Thoughts on Ame no Marginal (Rain Marginal)

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From the creator of the ultra-depressing Narcissu comes Ame no Marginal (Rain Marginal), a story that’s nearly as depressing but now with fantasy elements. Life-shortening diseases aren’t good enough? How about alternate dimensions where people never age? Ame no Marginal is an “ambitious” step in the right direction for someone passionate in the art of “feelsy” visual novel creation.

Notice the quotes around key words in the last paragraph. “Feelsy” is a term some may not be familiar with, but one that can be understood without much effort. Essentially, writing with the intention of making you cry. Feel pity. Think Clannad or AnoHana. Such is the niche in mind. “Ambitious” is a somewhat sarcastic choice of term, yet with the context of knowing the production values of Narcissu, it’s understandable. In Narcissu, there was barely anything; some pictures here and there, a few music tracks, and lots of textAme no Marginal takes the necessary steps for a (non)sequel game and provides more for the reader to absorb.

Such comes in the form of more pictures, more music, and (minimal) voice acting. Characters are actually given proper appearances and designs, as well as distinct voices, while background music is noticeably more varied. There still remains lots of text with unmoving images, yet the execution is a lot easier to digest with occasional spurts of variety to go with the walls of words. In a technical sense, Ame no Marginal is by no means marginally better than Narcissu; it’s head and shoulders above it.

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The name of the game of visual novels, however, is storytelling. Faring against thousands of different titles, even with the leniency of its limited capabilities, Ame no Marginal falls between “interestingly dull” and “painfully standard.” Perhaps it is the lack of a distinct focus, as the game has the player weave between two different stories in a single playthrough. Perhaps it is the fantasy aspect which, while its rules are well regarded, seeps into fulfilling the “feelsy” nature of the game just a tad too strongly. Whatever it may be, its narrative felt fairly unimpactful, and left less of an emotional “oomph” with me than its spiritual predecessor. Let me explain it this way: it feels more like reading a harrowing story out of a newspaper than feeding into a tragic novel… with a tragic novel’s level of detail.

Pleasant in-game, the soundtrack isn’t anything special outside of it. Explained dramatically, the pieces of Ame no Marginal’s armor are well-suited for the battle at hand, improving its chances at lasting. Outside of that specific battle, it is useless, only capable of fending off attacks from a specific source. Call it “Fire-resistant armor,” or in this case, “Negative-emotion-stimulating armor.” Harboring the necessities of (hopefully) influencing the tear duct, its choice in music can range from naive peppiness to lamenting life’s cruelty. Some parts catchy, some parts gloomy; while never truly invigorating. This is made up for somewhat by the art direction, which is pleasant for its production value. Cute little girls actually look cute this time around. Even more than that, the alternative dimension has such a wondrous isolation vibe that it makes it intriguing almost by default.

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Yes, the characters. Not only accentuated by text this time around. By its end, most characters were at least likable, though lacking in total development. The POV character, whose name escapes me (if he even had one), began as a very edgy depressed young man with little will to live (it literally starts with him contemplating jumping off a tall building). Afterwards, he’s teleported to a dimension where time stands still and meets a little girl, who explains his current situation. After that… he’s just kind of normal. He starts to care for the girl and feels sorry for her, but that’s pretty much it. I would think someone who starts the game contemplating suicide would be a little more somber throughout. As the player progresses, the little girl ends up becoming the star of the game, as she receives far more backstory into her character than the POV character. This, in turn, makes her the most developed character in the game, and the fact that another story is told along the way feels a little too unfocused to provide that proper “oomph.”

All in all, certainly worth the “Free” tag on Steam. A nice read for anyone who enjoys the “feelsy” nature of certain visual novels, and isn’t scared by a lot of text without any choices.

The ending is bullshit, though.

The rating for this title and more can be found on MyVideoGameList.

