Archive for the ‘Related Reviews’ Category
Angel Beats Complete Collection
When Suzuru Otanashi wakes up he finds himself in a strange new world. Apparently he has died and is now living in an eternal high school setting made up of others like himself; without a sense of peace in the way that they died or how they lived. Living the normal high school lives they never got to have on their own, this is where people go to come to peace with what they lived before being reborn into their new lives. All of which happens under the watchful eye of the student body president.
Right away, Otanashi meets the leader of a group that is taking a slightly different approach to the whole situation. Led by a girl named Yuri, the battlefront is a group of students who are taking the fight to the afterlife. In their new lives, they are heavily armed and do battle against the student council president, Angel, in an attempt to get a message to god: we’re pissed with how you screwed with our lives. The students will draw blood and die many times each in order to take over the school and get revenge for their tragic lives which were cut short.
Good and the Bad
Forgive the past and look forward to the future. That is the overall theme and lesson that I took away from Angel Beats as I watched every episode and thought about the harsh realities that each of these characters dealt with. It’s a hard theme to do well but this is a series that does.
Written by Jun Maeda, directed by Seiji Kishi and produced by visual novel studio Key, Angel Beats is a series that is flawed but forgivable. The animation quality from PA Works is never quite perfect and is dogged by Yuri’s character design being another Haruhi Suzumiya rip off but you look past this because of the fluid battle sequences and the touching moments that such as during a late embrace in the final episode that do look good.
Then there’s the constant location labeling with every scene telling the audience exactly where each scene was taking place. If the series were any more detailed about this you could use them to draw a map of the school. It made the series feel more like a visual novel than it needed to and were even downright distracting at times.
However, Angel Beats manages to tell a soft heartfelt series of adventures all about the members of the battlefront, teenagers who now inhabit an endless high school setting as they wait to come to peace with the lives they once led. The group is composed of a large variety of characters that never seen to overlap with each other. While not everyone will be able to serve a real purpose to the series (Sorry TK), the ones that do serve a real purpose though stand out against each other quite well. The cast of characters even does it’s best to avoid being overly moe (naturally there are exceptions like Yui and Kanade but for the record my favorite was the ever cynical Shiina).
As the group does battle, where the series truly shines is in the introduction of the character’s histories. While not everyone’s past is revealed, there are still a number of them which will tug at your heartstrings. Slowly revealing these stories, the series does it’s best work when it is trying to make you sympathize with a character. Where the series falls apart however is in the overall narrative which never really finds a complete feeling.
Relying more on episodic stories, the series never feels very well put together with its story telling. Once the series breaks away from the characters, the rest of the series generally relies on the missions of the battlefront which mostly follow similar veins for most of the series: an endless arsenal of weapons made from dirt, an endless stream of jokes based on characters getting ‘killed’ (they’re already dead so it’s not like they can truly die again in this world) and storytelling that feels forced for most it’s run time. Fortunately things come together reasonably well in the final act.
Mostly made up of piano scores, the background music in Angel Beats is another strong selling point that makes this series worth picking up. What really sells the music in this series however are the powerful pop songs sung by the band within the series, Girls Dead Monster. Made up of a quartet of characters, the powerful songs contain strong melodies and lyrics which make them a treat to listen to whenever they appear and even play well out of context away from the series.
Dub vs. Sub
Listening to this series entirely in English, I was pleased to hear a strong variety in voices that matched the characters well. No one felt out of place in this cast and the performances matched the emotion well. What killed me constantly throughout this release however were so many bizarre or inconsistent pronunciations. At some points the accent on Yui’s name would be changed from scene to scene and at one point characters can be heard practicing a SUPlex instead of a SUplex.
Once upon a time, I wrote this series off because it didn’t grab me right away. Now that I’ve seen the entire series, I regret writing it off so quickly. It takes awhile for this series to get going but once you get to the ending, you’re going to be glad that you made the trip. Sentimental and bloody, Angel Beats does the job despite it’s flaws. The overall message of this series is one of the things that makes it something worth watching. This is a series that tells us all that it’s ok to forgive the past and look towards the future. We all need that reminder once in awhile and this series hits that message out of the park. Very recommended!
|Wagnaria Complete Collection
Released By: NIS America
At a family restaurant in Hokkaido, the crew is made up of various bizarre people. There’s the newest recruit Takanashi who only joined because of the cute, pint sized, senior named Poplar. Joining them are the man fearing Inami, katana carrying head waitress Yachiou and the do nothing manager Kyoko. This sounds like this would be enough to create some crazy times but then you have to add in the head manager who is constantly on a search for his direction less wife, the runaway teenager who lives in the attic and the snarky kitchen staff all trying to get along together in an odd family type of way.
