Tag Archives: Shounen

Young Adult boys as the target audience.

School Rumble – Anime Review

Japanese Title: School Rumble

 

Related: School Rumble 2nd Semester (included in review)

Similar: Ouran High School Host Club

Toradora!

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Romance

Length: 52 episodes (2 seasons), 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Consistently funny.
  • Kenji Harima.
  • Quick pace.

Negatives:

  • Plot goes nowhere.
  • Low-end art.

(Request an anime for review here.)

When School Rumble introduces its main girl with the caption “Kinda stupid,” I know I am in for a good time. School Rumble hits with the jokes hard and fast, never slowing down to let us breathe, even to the detriment of its plot.

We follow the kinda stupid Tenma in her mission to confess love to Karasuma. Meanwhile, the almost as stupid delinquent-turned-supposed-softie Harima tries to complete his mission of confessing to Tenma. And then another student wants to confess to Harima, but then another guy wants to confess to her, and so on this love chain goes surround by hectic comedy.

Tenma’s introductory caption is accurate, for she truly is a ditz, which is usually not my kind of character. However, School Rumble treats her like a ditz and doesn’t allow her to get away with it – a nice change. In one dilemma, Tenma can’t exit the girls’ bathroom with Karasuma outside because if your crush sees you exit the bathroom it is embarrassing, or shameful, or something. I don’t know – this girl’s crazy!

Her target of desire, Karasuma, is similarly an inverse of the usual guy the main girl wants. He is boring. Not the ‘we tell you he’s cool to explain why the girl loves him but he’s actually boring’ kinda guy. No, Karasuma is boring by design. From his personality to his no-detail art, he is the definition of boring and treated as such. The humour surrounding Tenma’s inexplicable obsession with him is hilarious. Finally, a high school anime knows what the audience is thinking when Main Girl swears it’s True Love with Boring Guy.

The best character of all however, is Kenji Harima. Again, I am not a fan of the delinquent thug archetype due to their predictable arcs, yet with Harima and his depth of character and complexity, he’s nothing like the usual delinquent stock. The humour derived from fancying himself a sensitive guy now that he’s in love, while beating the snot out of people, works well. The episode when he becomes a Jesus/Buddha/Noah hobo with a flock of animals after he thinks he can never get Tenma gives me stitches. To cope with his unrequited love, he creates a manga about a guy and girl falling in love that look like him and Tenma, though he swears they totally aren’t the same!

His and Tenma’s schemes to show love towards their crushes are equally idiotic and hilarious. One early episode has Harima trying to tell Tenma that she’s forgotten to write her name on her test paper, which will fail her. He comes up with crazy yet clever ways of telling her without being caught by the teacher, but Tenma is so stupid that she doesn’t notice his hints. He even writes, “You forgot to write your name,” on his paper and shows it her, but she takes it as the literal answer to one of the questions… Oh boy, this is gonna be a long journey of love.

And a long journey it is, as the plot barely coughs forward after 52 episodes. To pre-empt any disappointment, let me tell you that the goal of saying ‘I love you’ to their crushes amounts to nothing. Even if the manga does give resolution somewhere in its 22 volumes, this go-nowhere plot is still a problem. “But it’s a comedy! Story doesn’t matter in comedy,” I hear you say. That is the case, sometimes, but not when the comedy presents its story so much. School Rumble keeps going back to Tenma and Harima’s story of confessing love, almost moving it forward, before resetting everything back to zero with some misunderstanding so they can play the same joke again a few episodes later. I get the impression that the writer didn’t know what to do for humour once the confessions were over, and so stayed in the ‘safe zone.’

To contrast with the similar Ouran High School Host Club, I find School Rumble has the better jokes, but am more satisfied with Ouran due to its conclusion. Nevertheless, School Rumble’s comedy is sharp enough to engage you. The quick pace of having 2-3 mini-episodes per full episode, rather than dragging one joke for 20 minutes, also helps. Though by the second season, I do get tired of episodes that focus on the confessions since it’s obvious they go nowhere.

Art – Low

School Rumble hails from the early days where computers replaced cel animation, and as such, looks serviceable, at best. One scene that stands out is when two characters are supposed to dance. One complements the other about how good a dancer she is – except they aren’t animated!

Sound – High

Energetic voice acting in English and Japanese provided by a great script of non-stop jokes.

