Entry #25: Mawaru Penguindrum (SoA 2016)

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Here we have yet another anime I started years ago, only to finish it now. The one difference with this anime is that I managed to make it all the way to episode sixteen before putting it on-hold for years. For whatever reason, I lost all interest in finishing the series. Days turned to months, then turned to years, as I gradually accepted the fact that if I were to finish the series, I’d have to start over again from the start. But sixteen whole episodes to rewatch? My motivation was not as willing as my curiosity. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I decided to bring the series back as the finale of the Summer, both as a testament to my desire to finish it and as tribute to a friend who holds this series with high regard.

So why did I never finish it years ago? As the rewatched the series, I questioned why I would want to put such a creatively unique and whimsical show on-hold for so long. All the charm of the optimistic story and the zany antics of the penguins impressed me the same way they did the first time. I reached the halfway point of the series, and the answer began to slowly show itself. It wasn’t so obvious to me at first, but as the episodes continued to roll on, it became clear to me why my interest waned so long ago. But I’ll get to that later on.

What may be Penguindrum‘s selling point is the director behind it. I mentioned briefly in my Tsuritama review of my thoughts on Ikuhara’s works and creative endeavors as a director, but here I’m almost obligated to mention the passion he puts into his works. Without spoiling too much, I feel the sort of symbolic carnival he showcases in Penguindrum is both a strength and a fault. There are times when the intrigue and the mystery behind the things being shown to the viewers are ripe with underlying meanings and delicious irony. For some time, the anime had a tendency of almost parodying itself with its fairytale-like premise and settings. The way that Ikuhara showcases plot progression and character interaction is miles more humorous, clever, and loving than most anime I’ve seen in my lifetime. And I believe this is all very evident… in the first half of the show.

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Before I go on, for those who have noticed the large gap in time between my finishing AnoHana and this, it should come as no secret that the Summer had burned out my desire to continue watching anime. Hell, that’s most of the reason I decided to abandon Beck; not that it was bad, but because I didn’t want to deal with a series so abundant with drama and overcoming adversity. This feeling of “For God’s sake, please let this be over with soon!” may have affected my overall feeling of Penguindrum‘s second half. I know this is unfair, but for what it’s worth, I simply wasn’t in the mood for a dramatic eruption. Had I watched this in the beginning of the Summer, maybe it’d have been different. I don’t know. I can’t go back on it now.

This is where the answer to my question from years past comes into play: the series was simply too much. This, I feel, is the fault of Ikuhara’s works; if everything isn’t absolutely perfect in terms of character relatability/likability, story comprehension, or overall immersion within the show and its world, the climax of a series so loaded with irony, symbolism, and fantastical feats comes across as tryhard. That is why I stopped this so long ago. The plot moving forward the way it did, the characters suddenly becoming pawns for the plot instead of their own characters, the increased vagueness of what was actually happening to everything and everyone. The twists, the turns, the shock. Everything came pouring forth as if a dam burst, and the energy and reveal behind everything was drowning me within its neverending and powerful waves. Of course, I hadn’t gotten to that point years ago, but I could sense it, the inevitable opening of a path with smoke in the distance. I didn’t want to face it, so I didn’t. It wasn’t until now that I decided to push through my innate hesitation, and made it out alive.

I’m making this out as something bigger than it really is.

Without the spontaneous jargon, the ending of Penguindrum was an exclamation of how little an impact the series left on me by the end. But boy, did the series try to impact me. It has everything from shocking reveals to reality being augmented. Every little quirk and build-up from the first half of the series suddenly becomes much, much too real, and all the information isn’t just thrown at you, but shot at you out of a cannon, repeatedly, episode after episode, without giving you time to breathe. It almost feels rushed, but at the same time, I feel it was handled expertly in a fashion to strengthen the drama to its absolute peak, and for that, I can commend it. The entire second-half was about twisting the tone of the story to suit the demands of those craving answers, action, and aggressiveness. It is Ikuhara’s stamp of approval upon the otherworldly type of drama he seems to adore putting into his works. Though, I can’t say that certainly as this is the only series from him I’ve seen in its entirety.

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I’ve come this far without really saying anything about the show’s most basic parts, which is astounding to me. However, said basic parts are what make the second half so underwhelming. Can I really say I cared about any character? I certainly liked most characters, but did I really care? Did I care about the story? Did I care at all? Was this just a display of Ikuhara’s art, wrapped in a conveniently-packaged decorated box full of artistic integrity? Or was this a story he genuinely wanted to tell? By the end, I can answer all of these questions. Whether they’re correct is up to the beholder.

