Entry #18: Hyouge Mono (SoA 2016)

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There’s something to be said about a series that tries to become inherently different than the rest: thank you. Thank you, Hyouge Mono, for focusing on a shtick that is rarely found in anime, and with it so acutely tenderized so as the bulk of the meat becomes hardy and juicy for everyone to enjoy. Hyouge Mono is like a well-done, whopping steak at your favorite steakhouse.

Don’t think I was just gonna use that lip-licking analogy for praise, quite the opposite. What is the worst part about dining out at a fine establishment? Aside from obnoxious people? And bad waiters/waitresses? And noise? And… well, I’ll get on with it. Waiting. Waiting for the food to get to your table, so that you can finally dig into what your stomach and heart have been craving. Hyouge Mono is like that, too. One must wait for the cooking to take place, the tenderizing, the spicing, the little quirks that give the steak its signature flavor. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that enamored with this series until nearly halfway through. It’s one of those anime where everything becomes better over time, as the ingredients to make a compelling story are built from underground up, causing a very, very slow pace from beginning to end. Not to mention that this series has 39 episodes, so it can (and will) take its sweet time. But oh, are the results so good.

One of the focal points of this series is not sex appeal, being trapped inside a video game, or starting a club during your second year in high school. This series focuses on something called aestheticism, which is the placed importance on the aesthetics of items or materials. Essentially, looking at the physical beauty of something regardless of outside influences or symbolism. A lust for precise craftsmanship, gold embroidery, or sheen. Things of that nature. This concept is used both seriously and not-so-seriously, depending on the situation, which plays into the slow-pace of the series near the beginning. Aestheticism seems to be the major driving point of almost every major character in this series, who want to change the world according to their own foundation of aesthetics, or lack of it. It’s exaggerated both for the sake of comedy and drama, and effectively manages to persuade the viewer to be emotionally involved with either.

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With the shtick of the series out of the way, this series also has a more familiar setting: the “Warring States era”, where Oda Nobunaga (who acts as a major character in this anime) has conquered most of Japan and is marking his place in history. Here’s another interesting tidbit: from the beginning of episode one to the end of episode thirty-nine, a period of roughly fourteen years go by. This, especially near the beginning, where years go by by the end of the second episode, makes the pacing feel rather quick aside from slow. From 1577 to 1591, the viewer follows a giant cast of characters and how their influence plays a part in structuring the society of Japan at that point. Whether this story is based upon true events, I’m not entirely sure, but it feels realistic to me, aside from the funny faces, anyway.

That’s enough background. Let’s get to the main dish.

Hyouge Mono can be incredibly dull starting out. The first ten or so episodes shows so little of anything aside from character dialogue and interaction that one without any tolerance for the sort will be dropping this upon the first episode. That’s the thing, too: this anime has a lot of dialogue. You thought the Monogatari series was bad? This anime can rival it. To some degree, one would be inclined to wonder if all of this dialogue is really important, and at points, I’d wondered, too. However, as the series goes on, it begins to take all of those little spots, those scenes where nothing of importance seems to occur, and draws back to it in order to establish a character’s growth. Of course, this doesn’t occur for every character, but the most major characters become characters worth sinking time into, especially the main man, Sasuke (or later on, Oribe).

Sasuke serves as the major source of comic relief and viewer empathy within Hyouge Mono. He’s a quirky guy of thirty-four (in the beginning) and a vassal for Nobunaga whose love for aestheticism gets him into all sorts of precarious situations, though normally of his own accord. Whenever beholding a famous item worthy of his attention, his face contorts and his eyes puff up to abnormal sizes. This happens a couple times each episode, which sort of encapsulates the mood of the series within the first ten episodes or so. It’s not so serious, but serious enough to have viewers understand the weight of the situation. At one point, Sasuke is sent as a messenger to a former-general for Nobunaga’s army to surrender or be executed by Nobunaga’s men. One thing leads to another, and the former-general commits suicide via using his valued teapot as an explosive device. The flying debris causes Sasuke to run after the most stable pieces of the teapot in order to save any resemblance of the pot for his own greed. Now if that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about the tone of the series, I’m not sure what will.

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When I began this series, I feared this focus on aestheticism would just be a running gag for Sasuke to use to lighten a mood. Thankfully, its emphasis is taken more seriously by a myriad of other characters, and at some point near the end, Sasuke’s importance to the plot almost drops entirely. I will say, though, that another part of what makes the beginning so slow is that fallback to using aestheticism as a joke, with characters’ eyelids popping out and mouths agape to the floor. It almost sets a satirical tone that made me forget that the plot is trying to be of a historically somber atmosphere. That, and all the talking. I can’t stress this enough. There is so much talking. So much. And that doesn’t go away at any point in the series.

