The Storyteller’s Lament – A Review of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (2016 – 2017)

How long has it been? How long ago had I last seen an anime of such class and depth that I could not help myself be swayed by anything else until I saw through the journey to its end? It has been a while. Yes, quite a number of moons have passed since the last anime I wholeheartedly gave a perfect score to.

Bluntness is required for an anime like ‘Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’. The reason for this being that just reading the synopsis of the show is, sadly, not enough to garner an interest. Most people have watched this show out of boredom and being recommended it by the very same folks who gave it a chance. I reckon very few people actually read the synopsis and went, “This is pretty damn interesting. I should watch it!” As saddened as I am when I say this but the Japanese animation industry is not known for the kind of maturity ‘ShouJuu’ displays. Instead, it goes for unnecessary eroticism and heavily relies on telling the same story with a slightly different coat of paint. The main reason I go for anime and manga as my main source of entertainment these days is that despite these factors, and many others, they are still one of the most risk-taking outlets of visual presentation. It’s a double edged candy sword dipped in lemon juice. Ahhhhhhhhh! So that is why I’ll try to keep my obvious bias towards the show in check and go purely for selling it to you as objectively as I can.

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No need to fear my enthusiasm.

Before I begin, let it be known that I’m reviewing both seasons together. The seasons, by themselves, still stand proudly as high tier works but it is best to watch both seasons in one go as that is how they truly reach another level altogether.

The first season starts off with a 47 minutes pilot that introduces us to recently released ex-con, soon named Yotaro, and his new found love for the art of stage storytelling called ‘rakugo’. He forces a master of the art, Yurakutei Yakumo (eight generation), to take him on as an apprentice. A while passes until Yotaro commits a huge blunder and is expelled until he begs the master for another chance. Thus, Yakumo launches into a tale of his past that spans the rest of the season. The second season then deals with the aftermath of that tale and how Yotaro uses the personal history lesson, of hope and inevitable tragedy, to become a master of a dying art in the modern world of television and radio.

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Yotaro on how he decided to become an apprentice.

As I just mentioned, the first season deals mostly with Yakumo’s past. The second episode begins with him, called Bon at the time, being abandoned by his mother, a geisha, into the hands of the seventh generation Yakumo. He is joined by Shin, a street rat, whose talent for rakugo makes him get accepted into apprenticeship alongside Bon. Bon and Shin are then renamed to Kikuhiko and Hastuta respectively. As time goes by and Hatsuta becomes popular, he changes his name to Sukeroku. From this point on, I will refer to these two leads as Kikuhiko and Sukeroku to avoid confusion.

As expected, the plot of ShouJuu is straightforward. What was surprising was the subtle depth to this story. The drama is not your usual run-of-the-mill stuff. It has layers to it that is usually left to the viewer to cut into. The confrontations and conflicts aren’t of the cheap sort where they could be simply resolved with a sidelining girlish giggle and pat on the back. No, the characters are written so well that instead of ending up as mere roles in a narrative, you see actual live human beings with complex emotions going about their lives of struggle and rivalry in the cut-throat world of stage performance.

Kikuhiko, unlike Sukeroku, wasn’t very good at rakugo for around half a decade. He also had his leg injury and school life to look after. Feelings of envy towards Sukeroku keep piling up even after Kikuhiko comes into form. The back and forth between the rivalry between these two both a treat and suspense to watch. You never know exactly what might happen considering the quality of the characters in the show. Then comes along the romantic interest for Kikuhiko in the form of an extremely flawed yet headstrong geisha known as Miyokichi. She serves as the main source of inner conflict for Kikuhiko. Many interesting questions pop up on our screens. Will Kikuhiko go for the woman or is the stage more important to him? What about Sukeroku and his wildness that constantly upsets the Rakugo Association? How will rakugo survive? And many more.

This outline of the first season that I’ve laid out is quite heavy on the art of rakugo itself as well. Many stories are told and you may even recognize some yourself if you have watched enough anime – Assassination Classroom saw class 3-E doing a hybrid performance. It’s great to see that a show about storytelling tells its own story in a masterful way. Failing to do so would have been very ironic indeed. This is precisely why ShouJuu is such a damn good show. It respects both the subject material and the audience by giving clear explanations and also refraining from needless exposition. Unlike many anime, we don’t get a couple of obvious frames that a character is scheming or depressed: we get seamlessly interwoven scenes that lightly tap our noggins using behavior and thoughtful dialogue to tell us that maybe a character is feeling blue. It’s like your gossiping friend with the power to possess people telling you about their lives for his own amusement. This is actually quite hard to pull off.

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Sukeroku agrees with me. Somewhat.

Now we move onto the second season. The second season starts off its train with Yotaro being one rank away from a master. It deals with him finding ‘meaning’ for his own rakugo, the future of the art itself, and answering the questions brought up by the past that haunts Kikuhiko. There’s a stark contrast between the two seasons in terms of both tone and the force that drives the narrative. Season one is basically about love for rakugo and its history while dealing with the rivalry of the leads who link to the second season. Season two is a cordial battle between two hearts on how they define rakugo and the relations it forms. Kikuhiko wants to burn the stage for the art he so dearly loves and take it to the grave with him. Everyone else, from the daughter of late Sukeroku to a prolific writer who wants to write new works for rakugo (an art that has been much too cautious when it comes to straying from its classics), is heavily against this. Yotaro takes the lead for them all in this pursuit. Yotaro prefers Kikuhiko’s rakugo but he himself performs more akin to Sukeroku. Considering that he acts a lot like Sukeroku, the relationship between Yotaro and Kikuhiko becomes even more peculiar.

I’d love to talk a bit more about the second season but that would mean spoiling a fair bit and I do not want to do that. Since I’m trying to convince others to watch this anime, giving away most of the major plot points of the second half of the story would be a bad move. Though, I will say this though: the second last episode of season two is literal perfection. The animation, the voice acting, the music, the idea behind the episode, how it deals with a major plot point that is often dealt with badly, and also the message it conveys. That episode is what cemented ShouJuu into my mind as an anime that will surely become a classic in a few years if it gains enough of a following. Even if people fail to give it the attention it so rightly deserves, it will still at least become a cult classic. Christ, that episode should be a used as a lesson to teach aspiring writers and directors on how treat your characters right. Saying anymore about it would spoil the show so I will stop typing about it now. But, still, damn!

A couple of final things to note before I get into the technicalities is that the supporting cast is just as superb as the leads across the two seasons. Even those who we get brief glimpses of (in what seem like insignificant scenes) turn out to be major catalysts in the advancement of the plot. It is clear that the writers took great care when bringing them to life and ensuring they aren’t just plot devices but also human just like the leads. The other point is that for an anime that spans almost eighty years or so, the pacing is just right. The show doesn’t advance too fast nor does it come to speed bumps when coming up to key scenes. It’s like a leisurely drive out on the country roads to the places where the story belongs.

The director, Shinichi Omata, has done a wonderful job with ShouJuu. I haven’t seen other anime directed by him but I will sure be sure to check them out. Studio DEEN done a superb job with the animation as well. Yes, that’s right. That Studio DEEN which is known for heavily cutting corners in the animation in almost half of the anime they’ve worked on. I was shocked when I found out they were behind ShouJuu. But, hey, kudos to them. Rakugo requires one to be extremely expressive in order to do justice to the stories the rakugako tells. Even the slightest of facial movements are highly detailed and fluid. The wonderful directing easily puts a spotlight on the animation and increases twofold the captivating effect on the audience.

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The direction and animation of this specific scene on Kikuhiko’s attitude regarding his deteriorating health was superb.

Speaking of captivating folks, the voice acting is marvelous. The anime needed it to emphasize the importance of nuance, tone, and pitch along with other particulars for the rakugo performances. The voice actors go above and beyond the standard established by the already competent voice acting industry of Japan. Yamadera Kouichi, the voice behind Spike Spiegel and Kenshirou, has done a fantastic job with Sukeroku. I am kind of disappointed that Kikuhiko had two voice actors seeing as I was mightily impressed with how the voice also changed minutely with each progression in the age of the character. One of the voice actors, Kobayashi Sanae, is female so I guess she was Kikuhiko’s early childhood voice. Despite my disappointment, the two voice actors gave an incredible performance for Kikuhiko throughout all stages of his life and it had been a treat to listen to them. I thank them, the writers, and the mangaka (Kumota Haruko) for carving Kikuhiko into my mind and soul as a sullenly flawed yet irresistibly charming and respectable man. Oh and the performance given by Yotaro’s voice actor, Tomokazu Seki, is just nigh impossible to not enjoy. He’s the voice behind Kougami Shinya from Psycho-Pass and Daru from Steins; Gate (which people seem to hate for some reason).

Finally, the music. Background music is used sparingly in ShouJuu but when it does play, it sure does sound pleasing and adds extra charm to the scenes. Funnily enough, though, the background music is used so well in especially intense scenes that you’re left on the edge of your seat. In one particular scene, aged Kikuhiko hallucinates and begins seeing the late Sukeroku in the middle of a performance. The music starts playing. The scene goes on with the beat. It has a tight grasp on your eyes making sure that you don’t even blink. I actually sweated a little. That was one hell of a scene. Another great use of music is the jazz in the opening and ending songs. The songs are great and going straight into my music folder (as usual). The grim imagery in the sequence for the second opening is particularly astonishing. For an interesting read on how it incorporates itself into the anime, check out this page.

I’ve already stated at the start of this review that I’ve given ShouJuu a perfect score. Anime of ShouJuu’s caliber that also don’t rely on fanservice are quite rare. This is one of the few shows I will gladly recommend to those who haven’t watched much anime or don’t watch it at all. It is a superb gateway drug into the bottomless pit that is the medium. This especially proves useful if the person isn’t really into action or comedy shows and wants a mature thought provoking experience that they themselves can push forward to others. Honestly, ShouJuu was a 9/10 show for me right until that flawless second last episode. So, without further ado, I give this a whopping

10/10

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“AWW YEAH TENOUTATEN”
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Kill la Darling in the Kizvangelagann VII – A Review of Darling in the FranXX (2018)

Ah, Trigger. Every time you announce an anime, you do it with such fervor that one can’t help be hyped. Whether you follow that hype to the end by meeting all expectations is another story altogether.

After the massive success of ‘Kill la Kill’, which ingrained Trigger as the champion savior of anime in the minds of most, we got ‘Kiznaiver’ which one either liked or heavily disliked. Then we had ‘Little Witch Academia’ thrown into our faces which many welcomed with a hearty moan as a sign of getting back on track. Between these, there were a couple of shorts such as ‘Space Patrol Luluco’ and some adaptations. As you can see, by and large, Trigger is an animation studio that has mostly thrived on its original works. So, when ‘Darling in the FranXX’ was announced (alongside two other shows) a lot of people could not contain their genital juice. They had a good excuse for getting underwear wet: many of the folks at Trigger are responsible for greats such as ‘Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann’, ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’, and ‘FLCL’. A-1 Pictures’ involvement also caused heads to turn. Another major reason is that FranXX was largely advertised as a mecha anime. People who know the recipe to a good mecha show making a NEW MECHA SHOW!? Pants were shat, I tell you. Shat!

The pants were then washed. Or thrown into a trash bag. Who knows. Fucking weeaboos. Anyway, with the release of the first episode, new trousers were donned and ready to be soiled.The question is, though, did FranXX manage to make the audience do what they were expecting? I don’t know about everybody else but I can at least tell you about my own experience.

