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Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai (review)

Those with delusions seek out others to reinforce their beliefsFinal 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.

Love requires a little more courageThe 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.

Rikka, the tyrant's eye battles Dekomori, Mjolnir's hammerBut 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.

The Magick club isn't doing very good with their advisorBut 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.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ep. 1

Initial impression – youthful silliness vs mature rationality

Autumn 2012 (12 episodes) (English title – Regardless of My Adolescent Delusions of Grandeur, I Want a Date!, title literal translation – I was Sick, but Now I Want Love!) (more info)

A boy named Yuuta Togashi has abandoned his childhood fantasy just in time to meet a girl his age named Rikka Takanashi who hasn’t yet given up her own.  While I find the premise of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! interesting, there’s a self-conscious part of me that can’t help but feel it’s making fun of me.  I’m aware of the stereotypes associated with pen & paper RPGs, but could this be how many throughout the world see the people who play D&D?  Because I can assure you that sane / mature tabletop RPG players don’t extend the fantasy world into their everyday lives.

Not even at a young age was I ever a witness to this kind of self-delusion or desire to be special.  But when I think about it, as a child, who hasn’t seriously thought about what his/her life might be like if such an unlikely development could be made a reality?  So in this way, I think Chuunibyou is touching on some very honest topics about childhood, growing up and how our perception of the world and of ourselves changes during that process.

In some ways this series puts me in mind of a more playful Denpa Onna.  The heroine is trapped in the belief that she has superpowers and contact with outside forces and it’s the protagonist’s job to bring her back to reality.  Only this time, the hero can relate to the leading lady’s predicament since he’s already gone through the transition away from his childhood delusion on his own.  As concepts for quirky girls go, Chuunibyou has a charm to it that has caught my attention without being completely batty.  And then, by the end of the first episode, there’s already a conflict of desires between the protagonists as each vies for the legitimacy of his and her respective lifestyle—needless to say it looks like a lot of fun.

Black★Rock Shooter (review)

Final impression – not a second wasted (10/10)

Winter 2012 (8 episodes) (TV series)

It’s the first day of junior high school and Mato Kuroi decides she’s going to be friends with the gloomy girl who has a funny name, Yomi Takanashi.  The two soon discover they have a shared love of a children’s storybook and it looks like they’re going to get along great.  But when Yomi’s spoiled, childhood friend Kagari butts in to push them apart, Mato isn’t going to just give up accept this bleak turn of events.  She makes it her mission to liberate Yomi from Kagari’s possessive personality.  But doing so will have greater consequences than she knows.  In another world, the girls’ voiceless souls are fighting their own, very real battle with life and death on the line.  And when the results of their battles become reflected in the real world, it’s going to change the course of their lives in ways they cannot possibly anticipate.

Quality in writing is often not about a story’s content, but about how well that story is told.  Sometimes the best plot is the simplest and Black Rock Shooter tells a fabulously creative adventure about the subtleties of relationships and how the most well-meaning intentions can have unexpected, unintended consequences.  It’s a wonderful metaphor about allowing ourselves to be close enough to our friends that we can fight with them honestly and without inhibitions.  We must accept that we occasionally hurt people and that we are hurt by others; how we deal with that pain shapes our character and the ultimate fate of our relationships.  Balancing this emotional drama between real people and their actions mirrored by their duplicate selves locked in gallant combat is a poetic dichotomy flooded deeply with incredible metaphors.  Kana Hanazawa is perfect in her role as Mato Kuroi, depicting her exceptional personality and growth from naivety to strong, determined young woman.  But what’s most amazing about Black Rock Shooter is that it probably would never have existed if it wasn’t for the Vocaloid song by the same name, popularized by casual anime fans who wanted to know the story behind the music.  For something so spectacular to come out of simple fandom and not from a novel, manga or video game is truly remarkable.

Black★Rock Shooter Ep. 1

Initial impression – a rough diamond

Winter 2012 (8 episodes) (title synonym – BRS) (more info)

And so begins the anime that was inspired by a Vocaloid song.  The first episode is showing excellence, but comes with quite an emotional roller coaster; leaving me only slightly optimistic about the tone of this series.  It would seem that with only eight episodes they’re rushing content and a slower revelation of this anime’s darker elements would have been better—allowing more time to set the mood.  That being said, there’s still an air of novelty around the concept of our inner psyches engaging in epic battles as we experience the tumultuous drama of our daily relationships.  The art style is also trying something unique with reality looking plain and somewhat unrefined; switching to a sharper and edgy theme when the action starts.  The talent of Kana Hanazawa greatly adds to the depth of the composition, which is going to be a necessity to pull off the range of feelings Mato is inevitably going to experience.  At its core, Black Rock Shooter is an experimental anime that’s breaking new ground and it’s off to a promising start.

Working!! 2 (review)

Final impression – unchecked misconceptions are hilarious (8/10)

Autumn 2011 (13 episodes) (alternate titles – Working’!!Wagnaria’!!)

The staff of the family restaurant Wagnaria aren’t your average group of employees.  Takanashi grew up in a family of tall women, despite the fact that he has a fixation with small and cute.  Popula is a short, high school girl who is sensitive about her height.  Inami is an incredibly strong girl with an intense, often violent fear of men.  Yachiyo is a hard-working, air-headed waitress who always carries a sword with her.  Yamada ran away from home for unknown reasons and leeches off of others’ kindness while living in the restaurant’s attic.  Satou is a hard-working chef with an off-putting personality.  Souma is Satou’s comrade in the kitchen and has an amazing talent for digging up people’s secrets.  And overseeing all of these personalities is Kyouko, a glutton of a manager who constantly eats all the restaurant’s supplies.

Working!! 2 is one of those rare anime where the story is so episodic that it’s hard to imagine a large amount of character growth or a clear conclusion to an overarching story.  Normally this would characterize an anime that feels unpolished with no clear goal or motivation—especially for a sequel—but that’s not the case.  While the cast has some typical stereotypes, they all have enough depth to be interesting and engaging.  Every day is an adventure for the characters as they contend with daily problems and pursue their own goals with great enthusiasm.  While it would be nice to see some of the relationships become more defined and start to blossom more fully, it’s not necessary for the series to feel complete.  Indeed, many of the most hilarious moments in Working!! 2 stem from compounded misunderstandings and can’t be resolved without drastically altering the spirit of the anime.  In the end, Working!! 2—just like the first season—is a unique formula that makes you laugh and smile.

Working!! 2 Ep. 1

Initial impression – nicely moe, but lacking growth

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (more info)

When publishers decide that they’re going to denote a second season’s title with an apostrophe to make it distinct from its prequel, I think it’s high time to bring back subtitles.  I’m talking about Clannad After Story, Full Metal Panic FumoffuNaruto Shuppuuden, Final Fantasy VII Advent Children, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.  It’s so much easier on the filing system and provides a convenient cue to quickly tell what you’re talking about in simple conversation.

Ok, now that I’ve got that off my chest, Working!! 2 picks up where season 1 left off.  Popula is still short, Inami is still afraid of men, Aoi is still a freeloader, Yachiyo is still carrying a katana, Kyouko is still a lazy manager and Takanashi is still a moe fanboy.  It’s a nice, diverse cast that is showing a lack of development, unfortunately.  Taking a moe cast out of school and putting it in a restaurant was a good enough change of pace for season 1, but now that it’s already been done, Working!! 2 needs something else to make it stand out from its own past success.  The first episode is still funny, but I’m being led to predict stagnation.  All the same, I’m hopeful that the rest of season 2 will prove me wrong.  If all else fails, I’ll get to enjoy the guilty pleasure I share with Takanashi.

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