I didn’t care about the characters, really. Most were likable and appealing to varying degrees, but when the drama started to unfold and the tragedy became unjust, I barely felt moved. It’s almost like the works of Gen Urobuchi, famous for writing Fate/Zero and Majou Shoujo Madoka Magica. The stories are interesting and detailed, but I don’t feel connected to the characters enough to care about the horrible things they’re being subjected to. Good series altogether, but it doesn’t have that subjective “oomph” to them that puts them past the threshold of good to great.

Nevertheless, the first half of the series was wonderful. The amount of enthusiasm and spectacle being put forth, with only minor/subtle additions of drama and foreshadowing, was an absolute delight to partake in. The most obvious ploys were with the penguin sidekicks, who were vague representations of the characters’ subconscious. Spotting all the little signs that foretold certain events were great fun to look for, and the expressions and delusions of various characters had the charm to keep me interested far beyond the point that it probably should’ve. Had the series continued its run within this territory, I probably would have rated this series higher.

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On another note, there’s something about the series that’s odd. I don’t recall which episode it starts, but there seems to be a switch that’s flipped. When it does, the characters become tragic, openly pessimistic, and broody in their subconscious. One could make the argument that they were always like this and the series neglected to show it, but why make it so clearly optimistic, then change it for the sake of changing tones? I don’t recall much of a point where these hidden ambitions of various characters were foreshadowed or hinted at in the beginning. This shift seems to be the boiling point for all of my frustrations with this series. One moment, the series is cheerful and subtle with its execution. The next, the characters don’t care for their original goals and act completely out of character. Or, sadly, like someone who would realistically act in the face of tragedy and nothing else. At least they retain their running jokes.

Animation is another vocal point of Ikuhara’s works, and it comes across here just as vibrantly as one would expect. The animation is lovely, putting it mildly. The amount of running jokes, symbolism, expression, artistic milestones, and design are all enough to envelop the viewer into the world without needing any explanation. It works very well with the story and makes enjoyability skyrocket, but not enough to save the series from its errors. It would be difficult to decide whether the story or animation for Penguindrum is superior, but the animation has its own way of telling a story, and without it, the series wouldn’t be the same. Especially symbolically. The amount of effort put into each frame is, ahem, electrifying. If this series has a flawless category, it’d be with animation. Story is more profound, but falters in the second half.

A very good series in its own right, some subjective flaws dispel it from achieving the ranks of other classic titles. I didn’t feel that burst of animosity and outrage by series’ end, but I felt enamored by its effort and the intrigue it puts into it. Ikuhara, as I’ve stated before, is a director that loves what he does, but sometimes it comes across as too much for me. Nevertheless, if all directors put as much effort into crafting a story the way he does with every project, anime would be a much more respected medium. I appreciate Ikuhara for the work that he does, even if his projects doesn’t always rub me in all the right places. Mawaru Penguindrum is one such example of a series that is ripe with energy and creativity, but when push comes to shove, despite its best efforts, it leaves little wiggle room for my heart to shake.

Personal Score: B-

Critical Score: B+

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

Entry #24: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai. (SoA 2016)

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I really wish I could’ve put “AnoHana” in the title, but that wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

<Slight spoilers ahead.>

I also really wish I could continue on with this entry without stating this, but I can’t: this series is insanely popular. Ever since it debuted in 2011, AnoHana has been the talk of the town for both anime and drama enthusiasts. I’ve seen it on numerous Top 10 Best Anime lists and amongst individual people’s favorites. It currently has a 8.64 average rating on MyAnimeList with scores from over 260,000 people. With that kind of praise and near-universal acclaim, one couldn’t help but go into this expecting a modern masterpiece the likes of Evangelion or Ashita no Joe. Whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate.

There’s a certain intrigue to this series that arose in my mind as I continued to watch the first few episodes. It was setting something up, I could feel it. Something grand, something spectacular. The characters were slowly, but surely opening up the pathways to their deepest and darkest regrets in a way that I felt would accumulate into something more. The pacing was on point and the story began to sprout out of the creative soil. The characters were decent, but time will only make them better. The story was building, growing, changing. The animation began to interact with the mood, highlighting the little bits of grief or regret that certain characters would face. That feeling of nostalgia and the fleeting passage of time constricting the characters’ whims and motivations to a point of acting upon their hearts’ desires. All of this and more, leading up to the final climax. The final feeling of…

Nothing.

