Tag Archives: Slice of Life

Depiction of ordinary life, often without serious conflict.

Wandering Son – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Hourou Musuko

 

Similar: Sweet Blue Flowers

Koi Kaze

One Week Friends

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice colouring.

Negatives:

  • Weak protagonists.
  • Too many characters.
  • Lacks weight.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Wandering Son is a coming of age story about Shuichi, a boy who wants to be a girl, and Yoshino, a girl who wants to be a boy, going through school. It touches on the subjects of cross-dressing, transgenderism, and puberty. I say touches because it barely delves below the surface on any of its primary topics.

Firstly, it has too many characters – way too many characters for a 12-episode anime (11 in the broadcast version), spreading the screen time too thin. There are so many characters, most of which are similar in both personality and design, that one loses track of who’s who, especially when cross-dressing – “same face” syndrome is a notable problem. They describe Yoshino as “a masculine girl” and Shuichi as a “feminine guy”, but due to the lack of design variety, everyone looks just about equally masculine and feminine. Swap hairstyles and anyone could pass for the opposite gender.

Shuichi lacks presence for a protagonist, often feeling like part of the background. These characters don’t have the emotional weight to make me care for their struggles. Hell, I’m not even sure if struggles is the right word, since the conflict is so light. One gets the feeling that it will all resolves itself on its own in time, just like puberty problems everyone goes through.

Speaking of, puberty is a boring subject for a story to focus on. Might just be me though. I am far more interested in the growing responsibilities that come with approaching adulthood and the struggles of finding a purpose in life before thrown into the real world.

As for the transgenderism, much like the protagonist, it doesn’t have a strong presence. The story doesn’t make a big deal about the transgenderism – it’s light on conflict – which is want you want, I suppose, in a general sense. You want characters defined by more than a single factor like identity or sexuality. It recalls the history of gay characters in Hollywood. First, they didn’t exist. Then, they were villains, followed by comic stereotypes, until finally we’re seeing “no big deal” gay characters, which is where you want to be. How many straight characters have no attention drawn to their sexuality? Almost all of them. However, in the case of Wandering Son, where transgenderism is the core theme, you need to give it more attention. On the flip side, that can’t be all there is to the characters either otherwise they end up flat, which is the case here.

If you have reached the stage of your anime journey where you are looking for something different because you have seen enough shounen action/isekai/mecha/teen melodrama to last a lifetime, then Wandering Son is that something different with its subject matter. However, being different isn’t reason to worship something. There is nothing truly bad about this anime. Nor is there anything particularly good. I find it unmemorable.

Art – Medium

Wandering Son uses a nice watercolour style, fitting for the tone and mood of the series. I don’t know why they had to use this faded white vignette, usually reserved for dreams and flashbacks, all the time though. It’s like having someone’s finger in the corner of every photo. Characters need to look more different as well, particularly in the face.

Sound – Medium

The acting is fine and music is pleasant enough.

Story – Low

A boy who wants to be a girl meets a girl who wants to be a boy and they go through school together alongside other friends. The main characters in the bloated cast don’t have enough emotional weight to lead this passive story.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Skip it. Wandering Son is only for those wanting something different, even if it isn’t interesting.

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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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ReLIFE – Anime Review

Japanese Title: ReLIFE

 

Similar: Welcome to the NHK

Orange

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance

Length: 13 episodes, 4 OVA (conclusion)

 

Positives:

  • Strong character designs.
  • The light-hearted approach is different.
  • Good use of chibification.
  • Chizuru’s smile.

Negatives:

  • A subplot overshadows main plot for a few episodes.
  • Arata’s backstory is flat.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Anime has a fair number of stories about a character going to the past to fix mistakes in their life. ReLIFE take a different approach by eschewing the time travel element and sending protagonist Arata to present day high school disguised as his young self instead.

This opportunity comes by way of the ReLIFE Research Institute, whose mission statement is to help those that have given up. In the middle of the night, a dimly lit back alley, some random guy comes up to him knowing his full employment history and offers a pill to take a second chance. A 27-year-old man pretending to be a 17-year-old in high school should be easy for him, right? (How many times have you thought, “If I knew everything I know now, I would ace school!”?) Unfortunately for Arata, wasting away in life doesn’t help even if he’s been through high school already, and he fails at everything whether mental or physical. He pulls his shoulder throwing a ball. Fortunately for Arata, the experiment isn’t about achieving better grades.

