Tag Archives: Shounen

Young Adult boys as the target audience.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid / Blend S / Ranma ½ – Quick Review

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

Japanese Title: Kobayashi-san Chi no Maid Dragon

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 13 episodes

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is about a drunk office lady who accidentally invites a dragon to live with her. It isn’t long before other dragons crash in as well.

There are five dragons: main dragon, little dragon, male dragon, rival dragon, and pedo dragon. Main dragon is the titular maid to Miss Kobayashi. Comedy largely comes from her incompetent but earnest attempts at being a useful maid to Kobayashi – and a strange obsession with serving her own dragon tail meat for dinner. This is typical fish out of water humour from a slice of life anime. Little dragon is just there for the cute factor.

Most characters have no point to this story. I know this is slice of life, a genre thin on purpose, yet even so, most of these characters serve little purpose. The worst character in both purpose and personality is pedo dragon. The old dragon whose job is carrying two massive jugs around answers the summons of a little magician boy. Her purpose becomes to molest him at every possible opportunity. They even called him Shouta… So obsessed is Dragon Maid with this “joke” that it will cut away from unrelated scenes to show her sleeping with this child and using him as a grinding pillow. Furthermore, she is completely pointless.

The other surprisingly pointless aspect is the whole dragon bit. Having these characters be dragons doesn’t play much of a factor outside of a shoehorned bit of plot involving the dragon emperor in the final episode. I think of Hinamatsuri with its alien girls. Sure, Hina’s character designs were uninspired but being aliens made a difference. The dragon aspect is just a gimmick.

Not pulling a “she’s actually a thousand years old” on little dragon was Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid’s greatest surprise.

The two main characters are decent fun and I like the colours and animation. Other than that, it’s a run of the mill moe slice of life comedy and those are never great.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For moe slice of life fans only.

*     *     *     *     *

Blend S

Japanese Title: Blend S

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

If you’ve heard of Blend S it’s because of the meme opening (“Smile! Sweet! Sadistic!”). It’s also the only entertaining part. This isn’t a good anime.

Blend S is a workplace slice of life series – of which there are many – filled with a cast of generic characters. The main girl struggles to find a job because despite being small and cute, her smile looks menacing. Anime, seriously, there are only so many times you can use this trope. Please, something else.

The scenarios are typical and crammed to the brim with gags, which gives the feeling that the writers don’t want you to stop and think about how nothing is happening. I don’t find it funny, so this doesn’t work for me. And the sexualisation is creepy, though not that prevalent.

You ever discover an older anime and wonder how it faded into obscurity, forgotten by everyone after the season ended? Watching Blend S reminds me of that. This anime is so dull in the face of such high energy.

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Skip it. A new anime of its kind will be out every season anyway.

*     *     *     *     *

Ranma ½

Japanese Title: Ranma ½

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 161 episodes

Today we end on a classic of slice of life comedy, an anime from a time when broadcasters wanted 161 episodes from a story that goes nowhere.

Ranma ½ is about a guy called Ranma who turns into a girl when splashed with cold water. Hot water turns him back again. His father arranges for him to marry the daughter from a long running dojo family. Akane plays the main love interest and foil to Ranma.

Episodes of Ranma ½ follow a rather repetitive theme of Ranma fighting someone with martial arts over some misunderstanding or jealousy, a lover spat with Akane, and some gender swapping hijinks. It doesn’t go much of anywhere. The core premise is alright – I have no particular objections there – but episode after episode of mid-level comedy, repetition, and a story that makes one step of progress per twenty episodes is dull. As mentioned earlier, Ranma ½ comes from a time when stations wanted longer anime. They try out a few, find the ones that stick, and play them forever. If you could get the audience interested, you expect their return to your station every week. This anime isn’t meant for the binge viewer. That is true of many older anime. However, many still have reason to watch them today amongst the modern series. Ranma ½ doesn’t hold up.

One final note – avoid the dub. It’s not from a time of quality dubs, but worst of all is the fact that one actress didn’t record using the same equipment. Background noise accompanies her every time she speaks. It’s like teeth against a chalkboard.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For classic slice of life fans only. At 161 episodes long, Ranma ½ is only for the diehard.

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Beastars – Manga Review

Japanese Title: Beastars

 

Related: Beastars (anime)

 

Genre: Action Drama Slice of Life

Length: 196 chapters (22 volumes)

 

Positives:

  • Unique art is full of expression
  • The world building
  • Louis’s and Legosi’s arcs and themes
  • Memorable side characters

Negatives:

  • Introduces concepts only to leave them unresolved
  • Forgets so many characters
  • Abrupt and rubbish ending

This may be the most difficult review I have had to write. I finished the Beastars manga months ago, the week of the final chapter’s release. However, I have been stuck on what I think of it and thus, what I would write in a review. This might end up being an incoherent ramble. I have to get it out.

