Jun 14, 2017
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Screams echoed and metal churned above my head.
I started to panic. We were buckled in, so we couldn’t move. The ride had stopped. The doors to let us out wouldn’t open. And when the lights came on, scary props of all kinds stared back at us. Their creepy eyes and wicked smiles practically laughed at our impending demise.
“They need to get us out of here!” My voice croaked.
Someone, somewhere, listened to my frantic cry. For at that moment, the doors opened and our seatbelts unfastened. I rushed into the hallway, breathing in more so than
usual, thankful for my newfound safety.
It’s nearly Halloween, so I figured I would recount a scary event from my life. Gakusen Toshi Asterisk 2nd Season also scared me, but in a completely different way.
Asterisk returns for the continuation to its split-cour. The Phoenix Festa is currently underway, Ayato and his harem fight their battles, and, all the while, trouble brews in the background.
This season is split up into roughly two different arcs. The first nine episodes center on the conclusion to the tournament that began last season as well as other conflicts in-between. The last three episodes center on the group’s visit to Lieseltania, Julis’s home country, that also has its own set of conflicts.
And it’s frightfully weak.
Some positives first, though. Unlike last season, the amount of ecchi scenes that did nothing but detract from the narrative are pretty much gone. A shot of Julis breasts and butt as she’s constricted by ropes of talisman in the middle of a fight or a view of Kirin’s exposed bust in her revealing dress still do not add anything to the show, but, due to more fighting and less downtime, the anime cuts back on these unnecessary inclusions.
It was also nice to see the anime capitalizing on events from its first season. Ayato saved a woman named Irene from losing herself. So, in return, she does her best to relay information to him when he needed it most.
The positives mostly stop there.
One of the more noticeable negatives is the constant reliance on a handicap. For many of the fights, there just-so-happens to be a reason why they cannot go all out from the get-go. Ayato is not allowed to use his main weapon before Flora is saved. Kirin’s leg is damaged. The group must keep their weapons in their rooms rather than bring them to the ball. It happens so much that it feels artificial, as though the anime wants to induce thrills without actually creating them.
There’s also the issue of the fights lacking gravitas. For two reasons. One, who they are fighting matters very little. The twins and the robots do not mean much to Ayato and the others on a relational level. And two, the overall outcome of the matches has low impact. Ayato asks to see his sister and Julis gets a lot of money to give to the orphanage she looks after, but these outcomes are not exactly powerful.
Moving on, improper world-building returns once again. The anime alludes to other groups, areas, and information but does not explicitly explain or explore these avenues. One can surmise the format of the other tournaments, what the different motifs per group are, and even what people do on a recreational basis, but these are superficial traits. I.e., nothing major or in-depth is provided.
Another negative is Sylvia. She is a singer and formidable adversary who helps out Ayato in discovering Flora’s location. But it all lacks cohesion. She appears out of nowhere, happens to have this convenient ability, and, worst of all, she does nothing else following her help (except for a wink during the award ceremony).
Yet Asterisk really shows off its sloppy execution with its last three episodes. The anime had to do something for the final stretch, but, since the Phoenix Festa was its major plotline and hence held its major climax, no matter what was to come after, it would be difficult for it to feel meaningful.
Regardless, it contains a lot of issues.
For instance, the anime does not follow through on Ayato’s sword transformation. During their final fight against the robots, Ayato’s sword changes into a form that supposedly fits him. But during the final three episodes, said transformation no longer exists, losing continuity and even retroactively slandering that happening as little more than a convenience.
These last few episodes also have a similar problem to the earlier fights. Namely, their enemy (the old gentleman) simply does not have a foothold in relation to the characters and the overall direction of the narrative. It also does not help that he doesn’t even battle. He just summons a bunch of beasts. While the beasts are mythological in origin – a cool trait – they’re more flashy than purposeful – a not-so-cool trait.
Another problem is the revelation of Ayato’s sister. Despite all of the build-up the anime had given towards her whereabouts, how much she meant to him, and the general mystery behind her disappearance, she is revealed all willy-nilly to Ayato. It comes off as strange, as though the anime were trying to squeeze in this reveal before the season closed (reinforced by the fact that the show also introduces a new character that had been alluded to recently).
The whole package simply has too many weaknesses for any of its strengths to support.
To Asterisk’s credit, the animation for its fight scenes are consistent. Julis’s giant fireballs, Kirin’s swordplay, and Says’s laser guns provide different levels of movement and moments of action. The same goes for their foes. The robot hurling his massive hammer. One of the twins using talismans. The hydra whirling its heads around. The animation is neither nuanced nor notable, but it at least remains passable throughout the season.
Similarly, the inclusion of CG models does not take away from the show’s action or art in general. It is mostly there for more complex scenarios – such as RM-C squaring off against Saya or a cascade of glass-like confetti – and they are detailed at not clunky in their movements.
Expectedly, the art continues to be more or less the same as it was with the first season. To this end, the it is once again not very impressive. A lot of the season takes place within the arena and nearby facilities – both of which are rather plain in detail. The futuristic city and the trip to the rustic country of Liseltania switches up the backgrounds, but that’s all they do.
Lighting and cinematography are at least looked at, such as with the shadow assassin and with the fights being depicted clearly. Yet to reiterate at this point, the anime does not do anything special here.
The character designs follow the same course. Their color symbolism persists – Julis’s pink for her fiery personality, Saya’s blue for her cooled behavior, etc. – as do their all-white outfits with magenta coloring. And the girls do don some fancy dresses for that ball. Again, though, their designs are not captivating or gross. They are simply meager for what they are.
This season, the characters of Asterisk still do not have much strength.
Ayato does unlock some of the chains that bound him mentally, meaning he does, however slightly, develop as a character. Granted, this “development” entails nothing more than him standing still and thinking very hard, but he at least no longer has to worry (now for up to an hour) about using the extent of his power.
Julis surprisingly doesn’t progress her relationship much with Ayato – even when she is asked directly by her brother. Nevertheless, the anime demonstrates a more caring side to her personality. She cares for Flora, her country, and the orphanage she had grown up with. She always talked about these separate parts of her life, but, this season, the audience actually gets to see her care for them explicitly.
Saya’s angle this season focuses on proving the strength of her father’s technology, and she does so through her fight against RM-C. To be fair, this conflict is arguably minor when considering the bigger picture, but she at least has her own plotline that she contends with.
The same cannot be said of Kirin, for she does not receive much attention during this season besides the occasional words on wanting to grow as a swordsman or the oft cute moment she takes part in. Although, being fair once more, she had her time and development last season, so it’s acceptable (to some extent) that she is not given as much focus this time around.
However, Claudia does not deserve this exception. For much of this season, and as it was with last season, she is barely around in terms of character focus. And when she is (namely in the last three episodes), the show’s constant dancing around her conflict in an attempt to maintain the mystery of it all prevents whatever mommy-daddy issues she may or may not be having from gaining any purposeful traction.
Ignoring Claudia and Kirin’s characters, it is clear that the cast do not receive a lot in the way of attention. Mostly because the anime was more concerned with the fights themselves rather than character exploration.
On one level, that makes sense. At its core, Asterisk is an action-heavy anime with dashes of ecchi and comedy mixed in. In other words, it is somewhat unfair to expect anything more. On another level, this season is the “second” season (for this split-cour). At this point, Asterisk needs to do more than just less-than-par development or extra characterization.
Which is unfortunate since the anime had those more personal moments. Saya crying on the rooftops from being frustrated with their tournament performance or Julis trying her hardest to save her “long-lost” childhood friend are nice examples that back up this statement. But these scenes are either not around enough or not looked at beyond what they mean on the surface.
Regardless, the anime does manage to hold a consistent theme throughout its run. Namely, leaning on others.
Many of the characters highlight this idea well enough. Julis leans on Ayato to help her succeed in the Pheonix Festa. Ayato leans on Saya when he needs encouragement. Saya leans on Kirin for support in her quest to showcase her father’s tech.
This theme is even seen between AR-D and RM-C, between Camilla and Ernesta, and between Nicolas and Gustave. Indeed, given the tournament’s format – two people work together against another similar duo – the notion of leaning on others, be it during times of need or just in general, gives the characters even more thematic presence.
However, the best character for this interpretation is Claudia. For she does not lean on anybody; she almost exclusively carries her problems all by herself.
As a result, she’s clearly in a distressed, unwelcomed emotional state, leaving her relationships with the others on the weaker side. That is, her not leaning others clearly puts her worse off, adding another layer to the aforementioned theme. (In fact, one could argue that her clingy nature with Ayato stems from the forced distance she appears to put between her and everyone else.)
Even if the theme itself is not explored outright, it’s still a nice theme to see. Nonetheless, it’s not enough to keep the characters from ending up at the lower side of the execution spectrum.
The highlight of the opening track is the singing. The shifts to a higher pitch, the different speeds, and the evident passion in the vocals (especially right near the end) give the song more clout than it may otherwise have. As for the rest of the OP, it contains a lot of drums, techno beats, and other flairs – like a quick music drop in the middle and jarring sound-effects here and there – that help to make the piece, once again, more noteworthy.
The ending track creates a more grounded atmosphere. A steady beat and leveled singing keeps the piece from becoming overbearing, and, even when the second half picks up the tempo slightly, it still maintains a feeling of simplicity through catchiness, some onomatopoeia, and light piano work.
The other tracks in the original soundtrack are not exactly notable. Orchestras for the triumphant moments, techno beats for the various fights, and a combined piano-and-violin piece for those sweeter scenes fit the show but are not standout in any particular fashion.
Lastly, voice-acting performances remain more or less the same from the previous season to this season with one (negative) difference: Flora. Chitose Morinaga as Flora, while certainly reaching a high pitch, uses a voice that is quite grating, often distracting, to listen to.
In an anime like this one, I get a lot entertainment from the romance. The show is considered a harem anime, so it is perhaps obvious that such romantic happenings will occur.
And they did.
Julis getting flustered when Ayato ate from the same spoon as she did seconds before (the famous indirect kiss). Claudia wanting to take Ayato to her room to help him unwind. Kirin requesting to lock arms with Ayato (and Saya joining in soon after to do the same). Julis, Saya, and Kirin all perking up at the mention of being called “rivals” in regards to Ayato.
Small scenes, but romance even of this minimal level makes me a very happy person.
Granted, I wish it was around more, but, to reiterate an earlier point I made, the anime focused more on its action in almost all cases. For much of it, I was not too impressed. The robots mega hammer, the knight duo, and the miasma girl did not make for interesting fights.
However, some of the action could be quite fun to watch at times. Ayato punching the one twin into unconsciousness with one strike, Julis literally cooking her opponent, and Sylvia kicking a dude with unbelievable force were cool moments.
But if I had to pick between the action and the romance, I would choose the romance any day of the week.
Admittedly, though, Julis refusing to go further with the romance was frustrating to see. She was still pushing back on the idea that she has feelings for Ayato even after everything they have done together. There’s also Claudia never getting the opportunity to progress her relationship with Ayato, too. And Saya and Kirin curling up on his bed, while cute, does not give their romantic prospects much hope.
Even so, I would still like to see more from the series. If only to eventually see a total conclusion to this entire tale (since I’ve invested all of this time into it already).
Gakusen Toshi Asterisk 2nd Season unfortunately fails to be a solid continuation. The animation and the music have their own strengths, but the story is a mess and the characters are not given enough individual focus. It’s a malfunctioned amusement park ride too scary for Halloween to handle.
Story: Terrible, non-meaningful fights, lame plot choices, and a botched final stretch leave the narrative hurting for much of its run
Animation: Fine, okay actual animation, okay artistic direction, and okay character designs
Characters: Bad, Ayato, Julis, and Saya grow minimally as characters, Claudia’s entire arc is handled poorly, but their theme of leaning on others for aid is prevalent
Sound: Fine, okay OP, okay ED, okay OST, okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, some romance and cool action segments exist, but some frustrating romantic decisions and uninteresting action also exist
Final Score: 3/10
Jun 14, 2017
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
“…98…99…100! Ready or not, here I come!”
My brother yelled out the warning, but he would never find me. I was small enough to fit in our laundry basket at home. It didn’t seem like a possible hiding spot, but I knew I could make it work.
And I did. I remember holding my breath as my brother continuously walked by. It was humid and stifling in that cramped space, yet I had to prove that the second half of the game was irrelevant when I was playing.
Hundred might be related to that counting chant, but it
definitely couldn’t hide the issues it contained.
Hundred begins just as Kisaragi Hayato boards the so called Little Garden, a city-on-a-ship which houses Slayers, the protectors of the world that defeat the evil Savages. His arrival makes waves when he demonstrates his uncanny Variant capability, causing the show to start from there.
And it ends there, too.
All right, not really. But what comes after Kisaragi Hayato’s (one must always pronounce his full name) entrance is a narrative weaker than a puddle on the sidewalk.
Much of the anime tries its best to create harrowing situations centered on the Savages, these bug-like monsters whose only weakness happens to be the crystal jammed into the head of their carapaces. Already the anime starts to tumble since very little variety in the enemies exists, the fights themselves involve either giant lasers or the same set of moves, and the outcomes are rarely satisfying since they usually involve exploding a giant monster time and again.
Hundred continues to see problems on a general writing level. For instance, at one point, Claire’s brother Judal claims that Kisaragi Hayato is the key to waking Liza, Claire and Judal’s sister, up from her deep slumber. The anime even takes this chance to tease Claire’s obvious feelings towards Kisaragi Hayato by telling the man to kiss the sleeping sister.
But Kisaragi Hayato never becomes that key. Instead, Sakura’s singing rouses the dreaming girl, making one wonder why the show tried to push the original route in the first place.
Now, to be fair, the reason Hundred introduces this “conflict” is to have some semblance of an end goal. Because for the entire anime, a final endpoint doesn’t exist. To put it differently, the anime has no overarching plot to speak of. Rather, multiple mini issues of the same type – a bunch of Savages have showed up – pop up. Meaning, not only is the narrative itself repetitive, but also the narrative isn’t working towards anything substantial.
Worse still, as the anime nears its conclusion, it creates more and more problems for itself.
A “new” brand of Savage appears called Replicants. They somehow live without those crystals in their skulls – presumably because they are robotic or just half-organic. Yet that doesn’t seem to make a difference since the characters just beat them up to a pulp to defeat them. Which is weird. The enemies were tough to defeat before because, according to the show’s rules, Savages had those crystals. So removing them somehow makes them simultaneously harder and easier to squash.
As the area starts to become dangerous, the people in the stadium are not evacuated with haste. In fact, they all just sit there as a huge Replicant knocks on their protective bubble.
But that has nothing on the gunfire battle held between Mei Mei and Vitaly. In the straight, narrow hallway leading up to Liza’s resting chamber, the cat-maid robot and the evil scientist shoot their guns at one another. Nearly thirty bullets are traded in total, but only Vitaly’s sonar device and her hair get hit whereas Mei Mei only gets shot in the leg. It’s a scene that practically defies logic.
Going back to that giant Replicant, it doesn’t even count as the final fight. Instead, the anime chooses to have the weapon-scanning girl become a mega-mutant monster that will (of course) blow up the whole place nuclear style if the cast don’t stop her. Naturally, Kisaragi Hayato is the man for the job – but only after two separate instances of psychological pick-me-up magic.
To give the anime has much leeway as possible, the concept of sound being both a hindrance and a help to the Slayers has a foundation both in Sakura’s character, the shown reaction Savages have to her voice, and the idea that music is something universal, an entity that knows no cultural or societal bounds.
Yet this theme is lost amid Vitaly’s quite convenient sonar device, the fact that the anime prioritizes its action, sex, and comedy over its heartfelt moments, and how songs and singing in general aren’t explored to any extent, existing simply as extra side content now and again.
Speaking of sex, Hundred manages to even fall flat here. And “fall” could not be a more appropriate way to phrase its ecchi material. For on not one. Not two. But on eight separate occasions, the anime employs the infamous fall-on-another-character-to-get-them-into-a-scandalous-ecchi-situation move. A list of them follows in the next paragraph.
Kisaragi Hayato falls on top of Claire during their initial duel. Kisaragi Hayato momentarily feels fatigue and thus falls on top of Emilia in their room (much to Claire’s chagrin). Then immediately after, Kisaragi Hayato falls onto Claire, both grabbing her chest and kissing her lips in the process. Emilia hugs Kisaragi Hayato as they bathe together, falling onto him as they plunge beneath the water. Liddy falls crotch-to-face on top of Kisaragi Hayato. Kisaragi Hayato tries to go for a volleyball at the beach, but he falls into Claire’s bikini-clad breasts instead. Claire, while naked, falls on top of Kisaragi Hayato shortly after finishing her lakeside bath. And Kisaragi Hayato, after being peer pressured, falls on top of Emilia while she wears a maid outfit.
Despite all of the anime’s problems in its action and content and sexual appeal, its biggest misstep is literally just that: missing steps.
Some explanation first. Karen is Kisaragi Hayato’s younger sister. She’s hospitalized due to an illness, forcing her to use a futuristic wheelchair to get around. Rather nicely, she receives her very own Hundred, giving her the strength enough to stand on her own two legs.
The catch? She doesn’t actually move. She stands up and looks around, sure. She even sings her own song. But does she get to walk around? No. All she gets is a few still-shots of her newfound self.
That’s right. Hundred doesn’t even have the common courtesy to let the poor, sick girl move her legs after finally getting them.
That’s just rude, man.
Hundred sees further trouble in its art and animation.
Artistically, the anime lacks creativity, especially for its many fight scenes. The characters do wield different weapons: Kisaragi Hayato’s sword, Liddy’s lance and shield, and so on. At the minimum, this variety helps to slightly break up the monotony the action regularly encounters.
But since the anime tends to use dull, “moving” background shots to give the illusion of movement, and since the anime does not seem to understand the word “choreography,” the fights are more or less visual duds.
The rest of the locations visited and detail in general are not all that appealing. Over-the-top attacks, lasers, and explosions at least keep the anime from feeling too static.
Their designs are a mixed offering.
Sakura’s long twin-tails, casual attire, and pink coloring give her a cute look. Emilia also pulls ahead: Her tomboyish clothes and silver hair help to give her a gender-neutral look when she so chooses.
On the opposite end sit Claire and Kisragi Hayato. Claire looks like a bug with wings after donning her Hundred. Plus, her ginormous cannon seems quite inconvenient given the fast-paced nature of the battles they take part in. Her massive, blonde twin drills on her head and her huge bust do coincide with her large, commanding presence, but, ultimately, they give her a silly look.
