Reviews of Yesteryear: Genshiken

Genshiken was originally a manga written by Kio Shimoku. The series has become a success spawning a sequel, two anime, an OVA and a novel. Let’s take a look at the first anime.

There’s not an over-arching story in Genshiken. Rather, the episodes follow a club full of otaku. They do have a clear chronological order but most of them are stand alone episodes about something happening with the club. The episodes mix making fun of otaku with illustrating the fact that they’re ordinary people who are just over-zealous when it comes to their hobbies. The result is that it feels like Kio is affectionately poking fun at people he’s fond of or possibly even himself. Overall, the humour does work well for the situation and it manages to avoid moving into problematic territory even when it involves adult doujinshi. So it stays pretty tasteful and it generally avoids using references in the place of jokes. I do have one issue with the setup. There are long stretches that are just about the characters buying doujinshi or talking about anime with no humour thrown in. These scenes just drag and the characters aren’t interesting enough to keep them from being boring.

When I say that the characters aren’t interesting enough to carry the boring parts it’s because most of them are based on different otaku stereotypes. They aren’t well developed characters and none of them seem to have any interests that aren’t related to them being otaku. The one major exception is Saki. She gets involved with the group because her boyfriend is involved with it and she spends a lot of time hoping that it’ll end, except when it’s actually in danger of getting shut down and she steps up to defend it. She’s a character who speaks ill of the various otaku, except for her boyfriend, but is actually fond of them. It could work to make her interesting, but she’s more of a cliche tsundere character than actually developed in any significant way.

The art is actually very well done. The backgrounds are really lively, the art style that they use for the anime the characters watch is different enough from the one they regularly use, which serves to create a good contrast. A lot of attention went into making the events the characters attend seem massive and teeming with life and energy.

The voice acting is well done. Hiyama Nobuyuki and Yukino Satsuki both exaggerate quite a bit, but it clearly relates to their characters so it’s not much of an issue. The entire vocal cast does a good job of employing subtlety most of the time and using a lot of energy when appropriate.

The yuri factor is a 2/10. There are a few moments between Ohno and Saki that are a bit homoerotic, but there’s nothing substantial.

My final rating for Genshiken is a 7/10. It has some boring moments and the characters aren’t really compelling, but it does have a good sense of humour and great energy. It’s certainly worth a look.

Reviews of Yesteryear: Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu

Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu began as a light novel written by Tanigawa Nagaru and illustrated by Ito Noizi. The series quickly became insanely popular and had two anime versions. Is the popularity well deserved or not so much. Let’s take a look at the first anime to find out.

The story begins with a group of students making a really bad movie and then it skips back to the actual beginning. The episodes don’t follow a linear order. They skip around quite a bit. Not that it matters much since the story is pretty unimportant. The important parts are that a girl named Haruhi is obsessed with aliens, espers and time travelers. She forms a brigade to study strange and interesting things. The brigade is mostly composed of people with strange secrets that revolve around the mystery that is Haruhi and one normal guy who’s there to be ordinary and serve as a stand-in for the audience. Storywise, everything becomes pretty clear after a few episodes. There are some interesting ideas but they’re never explored. They barely even go past the surface with any of them. It doesn’t really matter though, since it’s a comedy. Is it funny? Well, some of the humour works well and some of it is horrible. There’s a Phoenix Wright parody that’s very subtle and works really well, but there are also a lot of jokes where sexual harassment is played up as being funny and those are horrible and problematic. Overall, the humour works a little more than not, but it is really mixed.

There are some things that work with the characters, but they’re mostly defined by their relationships to Haruhi and their strange personality traits, for those who have them. They aren’t horribly written but they certainly aren’t compelling.

The art is well done. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the characters have unique appearances. My only issue with the art is that they use way too much fan-service.

The voice acting is well done. All of the actors employ subtlety well. There actually isn’t too much exaggeration in this. One issue is that Chihara Minori (Yuki) and Sugita Tomokazu (Kyon) both sound bored with their performances. There’s a character reason with Yuki, but that isn’t the case with Kyon. The music is really the strongest element. It’s upbeat and high tempo. For the themes, Hirano Aya does a really good job with the vocals.

