Entry #19: Higashi no Eden (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by a coasting chatter.)

They may as well have translated this title as Eden of the Least. Here is yet another example of a series not taking itself to its full potential, but due in part to there not being enough time to get everything fully fulfilled. In the first few episodes, characters are established, their personalities are bursting, and their interactions are perfectly realistic within the confusing introduction. Everything within the shadows reveals itself at a nice pace and the manner in which things are brought up are entertaining to see. The combo of a strange boy with unknown origins and a girl whose trying to become something in society are a charming pair, with even more intrigue involved with knowing the “mysteries” behind each character. What’s provided to the viewer early on is a promising masterpiece in waiting—only if one is willing to wait, as this series isn’t.

Something of the same vein as KiznaiverHigashi no Eden suffers from a very rushed and incredibly unfulfilling finale. The weight of the plot that is to be revealed is far greater than what the series can develop in a mere eleven episodes. Part Mirai Nikki, part Ghost in the Shell, the atmosphere of the overall conflict affects the world, and the participants are trapped within a game that they cannot escape from. However, the emphasis of the game is to change the world for the better. So, what makes it better? The series hardly seems interested in answering that, such for the sake of trying to tie everything together as well as they could under the time allotted. The ending suffers for it, and if not for the two sequel films, it would become a story filled with an underwhelming sense of bravado, brushed under the rug without the tools to help it grow.

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Almost ironically, the longer the series goes on, the more it crams itself with things to develop. Much like a shounen hero bearing the weight of everyone’s grief on his shoulders, Higashi no Eden continues to pile on thing after thing until it’s crawling towards the finish line. (Many) More characters, more plot developments, more moral graying, and more things to add to the already enormously lenient plot that needs to be filled to make sense. It already doesn’t, as the very foundation of why the game exists in the first place and the capabilities of the players’ powers is far too vague to take seriously, but why not try and establish a little security? By the final moments, everything’s so cluttered that one forgets why they even cared in the first place.

But there is a lot of good here. It’s just unrealized good that can’t find any solace within the junkyard of unnecessary slop. The main couple are, to some extent, developed and have wonderful chemistry. The humor isn’t bad, the pacing is good up until the final episodes, and without the easy plotholes formed around the power of the players of the game, the intrigue behind Eden’s mystery is well-established. It constantly keeps one’s attention through baiting more clarity on the male lead’s origins and his relationships with those around him. The payoff is lousy, though the build-up is fairly consistent in its allure.

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On the topic of “consistency,” animation is of the same caliber. While not glossy or particularly unique, the animation in Higashi no Eden allows a lot of the humor and the realistic situations to feel more real. Not without zany overreactions, which I would argue is a positive, the comedy aspect is underused, but sprinkled just enough to liven up certain scenarios that may otherwise qualify as dull. Standard as it may be, I quite liked the designs of the characters, particularly the main couple. They fit their characters’ quirks perfectly; the normal, hopeful female and the mysterious, quick-witted male. Their faces remind me a tad of modern-day Digimon character designs, with a touch of Studio Ghibli. There were never any noticeable fluctuations in animation, though some shortcuts were taken every once in a while.

It’s an easy watch, but an unfulfilling one on top of it. I would almost feel more comfortable telling people to shy away from the series due to its rushed ending, but without seeing the sequel films, I can’t make that call. It’s entirely possible those films can justify what the series wanted to do in its limited time table. Until that point, the series itself is somewhat of a time-waster, promising a number of interesting details only to have the final product be pretty ordinary. All that once seemed to be a reason to keep going is basically abandoned by the end in favor of the major plotline. The same applied to my tolerance.

Personal Score: C

Critical Score: C

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

Entry #18: Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, from somewhere over the rainbow.)

Imagine, if you will, a stone. This stone has been sitting, completely motionless, on the untainted soil of a far-off rural place for decades. No fear of nature or mankind can deter the stone from moving from its spot upon the isolated plain. Resolute in its stature, it occupies the space it feels true to embody, comfortable in its blissful state of hibernation. Such time has passed and the stone never wavers—no wind so strong or bouts of irrigation too severe could stir the rock from its rightful place. Forever holding, always withstanding. The stone carries on wordlessly, motionless.

