Scrapped Princess – when light novels weren’t so mainstream

Alternative title Haiki Oujo
Studio Bones
Genres Action, Drama, Sci-fi, Slice of Life
Source Light novels
Episodes 24
Season Spring 2003
Director Souichi Masui
Music Masumi Itou

    What is your reaction when you hear that a particular anime is adapted from a light novel? Probably less enthusiastic than it would be if the source material was manga or, better still, it would be an original work. And today I chose to cover precisely an adaptation of a light novel series. But don’t shove it off as something generic – there’re three particular things I want you to remember – “Bones”, “2003” and “complete”. “Bones” is self-explanatory, as “2003” is since at that time light novels weren’t as common as they are now and naturally nowadays overused tropes were far less likely to appear. “Complete” should also sound good since this anime isn’t a usual ad for the source material – it follows the whole story, from start to the very end. So yeah, dear readers – Scrapped Princess.

    Before we get on with it, I think some clarification is necessary. Generally if you see some promotional art or a DVD cover with people clothed in supposedly fantasy anime attire, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the show will be Pure Illusion…sorry, I mean pure fantasy. Even if some dudes are wielding axes or swords. I say this because that’s precisely what happened to me with Scrapped Princess – I was mentally unprepared to encounter sci-fi in the show, but first things first.

     As the story starts, we find the titular princess Pacifica on a run together with her foster-siblings Shannon and Raquel. The reason behind all this is that it has been prophesied that once Pacifica turns 16, she’ll become “a poison that will destroy the world”. Naturally, nobody wants that, especially the church (yep, again an evil church trope). The church is pretty influential, and not least because it’s associated with some powerful and almost angelic beings named Peacemakers. Imagine then the situation of Pacifica, to whom it may seem that the only two in the whole world who don’t want to kill her are her siblings. Especially since it’s more than clear that Pacifica seems to be the least likely person to cause world destruction.

.     Where Scrapped Princess really excels is the characters, or, to be more precise, interactions between them. In the center of everything is of course our heroine Pacifica (as if you couldn’t guess from her colorful clothes). At first she seemed like a usual bratty and spoilt ojou-sama character who can’t stand traveling in a cart and doing anything by herself. It turns out (as expected) that Pacifica is able to grow a spine and act like a real princess (in a good sense). As the plot progressed, Pacifica didn’t get many opportunities to be relaxed and comfortable, and she grew accustomed to her situation quite quickly. Far more important than that is, as her name suggests, Pacifica’s desire to live in peace without causing trouble to anyone. That is made especially clear when Pacifica’s close friends and family are concerned – it’s even hard to believe that the same once whiny girl could offer her hand (literally, not figuratively) in order to find her siblings when they became separated at one point. Pacifica’s compassion for others makes it particularly hard for her to come into terms with the prophecy that she will likely be the end of all the people. Isn’t it quite a scary world when you just want to live and pretty much everybody else wants you dead? Still it’s not enough to break Pacifica – in every situation she eventually is able to find some inner strength and will to proceed, and that’s a trait that makes her worthy to be called a princess.

    Pacifica’s siblings Shannon and Raquel often just seem to be here and we rarely get a glimpse of their actual thoughts and opinions. They are primarily important to Pacifica as her guardians, almost parental figures, who look after her, give her strength and provide comfort. Of course I would’ve liked to see more of them, but even without any plot changes both Shannon and Raquel are integral to the story. Of all the other characters the biggest impression was made by Leo. Aspiring to become a knight but often struggling (for comedic purposes), he becomes enchanted with Pacifica and because of that sticks with the group. When he learns who Pacifica actually is, Leo is posed with a dilemma – on one hand he should behave as a good citizen and chop Pacifica’s head off, but he simply can’t do that after seeing what kind of innocent girl Pacifica is. I wouldn’t say this theme of an impossible choice (with one’s possible future career at stake) and the meaning of justice gets enough development but it’s a great way of making the world more morally grey.

     Fun fact – for some reason many characters are named after specific guns. You may not even notice that at first, but after some time weird naming choices of gods Mauser and Browning as well as characters like Winia Chester among others become more apparent. I’ve no idea why the names were chosen like that. It almost makes as little sense as everyone named after eggs and egg-dishes in Mardock Scramble. Yep, “scramble” also counts.

     After the initial succession of great episodes Scrapped Princess seemed to have run out of gas, but at that point everything became more complicated when some sci-fi elements were introduced. It wasn’t totally unexpected – some skyscraper ruins were already seen quite early. Also, these elements never become the focus of the story – you can never forget that everything that happens, does so in a primarily medieval setting. Inevitably coexistence of swords and lasers called for some explanation, and naturally we got that, only in a form of several exposition-heavy and rather boring episodes.

     Then another change (for the better) occurred when Pacifica, her siblings, Leo and a few other important characters (scattered after their initial introduction) inadvertently and independently came to the capital city. The characters are the main force behind the likability of the show so more interactions between beloved dudes were nothing more I could’ve asked. The only questionable aspect of this mini-arc was that an amnesia plotline was introduced. I wouldn’t say it was absolutely uncalled for, and it did provide some great moments but in the grand scheme of things the amnesia disappeared as suddenly as it came, and with a puzzling side effect of erasing memories formed during the amnesia period. I’ve no idea why the story played out that way – I can only see a great opportunity for further development lost without any reason.

     Many of my previous criticisms may be dismissed simply as preferences, but there’re some bigger issues. Until the story starts moving at full speed near the final third, temporary villains weren’t particularly impressive – they either lacked believable (or just known) motivations or were defeated way too quickly to have any lasting impact. Later on, sometimes I found it hard to believe that the villains really wanted to achieve their goals since communication problems or simply avoidance of seemingly logical actions happened quite often. Another problem became apparent when the sci-fi became more prominent – it was told that people who chose to help Pacifica were at least strongly encouraged to do so by some specific genes they possessed. That a bit undermined their resolve to swim against the stream and help Pacifica as they were kind of preprogrammed to do so and behaved not entirely due to their free will. Yet the finale posed the biggest head-scratching moment – some characters were confirmed to be dead and then magically revived without any explanation apparently for none other reason  than that they just deserved a happy ending.

