Little Witch Academia (I+ II) – more than Harry Potter: The Anime

 photo LWA0_zpsdcs8ocke.png height=

Studio Trigger
Genres Action, Drama, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Original
Episodes 1+1 (both OVAs or films, or whatever)
Season Winter 2013 + Autumn 2015
Director Yoh Yoshinari
Music Michiru Oshima

     My case with Trigger anime has been quite a weird one. At first  I was very annoyed by the countless ads of World Trigger anime on Crunchyroll – at some point it seemed that there were virtually no other ads out there. It’s quite a shame that I managed to confuse a name of an anime with an entirely unconnected name of a studio. The ads certainly didn’t pique my attention, but then I learned of Kill la Kill, and that did. Yet, I researched it rather poorly (at first confusing it with Akame ga Kill, dammit) and stopped after quite quickly getting an idea that it’s only a weird ecchi show that doesn’t interest me at all. Knowing that Trigger branched of Gainax did give some brownie points but experiencing a short by Hiroyuki Imaishi in Nihon Animator Mihonichi (ep. 14) I was just disgusted by the sheer vulgarity of it. Despite all these things eventually I decided to try some rather neutral Trigger stuff, as Little Witch Academia has been praised by a lot of people and it seemed no way that it could be a hentai. Yet…

 photo LWA4_zps2incxlpm.png

     Just kidding. It’s definitely not a hentai (though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone has made some hentai after LWA). Stupid jokes aside, to clear some points, this post concerns only the original LWA as well as its successor LWA: Mahoujikake no Parade and not the (currently airing) TV series. Now fairly popular franchise began with “Young Animator Training Project” (aka “Anime Mirai” at some point), which also was the reason for Death Billiards (and consequently Death Parade) among other stuff to come into being. As it was a success, a launched Kickstarter project – pretty unusual for an anime, eh? – became funded in no time (to be more precise under 6 hours) and so we got a sequel to the first OVA. And even later came the TV series, but that’s not the topic today. Why is LWA interesting? For starters, there aren’t many anime whose stories have so little in common with anything Japanese. Name the heroine otherwise and you have a script for a Disney production. Well, if you can imagine the world of Harry Potter genderbendered and made into an anime, you would get the general atmosphere pretty well. To be frank, even some story elements have similarities – for example the adversary of the good kids is a white-haired person from a family with a long lineage. It’s not only that. Near the end of the second LWA there is something straight from Satoshi Kon’s Paprika. The creators themselves acknowledged that they had various influences that made LWA what it is. Should it bother a random viewer? Definitely not, as even if LWA isn’t the most original piece of art (though such a story in anime is pretty novel), it was made with love and watching it is nothing but fun.

 photo LWA5_zpsvbfyajbl.png

What is it about then? A young girl Akko after seeing a really impressive (no kidding) performance of magic by one particular witch, becomes infatuated with the stuff you can do and energetically (as always) decides to go to a magic school. Her problem is that she has no knowledge and obviously isn’t as skilled in all of the witch-y things. Getting a protagonist to overcome such problems is a basic premise of many shounen anime, but what makes LWA stand out is the execution. Especially the first OVA is incredibly tight paced – every single frame is thought out and couldn’t be removed by any means. The creators already confessed having to cut lots of stuff due to the expected limited length. Still, the OVA doesn’t last even half an hour (which passes in an instant) but you feel that the material could have been spread out into a full feature film using a more relaxed and therefore probably less charming approach. The second film continues the doings of Akko and her friends, expands the universe, but isn’t as entertaining as the first one. The story becomes less tight, there are fewer new exciting locations, the characters start some inter-conflicts and that slows down everything quite a bit. After all, it’s almost inevitable that a sequel isn’t as unique as the original material. Still, even if it doesn’t manage to reach the heights of the first LWA, for every fan of the franchise (and not only) it’s much recommended.

 photo LWA3_zps2bad9p1p.png

    About the characters of LWA I have written a bit here. To think about them in a broader scale, they don’t really stand out. Especially in the first film, when the pacing lefts almost no space for a breather, the girls are presented really quick and then only their actions speak for them.  You have the enthusiastic Akko, who loves magic with every cell in her body but often screws up only because, being from a non-magician family, she has no idea how things work. Akko’s sidekicks Lotte and Sucy, being a normal girl and a pretty typical witch respectively, provide some character dynamics and catalyze some drama in the second film. Diana, whose family is apparently very proud of their ancestry with many generations of witches, acts as an antagonist in the first film, but sadly doesn’t retain any more prominent role in the second, which is a shame. The second film also introduces three more girls that have some minimal impact on the story, but don’t do anything special. When you think about it, the character aspect of both shows may be a bit lacking, but after so much that happens you just don’t care about it. Also, another perspective was provided by the director himself – Akko symbolizes a new animator coming into the business, without a clear vision of the real work he has to do, and that not always is as interesting and easy as he thinks. Everyone, with Diana acting as an embodiment for them, despises such a carefree attitude, but ultimately Akko finds her place in the community. Sure, this allegory isn’t apparent if you don’t know about it, but it‘s a nice little touch, giving the franchise a new meaning.

Excerpt from LWA: Mahoujikake no Parade; animation by Yuuto Kaneko

    Doubtless the animation is the most enjoyable part of both of the films. You can only wonder how much passionate work was put into every single scene and how effectively everything came out to be. The director Yoh Yoshinari is known for being a perfectionist to the bone so working under him probably wasn’t the least stressful work on Earth, but despite that the end result is nothing but gorgeous. It’s easy to recognize Studio Trigger behind the work because of the character designs and especially character animation. Such exaggerations in it not always work well with me, but this time I was only astounded how well it reflected the characters and their emotions. Forget the usual anime trend of only lips flapping – there everything is moving and characters are as expressive and dynamic as anywhere. You can probably make a whole sakuga guidebook just from the first LWA. The animation wasn’t the only thing to stand out in the department of visuals – Studio Pablo did a wonderful job (as always) providing backgrounds – vibrant, colorful, and beautiful beyond any doubt.

 photo LWA2_zpsfju5jkw6.png

     The soundtrack is another aspect linking LWA to the Disney productions very tightly, and at the same time being close to Ghibli soundtracks. That’s no wonder since the composer is Michiru Oshima, who usually handles orchestral music very effectively. Just look at her portfolio that contains FMA (the first one), Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei (that is Tatami Galaxy) or Akagami no Shirayuki hime. Orchestral pieces provide an airy atmosphere with enough quirks to mirror the misadventures of Akko. Having a full orchestration also gives a feeling of something removed from your daily life, just like a fantastic fairy tale with a usual “once upon a time”. A more minimalistic soundtrack (maybe just usual piano and strings) would have made everything look way more familiar, but now there’s a sense of wonder and also curiousness how anime girls can be mixed with classical Disney atmosphere, and the most important thing is that the mix really works.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Chariot's Theme' by Michiru Oshima

    At this moment the new TV series is still ongoing but I think it’s safe to say that the short length of the previous installments to the franchise was a positive attribute. Of course, there have been many anime shorts that waste the time they’re given, but LWA is not the case. When the creators have thought out the universe and the story that they want to tell really well, and it turns out to be longer than intended, as painful as it might be, generally cutting some material works way better than having to stretch everything out. Also it’s notable that TV series has a whole different timetable so not very satisfying strategies as outsourcing become inevitable. I guess it’s just my slight concern that the TV LWA so far isn’t doing anything more impressive than its predecessors (though it also has its moments). Knowing that the first and second LWAs look even more beautiful, full of freedom and devoid of limitations makes them a really enjoyable experience.

 photo LWA6_zpsiccfdlgr.png

 I believe, this anime is

 3
Good

     I think that for any anime fan LWA (especially the first one) is a must watch. I can’t remember when was the last time that so much fun was so tightly packed and delivered with amazing animation. Well, it’s Trigger at its best. If you have been burned out because of too many boring anime or just want to reignite your love for the “Chinese cartoons”, LWA is as good an option as you are ever going to find.

Orange – a mixed bag of everything

 photo O1_zpsdwvd612m.jpg

Studio Telecom Animation Film
Genres Drama, Romance
Source Manga
Episodes 13
Season Summer 2016
Director Hiroshi Hamasaki
Music Hiroaki Tsutsumi
.