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What can I say? Everything about this series was fine… to a certain point. The characters were fine. The animation was fine. The story was fine. The pacing was fine. The development was fine. Everything was just fine, a far cry from what an emotionally-engaging drama should do for a man with a disheveled heart like mine. I remained interested, but never truly immersed. I felt for the characters, but never really cared. Everything about this series seems to stretch out farther than it could possibly reach. It’s an attempt to produce a piece of art out of sheer empathy, and the residual power of nostalgia, regret, change, and love. But without the proper (and very strategic) placement of the pieces that create the body of work, this piece of art will become the likes of Frankenstein’s monster. AnoHana is somewhere in between, with the physical make-up of a beautiful creature, but without the ability to acclimate into a place it can call home.

This anime is almost like the fleeting feeling it tries so hard to replicate with its characters. It’s a series that has good moments to it, but only those it can look back on with teary eyes. Most of these good moments come from its characters, as they behave well enough to convince a viewer to empathize with their self-conceived sins. Their behavior in the face of love being lost is hard to argue against, though the execution stretches the limits of melodrama more than a few times. The core personalities of each character are also something to look forward to. The way they take shape upon being visited by the ghostly mediator gives a keen sense of progress in reuniting a camaraderie that may not have been as close as previously thought.

For the three people unaware, AnoHana is about a group of six people who used to hang out a lot together as kids, until one of the group members died in an accident. Some years later, the ghost of the sixth member reappears in front of the proclaimed “leader” of the group, who is now a depressed shut-in. Through use of this sudden reappearance, the ghostly member convinces the leader to reunite the gang in an attempt to get his, and all the rest of their lives back on track. The conflicts that arise through this sudden reappearance are what make up the bulk of AnoHana‘s 11-episode run.

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I would like to point out the single-most prominent issue I have with this series: Menma. For those who have read my Tamako Market entry, I discussed that the core problem in that series is that it revolved around an uninteresting and unappealing lead, which served as an obstacle for the growth and/or likability of other characters. This is also the case here for AnoHana, as Menma, the ghostly girl, is a perfect caricature of Jesus Christ. All she has going for her is that she’s cute and bubbly, while also thinking of everyone but herself. Her entire role in the series is to be missed, pitied, and fought over, and it makes the characters around her suit that role to horribly cliché levels. I gave (and still give) zero shits about Menma as a character, as the viewer only sees her as “the one who died,” without any other motivation to see her as her own person. Not to mention, a lot of the conflict in earlier episodes would’ve been resolved if Menma had simply done something other than nothing. It’s shown that she can interact with various objects in the real world, yet she doesn’t take advantage of it to prove her existence to other members of the group. I would’ve liked to see more of her past as opposed to other member’s pasts that directly involved her, because god damn does every character obsess over her a tad too much. Especially Menma’s mother. That scene was really out of place.

The cherry on top, the final nail in the coffin, and whatever other metaphor you can think of, is the final episode. I praise the series for being so internal and calculated with its drama in the beginning, and the very minute extent of genuine angst the characters displayed whenever a problem arose. The final episode kicks this to the curb and ramps up the drama to almost stupid levels. Everyone finally shouts out everything that has ever been wrong and why they feel guilty about Menma’s death. There’s crying and shouting and love interests revealed and everything… everything is such a mess of drama that even I, as someone who will defend Toradora‘s final few episodes, cringed with the amount of melodrama in front of me. All of this because of Menma. All of this because they had to do it all at once. All because the final episode has to be the most dramatic, the most emotionally-charged, the most explosive in emotional energy. Like a volcano erupting. A Death Star exploding. A sick man throwing up. I really need to quit with the metaphors.

It is thanks to this final episode that I realized I never cared up to that point anyway. The final episode is supposed to be the dramatic climax. I get that. But wouldn’t this overflow of tragic and/or happy revelations conceive some sort of emotional response from me, the viewer? It should, but it didn’t. I sat stone-faced as I took in every minute of the final episode. By that time I was realizing what I already knew, and that is the series is mediocre, but not without its more fond atmosphere.

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The animation is what one could expect from a (seemingly) high-budget affair. It’s crisp, it’s fresh, it’s colorful, and it suits each mood beautifully. There are key segments where the animation begins to spatter uncontrollably, trying for a more realistic approach at fast movements. It’s both good and bad, as it makes it more realistic, but also a little goofy from an animation standpoint. This is likely just a nitpick, but I also don’t like that they choose their moments to make the animation more realistic. I understand I’m asking too much from the animators to make every move more realistic and quick, but to save it for moments I, personally, don’t find appealing seems picky. Otherwise, I have no complaints about overall design and animation. It’s a good-looking series.