Beastars is an excellent manga set in a world of anthropomorphic animals where an uneasy peace rests between the herbivores and carnivores, the latter often viewed with prejudice as bloodthirsty killers. Some carnivores have killed herbivores; therefore, all carnivores are murderers. This tension is perhaps no tighter than at Cherryton Academy, a mixed diet school of herbivores and carnivores, an arrangement on which it prides itself. Public relations take a turn when an unknown attacker eats an alpaca on campus. Legosi, a massive grey wolf and friend of the victim, searches for the predator while grappling feeling of lust and hunger of his own for the small white rabbit Haru.

Most of the first arc centres on the drama club, of which Legosi partakes as a stagehand. His shyness precludes him from the stage. Then we have the red deer Louis, Legosi’s opposite in every way – slender, upright, confidant, popular, and destined for greatness as a Beastar, the most prestigious position in society.

The heart of Beastars’ greatness is in its handling of themes as told through a cast of compelling characters in a rich world. Prejudice, nature versus nurture, and belonging play a major role throughout the narrative. It’s a brilliant twist on the premise to have the carnivores be the “lesser” part of society, those discriminated against. Even within the carnivores, some groups suffer more than others do. The venomous, for example. Instinct for such a setting is to have carnivores dominant, like vampires dominating humans. Beastars’ approach flips the concept and leans into social and political conflict instead of going for the expected violent conflict of such a dynamic. Yes, there is violence, but that hides in the background most of the time.

Legosi struggles with his love of a rabbit, his potential prey, and his care for all living creatures in general. How is a hulking creature with immense jaw strength to be a friend of the herbivores? Who’s going to buy that? On the other side, Louis is envious of carnivores for their strength and inherent superiority. He sees carnivores hiding their true strength as weakness. Why was such strength wasted on them instead of given to him? He could do great things, if only…

The dynamic of these two characters, whether on screen together or walking their separate yet mirrored paths keeps you turning the pages. Many of the side characters are similarly compelling, but more on them later.

Then we have the world. Wanting to know how this society operates raises endless burning questions. If they don’t eat meat, how do carnivores survive? How do interspecies relationships work? Procreation? Are marine mammals intelligent as well? If so, how do they communicate and live? You want to know more.

I love the answers to all of these questions.

Then you notice the forgotten and half-finished concepts. First one, then a few, and then many until you have more incomplete content than complete. Everything starts to devolve past the halfway mark.

Beastars is a rubbish manga for how it presents so much and discards most of it, from characters to plots. Never have I read a story that neglects so much of itself.

When a group of writers get together for a TV series or movie, they will often brainstorm ideas of what needs to go into their story and what optional elements could they include. Do we want a romantic subplot? What about two? Do we include family drama? How are the backstories going to work? And so on. Anything and everything goes on the board before they refine those ideas into a tight narrative full of engaging events. Unused ideas might find a place later. Beastars is like reading that brainstorming board. Seemingly every idea the author had went in without thought of where they would lead or how they integrate with other ideas already in place.

This predicament is particularly egregious when it comes to the side characters. Author Paru Itagaki has a real knack for memorable characters, even minor ones, with such efficient and impactful introductions. You don’t see this skill that often. It recalls J.K. Rowling’s ability to make every character in Harry Potter memorable after one scene. There is the giant snake working as the school security guard (one of my favourites); then we have the beloved “seal bro,” nudist extraordinaire (another favourite); the Michelin Star egg-laying chicken; the rodent leading the newspaper club; the stripper zebra giraffe; and so many more. Each of these are worthy of recurring roles in any story. Sadly, Itagaki likes to buy new toys every few chapters before throwing them away for the next thing. For some of these characters, it’s okay, they need mere chapters. More often than not though, many have such a strong presence and importance in the story (as presented by the author) that you expect them to return. You’ll get to an incident further along and think, “Oh, we’ll see that character again! This is the perfect moment for them.” But no, she’s forgotten they exist.

Let me reiterate. The problem isn’t the plethora of minor characters. The problem is the promise made by the author of their importance each time, yet rarely delivering on that promise. It gets worse.

Major characters also suffer. Most notably, Haru, the main love interest and a driving force in Legosi’s arc, drops off the face of the plot for what feels like a dozen volumes at times. The anime has given her more screen time (for the material covered) and developed her into a better character within two seasons already. If all you have seen is the anime, then you probably can’t imagine a logical way to remove her from the [potential] upcoming seasons. How do you remove the third most important character? Of course it isn’t logical, yet the manga does so.

