Entries from the Dead: Mirai Nikki

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[Dropped after twelve episodes.]

Yet another tricky addition to a series already perturbed by the inefficiency of my faulty memory. Mirai Nikki, like Seto no Hanayome, has very little written within my anime list’s archives, so any crutch I may have in pinpointing a specific reason(s) as to why I didn’t continue a particular series is all up to remembering how I was years prior. What I do recall is that there’s a somewhat unordinary reason to my putting the series on-hold.

Flashback to the 2014 Summer of Anime. Starting in the second week of June, I decided to watch Mirai Nikki out of simple curiosity. However, outside influences forced me to watch the series quickly. Every year, family members come up from the southern states of the United States to visit my family and I for about a week or two; in that time, I barely have enough energy to watch even a few episodes of anime, much less marathoning a whole series in one day. Wanting to get a head start, I picked out a series I felt I could watch quickly, as my time limit was within eight hours before they were to arrive. When I got to the twelfth episode, I did the math in my head and determined that I wouldn’t finish the series in time before I had to leave, so I abandoned the series for Ebiten, which only had ten episodes.

It wasn’t until a few days after the fact that I realized that I had done the math wrong in my head—I could have finished Mirai Nikki in the time allotted throughout that day. Not only did I essentially drop Mirai Nikki for no reason, wasting the time spent watching a whole twelve episodes of it, but I subjected myself to the entirety of Ebiten, which was not pleasant.

Mirai Nikki itself was somewhat interesting as a case study, as it had all the reasons to be a gripping and insightful story, but it was also tremendously problematic. Many complain about the male lead being too much of a crybaby, though I would disagree and say that he’s only minimally exaggerated in the situation he’s been placed in. Does every teenager fantasize about being placed in a Hunger Games-esque scenario of fantastic bloodshed? Certainly not. My victim of shoddy characterization comes in the form of Yuuno Gasai, which I’m aware is a controversial statement. To me, she is the pinnacle of everything tryhard about fantasy plots involving weak main characters being carried by unstoppable forces because why not? Her weaknesses are constantly being evaporated by her will to protect the male lead, and no matter what happens, the only thing interesting about her is the mystery behind her affection for the male lead and whether her obsession will cause the demise of those around him. That’s her only shtick, at least up through twelve episodes. Heed that this entire entry is from someone who has seen not even half of the entire series.

I suppose her symbol as a realistic and uninhibited yandere makes her an immensely likable and moe character to many. For me, that symbol needs to come with something more, so that she doesn’t become predictable and/or flat as a character for the entire ride.

The recollection of various scenes, including one where Yuuno is implied to be brutally raped if the male lead doesn’t come to save her in time, sift through my memory in incomplete patches, disallowing me to really articulate what I didn’t care for about the series. In all honesty, if it wasn’t for my slip-up, I likely would’ve continued it, but at this point, I wouldn’t pick it up without restarting the entire series, which may be why I never have. If nothing else, it’s entertaining in its desire to make everything seem dark and depressing—and, of course, coolly suspenseful. It reminds me of Deadman Wonderland somewhat… though that didn’t turn out too well upon a rewatch…

What all of this may boil down to is, “It’s entertaining, but a dumb kind of entertaining.” I wasn’t totally in-tune with my critiquing prowess as I am now three years ago, so that may shed doubt as to whether I’d even find the series engrossing today. Writing this out, part of me would really like to continue it, almost making this post pointless, but with life becoming more and more constricting, it may settle itself within the graveyard of series I dropped almost on a whim, never to find their day in the rays of my focused retinas.

Updated Thoughts on Miman Renai

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I did this in my last post for this manga, too, but I’ll reiterate just to be safe:

I do not condone the relationship between adults and young teenagers. This work is purely fictional and about 50% unrealistic and 50% overpure.

In my first trial with Miman Renai, I thought the series was a cute, albeit unrealistic and uninspiring story of forbidden love between an overly sweet 29-year-old and overly sweet 13-year-old. The fact that both are so overbearingly pure may make this series a turn-off based on how scared the male lead, knowing his position, is of confessing his feelings for what is essentially a child to him. Many others, I’m sure, would be turned off by the taboo themes presented right within the synopsis, but reading through this twice, neither are jumping at the chance to sleep with one another, much less hold hands (The covers are a lie). So, it’s taboo in potential only.

