Mar 17, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Clockwork Planet features and stars a couple of automata, robots who are more human than machine (on the outside at least).
Last year, a video game titled Nier:Automata stayed true to its name and did the same. I quickly fell in love with the somewhat niche project: 2B, the phenomenal OST, the amazing (true) ending. Not only was it my favorite game from 2017 but also it earned a spot within my all-time-best list. Alongside the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, Dark Souls, The Last of Us, and
In comparison, Clockwork Planet will in no way be earning a similar treatment.
1000 years after the Earth’s demise, it finds new life within Clockwork Planet. From the tall buildings to the layered ground, the world fills itself with almost nothing else but gears upon gears. Within this world lives Naoto, an aspiring clocksmith. One day, a coffin falls from the sky. A coffin that contains RyuZU, the “One Who Follows.” He fixes her broken mechanical innards, she swears an oath of loyalty to him, and the two, alongside Marie and Halter, move as one unit to save this planet from whatever evil may roam.
Rather than telling one complete tale, this season roughly splits itself up into three distinct arcs: the Kyoto Grid Arc, the AnchoR Arc, and the Yatsukahagi Arc. A relatively common approach. Perhaps not as common, though, is the brokenness of this entire product.
The Kyoto Grid Arc already starts to unscrew the bolts keeping the show together. While these first four episodes serve mostly as the introduction – bringing the group together, establishing the setting, etc. – a lot of the content fails to deliver. The military-political subplot does not tie back enough to Marie and her standing since the audience hasn’t learned much about her at this point. The opposing robots do not make for interesting enemies and thus hurt the power of the action sequences. The anime doesn’t do the best job at differentiating this sci-fi world from any other run-of-the-mill city.
In episode three, RyuZU’s head-nodding confession to Naoto makes for a fun little scene, demonstrating that the anime has something worthwhile to share. When the AnchoR Arc begins a couple of episodes later, however, concerning smoke and whirring noises expel from this product as it breaks down further.
Breakage comes from different sources this time around. For example, in its attempts to provide a better backing to the upcoming plot, it tries to explain where the superweapon came from. It’s given as an unsightly exposition dump, though. The show also includes this crazy area called the “Deep Underground.” As Halter describes it, basically outer space if it existed, well, underground. A person cannot survive down there, and it seems like a neat place for the anime to explore if not a relevant plot point altogether.
But no on both fronts. Naoto just so happens to find a safe spot down there for convenience sake, and it is never revisited, leaving it as a tangential piece of the narrative. Oh, he and RyuZU also just-so-happen to meet some random old guy who turns out to be the final villain of the season. Because why not?
To the show’s half-credit, it does contain small throughputs that do tie back to earlier moments in the season, providing some semblance of writing coherency. Remember that subplot from the first arc? Marie puts those evil people within the government sphere on blast to out their corruption. A sly move for sure, but a move that unexpectedly acts as the catalyst to escalate known tensions. (Info lost within that exposition dump.)
Marie also mentions very briefly an old friend of hers named Houko in this arc who later appears in the last arc. Something similar goes for the message that they tailed. They find the obliterated body of the cyborg who sent it, and he later tells them it was his doing shortly before reincarnating as a female.
But these throughputs are too loose in their construction, for they are information and connections that do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Marie’s accidental actions do not lead to any thematic discussion on the political struggles and their adverse effect on the people. Houko does not play a significant role in the events that follow her arrival. It doesn’t matter who sent that radio message because it doesn’t affect the plot whatsoever.
However, once again, Clockwork Planet gets at something when RyuZU brings Marie along for her duel with AnchoR as an expenditure of sorts (unbeknownst to the young girl, of course). Fun, believable writing that, for a brief moment, may fix this show.
The Yatsukahagi Arc will have none of that, strolling in to demolish what’s left. The conflict at this point centers on the massive superweapon and how the group will save the country. In doing so, too many strange story beats occur. RyuZU and AnchoR don’t go all-out despite their bend-the-laws-of-physics abilities out of a misplaced fear of them overexerting themselves (which AnchoR does anyway). The whole giant space Tall Wand debacle comes and goes without much worry. The magical, poorly explained gear-making event to mend the Pillar of Heaven boggles the mind in its asinine nature.
Three arcs. Three chances. Three misses. In short, this narrative is like using a feather to jam a nail into a dense piece of wood – it just doesn’t work.
ART & ANIMATION
Clockwork Planet tries to make things work instead with its visuals.
RyuZU, Marie, and Naoto do so with their designs. Their somewhat dated looks hearken back to a now older style, acting not as an issue but rather as a source of intrigue. Furthermore, their details in general give them some clout. RyuZU especially. A nun-and-maid combo outfit. Her “impeccable and perfect body” (as Naoto puts it in episode five). Extra accessories and patterns that adorn her clothes. Each part highlight her devoutness, beauty, and intricacy (respectively), arguing for said clout.
Also of note are some of the different shots within the anime. It mostly refrains from any grand detail in its background artistry, but Clockwork Planet can have flashes of neatness. Whether it’s a top-down view of the gear-filled country or a psychedelic interpretation of Naoto’s incredible hearing ability, the audience is treated sparingly to a couple of cool shots.
Unfortunately, that intrigue and those flashes cannot hide the anime’s otherwise underwhelming presentation. It can look far too rough at times when designs do not maintain correct looks either through squashing or from improper details. Outright mishaps are rare (e.g., the white of Halter’s eyeball is colored incorrectly at one point in episode two), but the overreliance on speedy backgrounds, the barely serviceable cinematography, and the boring maneuvers for its action sequences continually hamper its visual integrity.
Worse still, the actual animation is far too stilted for much of the show’s run. The anime gets around the poor movement with gun battles, swift blade attacks, and the occasional comedic display (e.g., Marie opening and closing her hands in episode five to mimic choking someone). But mouths during conversations, their walk cycles, turning, and the general actions they take do not amount to much. Not that the animation is choppy or unacceptable; it simply doesn’t aim to appeal.
Worst of all, the opening track rips over half of its visuals from the events of the anime itself. An every-single-episode indication that the anime refused to try harder than it otherwise could have. Combined with all the other problems, the art and animation simply don’t have enough going for them in such a visual-driven medium.
After the story breaks apart and the visuals barely work as a Band-Aid, Clockwork Planet’s cast arrives to try and rectify the situation with tools of their own. They tinker and toil, but their efforts are in vain.
It starts with RyuZU. Arguably the best part of the entire anime, RyuZU instantly improves the show with her progenitor status (being a creation of Y, the creator of their world) and, of course, her deadpan insults (which strike with truth and hilarity). Her ultra-time-slowing move gives her a cool edge over the enemy, too.
While she makes fun of Marie and the others, part of her character focuses on not hating humanity so much. Or at least, coming to the conclusion that they have more brains than those of a common flea. She takes that minute step thanks to one person: Naoto. He proves to her with his aural capabilities that people nowadays are not just a bunch of buffoons. That they are indeed capable of some extraordinary things.
However, Naoto doesn’t just give her a reason to stop the hate. He also gives her a sincere relationship. While the pairing of a teenage boy and a thousand-year-old killer robot is admittedly an odd pairing, Naoto’s joy and persistence at having a thoughtful connection with RyuZU beyond the master-servant roles they take up puts her out of her comfort zone. Thus, he elicits emotions from her that she otherwise would have never experienced.
Despite RyuZU’s part in Clockwork Planet, the anime literally and figuratively puts her out of commission come the second half of the season. An electromagnetic pulse wave overheats her system, and she oddly receives less focus even when she revives, leaving her presence diminished and her impact forgettable.
The trade-off is spending more time on AnchoR. Arriving at about that halfway point, she counts as RyuZU’s younger “sister” and looks at Naoto and Marie as her “father” and “mother” respectively. Having always been told what to do and only just recently gaining her freedom, she almost always asks for permission first before doing something. That is, until she “disobeys” Naoto of her own free will and chooses to wipe out the superweapon come the end of the season.
Like RyuZU, though, AnchoR’s most important involvement comes from a relationship she holds with another character: Marie. Despite AnchoR’s kindhearted intentions, Marie doesn’t like AnchoR and actively distances herself from the little girl as much as possible. So, from their interactions, AnchoR eases Marie’s at-times rough personality, and Marie humanizes the “One Who Annihilates” by giving her the love and the support she has never known.
Marie isn’t an automata, but she is a known genius of the Meisterguild and of the Breguet family. At least, before she destroys her guild crest and fakes her own death. She describes herself as someone who never views anything as impossible, and she stores insane amounts of knowledge in her head while simultaneously fixing mechanical issues with utmost precision.
In comparison, Naoto, the main protagonist of Clockwork Planet, isn’t a genius but instead a miracle. His hearing compensates for the fact that he does not have strong tinkering skills, giving him an advantage and an out in many a situation. He also has a keen affinity for the small (perverted) pleasures in life, and he isn’t afraid to be honest with people.
Both Marie and Naoto have their own moments throughout the season. Most of episode six challenges Marie’s personal mantra, and Naoto regularly lends his talent such as when he pinpoints the few gears among trillions that need a repair or determines where the next attack will manifest.
Once again, though, it’s the relationship between the two that takes precedence. Marie often cannot fathom why this “idiot” makes so much sense all the time, and Naoto encourages her despite the troubles they face. Most importantly, they mirror each other about the other. She’s mad at herself for relying on Naoto the miracle; he’s mad at himself for the envy he feels towards Marie the genius. They don’t hate each other. Rather, they both simply wish that they could do and be more than what they currently are.
A cool idea, but it’s only sprinkled throughout the season rather than honed in on as a major talking point between the characters. Plus, their esoteric, paradoxical exchange in episode eleven, where they seemingly teach the other (to some extent) their signature traits, isn’t the most sound writing on the (clockwork) planet.
As for the other cast members involved, they either do not contribute much or lack basic characterization and writing to make them worthwhile. Take Halter. He’s no doubt a cool, chill dude to have around, balancing out the craziness of the others. Yet he unfortunately doesn’t receive a lot of attention outside of a weird aside where Marie pretends to call him “papa.”
Vermouth, the man-turned-woman cyborg, adds in some comedic relief when nearly every line of her dialogue takes the form of a sexual innuendo. However, her late inclusion, her lacking relationships, and her failure to hold a meaningful role within the crew simply makes her into an unnecessary distraction.
Gannai, the main villain of the Yatsukahagi Arc, is little more than a crotchety old man who has beef with Y on a philosophical basis. He barely has a handful of lines during his brief stint let alone a tangible foundation to his very character.
From RyuZU to AnchoR, Naoto to Marie, and everyone in-between, the characters unfortunately cannot fix what is already broken. Some of their relationships had a chance, but, they do not instill enough torque to get the gears going.
MUSIC & SOUND
Clockwork Planet finds no respite from its broken state when it comes to a lot of the music played throughout the season.
The titular opening track, “Clockwork Planet,” stalls the show from the get-go. The faint noise of a hand-turned device and some techno sounds can be heard in the background for a couple of fitting inclusions. However, the flat vocals, the tired beat, the odd loftiness, and the lacking instrumentation turn the OP into more of a chore to listen to all the way through rather than a welcome addition to the anime.
The ending track, “Anti Clockwise,” redeems where its brethren reduced. More relevant noises appear in the form of ticking time, but the ED trades in the techno and the tired for the dynamic and the diverse. Frantic piano keys give way to varied vocals, guitar segments, a bit of autotune, and changing tempos that power up the entire piece. While not a playlist-worthy track, it at least keeps the music from having nothing to show for itself.
Because, sandwiched between the detestable and the acceptable, the original soundtrack slowly fades away from the minds of the audience. Hand drums, acoustic guitar, and synthesizer accompany mystery vibes, sad moments, and fast-paced action sequences (respectively), yet their impact is low and their supportive nature only exists insofar as they give the listener something to distract them from the rest of the anime. One of the tracks does have a cool saxophone lead-in. But, when it proceeds to play alien spaceships and daintier instruments afterwards, roughness messes up that smoothness.
On top of the fact that there are no noteworthy voice-acting performances, the music and sound work within Clockwork Planet is one of the weakest pieces to this malfunctioning project.
Only two people in the anime save it from being an absolute bore: RyuZU and Konrad.
RyuZU for the obvious reasons. She’s a beauty, but it’s her words against Naoto and the others that got a chuckle out of me every time. Here are a few of my favorites from the show.
“Is there some kind of problem? Does my perfection and overwhelming capabilities damage your mitochondrion-level pride?” “Master Naoto, your face is already dull at best.” “I suspect the brains of the army’s officers have been seriously damaged. I mean, they fell for a plan you came up with, Miss Marie.” “Even the Gods are envious of the treasure that is my lap. It is the definition of unrivaled luxury.” “Please, use every bit of your insufficient brain. Excuse me.”
I also liked the romance bits between her and Naoto. Her pouts and jokes, the almost-kissed-twice scene, her engagement moment. Without RyuZU, the anime would have been nigh intolerable for sure.
Now Konrad, he knows what’s up. He goes from a leading scientist to a strip-club proprietor. Taking in and building up sexy robot women who throw themselves at the casual beanie-and-t-shirt wearing gentleman every chance they get. All while doing his part to help save the world during his downtime. A man truly worthy of respect.
As for everyone and everything else, I cannot say I was a big fan. I wish Halter did more throughout the season. Naoto, Marie, and AnchoR have their quirks, but I don’t find them pronounced enough. The shootouts and the occasional super abilities didn’t keep my attention. The drama didn’t do anything for me. No interesting themes pop up that I could either investigate or admire. Choosing to have AnchoR register with Naoto instead of Marie seems like a huge misstep on a character and narrative level in my eyes.
This anime isn’t the worst that I’ve ever seen, but it puts itself pretty far down there.
Clockwork Planet needs more repairs than a destroyed timepiece. The story is a mess. The visuals lack value. The characters come up short. The music is bland. The entertainment available amounts to maybe a couple of elements. Altogether, an automatic fall to very nier the bottom of the list.
Story: Terrible, a weak foundation, loose plot points, and questionable writing choices keep the narrative from highlighting the extremely sparse moments that have some grain of worth
Art & Animation: Bad, while the individual designs and a few shots have some intrigue to them, the stilted animation, the low input of its cinematography, and the rough artistry in general lead to an underwhelming visual presentation
Characters: Bad, RyuZU, AnchoR, Naoto, and Marie have potential in their relationships and individual traits, but their efficacy ranges all over the place, and the side cast in general do not contribute much, if anything at all
Music & Sound: Bad, the OP and the OST crash hard, and the VA performances are par for the course, but at least the ED provides a track worth listening to
Enjoyment: Bad, RyuZU and Konrad do what they can to keep the boredom at bay
Final Score: 2/10
Mar 17, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Names are a vital part to our day-to-day lives.
Mostly because they allow us to identify others. Take myself on the Internet. I go by the name “Banjo” and have done so since I first started taking part in the community. But it’s not just for people. We name pets. We name foods in the wild. We name tracks on a music album.
Without names, we’d be left with describing something without really pinpointing the thing in question. “The dog the Johnsons’ got.” “That one red, rounded fruit.” “That goofball anime writer that always starts his reviews
with a prologue and an anecdote.” Clearly possible to do so, but names make it easy to quickly and accurately specify what we encounter.
Same goes for Eromanga-sensei. Its name (formally a title) instantly selects which anime a person is talking about in a conversation. Coincidentally, the name also makes it a simple method of determining which show to chuck farther away than a poison apple.
In Eromanga-sensei, a middle-school boy named Masamune lives with his younger sister Sagiri. Having lost their parents, he works as a light-novel author to support the two of them, and she locks herself in her room almost without a peep. However, Masamune soon learns something surprising: that Sagiri is the famous, perverted online artist named Eromanga-sensei. The same person who draws the illustrations for his own very own works.
This revelation begins the anime on the right foot, thawing the awkwardness of their relationship. Unfortunately, the follow-up melts onto the floor as a bunch of unwelcome puddles that the show gladly stumbles into with each subsequent step.
It muddies its feet first by stepping in blandness. Uneventful competitions and the light-novel approach in general decline the plot’s desire to give the audience appreciable content. For example, the show doesn’t share the details of the stories the characters compose despite how important they are to those reading and writing them. While the process behind their creation (sitting down at a table and clacking on a keyboard) may not have excitement, the story’s decision to ignore the embodiment of the characters’ thoughts and feelings only serves to raise an eyebrow.
Not to mention the constant, weak dialogue about creating something “super-interesting.” They have means. They have skill. They have reasons. So, trading in their penchant for prose and replacing it with the most vague, non-descriptive way to explain the passion behind their projects only further dirties the anime.
Failed drama also swamps the ground, causing Eromanga-sensei to slip and fall some more. Take episode three. Masamune talks with Elf on her mansion’s balcony about why he became a fan of hers to begin with. How her novels let him laugh, staving off melancholy that took over his mind after his parents’ (his dad and step-mom’s) deaths and Sagiri’s reclusion.
A potentially touching scene – but it lacks weight. The anime does not emphasize his loss as a conflict or even something important to the plot. Indeed, it’s rarely brought up at all (especially in the mid-to-later portion of the season), seeming more like an excuse to have Masamune and Sagiri alone together in the same house than a source of drama.
Or take episode four. On that same balcony, Masamune jumps from it to Sagiri’s own balcony in a demonstration of happiness. Again, such a scene should make for a dramatic or at least standalone moment. But instead, the outcome is the “classic” guy-falls-on-top-of-girl scenario, killing any momentum such a moment may have carried in his action.
Now, roughly ten paragraphs in, people may be saying to themselves, “That’s not the point of the show. The writing premise doesn’t matter, and the drama isn’t the focus. Who cares about these details in this rom-com, anyway?” If that’s the case, then the “point” must be somewhere else. Namely in either part of that hyphenated word: romance or comedy.
With Eromanga-sensei’s romance, the puddles only grow larger. Quite quickly, the anime makes it apparent that it will tackle a taboo topic: incest. That’s not anywhere near an issue; stories exist to explore any and all subject manners. No, what is an issue is the fact that the anime remains ambiguous in its delivery. And it happens a bunch throughout the show.
They’re actually step-siblings – but they call each other “little sister” and “Big Brother” to reinforce their relationship.
Masamune will say, in episode two, “Stop with the impossible misunderstanding. Just because we live together doesn’t mean brother and sister have a romantic relationship.” But then, in the same episode, he is stunned to learn that Sagiri will not let him wash her underwear anymore.
Sagiri deserves blame as well. In episode eight, she first says, “I’ll pretend to be your little sister for a bit,” but then later says (to herself), “I’ve gotten much further away.”
The harem aspect also doesn’t work. Every girl either implies or straight up tells Masamune that they will for sure be married one day despite his and the show’s clear intentions.
To the anime, either say it is or it isn’t, for there cannot be any in-between here. Even disregarding the wishy-washiness, a topic this controversial, portrayed with such realism, requires a certain level of tact. But the anime does not provide that. Instead, it showcases indecent scenes with Sagiri (and the other characters) that have no purpose or place in a narrative attempting for believable romance and grounded drama.
“Hold on, bub. The ‘romance’ is all memes. It’s whatever, too.” All right, fine. Excusing the drama and the romance, that still leaves the comedy.
Surprisingly, the comedy does manage to shake off some of the residue from all the puddles it has waded through thus far. A scene like Sagiri frantically slamming her foot on the ground to signal her hunger to an under-time-duress, can’t-hear-her Masamune incorporates the premise in a funny way. The male side character author, who joins their party before the festival, brings a couple laughs when he gives the audience a somewhat outside perspective of the crazy people that they have grown accustomed to and he has now befriended.
It dries off with more funnies, too. Its ecchi jokes about penises. The running gag with Sagiri’s door always swinging open and smashing Masamune’s face. The show “rewinding the tape” as Elf double checks that he is really her next-door neighbor. None of these scenes are downright hilarious or extremely clever, but, all told, Eromanga-sensei finally has a net positive on its hands with the comedy it touts.
Yet when so much of the show (the drama and the romance) must be excused to make way for one passable part (the comedy), it’s tough to justify its merit when it would otherwise be hard to find at the bottom of those puddles. And so, ultimately, it stays soaked from head to toe.
ART & ANIMATION
In general, Eromanga-sensei does not skimp out on movement, giving Masamune and the other characters the reactions and charges they require.
For example, in episode eight, Elf flicks Masamune’s head with her finger to knock some sense into him, and his momentum pushes him backwards while his hands swiftly cover his face. In episode five, Elf rolls around in a sporadic manner to highlight her expressiveness. And Sagiri’s temper tantrum in the second episode is another quick example of the show’s strong animation.
On occasion, though, the anime elevates the fluidity even more. These short segments stand out as both a big positive and a big negative. On the positive side, the noticeable increase in animation gives the show a sharper, skillful look, like when Sagiri stands on her tippy toes while wearing her slippers at the beginning of episode eleven.
On the negative side, these scenes often exploit the situation to an unnerving degree. In episode six, the camera hangs low, aiming at Megumi for a peek at her crotch as she lifts herself up from her bed. Or how, in episode four, Sagiri tries on risqué pink lingerie to model a new pose for her art. In short, these scenes are uncomfortable and unnecessary no matter how much the strict animation flows.
Outside of movement, the anime includes other moments or techniques that improve the artistry. Cute dances from Sagiri in the opening track and the ending track give those songs a fun backdrop. Certain camera cuts capture the comedy, such as when, in episode eight, Masamune’s editor is one extra shot over, forcing the field of view to swing across one more time. The background changing from Sagiri’s room to the hallway without a transition in episode three as Sagiri kicks Masamune out also improves the direction of that scene.
