I have wanted to watch Space Brothers since I started writing reviews. Who hasn’t dreamt of being an astronaut or travelling the stars to expand humanity’s horizon? I kept it on the backlog as one to look forward to amongst the long series, something to pick me up – an old reliable – after clearing through a stack of lesser anime. Several readers also requested this for review. Imagine my disappointment to be met with this.
Space Brothers is about the process to becoming an astronaut. It follows Mutta, a recently furloughed automobile engineer in search of a new purpose. Meanwhile, his younger brother Hibito is on top of the world, or rather, out of this world as a leading astronaut set for the moon. When Mutta’s parents sign him up for the space program behind his back, he now has opportunity to fulfil the promise made by the siblings as children. They could both go to space together.
When I say Space Brothers is about the astronaut process, I mean it. This anime does deliver on that promise. We see every step of the rigorous journey from the application to the interviews to the many training programs before one even has a hope of final selection for the rocket crew. Yep, you could spend years preparing, practicing, and training only to end up on the bench as everyone else watches Earth shrink to a marble from the window. Space Brothers does a good job of detailing the process while injecting a personal touch from the characters.
It sounds as if Space Brothers has succeeded in its mission, so how could I possibly be disappointed?
The execution of this project has resulted in the most boring anime experience of my life.
A long series that takes its time isn’t an issue for me – Legend of the Galactic Heroes is my favourite anime after all. However, it needs to justify the extra time taken. Space Brothers does not do that by any measure when this extra time goes to filler. Every shot is slow. The shot should cut, but will instead hang for a half or full second or even two (a long time in editing). How many times do I have to watch someone wake up, brush their teeth, and eat breakfast? I have lost count at the number of slow pans across a character with no animation.
Speaking of. Screenshots of Space Brothers look fine. Animation of Space Brothers looks the same. There is no animation. The mouths flap at least. When someone walks, the camera will switch to a medium shot to cut off the legs (no animation needed there) and bob a still image of the character up and down. This is moving manga. And filler.
Here’s what you do: get a camera and a copy of the manga. Now slowly pan the camera as you read panels through the viewfinder. Oh, you finished reading the panel already? Tsk, tsk, don’t be so hasty. You must finish panning the camera first or you will break the “immersion” of this man’s career. That’s the Space Brothers experience.
Speaking of again. Read the great manga instead (no camera). You will clear the full series (the anime covers half of the volumes) in a third of the time it would take to finish the anime. The anime also manages to make every character boring and none of the foreigners, of which there are many, seem very foreign.
Space Brothers has to have the worst anime direction I’ve ever seen. There is no craft, no effort whatsoever in this directing.
The acting is good, but the script lacks soul. It’s flat, likely a symptom of the bad directing. The soundtrack seems to have maybe three songs, each overused to death and made more noticeable when that damned camera is still slowly panning after the dialogue ends! I swear the sound editor turns up the volume on that one “idle’ song just to drive you mad during these moments.
I can’t even recommend it for the good parts in between the filler. There are no good parts. This awful directing is everywhere. Across the 99 episodes, I recall no tension, not even during the one tense moment.
Do not watch Space Brothers. You could become an astronaut with the willpower required to make it through this series.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Read the manga. I cannot recommend the Space Brothers anime with how much it disrespects your time.
That broad smile. Those dead eyes. That deep laugh sending a chill down your spine. If you see those three traits on someone, then beware for the travelling salesman Moguro is coming for you. What does he sell? Happiness and success. It’s true! Don’t let his unnerving appearance put you off. He will deliver as promised, but he didn’t say anything about you deciding on which form that happiness and success will manifest.
Today I thought we’d look at a trio of comedies (all with requests from several readers) in the quick review format since there isn’t much to say about any individual series, as is often the case with comedy. We start with the oldest and weirdest of the lot, Laughing Salesman.
This is a series of disconnected mini-episodes, each centred on the titular salesman as he travels around Japan to help ordinary citizens in acute need of assistance. His aid has no price, but does have a “deal with the devil” slant that leaves his clients with what they asked for, technically, though perhaps they should have been careful of what they wished for. The angle of Laughing Salesman is very much towards comedy.
