Posts Tagged ‘review’

In/Spectre after five

February 8, 2020

In/Spectre (虚構推理 Kyokō suiri) is living up to its Japanese name: Fictional Reasoning. I don’t do episode by episode reviews, and I rarely do midseason reviews, but this one is special.

In the first five episodes I/S pulls more plot shifts on us than a fast game of Calvinball. It starts out looking like a yokai-of-the-week, with a cute but totally mismatched couple — one eye/one leg Kotoko, Goddess of Wisdom to the yokai, and unkillable yokai-eater Kurou, who Kotoko recruits after he breaks up with Saki, his girlfriend of five years. Together, they rid the local library of a monster that has been terrorizing the other yokai, and preventing the ghost samurai from finishing his Harlequin romance novels.

Would you consider dating me with marriage in mind?

Then, in Episode 2, we find that Kotoko’s real job is BS-ing the low-intellect yokai with continuously changing explanations until she finds one that satisfies them and their problem is “solved”. In this case, it’s a snake god that is trying to figure out why a woman dumped a dead body in his swamp.

But doesn’t that explanation contradict your previous one?

Having read the manga, I can say that this 1.3-episode arc was brought in from later in the story. As others have pointed out, that’s a good thing, because it preps the watcher for the kind of developments that are to come.

Episode 3 brings up a new situation, one that will dominate the center of this I/S season. It’s two years later, and there’s a new yokai in town, the vengeful ghost of a dead idol, Steel Lady Nanase. So, we’re back to yokai-of-the-week, right? Not quite. You see, the police are investigating the phenomenon, because she caused a car crash. And who is doing the investigation? Kurou’s old girlfriend Saki. Who encounters Nanase. And meets Kotoko. So now it’s a love triangle, right?

Episode 4 starts out with a catty back-and-forth between the two women about ex/current-boyfriend Kurou (who has disappeared after leaving a ‘don’t follow me’ text). We get to see BS-artist Kotoko dueling with hard-nosed policewoman Saki, interleaved with discussions of Nanase. During this, we find that Kurou is essentially unkillable. Kotoko later decides she needs Saki’s help, but while the two of them are in the process of meeting up, Kotoko gets diverted to the site of a new Nanase sighting, and finds her fighting with…Kurou.

If you like, I’ll send you a wedding invitation whenever Kurou and I get married

Episode 5 is where it gets weird. You see, Kurou is effectively immortal, because he ate the flesh of a mermaid. But because he also ate the flesh of a kudan, he can forecast/select the future, but only if he dies. No wonder Saki dumped him, and no wonder Kotoko says she’s the only one who can understand him. We also find that Nanase isn’t a proper yokai, she’s the embodiment of the beliefs of all the otaku who are reading (and arguing) about her exploits on the Steel Lady Nanase website. So, instead of fighting Nanase physically, Kotoko is going to have to fight the idea of Steel Lady Nanase on the Internet. Suddenly, we’re in the realm of fake news and dueling Internet memes.

Set a meme to fight a meme

Far from being a simple humans-meet-yokai story, one that could have been set in old Edo, we have a totally modern story about how you fight fake news in the face of those who want to believe a certain story. Going forward [spoiler warning] we are going to see Kotoko developing and posting on the web, constantly-changing, real-time explanations for why Nanase isn’t a real ghost, in the face of those who want her to be. We also find that this isn’t really a story about fighting yokai. It’s a story about human interactions.

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020 – Part 2

February 3, 2020

 

Somali and the Forest Spirit: This anime catches childhood better than any I’ve seen in a long time. Somali has a fearless urge to explore coupled with the short attention span for promises that is typical of all children. You have to watch them all the time or they’re gone. Equally, she has a child’s perception of the world, just beginning to apply logic and, not understanding the world, misapplying it. She has a child’s unalloyed love for and trust in her parent. All in all, it’s a masterpiece portrayal of what it is to be a child.

I hate children.

Interspecies Reviewers: I realize that the 1st Amendment doesn’t apply to businesses, still less to artists and works of art. Naked Maja and Arrangement in Grey and Black are equally valid. Still and yet, how was it that Funimation came to greenlight this show? I have never seen so much blatant censorship, with blocking patches, large and small, and entire blackened screens, as well. Was it that they wanted to be able to sell the patches as sew-on’s and phone charms in the Funimation store? Nobody’s going to buy that stuff.

Funimation should just drop the whole thing. I mean, what were they thinking?

Anime worth watching, Winter 2019

January 15, 2020

I write so many items about what I don’t like, I decided to track what I think is good each season. These are based on watching just the first episode, so my opinion might change, but I note that this season is thin enough (for me) that I’ve already watched the first episode of In/Spectre twice and Eizouken three times.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken: I’m going to fall in with the in crowd here and say that this had the best start of any anime this season. Eizouken is a bright, cartoony anime about, as one reviewer said, bold girls doing bold things. These are the Shirobako girls before they got the anime club really going. They live in a building complex that looks like Kowloon City, if designed by Miyazaki, with the teacher’s offices in an empty swimming pool and the lane markers still in place.

In/Spectre: In a Montague/Capulet kind of pairing, she’s a Goddess of Wisdom for the denizens of the other world, while they consider him a fiend who eats their flesh. Together, they solve the problems of the spirit world and balance out their interactions with this one …  or something. A sort of a  Bleach meets Natsume’s Book of Friends rom com.

Somali and the Forest Spirit: Cute kid, soft pastel colors; a world full of diverse monsters, living in peaceful cooperation. Despite all that it’s still pretty good.

Just three. If I went any higher, this would be what I watched, instead of being what I watched that was good. Unsurprisingly, none of them is from Funimation.

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Winter 2020 – Funimation Division

January 10, 2020

For the last couple of years I’ve had this hate-hate relationship with Funimation. Their user interface is clunky, their log-on policies are irritating, and their selection is small. More about all of that in a later post.

I put off fighting the FN user interface for the first week or so of the new season, then plunged in and marathoned all the new shows on two separate nights. Here’s my take on the shows that weren’t worth it.

Plunderer: Young child (maybe five or six) is given a magic billiard ball by her abyss-bound mother and spends the next five years walking over 20km per day* looking for her “Ace with a white star” (no indication of how she survives while doing this). Arrives in a small town, only to be set upon by the village idiot molester, then deceived and assaulted by a no-good Army sergeant, who just happens to have a white star sticker handy to paste on his forehead. Rescued by said molester (who turns out to also be the real Ace, complete with star). Mediocre animation. Overacting like I haven’t seen since my last high school play. Horribly contrived (and poorly thought out) world concept. Child molestation as a plot point, and played for laughs by the so-called hero.

*How do we know this? The associated number** is tattooed on her inner thigh. High up on her inner thigh.
**Don’t ask.

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen: Super sorcerer’s ensorceled sister shape shifts into Smaug and soars away. He’s spent the last five years looking for her. Teams up with a sorcerer wannabe, a couple of larcenous dwarves (if you spell it with an f it’s a small red star) who look like Detective Conan, and the sword-swinging younger daughter of a rich merchant. Supporting cast includes seven people who were introduced by name (including screentags) at the introduction, and then suddenly it’s five years and a thousand miles later, and they appear again. BTW, Orphen is the guy’s name, not his parental status, and sorcerer is his profession, which means that stabber is his hobby or something. Too Saturday-morning kids show for me. I guess the spiky hair should have warned me.

Infinite Dendogram: Highschool boy enters a full-immersion VRMMORPG (like Sword Art, only without the evil sysadmin). Meets a full-featured NPC, a bear shaped sidekick, and a beautiful wrist-mounted embryo. Fights off badly animated CG insects and saves the FFNPC’s little sister. Might be worth a second episode, but right now it’s too much of a generic PC isekai.

Nekopara: A collection of cat-girls, who appear to be in their pre-tweens, help out in a bakery. When not helping, they’re engaged in semi-lewd interactions. At the 9:30 mark I decided I am so not the demographic for this one.

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun: One final wrong-demographic. Really cute, really sweet, girl-meets-ghost. Like an inverted Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, but with less of a horror background (I guess). Artwork is like a children’s book. I’d say something like I wish I had kids, so I could watch it with them, but ya know, the ancillary costs wouldn’t be worth it.

Anime worth watching, 2019

December 28, 2019

I’m not going to do a top ten or anything like that. This is simply a list of what I consider to be the single best anime of each season of the year past. If nothing in a season rises to the level of really good, then I’ll leave it blank.

Winter 2019

The Magnificent Kotobuki. The great flying, great characters, and interesting story makes up for the less than great CG character design. 90/100.

Spring 2019

Nothing that made the cut. At 70/100, Bokuben was the best of a bad lot, and no, I didn’t like Demon Slayer.

Summer 2019

Oh, Maidens in your Savage Season. The best coming-of-age anime I have seen. Probably the best anime of the year. 100/100. I note that of 450 anime from the last twenty years, I have given only 8 of them a 100/100.

Fall 2019

Ascendance of a Bookworm. 85/100. Isekai done right. See the essay I stayed up late on Christmas night to write. Sorry, Chihaya, you started late and didn’t end in 2019.

 

Ascendance of a Bookworm: The anime and the novels

December 25, 2019

Ascendance of a Bookworm is one of my favorite anime/light novels this season — and probably number 3 for the year. Yes, it’s an isekai, with all the baggage that term brings with it, but it manages to stand out from the crowd, and it does so without the self-conscious, 4th-wall-breaking, hur hur hur did you see what I did antics that its pack-mates have resorted to. Despite that, the early episodes didn’t garner a lot of love from the reviewers, (also here and here and here) and I’m here to remedy that problem. Let me start by listing how it differs from others of the isekai genre.

First, it’s straightforward reincarnation. Myne, our protagonna, isn’t summoned to this new world via magic. She isn’t killed by accidental act of God, thus gaining an apology and a new life as an overpowered hero. She dies in an earthquake — after almost getting hit by a truck due to reading while walking — and reawakens in her new body. Very Buddhistic. Note: the LN calls her Myne, while the anime says Main, pronounced as if German. The Japanese is マイン, which transliterates as Ma.i.n and is pronounced Mine. I’m using the LN spelling and the German pronunciation.

Second, she is, as you might have already guessed, female. Not a hikikomori highschool boy, nor yet a middle-aged businessman, she’s a girl who is about to graduate from college with a job in a library. This is fairly unusual. Less than 25% of the current run of 78 light novels on J-Novel (dating almost totally from the current decade) feature female protagonists in a fantasy world isekai, and as far as anime is concerned, AniList shows only 20 isekai with female leads in the 40 years since 1990.

Third, she’s not an overpowered hero. As with the males in these stories, the few women in high fantasy isekai tend to have some sort of cheat going for them, usually some God-granted superpower. Not here. Myne occupies the body of a sickly six-year old girl, and brings with her only the knowledge that a widely-read college student with a crafts-otaku mother might have.

Fourth, she’s not part of the aristocracy. Other fantasy isekai heroes tend to be summoned by kings, reincarnated as daughters of nobles, or manage to meet with high-ranking nobles before the end of Episode 2. Myne is, as the title of the first volume says, the daughter of a soldier. Actually, I think a better description would be ‘member of the city guard’, not a soldier. She never meets a noble throughout the first three books.

THE STORY (with spoilers, and incorporating elements of both the anime and the light novel).

Our story opens with Motosu Urano, a graduating college student who loves books, killed by the collapse of her bookshelves during a minor earthquake. She finds herself in the body of a sickly six year old — who she hears dying from a fever, even as Urano is resurrected in her body. The world she finds herself in is covered in grime (those sheets started out white), colorless, and devoid of books.

She goes briefly mad, trashing the house  in her search for books, or newspapers, or calendars — anything with words in a row. I should pause for a moment, and talk about Myne and books, or rather, Urano and books. All she wants to do is read. She has her own room with floor to ceiling books (which are what kill her). She’s like me. If there’s no book nearby at breakfast I’ll read the back of the cereal box. Heck, I’ll read the side of a cereal box. I’d be perfectly happy to be a brain in a jar, as long as I had one eyeball, and a finger to turn the pages. That’s what Myne is like. I bring this up because it’s the driving force of the story. The LN dedicates the entire Prologue to building up Myne’s bookish character. The anime starts off with a bit of a spoiler, showing the High Priest doing some sort of mind meld to find out why she likes books so much. In any event, at the end of the first episode she has decided to make her own books.

The early arcs deal with her learning to live with her new world. It’s so unlike modern Japan that she doesn’t even recognize her sister’s favorite toy as a hand-made doll. Her family is not poor, but is definitely lower class despite her father having a government job. They are living essentially a hand-to-mouth existence — her sister has to forage in the forest for firewood and edibles. There’s no food storage, so most of the meat is fresh-killed — right in front of you.

They live on the 5th floor of what the LN calls a 7-floor townhouse, but which is more like a Roman insula, an apartment complex where the apartments are cheaper the higher up you live (partly because your chances of dying in a fire are higher). Sanitation is non-existent — as in pee in a pot and pour it out the window.

In fact, Myne’s Japanese sense of cleanliness is what drives her first impact on her family and society. She spends part of each day cleaning the family bedroom. She can’t take an ofuro style bath, but she can have her sister wipe her down. She can’t really wash her hair, so she creates a vegetable oil shampoo based on memories of what she remembers from her crafts-otaku mother. Ultimately, that shampoo will be her first commercial product.

Myne is busy in other ways. She teams up with Lutz, a local boy her own age, who wants to be a traveling merchant, and begins trying different ways to make paper so that she can write books. She introduces the art of crocheting, and makes her sister a hair ornament for her baptism.

She also spends time at the town gate (where her father is guard-commander), in the care of Otto, a soldier who keeps the books for the guard unit. When he finds out that she can do math (in spite of not being able to read the local writing), he has her help him with the bookkeeping. She asks Otto to give Lutz some advice on being a merchant, and Otto introduces both of them to the merchant, Benno.

This marks the beginning of a close and profitable relationship. By the time we get to the end of Season 1, Benno has contracted to make the shampoo, two different kinds of paper, and has stuck a deal to subcontract to Lutz and Myne and her family for the production of baskets and the crocheted hairpins.

Not all is well, however. In addition to being a sickly child who often is confined to her bed with a fever, Myne has a much deadlier disease, called The Devouring. It’s a disease of those who’s bodies produce too much manna, the driving force in magic. It manifests as a burning furnace inside that’s hard to damp down. Sooner or later it will overflow and kill the patient. The only way to survive it is to dump the excess manna into a magical item, but commoners normally don’t have access to such. The only way to gain access is to do what her rich merchant friend Frieda did, sign a contract to become the mistress of a noble (at age 7). Myne decides she’d rather die with her family.

Myne has several minor attacks of The Devouring, but as she gets older, they get worse. Finally, she has a major, life threatening, attack that gets staved off only because Frieda is willing to sell her a broken magic item that will absorb some of her manna and damp down the fires. That’s good for about a year.

At the end of the anime, Myne turns seven and is baptised, and finds out that not only does the church have lots of books, it also has lots of magical items and is in need of people with manna to keep them charged. The High Bishop tries to kidnap Myne right in front of her parents (they are, after all, mere commoners), but Myne shows what she can do when she gets her manna up and foils that plan. They end up with an agreement that Myne will become a shrine maiden, with unprecedented permission to live outside the cathedral and continue with her commercial activities. All ends well, at least until Season 2.