Good and the Bad
You might remember series better as Working as that was what it was called when it was first released in 2009. However, it’s not called that anymore so let’s just get used to this and deal with it even if the series is littered with references to the former title.
Much like Office Space was the movie for those stuck in cubicles, Wagnaria is the series for anyone who has ever worked a crappy customer service job. In particular, those who have ever worked a crappy customer service job in a restaurant. Based off the 4koma manga, this is a fun comedy that brings the audience in with its off the wall cast of characters in a not so off the wall setting.
Relying entirely on the characters, the humor in this series is based around the relationships between the workers and their growing affections for each other (or in some cases, murderous intent). While it has the romantic comedy angle to keep things moving forward, most of the humor here is based around these characters and the ways that their unique quirks affect their relationships with each other. In some cases, you’ll be laughing at the relationship between Takanashi (who loves small cute things), Poplar (who is a small cute thing despite her efforts to grow) and Inami (who likes Takanashi despite her fear of men). Many other times it’s Yamada attempting to keep up her false life around a crew who really want to know what her story is. At all times, it’s the interactions all of these characters share with each other keep things fresh.
With its sharp gags and off the wall crew, this series is approachable because of simple things it does within the adaptation. While the gag manga tend to be very short and to the point, the anime takes the time to create a smooth flowing story. The punch lines stay sharp in this one but the set ups are always given more than enough time to keep the audience interested along the way without making the series feel like it’s jumping from one joke to the next. This is comedy that hits its mark more than Inami hits Takanashi.
While occasionally dipping into the familiar (just how many times do we have to sit through another female character afraid of men?), Wagnaria works on another level because of the twists in each of the characters. Instead of the delinquent character being a tough teenage boy, this time it’s the manager with a doting head waitress, Yachiyo, willing to follow her to the ends of the Earth. In the kitchen, there is a blackmailer along with the stoic head chef who wishes to be seen romantically by Yachiyo but doesn’t stand a chance in her eyes. It’s different and that makes for happy viewing.
Produced by A-1 Pictures, nothing is skimped on and this creates a warm inviting atmosphere just like an actual restaurant. The character designs however have the most interesting aspect especially when you start getting into Takanashi and his four sisters. While all having a distinct look, the sibling resemblance makes for fun comparison shots as you can actually see the artist putting extra care into creating the vaguely similar looks.
Beyond having one of the catchiest opening themes and animations ever, the music throughout Wagnaria kept a very easy going almost elevator feel to it. Always soft and airy, the music provides the proper amount of support while rarely being used to sell the punch lines which made it a nice addition without overshadowing any of the characters or writing.
Along with the hardcover box, the series comes included with the standard oversized fan book. Like other books, the special attraction to this book is a series of translated manga. In the manga, characters and simple story elements are introduced which serve as a nice introduction to the comedy style of the series. It makes for a lovely keepsake but you’ll likely only look at it a few times before putting it away.
Successfully in its adaptation, Wagnaria does a great job of balancing the story with its humor to create a smooth flowing final product. With the romantic plot thread manages to keep the episodes moving forward, everything else is simply able to catch on and keep the audience laughing in the meantime. This is a fun release that deserves your attention and a solid addition to your collection.
Available from Amazon
|11Eyes Complete Collection
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
After losing his older sister, Kakeru grew up as an orphan alongside his best friend Yuka and, even after leaving the orphanage, remain close even attending the same school. Born with a useless, discolored eye, Kakeru was always the target of scorn from classmates which continued all throughout his life. One day, Kakeru and Yuka begin to see a strange black moon in the sky which eventually breaks into a red night.
After barely escaping with their lives from a swarm of monsters, Kakeru and Yuka meet others at their school who are also forced into the red night to fight for their lives. As they work together, the group encounters a group of mysterious black knights who wish to see them dead. Luckily, they have all been given a new power with which to fight back.
Good and the Bad
This is an average series and to be honest, that’s being generous in some places. And while you may think that that’s all you need to know and can move on, you’d be wrong. What makes this series different is that everyone involved with this series had to have known that it was an average series. Between the staff at Dogakobo and the audience, no one is being fooled into thinking this is going to be of epic proportions. What this does is gives the series a new sense of freedom to do as it wants in its quest to bring the audience in. With this power it can actually strive to be better and after clawing its way through plot twist after plot twist, 11Eyes manages to do the impossible: it gets a little better… but not by much.