As for Kisaragi Hayato, he is as plain and as unassuming as can be. His all-black motif does make him cooler, but being cool does not fit his personality.
It’s very difficult to beat an all-time low of “don’t let the younger sister walk with her new legs.” And, to be fair,Hundred does not reach those levels with its characters – but it came pretty darn close.
Sakura is the best the show has to offer. She’s a world-class vocalist, using her singing to bring joy and wonder to the masses. However, her past is anything but. From an early age, she was experimented on (along with many other kids) by Vitaly in order to discover more about the Savage virus.
Her time with the other kids allowed her to realize that her voice had power beyond just technical proficiency, for it calmed them down, made them smile. Unfortunately, the others perished throughout the experimentation process. Sakura, however, lived, keeping the memories of those lost with her.
When she meets Kisaragi Hayato, she becomes infatuated with him to say the least. And when she hums her special song, and he recounts the time he heard it oh so long ago, it is revealed that it was his uplifting words that first inspired Sakura to pursue singing. Naturally, she falls in love with him all over again.
That’s the extent of her character. She has a small moment later on where a Savage reacts to her voice, so she believes that her singing only connects to others because of the virus that courses through her and her listeners. As she calls it, it’s not singing but “deception.” Kisaragi Hayato immediately placates her fears, ending this minor conflict before it even officially began.
Claire comes next. She’s initially perceived as an arrogant yet resolute leader. Expelling students without a second thought, challenging Kisaragi Hayato to a duel, and even declaring that she would refrain from going all-out (a statement she goes back on).
However, she does have a more innocent side. She’s surprisingly naïve when it comes to romance – kissing, touching, and the like. She can be playful when she wants Kisaragi Hayato to put on a speedo. And she can be kind in helping and believing others.
She even has a more realistic side, giving her arguably the best character moment in the whole show. During her moonlit, lakeside bath, she tells Kisaragi Hayato that she is only the leader of the Little Garden because she wishes to keep tabs on her brother Judar in order to protect her sister Liza. Which was all started by her mother Linis. In other words, she “selfishly” fights not for others, but for her sister and for herself
Granted, the anime does a very poor job at expounding on her relationships with her family (her mother never even appears in the show), and her characterization is even worse off than Sakura’s. But this small scene, at the very least, makes her feel like an actual person rather than just a beautiful woman to be admired.
Emilia is even worse off. While she poses as “Emile” for roughly the first three episodes, it is not difficult to guess that she is, well, actually a she. Her backstory involves a Savage attack which consequently led to her and Kisaragi Hayato’s Variant mutation. Also, since he saved her, Emilia has loved Kisaragi Hayato ever since.
She’s very supportive of Kisaragi Hayato as a result, but she does not have much else. Her ability to transmute her Hundred into different forms is cool, and it even holds some symbolism when realizing that she, too, “transmutes” from being a girl to a boy and back again on a regular basis.
Most of her on-screen time is spent being jealous of the other harem members getting close to Kisaragi Hayato, making her into more or less the comedic relief character.
The anime does drop a major character trait more than halfway through the season – that her true name is not Emilia Hermit (her first fake name being Emile Crossfode) but the royal princess Emilia Gudenburg. She kept it a secret from Kisaragi Hayato for ten years. Neither a friendly nor supportive move to be honest.
Regardless, Emilia does manage to (more or less) win the harem-romance war – which, in this anime filled to the brim with way too many clichés, is nice to see given Emilia’s official childhood-friend status.
There’s also the three “evil” kids, but Hundred’s meager backstory for the trio is a shoddy, failed attempt at making these weak characters stronger.
As for Kisaragi Hayato, he is as plain as plain can be. Bland is another way to describe him. Boring is yet another.
Kisaragi Hayato miraculously has the highest Hundred capability rating, yet he has never actually used a Hundred device before. He joined the Little Garden on the condition that his little sister receive the best medical treatment on the planet. If nothing else, he’s quite the awesome big brother.
After this detail, however, Kisaragi Hayato loses all credibility. He basically moves through the anime falling onto girls and saying nice words that make them fall for him in return. Even his major personal struggle – controlling his full-armament – is lame. At first, it’s controlled by Emilia needing to kiss him to counteract the effects. And then, just because he trained a bunch, his conflict goes away forever.
His main reason for fighting (besides for his little sister) is to put smiles on the faces of others. Commendable but it simply comes off as yet another plain characteristic for this already too bland, too boring person.
In other words, by episode three in this twelve-episode season, Kisaragi Hayato plateaus then plummets as a character.
Yet he’s not the worst in the cast. That honor goes to Vitaly, the “main antagonist.” She’s an intelligent woman capable of creating artificial Savages and other technology used to harm others. She also had a hand in Sakura’s suffering as well as Claire’s little sister Liza’s conception.
But Vitaly is not around for ten episodes, making only a brief appearance at the end of the ninth and officially making her entrance at the end of the tenth. Perhaps obviously, she has no backstory, no known motivation, and definitely no apparent characterization. She’s literally just a villain for the sake of being a villain.
She tries to explain the reasoning behind her attack as being revenge against Judar, a man that she may or may not have had a sincerer relationship with. It’s difficult to tell because, again, nothing was ever given about her. And it will be impossible to tell in the future because she dies, leaving that world with a goofy smile on her face.
Every single cast member has problems. Some more than others. But to be fair, almost all of them also have a theme connecting them: the notion of making people smile.
From Sakura to Claire, from Emilia to Kisaragi Hayato, everyone just wants everyone else to be happy. While this theme is rather superficial and therefore not able to be explored to any reasonable depth, it is at least nice to see some semblance of parallelism between the cast.
The opening track of Hundred shoots for a triumphant tone to match the overall sense of optimism and hope that fills the story and the characters. The piece itself is nothing special – some pacing changes and harmonizing exist – except for the longer English lyrics at both the beginning and end. It’s a passable piece; one of the only passable aspects of the entire anime.
Perhaps due to the singing motif, multiple ending tracks are provided throughout the season. They feature different members, such as Emilia and Sakura for the first ED and Fritz and Reitia for the third ED. Again, none of them are particularly special, but, at the minimum, they do try to switch tones and overall compositions. Plus, it is a nice bout of variety – something that Hundred severely lacks.
The remainder of the original soundtrack is similar once again due to its low impact and memorability. However, the voice acting performances demonstrate that the anime is not without positives, for what’s given is definitely welcomed. Mao Ichimichi as Claire uses a mature, sultry voice for the upstanding student council president. Romi Ookubo as Emilia brings both happiness and playfulness. And Chinatsu Akasaki as Claudia is wonderfully overzealous in her commitment to Emilia.
Despite how much I have been harping on this one, I found it quite fun.
The vast majority of that fun is attributed to the myriad of romantic moments spread throughout the season. Claire watching Kisaragi Hayato and Emilia on security cameras and getting noticeably mad that she is not the one out on the date. Emilia acting defensive and jealous towards Sakura when the former notices the latter being too close to the harem lead. And Sakura claiming to be Kisaragi Hayato’s “private idol.” Many of these small, cute, and romantic moments exist, making me quite the happy person.
Also, it was nice to see some (miniscule and unreciprocated) yuri feelings from Erica and Liddy towards Claire. And Claudia was entertaining, too. Her constant lauding of Emilia and looking down on Kisaragi Hayato made her one of the more likable characters of the anime. It’s just a shame that she was introduced so late into the season.
I can’t say I was a fan of much else, though. The battles and the enemies and the “drama” simply got in the way of those romantic or funny scenes. Still, with an unintentionally sarcastic “Thanks a lot” sign, this one saves itself from being a total disaster.
Hundred contains hundreds of problems. The story is awkward, the characters are poorly handled, and both the art and the music have their own respective troubles to contend with. In other words, this one definitely wasn’t ready.
Story: Terrible, poor narrative choices, repetitive to the max ecchi content, and accidentally rude
Animation: Bad, boring artistic direction, below average actual animation, and okay character designs
Characters: Bad, Sakura is okay, Claire is bad, and the rest are horribly constructed, with only a couple of strengths spread out among them all
Sound: Fine, okay OP, okay ED’s, bad OST, above average VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, romance and silliness make for an entertaining time despite the lacking execution
Final Score: 3/10
Jun 13, 2017
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
The needle struck me once. Twice. Thrice.
By the fourth time, I was ready to scream, to run out of the room because I couldn’t endure the pain any longer.
It was my first time being administered anesthesia, but the nurse had continually missed my vein. Now, to this day, whenever I go into the doctor’s office for a shot, I tend to close my eyes and look away because of the mini ordeal I went through.
I wouldn’t call it a phobia, but this experience from my past certainly affected me. Mayoiga scares me slightly, too, but
for unintended reasons.
Mayoiga starts off with a bus, a rainy night, and a crew bent on ditching their old lives. The goal? Make it to the fabled Nanaki Village, a place known for its mystery and seclusion. However, when the group gets there, not all is as it seems….
In the same way that Mayoiga goes the metaphorical route, the best way to understand the anime is through an extended metaphor.
This anime is a puzzle-piece set put together by a toddler: Everything is there but not in the right places, so the bigger picture is lost.
Let’s start with the bigger picture since it can be seen in full on the front of the box this puzzle comes in. The anime is about facing one’s past. More specifically, it is about facing the past and embracing it.
That’s a nice theme. Mostly because it’s one that the audience can relate to. Arguably everybody has gone through a tough time at one point or another. Yes, such events may not be as vile as bee torture or as cruel as an abusive debtor, but nearly everyone has a demon, a part of their past that they would rather just forget.
When the box is unwrapped and the cover lifted, what pieces lie inside? In other words, what elements go towards creating this bigger picture?
The most obvious (arguably the most important) are the Nanaki. According to Mayoiga, the Nanaki are the demons of Mitsumine’s, Hayato’s, and everyone else’s pasts. But it’s more than that. These Nanaki are physical manifestations of the psychological turmoil the cast have experienced before.
A lot of power exists in simply making them actual entities. For instance, “running away from one’s fears” is no longer a figurative phrase but a literal action the characters take. There’s also the personalized nature of the Nanaki. I.e., rather than having it be one, evil monster the group must defeat, they each have an individualized issue that must be confronted.
Moving on but still related, the effects of foregoing one’s Nanaki are another puzzle piece. The show first alludes to the notion with sleepy characters, later confirmed by the researcher, and finally witnessed as the cast find themselves severely fatigued. It stems from those that don’t face their Nanaki – they slowly vanish away into nothingness. Meaning, like life, one must conquer those demons lest he or she find himself or herself ruled by them.
The village itself is also a puzzle piece. Those who stayed behind hold the implication that this same set of events has happened before. That’s why it appeared that the village was used until just recently; the people back then vanished from not accepting their Nanaki. That is, this theme has repeated itself with multiple groups, across multiple generations.
More puzzle pieces: foreshadowing of death, a ringleader among them causing havoc, the misinformation surrounding the village, the pitch-black tunnel, and the hive-mind mentality leading to atypical violence.
The pieces are all there, out on the table, ready to form that bigger picture.
Then the toddler arrives.
The first misplaced piece is confronting the Nanaki. Yes, some of the characters, like Hayato and Masaki, do face their fears. But, as the ending depicts, the large majority of the characters simply leave the village without any trouble whatsoever. Despite how perilous their situation was throughout the entire season, despite how much importance the Nanaki gain, the anime throws this puzzle piece away.
Instead, that majority magically appear on the bus alongside the main cast with everyone singing the song they sung at the beginning – an off-putting tonal shift considering they just left many potential friends behind.
The fatigue puzzle piece also gets misplaced. The characters were already pretty useless, so this direction made them even more so. Furthermore, it was not a plot point until much later in the anime. While the explanation makes sense, it comes off as convenient rather than established.
Nanaki Village’s puzzle piece is mishandled, too. Despite all of the warnings about staying behind and ignoring one’s Nanaki, it doesn’t seem to matter. Those who choose to stay say they will figure out more about the Nanaki, but all evidence points to that just not being possible. Again, the idea was not to live alongside or battle with one’s Nanaki. The idea was to embrace them.
For some reason, the anime chooses to ignore its death foreshadowing – Lion’s ability to predict the fate of others and literally bringing back a character presumed perished being chief examples.
Everybody just forgives Koharun for not only manipulating them but also nearly getting many of them killed. The same can be said of Jack and Hyouketsu no Judgness but to a lesser extent.
Nobody apparently checked books, newspaper articles, or even just the Internet that would contain the research conducted by the researcher. Plus, he is a living testament of what happens in that village. DNA records, a social security number, or any other piece of identification make it hard to believe that absolutely nobody would listen to what he had to say.
The emphasis placed on the tunnel and what lies beyond does not matter since very many of the crew never actually go through it, and one’s Nanaki can seemingly be confronted anywhere. Worse still, going through the tunnel doesn’t immediately help, and the ominous feelings surrounding the tunnel are moot when the other side is simply more village.
Stone-tipped arrows, getting slammed into a wall, and outrunning behemoths matter not to these people who seem to have skeletons made of steel.
The toddler plays with all of these puzzles pieces. And when he is done playing, the pieces are strewn about every which way. Some are mashed into spots they don’t belong. Some are connected to the wrong connectors. Some even fell off the table in the process.
So when the audience comes in, they do not see a bigger picture about embracing one’s past.
What they do see is one giant mess.
Most of Mayoiga’s art is not too impressive. The village itself lacks detail, the cast find themselves in a dense forest half the time, and the visuals rarely take advantage of nuance or cinematography.
Some of the CG work is no better. Namely, the silicone-implant hermit crab and the giant, fused-fish grandma were more silly looking than scary looking, defeating the purpose of those Nanaki.
Still, the anime did well in creating a horror-esque atmosphere. For example, the constant nighttime setting, the moonlit sky, and the blanketing fog turn Nanaki Village into an unsettling domain. Furthermore, some of the Nanaki can be pretty scary. The massive, malformed bee and the undead grandmother (before becoming a fish monster) receive threatening or spooky designs that let the audience feel the fear that the characters do.
Speaking of designs, those of the characters are at least passable. They are different from one another without treading into overly eccentric territory. Nettaiya’s sexy dress fits her promiscuous personality, Dozaemon is pudgier due to his eating habits, Yura’s thin glasses give him a sense of intelligence, Narna’s beanie makes her out to be more of a tomboy, and Lion’s yellow hoodie fits both her name and her relative estrangement.
Nothing outstanding, but they are at least realistic and varied.
As for Mayoiga’s actual animation, it can go either way. The characters run around a lot, and they have various reactions of shock, terror, happiness, and sadness that shake up the festivities. But they also sit around a lot, too, merely talking to one another without moving or doing too much.
Mayoiga is an anime with an absurdly large cast. Enough people to fill a big bus. Thus, the anime encounters an inherent dilemma: not enough time to properly flesh them all out.
Ignoring the main cast for now, and to the anime’s credit, it does investigate some of its characters. Most notably, Love-pon, Nyanta, Jigoku no Gouka, and Yura each receive backstories that help to center where their central fears originate.
For Love-pon, it was an abusive “monk” who took advantage of her mother. For Nyanta, it was bullying at the hands of both girls and bees. For Jigoku, it was trying his hardest, taking a risk, and still coming up short. For Yura, it was extreme humiliation after a failed promise.
Other side characters also get backstory. Not as much as these four, but it’s still important to point out. Lion’s prediction powers used by her mother for scamming, Yottsun’s classical-instrument-playing parents, Valkana’s workplace problems, and Untensha’s deceased daughter give them, however slightly, more to their respective characters.
And to be as absolutely fair as possible, some side characters have their pasts alluded to without outright delving into them. Nettaiya’s stalker, Pii-tan and Manbe’s disallowed relationship, and Maimai’s boyfriend issue and loss of friends are minimal in detail but details all the same.
Taken together, one big question needs answering: Did Mayoiga do “enough” with its supporting cast?
It’s difficult to say.
On the one hand, the show makes the right call in expounding only on a handful of its side characters and their Nanaki because, realistically, it should be obvious what is going on after witnessing it four or so different times.
On the other hand, the Nanaki are the entire point of the show, so not providing their backstory and not revealing their Nanaki ultimately weakens their collective foundation.
But they also don’t “deserve” the most time; the main cast (Mitsumune, Masaki, and Hayato) do. In other words, the anime simply does not have enough attention to give to roughly thirty separate side characters.
Even so, since the supporting cast impact the anime to such a minimal degree, and since very many of the characters receive next to no attention whatsoever, it’s difficult to argue that Mayoiga did, in fact, do “enough” with them.
Luckily for the anime, its main cast fair better. Not a whole lot better, but they’re an improvement all the same.
Mitsumune is the main protagonist. He’s a naïve teen, but he’s a nice guy who is willing to help out those who need it. His best friend is Hayato, his newfound crush is Masaki, and he believes that his time in Nanaki Village will be worthwhile.
His nice-guy persona, however, gets him into trouble when he gets pinned for killing Yottsun, releasing Jack from prison, and being friendly towards Masaki, the most suspicious person in the whole group. The culmination leads to him getting kidnapped and subsequently saved by his crush.
At this point, the anime finally reveals his demon. Growing up, he had a brother named Tokimune. Where Mitsumune behaved like a good kid, Tokimune did not. As a result, Tokimune always received their mother’s love.
One day, however, Tokimune accidentally dies in a freak accident, causing the mother to break and believe that Mitsumune is actually Tokimune. In order to help his mother and please his father, Mitsumune chooses to “become” his brother, forgoing his own identity in the process.
His whole life, Mitsumune has been “somebody else.” For this reason, he goes to Nanaki Village to simply be himself.
While his background is given all at once, it’s an interesting development since it falls in line with Masaki complimenting his name early on and his general good-guy behavior (because that’s simply who he is).
Shortly after, Hayato pulls a Mitsumune by unveiling his entire past in a minutes-long speech to Mitsumune. Again, this gross exposition comes off as rather lame, but, given how Hayato’s control of Mitsumune mirrored Hayato’s parents’ control of him, it makes sense why he had acted in such a manner.
Their argument allows Mitsumune to confront his Nanaki, speak with his father, and learn about what he has left to do. Namely, save Masaki.
For while everyone believed her to be the culprit, she likewise had problems all her own. Her wanting to go on the trip was to find Reiji, a boy who had essentially looked after her as she grew up.
