Early Impressions: Kimetsu no Yaiba

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When I began The Visualist’s Veranda over six years(!) ago, I was very cynical. Longtime followers have heard this story before. I was an edgy dude with not a lot to my name, trying to burst through the scene as an arrogant know-it-all similarly to those who would write long-form epitaphs on the importance of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. As time crawled forward, I was smoothed by the inevitable teachings of reality and college, and my criticism for various art forms followed suit (right?). Watching Kimetsu no Yaiba brings me back to those days of when anime were never good enough for my standards, and while I don’t think I’m that kind of person anymore, the end of the third episode has left me feeling… nostalgic. Continue reading “Early Impressions: Kimetsu no Yaiba”

Let’s Accept Chaos with Aharen-san wa Hakarenai

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I’m reading a lot of ongoing manga. According to MyAnimeList, I’m reading ten ongoing manga, with three more that have completed, but are still being scanlated. Truth be told, while my anime-watching days are at a much more peaceful state compared to years past, manga has been something I’ve kept up on regularly. Some of these manga I enjoy so much that I feel the need to write on them while they’re still in production, like with when I wrote a piece on Komi-san. (Wow, has it really been over a year since I wrote that?!) Today’s topic is on a manga that, all things considered, might trump my adoration for the former. Continue reading “Let’s Accept Chaos with Aharen-san wa Hakarenai”

Thoughts on Sekine-kun no Koi (Spoilers)

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Sekine, according to most synopses for this manga, is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. This is not even close to the truth. He is an ace-of-all-trades. Every opportunity to embellish the fact that Sekine is an incredibly talented, yet flawed human being is taken all the way to the bank. He’s amazing at ping pong, amazing at knitting, amazing at his job, amazing at unintentionally luring women to his side, and amazing in his own density. What the synopsis may imply is that Sekine cannot find love due to his mid-tier ability at everything, while in reality, his ability to do everything without much practice is what allows the story to further develop his empty inner shell.

What may be obvious from other stories that have received a lot of praise from me, Sekine-kun does a good job of creating an atmosphere of self-conflict and relating to what drives that inner turmoil. It’d be easy to make this series just another romcom about a good-looking guy who’s perfect at everything meet a girl who’s resistant to his charms. Instead, Sekine-kun takes a somewhat rare approach to the perfect male lead. While in, say, a harem fantasy, a male lead who is essentially perfect uses that for the sake of being all and pure and loving towards everyone, Sekine is a much different case. Without sounding entirely biased, his character is fairly relatable on an emotional level, one who dislikes uncomfortable atmospheres and does the bidding of others on the basis of simply avoiding that tension. This “eagerness” to allow people to do what they want with him has given him a history of intertwining events that make up how little he feels for anything in general.

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If this seems a little too extravagant, look at it this way: Sekine has been sucked dry of any passion. His constant willingness to suit the mood has left his own self unwilling. Almost like Pavlov’s dog in the sense that he’s learned to lie down and wait for things to be over with whenever someone pushes him.

Sekine is the sole reason this manga differs from most others and he is essentially the only thing that makes this story interesting. His behavior and inability to break through his shallow self-loathing makes for a refreshing lead character, one who actually feels like a human being as opposed to a walking harem machine. Unfortunately, he is not a perfect lead by any stretch of the imagination.

While introspective, depressing, and justifiably lost, his inability to function like a normal person when confronting pressure is quite amazing. Many times throughout the manga, a lot of the common tropes that come with the struggling budding of a romantic relationship is taken advantage of by his stuttering mindset. His character is perfect for emotional filibusters. As time grew on and later chapters began becoming shorter and shorter, one can feel the effects of a slowly-staling character quirk come to pass. There’s only so much one can do to with such an oddball introvert, who secludes himself from the public and can count his friends on one hand, when it comes to pursuing romance. Criticize himself for past mistakes, bury himself in the only hobby he has, dream and fantasize about the woman he adores; none of this becomes as interesting when he’s spent the last twelve chapters or so doing it. And without any true supporting characters to take the weight off of his spotlight, his once-intriguing persona becomes as monotonous as this story’s ending.

