Quick Updated Thoughts on Ano Natsu de Matteru

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A rather hard rewatch, this was for me. As a title that holds something of an emotional attachment to my younger self, I can’t help but think fondly of the time this anime almost made me cry. This, out of all anime I watched in late 2012, was the one that got me closest to actually shedding tears. Since then, only rewatching Katanagatari has gotten me to reach for a tissue. OCD in full effect, I figured I’d keep the rewatch train rolling and see if Ano Natsu de Matteru held up after nearly five years.

It didn’t.

One can almost feel how hard this anime tried to be its own AnoHana, from the interactions between characters to the love octagon that takes effect as time goes on. Both series also deal with an inevitable fact that the characters try to ignore, but are destined to face. The difference between the two is through execution, which Ano Natsu de Matteru does well only in very specific measures.

What is immediately apparent about halfway through the series is that the writing is very, very dumb. The entire purpose of a single character, Lemon, is to push the plot forward and manipulate the cast to her whim for the sake of fucking with them. And because she has a “more than she knows” background, she knows everything that’s going to happen and how to prepare for it. Don’t you love having a character that can destroy all the tension and seriousness of an otherwise tensile and serious plot by making everything feel a-ok through their Godly knowledge and dexterity? Even more so, she more often than not forces the characters to change, instead of the story giving them the opportunity to either do it themselves or slip into situations of genuine, awkward conflict. It’s a shame that she’s so hamfisted in, because the general character roster is… tolerable, with Mio, and to some extent Tetsurou, being the saving graces of the anime.

Without Lemon, the writing still deals with things that have already been done in plenty of other anime, to a lesser extent. Lots of angst, lots of surprised faces, lots of dramatic outbursts and emotional spurs. While not on the same level as a soap opera, some episodes give a little more heart than necessary. Some don’t even feel like normal characters, rather pieces set up to provide controversy.

Animation is pretty nice, which is one thing about this anime that’s fairly praiseworthy. Not always the most smooth of physical activity, but its bright and distinctive in its approach. I wish Ichika was more like an actual alien than a human being (a lot about her alien persona doesn’t make sense), though that’s more of a nitpick.

In the end, it’s not nearly the anime I used to see it as, with a lot of issues in its writing and how it incorporates its characters. Strange as it might seem, the final episode still left me with a good emotional impression, something that even surprised me considering how cynical I was of it up to that point. I really wish the audience was treated to more of Mio and her active and understandable change halfway through the series, something only a few characters get a snippet of. Lost potential and all that; Ano Natsu de Matteru leaves viewers waiting for the translation of AnoHana: Alien Edition.

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

Updated Thoughts on Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai (1st Season)

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In a strange turn of events, instead of going by the usual style of rewatching something and then updating my thoughts on it via blog post, I decided to leave poor Haganai alone. I find this even more curious because this is the only case of it happening, at least within the years where I took my blog seriously enough to update it semi-often. Noting my penchant for waxing nostalgic, it’s an even more confusing sentiment that this anime, which was among the first five anime I ever watched in its entirety, didn’t receive any special treatment. To drive the point home, I even finished a knock-off manga version and read up until the second-to-last volume of the light novel before it was taken off Baka-Tsuki for copyright reasons. Why did I feel the need to let this rewatch wither and die within my MAL archives? Regardless, I’m correcting it here and now after a two-year wait.

“Wow,” you may be thinking. It took me two years to write this post? My only excuse is that it simply slipped my mind again and again, until finally realizing it about a year ago… and then forgetting again until a few days ago. The rewatch took place in early August of 2015, so another thing you may be thinking is, “Are you confident enough to remember what you liked and disliked about it after so long?” Fear not, as fate hath given me future perception, and I wrote myself a very detailed post explaining exactly that back in 2015, so for what I cannot recall now, I will simply resort back to my crude notes.

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The strongest argument I have toward this series’s good worth is the main duo of female leads: Sena and Yozora. Each character is blunt, stuck in their own ideals, and offer a helping of development as the series goes on. Not to mention, their chemistry with each other, and flaccid male lead Kodaka, makes for a thoroughly entertaining watch, especially within the first three episodes or so. Even while at each other’s throats, one can see the distance between the two supposed opposites begin to close with each passing day.