Pacifica's cooking is excellent, right?

    Talking about the visuals, the most obvious attribute making the show look way older than it deserves is the aspect ratio 4:3. Yeah, Bones didn’t think that out enough. Still, it’s Bones, and even if actual fighting scenes aren’t a frequent sight, everything is done adequately, especially considering the time period it aired. More impressive than action scenes are some (sadly rare) moments of character animation that usually perfectly conveyd the precise emotion that was needed. Some tiny scene of Pacifica rolling her eyes or a brief cut of a hand gesture could make me replay it half a dozen times to fully appreciate the craft. Character animation was especially well used for comedic purposes, and, frankly, pretty much all the comedy in Scrapped Princess was to my liking, and that is a rare case. Returning to the visuals, character designs need to be mentioned. You can argue that they are very generic and usual for their time period but I can’t completely agree with that. Especially Pacifica looks unique with her one-of-the-kind hairstyle and colorful clothes that instantly make her the center of attention. Sure, women’s physique may seem a bit odd at times, but oh well.

 Excerpt from the OST: Suin Nazo no Syoujo by Masumi Itou


     The OST does its job ok. Its composer Masumi Itou you should probably know for her vocal works. Her usual style is quite recognizable – apart from singing the ED of this show, she also did the same for Azumanga Daioh, and more recently heavily contributed to the ED of Flip Flappers (I still can’t get that tune out of my head). The soundtrack of Scrapped Princess however is a bit different. I always appreciate some orchestral music, and it generally suits these high fantasy/sci-fi tales. I can’t deny that the soundtrack is able to enhance calm moments and battle scenes, but to me it wasn’t very impressive on its own. As if it lacks more pronounced themes and some cohesion between the instruments. Speaking about the themes, there’s one that sounds exactly like a rip-off from Howard Shore’s Isengard theme from The Lord of the Rings. As much as the soundtrack is able to do its job well, I’m afraid I’d rather listen to anything by, say, Youko Kanno anytime.

Excerpt from the OST: Coulisse to Shannon no Tatakai by Kenji Kondou

     You might look at Scrapped Princess and see many various tropes like some characters looking like they rather belong to a JRPG, or the fact that Winia is simply an Ayanami-clone, looks included. You might also laugh at some weird narrative choices (a convenient window between separate cells in a dungeon? Why on earth would you do that?). Still, in the end it’s the characters that matter, and there the show has me fully satisfied – even the villains receive some moments of humanization, and that’s only the bottom line. Instances when Pacifica is put in a hard situation were particularly strong. That heartfelt momentary despair and ultimately resolve to set things straight even if there is no obvious and easy solution will probably remain in my memories for a long time as the best thing I can recall about Scrapped Princess, and that’s not even taking into account the main theme – a conflict between what a person is perceived as and what he really is – being executed very well.

    I believe, this anime is



     Anyone who is tired of all this isekai stuff but still enjoys adventure shows should at least try this one. As well as anyone who loves well-crafted characters but isn’t afraid of some tropes or for the most part rather unimpressive animation.

     Have you seen Scrapped Princess? If yes, what are your thoughts about it? Have you encountered any other anime whose characters carried the show whereas other aspects weren’t that impressive?


Shirokuma Cafe – the ultimate slice of life

Alternative title Polar Bear Cafe
Studio Studio Pierrot
Genres Comedy, Slice of Life
Source Manga
Episodes 50
Season Spring 2012 – Winter 2013
Director Mitsuyuki Masuhara
Music Kenji Kondou

    The world seems to be going faster and faster and it’s become not the rarest sight to observe people complaining about enormous piles of new anime that need to be watched. At this point even the 3-episode-rule looks to consume far more time than an average laid-back person has at his disposal. And that’s to say not even taking into account how many great anime have been made before. If you try to keep up with every single more prominent airing anime you must rule out shortening your backlog by the tiniest bit. Another aspect of watching anime nowadays is the shortening of its length. 2-cour shows seem to be getting pretty uncommon as the market is dominated by 12-episode anime. It’s even getting shorter if you take into account recaps that find their way even in 1-cour shows. In all this light it seems very impractical to talk about some older and lengthier anime. Who has enough time and commitment for Legend of the Galactic Heroes? If we are talking about less prominent shows that aren’t considered milestones or anything, it becomes treading the territory of total obscurity. And it turns out there are some little gems here and there. If you have time and commitment that is.

    Chances are on the Internet you have probably seen some weird images of llamas or belly-dancing bears that look like they could have come from an anime. Rejoice – it really is and that anime is Shirokuma Cafe. The show brings the viewer to its weird world where humanized animals live among humans and nobody finds that unnatural or weird. It’s just the way it is. As one of the main characters Panda (yep, that’s both his name and species. Convenient, isn’t it?) is introduced, it becomes more than clear that such a lazy being can mean only the slowest kind of slice of life series, and 50 episodes of that, to be exact. As usual, such a show takes various real life scenarios and puts them into use, so the only difference from many other slice of life anime is that there characters are mainly animals.