Moguro’s clients consist of both good, well-meaning people and the ingrates of society. The fun of the series is in seeing how he takes client expectations and twists them. To give a few examples, one episode has a guy who wants to learn to drive yet is unbelievably bad behind a wheel. After a few lessons from Moguro, he grows overconfident while drunk and takes a dump truck for a joy ride. He succeeds in driving, though how many laws does he break in the process? Someone with “grass is greener on the other side” envy gets to experience another life, only to realise it’s far worse than what they already had. Another person may wish for people to notice him, so Moguro puts him in the spotlight, hounded day and night by the press. People will certainly know him now! The episode below is the perfect introduction to Moguro and his deals.
The stories are straightforward and good in small doses. This isn’t an anime to binge.
Laughing Salesman is a fun anime from a different time. Nothing special, but decent nonetheless. Also, fun fact: the voice of Moguro did Darth Vader in Japanese. No surprise with that deep bass!
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Give the episode below a try to see if Laughing Salesman is your cup of humour. (Don’t bother with the 2017 remake.)
You couldn’t pick this anime out of a line-up. Hayate the Combat Butler looks as generic and forgettable as you can imagine for a 2000s anime. It doesn’t give a good impression when judging by the cover, nor does the first episode help. I had watched episode one a few months ago to get an idea for the series and know where to slot it for my mood. I keep 6-12 anime going at one time, so I have a variety to watch based on what I’m feeling in the now. I found it counterproductive to force myself to finish one series before starting another. That said, if I have 12 going, it means around half are boring me to death and I should force myself a little more before I open up anything else.
To get back on track, Hayate the Combat Butler doesn’t seem to be worth anyone’s time at first glance. The story is about a poor boy, Hayate, who works as the personal butler to billionaire girl Nagi to pay off a massive debt. It’s a comedy of errors and disasters when it comes to protecting the oblivious Nagi from all the dangers in the world. No matter how bad things get, they will always get worse.
By all accounts, this shouldn’t be a good anime. Apart from the poor art, there is the standard premise and seemingly generic characters. However, the quick wit and sharp pace of the humour, which often goes meta, makes it work. I do find the overall series to be too long at 52 episodes (and there are sequels), but any given episode moves at a good clip and packs in the jokes. The meta humour garners frequent laughs from me. Characters complain about lack of screen time; someone breaks anime cliché and characters will discuss it like critics; commentary on episode structure is common or on anime tropes. References to other anime of all genres are common too. As such, this is an anime for viewers familiar with anime, especially the school comedies that one would put in the line-up previously mentioned.
The other jokes are most often about Hayate covering for Nagi or saving her life. Her arc is about relating to other kids at school, which she skips every day to play video games (who needs an education when you drown in money). She has to learn what peasants normal people do in life. However, she is terrible at everything. Can’t even make a cup of tea. Her brew is tantamount to poison, so Hayate secretly replaces it with his work to save the recipient and Nagi’s dignity. Good stuff.
I am surprised that I enjoy Hayate the Combat Butler. You wouldn’t think so if you saw my eye roll at the start.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation:Hayate the Combat Butler’s meta heavy humour is for seasoned anime fans. Only they could look past the art as well.
Inverse to my surprise enjoyment of Hayate the Combat Butler, we have Nichijou. I had seen a couple of funny clips over the years prior to this viewing, which had put it on my to-watch list. I always intended to watch Nichijou and looked forward to it – was only a question of when. I did not laugh half as much as anticipated.
Nichijou is a slice of life comedy with three primary duos for the three humour threads. The main duo are two high school girls. Their humour is a heightened view of ordinary school situations. The second duo is a robot maid and a little girl, with the skits focusing on the domestic (later blends into school with the other girls). The final duo are from a club (student council?), an aristocratic boy and the tsundere girl that likes him. Theirs is the most violent humour as she expresses her emotions by pulling out bigger and bigger guns. Aside from them, there are a smattering of side characters with the occasional skit, such as the school principal, a meek female teacher, some kid with a Mohawk, or an army of cloned soldiers.
Skits will vary from a 15 seconds to a few minutes long. There are over 110 “Ordinary Life” skits and a dozen or so for each of the other skit types. An episode has around eight different bits. On paper, this sounds like plenty of variety and with each skit lasting a few minutes maximum, one would expect sharp, punchy jokes. I think of skit shows such as A Bit of Fry & Laurie, That Mitchell & Webb Look, or Brass Eye and how frequently they have me rolling with laughter. It’s hit after hit. Nichijou presents itself in the same vein, albeit about different subject matter. So it surprises me how often Nichijou’s skits drag for twice as long as needed – two minutes feels like eons sometimes – and how repetitive the shorter ones are.