It gets revealed (through yet more exposition) that Reiji is not real. That he is, in fact, Masaki’s Nanaki. Thus, for her, she is not supposed to embrace her Nanaki but let it go.
Which is odd. Nanaki, up until now, had been these monstrous, evil incarnations that needed to be confronted. But Masaki’s is an imaginary friend who not only helped her out her whole life but also needs to be given up. It’s practically a contradiction of the show’s established rules.
Regardless, this direction once again aids Mitsumune. Having confronted his own Nanaki, he was forced to leave the village. Yet he wanted to go back in to help out both Hayato and, most importantly, Masaki. So he does just that – albeit without a bus license and with a bit of convenience.
Mitsumune’s actions save Hayato from death, and his kindness towards Masaki allows her to realize that, finally, she does not need Reiji any longer. The show ends with all three leaving the village as stronger people. Both on an individual basis and in the relationships they share with Mitsumune.
Altogether, the characters hearken back to that puzzle metaphor. Mayoiga has the pieces there: explanation of Nanaki through its side cast, potential in Mitsumune’s character arc, and the relationships he shares with the two people he cares about most. The problem, however, is that they don’t have the execution necessary to appear worthwhile. The biggest issues being not enough is given about the supporting characters and the delivery of the main cast’s backgrounds.
The opening track has a nice vocalist and a catchy part in the “daijoubu” lyric. The piano, guitar, and drums create a strangely optimistic tone, considering the mood of the anime. Like most of the art, it’s not a memorable piece, but it’s still a cool addition to the show.
The ending track slows it all down. The acoustic guitar and steady drums keep the ED following a methodical pace that carries the audience out of each episode. The singer likewise aids in this endeavor while also adding just a twinge of a bittersweet feeling. One that can only be felt (appropriately enough) at the end of the anime itself. Overall, it’s stronger than the OP but still not all that memorable.
As for the rest of the sound-work, it is very much par for the course. Voice acting sees no notable performances, but the original soundtrack performs better with its surprising amount of compositional variety. Its atmospheric in “Keshi Tai” with its low ambient effects and higher piano notes, happy in “Sukkiri” for those (rare) happier moments, and creepy in “Narihibiku Warabe Uta” with its lullaby music box. They may not be very strong tracks, but the OST is at least fitting for the anime’s horror motif.
Is it morbid of me that I wanted to see some death and chaos? Probably somewhat.
But I won’t lie; that’s what I wanted. Or at least what I was led to believe was going to happen. Shows like that, where people in the cast are systematically picked off one by one, can be quite entertaining. Are my “favorites” going to make it? In what way will he meet his demise? Did she just trip a flag of some kind?
Part of that belief came from the show’s huge cast. It seemed more than likely that the show was gearing itself up to downsize it, but, alas, that never came to pass.
So, unfortunately, I didn’t get to really answer those questions.
Putting aside this misplaced expectation of mine, I can’t say I liked any other part of the anime. The cast were more than forgettable – including the mains. The overall plot was not engaging and not dramatic. The inklings of romance were nice but not fully incorporated.
However, one small bit of happiness creeped into the show: Mitsumune’s second Nanaki. The little fur-ball, with its big eyes, pink ribbon, and silly sounds, made the creature a cute addition that I didn’t anticipate. Suffice it to say, if my own Nanaki ever showed up, I hope it would be even half as adorable as this one.
Mayoiga, despite the events it depicts, never makes it to where it truly wishes to go. The story is a mess, the art is lacking, and the characters needed more focus than what they were given. The elements are there, and the music is even passable. But it is still not enough to save it from itself. It’s at least better than being jabbed with a needle – but that’s not saying a whole lot.
Story: Bad, a puzzle-piece set arranged by a toddler
Animation: Bad, okay artistic direction, shoddy CG, okay character designs, and slightly below average actual animation
Characters: Bad, while the vast majority of the side characters have no impact, and Mitsumune, Masaki, and Hayato’s characters are not handled carefully, traces of competence can be found
Sound: Fine, okay OP, okay ED, okay OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, severely uninteresting yet saved by a cute Nanaki
Final Score: 3/10
Jun 11, 2017
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
The Arctic Circle. Pine-tree forests. Amidst bamboo shoots. On snack boxes at the grocery store. Within my favorite video game of all time (and who my name is based on).
Bears are everywhere. Okay, maybe not everywhere, but they are in enough places that the majority of people know a bear when they see one. However, nobody has ever met a talking bear. At least, I haven’t.
Thankfully, that’s what Kuma Miko treats us with. Not-so-thankfully, the anime mistreats its audience, its own characters, and even itself.
Kuma Miko stars Machi and Natsu. Machi is a cute girl
who also happens to be her small village’s “miko.” Natsu is Machi’s closest friend and talking “kuma” (i.e., bear). Hence the title, Kuma Miko. One day, Machi decides that she wants to go to high school in the city, wishing for a life away from the country. And thus the anime begins.
Many of the events therein involve Machi learning about the various technologies or lifestyles that she so often admires. One episode has her trying (and failing) to use a rice cooker instead of a brick oven. Another episode has her visiting a “fancy” clothes shop, trading in her normal miko garb for a pretty dress. Another episode still has her enthralled by the amazing device known as the “cell phone.”
To the anime’s credit, this contrasting country bumpkin and cityscape motif runs through all parts of the show, demonstrating at least focus on the premise and consistency in its dealings.
Unfortunately, Kuma Miko encounters a staircase littered with problems.
The first step is the forceful events themselves. Rather strangely, the people of the village (often Yoshio) usually make Machi go through whatever trouble or instance they need taken care of. From being an idol to taking part in a commercial, Machi almost always reluctantly agrees to help out.
It comes off as weird for two reasons. One, she’s just a kid. Placing so much burden and expectation on her when nobody else seems to receive the same treatment is odd. Two, nobody questions it. Hardly anybody asks her how she really feels, with some characters goading her into taking part. Natsu, surprisingly, is the guiltiest of this behavior.
Such forcing leads up to the next step: the anime’s prominent social-anxiety angle. To be fair, the angle works given Machi’s location, childhood, and naïveté. In other words, her being unable to handle these situations makes perfect sense. And, to be even more fair, her crippling fear can be comedic. Her trying her hardest to sell samples at the supermarket as though she were a martyr or abandoned street urchin is perhaps the anime’s most clever moment.
Yet her personal conflict does not lead to further inspection on the topic. She usually runs away, nearly passes out, or simply cannot function in the moment, ending further discussion on the idea. Again, the problem is not that she reacts in this manner but that the anime very rarely doesn’t do anything else with it. No exploration of this theme or a different take on it exists, causing similar events to unfold across the season.
At the highest step sits the bizarre penchant for sexual content. In almost every episode, Machi finds herself in a promiscuous situation. Her in a bathing suit. Sometimes she is either being straddled by or having her clothes ripped off by Yoshio. The different villagers ogling her as she shows off various outfits of various lewdness.
It’s not just including it, though. This anime is, more or less, about a young teenage girl. Indeed, the anime constantly reinforces this notion when it talks about her wearing a child badge at the mall or when most of the flashbacks show her has a toddler or kid.
Kuma Miko even seems to actively encourage the behavior. A little girl shouting “Don’t touch me!” or an older woman yelling out “Sexual harassment!” can be funny, but, when the show is pushing its sexualized content in-between, the irony becomes eyebrow-raising.
Worse still, it doesn’t have a place in the show. Maybe an argument could have existed given the city motif. I.e., city life is more “sexualized” when compared to country life. But the show never takes that angle, and the characters closest to it – Natsu, Hibiki, and Yoshio – are never sexualized in any regard. (The show even makes Natsu’s neutering a joke and Hibiki’s crassness her focal point; Yoshio is just a dense, dumb dude.)
Altogether, Kuma Miko becomes, like the down escalator Machi tried to run up, a never-ending set of recycled steps. It’s consistent, but forcing her into a (sexual or otherwise) predicament, inducing her social anxiety, and leaving the idea largely unexplored causes the narrative to never get anywhere.
While Kuma Miko’s story contains many problems, the actual animation and the art are much better off.
Animation-wise, the show can show a surprising amount of movement. Machi chopping wood to use for cooking. Natsu sprinting down an expressway. Hibiki riding around on her motorcycle. Even subtler moments exist: Machi’s eyes glistening with tears as she cutely holds onto Natsu’s paw, Natsu doing his best to use a tiny key with his pointy claws, and so on.
The location sticks mostly to Machi and Natsu’s home, meaning location variety gives way to the same shrine room and outer forest. A popular mall, a local restaurant, and even parts of the city are visited, but the backgrounds still do not come off as interesting.
Instead, Kuma Miko focuses more on its softer presentation and Machi’s reactions. Some of the backgrounds, especially that forest, are light in their coloring and water color in their depiction. And Machi, while leaning on her deadpan face more often than not, reacts to the situations in different ways: scared, confused, shocked, and so on. Such faces lead to more detail and therefore more comedy.
The show also does well in depicting social anxiety. Blanketing the background in dark, menacing colors while spooky masks fly about Machi give the audience a sense of the fear she so regularly feels. The contrasting, softer visuals help to highlight her anxiety that much more.
As for the character designs, they are more hit than miss.
Machi’s design, Natsu’s design, and Hibiki’s design hit. Machi changes outfits throughout the season, but it’s her miko garb – with headband, robe, and intricate patterns – that both goes along with that “foreign to technology” motif and her cuteness. Natsu does not wear clothes, but his orange fur and simple face make him a warm, fuzzy friend one just wants to hug. And Hibiki’s messy blond hair, eviler eyes, and biker jacket fit her tomboy persona well.
Yoshio is the only miss. His short hair, red tie, and blue-jeans-with-belt do give him an air of professionalism, but his goofball face makes it hard to take him at all seriously. (Granted, this description may have been the point.)
(And a shout-out to the ED visuals for looking like they could exist in the Paper Mario video-game series. They definitely added to the overall sense of fun that the piece conveys.)
The biggest misstep in Kuma Miko (as most may already guess) is in its character department. More specifically, the show’s handling of Machi’s character is perplexing to say the least (and more will be said later on…)
For much of the anime, Machi is the focus. And rightly so. She’s the miko of the village let alone the main protagonist of this slice-of-life experience. Her time in the boonies, while filled with frolicking fun and days of relaxation, has left her wanting. Wanting a life filled not with boring hills but with expansive malls.
Consequently, Machi’s goal becomes transitioning into that lifestyle. From answering questions about train stations to learning about Italian cooking, she slowly but surely gains the knowledge “required” for her to become the city girl she has always dreamed of being.
“Slowly” cannot be emphasized enough. It almost never seems as if she gains anything from the different situations. But it is there. She almost always pushes back initially, believing that she cannot perform the action asked of her. But, sooner or later, she tries her hand at yet the next event.
It’s at this point that her social anxiety becomes apparent. When she is not around Natsu or people she is familiar with, she finds herself surrounded by a mass of shadow and scariness. People hurling both words and rocks in her direction. All in her head, of course, but it still traumatizes her nonetheless.
Despite feeling terrified in these situations, she slowly gains ground. As the conclusion starts to draw near, she speaks loudly in a supermarket, she sings on stage, and she trains hard for the upcoming idol competition. It’s not a ton of growth, but, for a girl whose only friend was a talking bear because she could not speak with humans, she had clearly come a long way.
Then the ending happens.
After Machi musters up the last of her courage to go on stage, she successfully dances, pleasing the crowd with her tranquil and sincere miko dance. Yet her social anxiety, once again, forces her to flee in fear.
The show doesn’t stop there, though. For when she gets back home, she declares that she no longer wants to pursue her dream of going to high school in the city.
The show doesn’t even stop there. Because the final exchange between her and Natsu suggests that she is even worse off than she had been before the season started.
In other words, not only does the anime kill any development that she had earned, but also the anime regresses her person – and then some – to an inexcusable point. Arguably speaking, it is one of the biggest instances of backpedaling a character has ever been given. If not ever, at least in recent memory.
It’s all made worse by the people that surround Machi. Yoshio is supposed to be her cousin, and he’s described as really dense. Just calling him “dense,” however, is too nice. He’s a weirdo.
He constantly tries to manipulate the poor girl, showing up and essentially blackmailing her with different items so she is somewhat forced to help him save the village. His uncomfortably personal actions towards Machi are completely unnecessary.
His final words on it being okay that she acts as a sacrifice for the village demonstrate how weird this weirdo is.
Surprisingly, Natsu is not much better. He has been with Machi ever since he was a cub, and, based on the relationship they share, he is more or less her father. But he has never actually had to do much in the way of protecting or fatherhood.
In fact, as the anime goes on, he joins in on getting Machi into her various ordeals. Yes, he’s doing it with the best of intentions, to get her to grow and learn, but he, more than anybody else, is supposed to understand her. Because, in a way, he is her spirit animal.
But he never appears to connect with the girl who he has literally grown up with. He would rather see her dressed up in a skimpy “bear” outfit or have the bridge she’s travelling over collapse if it meant that Machi could stay by his side that much longer.
Even Hibiki is guilty of not supporting Machi. At least, in the beginning. She’s introduced as a punk who slams Machi’s head into a wooden post and knees her in the back. Her physical abuse is not relegated to Machi alone, but, when Hibiki is one of the only other female characters in the show, one would think that she would at least have a nicer relationship with the middle schooler to some degree.
At the minimum, she is the only person who tries to defend Machi, wanting to let her decide if turmoil is worth it. Meaning, in some sense, Hibiki develops from a rude, brutish person into a somewhat-thoughtful woman.
Even so, when she’s shown admiring the resident weirdo rather than worrying about Machi’s current state, it’s difficult to say (as it is with the others) that her head is in the right place.
While the opening track for Kuma Miko can sometimes sound all over the place, the not-really-singing-but-talking parts come off as innocent and playful, fitting the anime well enough. The vocalist may not have the range required, but the happy tone and dainty feel of the OP make it at least a passable offering from the show.
The ending track, in comparison, is just so much fun. The clapping, drums, and singing by both Machi and Natsu, as well as the lyrics about Wi-Fi and convenience stores, give it personality. The later “kuma” and “miko” chanting followed by the catchy final stretch, while not technically true (Machi does not really experience “happy days”…), end the ED on a lighthearted note.
The original soundtrack contains a lot of variance. Whistling tunes, cultural tracks, and violin pieces help to make the show feel not only “foreign” in its material (going along with the “foreign” feel of the city life) but also grounded in the slice-of-life escapades Machi goes through. Nothing stellar but fine tracks nonetheless.
Although the best “track” is the old man’s “singing.” His onomatopoeia during the transition between the A and B parts of the episodes, as well as his “Kuma Miko” line when the episodes ended, were silly to include yet fun to “sing” along with.
As for the voice-acting performances, nobody except for Natsumi Hioka as Machi deserves a shout-out. In her first-ever main role in an anime, she delivers cuteness, fright, and happiness (depending on the situation) throughout the whole season.
Back when this one was airing, I had seen the threads about the backlash to the ending. About something so crazy happening that it caused the actual author of the material to publicly apologize and even delete some of his or her own social media.
I didn’t know what went down because I wanted to find out for myself before diving into those threads. Meaning, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t anticipating something drastic.
To be honest, I was preparing myself for something horrible, something dark and twisted. Because I couldn’t fathom what possibly could cause such a collective, community uproar.
So when I finished the episode, I went into those threads to understand where people were coming from. Many were extremely upset. Many were fair in their judgement by including the overall package. Many were simply there out of curiosity.
After finishing the show and reading many thoughts, I have reached my own.
I don’t view the ending as shocking. In fact, I watched the final episode from a different source to make sure that they didn’t switch it out for something else (because that was a rumor I had read would be happening for the Blu-Ray release).
Yes, part of that comes from expecting the anime to do something drastic. But it also comes from the desensitizing. She had always been a kid, and she always had social anxiety, so her becoming more of a kid and avoiding her worries altogether almost made sense. Almost.
There’s a perfect word to describe this one’s ending, a word that (from what I have read) people would agree with:mean. It’s mean of them to treat the conclusion to Machi’s character with utter disrespect. It’s mean of them to regress (and then some) the gradual growth she had built. It’s mean of them to go against the spirit of the show: The idea that being confined by certain limitations, be they physical or mental, does not indicate one cannot overcome said limitations.
I’m not even talking about the season leading up to the end. Those moments at least made Machi, however slightly, stronger as a person. I am talking purely about the ending. The ending is not abhorrent. Not vomit-inducing. It’s not even disappointing.
And that is a shame because the show could be entertaining when it wanted. Machi was a cute character and a funny one, too, with her deadpan responses and overjoyed smiles (when they were there). Hibiki elbowing Yoshio in the stomach with enough force to maim his internals had me laughing. And Natsu was cute as a baby bear.
The off-putting sexual content and the lack of an emotional connection don’t help. But, even putting those aside, it can be difficult to like someone or something that is just plain mean.
Kuma Miko sadly digs its own grave. The unbecoming narrative, the unsupportive side cast, and the unfair meanness of the ending leave one wondering what could have been. And no amount of talking bears can change its demise.
Story: Terrible, while the contrasting country and city motif gives rise to some comedy and consistency, the forceful nature of the events, the unexplored social anxiety, and the bizarre penchant for sexual material make for a less-than-tasteful narrative
Animation: Fine, okay artistic direction, nice actual animation, and okay character designs
Characters: Terrible, Machi’s “development” is uncalled for, with the supposed supporting characters failing to support her
Sound: Fine, okay OP, good ED, okay OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, while the anime could be funny and cute at times, the meanness of the ending is very hard to overlook
Final Score: 2/10
Jun 11, 2017
13 of 13 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
I’m lucky enough to still have one of my Grandfathers alive and well.
He has been the best Grandpa I could have hoped for. Showing up to my birthdays, graduations, and sports games. Treating me with both love and respect. Handing me a casual fifty-dollar bill whenever he gets the chance.
Yet his best gifts are his memories, the stories he tells when my brother and I sit close by and ask about another part of his life. Stories about his time as a milk man, ice man, and salesman. Stories about his tattoos and the gangs
he associated with. Stories about my own troublemaking father.
I hope to have stories like my Grandpa’s when I grow old; I hope I’m making them now. Until then, the storied Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu proves that, like my Grandpa, the best stories come from the heart.
