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Haibane Renmei – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Haibane Renmei

 

Similar: Kino’s Journey

Angel Beats!

Serial Experiments Lain

Made in Abyss

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Psychological Mystery Fantasy

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Nice atmosphere.

Negatives:

  • Symbolism over substance.
  • Useless cast.
  • Dull world building.
  • Thinks open-ended = depth.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Not again. Not another empty series. I feel like I am on a roll of mediocre anime (thank Nodame Cantabile for being a temporary sanctuary!). Please get me out of this Purgatory.

Speaking of Purgatory, Haibane Renmei is the story of amnesiac angels living in a walled city, trapping all but a select few in this limbo-like world. Rakka, newly born angel or Haibane, has visions of falling from the sky. As with all Haibane, the vision each sees before birth holds the answer to their purpose in life.

It takes the entire first episode for Rakka to hatch from her egg (looks like a giant veiny testicle – cannot unsee), grow her wings, and get clean. It’s like watching a twenty-minute birthing scene. Bloody hell is this a boring start. It doesn’t get better soon after either. Not until the seventhseven out of thirteen! – does the plot kick into gear.

Before then, Haibane Renmei is a test of endurance to stay awake (perhaps this is my purgatory trial). Rakka and her friends wander around the walled town of Grie doing menial jobs as we learn of the “rules” for Haibane. They can only wear second-hand clothes – why? They can’t handle money – why? They can’t touch the outer wall – why? They can only live in abandoned places – why? Rakka was born as a teenager, yet there are infant angels as well – why? They have wings that can’t do anything – why? I am watching this anime – why? Why seems to sum up Haibane Renmei. It gives a whole lot of questions and few answers in an effort to appear deep.

Symbolism replaces substance. To make matters worse, the symbolism is so obvious, so on the nose with the abundance of Christian symbols, parallels to limbo and the state of purgatory. Symbolism isn’t enough to make a great series. Just as a great twist cannot save a bad story beforehand, symbolism needs a backbone to hold it up.

In such a story, characters would be the backbone. Haibane Renmei does not have those characters. The supporting cast in particular feels like dead weight in this already thin anime. You would imagine that the first six episodes with no content could have gone to justifying these characters’ places in the story. And Rakka, she has some strength, but not enough to carry the team.

There is a reason no reputable writer would recommend an amnesiac protagonist unless you truly know what you’re doing. When a protagonist doesn’t know anything about themselves, we don’t know anything either, giving us little reason to care for them. Writers usually resolve this by giving us a flashback thread with information before the amnesia, or through a parallel thread of a third-party view on the protagonist. Unfortunately, either of these would give away Haibane Renmei’s mystery, which leaves one solution: action. Not guns and swords action, but ‘doing something’ action. This is what finally starts in episode seven, when Rakka drops the dead weights and tries to solve the mystery of Grie and her vision. I can’t say much on this, as it would give away the anime’s best element. Honestly, Haibane Renmei should have been a movie with only the second half of the series.

A greater effort into world building would not have gone amiss. In a blind rush to be as symbolic as possible, the author left his world bare, fearful that developing anything would undo the symbols. The opposite is true: a strong world creates stronger symbolism. This angel lore is so dull – I honestly can’t discern what the author was going for with them. They’re like having demons with nothing demonic about them. They only seem to be angels to hammer that symbolism harder into your nose. Could have made them fairies, mermaids, humans, whatever, and it’d lose naught.

Despite Haibane Renmei’s few good elements, I am so glad this is over. I know this series has a small but hardcore fanbase, but this wasn’t for me.

Art – Medium

The visuals look nice technically, but they are all so boring, forgettable.

Sound – Medium

Average VO in both languages. This script has little to say. With so little going on, the ordinary dialogue needs to stand out with sharp wit or insight. The soundtrack is effective.

Story – Low

An angel tries to solve the mystery of her walled town and the vision in her head. Haibane Renmei prioritises symbolism over its plot and characters to subpar success.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Try it. If you like slow ‘up in the air’ stories, Haibane Renmei will be your soulmate.

