Tag Archives: Shoujo

Young Adult Girls as the target audience.

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Natsume Yujincho

 

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

Similar: Mushishi

xxxHOLiC

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Cardcaptors

My Neighbor Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • Becomes invariable after a while.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Medium

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

Sound – High

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

Story – Medium

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Orange – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Orange

 

Related: Orange: Mirai (alternative perspective + extended ending)

Similar: Erased

AnoHana

Blue Spring Ride

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Drama Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring and animation.
  • Some sweet moments.

Negatives:

  • Forgettable characters.
  • One of the weakest, most non-committal endings.
  • Needs to be smarter.

(Request an anime for review here.)

The more I think of Orange, the dumber it gets. Okay, you receive a letter from your future self warning of the death of a friend. Included are a list of events and instructions on how to save your friend. Do you: a) Read the whole letter to know what’s to come or b) Leave the letter and read each event at the last moment or better yet, after the crucial event. Now imagine you’re the future self, do you: a) Tell your past self exactly what happens or b) Keep events vague so the story isn’t spoiled. You know, I’m not convinced you care about saving your friend.

This scenario is where Naho finds herself. The letter from her future warns that the new transfer student, Kakeru, who joins her circle of friends, will die soon. The letter laments Naho’s many regrets in life, such as not playing in a school baseball game, sharing an umbrella with Kakeru… Wait, these are the crucial regrets that will save Kakeru’s life? Furthermore, the ultimate plan save to Kakeru is to get him together with Naho. It’s not that he has deep psychological issues because of his unstable mother and her suicide. No, he needs a date. The goals are so menial, so petty that despite the consequence being someone’s death, it doesn’t feel as though the story has anything at stake. Orange is a slice of life anime trying to convince us it’s a drama.

I can’t even talk of what happens during spoiler moments (‘spoiler’ is too strong a word here). There is a twist of sorts in act 2 that makes Naho’s decision not to read the whole letter seem genius. Turns out, Naho doesn’t get smarter with age.

Look, the premise is interesting, but such a timid approach isn’t viable. Compare Orange to Erased. Both feature abuse, parental problems, warnings from the future, and death as the consequence, yet feel nothing alike. Where Erased has tension, Orange worries about playing sports. Erased has its many faults and I appreciate that it’s easier to pull off this story when you have a murderer to confront, but at least it understood the weight of its consequence. The only time Orange bothers to have any weight is in the final episode. And you know what caps it off? One of those non-committal, insipid endings that doesn’t want to make the tough choices with its characters. The live-action film deviates from the source material in this one aspect, to better results, which is something.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the explanation for how the letters travelled back in time is…idiotic. This is fiction, where you can do whatever you want and you went with the science fiction equivalent of ‘pulled out of the arse’? I would show no surprise if I learnt that Orange took a day to write. No effort went into any part of this story.

I have enjoyed many mediocre or bad stories because of good characters. Orange does not have these. Naho is too dim-witted to find endearing. Apart from not reading the whole letter like a logical person, one point of “conflict” has her not understand what Kakeru means by holding out his hand. “A guy I’m dating (sorta) reaches for my hand several times. What could he possibly want? What does it mean!?” No joke, she has to consult her friends for an answer. I really hope no one’s relying on Naho to save a life…

The other friends are forgettable. I honestly forgot the nerd friend until past the mid-point, thinking he was a background filler student until then. These friends lack those moments that endear the reader to the group. The first scene that tries in episode one has them hanging out, eating bread from one friend’s family bakery. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but eating bread isn’t enough to make me love characters. They have some joke about one girl’s nickname related to a shinkansen, which they find hilarious…for some reason. Think back to your favourite group of fictional friends and how quickly you loved them. The TV show Friends is my go to example – one scene and I want to see more of them. Orange’s friends can barely fill a test tube with their chemistry.

