(Very) Early Impressions: Basilisk – Ouka Ninpouchou

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Three episodes in, I don’t even know how to really describe how unnecessary this feels.

Basically, the folks behind Basilisk, written over ten years ago, decided they wanted a Boruto-styled sequel series involving the children of the main duo. This makes absolutely no sense considering the ending of the original series, but I won’t get into that. Thus far, there isn’t anything particularly good about the series, but I think its average rating on MyAnimeList being close to the lowers depths of score hell is a little exaggerated, and biased. (more…)

Tekkon Kinkreet Review

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Something to admit outright concerning Tekkon Kinkreet is that its approach to storytelling is incredibly straightforward and uninspired. Its manner of trying to encourage the viewer to pay close attention to detail flashes signs of other films that came before it, especially within the last fifteen years or so. To some extent, it almost feels American, which becomes more apparent when one knows that the director behind this film is, in fact, American. While some are more than willing to excuse this, others won’t have the ability to fully empathize with the outcome because of it.

What makes it a little more than meets the eye is its (usually) stunning animation. Many times throughout the first few scenes within the setting of Treasure Town I was enthralled by how fluid, how realistic everything dazzled on-screen. It felt like a true and blue film, with the perks of having full control over the project’s structure. Stylistic choices are fairly divisive as they are, with characters appearing more human and fairly rigid in their anatomy, a far-cry from the typical anime style of large eyes and pretty women. It’s a gritty, yet magical attempt at creating a world both like and unlike our own, with a touch of fantasy to a cruelly realistic environment that shines brightly in its darkness.

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There’s something wonderfully human about this film that fascinates one’s curiosity, with a lot of attention going into human ordeals. Despite the tepid display of sci-fi and extraordinary elements, the real spectacle is one that underlies it all to contain the basic necessities of the human condition. Images of fire, aliens, flying children, and vivid daydreams persist, only to be struck down in importance by the idea that all life should find happiness in their own way, whether through positive or negative activities. If only Tekkon Kinkreet had the focus to make the film more than just another one-dimensional story.

Indeed, there is a lot to like in terms of storytelling through animation and character introspection. What makes this frustrating is that that’s all there really is to the film. Characters’ situations can be empathetic, but not so much that one is crying from their pain, cheering for their accomplishments, and riveted with their onscreen presence. They all, in some degree of affirmation, suit a single role they’re meant to play; the old nostalgic, the changing man, the light, the dark, the sin of everything before. All of these things add up into a single message of good intentions in addition to a number of one-hit symbolic jabs. Its value doesn’t quite hit the spot of emotional tranquility it tries to pursue with each passing line, lines which hold the key to understanding the images that accompany them.

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Fortunately, it has everything one could possibly need to follow comfortably: a decent major cast, intriguing visuals, and a lovely story. Containing heart may be all that’s necessary for this film, as the structure and flow come off as somewhat artificial. Not to mention, the imagery and its presentation within the darkest scenes make up somewhat for the semi-dull ordinary sequence of events. Fascinating how the symbolic make-up presents itself with the chaotic whimsy of the film’s dark-ish tone. Even with this, it only eats up a good fifteen minutes of runtime, so while the ending is intriguing, it takes quite a bit of time to build up to it.

One other condition of Tekkon Kinkreet is its inconsistency, both in terms of story and animation. Some scenes have wonderful, immensely fluid animation, while others are shaky at best. At points it almost seemed as though I was watching another ordinary scene from a 2006 romcom, without the destruction of skipped frames. Not to mention, some of the symbolic presentation is either not fully explained or explained to thoroughly. The contrast between Kuro and Shiro (Black and White) together is fairly straightforward, but apart, things that are hinted at with a single line or so become full-blown conflicts of major importance. And when not that, the images of what people are supposed to represent are flashed onto the screen as if to taunt the viewer—”Think! Think, so that you may better appreciate our efforts!” A shakiness illuminates the light of factored quality in one of two ways: fitting two into one, or cutting the two into three and placing the remains among the already loaded one. In layman’s terms, biting off more than one can chew.

