Embracing the Absurd – Hisone to Maso-tan

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Hisone to Maso-tan is…weird. I guess I should have expected as much from a show that’s about cute girls getting vored by transforming dragons, but hey, while anime can be pretty out there, premise alone certainly isn’t enough to determine much about a show regarding quality or even themes, narrative and general character. What strikes me as particularly interesting and entertaining about Hisone to Maso-tan is just how goofy it can be while still playing it’s story for some genuine drama. For some, I imagine, there are aspects of the show’s bizarre development that might be a hindering factor, but I think there’s plenty of interesting things that make it fairly worthwhile.

The show certainly is ambitious, if anything. Not only does it establish this very unique premise, get across all the major rules and limitations of the system and give at least some modicum of the history behind it, it also develops our five Mains, well actually six with Maso-tan, and a pretty good portion of the supporting cast as well. On top of just the dynamics between the crew itself, it attempts to pull of a pretty intense and dramatic final stretch, all this with the grand total of 12 episodes. I almost enjoy the fact itself that it is trying to do so much, more than necessarily it’s skill at doing any one thing, though I was rather surprised at just how well it manages to balance all these elements, establishing a very memorable cast and developing them and their relationships accordingly, though some more than others, all alongside establishing the premise without feeling excessively expository.

The actual narrative itself felt a bit unsure of what it wanted to be, yet again, I can’t help but find that amusing in itself. While these characters fly with lives on the line, I’m struck with a sense of care for them as individuals but also can’t help but laugh at just how silly it all seems with these goofy looking characters chilling in the stomach of these goofy looking dragons. And the show itself is acutely aware of this aspect. A key example is how Hisone interpret’s Maso-tan licking her as a display of affection, and so in turn returns this licking in an extremely comical fashion. More than a one time gag, this turns into a running exchange, even at times breaking what had previously been a dramatic moment. And even in how silly and humorous it is, both conceptually and in expression, it works not only in just how amusing the whiplash of tone is, but in how it shows Hisone’s care for Maso-tan in a perfect display of her eccentric personality.

The expression of the narrative plays into to this dramatically humorous atmosphere. Not to knock the other good stuff coming out nowadays, but it definitely is a nice breath of fresh air. Aesthetically it’s a pretty far jump from your average show, with the use of inconsistent line width, very flat coloring, black dot eyes, and the charmingly doofy characters. Everyone looks kinda off, but in a good way, it feels like there’s personality and character to every frame, which is only furthered by the lively movement and eye-catching expressions that feel straight out of a Trigger show. Each character has their own way of expressing their feelings and moving through a scene, in a way that makes character dynamics and personality traits jarringly obvious without need for even a single line of dialogue. That said, the dialogue, particularly the delivery of the dialogue is surprised me by ending up being one of my favorite aspects of the show.

The vocal performances from all of the cast are unique, memorable and an absolute joy to listen to. To be honest, most of the time I can barely tell one voice from the next, with some key exceptions, and oftentimes I find the characters that climb the rankings in my favorites list are those with especially appealing vocal performances alongside just being great characters. Just like with the visuals, the voicework here doesn’t shy away from being a bit broken, and in this case in a much more literal sense. I’d love to see a compilation of all of Hisone’s adorably compelling voice cracks. This plays into the running theme. Sure the voices are caricatured and a bit silly, but that establishes them as unique individuals, maybe the vocals get pretty exaggerated, but it only sold me even more on the emotions the character felt, be it dramatic or comical. I totally buy into Hisone’s voice squeaking as she tries to give an emotional speech at the top of her voice, it’s hilarious and at the same more stirring than anything I could possibly imagine.

Hisone to Maso-tan, even with it’s more dramatic developments later on, is a positive show to the extreme, which is part of why I enjoy Hisone so much as a character. Even with her crappy personality, as she would say, she strives to do the right thing and is the type to say that if the rules don’t give us a solution where everyone wins, then let’s break the rules and write our own. I’m no prude to the nihilistic side, but I also really appreciate genuine unbridled positivity and hope when it’s done well, and I think it is done well through the lens of Hisone as our pivotal character, especially with how she is developed.

Yeah, Hisone to Maso-tan has its flaws to pick apart, and it very much so bears a lot of Mari Okada’s staples. In some ways I almost wish it pushed things farther, especially with the mostly unremarkable but most definitely uneccetric ost. Some of the themes feel like they could have used much more exploration, and honestly I just really wanted to see more of this setting and the characters than this short season allowed for, but as a whole it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, largely because of the cast and presentation behind it. To take a second and just embrace the absurdity of the fact that this show exists and that Hisone is delightful and I love her (coincidentally that is also my full review of Hinamatsuri except with Anzu). Also the ED is just perfect, I could watch it on repeat till the end of time. You can’t help but wanna dance along with cast of characters when it comes up at the end of each episode, the delightful tone and irresistible visuals, I couldn’t imagine something more fitting for the show itself.

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Understanding Self in Violet Evergarden

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Violet Evergarden is an impeccably crafted character. Her arc is effective, her struggles compelling, her emotions all too real. To portray someone gaining a greater level of emotional awareness, especially towards themselves as well as others is no easy task. The progression has to feel natural, the inciting events have to be believable, and the emotional responses have to be reasonable, both within the narrative and also in how it is expressed visually and audially. In my personal experience there’s been a plethora of times in which a character in a show was crying and pouring their heart out, and though within the context of the story it makes perfect sense, something about the manner in which it is conveyed – often the voice acting of the crying itself – made it impossible to take seriously.

