Tag Archives: Shoujo

Young Adult Girls as the target audience.

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.

(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

Snow White with the Red Hair – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Akagami no Shirayuki-hime

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Story of Saiunkoku

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Drama Fantasy Romance

Length: 24 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful colours
  • Protagonist has purpose and agency
  • World feels cosy and lived in

Negatives:

  • Not enough intensity
  • Needs more romantic conflict

(Request an anime for review here.)

Of the shoujo story types, I tend to like the “ordinary girl draws the attention of an important guy (or the reverse)” type the most, especially in a fantasy setting. I like how it gives a clear coupling to the romance. I never hide my dislike for harems (inc. reverse harems) due to the lack of direction in relationship developments – doesn’t help that the characters are often atrocious. By giving me an indication of where the story intends to go, I don’t feel like I am wasting my time before things even begin. The fantasy setting is an added bonus, as it requires more effort in world building.

Snow White with the Red Hair follows a young herbalist in training called Shirayuki with shockingly red hair that draws much attention, including the unwanted infatuation of her nation’s prince. She only manages to escape life as a concubine when Prince Zen of the neighbouring country of Clarines comes to her rescue. Her new ally also opens the opportunity to become a palace herbalist. Passing the exam – and curing the prince from a poisoned apple – sets her on a path to success she could only dream of in her sheltered life.

Seeing this premise of a girl with [insert profession here] meeting [insert rich handsome guy here], I assumed her skill with herbs would be irrelevant. This is a common failing of shoujo anime and rom-com films. How often is the protagonist a journalist/architect/ad executive/author/etc. and it never plays a part in the story? You know it’s only there because it would be weird if she didn’t have a job. I assumed the same of Shirayuki. When a scoundrel kidnaps her, the expectation is that someone rescues her or she lucks her way out. To my surprise, however, she uses her knowledge to burn the right herbs together for a paralysing effect on her attacker. Alright! That’s what I want to see. She still needs some help in the end, but she did something and used her brain. I like an active protagonist with intelligence. Shirayuki endeared herself to me with that single action.

Further on, her studies and career as a herbalist continue to hold relevance throughout the story. We see her studying new mixtures, experimenting with ideas, researching plants, and taking exams. Probably my favourite element of the story. It adds depth to the world and makes her environment lived in.

The romance with Prince Zen is typical shoujo fare and works, for the most part. You do have to suspend your disbelief that a prince of the realm can have a public relationship with a commoner against little opposition, but that’s the way of the genre. They do make for a good couple and complement each other’s qualities.

Where Snow White with the Red Hair fails is in the UTTER LACK OF DWARVES! WHERE ARE THE DWARVES?! I kid, I kid. No, the problems are in the lack of escalation. Conflict starts well with Shirayuki’s sudden move to a new country, a new life, and while we do have some political, physical, and romantic conflicts afterwards, none of them hit a high-tension point. For instance, one romantic conflict arises when Zen has to “interview” a prospective wife for a royal marriage. Shirayuki isn’t bothered by this, and why would she be when nothing comes of it. When you have a cross-class romance, there should be a question of “Will they end up together despite the difference in status?”

The big finale of the series sees Shirayuki kidnapped by pirates. This is disappointing on three counts. First, it’s another kidnapping. Second, the pirate queen is a flat character unworthy of a finale. Third, this conflict doesn’t relate to the core themes of the story or offer any resonance (repeated kidnappings don’t count as resonance). It feels like a side story on the way to the next step of the main story. There is no intensity.

These failings ultimately leave me a little disappointed in how Snow White with the Red Hair turns out. I love the world, find the characters endearing, and had a great time in the first half, but when the “big” romantic, political, and physical conflicts flop like a dead fish on the cutting board, it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm. I think continuing with the manga is in order – another season is unlikely after four years.

Art – High

A great thing about the shoujo market is a higher demand for good-looking art compared to the shounen market. If Snow White with the Red Hair was an isekai for the shounen demographic, it wouldn’t have these beautiful colours and attention to palette.

Sound – High

The acting is good and the music is nice, suited to a fantasy shoujo. Not much to say here.

