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Tag Archives: 7/10

Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate (review)

Oojima's friends, supporters and rivalsFinal impression – cleverly endearing; never a dull moment (7/10)

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.

The Food Club huddles in anticipation of their student council runHowever, 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.

Chisato delivers Oojima's election postersIt 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.

Chisato cosplays as MadokaWith 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.

Persona 4: The Animation (review)

The cast of Persona 4: The AnimationFinal impression – play the game first (7/10)

Fall 2011 to winter 2012 (25 episodes)

Yuu Narukami is a city boy, who for various circumstances at home, ends up moving out to the countryside to live with his uncle and little cousin.  But being a naturally suave and likeable guy, he’s quickly able to shake off the aura of being a transfer student and makes some friends.  But when the tiny town of Inaba he finds himself in is rocked by a series of bizarre murders, he gets caught up in a creepy cold case where the victims are seen on a mysterious TV program called the Midnight Channel that airs on foggy nights when you have your TV turned off.  In the face of such unbelievable circumstances, Yuu and his friends become the only ones capable of rescuing the victims by diving into the television and fighting the bloodthirsty monsters that live there using a manifestation of their psyches called Persona.

Yu calls IzanagiWriting an objective review on P4 was difficult for me since I’ve played the game it’s based on.  This isn’t the same as reading the manga that serves as the source material for an anime since both of those media are non-interactive.  Video games on the other hand are and being put in the position of having no influence on the characters’ decisions or the pace of the story was a little unsettling.  I wonder if many other people feel this way about adaptations of video games that aren’t a loose reinterpretation of a concept, but instead a faithful retelling of the same story.

The girls can't cookThat being said, P4: The Animation recreates the events of the game as closely as is possible, with a few changes made that were probably necessary for the transition to TV.  This includes obvious things like completing a side character’s story in a single episode rather than the game’s slower progression that might be spaced out over the course of the entire play time (or even not completed at all if the player neglects that particular social link).  But one thing that always disappointed me about P4: The Animation was the fight scenes.  The game is something of a visual novel built around the framework of a really solid RPG.  That setup should have been a natural cue that the anime ought to be an action / drama.  And while the drama does well, the action is dry and has an air of inevitability to it that never feels the slightest bit suspenseful.

"Welcome to the velvet room."All in all, it makes me sad because, because I loved the game and my hopes were high that the anime would live up to that same level of quality.  If nothing else, the soundtrack for the P4 anime is even more amazing than the game and includes all of the original music in addition to new and expanded tracks with terrifically-written English lyrics that really gets me fired up.  In the end, Persona 4: The Animation is a supplemental anime for fans of the game, but still a very solid series.

Medaka Box (review)

Impression – sometimes smart, sometimes weird but always fun (7/10)

Spring 2012 (12 episodes)

At Hakoniwa Academy, student sovereignty is of utmost importance in the curriculum.  As such, nearly everything for the students is also by the students.  And the new, super-popular student council president, Medaka Kurokami takes this idea to the extreme.  In her obsession to help people she opts to accept and address any request from a member of the student body by allowing them to write down their problems and put them into a suggestion box that informally becomes known as the “Medaka Box.”  With the energy of a caffeinated squirrel, the concentration of a hunting wolf and the compassion of a mother dog she commences to become everyone’s heroine—even the enemies who would reject her kindness.  But even as she turns hostiles into friendlies, Medaka is going to find out there are some minds she just can’t change.

Medaka Box adds itself to the list of quirky student council anime among titles like Seitokai no Ichizon and Seitokai Yakuindomo or even Kaichou wa Maid-sama.  The biggest difference that separates Medaka Box from the crowd is its focus.  Where other student council anime tend to deal with just its members and their misadventures together, Medaka Box constantly flits around to other characters and clubs that require assistance.  It’s a very smooth way to keep things fresh, random, but still all thematically tied to prevent the story from sinking into chaos.

