Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Category Archives: Slice of Life

GJ-bu Ep. 1

The GJ Club membersInitial impression – standard fare but not boring

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.

Minami-ke Tadaima Ep. 1

The sisters argue about putting away the kotatsu.Initial impression – the sisters return for round four

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.

Tamako Market Ep. 1

Dera and TamakoInitial impression – familiar-looking fun

Winter 2013 (12 episodes) (more info)

Immediately, the first instinct of anyone who lays eyes on Tamako Market is going to be, “this looks like K-ON,” which should be no surprise, because the art designer is Yukiko Horiguchi, the writer is Reiko Yoshida, the director is Naoko Yamada and the producer is Kyoto Animation—so basically, the entire team that made K-ON is back together to make Tamako Market.  But if these ties to K-ON are turning you off, it should also be noted that at least some members of this team also made the recent hit, Hyouka and Kyoto Animation also has a long history of all-time great anime titles like Haruhi Suzumiya and Full Metal Panic.  So don’t prejudge.

The Usagiyama Shopping DistrictI think this series is going to resonate with me more than with the average anime fan because I’ve actually been to several shopping districts in many different Japanese towns and cities.  These are wonderful places that resonate with the part of me that enjoys the atmosphere of the mom and pop, old downtown districts of America, which are still alive and well throughout Japan.  And my feeling right away is that Tamako Market has done an amazing job of capturing that personality of friendly people who enjoy their work and have built a close community of small businesses who are always there for each other and their customers.

Tamako and her friends take a break from practicing their baton twirlingBut the real strength of Tamako Market lies in the terrific double act that comprises the two main characters.  Tamako’s polite, cheerful personality is such a contrast to Dera Mochimazzi, the rude and gluttonous cockatoo that forces himself into her home in which the downstairs is a mochi shop.  They play each other’s foils so well and I can already tell this is going to be the driving force for some terrific dialogue.  Along with her colorful friends which includes a kind of Romeo and Juliet family rivalry with the son of the mochi shop across the street and just general all-around silliness, this is shaping up to be a great moe anime.

Haibane Renmei (review)

Impression – close to a perfect calm (9/10)

Fall 2002 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Charcoal Feather Federation)

A young woman bursts out of a giant dandelion puff in the Haibane house, Old Home.  She awakens stricken with amnesia, unable to remember her own name.  But it’s explained to her that this is normal for newly emerged Haibane.  Reki, the unofficial leader of Old Home, names the confused newcomer Rakka (the Japanese word for “falling”) because while she was in the dandelion cocoon she dreamed she was falling through the sky.

This is tradition and something of a rite of passage for Haibane—followed by bestowing her with a halo, and then the small wings that soon sprout from Rakka’s back.  However, even after that ordeal is over, the mildly comfortable walled world of Grie she finds herself in holds secrets that may be too dangerous for none to know but a select few—the hermetic Haibane Renmei.

It’s a difficult setting to immerse yourself in at first, because like Rakka we the viewers are also just plopped in with almost no context about what’s going on.  On some level, you have to go into this series knowing that its power lies not in storytelling, but in emotional impact.  There are few anime that make you feel for the heroine with greater power than Haibane Renmei.  After the opening confusion has worn off and Rakka starts to get settled, we are introduced to a segment that’s very slice of life as the town and the habits of this closed-off culture become apparent.  But things are definitely not as simple as being reborn and finding a way to live happily.  Some come into this world with tremendous burdens to overcome before they can achieve the peace they have been promised.

Flying in the face of all the niceties that generally dominate much of the series, the whole setting has an interesting bit of Orwellian vibe to it with the censorship of all information of what lies outside the wall.  However, there’s never an indication that there’s some kind of dirty conspiracy, but a genuine safeguard to protect the town’s inhabitants from…well…from something ominous to say the least.  And although this world is very clearly all about supporting the Haibane, it somehow manages to revere them with a sort of melancholy neglect.  This mixture of conflicting impressions and feelings is what gives Haibane Renmei a very unique aura that you can only truly understand by experiencing it.

I’ve given up trying to solve the mystery of Rakka’s crow. Really, I don’t think there’s an answer.

Where the show missteps is in its inability to fill in the large number of missing pieces.  Initially I had the idea that this series was a fanciful interpretation of the Roman Catholic view of purgatory—a sort of halfway house of purification on the afterlife’s path to heaven.  The imagery of the angel-like Haibane was certainly inspired by western religion, but at the series’ conclusion I didn’t feel like that intent was made clear.  It’s more like the characters’ goal is not finding redemption or spiritual cleansing, but a journey of rediscovering their true selves after becoming lost on the twists and turns of life’s winding path.  Interestingly, Angel Beats parallels a lot of the general broad strokes of Haibane Renmei in its overall concept and themes, and anyone who likes a good philosophical conundrum is going to enjoy this beautiful anime immensely.