      There are anime that by the majority of the viewers are believed to be outstanding in each and every aspect (Cowboy Bebop probably won’t receive much objections) or conversely just don’t have any redeeming qualities (Mars of Destruction, even less objections). Yet, only a handful of shows tend to be well-balanced in all of their departments – for example having a good soundtrack sadly doesn’t automatically grant a good story. For instance my experience with Makoto Shinkai’s films (yet to see Kimi no Na wa.) has been rather ambiguous – the visuals are breathtakingly amazing but the stories often seem quite lacking. In this context Orange looks like a particularly diverse show – the story alone sometimes makes you laugh (sadly, unintentionally) and other times it surprises with wisdom. Other aspects also can be very polarizing in terms of execution. Let’s dig a little deeper and find out about the goods and the bads of this anime.

 photo O8_zpsa4g3luas.png

    Orange starts with a very fantasy-like event – a high-schooler (how else?) Naho gets a letter from her future self, telling about various regrets she came to have. The letter pleads Naho to experience a bit different life – to alter some of decisions that her future self made. Thus Naho would avoid frustration that many times is centered on her relationship with a new transfer student (again, how else?) Kakeru. As you see, the suspension of disbelief must be employed right from the start but hope that everything will be explained later on gives the story a little head start. Yet, in this very place the problems started. As I wrote in my remarks about Boku dake ga Inai Machi, an explanation to some supernatural phenomenon usually is wanted by the viewers but no explanation generally is a lot better than a bad one. And writing stories that involve time travel you have to put a damn much effort to think of at least a bit plausible and believable mechanism. Of course, Orange isn’t a story centered on time travel and it’s just a plot device to get things moving, but the writer looks to have wanted to include an explanation at all costs, and it did cost quite expensively. All the build-up of emotions and the tranquility of the relationships between people get thrown out of the window when Orange tries to invoke all the means that sci-fi can offer – Bermuda Triangle, parallel Universes and stuff – to justify the premise and just wastes time making an effort out of a situation with no possible favorable outcome.

 photo O4_zpsxoojg2nq.png

Another quite huge plot convenience was Naho’s way of reading her letter. It seems that she didn’t even thought of reading the letter whole to the very end once she got it. Yes, Naho herself was troubled for some time thinking that knowing what will happen in the future isn’t right and it only steals the joy of making various decisions but in many instances some drama and uncertainty could have been easily eliminated if only she had had some brains to read everything. Also, it seems like the letter was deliberately made ambiguous with some information withheld and only to be thrown in at the last second. I doubt if anyone truly wanting to give exact instructions how to do something would be so imprecise and wouldn’t think at all about the problems that might arise (and do arise) for the person reading the letter and trying to behave according to the instructions. By the way, why Orange? Why not, say, Banana or Rhubarb? It looks like the author just thought about a cool sounding title and only then was reminded that a title should have some connection with the creation itself. Sure, there is one scene where Kakeru buys Naho some orange juice as she asked when Kakeru was buying things for the whole group, but it’s a one-time-only motive that has no lasting influence.

 photo O3_zpsrrpp3vcf.png

     You can think what you want about the achievements and shortcomings of the story, but the characters do deserve appreciation. To think about it, barely anyone of the main cast is strong enough to carry the show or to be interesting by himself/herself, but it’s actually the whole ensemble of them that provides the best moments. Naho as a lead character is rather dull and could probably be best described as just a normal sweet and hard-working girl. Apart from her failure to read the letter whole from the very start, some pondering about the possibilities and outcomes of changing the future and general concern for her friends, she doesn’t appear to be exceptional in any way from a typical supporting character. Suwa, a sports guy with enough optimistic attitude to be someone to lean upon if necessary, Azu, your pretty much typical genki girl with a knack for making jokes of another guy in the group – not that sporty Hagita – who doesn’t really mind and looks to be enjoying that, and Takako, who usually remains in the background and doesn’t do anything special apart from just being there – that’s the group of Naho’s friends who together make one of the most well-made friend units that I can remember in anime. There are many scenes where nothing special is happening and all the group just talks about nonsense, small things, or just teases one another. You get the feeling that they are really comfortable together and if need be, would do anything to offer any possible help. Then there is also Kakeru, a darker person (well, not only by his appearance), who is instantly picked up by the group and only by his own worries and insecurities doesn’t immediately become one of them as if he had known everyone for all his life. Kakeru has problems, and the show treats them very carefully and respectfully, pointing that in the real world such things are no joke and you may need all your abilities and more to help a person as troubled as Kakeru is.

or_zpsxtn29d5g1

Excerpt from the OP

    The animation is probably the weakest part of the show. The studio Telecom Animation Film previously hasn’t done much worth noticing and worries of many people proved to be justified as the season went by. If the OP of a show gets the best sakuga moments of the show it’s no big deal but when you notice that during the later episodes the OP becomes the only place to look for anything decently animated, there’s a problem. Using slow pans, lots of close-ups and barely anything moving eventually become a standard to be expected of the show and it’s a shame because the story really deserved better. Painfully CG-ish students, sometimes strolling across the backgrounds don’t offer much help, either, as well as characters shamefully appearing off model way more than I’d find acceptable for no apparent reason save lack of time and money. Looking on a brighter side, the visual concept of the show appears to be not that standard. I don’t know how common green jackets are in Japanese high-schools but these, paired with very whitish and washed-out environment, create a noticeable contrast and a memorable atmosphere. The pale surroundings remind me of another show that had quite a similar visual concept – Stein’s;Gate. Oh wait, it turns out that rather coincidently both of the shows share the same director – Hiroshi Hamasaki. I won’t say that otherwise Orange would have been a terrible show, but the presence of this man certainly did a huge favor for the visuals even with the very limited means that were available.

 photo O10_zps4ec7j2to.png

    Speaking about the soundtrack, I must return to the OP. As Orange was the show I started my summer season with, I was thirsty for something exciting and this OP just blew away all my expectations with immeasurable energy and sense of joy with some fleeting moments of sadness. For me Yu Takahashi’s song paired with the storyboarding and directing by the director himself somehow made this OP one of the most memorable of the whole year. The rest of the soundtrack, composed by Hiroaki Tsutsumi, doesn’t contain anything as striking, but as a background music it works really well. I don’t think I’d ever listen to this soundtrack as a piece of art, but sometimes when you just want to create some peaceful slice-of-life-ish atmosphere, many of the tracks work perfectly. As usually in such a show a piano and strings make up the largest part of the sound, also usually supported by guitars and an occasional violin solo. Looking to the soundtrack as a part of the anime, I can confirm that it blends well with the general atmosphere, usually remaining cheerful and managing to offer some seriousness during more emotional scenes.

The OP: 'Hikari no Hahen' by Yu Takahashi

     Orange is a really mixed bag – when it’s good, it’s truly emotional and beautiful, and when it’s bad you just want to drop it and never think about it again. Yet, the show certainly has character. I think the friendship was portrayed very well – the group of friends has a great chemistry, feels very genuine, lively and real, as if you could easily belong to it yourself. The quality of the visuals didn’t do justice for the story and even the story has many things to be criticized for, but it might not always be the case – there are opinions that all the parallel universe stuff could be thought of as a daydream of Naho, and in this way many unsatisfying things would nicely fall into places, but it’s your own choice to think what you will. Of course since there probably are more plot holes in Orange than in a typical colander there still would be things to be disappointed about but at least for me the positives of the show had more weight to keep me watching.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Yell' by Hiroaki Tsutsumi

I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

    Despite all the shortcomings I still think Orange is worth giving a try. Maybe not anime but the original manga, but if you are able not to be bothered too much by all the dissonance of the sci-fi element  (among other things) with the whole mood of the show you could certainly get an enjoyable experience, enriched by moments that call for more thought about living your life in such a way that your future self won’t have to judge your present self too harshly.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama! – overlong example of broken storytelling

 photo Kwms0_zpsivtwd9ib.jpg

Alternative title Maid Sama!
Studio J.C.Staff
Genres Comedy, Romance, Slice of Life
Source Manga
Episodes 26
Season Spring 2010
Director Hiroaki Sakurai
Music Wataru Maeguchi

      It feels a bit strange that my history of watching anime which heavily relies on romance and comedy motives is rather ambiguous in a sense that I usually have no idea if a certain show for me will be a hit or a miss. Such flagship of romance like Toradora! left me with a very sour aftertaste (and that’s probably the biggest difference I have with the public consensus about any more popular show) while Nodame Cantabile felt really sincere and heartwarming. Of course every show uses just a bit different combination of ideas but in my case it feels wrong but I appreciate Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo for its depiction of a struggle to get a future that you want or Ore Monogatari!! for its comedy rather than the romance aspect of both of these shows. In this perspective comedy causes even more trouble for being a very personal preference and that’s obvious enough not to need any more elaboration. Pondering these things I decided to try some Kaichou wa Maid-sama! that appeared to have some fan following as well as be mildly funny after seeing some random clips on YouTube.

 photo KwMs2_zpsxl10sirt.png

     The premise of Kaichou wa Maid-sama! is a bit unusual and definitely plays a major role in catching an eye of a potential viewer. Not always do you get a random girl who tries her best (well, a shojou protagonist) while living almost a double life – being a school council president and a waitress in a maid café in her spare time. Of course Misaki, that being the girl’s name, is very flustered and ashamed about the situation and tries as best as she can to avoid her school and part-time job worlds to have the slightest common points. Of course it proves to be impossible when Misaki is spotted by the shoujo protagonist, Usui, who in terms of being perfect could almost rival Sakamoto from Sakamoto desu ga? and if you watched that anime you know it’s a big deal. It wouldn’t be a shoujo series if Usui hadn’t started frequenting Misaki’s café and tried to get close to her. Even if it looks like I just described a premise, actually that’s basically everything I could say about the plot even after all the 26 episodes. Well, apart from the fact that (oh, spoilers) Misaki and Usui very unexpectedly ended up together. And that is the biggest problem of the show – apart from having quite an unusual beginning, it does nothing interesting – all the characters just fool around, sometimes getting an episode centered around them (that hardly expands their personalities) and very huge part of the show feels like a filler. It’s not unusual to get the main couple together by the end of the season but when the development during the last episode pushes the story forward just as much as all the rest of the episodes combined, I’m not that content.