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It’s more than a decent film, though I’d hesitate to call it a good one. I was swooned by its messages of good-heartedness and the complacency of its chaotic circus show. My only regret is that I could not try to interpret what may have been left behind by a less-than-proper level of enthusiasm. When I was done, it was done, and the fabric of all that was shown whisked into the chamber of forgotten ideas placed within my moistened brain. Perhaps that may be the most insulting adjective to be held by something so dearly crafted. Tekkon Kinkreet has enthusiasm, but nothing truly worth remembering outside a few key details.

Final Score: 6.5/10

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

Early Impressions: Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata ♭

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Three episodes in, it’s still pretty self-aware.

The defining traits that made me fond of SaeKano back in its debut season was the interactions between characters and the writing’s penchant for poking fun at harem cliches. Thus far, neither of these things are as charming as they were back then, with the writing feeling a little too smug and the characters not as important as they once were. To describe the experience would be akin to the time I went and saw Pitch Perfect 2 without seeing Pitch Perfect. All of the characters suited their roles with not a lick of effort in providing additional depth, perhaps justified by their effort in the first film, while the writing gave everything it expected the audience to want to come from a “successful” sequel. SaeKano 2 isn’t as monotonously uninteresting as its film comparison, but it provides a similar line of thinking.

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Ironically enough, the first season was such an up-and-down experience for me that it was just as frustrating to watch as it was meaningful. Its second season is somewhat the same, as the expectation of improving upon the original is beginning to wither, though it provides enough of a spark to think worthwhile events have yet to occur. It’s almost as though this isn’t a second season at all, rather a direct continuation of the first season, as a lot hasn’t changed for the better or worse. In a way, it’s disappointing to see how little things change. Of course, I’m only three episodes in.

Artistic expression is still prevalent and shiny, with a lot of frames becoming multi-layered in a specific color for no reason. Sexual fan service is still sprinkled throughout the episodes via angle shots of the rear and close-ups of the chest. It’s not so much that it’s exaggerated, just very targeted. I actually don’t recall sexual fan service being so recurring in the first season, though I remember a number of risque scenes. In any case, SaeKano 2 chooses to show its large female cast in a very close-up way. With solid animation and sleek designs, it’s more a benefit than anything. Its appreciation overall depends on the viewer, though.

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As noted above, characters are a tad less important so far, with Utaha hogging a lot of the spotlight in terms of importance to the plot. Others are shared within the scenes for reactions and various other shenanigans, which feel ultimately inconsequential. A fine line is set between making fun of harem tropes and embracing them, while justifying its placement by reminding the viewer that it’s a parody with an out-of-place line. Does that really justify it, though? Three episodes at my disposal, the drama the series exudes reeks of overdramatic, pseudo-intellectual harem filth. It’s possible in time Eririri and Kato will end up shining within the spotlight, but until that time, Utaha needs to calm herself and share.

Potential is still present, as up-and-down the series has been, which is surprising considering I went into it pretty hyped. To say I’m disappointed wouldn’t be entirely accurate, but my expectations have quieted as the series continued to play. Much like its first season, issues with pacing and control over what it really wants to be prevent it from being a solid recommendation. For those who enjoyed the first season, they’ll fit right at home in its second.

Early Impressions: Tsuki ga Kirei

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Three episodes in, I’m glad I went with my gut.

Tsuki ga Kirei doesn’t have the hook of things like Shingeki no Kyojin or Boku no Hero Academia. There’s no sort of group following that hyped it to no end before it premiered. It doesn’t razzle, dazzle, or splurge in any other fancy term that rhymes. What the anime embodies is the slow, gradual realization of puberty and the things that go along with it, most notably of a sexual aspect. Tsuki ga Kirei, so far, is what I expected Kyou no 5 no 2 to be. Like what I expected to enjoy with that sort of premise, I’m enjoying it tremendously here.

