thinking when Main Girl swears it’s True Love with Boring Guy.

The best character of all however, is Kenji Harima. Again, I am not a fan of the delinquent thug archetype due to their predictable arcs, yet with Harima and his depth of character and complexity, he’s nothing like the usual delinquent stock. The humour derived from fancying himself a sensitive guy now that he’s in love, while beating the snot out of people, works well. The episode when he becomes a Jesus/Buddha/Noah hobo with a flock of animals after he thinks he can never get Tenma gives me stitches. To cope with his unrequited love, he creates a manga about a guy and girl falling in love that look like him and Tenma, though he swears they totally aren’t the same!

His and Tenma’s schemes to show love towards their crushes are equally idiotic and hilarious. One early episode has Harima trying to tell Tenma that she’s forgotten to write her name on her test paper, which will fail her. He comes up with crazy yet clever ways of telling her without being caught by the teacher, but Tenma is so stupid that she doesn’t notice his hints. He even writes, “You forgot to write your name,” on his paper and shows it her, but she takes it as the literal answer to one of the questions… Oh boy, this is gonna be a long journey of love.

And a long journey it is, as the plot barely coughs forward after 52 episodes. To pre-empt any disappointment, let me tell you that the goal of saying ‘I love you’ to their crushes amounts to nothing. Even if the manga does give resolution somewhere in its 22 volumes, this go-nowhere plot is still a problem. “But it’s a comedy! Story doesn’t matter in comedy,” I hear you say. That is the case, sometimes, but not when the comedy presents its story so much. School Rumble keeps going back to Tenma and Harima’s story of confessing love, almost moving it forward, before resetting everything back to zero with some misunderstanding so they can play the same joke again a few episodes later. I get the impression that the writer didn’t know what to do for humour once the confessions were over, and so stayed in the ‘safe zone.’

To contrast with the similar Ouran High School Host Club, I find School Rumble has the better jokes, but am more satisfied with Ouran due to its conclusion. Nevertheless, School Rumble’s comedy is sharp enough to engage you. The quick pace of having 2-3 mini-episodes per full episode, rather than dragging one joke for 20 minutes, also helps. Though by the second season, I do get tired of episodes that focus on the confessions since it’s obvious they go nowhere.

Art – Low

School Rumble hails from the early days where computers replaced cel animation, and as such, looks serviceable, at best. One scene that stands out is when two characters are supposed to dance. One complements the other about how good a dancer she is – except they aren’t animated!

Sound – High

Energetic voice acting in English and Japanese provided by a great script of non-stop jokes.

Story – Medium

High school teens try to say, “I love you,” to their crushes, but fail amidst a whirlwind of misunderstanding, hijinks, and comedic chaos. Solid characters and excellent comedy make up for School Rumble’s go-nowhere plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school comedy fans. I give School Rumble a High rating, despite its story problems, because the humour saves it. One episode is all you need to know if School Rumble is for you. Give it a chance.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: None

Kodocha – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kodomo no Omocha TV

 

Related: Kodomo no Omocha OVA (alternate version)

Similar: Super GALS!

Gakuen Alice

Marmalade Boy

 

Watched in: Japanese & English (anime is dubbed up to ep. 51)

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 102 episodes

 

Positives:

  • So funny.
  • Understands children, girls in particular.
  • High energy.

Negatives:

  • The art is ugly, to put it nicely.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Did I really just see what I saw? Was what I saw really what I thought it was? Were my eyes playing tricks on me, my ears dancing with the devil? Is a show for little kids – an ugly show for little kids – truly this good? How?

I love Kodocha. When a dear reader requested Kodocha for review in the erstwhile era called January, I added it to my list for review, though told him that due to its length, it may take some time. What I didn’t say was that the art and premise made me, hmm, unenthusiastic (let’s leave it at that word) about watching it. A week ago, I found myself doing mundane work requiring little attention yet a lot of time, so I threw the first anime I estimated wouldn’t need much effort on my part – Kodocha. And slay me sideways if I didn’t laugh for hours on end. This anime I thought would take months of forcing myself to watch breezed by in a week, an effortless week.