Speaking of backgrounds, Eromanga-sensei doesn’t change its location often, so it doesn’t have very many (if any) chances to showcase its setting and the art itself. While that may explain the extra attention given to the animation, the show still has to appeal elsewhere. Particularly in the characters’ designs.
Said designs are not too shabby. Masamune’s dark-green, spiky hair and plain style are boring, but Muramasa’s yukatas and bandaged fingers give her a mature and skillful vibe (respectively) that fits her character. Sagiri’s colors (teal, silver, pink) meld nicely together, and Elf’s golden locks, frilly dress, and actual (never noticed) elf ears give her the most interesting design of the group.
Altogether, the art and the animation are usually above average in their execution, but those overly exploitive scenes really take away from what the visuals present.
In some regards, the best part in all of Eromanga-sensei is Sagiri’s arc and her gradual change to a (slightly) sociable person.
When the season begins, the show characterizes Sagiri as a talented artist with a knack for lewd drawings. A characteristic that often spills over into her actual life where she cannot repress her need for artistic inspiration from other girls. However, the most important detail about her is the reclusion she sticks to.
The loss of her mother and step-father pushes her into a dark hole. Therein, the only solace she finds is in connecting with people across the world through the Internet under the guise of her famous online persona: Eromanga-sensei. But she cannot even talk to Masamune face-to-face let alone leave her room. In essence, she needs help.
Once Masamune learns of her secret identity, he provides just that, doing what he can to slowly ease her out of her reclusion. He invites over Megumi and Elf who share common interests with the girl and who help her out in their own, supportive ways. He teams up with Sagiri again on a brand new light novel so that they can collaborate together. And, in general, his kind words and sincerity in wanting her to face her fears gently lead her out of her room.
This approach works, but, again, it’s all very slow. She starts to open her door more regularly, and she even starts talking to more people besides just her fans and Masamune (albeit with her signature mask still on). It culminates into an important scene for her character in episode seven. Muramasa wants to defeat Masamune in their writing competition, but Sagiri, having none of that, not only walks down the steps of her own free will but also yells at Muramasa for trying to wreck the dream they pursue.
Eromanga-sensei tries to make such dreams an important part of each character, but they don’t contain much in the way of a thematic presence. They relate to the characters, and they voice them at one point or another, but they are not a source of exploration or top-tier focus within the show.
Still, they are at least consistent. Masamune wishes to watch an anime adaptation of his collaboration with Sagiri. Elf strives to create the most interesting novel in the entire world. Muramasa desires to read Masamune’s genre-specific works.
With dreams in mind, Sagiri works hard to make Masamune’s a reality as he does the same while away at the retreat. She doesn’t follow through on greeting him home at the entrance to their house when he returns, but the two reminisce about their early days while “walking” through the city. How they (unknowingly) spurred each other on to become the artist and writer that they are today after so many years (with another trip down the stairs too).
By the end of the season, Sagiri willingly “invites” Elf and Muramasa to “play” in her room. Without a mask on at that. She even opens her window to say “See you!” to her newfound friends as they say goodbye as well. A metaphor of sorts for her finally opening up and overcoming the troubles that have clouded her mind.
To reiterate, talking to people, walking down some steps, and opening a window may not seem like much. People do all that and more within a few minutes in a single day on a regular basis. But, for someone like Sagiri, who has battled with trauma for a while now, these incremental changes make for a noticeable, healthy improvement to her character and a welcome sight to see.
Unfortunately, beyond Sagiri’s character, the rest of the cast falters. Masamune may be there to encourage his sister, but he doesn’t receive as much individual progress, existing more so to let the other characters play off him instead. Elf is loud and somewhat arrogant, but the anime’s attempts to expound further on her person amount to spilling her thoughts in a confession at a firefly-lit pond. Muramasa does the same during her second or so encounter with Masamune, giving the audience backstory, motive, and a resolution in one fell swoop to make room for her secondary seat on the train to nowhere.
Eromanga-sensei also juggles with too many extraneous characters: Masamune’s editor Ayame, Elf’s older brother Chris, the other male light-novel author Kunimitsu, the bookstore girl Tomoe.
These characters are technically relevant in their tangential relation to either the main cast or the fields in which they work, but they do not do enough to warrant their place within the anime. They slightly vary up the situations presented, but their inclusion rarely (if ever) impacts much of what happens in the show, taking valuable time away from Sagiri and especially the lackluster remainder of the cast.
Thus, Sagiri is the only character in the story who ends up at least worthwhile. And amidst how much the anime gets wrong otherwise, her arc demonstrates that the show can do something right without needing justifications.
MUSIC & SOUND
A lot of the sound work within Eromanga-sensei reaches an average middle ground.
The original soundtrack demonstrates this argument easily enough. In most cases, it has a hard time supporting its various scenes – particularly its comedic ones. When events become slightly more hectic or otherwise sillier than normal, circus-esque tunes kick in, overbearing the interactions with their loudness and their unfitting nature. Yet the OST can prove its worth. A lighter piano-and-flute melody appears every so often, accentuating the sincerity of the show’s scenes whenever it plays.
Similar words apply to the voice acting. Akane Fujita as Sagiri hasn’t had very many main roles as of yet, but her cute responses and soft-spoken manner let her thrive as the little sister. Minami Takahashi as Elf also does well with sarcastic phrasing and a holier-than-thou attitude.
In contrast, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, a veteran among veterans, lends his talent to the anime, but the slight higher-pitched tone for the male teen annoys rather than works. And, for everyone in the VA process, some of the screams out of joy and anger miss the mark.
That initial argument also applies to the opening track and the ending track. Titled “Hitorigoto,” the OP blares its trumpets before mixing in dainty instrumentals, a catchier beat, and harmonized singing. This combination creates a simple first half and an involved second half that results in a passable piece.
The ED, “adrenaline!!”, includes trumpets too, but they take on more of a supportive role than stealing center stage. Plus, the rising and falling in the sounds, the bass and guitar playing, the enthusiastic “Yeah!” shouts, the fun atmosphere of the song itself. Again, nothing special, but it remains much more consistent in its appeal.
So, the OST, the VA performances, the OP, and the ED have parts worth praising, parts that pass, and parts worth criticizing. A combo that places the whole music-and-sound package squarely along that middle ground.
In past reviews of mine, I have brought up my indifference to the loli archetype and how I tune out or laugh off the absurdity of the perversion this medium sometimes tags along with it in the shows I happen to pick up. I tried to do the same here. While I partially succeeded, the problem is its prevalence. It’s around all the time rather than as a one-time thing. The suggestive poses, the deliberate camera angles, the constant reminders of how young they are. Each time it’s ignored, the elephant in the room only grows larger.
That elephant gets in the way of everything else, and that “else” could actually be entertaining.
I like Elf. Her boisterous personality and her teasing behavior made her a nice addition to the cast. I like Muramasa. Her shy, ecstatic reaction when Masamune called her on the phone got the romantic in me cheering. And I like Sagiri. Her “Euaghh!” at the mention of Megumi’s impending arrival and her “I don’t know anybody by that name!” deflection whenever her penname surfaced brought a smile out of me.
Truth be told, if the anime ditched the underage perversion, it would not automatically fix the lack of basic execution in its different areas. Even so, it would have at least given the comedic moments and the characters a chance to shine. To revel in their fun and their cuteness. Instead, that elephant overshadows their chances.
I have one last nitpick, and it really is a nitpick. In episode ten, the characters play a card game, but the illogical rule to always let Sagiri be the leader makes no sense. If Sagiri cannot physically select a card, just give her the last one available. Done. Because otherwise (and as what happens), the scene feels forced and eliminates different opportunities for shenanigans between the characters.
Such an inconsequential detail shouldn’t have bothered me so much, but all the ignoring I was doing made me extra attentive elsewhere in the anime. And what I found was, as the show might put it, “super-uninteresting.”
Eromanga-sensei doesn’t have much going for it, and even what is there doesn’t hold up. The weak structure to its story. The mixed artistry. The lackluster cast. The ill-fitting music. The lost chances. No name drops here. Just chucking it, name and all, very far away.
Story: Terrible, passable comedy cannot justify the bland events, the failed drama, the wishy-washy romance, the lack of tact, and other negative details
Art & Animation: Fine, fluid animation, noticeable techniques in the artistry, and a couple of nice character designs hide the boring backgrounds, but the overly exploitive shots do not sit well
Characters: Bad, Sagiri’s battle against reclusion sees incremental, welcome changes to her person, but the faulty rest of the cast, from lackluster mains to extraneous sides, either do not receive the same dividends or contribute very little
Music & Sound: Fine, with strengths and weaknesses aplenty, the OP, the ED, the OST, and the VA performances find middle ground
Enjoyment: Bad, could be funny and could be cute, but the elephant in the room overshadows
Final Score: 3/10
Mar 17, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
When I think about romantic love, simple thoughts come to mind: signs of affection, the giddiness, deeper connections, a feeling like nothing else in the world. Love takes on many different forms, and it means something different to everyone else, but love is lovely all the same.
In Renai Boukun, love attracts the not-so-normal, too. An angel-devil hybrid. A machete-wielding woman. A shield-creating girl. And a sadistic-happy psycho. For them, love also takes on multiple forms and multiple meanings – and with it all comes a lot of comedy to at least like along the way.
Boukun reaches a boiling point right quick. Guri, the demon-cosplaying cupid, shows up out of nowhere at Seiji’s doorstep. Not to share the Bible. Rather to inform him of his impending death lest he kiss someone soon. After she demonstrates the power of her angel tool called the Kiss Note (copyright laws be darned) and her subsequent meddling brings Akane and Yuzu into the mix, this recipe for comedic craziness prepares itself for further taste testing.
In terms of flavoring, the anime seasons its content with almost entirely character-based escapades, delivering funny moments left and right as they act and speak out among the harem. For instance, in episode five, Guri tells Akane that kissing Seiji may bring him back from “death,” so she smooches the lifeless guy for a solid fifteen minutes to the point that his body shrivels up. In other episodes, Yuzu steals Akane’s thrown-out tissues and bathes in her used bathwater in an attempt to wrap herself in her older half-sister’s essence. As for Guri, her constant carefree attitude inherently creates opportunities for silly situations and sillier reactions.
Besides the character comedy, the anime also leverages other avenues. It has running gags (in a figurative and literal sense) as Akane constantly chases Guri around whenever she gets too close to her beloved Seiji. It has hand-waving workarounds like the evil demon-penguin Stolas “communicating” with just his eyes. It has quips like Guri commenting on the fact that Seiji and herself have matching wounds after Akane’s mother’s words stab him in the head (in a fourth-wall-breaking maneuver).
There’s more. Escalating jokes with Coraly the angel and his ever “prettier” forms. Subverting expectations with Guri’s transformation into a school swimsuit instead of her fancy angel outfit. Joking in the background like Guri eating a dozen-scoop-stacked ice cream or police officers fearful of Akane. Reacting similarly several minutes later as a callback to an earlier scene, specifically Yuzu’s reaction in episode three to the Kiss Note burning up.
As can be gleaned, Renai Boukun’s comedy clearly takes on multiple forms much like love itself. Not wanting to tread down too much stagnation, it then attempts to space out its comedy with a smattering of drama here and there. However, the anime loses a bit of steam in the back half of its run when said drama takes higher precedence than the comedy that it touted.
Especially Guri’s final conflict. Without too much fanfare and resolved rapidly, the extra backstory feels less important and more tacked on. The show also ditches the Kiss Note idea almost entirely in the last six episodes of the season, calling into question the show’s general level of focus.
The even weaker premise overall also contributes to its decline. At a surface level, the show is about a guy and a bunch of girls in a love polygon. At a deeper level, it’s about Guri and the gang realizing what love means. Unfortunately, the in-between levels do not have enough creativity to carry themselves all way to the finish line. Another way to view it is that there’s a lot there, but there isn’t a lot “going on.” As if the anime cares only about its characters rather than what is actually happening around them. All because these happenings are a tad too underwhelming in their delivery.
Nevertheless, the jokes do what they can to derive from said premise. Case in point: Akane’s actions. In most other anime, the yandere does not get to harm her beloved for fear of killing him. Yet, thanks to Guri’s angelic powers, Akane is free to stab Seiji as many times as she so pleases. Or take Part B of episode six, a test of courage. Within a haunted section of the school, references to classic Western horror icons like Ghostbusters, Jigsaw, and Chucky pop up while showcasing a few romantic asides between Yuzu and Seiji.
And the anime still has a few words about that aforementioned deeper level. Akane sees love as something that personally resonates. Yuzu sees love as something that cannot be tossed aside. Guri sees love as something that must be experienced rather than explained. Shikimi sees love as something that one desperately craves.
Through these forms, love seeps into almost every aspect of the anime: comedy, drama, or otherwise. Not to mention that the anime contains more standalone kisses than a public orgy. As such, the consistency here offsets some of the issues from the mishandled focus and misplaced premise, keeping the structure of the show in good graces.
ART & ANIMATION
Renai Boukun takes advantage of its visual space to follow its genre quite well.
Key among its artistic choices is the “degradation” of the characters designs. On a regular basis, the anime reduces their integrity to strong effect. Akane’s appearance becomes slightly rounder for a cuter chibi look. Seiji’s head turns into a ball with three spikes jutting out the top. Guri practically morphs into a minimalist, avant-garde piece when she loses all details save for her ahoge and maybe some duck-like lips depending on the joke at hand.
This contrast works because normally the designs are either interesting or attractive. Colors capture: Seiji’s light-blue hair sticks out even more than usual for such a plain protagonist, Shikimi’s pink motif masks her vile personality. Akane’s large bosom (which the opening track’s visuals even hone in on) and Yuzu’s cute demeanor are traits that immediately appeal. And Guri dons almost one new costume per episode, going so far as to have a complete redesign after becoming a devil.
Movement likewise “degrades,” skipping out on strict fluidity and replacing it instead with exaggerated motions for even more comedic opportunities. Yuzu is prone to such actions when she flails her arms in frustration or runs away in panic, but Guri can show it too when she runs with speed as Seiji holds onto her hand for dear life. The show even combines the degraded designs with the degraded movement such as when Akane cuts up a bunch of vegetables when making dinner while at Seiji’s place (with everyone else, much to her chagrin).
Not to say that the art and the animation defaults to degradation all the time. Guri’s sweet scenes and Shikimi’s attacks represent a couple of examples that highlight this statement well enough. Plus, the anime goes out of its way to add additional flair where possible. Out-of-screen speech bubbles. Camera shakes. Smaller details like hearts and sparkles.
A lackluster setting does hold the anime back though; the city and the school do not represent a source of intrigue since they exist to provide little else beyond an area for the characters to run around in. However, the inclusion of goofy, starry, or otherwise imaginative backgrounds continue to aid the comedy in their one-off, supportive behavior.
The cast of Renai Boukun fit rather cleanly into tried-and-true roles.
It has the self-insert protagonist in Seiji. It has the yandere in Akane. It has the tsundere in Yuzu. It has the genki girl in Guri. It has the sadist in Shikimi. Such roles are not inherently a negative; it’s simply an observation and an easy way to succinctly describe those in the show.
Indeed, the characters rarely deviate from their associated actions. Akane threatens Seiji himself for “cheating” on her with other “homewreckers.” Yuzu acknowledges Seiji’s kindness but qualifies most of her responses with a variation of the classic “but that doesn’t mean I like you” phrase. And so on and so forth. However, what they lack in uniqueness they make up for in their connectivity and individual focus.
Looking at the relationships within the harem, they have a level of interaction that brings out more comedy from them than otherwise possible. Akane does not like Guri, often calling her “stupid monkey” and conceding to the fact that the two are rivals in love. Yuzu is in love with Akane so hard that she melts into goo when the crazy woman simply kisses her (on the forehead) for the first time. Shikimi “toys” with these two female cousins of hers. Guri sees the truth within Shikimi’s soul and is arguably Yuzu’s best friend.
Per the harem and the roles they play, each girl also has an affinity for Seiji himself. Akane is madly (read: insanely) in love with the lad. Yuzu cannot help but fall for him as he almost always catches her when she literally falls. Guri adores his reactions and teases him regularly. Shikimi wishes to steal him away from Akane to hurt her as much as possible.
Seiji himself does not get any notable information about him, letting the anime focus on the girls instead. He is nice and normal and therefore not that interesting, but he is still a likable dude nonetheless. If only because he approaches the situation he now finds himself in with a lot of relatability. Guri annoys him to no end. Akane scares him despite the crush he has on her. He chooses to go along with Yuzu’s nonthreatening insults. He wants nothing to do with Shikimi whatsoever. So, while he takes a backseat with everyone else in the cast around, he does not go unnoticed.
Related to Seiji, their feelings and wants do not appear out of thin air. Renai Boukun makes sure to not let that happen when it actively takes the time to showcase more of the backstory, the reasoning behind the affection they carry.
For example, Akane earns much of that time. Growing up, her mother instilled in her the need to suppress her emotions without reservation, training her instead in the ways of the blade rather than the ways of the heart. Boys would confess their love to Akane, but she turned them down since they only viewed her in a superficial sense.
She bumps into Seiji randomly one day in an alley where his cat has clawed his eyes shut (setting up an indirect joke in the moment). Without sight, he double checks that she is okay and remarks on her kindness towards him, valuing her as a beautiful person on the inside and winning her over indefinitely.
Having never expressed emotion and now finding her one true love, it makes sense then that this complete 180 in her thought process turns her into the yandere of today. Even when her mother forces her back home and prevents her from ever seeing Seiji again, she cannot discard the feelings she now holds. After Yuzu’s words, Guri’s actions, and a like-mother-like-daughter bit of exposition, Akane successfully pushes back against the naysayer, finding solace in the love she shares with her blue-haired boyfriend.
To reiterate, Renai Boukun investigates and expands on Akane’s past the most out of the characters, meaning the others do not have the same depth. But they receive attention nevertheless. For example, Guri is God’s daughter, but her (unknown) mother is a demon. Thus, her abilities as a cupid are not as fine-tuned as those in heaven, leading to her keen interest in love and what it means. Yuzu devotes herself to Akane after she saves her from falling in a fountain filled with vicious piranhas (pretty extreme but that’s how Shikimi operates). As for Shikimi herself, her desire to obtain what she doesn’t have and everyone else does stems from the flaunting nature of people and the need for attention that nobody gives her.
Like Akane, they improve for the better, too. Guri returns to angel status when she realizes that the best part about love is having the person one loves love them back. Yuzu slowly but surely appreciates Seiji more and more. And Shikimi even seems to find a teeny, tiny bit of gratitude by the end of the season.
None of the writing involved hits any high notes, but it is still nice to see the anime go out of its way to bolster its crew even if the execution isn’t all there. To that end, smaller side characters help to round out Renai Boukun. Tsuruoka, Yuzu’s (unfortunate) butler, adds a few small comedic asides. Mari, the student (somewhat secretly) in love with her teacher, shows a different kind of love. And Coraly, Guri’s heavenly guide, provides useful information now and again for the characters (and the audience).
The most intriguing side character, though, is Akua, Seiji’s younger sister and therefore potential love interest. Not only does she garner attention but also she has what can only be described as tangible development. In a three-part act of sorts, her encounters with Stolas give her new insight and new chances of her own. In part one, Seiji saves her to let her know that he is the same brother he has always been despite the gaggle of girls who surround him. In part two, Akane saves her, batting away the penguin and earning some encouragement from the frustrated (soon-to-be) sister-in-law. And in part three, Akua saves herself, finally overcoming her longstanding fears.
Altogether, the cast is a net positive. The harem works, they play their roles well, they receive more attention beyond their base characteristics, and the extra side characters pepper in something different when and where they can. Not too shabby.
MUSIC & SOUND
Standing above the rest of the sound within Renai Boukun, the opening track forms fun and frivolity with its upright catchiness. The reserved and occasionally weird instrumentation in the first half gives the clapping, the lyrics (with its emphasis on “daisuki” and “baby”), and the harmonized vocals the room they require to invite the audience with the start of each episode. Eventually a more involved second half rolls in with grander sounds, different lyrical approaches (namely punctual, crescendo-like and back-and-forth styles), and even more harmonizing.
Unfortunately, the rest of the music does not hold up.
The ending track, “‘Suku’ wo Oshiete”, has its heart in the right place, showcasing a softer piece with piano and xylophone. But the methodical pacing and the (low) emotional appeal of the song prevent it from reaching full strength alongside this fast-and-funny show.
As for the rest of the original soundtrack, it too fades away without much to say let alone listen to. Save for a single track: Shikimi’s theme. The heavy pipes, the grating background noise, and the male vocals ooze an ominous atmosphere to a scary degree.
Going in the opposite direction again, the voice acting performances deserve a sizable shoutout. Yoshino Aoyama as Guri infuses the air with a chipper cadence, and Manami Numakura as Akane creeps out the audience with her maniacal mannerisms and evil advances (e.g., “The only one who may hurt Seiji-kun…is me” line from episode two).
Most of all, Yuki Nagano as Yuzu, in her first ever role, nails a proper, shy, and cute voice to make the kindhearted girl one of the funniest characters in the show.
What a darn fun anime.
Almost every character had me laughing on more than one occasion. Especially Akane, Guri, and Yuzu. Akane literally dying of shock at the mere envisioning of Seiji eloping and starting a family with another woman. Yuzu poking Seiji’s eyes out twice: once for ogling at Akane’s bikini and once more right after for giving Yuzu herself a compliment about her own swimsuit. Guri so happy-go-lucky about almost everything despite the slapstick abuse she experiences or must avoid. Alongside Seiji being at the expense and mercy of these three, I was consistently entertained throughout the show’s season.