Every problem comes to a crescendo in the final arc, which introduces a herbivore-carnivore hybrid villain to present a possible outcome for Legosi and Haru’s future. The world expands with a ton of lore, more questions, and even more characters. Almost none of this comes to fruition. Furthermore, the style of the story turns into a battle anime with superpowers (don’t even get me started on these, which also appear once before she forgets them next battle), combat training arcs, and a climactic fight. Gone is the subtlety and social commentary of the earlier arcs – for that matter, gone is the commentary setup at the start of this arc. Yes, the second arc/season has a climactic fight, but it isn’t about the action.

Beastars is up there amongst the most disappointing endings of all time, and not just across manga. I have experienced an absolute ton of stories and few come close to going from such a high quality down into absolute rubbish. Off the top of my head, only Game of Thrones (TV) has outdone it in terms of the quality drop.

You could create a several-page list of characters, subplots, and questions on which Itagaki fails to deliver. When I read the final chapter, I didn’t believe it was the end at the time. I called my friend who introduced me to Beastars to ask if this was right, if it really was the end. Perhaps this was a Naruto situation, where it returns as a “sequel” Naruto Shippuden, surely.

That was it. The end.

The author gave up. There’s no simpler way of putting it.

She has continued the franchise by returning to the Beast Complex series that introduced this world, but it’s just a series of single-chapter stories independent of each other. You know, those short stories that make you want to see a grander continuous story set in this universe…

I don’t really know what to rate Beastars the manga or whether to recommend it. Do I recommend a series with moments of absolute brilliance knowing where it all leads? Do I rate it well for the high points or poorly for the atrocities?

I truly hope that the anime changes a great many things in future. Season three will still be great, but season four onwards will need to change 50% of the material to avoid disaster.

Art – High

Story – ?

Recommendation: Try it. Maybe? Beastars is a great manga until it isn’t. By reading this, you will find many elements to capture the imagination in this animal world, but much of it leads nowhere. Beastars is a fascinating study in storytelling and the dangers of concept bloat.

(Find out more about the manga recommendation system here.)

Beastars Season 2 – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Beastars Season 2

 

Related: Beastars (Season 1)

Beastars (manga)

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Action Drama Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Improves on the manga
  • The snake
  • The unusual tone in the main conflict
  • Music continues to be great

Negatives:

  • The CG animation still has room for improvement

(Request an anime for review here.)

Note: Mild and implied spoilers for season one.

Beastars was a surprising hit for many people, including myself, back in 2019. Who would have thought “that CG furry anime” could have such great characters, killer music, and non-horrible CG? It’s back again for a second season and I am very intrigued, even more so because I have read the manga to conclusion. Those who have done so as well will know what I’m hinting at.

Legosi of Cherryton Academy for herbivores and carnivores continues his search for the killer of his friend, a sweet alpaca. Meanwhile, star of the academy and leading candidate for the prestigious Beastar position, the red deer Louis, has fallen in with a back alley gang of lions after killing their leader. They don’t want to eat him, however – they want him to lead.

The story picks up where season one left off, but there are immediate and noticeable changes from the source material. If you haven’t read the manga but have seen season one, the only notable change there was in cutting down that finale’s action scene from a typical shounen anime brawl into something that fit the tone more. It was a great change. Season two changes far more and for the better.

A new character to the series is the school security guard, a giant snake, who had a tiny presence in the manga (one or two chapters?) after an impactful introduction. We never saw her again (a problem to discuss in tomorrow’s manga review). The anime gives her the time she deserves and delivers a couple of great horror episodes with a feel of high school myths told around a torch late at night. Let’s hope the anime further fixes the manga’s mistake and brings the snake back in future. Also, Haru (the white bunny and Legosi’s love interest) gets more screen time of importance, which is better treatment given to her than by the manga.

The focus of this season is the murder mystery. Who killed the alpaca? I love this story thread. The hunt for the killer and the several scenes with said killer have great tension and the snap between killer situation and ordinary school life works perfectly here and are some of my favourite scenes. The way Beastars handles juxtaposition of carnivore versus herbivore, fight to the death versus living ordinary life is simply brilliant (done better than in the manga too). This isn’t just an anime with “furry” characters.

Not all changes are for the better. The story falters in the finale at the apex of Louis’s arc, cutting a pivotal moment short and lessening the impact. If you haven’t read the manga, then this will still be noticeable, though you won’t have the source to fill in what the director was trying to do. Should you feel dissatisfied, watch this excellent extended ED video only after you have watched episode 12 (spoilers). A deer leading a gang of lions sounds ludicrous if you haven’t seen Beastars, but man does it work and make for a compelling subplot. The mirroring of Legosi’s and Louis’s arcs continues to impress.