What good is there to say of Orange? Well, it isn’t atrocious, more sigh-worthy when logic jumps out the window, and the visuals and audio are pleasant. They fit perfectly to the slice of life Orange wishes it could be. In essence, everything taken from the manga is lazy while the rest is good.

Art – High

Nice colours and a good amount of animation found here, but some of it looks strange, such as the way a couple of characters smile – coat hangers in their lips.

Sound – Medium

The voice work is good in Japanese and English, though the script doesn’t allow for much. I like the OP and ED for being different from other anime in the genre.

Story – Low

A schoolgirl receives a letter from her future self to save a friend from death. Orange is a slice of life masquerading as a drama that needed more thought before the first draft.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Orange makes no effort to recommend itself. Watch Erased if the premise entices you or the recently reviewed Your Lie in April if you want a romance about avoiding regrets.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Induces Stupidity

Revolutionary Girl Utena – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shoujo Kakumei Utena

 

Related: Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Adolescence of Utena (alternate version)

Similar: Penguindrum

Kill la Kill

Rose of Versailles

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Fantasy Drama

Length: 39 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good imagery and world design.
  • Silhouette sisters.
  • The comedy episodes.

Negatives:

  • Overused sequences.
  • Black Rose arc.
  • The villains and their metaphors.
  • The Rose Bride is boring.
  • Too much recap.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I am hesitant to include Rose of Versailles in the ‘Similar’ section above, for it gives false expectations of Revolutionary Girl Utena. I expected Versailles in high school, but really, they share little beyond having tomboy protagonists. I am opposed to you having the same initial expectations that I had.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a difficult anime to summarise. Not because the blurb is difficult – a tomboy called Utena fights off challengers in duels to protect the Rose Bride – rather, the blurb doesn’t convey what this anime is truly about. The story is a psychological exploration of characters through metaphors – the duels are irrelevant, for the most part, as is the Rose Bride and her ultimate purpose. This is about adolescence and the exploration of the many changes it brings to the young self.

Utena’s initial conflict revolves around her boyish dress sense (not that it should matter when the boys are more feminine than the girls) before she wins a duel against the current “owner” of the Rose Bride, a girl that gives the power to “revolutionise the world” and is unimaginably boring. After this, every day seems to bring a new challenger intent on owning the bride and her power. Here, we see one of Revolutionary Girl’s biggest problems – repetition.

Most episodes in the first two arcs go like the following: episode’s focus character has a desire taken by someone else, gets envious, the dark side seduces, convinces that getting the Rose Bride will fulfil the desire, the focus character challenges Utena, who climbs the duel tower for several minutes, they fight, and Utena wins. The stair climb looks and sounds epic and is better than any transformation sequence, but grows old after its second use out of thirty. The Black Rose Arc (two of four) is particularly egregious.

Furthermore, the duels have bad camerawork and worse choreography. None of the storyboard directors on staff knew how to do action, as evidenced by their credits. On top of using the cliché ‘two swordsmasters dash past each other, pause, one falls’ to end most duels, we never see any real fencing skill. The duels’ one strength is the setting and atmosphere, though sometimes it gets goofy. The goofiest fight has the challenger’s number one fangirl skiing (driving on two side wheels) around the arena in a convertible as more convertibles litter the area like trees. Does it mean anything? Not really – still amusing.

Episodes focused on the school diva break up this repetition with hilarious comedy, which is refreshing. She has a serious brother complex and can’t stand the idea of anyone getting his attention (little does she know…). One episode has this narcissist slowly transform into cow after wearing a cowbell she mistakes for designer jewellery. Another involves fighting a literal boxing kangaroo. I didn’t see that coming.

After the initial setup, the story doesn’t have much progression until the second half when the villains start doing something. Before then, every side character must have all of their angst laid bare, regardless of whether it’s relevant to the plot or not.