Throughout this, Myne can come across as a not-very likeable character. Her obsession with books can be somewhat off-putting, but it’s what drives the story (of course, my reaction to her obsession is ‘well…yeah’). She spends much of her time bad-mouthing her new world, but the fact is, medieval Europe was a terrible era to live in, particularly if you were poor. Her reactions are much more realistic than those of more popular isekai, where the hero looks around and says “Oh, yeah. Medieval Europe. Cool.” Finally, to some, Myne comes across as somewhat smug. I think it’s more the internal thought processes of a 20-year-old dealing with people who think she’s six. Where it counts, she’s considerate. She helps out her older sister. She advises Lutz on his career choices. After he challenges her on her identity, she offers to “go away”, despite the fact that her dying probably won’t bring the old Myne back. Later, she says she prefers to die in the arms of her family than whore herself out as a mistress to the nobles she despises. In the end, she’s a lot deeper than she first appears.

The only real problem I have with Bookworm is one that is endemic to any isekai. Assuming that the purpose of the story is to show how the protagonist prospers using their Earth-originated talents, it’s hard to make that happen without cheating. So you have isekai with smart phones, with overpowered protagonists, with knowledge of the future. Bookworm eschews all of that for simple crafts, but of course, the question then is, if they are so simple, why didn’t the contemps think of them already? Like using the vegetable water as broth (really?), or using the parue fruit dregs as human food. Of course, there are examples from our world, like spaghetti — while Marco Polo didn’t import it from China, it was still fifteen hundred years after the foundation of the Roman Republic that something resembling pasta appears in Italy. It all boils down to the reader’s willingness to suspend their disbelief. At least it wasn’t mayonnaise.

Meanwhile, Bookworm is an important addition to the genre because of how it deals with the poverty and the major class divisions built into the system, something rarely talked about in any fantasy isekai, or indeed, any Medieval-Europe-inspired fantasy.

Admittedly, Bookworm doesn’t talk about the dirt-poor, the beggars, the homeless. But it does show us the life of the working poor. Families working two jobs, not knowing if they will have enough food for the winter. Families who huddle around a table in front of the fire until it’s time for them to all sleep in what might as well be one bed in their one bedroom. (Side note, I’m surprised Myne hasn’t introduced the kotatsu). Families with zero access to healthcare, even for their children. Children who forage in the forest for firewood and food for their families until their baptism at age 7, when they enter the workforce, and for whom schools are unheard of. Without harping on the poverty, Bookworm provides a very good picture of what daily life is like at the bottom.

The other thing that Bookworm makes clear is the extreme difference in the social classes. The three main ones are the nobility, the church, and the commoners. The anime doesn’t go into great detail, but every now and then Myne complains about noble privileges, e.g. their books and magic items. As shown more by the LN than the anime, the nobility and the church overlap somewhat, with the typical tradition that third sons will go into the church. The commoners don’t overlap with either of the others — their speech, clothing, and concerns are totally different. Commoners rarely enter the church other than on the day they are baptised, and a commoner is powerless in the face of a noble or a high church officer. The church has its own commoners — the orphans who have been left in their care and who are essentially slaves. In the LN, in volumes beyond Season 1, we find that the orphans have never been outside the cathedral, or been exposed to the concept of money or of being paid for their work.

Finally, we see in later volumes of the LN that Myne’s work is on the verge of having an impact far beyond her own little circle. Her first book, printed on her own paper, using stencil technology that she learned in crafts, is one of simplified stories from the local Bible. The High Priest is surprised that she can create 30 copies of the book so easily. He is troubled because he sees a book as a work of art, where Myne views it as a store of information. He is also confused both by the fact that she put a flower on the cover, and that she could put a flower on the cover. Her second book is one of secular stories for children (written for her soon-to-be-born sibling, conceived, presumably, in the bed next to Myne), starting with Cinderella. The High Priest says that the tale is totally unbelievable, even as a fantasy, and by the time he is done editing it, the story is unrecognizable. Neither one sees (although Myne should, having read about the impact of the Gutenberg printing press) that once this technology moves beyond a single city, making cheap books available for all and encouraging commoners to learn to read (and therefore to think), there will be a social revolution that will sweep away both the nobility and the church.

 

 

Isekai of the Future

December 17, 2019

An interesting sub-genre in light novels is one where the protagonna gains knowledge of the future and strives to create an alternative history timeline by correcting her earlier, or forthcoming, mistakes.  So far, the two ways this can happen are by tapping the memories of RPG game playing in a former life (on Earth), or by straightforward reincarnation into an earlier self.

J-Novel is currently running three light novels like this, while a fourth LN I have only found in manga form:

 

 

I Refuse to be Your Enemy

14-year old girl in a fantasy world, living a life that is only a couple of steps better than an early phase Cinderella, has dreams that she’s watching someone play a computer RPG, one that turns out to parallel her real life. Realizing that the in-game character that is her is on the route to the bad ending, she runs away from her boarding school, and the threat of an arranged marriage, vowing to change history if she can.

This is still on Volume 1, but she appears to be making the right kind of friends.

 

 

 

 

 

My Next Life as a Villainess

Bratty 8-year old girl in a fantasy world wakes up after an injury, with all the memories of her “previous life” as a 17-year old Japanese girl who played a computer RPG, one that turns out to parallel her real life. Her problem is that she is not the heroine of the game, and each of the main characters has a reason to dislike her, either because of how she interacts with them, or how she treats the heroine. This is why all of the paths in the game provide a Happy Ending for the heroine, and a Bad Ending for her. This is the only one of the three LN’s on J-Novel that has run to completion of the first arc, so I can say without spoiling too much that she finds an unexpected ending, which keeps them all alive. I haven’t read beyond that, but the succeeding volumes cover how she deals with running off her RPG map.

 

 

 

It Seems Like I Got Reincarnated Into the World of a Yandere Otome Game

This 2014 LN (I can’t find the LN, so I’m reading the 2018 manga) is similar to Villainess — 10-year old protagonna goes through life with a sense of disquiet and deja vu, due to memories of a prior life leaking through. Upon seeing a betrothal painting of her arranged-marriage fiance, she suffers a memory cascade, revealing more details that life. It turns out that, as in Villainess, her world parallels the RPG she “remembers” playing, and that she’s the doomed rival of the RPG’s main heroine.

For a LN with a premise that’s almost identical to that of Villainess, it’s fascinating to see how fast the two plotlines diverge. It’s also a little creepy to see everyone exposing their yandere side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tearmoon Empire

20-year old Marie Antoinette-like princess is beheaded during a revolution, and awakens to find herself back in her 12 year old body again, with all of her memories intact, along with the blood-soaked diary she kept during the intervening 8 years. She vows to avoid the mistakes that caused the revolution. Unfortunately, the diary (which changes as her actions change the future) only concerns her own doings, and not things like lottery numbers or race results.

Volume 1 is still incomplete. Her experiences have changed her personality, shocking those around her, and she is working to create a situation that will help her avoid the axe. What makes this LN particularly fun is the way everyone makes totally wrong assumptions about her motives. At one point, just for e.g., she gives her maid some walking-around money, because she deserves some time off [Use this as you see fit], which her maid assumes is some fiduciary trust [Mistress wants me to spend these funds in the most effective way possible, I’ll buy gifts for the workers].

Some people might say that these are not true isekai, because they involve her home world (not Earth). While it’s true that these books involve an inhabitant of the world under discussion gaining knowledge of the future, while remaining their own persona, they are using that knowledge to create an alternate timeline, a different world.

So far, only Villainess has been chosen to be an anime, scheduled for Spring, 2020.

Anime worth watching, Fall 2019

November 3, 2019

So far this season my reader has been bombarded with an unrelenting list of what I’ve decided not to watch. That’s so negative, ya know? I mean, there must be something worth watching. Well, there is.*

I seem to be on a snarky, self-aware anime kick right now. I find I’m unexpectedly pleased with shows that go out of their way to give me plot twists, and inversions of standard tropes.

Didn’t I say to make my abilities average in the next life?
Mile, our protagonna, was a high-performing student in this world and just wants to be average in the next. Unfortunately, her definition of average — skills and powers appropriate to the average person, the median, if you will — isn’t God’s definition. God says that you take the power of the highest and lowest creatures on the planet, add them up and divide by two. That’s like taking Bill Gates and a Seattle homeless person and finding the average of their net worth.

This is why we have the concept of the Median

The humor in the first few episodes comes from Mile trying to hide her powers, and failing miserably. When she decides to just copy a spell one of the other students used, only at a lower power setting, she finds that she was copying a unique, personal spell of a wizard girl, and doing it with no training. So far, it’s a one-joke anime, but they find ways of keeping it from going stale.

The other source of humor is her use of information from her past life. So when the friends are telling stories at night, she draws on tales of the TV, in the mythical land of Nihon. The result is that the girls end up forming a Magical Girl/Power Rangers style team, complete with poses and color coding.

Crimson Vow!

She also uses her in-depth knowledge of shonen anime to come up with training regimes that allow her team mates to level up rapidly.

So, a self-aware isekai that knows how to look at the standard tropes from a slightly absurd viewpoint. What’s not to like?

ORESUKI: Are you the only one who loves me?
At first glance, ORESUKI seems to be a standard high school RomCom. Protagonist has two girls who seem to be interested in him — the standard childhood friend and the Student Body President. He also has a best buddy, an athelete on the baseball team. One day, each of the girls asks him out for a date on the weekend, because they have something they want to ask him. Confession Time! Well, not exactly.

On two successive days, each girl sits with him on the same bench, and with identical words and body language confesses that they are in love with …  his baseball-playing friend and would he help them out? Next scene, Pansy, the librarian girl he doesn’t like, sits with him in the library, on an identical bench (which she ordered from Amazon), and using identical words and body language tells him, that she, this girl he doesn’t like, is in love with … well, him, actually. Finally, the next day, his baseball buddy sits with him on an identical bench that just happens to be behind the gym, and tells him, again with identical words and body language, that he is in love with … Pansy, and would he help him out?

ORESUKI doesn’t so much play with the high school RomCom tropes as it rings the changes on them. How many ways can the Protagonist be messed with by fate? How many different geometric figures can a love triangle be twisted into? What totally silly thing will happen next?

Ascendance of a Bookworm**
Finally, an isekai done right. Recent college graduate [Yay! Not a high school student!] Urano Motsu [Yay! Female!] and lover of books [Yay! Not an otaku! Well, she’s a book otaku] dies in an earthquake that buries her in her books. Finds herself reincarnated in the body of a small girl, Myne, who is dying of a mysterious fever. The old Myne dies, but the new Myne (nee Motsu) retains her memories, as well as her own memories of modern Japan.

The challenge the book-loving Myne faces is that she’s been reincarnated into a rigid, stratified, medieval, essentially illiterate, society. Oh, yeah, and she’s a sickly six year old female. Her overriding goal is to find some way to read books again, even if she has to write them herself. Even if she has to print them herself. Even if she has to fabricate the materials to print them on.

Unlike other isekai protags, Myne doesn’t have any super-powers or high powered knowledge. She knows some crafts, like crocheting, and she grasps the concepts of things like paper, and teaching theory, which the contemps don’t. She also has the internal maturity of a 20-year-old, can read and write (just not with the local script, at first), and can do mathematics. These last are immensely helpful when she has to deal with the adults of this world.

The artwork is clean and simple. The characters and clothing are appropriate for the subject — no monster boobs or bikini armour here. Some reviewers complained about the drabness of the palette, particularly in the first episode, but that was just a way of emphasizing the life of the lower classes in a semi-literate society.

Having read ahead, I can say that Bookworm is rolling out the story fairly slowly, and that there are some interesting reveals ahead. It comes across as a slice-of-life, but Myne is a woman with a mission, and there really is an ongoing dramatic arc.

So far, it’s my favorite anime of the season.

*Note that Chihayafuru 3 isn’t on the list, yet. I’m saving  that until I’ve marathoned the previous two seasons.

**Full disclosure — I’m reading well ahead of the anime via the light novels on J-Novel.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 3

October 9, 2019

We’ve been through a full week now, and the really bad shows have fallen by the wayside. What’s left are the good ones, and the not-bad ones that haven’t been able to hold my attention. OK, and some newcomers.

Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit

Lovable collection of misfits assigned to a special police operations unit. Think of them as the official version of Bungo Stray Dogs. For what it’s worth, they’re in Tokyo, not Yokohama, so there’s a certain metropolitan panache to the project. Not bad, if you like that sort of thing.

Hi. I’m the new guy

Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia

I should have known better than to watch an anime with both Fate and a punctuation mark (and three subcomponents) in the title. At least it didn’t have Certain, or Re:

Confused mess of characters and plot points understandable only to those who have followed the franchise for the last decade and a half, preferably with a notebook and a copy of DBase II next to the TV.

I only understand every other word

Kandagawa Jet Girls

Look, HiDive, if the girls in an ecchi anime are going to bare their all, the least you can do is show it. Don’t make them sacrifice their modesty for nothing. Don’t make the act of their freezing their …. salient features …. off a worthless endeavour. More worthless.

Poor things. They’ve got nothing in the way of original character, their dialogue is cringeworthy enough that they should be embarrassed to rehearse in the bathroom, and the plot has been used so many times that the velveteen is worn off the corners. You should at least let them flaunt their one advantage, but no, you’ve got to have them change into their skintights in this dark, shadowy relic of a building, when other viewers get a nice bright room with lots of windows.

All is darkness

Shame on you, HiDive.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 2

October 5, 2019

It’s taking a while to get all of my TLDR’s assembled, because half of the shows are hanging back, to see how the battle goes. Other foolhardy fools have foolishly rushed right in. Fools.

High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even In Another World

This show is taking the Okada Mari approach to isekai story development. “You want isekai? I’ll give you isekai that will turn your brain to porridge. You want overpowered heroes? I’ll give you heroes who can beat One Punch Man to the punch.”

And you thought that just one isekai hero was too much

After a five minute expository lump we find that the high school heroes-to-be (each of whom is world-class at something — medicine, ninja,  governing countries, something) were flying in a private jet from somewhere to somewhere when, in typical isekai fashion, the jet was magically transported to a medieval fantasy world. One with bunny girls but no runways and wolf-men but no crash recovery services. But do not despair. Our Heroes are miraculously thrown clear of the crash, and the plane burns to a cinder, all except a few spare nuclear reactors and such. Too bad about the pilots and cabin staff.

After that, the only mystery is, how will our multi-talented crew solve the next trivial puzzle the world throws up for them. Of course, we know that part of the plot is to conquer the world using the culinary arts of Greater Nihon (it always is). So, their first step is to introduce a sauce that will amaze the foreign taste buds.

You will never guess…

Well, maybe it’s not this kind, but it’s close.

Now, all the other isekai that I’ve read take chapters and chapters to find the rice and edamame and so forth to produce proper shoyu, or miso. Our Heroes find an easier way, with eggs (which we saw in the opening shot) and oil and vinegar: Traditional.  Japanese…. Mayonnaise.

The best I can say is that it’s mildly amusing, and at least they haven’t used a German suplice. Yet.

Val x Love

Really scary/ugly protagonist with a heart of gold? Check. Pre-made harem of cute girls living in his house? Check. Contrived plot-line requiring that the girls get molested by our protagonist in order to achieve their full potential as maidens? Check. OK, we have three in a row. We’re good to go.