Violet Evergarden skirts around these potential pitfalls with a seeming ease. The naturalness of her emotional development and realization of such is to the point that one might not even recognize just how much she’s changed until the show reminds us of previous events, yet it always feels like an adding on, a development, or in more poetic terms, a blossoming from who Violet is at her core. Her ability to categorize, comprehend, and become more open to emotions, both of herself and others, is built up gradually from a reasonable starting point. Violet may seem robotic and doll-like at her first introduction, but the show always makes sure we are aware of her emotional capacity. In a flashback scene we see she is enthralled by the beauty of a bright green brooch, learning this new word and concept, “beautiful,” and expresses her feelings towards the major’s captivating eyes, how the brooch grabbed her attention because it reminds her of his eyes. Her attachment to the major, her desire to understand “love” and how she becomes undeterrable in her desire to become a Doll, to learn what it is to understand and realize the emotions of others, show that that emotionality is always there, waiting, begging, to be expressed.

What better way to bring out the emotions of one person than for them to learn by meeting others? Humans are social creatures after all, and through the gaining of experience, connecting with others and bearing witness to their passions, one can have their own personal sensibilities heightened. The way Violet’s experiences are presented is a wise balance between her perspective and the perspective of those she meets. We are able to get in Violet’s headspace and better appreciate and understand her perception of the world around her and how that perception changes, but we’re also given some more conventionally relatable characters with which to view Violet in the way she would be seen from an outsider’s perspective. We are able to essentially have our cake and eat it too, feeling both the inherent strong emotions from the stories we bear witness to as we come across these different people, all with their own plights and passions, as well as the heartfelt changes in Violet as her initially cold demeanor gradually melts away.

Heartfelt would be my go to description if I had to describe in one word why I enjoy Violet Evergarden so, both the character and the show itself. There’s a level of emotional honesty that despite my coming attempts is rather difficult to describe. The moments of strong emotional response come from a place that is deeply accepting. It’s never a drawn out obnoxious and utterly unnecessary lie, or an unreasonable conflict that causes the “drama.” Rather, when our characters, particularly Violet herself, break down into tears, it is often a deeply compelling acknowledgement of the sadness or conflict within themselves. The height of the show’s effect on me came not out of the tragedy, but out of the moments of understanding, of compassion, of love.

As Violet’s emotional responses begin to develop it very realistically builds up to a point where it suddenly explodes like a great tidal wave, finally releasing all the emotional sensitivity that has been kept pent up not out of choice but out of her own inability to recognize and express her emotions. From this development results a heightened sense of empathy, which is brilliantly highlighted in episode 10. In this episode we see Violet from the perspective of a young girl whose mother is deathly ill and is having Violet write letters that are to be sent to her daughter every birthday after her passing. At this point, we see a sudden shift in Violet’s character. Violet’s developments up to this point have been so natural that at the outset of the episode it seems bizarre when Violet is now acting much colder than we have grown accustomed to. Though she once again warms up to the little girl and expresses a great level of understanding and compassion for her, it does feel as if we have stepped backwards in Violet’s development as a character. However, this is all setting up for her return from work where in describing to her workmates the job she was tasked with she begins to weep, through her sobs relating how difficult it was to withhold her tears and work, to stay strong despite knowing of the sorrowful situation the little girl Anne was persevering in. Embraced by the motherlike figure of Cattleya, she lets the tears flow in a cathartic moment of empathy.

It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel. Violet feels the burning sensation from her actions in the war, the inescapable emotional scars of the past, yet Claudia’s wise advice is not to try and outrun our past but rather to move forward and make new memories. The effect of the people Violet meets upon her is matched in her unforgettable effect on them. She may struggle with that which might be natural to others, but she really is trying, a sweetly illustrative picture of that being her forced yet genuine attempts to smile, and the payoff of her greater ease in doing so as time passes is beyond description. The subtle touches, a mouth corner raised, a piercing stare, it is deeply affecting thanks to every step we’ve taken along the way, getting to know Violet and the people throughout this fascinating setting. So when she finally can say “aishiteru,” “I love you,” we know she truly understands its meaning, that this Violet has grown to match her name.

The Kind Cruelty of Takagi-san

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Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is absolutely delightful. Takagi’s smile alone gave me a feeling I would love this show – I mean, just look at it. How could you not love that devilish smile?

Watching the innocent and lighthearted comedic antics of these two is a blissful experience. In 20 minute increments I can forget the drama and woes of humanity, chuckling along in this heartwarming show where the charismatic pair, our main two, is the only thing of importance.

From the premise itself, though, I might have thought it a show not to my tastes. I’ve never cared much for cruelty being passed off as comedic and harmless in shows of a similar nature. It’s the reason why I dislike violent tsunderes. Seeing harsh actions then passed off as inconsequential and that somehow the MC of said show will extend her endless forgiveness, and often begin to develop feelings for her despite her abrasive actions serves only to aggravate me further. Even the relatively mild bullying of Komari in Non Non Biyori was enough to sour my feelings towards the show. It’s a strongly personal point of complaint, yet one I’m sure others can identify with.

So what is it about Takagi-san that makes me enjoy it so? Well, it carefully avoids any semblance of this common mean-spiritedness. Everything is done in good fun. To start, the pranks themselves are rather harmless, usually some manner of mild surprise. Very rarely is there any physical element to the source or consequence of the humor, the harshest it gets being him falling off his chair or something of similar nature. A key factor to the humor of it is that much of the embarrassment on Nishikata’s end is due to his own actions – be it his overactive imagination or his attempts to get her back. It’s his own extreme responses to her actions, not her actions themselves that provide the humor.