AnoHana is a goldmine for those who can cry at anything. Those emotionally-tuned will find a lot to like about AnoHana, but as a logical critic, there’s not much for me to munch on. Had the series continued the way it had within the first few episodes, I feel the series would’ve been a little more constructive, and given a little bit more reason for the viewer to care by series’ end. Besides, why listen to me? It’s such a highly-rated anime and beloved by everyone that I clearly hold no jurisdiction in trying to dampen the golden hue this series exudes. It wouldn’t be the first time I disliked a very popular anime. It certainly won’t be the last. But for what it’s worth, AnoHana has semblances of what make the series so beloved. The way it finishes and the way it slides over its plotholes, however, is what makes the series ultimately underwhelming.

Personal Score: C

Critical Score: C

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

Entry #23: Hanada Shounen-shi (SoA 2016)

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If you could consider this show a slice-of-life, it’s a damn good one.

Early on, I thought to myself that this story is actually quite similar to Mushishi in structure. It’s fairly episodic and it stars a single male character (in this case, a bratty child) who interacts with spirits and assists them with their troubles and past grudges while alive. Though, as one who hasn’t seen Mushishi, I can’t be certain how similar these two series are, but by the halfway point, I felt that Shounen-shi had developed a style of its own—that while similar, it isn’t quite the same.

Before any other aspect, I’d like to focus on Shounen-shi‘s art direction. This is an anime made in the early 2000’s that was adapted from a manga published in the mid-90’s. However, I’d argue that the design could be dated back to a time even earlier than that. This anime feels distinctly late-80’s or early 90’s to me. Back to a time when “moe” wasn’t even considered a thing, and when characters in anime actually looked their nationality. This is not the bright and colorful swarm of animated flair that anime of today tries so hard to strive for. It’s a simple, down-to-earth sort of style that reaches back to the olden days. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate to “good.”

The appreciation one has for the design and overall animation (which I think flows smoothly enough) is entirely subjective. It’s an all-ages (aside from language and comedic nudity) rendition of humor and depiction of home life. Lots of tears, snot, piss, and other bodily fluids are shown in full glory throughout. When someone cries, they have a fountain of snot running down their face. When someone is scared, their eyes and mouth transform to sizes far too large for their faces. Lots of the kids’ comedy relies on slapstick and name-calling, along with making fun of differences in others. It’s a rather simplistic atmosphere that is highlighted by the design, and for that it prospers, but unless you like that sort of thing, you’ll be missing the designs of modern titles.

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Speaking of atmosphere, it’s a different one in Shounen-shi. Never have I seen so dysfunctional a family in anime as the one I’ve seen here with the male lead. They absolutely love and care for one another, but the animosity they have between them would imply the household is inhabited by a bunch of children. This, however, is also highlighted by the fact that the family is poor and (implied) without a lot of proper education. And the households of other characters with family members who are successful or uphold some sense of honor or spiritualism seem to be a lot more considerate, well-mannered, and structured. While the aim of the show seems to be of a light-hearted slice-of-life, the social commentary with the behavior of families throughout the small town seems ripe with intrigue. Though, they never explore it.

The stories told that revolve around the main character are rather trivial, and is probably the biggest flaw of the series. I can understand that a lot of people have regrets in their lives and desire that second chance before feeling comfortable moving on, but to make that the basic message for almost every story? It gets a little tedious. The sum of most stories play out like this: ghost appears before male lead wanting a favor. Male lead either tells them to fuck off, leading the spirit into forcing him to comply, or accepts. Through a series of events, the spirit learns something about themselves or the person involved with their dilemma and grows from it. The spirit moves on and the male lead gets in trouble for some reason. Very little does it break from this type of set-up, and it even makes some use of it with other recurring characters’ problems, too. Which, for the sake of character growth throughout a series, makes this admirable, but ultimately, I’d like to see a little variety, too.

One other marvelous thing concerning character growth is the male lead himself: Ichiro. He’s a nine-year-old troublemaker who is constantly being punished, has horrible grades, and only thinks about having fun. Through use of getting to help spirits and learning about their experiences in life, he grows himself as a witness to these tragic tales. By series’ end, he becomes someone worth admiring, and someone who still retains his core personality while also remaining his age. The growth of Ichiro is marvelous, and while it isn’t always absolute, he always plays back to the feelings of others rather than himself, in spite of his immature ways.