Rakugo begins by following Yotaro, a convict just released from prison. With no money or family, he makes it his mission to become the apprentice of Yakumo, the greatest rakugo artist of Yotaro’s generation. Luckily, he does, and, following a rather rude mishap, Yakumo chooses to tell both his “daughter” Konatsu and Yotaro his life’s story.
This opening blurb glosses over much of the first episode. That’s not because it’s terrible but because the anime already has in mind where it wants to focus. Indeed, the first episode performs three duties: introduces the audience to rakugo, gives us the current state of Bon’s (Yakumo’s real name) character, and sets the stage for the true story that needs telling.
And what a story is told.
The majority of Rakugo (approximately eleven-and-half episodes) is comprised of Bon’s personal recounting of the life he led and the brother he lost. He goes into so much: where he came from, his first love, living with Shin, his turning-point play, and so on and so forth.
Throughout all of Bon’s experiences, the anime explores a handful of levels.
One level is historical. The audience learns about what rakugo is, how it works, and what it went through during the war and the evolution of entertainment.
One level is romantic. What love does to people, as well as what people will give up to pursue their passions. Shin trying to save Miyokichi, Bon letting Miyokichi go despite loving her so he could reach higher rakugo heights, and Miyokchi basically cursing Bon for his mistreatment of her attest to this romantic notion handily enough.
One level is dramatic. The deaths of certain characters, Bon’s personal struggles, and the smaller moments – like Bon denying someone an apprenticeship or Shin’s expulsion – create drama that avoids being overbearing while simultaneously being interesting to watch.
However, Rakugo is not an intense or thrilling or deep anime. It never tries or claims to be so. But what it does become, through intertwining those three separate levels, is a personal tale told from the heart.
That makes sense because, after all, this story is Bon’s. But it is more than that, especially when considering the rakugo premise. Despite the countless stories he has told, he has never told this one. And, even smarter, it is not just a story about him but from him. In every other performance, Bon must become somebody else. But for this tale, histale, he simply has to be himself.
Writing of this cleverness can be seen throughout much of the anime. Take the rakugo performances themselves. They more or less reflect the state of the narrative at that time. A story about greed and a story about turning over a new leaf have direct ties to the characters and the events that they experience, adding to the show’s writing prowess.
Appropriate enough, Rakugo’s intricate execution can only be understood right before the end while reflecting on the beginning. Where Bon’s story starts with him meeting Shin and slapping the boy’s hand away, it finishes with him desperately clinging on and reaching for the hand of the man that has given him so much. A full-circle narrative whose connecting points (relevantly) speak volumes about the entire tale.
Smaller details also fill the narrative. The parallels in the Yakumo and Sukeroku names. Shin giving Bon his precious rakugo fan. Bon, without his cane, running at Shin to bring him into an embrace.
Throughout all of Rakugo, it focuses on a specific idea: finding a form of rakugo. Initially, that doesn’t seem very relatable – rakugo is quite a niche role. But interpreting this notion in the context of the story, it is not just about rakugo. It’s about finding one’s self.
Obviously, one of Bon’s primary conflicts is this issue. Yet it also extends to both Shin and Miyokichi. Shin has already found himself; it’s what makes his rakugo so strong. And Miyokichi combines them both: She has found herself by not being herself for others.
Ultimately, this theme drives the narrative because it is what drives Bon forward. And through his myriad of ups and downs, highs and lows, the audience as well starts to wonder if they have found themselves, too.
Given this intense character focus, the show does not have a tangible plot. In fact, the audience already knows the ending: Shin dies. The narrative is nothing more than Bon’s story. What he felt, what he did, and what he learned. And that’s the beauty of it all: It is the journey, not the destination, that matters.
Even its potential negatives are covered. An argument against the show is that one does not really get to see much of Shin and Miyokichi’s relationship. But Shin calling out Miyokichi’s real name (Yurie), when Bon was never told, indicate handily enough the connection the two oddballs shared.
Another potential negative is Yotaro’s mob boss appearing literally right after Yotaro mentions him. But this instance has meaning since it follows that ever-present theme of finding one’s self.
The background reveal on Bon’s master Yakumo could also be seen as a negative, but it’s made up for by the harshly truthful nature of the conversation.
The strongest argument against Rakugo happens in the final episode. Or rather, it doesn’t happen. In an interesting move, the immediate aftermath of Bon’s season-long story is not shown. Instead, it jumps forward in time many years.
It seems like a mistake. The anime started off by setting up some intriguing relationships – between Bon and Konatsu, Bon and Yotaro, and Yotaro and Konatsu. Yet the audience doesn’t get to see them unfold, transpire, or change. Again, not even once Bon completes his personal story. It feels like something should have been given.
It’s fine, though, for one reason only: A second season exists (soon). To be fair to Rakugo, this story is Bon’s, not Yotaro’s or Konatsu’s. So while it is not a major problem now, it certainly will be if, later on, the anime chooses to ignore the relationships between the master, the daughter, and the apprentice.
Regardless, Rakugo’s narrative power does not falter no matter what gets thrown its way.
Rakugo’s art and animation are likewise very strong in their execution.
Especially on an artistic level. Despite the frequent visits to the theater and its stage, the anime features many different locations and therefore backgrounds. A street on the eve of its first snowfall. A quaint town surrounded by blue sky, green grass, and yellow trails. A row of lighted festival stalls, leading to a darkened lake. The show constantly switches up its backgrounds, allowing it to thrive on variety.
But Rakugo’s art truly shines in the symbolic techniques it regularly uses. For instance, some of the rakugo performances inject visual depictions of the stories being told, representing just how masterful that particular performer is at the piece.
One of the best examples, however, is Bon’s shinigami rendition. The people being replaced by candles and the reduction in screen-size to include more black space around it, demonstrate the show’s (ironic yet welcome) show-don’t-tell approach.
(The visuals of the opening and ending tracks also deserve a shout-out. The former’s drowning of Miyokichi, and the latter’s colorful shapes, further indicate Rakugo’s penchant for deft symbolism. In this case, a feeling of suffocation and structure, respectively.)
(Also, the ED visuals switching out the main cast for the “new” cast for next season was a nice touch in the final episode.)
Even the animation manages to keep up. Rakugo requires a surprising amount of movement which the characters thankfully adopt. Their different facial expressions and body orientations make the performances come alive as they inject their own brand of rakugo.
Off the stage, animation remains within acceptable ranges, especially considering the art itself and the performances. Bon walking with his cane, Shin jumping into Bon’s arms, and Miyokichi looking down on Bon as petals swirl about her keep the animation and “action” on screen from feeling too static.
The character designs are strong, too. Bon’s sleek physique and handsome face. Shin’s wild hair and loose-fitting robes. Miyokichi’s floral yukata, different hair designs, and attractive assets. They are all not just adults but fitting-looking characters for the time, tone, and type of anime Rakugo happens to be.
Rakugo continues its dominance in the character department.
Perhaps obviously, Bon steals the stage. He’s not just a great character (which he better be, given that the anime is almost exclusively centered on him); he’s a phenomenal character.
His journey spans multiple parts of his life while characterizing, exploring, and developing his character at nearly every junction. He starts off as a cold, crippled boy, not wanting to take part in this weird storytelling art known as rakugo. As he connects with Shin, he also becomes slightly envious of him. All the while, he fails at rakugo, believing himself unable to improve.
He’s abandoned by Yakumo as he and Shin go off to war. During this time, Bon begins the rakugo climb. He falls in love for the first time, he practices daily, and he discovers that he doesn’t just want a simple, thankless life.
When Shin returns, Bon finally finds comfort on stage while crossdressing in a play. Taking up sensual, erotic stories, audiences start to not only listen but get enticed by his rakugo. He discovers that he performs rakugo for himself and nobody else. But his pursuit of even higher heights leaves him unable to see what he truly does rakugo for and leaves his relationship with Miyokichi waning.
After losing his brother and his lover, as well as his master and attendant, he is now alone, abandoned once again. At first, he thinks that this loneliness is exactly what he wanted: more time for himself and thus more time for his rakugo. Indeed, he becomes the poster boy of the art. Yet he cannot forget about the best friend he lost.
So when he finds Shin holed away with his new daughter and Miyokichi nowhere in sight, he chooses to get Shin, the best rakugo performer in the world, to take up the Yakumo family name instead.
His time away from the theater and the city and the bustle lets him understand that what he wants isn’t loneliness – he simply wants Shin. Unfortunately, the conflicting nature of the romance they all share together kills Shin and Miyokichi in a freak accident, leaving Bon alone to fulfill his and Shin’s promise.
Bon had blamed himself for Shin and Miyokichi’s fall into ruin. Their deaths only exacerbated this thought. However, it becomes ultimately evident in his response to Konatsu’s words about someday killing the man who “killed” her parents: “Kill me, then. I’d feel much better.”
That’s the conclusion to Bon’s person (for now). And this investigation does not even cover half of what he went through. Regardless, the execution in his arc, the events he experiences, and the development he goes through make him without a doubt one of the strongest characters in the medium.
A lot of this strength is owed to three different aspects: Shin, Miyokichi, and his theme on loneliness.
Shin was a nice guy. Arrogant (and perhaps deservedly so) but kind. For he had the best of intentions: He wanted to save rakugo, and he wanted to do it all for the people.
The juxtaposition between him and Bon is astounding. Bon is classy, elegant, and straight-laced whereas Shin is loud, energetic, and carefree. Shin’s personal ideals also juxtapose with Bon’s. Unlike Shin, Bon wasn’t sure how to approach rakugo, and he did it all for himself.
But they are also very similar. Both are apprenticed to Yakumo. Both fall in love with Miyokichi. Both are fantastic rakugo performers.
The best example, though, combines both their contrasts and similarities. The promise they make – for Bon to create an unchanging rakugo and for Shin to create an ever-changing rakugo – highlights not only the contrasting personalities and nature of the two men but also the staunch relationship they share as brothers.
Miyokichi brings a different caliber of character. She’s attracted to cold men and not nice guys (as she puts its). In other words, she loves Bon and not Shin. For her, she just wants to be a “good woman” for her man by supporting him. Which is exactly what she tries to do. She teaches Bon about women, dotes on him regularly, and supports him in his endeavors.
Yet she gets dumped hardcore by Bon, leading her to lust after Shin – to the point that they conceive a child together. But, again, her heart is for Bon only. If her sleeping with other men while married to Shin is not enough proof of her fleeting feelings, her only listening to Bon’s rakugo performance and not Shin’s, as well as not caring for her own daughter because it’s also Shin’s, indicates this well enough.
She’s an emotionally complex character to say the least.
Miyokichi’s involvement, however, does not deter the relationship that Bon and Shin share. Indeed, Bon would always listen to Shin eventually whereas Bon would almost never give in to Miyokichi’s demands. And when Miyokichi says she will get revenge on Bon, and somewhat does by “killing” Shin indirectly, she’s not the one that haunts Bon. Shin is.
The contrasts, the relationships, and the layered parallels not only bolster Bon but also Rakugo as a whole.
And connected through them all is that theme on loneliness that propels Bon, Shin, and Miyukichi’s characters even further ahead.
Bon’s loneliness is evident in the abandonment he constantly experiences. But Shin deals with loneliness, too. He believes the best rakugo is rakugo that suits what the audience wants, meaning he does not want the audience to feel lonely. Miyokichi as well. She herself refuses to be lonely, moving from man to man in the hopes of placating her feelings.
Loneliness also seeps into the events themselves. Bon and Shin are at their lowest point emotionally when lonely: Bon is abandoned by everyone while Shin loses his beloved rakugo. Shin and Miyokichi hook up when they both find themselves alone. And Bon and Miyokichi are at their fiercest together when Miyokichi’s loneliness cannot be contained any longer.
The kicker is how this theme ties into the premise. Rakugo is simultaneously a lonely art and a collective one. The performer is alone on stage while the audience supports him or her from afar. Meaning, rakugo itself revolves around loneliness.
Such clever, beautiful writing is simply the norm for this anime.
Rakugo’s strongest outing comes from the music and sound-work it includes.
The OP mixes clock sounds, whispered vocals, and irregular instrumental and lyrical work to make a piece that’s enticing and sumptuous and flavorful. The ending track, in comparison, avoids weird compositions and a singer altogether. The smooth trumpet, accompanied by the violin and piano, craft a peaceful ride at the end of every episode, making it a relaxing, cool ED to hear.
The rest of the original soundtrack contains dramatic, melancholy pieces that fit the mood of the anime. But it mostly goes cultural, incorporating different tunes, instruments, and arrangements that fit the premise and time period well. The foreign feel definitely adds to the overall appeal of the show, but it also gives Rakugo another twinge of peculiarity.
Yet some of Rakugo’s strongest sound offerings are not musical in the strict definition of the word. Rather, the anime’s ability to use sound as a tool to tell its tale once again elevates the show towards newer, more compelling heights.
For example, the use of a grating, brooding sound induces the same feeling of dread that Bon feels when he doesn’t know what will become of him. Or the frantic, overbearing piano during Bon’s first performance makes it hard to hear his words, reflecting his current nerve-racking state.
And while it almost does not even need to be said, the voice-acting performances are simply superb. Akira Ishida and Kouichi Yamadera as Bon and Shin, respectively, demonstrate their range, emotion, and skill both on and off the rakugo stage.
I will admit, when this one first started airing, I was tentative. I distinctly remember (read: there are records of) me not fully impressed with where the story itself was going or what it ultimately wanted to do.
It has been nine months since then. Such time has let me meet different people, let me watch new anime, and let me experience more of what life has to offer. Basically, like Bon, I’ve changed.
And suffice it to say, my perspective has changed, too.
I remember myself laughing while watching. Not because something was funny. In fact, there was only one true instance of comedy (when one of the new rakugo kids had big, frizzy hair). No. It was because I was taken aback by how splendid the anime was.
Multiple moments can be selected to make this clear, but the one that stuck with me the most occurred in episode eleven. For it contains the “best” rakugo performance.
Bon and Shin perform together, showing the strength in their respective approaches side-by-side. Unconventional also in its location; not in a theater or some grand hall, but on the side of Shin’s shack with his daughter being the only member watching the two greatest rakugo performers to ever live.
It’s not fair to say that “there is nothing else is like it in the medium.” Not just because that’s hyperbole but also because other anime have included similar aspects. Japanese-culture premises, wicked symbolism, and strong characters are not something that this one came up with.
And that one scene is not groundbreaking or even stunning. Indeed, I’d argue that nothing in the anime is of that nature. But this is all precisely the point; it’s a simple, plain tale that nails it all.
Its maturity in content and drama and themes. The passionate, realistic relationships held between the characters. An insane amount of execution in nearly every facet of the show.
It was hard not comparing it to other anime because of what it didn’t do. No fantasy. No strangeness. No nonsense. No gimmicks. No conveniences. It was a simple, normal tale that was true, fair in its delivery.
There’s so much more. Bon’s incredible character arc is awesome to see unfold. The sharp writing and dialogue. Konatsu as a kid. Interesting rakugo performances. A juicy, messy romance between the lot.
I debated with myself for a long time over my personal connection with the show. On whether or not this one deserved the highest of honors. I’m talking conversing with me in the mirror and speaking with my mother about it over the phone.
For those that know of my style, I look at every anime on its own. What it did, what it accomplished, and so on. I’m all about fairness. Even so, this one made me question the standards anime should uphold and challenged my usual line of thinking.
In other words, it’s an anime that provided me with a completely new experience, a small story I can later tell to my own grandkids. For this reason and the many previously listed, it earns that top-tier award that’s so rarely given out.
Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu paints a fantastic tale. Its narrative is both wonderful in its message and tight in its composition. The characters are layered with immense care and detail. And the symbolic visuals, amazing sound work, and sheer technical prowess support everything throughout the entire experience. Not as perfect as my Grandpa’s stories but pretty darn close.
Story: Great, history, romance, and drama intertwine to form a personable, well-written tale about rakugo and finding one’s self
Animation: Great, varied locales, symbolic techniques, nice animation, and fitting character designs
Characters: Great, Bon’s character arc is one of the strongest in the medium, with him, Shin, and Miyokichi being connected through stark juxtaposition, complicated relationships, and a thorough theme on loneliness
Sound: Great, good OP, good ED, good OST, nice sound-design choices, and superb VA performances
Enjoyment: Great, the overall “uniqueness,” maturity, and execution are so impressive that they challenge the perception of the medium as a whole
Final Score: 10/10
Jun 8, 2017
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Hai to Gensou no Grimgar has these uncomfortable-looking straw beds that many of the cast members sleep in.
If I had to choose between a regular bed and one of those beds, I would choose the former every time. Otherwise, all of the tiny pieces would poke me, they would get into and stick to my clothes, and they wouldn’t make for the best blankets due to the numerous holes.
Yet as Grimgar shows, sometimes we don’t get a choice. Sometimes we have to accept the reality presented to us – no matter how harsh it may
Grimgar finds Haruhiro, Manato, and many other everyday people in a brand new world. They don’t know how they got there, and it’s not important. Because, realistically, this world is not much different.
“Realistic.” Purposeful word choice. For that’s exactly what Grimgar is: realistic.
The astute or the quick to point out would argue that, no, Grimgar is not realistic. It contains curing spells and monsters and a personal Aurora Borealis every now and again. That’s true. Arguing against the idea that the anime is completely realistic is a fool’s errand. However, it’s still fair to say that it portrays a fantastical setting in a realistic light, leveraging relatable drama despite the improbable within.
The killing of their first goblin is one of the best examples to understand this direction. It also happens to be one of Grimgar’s highlights.
It’s “just one goblin,” but, as the group immediately discovers, it’s not that simple. The goblin is as every bit out to kill them as they are him. He evidently has emotions, and he cries out in pain when hurt. Much like they do. In other words, each battle isn’t a game, it’s literally a life-or-death situation – for both sides.
The realistic portrayal continues to the group themselves. They don’t command the most potent spells, and they don’t wield weapons as though they were gods. They are just a bunch of regular people trying to survive off of dingy lodgings, scarce food, and not enough new underwear.
Reality really hits, though, when they lose a lover, a mentor, and a friend in Manato. His death makes it as obvious as possible that anything can happen. That, just like the real world, life can be filled with immense sorrow.
In other words, this world is real – and affects them on a personal level.
The group’s struggles don’t stop after Manato’s death. Conflict arises between themselves, and Merry, their new party member, proves difficult to work with due to both parties’ resignations. But through their own interpersonal problem and her, the group comes to understand that they, individually, are not the only ones experiencing hardship –everybody is. Again, a realistic throughput.