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

Positive: None

Negative: 

Hollow World Building

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Only Yesterday – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Omoide Poroporo

 

Similar: Millennium Princess

5 Centimetres per Second

The Ocean Waves

Whisper of the Heart

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Slice of Life Romance Drama

Length: 1 hr. 58 min. movie

 

Positives:

  • The childhood scenes.
  • Depiction of children.
  • Pleasant art and music.

Negatives:

  • The adulthood scenes.
  • Pretty boring unless you strongly relate.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Now for something a little different from the usual Studio Ghibli fantasy fare. Fourteen years delayed in receiving a Western release, Only Yesterday is a nostalgic story of a ‘typical office lady’ returning to her hometown in the Yamagata countryside, where she will rediscover herself. Familiar places bring back memories of her childhood, relating in particular to the fifth grade and her strict father.

The primary story is her adult life and romance to an old acquaintance, with the childhood advancing pieces at a time as triggers recall the next step of the story. Only Yesterday is simultaneously charming and boring. The charm oozes from the childhood story. The adulthood story, on the other hand, is dull. I wonder if they could not have found someone with a more interesting life story to tell. Genuinely, nothing remarkable happens to this woman. She goes to the country, meet an old friend, chats a bit, works on a farm, chats some more, and experiences little conflict. This would be fine if we received a character study instead of this honest, yet unengaging life. Watching this woman was like listening to a stranger on the train tell you about their life, when you are too polite to tell them to you want to sit in silence. They aren’t rude or anything – I simply wouldn’t suggest they make a film of their story.

The childhood is a different matter. It should come as no surprise that Ghibli’s superior child representation manifests beautifully in Only Yesterday. The school scenes had me smiling ear-to-ear – when someone reveals their crush on you, or when complaining about having to finish ALL your lunch (“Who drinks raw milk? Yeuch!” – little me), and that goody-two-shoes classmate we all had that wanted to introduce more rules (you know who you are).

Conflict arises through her troubles with learning maths and her abusive (in my opinion) father, who berates her without making an effort to help her. This conflict is a relatable example of how children see the world as unfair. Sometimes they are right; it is unfair, but once grown, we do also realise our parents may, perhapspossibly, you know, have been right…a little – on occasion.

It is my understanding that the childhood scenes come from the source manga, whereas the adulthood scenes are additions by Ghibli to tie the childhood together without having to detail every scene in between. I have to admire this approach. It certainly works, never feeling fragmented. If only the grown up story was more engaging. Apart from one heart-warming scene where she sees spectres of herself and classmates as children around her, it doesn’t quite have the charm to match.

If you can relate to someone travelling back through childhood, you are more likely to enjoy Only Yesterday. For better personal rediscovery movies, see Millennium Princess and Bollywood film Three Idiots (a must watch).

Art – High

High quality art and animation, but there isn’t much to see. I like the storybook watercolours used for childhood scenes.

Sound – High

Only Yesterday has a good multinational soundtrack and good acting, save for the adult protagonist’s stiff delivery in English.

Story – Medium

An office lady takes a sabbatical to the countryside, triggering a flood of memories from her childhood and questions about her path in life. Only Yesterday is a realistic and accurate portrayal of childhood and reminiscence. That doesn’t make it particularly interesting, however.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it if the story sounds relatable to you. If you can’t directly relate to her journey, Only Yesterday is unlikely to elicit the emotions required to keep you engaged to the end.

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

Positive:

Fluid Animation

Negative: None

Koi Kaze – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Koi Kaze

 

Similar: Wandering Son

OreImo

Rumbling Hearts

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Drama Romance

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • The ending.
  • Common sense not forgotten.
  • Cliché-free.

Negatives:

  • Thin on content.
  • Lacks relationship scaffolding.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Genetic sexual attraction (GSA) is the real scientific theory of sexual attraction between two relatives who meet after separation since birth or infancy. GSA forms the basis of Koi Kaze. 27-year-old Koshiro works as a marriage matchmaker, despite incompetence in his own relationships, and an encounter with a teenage girl rekindles hope of love within him. However, Nanoka reveals herself as his sister, not seen since their parents divorced long ago, each taking custody of one child. She will be staying with him and their father for school from now on. Sexual tension bubbles under one roof.