My only major gripe is Shikimi. I liked her at first given her rather (shall we say) in-your-face introduction. But afterwards, when she became much more annoying and infallible and lame, I often frowned upon her arrivals. Worse still that the ending implied that she would (someday) be officially accepted into the harem. Yes, I’m supposed to dislike her, but that doesn’t stop me from actually disliking her, too.
That’s about it. The anime doesn’t have incredible moments, amazing writing, or nuanced, tangential details for me to praise or hate. It’s simply a fun show that’s at least worth the time invested. And sometimes – when we shift between the ultra horrendous and the utterly stupendous anime out there – we do not need to ask for much more.
Renai Boukun may not have a huge presence within the medium, but it still has the execution present to push it a tad bit higher than the average. Quick jokes, a host of (in a positive sense) silly artistic choices, and a couple of notable music tracks argue in its favor even if the rest of its offerings do not invoke a ton of specialness. To put it differently, it brings to mind a more than passable form.
Story: Fine, a rom-com with a strong helping of comedic chops and several words on the meaning of love, hampered by weak drama and a weaker premise
Art & Animation: Good, from the contrasting “degraded” designs to the exaggerated movements to the goofy additions, the visuals aim for comedy the whole way through
Characters: Good, Akane, Guri, Yuzu, and Shikimi work well together and on their own within the harem format, Seiji is a likable dude, and extra side characters like Akua round out the cast in their own way
Music & Sound: Fine, a forgettable ED and a lackluster OST hold back a catchy OP and strong VA performances
Enjoyment: Good, minus Shikimi, romance plus comedy equals a pretty fun time
Final Score: 6/10
Mar 16, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Dazai once said, “The weak fear happiness itself.”
That’s a pretty powerful statement, for it dares the reader to contemplate thrice. “Am I weak?” “Am I fearful?” “Am I happy?” To answer those introspections, I like to believe that most people strive for strength and confidence – which inevitably leads to that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
For Tsuki ga Kirei, the characters ask themselves those same questions. And although there may not be either gold or rainbows, it instead replaces that wealth and those colors with something as equally rewarding and beautiful.
ga Kirei follows a young boy named Kotarou and a young girl named Akane. He’s a writer, she’s a runner, and the two find themselves worried about their last year of middle school since the future remains unknown. When they find each other, however, they discover a whole new world that changes their lives for the better.
This world takes to heart what the heart does best: romance. Not the “dance around the subject” kind but instead the “holy moly they have an actual relationship” stuff. The audience gets the crushing. The confessing. The waiting. The committing. The handholding. The dating. The kissing. While somewhat simple, it’s almost impossible to complain about the progression presented between these two lovebirds since it more or less provides a full, worthwhile romantic tale from start to finish.
Indeed, such simplicity builds the anime’s foundation. Certain small moments may not mean much in the long term but have noticeable romantic implications in the short term. Kotarou punches his hanging light switch in victory. Akane makes him a hand-knitted scarf that he wears whenever he can. The two hang out together in private inside their school’s library. The events are neither loud nor mundane, striking a delicate balance between both sides that equates to something not only real but also relatable.
Not to say Tsuki ga Kirei doesn’t have simple events that affect the plot in major ways. Kotarou’s friends indirectly have his phone taken away, ultimately persuading Akane to respond with a “yes.” And she fails to invite him into the committee chat group back in episode one, giving them their first true interaction. No matter the approach, simple is effective, and simple is important.
Most importantly, the show uses its simplicity to capture the adolescence of their love. They are two characters who don’t know anything about anything; they’re just kids after all. As such, they stumble and experience and learn while this love wraps them up like a warm blanket. Their awkwardness when bumping into each other and their families while at a local diner. Worrying about that next text to send and staying up half the night waiting for a reply. Trepidation (with blushes) in how best to express their feelings through actions. This love is their very first – and it definitely shows.
With adolescence in mind, Kotarou and Akane share specific moments that define their relationship. He helps to place a Band-Aid on her sore toe during a shrine visit. She closes her eyes and tilts her head upwards in an expectant manner after a fun-filled date. They encourage the other in their respective endeavors. If simple is the key and adolescence is the lock, what lays beyond the open door are these personable scenes that elevate their love ever higher.
Love cannot always be hunky-dory, though. Akane and Kotarou fight with tougher feelings such as jealousy and sadness. Feelings caused not only by the concurrent love triangle (unclosed square really) but also the threat of separation from Akane’s move to a faraway city and the implications behind that distance.
Going through a range of emotions as they do is part of what life is about. Moreover, it is a realistic approach – which just so happens to be another of the anime’s definitive strengths.
Using simplicity once again, the anime includes a ton of narrative details that aim for realism and thus keep the show grounded in its portrayal. For instance, the plot doesn’t go anywhere unfair. Characters actually confront one another about what has transpired, and events like Kotarou not passing the exam despite his immense effort create natural outcomes.
Then there’s his cultural dance that he practices all throughout the season. It acts as a metaphor for the wild yet meticulous feelings he experiences.
Many minutiae also bolster Tsuki ga Kirei. A wonderful example occurs in episode one where Akane and her friends laugh at the silly “Workers ‘souper’ wanted” advertisement. Or how, in episode eight, she spritzes herself with perfume before sitting down with Kotarou for lunch to mask any unwanted smells after her practice.
When looking at everything together – the romance, the adolescence, the realism – the anime clearly champions (coincidentally enough) a simple yet profound idea: There is beauty in simplicity. Love doesn’t have to be romanticized. Emotions do not need to be complex. Life isn’t required to be fantastical. Rather it’s the simple smiles, the simple gestures, and the simple exchanges that form the beauty in people and the relationships they create.
Nowhere better does the audience see that sentiment in action than in Tsuki ga Kirei’s finale. Nothing short of fantastic, their simple set of actions contain incredible weight. Kotarou writes to Akane his feelings in earnest. She holds onto her favorite (and now matching) potato squeezie. And the two express their thoughts on what this love has meant for them. All of which leads to a happily-ever-after reel that perfectly caps off this story.
Arguably speaking, such a finale is almost too saccharine. After all, how many couples that begin in middle school actually stay together through both high school and college to the point that they have a child together over ten years later while juggling (for a time) the long-distance aspect to their relationship? The answer is “hardly any.”
Even so, after watching this story about two kids growing up, living life, and sharing a young, heartfelt love, they more than deserve such a wonderful ending. The story here is sincere. Thoughtful. And, well, simply beautiful.
ART & ANIMATION
Much of the art within Tsuki ga Kirei remains visually pleasing throughout its run.
Most of that pleasantry comes from the intentional softness that complements the even softer content therein. White outlines surround parts of the characters’ designs to give them a gentle appearance. Multiple background shots of the local town invite relaxation through familiarity. Lighting leans towards a happy mood, befitting the anime’s stance.
These traits also tie back to the anime’s more fundamental ideas. Akane, Kotarou, and the rest of the cast (save for maybe Roman’s pink highlights) maintain simple designs that, while perhaps too plain, follow the tone and lighthearted nature of the show. The backgrounds are quite pretty, but, most importantly, they do not shy away from realism, going so far as to look like digital pictures plopped behind the moving characters. As for the lighting, an emphasis on sunsets evokes that welcomed romance.
Speaking strictly of animation, it never necessarily wows. Kotarou’s cultural-and-festival dance is very fluid but only because it gets reused multiple times throughout the season. Otherwise, what’s shown is more or less passable – and that’s fine. The show doesn’t go for incredible choreography or deft technical ability. Instead, it toils over changing expressions and interpersonal actions to present the anime as caring rather than overbearing.
Cinematography, while nothing grand, can flourish when it so chooses, like when a scene in episode five cuts from Akane to Kotarou as they sigh in mirrored directions. For everything else, the only major gripe (and it is major) is the CG use. To put it bluntly, it’s very weak, arguably the weakest aspect of the entire show. The civilians that populate the area seem more like animatronics than people (relative to the artistry), coming off as entirely too out-of-place and way too jarring to ignore outright.
Much like the story, Akane and Kotarou’s development does not constitute anything complex. However, the gradual, noticeable shift in their thoughts and feelings presents a strong change in their characters nonetheless.
These two middle schoolers have more in common than they originally realize. Akane plays with her pink potato squeezie to calm her nerves whenever a situation becomes even remotely tense. Kotarou lacks the self-esteem he needs to put himself out there. And the two are both reserved and quiet in their day-to-day activities. To put it differently, Tsuki ga Kirei primes them both for purposeful growth over the course of this tale.
Part of their growth comes from a maturing of the adolescence they experience. Kotarou, a boy going through puberty, peers at a magazine with attractive women on the cover and picks up a book to learn a little bit more about the opposite sex in general. Akane, a girl who will be leaving her friends behind quite soon, has an emotional aside with them as they cry and console each other for the fun they have had these past few years.
Part of their growth comes from failing within their respective hobbies. Kotarou finally catches a break when it comes to his writing ventures, but the people on the other end want him to stick with a less-than-ideal format. Akane runs like the best of them, but even she becomes distracted, performing poorly at a crucial meet that hurts her prospects.
Part of their growth comes from the influencing by people nearby. Kotarou’s father supports his choices, and, while his mother initially seems to dissuade her son, she simply wants what is best for him like any other mother would. Akane’s big sister is someone that she can confide in, and her parents likewise love their daughter from afar.
This growth through maturity, failure, and influence not only persists across the entire season but also means a lot since it ties back to that sense of realism. Akane and Kotarou are two teens in a tough transitional period in their lives, so they do not need anything crazy to improve as characters. They only need these fundamental catalysts – and each other.
For, more than anything else in Tsuki ga Kirei, their mutual love gives them the motivation they need to succeed. A prominent example comes from their interactions alone. Compared to how they normally say very little out in public, they are so much more open when they are together in private. Longer conversations, mutual understanding. It doesn’t seem like much, but their willingness to simply express themselves to a larger degree indicates the positive nature of their love.
As they slowly inch out of their shells with those common yet all-important romantic milestones, they begin to take chances when they otherwise wouldn’t. Kotarou declares Akane as his girlfriend at the amusement park to Hira to prevent him from misunderstanding their relationship. He also works extremely hard to get into the same high school as her so that they won’t be apart. Similarly, Akane goes from being unsure as to what she likes about Kotarou to finding comfort in the care and safety his presence provides. She also goes out of her way to give meaningful gifts like a matching squeezie for his missed birthday to demonstrate her commitment to their relationship.
Altogether, Kotarou and Akane’s actions prove a rewarding sentiment: kind love changes people for the better. Despite the odds against them. Despite the obstacles around them. They overcome their self-esteem problems and anxiety issues because they were there for one another. Alongside their personal growth, their journey here has positively impacted them forevermore.
MUSIC & SOUND
One of the best parts of Tsuki ga Kirei is its ending track. Taking the same title as the anime itself, “Tsuki ga Kirei” is every bit as wonderful as the events that precede it. Simplicity and softness carry the piece along, providing the listener with gentle vocals, delicate piano keys, and strummed acoustic guitar strings. A moderate tempo and an emotional atmosphere invite even further appeal. If nothing else, when an ED manages to stick in the brain many months later (humming and whistling included), that must be a sign that it did at least something right.
The original soundtrack does not reach the same heights as the ED, but it follows a similar trend. Lots of piano and acoustic guitar playing set the mood with happiness and romance in mind. Other instruments, like violins and a harp, introduce an elegance to some of the music that makes it almost magical in its delivery, fitting the “magic” between Akane and Kotarou. Moreover, a couple of insert songs also appear now and again to add some flair to the proceedings when and where appropriate.
Voice acting does not have nearly as much flair, providing no noteworthy performances due mostly to the fact that a large quantity of said acting consists of little more than nervous responses. “Hmm…,” “Ahh…,” and the like. However, Shouya Chiba as Kotarou and Konomi Kohara as Akane still deserve some props if only because these roles are among their first main ones, translating their inexperience in the field to inexperience in love quite well.
As for the opening track, titled “Imakoko,” it goes for a slightly different approach, aiming for charged feelings instead. A faster pace. An electric guitar. A space-like background effect. Those familiar keys and strings remain, but these newer additions get at grander optimism that the audience is somewhat used to with this anime. Unfortunately, the second half of the piece is a bit cluttered in its sound, leaving it as the weakest part of the music overall.
Romance is the best genre around (to me anyway), and we can add this anime to the list of examples that proves why.
Akane and Kotarou barely raise their voices above a whisper, but the heartwarming emotions they convey both on their own and for each other get me so giddy and so smiley. A lot of my jubilation comes from their “equal” situations. They are the same in terms of personality, feelings, and drive, so a definitive wavelength arises from the lovely bond that they share. And it persists throughout the entire season; the romance angle never goes away.
And that ending. Man oh man that ending. Everything within the finale sequence made me so emotional that I actually started crying. First from sadness, then from bittersweetness, and finally from utmost happiness. It’s no doubt one of the best endings in anime that I have seen in a long while.
I also really liked the extra side stories at the end of each episode. Their jokey nature, the looks of disgust, the different pairings. They technically were unnecessary for the show, but I always got excited when I saw that the current episode still had a bit of running time left once the ending track concluded.
Even the anime’s title’s English translation suits my fancy: As the Moon, So Beautiful. Its poetic structure and metaphorical basis fit so well that no other phrase could take its place. The fact that it also describes the show in a meta sense makes it all that much more beloved.
Tsuki ga Kirei may seem unassuming at a glance, but its core offers a meaningful experience whose sincerity never falters. Thoughtful artistry and graceful music support the story’s themes and the characters’ progression while emotions erupt. As Dazai once said, “This I want to believe implicitly: Man was born for love and revolution.” The anime did not revolutionize this medium by any means, but it certainly demonstrated that love cannot be denied.
Story: Great, a touching romance tale that exemplifies the beauty in simplicity while channeling both adolescence and realism
Art & Animation: Good, a soft style, pretty background art, smaller animated moments, and some noticeable techniques alleviate the shortcomings that the CG usage generates
Characters: Great, maturity, failure, and influence allow Akane and Kotarou to grow as people, and the kind love they share likewise changes them for the better
Music & Sound: Good, a stellar ED, a romantic OST, and rookie VA work pull ahead of the charged OP
Enjoyment: Great, love is life, a fantastic ending, hilarious extras, and a two-thumbs-up title
Final Score: 9/10
Mar 15, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
I consider myself one of what I like to call the “Attack on Titan baby boomers.”
I had never hated or looked down on anime; I had just never cared enough about it to see what it could be. When fate put this gateway series in front of me during the Summer of 2013, however, I was kicking myself for not taking part in the medium at an earlier point in my life.
Technically speaking, it wouldn’t be until months later (in early-ish 2014) that I officially dove into anime and became hooked on all that it
offers. My initial experience with Shingeki no Kyojin left a positive impression on me that eventually contributed to my growing interest in this hobby and thus got me to where I am today.
Four years later, Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 finally drops. And with it come rushing back the feelings and the memories that I fondly remember of that time from long ago.
The first season of Attack on Titan overwhelmed the anime community like a bunch of Titans crashing through Wall Maria. It captivated audiences with a unique premise and tons of interesting developments, but, more importantly, it ushered in a new wave of anime fans who grew the community at an exponential rate.
So, for many people who take part in the medium, Attack on Titan Season 2 represents a return to their origins. The sequel to the anime that pushed them into this crazy world filled with moe, tsunderes, and ahoges. Thus, this situation makes this season have a lot to live up to in terms of expectations and promises. But after these past four years, does the show deliver?
It first goes back to its roots. Grotesque deaths. Creepy, gigantic enemies. Killer Titan duels. Mikasa in full (and then some) yandere mode. Eren screaming and biting a whole bunch. The world-building information that pops up during the transition between the A and B parts of each episode. The ominous atmosphere. In short, the anime brings along much of what got it to this point, reacquainting and reminiscing with the audience like an old friend.
Following in its predecessor’s footsteps isn’t everything it has in store. Indeed, the show addresses a prominent problem from the previous season: pacing. Where once the plot ramped up, time skipped, reeled back, waited a bit, and then sped ahead again whenever it wanted, this season instead takes a more nominal approach. The events take place within a span of about twenty-four hours, doing away with the constant back-and-forth jerking of the progression in favor of spacing out each important scene in a natural manner.
In turn, these scenes space out their focus. To elaborate, the first season (understandably) had Eren stealing the show since, at the end of the day, he’s the main protagonist through and through. While not repetitive by any means, the anime did not leave a ton of time for everyone else (save for maybe Mikasa).
So, in an effort to improve diversity, Attack on Titan Season 2 puts more emphasis on other parts and parties of and within the cast. Sasha’s aside with the lone child and her own father. Connie and the loss of his family’s town. Reiner and Bertholdt with Ymir and Krista in the dilapidated tower.
Eren and Mikasa are (perhaps obviously) still around, playing out their vital roles all the same. But spreading out the focus, combined with the shorter episode count, makes the story here feel more like (appropriately enough) a human-wide battle on multiple fronts instead of just “Eren: The Titan: The Show.”
Thankfully not changing are the anime’s hype moments. Thinking back, the first season had several of its own: Eren’s “death”, the fact that he can literally transform into a Titan, Annie killing everyone in Levi’s crew.
Truth be told, this season’s moments are not as amazing since, unlike the ones that came before them, they do not set the original tone and direction of the anime itself. Nevertheless, they introduce hype of a different kind. Reiner’s confession that he and Bertholdt are the Armored and Colossal Titans (respectively) takes the audience off guard with its offhand delivery. Erwin losing his arm happens so suddenly and so out of nowhere that one cannot help but be taken aback. And Eren seemingly having the power to control multiple Titans simultaneously marks the first time a plausible solution emerges for how to defeat their ilk (besides Eren needing to take on every single one singlehandedly).
By far the biggest issue that this season grapples with, though, is introducing way too many more questions than it does answers. From posits in the past, the audience already has enough on their mind to wonder about and deal with. E.g., What the heck is in that basement? Yet, for this season, the anime is perfectly content with throwing in mystery after mystery that remains unsolved come the final episode.
Who do Reiner and Bertholdt report to? What role does the Coordinator serve? Where does the Beast Titan come from? When will details about the church and the Titan-filled walls come about? Why did the humans seemingly become Titans themselves? What about Annie? Where is Eren’s dad, anyway?
It totally makes sense that the anime does not wish to unveil the mystery of its plot quite yet. And the audience can, to some extent, extrapolate on the info presented. But, after thirty-seven episodes, the ratio between what is left up in the air and what has been explained so far is too large and too lopsided, requiring the viewer to accept and to believe almost everything too little knowledge.
However, if one were to ignore these questions and view Attack on Titan Season 2 as simply a project aiming for maximum entertainment, then there’s little cause for worry. Armin eats rations with stoic determination. Mikasa has a this-is-the-end, may-as-well-be romantic moment with Eren. Eren himself yells at Reiner for being a traitor and defeats him in a one-on-one brawl in epic fashion. Indeed, what made non-anime fans into anime fans after watching this series was not worrying about the stalled plot but rather welcoming the nonstop, downright cool events that go down.
So, yes, Hannes literally stopping the hand of the Titan that killed Eren’s mother with just his body doesn’t make any logical sense. And sure, none of the major characters still have yet to kick the bucket despite the harrowing predicaments they constantly find themselves in.
But it all remains exhilarating and fun no matter the case – and that’s all that really matters.
ART & ANIMATION
The first season of Attack on Titan had some impressive visuals. Eren in Titan form demolishing his foes or shots of the cadets as they zipped around the city they vied to protect made for an engrossing watch. However, due to the extended two-cour nature of the season or other similar reasons, it wasn’t without fault, sometimes avoiding animation altogether with nothing but a close-up of a face and a white background.
For this season, with all eyes on the project and more than enough revenue to justify spending extra on resources, it almost doesn’t disappoint.
First, the anime embraces much of the style from before. Thick outlines define the characters’ designs, giving them a powerful grit to their demeanor. Darker colors (browns, forest greens, greys) depress the mood. Titans maintain their weird gaits, expressions, and buffoonery that invite their undoubted creepiness.
Second, the anime ups the ante by showcasing awesome scenes that prove what it can do. Mikasa and Krista dance and twirl through the sky as they use their gear with utmost precision. Ymir swings through trees and jumps from Titan to Titan. Chaos consumes the battlefield as Erwin’s charge turns hopeless.
Yet, in fairness, Attack on Titan Season 2 makes a few questionable decisions. Fans of the series have been spoiled with the intimidating look of the Colossal Titan from the first season, so it comes off as a little bit of a letdown when its appearance in this season takes the form of some out-of-place CG. Humans riding on their horses can also fall prey to this issue. And, at times, there can be one too many static images (even if they are rather involved) when a ton of action starts to happen.
But the picturesque landscapes. The variance in lighting. The jostling of hair as the characters ride atop the Titans. The detailed eyes. The manic reactions. The shifting camerawork. The cool tricks like a shot of Ymir with half her human face and half her Titan face. These and other elements overpower the minor grievances in the art, keeping the visuals as engrossing and as interesting as possible.
The Attack on Titan series has never really been concerned with creating exceptional characters. To be fair, the first season explores the origins of Mikasa’s adoration for Eren, and Eren himself learns about and struggles with his newfound power. But, for the most part, the large cast of characters are there to add diversity in the personalities. Plus, the show in general focuses on presenting a thrilling, intense story first and foremost.
For Attack on Titan Season 2, that’s still the case, but the anime starts to lean more towards the characters and their nuances. A direction that makes a lot of sense since the first season established the setting and the major ideas and the premise, leaving any and all follow-ups with the burden of exploring the cast at a deeper level.