Any major complaints I have with this show lie within the first third of its episode count. Apart from that, this show is a wonderful piece of fiction, or exaggerated non-fiction. The characters’ focus on their own ideologies and the impact each character has based on reputation and experience alone makes for a riveting drama on whose word trumps whose. There is so much fascination with the different variety of people’s aestheticism that it drives people either into prosperity or madness. The things some characters are willing to do to promote their own view of the world is heart-breaking and cruel. But it makes for beautiful character development. Something as simple as the color of a building is enough to set people off. Gold or black? White or polka-dot? Perfection versus imperfection. The amount of stylistic integrity and focus on aestheticism—which near the beginning was used as a joke—that this series has works wonders for those enamored with things more intellectually involved. For those who enjoy simplistic, harem-like plots of boy goes to school and tries to ward off slobbering archetypes, stay far, far away from this series.

For what it’s worth, there isn’t a single character in this show that I can come to dislike, but there are plenty of characters I don’t care for in the end. With the exclusion of about four or five major characters, the character list is likable, but not altogether quality meat. There is a giant cast of characters, and most serve purpose to some degree. However, by the end, it’s clear which characters the series favors. And those characters are all wonderful. With the exception of Hashiba, the ruler of Japan for the bulk of the series, I found myself genuinely concerned for the characters’ struggles and ideas. While these characters aren’t the most colorful, they feel genuine and honest, in almost grim-like fashion. Theirs ideas may coincide and even mimic one another, but it’s not due to trends set by current reality, but by the reality that is set within the world painted in the anime. Once again, the characters and story coincide to create this magical world where things change on the part of characters’ ideals and the influence they have on “modern” culture. There is so much detail that comes from this series later on that I cannot recommend this series enough for those willing to face the drag it takes to get there.

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Animation is a little on the standard side. The emphasis on aestheticism would imply that the series would focus on making the objects of characters’ desires look more magical, and it does. However, that’s really all the series has going for it. Individual animation for basic actions is fine, not great. Character shininess and design are okay for the time, but it gets props for making characters easily distinguishable. Except with women, which typically relies on either their weight, hairstyle, or eyes. Sasuke’s wife, Osen, has these “whoosh-like” eyes that imply someone took an ink brush and made a fell swoop and just called it “eyes.” It’s odd. The expressions that aesthetes make in the presence of magical-looking items is humorous, and always manages to make me smirk, but they aren’t as fantastical as they could be; very rarely, in fact. I suppose that suits the realistic qualities of this anime (though not everything is realistic), but it leaves a little more to be desired. It’s typically with Sasuke, too. It’s almost funnier when characters like Rikyu have it happen to them, but they never take advantage. But I suppose I can’t complain when the series is more dramatic than comedic. Ho-hum.

It’s a series that I’m really glad I discovered. Before watching it, I had never heard of this anime before, which is rare considering I search the high seas for various anime to watch almost all the time. There aren’t many anime I’m not at least vaguely familiar with. Ripe with psychological manipulation, the weight of one’s actions, and the stylistic approach to an unheard of shtick, Hyouge Mono is a wonderful treat for those willing to lick their way to the tootsie-roll center.

Personal Score: B

Critical Score: A-

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

Entry #9: Ristorante Paradiso (SoA 2016)

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This almost became more fourth drop of the Summer, but I thankfully pulled through. I don’t want to use up all of my drops before I’ve even reached ten anime!

However, there was a reason why I wanted to drop this, which is my ultimate complaint with the anime: it’s really boring… at first. I’ve watched quite a few anime during the Summer and a good number of them have been slow-paced. But this show? It may be the slowest of the bunch. By episode three, I was genuinely cursing the show mentally for being so unbelievably diluted and hollow. Nothing happened, or nothing I saw that was of any importance was happening. It wasn’t until episode nine that I started to appreciate this show’s sense of patience, but by that point, the giant scar of monotony had already made its mark, and I can’t simply disregard it because it all finally clicked for me.

Ristorante Paradiso is about a twenty-one-year-old girl named Nicoletta, who comes to Italy to find her mother and reveal to her husband that she is his wife’s daughter. After some pleading from her mother, she decides not to say anything, but stays within the boundary of a mysterious “ristorante” that her mother’s husband owns, where all the employees are older gentlemen with “spectacles.” And when I say “older,” I mean in their fifties. Points for uniqueness within the very premise: this anime is about an adult girl, surrounded by men in their fifties, and the setting is in Italy. What other anime can say that?