Now let me ask you a question: after imagining that short snippet, full of pseudo-intellectual musings and blunt determination, do you care at all about that stone? No, of course you don’t. Because it’s a fucking stone.

Shigatsu no Kimi no Uso is a lot like that stone, carrying forth in its stationary state. With it comes the most prominent flaw that, perhaps excusable, effectively destroys everything this anime hopes to accomplish: it’s artificial. It’s fake. It’s not real. It’s a mirage, an illusion, a decoy, insufficient in its authenticity. Like the stone, it is not worth caring for; and like the stone, it carries on regardless.

These characters, this story that they’re placed in. Their thoughts, their motivations, their actions, the way symbolic things seem to just happen out of circumstance. Everything feels so forcibly overindulgent, so egotistically self-serving that it damn near insults me that it tries to parade itself as this David among anime. Its atmosphere is repugnant, devoid of the soft touch necessary to really provoke the harrowing themes presented in a relatable and realistic tone. Very few times does it succeed in allowing what it tries too hard to evoke truly unravel in an un-condescending fashion.

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In short, the characters do not feel real. The setting does not feel real. Shigatsu in its entirety feels like a carefully constructed ruse to manipulate the audience into caring about puppets in human clothing. A lot of this is attributed to the writing, which is atrocious. Constantly whispering the most overdramatic cues, things that the viewer can perfectly see without the use of words—oh, how this anime adores to listen to itself speak. There’s too much jabbering, too much emphasis on telling the viewer exactly what to think and how to feel, instead of letting the imagery speak for itself. Like the author was scared that a moment without obvious self-reflection through monologue would tear down the foundation of their beautiful sanctuary of a drama. If these characters could go a single moment without thinking about how pitiful their existence is, perhaps it wouldn’t be so obvious that everything will be okay by the end.

This hostile nature shows through even more about halfway through the series, when the arc of the male lead in a sense “concludes” and focuses more on the side-characters, none of whom I care about. The exploration of the childhood friend’s attraction to the male lead is so boring, so unfulfilling that I almost wonder if I’m watching a completely different series. On its own, I wouldn’t complain nearly as much, but these characters… they’re all so mirrored by their ideals and/or character archetypes that they may as well not even try. Being that they’re a part of this series, with this writing and this atmosphere, makes their development doomed to fail—in the most melodramatic and self-introspective way possible.

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But then there are outliers: the rival pianists opposite the male lead. Initially, they’re the same manner of puppetry as everyone else, but as the series progresses and the three begin to see the way in which they improve one another as musicians, it becomes… actually worthwhile. The scene in which the three sit down and enjoy egg sandwiches together (IF NOT FOR THE WRITING MAKING THEM SPOUT UNNECESSARY SHIT THAT IS PERFECTLY OBVIOUS TO THE EYE) is actually heartwarming, and made me somewhat wonder how the series would’ve fared if they cut out the romance aspects (as in cutting blondie and childhood friend out completely) and focused on pure competition arcs. After all, the competitions were the points where the anime became… not-as-obnoxious-but-still-somewhat-obnoxious.

Despite all that I complained about previously and the still withstanding hostility present with the series, the writing and the atmosphere are the only things that really drag this series down. Large aspects as they are, they’re the only things that can be seen as major flaws with the series. Not to mention, these aspects are almost frustratingly controversial, as what I see as overdramatic, others could see as necessary. What I see as puppets for characters, others could see as characters with genuine heart and complexity. These aspects are the only things I feel can be combated with this series, at least from a technical aspect. Everything else ranges from “alright” to truly spectacular.

Most prominently, and perhaps most important to this series’s success (from a cynic’s viewpoint) is the wonderful animation. Shigatsu is a gorgeous anime, one cannot deny that. The designs are a great blend of realistic and typical anime, highlighting facial features such as lips and cheeks and what-not. Even more so, animation is fairly consistent in being top-of-the-line. When the series wants to convey the feelings of the characters, it can absolutely do so. Some of the most beautiful representations of emotions can be found here, if not trying to compete against the writing. If the series would just stop talking, a lot of these moments could become fantastically immersive.

