Tag Archives: Slice of Life

Depiction of ordinary life, often without serious conflict.

Toradora! – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Toradora

 

Similar: Great Teacher Onizuka

Lovely Complex

Kids on the Slope

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy Romance

Length: 25 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Dynamic between main characters.
  • Consistently funny.
  • A touch of heart.

Negatives:

  • Still very much like other high school anime.
  • Tries too hard to make Taiga seem tough at times.
  • Weak theme songs.

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In a world where everyone has large anime eyes, Ryuuji’s narrow eyes and pinpoint irises mark him as a thug, the worst kind of thug, a thug that is…nice. Taiga is a doll of a girl, tiny, cute, and a bundle rage that hates her public image of a fragile midget. As is natural, these two opposites collide and help set each other up with their crushes – Ryuuji likes Taiga’s best friend, while Taiga likes his best friend. And they’re neighbours. What a coincidence! But could it be that they are meant to be with each other? Find out in Toradora!

I have watched too much anime. Watching Toradora, I realised I had seen it all before several times, though not to this anime’s fault. I have to shift my mindset if I want to analyse it fairly. Ever wonder why all of those atrocious games journalists think “artsy” indie games are masterpieces? It’s because they’ve played too many games and those faux-deep indies are something different from the popular titles. Something different can instil a false sense of quality to a lazy “critic”. Ironically, they probably haven’t played enough games or they would have experienced the inspirators already. I never want to be in that cesspool.

So, to give Toradora a fair chance – or honestly, any art a fair chance – I look at its own merits. Of course, part of that merit is to see if it learnt from its predecessors. You can’t release a story without character development and claim it’s a masterpiece just because that’s how stories were thousands of years ago. It is important to note that nothing in fiction is original. Nothing. Instead, what we mean by originality is how an artwork brings all its pieces together and at what skill level.

Alright, Toradora has the ‘opposites attract’ main couple, and its initial plot is the ‘help each other find love, only to realise it was beside us all along’ type. I am sure that all of you, dear readers, can think of several stories to have these two tropes. However, these two together is rarer. The more you mix elements, the more ‘original’ something feels. (Keep in mind not to be different for the sake of being different.) Toradora uses these two elements to great comedic results.

Ryuuji and Taiga concoct ridiculous schemes to pair the other up with his/her crush. Ryuuji knocks out his friend in sports class and takes the friend to the med bay so Taiga can spend time with him. Genius plan! She could just ask him, but noooooo… (Where have I written that before…?) I love the ludicrousness of anime romantic comedies.

One episode has Taiga give her love letter to the wrong guy. Hell, she doesn’t even put the letter in the envelope. It would be sad if it weren’t so funny. Everything goes wrong when her breast padding slips out in the school swimming pool. No one can know she is flat. I do have a problem with how hard they try to make her seem tough sometimes. It weakens the joke.

The supporting cast complements the main, particularly Taiga’s best friend/Ryuuji’s crush, reminiscent of Kill la Kill’s Mako (or rather, vice versa). I love that cheerleader type sidekick and wouldn’t say no to more of them.

Toradora isn’t without its touches of drama. The core theme of finding and being honest about yourself works well in bringing conflict amidst the comedy. One drama subplot that falls flat involves Taiga’s absentee father. He storms back into her life making promises, only to leave her disappointed. The subplot lacks impact (like her father, aye?) and could have gone further. It’s a minor point, regardless.

The ending plot is a bit…odd, but oddness is the hallmark of anime. And the end is rather sweet.

Alright, I’m going to leave it here. I have my first moment of free time in three months, so I finally have the opportunity to play some games. Reviews should be back to routine as well.

Art – High

Good character designs – distinctive protagonists. I wish the rest had the same level of effort. The animation is nice too.

Sound – High

Good voice work. The same actress voices taiga’s best friend and Mako from Kill la Kill for a hilarious sidekick. I didn’t like any of the theme songs in the slightest.

