As Usagi Drop’s opening song says, this anime “Just wanna make you happy!” And it certainly succeeds in its goal. This is a cute series full of sincerity from start to finish.
A single man has a dream of him walking with a child through the park. The next day, he goes to his grandfather’s house for the funeral, only to learn his grandfather had an illegitimate daughter and no one wants to be responsible for her. Yes, she is technically his aunt despite being six years old – gramps was a weirdo! Rather than abandon Rin to the adoption system, Daikichi takes her in. They learn from each other while he searches for her mother.
She is a shy girl, yet mature for her age and loves to cook for him. He isn’t a driven man and has to take responsibility quickly if he wants to have a kid. Their dynamic is fun, and importantly to me, believable. Within two episodes, I bought into their relationship. A few steps to the left and the believability could have fallen apart, ruining the series, as this dynamic is the majority of Usagi Drop.
The conflict is quite typical for parental slice of life anime – taking her to school, shopping for clothes, feeding her, etc. I know slice of life is by nature considered a conflict-free genre, but even this is too conflict free. It wouldn’t have taken much to increase engagement. When shopping, for example, Rin could have been fussy or pedantic about her ingredients for cooking, taking hours in the supermarket, comedy and cuteness throughout – the usual dilemmas of raising a kid. Wolf Children is a prime example of this done right, even if you ignore its heavy drama.
Slice of life is more often than not a snooze fest for me; however, Usagi Drop kept my interest where other slice of life could not – the short length was key. Its charm gave me much enjoyment.
Art – High
The children’s storybook colouring looks great, suited to the story and atmosphere. I like the soft animation, but the mouths could do with more work.
Sound – High
Music sounds right out of those books that play a jingle when held open. Cute piano and violin. The acting is good and kids sound like kids.
Story – Medium
A single man adopts his grandfather’s six-year-old daughter. Heart-warming story, but the conflict, even if intended in simplicity, is resolved too easily.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Despite the medium story rating, I recommend Usagi Drop for the warm, fuzzy feeling it gives. If you need meaningful conflict, this will disappoint. DO NOT read the manga if you enjoyed this, for it ruins the anime.
If I told of a werewolf romance story, you would probably roll your eyes and think, “Not another of those romances.” Wolf Children could seem like one such tiresome romance at first, but it doesn’t take long to defy expectations and evolve into a great story of family and survival.
At its heart, Wolf Children is about motherhood. Hana, an ordinary human woman, dedicates her life to raising her half-human half-wolf children, Yuki and Ame. The characters, as in any great story, are the core of the film, and their believable, human portrayals draw emotional engagement from the viewer. Hana is an incredible character, best mum in anime, and her struggle in raising two unusual kids made my heart go out to her. Her love shines through her dedication as she deals with strangers old and young, cranky and friendly.
Regarding the kids, they too have the real quality that brings them to life. These kids feel like real kids – they whine, they demand things, they vomit on the carpet, they chew through table legs (alright, that may not be normal for kids), they cry in the middle of the night, and yet through all this, they manage to be adorable, and genuinely try their best. The writers show a great understanding of children rarely found in fiction (the lack of innocence often the cause). Yuki is hyperactive, a hunter, always creating a mess for her mother to clean up, and has an endless appetite. On the other end, Ame is quiet, reserved and matures too quickly for his own good, outgrowing his stages in life at an unmanageable rate. Both children have to contend with controlling their wolf instincts – they can shift at will – while fitting into society, never mind the worry this secret causes their mother.
Back to the parents, their romance is a sweet one void of the “nobody gets me” overtones in teen supernatural romances, and is reminiscent of UP’s prologue. Why they work well together makes sense. At no point did it feel as though the writers wanted to force these characters together. No, it seems as though we looked in on two people as they lived their lives, no narrator’s hand to manipulate them for theatre.
If I had to level a complaint against Wolf Children, I would ask for a longer conclusion. Yuki’s plot thread ends, not on a cliffhanger, but without confirmation of what to expect next for imagination to carry on. Another five minutes could have wrapped everything together. Still, a minor issue.
