Tag Archives: Seinen

Adult Men as the target audience.

Bokurano – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Bokura no

 

Similar: Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Neon Genesis Evangelion

Fafner of the Blue Sky

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Drama Science Fiction

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great opening song
  • Easy premise

Negatives:

  • Every male is evil
  • Every female is meek
  • The structure preceding each death lowers drama and mystery

(Request an anime for review here.)

Bokurano is an easy anime to sell with a premise such as this. A giant machine is the only thing that stands between the monsters and Earth. However, each use of the weapon requires a blood sacrifice. The life of a child. Who wouldn’t want to watch that? Alas, here we have a perfect example in the importance of character over premise.

These 15 children don’t have the qualities to make an audience care for their fates and ultimate demises. The boys – bar one – are evil, one of them even forcing himself on a girl. The first episode has one guy slap the life out of the smallest girl and no one does anything about it. “Stop it,” they say with as much energy as a sloth. He will do this again in future, many times. Are we to feel sorry that these kids will die? The girls are all meek, spineless. It takes attempted rape for one to fight back. These kids don’t make sense as friends. I don’t see the point of having 15 kids, other than to give more sacrifices for more episodes, when they are all so similar. For such a group, the logical direction would be to have a variety of personalities. Go for the sentai archetypes. That might come across as generic, but killing them off one at a time is different.

Fewer characters would also help, as it gives more time for development. The structure of Bokurano is to dedicate a couple of episodes leading up to someone’s sacrifice. We see their entire sob story in this time to make us care for the death. This structure has three problems. This first issue is that it lowers the drama and mystery when you already know who will die. The second is that two episodes isn’t enough to kill off what essentially becomes the protagonist for that short time. Two episodes is what you dedicate to the old lady in the village that helped our adventuring party before the villain kills her for information on their whereabouts. The writing also needs a more subtle hand at characterisation. And lastly, most kids disappear from the story until it nears their time to die.

I have the impression that the author had the wrong approach in thinking about this story. Instead of planning for, “Alright, I need to kill someone every second episode or so, because that’s the premise,” one should think of it free from the premise for a second (and cut down the character count). Let’s say you had a party of seven friends and your story idea was to see what it would be like to kill each off one at a time (no special mechanic to kill them), rather than the usual story of everyone surviving to the end with the power of BFF friendship. How would you plot that? Would you kill them off at equal intervals or keep the audience on their toes about who will die and when? Bokurano uses the former method.

It’s hard to describe the boredom in the face of imminent death when a story tells you everything that is yet to pass. Add in the not-so-subtle yet flat characters and I am on cruise control from start to finish. And what’s with all the rapists?

Bokurano isn’t a bad anime. This is a case where every element except for the music (love the OP song) has an obvious flaw weighing it down. Confining everything within this predictable structure just to fit the initial idea of the premise means Bokurano can never be more than average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of Evangelion-like anime. You have to be in it for the premise, as the execution isn’t up to scratch.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Kasane – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Kasane

 

Genre: Psychological Drama

Length: 126 chapters (14 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • An actually ugly protagonist
  • Compelling page-turner
  • Makes good use of the art of acting
  • Psychologically harrowing

Negatives:

  • Scarce with the subplots

This is why I like to browse manga by random. Sure, I read a lot of crap, but it’s worth it for when I discover a gem that I’ve never heard of before. I love receiving great recommendations. However, there is a different sort of excitement when you realise an art piece is great as you are consuming it. With Kasane by Daruma Matsuura, the cover of the first volume caught my eye for how weird one of the women looked. I considered it was bad art, yet the other woman looked normal. Then I read the blurb and added it to the list.

Kasane is about an ugly girl who loves to act in theatre. When I say ugly, I don’t mean ugly in the film world sense, where a shower, a comb of the hair, and a little make up could turn a girl into a knockout. Kasane is the sort of ugly that no makeover can fix. Her skull misshapen, her mouth too broad and uneven, and her eyes oversized and in the wrong place, Kasane scares people with her appearance. This ugliness is at the heart of what shapes her character and if she could simply powder it away, this story wouldn’t work (more on that later). The first hint that I was in for a great manga was seeing the author’s commitment to the ugliness. How condescending is it when Hollywood tries to pass a gorgeous actress as “the ugly one”?

Kasane is the daughter of a celebrated late actress for both her acting talent and beauty. Her mother left behind a tube of lipstick with instructions that she should apply it and kiss that which she desires. Should Kasane wear the lipstick and kiss another person, they will swap faces and voices for some hours. After a few tastes of what it is to be beautiful, Kasane meets stage actress Nina, a woman with little talent, a lot of pressure to succeed, and stunning beauty (no one gave her the part because she could act). She also suffers from Sleeping Beauty syndrome (can randomly sleep for months on end). So, she makes a deal with Kasane.

“Swap with me when I need to perform and you will live out your dream of a being beautiful actress. In exchange, I get the credit.”