Before I start analysing my shorts for answers I have to make a few things clear. I suffer from chronic constipation so I couldn’t drop a brown-bomb even if I wanted to. Also, I am very much a huge fan of Trigger and, to an extent, A-1 Pictures. Kill la Kill is one of my favorites, Little Witch Academia was great, and I found Kiznaiver to be rather fun. But I know when to and when not to submit to expectations. So I will be reviewing FranXX as fairly as I can but do expect some slight bias for the romance. I also went into FranXX fairly spoiled since Facebook and Funnyjunk had regular memes about it – along with pedophilia for whatever fucking reason.

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Kore wa rorikon desu ka?

Anyway, FranXX starts off with our protagonist, self-named Hiro, about to be booted off a mobile fortress of sorts called Plantation 13 with a dystopian environment as the backdrop. Hiro and his first partner, Naomi, had trouble piloting their mecha, called a FranXX, and so the scientists bid them adieu for being useless. At that moment, a giant robotic dinosaur, appropriately called a ‘klaxosaur’, attacks the plantation. A lone FranXX, piloted by horned heroine Zero Two, attempts to fight it off in vain. That’s when Hiro and Zero Two recall an earlier lakeside meeting and decide to join forces. Hiro loses consciousness the instant he links up but they still manage to kick metal ass and the credits for the very first episode roll. Thus marks the beginning of a story of love, hope, and hardcore mecha fans bitching, “Why isn’t this focused more on the mechas?!”

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“Why is it focused on this
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and this?!”

 

In my opinion, FranXX is not mecha anime by definition – where the sole purpose is giant robots kicking the crude oil or Energon out of each other with everything else as mere features. FranXX instead goes for the character route with the use of mechas as minor plot devices for progression and world building. The difference between the two is almost minute but still important to acknowledge. Viewers keep drawing FranXX on graphing sheets alongside Gurren Lagann, Evangelion, and Eureka Seven for constant comparisons. I find that unfair as FranXX only narratively parallels Eureka Seven. The other two shows are not entirely different from FranXX but from each other as well. Gurren Lagann is an absurd action anime mecha loaded with slapstick elements and unbound by even its own chaotic narrative rules. Evangelion is a serious story with an emphasis on the psychologically disturbing that is heavily undermined by its own pseudo-intellectual fans. FranXX is a semi-realistic coming of age story with a defined rule-set and often childish maneuvering in regards to both the plot and characters. Let me explain.

Like I stated many times before, I consider ‘originality’ to be a ‘myth’. Now what does that exactly mean? It means that any idea one may ever produce has already been done a long time before the same-ish idea that people already claim to be the standard. A modern example for easy understanding is the whole PUBG and Fortnite debacle. People bitch about them copying each other and calling whichever they like best the ‘father’ but they forget that what actually matters is how the games are on their own. Hell, the idea of chucking a group of people into a game of survival was done years ago in the Japanese ‘Battle Royale’ novel. Satan’s domain, the proposition of making a sizable number of human beings to forcibly partake in a fun activity whereby attempting to kill each other and come out on top at the end of the competition had been achieved centuries before in coliseums. You get the picture? When trying to fairly review, you have to talk about the thing’s own merits. You may love Shakespeare’s tragedies and consider Greek tragedies to be trash while your friend may compose a stanza in which he puts the vice in the versa. If you still don’t understand what I am trying to say then I don’t know how else to put it.

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Zero Two also has trouble explaining things sometimes.

Rant aside, for argument’s sake, a true comparison of FranXX should be done against Trigger’s own two works – namely Kill la Kill and Kiznaiver. To be more accurate, I will say that FranXX is a lovechild of these both with Eureka Seven as the godfather while still growing up to have it’s own personality. Kill la Kill was chock full of metaphors. If you looked hard enough at one scene, you’d find at least find three of them. They often went overboard with it at times. Kiznaiver was a character (or caricature) study set in a somewhat strange world. Mix that in with Eureka Seven’s interspecies romance and you get Darling in the FranXX.

A thing to note about FranXX’s plot is that the pacing is all over the place. The anime is quite slow for most viewers until episode 10. I binged FranXX a day or two after the last episode aired so I didn’t have much of an issue with it. A large number of shows like this tend to have weird pacing. If you had attempted to watch FranXX as it aired then you would have dropped it by the 7th or 8th episode. Then there’s the divisive point of episode 18 which is where it becomes a ‘love or hate’ situation. I will get into that after the end of the review so as not to spoil the ending for those who haven’t watched the show yet.

Now to talk about the characters. As I’ve mentioned before, FranXX is a character study. Thus you can’t be lenient on that aspect. I feel that Trigger has learnt from most of their mistakes with Kiznaiver. They managed to fix the romantic issues that were present in Kiznaiver and the twist of the characters not knowing about the concepts of love and sex was quite interesting. The characters aren’t super deep or anything like that nor do they need to be but a tad bit more depth would have been appreciated. FranXX tries to deliver a message of hope and of love: if you want almost nihilistic pseudo-philosophy then go beg for another Evangelion. You don’t ask for something extremely specific when it already exists.

The cast members are also sufficiently fleshed out. Some grow into their personalities early while a few fully develop after a timeskip. Zorome doesn’t change at all so that was a neat touch. As they say, some dudes never change. Interracial relationships are highlighted with Hiro and Zero Two’s struggles with their interspecies hoohaa. Emphasis is  put on gender roles and reproduction using the subplot of squad mates Kokoro and Mitsuru. I am an old school romanticist and simple romance like these with just the right amount of drama tickle my cardiac muscles. Honestly, in today’s world where sex, the most intimate of acts, is treated like holding hands and where disillusioned men and women actively hate each other for being the other gender the message that Kokoro and Mitsuru convey is most welcome. These two developed an understanding and procreated because, as Kokoro said, “I want to leave my mark.” (vital scene in the context of a plot reveal)

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Ichigo, the waifu behind many online death threats to the actual people who’ve worked on the show, shooting herself in the mouth.

 

Some might argue that the teenage crew of FranXX is way too dramatic but I don’t think so. They are 16 year olds going through late puberty in a war-ridden world with not even a definition for love and sex. What the fuck else were you expecting? You have no problem with Shinji and Simon being massively whiny fucks but now have complaints here where the whine is much less? Then there are the certain special folks who correlate the plot’s nuances, like how the mechas are piloted, to pedophilic tendencies. I… Huh? Honestly, it’s not even ironic. Some peeps actually believe this. That is a rant for another time, though.

Now for the technicalities! FranXX was a tri-studio collaborative effort and they did a great job with the animation. Fluid scenes, highly expressive facial animation, and detailed non-clunky CGI. A neat package. The mecha combat could have been better. Even though I don’t feel that FranXX is a mecha anime per se, they should still have made them more exhilarating. Another point to raise is that the mecha designs themselves are rather meh. The designs for the klaxosaurs are uninspired. The name is also stupid: they stop looking like dinosaurs a couple of episodes in. Considering how the Japanese language works, it could very well refer to being ‘ancient’ (because plot) but I still find to be rather ehhhh. These factors could very well prove to be mighty turn offs for those who came for the action and those who nitpick plot inconsistencies.

There’s also the constant use of the letterbox in impactful scenes. Works well.

The soundtrack is alright. Nothing that pumped me up or appealed to my ‘sad reacts’. The only time the music was on point and I was actually aware of it was the last episode. I wasn’t a fan of the ending songs. I loved the opening song, though. Mika Nakashima and L’Arc-en-Ciel’s Hyde have done an excellent job with ‘Kiss of Death’ and the animators have done justice to the OP’s visuals.

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A gif I made from the second OP. Just look at it. Damn.

Despite the numerous plot inconsistencies, most of which occur after episode 18, Darling in the FranXX is still quite a solid show. It doesn’t deserve the hate it is getting but neither should it be showered with accolades. While it has managed to form its own identity, it is bested by other works in the ‘genre’. ‘Borrowing’ elements and still managing to be its own thing isn’t such an easy task as one may think especially today when there is an oversaturation of ideas with bad execution. Think back to the PUBG vs Fortnite argument, please. FranXX could have done with refinement especially past episode 18. I am also disappointed that I did not get goosebumps even once over the course of the show. Trigger is my main goosebumps supplier. As such, on its own, Darling in the FranXX is a 7 out of 10 show for me until episode 18. After that is a 5 out of 10.

One final thing, though, I find it absolutely hilarious that fans of Eureka Seven are bashing FranXX even when Eureka Seven is utter crap after the first volume. This is coming from someone who has spent money on the whole manga, lol.

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The Writer And His Meows – A Review of Kedi (2017)

“A cat meowing, looking up at you is life smiling at you.”

Truer words have probably been spoken but these twelve in this exact order ring closer to the heart more than the others. This is one of the last few lines from the acclaimed Turkish documentary on ‘kedi’: that is, cats.

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But that is not what Kedi is only about. Kedi is a visually captivating aimless tale of love and connections between the people and cats of one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities on the planet – Istanbul. I use the term ‘diverse’ in its proper positively intended way, mind you. A soulful mix of the ancient and the modern playing a colorful regatta of good vibes all around. All to deliver one simply quaint message on the importance of love and the joys of life.

Kedi follows the tales of numerous cats and the people who take care of them. By the young and the elderly stories are told of problems, responsibilities, and of how the feline population of Istanbul goes about and act as an outlet for humans to be happy. And it does this all so extremely well.

Kedi never comes across as preachy or like an animal-rights hippie propaganda piece and that is exactly why it manages to deliver its payload of fluffy goodness in a way that lets you both thoroughly enjoy and think about what is happening on the screen. Sure, looming real problems, such as residential urbanization and the increasing lack of empathy in today’s increasingly cold world, are briefly touched but they never become the main topic as Kedi clearly draws the line and knows precisely what it wants to be and that is, quite ironically, being human. The right kind, that is.

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Now you might be thinking how exactly Kedi achieved this. It’s no short wonder that it owes it all to the crew that painstakingly went into nooks and crannies to get all they could on the stars, the cats, they wanted to feature. They managed to find things out about the cats that not even their humans knew of. “She has given birth but I am not sure where. I am sure that she we will get furious if another cat attacks her kittens,” said an interviewee as the camera diligently followed a tabby into a warehouse to show her assume her position as a menacing guard to a Bombay cat who is passing by.

It is not only the hard work of the crew that shines in Kedi. All the different cats and their humans have their own little amusing tales to tell as they each say highly quotable wisdoms.

“Meow,” Bengu meowed.

Marvelous. Seriously, though, most of what is depicted in Kedi is brimming with warmth and will make you heartily laugh like without worry when you see all the different antics of the various cats. There’s this one cat called Psychopath who’s the toughest gal in town. She has dogs cowering before her and she’s even got a male cat under her who she keenly watches over to ensure he isn’t stolen away by other more graceful cats. A real Babushka, no? Then there’s the mafioso rivalry over territory between Gamsiz and the new kitter in town known as Ginger as they chase each other around and intrude into poor Gece’s home and eat his food.

There are moments of sadness and quietness in Kedi as well. A kitten who has been attacked by a bigger cat and has to be taken to a vet. The man who had a nervous breakdown and his only road to recovery was finding happiness again when he got involved with the feline ones. A clear contrast is emphasized: find your rose in the midst of the gravel. And that arduously brings the point home with finesse. As someone who has raised many cats, and lost a decent number of them to Death, Kedi reminds you of the necessity of the values of Stoicism in one’s life.

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Ex-Nervous knows what’s up.