The yuri factor is a 5/10. Unfortunately, it’s all a result of the harassment jokes involving Haruhi and Mikuru. Because it’s funny to ignore consent. Wait… what? 

My final rating for the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a 6/10. It’s decent but it’s held back by the lackluster characters, harassment jokes, and the fact that the humour only works roughly 60% of the time.

Tales of Symphonia: Switching scenes at supersonic speeds

Tales of Symphonia was a Namco RPG released for the Gamecube in August of 2003, or July, November 2004 if you don’t live in Japan. It wasn’t the first Tales game to receive an anime adaptation with both Phantasia, which some of you may recall from one of my previous reviews, and Eternia getting adapted before it, but it was the first to have the anime adaptation handled by Ufotable, the same studio responsible for Kara no Kyoukai, Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight, & Fate/Zero. Yeah, it’s a bit strange, but most anime adaptations of the Tales franchise have been handled by different studios. So, how did Ufotable handle the series?

Story:

We open with our heroine, Colette, getting ready to undertake a journey of world regeneration to save her dying world. An angel, Remiel, descends to give her instruction and send her on the way. With the aid of her teacher, Refill Sage and a mercenary hired by the church, Kratos Aurion, she heads out on her journey. Colette’s friends, Lloyd and Genis, both want to accompany them but are left behind. Until their village is attacked by people who want Lloyd’s Exsphere, a mysterious object. At which point they decide to leave for the safety of the village and rendezvous with Colette and the others to aid her in any way they can.

So, it’s basically the same plot as the beginning of the game. Now, you’ve probably already noticed the major problem, the pacing is horrendous. All of those significant events I just described are in the first episode with little time between them. Events are thrown at you one after the other with no time to get a good grip on what’s happening. The plot points also aren’t expounded on very well. If you haven’t played the game you will find yourself wondering what just happened on several occasions. Which is why it’s probably a bad idea to condense a good third of the narrative of a plot heavy, multi-disc Gamecube game down to a four episode series. Sure, they managed to do it pretty well with the plot of Phantasia but that was a SNES game and much lighter on the plot.

In all fairness, the anime does do a decent job of hitting all the major points in the part of the game they cover and the narrative, though rushed and condensed, does still hold up pretty well and has some really strong scenes, albeit somewhat weakened by being rushed through. They also chose a good stopping point considering that they had more OVAs to come.

Characters:

The OVA has all the characters you see in the series, except significantly less developed since a lot of their conversations and other character scenes get cut. Still, the series has some great characters. Refill, Genis, Sheena, Kratos and Lloyd are all great characters. No, I’m not including Colette. Honestly, she annoys me. She’s one of those self sacrificing characters who worries about everyone else and is supposed to be pure and innocent. I’ve never been a fan of those characters. They just come across as kind of trite and boring to me. It’s even worse in the anime version since she doesn’t get any of her funny lines from the game.

Art:

The art is really good. The character designs, action sequences and background details are all really nicely drawn and animated. Really, there’s only one complaint I can make about the OVA. The action sequences, though mostly good, have too many blur line scenes. You know the type. Character is shown in an action pose, multi-coloured lines appear behind them and no contact is made between them and the enemy, assuming they even bother showing the character and their enemy in the same frame.

Sound:

They got some really good actors. Mizuki Nana, Konishi Katsuyuki, Orikasa Ai, Touma Yumi, Okamura Akemi and Tachiki Fumihiko take the roles of our major characters. The music is also really good with Mizuki Nana and Kawai Eri doing lyrical work.

Ho-yay:

There’s not any ho-yay in this. Making the ho-yay factor a 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

Tales of Symphonia the animation is made for fans of the game. If you’re someone who hasn’t played it, the pacing is going to leave you confused and without a lot of the context behind events. If you are a fan of the game, you’ll probably enjoy it okay as a supplementary work. For myself, I’m giving it a 6/10. It’s a decent OVA with some good moments but it definitely suffers from the pacing. Next week I’ll take a look at Potemayo.