Added to that is the minimal amount of repercussion – I’m sure we’ve all had our moments of frustration where MC-kun is unfairly punished for something beyond his control where the tsundere was really at fault and they drag it on and on and on…..however, in this show the worst that will happen is a stern shout from the teacher and Nishikata’s own embarrassment, which is played more so as his own self-consciousness and frustration at her getting the better of him than the whole class laughing at him. In fact, as I brought up earlier, the show really feels as if everything outside of Takagi and Nishikata is purely inconsequential. In one instance where Nishikata does feel he might be at risk of actual consequence for his outbursts, and briefly ignores Takagi, they follow it up with a heartfelt moment of connection between the two. No joke, no prank, the show simply emphasizes the closeness of their relationship with a quiet moment as they share an intimate stare. In other similar cases, the show always ensures that they balance out any consequences with some genuine uninterrupted emotional moments, and towards the end as they grow closer and closer we’re given glimpses of Takagi’s more vulnerable side as well.

That’s really the key – they both enjoy this playful badgering as one-sided as it is, even if the extent or cognizance of such varies. Nishikata happily engages with her and jumps eagerly on each attempt to best her in any silly competition despite his many failings, and she in turn, takes great pleasure in seeing his flushed expression at each surprise. It’s harmless fun, and fun that is right up my alley. The entertaining dynamic between Takagi and Nishikata, which works so well thanks to the great voice acting, perfect expressions, and the incredibly well-fitting sound effects and music. I love the pleasing aesthetic, with its pastel colors and district expressive linework; how the directing manages to be both simplistic and dynamic at the same time, wonderfully enhancing the experience but never taking us out the moment; the comedic timing that even managed to surprise me a few times to great effect. I could go on but it would be far more effective for you to just watch the show for yourself and see what I mean. Takagi-san may not be trying to tell the most ambitious story, but what it sets out to do it does incredibly well, and perhaps you’ll enjoy just as much as I did.

The Power of Music: Made in Abyss’ Stunning Final Scene

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Made in Abyss is a good show. Yeah, surprise of the century right? I certainly have some issues with it but I also have a lot of praise for it. I want to leave a those thoughts for another time though, perhaps even another video, as today I’m gonna take a look at the music. A specific track actually, but let me give a brief introduction first.

The soundtrack for Made in Abyss was composed by Kevin Penkin. He’s a composer who got into the anime field thanks to his work on the kickstarter-backed anime Under the Dog, and since then has been contacted to work on several projects, this included. An australian-born, english-speaking composer, it’s no surprise that he’s become a pretty big talking point in the anime community. It’s only logical that we would be especially interested in someone with whom we can communicate directly, and him composing for one of the most popular and critically acclaimed anime of the year certainly helped with that, especially with how much freedom he was given in composing it and how often the show goes out of its way to highlight the music, right from the beginning, with Hanezeve Caradhina in episode 1, to the end, with the track Tomorrow closing out the show in an epic fashion. And thus, through this roundabout sentence, I’ve come to my main subject. Tomorrow is a really powerful track on its own and used together with this concluding scene makes for an incredibly evocative conclusion and a surprisingly satisfying stopping point, especially considering that the story is still incomplete. So what exactly makes it so great? Well, that’s why I’m here today.

Something I appreciate about the soundtrack is how it utilizes synthesized instruments, non-musical electronic sounds and traditional instruments to create its distinct sound. Oftentimes you will find a show goes all the way towards one specific style and the instruments that are utilized within that style, such as the electronic music behind Ping Pong’s soundtrack, or in the opposing case, the full out instrumental of Space Brothers and Chihayafuru. I don’t mean to give hate towards any of these soundtracks by any means, and there is value in capturing a specific style and all the traits of it, but as someone who is really into music, I love to find stuff that is new and interesting in the field of music, and its why I can get so interested in contemporary pieces that might offend the ears of an inexperienced lister.

Made in Abyss strikes a nice balance, where its sound is distinctly unique, but never especially offensive – which is particularly important for soundtracks as when you become too challenging audially you start to distract away from experiencing the show as a whole.

In ‘Tomorrow,’ Penkin creates a great narrative arc within the music. It starts with a bright and percussive electronic piano carrying the melody, the cheerful and simple tone highlighting the youthfulness of our main cast and conveying a sense of nostalgia as we reflect back on just how far Riko and Reg have come. This is reflected visually too, as they send up a balloon to tell that they are still alive and still venturing further into the Abyss.

Even so, it bears a sense of melancholy to it. We hear a sound calling out that almost seems to mirror a mournful human voice in its rise and fall. The Abyss is certainly no walk in the park, and our main duo have undergone far more than their fair share of struggles. We can only imagine what they might face as they journey further and further into the unforgiving Abyss.

Still, we know they will press onward, and that they will face every obstacle hand in hand, now with a new friend by their side. Against all odds they have come this far, and they are determined to make it even farther. This journey is their mission and they will not be easily dissuaded. As if brushing away its doubts, the tone of the song begins to shift towards the positive once more, the somber percussion and synth fading away as an upbeat and cheerful mandolin takes the forefront, supported, and eventually superseded by a simple but beautiful melody in the piano while it continually plays chords that press us forward, confidently moving into the unknown. The crashing cymbals and drums also keep us moving as the soundscape grows even more crowded, the emotional stakes more intense. The strings ease in, a jumpy electronic sound above it all. It quickly moves between a higher and lower pitch at an inconsistent rate in a way that feels really human. The ‘imperfection’ of it is precisely what makes it effective. We reach a climactic point where the strings carry this powerful theme we have been building towards, earlier it subtly reflected in the piano and now taking the forefront. It is taken up to its peak by the even more powerful brass in a stunning midpoint, a synthesized organ enhancing the grandness of this occasion.

After this peak, it fades away briefly, the piano carrying us into the next section – a single note in the strings signifying the start of a new idea. Here we have a vocalise, where the singers are conveying a melody but not through any type of words or syllables. Penkin’s use of the voice in a way where one must supply their own interpretation, rather than having any solid lyrics with which to grasp onto is commendable. Though here it is much more minimal than were the untranslatable speech that takes the forefront in Hanezeve Caradhina it still carries so much emotional power, and also somewhat brings us back to that scene in episode one, again making us reflect on how far we’ve come. The way they quickly descend in this beautiful melody also has a sense of that which is foreign, even robotic, as they hit each individual note, rather than the smooth descension of a glissando that is much more common and comes to us more naturally, especially for fast passages. We’re left little time to reflect on this peaceful moment, though, as the music takes us by the hand in a stunningly powerful conclusion.