Excerpt from the OST: Odekake by Kenji Kondou

So what would animals visiting a café run by a polar bear (Shirokuma) would do? As expected, all kinds of more or less inconsequential stuff – talking about smartphones, talking about jobs, talking about childhood memories, going on various trips – you name it. There isn’t any overarcing story but from time to time it’s clear that the world isn’t static and among some episodes that can be watched in whatever order there are little stories that provide a clear sense of progression of lives of the characters – for example the misadventures of the love life of Penguin. Still these glimpses are too far apart no to call the show episodic and in the end not everything is concluded the way it could’ve been. There are some patterns in the episodic stories that may look too overused – I can’t even remember how many times Panda had some odd idea fixed in his head and tried to pursue it in his own way (that usually defeats the purpose) before eventually bailing out to start something similar the next episode. Unexpectedly, the show also has an educational side to it – a rare segments tell some details about the making of coffee and somehow I feel weirdly proud to have learned to distinguish some species of Antarctic penguins, so it’s not that everything’s just usual slice of life material.

    Shirokuma Cafe is mainly centered on Shirokuma, the titular owner of the café, and two of his customers/friends – Panda (an embodiment of laziness) and Penguin (pretty much a straight man… ehm… bird). Due to the shows length there of course are many more animals with their own little and quite entertaining stories, but the main trio is never forgotten for long. The animals themselves in Shirokuma Cafe are very similar to ordinary humans – with their own problems, hopes and wishes – the only difference is having tails, flippers, claws and the like. The animality is never forgotten though – a running gag that no one can see how Penguin or Llama gets on a chair in the café may be an example. Such quirks strengthen the immersion and make you believe that if there ever could be a cafe for talking animals, they would behave exactly that.

Perfect excuse

Other quite funny personal characteristics that depend on the physicality of the animals include Llama using a smartphone with his tongue, Sloth being carried on a tree branch in order to go shopping, Grizzly looking for a part-timer for his bar since his winter hibernation awaits. Through all the 50 episodes many animals appear, some of them clichéd like the same Sloth or Turtle who speak unbearably slow. Other may lead unexpected lives like a bunch of porcupines that formed an idol group, but each and every one of the animals gracefully and organically become parts of a bigger picture. The show isn’t completely devoid of humans but they seem to contrast the liveliness of the animals – the two most frequent personae are a waitress Sasako and a zookeeper Handa. Sasako from time to time lets out a funny remark while Handa is best known for having hobbies of keeping everything clean and collecting pebbles. If it sounds dull, it is but for every gag comedy you need some straight characters and these two serve that purpose more often than not. Still, it’s primarily a show about animal interactions so don’t expect anything significant from our humans.

I beg your pardon?

     Apart from the usual slice of life stuff, Shirokuma Cafe also employs comedy (as you probably already guessed), and does that quite a lot. Right in the first episode Panda is forced by his mother to get a part time job. Well, he does that, finding employment in a local zoo as… a panda. Yup, it’s silly, but at least for me it did work brilliantly. The comedy of course doesn’t end here. Shirokuma himself is probably best characterized by his unending puns – purposefully mishearing some words and presenting them visually. As with pretty much all the setting it needed some time to get comfortable with, but once that is achieved, you may find some mild fun. At least a person more or less fluent in Japanese should.  As I mentioned before, many comedic segments come from the animals trying to do human things, and even after completing all the show I can say I’m definitely not tired of the endless inventiveness of the creators in this respect.

A rare sakuga excerpt from the anime; animation by Yoshihiro Kanno

  Keeping a show running for a longer time usually prevents the animation from anything spectacular and Shirokuma Cafe isn’t an exception. Despite the quality and cuteness  of the character designs the visuals look rather dull, although still serviceable. Sakuga is pretty much nonexistent (apart from one or two special occasions) and you have to be happy not to get anyone off model. Still, there’s some movement and in the end the purpose of the story is not to outshine each and every high-budget production but to simply provide some soothing entertainment and essentially it is accomplished. And I just can‘t get Sasako-san from my head. She‘s just one of the most adorable anime girls ever.

 Best girl

    Knowing that Shirokuma Cafe is a very low-key anime you have to wonder how it came to pass that its voice actor cast is nothing short of spectacular. You don’t need to be well versed in such matters to have heard about Takahiro Sakurai, Daisuke Ono, Hiroshi Kamiya, Jun Fukuyama, Rie Kugimiya, Mamiko Noto or Yuuichi Nakamura. Even Mamoru Miyano, Akira Ishida and Tomokazu Sugita make their appearances. From the top of my head I can’t remember any show that could boast of such a cast, and it’s very puzzling. The class of the VAs clearly shows – each of the characters becomes even more distinctive – so much that you could probably easily distinguish, say, Penguin’s voice from any other‘s or from many other anime characters’ in general. The only minor disappointment was Kana Hanazawa’s performance as Panda’s sister Mei-mei. KanaHana is nothing but typecasted for cute little girls but I think such an energetic performance was at odds with the general lazy-ish image of pandas. The soundtrack although quite varied, naturally mostly caters the same palate as the whole show – rarely picking up tempo and relying mostly on simply melodies and few instruments, one of which usually provides the base and the other – the melody. There are enough quirks here and there (an unexpected rap piece for example) but keeping everything simple takes the priority any time. Especially if you have seen the show and remember the themes, listening repeatedly might bring back the nostalgic laid-back feeling so even if it probably won’t be your first choice, there are countless times worse things to listen when you’re stressed.

Excerpt from the OST: Oyasumi, Arigatou by Kenji Kondou

    The EDs and previews of Shirokuma Cafe definitely need to be mentioned. In the previews there are paper cutouts of the main characters placed in some real life locations while the VAs provide voice overs. The EDs move even further – the music in them is basically character songs, but the animation goes overboard – live action, various mosaics, stop-motion technique and other methods are used to create if not the most memorable but definitely particularly unique EDs in anime. Even if you have no wish to watch the anime, do yourself a favor and take a peak at the EDs. Please.