Upon first seeing this setup, I assumed the story would take the dramatic route along the likes of Orange, where everything in the protagonist’s life went wrong because of one year of high school. I know high school seems like a massive deal when you’re going through it, but in reality, it’s a minor part of life, so I’m glad the writer didn’t overblow it. This light-hearted approach makes ReLIFE something different from similar titles. The only significant element of drama comes from the knowledge that everyone will forget him once the experiment is over. I love this catch for not only making sense as a way to cover up once complete, but also working as a metaphor for how friends drift apart after graduation despite swearing we will all keep in touch.

The heart of ReLIFE is its characters, who are so lovable and enjoyable to be around that they make this journey a pleasure. My favourite character – no contest – is Chizuru, an awkward yet smart girl who has difficulty making friends and has a terrifying smile. Her and Arata’s dynamic is so much fun while their relationship develops – he’s really an adult, so he can’t think further than friendship though! Her smile is perfect.

All these characters feel natural as friends. They avoid the feeling that each is there to fill the token slots of a slice of life cast. Each has a problem to overcome before year’s end. As my readers will know, I’m not a fan of protagonist’s whose job is to solve everyone else’s problems like in Clannad, not least of which is because those character either have no life wisdom to impart or are losers themselves that couldn’t fix a scraped knee. Thankfully, Arata isn’t a problem-solving angel. Progression comes naturally through group effort.

ReLIFE isn’t without its flaws, however. Arata’s backstory on how he came to give up on life is two-dimensional. He worked an office job where everyone was evil except his mentor, who killed herself when bullied by these cartoon villains. Weak. Then there’s a subplot between the two sports girls in the group that halts all main story for a few episodes between the mid-point and act 3.

Lastly, the ending takes place in the 4-episode OVA that suffers from a drop in art quality and feels rushed storywise in parts. The anime series of 13 episodes only adapts about half of the manga, while the OVA hits key points from the remainder. The bittersweet ending is still satisfying, all considered. It has made me consider reading the manga for the full experience, should I ever find the time (I won’t…probably).

ReLIFE was a journey I can easily recommend to anyone. It isn’t as good as the likes of Kids on the Slope or Nodame Cantabile for high school anime, but gets my recommendation nevertheless.

Art – Medium

The character designs and colouring carry ReLIFE’s art department, for there isn’t much in the way of animation, though this isn’t the sort of anime where you can flex. I love the designs – simple yet distinguishable – and funny use of chibification. The OVA really skimps out on the art budget, replacing unnamed characters with silhouettes at school.

Sound – High

Charming music matches the light-hearted approach to reforming one’s life. Great acting in both Japanese and English. I preferred the latter for adding more voice to the dialogue. In an unusual though welcome twist, ReLIFE has a different ending song each episode with some pieces by bands I’ve loved in other anime.

Story – High

Offered a chance at reforming his life, a 27-year-old man goes back to high school transformed into a 17-year-old boy to make friends and live a little. A great group dynamic and fun approach makes this anime enjoyable.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. ReLIFE is such an easy viewing experience with such broad appeal that only the most ardent anti-slice of life crowd won’t enjoy it.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Maison Ikkoku – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Maison Ikkoku

 

Related: Maison Ikkoku: Final Chapter (sequel movie)

Similar: Kimagure Orange Road

Ah! My Goddess

Ai Yori Aoshi

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Comedy

Length: 96 episodes, 3 OVA

 

Positives:

  • Supporting cast is better than the main.
  • Occasional good comedy.

Negatives:

  • One season of content stretched across four.
  • Side relationships amount to nothing.
  • So repetitive.
  • That dog’s eyes…

(Request an anime for review here.)

Maison Ikkoku is a classic of anime romance. Does this timeless classic endure, appreciable by anyone whether watched at release or 30 years later?

It follows 20-year-old Godai, a failed student looking to pass his exams this year, who finds himself unable to study when surrounded by the rowdiest tenants imaginable in his boarding house. A greater distraction arrives in the form of the beautiful Kyoko, new manager at Maison Ikkoku, but Godai’s feelings of instant love look forever unrequited when he learns she is a widow clinging to her dead husband.