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Note I said “true” supporting characters. Supporting characters definitely exist, and a lot of them receive some attention throughout. The only issue with this is that they’re all pieces of a much larger puzzle. Sekine is obviously a developed character. The female lead? Not quite on his level, but well enough to remain consistently likable. Anyone else is what makes the manga somewhat harder to defend upon further reflection. Sekine has a friend from work and his wife, whom he never even realized he had feelings for (Okay…). There’s another character who’s introduced to serve as a sort of rival lover for Sekine, but is only a scapegoat as his intentions were only vaguely pointed in that direction. Even he doesn’t seem to serve any real point in the end, despite some segments dedicated to his fascination with a kinda-sorta-but-not-really family member. Then there’s the female lead’s grandfather, who acts as the catalyst for Sekine’s eventual pursuit of his granddaughter and in confronting his own feelings of contempt. One would think that would mean he would play a role in unlocking Sekine’s future happiness… but disappears off-and-on for a good portion of the story and serves little real impact.

What may be the biggest punch to the gut is the aspect of romance. Almost on the level of my thoughts on the main couple of Yuri!!! On Ice, Sekine and Sara, the female lead, don’t really feel like a couple. Sekine obviously loves her, as his devotion to her is borderline stalker-levels. It’s Sara that becomes so perplexing as the chapters roll by. She never really has a reason to develop feelings for Sekine, aside from obvious comments about how good-looking and gentlemanly he is. I always pictured her looking at Sekine like a pet project, and as heartless as that sounds, he’s proven how broken he really is. Perhaps it was due to that desire to help him that she began to feel closer to him in the long run, as it’s even stated in dialogue from others that Sekine triggers women’s “maternal instincts.” Still, I can’t help but question whether Sara truly had a reason to look at him as a life partner or if the story bribed her with some teddy bears to go along with it.

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While I have no stake in the matter as a heterosexual, what exactly makes Sekine so attractive? His appearance isn’t too bishie-fied and while he’s tall, slender, and has sharp eyes, he simply looks plain to me. The art style of Sekine-kun did little to showcase what exactly made him so physically attractive. What is noteworthy is how Shoujo-ish Sara looks, along with most other female characters. Big, perfectly-symmetrical eyes and chubby cheeks. It makes me wonder if the mangaka is accustomed to writing Shoujo (or even BL) manga. I liked the random little symbolic showing of inner feelings and the like, but there were far too few! A constant showing of threads and unwinding is the only thing that always sticks out, and by the time it actually makes sense, it feels overdone. A dream sequence could’ve been really neat. No overall complaints, though I wish the mangaka incorporated more elaborate psychological imagery.

I blazed through this manga due to Sekine and his gloomy nature. By series’s end, it almost seemed like a facade, due in part by how standard the resolution to it all ensued. Sekine-kun is both cliché and non-cliché, it only depends on what aspect of the manga one holds with more importance. Characters feel real and interesting (notably the leads), though the story could’ve been handled with a little more creative finesse (and provided more of an impactful ending). In the first ten chapters, I was ready to give the series a gold star and recommend it to everyone. Now, it feels almost wasted in its own darkened drivel.

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

Day Twenty-Three: Avengers Grimm (MotM 2017)

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Nice to see Lou Ferrigno still getting work.

Avengers Grimm is a film that may not be entirely known by the mainstream media. However, the company behind the film’s creation is notable primarily for Sharknado. Its success seemed to kickstart a trend of films that do whatever they can to be intentionally amazing through their ridiculousness. Enter Avengers Grimm, which, unless someone doesn’t know what superheroes or movies are, is a very blatant semi-ripoff of The Avengers, except instead of established superheroes, we have established fairy tale characters… with superpowers.

To add some contextual flavor, the director and writer of this film, Jeremy M. Inman, also directed and wrote for one Sinister Squad, another movie I had watched in the past that featured, well, many of the same things in this film. From time to time, I will use these two films as comparison pieces, as they have a lot in common and some key differences in quality that make for an intriguing study.