The visuals are the same as the first time around, so if you couldn’t stand it then, you won’t handle it now. Despite some slippery animation issues, I still find that it works. The compositions and visual metaphors sometimes have me forgetting the CG.

Acting, still just as good. Love Orochimaru’s voice actor for the snake! The music has a tough act to follow after that quality season one soundtrack, and while few could match that original stop motion OP, every new song in season two is excellent.

In all, Beastars delivers another quality season. Now, season three – should they announce it – promises some excellent content, particularly in the world-building department as we explore wider society. However, to avoid the downward trajectory brought on by the manga, it would need even more changes than this season. What downward trajectory? That’s for tomorrow’s review.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Keep watching. And if you haven’t started Beastars, then what are you waiting for?

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Dr Stone – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Dr Stone

Related: Dr Stone: Stone Wars (season 2 – included in review)

Dr Stone Season 3 (TBR)

Similar: Log Horizon

Cells at Work

Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Ascendance of a Bookworm

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Adventure Comedy Science Fiction

Length: 35 episodes (2 seasons)

Positives:

  • The science focus is fun and different
  • Commits to the premise
  • Protagonist and antagonist

Negatives:

  • Female character designs are weak alongside the males
  • Drags at times

(Request an anime for review here.)

Are you tired of battles in your shounen anime? Has Mr Young Hero pulled out a few too many new super techniques in the middle of a fight for your liking? Has your shounen been too shounened? Then science is your answer! Dr Stone takes the typical shounen style and substitutes battles for science.

After a mysterious green light leaves humanity petrified in stone, teen whiz kid Senku awakens millennia later as an unknown fluid de-petrifies him. The world he once knew has long vanished under the unrelenting might of nature. If he revived, then everyone could come back. He makes it his mission to bring all seven billion people on Earth back to life with the power of science!

Unfortunately, he’s a weakling and can’t lift a pebble to save himself. So, he first revives his friend from the old times, Taiju, a guy perfectly suited to grunt work. Sturdy back, simple brain. All seems to go well until the wildlife sniffs manflesh and attacks the pair. Senku revives the one guy he knows able to fight lions with his bare fists – Tsukasa, “The Strongest High School Primate.” This “teenager” is equally strong in muscle and conviction. While he does save them, he disagrees with Senku’s notion that all of humanity is worth saving. His philosophy is that adults had screwed up the world before and this was a chance to fix it without them. A rift forms, and as Senku tries to revive adults, Tsukasa is shattering them to pieces.

The pressure is on in a battle of science versus muscle. And what of these other people already alive in the world? Did some resist the light?

(Fun fact: There has never been a moment when all of humanity was on Earth together since 31st October 2000, after the first set of astronauts set off for the International Space Station. The ISS has had a crew aboard ever since.)

The “what if” presented pulls you in immediately. I love the progression from one invention to the next, as if following a tech tree in an RTS. Dr Stone is over the top. But it’s over the top in the right way, as it commits all marbles to the bet. If it had been more serious, then the silly shounen side would have been farcical by comparison. Everything commits.

You do have to not think about the petrification part too much. There are holes even by the show’s logic. It glosses over the rather convenient solution to broken statues, for instance. Similarly, the science is simplified to varying degrees. The principals, formulas, and ideas are sound, but the process is like those drawing guides that go from two ovals with sticks in one step to a fully detailed horse in the next image. The author paid more attention to accuracy in chemistry than he did to biology and physics (shounen physics still prevail here). Once you roll with it, Dr Stone is a fun anime! And it’s different from other Shounen Jump offerings. I never felt like I was watching the same thing, yet again, from adaptations out of that magazine.

Dr Stone is still very much a shounen in spirit though. Grandstanding, ridiculous proclamations, reality-breaking abilities, shouting for dialogue, and that hyper shounen aura abound in this adventure. This isn’t a science documentary.

The main turn off I could see for viewers once latched onto the initial premise would be the science/experimentation segments. They are the equivalent to shounen training episodes, though learning about chemistry is far more interesting than seeing a ninja repeat the same action a thousand times. I had watched the first season when it was current in 2019; however, the season was mostly an incomplete building up towards the grand conflict with Tsukasa. See, if the first big battle was just another shounen battle, then Dr Stone would have been a waste of time. The 11-episode second season caps the arc to a satisfying point. Looking back over the total 35 episodes, I think this arc could fit in a single season were it not for the aforementioned drag during the science sections. An alternative is to extend the runtime a little, cut back on some of the experimentation, and break it up with more character work. The science over punching approach is fun – I love it – but everything needs the right pace. Being able to binge the series now does alleviate the problem a little. The cast also outgrows the character development available. At least three-quarters of the cast is comedic relief with singular personality quirks, many of them blending into a forgettable blur.