 photo KwMs4_zpst62dpcoj.png

There is also another thing that proves the shortcomings of the story – tell me, what is the point of introducing an osananajimi character when only just a few episodes are left and hoping that the viewers would believe he has  the slightest chance of stealing Misaki from Usui? Well, if you have 2 people featured on a cover of the show and you constantly see those people, what are the chances that some random dude could get between them? By the way, everything ended even more hilariously (spoilers) – Usui got the main girl while the osananajimi ended up with… a tree. Yep, that’s correct. Just like this thing, the majority of the content felt very pointless and more interesting moments could have easily been reduced to a 1 cour anime, or even a film. The show even managed to give a whole episode adaptation of a totally unnecessary manga special that just had me thinking “get on with it already” all over again and again. Come on, that’s why we have a thing called OVA. Heard of it?

 photo KwMs5_zpsp4cyoxiu.png

     To be frank, the show has only one character, and that is Misaki. She may not be the most exceptional shoujo protagonist but seeing a person who tries her best at every situation, has a strong relationship with her friends and is ready to do everything she can for them, you can’t at least a little admire her. Sure, there are other character aspects that make her less attractive (like overdoing her feminism activities) but that’s only human. The leading guy on the other hand for me looked like a perfect antagonist and I was very confused if the show really wanted me to like him. Well, sure, Usui has good looks and can do just about anything when the plot requires it (playing chess or volleyball like a pro, acting like a perfect waiter, rescuing Misaki from all kinds of situations – you name it). His perfectness in itself sometimes becomes annoying but that’s only a tip of an iceberg – Usui also among other things treats Misaki pretty horribly forcing her to the situations she doesn’t like, stalking her, being selfish, rude and arrogant so Misaki’s description of him as an “alien pervert” basically fits.  Both of the ED’s try to hint something of a backstory of Usui but that’s too vague to hold any meaning. And that’s a shame because for the whole anime Usui receives no development at all – he remains exactly the same during all the 26 episodes. Well, it’s not a development heavy show but even Misaki’s character got a bit softened during all this time. I can understand that there can be people like Usui and they themselves can be not fully aware of their flaws but making such a person a lead guy in a light-hearted show is beyond me. The supporting cast is pretty dull – usually arriving only when there is nothing else to do but to be targets of some unfunny jokes. A bit of an exception could be Misaki’s sister who has a very weird quirk – an ability to win every lottery she participates in. Some other characters also appear to be not that common in anime – a crossdressing guy, a guy who generally behaves and looks pretty girlish… Oh wait, it’s just a bunch of slightly improved bishounens. Oh shoujo manga, you got me again.

 photo KwMs1_zps2cwecigj.gif

Excerpt from the anime

     Visually the anime looks dated. I couldn’t believe that it was aired only in 2010 because it looks way older. On the other hand, J.C.Staff isn’t a studio you would remember thinking about amazing visual achievements. Aqua color backgrounds add much of slice of life feeling but that also makes things that get animated very easy to spot. Character designs are straight from shoujo manga – ok but nothing impressive, just as the animation. All this mix makes me wonder what force transported this show some 5 years in the future form the time period it should belong to. Well, the story didn’t require any special effects or performances and the occasional appearance of chibis (comedy time, how else) brought some variety to otherwise really average and unimpressive visual aspect of the show, so I guess the quality of the story correlates with the quality of the visuals.

 photo KwMs6_zpsyqf26ztw.png

     The soundtrack as everything else is a bit of a mixed bag. Some themes, especially those that are associated with Misaki’s café, give an appropriate Victorian feeling by being more of a classical style, just what you need thinking about aristocrats, maids and stuff. Some other themes are also quite catchy but for a 2 cour show there could have been more variety – even the most beautiful tracks could come on the verge of being annoying if you repeat them over and over again. Still, apart from some more interesting pieces of music the majority of the soundtrack remains easily forgettable and that again corresponds to the overall quality of the show.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Odayaka Hoshi Hana Koukou' by Wataru Maeguchi

      Overall as you can see I didn’t particularly enjoy Kaichou wa Maid-sama!. Generally it’s not a bad experience to see how it’s possible to play with various shoujo scenarios and how everything is affected by not that usual setting. Still, for me there are far more interesting shoujo anime or at least some that are able to achieve similar goals but using given time more efficiently. Also, the structure just screams “it’s a manga adaptation” and many actions of the characters happened just because the author wanted. Even when the confession happened (I doubt it’s a spoiler because of course it had to happen) I felt more relieved that it finally did more than being happy for the characters. It’s just the type of anime you have to enjoy (if you can) for the ride and not for the results.

 I believe, this anime

1

Could’ve been worse

     Should you watch it? Well, if you are a fan of romcoms that dwell on the feel-good side of things and don’t bother too much with an advanced story and characters, you certainly can check it out. Otherwise for someone like me who doesn’t have enough tolerance towards such things and looks at Kaichou wa Maid-sama! as something quite predictable, overlong and infested with silly humor, there are far better options to choose deciding what to watch next.

Flying Witch – the brilliance of Slice of Life

 photo FW1_zpsaehdhjac.jpg

Studio J.C.Staff
Genres Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Spring 2016
Director Katsushi Sakurabi
Music Yoshiaki Dewa

     An anime that belongs to slice of life genre is difficult to make. It sounds very easy – just tell what happens every day and that’s it, right? Nevertheless, not every show has that special something that makes seemingly boring or just not that inspiring things into a spectacle you want to watch and enjoy. Sad as it is, our usual lives tend not to be comprised of stuff that is worth telling as a story and something memorable happens only rarely. What to do then? Many great slice of life shows that don’t pursue any continuing narrative either build colorful characters or manage to include some particular quirks to their stories, something that make them stand above their counterparts. The real mastery then is to mix those quirks within mundane activities of the characters. This way we have ridiculous situations of Nichijou, multitude of wondrous youkai in Natsume Yuujinchou, parental learning moments in Usagi DropFlying Witch, though probably not able to boast the perfection of some of the greatest anime, stands near enough and wastes no time telling what its special quirk is.

 photo FW2_zpsdi4bnuba.png

    As with most of slice of life anime, the set-up of Flying Witch isn’t anything complicated – Makoto with her cat Chito-san arrives to live with her cousins Kei and Chinatsu and their parents in the snowy Aomori prefecture. The unusual thing is that Makoto practices to become a witch but this part of the set-up isn’t remembered as often as you would think looking at the title of the show.  Not that I complain since there’s lots and lots of things to do in Aomori apart from witching. Makoto with Chito-san explore the surroundings and, as her relatives live pretty close to nature which means a bit of farming and stuff, she wholeheartedly takes up every opportunity to enjoy her staying and experience things she hadn’t before, even if they are such small and forgettable like tasting some random vegetable found by a roadside. Of course, cooked.

 photo FW3_zpszsbbu12a.png

     Things changed a bit when the Fire Nation attacked, I mean, Makoto’s sister Akane began visiting her. Akane being a professional witch (I guess it’s genetics after all with all the witches in the family) didn’t miss opportunities to teach her kouhai about some simple stuff. Of course, when she wasn’t sleeping. Or drinking. Anyway, witchcraft in the anime is only a secondary focus at best so don’t expect any ground breaking or time bending magic tricks. It’s well tuned with the atmosphere of the story – some walking paper cranes, ghosts working in a café and just all around pleasant and friendly stuff that makes you a bit amiably surprised and refreshed (if you ever were) from gardening, farming (talk about using the setting efficiently), cooking, exploring and just slice-of-life-ing. That’s one of the strengths of Flying Witch – the balance between occasional unexpected supernatural incidents and comfortable life at a beautiful place doing whatever the heart’s desire is. The only thing that a bit bothered me is that some of the characters or phenomena of the witch world didn’t receive as much attention as they (I think) would be able to withstand. I don’t say that the composition of the show was lacking – you can only put in so much content into a 12 episode show. Still, there are many things left that I would like to see more and to know more about. I guess this problem can be at least partly attributed to the fact that the anime is an adaptation. The mangaka probably plans her stories so that they would provide just the useful information at a time and wouldn’t leave her with less ideas that are being prepared for the future. To please the thirst for more there’s only two choices – embrace the manga or not that hopefully wait for any news of the possibility of a second season.

 photo FW6_zpspwm06jhc.png

     Usually in any anime you can’t rely only on the setting and the originality of the premise. That’s where the characters come in and even if I can’t claim that Flying Witch has a very memorable cast, the dynamics between the characters and some of their individual quirks make it a good watch. There’s nothing much to say about Makoto herself, only that she is a pretty normal girl, a bit absent minded sometimes (and because of that relying on her cat) but trying to do her best. Chito-san behaves like an ordinary cat with all the catlike mannerisms and that further gives some strength to the realistic part of the show which is balanced by frequent Makoto’s interactions with Chito-san as if she was just another human. Maybe our witch just knows her cat perfectly but that certainly adds some sense of magic to the atmosphere. Other secondary characters worth mentioning are Chinatsu – a kid that behaves like a kid. As weird as it sounds, it’s not that usual in anime with a few exceptions (that are getting more frequent with Amaama to Inazuma and others). You can’t not smile when Chinatsu reacts to something with all her childish soul or just idealistically and enthusiastically tries to pursue something. Makoto’s sister Akane is another character worth mentioning, being totally unlike her sibling – outgoing and energetic (when she’s not sleeping) world class witch full of weirdest ideas. The cast’s strength lies in the interactions between themselves, the strong sense of kinship and mutual reliance, just like you would want to have in an ideal family. Also, it’s remarkable that even if Flying Witch tells episodic stories, the characters, even less prominent ones, retain their memories of recent matters. There’re many instances of episodic shows whose order of episodes you can change without any impact, but this one not only adds just a little bit more to the realism using recurring characters and reminiscences of past events but also makes the grand story more cohesive.