Hmm, these villains… Revolutionary Girl Utena leans on metaphor like Florida Man leans on his crutches after having his feet eaten by alligators when streaking. While half the symbolism works, the other half is symbolism for the sake of symbolism that makes no sense, which seems to be the corny villains’ primary purpose. The two main villains talk metaphorically at length while posing for a fan service softcore shoot together. At the opposite end, three women I refer to as the ‘silhouette sisters’ have a scene most episodes that twists moments from famous plays and tales to fit the narrative. Their metaphors are short, tight, and work even if you don’t get the reference.

Much of the symbolism tries to make you think deep thoughts (it’s sex), trying to be clever (it’s sex) at the expense of continuity and character consistency (hint: it means sex). The more obscure the sex symbolism, the worse the result unless it hits the spot. The silhouette sister work with their metaphors because they establish themselves as being a quirky Greek chorus of metaphors, consistent throughout the series. Others, like the villains, enter as one thing and exit as something unrelated for the sake of being artsy. And it doesn’t help that their metaphors are nonsensical, included to be artificially profound. If the writer weren’t possessed by allegory, he could have let the silhouette sisters carry the metaphors alone. They are superior in every way, from presentation to delivery.

Revolutionary Girl Utena has great depth half the time and total nonsense for the other half. Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad and is worth your time. I love the world design (wish we explored more of it), the silhouette sisters are a delight, and Utena is a great character.

A quick note on the movie, The Adolescence of Utena – it’s terrible. The spectacular environments and a personality for the Rose Bride cannot make up for the loss of all subtlety and a finale where Utena morphs into a racecar, participating in a race out of Redline. This ludicrous display must be seen to be believed.

Art – High

Utena has a good amount of motion for cel-drawn anime and an imaginative world. Everything is grand, designed to inspire awe and give the feel of Olympus.

Sound – Medium

The Japanese audio sounds dated and several actors need more training, while the English is weak in weight and delivery for all save a couple of characters – perfectly watchable though. The speed of speech is notably slow at times to match animation. I imagine the voice director often asked for slower retakes. The choral rock gets you pumped (shame it’s for lame duels).

Story – Medium

Tomboy Utena fights off challengers in duels to defend the Rose Bride from those who would use her power for unsavoury goals. Half great and half terrible, the metaphor-laden Revolutionary Girl Utena offers an intriguing anime in an unusual world.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: For fans of heavy metaphor and allegory. Revolutionary Girl Utena is better than the sum of its parts, but requires your patience to hit its stride and reveal its strengths.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Repetitive

Super GALS! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Super GALS! Kotobuki Ran

 

Similar: Neighbourhood Stories

Cheeky Angel

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Tough girls.

Negatives:

  • Spastic romances.
  • Unrealistic conflict with a teacher.
  • Fashion gangsters.
  • So looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong.

(Request an anime for review here.)

What would a high school girl do for a perm? Self-proclaimed greatest Gal, Ran, would do anything, even partake in her family’s heritage as detectives by taking to Shibuya’s streets to do good deeds – as long as she can still dress up, of course. But will her cop father ever buy the promised perm when fashion, karaoke, and boys to mooch free food from keep distracting her?

In essence, Super GALS is about a trio of fashionista girls dealing with people (often creeps) and rival Gal gangs in Tokyo’s fashion centre, Shibuya. As ridiculous as that sounds, Super GALS’ greatest problem lies in that it is too serious for the premise. The drama it introduces seems to miss the point of the world they live in.

For example, a subplot with Ran’s friend Miyu reveals she’s the leader of some street gang. Yes, totally, totally serious and legit having a spindly tween fashionista as a gang leader. They don’t play with it. Imagine Zoolander if the ‘fashion models as the most powerful people in the world’ premise was executed seriously – no jokes, no parody. That would have sucked. Well, that’s what happens when Super GALS aims for drama. No one is going to buy this girl as a street gang member, never mind as leader, so why not go all out and spring great jokes? The team should have watched Zoolander.

