Entry #9: Koukoku no Shugosha (SoM 2018)

koukoku no shugosha 1

I really wasn’t fond of this manga early on. My feelings were in murky conflict as I fought to diversify my Summer with different sorts of genres and tones, instead of endlessly indulging in cute/stupid romances. There are times when I try to charge forward in spite of my disinterest, thinking it will do me good. In this case, the opening chapters did little to bring me out of my funk. About a third of the way through got me pretty invested. (more…)

Day Eleven: Kindergarten Cop (MotM 2018)

kindergarten cop

A former flame of mine adored this film. She gasped in terror when I had told her I’d never seen it. Combine that with the surprisingly positive general consensus of the films among moviegoers, Kindergarten Cop became just interesting enough for me to include in this year’s March. But I had my prejudices; the film reeked of heavily-sentimental family films my Grandma would own and watch with me as a kid, completely ignoring the formulaic cues of plot progression and the less nuanced execution of development of any kind. Turns out I was half-wrong: Grandma would not have this in her VHS collection. It makes too many raunchy sex references for her to approve. (more…)

Entry #27: Mai-HiME (SoA 2017)

mai-hime

(Recommended by not-so-plain pasta, completing her recommendation trifecta.)

Thoughts will be quick, mostly because there’s little to say.

Mai-HiME is one of those old-fashioned anime that go by a set of clichés to formulate their story and characters. If comparisons can be made, it reminds me slightly of Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water, slightly of older JRPG titles, and slightly of Hanbun Tsuki ga Noboru Sora. It’s light-hearted when it wants to be and tremendously overdramatic when it has to be. Anyone not a fan of a lot of forced sex jokes/misunderstandings (like me) need not apply, though if one is willing to push past this, there’s a whole lot of darker themes lying in wait.

However, these dark themes are not presented in an interesting way—rather, much of this series isn’t presented in an interesting way. When not seriously cringing at whatever mood Mai-HiME wanted to convey, I had my head in my hand, fighting off the desire to close my eyes. It’s so, so, so formulaic that any veteran of the industry would rather be watching anything else that has done the shtick better. It ends up becoming the fatal flaw: there is nothing really unique here, only things that have been done before a thousand times in other settings.

Though this remains so, it’s not without spirit. I was slightly surprised by how certain things arose within the plot, as well as how well-handled the last few episodes were (until the retcon halfway through the final episode). My emotional state through most of the series was flatlined, yet the last few episodes had me intrigued in a way that the rest of the series couldn’t achieve, and left me with a generally good impression. Not good enough to recommend the series, but enough to think, “Hrmm. I could watch this again without wanting to scratch my eyes out.”

Painfully overdramatic, woefully unoriginal, forgettable to a fault; all of these describe the experience of Mai-HiME. Its saving graces lie within the very occasional points where the plot becomes appealing enough to override the level of ridiculousness and angst. Characters and art mean little to how gargantuan a presence the plot has on the entire series, such that everything bows to its influence like a religious idol. When that idol is uninteresting, everything else crumbles under the weight of its expectations.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C-

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Quick Thoughts on Renai Boukun

renai boukon 3

It’s one of those shows. You know it the moment you see the cover. One of those shows where you look and immediately think, “This is gonna be pretty dumb.” That is the only context you need going in, because it will not leave you disappointed. Renai Boukun is pretty dumb.

That is its only merit. It is stupid fun for the sake of it. Should it have been that way all throughout, perhaps I would’ve liked it more. Much to my dismay, Renai Boukun gets ahead of itself and tries to take itself… seriously… by its final two episodes. Lord, have mercy on my soul, for thou hath given me a sumptuous pillar of sin.

It’s dumb fun, and that’s all it will ever be. So to try and incorporate serious dramatics into a series devoid of all seriousness, the series is effectively ruined. Love, bonding, character development; all that is a foreign concept that shouldn’t be trifled with. Should one throw fish on land? Should one try and put pigs in the sky? These things, these concepts, just do not exist. They do not happen. Without proper balance, neither does the dumb insanity, riddled in fan service, work with what Renai Boukun’s serious questions on love and commitment by its final episodes. The viewer couldn’t possibly take it seriously, and I would argue the series wouldn’t either.

The biggest asset to the anime’s arsenal is its almost parody-like aloofness. Harems are not normally subtle, but Renai Boukun takes every cliché and makes it seem necessary to its “plot.” It’s fairly intoxicating to see a series so willing to dine in on every meal on the menu without hesitation. Its expressiveness and enthusiasm isn’t entirely rare, but it serves itself well when it plays itself off as a play on its genre. But to then change course and have its cake and eat it, too, it effectively sabotages its chances of being, how should I say, ironically wonderful. Almost in a Cat Planet Cuties or Ladies vs. Butlers! kind of way.

There’s a lot to be said about how little can be said. Any more and I run the risk of overexplaining the obvious—that being that Renai Boukun screwed itself into being something almost transcendingly pleasurable. In a guilty way, of course. Initially, it almost seemed like one of those dumb series I could look back on fondly and reminisce about its wackiness. Now, it’ll be lucky to not fall within the category of “Oh, yeah. I watched that once.”

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.

Entry #2: NANA (SoA 2017)

nana 1

(Recommended by Sango.)