With this trait, Haganai becomes immediately recommendable; not just due to characters bickering with each other in a humorous way, but the set-up that justifies their behavior. Execution aside, this anime is fairly unique in its approach to popularity, hierarchy within the school system, and the concept of friendship. It’s almost like Oregairu before Oregairu, but without the cynical Hikigaya. Unfortunately, a lot of what could’ve been achieved with these themes and the characters that make up the cast are undermined as the series continues to bring in more characters. With these new characters comes more and more of what makes the high school rom-com setting so predictably bland (and popular): implied harem vibes, an aimless pursuit of having fun and nothing more, and one-dimensional personalities for the sake of humor.

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A sequence of bliss and charm surrounded the series as it began, introducing the slightly off-kilter characters and their motivations. The trio of Kodaka, Sena, and Yozora made a wonderful ensemble of fun as each played off of each other in a colorful manner, with Kodaka being the middle-man through it all. Once the series began to attract other specimens, that charm became buried under the weight of outside interference, muddying its core themes and underlying potential for the sake of appealing to the masses. There is a lot of moe present in Haganai, and much of that didn’t start until the trio became a quad, and then a quint, and so on. And these new characters, if not for some subtle growth in the following season, are completely useless. Maria and Kobato should be scrapped altogether or rewritten, while Rika and Yukimura need more than one quirk to move along with—so much so that they all nearly ruined the series for me, at least for this season.

With the mess that was made during the mid-section of this anime, I’m glad I can say that the final episodes make up for it… slightly. Again, the presence of heart and character growth are pursued with full enthusiasm, along with resolving a (horribly executed) secret that loomed in the background throughout the series. It allows some figment of closure before carrying on with the same shenanigans that the series spoils itself with time after time. Not only is it appreciated as a viewer, but the characters (or one of them) become a lot more than what her usual persona portrays.

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At one point, the art style for Haganai was a serious turn-off. Their eyes too vivid and large, with their lips protruding and their heads more like tomatoes than apples. Its expressiveness through character design is fairly strange compared to most, with even minor changes to the perspective of where things are, how they’re shaped, and what’s most highlighted making such an impact on the final product. It was weird, to say the least, but I eventually warmed up to it, and now find it one of the anime’s stronger points. With little twitches of movement better humanizing the characters on-screen and only occasional fidgets of inconsistency, it’s worth praising not just for its effectiveness, but its desire to stay true to the original light novel’s art. The only other anime I can think of with a similar style is Denpa Onna.

It’s a fascinating series to go over, seeing as it holds such nostalgic value to me, as well as having a lot of good underneath a mountain of bad. Cut the cast down to the main three, continue what they did for the first three episodes, and incorporate some more perspective on what they feel friendship should be and how they feel the general mass exploits it, and Haganai could’ve been a really fascinating piece of work. Dealing in “what if’s” does nothing here, as the way it stands, it needs to hold onto the crutch of popular exploits to steady itself in relevancy. With things such as lolis, incest, harems, cross-dressing, poop, and pre-teen angst being thrown around like it’s candy, I can only step back and ponder why I gave the series such high regard in the first place.

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.

Updated Thoughts on Highschool of the Dead

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Generally, most anime watchers will see this image and think one of two things:

Tits

or

Zombies.

Highschool of the Dead is infamous for being notoriously lenient with its female cast’s anatomy and non-stop zombie-killing horror. These two things stick out far more than the rest of the anime’s core features, due in part to the quantity of time dedicated to employing different things in just about every episode. Some years ago, when I was still a young’n in the world of anime, this series turned out more entertaining than anything else, and even got some attention as an anime I wish I had viewed earlier than I did. It’s almost a strange case study, as despite the ecchi eruption, Highschool of the Dead is different than about every other alternative.

