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Aria the Animation (all 3 seasons) – Review

Japanese Title: Aria the Animation

 

Related: Aria the Animation; Aria the Natural (season 2 – included in review)

Aria the OVA: Arietta (included in review)

Aria the Origination (season 3 – included in review)

Similar: Sketchbook: Full Color’s

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Slice of Life Fantasy (-ish)

Length: Season one – 13 episodes; Season two – 26 episodes; 1 OVA; Season three – 13 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Nice Venetian architecture.
  • Beautiful water effects and reflections.

Negatives:

  • No tension, excitement, or danger.
  • Little plot to speak of with no progression.
  • Poor twists.
  • Too long and slow all the way.

With three seasons and a special, you would expect Aria the Animation to be something good, if not great, to garner so much support. It didn’t deserve such patronage. Now, it isn’t bad, I just can’t fathom how this got renewed after the first season. This story has no substance. It is difficult to place the genre. There is no relationship conflict to be a drama, not enough humour to be comedy, no action, not enough fantasy or science fiction, and no romance. I had to check the genre online, the first time I’ve ever needed to.

The story takes place on Aqua, formerly known as Mars until they filled it with water one-hundred and fifty years ago, in the city of Neo-Venice, a replica of Earth Venice. The recreation of Venice is one of the things I do like about Aria. They took care to include famous Venetian landmarks such as the St Mark’s Basilica, the island of Burano, and Plaza San Marco. The architecture and feel of the place is accurate, although it is much cleaner than real-Venice – if you have been there you’ll know the water is more green than blue. However, you have to suspend disbelief since filling Mars with water won’t make it function exactly like Earth.

Akari, the young resident of Neo-Venice dreams of being a professional gondolier (pilot of the boats Venice is famous for) under the tuition of Alicia, the blond-haired lady of the Aria Gondola Company who says ‘my, my,’ a lot. She becomes fast friends with other gondolier women: Aika, the apprentice with blue hair, her bossy teacher Akira, and the studious Alice – far too many similar names. The best character is the cat/teddy creature they have as the company mascot. He is fun to watch when he’s trying to charm the cat mascot of another company.

Each episode follows some unimaginative plot with no excitement, danger, drama, or tension. They are small adventures everyone has seen in one form or another. It would be like making an anime about someone going to the store to buy some milk before returning, and the largest conflict is the lack of exact change, therefore having to break a tenner. Nothing to hold your interest, essentially. No more needs to be said in regards to the story other than it’s pleasant but without substance. The only outright bad things are the twists that happen at random. Let’s time travel! No foreshadowing, no clues, no explanations, they just…happen.

Season 2 is a slight improvement to the first. The adventures they go on each episode actually have an unknown element that drives them to the end – don’t get excited, as it still isn’t anything interesting. On the negative, it’s twenty-six episodes long so you have to sit through twice as much. I guess if you’ve bothered with continuing after the first season, you must like it anyway. Finally, the OVA and season three have another small increment in quality with more shading and layers in the art, but the story is more of the same.

Unfortunately, little good can be said about Aria, and yet, little that is outright bad. It’s just…eh. I simply don’t understand what prompted so many seasons. I can only recommend it if you want to watch something that takes no thought or analysis on your part as you glide over the pleasant waters of Venice.

Art – High

The architecture and water carry the visuals. The wavering reflections of Neo-Venice look nice. Characters have the standard anime look, other than the elegant designs of their gondolier outfits, interspersed with morphs into the adult chibi.

Sound – Medium

Solid guitar tunes take up the majority of the compositions, an apt choice for a gondola ride.

Story – Low

A slow gondola ride through Venice with no conflict, no drama to experience. Sit back, and sleep.

Overall Quality – Low

Recommendation: Meh. Watch it if you just want to give your mind a rest. How did Aria receive so many seasons?

(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:

Lacks ConflictNo DevelopmentPoor PacingShallow

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Sweet Blue Flowers – Review

Japanese Title: Aoi Hana (Not to be confused with Ano Hana)

 

Similar: Maria Watches Over Us

Whispered Words

 

Watched in: Japanese

Genre: Yuri Romance

Length: 11 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • Nice backgrounds.

Negatives:

  • Terrible characters void of meaningful emotion in empty relationships.
  • Mary-Sue character praised as a goddess.
  • Stiff animations.
  • Lifeless voice work delivers unnatural dialogue.
  • Dull start, middle, and end.
  • Repetitive music.
  • Thinks Wuthering Heights is good.