Merry’s inclusion does slow the anime down somewhat, but the transition is, as always, realistic.
They learn about each other, and they start working as a team. Most interesting of all, though, is how the group stays within the same town for presumably weeks. On one level, it’s basically them wanting to avenge Manato’s killers. On a deeper, more motif level, the group staying in one area for a long time makes realistic sense since one wouldn’t expect them to barrel through the world like they owned the place.
All the while, Grimgar demonstrates where it truly shines: in the mundane, down-to-earth events. A small chat on a bridge with some birds. The group collectively visiting Manato’s grave. A nighttime argument between two supposed friends. The different action segments and tenser moments are certainly thrilling, but, once again, the show’s focus on realism strikes hardest.
This investigation covers roughly three-quarters of the show. The last stretch involves the mine and the myriad of conflicts that ensue. Unfortunately, Grimgar somewhat drops the ball (or, maybe in this case, drops the sword).
One of the biggest errors the anime makes is in Merry’s resolution. The anime made it rather clear that Death Spots was her block, what she needed to overcome to move forward. But then the anime throws in, without warning, her now-undead previous group. It comes off as sloppy – she was meant to defeat Death Spots, not dispel her old friends.
Afterwards, the weird continuity skip of Ranta evading the kobolds despite being in a clearly inescapable situation does not help matters, either. Neither does Haruhiro killing Death Spots. Yes, the glowing streams were established earlier on in the season and even used throughout. But his pure luck stretches the realism when he has a broken arm, it’s him solo versus this raid boss, and his sacrifice doesn’t amount to any tangible loss.
As for the ending, it, too, has problems. Mostly in the wrapping-up department. The group not reacting to Haruhiro being alive and well, the relationships between many of the characters having not progressed all that much, and the uncertainty of what the group is meant to do next leave Grimgar ending on a questionable note.
Looking at the anime as a whole, even more problems surface. Perhaps the most surprising is the lack of world-building. Other towns, the role government plays, and so on are strangely missing. Granted, the show focuses more on this group and their mission rather than expanding its vision, and, indeed, they do realistically stay in one place the entire time. So this may be an unwarranted nitpick. But when the anime incorporates a brand new world yet fails to flesh it out, it comes off as underwhelming.
Definitely the worst issue, though, is the blatant sexual content. Seeing Yume’s butt, Shihoru’s breasts, and Merry’s legs, while each titillating in their own right, are not exactly relevant. Especially given Grimgar’s dramatic, somber tone. The show can have moments of chemistry, such as when Yume cuddles with Haruhiro and Merry laughs at Haruhiro’s incredulity (Haruhiro gets almost all of the action…), but the show’s weird penchant for perversion can and does take away from its purpose.
Smaller issues also exist, such as some of the dialogue relying a bit too much on “Yeah…” and none of the apparent romance getting followed through on. Still, the anime’s positives keep it afloat.
Grimgar has some beautiful background art. Its stylized, watercolor backdrops are splotched in their depiction yet serene in their feeling. They are often accompanied by unusual lighting choices: greens, pinks, and purples. Such lights add ambiance, a sense of familiarity and longing and happiness.
Much of the cinematography also goes a long way towards capturing that realistic feel. Multiple, singular shots of various parts of the town – from in front of a building, looking down an alleyway, off the edge of a bridge – make it into not just another random location but into a safe haven, a home that the group can use to escape the scares and dangers that await them away.
The character designs, while not as beautiful as the art, have their own appeals to speak of. Some have color symbolism: Shihoru’s lavender coloring represents her sweetness, Merry’s blue coloring represents her (initial) coldness, and so on. Others, like Haruhiro and Mogzo, shoot more for that realistic feel with normal yet relatable looks. And Yume combines both with her redder colors symbolizing her warmth and her attractiveness through simplicity.
However, whether due to the extensive care given to the art itself or just not having enough resources, the Grimgar’s animation can honestly be tough to watch on occasion.
A lot of the show is simply the characters speaking with one another, but these quainter moments are barely filled with movement. Action sequences are the same. They can sometimes have continuity errors or even long still-frames to give the appearance of dynamism. Haruhiro’s victory over Death Spots is particularly egregious (despite how much the show tried to stylize the encounter to cover up for the low amount of animation).
Grimgar can, in fact, prove otherwise. Shihoru creating magic or Ranta fighting while yelling out his moves prevent the more action-oriented sequences from coming off as completely shoddy. But these moments are merely passable whereas the offending ones are wholly unacceptable.
Grimgar’s cast, while far from perfect, are a strong bunch.
At the very top sit Merry and Manato.
Merry is without a doubt the strongest character that the anime includes. She joins the group following Manato’s death and, unbeknownst to them, the death of her friends. Meaning both sides are not necessarily ready to welcome new people.
Indeed, that’s basically what happens. Merry acts cold towards the group, refusing to heal them or simply being aloof. At the same time, Ranta and the others find it hard to approach her while subconsciously not being as welcoming as they could be.
It’s at this point that they finally learn of Merry’s past. She’s floated from group to group without staying for very long. She’s changed from the likable, carefree girl she used to be. And, most importantly, the event that led to her new, distant self – the death of many of her close friends – let the group understand that she’s not so different from them.
Thus, the group opens up to her. They reveal their own hardships while growing closer as a team through tough battles, downtime jokes, and nightly dinners. It’s a gradual process, a realistic process, which slowly melts her icy exterior.
As she grows closer to Haruhiro, the girls, and everybody else, it is only fitting that she must then face the past that has haunted her for so long. But she’s finally not doing it alone; she has her newfound friends.
In the Cyrene Mine, she literally finds her old companions, saving them from themselves which, in turn, saves herself from herself. That is, while the group was there supporting her, only Merry could overcome her troubles – in both a physical and mental sense.
In the end, her cries for Haruhiro, her friendliness towards the others, and simply the smile on her face demonstrate that she has fully progressed as a character, proving the high level of execution in her arc.
Manato likewise sits near the top. Not because he’s also a priest but because he serves a two-fold role. On one level, he is entirely designed to disrupt the group. His death hits harder than any goblin ever could, causing them to question how they will survive in this troubling world.
On the other, connected level, he represents the ideal. He was smart. He was strong. He was their leader. He was someone that they all looked up to in one way or another – and nobody more so than Haruhiro.
That’s Manato’s best contribution: He allows Haruhiro to grow as a person. Manato’s death forces Haruhiro to fill Manato’s shoes. Shoes way too big for the plain, unassuming rogue. Haruhiro can’t speak in the same gentle manner. He can’t understand how the others are feeling like Manato could. He doesn’t have the same air of confidence as their previous leader did.
Yes, Haruhiro doesn’t technically grow as a person, but he certainly grows as a leader. All of his maybe-spiritual-possibly-real asides with Manato encourage him to try harder. He interacts with Yume, Merry, Shihoru, Ranta, and Mogzo more so than anybody else. And, if nothing else, him sacrificing himself for his friends, much like Manato and Merry’s former leader did, easily prove how much of a leader he has become.
All because Haruhiro had that ideal to look up to.
The rest of the cast are similar to Manato in that they each have a role to play. Granted, they are arguably not as important as Merry, Manato, and Haruhiro, but it’s worth investigating their roles, too, when looking at this bigger (watercolor) picture.
For Ranta, he is the voice of reason. Or at least the person who says what’s really on everyone’s minds. He doesn’t immediately accept Merry’s sob story because he, and they as well, have felt similar loss. He defends his selfish fighting style because, as he correctly points out, sometimes situations don’t go perfectly, so having options helps the team. He decides to take the spoils of war without remorse since the enemy no longer needs or cares about the
For Mogzo, he’s definitely the most overlooked. But that’s somewhat the point. He does not complain about their situation. He cooks food for the group whenever he can. He is the one that takes the brunt of the damage to protect everyone. Yes, he’s the tank. The rock. The one person they know, no matter what may go down, will not waver.
For Shihoru, she originally is very shy, almost scared. Of both this crazy world they find themselves in as well as just the people in general, including her own group. Her not being that strong of a fighter also doesn’t help her self-esteem much. She rarely speaks, but, when she does, one has to listen because it must obviously be important.
Although, unlike Ranta, Mogzo, and Yume, she actually does develop as a character. Comparing her person at the end of the season – running forward with gusto, landing magical spells, and feeling like one of the gang – to who she was at the beginning shows the personal improvements she has made.
For Yume, she’s the lighthearted one. She’s always smiling, saying a common cliché almost always wrong. Whether it’s putting a reassuring hand on Merry’s back or consoling Shihoru in her time of need, Yume makes it her mission to keep the group not just happy but also worry-free.
Seeing the cast segmented in this manner makes it appear as though their connecting theme deals with everyone having a role. That’s a nice interpretation since it fits the fantasy motif: damage-per-second, tank, and healer are common roles for people in a similar setting. Though, as has been discussed at length, the fantasy element is not the focus. The realism is.
The stronger, more realistic interpretation? Loss now does not mean loss forever.
The loss of a loved one will always be tragic. That will sadly never change. That is something that everyone in Grimgar understands. But that doesn’t mean they will always experience loss from then on. Indeed, Haruhiro, Yume, Shihoru, Ranta, and Mogzo gain a new friend in Merry, and Merry likewise gains new friends in them.
Sure, as friends they go through more troubles. Yet the strength they earn, the bonds they share, and the events they overcome prove they have gained something despite so much loss: each other.
The OP is a welcome addition to Grimgar. It starts off ethereal in tone thanks to the haunting vocalist and the calm build-up. This arrangement gives way to fiddle playing, back-and-forth lyrical singing, and some ending guitar work. The piece is both varied and passionate, crowning it as one of the better musical offerings.
Not wanting to be outdone, the ED goes in the opposite direction tonally. It’s slow, filled with just a piano and the vocalist for nearly half the track. At that halfway point, the rest of the instruments kick in as the somber composition continues. It’s sad, surprisingly catchy, and emotional to boot – yet another strong musical offering.
The rest of the original soundtrack, while not memorable, does include many different insert songs that help to set the mood accordingly. When the group is fighting goblin after goblin after goblin or when the group is simply enjoying their day off, the accompanying songs bring the thrill and the chill, respectively.
If nothing else, the preview piece – just the singular acoustic guitar – that played during (coincidentally enough) each preview was simple in its execution yet serene in its sound.
While lots of crying is had, voice acting does not see any stand-out performances. At the minimum, Yoshimasa Hosoya as Haruhiro does well in using a voice that comes off as simultaneously mature and naïve.
My biggest gripe with this anime is pretty petty. I’ll admit that. Allow me to explain.
I like Yume a lot. She’s cute, silly, and a caring person to boot. I could cheer for her all day.
I like Ranta’s character, but I don’t like his personality. He’s usually just a jerk towards everyone – especially Yume. Some scenes involving him made me laugh, but they were almost always at the expense of his person, usually in the form of a teasing insult.
So the anime trying to put them together once Merry arrived (her and Haruhiro do make for a nice couple) made me more than peeved. And it only got worse as it went along.
That small boat scene, Yume clinging onto Ranta out of fear for a brief second, and her I’m-totally-not-crying-about-Ranta-because-I-like-him-but-because-he’s-in-a-lonely-situation each made me shake my head at the anime’s implied thoughts.
I would have tolerated the pairing more if the show hadn’t already paired Haruhiro and Yume together and if Ranta had been a bit more compassionate. The show basically doing away with Haruhiro and Yume’s intimate scene in episode five, and Ranta going back to his name-calling ways despite nearly dying only made me madder.
As for the other characters, I liked them. They each brought something different to the table. Merry’s wonderful character arc. Shihoru’s sweetness. Mogzo’s easygoing attitude and “Thank You!” attacking. Haruhiro trying his best to lead the team. And Manato simply being a really nice person. They’re not complex characters whatsoever, but they’re likable nonetheless.
Beyond my frustration and the cast, one moment in particular got to me. It happened in episode eight, and one can probably guess which scene it is.
Yes, the culmination of their efforts which leads to that collective talk with Manato in front of his grave. As they speak, they reveal their Volunteer Soldier badges, indicating that they have officially reached that next level. Them getting a badge for Manato, too, and Haruhiro’s final words – “We’ve become a good party” – solidify the strength they have gained together as well as the lump in my throat from trying to fight back tears.
Would I like to see a second season? Yes, I would. So long as Yume doesn’t end up with Ranta. He’s a rude, mean guy, and she’s a funny, lovable girl. She deserves way better.
Hai to Gensou no Grimgar is a rather solid anime. A fantastical yet realistic narrative, roles and change for its characters, and pretty art are some of its highlights. The weird focus on sexual content, less-than-impressive animation, and annoying developments do, however, get in the way. Even so, it’s better than any prickly straw will ever hope to be.
Story: Fine, a realistic portrayal of a fantastical setting sees highs in its mundane events and dramatic happenings and lows in its botched final stretch, lack of world-building, and unnecessary sexual content
Animation: Fine, beautiful art, nice character designs, and below average actual animation
Characters: Good, Merry stands on top, with Manato supporting Haruhiro’s development, Ranta, Mogzo, Shihoru, and Yume filling their roles well, and a theme on non-lasting loss threading between them
Sound: Good, good OP, good ED, good OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Fine, likable characters and emotions throughout, but forcing Yume’s romantic pairing is a no-go
Final Score: 6/10
Jun 7, 2017
25 of 25 episodes seen
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(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Roses are red. Violets are blue. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans makes for a pretty flower, too.
Iron-Blooded Orphans (reduced to this title because it’s cool as all get out) centers on a large group of kids who, for one reason or another, have found themselves ditched by society. As they get mistreated at the hands of the higher-ups, Kudelia, the famous leader of the recent Martian civil-rights movement, arrives at their base, shaking up events on an interplanetary scale.
From the very beginning, the anime follows this ragtag group of children as they deal with two
fronts simultaneously: societal investigation and futuristic warfare.
On the societal side, Tekkadan (the new name of their group) highlights the difficulties that people in their position endure. They are treated as worthless when they are abandoned to act as a decoy. They are seen as monsters when others catch a glimpse of the Alaya-Vijnana on their backs. They are given no remorse by the government or those in power.
It’s not just them, either. The everyday people of Mars are on the verge of economic collapse caused by foreign (planet) affairs, and hard-pressed laborers are forced to take drastic measures as their living conditions and wages reach all-time lows.
Granted, the juxtaposition between the elite and the dirt can be a teeny tiny bit heavy-handed at times. Literally having a “Human Debris” designation for some of the cast members makes this statement more than arguable.
Nevertheless, Iron-Blooded Orphans sticks to its (robot) guns, bolstering one of its most prominent themes: the little guy can defeat the big guy. Kudelia’s pleas to the government as well as the people allows each to come to agreements that protect those on Mars and those on Earth. And Tekkadan traverses across the solar system, completing their mission despite the immense troubles that plagued their path.
Simultaneously, the anime incorporates its familial theme. Again, it’s hard to miss in regards to Tekkadan. They live together. They go to “school” together. They fight for each other together. They are orphans, most not bound by blood, but that makes them no less a family. Because family is not defined by something so scientific as genetics. It’s defined by the feelings, the thoughts, the connections held between them.
Once more, it’s not just them that focus on the familial. Naze’s harem, while unconventional, is a family for him and the other women. On a broader scale, the labor union is a family. And, on an even broader scale, the unfortunate people of Mars are a family, too.
The magic is when this and the previous theme are harmonized. I.e., according to Iron-Blooded Orphans, in order for the little guy to defeat the big guy, family is required. Tekkadan sacrifice themselves for their brothers. The labor union reach a peaceful agreement. The people of Earth vote to save the people of Mars.
Again, they aren’t the families people normally think of, and it’s not literally “family wins the day.” Instead, the anime’s mindset that family is what one makes of it, that family makes the impossible possible, ties together its political issues with the themes it touts.
This familial theme is indirectly related to one of the show’s bigger problems. Namely, not letting background information sink in long enough. On two obtuse occasions, the anime, for some reason, decides it well within reason to immediately and conveniently follow-up on previously unknown information: Akihiro’s younger brother and Biscuit’s older brother.
Disregarding the fact that they both deal with a long-lost brother (which is already iffy), the anime drops this information followed immediately with using it. Build-up is traded in favor of at-the-ready drama, leading to said drama falling flat.
To be fair, it can handle such narrative points with grace. Fumitan’s conflicting actions and Mikazuki’s bracelet he received from Atra come to mind. Meaning not every example reeks of poor execution.
This all still leaves the other side of the anime: Mobile Suit battles. This show derives from the Gundam series, after all, so it wouldn’t do to ignore what amounts to about half of the season and one of the main draws of the series.
Surprisingly, despite the blackness of space, the anime does well in differentiating the fights that ensue. One takes place within a cluttered asteroid field, impairing vision and creating obstacles. One involves the group careening their ship into an orbital station. One occurs on two fronts – on a guarded bridge and on a deserted field.
But Iron-Blooded Orphans’ greatest achievement with its battles comes from incorporating the “space-rat” motif. Many of the fights are uncouth. Mikazuki ignores the formal duel offer, choosing to strike first instead. The boys use an extra ship to shield themselves from oncoming fire. And they purposefully narrowly miss crashing into an enemy ship to plant infiltrators. Tekkadan is treated as dirty, so they play dirty in retaliation.
Not all of the fights are peachy, though. Ein always protecting Gaelio, and perhaps one-too-many just-in-the-nick-of-time saves, turns the fights from thrilling experiences into repetitive altercations. Plus, the anime shies away from killing off more of its characters – especially when it appears that will happen (e.g., when “new” Ein takes out Shino’s, Lafter’s, and Azee’s Mobile Suits).
Altogether, the narrative is, much like what its title touts, a mixed offering.
Despite the space setting of Iron-Blooded Orphans, its art and animation remain relatively in strong standing.
Especially when considering the contrasts. Mars is a barren, reddened wasteland where mountains reign and sand occupies. The various spaceships – with their metallic, compartmentalized layout – add a sense of structure and familiarity; a home away from home. Earth’s greens and blues and yellows make it into an ideal, a goal worth fighting for.
Playing devil’s advocate, these separate locations are not awe-inspiring. Mars is just mountains. The spaceships are just hallways. Earth is just trees. But, again, when looked at together, they tell a story all their own.