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The structure of the anime, as I mentioned above, is rather episodic in nature. Lots of one-episode stories that play back-to-back at random points in time, with vague hints at time progression. Later on, stories will become two episodes long, with the final story being a whopping four episodes long. Interesting note about the way the stories are set up, too: the first episode ends on a cliffhanger, and immediately cuts to a different story as if it never happened. This confused the hell out of me, leaving me to look up the episode list to see if the website had made a mistake in episode order. Turns out, the first episode cliffhanger isn’t continued until episode thirteen. I found this incredibly strange, but otherwise intriguing. It also implies that the first episode is actually far into the fact that Ichiro can see ghosts, as the first episode also neglects to mention much about the accident or anything else from it, waiting until episode twelve to get that all settled.

I think characters are probably the biggest strength of this anime. There’s a charm to the feel-good atmosphere to this show, and everyone enjoys a happy ending. Seeing a happy ending five hundred times is kind of grating, but that may just be me. I can see why this anime, while underviewed, is rated so well. It’s very sentimental and relies on tragic tales with happy endings for the bulk of its mass. People eat that shit up. The recurring characters all have their own weight to the story at some point or another, and even when the spotlight isn’t on them, they make themselves known to exist, which is a nice touch. I feel the series is a story nurtured with wanting to be a pleasing, healing anime, focusing on dealing with tragedies and the lives we all have to live and being able to choose how to live them. Lots of “parents telling kids how to live their lives” plots in this anime…

I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect a lot from this show based on the cover alone. I thought it would be a childish display of trying to pull my heartstrings with calming shots at nature and kids being stupid kids. Turns out the kids share the roles with adults in terms of importance, creating an environment that doesn’t chastise nor cherish the decisions made by people throughout their lives, so long as they find their solace at any point during, or after their lives. It is, essentially, an anime telling people to be happy, while displaying the simplistic and realistic design of an anime from years ago as a sort of selling point. Does it sell? It does for me. It could for you, too.

Personal Score: B

Critical Score: B-

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

Entry #22: Campione! (SoA 2016)

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I would’ve put the full name for this series, but it is far too needlessly long.

Fun fact: I watched two episodes of this series nearly four years ago shortly proceeding the end of the first Summer of Anime. It had been on-hold since then, with little chance of ever being brought out of that decrepit cesspool of a list—until now. Upon finishing the series, I realized I made a grave mistake. This series should’ve never been put on-hold. It should’ve been dropped.

Never have I gazed upon a series so insistent on copying “better” series within its genre to pass off for an engrossing story. I always complain about series being too cliché, but this might be the king of clichés… nay, the God of clichés. For those of you who enjoy series such as Shakugan no Shana, you’re in luck, as Campione! is almost a complete rip-off of it. The characters, the supernatural abilities, the emphasis on pairing the dense pair of balls with multiple archetypes of women; Campione! is a smorgasbord of everything I hate in anime, and everything I feel gives anime as a whole a bad name. If I may give the series any credit, it’s that it goes above and beyond with its clichés, to the point where the women are literally bowing down to the male lead, further cementing the self-insert personality that he possesses. I’m not one to bring up feminism or any sort of social justice in my posts, but if this is the standard in anime, perhaps Campione!’s author should dab a little within the chaos. I wouldn’t recommend Tumblr or Twitter.

If that isn’t enough, the series also takes on Greek Mythology as a crutch to support its otherworldly plot. How much does it follow Greek Mythology? Enough to know the names of various Greek Gods. Aside from that, it strays off onto a path of its own accord, making up various stories about the Mythology as if they were slanderous lies. I’m not joking; one episode has the main character claim that the stories were changed to suit the benefit of the antagonist he was going up against. I was already leery of the plot before that point, but I believe it was there when I decided the plot was complete nonsense. It’s a gross reskin of a genuinely interesting collection of ancient stories to suit the fantasies of preteen ecchi soldiers.

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Do you enjoy Shinmai Maou no Testament? If so, did you enjoy it for the lewd acts? You’re in so much luck today! Campione! features a male lead gaining superpowers by making out with various women! That’s right, when all seems lost, the male lead takes a woman and locks lips in order to gain “information” on the bad guy to become more powerful. Kind of like that episode of Teen Titans highlighting Starfire’s origins, but with added stupidity. This doesn’t really serve any purpose other than to further showcase how stupid the series is, but it’s fun to explain things in detail.

