One Outs: Games Within Games

One Outs was a baseball manga written by Kaitani Shinobu. It was adapted into an anime by our old friends at Madhouse, who brought us such classics as Black Lagoon, Petshop of Horrors and Rideback. Unfortunately, they’ve also been behind some of the worst anime I’ve ever seen such as Highschool of the Dead and Devil Hunter Yohko. I’m honestly not predicting their best work this time around, although a lot of that is more to do with the subject matter than anything else. I am not a person who cares about sports in the slightest. So, let’s look at One Outs and see if it holds up in spite of my own apathy towards the material.

Story:

Our story opens with some minor league players at a training camp. After an injury destroys their pitcher’s ability to throw balls at a guy with a stick, two of them go on a search for a new one. At this point they get lured to a gambling arena where people bet on whether or not a guy can hit a ball with a stick. The two lose a large amount of money and their friend, Kojima, who has won a bunch of awards with names that are meaningless to me, returns to challenge the pitcher who beat them, Tokuchi. He loses, but returns for a rematch, if he loses he’ll retire, if he wins he’ll take Tokuchi’s hand so that he can never gamble using baseball again. Because a game that requires people to hit a ball with a stick and run in a square is serious business and not some kind of game.

In spite of a rather serious hand injury, Kojima wins, but instead of inflicting violence to take Tokuchi’s hand, he recruits him as a pitcher to help his team, the Lycaons, win the championship. So, the basic plot is that a low ranking team aims for the championship? I haven’t seen that plot since… every piece of sports media ever made, I think. To be fair, One Outs isn’t typical in its execution. It uses Tokuchi’s unusual contract with the game’s owner as the primary source of tension instead of whether or not the team will win the big game. It also puts the focus, not on whether or not the Lycaons will win since basic pattern recognition gives it away, but on how they’re going to win. Which is more interesting than it sounds since Tokuchi uses a lot of psychological manipulation and has to think of ways to outsmart his opponents while thwarting the owner’s attempts to sabotage him.

The strategic aspects are pretty well handled in this anime, in spite of the rather trite plot. The series is also good at keeping the viewer’s attention with various new elements and twists as well. However, the story telling isn’t perfect. The biggest problem is the narrator. His entire job seems to be to give exposition. Which isn’t so bad when it’s used as a tool to skip through the boring bits, but it’s also pretty unnecessary. You could cut out the dialogue for almost all of these scenes and lose nothing. There’s also the issue of the plot itself. Even if the execution is unique, just about everyone knows exactly where it’s going to go which does limit how much tension the series can have.

Characters:

The characters of One Outs are mixed. Tokuchi is a pretty interesting “magnificent bastard” type of character. The Lycaons’ owner makes for a compelling antagonist as well. Ideguchi and Kojima are two-dimensional characters. They get some personality and develop a bit, but not a whole lot. The rest of the characters are pretty one-note. They’re around and you might remember their names, but there isn’t anything that really makes them unique or compelling. They’re just “that guy who runs fast” or “that guy with glasses.”

One thing of note is that a lot of the antagonistic teams that Tokuchi and the Lycaons have to face are shown to have foreigners as their big guns. I’m not sure whether it’s a demonstration of Xenophobia in which the great all-Japanese team has to face off against those foreign players who came from some unspecified location or it’s just a coincidence. That being said, they do make it a point to bring the foreign players to the viewer’s attention so the former seems more likely.

Art:

The art is pretty good, overall. The character designs are distinctive. The backgrounds are nicely detailed as well. That being said, there are some questionable art decisions. There are some ridiculously exaggerated expressions. For example, a “shocked” character might just open their mouth so wide they could fit their own head in there. Tokuchi also has an absurd hairstyle that makes him look like he’s gone half super saiyan. I know, an anime with silly hair what an original concept.

Sound:

The acting in this is okay. It doesn’t stand out in any way, but it’s passable. The music is really effective when it comes to atmosphere. The tense moments have a score that perfectly emphasises the tension as do the victorious moments.

Ho-Yay:

There is none in this series. 1/10.

Final Thoughts:

In some ways, One Outs is a typical piece of sports media. Underdog team pushing for victory. In others, it’s not at all typical. The battle of wits aspect works pretty effectively and the main protagonist is an interesting character, even if most of the side characters are really flat. Still, it has quite a bit of intrigue and I do recommend checking it out for the battle of wits, if you don’t mind watching grown men act like hitting a ball with a stick is a pastime of dire importance. Final rating, 6/10. Next week I’ll look at Shining Tears x Wind.