Story – High

A guy that looks like a thug and doll-like midget girl try to break free of the prejudice of others. Toradora mixes humour, heart, and a touch of drama to make a solid high school anime.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for high school anime fans. If you haven’t seem much of the genre, then Toradora will likely impress. However, if you are familiar, then you won’t find much new here. Good series nonetheless.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

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Planetes – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Planetes

 

Similar: Moonlight Mile

Space Brothers

Cowboy Bebop

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Science Fiction Romance Drama

Length: 26 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Final act.

Negatives:

  • Romance has no chemistry.
  • No characters of note.
  • More slice of life than drama for acts one and two.

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Does this really fall under the ‘drama’ category? I asked myself this question a lot when watching Planetes. Until the third act, this should be classified as ‘slice of life’ for how little occurs and how dull the characters are.

Planetes is about a crew aboard a space station and their jobs as space debris collectors. The opening scene is of a loose screw shattering a space liner’s window, killing all inside. Ever since then, Earth has made an effort to clean up space. Tanabe is the newest member of the collection crew, joining an odd bunch of misfits who have no manners, including Hachimaki, a 25-year-old with dreams of owning a spaceship of his own. Their equipment is trash. At this rate, they are likely to add more trash to space instead of reduce it.

After the disaster in the opening, I expected similar tense situations to be a regular occurrence, similar to Moonlight Mile. A few episodes in, no such event has occurred. Alright, Planetes is a better Moonlight Mile, giving characters time to grow in between disasters rather than the end-to-end disasters of the latter. The characters still haven’t given me reason to care, but let’s give them a chance. So far, it’s mostly about putting up with living with each other, bickering, and corporate bureaucracy.

Several more episodes pass, and still no significant events wake me up from my stupor. They had time to give us an episode on space weeaboos – funny, but does nothing for the plot – though not a moment of tension. The downtime with character hasn’t developed them into anything interesting either.

It is at this point I realise Planetes isn’t good. It’s middle-of-the-road boring.

You have a mismatched crew trying to emulate Cowboy Bebop with none of the chemistry that made Bebop’s crew great. Tanabe using the clichéd anime introduction of yelling your profile put me off her right away. A story-lite series can’t sustain itself unless the characters are some of the best in the business. The episode about the girl born and living on the moon for research on the human body is interesting, though still not about the main story.

You have a romance between Tanabe and Hachimaki with as much electricity as a rubber gasket. He’s an ego-driven brute who constantly reproaches her and keeps flaking on the relationship, while she’s a woman of zero strength that rarely stands her ground against his selfishness. I despise female leads that never find strength.

Even so, I stuck with it for the sake of the review and to my surprise, the third act finally starts the story. Hurrah!

Humanity prepares to send a manned mission to Jupiter, calling on everyone in the world to apply. Hachimaki signs up in some desperate bid to do more with life. What follows is a series of trials to find the best candidates – Tanabe is a background character by now. Finally we have intense character-to-character conflict that isn’t the bickering of daily life. The theme of corporate morality also becomes a focal point, as only the rich will get richer when they colonise Jupiter, widening the wealth gap for the rest.

Planetes is quite preachy in its morals. It is many characters telling you how you should feel, rather than expressing their own opinions and leaving it to audience interpretation. Even though the story picks up in the third act, I don’t find myself much invested because the characters mean nothing to me. Those prior episodes didn’t use their time well.

Planetes and Moonlight Mile need to have a baby, combining the former’s ability to slow down with the latter’s penchant for disasters.

Art – High

Clean character art and detailed enough environments are nice, but the tech detail is where it’s at.

Sound – Medium

Voice work could be better – why is there so much shouting? Tanabe’s girlfriends sound so annoying.

