I will be watching… (Fall 2018)

We’re less than a month away from fall knocking at our door. For me the fall anime season has always been a favourite of mine as it always seems like there are stellar gems to be found here. And, erm well, this season doesn’t seem like it could be. Lets have a look at what I could find myself watching next month (except Fairy Tail. Fairy Tail can fuck off).

  • Beelzebub-jou no Okinimesu mama. – I can be partial to these cute girl shows, especially if there is a certain gimmick involved or if the character designs are appealing and that certainly is the case here. The animation is clean and the show has a rather pastel colour palette judging from the PV. The manga adaptation is also well received despite hardly anyone giving it a read. Slice of life with demon cute girls? Check.
  • Gaikotsu Shotenin Honda-san – Absurdist comedy show about a skeleton working in a bookstore? Check. Probably not going to be anything special, given the studio’s previous dumpster fires but it’s worth a try at least.
  • Goblin Slayer – Almost definitely going to be the most popular and talked about series of the season but it’s generic plot doesn’t interest me at all. Only watching this so I can bitch about it and the people who like it.
  • Hinomaruzumou – Hell yes! The manga kicks ass. It’s well written purely energetic fun and I really hope the anime lives up to the hype I have for this sports show about sumo wrestling.
  • Karakuri Circus – Older style art style which has clearly been inspired by Jojo. I’ll give it a watch in case the action scenes are anywhere near as good as the ones in Jojo but I don’t really care about it.
  • Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara – Another anime which has been talked up to me by other people but I believe will just be another average show which is elevated by it being in a bad season. It seems to have gained popularity and looks to have the potential to be good and I am hoping I get proved wrong about it.
  • Tensei shitara Slime Datta Ken – Okay this isn’t going to be the next work of art but by god am I hoping it’s just some stupid fun. I really want something good that I can just watch with a fun story and not worry about the things bothering me. The character designs look like the show has some effort pumped into it. Definitely giving it a chance.
  • A Certain Magical Index III – I mean fuck yeah of course I’m watching this. Most highly anticipated series this season and I cannot wait for it to hit screens. Only hope is that Netflix doesn’t pick this up so I don’t have to wait months before I can watch the whole thing.
  • Tokyo Ghoul:re 2nd Season – Look, I love the original Tokyo Ghoul manga and I think Tokyo Ghoul:re is pretty good. The anime adaptations are average at best. But because I love the franchise so much I feel obliged to continue watching.
  • Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou – I made a promise to myself a long time ago to watch everything that Kyoto Animation brings out and so far that promise has not disappointed me. Their new drama/sports show centred around Japanese archery seems to be right up my street and KyoAni looks right at home with this series. Probably going to be another relaxing joy to watch.
  • Yagate Kimi ni Naru – A well made shoujo ai show? Check. Again, I have high hopes for this one and if it has even half the effort or heart that was put into Re:Creators (the studio’s last work) then it’ll be a lovely watch.

Whew. So, in summary, the shows I really want to watch and hope are good are as follows: Hinomaruzumou, A Certain Magical Index III, Tsurune: Kazemai Koukou and Yagate Kimi ni Naru. All the others are risks but I am at least prepared to give them a go. At least it looks like I will have time to watch my backlog of shows. Bring on Winter 2019.

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Saiki Kusuo no PSI-nan: A Sunny Review

Look, I watch a lot of comedy shows. I like funny stuff and there’s a lot of unfunny shit out there for you to sieve through. And it is true that not all people have the same sense of humour so I’ll say off the bat to not waste your time: if deadpan and sarcastic humour is not your thing then you might not find this show as hysterical as I did.

