Tag Archives: Shoujo

Young Adult Girls as the target audience.

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).

(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: 

Repetitive

Fancy Lala – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala

 

Related: Fashion Lala: The Story of the Harbor Light (spin-off)

Similar: Magical Angel Creamy Mami

Searching for the Full Moon

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Drama Music

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Holds up well
  • Good lessons for little girls
  • Music is good in both English and Japanese
  • Doesn’t fall into formulaic magical girl episodes

Negatives:

  • Not cautious enough about a lone girl in the entertainment business

(Request an anime for review here.)

You probably haven’t heard of Fancy Lala – I hadn’t until this came in as a review request – and for good reason. If I gave you these two pieces of information, what does that tell you: “magical girl anime” and “1998”? Yes, it matches Fancy Lala, but also matches a titan of the genre, Cardcaptor Sakura. They didn’t just release in the same year. They came out in the same week. And Cardcaptor Sakura eclipsed the anime we will be looking at today.

Fancy Lala is about a third-grade girl with an imagination larger than life. Miho has a chance meeting with two little fairies (more like dragons) who give her a magical pen and notebook. Anything she draws in the notebook becomes real. Furthermore, the pen can transform her into the blue-haired teen Lala from her sketches. It isn’t long before an agent discovers her, convincing Lala to become a model and singer. Thus, Fancy Lala is born.

The first thing that strikes me about Miho is what she considers “cool”. Get this, right, she has the power to create any clothes she wants. Anything. So what does she draw? A transparent raincoat. Except it’s not even a raincoat. It’s a plastic wrap. Then we have her stage name, Fancy Lala, of all names. And I love it. I love how nonsensical her imagination is. This is what a nine-year-old would come up with. The brilliance of Miho is that she feels and thinks like a little girl, not what an adult says a little girl is like. I remember this one kid from primary school who said that if he were a billionaire, he would have a McDonalds at his house so he could eat there every day. That was the grandest thing he could think of. Miho captures that child mentality.

There isn’t as much fanfare as you would expect when she discovers the power. She’s rather casual about it, though I suppose transformation magic isn’t far out of the ordinary for a kid full of imagination.

The episode to episode story reminds very much of Clark Kent/Superman from the Lois & Clark TV series, except with modelling and school drama instead of dastardly villains. Lala has a photo shoot today, but oh no, Miho has to do something with her school friends at the same time! There’s plenty of transforming back and forth, Miho pretending to have arrived just as Lala left, and all that fun secret identity stuff. She notices how differently people treat Lala from Miho. The story strikes a good balance between real Miho plot and the Lala work plot. While she’s trying to make it as a model and then as a singer, she also has school events, family conundrums, and personal issues.

The one real gripe I have against Fancy Lala is how it handles the entertainment industry. Now, I know this a cartoon for little girls and not Perfect Blue; however, no one questions why a teenager never has her parents with her at any photo shoot, film set, or performance. You don’t want to teach kids to go into entertainment alone. The closest thing we have is an agent that tries to force her to work for him, from whom she flees, but then the woman she does join is also a stranger. She could be a trafficker for all Lala knows.

Apart from that, this anime has many great lessons to teach young girls. It explores the power of imagination, but tempers it with reality, talks about divorce, emphasises the importance of hard work and becoming someone people rely on, to name a few. When I first started Fancy Lala, it reminded me of Searching for the Full Moon, a similar anime I had seen long ago (in that, a girl with cancer can transform into a teen singer). Turns out it was inspired by Fancy Lala. This reminiscence was not a positive, for Full Moon was atrocious and taught some horrible life lessons. I expected to have much the same here – wish away your troubles, hard work doesn’t matter, and all that idiocy. Thankfully, Fancy Lala proved me wrong before long.

As a brief side note, Fancy Lala itself took from another series, as is the case with all art, called Creamy Mami, the anime that invented the idea of using an anime to promote idol singers. Fancy Lala’s twist was adding an actual story and drama.

Is it fair that Cardcaptor Sakura pushed this anime into obscurity? No, not in the slightest. Fancy Lala is the better anime. I like Cardcaptors well enough, but this not only avoids a formulaic structure each episode, the characters have more depth and the life lessons are far stronger. Fancy Lala has an ending I would not expect of the magical girl genre. It is a poignant end that leaves the audience with the best message of the series, while instilling inspiration and joy.

Art – Medium

The art is notably aged, but it holds up well and cel animation always has that textured beauty to it.