One things I think a lot of people will have trouble overlooking is this anime’s fanservice.  Medaka’s semi-exhibitionist attitude about her body seems like a pitiful excuse to get her to show some skin, but Medaka Box handles this potential pitfall in a surprisingly deft manner.  First, this trait of Medaka feeds into her uninhibited, outgoing personality that is devoid of almost any shame as well as her desire to be the center of attention.  And second, while it took me a little while to realize it, Medaka is the only truly fanservice-y character in the whole series.  So in a weird way, I’m going to have to call this a rare case of ecchi resulting in positive character development.

Towards the end, Medaka Box purports to tread into philosophical territory, but it ultimately feels a little silly and off-tone when compared to the rest of the series’ much freer attitude.  That’s not to say that the messages, “trust your friends,” or “stay true to yourself,” aren’t important themes or morals of the story, but it’s not entirely sincere given the circumstances surrounding how these values are conveyed to the viewer.  But even with this slightly misplaced stylistic shortcoming, I can’t help but be excited for the second season that will be starting in just a few weeks.

Amagami SS and Amagami SS+ plus (review)

Amagami SS

Impression – finely tuned and sagacious (9/10)

Summer 2011 to fall 2011 (25 episodes + 3 OVAs)

Usually I start my reviews with a plot summary of the first episode or two to give a general impression of the story, but I can’t do that for Amagami SS. This series is a real revolution for the standard formula for harem/romance/dating genre of anime. Instead of following the girls’ individual stories through the series organically (which usually just makes the protagonist look like a playboy) Amagami gives each girl four episodes to tell their story with the main character before wrapping things up and moving on to the next girl without a shred of continuity between the two.

It’s really refreshing to see an anime deviate from the default storytelling method for romance series and try something new.  And the best part is that it’s awesome.  It’s hard to believe that nobody thought of this idea sooner, but this formula is just enough time to get to know the characters, introduce a conflict and resolve said conflict in a very tight space of time that allows for absolutely no waste.

The cast is your usual harem mix—the hard-nosed class rep, the whimsical upperclassman, the tomboy, the airhead, the shy girl and the athlete—but they all have enough unique traits to keep them fresh and nonstereotypical.  If it seems like I’m having trouble giving this title an adequately in-depth review it’s because there’s so many unconnected plotlines in this series that I couldn’t hope to discuss them at length without just giving away the whole story because everything is so concise.

I can definitely say that this is a series for people who like romance anime and are looking for something different that sets itself apart from the masses and Amagami definitely fits that bill. But I also think this series could impress people who usually stay away from harem anime because the quality of the writing in Amagami really hits home with how effectual it is at getting the point across in so little time.

Amagami SS+ plus

Impression – an ideal, if somewhat inflexible sequel (7/10)

Winter 2012 (13 episodes)

Probably the biggest failing of Amagami Plus is that it will have absolutely no chance of pulling in new viewers for this franchise. Just like season 1, the writing is short and to the point without an inch of dead time—which of course means there can be no chance for a recap to get fresh eyes up to speed with the stories already in progress.  This basically dooms it to being a nice little bonus package for people who enjoyed the first season, though the necessity of some of this extra content is sometimes questionable.

With only 13 episodes this time around, each girl only gets 2 episodes to squeeze in a little epilogue (plus a bonus episode for Junichi’s sister, Miya).  They all have their own charm and fit nicely onto the end of their previous plotlines. While I was somewhat neutral on why we needed more screen time for Tsukasa, Haruka and Ai, I think Kaoru’s extra content actually stagnated her story from where it left off in the main anime. The two girls that I felt actually needed expanding on were Sanae and Rihoko and Amagami Plus did a great job continuing and finishing the romance that Junichi started in season 1.

Amagami is easily one of the sharpest anime I’ve had the pleasure of watching. The music is really good too, with the opening setting a wonderfully cheerful mood and the ending themes done by the voice actresses in the themes of their respective characters. Essentially free of any ecchi or fanservice to speak of, this is a strong, confident, romance franchise that knows how to handle itself.