 photo FW8_zpshv0jv1ym.gif   photo FW_unknown_zpssjkhvv6y.gif

Excerpts from the anime

    Let’s move to the visuals, where one big part of the greatness of the show lies. Talking about the character designs I just don’t know how to define what actually makes them look very pleasant, but it really does. It was probably the first few seconds of the PV of the show that I, still don’t knowing basically anything about Flying Witch, thought “Hey, I could watch this”. The designs somehow just add much to the soothing, relaxing, comfortable and warm atmosphere that is one of the strengths of the show. Another huge positive comes from the backgrounds. When you watch the anime you can’t not notice that the surroundings seem somehow different from usual cardboard cutout buildings and streets. The reason of this is the hard work of the staff – the town where everything happens actually exists, and that is Shimoyuguchi near the castle town of Hirosaki in Aomori prefecture. There was a series of articles on Crunchyroll (here, here and here) about that which you should definitely check. Of course anime makes every place look way flashier and brighter to accommodate to the general feeling of the show but many actually existing buildings and places enhance the sense of location many times and, even if it’s not the thing you notice very easily, make you far more attached to the show.

 photo FW4_zpsnflhsxim.png

    As with the character designs, I fell in love with the soundtrack from the first glance. I can’t remember how long ago it was that some first notes of the first track paired with the visuals would move me so much. The general mood of the soundtrack remains very light, simple and laid back, as expected of a piano, some strings and woodwinds for the most part. The beautiful main theme reappears at various moments in different arrangements but the lack of complexity isn’t a bad thing. Sure, many people probably won’t be compelled to listen to the soundtrack all the day but as an accompaniment for the story it works well. Still, for me especially the main theme and some other jazzy tempered tracks are some of the more beautiful musical pieces of the year.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Kowata Makoto' by Yoshiaki Dewa

     Flying Witch is an easy anime to miss if you prefer something that has action and high stakes. Still, I highly recommend to dive into the heartwarming greatness of iyashikei and enjoy small beautiful things that happen every day. In this perspective Makoto, who begins her explorations of tiniest joys of a more rural setting than she (and probably the viewers) is accustomed to and Chinatsu who still views the world as a place full of wonder and happiness are the best characters the show could have had. Some little and innocent magic tricks and the queerness of the world of witches renew the enjoyment when you begin to get comfortable with Makoto’s everyday cooking and farming, accompanied by the soundtrack that could compete for the best aspect of the show – it’s very pleasing that all those parts comprising the show really work together to reach one goal – the brilliant atmosphere.

     I believe, this anime is

 3
Good

     Of course it depends on your preferences but if you are not indifferent to the slice of life genre or just want to have a calm and soothing experience, look no further – Flying Witch is just for you.

Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda – Mari Okada, obsessed with eggs

 photo KgS2_zps7qtp52ql.jpg

Alternative title The Anthem of the Heart
Studio A-1 Pictures
Genres Drama, Romance
Source Original
Episodes 1  –  it’s a film after all
Season Summer 2015
Director Tatsuyuki Nagai
Music Masaru Yokoyama and Mito

     Probably anyone who considers watching anime a hobby has heard of Mari Okada or at least of her more famous written shows like AnoHana or Toradora!. These and some others tend to bring division between the viewers as Okada’s style or just some similarities among the shows she’s worked with aren’t something that everyone could have the same opinion about. Personally I can’t say much as I haven’t seen that many of Okada’s works but I find the melodrama element (especially when it’s teen problems we are dealing with) to be a bit too exaggerated for my taste. Anyway, Okada justly is one of the most prominent anime writers and anything she’s attached to is fated (pun intended since she also wrote the script for Deen’s Fate/stay night) to receive some attention. Especially when some key staff members of the production of AnoHana (and some of them also having worked with Toradora!) are involved, the project they all decided to work on is bound to be waited for and thought to be at least decent. The film Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterunda (which I’d rather call by its English name The Anthem of the Heart because the Japanese title was already difficult to write only once) manages just that – it’s certainly above mediocrity but if it achieves more than being decent is probably up to the enjoyment of the style Mari Okada is famous for.

Excerpt from the film

   The film wastes no time and introduces Jun, a girl living a colorful and happy life. Everything looked very shiny and cheerful until, well, it didn’t. Frankly it was my problem for not reading the synopsis of the film properly beforehand so the events of the first few minutes looked quite shocking and unexpected, so in other words it was done well. All in all, Jun got burned so much because of her loose tongue that an imaginary egg (a bit random, isn’t it?) helped her to close her mouth (literally) almost permanently. Some years later, Jun, now known as a girl who can’t mutter a single word, and three other kids – a good girl Natsuki, pretty bland Takumi and a baseball ace Daiki – are forced to start organizing an event for the local community. The event ends up being a musical so every little detail has to be prepared for and worked out from scratch. Cooperation is a must and all the four are forced to organize everything together and become more open between themselves, some more willingly than others.  Of course there evolves an element of romance in the film – the writer was Mari Okada after all.

 photo KgS6_zps53xzafv6.png

     Now, as random (and spoiler-y) as it is, let’s talk about eggs. In itself, an egg is a perfect symbol and in this case it represents all the things that Jun locked inside herself so she wouldn’t make any more mistakes by talking too much. The continuous cracking of the egg accompanies Jun’s efforts to speak and slowly grow her relationships. Eggs also appear as something Takumi encounters on the day of forming of the group of four and work as a catalyst of Jun’s infatuation with him. Also, in retrospect the scene near the start when Jun’s mother tries to silence her by feeding her a bit of an egg gains some symbolic significance – it was mainly the mother’s influence that lead towards Jun’s closing off – it’s as if the mother herself started growing an egg-shell around her daughter’s expression of emotions. Everything’s so far all good and well but let’s think about how actually the symbol of an egg connects with the story. Why it was namely an egg Jun imagined that closed her lips? Why this story should feature eggs at all? To me it feels like the story was written and then someone just randomly thought about adding some symbolism. Symbolism and metaphors are an excellent thing in storytelling but I believe they should flow from the story, be an integral part of it. In this case the story barely changes if we omit the egg element.

 photo KgS8_zpsp2xygw51.png

     Moving on, the ending wasn’t to my liking. The climax was as emotional as it should be but after that things got a bit out of hand. I still think that the main point of the film was to show Jun’s transformation and other aspects should just accompany it. Yet, the ending featured implied romantic futures for all the characters and I doubt the film would have lost much without it. Especially one pair felt very forced as the characters got only one scene in which they were alone and the scene itself hardly hinted any future developments between the two. Yes, some character growth can happen outside the scenes we see but the goal of pretty much any film is to show some developments happening and the viewer, seeing gradual journey of the characters, can be rewarded by the payback when the journey, whose vague direction was visible beforehand, finally reaches its end. Seeing something like two people having a conversation and then starting dating after a while isn’t going to bring any joy of accomplishment.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Tsunagatteiku' by Masaru Yokoyama

     At first glance the main characters couldn’t be more clichéd. Apart from the fact that Jun has a (quite) objective reason to be mute, she basically falls into the category of cute little clumsy moe girls who because of their shyness are able to converse only by sending text messages. By the way, Jun grew attached to her new friends so soon that I began to wonder why she hadn’t started making friends earlier. With her enthusiasm even conversations via text messages seem a pretty possible way to communicate. Natsuki of whom we learn a bit less behaves mostly like a typical tsundere and her other traits like being able to lead people are not that explored. Takumi is just your average protagonist who tends to be dull and reminds me only of Oreki from Hyouka but probably only because of his hair. Only his ability to play the piano gives him a trait that makes him different from any secondary character. Daiki is a usual huge sports guy with a tendency to be blunt and sometimes aggressive. The biggest development throughout the film is seen in Jun as her struggle to convey her feelings (and thus becoming more socially open) through song and word become easier and easier albeit feelings are not that a simple topic. Daiki undergoes a transformation from a hard-headed dude to someone that recognizes others as also having some talents. Also, it was quite unexpected for me to find out that Daiki (as well as all others) was a pretty decent singer – quite unusual for a sports guy unless the things in Japan are really different from over here since when I was at school, I couldn’t expect at least half of my class to be able to or to be bothered to sing not half bad. Takumi and Natsuki achieved far less since the film’s main focus is set on the character arc of Jun.

 photo KgS5_zpsyw7zcsw1.png

     As it’s usual with films, the visuals are way more polished than in your average TV series. Also, it’s A-1 Pictures who despite some people not being content with their working style and the stories they choose to portray keeps a pretty consistent reputation of being good at production. The Anthem of the Heart is no exception. Sometimes during the watch I just had to stop and take some time to appreciate the backgrounds – vibrant colors and many details make every scene outdoors look very alive. Character designs don’t stray much from usual anime material. I only have one nitpick – lower parts of the eyes of the characters have particularly bright light reflection zones so almost any time they seem to be on the verge of bursting into tears no matter what. I guess for a film with drama elements it might be appropriate but at least for the neutral scenes the brightness could have been reduced a little bit as it becomes distracting.