Now, I am pretty particular about what I rate shows (this gets relevant). For example, most shows I rate on a 1-10 scale, now I don’t post these ratings here because I feel my arbitrary numbers won’t help readers decide if the show is to their fancy. Yet with comedies my rating is a little different. One of my favourite shows is Keroro Gunso (which I have mentioned here before as being absolutely fantastic) and it is a comedy. I believe that as a comedy it is so good that it deserves to be a whole rating above any other comedy show. Therefore, the highest rating I will give to a comedy show is a nine and the only comedy show to get as high as a nine is Cromartie High School (another show I have mentioned before). So my top two comedy shows are literally, in my eyes, in tiers of their own. Nothing else is on the same level as them.
Except Saiki Kusuo No PSI-nan. I gave this show the most difficult nine I have ever given a show in my life. Not because I was debating if really was that good but because I was having such a hard time deciding if it should be a nine or a ten. The only reason it’s not a ten is because the show has a few episodes which aren’t up to the same comedic standards as all the other episodes. That’s it. That is the only problem. Now, onto the good stuff.

In the hours and hours of watching this there were many times when I had full on fits of laughter. I haven’t laughed this much since watching Bo Burnham for the first time. And I’m not kidding when I say there are tears and hyperventilating levels of funny in this show. It’s so easy to digest the show, with each episode only lasting around five minutes which means it’s filled with great moments and does not try to drag out one concept for twenty minutes. There’s no real story here, it really is just putting Saiki, an all-powerful deadpan psychic, in scenes with the wacky supporting cast and letting them bounce off of each other. The dialogue is fast and the jokes are plentiful so in every five minute episodes there are going to be several jokes that are guaranteed to land with most audiences.

Sound is not something I usually talk about. Openings and endings don’t really bother me, neither does the voice acting. As long as I can understand what they’re saying (in terms of dubs) or the tone doesn’t irritate me (in terms of subs where the audio is in Japanese) then I’m fine. But oh my god is the dub in this show amazing. Like I said, the jokes come thick and fast and you really won’t have the time to read and digest the subtitles and will really leave you feeling exhausted. This is a show which really does benefit from having an English dub available as you can just sit back and listen as Saiki quickly and sarcastically takes the utter piss out of all his classmates whilst also breaking the fourth wall. It really is a beautiful thing to experience.

There are currently two seasons of the show with the dub being available on Netflix and a third and final season has been announced. So there will definitely be a full adaptation and the show will have a complete ending now that the manga has finished (just over a month ago). I’ll let Saiki himself end the review and let you know how he feels about season three.

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun: A Sunny Review

Oh Jesus it’s been a while since I’ve written anything. So, what better way to return than with a review of a 12 episode show which ended 4 years ago?! I hope this will make you take a break from that seasonal anime grind and indulge in an actually good show.

Romantic, school, comedy, 4-koma manga adaptation… It’s rare for me to even hear these four things and actually then watch the series, never mind enjoy it to the extent I did. The show’s overly clichéd premise has to be one of its biggest strengths as without it, the show’s tongue-in-cheek humour would be out of place. Gekkan Shoujo knows it sounds clichéd, it knows we think we’ve seen all this before, it knows what the genre expects of it… and it goes in the complete opposite direction.

I have never actually laughed out loud whilst watching comedy anime, until now. There was one episode in particular which was the turning point for me: episode 5. Also known as the tanuki episode (you will understand). Before episode 5 I had written off Gekkan Shoujo as nothing more than one of ‘those’ series which would stop at nothing to make me laugh. If I had to explain the reasons behind this turning point, it would have to be the characters. At this point in the story the series is allowed to be what it wants to be: a character-driven comedy. The comedy in the show doesn’t come from bizarre and ‘hilarious’ scenarios the cast are thrown into, but from the every day interactions of the cast with each other.