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Here’s a controversial statement: I liked the comedy in this series. Well, that statement isn’t entirely accurate. It’s not that the comedy is particularly funny, but it’s spirited and animated with such energy that I can’t help but find it charming. It reminds me a lot of Miman Renai and a little of Kill la Kill‘s bouncy exuberance. Obviously the mood is different here, but it features much of the same over-the-top absurdity that makes it fun despite it. This also made me wonder how the series would’ve fared if it decided to be a slice-of-life comedy instead of a hyper-mega-force drama. Is it a bad sign that I keep imagining what a series would be like if it wasn’t the series it already was?

Essentially, Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso is a stone that tries to become the most pitiful and moving stone to ever grace the earth. Except it’s a stone, an inanimate object, that only the biggest treehuggers would care for. Obviously, the accolades and popularity surrounding this anime makes my opinion on it within the minority, but that’s the cost of being within a demographic so keen on empathy. I guess you could say it’s THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! at work, performing overtime, on Thanksgiving, on every planet in the solar system.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C

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

Entry #16: Drifters (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by Cake-o’s Bakery.)

It’s ironic that I ended up watching this directly after Arslan Senki (and that it was recommended by the same person), as both series share many of the same flaws. Whereas Arslan Senki managed to make something out of its story through political intrigue and clearly focusing on such, Drifters is more of an anarchist tribute to Mortal Kombat’s early years. Its story is established and little more, leading the way to boundless amounts of blood, gore, and profanity. This is not a series you’d want your kids to learn from.

Here lies the million-dollar question: What does it all mean? The blood shed, the slurs spouted, the input of historical figures parading the battlegrounds of another world. How does Drifters manage to turn this into a coherent and immersive experience for the viewer? By employing the most safe and inoffensive plot in all of anime. A fantasy world after death is in a power struggle between two people, and both are collecting recruits to fight for their side. One is the good side (despite the “non-good” people) and one is the bad side. The good side wins (with no effort) because they are the good guys. But alas, the season ends with an open ending, so that the second season can come through and leave people clamoring for more. How can I ever live without knowing if the good guys win or not? It’s almost like I haven’t seen this story approximately 258 times in the past few years.

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Obvious sarcasm aside, the way the story is presented and how its development is essentially abandoned due to the focus on the series’s characters leaves me to believe that it is something I like to call a “Placeholder setting.” A setting that is only there to justify why characters are there or why certain events happen so that everything else becomes free game. Think of old Super Mario games. Mario runs from left to right, dodging Goombas and Koopas to get to the castle at the end of the path. Why? Because he’s on a quest to save the Princess. Nothing more needs to be established. The rest is explored through Mario’s adventures. Placeholder setting. Drifters is the same way. Characters are transported to a fantasy world to fight for a cause they may not even believe in against an opposing force. Nothing more; the rest is established by their conquest. Placeholder setting. With this context, I can only assume that the story cannot be taken seriously or cannot hold a lot of weight toward the anime’s quality. That, in turn, leaves me with one thing to critique: characters.

The main stars here are incredibly famous figures in the world’s history—most notably people within wars or skirmishes. There’s Oda Nobunaga, because when is he ever not in one of these? Joan of Arc is in here, Rasputin is in here, Adolf Hitler is mentioned at one point, and so on. Adding all of these characters together is evident that this is going to be an all-out war of egos and power, and to some extent it is. What it also is is really boring, and at its lowest points, unbearable. No character really establishes themselves as more than a one-track minded pawn. Nobunaga is what you would expect him to be. The actual lead is a typical shounen lead except he kills a lot. And the archer is, well, not really important. None have the charisma to make one care nor do they interact well with one another consistently enough to make one crave more of it. The humor is on par with Bungou Stray Dogs—some may enjoy that, but to me it’s a death sentence, on top of being incredibly distracting.

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One of the most prominent things about Drifters, at least to me, is its attitude. Its vulgar, in-your-face attitude like a prick with a ten-inch dick, flaunting his girth like it gives him worth. It rubbed me the wrong way, and I had to plead with myself not to drop this after episode three. The gall this anime has to essentially praise how little story it has and how blatantly insipid its cast of characters are for the sake of decapitating every unimportant background cast member made me borderline sick. It’s one of those rare cases when an anime actually offends me with how proud of its emptiness it is. It certainly didn’t help with enjoyment, and should it even try to make a case for why I should care for anything, I wouldn’t complain about it. But at the end of the day, Drifters is an empty husk of a product that prioritizes yelling and violence over anything else.