The triumphal opening, “Free Bird,” has no lyrics.

Speaking of beautiful though, the music is a perfect match to the slow and peaceful setting with melodies that conjure an image of floating gently and putting a flutter in your heart when the moment is right.  But then things get serious and the mood darkens; the light and airy steps turn into a dreary dirge that help you to feel the weight of the circumstances.  All the same, I think it’s only a fair warning to note that Haibane Renmei is starting to show its age a bit.  And while it has a very artful style for 2002, there are a few very stiff moments in the animation that remind you you’re watching something that’s 10 years old.

Really, so much of the story goes unexplained that it’s hard to reach any kind of definite consensus about exactly what’s going on.  And for the most part that’s alright.  It’s a brave creative choice on the part of the writers to leave so much of the setting blank for the interpretation of the viewer.  Perhaps like the Haibane themselves you have to let the mysteries of the world stay hidden and enjoy living peacefully.  In that way, this may be the anime that epitomizes the slice of life genre more than any other—with the notable exception of Kino’s Journey.  But maybe the logical side of my brain just can’t shut itself off, because I was left wanting something more concrete after getting my emotions put through the ringer.

Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita Ep. 1

Initial impression – disturbingly cute and colorful…seriously disturbing (1/10)

Summer 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Humanity has Declined) (more info)

As far as I can tell what Jinrui is about, I can see the main heroine is some sort of mediator between normal humans and an offshoot human branch of fairies that came about after some unnamed calamity.  Considering how candy-bright the palette is in this anime, I can’t imagine it was particularly disastrous.  The writing is all over the place with only the most basic information about what’s going on presented and the rest either condescending commentary on how modern life is wasteful to a very misogynistic view of gender roles.  And then there are those fairies who discuss the oncoming extinction of humanity in the same voice of unconstrained joy as they do the prospect of eating sweets.

I’m not sure what this anime is trying to do, but I’m more disturbed by this level of sugary cuteness set to a story that is otherwise about dealing with a very depressing, grim reality.  To say that there’s a mismatch in the tone of the setting design and the plot is an understatement.  Between the images of a skinned, feetless, headless chicken like you’d find in a supermarket running around as if it were still alive to a bread robot that becomes so depressed that it commits suicide by rending itself in half all the while spraying blood everywhere is just too much for me to handle.

I actually got a painful little pit in my stomach once this episode was over that made me feel quite ill.  Jinrui definitely has a unique style, but I don’t want that to get misinterpreted as praise of any kind—I merely want to stress that I cannot recall ever seeing anything of this particular sort of weirdness ever before.  I’ve seen more than enough to frighten me away from this series forever.

Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan Ep. 1

Initial impression – aimless and silly (3/10)

Spring 2012 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Shining Hearts: Bread of Happiness) (more info)

As much as I love Tony Taka’s art style that is both mature and emotive, it’s not enough to save Shining Hearts’ childish writing. It’s like someone crossed a JRPG with Disney it’s so simple and sweet—even going to great lengths to soften the edges of the harshest character. Since the story is presumably based around the PSP game made by Sega of the same name I’m not going to hold one of my favorite artists responsible for this shallow travesty that actively wastes my time with production-saving pans over still scenes to frequently kill a few seconds here and there.

Really I don’t know what more needs to be said because it’s all so insubstantial. There isn’t even a soothing slice of life atmosphere to provide a comforting sense of peace that would actually compliment Shining Hearts’ painfully slow pace. When it comes to anime about bread, I’m going to stick with Yakitate!! Japan.

This question isn’t meant to be taken cynically, but what do you think was the last good game you played that was made by Sega?

What is there to like about Kids on the Slope?

I’m sick and tired of reading comments on forums and blogs about how good this anime is.  All the time I’m seeing “must watch series” or “best anime this season.”  I don’t do this kind of focused rebuttal very often, (come to think of it this may be the first time I’ve written a review like this) but all things considered I think the current situation warrants a dissenting opinion being heard—with indignant vigor.

I can’t tell what this anime wants to be about.  It’s skipping erratically between themes of music, friendship, youth and romance, which doesn’t sound like it ought to be a problem on the surface.  However, the transitions between these concepts are as flow breaking as having to portage a canoe around a dam.  There’s no reason all the themes couldn’t be woven together into a harmonious composition, but instead the show opts to go with just one mode at a time.