Under the spotlight of Kodocha is child star Sana. Talented, successful, daughter of a famed author, popular – Sana has it all. The perfect life. Well, except for that brat Akito in her sixth grade class. Man, that Akito, he’s so mean, bullies the teacher, is rotten to the core, and stinks of cooties. Sana just wants to- to- RAAAARGH! (*Image of Sana tearing an Akito effigy in two here*) She will get that Akito back for making the teacher cry if it’s the last thing she does! But wait, could there be a reason why that brat acts out this way?

Kodocha’s heart is in the skill with which it captures children and the inner-child in us adults. These children misbehave, get up to god-knows-what, skip homework, clown around in class, – yes, even the “good” students – and cause an all-round riot. Kodocha allows them to be kids. It may sound simple, but you’d be amazed by how rare it is to find any fiction, never mind anime, that portrays children as real children. The innocent yet endearingly twisted view children have of the world is a difficult quality to distil. The comedy writes itself when you let kids run free.

However, because the team didn’t want to encourage the audience children from causing such trouble in real life, Kodocha often breaks the fourth wall to remind kids that you shouldn’t be imitating these troublemakers. The irony is hilarious.

More than just the mentality, I love the ‘kid’ moments it portrays, such as one kid accidentally calling the teacher “Mum” – been there, mate…been there. Everything from the class’s laughter to his burning embarrassment – perfect. Another joke I remember true to life was after Akito grabs Sana’s chest. “Now I’ll never be pure enough for a husband!” she cries. “Wait, he didn’t squeeze, so I’m okay!” I lost it. One girl in my primary school thought that losing your virginity meant being kissed by a boy – anywhere – so she would run terrified from any boy in class when close enough to “strike.”

After the initial Akito arc, the story goes from showbiz to classmate problems to paparazzi. The story moves at a good clip, covering a variety of scenarios for Sana and co. with the Akito romance overarching the whole. When the pace does slow for an emotional arc, the tone flows well from comedy to drama and doesn’t feel forced like many shoujo stories.

Kodocha isn’t above the shoujo tropes, such as a little girl with a crush on an adult man. Unlike the dregs of shoujo, however, this anime handles it perfectly, turning what is often an incarceration-worthy arc into one that shows true character growth, as Sana learns of the real world. The topic of adoption also receives more thought and care than given by the vast majority of anime. This dingy kids’ anime is more mature than Clannad and its ilk.

The number one shoujo trope – a recurring sequence each episode – morphs into a rap song by Sana, occasionally with backup vocals from her looney mother or caring manager. Yeah, you heard me; a little girl raps each episode as some form of pep talk. It’s corny as hell, but pluck my nose hair with tweezers if I don’t laugh every time.

Now, Kodocha has its faults. Obvious art issues aside, some episodes deliver tepid results and the boys aren’t depicted quite as well as the girls. They’re still great, but they needed to be more disgusting, in my opinion. I remember one classmate of mine used to scratch his healthy skin until it bled and scabbed over, just so he could then pick at the scab… The hell? And he wasn’t the worst. Kids will be kids…

So, here we arrive at the end and I still cannot believe I am about to give Kodocha a high rating and my warm recommendation. Am I really going to give an anime that looks this cheap a high score? Yes, I am.

Art – Very Low

Garbage. Let’s be honest – Kodocha’s art is awful from its animation to its detail. One-hundred and two episodes made on the budget for two, it seems. It at least has the energy and expressiveness to keep up with Sana’s antics.

Sound – Medium

The BGM is a tad generic and the voice work serviceable, but darn it if the enthusiasm doesn’t make you love it through all the flaws. Even the corny raps grow on you before long.

Story – High

A child star gets up to all sorts of shenanigans at school and in life with her oddity of a mother, loyal dog of a manager, and the naughty boy in class. Kodocha’s constant laughs – only interrupted by thoughtful emotion – and understanding of how children think and behave made it an easy journey to the end.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for anyone with a piece of childhood still burning in their hearts. Kodocha is too much fun to pass up. Even if you don’t want to go the distance, a dozen episodes will brighten your life.

