Musings and Reflections – Winter 2018 Week 2

Violet Evergarden (Ep. 1)

     Well, I don’t know where to start. Let’s say, the art. Which is amazing. Obviously. KyoAni always excelled at character animation and this production feels like a genuinely good film rather than a TV anime. I don’t know how much it was shown in the original light novel but such details like Violet remembering (or not) to salute everyone as if she’s still in military, that spilled cup of tea, flowing hair and various other things not even mentioning facial expressions were expertly done to say the least. Using complementary colors isn’t the most common way to apply shading, but that works. Especially since all the objects (bodies, fabrics etc.) behave like they are complex structures of sophisticated geometry rather than stylized blobs. The lighting also does a great job showing the contrast between the present (when even the broken bridges don’t seem threatening) and the past (when arms quite gruesomely fall off). The opening scene with flying letter was maybe too much in the vein of “hey, we could do it so we did” but other than that the production is truly stunning. Yeah, there’re those controversial filters, but somehow they don’t bother me too much. Speaking about the story, so far it doesn’t seem that original. I guess if the show was made by some other studio, it would look like pretty much another normal show. There are enough mysteries to be solved like all the past being unknown and, more importantly, what happened to that Gilbert dude (he’s probably not dead but I still don’t really get all this secrecy), but it looks like the general approach will be just centered on Violet’s growth. And there’s lots of room for that. On the other hand, it almost bothers me how such a girl could have been grown to be so emotionless and robot-like, as if she was raised in a cage or something. Her obsession with Gilbert at this point also looks unhealthy to say the least – she shows no interest in anything but him. But yeah, the lower you start, the higher you can get so this character drama of learning to become a human (hey, Violet should form a team with Elias for Mahoutsukai no Yome) and adapting to the civilian life should make a great experience. At least in theory.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni (Ep. 1)

     Shoujo sparkles! Shoujo sparkles everywhere! That part was a bit overdone (come on, it’s not manga anymore), but apart from that it was a quality start. Akira’s world must have been almost completely shattered after her trauma (props for not forcefully shoving the fact in the face of the viewers). She looks to have fenced herself from others and while her closest friends still remain by her side, it’s not as if nothing had happened.  I don’t know how much into running Akira was, but seems like she was good enough so not being able to do that anymore creates a terrifying whole in her life. It looks like Akira had an eye for Kondou for some time already, but now having nothing else better to do, she naturally shifts the majority of her attention there. Kondou himself looks quite likable, a guy who despite his clumsiness should be able to be a decent parent for his kid. It looks like he’s just trying to be the best manager he can regardless of his ability to do so. Love is a thing that knows little boundaries, and so far I have absolutely no problem with both main leads being not indifferent to each other. There’s a long way to go yet, especially considering the possible resistance of the society and cluelessness of the manager. Well, I can’t fault him – Akira’s attention may really look unsettling. Well, the bottom line is that the first episode was enjoyable and if the show is able to retain the quality in all departments, it will definitely be worth anyone’s time.

Ito Junji: Collection (Ep. 2)

     Well, I got to say I’m impressed. It still certainly isn’t a masterpiece but a huge improvement over last time nonetheless. The first story opened with some genuinely funny jokes but proceeded quite predictably. It wasn’t that scary, but “unsettling” is a word it deserves. The second story even made me sympathetic a bit with the dreamer man, and considering the shortness of the story it’s a bit of an achievement. On the other hand, the ending wasn’t the most satisfying as the story just was cut off. Well, once again Ito proves not being able to wrap up everything, though his ideas are pretty great. As the material improved a lot, the presentation remained the same, or in some cases even went downhill. It’s really worrying that it’s only a second episode and even now there are problems with synchronization between the animation and VAs. Especially in the first story you can literally see which shots were adapted from the big and impactful panels, though pretty much everything feels like minimally moving manga and nothing more – a textbook example of being uninspired. I can confirm that colors detract a lot of suspense and much is lost compared to the original manga. I guess Ito is really unadaptable.

Mahoutsukai no Yome (Ep. 14)

     …And that fox story ended unticlimactically to say the least. All the tension brought by that spirit (I guess?) dissipated in a second. It’s just like the show suddenly changed its mind to view him no longer as menacing but as someone who just provides another possible route if you’re willing to take it. Of course Chise didn’t leave Elias because it’d mean the end of the show, but she could’ve struggled a bit, at least. What’s the point in a conflict that gets from the setup to the conclusion within a few minutes and has hardly any lasting impact? The other problem is that the first part had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the episode. But yeah, the rest of it was quite good indeed. Once the old dude and this vampire-lady were introduced, their episode felt a bit out of place for me at the time, but this sequel seems like a great improvement. Since we already know about the relationship, the pair is far easier to care about, especially since the show has already spent much time contemplating about death. Chise had enough death around her already, some apparently horrendous instances (her mother) and some awe-inspiring (that dragon Nevin). She probably knows better than many all the feelings that may be evoked and, as she values her friends quite a lot, Chise tries to give the most beautiful memories she can as a present while it’s not too late. I wouldn’t think this odd pair experienced anything as enchanting as Chise did with Nevin, but it still was something. I guess the only major problem for me was that still the vampire-lady was clad not that appropriately for this kind of story, and even if it wasn’t a huge distraction, it still dissonated with the atmosphere. As magic in Chise’s world comes with a price (especially if you do something you’re not supposed to) that’s a great idea to follow for a time being, so the following episode should be quite interesting. It’s great to know that magic isn’t omnipotent. It has already been said that Chise mustn’t overexert herself, but some serious (and bloody) consequences are a far better illustration of that compared to, say, falling asleep for a day or two.

 

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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

 2Decent

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