We’re only halfway through my preseason list of shows I want to watch, and already I’ve dropped half of those. Bodes not well for the second half

Azur Lane, first impressions

October 4, 2019

I haven’t done a first impressions article before, but AL cries out for one.

The plot is a riff on KanColle, with alien enemy fleets (Sirens instead of Abyssals) opposed by embattled humanity, said humanity being represented by cute girls who embody the souls of warships of the past. The major differences are the girl/ship mechanics and the underlying plot point that humanity is divided and fighting among themselves.

The girl/ship relation doesn’t fill in the empty cell in my Ship Girls analysis (real girls/imaginary ships). Like Arpeggio of Blue Steel, they really are real ships. Unlike Arpeggio, they disappear into a cloud of ice cubes (or maybe cherry blossoms) when the girls clear them for action, so maybe they are semi-imaginary, like a pain in a real big toe. Like KanColle, the girls are rigged out like the ships they represent, and roller blade across the water into action, mostly. You see, some of them just fly into action on their own, and some of them fly into action on their spirit beasts — fox deities, unicorns, Dauntless dive bombers, the usual. The inconsistencies are not explained in the first episode, but there’s lots of expository time left.

The second major departure is the plot structure. Turns out, it’s a three-way fight. On the one hand the WWII Anglo-American alliance is fighting the WWII Axis (so far only the Japanese have appeared) over issues of how to fight the Sirens, in their Fleet of Fog style modernistic ships. On the other hand, the Allies are the only ones actively fighting the Sirens.

Halfway through Episode 1, the Allied base is attacked by the Sirens, and then the Japanese fleet attacks under cover of the Siren attack. The Allies immediately drop the fight against the Sirens and turn their full attention on each other, while the Siren fleet (which outnumbers the combined human force by many manys) apparently just sits back and does the alien invader equivalent of eating popcorn. It’s not until the Enterprise Girl shows up that anyone pays attention to the Sirenians.

So far, so much naval porn. Maybe not as good as Arpeggio or KanColle, but not totally unwatchable. Except for the shipgirls. Now, I like anime girls, as long as they meet a certain level of maturity. They don’t have to carry all their equipment on their upper decks, but they do have to be old enough that I wouldn’t get strange looks if I were talking to one at a bus stop. Half the girls in AL are pre-tweens, and are presented with the same camera angles as you would Hanekawa Tsubasa. Exceedingly off-putting. I’d attribute this to the source being a Chinese mobile game, by a company who did a statistical analysis of what individual elements Western buyers might like, and combined them all in one package.

I’m going to give it another episode or so, to see if the fun parts outshine the freakies.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Fall 2019 Part 1

October 2, 2019

It’s Opening Day, and the Fall, 2019 anime season stumbles at the very first fence.

Four new shows: two duds, one midrange, and one that I’m watching primarily because I liked the light novel. Here’s the two that aren’t going to make it.

Kemono Michi
He’s really strong, and really dumb, and he really, really likes animals. The animation is low budget. The storyline has some cute twists, but essentially this is a one-joke anime. Overall it was a waste of my limited lifetime CPU ticks.

Everybody needs a hobby of some kind

Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious
He (Hero) is really strong. She (Goddess) is really dumb. They go off to save the world, but not before he spends a couple of weeks in his room, leveling up by doing pushups. Animation is slightly better than KemMichi, but that’s damning with faint praise. It might be worth watching a second episode, but only if nothing worthwhile is on the QVC Channel that night.

But wait! I’m not done yet!

 

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Summer 2019 Part 2

July 31, 2019

It’s time for the midseason culling, for a suitably vague concept of midseason. I went ahead and reactivated my subscription to Funimation, giving myself three dedicated anime streamers — Crunchyroll, HiDive (via VRV), and Funi. This opened up new vistas in viewing, and meant that I needed to do some trimming if I wanted to have any personal time available. Fortunately, there were a number of shows that helped out by finally revealing their true nature.

Isekai Cheat Magician was at best a B-list show, and Episode 4 showed it wasn’t really even B-list material. With lame animation of overpowered cardboard villains mouthing overwrought lines, Isekai Cheat is more like a kid’s afternoon anime. I didn’t make it halfway through the episode.

Wasteful Days of High School Girls tries very hard to be a slice of zany life centering on three high school girls — the standard jokester, straight man, and observer — in the mode of Yuyushiki or Aiura. After a fun start, they tried to bring in more side-characters and develop something like a plot, but it didn’t work. Finally, it looks to me like Nozomu “Baka” Tanaka is a direct rip of Kanaka Amaya.

Astra Lost in Space was another B-list show that didn’t live up to its billing. The animation was full of cutout figures moving against painted backdrops, when it wasn’t just static pictures. The plot was contrived (Someone is trying to kill us!) and the problem solutions equally so (Look! I just found a backup generator in this closet, with eight minutes to go to impact). Agatha Christie did it better. To top it off, Funimation makes it really hard to get uncluttered screenshots.

It’s too bad, really. I had 14 shows I was following, which made for a tidy two shows per day. Fortunately, Funi now lets me watch old classics, like Omamore Himare, and Girls Bravo.

Anime I’m Watching, Summer 2019

July 16, 2019

So, you’ve seen what I’ve dropped. What’s holding my attention? Here’s the current list, by the numbers:

The Demon Girl Next Door
One inept high school girl finds out she’s the new incarnation of evil, only to be totally outclassed by the magical girl she’s supposed to defeat. Magical girl takes pity on her and works to help her level up.

Pokes fun at both the magical girl and the demon heiress genres. I particularly like how everybody just goes along with the new situation (“You’re a demon? Cool horns“), and how her mother tries to cope (“You’ll be arrested if you carry a weapon, so here’s a dinner fork“). Bonus points for the background classroom games.

Dr. Stone
Two high school boys survive petrification of the entire human race, plus all the birds, or maybe only swallows, without food, water, oxygen, or sensory stimulation, for three thousand years. Decide to reconstruct civilization, starting with a bunch of grapes and some bat guano.

Interesting, but still excessively shonen. Starting to address the question of who to awaken (and the associated, who to awaken next). Still hasn’t thought about how all their inventions will scale, how many to awaken, and on what sort of schedule.

Wasteful Days of High School Girls
Three high school girls continue their friendship from middle school [see Yuyushiki], maintain their standard-character interactions [see Aiura].

So far, the banter is cute and the jokes are funny. We’ll see if they can keep it up.

Are you lost?
Four high school girls survive an airplane ditching, without life preservers, burns, broken bones, or jet fuel contamination. Everybody else perished without a trace. Said girls wash up on a deserted island (presumably deserted, they haven’t looked on the other side yet, there could be a Royal Caribbean Line party beach) and try out their survival skills.

Short, but interesting. Much of what people are calling gross-out material is actual survival lore. OK, maybe not the moose balls.

Caution: I don’t care what they said in Episode 1, don’t drink urine. Your kidneys did a lot of work to get rid of toxins in your body and concentrate them in your urine for disposal. Don’t add them back. US Army includes it with seawater and blood as fluids that are harmful to drink in a survival situation.

O Maidens in your Savage Season
Five high school girls from the literature club discover sex. Poke at it with a stick. Find out why it’s vitally important to lock your doors.

I am so not the target demographic for this. In addition, I’m having trouble remembering what my male equivalent travails were like, particularly because they took place during the Eisenhower administration. Despite that, I found it interesting and well done. An example of why anime isn’t just, or not even, kiddie material.

Fire Force
Seven firemen extinguish men of fire, while seeing to their spiritual needs. None of them are in high school.

A shonen anime, but without spiky hair or shouting, unlike Dr. Stone. So far, the action is good and the characters interesting. Interesting side note: the fire fighting suits are realistically bulky.

So that’s it for now. Six shows, out of the 45 or so on offer on Crunchyroll/HiDive. I’m seriously considering adding Funimation as a source, which will give me another three or four.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Summer 2019

July 9, 2019

Maybe it’s just me. Advancing age, combined with more time to watch anime, has made me more critical. Or maybe it’s just that the crop of anime this summer is weaker than one would expect, even for summer. The full summer schedule hasn’t been announced yet, and already I’m dropping shows.

Dropping:

To The Abandoned Sacred Beasts: Frankenstein monsters join the army. Things don’t end well. Interesting concept marred by low grade animation, names that are almost as bad as those in Gate, and a low grade villain — nobody laughs like that.

It’s the writers. They made me do this!

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon, Side Quest: My season preview said I wasn’t going to watch this, but I felt I should just check in to see how it was going. Well, I didn’t like the original, and this one isn’t any better. Cardboard characters. Cardboard monsters. Cardboard scenery. And those characters that go beyond cardboard, do it by being irritating.

We hauled all those boxes all this way so you could have a throne. Don’t let it go to your head.

Magical Sempai: I think it’s supposed to be せんぱい. See that second character that looks like an ‘n’? It’s an ‘n’, not an ‘m’. Senpai. Whatever it’s called, this 12 minute short depends too much on embarrassment humor for me.

Girl of my dreams

On the cusp:

Dr Stone: Yes, I know it’s a fantastically popular manga. Yes, I know it’s the most hyped anime of the season. Yes, I also know it’s a classic shonen, with lots of spiky hair and guys shouting, an anime of the type that that one of my Japanese students called “too loudy”. Will that overwhelm the joys of learning how to make nitric acid out of bat guano? I’ll give it one more episode.

Don’t chew with your mouth open. There might be kids watching.

Granbelm: Cleverly disguised magical girl show. On the one hand, I am definitely the wrong demographic for that. On the other hand, the mechas are chibi, the interactions are cute, and the action in general is good. Is that enough to make up for the squeaky-voiced teenlet mahou shoujo aspect? We’ll have to wait for the next episode.

I don’t think I could stand a Magical Girl/Mecha/Isekai mashup

Finally, it looks like it’s not just a thin season this summer, but a poorly distributed one as well, with four out of the five Summer Season shows that I am watching being released on Friday. This leaves a big hole after the weekend. Right now I’m desperate enough that I’m marathoning Daphne in the Brilliant Blue. It was that or Hanaukyo Maid Team.

Natsu no Arashi Season 2

May 31, 2019

In the interests of completeness, I watched Season 2 of Natsu no Arashi. It was good, but it could have been so much more.

Summer Girl

NNA is the story of four Japanese ghost girls who died in an air raid in 1945 and who can travel through time. In Season 1, two of the girls had reasons to go back to war-time Japan, and we had some interesting episodes centered on their goals. Several other episodes worked out their relationships with the other two ghost girls, and with the girls school they all went to in 1945. The rest of the episodes were slice-of-“life” comedy filler centered on the present day cafe where they worked during the summers.

Season 2 was more of the same …. slice-of-“life” comedy filler. The only recurrent theme was cross-dresser Kamigamo Jun and her efforts to keep protagonist Yasaka Hajime from finding out she was a girl. Meanwhile, there’s the obligatory beach/onsen episodes, a couple of transformation episodes, and the recurring short trips back in time to find lost tea bowls, A/C remote controls, and such. The relationship between Hajime and lead ghost girl Arashiyama Sayoko (Arashi) fills out a little bit (he goes back to ~1935 and saves her from some bullies, earning a kiss and a promise of a future kiss) but her destined departure at the end of summer is not fully explained.

Showa 10

The ending sees Arashi giving Hajime the promised kiss, and saying (to herself) my summer has not yet ended. This is a standard anime ending (our struggle continues) for when the source material has not yet concluded and they don’t want to write an anime original ending.

Heisei 21

The second season of the anime was released in October of 2009, while the seventh manga volume wasn’t released until March of 2010, with the eight volume following in September.

Unfortunately, those of us who don’t speak Japanese are not likely to find out the true ending. The manga ran through eight volumes/49 chapters in Japan (you can Kindle the whole set from Amazon Japan) and was never released in the US. Unfortunately, clicking on “Look Inside” on the Japanese versions didn’t help, and the available  scanlations only go up through Volume 6/Chapter 32.

Natsu no Arashi is a fun anime. Wah, over at Analog Housou first clued me into it. It is filled with zany time travel fun, and plots as convoluted as a Marx Brothers movie. Two things were disappointing. The first I’ve already alluded to — lack of closure. What happens to Arashi in the winter? Why doesn’t she think Hajime will remember her? What about Jun’s changing feelings toward Hajime, and toward outing herself as a girl? Answers cometh not.

Second was a failure to take advantage of the opportunity to exploit their time-travel-to-old-Japan hook. In Season 1, Arashi was introduced to us as someone who was interested in saving victims of the March 29th 1945 air raid, but she only went back once. Kaya wanted to speak to her loved one, but she only made one attempt. As an SF story once said, with time travel, you’re never too late.

What Natsu no Arashi really needs, and will probably never get, is a third season.

Meanwhile, the 箱舟 カフェ abides on the outskirts of Yokohama. It’s been around for untold years, and is likely to continue to be around even longer.

You’d almost expect the next owner to be an android named Alpha.

Natsu No Arashi

May 24, 2019

I started watching 2009’s Natsu No Arashi (Summer Storm) after seeing it listed as one of the more interesting anime of the last ten years. It wasn’t until I hit Episode 8 that I realized that I’d touched on it before, meaning that specific episode, as part of my research on the body-swapping anime Kokoro Connect, back in 2012. And that lead to the discovery that the 10th anniversary of Episode 8 was today, May 24th. What better excuse to do a writeup on the first, 13-episode season?

If spoilers for a 10 year old out of stock anime upset you, then stop here and go read my review of Citizen Kane.

What makes NNA interesting isn’t the body-swap half-episode. It’s interesting because it’s one of the few anime to directly address the home-front tribulations of Japan in WWII. The two female leads, and two later characters, were 16 year-old schoolgirls killed in a bombing raid on Yokohama on May 29th, 1945. They return as ghosts, but for some unexplained reason, only in the summer.

The main female lead is Arashiyama Sayoko, whose family name translates as Storm Mountain and who is called Arashi, for short. This plays nicely off the series name, which could also be translated as Summer’s Arashi. Her goal in the apre-vie is to go back to 1945 and rescue as many people as possible. But to travel in time, she needs to form a connection with someone from the present.

Early Shaft head tilt

Enter Yasaka Hajime, thirteen year-old typical shonen boy — high energy, high self-opinion, exaggerated concern with being seen as manly. Did I mention he is short, with square, dark-framed glasses? He develops an instant infatuation for Arashi, and becomes her connection for their many trips to the past.

Spoken like a true shonen

The rest of the cast is equally paired up:

  • Kaja Bergmann (Kaya) and Kamigamo Jun, ghost of a German schoolgirl and her contemp connection. Jun is a crossdressing girl because of anime reasons.
  • Fushimi Yayoi and Yamazaki Kanako, another pair of ghosts from Arashi’s school. Fushimi can connect with Hajime, and Yamazaki, it turns out, can connect with Murata.
  • Finally, there’s Sayaka (AKA Master), the cafe owner, and Murata Hideo, a private investigator.

The city they are on the outskirts of is Yokohama. Unlike other major cities in Japan, it had not been heavily bombed early in the war, and in the spring of 1945 it was protected by being on the short list of possible targets for the atomic bomb. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were chosen, it was released to the general bombing list, and was heavily bombed on the 29th of May.