Coming to the technical of the review, I have to say that the directing and cinematography are absolutely gorgeous. Cuts to aerial views and shots from the water of Istanbul after every turn of the spotlight on a meowser really signifies the lives of them all. Then you have the aforementioned efforts of the crew to chase the cats to get that perfect shot too. These paired with the beautifully arranged soundtrack of xylophones, jazz, classical, and traditional Turkish beats really make up a high quality budget – especially on the big screen. I swear, if they happen to screen Kedi here in my city then I will be at the cinema in a heartbeat. Fingers crossed.

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That cat and I are so alike. Hurr durr suicide joke.
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Quality.

This documentary has been a deeply enjoyable ride for me. It’s one of the few animal focused documentaries that actually have soul. It also reminds me a lot of Tekkon Kinkreet, heh. Cat lover or not, I highly recommend Kedi. You can catch it on YouTube.

It (2017)

After having declined all plans to do something over the summer with my friends due to location and time constraint reasons, I was feeling guilty. Plus, I was also bored and loaded. So, come Friday night on the 15th of September, I was ‘persuaded’ by a friend to go and watch the premier of the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s renowned novel ‘It’.

Feeling somewhat satisfied with the money I spent on the movie, I thought it’d be a good idea to review the movie since it’s all hip and trendy right now and could get me those sweet, sweet internet points.

Before I start, though, I’m going to have to say that I have not read the novel before and the only written King work I have read and thoroughly enjoyed is ‘The Last Stand’. The complete uncut edition, that is. As you can see, I am fairly familiar with King’s prose but not the work the movie I am reviewing is the adaptation of. In other words, you can expect an acute angled degree of non-bias here.

Let’s get it on with the plot.

Bill Denbrough’s younger brother, Georgie, is lured by and feasted upon by the town’s resident spooky scary clown from Hell who joyfully calls himself Pennywise. Pennywise rises up from bed once every 27 years for an all you can eat buffet with the menu being comprised of the town’s children. Bill ain’t having none of that shit and manages to coax his current and ‘to-be’ friends from ‘The Loser Club’ to beat the crap out of the demonic carnival junkie. That’s basically all you need to know about the plot. There’s not much going for the mystery aspect of the movie so saying any more will be just me flaunting distasteful spoilers.

Now, you probably might be wondering why the previous paragraph is rather whimsical. Or not. Well, you should now. For my sake, please. Anyways, it’s like that because It did not scare me at all.

Now what exactly is the point of a horror movie that does not even slightly unhinges you? There’s no point. It’s just a waste of time. But, thankfully, I was at least jeepered out a couple of times. Sadly, they were only few and far between the entire length of the 2 hours and 15 minutes duration. One of the most unsettling scenes for me was the rock throwing competition with such head-shots that 360noscope420blazeits would be put to shame. Realistic bodily harm fucks me up to no end.

Another scene, which is also hands down the best, was the bathroom one with Beverly. The timing, build-up and execution of that scene was just impeccable. Almost the entire theater was up and out of its seats. Hell, one friend had screamed like a little bitch while another had his mouth open – to shut a good long while after the scene changed to comment, “Now that’s going to be a classic.”

And that’s what really muffs me up about It. It had the potential to be absolutely terrifying but, it relied way too much on overused sound effects and plastic CGI. Whenever a jumpscare would pop up you’d know beforehand since ‘BWAAAAAAA BWAAAAA BWAAAAAAAAAAAH’ is apparently thought to be a great use of sound to create just that chilling atmosphere a horror movie needs. I have no issue with CGI in general, by the way. As long as it doesn’t look too blocky or unrealistic then CG and I are real good pals. I can not fathom why the people who worked on the movie felt the need to create a CGI balloon of all things. It just felt out of place a lot of times and not in the good sense either.

Otherwise, the cinematography and direction are pretty great. Scenes have weight and transitioning is smooth. There are still a couple of snags here and there. Though, they’re only noticeable to worrywarts. I expect the Blu-Ray release to have quite a number of extra scenes because of this.

For a movie that managed to cut a whole LOT of content to focus on the main evil I have to say that it did a nice job. There’s a reason why a large number of people claim It to be a good horror flick. It might not have scared me but it did manage to bag the audience with its repertoire of tried and tested jumpscares. I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t get spooked much by non-interactive media anyways. The creepiest movie I’ve watched in recent times is ‘The Taking of Deborah Logan’ that was released back in 2014. My all time favorite would be the 1986 remake of ‘The Fly’ starring Jeff Goldblum’s charming insanity. So you can take my review on the horror aspect with a grain of salt.

What you shouldn’t pour salt on, though, is my thought on the movie’s approach to comedy. This is a King movie – if you weren’t expecting comic relief delivered via some of the most left-field dialogue and visual gags imaginable then, I’m sorry, you should read at least one Stephen King book before leaving this world. You’ve got 12 year-olds shouting, “OOOOUWAHOhat the fuck?”, cracking dick jokes, taking jabs at adult ‘your mom’ jokes, pedophilic references, and even the damned clown eliciting a giggle or two with his antics. Honestly, if It was a full-blown parody then I would have given it an easy 9/10.

Finally, let’s talk about the characters and acting. As someone who went into the movie theater with the general expectations of King’s style for writing characters, I would have to say I was pleasantly surprised with how well they were brought to life on the big screen. Except for a few minor roles that serve to just advance the plot in the menial of ways imaginable, you probably won’t have any issues with the cast of It. All of the child actors can actually act! Along with that being a rare sight, it is also a dearly welcome one. You could actually feel the fear in their eyes. Especially Jack Dylan Grazer as Eddie Kaspbrak. The scene with him cowering before Pennywise as he played peek-a-boo was just right. Or maybe Pennywise’s actor was just that good.

Speaking of the devil: Pennywise. Also known as It and The Dancing Clown. A terrifying role comfortably and masterfully acted by Bill Skarsgard who made the character into his own. His gaze, speech, and even his drool (Was the drool animated, hmmm?) managed to create a deeply worrying clown. If they had toned down the CGI for Pennywise then he would truly have shone as a proper terror of the deep.

Nevertheless, It was still an interesting watch and I had fun with it. I look forward to the sequel which is actually the second half of the novel – or so I am told. For now, It gets a 7.5 out of 10 from me. Score might drop if I read the novel. Which will be soon…

Manga, Colorings And I

(Proofread by my girlfriend, Tristana.)

Time to take a little break from the usual reviews I do and take a trip down a palette of a memory lane.

Colorings Lane, to be exact.

Nowadays I’m busy with games, anime, manga, learning Japanese (Human Japanese is a great app), and this blog here. Been watching anime and reading manga from ages ago and had started learning Japanese a while back in late January, if I recall correctly. I can proudly say that I can now read the sound effects while reading manga!

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I think it says ‘Kaaa~” there.

Anyways, there was a period during which I wasn’t that into PC gaming. Had no consoles at the time as my multiple PS1s and PS2s had both died and I skipped gaming altogether during the PS3/Xbox360 generation. All I had was a Pentium 4 desktop up till early 2012. And then, through hard saving and numerous loans from siblings, I managed to build myself a Core 2 Duo desktop after the death of the Pentium 4. Ran it till late 2014. Then I built my current rig. It was a fun experience. Learnt a lot – especially, ”When in doubt, fuck RAM.”

Before I got my current rig all I had for fun were binging animations and reading novels and comics. I’ve got a decent library of novels now, man, but I haven’t bought any new ones in the last 5 years. Got more into manga, I guess. And since all of my cash started going into my rigs, I couldn’t spare money on novels anymore.

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One day… I’ll be back novels. I’ll be back!

I mainly watched anime at first. One day, I found Beelzebub. Absolutely loved it. Until I got to the ending that is. It was an absolutely rushed fucked up job. So much so that I was willing to go on Reddit (urgh), of all places, and rant about it. But first, I decided to Google it. Turned out the manga was still ongoing. So, for the very first time in my life, I read a manga. Beelzebub’s manga. To this day, it is my #1 all-time favorite series and a little part of me died when it got axed.

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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

Though, anyways, back on track.
I came across a character called Mamon in the Beelzebub and I instantly thought to myself, “Boy, he would look great in colour.”

And, well, that’s what I did. I colored him. Using a an online Photoshop clone called Sumopaint I had found before reading the manga, I spent 30 to 45 minutes just messing around with the a crop from one of the last few chapters. I hadn’t had fun like that in a long time. When I was done, I was actually really damn well proud of myself. A rare thing, that’s for sure.

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The whites along the outline. Awwww. ❤

This is probably the first and only time I got skin coloring and shading right.

After I got all caught up with Beelzebub, I decided to check out the world of manga some more. I got onto Mangatraders (a pirate’s life for me) and downloaded Ichigo 100%. Really liked that too. Except for the ending. Fuck the ending. Fuck Junpei. Fuck.

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The worst coloring I have ever done. This is what Junpei deserves for the crap he pulled with Aya.

Next, came practice with a bunch of drawings a good artist buddy of mine. Around that time, we both had decided to make our own manga-style comic. We got to make 3 chapters over a couple of months but then, sadly, stopped due to time constraints. That’s also when I stumbled across Bakuman. and got a slight taste of what a mangaka’s life is like. Especially Mashiro and Takagi’s case. Friend and I were both in middle school at the time. It was fun while it lasted. I’d post some of the stuff we did together but I keep forgetting to ask permission so… Yeah.

I then got more invested into manga. Wanted to learn about panel placement and all that jazz. I found this manga called Tenjou Tenge by ONE. It had some downright jaw-dropping art. The raw details and creativity that went into his art was just spectacular. That manga might have gotten from good to crap in terms of story near its end but I will always remember it for its stunning drawings and excellent flow when it came to portrayal of combat.

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I then colored the MC of Tenjou Tenge.

I’m not sure exactly what I was trying to here with this coloring. Oh well, it turned out okay in the end, I guess.

Then, it was time for some nostalgia and continuations. I don’t how many of you all here have ever heard of History’s Strongest Discipile Kenichi. It was one of the first anime I ever watched that I actually knew was an anime – like we watched Digimon without knowing it was a Chinese cartoon. The anime ended at 1/20th of the manga’s total length. I decided to hit the manga and, boy, it was lewd as all hell. Shigure, damn.

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Kenichi ’bout to beat yo ass up.

Sad to say, though, I never actually ended Kenichi’s manga. I think I’ve got a 100 or so chapters left. Maybe I should finish it seeing as how the manga concluded a year or two ago.

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This is from Zombie Loan. Probably the laziest coloring I have done to date.

Bill Gates is proud of this, I think. Or he will be when I e-mail this to him. He’ll be overjoyed. Ehehehe…

MOVING ON, I then decided to mess around with backgrounds and make some of my own. It was around this time I had finally acquired Photoshop.

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DJ Lain courtesy of the anime And OST album cover. Which is best? Or do they all suck?

And now, we’re back to Zombie Loan with a new and upgraded sense for color!

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I think I’m seeing a pattern here.

Plant more trees, bitches. Seriously though, please plant more trees. I need fresh air. Lots of it.

I then took a break for a while. Got hit by the inevitable reality that one always gets bitch-slapped by when middle school is about to end: what highschool to attend and choosing career subjects. Had no more time left for this hobby. I still read books and such whenever I could, though. Gotta have fun every once in a while. All work and no play makes Jack dead inside and lusting for the sweet release that is death.

When exams and all that pain in the jazz ended on a high note, I finally had the time to get back into business once more. Immediately, I colored the bleeding ‘kyootie’ that is Karin Maaka from the manga about a nose-bleeding Vampire called Karin (Chibi Vampire for the English cats).

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oWo wut dis

You may have expected this by now: I took another break. My PC died and I was left internet-less for almost half a year. Unlike most teenage dirtbags my age, I did not own a cellphone. All I had to comfort and entertain me were my suit-book-case (I had no bookshelf so I stored my books in a suitcase) and my jolly PSP. Damn… I miss my PSP now.

