Early Impressions: Koi wa Amaegari no You ni

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Three episodes in, it’s as fragile in its elegance as the manga is.

Stiff. Animation, story, characters; all these qualities and more can accurately be described to a major extent with that word. Basic movement is a little stutter-y, narrative is as slow and cryptically loaded as a slow-moving series can provide, and the characters lean just a little too heavily on their one convenient persona. Let’s laugh at the guy who has a thing for Tachibana! Let’s laugh at how awkward Kondo is! Let’s feel slight pity for how listless Tachibana is in life due to her injury! Stiff. (more…)

Disney’s Priorities Destroyed The Last Jedi’s Potential

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So let’s do something a little extravagant. We’re gonna mix elements of a formal review, an opinion piece, and an off-the-walls personal document! We’ll pick it apart, while also talking about my unbridled hatred for Disney. It’s the signature(?) brand of comedic, messy writing one comes to expect when reading from my blog. (more…)

Entry #18: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, from somewhere over the rainbow.)

Imagine, if you will, a stone. This stone has been sitting, completely motionless, on the untainted soil of a far-off rural place for decades. No fear of nature or mankind can deter the stone from moving from its spot upon the isolated plain. Resolute in its stature, it occupies the space it feels true to embody, comfortable in its blissful state of hibernation. Such time has passed and the stone never wavers—no wind so strong or bouts of irrigation too severe could stir the rock from its rightful place. Forever holding, always withstanding. The stone carries on wordlessly, motionless.

Now let me ask you a question: after imagining that short snippet, full of pseudo-intellectual musings and blunt determination, do you care at all about that stone? No, of course you don’t. Because it’s a fucking stone.

Shigatsu no Kimi no Uso is a lot like that stone, carrying forth in its stationary state. With it comes the most prominent flaw that, perhaps excusable, effectively destroys everything this anime hopes to accomplish: it’s artificial. It’s fake. It’s not real. It’s a mirage, an illusion, a decoy, insufficient in its authenticity. Like the stone, it is not worth caring for; and like the stone, it carries on regardless.

These characters, this story that they’re placed in. Their thoughts, their motivations, their actions, the way symbolic things seem to just happen out of circumstance. Everything feels so forcibly overindulgent, so egotistically self-serving that it damn near insults me that it tries to parade itself as this David among anime. Its atmosphere is repugnant, devoid of the soft touch necessary to really provoke the harrowing themes presented in a relatable and realistic tone. Very few times does it succeed in allowing what it tries too hard to evoke truly unravel in an un-condescending fashion.

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In short, the characters do not feel real. The setting does not feel real. Shigatsu in its entirety feels like a carefully constructed ruse to manipulate the audience into caring about puppets in human clothing. A lot of this is attributed to the writing, which is atrocious. Constantly whispering the most overdramatic cues, things that the viewer can perfectly see without the use of words—oh, how this anime adores to listen to itself speak. There’s too much jabbering, too much emphasis on telling the viewer exactly what to think and how to feel, instead of letting the imagery speak for itself. Like the author was scared that a moment without obvious self-reflection through monologue would tear down the foundation of their beautiful sanctuary of a drama. If these characters could go a single moment without thinking about how pitiful their existence is, perhaps it wouldn’t be so obvious that everything will be okay by the end.

This hostile nature shows through even more about halfway through the series, when the arc of the male lead in a sense “concludes” and focuses more on the side-characters, none of whom I care about. The exploration of the childhood friend’s attraction to the male lead is so boring, so unfulfilling that I almost wonder if I’m watching a completely different series. On its own, I wouldn’t complain nearly as much, but these characters… they’re all so mirrored by their ideals and/or character archetypes that they may as well not even try. Being that they’re a part of this series, with this writing and this atmosphere, makes their development doomed to fail—in the most melodramatic and self-introspective way possible.

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But then there are outliers: the rival pianists opposite the male lead. Initially, they’re the same manner of puppetry as everyone else, but as the series progresses and the three begin to see the way in which they improve one another as musicians, it becomes… actually worthwhile. The scene in which the three sit down and enjoy egg sandwiches together (IF NOT FOR THE WRITING MAKING THEM SPOUT UNNECESSARY SHIT THAT IS PERFECTLY OBVIOUS TO THE EYE) is actually heartwarming, and made me somewhat wonder how the series would’ve fared if they cut out the romance aspects (as in cutting blondie and childhood friend out completely) and focused on pure competition arcs. After all, the competitions were the points where the anime became… not-as-obnoxious-but-still-somewhat-obnoxious.

Despite all that I complained about previously and the still withstanding hostility present with the series, the writing and the atmosphere are the only things that really drag this series down. Large aspects as they are, they’re the only things that can be seen as major flaws with the series. Not to mention, these aspects are almost frustratingly controversial, as what I see as overdramatic, others could see as necessary. What I see as puppets for characters, others could see as characters with genuine heart and complexity. These aspects are the only things I feel can be combated with this series, at least from a technical aspect. Everything else ranges from “alright” to truly spectacular.