This isn’t a regular review, so I won’t go into details on the episodes. The first episode features some time-travel shenanigans involving a strawberry that’s been stuffed with hot spice powder, which serves to introduce all the characters. After that there are separate arcs in which Arashi/Hajime and Kaya/Jun go back to 1945, Kaya to see the man she was in love with, and Arashi to try to save people. Another arc deals with Yayoi and Kanako, and Kanako’s attempt to keep Yayoi corporeal by draining Arashi’s life force. The 13th episode looks like something you’d find as a DVD special — it’s a reprise of the first episode, but with a cherry instead of a strawberry, and everyone is in goofy costumes.

There are two aspects of NNA that are interesting beyond the actual story. First, is the look at wartime Japan. The anime shows the raids, and the B-29’s and the falling bombs. Houses burn and people die.

Not something you normally see in a shonen program. In the Yayoi/Kanako arc, you see high school girls drafted to work in an aircraft factory — one of the thousands of small scale installations that the Japanese used instead of following the German and American pattern of large production plants. This, by the way, was one of the justifications of the widespread fire-bombing campaign, because there were few concentrated high value targets. The girls work full time and are from all over. Yayoi is from a rich family (I think that’s her family mansion they end up haunting), while Kanako is a work-hardened girl from a poor family. In one sequence, Yayoi plays a concert for the girls during the weekly power blackout when the factory can’t operate.

Second, NNA has some interesting ideas about the effects of time travel. Two of Hajime’s strawberries disappear, one because his grandfather ate it, and the other because he came back in time and stole it from himself. Kaya was mad at Arashi because she never read the note she left in her diary at the school, that she was waiting at The Ark cafe, one of the few places to survive the war unbombed. They go back in time and bring the diary forward to the present, which means it wasn’t there when Arashi stopped to look for it. More significantly, Arashi goes back to 1945 and shelters a crying child during the air raid, telling him to be a hero. Later, in a trip to 1985, they meet a brash young child who informs them that his father keeps telling him that it’s important to be a hero. His father was the child that Arashi saved. Back in the present, it turns out that the private investigator is that child, all grown up and still brash — he carries a sword (practice or real, depending on the job) and drives a souped-up Vespa (another example of the goofy humor embedded in the anime).

On the tragic side, when Kaya/Jun go back, they project from the current day cafe to the cafe in 1945. Their arrival wakes up the owner (who Kaya is in love with), and he proceeds to go home, where he’s killed in the bombing. If he had stayed in the cafe, he’d have survived.

So, that’s the first season. It’s different enough that it should be on everyone’s watchlist. Crunchyroll has both seasons, but one never knows for how long.

 

 

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 2

April 13, 2019

As we head into the second week of the season, the latecomers and early bloomers start to fade.

Senryu Girl: Socially inept high school girl can only communicate by high speed calligraphating of 17-character messages on short boards. Joins the literature club to improve her writing. Meets standard anime trope #54, bad boy with heart of gold who has trouble communicating. A little too contrived for my taste. In addition, Senryu was the name of a fighter plane in the game Sky Crawlers, so I keep waiting for her to suit up and take off.

Namu Amida Butsu! Utena:  Bishi gods come down to Tokyo. Clueless bishi gods. This has so been done before, with magical swords, and magical historic heroes, and magical drain covers (OK, I lied about that last one, but wait until Summer).

Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki:  Boy from Brooklyn moves to Boston, where everybody talks funny. Sorry. Boy from Tokyo moves to Nagoya, where everybody talks funny. Like the short about Osaka of a few years back, this falls into the “You might be a redneck if…” category.

Nobunaga Sensei no Osanazuma: Is 2019 the year of the ethically challenged teacher? Time traveling 14-year old bride lands in the house of the descendant of the guy she’s supposed to marry, immediately strips off and suggests baby-making. Teacher/descendant has a hard time keeping his hands off the child. Next thing you know, the show will be talking about suppositories. Fortunately, even the uncensored version is censored.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2019 Part 1

April 8, 2019

Some horses fall at the first fence. Some anime don’t make it through the first episode. Not that they’re bad, as such, but that they are too too obviously not of interest to me, personally.

Amazing Stranger Tiny humanoid space explorer lands on Earth, only to end up purchased as an anime character figurine. A true teen flick, because it’s too mature for kids, and too stupid for adults.

Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu Socially inept grade schooler enters middle school, tries to make friends with her entire class because her only friend, now attending a different school, said she’d dump her if she didn’t. Doesn’t realize that if she makes just one good friend in the new school, she doesn’t need the old one. Or maybe I’m just not into middle school anime.

Why the hell are you here, teacher? That’s what I want to know. Another season, another set of inappropriate student-teacher interactions (are suppositories the new thing?). Harsh sound track, too much shouting, stupidly contrived situations. Doesn’t rise to the intellectual level of Domestic Girlfriend. Twelve minutes is twelve minutes too long.

The Rising of the Shield Hero This is the second cour of an anime that started last season. Average non-otaku guy is shanghaied into an isekai world where he is promptly doublecrossed by the local royal family, which sours his outlook on everything thereafter. Obtains a couple of cute female non-human slaves, who promptly fall in love with him and try to improve his attitude. It’s working, and it’s a halfway decent anime, until the start of the secound cour, when he gets doublecrossed again. Can you say “Perils of Pauline”? Can you say “Jumping the shark”?

I was wrong … they’re bad.

Kotobuki: Parts of it are Magnificent

April 4, 2019

Think of it as Girls und Panzer meets Porco Rosso.

In another dimension, or astral plane, or something, exists a world named Ijitsu, that looks a lot like Australia — mostly howling wilderness. It used to have an ocean, but a wormhole of some sort opened up, destroyed the oceans, devastated the countryside and dumped a lot of military technology (including every type of Japanese WWII fighter), plus curry, rice, and pancakes, onto them. This all happened courtesy of the Yufang, who appear to be alternate timeline Japanese.

A town like Alice

Now the people of Ijitsu live a hardscrabble existence in a scattering of tiny outback towns, tied together with zeppelin flights and bepestered by air pirates. The six girls who are part of the Kotobuki Squadron* fly escort off of one of the zeppelins, fighting off the air pirates and making sure their cargo, or passengers, make it through safely.

Carrier based aircraft

Unfortunately, there’s a shadowy organization, the Brotherhood of Freedom Union, led by Isao, the mayor of the biggest city on Ijitsu, a guy who can smile and joke while ordering the destruction of entire towns, and who wants to exploit any new holes that appear and use that technology to take over the world. The Union employs dozens of fighter units and is systematically intimidating all the small towns to join up. The Kotobuki Girls are not really interested in this. As with Firefly, they just want to find a job, find a crew, keep flying. Of course, they get dragged in, end up as part of the big final battle, and are instrumental in destroying a newly opened hole and the death of the mayor.

Girls at war

Got that? Good. Now ignore it. The heart of the anime is the flying, and everything else is just an excuse. Every episode has a multiplane dogfight, and every dogfight is of heart-stopping intensity. Along the way we get to see all of these WWII fighters in action, plus some machines that never made it into the sky on our timeline — the Kyushu J7W1 Shiden, of which only two were ever built, and the Nakajima G10N Fugaku heavy bomber, only ever seen on the cover of model airplane boxes.

The bomber that never was

I suspect that Director Mizushima is doing what Miyazaki was unable to do in The Wind is Rising, celebrate the warplanes of WWII without having to insert an extended apology for Japan’s role in the war. Even though he ended the film before the start of the war, Miyazaki was still criticised for not saying enough about it. But if you have Japanese fighters shooting down Japanese fighters on an alternate world on an alternate timeline there’s no way you can be guilty of glorifying the Pacific War, right?

George and Betty

Meanwhile, we have the Kotobuki Girls. Each of the six has her own personality and her own reason for flying.

Come as you are

They are portrayed in 3DCG, and are not quite ready for prime time — their faces are stiff, and their movements seem more like those of marionettes. Be that as it may, they are all individuals, and you find yourself rooting for them in all of their fights.

Fight’s on!

And the heart of the series is the dogfights. You see the action from all sides, and from inside the cockpit. You hear the clang of bullets hitting metal, and you hear the creak of that metal stressed to its limit.  At the end of every episode, I had a bad case of the leans, from following the planes as they pulled g’s.

Another kill for Kotobuki

The ending is a magnificent swirling fight in and over the capital city, and under the newest hole. Parts of it make you think of the trench run in the first Star Wars.

Turn right at the next intersection

In the end, Kotobuki sacrifices their zeppelin to close the hole,

They’ll never catch this dirigible!

the good guys win, and fly off into the sunset.

All’s right with the world

From a flying standpoint, anime artist’s license excepted, I have two complaints about the air battles.

First, it’s too hard to tell what’s going on. All of the fights are big, multi-plane furballs,  presented as a series of vignettes featuring one-on-one engagements (sometimes with a saving intervention), but there’s nothing that gives a good view of the overall structure of the battle. In Garupan, you always had the feeling that you knew where everyone was and that you knew how the fight was rolling out. Not so with Kotobuki. Now, air battles are notoriously hard to follow. You dive in, you engage an enemy, and suddenly you are alone in the sky; or an enemy jumps you, you dive away from them, and when you recover, the fight’s move on. But usually there’s some preliminary structure — “You draw off the fighters, you go after the bombers” — even if it breaks down on contact.

Which brings me to my second complaint about the flying. There’s no sign of any real teamwork. In WWII, the US developed a number of leader/wingman concepts, which gave us a significant advantage over the Japanese, even though our fighters were outmatched by the Zero, one on one. In Kotobuki, everyone piles in on their own, and if they see a chance to help a team-mate they will. That’s good team spirit. It’s not good team work. As a result, The Kotobuki Girls are protected mostly by plot armor.

 

Preflight check

From a drama standpoint, if I have one complaint, it’s that the action is all bloodless, at least on the Kotobuki side. Josh Whedon once said that if you have a fight and nobody important dies, people just say “Oh, look. They’re shooting.” That’s the way Kotobuki is.

Despite that, I’d still call it magnificent.

*Kotobuki, 寿, A Yufang word meaning good fortune, congratulations, or long life, but we don’t find out about that until the end.

Domestic Girlfriend: A well-done anime about stupid people

March 31, 2019

Domestic Girlfriend (Domesutikku na Kanojo) is predicated on a set of ridiculous coincidences. High school boy has the hots for one of his teachers (as often happens). He also pulls a one night stand with a HS girl he met at a karaoke party (and where were those girls when I was in HS?). Shortly thereafter his widowed father re-marries and brings into the household a divorcee with two daughters — an older one who teaches HS, and a younger one who goes to karaoke parties. Spoilers follow.

Meet your new family

The inevitable happens, and the boy starts an affair with his teacher-sister. Twelve episodes later the inevitable also happens, and they get outed. Meanwhile, he’s trying to kickstart a career as an author. Meanwhile, the younger sister is developing feelings for him.

At the end, the older sister has to quit her job and move to a different school to avoid a scandal, despite which they still have feelings for each other. Meanwhile, the younger sister declares that she is going to go all out to win his heart. Also, he wins a writing prize.

On the good side, studio Diomedéa handled the story very well. This could have been treated as a harem romcom, or as some sort of operatic high drama. Instead, it was more like a soap opera, and I say that as a good thing. What was bad were the people.

Let’s start with Hina, the older sister. She’s in her second year as a teacher but she still has the mannerisms of a student — flirting, slapping the boys on the butt, getting drunk in the evening. Unable to control her emotions, and despite being quite aware of the suicidal consequences, she enters into a relationship with a student maybe five years younger than her, and ends up having sex with him (BTW, in the course of the anime we find out that she previously had an affair with a married man, who she thinks about when masturbating with her bedroom door open, so there’s a pattern here). In this case she is incredibly lucky, and when they get caught she just gets shunted off to a different school, presumably in a different prefecture. In the real world such actions would get her jailed, or at least fired and barred from teaching for life. Her life is going to be a series of bad decisions, and there is no way she should be a teacher.

That’s “Hina-sensei”

Then there’s Natsuo, her underage paramour. Like many high school boys he thinks with his crotch and has zero concept of what the word consequences means. Whether it’s attempting to kiss Hina when she’s drunk and unconcious, grabbing her in the school hallway or at a festival, or concocting a story to cover his visits to her apartment without coordinating with the guy he’s using for cover — twice — he demonstrates zero ability to think beyond the end of his dick.

Yes, we’re at school, but no-one will notice if we duck down like this

At the end of the last episode he claims he still has feelings for Hina but does nothing to reject sister Rui when she gets physical. He’s the kind of guy who is likely to have his head turn up in a school bag.

Maybe she overpowered him

Finally, we have younger sister Rui. Same age as Natsuo, member of the same HS writing club (once she changes schools), made a straightforward and unemotional decision to lose her virginity with a casual meetup. Shy and retiring, she has the most rational and straightforward personality of the bunch.

Yeah, that relationship

When Natsuo executes a standard anime trope and inadvertently walks in on her in the bath, she simply says “You’ve seen me already”, instead of screaming and throwing things. Her major flaw is getting romantic feelings about Natsuo, despite his obvious chasing of her older sister.

The rest of the cast is mostly good people, who help Natsuo out probably more than he deserves: best friend from middle school, gay yakuza coffee shop owner, only slightly creepy writing club advisor, shy girl and flirty girl who both fall for Natsuo (maybe it is a harem anime). Their parents are typical good parents (atypical for anime), concerned about their children and willing to sacrifice to make sure they are happy. Yes, OK, there’s also the totally pointless and irritating American transfer student. Is this the way we look overseas?

You sometimes hear an anime described as a trainwreck. This is an anime about a trainwreck, about how two flawed people imperiled their lives and futures.

Close the drapes, damnit!

The story is handled well. The ending is not as solid as it might be, but that’s because the source manga is ongoing. Judging from descriptions of the source the ending is probably the best possible, under the circumstances.

If you like well-written drama that doesn’t involve mechas, spikey hair, or lots of shouting, and you don’t mind having to read three layers down in the character list to find someone relatable, then you’ll probably like this anime.

Anime worth watching: Bloom Into You

February 4, 2019

Naname’s Back, and Koito’s Got Her

This is a straight up romance anime between two high school girls. What’s called yuri, in the trade. I should note that I am not the target demographic — I’m male and I’m old.

Q. How old are you?

A. Old. Old. I’m older than Donald Trump. I’m older than Eric Clapton. I’m older than Cher, OK?

Still, that gives me a certain distance, a certain perspective, that others might not have. Being from a time when boys tended to be oblivious to this sort of thing, and girls took a more Aoi Azusa approach, I don’t have the personal and hormonal involvements that others might.

Q. So,why did you watch it?

A. I recently traded in my Crunchyroll subscription for VRV, which opened up HIDIVE and a whole new library of anime backlist, including Bloom, which was recent, and highly regarded. I watched it on my TV using Roku, which presented some technical issues, mentioned below.

Q. What’s it about

A. Girl meets girl, girl falls for girl, other girl doesn’t fall for girl, girls continue that relationship.

Q. Could you be more specific? I don’t mind spoilers.

A. Koito Yū, our first year protagonna, meets Nanami Tōko, her second year senpai, while helping out at the Student Council. Nanami is the typical anime perfect girl — top of her class, good at sports, soon to be Student Council President, etc. Avowedly asocial when it comes to things like dating, except that 24hrs after meeting her, she decides that Koito is the one who makes her heart go doki-doki. Koito, meanwhile, is still waiting for that moment and has zero romantic inclinations. Nanami essentially forces them into a relationship, but Koito says she doesn’t mind, she just doesn’t love Nanami back. Nanami, for some anime reason, is fine with this.