I like this premise for three reasons. One: she’s a young widow, a rarity amid a sea of “first love only” anime teen romance. Her experience promises a more mature relationship. Two: the challenge Godai faces in her husband’s shadow is ripe for conflict and emotion. Three: the cosy nature of having everyone under one roof makes it an intimate affair.

Maison Ikkoku doesn’t take advantage of this potential.

On the first point, Godai and Kyoko’s coupling is anything but mature. Godai is a child. This would be good as the starting point of Godai’s character arc, but we never see him mature into a man. He is ever the child in love and life. My big problem with Maison Ikkoku, regardless of any other issues I cover, is the lack of chemistry between these two and how poor of a job it does at convincing us that this is a real relationship. You could count on one hand the number of meaningful moments between these two – with fingers to spare. His first romantic act is trying to kiss her while she’s napping on the roof. We have a Casanova over here!

Their relationship is “cockblocking the anime.” The first few episodes consist of Godai trying to tell her how he feels and to give her a present, only to have someone or a random event stop him. This isn’t story. It is no adversity. It’s just distraction after distraction thrown at him by the writer.

You might imagine that this is just the slow start to a 96-episode series. Except, this is the series. Their first truly romantic moment is in episodes 39 & 40, only to have it regress into meaningless distractions afterwards.

The story has a love polygon for the two leads, yet even these are just cockblockers instead of opportunities at character development. For Kyoko, we have her handsome tennis coach that falls for her charms against his parents’ wishes, who have arranged a marriage with the woman of peak meekness. You know the type – eyes always downcast as if it is an offence to look at others, hands clasped in prayer to her chest, and not a bone in her spine. Godai, on the other hand, has a headstrong and naïve teenage stalker. I thought she would be a one-off character for a few episodes, a gimmick to create misunderstandings with Kyoko, but she returns. And for longer!

I must reiterate that the problem isn’t with the ideas and slice of life episodes. Execution is the culprit. When Godai and the coach compete for affection, it isn’t through conflict that promotes growth. They’re petty squabbles made worse by the fact that they go nowhere. Honestly, Maison Ikkoku has barely enough content for 24 episodes and stretches it to 96 with every fake-out and anti-climax in the book. The dead husband element also doesn’t feel like a source of turmoil for Kyoko. Instead, it comes across as a crutch by the writer to keep the couple apart. “She would kiss him, but she’s still not over the dead guy. Oh well. Maybe I’ll have them kiss next episode. Stay tuned to find out!”

It’s not as though it’s a slow burn building and building to this great romance where you cheer for the couple when united, your heart lifted with joy. If the romance was worth it in the end, that would be the quality to make it a lasting classic. The fact that it’s slow and rather repetitive would be fine when threaded by a great relationship. We would criticise it for these issues but always add on, “It’s worth it for the romance.” I sadly cannot say that here.

 

Look, this anime isn’t bad. It’s bloated and hard to recommend when you could complete three to six other romances in the same time. If you have a love for old anime and go in knowing not to care about relationship growth, you could enjoy Maison Ikkoku. The comedy is decent thanks to the eccentric support cast (except the ever-annoying kids). My favourite is the tenant that dresses like an old FBI agent. He comes and goes from the house to escapades unknown and infiltrates other people’s rooms when at home. (No respect for privacy.) The older lady looks for any excuse to throw an alcohol-fuelled party and leads the charge in disrupting Godai’s studies. There’s a lot more fun when it spotlights them.

I wanted Maison Ikkoku to be great. Imagine, 96 episodes of romantic goodness. Anime could do with more romance series, as much of the best romantic relationships are subplots to other genres, like an action series. Or they’re in heavy dramas, which I love of course, but it’s good to balance it with a wholesome romance. My search continues.

Art – Medium

This is 80s anime art at its most classic – poufy hair included. What is with that dog’s eyes though? Are they mouths!? The animation is decent for the time and the exterior establishing shots are nice at setting mood.

Sound – Medium

It sounds old in Japanese, as expected, though the dub doesn’t sound much better either, which is odd considering how much later it released in the West. I’m not fond of either version. That has more to do with my lack of character interest, however.