Initially, it’s pretty easy to see where the roots of this series lie. Based on an eroge by Lass, 11Eyes tries hard to create a dark atmosphere that always leaves the audience guessing. However in the beginning, a story is introduced that just fails to hook the audience in right away. You know how sometimes when you’re playing an RPG, the beginning can be kind of a slog because of all the time you have to spend leveling up? That’s what this series and its hero is. As a lead character, Kakeru is easily one of the more annoying to appear recently with constant whines about how he isn’t strong enough. Believe me Kakeru, we can SEE how weak you are and watching it is ten times worse than what you’re going through.
While the supporting cast helps a little, what 11Eyes is constantly trying to thrive on is its dark intrigue. Unfortunately with a third of the series spent just trying to get one character into fight shape, by the end of the first disc the series is just managing to hit its still very slow stride. Towards the end, things start to take a turn for the better as characters start to show real depth and growth from who they were. Even if this series isn’t particularly amazing, you’ll have to admit that 11Eyes always manages to keep fans guessing. The problem is that no matter what is happening, no matter how horrific the death or how yandere Yuka gets, it’s just hard to care.
Throughout the series, 11Eyes wants badly to be taken seriously as a dark mystery which makes it all the more annoying when those eroge roots decide to show up at the most inconvenient times. Generally taking the form of quick fan service or sex scene, the good point is that when the series does try to go sexual with its story, the general feeling is of eroticism instead of just fan service. The slow motions and dark lighting that surrounds Misuzu as she conducts her naked ritual, for example, or gives herself to another character always aims for erotic but usually misses just barely. Naked rituals and sexually shared powers? Leave it in the eroge.
What I did love about this series however are the absolutely gorgeous piano scores that constantly filled the scenery and gave it life where the writing was giving none. While I could never find who actually composed the music, the score for this series is just filled with wonderful, soft piano themes which are a primary reason for the series having such a heavy feeling. Ranging from organs to harpsichords, the gothic motif of the music played a huge role in 11Eyes never getting too fast paced. Always keeping things calm and heavy, it makes me wonder if this series could have picked up had the score been lightened just a little.
If you’re willing to put in the time to see all of the twists that this series will try to throw at you in a desperate attempt to keep you around, this could be a dark adventure that would be up your alley. When you have to put that much effort into keeping an audience that is rightly already bored, it’s hard to give a series much of a pass. Don’t invest any money into this one, this is a mostly average series that is worth a rental at best.
Super Gals Complete Collection
In Shibuya, the town may have a government and police in place. If you were to ask someone though they’d tell you that the streets are really protected by a high school girl named Ran Kotobuki. Ran is the #1 gal in the area with her only concerns being the latest fashions and having a good time. Of course that’s only in between having adventures in town and fights with her rivals, Mami and Kusumi, teachers and anyone else interested in causing problems in her town.
Good and the Bad
So I haven’t posted a DVD review in awhile and that would be because I have a certain rule that if I start a review DVD set I have to finish it before I can review it. Sometimes this rule can be a major pain in the ass when you have a series that’s not quite good but not so bad that it can be dropped. Such as with the case of Super Gals. At its heart, this isn’t actually a really terrible series. Once you start getting used to the characters, the jokes can be fun and worth an occasionally laugh. But that sentence right there should cause alarm; why on Earth should I have to get used to the characters? Once you realize that, it’s only a matter of time before you realize this is going to be a struggle.
This is the closest example to a Saturday morning American cartoon in anime form that I’ve seen since Heroman (though this series premiered years before). In every episode, there is a new story to get through with some elements continuing as running themes throughout. Over two seasons, the entire series is one of the most shallow to be released in the last few years. Sometimes this can be a strong point when you need mindless entertainment but it has to be willing to make certain sacrifices and still find a way to be good. In this case, the sacrifices comes in the form of flat writing to match its equally flat characters that have one set of personality traits and sticks with them the whole way… and then it forgets to be good.
In the first few episodes, the series establishes things very cleanly. If you had enough free time, you could literally count the number of times that a character acts in a way that is out of the norm. Which if you’re telling simple stories that rarely last for longer than a single episode makes them perfect for stories and situations that are never going to be particularly deep. The series is all about Ran avoiding all of the inconvenient things in life in order to have the most amount of fun and that’s a story that is presented very well.