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Upon my second reading, much of my feelings of the story and characters are the same way. Kurose, the 29-year-old, has a behavior around Tomoe, the 13-year-old, that would appear as incredibly creepy if the story were from her perspective. While the reader has the benefit of knowing he has no ill intentions because they follow his mindset and character, from Tomoe’s viewpoint, looking up her school, taking oranges to her, and infiltrating her school on what is essentially a Parent-Teacher Conference are all very vivid red flags. Kurose working at an adult gaming company also doesn’t help. Of course, she doesn’t question any of this due to her incredible naivety. The realism of this manga, only from the perspective of Tomoe, immediately becomes shot because no one would be this trusting of Kurose’s behavior. The fact that she is trusting, and blindly devoted to him at almost every turn, makes for an incredibly eerie representation of what leads kids into being kidnapped, or worse.

Taboo/icky possibilities aside, the struggles of this forbidden romance are fairly standard, as well. People tell Kurose (and vice-versa with Tomoe) that they shouldn’t be seeing one another, while the two leads themselves struggle to find a balance between being friends and remaining faithful (Though the latter is more just from Kurose’s mindset). A lot of the drama could’ve been further improved by letting it fester within the minds of the leads (God knows Tomoe could’ve used some depth), as instead the manga decides to bring it up as a means of driving the two apart only to get back together some two or three chapters later. Not to mention, there’s a lot of underlying side conflict, including Kurose’s traumatic past of being bullied and his relationship with his game company’s busty president, that are barely explored whatsoever. This one-track mindset keeps the focus primarily on the leads’ relationship and nothing more, which is disappointing with how wishy-washy a lot of it is, mostly through misunderstandings.

With how I describe it, one would think that this series was rather unimpactful. On the contrary, after reading this for the second time, the score shot up tremendously and catapulted to among my favorite manga. So what makes this series so wonderful?

Expression

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Vitality

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Look at this wonderful burst of energy, enthusiasm, a love for character exuberance and a passion for drawing and artistic expression! This type of illustrating style that allows the characters to pop, to become more than just drawings on paper! This intoxicating display of pure, unadulterated vigor is so wonderfully executed that I cannot help but love it! It reminds me a lot of Studio Trigger at their finest, the sequences of series such as Kill la Kill or Little Witch Academia that stray from the realm of reality and take on a level of artistry that becomes so enveloping from passion alone.

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Of course, this level of pure fun isn’t present at all times, but the mangaka does what she can to make both the small, inconsequential moments and serious periods of self-reflection all the more alluring with her vividness. Some examples (like the picture above) can be criticized for being too simplistic in an effort to ease up on the workload. For me, this doesn’t matter if I’m laughing at how amusing all of these character transformations look and how it impacts the rampant enjoyment I’m getting out of reading it. Miman Renai is one of those rare examples where a manga, in an objective sense isn’t worth more than a five out of ten, is launched into much higher territory from a gargantuan amount of subjective love.

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Despite the taboo themes, the standard story, the unsatisfied potential of side plots, the brilliance of Tomoe’s naivety, and the tiring, self-inflicted, off-and-on romantic endeavor, Miman Renai is a manga that gets by with its emotional gusto and artistic flavor. It is among my favorite manga because it managed to completely override my mechanical circuitry and allow my heart to dance in the way most “normies'” would upon seeing a new trailer for the latest Star Wars film. While not mentally moved by my passion for deep, multi-layered stories of love and loss, Miman Renai has that once-in-a-lifetime quality that speaks to me on an absurd personal level, an intangible quality that is hard to really articulate into words. All I can do is spam more pictures from the story because I love them.

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I reread this manga on a whim, fueled only by a slight desire to revisit the wacky faces of the characters. What I unearthed was an undiscovered, but always present adoration for a story that really probably doesn’t deserve it. It’s a simple tale that only sticks out based on the huge age gap between its characters and the innocent manner it portrays it with. Despite everything else, Miman Renai executes itself through means of giddy expression, one that had gone relatively unnoticed by me for nearly a year and a half. I stick by it, too; the only reason I have to recommend this manga is due to the mangaka’s lovely expressiveness and nothing more. Perhaps it’ll give you, the reader, the same appreciation for art it did for me.

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

Thoughts on Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2

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I didn’t really care for the first season, yet I went into the second season with enough interest to disregard my indifference to its past self. What appeared before me was not just a better product, but one that focused more the comedy of the everyday situation rather than trying to make things more than what they appear. It’s appreciable to be able to relax and unwind through the form of uncontrolled rambunctiousness, and I feel this is what KonoSuba as a series is best at. No more serious gobbledygook only used to be the butt of a joke, Konosuba 2 is simply stupid characters behaving stupidly… or so it may appear.