Updated Thoughts on Bakemonogatari

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Katanagatari is one of my favorite anime of all time. I was so enthralled by it upon first watch—in the far distant past of December of 2012—that only a day later, I started a journey with Nisio Isin’s most notable work of his career: The Monogatari Series. Fun fact: Bakemonogatari was almost something I watched during the first Summer of Anime, but put it off due to the episode length and rather vague synopsis (on the site I used to watch anime). Turns out I really should’ve watched it then, as the series ended up being more than an agreeable watch. Of course, I was also still on the “Isin high,” so it’s possible my enjoyment of Bake may have been leftover sunlight from the alternative energy source that is, to this day, Nisio Isin’s greatest piece of literature.*

* Statement not up for debate.

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For lack of a desire to build upon the obviously looming question of Bake’s quality, fortune appears to be on my side, as my enjoyment of the series remained almost entirely intact. Though the difference between late December of 2012 and late August of 2017 is that I can now acutely articulate what makes the series so popular. That is, of course, aside from the number of attractive young women and plentiful amounts of sexual fan service.

Something of a difficult quality to ascertain in Bake, and the rest of the series for that matter, is the importance of the sexuality it presents throughout. For humor, for stimulation, absolutely, but is there more to it than what it lets on? It acts as somewhat of a characterization for the male lead, Arararagi, as he’s far more open (occasionally) with his fetishes and sexual curiosity than others in his position. Other female characters either display themselves due to basis of the plot at hand, which makes it harder to defend from the label of indulgent harassment, or to gain a response from the male lead, all of whom are implied to be infatuated with. With Hitagi, who acts as Aragi’s girlfriend about halfway through the series, her sexual antics are an indication of obvious attraction, as is fair in her position to be so promiscuous. Everyone else seems to do so at their own discretion… perhaps as a test or a subtle jab at their own desires.

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In terms of believability, the gauge is cozily settled onto “E.” Characters, plot, manner of events; every piece of the pie is made of acrylic titanium and tastes of a ladybug’s wing. Completely artificial with a sort of atmosphere that reeks of man spitting on the pages of media norms. That ends up being half the fun. Issues that revolve around the characters are completely human, told in the form of supernatural phenomena, yet the downtime between such serious circumstances don’t reflect the normality of everyday life. It’s a planned show, a circus of obscene entertainers who awe the audience with exuberant quirks of unholiness. Hard to take entirely seriously, yet sharp in its ability to keep the viewer’s focus. I think the thing I learned most upon rewatching this is that I can now understand why some people can’t get into this franchise.

Smoothly it integrates this complexity with each passing chapter, and although its pompousness remains ever present, there are signs of its desire to appeal to everyone. Some of this is shown through its entirely human conflicts, such as being unable to relinquish hidden stress or finding peace with a traumatic incident of the past. More so, however, is Bake’s affinity for long, emotionally-draining monologues explaining entirely what’s been going on as the plot builds up. Somewhat on the vein of Shounen anime, except with better presentation and less screaming. With this, it hopes to escape the picture of elitism that tends to follow series that stray from industry standards. Whether or not it truly does is dependent on the viewer’s priorities. I adore it for its absurdity; others may not.

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Among the more common examples of Bake’s distancing from the norm is its style of presentation. This aspect is also likely what most would consider its most snooty trait. Constant close-ups of eyes, faces, hands, feet, tits, what have you; still-shots of blank images with text written all over them, strange mannerisms from characters (head-tilting, sexually-stimulating positions), different interpretations of character design. Should one be in the mood for both well-drawn characters in standard form and symbolic gobbledygook, Bake is sure to suit their fancy tenfold. Even strangeness outside the realm of animation, including pictures of real-life people and objects intermingled with quick cutaways of fast-paced mental strain, are whimsical entertainment coated in tryhard cringe. I didn’t see much in terms of animated flaws (though I did come across some), leaving me to believe that Shaft not only did a wonderful job of meeting the basics, but setting itself apart with extracurricular activity. It improves as it goes along.

Almost by virtue of its desire to be different, Bakemonogatari passes in spite of its somewhat overindulgent story. That’s not to say the story isn’t good or the characters aren’t interesting enough to compensate for Isin essentially putting himself in the story to look at a lot of naked preteen girls… I think I elaborated on that enough, yes? A matter of personal taste and moral boundaries are what will stray those away from giving the series justification. For those who stay, indifferent to the potentially problematic subtext, enjoy a story whose furthermost goal is to entertain and perplex. I know I did.