However as much as much as I’d love to praise Ran for having such an amazing attitude towards life, the characters are the biggest hurdle to climb over while watching. As every character has their own template that is rarely broken, the series rarely allows anyone any real growth. There are exceptions to this but oddly its all regulated to the supporting cast. As with other elements though these moments are way too few and far between with many of them marred by poor writing. This just becomes another joining the list of tragic victims left in the Super Gals wake. To be entirely fair, there are times when the sadder of these moments could almost be touching in the right circumstance. It’s just that using these characters does not constitute the ‘right circumstances’.
It’s very rare for this to happen but there isn’t a single character in this series that I can’t name something about them that annoys me. Every character sits in their comfortable boxes over two entire seasons. Occasionally one (particularly Aya, Miyu and Mami) will peek their head out and make an attempt to break out of that box but that’s about as far as it ever goes. And after 52 episodes it just becomes so easy to pick them apart and find something to dislike about all of them. Yuya, just to pick a random example, is the number 2 male high school idol in Shibuya. He’s also so stereotypically whiny that he eventually ends up in an accidental relationship. All because he is too much of a wuss to simply clear up the wacky, romantic misunderstanding. It’s like a PSA against apathetic guys.
The one place that I have to praise Super Gals is in how wonderfully its aged over the last decade. Despite first premiering in 2001, the first season of this series looks clear and clean. There are few signs that the series is really that old until they drop a clue (‘Alright kids, now we’re going to learn about email’). As the series progressed into the second season though, it seems as though the staff at Studio Pierrot just stopped caring about how the series looked. Characters change hair color from episode to episode while single frame shots will suddenly lose their proportions eliminating any real charm that the series had earned in the first 26 episodes.
It’s hard to believe that the same man who composed the amazing CANAAN and Chrono Crusade scores, Hikaru Nanase, was behind this series as well. With the setting being a vibrate neighborhood like Shibuya, the music in this series really plays this up with many electronic para para themes (Ran’s an expert at it after all). Beyond these moments though, the music tends to stay in a much more typical cartoon department. There are even plenty of sound effects to accompany the cheesy themes to match the situation of the moment.
I will say this though… if I have to listen to that stupid Junior Detective theme song one more time I will scream.
Dub vs. Sub
With their release, Right Stuf is able to include the original ADV English dub with the first season while the second season remains subtitles only. Listening to the two casts really proved to be an interesting dynamic. As I switched back and forth between the two casts, I found that I much preferred the natural sound to the Japanese cast. There are a number of references and language jokes that rely on the Japanese that never allows the English cast to sound natural.
On every disc are liner notes for each episode to explain some of the harder references and jokes along the way. What I found frustrating about these notes though is that they were programmed as one long extra. This means that you either had to watch each episode and then go back to read the notes before continuing or read all the notes at the end of the volume and hope to remember what was happening in each episode. As a counter to this problem, the first season discs also contain the ‘Gals Explains It All’ segment. In these short segments (usually around 5 minutes), one of the English voice actresses gives the audience an abridged version of the liner notes with fewer details. I personally preferred the text notes which went into much better detail.
Had I seen this series when it was released as single volumes, I imagine I’d have enjoyed it much more than I did. As it is, I could only take this series in short bursts and even then it was becoming a chore to watch within 3 volumes. Lacking any sort of redeemable depth, the lazy writing, stories and characters gets this series off to a slow start that are never helped by the stale and sometimes reused humor. I’m not saying that I never laughed at this series but the moments of sheer boredom far outnumbered them. Perhaps I could see myself putting this on for my nieces but anyone who is looking for a genuinely fun anime viewing experience can just keep going.
Taking place in the Meiji era, Japan is entering a new time when influences from the west are becoming common. This is creating a divide between the humans and the magical younin who have lived there for centuries. In order to bridge the gap and create harmony, the military establishes the Spirit Affairs Division to help the two coexist in the new world. Made up of three young officers and four female half younin, the unit tackles cases of disturbances and attacks from restless younin in the area. Along the way, one of the half younin girls, Zakuro, will discover that what she possesses inside of her makes her a highly desired prize to a secret group interested in half spirits.
Good and the BadI have to admit that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this series. In the early going there wasn’t always a lot that led me to think there was a larger point in mind. While the narrative may have suffered a little in the beginning, by the second half Otome Youkai Zakuro establishes a solid story that doesn’t even need to rely on many of the more common themes of the present.
Though it’s difficult not to get lost in this series when JC Staff has used so much effort to create a natural and appropriate world for the characters to live in. Working hard to establish the era, the artwork in this series consists of a soft palette of muted autumn colors. Constantly washed in faded off whites, browns and dark greens the animation in this series is perfect for sending the audience back to an older time and each episode is even introduced with a short flickering film strip title screen.