A sound effect like that of a rushing wind kicks things off, horn entering followed by an intense ascending tremolo in the strings section. At first, the brass enters one after another, then in a variety of pairings with an increasingly powerful descending line, as the piece grows more and more intense with each passing second. Who knew 3 notes could be so brilliant. Underneath we hear a percussive sound like that of a clock unceasingly ticking away, the quickly oscillating electronic sound of prior filling out the dramatic scene. The moments of dissonance are inviting rather than aggressive, and despite the largeness of this conclusion, it feels friendly, as if the show itself is inviting us further, asking us to step forward as Nanachi does, into a bright new day. To come along a bit longer on this intense, emotional experience, with all its manic highs and lows. The balloon’s struggle to rise to the top really encapsulates the feelings of the show as a whole – that perseverance, through it all. To make us laugh and make us cry, the dichotomy of fear and joy, the intensity with which the Abyss calls to us all.

Broken and Beautiful in Girls’ Last Tour

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Girls’ Last Tour captured my attention and my emotions on an intellectual and emotional level to a degree that I rarely find anywhere. Its aesthetic sensibilities call back to shows like Haibane Renmei and Kino’s Journey, with its methodical pace, faded palette and textured backgrounds, the setting almost as intricate as the characters themselves. This paired with its powerful yet accessible philosophical explorations create a show that seems beyond its time. I feel I could return to Girls’ Last Tour years later, that I would really want to come back to it years later, unable to erase the memory of this experience and filled with an unending desire to recapture it.

Girls’ Last Tour may explore these philosophical concepts, but it doesn’t put them on a grand pedestal or attempt to self-congratulate for addressing these subjects, rather they are simply natural topics of conversation that arise from the characters and their situation. How could they not? In this post apocalyptic world, where food is scarce and humans scarcer, Yuu and Chito’s close bond is what gives them the strength to go on. Perhaps I am lonely or sad, they think, but it’s okay, I have you, I can get through this, I can move forward.

Resonating throughout the show is that simple theme. Not giving up, ever pressing onward. Having that goal, that passion that keeps us getting up day after day. Our map, our plane, – surely without failure success wouldn’t be near as sweet?

I work my way up, and now I’ve fallen down. I’m starting over, but that’s okay, I can keep going. Kanazawa felt he’d die if he lost his maps, but he accepts the loss and starts anew, a gentle grin as he parts with our main duo. Ishii’s failure results in her literal fall to square one, yet in the face of despair she smiles, ready to pick up the pieces and start again. Their passion may be an endless bane, but through it all, it is their will to live, their proclamation to the universe and to themselves of their existence.

“Why live?” The show asks. “Why not live?” Is its firm reply. “The sunset’s so very pretty, wouldn’t you agree? Especially with a friend beside you, taking in the warm light in this symphony for the eyes – playful chatter filling the silence and their hearts.”

“Listen closely”, the show tells me. “Can you hear the raindrops falling? The pitter-patter and how it soothes the tired mind, music hailing down from above.” A satisfying rhythm is found in nature’s endless cycle, a timeless gift even in humanity’s last days.

They hear a distant song playing on the radio…it is sad, but still so very sweet. They travel this ruined world, with so much lost… tragic indeed, but still so very beautiful. The endlessly ascending landscapes prove a mirror to our endless climb, as we play along in this sad, joyful, broken, wonderful world.

I take this all in, tears near to my eyes. I’m helplessly captivated as the distantly familiar piano beckons me closer, the bittersweet strings pining away, a gentle song lowering my guard. I’m completely exposed, at the will of this show, as Yuu and Chito’s ambling conversation forms a rhythm of its own amongst the scattered cries of this aged earth. The music of life, the joy of existence, captured so poignantly in this little show that has such a curious lack of noses.

The light around me has turned dark, and beneath the glare of my computer screen, chills run down my spine as I reflect back upon the show. I have to say something, I have to convey these emotions that engulf me so fully. Words will never do it justice, but this, this is all I can do. Just this.

Kor Reviews: Subete ga F ni Naru – The Perfect Insider

Originally Posted January 16, 2015

(This review contains spoilers for the first three episodes)

Whether you personally call yourself a fan of the genre, one must admit that us humans as a whole find mysteries – whether real or fiction – to be deeply engrossing. Once your curiosity is piqued, it’s hard to get it off your mind. We all have a built in desire to know the unknown, to figure out what’s unexplained. The mystery genre of fiction builds off of this simple trait, but there’s a greater appeal. That appeal is that of puzzles, solving a complex problem in order to reach a conclusion. Once you solve a puzzle or the solution is revealed to you, and you finally realize how everything fits together it’s that brilliant “ah-hah” moment that gives incredible satisfaction. Why go on about mystery in my opening statement? Well that’s because I’m reviewing none other than the somewhat divisive A-1 Pictures 2015 Mystery anime known as Subete ga F ni Naru: The Perfect Insider.

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The mystery of Subete ga F ni Naru lies a certain genius named Magata Shiki. Without warning she killed her parents as a child, but was deemed not guilty by case of insanity. Soon after, she disappeared to a small island facility of scientists. However, years later, she begins making public appearances once again. The brilliant university professor Souhei Saikawa is fascinated by her intellect, and his adoring and surprisingly smart student Moe Nishinosono thus decides for their group tour to be to that very island – with the hope that she could arrange another interview with Magata, after her previous solo excursion. When the group arrives at the island, Nishinosono and Saikawa sneak their way off from the campgrounds and get into the labs. While they are on their visit, however, an unexpected turn of events devastates Saikawa’s hopes. The AI that runs the lab seems to malfunction, the doors are opened and Magata Shiki is revealed to be dead. How was she killed? That is the start of this unsolvable case. Video logs of the past 15 years show that the door was not opened until that day, and the AI from all respects should have been completely foolproof to any glitch or virus. Intriguing, to say the least.