 photo KgS9_zpsezqduuez.png

     The Anthem of the Heart revolves around making a musical so it’s nothing exceptional to have a soundtrack that is a bit different than usual. The parts of the film that doesn’t feature the actual musical performance (or preparation for it) are accompanied by simple and relaxing music, no different from other shows that have some slice of life moments. While watching, everything seems alright as the music works well with the developing story, however, the released tracks are a bit underwhelming – not many of them are long enough or feature something worthy to be constantly listenable. Yes, it’s warm and pleasant but beside its background purpose the majority of the soundtrack is not very distinguishable or far from being serviceable. On the other hand the musical part is far more interesting. The characters decided to choose already composed music and only add their own lyrics. The arrangements ended up being pretty enjoyable. How else if the featured music involves Gershwin’s Summertime or Beethoven’s Sonata Pathetique among others.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Hikari no Nai Heya': arranged  by Mito,
originally composed by George Gershwin (Summertime from Porgy and Bess)

     All in all, did I have a good time watching The Anthem of the Heart? Yep, mostly. From the start it’s clear that the main focus of the story will be Jun’s recovery from her muteness and that she will probably overcome it but it’s still worth to experience the journey. Of course there are some drawbacks such as not having enough time to spare for each of the main four characters, a bit forced resolution of all the characters’ relationships or just the egg element, which in itself being very interesting and thought provoking, didn’t blend that organically into the story. Nonetheless, other things like quite well incorporated music elements, Jun’s moe-ness and the emotional payback makes up for that.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     The Anthem of the Heart isn’t a very exceptional film, though some of its elements are impressive and I believe most of people shouldn’t be very disappointed if they choose to invest their time into watching this anime. Tugging of your heartstrings is not guaranteed though likely enough.

Boku dake ga Inai Machi – hardships of living up to the hype

 photo BdgIM0_zpsz7kltvb5.jpeg

Alternative title Erased /
The Town Where Only I Don’t Exist
Studio A-1 Pictures
Genres Drama, Mystery, Supernatural
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Winter 2016
Director Tomohiko Itou
Music Yuki Kajiura

     Boku dake ga Inai Machi was probably the most notorious anime of Winter 2016 season. Sometimes it just happens – a story that clearly has potential gets an anime adaptation by a famous studio, the staff also seems to be at least decent or even very good (yes, it’s especially Yuki Kajiura I’m speaking of), some people become interested and that gives a chain reaction so that the hype climbs sky high. Yet, some viewers cool off very quickly and even start to despise the show, while the majority still retains the opinion that it’s really great. Come to think of it – Boku dake ga Inai Machi is truly well made, but still some details restrain me from calling it superb.

 photo BdgIM4_zpsnr8ld4eh.png

     The first episode wastes no time and introduces us to Satoru, not the very brightest or that successful 29-year-old guy, who has to work as a pizza delivery man because of being unable to start a profitable enough mangaka career. What’s so interesting about him? Well, he appears to have an ability to travel back through time a few minutes and change his behavior so that some ill fortune would be evaded. That’s what became clear after the first episode and sadly even after the last one we don’t know virtually anything more about this ability. There are some implications that it may activate when Satoru becomes very shaken emotionally but that’s the most what can be speculated about it. Of course, it’s a better choice to leave it at that as sort of a natural thing and don’t pursue any half-baked explanations but I just would have liked to know at least Satoru’s own ideas about why does he have such a power and what exactly it is. Now it remains only on a level of quite a cheap plot device that activates when it’s convenient. Not to mention that one day Satoru’s ability unexpectedly throws him back to his school days when he was only 10 years old. Now in a kid’s body, Satoru decides that this means that he must save his classmate Kayo who was kidnapped and murdered at that time to prevent the cause of why his ability activated (ooh, it’s difficult to evade spoilers). Well, it sounds alright, but when you think of it, if Kayo was so important, why didn’t Satoru’s ability activate earlier so that he wouldn’t need to live pretty much useless two decades? On the other hand, Satoru could have gone just a few minutes back through time in the first place to avoid that certain event that started everything. Not to mention pretty unjustified notion that it’s namely Kayo’s fate that Satoru needs to change.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Reasoning'

Anyway, our protagonist ends up being a kid and having to befriend Kayo and in this way save her from the murderer. Because of his ability, Satoru is not just a child, but a child with a mind of an adult, though that is handled in a pretty heavy-handed way. One second he may use his life experience to think of ways of dealing with the murderer and then another just start asking his teacher some advice how to become friends with people. Come on, you are a 29-year-old guy, dammit! Also, Satoru is portrayed as having at least a bit infatuated with Kayo, on the verge of it being romantic, and I really don’t feel very comfortable knowing that a 29-year-old guy stammers and blushes and goes on a date while holding hands with a 10-year-old girl. I didn’t really appreciate the composition of the show either. All the stuff to do with Kayo went on for the majority of the series but when that arc wrapped up, Kayo was just packed away to appear only in the very end. Well, I think that the developing connection between her and Satoru (well, not the romantic side of it) was one of best things in the show and it would probably have been better to either extend this arc to the whole season (and opt for another one to deal with the rest of the story) or shrink it somehow because after Kayo left the spotlight, Boku dake ga Inai Machi just lost a lot of its appeal to me. Yes, the story went on, but it was nowhere near as impactful as Kayo’s part was. Apparently original manga version tackles this and other issues a way better, but sadly the anime didn’t profit from cutting much of the material. Another thing connected with the composition is multiple time-travels. I guess if you add such an ability to the story, you try to use it as much as you can, but this time it felt like it broke the already established continuity and added very little to the plot. Speaking about the ending, it felt quite anticlimactic. As this is apparently more of a mystery anime, the true killer was actually pretty easy to determine and when the main guys have also done it, everything just ended without much emotions or consequences.

 photo BdgIM3_zpsckbnj6la.png

     I already addressed my problems with Satoru being an adult and a child at the same time. Well, it can be argued that all his life Satoru remained pretty childish – to the extent of running away when not knowing what to do, even if it works against him and could have easily been solved just by talking. Most of the other characters cause far less problems, being pretty much normal kids and adults. Apart from Satoru and Kayo I don’t think anybody received many developments, though that wasn’t something absolutely necessary. Yes, there is that one ridiculous and very random backstory element when a wife left her husband because of an allegedly stolen chocolate bar, but everything else makes more sense. That is till we encounter the villain and his motivations. That is if he had any. Some explanation is given about some hamsters and stuff, but does it feel satisfactory? Clearly nope. It almost looks like the villain’s motives were left to be included for the last second and that was done with the mindset of “oh bugger, no time for anything decent so this will make do”. Another probably more personal dissatisfaction was caused by the way the show treats the characters, more precisely all the numerous red herrings scattered here and there. I believe a good mystery can use them, but only in order to weave a number of possible strings of motives and actions of several different people that would enable to list them as suspects. The joy then is to find false leads and one after another eliminate them. In this case all the red herrings we get are limited to a single scene, say, a shot of an ominously enlarged knife next to a person who might be not that clean. And after that? No elaboration whatsoever, all those scattered scenes just suggest a suspect once and that’s the end of the story. Why would you waste a shot to tease the viewers with some sinister glance and then practically forget that?

Excerpt from the anime; animation by Takahiro Shikama

     What A-1 Pictures really can do is to deal with all the artistic elements. And here? Well, it kind of worked out. For me character designs needed time to settle in, especially Satoru’s mother’s lips – it was a very long time since I could overlook those giant things that were looking almost like a moustache. Apart from that, everything looks quite polished most of times, though there were moments when far standing characters’ faces looked more like quickly drawn sketches and not finished products. More people versed in cinematography pointed out numerous scenes that had some metaphorical meaning, but you don’t even need that to simply appreciate the looks of the show. Interestingly, segments when Satoru was in his 10-year-old self were made to be in a ”letterbox” way. I believe it was a nice decision as it showed another overarcing theme of films as memories as well as the caged world between the stripes of black showing that Satoru himself is not comfortable in that time and place and has to deal with some serious problems. That’s all good and well, but what the show lacks is subtlety. I understand a wish to show some color symbolism but it’s a bit too much when every time someone acts like villain, their eyes just turn red. The main antagonist, once revealed surely must don his typical villainous smile, how else we would know he’s a truly bad guy? Even if the name of the OP song shown as a graffiti on a wall in the last episode is a nice touch, I doubt it should have taken the spotlight so much. All the already mentioned red herring stuff also adds a bit to this argument.

 photo BdgIM5_zpsy0ri9bix.png

     Yuuki Kajiura was responsible for the soundtrack and that says a lot. Being quite a fan of her I just wished her music would have had more time to emerge from other background sounds and talks. There clearly were some shiny tracks but much was left covered with many layers of other stuff. Not knowing that it was her I would probably have not noticed the soundtrack at all for the most part of the show. Still, the composer knows how to create a very suspenseful atmosphere (basically similar to Kara no Kyoukai films). In that regard the soundtrack is definitely good, but it clearly doesn’t go very far beyond just being functional. The opening deserves a special mention for its song was Re:Re: by Asian Kung-Fu Generation. I’ve known the band for some time but namely this opening lead me to investigate them a bit more and oh well, I’ve got another band to add amongst my favorite ones. Check the band out if you will.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Only I am missing'

     All in all, I think Boku dake ga Inai Machi at least deserved all the fuss around it. Production quality was good more times than not (no wonder when the director has worked under Mamoru Hosoda if I’m allowed not to mention his job with Sword Art Online), the premise was pretty unique, even if less time jumps would have been sufficient. It’s interesting how after this show the amount of anime with time travelling elements appears to be increasing so we can talk about some influence. Nonetheless, series composition, numerous conveniences, problems with subtlety and generally unsatisfactory ending drops the enjoyment not that high after all. Many people think the show’s great and it probably did a splendid job adapting all the material with all the means available. That said, all the nitpicking thoughts somehow prevented me from getting invested emotionally very much and while I certainly appreciate all the effort, I can’t say that my opinion of the show is very high.