Most prominently, and perhaps most important to this series’s success (from a cynic’s viewpoint) is the wonderful animation. Shigatsu is a gorgeous anime, one cannot deny that. The designs are a great blend of realistic and typical anime, highlighting facial features such as lips and cheeks and what-not. Even more so, animation is fairly consistent in being top-of-the-line. When the series wants to convey the feelings of the characters, it can absolutely do so. Some of the most beautiful representations of emotions can be found here, if not trying to compete against the writing. If the series would just stop talking, a lot of these moments could become fantastically immersive.

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Here’s a controversial statement: I liked the comedy in this series. Well, that statement isn’t entirely accurate. It’s not that the comedy is particularly funny, but it’s spirited and animated with such energy that I can’t help but find it charming. It reminds me a lot of Miman Renai and a little of Kill la Kill‘s bouncy exuberance. Obviously the mood is different here, but it features much of the same over-the-top absurdity that makes it fun despite it. This also made me wonder how the series would’ve fared if it decided to be a slice-of-life comedy instead of a hyper-mega-force drama. Is it a bad sign that I keep imagining what a series would be like if it wasn’t the series it already was?

Essentially, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is a stone that tries to become the most pitiful and moving stone to ever grace the earth. Except it’s a stone, an inanimate object, that only the biggest treehuggers would care for. Obviously, the accolades and popularity surrounding this anime makes my opinion on it within the minority, but that’s the cost of being within a demographic so keen on empathy. I guess you could say it’s THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! at work, performing overtime, on Thanksgiving, on every planet in the solar system.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C

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

Entry #10: The ‘Aria’ Series (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by Sango.)

This post will feature the series Aria the Animation, Aria the Natural, and Aria the Origination, and none of the OVAs or specials that go along with them. While I will not go over each of them individually, I will cover all three in a somewhat chronological order. The order I placed them above is the correct chronological order of events.

Longtime readers of my blog are very aware of how little I tend to care for slice-of-life series. While I find nothing wrong with them generally, they’re usually shrugged aside as inconsequential entertainment that doesn’t hold a lot of objective merit. Among my favorite titles within the genre include K-ON! and Kobayashi-chan, and neither surpass a 7/10 on the rating scale. Both are also not “pure” slice-of-life titles, employing a number of different genre clichés in both (moe and comedy, especially). “Pure” slice-of-life titles are even more inconsequential to me, as I’m not one fond of going through the normal struggles of life at a reasonable pace with nothing to go on but that. The idea itself sounds tediously dull. To this day, I don’t think there’s been a single “pure” slice-of-life title I’ve seen that made me think, “Gee, I’m really glad I watched this.”

Cue Aria.

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I’ve been defeated. After all these years of thinking the genre was an overrated niche for only a small subset of fans, I have been shown the light, the beautiful, tranquil brightness that glows within the soul of a truly wonderful series. I had heard good things about the series beforehand, but I really wasn’t expecting to be this overwhelmed, especially with a slice-of-life! A group of cute girls giving gondola rides to people on a Venice-inspired plain of Mars three-hundred years in the future that offers such riveting plotlines as “Delivering mail for mailmen,” “Visiting Grandma,” and “Reminiscing about the past” ends up with a higher rating in my list than Steins;GateCode Geass (Season One), and Kimi no Na wa. Amazing.

However, this torrid love affair didn’t start quickly, as Animation was bit more dull than anything else. It served to lay out the foundations of character relationships and the importance of future events in a single cour, but not much else. Rather, a lot of the characters within the debut season seemed more one-dimensional in hindsight, with not a lot of attention to the more tender methods of developing the main cast as it probably should, instead settling more for the world around them. Perhaps this was a necessary evil for the events to come, but it certainly didn’t help the overall charter of amusement on my part.

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Indeed, what was, at first, a pleasant but unfulfilling series of viewing a world both like and unlike our own in a different light would eventually become something of a surprise underdog. I left Animation with the promise (from Sango) that Natural would flourish into something beautiful to behold. At first, it didn’t come to fruition, but as the episodes passed by, I grew more fond of the characters, their interactions, their little quirks, and the way the series highlighted their individual efforts in the realm of their environment. All that was built in Animation was not for naught, as Natural picks up on both the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor to make something assuredly sublime.