Now, this anime is classified as a “Josei,” which I have very little experience with. It seems to me that this classification is the result of a central female character being the subject of “attention” by many good-looking men. Only the entirety of the cast are well past the age of high-schoolers and can control their emotions and hormones. And aren’t stupid. Or sadistic. Or whatever male tropes anime and manga seem to think girls are into now-a-days. You would think that with all this in mind, I would eat this show up like a pepperoni pizza, right? Yes and no. As I said before, it took me a long time to really find myself fascinated with this show. By the way, this show has eleven episodes. I didn’t start getting into it until the third to last episode. What I feel Ristorante Paradiso has with an intriguing premise, it doesn’t do well within its execution. There is really no flash, no “spectacle” to this series that makes it immediately drawing to viewers. Maybe to women who are into hot guys, but I’m a heterosexual who isn’t into hot guys, so I found myself searching for anything to really latch onto, unsuccessfully. This anime is very dull to me, at least it is for a certain extent. Nothing really happens, one could say.

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What this anime is at its core is a character study. With each passing episode, one or more characters are presented as the main focus of said episode, making the series almost episodic. It highlights their past, their relationship with others, and their goals and whatever else may be significant to their character. There are quite a few characters, too, so the episodes have a lot to pave out. But this also provides an issue: once certain character’s episodes have passed, they’re regarded as existing by others, but don’t serve much point other than to provide their services in the ristorante. This anime tends to play favorites with its characters, with strong fascinations being shown to Nicoletta, the female lead, Claudio, Nicoletta’s love interest and server at the ristorante, and Nicoletta’s mother. All others have their fun in the sun, but ultimately serve as placeholders for certain personalities. Vito is playful and flirty. Teo is rough around the edges, but witty and caring. Gigi doesn’t talk. Etc., etc.

I like the series for at least doing a good job of developing the characters present, because they do to a satisfying extent. I just wish it did a better job of making them important for more than one episode, or tried to incorporate a story that gave each character an opportunity to present a problem simultaneously. Claudio’s desire for his ex-wife goes on for a good portion of the series, and is presented maturely and paced well. I only wish they would have, say, Vito have an argument with his wife or something happen during so, so that the viewer could process more than just “This is Claudio’s episode,” and so forth. It feels plastic and mechanical, the way it’s set up.

Mood is another thing that I believe made this series so hard to bear during its beginning portions. The viewer hardly knows the characters, hardly knows what makes them tick or makes them unique. Yet they continue the series in a light-hearted manner as if everyone’s an established family member and everything’s all good. There is a lot of flashbacks and backstory to this show, so beginning the series with (almost) everyone already developed from a personal standpoint leaves the viewer lost in translation. They simply need to wait for everyone’s personality to be broadcast. Episode after episode. So, they decide to focus more on Nicoletta during the first few episodes, which is smart… except I think she’s the most bland character of the bunch. It’s not that she’s unlikable, she’s just bland. There isn’t much to her other than that she’s “the kid” of the ristorante’s family. Using her as a template for the viewer to experience all of these phenomenons of each character with her is nice, but again, it feels almost mechanical and alienating. I think this anime would be better served for a visual novel. Not to mention, there’s very little conflict within this show. It’s smooth sailing, for the most part.

Once I did start to get into the show (because everyone had been showcased properly), I felt it had a lot of potential to continue onward. I would gladly welcome a second season to this show, but with seven years passing, I doubt it’ll ever come to be. The characters are decently developed and likable in their own merits. They feel like human beings and have a good amount of charm. Even Nicoletta has her moments. I only wished that this appreciation of its quirks would’ve come sooner than episode nine.

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The art is also something I suspect is very Josei-like. The mouths have very long lines, the bodies are slender, and the eyes, contrary to most, are more traditionally symmetrical with the face (mostly on the men), while others have eyes that are almost perfectly circle. Though, there are some characters (like Nicoletta) who don’t have pupils, which looks odd to me. It’s just the whiteness of the eye itself and the variously-colored corneas. The style itself is refreshing for someone not used to the Josei-style, but the animation was very lackluster. Very minimal overall movements, while basic actions looked clunky. For those of you who watch the show in the future, watch people drink wine. It’s really stiff. Really stiff. Speaking of wine, whenever wine was shown being poured into a wine glass (this happens a lot), it cuts to this 3D presentation style… which looks really bad. And pretentious. But mostly bad. This series has a strange fascination with wine. It’s like I’m watching Bartender all over again.

It’s good, but it’s hard to get into if you have no real reason to watch it. Admittedly, I watched this as a substitute after dropping Elfen Lied, but I had it marked as Plan to Watch beforehand. It’s a series that really takes its time, and is really into presenting the beauty of gentleness and exquisite cuisine. If it had been more upfront, I’m sure it would’ve showcased all sorts of Italian landmarks and traditions, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I feel the show is worth the watch by series’ end, and I’d definitely watch more if they were to decide to continue it. However, for those who can’t find anything to enjoy past the first couple of episodes, I’d entirely understand. Just know that this is a series that gets better as it progresses, much like wine gets better with age. But I wouldn’t know. I don’t drink it.

Personal Score: C

Critical Score: B-

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