1 of 1 episodes seen
Hiroki Fujisawa and Takuya Shirakawa are a pair of very capable ninth graders. They spend their time after school working a part-time job in order to buy parts for this airplane they're building. They hope to fly it across the Tsugaru Strait to Hokkaido, where a mysterious tower stands, dominating the sky. The tower is an enigma. It is a part of their landscape, their world, and they see it every day, but its purpose completely unknown. The boys eventually let a girl named Sayuri Sawatari in on their plans, and in the summer, they promise each other that they'll fly to the tower together. Then three years happen.
Hiroki's narration sets the mood for the film -- it is sober, despite the innocence of its opening scenes. The alternate history is established along with a sense of normalcy; the tower is nothing out of the ordinary because it is something that has always been there. And yet a sense of foreboding hangs over the characters from the very beginning and stems from the tower. It is an unnatural fixture on the horizon, looming over them like an obvious metaphor. There seems to be a lot of longing in Hiroki's voice as he describes the summer days, and he is reflecting back with a heavy sense of nostalgia.
And yet the days roll by rather lazily, and the story creeps forward slowly. Eventually, we are faced with the timeskip and Hiroki does not seem terribly eager to fill the viewer in with what transpired in those three years.
Not surprisingly, Place Promised reminded me a lot of 5 Centimeters per Second. Having only watched these two titles, it may be presumptuous of me to guess that the similarities I observed probably reflect the similarities in all of Makoto Shinkai's movies. But many creators do spend their entire careers creating and recreating the same story over and over again, so I don't think I'm that far off. The heavy emphasis on the importance and depth of mundane moments is the same. The bond between Hiroki, Takuya, and Sayuri is expressed best in scenes passing in silence. They are three kids watching the world pass by while standing next to each other, and that's all they need.
It's romanticist poetry to be sure, but after a while, I start to crave more actual depth. As characters, the trio is rather forgettable, and their relationships with one another are incredibly superficial. They don't seem to actually have much in common aside from their mutual fixation on the tower's mysteries, unless an apparent lack of interest in everything else counts. They spend a lot of time together, but I fail to see how their friendship is strong and special enough to warrant Hiroki closing himself off emotionally when it ends. I am not convinced. Everything is hinged on their promise to visit the tower. Even as the goal and center of the movie, am I wrong to think that friendship should mean more than just one promise? Do they have anything at all without that promise?
On the positive side, the alternate post-WWII history is interesting and portrayed well in that they aren't particularly explicit about anything. You have to infer most details, which makes it feel more realistic than if they dropped a lot of overt expository on you. Similarly, they don't go into a lot of detail with the technology involved in the tower and related things, and a lot is left up to the viewer's imagination. I always feel this works out a lot better than if they try too hard to sound legitimate and inject too much pseudoscience, since that only invites people to pick at exactly why it could never actually work.
And then there are the backgrounds. Once again, Shinkai's backgrounds are breathtaking to the point of being a huge distraction. The vastness of the skies and the beauty of the clouds does wonderfully to illustrate the distance between the characters and their quarry. The tower is a hazy structure in the distance, always there, but impossible to reach out and touch. There are many, many shots that emphasize this vastness, and the brilliance is highlighted further with the vibrant colors of sunset. Seriously, I'm pretty sure 85% of the scenes in Place Promised took place during sunset just so everything could be colored pink and purple and yellow and glorious, glorious gold.
There are more than just skies though. All the backgrounds are equally astounding: the classroom interior (with the sunset spilling in through the window), the hanger and the factory (with the sunset casting shadows from the openings in the roof), the train platform (with the sunset glazing over the surrounding fields), the sea (with the sunset shining over the glistening horizon), and the city (with the sunset peaking in between the skyscrapers). The details in everyday objects, in the road signs and lamp posts, is given every bit as much attention. Meanwhile, the characters remain plain, simple, and dull. Character designs are often sacrificed for gorgeous backgrounds, but Shinkai takes this to the absolute extreme. Placed in such stunning environments, who wants to pay attention to the characters at all? Especially when they spend so many moments lapsed into silence, also entranced by their surroundings?
The movie finally picks up in its final moments and surprise me somewhat by managing to build enough uncertainty that I couldn't guess exactly what was going to happen. Sadly, the indifference I felt towards the characters did not dissipate at any point, even towards the end, and ultimately, I could not bring myself to really care. Their relationships remained contrived and insincere to me, and for a movie hinged on themes of friendship, that ruined everything.
The Place Promised in Our Early Days had a decent premise and a lot of potential. I don't doubt that there are a lot of people that can thoroughly enjoy this movie, but I am starting to think that perhaps Shinkai's storytelling style just isn't for me. There is too much importance placed on perceived depth and poignancy. Such things are great and very powerful in small doses, but when weight of the entire movie is dependent on something so inexplicit, it becomes too variable. Like 5 Centimeters per Second, I think personal sympathies are required to get the most out of the movie. The characters are made to be generic so you place yourself in their shoes and project and invest your personal relationships onto the characters -- the depth of your real, specific relationships becomes the depth of the characters' relationships, but if you're unable to make this personal connection to begin with, then you will get very little out of the rest of the movie. Aside from pretty backgrounds. read more
4 of 4 episodes seen
STORY - The story for the first volume of DOGS has always been a little loose and haphazard; each of the four sections focuses on a different character, and the lot of them are strung together almost forcibly as their individual stories don’t necessarily mesh meaningfully with the others around them. The manga’s presentation did manage to find some kind of connecting thread between the four though, and each story also worked well enough as a standalone chapter. Unfortunately, while the OAV preserves the presentation order of the characters, each episode felt incredibly disjointed from the rest — actually, they felt disjointed in and of themselves as well, though I’m not exactly sure why that is.
Strangely enough, even at fifteen minutes a piece, the pacing in each episode isn’t noticeably rushed. It feels pretty scene-for-scene for the most part, but in the end, you really feel like you’re missing something. Was the story really so short and inconsequential? So… uninteresting? There is a lot of action — gunfights, swordfights, wild chases — and the action is highly entertaining and fun to watch, but the story beyond the action is sorely lacking.
Mihai is a retired assassin called back to his past, but the episode skips along too quickly for you to endear yourself to the character and the events that unfold are less emotional as a result. Badou collects information to sell and finds himself tangled up in a mob boss’s unfortunate business. As his section was always the most comedic of the bunch because of its sheer absurdity, the OAV counterpart didn’t suffer as much, but the humor did seem cheaper somehow in animated form. Naoto was raised with only hatred and revenge on her mind, but her narration in the anime flattened the story and I found it more difficult to sympathize. Lastly, Heine saves a genetically modified girl and confronts the haunting fringes of his own past in the process. Though his section is the one that explains the least, it’s also the one that’s most relevant to the on-going series. But Heine’s episode was surely the choppiest, and instead of exciting the viewer towards a continuing story, it seems to end on a note re-emphasizing its own precariousness.
Sure, DOGS’s strength never really lay in its amazingly thoughtful or unique story; indeed, the prelude does little more than introduce some characters’ pasts and other characters’ current lives, laying the groundwork for something bigger. But as I’m not left excited about the potential or possibility of more in this anime, DOGS has thus been reduced to a mindless hour of action with no beginning or end.
CHARACTER - Like the story, given the near-exactness of the presentation, I’m not quite sure why none of the characters have the charm they do in the manga, and I can’t say for sure whether my distaste is just because I was disappointed overall with this production. Perhaps the shortness of each episode has something to do with it after all — even if the sequence of events is the same, you watch through the episode faster than you would read through the chapters and you thus don’t have as much time to really care about the characters; you are less inclined to pause and rewatch the seconds of intriguing footage than you are to pause and reread a few interesting panels or pages. Mihai is an older man with a sad past. So what? Badou is a good-for-nothing with an amusing tobacco addiction. So what? Naoto is a young woman with a sad past. So what? Heine is a mysterious freak. So what?