Art is the only thing worth praising here, as it’s crisp, clean, and uniquely within its own that it can at least hold over as eye candy. My one personal nitpick is that I loathe the way these characters over-smile. It looks dumb, and evokes that same “Lookie here! Ten-inch dick!” attitude that makes me want to break this series’s teeth. Characters all look very distinguishable and the amount of variety shows off the animator’s touch for detail. After all, who would expect a dark anime like this one to have an emboldened transgender leading an army towards the final battle? That’s certainly not something one sees everyday in anime.

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Without the obvious disdain I hold for Drifters‘s cockiness, I can praise its attempt at broadcasting something a little different. Historical figures duking it out with one another in a parallel world full of elves and dwarves in an ultra-violent exhibition of total conquest? On its own, it sounds awesome. The first episode left me intrigued enough, so I can’t say definitively that this series couldn’t be saved. However, the way it ultimately ended up leaves me without hope for the second season, which I wholeheartedly plan to skip. It’s a love of blood and gore that, stripped of that distinction, is a below-average fantasy adventure with little to care about in the end. Won’t stop people from handing it good scores for cool action scenes, regardless!

Personal Score: D-

Critical Score: C-

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

Entry #15: Arslan Senki (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by Cake-o’s Bakery.)

Officially halfway through the Summer! Ensue whistle-blowing and party poppers.

However, the halfway point was plagued by a long and unfulfilling series written by the man who penned Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a common choice (especially by elitists) for the GOAT anime. One has to wonder how faithful this recent anime adaptation is to the original novel, which was written nearly thirty years before. Perhaps it’s entirely faithful and the story is just oversaturated drivel pretending to be an “epic.” Harsh as it is, Arslan Senki is an anime full of not only holes, but missed opportunities.

I’ve discussed to some degree the argument that anime can never improve from its inception, and while I don’t normally disagree with it, Arslan Senki is a case of a series that hinders itself the longer it charges forward. Initially, the series introduces a number of done-before plot developments that, while nothing extraordinary, were easy to follow and executed in an entertaining way. These events set the stage for a long and arduous journey for the crown prince, Arslan, whose demeanor is quite unlike his royal peers, to grow within his role as inevitable king and his own identity. Things occur afterwards that isolates him from his kingdom, giving him the freedom to assemble his party of “friends” to tame his untested ability as a leader. At this point, the series really begins, though to some extent, it doesn’t, and already had. And then suddenly Arslan’s growth isn’t important for the sake of the kingdom’s safety, only for the focus to venture forth to other kingdoms and… are you beginning to sense something?

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Arslan Senki is a story that reaches ambitiously for every unscrubbed corner in the fictional realm of fantasy. The spectrum through which it tries to detail is so wide, so vast that 33 episodes will simply not cut it. Legend of the Galactic Heroes had the benefit of having over a hundred episodes to elaborate on the things it wanted to do. Arslan Senki gets 33 episodes, and eight of those episodes are basically simplified build-up and no payoff. Because of the much shorter allotted space, much of what was initially hinted at in the beginning are shoved aside to get the plot moving along. Things such as genuine character development and interaction only reach a minimum of what they could be, as the emphasis is more on political relations between kingdoms and the main characters completely decimating opposing armies with their ACME plot armor. On the subject of plot armor, that is likely the series’s most prominent issue.

The major characters are immune to death because, despite constant threats of danger, no one ever dies. Some get stabbed, cut, or bruised, but quickly recover without a care in the world or any hesitation going into battle the next chance they get. This destroys tension because one knows they’ll survive and be successful, because nothing is proven otherwise. A character may be on the verge of defeat, only to have one of two things happen: A. Someone steps in and saves them at the last second (This occurs A LOT), or B. They suddenly find the strength or the strategy to topple the immediate adversity. Through most of the series’s second half, I fought against boredom as the anime decided to follow the same formula every episode, filled to the brim with what had happened just one or two episodes before.

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At first, characters gave a lot of spirit with their personalities—again, nothing great, but spirited. Their “shticks” are presented well and could’ve been used for some clever interaction and tonal shifts, but to no avail. The once art-minded strategist simply became “The strategist.” On a bit of an off-topic quip, the strategist knows everything and justifies it with “As I suspected.” You can’t just “suspect” everything without valid evidence and expect viewers to take you seriously! You’re just OP! Anyway, only one character comes to mind who exudes some of their established personality all the way through: the “traveling musician” who fancies women and tangible pleasures. There’s also the strategist’s so-called “wife,” but her only identity is that she claims to be his wife and nothing more, which hardly counts as a personality. Every character eventually swirls into the pool of blandness that wouldn’t quench the thirst of a desert wanderer.