Origination then takes what Natural threw down, lifts it with one strong heave, and slams it upon the chamber that holds my heart and demolishes my expectations for what a slice-of-life series can accomplish. On top of receiving a nice touch-up on sleekness of design and animation, Origination becomes the most emotionally-poignant and satisfying entry in the series, and is, though somewhat rushed, among the best finishes to a series I’ve seen within the anime medium. All that these girls worked towards, all that they experienced, all that they cherished and feared and believed, finally becomes a reality—in all of its bittersweet brilliance. While no tears were shed, the rockets of empathy soared onward, as high than few others were able to achieve.

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It’s truly satisfying to see these little episodes, which mean nothing on the surface, come back to become a splendorous part of the characters daily lives. The problem with series like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo is that while their episodic adventures with different characters help develop the main characters, they seem like simple memories that leave little for the viewer to care about outside of those leads’ developments. One doesn’t care for those that helped them get there. Circumstances prevent from showing more of these one-off characters, as I understand, though in Aria, they return and, at times, play semi-important parts in other situations. They becomes a recurring part of the leads’ worlds, people who care about them and give them a semblance of unity that is so, so rarely executed well. The feeling is the closest to “tranquil” as I’ve ever experienced, and Aria’s atmosphere is nothing but.

However, Aria does suffer from one very fragile (and debatable) flaw: it’s dull. It’s not always dull, but it has this very thin layer of entertainment that makes it fairly hard to fully pay attention with outside distractions. Some episodes, I’m in a quiet room with little movement and the episodes (depending on the scenario) are easy to immerse myself in. Others, someone is playing Super Smash Bros. in the background and it becomes really hard to pay attention. The slow, methodical approach to building these underlying feelings and motivations is charming, but to go from one episode to another with practically no change gives my inner desire for something exuberant, bouncy, and colorful room to complain. To have basically anything occur during, the focus becomes a challenge, and no matter how good the series is, that remains an unfortunate fact. Its slow pace can be a buzzkill for plenty.

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Other little nitpicks could apply to some serious criticism, though none feel worth really nagging about. For the sake of analysis, I’ll display them briefly:

  • Alicia is incredibly bland for all of Animation and most of Natural. Improves in Origination. Her “My, my” shtick is super irritating.
  • Aika’s infatuation with Al seems unwarranted. I don’t understand what makes him so attractive to her. His sexy shortness?
  • If Athena’s clumsiness is supposedly controllable (Amnesia episode), why does she not control it more often? Wouldn’t that be more productive for her? Was the series afraid she wouldn’t be herself without that one shtick?
  • The series could’ve used more focus on Woody and Pony Man.

All in all, a surprisingly impactful series that launched itself to my current favorite for the Summer so far. My scores for this series overall likely would’ve been higher if Animation wasn’t so middle-of-the-road. As it is, the series does a wonderful job of developing its characters, and giving their words and actions meaning to the grand scheme of things. It’s slow, unenthusiastic (relatively), and doesn’t pop outside of the leads’ hair colors. Aria does what it wants to do the way it wants to do it. Because it sticks to this plan, it ends up becoming something really special.

Personal Score: B

Critical Score: B+

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

Thoughts on Nichijou

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Small disclaimer: the images placed within this post were found via Google search.

Nichijou is the quintessential comedy/gag anime for the current generation. Loaded with wacky reaction faces, overexaggerated freak-outs, and random resolutions, it has the components to be one of the most recognizable comedy anime out there. And it has, to some degree, attained a cult following across the message boards, becoming infamously tied to 4chan as common reaction images/gifs. Chances are, if one were browsing online for anime-related posts and images, Nichijou would probably be the first, second, and last couple images one would find. For what that’s worth, it makes watching this anime feel almost like a myth of legend.

If one were to judge Nichijou as a genre, I think it does its job well enough. I’ve found myself smirking at a few of the situations presented to me, while also being charmed by some of the interactions between Mio and Yuuko. The amount of energy and timing with the jokes are a vast point in its favor, creating an environment where nothing is off the table. As a comedy, the point is to make the audience laugh. I believe Nichijou won’t have much of a problem doing that for most people. However, I am not “most people.”

One of the major flaws I found in One Punch Man was that it repeatedly told the same joke over and over again with little variation surrounding the intended purpose of said joke. Similarly, Undertale had a single focal point that it based its humor around, much in the same vein as One Punch Man: breaking expectations. It’s funny because it’s not what you expected to happen if it were taken realistically. Nichijou is another one of those shows where the primary focus of the humor, aside from overexaggerating emotions and blank stares, is to break the viewer’s expectations. The scientist made all of these revolutionary machines that interact with the human world but she’s a little kid who acts like an idiot??? A teacher tries to give off an air of maturity and responsibility but is actually emotionally immature and prone to being hasty with his decisions??? If I were to devise a guide book for this series, rule #1 would read as follows: “If a character says ‘This would never happen,’ it will likely happen within the next few seconds.”