Story – Medium

High school teens try to say, “I love you,” to their crushes, but fail amidst a whirlwind of misunderstanding, hijinks, and comedic chaos. Solid characters and excellent comedy make up for School Rumble’s go-nowhere plot.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school comedy fans. I give School Rumble a High rating, despite its story problems, because the humour saves it. One episode is all you need to know if School Rumble is for you. Give it a chance.

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

Positive: 

Hilarious

Negative: None

Noragami – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Noragami

 

Related: Noragami Aragato (season 2 – included in review)

Similar: Kamisama Kiss

Soul Eater

Bleach

Ah! My Goddess

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Supernatural Action Comedy

Length: 25 episodes (2 seasons)

 

Positives:

  • Good fun.
  • Solid all-round.

Negatives:

  • Nothing stands out.
  • First season has little plot.
  • Lots of side tracking.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Japan’s Shinto religion, which Noragami borrows from, has hundreds of gods across all levels, from the goddess Amaterasu to your dead granny. With so many gods, some of them, surely, must be trash. Yato is one such trash god. The toilet god gets shrines, but this God of Calamity Yato doesn’t even have a birdhouse for people to pray at.

On a quest to build a shrine of his own, he takes odd jobs – bathroom cleaner, babysitting, etc. – for 5-yen payments at a time. Maybe his problem is that he’s so bad at business. Who knows…? High school girl Hiyori saves him from becoming road kill on one such odd job to find a lost cat. Alas, she takes the truck hit in his place, but instead of meeting death, it kicks her spirit from her body. While she can re-enter her body, she now periodically falls asleep and separates again to roam as a spirit with Yato.

Noragami tells us its main goal is to fix Hiyori’s predicament. However, it quickly abandons this direction to focus on Yato’s predicament as a trash god and his dark past that led him here. Before this, he needs a new spirit weapon after his previous weapon demanded release from serving such a trash god. Weapons in Noragami are born of human-like spirits, who transform into a weapon at their master’s command. Yato finds Yukine, a nubile spirit with potential that first needs human discipline. The weapons being people with emotions and a consciousness raises several interesting questions about the morality of their servitude. Either way you shake it, these spirits are slaves to the gods. One god may claim all her weapons are family, yet it doesn’t erase that their will is bound to her whims. This element, which many anime would have forgotten, is Noragami’s strongest and a thoughtful addition to character-with-monsters-for-weapons anime.

Once Yukine establishes himself as Yato’s new weapon, the plot moves onto another god and her obsession with killing Yato for a past crime. This is when the plot gets going and largely takes place in season 2. The first season is a lot of meandering and side tracking. Yukine as the focus isn’t interesting enough to warrant stalling the main plot for so long, more so because he’s the weakest of the cast. Noragami has a problem with being side tracked. If it’s not Yukine’s problem, it’s some other supporting character than needs help in a way that doesn’t influence the main plot. Season 1 comes down to a monster-of-the-week formula.

This chain of side tracking reminds of old point and click games. Alright, your goal is to open that door, so you need a key, but to get that key you need to help the hag on the hill, yet to help the hag, you must learn to cook, though cooking requires a journey to Nepal, where a monk will talk to you about the weather. Only then can you go all the way back to get the key (if you read the manga that is, for the anime doesn’t advance the first thread). Noragami’s threads at least relate to each other more than the nonsense I’ve just spouted, though their disconnected feel stems from each side quest eclipsing the main. It doesn’t feel as though Yato searches for a new weapon while helping Hiyori. Instead, one erases the other from existence until resolved, only for it to face erasure again when a new side quest pops up. This isn’t a serious issue, yet was an easy fix in the draft stage.

The saving grace among side quests is the humour. Noragami is consistently funny. Yato is a comedy machine when paired with Hiyori, whose narcolepsy jokes never get old. That said, a joke seems to act as a full stop to any serious scene, as if the writers were afraid of allowing the story to be serious for a moment.

I haven’t much to say about Noragami, for it doesn’t stand out in any aspect nor does it fail miserably in any either. My above criticisms aren’t experience-breaking issues while at the same time, the parts I like – people becoming weapons, the humour, the morality – don’t carry Noragami beyond the ‘solid’ realm. That’s it – Noragami is a solid show from characters to action. If you’re a fan of the genre and need your fix before the next greatness, Noragami will tide you over in solid fashion.

Art – High

Like the recently reviewed Hyouka, the little movements in Noragami’s animation, such as clothes shifting rather than staying stiff when walking, are a pleasant surprise. Creepy spirit designs – many eyeballs (don’t watch if eyeballs sprouting from human bodies makes you vomit).