I thought long and hard about exactly why the pacing in this series is so terrible and I came to the realization that transitions from sequence to sequence are so abrupt and jarring that it reminded me of watching a summary episode or a clip show.  When I made that connection it started to make sense because Shinichiro Watanabe is very good at doing episodic anime like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo.  For those series, episodic pacing with large breaks makes sense because the journey the characters take lends itself very organically to a lot of down time when nothing interesting is happening.  Each episode gets encapsulated nicely so that it concludes before moving on to the next leg of the story.

But Kids on the Slope doesn’t want that kind organization.  It’s happening in real time with people who see each other every day and don’t have any clear goals in mind to drive themselves fervently forward and keep them focused.  There’s no big overarching conflict to wrap everything up and give a sense of purpose or adventure to connect the points.  They’re just lethargically dealing with their problems as they arise, which is drawn-out disorganization at best and frustratingly incomprehensible chaos at its worst.

It’s like we’ve been dragged along a boring, uneventful saunter through the lives of some very ordinary, uninteresting young people whose bonds are so weak they need the pathetic excuse of playing jazz music to keep the whole mess from falling apart.  We’re expected to fill in too many of the little details and read between the lines to fully grasp what’s going on.  This is not subtlety or a method of focusing only on the big, important events.  This is plainly and simply bad writing that shows a lack of planning to keep everything moving at a cohesive pace.

I’m also completely bummed by Yoko Kanno’s complete lack of presence.  I know she’s capable of much better soundtracks than these barely audible, piddling, intermittent BGMs that go completely unnoticed.  What happened to the epic themes that characterized the grand settings of Escaflowne and RahXephon?  Where are the perfect, mood-setting tones that gave Cowboy Bebop an atmosphere as thick as Jupiter’s?  How can we get immersed in the setting, time and culture without her purposeful influence giving us the proper cues like she did in Ghost in the Shell?  Why isn’t her music filling our ears, warming our hearts and giving us an uncontrollable desire to get up and dance like the powerful songs of Macross Frontier?  It’s a complete waste of her talent, so why is she involved in this project?

What is going on? This is not good writing.

Finally, I don’t want to hear any more complaining from people about unrequited, drawn-out, misunderstood or weak romances in anime like Shakugan no Shana, Zero no Tsukaima or Boku wa Tomodachi when shows like Kids on the Slope are getting this kind of hype.  The romance in this series is terrible.  Just what the heck is going on?  I thought Yurika was under the impression that Kaoru asked her out but then she’s suddenly getting intimate with Sentarou?  It’s such an unfounded, head-spinning, hasty plot progression that it can be easy summarized in just one word—lazy.  And how can Kaoru think he’s in any position to follow the high ground when (a) he takes forever to clear up the pain and confusion he caused with Ritsuko then (b) goes for a love confession as weak as, “you don’t have to give me an answer right away,” with absolutely no follow up to show he actually cares?  It reeks of every aspect of the worst romance stories you could think of.

What are people seeing in this anime that I don’t?  Someone please enlighten me because Kids on the Slope is the most I’ve been disappointed in an anime since Blood C.  Anyone who finished reading this rant and who likes this show please explain yourself.  Clearly I just don’t get it.

K-ON! Movie (summary)

Back on December 3, I watched the K-ON! Movie.  Below are the notes I took while watching the movie detailing a summary of the major events and plot of the film.  Be warned, the following text contains major spoilers.  Additionally, I’ve composed this article under the assumption that readers will already be familiar with the TV anime’s previous two seasons.  The events of the movie take place close to the end of the story of the second season, but before the anime’s final episode.

WARNING!! SPOILERS!!