Two things save this series from a rock bottom score of 1/10. First is Mariya, one of the female archetypes who takes on the role of healer and innocent priestess. She’s very, very clearly an archetype and joins in the harem that the male lead gathers because he’s such a sweet, nice boy, but she’s cute. I like her realistic design and is less tedious as a character than the rest. The second thing is animation and design. As horrible as this anime is, it doesn’t look horrible. Fight scenes are flashy and characters are cute, despite how rotten it all is on the inside. I can’t disregard this aspect of the anime completely as it did alleviate some of the frustration of watching the series. Fan service is fan service. The prettier it is, the better.

There’s so little good with this series that I can’t find any proper way to wrap up this entry. It’s just bad… very, very bad. If one can find any amusement within this series, than they could probably tolerate anything, aside from School Days, anyway. Campione!, to me, is a symbol of everything that is wrong with the anime industry in recent years. And to think, the light novel that this anime was adapted from is still going to this day. I guess you can sell sex no matter how blatant it seems.

Personal Score: D-

Critical Score: D-

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

Entry #21: Witchblade (SoA 2016)

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If there’s one thing this series has over most others, it’s the importance of motherhood. Every character that seems to become of any importance has some motivation driven through their mother, or because of their mother, or in spite of their mother. There is a very distinct importance on incorporating mothers into the series, so much so that I wonder if there was any sort of symbolic nature to it. That mothers are directly responsible for the nurturing the personalities of their children? That even without that nurturing, children will instinctively be drawn to their mother? That the term “mother” is what any individual makes of it? The possibilities are endless while also intrinsically debatable. It would serve as a nice discussion piece… if that wasn’t only a small tidbit of the series’ bulk.

Many might stop by this series’ cover and think to themselves, “Wow. Look at that half-naked lady. This series must have a lot of fan service to make up for an awful story.” Many would be half-right, but the story isn’t exactly as self-indulging as the cover may make it out to be. There is fan service in this series, and there are certain scenes and still-shots that take advantage of the female lead’s (unnecessarily) busty appearance. However, I can assure everyone reading that this series is entirely serious, or at least tries to be while also incorporating, as I’m sure some would come to expect, THE POWER OF EMOTIONS. I was honestly surprised by how seriously the series took itself, as I had the same “ecchi garbage” vibe as I humorously described above. It’s tremendously dark, and if not for the horrible, endless amounts of clichés, the story would be able to captivate a majority of audiences. Said majority would also have to not be thinking about it, either.

While dark and serious, the story is also something I would describe as “Typical Japanese writing.” It explains the what and the why, but not the why that makes the what capable in the first place. More specifically, it explains the conflict and why the conflict is bad, but not why the conflict is happening in the first place. Take Witchblade‘s plot for example. An early-twenties woman with a six-year-old daughter has a bracelet called a “Witchblade” that allows her to transform into a powerful being of glowing lights and revealing skin. The witchblade itself is described to be “an ancient tool of power” that can only seem to be compatible with women and cannot be removed whatsoever. The “what” is the witchblade and the “why” is the vague origin story that goes along with it. Where’s the “why” that explains why any of this is possible? How hasn’t it been an established, public thing since it was discovered? If it’s an ancient tool, why is the public not aware? It can turn people into destructive monsters that partake in destroying things for the sake of destroying things. That doesn’t seem like something people would just forget.

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It’s not only with the witchblade, either. There are numerous plot devices used within the story that don’t make any sense. The amount of bullshit present within the story is enough to drive any educated person mad. I guess this would be considered a “turn off your brain” kind of series, where basic instinct and emotions drive one to enjoy the series. I hate those kinds of series.

I don’t hate Witchblade, however. Despite the nonsense the story spouts and the amount of emotional clichés it parades around, the story at least goes through with its dark tones and doesn’t sugarcoat itself. The most I can give the story credit for is that it is fairly entertaining, and can even be thought-provoking in various cases. It has a certain charm to its credit that’s also improved by use of the secondary characters. While the major characters aren’t necessarily bad, I feel the minor characters have a more cheerful attitude as ignorant bystanders that make the show more entertaining. They’re cliché, go figure, but that doesn’t make them any less genuine in how affectionate they are as a secondary family to the female lead’s daughter. This anime has a lot of heart. I can appreciate how much effort they try to put into a deflated story with likable characters… on the surface.