Everything after a certain point feels so forcibly “for the plot” that the audience really has no reason to care anymore. With the introduction of every new character, new development, and new twist in the motivations of pre-existing characters, one has to wonder what it really means within the context that the anime will not be even close to finishing its story, and how basic all the characters and their moral compasses are. Arslan Senki is pretty blatant in its use of a black-and-white moral system, with good people being good because it’s good and evil people being evil because they’re evil. On occasion, people will be given time to gray out their motivations, but by that point, it’s all for naught, as they either retcon themselves soon after or no one cares because they’ve already been told off by the good guys.

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For an anime made in 2015, design and animation are pretty standard for the times. Crisp and within the setting, and nothing more. Not often did I spot any shortcuts in animation or lazy bouts of fluidity. Some designs are nice-looking, while others are simply standard. The most of what I can state is that it’s standard. Rather, a lot of what I can say about the series overall is standard, at least for a while. I found myself mentally awarding it a six, then a 5.5, then a five, then a 4.5, then a five again. It has the right tools to become something immersive and worth following, but it doesn’t seem to emphasize the things that make a truly enriching experience, most notably the characters.

Essentially, a lost cause, which is more prominently shown by its half-assed, eight-episode sequel season. There are things about it to like, especially when given such a diverse main cast and a world both like and unlike our own. Throw in some implied wizardry and it immediately sets itself up to be entertaining, at least. But it doesn’t, and it isn’t. It’s a standard series at best, with a lot of baggage dragging it to bargain-bin levels of mediocrity. More time, more freedom; whatever the issue may have been, its current state isn’t recommendable.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C

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

Thoughts on Tsuki ga Kirei

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Oh, heavens! An anime about middle-school students trying to understand their place in society through the trials of love and loss (but mostly love)? Is this, dare I say, the anime I was expecting Kyou no 5 no 2 to be? Well, yes and no.

Tsuki ga Kirei is a slow, but meaningful exploration of young love. Riveting topics such as “I hope this girl texts me back” and “I want to run fast” are exposed for the first time with such tender expression that few can help but be charmed. For those looking for more “pure” slice-of-life titles, Tsuki ga Kirei manages to take the mundane and make it into a somewhat humorous, somewhat relatable chunk of bliss, minus the episodic nature of most slice-of-life’s.

One thing it is not is complicated. Likely due in part to its gradual climb, the anime doesn’t cover much ground in terms of story or character development. There are particular characters that the viewer is given insight from, and others who simply interact with said major characters. These characters specifically are Kota and Akane, the main couple of the series and the only two characters that hold the story afloat. Minor characters come and go—effectively cementing themselves within the reality of the setting—without any reason to stay once their use has been expended. The story itself is simply “young love,” with little sub-plots involving Kota’s desire to become a respected author and Akane’s somewhat aloof hobby of track. Not often does the focus shift from establishing these two as a couple and how they continue to grow closer to one another.

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To some extent, this could drive people away. Its synopsis is quite vague and in hindsight, not much actually happens. Simplicity without risk is something that normally draws my ire, but the execution of the one-track mind of Tsuki ga Kirei makes up for its lack of variety. Not many anime make me truly care about the relationship between two people, mostly because I don’t feel chemistry between characters or the process of bringing them closer involves clichés or hamfisted coincidences. The grounded approach here makes it somewhat unique, yet familiar, with help from the leads having more in common than not. Both are shy, preferring to talk on LINE than in person, and hold a quiet determination in their respective hobbies. The awkwardness they have at the beginning of their social relationship only makes it more apparent that these two have an assured connection.

It is rather flimsy a product, as it relies almost entirely on its charm and relatability to connect with the viewer. There is little in terms of entertainment value, as everything is incredibly realistic, dialogue and design and all. It’s slow and it saves a lot of its more “dramatic” moments for the end of episodes, slowly building up to most of them. A waiting game disguised as a TV series. Its only source of something different are various short animations revolving around minor characters in humorous situations at the end of most episodes. Surprisingly, these shorts are pretty non-distracting and clever. Tsuki ga Kirei is a delicate process of tracing its foot steps as accurately as possible, following a path that one hopes would result in something spectacular.