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One issue in this mystery is that it’s singular. There is one case which is solved over the course of the entire series. While it certainly is an interesting case to say the least, there is a reason that your average running to for a mystery ranges from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. Especially with a locked-room mystery such as this, there is only so many clues that can be found. By its very nature that type of mystery is more small and self-contained, which is fairly unfitting for an 11-episode show. I believe that it is because of this inordinate amount of time there was to fill that there are so many scenes throughout that feel redundant or unnecessary. Be it showing us a flashback to the exact scene we saw a few episodes ago, or a pointless and random bout of jealousy in a character that ultimately goes completely nowhere. I even made a specific note of how almost the entire first 10 minutes of episode 6 were unnecessary. I think the show could have easily been cut down to 7 or 8 episodes and have been far better off.

Though it did overstay its welcome a bit, the mystery itself is a pretty clever one. It’s the type of reveal that while highly unlikely that you would be able to figure it out very far before hand (due to some hints simply being indiscernible from the perspective we’re presented until our detectives figure it out). However there are plenty of scenes that hint towards the solution that in retrospect seem so very obvious, which I would imagine makes for a very good rewatch experience as you pick up on subtle hints that you didn’t notice before.

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A pretty major part of what makes this show an interesting experience that manages to hold its audience despite the excessive length lies in our characters – primarily Magata, Saikawa, and Nishinosono. In some episodes the mystery takes a backseat, with the focus shifting towards revealing more about their personalities. Because these three’s thought process is so vastly different from our own, especially with the case of Magata and Saikawa, a good portion of the show’s intrigue comes from wanting to learn why these characters behave the way the do and what their thought process is. A common criticism directed towards this show is that in regards to those two “brilliant” characters, their dialogue on occasion becomes far too psychological and pretentious, even seemingly glorifying indisputably wrong actions. My rebuttal to this argument is that, while these complaints are not unfounded, the show is trying to create a portrait of this genius psychopath whom Saikawa holds in respect as he tries to comprehend her process of thought. It seems they were trying to create that tense yet relaxed relationship between two geniuses, one on the “right” side and one on the “wrong” side. The intention was to create a relationship like that of Moriarty and Holmes or the Master and the Doctor, though it did not have enough build up or explanation to be as compelling and understandable as the aforementioned examples. Ultimately, while Magata is a very interesting character from how broken her perception of the world is, I agree that the perspective from which the characters view Magata is unrealistically positive.

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The presentation makes for a lot of whether the show is interesting or not. The exact same conversation presented one way or another could be either fascinating or boring. How does Subete ga F ni Naru fair in this department? It lies somewhere in-between. As I mentioned previously, the show recaps scenes we’ve seen shortly before and generally shows the exact scene with at the most a filter added on top. Often the editing is impatient and indecisive, quickly cutting back between two characters when they are talking. This consistently appears throughout the show and while it may seem a small error in theory it’s very frustrating when one is actually watching it. I would have appreciated it if the camera would just back up and stay still for more than a second. Somewhat in line with this issue is that we far too often see the “here” and “there”, but rarely are shown the actual process of the characters moving between important scenes. This makes everything feel a little stilted and also makes it harder to get immersed and feel like this location is an actual place. It isn’t all bad, however. The character designs and animation itself is very solid, and the use of lighting and color compliments everything nicely. There are a few scenes that frame the shot from a very interesting and enjoyable perspective, and the creative backgrounds used throughout add a bit of extra flair. The soundtrack as well contributes pleasantly to the atmosphere, with a particularly good use of the Prelude from Bach’s Cello Suites No. 1. However, the pieces do have a bad tendency to overstay their welcome, and occasionally border on over-the-top. All in all, though, the OST does its job.

Subete ga F ni Naru, while far from perfect, is still a show I would recommend – especially to fans of drama and mystery. The mystery may be too long, but it’s still incredibly clever. The characters may be a little unrealistic, but they are still very interesting to learn about. The presentation may have issues, but there are still quite a few scenes that really draw you in. Subete ga F ni Naru has those scenes that get you interested, it has those moments in which I was completely invested and immersed. Those moments what makes it a show worth watching.

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Kor Reviews: Sakamichi no Apollon

Originally Posted December 26, 2015

Music is such an all-encompassing part of everyday life. Everywhere we go, everything we do, almost always there will be music involved somewhere in it. Music is able express feelings through our ears and straight to our heart, and the way each piece is played and written tells us little things about the author. Where am I going with this? Well, if you read the title, then you know the anime I’m talking about today is Sakamichi no Apollon (or Kids on the Slope) from studio MAPPA. Sakamichi no Apollon notably focuses on two jazz playing friends in the ‘60s, as we watch their struggles with the unexpectedness of life and see it portrayed both in their words and actions as well as through the music they play.

The show begins by introducing us to the pensive teenager Kaoru Nishimi, who by an unexpected turn of events ends up befriending the school-wide feared delinquent Sentarou Kawabuchi. Kaoru soon comes to see that Sentarou is a far softer guy than others would think, and discovers that Sen is also an avid jazz drum player. As Kaoru warily joins in their little band – meeting Junichi, Ritsuko, and Tsutomu in the process – and they begin playing music together, many of the twists and turns that come with growing up interrupt his previously apathetic life.