When I finally built my current rig, I tried going back coloring stuff again. This time, I didn’t go far. I managed to do only two pieces.

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The colors are weird because my monitor at the time had a yellow overlay. Hardware issue. I asked my friend for hexcodes to colors I needed and that moron sent me entirely other codes for half the image. For example: asked for wood brown and got this light purple instead.

The funny thing about this is that I realized this a whole few months after initially uploading it and sharing it with my friends. None of them had pointed out the absurdity of this picture…

A month after this somewhat disastrous project, I read the wonderful manga called Koe no Katchi. I had binged it in a single night. It was just sooooooo damned good. So much so that I just HAD color one of the last few pages from it. I had spent over a week trying to get everything. It turned out much different than I had originally envisioned but it’s still my favorite project up-to-date.

Behold!

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The third one and no background are the best ones. The last one was just me fucking around with filters.

As amazed as I was by how good it had turned out, unfortunately, I had stopped coloring manga stuff altogether right after. Just lost the drive for it. My GPU had finally arrived from abroad and PC was ready to kick some major graphical ass. I immediately got lost in the world of MOBAs.

I recently tried to color a double-spread from Oyasumi Punpun, another brutally honest read, but it seems I have lost what little touch I had. Took much longer on it that I should have, as well.

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Spoiler alert?

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back onto Groove Street again.
Maybe I will.
Maybe not.
I don’t know.

What I do know is that this Punpun coloring is why I wrote this blurgh post.

Scusi.

Be With You (2004)

Ah, another  live-action movie review. This will be my third one. I am mainly an anime and manga reviewer (which I well get to soon) so reviewing movies isn’t really my thing. Though, I will be reviewing those flicks which I hold very dear and reckon not many people know about. For example, the Bakuman movie; a pretty good flick. And don’t forget the Dr. Strange Movie as well. Other than those heavily into comics, not many people knew he even existed. Without further ado, let’s get on to Be With You!

The very first thing I have to say is that I’m heavily in love with the movie. Be With You, in my opinion, is the best romance movie I have ever seen (yet).

The first time I watched it was a couple of years ago when an Asian friend had recommended it. Yep, even I was skeptical with that claim when I remembered the movie a while back. As a result, I planned to re-watch the movie and confirm the hardness of my statement. Soon, an opportunity presented itself at the most perfect of times: right when the monsoon rains began here a few days ago. The movie, sounds of the pitter-patter of droplets, roaring of thunder, and the howling wind were in harmony. I’m pretty sure the director and Satan/God are in cahoots…

Anyways, according to my 3 minute research, Be With You released on the 30th of October way back in 2004. It also has a manga, which was published a year after the movie’s release, and a novel, which came out two days before the movie. I have read neither but the general consensus is that the manga is just average. The world knows Be With You by this name but the Japanese the name is ‘Ima, ai ni yukimasu’. You can use either names to torrent the movie as the DVDs only exist in collections now.

Background information over.
Story is a-go.

Be With You has a rather simple yet intricately formed story. 30 year old Takumi and Yuji, his 6 year old son, are soon left to fend for themselves after the death of his wife, Mio. They live in a village where a children’s story, or a legend per se, says that a girl returns to life at the beginning of the rainy season and then leaves when the sun finally shoos all of the rain clouds away when the season is over. And, well, that’s what happens with Mio. A year after her death, she is found in an abandoned building in the middle of a forest with amnesia. The flabbergasted Takumi and the delighted Yuji take her back home where the wheels of romance revolve once more.

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These two actually got married after the movie. Sadly, they divorced a year later…

That’s the gist of the story. As to how she came back to life and the way Takumi and Yuji deal with the situation are spoilers. But what I will say is that the movie is coherently made and treats its audience as thinking individuals. Certain plot points require you to ponder over the numerous circumstances surrounding Mio’s reanimation and the relationship between her and Takumi. Be With You is a prime example of ‘show over tell’. Especially when the plot comes full circle in the last 30 minutes of the movie. Excellent direction and writing make this movie a must watch. There are even moments of well executed silliness for those sweet laughs.

By the way, the ending is bittersweet. It does not pull any of its aphrodisiac-strengthened punches. You will most likely shed a few tears. Funnily enough, it’s been reported that cinemas in Japan became wail-houses by the end of the movie.

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Rain, rain, don’t go away~ Please stay here another day~

The characters, again, no real need to go into them. Just what should be said is that they’re highly believable. Well, except for the school teacher. No kidding, but she gave me lolicon vibes. Ahahaha… Half-jokes aside, the characters, even the kid, are wonderfully developed and given enough time to form a near-perfect 3D shape. Though, the real issue would be the actors portraying them.

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I’m too lazy to check but I’m pretty sure this kid has gotten quite successful.

Yes, for people who aren’t used to Japanese cinema will easily be weirded out by the strange and maximum over-expressed acting in the first 35 or so minutes of the movie. This kind of acting is the norm in low-budget cinema and most Japanese television show so I was kind of used to it. Still, the acting in the first 35 minutes was just unusually bizarre. Thankfully, the actors finally managed to possess their roles like an anti-evil spirit and put on an excellent show for the rest of the movie’s duration. Even the kid grew – both literally and figuratively. For a 2-hour movie, the actors did well to redeem themselves.

Speaking of low-budget, the same can be said for the visuals and the camera-work in, again, the aforementioned duration. It just seems like they tried to start anew in the middle of production and someone decided to be a Yakuza and let stains be stains. Oh well, I don’t know.

The music, though, was a good fit. Soothing use of bells and chimes and pretty neat orchestral stuff. Cheery when it should be cheery, intense when it should be intense. The real cherry, however, was the song played during the credits sequence. ‘Hana’ by Orange Range. Some of you may recognize Orange Range by the upbeat and catchy songs ‘Asterisk’ and ‘Viva Rock’ used in Bleach and Naruto respectively. Hana’s style is a bit different but it’s an instant hit. It topped the Japanese musical charts for almost a year after Be With You’s release.

Overall, it’s quite obvious, that I hold Be With You in regard. Tinoudatin! But, it’s not a perfect movie. An objective score would be a 9/10.

pls watch dis

(since I couldn’t screencap while watching the movie, image courtesy Google searches)

Michiko to Hatchin (2009)

You ever open up the first episode of a show and you immediately get the sudden feeling this will be something truly remarkable? And right after you’re done with finally getting to experience what most have called a ground-breaking classic, you realize that the show is just decent at best?

Well, that’s what happened with me and Cowboy Bebop. The story was just OK; the characters, while interesting, were also not THAT great; the world building left quite a bit to the imagination; but the music and animation were beyond excellent. Still, I was very disappointed with it. It did not blow me away at all.

After that, I watched Samurai Champloo. It is another work by Shinichiro Watanabe, who directed Bebop up there, which many have hailed as another classic. Now THAT was something. It shone brightly in all the departments where Cowboy Bebop did not excel. Samurai Champloo was a blast from the beginning right till the end. Even the filler episodes were absolutely well crafted.

Going back to the questions I asked in the beginning of this review; I felt like that with Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, and a couple of other shows too. Like Bebop, a number of them failed to deliver upon that feeling. And, like Champloo, the rest went directly into my list titled ‘Annoy the crap out of people who haven’t seen these so they finally crack and be subsequently amazed’. You can guess which light novel I got inspired from.

Michiko to Hatchin (‘to’ – as in ‘and’) gave me that aforementioned feeling. But the catch here is this: did it also deliver?
It did. Mostly.

Synopsis From MyAnimeList: Under the unrelenting heat of the South American sun, hardened criminal Michiko Malandro breaks out of a high security prison for the fourth time in search of a man from her past. Michiko finds a clue in the form of Hana Morenos, a young girl trapped under the fists of her abusive foster family. In her powerlessness, Hana fantasizes about the day when she is finally whisked away from her captors by her very own Prince Charming. Little does she know that her fated prince would turn out to be the buxom and husky convict who charges in atop a stolen motorbike, claiming to be her mother.

The unlikely duo chase down their dreams in the sun-drenched land of Diamandra, navigating through the cacophony of betrayal, poverty, and child exploitation rings hiding in plain sight. However, wind of Michiko’s manhunt soon reaches the ears of criminal syndicate Monstro Preto, and a storm of gang warfare begins brewing over the horizon…

Michiko to Hatchin is the story of vibrant people and their clashing agendas, and of all the unlikely human connections drawn together by one elusive man.

Other than my talk of that ambiguous ‘feeling’ I kept on about, the first thing to note about Michiko to Hatchin is that it’s a lot grittier than both Bebop and Champloo. While Shinichiro Watanabe was involved with the anime, the actual directors are Murase Shukou and Yamamoto Sayo. There are a high number of shootouts, dead bodies, decisions taken by characters most viewers might not expect, and other ‘whoah’ factors. For an anime I’d like to call ‘the South American Bebop’, it is the perfect combination of setting, theme, and tone. Take a Tarantino flick and turn down the eccentric-ness of the scenes down a notch and you wouldn’t be far off with Michiko to Hatchin.

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It ain’t a pretty world.
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Getting OJ drunk after a show at a strip club. Hatchin wasn’t stripping, by the way.

Hell, the very the first episode will bring out your rage when you see the kind of crap Hana, nicknamed Hatchin, is pulled out of when Michiko gets her hands on her. Think of the Dursley’s treatment of Harry Potter and multiply it by ten.

As the episodes flow by the rage will subside very quickly and you will, being quite honest here, end up feeling a range of emotions from annoyance, genuine happiness, and a lingering sense of threat; to actual disgust. There’s action. There’s comedy. There’s a thing for just about everyone. One episode is basically a chapter from the traditional South American soap-operas we all are so familiar with. Michiko to Hatchin grabs all of these ideas and adds its own sense of bloody yet wacky style giving us a, to my knowledge, authentic Latin American craziness.

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Don’t let it undermine how badass Michiko actually is, though.

It is plain to see from all this praise that Michiko to Hatchin has a story that we won’t forget anytime soon but, it’s still not perfect. The anime starts off really slow and it often feels things aren’t really going anywhere. You’ll see Hatchin and Michiko arguing about menial matters in the fourth or so episode and you’ll see them do that again a few episodes later. It almost feels like they don’t really learn from their time together until way later in the story. While this doesn’t affect the story itself as much (things are always kept interesting) but the pacing and having most episodes start with our main duo arguing and making up in the end can feel a trite tiring. It did for me.

Another thing to bring attention towards before I move on to the characters is that plotholes in Michiko to Hatchin are plentiful. There are around two or three in the first episode itself. Exactly who was/is Hatchin’s mother? Just what exactly did Michiko do to get ten years in prison? If there was a third then I recall it, I’m afraid. Keep your eyes peeled deeper than an American stabbing Avocados for all of the other plotholes. It would make a neat treasure hunt, ehe.

The characters, in my opinion, are the real meat of the anime. Discussing them for even just a bit would mean revealing major spoilers so I’ll just briefly go through the main four.

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Some readers right now.

Considering all the crap Hatchin’s put up with for close to ten years while living with the unholy priest’s family, it’s fair to say that she is very different from most kids her age. Haughty, demanding authority, and law abiding (because she ain’t havin’ nunya dat shiet) make for one interesting non-shounen child character. She gets the most development in the series. Though, that’s only in the first episode. She doesn’t change or reflect on her actions even a little over the rest of the anime’s duration. Which would normally be well and good if it weren’t for the fact that the trait of ‘ora?!’ she keeps on pulling with everyone she meets, causing arguments, wasn’t treated like some cheap gag.