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

Thoughts on Boku no Hero Academia (Season One) (Spoilers?)

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I am so very tired of superheroes flooding the mainstream. Marvel/D.C. Studios seem to release a film every four months with substantial box office victories. Animated films such as Big Hero 6, the latest Spongebob film, and the upcoming Incredibles 2 are becoming more common. Even anime has gotten the hero fever with the quick green-lighting of One Punch Man and Boku no (or MyHero Academia. First hearing about it, I could only sigh and huddle into my own mindset of “Superheroes are cliché now,” ignoring something that fits the shounen tag to the dot. As the years went by and the hype of the series continued to grow ever bigger through its second season, I ended up succumbing to my curiosity and decided to watch it after completing the latest Summer of Anime. Sitting here, typing this out, I’m both impressed and cautious of what the future may bring.

Long has it been since an anime has pulled me into its world as well as Hero Academia has. Planning to watch two episodes, I would zoom through six straight without skipping a beat. If I really wanted to, I could blaze through the entire anime in one sitting, though not without difficulty, but more on that later. Though I often scoff at the notion, the aspect of one destined for great things is something that’s hard to ignore, especially when done in an endearing way. I was enthralled by Wonder Woman and I was charmed by Deadpool, though both suffer from a similar evil as Hero Academia does, which makes its whole tragically underwhelming. Hero films at their core appeal to the emotional side of a person’s heart, that in which is relegated through the psyche of characters and their ambitions. Here, this is done splendidly.

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Imperfect as it is, the manner in which Deku, as he’s so affectionately referred to, goes about his tragic life as a Quirkless is invigorating for those in a similar position. Yet, as I have said many times in the past, the weak, cowardly character is by far the easiest character in all of fiction to develop. Such was the case for The Good Dinosaur, such was the case for Yuri!!! on Ice, such is the case presently. On top of this, his crybaby persona, along with his peers’ personality quirks, feel a little too hamfisted. One can almost be justified in saying this cast is one-dimensional, as there’s a fine line between having a distinct personality and having a singular personality. Deku cries all the time, is scared all the time, has a lot of monologues with himself trying to dispel doubt, but always displays the most heroic attitude in the most pressing moments. One can easily grow tired of constantly being reminded of who he is and what he’s fighting for. We. Get. It.

What helps is that Deku, while clearly being the main character, is not the only character to receive attention. In a class full of powerful, supernatural kids, many of them receive enough attention to embellish both their powers and their temperaments. There are times when one isn’t aware that Deku is onscreen, as other characters take full control over a scene with their own power (both figuratively and literally). It really aids in making a series feel bigger than one or two characters when despite the main group’s exclusion from the spotlight, the series continues to showcase side characters and their own performance with the trials facing them. I often complain that a cast can be far too big to allow everything and everyone to be developed in a way that makes the group feel whole. Not only is the effort shown in Hero Academia, it uses that effort in the most efficient way imaginable. There aren’t many characters I don’t like.

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Pacing and progress are also good features, as the weight of situations and their accumulation feel natural, aside from a very quick ten-month montage in the third(?) episode. Perhaps I’m too used to slice-of-life flicks where a span of months can go by in only a few episodes (Looking at you, Acchi Kocchi), but Hero Academia has a smooth and consistent timer that knows when to put things to an end. Somewhat formulaic in its structure, admittedly, though I suppose that’s to be expected from a shounen flick. I almost never checked the time in an episode nearly throughout, as the key pieces were enough to hold me over on their own basis, which makes for a satisfying viewing—one I haven’t had since Berserk, and who knows since before then.

But… there is something that drags Hero Academia down to the level of my mortal enemy in anime: the typical shounen. It comes in the form of the last four episodes.