For example, Ymir, who was little more than the taller, tomboyish girl who overprotected Krista, receives extra attention. Her backstory comes to light – both the origins of her actual person and the relationship she created with Krista back during their cadet training – and the situation tests her mettle – both her physical (i.e., Titan) capabilities and her own conscious.
While Ymir (maybe oddly) has the most time spent on her, more so than mainstays Mikasa and Eren, many of the characters still get something here. Sasha proves that she can handle more than just a bunch of potatoes. Reiner’s sanity no longer seems to be intact. And speaking of Mikasa and Eren, Mikasa’s iron will fails her when she subconsciously restrains herself from outright killing her “friends,” and Eren finally maintains control over his Titan form and even gets his very first as-a-human kill.
Smaller connections also pop up between the cast. Hannes holds a conversation with Mikasa and Armin about Eren’s tenacity, inspiring them to push forward since he would do the same. Ymir apparently attacked Reiner and Bertholdt’s group in the past (unbeknownst to her), killing one of their friends in the process. And the show even implies that Bertholdt himself may have a thing for Annie, going off of Reiner’s prodding and Bertholdt’s own emotional reaction to Armin’s grim words.
That scene between those two also demonstrates Attack on Titan Season 2’s continued focus on what it takes to survive in such an impossible situation.
The idea goes way back to Eren’s Titan transformation from the first season. More than just a really cool plot element, it also highlights how humanity, to defeat their inhuman threat, must become inhuman themselves. This dichotomy makes for some nice writing since it challenges what is “right” and “wrong” when the stakes are so high.
To use the anime’s phrasing, the characters abandon something to gain something in return. In Eren’s case, he takes it to heart, literally turning into the very entity he despises. A very physical approach.
In this season, the characters make it more of a philosophical or psychological abandonment. For instance, Armin, known for his kindness and his honesty, abandons his morals, lying to Bertholdt about torturing Annie to get that rise out of him that they needed. Mikasa abandons her sense of kinship when she no longer cares about anyone who would seek to harm Eren. Reiner and Bertholdt abandon their own lives for (what they presumably see as) the greater good. Ymir and Krista abandon their selflessness in favor of selfishness as they choose to fight for nobody else but their own selves.
Again, none of the developments here stand out as anything complex let alone amazing. But, the anime clearly struck a better balance between the characters’ arcs and the story at large, inviting a stronger semblance of execution as a result.
MUSIC & SOUND
Inevitably, one must compare this season’s music with that of the first season. The opening track especially requires the most scrutiny. After all, the very first OP stands as one of the most memorable and iconic in the entire medium.
Unfortunately, “Shinzou wo Sasageyo!” cannot compete with the past juggernaut, but it still does what it can to elicit from the audience similar feelings of awesomeness and energy. Its tempo and composition hearkens back to those previous pieces. The chants of “Sasageyo!” – backed by a rousing choir no less – pumps up the audience. And the triumphant instrumental work follows the pride in humanity’s drive to win at all costs.
Perhaps surprisingly, the ending track, titled “Yuugure no Tori,” ends up as the better of the two songs if only because it strikes at a nuanced mood. Warped singing, acoustic guitar, faint piano keys, and a methodical beat combine to create something simultaneously unsettling, promising, and bittersweet. A creepy piece that chills the spines of the audience upon the conclusion of each episode.
While the OP and the ED aim for something new, Attack on Titan Season 2 does not deviate from the incredible original soundtrack that many would argue to be one of the show’s strongest aspects.
It was with this series that the now-famous Hiroyuki Sawano had his breakout musical performance, crafting grandiose pieces that quake in their power and resonate in their passion. The heaviness. The forceful instrumentals. The vocals. The emotional asides. The Germanic lyricism. This OST is awesome to listen to on its own even to this day, but hearing it once again alongside the anime itself reaffirms its domination within the medium.
The rest of the audio work maintains its worth as well. Thundering stomps from the Titans and the whizzing of the 3D Maneuver Gear make for fitting sound effects, and the voice acting performances – especially Yuki Kaji as Eren and Yui Ishikawa as Mikasa – harbor range and skill as they scream, cry, and confess with ferocity, anger, and thoughtfulness.
I have a few reasons as to why I love this season and this series as much as I do.
One of the bigger reasons is Mikasa. In general, she kicks butt, she pines after Eren, and she cutes it up with personable moments on rare occasions. For this season, her yandere reactions were awesome, and she had those wicked moments, too. Ever since I first saw her flying around way back in the first season, I instantly became a fan, and she will always hold a nostalgic place somewhere in my heart.
Another big reason is the intensity. As some of my readers know, I’m not usually taken in by a lot of the action that many shows showcase. But, here in this anime, it goes outside the box per se with its unique 3D Maneuver Gear segments and Eren’s Titan-versus-Titan brawls. I get pumped up so much that I start to punch the air and even attempt to imitate Eren’s Titan battle cry.
The biggest reason, however, is something a lot more personal.
In my opening anecdote, I talked about how this series is my very first anime. What I didn’t mention was that it was my little brother who convinced me to give it a shot. He was already half way through the season at the time, but he rewatched it from the beginning with me so that we could have fun together.
We would turn off the lights and hook up the speakers to give it more of a movie-theater feel. He saw my incredulity and shock at Eren’s death and subsequent Titan takeover. And we argued about whether the Armored Titan (my vote) or the Colossal Titan (his vote) was the cooler enemy.
For this second season, we have grown up and reached different parts of our lives. However, when the circumstances allowed, we met up and watched the episodes together once again. Hyping at the music. Discussing what the heck just happened. Pointing out small details. Wondering where it will go from here. It had been years since the last time we did so, but it felt just like old times.
Strangely enough, I’m the one who went further into the crazy world of anime, having it become an integral part of my life when I never imagined that it would. Thus, I’ve since expanded my tastes quite a bit. I suggest anime to him here and there, and he of course has his own favorites, but he doesn’t take it to the same extent that I do.
Still, this anime is the only one my brother and I have ever bonded over let alone the only anime I have ever watched with another person. And that fact means a lot to me. The memories associated with it, the laughs we have shared, the fun of everything. I like Mikasa’s character, and I like the intensity of the show. But, for me, it’s getting to share something special with my one and only little brother that I cherish most about this series.
It was the same back then. It’s the same now. And it’ll remain that way for me forevermore.
Shingeki no Kyojin Season 2 is a welcome sequel for this beloved franchise. Improved art and a revival of previous music may support the whole package quite heavily, but the exciting story beats, the new variety of characters focused on, and the sheer amount of entertainment throughout argue that the magic therein is still booming.
Story: Fine, while bogged down by too many unanswered questions, the narrative holds its own with familiar elements, hype moments, and better displacement of focus
Art & Animation: Great, out-of-place CG aside, the high level of detail in the artistry and the penchant for slick animated segments present a set of engrossing visuals that make for a clear step up from its predecessor
Characters: Fine, despite the thrilling plot receiving the most attention, Eren and the others earn small details as they continue to explore survival through abandonment of their more philosophical or psychological traits
Music & Sound: Great, the series’ incredible OST returns, carrying with it a rousing OP, an unsettling ED, nice VA performances, and lots of interesting audio design choices
Enjoyment: Great, Mikasa rocks, the intensity cannot be denied, and brotherly bonding
Final Score: 8/10
Mar 14, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
It’s not every day that we get to witness history in the making.
Take the first season of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. As critics such as myself agree on, it is nothing short of phenomenal. The drama, the maturity, the writing, the execution. That first season redefined what anime as a medium is capable of. Greatness incarnate.
So, understandably, the sequel here, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen, not only has the difficult job of concluding this tale but also maintaining that same level of excellence. The big question, then, is: did Rakugo Season 2 make history?
it to say, it did.
Taking place ten years after Bon’s personal recount on the origins of his life and the art of rakugo that guided him, Rakugo Season 2 instead looks to tell the tale on the ending of his life and where rakugo ultimately goes from here. With this mirrored approach, the series finds itself right where it wants to be: within a narrative rife with strength.
Nearly (if not every) episode has at least one downright major moment that grips the audience with its care and its purpose. In episode three, Yotaro berates the gangster boss as a declaration of his love for Konatsu and Shin. In episode five, Bon collapses on stage after witnessing Miyokichi in the surrounding smoke during his performance of “Hangon-ko” which in turn leads to Sukeroku finally (and briefly) speaking to him for the first time in his fever dream.
But no doubt two of the most incredible moments occur in episode seven and episode twelve. Episode seven features the amazing plot twist predicated by the entire first season and Bon’s perfect storytelling. Therein, the audience learns that he lied about the night of Miyokichi and Sukeroku’s deaths, forcing everyone to reevaluate this man and his character. Episode twelve does something similar. It drops the bombshell that possibly, maybe Shin is the biological son of Bon himself, wracking the audience with one last morsel to interpret.
These awesome moments occur again and again and again throughout the entire season. But Rakugo Season 2doesn’t just stick with series-defining scenes, though. True to form, it also focuses on the smaller details that make up the wonderful nuance in the presentation.
For example, the anime opens with a meta rakugo performance by Yotaro. With no other patrons in sight, he directly addresses the audience, recapping them on the events thus far. He goes so far as to joke how the one-year stretch between both seasons has had him bowed for so long that he can “hardly tell his head from his feet anymore” (with rotated perspectives for good measure).
Or how in episode eleven the anime foregoes showcasing anything related to Bon’s real-world death (e.g., a funeral, the reaction of his loved ones). Instead, it focuses purely on his final, spiritual journey before he officially passes on. Sukeroku, even in the afterlife, asking to borrow money from Bon solidifies the show’s deliberate care.
A new atmosphere also blankets across the ensuing plot. The feelings of subtle sadness and complete loneliness pop up time and again as Bon endures the outcomes of his decisions from many years ago. However, a twinge of hope persists. An optimism that the larger cast, the uplifting events, and the greater focus on Yotaro (especially in the first half) curate to a noticeable extent. This newfound mood aligns with the parallel structure of this season in conjunction with the previous one, once again marking the anime’s layered construction.
Not to mention that the rakugo performances themselves return and roar with a vengeance. Just as with the first season, rakugo represents more than just an entertaining few minutes for the audience to get lost in right alongside those who paid to see the performers. Rather, the unique storytelling contributes to not only the events but also the characters involved.
For instance, Bon recites his signature “Shinigami” in episode nine which literally summons a demon who nearly kills him before his destined time. Or how, in episode six, Yotaro performs “Inokori”, an act that captures the very essence of his rakugo.
Simultaneously, rakugo develops throughout the season. It becomes more progressive when Konatsu, a female in a male-dominated field, performs a wonderful rendition of “Jugemu” in episode four and, at the series’ end, becomes a regular performer herself. Eisuke writes new stories for Yotaro and the others as a way to start the next set of storied works. Its popularity dips and rises as the events and the characters play out.
Rakugo’s development hones in on one of the anime’s most important themes: time. Time is an ever-flowing stream that pushes everything forward whether willed or not. It can change ideas like rakugo itself. It can also change people like Miyokichi who tells Bon not to worry about his mistreatment of her in a “time heals all wounds” approach. For some entities, though, time has no influence. Yotaro remains Yotaro (both in the show and in this review) despite his couple of new names, and time cannot affect something like the past because, in the end, what’s done is done.
The multiple time skips then take on an even more integral role. For not only do they affect the progression of the plot but also they tie back in a meta sense to this very theme. The structure of this entire series wraps itself in time, too. Where the first season took place almost exclusively in the past, Rakugo Season 2 channels the present while heeding the future. Moreover, this season explores time as a concept such as when Yotaro speaks with the rakugo-theater proprietor in episode six about the accumulated history of that building.
With time every which way, Rakugo Season 2 channels its pristine writing skills.
A full-circle narrative returns when Yotaro celebrates his new names at both the beginning and the end of the season.
Various callbacks, both in and out of the season, add extra layers. In season, episode eight has Yotaro perform “Shibahama” as an emotional reference to Sukeroku’s last in-life performance; out of season, episode nine has Bon perform “Tachikiri” at the prison as an unseen reference to how Yotaro himself first became interested in the art by watching his master (who at the time performed “Shinigami”) at that same prison.
Smart foreshadowing of Bon’s death in one of the three initial promises he laid out for Yotaro demonstrates the show’s tight sequencing of events. The passionate dialogue between the cast likewise elevates the anime’s appeal.
Before Bon passes on, his final, heartfelt exchange with Sukeroku concludes their hand-centric leit motif. Where Bon originally slapped Sukeroku’s hand away upon their first meeting and (in his lie) had to unwillingly let go of it, they part ways one last time with a pinky promise. That the two will see each other again – someday, somewhere – beyond the ethereal plane.
Altogether, this season’s story, like its predecessor, contains an astounding amount of execution. The amazing scenes, the involved rakugo performances, the themes, the intricate writing. Nothing short of excellence, indeed.
ART & ANIMATION
Rakugo Season 2 continues with the same impressive visuals as the first season.
Once again, the rakugo performances shine. On stage, Bon, Yotaro, and the other performers act out the parts of their stories with believable, subtle movements. Faces contort to match old friends or to display emotions befitting the events portrayed. And the camera shifts and rotates in such a way as to heighten the impact of their delivery. Best of all, these performances persist in how they interweave the real with the imaginary, like how Bon summons the spirit of Miyokichi who haunts him still.
Outside of rakugo, the rest of the artistry does not let up. Locations regularly change to induce variety in the background art: a tree-filled, yellow-leaved park at a nearby hospital, the different rakugo stages setup across the city, the restaurants, villas, and buildings visited. Cinematography also plays a key role: close-up shots of the characters eyes for dramatic effect, framed perspectives provide aesthetic symmetry, strange angles allow fun, interesting setups. Lighting and coloring likewise maintain the anime’s mature mood through careful touches and balanced hues.
Like the performances, however, some of the best scenes combine the realistic setting with the imaginative possibilities. For instance, in episode six, a stylistic set of depictions accompany Eisuke’s explanation of the three distinct rakugo “expressions” (as he calls it). Bon’s refined technique resounds and reverberates his shadow into existence. Sukeroku’s sincere, in-place approach phase shifts him towards himself. Yotaro’s purity removes him entirely from the picture and replaces him with characters painted seemingly centuries ago.
Something as simple as Yotaro going from watching the film of Sukeroku to being a member of the audience in that very same room on that very same night in the blink of an eye demonstrates Rakugo Season 2’s immense desire for flair. In similar fashion, this sense of simplicity applies to the characters’ designs. Bon’s whitened hair, Yotaro’s large build, and Konatsu’s reserved beauty create in them their own looks, but the small, subtle changes to their features over time leave the longest impression. Bon wrinkles with age and appears visibly weaker as the events take their toll on him. Yotaro gains a big belly and baggy eyes after sixteen more years pass by. Konatsu’s hair grows from short to medium to long in length over the entire season.
And small details help to fill in the cracks. In one expert case, episode eight finds Yotaro repeating similar words to Bon as Sukeroku did before him. It instigates a swift flashback, but rather than putting Sukeroku in the frame, it leaves him out, showing instead a static shot of the some burning wood since that is all the audience needs to remember that time from the first season.
To be absolutely fair, the anime is not without error. Some of the way-in-the-back onlookers can sometimes seem as if they were hastily put together. And, in episode five, the animators accidentally and incorrectly colored Yotaro’s mouth instead of filling it with teeth to fit his toothy grin (indicated by the squiggly line therein). But these issues are nitpicky, and the anime does more than enough with its art and its animation everywhere else to make them inconsequential in the long run.
Rakugo Season 2 includes several side characters. Matsuda, the kind, silent man who has seen everything from the sidelines. Eisuke, the knowledgeable outside source who has ties to both Bon (who turned him down when seeking apprenticeship in the first season) and Miyokichi (who he crushed on when he was a young boy). Mangetsu, the doctor who returns to rakugo with the Eastern, Tokyo style in tow. Shin, the child of Konatsu who the audience watches grow from a baby to a kid to a spitting image of the men who tailored his life from behind the scenes.
Much like the first season, however, three key characters helm the charge: Yotaro, Konatsu, and Bon. The laudable writing which guides their arcs reinforces the tremendous level of execution seen throughout the entire series.
For the first five episodes, Yotaro receives much of the attention. As Bon’s apprentice and a rising star in the rakugo world, Yotaro has a lot to live up to. And with Konatsu as his new wife and Shin has his new (step) son, he likewise must contend with his personal life, too.
Thankfully, he’s the perfect man for the job, for he is Bon’s and Konatsu’s rock. Yotaro firmly believes in Bon, his abilities, and his importance. He always respects his master, listening to his commands and sitting before him in a subservient manner. He even saves him from an untimely death at the hands of the Shinigami and the burning rakugo theater. And to Konatsu, Yotaro looks out for her with coats and words and happiness. He supports her as best he can and, in doing so, forms a close bond with their child, giving her a husband and him a father that they never knew they needed.
Conversely, Yotaro is, when compared to everyone else in the cast, the most emotional. He laughs and smiles with optimism when speaking of rakugo. He reacts with passion and embarrassment whenever Konatsu reciprocates his feelings in kind. He cries and cares during the truly jubilant and the truly depressing moments around him. He wears his heart on his sleeve, turning him into a very honest, very personable character.
So, as someone who is there for everyone and who gives to everyone, Yotaro’s pure expression of rakugo makes a lot of sense. As he phrases it in episode five, “I love rakugo, and I really love the characters who appear in rakugo. A lot more than I love myself.”
But that does not leave him immune from conflict of his own. Moreover, the theme on time finds itself here with Yotaro, too. He understands that taking on the Sukeroku name means upsetting diehard followers, and the gangster lifestyle he has since ditched clouds his mind as he contemplates what to do. So, he confronts these two pasts, working hard to learn about the fabled master and completing the coloring on the tattoo that adorns his back.
Konatsu is a much more complicated character based solely on the fact that her relationships do not follow typical patterns. Having lost her parents early in her life, she never had the most stable of upbringings. She was raised by Bon, the man who (she believes) killed them, so she despises him with every fiber of her being. Then, having never experienced real love, she pushes back against Yotaro despite his sincere feelings.
Over the course of the season, Konatsu breaks down the walls that she has put up around her. With Bon, she interacts with him across the emotional map. She grabs his arm at home while sleeping, and the two discuss how she still wants to kill him for what he has done but needs him alive for her son to hear his rakugo. She frets over him after his collapse, worrying over his health and calling him (verbatim) “pathetic” as they sit together on the park bench while smoking a cigarette. She pleads on the bridge for him to not go away like her parents before him.
With Yotaro, she slowly learns to love him in return. She appreciates his encouragement when he skips his after-party celebration and chases after her. She reveals her thoughts after his defiant stand against the gangster boss, commenting on holding hands (when she so desires). They embrace following her first ever rakugo performance. They remain in sync in the immediate aftermath of Bon’s collapse. She becomes his accompaniment, playing the shamisen at his own performances. She leans on him affectionately after a hard day’s work.
For both men, her relationships reach a wonderful apex that signify the development in her character. She thanks Bon for raising her and not abandoning her in a fantastic scene that goes down as their last interaction. And she conceives a child with Yotaro to consummate the love she now fully shares with him.
Looking at Yotaro and Konatsu as individual characters, they hold an amazing parallel with Sukeroku and Miyokichi. The two halves are similar in that the men embody positivity and the women wrestle fiercely with their own feelings. The two halves are different in that Sukeroku leaves rakugo whereas Yotaro uplifts it while Miyokichi tears everyone apart whereas Konatsu brings everyone together.
Other similarities and differences exist between them (marriage, character arcs), but this parallel ultimately influences the most important character of this season and the entire series: Bon.
Bon lost his best friend and his one true love to a “double suicide” in the first season. So, the audience finds Bon in a state of regret, resentment, and remorse at the beginning of the second. This negativity has followed his very being for much of his life – to the point that he solemnly wishes to take rakugo with him in death.
Yet Bon isn’t present to any significant extent in the first half of this second season. He tutors and converses and performs. But, generally speaking, Bon doesn’t have a major role. A wise decision on the anime’s part since it smartly works instead on setting up both Yotaro and Konatsu for their development and the eventual influence they have on him.
Come the end of episode five, where Bon envisions Miyokichi and when Sukeroku attacks him, the focus shifts back to Bon as he encounters one of the lowest points in his life. He has lost the strength in his voice, so he gives up on rakugo and thus himself. Then, as he feels the inevitable decay of his body, he attempts to commit suicide, and later the “god of performance” nearly burns him alive.
Thankfully, Yotaro and Konatsu are there to support the man who has given them so much. In the second half of the season, their actions keep him going. Konatsu cares about and worries for him during his hospital visits. The two convince him to come back to rakugo. Yotaro saves him from the burning theater just in time.
Their kindness elicits the same from him. He respects Yotaro enough (“Inokori” or otherwise) to pass down Sukeroku’s fan (entrusted to Eisuke) to him, and he accepts Konatsu’s request of becoming his apprentice. Yet it’s his words during their heartfelt scene that resonate the most. As Konatsu cries in his arms and “can’t give a name to this feeling anymore,” Bon responds, “Such incomprehensible feelings are what humans are made of. Just like rakugo.”
Like the ever-present theme on time, a theme on the human condition has persisted throughout this entire season. Yotaro, Konatsu, and Bon endure events that have them experiencing a myriad of emotions. They hide details from each other. They push beyond their differences and connect on intimate levels.
Thus, just as Bon says and what the show argues in a meta sense, that’s rakugo at its core. The performer recites the stories, and the audience follows along. But what rakugo does best – both the art and the anime itself – is explore the very nature of humanity. Be it a fisherman who finds a dirty bag filled with money, to the three key characters of this tale, they are more than just a set of fictitious characters. They are people.