The setting and backgrounds here are so natural that the mood is almost ruined by the characters living in it. Generally, the setting and characters are mellow, reserved and calm. However, there are still enough reminders of the present with what feels like modern characters dressed up and dropped in a new time period. It’s not to imply that I didn’t enjoy these characters. The characters were easy to like and even made me giggle at their antics but the cute moe twins and ultra tsundere Zakuro can be a challenge to see as a natural fit within 19th century Japan. When placed against the larger story however, this is a trade off that will barely register by the time you’ve crossed the finish line.
There aren’t a lot of series that can wear the shoujo action badge. There are even fewer that can claim to have done it particularly well but this is an example of a series skillfully walking the line between two opposing genres. On its shoujo side, Otome Youkai Zakuro spends most of its run slowly developing the romantic relationships between the leads. These romantic moments and slowly growing feelings are some of the more memorable to pick out. With each relationship, the audience sees things progress in different ways which make the various paths fun to compare. On its action side, this series sets up battle sequences much better than anyone would ever think. Complete with a ritualistic song and dance, the moments that Zakuro draws her blade are really well put together. Watching her power grow as she fights is always some of the most interesting moments to watch unfold until they are surpassed by the tearful finale.
Staying far away from any electronic sounds, the score for this series is comprised entirely of orchestral pieces. Occasionally using brass for the tenser moments, most of the music is led by flute and piano melodies. Using simple one instrument melodies over what is usually a sea of string instruments, the music and story are natural companions to each other. Playing wonderfully to the emotion, the soft string and flute melodies mark the many moments of sadness within this series without fail.
Watching the series from episode to episode, I was pleased to find the translation and subtitles to be almost entirely clean of error. While occasionally I noticed a simple word reversal, there were never any moments of frustration due to mistimed dialogue or major spelling errors.
Otome Youkai Zakuro isn’t trying to break new ground with its story. The setting and story have been done before but the difference is that this series does it better. Sweet and quietly compelling, the soft artwork and flowery action sequences might tempt some into quitting early but it’s worth it to fight that urge. Otome Youkai Zakuro is a series you stick with simply for its likeable characters and capable storytelling. A nice period series that didn’t get much attention last year, this is a gentle yet sometimes dark story that leaves fans satisfied but with just enough questions to want more. This is worth your time!
Student Council’s Discretion
At Hekiyo Private High School, located in Hokkaido, the student body is represented by five… let’s say able students who are chosen almost entirely by popularity vote. Sitting as president is the child like loli Kurimu Sakuano and assisting her are the game and BL obsessed Mafuyu, her sporty tsundere sister Minatsu and the quiet but unexpectedly dangerous Chizuru. Sitting in the fifth chair is the only male member of the student council, H-game obsessed Ken Sugisaki, who earned his way in by raising his grades from the lowest in school to the highest and wants to make the student council into his harem. Parodying themselves, other series and other genres along the way, the series follows the daily meetings of the members which involve absolutely nothing accomplished.
Good and the BadI honestly never thought that anyone would pick this series up but Crunchyroll did. And while I hate to start my review off with a statement that sounds more like a closing argument: this is one of the best parody series of the last few years. Completely self aware and constantly challenging many of the conventions of modern anime that this series would normally be relying on, this is a comedy series for the fans who want to laugh at the absurd in anime.
For me, what makes a parody series work is when it’s able to take elements of other series and integrate it into its own story seamlessly. Student Council’s Discretion takes that idea, plays around with it a bit and then runs with it further than anything else I’ve seen. Covering the easy steps, it’s not afraid to throw out the odd and obscure references for the audience to recognize and laugh at along the way. No series is safe but Strike Witches, Hell Girl and Ashita no Joe are just a few of the references fans will see thrown into the story in ways that many will never see coming.
But SCD is a parody series that is more than throwing in a bunch of short references to other series. This is a series that takes the genre to its limits with inside jokes, a willingness to break the fourth wall and disprove the idea that characters have to look a certain way to act a certain way. Opening the series, the first episode begins with a table discussion featuring the characters trying to decide what type of anime they want to be. Starting the series with a meta discussion completely caught me off guard but seeing that right away set me up for exactly the type of smart humor that this series should be known for.