 

Reviews of Yesteryear: Ariel

The story takes place after the first Ariel OVA, corporate aliens have invaded earth but they’re in trouble. They don’t have a proper budget and their ship is in desperate need of an overhaul. They must be financed by the government. When their ship starts breaking down, first accidentally sending obsolete drop units to earth and then starting to crash into it, it’s up to scientists at SCEBAI and their giant robot Ariel to stop the damage. The story this time is a lot more open as a parody and, honestly, it helps it. It frees them to have more fun with the scenario. The exposition dumps are still an issue, but this time they at least inject them with some humour instead of pretending that the plot is serious business during them.

The characters are improved a little. Except for Mia who gets used almost exclusively for fan service and gets reduced to a one dimensional character as a result. Kazumi and Aya are a little more fleshed out as characters, but they stay pretty two dimensional. 

The art is about the same, except that they do some really bad battle effects and some of the visuals are kind of shaky. Maybe the studio was in more of a hurry with this one, I don’t know for sure, but the art is slightly downgraded. 

The voice work is still excellent and the main cast all deliver strong performances. The music flows well with the action and they added in a humorous parody song. 

The yuri factor is a 1/10 again. The girls do interact with female friends this time but there’s nothing in those interactions that indicates that their relationship goes beyond friendship. 

My final rating for Ariel Deluxe is a 6.7/10. It’s slightly improved over Visual. If you’re a fan of Ariel Visual, Gunbuster or All purpose cultural cat girl Nuku Nuku this is probably a good choice for you. If you can find it subtitled in a language you understand I recommend checking it out.

Reviews of Yesteryear: Ariel Visual

The story arc is pretty simple. Aliens have invaded for the sake of claiming Earth for the corporation they work for. Their efforts are being thwarted by a large mecha shaped like a woman, ARIEL, so an old friend of the invasion force’s leader shows up to provide assistance. Things aren’t going smoothly on Earth, however. ARIEL’s pilots decided that they don’t want the job and it’s up to their Grandfather/Uncle, two of the girls are his granddaughters the other is his niece, to persuade them otherwise. The story itself is pretty standard and kind of weak, but the execution is great. It’s very light-hearted and it’s clear that the story is more of a subtle parody of these types of stories than a serious attempt at writing one. The biggest problem is that it suffers from massive exposition dumps. There’s one at the beginning of each episode. I know that this is based on a light novel series but show, don’t tell. There are better ways to get this information across. Even with the time constraints. 

The characters are kind of under-developed. We get a few personality traits for the major characters, but they’re pretty two-dimensional traits. Aya is an especially interesting character, but she’s really the exception. 

The art is pretty good for 1989. It’s better than some later anime from the 90s or in some rare cases, anime from the 2000s. It’s almost as good as the art of Gundam Wing which came out six years later. 

The voice work is stellar. Mizutani Yuko, Koyama Mami and Hayashibara Megumi all give strong performances. The music flows well with the action and helps establish atmosphere. 

There is no yuri in this. Which is good since the female characters who interact are closely related. The yuri factor is a 1/10.

My final rating for Ariel Visual is a 6.5/10. The story and characters have some issues, but the whimsical tone makes it a lot of fun to watch and the music and voice acting are both spectacular. If you enjoyed Gunbuster or All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you can find a copy, go ahead and check it out. 

Shin Sekai Yori: A whole new world of plot holes and scientific illiteracy

Shin Sekai Yori is an anime based on a novel written by Kishi Yusuke. The anime adaptation was handled by A-1 pictures. You may remember them as the studio behind Kuroshitsuji and AnoHana. This was actually requested as a “futuristic scenario done right” after I took a look at the mediocrity that was Blue Gender, but I’ve also been told that this series is just as bad, even using several of the same cliches. There’s only one way to find out which is more correct and that’s by taking a look.

Story:

Our tale opens in the far future. Our protagonist, Saki, has just advanced to the next level of education, a school that teaches kids how to use their psychic abilities, but there’s something wrong. Students disappear from the school and are promptly forgotten. Saki and her friends go on a camping trip that will lead to them learning a great secret about their society.

That’s how the first arc begins. Yes, the series has multiple story arcs. One thing the series does really well is introducing intriguing ideas. The problem is that most of those concepts end up going absolutely nowhere or are just executed poorly. You think that the various ideas that are touched upon are going to eventually have a point, but they never do. It’s like Kishi introduced them planning to integrate them into the plot eventually, but couldn’t figure out how and let them drop, or briefly mentioned them in some minor scene in the hopes that he could validate having them in the first place.

There are quite a few other issues with the execution of this anime. The series tries to explain several facets of its world with science, which it gets wrong consistently. To use an early example that won’t spoil anything, the series talks about bonobos. It says that they’re peaceful, preferring sex to conflict and that they’ll only engage in sexual activities with the same sex when they’re young. The first half is true, the second is an outright lie and the bad part is that a half-true scientific statement is about the best the series ever gets in terms of its science.

