Tag Archives: Shoujo

Young Adult Girls as the target audience.

A Place Further than the Universe – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho

 

Similar: Yuru Camp

Girls’ Last Tour

Space Brothers

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Adventure

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Good finish.
  • Pleasant art.

Negatives:

  • Frequent immaturity to force cuteness.
  • First act is rather boring.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I don’t have much to say on A Place Further than the Universe, which comes as a pleasant change after Hunter x Hunter’s review.

It is a story about spirit and youth. Mari feels trapped in her ordinary Japanese life and craves to do something impulsive, go on an adventure! But after she chicken’s out on an impromptu adventure, all seems set to return to normal – that is until she meets Shirase, a girl determined to go to Antarctica, where her mother went missing. A third girl joins them soon. However, not just anyone can go on an Antarctic expedition, especially not a trio of high school kids. Their ticket to the frozen land appears in the form of Yuzuki. If they can convince this idol to go, they can accompany her as companions.

Like all anime about cute girls, acting cute is a top priority for the characters and the main reason I’m not into these shows. Cuteness doesn’t bother me – it’s the forced cuteness. The first scene has Mari suddenly bawl her eyes out in front of her mother, which I assume is meant to be cute, but is just immature. Not even an infant would act this way. The difference between A Place Further than the Universe and Girls’ Last Tour, where the cuteness worked for me, is in how much they draw attention to it. Here, the girls have these overreactions and pantomime-like performances as if to say, “Look at me – I’m cute! You agree, right?” The girls in Last Tour simply are cute, so they don’t have to demand your attention every few minutes.

 This immaturity, often from Mari, is a recurring annoyance and seems to replace story and development for act one. Act two is a little more interesting as they train and prepare for the expedition. It’s still too much “cute girls being cute”, but the Antarctic knowledge from a mature adult character improves matters. The episodes aren’t bad, though I routinely found my focus slipping, only to snap back a few minutes later and realise I was still watching this anime.

The Antarctic portion doesn’t start until act three. At last, the girls have things to do other than act cute and seeing daily life in the Antarctic is fascinating – how a ship breaks through the ice, how supplies come in, sunburn, the dangers of a blizzard, and so on. There isn’t any great disaster for them to contend with – things are still light-hearted – but it’s more than just the girls now, as it should have been from the start. It also closes Shirase’s arc in the search for her mother in a heartfelt and satisfying way. The third act is far superior to what came previous and as such, leaves you with a positive impression.

Fans of cute girls anime will love this more than I did, of that I have no doubt. A Place Further than the Universe doesn’t pretend to anything beyond its initial impression. It doesn’t lie, bait, or emotionally manipulate you. It’s about high school girls going on an adventure to Antarctica with a lot of silliness and a touch of emotion. And that’s fine.

Art – High

This anime’s strongest quality, the art, uses bright colours and pure white highlights to complement the energetic and uplifting feel of the story.

Sound – Medium

The acting is alright – a little overdone to the point of becoming pantomime at times.

Story – Medium

A group of high school girls set their adventurous hearts on reaching Antarctica to accomplish something with their youth. A Place Further than the Universe keeps things light, which does limit depth and makes it hard to keep paying attention, but the end is strong enough to leave on a good note.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of the cute girls doing things genre. We’ve had cute girls in bands, in tanks, on battleships, and now in Antarctica. Fans of the genre are spoilt for choice!

(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

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Little Witch Academia – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Little Witch Academia

 

Related: Little Witch Academia (original movie – included in review)

Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (sequel movie – included in review)

Little Witch Academia TV (alternate series – included in review)

Similar: My Hero Academia

Cardcaptor Sakura

Orphen

Kodocha

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Fantasy Comedy Adventure

Length: 2 short films, 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • So much fun!
  • Consistently funny.
  • Gorgeous colours and animation.
  • Excellent dub.

Negatives:

  • Movies rendered redundant by series and lack of originality.
  • Weak overarching plot.
  • Sub-par Japanese track.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Little Witch Academia started out as a short film project made possible through a government grant to have veterans train young animators. Its massive success led to a Kickstarter for a sequel film and funding for a full TV series after that.

It follows the adventures of Akko, a girl with big dreams of becoming like her performing witch idol, Shiny Chariot, as she attends Luna Nova Academy for training. Alongside her are Sucy, the diabolical apothecary, and Lotte, a witch that can talk to…old junk? Let us not forget the queen ego, Diana, who has the audacity of being great at magic and focusing on school. Disgusting. In her quest for greatness and answers on what happened to Chariot, Akko must unlock the seven secrets of Chariot’s old weapon, the Shiny Rod.

I want to start with the short film before we dive into the heart of the series.