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So how does the show fare? Is Sakamichi no Apollon a brilliant character study, or does it fall flat in its ambitious journey? While the show certainly does succeed in many areas, particularly the audial and visual portions, there’s a good chunk of issues that lie in the story. Sakamichi no Apollon follows the somewhat common Josei-drama style wherein said drama seems to take precedence over all in a fairly unrealistic manner. The way the story progresses feels contrived. Rather than the characters and their life situations driving the story in a way that comes off as logical, most major plot points are clearly designed and break the immersion. Characters seem to just walk into each other whenever it’s convenient for the plot. On occasion characters within the show will act completely irrationally and out of character simply to create conflict and keep the story moving, though half the time this conflict doesn’t really go anywhere. I would have much preferred keeping the focus on these characters when they’re together rather than when they’re being forced apart as the cast does have a nice dynamic. Despite the irritating contrivance of it all, I still found myself invested simply due to caring for the characters.

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By far, however, my greatest issue lies in the shows ending, or the lack thereof. After a rather unexpected turn of events, there is a time skip that is covered within a single episode. No epilogue or anything of the sort, it just sort of ends. It barely explains anything and comes of as very unsatisfying. All it really needed was one more episode, even an OVA, and I think the ending would have come off a lot better. Given that it didn’t though, I’d recommend simply reading the last chapter of the manga, as it does fix a lot of problems I had with the show’s ending.

So sure, the story isn’t perfect, but the music and animation come pretty close. While I’ve seen complaints towards the lack of importance that the time period plays in the series, I appreciate it as it gives a nice visual change of pace. We’ve seen the same settings time and again. The ‘60s is a much less common setting for anime in particular, and the art definitely makes it feel real.

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From a technical perspective, the animation is downright fantastic. The way characters move is accurate, consistent, and incredibly smooth. Most impressively for me, this show really seems to nail that feeling of weight that is so hard to do properly. As if this weren’t enough, the musical sequences step this up to the jaw dropping level. It’s not all in technicality though, the perspective from which everything is portrayed really does make you feel at home in this world and with these characters. These places become familiar and comfortable, from the slope to the record shop.

In this case, I’ve made special note to leave the best for last. That is, the music. The soundtrack makes for a big part of why the show is as effective as it is. If Samamichi no Apollon were about something else I wonder if it’d even be able to be considered “good”. The show’s musical focus is on that of jazz, and I personally have great respect and perhaps a fair bit of bias towards it as it essentially got me into the genre. You really don’t need to be a jazz fan to enjoy this show, in fact I’m inclined to recommend it especially to people who don’t know about jazz and would like to see what the genre can offer. For the more experienced jazz fans, however, there are little tidbits here and there that are nice to see, such as Sen’s pet pigeon being named Sarah Vaughan.

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Aside from its genre, just as music it’s fantastic. The portions of the OST that are for background all serve their purpose effectively. Each piece has a sense of individual flair and memorability, accentuating the scenes they accompany. The compositions for the in-show music performances, much like the animation, take it up a notch. It’s hard to discern whether or not this was intentional, but it legitimately feels like the musicians playing had a deep understanding of the characters they portray. The way the music is played and developed feels unbelievably authentic to the events going on in the story with the characters and their changes. In particular, there is a musical sequence in episode seven where our two main characters perform a medley consisting of three songs previously highlighted. The style of the piece and transitions between songs shows just how much these characters have developed. This scene serves as a highlight to the series and despite not being inherently sad is emotionally provocative. Listening to the piece alone does the job well enough, as it is a brilliant interpretation, but listening to the piece and knowing these characters and their struggles makes it far more powerful.

As a whole, Sakamichi no Apollon is not a particularly strong show. It bears plenty of faults in it’s story and characters, to the point that one could justifiably argue that it is “overrated”. However, there is a reason Sakamichi no Apollon is loved by a fair few. It uses music in a brilliant manner. Many other shows, even those that claim to be focused around music use it merely as a driving point for the story. The music isn’t what makes the show, in fact it could easily be replaced with any other story element that can bring our characters together towards one goal. However, with Sakamichi no Apollon the use of music feels far more sincere. Music seems to course through everything within the show as a truly integral part. That’s what makes this show special. It isn’t perfect, no it’s far from it, but it has those moments of brilliance. It has those scenes that make think “wow”, that touch you to your core. And personally, I think shows that can do that are worth noting, regardless of their flaws.

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Kor Reviews: Garden of Words

Originally Written November 23, 2014

Hello everyone, and today I’m reviewing the 45-minute-long Rain and Foot Fetish OVA from 2013, Garden of Words.

Before getting down to my gripes, I’d like to go in depth with the one thing I really loved. The animation. It’s spectacular. I know I say that about almost everything this man Directs, but even more so with this one than the others. I was hard pressed to believe it really could get much better than 5 Centimeters per Second, but it did.

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I mean have you honestly ever seen a cup of coffee or a pencil on a notebook look so good? The visuals really set the tone, with it beautifully displaying these rainy days to the point where I was getting the chills. I can honestly and wholeheartedly say It’s easily in the top 5 of the best looking animation that I’ve seen. Not even limiting it to anime, in the entirety of animation as a medium it’s pretty high up there. Those awe-inspiring panning shots were unbelievable. Garden of Words proves that use of CG in anime is by no means a bad thing. It perfectly blends in, to the point it was barely noticeable, and allowed for some really incredible scenes that most likely wouldn’t have been possible without it.

I watched this movie with a friend, and the one thing we kept saying aloud over and over again was “Man the animation though…” I could write page upon page but the only real way to appreciate it is to watch it for yourself and ascertain what you can from the visuals you’re seeing now.

Sadly, I don’t think the story does the art justice at all. Voices of a Distant Star managed to tell a much more complete and satisfying story in but half the time that Garden of Words had which bothers me more than anything. Shall we go over the basic premise and I’ll point out a couple flaws that I had right off the bat?