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What isn’t spectacular, at least not very often, is the show’s animation. Design itself is fairly different, as characters are given more human-like appearances and a very, very glossy-looking illumination most evident on their cheeks. It makes everything feel picturesque and soft, almost as though the anime were made inside one’s imagination. However, one need not much imagination to see how awful some bits of animation are. Countless times characters move faster than humanly possible, continuing streaky movements as though they were robotic. It’s almost humorous, as some scenes have characters move tremendously fluid and even impress with the amount of small detail. I suppose they used up the budget for those better scenes and had to compensate for looking shoddy in non-important scenarios.

While a final push from SaeKano 2 made the seasonal rankings close, Tsuki ga Kirei still managed to come out on top in terms of MVP honors. I adored the realistic approach to the most innocent of affections, discarding the typical muck of hand-holding as the gateway to immorality. The anime served itself better without relying on all the unnecessary sexual fluff that Kyou no 5 no 2 seemed to gorge on in each episode. Occasionally slow and occasionally dull, the final product is so sugary sweet that romanticists will ooze at the name once all is said and done.

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

Entry #11: Death Parade (Spoilers) (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by 100PostsPerDay.)

Why does it seem like every time a show features some sort of traumatic/weighted scenario, its rating is overinflated to death? Because some characters go through horrible situations or the “deep” plot isn’t all nice and fluffy suddenly it has more merit as a source of entertainment? I only note this because this series is rated rather high on most anime databases, and while it was airing, I could not escape the roar of praise the general community had for this series. As with all others, however, the noise died down and I casually adjusted back to life without seeing this anime cover photo every time I logged in to MyAnimeList. So, what’s all the hub-bub about? Well, I’m probably not a good indicator of such, as in my eyes, Death Parade can be summed up in a single sentence:

Don’t be a dick.

While I find the technical aspects of this show lacking, there is a curious intrigue involved with just how inadequate a lot of the things that are shown mean to the overall picture. Upon finishing the first episode, I groaned to myself and thought, “Oh, joy. Another episodic series about random people’s deaths and how the afterlife judges them accordingly. Guess I can’t expect any character development or a reasoning behind this entire set-up.” Then, I watched the second episode, and it completely pulled the rug from under my feet. Episode two is almost the same as episode one, except it does exactly what I expected it not to. It provides an insider perspective of the events of episode one, and explains why everything is as it is and what the point of the series is. Well, blow me down. I may just like this, after all!

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Thus, the series continued, interspersing episodes involving random, one-off stories and further insight to the inner workings of the afterlife. While there was some repetitiveness to the one-off stories, there was enough to keep the stories fresh by means of the random characters’ actions (that occasionally through off the arbiter’s script). While I didn’t enjoy all of the episodes involving the judgments, I was satisfied with the way they managed to keep the stories of the victims entertaining is somewhat different ways, even if their scenarios are beyond ridiculous. Episode six was the epitome of Death Parade’s potential for making lemonade out of pencil shavings using the MacGyver method.

Now, imagine my surprise when, initially, I was ready to dig my own grave after the first episode, only to be more unimpressed by its efforts to appear complex! Death Parade almost should’ve been one one-off episode after another! It’s really quite amazing how as the final episode credits rolled, the organ that keeps my body functioning felt not a tinge of empathy whatsoever. It felt not an ounce of enlightenment nor a snippet of impact. The biggest issue I have here is that this series feels so unmotivated that it doesn’t even bother to try and create any hostility for its ultimate moral message.

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Don’t be a dick. Yes. Death Parade’s urging throughout the entire series is so. Incredibly simplified, but otherwise correct. By means of judging the “darkness of the soul” of each spirit landing within the afterlife, an arbiter, bereft of all empathy and understanding of human emotions, is instructed to put the newly dead through a test, disguised as normal games one would find almost anywhere. By the end, they are to determine if the souls are worth reincarnating unto the tangible world or sending it to the void, a black hole where spirits are doomed to wander alone forever. All seems fine and dandy after the first episode, but very early on, the festering of foreshadowing rears its head when a normal human is brought to help the arbiter with his tests. As the tests continue, she becomes more and more inclined to help those going through such torture, opposing the intellectual and emotionally-decrepit styles of the arbiter. At some point, the arbiter harbors the desire to acquire these emotions himself in an effort to understand his human helper.