Evil. Out of nowhere. Infiltrates with ease and starts spouting garbage evil jargon for the sake of it. Heroes are caught off-guard and can’t thwart them easily. A large battle ensues. All hope seems lost, when suddenly help arrives! The situation becomes lighter, then darker as circumstances turn for the worst, when suddenly help arrives! The situation becomes lighter, then darker as circumstances turn for the wo—WHEN SUDDENLY HELP ARRIVES! This goes on for four episodes. Constant use of deus ex machinas and the most cliché quick-thinking solutions and THE POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! make it a very irritating experience that quickly grew tiring. Up to this point, I thought the series would only use these tools minimally. Much to my chagrin, they use them as a crutch in the most important of situations. And this isn’t to say these episodes were devoid of good, as a lot of variety in character spotlight makes the situations rich in development, but there’s far too much “Been there, done that” to compensate for the helping of character interaction.

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Perhaps I expected too much from a high-profile shounen series, but the overall animation is only decent here, with series like One Punch Man destroying it in nearly every regard. There was one particular scene in the final episode that was flashy and fun, but aside from that, I can’t recall any particular moment that really “wowed” me. One really shouldn’t complain, however, as the animation and design is clean nearly throughout, so it tops the typical romcom any day. On the topic of design, I really enjoy the way the designs speak from the characters. Bakugo’s spiky, disheveled hair and wide, fanged grin displaying his chaotic nature. Iida’s trim face, thin spectacles, and proper attire showcasing his authoritative demeanor. Ochaco’s blandness showing her no-personality character. There’s something for everyone here.

I can assure anyone that, despite the miscues, I’m excited to indulge in more heroic adventures once the second season wraps up. I’d even go as far as recommending this title to, well, anyone, as I feel the most overused of clichés won’t bother general people as much as it does me. Even with those in place, cynical viewers can latch onto the carefully planned narrative progression and plethora of likable characters. While not necessarily a challenging series, it’s simplicity done almost entirely right, and I for one applaud it.

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

What I Learned from the 2017 Summer of Anime

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Now that it’s come and gone, I find myself pondering the process, the execution, and the things I could change about this year’s Summer of Anime. What better way to collect my thoughts than to share a post to the world about my overall impressions from the torture experiences I had to face since June 1st, as well as some tidbits that could prove interesting to onlookers and newcomers alike. I could very well title this post “Thoughts on …,” but for the sake of variety, I’ll make this particular entry a little more academic.

1. YOU ALL HAVE SHIT TASTE

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Just kidding.

Still, it’s astounding to see all the average to below-average series rated for this year’s batch of anime titles. Out of thirty completed anime, only nine have a “B-” or higher in either score category. That’s not even a third of the list. Initially, I thought this was incredibly alarming… until I looked back on previous years and discovered that I haven’t fared much better picking my own titles. While this year is technically a low point for anime, my Summer of Manga back in 2015 produced the same results: only nine of thirty manga received a “B-” or higher in either score category. Really, we all have pretty shit taste, don’t we?

2. Anime over Two-Cour Are a Death Sentence

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I did not do well with big chunks.

NANA and the ‘Aria’ series. Those are the only two series recommended to me that are longer than two-cour that did not have a negative impression left by either a tough, uphill battle or time constraints. Strangely enough, they’re also two of the better series I watched this year! The rest festered within the restraints that I placed upon them (and myself), with finishes ranging between decent (Code Geass) and horrid (Fate/kaleid), if they weren’t dropped outright.

Blood+ (50 episodes), Hikaru no Go (75 episodes), and Ghost in the Shell (52 episodes) were all dropped due to time constraints. Eureka Seven (50 episodes) started out alright, but eventually feel prey to its own undoing, making the last fifteen episodes or so a complete drag; dropping it would mean having to face another longer series, so I put up with it. Code Geass (50 episodes) and Fate/kaleid (42 episodes) were both fairly early on, so the rush for time wasn’t as prevalent, though their quality didn’t make them a breeze to go through, either.

If I ever do this again, two-cour will be the limit.

3. (Most) Anime Within the Top 100 Were Enjoyable

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Out of the thirty anime recommended, six (and a not-quite seventh) anime are ranked within the top 100 on MyAnimeList. Out of those six, five got a rating of “B-” or higher in the “Personal Score” category. The lone loser? Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. Everything else is recommendable (to whatever extent).