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Giving credit to where it’s due, Nichijou isn’t the most one-dimensional comedy I’ve seen—however it still remains so narrow in its path that one can’t help but grow tired of the series by its halfway point (or in my case, the 33%-way point). It becomes one of those “Either you love it or you hate it” situations, where if you enjoy this series’s comedy as if it were gospel, there’s no issue, but if you don’t, there’s not a lot left there to give you. Its primary focus is comedy, and while its determination to stick with that is admirable, a little effort in developing characters and their relationships with one another would also be appreciated. Nichijou does this to some minimal attempt, but still layers it within the confines of its comedy, evoking a sense of faux pas to go along with the viewer’s understanding of genuine development. Even so, any indication of development among the characters doesn’t occur until around the halfway point, and assuming you’re even paying attention by that point, it may be too little, too late.

While the comedy isn’t for everyone, the commitment to making its brand of comedy as comedic as comedically possible is something well worth praising. Animation and voice acting(!) are Nichijou‘s bread and butter. Some may not be accustomed to the bland blockiness of the character designs, but I like the non-serious tone they evoke while simultaneously giving them a distinct style. Design, as distinct as it is, looks childish compared to the overall quality of animation. Going above and beyond to make every joke as bombastic and otherworldly as possible, whether it be body slamming goats, shooting lasers through planets, or creating entire scenarios only to reveal it to be a dream, Nichijou has the weapons available to rival One Punch Man in terms of flashy, all-out animation. The icing on the cake is the voice acting, which is perfectly suited to the wacky situations present. There’s a particular scene where Mio is sitting in the classroom when Yuuko arrives with lunch, only to find out it’s nothing like Mio asked her to bring. This proceeds into a four to five minute argument between the two with nary a break within that span. The argument was so heated that I couldn’t take my eyes away, and my ears were assaulted with the high-pitched squeals and almost comedic yelling between the two. Their seiyuus have some serious chops if they managed to go through that entire scene without a break. Now I wonder how many takes it took them to get it just right. Nevertheless, it was impressive.

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I’d just like to dedicate this paragraph to the character I find the least likable/appealing in the entire anime: the kid professor. I have never liked the stereotype/cliché of a child genius, especially when they act as if they aren’t a genius at all. Perhaps I’m ignorant of the subject, but wouldn’t that high level of intelligence imply the understanding of things such as “maturity” or “decency”? Not being able to control emotions, I can understand. Acting like a spoiled kid and prioritizing sweets and not understanding why she can’t always have them doesn’t give me the “genius” impression. I realize it’s part of the show’s humor, but it’s a long-standing feud I have with the idea, one that has yet to show me anything aside from “They’re revolutionary in their field but off the job they’re really kinda stupid???” I’m sure someone will argue with me on this, saying “Okay! Shooting lasers through planets because a dog bit you on the leg is fine, but a child genius acting spoiled is too unrealistic?!” I just don’t like her, man! Sakamoto’s a cool cat, though.

Characters are a bit of an interesting case of analysis. Most of the characters are jokes, but still give off the vibe of normal people. Usually, they’re either jokes, normal people, or a combination of both. Mio is more of a normal person, while still somewhat of a joke, while Yuuko is more of a joke, but still somewhat of a normal person. Their friend Mao is entirely a joke. This main group of three makes a delightful trio of comedy troops, assuming you like the comedy. If not, their closeness is still prevalent, depending on the situation. At times, one has to wonder why Mio puts up with them, especially during the scenes where they “help” her with her manga-making, but other times they seem like they couldn’t be closer. This is a very limited window, however, as most of the time it’s just comedy. Most of the characters most of the time are mostly jokes. They may act like normal characters, but how can one not be a joke with a blonde mohawk? It’s a target on the chest.

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Because it is so one-dimensional, Nichijou‘s most present flaw is whether or not it can rope in viewers with its comedy. The mood doesn’t encourage a lot of development or emotional empathy with the characters. Most of the empathy relies on relating to the situations happening… in absurd ways, but they’re happening regardless. Any attempt they make to be sweet or impactful is hard pressed, as the viewer will come to expect a joke or some gag to pop up to ruin said moment, only to be confused when it doesn’t happen. Kind of like giving a dog a treat every hour for a few days, then randomly stop upon the fifty-seventh hour, only to start up again an hour afterwards. It’s disjointing to try and create a sudden atmosphere of closeness between characters when they’ve always been a joke and nothing but. Some have better success than others, though I can only recall a single moment where a scene genuinely touched me.

As said before, Nichijou is a “love it or hate it” kind of series. Its focus is on comedy and little else, creating a safe space of humor for those who revel in the genre. If one doesn’t find that humor charming or at all funny, then it’s not something worth watching. That one-dimensional mindset is risky business, as it can result in the series being labeled either a very successful comedy or a very boring anime. At least it has 4chan‘s support.

The rating for these titles and all others can be found on MyAnimeList.