Even with all the above, one still can’t grasp the drivel that is Sweet Blue Flowers. It’s so bad that I wonder how a studio green lit this loathsome rubbish. One look at the script would turn even the most novice of readers into twitching masses of ooze from the sputum this show vomited all over them.

It’s supposed to be about the budding romance and troubled relationships of teenage lesbian girls, yet it is so far from it; oh, you have no idea. The lead characters are supposed to be Fumi the spineless, and her brunette childhood friend, Akira, who is a friendly girl and stands up for others. I say supposed to be because a supporting character, what’s-her-name, girl with short black hair, Mary-Sue… She is in the anime more than Akira and at least as much, if not more so, than Fumi.

Fumi suffers heartbreak when her cousin marries a man. They were in a secret sexual relationship, but this cousin must be at least five years older for her to be getting married – remember, Fumi is about fifteen at this point and we are never told how long ago this relationship started. To get over it, Fumi falls instantly in love with Mary-Sue wench, they break-up after what is supposed to pass for a relationship, and we are now almost done with the show. I can’t spoil anything, for nothing happens! They fall in ‘serious’ love, have empty conversations, looking dead all the while, split for…what amounts to nothing, and act heartbroken. Again, act, because it’s so lifeless and pathetic that I experienced more emotion playing Hearts on the computer while watching this. (Gah, Queen of Spades on second clubs drop!)

Meanwhile, Akira does…nothing. Every girl in two neighbouring all-girls schools (one of them Catholic) turn lesbian for bitchy Mary-Sue wench – I jest you not, she’s a total jackass, even to the girl she ‘loves,’ and still everyone wets their knickers at the sight of her. You are told that she’s oh-so-amazing at everything, but it’s never shown. Even her family, who are high-society, don’t raise a single objection when their daughter announces she’s a lesbian nor do they have a problem with her trying to have an affair with her teacher – of course they don’t care that the teacher and seventeenish-year-old bitchy Mary-Sue trull-wench see each other regularly at school either. Oh yes, she did move away, after rumours started, all the way to – drum-roll please – next door!

We still aren’t done. It’s perfectly normal for fifteen-year-old catholic school girls to be engaged to adult men. What was that? I just made that up? No, even the school acknowledges this. In the advertisement for the school play of the vomit inducing novel Wuthering Heights, it states that the only males who can attend must be family or fiancés of the girls. Nothing is addressed, nothing is questioned; just like the farcical relationships, we see no conflict. No one has a problem with anything, no matter how sordid – especially if it involves bitchy demimondaine Mary-Sue trull-wench.

Look, the problem has nothing to do with them being lesbians. The truth is that no one, not even a lesbian herself, would give no reaction to their daughter being one (never mind the affair with a teacher). It’s out of the norm. You don’t bring in such subject matter without giving the attention and conflict it deserves. It’s pathetic. This reminds me of tokenism, where a minority or gay guy is forced into a plot to give the illusion of being progressive, when in reality it is nothing more than insulting.

So what do they do if not overcome conflict? Nothing, in fact…the dialogue is mere filler on irrelevant rubbish such as the school’s value on height and how it makes you tough, for some reason. (Don’t look at me, I don’t get it either.) Not a single conversation is natural. It’s all so rigid and slow like these girls have trouble understanding a word spoken. The girls cry at the drop of a hat. We have no real characters, little personality and no depth. The most exciting event for them is seeing the school chapel and tearoom.

Voice work is just as stimulating with its monotone drones, sad sack vocals and unnatural speech. Only Akira differs, but is still bland. Most scenes have no music, making the dialogue feel even slower…

Sweet Blue Flowers does not have a gram of potential. In the end, we are left with atrocious characters, no development, nothing redeemable, and let’s not forget, super bitchy demimondaine Mary-Sue trull-wench.

Art – Medium

A filter of mist hangs over to give this anime a faded look. While the backgrounds look nice in colour sketch art, they have no movement to them with immobile characters – no nod, no moving mouth in speech, no waver of wind, nothing. Something as simple as a shift in light and shadow on trees when they rustle could have been a huge improvement. Characters don’t even project shadows (a patch the size of your foot doesn’t count).

Sound – Very Low

Music consists of slow piano pieces – a few tracks or many, not sure, since they all sound the same. String instruments occasionally take over, but they don’t add another layer. Dead acting.

Story – Very Low

What more is there to say?

Overall Quality – Very Low

Recommendation: Not worth your time in the least. Sweet Blue Flowers is eleven episodes too long. Forget I ever mentioned it.