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The best thing about the series is actually the first four episodes. People like to insinuate that the sexual fan service is non-stop and continuous throughout, but there’s a modest amount between episodes two and four. A good amount of attention is put into developing the phenomenon that is the zombie apocalypse, mixing with the unknown the main characters have to face as it begins to grow out of control. Characters are established via hair color personality and their relationship with others within the main group, and acclimate to the situation well enough that the viewer can see them as a capable bunch of fighters. Some might question the characters’ abilities, particularly Hirano, which is justifiable. Balancing out the action, the sexual fan service (though never really necessary), and the character interaction is done well enough within the “Set-up” phase of the anime that it actually becomes fairly immersive and enjoyable.

Unrealistic or not, the main cast has a charm to it that’s lost on a number of other anime with a rag-tag bunch of opposites. While slightly archetypal, the heroes have a good head on most of them, giving a better realism to these particular individuals being so well-equipped to survive. Interactivity between the six is also fairly enjoyable, particularly whenever Takagi is involved, with her fierce determination and tsundere air about her. One member of the group, the airheaded nurse of the school, is a useless, uninteresting, and magnet for sexual fan service character. I’d rather she get cut from the series altogether.

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As the series continues, the flaws within its writing begin to rear themselves and mold the story into an eye-rolling tirade of zaniness. Though the first few episodes aren’t completely devoid of this, when the group sets off for the city, the insanity begins to take over the pacing. The action begins to pop up out of nowhere, throwing off the progression of the group and any sense of rest. A few (useless) new characters are added, and recurring characters that were seemingly left to be fed to the zombies become important for short spurts, only to be shoved off yet again. If not recurring characters, then complete strangers. Yes, there is a sense of urgency in trying to make the world seem as psychotic as the events transpiring. And it is because of this that the biggest flaw of Highschool of the Dead becomes far too frequent.

Not the sexual fan service, not the random and unrealistic action scenes; the biggest flaw of the anime is its focus on self-insert style writing. Early on, there was chaos, so no one was really sure how to handle or cope with the situation. Cut to days later, with everyone getting “used to” what was happening, a majority of the characters focused on outside of the main group become A) retarded, or B) insane. Quite often, a situation is presented where a stranger comes up and says or does outrageously stupid things, as the camera cuts to the main group’s serious faces, their eyes narrow in obvious disagreement. Yes, the main group is the only one capable of surviving without a moment’s hesitation, being the clear level-headed intellectual superiors to grown adults and everyone else involved. A bunch of angsty teenagers who write depressing monologues at the beginning and end of almost every episode. Yep. Uh huh.

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It makes the scenes hilariously cringy and simplistic. God forbid the series challenges the main group’s line of thinking and lack of experience in the real world in a time where an adult’s wisdom would likely help them tremendously. And the nurse doesn’t count because she’s an idiot. Instead, we have adults chastising these kids because they’re kids and they’re adults and they know everything and the kids know nothing because fuck you. Or we have school teachers who hypnotize a bunch of delirious school students into having orgies inside a school bus (?!?!?!?!?!?). Seriously, the hell is up with this series and its relentless attempts at making the main cast as God-like in every regard as possible? It’s boring, boring and incredibly irritating.

One very positive thing about the series is the focus on art and animation. The series, even for early 2010’s, looks like it could’ve been animated months ago. Everything is very sleek and sharp, accustomed to the current trend of how high-standard anime look. The lighting and atmosphere make the more tense scenes all the more tense… assuming the sexual fan service or stupid characters didn’t ruin it beforehand. The characters are all fairly attractive (even Hirano) and the sexual fan service, as much as people harp on it, works efficiently enough at arousing some members. Not mine, personally, as I’ve become immune to such blatant attempts without any payoff, but it looked very nice. Very nice. Even the animation was pretty consistent, without a lot of shortcuts taken.

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As perfect as the story tries to make them out to be, the main cast varies in excellence. Surprisingly enough, there is some effort into developing these characters, most particularly the relationship between the male lead and his childhood girlfriend. Strangely enough, I feel these two are the weakest characters, mostly because of their bland, purer-than-thou personas. Their development (especially the girl) feels somewhat forced, while also a little bit too pseudo-intellectual. That comment about depressing monologues at the beginning and end of each episode wasn’t a joke. The male lead drones on all the time about “the end of the world” and it gets tiring fast. The rest of the cast (excluding the nurse) are a little bit better in this regard. Hirano being the chubby, silly weakling without a gun, and an ace-shooter “badass” with guns, Takagi as a no-nonsense tsundere with a bad mouth (my personal favorite), and Busujima, the mild-mannered and polite swordsman with a desire for power. These characters have a lot more spunk to them that make conversations all the more lively and believable, which is important for a character-driven story. I would almost recommend the anime simply for these three characters, but they don’t match up against the force of mediocrity in the writing.