This seems a match made in heaven. However, pretence can never match the real thing, and both women simmer with dark thoughts about the other, especially where it concerns a man they love. The face swap doesn’t require both people to be awake either.

The destructive dependence between these two makes for gripping drama.

The story spirals and the drama rises. I couldn’t stop turning the pages well into the AMs. Kasane starts strong with a brilliant premise that I thought could last a few volumes, so I grew concerned when I saw that it was in fact 14 volumes. You know me, I hate padding and stories that drag. Just when Kasane seems to have run its course, the author adds another layer, and then another. Her mother’s past comes to the fore. Twisted actions perpetuate more twisted behaviour, continuing the cycle of pain, desperation, and loneliness. Other characters become embroiled in this twisted secret and I had to force myself to stop each night.

The best writing has to be Kasane herself. She is both villain and tragic heroine of this tale. I feel both sorry for her and disgusted by her actions. Matsuura presents this deep character with a complex psychology and leaves it to us to agree or disagree with her.

The one area for improvement is in subplots. Kasane’s subplots bar one are quite bare. More subplots wouldn’t have gone amiss either, such as involving law enforcement and the wider world of acting. The story is a little too insular. That said, the main thread is excellent.

One other positive I want to touch on is the use of acting to reinforce the theme of one’s outward appearance contrasted with the inner self. The story wouldn’t have worked near as well to the theme if this centred on something other than acting. They could have had much the same story with an office job, but then you weaken the theme. Matsuura certainly knows a thing a two about acting, incorporating it neatly into Kasane’s plight (whenever an anime/manga involves acting, I fear another Glass Mask).

In the afterword of later volumes, there is mention of a Japanese film adaptation, so once done reading the series, I gave it a gander with one question in mind, “How will they pull off Kasane herself?” The film builds up to the face reveal (Kasane has lank black hair over her face all the time like in the manga) and I nearly died of disappointment. They went full “movie ugly”. The actress has pretty eyes, a perfect jawline, delicate cheekbones, and sculpted lips. A Joker-like scar from the corner of her mouth and up her cheek is all the ugliness she possesses. How are we to believe that Kasane could have such mental damage over her appearance (remember, she repulses everyone) when a bit of theatre makeup could cover a single scar? It undermines the essence that makes this a story. They should have hired the makeup artist from The Elephant Man. An anime adaptation with exaggerated art – preferably directed by Masaaki Yuasa – could do Kasane justice.

Art – High

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. This tragic page-turner of a psychological drama is a hidden gem I recommend to all (except children).

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Eve: The Beautiful Love-Scientising Goddess – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Eve: Koi wo Kagaku suru Uruwashiki Megami

 

Genre: Romance

Length: 71 chapters (7 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Good dating advice
  • Fun characters
  • Surprisingly compelling for such a simple premise

Negatives:

  • A little too intent on happy resolutions

I picked up reading manga again about a month ago and have since been on a tear, completing or starting a few dozen series. Unlike when I started my catalogue of anime, where I compiled a list of 500 titles based on the slightest recommendation, I’ve taken the explorer’s approach to manga. I already had 20 or so series in mind to read, but outside of that, I’m going in as if browsing a bookstore alone. Does the cover grab me? What about the title? That blurb sounds interesting. Why don’t we concentrate of one genre’s section of the store?

This blind dive does find more duds than successes, but it’s fun to explore and I never know what I’m going to get.

One hidden gem I found that I’ve never seen anyone mention is Eve: The Beautiful Love-Scientising Goddess. It follows the titular Eve and her assistant at a love research centre. Clients with relationship troubles – sometimes unknown to them – come to Eve in desperation for advice. She has all sorts arrive on her doorstep from playboys to desperate women and everything in between.

Most surprisingly with Eve is how much good relationship advice it has. Anime and manga don’t have the best track record in this department (see Rent-a-Girlfriend). The first case is of a man who fell for a “business date”, which involves a materialistic girl asking her new sugar daddy boyfriend to buy expensive things. After the purchases, she disappears. The items turn out to be fake, of course, and the girl received a commission for each sale. Of course. No sensible person would fall for this. However, take a lonely guy with no idea how to talk to women, with his head in clouds that true love will only drop into lap if he waits long enough, if he’s nice enough, and you have a grade A sucker. One of Eve’s pieces of advice to him is to go for quantity over quality. Yes, you might meet the perfect person in an unexpected place, but to find “the one”, it’s much better to meet lots of people (you don’t have to sleep with them) and see with whom you form a connection. Hell, those who wait around are likely to miss the ideal partner because they live under this delusion that the one will be perfect at first sight. How can they be perfect if you know nothing about them? And how can you get to know them if you don’t talk?

The cases follow a detective mystery structure, wherein a client will approach with what he or she think is the problem, but as Eve investigates further, there’s more to the story. She will talk to friends, family, colleagues, and exes to complete the picture before arriving at a conclusion. They test ideas and theories, much like a crime case, and adjust based on findings. And along the way, some will challenge her views and her own love life, so there is a through line that carries across the cases. A case or two even get personal.