Sure, all of these characters still have the potential to be interesting, just like their manga selves, but that potential is less obvious this time around, and I was easily bored.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – Shirow Miwa’s art is gorgeous — his energetic character designs, incredible action sequences, and highly detailed environments are together the greatest strength of the manga; I can forgive the somewhat plain story and slowly-developing characters just because I can look at that art. As such, I spent many months worried about how all that style and detail would translate into animation. I wanted to be optimistic, but it seems that optimism was ill-placed after all. (Figures, right?)
It’s a given that much of Miwa’s careful detail will have to be sacrificed in animation, but DOGS was a much lower budget production that I would have imagined. For almost all long to mid-range shots, characters are drawn in a lazy, oddly elongated manner; their facial expressions are a joke. Most action scenes move along too quickly for this to be noticeable, but as soon as it slows down, it gets embarrassing. Close-ups are crisper, but really don’t fare that much better, especially for Heine and Badou, who appear strangely generic and without any of the attitude found in their manga counterparts. For them, animators really don’t seem to have bothered too much in capturing Miwa’s style and only replicated the most basic aspects of his character designs. Mihai and Naoto are less of a dramatic departure, but that may be because both designs are less unique to begin with.
Thankfully, many of the backgrounds are actually pretty all right. The cityscapes are still vast and grungy, and many shots are still taken from all sorts of interesting angles. Still, they’re not amazing by any stretch.
MUSIC - The little opening theme, if you can call it that, is endearing at first — a little reminiscent of the jazz tunes of Cowboy Bebop or Baccano!, which would be appropriate enough with all the action in DOGS. But considering the rather serious and depressing themes of three out of four stories, the upbeat and cheerful melody quickly feels inappropriate. The rest of the soundtrack for the series is incredibly negligible. Many scenes are simply silent with most of the music accumulating in the action sequences, but there’s nothing really memorable.
VOICE ACTING – The OAV uses the same cast as the drama CDs, which I thoroughly enjoyed. A few fans have criticized the use of “brand name” voice actors like Akira Ishida and Takahiro Sakurai but I think both do a fantastic job as Badou and Heine respectively. They give some much needed emotion to the characters when the animation fails utterly, and both depart significantly from their previous voices so even though I’ve heard Ishida and Sakurai’s voices many times before, hearing them here doesn’t invoke thoughts of their other roles. I also really like Akio Ohtsuka as Mihai; though the actual acting isn’t nearly as impressive as the former two, the voice suits the character very well. Naoto I find to be the least impressive, but that could be a mixture of my indifference towards the character and the generic narration she gave for most of her episode. Also, I think it’s worth noting Toshihiko Seki as Bishop, the blind priest, who has some hilariously delivered one-liners.
OVERALL - The DOGS OAV has been a huge disappointment for me, though in retrospect, I’m not sure why I had such high expectations. Still, aside from the poor technical aspects (mostly terrible animation and lackluster music), most of this anime’s drawbacks are uniquely difficult to pinpoint. The story and characters are almost exactly as they were in the manga, so why do they feel so different? For the first time, I theorize that DOGS might just work better as a comic and the anime only serves to overemphasize the weaknesses that were already present in the source. Though the same events are covered, the anime does feel strangely rushed, the most important consequence of which is that you don’t feel very attached to the characters. It isn’t as intimate, and without that connection to the characters, much of the interest and potential is lost — unfortunate, as the potential is what I found most appealing about the DOGS manga… along with the art. That Miwa’s art was bastardized as much as it was undoubtedly adds a bit of bitterness on my part.
So if you’re a fan of the manga, you’ll likely be disappointed. If you’re not, you’ll likely be indifferent — enjoy the action scenes for what they’re worth and then forget about it because it wasn’t actually that interesting.
28 of 28 chapters read
STORY - Solanin is about the quarter-life crisis: your quarter-life crisis, my quarter-life crisis. After graduating college, Meiko finds herself working as an “office lady.” The hours and pay are decent, but she doesn’t feel any connection towards what she does, her coworkers, or her boss. So she quits. How many other graduates find themselves wanting to do the same not long after starting their first job? We leave high school with the goal of finding something we want to do for the rest of our lives. We spend years in college or university trying to pinpoint what that is and to collect the necessary skills to pursue such a path. We graduate and find that the real world isn’t that easy. The time and money you spent on that degree may not help you get the job you want at all. All your work could have been irrelevant or the job you thought you wanted might not be what you expected after all.
Meiko flounders around her first couple of weeks without a job. She finds her freedom to be just as boring as her job had been. Direction is hard to find. “The rest of your life” is a scary thing to consider, but this story paces through a few months of that long journey. Solanin echos the twentysomething’s fears and worries very well, but is ambiguous in the answers it offers, if you choose to consider them answers at all. They are half-solutions, partially formed, and depend wildly on the person executing them. Solanin’s narrative feels very personal though, and despite that it’s very much a slice of life in that this is only a snapshot, the story feels complete. Growing up doesn’t happen between two predefined points. Meiko spends the story growing up, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t start long before the first chapter, and that doesn’t mean she’s grown up by the end. But she’s learned something.
The quarter-life crisis is a problem of self-identification, self-worth, and self-motivation. Who are we? Who do we want to be? What do we want to do? Why should we do anything at all? What is happiness? It is a coming of age problem that stretches on beyond the teenage years. So Solanin is about growing up, long after the ages at which we thought we’d already grown up. It is about life. It is about “saying goodbye to your past self.” We spend our whole lives growing up, always trying to figure out where exactly our childhood ended and when our adulthoods began.
CHARACTER - All of the characters in Solanin feel very real. Meiko could be anyone, absolutely anyone. The things she feels towards her job, the things she thinks and feels, her fears and doubts and hopes and pipedreams — I don’t know a single person her age that doesn’t think and feel at least half of the same things. This universality doesn’t detract from her identity though; Meiko is a person sorting out life in her own way. The decisions she makes are based on her own whims, and her failures and triumphs are hers to decide which are which. They could be anyone’s, but they are hers. The rest of the cast works in very much the same way. I feel like I could personally know Taneda, Kato, Jiro, Ai, or any of the others; they are all thoroughly convincing people and Solanin could have very easily been centered around any of them. The story details would differ then, but there would be very few thematic differences, if any. It’s fascinating that supporting characters could feel so in-depth and real despite only two volumes to develop in.
ART - Inio Asano has an oddly whimsical style. His girls in particular appear very childlike, which made it harder for me to see them as twentysomethings — kind of awkward for some scenes. Most of them were also very similar in design and body type, making them less visually interesting. His men were also rather young looking, but facial hair helped set a more convincing age range and widely varying body types made them seem more like real people. Regardless of stylistic drawbacks though, Asano’s artwork is very solid and all of his characters are wonderfully expressive; there’s a good balance between silly caricatures and serious faces as well. Many of the backgrounds felt like stock to me because the straight-up realism and details clashed a bit with the character art, but as the characters often interacted with their surroundings, it would have been impossible for all the backgrounds to be stock. Either way, all of the backgrounds fit in seamlessly and help emphasize that this is the real world — that these are real people facing their real problems in their own real ways.
OVERALL - Assuming I actually manage to scrape together all my credits and do it on time, I’ll be graduating college next spring. It’s easy to see why I could connect so well with the characters and story in Solanin. It’s every twentysomething’s story, even those that think they know what they’re doing (which, for the record, does not include me). My friends and I manage to talk about the future all the time without actually talking about the future, so it’s hilarious ironic that it takes a story like this to drive things in deeper for me. It isn’t like I hadn’t realized all of those questions and doubts before, but having them presented to me so clearly is like discovering them all over again. And it’s unnerving. And terrifying. And depressing. And something I’ll have to deal with again and again until I figure something out for myself. As I said, Solanin doesn’t really offer any answers, but there’s some kind of reassurance in that too. read more
1 of 1 episodes seen
The story unravels with no real urgency, but something always seems to be off. Events occur in a disconnected and puzzling fashion. The pacing would suggest that the film is only showing something boring and ordinary, but that’s obviously not the case. Gradually, it becomes clear that the characters appear to be caught in an infinite loop of actions and lives. They’ve been there before. They’ve done that before. They are who they’ve always been, never changing, and without regard for anything in the past or future. They have died before. They have lived before. Themes of repetition, disconnection, meaning, childhood, and adulthood appear, chastising a refusal to change or evolve and those who have become complacent. They are themes that can be related to other issues, such as the human condition and post-industrial disillusionment, and the film makes a suiting metaphor for a number of parallels.