The crowning moment of stupidity is definitely the ending. It starts by using a huge logical fallacy in the major climax. Then it segues into a plot twist that hinges on bad science and just to make things even worse, the series ends with the same lazy, stupid, cliché that Blue Gender ended with. Except that the execution is even worse. At least Blue Gender had some build up going into it, Shin Sekai Yori has a five minute montage at the very end to justify resorting to this tripe.

Characters:

The characters are similar to the story. The writing teases you with hints that these characters are going to develop and get fleshed out, but then it never delivers. In spite of the story spanning over a decade, the characters never grow or develop. They remain pretty stagnant throughout.

The only attempts to demonstrate growth for the characters are done with informed characteristics. For example, there’s a character who talks about Saki’s great leadership skills but she never demonstrates any leadership abilities whatsoever. She follows other people’s plans or gets told what to do by the voices in her head. Yes, she has deceased people talk to her. No, this is never explained it’s just used as a deus ex machina device.

The issue with informed characteristics like this is that the audience isn’t going to believe them. You can tell us the stormtroopers are precise marksmen, but if we see them miss virtually ever shot we aren’t going to believe it. Likewise, you can tell us she’s a great leader. You could also tell us she gained magical girl powers from a talking dog and saved the world from goo monsters during one of the time skips or that she’s the world’s greatest detective. We not only aren’t going to buy it, but we aren’t going to care unless you actually demonstrate it within the narrative.

Art:

The art is really good. Everything is nicely detailed and the character designs are nicely done. That being said, there is one problem with the art. The action sequences are drawn very oddly and they can be difficult to follow. Especially the early ones. For the sake of argument, let’s say that this was done to provide a sense of chaos and make things seem hectic. That would be fine, but it still doesn’t flow well or look good.

Sound:

I have no complaints about the voice acting. Every actor gives a capable performance, in spite of not having much to work with. Hanazawa Kana (Akane from Psycho Pass) and Hirata Hiroaki (Benny from Black Lagoon) are particularly good. The music is largely forgettable, but not bad.

Ho-Yay:

The ho-yay factor is going to be a 4/10. The series has a bit early on. It has some yaoi between Shun and Satoru, as well as some in the background, and some yuri between Saki and Maria, plus some more in the background. Then it transitions into having nothing but het.

Final Thoughts:

On the positive side, Shin Sekai Yori has strong art and good voice acting. Unfortunately, the writing is just inept. The story suffers from major plot holes, terrible science, dropped plot aspects, a horrendous ending and characters who are less interesting than the random nameless bad guys you fight in a Fire Emblem game. As a result, the narrative is just terrible and I would not suggest sitting through it just for the art and acting. My final rating is going to be a 3/10. Next week, One Outs. 

Reviews of Yesteryear: Tales from Earthsea

Back in my review of Kiki’s Delivery Service I talked about how much I love Studio Ghibli and mentioned that their films generally range from good to excellent. This is not only the third exception to that I’ve found but also the very worst Studio Ghibli film I’ve seen. It remains the worst film I’ve seen from them, but the exceptions have since gone up to four with the mediocrity of From Up on Poppy Hill. 

Let’s start with the story. The balance of a planet is being destroyed, a prince murders his father for unknown reasons and joins up with a traveling wizard. And all of this has virtually no bearing on the plot whatsoever. Yes, these scenes are mentioned later, but nothing gets done with them. Well, except for the part about the prince joining a traveling wizard. After several long minutes of walking scenes the pair end up in a town with an active slave trade and an evil wizard. From there you can probably guess the main plot. At first it seems like a pretty standard fantasy story with atrocious pacing, since a lot of time is wasted with padding scenes of farm work, but then you get to the last thirty minutes or so and two massive plot holes drive through what was a mediocre story and make it atrocious. There are also some major moments that are almost unbearably cheesy, Adam West’s Batman series was less corny. The ending is especially guilty of this. 

Overall the characters fill out cliche roles. One problem that comes in with the characterisation is that characters have knowledge that the narrative has given them no way of knowing. Hooray for plot contrivances? An even bigger issue is that most of the characters are very poorly fleshed out and, as a result, don’t have any real motivations or they have motivations that are completely unbelievable. There’s also some really clunky dialogue for the sake of exposition. 

The art is spectacular. That, at least, hasn’t changed. The only real problem is that the character designs make it so obvious who’s a villain just by looking. Subtlety, who needs it? Just go the bad 80s cartoon route. 

The voice work is capably done. The music is decent, but it gets repetitive really quickly. Probably because they keep playing the same song segments over and over and over again until your ears bleed. 

There is no yuri in this film. I give it a yuri factor of 1/10. 