Michiko is… Well, she doesn’t change much. Not much to say here. Keep an eye out for buddy cum nemesis Atsuko, though.

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I think this might be a weird but good way to sum Michiko up.

Hiroshi gets extremely shitty development. It’s just all over the place. We barely get to know anything about him in episode 1 and and by the end of the last episode, we still know jack shit. He’s treated like some mysterious macho-kindness ejaculating machine when he’s really just very poorly written.

And, finally, Satoshi (Hiroshi’s once best friend). My favorite character of them all. The most interesting. You know you’ve done great with a character when he’s properly depicted as a male African in anime as we all know how black characters usually get treated in our weeaboo productions.

Except for a few, the rest of the characters are far from not being one-dimensional but they still manage to be interesting and fit in cozily with the brutal world depicted.

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For example: Fake Satoshi here.

Finally, technical stuff. Yippee!

The animation is standard for the period. Some episodes have great detail while some look like the budget went into pockets of the designer who thought up all the many different hip threads our dynamic duo adorn throughout the anime. What all the episodes have in common is the wide range of bright color and pretty neatly choreographed action scenes. I reckon more than 23 testicles are demolished by all of the female characters.

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Animation budget well spent.

While the soundtrack doesn’t have many tracks, it still keeps things exciting and ears perked. Instant entry into the music library~

My original score for Michiko to Hatchin was a 9 but seeing as it’s been a couple of days and the plot holes keep bothering me every now and then, I brought it down to an 8. I didn’t really care about them while watching the show but now they’re being a pain. Nevertheless, I still highly recommend Michiko to Hatchin – especially since virtually no one seems to fucking know about it. Sad, I know.

 

Flip Flappers (2016) ~with a dash of FLCL~

Flip Flappers. Yep, Flip Flappers. An anime about… something. With a name like that, Flip Flappers could be about a number of things. Most people would think it’s some sort of children’s show. But anime are children’s cartoons anyways, hurr durr. But, is that really so?

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Definitely for children.

Well, this original anime by Studio 3Hz, which did Dimension W, that ran from October to right before the New Year of 2016 is a mash up of many genres. While MyAnimeList lists Flip Flappers as comedy, adventure, and sci-fi only; it is not actually so. I don’t even know why it’s being touted as a sci-fi anime. It’s not sci-fi.

Anyways, this little 13 episode monomyth has basically got it all. Drama, yuri, comedy, horror, and you name it. Many people have resorted to describing Flip Flappers to be: “‘Inception’ met ‘FLCL’ and they both had gratuitous threesome sex with ‘Kodomo no Jikan’ in a liquor-fueled one night stand to produce this coming of age story about two middle school mahou shoujo probable closet lesbians”.

Yeah, I was paraphrasing up there but I bet I caught your attention with that. If not, then, here’s the MAL synopsis.

Synopsis from MyAnimeList:Cocona is an average middle schooler living with her grandmother. And she who has yet to decide a goal to strive for, soon met a strange girl named Papika who invites her to an organization called Flip Flap.

Dragged along by the energetic stranger, Cocona finds herself in the world of Pure Illusion—a bizarre alternate dimension—helping Papika look for crystal shards. Upon completing their mission, Papika and Cocona are sent to yet another world in Pure Illusion. As a dangerous creature besets them, the girls use their crystals to transform into magical girls: Cocona into Pure Blade, and Papika into Pure Barrier. But as they try to defeat the creature before them, three others with powers from a rival organization enter the fray and slay the creature, taking with them a fragment left behind from its body. Afterward, the girls realize that to stand a chance against their rivals and the creatures in Pure Illusion, they must learn to work together and synchronize their feelings in order to transform more effectively.

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This is why I watched Flip Flappers. I love this image.

If you read the synopsis and thought that Flip Flappers sounds like any other mahou shoujo anime then you, sir, are horribly wrong.

Let’s first talk about the story.

Being compared to Gainax’s actual magnum opus, that is FLCL and not that trash Neon Genesis Evangelion, one would expect a lot from Flip Flappers – especially in the department of ‘God, I have no idea what’s going on but I sure am loving this!’
While FLCL and Flip Flappers do share a lot things in many departments, the story is actually the place where they are the least similar.

FLCL had a distinct style of relaying its story that heavily relied on comedic exposition through visuals and saucy dialogue. Flip Flappers adopted style and slightly changed it into an episodic format friendly one. With each episode, the style metamorphosed just enough to let each individual episode come off as its own unique portion that subtly builds on the world of Flip Flappers through creative use of varying scenarios in the anime’s rather flip-floppy plot device (maybe location in this context?) called Pure Illusion.

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A trip to Pure Illusion on one particular day.
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During the trip the next day.

To be honest, this way of story telling is very confusing for viewers who aren’t used to noticing every teeny tiny detail in a scene. Bring subtitles into the picture and the viewer tends to miss out on even more details. That means to fully enjoy Flip Flappers, at least second watch should be essential for most. I know I will be rewatching it as I think I missed out on a major plot point. And, if I didn’t miss anything then Flip Flappers has a giant plot hole. Either way, not going go discuss that part due to fairness.
This also shows the kind of issues prevalent with stories like the ones Flip Flappers and FLCL have.

At times the pace might be really slow and then accelerate matters into full gear in five seconds tops. For an anime like this, that isn’t really a problem unless if the areas of snail-hood go into filler-like territory. This is, sadly, something Flip Flappers tends to do a lot. While Flip Flappers is director Kiyotaka Oshiyama’s first full-fledged work, he still has had a lot of practice with anime greats like Dennou Coil, the Fullmetal Alchemist movies, and the second season of Space Dandy. He did a good job with Flip Flappers but, honestly, he could have done a bit better.

Other than these points, Flip Flappers has an engaging story with a somewhat satisfying conclusion that’ll require you to fire up some neurons to actually understand the story. It’s nothing mind-blowing but you still get that warm feeling like the one you get right after an intriguing puzzle.

In my opinion, the greatest thing about Flip Flappers’ story is that everything is in the anime itself. You won’t need to go online or harass your neighbor’s weeaboo pet dog for answers. In the case of FLCL, pretty much most of the story was almost entirely up to one’s imagination. That thing was cool chaos in animated form but it didn’t help itself by butchering it’s coherence.

Now onto the characters.

For a coming of age story, the main character has to be great. Coconoa is not. She is just okay and that wouldn’t have been a problem if she wasn’t the worst character in the entire anime’s cast. Even the two twin villains, whose most recognizable trait is that they repeat the one another’s line, she routinely goes up against are more interesting that her. Maybe if Coconoa was just a bit less emo for her age then she would have been loads better. It’s true that she is empty and the anime is about her finding her identity but she wasn’t handled well in that regards. The biggest moment of these to not is when she blows fuses a couple of time for tiny reasons which is something her character isn’t supposed to do at all.

In comparison, Papika was handled much better better. While she was still a tad one-dimensional at first, she quickly rose up to shine as having the most and best character development by the time the last episode hit the credits. Going into detail about Papika would require me to spoil the story but I will say that she should be paid closer attention than Coconoa. The same goes for the rest of the characters. While being heavy cardboard cutouts, they each had their own funky charm. Hell, the Goddamned pet rabbit of Coconoa had more personality than her.

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13 Papikas Why (kill me for being trendy)

Nearing the end~

The character designs and the fun use of many saturated colors provide the animation with kind of spunk and whimsical intensity a show like Flip Flappers need. The animators knew what they were doing. Unfortunately, they didn’t have the time to fully realize their goal so many corners had to be cut.

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w0w

As usual, I watched the anime in 1.5x playback speed and noticed a number of places where the color was missing and things like a character having an item in one hand and not having it in the next were very common. You shouldn’t be noticing things like these in visually heavy anime at increased playback speed. I’d be damned if I don’t say that at times the animation had many frames missing and it felt like I was watching at reduced speed…

The background music was fun. I may snag the OST sometime soon. I didn’t like the OP. The ED was just perfect.

By the way, take this.

Voice acting is same as most stuff. The crazy scientist was the summit and all of the times Papika goes on her usual ‘coconoacoconoacoCOnoaCOcoNOAAAAAAA’ spiels was downright fucking annoying.

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CRAZY SCIENTIST

To end, I’m going to say that Flip Flappers is a 7.5/10 in my book.
Ignore the rating and still watch it. It’s a fun ride I’d recommend to anyone. Except for lolicons.

Koe no Katachi (2016)

This review is for the anime movie adaptation of the hit manga series called ‘Koe no Katachi’ – which also goes by the names ‘A Silent Voice’ and ‘The Shape of Voice’.

I will be comparing this movie to the original manga quite a fair bit. Spoilers are to be expected.

As I wholeheartedly recommend this movie, you should watch the movie first and then read this review.

Man, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve last written a review. That has to mostly do with the fact that I haven’t seen much anime during my absence along with the opinion that my studies are (read: were) more important. Also, playing League of Legends and Dota 2 sure does takes the wind out of a person, huh? Especially if they’re stuck in ranked…

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SORRYMASEN

Anyways, back to the topic at hand.

Koe no Katachi. Written and illustrated by Yoshitoki Ooima.

I started reading the manga right before the last chapter published. The rave reviews and the constant mentioning on MyAnimeList is what brought the manga to my attention and, boy, I’m sure as hell glad it did.

Koe no Katachi broke my heart, mended it, tore it out again, sent it to the cobbler, only to have him trod on it mercilessly, summon a magical fairy to fix it up again, and then left it with a bunch of scars.
Almost two and a half years later, the anime movie adaptation released to Blu-ray and I had to go through all of THAT again.

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A rollercoaster of emotions, I tell ya hwat.

Synopsis from MyAnimeList: Ishida Shouya bullies a deaf girl, Nishimiya Shouko, to the point that she transfers to another school. As a result, he is ostracized and bullied himself with no friends to speak of and no plans for the future.

This is the story of his path to redemption.

First thing to note before I dive into the specifics is that I really love the movie. I was very skeptical about it when the movie announcement was made.

“How could they make a 60+ chapter story into a movie and make it work, lol?”

And, well, they did. Kudos to director Naoko Yamada and the rest of the crew. They knew exactly what to add and cut to make the on-screen version of Koe no Katachi such a flawed yet extremely satisfying watch. I am glad I waited the two and half years for this. This movie will probably make it into ‘classics’ lists after some time. B-believe it!

Now to get digging.

The Koe no Katachi movie starts off like any other contemporary Japanese movie would. Slow bells and chimes. Lots of panning. A number of cuts. Swoosh-in and swoosh-out. Wax on, wax off. Disregard the wax.

Though, unlike most of Japanese cinema, Koe no Katachi made fantastic use of ‘My Generation’ by The Who to set the perfect tone and pace for the movie. Yep, that’s an English song. By The Who. Who could have imagined? And it fits so well. Yikes.

We see Shouya Ishida, our main character, wanting to jump off a bridge and kill himself. Why, though? Because he bullied a deaf girl way back in middle-school, got called out and collectively blamed for being the only one to make the poor girl feel like a piece of shit, and then he was made into the class’ new harassment toy in her stead after the balance was tipped.

Well, OK. But is he dead? Did he kill himself?

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Nah. Suicide is badass. He’s just not cool enough. Well, I mean, pathetic enough. So he decides to get in touch with the girl whose life he helped ruin and set things right. Live for her. In some way, any way, try to give her back the childhood she missed out on.

This sets up the beginning of the movie and the rest from here on is a story about redemption, acceptance, self-searching, and a teeny bit of love.