The first few episodes deal with the establishment of the relationship. Nanami asks Koito to be her campaign manager for the Student Council elections, surprise kisses her at a railroad crossing (while a train passes, meaning that only half the world can see what they’re doing), later elicits a more consensual kiss in the Student Council building, and gives her a planetarium night light as a souvenir gift from a recent trip. Despite the asymmetrical kohai/senpai* power relationship, Koito appears to be more consenting than coerced. One reason for this might be that Nanami is a person who maintains one (perfect) face to all the world, letting only Koito see her insecurities and self doubt (“Don’t fall in love with me, I don’t want you to love someone I hate“).

The second half deals with Nanami‘s desire to have the Student Council put on a stage play, something that hasn’t been done these last seven years. Soon, Koito finds out that the last play was arranged by Nanami‘s older sister when she was Student Council President, but the play, and the tradition, were abandoned after the older Nanami was killed in a car crash. As an aside, Japanese must be terrible drivers, given the number of deaths reported in anime.

We can use my father’s barn!

Meanwhile, a student friend of Koito agrees to write the play script, and comes up with a story about an amnesiac student who is trying to find out what her original personality was like, but gets three different answers from three different people.

In quick succession, Koito finds out about Nanami‘s older sister, and how Nanami is devoting herself to replacing her sister in the world, while Nanami finds out that her sister was far from perfect. This causes Nanami a major identity crisis (almost like in the play, what a surprise), and it also induces Koito to ask her friend to change the ending of the play — instead of taking on the persona reported by her lover, the amnesiac will adapt her own persona, as revealed over the course of the play.

The anime ends … umm… halts, with nothing resolved. The two girls go on a date to the local aquarium and in the post-credits Nanami falls asleep on Koito on the train home, with Koito gazing at her fondly. At the very end, Koito grasps her hand and whispers “senpai…”, with a long pause, and everyone waits for her to say “I love you“, but instead she says “…we need to change trains now“, and the end card appears. The series is over, and Koito has not told Nanami about the change in the play, and has not admitted that she may be developing feelings for her senpai.

Q. And what did you think of it?

A. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was straight up romance, not rom-com or some  flavor of harem anime. There was no spiky hair, no yelling, and no mechas. To the extent that one got to know them, the characters were all likeable. (Note that, to keep this essay short, I am leaving out a lot of characters, including Nanami‘s childhood friend Saeki Sayaka, who makes for a low-key love triangle, the two adult women in a lesbian relationship that is probably unique in anime, all Koito‘s other friends and the rest of the Student Council).  Their conversations were (mostly) lifelike, and their actions were (mostly) understandable, if we excuse Nanami falling in love with Koito eighteen minutes into Episode 1 as anime artist’s license. There were parents who did parenting, and teachers who taught and advised. None was a caricature.

One of the things I liked was how Bloom tells its story in small gestures. For example, there’s a trope in anime of the indirect kiss — where you drink from a container that the other person just drank from. Very often this is a big deal, sometimes with panicky voices and waving of hands. At one point in Bloom, however, Nanami opens a bottle of soda and hands it to Koito, who takes a drink and hands it back. Koito is oblivious, but Nanami stares at it for a long moment, before drinking from it herself, and the scene moves on.

Kissu

None of the plot turns were based on standard shonen anime misunderstandings-of-the-obvious, and none of the characters were as dense as the average shonen protagonist, but then that just might be girls being smarter than boys. The physical side of the romance was very muted (despite her feelings, Nanami didn’t get beyond first base), she and the girls are proportioned like humans, and the fanservice was limited to a shot of her in her underwear, and her and Koito (et al.) up to their armpits in the bath.

Visually, Bloom is very soft. The art is very clean, and the colors are mostly pastels. Many of the scenes are bathed in the orange glow of sunset, what the Japanese call tasogare, the yellow dark.

The golden days of youth

One glaring note is not the fault of the anime. The presentation I am watching is from HIDIVE via VRV over Roku on my TV, and VRV on Roku uses black bands with white lettering for the subtitles, instead of the preferred yellow-on-picture that VRV on the PC uses. That’s not too bad, except VRV/Roku likes to put the sub in the middle of the screen, and sometimes it will double up the subtitle, which is irritating and can obscure most of the picture.

The music is provided by a subdued, unobtrusive piano.

The ending is very European.** We can see the form of the resolution, but they don’t feel the need to spell it out.  Of course, the fact that the anime used up all the available source material may have had something to do with it. Volume 5 of the manga (the aquarium trip) was published in Japan in January of 2018, and Volume 6 (the play) didn’t come out until 27 September, eight days before the anime aired in Japan. If the publishing cycle holds true, we won’t get a sequel until Fall of 2021. To my mind, if they waited a year, or even a season, and then used the play as a wrap-up, they’d have had a much stronger story.

I’m not a manga person, but I bought Volume 1 on Amazon just to see, and the anime tracks it very closely. There’s a suspicious-looking (“English language not guaranteed”) third-party blue-ray on Amazon for the low, low price of $144. You might want to wait on that.

——-

*Junior/Senior status, for those not used to anime

**It reminds me of the British detective shows we watched when we were living there in the 1970’s. They had the same sort of ambiguous endings, instead of the US style full closure arrest and sentencing. Foreigners seem to be more comfortable with ambiguity than we are.

 

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2019 Part 3

January 25, 2019

The final three, or is it twelves?

The Price of Smiles. Price, not Prince. Country S is run by newly-anointed 12 year-old Princess Yuki, who wants everyone on the planet to smile. Country G is poorer and militaristic and trying to conquer country S. Twelve year-old Princess Yuki sends her childhood friend to the front line to try to negotiate a truce, so of course he gets deaded. Lots of death. Lots of mecha fights. Very little to hold my interest. Did I mention that the 12 year-old protagonna is only twelve?

All I want is smiles

Endro! Apparently, Princess Yuki has a second job, as a the hero Yulia. She and her band of merry heroines want everybody to be able to smile, so they exile the Demon Lord (Momonga, working his second job) to a distant place and time. Actually, they just sent him a few years back in time, where/when he becomes a cute female teacher at their school, where he tries get her and her friends, now 12 years old, thrown out. An original anime that looks like it was inspired by a battle card game.

All I want is smiles

Dororo. Yet another zombie reboot. Based on a 1967 manga via a 1969 anime and a live action movie from twelve years ago. Dororo is a young boy (who may be a girl in disguise, depending on what you use as a source) assists a young man named Hyakkimaru (AKA 100 demon circles) who is looking for his missing body parts what were sold to demons to finance his father’s political career (so, a lot like the GOP today). There are lots of people who like this one but I find it’s got too much blood and angst and everyone has a past that comes back to haunt them. There’s not one normie in the bunch. To make things worse, Dororo isn’t even twelve.

All I want is my left leg

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2019 Part 2

January 23, 2019

Another day another drop. Or three.

Grimms Notes the Animation. So, there’s these four adventurers/superheros, in storyland. In storyland, everyone has their own storybooks, that tell them what their life will be like. And no, you can’t change what’s written there. In one part of storyland, Red Riding Hood is more of a job description, and generations of women have gone out to be eaten by the wolf (it says here) and then rescued by the Hunter. But someone is changing the stories, and the current Red Riding Hood doesn’t want to get on the cart.

Enter Our blank book Heroes, who convert to their superhero form — Cinderella, Robin Hood, Alice, and Goliath (Goliath? In plate armor?) — defeat the foes (for now), reset everyone’s memories, and get li’l Red to agreed to be et.

Episode 2 has Our Heroes meet Don Quixote and his waifu Rosinante.

It feels like the director just picked up whatever fairy tale element looked good and slapped them on the wall to see if they made a storyboard.

While on the road to grandma’s house, Red Riding Hood meets four suspicious strangers.

Date A Live. Season 3, I think. Seasons 1 and 2 only available on Funimation, I think. I watched one of them some years ago, probably.

Our Hero is the on-the-ground agent for a secret organization that’s protecting the city, run by his lollipop-sucking loli sister (lol). The SOtPtC has a futuristic control center, with controllers sitting at control consoles and providing surveillance of just about everything. Our Hero’s job is to find the invading spirits (all girls, of course) and ‘seal’ them by getting them to fall in love with him. So, just your everyday true-to-life anime. This season’s maguffin is a shape-shifting spirit who is disappearing all the girls in his life, one by one.

Too, too, generic characters and harem situation. Plot is silly, even for anime.

It’s probably best that they all go away.

Saint Seiya Santia Sho. Another zombie blast from the past that just won’t die. It’s based on a 2012 reboot of a 1989 anime from a 1986 manga. Rebooted again this year. Magical girls without the sexy transformation scenes. Jojo inspired art and a daytime anime vibe (Yes, kids! You too can own the Santia Shyoko action figure with golden trident!). Wrong demographic, wrong aesthetic.

Never trust a character with tentacle hair.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2019 Part 1

January 21, 2019

This season I had 16 new programs to watch, 15 on Crunchyroll and one on Amazon Prime (have you noticed that AP’s offerings have trailed off since they closed Anime Strike?). I got a slow start because of the Panama trip (see sidebar), but it gives me the chance to work my way through, two or three episodes at a time.

So far, I’ve watched eight, and am dropping four.

My Roommate is a Cat. Writer takes in a stray cat, and they bond. Except that the cat doesn’t think or act anything like a real cat would: Oh, he’s passed out on the floor. That’s like my siblings did when they starved. I better push my food bowl over to him. Plus, I’m not a cat fancier.

catpic
I am a cat. Of course I’ll share my food

The Promised Neverland. Bunch of 11 year-olds escape from an orphanage into a world of horror. Or something, I dropped it as they went out the gate. I’m not interested in characters that young.

kids
Here’s some kids. If you like them.

Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files. Confused plot and uninteresting characters. Later, I found out it was a Fate/xx spinoff, which explains it.

cast pic
Not one of these characters is worth caring about.

Rinshii!! Ekodachan. Very strange anime. Protagonist is a dirt-poor Tokyo working girl who spends most of her on-screen time naked. If it weren’t for the minimalist art style, that might be exciting. It’s twelve episodes by twelve different directors and 12 different seiyuus. Kindof like Space Dandy, but without the budget. What drives it over the edge is the fact that each standard 24-minute episode consists of 4 minutes of anime, and 20 minutes of discussion with the director and seiyuu. Might be worth four minutes of your time.

Oh, I’m so bored

Starlight Promises

August 10, 2018

Starlight Promises really wants to be a Miyazaki movie. It has the young protagonists, the mystical happenings, the colorful animation. What it lacks is heart. And coherency.

Spoilers follow.

Mihara Shoma gets a call from his former best friend, who he hasn’t seen in years, inviting him to meet at a location in the mountains. That location turns out to be the site of a Tanabata festival, celebrating the legend of the celestial lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi. His friend isn’t there, but he meets a hologram AI named Kana, and a girl,  Senozawa Shiori. It turns out that this festival is also designed to carry out a ritual that will let the participants meet anyone they wish to. The participants — several dozen of them — build the stage settings, and Mihara and Shiori are to enact the parts of the star-crossed lovers.

Kana and Shoma and Shiori

We immediately have questions.

How do they gain the skills needed to carpenter up an elaborate stage setting? How do they know how to move in the ritual?

It’s just like Ikea

How do the rest of the participants know how to do the Busby Berkely dance number at the start of the ritual? Well, they have these AI suits, that just know how to move to do things, ya know? And the wearer is sortof goes along for the ride.

We built it, and we can dance on it

OK, so how does the ritual conjure up the ghosts (and it looks to be all ghosts, nobody’s asking to meet Shinzō Abe) of the people the participants want to see? Well, so, it’s not really those people. It’s a new super-AI program that can take in all the information about the person and recreate a hologram of them. The participants just get to pretend they are real.

For that matter, why are they doing this during a Tanabata festival? Wouldn’t a Bon festival, honoring the dead, be more appropriate? Could it be that the Bon festival doesn’t have a romantic couple at the center?

Back in the action, the festival AI is malfunctioning, because of the existence of Kana. Why? They don’t say. In any event, it conjures up [AI hologram depictions of] the ghosts of the former castle, who proceed to attack the participants. Shoma and Shiori fight them off, using skills their AI suits taught them (and swords that are really debugging tools), while Kana sacrifices herself to install the patch, or something. Since this is hologram on AI suit action, nobody actually gets hurt, but they all act as if they could.

We will avenge our lord!

At the end, there’s a lantern ceremony, and everyone gets to see the person of their choice. Shoma sees his friend Atsushi — who it turns out is dead and Shoma just forgot about it, as often happens in anime — and Shiori sees her sister. Then the lanterns take flight, and the ghostly holograms fade away. Shoma and Shiori have found closure, and look to become friends, leaving open the possibility of a Starlight Promises Afterstory.

Is it really you?

Part of the problem with this anime is that Starlight Promises is only one hour long. That’s not enough time to develop the multiple threads of the story, or even the explanations and backstory and such. On the other hand, the whole knights-of-the-old-castle thing seems just bolted on, as if they needed some conflict to pad things out but couldn’t figure out what to do. Finally, the heart of the anime, the recall of the dead, is based on a logical fallacy. The participants are not talking to the dead, they’re talking to an AI construct, an updated version of ELIZA, from half a century ago.

But it looks pretty

Overall, Starlight Promises isn’t bad, but it’s not Miyazaki. It’s an OK way to waste an hour, unless there’s a My Neighbor Totoro rerun on.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 3

November 2, 2017

Sometimes anime are not bad, they just don’t hold my interest. Somewhere around mid-season I wander off and don’t come back. Herewith a few of those:

Elegant Yokai Apartment Life: Not bad, but I thought it had a reasonable closure at the end of the first cour, and couldn’t think of a reason to continue. I kept it in my queue for a while and then gave up on it.

Kino’s Journey: I watched much of the first season, back when, and had the same opinion: the show has a little too high of an opinion of itself. It’s like one of those artsey foreign movies you watched back in college. Pretentious.

Blend-S: A one-trick pony, and that one not very interesting

Code:Realize: What did I tell you about anime with Code: in their names? Just couldn’t get interested in cute guys doing cute things with steampunk. Must be my finger-length.

And then there’s a couple of others that are not new this season but which I tried because various reviewers seemed to like them. Various reviewers are apparently not within three standard deviations of my demographic.

Yuki Yuna is a Hero: Girls in a middle-school Hero’s club become actual magical girl heroes and protect the Earth while passing all their tests. Importance of ともだちがい and がんばって and clap if you believe in かみさまs.

Tenchi Muyo: AKA 天地無用, which can be variously translated as No Need for Tenchi, or this side up, depending on context. Since most of the episodes are titled No need for xxx, that’s probably the preferred reading. Tenchi is a typical ultra-dense protagonist who manages to have a bevy of beautiful space aliens fall in love with him.

TLDR: Anime I never started

October 14, 2017

Sometimes you don’t have to watch even the first episode. Sometimes you happened on the first volume of the manga. Here’s two.

Inuyashiki: From the creator of Gantz. Actually, that tells you all you need to know. Old guy and young punk are reincarnated as robots. Old guy becomes superhero. Young punk becomes supervillain. Much bloodshed and dismemberment, most of it gratuitous. I dropped the manga after the first volume.