    When you synchronize with the rhythm of the show it becomes absolutely unimportant what exactly happens, though to be frank usually nothing happens at all. You just want to immerse and see more of enjoyable characters bantering around, maybe doing some stuff together and then going back to doing nothing. Eventually you start caring because there are lots of endearing moments scattered here and there – the message of optimism and friendship is definitely there. Shirocuma Cafe may be predictable and incredibly silly at times but at least for me it was just what I needed – a little dose of soothing and mood-enhancing medicine from time to time with fond memories for long.

    I believe, this anime is



     A slice of life for 50 episodes? It’s either madness or a paradise depending on your viewpoint. Anyone looking for upbeat action or impressive story will have to look elsewhere but someone with a simple wish to relax and let all the real life problems disappear for half an hour each time may find the show very appealing. Please try and enjoy!

     Have you perchance seen Shirokuma Cafe? Are you able to tolerate slice of life shows in general? If yes, what are your favorites?

Kino no Tabi – it’s old but is it gold?

Alternative title Kino’s Journey
Studio A.C.G.T.
Genres Drama, Slice of Life
Source Light novel
Episodes 13 + OVA + 2 films
Season Spring 2003
Director Ryuutarou Nakamura
Music Ryou Sakai

    Why do people create imaginary worlds and stories? The answer would be because they think our own world lacks something. It might be that a person just wants to experience an alternative choice in his life or to see what would happen if some specific conditions would be provided. It doesn’t change the fact that even those stories that have very little in common with the everyday world are still built upon the rules that we know – sometimes they are altered, sometimes completely broken or created anew, but the fact persists. Then a person (other than the creator) who wants to experience such a new world needs to know what are the rules there. And because our world inevitably is the reference, the imaginary world by default works just like our own, unless stated otherwise. And that’s a statement I want you to remember because this time let’s delve into the world of Kino no Tabi (the old one), similar and yet vastly different from our own.

     The basics of an adventure story is to make someone travel somewhere and encounter some interesting people along the way. Kino no Tabi plays right into this vein – the protagonist Kino spends her time visiting various countries and noting their differences. The creator of the original light novel series Keiichi Sigsawa loves to travel himself and usually does that on his motorcycle so inevitably his heroine Kino does the same. The unusual thing is that Kino’s motorrad Hermes (yep, that’s how it’s called) talks from time to time. I don’t know how it’s portrayed in the light novels but judging from the anime, there’s a possibility that Kino’s wrong in the head (no wonder concerning her troublesome past) and because of that she imagines a completely normal machine talk. Sure, it’s only a minor possibility, but I can’t remember any scene where Hermes would have said anything important to any third party that Kino couldn’t. It’s never directly addressed, so think what you will. Still, Hermes only exists to keep company for Kino. To some extent it was a smart choice to have a talking motorbike – in this way Kino has someone to talk to but on the other hand Hermes doesn’t look like anything human so in that sense Kino still travels alone, so generally Hermes is there just to make Kino talk and express her opinions.

    As the story is episodic, the characters constantly change so it’s crucial to form a bond with anyone featured more prominently in order to connect with the show. Apart from Kino there’s only Hermes that may remotely be called a character. And it’s a talking motorbike, yeah. Even then Kino remains a mystery to me. Many people have compared Kino no Tabi to Mushishi and not without a reason. In both series the protagonists mainly act as lenses to enable the viewers to see their respective worlds. Sure, there’re huge differences as Ginko tries to help people while still hiding his personal thoughts and Kino usually is just an observer, trying not to interfere with anything. To measure anything you inevitably need to interact with it and as Kino usually avoids that, I’ve only gathered the tiniest and often contradicting impressions of her. One time Kino may ponder if it’s alright to kill some rabbits in order to feed a few famished travelers, a bit later she can actively make dozens of people (and maybe more) fight in a death match, so I just couldn’t form a consistent opinion on her – does she value life? Why is she behaving the way she does? Only a few times Kino formed a connection with other people and I can assure that during these times she was the most relatable and human. And I rather watch a show about humans and not some undefined entities that only observe. Especially if what they observe doesn’t really make sense more often than not.

      Now we come to the main point I have against Kino no Tabi – there’s not enough proof that all the different countries in Kino’s world work otherwise than countries in the real one (and why is that). You come expecting normal people who are able to think and come up with logical answers to their problems but it isn’t the case. People in Kino’s world are prone to be extremely oversimplified or just transformed in such a way that for me most of time they’re not even recognizable as people that I could relate to or care about their stories. And that’s even worse than, say, in a typical harem anime where no character can break from stereotypes. Kino typically spends an episode (or even less) in one country but in each and every one of them apart from one or two forgettable supporting characters other people make up a mob, a mass, devoid of personality and smarts. The simplifications of people, employed to act as devices for portraying specific ideas, don’t allow a single person from the mob to behave the tiniest bit differently compared to the majority. I don’t think it’s very realistic to travel to, say, Sweden and find that everybody is named Olaf, likes to play ice hockey and has a pet squirrel named Thor. Even worse, the mob usually acts in unbelievably dumb ways. For example (and beware of spoilers), two countries decide that rather than warring between themselves they would save some lives by regularly massacring a third underdeveloped country as a kind of sport. That way, everyone is said to be happy in these two countries because no more people are killed in war and they’re able demilitarize quite a bit. Why doesn’t anyone remember the land that the countries initially quarreled for anymore, why neither of the countries takes an opportunity to destroy the other one if the opponent’s power is diminished, why the people of the third country simply endure being massacred and neither retaliate nor leave is beyond me. And wasn’t a more simple choice JUST TO MAKE PEACE? It’s probably the worst I’ll remember about Kino no Tabi, but it’s just plagued by such more or less illogical complications that sure, do serve the exploration of thought provoking ideas, but on the other hand throw away all the relatability and realism. Maybe I’m an idealist, but come on, people can’t be THAT retarded, can they?