Wolf Children is a proper life story of choices, challenges and conflict – and cuteness overload. It has a heart I found refreshing after consuming several heavy dramas in succession.
Art – Very High
Gorgeous art, highly detailed environments, and animation so good, you probably won’t notice the CG unless you know where to find it.
Sound – Very High
Music tells just as much story as words in Wolf Children. Entire sections have no dialogue, no sound effects, just beautiful music that conveys all we need. It has been a while since I have seen music-driven storytelling. When the sound effects return, they too know their part – subdued when needed or amplified to create unease or sorrow. You cannot go wrong with either language. The English doesn’t rope in out of place celebrities, but uses the best voice actors in the business.
Story – Very High
A mother struggles in life as she raises her two werewolf children, but she has a determination unlike any other. Real characters and emotion create an unforgettable experience.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. There is no more I can say to convince you of Wolf Children’s necessity in your anime library.
No much more can be said about AnoHana: The Movie other than the uselessness of its existence. This is ninety minutes of flashbacks repeating key events from the series and ten minutes new footage. The new scenes take place after AnoHana’s end with the cast writing letters to Menma, their lost friend. The narrative cycles through the five friends in turn, flashing back to their respective threads from the series. Some struggle with what to write, others have grown in life.
And that’s it. There is still plenty of cuteness and heart to the characters, but the series has more. All the film has going for it the series does better.
AnoHana: The Movie could have been a ten-fifteen minute OVA instead. As is, the recaps aren’t worth sitting through for such measly new content.
Art – High
Same colourful art as the series, low character detail included.
Sound – High
Given this is a best-of scene collection, the emotional acting carries over, as does the pleasant soundtrack.
Story – Low
The emotion is still here, the cracters are still good, but without the in-between moments to weave a fluid narrative, the engagement is gone.
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Watch the series instead – AnoHana: The Movie is for those who want a little extra, like the RahXephon Movie, though AnoHana: The Movie is easier to follow without seeing the series.
Attention to detail on the subject matter of alcoholic drinks.
Dull unless you love alcoholic drinks’ history.
No mystery or intrigue with a slow pace.
Almost no animation.
With little to say about Bartender, this will be a short review. As the name implies, this anime is about a bartender who can mix drinks like no other. By observing behaviour and attire, he can discern which drink is best for the individual. He remembers every drink he has served to any given person, while being a well of knowledge on all alcohol.
That’s really it. Each episode focuses on a few drinks, gives you their history, tells you the recipe, and wraps it in a light story of the bartender helping someone, possibly depressed, or in a search for the perfect drink, or someone in need of help. In every case, there is little conflict, if any, and most of the time passes with the facts. The lack of mystery had me dying to move on to another show.
Needless to say, this is a boring show to any but the most interested fans of alcoholic drinks and related history. It overestimates what alcohol does for people as if such drinks create miracles for your soul. While it is charming to see such passion and attention to detail for the subject matter, we all know that it’s far from reality – this isn’t the place for that debate, though.
Bartender is an alcohol history program swirling in a glass of anime with a taste of jazz and a slice of plot on the side.
Art – Medium
The environments are quite good, suiting the look of a bar. However, with no variety, get used to seeing the same compositions throughout. They shouldn’t have used CG for the drinks, as to stand out from the surroundings.
Sound – High
Music is Bartender’s strongest aspect. The jazz and piano tunes are fitting to the bar environment – it is exactly what you would expect from a quiet drinks lounge. Opening sequence is a mismatch, while the ending is perfect, using live-action footage of a bartender showing you how to mix a new drink each episode as musicians perform. It may be worth getting this soundtrack.
Story – Low
Not much one can do with a story whose focus is on alcoholic drinks in a bar.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For fans of alcoholic drinks and their history; boring to everyone else.
Good pacing that details the manga creation process.
Real characters with ordinary problems.
Low tension reduces engagement over long sessions.
Doesn’t hit the needed emotional peak.
Romance lacks conflict.
Poor antagonist that never feels threatening.
For fans of manga, which I assume would be most anime fans, Bakuman is a dramatized behind-the-scenes look at the process of publication and serialisation of your favourite works.