 

Reviews of Yesteryear: K-on

K-on started out as a short comic strip manga. It became absurdly popular and has since been adapted into two TV anime, two OVAs, a film and a PSP game. Is it popular for a reason or does its popularity have nothing to do with quality? Let’s take a look at the first anime series and find out.

The story of K-on begins with a pair of girls named Mio and Ritsu who decide to join the soon to be abolished light music club. They soon find a third member, Mugi, but they need one more to keep the club alive. Enter Yui, a girl with no idea what light music is or even how to read music. To save their club, the group convinces her to join and learn how to play the guitar. The series follows a linear structure, but most of it just focuses on the everyday lives of the girls as they learn together and have fun. Overall the series does a good job of setting up interesting situations for the characters and executing them in a way that’s fun to watch. Humour is used as a major element and it’s almost always used to great effect. One issue I do have is that the girls overcome all their problems really easily. Especially Yui who quickly learns how to play the guitar with only minor problems. But it’s not a huge issue since it does fit the show’s lighthearted aesthetic well.

The characters are a little under-developed. Most of them follow tropes without ever really deviating from those tropes. The characters do interact well with each other and with the situations they get into. They also get some development, but they never get fully fleshed out.

The art is good. It’s pretty distinctive and the backgrounds are really vivid and well done. They occasionally do strange things with it, but they don’t go overboard and it generally works for the scene. One problem I do have with it is that they can’t seem to draw noses but that is a pretty small complaint. My biggest complaint is that the art can be lazy on occasion. Overall it does suit the series well.

The voice acting is well done. It’s not the best I’ve heard, but Toyoskai Ai, Kotobuki Minako, Satou Satomi and the rest of the main cast all do well with their roles. The music is one of the strong points of the series. They manage to make the girls sound like a skilled but still inexperienced band which strengthens the series’ premise.

The yuri factor is a 6/10. All of the main five girls share some really homoerotic moments, especially Yui with anyone. I especially like the way Mugi responds to several of these moments by getting really excited and generally being a yuri fan girl. Although there are a lot of these moments, they never move into the realm of canon with them.

My final rating for K-on is an 8/10. It has some issues, but they’re generally pretty insubstantial and shouldn’t affect anyone’s enjoyment too much. Overall it’s a lot of fun to watch and uses humour well. If you’re a fan of Azumanga Daioh or Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight you’ll probably enjoy K-on as well.

Film Festival Week: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

Welcome, my Friends, to the last film festival week review of the year. We’ve looked at a lot of films. Some well known. Some more obscure. Some tied to popular franchises, some stand alone adaptations. We started the week with a call back to last year’s film festival and we’re going to end the same way. So, let’s take another look at Production I.G’s Ghost in the Shell franchise. Last year, I took a look at the first film, which was excellent. This year it’s time to look at the second film. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli, this is Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.

Story:

The Major has gone missing. Our hero in this installment is Batou. The story opens with Batou being called to the scene of a crime to investigate a murder committed by a prototype sex robot. It seems like a job for the regular police, but Aramaki is concerned by the fact that there are several such murders, all by the same line and that some of them have been against people in powerful positions. As such, he sends Batou and Togusa to investigate the incidents and the company behind them.

Let’s start with the positive aspects of the story. It does do a really good job of converging its plot points in a way that makes sense and is largely compelling. It also does a good job of establishing everything that factors into the climax well before the actual climax. Everything is foreshadowed handily without spoiling what’s actually going to happen. The twists make sense and do help keep things interesting. The film, however, is not without story problems.

The pacing of the film is pretty bad. There are some pretty long stretches that serve no purpose other than to pad things out and show off the artwork. The investigation itself suffers from the effects of this with some scenes being far shorter than they should and others dragging a bit. It’s not so bad that you’ll lose track of what’s happening but it’s bad enough that it’s jarring.

Characters:

Our major characters in this one are Togusa and Batou. The film does do a really good job of giving them both character arcs that develop them and give them complexity. They also exchange some really good banter. The weak link is the antagonist. There really isn’t much of one aside from a vague corporate entity motivated by profit. They barely even show people who work for this company Yeah, real companies do make decisions that emphasise profits over people and there are cases where those decisions are unethical or even illegal, but it still feels weak and kind of cliché given how many works use the amoral corporation in the exact same role.