It’s difficult to say where the story ends up thematically without revealing too much, but suffice to say that it’s a tidy package with a well-done, albeit cynical, conclusion. A call to action, perhaps. Mamoru Oshii is known for his heavy films, but this is the first that’s really struck a chord with me. Be sure to stay through to the end of the credits for the final punch.
CHARACTERS - It’s appropriate, I suppose, that I find it difficult to see the characters in The Sky Crawlers as actual people. They are odd entities, vehicles for a story, and portrayals of something that isn’t quite real enough or human enough to be called a person. Kannami is curious about his predecessor, but not too curious. He might ask questions, but seems perfectly content to let the issue drop if an answer is denied. Still, his apparent apathy and complacency is easy to latch on to and you remain curious even if he doesn’t seem to care. You want him to care, you wish he would, and you react to the subtly disturbing mood of the film: the quiet unchangingness of everything.
Kusanagi first appears to be similarly indifferent, but there is a coldness and desperation to her that permeates the stoic exterior. She’s creepy. She becomes the first sign that something is not quite right about the environment, the situation, and distantly, the war they’re all fighting. She’s the one that seems to know what’s going on. Of course that must be why she and Kannami seem drawn to one another, but that strange deception exposes itself in expository dialogue so blatant that it’s almost alarming. And throughout it all, forced apathy reigns supreme. They are interesting foils, mostly because they are not so different at all.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - To be honest, despite the various recommendations I’ve received for this movie, one of the original reasons I was ever interested was because I’d been shown much of the concept art in a class and really wanted to see the film attached to it. The backgrounds, environments, and animation in The Sky Crawlers are all beautiful. Interiors are lush with detail and very intricate, though often, the abundance of little things makes the larger scene appear awkward. For example, the doors may have detailed ridges and corners, but they’re also gigantic and oddly proportioned compared to the people. Similarly, the fighter jets and vehicles are slick and look incredibly convincing and the dogfights are beautifully animated… but then you notice that their designs are very peculiar — all of the propellers are on the back, which makes no logical sense at all. They might look nice, but if they were actually constructed, they would never fly.
Addendum -- So I've been informed (thanks, jotunheim) that there were apparently a handful of WWII-era planes designed to be propelled by rear-end propellers such as the Saab 21 and Kyushu J7W Shinden. The physics of these things still baffles me, but I'm not an engineer, so this is an interesting discovery. In any case, I suppose my revised view is that it's a compelling design choice for the Sky Crawlers -- despite that the planes actually existed, they weren't common and that perhaps adds to the slew of things that are just a little off about the movie -- something to make you a little uncomfortable and wonder a little more. Something not quite right, but possible.
As usual, the price of fancy environments is simple characters. The limited cast of characters in the movie all have exceedingly simple designs, though all are extremely effective, especially Kusanagi, who strikes you as odd and slightly off-kilter from her design alone. The plainness of Kannami is also significant in that it makes him nearly anonymous. There are no features that might distinguish him from any other man; he is interchangeable, replaceable, and in many ways, relate-able. Particularly for this kind of story, the anonymity and capacity for audience sympathy in the character design alone goes a long way.
MUSIC - I’m generally a fan of Kenji Kawai’s work, so it’s no real surprise that I enjoyed The Sky Crawler’s poignant, and often subtle, soundtrack. Many of its tracks are drawn out and thoughtful, accompanying similar scenes for maximum effect. They’re eerie and occasionally force a feeling of anticipation. Action scenes are highlighted by fast-paced and shrieking violins, punctuating every twirl of a jet plane and burst of firing. It’s all wonderfully appropriate. Additionally, The Sky Crawlers had some very well placed silence, which is likely something you don’t notice that often. Some scenes are long and slow and completely silent save the stray sound effect — they are disconcerting in a way, but both force you to focus both on the immediacy of what’s going on and allow you time to think about and collect everything else that’s happened. It’s very effective silence.
The ending theme, “Konya mo Hoshi ni Dakarete…” by Ayaka, has a lot of similarities with the music in the rest of the movie and is therefore also quite fitting. Ayaka’s voice is rather nostalgic and the soft piano is both peaceful and sad; in the latter part of the song, the energy picks up considerably before resigning again, which fits oddly well with the pacing of the movie itself.
VOICE ACTING – I’ve only seen this subbed, but both Kannami and Kusanagi are wonderfully portrayed and have a great balance of conflicting and confused emotions, which is especially surprising since neither of their voice actors seem to have any other credits.
OVERALL - The Sky Crawlers is fascinating exploration of a lot of ideas I probably couldn’t do justice trying to describe or explain. The most important thing is to be receptive to those ideas and to not try and force the film into any pre-imagined mold. Despite the dogfights, most of the action here takes place internally; once again, this is a thinking movie with classical themes that are sure to bridge interests and culture gaps. If you like to think, if you like philosophy, psychology, and human nature (certainly, this is a human v. human story), you’ll probably enjoy The Sky Crawlers. read more
32 of 32 chapters read
STORY - …Bitter Virgin isn’t actually about a bitter virgin. Quite the opposite, actually? To be honest, the shock value and tragedy of Aikawa’s secret faded relatively quickly for me (probably because of one too many episodes of Law and Order: SVU). The subject matter also reminded me a lot of those in Mondaiteiki Sakuhinshu (brought overseas as Confidential Confessions). Consequently, the story premise and flow felt rather typical and predictable in that romance drama sort of way. Nevertheless, Bitter Virgin is well told, and there are enough surprising little twists and interesting literary elements to keep a reader engaged and guessing. It has all of the things that keep the romance genre going strong, despite the shared basic plot. What I found most interesting though, was the fact that, as the series progresses, the themes explored gradually shift from one type of tragedy to another, and eventually, it connected the two as interesting foils. The further into it I got, the less typical things felt.
The emotional aspect of Bitter Virgin is very strong, particularly since Kei Kusunoki admits between chapters that she drew a lot of elements and inspiration from her own life and experiences. The story, while idealistic at times, still comes across as very heartfelt and sincere. Kusunoki also admits that her usual work is of the horror and comedic sort, and that this is her first romance, making it even more impressive.
CHARACTER - Like the story, both protagonists come off fairly typical at the beginning. Aikawa is a meek and quiet girl, and Suwa is a headstrong and impulsive boy. And yet, I warmed up to both of them very quickly. Both have an endearingly earnest quality to them that makes them likable, and no matter how many times these character archetypes are used, as long as they’re well-written and well-presented, they will work. Both characters also grow a great deal in the short four volumes, and they become truly multi-faceted. For example, Aikawa is noted to be terrified of men, but shows a lot of unexpected courage and resilience when faced with female tormentors. Her feelings for Suwa develop very gradually throughout the series, and Kusunoki is careful to make her thoughts and emotions at least somewhat believable. Similarly, Suwa’s initial interest in Aikawa is fraught with pity rather than any real kind of attraction; the progression is interesting to follow, and the lengths to which he feels he needs to go to remain appropriate to Aikawa are also rather admirable.
The supporting cast is also very strong, which I didn’t have expected at all. Suwa’s elder sister, in particular, in addition to being surprisingly headstrong and impulsive like her brother, becomes a startlingly significant role that contributes a great deal to the themes in the latter half of the story. Her presence contributes a unique perspective and forces those around her to consider many things in a difference light. Yuzu and Kazuki, Suwa’s classmates and respectively, his childhood friend and sudden girlfriend, are more predictable in their personalities, feelings, and eventual maturation, but both provide good support and drama and work well to round out the cast. Honestly, I didn’t find any of the characters particular irritating, which is a huge and thankful plus.
