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.

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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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.

How To Kill Your Teacher: A Review of Assassination Classroom (2015-2016)

GUESS WHO’S BACK TO WATCHING ANIME?! THAT’S RIGHT. ME! AKHAKHAKHAKHAKHAK!

Or, more like, ‘Nyu-hu-hu-hu’ which is the catch-laughter of the famous tentacles swinging teacher that is Koro-sensei from Assassination Classroom.

Seriously, though, I hadn’t watched any anime since October. With the death of my desktop computer, I had thrown myself into dreaded extra studying and catching up on manga and some Western TV shows. Now that exams are over, I’ve gotten back to business and by ‘business’, I mean consuming 10 episodes of anime every night. I started out with the second season of My Hero Academia and then hit the second season of Assassination Classroom – which I’ll be reviewing right now.

Despite watching the first season last year, Assassination Classroom (Ansatsu Kyoushitsu in Japanese and Ass Class in my fake Texan accent) still remained fresh in my mind. Hell, why wouldn’t it? It has the downright absurd plot of a monster, who is threatening to destroy the planet in a year’s time, teaching the special education class of a renowned junior school how to assassinate him. Even if the story would have turned out to be a disaster, I reckon one would still remember the uniqueness of the plot. Anyway, I had no trouble getting back into the mix of things with the beginning of the second season and thus this review will cover the series as a whole.

Synopsis From MyAnimeList: When a mysterious creature chops the moon down to a permanent crescent, the students of class 3-E of Kunugigaoka Middle School find themselves confronted with an enormous task: assassinate the creature responsible for the disaster before Earth suffers a similar fate. However, the monster, dubbed Koro-sensei (the indestructible teacher), is able to fly at speeds of up to Mach 20, which he demonstrates freely, leaving any attempt to subdue him in his extraterrestrial dust. Furthermore, the misfits of 3-E soon find that the strange, tentacled beast is more than just indomitable—he is the best teacher they have ever had!

Adapted from the humorous hit manga by Yuusei Matsui, Ansatsu Kyoushitsu tells the story of these junior high pupils as they polish their assassination skills and grow in order to stand strong against the oppressive school system, their own life problems, and one day, Koro-sensei.

The main question viewers ask themselves when they read the synopsis or watch the first few episodes (which are, admittedly, rather slow) is whether Ass Class is worth it in the long run. Both seasons together come up to 47 episodes. The plot may be unique but who is to say that it wouldn’t be repetitive or falling back heavily on tropes? Well, Ass Class actually fares somewhat well in the story department.

Ass Class is mainly a comedy anime with a number of serious scenes sprinkled throughout in true slice-of-life fashion. The writing isn’t top-notch but it is still remains more or less very good for a shonen by introducing many bizarre yet fitting situations for the rag tag group of students of class 3-E. You get the many frustrations of school exams which the students treat as a way to get back at their teacher and rivals. Literally. Then you have a vacation trip to an exotic island where the students plan an elaborate military assassination. There are even heavy sci-fi elements introduced late game. Ass Class is not afraid of telling its story how it wants to. It knows that the plot armor it has donned is ridiculous and makes full use of its strength to portray a fun and hilarious show that teaches the viewers life lessons in a way that isn’t forced. If I ever have demon spawn then this anime is one I’ll be sure to have them watch.

They created a giant pudding and filled it with explosives.

That is not to say, though, that Ass Class’ story has just few faults. In fact, it has many. A decent amount of them are cleverly hidden behind the plot armor but that is to be expected. The point of the armor is to push the craziness to the extreme without making it absolutely implausible. But there are still some glaring flaws that personally annoy me. For instance, Koro-sensei tutoring the twenty or so students of class 3-E one-on-one altogether at the same time. Sure, he can do that given his speed and all but how do the students even manage to hear let alone understand him with such ease? Another case would be the moon. In the beginning of the anime, we are told that Koro-sensei destroyed more than half of the moon. How has this not majorly fucked up the Earth’s climate and how are common folk so damn calm about it (lol)?

Replace ‘sexy’ with ‘coherent’.
Now replace it with ‘plot’.

Clearly, Ass Class does not shine in the narrative department. Like a disgruntled college student trying to pay for college via prostitution, it just works. The dialogue is still wonderful, though. There are many sides-hurting and wonderfully nostalgia-inducing lines. One of my favorites has to be what Koro-sensei says in the climax of the show: “All good things must… come to an end. That is what a classroom is all about.” The timing and emotion behind that single line just beautifully sums up the whole show. It reminded me of my own junior days with all the wacky stuff I was up to and the fantastic (and some urgh) teachers that I had met. Speaking of the climax, it was simply excellent. All the hijinks of the students and the teachers lead up to it with a neat wrapping up of most plot points to give a powerful conclusion that might have you shed a tear. Having a solid conclusion even despite many plot-related flaws is a rather huge win in my book and Ass Class literally belongs in my bookshelf. I’m not kidding. I’ve actually bought what few volumes of the manga I could find here to support the mangaka.