Story – Low

Planetes tells of the lives of a crew aboard a space station collecting space debris. With so many characters, few of which have much to say, a flaccid romance, and conflict that doesn’t start until the third act, this story is more slice of life than drama.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. You may find Planetes more interesting than I did. Outside the third act, it has no pulse.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor Pacing

March Comes in Like a Lion – Anime Review

Japanese Title: 3-gatsu no Lion

 

Related: March Comes in Like a Lion Season 2 (release: 2017)

Similar: Your Lie in April

Ping Pong the Animation

Barakamon

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Psychological Slice of Life Drama

Length: 22 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The protagonist.
  • Portrayal of depression.
  • So many gorgeous scenes.
  • OPs and EDs.

Negatives:

  • Facial close-ups.
  • Could do with compacting.
  • The talking animals.

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Depression, an all-powerful force that colours our world in bleakness. Hope doesn’t exist in this world, nor does happiness. So why do those around us seem happy? How can they be happy when there is nothing to be happy about in life? Because depression is in our heads alone. Despite what we perceive, depression doesn’t bleed beyond the confines of one’s brain. The happiness of others is safe. March Comes in Like a Lion shows us this mental phenomenon through the eyes of Rei, a 17-year-old orphan and shogi professional.

I must first commend this anime for its portrayal of depression, which is often mischaracterised as a synonym for sadness. Sadness is losing your pet to old age and moving on after a period of mourning. Depression is losing your pet to old age and seeing this as to end of everything in your life. Sadness stops at a point; depression spirals ever downwards into a pit that exploits your greatest fears and most taut emotions. This is all in your head, of course, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. When Rei is alone with no more than his mind for company, we see his descent. The loss of his family, the hatred from his adopted sister, and the lack of friends has morphed into a beast way beyond grief.

However, the moment others are around him, happiness bursts into life. The three sisters that live nearby are happy, despite their own loss, and their happiness infects him like an extended family. So what if he’s depressed? The world doesn’t stop spinning. Others don’t stop smiling. These are lessons Rei needs to learn if he is to grow out of his present state. As for friends, who says he has none? His self-proclaimed rival, Harunobu, regularly barges into his life and home to keep Rei company as his best friend – also self-proclaimed. Studio Shaft handled the balance between light and dark with deft mastery, thanks in no small part to the art, which conveys more emotion than the words.

Rei’s backstory is riveting as well. After losing his parents, his father’s friend and shogi rival takes him in to raise as a shogi professional like his own kids. However, when he surpasses those kids, the animosity reaches breaking point and he moves to his own place before the daughter can strangle him. You want to know the kicker? He didn’t even like shogi. He said what he had to. This backstory is what I would use to teach how to write conflict in a character’s past.

Where March Comes in Like a Lion falters is largely in two areas. The first is the shogi. Don’t watch this for the sport like you would Haikyuu and its brethren. The story does little to teach you the game as a newcomer, while also doing little to engage veterans. Shogi scenes serve to present mental conflicts only, which would be acceptable if there weren’t so much shogi. The best way I can put it is that the writer knows little about shogi – at least, that’s how it feels. I imagine the script read, “and then they played shogi,” for each shogi scene.

The second fault is with tangents. Several episodes abandon the protagonist and plot in favour of side characters – not particularly important ones at that either. These episodes should have waited for the OVAs, you know, the optional content that interrupts the flow of the main story. Thankfully, these faults don’t lessen my recommendation to watch at least half of the season. Oh yeah, there’s those creepy talking cats, who explain their jokes each scene. Maybe they are reason enough to skip this… No, even with Satan’s pets, March Comes in Like a Lion earns your attention.

Art – High

Studio Shaft did an incredible job with some of the scenes in March Comes in Like a Lion – the OPs and EDs are so gorgeous. The animation is a far cry from the static that was Honey and Clover. However, adherence to the mangaka’s art style has kept those dead eyes and ugly mouths, regularly highlighted by overused close ups of the faces.

Sound – High

The voice work is strong, except for those creepy cats and the little girl, who doesn’t sound like a little girl. I can see several music tracks being added to my playlist in future.