But because Rakugo Season 2 is way too awesome, it doesn’t stop there with Bon. Instead, all of episode eleven sends him off in proper fashion. Now passed away, he has private moments with both Sukeroku and Miyokichi in which they reconcile with each other. Their words on not having everything go one’s way (how Bon couldn’t die with rakugo) and about not being able to live alone (how Bon eventually had a family and a circle of friends) echo that theme on human nature in as cathartic a manner as possible.
And, as one last hurrah, Bon performs rakugo for the final time. Not anything dramatic or even his signature “Shinigami” but rather “Jugemu.” Because the performance isn’t for him – it’s for his two old, dear friends, their daughter who he raised, and their grandson who (eventually) takes after him all too well.
Seeing the literal finale to his life and therefore his full character arc puts Bon in the Characters Hall of Fame. He was already one of the best in the medium after last season, but, after this season, the Eighth Generation Yakumo enters a league of his own.
MUSIC & SOUND
The voice acting within Rakugo Season 2 delights the ears and rivals that of the previous season. Tomokazu Seki as Yotaro speaks with enthusiasm and passion as he works to support everyone and everything around him. Yuu Kobayashi as Konatsu uses a raspy voice that highlights her tomboy behavior, her short temper, and her hint of sexiness. And Akira Ishida as Bon ages his tone for the now older gentleman while still maintaining his sharp cadence.
Each of their rakugo performances, like the first season, further demonstrates their VA capabilities in that they capture the audience with their impressive delivery. A somewhat unique opening track and an instrumental ending track also return.
The OP incorporates the ticking of a clock, whispered vocals, music cuts, soft sections, rousing sections, and wedding bells. Altogether, they create a beautiful, haunting, and interesting piece while keeping with its themes on time and the human condition.
The ED, in contrast, is simpler with its casual piano playing and backing trumpets, flutes, and drums. But such simplicity brings both a calming strength that carries it along and a sincere, thoughtful goodbye whenever the piece completes.
And, in a similar trend, the original soundtrack brings back its dramatic compositions, its cultural additions, and its clever audio design, like when Yotaro’s radio rakugo performance of “Nozarashi” plays over the everyday life of the city and the tops of cherry-blossom trees.
In short, the music and the sound speak for themselves.
I am so happy that this sequel not only exists but also succeeded so spectacularly.
Personally speaking, I was caught off guard by the twist about Sukeroku and Miyokichi’s deaths. When I finished episode seven, I had to stop and mull over it while walking around my place saying, “What?!” My Thanksgiving holiday, try as it might, could not push it out of my mind.
Also, that real-father reveal then had me scrounging through comments from eight months ago. Peering through all the angles and reading about some of the extra material, I’m fine with either outcome. I like the poetic structure and the potential for even more feelings should it be Bon. But I also like the ambiguity behind it all. How it follows the “some things are best left unsaid” idea which in turn forces a meta discussion onto the audience as to whether Konatsu is really telling the truth. (I will say, though, that I’m a fan of Mangetsu being the father since it helps to explain his presence and removes the almost too crazy element.)
I love the twist and the reveal, and I love everything else about this show, too. I love the romance between Yotaro and Konatsu. I love Bon’s incredible character arc. I love the rakugo performances. I love the symbolism in the visuals. I love the drama, the maturity, and the execution that it exudes.
What more needs to be said? On its own, this story spans more than just seasons. It spans emotions. It spans interpretations. It spans generations. But, when combined with its first half, this complete tale about a complex man, the refined art of rakugo, and humanity borne from the heart creates an anime that climbs onto the stage to peer over the others. A true elite which, like the masters before it, ranks among the best of the best forevermore.
As Yotaro says in the final line of the series, “Something this good could never go away.” And you know what? After finishing it all, I could not agree more.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen concludes this stunning series with unbelievable finesse. The thorough story, the engaging artistic direction, the lifelike characters, the remarkable sound-related performances, and the sheer amount of entertaining aspects. “Greatness” does not do this anime justice; “a modern classic” instead fits it perfectly.
Story: Great, huge moments, nuanced details, a purposeful theme on time, and strong fundamental writing craft a stalwart narrative that send this series off in style
Art & Animation: Great, flavorful visuals, clever cinematography, and developing character designs form an artistic direction that invites the audience at every turn
Characters: Great, Yotaro, Konatsu, and Bon explore a theme on the human condition as their personable, loving, and troubled arcs intertwine with both parallels and connections
Music & Sound: Great, wonderful VA performances guide a haunting OP, a sincere ED, a dramatic OST, and a set of smart audio design decisions
Enjoyment: Great, a modern classic
Final Score: 10/10
Mar 13, 2018
10 of 10 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
During a sequel trip to Disney, my family and I visited Disney Springs (which will forever be Downtown Disney to me). In my teal polo, white hat, and matching white shorts, I looked, dare I say, dashing.
I wasn’t there to strut my stuff, though. Instead, we sat down and dug into some delectable Ghirardelli sweets, making excuses about ignoring our calorie count. When the last morsel of mint-chocolate-chip ice cream settled in my belly, we began walking back to the bus station. It didn’t take long, however, for a drunk man somewhere in the crowd
of people to holler out in a North-American-Southern accent.
“Ha! You dun crapped your pants!”
People started to stare, and a little girl pointed – everything directed at me. I had no idea what was going on until my younger brother chimed in. Apparently, the spot on the bricked enclosure where I sat to eat my ice cream also had a small chocolate surprise of its own to share.
The brown leftovers smeared onto my white shorts, giving the drunkard and the onlookers a mishap to behold. When we finally understood what all the hubbub was about, we all started laughing. My family huddled around me like a football formation to protect my backside from any more interested eyes, and no shortage of bathroom humor left our mouths that night.
Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2 (or KonoSuba Season 2 for short) prompted me to share a Disney-related anecdote since the first season made me do the same. Thankfully, it also brought along more of its comedy gold.
KonoSuba Season 2 is the sequel to the first season of the massively popular KonoSuba series. (The number two in the title over there should make this statement obvious enough.) Such sequels often have a very tough job: balancing the old and the new.
Unlike sequels to dramas that have the luxury of “refreshing” themselves (assuming the previous installment concluded its plot succinctly), comedy sequels, more often than not, have no such luxury. They risk falling into the “been there, done that” trap since the characters’ personalities and the premise at large not only do not change but also have “already happened” last time.
But a sequel also cannot just forget about its origins. Those same qualities are what defined the series to begin with, so to ignore its past would only serve to make the audience question its future. Thus, as a comedy sequel moves forward, it must venture out into new territory while still remembering how it got to where it is today.
Did KonoSuba Season 2 balance the old and the new? The answer is “more yes than no.”
Much of what made the first season so fun was how the show shaped much of its content as a parody of the fantasy genre. True to form, KonoSuba Season 2 continues this approach well enough. Episode three features an “evil” arch wizard who only wishes to be purified. In episode four, the knight Darkness is forced to marry is a complete gentleman and the nicest guy imaginable as opposed to the sleaze ball she desires. The adventurers and fans of the group in episode eight attempt to give them money and praise, but Kazuma cannot possibly accept any of it since they caused all the troubles anyway.
With parody as a big chunk of the foundation once again, the anime also reintroduces other elements that keep the comedy going. For instance, it will make callbacks to previous episodes. At the end of episode five, Kazuma lets everyone know Darkness’s true name (Lalatina) as a follow-through on the “crazy punishment” promised to her at the end of episode four. Meta jokes find a home here as well. In episode one, Darkness’s usual pleasured reaction to Sena (the prosecutor lady) calling her a “meatshield” causes Kazuma to remark that he hasn’t “seen that in a while” given the year between this season and the last.
Most importantly, the anime strikes at that balance between old and new. On the old side, Kazuma’s trial in the first episode brings back characters and events from the first season to paint him as a lecherous, guilty man. Or how, in episode nine, Wiz sees Verdia the now-deceased dullahan in her dreams whenever she gets precariously close to death herself. On the new side, scenes like Kazuma buying a set of unusable armor and a too-long katana or the visit to Arcanretia with its radical proselytizers give the anime fresh chances at comedy stardom.
Unfortunately, the anime sometimes reuses older content without tweaking it enough. Those giant frogs return to eat the crew. Kazuma repeats his lewd hand gesture and steals Chris’s panties once again. Kazuma and Megumin’s cut-off-the-word-“explosion” practice gets played out once more. As they deal with the Lizard Runners in episode six, Aqua bursts into a tantrum that leads to the show “pausing” the screen, a replicated action from Aqua’s initial tantrum in the first season’s first episode. Indeed, this same season-two episode also revisits Kazuma dying to a “head-related injury.”
The reuse of these different jokes does not make-or-break the anime by any means, but, with only ten episodes to work with for the second time in a row, it seems like a waste to include the same ones again. Plus, they impart an imbalance in that vital old-versus-new idea within this sequel.
When the anime ends, it comes off as perhaps a tiny bit cruel that Aqua’s efforts still go down the tubes after saving the whole city. It’s all in good comedic and parody fun, but it seems like now would have been the perfect chance to finally allow some sincere gratitude thrown her way. And, unlike the first season that concluded right as the next conflict began, this season finishes in a spot that seems unsure of where it can go. It had the money deal struck between Kazuma and Vanir before their trip, but the anime forgot about this plot point upon their return.
Nevertheless, the show keeps the comedy flowing throughout the whole season, remaining at least within a favorable state.
ART & ANIMATION
As a sequel, KonoSuba Season 2 does not deviate much from its previous artistic outing, a sentiment applied across the board. Quaint shots of the city return. The characters’ color-centric designs still catch the audience’s eye (with Darkness’s new designs and outfits being particularly attractive). Breasts do not stop jiggling. Megumin’s “Explosion!” scenes remain a spectacle each and every time she summons forth her immeasurable power.
The only major change in the anime’s artistry is one that goes in a direction that the audience may not have anticipated: the roughness of it all. Coincidentally, this change, similar to the sequel nature of this project, brings up a small talking point.
Most would agree that the first season of KonoSuba sometimes presents its characters’ in a rather rough manner. E.g., weird mouth placements, strange proportions. Such roughness, however, doesn’t take anything away from the anime but rather adds to its charm and comedic flavor.
For this season, the show decides to ramp up this roughness quite a bit. In essence, the anime occasionally takes it to an extreme, exaggerating the exaggerations to an almost obscene degree. As a result, the art possibly becomes not so much deliberately rough as it looks mistakenly unpolished. One needs to go no further than the opening track’s visuals. The gang’s rounder appearance during their loose, goofy dance and the at-times janky faces warn of the rougher art ahead.
Even so, this looseness helps in the other direction, too. It has always been funny to see Darkness blush hard or Megumin lash out, but, with this looser approach to the art therein, the nose flares, the crazy eyes, and the huge mouths not only invite more diversity to their facial expressions but also up their expressiveness that much more.
Plus, this small sacrifice on a cleaner presentation does not compromise on its command of the various animated segments found all throughout the season. Examples include the triple perspective of Kazuma shooting the queen of the Lizard Runners and Aqua’s God Blow followed up directly with her God Requiem. Indeed, the higher level of roughness can also translate into extra personality behind the very movements they make. Aqua’s reused tantrum joke in the middle of episode six stands as a nice candidate for this line of thinking.
To KonoSuba Season 2’s credit, it can also be quite nuanced when it so chooses. For instance, in episode nine, the suspicious yet eye-catching woman at the bath, who Kazuma stares at (“Don’t mind me.”) and who speaks with Hans, gets up to walk away. With her back to the audience, they believe a bootyful treat awaits them – except a sneaky water droplet from the accumulated steam on the camera streaks past to censor any would-be perversion.
If nothing else, the ending track’s visuals once again involve that much-needed balance in the old-and-new content for the season. New shots of the girls in different parts of town or admiring the scenery exist, but the familiar claymation-esque sequences, the kids watching Aqua’s tricks, and that old fisherman sharing a headshake with Kazuma remind the audience of the season that once was. The best part, though, is the end of the ED. It calls back to the first one but in opposite fashion. Kazuma greets Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness back home instead of the other way around – all while sharing a firm thumbs-up.
KonoSuba Season 2 enlists the same troupe of “adventurers” that the audience grew to love in the first season but also invites never-before-seen guests to liven up the place. That is, much like the story, the anime must balance the old versus the new. Save for one key factor, it does just that.
Starting with the old, Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness initially burst onto the anime scene with derisive words, cries for help, weird names, and unfettered masochism (respectively). Thankfully, they do not falter. No longer needing to focus on introducing the main cast or establishing the premise, the anime delivers their raucous personalities and actions with ever stronger comedic punches, crafting scenes that bring out the very best in its characters.
Kazuma “confesses” his sins to a distraught Aqua. Aqua purifies ghouls and ghosts in rapid succession. Megumin doesn’t back down from a bathing challenge. Darkness “succumbs” to Drain Touch in orgasmic fashion. No matter the scene, the anime makes sure to have its cast deliver as many funnies as possible.
Unlike last season, though, the series explores the characters somewhat beyond their base personalities. Darkness’s family, her home, and her faith take up more importance than usual, and Aqua’s returned devotion to her many followers showcases a sincerer side that the audience doesn’t always get to see from the goddess.
Kazuma, too. He still has a tendency of following up his appreciation of life with lamenting his situation, but he has his moments. He looks out for Aqua. He relates on some level with Megumin. He worries about Darkness. He learns new skills in archery and blacksmithing. He possibly falls in love with Eris (a figurative and literal godsend when compared to the other girls). Kazuma may be a pervert, he may hurl insults at everyone (both out loud and in his head), and he may yearn for “true gender equality.” But seeing him be even more of a nice dude this season gives him an edge that he hasn’t always had.
New characters also take to the stage. Yunyun, Megumin’s childhood friend, describes herself as the soon-to-be leader of the Crimson Demons. She also must duel Megumin whenever the chance arises, and she “just-so-happens” to be in the same area as her fateful rival on more than one occasion. As the magical device in Wiz’s shop reveals, however, she leads such a pitiable life that even the flowers near her would rather uproot and walk away.
Speaking of Wiz, she helps the gang out in defeating one of the anime’s first pure villains, the soap-hating blob monster named Hans. Vanir, the mask-wearing, death-wish-having commander in the Devil King’s army, also forms a fun duo with Darkness during his introduction in episode five and later (similar to Wiz) becomes a semi-friend to the group. And while Sena isn’t around past that same episode, she prosecutes, summons, and bends with ease, fitting right alongside the comedy around her.
Up to now, and in similar vein to the anime, a distinct and important character has been (purposefully) left without much attention: Megumin.
Based on polls and various words in the community, many people would argue that Megumin stands as the favorite character of the series. At the minimum, she’s a staple part of it. Not only because she is literally one of the four major protagonists but also her one-and-done powers are an iconic element of the show.
So, it comes as quite a shock when KonoSuba Season 2 gives Megumin the short end of the magic stick this go around. Episodes three, four, and five leave her outside of the dungeon or on the outskirts of town, and episodes seven, eight, nine, and ten keep Megumin from participating in the more hectic events encountered.
Much like the story, this lack of Megumin represents an imbalance on the show’s part. Granted, episode one has a few explosions, but they are not the focal point. Likewise, episode six has her drawing on Kazuma, but the outcome, not the action she took herself, earns the laughs instead. Furthermore, it is nice to see Darkness and Aqua receive a bit more background and angles to round out their characters. But, with the tradeoff being close to a disregard for one of the anime’s vital cast members, it ultimately may not be worth it.
Even the episode that could be classified as Megumin’s for this season reserves half that time for Yunyun and her (official if counting the between-seasons OVA) introduction into the series. Chomusuke the kitty cat becomes her pet in this episode as well, but her inclusion doesn’t lead to anything worthwhile besides the occasional scream and background boob fondling.
Megumin’s lacking presence aside, the anime still forms a better balance between the old and the new here with its cast when compared to its story elements, elevating the show’s overall execution that much more.
MUSIC & SOUND
Once again, the highlight of the entire anime is the voice-acting performances from everyone who takes part in the project. Hearing Jun Fukushima, Sora Amamiya, Rie Takahashi, and Ai Kayano again in their respective roles reaffirms how perfect the four are for the job. Kazuma’s responses to his name as they talk. Aqua’s crying and range of squeals. Megumin’s chuunibyou chants. Darkness’s moaning. From the in-between transitions to the layering of their sighs, breaths, and growls, they elevate this anime several times higher than where it would be at without their presence and skill.
After the glorious VA performances, one finds an ending track that hearkens back to the first ED in its countryside, lackadaisical progression. It’s not as smooth or as catchy when compared to the drawl and the instrumentation of the original, but that’s not saying a whole lot when the first ED remains one of the best listens in the medium. Indeed, KonoSuba Season 2’s ED picks up the pace and finishes once again on a higher vocal note, finding that sweet balance between old and new in this song as well.
Unlike the ED, the opening track surpasses the first season’s OP. Groovy bass, tremolo picking, the fun little tune that cuts into the song a couple of times, the cut in sound that leads into the rousing finish, faint bells and chimes in the background, the “Subarashii!” lyric. It all comes together as downright fun piece that captures the silliness of the series itself without a doubt.
And continuing the audio trend, KonoSuba Season 2 finds extra strength in the rest of its original soundtrack. It doesn’t change up the songs or the effects to any noticeable degree, going with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach that works here if only because of the inherent supportive nature of OSTs. In particular, the rap-like, ukulele piece makes a welcome comeback, as do the individualized tracks for Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness.
As for the sound design in general, the gushing, sloppy noises of frog slime as the characters move around and Megumin’s ear-deafening explosions let the audience know that the anime has the audio portion of this adventure down pat.
For a second season straight, I found myself laughing way too loud during every episode. Kazuma’s gratefulness to Aqua for turning the other way when he “rustled” at night when they used to stay in the stables. Aqua’s mega, stifled cry (that I cannot replicate even after trying a couple times) after she loses hardcore at rock-paper-scissors. Megumin’s food escapades before befriending the others. Darkness’s “sacrifice” and “protection” of everyone from the Running Hawk Kites.
No matter what they said or did, their shenanigans once again had me entertained the whole way through. Not to mention how all the other little moments still add up. Those crazy Axis Cult members spit not once but twice at the mention of the rival-goddess Eris. And Dust, the one side adventurer who cannot seem to contain his hormones, attempts to use “Steal” on the bar maidens at the inn.
Also, shoutouts to Sena, the new prosecutor woman. She didn’t so much make me laugh as she caught my eye. Long, dark hair. Attractive figure. Blue, professional work outfit. Glasses. She wasn’t around for half the season, and, even when she was, she didn’t have much more of a role besides spurring the characters onwards to a new conflict. But she had my attention nonetheless.
Altogether, on this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful to the author of the source, the creators behind this project, and the anime sphere as a whole for providing yet another hilarious installment in this wonderful series. Hopefully I will not have to wait long to see an announcement about the next season, for Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness most certainly deserve it.
KonoSuba Season 2 may be a very small step down from its predecessor thanks to small imbalances in the content and the cast therein. However, this imbalance does not dethrone the anime from its spot as one of the premiere comedy outings in this medium. Parody, diverse reactions, quirkiness, wonderful voice acting, a never-ending streak of funnies. Simply put, no crap in sight.
Story: Fine, the popular fantasy-parody tale returns, delivering content that occasionally leans a bit too much towards the old side of the all-important old-and-new balance
Art & Animation: Great, the color-centric designs and the normal backgrounds return, a looser approach to the artistry adds hilarious exaggeration, movement remains more than solid throughout, and nuance finds its place when it can
Characters: Good, Kazuma, Aqua, and Darkness earn more to their persons while maintaining what made them so fun to begin with, the new characters continue the comedic trend, but Megumin finds herself oddly sidelined for an inordinate amount of time
Music & Sound: Great, the once more superb VA performances, a reminiscent ED, a fun-filled OP, nice tracks off the OST, and numerous audio design decisions make everything simply a treat to hear
Enjoyment: Great, yet another hilarious experience in the series
Final Score: 8/10
Mar 13, 2018
50 of 50 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Sousei no Onmyouji contains no shortage of ohagi, a Japanese sweet treat filled with rice and covered in a delectable, bean paste. I’ve never eaten the food myself; what I know of it comes from this show and the quick Google search I did in preparation for writing this anecdote out.
However, I have seen all of Sousei no Onmyouji. Which is kind of like a ball of ohagi – if it were spoiled, unappetizing, and missing any semblance of nutritional value.
Sousei no Onmyouji contains a total of fifty episodes. That number equates to a one-year
run, or, using relevant jargon, a 4-cour show. At approximately twenty-four minutes per episode, that’s twenty whole hours of content. That’s a lot by today’s standards since most projects nowadays only go for 1-cour outings with the uncommon 2-cour stretch thrown in. At twice and-or four times the length of a typical anime, the show has a ton of time to either get things right or get things wrong.
Sadly, it lands somewhere hard on the latter side.
The anime more or less splits up into seven distinct arcs: the Introductory Arc, the Relationship-Building Arc, the Yuto Arc, the Sae Arc, the Distraction Arc, the Floating-City Arc, and the Final Arc. These arcs vary in their execution, so it is best to separate them in this fashion before looking at the show in its entirety.
First comes the Introductory Arc. True to its name, these initial six episodes introduce the audience to what the tale will focus on. They present the important world-building details like the evil Kegare, the alternate dimension of Megano, and the Twelve Guardians. They establish the tenuous connection between Benio and Rokuro. They setup the Twin Star plot. Standard material that simply gets the show pointing in the right direction from the get-go.