King’s Game: Normally a slightly racy kids game. Whoever is ‘king’ gets to tell the others what to do (“kiss the person to your right”). In this one, everybody is out to kill everybody else, because some ‘king’ made that decision. I don’t even…

This is why one reads manga.

 

 

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 2

October 6, 2017

Three up/three down – the off-puttingness continues. This started off being a potentially busy season, with twelve anime that I was considering watching. Fortunately, seven of them blew up on the pad. So far.

The first two in this listing could easily be swapped and few would notice the difference.

1. Dies Irae: Godlike beings fight grotesque monsters for obscure reasons during the latter days of the Third Reich. Too much shouting, fighting, and dismemberment for me. Later episodes will, I think, shift to modern day Tokyo. It won’t help.

Everybody wants to be Wolverine

2. Garo – Vanishing Line: Grotesque hero fights even uglier monsters, assisted by his talking motorcycle. Too much shouting, fighting, and dismemberment for me. This is not a Kino spinoff.

I guess they forgot that modern cameras have a ‘red eye’ setting

3. Taisho Mebiusline Chicchaisan: The title is longer than the episode. Country boy and his sword come to Tokyo to study and get away from the grotesque spirits of the dead that only he can see. On his first day there, he gets turned into a chibi figure. Nobody notices. First episode was about three and a half minutes longer than it needed to be.

They just happened to have a yukata his size

 

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2017, part 1

October 4, 2017

There are some anime that are so off-putting that there’s no reason to invoke the three episode rule. Here’s three four that fell at the first fence.

1. Sengoku Night Blood: Young woman is whisked into an isekai by a wonky smartphone app. Said world turns out to be filled with bishies who are historical figures who are vampires. We good? She may or may not be rescued by a talking tanuki who isn’t Shimogamo Yasaburō.

2. Black Clover: Remember how Tanya the Evil was raised in an orphanage and used her magical abilities to claw her way to the top? Why don’t we have twins, raised in an orphanage. One is calm and competent and is gifted with the way to the top. The other, the protagonist, is an incompetent, unmagical, spiky-haired loudmouth who plans to shout his way to the top. With a first episode like this, everyone who watched it thinking it was the second season of Honey and Clover is sure to be captivated!

3. Juni Taisen: A collection of twelve psychopaths, representing twelve different families of psychopaths, representing twelve psychopathic interpretations of the twelve signs of the Chinese Zodiac, takes part in a psychopathic death match anime. It’s like Fate/Stay Night with worse costuming and no cute girls.

4. Urahara: Three girls in a dress shop fight to keep UFO’s from stealing Japanese culture. Squeaky voices. Kids book style backgrounds. Best part was Rito-chan coming to work on a skateboard. Then a Japanese expat from America, who appears out of a giant nursing bottle, turns them into magical girls, who can fight for justice and the nihongo way.

Did I mention there was a talking tempura shrimp?

 

Tanya: Someone is wrong on the Internet

July 25, 2017

It’s always painful when even the supporters of a show get it wrong. The latest misinterpretation of Tanya is by Nick Creamer, over on ANN, and it looks like none of the commenters has any concept of WW’s I and II beyond watching Thomas Kretschmann movies. Herewith, seven key points to keep in mind when reading any of it:

  1. The Empire isn’t imperialist. They never invaded anyone that didn’t invade them first. When the not-Scandanavians invaded the Empire, everybody’s reaction was WTF? Who would do such a stupid thing? The narration at the end of the series points out the irony that all the Empire’s actions were out of fear of their neighbors.
  2. The officers aren’t Nazis. The talk of serving the homeland appears on both sides in the anime, and is no different than what you would have heard in any military headquarters in our Europe in the early 1900’s. The counter-invasion of not-Scandanavia horrified the generals.
  3. Nobody’s a good guy. Soldiers on both sides did terrible things, because that’s what one does in a war. At the start of Episode 1, the not-French were killing not-Germans who were disorganized and fleeing, and doing it with a smile. In Episode 2, Anson Su, lead element of the invasion force, did his best to kill a young girl who was merely acting as an observer. Yes, she turned out to be a fierce fighter, but that was later. As far as he knew, she was like his daughter.
  4. Nobody’s a bad guy. These are military professionals, engaged in high-stakes, high adrenalin actions. They are excited in their work, and proud of their accomplishments. If they sit and mope and come all over angsty about their actions, they do it after the battle, when such thoughts won’t slow down their reactions. Tanya does it on the train. Su does it, a little bit, right before the fjord raid kicks off.
  5. Tanya isn’t a sadist. Throughout the series, none of Tanya’s actions were, as far as I can tell, violations of the rules of war, either in her world or in ours.  None of her acts involve inflicting pain without purpose, and at least twice she says she hates killing. The guy she fired in Episode 2 failed to show for work on time, and failed to respond to training. Tanya’s only “sin” was in not feeling any emotion about it. Her approach to training was similar to that used by the US Marines and the UK Commandos. She thought it would drive them away. Instead, it created an elite unit. On at least two occasions, Tanya changed her approach to a problem in order to minimize her casualties.
  6. Tanya isn’t power-hungry. Here in our world, and in the new one, her goal is to achieve a quiet life. All of her actions point in that direction. Play by the rules, and do your job well, and you will be on the escalator to a good position and a quiet life.
  7. Being X isn’t God. Maybe he’s A god (responsible only for reincarnation, in a Japanese division-of-divine-labor sort of way), but in Episode 2 he complains of being unable to handle so many billions of souls. To which Tanya replies that overwork is an indicator of a failed business model.

If you want to develop a less biased view of Tanya, when you watch it, imaging that it stars Sylvester Stallone, instead of a 10-year old girl.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Summer 2017 – 3

July 16, 2017

I’m crying here. I was going to have just two TLDRs this season, but sometimes one has to reopen the books for new challengers.

Shining Tears X Wind: Pronounced crosswind. STxW (pronounced stew) is a Crunchyroll re-release of a 2007 anime based on a Sega mobile game. Parallel worlds. Multiple handsome heroes. Multiple ornamental girls to fill out the handsome heroes’ harems. The girls also act as …ah… receptacles … for …um… magic swords … that the heroes store in their oppai, bosoms, chests. King Arthur it ain’t.

They wanted to copy the tank chase scene from GaruPan, but didn’t have the budget

Graphics and animation appear to be done using the same 8-bit technology they used for the game. If you liked the game, then (A) you will like this, and (B) we can’t be friends anymore.

True Tears: Crunchyroll re-release of a 2008 anime. High school boy lives in the same house as a cute classmate who he thinks likes him but she really likes the brother of a girl who he also thinks likes him but all she wants him for is his bodily fluids.

Trust me, it will all end in tears before bedtime

None of them are very likeable. Well, there’s the girl standing on the beer crate.

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Summer 2017-2

July 11, 2017

And the losers keep straggling in.

Konbini Kareshi: Grand Hotel, the anime version. Six couples and how their lives are changed by their experiences at the local Lawsons. The boys are the type I spent my high school days avoiding. The girls are the type who spent their high school days avoiding me.

I wonder if I’ll find the girl of my dreams in there. They carry everything else.

Fox Spirit Matchmaker: Fox maiden vows to excel at matchmaking despite the urgings (threats) of the sexy head of her powerful fox clan, all the while avoiding marriage to a jerk who is also a powerful priest who is attempting to avoid marriage despite the urgings (threats) of a bunch of gunsels from his powerful human clan, all the while fending off attacks from a different fox clan, along with some nefarious plots by a fat underhanded plotting priest. Got that? Feels like the producer just threw everything he could think of into a pot and called it stew.

This picture sums it up: One third sexy fox ladies, one third chibi fox follies, one third assholes

Aho Girl: Aho is the word for idiot. It’s for when you’ve already said baka. Our protagonette is an aho. Bright, cheery, infinite mood swings, no short term memory, banana fanatic, zero common sense. Her neighbor (one can’t say ‘boyfriend’, he tells her mother she’s a monkey — her mother agrees) keeps her in line through force and violence. All the girls love him.

The carrot banana and the stick

Katsugeki TOUKEN RANBU: Bunch of guys with swords, who are swords, fight demons, who are time travellers, with the aid of a fox with a computer. Running with swords. Fighting demons. Bantering with the guys. Running…

With a thousand years of experience, you’d think they’d find a better way to run with a sword

TLDR: Anime I never finished, Summer 2017 – 1

July 6, 2017

Two days into the Summer Season and already the rejects are piling up.

Saiyuki Reload Blast: AKA Saiyuki Version V. Latest in a long line of anime adaptations of a long line of manga. Based on the Japanese version of the Chinese compilation of the Buddhist folktale collection called Journey to the West. Bad art, ugly characters, poor acting, static fight scenes, and a stupid AI jeep (Kino should sue).

Which one is the monkey?

Netsuzou Trap: Girl sexually molests another girl. Other girl not sure she objects. Does that make it right? Did they limit the length to 9 minutes because they ran out of body parts to fondle?

French kissing while hanging off an apartment balcony three stories up and she’s afraid her mother will walk in and see them

Knight’s & Magic: Programmer dies and is resurrected in a magical fantasy world with knights in shining mechas. Develops new magical apps by applying good coding practices to existing magic. The weak spot, of course, being the lack of code comments and documentation. Unless maybe the extraneous comma in the title means that everything that follows is a comment.

Patlabor it ain’t

 

Tanyastuff — 2

June 24, 2017

This is Part 2 of an on-going analysis of The Saga of Tanya the Evil. Subsequent entries will look at the story as laid out in the light novels.

A major factor in the rollout of Tanya’s War, and one I hadn’t considered earlier, is the structure of the Empire itself. In Tanya’s world we have a unitary Germanic empire. In our world, Central Europe was occupied by the German Hohenzollern Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. It was the interactions between these two empires (plus the interlocking treaty obligations on both sides) that allowed what should have been a relatively minor Balkan skirmish to spiral out of control.

In our world, for a number of reasons, Austria wanted to expand its influence in the Balkans. They were afraid that Russia would actively oppose them, and asked Germany for support in preventing this. Germany gave them the famous blank check approval for any of their actions.

The first problem is, given the technology of the day, whoever mobilizes first can destroy their opponents, even if the opponents are part way through their own mobilization. So mobilization is essentially a declaration of war. The second problem is, once a country has mobilized, essentially all their neighbors are at risk. So Austria sent an ultimatum to Serbia. Two days later, Austria, Serbia, and Russia all issued mobilization orders. Three days after that, Austria declared war on Serbia, and a week later, Germany (rejecting Russian protests that they were mobilizing against Serbia, not Germany) both started mobilizing and declared war on Russian. Roughly two weeks from assassination incident to WWI.

In Tanya’s world, the Empire isn’t dragged into a war by treaty obligations. They were engaged in an on-going border dispute with Legendia, part of the Scandinavian Entente. The Legendistas invade and are stopped by the the Imperials, including the newly-arrived reinforcements. So we have at least a partial mobilization aimed at the North. In order to permanently suppress the threat, the Empire goes to full mobilization and conducts a counter-invasion of the Entente. We could think of this as similar to Austria invading Serbia, except that the ‘pretext’ was a much more serious incident. In essence, the Empire gave itself a blank check.

At this point, of course, not-France also mobilizes, and invades the Empire. We are not told if this is a treaty requirement, or mere opportunism. The result is a slow-rolling development of a border skirmish into a world war.

The rest, as they say, is isekai.

 

TLDR — Gantz

June 19, 2017

Here’s how to watch Gantz: watch Episode 1 to convince yourself I’m right, then fast-forward through the rest, stopping only if the screen turns red, or black, or pink, depending on your interests.

Gantz is a two-cour anime from 2004. An alien-in-a-sphere makes copies of people as they die, and forces the copy-people to fight and kill things. That’s it. Collect people, put on fighting suits, go kill aliens and each other. If the screen is mostly black, that’s the fax-folk running around in their combat suits, looking for aliens. If it’s mostly red, they’ve found the aliens, or undeserving humans, and are eviscerating them, or maybe being eviscerated, it varies. If the screen is mostly pink, then it’s naked scenes, which don’t happen nearly often enough to make up for the red and the black. The rest of the time, the characters are shouting at each other about the morality of killing monsters and why aren’t the others doing more to help. Not enough pink to make up for that, either.

Red and Black
(At this point there’s about five minutes of yelling)

Gantz is available on Crunchyroll. In fast-forward mode, it’s about six minutes of play time between thumbnails, and about two and a half minutes of real time per episode. That means you can get through all 24 episodes in about an hour. Not counting pauses for pink, of course.

…and Pink
(Some more yelling here, as well)

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2017 Part 2

April 10, 2017

I tried some other shows, when Crunchyroll finally broadcast them. Some didn’t fare as well as others.

Hinako Note: Country girl comes to the big city to go to high school. Is better at talking to animals than people, and has a tendency to freeze with her arms out straight, like a scarecrow, when flustered. Sounds like a good way to get your pockets picked. Meets four other girls in her dorm and at some point they will decide to put on a show (it’s too far to use my father’s barn). Would have been a soothing slice of life, if it wasn’t for the eternally squeaky voices and the stupid scarecrow shtick.

Eromanga Sensei: Japan is full of middle- and high- school students making a living as light novel authors and mangaka, which is good for their futures because I’ve never seen one do a lick of homework. Even primary school girls can make it big, drawing erotic art for magazines and LNs. Presumably, they get their subjects from various online websites — although some 12 year olds take selfies of their butts and use that as the basis for drawings they post online, and tell me how that doesn’t violate half a dozen laws.

It should not be all that rare, then, for the 12 year old little sister to turn out to be the one who is drawing erotic art for the 15 year old big brother’s best selling novels. Think, Oreimo with a business relationship.

Tsugumomo: The story of a mama’s boy with an obi fetish — he carries his late mother’s obi everywhere, even to school. Thirty seconds into the main story, they’ve already hit two classic anime tropes, the accidental boob clutch followed by the accidental panty shot, with extra points for chaining the events. Two minutes after that, Our Protagonist is subject to attempted tentacle rape from a marauding wig, but is saved by the Goddess of the Obi, Tsugumomo (つぐもも) which, as far as I can tell means next generation peach. She subjugates him, moves in, shares the bath, shares the bed, hogs the Playstation. Meanwhile, his little sister, who wants to share the bath, share the bed, and to hell with the Playstation, is getting suspicious.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2017

April 7, 2017

There are some anime that are so off-putting that there’s no reason to invoke the three episode rule. The four anime that follow might not be bad, but they are certainly not my cup of tea.

1. The Royal Tutor: There’s a new tutor in town. Looks like a kid but is a grown man (there’s lots of hormonal balance mutations in Japan). Tutor to four princes, of various degrees of snottery, apparently born 9 months and 15 minutes apart. Oldest one looks like a romance novel cover, and talks like he’s lost one too many mace battles. Shorty Tutorpants will outsmart them all — and of course, that’s the problem.

2. Akashic Records of Bastard Magical Instructor: There’s a certain kind of character, with too high an opinion of themselves and hair that won’t stay off of their forehead. A simple three-finger toss of the hair and the head will unerringly identify them. This one’s an incompetent cad. Unless they are planning on doing a body swap with Oda Nobunaga in Episode 2, I see no possibility of redeeming this train wreck. Did I mention the female student uniforms make KanColle look like nuns?