Story – Medium

A herbalist in training finds the opportunity of lifetime (and a beau to match) when she catches the eye of a prince. This typical shoujo fantasy has all the right ingredients to satisfy the core, though it could do with turning the drama up a level or two.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. Snow White with the Red Hair won’t be dramatic enough for general fantasy fans, but those looking for something fun with that light-hearted shoujo romance will enjoy this anime.

(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

From Me to You – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kimi ni Todoke

 

Similar: Lovely Complex

My Love Story

Maid Sama!

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Drama Romance Slice of Life

Length: 37 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • A sweet romance.
  • Cute art.

Negatives:

  • Hits its peak within a few episodes.
  • Plays it too safe.

(Request an anime for review here.)

For those who aren’t aware, the movie The Ring (or just Ring in Japanese) is a cultural icon in Japan. It’s their Jaws or Dracula. In particular, the ghost girl with long black hair over her face is recognisable to all the Japanese. Unfortunately for our protagonist Sawako, she looks just like the Ring girl and terrifies her classmates at every turn. Down the empty school corridors, in the damp bathrooms, behind the schoolyard trees lurks the shy, sweet, introverted and utterly terrifying Sawako. Fear her.

Of course, she’s a harmless girl just trying to make friends. She has a crush on the most popular guy in class, Kazehaya, who turns out to be the one person not afraid of her. He doesn’t have trouble talking to the horror that is Sawako.

Despite the ghostly premise, From Me to You gives off feel-good romance vibes from the beginning. I would go so far as to say that it gives these vibes too early. Kazehaya likes her right away and they got along without delay, so it already feels like the conflict is over. They keep the drama going with so much self-pity and unspoken misunderstandings that it makes for a weak romance. Her core personality trait is shyness, true, but not saying anything at every convenient moment is just dim-witted. Too much time is spent with her watching shyly, too timid to talk to the guy, too timid to do anything. Grows old fast. Her flabbergasted expression by someone merely talking to her also wears thin before long (and she cries each time). If everything is flabbergasting, nothing is.

There is no inherent problem with the feel-good direction – I’m not advocating Shakespeare come in to dramatise every romance – yet if taking that route, a story needs another driving force. Comedy is the most common substitute. Romantic sitcoms can go for seasons on end with little true progression. Doesn’t mean it will be great – viewers will want progress and a conclusion eventually. Regardless, the audience needs something. From Me to You, while amusing in a charming way, isn’t laugh-out-loud funny. These characters aren’t compelling enough either to want to observe in daily life, intrigued by what they will do next.

As for the episodic story, we have the usual high school fare of festivals, classes, and school events. It’s what you expect from a high school anime. I see this as neither positive nor negative. Using these events in a more interesting way with actual conflict (i.e. something other than shyness) even if done for comedy matters more.

For some positives though, it is a pretty anime. You can feel the manga artist’s touch in the visual style (needs more animation than a manga page though). It has a strong shoujo flair that brightens up the screen. It makes for a nice compliment to the feel-good romance. The chibi humour is also amusing – not as funny as the likes of Get Backers, but successful nonetheless. The characters are most likeable (though not particularly memorable).

From Me to You is a difficult anime to dislike. I think that’s the secret to it’s success. Pleasant best describes it. However, while I did finish the series, I would not have gone beyond six or so episodes had it not been for the purposes of this review. Pleasantry can only keep me going for so long. Give me pleasantry plus something else and I could go forever, but not by itself. I feel this pleasantry makes it difficult for people to be critical of the series. It’s like telling the girl scout that her cookies taste awful. Makes one feel mean.

Now, if such pleasantry sounds appealing to you, then by all means, give this anime a go. From Me to You is an innocuous romance that pleases the eyes.

Art – Medium

The art is cute – pretty and feminine, reminiscent of Nana – with frequent use of chibification. The animation, however, has little to show for itself.

Sound – Medium

I am not a fan of Mamiko Noto’s meek voice, but it works here for the timid Sawako. Even so, I couldn’t take it for long periods at a time. Like the pleasant music.

Story – Medium

A girl that reminds every one of the creature from Ring struggles with love and friendship at school. Though a sweet love story, From Me to You resolves its major conflicts early on and makes the rest feel like an extended epilogue.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For anime romance fans only. From Me to You is for those who like their conflict light and their romance safe.