The mystery compels you to finish the case. The characters make you want to read the next one.

A favourite case and character combo of mine is that of Leon, the rich playboy. This guy struts into the centre with such confidence that he doesn’t even see he has a problem. He’s God’s gift to women after all. I love the way Eve crushes his ego by talking to his exes to see what they actually thought of him. He becomes a permanent character and the manga is all the better for it. His dynamic and humour with Eve is great.

Apart from so-so art, Eve’s main negative point is the insistence on positive endings for each case (except one, if I recall). Sometimes, it would be more satisfying and interesting if it didn’t work out, the lesson being to pick yourself up and move on. I suppose that might be too heavy for the tone intended by the author. Though Eve deals with serious relationship issues, it keeps matters fairly light-hearted and away from dark territory. You won’t see a guy blow his brains out because his girlfriend cheated on him in this manga, for instance.

I had a good time with Eve, finishing all seven volumes in about a week and I could keep going for more. It is complete, however, to a satisfying end and so, as Eve would suggest after something ends, it is time to move on and see what else is out there.

Art – Medium

The characters are a little…chunky in the face. Everyone has the same face type, which is off-putting at times when all the bodies are different. In fact, I confused a panel from another of the author’s manga with Eve because the protagonists look the same. The environmental art is a little rough. If you pause to take it in, you notice how unpolished it looks. It’s decent overall.

Story – High

Recommendation: Read it. Eve: The Beautiful Love-Scientising Goddess is a fun read, easy to pick up for a few chapters at a time, and full of good relationship advice built on a framework of odd characters.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Seirei no Moribito

 

Similar: The Twelve Kingdoms

Sword of the Stranger

Yona of the Dawn

Dororo

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Action Adventure Fantasy

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Slick action scenes
  • Great acting in Japanese
  • Real depth to the lore and world
  • Balsa is one of anime best female protagonist’s

Negatives:

  • Environments aren’t the best

(Request an anime for review here.)

The kingdom of New Yogo is under the grip of an eternal drought believed to be caused by a water spirit living within Chagum, prince of the realm. Ancient scriptures say that the first emperor ended a drought by slaying the water spirit. The current emperor has no choice – Prince Chagum must die. In a desperate attempt to save her son, Chagum’s mother implores the spear-wielding mercenary known as Balsa to take her son and flee.

Balsa is a woman of considerable skill and great honour. What starts as an assignment to protect an inept child soon turns into a quest of a spiritual and personal nature. Chagum is the learn more about the people that funded his lavish lifestyle, while Balsa will repay an old debt and open her heart to life. These two are the core of Moribito, so I’m pleased to find depth here. Balsa in particular is a stand out as one of the best female leads in anime. She strikes a good balance of toughness and wisdom without losing identity as a woman, which plays into her almost motherly role to Chagum.

People tell us she’s a skilled warrior and the animators made sure we knew it. The action in Moribito is up close and personal, a flurry of attacks illustrated with beautiful animation. It’s sharp, weighty, to the point and doesn’t drag. I just wish there was more of it. We see a great fight early on, giving the false hope that such scenes will continue throughout the series, but it’s a half dozen at most.

Not that I’m complaining about what comes instead. There are two primary threads – Balsa and her mission to protect the prince while figuring out this water spirit (Mushishi-esque magic), and Chagum’s evolution from a useless royal to someone with a purpose. I like the scenes of him with the resourceful street rat and his friend as they roam among the people.

Moribito, like any good Japanese period piece, is steeped in “way of the warrior” mythology, deeply spiritual and philosophical. My favourite episode takes place in a swordsmith’s workshop. Balsa needs her spear fixed but must hide in the back room when the emperor’s men arrive to have their weapons fixed from the same fight. While he finishes a job, the smith tells the soldiers of the ultimate sword being one that doesn’t kill and a story of a warrior protecting a child at all costs, even when his friends have orders to kill him. Compelling.

I was surprised to learn after finishing this anime that it is an adaptation of only the first novel in a 12-part series. I say surprised because this doesn’t feel incomplete. It certainly builds a world with possibilities beyond what we see though doesn’t leave us hanging. Much appreciated.

Art – High

The action visuals are beautiful. Whoever key animated those fights did an excellent job. The character designs strikes that ideal balance of anime meets realistic with a layer of fantasy. The grander environments, however, with sweeping camera movements or long shots in use show their age. One can see this is at the threshold of CG modelling to shortcut large environments.

Sound – High

For a period piece such as this, you have to watch it in Japanese even if the English acting is fine. It sounds a little weird in any other language. Good music.

Story – High

A prince set for death to cleanse a curse plaguing his kingdom finds a second lease on life when a lone warrior woman take him under her protection. With a protagonist as engaging as Balsa and an interesting world, Moribito is an easy watch from start to finish. I do wish there was more of that action.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is something a little different that you don’t see much of anymore. There is also a live action series if that is your preference.

(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:

Strong Lead Characters

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