Another thread taken too seriously involves a teacher who goes abusive dictator on Ran. In what universe does a teacher who threatens to punch a student (and later does) last until the end of the lesson in a decent school? They could have made it comical, have the teacher get at her in subtle ways that can’t pin the blame on him (see Full Metal Panic Fumoffu episode 2). That would have taken some thought, which I doubt was spared in this series. Also, his motivations are pathetic. He does this because he hates her…just because.

Super GALS reaches its worst point during the romantic subplot for Aya (third Super Gal). She is “in love” with the most handsome teenage boy in the area from another school, but his cold personality makes him difficult to approach. Still, she’s obsessed with him. She once tells him, “I don’t care if you cheated on me – I love you. You can do whatever you want as long as you let me love you” (paraphrasing). Reality have mercy.

Okay, some teens do believe in this idealistic “love slavery” – I saw this in person during high school. However, there was always several people ready to point out the distortions of wanting such a one-sided relationship. Having the relationship isn’t the problem. It’s sick and twisted, brimming with brilliant possibilities, but you have to tap that vein or it comes across as shallow, no, idiotic. Super GALS treats it like the most romantic of relationships where no one has a bad thing to say. Mean Girls and 10 Things I Hate About You could have taught plenty to Super GALS.

Ran and co. are at their best during the comedy moments against other fashion cliques, such as the Ganguro Girls (ultra tan with bright hair). Even then, however, it’s never great. I mean, fifty-two episodes! Wow, that’s long to base such a puddle-deep premise on. It would require a skilled writer to keep the jokes interesting for that long. A few episodes was all it took to exhaust the hairspray reserves.

Art – Low

The character style is not trendy enough for the era, which is ironic considering the show’s fashion focus. Weak animation. The colouring is bright, but looks vomited onto the screen.

Sound – Low

The dub is better, for the most part, since, as is often the case, the Japanese actors made little effort at a dialect or accent. The girls sound like every other girl in Japanese. The English version does more valley/fashionista that fits much better. The voices eventually become grating regardless of language, however.

Story – Low

A trendy girl and her friends law down the law in Shibuya against other fashion gangs and creeps. Unrealistic conflicts, laughable gangsters, and trendy troubles cannot sustain 52 episodes. Better in the slice of life aspects.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless you’re super into fashion, in high school, and like old anime, I can’t imagine Super GALS will have much appeal.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Horrendous Action

His and Her Circumstances – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou

 

Similar: Special A

Maid-sama!

Kimi ni Todoke: From Me to You

Lovely Complex

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: High School Comedy Romance Drama

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Realistic relationship development.
  • Good blend of heart and comedy.
  • Captures teen overthinking and sexual tension.

Negatives:

  • Rough, unfinished art and story.
  • So much recap.

(Request an anime for review here.)

First up in round two of reader requests, we have His and Her Circumstances, a high school romance about two perfect students living a lie about their perfection. Yukino is a flawless girl at school – top of the class, pretty, athletic, modest, and helpful to all. However, at home, the façade drops and she turns into a tracksuit-sporting, big-glasses-wearing, no-makeup-having frump with no cares to give to anyone. Turns out, she only acts perfect to satiate her desire for admiration and praise.

Enter Arima, a handsome boy with modesty, intelligence, and kindness to match Yukino. She thought that him beating her in the exams was the worst, until he sees all her glorious frumpiness at home and starts blackmailing her for help at school. Turns out, he’s not so perfect either. Their rivalry and hate soon blossom into love, as they discover their true selves and the circumstances that made them act so perfect.

 

When opening His and Her Circumstances, I pleaded for it not to suck. That day was not a day for low quality and I felt strongly in the mood for something good – seeing Studio Gainax attached to the project didn’t bode well. I groaned when the show opened to introducing the perfect girl, a Mary-Sue, and an equivalent boy. See, I went in knowing almost nothing, not even that their perfection was an act. This seemed another shallow romance. When Yukino reveals the lie, which happens quite quickly, I piqued back up. It got me. It pretended to be shallow before it pulled the rug from under me to reveal depth. It got me good. The fake Mary-Sues is a brilliant play on the clichéd high school romance.