Throughout 12 episodes, SCD continues its bend towards the irreverent by continually creating stories within the plot putting its characters into new situations. One of the most memorable (and brilliant in my mind) moments came from an episode involving the student council trying to come up with a skit idea for the festival. Being that all they can agree upon is that it should be heartbreaking, the series takes a turn towards the serious and presents each heartbreaking idea. Suddenly the serious Chizuru looks the same but is a ditzy best friend, the perverted Sugisaki is a sweet guy who is being dumped (and then abused throughout various endings). Periodically, SCD changes things around and makes the audience see the characters in a whole new way before reverting back. This is the writing that challenges what the audience thinks it knows about these characters while still laughing at constantly seeing something new.
With these changes occurring seemingly at random, you would think that it would be hard to tell who the characters really are. Ironically though, that point is never an issue specifically because of how 2D these characters are and remain all the way through to the end. Yes, I am praising this series because its characters are flat and do not grow. Early on, SCD does a really good job of introducing the characters and their basic personalities. Everyone has their own characteristics which make them stand out from the others. But once you learn their personalities, the times when new wrinkles to their foundation are pretty far between.
That isn’t to indicate that these characters never change at all. As I mentioned, there are many times when the series takes a sudden, very serious road. Sometimes these are purely just for a fantasy joke but sometimes it’s a real chance for the audience to see hidden sides to the characters. They can heartfelt, emotional and yes, touching. Really though, even after you see these moments it’s not as though anyone will ever undergo a moment of incredible cathartic growth… and that’s a good thing. This is not a deep series and while these characters are sweet and funny, trying to squeeze in a meaningful lesson or moment of cathartic growth would have just been extraneous.
Sometimes though SCD can become a little too clever for its own good which is where it starts to show small cracks. While audiences in Japan may have been able to keep up with this series, this will not always be an easy series for English audiences to follow. At times the humor will be firmly rooted in Japanese culture, language and history and at those points many viewers will be lost at sea without a clue. When President Kirimu tries to prove that she’s smarter than the grade schooler who is visiting, there is a long list of questions about Japanese history that she is obviously getting wrong in some small, subtle way. I couldn’t tell you what exactly she was getting wrong but I know that a joke was being made! To watch this series is to realize that sometimes you’re going to hear something and it’s going to completely fly over your head.
The thing you have to be impressed with is that when Shuhei Kamimura sat down to work on this series, he wasn’t creating music for just a parody comedy. He was creating music for a comedy, a serious drama, a school romance, an action series, a super saiyan series and still more. Every single time this series went into a new genre, Kamimura had to follow with his score and did a great job in the process.
Composing strong themes to match the different genres, where I was most impressed were in the quiet moments when almost nothing was happening. The main theme of these times is a soft electronic jazz tune put over a walking techno beat (the same theme that plays during the second eye catch of each episode). Despite being such a simple piece with only a couple of layers to it, this one piece is a constantly integral part of scenes that conveys a feeling simple friendship and relaxation. Even when the series starts to get serious, Kamimura is there again with a range of soft piano melodies which support the girls (and sometimes Sugisaki) in their rare quiet and vulnerable moments.
Earlier I mentioned that sometimes this can be incredibly difficult to watch but this isn’t always the fault of the series. Throughout the episodes, there are a number of mistakes with the subtitles which could turn a really fun series into an annoyance very quickly. I noticed in multiple episodes typos throughout the subtitles and sometimes entire lines of dialogue which weren’t even subtitled at all. Other times the subtitles would appear on screen so quickly that multiple backtracks had to take place to make sure that nothing important was missed. Seriously, I’ve seen average quality fansubs which had higher subtitle consistency than this series.
As it is a parody series, there is a certain level of experience that one should have in order to get the most appreciation for the jokes and humor. If you are an anime fan who has been around the block a few times, this series is cleverly written and easily one of the most consistently funny titles of the last few years. If you want a smart parody comedy that is willing to go WAY outside of the box, you should really be setting aside time for this series. When it was first released I thought it would be forgotten forever, thank you Crunchyroll for giving it some new life!
Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai
For most of his life, Kyousuke’s relationship with his beautiful, professional model, younger sister Kirino has been non existent. Other than to exchange occasional pleasantries or fight, they rarely even speak to each other. After accidently bumping into her one night, Kirino drops a moe DVD from her bag. That little bump is enough to change their relationship entirely as later she reveals herself to be a closeted otaku with a fetish for little sister eroge and magical girls.
With no one else to turn to, Kyousuke must now help his sister as their relationship continues to change and evolve into something entirely new. From taking a stand against their father for her sake, helping her make friends (named Saori and Kuroneko) to waiting in line at midnight sales, there is no length that he won’t (be forced to) go for his sister.Good and the Bad
Usually when a new season comes around, I can always count on there being at least one series that really catches my attention. Last season it was OreImo. For the last couple of months, this has been my ‘go to’ series every week. No matter how stressed I got in the middle of the week, I knew that the week was going to end on a high note because there would be a new episode of OreImo waiting. I can barely even remember the last time a series made me feel that excited (Code Geass if you’re curious).