And the cast really are something splendid. Most of the comedy comes from Nozaki’s completely clueless behaviour towards Sakura and to pretty much everything in the series. I am a self-proclaimed hater of the ‘clueless air-head character trope’ but even I have to admit that Nozaki’s comedy hits the spot every time. This is how you make a character like this.
Sakura is the normal happy-go-lucky cute girl who has fallen in love with Nozaki. Sounds completely boring, right? And, for the most part she is just the set up for Nozaki to deliver punchlines, but she also brings something very interesting to the romance aspect. Sakura spends the series learning about Nozaki’s endless list of flaws and ignorance when it comes to love but, despite all this, she still loves him. In the time they spend together throughout the series, they only grow as friends and thus Sakura’s love for him develops as she learns more and more about him.
Mikoshiba, the dumb best friend of Nozaki. Except he isn’t dumb. Mikoshiba is a complete flirt on the face of it but is also a socially awkward shy otaku who is only truly comfortable around the likes of Nozaki and Sakura. Most of Mikoshiba’s scenes do fall a bit flat due to the inconsistency of his character and it’s possible that he is the reason behind me only giving the cast a 9/10.
Hori is the mature upperclassman… Who isn’t really mature.
Kashima is the popular flirtatious prince of the school… Who is actually a sensitive girl.
Seo is Sakura’s best friend who fades into the background… Except she doesn’t fade into the background; she’s really loud and forces herself to take centre stage in every scene she is in.
Wakamatsu is the normal background character…. Except he isn’t a background character, appears in nearly all the episodes and is actually an interesting character.

In summary, the show is fuelled by it’s ironic comedy and by characters which do not fit the tropes we have come to expect from these types of shows. Because of this, the series is a pleasant watch and is, in my mind, better than any comedy to come out of the cesspool in recent seasons.
Thanks for reading, you are now free to resume watching this season’s cinematic masterpiece that is Kyoto Teramachi Sanjou no Holmes (/sarcasm/ please don’t watch that show).

Rambling Tuesdays: What do I look for in animation?

Anime (and animation in general) to me is a way of telling a story through limitless visuals and sound. Unlike live action, animators have full control over literally everything you see on screen and can more easily have full control over each frame than would be possible in live action. Since this is what is so unique to animation, this is what I look for in a good anime.

When I finish an anime I always ask myself the following: “Could that story have been told that well or better in any other medium?” Most of the time the answer is yes, as the show either has elements which would work perfectly fine in live action or as the anime itself was already an adaptation of a much better source material. But it’s those few special shows or movies that force me to answer ‘no’ that are truly special.

I once read a piece of work by the animator Richard Willams where he claims the main animation dictum is the following:

Don’t do what a camera can do – do what a camera cannot do.

And I think this perfectly encompasses what I have been trying to say here. The works that truly succeed and are considered masterpieces are the ones which push the boundaries and create something which could not exist in live action.

 

I hope you liked this shorter form blog post. It’s something I plan on doing quite a bit where I take a small idea I have been wanting to talk about for a while which may go beyond the topics of anime and manga, which I usually talk about, and put it in a more focused post by itself. I hope to do future rambles about visual novels or behind the scenes looks at animation studios.

I will be watching… (Summer 2017)

It’s almost upon us… Summer 2017! The most wonderful time of the year. I’m quietly cautious about this season as there’s not that much for me personally to get hyped for. Usually there are a few sequels or a few manga adaptations I’ve been waiting for (as was the case in the winter) but looking through the titles which will be coming out in just under two weeks I’m not sure if there’s too much for me to pick up. Alas, this is what I will be watching although I’m sure that after the first week I will have culled at least a third of this list.