Actual animation sits somewhere around average. While the various robot battles (and there are quite a few of them) see much in the way of clashing, dodging, and destroying, downtime does not have the same level of movement. Understandably, characters are often found standing around the ship or sitting at cafeteria tables.
The character designs are likewise mixed in their execution. Some of the enemies, such as Kudal and Brooke, while detailed and symbolic in their looks (the former is dressed in green with a snake tongue, and the latter is pudgy with a pig nose), they are a bit too animalistic when compared to the grounded, more realistic designs of the other characters.
Orga’s design is silly, too. His faded-purple hair, with its one blade that slices across his face, is almost cartoonish.
But the other characters’ designs are cared for. Kudelia’s long blonde hair, purple eyes, and red, frilly dress give her an air of both beauty and royalty – perfect for the savior princess. Mikazuki’s short stature and seemingly weak build makes his commanding of the Gundam all the more impressive. And the stark contrast between the regal outfits of the soldiers of Gjallarhorn and the ragtag coats of Tekkadan adds more to the little-guy-versus-big-guy motif.
No matter which design is investigated, the crisp lines, sharp eyes, and various minor details (buttons, necklaces, etc.) add even more flair.
(As a side note, some of the cast members love to close just one of their eyes. Especially Orga. He should really see an eye doctor about that….)
The various robot designs also deserve an inspection. In short, they reflect the disposition of the characters themselves. Fareed’s uses two swords and stands in a classy manner, coinciding with his finesse. Lafter’s is quick and energetic just like her personality. Akihiro’s uses a shield as an homage to the one person he failed to protect.
Perhaps obviously, Mikazuki’s Gundam is particularly intriguing. Barbatos’s mainly white, multicolored frame not only helps to make it stand out among the blackness of space, but also it symbolizes the purity of Tekkadan’s mission and the colorful life in which they wish to lead.
One of the more surprising parts to Iron-Blooded Orphans is its characters.
More specifically, the anime actually does a nice job of cycling through its huge cast. Yes, certain characters do garner more attention than others – Kudelia, Mikazuki, and so on. And rightly so. They are, after all, the main protagonists. But that doesn’t take away from the apparent development of the side characters.
The most surprising comes from Shino. During Tekkadan’s run to save Akihiro’s younger brother and fend off the encroaching pirates, Shino leads a team of men aboard the enemy ship. Unfortunately, many lives are lost. Shino blames himself for their deaths, believing that he “wasn’t good enough” to save them.
As a result, he chooses to pilot one of the extra Mobile Suits. This decision not only gives him the opportunity to “make amends” for “failing” to protect his family, but also it pushes him away from leading others because he feels that he is better suited being responsible for him and him alone.
This small focus on the side characters happens all over.
Fumitan hated Kudelia’s naïveté, going so far as to double-cross her despite the time and relationship they had built together. But she sacrifices herself for the girl whose sincere wish would aid the people of the solar system.
Biscuit regularly objected to Orga’s dangerous decisions. He argued that, given their situation, a more rationale, more safe, solution could potentially be found and pursued. Their feud apexes when Biscuit declares he will be leaving Tekkadan. He later perishes during battle, and, later still, Orga learns that Biscuit decided against his initial decision because he knew that this goal was one they fought for and shared together.
Eugene usually seems hesitant to join in on the action but reluctantly does so anyway. However, he is regularly given second-in-command duty and control of the ship presumably because nobody else can handle the position. Indeed, when he does take the reins, he proves his capabilities as a commander.
The main cast is different. Although not always in a positive nature.
Mikazuki is most notable as a negative. He has two prerogatives: follow Orga’s orders and kill. As such, he is resolute, remorseless in his dealings with others. The anime makes it a point to point out (somewhat heavy-handedly) that he enjoys killing, but that doesn’t seem to affect him much. In fact, the beginning of his character shows him not flinching from murdering another.
In other words, Mikazuki’s only role is to man the Gundam Barbatos. Unfortunately, that also means he’s not much of a character since he simply walks around without expressing emotion and acting generally uninteresting. The total result makes him arguably the worst character in Iron-Blooded Orphans.
Orga is nowhere near as lame as Mikazuki. Orga is the leader, the one that almost everybody (especially Mikazuki) looks up to. So he acts accordingly. He takes the abuse instead of his family. He remains tough in front of the younger children. He shoulders the burden of the harder choices that Tekkadan has to make.
So it makes sense that his character develops, or at least is influenced, by the other characters that surround him. Naze represents the leader he wants to be: calm, determined, and steadfast. Merribit challenges the “child” within him. Biscuit makes him question whether or not the path they have chosen really is the right one.
Now, both Mikazuki and Orga have a history together, a backstory. Yet it goes unexplored. To be fair, a second season awaits, so presumably the show will set aside time to flesh out them and their relationship some more. Meaning, for now, some leniency is acceptable for this close duo.
Two important characters, the best that this first season of Iron-Blooded Orphans has offer, remain: Kudelia and Fareed.
Kudelia is arguably the strongest character in the anime (either her or Fareed). Growing up, she never fully understood the conditions that the majority of people were living in on Mars. Her candy-giving scene demonstrates just how out of touch she was with reality.
Granted, she was just a kid. But her being “just a kid” continues into the present where, despite fighting for and spearheading the Martian revolution, she still has yet to truly experience what the common person goes through.
Her time with Tekkadan opens her eyes. Mikazuki sees her as selfish. She witnesses the brutality of war. The various sacrifices, outcomes, and problems that the kids have to constantly put up with. Her journey from Mars to Earth is something she has never experienced.
All the while, she feels useless. And, to some extent, she is. She cannot man the Mobile suits or help with the supplies or fight on the ground. So she does what she can. From cleaning dishes to delivering the kids their lunches, she tries to make herself useful.
It’s not enough, though. At least, not enough to Kudelia. She understands that she is a symbol of hope. A person capable of solving the issues on Mars and elsewhere.
Thus, she does what only she can do: speak. She uses her voice to instill compassion. Morality. Hope. The speeches she gives and the words she uses do not topple Mobile Suits, but, when all is said and done, it’s clear that her voice is powerful enough to move planets.
Fareed also stands above the other cast members. Grabbing the front of his hair when thinking, he is a tactical, deliberate man. He’s meant to be engaged to Gaelio’s younger (much younger) sister, he is the “son” of Gjallarhorn’s top dog, and he commands a fleet all his own.
Initially, Fareed appears to be just another bad guy. But as the story unfolds, it becomes quite clear that he has greater ambitions in mind. Throughout the season, the audience sees him acting gentlemanly towards both his bride-to-be and the friends he has grown up with. Yet, and more importantly, he detests Gjallarhorn’s corruption.
His allegiance gets called into question when he chooses to support Tekkadan, giving them the means to make it to Earth’s surface. Seemingly, he wants Kudelia to succeed.
And by the end, Fareed’s sinister ploy comes to fruition. He coerced Gaelio to integrate Ein, the subordinate looking to avenge his mentor Crank, not to save the boy but to use him as a means to slander his father-in-power. He married Gaelio’s younger sister to obtain more connections. He abandoned Carta to get her out of the picture. All in an effort to take over Gjallarhorn and change it from within, making him quite the strong main antagonist.
Sadly, and again, the show’s improper backstory handling causes Fareed to be not as strong character-wise as he could have ultimately been. While his childhood is briefly shown, it’s not enough to get a clear grasp on the hatred he holds towards his father as well as the stinging betrayal he commits towards both Gaelio and Carta.
Iron-Blooded Orphans makes the all-too-common mistake of replacing its killer opening and ending tracks in favor of ones that are much less appealing.
The first OP is adrenaline-pumping, catchy, and fun. Shouting “Raise your flag!” and trying to sing along with the Japanese lyrics may seem silly to anyone listening, but it’s difficult to ignore the vocalist’s charge and the charging tune. The second OP, in comparison, does have some strong guitar playing, but the piece doesn’t come together as naturally, as flavorful as its previous iteration.
The ED’s are quite similar. Arguably speaking, the first ED is the strongest track out of the four. The docile singer’s voice, the blues accompaniment, and the grandiose tone it adopts fits both the spacefaring group and the majestic nature of the Gundam and their mission. The second ED is a big step down. While the vocalist certainly has range, the combination of the instruments, beat, and sudden drop-off in the track itself do not hold the same level of intricacy as before.
Listening to the rest of the original soundtrack, it follows (thankfully) in the footsteps of the first OP and ED, consisting of many strong tracks that both fit the anime well and demonstrate care in their arrangements. Some examples follow below.
“Barren Land” feels like the emptiness of space with its repetitive pounding.
“Strengths Focus” combines acoustic guitar and xylophones to create a quick fervor.
“Lady Kudelia” uses piano and violins that are soft, delicate in their delivery – a nice fit for the hope-inspiring princess.
“Military Scheme” sounds sinister and foreign in its plotting.
And “Fallen Flower” goes ultra-somber as it slows everything down.
As for voice acting, while everyone involved does more or less a nice job, no notable shout-outs are to be had. At the minimum, the sound-effects for the colliding Mobile Suits, gunshots, and different weapons gave their battles the weight they deserved.
This iteration of Gundam is my first exposure to this universe, and I can happily declare that I am a fan.
I liked how Mikazuki always wrecked the competition (even if his character was weak). I could always depend on him to use his spear, clamp, and katana to eviscerate the enemy. His friends, from Masahiro to Lafter, brought their own fighting flavor, too. Masahiro with his shield and Lafter’s no-arm speed made the various robot skirmishes a lot of fun to watch.
I also appreciated the miniscule nods to romance. Kudelia’s reaction afterwards to being kissed by Mikazuki, as well as Atra liking the possibility of multiple wives a la Naze and his harem, made me smile. I was also rooting for the possible romantic relationship between Orga and Merribit. Orga is a tough yet kind dude who looks older than he is and Merribit is a tough yet kind woman who looks younger than she is. Opposites attract and what-not.
Can’t forget about Fareed; it’s hard to do so regardless. Betraying both the person who raised him and his best friends, all in a cold, logical, and believable manner? He’s a heartless son, friend, and person in general – and it’s awesome.
Some of the drama, like Akihiro’s brother’s death, could tread into strained territory. And many of the villains, like Todo or Kudal, were a bit too lame in my eyes. But that wasn’t enough to stop me from having a lot of fun with this one.
Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans raises its flag to victory. While issues such as weird narrative happenings, ignored character backstory, and switching to lesser tracks exist, the story’s connected themes, the large yet focused cast, and the various flourishes in its art and music otherwise create a flower that smells like roses.
Story: Fine, societal and robotic conflicts, alongside themes on the little guy and family, are brought down by slight heavy-handedness, a couple of convenient plot points, and some repetitive, “safe” action
Animation: Good, nice artistic direction, about average actual animation, and nice character designs
Characters: Good, while Mikazuki is weak as a character, the focus on the rest of Tekkadan and Orga, as well as the strength in Kudelia and Fareed’s characters, make for an interesting cast
Sound: Fine, good first OP, okay second OP, good first ED, bad second ED, good OST, okay VA performances, and good sound-effects
Enjoyment: Good, a fun first venture into this popular universe
Final Score: 6/10
Jun 6, 2017
12 of 12 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Durarara!!x2 Ketsu is like this grilled-cheese-and-honey-mustard sandwich I ate the other day.
Could’ve been appetizing – but ultimately wasn’t.
Ketsu marks the end of the Durarara anime series. That means it has a lot to do. It needs to tie up plotlines, resolve character arcs, and provide a satisfactory ending. After all, the series spans sixty episodes (plus a special or OVA here and there). Did it do that?
No, not really.
Ketsu centers three central happenings: Kadota’s removal, Saika’s hypnosis, and Celty’s lost (now found) head. All three intertwine to create the overarching issue that plagues the city
– unbridled chaos – as well as the myriad of smaller plotlines happening simultaneously – Ryuugamine versus Masaomi, the gangsters, and so on.
At the minimum, the overarching plotline does see a conclusion. Kadota comes back to return the favor. Saika is quelled. And Celty returns to being her normal self.
Albeit these separate conclusions are not exactly thrilling. Kadota and his crew aren’t together for very long as they are sidetracked by lots of traffic and trying to save Karisawa. Nobody interesting or important gets slashed or hypnotized during the Saika debacle.
Yet the biggest offender is Celty and her head. Despite the emphasis on it throughout the entire series, her beheaded reunion is strangely anticlimactic. Besides walking around slowly and stopping the major conflict with shadow magic, this inter-season dilemma simply lacks the necessary gravitas it supposedly contained.
Indeed, the lead-up to the reunion is somewhat silly with Kujiragi strolling into Shinra and Celty’s apartment.
The smaller plotlines also fail to materialize their importance. Ryuugamine’s quarrel with Masaomi is too esoteric, relying more on miscommunication and separation than any tangible issue between the two. The gangsters are around, but, with the exception of Izumii (the hammer-wielding older brother of Aoba) and the lent gun, don’t play much of a part in the festivities.
Again, though, the biggest offender derives from a lack of something happening: Anri and the boys’ keeping their collective promise.
Throughout much of this final season (and, to some degree, the other seasons following the first), the anime makes their promise a point. That they will get back together again to reveal their respective secrets. But not only does this never happen (at least on-screen; all the audience gets is the three of them putting their hands together as though they were on a sports team), but also Ryuugamine even spoils his secret to Masaomi before the three of them finally reunite. The same for Anri to Kadota and Namie’s group.
To be fair to Ketsu, some of the smaller plotlines are taken care of. Ruri’s stalker receives a conclusion. As does Varona’s inner conflict. Meaning, the anime does manage to bring about some satisfaction – even if these plotlines are necessarily powerful.
Despite the various plotlines tripping over themselves as they reach the finish line, they reveal a connection between them. In both Celty’s and the three teenagers’ cases, reuniting occurs. It’s a theme that can be seen many a time. Haruna reunites with her “lover.” Shizuo reunites with Varona. Kadota reunites with his crew. And so on and so forth.
Such a connection is nice to see, but what’s even nicer are the outcomes. Or rather, what Ketsu argues reuniting means. On a superficial level, it spurs action. When two people reunite after a long time, be they the best of friends or mortal enemies, the sudden yet familiar interaction causes emotions to fly and movement to occur.
On a deeper level, reuniting means rethinking. In nearly every reuniting case, the characters involved rethink. About their situation, about the other party, and, perhaps most importantly, about themselves.
Finally, on a broader scale, the show could make some nifty and weird narrative choices. For example, Ryuugamine being saved from his self-inflicted headshot by Celty’s powers goes along with his desensitizing to extraordinary events. On the other side, having the main antagonist be the teacher from the first season, while a neat little callback, doesn’t make much sense when he has not been around.
Altogether, the series’ last hurrah comes out only half-hearted rather than filled with gusto.
Ketsu, not unexpectedly, maintains the same level of art and animation throughout this final season.
Artistically, the different shots of the city once more add a sense of familiarity and wonder. High-rise depictions, glimpses of street, and the various locations – insides of buildings, a local park, etc. – add dynamism to the already chaotic city. Characters can appear wonky, especially when the anime zooms out to a medium distance, and the show even appears to forget that Mizuki has a missing eye and scar over it in his scene with Aoba in the final episode. But the art more or less sticks with its detailed locales.
The show’s faded-civilian appearance returns one last time as well. Dropping the coloring of the unimportant people places extra emphasis on the other characters which in turn gives them more importance. But even more importantly for this season, having the civilians as a mass of gray adds to the zombification conflict that occurs.
The character designs, similar to the city and the uncolored civilians, remain mostly the same. Anri’s unemotional face gives her all-black garb a more menacing feel, matching her (and the anime’s) focus on “monsters” (more later). Semyon, the Russian-black-sushi hitman, keeps his white-and-blue outfit. And Kujiragi’s sexy figure and yellow blouse hide her wicked ways.
In all honesty, many of the characters – such as Saki, Namie, etc. – are not eccentric in their details. But that has never given them less-than-ideal designs. Indeed, their realistic looks have kept the show grounded despite the headless women, psychological whispers, and random lunatics.
If nothing else, Ketsu gives many of its cast members new “designs” in the vein of making nearly everybody appear beat up in some form. Shinra, Masaomi, Ryuugamine, Shizuo, Izaya – many of the cast do not escape the wrath of the finale.
Yet, for one last time, the actual animation remains relatively low. Arguably the lowest it has ever been for the series. Some of the action, such as Shizuo and Izaya’s duel or Ryuugamine getting stabbed multiple times, can prove otherwise. But it’s more often the case that the anime simply cannot keep up the fluidity. Evidenced by the massive amount of sitting or standing around and talking that goes on.
In this final season, Ketsu has many characters that it ultimately does not handle well. Ryuugamine’s whole existential crisis and reasoning behind his new behavior is bizarre. Aoba, despite his conniving and believing he is in the thick of it, does not have an impact on the proceedings whatsoever. And many of the cast members are simply not given satisfying endings.
However, all that being said, the anime does hit some high notes. In particular, it chooses to focus on a singular character that has been around since the beginning. Not an unexpected choice. Perhaps surprising. Definitely interesting.
Her name is Anri.
As the audience already knows, Anri became quick friends with Ryuugamine and Masaomi. Ryuugamine had a crush on Anri, and Masaomi had some feelings for the girl, too. Although his feelings were more a way to mask his true feelings (about Saki). Nevertheless, Anri joins up with the boys to make a fun little clique.
Yet Anri had a secret: She was the wielder of Saika, the blade capable of controlling others through the smallest of scratches. Her backstory – involving her family and a certain mafia man – is sad to hear, but, thankfully, Anri’s will has managed to keep Saika in check all this time.
Discussing this backstory, despite it already being covered in earlier seasons, is important to both Anri’s development and this anime’s single most important idea. In this case, what it means to be a “monster.”
Stepping back for just a bit, the focus on Anri makes sense given what is going on with Masaomi and Ryuugamine. Their “feud”, their separation, places more emphasis on Anri because she has found herself distanced from both of the boys. Not really of her own doing but isolated nonetheless.
Such isolation allows her to meet with many other characters that she had never interacted with much before (or at all). And with each encounter, Anri develops while also cementing the show’s theme.
Her first major encounter this season comes from Erika. Erika’s presence defines Anri. Where Erika is loud and energetic, Anri is quiet and reserved. A fine case of night and day. This juxtaposition essentially gives Anri’s character her baseline, where she will progress from over the course of Ketsu.