One of the primary standouts of last season, for me, there was no better reason than just how many different levels it worked to create a story to pull in its audience. On the very shiny surface, this is a moe series with a skill level just below K-ON. From the cute, tsundere, little sister heroine through to the supporting cast, there were few characters in this series that couldn’t inspire some level of moe from those watching. Though, depending on who you ask, Kirino could be the exception to this.
Kirino is a tsundere lead in the very truest sense. Not content with writing her as a brash otaku, this is another truly violent tsundere. Just about every episode will include her being rude, abusive or arrogant towards someone (usually her brother) and she will never be apologetic about it. If you can’t find a way to be charmed by her, this can be a difficult heroine to like. Which raises the question on if she’s so irritating and violent, what’s the point in watching?
Once you get past the shiny layer, OreImo shows where it works as a parody comedy. Kirino may be violent and loud but she is a true otaku in every sense of the word. In the first episode, fans were shocked (eroge producers and government were shocked for other reasons) at the mountain of eroge, anime and figures that Kirino had managed to collect despite being in middle school. From there it is only a matter of time before Kirino comes completely out of the closet and we see just how hardcore she is.
Over the next few episodes, I watched Kirino display her otaku side and could not stop laughing for a second as I recognized and empathized with all of her troubles and habits: the impatient waiting for a package to arrive, desiring that one coveted fan item that no other person will get to have, collecting something for no other reason than just to have them, having a close friend who just doesn’t get it… the list goes on. And for many other people watching around the world, I can imagine that the feelings were largely the same. The otaku compulsions were a fun poke that never felt mean spirited and, for a certain target demographic, made her possibly the most relatable female character in years.
This does create a snag along the way for all of the people watching who aren’t otaku. Jabbing just a bit further, these people are represented by Kirino’s non-otaku best friend, Ayase. After being introduced to Kirino’s hobby, her reaction starts negatively before eventually winding into confusion and mild acceptance. For people who don’t regularly watch anime, play eroge or generally partake in otaku culture there will be many scenes and episodes which will leave you in a confused Ayase state. This isn’t a series that is going to wait for anyone to keep up.
More than just a simple parody comedy, viewers can dig deeper still and find the layer that works on an emotional level. At its core, OreImo is a story about siblings finding a connection after years of ignoring each other. Despite all of the punches, kicks and insults hurled between the two, there is a genuine subtext to read all the way to the end. The feelings that develop between these two aren’t of that nature (though the series will sneak a few jokes in about it) but rather are of two teenagers who feel alienated within their own home; Kirino can’t share her passion and Kyousuke can’t relate to anyone he lives with. Finally finding the smallest of threads to hold onto, both characters are giving each other something they’ve never had; a new level of support they didn’t know they wanted.
There were sad moments that had soft ballads in the background. I can remember this much but sadly this is another series where the music played a much more subdued role in the story. However, even if the primary background music didn’t particularly stand out, there was one place where Satoru Kousaki really stood out: this man can compose some very nicely done eroge themes. The audience will never have to wait long for Kirino to get into a new game but when she plays the games, there are some nice theme songs attached to them.
Where OreImo really shines musically however is in its theme songs. While I don’t usually talk about theme songs as much, the opening theme (Irony sung by ClariS) is easily one of the best of the year for me. A catchy pop tune (which would bother Kuroneko), the lyrics were some of the more fitting that I’ve seen recently that could even feel insightful at times.
I cannot hide it, I have loved this series with a very excited passion. There will even be quite a few people that I tell to drop everything so that they can also watch this series and love it as much as I do. Not everyone is going to love OreImo with this kind of excitement however. Almost feeling like one big inside joke, there are numerous moments that I can imagine leaving people with a confused Ayase face. Barring that, I consider this one of the best otaku comedies since Lucky Star. If you aren’t afraid to have some laughs at the expense of otaku culture and a not always easy to love tsundere, this is easily one of the best comedies of the year. I eagerly await the DVD only episodes! Very recommended!
Strike Witches Season 1 Collection
In an alternate 1939, the world is fighting against an entirely different enemy. Strange life forms called Neuroi have begun attacking earth leaving most of it in ruin. The only effective means that humans have developed to fight back is a team of teenage girls capable of using magic. Sent into the skies with propeller powered personal leg units, these girls fight the enemy in close range aerial combat. The name of this unit is the 501th Airborne, also known as the Strike Witches.
