Category Archives: School Life
Summer 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Love, Election and Chocolate)
When the food research club finds out that it’s going to be shut down amid sweeping reforms and budget cuts, they resolve to protect it at any cost.
Out of the many, many high school romance comedies I’ve watched, the student council is a frequently recurring plot element. Usually they just sit on the sidelines to be used when necessary, but occasionally they happen to be the primary antagonist or sometimes the entire story is centered around the activities of the student council.
However, I’ve never seen an anime where the entire central premise was about the student council election and that’s the primary way in which KoiChoco distinguishes itself. All the drama and underhanded dealings that are associated with real elections get played up in one unexpected development after another and protagonist Oojima constantly faces the dilemma of getting himself dirty, caving to the advice of his campaign advisor or sticking to his morals and hoping his good-natured intentions don’t backfire.
It does well, but there’s more than a few instances where KoiChoco feels like it’s trying way too hard. Chisato in particular is wearing a pretty big “childhood friend character,” sign and all five potential love interests of this anime based on a dating sim have some overly gnarly wounds in their backstories. But for the most part the story knows when to be lighthearted and when to be serious to create the right amount of tension and even enough misdirection to keep things unpredictably interesting—even going as far as to occasionally poke fun at its own genre.
With a good cast of voice actors, a fitting soundtrack, a couple of fresh ideas and a nice balance of playfulness and sincerity, KoiChoco is one of the better representatives of romantic comedies. And of course, any series that makes a reference to Madoka is cool by me.
Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info) (alternate title – Good Job Club)
Along with Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, Yuru Yuri, Ebiten, Seitokai no Ichizon and many other recent series, GJ-bu is a story of some high schoolers who have formed a club for the purpose of not doing very much besides messing around. The formula bends in the direction of a harem anime that puts male protagonist Kyouya in the center of attention for the four girls, but manages to keep a level of class for the lead guy because he’s often just the girls’ plaything. While it’s not exactly an enviable position to be in, at least he’s not a stereotypical, lecherous womanizer or a spineless, immature, overreacting caricature. Beyond that, the show is the usual plot that comes with this kind of setup—thinking about funny concepts or just getting into ridiculous situations. GJ-bu is just another title this winter season that I can’t fault, but I also can’t lavish with praise.
Winter 2013 (13 episodes) (more info)
Inevitably, Love Live is going to get compared to both K-ON and The iDOLM@STER, so I’m going to just get that out of the way. Combining the concept of a school music club with young ladies pursuing careers as idol singers in theory shouldn’t be too preposterous a setup. However, in execution it’s a real flop. At the core of this overlap is music, and the bread and butter of any music anime is that the music needs to be good. The two series it’s borrowing ideas from have that area covered, but Love Live is definitely not up to par.
There’s also the hard-to-swallow plot point about how our heroines have the harebrained idea that they’re going to attract new students to their school that’s suffering from declining enrollment in just a year or two by competing with established idol clubs at other local schools. There’s a level of cheesiness to it that makes me want to smack someone for even suggesting the idea. Combined with some really intrusive CGI-animated scenes when the girls start dancing, there’s nothing to praise about Love Live. I even think there’s room to speculate that this was the product of some money-grubbing committee who saw the success of the aforementioned titles and decided to frankenstein them together into something guaranteed to appeal to both audiences, but really shouldn’t appeal to anyone.
Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info) (title literal translation – I Don’t Have Many Friends NEXT)
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT is just a continuation of the first series. It picks up right where season one left off and continues the misadventures of the Neighbors Club as the group of misfits stumbles their way through trying to figure out how they should function to fit in with society. While a direct continuation isn’t a bad thing, when it doesn’t exactly have the best source material, just doing more of the same really doesn’t cut it. In short, I’ll watch NEXT if I have the time because it has its moments, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up dropping it.
Winter 2013 (13 episodes) (more info)
As slice-of-life comedies go, Minami-ke is definitely above average and does a fantastic job of steering clear of material that’s been done before in this genre; focusing on its own unique take from the perspective of the three Minami sisters. One of the distinguishing features of each season of Minami-ke is that the art style gets a new look. So despite the fact that it’s now on its fourth iteration, it manages to attain a nice level of freshness and because the series is very episodic, it’s fairly easy to get into Tadaima at this stage in the franchise. However, it does make a few references to past events and I worry that newcomers may be lost on more than one occasion. It’s not gut-bustingly funny, but will definitely serve up quite a few smiles.
Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info)
Based on its art style and a three-sentence description I’d expected Kotoura-san to be a two-dimensional moe anime. However, what I got was a rollercoaster ride of emotions that really caught me by surprise. The first half of this episode encapsulates Kotoura’s rough childhood and the troubles that come with her ability to read minds and her good-natured honesty. It’s a truly disheartening series of misfortunes that shows what becomes of people who can’t be honest with themselves, but are then confronted with their own inner truth. In this way, Kotoura is the knife that’s peeling away the mask that people wear to play the game otherwise known as, “being social.” I can understand her pain, but perhaps it reflects poorly on me that I wouldn’t have chosen to be so frank if I had the ability to read minds; using my ESP to live a more advantageous life.