Lo and behold, her next encounter tests her. Tests her hard. Izaya has harsh words for the kind girl, letting her know that, no matter what she may believe about herself, she is nothing more than a “monster.” Izaya’s obsession with humans and nothing but humans drives home his words even further.
Izaya doesn’t only dig at Anri. He also digs at Ryuugamine and Masaomi. The combined verbal attack makes Anri almost lose control – which is exactly what Izaya wants in order to prove his point.
Erika stops her, but the seed has been planted. Anri starts thinking about whether or not Izaya’s words are true; she keeps asking herself the same question. Is she a “monster?” While deep in thought, she happens upon not only one Saika holder but two: Haruna and Kujiragi.
While they each wield Saika, notable differences between the three can be spotted. The differing forms of the weapon – Anri’s singular katana, Haruna’s dual knives, and Kujiragi’s clawing wires – as well as their looks are some of the first contrasts. But it is their dispositions that garner the most attention.
Their café conversation highlights this idea well enough. Anri, per usual, remains passive. Haruna is forward and aggressive. Kujiragi has a more tactical, if not economical, mindset.
Yet the most striking difference, when compared to Anri, are their underlying feelings. Haruna is insane. She has nothing and wants nothing else besides the teacher she is so madly in love with. And Kujiragi, as seen through Anri’s eyes, has a horrifying evil nesting within.
Anri’s talk with the two women, who appear to be “monsters” and who also wield Saika, forces her to ask herself that same question again. Is she a “monster?”
At this point, it’s pertinent to dive into the anime’s main theme for this final season.
Anri sees these girls before her and wonders whether or not she is a “monster” herself. Quotes have been used because they have been necessary. For the actual question Anri is attempting to answer is the following: What makes a “monster?”
Anri is not the only example. Take Celty. She’s a dullahan, so she’s a monster. But is she a “monster?” She cares for the teenagers, she loves Shinra, and she fears the police. Seems pretty human.
What of Shizuo? His inhuman strength would certainly make him into a monster. So would his unrelenting hatred for Izaya. But his friendships with Celty, Shinra, and Varona prove he is far from being a “monster.”
On the opposite end, a character like Nasujima is a “monster.” His disregard for others – running over Kadota, using Saika to control others for his own gains – demonizes him. Izumii crushes others with his hammer, so he can be viewed as a “monster,” too.
Even Ryuugamine falls under this category. His twisted take on obliterating the Dollars and his misshapen perspective that the extraordinary is now only ordinary gives him a “monster” vibe, too. (Shooting his friend solidifies this as well.)
So what’s the difference between a “monster” and a human? The answer is simple: love.
Love happens to be the purest, most wonderful feeling that people have at their disposal. And as the characters of Ketsu show, love drives these people towards humanity.
For instance, Kujiragi finds herself feeling jealous of the love shared between Celty and Shinra, so she, too, vies for that same connection, lessening her overall evil persona. Varona’s love for Shizuo pushes her to stop him from killing Izaya, from committing the ultimate monstrous act that would, indeed, turn him into a “monster.”
But it’s not just lovers’ love that counts. Love between friends and people in general counts, too.
Masaomi has love for his best friend, love that tries to help him in all earnest. Kadota’s group love him as well, visiting him at the hospital and figuring out the culprit behind his attack. Shingen’s love for his son causes Shingen to mess up the plans of the one that orchestrated the attack against Shinra.
Yet as Manami (the girl trying to “kill” Izaya), Haruna, and Namie show, love can be used in an evil manner. Meaning humans almost always have the capacity to become a “monster” – how they love determines which side of the spectrum they end up at.
Back to Anri and her next important encounter. When Anri gets home, Saki speaks with her about Masaomi, whether or not the bespectacled girl loves the boy. She does – but not in the same manner as Saki. Saki is relieved, and, more importantly, she starts to get Anri to think about something besides that question. That maybe she is human.
Her second-to-last encounter proves the most pivotal. After meeting with Saki, the two of them join up with Kadota and Namie’s groups, hitching a ride in the van. While inside, Anri does something she’s never done before: She tells everybody about Saika.
It’s a strong moment because Saika is also about love. More specifically, it’s “her job to love humans.” So Anri loving, or at least controlling, Saika demonstrates that Anri is not a “monster.” She (as she says) may not fully understand how to love others (holding parallels with Saika’s way of “loving” humans), but, through this and her many other encounters this season, she has learned that she is truly human.
Indeed, her final encounter with Mizuki, the gangster who has ties to her past and ripped out his own eye to stop Saika from entering him, proves her newfound outlook. He asks her if she likes Ryuugamine – and she doesn’t shy away from saying yes. Those are “her feelings.” Feelings that make her into the girl, the person, the human she has always been.
The same jazzy, chaotic tunes return, as do the voice actors and voice actresses for this final push. Per usual, the former adds a mysterious atmosphere to the proceedings whereas the latter more or less capture the spirit of their individual characters. (Which, at this point, they better.)
Granted, nobody gave any amazing performances, but some special shout-outs are deserved regardless. Mamoru Miyano as Masaomi strains his voice with sincere emotion. Miyuki Sawashiro as Celty reacts to the different situations with more than just the placid tone she normally uses. And Houko Kuwashima as Kujiragi keeps her voice level no matter the situation.
Moving on to the opening track, it’s a nice piece. The beginning buildup, the middle with its somewhat somber vibe, and the end’s exciting finish gives Ketsu a fun, catchy OP for the audience to listen to.
The ending track is nice, too. Piano, guitar, and drums come together to create a cool and crazy piece that matches the overall feeling of the series itself. The vocalist’s calm yet quick singing, with the occasional change in passion, is similarly fitting for the song.
For one last time, this series just does not do it for me.
Mostly due to two characters in particular: Ryuugamine and especially Izaya. Ryuugamine is just not an interesting protagonist to me – no matter how straight-laced and demented the show tried to spin him. As for Izaya, like always, he simply got on my nerves. His demeanor. His holier-than-thou attitude. His group of girls that surround with a “hate him but secretly like him” mindset.
But worst of all, Izaya lives another day, escaping his inevitable demise and aggravating me even further.
Izaya is definitely my biggest grip, but other parts contributed to me not getting much entertainment out of the season. The different brawls weren’t fun, and the drama wasn’t moving. A couple of the comedy skits, like Namie and Mika having to sleep in the same room because of their lovers’ quarrel, could put a smile on my face. But more often than not, the anime simply failed to make me happy.
Durarara!!x2 Ketsu is a disappointing conclusion to an interesting series. Some of the music is nice and Anri’s whole arc is a definitive highlight. But the final story’s push lacks impact, many of the other cast members are mishandled, and the various unenticing elements harm this finale. If there is a next time, it needs to hold the honey-mustard.
Story: Bad, a theme on reuniting gets covered by anticlimactic events, not following through on certain ideas, and mixed narrative choices
Animation: Fine, nice artistic direction, good character designs, below average actual animation
Characters: Fine, while many of the cast members receive little in the way of attention and satisfaction in their arcs, Anri’s development as well as a theme on “monsters” and love find strength
Sound: Fine, good OP, okay ED, nice OST, about average VA performances
Enjoyment: Bad, nice to see the series end, but it’s disappointing all the same
Final Score: 4/10
Jun 6, 2017
10 of 10 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
That night, as I started to drift off to sleep, my brain spoke to me. You forgot to brush your teeth. Gross, dude. I got up, half-groggy, and started to make my way to the bathroom. I was unfamiliar with the room’s layout, and it was dark, so I fumbled and felt for the door.
Once inside, I turned on the lights and began to brush my teeth. My eyes weren’t open, and I was barely conscious. Both of which made the sound of a door opening behind me that much more nerve-racking.
When I looked in
the mirror, I saw my father sitting on the toilet in the bathroom closet. I stared at him, dumbfounded, wondering what in the world he was doing.
My father only said a single word: “Hellooooo!”
I laughed so hard, toothpaste sprayed across the counter. My father started to laugh uncontrollably, too. Our combined laughter woke up my mother and my two siblings. Upon seeing me foaming at the mouth and leaning over the sink, and John squatting on the john, they couldn’t help but laugh as well. It was a happy beginning to a truly happy vacation.
I don’t fully know what prompted my father to push open his door and say hi, but his ridiculous decision led to comedy genius. Thankfully for KonoSuba, it likewise made the right decisions.
KonoSuba starts off innocently enough. Kazuma, a boy who basically keeps to himself, one day saves the life of another from an oncoming vehicle, dying in her stead. But when he finds out that the vehicle was actually a slow-moving tractor, that he really died of shock, and that he wet himself in the process, the anime begins its comedic journey.
While this opening example hints at the show’s parody chops, it is not until Kazuma (and Aqua) get to the parallel world that it really becomes apparent. The looming threat of the Devil King has to wait while Kazuma digs a whole for some carpentry and Aqua parties (and vomits) the night away. A horse-filled stable, rather than a comfy hotel room, becomes the home for these “heroes.” Monsters, quests, and money are difficulties too large for them to handle.
This parodic approach seeps into nearly every part of the show. When Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness save the city, they earn millions in the local currency but have to pay millions and then some to fix it. Abilities are often overly useless, dangerous, and perverted. The villains are not as evil as one would normally believe.
As parody parades, KonoSuba avoids repetition. Often times, it introduces new characters and elements without using them again directly. For example, Chris the thief arrives to give Kazuma the “Steal” skill which only gets used for stealing panties, some cabbages, and the dullahan Verdia’s head.
An even better example is Kyouya. Around for a single episode, he is used to parody the “chosen hero” stereotype: the girls find him creepy, he loses to Kazuma, and his fabled sword gets sold for a quick buck.
And even when the anime does reuse specific elements, it twists the presentation through parody. Verdia reappears because the others didn’t go to fight him in the first place. Wiz, one of the “evil” generals, teaches Kazuma how to use “Drain Touch” which gets used later as a joke during the “kissing” scene. Kazuma’s second reincarnation goes against the rulebook.
The anime also uses references from earlier episodes as jokes for later. Kazuma suggests fighting giant toads again, which Megumin and Aqua object to, but Darkness wonders and wants to experience it. The townspeople wait for Kyouya, but he won’t be showing up because Kazuma ruined the guy’s life the episode prior. Megumin mentions that “crimson demons don’t go to the bathroom,” and, while at the mansion, the entire bathroom debacle occurs.
All of the jokes and the parody leave little room for a thematic presence. Not that KonoSuba needs to have one, but it does try to inject one idea regardless: Life in this new world is not as glamorous as Kazuma was led to believe.
Unfortunately, this appeal also represents one of the show’s only major weaknesses. In many of the episodes, Kazuma gives some (thought-only) variation about how much he hates “this wonderful world” (to use the anime’s title).
The final words of the season reflect this not-so-subtle direction well, but it’s episode seven that demonstrates why the idea is an issue.
Kazuma’s second afterlife scene, where he “complains” about the troubles he went through, adopts a sentimental tone that the anime actively avoids. It’s one of the only kindhearted moments in the entire season.
Indeed, this scene offers the other perspective. That maybe a silver lining exists around the various troubles he encountered. Yet the show rips that thought away when, once again, Kazuma laments that he “made the wrong choice” on getting brought back as the episode concludes.
Now, to be fair, this idea is part of the parody. I.e., poking fun at such an emotional moment fits the premise. But that still does not excuse the show’s inelegant handling of this centralized concept. Especially when its other elements are handled with more execution.
KonoSuba’s artistic direction leads to a small debate.
On the one end, the anime’s singular setting keeps the show from branching out. In fact, the same area just outside of the town’s gate is visited four times: once with the cabbages, twice with Verdia, and once with Destroyer. It wouldn’t be much of a problem if the location itself was teeming with detail, but it’s just an unassuming, boring spot for action to occur. Almost as if the anime didn’t know where else to go.
Other backgrounds are likewise not as appealing. A snowy plain, a large lake, and a shot of the stables are certainly appropriate but devoid of creativity.
On the other end, the anime can prove itself. The inside of the local inn has patrons, bar maids, and other facets – such as light fixtures, wooden tables, and the nearby quest board – that make the building a hub of activity. Quaint shots of the city streets, accompanied by soft lighting, give the anime a homely feel, contrasting with Kazuma’s oft derision of the world. And the anime can visit different spots: the succubus brothel, their mansion, and Wiz’s store to name a few.
All of which says nothing of the minor details. Lips are sometimes fully drawn, eyes sparkle with intricacies, and clothes crinkle and crease. Added details that may not be expected but are certainly welcome.
The anime further proves its clout when one of its “negatives” ends up being a positive overall: roughness. Uneven lines, misplaced eyes, and wonky facial expressions are normally turn-offs, but, in KonoSuba’s case, this roughness in the art elevates the comedy and hence the appeal of the show itself.
Due to the unchanging location and the roughness, actual animation sees a lot of attention. Aqua’s eyes moving to see if the others are still watching her cry. Megumin going through some karate moves. Darkness unable to control her excitement at joining the party. Each an example of KonoSuba’s attention to animated detail.
Indeed, the show arguably diverts most of its animation resources into the different sexual bits. Luna, the big-busted quest-giver, always receives extra frames for her breasts. Chris, after her panties are stolen, grabs her crotch rather vigorously. And the leader of the succubus brothel moves, bends, and squishes in all the right places.
If nothing else, Megumin’s famous “Explosion!” sequences – with their colors, swirls, and galactic depiction – demonstrate that both its animation and art are nothing to scoff at.
The anime also plays with perspective. Kazuma running down a hallway in first-person view or Darkness getting really up in the audience’s face showcase different levels of cinematography.
But, without a doubt, the character designs are easily the best part of the art department.
Kazuma’s starting track suit fits the parody direction, and his later shoulder garb finally gives him a sense of heroism. Aqua’s looped hair, embroidered outfit, and revealing-yet-not-quite skirt envelops the goddess with an air of importance. Megumin’s large wizard hat, eyepatch, and mismatched leggings fit her chuunibyou antics splendidly. And Darkness’s long blonde hair, tough armor, and stunning figure highlight both her classiness as well as her sexiness.
Yet it’s their coloring and color symbolism that truly shines.
Kazuma’s black and green symbolizes his derisive attitude and “good luck.” Aqua’s blue and pink symbolizes her crybaby personality and “sweetness.” Megumin’s red and brown symbolizes her power and her “endurance.” And Darkness’s orange and white symbolizes her enthusiasm and “purity.”
As can be read, each character has a color associated with him or her that contrasts with what the audience normally perceives, heightening the parody and subconsciously adding to the overall level of comedy the show so regularly achieves.
While KonoSuba’s story and art are intriguing, its lovable troupe of characters make the anime into the comical romp it becomes. Namely, Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness are the champions of the series.
Starting with the girls and Aqua more specifically, she is initially pinned as a kindhearted goddess. Sending the deceased to better lives and using holy magic to heal others, she seems helpful and understanding.
But it quickly becomes apparent that she is not only rather mean but also rather annoying. She constantly cries for Kazuma’s help, and she either has powers that are impractical or overly detrimental.
In comedic terms, she’s a character that makes the audience feel superior. It’s fun to see her wailing about her snow buddy or about not wanting to teach others her type of magic because of how useless she manages to be. In other words, the audience feels as though they are always in a better position when compared to this crybaby.
Megumin is similar. She’s not rude like Aqua, but she is certainly not without her quirks. Chief among them being her chuunibyou persona. She speaks, dresses, and acts in a fantastical manner, giving her an air of silliness. Her silliness, however, is justified when she displays her immeasurable destructive power through the explosion magic she commands.
At least, it’s justified until before she unleashes her singular ability. For that’s all she can do. Literally. After using her one spell one time, she is essentially rendered inert, unable to move without the assistance of another.
Again, in comedic terms, she’s a character that makes the audience feel relief. Her character talks the talk and walks the walk. But when the explosion subsides and the dust settles, she, like Aqua, is useless and hence funny. In other words, she builds up emotion in the audience that is later released (in the form of laughter).
Perhaps obviously at this point, Darkness is similar, too. On the outside, she’s a beautiful woman whose determination to protect the people is laudable. But once one gets to know her, however, they realize that she’s a bit strange. She revels in the pain, the suffering that comes with said protection. To the point that it sexually arouses her. Plus, she cannot even hit stationary targets with her weapon. That’s how pitiful she is at wielding a sword.
Again (again), in comedic terms, she’s a character that makes the audience feel incongruous. Her immoral behavior and abysmal swordsmanship in no way befits a proud knight, and it’s this stark contrast that makes her useless and therefore funny. In other words, her unexpected characterization creates comedy.
Altogether, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness each exemplify a different “brand” of humor. It’s what gives the anime so much comedy clout. The show relies on a unified motif of uselessness, but, by branching out into different forms of comedy, KonoSuba manages to appeal to many people.
As for Kazuma, he gets the brunt end of the stick. When he gets a new chance at another life, he discovers that it’s not much better than his old one. Indeed, it’s worse. A final goal so daunting that he chooses instead to accept his current fate. A set of situations so harrowing that he refuses to do anything even remotely dangerous. A group of friends so aggravating that it’s a wonder he makes it through the day in one piece.
Kazuma is fed up with all of these problems, taking it out on said friends. He berates Aqua for wasting all of their money. He chastises Megumin for her one-and-done approach. He harps on Darkness for her masochistic tendencies.
It’s understandable. Most people in his position would most likely have similar feelings. It’s human nature to complain when the going gets tough, when life hands one lemons, and any other related cliché.
For this reason, it makes Kazuma relatable and therefore likable. Where the rest of the town sees the girls as members of the best class roles and saviors of the city, the audience sympathizes with Kazuma and his mindset because they get to see what the arch-priest, the arch-wizard, and the crusader are actually like.
To be fair, the girls aren’t completely useless. Aqua brings water to those who need it, Megumin obliterates the competition, and Darkness boosts the morale of others. And it’s precisely for this reason that Kazuma’s constant negativity comes off as hilarious. In other words, since the audience knows that the girls can be useful, when they aren’t (which is most of the time), Kazuma’s scathing words are more than justified and therefore comedic.
Sadly, the anime does not give much more to their characters beyond their fleshed-out characterizations. Kazuma’s previous life, Aqua’s religious sect, Megumin’s own “race,” and Darkness’s rich family are alluded to but never shown.
Given the show’s shortened season (ten episodes as opposed to twelve or thirteen) and the show’s nearly pure focus on comedy, it may be unreasonable for one to expect the cast to have more of a background let alone development.