(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

The Story of Saiunkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Saiunkoku Monogatari

 

Similar: Yona of the Dawn

The Twelve Kingdoms

Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Historical Comedy Fantasy Romance

Length: 78 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Nice music.
  • Surprisingly well paced for a large cast and long series.
  • Knows its audience.

Negatives:

  • No historical authenticity.
  • Needs more animation.

(Request an anime for review here.)

With her family estate declining and her future uncertain, the young librarian and teacher Shuurei accepts the court’s offer to become the lazy emperor’s concubine and instructor in exchange for 500 gold pieces. She has no reason to turn down the offer, as the new emperor prefers the company of men (or so he likes everyone to believe). Plus, this could be the opportunity to fulfil her dream of becoming a member of the court, where the fate of the people is decided. Her innocence and focus teeter on the brink however, when her job puts her in the path of several handsome men, never mind the emperor’s stupidity.

The first impressions of The Story of Saiunkoku gave me hope of seeing another Twelve Kingdoms (still have my fingers crossed for a conclusion) with its bishounen artwork set to a vast kingdom and mystical backstory. I expected far too much. It is partially my fault, likely generated out of desperation to see more of The Twelve Kingdoms sort. So, I adjusted my expectations and saw Saiunkoku for what it is – a shoujo historical fantasy romance that pays no attention to historical realism in exchange for dreamboat men.

First off, I believe this anime conveniently ignores what a concubine actually is (we call them something very different today). It wouldn’t do to have the protagonist called a whore every scene in a show for young girls, now would it?

Changing some historical nuance isn’t a deal breaker for a show such as this, full of fantasy and no “true story” adaptation. The real issue is the complete lack of feeling that this takes place in a period gone by. This is a very “anime” anime for teenage girls with its modern humour and contemporary mannerisms. I wouldn’t call this a historical piece. I liken Saiunkoku to characters dressing up for a period piece rather and actual period piece. Whether the author wasn’t skilled enough to write a period piece or the team thought it would be too difficult for the target audience to understand, Saiunkoku isn’t a period romance.

Barring that, it does have strengths. For one, the aesthetic is lovely, suits the tone of the series, and no doubt makes the bishounen even more appealing to the audience. While this is a reverse harem, matters never descend into garbage harem territory. It also has many elements, from the intricacies of government to wider cultures and a large cast of character without dragging down proceedings. The story moves at a good pace and never feels tired. The top-level plot progress slows at times, though this is in exchange for more exploration of a subplot. I cannot impress upon you enough how surprised I am by this. Too often, such a volume of elements results in a bloated mess where everything competes for attention, nothing sticks with the audience, and you just want to drop the series.

We have plenty of politics within and without as Shuurei navigates the imperial court and all its conniving players. She faces a greater challenge than others do, being a woman in the territory of men while falling for some of them. The drama never gets heavy, yet it has enough to deliver the audience to the conclusion. It maintains the mask of shoujo romance, yet doesn’t do so at the total expense of depth.

The Story of Saiunkoku is quite good for young girls – there is a lot here for the right audience – but anyone desiring an experience that takes you back in time with a touch of fantasy will find this piece too modern.

Art – Medium

Most of the effort went into the character designs and aesthetics, which look nice, instead of animation, which needs work.

Sound – Medium

Music is the best part of The Story of Saiunkoku. I like the OP and classical Asian instrumental soundtrack. As for acting, the Japanese fine. I would avoid the dub, as a couple of characters are jarring. One kid has so much nasal on top of being a kid everyone would punch on first meeting.

Story – Medium

A girl agrees to become concubine to the new emperor in exchange for a hefty reward, but the simple proposition complicates itself when feelings get involved. While not a period piece whatsoever, The Story of Saiunkoku is a good shoujo romance.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For shoujo fans. The Story of Saiunkoku is shoujo within and without – unfortunately at the expense of historical realism. It knows its core demographic.

(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

Skip Beat! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Skip Beat!

 

Similar: Maid-sama!