Art:

The art in this is gorgeous. There’s a lot of detail and the futuristic technology looks really cool. The character designs are unique and combined with the technology in a way that gives the film a unique aesthetic. Batou’s dog is also adorable. The action scenes flow really strongly and I have no complaints about the art whatsoever.

Sound:

Yamadera Kouichi and Otsuka Akio both reprise their roles as Togusa and Batou to great effect. Tanaka Atsuko also successfully reprises her role, albeit very briefly. All of the actors in this give great performances. As for the music, it is very good but I have the same criticism I had with the music of the first film. The same bloody song gets used throughout the movie during atmospheric scenes and it ends up really over-used.

Ho-yay:

Another film without any. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

Ghost in the Shell 2 is not as strong as the first film. Don’t misunderstand, it’s still a good cyberpunk work with strong protagonists, excellent artwork, great acting and a good narrative. What really hurts it is the pacing and the antagonist being really weak. Still, if you’re into cyberpunk narratives, give it a watch. My final rating is a 7/10. Next week we’ll be back to our regular schedule and looking at Tales of Symphonia the OVA. Wait… there are three of those, not counting the specials. We’ll look at the first Tales of Symphonia OVA, The Sylvarant Chapter.

 

Film Festival Week: The Girl Who Leapt Through Time

Tsutsui Yasutaka is a pretty prolific author. He’s known for science fiction works featuring dark humour and satire. His most famous work is probably The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It was first published in 1967 and has been adapted or given sequels several times for live action dramas, films, a manga and an anime film from our old friends at Madhouse. The anime film is a loose sequel rather than a direct adaptation. The big question, is it any good?

Story:

Our protagonist, Makoto, is having a bad day. She woke up late. She flunked a quiz. She got into an accident while trying to cook tempura,another student was tossed into her, sandwiching her between two other students for a while and she heard strange sounds when turning in some questionnaires only to find no one in the next room. Things take their worst turn when her bike’s brakes fail and she’s tossed in front of an oncoming train. That’s when she finds herself back in the past a couple minutes before the accident. Her aunt tells her that it was a time leap, but Makoto doesn’t believe such a thing is possible until, after some experimentation, she discovers how it works. She puts on a cricket uniform with celery in the lapel and leaps through time and space in search of adventure.

Actually, she uses her new found power to do better on tests, perform better at baseball, have fun and, most importantly, avoid slightly awkward situations. Yeah, our protagonist is neither smart nor creative. At first, she’s having a lot of fun but then she learns that her actions are having consequences, as actions are liable to have. Yeah, about half the film is made up of Makoto using her powers to mess around in relatively innocuous ways and the other half is comprised of her trying to fix things that go wrong. Honestly, it’s pretty boring. You keep expecting something interesting to happen with it, but it never does. There is one genuinely dramatic moment, but it doesn’t even last ten minutes. The main romance is kind of stupid and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given the circumstances presented.

Characters:

Our cast is bland. Really, really bland. None of them are particularly interesting, but none of them are obnoxious or terrible characters either. There’s just nothing that makes them distinguishable from other characters we’ve seen thousands of times, if not more. Makoto is an idiot who gains a really amazing ability but can’t be bothered to think of anything to do with it aside from playing around. Her friends are the generic nice, reliable guy and the generic off-putting guy with a good heart. Then we have all the secondary characters like the supportive friend, the shy girl and so on.

Art:

The art is really good with nice detailed backgrounds and character designs that, though simple, look good. The time traveling effect is appropriately strange and is also well animated.

Sound:

The voice acting is competent. None of the actors give really exceptional performances, but none of them do badly either. They all do decently. The music is also okay. It doesn’t really stand out in the slightest either positively or negatively.

