Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Knosuba: Full Series Review

Konosuba (shortened version of the title Kono Subarashii Sekai Ni Shukufuku O! translated as Gifting the Wonderful World with Blessings! or alternatively Give Blessings on This Wonderful World!). Was a 2016 Winter Anime release that while being another "trapped in a fantasy world" based on a Light Novel Anime. It was different due to the differences in the characterization and the world along with tone of the story the novel opens up with our protagonist Kazuma Satou dying after attempting to save a girl from what he thought was a truck but turned out to be a slow moving tractor that posed no actual threat to the girl and he subsequently dies from the shock and is laughed at by not only the surgical staff charged with saving his life but also his Parents. This all revealed to Kazuma by Aqua the goddess responsible for ferrying the recently deceased to Heaven or allowing them to reincarnate into a seemingly boilerplate fantasy world complete with an evil Deamon King to be defeated. Kazuma deciding his life was not much to speak of makes the choice to reincarnate into the fantasy realm and being annoyed at Aqua's condescending attitude "equips" her as an item. Much to her consternation and despair. Now stuck with each other Kazuma and Aqua start out simply trying to survive as laborers until Aqua and Kazuma make enough money to cover class registration fees. With Kazuma becoming and Adventurer and aqua due to her overpowered stats an Arch Priest. Until they gather together an part consisting of Arch Wizard Megumin and Crusader Darkness who has great strength and defensive abilities. Alas these two while on paper seem like great additions are broken characters Megumin being proficient in only one kind of magic that is only able to be used once a day then incapacitates her. While Darkness can't hit the broadside of a barn and has "special" interests. So begins the journey of the hopelessly broken party of adventurers while Kazuma bemoans being stuck in a world that is not like what he imagined it to be. Konosuba is in a word mean the series delights in ridiculing everyone from Kazuma being belittled or misapprehended as a brutish pervert to Aqua being a selfish spoiled brat to the party losing in fights with their suffering being the punchline. It's funny but very much in a way that is laughing at others pain or perception versus reality. Kazuma for his part is not a hero in any sense of the word he simply wants to live a carefree life but is saddled with a team of lazy or outright insane teammates. While the series is perfectly happy to subvert and pillory tropes played straight in series like Log Horizon or Sword Art Online. Such as the main character gaining a harem or being an overpowered genius. One could say the series could be perceived as Sexist, honestly considering how much Kazuma is made the punchline or the entire world is held up as broken or that everyone in Kazuma's party is perceivable as "the worst". It's more that everyone is broken and less holding women up for scorn for the sake of a joke. While Kazuma himself is so often humiliated that he is not held up as something to aspire towards but yet another example of the series holding up the characters for ruthless mockery. While the more traditional elements of RPGs and Fantasy such aquireing skills going on quests are also subverted. Making for a series that is more rewarding for those familiar with the tropes and concepts found in the media it is ridiculing. Yet it still works on its own with odd ideas like a self-powered engine of destruction or a Hostess Club run by Succubus or haveing to fight a horde of flying cabbage so Konosuba avoids simply becoming a pile of solipsistic in-jokes. The animation is honestly crude and looks kind runny with episode nine looking especially off-modal and sharply angular when it's not focusing on jiggling succubus. while the ten episode run makes everything feel truncated especially the finale. In conclusion as a parody of a large amount of tropes found in certain Light novels succeeds quite well with a cynical take on tired cliches makeing for an enjoyable comedy and an sometimes painful deconsturction.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Stream 2016: Love Live Sunshine: Episode 9

The Third years past is finally revealed all the unspoken feelings come to a head and finally, finally, finally!! Kanan gets some screentime and an actual character arc this also ends up being probably the most downbeat episode other than last weeks. Still, this was a great episode for fleshing out the third year's especially impressive is Aina Suzuki as Mari ranging from a desperation in her voice simply wanting her friends back to anger it's impressive but then again given that in her training as a Seiyuu Suzuki-San was praised by Ryo Horikawa this could be known as well. While the conclusion is a lovely testament to the depths of the bonds of Mari, Kanan, and Dia. Nanaka Suwa as Kanan gives a range of emotions that also impresses and the subtle interplay between Suwa and Suzuki is the highlight from a voice acting standpoint. While this is, for the most part, a episode dealing with the Third Years it doesn't stop from a few entertaining moments with Yohane or Dia regressing to and Ruby-like state when confronted by the second years over the past or the reveal about how Aqours really ended up with their name. Probably the strongest episode of the series and now that the whole group is together now Aqours can attempt the rise from the ashes. Again the visual and art direction works extremely well with the scene of Mari running in the Rain being especially poignant along with the final closing musical number haveing good choreography and showcasing Suwa's strong tenor voice emotion an inward strength and kindness. In short, a solid self-contained story that also builds up the future. With these past two episodes being so strong it may be hard for next week to compete but it feels like the writers have found their narrative footing and this has become finally less about how awesome μ's is and Aqours has come into their own. It took a while but the series has arrived and I couldn't be happier. While always good not the series feels like it's own with each of the girls haveing their own stakes in the game and in short playing at being Idols is over so while the struggle may only now be getting real it is well worth this wait. I had also said in a previous review that Aqours had yet to have a song that felt distinctly their own that song that makes them out well with this episode the insert Mijuku DREAMER has rectified that situation (this is Aqours Start Dash) with stellar solos from Mari, Yohane, and Dia while Ruby gives a clear impactful performance as well. In short, this is their song, not a group trying to sound like the Idols they desire to be like but a group completely and unabashedly themselves.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Summer Stream 2016: Love Live Sunshine: Episode 8