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

Positive:

CharmHilarious

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Hyouka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hyouka

 

Similar: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Gosick

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Mystery

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant art and animation details.

Negatives:

  • So boring.
  • No obstacles to the mysteries.
  • No reason to care.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Imagine a mystery where characters sit around and talk about the mystery instead of facing obstacles in the pursuit of answers. Now imagine that halfway through this series, what little mystery there was dwindles to a mere ember dying out in Sherlock Holmes’s fireplace. There you have Hyouka.

Oreki is a high school student who doesn’t like to expend energy unless absolutely necessary. He joins the school’s Classic Literature Club thinking it will be an easy ride without energy required, but when the inquisitive Eru begins an investigation into a mystery connecting her uncle and the club, his plans of laziness vanish.

Damn Hyouka is boring. This mystery they speak of is so uninteresting. It involves old books and finding meaning behind a passage, uncovering the author, getting the facts of a past incident, etc. The answer, which I won’t give away, feels so unimportant and is so unremarkable that I would understand if you thought it was a minor detail before the real solution.

It’s the journey, not the destination, you say? Well, the journey is a chore of bland dialogue replacing actual investigation. Where Sherlock Holmes – an inspiration for Hyouka (apparently) – would hit the streets looking for clues and talking to unusual witnesses, Oreki and co. chat with a librarian and then return to the clubroom to talk about the rest of the case. Hyouka has no flair, no style – no tension. Nonsense slice of life punctuates the investigation, though has no effect on the monotony, making Hyouka even duller.

Having a light mystery can work – we see it all the time in one-shot sitcom episodes – but you must have great characters to hang out with for the duration. Such pieces are more about having a good time with interesting people than about solving some deep mystery. Oreki’s trait of energy conservation has no purpose to the story. It’s a gimmick and nothing more. When a protagonist has ‘the trait,’ it must mean something to the story at large. As an example, Holmes’s abrasiveness gives him the ability to ask insensitive but necessary questions of witnesses and suspects alike. Yet this abrasiveness also makes him difficult to work with. Oreki’s laziness doesn’t do anything because he completes his task anyway with no meaningful conflict. Remove his gimmick and nothing changes.

To worsen matters, the second half of Hyouka devolves into meaningless slice of life – the Sherlock Holmes motif in the second ED is an insult, at this point. Hyouka’s mysteries are so few, so uninteresting that they run out of steam halfway through the series.

Honestly, I have so little to say about Hyouka that this feels like a waste of a review. It never gave me a reason to care about any of its characters or mysteries. So what drew me to this in the first place? When I was in Takayama (a town close to Shirakawa-go of Higurashi fame) for a festival, I saw in the hotel’s window a poster for Hyouka’s Blu-ray, which is set in fictional Kamiyama based on Takayama. When an anime takes place in a real Japanese location, the locals of said location size the opportunity to attract fans for tourism. ‘Location pilgrimages’ are common among otaku – similar to how Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fans go on holidays to hunt filming locations. I was doing the reverse, interested in the fictional portrayal after visiting the real place. And as it turns out, the real place is far more engaging.

Art – High

The art is Hyouka’s best quality with its bright palette and great animation. The little movements in each scene are a nice touch.

Sound – Medium

Even top actors could not make this dry dialogue engaging. Characters talk a lot without saying much.

Story – Low

A lazy guy is roped into a literature club that seeks to uncover mysteries surrounding their clubroom and its books. Never have I seen mysteries less interesting nor so boringly told than in Hyouka.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Hyouka is so boring that I can’t see reason to recommend it.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Natsume Yujincho

 

Related: Natsume’s Book of Friends Season 5 (starts October 2016)

Similar: Mushishi

xxxHOLiC

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Cardcaptors

My Neighbor Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • More substance than most slice of life.
  • The cat sidekick.
  • Good-natured feel.

Negatives:

  • Becomes invariable after a while.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I kept putting this review off in the hopes I would find more within Natsume’s Book of Friends. “I’ll get to it next review. No, the one after,” I kept telling myself for three months. This time, I have to finish it. I wanted to find what it is that the fans love so dearly about this anime. I found the quality they love, but not why they love it this much.