Where incest most often plays a comedic role in anime (Ouran High School Host Club), or as drama so laughable it may as well be comedy (Vampire Knight, Please Twins), Koi Kaze is one of the few that takes a serious angle and knows what that requires. Most notably, people actually bloody question the morality of the relationship. Thank the anime gods – some sense! When the mother insinuates she would kill Koshiro if he does anything to her daughter, I sat up, impressed the writer included an authentic reaction to the thought of one’s children getting amorous. This is especially important with the 12-year age gap between the two.

The relationship spawns in a time of heartbreak for both. Their vulnerability and desperation for comfort coupled with GSA, and our general attraction to people who look similar to ourselves, sells us on the inception of the taboo path they tread. Many writers don’t realise how biologically difficult it is for an incestuous union to form, so the setup is crucial. Furthermore, they don’t dive right into each other’s pants. Koshiro hates his feelings and himself, lashing out at Nanoka, while she, the younger of the two, doesn’t know what to make of any of this. I’m glad this wasn’t a case of “This is wrong, but take me anyway!” The story has conflict and inner turmoil.

Where Koi Kaze falls flat is beyond the setup. Alright, an unfortunate concoction of circumstances and lust triggers this relationship, but what keeps it going? For a moment, think of this as a normal relationship – no taboo, no age gap, just two people yearning. What interests them beyond the initial burst of endorphins? Act 2, the middle development of their relationship is lacking and thin of content. He’s a dick and a loser while she’s emotionless. This doesn’t make them bad characters, of course, – we’ve all met such people – but if this were a normal relationship, would they remain or even become a couple? I don’t think so.

That said, if the story had gone longer, maybe we would have seen them realise they have no interest in each other beyond lust. It would be intriguing to see the slow destruction in their relationship, which the sober ending hints at. If the writer had included this stage – delete act 2, move the current solid act 3 up to 2, followed by new act 3 – Koi Kaze could have been great.

This anime is decent, regardless. I am surprised to see genuine thought and effort go into such a complex subject. It’s worth a look for being something different.

Art – Medium

Average art and animation – many static shots with mouth movements only. The white mouths look odd, or have I become too used to black mouths? Every shot seems a beat too long. Each line has a beat too much before the next.

Sound – Medium

Nanoka is rather flat in Japanese. Give some emotion! The dub is fine, though the script hasn’t much opportunity for range. The music is appropriately melancholic.

Story – Medium

Two siblings estranged by their parents’ divorce reunite and develop feelings for each other against better judgement. Despite lacking act two content, Koi Kaze’s serious take on a taboo relationship is solid.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: Try it. If the subject matter and melancholic romance interests you, then give Koi Kaze’s taboo story a chance.

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

Positive: None

Negative: None

Sola – Anime Review

Japanese Title: sola

 

Similar: Air

Clannad

AnoHana

ef: A Tale of Memories

H2O: Footprints in the Sand

5 Centimetres per Second

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Supernatural Romance Drama

Length: 13 episodes, 2 OVA

 

Positives:

  • A few atmospheric moments.

Negatives:

  • Boring start to finish.
  • Bland skies.
  • Characters don’t fill their intended purpose.
  • Feels in alpha planning stage.

(Request an anime for review here.)

Yorito is a guy obsessed with the sky. Sunrise, he’ll be there; midday, he’ll be there; sunset, you bet he’ll be there; no matter the state of the sky, he’ll be there taking photos. He’s so obsessed that he doesn’t notice his best friend Mana has a crush on him. One early morning when out on a sunrise excursion, he meets Matsuri, a girl battling a vending machine that ate her change without beverage compensation. She, however, vanishes before the sun rises.

Sola takes the subtle approach – the too subtle approach. Sola is so subtle, one wonders, much like the sky itself, if it’s there at all. See, Sola requires forever to tell us its purpose. I started with the episode-0 OVA. Don’t do that. It was pointless with no plot.