Probably the most downbeat episode of the series so far this shows how hard the road for Aqours will probably be along with finally giving the backstory to the Third Years wich ends up being as depressing as I thought it was going to be. Honestly, the best parts of the episode are Chika haveing to come to terms not only with the hard work that will be needed but the frustration and sense of failure she feels at Aqours not only loosing to perceived rival Saint Snow (who turn in a great performance with Self Control!!) but coming in dead last with not a single vote. The muted dreary color scheme of the backgorunds for most of the episode adds to the feeling with cold blues and off greys in places. While I have to give a tip of the hat to Arisa Komiya for her performince as Dia being able to show off impressive emotional range from her early super excited fan girl moments in the flash back to the almost resigned and warey ethos she gives off in the present also does not hurt that we get to see Dia be a kind Big Sis to poor Ruby. As seeing Ruby break down hurt a lot while Mari in this episode was thankfuly more than a joke charcter giving Aina Suzuki a chance to show some range beyond the memetic Engrish and few lines Mari has been given. In short though the Third Years were a small part of the episode this really felt like pay off for all the frustraion and patiance of fans. As pasts were fleshed out charcter growth was carried out and overall an episode that while dark still holds out a glimmer of hope for Aqours and establishes that all the girls are doing it becuese they want to do it. After one weak episode and one episode of set up this is the payoff I wanted from the adorable to heartfelt the sereis feels back on track. Solid all around and not a bad frame animation wise and the emotional ressonice shows that even if at times the ariteing felt timid in it's overrelince on call backs to μ's the sereis has established a likeable cast although the extreme lack of Kanan is still a sore spot and I can only hope given the next episode's previews that poor Nanaka Suwa wil get more than one line in an episode watching her on Twitter when the new episodes go up is always a little sad. Still overall a good episode but seriously give Kanan something to do or say it's just too sad to see her neglectied so much.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Sweet Blue Flowers: Full Series Review

This marks the second Anime adaptation of a Shimura Takako Manga I've seen and Sweet Blue Flowers has like Wandering Son many of the same strength and weaknesses the story of reunited childhood friends Manjoume Fumi a statuesque and emotionally fragile Highschool freshman and Okudaira Akira the short high energy one of the group who tries to to navigate reestablishing her friendship with Fumi and grasp Fumi's angst-riddled realization that she is a Lesbian and support Fumi in her relationship with the tomboyish Sugimoto Yasuko who has to deal with the continued affections of Ikumi Kyouko as well as Yasuko's unrequited feelings for a previous love interest. As a human drama about matters of the heart, Sweet Blue Flowers succeeds superlatively making this a story of the awkward fumblings and misguided aspects of love while not losing its identity as a story about a Teenaged girl coming to terms with her sexual identity or that Fumi is a Lesbian, not a High School girl who has ambiguous feelings for Senpai and will eventually grow out of it. The best scene in the entire series being when Fumi breaks down in front of Akira begging her best friend to not think ill of her because she is a Lesbian it's brave and honest. While Fumi trying to juggle her loyalties to Akira and Yasuko is admirable. The honesty of the series still doesn't stop it from falling into tired Romance Manga cliches and storylines found in older or more "iconic" Yuri series like Maria-sama ga Miteru or Yamagishi, Ryouko's Shiroi Heya no Futari. From both Akira and Fumi attending all girl schools to tragic pasts and broken hearts. Making it tedious in some parts as it's been done before. While Fumi as a character is bold in the mere fact of being a Lesbian she is often times a passive overly fretful girl who for the first two episodes pines in a depressive state over her frankly creepy and possibly predatory older female cousin Chizu who gets married at the beginning of the series. Wich could construe her whole raison d'être as a Lesbian as the tired "gay by abuse" archetype. But it's never really fleshed out in any real detail so this is merely conjecture. In short, it is a series that gives with one hand and takes with the other giving poignant testimony to the feelings of I am sure many Lesbians and making non-Lesbians at least cognisant of the sometimes complicated cycle of self-loathing and angst they suffer. While not fetishizing the sexual identity like say Sakura Trick or going into strangely uncomfortable places like Candy Boy. Yet the voice acting by Seiyuu Takabe, Ai as Fumi takes a compelling interesting character on paper and giving a listless, wooden and almost disinterested performance takes all of the pathos out of the series while also sounding affected. This is particularly noticeable whenever Takabe is forced to interact with Gibu, Yuko as Yuko does her best to capture the manic energy of Akira and also the more thoughtful moments. It's sad to see and is one of the main reasons I couldn't recommend the series or call it good. The other main sticking point being the reuse of shots as budget cutting points normally I don't mind "lazy animation" as it is often a necessary evil in making anime but this has some of the most obvious reuse of banked shots it became a game of sorts. While Backgrounds are a nice painterly quality looking much like oil paintings. While I can see why this has emotional resonance for some being emotionally invested in something does not make it good. As far as the promotion of Lesbianism in the series I can't endorse much like Wandering Son I can empathize with Fumi's plight but no approve of it in the slightest. In conclusion weak voice acting and cheap budget stretching sequences along with an overreliance on tired cliches keep this from being all it could have been. Instead making this a cult hit but little else and even than from a production standpoint it's not pleasant to look at in many places due to how cheap or washed out parts of it look although occasional uses of sunlight and shadow are impressive in capturing the dappling effect of shadow and light my statement that feels more like grasping at trying to say something nice than actual praise.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wandering Son: Full Series Review