Little do these two know, the arbiter’s “Creator” had the intention of setting him up with the human all along in an attempt to influence his apathetic nature. This is, however, frowned upon by the head guy behind the afterlife’s organization (I guess?), so she does so with all secrecy, alluring the attention of certain discipline. This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the anime’s deeper tendencies. What is it that she really wants? Does she believe emotions are suitable for judging the complex human soul? Will she be caught eventually?

And she does. She does get caught. The head guy finds out and promptly slaps her on the wrist and tells her he doesn’t agree.

…Is that it? Really?

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Not only that, but the last five episodes or so become very dramatic; so much so that the once occasionally fun scenario of human judging becomes a circus for preachiness. The arbiter is trying to do his job and the human girl keeps getting in his way and yelling about how mean he is. How what he’s doing is torture. How he’s not capable of making rational decisions about whether or not a human soul is good or bad if he can’t understand their grief. This eventually leads to finding out more about the human girl’s past and how the arbiter finally manages to unlock the emotions that were within him all this time. Finally, he can understand her. He can better understand the intricacies of the human psyche. All he had to do was shoot tears out of his eyes. Incredible.

And not a lick of conflict, either. The head guy sits and grumbles about how he doesn’t agree, but does nothing. The entire series ends as though it had accomplished something important, about how the world should be better off knowing that Death Parade isn’t just about torturous bingo games or some structured, apathetic system of Heaven or Hell. No, it is resolute in its sworn motto, one donned by many other series before (and inevitably after) it.

Say it with me, folks:




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How utterly uninteresting.

My apologies for the incredibly heavy spoilers, but I felt the need to justify my low score for this series, and spoiling the plot is the best way to put my thoughts to greater use. There’s just so little new here, and while its presentation of the afterlife and its system can be fun, the ultimate message is horribly cliché and the fact that they don’t even challenge it is just disgustingly self-inflating. Animation and design is lovely, and the effort put into making this show look great is definitely worth praise. Characters are distinct and properly endowed with the look of the otherworldly. It’s just the story, and to some extent the characters, that bring this series down to an Earthly level. Again, perhaps if it had remained an episodic series that showed only subtle hints of a development of emotional understanding with the arbiter, it could’ve turned out to be a decent show along the lines of Bartender. Instead, it overexplained and overdramatized something that didn’t need to be so excessively in-your-face.

Personal Score: C

Critical Score: C

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

Entry #10: The ‘Aria’ Series (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by Sango.)

This post will feature the series Aria the Animation, Aria the Natural, and Aria the Origination, and none of the OVAs or specials that go along with them. While I will not go over each of them individually, I will cover all three in a somewhat chronological order. The order I placed them above is the correct chronological order of events.

Longtime readers of my blog are very aware of how little I tend to care for slice-of-life series. While I find nothing wrong with them generally, they’re usually shrugged aside as inconsequential entertainment that doesn’t hold a lot of objective merit. Among my favorite titles within the genre include K-ON! and Kobayashi-chan, and neither surpass a 7/10 on the rating scale. Both are also not “pure” slice-of-life titles, employing a number of different genre clichés in both (moe and comedy, especially). “Pure” slice-of-life titles are even more inconsequential to me, as I’m not one fond of going through the normal struggles of life at a reasonable pace with nothing to go on but that. The idea itself sounds tediously dull. To this day, I don’t think there’s been a single “pure” slice-of-life title I’ve seen that made me think, “Gee, I’m really glad I watched this.”

Cue Aria.

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I’ve been defeated. After all these years of thinking the genre was an overrated niche for only a small subset of fans, I have been shown the light, the beautiful, tranquil brightness that glows within the soul of a truly wonderful series. I had heard good things about the series beforehand, but I really wasn’t expecting to be this overwhelmed, especially with a slice-of-life! A group of cute girls giving gondola rides to people on a Venice-inspired plain of Mars three-hundred years in the future that offers such riveting plotlines as “Delivering mail for mailmen,” “Visiting Grandma,” and “Reminiscing about the past” ends up with a higher rating in my list than Steins;GateCode Geass (Season One), and Kimi no Na wa. Amazing.