Think of Natsume’s Book of Friends as a reverse Cardcaptor Sakura. Instead of capturing spirits like Sakura, Natsume works to release all spirits bound to the magical book he inherited from his grandmother. Until he does so, the spirits will follow him everywhere. Alongside him is a cat that claims to be an almighty spirit, yet why does he fall for every cat trap in the book? Tsk, tsk. More competent is the Okami-like wolf companion (voiced by Kakashi), who can transform into a tough high school girl.

The difficulty I have with Book of Friends is its laid back, easy-going nature. It’s too easy going, too laid back. It follows a ‘spirit of the week’ structure that feels repetitive before the first season is over. Each episode, a spirit follows Natsume, we flashback to when the grandmother bested them, they show a tragic backstory, and he gives the spirit peace. I have enjoyed many ‘of the week’ shows before, so why the difficulty here? The tone never changes. The episodic stories are always light, even when they should have intensity. Some stories are touching, yes – they’re dead, after all – but it feels so tame, so catered for children, as though afraid to cause heartache. Have light-hearted as the primary tone by all means, but some variance would keep the stupor at bay.

The best change would be to have fewer spirits, yet give each more time to develop – make some nastier, give proper arcs that twist left and right. Surprise me!

The spirit design and lore could also use work. Ninety percent of the spirits look like throwaway enemies from a generic JRPG or monster collect game. When looking at Doctor Who and all the creative monsters it comes up with (and the variance in tone), I expect more from Book of Friends in a medium that doesn’t have the limitations of live action. Now, if you’ve never seen these designs before, like the target audience, it won’t be much of a problem.

When not helping spirits, Natsume’s life consists of covering up the strange things that happen around him, inexplicable to all but himself. The overarching plot sees Natsume progress through the stages of school, which I like; however, this is far in the background. The episodic spirits take most attention.

Having light-hearted anime on occasion is a good thing – anime of any type can be a good thing – as long as it’s good. I don’t want to turn Natsume’s Book of Friends into a different anime. I want it to be a more interesting version of itself.

Art – Medium

Average if nice art that could use more animation and greater creature creativity. None of the creature’s surprised me in their design. With possibilities boundless, it’s disappointing they stuck to an unvarying design folio.

Sound – High

Good acting, especially the cat’s old man voice. I love the folk ED song from season one – listened to it every time. The music in general is nice.

Story – Medium

A boy releases the spirits from his ‘Book of Friends’ one by one so that they will leave him alone for once. A pleasant show about ‘reverse’ monster hunting each episode, but it plateaus quickly.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. Those looking for an easy-going supernatural anime to watch one episode at a time will find pleasure in Natsume’s Book of Friends.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Honey and Clover – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hachimitsu to Clover

 

Related: Honey and Clover II (included in review)

Similar: Nodame Cantabile

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Eden of the East

Nana

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Drama Romance

Length: 24 episodes (season 1), 2 OVA, 12 episodes (season 2)

 

Positives:

  • The older characters and their arcs.
  • Second season.
  • Some hilarious moments.

Negatives:

  • The dull protagonist and his meandering story.
  • Minimal animation.
  • Poor exposition.
  • Unfocused structuring.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Yuuta lives the life of a harassed art student, penny-pinching like Scrooge to survive the week on bread crusts while dealing with his eccentric roommate, Shinobu. A ray of sunshine enters his life when his art teacher brings his cousin’s daughter and talented artist, Hagumi, to class. Wait, wait! Sorry, wrong anime. Honey and Clover is actually the story of Ayumi, a pottery student with her heart set on a man obsessed with the wife of a dead man. Hang on – sorry – what’s this about Shinobu’s brother and getting back their father’s company?

Honey and Clover tries to tell too many stories. As a result, this feels like two different anime mashed together without interconnecting threads that weave them together. The stories don’t affect each other. This wouldn’t be much of problem if both anime were great, but this isn’t the case. Yuuta’s piddling romance with Hagumi, an eleven-year-old we’re told is eighteen, and his later pilgrimage to Japan’s north for self-discovery – a less funny Golden Boy – is so standard, so empty that he’s barely in the second season. The production team found him so boring that he becomes an extra in his own story! He only showed up so he wouldn’t get fined.