Speaking of love, one thing to realize, though, is that Koe no Katachi is NOT a love story. It has a romantic sub-plot but that’s it. Nothing more. I know that a lot of people were turned off by both the manga and anime not giving a proper conclusion as to the relationship between Shouko Nishimiya, our local deaf cutie, and Shouya. To be honest, it’s not even really needed. The movie fixes this by not making this a part of the main plot at all – while the manga completely butchered that aspect of the story in it’s sad attempt at an ending.

Maybe the manga was axed? Maybe the mangaka got impatient? I don’t know. Regardless, that ending should not have happened. And this is probably why, despite all of the plot related shortcomings, I prefer the movie more.

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See. Even Shouya agrees.

Anyways, the movie is an excellent package of creative cinematography and a quite decent musical score by none other than Kensuke Ushio (who did the wonderfully upbeat sounds for ‘Ping Pong The Animation’) pulling up a heart-wrenching story onto a platform of a greater height. Viewers will most likely end up liking the movie a lot but will complain about the several plot holes which, by the way, can be easily remedied by reading the manga. A pretty neat-o advertisement, no?

The viewers will ask, though, “Why read the manga when I just watched the movie?”
Well, even though the Koe no Katachi movie would feel complete to some viewers, it is actually missing a whole lot of content that was in the manga. Most of the side characters don’t get explored much. Actually, they don’t get explored at all. A number of events that stir up trouble within the recuperating group of teenagers, who want to be friends but are too socially inept for that bees-wax, don’t happen.

Like, for fuck’s sake, one of the characters is called Kawai. She’s one hell of a fake princess who always keeps shifting blame onto others and pretending to be a white lamb. In the manga, she gets a verbal trashing from her prince charming, Mashiba, and that is one of the most satisfying scenes in the manga for me. Too bad Kawai is just a bitch in the movie. Nothing else. Oh, did I mention Mashiba? Yep, I did. Mmmhmmm. He barely gets any lines and is just a throw away character.

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I wonder if the director saw this scene and went, “Nope, we ain’t got time for that shit,” and then did the same with the side-characters.

 

So, yes, while Koe no Katachi’s movie is superb it still fails quite a bit in the characters department. But, I guess it’s to be expected. I don’t see how they could have crunched all or most of the sub-plots into just 2 hours. Maybe a 3 hour movie, eh? Nah, people would have complained.

Before I wrap this up, got to get into the animation and voice side of things.
The animation has been well above the standards Kyoto Animation has set for itself. Many different colors blending quite nicely in the light color scheme. Great use of lighting and abstract scene transitioning make the animation really smooth and a delight to watch. I usually watch anime at 1.5x playback speed but not this time, hehe.

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SOMEBODY once told me
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The world was gonna roll me
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I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed…

And to the voice-acting. The seiyuu casting was almost perfect. Especially for Shouko. Damn. I wasn’t sure how they were going to handle her mumblings and attempt at speech but her seiyuu, Saori Hayami, was up to the task with finesse. I was mightily impressed. The seiyuus for the other characters did a good job as well. Some characters sounded differently than I had imagined them whilst reading the manga but, they were fitting voices, Brent. My only qualm was with middle school Shouya’s voice. He sounded less coherent than Shouko at times. Not a good job there.

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I had imagined something much different as Nagatsuka’s, Shouya’s new friend, voice. He alsom sadly, doesn’t get fleshed out on-screen as much as he should have so their relationship may seem somewhat platonic to some.

My enjoyment of the movie was a whole 10/10.
But, from the objective side of things, the score would be close to an 8.5 or 9, I guess.

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Don’t forget: this movie is also a good manga.

Dead Men Tell Tales – A Review of Shigofumi (2008)

After the excellence that is ‘Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’, I had decided to catch up to some ongoing shows with new seasons and, due to an itching for an echhi comedy, I settled for ‘Noucome’ as well. Noucome was pretty damn funny but nothing to write home about. Then a friend told me to check out ‘Shigofumi’ and write a review on it. Four days later, I obliged.

That title up there is basically what Shigofumi, which is translated to ‘letter from the departed’, is all about. Slap on an overarching plot and you get the makings of an original anime leaning supposedly heavily on the psychological thriller side. I used the term ‘supposedly’ as it eventually devolves into a meager slice-of-life romp with uninspired twists and a less than satisfactory ending.

To elaborate on the anime’s name, imagine dying and being allowed to send a single letter or object to any one person in the world. There are no rules to what you can send so the creative possibilities that can arise with this premise are seemingly endless. Add to that a supernatural postal service comprised of former live-folk and things get even more interesting. This is the gist of Shigofumi. The anime builds on this premise to go into a mystery of sorts concerning a certain postman, Fumika, who, unlike all other postmen, doesn’t age. The region over which she goes about her daily duties is related to her death and gradually connections are made to link it to the overarching plot.

This all sounds intriguing, no? Of the many anime my friend had offered me to watch and write upon, I picked Shigofumi just for the premise. I thought it would have made a shorter and better version of the ‘Jigoku Shoujo’ series where a young girl goes around granting people a chance to curse the source of their issues in exchange for eternal damnation. Shigofumi actually kind of emulated what made Jigoku Shoujo work and even, at times, surpassed it. Sadly, though, this was only true for episodes that did not focus on the overarching plot.

Shigofumi failed to have me interested in its main course. The appetizers and dessert were delightfully grim but the rest lacked flavor. It tried too hard to be this ‘intelligent thriller’ so much so that it failed to be at least somewhat surprising. This is mostly due to not refining the finer details regarding the whole postal service and the rules involved. You don’t have a clear understanding of how one becomes a postman nor do they delve into the obvious major flaw in the plot – why don’t most people know about the letters anyway? There’s also the fact that Fumika repeats several times that the postmen are not allowed to directly interfere with the lives of humans and yet they keep doing so over and over again. And then there’s the whole Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) twist in the main plot that is so lazily implemented that it feels like an insult to both the audience and the disorder itself.

It’s quite disheartening to see that this anime with so much potential suffers so damn hard from the crappy writing. I could have let this slide had they not linked even the most disconnected of the episodes to the overarching plot. It’s quite a shame seeing as these few episodes are actually quite good. You have murder out of necessity, suicide, child abuse, the whole shebang! None of these subjects are grossly romanticized nor are they watered down for casual consumption. They don’t preach that they are not acceptable and evil. They’re just things that people do in this messed up world due to circumstances. I like how these topics were maturely treated. But, as ol’ Ouroboros hisses in disdain, the main plot really undermines the only decent to good writing and directing in the show.

The cast of Shigofumi was just average. Nothing really special. The only standout character was a certain author, Mikawa Kirameki, but that was only because of how hilariously retarded he was. He was handled much too bizarrely to be even seen as an actual character at all. It’s like he was being controlled by a bunch of 4chan anons all of whom were trying to one-up each other with the next crazy ass thing for him to do. Hmmmm, I’d be interested in seeing an anime or visual novel like that done properly. Twitch Plays Anime. No one steal this idea.

Anyways, J.C.Staff did a God awful job with the animation for Shigofumi. They botched it. They botched it real bad. I’m going to let the pictures speak for themselves. By the way, the pictures are all still frames – none of that in-between frames stuff.

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Bottom left’s eyes.
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Eyes and mouth.
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Eyes once more.
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SONO ME DARE NO ME

The music was also nothing noteworthy. Hell, I don’t even remember any background music except for I guess some hard bass in some scenes. The ending song was alright. The opening song was funky. Ali Project makes some weird but catchy songs, I gotta say. If you don’t know who they are then the names ‘Another’ and ‘Tatakau Shisho: The Book of Bantorra’ might help you remember.

I could have gone a bit more into why Shigofumi’s narrative largely sucked but I decided not to. I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone but I would mention it to folks who want some good old man based creepypastas. Plus they might actually like the overarching plot (like the majority) so going into heavier spoiler territory would be distasteful. I also don’t want them to miss out on the sombre third episode on casual suicide.

To conclude, ShiGOfumi gets a 5 out of 10 from me.

If M. Night Ever Made an Anime – A Review of Wolf’s Rain (2003)

Wew. That title itself is a signal that ‘Wolf’s Rain’ is most likely an anime I may not have enjoyed much. It’s also a clever tactic that is the bane of all intellectual writing: clickbait. Have I finally stooped so low? Anyway, those who have read my past reviews should know enough about me to be able to tell that I’m not the kind of person to appreciate or growl at a work in a generalized fashion nor one to simply write off a project due to it belonging to a specific niche. Truth be told, sometimes M. Night actually does make good movies. The twists and turns he so worships are sometimes kind to him. 2016’s ‘Split’ is a good example. Although I haven’t seen it myself, others have told me the man has gotten his wish coins’ worth. Of his movies that I have seen, I found ‘Devil’ to be a pretty fun watch and ‘Stuart Little’ is a fond childhood memory.

Speaking of times gone by, Wolf’s Rain started airing around the time the west started being more open to the cartoons from the east. It’s safe to say that this anime might have been the one to introduce a significant number of teenagers to anime back then. A lot of these same viewers still look back with gleaming eyes with the thought that Wolf’s Rain was and probably still is one hell of a show. Well, I’m going to pull a quick ‘M. Nightie’ here and announce beforehand that I would not recommend Wolf’s Rain to anyone.

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I wish I could do this when finding an anime to watch.

The story starts off with a train-jacking led by one of the leads, the brooding Tsume. The next day, he encounters a white wolf near his gang’s hideout and he and the wolf duke it out. Turns out Tsume is also a wolf but in the guise of a 70’s biker. Their fight is interrupted and soon the white wolf, Kiba, is captured by the dystopian animal-control services. Kiba then meets the energetic golden-brown Hige in jail and they both make a run for it. Wondering what Tsume was up to? Well, he was saving the mudblooded wolf pup Toboe from a sheriff hellbent on revenge against their kind. An episode or two later, in a mix of desperation and wonder, our main wolves together and anyone else important to the plot leaves the city to find the Paradise that Kiba and apparently all other wolves are obsessed with from birth.

The plot is driven mostly by Kiba’s intense elusive longing for the Paradise that the wolves seek and the knowledgeable humans dread. Wolf’s Rain is an anime that relies on the journey itself to bring the story home. The destination does not matter. Literally – but that is a clarification for later. There are hints to a hidden overarching plot early on but it doesn’t really take shape until far too late for you to actually care. Well, maybe not you. I know I didn’t care. Sometimes it felt like a chore trying to connect all the dots because Wolf’s Rain deliberately obfuscates crucial plot points in order to emphasize its narrative as an enigma. Sadly, this poor handling of the writing does not work at all. Obscurity works just fine in a well defined world. Wolf’s Rain’s world-building could be compared to setting up a porta-potty and then kicking it over. Like a Minecraft server hosted on an 80’s PC, the world is barren and very little effort has been made to fill it with necessary information. Many questions pop up during the journey and almost none of them are answered at the end of the line. Why had the world gone to shit before the beginning of the anime? Just how can the wolves take up human form? What exactly is ‘alchemy’? Just what is the background of the power of the Nobles? And so on and so forth. It almost seems like the writers simply forgot what makes a sci-fi world work and still went forward with what they had for ‘intellectual’ shits and giggles.

While Wolf’s Rain gets the fundamentals wrong, it still manages to do some things right. The pacing, for one, is actually quite airtight (until the repetition point comes up). The dialogue is quite solid most of the time. Most importantly, though, the character interactions are on point. Unfortunately, the most important characters are not up to par with the supporting cast which is a mighty shame.