Sound – Medium

It shouldn’t surprise you to learn – considering the genre – that a first timer, an idol with a short-lived career after the series, voices Miho/Lala. Her acting is alright, better than one would expect. She’s here for the singing talent. The OP screams ‘90s magical anime. The dub actress is similar, whereby her musical ability is stronger than her acting. She’s fine in that regard as well. They did a good job translating the songs.

Story – High

A little girl finds a magic pen that transforms her into a teenager, soon becoming a model and singer. Packed with good lessons, escapist fun, and some nice music, Fancy Lala is a strong offering from the magical girl genre.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For young girls. I like Fancy Lala. Do I recommend it? Not quite. Not unless it’s to a child or an adult who has fond memories of being the sort of child who would have loved this anime, ready for a comfort trip back in 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: None

Mysterious Girlfriend X / Domestic Girlfriend / After the Rain – Quick Thoughts

Mysterious Girlfriend X

Japanese Title: Nazo no Kanojo X

Genre: Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 1 OVA

Today we look at a trio of romance anime with a taboo or socially repugnant theme, all requested by readers like you (some to torture me. I am a glutton for sufferring after all). First up is Mysterious Girlfriend X, about a boy who falls in love with a girl after tasting her drool. This drool once tasted creates an unbreakable dependency.

Is it as disgusting as it sounds? No, it’s worse. Off the desk, out of a test tube, and off her finger are but a few ways in which he consumes drool. If you don’t have a drool fetish, you will likely find this disgusting.

Magic drool is the only unique selling point of Mysterious Girlfriend X, for what we have here on closer inspection, once past the urge to vomit, is a boring high school romance. This is a perfect example of why a unique premise is the least important part of a great story. I’ve certainly never seen a story about a guy addicted to drool, and yet this is one of the worst romances in existence. It tries to sell you on the idea of how “mysterious” the girl is, both in the title of the show and the pitch – the guy even repeats how mysterious his girlfriend is to close off several episodes (“Did you notice him mention the title? Did you get it!?”)

The drool is a metaphor for love – when he’s sick, he’s actually lovesick, for example – and lust comes in the form of another girl’s drool for a forced love triangle at the last minute. Until that “twist”, nothing happens. It’s just the same events each episode. The characters are insufferably dull. He’s the clichéd shy guy and she is as mysterious as an open, empty box. Her other defining characteristic is carrying a pair of scissors in her panties and her inability to hold hands or accept a hug from the guy she feeds drool to. (Kill me slowly, why don’t you.)

The drool is an immediate putoff, but I hoped that at least there would be something more to it such as absurd comedy (think Chunibyo). Mysterious Girlfriend X can’t even be funny.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Even if you have a drool fetish, surely you want a better story and characters than this?

*     *     *     *     *

Domestic Girlfriend

Japanese Title: Domestic na Kanojo

Genre: Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

Now for a change of pace, we have a taboo relationship fetish. It follows Natsuo, a guy who just lost his virginity to some girl called Rui that he met at a party, as consolation for not believing he could sleep with his teacher, Hina (why such little faith?) Things take a shocking – shocking, I tell you – turn when his father announces that he is remarrying to a woman with two daughters. And who should those daughters be that step through the door? His first time girl Rui and his teacher Hina. And they’re all going to live together! Awwwkwaaaard

Well, it would be awkward if Rui didn’t keep trying to gobble his flight stick in the bath (he barely objects) and if he wouldn’t keep kissing his teacher (she objects by climbing on top of him for a bit of frottage). He may be a pervert as a teenager, but his teacher wouldn’t behave like this. If nothing else, she wouldn’t move in with the family. It certainly doesn’t gel.

Inconsistency is a serious issue of Domestic Girlfriend. Tone is all over the place. The love triangle (yes, it is serious about the idea) tries to be mature at times, but when no one truly objects to what is going on (even the authorities hand wave it clean), this feels written by a teenager who has never seen an adult relationship and self-inserted into a story. The next episode, it tries to play for comedy, such as when Natsuo and Rui stalk the teacher after work to uncover who she is in an affair with. Oh yes, there is an affair in this triangle as well. And I’ll give you one guess how the man knows Hina… He was her teacher! Such masterful plotting.

That’s not all. When Natsuo goes to the library one time, he sees what he thinks is the literature teacher kissing a student from the literature club. Turns out it was a misunderstanding from his viewing angle (she was getting an eyelash off his face – still inappropriate, by the way). But get this turn of events no one saw coming: the girl does have a thing for him and it is implied that she will make a move and the teacher would reciprocate. Hell, the literature teacher has a yaoi bait moment with Natsuo when they first meet.

Whenever I think Domestic Girlfriend can’t get any worse, it takes my expectations and does to them what Roy Mustang did to Lust, revealing even greater levels of idiocy. This is worse than a daytime soap opera. At least those are consistent and know how to play up the cheesy drama.