   Another interesting aspect of Kino’s world is that it’s very segmented. There’re practically no ties between the countries. It’s quite strange to have countries with hover-boards and also countries where a mere wish to invent something is frowned upon. Well, our world isn’t that different at a first glance, but I guess even someone living in the farthest corner of the world has heard that planes do exist. Technology usually like to spread, countries also tend to conquer as much territory as they can but in Kino no Tabi the countries are rather more like city-states that have no plans to expand, open trade routes or just explore further from their thresholds. I find that strange and it only adds to my confusion that Kino’s world initially seems just like our own but is certainly not. I guess if an animal has cat ears, cat nose, cat paws and even behaves like a cat, it should be a cat but in this anime even an object having all external human characteristics feels nothing like human.

    Sometimes it’s clear that the anime was adapted from a light novel, even if at the time light novels weren’t as popular as they are now and the market wasn’t oversaturated with similar stories with little artistic quality. Why does Kino always have to ask if she can ask a question? It’s pretty annoying to say the least. Annoying as well are the questions exactly repeating the statements (just like “I’m a plumber” – “Oh, you’re a plumber, right?”). It might work to start conversations in the light novel but in the anime it definitely feels wooden or at least outdated. After all it’s sort of understandable since at the time typical anime used to be that much slower paced.

Excerpt from the OST: some track featuring Pachelbel's Canon in D

   Kino no Tabi also definitely looks like it was made quite a while ago. The visuals do nothing but scream about belonging to early 2000s. Character designs can be very simplified, as much as something come straight from some Masaaki Yuasa work, only the animation isn’t as impressive. Kino herself looks very bubbly and gender neutral (which has some point), far from Kino in this new ongoing reimagining of the story where the protagonist didn’t manage to withstand the attack of moe. Having nothing but pastel colors and especially many browns might make the old Kino look muddy but usually the show just feels cozy. Well, mostly color-wise, because there definitely are some unsettling stories. Still, the overall aesthetic is a consistent one, and that’s for the best. If we discount that weird scanline filter. You know what I mean.

   Moving on, it’s difficult to say anything about the soundtrack because it hasn’t been released for some reason. Yep, there’re some bits and pieces scattered on the Internet but even so I’m not inclined to spend time looking for it. As far as I recall, the soundtrack was good in a sense that it seamlessly fused with the stories, that is it wasn’t noticeable at all. On the other hand a great soundtrack should be able to stand its ground alone and be an equally important part of the story, and I can’t say that about Kino no Tabi. The single memorable scene sound-wise was when the famous Pachelbel’s Canon in D was used. That music may suit pretty much any non-action scene anywhere so it fit here well also. It’s just funny that a single more prominent track wasn’t made by Ryou Sakai who’s responsible for the whole soundtrack.

    If you haven’t seen enough of Kino, it’s not over after the TV series – there’s also an OVA and two films (each half an hour long). The OVA is half an episode long and feels different from the main show only because of that. Just like the creators at the last second found out that what they had made doesn’t extend to the full length and then nobody had any idea what to do with the remaining time. The first film defers from the usual formula by being sort of a prequel. Remember girly Kino with long hair and a dress? If you liked that, the first film is a must. It’s interesting to see how Kino started travelling but as with the TV series (as well as the OVA), the mob just isn’t smart at all. It’s nothing but annoying when people are so pedantic that a problem (that can be lethal to someone) isn’t dealt with properly with only because some in this case ridiculously unimportant rules say so. The second film signified the first time when Kino no Tabi left its initial studio – it was produced by Shaft and it feels hardly like a Kino. The character designs are updated (Kino’s coat is very battered for example) and Kino looks far more mature. The story also isn’t anything to write home about. It has some interesting elements but in the end it’s unfinished and feels just like the rest of unsatisfying episodes of Kino. As you probably know the ongoing reimagining of Kino no Tabi is also an option, but at least for now its quality doesn’t feel that satisfying.

Updated Kino from the Shaft film

    It’s immeasurably hard to tell a story that has some philosophical elements that would be thoroughly examined only in one episode, a decent wrap up and relatable characters included. Probably each episode of the series could be extended to its own separate show because the ideas behind are truly capable of that. Now it’s sadly quantity and not always quality. For me simply abstract ideas weren’t enough – they only can reach a viewer when they are organically embedded into the world of the story, and that’s precisely what I feel the anime lacks. Almost every episode I can summarize in a way of “Oh, that’s a rather interesting thought… but why the hell is that person so dumb?..”. I guess if Kino had been less of an enigma and the inhabitants of the countries had been less simplified, it would’ve been a show to my liking. Still, I must acknowledge that there’s a gold nugget in probably every episode, only it’s covered with a huge layer of dust. It’s up to you whether you have enough commitment to find it and not be too judgmental about the dust.

    I believe, this anime


Could’ve been worse

     I think Kino no Tabi is worthy to be experienced. Sure, there are many more enjoyable shows but if you find yourself drawn to some deeper stuff and have some free time  – do try out the show. Despite my rather harsh opinion many people appear to have enjoyed Kino no Tabi quite a bit, so at least in order to broaden your general knowledge of anime the show is recommended.

     Have you seen the old Kino no Tabi? Are such older shows able to stand the test of time? How do you think the old show compares with the new anime?


Aoi Bungaku – can old literature be adapted into an anime?