Characters are a bit of a mixed bag to me. A lot of the “antagonists” are written off as misunderstood or justifiably insane. The rest of them are stupid. It’s also unfortunate to see certain antagonists killed off in a mild way, as if the author was bored of them and wanted to move on to something else. There was some potential, especially with one “Maria-sama” to develop a character worth respecting, but even she comes off as simplistic. Hell, they add a character just to say that she’s simplistic out loud! The good-moral characters are typically more developed. I actually really like the female lead’s daughter, despite her being way too mature for her age. They act reasonably (except the female lead, who’s stupid) within every situation, both in good and bad ways. It’s easy to empathize with these characters on the surface, but knowing that most of their motivations are connected through motherhood might make it a tad silly. It’s a roster that benefits from being goofy in light times and dramatic in dark times. It’s the underneath that leaves a little more to be desired.

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I think this was a big ticket item back in 2006, because some scenes look really good for the time. However, Witchblade is also horribly inconsistent with its animation and design. The biggest indicator of this? The female lead’s tits. I swear, those things change shape like a buffet changes food. Sometimes they’re huge, sometimes they’re moderate. They’re supposed to be huge, along with her ass, because busty female heroes for the win, but sometimes they come off as modest. Sometimes they’re lopsided, sometimes they’re pointy, and sometimes the flop like water-starved fish. It’s incredibly distracting, because I don’t want to always look at her tits, but her tits are begging me by changing shape and invoking my curiosity. Aside from that, scenes are of similar fashion. Some are great, while others look dated. Close-ups of characters are noticeably vivid, but scenes with far-shots with a lot of characters are bland and sketchy. The designs of transformed women are cool, but after a while it becomes more of a lightshow. Who has brighter colors in weirder places? I almost expected a disco ball between someone’s legs, but to no avail.

It’s a so-so series of entertaining spectacle, but mindless action and consequence. I forgot to mention earlier, but the action scenes in this series are also rather dull. Fight scenes don’t typically last very long and are settled abruptly more often than not. Fans of well choreographed fights won’t be satisfied here, and not a lot of others will be, either. If I had to recommend this to any kind of audience, I would go with those who enjoy fantasy and drama, as those are the two aspects of Witchblade that work best with what’s presented. It’s a shame that it wasn’t better, but such is the style of “Traditional Japanese writing.”

Personal Score: C+

Critical Score: C-

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

Entry #20: Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt (SoA 2016)

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I’ll wrap this one up quick, ’cause there isn’t much to be said that most people don’t already know.

Panty & Stocking is a giant middle finger to the anime industry. More specifically, it’s a giant middle finger to the squeaky-clean, innocent tropes that plague the standard anime industry. The bland, oblivious main characters too scared to have sex. The proper message of abiding by every daily norm society upholds. The rising popularity of high school settings and cute girls doing cute things. Panty & Stocking takes all of these things and flushes them down the shitty, cum-stained toilet full of tampons and blood stains.

The main characters of the anime, Panty & Stocking, are not your typical duo. Panty, the blonde bombshell, is a nymphomaniac and all-around bitch. Stocking, her younger sister, is addicted to sweets and has just as foul a mouth and attitude as her sister. These two are angels, who are sent to Earth with the aid of their authority figure, Garterbelt, to combat rampaging “Ghosts” from destroying society as a whole.

This anime is disgusting. Disgusting in the sense that it’s just a bunch of shit, snot, sex, and juvenile jokes from beginning to end, almost every episode. At least, that’s what you may have heard, as I did before watching it myself. The series actually isn’t quite as arbitrary as you might think, with episodes being shown in two 7 to 12-minute segments. Some of these are basically “Set up plot → Solve conflict,” but there are a few others that are brilliantly disguised as social commentary or attacking various stereotypes. These segments alone make the show worth watching, but for those who enjoy a nice shitshow, the rest of the series should suit your fetish as well. Just be prepared for a lot of shit and sex jokes, because Panty & Stocking loves them some shit and sex jokes.

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The animation also makes the series worth watching. If there’s one thing people can credit Gainax for, it’s their animation style. Lots of various experimentation and clever uses of animation techniques makes the anime a lot more insanely enjoyable. The nods to other series is also a nice little wink to the audience, my personal favorite being the Ren & Stimpy nod.