The rating went down quite a bit, but I had a decent time with this series, at least for a little while. By series’ end, I was ready to be done with it, as the last three episodes are a complete drag, full of the issues I made note of. Should the anime (miraculously) get a second season, I’d be more than willing to watch it with meandering expectations. It has a nice amount of bloodshed and fun that makes for a mindless brainfizzler, along with some above-average characters. If only the series tried to be a little more like The Walking Dead than Zombeavers.

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

Updated Thoughts on Myself; Yourself

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Sooner or later, all of these posts are going to start with a personal story about my past experience with anime! Myself; Yourself was one of the earliest anime I’d seen after my anime renaissance back in mid-2012. At the time, I thought the show had a very dull progression and forgettable cast, but managed to build strength with a dramatic second-half. Four years later, both of these points remain poignant, though there are some good things to the bad, and bad things to the good.

The anime has somewhat of a reputation for being boring, especially in the first few episodes. I recall a number of anime critics and reviewers chastising Myself; Yourself for being so dry and bland with its themes and color palette. While I don’t think the characters themselves are bland (albeit moderately clichéd), I feel the writing is incredibly simple. Think of the most unenergetic, cookie-cutter conversations you could possibly have with someone. “Hello.” “How are you?” “Fine. How about you?” “Pretty good.” “How’s the family?” “Good, good.” “Weather’s been great.” “Yeah, totally.” A lot of the conversations play out similarly to this, and should the conversations evolve into something a little more memorable, the stiffened straight-man responses come in full force to brunt that enthusiasm. Very few characters escape from this monotony of normalcy, and whether or not they become archetypes because of it is no matter to the story at-hand. Either one is boringly normal, or entertainingly one-dimensional.

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At the same time, the anime can brag about having normal characters. The premise is of a normal, quiet small town where people aren’t meant to be upbeat or enthusiastic. Bland as it may be, the series has a very comfortable mood that is rarely perturbed by any unnecessary wackiness or bombast. Suiting the atmosphere, the characters become more believable in their situations and camaraderie, more so than other anime where groups of friends oftentimes butt heads with one another. One could argue that the twins fight all the time, but they’re siblings, so it doesn’t count. I can speak on their behalf. I am a sibling.

The twins in mind, Shuusuke and Shuri are probably my favorite characters of the bunch. While they’re slightly one-dimensional, they provide a spark to the group that makes them more tolerable to watch, and have great chemistry. I also like that they aren’t polar opposites, which siblings in anime tend to be for shits n’ giggles. Both physically and in personality, the twins are pretty similar to one another, which makes their “connection” to one another feel more than just a ploy to use that against them later on. If only Shuusuke didn’t become soberingly serious near the end of the series, almost as if someone flipped on a switch. This in of itself becomes somewhat of a problem later on in the series.

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Even now, the drama present near the end of the series was engrossing enough to keep me entertained through the mind-numbing mediocrity of the robotic writing. However, a lot of it felt somewhat out of nowhere; keyword: somewhat. Myself; Yourself does a decent job of foreshadowing (if not a little too bluntly) things that will become of importance later on, and the severity of the things it foreshadows appeals to those hoping for something remarkably grim. Myself; Yourself does a very good job at maintaining the calm before the storm, with sirens blaring in the distance that the viewer can hear at all times. Only issue is that while the build-up is good, the execution tends to fall flat, and falls further once the climax has passed. Things popping up out of nowhere, characters committing foul acts and then never being mentioned again. It feels all the more robotic—much in tune with the character dialogue.