Based on the Manga of the same name by Takako Shimura chronicles the trials of Shuuichi Nitori a young boy who is in all respects a quiet somewhat passive boy who self-identifies as a girl and wants to be accepted by himself and society as such while his small group of friends haveing varying reactions to this from taciturn and snarky Chiba Saori turning to Christianity to process the revelation of her friend's gender confusion while also continuing to loan Shuuichi girl clothes while his other friend Makoto Ariga struggles with the same problem as Shuuichi but feels even less comfortable given that he is not more traditionally "cute" as Shuuichi while Puberty hangs over Shuuichi like The Sword of Damocles. With the series exploring these admittedly controversial subjects with sympathy and an even non-judgemental hand. That is why I can say I respect this series Shuuichi is not valorized to the point that he simply becomes merely a totem for the Transgender community. While those who react negatively to Shuuichi are not demonized and made inhuman monsters Chiba, for instance, is seen more as confused while Shuuichi's sister Maho often has right to be angry with him taking her clothes without her permission even if she is often overly harsh to him. While the directing captures everything in a blurry pastel-colored world of falling cherry blossoms and transitory feelings this after a few episodes the directing tends to make the world feel unreal and less grounded by series end. Mari Okada for her part as a writer turns in a competent adaptive script that never feels overwrought but the character writing becomes unbelievable due to the age of the characters and their almost adult-like maturity and then bafflingly this maturity winks in and out of the characters actions with them acting like adults at one moment and like petulant children the next so the series can't even keep the tone of the series right in places. Still, I have to respect Okada for respecting the intelligence of the audience and not using it as polemic or to spoonfeed the audience a moral. As a technical achievement and for broaching this subject with grace and humanity Wandering Son is to be praised. Yet I can not recommend it to those who have not at least thought about these issues in depth as it is really easy to see Shuuichi and his pain and let your empathy cloud your reasoning and assume that Transgenderism is a moral good. It is not the worldview espoused in this series is morally toxic and part of the Culture Of Death. as far as the why of Shuuichi's gender confusion it appears to be a mixture of Autogynephilia (for more on this concept see The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science of Gender-Bending and Transsexualism by J. Michael Bailey and the controversies surrounding it Galileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger) and him thinking of himself as a woman from an early age. In short to The Regenerate mind this is nothing more than a moral tragedy but intellectual honesty should compel any thoughtful Christian to at least listen before responding. In short much like Motoi Yoshida's Koi Kaze, Wandering Son presents a morally abhorrent lifestyle and series of moral choices without any real judgment neither condemning Shuuichi and only asking for understanding. Believe me, it gives me no pleasure to say these things but moral courage and honesty compel me. If you are willing to really look at your own presuppositions and why you believe certain things about Gender Wandering Son is a series that pays back in spades the effort you put in. Although pacing problems in the final episode make the narrative grind to an almost halt and the ending is inconclusive along with the Manga's publishing in English by Fantagraphics being halted at Eight volumes due to lackluster sales despite rave critcal reviews.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Charlotte: Full Series Review