(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:

Atrocious PlotAwful DialogueInduces StupidityLacks ConflictMary SueNo DevelopmentRubbish Major CharactersShallowTorture MusicUseless Side Cast

Akagi – Review

Japanese Title: Touhai Densetsu Akagi: Yami ni Maiorita Tensai

 

Similar: Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor

One Outs

 

Genre: Gambling Sports Thriller

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 26 episodes.

 

Positives:

  • The music, character reactions, and inner thoughts combine to build good tension.
  • Comprehensive strategy alongside in-depth analysis of mahjong.
  • Interesting lead character with a sense of cunning, ruthlessness and insanity.

Negatives:

  • Limited in scope.
  • Art style may put you off.
  • Akagi’s origin story lacks realism.
  • Slow finale.

Akagi loves his mahjong like Yugi loves his children’s card games. In fact, the entire underground seems to love mahjong a whole lot. Mahjong is what makes the Yakuza go round; it takes lives, passes around exuberant amounts of money, induces insanity – it is lifeblood.

Mahjong, for the uninitiated, is a Chinese four-player game similar to most card games where the objective is to make pairs or straights of different tiles, only with more suits and pieces. You have a large hand of hidden tiles and the first to have it full of pairs and/or straights, wins the game. The key to the game is being able to read your opponent’s hand based on what they take and throw into the pond (the discard piles in the middle), and their reaction to each play. Think of it as poker, only requiring more skill and the game pieces matter.

Akagi is a thirteen-year-old mahjong prodigy who stumbles into the underground scene of gambling and obsessive mahjong playing – any conflict between gangs in this world is resolved through a round of mahjong. After a spectacular first night of play, Akagi is roped in to play for the Yakuza against various expert players. What makes Akagi stand out from the rest is that he is utterly insane. Not in the sense of a raving lunatic, no, he is fearless, thrilled by risking it all for the game – fingers, limbs and even life are gambling tokens. The more he has on the line, the greater the excitement for him. He’s an interesting character in the way he thinks, strategises and tortures his opponents through mental warfare. My only gripe with him is how he becomes professional. I don’t believe for one moment that he would be a genius at the game after five minutes of having the rules explained. They should have instead lied about him being a novice, in my opinion; it wouldn’t have made a difference to anything outside of that unconvincing origin.

As an anime, Akagi is as dramatic as they get. Every tile drawn, every play, every thought is overdramatized to the nth degree. Everyone does act as though mahjong is the creator and bringer of destruction, the answer to life, the secret to the universe. Is this a good thing? Well, think of what any sport anime would be like if they didn’t pile on the dramatic. It wouldn’t be interesting to watch, now would it? You have to like that intrinsic anime over-the-top style…and mahjong. Each game is narrated through a combination of the players’ and spectators’ thoughts and the recount of a narrator – at times it does slow to a crawl as you have to listen to every passing thought. The last few episodes are most guilty of this. They could have cut about four episodes’ worth of mindless rambling throughout the show.

Ninety-five percent of the screen time passes either playing or talking about the game. And that’s where Akagi’s major flaw lies. Normally, in a sport anime, plotlines surrounding the main narrative, therefore even if the sport isn’t your cup of tea, the overall package can hold your interest. Here, it’s nothing but mahjong, so you better love it. Yes, there are other interesting characters, most notably the opponents, ranging from the manic to the blind – each competes to see who is the most dramatic. I swear to you, winning is second to being dramatic. The strategies of each are interesting and varied, with different conditions versus each new opponent. I especially like how cheating is a part of the game, another tool for the utility belt.

Unfortunately, you will cringe in disbelief at times when luck of the draw attains a win. While it is true that luck is a part of any game in real life, here they claim that the luck was created or even ‘destined.’ It doesn’t happen often, but enough for you to notice. On the flip side, chance-heavy wins are illustrated well – i.e. it goes into the habits and psychology of characters to explain everything, even which of two pieces they would discard based on the sort of person they are.

Akagi is a good anime; however, I can only recommend it to those who enjoy and understand mahjong.

Art – Medium

The art will garner widely conflicting opinions; you will either love it or hate it – somewhere in between is improbable. Akagi looks like a woodpecker with that nose of his, the style angular and unique.

Sound – Medium

The music is good, adding to the tension and drama, and rather surprisingly, the opening theme isn’t too bad. Avoid the ending theme, however.

Story – High

Limited to mahjong matches, each one with higher stakes than the last, yet good with what it encompasses.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A must watch for the lovers of mahjong and insane competition. Though I rate Akagi highly, I expect this anime to be of niche interest.