During the confrontation between Natsuo and the married man, we have the restaurant staff (friends to Natsuo) playing the overreacting comedic audience. Am I supposed to take this seriously or not? In case you were wondering, no, Natsuo isn’t presented as hypocritical.

The premise, as I reiterate often, doesn’t automatically make the story a failure. It’s about the execution. If a premise could sink a story before it begins, we would never be able to have protagonists that are murderers, for instance. What if such a situation did happen? What if the girl you slept with the other day did turn out to be your new stepsister? (Let’s keep the teacher out of this for the moment – would have been better cut it down to one character anyway.) You can’t blame the guy for what happened at the start. How was he to know, right? The question is what happens next. One would look at the psychology of it, the social connotations, and how people would react. Domestic Girlfriend merely pretends to do this. As for the teacher relationship, the idea isn’t unthinkable. It does happen, after all. So what if it did to this guy? Well, we ask the same questions as we did with the younger sister. Even if he were an adult, it wouldn’t be as simple as presented here. There is a reason any good university doesn’t allow relationship between professors and their students or why doctors can’t date patients. Asking the question, “What if?” isn’t a problem. How you go about answering that question is what matters.

Maybe Domestic Girlfriend isn’t trying to tackle this subject matter seriously, you ponder. What if it’s just smut? You would have a case to make if not for the novel subplot. Natsuo’s dream is of becoming an author like one of the Japanese dramatic greats, and he finds help in achieving this through the literature teacher. At the end of the series, his first novel, which he shits out in a few months, wins first prize at a contest and is celebrated by all. And what is this novel about? A student in love with his teacher.

I’m not sure I have seen a more pathetic anime than Domestic Girlfriend.

Given that the manga has far more volumes than what could fit in 12 episodes, I gave the final two volumes a gander only to find quite a different scenario, as expected, and a far worse ending, which didn’t go over well with fans, as I understand it. So you can’t even go to the source for a good version of this story.

Tackling such a difficult topic requires great skill and understanding of the human condition. You have three avenues to take that can turn out well – go serious and make a gripping drama, go full comedy and laugh at the absurd, or go maximum cheese like a soap opera. Failing those leaves you in this middle ground of nonsense. There is always the fourth option, of course. Go full lewd.

Domestic Girlfriend doesn’t have the balls to be hentai.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Avoid it. Domestic Girlfriend has nothing to recommend about itself and plenty to keep you away. I would have dropped this at episode one if not for review. Wait, I do have a positive. The opening song is great, far too good for this.

*     *     *     *     *

After the Rain

Japanese Title: Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

Genre: Romance

Length: 12 episodes

Lastly, we have After the Rain, also about a taboo potential relationship. Tachibana is a high school girl that keeps to herself as she works at a restaurant ever since a crippling injury knocked her out of the track team. Her manager, Kondo, is seen as quite the weakling for how much he apologises to everyone and puts the customers above himself, even when they are in the wrong. He’s 45 years old and unfortunately for Tachibana, she has feelings for him.

Now unlike Domestic Girlfriend, After the Rain doesn’t dive head first into the mire of taboo. It asks the “What if” question and then seriously considers it in a light drama way. He shuts her down when she confesses, but due to his weak and caring nature, he also can’t push her away outright.

At its heart, this story isn’t about the “romance” (it remains platonic). Every important character in a story should have a want and a need. The want is what they think will bring them success/happiness/whatever. The need is what will actually do it, unknown to them. She wants to be in a relationship with him to make herself happy. She needs to get back out there and stop using her injury as an excuse to hide. He wants to feel young again. He needs to grow a spine and take charge, do something for himself for once. The taboo is almost bait. They find comfort in each other (doesn’t cross the line) as they slowly discover these truths.

I say slowly because After the Rain is as slow as swimming in a honey lake. It could have handled the story in half the episodes and still not felt like a fast show. If one were to keep to 12 episodes, then we need more development, particularly from side characters. Tachibana’s best friend and running partner, who plays an integral role in her need, is barely a character considering her importance. The closest thing to an antagonist is a chef at the restaurant, who figures out Tachibana’s secret and blackmails her into a date. There is mixed messaging around the guy, as he is the one to truly point out how bad of an idea a serious relationship would be with the manager, yet the way it is presented with him as villain, makes it sound as if we are meant to disagree with him. Then the story drops him after the confrontation.

After the Rain ends up being a whole lot of nothing. The characters do have arcs, there is change by the end, yes, but those arcs are so small that I wonder if it was worth experiencing. Without the visual department working some absolute magic in the atmosphere, this anime wouldn’t have much going for it.