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Now, the purpose of a good bad movie is to be entertaining through its insane inadequacy. The Room isn’t amazing through its technical strengths. Avengers Grimm somewhat teeters the line between serious and non-serious film, featuring a lot of dark lines and unenthusiastic characters on top of cheesy action sound effects. It manages to somewhat embellish itself in an aura that makes it seem as though it’s a film to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, looking at it as a “good bad movie,” this works against it, resulting in the audience becoming bored at the lack of zaniness. Looking at it from a serious, objective lens, the movie is devoid of relatable characters, rational resolutions, and an original plot—just look at the title.

With the manner in which I critique things, I believe that “the point” of a film can only shield it so much from criticism. I adore The Room and Troll 2, yet I gave both one out of ten scores, because they’re horrendous on a technical level. Avengers Grimm and Sinister Squad both distinguish themselves as enjoyably bad films, but at the same time they hold enough seriousness to them without transparency that it’s hard to take them… unseriously seriously? Still, they are bad films, because they’re trying to be bad. I’m simply playing it straight as scoring as I see it. Enjoyment can only do so much for it in the end.

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That’s enough background noise. Let’s jump right into the choir. Avengers Grimm is pretty bad. It is not, however, among the worst films I’ve ever seen. There’s enough there in terms of plot and structure to make it tolerable, though perhaps very dull. A clear focus is established, along with a goal, and it never shies away from it. Even some moral code (I think) is included within the actions of the characters, establishing that helping those in need will end up being used as good karma. Should one care about any of these characters in the first place, it probably wouldn’t been more impactful. Quite frankly, I went the entire length of the film not knowing the name of two major characters.

Bringing to light the biggest issue of the film is the lack of any real personality from the characters. They simply act according to what the plot expects of them and nothing more. It’s almost as if I were watching another “hit” drama show from CBS or FX. The tone is grainy most often, with silliness taking a back seat for a more gritty approach, which only makes the film more off-putting to me, especially one who’s likely aiming to be terri-bad. Very little separates one character from the others, as most fall within a bland caricature of serious characters with a penchant for cheesy one-liners. Some (like Lou Ferrigno’s character) offer some additional inner conflict which makes them more interesting, but it’s pretty standard stuff altogether. If not him, the “Red Riding Hood” character also has some spunk to her.

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And with the characters also come the performances from their actors. Most were adequate, doing enough to make me believe the film didn’t have enough money to buy anyone remotely famous aside from Lou Ferrigno, though a few were pretty horrendous. Lauren Parkinson as Snow White was the LVP here, constantly spewing lines in strange, monotone fashion, completely flat with the heavy situations present. With the tone of the film, there isn’t much one can do outside of acting like serious shit is going down, but Parkinson’s role, as major as it is, probably would’ve been better served for a different actor, particularly any other of the female leads, who all outshine her. Still, I could be asking for too much here, as the comparison of screentime Snow White has with all others, and her role in the film, shine more emphasis on her performance. Rather, why couldn’t Lou Ferrigno be the star?

Action sequences are pretty key in films that involve superpowers and clear good vs. evil scenarios. Action sequences here are pretty mediocre. Not a lot of attention to detail outside of character traits and quick, repeated camera cuts to different angles. Filters out a lot of what’s actually going on, which is unfortunate because it was something to distract me from the never-changing mood. Special effects, on the other hand, were fine. Very minimal, but fine. I particularly liked the slow process of crystalization from Snow White’s ice powers. I also liked Lou Ferrigno as an iron giant, but that’s not really a special effect as much as it is a special effect on me in realizing how good Ferrigno would look as a bald guy made of iron. They don’t do too much for the story, though bring a little zest to the characters and their quirks. For a film about fairy tale superheroes, there isn’t very much use of power here.

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On a technical scale, Avengers Grimm is probably a better movie than Sinister Squad, though the latter had a lot more charm through its characters and intentionally unintentional charisma. Neither are good movies in their own right, but “the point” of the movies is that they’re bad, or so it seems. I would recommend Sinister Squad as a better example of something within that genre, though Avengers Grimm does get points for a good effort in remaining ambiguous with its intentions. Altogether, it’s a film worth watching if one enjoys reveling in the art of atrocity, though there are better movies of that sort out there than this.