I hate to say it, but my final rating for Tales from Earthsea is a 3/10. It’s a bad movie. The story suffers from massive plot holes that could take out most of Asia, the characters are dull, plot points are brought up and turn out to be completely superfluous to the plot, and the ending is bollocks.If you’re looking for a decent film to watch, pick anything else out of Studio Ghibli’s library and let this one rot in an unmarked landfill where it belongs.

Reviews of Yesteryear: Hitsuji no Uta

Hitsuji no Uta is the story of two siblings who meet after being separated for a long time. The twist is that they have a genetic disease that gives them cravings for human blood. That’s a blood-borne disease waiting to happen. The story really focuses on Kazuna learning to live with his disease and about his family’s past with some help from his sister. The story is pretty interesting and full of suspense, but it does have one major annoyance. There are a lot of Flashbacks, A lot of which show an event that happened in the same episode, less than five minutes ago. What’s the point? Did Gisaburo Sugii really think that the audience would have such a terrible attention span that we won’t remember the important events that happened three and a half minutes ago? The over-reliance on flashbacks also destroys the pacing pretty thoroughly. 

The characters are pretty well developed. There’s a lot of subtle torment that motivates both Kazuna and Chizuna. The impact they have on the people who care about them is pretty pronounced as well. The only real problems are that the characterisation borders on overly-melodramatic at times and the relationship between Chizuna and Kazuna seems almost incestuous at moments. Ewww.

The art is terrible. The episodes came out in 2003 & 2004 and the art is only a little better than the Ninja Gaiden OVA. Maybe they had no budget whatsoever, but when your art is only a little better than an anime with terrible art that came out more than ten years ago there’s a problem.

The voice acting and music are the only truly spectacular elements to this OVA. The music is nice and atmospheric. Although the art destroys any sense of atmosphere that the music might have established. The voice acting is spectacular. It’s just what I’d expect from something with such great talents as Hayashibara Megumi and Seki Tomokazu in the main roles. 

There is no yuri in this. The female characters hardly even interact. It gets a yuri factor of 1/10.

My final rating is a 6/10. The story and characters have some faults, but it’s still pretty interesting and worth watching, if you can excuse the artwork.

Muteki Kanban Musume

Muteki Kanban Musume is a comedic anime based on a manga written by Sadogawa Jun. The anime was released shortly after the last manga volume. The adaptation was handled by TMS, a studio which is probably best known for Lupin III or Detective Conan, but they’ve done much more than those. None of which I can recall reviewing. Let’s take a look.

This is one of those comedic works without an over-arcing story. The basic setup is that our titular invincible delivery girl, Miki, is working as the poster girl of her family’s ramen restaurant. Miki has to juggle her work with combat challenges and various hijinks. The humour in this is a mix of parody, targets include super sentai shows, romantic comedies and action anime tropes, physical humour and zany craziness. The comedy is very effectively handled. Virtually every joke in the series is genuinely funny. The series likes to divide each episode in half, generally starting both with the same basic setup or having them be somehow related. You would think that this would lead to the second half of each episode being predictable and less entertaining, but the execution is very clever and the directions that these episodes go aren’t what you would anticipate. Which leads to a lot of uproariously funny moments. The series even manages to keep its running jokes fresh throughout the series. Partially because it doesn’t over-use any of them and partially because it constantly finds new and unexpected ways to deliver them.

The characters in this are goofy. They aren’t particularly fleshed out or three dimensional, but they do interact very well for comedic purposes and they all have their share of comedic moments. For an absurd comedy, the characters are just about perfect.

The art is highly stylised. Some scenes will look pretty ordinary but most of the time they do something bizarre with the facial expressions or there’ll be something odd thrown in. There are quite a few jokes that rely on the visuals and they’re executed very well. The art can be outright bizarre, but it’s honestly a perfect match for the series.

This series has a really good cast. Miki is voiced by Nabatame Hitomi, who also voiced Cyndi in Ika Musume and Kanade in Gokujou Seitokai, so she’s no stranger to comedic works. You’ve also got Koshimizu Ami (Claes from the first series of Gunslinger Girl), Hiyama Nobuyuki (Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho) and Nakamura Yuuichi (FMA Brotherhood’s Greed) to name a few. The entire cast does a really good job of putting a lot of boisterous energy into their performances, which is what the series calls for most of the time. They also do well in scenes that require them to pull things back and sound more serious. The music is fairly effective.

The ho-yay factor in this one is a 2/10. There is a scene in which two women encourage a third to remove her clothes. And even a scene as ordinary as that is executed in a weird way in this anime.

So, how is Muteki Kanban Musume overall? It’s a bizarre series. The situations don’t make a lot of sense and it’s glorious. In terms of zany comedies, this one comes pretty close to perfection. It’s thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end with a lot of really memorable, really funny moments. If you enjoy high energy zany comedies, give it a watch. My final rating is going to be a 9/10. Next week, Shin Sekai Yori.