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What better way to emphasize and realistic premise and town than with a gray overtone? Even the artistic style of Myself; Yourself is boring. If I had to compare it to anything, I’d say it’s most similar to School Days, except a tad less glossy. There’s a darkness present that makes the series feel both gloomy and diluted, with not a lot of emphasis on animation. There are times when animation improves, with characters’ faces becoming more clean-cut and easy to look at, placed between cheap animation tactics and far-away shots to lessen the workload. At least it prioritizes making the characters look different, with a lot of differentiating characters such as… hair color/style, eye color, and breast size. Perhaps not the most creative of distinguishing traits, but I enjoy the detail present in the personalities reflected with their appearances. The twins have light, short hair to emphasize their spunkiness. Nanako has long, dark hair and red eyes to attain a nature of grace and tragedy. Aoi has a super high-pitch voice and giant tits to serve as the moe character. Even more uncharacteristic of anime, the male lead has a reason to be bland and forgettable. Good work, anime.

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Properly paced and optimistically dramatic makes Myself; Yourself worth watching regardless of its benign approach. The blunders it makes along the way definitely wear it down, though not enough to make it hazardous to the touch. There’s a simple effectiveness to the characters and the storyline that make it all in good fun, despite how dark it gets at times. Still, it tends to take some leaps in logic on occasion, or make characters horribly antagonistic to ramp up the popcorn machine. The ending is one that made me want to squeeze the bridge of my nose, though that’s more of a personal conundrum, as it’s not exactly of poor quality. Just a little abrupt. And a tad too “Happily Ever After.” While not entirely sure of my rating for it then, my current rating reflects the effort put forth to make an immersive and interesting tale of a group of friends and the struggles they have to (or had to) deal with. It just could’ve tried harder to make it feel real.

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

Quick Updated Thoughts on GJ-bu

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Short post today, as I’m battling off a cold.

Back in early 2013, I watched GJ-bu. At the time, it was the fastest anime I had ever completed, finishing twelve episodes in the span of about sixteen hours. I was enamored with this new sensation of vivid, candy-colored moe that was taking place in front of me, complete with bubbly, embarrassing situations resulting in playfully vague sexual tension. I’ve made myself known as somewhat of a romanticist in the past, and GJ-bu seemed to hit every sensitive spot for me, which helped thrust it among my favorite slice-of-life shows. This led me to pursue its light novel origin, scouring the web for any sort of extra material to sink my rotting teeth into. These girls had put me under their spell, one I couldn’t escape from for some time.

I broke the spell. It no longer enchants me the way it once did. Even more, the series is actually kind of bad.

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Recall series such as Love Hina, which is notorious for being cruel to the oblivious male lead. For whatever reason, Japan seems to have an understanding that using a beta male lead as a punching bag for a group of girls’ hijinks is “funny.” GJ-bu is little different, only without making it obvious that the group of girls around the male lead are infatuated with him. That’s not to say they aren’t, because they are, but one could confuse teasing him due to being shy with teasing him out of a camaraderie within the same club. Despite this lack of harem tendencies, the series still falls in line with those within the genre, as most characters revolve around the desires of the male lead and directly involve him in just about every scenario. The type of attention he receives is almost self-insert-like, though he isn’t entirely fawned over.

Interestingly enough, there were times when re-watching GJ-bu that I became annoyed with the overly antagonistic demeanor of the group of girls. It’s been quite a while since an anime has made me irritated with the execution of its humor. Typically I’m stone-faced, but furrowing my brow and frowning isn’t a natural response. Most of this comes from how long some of the scenes play out, meticulously placing the girls of the group in line to receive an equal amount of the male lead’s attention. Predictable is one thing, but overdrawn is the poisonous cherry on top. While not always so obvious with its intentions, the humor in GJ-bu has a tendency to become one-dimensional as the series goes on. Involving a new character halfway through the series hardly helps whatsoever, especially when they underutilize her. She’s hardly important at all. Most of these girls hardly matter. This whole series doesn’t matter.

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The biggest slap in the face is the final episode, which is intentionally emotionally poignant. Oh, no! The club members are actually all one big happy family. All the shenanigans, physical assault and baseless accusations, and unimportant club activities were baby steps to developing a bond between the members. Because what makes me close to a group is constantly being bitten, verbally abused, and used as a playtoy for the curiosities of high school girls. It’s okay, though, because I know deep down that they all love me. As long as that keeps the balance of things afloat, I’d happily sacrifice myself for the gr—Pffffft! Not likely.