The series opens on a young girl named Yoshika who uses healing magic. When a brash military officer named Mio comes to recruit her into the war, Yoshika initially refuses but after learning that she might be able to learn more about her missing father she finally agrees to accompany Mio. Still completely oblivious to being manipulated into fighting the war, Yoshika arrives at the base and meets various other girls from around the world also recruited to fight with her and find her place amongst the unit.
Good and the Bad
I’ve had Strike Witches on my radar for months. I always knew I was going to watch it, I was just never in a hurry to get to it. Finally setting aside some time, I stuck it in and instantly found myself wanting more. This is a series that is not only better than I ever thought it would be, this is a series that is better than it has any right to be.
To put it out there, if you’ve heard anything about this series already it’s probably true. It is a military loli series about girls with guns and no pants. It’s also a series capable completely disarming even the most cynical members of the audience with its capable and moving stories of friendship and loss. At first, watching Strike Witches can be almost disconcerting. The panty shots are quite random but impossible to miss as many come in the form of close ups or flybys. It’s never hidden from the audience and animation studio Gonzo never attempts to be coy with how often they appear. If you don’t believe me, watch the breezy episode in the second half.
Generally when a series gets that kind of description, you’ve pretty much hit the limit for finding any real depth. What makes Strike Witches special is that once you get past the shiny loli surface, there are deeper layers. Layers that pull the audience in with an emotional story about girls fighting together and finding new families after losing their own in the war that they’re trying to end.
As the girls bond closer and Yoshika finds her place among the witches, it becomes easy to forget about everything else. Amongst the girls, there are a variety of characters all featuring their own unique looks and personalities. No matter what character type you might like, there will be someone amongst the witches to catch your attention. For the record, Mina, Charlotte, Francesca and, to some extent, Lynne ended up being my moe switches. Even if there are some amongst the troop that irritate you to no end (looking at you Yoshika and Perrine), there will always be someone else to make up for it.
What hits me as the most impressive fact about Strike Witches is the amazing amount of detail put in by the staff. Even if you wanted to just pass this off as ‘just another moe’ series, no one can deny the fact that it is at least ‘just another moe’ series that has done some serious homework. While it is never directly talked about all of the various names used are references to real life counterparts (i.e. the Akagi was a real ship used in the Japanese navy in this era). Even the various strike units the girls use are modeled after real planes of the era while the girls themselves are all named after real pilots (some of which are still living; wonder if any of them have watched this?).Music
Before catching this series, I had no idea that the same man who composed the scores for two series I consider beloved, El Hazard and Petite Princess Yucie, did this one as well. But after 12 episodes, I should’ve figured it out. Another category with completely unexpected quality, the score composed by Hagaoka does a wonderful job of adding an extra layer of emotional weight behind the scenes. In the brighter and darker moments, soft melodies are always present to support all of the characters in their moments of happiness, sadness and fear. Constantly using soft duets, heavier moments are captured by a soft harp and string melody. When Mina looks out the window at night in a moment of weakness (which she likes to do because she’s deliciously angsty), this theme shares her burden and carries an emotional weight of its own.
Dub vs. Sub
While switching between the Japanese and English tracks, I noticed that in some cases that were like night and day with both casts containing performances that made me wish I were listening to the other track. In the English track, for instance, Kira Vincent-Davis delivers a completely flat performance for Mio. Every word is delivered in the same low tone and that rarely has inflection beyond ‘loud’ and ‘louder’. But then again, in the Japanese cast Kaori Nazuka performs Lynne in a constantly high pitched, annoying whine that is the mirror opposite to Kate Bristol’s gentle, sweet and quiet voice that fits the character much more naturally. No matter how many episodes I watched however, I always found myself happier when I was listening to the Japanese track. While not every voice was dazzling, the performances always sounded much clearer and more natural to the ear.
Cast commentary featuring ADR Director Scott Sager, Kate Bristol (Lynne) and Cherami Leigh (Yoshika) and clean animations on disc 2.
I cannot emphasize enough just how much Strike Witches caught me off guard just by being good. In 12 episodes, this series tells a solid stories at a pace that makes hours just completely fly by. Not everyone is going to sit down and see this series as a sweetly told emotional story about girls coming together as a unit but if that’s what you’re looking for I really believe that most anime fans won’t be steered wrong with this one. If you enjoy moe or girls with guns, you owe it to yourself to give this one a chance. This is easily one of the best DVDs of the year and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.