Yui wakes up in her bedroom to the sound of her alarm.
The five HHT girls are going to school.
After classes they go to the club room and they can be heard upstairs
playing hard rock.
Azusa arrives in the club room.
Ritsu and Yui argue about the kind of music HTT typically plays as
being too light, fluffy and carefree.
She’s lamenting the end of the light music club because the four
seniors are all graduating.
Azusa pushes the play button on a boom box nearby to discover the hard
rock track that everyone heard downstairs wasn’t actually HTT.
Azusa wants to practice with everyone, but Yui decides to take a tea break.
Mugi takes out a baumkuchen cake to share with everyone, but has
trouble opening the packaging.
Sawako appears at the table out of nowhere and surprises the girls.
Yui says she wants to do one last senior-like thing before she graduates.
Back at Yui’s house she talks it over with Ui.
Maybe the four seniors should give a present to future members of the
light music club.
Ui suggests a bunch of other ideas that Yui doesn’t like.
Ui then suggests they go out on a senior trip and bring Azusa along as
a gift to their only junior.
In class the next day they comment on how Mugi’s hands are warm, but
Mio’s hands are cold.
Other seniors in the class are talking about going on trips around to
different places in the world with their clubs.
The class discusses what kind of gift they should get for Sawako
because she’s their homeroom teacher.
The four seniors ask Azusa where she would want to go if they went on
a senior trip.
She says anywhere is fine.
Ritsu suggests Hawaii.
Yui wants to go to Europe.
Mugi would be fine with a hot springs inn.
Mio really wants to go to London.
They use an amidakuji (a lottery ladder) to decide where they will go.
Yui wins the game but Azusa catches her cheating, so she has to sit
out any future decisions.
Mugi thinks it was really clever of Yui to cheat like that.
As a penalty game, they make her wear a piece of paper over her face
that has a funny expression drawn on it.
They decide to let Ton-chan decide where they should go by putting
teacups in his tank with names of the destinations written on them.
After a really long wait he touches London.
Mio is very happy.
Yui is sad, but when everyone reminds her that London is in Europe,
she admits she didn’t know that.
Mugi invites Azusa, but she hesitates because she’s not a senior.
Yui wants Azusa to come, too.
Azusa finally accepts the invitation after Mio invites her, too.
Azusa leaves the clubroom and calls her parents to check if it’s ok to
go on a trip to London.
Azusa returns to find the other girls calling their families as well.
Back at Yui’s house, Nodoka is helping pack and wishes Yui a fun trip in the UK.
Yui tells her they’re going to London, not the UK.
Nodoka tells Yui that London is in the UK and once again, Yui admits ignorance.
They go to a travel agency to pick out their hotel and sightseeing destinations.
Back at school, Yui talks with the members of the occult club and asks
them if they want a souvenir.
They ask her to take a picture of Nessie.
Yui tells this to the other HTT girls and they explain that the occult
club was just joking.
The four seniors still want to give a better present to Azusa as well as Sawako.
Maybe they should write a song?
Azusa returns to the clubroom and nearly blows their cover.
She becomes suspicious about it later when she recalls their serious faces.
Yui’s parents help her finish packing.
We only see their faces briefly when Yui departs for the airport.
The five girls meet up as they near the airport.
They have their instruments with them aside from Mugi.
Mugi asks everyone to double check to make sure they didn’t forget anything.
Yui jokes that she forgot her passport.
Azusa says they’re going to leave her behind.
At the airport the girls check their instruments and Yui says a long
goodbye to Gii-taa.
Yui talks about how amazing airplanes are, but Azusa points out that
it’s just a vehicle, not a time machine.
The girls are flying JAL (Japan Air Lines).  Product placement much?
For a while, Yui and Azusa practice their English on the flight.
At night during the flight, Yui wakes up to write lyrics for Azusa’s
song, but she falls asleep while writing.
Azusa wakes up and starts to read Yui’s notes, but Yui stops her just
in time to make sure the secret is safe.
The theme for the song is “World Wide.”
The immigration officer in the London airport is a black man.
They are visibly nervous.
The girls answer his questions with decent, if clumsy English.
On the luggage rack they can’t find Mio’s bag.
Ritsu jokes that Mio is going to have to get by without any underwear.
They find Mio’s bag off in a corner for unclaimed luggage.
Yui and Mio are amazed by all the English and begin taking pictures of
everything they see.
They have some difficulty telling their cab driver where their hotel is.
Yui comments that everything is so much bigger than in Japan.
They end up going to the wrong hotel.
Turns out this hotel chain has several places around London.
They consider taking the bus.
Azusa bought new shoes for this trip but her feet hurt.
The shoes are probably too small.
They buy Azusa new shoes.
As they head to their hotel on foot they see a conveyor belt sushi
restaurant and they decide to eat.
The store’s manager thinks the girls are a Japanese band he hired.
Yui can’t understand his English and just keeps answering “Yes” to all
of his questions.