Alternative title Blue Literature
Studio Madhouse
Genres Drama, Historical
Source Novels
Episodes 12
Season  Fall 2009
Directors Morio Asaka, Tetsurou Araki, Shigeyuki Miya, Ryosuke Nakamura, Atsuko Ishizuka
Music Hideki Taniuchi, Shusei Murai

     It’s often hard to get a satisfying manga adaptation, and light novels regardless of their quality may prove to be even a harder original source to tame. Still, out of everything that can be printed on paper probably the hardest is to take a conventional novel or a short story and reshape it into an anime, and Aoi Bungaku tries to do exactly that. The catch is that it’s not contemporary stuff it’s trying to adapt, and not even a one novel. Aoi Bungaku actually is something like an anthology of various stories written by famous Japanese who created their now classical works in the first half of the 20th century. For someone like me saying “he’s an extraordinary writer” doesn’t say much (quite shamefully) because sadly I lack that aspect of knowledge about Japanese culture. Still, such name as Osamu Dazai probably is known by many because his fame often seeps into anime and manga as a cultural reference – remember for example the recent Tsuki ga Kirei. All the stories originally were created having in mind a vastly different audience and not only because of a different time period – I guess such genres as a high-school comedy would’ve been inconceivable then. Because of that, adapting long-ago written stories may prove a particularly challenging task. How does Aoi Bungaku cope with that? Well…

Not the most expected OP

      First of all, the structure of the show needs some explanation. Aoi Bungaku is split into 6 completely different stories (though the last two have an artificial connection), and the differences are even more pronounced since each segment was created by different crews. Because of that it’s entirely possible to watch the show any way you like and skip any story you don’t like. Also, it’s uncommon that the show doesn’t have an OP. In its place in a documentary-like segment an actor Masato Sakai (remember the name) introduces the author and some details about a particular story. As for someone with virtually no prior knowledge about the cultural and personal circumstances of the stories, his comments were very helpful and insightful.

     The first story, the longest and in my opinion the most powerful one, is the swan song of Osamu Dazai. No longer human (Ningen shikkaku) tells a tale about sorrows of a man with little social abilities. Youzou gets what he doesn’t need but doesn’t manage to achieve what he really craves, if actually there is something he desires. Constant war with inner ghosts that manifest very powerfully and struggles to decipher if he really is a human and whether he should strive to be one makes it a very personal and engrossing story. A whole new view opens when you learn that Ninegen Shikkaku is the last work of Osamu Dazai right before his suicide. As if it’s not enough, some striking similarities with Youzou’s and Dazai’s lives make it an almost autobiographical and very personal work, a sad confession of a pitiful life. You just can’t sit without thinking “Oh poor poor Osamu…”. The visuals also are one of the strongest in the whole show. It’s not really a surprise, since it was Takeshi Obata of Death Note and Bakuman who provided character designs (he also did that for the third story). To be frank, the very first seconds of the show gave me the idea that it was made by good old Madhouse at its peak, and during all the four episodes the standards weren’t lowered a tiny bit. Every scene conveys the mindset of the protagonist and sustains the heavy atmosphere. Although it’s hard to make a convincing horror anime, Youzou’s inner demon looks terrific. There probably wasn’t a better way to start this show as strong.

      The second story deeply contrasts with the first one in many ways. I guess Tetsuro Araki is more suitable for making action flicks and not philosophical and deep stuff. From the first few seconds it’s clear that Ango Sakaguchi’s  In the Forest, Under Cherries in Full Bloom (Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita) isn’t going to be a very serious story. The art (character designer Tite Kubo of Bleach) as well as some additions to the story rather look like something Studio Trigger could’ve made and certainly not as a story of an acclaimed 20th century Japanese writer. There lies the biggest problem because I don’t think that was the right direction to take. Sure, some comedy is never a bad thing but particularly in the context of the other stories this one sticks out like a sore thumb. I wonder who thought that a talking boar or such anachronisms like cell phones in a medieval period would be a good addition. Thus such comedic moments completely overshadow the main story which itself doesn’t feel satisfactory. As I haven’t read the original work I can only hope that there were enough explanations why, for example, a rough bandit was so enchanted by a random woman to carry out every single of her sometimes ridiculous orders. Also the central idea of the story that sakuras may be a source of terror in the anime was just left hanging with no reasoning why.

     Next story Kokoro was written by Souseki Natsume. As far as I know, the anime takes some liberties with the story but in the end it pays off. Kokoro is about a friendship of two completely different people and what happens when their interests (of course involving a woman) collide. The first episode dedicated to this story felt too crammed and it seemed that only a surface has been scratched. The interesting part is that the second episode retells the same story, only this time from the perspective of the other friend. It turns out that pretty much everything actually had a different meaning. It’s not only the same situations that can be interpreted in a different manner – the two versions even contradict one another at some points. It’s quite puzzling but also interesting to try to trace everything as it really happened because even the second story that seems to be far closer to the truth may not have been told entirely without any changes. It may not hit right in the kokoro (hehe) but compared to the second story it shines very brightly.

     Then we have yet another work of Osamu Dazai, but this time far more cheerful, though not without some emotions and pain. In its essence Run, Melos! (Hashire, Melos!) is quite simple – it’s following a playwright as he’s tasked to adapt an ancient Greek story to a play. The story concerns two friends, one of whom was sentenced to death but manages to postpone his sentence by giving his friend in as a hostage. The struggle begins when he must return within three days in order to be executed himself and to set free his friend. It turns out that the playwright himself has some experiences that almost completely mirror the story and his memories prove to be too vivid for him to be able to work as always. Despite the simplicity of the story it tackles some fundamental values and shows that the same things that were important to the Greeks haven’t lost their significance. Ryosuke Nakamura’s direction again rises a question why he hasn’t been at the helm of more productions. At least he quite recently got Grimgar.

    The final two episodes are devoted to Ryuunosuke Akutagawa’s short stories The Spider’s Thread (Kumo no Ito) and Hell Screen (Jigoku Hen). The first one concerns a bandit whom a spider tried to save from hell. I think it’s a very common story, at least I have heard it many times before even knowing that there was such a writer. The second is more interesting as it discusses the actions of an obsessed artist to whom no sacrifice seems too painful in order to complete his painting. The stories at their core are very simple, but the director Atsuko Ishizuka of No Game no Life (that’s why there’s pretty colors everywhere) decided to join them together so that they would happen in the same mini-world. To some extent it pays off but in the end there are some inconsistencies left. The first Akutagawa’s story is far more fairytale like and its compatibility with the second one may be questionable. Moreover, the emperor in the first story is held to be the nicest guy in the world but in the last episode this notion just vanishes without a trace. The stories don’t have the complexity of the other ones but their core ideas are still relevant. Also, the first episode provided some nice trippy imagery of hell but the ending of the last story was just an animation fest.