Artistically, there are some beautiful shots in After the Rain. Whoever did those clouds deserves a raise! The OP and ED songs are lovely as well.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it if you are an unrequited romance fan. After the Rain doesn’t have anything crippling against it, yet doesn’t much going for it either. You may be in the mood for something light with pretty colours.

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

Lovely Complex – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Lovely Complex

 

Similar: Toradora

From Me to You

Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 24 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Fun main couple
  • Plenty of hilarity
  • Great acting

Negatives:

  • Visuals haven’t aged well
  • Annoying contrivances to stall the romance at times

(Request an anime for review here.)

Lovely Complex takes the usual romance trope of tall guy with shorter girl and flips it. She’s the tall one (“Amazon”) and he’s the short one (“midget”). Risa and Ootani are two high school students looking for love, her insecure about being taller than every other girl and him insecure about being so short, even for a Japanese boy. His ex-girlfriend is now with a tall guy. These two friends – often referred to as a comedy duo by schoolmates – are helping each other find love. However, Risa soon develops feelings for Ootani beyond friendship, but how is she to convince a guy who only sees her as a freakishly tall friend?

This couple is different from most anime couples in that they start as friends. The conflict doesn’t derive from what they think it does – their heights – but from the fact that they are friends. It is easier to start an intimate relationship with a stranger than it is with a lifelong friend. She takes longer than she should to realise that she’s in love with him, while he thinks she’s just joking. Just a joke between friends, right? However, a relationship founded on friendship is more likely to succeed and have deeper roots.

Their relationship is endearing. They’re nervous about the most trivial matters, but that’s what it’s like in early love. Best of all is how believable they are as friends first. The comedy duo dynamic works at both delivering tons of comedy and selling us on their friendship. From there, the romance builds.

Early conflict comes as they look outside of themselves. Ootani is interested in another girl, Risa is interested in another guy – the typical situation (this is before Risa realises her true feelings). Once Risa fixates on Ootani, it becomes a back of forth of “will she, won’t she,” and, “Will he, won’t he.” Will she confess? Will he accept? Will she try again? Will he change his mind? And this is all good except for a couple of annoying and contrived scenes to set the relationship progress back to square one.

In an early episode, Ootani kisses Risa, ending the episode on that pivotal moment. But then next episode, he says, “Oh, I don’t remember doing that. I was sick.” A later episode has him pour his heart out with the camera close up on his face, before it pulls back and reveals that she was asleep all along. This type of moment happens several times across the 24 episodes and only make you pinch the bridge of your nose in frustration each time. There is even a moment like this ahead of the climax!

They are cheap and lazy solutions to delay progress in the relationship. You get maybe one use of these before the viewer finds it contrived and tedious. It would also help if the roadblock were more believable. No one would believe that Ootani doesn’t remember kissing her (not even if he were trying to pass it off as a lie). A believable example of this happens at the end of Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun. It would have simply been better to have setbacks that are more dramatic. The moment Ootani tells Risa that he’s not sure he feels the same way as she does is a perfect example of stalling the romance correctly.

Even with these scenes accounted for, Lovely Complex is still fun. Yes, these moments are artificial setbacks, but everything between them still works. And much to my delight, we have a complete arc here. There is a definitive coupling, a proper and satisfying conclusion, and no loose ends.

I am content.

Art – Medium

The art is easily Lovely Complex’s weakest quality and hasn’t fared well with age. Some of the visual humour, especially the facial expressions, is still hilarious.

Sound – High

Great voice acting for the two leads. You can hear two real people bickering back and forth like a real couple. Supporting cast is good too.

Story – High

A tall girl has trouble convincing her short best friend that they should be a couple. While it does have a few frustratingly clichéd moments to prolong the conflict, Lovely Complex is a successful romantic comedy that flips a classic trope on its head.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For rom-com fans. Lovely Complex may be a little old now, but it holds up with a fun couple and some hilarious hijinks.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Fruits Basket – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Fruits Basket

 

Related: Fruits Basket 2001 (old version)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Kamisama Kiss

Kobato.

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Comedy Drama Slice of Life

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant and good natured
  • Improved over the 2001 version

Negatives:

  • Protagonist is unflinchingly nice and upbeat
  • Comical antagonists
  • Desperate to make you feel sad

(Request an anime for review here.)

I have known of Fruits Basket for a long time. It was a big deal shortly into the new millennium and I’ve never had the urge to watch. A reader requested it, so I guess I have to give it try at least. To my surprise, it isn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I did stick to the new 2019 edition where the art isn’t hideous like the 2001 version, which made all the difference (goes back to the higher standards in art demanded by the core demographic, as I mentioned in Snow White with the Red Hair).