ART - Even though the marketed genre is seinen, the series’ art is pretty standard josei. It’s clean, elegant, and pleasing to the eye, but of a more mature aesthetic than typical shoujo — proportions are more realistic and there are less tonal flourishes like sparkles and bubbles, though they aren’t completely absent. I didn’t think much of it initially, but the style really grew on me as I progressed through the story. Kei Kusunoki is fantastic at depicting the emotions of her characters, which is unsurprising for the genre, but considering that she usually works in other genres, it might be a bit more notable. The art really helps heighten the sense of drama and suspense in many scenes, though the panel layouts are occasionally haphazard and confusing, especially when the gutter space is inconsistent or cramped. Because of the emphasis on emotions, there are a lot of close-ups and headshots, and backgrounds are lacking on many of the pages. Even the backgrounds that are present are contained within tiny panels, and yet, there is never any confusion as to where the characters are located, so I guess it works out well enough in the end.
OVERALL - Bitter Virgin is a good, quick read, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a serious and emotional story. The characters are sincere and their relationships are sweet, if a little idealized. The story’s themes become less shocking and more meaningful and powerful as the series progresses. That the author drew a lot of inspiration from her own life experiences also helps tremendously in relaying the strong emotions the characters experience, so the package is very much worth the time. Sadly, Bitter Virgin hasn’t been licensed for release in the US or elsewhere overseas, but honestly, I think it could do pretty well anywhere. It’s a pretty universal story. read more
50 of 50 episodes seen
STORY - A strange girl and her mecha enter Renton’s life one day. He quickly develops a crush on her and decides to leaves his home and stay with her by joining Gekkostate, a group of outlaws and his childhood heroes. Shenanigans follow. There are vague and unclear plot developments that happen in the background, but the actual story will not really start to manifest for another twenty or thirty episodes, and even then, it’s difficult to figure out what exactly anyone’s try to do, much less how they intend to do it. Eureka seveN has some of the most frustrating and ridiculous pacing I’ve ever seen. Many of the first dozen or so episodes feel like filler — some characters are developed and some histories are uncovered, but you are pretty much following the Gekkostate around as they take odd jobs to pay for food. You know they are rebels, but you don’t know why they’re rebelling or what they hope to accomplish. People attack and they fight back. They investigate things, but there is no clear sense of purpose.
As the series progresses, there are several high-tension and climatic moments, but again, thorough explanations are difficult to come by and many of the characters don’t seem to really know what’s going on either. They are just compelled to put themselves into situations without understanding why, and when each climax is over, life goes on… to even more filler-like episodes; it’s as if they’re trying to make you forget about any plot-relevant developments by inserting that pointless soccer episode. Instead of devoting time to the overall plot of the series, Eureka seveN spends a lot of time developing more general themes like religious discrimination, family relationships, responsibility, and identity. While that isn’t terrible in itself, it would have been infinitely better if plot progression (and explanation) didn’t have to be sacrificed for them (and if the characters involved were more sympathetic).
Eventually, and by eventually, I mean like, the last ten episodes, things finally start falling into place and there is a lot of late exposition. Some of the overarching ideas could have been deduced from earlier clues, but a majority of the details couldn’t have been, further making the bulk of the series feel scattered and unimportant. There is also a lot of “surprise” revelations and character “development” near the end that feel incredibly cheap and unnecessary. The final plot of the series, when all is revealed, is actually pretty interesting. A lot of the concepts presented are thoughtful and unique, if a bit far-fetched in some regards. It’s a story with a lot of potential. Unfortunately, because of the insistent, terrible pacing leading up to the late explanation, my patience was completely gone and I couldn’t force myself to care about the story so late in the game. So I sat through the last few episodes just hoping for a good fight to wrap everything up. (But I got rainbows instead.)
CHARACTER - Renton and Eureka both start off as pretty typical archetypes — the protagonist boy who wants adventure, and the mysterious girl that you know is special for one plot device reason or another. Neither of them interested me. Instead, it was the crew of the Gekko that initially attracted me and kept me going through those opening filler episodes. Since there is so little going on plot-wise for the first half of the series, most of the focus was on character interaction and relationships. Holland, the captain, quickly establishes himself as an interesting and sympathetic character; he is the one with the rough past and a goal, even if you have no idea what that goal is initially. Talho is also sympathetic, partially because it’s rare to see characters with established romantic relationships. The rest of the ship’s crew offers little beyond the basic support roles; now and again, there were be attempts to spotlight them, but it was never anything really meaningful.
Unfortunately, as the series progressed, all of the characters got more and more irritating. For someone who is supposedly fourteen, Renton’s perspective and train of thought is incredibly juvenile most of the time and the idiocy of some of his thought processes frustrated me to no end. He chooses to leave his “boring” life behind in pursuit of a girl he just met and knows nothing about and is upset when things don’t go his way. Am I supposed to sympathize with that? He is absurdly naive (can’t even realize when the entire crew is trolling him) and sometimes seems forcibly ignorant, especially when it comes to fighting and his role aboard the Gekko. Eureka is similarly clueless, though she has the excuse of not being “normal,” for whatever reason. But the most aggravating thing about the pair of them is their relationship.
To some extent, there is the illusion that their relationship actually develops and matures throughout the series, but the truth is that their relationship is completely idealistic from beginning to end. Renton’s attraction starts off as just infatuation, and yet he immediately decides that he wants to follow her and “be with her.” Eureka is more ignorant, but as soon as she starts to realize it, there are no longer any doubts. Their misunderstandings are grounded in stupidity and they don’t seem to feel much conviction in their fights, implying that they are too purely “in love” to have serious disagreements. The bumps in their road are superficial at best, including Eureka’s adopted children, who have little point or personality beyond (over-)emphasizing the familial themes present throughout the series. As the primary protagonists, Renton and Eureka’s failure to really make me care about them alongside the haphazard pacing of the story makes me wonder how I managed to finish the fifty episodes series at all, since unsympathetic characters is my #1 reason for dropping series.
Meanwhile, Holland also falls down the immaturity path where many of his actions and views are decidedly juvenile and illogical. A believably character flaw, certainly, but as the story refuses to allow him to explain his conflicts and frustrations in detail, it’s difficult to sympathize with the way he acts, and he just gets annoying after a while. Talho was the last character I had any respect for; her jealousies and frustrations were the easiest to deduce and thus the easiest to sympathize with, especially since she actually confronted them now and again. Sadly, the maturity of her character seems to take her out of the spotlight during much of the latter half of the series.
Dewey, the primary antagonist, takes his damn sweet time coming into direct relevance since he spends the entire first half of the series lurking in the shadows and vaguely putting together his grand plan. Even when those plans are put into motion though, his motivation remains unclear until the finale, so there’s no chance for understanding or sympathizing with what he’s trying to do. In the interim, Dominic never really presents himself as an enemy and never does anything particularly interesting or relevant; most of the focus is instead on his abusive relationship with Anemone, who, aside from being obviously tsundere for him the whole time, isn’t properly explained until the last five episodes or so (and even then, not very well at all). Additional characters include Charles and Raye, who are unnervingly creepy in their parental affection, and Norb, who is an expository plot device more than an actual character (though he does have an ironic personality).
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION – Eureka seveN has some really great battle scenes, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from BONES. Everything is smoothly animated and fun to watch, so even though I has very little emotional investment in the characters and subsequently, the actual outcomes of the battles — I still liked watching them. The mecha designs are a bit reminiscent of those from Evangelion, but there’s a lot more variety between the various suits, including the way they’re piloted (especially when you consider the typeZERO VS the typeTheEND). The giant boards and surfing parallel seemed kind of ridiculous at first, but it really grew on me after a while (besides, Code Geass had rollerblading mechas, though Eureka seveN debuted first). At the very least, the concept makes flying sequences much, much more interesting, and the added danger of a pilot losing their board mid-fight is fun.
The character designs in the series are simple and attractive, and I really liked that a few of the characters made a point to change their appearances at certain points in the story, usually in correspondence with a significant change in their mindset and goals. More series should do this, if only to accentuate the fact that their characters actually mature over time.