The supposition that most people would be ashamed to have their inner thoughts broadcast to others appeals greatly to me because I can say with a fair amount of certainty that my thoughts are an honest reflection of my actions. I take great pride in the path I’ve chosen to live a life free of hypocrisy within my own character. I’m not ashamed of who I am and because of this, I identify strongly with Kotoura-san’s male protagonist, Manabe, who similarly takes his classmate’s mind-reading ability as a chance for self-improvement (when he’s not broadcasting his fantasies). This change of circumstances from Kotoura’s lonesomeness and off-putting attitude to finally meeting someone who can push her to open up is fantastically written and shows a lot of potential for future growth. If I was to give a criticism to this anime, I’d say its cute visual design devalues its very serious premise. But if that’s all I have to complain about when I’m already an admitted moe fan, then I’m going to give it a pass and remain on the edge of my seat, expectantly waiting to see what will become of this unexpectedly sophisticated anime.
Winter 2013 (13 episodes) (more info)
I usually have a favorable opinion when it comes to anime based on visual novels. Considering that Da Capo has a long history, a big enough following to get a third iteration and this story was not contingent on knowing the franchise’s history, I was willing to forgo my usual rule of not jumping into sequels without first watching the original. So you can understand my disappointment that as harem anime go, Da Capo III makes Love Hina look sophisticated and well-adjusted.
It’s not bad to the point of being unwatchable, but aside from the rather bland mystery of the blooming magical cherry blossoms, it doesn’t have anything going for it. In a rather pitiful attempt at work-safe fanservice, the camera constantly pans to the girls’ chests for absolutely no reason. The main failing is probably that the writers are relying way too much on the expectation that the male audience is going to stick around to look at the girls, but they’re all pretty average, possessing no particular attributes to even fetishize. It’s a failure on multiple levels to form any kind of desirability. There’s even an out-of-left-field BL reference. I can’t imagine why any girls would want to watch this series. Da Capo III is really just ill-conceived.
Winter 2013 (13 episodes) (more info) (title literal translation – My Girlfriend and Childhood Friend are Pure Hell, abbreviated title – OreShura)
I’ll be completely honest about this…the main reason I’m going to be watching OreShura is because the heroine’s voice actress is Yukari Tamura. Whenever her talents aren’t being wasted on Nanoha, she’s a genius when it comes to portraying devious women and Natsukawa is her latest role in a long line of characters that includes Togame from Katanagatari and Rika from Higurashi. And while I’m on the topic of Yukari Tamura, I’ve just noticed a strange coincidence that several of her recent characters have long, silver hair—what’s up with that?
Moving on, I don’t want to paint the anime community with a broad brush, but I can speak from my own experience that I’d bet main character Eita Kidou is a guy many young men with jaded opinions about love can identify with. His cleverly crafted lifestyle and the way he gets ensnared by an equally smart girl despite all his careful planning makes the cynic in me grin from ear to ear. But that’s not to say this first episode has been nothing but gloom and doom—far from it. It’s got some hopeful, if clichéd, genuine romance elements in Eita’s childhood friend character, Chiwa. Additionally, even though it would be a sadly predictable outcome if Natsukawa and Eita end up hitting it off, I wouldn’t mind that ending because it was borne of a phony relationship of convenience. Because of that, I’m anticipating OreShura to be a series full of some deliciously ironic twists that just might transcend some of its more standard elements.
Final impression – cute philosophy (8/10)
Fall 2012 (12 episodes)
Back in junior high school, Yuuta was consumed by the crazy belief that he was possessed by a demon and could communicate with forces beyond the understanding of normal people. But he realized he was completely delusional and snapped himself out of it before he graduated to high school. Wanting to abandon all of the embarrassing mistakes of his past, he enrolled in a school far away from home to avoid meeting anyone who might ridicule him for the person he used to be. But just as he thinks he’s in the clear and a normal high school life lies before him, he crosses paths with Rikka, a girl who still hasn’t grown out of her childish delusions of grandeur and could possibly blow the cover on the past he wants to forget.
The most important thing that Chuunibyou has brought to the world of anime is that it’s possible to create a really fun, heartwarming romance story that doesn’t revolve around the subject of romance as its central premise. In this way, when Yuuta and Rikka’s relationship blossoms into love, it feels so much more natural and believable because they had a strong friendship that was already well developed. Rika’s romantic rival in Nibutani also doesn’t have the problem a lot of high school comedy romance series have with the usual plethora of girls vying for the protagonist’s attention. Instead of being a sort of homewrecker to Rikka’s heroine character, she feels like a real rival that Yuuta has an immature crush on, which he can grow out of as his focus shifts through the story.