Sound – High

Great energy in both languages – pick either – but I preferred the Japanese for having a crazier protagonist. It’s unusual to have legit English songs – it works.

Story – Medium

A low-rent god accompanied by a girl in limbo and his spirit weapon fight off spirits and gods alike, as he escapes his past to become a legitimate god. Noragami’s story is solid in most aspects, with no outstanding problems yet no strengths to stand out.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For contemporary supernatural fans. If you like the high-school-kids-do-supernatural-things-in-our-world anime type, you will enjoy Noragami. Do note that you may have to continue on to the manga for a conclusion to Hiyori’s arc (it truly hasn’t advanced in the anime), as a third season isn’t confirmed.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Hyouka – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hyouka

 

Similar: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

Gosick

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Mystery

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Pleasant art and animation details.

Negatives:

  • So boring.
  • No obstacles to the mysteries.
  • No reason to care.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Imagine a mystery where characters sit around and talk about the mystery instead of facing obstacles in the pursuit of answers. Now imagine that halfway through this series, what little mystery there was dwindles to a mere ember dying out in Sherlock Holmes’s fireplace. There you have Hyouka.

Oreki is a high school student who doesn’t like to expend energy unless absolutely necessary. He joins the school’s Classic Literature Club thinking it will be an easy ride without energy required, but when the inquisitive Eru begins an investigation into a mystery connecting her uncle and the club, his plans of laziness vanish.

Damn Hyouka is boring. This mystery they speak of is so uninteresting. It involves old books and finding meaning behind a passage, uncovering the author, getting the facts of a past incident, etc. The answer, which I won’t give away, feels so unimportant and is so unremarkable that I would understand if you thought it was a minor detail before the real solution.

It’s the journey, not the destination, you say? Well, the journey is a chore of bland dialogue replacing actual investigation. Where Sherlock Holmes – an inspiration for Hyouka (apparently) – would hit the streets looking for clues and talking to unusual witnesses, Oreki and co. chat with a librarian and then return to the clubroom to talk about the rest of the case. Hyouka has no flair, no style – no tension. Nonsense slice of life punctuates the investigation, though has no effect on the monotony, making Hyouka even duller.

Having a light mystery can work – we see it all the time in one-shot sitcom episodes – but you must have great characters to hang out with for the duration. Such pieces are more about having a good time with interesting people than about solving some deep mystery. Oreki’s trait of energy conservation has no purpose to the story. It’s a gimmick and nothing more. When a protagonist has ‘the trait,’ it must mean something to the story at large. As an example, Holmes’s abrasiveness gives him the ability to ask insensitive but necessary questions of witnesses and suspects alike. Yet this abrasiveness also makes him difficult to work with. Oreki’s laziness doesn’t do anything because he completes his task anyway with no meaningful conflict. Remove his gimmick and nothing changes.

To worsen matters, the second half of Hyouka devolves into meaningless slice of life – the Sherlock Holmes motif in the second ED is an insult, at this point. Hyouka’s mysteries are so few, so uninteresting that they run out of steam halfway through the series.

Honestly, I have so little to say about Hyouka that this feels like a waste of a review. It never gave me a reason to care about any of its characters or mysteries. So what drew me to this in the first place? When I was in Takayama (a town close to Shirakawa-go of Higurashi fame) for a festival, I saw in the hotel’s window a poster for Hyouka’s Blu-ray, which is set in fictional Kamiyama based on Takayama. When an anime takes place in a real Japanese location, the locals of said location size the opportunity to attract fans for tourism. ‘Location pilgrimages’ are common among otaku – similar to how Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings fans go on holidays to hunt filming locations. I was doing the reverse, interested in the fictional portrayal after visiting the real place. And as it turns out, the real place is far more engaging.

Art – High

The art is Hyouka’s best quality with its bright palette and great animation. The little movements in each scene are a nice touch.

Sound – Medium

Even top actors could not make this dry dialogue engaging. Characters talk a lot without saying much.

Story – Low

A lazy guy is roped into a literature club that seeks to uncover mysteries surrounding their clubroom and its books. Never have I seen mysteries less interesting nor so boringly told than in Hyouka.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Hyouka is so boring that I can’t see reason to recommend it.

(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

Your Lie in April – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso

 

Similar: AnoHana

Kids on the Slope

Nodame Cantabile

Chihayafuru

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Music Drama Romance

Length: 22 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The protagonist’s arc and conflicts.
  • Balance of humour and drama.
  • Gorgeous music in both audio and visuals.