MUSIC - There’s obviously a ton of hiphop influence in this series, so it was no surprise to see it reflected in the music as well. It’s always nice to mix up the game a little by injecting some atypical genres into the soundtrack, and Eureka seveN does a good job here. Additionally, there is a ton of really, really epic music that is occasionally paired with a scene that’s quite a bit less than epic, which makes things feel out of place. — those tracks would probably sound better independent of the series so they don’t seem so pretentious. About halfway through the show, I finally noticed Naoki Sato’s name in the opening credits and had an “ahha! that’s why the music is awesome” moment. The last time I heard Sato’s work was in the X TV series, where the music was its single greatest asset. It’s not quite as true here, but it’s close.
To be honest, I didn’t pay attention to most of the opening and ending themes in Eureka seveN. I enjoyed the rap in the second opening, “Shounen Heart,” by Home Made Kazoku, but most of the others were pretty forgettable, especially since I’m indifferent towards most of the involved artists. All the themes were also much shorter than usual — they hovered around thirty seconds in length, rather than the usual minute.
VOICE ACTING – I saw this series dubbed, which probably further contributed to my lack of sympathy towards Renton. I didn’t realize that Johnny Yong Bosch was Renton for a long time since the voice was incredibly different from his other roles. Renton sounds (and acts) incredibly young, and his voice was both over-the-top earnest, naive, and whiny. On one hand, it’s actually an incredible fit for the character; on the other hand, it was annoying as hell, especially when coupled with lots of fail dialogue. Stephanie Sheh as Eureka was also rather fitting, but much less irritating. Honestly, the dub cast did a great job: each voice was distinct and unique, and every voice fit their character very well. Crispin Freeman as Holland was pretty badass in particular.
Still, there was a quite a bit of awkward dialogue and word usage. A lot of lines were unnecessarily corny or just outright awkward (like, “Mm, smell that? That’s the smell of your Papa!” “…It smells good.”) though that can obviously be attributed to awkwardness in the original script. I found the use of “Mama” and “Papa” in place of “Mom” and “Dad” kind of strange though, and it sounded unnatural coming from a lot of the characters, especially Renton. Lastly, there are a handful of slips in the pronunciation of “Eureka” throughout the series. Most are by minor characters and not particularly notable, but it’s an indication of sloppiness all the same.
OVERALL - Given all the positive recommendations I’d gotten for this series, I’m pretty damn disappointed with how things turned out, especially since the finale revealed that the story could have been ten times more interesting if presented in a more efficient manner. The pacing, along with the quick evaporation of my sympathies towards the cast, really destroyed the little enjoyment I was getting from technical aspects of the show. I really wanted to drop the series around the halfway point, but I figured I’d already invested so much time into it, I might as well finish it (what a stupid train of logic rarely does it reward you in the end). A recap movie of this series might work a lot better since it would, theoretically, cut out a lot of the excess filler crap and force the actual plot out into the open much faster. The recently released Eureka seveN movie, Pocketful of Rainbows, isn’t a recap movie though, so I’m not going to watch it. I’ve had enough of rainbows.
25 of 25 episodes seen
(This review assumes familiarity with the first season of Gundam 00 and references several season one spoilers. Season two spoilers are hinted at but not explicitly stated.)
STORY - Gundam 00 had a precarious premise from the very beginning. The "war to end all wars" story is one that seems to be visited often, but because it's such an idealistic goal, series pursuing it always stand on a shaky foundation of logic and realism. As a result, it's a very difficult premise to execute well. One of biggest logical gaps for me is still the idea that Celestial Being's two hundred-year old technology can be superior to that of current-day armies, especially since Celestial Being itself seems to have a very poor understanding of the machines they're making use of. Instead, they are reliant on a supercomputer and the notes and secret power-ups passed down to them by a dead man. All of the questions I had from the first season surrounding the organization's conception and survival over the last two centuries remain unanswered for the most part, but the most frustrating thing was not knowing the ultimate purpose of CB until the series' finale.
It blows my mind that most of the characters didn't even seem to know exactly what the "real" purpose of their organization was. It's one thing to keep the audience in the dark, but seriously, even the characters didn't know? Yes, everyone fights for their own reasons, but if you're part of an organization, you should maybe know what they're up to. Just sayin'. The antagonistic Innovators are introduced this season as the new puppeteers of the world, along with their half-puppets, the A-Laws. Presumably, they know what's going on, but since the point of view of the story follows the members of Celestial Being more than the Innovators, the story becomes very reactionary. CB is trying to do this to stop the Innovators from doing this. CB does this because the Innovators are going to do this. But why should the audience care if they ultimately have no idea what anyone's fighting for? The goals from the first season seem to have gone to the wayside somewhere along the way.
The flimsy storyline also contributed to an entire season of awful pacing marred by way too many romantic subplots. Seriously, could there possibly have been more of them? It didn't take long for 00 to feel like one gigantic soap opera that just happens to take place in space with some kind of war going on in the background. In fact, I'd venture to say that the romantic storylines and drama were the main focus and the war, morals, and fate of the universe thing was the secondary subplot. Who will get Setsuna in the end? Marina or Gundam? Can Lyle save Anew from her overused mind-control plot device? Will Tieria ever be able to win Veda back from Ribbons? Will Allelujah ever actually do anything important in this series or say a word other than "Marie"? Will Saji ever stop being spineless, and will Louise eventually accept him again or just go to Andrei instead? Can Billy forgive Sumeragi for using him? Can Shirin and Klaus both survive to the end of the series for their happily ever after? Will Mr. Bushido ever give up on Setsuna? Will Patrick ever win Kati's heart??
It. Is. Ridiculous. To be honest, most of the relationship drama (romantic or otherwise) in 00 had the potential to be interesting, but the fact that there was so much of it limited the relevance of each individual subplot and put a huge strain on the viewer's ability to care, especially with an unclear central plotline to tie everything together. The conclusion of the second season and the series as a whole is just as bad as, if not worse than, the first season's ending. It felt similarly rushed, extremely anticlimatic and unrealistic, and didn't resolve nearly as much as I would have wanted. Many of the characters feel stranded at the end of the series, though you do get a resolution for most of the relationship nonsense, further supporting the idea that the relationships were the core of the series and that everything else was secondary. As far as the politics go, it was definitely more of a forced ending than a conclusion. A conclusion implies that things are actually concluded.
CHARACTER - With a few exceptions, most of the first season's gigantic ensemble cast returned for the second season's "four years later." A new season really wasn't necessary just for a timeskip, but it was still really nice being able to see Setsuna age. He's the most interesting character in the entire series just because he matures so much as events unfold, and even as he doubts himself, his motivation, and purpose in the world, he never falls into the trap of the Jesus-kun Syndrome -- when a character becomes a preachy moralfag and refuses to kill people, often accomplishing this by disabling mobile suits in battle instead of destroying them. That isn't to say that having morals and a conscience makes for bad characters, but I find it refreshing when the morals and conscience can coincide with the resolve to fight and the knowledge that killing is sometimes necessary. Rather than instilling the pacifist streak in Setsuna, Sunrise made a good decision in having Marina around to balance things out. As irritating and useless as she was most of the time, I think she was necessary to round out the points of views in the series; that is to say, she was a good idea, just poorly executed.
Lyle, the new Lockon, felt like a huge cop-out from the beginning. Sunrise actually succeeded in killing a character! ...But here's his identical twin to replace him. Great. It didn't help that they never utilized the "twin" or "brothers" aspect to the best of its potential, and Lyle's logic failed on so many levels. He did not want to be compared to his brother, but essentially agreed to take over his brother's previous identity when he joined Celestial Being by taking on his old codename, his Gundam, and his Haro. Lyle's romantic subplot with Anew was one of the ones that had the most potential, and there was a lot of good acting as far as Lyle's inner conflict and reactions went, but in the end, I don't think his character evolved as much as it could have, and static characters remain uninteresting.