Story – Low

A failed student joins a boarding house to focus on his studies, where he falls in love with a young widow chained to the past. Maison Ikkoku’s suffers from constant delays, setbacks, and side relationships that go nowhere to drag out the main relationship, which in itself is rather shallow.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: For vintage anime fans only. I can’t imagine many people will want to sit through a romance as drawn out as Maison Ikkoku when we have so much choice today.

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Repetitive

Lucky Star – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Lucky Star

 

Similar: K-On!

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Nichijou – An Ordinary Life

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Comedy

Length: 24 episodes, 1 OVA

 

Positives:

  • The smug.

Negatives:

  • Moe over substance.
  • Writing isn’t witty enough.
  • Mundane humour.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Lucky Star is known for its moe characters, dance routine, and smug memes. At least, that’s what I knew it for. It follows the daily happenings of four girls at high school (yes, high school) and outside, with a commentary on mundane life led by lazy otaku Konata. School, food, video games, anime, and daily hygiene are but a sample of the fields these girls discuss to no end.

This is an anime about nothing. The first conversation covers how to eat certain food. Do you eat a cream cone from the thin and easy end or from the large end where the cream can ooze out? This discussion goes at length. And to be honest, I don’t find it funny. Where is the punch line? I’m clearly not the target audience of this comedy.

Even if you look at the humour with a critical eye, it can be hard to find the jokes. Most of the time, I am unsure about whether any of this is supposed to be funny, or is this designed to be humorous though not laugh-out-loud funny? I laughed perhaps once or twice (it was the smugness). If these are meant to have you laugh, then they drag on for too long to succeed. What should be a two-minute skit takes half an episode.

It’s hard to convey the emptiness of Lucky Star, for there is little to discuss. One scene pauses for a girl to talk about another girl’s pyjamas. Is this funny? No. Does it lead anywhere? No.

The gags lack punch and wit. You know what this reminds me of? Puppies and kittens. When a puppy trips over while going down a step, it’s both funny and cute. You laugh as your heart aches with cuteness. When an adult trips over, you recoil with pain instead. It just isn’t the same. I suppose you must love moe that I don’t to find this interesting. Lucky Star masks the dullness of the conversations with cute art, which is likely the point, and there must be an audience for it to have had 24 episodes.

As I tried my best to watch Lucky Star, I recalled Seinfeld, of all shows. That sitcom too is about “nothing” (it isn’t really, but as close as you can get without having anything but a white wall for nine seasons). It took me several attempts over a decade to get into Seinfeld. But once I was in, I would finish a season every few days. It has wit and precision that Lucky Star lacks and its observations are far cleverer than this anime. When Seinfeld points out some daily oddity through comedy, it makes me think, “Huh, I never saw that way.” When Lucky Star does it, I don’t care and it isn’t something I haven’t heard before.

The catchy dance number you’ve seen online, if nothing else, is more popular than Lucky Star itself. Being a meme machine doesn’t age well. Incidentally, the lines used for memes are funnier online than in context of the anime, as they are to the point in a panel or three.

Lucky Star didn’t bother me, by any means, so don’t let me put you off if it sounds like your thing. It was simply…nothing.

Art – Medium

The most moe of moe art. It’s not to my taste, though it is very expressive and conveys character.

Sound – Low

The acting could have been worse by overdoing the moe voices, like in the post-credit Lucky Channel TV segments. Thankfully, they showed restraint. The dub sharpens up the script a little, less reliant on the “cuteness” to make the jokes, but the casting isn’t as good. Music is mostly small loops, seemingly generated by a moe music algorithm.

Story – Low

Follow a group of girls as they go about their comedic daily lives in high school. This moe comedy is an acquired taste with its story about the mundane.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. An episode or even a single scene will say if Lucky Star’s humour is for you.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Barakamon – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Barakamon

 

Similar: Bunny Drop

Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun

Silver Spoon

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Comedy Slice of Life

Length: 12 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Great cast of characters, including the kids.
  • Funny every episode.
  • Nailed accents and dialects.

Negatives:

  • The weakest episodes are at the end.

(Request an anime for review here.)