     I believe, this anime

1

Could’ve been worse

     I guess you should check the show out (though most likely you have already have – Boku dake ga Inai Machi can boast higher popularity than such grands like Trigun or Mononoke Hime). Don’t believe that it’s the best mystery, time travel or drama ever and you’ll probably have a good time for the most part of it. A-1 Pictures assembled some very talented creators but the end result wasn’t as good as it might have been, but it’s still worth a watch. Unless you haven’t seen Trigun or Mononoke Hime.

Dimension W – an interesting mess

 photo DW0_zpsq34dx2mb.jpg

Studio Studio 3Hz
Genres Action, Sci-Fi
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Winter 2016
Director Kanta Kamei
Music Go Shiina and Yoshiaki Fujisawa
     More times than not anime and manga are thought to be interchangeable. Usually manga precedes anime and the latter is meant to be more of a promotional material than a stand-alone piece of art. The fans of the manga expect the adaptation to be as close to the source as possible, as far as just animating all the existent panels without any additions or omissions. Because of that a fundamental problem arises since manga can go on as long as a mangaka wishes whereas the anime adaptation just can’t extend over a fixed time. Sometimes a second season or some OVAs are the answer but not every anime can do that good to earn it. As this quite roundabout introduction makes clear, Dimension W is one of the shows that suffer from the exact problem. As it turns out, it isn’t the only flop, but outside of that there are some positives, too, albeit they are not so numerous.

 photo DW1_zpsopqpjgvv.png

     The premise of Dimension W may catch many an eye right on since in this day and age anime that doesn’t concern high-school or just teenagers is not that common. What else could you wish for, if not for some classic sci-fi with some new dimensions, robots and a cool looking protagonist? The start really looked promising – in the future some scientists somehow found another dimension and a way to harvest unlimited energy from it (sounds pretty dumb, but that’s not the end of it). The technology is monopolized, but as always, some illegal schemes are bound to show up. Enter our protagonist Kyouma Mabuchi, a gruff guy, who deals with these things for a living. During one of the operations, he finds an uncommonly well-made android Mira (well, it turns out we couldn’t escape teenage characters after all…) and those two unlikely companions wind up into some big business. Sounds good? Well, that’s when everything else comes up. As I already mentioned, pacing is not the strength of the show, as well as the composition. The first 3 episodes are pretty much a usual introductory stuff, with an almost-honorable thief called Loser introduced a bit randomly. Next 2 episodes contain one arc that could have easily extended over half the season – everything just happens without much explanation or meaning. I think this arc could have better been omitted rather that shrunk into this mad ride – it holds rather little significance to later events. All the rest of the episodes make up one large final arc when everything should come together and make sense. Would that it could. Still, the biggest problem probably is the Dimension W itself. In each arc it works like a different thing, overall turning out to be able to construct some abominations that could easily belong behind the Gate of FMA, to make some alternative realities with ghosts and zombies, to entangle various concepts like dreams, souls, time and almost everything that can come up to mind. It’s pretty much omnipotent. Having something like that without any limitations makes for an excuse to pull various Deus ex Machina stuff, but that doesn’t make a believable and, above all, an interesting thing to watch. Not to mention the depiction of the Dimension graphically. Come on, do you really think that a negative X axis contains unlimited energy? All in all, it’s just a poorly constructed game with a toy that can do anything, and that becomes worst near the end of the series, when random characters are tossed in, various fights begin and end, people remember things, people do things, the Dimension does things, conveniences happen and, well, that’s a trainwreck. I believe I could rewatch everything for the sake of understanding every single action and motivation of the characters but I just don’t have the will to go through everything again and I’m not entirely sure that it will actually answer many questions. Moral of the story – go read the manga, kids. At least it should have a proper pacing.

.

 photo DW3_zpseavarbey.png

     What is popular nowadays? Moe? Add Mira – check. What do people long for when they have seen enough moe? A badass guy that operates on the verge of law? Add Kyouma and – check. Actually there is hardly anything more to say about our two leads that could be positive. Mira is made to be cute, a bit clumsy and, of course, just has to become an object for some fanservice. Apart from quite memorable appearance, Kyouma isn’t the most original character, either. How can any cool character not have a dead girlfriend or convenient amnesia about some important past events whose absence would have probably saved much time for everyone – characters and the viewers alike. As a starting point all those characteristics are not that bad a thing – you must start somewhere. The worse part is that neither Mira nor Kyouma manage to advance their relationship the least bit – Kyouma still sees the android as a “pile of junk” after all the 12 episodes and she doesn’t really mind that. Supporting characters are plenty – just too plenty. Some of them have rather futuristic and flamboyant hairstyles and clothing (really, all the colors in the world does not make a show stylish), some look like they have hopped in form a wrong anime, but many of them are just not needed. Yes, manga probably manages to flesh them out more or less, but the anime just goes forward in full speed especially in the second half and just barely scratches any of 6 or 7 or I don’t even remember how many new characters that appeared at that time, but most of them barely say two words and virtually just steal screen time for no reason. When someone gets more spotlight, that doesn’t mean that we will get a decent character – I was unsure till the very end if Prince Salva was meant to be a relatable guy, some discarded protagonist or an up-jumped afterthought. Still, the main disappointment was due to the villain. A good story absolutely must have a villain, right? With a huge villainous smile, right? A mad scientist? Now we are talking. Well, he appeared near the end out of nowhere and looked very out of place. Not a Deus ex Machina bad a Villain ex Machina.

 photo DW2_zpszzak1nav.png

     A sci-fi premise should mean lots of futuristic city-scapes, cool gadgets and stuff, right? Not in this case. All the energy coil stuff is interesting, but the show just doesn’t show its (theoretically) strongest point – how society has changed with all this technology. The futuristic environment factor is hugely underplayed and, to be frank, out of all the art form the Dimension W I would probably remember just Kyouma’s character design. Well, Loser’s also, but just because he’s just another character that looks to be in a wrong anime. The Easter Island makes a slight impression, but mainly because it’s just a refreshing sight to see some huge rocks instead of, say, a ghost house in a middle of a sea of mist.

Excerpt from the anime

     Dimension W is not the first anime whose soundtrack is one of the better parts of it. Done by not a single person – Go Shiina and Yoshiaki Fujisawa worked together – it provides some very diverse tunes that, when not overshadowed by visual information, work well with the scenes they are attached to. Sometimes when the story went overboard music really was factor to make me give the anime just another chance. It’s a good OST, but maybe not the great one. Yes, there are some very enjoyable and cool tracks, but there are also some instantly forgettable ones. If not this one, at least check some other of Go Shina’s works. The man knows how to write music.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Osoi Kuru Mizukara no Teki' by Go Shiina

     After all, I can’t really say Dimension W is bad. Yes, it has plenty of missteps – over the top abilities of the Dimension W, confusing story, not very relatable characters that are underdeveloped at best, also some of them just don’t add anything to the plot. The list continues but some credit must be given to the quite an interesting start of the show and sometimes the soundtrack. Overall rough experimental feel also adds some delicious spice. Still, it looks like the director Kanta Kamei was suited better for Usagi Drop, and that says a lot.

 I believe, this anime

1

Could’ve been worse

     If you are interested in the story (well, you probably should be), I believe you’ll be better off going straight to the manga. I can’t vouch for it, but it shouldn’t suffer as much of absence of worldbuilding and overabundance of not that elegant, messy and disjointed storytelling as the anime. Well, at least as a promotion the anime works.