Negatives:

  • Love interest lacks a dimension.
  • Finale climax isn’t as strong as the mid-point.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Your Lie in April was the fan darling of the fall/autumn 2014 and winter 2015 seasons and though I avoided discussions, morsels still fell off the grapevine to inform me of its heavy emotional content. I feared another Clannad. But after several requests for review, it was time to step up.

Since the death of his mother, former piano prodigy Kousei can no longer ‘hear his music.’ The world is monotone in his eyes. Along comes Kaori, his opposite, a violinist with energy, colour, and humour he has never had. Her exuberance forces him back onto the stage to play a duet with her in a contest. She sees the potential to revive his passion.

Your Lie in April shows its strengths within minutes. First, I love the humour, which punctuates the drama to avoid depressing the audience – “The school shouldn’t be standing in the ball’s path!” Kousei’s childhood friend says after she smashed a baseball through a classroom window. In contrast, we have the foreshadowing, hinting of the sobriety and weight that is to come. The absence of his mother, the abuse he received by her cane, his lifeless view of the world, and his lack of joy are excellent foreshadowing. This is how you do dramatic storytelling – not by suddenly throwing it in for the final act.

As Kousei’s backstory unravels and his arc progresses, we see April’s most brilliant quality – the love-hate relationship between Kousei and his mother. The writer could have left the backstory at child abuse or even just having a dead mother, but this delves so much deeper. Boy abused by his mother – that’s the basic level. Boy abused by his mother, who wants him to be the prodigy she couldn’t be after illness claimed her motor functions – interesting. Boy abused by his voyeuristic mother, whom he still loves and wants to impress despite an awareness of the abuse – now you have my full attention. And she affects him more in death than in life? I can only be so engaged! Remember, this is just one thread in his arc.

The way the narrative shows this internal drama is spectacular. The spectre of his mother leering over his shoulder during a performance conveys all we need to know in a single image. That said, his inner monologue could do with trimming in parts.

Where Your Lie in April stumbles is in Kaori. If someone has recommended this anime to you, they have most likely done so by focusing on her and her arc as the best aspects. However, Kaori lacks the dimensions seen in Kousei. Earlier, I talked of the several layers in Kousei’s conflict with his mother, but for Kaori, she stops at the first level. She’s a girl with a serious illness. And that’s it for her conflict layers. By no means does this make her a bad character, yet for someone that is near equal protagonist to Kousei, it isn’t enough. Having a tragic circumstance doesn’t make a character deep – that way lies emotional manipulation.

Her main purpose is to be Kousei’s opposite as she brings him back to life, which she does excellently. The problem dwells in the two-way exchange. Because her own conflict is only surface deep, Kousei does not have much to help with in exchange. She complements him, but he doesn’t complement her with even a tenth of the effectiveness. For a great example of her role done right, look to Kimi ga Nozomu Ein, where the love interest also has to bring the protagonist back to life. The difference between Kaori and Nozomu’s girl is that the latter has her own intangible weakness to interfere with her good qualities. She’s helpful and kind, but also selfish, never mind the seed of resentment buried deep within her towards the protagonist’s previous girlfriend, who was also her best friend (drama!). This gives the protagonist an angle to help the love interest in return. Kaori is kind – no but. Yes, she’s sick, though as mentioned earlier, that doesn’t automatically give emotional flaws. Now, if the illness made her bitter or some such, then we’d be talking.

Kaori’s design problems also result in her finale having half the impact of Kousei’s dramatic high note at the mid-point. If their relationship had had more give and take, her finale would have struck better. The finale is still good regardless because of his perspective on the events and the spectacular final performance (bloody hell that is beautiful).

Also, she’s too whimsical. Her introduction has her dancing and playing music atop a kids’ igloo, tears in her eyes, as birds fly around her. I know her liveliness is to juxtapose his introduction – the episode is titled ‘Monotone/Colourful’ after all – but this is so whimsical that a flock of tweety birds now serenade me awake every morning and bring me my slippers.

Again, I want to stress that Kaori is not a bad character. She is plenty of fun and complements Kousei well, but is average beyond this and not the reason to watch Your Lie in April.

I wish I had more space to explore the childhood friend’s arc – my word count is already high – so a quick note, since it’s worth mention. She realises she has feelings for Kousei only once he takes an interest in Kaori. She was there for him through the worst and now…he’s turning away. This is an effective subplot in showing another consequence of Kousei’s actions. I feel so sorry for her.