A student who studies and then graduates isn’t an interesting story. A student who fails from laziness, gets his life in order, and then graduates is a story. A coming-of-age story should have more drastic character growth than your typical genre, for we change most when coming of age, whether it is at thirteen or thirty. Yuuta’s story is your generic graduation journey. The writer tried to shake things up with his feelings for Hagumi, but she isn’t an interesting character nor does the relationship matter much between these two, so it falls flat.

A core problem of Yuuta’s story is in how it’s told. I have heard people say that one of Honey and Clover’s greatest qualities is the inner monologues that tell us everything about what a character is thinking and feeling. Notice the key word in that sentence? Tell. These characters are telling us how they feel instead of showing us through actions. Look at it this way – if you muted the monologues, would you still see the same character information? If the answer is ‘no’ then the monologue was the writer’s crutch when lacking the talent to show this information. An angry character doesn’t tell us he’s angry – he punches something. A lonely character doesn’t tell us he’s lonely – he looks with sad envy at a happy couple. I’ll give you one guess as to who has most of his character told to us through inner monologue. Praising the monologue is like praising someone who treats you as an incompetent. The live-action series (Japanese version) does better with Yuuta.

Then we have Ayumi and her ‘love chain’ (it extends through a dozen people, at least, by the end though many of its members are for comedy). The man she loves is in a ‘friendzone’ of sorts with a widow, who is traumatised and has the scars that will forever remind her of the tragic loss. It’s pathetic to watch this man crave her, in the good narrative sort of way, as you think, “I would probably be the same in his shoes.” We see what a potion of love, lust, sadness, and loneliness looks like.

Ayumi is spectator to this display, just as pathetic as the rest of them (again, in a good way). She doesn’t have a monologue that treats the audience like idiots. More importantly, the characters in her story have complexity – I hate most of the men involved, which is great! I find their actions creepy or even despicable, but it works because I buy who they are and why they make these decisions. Honey and Clover is at its best in the second season when Ayumi’s arc reaches the climax. I wish they had made this anime as two separate stories. This would have improved Yuuta’s story as well with Ayumi no longer monopolising all the drama. As is, his conflict-light story seems to serve as a break from Ayumi’s drama more than to tell his story.

One element you should be aware of as a prospective viewer is Hagumi. There is no getting past the fact that she looks, sounds, and behaves like a little girl. Her story ends even creepier than I anticipated. (Notice how neither the Japanese nor the Taiwanese live-action versions of Honey and Clover hired a little girl to play Hagumi.) Even looking past this, her depth amounts to ‘be cute.’ That’s it.

To end on a happier note, I want to talk of the comedy. Honey and Clover is quite funny overall. Shinobu steals the comedic scenes. From his hijinks with his sculpture professor to his work with film director “Peter” Lucas, Shinobu is hilarious. To be honest, he feels like a superfluous character at first, but soon earns his place on the cast.

I debated at length on whether I like Honey and Clover or not. When I think of the Ayumi’s arc, I find myself recommending it. Then I remember Yuuta and I grimace – surely, I can’t recommend this, no? After much deliberation, I concluded that the second season made it worth my time, regardless. If I didn’t know better, I would say season two had a new author.

Art – Low

As with most slice of life anime, the budget wasn’t large. The art looks good in stills thanks to the style, but the motion is rigid and limited.

Sound – Medium

The opening songs sound like a drunk child screaming about their preschool woes during karaoke. Less obvious exposition for the sake of the audience would help this otherwise decent script.

Story – Medium

A group of artistic friends seek meaning and success in life. With too many stories to tell, Honey and Clover oscillates between interesting and bland characters, engaging you one episode and boring you the next. If it were just Ayumi’s story, I would give a high rating.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For slice of life with romance fans. If you aren’t willing to sit through twice as many episodes as necessary, Honey and Clover isn’t worth starting. That is unless you love slice of life and can subsist on a shallow protagonist doing ordinary things.

(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