Momo e no Tegami – almost Studio Ghibli-esque, but..

 photo MenT1_zpsssamzpzk.jpg

Alternative title A Letter to Momo
Studio Production I.G
Genres Drama, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Source Original
Episodes 1 –  it’s a film after all
Season Summer 2011
Director Hiroyuki Okiura
Music Mina Kubota

     Anime industry just loves adolescent people. Why? Partly because they comprise a huge chunk of the audience so self-inserting is easier that way, but that’s probably not all. Young people are more interesting in a sense that they encounter many problems for the first time in their lives and deal with them in ways that sometimes are very creative. Also, during that age a person shapes his personality that probably won’t change that drastically for his whole life. Considering all that, it’s nothing strange that many anime stories deal with coming of age themes and necessity to adapt to difficult, unexpected and often unwished changes. As there is no shortage of such tales, naturally some are better than others, some lack some specific ingredient, some manage to resonate well with the viewers, others – not that much. Knowing all that, where does Momo e no Tegami stand– a film whose technical details may catch the eye right on?

 photo MenT2_zpspngcij7y.png

     The story isn’t complicated at all – you just have an ordinary girl Momo, whose shyness gets in a way of making friends, moving with her mother to the country because her father died. Momo doesn’t feel very comfortable there, even if her grandparents try to be as hospitable as they can and some local kids would like to know a new person a bit better. And then Momo begins seeing youkai. If that doesn’t sound the least bit of Studio Ghibli-ish, I don’t know what would. A girl as a protagonist, ended up in a place where the forces of nature are very strong and even the spirit world becomes graspable by hand. I don’t even know how many Ghibli films would fit this description. Still, whether Ghibli youkai would be friendly or not, mysterious entities or just cute little thingies or beings of awe, they always seem to be otherworldly, something entirely different and incomprehensible to humans. Here, however, youkai look far down to earth – it would probably have worked as well with some human characters, weird as they were. Apart from having ability to be invisible and kind of helping Momo in the end (I guess it can be argued that the help wasn’t that crucial), all three of them remain just supporting characters, nothing more. This may be a very long shot, but I’d have probably liked the film more if there were actually no youkai. If executed well (and I know that the director is certainly capable of that) the film would have been a realistic, mature and possibly sad story about a girl trying to solve her problems. Now apart from some pretty flat comic relief and the ending that wasn’t really called for, the youkai side of the story doesn’t look that absolutely necessary. The ending itself was not really to my liking either – I can deal with suddenly going from the climax to the resolution without a clear understanding how exactly everything played out, but the final need of the film to leave absolutely no loose end nor any ambiguity and bring a totally happy ending looks quite childish. Some things just can’t be amended and as sad as it is, it’s for the good of the characters and their growth, even if the story doesn’t continue to that point.

 photo MenT3_zpscfoiq2tx.png

     As the story can be thought of as a tale of maturing of Momo, she gets the majority of the development, but that isn’t anything ground-braking, just usual better understanding of herself and her family (in this case, her mother and her way of dealing with Momo’s father’s death), befriending other children of the neighborhood and understanding that you should think everything through before you say anything. Apart from Momo (and her mother), other human characters pretty much just were here to give a background and illustrate the peaceful life of a small town. The whole mood reminded me of Mamoru Hosoda’s films, and Momo herself gives the vibe of Makoto from Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and I’m not even sure why. The three youkai of the film are a different sort of creatures.  I understand that they are supposed to be mischievous, selfish and mean, but I just can see barely any redeeming qualities of them. You can have many flawed characters and usually that’s a good thing, but even then they should be at least a little bit sympathetic or pitiful (like the whole cast of Neon Genesis Evangelion). Here I just see a bunch of random guys that do nothing until they come into trouble themselves. Maybe their incompetence was meant as a joke, but I’d rather look elsewhere – without atmosphere braking farting jokes. Probably the best I can say about them is that one of the youkai looked like a twin of Gollum form The Lord of the Rings, and another probably was some long lost cousin of Kimura from Azumanga Daioh.

Excerpt from the film; animation by Akira Honma

     The visuals is probably the strongest part of Momo e no Tegami – Production I.G again shows what they are capable of. The director Hiroyuki Okiura previously worked on Jin-Rou, as well as done some key animation under Mamoru Oshii and Satoshi Kon to name a few. Character designs were also done by him, so the quality and his realistic style were apparent. The backgrounds didn’t leave a lasting impression, nor did everything provide that sense of direction or carefully and masterfully built world that Ghibli films do. Nonetheless, even quite bland scenery had its moments and basically stayed just a scenery to give all the spotlight to the characters, whose movements, while nothing ground-braking, were perfectly smooth and, well, beautiful to watch.

 photo MenT5_zpspsqpgrbg.png

     The soundtrack, as the visuals, prefers to stay in the background and just give some light and often unnoticeable touches to convey the mood. Listening to the music alone was a very pleasant task and I was quite astounded how many of the tracks were just too faded in the film to be noticed. It’s very difficult to single out anything as pretty much the whole soundtrack remains very homogeneous, calm and soothing. The composer Mina Kubota specializes in exact same airy and atmospheric music where piano usually gets the leading role, so I have no complaints, except maybe the lack of something truly memorable and outstanding.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Shio Machi no Shima e'

Excerpt from the OST: 'Mimamori Gumi no San nin'

     Unexpectedly through the whole writing I have mentioned many an anime, and to think about it, it’s quite natural – Momo e no Tegami is no bad film by all means, but it just hasn’t got strong enough voice to become truly exceptional. Everything is just good – the story and the characters and the soundtrack and everything else – but not something you would remember for a long time. Yes, emotions were portrayed very well, the director has seen to it, but some nitpicks here and there don’t let me think of this film as something that can seriously rival Studio Ghibli production.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     If you need a not too complicated film that the majority of the time stays lighthearted, and can overlook some random and not that sympathetic youkai, you came to the right place. The film is not perfect, but for a lazy, relaxing and unimposing Friday evening you could chose far worse anime to watch than Momo e no Tegami.

Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou – a comedy not for everyone

 photo DKnN1_zpsdginzaqk.jpg

Alternative title Daily Lives of High School Boys
Studio Sunrise
Genres Comedy, Slice of Life
Source Manga
Episodes 12
Season Winter 2012
Director Shinji Takamatsu
Music Audio Highs

     It’s always a very difficult task to evaluate something whose quality is determined by the ability to make people laugh. Everyone just has a different taste of humor and I believe among all the means of entertainment – be it anime or something else – comedy is the genre whose scions are the most difficult to evaluate collectively as good or bad. Even a person with no interests in, say, action stuff can at least appreciate the aspect of something just being spectacular, but with comedy there is practically no middle ground – it’s a hit or miss.  To be frank, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou was almost entirely a miss for me, though that doesn’t automatically make the show bad or mean that anyone won’t enjoy it. It just wasn’t for me, even if the first episode looked as promising as almost any anime, but the momentum didn’t last that long. Anyway, let’s dig a little deeper and find out why exactly it didn’t work that well.

.

 photo DKnN5_zpsqvqlqugi.png

     If Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou was a child, its parents would definitely be Nichijou and Gintama. The basic premise of the show is very simple – you just can’t be more simple than some people (in this case – high-schoolers) doing some random and occasionally funny stuff. Sounds very similar to Nichijou, and not only because of the name, doesn’t it? I have a suspicion that, as Nichijou manga started few years earlier, Yasunobu Yamauchi, the author of Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou manga, may have been more or less influenced by it. Anyway, the similarities stop short pretty quick as Nichijou is an anime with girls in the center, its tone is far less sinister and finally it has more typical slice of life moments and doesn’t rely too much on the humor. Speaking about the humor, that’s where the Gintama part comes in. After all, it’s not that strange as both shows share the same studio, director and some of the voice actors among other similarities. As I’m not one of the biggest Gintama fans (it’s just not a particularly funny show, though it certainly has some hilarious moments), it’s quite obvious why Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou proved a little too hard to stomach for me. Well, a healthy dose of toilet and underwear type of humor can be funny enough but there it looked a bit overdone, overused and more silly than funny. Moreover, the show felt overstretched more times than not since all the setting up of a joke took serious chunks of time and when the final moment of retribution would finally come, it just won’t pay off accordingly. It’s like hearing of an enormous and vast beach nearby and after arriving there it turns out to be just a sandbox, and not a particularly spectacular one. Of course, the anime had some very well made sketches (probably the best ones were those of the Literary Girl) but most of the time a poker face was very easy to retain for me. Also, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou strongly promoted the feeling of comradery, the bro-code, when a person would do a silliest thing in the world no matter what if it only would help his friend. As one of the overarcing themes of the show, this one was executed really well and even if in some instances pretty flat jokes were used, I still can and must appreciate what was achieved.

 photo DKnN6_zpswlgioe67.png

     Sadly, characters aren’t the most interesting part of the show, either. At least the series itself is fully aware of that as at one point it even claims that you don’t have to learn the names of the characters – it’s not important. Well, that can be taken as a meta-joke but I’d prefer to become at least a bit attached to people whose daily lives are shown and of whom I’m supposed to laugh at and to be invested in. The three main guys are distinguishable probably only by their hair color and their voices. Maybe it was meant to have many self-insert characters, but either way it didn’t work that well. Speaking about the supporting characters, there’s a bunch of other pretty much faceless guys that barely can be described in one sentence. And that bunch is not small – there’s even a case of introducing some new people only so that they can be mistook for the main guys. It’s not a bad feature by itself as Baccano! did pretty well with an exceptionally huge cast, but for it to pay off you need those characters to be characters and use them, not just tell one or two jokes and return them to oblivion. Another serious drawback was the depiction of females. I understand it can be argued that as the show lets us see the world as those particular high-school boys see it and it’s just a matter of perception, but I must disagree. I fail to remember any female character in the show that wasn’t shown to be aggressive (in past or present), more or less dumb or just incompetent. Probably there were some, but it seems that those girls just didn’t have enough screen time to show their true characters. Yes, it definitely looked refreshing during some early episodes when you can relax from usual moe types and damsels in distress, but later on it just dragged the show down. Every girl that has more screen time than five minutes was shown as unstable, often prone to fighting and being, well, very unsympathetic. I agree that some characters of this sort could be ok, but if each and every girl is like this… I’m sorry, I’d better watch something else, with more variety.