On the other hand, Senku and Tsukasa receive plenty of development and make for good leads. That said, even they could have done with more interaction to explore their ideologies in greater depth (we see plenty of their ideologies in isolation, but not enough in opposition on screen together). The more important support characters are also quite good. Once you hit tier three importance, then we meet the blur.

We see this degradation in character designs as well, where the tier one and tier two (most of them) characters have fantastic unique designs that lean into the hyper energy, while everyone else – particularly the girls – are bland, even off-putting.

My headcanon on the character design meeting:

“Artist, you know that You-Gee-Oh kid? Give me his vegetable cousin. He will make for a mighty protagonist!”

“Oh venerable author, what of the girls?”

“Eh, don’t care. Just make sure their eyes are too far apart half of the time.”

I still enjoy Dr Stone and will be watching the next season, so I do recommend it to just about anyone who doesn’t hate shounen energy. It does help to go in knowing the contents and setting expectations accordingly.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Try it. Dr Stone may be shounen anime to the core, but the focus on science over action has it stand out from peers and deliver something fun.

(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

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Kidou Senshi Gundam: Dai 08 MS Shotai

 

Related: Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 (main series)

Mobile Suit Gundam: War in the Pocket (related story)

Similar: Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid

Code Geass: Akito the Exiled

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Action Drama Romance Science Fiction

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Looks excellent
  • A tight, small scale story
  • Presents a different view of war in the Gundam universe
  • As with most Gundam, the acting is strong in either language

Negatives:

  • The romance is too simple

(Request an anime for review here.)

Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team takes the core concepts of Gundam – mecha, war, politics, and romance – and compresses it down into a 12-episode package. It succeeds in delivering quality for all of those elements save one, in part.

The 08th MS Team brings war to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Ensign Shiro Amada of the Earth Federation leads a special squadron of guerrilla Gundam, ferretting out the scattered remnants of Zeon presence in the area. The Federation won the last war and mean to press the advantage. Shiro’s resolve wavers and – more importantly – his loyalty comes into question when confronted by Aina Sahalin, Zeon pilot and previous acquaintance, across the trees. She’s also sister to the psychotic enemy commander. The traitor title seems to suit Shiro best these days.

One thing I must say is how good 08th MS Team looks even by today’s standards. Wouldn’t guess it’s a ’90s anime. They put a lot of work in considering this is a series and I want some of these cels for my collection. Seeing this quality from scene one puts me in a good mood.

Such effort brings the guerrilla warfare to life and makes every damaging shot on the mechs have impact. It isn’t a flurry of laser beams flashing across the screen with little weight. The action takes a slower, more tactical pace than the usual Gundam spectacle (nothing against the spectacle, or course). As I said, everything is scaled down and it works. When a franchise has as many series as Gundam does, it’s good to have variety even if not always to my taste (such as Gundam Build Fighters).

The characters are a strong and varied lot. The writers made them relatable with their simple ambitions outside of war. They have grounding. You want them to survive to see better days. Zeon similarly features such human characters. Of course, there are a few crazies on both sides to play villains. Further beyond the major characters, 08th MS Team emphasises the burden of war on innocent locals, a side often forgotten when merely glimpsed on the evening news. Yes, the Federation is eradicating evil (according to them) hiding in this jungle, but this jungle is home to ordinary people as well. Even minor characters don’t feel superfluous.

Then we come to Shiro and Aina as a couple. They’re good as individuals, yet their connection is the core of the personal conflict, which doesn’t hit the target.

If you’re going to have characters make grand gestures of love and put a lot on the line, you need to give something to hang those actions on. Build those foundations first and then I could believe anything they do for love. It’s surprising to see the main coupling only hit mid-tier development when character depth outside of this is solid. I find the main issue is a lack of screen time for these two together. They meet early on, but don’t reunite again until too late to develop their relationship to a meaningful level. The romance is simple – not a bad thing inherently – and lacks a second act where it builds beyond initial attraction into something with promise of longevity. They meet, and then skip to “I’ll die for you.”

Beyond that, I don’t have any notable complaints with 08th MS Team. I can recommend this great anime widely, beyond Gundam circles.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. If you aren’t familiar with Gundam, Mobile Suit Gundam: The 08th MS Team is a great introduction and standalone series. If you are familiar, then this is one of the best the franchise has to offer.

(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:

Stunning Art Quality

Negative: None