By the time they realize the mistake it’s too late to back out.
Not that they even know enough English to point out the manager’s mistake.
In an attempt to explain the situation, Ritsu says “I love sushi.  We
are okyakusan (customers)”.
But the manager can’t understand them, so they decide the best thing
to do is to just go with the flow.
The manager introduces their band as Love Crisis, which Ritsu
recognizes as the name of her friend’s band.
They play some songs and the customers like the music.
HTT doesn’t get to eat any sushi.
Ritsu’s friend Maki from Love Crisis shows up.
They explain the mistake to the manager.
HTT finds their hotel.
Yui is tired and hungry
It’s a good thing Ui packed food for everyone.
Yui plugs in her hair dryer, but it shorts out because of the voltage
difference.
Azusa has a bad dream about Yui.
The next day in a park, Yui sticks her hand into what she thinks is a mailbox.
It’s actually a waste bin for dog poop.
Everyone wants to ride the ferris wheel in the park but Mio.
After some forceful coaxing, Mio gets on board and enjoys the ride.
Back at the hotel room Yui rushes to give Gii-ta a hug, but Azusa
thinks Yui is trying to hug her, so she elbows Yui painfully.
The four seniors have another meeting to work on Azusa’s song after
she falls asleep.
Azusa awakens in the night to find Yui missing.
Azusa knocks on the door, but the peep hole is too high for Ritsu to
see through.
Azusa is looking for Yui, but she had already left to go check on Azusa.
Azusa returns to her room while Yui returns to the other seniors to
report that Azusa is missing.
The two then start running in circles through their two hotel rooms
looking for each other.
The next day they go to a music store.
They get a surprise call from Japan.
It’s the owner of the live music house HTT played at.
Maki and the manager of the sushi restaurant want them to play at a
Japanese culture festival the next day.
They’re worried they might not be able to do it because there won’t be
enough time to make their flight.
That night they attempt to translate the lyrics of “Rice is not a side
dish,” into English with little success.
Azusa has another strange dream about Yui.
Mugi gets her keyboard airmailed to London.
HTT is playing on an outdoor stage at the Japanese culture event.
They’re going to play wearing their school uniforms.
Yui remembers shorting out her hair dryer the first night and worries
that plugging Gii-ta into the UK-made amp will hurt her guitar.
Then Sawako shows up and reminds Yui that her guitar wasn’t made in
Japan and everything will be ok.
Sawako made samurai outfits for the girls but they refuse to wear them.
They play Fuwa-fuwa time and Gohan.
Yui attempts to sing the last verse of Gohan in English, but fails.
They’re running out of time to make their flight.
Azusa falls asleep in the cab ride to the airport and Ritsu takes a
picture of her sleeping.
It starts snowing.
Back in their club room, they start sorting through all the English
tea they bought in London.
Their classmates are impressed that they went to London and played there.
The class wants HTT to play a final graduation live performance.
The senior girls of HHT go to the teacher’s room to ask Sawako if it’s
ok to do a final live performance.
At first she thinks it’s a good idea, but when the principal walks in
she has to feign prohibition to keep up appearances.
She recalls back when she was in the light music club, the principal
was her homeroom teacher and got really upset with her playing music
in his classroom.
The class makes a stage for HTT with their desks while the senior
girls go to get Azusa to come join them.
Upon hearing the music start, the principal heads off to stop the
performance, and Sawako attempts to restrain him unsuccessfully.
After seeing everyone having a good time, the principal relents and
allows the performance to continue.
Their classmates push the teachers into the classroom to better enjoy the music.
Later, the four seniors continue to discuss Azusa’s song.
Mugi has written a melody everyone likes and suggests they each write
a verse for the song.
Azusa is suspicious and discusses the issue with Junko and Ui during
gym class while they play table tennis.
She laments the other girls are going on to university together without her.
While writing lyrics in her room, Yui must hastily hide her notes from
Ui so her cover doesn’t get blown.
Yui thanks Ui for giving her the idea of going on a trip with everyone.
Yui is lost in thought and absentmindedly asks Ui, “since we’re all
going to the same university, we’ll still be able to have after school
tea, right?”
Next day on the roof, the four seniors are having a group huddle
before their performance for Azusa.
The lyrics aren’t quite finished yet, so they need one last brainstorm.
A bird flies away.
The seniors liken Azusa to the bird because she gave the group a set
of wings and helped keep them all focused.
Without the serious Azusa, they never would have gotten this great.
Azusa is their guardian angel.
It’s a little embarrassing, but they decide that’s the best choice for
that section of the lyrics.
The light music club has their last after school tea together and
Azusa comes in for the performance of her song.
They play.
Azusa claps.
Yui smiles because Azusa liked it.
The four seniors are university students now.
They go home.
Yui asks everyone where they should all go next year for Azusa’s senior trip.

THE END

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