The Relationship-Building Arc comes next, and it is arguably the best arc in the series. From episode seven to episode thirteen, Rokuro and Benio not only begin to live together in a mansion gifted to them by head-exorcist Arima but also the two start to build their bond towards something meaningful (if not romantic). Big revelations, like Rokuro’s past and Benio’s indirect connection to him through her twin brother Yuto, come to light. Also, the anime does a nice job of balancing the Kegare battles with the more slice-of-life material (e.g., “Benio Special,” their faux date).
This arc also shows the first major signs of problems down the line. To its credit, the concept of Resonance, where Benio and Rokuro connect on a psychological level to dish out extra spirit power, makes for a pretty cool moment. However, introducing a key part to Benio’s past – her parents’ death – and addressing it within the exact same episode mere minutes later does not make for solid writing. Regardless, this arc does enough to boost Sousei no Onmyouji’s appeal.
Following a completely unnecessary recap of these first thirteen episodes in episode fourteen (wherein Mayura’s wish to have her feelings reach Rokuro only further buries her chances), the show proceeds to the Yuto Arc. While this arc contains some lighter events, such as Ryougo’s romance with Haruka, it mostly focuses on Kegare Corruption, Yuto’s villainy, and the Twin Stars overcoming their toughest trial yet.
Much like the Relationship-Building Arc, the Yuto Arc has its mixture of both nice and questionable writing decisions. Benio loses her legs, acting as a clever parallel to Rokuro’s lost arm. Better yet, Kamui, the Basara that killed Benio’s parents, creates them for her in a cruel twist of fate. Rokuro’s deceased friends from the Hanatsuki Tragedy then support him in his final duel with Yuto, creating an interesting (and cathartic) moment.
On the less-than-ideal writing side, Mayura’s corruption occurs almost instantly after she chooses to back Rokuro’s decision to continue fighting. Reigen (Mayura’s father) somehow doesn’t perish after the buildup and emotions behind his (what should have been) sacrifice. And the whole fight against Yuto amounts to nothing when, after everything that has happened in episode nineteen and episode twenty, he presumably lives (which the show later confirms).
Their failure to ever finish the job carries over into the Sae Arc. At this point, Sousei no Onmyouji’s slow decline begins. Most notably, the two-year time skip is ineffective. Despite such a shakeup to the plot, nothing of note changes between Benio and Rokuro, and this period does not affect the narrative to a worthwhile extent. It makes the audience wonder why such a skip was needed in the first place.
In this arc, the anime introduces Sae herself, a little girl who cannot listen to anyone and stay put when told to do so. Again, smaller lighthearted asides, like Benio “losing” at rock-paper-scissors and Rokuro in awe of “jewelry,” try to keep that action-and-slice-of-life balance. But the anime’s incessant need to bring in a new Basaras, only for him or her to runaway soon after, overshadows these grounded moments.
Episode twenty-four with the “beauty” almost-Basara and episode thirty with Sae’s departing present to her “parents” do make for interesting, even emotional scenes. But Rokuro and Benio’s relationship more or less takes a backseat to the asides, the fights, and the fleeing Basaras. A trade-off that does not pay dividends.
Sae’s return to the Ame-no-mihashira marks the end of her arc and starts the Distraction Arc – and more declining. Sousei no Onmyouji continues to ignore Benio and Rokuro’s relationship because (ironically enough) it’s too distracted with letting others take care of the Basaras that popped up from the previous arc. Even when it does finally remember to address their relationship, arguably the most important aspect of the show, the plot conveniently cuts off his confession to her with a literal Earth-shattering quake.
Or, even worse, it provides more unneeded recaps in episode thirty-two and, in the same episode, has the two protagonists dancing all happily to Suzu’s heavy-metal song. A moment that goes down as the most bizarre scene in the entire anime.
This quake leads into the shortest arc of the lot, the Floating-City Arc. Kuranashi, the big-bad baddie who has been scheming since that time skip (and apparently for thousands of years in total), unleashes his ultimate plan using the hypnotized, miasma-filled lesser exorcists and a ginormous plant-tentacle Kegare. All to capture the Twelve Guardians to steal their power for his own. This arc is rather straightforward in that it involves lots of action and not much else save for a bit of backstory on Seigen. The only truly important development is also one of the most asinine: Yuto revives himself by double-crossing Kuranashi.
Yuto’s return pushes Sousei no Onmyouji into the Final Arc and into complete decline. Disregarding the convenience surrounding Arima’s spell usage to escape death, this arc contains a heap of troubles.
The whole “joining” angle is weird and uncomfortable, especially since Seimei takes the yang out of Benio’s soul regardless.
Benio doesn’t comment on Yuto’s death despite the tension in their relationship and the fact that he is literally her twin brother.
The Cataclysm King thread is introduced way too late at this point in the story.
Rokuro being inspired by an impromptu dance number from Suzu the Basara forces the audience’s hand to their foreheads.
The lose-a-teammate-at-each-junction sequence does not have the emotional weight the anime believes that it does.
As a last hail-Mary attempt, the story tries to play with the idea that sin is a necessary evil. That it ultimately spawns love and happiness, making these feelings stronger as a result of the struggle and fortitude to reach them. A reasonable and thoughtful theme. However, when the show tries to say that the Kegare aren’t all evil as an argument, the idea breaks down. Killing Kegare has always been Rokuro, Benio, and everyone else’s goal. Plus, these creatures hunted and attacked humans to begin with. Double plus, the show did not do enough comparing of both sides to warrant such introspection.
Due to the large number of episodes, going over the individual arcs in this fashion still did not include some other positives and most certainly left out many more negatives. Nevertheless, this breakdown should illustrate that Sousei no Onmyouji started relatively solid but eventually declined into a problematic mess.
What about on an overall scale? Sadly, the mess only gets worse.
For example, the show has a huge problem when it comes to the power levels involved. In essence, they have no rhyme or reason half the time. Benio and Rokuro are the Twin Star Exorcists, but, after the Relationship-Building Arc, they almost never seem to defeat their enemies or succeed in battle whatsoever. No matter if they fight on their own or with Resonance, they are weak either against the Basaras or juxtaposed with the Twelve Guardians.
In fact, it’s safe to bet that they will lose in some fashion since their lousy dialogue, when they aren’t repeating the same words on strength and determination, jinxes the outcome of their fights. Classic phrases like “We got him for sure this time!” or “Is he defeated?” inevitably mean that, no, they did not in fact defeat their foe. So, on the impossible off chance that they do win, it either feels like a miracle or just doesn’t make sense.
The anime also has an odd tonal issue in that the seriousness behind death and danger in their various situations rarely seems to matter. They’ll square off against a smattering of Kegare in basically the underworld to save a bunch of elementary-school kids one instant, and they’ll happily crack jokes while eating ohagi in a restaurant the next. Not to mention that these abnormal atrocities involve Rokuro and Benio when they are young teenagers and occasionally kids themselves, making their ordeals almost too outlandish.
Sousei no Onmyouji also has fundamental issues. One such issue takes the form of Rokuro’s arm. Since the only weapon he has at his disposal is essentially a glorified fist, his available actions are way too restrictive. Thus, many of his fights involve lots of repetition since new moves almost never appear. Air Fissure Bullet can take care of smaller enemies, and his combos with Benio provide flashier abilities. But, in general, Rokuro only swinging his right arm unendingly cannot be deemed engaging let alone impressive.
Furthermore, the Kegare fought throughout the season don’t often matter. They usually exist as just big blobs or giant animalistic, humanoid creatures that need to be slashed or exploded in nearly the exact same way. I.e., there’s rarely any tactics, strategy, or thought that goes into each skirmish besides “throw moves at them until something works.”
Not to mention the lackluster writing throughout the season. Mayura’s semi-not-even love triangle had no place in the narrative when she never tries to earn Rokuro’s attention and the show is literally about him and Benio growing romantically closer. Also, in hindsight, Kegare Corruption no longer remains a talking point or potential threat after the Yuto Arc. Given its efficacy and danger, it makes very little sense for the story to almost never mention this detail again (even if Yuto’s incapacitated state renders such magic irrelevant). Arima’s Burial Ritual on Rokuro’s heart also makes very little sense when it amounts to nothing after the tension built behind such an action.
The Miko angle, the arguable driving force behind the show, is the worst. Two-year time skip or no, Benio and Rokuro are way too young to have a baby. But that means that, for fifty episodes worth of content, this plot point remains a carrot on a stick forever. The audience chases after and looks forward to this development, but they never actually get to see anything related to it appear.
That carrot will eventually be reached, but not before it rots away. Very much like this anime.
ART & ANIMATION
Unfortunately, Sousei no Onmyouji’s art and animation do not allow it to recover much from the continual decline of its story.
In the beginning of the season, the anime had at least a competent level of consistency. Benio sprints around everywhere as she fights. Rokuro destroys enemies with a starry explosion. The two engage in spats that span multiple actions and reactions. While nothing jaw-dropping occurs, the anime avoids major hiccups in the visuals presented.
However, as early as episode eleven, wherein Benio’s head concaves awkwardly into itself, the anime signals the start of major errors and that it just cannot keep up. Misshapen faces due to incorrect eye placements, janky proportions, and weird expressions. Too much reused animation at times such as during Suzu’s ridiculous heavy-metal performance; lackluster animation in many of the fights and even in the most basic of interactions.
A particularly egregious example goes down in episode thirty-six. Mayura talks with Benio as the two girls work to incapacitate the zombified students. When Benio responds, however, the show forgets to move her mouth and face to match her reaction and words for half the frame. So, instead of a regular delivery of her lines, the anime instead treats the audience to a static image of Benio agape a few seconds longer than intended.
Yet it can have sparks of something more. The black, grainy sidebars during flashbacks make it easy to visually understand when these depicted events take place due to the old-timey film look. Furthermore, the show includes a cool stylized overlay whenever a character performs a special move. Japanese kanji crash onto the screen, colorful effects abound, and a profile shot of the character about to take action streaks open, giving the whole sequence a “It’s about to go down…” vibe.
Background art generally doesn’t stick out, but, when they travel to Magano, that perspective changes. In this opposing reality, the red and brown coloring paints a dark, hellish landscape. The dilapidated buildings and destroyed streets likewise infuse the area with sadness and dread.
And while the character designs are usually not impressive (Rokuro’s jagged teeth imply a sense of immaturity, Benio’s purple motif coincides with her princess persona), they can sometimes be a bit intriguing. Tatara’s emoticon face is strange but silly, and Mayura’s Kegare Corruption is wicked with her purple-and-pink hair, orange-and-black eyes, and a flower foundation.
Also of note, some of the opening tracks have nice visuals, like the second’s foreshadowing of Benio’s lost legs or the fourth’s ending shot as she stands on her tippy toes to lock lips with Rokuro.
It’s the third opening track, though, that turns heads with its decidedly avant-garde visuals. The Twin Stars jostle as the dinner table they sit at rotates. The light-refracting, destiny-driven puppeteering of the two heroes. That one plane which transforms into a bunch of butterflies. The focus on shapes and mirroring.
A very interesting set of images indeed – but even they succumb to errors. For, once the anime realizes that the parallel shot between Rokuro and Benio standing side-by-side does not work because Rokuro weirdly shows off his Kegare arm while Benio does not show off her Kegare legs, it instead puts his arm back to normal for each time the track plays afterwards.
If even the opening track’s visuals have errors (corrected or not), that should indicate well enough the weakness of the artistry overall.
Sousei no Onmyouji contains a huge cast of characters. Much like the story, then, it’s best to break them up into particular categories: the good guys, the bad guys, and the Twin Stars themselves.
Starting with the good guys, the Twelve Guardians stand out. Shimon the flame wielder, Subaru the proper, Victorian lady, and Seigen the dreary-eyed grumpy dude notably make more of a name for themselves. Shimon trained under Seigen, Subaru trained Benio (and did her best to change Rokuro and Benio’s relationship for the better), and Seigen looked after both Rokuro and Yuto while also fathering Mayura. Sakura and Miku do receive a small amount of backstory when fighting Moro, and Arima pops up from time to time with silliness and information of his own, but Shimon, Subaru, and Seigen bring the most intrigue with their seriousness, difference, and protection (respectively).
In comparison, almost none of the characters from the Seika Dormitory matter – save for Ryougo. Ryougo is like an older brother to Rokuro, playing along with his teasing “servant” claims, looking out for him, believing in him, and wishing only the best for the troubled teen. He isn’t around as much throughout a sizable chunk of the middle portion of the season, but Ryougo’s kindness and maturity make him a very likable guy on top of being a worthwhile person in Rokuro’s life. So, when he falls in love with Haruka and eventually gets married to her (in the last episode no less), he definitely deserves such happiness.
As for the extra side characters, Sousei no Onmyouji focuses mostly on Mayura, Sae, and Kinako. Mayura is Rokuro’s childhood friend. She has supported him throughout his entire life, and she befriends Benio to somewhat melt the unfriendly girl’s icy shell. The time skip sees her becoming a full-fledged exorcist, and, during the Floating-City Arc, she even commands her father’s Guardian power when they work together to stall Kuranashi. Her presumed-inevitable romance with Shimon also makes for a nice bit of recompense since her feelings for Rokuro were doomed from the very start.
Sae the tree branch and Kinako the familiar also receive attention. Sae has one major role: showcasing the Twin Stars as potential parents. A role she takes on well with her memorization of Benio’s Ohagi Man Song and calling Rokuro “Papa.” Kinako serves Benio and belittles Rokuro, but he also has much more important duties like providing transportation and creating comedic relief here and there. He even gets nearly all of episode thirty-one to himself when his backstory and beginnings with Benio play out.
In total, the good guys may not contribute a ton to Sousei no Onmyouji in a critical or impactful sense, but they at least do not take anything away from the show by their inclusion. A sentiment that cannot be said of the bad guys.
To put it lightly, the villains of the anime are horrible in their construction. Many of the lesser Basaras miss out on crucial connections to the story in that they show up, leave, and show up once more only to perish in the their second arrival. They can have an inkling of characterization, like Yamato wanting to upstage Kuranashi or Chijiwa (mistakenly) seeking revenge against Benio and Rokuro for his deceased twin brother (killed by Kuranashi). Moreover, they are fodder in the grand scheme of things. But their relevance is way too flimsy for supposed threats.
The greater Basaras consist of Kuranashi, Suzu, and Kamui. Kuranashi (initially) becomes the main antagonist after the time skip (in episode twenty) but only indirectly. He does not directly take part in any fights or says anything worthwhile until his duel with Arima (in episode thirty-three). Even then, his motivations are not revealed until later (in episode thirty-eight) where his “just in it for the entertainment” answer is eye-rolling in its lameness. Despite having this “elaborate” plan concocted and executed perfectly over the course of 1000 years, his death (in episode forty-one) leaves him unable to accomplish anything and turns him into a completely uninteresting baddie.
Suzu and Kamui aren’t as prevalent as Kuranashi (indirectly or otherwise), but their neutral stances amidst the warring that goes on certainly makes them more interesting. However, they still hurt Sousei no Onmyouji’s overall execution nonetheless. Disregarding Suzu’s off-kilter songs, she conveniently appears whenever or wherever she wants.
And Kamui did have potential given his dual connection to Benio for killing her parents and granting her Kegare legs. However, he also has a lame motivation with “just in it to fight strong opponents” and, after episode twenty, he doesn’t reappear until episode forty-nine. As if the anime forgot about him then hurriedly shoved him back in. The kicker, though? His arc is left open-ended come the end of the season, so his reappearance didn’t matter to begin with.
Abe no Seimei is not a Basara, but he opposes everyone all the same. He at least has a definitive motive – eradicating all sin to form a serendipitous world of nothing but unending happiness – but his random inclusion, his boring, emotionless personality, and obvious-not-obvious familiar who leads the Twelve Guardians in Arima’s absence fail to make him a worthwhile enemy as well.
Suppose one views all these bad guys like the good guys in that many of them are not really that important. This scenario still leaves Yuto who no doubt is important – and who goes down as the worst character in the anime and one of the worst villains in the medium.
As a kid, Yuto did not respect his parents for touting ideals without accomplishments of their own. He also hated Benio for always being weak. So, it comes as no surprise that this selfish misanthrope goes off the deep end and forcefully corrupts the children of the Hanatsuki Tragedy into Kegare.
Thus, the anime sets Yuto up as a rather vile, hate-worthy character. Most of this information comes from episode nine when Yuto officially appears for the very first time. To which he promptly disappears for eight more episodes, interfering not at all until episode seventeen. It’s not until episode nineteen where he unveils his motivation. That, similar to Kuranashi and Kamui, is way too lame: “just want to be the strongest exorcist.”
Credit where credit is due, Yuto is a downright annoying antagonist. But his maniacal, powerful self doesn’t come from a solid foundation but rather loose writing. The “twist” about his birth, how he is an accidental byproduct of Benio’s spiritual conception, comes way too late (in episode forty-six) and as an uncared for heap of exposition.
Regardless, he miraculously loses to Rokuro and Benio in episode twenty – and then he does not show up again until episode forty-two. Like Kamui, that’s a long time to go without the main antagonist. Not a peep and barely a mention of him occurs in this twenty-two-episode span, but his final return sees him randomly resting out of nowhere in the Ame-no-mihashira, conveniently beating Kuranashi at his own scheming game, and magically earning omnipotence.
Sousei no Onmyouji tries to slightly redeem Yuto’s character when it ramps up his obsession with Rokuro to somewhere beyond just old pals. Moreover, they liken his existence to less of a nemesis and more of a fate-bound catalyst. Yet, when the anime shoehorns in some last-minute backstory about him and Rokuro right before his death, this mistimed and mishandled info reminds the audience of Yuto’s abysmal construction.
Combined with the fact that the anime does not go into detail on how Yuto learned the dark art of Kegare Corruption. And that the anime does not explore his past relationships with his parents or Benio. And that the anime does not even explain how or why he wears an eyepatch. It all adds up into one pathetic character, villain, or any other related moniker that can be given to such an asinine cast member.
While the good guys and the bad guys have their parts to play in the show, they are not the stars (in more ways than one). That honor goes to the main protagonists: Rokuro and Benio.
Before Rokuro and Benio eventually teamed up, they lived separate yet similar lives. Lives whose origins the audience sees through a series flashbacks that span the first twenty episodes. Rokuro was found somewhere in Megano, he survived the Hanatsuki Tragedy instigated by Yuto, and he quit being an exorcist as a result of his inability to save his friends. Benio looked up to her twin brother Yuto, lost her parents right before her eyes to Kamui the Basara in Megano, and she steeled herself to become stronger than ever.
So, when these two (eventual) lovebirds first “meet” (quotes because this meeting involves Rokuro jumping off a bridge to catch a falling, unconscious Benio), they exist on opposite sides of the spectrum despite the similarities in their traumatic pasts. They don’t initially know what each one went through, though, meaning Rokuro’s immaturity and Benio’s standoffish personality puts them on an unfriendly basis from the get-go.
Not long after, Arima declares Benio and Rokuro the Twin Star Exorcists. Which means that, besides their immense potential as exorcists, they are destined to conceive the Miko, the child who will end the Kegare threat forevermore. Naturally, this inevitably means love, marriage, and bedroom fun.
So, the two start to grow closer together. Arima’s free-mansion giveaway and Subaru’s guiding hand spring up events like a missing hairpiece and feeding food to the other at a pancake restaurant. Rokuro’s indirect connection to Benio through Yuto almost destroys their relationship in episode nine, but, thankfully, the truth of the situation comes out, and they become ever closer still in a mutual pact of their own choosing.
Their relationship moves forward a major step when they support one another in their first (and only) fight against Kamui. In unison, they perform Resonance, an ability that only the Twin Stars are capable of using to empower their respective halves and in turn permitting more winning opportunities. Afterwards, they are put in their place mentally when they cannot help as intended, they perfect their use of Resonance, and, in the process of “defeating” Yuto, Rokuro upgrades his arm and Benio “upgrades” her legs.
At this point, the underlying theme of these characters becomes quite clear: One can go it alone, but a partner makes life much more remarkable. The purposeful relationship between Rokuro and Benio, the importance placed on their union both in the fights and in the future, and even the title of the anime itself (Twin Star Exorcists) point at the idea that a person can accomplish much, much more than they thought possible if he or she relies on another.
Arguably, Sousei no Onmyouji takes it one level further with the romance angle, advocating to some degree that love can overcome any of life’s obstacles. Benio and Rokuro are individually strong, but, as their feelings for each other grow, they bolster the other both physically and emotionally. However, the show keeps the base of its theme going with its other characters as well. Mayura and her father Seigen. Ryougo and his wife Haruka. Even on the Basara side with Chijiwa and his counterpart Momochi.
In total, the theme itself is not exactly explored. While all these relationships exist, the anime doesn’t spend much time expounding on the importance of such connections with either words or intermittent challenges. Indeed, it places focus more so on the many battles and the must-get-stronger mindset. Nevertheless, such bonds improve their capabilities for the better.
Unfortunately, following the time skip, Benio and Rokuro do not evolve their relationship much (if at all). Despite living together and fighting together and doing everything together, almost nothing has happened or changed between the two for two whole years. Even disregarding this fact, the newer characters, the increased amount of unrelated action, and the need to push the plot along get in the way of blossoming their love.
As the final thirteen or so episodes roll around, the show finally gets back to their relationship. A love letter to Rokuro makes Benio want to know Rokuro’s feelings about her. And Rokuro, turning down that written confession, thinks more seriously about the topic. While their exchange of love gets interrupted more times than a comedian bombing on stage, a curry conversation here and a hill tumble there bring them slowly and ever-so-close to the next part of their progression.