The series is moe for the sake of moe. As entertaining as that can be, and the aid of pretty visuals to make it all seem casual, it provides little in terms of meaningful character development and interaction. No amount of gleefully sinister foreshadowing of a looming romantic quadrilateral can save a series from being shallowly mean-spirited and devoid of any real emotional value. Should one see GJ-bu as a parody, perhaps these situations can come across as dark, ironic humor. Outside of that mindset, we simply have an empty, albeit pretty and entertaining series of one boy and a million girls surrounding a single club that does jack-shit.

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

Updated Thoughts on White Album 2 (Spoilers)

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On February 2nd, 2014, I finished White Album 2 for the first time. I ran through nine straight episodes in one sitting before finishing it up within the next couple of days. Upon completing it, I gushed about how captivating the drama was and the deliciously tragic conclusion. For the first time since (probably) Toradora!, I had been given a true and blue romantic drama that satisfied my expectations of a story within that genre. It felt genuine, it felt fresh, and most of all, it felt serious. No matter what anyone claims, a true romantic drama shouldn’t focus on the happy-go-lucky musings of kids playing around in karaoke bars as drama takes a backseat to comedy and slice-of-life. Drama is built on a continuous, growing tension that feeds upon the underlying atmosphere that comedy only overrides. White Album 2 does this beautifully and I am incredibly thankful for it, as anime in general tries to smooth this over for the sake of keeping the audience entertained.

At one point, this anime made its way onto my favorites list, alongside Toradora!Ookami to Koushinryou, and Katanagatari. After a while, my opinion of the show came into question as my reminiscing became more and more unclear as to why I loved the series as much as I did. This led to me removing the show from my favorites altogether until I re-watched the show to get a less tentative opinion. That day has now come, and I can definitely understand why I enjoyed the anime as much as I did back then.

Anime is an interesting medium. I don’t need to say such an obvious thing to those already knee-deep into the hobby, but for those of a more Western palette, anime has a way of distinguishing itself from shows outside its region. Every part of culture, no matter where it is, is subject to some sort of standard that comes from what people expect and enjoy from their shows. This, in turn, leads to a lot of clichés developing that are bound to turn off those who watch too many shows of the same genre or those who are ignorant of the culture altogether. I’ve made note of a particular cliché in a few of my past anime posts that show a specific structure that one-cour anime really enjoy pursuing: introducing characters and developing their relationships with one another through light-hearted, humorous interaction, then having a darker, more serious/dramatic conflict suddenly appear in the last few episodes to establish an impact. And as noted in past anime posts, I feel this structure can work in few cases, but is ultimately jarring and ineffective, not to mention incredibly predictable.

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Part of the reason White Album 2 stuck out to me was because it felt like an actual story. It was different from those usual one-cour series starring high school students that didn’t simply flaunt cute girls (and one boy) displaying their one-dimensional personalities in the most expressive ways. There’s a level of build-up present to those willing to watch the characters facial and bodily movements and pay close attention to what they’re saying. Effective uses of foreshadowing and double meanings slip by quickly, as if it were a part of normal conversation, with only an ounce of urgency. It’s one thing to have characters go on grandiose speeches about their feelings of motivations, but sometimes a single line—or even a word—is enough to get the point across. Despite being linear to a degree, I’d rather have a linear story than an aimless one.

Inherently different in structure is just one perk. The anime simply feels different in its atmosphere, as well. The incorporation of orchestrated background pieces, the way the setting always seems to be early evening/night, the lack of any comedic reactions; White Album 2 pulls out every weapon to combat the ensuing aura of familiarity. Despite how little is actually going on in the first couple episodes, it lays out a perception that things are only going to grow more tense as the series continues, especially once Touma gets into the picture.

All of these things still hold up upon second viewing, however they aren’t as engrossing to me now as they were then. As I alluded to, back then I was delighted by the amount of effort put into making the series stand out from the monotonous standard of anime series. This alone gave me enough curiosity to stick with it. Now, I can appreciate the anime’s strengths for how its incorporated to itself and not just to spite the general direction of others compared to it. This also gives me a more concise head for critiquing its flaws, which I found to be a lot more apparent than I originally interpreted.