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Takoa Akizuki, a 15 year old, just keep that number in mind for now, is training himself to become a shoemaker, skips out on school one rainy day and is sketching shoes in a garden. There he meets the mysterious woman Yukari Yukino. Without ever arranging to meet, they meet again and again at that garden, but only on rainy days, and their bond gradually grows. Sound like a nice setup, no? Let me point out the number one flaw.

How old do you think Yukari is? 15? 17? 20? She is 27. TWENTY SEVEN. I don’t care if it’s a number, or the fact that they’re both drawn to look like they both in their twenties, that fact alone makes it so hard to immerse myself in this world and feel like it’s real, when if it was someone would be calling the police.

But let’s look past that, for the sake of argument. How do the characters hold up?

Whenever I’m watching a movie or show, in order to determine how much I really care about these people I ask myself a simple question: “If this person died right now, even if it was presented dramatically, would I really care?” And I can honestly say that, for Garden of Words, the answer is no. Even with 5 Centimeters a Second I would’ve felt sad, but for Garden of Words I really have to say not in the slightest. It’s not that I didn’t like these characters to some extent, but they felt very superficial. There was no depth.

 

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Let me give an example: You’d imagine that’d they show us a fair amount of Yukari and Takoa’s interactions in the gardens, right? So we can see how their relationship develops and how they grow closer, along with getting to know them individually better, right? Nope. Almost all of it is quickly glossed over in a montage-like sequence. It almost feels like Shinkai wanted to make this movie with the explicit purpose of making a pretty movie, because so much time is spent on these wonderful panning and still shots of the environment, in favor of actual character development.


The thing is, it felt like there was more. I would say that it’d benefit from a extended length, but for the 45 minutes they did have, there was barely any character development or depth, and while there were many many plot points and reasonings hinted at, they were never fully explored. Even considering the small amount of time they had, they still could have done oh so much more. I can’t relate to or care about characters I barely know, and that is where my main problem stems from. I don’t know these characters, and for me, characters are what I tend to watch a movie or series for. The story was incredibly simple, so it’s not as if I could turn to that instead. It’s a simple romantic setup, and not much more than that. There is some symbolism, but it’s so very obvious there’s no point in even talking about it.

Despite all this, you know what? I still had fun with this film. It’s a very easy movie to watch, just the right level of engaging to not be too mentally stimulating as to require extensive focus, but just enough that you want to watch it the whole way through. Excluding the teacher-student relationship, this, much like a lot of Shinkai’s work, would be a very good example to show people at the very least, just how brilliantly beautiful animation as a medium can get. I’ll quickly comment on the music, since it didn’t really come to mind much. It was alright, though far from the best. I did notice the piano could sound a little unfitting and also a little too loud at times, but I did enjoy the ending song and overall it was fine. While we’re on the topic of audio I’ll also say that the dub, from what I watched of it, was fairly solid, though Yukari’s voice acting was a little stilted.
I rarely say something’s worth watching for the animation alone, but you know what? Garden of Words is. While the story and characters were far from perfect, the art certainly isn’t. It definitely could have been much more, but it’s worth it for the 45 minutes of beauty. 

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Kor Reviews: 5 Centimeters per Second

Originally Written June 6th, 2015

Though I generally try to keep my reviews spoiler free, due to the nature of this film in particular, I really can’t properly talk about it in depth without giving spoilers, so be warned.

The story is split into three parts, each of which being easily described in but a few sentences.

  • Part 1, our main character Takaki goes to visit his childhood friend that he is in love with and had to move away from, Akari.
  • Part 2, time has passed, and Takaki is still depressed over his love. Kanae, a friend of his at his school has fallen in love with him, but she quietly accepts that the feelings will never be reciprocated.
  • Part 3, even more time has passed, and along with a slightly odd AMV-like sequence spliced in the middle, we see Takaki pass Akari on the street. He turns to look, but a train passes and she is no longer there. He walks forward, moving on from his past love.

5 Centimeters per Second is a very hard one to criticise. It does so very much right, and overall is a memorable and very enjoyable experience. While it never hit me too much emotionally, it was just engaging enough that I did emote somewhat with the characters. This film excels at setting  the atmosphere. You can feel the chill of the cold winter, the bustle of the train station, the salty spray of the ocean. All of this can be credited to the phenomenal animation, art, and sound design. The realism is stunning, and the character animation is consistent, smooth, and realistic in it’s movement. The beautiful piano soundtrack, that’s nicely simplistic and effective, and the general sound design breathes life into this world.

It feels like it wants to be similar to the experience that Grave of Fireflies evokes, with it’s slow pacing and overarching feeling of realism and sadness, yet I don’t think it quite does so.

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Here’s my number one issue with 5 centimeters per second. The running time. Each part feels like a randomly selected episode from a full length show. While some say this anime touched them, it really didn’t affect me on a deeper level, and it’s because love seems to be all there is to this anime. Not that a romance is by any means bad, but in the words of one of Kanae’s friends to her “All you think about is Tohno.” And that was my problem. Love seems to be all these characters are. I don’t want to know if they’re in love, that’s pretty obvious, I want to know the who and the why. You can’t have the slow pacing and focus on atmosphere this film has and have a compelling character relationship on top of it with the short length.

I feel that the balance between characterization and atmosphere could have been handled much better. It doesn’t have sacrifice it’s fantastic tone, but if done right it would have made for a much more compelling and investing experience overall. The separation isn’t near as jarring if you didn’t spend a significant amount of time seeing them together in the first place. We do get a brief glance at that towards the end of part 1, and you know what? I really enjoyed that segment. I just needed more. For instance, there’s a short scene in part 3 where this girl who apparently has been a workmate of Takaki’s during the timeskip confesses that she loves him through a text. The scene didn’t feel meaningful at all to me, as we really don’t know who this character is, even less so than the others. It felt completely unnecessary and pointless.