Allelujah was amazingly disappointing throughout the second season and pretty much drops off the map after episode seven. You wonder whether his role as a Gundam Meister actually makes him a "main character" or not since he dwindles to the point where he doesn't even have any speaking roles for several episodes at a time. Since Hallelujah supposedly "died" for one reason or another, there wasn't anything in the way of personal conflict. Instead, he spends the whole time chasing after Marie/Soma Peries. Unfortunately, Allelujah/Marie interactions are idealistic and boring while Allelujah/Soma interactions are repetitive and boring. Marie's struggle with Soma and Soma's struggle with belonging and revenge are interesting for many of the reasons the Allelujah/Hallelujah struggle was last season, but the character(s) could have stood well enough on their own without the obligatory romance/attention of Allelujah. Really, Allelujah probably brought them down by turning it into a cheesy would-be romance rather than the revenge/moral conflict it should have been.
Rounding out the Meisters, Tieria changed a lot between the first and second season. It would have been nice to be able to actually see that progress rather than just accepting that development had happened, but it's still refreshing to see characters that actually grow and change, and Tieria does continue to mature. Throughout the second season Tieria struggles with the fact that he's an Innovator and his role in both Celestial Being's and the other Innovators' goals. On the most basic level, it's probably the most interesting of the Meisters' conflicts, usurping even Setsuna, but poor execution, lack of attention, and being constantly thrown back by a dozen other subplots kept it from really succeeding, especially at the end.
As previously mentioned, there are probably two dozen other characters all with subplots of varying degrees of depth and relevance. Saji and Louise's is especially prominent, but the themes of their relationship cover very little that one of the others doesn't already, especially now that they're both directly involved in the fighting and are no longer bystanders. Neither of them are particularly strong or interesting characters, and I still think that 00 would have been better off without them. It would have probably saved us about ten episodes of drama. There are also still an assload of characters aside from those listed above that make appearances at random, but aren't actually relevant to anything anymore. Ali Al-Saachez will pop up again every seven or eight episodes. As will Nena Trinity, who really should have just died in the first season with her brothers. And as will Liu Mei Wang and Hong Long, who really do anything at all the entire season. All of the Innovators aside from Ribbons are pretty much interchangeable, and even Regene didn't seem to mean much in the end.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - The animation in the second season remains slick, and the battles are all relatively fun to watch. I really missed the Gundam Exia's design, though the 0, 00, 0-Riser, and 00-Riser are all pretty interesting as well. I didn't think the Arios was much of an improvement over the Kyrios, though honestly, you don't see Allelujah in action enough this season for his suit to really leave an impression on you. The GN Archer, which actually had a neat design, could have also been featured a lot more. Seravee and Seraphim also had a nice concept, but like the others, was ever over-shadowed by the 00 and 00-Riser. And the Cherudim? As with the Dynames, the prominence of the gigantic rifle made the rest of the suit less important, but even visually, the Cherudim was less to look at than the Dynames.
The updated character and costume designs did a lot of good, I think, and I'm fond of Setsuna's older appearance. The only new characters that are introduced in the second season are the score of Innovators. They come in pairs with hilariously punny names like "Revive Revival," "Anew Returner," and "Bring Stabity." They also come in a variety of colorful flavors! Way to make it easy to spot the plot devices hiding out in the army and in Celestial Being, guys. There had to have been a better way to illustrate the concept of a race superior to humans without making it ridiculously obvious, right? The ease at which it is to spot these characters also makes the montage at the end of the series open to a lot of debate, but I really just think Sunrise is trolling us at that point.
MUSIC - The music is probably what I ended up enjoying the most in this entire series. I didn't much care for the second season's first opening and ending themes, but chalk that up to my general indifference to UVERworld and Chiaki Ishikawa. Neither are terrible songs or particularly annoying -- just not my thing, I suppose. The second opening and ending, on the other hand, are probably why I even bothered to sit through some of the later episodes since neither of the singles had released at the time. "Namida no Mukou" by stereophony actually took a while to warm up to me because I found the timing awkward in many parts, but I loved the vocalist's voice and the energy in the song is just fantastic.
Meanwhile, I loved "trust you" by Yuna Ito pretty much immediately. I'd only listened to a few of Ito's songs prior to that, but "trust you" just blew me away. The melody is beautiful and the steady tempo really carries it through. Furthermore, the accompanying animation was gorgeous and well-timed to fit with the music, and it left a wonderful contemplative feeling at the end of each episode -- more than most of the episodes deserved. It was also a great follow-up the animation for the second ending of the first season, "Friends" by Stephanie. There are a few episodes that end with a brief a capella version of "trust you" that I found really unnecessary and awkward, but the song itself is great.Oddly enough though, I like the TV Cut much better than the full single.
Tommy heavenly6's "Unlimited Sky" is used as an insert song for some of the later episodes, which was also pretty awesome. I adore Tomoko Kawase's voice in general, but I always find her anime songs much more energetic and upbeat than her other work, and "Unlimited Sky" is no exception. It always made the battle scenes that much more exciting -- a very needed extra when you're having a hard time caring about the characters involved or the storyline at the time.
Lastly, the instrumental soundtrack for 00 seemed markedly improved in the second season. The leitmotifs are a bit more prominent and the music in general seemed to compliment the mood and feeling of each scene a lot better. It was really refreshing to see/hear something actually improve between the seasons.
VOICE ACTING - Average for the most part, though I suppose Shinichiro Miki gets special mention for some excellent acting involving a very emotional Lyle, and Noboru Sougetsu (Ribbons), for managing to not remind everyone of Amuro Ray, at least most of the time.
The dub is still pretty awful. The best of the dub cast is Brad Swaile as Setsuna and maybe Alex Zahara as Lyle; both are pretty average. The rest of the cast either sound painfully uninspired or just... the same. Half of the female characters in this series sound the same in the dub. It's must be pretty bad when I'm offended at how poorly done the voices are for even characters I don't care about (which, in 00, is most of them).
OVERALL - When I reviewed the first season of Gundam 00, my main complaints included the fact that they had more details than structure, that they didn't bother to explain a lot of what I would consider to be important backstory, and that there were far, far too many characters, all of whom were trying too hard to be the focus. The lackluster ending to the first season didn't lead me to have a lot of expectations for the second season, but I'm still rather disappointed that they managed to let all of their problems get worse rather than better. In the end, I only saw 00 through to the end for the sake of having seen it to the end, which is never a really good reason at all. Then again, maybe I only saw it through so I could eventually bitch about it here... which really isn't that great of a reason either.
12 of 12 chapters read
S T O R Y - The original short was actually a really cute story, and it worked well as a one-shot. Sure, it had potential to be a longer series, but I was always pretty happy with it being what it was -- many things with that sort of quiet potential have been subsequently ruined, after all. Kanpai! expands on the premise of the one-shot and changes a number of things around. The characters' names are changed, and they're (pointlessly) regressed in age from high school to middle school. The protagonist gains an overarching purpose in addition to his quest to win the heart of a classmate -- to protect all monsters, who've become endangered from human overhunting. Nothing spectacular, but good enough, I guess. Unfortunately, Kanpai!'s storytelling is very scattered and jumps around from one thing to another.
Many of the short arcs seem like lengthy gags more than anything else, but even as a comedy, the humor seems rather forced and depends almost entirely on "WTF" reactions. The actual plot, if there is one, is lost in the chaos. Really, if there's a discernible storyline beyond Shintaro chasing Nao around, it's lost to me. Yes, Shintaro's purpose is to protect monsters, but that stated purpose doesn't necessitate plot sadly. Instead, we have two volumes of varied shenanigans and the occasional twist, some of it entertaining, some of it not so much. Kanpai! ends abruptly on a cliffhanger hardly a year into its run; I like to think that Murakami suddenly realized that she didn't have much of a story after all and that "A Toast to the Nape of Your Neck" should have just stayed a one-shot.