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Again, there is no sparkly sheen attached to this series. It’s slow, somewhat uneventful, and has no special feature that secludes it from other anime among the genre. What it does have is a realistic and adorable viewpoint of young love and trying to abide by societal norms. It’s almost like a study of human behavior between the point of childhood and adulthood, a crucial transition for any and all people of a normal capacity. As a closet romanticist, I can’t help but feel engrossed by the nervous interactions between the male and female leads. Their mannerisms dependent on the situation and place, and their consciences inwardly debating what is or isn’t the right way to speak to one another. There’s a nice subtlety with characterization that really speaks to me, telling me more than the characters need to outwardly state.

The methodical process that Tsuki ga Kirei takes prevents it from being something worth watching for people who want an easygoing slice-of-life flick. There’s no rampant humor or colorful insanity. It’s fairly grounded in its approach, so those who aren’t strictly intrigued with young love and development won’t find much enjoyment in this. Almost like letting water boil, it slowly builds itself at a reasonable pace until the heat is at the point where it requires the ingredients to cook. “Episodic” is not a term to describe Tsuki ga Kirei, as it develops naturally over the course of each episode, like going from Point A to Point B. Think of it like the transition screens in each episode of Mawaru Penguindrum.

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If there is one issue, it’s an easy choice: art and animation. It’s rather static, very rarely improving the quality of the slow crawl of the plot with any sort of exuberance. While I do like the experimentation of 3D models within a 2D space, and the sort of bright shading tones of the characters’ features, the overall animation leaves a lot to interpretation. By that, I mean there are really sudden frame skips. Its level of consistent movement rivals that of Onihei, which I’ve lamented as pretty mediocre. While it doesn’t destroy the serious(ish) nature of the anime, it does make it a little hard to appreciate at its max potential.

While still within the introductory stages, Tsuki ga Kirei has the tools to become a rather enjoyable piece. While its roof at the moment isn’t anything more than a seven or so out of ten, I’ve had hidden gems surprise me in the past (Latest example: Demi-chan). I’d definitely recommend people at least give it a shot, such that I can see it being talked about more on Twitter so I can interact with them. No bias here!

Thoughts on Bungou Stray Dogs (Season One)

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I watched this while it was airing, only to put it on-hold for nearly half a year, then finally putting it out of its misery by adding it to the “Dropped” column. Some time later, a friend of mine on MAL expressed interest in discussing the second season with me, and personally requested that I give the series another shot. I’m halfway to the destination, as I need to find the courage strength time to get through the second season. If it’s anything like the first season (I’ve heard mixed things on the topic), I’m in for one mediocre time.

One admission I’d like to make is that the series is not as bad as I remembered it to be. I can only assume I simply found no motivation to continue after putting it on-hold, as there was little about the show that really pulled me back in. Coming back to it, it wound up becoming entertaining to the most simplistic degree by being mildly energetic with its characters’ enthusiasm and development. At its base foundations, BSD has enough to assume an identity of a harmless viewing—something that neither frustrates with overexaggeration or captivates with dramatic flair.

There is but a single issue that immediately limits the quality of the anime from the first few episodes: it’s cliché.

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Anyone who has seen any Shounen ever will pick up on the tropes that BSD seems to abide by as if by law. Weak character with limitless potential, a buddy character met that changes their life (and is pretty OP), a cast of characters that interact with a playfully blunt camaraderie, and a somewhat episodic structure that gradually introduces more and more powerful danger as time moves forward. Little is done to combat the comfortable void within the anime’s soul of “ripping off” bigger and better Shounen titles, except by randomly shoe-horning classic figures. Jay Gatsby is in this anime. Not really sure why that’s a thing.

With this said, it’s really the only thing that drags the anime down. Of course, that only thing encompasses a large portion of the anime’s body. Characters, plot, animation, and more suffer from simply treading a line that’s become weary from traffic. Still, one can enjoy some of the basic things that accompany BSD, including the effort dedicated to developing characters and the energy behind the wacky faces. Wacky faces are surprisingly charming here. The constant jabber of committing suicide is stupid, but at least the way the character in question expresses it is spirited.

