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
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    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.

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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

 1

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?

 

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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

1

Could’ve been worse

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

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from the OST: 'Reasoning'

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

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

Excerpt from the anime; animation by Takahiro Shikama

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

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

Excerpt from the OST: 'Only I am missing'

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

     I believe, this anime

1

Could’ve been worse

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

Dimension W – an interesting mess

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

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

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

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

Excerpt from the anime

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

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

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

 I believe, this anime

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Could’ve been worse

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

Danshi Koukousei no Nichijou – a comedy not for everyone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     I believe, this anime

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Could’ve been worse

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