Why is this important? For the sake of formulating theories.

Back in 2014, I intentionally ended that year’s Summer with five titles from MyAnimeList’s top 100. Sure enough, four out of five got a Personal Score of “B-” or higher, and the fifth got a “C+.” The message on display is that while a number of anime are overhyped, it’s really to what extent, as many anime I’ve seen ranked within the top 100 are, at the least, decent shows. It was no different this year, as five of the six anime qualified are anime I would recommend most from this Summer—most specifically NANASamurai Champloo, and the ‘Aria’ series.

So, when looking for a new series to watch, if you really want a bang for your buck, it’s probably better to go with a series with an overall rank of 200 than 2,000. Don’t take that to heart, though.

4. I’m Never Exceeding Twenty-Five Anime Again

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I’ll admit outright that I did not expect to receive so many recommendations for this year’s special condition (I brought this slightly on myself). Not wanting to let anyone down, I pushed the envelope further and further until everyone’s picks got equal chance to be included, to the point where I was pushing myself past my limits. At first, I was ready to take on the extra load. By Eureka Seven, I was looking quite a bit like Oreki up there.

This year was rough. By the end, I was crawling to the finish line, resorting to ashamedly sprinting through the path that took the least amount of effort (strategic drops). I certainly had enough motivation to do thirty series in the beginning, though with all garbage I had to wade through, my tolerance wore thin quickly. Of the last ten anime I watched, only two had a “B-” or higher in either score category. Six of them had a “C-” or lower.

For any future event similar to this, two things will be set in stone: only two recommendations per person and the total count is twenty-five. I’m not sure I could do this again without resorting to dirty tactics (which, admittedly, I did near the end of this year).

5. I Had Fun

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Yeah, sure, by the end I was praying for sweet death and cursing myself for being so hardheaded, but despite it all, it was a worthwhile Summer. For the first time, I was doing the Summer not just for myself, but for the people who continue to read and support my blog. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for taking part this year. This is both my most and least favorite year so far.

I’m glad I got such a diverse selection of titles to sink my teeth into, as well as opportunities to watch things I had been putting off for years. These fun concepts wouldn’t be possible without the help of you readers, so thank you, again. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I only hope next time I won’t have to show my cynicism by smashing everyone’s choices.

Until next year!

Entry #29: Natsuyuki Rendezvous (Spoilers) (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended, once again, by 100PostsPerDay.)

Remember my post on Sekine-kun no Koi? I found that story fairly interesting, if not for its constant need to block the story’s progression with needless hurdles. Natsuyuki Rendezvous is by the same mangaka, and boy, does it show.

See that long-haired fellow in the white rag up in that picture? That’s the male lead of this show. It may be a tad hard to see with the size of the image, but his eyes are exactly like Sekine’s. At one point in this series, his hair is cut very short and he gets a pair of glasses. He undoubtedly looks a lot like Sekine, then. See the short-haired girl in the middle? That’s the female lead. Putting aside her backstory, she runs a small shop in a semi-rural setting and has an optimistic, yet docile nature, like the female lead in Sekine-kun. And because the mangaka cannot possibly do anything more with the characters to put the stamp on her trademark style, she also has this anime employ a large number of needless hurdles to delay the eventual realization that could take no more than six episodes, rather than eleven.

Yet another one for the “trainwreck” list.

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The grace, the maturity, the uniqueness; everything was there to make Natsuyuki Rendezvous more than a shallow attempt at the “Spirits left behind due to vague regrets” plotline. Characters were forward(!), honest (to a degree), and willing to get where they needed to go. Initially, things were moving at a comfortably quick pace, something that is warmly accepted by someone who tires of seeing episodic progressions of “Saying first name” → “Touching each other’s hands” → “Going on an awkward date” → “Kiss on the cheek” → “Saying ‘I love you'” → “Actually acknowledging a romantic relationship” → “The End!” And while the inclusion of the ghost of the female lead’s husband leads to the inevitable “I’m not actually over her, you can’t have her” stereotypes, the fact that he could do nothing but watch was something I was comfortable with. Then, it was shown that he could do something, and that’s when my brain went into defense mode.