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My one other complaint was that in part 1 especially, the inner monologue was heavily overused. It was using it in the fashion that one would describe things in a book, but the entire purpose of being descriptive is to evoke an image and feeling in one’s imagination, and if you already have the sound and visuals to display what you’re going for, that’s not necessary. It was telling us things that were already or could have been conveyed through the visuals, and I feel if there had been little to no talking whatsoever throughout it would have actually been a more powerful experience, as you would have to piece together the segmented story yourself which would create a more engaging experience and end up getting you more emotionally invested.

The film does though have a fair amount of times where it relies on the visuals, through the moments of silence and atmosphere, and I feel without them it wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is. While I am more a fan of more character and story driven shows, appreciating this beautiful art for being just that is something that I can enjoy. The characters and story that go along with it are far from terrible, so they rarely distract from it, I merely feel it could’ve been heavily improved upon.
For what it is, it’s still really good. From the atmosphere set by the sound and animation, to a for once well-handled use of the life-goes-on ending, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience that could easily be rewatched and shared with friends who enjoy the romance genre, anime fans or no.

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Kor Reviews: Usagi Drop – Beauty in Simplicity

Originally Posted December 7th, 2015

There’s a certain beauty in simplicity. There’s something inspiring about capturing the raw form of something, stripping away the extraneous elements. Usagi Drop captures the essence of this beauty.

Hey everyone, my name is Kor, and today I’ll be reviewing Production I.G’s 11-episode depression medicine, Usagi Drop. It aired in the Summer 2011 season, and adapted the manga of the same name. But enough with the formalities – let’s jump right in.

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Usagi Drop follows the life and bonding of Daikichi Kawachi and Rin Kaga. After Daikichi’s grandfather passed away, he was visiting his mother’s house for the funeral and was shocked to discover a shy young girl hiding from the crowd who he’d never met – this girl, as the evidence suggested, was the daughter of his grandfather and a missing woman they did not know. This strange set of circumstances made it so that during the family discussion no one wanted to take her in. But Daikichi, who has been quietly observing Rin’s kind and innocent nature decides to take her in despite his lack of knowledge regarding childcare. The story follows Daikichi as he learns to care for Rin and as their relationship grows.

Usagi Drop is in many ways a love letter to parenthood. It often expresses fascination with and appreciation for the effort and sacrifice parents give – especially single ones – but also acknowledges how in the end it’s so very natural and worth it all for the parent. The love expressed in the series feels incredibly genuine, when we see how the variety of parents express their care for their children, even if it’s only a brief appearance. The way they talk, the little gestures and facial expressions, all these further contribute to making the love feel real, especially in the case of Rin and Daikichi.

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The familial bond that’s formed between Rin and Daikichi is a very satisfying one to watch, and as you see them grow closer – you yourself start to feel closer to them as well. This show makes you pay attention to the little things in life. In Usagi Drop, those passing moments are the most important ones.

What I especially appreciate about Usagi Drop is it’s wise use of speech or the lack thereof. A fairly common trope in anime and pretty much everything is that of a character expressing what’s happening, what they are thinking, or how they feel aloud. While it certainly gets the job done, it hurts the believability of the show and the character because simply put, normal people don’t act like that. Usagi Drop smartly avoids this. Conversations feel like conversations, never exposition or anything of the sort. It also benefits from allowing for those few quiet moments, having something told to the audience through facial expressions and gestures rather than through dialogue.

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It helps that the animation is so well directed. It’s not done so in the sense that there are many stand out scenes and moments of brilliance, but rather that it equally conveys everything it needs to in a satisfying and effective manner throughout the show. The character designs are cute and memorable, and the animation of the facial expressions – especially for the kids – is utterly adorable. On a technical level the animation is generally pretty consistent, barring occasional off moments. What’s especially impressive is the use of color. The soft color choices are comforting to the eye and easy to watch, much unlike the widely popular unnecessarily high-contrast with bright coloration used in many other shows. Something of note is that in the beginning portions of each episode before the opening theme, the animation is colored with a very distinct watercolor style. It’s quite beautiful and I imagine they likely wanted to use this throughout the show but the budget didn’t allow for it. However, the short scenes of it we did get I’m quite happy we did.

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The series’ soundtrack also supports the pervading theme of gentle simplicity. As you bond with the characters, an emotional bond is also formed with the tracks that accompany those moments. The songs vary from bubbly and rhythmic to mournful and sweeping. In the OST there is often the use of a repeating theme or even single note that continues throughout the whole piece. Generally the instrument choice is sparing, and the technical complexity is rather basic, but this style suits the straightforward honesty of the show well. The notes may not be brimming with intricacy, but they are wisely chosen. Each note has a sense of purpose and identity, and effectively provokes an emotional response, often aided in doing so by its accessibility.

Usagi Drop is short, sweet, and will win your heart over any day of the week. Due to it’s length and design, it’s very easy to watch, and makes for an incredibly enjoyable experience. It even is one of the few shows that makes good use of the life-goes-on ending. Often times this type of ending is used when the show has run out of episodes or caught up with it’s source material, and comes off as frustrating and lazy. However, in Usagi Drop, it proves to be effective. The story isn’t about a final conclusive point, there isn’t really an end goal. The show is about watching relationships develop, enjoying the beauty of everyday life, which is why it’s fairly inconclusive end is still quite satisfying. Granted, there were a few story arcs that ended up being left unresolved because of this, but ultimately they did not play a major enough role in the story to really be a problem. Usagi Drop is wonderfully touching little anime that you’ll remember long down the line for being just that. It hits all the right places, and just does everything well, to the point that it’s hard to find any major faults. Memorable, adorable, and pretty darn phenomenal, Usagi Drop is a fantastic Slice of Life that doesn’t need you to be a Moe fan to fall in love with it.usagi-drop-wallpaper-_