     An interesting thing is that Masato Sakai (remembered the name?) acted as a protagonist or an important character in 5 stories. On one hand, it’s a common thread that unifies the stories. On the other, it wasn’t really necessary. Moreover, having a guy with a melancholic voice voice-act a rough and tough bandit gives not the most convincing performance. Still, more times than not he as well as other VAs did a good job trying to sound not like some anime character but real people. Serious emotions were certainly here and I can ask no more than that.

Excerpt from the OST of Ningen Shikkaku by Hideki Taniuchi

     The soundtrack was composed by two guys – Shusei Murai (episodes 9 and 10) and Hideki Taniuchi (the rest). There’s only a little more that I can say about it because in a very curious way the soundtrack apparently was never released. After some search I found that Hideki Taniuchi was charged with carrying some marijuana and we all know how strict Japanese are with such things. Of course it’s just a supposition that these facts are related and I may never find out why there was no release. Anyway, it’s very unfortunate because the soundtrack wasn’t a bad one. There are some reconstructions of the tracks taken from the series themselves scattered throughout the Internet but it’ll never fully replace nor quality nor quantity of the official release. The soundtrack mainly stays in the background but some of the more lyrical or upbeat themes find their way to the surface. The purpose of accompanying the stories and enhancing the atmosphere are accomplished and while it’s hard for me to recall anything substantial, the soundtrack accomplished its task without any major flaws. Probably the most impressive tracks belong to Ningen Shikkaku since it’s the longest story and has far more contemplative and emotional breathing spaces than any other.

Excerpt from Hashire, Melos!. Animation by Kenichi Shimizu.

     In the end Aoi Bungaku turns out to be a very mixed bag of everything. In principle trying to revive some classics and give them a new coating, maybe tweaking a little bit one detail or another to suit the change of the medium is a very commendable act. Yet, that’s only theoretically since even without the knowledge of the source material it’s obvious that not everything may be translated into animation well in the first place, so inevitably there arise some hard decisions to be made, and not all of the results seem to be on the same level as the original sources. Despite quite huge ups and downs, the positive (without, of course, getting to know about some influential literary works) is the possibility to choose what you wish. If a  full-cour-length show messes up its story, it feels way more important and a sour feeling will mar the whole show but with such a format as Aoi Bungaku chose you can pick up the better bits and come out of it quite satisfied.

    I believe, this anime is


      If you’re still pondering whether to engage Aoi Bungaku, please do yourself a favor and try Ningen Shikakku, that is the first four episodes. If you feel like it, you may check out Hashire, Melos! and maybe Kokoro. For sakuga fans the second half of the last episode is advisable. The whole 12 episode package has some unsavory parts but cherry-picking is of course allowed and you definitely have my recommendation for that.

     Have you watched Aoi Bungaku? Are you familiar with any of these literary works? Do you think it’s possible to have novels (not light novels) adapted into an anime in a satisfying way?


Hand Shakers – “I can” doesn’t mean “you should”

Studio GoHands
Genres Action
Source Original
Episodes 12
Season Winter 2017
Director Shigo Suzuki

     When Hand Shakers aired, it was more than clear that the show was a serious contender to be elected as the worst anime of the season if not of the whole year. Yet, when the show ended, no one seems to remember it anymore. On one hand it barely deserves to be remembered, particularly so when far better shows are becoming forgotten so soon after the end of their airing. Nonetheless, even if you despise Hand Shakers with your whole heart, the show might have some interesting quirks that should be mentioned. Just for the sake of curiosity let’s try to find some good in this mess.

Is it a cooking show?

     And a mess it really is. Hand Shakers is an original series but, as many have pointed out, it’s mind boggling that originality isn’t one of its distinctive aspects at all. Hand Shakers rather feels like yet another light novel or computer game adaptation, just because of the unending feeling that there should be some coherent story around, the world should be interesting but it just can’t escape its embryo stage. Everything begins with the main guy Tazuna whose only characteristic besides being the main character and having appropriate to this rank plot armor is that he can fix things. Tell me it isn’t similar to Shirou Emiya from Fate. Anyway, Tazuna manages to inadvertently awaken a certain girl named Koyori from coma and it just happens that the two of them now become Hand Shakers. That, as an annoying but very convenient scientist dude explains, means fighting other Hand Shakers. The best pair is said to get an opportunity to ask a god (oh well, that escalated pretty quickly) a wish to be granted. It’s not all, sadly. At first it’s told that because of some circumstances Koyori mustn’t let go of Tazuna’s hand because then she’ll die. Oh well. So yeah, we just have a death-game scenario that doesn’t feel that different from shows like Mirai Nikki or the same Fate franchise. The clichéd premise is only the top of the iceberg as Hand Shakers never tries to move anywhere from it. The concept of Hand Shakers themselves is never expanded that much after the initial info-dump as if it was the least important thing in the story. The whole season is spent fighting pairs of villains, defeating them (how else?), then somehow befriending them, spending some time just randomly chilling out and moving on to fight another pair. I’d guess that if everyone would be so thrilled to get their wishes granted, every other episode shouldn’t be about cooking but that’s not the case. There’s even more stuff that is painful to remember – apart from the story that doesn’t try at all to make sense there’s some sisters crazed for their little brothers, bizarre superpowers, characters even more boring or annoying than the main guy – you name it. I can almost bet that any single trope you despise about anime in some form or another is embedded in Hand Shakers.