Tohru Honda is a girl down on her luck. She lost both parents, her grandfather can’t keep her any longer, the rest of the extended family hates her, and her tent barely holds it together in the woods. All of that changes when, one day, she stumbles upon the house of Shigure and Yuki, a popular boy from her school. Alongside Kyo and others, they make up the Souma family. However, should any of them hug the opposite sex, it would reveal their true form as an animal of the Chinese zodiac. Seeing her pitiable state, they agree to take her in on condition that she never reveal their secret.

Young girl surrounded by handsome boys, each one fitting an archetype of the reverse harem as they obsess over her. This is as classic shoujo as you can get!

Fruits Basket was an influential manga of the genre in the 90s & 00s, which can be a curse, especially if it is so easy to imitate and, more importantly, outdo. There is no complexity here, whether of story or of character. The reverse harem shoujo formula is as plug and play as the shounen battle anime. This isn’t like Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, or Death Note, where you can copy them, change a little, still expecting to have something decent of your own. It takes more than the formula. Every successful anime has galleries of imitators, but the best anime have few that come within arm’s reach of competing in quality.

As such, if you have any familiarity with shoujo anime/manga, nothing – and I mean nothing – will be of surprise in Fruits Basket. It doesn’t feel outdated after the polished remake, yet it doesn’t feel new.

However, let’s look at it for what it is or for the uninitiated.

The protagonist Tohru, I am not a fan. She is too nice. She’s nice it that annoying sort of way, where if she were a real person, you’d suspect it’s all a façade to cover the truth that she abuses animals in private. I exaggerate of course. She is impossibly happy and unbeatable in life to the point that conflict doesn’t matter. The story is structured as a collection of subplots for each character, as seen through the eyes of Tohru. We go through several of the zodiac boys with their tragic backstories and her school friends. Throughout this, nothing makes Tohru flinch. She is an upbeat, sunshine-filled, empty vessel to navigate the subplots. Fruits Basket desperately want you to feel sad for her, from the endless tragedy in her life down to the opening ballad carefully crafted to tug at your heartstrings. When you have a character as unrelatable as Tohru, none of this moves me a millimetre.

The supporting cast is more interesting and the reason the core demographic is here. Each boy fits a type, so one can pick a favourite. It’s unrealistic to have a teenaged girl surrounded by guys like this, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s yaoi baiting, naturally – wouldn’t be shoujo otherwise.

The boys’ conflicts centre on the zodiac “curse”. The curse is simply the transformation, but it is enough to wreck their relationships and their lives. The shouta kid (he’s older than he looks, they swear) transformed into a rabbit when his mother held him, which filled her with disgust and anger, driving her to attempted suicide. In the end, the Dragon of the zodiac erased her memory of him to give peace. This is a common story with the members of the zodiac. Some fall in love, their partner can’t handle the truth and have their mind’s modified, while the zodiac has to live with the memories and broken heart. The stories are simple and as I said earlier, done to death. You should see it all coming.

As for the antagonists – if you could even call them that – they are comical. They are the flattest characters of them all. The head of the Souma family just leers at everyone and makes threats. I don’t know how anyone can keep a straight face at the things she utters. The most hilarious villains have to be Tohru’s extended family. Her cousin, who is supposed to be respectable and wants to be an officer, goes on a rant about how she’s a slut for staying with boys. How comically flat can you get? These people are funny, not threatening.

If one were of the core demographic for Fruits Basket, a tween girl, there would be stars in her eyes as she dreams of her best boy and yadi yada lovey dovey stuff. For everyone else, there is plenty better shoujo anime out there. If you want a comedy that parodies the genre, I can’t recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun enough, or you’ve got Little Witch Academia and Kodocha.

Art – Medium

The production across the board is much improved over the original, though it isn’t anything to write home about. The art is pleasant enough to match the story’s tone. Could do with less full screen bloom. Go easy on my eyes, please.

Sound – Medium

The acting and the script is fine middle-of-the-road quality that gets the job done but won’t stick with you. All that stands out is the extra mountains of sugar. The first opening song is a little much in forcing you to feel sad for Tohru.

Story – Medium

An orphaned yet upbeat girl finds lodging with a group of handsome boys that turn into the animals of the zodiac when hugged. She grows close to them as she unravels their mysterious pasts. Each character gets their time in Tohru’s arms for her to learn their backstories. None of them rises above average.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans only. You have to be a shoujo fan to enjoy Fruits Basket. It is as typical shoujo anime as you can get.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None