Written by Jun Maeda and created by Key Charlotte was a series I put off watching for a long time as I had re-watched all of the Key Visual Novel Anime and became tired of Maeda's mix of melodrama and comedy and Charlotte does nothing to dissuade me from disliking it. the rote characterization in the first half based around protagonist Yuu Otosaka who uses his special abilities for his own selfish ends until he is bribed into being in The Student Council of the Hoshinoumi Academy that he is forced to join after he has been found out for using his ability to enter others minds for brief periods of time and use it to have perfect grades. In short early on he is an unlikeable protagonist who gets roped into finding others with special abilities along the other Student Council members President Nao Tomori who has the ability to make herself invisible but only to one person and has her own tragic past that makes for a well written female lead with more concerns than how to get the protagonist to like her. As well as Joujirou Takajou who has the ability to teleport but has no real control over it. The character writing is okay for the first half Joujirou though feels like a throwaway joke character comparable to how Youhei Sunohara was in the first few episodes of Clannad except Joujirou really never grows out of this simply used for physical comedy or as the punchline. While Yuu is probably the darkest protagonist Maeda has ever written while heroes in other series have been prone to self-destructive bouts depression due to personal tragedy. Yuu sinks to a dark place that borders on sociopathy it's unnerving but to see something so grim and amoral from a writer mostly known for Moe healing series is surprising in a good way. In short, it is not a terribly complex series and simple truths abound and in conclusion it is not unpleasant but one would have to be a fan of Maeda's writing style and how he writes characters to really enjoy it. I find it more interesting in the dark places the series goes instead of the safe ending and overall tone that it ends with along with overly convenient plot elements as if Maeda is afraid to really go as dark as he did in one story arc. In short it is one step forward and two steps back into a safe but enjoyable show that I don;t regret watching but also feel like no real progression or characterization was explored instead feeling mildly amused than profoundly moved by the whole experience and impressed at the few parts where Maeda steps out of his comfort zone as a writer but ultimately unimpressed at how gutless it ends up feeling thematically and tonally. Kouki Uchiyama as Yuu is able to capture the alternately smug and smarmy side of the character and the kindness and lacerating despair in the character and not have it come off as clashing. While Ayane Sakura simply sounds too old for Nao in her line delivery the gravity and restraint simply sound dead and lifeless. While scene placement is for the most part well handled in particular the chilling death scene in episode six with a chilling set up of the tension of the slow methodical stalking of the killer's intended victim with the clicking extension of a box cutter's blade. While the episode to episode story progression feels very formulaic and connected to one character per episode being the focus of the episode until the bigger mysteries of the series are revealed in the second half making for a series better enjoyed in small episode doses than watched all at once as the formula becomes tiresome and predictable when observed in the larger story arc. Criticisms of writing aside Maeda is still able to make the audience care or wince at the actions and even though the use of human experimentation is a tired cliche from the 80s and 90s Sci-Fi Anime so if anything it's less that Maeda is bad at writing and more that he knows all too well what his audience wants and gives it to them it's toothless audience pandering and while that can be fine it also left the series feeling stale and workshopped as if certain elements were just there to appeal to this or that demographic and not feeling as if all elements are organically cohesive

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Summer Stream 2016: Love Live Sunshine Episode 7

With this episode, Aqours gets an invite to Tokyo and decides to enter the Love Live it's very much an episode of the "country mouse" in the city and numerous scenes of the girls being enthralled by the city or finding something that interests them in particular is fun to see. Although honestly, Yohane steals the entire episode with her over the top antics and the introduction of the apparent rivals the two girl group Saint Snow makes for something to be seen how it plays out. While the dour subplot with the third years continues in the background although this also leads to some sweet moments between Dia and Ruby and it's nice to see Dia be a big sister to Ruby. All and all this episode helped develop the girl'ss character a little and give Riko some of the best characterization of the episode again reflecting on her past and the future with Aqours. An entertaining episode that does play off the country and city dynamic of the series while also dealing with the self-doubt that seems latent in Chika it's a good measure of realism while Ruby has to deal with her performance anxiety at the end things are still being set in place. With the introduction of a rival group actual conflict seems to be set for the next episode and this could make it interesting to see what happens when a School Idol group from the countryside is put against a School Idol group from Tokyo. While attempts at deadpan humor on Chika's part about Tokyo mostly succeed due to Anju Inami's line delivery, in fact, Inami does the best job in the episode being able to pull off wide-eyed wonder to affected worldness without any of it coming off as an odd tonal shift other than Aika Kobayashi Yohane who continues to be the secret weapon of the series with her ability to turn from dorky Yoshiko to over the top and elegant in the Yohane persona. Still, it would be nice to see the third years do something and given the pacing of the series I hope that their eventual joining does not turn into something that gets put in a cliffhanger for next season or is rushed to get it in as I really think it's a storyline that needs a lot of love and time given how dark it is.