Kiba’s character is more or less just a personification of the act of finding oneself. Ironically, Kiba is the one who gets the least development. He’s a hard-boiled wolf at first and at the last episode he’s still the same wolf just with a smile. Alright. Next we have the main villain who goes by Lord Darcia. He’s a character template stir fried and served with a bowl of sour cliches. He’s a living Desu XD Machine (which is just an advanced Deus Ex Machina). His actions make no sense and his personality can be easily bested by Ash Ketchum in a contest. Finally, we have Cheza. She is literally a flower brought to life. She is shown to be the wisest of them all and yet this vegan reincarnate goes jumping off into situations that could have wiped out the four main wolves in the blink of an eye – but they don’t, thanks to the Desu XD Machine working at full force.

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This’ll be me when the elitists read this review and come-a-knockin’.

Bah! I was supposed to talk about the good points of the anime. I should do it quick in this paragraph before I find myself jumping to ranting about the conclusion. As I said earlier, the supporting cast is actually pretty nice. They all get decent development and you even get to feel for a few of them. It was fun to follow Toboe. The twist with Hige’s past was the only twist that was actually done properly. We discover that Tsume isn’t just a Kiba from the 70’s. There’s also Sheriff Quent and his dog, Blue, whose backgrounds and interactions not only with the existential-crisis-couple of Detective Lebowski and scientist Cher Degre but with the wolves as well make for a good base for the overarching mess of plot to work on. The relationship between Quent and Blue is handled quite nicely, I must say.

I don’t really discuss the endings of the shows I review unless I absolutely have to. Considering the anime’s age and the fact that I don’t recommend it to anyone, I might as well talk about it. The last six of episodes of Wolf’s Rain is a strange mixed bag of good and over-bad. It becomes quite clear before the start of the sixth from last episode that everyone is going to die and they do. I would applaud this ballsy move had it not been for the last episode which just resets the world and therefore making the deaths meaningless. This is also when Lord Darcia just goes full wolf shit in both mind and body and we keep getting hit by these nonsensical twists. Lord Darcia wants to cure his waifu with the advent of Paradise. His waifu is killed by another villain. He’s like ‘oh well lol’ and then resurfaces later to meet the other villain who turns out to be the sister of his waifu. There are absolutely no indications towards this twist. This bitch is responsible for throwing an already fucked world into even more chaos just so she could get a chance at getting her clams appraised by Lord Darcia. It’s just… a mess.

Onto the technical messes now. The animation is standard for the time. I watched the BluRay version and I can honestly say that there is nothing impressive about the animation. The character designs are alright. The fights are meh.

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See? Nothing impressive. Not only was this show so boring that I didn’t take more than three screenshots, but there was nothing in the animation or background designs that I thought would be worth saving – even for review purposes.

I wish I could at least be happy with the soundtrack. Yoko Kanno was involved with the anime. She has made fantastic music for many anime which include ‘Cowboy Bebop’, ‘Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex’, and ‘Zankyou no Terror’. I am quite disappointed with the soundtrack. The background music did not leave any impression on me. The opening song, while fitting, did not strike my chords. I only ended up liking the ending song ‘Gravity’ which was performed by Mayaa Sakamoto.

Sigh, what wasted potential. I was originally going to score Wolf’s Rain a 6/10 but it took me two days to write this review and over the course of the days I thought a lot about the ending and the setting itself. I then decided to go for a 5/10. That’s the fairest I could go for considering the many flaws. BUT WAIT! There are a lot of high profile names attached to Wolf’s Rain, like Dai Sato, so it’s quite evident that it could have been better. So, I will give a 4/10 out of pure spite.

NOW AIN’T THAT A SPICY TWIST

 

An Unseen Blossoming – A Review of Hanasaku Iroha (2011)

People often go about Google with curious search terms such as ‘underrated anime’ or ‘obscure but good anime’. This results in often dubious lists in forums and other sites where people mostly post a decently well-known show claiming them to be underrated or in need of another season. No, Cowboy Bebop is not underrated. We also do not need a second season of whatever trashy anime with underage girls partaking in lewd acts that may have caught your fancy (cough Eromanga Sensei cough).

Surprisingly, though, I have never once seen Hanasaku Iroha mentioned anywhere. Neither in the aforementioned lists nor in random conversations pertaining to its genre and general content. I came across this slice-of-life anime while going through MyAnimeList’s Top anime section. The synopsis had me interested enough to wait for three weeks for the only decent torrent I could find to finish downloading. As I watched the very first episode, while thanking the sole two seeders from the bottom of my pirate, I had wondered if the wait would be worth it. And so, let’s see if it was.

Hanasaku Iroha starts off with protagonist Matsumae Ohana coming home to find out that her mother, Matsumae Satsuki, has to skip town to avoid debt collectors. Satsuki takes along her boyfriend but tells Ohana that she will have to stay at her grandmother’s quaint inn out in the countryside. Seeing as how Ohana and her mother keep bouncing from places, Ohana doesn’t seem all too troubled. That is, until her only friend drops the bombshell of a romantic confession on her and dashes. Ohana is then left to leave Tokyo on her own and arrives at Kissui Inn where her grandmother, Shijima Sui, coldly informs her that she will be earning her stay by working at the inn. Thus we are presented with 26 slices of the Kissui Inn cake along with a dainty muffin in the form a movie titled ‘Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home’.

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Satsuki in action.

I have seen a lot of slice-of-life anime. Hell, technically, the very first anime I had ever watched was ‘Tenshi na Konamaiki’ – a slice-of-life with a huge emphasis on gender-bending. Anywho who has watched enough of the genre know that the plot is often trivial and what matters is how the characters keep the narrative going while still managing to keep you heavily interested. Shows like ‘Daily Lives of Highschool Boys’ and ‘Nichijou’ keep you hooked with their bizarre comedy. Some shows like ‘Tanaka-kun is Always Listless’ do so with its calming atmosphere. Then there are a couple of rare ones in the vein of ‘The Devil is a Part-timer’ where the focus is more on the absurdity yet believable seriousness of the plot. My point is that a good slice-of-life should be more to the table and, thankfully, Hanasaku Iroha serves delicious peach juice with its slices.

The plot is, without a doubt, generic. Seeing as it deals with the running of an inn and the lives associated with it, one not accustomed to the genre would dismiss the show as boring. Hanasaku Iroha cleverly deals with that issue by making Ohana storm through the first couple of episodes with fervor and then toning her down for development to make way for the supporting cast to, in Ohana’s own words, sparkle. These developments are accompanied by scenarios such as scams, familial strife, dives into the workings of various roles that make the inn a success, the economy, and the usual highschool high jinks so there is a firm grip on the viewers’ interest.

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There’s also stuff like this.
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This – Sabagebu meets Hanasaku Iroha.
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Oh and this as well.

My only qualms with the plot would be that it could be used to bring attention to the countrysides of Japan. Some light should have been shone on regional flowers, leisure activities, information on the location, and so on but it felt like the flashlight was in need of new batteries. There are only tiny mentions here and there and that just doesn’t satisfy me. I know I’m reaching a tad bit with this complaint but these minute details could have added a charming sense of ‘authenticity’ to the experience. It could have even helped make the audience want to visit places like the Kissui Inn and also put a brighter spotlight on rural development as is evidenced here.

With that out of the way, I should now talk about the soul of any good slice-of-life show, namely, the supporting cast. To do that, I’ll first yap a bit about Ohana. Ohana’s character is pretty much by the book except for the time when she hits a major slump and we see some quite heavy development. You wouldn’t really expect Ohana to get the treatment she gets by the writers but they go above and beyond with her especially in all the scenes concerning her romantic issues with the boy she had to leave behind in Tokyo. It’s not the usual overacted stuff you would normally see. She grows naturally over the course of the show learning from lessons and pondering matters sensibly like any reasonable teenage girl would. Or maybe I’m praising her a bit more than I should be since seeing the ‘HENTAI BAKA IIIIIDONTACTUALLYLOVEYOU YAMETETETTE’ spiel for the hundredth time is exhausting.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, the way Ohana’s character is handled allows the supporting characters to really bounce off her and cement themselves as their own beings that are still growing. While the youngsters; which include Ohana, Nako, Minko, Tohru, and their friends, see a healthy dose of D-velopment+, the adults don’t shy away from peeling off their layers to keep the story going. Going by Satsuki’s first impression in pilot episode one would think she is the typical useless mom and won’t show up again but she does reappear several times. Each time she does you get a new look into the triangular dynamic between the three generations of the Shijima women. She is both a fine character and a plot device. The same goes for Sui who is the manager of the inn. Composed to a tee and eyes set on keeping up the traditions, she helps the young ones grow into fine people with the right amount of guidance and employment of local inn-keeping etiquette.

Even the most minor of the supporting bunch are dealt with so delicately that there is this undeniable charm about them. Denroku, lovingly called Beanman, barely speaks a few words every couple of episodes or so and yet he seems as fleshed out as everybody else. The head-chef, Ren, also rarely ever speaks about anything other than kitchen orders but his expressions and periods of whimsy show us a lot about his character. There are very few wasted lines. The dialogue is simple yet witty and/or soothing enough to give characters like these the push they need to work on the screen. I like how distinct they are. You’ve got someone who you can barely hear to someone who won’t shut the fuck up.

Some examples of life in Hanasaku:

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Speaking of which, I liked all of the characters except for Minko, the chef-in-training. While you have a broad range of interesting characters, Minko sticks out like a sore thumb. Her personality is just being a tsundere. You have mostly realistic portrayals of teenagers in Hanasaku Iroha and here, with Minko, you get unneeded tropes that spoil stuff. She even has a Goddamn catchphrase, for Christ’s sake. You end up somewhat liking her by the end of the show but she is very annoying in the first half.

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Fucking Minko.

Moving on, P.A. Works, the studio behind Hanasaku Iroha, has done a nice job with the anime. The animation is standard for the time. There are little touches in the background which make the scenes really pop. Characters will be chatting over coffee in a cafe and, through a window, you could see a woman leave a bus, wait for her boyfriend, and then they would leave together. The character designs are quite good as well. They’re as 2011-ish as they can get but the designs are so vibrant and matching the personalities they end up sticking with you.

Since Hanasaku Iroha tries to create an environment of calm (mixed with hectic frenzy) inn keeping with the content of the show, there is sparse background music. There are bits of what one could assume to be a mashup of elevator music, piano, and violin. I liked all of the opening and ending songs. Most of them are performed by nano.RIPE. The anime makes up for the lack of background audio with seven different ending songs. The fansub I had downloaded had not subbed the songs so I can’t say whether various changing ending songs have anything specific to do with the plot or certain characters. The voice actors have also done a good job. Most fit their roles and did not go overboard with the overacting some characters required.

Overall, P.A. Works did an excellent job with this original anime especially since this is one of their earliest works. Their most notable work before this was ‘Angel Beats’. After Hanasaku Iroha, they went on to work on ‘Shirobako’, ‘Another’, ‘Charlotte’, and many others. Their currently working on ‘Tenrou: Sirius the Jaegar’ which seems to be gaining a sizable following. Back to the point, though, despite the minuscule issue I had with the plot and the Minko’s braying I massively enjoyed the show. I am going to rate it a 9/10. An 8.5/10 would be accurate but I want others to watch this. Hanasaku Iroha is a slice-of-life anime for the sake of the genre done right.

Nothing Avoids the 21st Century – A Review of Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo (2004)

‘Gankutsuou’ is an anime adaptation of the 19th century author Alexandre Dumas‘ most famous work called ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’. I stumbled upon this anime while going through MyAnimeList’s top selections for something to watch. I was intrigued by it being an adaptation of a classic French masterpiece and many reviews giving it a perfect score so I went ahead and downloaded the only torrent I could find of it that still had seeds. Pretty strange for a highly rated anime series to not have a decent quality torrent but, hey, it’s pirating and you take what you get.