Story – High

A young man deals with depression punctuated by the happiness of those around him as he competes in shogi. Even if too long and off on a few tangents too many, March Comes in Like a Lion’s depiction of depression is top tier and balanced well by the humour.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must for slice of life fans. March Comes in Like a Lion manages to convey the effects of depression in a relatable manner to those who have experienced it, and an understandable manner for those that haven’t. For this reason, it warrants at least a few episodes of your time, if not enough for the whole season. The first half is stronger than the second half.

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

Positive:

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None

Whisper of the Heart – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Mimi wo Sumaseba

 

Related: The Cat Returns (spin-off)

Similar: From Up on Poppy Hill

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

The Garden of Words

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Adventure

Length: 1 hr. 51 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • Beautiful small character details.
  • Full of heart.

Negatives:

  • Empty first act.
  • Ends just as it gets going.
  • Doesn’t give characters the whole stage to perform.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Shizuku loves books more than anything else in the world. Peculiarly however, in the borrowing card for each book she reads, someone else had borrowed them from the library before her. Who is this Seiji Amasawa? He must be a wonderful guy.

One day while going about her easy life of books and snacks, she follows a cat on the train, who leads her to a workshop of antique wonders and classical instruments run by an old man. He turns out to be the grandfather of the boy who makes fun of her at school. Worse yet, this boy is her perfect match in literature!

Whisper of the Heart is another lite-n’-easy film from Studio Ghibli, similar to the likes of Only Yesterday and From Up on Poppy Hill. But where I found those two rather dull with little to recommend themselves in terms of engagement, I enjoyed my time with Whisper of the Heart because of its characters. And just as it was drawing me in close, it ends. The first act being so empty made this more frustrating. What amounts to the equivalent of Chihiro and her family driving to the fairground in Spirited Away (several minutes) requires half an hour in Whisper. It takes too long to get to the point.

I like the scenes with the grandfather in the workshop, but these are rare. Most scenes involve Shizuku doing ordinary every-day activities like household chores or attending school. The first act has enough of these ‘nothing’ scenes to fill an entire film, so having even more than that makes the film feel like half filler to reach feature length. If Makoto Shinkai had directed this film, which is in his wheelhouse, he could have conveyed the same story in half the time with more said by the end.

Outside the filler, we spend most time with Shizuku and Seiji growing closer. Conflict arises from his goal to become a violin craftsman, which will likely send him overseas, whereas she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She finally finds her match and now he’ll probably be gone forever. However, these plot beats pop up and dissipate without much impact.

This story gets everything right, except for the plot. Whisper of the Heart’s events aren’t as strong as they could be, don’t challenge the characters as they should, and don’t give these brilliantly written children the whole stage to work with. Their small details are beautiful, such as how a girl reacts to seeing her crush or in the way a boy goes crazy at the roundabout way girls drop hints (pro tip: hints don’t work on guys). The Miyazaki touch is clear.

The poster for Whisper of the Heart shows Shizuku flying through the air alongside a gentleman cat, giving the impression of a strong fantasy element. This is deceiving. We only get one such scene inside her imagination, which is a shame, for it is a beautiful scene. We should have returned to her imagination several times as a metaphor for her inner growth, later reflected in her outer growth. These could have added depth instead of the filler scenes that serve little purpose to character or story.

I love much about this film, characters in particular, yet I want so much more.

Art – Very High

Studio Ghibli.

Sound – High

Good acting and solid music – it is interesting to hear an American classic in Japanese (Take Me Home, Country Roads).

Story – Medium

A fateful encounter with a cat leads Shizuku to solve the mystery of who had borrowed all her favourite books from the library before her, and she may even find inspiration for a purpose in life. Whisper of the Heart’s charming character barely get going when the story ends, making one wonder why so much empty space remained unfilled.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For fans of other light Studio Ghibli movies. If you enjoy the more slice of life-type anime movies, Whisper of the Heart is another to add to your folio.

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

Positive:

Stunning Art Quality

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.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None