The worst skits, no contest, centre on the robot woman and little girl. I wanted to trip over a take a stake to the roof of my mouth after watching a few of their bits. By around episode 10, I started skipping ahead when I saw them come on screen. Painfully unfunny. Their humour is about her being a robot yet no one notices and the girl being inept at everything. There are no punch lines. The joke is that these characters are “cute” and therefore anything they do is hilarious. Their eyecatch bits of scissor-paper-rock to mark the ad break is the lamest repetition of humour in the anime world.
Nichijou relies on moe as a substitute for character and structure. And I don’t like moe. At all.
I find the main girls to be hit or miss (more misses) and most often responsible for dragging out the joke (when there is one). They are meant to be high school girls with high school situational comedy, yet there is nothing high school about it. This is middle school material. The character designs don’t help. This is no Cromartie High School.
The aristocrat and tsundere give the best first impression. He is an over-the-top stereotype of what people think of British aristocracy. Everything is wrong – pinkies up when drinking tea, the belief that a servant holds the master’s sea biscuit when urinating, and so on – but that’s what makes it funny. Seeing the butler smoothly dress him up while he keeps walking after using the bathroom is hilarious. The tsundere finds his demeanour infuriating and reads too much into his words and actions, ending in her pulling a weapon on him. However, even their skits become repetitive because of her. Pulling out the big guns is almost the same joke every time.
The principal versus the deer (see video above) was one of clips I had seen previously and the absurdity was hilarious at the time. I added Nichijou to my list because of it. However, it is less funny in context and the reaction shots from one of the main girls weighs the scene down. It’s as if she’s explaining the joke.
Before watching any of these comedies, I would have said Nichijou is probably the best. Now though, I easily consider it the weakest. I am wavering on whether to put in the Low tier of quality, but when I am unsure like this, I er on the side that brings a series towards the middle to avoid seeming too harsh or too favourable. (A borderline High/Very High anime sits in the High tier until I am certain it should go in the top bracket. Conversely, a Low/Very Low anime will stay in Low if I am undecided.) Especially with comedy, it’s hard to rate. I suspect I will bump this down in time. (Edit: I dropped it to low in the final revision before publication, two weeks after writing the review.)
I’m not surprised Nichijou was an absolute flop in Japan. It found success in the West years later because of the internet in a manner that wasn’t prevalent in Japan at the time.
I have not met, in person, anyone that likes Nichijou, yet I have read of a fair number online that consider it sidesplitting. Although, I do wonder if they love it as much as they claim. They always share the same five or so skits…
Overall Quality – Low
Recommendation: Watch the best bits of Nichijou online. Go for the full series if you want more.
Today’s review will be a short one, as I’m working a massive triple review for release in the next few weeks. This time, we look at one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser-known films, My Neighbors the Yamadas.
It follows the lives of a quirky Japanese family, telling life stories in a series of vignettes. It covers subjects such as where children come from (incorporates the myths of the stork and the bamboo) and secrets to a happy marriage. It talks of the importance in working together as a family team, otherwise you’ll be surrounded by sharks before you know it. This film loves it’s visual metaphors and are what make it engaging to watch, even as an adult.
The family are an interesting cast of characters. My favourite is the grandmother who has been around long enough not to care what other people think. She speaks her mind and imparts sage advice on those around her. The father is a typical salaryman and a good husband. He and his wife make a daggy couple that their teenage son wishes were much cooler. Then we have the daughter, a bundle of joy and innocence. Super adorable.
The lessons are a little more geared towards children, explaining life concepts in easy to understand ways, though they aren’t particularly complex. The visuals alone do a good job of conveying the messages. If nothing else, My Neighbors the Yamadas will facilitate a conversation between children and their parents about some of the tougher questions.
On the flip side, I don’t see much appeal for anyone outside of children or parents. For myself, I enjoyed the art and animation most, the metaphors and ideas, but I won’t push this as essential viewing. It’s a charming film for those looking to complete the Ghibli collection.
Art – High
This animated picture book has the perfect style for this children’s story. A little rough and unpolished around the edges.
Sound – High
The acting is great. Even the kids, played by real children, are a success and add a charming innocence to the cast.