But not before events tear them apart. Benio’s near death at the hands of (a returning) Yuto forces Rokuro to reconsider his relationship with her. Extra information about his past and his role as the Cataclysm King comes forth too, redoubling his rethinking. After much thought, he casts Benio aside in a rather heartbreaking manner. A strange choice given the entire point of the show and their characters specifically is how their bond means more than anything they could do alone.
Still, Rokuro wants to keep Benio safe and does not want to tie her down to a Kegare (i.e., himself), so he burdens the troubles and the worries by his lonesome. Once he transforms, and having already realized her feelings for him, Benio makes the extremely difficult decision of sacrificing herself to save Rokuro, knowing that she may never, ever see him again.
Yet Benio believes in Rokuro’s perseverance. Included yin-yang parallels aside, Rokuro, now back to normal, steels himself (with the help of Arima, Suzu, Kinako, Mayura, and his other friends) to save Benio from Abe no Seimei’s clutches. While Benio’s hairpin-laser-connector plan seems a little wacky even within the context of the anime, their confession in episode forty-nine more than makes up for it. Rokuro and Benio bicker atop the blossomed Ame-no-mihashira as a major clash between spirit dragons goes on in the background. Their lover’s quarrel leads to him kissing her and her kissing him in a double exchange of emotions that connects them back together in wonderful fashion.
Their final Resonance of the season relies less on their relationship and more on the (spiritual) support of the many people they met and interacted with throughout the season, tying back to the characters’ central idea. Thus, they save the world, and the two somewhat embarrass themselves at Ryougo’s wedding. Their sincere speech then gives way to Rokuro gifting Benio a new set of hair clips, matching the same event between the two just before the two-year skip. Only this time, they end it on a kiss, letting the audience understand that these two have and will have each other to make their lives remarkable forevermore.
Altogether, Benio and Rokuro are not strong characters. They are not weak characters either. The show simply forgets to expound on them come the middle of the season, preventing their growth beyond a middling level. On top of the passable good guys and the abhorrent bad guys, the execution here just does not end up anywhere favorable.
MUSIC & SOUND
Sousei no Onmyouji lands everywhere on the execution map when it comes to its music and sound design. For example, the opening tracks go in different directions when compared to one another to add some much-needed diversity.
“Valkyrie -Ikusa Otome-,” the first OP, uses shamisen for a cultural feel and punctual breaks in the tempo to bring on the intensity. “Re:Call,” the second OP, incorporates a steadier beat and set of vocals, but the song stays around for too many episodes after the narrative’s time skip (if the visuals are any indication) where the body of the plot has already shifted.
“sync” (no capital “s”), the third OP, moves between a male and female vocalist as a hip-hop groove with shouts and drops keeps the flow of the piece (coincidentally enough) in sync. And “Kanadeai,” the fourth and final OP, takes on a sentimental, rock ‘n’ roll tone for a more thoughtful song to lead out the season.
Overall, these opening tracks are some of the best parts of Sousei no Onmyouji. In comparison, the ending tracks do not contain as much variety since they each aim for a romantic vibe. They also do not reach the same level of intrigue.
Nevertheless, they still work within the confines of the show. “Eyes,” the first ED, brings in daintier instrumentals whereas “Yadoriboshi,” the second ED, brings in piano and violin to back its grandiose composition. “Hide and Seek,” the third ED, gets more fun with a faster pace and its volley of triplets, and “Hotarubi” returns to that cultural feel while mixing together subdued and boisterous segments.
Elsewhere besides the start and the finale of each episode, the original soundtrack hits highs and lows. Interesting tracks such as the 8-bit-esque and flute-like tunes for its slice-of-life moments help the mood. But the electronic, dubstep pieces, like the one with the distorted monster voices most often played when Kegare appear, do not mesh too well with the setting and the premise and the action at hand.
Doubly so for Suzu’s metal performance in episode twenty-two. A song that leaves the audience nothing short of flabbergasted at its inclusion, head-shaking at its corny lyrics and weak vocal delivery.
Besides the OST, Sousei no Onmyouji contains a couple of very interesting audio tricks. Most notably, in episode sixteen, when Rokuro and Benio use Resonance consciously for the first time, the anime employs a back-and-forth voiceover with Rokuro only speaking in the right ear and Benio only speaking in the left ear.
And, speaking of voice acting, while the performances aren’t the most impressive across the board, Megumi Han as Benio and Natsuki Hanae as Rokuro still deserve props. They scream as fervently and as often as possible throughout each fight and during their different moves. So much so that one hopes they had a few cough drops on hand to stave off injury.
Despite how much I have written against this anime up to this point, I can’t say that I despise it. “Hate” is too harsh of a word, too. Instead, I simply very strongly dislike most things about the show.
My dislike stems from multiple aspects – Yuto chief among them. Seriously. He’s the absolute worst part of the show. I cannot stand him as a character; he’s much too infallible. I am also not fond of Arima. I could do without his “comedy,” and his general worthlessness throughout almost the entire season despite literally being in charge of the Exorcist Union.
The action is another large factor. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of action-oriented shows, but what goes on here treads way too far into sameness. Considering how much fighting goes on, I usually found myself disinterested in the proceedings. Along the same lines, the drama involved rarely pulled me in, and the show didn’t have as much of a thematic presence as I would have liked.
Glimpses of fun exist within all this mud. Mayura’s silly name-calling insults had me chuckling. Subaru was attractive with her teasing attitude, air of decadence, and fan usage. Ryougo was a pretty cool dude too, for I liked his brotherly persona in relation to Rokuro. And I actually laughed at Tenma demonstrating his almighty powers by yelling at the Dragon Spot to close and Cordelia cursing in English with her robotic voice.
Unfortunately, these characters and their qualities cannot always be around, so they do not necessarily wash away the dirt that follows the negatives I have with the show.
As for the Twin Stars, I do find Rokuro and Benio (Benio more so) likable to an extent. Rokuro can get a bit righteous at times, but he has his heart in the right place. And Benio’s quiet behavior contrasts with her occasional outbursts of silliness and passion to make her more than meets the eye.
However, their romance caught my attention the most. Seeing them struggle to get along when first encountering each other. The hand-holding scenes and signs of affection before the middle portions. Their ultimate confession of love with kisses to boot. I found myself smiling on more than one occasion as their feelings for each other grew.
But I still have a gripe: The romance just isn’t around enough. I’m reiterating myself at this point, but, after the Relationship-Building Arc and the Yuto Arc, their bond drowns in a vat of stagnation. Even when the Floating-City Arc resurfaces those lovey-dovey feelings, three separate interruptions prolong what should have been said between the two literal in-universe years prior.
Forgiving those scenes, the final stretch still doesn’t prioritize the romance until episode forty-four where Rokuro pushes Benio away to protect her and episode forty-seven where Benio sacrifices herself to bring Rokuro back. I do really like their shared confession, but it also makes me wonder what could have been had their relationship always remained at the forefront.
Sousei no Onmyouji delivers a show that hobbles along and crumbles apart the whole way through. Over the course of fifty episodes, the broken storytelling, the inexcusable artistic issues, the weak character writing, the mediocre audio offerings, and the low level of entertainment make for an ohagi overdose that upsets the stomach for much too long and without hardly any tangible benefits.
Story: Terrible, a narrative replete with problematic individual arcs and a laundry list of overarching issues that decline this tale into a complete mess
Art & Animation: Bad, the visuals clearly cannot keep up as fewer frames and extra errors steadily emerge, but the world of Megano and some interesting artistic choices inject much-needed flair
Characters: Bad, the good guys pass but lack impact, the bad guys contribute nothing but lameness, Yuto is one of worst villains ever, and both Benio and Rokuro did not receive as much focus as they required
Music & Sound: Fine, a diverse set of OPs, an average set of EDs, a mixture of nice and questionable tracks in the OST, a cool back-and-forth technique, and lots of shouting from the VA performances allow the audio to stand at least upright
Enjoyment: Bad, some funny insults, a curse word, and a few likable characters fail to form a worthwhile experience as annoying characters, boring action, and missing romance hamper the project
Final Score: 2/10
Mar 12, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
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(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Kemono Friends reminds me of one of my most favorite films of all time: Toy Story.
The CG style, the presentation aimed at a younger audience, and the fact that the premises align to an extent (non-human entities become “human”) are the first comparisons that come to mind. The biggest factor, though, is an extremely famous song from the Pixar movie that became an instant Disney classic that’s still hummed and whistled by people today: “You’ve Got A Friend In Me.”
This two-minute track exemplifies the heartfelt feelings behind friendship with its measured, easygoing pace and lines
like “There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you.” If nothing else, the over 44,000,000 plays on Spotify should indicate well enough this song’s immense popularity.
Now, truth be told, Kemono Friends does not contain a musical phenomenon let alone holds a candle to such a pioneering project of cinema. But, when this anime similarly focuses on friends and crafts something strangely magical, it makes it tough to not appreciate such a thoughtful outing.
Kemono Friends begins on a normal day like any other in the Savanna area of the Japari Park. There, Serval the serval lazes about as the sun shines bright overhead. However, she notices another creature moving through the underbrush, so she gives chase, only to find an animal she has never seen before. This animal, unsure of who she is herself, is given the name Kaban (on account of the bag she carries), and the two decide to go on a park-wide trek to discover Kaban’s mysterious origins.
It’s quite easy to dismiss Kemono Friends before giving it a shot. Considering the age demographic of most anime enthusiasts, this show technically lands far outside of their range with its PG (or “parental guidance”) rating. Combined with words from passersby and the promotional posters, the first words that come to mind for some take a similar form: “Why would I want to watch something so childish?”
These naysayers technically aren’t wrong in their assumptions. Many of the jokes take on a super-simplistic nature, like when Otter shows Kaban and Serval how to play with rocks as Jaguar paddles on by behind them with the makeshift raft. Or how, for the most part save the final two episodes, the anime doesn’t strive for too much intensity beyond a few cyclops blobs. Or that the educational dialogue from Boss doesn’t exactly serve the plot but rather acts as a method to teach the audience something relatively unimportant yet definitely interesting. That is, at its core, Kemono Friends is no doubt a kidlike show.
However, if one embraces this characteristic, a very pleasant, very interesting experience awaits.
A lot of that is thanks to the anime’s innate sense of charm, for it’s something the show focuses on constantly throughout its run on many different levels. From the biological introductions that detail the order, family, and genus of a given species, to the literal real-life phone conversations with zookeepers the world over, the anime’s charm is almost something that has to be seen to be believed. Even something as simple as calling the characters “Friends,” as if the audience has been buddies with these creatures for a long time, demonstrates well enough just how charming Kemono Friends can be.
The episodic nature of the narrative also does a lot for the anime. Kaban and Serval go on this “global” journey, visiting environments from all corners of the Earth. Savannas. Jungles. Deserts. Forests. Mountains. Plains. As they traverse Japari Park’s multiple settings, the audience as well find themselves engrossed in their trek, taking in the interesting locales and the diverse scenery.
Kemono Friends understands that that is not enough, so, to combat some of the kidlike feeling, it chooses to incorporate an apocalyptic subtext that serves as a glue to hold the whole project together. While nothing outstanding, the weathered signs, the rundown lifts, and the forgotten mazes underpin this tale with a twinge of darkness that adds a new layer to the show for the audience to think about. It doesn’t outright outline the doom, and the gloom doesn’t take over the mood itself, but, without the post-apocalypse content, the show would be missing a key feature that ultimately contextualizes Kaban’s origin-learning adventure.
And while the jokes are rather simple, the show deserves credit where credit is due. In episode six, Kaban and Chameleon “fight” each other, but not before they exchange polite words and bows. In episode nine, the classic hot-springs scene plays out slightly differently in that the show takes advantage of the premise when Kaban shocks the others about an invention known as “clothes.” And Kaban’s running gag of “Please don’t eat me!” makes for a silly contrast when considering the nice, welcoming personalities of the Friends.
This anime also targets a thematic presence, for (true to a children’s television show) Kemono Friends keeps itself as wholesome as possible with a focus on togetherness. With each passing episode, this sentiment becomes ever clearer. The Friends collaborate to fix a strange contraption called a “bus.” They support one another when pairing up unlikely duos and keeping an idol group from losing their important fifth member. They protect each other from evil Ceruleans. Whatever little bits of comedy, action, and drama that Kemono Friends depicts eventually leads back to this togetherness, continuing the camaraderie which describes the characters’ collective title.
In doing so, the show captures that nostalgic time when one didn’t have to worry about anything besides what mom and dad were cooking for tonight’s dinner. For, per usual, these elements are not anything profound or inspiring. However, the anime’s sincere, almost gentle approach to these topics allows for this story to maintain that wholesome feeling the whole way though.
Nowhere does this feeling strike hardest than in one of the anime’s strongest writing moments. In episode twelve, Kaban saves Serval from the giant Cerulean that then eats her in turn. As the situation becomes dire, all the Friends that Kaban met and helped throughout the entire season arrive to reciprocate her kindness. Seeing them there, working paw-in-hoof to save their newfound companion, not only reinforces that general sense of togetherness but also acts as a meaningful conclusion to the episodic structure overall. The sweet shot of the whole cast with the title of the anime floating overhead is simply icing on this nice-writing cake.
The story here is by no means perfect. Choosing to reveal Kaban’s human origin halfway into the season as opposed to prolonging it until the finale somewhat defeats the purpose of constructing the narrative around this goal to begin with.
But the anime does more elsewhere. A small world-building detail in the Japari Buns explains how the hunter-prey dynamic no longer applies. And the extra subplot which revolves around Raccoon not only revisits the aftermath of Kaban’s various exploits but also provides context to her existence in the first place.
All in all, the anime accomplishes a lot with its story without ever shying away from its kid-friendly foundation.
ART & ANIMATION
Arguably speaking, Kemono Friends’s artistic direction stands as its most contentious aspect. One has to look no further than Serval’s opening chase of Kaban. The janky camera perspective and the stilted movements as they run certainly do not give the best first impression possible.
This roughness continues in other areas of the art as well. Most notably, the CG style of the characters’ designs stand out from the two-dimensional environments. Action scenes almost always use a speed background to simulate intensity. The locations depicted, while able to define the setting well enough, lack much in the way of higher detail. Often, the anime will reuse walk cycles as opposed to creating them from scratch. Errors can and do appear, like asynchronous mouths during speaking segments or how, all the way over in episode eleven, the artists forgot to maintain the texture of the tree that Kaban climbs from one shot to the next.
In most shows, so many problems easily and adversely affect the overall presentation. Yet, for Kemono Friends, such roughness surprisingly works quite well.
A large reason as to why it works derives from the visuals following in the footsteps of the content it portrays. Such simplistic artistry matches the story in that the jokes and the plot and the ideas likewise form their own sense of simplicity.
In having the art hold hands with said story, what could have potentially been a huge distraction instead turns out to be a sensible, intriguing artistic endeavor. It takes a little bit of time for the look and feel of the anime to grow on the audience, but, once it does, its charming style and slight hiccups maintain the notion that it completely understands what it is and what it can be.
That’s not to say that everything is forgiven. Indeed, it’s unfair to brush off all the noticeable issues as part of the charm since doing so would unfairly permit any mistakes as acceptable no matter how egregious.
Moreover, the anime demonstrates that it can include deliberate artistic choices which clearly benefit the show. For example, Serval and other catlike creatures will often scrunch their fingers into a half-balled fist as an homage to the claws they once had.
Then there’s the characters’ designs. Despite the less-than-ideal CG forms, every Friend seen takes inspiration from their past animal selves, incorporating lots of outfits, colors, and ideas that give them each a distinct look while staying true to their origins. For example, Shoebill’s long hair recreates her menacing stare and allows for her side ponytail to reference her big, yellow beak. Even Kaban’s design, while decidedly plain, goes for something a bit more androgynous so as to make it that much easier for the audience to relate to the main protagonist.
Episode two, though, showcases one of the best examples. Therein, Kaban looks around the jungle to find nearby Friends. To which the camera “pretends” to search for them as if in a nature documentary or taking part in a kids’ spot-the-animal game. A small moment, but one that reflects the thought and the charm put into the visuals of the show.
Within the realm of Kemono Friends, Japari Park houses species from everywhere imaginable. Hippos to elephants, giraffes to bears. The anime is more or less a zoo in anime form.
Granted, they aren’t really animals. Their ability to speak coherent languages and act as regular people backs up this notion easily enough. However, in their anthropomorphic state, the show builds these so-called “Friends” with their animal counterparts in mind.
For instance, in episode four, the anime introduces Sand Cat. A native of the desert, she can regulate her body temperature between hot and cold to combat the swift changes of the environment. So, as a Friend, she shows a “hot-and-cold” level of interest in the things around her, swiftly switching between very intrigued to wholly uncaring on the spot.
Given their low impact and low importance across the episodic events, these Friends technically and arguably don’t contribute much. Yet because Kemono Friends commits to this animalistic characterization for every Friend in the cast, the anime maintains a consistent motif that gives each one their in-the-moment spark. A spark which gives them just enough time to shine before moving on to the next animal.
Understandably, then, Kaban and Serval rightfully earn the spotlight for this tale.
Kaban is a young girl who wakes up in the middle of the savanna area of the Japari Park. She doesn’t know who she is, where she came from, or why she is there to begin with. A (seemingly) harsh case of amnesia. So harsh, in fact, that she cannot even explain to Serval the type of Friend she would consider herself as. Thus, at Serval’s suggestion, the two head for the library in the hopes of learning about Kaban’s mysterious background.
From the very beginning, Kaban’s limitations spring forth. She cannot climb down a hillside or jump across rocks with the same dexterity and agility as Serval, leaving her apologetic in her failure. And that’s just in episode one. Throughout the whole season, the anime highlights more of her inherent weaknesses. She cannot fly like Japanese Crested Ibis. She isn’t strong like Moose. She cannot endure the cold like Silver Fox.
However, true to human form, what Kaban lacks in physical prowess she makes up for in mental fortitude. Unlike the Friends who can mimic voices or swim in the water, Kaban instead uses her brain to solve the various problems that occur along the way. She creates a paper airplane to distract a Cerulean. She formulates how to build a bridge to cross a dangerous river. She connects the dots of the exit signs in the underground labyrinth. She invents a whole new game for the “warring” parties of the plains. She follows a recipe and cooks food to eat. She deduces the “ghost” of the hotel.
During Kaban’s adventure of self-discovery, Serval almost never leaves the young girl’s side. She’s the brawn to Kaban’s brains so to speak, clawing at what needs to be clawed and carrying what needs to be carried. The other Friends somewhat tease her, and Boss refuses to speak directly to her (which makes for a fun little scene near the finale of the season). Despite these putdowns, Serval remains the cheerful, optimistic feline no matter where they may be in the park.
And that’s arguably her most important characteristic. For, more than simply accompanying Kaban and befriending the kind girl, Serval serves as the confidence-boosting cheerleader that keeps Kaban’s spirits high. On more than one occasion, Serval will excitedly talk about Kaban’s amazing exploits, causing her to shyly smile and scratch the back of her head out of slight embarrassment. She puts it best all the way back in episode one: “Don’t worry about it. Different Friends are good at different things.” Serval is a Friend by definition and a friend by character, the perfect sidekick for the young human.
Interestingly, this dynamic, while not portrayed in exactly the same fashion, is found in almost every episode. Upon each new area, Kemono Friends includes or otherwise focuses on a pair or group of characters whose friendship bolsters the anime’s main message: that friends have each other’s backs.
One of the best examples of this idea comes from episode five. Beaver cannot seem to finish any of her wooden blueprints, and Prairie Dog cannot seem to envision an end goal. Thus, the two work together, benefitting from each other’s strengths. The unification of Beaver’s smart planning and Prairie Dog’s fast building not only allows them to create harmonious structures but also demonstrates the harmony in what their friendship provides (no matter how bizarre such a real-world pairing would be to see).
Kaban as well defends this sentiment on a personal level. During the final conflict of the season, and after the giant Cerulean consumes Serval, Kaban doesn’t back down. Instead, just as Serval was there for her, she is there for Serval. Concocting yet another intelligent solution, she channels her inner meow, leaps into the beast to rescue Serval, and leads the monster away with flame in hand to protect the serval outright. Her ability to stare death in the face for her dear friend means more than whatever physical or mental capabilities she may have at her disposal – because these actions come straight from the heart.
And, true to cheerleader form, Serval doesn’t let Kaban take her next journey beyond the shores of Japari Park alone. Just as that situation seems to be the case, Serval hops on a makeshift boat of her own and follows her friend in earnest. The two ready to tackle and experience whatever their new adventure has in store. Because, at the end of the day, these two close friends have one another to rely on no matter what.
That’s the extent of these characters. So, are Kaban, Serval, and the many other Friends noteworthy? No. Not really. Much like the story they find themselves in, they are a simple lot that do not strive for anything too extraordinary. But, in the context of Kemono Friends, how they all highlight the importance of friends and friendship in general, their characterizations and representations are no doubt meaningful.
MUSIC & SOUND
Two areas of the music stand above the rest in Kemono Friends: the opening theme and the various pieces from the original soundtrack.
Titled “Youkoso Japari Park e,” the OP opens with a signaling horn before giving way to animal noises, background laughter, and a moment of counting. Piano, drums, and the occasional bells form the base for the catchy beat, and the vocals, both in their individual and harmonized parts, invite a sense of silliness and sincerity to make the piece as happy as can be. The ending “la, la, la, la…” segment is not only fun to sing along with but also a cute way to finish off the song. Altogether, the OP kicks off each episode by putting a smile on the audience’s face to get them in the right state of mind for the wholesomeness ahead.