Even so, them lacking more to their characters leads to them relying on their shticks again and again. Aqua only ever cries, Megumin only ever yells out her catchphrase, Darkness only ever gets turned on, and Kazuma only ever speaks the (harsh) truth.
It can get repetitive, but, thankfully, their strong comedic roots keep this issue in check for the majority of the season.
Arguably speaking, the single strongest aspect of KonoSuba is its ending track.
Titled “Chiisana Boukensha,” this ED is one of the best to ever grace the medium. The beat’s methodical calmness instills a sense of peace and elation. Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness sing both individually and in harmony, their voices both tranquil and sincere. And the country-farm tone – with its banjo, flute, drums, and other atmospheric instruments – captures the down-to-earth, everyday life that the lovable cast never gets to have. It’s a phenomenal track that deserves as much praise as possible. Now and for years to come.
While nothing else in the sound department comes close to the ED, the voice-acting performances are fantastic in their own right. Sora Amamiya as Aqua brings hilarity in droves with her crying, screams, and arrogant manner. Rie Takahashi as Megumin chants her way to “Explosion!” cuteness. And Ai Kayano as Darkness, with her impassioned speeches and seductive moans, provides attractiveness in more ways than one.
Jun Fukushima as Kazuma also deserves a shout-out. Mostly for his mean-spirited speaking. But he also introduces even more comedy with his occasional interjections. Responding with “Yes, I’m Kazuma” when the girls try to get his attention, asking “Really?” as they talked during dinner time, and getting in a “Bring it” as Wiz prepares to “suck” him made for some silly adlib moments that fit the anime more than well.
The original soundtrack is also praiseworthy, for while it does not have the same high level of execution as the ED and the voice acting, it’s not without its own strengths. The rap-like, ukulele track is both catchy and fun. The soft, simple piano piece makes those heartwarming moments that much warmer. And the individualized tracks for each character – Kazuma’s heroic tune, Aqua’s church choir, Megumin’s otherworldliness, and Darkness’s promiscuous ladies – add further to their overall characterizations.
Lastly (and perhaps least) sits the opening track. Guitar, chimes, and drums create an optimistic and lofty OP, taking a contrasting direction when compared to both its ED counterpart and the anime itself. The ending segment with the stepping violin gives the track a final flourish that gets the audience prepared for the comedy to come. It’s not exactly strong, but KonoSuba’s other sound offerings more than make up for the passable OP. (The ED alone covers it and then some.)
I absolutely love this one.
And there’s a reason for that. It doesn’t always happen in an anime for me, but this one managed to achieve the ever elusive dream: I am fully a fan of each character.
For Kazuma, him speaking aloud his disapproval of the others was never tiring. Getting ready to punch Aqua for her deliberate attempt at sympathy. Telling Megumin to use a nearby vase to pee in. Forcing Darkness, without reproach, to lather him up in the bath hall. He’s a likable central protagonist through and through.
For Aqua, her overreactions had me laughing out loud. When she was excited to beat up Kazuma for him defending the “evil” succubus (Aqua’s eyes especially). When she bawled about needing money or help. When she acted like she didn’t want praise but actually did. She’s incredibly annoying yet insanely funny.
For Megumin, her chuunibyou behavior was always welcome. Her floating down a puddle of water to get closer to Darkness to give her a thumbs up. Her pretending to be dead in the snow. Her caressing her arch-wizard’s staff due to the drug-like addiction she has with explosions. She’s small in stature, but she left a large impression.
For Darkness, her attractiveness had me hooked. Getting pushed into the snow turned her on. When she smiled from embarrassment while admitting her faults in fighting. Her willing to protect her friends as the crusader she is. She’s sexy, interesting, and amazing.
Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness are just so much fun that it didn’t matter what they were doing on-screen. I knew I could count on them to make me laugh. And I know they will continue to do so when that second season eventually rolls around.
KonoSuba is a comedy adventure. With extremely hilarious characters, amazing sound-work, and parody for days, it’s a wonderful anime that nobody should be afraid to say “Hellooooo” to.
Story: Good, an adventurous parody with smartly reused jokes and subtle in-narrative references, brought down by an overstated complaint about the world being too tough
Animation: Great, despite the unchanging location, positives like the comically rough art, the above average levels of actual animation, and the superb character designs are visually pleasing to see
Characters: Good, the main cast’s strong comedic roots are hampered by their overused shticks caused by there not being a whole lot more to their characters
Sound: Great, one of the best ED’s in the medium, fantastic voice-acting performances, and a nice OST overcome the passable OP
Enjoyment: Great, Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness are a downright awesome group of adventurers
Final Score: 9/10
Jun 5, 2017
23 of 23 episodes seen
people found this review helpful
(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
A haiku I title “Moon-Filled Sandwich.”
Garo: Guren no Tsuki
Garo: Guren no Tsuki takes place in the (coincidentally enough) Garo universe. Horrors roam the land as Makai Knights and Makai Alchemists protect the people. All the while, lots of battling and grounded interactions occur.
And it’s horrible.
One of the issues that the anime has is a tonal one. As can be watched, the anime is filled with depravity, death, and destruction. Yet the show regularly injects mistimed comedic relief. When the characters eat some candy or when Seimei acts playful after turning her deceased mother
into a Madou Tool, the scenes come off as less funny and more awkward, considering the violence and turmoil and seriousness about them.
Nowhere is this swing between dramatic and comedic more obtuse than with episode fifteen. Despite the anime beginning to head towards its final set of episodes, as well as being in the middle of its largest conflict, an entire episode is dedicated to comedy. It follows a lecherous man who cannot stop his promiscuous feelings. His character, Raikou and Kintoki reacting to the situation, and the final, cheesy heart do not mesh with the mood of the anime whatsoever.
This second half of the anime also highlights the next major issue: plot structure. The first eleven or so episodes are rather repetitive. An episode starts with a person succumbing to sin (and therefore turning into a Horror), the group dawdles for a while, they visit the Watchdog Center, and then they finally defeat the Horror.
While the main antagonists Douma and Douman are around, the anime during this first half does not include an overarching conflict. It’s not until the second half that the anime finally decides to include one. But it comes out of nowhere. No mention of the super-evil Rudra or the blood-red moon or even the main motivations of the evil men come about until it’s too late.
Simultaneously, Garo: Guren no Tsuki has an insane amount of odd, often poor, writing choices.
For instance, Kaguya is a character introduced in episode four. After she is helped, she goes away – presumably because she no longer has a place in the narrative. But she returns (officially) in episode eighteen, becoming a vital key to the plot. In other words, for fourteen episodes, she was neither important nor relevant.
Another example. Michinaga, the leader in the Light Palace, uses a certain book that generates the barrier which protects the palace from outside evil. But this detail was not made known until much later in the season.
Many more problems exist.
The show keeps its setting within just the capital, inviting stagnation. A lot of the action contains very little actual fighting besides a couple of sword swings. Douma gets killed in approximately two seconds despite his status, power, and involvement. Random happenings, such as characters teleporting (and not teleporting) when they choose and magical powers, make the plot progression convenient rather than natural. The thematic disparity between the poor and the aristocrats receives next to no exploration especially when the same tired idea – that the rich are evil – gets repeated ad nauseam.
And the list goes on.
Even the ending has issues. Disregarding the fact that Zanga, the Silver Knight, disappears, the anime provides no closure for any of the different relationships, plotlines, and ideas. What the future holds is not known: about Raikou and Seimei, about the capital, and about the Makai Knights in general. Instead, the anime literally ends on “Farewell, Ashiya Douman” and a shot of the sky.
To be absolutely fair, the anime does have a couple of interesting moments. Seimei choosing to save Raikou over the people and Raikou becoming incredibly tiny attempt to switch up the show’s tiring tale. But a couple of intriguing scenes interspersed throughout twenty-three episodes worth of narrative problems does not equate to a worthwhile story whatsoever.
Garo: Guren no Tsuki’s art and animation are arguably the anime’s worst traits.
Due to the centralized location, the background depictions are sorely lacking in terms of creativity. The same roads, wooden houses, and caves induce boredom through their gross repetition and missing detail. Lighting, despite the anime’s motif of light versus dark, does not impress. And misaligned faces make the show difficult to stomach.
Worse still are obvious artistic errors. Disappearing cloths and reappearing hats demonstrate clearly that the anime received very little attention on a visual level.
Animation levels are low throughout most of its run. Choreography for the fights tends to be nonexistent, and downtime is filled with missing frames and stiff actions, leading to characters that move in silly, weird, or broken ways.
The character designs continue having trouble. For some of them, the lines that constitute the borders of their characteristics appear crooked. Douma’s beard and Raikou’s hair are the best examples.
Raikou’s design is particularly lame. His weedy hair, plain face, and boring outfit turn him into more of a joke and less of a main protagonist. Yasusuke looks like a hunter instead of a thief. And Douman’s blue-and-grey-centric coloring may be fitting for his evilness, but the drabness makes his design boring – and, no, his different-colored eyes and facial scars do not make him cooler.
To be as fair as possible once again, the anime is not entirely problematic when it comes to its art and animation.
The arena where some of the fights take place gives the show the chance to play with interesting effects, such as shiny, floating debris and different color palettes.
The CG segments, specifically in relation to the Gold and Silver Makai Knights, show a surprising amount of fluidity. The final fight, with the first-person-enemy perspective, was nice to see.
And Seimei’s design – long hair, mostly purple outfit, and attractive figure – and the Silver Knight design – with its embroidery and all-white coloring – do not fall prey to the same problems that the other designs notably have.
Even so, the negatives far outweigh these miniscule positives.
Perhaps it’s obvious at this point, but the cast of Garo: Guren no Tsuki are filled with so many writing problems that it is astounding they were even conceived in the first place.
Starting with the main protagonist, Raikou is the fabled holder of the Golden Armor, permitting him the honor of becoming the Golden Makai Knight. But he is not allowed to use it all will-nilly. Seimei, the woman who watches over him, only grants him temporary usage of the armor when she unlocks the seal. It’s all done with the best of intentions, for, after wearing the armor for too long, Raikou becomes visibly shaken and weak.
Early on, the anime sets up Raikou’s character in a two-fold manner. On the one side, his past is filled with death and turmoil, forcing him to not have much of a past at all. On the other side, his emotions, his disregard for his own self, prevents him from fully controlling the golden armor. It’s why Seimei keeps tabs on him; he has yet to prove his worthiness.
But true to the anime’s form, his character plummets. Coincidentally enough, it’s due to two separate issues.
The first is asinine. In episode eight, the anime throws Raikou’s entire background at the audience. Who his father is, the brother he didn’t know he had, and so on. Yet Raikou was not surprised in the least bit by the revelation. Yes, Raikou literally says he already knew all of this information, making his past-self conflict moot.
The second is simply an unforeseen consequence. At the halfway point of the season, Raikou overcomes his emotional instability when he realizes that Seimei’s protection of him has been a sacrifice of herself. He matures slightly, and, as a result, he finally commands the golden armor without her aid.
While this development is one of the first actual competent pieces of writing, there’s a problem: It occurred too soon.
In essence, Raikou’s character peaks. Without any other conflicts for him to face, his character does not have anything else to do but simply be around. Indeed, for the last half of the season, he takes part in the various happenings, fights the baddies, and interacts with the other cast members. But his character completely stagnates.
Many of the other characters are simply handled poorly. Yorinobu, Raikou’s (later learned) brother, seems as though he will have more importance in the overall story. But beyond crushing on Seimei somewhat, getting a quasi-girlfriend, and worrying about Raikou occasionally, he does not contribute much. To be fair, his main role is acting as a good guy within the bad guys’ camp, but other characters, such as Seimei’s father and Yasusuke, fill that role, too.
Speaking of Yasusuke, he suffers the same fate. Despite obtaining the silver armor of the Silver Makai Knight, he does not influence the direction the anime takes. On more of a writing level, the show fails to make his relationship with Raikou more meaningful, and the whole “skip out on training and get right to being a Makai Knight” decision is unbelievable.
Even more baffling is Kintoki, Raikou’s child assistant. Kintoki is around for the entire season, yet, besides a passing aside about him being a child still due to a curse, the anime gives next to zero background on his character let alone development for him as a person.
And while it may not even need to be said, the main antagonists are awful. Two of them exist: Douman and Michinaga.
Douman is the more important of the two. He has his hand in nearly every evil event, doing his best to bring about darkness. This word, “darkness,” is practically the only word in his lexicon. He says it in nearly every other line, turning his dialogue into a repetitive mess.
The rest of his character does not fare any better. For the longest time, his tiresome yelling about darkness is all he has. Later on, however, the audience learns that Douman’s brother is actually Michinaga. Douman, apparently caused by familial and class conflicts, was abandoned, his face cut up. Perhaps expectantly, the anime fails to expound on his relationship with Michinaga beyond the singular conversation they hold, making the quick look into his background pointless.
His conclusion makes it obvious just how lame his character is. The show tries to push the notion that, because he did not truly meld with the evilest Horror Rudra, he still has some light within him. I.e., he is still good. But it’s a feeble, ridiculous attempt at humanizing his character. Not just because it literally happens in the final few moments of the anime but also because he next to never showed any signs of goodness. His vocabulary made sure of that.
Michinaga is the other main antagonist, but, honestly, it would be unfair to give him that much credit. The reason? He does nothing. He sits in the Light Palace for nearly the entire season, conniving to make his place of power safe for himself and himself alone. That’s it. For twenty-three episodes, he sits around.
The kicker, though, is that when an opportunity to finally make him a relevant character – when the townsfolk are clamoring to get into the Light Palace due to the destruction wrought by Rudra – he disappears. Worse still, the anime apparently forgets about him entirely since the anime does not revisit or explain where he ran off to. It’s astoundingly asinine.
The only possible positive throughout the entire cast is Seimei.
Seimei’s first impression is one of beauty, yet she frequently approaches life with a carefree attitude. She is good at being a Makai Alchemist. She knows it, and everyone else knows it, too. And so the first half of the season has her mainly as a side character, teasing and supporting Raikou indefinitely.
Simultaneously, the audience learns more about her past. She was the one to save and raise Raikou. Her parents sacrificed themselves for her (rather unnecessarily), causing her to leave home of her own free will. And, at that time, she took Douma (Douman’s current teacher) as her mentor.
Her compassionate and dark past persists to the present. When Raikou is consumed by darkness, she takes it from him, burdening herself with the evil that plagued him. And when given the choice between saving the people and saving Raikou (again), she chooses Raikou, demonstrating where her heart and mind truly lie.
Seimei is set up well, but the follow-up falls apart. Raikou, in turn, comes to Seimei’s aid – only to have her walk away from the group. Then, for several episodes in a row, she does not appear, taking her out of the spotlight and subsequently harming any type of build-up she had accrued thus far. When she does return, her roaming around, attacking her grandfather, and losing to Douma each come off as silly.
Interestingly, Seimei does succumb to the darkness. Although her constant appearing, spouting a few words, and then running away, only to repeat the process again the next time, continues the silliness. The show tries to tie in her hatred of butterflies by making her evil persona use them, but her being evil and hating butterflies does not exactly correlate.
Regardless, her character arc concludes when Raikou enters her mind (through her grandfather’s magic), saving her from herself. This contrast fits well with her light versus dark motif, which in turn coincides with the anime’s, ending her character on a surprisingly passable note.
As a whole, though, one barely passable character out of the whole cast is simply not enough.
Without a doubt, Garo: Guren no Tsuki’s strongest facet is its music and other sound-work.
The first opening track adopts more of a Spanish vibe with its acoustic guitar and castanets. The vocalist, the leveled beat, and the background singers come together to create an interesting track. It doesn’t exactly fit the show – the setting and the tone are a testament to this statement – but it’s still a nice piece nonetheless.
The second OP is much more grandiose. The range of the vocalists, the different paces, and the emotional instrumental compositions feel as though they match the destructive and intense scale of the anime better than its previous counterpart. It’s neither catchy nor overly impressive, but, once again, it’s a nice addition to the show.
The first ending track is easily the best part of the entire anime. The cultural instruments. The background choir. The build-up in the first half that leads to the resounding relief in the second half. Combined with the catchiness and the strong vocal work, it stands above anything else that the anime has to offer.
The second ED starts off strong – the metal guitar and shamisen bring about a cool mixture. But the rest of the track lacks the same finesse and power that the first ED does. At the minimum, the vocal work continues to impress even if the majority of the piece does not.
As for the rest of the original soundtrack, it does have tracks reminiscent of the previous series, such as a laidback guitar for the more laidback moments and creepy, ambient tracks for the Horror-related conflicts. But nothing too memorable. In fact, the tracks can sometimes play at awkward times, especially when the jarring comedic scenes appear.
Last but not least, the voice-acting performances. The metallic sound-effect for the armor was still a nice touch for the series, but no noteworthy performances were had.
While watching this one, I couldn’t believe how the whole package could get any worse, but it continually proved me wrong.
The characters were unlikable. Raikou barely showed any emotion, Kintoki was annoying, and Douman was lame. The action sequences were boring to watch since the Horrors never made for compelling enemies. The rough visuals had me grimacing.
Other parts I couldn’t help but laugh at. Certain events or directions the anime either took or didn’t take were just plain silly. Seimei’s grandfather’s body floating into the sky made me chuckle. As did Yosusuke’s girlfriend’s Horror persona chucking sheets of cloth.
All of this says nothing about the inane plot, the feeble attempts at sexual content, and the weird way in which the show depicted kid Raikou. Altogether, the anime is one of the worst I have ever seen to date.
Garo: Guren no Tsuki fails at nearly every single turn. The story has no coherency. Each character lacks meaningful purpose. And the art and animation leave much to be desired. Some of the music has strength but not enough to carry the show anywhere. One would rather consume a half-eaten, moist, and moldy sandwich than whatever this anime ended up being.
Story: Terrible, tonal issues, ridiculous plot developments, and numerous narrative pitfalls create a mess of a tale
Animation: Terrible, weak artistic direction, obvious artistic errors, low levels of actual animation, and lame character designs outweigh any potential visual positives
Characters: Terrible, while Seimei may be passable, Raikou, Douma, and the other important characters are clearly not
Sound: Fine, okay first OP, okay second OP, good first ED, okay second ED, okay OST, and okay VA performances
Enjoyment: Terrible, nothing of value to be found within
Final Score: 1/10