Even once in the actual episodes, Sola is too vague in its aim. It doesn’t lay down anything concrete for us to invest in at the start. Writers need to give something. The Elric brothers want their bodies back with alchemy, but they need to find the philosopher’s stone first. Ash wants to be the very best, but he needs more Pokémon. They have a direction. Even if it changes further along, a story must present something to hold onto within the first episode. Other than his love of the sky, which is a mere hobby, Yorito has nothing going for him. And Matsuri is even emptier. She’s “mysterious” for no reason other than the fact that she doesn’t talk. Seriously, a few minutes conversation with Yorito would clear up all mystery. It’s never clear why she’s so mum either. For several episodes, the story amounts to people doing ordinary things and a guy taking photos of the sky.

I only enjoyed the parts when they appreciated nature, whether the rain or sunset. The music and audio effects evoke a nice atmosphere and make me want to go sit by the rain.

I almost forgot: Yorito’s sister is sick in hospital. There is always a sick girl in this type of anime, isn’t there? Fear not, she’s as bland as the rest. On paper (nudge, nudge), she has a good backstory, but she does nothing, so once again I question if she exists at all. Sola has “mysterious” character with no mystery, “cute” character without cuteness, and “deep” characters as shallow as a puddle. It’s simply boring. (Parents are invisible as well to no consequence on a teen with a hospitalised sister.)

The first twist, of sorts, happens a few episodes in when Yorito stumbles upon Matsuri under attack by a curse hunter. Sneeze and you miss the resolution to this plot line. He gives up his pursuit so easily that I must question, yet again, if he was truly a part of the story at all.

The main theme is loneliness, but they never make use of it. Yes, Matsuri is lonely because of her ‘curse.’ Yorito’s hobby is a lonely one. His sister is lonely in the hospital. Mana is lonely in her one-sided love. Even the Loli vagabond is lonely living in a cardboard box. Problem? You guessed it: they don’t use this loneliness to develop some complex metaphor or change. Come on, Sola, how many times will you do this!? Use something!

Every motivation in Sola comes down to promises. “I promised my sister this” or “I promised this little girl that,” type of affair. I hate the promise motivator, for it gives us nothing about the characters. It’s a shallow dodge for effort. Imagine you couldn’t use the promise device, how would you justify these characters? Why would they do what they do? If one insists upon the promise usage, then focus on the motivation for making the promise. What about a broken promise and the consequences? Why do they never consider that?

“What drives you?” a scene asks.

“I made a promise,” says the character.

“Great. That taught us much about you…”

Back to FMA again, the Elric brother promise to resurrect their mother, but anyone who’s seen the series knows that’s not the motivator. Selfishness is their real motivator, which is excellent, as it shapes their entire quest.

Lastly, it irks me that Matsuri goes back to same broken vending machine. This is Japan where one can find another machine around the corner. No, forget the corner – there’s usually two side-by-side! Yeah, it bothers me like an old man with kids on his lawn when there’s a park next door.

None of Sola’s problems are atrocious. They are just nothing. The worst thing is that for a sky-themed anime, none of Sola’s skies are interesting. How…?

Art – Medium

The art is pleasant enough, but nothing stands out. They should have hired Makoto Shinkai’s artists for the skies in Sola, the sky anime. Is it just me or do heads grow larger relative to bodies in close-ups?

Sound – Medium

Average audio in every sense, music to script. Only the ED song and some atmospherics stood a little above.

Story – Low

A guy obsessed with the sky meets a mysterious girl before she vanishes. Took me ten minutes to write that elevator pitch because I forgot what happened in Sola, so dull was its story. Whole lot of nothing, albeit innocuous.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Don’t bother. Unless looking to fall asleep, spend your time elsewhere. Sola has nothing to recommend itself.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Hollow World BuildingLacks ConflictPoor PacingRubbish Major CharactersShallow

Serial Experiments Lain – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Serial Experiments Lain

 

Similar: Boogiepop Phantom

Texhnolyze

Ergo Proxy

Perfect Blue

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Akira

 

Watched in: Japanese & English

Genre: Psychological Science Fiction Mystery

Length: 13 episodes

 

Positives:

  • Atmospheric art and sound design.
  • Unnerving in all the right ways.
  • Intriguing mystery.