So, what exactly is it about love triangles that piss people off? Is it the fact that people are wholeheartedly set on a specific ship and don’t want to be denied that reality for even a moment? The fact that sometimes those within love triangles clearly do not deserve happiness and the person holding all the cards becomes more stupid than normal? Here’s my fact: love triangles encourage complacency. Think of it this way: when two people are in love, they want to grow closer. If only those two are involved, the rate at which they grow closer is consistent. Throw one other person in there and that rate is cut in half. Throw another in there and cut it by another half. It’s easier to grow two plants (Characters) with a limited water supply (Audience’s attention span) than more so. Once that consistency is cut, one is left with what is, based on the end result, filler and/or wasted time.

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This isn’t to say love triangles are a burden on narratives and have no place whatsoever. It’s a slippery slope of managing the course in a way that improves the storyline. Natsuyuki Rendezvous does not incorporate it well, to put it lightly. What progress was made in the first four episodes eventual skids to a halt once the ghost husband starts breaking the boundaries of what spirits should be able to do. With this, the story also gets… really convoluted. Ghost husband takes over male lead’s body and male lead gets transported into a number of different fantasy worlds because he needs to “play a role” in order to survive. Uh… huh…. It carries on like this as ghost husband, who doesn’t reveal himself to his wife, carries on as if he were male lead and does fuck all for the next two-and-a-half episodes. I get it, he wants to hang out with his wife, but you could quickly reveal yourself to be ghost husband by providing info only you and her would know. Not to mention, you could actually be able to talk with her normally. Don’t really see how hiding yourself does you any good.

The gist of what I’m saying is that this anime had a good run for four episodes, then kills itself by running around in small circles and does nothing to really present itself as meaningful. Combined with the subplot about the male lead running around in fairytale land, it’s simply too bizarre and too nonsensical to be taken seriously. Also, nothing really happens. I really, really cannot stress enough how much nothing happens for four or five episodes, up until the finale. Damn love triangles delaying things. In a final nail to the head, the final few minutes is the kind of ending I hate in almost every context.

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What a lovely anime to behold, however. While I’m not 100% keen on the designs specifically made to appeal to women, animation and vibrancy are at a very high level. Small movements, attention to detail, emphasis on facial cues; Natsuyuki Rendezvous is a visual treat for 2012. Even if it lacked any sense, the fairytale scenes are pretty creative in their design. If not for the fact that I’ve read Sekine-kun and recognize the mangaka’s style, therefore knowing that she’s basically ripping off herself, I’d definitely compliment the different styles of character design—though my one complaint is that everyone looks far too fair-skinned to be thirty and over.

It went from a six, to perhaps a seven, back to a six, then finally to a five. Frankly, it’s lucky I don’t rate it any lower, seeing as four episodes in the eleven-episode series are basically the equivalent of looking at a wall in value. That’s more than a third of itself. Its first third, however, saves it from being an altogether wasted experience, as there was enough genuine interaction and romantic shenanigans to be charming. If only—how awful it is to say this so often—it managed to finish the way it started.

Personal Score: C-

Critical Score: C

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

Entry #28: Berserk (Original) (Spoilers) (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by a coasting chatter, completing the recommendation trifecta.)

It’s considered among the greatest anime of all time. I’ve come back from Hell to inform the masses that it is, indeed, a series well worth this horrible world.

God forbid we have a series that showcases violence, nudity, and genuine angst in a way that matches the weight of the situation. God forbid we go against the formulas to create a successful series rather than a great series. God forbid we take any real chances, any step outside the comfort zone of the general public’s interest. Very, very rarely do I come across a series in modern times that accomplishes the feat of doing everything it wishes to do with enough strength to bore through the details and cast aside the shackles of triviality. Arslan Senki tried and failed, Parasyte tried and failed, Erased tried and failed. Shinsekai yori is the one series that comes to mind that does what Berserk manages to do with both its story and its characters, creating a lasting experience that deserves its rank among anime’s best and most creatively ambitious stories.