(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:

Strategic

Negative:

Terrible Start

5 Centimetres Per Second – Anime Review

Japanese Title: Byousoku 5 Centimeter

 

Similar: Voices of a Distant Star (same director)

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (same director)

The Garden of Words (same director)

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

 

Genre: Melancholic Romance

Watched in: Japanese

Length: 1 hr. movie

 

Positives:

  • Stunning art and detail beyond what one expects in anime.
  • Good atmosphere built from snow and rain particle effects combined with excellent environmental noises.

Negatives:

  • Too limited in scope.
  • Second part feels weak compared to the rest.

5 Centimetres per second is a rather unique anime in the sense that it has so few elements to its story, instead choosing to focus on one issue at a time. This allows for a deeper look into a single question or emotion, without distraction from other things.

This single movie is split in three, following different stages of the protagonist’s life. Now, before we dive into the story and characters, I must mention the visuals, as they strike you from the outset. All visual aspects are incredible; from the gorgeous environments to the watercolour art style, they will impress. The artists have taken great care to include plenty of detail in their environments, and made sure every single frame is of the utmost quality, the skies in particular – you see many sunsets and moments of twilight.

Animation is well done, especially with how many assets are animated at once on screen, avoiding that common anime issue where most of the world seems frozen outside of the focal asset. Lighting and shading is another standout area where no shortcuts were taken, no surface neglected. Even more impressive, I find, are the reflections; again, just as much work was put into this aspect as any other.

Now, the story. We follow male protagonist, Takaki and his female friend, Akari as they try to reunite after a few years separation. When they last met, they were graduating from primary school into middle school, only Akari was moving elsewhere with her family. They kept in touch through mail and phone, and at last as they near high school, they have a chance to see each other again. Alas, problems arise when Takaki’s train experiences delay after delay from the blizzard outside.

This first episode is told through a mixture of the present – the train journey – and flashbacks detailing their primary school years. It has a slow start, and never really speeds up to be honest, but it does establish their relationship and the current situation well. You feel the desolation and sorrow faced by Takaki, enhanced by the environment and weather to great effect. I don’t know if it was because I was watching this in a Himalayan winter or if the sense of cold was done especially well, but I felt cold while watching this.

As I said earlier, this story likes to focus on one thing at a time. In this first part, it speaks of an aspect often forgotten in young romance stories, in that their lives aren’t in their control yet, no matter how much they wish otherwise.

For the second episode, we re-join Takaki as he nears high-school graduation, this time told through the eyes of a new female character, Kanae, has been in love with him for years and is desperate to tell him before they leave school. Weather and the environments to symbolise the narrator’s emotions are put to great use; the near constant twilight adds to the imminent – and inevitable – change in her life. It is another look at how little control you have in life, even when you have aged considerably. Kanae struggles to adjust with the forthcoming changes.

Unfortunately, I found this second part to be the weakest of the three, as it doesn’t tie very well into the other two. However, it does contain the most beautiful artistic qualities.

We leap a decade into the future for episode three, Takaki now in the workforce with a dreary, repetitive job and an everyday routine. And again, visuals used to superb effect here. I don’t want to give anything away, but this third part asks the most powerful question of the film: given the opportunity, would you pursue a childhood dream as an adult even though all circumstances have changed? Nothing I have said so far would be constituted as spoilers as it isn’t the set-up of each episode, but rather the characters’ responses that matter.

Overall, 5 centimetres per second is a good movie, with each area seemingly executed exactly as the director wanted; however, this does mean you see a limited scope of this story and world. It feels like the sort of film that a small team would make and enter it in a film festival with the sole purpose of leaving the audience with a question they should ask themselves – oh, and show off amazing visuals in the process.

Art – Very High

Absolutely phenomenal. Worth seeing for the visuals alone.

Sound – High

Audio is the most ordinary of the film’s qualities. With so few characters and a consistent tone throughout, there is no diversity in the voice work. That isn’t to say the acting is bad, simply ordinary. 5 centimetres per second boasts little music, preferring to have ambient sounds and atmosphere take over, which it does superbly; however, due to the constant quiet, it lessens the atmospheric impact in the crucial moments. This seems intentional, in line with the single-minded focus of the narrative.

Story – High

A focused story on romance and coming-of-age that asks deep questions, at the cost of breadth.

Overall Quality – High

Recommendation: A film worthy of an hour of your time unless you require joy in anime. Watch 5 centimetres per second in a winter snowstorm, if able.

(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: 

Fluid AnimationStunning Art Quality

Negative: None