3. GranBlue Fantasy: Generic girl-with-powers escapes from secret lab. Lab is in a Pilot’s Love Song-style Airborne Battle Cruiser. Girl lands near generic village. Generic boy finds her. They, and her generic (female) knight companion, are surrounded by troops from the ABC, led by generic foppish captain with a falsetto voice. Generic ending with Boy merging life forces with Girl, beating the snot out of the Troops and heading off for a Secret Location known only to everyone in the village. Generic.

Paul Robeson sang “Joe Hill” next to this cottage

4. Silver Guardian: While the scantily-clad maidens of the Maidenly Academy for Young Maidens sleep quietly in their maidendorm, a boy is fighting for their survival, unbeknownst to all but the maidenly dorm mom. When the pyramidical tomb he is guarding is surrounded and attacked by thousands of undead, he does the logical thing by taking out his magical swords and attacking the throngs in front of the stonepile, evidently forgetting that there is a back entrance. In fact, there’s a front entrance that’s left unguarded while he’s half a mile away, whacking off zombie heads. Fortunately, the zombies are missing, you know, brains.

OK, I lied. They’re bad.

Light Novels

February 26, 2017

I’ve been spoiled. Up until now, all the Japanese light novels I’ve read were ones that withstood a long and gruelling overseas licensing process. By the time a LN got licensed in the US, you could be pretty sure it met some (often low) minimum standards for story-telling and writing quality. I’m talking about things like Spice and Wolf, Kokoro Connect, and most of the Haruhi series. But beneath that surface layer you will find a lot of stuff that’s not much better than fan fiction.

It’s like UK television. All we see over here are the top end BBC works of art. When I lived in the UK, we got to see the really bad run of the mill ITN stuff. I can tell you that UK game shows are terrible, and that’s from someone whose wife watches an hour and a half of US game shows nightly. I am beginning to think it’s the same way with light novels.

You see, with the increasing popularity of LNs in the US, and an expansion of delivery modes, came a lowering of quality standards. Back when the publisher had to cough up the money to produce a physical product, they were more careful about what they would publish. Today, with digital delivery, the initial cost isn’t so high, and so publishers can take bigger chances. The best example of this is the new light novel distributor, J-Novel Club. For a monthly fee, JNC posts chapters of on-going LNs, roughly one per novel per week. When the novel is completed, it’s pulled from the website, except for an introductory first chapter and a purchase link. Currently, JNC is licensing twelve LNs, some of which are the second volume of a series. I am a member of  JNC, and I have read at least parts of all twelve. Not all of them are of equal quality.

Using these twelve as a convenience sample of what’s out there, we find that five of them are in the hero pulled into a fantasy world genre. This is not to be confused with hero trapped in a video game, because there is no indication that it really is a game world, as opposed to a world with some sort of game mechanics. Obviously, what the Japanese call isekai stories are hot this year.

grimgarln Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash: The most literary of the lot, and the only one of this genre to have an anime. A group of people wake up in a RPG style fantasy world, with no memories of their past, and find they have to fight for their lives. There’s a reason the first syllable is grim.

How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom: A Maoyū Maō Yūsha ripoff, where he’s both scholar and hero, called into a fantasy world, where his high school level skills in ecology and urban planning help defend the kingdom he was handed. “You look like a nice boy, I’ll abdicate in your favor. Here’s my daughter.”

In Another World With My Smartphone: Like it says. He’s in an RPG style fantasy world, but his smart phone works, including the maps and ‘search nearby’ functions. In addition, he finds he has other advantages. “Oh, look. I just found this new magical skill that will cure the Duke’s wife of her mysterious illness.”

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest: He’s the low man in his high school class, but the smartest girl in the class really likes him. Suddenly, the whole class is pulled into an RPG style fantasy world. “I’ve loved you ever since I saw you getting the snot beat out of you back in middle school.”

mixedbathinglnMixed Bathing in Another Dimension: Going downhill fast here, Our Hero gets called into a fantasy world, with the one skill of being able to create a Japanese style public bath-house wherever he likes. Finds some surprisingly useful applications. After all, it’s a limitless source of clean water. Also wet naked girls.

Two more LNs brush up against the edge of this genre.

The Faraway Paladin: HikkoNEET dies and is resurrected in a fantasy world. Doesn’t really count, because all he remembers is that he was a disappointment to his parents and he wants to do better this time around. His zombie priestess mother and ghostly sorcerer father agree. Reasonably well written.

I Saved Too Many Girls and Caused the Apocalypse: Our Hero starred in too many harem adventures in too many worlds without ever choosing a Best Girl. Now the multiverse will collapse unless he solves new problems in every world, which he does, by combining solutions across worlds and letting the problems cancel each other out. Neat concept, terrible writing.

The remaining five take place in fantasy/SF versions of our world.

occulticninelnOccultic;Nine: Is the best of this lot (and already has its own anime). Everybody in it is dead, and nobody knows it. Faceless MegaCorp is trying to control their souls.

My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World: High school high jinks. Our Hero can see labels over people’s heads, proclaiming what they are — Class President, Her Boyfriend, Mass Murderer, etc.

Brave Chronicle: The Ruinmaker: High school boy, something, something,  is supposed to save the world, something, but only wants to protect his little sister. There’s a childhood friend.

Paying to Win in a VRMMO: Not trapped in one. Paying, not Playing. Our Hero wins all the time by finding the right in-game purchase. About as exciting as it sounds.

My Little Sister Can Read Kanji: A couple hundred years from now, his little sister is one of the few people who can still read kanji characters. She is in great demand, because everyone wants to grope her. Our Hero is fine with this. I’m not.

So that’s a chunk of what’s current on the LN front. Twelve novels, of which three are good (for a somewhat relaxed definition of the term good), and the rest are fanfic quality. I keep reading them because I hope they will improve, but they never do.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished: Seiren

February 18, 2017

A lot of anime are adaptations of Visual Novel originals. The problem with adapting  a VN into a twelve-episode anime is that they almost all are multi-track — work you way through while romancing girl A, then go back and do the same with girl B. The question for an anime studio is, how do we handle this during an adaptation?

One way is to pick one girl and follow her to the end, with all the other girls having walk-on parts. Clannad is a good example. The upside is, the story can devote twelve whole episodes to the budding romance. The downside is is, everyone who likes girl B, or C, or …. will be disappointed.

A second approach, call it the Kanon model, is to keep one girl on the main track, even if it disappears into the background for a bit, and give the other girls their own arcs, without ever promising them romance. This requires a certain skill in balancing the screen time and keeping the main heroine as the obvious favorite.

Finally, we have the omnibus approach, famous in Amagami and Photo Kano, and (this season) Seiren. Each girl gets a turn at romance, and after three or four episodes rides off into the sunset with the protagonist. Then we reset, and go through the whole thing with some new girl. It’s like a collection of short stories instead of a novel. The problem with the omnibus approach is twofold, or maybe three.

photokanogirls

First, they are short stories. There’s no depth, no chance to develop characters. The four episodes tend to run to a pattern: boy meets girl; boy and girl hit it off; boy and girl encounter insurmountable relational problems; boy and girl decide to get married.

amagagamigirls

Second, they use the same cast in different roles across different arcs. It’s kind of an ensemble production — like some of the old Murder, She Wrote programs, where the bad guy one week is an old family friend the next. It’s not just that the main heroine changes, that’s to be expected, it’s that our protagonist’s male friend one arc is a complete stranger the next one. Or maybe they play video games one arc, and the next one he’s off on the soccer team. It makes for a certain mental whiplash.

seirengirls

After a while, they all look alike

Finally, and this is a particular problem with Seiren, the protagonist might or might not be the same personality from one arc to the next. In Amagami and Photo Kano, the protagonist was the same person, with the same goals and hangups: in Amagami, he was recovering from having been stood up for a Christmas Date; in Photo Kano he was a camera nut. In each arc we get to see alternative ways he can work through his life problems. In Seiren, he’s a different guy each time.

This season, Seiren is sandwiched in between Tanya the Evil and Demi-chan, and it doesn’t really fill an anime-watching need.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished: Yozakura Quartet

February 6, 2017

Yozakura Quartet
A one cours anime from 2010. Not so much bad as very much not my demographic. Two-thirds of a century ago, maybe, but now, if I had the ability to try-before-buy (say, via Crunchyroll or Funimation), I would not have bought it.

On second thought, no — it’s bad. It’s about a group of humans and half-demons who bond socially to fight other half-demons (the anti-social ones) to drive them to the other side and to protect the six sacred sakura stumps that (sortof) guard the town from demons.

I guess you’d call this a shonen fighter, appealing mostly to middle-school boys, because every episode features a battle of some sort. The trouble is, all the fights are the same: each protagonist takes turns fighting the demon, instead of ganging up on them; everyone spends most of the time talking, and the demons spend their talk time gloating; and about a third of the combat dialogue by the protagonists involves shouting the name of one of the others (the one who is currently getting the individual snot beat out of them).

The spikey hair is a dead giveaway

The spikey hair is a dead giveaway

The art is crude, and the animation is minimalist. The funniest scene was when the womanising land god who looks after the town (but doesn’t actually do anything to protect it) visits the festival to see if there are any pretty girls to romance, and runs into a couple of 70 year olds who fondly remember dallying with him some decades earlier. Always embarrassing.

It was not available for preview on Crunchyroll or Funimation, but there had been some good reviews on-line, back in the day (and one of the characters was voiced by Sawashiro Miyuki), so when it came on sale on Amazon a couple of weeks ago, I bought it. I made it halfway through Episode 7 and gave up. Life is too short, and Amazon Prime is streaming Highschool Of The Dead.

Anime I’m watching — Winter 2017

January 17, 2017

Not counting OVAs or shorts, AniChart shows 50 anime airing this season. I started out watching 15, which rapidly dropped to eleven worth mentioning, and has now levelled off at six. Three are slice-of-life “monster” comedies, two are isekai, and one is a straight high school harem romance.

Demi-Chan wa Kataritai — Monster girls go to high school. Unlike Monster Musume, the previous entry in this genre, the girls are not part of a harem, and they are not oversexualized. The male human POV character is an adult teacher, who pretty much acts like one. The number of monster girls is limited: student vampire, snow maiden, and dullahan; math teacher succubus. So far, we’ve only gotten a look at the vampire and dullahan. They are typical high school girls, sometimes mischievous, sometimes prone to getting a crush on their teacher.

The Japanese seem to be fascinated with the dullahan concept, the headless horseman of Irish folklore. Last year’s Konosuba had one who was an evil lord*, while dullahan Celty was one of the stars of Durarara. Demi-chan treats it more like a disability, addressing questions like, what happens when your body is at home but not close to the toilet, while your head is on a date, drinking soda?

If you spend too much time saying goodbye, some of you can miss your train

If you spend too much time saying goodbye,
some of you can miss your train

Things may heat up next week, when we learn about sex and the single succubus.

Kobayashi-san’s Dragon Maid — All about, well, Kobayashi, and her live-in maid, who is also a dragon. As with few other shows, this is about adults, who work, and drink, and have a life, and don’t go to high school. The lead human, Kobayashi, reminded me a little bit of Kaoru, from I Can’t Understand What My Husband Is Saying, even though the character designs were quite different. It turns out that both of these anime were based on manga by the same author, Cool-kyō Shinja. So far, it’s slice-of-life, with dragon jokes. Also maid jokes.

dragonmaid01 dragonmaid03 dragonmaid02

Gabriel Dropout — Not exactly a monster, Gabriel is an angel, tops in her class at angel middle school, who is sent down to Earth to go to high school and live with humans and learn about them. Unfortunately, she gets enamoured of computer RPG’s, and by the end of the first episode is well on her way to dropping out and becoming not only a NEET, but evil**.

In some ways, she’s a typical high school girl who, for example, doesn’t want to leave any witnesses to an unfortunate teleportation event with her pantsus.

Collateral damage

Collateral damage

Konosuba, Season 2 — A second season for the high school boy who died and was reincarnated in a fantasy world with the mission of defeating the Demon King. He’s still teamed up with a set of companions who are powerful but useless — water goddess who can do a fan dance with water, explosion wizard who can produce only one blast a day, masochistic knight who can take loads of punishment but can’t hit anything with her sword.

The default facial expressions

The default facial expressions

Seiren — High school harem romance, in the Amagami SS tradition. It’s based on a visual novel, so there’s multiple girls to pursue. It’s in omnibus format, which means that instead of picking one girl, the way Kanon and Clannad do, the 12 episodes are really three short stories of 4 episodes each, so the protagonist can win three different girls. Think of it as parallel universes.

Three of these girls will be the lucky winner. More, if there's a second season

Three of these girls will be the lucky winner.
More, if there’s a second season

The Saga of Tanya the Evil — A first season for the salaryman who died and was reincarnated in a fantasy world after getting into an argument with God over whether he exists or not. Since he’s applying his former-life cuthroat-management techniques to his new situation, this has been called the Moshidora of reincarnation anime.

Izetta, she ain't

Izetta, she ain’t

He ends up as an evil***, magic-using warloli soldier who is trying to establish a place for herself in the rear echelon of a war very like WWI. Of course, all her efforts only make her a hero, likely to be pushed into the front lines.


* How evil? He used to bowl his head down the hall so that it came to a stop looking up a maid’s skirts. You don’t get much more evil than that.

** How evil? More evil than the demon student who threw a plastic bottle in the recycling without removing the cap.

*** How evil? Evil enough to get it into his nickname.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Winter 2017 Part 1

January 13, 2017

So far, the Winter season of 2017 has given us a disappointment in almost every genre.

Hand Shakers — Clueless HS student forced to fight unknown enemies for unknown reasons in intersecting parallel dimension. Male combatants evoke their combat prowess by fighting hand-in-hand with a female counterpart. Or sometimes foot-in-crotch. Characters are animated in 3DCG by a team that never looked at what either the backgrounders or the special effects parts of the team were doing. Plus, they know nothing about the physics of fluid-filled spheres.

Remember, it's not assault if she sounds like she's enjoying it.

Remember, it’s not assault if she sounds like she is enjoying it.

Akiba Strip — Poor man’s Ikki Tousen. Protagonists beat the outerwear off demons from an intersecting parallel dimension disguised as beautiful girls, who then get all burned up over it. In most cases, the outerwear barely covers the underwear, so the exact destruction mechanism is as obscure as the reasoning behind the existence of this show.

Remember, it's not assault if they're demons in disguise

Remember, it’s not assault if you claim they’re demons in disguise

Chain Chronicles — Multiple multi-racial armies assault insanely-evil-mage-king’s castle in a bid to get a small group of heroes inside to kill the IEMK and recover a magical tome. Heroes choose the heroic option and attack IEMK one at a time. Heroes get their collective ass handed to them. Final tug of war between IEMK and his insanely-evil-mage-king’s-daughter over magical tome ends with the book being torn in half. After which, all the MMRAs, along with the IEMKD and the halfbook ride slowly away. To be followed by ten episodes of recriminations.

Good thing none of you is smart enough to sneak up on me through the smoke

Good thing none of you is smart enough to sneak up on me through the smoke

Schoolgirl Strikers — Not-exactly-magical girls (see Luck and Logic) travel to an intersecting parallel dimension to fight monsters that look like they were the result of a failed genetics programming algorithm for generating monster art.

We're not magical girls. Don't call us magical girls.

We’re not magical girls. Don’t call us magical girls.

Fuuka —  Group of students decide to start a band, unfortunately in this dimension. Others have done it better.

I know! Let's put on a show! We can use my father's barn!!

I know! Let’s put on a show!
We can use my father’s barn!!