Ho-yay:

There is no ho-yay in this. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

The Girl who Leapt through time is a hard film to discuss. Not because it’s complicated but because it’s tedious and generic. It’s a story about time travel where the time travel is never used in either an interesting or a creative way. It’s like a mystery story where the detective solves minor mysteries that don’t really have any impact. Sure, you can do it but you’re going to have to have really strong characters to pull it off. Not the rather generic cast you get in this. That being said, there’s nothing really wrong with the film. In the end my rating is going to be a 5/10. It’s average. If the concept of a girl traveling through time to make her everyday life better appeals to you, check it out. If you want something more compelling out of your time travel stories, stick to Steins;Gate, Back to the Future, The Time Machine, or any number of other stories. Tomorrow, film festival week ends with a look at a certain film involving cyborgs.

 

Film Festival week: Metropolis

Let me take a moment to talk about Metropolis. Metropolis was one of the most notable pioneering sci-fi works released back in 1927. It was directed by Fritz Lang and written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou. The film is a classic of the genre, in spite of some scenes being lost, and every sci-fi fan should watch it. Why do I bring this up when it has nothing to do with anime? Well, back in 1949 Tezuka Osamu, who you may know as the creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, made a manga inspired by the film, also titled Metropolis. In 2001, Madhouse and Tezuka Productions came out with an anime film version. Which is what we’re looking at today.

Story:

The narrative opens in the titular Metropolis with a celebration for the opening of the new Ziggurat. Our protagonists are the private investigator, Shunsaku Ban and his nephew, Kenichi. They’ve traveled to Metropolis to find and arrest a Doctor guilty of harvesting human organs. Little do ther realise that he’s working with the great aristocrat, Duke Red, to create a specialised robot for a specific purpose. They find the doctor’s laboratory burning and Kenichi gets separated from his uncle and stuck in a lower part of the city with the robot, Tima.

The story doesn’t have a bad premise, even though it’s not the one from the original silent film or even close to it. But it quickly becomes riddled with problems. A big one is the romance they have between Tima and Kenichi. It’s incredibly weak with the two characters showing no chemistry nor sharing any substantial moments. They meet and they’re amicable towards each other so it must be love, I guess. The biggest one is probably Duke Red’s ultimate scheme. It reads like a bad silver age comic plot, but without the glorious cheesiness that made silver age comics entertaining. Instead, the film plays it completely seriously. The pacing is all over the place, with some scenes dragging and others getting rushed through.

Characters:

The characters are severely under-developed. Most of them fill a basic archetypal role and never move beyond that. Which is a real problem when they try to get you to sympathise with them. Something bad happened to that guy with three or four lines? Yeah, if you don’t flesh out your characters, we aren’t going to care. The big exceptions are the characters with even less personality. Tima moves well below under-developed and is just very flat and primarily serves the purpose of being obsessive about Kenichi with little if any personality or motivation beyond him. Yes, the 1927 film was somehow more progressive in terms of gender portrayals than the 2001 one. There are other characters like that, mostly ones who appear in only a few scenes, though. Tima is the only major character with that particular problem.

Art:

The artwork is by far the best part of the film. The characters are done in a kind of retro design style reminiscent of other anime based on Tezuka’s work. Which does work very well given the source material. The backgrounds are magnificent. The futuristic tech is really cool looking, although some of it seems like it was deliberately designed around looking cool while being grossly impractical. The fire fighting equipment in particular involves a bunch of small parts that all have to converge and fuse into the main device. It does look cool, but it makes the world seem kind of stupid.

Sound:

The voice acting is mostly pretty competent. The actors all do their work well enough. The big exception is Imoto Yuka who can’t be asked to emote and gives a very monotone performance. It may be a matter of direction, but I haven’t heard her in anything else, this film was the only acting credit I could find for her, so it’s possible that the direction was fine and she was just bad. The music is really good.

Ho-yay:

There really isn’t any in this. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

This movie is not good but I would hesitate to call it ungood. Visually, it’s a real treat. The music is good and the acting is, mostly, okay. That being said, it has a lot of problems. The story is weak. The characters are bland at best. It’s a film that’s flashy but lacking in any real substance. You might want to give it a watch if you’re really into high quality animation and sci-fi, but if you’re going to want a compelling narrative with interesting characters you’ll want to skip it. As such, I can’t recommend it for most people. Although you should definitely watch the silent film that it’s very loosely based on. My final rating is going to be a 4/10. Tomorrow, we’ll leap to something else. Possibly involving time travel.