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Where will you ever find an anime again that has an albino man sacrifice his entire army to become a demon lord, only to rape his only female recruit and corrupt her unborn child, which she had with his second-in-command? How the fuck do you top that level of outright cruelty? This series has semblances of it, but pray to whatever God you may believe in, there is no sappy POWER OF EMOTIONS!!! present in this series. I truly wish more stories, not just anime in general, had the gall to stomach loss, tragedy, and misery the way Berserk can—on top of still being a remarkably relatable, enjoyable, and invigorating story full of themes to take to heart. Fuck.

Emotions are still reeling, as one can no doubt tell. Even peering through, this series is not flawless. There is a cushy middle sequence that isn’t very interesting in hindsight. Taking siege of castles and battles against armies full of cocky, loud-mouthed foes fill Berserk neatly to its core. One knows who will win, one knows that the plot armor is very, very thick, and one knows that, whatever happens, the first episode tells the fate of seemingly everyone involved in the next twenty-four episodes. Animation also isn’t the best. Certainly not bad, though not quite good; its best comes with the abject imagery accompanied by the satanic illusions scattered throughout and by the series’ end. Animation and fluidity are typically sound, yet suffer in meandering moments.

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Oh, how gray this series is. Gray is a color so absolute in its fluctuating state. Good and bad are terms not truly understood, left to the interpretation of everyone. And with so many different representations of motivation, drive… it’s hard not to empathize with the (main) characters of Berserk. Guts (Or Gatsu?) is a spectacular lead who, while slightly hinging upon the typical male lead, grows through his experiences and strengthens himself through not only his technique and physical stature, but his resolve. I whine quite often about the overemotional screaming of male leads and how it makes them able to accomplish anything, but it can—it can—work within a very specific context, one Berserk manages to do. Casca is, if I may be honest, just a tad overemotional, hopefully not because she’s a woman and because she’s just overemotional. With a tragic backstory (like most of them) and her connection to Griffith and Guts, she handles herself as one of the strongest female leads I’ve ever witnessed in anime despite it.

Griffith, well, Griffith is perhaps the most complex character of the whole. I cannot bring myself to hate him, no matter how strong his betrayal. To some apathetic, completely cynical and self-serving twinge of understanding, I can relate to him. Griffith is the embodiment of “The end justifies the means,” and it’s explored beautifully, though only in key moments. How much does a dream mean to someone? How strongly do they feel the need to realize that dream? What are they without that dream? Nihilism is one of many themes present that define Griffith as a character, and one of many more that make up the web of Berserk’s complicated mass.

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What it all comes down to is whether or not it says anything. At the core of every great piece of visual media is whether or not it resonates, whether it manages to leave some sort of impact on an emotional, creative, or intellectual level. When I watch anime that involve clichés, pretentious and/or lazy writing, horrendous amounts of sex jokes, or uninspired characters, it doesn’t resonate. It doesn’t shine. It misses. It may as well not even be there. When I watch anime like Berserk, there’s a point. It makes it seem as though my time is of value to the writer, to engross me with their passion and novelty. Creating this sort of imaginary connection, to magnify what the author was intending or to find new value within the words. God, do I love to actually think. It makes me feel alive. Berserk makes me feel alive.

Personal Score: A-

Critical Score: B+

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

Entry #26: Tamayura Hitotose (SoA 2017)

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(Recommended by FD.)

What I expected was Girlfriend (Kari). What I got was closer in quality to Kamichu!. There’s a certain serenity to slice-of-life titles that don’t incorporate a lot of comedy to distill the lethargic blissfulness of everyday nature. Titles such as Aria, Sora no Woto, and Tsuki ga Kirei are good examples outside the aforementioned two that keep a level balance of slice-of-life and other genres to keep its interest afloat (except Girlfriend). Some prove successful while others are more or less trapped within their own creative constipation, trying to find that line between relaxed boredom and actual boredom.