Before I get into the cream of the pie, I would like to make it known that I have not read the original work. I plan to. The day I manage to find a good physical copy of it locally will be the day I get to absorb what the fuss is about when it comes to Dumas. Thus, this review is not going to contain any comparisons to the original novel, the various film adaptations, and also not the manga and novel adaptations the anime is seemingly related to. With that made clear, I will now pick up my spoon.

The story starts off, 3000 years into the future, in a wild settlement on what appears to be a moon called ‘Luna’. Our main leads Albert Morcerf and Franz d’Epinay are on holiday and cruising around during what is akin to the Mardi Gras until one day when they encounter the enigmatic aristocrat who introduces himself as the Count of Monte Cristo – who Albert falls in respect with. After giving the naive Albert a taste of thrill by letting him choose, with cards, a life to be spared from execution. The danger-fun seeking 15 year old is then kidnapped by a gang and subsequently saved by the Count. Albert then asks the Count how he can repay him. After some evil grins and malicious vibes, the Count is introduced to the Parisian and so, the tale shifts into that of men and malefaction.

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PSA for Albert.

 

Those who have read Dumas’ book already know how the story will go. Those who haven’t read it nor come across the various other adaptations need to know is that Gankutsuou is primarily a tale of revenge, what it does to man, and the dynamics between those ensconced with the act and its morality. While many (seemingly) claim that Gankutsuo is difficult to sum-up, I feel that the Count himself provides an apt summary:

My solitude has ceased to be solitude. I am surrounded by the goddesses of revenge.

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And a shot of the man himself. This could work great as an ‘ALIENS’ edit.

Seeing as the anime is based off a masterpiece, I can safely say that the pie’s crust has just the right color of golden brown and flakiness. What has to be talked about is the cream itself. Unlike most others, I feel that consistency and flavor of the cream are rather off. There are slight pacing issues here and there along with some terribly directed scenes.

I don’t mind the pacing problems much. The scenes, though, are ridiculously janky. For example, many characters will fail to see the Count ear-to-ear grimaces even when he is standing right in front of them. Another case(s) would be Albert’s many outbursts – especially when the Count’s intentions are brought into conversation. One would argue that, considering anime, these may very well be minor disturbances but I counter that Gankutsuou takes itself very seriously and, therefore, I should so too. The writers and the director had Dumas’ apparent literary genius with them. Obviously, you would expect refinement: not regression.

Another thing to note is that, in my opinion, the leap into a galactic future doesn’t do much for the plot except for reinforcing the idea into the cast that the Count’s blue skin, elvish ears, wolfish fangs, and regular visual tomfoolery are probably a product of the advancement of technology. While it does bring the scenery and emotion home in some scenes that have to do with the mystical/spiritual, like in the cavern scene where the Count talks about life with Albert, it is mostly irrelevant.

Speaking of irrelevancy, it has been brought to my attention that a lot of minor characters who barely appear in the book are given major roles in Gankutsuou. Whether that is a good thing or bad I will find out later. Though, standalone, a decent chunk of the cast was even less decently fleshed out. Albert slowly but surely grows out of naivety. He goes from a mumbling bumbling mess to a man of conviction and heart. Barring Baron Danglar, the man who sold his soul to the stock market, even the Unholy Trinity of Degeneracy that the Count wishes to wage war against is developed enough to not be called plot devices for the development of the Count himself. Honestly, while I watching the anime, my thoughts were that most of the characters were rather one dimensional. In hindsight, I realized that the caricature-ness of some of folks actually embossed a rather quaint charm to the theme of revenge and even the city of Paris. Oh, and the clothes as well.

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Peppo here also goes through nice bouts development.

Yes, the clothes. Striking clothes. That is because of the animation style that Gankutsuou employs. Highly jarring at first, due to the low quality of some designs, but then rather beautiful late from midway to the conclusion. The style is called ‘Unmoving Plaid’. If you’re too lazy to Google it (and I am too lazy to describe it), then think of the American cartoon Chowder. If you’re a filthy weeaboo then recall Bakemonogatari. Anyway, whereas in Chowder, it is only done with clothes, in Gankutsuou all movable objects not animated with CGI are given the same treatment. The same goes for the CGI. Extremely bad at first but then somewhat improves later. There might have been a weird case with the shifts in quality and budget that could be possibly explained by some rich Dumas fanboy caught wind of the project when half the episodes were already done and decided to make a generous donation. Or maybe not. Who knows.

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A good representation of my proposed scenario.

 

While the animation and art style are flamboyant, the sound is the exact opposite. Gonzo, the studio, has worked on many famous works such as ‘Hellsing’ (the original), ‘Full Metal Panic!’, and ‘Welcome to the NHK’ and all of these had excellent soundtracks. The soundtrack is comprised largely of underwhelming orchestral pieces. The only exception to the musical rule is a track that goes ‘ting-ting-ting-ting’ or whatever in tense scenes. The opening and ending songs performed by bass guitarist of the ‘Stranglers’, Jean-Jacques Burnel, tie in to the plot but I personally did not like them.

To conclude, while I wasn’t much impressed with most of the narrative and the characters I will say that the ending, which is very different from the novel, had me hooked. I can appreciate artists taking creative liberties with another’s work as long as it is close to the level of or better than the original. I know I haven’t read the original work but I now have huge hankering for it. Gankutsuou’s ‘climax’ truly does justice to the term.

I give The Cunt of Mount Crispy a 6.5/10. Not bad. Just good. But since it is a serious work I will give it a serious score otherwise I would have given it a 7.5/10 or something. Would I recommend it? Maybe. You might like it more than I did.

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He means her cunt.

Melodramatic Jazz and the Blues Surrounding It – A Review of ‘Kids on the Slope’ (2012)

The melody is, tu-tu-tuuuuuu tu-tu-tuuuuuuu, a lot like love.

That there is a single line from the opening song of ‘Kids on the Slope’ (‘Sakamichi no Apollon’ in Japanese) titled ‘Sakamichi no Melody’ performed by YUKI. The moment the female singer passionately chirped out, “Melody wa~” which was followed by a mighty trumpet, I knew that Sakamichi could very well be a memorable ride. I had goosebumps. A welcome sign, yes.

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I first came across Sakamichi while bingeing DemolitionD’s ‘Should You Watch’ review series on YouTube. His review of Sakamichi was pretty damn hilarious. The 4 minutes video had 2 minutes dedicated to Demo’s classic antics. That was more than a year ago. So, when I watched Sakamichi recently and then hit Demo’s review again, I was surprised how much I did not remember. Thus, you can exhale a breath of relief that this review is not biased.

The point about bias is quite important, actually. Sakamichi is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe who was also behind such influential works as ‘Cowboy Bebop’ and ‘Samurai Champloo’. Except for the befuddling mess that was ‘Terror in Resonance’, many people simply guffaw over Watanabe’s works upon hearing his name. Personally, I found Cowboy Bebop to be just average while I consider Samurai Champloo to be one of my favorite anime. Space Dandy was pretty damn fun as well. As for Sakamichi…

I’ll kick off the review by saying that Sakamichi has to be Watanabe’s second best work. It’s not at the level of Samurai Champloo, which is in a class of its own, but it will still manage to leave a strong impression on most viewers – regardless of whether they like Jazz or not.

I myself am not heavily into Jazz (nor any particular genre for that matter) but I do still appreciate good music. Sakamichi’s use of, what I assume is, classic Jazz cements the base firmly for the plot to easily get into the swing of things. And, that, it does.

Sakamichi’s plot is actually quite simple. Cliches and tropes are a-plenty. That doesn’t devalue nor demean the show’s story. Cliches and tropes exist for a reason and that reason is that they work. They are things you just can’t simply throw out of the window just like our main boy character did with the other male lead when he came into his room at night for some sweet boy-loving. Going for a stupid and plot-hole inducing twist in order to seem ‘fresh’ instead of executing tried ideas to perfection is just outright silly, in my opinion. An example would be Angel Beat’s final reveal. It just came completely out of nowhere and brought up a whole series of questions that it did not even attempt to answer even by foreshadowing or whatever. No, ‘Randy Orton: the Anime’, you can fuck off and so can my tears.

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Okay, so there isn’t any actual boys-loving but you still get this sort of stuff a lot.

 

Anyway, the story starts off with classical pianist and socially anxious Kaoru transferring to a highschool in Kyushu where he somehow befriends the local thug-with-a-heart Sentarou using the power of Jazz. As the narrative pushes forward, you find the usual teenage melodrama accompanying the adventures the teens experience over the course of 2 years in the 1960s. There’s lots of drama – most of which is caused by the usual buffoonery of our Kaoru almost always blowing things as much out of proportion as a horndog with his very first blow-up sex doll. This is all supported with excellent musical performances by the cast. The music doesn’t take center stage nor is it made to stand out on the curb in a ‘Top Cat’ costume.

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An apt description of Jazz, no?

 

The story is predictable, of course. It’s a teenage romantic drama. There’s only so much you can do with that certain mix of genres. Thankfully, Sakamichi wonderfully makes use of its setting to expand on it as a whole. The anime feels like a misunderstood kouhai wanting to be noticed by their senpai and managing to succeed at that goal.

This is not to say that Sakamichi achieves this task flawlessly. The pacing may sometimes drag and sometimes it will jump around much too quickly. This is especially evident with the scenes that concern Jun, Sentarou’s neighbor, and Yukari, Sentarou’s crush. While the scenes deal with a much more serious romantic endeavor, what with Yukari still being in highschool and Jun being a college dropout disowned by his family, they progress faster than the very first episode of ‘Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun’ (there’s a confession and kiss in there). Maybe an extra episode could have helped. Or they could have removed some of Kaoru’s idiocy.

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Yukari spent a long ass time considering whether to hit Jun up or not.

Another not-so-perfect point in regards to Sakamichi’s plot is the ending. It’s just meh. I was all smiles while I was watching it. Then, when I spent the next couple of minutes pondering it over I realized that it wasn’t as special as I initially had thought. Certainly, the very last moment was an absolute oomph when the opening song played to conclude the Jazzy ride but the few scenes before that didn’t have weight behind them. Goosebumps be damned! Sakamichi could have been better but it copped out with what I assume the director and writer(s) must have thought to be a true-to-life, and so, bittersweet ending.

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I think Sentarou here knew what the writers were going to do for the ending.

 

Speaking of bittersweet, I am hungry and, thus, I must end this review. So, onto the technical stuff!

MAPPA and Tezuka Productions have done an excellent job overall. The animation is standard. The CGI doesn’t suck arse. It’s actually quite fluid. The decision to use such a coloring technique that it nearly matches the gradients of colors of the CGI was a smart move. The character designs are quite expressive as well. When matched with on-point voice actors, the big picture comes together quite nicely.

I’ve already gone into the Jazz specifics. Enthusiasts may recognize the names and works of Billy Evans and Chet Baker. The background music is alright. Suits the show. The opening and ending songs are fantastic. They build on the character of the anime. As I usually say, “Into the music folder they go,” and that they shall.

All things considered, Sakamichi scores an 8.5/10 from me. With some refinement, it could have easily being a 10/10 show but it just kind of lost steam towards the end. It also momentarily touched on some rather mature topics such as racism and economical divide but it didn’t use them as junctions where it could find footholds with which to climb higher. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend Kids on the Slope. You might either really like it or just find it dull if limited melodrama doesn’t amuse you.