Final Score: 2/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

Quick Thoughts on Barakamon

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There’s a lot of buzz around this anime for being one of the better slice-of-life’s in recent years with it hovering around the top 100 among MyAnimeList’s anime rankings. Even so, it doesn’t seem to get a lot of notoriety, particularly now-a-days. I’ve had friends describe to me in intimate detail how wonderful the series was around its air date, but still I never see a lot about it from the general community. Barakamon seems to have disappeared into relative obscurity, despite its near-universal acclaim. What exactly makes it so compelling?

Not the adults, that’s for sure. If there’s one thing about Barakamon that makes itself admirable is the focus on energizing the simpler things in life. One of the things about Non Non Biyori that many loved and I didn’t care for was the focus on the simpler things in life and nothing more. That sort of pure, genuine “slice-of-life” that doesn’t try to coat itself in miscellaneous aspects such as comedy or romance—at least not heavily. Comedy and romance appeared, but within the environment that was present, which was normally of a normal caliber of normal. Barakamon dabbles in exaggerating the monotony just enough to make it a nice balance of the slice-of-life I enjoy, which relies on character charm, and the slice-of-life genre purists enjoy, which shows the world in a tranquil and calming light.

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It’s one of the rare cases where the children are the most likable characters. They fit the show’s carefree mood a lot more than the adults, though they manage to fit in well enough. The male lead, Handa, mixes well with the kids’ antics with his own immaturity, which admittedly doesn’t make him a very likable character due to the inability to settle his own issues, which drags the show down. Should the plot of a particular episode follow Handa and the quest for ultimate fun by the neighbor kids, it shines with a distinguished light that provides a source of guidance to those wandering in. Even better, while Handa’s growth as a person is frustratingly slow, there is a warmness, an “all together” mentality within the foreign town that’s infectious enough to crumble a cynical heart. It helps Handa with his passion for calligraphy and the motivational constipation that plagues him throughout the series. Because there exists a point within the pointless existence of fun and living life through less accessories, it proves to be more insightful than most others.

Still, it’s by no means perfect. While his plight is relatable, I don’t care for Handa. His immaturity may create some extra fun, but it also distinguishes his realistic qualities. He’s supposed to be my age, yet he’s constantly arguing with children, stubbornly narrow-minded, and oblivious to an absurd degree. There is some emphasis on his sheltered childhood that, to some extent, justifies this, but it makes him no more likable regardless. The kids, particularly Naru, end up outshining him by means of character charm and vocal charisma. And may I just step aside for a moment to praise Barakamon for actually using a child voice actor for a child?! The industry standard of using a young adult female with a super squeaky voice to narrate for child characters gets so grating sometimes… And her voice is actually cute! I adore her laughter! A rare scenario where a voice truly carries a show, no matter the type of situation onscreen.

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I can’t say the series is particularly funny, either. A very subjective criticism so it may be, the exaggerated screams and faces of the characters to various events only shines in the most varied of build-ups. The comedy also tends to be one-dimensional depending on who the focus of the joke is. There’s a closet-fujoshi girl who constantly ships Handa and another male character together, another middle school girl whose an energetic tomboy, a friend of Naru who never stops crying, and Handa himself, who’s a fish out of water throughout the entire series. And then there’s Handa’s mother… who… just… should fuck off. That’s it. She should just fuck off. The final episode was single-handedly ruined with her incredibly one-dimensional and irrational behavior, delaying the inevitable conclusion to the series.

My apologies if this post seems a little unorganized. My thoughts on the series is a bit of a hazy entity that enjoys slipping through the creases in my brain. Barakamon has a slight issue with consistency of what it tries to do along with what it wants to do, attempting to balance a lifestyle that soothes the soul and crafting a story about giving birth to a young man’s passion and creativity. Sometimes the clashing of these two things made the sequences dull, other times unnecessarily ordinary. Overall, there’s enough of both to please those looking for either, as well as the charm of a large roster of characters that don’t overstay their welcome (outside of the Handa bloodline). Animation’s nice, too.

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