I had always heard of Little Witch Academia as ‘Harry Potter for girls’, which I can confirm is absolutely true of the first film. There is no denying the inspiration drawn from Harry Potter book one, The Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US). The schools are similar with the same quirky magic, have a boring History of Magic class, broom flying with the same teacher and someone showing off, a snooty blonde rival from a ‘pure’ bloodline, a Forbidden Forest, a rampaging monster from the dungeons, a sorcerer’s stone of importance, and the list goes on. The main differences are with Akko, who is more like Neville with her levels of incompetence (and secret greatness), and that Little Witch Academia is all about fun instead of a serious plot.

I don’t begrudge it for the similarities – the tone makes a big enough difference – but the story isn’t of particular interest. The sequel movie is about setting up a parade and utterly unmemorable. I only recommend the movies for completion’s sake or the visual spectacle, nothing more.

Here we come to the series, which keeps the same premise and characters, though otherwise goes back to the start to give us more depth in every aspect. Many of the Harry Potter similarities beyond the magic school leave the stage as well.

Each episode is a mini adventure with Akko and friends trying to overcome some task, such as learning to speak to fish. Akko is so disaster prone that nothing ever goes according to plan. After accidentally flushing the fish, who happens to be the professor, down the drain, she must enter the sewers to mount a rescue. She is so much fun and bursting with such energy that I can’t help but smile at everything she does. However, my favourite character has to be Sucy. She’s always concocting potions and growing special mushrooms, which she gives to her friends as guinea pigs in dire situations, just to see what happens. Her bored monotone voice matches her dry wit perfectly. Imagine a young Snape if he weren’t a total prat.

Little Witch Academia’s humour is a smash hit in general. I particularly enjoy the humour that pokes fun at the magic society. Why don’t witches use cell phones? It sure would help. In this world, humans are aware of witches and don’t have a high opinion of them. A sub plot involves improving relations with humans and has the girls attend a ball with human guys. The dynamic between the pretentious guy and Akko is great, for he can’t resist her energy despite his disdain for magic.

The one significant problem with Little Witch Academia is in the overarching story about reactivating the Shiny Rod and uncovering what happened to Shiny Chariot. It isn’t engaging. I couldn’t care less about this thread because it doesn’t feel as though it matters much. For one final Harry Potter comparison, think of Voldemort’s story and all the conflict he brings. We are looking at opposing ends of the same scale for engagement. Now, Little Witch Academia is a light-hearted series and such a dark plot wouldn’t fit the tone, but there is still no reason they couldn’t have made the Shiny Chariot history more relevant and interwoven with the rest of the narrative. It feels almost tacked-on simply to have some overall story. As a result, the final few episodes that resolve this plot are the weakest. The conflict lacks a real villain as well. There is one of sorts, but again, she’s so minor in the grand scheme that she feels added in just to fill the villain slot.

It’s a testament to the quality of the episodic content that this is great anime in the face of the overall story problems.

The ‘Harry Potter for girls’ label is misleading, as this is an anime for everyone. It doesn’t have most shoujo tropes, such as the crush on an older man or the endless “what do I do?” staring at her feet weak characters. Anyone can love Little Witch Academia and it is my favourite Studio Trigger anime. Akko may be terrible in class, but she gets an A+ from me. I love that girl.

Art – Very High

The art adds so much fun and energy to the series through its colour and animation. Little animation details make every episode visually engaging and an absolute delight to witness.

Sound – High

I am thankful for the excellent dub, as the original Japanese is sub-par, particularly for the main trio. Sucy in English is perfect and bad in Japanese, while Japanese Akko doesn’t have enough energy. The music reminds me of Disney’s Cinderella – never a bad thing.

Story – High

A young girl attends witch school in the hopes of becoming as adept in magic as her idol was, and to do so, must activate the many secrets of a magic rod. Little Witch Academia’s episodic content and boundless fun makes up for the weak overarching plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Little Witch Academia the series is for all ages and an anime to be loved by all. I would be surprised if you didn’t enjoy it, even a little.

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

Positive:

CharmFluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Kodocha – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kodomo no Omocha TV

 

Related: Kodomo no Omocha OVA (alternate version)

Similar: Super GALS!

Gakuen Alice

Marmalade Boy

 

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

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 102 episodes

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • The art is ugly, to put it nicely.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Very Low

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

Sound – Medium

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

Story – High

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

Overall Quality – High

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

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

Positive:

CharmHilarious

Negative:

Ugly Artistic Design

Natsume’s Book of Friends – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Natsume Yujincho

 

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

Similar: Mushishi

xxxHOLiC

Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light

Cardcaptors

My Neighbor Totoro

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Slice of Life

Length: 52 episodes (4 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

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

Negatives:

  • Becomes invariable after a while.

(Request an anime for review here.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art – Medium

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

Sound – High

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

Story – Medium

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

Overall Quality – Medium

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

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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.

(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:

Induces Stupidity