Story – High
The daily life of the quirky Yamada family is an endearing slice of life perfect for parents to watch with their kids.
Overall Quality – High
Recommendation: For kids and parents. My Neighbors the Yamadas explains life in an easy manner for children to understand, while also offering entertainment to parents. However, if you don’t fall into either group, then this isn’t necessary viewing.
Silver Spoon comes from Hiromu Arakawa, the mind behind Fullmetal Alchemist. While this shares a theme or two with her more famous work, you are in for a much easier time here.
Hachiken flees to a rural school to escape the stress of the city, thinking rural life will be easy. Babysit a few animals, water a few plants – how hard can it be? This hard working student expects to breeze through classes against these country bumpkins. He’s in for a shock when he learns how they really make the sausage and the backbreaking labour that goes into agriculture. He can barely compete with the country kids who grew up around this. Trying not to vomit during the lecture on the biology of egg laying is the least of his trials ahead.
Silver Spoon’s primary focus is to teach about farm life, agriculture, and animal husbandry. The author grew up on a farm and her passion for country life is clear. And in this respect, Silver Spoon is a success. If you are green to the field, you will learn plenty about where your food comes from, including some of the more disgusting details (though it doesn’t go full slaughterhouse).
Hachiken has to learn to skin a deer before they eat it. The school also makes him raise a piglet to maturity for later consumption. Calls him Pork Bowl. I enjoy the educational side of the anime. It’s engaging, doesn’t preach, and is honest. This isn’t an anime for those who can’t handle animal slaughter, even in an animated form.
The less engaging side is the story and the characters. The characters’ country antics are decently fun, but there is nothing special here. The humour also relies too much on Hachiken’s fish out of water experience. Everything is exaggerated with how incompetant he is at this. After a few instances, you just want to say, “Okay, we get it. Move on.” Perhaps this is where the author’s lack of city life experience bleeds through? Who knows.
The character relationships lack drama. By that, I don’t mean we need a Shou Tucker storyline in Silver Spoon. We do need, however, conflicts between the kids (and their teachers) that challenge who they are and ultimately grow them into stronger people. Almost all challenge and conflict in this story comes from the school and farm work. Audiences tend to remember characters for those great character moments, where we see them struggle, see them fail, and see them shine. Without these moments, nothing makes this particular character stick to the story. Let’s use a simple example. Think of a generic action film, a “bang bang, shooty shoot” type. Could you replace the protagonist with another protagonist, changing little in the process? If so, then the character doesn’t matter, no matter how good the action is.
Hachiken and company aren’t quite that replaceable, of course. However, they aren’t memorable. They serve their function to carry you through the episodes and education segments. You’ll find them pleasant people for a few hours, part on good terms, and not think of them again.
Barakamon is an example of doing the simple slice of life story with memorable characters. Even though that anime has less physical challenges, the conflict is greater because of the personality clashes. Those characters are so full of life that they stick with you.
Silver Spoon plays it too safe. You should predict the story and characters arcs from the outset, something one cannot say about Fullmetal Alchemist. The association with the author’s pedigree will likely set expectations too high here. This is a good anime to watch if you need a break from the heavy stuff.
Art – Medium
The art is average in a positive way. It has a clean consistency and enough animation to avoid becoming a slideshow.
Sound – Medium
The acting is quite good, though I can’t say the same for the music.
Story – Medium
A city boy must hold his lunch as he learns of agriculture and animal husbandry in the country. A typical and predictable story carries the interesting and detailed knowledge of these professions and country life.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Try it. Silver Spoon is quite fun despite the simplistic story, though it may not be enough to keep your attention to the end. You will learn more than you may every want to know about farming and animals though.
I have known of Fruits Basket for a long time. It was a big deal shortly into the new millennium and I’ve never had the urge to watch. A reader requested it, so I guess I have to give it try at least. To my surprise, it isn’t as bad as I had anticipated. I did stick to the new 2019 edition where the art isn’t hideous like the 2001 version, which made all the difference (goes back to the higher standards in art demanded by the core demographic, as I mentioned in Snow White with the Red Hair).