Tamayura Hitotose, or just Tamayura, is an exemplary example of doing too much of everything to really accustom itself to something great. There’s no subtlety to make the emotional moments sweeter, no real fixation on comedy, romance, or drama to keep the boredom at bay, and characters develop in a rather standard formula. These girls are cute teens who look like preteens living out their life in a manner in which they see fit, participating in as many meaningful events as possible. One can’t help but think the “YOLO” context of the events is influential, but after each and every episode of being told exactly how to feel with overt dialogue, it comes off as a little naive. This also ties in to another issue that plagues not just this series, but many “true” slice-of-life’s.

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It’s too happy. It’s too optimistic. Everyone is nothing short of altruistic, even if their outer persona shows otherwise. Its glossiness paints an idealistic society of togetherness that simply doesn’t happen. Just once, just once, I’d like to see a series like this employ a dick for a character who isn’t treated like a bad guy that will eventually learn their lesson by the end of the episode and remain a dick all throughout. Such that the characters can learn to accept that not everything in life is rosy and kind. Believe it or not, there are people who exist that are apathetic of people’s situations and resolve. Not necessarily implying they’re all dicks, but some apathy could really spur some intrigue from the vapid attempt at creating a perfect society that will motivate every kawaii teenager to pursue a degree in taking pretty photos and reading stories in front of audiences.

This optimism also seeps into many of the integral plots of each episode by making conflicts simply inborn hesitation and doubt. A character wants to do something. She tries to do it. She fails. She gets upset. Her friends cheer her up. She either tries again and succeeds or promises herself to never give up in the future. The end. Many episodes roll along in this fashion, with a lot of them feeling bloated from such a simple line of thinking. Do we really need to dedicate twenty-something minutes to a girl being nervous about a recital? Is that not already predictable enough?

A lot of these issues wouldn’t necessarily be that major if the characters were anything but one-note personalities. Fortunately, it is just barely not the case here, as despite the fact that I can only remember three characters’ names a day after finishing it (and one only because it’s really easy to remember), their exuberance makes the show worth it to fans of the genre. In particular, Norie and Maon are the stars of the show, both in terms of overall personality and development of character. Norie is the character you’d typically see in a more comedy-based slice-of-life. Her eccentric persona is one that is more than welcome in a show as plainfully dull as this one. Full of overexaggerated faces and actions, she’s likable based on the merit of explosive personality. Also, she’s a good cook and loves making people happy with her cooking. D’aww. Maon is, by all accounts, the most adorable thing on the planet. All that’s necessary to describe her is to show this gif, which this series made possible.

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D’awwwwwww!

Pessimistic view of society and overall distaste for many brands of pseudo-emotional garbage everywhere, I can’t help but find the series cute. Bland as it may be and formulaic in its structure, there’s something very Aria-esque about the series that makes its naivety seem graceful. It’s possible that having the same director front both anime had a say in this, but he couldn’t save Tamayura from a script that tends to run on longer than it should. Not to mention, there’s not a lot of things here that haven’t already been shown in other shows, specifically in slice-of-life. Whether the characters, the optimistic view of society, or something in-between, Tamayura has a spark of tranquility that leaves a mark.

On the animation front, it’s a mixed bag. Within the genre, animators can get away with a lot of not-so-fluid movement as long as it looks realistic within the setting. Not to mention, Tamayura has a somewhat keen focus on photography, which means some scenes are simply shot in stand-still. There’s not too much of a focus on backgrounds, nature, or an overall worldly aesthetic that one may have expected going into this. Fluidity is decent, with not many issues in static movement or strange mannerisms. I suppose aside from some memorably adorable moments (see above), it’s a serviceable series. Nothing jumps out, but it won’t disappoint, either.

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I can only feel a tinge of excitement with a series that I initially wrote off as bland garbage being something a little more than meets the eye. It’s a particularly exciting feeling when something subverts your expectations in a positive way. And for me, a slice-of-life title, no less! Any longtime reader knows I’m not huge on the genre, but here and there I find something worth coming back to. Then again, slice-of-life is as varied as any other genre could be, be it drama, romance, or comedy. It’s all subjective preference in the end. And I, Kopo-kun, will graciously accept this anime within the positive notes of this year’s Summer.

Personal Score: C+

Critical Score: C+

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