I’ve had this series on my radar for a long while now, what with its unusually high average rating and episode count. It seemed to exude a confidence not many anime series outside the Shounen tag contain. A rare case of a four-cour series, and a Shoujo no less, its popularity as both an anime and a manga are astounding within the ani-community. Of course, the episode count was what kept me away all these years, though I always wondered when and where I would eventually take the dive. “When” became June 1st and “where” became my basement. Alright then.

The most prominent thing about NANA is that it is, in every sense of the word, a typical Shoujo. Female leads with male sidekicks, lots of emphasis on love, romance, and introspection; lots of screen filters, and character design is very tall and lean. There is very little difference on a base level between this anime and, say, Lovely Complex. One thing that differentiates it, however, is its relative lack of comedy and heavier focus on a mature-minded setting. Characters (save one) in NANA are adults with adult responsibilities and (mostly) adult mindsets. Instead of worrying about school exams and school hierarchy, they worry about paying rent and accomplishing their dreams out in the real world. Without even doing anything, one can immediately appreciate the change of pace within the genre.

Of course, execution is far more important. It’s my pleasure to say that NANA executes itself well on a variety of levels, most prominently with its characters. There’s not a single character who appears more than a few times that doesn’t feel fleshed out and entirely human. Both likable and developed, one can only dislike them for their established personality, which is especially the case for me. Some characters are more tolerable than others, with actions that may differ from the opinions of each individual viewer. One cannot say, however, that any such character isn’t in some way layered with their line of thinking as justified by their person.

nana 2

With that said, I could spend the entire entry going over each character and what they bring to the table. Instead, I will only go over three characters: Nana, Nana, and Yasu. Yes, I meant to put Nana twice, as for those unaware, the two female leads in this series are both named Nana. One is a bubbly, hopeless romantic who dreams of being loved by her prince on a white horse. The other is a rough and tough rock star who oozes charisma and punk attitude. Both get their time in the sun for long periods of time, but the bubbly Nana seems to be the more major of the two in terms of screentime. Both give ample opportunity to twist the story to their whim through their actions, resulting in a reasonably paced drama of both sweet ups and painful downs… for some time.

I really did not care for Hachiko (Bubbly Nana’s nickname) for a good part of this series. I toiled with whether or not I should criticize her borderline insane indecisiveness as a critical or personal flaw until finally settling on the latter, as her character is prominently established as a bit of an airhead. Her decision-making and constant need for love and attention causes a ton of unwarranted drama later down the line, along with her constant moping and crying—good lord, does she cry a lot! She falls for the worst of men (as she notes herself) and is way, way, way too emotional for me to empathize with. Even so, for the first twenty episodes, she was within a degree of likable exuberance that made this tolerable.

Rough Nana (No nickname) is similar only on a more conservative level. Her dependency is often hidden behind lies and hesitation. Her assertiveness is a defensive mechanism for how much tragedy she’s faced throughout her life. She’s almost a tragic hero, though her current situation isn’t comparative to her past life. This Nana is a far more interesting character, which makes it nice that she’s focused on more later on when Hachiko becomes a walking depression and drags the mood of the anime down to Hell with her. Still, I wish there was more within the time focused so prominently on Hachiko that the series could’ve delved into her perspective. For a while, she almost feels like a secondary character, with the last ten episodes or so made for Nana to become the star of the show, which is nice, but a little too late. She’s somewhat more cliché than my description of her implies, but it’s handled almost so naturally that it’s scary.

Finally, Yasu is the greatest character in this entire anime because he is “me irl.”

nana 3

What the series truly lacks that makes it less than an absolute recommendation is the way the drama is handled. For those gamers out there, recall to how frustrating it is in video games where everything is smooth sailing, only to have a boss show up and wreck havoc on your party without even trying. Those random, huge difficulty spikes that make you throw down the controller in frustration. NANA does this, too, except with quantity of drama. Around the point where Hachiko becomes associated with a certain band member, the series changes its up-and-down approach to down-and-out and repeats it tenfold. There is far too much drama at the midway point of this anime. It creates this trapping, uncomfortable aura of melodrama that suffocates the viewer, and eventually dulls their emotions to the point where they forget how to care about the characters’ harrowing situations. They cry too much, they falter too hard, they echo soft, insightful whispers for no one to hear. When one has too much to cry about, they eventually adapt to becoming apathetic.

This becomes quite apparent upon the final episode of the series, as while it would leave many within a state of disarray, I felt only a twinge of emotional purging. It ended with somewhat of a hiss, something that lets one know it’s there, but not where or why. The finale is rather open-ended, especially for a number of important (and not so important) characters. In what should’ve been an emotional farewell, I felt rather indifferent.

I could also comment more about the art, but it’s Shoujo. Look up any Shoujo manga/anime ever. There’s your art for NANA. I mean it, there’s very little differentiation on that part. Animation, however, is fairly good for the time. It has more of a color palette than those within its time, as well as a variety of different ways in expressing characters’ emotions. And for a 47-episode series that hardly ever shows signs of wear and tear, that’s rather impressive.

nana 4

As it stands, it’s a good, but not great series. Somewhat overstays its welcome and relies on drama a hair too much for anything more than a satisfying watch. It has effort and a grand atmosphere for the first-half of its run, and a number of likable and developed characters. What it lacks is the drive to finish in the same way it began, with creativity and a passion for reigning itself in. Sometimes, the biggest statements don’t have to be long, grandiose speeches. After all, to most, “I love you” are the only three words needed for true happiness.

Personal Score: B-

Critical Score: B

The rating for this title and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.