Tohru Honda is a girl down on her luck. She lost both parents, her grandfather can’t keep her any longer, the rest of the extended family hates her, and her tent barely holds it together in the woods. All of that changes when, one day, she stumbles upon the house of Shigure and Yuki, a popular boy from her school. Alongside Kyo and others, they make up the Souma family. However, should any of them hug the opposite sex, it would reveal their true form as an animal of the Chinese zodiac. Seeing her pitiable state, they agree to take her in on condition that she never reveal their secret.
Young girl surrounded by handsome boys, each one fitting an archetype of the reverse harem as they obsess over her. This is as classic shoujo as you can get!
Fruits Basket was an influential manga of the genre in the 90s & 00s, which can be a curse, especially if it is so easy to imitate and, more importantly, outdo. There is no complexity here, whether of story or of character. The reverse harem shoujo formula is as plug and play as the shounen battle anime. This isn’t like Evangelion, Full Metal Alchemist, or Death Note, where you can copy them, change a little, still expecting to have something decent of your own. It takes more than the formula. Every successful anime has galleries of imitators, but the best anime have few that come within arm’s reach of competing in quality.
As such, if you have any familiarity with shoujo anime/manga, nothing – and I mean nothing – will be of surprise in Fruits Basket. It doesn’t feel outdated after the polished remake, yet it doesn’t feel new.
However, let’s look at it for what it is or for the uninitiated.
The protagonist Tohru, I am not a fan. She is too nice. She’s nice it that annoying sort of way, where if she were a real person, you’d suspect it’s all a façade to cover the truth that she abuses animals in private. I exaggerate of course. She is impossibly happy and unbeatable in life to the point that conflict doesn’t matter. The story is structured as a collection of subplots for each character, as seen through the eyes of Tohru. We go through several of the zodiac boys with their tragic backstories and her school friends. Throughout this, nothing makes Tohru flinch. She is an upbeat, sunshine-filled, empty vessel to navigate the subplots. Fruits Basket desperately want you to feel sad for her, from the endless tragedy in her life down to the opening ballad carefully crafted to tug at your heartstrings. When you have a character as unrelatable as Tohru, none of this moves me a millimetre.
The supporting cast is more interesting and the reason the core demographic is here. Each boy fits a type, so one can pick a favourite. It’s unrealistic to have a teenaged girl surrounded by guys like this, but fans wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s yaoi baiting, naturally – wouldn’t be shoujo otherwise.
The boys’ conflicts centre on the zodiac “curse”. The curse is simply the transformation, but it is enough to wreck their relationships and their lives. The shouta kid (he’s older than he looks, they swear) transformed into a rabbit when his mother held him, which filled her with disgust and anger, driving her to attempted suicide. In the end, the Dragon of the zodiac erased her memory of him to give peace. This is a common story with the members of the zodiac. Some fall in love, their partner can’t handle the truth and have their mind’s modified, while the zodiac has to live with the memories and broken heart. The stories are simple and as I said earlier, done to death. You should see it all coming.
As for the antagonists – if you could even call them that – they are comical. They are the flattest characters of them all. The head of the Souma family just leers at everyone and makes threats. I don’t know how anyone can keep a straight face at the things she utters. The most hilarious villains have to be Tohru’s extended family. Her cousin, who is supposed to be respectable and wants to be an officer, goes on a rant about how she’s a slut for staying with boys. How comically flat can you get? These people are funny, not threatening.
If one were of the core demographic for Fruits Basket, a tween girl, there would be stars in her eyes as she dreams of her best boy and yadi yada lovey dovey stuff. For everyone else, there is plenty better shoujo anime out there. If you want a comedy that parodies the genre, I can’t recommend Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun enough, or you’ve got Little Witch Academia and Kodocha.
Art – Medium
The production across the board is much improved over the original, though it isn’t anything to write home about. The art is pleasant enough to match the story’s tone. Could do with less full screen bloom. Go easy on my eyes, please.
Sound – Medium
The acting and the script is fine middle-of-the-road quality that gets the job done but won’t stick with you. All that stands out is the extra mountains of sugar. The first opening song is a little much in forcing you to feel sad for Tohru.
Story – Medium
An orphaned yet upbeat girl finds lodging with a group of handsome boys that turn into the animals of the zodiac when hugged. She grows close to them as she unravels their mysterious pasts. Each character gets their time in Tohru’s arms for her to learn their backstories. None of them rises above average.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: For shoujo fans only. You have to be a shoujo fan to enjoy Fruits Basket. It is as typical shoujo anime as you can get.