Shakugan no Shana II Second (review)

Impression – an epic fumble that does manage to recover a little (7/10)

Fall 2007 to winter 2008 (24 episodes) (title literal translation – Shana of Burning Eyes, English synonym – Shana the Fire-Eyed)

Picking up right where Shana I left off Yuji, Shana and Kazumi are confronted by a new classmate whose appearance so closely resembles Hecate—a powerful Crimson Lord they recently faced—that it goes beyond mere coincidence.  However, after their suspicions turn out to be unfounded, Fumina Konoe is found to be a rather nice, if simple-minded girl from a wealthy family who needs a friend.  Much to the dismay of Shana and Kazumi she attaches herself to Yuji and the four friends indulge in enjoying the summertime youth of their first year in high school.  But a few other strange occurrences surrounding Fumina keep them on edge and only time will reveal her true nature.

After such a spectacular first season, it was always going to be hard for a sequel to live up to that kind of quality, but to fall this far was truly sad.  It goes from a psychological, action series with romance elements to a low-key aimless high school drama (at least for the first half).  Season one dealt with big issues such as the nature of existence and season two’s change of tone is so jarring it doesn’t even feel like the same anime anymore.  The characters have also taken on such a wishy-washy passive-aggressive attitude it’s hard to believe the half-baked romantic rivalries that dominate much of this second season.  It’s clear that Yuji wants to be with Shana, but combined with his gentle nature and Kazumi’s home wrecker attitude that just won’t let him go, there’s no shortage of frustration in the direction of the plot.  And if this love triangle that’s already been well established wasn’t bad enough, Hecate’s way-to-obvious clone Fumina Konoe turns the triangle into a pyramid with the all-too-trusty Yuji being exploited left and right because he can’t find his backbone.

The second half of this series does manage to head back in the right direction and attempts to recapture the spirit of its predecessor, but by then it’s really nothing more than a simple matter of too little too late.  To its credit, the ending is spectacular; crowned by an epic battle that really satisfies with its brilliantly constructed flow and amazingly intelligent strategy as characters on both sides take advantage of the changing battlefield.  Also satisfactory is the final scene that, while a bit of a cliffhanger, at least gives the distinct impression that the indecisive romance that plagued the rest of this season has finally come to an end.

The most telling failing of the second season really gets revealed in the third season because it highlights how little actually happened in Shana II, making everything feel empty and futile.  What was the purpose of this series in the grand picture of the whole Shana franchise?  If it was to establish Shana as Yuji’s official love interest, we pretty much already figured that at the end of season one.  The cool, insightful Yuji of the previous season who was Shana’s greatest pillar of support also stagnates horribly—making him into a football that the characters good and bad pass around and occasionally punt to satisfy their own objectives.

All this negativity could easily be misinterpreted that Shana II is a bad anime, when it is absolutely nothing of the sort.  It’s just…well…a little above average…and that makes it pale in comparison to the awesomeness that was Shana I.  It’s really just an unacceptable fall from grace that highlights the wasted potential that deserved much better than this.

Another (review)

Final impression – slightly inconsistent horror (7/10)

Winter 2012 (12 episodes)

After his father goes on a long business trip to India, Kouichi Sakakibara suffers a collapsed lung and moves to the countryside village of Yomiyama to live with his Aunt and grandparents.  While recovering in the hospital, he encounters a mysterious girl wearing an eye patch who is walking to the morgue to deliver a doll.  He’s unsure what to make of this strange occurrence until he meets the girl again in his class at junior high school and inexplicably, he seems to be the only person who acknowledges her existence.  As it turns out, her name is Mei Misaki and she has an important role in preventing a horrifically deadly curse from befalling the class.