Anime Postview: Fall 2016

December 29, 2016

This is not a real review of the Fall anime season. Instead, it’s a look at how well I did in my Fall 2016 Preview, which you might want to look at first.

Overall, it was a pretty thin season, with only about six out of sixty shows falling into the watchable category. No particular standouts, except that everybody but me thought that Yuri On Ice was wonderful. I thought what I watched of it was pretty good, but it just didn’t engage my interest. Maybe not enough yuris.

So, how did I do on my Will Watch group? Looks like I’m two out of three for this one, if you count meh as an acceptable rating. Touken Ranbou turned out to be SwordColle — a bunch of bishies who used to be swords.

Fast talking high school student with his own anti-occult website turns out to be a ghost who doesn’t know he’s a ghost in a crowd of other ghosts, solves a mystery about ghosts and thwarts the plots of an evil emperor to control the afterlife using ghosts. Surprisingly subdued climax.

From a straight mechanics standpoint, things went too fast for a subtitle-reader to follow. I had a choice of reading the bottom of the screen, or seeing what was happening on the rest of it. Too many expository dumps. Monogatari could pull it off. Not so the ; gang.

Otherwise, imaginative use of ghosts.

Occultic;Nine

Cast of Lost Village ends up in a library. Adds semicolons to their list of personal phobias

———————————————

Shuumatsu no Izetta

Don't worry. Love will break our fall. ———————————————

Yep, Witches und Panzers. Great premise — witch fighting WWII — squandered on poorly structured plot and non-useful fanservice, with hokey post-ending  ending. Potentially one of the best of the Season, it turned out to be merely entertaining.

After all, how often do you get to see a cute, red-headed witch flying around on an anti-tank rifle?

 

For the  Might Watch group I pulled another two out of three as well. Keijo was just too too silly, with too many butts and too many boobs, and too much sports. Probably was a favorite in the frat houses.

A random crawl through psycho-space. Think, FLCL meets Magical Girls.  Friend of a girl’s mother from her past rescues the girl from her mother in an alternate dimension that somehow interacts with this one. Probably my favorite new show of the Season, which shows you how thin the season was.

The graphics make you feel like you’re lost in Mandelbrot’s sink trap.

Flip Flappers

Girls who are too poor to own stockings, and have to dress in tea towels find happiness in floral displays———————————————

Brave Witches

Girls who are too poor to own underwear bravely fly combat missions at 25,000ft. Huddle together to keep warm———————————————

Can’t go wrong with a Strike Witches spinoff. This one is set in the NorthEast Theater and features lots of flying over snow-covered terrain in their pantsus. The character development side concerns itself with the efforts of Karibuchi Hikari to prove herself a worthy replacement for her sister.

If you liked Strike Witches, you’ll like this one. Not great, but entertaining.

As for the Won’t Watch group, I think I can say I’m three out of three. Well, Long Riders was on a different channel, and I never looked at Tiger in the Hole!. On the other hand, everybody in the world liked Yuri, but I like my yuri with more girls in it. So, maybe two out of three.

That gives me four out of six, or maybe six out of nine. The Federal Reserve should hope they get that many forecasts correct.

Not included in the Preview, because it was a sequel, was the second season of Sound! Euphonium. Excellent, but not as good as the first season. Did have a marvellous episode that was almost all straight music. Way, way too late I found this site, with commentary by a professional musician.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2016

October 17, 2016

A second pass through the season drops some more.

March comes in like a lion: A prequel to Your lie in April, shows Arima Kōsei when he was going by the name of Kiriyama Rei and making a living playing shogi instead of being a piano player. No indication as to how many of the cute girls he’s involved with will die of AWD (Anime Wasting Disease).

March

March

April

April

Occultic;Nine: The guy who gave us the excellent Stein’s;Gate, and then missed with a long string of other semicolon stories tries again. Weird occult blogger accretes a team of weirdos to solve weird mysteries. The character designs tell you all you need to know. Weird.

If those buttons go, we're all gonna;die

If those buttons go, we’re all gonna;die

ClassicaLoid: Think vocaloids with better composers but worse directors. Beethoven, Mozart, mechas, and a construction crew all dance while their house plays musique.

You should see who's dancing with the secretary bird

You should see who’s dancing with the secretary bird

Drifters: Great warriors of history pulled into alternative afterworlds to fight the Enders. Think, Death Parade meets Nobunaga the Fool.

L to R we have: Shimazu Toyohisa, the protagonist, Oda Nobunaga, the famous pirate, and Nasu no Yoichi, the trap

L to R we have: Shimazu Toyohisa, the protagonist, Oda Nobunaga, the famous pirate, and Nasu no Yoichi, the trap

TL:DR — Dropping my shorts, Fall 2016

October 11, 2016

So, not all the mediocre, bad, or just plain uninteresting anime comes as long-form 23min episodes. Much of it now appears as short features, as if the creators knew the worth of what they were doing and wanted to minimize the impact on humankind.

Four that were just dumb:

Cheating Craft: How to cheat on exams, with the usual perfunctory "This is bad" warning.

Cheating Craft: How to cheat on exams, with the usual perfunctory “This is bad” warning.

Soul Buster: Cardfights between the souls of ancient Chinese warriors. Like Ikki Tousen without the fanservice.

Soul Buster: Cardfights between the souls of ancient Chinese warriors. Like Ikki Tousen without the fanservice.

Kiitaro's Yokai Diary: Sibling rivalry over household chores ignites demon wars. As usual.

Kiitaro’s Yokai Diary: Sibling rivalry over household chores ignites demon wars. As usual.

Miss Bernard Says: How many book references can you fit into three and a half minutes?

Miss Bernard Says: How many book references can you fit into three and a half minutes?

Two that were bound to offend somebody:

To Be Hero: Eight minutes of toilet jokes

To Be Hero: Eight minutes of toilet jokes

My wife is the student body President: Eight minutes of boob jokes.

My wife is the student body President: Eight minutes of boob jokes.

And one that could have been a contender:

Old woodblock drawings as anime. Good idea, poorly executed.

Sengokuchojyugiga:Old woodblock drawings as anime. Good idea, poorly executed.

Anime Worth Watching — Summer 2016

September 24, 2016

Amanchu
Futaba is a shy young girl who comes to a small coastal town from the big city, meets an outgoing classmate and a caring teacher, and learns to come out of her shell by learning to SCUBA dive. A quiet, feel-good, sort of an anime. Like Flying Witch, but with a little more personal drama. If you liked Aria, you will like this one — it has the same director, the cats look the same (i.e. totally un-catlich), and the lead cat is even named Aria.

Futaba and Friend, and cat

Futaba and Friend, and cat

The Ancient Magus’ Bride OVA

First of three 20-minute episodes. Prequel to the manga, which might mean we’re getting a full season anime. Chise is a young girl from an uncaring home who ends up living with a sorcerer, who just happens to have an eland’s skull for a head. Visually very pretty, with interesting magic and magical creatures. Their household is Chise, the Magus, Ruth (a black Flat Coated Retriever who eats at the table, just like humans), and a bonnet-wearing maid who has remarkable skills in tomato stacking.

The girl, Ruth, the maid, the Mage

Chise, Ruth, the Maid, the Mage

Opening scene looks like a foggy Victorian London, but in a later shot you can see The Eye.

ancientmaguslondon02

I liked the manga enough to buy the first volume when it came out. There’s two more 20-minute episodes in the OVA series, and then we’ll see.

So, there were a couple of good anime this summer, but Re:Zero was not one of them (some people liked it). I’ve mentioned it before, and I only mention it now so that I can include a picture of Rem, the Best Girl. Flawed hero learns his way around a new fantasy world by continuously being killed and respawning back at earlier save points. Falls in love with Emelia, main heroine, just because. Rejects Rem who really loves him, because he’s fallen for Emelia, who never contributes much to the story and doesn’t think much of him until the last episode, when his heroism and kindness turns her low level disdain into love, which I’m sure will last.

Rem

Rem

Emelia

Emelia

Which one would you chose?

That’s it for the summer. Pickings were slim enough that I rewatched GaruPan, Shirobako, Flying Witch, and Taisho Baseball Girls.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Summer 2016

July 14, 2016

Tales of Zestiria the X: Is that X the unknown, or X, the queen after Zestiria the IX? Or maybe it’s a date on their calendar?

Court astronomer has been using his telescope to observe local weather, and in no way is he peering into bedroom windows. Maybe he should be the court meteorologist. Anyway, he sees an unmoving dark cloud (does that make it climate?) over in the next county. Princess sends court climatologist and her trusted companion to find out what it is, and then leads out a patrol of her own to find the trusted companion when they don’t come back two minutes later, because rulers of countries always have time to act like platoon leaders. Encounters ninja-shaped aliens. Finds out that the cloud is of geological origin, not climatological. But before she can find the court climatologist to tell him of his new title, the geology becomes a little unsettled and everybody but her dies. Then it gets weird. Later on, there may be sheep.

Normally, you build a dome that will protect all of your 100cm refractor

Normally, you build a dome that will protect all of your 100cm refractor

The acting is over-wrought, the art is crude, and the animation is clunky. And they don’t know how to build observatories.

Qualidea Code: Highly accomplished team member refuses to cooperate with his team-mates when defeating the pink, boob-shaped alien invaders because they’re almost as dumb as the aliens. Team-mates refuse to cooperate with other teams because they have other highly accomplished members who aren’t him. Competition among the teams for accomplishment points (always a bad thing) leads to the destruction of both the aliens and a vital causeway.

Because crenellated walls are the best way to defeat airborne enemies

Because crenellated walls are the best way to defeat airborne enemies

The art is OK, the characters are the usual range of emotional types (defined by hair color), and the plot is clunky.

Ange Vierge: Highly accomplished team members clash with less highly accomplished team members when defeating the black, dildo-shaped alien invaders. Spend the rest of the episode naked in the bath, naked in their quarters and naked in the office, bepestered by lens flare. Decide that the best way to improve their accomplishment levels is to break into naked competitive teams (always a good thing).

If you think the lens flare is bad, just wait for the steam

She must have very sexy elbows

The plot is minimal, the interpersonal interactions are contrived, and the camera work is clunky. The characters are well rounded.

This is the last TL:DR of the season, I swear. Next week, I answer the question every one of my reader is asking — So, what is he watching, anyway?

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Summer 2016

July 7, 2016

Sweetness and Lightning: Hey, have you noticed how well food-porn shows are doing right now? And how much people like smart, energetic little pre-school girls?  We could so clean up with a show that combined the two!

His idea of a child's balanced meal

His idea of a child’s balanced meal

Yeah, but there’s got to be more. If we don’t want to look like Barakamon with food, or Wakakozake with kids, or Gourmet Girl Graffitti with parents, we need something with an edge.

What about making it a single parent, a widower? One who can’t cook?

I don’t know, Japanese are reluctant enough to get married already. We don’t want to give the impression that marriage involves a 50/50 chance of death. I mean, think of all the other single parent or missing parent shows out there. In how many anime do you even see a parent, anyway? Whatever happens to them?

Yeah, but that gives us an opportunity to add a romance angle. You know, like, he’s a school teacher and there’s this girl who’s in one of his classes that keeps coming over to cook. Not just romance, but underage, inappropriate romance!

And she can’t cook either! And they learn together! Sweet lightning, that would work! But what should we call it?

Taboo Tattoo: Guys, what is Miyata thinking? We’ve already got Amanchu, Saiki Kusuo and Food Wars on our plate, and now he wants us to do this Tattoo thing? Even Miyamori Aoi couldn’t find enough animators to save us!

だいじょうぶ, だいじょうぶ. It will be OK. We’ll just use a generic highschool boy develops superpowers plot. Throw in a blonde foreigner and a boobified childhood friend who can cook (maybe we can recycle some outtakes from Food Wars) and the thing writes itself. No need to spend time on the animation, just use dark blobs and speed lines. This will be bigger than Dai-Shogun!!

Take that! You secret tattoo-wielder!!

Take that! You secret tattoo-wielder!!

Momokuri: OK, we’ve got one more 24 minute hole to fill in the schedule, and nobody willing to do it. TMS is busy playing mortician for D.Grey Man while murdering ReLife, and KyoAni is prepping for a second season of Euphonium. Even J.C. Staff is wrapped up in their Tattoo blockbuster thing.

What about recycling something from last years Internet-only ONA programs? Like Momokure. Yandere girl stalks younger boy. I mean, all the episodes are done, it’s cheap, it has low bandwidth, and it already has a 7.2 rating from people who watch anime on their smartphones. What more could you ask for?

Such a cute boy!

Such a cute boy!

 

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Summer 2016

July 6, 2016

The first two programs I dropped were not even on my season preview list.

D.Gray-man: Boy who hunts soul-sucking demons teams up with sister of soul sucked brother. This is a 2016 continuation of a 2006 anime. The current release starts at Episode 104, but Funimation has posted everything, starting from Episode 1, which is what I watched. Too dark (as in, no light in any of the scenes). Too cartoony (as in, everybody is overacting, even by anime standards). Too much 2006 style art (as in, c’mon, it was made in 2006!). Bottom line: I don’t plan on watching a 103-episode prequel.

Would I lie to a policeman?

Would I lie to a policeman?

Berserk: Another resurrection of an earlier era (2008), only this one doesn’t have any prequels available. Demon-haunted man with a big sword and a tiny tattoo fights skeletal demons in a dark forest. Too dark (as in, no light in any of the scenes). Too cartoony (as in, it looks like it was drawn by US comic book artists). Too much CGI (as in, c’mon, it was made in CGI!). OK, too much bad CGI.

And the skeletons move like stop action from a '60's Voyage of Sinbad

And the skeletons move like stop action from a ’60’s Voyage of Sinbad

Re:Re:Re: Only one of the next three was on the list, but that’s OK, ’cause I only dropped two.

ReWrite: Double length into to a VN adaptation because they had to introduce all the girls who are going to fall in love with Our Hero. As usual in these things, the girls are more interesting than Our Hero, but the art style is from the early naughties VN genre and the magical hijinks that are meant to be ominous are silly instead. As in, magical witch girl secretly enters Our Hero’s room at night, slides up under the covers with him, and bites him … on the arm. She also stabs him with her ribbons.

I will so report you to the teacher!

I will drop you from the Konohana Lucia path and force you into the Bad Ending

ReLife: NEET takes a pill that makes him look young again. Re-enrolls in high school, and immediately forgets how to behave. The only saving feature is that the representative from the company that talked him into taking the pill (as an experiment), looks like Koizumi Itsuki from Haruhi Suzumiya, so it’s nice to see that he got an interesting job after college (probably still working for the Organization). I tried reading the manga, and dropped that too.

My Organization wants you to take this pill

My Organization wants you to take this pill

ReZero: This started in the Spring season, but it’s a two-cour, so it still counts. NEET gets transported to a fantasy world in the first of a double episode (1A, 1B) opener. Keeps getting killed and respawning back where he first appeared, but it takes him a while to figure it out. In fact, at the end of 1B he still hasn’t. Since the respawn point is at the same time as well as the same place, it’s like a time loop anime as well. So everything he does based on prior knowledge means the future is different from that point on. Impresses the girl, gets killed; misses meeting the girl, gets killed; catches up to the girl, she doesn’t know who he is.

Three minutes in and already he's adapted

Three minutes in and already he’s adapted

 

This is the only one I’m continuing to watch.