C H A R A C T E R S - All of the characters in Kanpai! are exceedingly one-dimensional. Shintaro is spunky and energetic; he is proud of what he does and works hard to succeed. He's also madly infatuated with the nape of Nao's neck with no explanation whatsoever (initially). Shintaro is good-natured and good-hearted, and it eventually becomes clear that he cares plenty about Nao as a person and not just a slab of neck. How amazingly predictable. That sort of cookie-cutter personality might work all right for a one-shot, where little development is expected to begin with, but for a longer work, it gets really boring, really fast. Nao's personality shifts somewhat from her original one-shot counterpart, but the change is not for the better. Nao is very tsundere, and that's all that really needs to be said because she grows or evolves beyond that.
The all new supporting cast is more a handful of vaguely amusing gimmicks than a collection of real characters. Short mini-arcs introduce each one before inducting them into the group of usual suspects, but honestly, they're not very interesting. Kenken is a demon werewolf gone permanently human after Shintaro saves him. Yabe is a ghost that was unceremoniously resurrected. Sakurai is an excorcist with some muddled kind of purpose. Shintaro's father is some kind of mysterious badass, and Ponta is a stereotypical butler/caretaker-type character that freaks out a lot. Yawn. Being a bunch of stereotypical characters isn't the downfall though; the only downfall is that none of them ever change and become anything interesting beyond their one-liner description.
A R T - Kanpai! began serialization near the end of Gravitation's twelve volume run and around when Murakami's artistic maturation and evolution was plateauing. For the most part, the art in Kanpai! is pretty solid, though many things could stand improvement. The rendering of animals is often laughable, and it's not uncommon for characters' hands to be very undersized. The characters are quite consistent and easy to recognize from situation to situation, but the character designs themselves are often too reminiscent of those from Gravitation and therefore incredibly distracting. The similarities get so bad that even TOKYOPOP can't help but comment on it on the back of their volume 2 release: "... and although he's NOT you-know-who from Gravitation, the resemblance is striking indeed!" And by "striking," they mean that the guy introduced at the end of volume 2 looks EXACTLY like Yuki Eiri. Murakami's familiar chibis and outrageous caricatures also appear throughout this series, emphasizing its generally chaotic humor.
O T H E R - TOKYOPOP licensed and published both volumes of Kanpai! for North American release in 2005. The translation feels pretty good and natural, though I get the impression that they only expected people already versed in manga to be interested in the series. All honorifics are left intact with no initial note to explain their meaning. There's also no explanation for the general Japanese usage of surnames until characters are familiar with each other. Romanization of a few names are a bit inconsistent, with "Shintaro" appearing on the backside summary and "Shintarou" appearing everywhere on the inside. "Ponta" is also initially translated with a dash over the "a," but that disappears almost immediately. As with most modern TOKYOPOP translations, the tankoban reads right-to-left, the sound effects are left untranslated and as-is, but small text in signs and books in the background are translated. All in all, a pretty good job, I'd say.
O V E R A L L - Honestly, I never really expected Kanpai! to be much good. I bought the two volumes because they were on sale for $0.99/ea, and I figured hey, the one-shot was cute, so I might as well, right? As disappointing as it was, it was good to see something else of Murakami's other than Gravitation and related doujinshi, and I regret nothing. ...Still, I'm now inclined to think that Gravitation's success was a huge fluke, but I guess they can't all be winners. I don't recommend Kanpai! to the curious passerby-er; there are plenty of other, more interesting, series to waste your time with. Actually, I don't think I'd even recommend Kanpai! to the Gravitation fan -- it might make you question Murakami's actual abilities too much.
24 of 24 episodes seen
S T O R Y - I don't read/watch a lot of shoujo, but from the start, I figured it was a pretty basic plot and as a result, probably a pretty generic story. I was right -- it's a lot of what you would typically expect from shoujo: lots of silly romantic drama, lots of hilarious shenanigans, and the your handful of cute, fluffy moments scattered throughout that always feel like an shot of diabetic sweetness straight to your black, black heart. And it was wonderfully done for the most part. As predictable as the overarching story can be, it was still very engaging and fun to watch. The slice of life approach makes the episode-to-episode drama slightly less obvious, and I really loved that time actually moves throughout the series.
I suppose time progression would logically be more common in slice of life and shoujo series, but since I don't dabble into the genre much, it was very refreshing for me to experience. The series begins as the characters start high school and ends neatly as they graduate. Time moves at a pretty fixed pace, so there's no awkwardness in transitions. I was also really happy to see the beginning, creation, and progression of a relationship -- the series doesn't just end when they get together (I refuse to count that as a spoiler; I mean, c'mon. Did you ever have any doubts?), it keeps going and explores some of their problems and potential future. All in all, it's wrapped up pretty nicely. The story, while fairly generic, is solid, well told, and just silly and fun. The pacing is steady, and though things do feel like they're being dragged along occasionally, the feeling never lasts long. It's a good thing to watch after a shitty day. I'm actually really sad it's over for that very reason.
C H A R A C T E R - Risa Koizumi is a very dramatic girl. It's fun at first; after a while it got a little tiring. But then I came to realize that wait. Girls really ARE like this! They ARE overdramatic and hysterical and crazy and thoroughly ridiculous. After realizing that amazing truth, I didn't mind so much anymore. Risa is just a girl. And that's how they are. Honestly, I can't call her unrealistic in good conscience because everything she does, every over-the-top reaction she has, I can imagine someone I know in real life doing the same. Considering that, I think Risa's actually a pretty damn well done character. She's very sympathetic and easy to relate to, even when she's crying for the fifth time in five episodes. And she grows -- her feelings for Otani evolve and mature a lot throughout the series, and through you're constantly reminded of this progression through three-second flashbacks, it is something that's nice to look back on.
Atsushi Otani is an idiot. It's fun at first; after a while, it gets a little frustrating. But then I came to realize that wait! Boys really ARE like this! They're retarded and stupid and dense and miss all the obvious signs and are super awkward when they do finally get it! Amazing. Once again, I found Otani's depiction to be hilariously accurate on many levels. He does tend to be much less dramatic than Risa, but that's not surprising considering the male stereotype and the fact that his point of view isn't focused on as much until the second half of the series. Though both Risa's and Otani's feelings are undoubtedly romanticized greatly, I found the slower development of Otani's feelings a lot more interesting -- you know what's going to happen, but watching everything unfold is still interesting.
The supporting cast of friends do a great job of contrasting their lovey-dovey relationships with the irregular, often immature, and haphazard relationship of our protagonists. This makes them all noticeably idealized to the point where they're more roles than in-depth characters, but I guess that's all they really needed to be. Seiko and Haruka were fun gimmicks as well. Still, Nobuko was a pretty convincing best friend for Risa, likely because she had the most screentime of the supporting cast.
A R T S T Y L E & A N I M A T I O N - The animation and art jump around a lot in this series, so there's a bit of bad and a bit of good. The opening and end themes had a lot of fun variation to them, though all seemed pretty typical of shoujo, especially in the sense that they played around with the characters' fashion and style a lot. In the episodes themselves, the characters jumped back and forth from a pretty lazy and generic style to a really hilarious caricature style to a super, sparkle-filled, shiny, pretty shoujo style. The first of those three was the most common and got annoying sometimes because there would be strange discrepancies in how certain things (people, buildings, objects) look and I noticed some variations in height differences and proportions, especially for Risa whose lanky shape stands out a lot when the proportions change. The second was really amusing, especially since many of the SD faces are uniquely and hilariously grotesque and the characters don't hesitate to point this out themselves. The final style naturally showed up in all the super romanticized and climatic scenes -- its those scenes they saved their animation budget on, I'm sure -- making everything that much sweeter. It's predictable, but hey, it's gorgeous and cute and it works, dammit.
Another thing I'm sure is pretty common in shoujo, but that I appreciated all the same, was the fact that fashions changed from scene to scene, episode to episode. I loved that characters changed their clothes every day and had a lot of seasonal fashions; they would also be scene shopping occasionally and the clothes they buy would show up later, etc. I also loved that Risa's hair was constantly changing -- sometimes it coincided with her mood and emotions; sometimes it coincided with events or the weather; sometimes it was just different. It's not that big a deal, really, but it makes the characters that much more real and easier to relate to.