Well, here we are, the end of an anime I both looked forward to and dreaded. Your Lie in April turned out much better than I anticipated (Kousei’s arc, honestly, brilliant) and I would recommend it to most viewers.

Art – High

Colourful and vibrant art makes this anime leap off the screen, especially in the spectacular final performance. Full animation when playing music is great to see and they mask the CG well.

Sound – Very High

Piano and violin? You truly are trying to make me love you, aren’t you? The VO is great in both languages, as should be expected these days.

Story – High

An aimless pianist has colour injected back into his life when a girl his opposite forces him to tickle ivory again. Your Lie in April has one of anime’s greatest character arcs in its multi-layered protagonist, but the love interest, who should by all right be his match in quality, doesn’t leave his shadow.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Your Lie in April is a great anime, worth it for the protagonist alone. Even viewers averse to heavy drama will find the humour enough to stave off depression after the story’s darkest moments.

(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:

Deep NarrativeExtensive Character DevelopmentGreat Music

Negative: None

Mobile Police Patlabor TV – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mobile Police Patlabor: On Television

 

Related: Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie (sequel)

Mobile Police Patlabor: Early Days (shorter alternative version)

Similar: Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex

Full Metal Panic!

Dai-Guard

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Contemporary Mecha Science Fiction Comedy

Length: 47 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Well aged visually.
  • Mech designs.

Negatives:

  • Out done in every way by contemporaries.
  • Protagonist’s immaturity.
  • Flat dub.
  • Not particularly interesting nor funny enough.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I’m not sure if I am disappointed with Mobile Police Patlabor TV. On one hand, I was looking forward to it. On the other, it wasn’t bad nor did it have anything of particular annoyance. I don’t know how to describe how much nothing there is to this cult classic anime.

Mobile Police Patlabor TV focuses on Izumi and her motley police crew, who use mechs called Patlabors to fight crime and protect the people. Labors – heavy mechanised robots – are everywhere in society from construction to military, so it’s important for law enforcement to know how to handle them.

Izumi is the feisty new girl assigned to piloting the latest ‘patrol labor’ under the mentorship of a veteran from the LAPD. Izumi is also the first and main reason for Patlabor’s nothingness. She is too immature to be believable as such an important member of the police. Her immaturity isn’t the kind to make you beg for a merciful death within a few episodes – it’s simply results in a whole lot of nothing in terms of conflict, development, or anything really.

It’s common to have the protagonist of a comedy be a goofy character, even when in a demanding job. The key, however, to sell us on the goofiness plus the professionalism is to have a professional quality that makes us believe they can do the job. An example that leaps to mind is Jake Peralta, protagonist from TV comedy Brooklyn-Nine-Nine, who puts Izumi’s goofiness to shame. No matter the hijinks he gets up to, the one thing he is good at is being an officer. Yes, Izumi gets the job done (because the author wrote it that way). I still never bought that she was the right choice or even qualified to be a part of the mobile unit. She doesn’t have a professional quality to compensate. As a result, the conflict doesn’t feel serious because the writer didn’t send a serious character to face it.

Most episodes feel like daily life at the police station, goofing around with little conflict and mostly training. For the comedy, Patlabor has its fair share of good jokes, reminiscent of the Police Academy movies, though none had me in pain from laughter. Most jokes tend to be amusing but not ‘lough out loud’ funny, and yet not eye-gougingly bad either. Again, mostly nothing. Full Metal Panic executes all this comedy better.

For an alternative take, Mobile Police Patlabor: The Movie has Izumi as a mature character and the conflict has more weight, both at the expense of humour, which does remove much of Patlabor TV’s identity. Even so, I found the movie more engaging (the shorter length didn’t hurt either). I almost feel bad for not recommending Mobile Police Patlabor TV due to its friendly nature.

Art – Medium

Patlabor looks good for its age thanks to a remaster. I like the mech designs.

Sound – Medium

The dub is flat (“Why you!” – listen to Izumi’s delivery on that line), owed in part to the middling script, but the Japanese actors worked much better with the given material.

Story – Medium

A mobile police unit uses mechs to fight crime and try to live a normal life. A bit too ‘normal’ to excite much interest, yet not exactly disagreeable either.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Skip it. Mobile Police Patlabor TV is remarkably unmemorable, which is in itself quite memorable. Watch Full Metal Panic if you want the better comedy side or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex for the serious side.

(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