Where is the focus in this scene?

     Characters definitely aren’t an aspect Hand Shakers can be proud of. As I’ve already said, Tazuna is noticeable only because of the screen time he gets. Tazuna’s partner Koyori is even worse. She starts as a doll character, for some reason unable neither speak nor do a single thing herself. Her main accomplishments through the series seem to be learning how to make a conversation and eat some ice cream. Watching our main pair is as exciting as looking at a robot taking his dakimakura for a walk. Probably the next important character is the scientist guy. Apparently his personality should be akin to Okabe the “Mado-scientisto” from Steins;Gate but the attempt only proves that Mamoru Miyano has a voice and personality so unique that any copycat is destined to fail from the very start. The temporary antagonists sometimes provide a glimpse of some interesting story (for example about an idol that has to deal with the fact that she doesn’t have any audience) but as with everything else, the execution isn’t competent enough. The show just fails to provide a believable world by making pretty much everyone silly or mentally challenged. I doubt that normal parents would gladly approve of their son bringing home a random girl saying “Hey, it just happens that I can’t let go of her hand, so she’ll live with me”. The sense of humor is also questionable. Just take a look at a screenshot below, explaining why the main pair has to help a school festival by making some food.


     Say what you will about the generic story and characters but what really sets Hand Shakers apart from other forgettable shows is the visuals. There’s no doubt that much work has been put into assembling the series but sadly it looks like the team consciously thought of every possible way of making the experience less enjoyable. Hand Shakers can be distinguished by constantly and needlessly moving camera (especially in the first part), causing serious disorientation to the point of some people complaining about headaches. Each and every surface, be it a character or a background element, looks very glossy and constantly reflects light rays that sometimes move even when the camera doesn’t. The colour scheme is all over the place – you can expect countless colors, hues and shades at the same time, so it’s even difficult to say what is the most important element in a particular shot (in other words, the staging is virtually nonexistent). To some extent the coloring problem had to be expected since it’s not the first time that GoHands plays with this fire – Mardock Scramble trilogy already showed the root of this disaster. You can have insane amount of colors but it works only in rare cases such as my favorite example Mononoke. The same glossiness also creates a cold atmosphere and characters look more like they are fully CG. And CG itself is also a problem because there’s plenty of it, and it’s not good. The moving chains from the first episode is probably the worst thing in the show you can experience in terms of both making sense and appealing visually. The problem of CG not “meshing” (to quote the show itself) with 2D is also aggravated by the moving camera. The characters, CG objects and backgrounds all create a dissonance between themselves, and that may be even worse than the infamous Deen’s dragon. To return to the character designs, I can call them everything but pleasant. The glossiness doesn’t help, but even without that the same (and bland) face syndrome isn’t a disease GoHands if free from. Much attention was payed to the eyes (it’s an anime after all) but it doesn’t help at all sympathizing with the characters. Koyori rather looks like she could easily be taken as a blind person in another show. If I had to say one good thing about the visuals, some crowd scenes were surprisingly lively. Of course it was just a rare occasion before moving to static crowd shots but when it worked, it seriously looked good.

Excerpt from Hand Shakers

     The music is an interesting thing to talk about because it’s probably the only thing about the show that can’t be bashed right away. More interestingly, the credit for the soundtrack is given to GOON TRAX but its site says that it’s a label, so I can’t even name a single human being who’s responsible for the music in Hand Shakers. The soundtrack itself is composed of tracks that make not the worst playlist to listen to when you do something else. Usually there’s some relaxed piano over a background beat, just the thing you’d expect from, say, a music in the background of some YouTube video. The problem is that there’s nothing more to the soundtrack than these laid back tracks. When the show delves into its more slice of life segments (where nothing happens) such a music fits quite well. On the other hand when pretty much the same tracks are played over more serious battle scenes, it doesn’t “mesh” at all. Overall the soundtrack leaves an impression of being absolutely bland and uninteresting as an integral part of an anime series. At least the ED was quite nice, even if I didn’t care about a sad girl that doesn’t know how to do anything.

Excerpt from the OST: 'There's No Way' by GOON TRAX

     What can I say? For the majority of people Hand Shakers is a “burn it with fire” show, others (for the most part myself included) may find some entertainment for the “so bad it’s good” factor and probably no one will find it enjoyable enough. The story is pretty much garbage but it still has the gall to try to tease a second season by the end. Hopefully that won’t be realized any time soon. Or ever. To think about it, a studio that spends so much time for details and unconventional animation techniques just got incredibly unlucky because of the incompetence to play to their strengths right. Such detailed backgrounds by itself look pretty good, and I think a more experienced studio like ufotable wouldn’t be embarrassed to use such art of such level for their productions. To continue the comparison, ufotable also likes to use some CG space and where the action happens (for example Kara no Kyoukai 5 or Tales of Zestiria the X) and while their CG for me isn’t something that seamlessly harmonizes with 2D stuff, ufotable knows far better when to use their arsenal of means. Employ someone who understands what color design is, don’t be that ambitious, and you might become a half decent studio, GoHands. A writer also wouldn’t hurt.

How about no?

     I believe, that you should just


Don’t bother

     I can’t in good conscience recommend the show to anyone unless you’d like to laugh at its incompetence and bad choices everywhere. Even then it might be a very difficult task to endure all that Hand Shakers has to offer. Better stay away from it.

     Did you watch Hand Shakers? Can you think of a single positive point about the show?

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

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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…

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     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.

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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.

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    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.

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     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.

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 I believe, this anime is


     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

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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.

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    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.

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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.

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     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.


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.

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    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


    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

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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.

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     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.

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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?

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     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.

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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.

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     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


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

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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.

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    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.

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     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.

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     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.

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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.

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    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


     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

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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.

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     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.

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     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.

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     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.

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     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


     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.