Circumstances also breaks convention by not moving at a snail’s pace. The perfect student façade is revealed to Arima in the first episode, the two get together soon, and it goes through the different phases of a relationship without filler. Well, almost: side stories halt progression as the main couple stops doing anything and no series should have this much recap. Anyway, the story would have failed if the goal of the series were to get them together in the end, like most romance anime, or have him only unmask her fake exterior in the final act. Getting Arima in on the lie early increases tension, for it allows them to play off each other much better.

The relationship between the two leads is brilliant. It’s realistic and taken seriously, even though comedy (still well balanced with drama) is the main content of the series. The writer perfectly captures a teenager’s habit to overthink everything when it comes to romance. Will he hate me if I confess? What if I can’t confess?

So, your crush/almost-boyfriend has said he loves you, but you froze in the moment and didn’t say it back. What do you do? Go the next day and say you love him too? Oh no, such an obvious, straightforward, and logical solution would never do for the teen in love. Noooo, she must set an elaborate ploy to lure him into an empty classroom or arrange a meeting in the library over a fancy book. Why not just tell—! Shh, logic isn’t needed her. If that doesn’t work, then she must learn poetry! I love it.

Sexual tension plays a strong part in this relationship. Better yet, there’s no face-planting into boobs, no accidental boob grabs, and no pretending anything sexual is disgusting to everyone involved as a substitute for sexual tension. Circumstances doesn’t shy away from being honest about teens in love wanting to do more than hold hands.

Her sisters, knowing who she really is, play great foils to her fake perfection, providing a running commentary. Good thing too because when Yukino tells her side of events (labelled as ‘re-enactments’), her bias oozes off the screen as she paints herself the victimised saint who did no wrong.

I want you to take all the good I have said above and hold it close to your heart until it feels all warm and fuzzy. Done? Right, here’s a bucket of ice-cold reality to shrivel your heart. The ending is terrible!

It’s bad enough that they included four episodes worth of recaps throughout the second half, yet add in the final episodes and it feels like a betrayal, like it was planned from the beginning to roger you thoroughly behind the bins with that disgrace of an ending. It’s not simply that the story ends poorly – it’s that they didn’t even try to end it. Remember that poor weaving of side stories mentioned earlier? That’s how it ends – with a bloody side story! The bad art that prevails the last few episodes reminds of the train wreck Evangelion ending.

Bad endings and fluctuating art quality seem a Gainax staple, and I can’t help but think that this anime would have worked better in the hands of another studio. Why didn’t they throw all the recaps and the useless end story out in favour of a single episode to conclude on if they had time and budget constraints?

His and Her Circumstances is so close to being great that it almost hurts to see it end this way.

Art – Low

Most of the time, the art is good, but an overabundance of budget techniques – cut-outs from the manga, stills, white background characters – drag it all down. It gets worse the further you go until the final episode has almost no animation, replaced by manga panels and Gainax’s signature – text instead of art. Good use of chibification.

Sound – High

The acting is good in either track, particularly for Yukino (took a moment to get used to hearing Ash Ketchum as a leading girl in English). English Arima could do with more energy. The music has many nice tracks – I always love a rendition of ‘Gliding Dance of the Maidens’, notably from RahXephon and what was to be Evangelion’s original opening song.

Story – Medium

Two perfect students turn out to be not so perfect and fall in love as they discover each other. Blending humour and heart with realistic relationship development, His and Her Circumstances would reach greatness if not for its incomplete nature and flood of recap episodes.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For romance fans. His and Her Circumstances has more than enough for romance lovers to enjoy regardless of the end. You’ll need the manga for closure.

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

Positive:

Strong Lead Characters

Negative:

IncompleteWeak End