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The key strength of the anime is drama and story. There is a clear focus on ramping up drama to near-absurd levels and luring the characters into doing or saying things they don’t entirely comprehend or intend. Along with this, art direction also plays an important role in glossing the plot. Lots of dark settings, snowy environments, and shots of subtle character movements tell more of a story than words can alone. The way the story is told in the beginning is clear-cut and offers a few twists of intrigue along the way, keeping the viewer’s attention even in the most dull of situations. There’s also some sexual fan service, but that’s not played up to the level most would be irritated with.

There is one thing about the story that I don’t agree with, which is the use of established character interaction prior to the series’s debut. It’s one thing to reveal things to the audience that were off-screen when the focus was on another character, but to hide a relationship without showing any indication that it exists prior to a show’s beginning only to use it as a major plot point later is disgustingly cheap. One could say that the male lead interacts with Touma in the beginning despite never showing any social interaction between the two, but the male lead is also shown to interact with many people, and is dutiful of people and their well-being. One could simply pass this off as the male lead being the male lead, only to find out later that they had a long, extensive history with one another that is never brought up once. I feel this would be somewhat justified if they made any attempt to show that they had some history other than the vague “Oh, I know who you are,” comment. Unfortunately, it goes in line with the same jarring turn of comedy to tragedy that most other series take with its structure. Adding insult to injury, White Album 2 then proceeds to dedicate an episode and a half to showing everything that happened between Touma and the male lead prior to the show’s beginning. While answering a few questions, it also slows down the pacing and adds little to an already established connection. This inclusion feels more like a forced-in OVA special than an actual part of the main story.

This doesn’t necessarily destroy the story overall, rather it makes it only less than stellar. What’s more than less than stellar are the characters of White Album 2. The story would like you to believe that these characters are likable, developed, and interesting by series’s end. Only some of these things apply to some of the characters. None of these apply to the side-characters, as they are only there to fill space. White Album 2 is about the major characters, with side-characters either being there to be there or institute more drama. Of the cast, Ogiso would be my pick for best girl character. She is the thorn that sticks into the skin of the proverbial foot, and offers a lot of that visual foreshadowing I keep mentioning. Her insecurities reminded me a lot of my own, and with the first few episodes more dedicated to showing her off, she gets a head start when compared to Touma. There’s nothing particularly wrong with Touma, but she feels more like the object of the story’s affection rather than a person. Her frank attitude combined with her faltering under emotional distress is relatable, though that’s all she really has going for her, other than her desire for her mother’s affection. The male lead is the male lead. He’s actually decent starting off, with some characterization based around his stubbornness and quick wit, but he eventually becomes the bland “Never quit, believe it!” protagonist that most male leads are. Except, of course, he chooses a girl.

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Tone is an important aspect of drama, and White Album 2 knows this. Art and sound intertwined helps to make a mood all the more sweet, sour, and powerful. There are multiple scenes within that are heightened to the extreme thanks to lighting and orchestrated pieces playing along with it. While I’m willing to admit that anime soundtracks normally don’t amuse me, White Album 2 had a particular track play a few times that I really enjoyed. The concert songs had a lot of bounce to them, as well. Even more than that was all that was animated along with it. Budget may have been high with this series, as the artistry present is among the best of its year. Perhaps not among the likes of Attack on Titan, but there’s a lot of really nice looking characters, settings, and overall animation in general. Not always, mind you, as some scenes showcase rather stiff characters from far away or non-moving backgrounds. For the most part though, it has a glimmer that shines in ways most don’t.

There’s something to be said about a series that holds up well even upon originally fragile foundations of affection. I can say with certainty that the flaws present are more than enough to have it not be regarded as a favorite. Still, it has multiple positive assets that transcend its quality to be entertaining for a wide demographic of people. Drama enthusiasts will probably get a big kick out of it, while others less keen on the genre probably won’t care for the overemotional writing. White Album 2 had a profound impact on me the first time around, and while the second time may not be the charm, there’s enough residue from the past to glisten my eyes with newfound appreciation.

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