Another could have been a much better horror / mystery anime if it had managed to keep a more consistent tone.  Instead it allows itself to stumble into the pitfalls of appealing to the viewers in completely unacceptable ways.  Most notable is the very misplaced swimsuit episode that makes it impossible to take the series seriously afterwards.  But for all it does wrong, Another is a very good horror anime.  You’re always kept on your toes with its consistent pacing and it gives just enough information to answer the questions of the previous episode while providing enough new content to keep you invested in the next episode.  It may be a simple formula, but its tried and true effectiveness is not to be undersold.  The character of Mei Misaki was perfect for providing a suitable amount of misdirection to keep you guessing about her role in the story and Kouichi’s levelheadedness in the face of all the darkness around him is a beacon of hope and sanity in the frenzied chaos.  And while the series is far from perfect, the ending gives a satisfying conclusion when you realize the hints were there all along.

Ben-to (review)

Final impression – quirky fun with a touch of gallantry (7/10)

Autumn 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Boxed-Lunch)

When you’re going to high school and money is tight, you learn to shop for bargains on food.  Late in the day at the supermarkets, the boxed meals—Japanese bento—get marked down to half price.  This is when the bargain hunters come out to battle each other for the best deals on the day’s dinner.  Called “Wolves,” they go all out in a free-for-all battle royale of punches and kicks to claim their prize and newcomers like Satou are given no quarter—it’s sink or swim for anyone who steps into the ring.  But a cheap meal isn’t the only motivation for the newbie protagonist.  He admires the beautiful Sen Yarizui whose skill as a wolf has earned her the title of “Ice Witch.”  Upon further investigation he finds that Yarizui is a grade above him at his school and in order to get closer to her, he joins the “Half-Pricer’s Club,” which she is the president.  Little does he know he’s gotten involved in a warrior’s adventure that’s going to teach him the value of upholding chivalry even in the most adverse circumstances.

The flow of Ben-to feels pretty good for the most part.  But this anime’s main selling point is its freshness.  Fighting anime of all kinds come and go without any unique attributes to set them apart from the crowd.  Ben-to stands out by doing things its own way and not caving to established norms.  That’s not to say that this anime made very good choices in its effort to be itself—particularly in the pool episode—but the fact that it tried its best is something to take note of when you look at the big picture.  Another noteworthy facet of Ben-to and nearly all anime of the entire fall 2011 season is the depiction of Satou as a strong, but down-to-earth young man when it comes to his interactions with girls.  I’ve grown tired of the male protagonist who has absolutely no backbone when it comes to women.  All the same, I’m not sure if Satou qualifies as being a favorable exception to that overused male character attribute.  On one hand he’s usually just caught in compromising situations from which there is no favorable escape.  On the other hand, despite is more chivalrous side, he never has the presence of mind to find a way to simply avoid those dilemmas in the first place.  So aside from its slightly ecchi side, Ben-to was a lot of fun.

K-ON! (series review)

Final impression – heartwarming and funny, but oversold

K-ON! (8/10) Spring 2009 (13 episodes) (title literal translation – Light Music!)

K-ON!! (6/10) Spring 2010 to summer 2010 (26 episodes)

K-ON! Movie (7/10) Autumn 2011

When spacey Yui Hirasawa started high school, she decided she wanted to become a more involved and engaging person.  Carefree Ritsu Tainaka and pushover Mio Akiyama had a long standing pact to start their own band.  The warm and friendly Tsumugi Kotobuki wanted to be in choir, but when she bumped into Ritsu and Mio, she decided to stay and make new friends.  These four crossed paths in their first year of high school and the light music club or “K-ON” was born (if you’re wondering how light music becomes K-ON, the Japanese words for light music are karui ongaku, hence K-ON).  Through a few stumbling blocks, they managed to make it through their first year when the serious Azusa Nakano joined the club to help give them all a better team cohesion. From there, it’s an adventure of playing music and goofing off as only the five girls’ band, After-school Tea Time knows how to do.