Negatives:

  • Too slow, even for a slow anime.
  • Stiff dialogue.

When I started anime, while Serial Experiments Lain was much talked about by core viewers, I avoided it because it looked like the edgy show for emos, or some rubbish. I don’t know how I came to that conclusion. I was an idiot teen. Since I became an adult and no longer hated things I’ve never seen because of what others thought, I had added Serial Experiments Lain to watch. When a reader sent in a request (submit your review requests here), it was the perfect excuse to bump it up the schedule.

Lain is your typical introverted teen. One day, girls in her class receive an email from their classmate Chisa. Nothing unusual. Exceeeeept for the tiny detail that Chisa killed herself recently. When Lain opens the email, it takes her into the net’s social media network called the Wired, opening a new world of mystery and danger to her otherwise dreary existence. More suicides, strange men in black, and the surreal begin to warp her mind, blending the virtual with reality. In the Wired, are they any different? Lain will soon realise she has an important role in both worlds.

Serial Experiments Lain is one hell of a trip. If you don’t like having your brain slowly drained through a hole in your temple by cyborg ants, Lain won’t be for you. It has a detached, isolated tone, which is a perfect match to Lain’s character and life, or rather, her outlook on life. The first episode is largely her staring blankly and possibly tripping out – I’m not sure. We experience Lain’s emotions.

Unfortunately, this drugged state is overdone. Most characters act drugged out when they aren’t, and the stilted dialogue has massive silence between lines. “How are you?”

.

.

.

.

.

.

“Good.”

When everyone is drugged, no one is drugged. It weakens the impact on the few where it fits. Dialogue scenes are uncomfortable, not in the right way, despite there being so few of them.

Most screen time focuses on the visual and audio experience to steep the viewer in the explorations of existentialism and consciousness. Lain has more experience than story, sometimes to its detriment. The director stands before a spotlight, arms raised as he yells, “More. More! Give her more drugs. I want the audience to smell the psychosis!”

“Um, Sir, sh—” tries the poor production assistant.

“More!” The director cackles to the darkness.

“Sir! We need to start the next scene!” yells the assistant.

“Oh, right.” The director clears his throat. “Carry on.”

I feel it could have balanced the two without weakening its core intent, the ‘experience’ moments. As always, less is more. Some experience moments feel like tangents, irrelevant “babbling” about dementia and the mind, despite these scenes being of importance, simply because they are overdone. It’s as if while brainstorming, the team came up with several ideas on how to convey a key development of Lain’s psychology, but rather than pick the best of the pool, they threw everything on screen. One perfect moment is better than ten competing for the same objective. The dementia sells itself, without the need to force it into every grain of the story.

Few viewers will enjoy this anime. Serial Experiments Lain’s appeal is so niche it has dethroned RahXephon as the most niche anime I have reviewed.

Art – High

The tone reminds me of Perfect Blue – never a bad thing. Lain uses visual effects such as grain, TV noise, and distortions to mess with your head. I hate the ridiculously small mouth-to-head ratio though.

Sound – High

Disturbing music complements the detached, isolated tone and psychedelic audio. Sounds drop in and out of existence, or are far too loud for what they are, unnerving the audience like classic J-horror.

Story – Medium

A girl investigates the mysterious appearance of her dead classmate’s consciousness in the internet. Pacing and writing issues mar this otherwise good exploration of identity and existentialism.

Overall Quality – Medium

Recommendation: For psychology fans. Serial Experiments Lain doesn’t need the 3-episode rule. Its style is so unique and unusual that ten minutes are enough to know if it’s for you.

(Request reviews here. Find out more about the rating system here.)

 

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

Positive: None

Negative:

Poor Pacing