Ouran High School Host Club

Glass Mask

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Often funny.
  • Doesn’t make protagonist instantly great.
  • The visual humour.
  • Energetic performances.

Negatives:

  • Just getting started.
  • The love interest is too stiff.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Great, another title to add to the list of anime that deserves completion. Why does Glass Mask get 51 episodes while Skip Beat, the superior anime of the arts, only has 25 episodes? Shameful!

Skip Beat is a romantic comedy centred on the lovable goof that is 16-year-old Kyouko. She is a diligent supporter of her childhood friend turned idol Shoutarou Fuwa, acting as a de facto housewife – away from her family – while he climbs in popularity. Little did she know that he is scum! All this time, he was taking advantage of her kindness to have a free maid that will cater to him. Kyouko swears revenge by aiming to do the one thing Shou would hate more than anything: become an idol more popular than him and work with his rival, the enigmatic Ren.

There is only one problem with her plan. She has no talents.

Kyouko is a fantastic character. I love her determined naiveté towards the entertainment industry. After a makeover from frump to fashionista, she spends her time walking around the trendy districts of Tokyo just waiting to be discovered. Love it! When that doesn’t work, she barges into a talent agency demanding to become a star. That goes nowhere fast. (A chibi devil Shou in her head taunts her after every failure.)

However, after a bout of stubbornness, an agent does take pity and allows her to join as a low-level assistant, performing janitorial and porter duties to earn “the people’s love”. So committed is she to the task that she cleans the floors to a perfect polish, which has everyone slipping down the corridors.

If I haven’t made it clear already, Skip Beat is heavy on comedy to much success. Eventually she does more than clean and gets to perform before the camera, leading into the light drama of the story.

I like how it doesn’t take the Glass Mask approach of making her a prodigy overpraised by all. Her first performance is a scene doing a tea ceremony opposite Ren, something she learned from her time working at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), so it makes sense that she executes it better than the rival actress when it needs little acting on her part. And the surrounding crew don’t have their minds blown by her every gesture either, as they would in that other anime. It only becomes a little silly about over exaggeration for the final performance rehearsal of the show.

Where Skip Beat faceplants in the arts aspect is with Ren. He supposedly never does more than one take of a scene, which is stupid. For one, no director would accept this. For two, if there is one thing I can tell you about J-drama actors is that they could do with more takes. Also, Ren isn’t much of an engaging character. He’s the stoic type – “OMG! He’s so quiet and mysterious. I’m in love!” He seriously needs more expression. Perhaps that would come later in the story.

This leads to the next and most significant problem with Skip Beat. It is incomplete. And when I say incomplete, I mean barely getting started before it halts. This may be the worst case I have encountered of an incomplete good anime. At least Berserk can be taken as a series with a “villain wins” ending. For Skip Beat, it is little more than the first act in these 25 episodes and leads to all sorts of problems, not least of which is in the romance.

To no one’s surprise, the story setups up a love triangle with Shou, Kyouko, and Ren, but we never even reach that point when the triangle is official. In fact, Shou is barely in the anime after she learns of his true nature. In isolation, it’s fine – it makes sense to keep him aside while she grows closer to Ren first, but when the script stops suddenly, it’s so unsatisfying to have zero resolution on anything.

Skip Beat the manga has 43 volumes so far and is still ongoing (not on hiatus), so if you intend to get into this anime and want closure, prepare to read. So frustrating! Perhaps it could see a revival like many others chosen in recent years.

Art – Medium

The art is dated at this point. It is expressive though and sports good visual humour, which is perfect for Skip Beat.

Sound – High

Interestingly, the dub translates everything, including the songs and does it well. The songs sound as if the same people performed them in both languages with perfect fluency. The dub acting is great too. I prefer it for making Kyouko more manic and Shou goofier, leaning further into the comedic side. Of course, the Japanese works great too.

Story – Medium

A girl decides to become a mega star in revenge for being used by another star she thought was her friend. Skip Beat is funny, often unexpected, and too criminally incomplete to reach its full potential.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For those willing to read the manga afterwards. Skip Beat is tons of fun, but it’s also the mere start of the story, so prepare to get into a lengthy manga if you desire closure.

(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:

Incomplete