Not to be outdone, the OST includes many small yet strong tracks that support the aims of the show quite well. “Doukutsu no Oku” repeats high keys on the piano and brings in the eventual violin to invite a somewhat spooky atmosphere during mysterious times. “Cell Ria N” (most likely “Cerulean” given the context) goes completely galactic and techno when the occasional battle heats up. “Tenyawayan” is quick and silly and all over to mirror those similarly fun scenes. “Kawaii 2 Hiki” provides the everyday mood once events go back to normal.
But the crown jewel, and what could arguably be described as the main theme of the anime, is “Kaze wo Kanji te.” Its acoustic guitar, xylophones, wind instruments, and other sounds lift one’s spirits with a calming tone and a serene nature feel.
While the OP and the OST indeed stand strong, unfortunately the ending theme does not. Titled “Boku no Friend,” the piece lacks the same fun and creativity that permeates the other musical offerings. Moreover, the drums drown out the guitar too much, and the vocals don’t extend beyond their middling range. On its own, the ED ends up as a rather mediocre song.
Despite the weak ED, the voice acting performances get back to Kemono Friends’s strong side. In particular, Yuka Ozaki – in one of her first major roles – as Serval definitely sounds as if she is new to the field, but her amateurish delivery of her lines gives the sidekick her cheerful, heartfelt charm. Aya Uchida as Kaban also deserves a shout-out for her cute, childish way of speaking. And, in general, the multitude of different inflections, accents, and tones for the various Friends add to their personalities and their animal origins once again.
And the anime also includes a lot of extra sound-effects to round out the experience. Boss’s waddle. Serval’s swipes. The scene transitions. These tiny additions are probably expected to an extent, but they still support the show’s sound design in a positive manner.
Admittedly, I didn’t originally pick up this anime back when I was making my choices for the season. I can only choose so many, so I must be careful. Its synopsis, key visual, and unknown status all contributed to me skipping over the project way back when. However, once a few of my friends and my readers wondered and asked about me writing on this show, I wanted to follow through on their suggestions.
And I’m very glad that I did.
I had a ton of fun watching the show from start to finish, and I obviously have my favorites. Japanese Crested Ibis in episode three had me chuckling hard with her “incredible” singing skills and soft-spoken manner. Tsuchinoko in episode four was making me smile when she couldn’t stop herself from getting super excited about the ruins and artifacts to the point that she ran and hid out of embarrassment. And both Beaver and Prairie Dog made episode five my favorite from the series. Beaver’s dejected, cute responses and Prairie Dog’s hyperactive behavior created in them an awesome duo that I liked a whole bunch.
And it perhaps goes without saying (writing?) that I am a fan of Kaban and Serval, too. Kaban’s “Please don’t eat me!” and Serval’s “Meow, meow, meow!” were enough to get me liking them right away. Yet it was Kaban trying her hardest to help the others, Serval remaining optimistic about their situations, and the two sharing a fun friendship that really got me liking them as a protagonist pair.
The rest of the show was entertaining, too. I learned a lot about various animals and their habitats. The charm throughout the whole ride inspired me to write about the show at length in another essay entirely. I even got slightly emotional when Serval and the other Friends presented Kaban with a new boat for her to use to cross the ocean in search of more of her kind.
Overall, this anime is simply something different than the norm. It has its drama and its comedy, sure, but those aren’t the mainstays. Instead, its ability to craft an experience that is childish yet worthwhile, simplistic yet intriguing, weird yet welcoming is what invokes a bit of uniqueness that gives this strange project such a lasting impression.
Kemono Friends understandably doesn’t appear all too enticing from an audience standpoint, but, once it is given its fair shot, that perspective swiftly changes. A charming story filled with themes on togetherness. Rough visuals that align with the content therein. A cast of characters who focus on friendship. Lots of interesting musical offerings. A large amount of entertaining scenes. There may not be any cowboys or spacemen, but the audience can still count on these Friends all the same.
Story: Good, while not perfect, this childish, charming tale uses wholesomeness, an apocalyptic subtext, and several nice writing moments in its jokes and plot points to craft a neat narrative about anthropomorphic animals and togetherness
Art & Animation: Fine, despite the noticeable roughness, the visuals work well with the simplistic nature of the story, and the different, deliberate techniques employed prove that not everything lacks polish
Characters: Great, Kaban’s journey of self-discovery represents how people are both strong and weak in different ways, Serval is a kindhearted sidekick, the other Friends have their own sparking characteristics, and everyone involved connects back to the theme that friends have each other’s backs
Music & Sound: Good, a lively OP and a strong OST make up for a weak ED, the VA performances bring their own flavor, and extra sound-effects help to round out the experience
Enjoyment: Great, a downright fun adventure filled with a likable cast, a few interesting moments, and a slight difference from the norm
Final Score: 8/10
Mar 12, 2018
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Many years ago, I found myself chatting it up with an attractive woman at a mixer. In talking about our interests and hobbies, it seemed as if a tiny romantic spark existed between us. That is until our conversation went where I didn’t want it to go.
“Oh, yea, my boyfriend and I…”
Boom. She dropped the dreaded B-word. That courage I worked up? The flirting I did? Gone in an instant. I didn’t press my luck any further, and, as life would have it, that meet-up was the last time I ever saw her.
It reaffirmed a
simple life lesson: sometimes things just don’t work out. Love (apparently) included. For Kuzu no Honkai, it focuses on this unfortunate detail too. And, luckily, the anime itself doesn’t succumb to this same lesson.
Kuzu no Honkai quickly sets up the stage. Hanabi loves her “brother” (really her childhood-older-neighbor friend) Narumi. Mugi loves his former tutor Akane. Unfortunately, these students cannot obtain the gazes of their respective loves for various, understandable reasons. So, in desperation, the two share their taboo feelings with one another – and it only gets more twisted from there.
In fact, the anime bends its relationship links into an odd shape. Noriko loves Mugi who loves Akane who faux loves Narumi. Ecchan loves Hanabi who loves Narumi who not-faux loves Akane. Then Hanabi “loves” Mugi and vice versa. Less a love triangle and more a love ladder with flimsy rungs, these connections form the basis of the plot and the subsequent disarray that their plentiful feelings generate.
Although “generate” is too mechanical a term, for, in Kuzu no Honkai, the anime gives the community what the romance genre lacks all too often in this medium: actual physical intimacy. And not just hand holding. Make-out sessions. Caressing. Hand jobs. Implied sex. Legit sex. With messy love comes messier spit-swapping and fornication, allowing the audience to see a set of physically active, risqué events that translate into purposeful narrative moments.
When the characters aren’t on the cusp of knocking boots, they instead take part in a very singular act: mind masturbation. More formally known as the internal monologue, Hanabi and the others deliver their thoughts and their feelings directly to the audience with long-winded, detailed, and personal speeches. The characters do hold dialogues from time to time (especially Hanabi and Mugi), but that almost always comes with the expectation that sexual deviancy will shortly follow.
Now, this structure goes both ways. On the one side, sandwiching the sex between these monologues follows the themes of Kuzu no Honkai itself. These characters experience a loneliness and longing where they don’t share their feelings outright but rather think about them to themselves. As a result, they get across their points with each other through immediate physicality instead. “Actions speak louder than words” as the cliché goes, so the balance between their exposition and their actions makes for a worthwhile presentation.
On the other side, the structure remains quite rigid, leading to an uneventful plot. Monologue. Make-out session. Monologue. Almost sex. Monologue. More making out. Monologue. Sex. Monologue. While the audience gets to hear the minds and see the bodies of these characters over and over – watching them lay bare in every sense of the phrasing – the lack of experimentation creates this pattern where the anime loses itself to overt sameness.
Looking at Kuzu no Honkai with a wider lens, the anime once again has net negatives and net positives.
Negatively, the story has a tough time nailing down its tone. For instance, almost every comedy bit comes off as unnecessary. The show isn’t meant to be happy or silly if the characters’ struggles and their thoughts are anything to go off of. Yet, in contrast, it can also get way too dramatic. At the end of the day, it’s (mainly) just a bunch of high-school kids going through failed romances. Their love does come from a meaningful place, but it’s not this all-or-nothing catastrophe that everyone involved seems to blow out of proportion.
Positively, the thematic exploration of love’s dirtier edge cannot be denied. For, despite the repetitive structure and the unfocused tone, the characters’ feelings go to dark places, and the words they relay from the recesses of their hearts hit hard. What it means to love. To be loved. Why we love. How we love.
Perhaps most importantly, they expound on how love in and of itself isn’t always the answer. Not just because it’s impossible for everyone to always win. But that being alone can give new opportunities or provide different perspectives. That the absence of love is as powerful as its constant presence.
As for Kuzu no Honkai’s plot, it also misses and delivers on certain key moments.
For example, Hanabi’s reveal of her romantic love for Narumi was too anticlimactic despite the direction of her character and the narrative at large revolving around her unreciprocated feelings. Although, to be fair, that’s somewhat intended as it proves how fruitless this love was from the very beginning and makes way for Mugi’s successful tryst with Akane.
Then, on the opposite end, the ending confidently walks away in bittersweet fashion. Extra emphasis on the “bitter” portion. Hanabi and Mugi bump into each other during the school festival after separating for some time, and, rather than getting back together. They simply talk to each other. No more mind masturbation, no more make-out sessions. Just sincere words between people important to one another. They part ways, possibly forever, leading to a rather morose conclusion. One that fits the story’s intentions and aligns with its overall atmosphere.
In short, Kuzu no Honkai embodies a timeless proverb: “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” People live to love. That’s true in this story, that has been true in real life, and that will remain true for as long as love has a place in this world.
ART & ANIMATION
Kuzu no Honkai puts a lot of effort into showcasing its characters and its key scenes. So much so, in fact, that strict animation often gets lost along the way. A byproduct of the fact that monologues occur left, right, and center throughout the entire season.
However, to combat this loss of movement and to elevate its artistry, the anime makes heavy use out of a simple technique: paneling. Many of the show’s shots involve rectangular panels that highlight a character’s current reaction, provide two perspectives simultaneously, or otherwise draw the attention of the viewer to exactly what needs to be seen. While these panels may be relied on a bit too much throughout the season, they not only serve their purpose well but also metaphorically tie back to the characters’ disjointed relationships.
The anime also presents pretty backdrops and a clear affinity for fancier artistic choices. Shots of nature coincide with “natural” love. Soft, purposeful lighting accentuates most of its scenes. Faded, white edges exist for certain flashback moments. Hyper-detailed profiles of the characters pop up from time to time.
Furthermore, Kuzu no Honkai also incorporates many creative scenes that both express the characters’ thoughts and allow for even more artistry. For instance, past encounters in picture-frame form populate Akane’s mind. A black mirror reflects a deceptive Noriko. Color returns to Hanabi’s memory during a dreary-then-dear moment with Narumi. Again, not a lot of actual animation but a whole lot of impressive artistry.
In similar fashion, the characters’ designs are each attractive. Be it their simplicity or striking eyes, the anime makes it tough to deny their beauty or handsomeness. (Also, a small shout-out goes to Ecchan’s meta-reference hat that reads “Scum’s Wish.”)
And one would be remiss in ignoring Kuzu no Honkai’s deliberate attention paid to its plethora of sex-related moments. It loves its up-close mouth shots whenever characters start to wrestle tongues, and, as for the sex, static images of Ecchan and Hanabi naked and caressing one another or Akane making several flushed facial expressions – in full- and panel-mode no less – as Mugi lays with her get the point across easy enough.
Kuzu no Honkai’s medium-sized cast each have their own take on and approach to love that ultimately defines their characters while simultaneously supporting the anime’s goals.
As the main protagonist, Hanabi receives the most room in which to provide insight for the audience. Her friends-with-benefits-without-intercourse pact allows her (and Mugi) to relish in her fantasies and fuel her thoughts. Specifically speaking, she contemplates the love she holds and its importance to her through different ideas like unrequited feelings and pureness of heart.
Moreover, Hanabi is influenced greatly by many of the people around her. She spends a lot of time with Mugi, learning more about what she desires from this sincere love of hers. She doesn’t deny Ecchan’s advances out of a hypocritical sense of duty. She lets Akane’s words and actions get to her, pushing her to try and use love as a weapon rather than as an emotion, only for her to succumb to the same attack. She even has the occasional out-of-body experiences where her consciousness berates her for her sometimes scummy behavior.
In the end, she remains “family” with Narumi despite her feelings failing to connect and parts ways with Mugi per their original agreement. Most importantly, she comes to respect and appreciate love. She has seen how it hurts and seen how it helps, so she now views it as something worthwhile – no matter the outcome.
Mugi is different. As Kuzu no Honkai shows, he has conflicting thoughts due to a sense of adolescence and base instincts. As he describes it, “Even I have things I want to keep closed off from the world.” His childhood friend Noriko and his previous sexual relationship with an older classmate named Mei pull him in different directions. So, in contrast to Hanabi, he doesn’t really know what he wants. He obviously loves Akane, but, as for what this love itself entails, he hasn’t the faintest idea.
Over the course of the season, though, he as well comes to realize what love means to him. He cares about Hanabi because she remains the same passionate person despite the similar situation she faces. He does not move forward with Noriko because he refuses to tarnish their relationship. He falls for Akane because he thought he could alter her into someone better.
That is, for Mugi, love is something that doesn’t change. An emotion that persists through tears and time and toying. That’s what makes it one of the most everlasting, most impactful feelings out there. And he witnesses this firsthand all over.
Narumi is the only other (important) male character in Kuzu no Honkai, and, while he isn’t involved or around to the same extent as the others, he serves his role well. He calls himself a boring guy, and he’s quite right. For, unlike everyone else, he is meant to be the “regular” one of the whole bunch. Someone who is like any normal person out there in the audience looking for love.
Initially, Akane sort of reminded him of his mother, and he chose to believe “it was fate” that brought a boring guy like him and a “too good to be true” girl like her near each other. Indeed, fate does follow through when his feelings reach the woman of his dreams. Granted, him not minding if Akane cheats while they are married and together is far from normal, but he does not want her to lose herself because of love. If nothing else, his heartfelt understanding makes him into an admirable man.
Akane herself is arguably the most interesting character in the anime. Despite her beautiful and kind outward appearance, her heart harbors much darker feelings. She uses love to manipulate men and hurt women to the point that she practically gets off on her tactics. And, if she isn’t having any fun fooling around, then she quickly loses interest and moves onto the next hapless set of people.
Comparing her to the rest of the cast, Akane is the odd one out because she isn’t looking for love. She’s never had those feelings before since her behavior prevents her from truly loving someone else. So, naturally, this issue becomes the central conflict for her character later in the season. And, once she and Narumi share a special connection, Akane demonstrates that love is something possible and available for anyone. That it can save someone from even the darkest of places.
That leaves Ecchan and Noriko. Ecchan loves Hanabi, and she knows that Hanabi does not reciprocate her feelings. Yet she does not care. So long as Ecchan can share herself with Hanabi, be there with her, then she ignores what goes on between them and around them.
Thus, Ecchan acts on her urges in a way that’s uncomfortable to watch. She forces herself on Hanabi and pursues after her despite what Hanabi says. Yes, Hanabi is also in the wrong for at times accepting Ecchan’s advances, but it’s Ecchan’s unhealthy mindset that causes their awkward situation to begin with. In fact, the anime introduces Atsuya, Ecchan’s cousin, into the mix all the way in episode eight not only to include yet another off-kilter romantic relationship but also to get reality back into her brain.
As for Noriko, she literally gets screwed the least and figuratively gets screwed the most. Near the start of the season, she receives about as much attention as one would describe her stature. Then, she disappears for a large chunk in the middle of the season, making hardly any appearances whatsoever.
The anime, realizing its mistake, has all of episode seven focusing on her character. Therein, it forms and completes her entire arc in a slipshod manner. Afterwards, she goes back to being nonexistent with only a scene or two in the final few episodes of the season featuring her newfound drive. Altogether, Noriko is the worst-handled cast member in the anime.
Both Ecchan and Noriko argue for the same stance on love: It isn’t a be-all, end-all part of life. Ecchan cuts her hair for that classic “turning a new leaf” look and rekindles her friendship with Hanabi. Similarly, Noriko has started to mature now that she’s no longer constrained by a sense of romantic duty. The two lose big time in the game of love, but they have come out the better for it.
Each of the main characters in Kuzu no Honkai clearly have a thematic connection to love. And, while their development as characters in this drama isn’t anything remarkable, they each go through their own change and experiences over the course of the season. Considering the size of the cast, the anime does pretty well for a twelve-episode series.
Any small nitpicks aside, the biggest writing problem here is one that some anime unfortunately encounter: very little interaction exists among the entire cast. Within this big romantic conglomerate, Ecchan interacts almost exclusively with Hanabi. Mugi never speaks with Narumi. Noriko doesn’t confide in Akane ever. Even important connections like Hanabi and Narumi’s don’t really have that much going on. Theirs is mostly built through flashback rather than present-day events between the two. Indeed, the anime almost never has three of these characters simultaneously conversing let alone in the same area.
It’s strange to see them exist in their small number of duo bubbles because their relationships are intermingled, yet the full dynamic doesn’t come to fruition. They also each have their own stances and thoughts on love, but, due to the lack of crossover, these differences rarely clash. Overall, it weakens the dimensionality of the characters, and it weakens the show’s thematic exploration.
MUSIC & SOUND
While the anime’s drama, romance, and visual techniques tend to take center stage, Kuzu no Honkai is not without notable musical choices throughout the season.
Specifically, the opening track and the ending track are an interesting set of sounds that coincide well with the show’s main ideas. The OP channels a catchy guitar riff, piano keys, and drum fills. They coalesce into a fast-paced, tone-changing piece whose flow reflects the characters own passionate emotions. The ED begins with melancholy in mind and, shortly thereafter, gives way to a charged section. The first part represents the sadness that sometimes follows love, and the second part represents the frustration. All as the vocalist sings her heart out.
The original soundtrack also deserves praise. It fills the air with weighty piano arrangements, acoustic guitar strings, and poignant crescendos that mold the mood into love and loss and languish. Arguably, the OST is the main contributor behind the anime’s overly dramatic presentation since these orchestral compositions don’t fit a scene like Hanabi and Mugi locking pinkies as they form their relationship pact. Even so, their ability to achieve such dramatization cannot be ignored.
Chika Anzai as Hanabi is the only strong voice acting performance thanks to her range of emotions (embarrassed, morose, happy, angry) and her cute inflection. However, the anime provides just enough lascivious sounds from the whole cast (and their actions) to redden the audience’s ears (and make them wonder how awkward the recording booth sessions were) yet refrain from becoming a full-blown porno.
As many of my readers may know, I love romance. It’s my favorite genre out there. The confessions, the blushing, the words, the happiness, the connection. Romance is sweet, plain and simple.
But I also like it when it gets messy.
In this anime, the juicy, yucky romance all over the place made for an entertaining time. They cheated. They pined. They forced. Dirty and rough, it’s something that I don’t normally get to see here in the medium. I constantly exclaimed “holy moly” and “whoa” as the characters made their moves and the story rarely let up on the sexual advances.
Unfortunately, I am not too invested in most of the characters. Mugi is a pretty all right dude, but he’s very uninteresting. Narumi and Noriko barely have any time on screen to make me care about them. Ecchan not minding her mistress role and her lesbian characterization in general puts her above those previously listed, but the show does not explore her angle enough.
Even Hanabi isn’t the most appealing. She is fun and cute at times, but I still didn’t much care about her character’s arc throughout the season. She is more a victim of circumstance than an active player, so her actions were not the most riveting.
The only character I liked (who, after process of elimination, can be easily guessed) is Akane. Yes, I find her physically attractive, but, more so than anyone else, she had an edge to her setup. She is selfish in her ways. She coerces men left and right. She keeps up a dual personality. Akane goes from a horrible person to a tolerable woman, and her course made her the most fun to watch out of the bunch.
I do have to touch on the ending as well, for it made me slightly melancholic. The only people who win in the end are Akane the antagonist (who arguably didn’t “deserve” it) and Narumi the only regular character in the show (who arguably did “deserve” it).
The other four lose hard. Noriko is denied, Ecchan moves on, and both Hanabi and Mugi part ways seemingly forever. I actually thought Hanabi and Mugi would have ended up together, but such fate did not occur. Combined with knowing that this adaptation is complete – meaning the story is done and told in its entirety – I could not help but frown (in a positive sense) at the fact that an all-around happy ending was just not meant to be.
Kuzu no Honkai may feature scummy people but it is far from scum itself. The characters involved explore many sides to love, the art remains pretty throughout the season, and the majority of its musical choices fit quite well. Its story embraces a few questionable decisions, but, as a whole, it all still worked out when all is said and done.
Story: Fine, a promiscuous take on the proverb “It’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all” which explores love’s multifaceted strengths and weaknesses while also succumbing to a rigid format and noticeable tonal issues
Art & Animation: Good, while very little movement actually occurs, the paneling techniques, the boosted artistry, and the different creative scenes clearly demonstrate that the visuals were not left forgotten
Characters: Good, Hanabi, Mugi, and the other important characters represent different forms and ideas about love, but the lack of intermingling among the whole cast weakens their overall impact
Music & Sound: Good, a passionate OP-and-ED combo back a poignant, crescendo-filled OST, and the VA performances, while nothing special, redden one’s ears
Enjoyment: Good, juicy romance, Akane was the only interesting character overall, and the bittersweet ending got to me slightly
Final Score: 7/10