I am not a big fan of the slice of life genre, as the dear reader who recommended this anime had pointed out. My reason for disliking slice of life in general is that it’s full of do-nothing and go-nowhere plots. And the counterpoint I always hear to this is, “But it’s not meant to go anywhere! It’s slice of life.” Why am I wasting my time with it if it’s not going to make an effort at presenting anything?

Barakamon defies genre conventions by having great characters, actual story arcs, and a point to each episode. Furthermore, it breaks the mould of the “adult with a problem meets a child that will fix the problem”, a common sub-genre of anime slice of life, by not having everything miraculously resolved by the introduction of a child. At time, I believe that manga writers of this sub-genre have never been around children long enough to realise how much extra work they are, and not some solve-all McGuffin.

Anyways, that’s beside the point. Barakamon follows young calligrapher Handa, who has his career trajectory derailed after punching an art critic in the face (great way to open a series, by the way) and his father exiles him to a fishing island for self-reflection. As a city boy, rural life doesn’t agree with him, made worse by the local kids that use his house as a hangout. Worst of all is NaruDamn you, Naru! – the rascaliest of the rascals. Her insufferable (to him) levels of energy will never allow him to get any work done – not that he could work when his well of inspiration has run dry. Perhaps the boisterous town and its nosy residents are what he needs…

Barakamon is immediately funny with Handa decking the critic followed by the introduction of Naru and the villagers. If I were to pitch this anime in a single line – artist retreats to countryside for inspiration and maturity – you’d expect it to be full of scenes with Handa staring out at sea, sombre in his musing about what it means to create art and the meaning of life. You know, the boring crap people pretend to think makes for “deep” movies. Instead, Barakamon takes the energetic approach to show us these themes through a variety of scenarios and characters.

This variety of characters is important, for it avoids the contrivance of having Handa’s every problem solved by meeting Naru, as I mentioned earlier. Everyone contributes a piece, just as in real life. And it helps that these characters are so much fun to be around, playing well as contrasts to Handa’s narcissistic Tokyo-kid tendencies. Best of all is Naru herself.

I often find little kids in anime annoying rather than the intended cute. Perhaps it’s just me, but the more annoying something is, the less cute it becomes, especially if it’s human. I’m not conflating being a kid with being annoying either. Anime kids are often nothing like real kids. What makes Naru different is that she doesn’t get her way with everything and she doesn’t come across as a moe character dropped on her head as a baby. When she does something wrong, she realises her mistake and works to remedy it – in her own goofy way, of course. Barakamon strikes a good balance with all the children. She isn’t a whiner either. She’s one of the strongest child characters in anime, no doubt. You wouldn’t know it looking at her face, but she’s excellent.

She’s an endless source of comedy as well. Oh, the way she talks is too precious. The dub is great, but you must watch Barakamon in the original Japanese for the authentic accents and dialects. This is effort. I love it when artists put the effort into capturing the voice of a region. The dialect gags, Naru’s attempts at learning innuendo from the older girls, and the country humour make Barakamon hilarious. Reminds me of the humour in Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun. Simply writing the lines here wouldn’t do them justice. You have to hear them for yourself.

Now, this anime isn’t perfect and I’m torn between where to place it. High or Very High? Its greatest weakness is in the conclusion. Not that’s it’s a bad ending, of course. In fact, I like the plot, the idea of the ending, but the execution feels flat. For one, it doesn’t feel Barakamon-ish, if you get my meaning. The execution feels common, lacking the voice of previous episodes. It’s almost as if they were adapting an incomplete manga and had to hastily throw a finish together to wrap it all up. It’s not bad, yet not up to quality of the overall series.

Regardless, I recommend Barakamon to everyone, even those averse to slice of life like me – especially those people. Naru has joined my favourite anime kids list and I’m sure you will love her too.

Art – High

Uses well-timed “suddenly low quality reactions” as effective punctuation to the jokes and has good animation besides that.

Sound – Very High

Great dub. Still, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t watch it in Japanese. Naru’s accent is adorable.

Story – High

A narcissistic calligrapher finds himself exiled to a lively rural town for some self-reflection. The characters, writing, and comedy make Barakamon a joy.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: Watch it. Barakamon is too much fun for you to miss. I may place this in the Very High tier after it simmers for a little longer.

(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:

CharmHilariousStellar Voice ActingStrong Lead Characters

Negative: None