Before giving off more than what appears, Konosuba 2 isn’t entirely a good show. It’s more positive than negative, with a knack for enthusiastic shouting matches, though it’s pretty simplistic at heart. Like its debut season, the anime is a parody and little more, with characters and story moving at a snail’s pace to focus more on teaching the viewer how to expect the unexpected. Comedy is the focal point, and if that doesn’t work, there is no point to paying attention. I suppose one could also be charmed by the effort given forth by the characters’ blatant niches. A kind of entertainment that manages to entertain, but can’t stick further within the recesses of the mind.

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That isn’t to say the characters don’t receive some attention or the story is bland. For what it’s worth, the story is there, though whether or not it has any impact on the characters’ actions is minimal. It comes down to them adventuring for a certain gain most often. What does manage to improve to some extent is the usefulness and further depth of the characters. While the first season used any and all appearances of utility as something to joke about later on, Konosuba 2 is a little more lax on the beating of the once dead horse. There are individual moments and scenes (as silly as they may appear) that give little trinkets of value towards the strength of the group’s closeness or someone’s true “beauty.” These moments are also swamped in-between further exerting characters’ one-joke personalities, but I digress.

Here’s something that interested me greatly: style of animation. A lot more silly, scrunchy faces this time around. Not only that, but a certain lack of flair that comes with the weight of the awkward situations. It’s not so much that they make silly faces, but that they make the same silly faces, and quite often. This manner of non-serious tone allows for some shortcuts in animation, as well. At many points I wondered why the animation looked so goofy in its simplicity, than questioned whether they were using it as an excuse to slack off. It may have just been me, but does the character design seem different? Not in clothing or common character identifiers such as hair or eye color, but the shape of their faces, their bodies—the physical make-up. There were points where I looked at a character and thought “Was their chin always that jagged?” Even more, it tends to change depending on the angle and scene, committing to a “Save it for the right moment” approach. There certainly are impressive moments of animation and detail present, just not too often.

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I didn’t find the first season of Konosuba very funny. I thought it relied too much on breaking expectations in a (already noted) beating-of-dead-horse approach. Konosuba 2, while still not entirely funny in my eyes, is better suited for comedy. With the lack of expectations from the audience, which was constantly flirted with in the first season, characters are free to let their wildest exhibitions come to fruition. In a sort of “breaking the chains” method, characters, while already eccentric before, are now bombastic to the extreme, which is a lot more charming than it sounds. They fall within the clichés established by their own characters, but do so with such vigor and energy that it almost doesn’t matter. Character interactions feel all the more lovable by means of not having to worry about ulterior motives, either by the story or by the jurisdiction of the comedy. It also plays a lot into the cleverly crafted (but incredibly stupid) ideas on how to combat serious situations… which are actually taken seriously this time around.

A lot of the vibrant energy of Konosuba 2 can be attributed, once again, to the stellar voice acting. Many who have read my blog for some time know that I very rarely, if ever, discuss the performances by seiyuu in anime. Here, it becomes one of the focal points of enjoying this anime. Screaming, screaming at the top of their lungs, with a multitude of tones and precise vocal cues make this an absolute joy to listen to. I couldn’t imagine this being dubbed in English and even coming close to the same type of whiny amazingness that is succeeded primarily by Sora Amamiya as Aqua especially. These voices all suit the characters perfectly. Without their all-out performances, Konosuba 2 likely wouldn’t be as charming as it already is.

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While I wouldn’t say it’s leagues better than the first season, it certainly washed the salty taste out of my mouth that the debut season left upon finishing it. I’m more inclined to admit that I’m a fan of this series and am hoping for a third season at some point, rather than continuing out of obligation, such a feeling I had coming into this season. While the atmosphere and parody bravado prevents Konosuba 2 from being anything other than dumb entertainment, it’s dumb entertainment that nearly transcends itself into a worthwhile and meaningful experience. Nearly.

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

Updated Thoughts on Another (Through Seven Episodes)

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There are anime that are meant to be re-watched, and those that are not. Another is a case of the latter, as the build-up, the tension, and the mystery behind the curse of a specific class in a small, rural town leaves many of its other aspects out to dry in an inescapable heat. Somewhat like India.