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An important part of Shounen is action, and yet again, it plays it by the books rather well. So much so that it’s irritatingly predictable. Very often I loathe in battles when characters snark and sneer at their opponent, relishing in their own superiority and don’t bother to finish them off from the start. It gives away too many loopholes within their strategy to the heroes so that they can “appropriately” counter-attack. An exaggerated number of times the enemies could’ve won by simply chopping off the heroes’ heads with their overwhelming strength spans in the hundreds. A less exaggerated number is about ten.

There’s also too often a time when the male lead is strong because he is. Because he relies on THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! Because he has the most OP power in existence, but can’t always control it because that would make him too OP, but everyone and their dead goldfish know it’ll come out at just the right moment. Predictable is one thing, boring is another. It’s not exclusive to the male lead, either. There’s a random female character introduced later on that goes into a warehouse full of antagonistic soldiers. She goes in guns blazing, and no joke, is fired at by about four or five armored men with machine guns for a full two seconds, and is hit once. She doesn’t move or anything, standing perfectly still, being showered with bullets from four or five different sources for extended periods of time, and is hit once. I couldn’t stop laughing.

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With as spirited as the characters and their expressions are, animation is the anime’s strong suit. Plenty of times the characters are given a number of high-quality spell sequences and kooky faces to suit the mood of the narrative (which I forgot to mention is very uneven). Animation is, for the most part, smooth and responsive, though not exactly the bee’s knees. At worst, it’s serviceable, but it’s a consistent serviceable that doesn’t lead to any strange disturbances. The powers look cool and the action is, on occasion, cruelly bloody. What more could one ask for if all else fails?

It turned out not to be the dreadful experience I figured it would be going back to it, though it could’ve certainly done better. It stands as a testament to being within a certain demographic for certain people, I assume people who love ignoring awful action sequences and pacing issues for the sake of THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! Mediocre is a suitable moniker, though I admit it’s not necessarily “bad.” Just bereft of any and all potential to be anything “good.”

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

Day Twenty: Ookami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki (MotM 2017)

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Quick disclaimer: Not a film for grieving mothers.

Jokes aside, there has been an enormous amount of positive press surrounding this film since its release in 2012. Many have compared this to works by Hayao Miyazaki, which is already setting the bar fairly high. With these kinds of expectations surrounding the film, how could I, with as rebelliously contrarian as I can be, expect to watch this without any sort of expectations? Simple: I forget the buzz. I forget everything I had previously heard about the film and watch it as if I know nothing about it. For some, this is impossible. For me, it’s rather easy, as once the lights come on and the scenes begin to roll, it’s only the film and I. Reality may as well not exist, for my perception is locked in tune with the beat of the film’s weighty instrument. It’s almost quite literally a “blocking out” method that happens the moment I become invested. Miscellaneous thoughts become irrelevant.

Wolf Children, as its dubbed in English, has everything it could possibly need to be a masterpiece, and to some extent, it is. Not often do I come across a film that simply does everything it needs to do and still flourishes in its own emotional gravity. Some could say that the only reason this film stands out as much as it does is because there’s wolf children, and wolf beings. With all respect to the film, this is somewhat true, as without that added spice, there likely wouldn’t be as much significance added to the final scenes. However, it is because it does not rely so much on the animalistic qualities that make this film so pleasantly relatable.

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When one describes this movie, what do they say? They could say it’s about wolf children growing up with their mother after the untimely death of their father. They could also say it’s the determination and spirit of a mother facing the challenges of being a mother—not just to humans, but to wolves. Excuse for a moment the furry phenomenon, how often do anime focus on being a mother? Typically the kids are the stars, but with this perspective comes a fresh angle to focus the movie on, something the likes anime only hints at in various pictures.