But beyond the romance, Chuunibyou is also a terrific story about growing up. I already discussed my take on the deeper meanings behind the imaginative symbolism with Charles, so I won’t go into that here. However, the creative side of this anime is really amazing and a lot of fun. It takes those childish fantasies of imagined playground battles and fleshes them out with full visuals of what’s happening in the mind’s eye of the characters as they act out their abilities. Then the fights are given a hilarious comedic spin when the very next scene might cut to what’s actually happening in reality. So one moment, two combatants can be trading blows, each wielding a sword or hammer, and then their epic battle is quashed when we realize Rikka is just swinging her umbrella around while Dekomori spins around her twintails. It’s such a stark juxtaposition that you’re unlikely to ever see anything quite like it again.
But as much as I liked this series, I felt a bit betrayed by the final episode. It seemed very out of place when the rest of the story was building up to the point when Rikka and Dekomori could break free of their coping mechanisms and appreciate the world as it actually is. However, the ending regressed on that theme a bit and left things a little more open than I liked. I wanted something more final, and while there’s room for interpretation as to how everyone ends up, it’s not as bad as it could have been. I’ve seen anime like Canvas 2 completely fall apart on the last episode and Chuunibyou doesn’t come anywhere near that level of failure. Despite that last little problem, altogether it’s a series with a great style, original story and loveable characters.
Final impression – smart action, sharp story (9/10)
Spring 2012 to summer 2012 (24 episodes)
Haruyuki Arita was your atypical rotund kid. The target of bullies and dealing with self-esteem issues, he at least has a few good childhood friends to make his life bearable. But one day, the gorgeous and unapproachable student council president, Snow Black (yes, that’s really the name she uses) offers Haruyuki a chance to break free of the chains the world has placed on him. After installing the program Brain Burst, given to him by Snow Black, he becomes a burst-linker—someone who can accelerate his mind beyond normal perception to react to situations in ways that would normally be impossible. But each use of the program costs a point and recharging will require him to enter the battlefield that is the Accelerated World.
Accel World has everything a shounen action anime needs to be good, plus a whole lot more that makes it great. One of the things I love about this anime is that it gets you thinking in some very creative ways right from its very premise. The thought of slowing down time—or more literally, accelerating your perception of time—is not only exceptionally original, but proves to be a flexible enough concept to allow it to keep expanding its usefulness through granting access to new abilities and rewarding out-of-the-box thinking. This subtlety of the powers granted by the Brain Burst program is where this concept’s true strength lies. To truly master the system requires a burst linker to come to terms with the scars of his or her past, which is manifested in his or her duel avatar.
As much as I talk about how important aesthetics are to me when it comes to anime, Accel World’s choice to cast a short, plump, weak-willed, generally unattractive young man as the protagonist was both daring and genius. His flaws are huge and conspicuous, leaving Haruyuki plenty of room for growth and opportunity to overcome challenges as the story progresses. But this rather simple starting point pales in comparison to the metaphoric dichotomy that is Haruyuki Arita, the slow and tubby junior high school student and his sleek, shiny and fast duel avatar, Silver Crow.
Rarely do we see the manifestation of someone’s desires visualized so clearly, and since all the characters are a part of this system of emotional scars that take on an incarnate form, this entire anime becomes one big canvas for depicting each character’s backstory through it’s visual design—even if it’s only speculative in some cases. In this way, I could appreciate this series far beyond its beautiful art style.
Since Brain Burst is at its heart a fighting game, it would be a shame if Accel World didn’t have some excellent action scenes. And once again, it delivers in this area as well. From more simple, straightforward fights that give the message that in battle using your head is just as important as using your fists, to bigger, grand melees that have a pace to them that tests players’ abilities to read the battlefield and adapt to the pace of the fight, there’s no shortage of excellent skirmishe punctuated at the right times between the daily lives of the characters.
One thing about the fights that disappointed me slightly was that towards the end of the series things start to lose the cleverness that filled the earlier fights in favor of something more akin to a dry battle-of-wills where the winner just wanted it more. But it never gets obnoxious because the focus always remains on the characters and they never feel defined by their powers—rather just the opposite, because the players are the ones who give their powers form.
One of the things about this series that I think shouldn’t be overlooked is how deep its premise really goes. Being able to accelerate your time and interact with people to grow and mature at a rate several orders of magnitude faster than is normally possible makes you wonder about these children’s futures. The obvious advantage of their abilities is to analyze situations in detail and essentially, “cheat time” but they can also develop themselves mentally. Are some burst linkers already many years ahead of their peers with respect to their maturity? Will they accelerate through their childhoods and become adults far sooner than they otherwise could were they not given the Brain Burst program? This even challenges our definitions of what it means to be an adult. Can we really define that developmental stage in a person’s life correctly in a world of young people who experience time at a different rate compared to the rest of us?
The story has a few flat spots that I felt messed with the pace a bit—most egregious being Snow Black’s trip to Okinawa—but if that’s my only complaint, I’m not going to hold it against this otherwise brilliant series. Most pleasing is the ending that leaves things open to the possibility of continuing, but has none of the failings of a cliffhanger. It’s complete and brings everything to fulfillment. Instead of leaving you wanting more, it’s simply the impression of “well that’s the end of that chapter. Life goes on and maybe someday I’ll get to see more.” But more doesn’t feel necessary. This makes Accel World one of my top shounen action anime in recent years.