K-ON! and I have a somewhat flimsy relationship.  I’m a big fan of the moe subgenre of anime and the first season of K-ON! delivered terrifically.  It was fast-paced, funny, clever, insightful and most importantly not a second was wasted.  It all added up to an entertaining experience.  The music was at times lackluster and a little over the top, but it all fit together beautifully to set up the phenomenon that would come later.  Then the second season began to air and it immediately became apparent from the much slower pace that this was not going to have the impact that the first season had.  It was really quite sad to see something fresh suddenly get turned into a vacuum; sucking away the value that the first season set up by putting the viewer through drawn-out, drudging, pointless story arcs. Admittedly, the second season’s music was much improved over the first season, but that’s little consolation for the huge sacrifice that happened to the story.

So does the K-ON! Movie breathe life back into the franchise that had become a bloated, empty appeal to the fan base?  The short answer is no, but I’ll add a caveat that the movie has much better pacing than the second season did.  There are equal measures of story, punch lines and character development that were seriously lacking in K-ON!! However, this gets undercut by a distinct lack of new music which would really have helped keep things fresh.  The product is a icon of compromise and mediocrity, fighting its desire to pander to the established fans while creating enough new material to keep everything afloat.

Dantalian no Shoka (review)

Final impression – a pleasant diversion (7/10)

Summer 2011 (12 episodes) (title literal translation – Dantalian’s Bookshelf) (alternate title – The Mystic Archives of Dantalian)

In 1920s Europe, Heward “Huey” Disward is given a large mansion and library as inheritance by his late grandfather.  He is also given a key to which he does not know the lock it opens.  Living in the mansion is the library’s keeper, the lolita-fashion-wearing Dalian.  She explains that as the library’s new owner, it is now Huey’s duty to track down books that have gone missing from his grandfather’s library.  These books are dangerous items that hold forbidden knowledge that can easily be twisted towards nefarious ends.  In order to fulfill his new role, Huey makes a contract with Dalian, giving him access to the library of cursed books she holds locked in her heart.  Thus begins his mission to tie up the loose ends of his grandfather’s book obsession (and help a bunch of people along the way).

In my experience at least, Gainax just doesn’t seem to do very much middle ground. They’re either filling my recycling bin with the likes of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt or gracing my all-time-best list with gems like Gurren Lagann.  So I’m pleased to say they’re finally starting to fill in the middle of their spectrum with titles like Dantalian no Shoka.  I’m also happy that it’s weighted towards the good, rather than the bad, because when it comes to Gainax, you just never now what you’re going to get until you start watching.  The concept of using works of literature as tools to move the world in fantastical ways, while a little dull at times, is nonetheless fascinating.  Through this, we get treated to quite a few wonderful views of pride, love, generosity and humility among other traits of the human condition.  Additionally, the banter between Dalian and Huey never gets old and is an example of well-orchestrated comic relief in an otherwise serious setting.  But while Dantalian no Shoka is certainly a fresh idea, it is hindered slightly by the all too common problem of having an annoyingly nebulous conclusion.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (review)

Final impression – Not what I was expecting, but pleasantly satisfying (7/10)

Summer 2011 (title literal translation – Crossroads of a Foreign Labyrinth)

In the late 1800s, Yune, a young Japanese girl, stays in the sign shop of Claude Claudel as something of a housekeeper.  Claude’s worldly grandfather brought her to Paris to expand her experience of the world.  At first, Claude is unaccepting of this quiet little girl with strange clothes and an incomprehensible personality.  But as time passes, he begins to open up to Yune when he realizes she’s much more perceptive of the world than he had initially given her credit.  Additionally, he must also protect her from getting too close to the bourgeois Alice, who is obsessed with all things Japanese.

To start, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée led me to believe it was going to be a slice of life comedy and focus on the cultural differences between the west and Japan.  But little by little it turned into a simple slice of life story with an unlikely premise.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, I do feel a little betrayed by the clever lead in that I was given during the first few episodes.  Even with this change in pace as the story unfolds, Yune continues to be innocent and adorably naïve to western customs and ways of thinking through the whole anime, which are accented by some nice character development with her two main foils, Claude and Alice.  In all, they learn to accept and at times adopt each other’s cultures.