However, this torrid love affair didn’t start quickly, as Animation was bit more dull than anything else. It served to lay out the foundations of character relationships and the importance of future events in a single cour, but not much else. Rather, a lot of the characters within the debut season seemed more one-dimensional in hindsight, with not a lot of attention to the more tender methods of developing the main cast as it probably should, instead settling more for the world around them. Perhaps this was a necessary evil for the events to come, but it certainly didn’t help the overall charter of amusement on my part.

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Indeed, what was, at first, a pleasant but unfulfilling series of viewing a world both like and unlike our own in a different light would eventually become something of a surprise underdog. I left Animation with the promise (from Sango) that Natural would flourish into something beautiful to behold. At first, it didn’t come to fruition, but as the episodes passed by, I grew more fond of the characters, their interactions, their little quirks, and the way the series highlighted their individual efforts in the realm of their environment. All that was built in Animation was not for naught, as Natural picks up on both the strengths and weaknesses of its predecessor to make something assuredly sublime.

Origination then takes what Natural threw down, lifts it with one strong heave, and slams it upon the chamber that holds my heart and demolishes my expectations for what a slice-of-life series can accomplish. On top of receiving a nice touch-up on sleekness of design and animation, Origination becomes the most emotionally-poignant and satisfying entry in the series, and is, though somewhat rushed, among the best finishes to a series I’ve seen within the anime medium. All that these girls worked towards, all that they experienced, all that they cherished and feared and believed, finally becomes a reality—in all of its bittersweet brilliance. While no tears were shed, the rockets of empathy soared onward, as high than few others were able to achieve.

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It’s truly satisfying to see these little episodes, which mean nothing on the surface, come back to become a splendorous part of the characters daily lives. The problem with series like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo is that while their episodic adventures with different characters help develop the main characters, they seem like simple memories that leave little for the viewer to care about outside of those leads’ developments. One doesn’t care for those that helped them get there. Circumstances prevent from showing more of these one-off characters, as I understand, though in Aria, they return and, at times, play semi-important parts in other situations. They becomes a recurring part of the leads’ worlds, people who care about them and give them a semblance of unity that is so, so rarely executed well. The feeling is the closest to “tranquil” as I’ve ever experienced, and Aria’s atmosphere is nothing but.

However, Aria does suffer from one very fragile (and debatable) flaw: it’s dull. It’s not always dull, but it has this very thin layer of entertainment that makes it fairly hard to fully pay attention with outside distractions. Some episodes, I’m in a quiet room with little movement and the episodes (depending on the scenario) are easy to immerse myself in. Others, someone is playing Super Smash Bros. in the background and it becomes really hard to pay attention. The slow, methodical approach to building these underlying feelings and motivations is charming, but to go from one episode to another with practically no change gives my inner desire for something exuberant, bouncy, and colorful room to complain. To have basically anything occur during, the focus becomes a challenge, and no matter how good the series is, that remains an unfortunate fact. Its slow pace can be a buzzkill for plenty.

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Other little nitpicks could apply to some serious criticism, though none feel worth really nagging about. For the sake of analysis, I’ll display them briefly:

  • Alicia is incredibly bland for all of Animation and most of Natural. Improves in Origination. Her “My, my” shtick is super irritating.
  • Aika’s infatuation with Al seems unwarranted. I don’t understand what makes him so attractive to her. His sexy shortness?
  • If Athena’s clumsiness is supposedly controllable (Amnesia episode), why does she not control it more often? Wouldn’t that be more productive for her? Was the series afraid she wouldn’t be herself without that one shtick?
  • The series could’ve used more focus on Woody and Pony Man.

All in all, a surprisingly impactful series that launched itself to my current favorite for the Summer so far. My scores for this series overall likely would’ve been higher if Animation wasn’t so middle-of-the-road. As it is, the series does a wonderful job of developing its characters, and giving their words and actions meaning to the grand scheme of things. It’s slow, unenthusiastic (relatively), and doesn’t pop outside of the leads’ hair colors. Aria does what it wants to do the way it wants to do it. Because it sticks to this plan, it ends up becoming something really special.

Personal Score: B

Critical Score: B+

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