Unfortunate as it may be, the re-watch has brought to light something that wasn’t immediately apparent upon first watch: the anime is fairly dull. What makes this more unfortunate is that I can’t accurately describe how important this is combined with the intrigue of the mystery, as it’s inevitably one of the most entertaining parts of the anime. Knowing everything that’s to happen, why it’s happening, and who (or what) is responsible for it all, the feeling of anticipation that stems from it becomes moot. Similar to that of a nice car without any gas, the structure and design is fairly good, if not standard, but without any gas, it won’t go anywhere. Does this make it a bad car? More or less.

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What sheen is available to behold is immediately apparent by the cover art, which translates almost exactly to the series itself. Another is another (ha) hit by P.A. Works, also responsible for Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari. If this studio has a reputation for anything, it’s being among the most attractive studios in the field. Most, if not all, of their works have a brilliant sheen to their settings and characters, which makes it somewhat difficult to turn away from their projects. Another does look quite illustrious, though the setting and the genre doesn’t give it much opportunity to be anything other than grimy and dark. When given the chances, however, colors are vibrant and attention-grabbing, working into the spectrum of the world’s mystique. Despite being hampered by the setting, many characters have a feigned ordinary appeal that makes them stand out from the crowd, whether it be a girl with long, red pigtails or a boy with disheveled, brown-blonde hair. It also helps those that are meant to be different stand out all the more. Many have likely seen Misaki without even knowing her origin. She’s somewhat hard to miss.

Structure and foundation are key with a horror story made to build unto a horrifying conclusion. For what it’s worth, this might be Another’s strongest point, as the slow, creeping approach has enough gusto to give every decision, every conversation weight towards the approaching bloodshed. One would likely be trying to guess at which points what will happen and who it will happen to, as subtle clues (varingly) litter across episodes in the form of coincidences and off-handed comments/concerns. The explanations behind the decisions of the classmates and the handling of the curse is done maturely (perhaps too maturely for 14-year-olds) and with a good understanding of what’s important to that rural society. It’s world-building as well as continuing to string along the viewer’s interest. This anime would definitely be well-served as a choice for a marathon, as halting the flow with breaks in-between would probably distill a bit of that tension.

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Of course, the issue with knowing what’s to come makes this all the more unnecessary. At the same time, knowing this also brings into focus what exactly the series has outside of it, as one can’t say that a single aspect of a show makes it entirely worth it… right? Foundation and progression of the mystery excluded, the anime doesn’t really have a lot going for it. Design and animation is definitely a plus, though underneath feels a little hollow. The characters are almost entirely defined by their fear of the curse or their supposed involvement in it. Some of my own issues with stories like Another’s is that it doesn’t allow the characters to act like real, likable people. It pressures them to act like serious, surviving animals, running away from a superior threat, which hardly gives them wiggle room for personality. Almost like a Walking Dead-esque atmosphere. Knowing every piece of the puzzle and how it fits doesn’t make a puzzle fun to put together, lest one enjoys the act of building things in itself.

Misaki may be the one exception in terms of character, as she remains an interesting entity nearly all throughout. Still, it’s fairly simple to point out the clearly different individual as the most entertaining, no? Her mannerisms are pragmatic, her interests almost as much. She wears an eyepatch, which invites a lot of criticism for being edgy and intentionally spooky. Her skin is unusually pale, with a bright red eye and jet-black hair. Combined with a quiet voice and an expressionless face, she’s essentially what’s clichély referred to as “doll-like.” It’s even made note of in the anime. Still, when compared to the fairly bleak and unenthusiastic behavior of the rest of the class, it makes her a clear favorite for best character. There’s even some subtle hint at character development as she opens up more to the male lead. Did I forget to mention there’s a male lead? Doesn’t matter anyway.

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Though the characters aren’t much, the story tries what it can to make up for them. Even then, the story has holes, as well. I’ve often written that I’m willing to deal with fantasy in a nonfiction setting should it fall within the rules that it sets for itself within that universe. Another likes to bend this rule quite a bit, and only bends further the closer it gets to the final episode. To avoid any huge spoilers, I’ll simply state that the conclusion is a stretch, and will only satisfy those that are willing to blindly believe everything the story has told to that point. Numerous times are there examples of things being affected by spirits and the looming inevitability of disaster that really shouldn’t be so leniently conveyed. This is most notable with the prospect of a “memory-cleansing device,” combined with magical beings altering reality with false memories and signatures and what-not. To some extent, it plays into the durability of the curse, but it also reeks of lazy writing, relying too often on filling in the blanks with shouts of “It’s magic! Magic cannot be explained!”