Overall, Love★Com's animation is just average, but it's good enough and the style definitely suits the series.
M U S I C - The first time I heard the first opening theme, "Kimi + Boku = Love?" by Tegomass, it confirmed all the stereotypical expectations I had for the series. It's upbeat and cheerful-hopeful, the vocalist's voice has an endearing, dorky quality to it, and the even the name of the song is corny as hell. It felt very right. End themes are generally slower, more somber, and more thoughtful compared to opening themes, and the first end theme, also by Tegomass, was no different. It kind of struck me how different the vocalist sounded. It also felt very right, and both songs really grew on me during the first half of the series.
Surprisingly though, the second pair of themes for the series are even better! I absolutely adore how the second opening, "Hey! Say!" by Hey!Say! 7 starts. In conjunction with the colorful animation sequence, it suits the series perfectly. It's the kind of music that I imagine Risa and Otani would listen to in addition to Umibouzu, and the lyrics are adorable. The same can be said for the second end theme, "BON BON," also by Hey!Say! 7 -- it's much more upbeat than the first end theme (though still reasonably thoughtful and kind of reminiscent) and once again, just adorable.
Love★Com also surprised me by having a really nice general soundtrack. The theme that played for all of the more depressing scenes was especially pretty and sweet to listen to. For other series of Love★Com's technical quality, I usually don't notice the soundtracks because they're generic and bland, so it's definitely worth noting that the music in this actually stood out. It's one of those soundtracks I wouldn't mind listening to outside of watching the actual series.
V O I C E A C T I N G - If you actually know Japanese or if you are just a gigantic dork, you might notice that pretty much all of the characters in this series speak in a Kansai dialect, which makes sense since the story takes place in Osaka. I found this pretty awesome because while a lot of series will have one or two characters that speak in the dialect, few have the full cast speaking in it. The last time I heard so many "aho"s instead of "baka" was in BECK. It's really interesting and neat to hear because even if you don't understand the language that well or realize that it's a different dialect, if you've seen a lot of subbed anime, you'll be able to pick up on slight changes in pronunciation and vocabulary (the most obvious things that I caught were "na" instead of "ne" and "chau" instead of "chigau"). For Risa, I also found her pronunciation of "Otani" to be occasionally distracting because she stresses the "o" a lot more than I would normally expect.
Other than fun dialect stuff, the voices themselves were pretty average. Risa's isn't that memorable, but it works well enough for her role. I was more impressed by Otani's voice because I found that he had a wider range of emotions and a much more recognizable tone overall -- his voice has a really unique inflection when he's upset or surprised, but it's also very charming when he's being serious. Other notable roles: Nakao was surprisingly soft-spoken, which goes great with his character, but was still surprising to hear because few people ever speak that quietly. Seiko's voice was obnoxiously high-pitched, which also went great with his/her character, but it also made me really glad s/he wasn't in too many scenes...
O V E R A L L - Lovely Complex was a much more enjoyable series than I thought it would be, but I'm always happy to see cliches work out. It's very true -- there are no original ideas left, so all there is to do is write good stories. They don't need to be original stories, just good stories, solid stories, fun stories. Lovely Complex fullfills all of above, so even though you know they're going to live happily ever after, you can still enjoy watching it for what it is. As I mentioned earlier, I watched episodes of Love★Com at the end of bad days. They're a shot of sugar and laughs, straight to the vein: adorably effective. Now I need to find another drug. read more
12 of 12 episodes seen
STORY - The absurdity of the above summary still surprises me sometimes, but if nothing else, I have to give Antique Bakery props for being unique. The bakery element is pretty original in itself, but I was more impressed to see an easygoing comedy/slice of life-ish series involving mostly-ordinary, adult characters in their thirties. That Tachibana has reoccurring nightmares involving cake is very, very laughable to me, but thankfully, even though that could be considered the main plot of the series, it usually takes a backseat to the everyday shenanigans around the bakery, which I find infinitely more entertaining. I don't really think the series would have lost much if the kidnapping cake trauma had been left out, honestly, but I suppose that's one of the few things that makes this series stand out a little, and Tachibana needed some weird kind of reason to quit his well-paying job to start a bakery.
A lot of people label this series shounen-ai, but I really don't think it is. I mean, yeah, there's a gay character, but there is no romantic center to the story at all. Ono just happens to be gay -- he's a "magical gay," but whatever; he has a few one-episode subplots (including, unfortunately, the first episode), but it's nothing consequential to the rest of the story. Tachibana is insistently straight, so it's really not that important at all. Antique Bakery wouldn't be all that different if Ono was closeted or hetereosexual instead. I guess that's another thing that makes the series unique though -- a gay character without a gay subplot.
Beyond the cake, the shenanigans themselves aren't all that original or of a particularly high quality. They're passable, but that's about it.
CHARACTERS - Tachibana is the only vaguely interesting character in the entire series. Though I'll probably always find the source of his nightmares hilarious, the personality that results is entertaining enough. As a privileged son, Tachibana can pretty much do whatever he wants. He gives no reason for wanting to start a bakery, but those around him accept it. Really, even he doesn't think much about the half-hearted desire to catch the man who kidnapped him; it stems from his frustration at the gaps in his memory more than any want of vengeance or retribution. I think that lack of hatred towards his tormenter and his general easy come, easy go attitude is what makes Tachibana attractive as a character. Then again, his tormenter tormented him by endlessly feeding him cake.
The rest of the cast is pretty stereotypical. Ono is a flamboyant gay man who has the retardedly cheesy talent of making other men fall for him. Eiji is a simple-minded, ex-boxing champion who really, really loves cake. Chikage is the village idiot. All of them have backstory that's tossed around to spice up a few episodes, but none of it really interested me since they seemed more like excuses for the characters to be situated in the bakery than anything else. None of them have much in the way of lasting conflict, and none of them change, so at the end of the day, I just don't care.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - The art style's pretty generic, and I found the occasional transitions to chibi forms rather jarring. There are also random bursts of flowers and other weird shoujo backdrops, but you kind of get used to it after a while.
The opening animation is pretty original and cute, though I wouldn't think that "cute" really suits Antique Bakery. The ending animation is much more generic and rather unimpressive. The animation in the series itself surprisingly disappointing. All of the cake and fancy desserts and baked goods in the series are gorgeous, which is appropriate, but that's about all that's worth praising, sadly. From afar, the backgrounds don't look so bad, but closer inspection reveals many of them to be computer-generated and very clunky-looking. The character animation is cheap and flat and the shading is absolutely terrible -- I shouldn't be able to see all the Photoshop brush strokes, seriously. It's not clean at all. The characters and background don't integrate at all and the whole thing is just a visual mess. The cakes are pretty, but when they don't look like they belong in the same scene as everything else, something's wrong.
MUSIC - I'm not particularly fond of the opening theme. The bouncing, upbeat sound is appropriate for the silliness that encompasses much of the series, but I didn't really feel as if it fit with the accompanying animation for the opening. The end theme is a bit better though and provides a decent, thoughtful tone for the end of each episode. Despite this though, neither songs are very memorable. Maybe I'm just not a fan of CHEMISTRY? The score for the series is comprised mostly of piano and classical music. As a pianist, I suppose I'm biased, but I really loved the piano tracks in Antique Bakery -- for the calmer scenes, they're very soothing, relaxing and just all around nice to listen to; for the more dramatic scenes, they're loud and accompanied by urgent violins. Everything fits well.
VOICE ACTING - Pretty average, though I was surprised to find yet another credit to Mamoru Miyano, who does the voice of Eiji. The man has quite the impressive range and portrays his character well without invoking thoughts of the other (rather prominent) roles he's voiced. I was also pretty fond of Keiji Fujiwara as Tachibana, though it's easier to spot the similarities in the voice to his other roles.
OVERALL - Antique Bakery is not a great series, and it certainly isn't for everyone, but it isn't a complete waste of time either. Really, I don't think there's much to say beyond that. read more