Pacing is a wonderful thing if done correctly. Not only does each scene receive as much length as it requires, but the effort put into adding details to symbolize things to come and things to consider should one be in that situation aids in the film’s sense of individuality. While the use of timeskips is a popular method of moving things along, Wolf Children‘s sense of time reflects something more than “moving the plot forward.” Not only does it feel natural in the sense of the setting, it also shows just how quickly kids grow up. Perhaps out of bias, being the oldest of five siblings, it astounds me how one day I look to my siblings and wonder when they became taller than me. It’s a subtle, but sweet detail that’s placed within a blanket of sweet details that the film cherishes like a hidden treasure.

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Still, sentimentally sweet can’t do much for those expecting a little more thrill. There is certainly a question as to how Wolf Children can expect to be entertaining to all audiences, especially those looking for something other than sappy fluff. In a way, it’s an acquired taste, though more in line with falling within a certain demographic. It’s slow, simmering, and relatively devoid of nail-biting drama and suspense. While things get somewhat heavy in parts, it never swerves further than a child’s ride at your local theme park. As noted before, it does all it needs to do with the materials it has, never reaching, never taking chances.

Though I may receive some heat for this, I’m not entirely thrilled with the art direction. Not with the natural setting, as each scene vibrantly boasts its spectacular attention to detail, but with character design. Each character has one color palette to their facial features, with not a lot of attention to shadowing or depth, even in places there definitely should be. This allows the characters to stand out from their fantastically detailed backgrounds like sore thumbs. Or, perhaps, like a wolf in human clothing. While animation is typically fluid throughout, there are times, especially early on, that seem a little more static than others. Some of the finer animation comes from when the wolf children are transformed and running around their home.

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Characters are also a bit of a mixed bag, though many of the major characters benefit from a strong narrative focus on their development over time. Hana, the lead character and mother to Yuki and Ame, doesn’t have much of a personality other than being a mother, but damn is she a great mother. Her determination, love for her children, and undying will to give them all they need to survive and be happy gives her enough characterization without having any distinguishable personality traits. Ame and Yuki are the characters that have unique personalities, ones which change as their expectations with who they are and what they begin to hold dear develop as they grow. It’s fascinating how Wolf Children plays with the idea of using the ploy of the children being wolves to shape their personality, and how it begins to create conflict as they adapt to the human world. Most importantly, it feels natural, and ultimately rewarding for everyone involved, even if it means making hard decisions.

If only the same could be said about minor characters, who become important at certain points of the film, only to be erased from existence when they’re no longer useful. The aura of hospitality surrounding the ultra-rural neighborhood was something I was quite fond of early on, and was unfortunate to see them let go of so soon to focus on developing Ame and Yuki. No harm could have come from showing a few scenes of concern from other villagers about Hana’s or her kids’ behavior, or having Hana go back to the aid of one of the few villagers that helped her when she first moved to town. A decent trade-off considering the way Ame and Yuki develop, if only it tried to do something more with a previously started air of union amongst town members.

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Even with the pacing, the good temperament, and the relatable characters, there’s something tremendously anticlimactic about the ending. With all the build-up leading into it, there’s a sense of abruptness that reeks underneath the ultimate emotional climax. While everything else felt natural, the “What now?” effect becomes more poignant as the credits begin to roll. It leaves a little more to be desired with what took place, especially with the side of Yuki, who had done something that could affect the family’s place within the town. Much like a train slamming into a mountain of jell-o, a rapid pace of energy bounces into an unmovable finality that destroys the drive the film once had.

It takes all this to basically say that it’s a good film. Not the greatest, nor does it match the hype around it, Wolf Children embodies the love of telling a story in a more maternal sense. The perspective is a refreshing change, allowing for a more personal touch to the characters and the long-established maternal instincts taking the lead with unapologetic vigor. If one clamors to see truly powerful female leads, Hana is one that would absolutely receive my vote; not because she does opposite of what her gender is expected to do, but because she does everything her gender is expected to do and more. She lost her partner, she lost her natural disposition moving to a rural setting, but she never lost her hope or her desire to be the best mother she could be. This alone makes Wolf Children worth watching.

Final Score: 7.5/10

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

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!