Another should serve as a nice treat for anyone interested in a lot of horrifying imagery and bloodshed, as there’s quite a bit of it. Starting from episode three, a character (or twenty) die just about every episode, if not every other episode. And the way they die somewhat bends the line between reality and hilarious insanity. No joke, a few of the deaths within Another made me laugh. I don’t consider myself a sociopath who revels in the misery and trauma of others, but there’s something about the timing and performance of some of these death scenes that get me. They’re almost ridiculous in the way they’re presented, especially when it deals with things within a character’s control. Still, the earlier deaths are genuinely tinged with a disgusting lack of empathy, which makes them all the more ruthless. There are more “mature” anime out there (see: RIN: Daughter of Mnemosyne), but Another serves well as a whimsically bloody parade of death and darkness.

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All in all, the series is probably better than I give it credit for, but I couldn’t even finish the re-watch of it, which must mean something. With all that was noted about the holes within the plot and the standard portrayal of the characters within, Another comes off as a cautious watch for experienced anime-goers. There’s some things to like about it, but there’s not enough to make it a truly compelling watch, especially when watching it for a second time.

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

Early Impressions: OniHei

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Three episodes in, OniHei is fairly wishy-washy.

With the first episode, I suspected the series would be a complete trainwreck. The story was all over the place and struggled to pace itself without feeling incredibly rushed. By its end, I felt a growing sensation of dread for what was to come. For a time, I thought this would be a guaranteed drop. That drop never came.

The second episode ended up being so much better in every regard; story, character, and the development of both were front and center. The major characters stood out and let the story flow around them, instead of forcing the tides through themselves. It was a nice sort of transition piece that could inevitably lead way into a bigger and better storyline. That storyline never came.

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It wasn’t until the third episode that I learned of the type of series I had decided to pick up. A collection of little mini-stories that involve a certain few characters to build the community around them, along with shedding some light on the personality and humanity of those recurring. Somewhat like Cowboy Bebop, somewhat like Mushishi, though not nearly as immersive with its writing. OniHei‘s writing tends to be very straightforward and simple, highlighting various people and their struggle with morality and reality. Typically, it goes along as so: I’m a bad guy. But I have a reason to be bad, so people can empathize with me. I’ll interact with the ultimate good within the series (OniHei himself) and either escape from my guilty conscience but pay the consequences of my actions or just continue being an asshole. Not to say the writing is stupid, but it’s cliché enough to become predictable, especially with the time period and its incredible focus on honor.

It has its good points, including Heizou (OniHei), who I think is an okay character in his own right. His interactions with his family and bodyguards paint him to be a likable and calm-minded soul who embodies all one would desire from an ultimate hero. He’s also not noisy and excitable, so that’s immediately a plus. I really enjoy the atmosphere of the anime, as well. Being a rambunctious village full of criminals within the Edo period, there’s a lot of dark moments and a mystical otherworldly tone that makes it enjoyable to watch despite not much going on. I feel the stories presented (aside from the first episode) do a decent job of keeping up an appropriate mood for whatever’s at stake for certain characters. If nothing else, they’re memorable. The second episode’s story is my current MVP.

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I’m more of a fan of a long, overwhelming story rather than episodic tales, so OniHei comes across as a little aimless to me. It has time to make up for this, certainly, but I don’t really see anything these three stories could ultimately lead into. Should the show take advantage of its cast of characters and give them development and personality in the meantime, this lack of narrative focus could be excusable. Currently, like the quality of the stories themselves, it varies depending on the episode. I thought the second episode did a good job of making me care about the characters and their behavior. The third episode felt a little less sincere. The first episode was garbage. Somewhat like ACCA, the potential is potent enough to have the score skyrocket with time, but unlike ACCA, I’m less optimistic of its realization.

It’s a mix of good and bad, and my opinion will likely be predicated by the consistency of its storytelling with each episode. As that continues, I’ll almost feel motivated to keep a list of what stories I liked and disliked to accumulate into a final summation of the show’s storytelling. Assuming it continues episodically, I’ll continue to be hesitant to really declare anything concrete as to whatever the show tries to do. Consistency is really the key here, and should OniHei continue to be more like episode two than episode one, it’ll be an easy recommendation for those interested.