LMAO

Another strong point for Ass Class is the characters. They aren’t deep. On that thought, I might even consider some of them to be straight up caricatures. The thing with the cast is that while they may be acting on a base of a few traits they still manage to play off each other well. Their interactions, for the most part, aren’t forced. The couple of moments they go about as robots are handled with enough care to not bring the quality down. An example would be Bitch-sensei having the hots for Karasuma-sensei. It could basically be described as rape at first but develops rather well in time. I also like how the only seemingly main characters are Koro-sensei and Nagisa. Pretty much all of the cast gets individual development. Some so much that they even manage to bring themselves permanently into the spotlight. So, expect many twists.

You wouldn’t expect Karma to be doing something like this early in the anime.

Before I get to the final specifics, I would like to talk a bit about Nagisa. As a main character he starts out with the usual cliche of being annoyingly weak and growing stronger without himself realizing it. Standard stuff. The thing about him is that, if you disregard his appearance then he becomes the most normal of the cast. That was a nice way to contrast him with the other characters and use as a stepping point for delving into both his backstory and development. Kudos to the mangaka for thinking of that and for the animation studio for not fucking it up. That’s right, people, HE LOOKS LIKE A TRAP FOR A REASON!

Nagisa being Nagisa.

Ah-hem. Anyway, studio Lerche did a pretty damn good job. I actually found out about their existence today when I looked up Ass Class on MyAnimeList for the synopsis. Their most notable works are this anime, Carnival Phantasm, and the many horrendous Danganronpa adaptations. Thank God they didn’t mess this up. Whoever decided on Fukuyama Jun for the voice of Koro-sensei deserves a pat on the back. They both do, actually. Jun’s performance is fantastic.

Now for the music. The sounds of Ass Class are energetic and fit the show quite nicely. Koro-sensei’s theme song of blaring trumpets based on his laughter is going straight into my music folder. As are the ending songs which all are calm and soothe the ears. The first ending of the second season called ‘Kaketa Tsuki’ performed by Shion Miyawaki is my favorite. The opening songs are rather meh. I didn’t like a single one.

Seeing as I have mentioned that I own several volumes of the manga it is properly obvious that I would recommend Assassination Classroom to folks. It’s wholeheartedly fun and devoid of crappy fanservice to boot. My personal score would be a 9/10 but I think my ‘objective’ rating would be an 8/10.

KoroSensei Reacts! Episode 1638329 – ReJaKted’s Review of Assassination Classroom.

An Attempt At Capturing The Faces of Trauma – A Review of Eureka (2000)

Makoto [to his ex-wife]: Do you think one can only live for others?

I am dealing with a number of firsts at the moment; I haven’t written any proper reviews since, I guess, the end of September; this probably has to be my very first review of what I assume to be an ‘arthouse’ film; and the duration of the film is unusually long for the time period and culture. So, I reckon, this should be an enjoyable piece to write

I don’t know how and where I encountered director Aoyama Shinji’s Eureka (Yurika in Japanese). Maybe I was looking for must-watch Asian movies? I can’t recall. After all, Eureka was hiding in my phone’s storage for almost half a year. I just recently got around to viewing it when I was analyzing my phone to find out how I could free up some space. “Two gigabytes? Welp, I have to watch you right now,” I exclaimed. And so, I did.

Synopsis from IMDB: The traumatized survivors of a murderous bus hijacking come together and take a road trip to attempt to overcome their damaged selves. Meanwhile a serial killer is on the loose.

The synopsis tells us all there is to know about the plot of Eureka. It is a simple film. Thankfully, it knows that as well and uses it to its advantage to try and deliver a solid punch. But, is the punch solid enough to graze Mohammad Ali? Well, it seems to knock out most viewers as shown by the 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. More importantly, is my face a bloody mess? Let’s see.