  • A Centaur’s Life – This is one where I read the first three manga volumes of just over a year ago and completely fell in love with its charm. The series is like a blend between Demi-chan wa Kataritai and Oshiete! Galko-chan where it focuses on monster girls as they go through puberty and start thinking about their adult lives. I fully expect it to be a short series but I can’t find any information on how long each episode will be. Just like Oshiete! Galko-chan I can’t really find anybody else talking about this or see them paying much attention to it which is a shame.
  • Ballroom e Youkoso – A sports show? Sign me up. A sports show who’s sport is ballroom dancing? Sign me the fuck up. *Please be good please be good*. I have absolutely no doubt the only reason the manga got an anime adaptation was due to the success of Yuri on Ice but I just hope this show is able to bring something new to the table and improve on where Yuri on Ice went wrong. Also Production I.G is the studio behind it and I have complete confidence that they know what they’re doing with sports shows what with Kuroko no Basuke, Haikyuu, Diamond no Ace and Prince of Tennis all under their belt.
  • Dive!! – Look, I don’t have a sports bias I promise. A swimming show featuring cute boys. No, it’s not Free. I’m mainly watching this to see if it can provide a semi-decent story and beautiful animation. If it turns out to be a sub-par version of Free which is only marketed at fangirls then it’ll be an immediate drop. Plus I don’t like anything the studio has made so I’m not expecting perfection.
  • Isekai Shokudou – Seems from it’s synopsis to be a rather charming slice of life show about other worldly creatures coming to this restaurant, however I can’t find it being described as a slice of life anywhere. To my surprise and immense interest one of its genre tags is ‘mystery’. I would have picked this up for the slice of life aspect anyway but this has just made the whole series seem ten times more intriguing.
  • Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni. – Oh great, another one of the ‘oh no I’m trapped in another world and all these cute girls flock to me like I’m the second coming of Jesus Kirito’ shows. I’m told that the light novel is a lot more of a parody of the genre, like KonoSuba which in a way makes me a little more critical. It looks like a lot of the shows this season have only been made because of the recent successes of series which are like them. Again this is another one which I will have to drop if it doesn’t do anything unique or just becomes a poor man’s KonoSuba. 
  • Kakegurui – Okay so this is something I am genuinely looking forward to. The show is set in a strange school with very high stakes and teaches its students using a very unique curriculum (nothing unique about it so far…) which focuses on gambling. Think Food Wars but with gambling. The show has the potential to be something truly smart and, if done the way I think it will be done, could be in the running for anime of the season.
  • Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama-kun – Look, I swear I watch things other than sports shows. It seems like a much more comedic show, however, and I think it will be more just about the titular character and his wacky personality. Optimistic for this one to deliver on its promise to be first a foremost a comedy show with the sports aspect as a platform for the comedy.
  • Koi to Uso – Simple romance anime in a school blah blah blah. What’s that? Once you turn sixteen the government chooses who your ‘mate’ will be? Sign me right up. I just hope it’s not melodrama. If it is a melodrama then it really doesn’t need to have such a unique and interesting plot like this. Please don’t devolve into the depths of shojo hell.
  • Made in Abyss – This wasn’t on my radar at all and to be honest I had no idea it existed until I watched the PV. Boy am I glad I watched that. It’s an adorable adventure story focusing on an orphan girl and the boy robot she finds in a cave. By god does it look charming.
  • New Game!! (Sequel) – Possibly the only ‘safe’ pick I have for this season. If this season of the show can capture even a sliver of what made the previous season so fun and charming then this’ll be a contender for anime of the season, especially with what little competition  it has.

 

Yup that’s it for TV series. I may pick up some new stuff depending on if they’re pleasant surprises or depending on availability in my country. Some of these series will definitely be dropped along the way also. Oh god did I name ten series. I did. Did I just inadvertently make a top ten list?
In terms of films I’ll be trying to look out for opportunities to watch the new No Game No Life movie and Mary to Majo no Hana which looks like something I would expect from Studio Ghibli.

Yowamushi Pedal is unable to portray excitement

I love sports shows. I love the characters in Yowamushi Pedal and as such I find myself liking the series quite a bit. The large portion of the races are fun and dramatic, especially when we see new tactics or abilities of players we have not seen a lot from before. Its biggest selling point to sports anime fans is that it focuses on a unique sport not often seen in anime (if at all) and as such is supposed to provide a new brand of excitement and intrigue when showing the sport.

Unfortunately, it fails.