 photo DKnN2_zpsp8cjgjb2.gif

     Speaking about the artstyle, it wasn’t anything notorious. Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou tried to put all the weight on the comedic side of the show, so there were no, say, planet destroying screams like there were in Nichijou. Soft colors matched slice-of-life-ish atmosphere, and scenes near the river, that were meant to be a parody of romantic stuff, even looked beautiful. As far as character designs go, I’m not so positive. Well, they were exceptional enough so that you can easily distinguish the show from probably any other anime. Yet, as large a cast as it had, Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou just didn’t manage to make the characters stand out in their own world. Many a time I kept wondering if a glimpsed person has been there for the whole time or just showed up and will never be seen again. Still, the problem was way deeper with girl characters. Almost every guy seemed to have countless sisters portrayed without showing their eyes and, as I already mentioned, had almost exact personalities. That also applied to many other females of the show. The constant portraying of people without eyes probably is a bit too much. Yes, they look very non-human (which clearly female characters are supposed to be like), but what of it if it carries no emotional weight? One or two eyeless characters should have been more than enough, not almost all of them.

 photo DKnN4_zpsxiplcnpl.png

     As music for Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou was created by Audio Highs, the same person to work with Gintama, we can add another common point between the two of them. Even if there was hardly any song that I would listen constantly outside of the show (OP and ED included), the soundtrack did what it should have. The same laid back aura of Gintama was welcome here as well, so I think soundtrack was probably one of the stronger parts of the series. By the way, J. Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D was used and was used effectively enough.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Danshi Koukousei to Yukai na Nakama'

     After all, everything I can say about Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou is that you should try it yourself to see if it’s for you. Practically, it’s Gintama in high school without its serious arcs and flamboyant setting. The characters were harder to become acquainted with than first episodes of Shirobako, but the development part didn’t even start. The show has its own more sinister than usual slice of life comedy anime niche and looks to be quite respected within the community, but I don’t harbor very warm feelings towards it. Well, it just proves that barely any comedy can be for everyone.

     I believe, this anime

1

Could’ve been worse

     Even if this show isn’t for me, it can easily be for you. Yes, it’s not perfect but it has its own charm that can definitely appeal for many people.

Suisei no Gargantia – a mix of everything that, well, quite works

 photo SnG02_zpsek5sqfph.jpg

Alternative title Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Studio Production I.G
Genres Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Slice of Life
Source Original
Episodes 13
Season Spring 2013
Director Kazuya Murata
Music Taro Iwashiro
.

     Would you be hyped if Production I.G announced a new anime that has a giant robot? Not enough? What if the composition of the series and some scriptwriting would be done by Gen Urobuchi? I believe many, if not the majority of anime viewers would at least check it out. Yet, the spring season of 2013 also had Shingeki no Kyojin, Hataraku Maou-sama! and Oregairu to offer among others, so it’s not really a surprise to see that Suisei no Gargantia hasn’t created a large fanbase and isn’t the show to be talked about very frequently. So, is it worth checking out?

 photo SnG04_zpsxntglwxy.png

     Behind the two lead characters in the key visual of the series looms a giant robot so naturally many people  thought that Suisei no Gargantia would definitely be just another usual mecha show, maybe, knowing Urobuchi’s involvement, many characters will die horrible deaths. The first minutes of the show didn’t surprise anyone – massive space battle where no viewer can understand what’s going on wasn’t offering anything new. Well, at least the animation was decent – it’s Production I.G after all. Nonetheless, as our main character soldier Ledo woke up from artificial sleep after some trans-galactic travel (the battle didn’t go very well), all the mecha-ness disappeared. By the end of the first episode Ledo finds out that he and his robot Chamber have arrived to planet Earth – long lost to the civilization that Ledo is from.  The Earth is quite flooded – everyone lives in fleets made of many connected ships and boats. So ended the first episode that managed to unnerve many people – some loved the first part with the mecha battle and complained about nothing happening towards the end of the episode. Others conversely preferred that more peaceful and atmospheric part while murmuring about almost senseless beginning. It turned out that as the parts of first episode looked like day and night, the whole series also had some segments that screamed of either slice of life or action. Slice of life segments came first, as Ledo (and Chamber) tried to adapt to the living in the fleet named Gargantia, while trying to grasp the differences between his own very organized and strict civilization and this happy-go-lucky style of life that local people like the lead heroine messenger girl Amy led. At first it may seem quite pointless to throw away precious time that could be used for mecha fights and stuff, but in the end the peaceful time spent on Gargantia was crucial to Ledo’s decisions in the later episodes when all the action and drama began. It could be argued that even in terms of slice of life the show uses its time inefficiently – there is an episode (and a bit of another one) that is just filled with mild fanservise. It’s possible to think that it was meant to show Ledo’s development from a Rei Ayanami type of person to a more humane one, who is able to feel at least something when some girls start dancing in the attire that is quite revealing. Everything just boils down to personal preferences, but clearly the amount of fanservice was a bit bigger than the plot needed. That aside, a big praise must be given to the creators who thought that after Ledo arrived to the Earth he would need some time to learn the local language. Such details really add to the realism of the whole story. The later part of the series focuses mainly on action with some twists, but it’s nothing really Urobuchi-like as the amount of dead characters doesn’t reach your typical Urobuchi level. It isn’t unheard of to make a story that doesn’t belong to just one genre and changes throughout the season, yet it isn’t such an easy job to make everything run smoothly. I believe the transition from the first action sequence into the peaceful slice of life environment was done pretty well, but the opposite didn’t look that effortlessly to me. Still, both parts were quite enjoyable and, even if some things in the story aren’t that original or unguessable, everything was executed pretty well.

     As far as the characters go, the cast isn’t that big and diverse. The main focus of Suisei no Gargantia is to show Ledo’s development from soldier that knows only war and drill to a decent and humane person. Also, there is Chamber. Normally a robot wouldn’t be considered a proper character, but it just happens to grow and change throughout the series as well as his pilot does, even if it’s barely noticeable. There’s nothing really exceptional about all the supporting characters (who actually look pretty flat and aren’t that developed through the series, though it doesn’t really grab much attention as a negative trait and sometimes might even work as a contrast to Ledo’s changing) – we have some girls (suitable for fanservice, how else?), some wise old men, just everyday workers and one particular character who caused me many a headache for being an idiot. Well, I can believe that in the whole enormous fleet there should be some idiots around but when the idiot starts giving orders out of the blue that go against the basic common sense and everybody has absolutely no problem with that and just happily complies, I start to lose patience. Also, there’re some inconsistencies like changing the view whether killing could be justified, or simply conveniently forgetting that people that didn’t mean anything good at first place later shouldn’t be trusted.

Excerpt from the ED; animation by Yoshimichi Kameda
.

     If there are some problems with the story and characters, there hardly could be any complaints about the visuals. The character designs look really refreshing after all the high-school stuff that just overflows the market. The colorful clothing that sometimes resembles some Native American trends, sometimes goes with the full Hawaiian look, looks well with the whole setting and vibrant backgrounds. If I have to condense all the artstyle into just one word, it would definitely be ‘colourful’. Sometimes bashing almost all the colors together looks like a true nightmare, other times it can turn into the absolutely amazing gem that Mononoke (not that Princess one) is. Suisei no Gargantia manages to use all the means and effectively make a pleasant almost heaven-like atmosphere. When it wants, it can transform and do a great job representing darker themes and more complex character emotions than just happiness. Still, at times I just began to ask how the same show can capture such a great shot one time and some episodes later look like there was no effort put in drawing faces. Nonetheless, more times than not animation was done really well as far as I can tell. The Mecha parts (yes, there are some, but clearly not enough to call the show full-mecha) done by CGI also didn’t look like abominations from hell, and that is something even in this day and age.

.

 photo SnG05_zpsnyuhv0bo.png

     Another thing that is crucial to the success of the show is music, though sadly it is often overlooked. Even when the story of Suisei no Gargantia wasn’t going that well, the music kept me just glued to the screen (well, actually to the headphones). Taro Iwashiro, who hasn’t done that much anime work, managed to capture the right atmosphere perfectly, be it a battle theme or just a calm breeze of the wind. Not to mention that a symphonic orchestra used to its full potential is a rear sight in the fields of anime soundtracks. I believe that the music of Suisei no Gargantia can rightly be called the best part of the whole show, and would not be shamed after comparison with even the best live-action film scores or works by Yuki Kajiura or Youko Kanno.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Before Proceeding'
.
.
Excerpt from the OST: 'I Like the Ocean Breeze'

     Gen Urobuchi’s name attached to the show may have done more wrong than right, as this isn’t your normal UroButcher series. Suisei no Gargantia tries to combine slice of life elements with some action later on and even if has some mecha elements, they are really not the center of the story. After all, it was quite a fun ride, not to mention that it was wrapped pretty well, and even if the show isn’t flawless and pacing clearly isn’t the strongest part, Suisei no Gargantia was entertaining enough, and in the end that’s all that matters.

     I believe, this anime is

 2Decent

     There are shows that are certainly better. Also, the themes and the whole changing of the style thing might not be for everybody, but I think it’s worth checking out, at least for the soundtrack and beautiful scenery.