Eureka begins with siblings Tamura Kozue and Naoki (Miyazaki Aoi and Masaru respectively) boarding a bus driven by Sawai Makoto (Yakusho Koji). The bus is jacked by a frustrated office worker moments later. Hours later, in an empty lot, the office worker is killed by the police and we are left with Makoto and the two teenagers as the only survivors. The film then sees Makoto disappearing from society and the children’s lives disintegrating – what with their mother leaving for another man and their father dying in an alcohol induced car accident. The rest of the movie deals with these central characters, their depression, the rumors surrounding them that keeps them shackled, and their attempts to find meaning. To start over. Oh, and there’s a serial killer on the loose as well. A drama with a tinge of thrill. How exciting! Or it would have been exciting if not due to the length of the movie.

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The bullets in the bus go round and round.

Seriously, Eureka is three and a half hours. I have seen a lot of movies and, suffice to say, only Bollywood movies usually go past the two and a half hour mark. Which means that Eureka will seem like a chore to you unless if you’re a patient person. I myself watched the film in multiple sittings (but that was due to lack of time and abundance of responsibilities). Another thing to note is the color (or lack thereof). Eureka is shot with the washed out brown familiarity of the sepia filter.

The length and absence of color aren’t oddities for the hell of it. They have an actual place within the overall plot but I feel they were not properly utilized. There are many scenes of silence. They do not detract from the experience but as most of them are centered around the children, who have a serious lack of emotion (and no clear facial shots), they do not add much as well. The shades of light brown also aren’t an annoyance. In fact, they give the movie a warm homely sense of loneliness. It evokes sentiments of the past – that the despair felt by our jolly-less crew is but a memory. The issue with the sepia is that it is a major plot device and its usage in the finale is, quite honestly, derivative. It seemed awkward. Like a fancy grandfather clock striking midnight but you somehow know that the minute-hand is a few minutes away from the actual time. Oh well, at least the oddities weren’t completely for nought and actually made things somewhat more interesting.

Despite the technical peculiarities of Eureka not being on point in both a narrative and visual sense, the one thing it does get down properly is trauma of the main characters and the despair they wish to seek freedom for. The portrayal of the lack of hope and the ever approaching loneliness is quite subtle and yet still blunt due to the aforementioned technical aspects. The emotions of the characters are not in your face. It’s not in the vein of ‘WOW BOYS I SURE AM DEPRESSED I BEST BE FUCKING KILLING MYSELF CHEERIO’ view of depression that most Western and modern Asian media love to put on our screens and I am really glad about that. It’s fun to see in absurdist and dark comedies but when it is even slightly mishandled in other genres then it becomes extremely jarring and pathetic. A very recent example: 13 Reasons Why. Absolutely awful.

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Waiting for the abyss to come.
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The man abandoned by his own blood is apologizing for making them worry.

Anyway, back to the story. The simplicity of the plot and especially the dialogue really brings up the film. Aoyama knew what he wanted to do with Eureka but, I feel, he should have shown his script/screenplay to all hands on deck and asked for a lot of feedback to make the overall product even better. I understand that it is his passion project but full creative control actually backfired on him.

Scenes focused on Makoto are powerful. Makoto is a man of few words but he speaks volumes. The cast put up a good performance but Yakusho Koji simply hit the ball out of the park with his acting for Makoto’s role. The overacting that is present in most modern Japanese movies is thankfully nowhere to be seen in Eureka. Ironically, though, the two siblings underact. I wonder if they were told to be as robotic as possible. Miyazaki Aoi improves as the movie goes on but her brother Masaru’s performance was a garbage bag of cringe. The only time he is any good is the last time we ever see him on screen. That was where he shined. Can’t actually go into the scene, though. Spoilers.

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Makoto’s hope and optimism: gone.

Speaking of which, despite the many stretches of silence prevalent in Eureka you actually have to pay close attention to the dialogue and especially the background. Eureka is not heavy on exposition. No, to be fair, it is very light. It does not outright tell you what is happening and why it’s happening. That shouldn’t be much of a problem considering that rewinding is a feature of all media players. What could be a slap on the noggin is that a number of vital plot points deal with cultural nuances. If you’re not Japanese or don’t have even slight knowledge of Japanese culture then you might get lost. For example, why no one questions that Makoto is suddenly living with the children. I personally had no trouble but I feel I should still warn any potential viewers just in case.

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I hope you would.

That also goes to anyone who think their speakers might be dying. Eureka has barely any music. There are a few key tracks that play in some parts of the story but even then, except for one track, they are pretty normal fare.

To conclude, I have to say that Eureka could have been much better with some tweaks here, there, and probably right over yonder. Nevertheless, I would still recommend it to those wanting to get into modern Japanese cinema. For an arbitrary rating, I think I’ll go with a 7.5/10. I suppose a re-watch is in order in a single sitting to fully appreciate Eureka but only God knows when that would be. Oh well!

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.