The way the show portrays the important showdowns between its characters or the ‘nail-biting’ finish to a race is by zooming in on the characters somehow moving their legs even faster than before and then cutting to close-ups of their faces as they shout in anguish for a few minutes and then finally cutting to a shot of one of their bikes making it over the finish line. For me, the most exciting parts of the show are during the middle of the race and leading up to the finish line where it shows subtle gear changes, posture changes or inner monologues to clue the viewer into what is happening. Even the finale of the sprint and mountain mini-races do it better than the overall finale as at least then all the characters taking part actually have unique, well-established riding styles such as Makishima’s spider-like posture and Onoda’s high cadence. These scenes are a lot more interesting because they take their time in setting up a conclusion where we can understand the reasoning why one of the characters won and understand their strengths and weaknesses when matched up against one another. Unlike the big finales of races they do not devolve into shouting matches and the viewer is often left wondering why a certain rider actually won. We are given little in the way of explanations behind the abilities of the teams’ aces and why a particular one won on any given race. To be honest, I’d even take a small exposition dump at the end of a race by one of the characters if it explained just why what happened happened. Because no matter which team got advantages during the race it always somehow becomes neck-and-neck up to the finish line.
Why? Is it because the show doesn’t know how to produce enough hype around the ending? Is it because the characters fail to get enough development in the source material for the show to make their wins seem satisfying or their losses seem devastating? Other sports shows, such as Haikyuu, do a great job of making us feel sorry for even teams when they lose, even ones that make up the supporting cast. But it doesn’t help when Yowamushi Pedal can’t even give arguably its most important character enough development or explanation of his abilities to make us understand what’s going on. This is of course, Shingo who is the one who (at least for the first two seasons) is the captain and person the rest of the team tries to get in a good position so that he can finish the race in first place. The team constantly talks about how important it is to get him in the best possible position to finish the race. So much focus is put on the actual journey that hardly any is put on the ending. I can’t tell you for the life of me what Shingo’s abilities are and why he is touted as the most important rider on his team. Actually, y’know what, I’ll look on the wiki and see if there’s anything on there which explains all this. Bear with me…

He is known as the “Snake of the Stone Path” (sekidou no hebi) due to his determination to tail and overtake opponents. His perseverance has also earned him the nickname of the “Man Who Will Never Give Up” (zettai ni akiramenai otoko). He has impressive bike maneuverability, illustrated when he makes a tight U-turn while riding at full speed in order to catch Onoda from falling onto the gutter. He controls his bike like it’s an extension of his own body.

– Yowamushi Pedal Wiki, Kinjou Shingo

This tells me nothing. It explains nothing. The biggest takeaways are that he has determination and is good at moving his bike. That’s the exact same as everyone else in this goddamn series. See, the show knows this. It knows we have no reason to believe he could ever be considered special in this series or that he could win a race if his competitors had actual abilities so the show hides this by ass-pulling scenarios where he can catch up and devolve into shaky animation and loud music/voice acting to create the illusion of excitement. It also makes sure that his rival captain/ace is just as underdeveloped as he is and that the antagonist of the series – Midousuji – gets completely neutered by the end of the race even though the show spent a good majority of the second series building him up as the strongest racer there.

That’s my other problem with the show and how it doesn’t portray excitement in its finale: the lack of real competitors. I’ll use two of my favourite sport anime as examples – Kuroko no Basuke and Haikyuu. In Kuroko no Basuke there are a good six well-established teams which have a real shot at winning before going into it’s final competition and in Haikyuu there are four or five teams well established as strong and have had their team strengths showcased before going into the big tournament. In Yowamushi Pedal there’s the three aces who only come into play at the very end of each race. Granted Midousuji is a larger player in the whole of season two but really just breaks before the finale so that the two main teams are really the only ones in proper contention.

Don’t misunderstand me here though, I am not saying that you are wrong to like this show or that you are wrong to think that it cannot provide entertainment. I have conceded at the start that there are major things in the show that I like. It’s just that whilst viewing it a second time round in preparation for the third season that I noticed just how uninteresting the show becomes near the finale of races, near where it has no choice but to focus on its least interesting and most underdeveloped characters and where it uses still frames and jump cuts instead of the fluid and overall much cooler animation for other parts.