One day, Saiko, a depressed and unambitious teen, returns to class after school’s end to retrieve a forgotten notebook, only to find it in the hands of classmate Takagi. He panics, his mind jumping to the sketches of his secret crush contained within the notebook. Takagi tells him not to look so worried; after all, it’s not as though it is a Death Note. In exchange for Takagi’s silence about the unrequited love, Saiko must join him in becoming full-fledged manga creators – Takagi as the writer, Saiko the artist. And so begins their journey on the road to publication.
This is an anime for those who read manga, preferably Shounen Jump, where Bakuman was first serialised. For anyone unfamiliar, Shounen Jump (also known as ‘Jack’) is a weekly publication in Japan with a variety of manga including Naruto, One Piece, Bleach, and many other popular works. Having your work serialised in such a magazine, and for it to be a hit with fans, is a big deal. In Bakuman, you will spot many manga – unfortunately, it all seems to be work published in Jump, which makes Bakuman look like an advertisement reel.
Following the new partnership, Takagi drags Saiko to the house of his crush, Azuki, who reveals she wants to be a voice actor and agrees to play the heroine of their series when turned into anime. Things don’t go as expected when Saiko yells out that he wants to marry her once they achieve their goals (remember, they are only fourteen at this point) and what do you know, she agrees. While this is a ridiculous setup to the relationship, it doesn’t continue in such a manner, instead walking a more subdued path for the show’s remainder; so subdued in fact, that there really is little conflict in this romance. The secondary relationship of Takagi and his girlfriend has far more screen time. In a way, you get the feeling that the romance was an afterthought to increase the number of plotlines from one to…two.
Saiko now has something to achieve. However, things aren’t as easy as imagined since voice actors become successful at a younger age than mangaka, meaning she may be gone by the time he amounts to anything. He must succeed before completion of high school. These are solid, well-rounded characters with goals like everyone else, and I appreciated that. For the most part, this show keeps the character development and interactions within the realm of realism.
Bakuman is more of a feel-good show than one that explores the emotional intensity of aiming for stardom. While, yes, it does have moments of failure, setbacks, and disappointment, it never portrays the turmoil quite as it could have and should have. Anyone who has had to go through that journey of trying to become a successful artist of any medium on talent alone – no help, no family inheritance, no connections – will tell you that it isn’t easy, that emotions run high, and at the best of times, you feel like the best you can do is tread water. I would go so far as to say that they should have included the emotional intensity of a show like Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien to capture that internal struggle. With that, Bakuman could have been one of my favourite anime.
The main antagonist offers little in the form of adversity. He is a manga prodigy, set for serialisation in his mid-teens and in competition for the same publication spots as them. My problem with this character is that we’re told he is great, never shown a reason why. He’s weird in your stereotypical young genius way, making constant sound effect noises with the behaviour of a two-year-old. Bakuman plays things too nice.
The best aspect of the show is the detail they put into the manga creation process from idea to print, the writers disguising it within an anime to prevent it feeling documentary-like. To top it off, you also get a taste of the manga they design. You aren’t just told about their work without ever seeing the results, as most career shows will do. One even hopes that some of their stories become real manga. Money & Intelligence, a one-shot set in a world where people can sell their intelligence directly into another’s mind, sounds great. I want to read it!
Bakuman is a worthwhile anime, particularly if you are a fan of manga. It doesn’t suffer from anything inherently awful, and yet never hits that greatness it could have. Still, I do recommend Bakuman to anyone who wants an enjoyable viewing experience.
Art – High
The art style is nothing special, but is neat and varied from your typical anime. Seeing them draw a variety of manga styles in one show is a treat.
Sound – Medium
Sound falls into much the same area as art: good, though not remarkable. None of the voice work is poor or irritating, except the antagonist, and the music is pleasant enough. The good opening song sounds like Japan’s version of the Backstreet Boys with that one song you thought was decent, but would never ever admit to.
Story – Medium
Better than most journey-to-career-success anime. Lacks emotional intensity.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: Bakuman is more enjoyable than its individual qualities let on, in particular for those who want to see the manga creation process.