It’s really about taste here. If you want to see something most anime are afraid of showing, watch Panty & Stocking. If not, don’t. If you’re interested in finding some subliminal messages throughout the piece, you’re gonna have to sift through a lot of shit to get to them. Whether or not it’s worth it is your tolerance for obscene amounts of sex and gore. If you were to ask me, I’d recommend watching only various segments within the series, as the anime at its most “serious” isn’t worth its weight in shit. If I may add one more thing, the ending is perfect for this kind of series, and only further institutes the giant middle finger to both anime in general and the audience. It sure knows how to go out with a bang (pun not intended).

Personal Score: C

Critical Score: C+

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

Entry #19: Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (SoA 2016)

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Those who have read a lot of my entries in the past know that I hate creative monotony. I like something new, fresh, diverse; something that stands out from the crowd. The term “cliché” is one I use quite often as a flaw, and one I will continue to use as long as anime stays the course. However, every once in a while I’ll find something a little different. Not enough to break out of those cliché cuffs, but enough to make those clichés a little more sweet in the long run.

Take the case of Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, a show that has been heavily praised for flipping stereotypes on their heels. Typical female roles are being attributed to men, the humor focuses on breaking expectations instead of embellishing them, and wouldn’t you know it, a female character gets her ass kicked on an episodic basis by a guy. That’ll stir up some controversy, eh?

That all being said, it’s nice to see a series try to be different with its approach. However, being different in of itself isn’t all that’s expected from me. It has to be executed differently, too, something of which I feel this anime struggles with. Yes, it’s different, with male and female roles switched and the constant breaking of expectations and all, but if you revert those traits back to what is standard within the industry, it’s hardly different at all. Taking a picture and inverting the colors will make it different, but it’s still the same picture. For that, I feel the praise that this series gets is a little inflated.

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Going further into what expectations are broken within this series attributes directly into its comedy. It breaks expectations for the sake of running gags and character identification. A red-headed suave boy is actually a tsundere and is embarrassed by the attention he claims to desire. The “prince of the school,” who attracts the attention of every female student, is actually a girl. Things like this and more are used for the bulk of the comedy that inhabits the wilderness of each episode’s colorful jungle. Unfortunately, there are a lot of complaints about this style of humor, where one character has one joke attributed to their character. The tsundere wants attention, but hates it when he gets it. Hahaha. The female lead goes to the park with her romantic interest and thinks it’s a date, but the romantic interest is using it as a reference for his manga. Hahaha. I’m inclined to agree with those against said style of humor, because it’s entirely one-dimensional. It’s a type of humor that one could easily see coming after a few episodes, and can become stale without trying to freshen up one’s expectations all over again. Not to mention, most of these characters get very little development individually. They only tend to grow closer(?) to other characters.

There are two things about this anime that I absolutely adore. The first thing is its design and overall animation. Chiyo, the female lead, is one of the most uniquely designed and adorable characters I’ve seen in recent memory. Her spurts of romantic animation are always charming to view, and I honestly wish she did it more often. Not just her, though, but most characters are energetic enough to keep the humor at least watchable. The vibrant display of color is calming to the eyes and makes the kookiness of the comedy really pop out, especially when the characters play the straight man. The animation for standard movements are typical, but exaggeration is played exceptionally well. It’s one of those anime that would’ve suited well as a parody anime. Thinking of it now, this could be considered a parody of typical tropes. Who’s to say?

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The second thing is its energy. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun has energy abound and makes the comedy and overall enjoyability of the series phenomenal. The characters may be one-dimensional to a fault, but they make great mascots. The enthusiasm present makes me want to like the series simply because it feels as though the author is trying their best to make something exciting. It’s contagious to have characters so full of spirit. It makes me want to write my own anime… which would most likely not be so energetic.

Comedy is the name of the game here, but the final episode shows that it can hold its own with romance, too, which is almost disappointing. I would’ve liked to see how this anime handles the romance between someone who is self-aware of how bizarre her current situation is and someone who is blatantly one-dimensional and oblivious. From how the final episode plays out, I’d think this anime would handle it flawlessly. That, however, was only the final episode, as most episodes touch upon the subject of romance, but only for the sake of comedy. It isn’t something of importance, as the characters involved likely wouldn’t leave much of an emotional impact. These are comedy characters. Putting them outside their comfort zone might be disastrous.

All things considered, it’s a sometimes humorous, sometimes clever, and altogether charming anime full of energy and flash. I’m not surprised the anime is so heavily praised, but it makes me wonder if this will set the standard for what comedy anime in the future will abide by. That… would end up making “breaking clichés” cliché. Oh, the irony.

Personal Score: B-

Critical Score: B

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