In defence of slice of life and why they’re not the same as comedies

Ah slice of life. The genre in anime which is as over-saturated as it is criticised. Most of these criticisms boil down to “well, nothing happens it doesn’t have a story” or something else which irritates me to no end: “the comedy in these shows aren’t funny.” NO. Stop. You’re putting forth a very specific criticism for a slice of life show that happens to also be a comedy. You are not criticising the slice of life genre as a whole.

My own personal definition of a slice of life show is one that has to be propelled forwards by its cast. The story has to be very character driven and spend most of its time getting us so attached to the characters, their relationships with each other and the fun/struggles/drama that comes in their daily lives that we want to watch the next episode of the show and also the next episode of their lives. Good slice of life shows have made me want to continue experiencing the journey of these characters in the next part of their lives and so it’s not strange that some of my favourite overall casts in shows have been those belonging to slice of life ones. The other part of this would be that the show also shouldn’t have that much of an overarching plot. Now I know that this seems like I am trying to agree with the stereotype that ‘slice of life has no plot’ but hear me out when I mean overarching. Having a story is fine, and necessary, but the story arcs should be just that – story arcs. They should be about our characters and each episode should try and further their small arcs until we reach their conclusion at the end of the show. These arcs could be concluded all by the same event or decision which the show has been leading up to and this can give the illusion that there is an overarching plot and give the illusion that the show is not in fact slice of life but these loose ‘plot devices’ (I use this term for a lack of better words to convey what I want to say) are just tools to wrap up the character stories in a fitting conclusion that feels satisfying to the viewer.

I’m aware these two requirements are very loose and could include shows that you and the majority of people do not agree are slice of life shows and exclude shows which are marketed as slice of life. But I’ll be happy to show you exactly what I mean by using a few examples:

  • Clannad and Clannad: After Story – Not comedy shows and are more focused on the drama and romance between the characters and use it’s supernatural story elements to facilitate the character’s arcs.
  • Kokoro Connect – I like to consider this show a lesser Clannad as I would explain it in exactly the same way as I explained Clannad. About the characters. Uses its supernatural story elements (the characters switching bodies) to further the characters in their understanding of each other. Also not a comedy although has comedic moments.
  • Cowboy Bebop – Yeah. Don’t get angry. I know Cowboy Bebop has what many would consider a ‘main story’ across it’s largely episodic run but this is mainly pushed to the sidelines for most of the show. I believe there is only around six or seven episodes that actually focus on this ‘main story’. The rest of the episodes exist to show us literal slices of the characters’ lives and the main takeaway at the end of an episode is that the episode was just a small event in the life of the characters. That they will live their lives out as normal. That they have seen this shit all before. Not a comedy.
  • Mushishi and Natsume – I pair these together as they largely have the same style of telling their stories. Again very episodic which contributes to the feeling that we are only seeing portions of the lives of our main characters. Lacks an overall story other than the general premise of the series and is more focused on the characters’ individual stories. Natsume more than Mushishi does start to focus on the relationships between the title character and the supporting cast as this is part of his character arc. Also not comedies.
  • Nana – I mean c’mon. Nana practically wrote the book on how to create interesting characters and using them to create a character driven story. Not really a comedy although it’s labelled as one.

I think I’ve made my point here. Another interesting thing to point out is that all of the shows I used as examples here are often touted as some of if not the best slice of life anime in existence (with the exception of Cowboy Bebop and Kokoro Connect which doesn’t have nearly as much praise as the others on this list). And they’re also not comedy shows. So we have five of the best slice of life series of all time and they just happen to not focus on comedy and also happen to have a lot of story to them. That seems strange for a genre where “nothing happens other than comedy”. Granted, the genre does have an immense over-saturation of school comedies without a plot but these are unfortunate by-products and should not be used to define a whole genre of worthwhile shows. Hell I’ve seen at least one of Clannad, Nana or Mushishi on practically everyone’s favourite anime of all time lists. The genre must be good for something.