Hourou Musuko: An Exploration of Identity

Hourou Musuko is an anime from early 2011. It was released by AIC and based off of a manga by Shimura Takako. Who I know from her work on Aoi Hana. How does this one hold up? Let’s find out.

Story:

The story of Hourou Musuko revolves around Nitori Shuuichi, a youngster who was born male but identifies as a girl. The anime explores her life as she and some of her closest friends struggle with issues of gender identity and sexuality.

The only real issue with the series, at least the anime version, is that it feels incomplete. There’s a lot of setup with Shuuichi struggling with her identity and starting to figure things out, same with her friends Makoto and Takatsuki but when the series ends it still doesn’t feel like we’ve had closure for any of it. Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that they should reach a point where things are easy for them. Especially given the way some assholes treat trans people. The issue I have with it is that the anime spends so much time teasing at the idea that they’ll be able to openly be themselves but, aside from Shuuichi, there’s not much payoff for it. And even with her, a lot of the people closest to her are still misgendering her and she’s still largely talking about herself like a cross-dressing boy.

That being said, I actually have a lot of respect for this anime. It’s engaging with a lot of difficult subjects, especially when you look at them in light of Japan’s social climate, and it’s looking at them in a very empathetic and understanding way. There’s a lot of nuance to the way the anime engages with both gender identity and sexuality and it does an excellent job of putting it in the perspective of barely pubescent children who are trying to figure things out. It also doesn’t shy away from either the open ugliness or the unthinking dickishness that people are capable of when dealing with people who are different in a way that they don’t really understand. This is a work that wants to advance the conversation and make people more empathetic and I do think it succeeds in that regard.

Characters:

The characterisation in this is excellent. And it’s not just that the subject matter is being handled really well. There’s a lot of verisimilitude to these characters. They feel like actual children trying to come to terms with themselves or trying to understand their classmates. Which we see illustrated from characters like Chiba and Doi who are trying to be supportive but don’t always succeed or express themselves in the best way. The only thing I really think the anime is missing in that regard is the parental response. We barely see parents reacting, even when Shu decides to be more open about her identity we don’t see a whole lot of discussion or response from her parents. We see a good amount from her sister, but not mum or dad. And I do think the anime would benefit from giving us more engagement from the parents, accepting or otherwise.

Art:

The artwork in this looks pretty good. It has a nice style and the scenes where the kids are engaging with their identities via clothing work well. The only issue I really have with it is that the backgrounds frequently feel kind of plain.

Sound:

The actors in this do a really good job. Particularly Hatakeyama Kousuke, Seto Asami & Nanri Yuuka. We also get strong performances from Chiba Saeko, Iguchi Yuuichi, Horie Yui & Honda Takako just to name a few. The music is decent. Kousaki Satoru & Okabe Keiichi did fine. It’s one of those soundtracks that’s functional but that I wouldn’t listen to on its own.

Ho-yay:

Shu is attracted to other girls and Chiba shows a romantic interest in her, although it’s also clear that Chiba still thinks of her as a boy.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. The series could use more closure for the young trans kids.
  2. It would really benefit the series to show more of a reaction from Shu’s parents.
  3. The music could have been more powerfully emotional.

Final Thoughts:

Hourou Musuko Is a really strong exploration of young people coming to terms with their identities. It has excellent characters and a lot of strong moments. While it could have been better expanded upon in some areas, it’s still one of the best pieces of media I’ve personally seen on the subject. As such, I’m giving it a 9/10.

June Bonus Review: Paths of Glory

Paths of Glory is a Stanley Kubrick film from the late 50s. It was based off of a Humphrey Cobb novel about the first World War. So, even without watching it I can surmise that t’s very anti-war. Every piece of media about WW I that’s considered classic in any sense is anti-war. Probably because the whole purpose of the first World War was to send thousands of troops out of the trenches to die trying to move the line an extra two centimetres. Let’s have a look and see if the film is any good.

Story:

Our tale takes place in the trenches somewhere betwixt Deutschland and France. The French army wants to capture a heavily fortified position that they call the Anthill and they send their troops out of the trenches anticipating success but massive casualties. Things go badly and the French army officers decide that they need to make an example of some of the soldiers so that the next time they send the troops to die pointlessly, they’ll be less inclined to retreat.

The film does a really solid job of portraying the futility and general air of hopelessness that so many soldiers experienced during that war. The pacing is also really good with consistent sources of tension and a strong sense of momentum from one plot point to the next. The only real problem I have with the film narratively is that it gets overly heavy-handed with its anti-war theme at time. It could really benefit from being more subtle.

Characters:

The characters in this are kind of under-written and archetypical. Mainly because the film is more about the horrors of war and the waste of human life in pursuit of victory than about the characters. Which isn’t necessarily a bad decision and the characters do still have enough character for their plight to be sympathetic. Just not enough to give them verisimilitude.

Cinematography, Visuals & Effects:

The cinematography is absolutely on point. Which is what you’d expect from Kubrick since that’s one of the strengths his films have in general. He was always brilliant about knowing just how to frame his shots and how to position his actors to give the maximum effect. The limited special effects you get during the battle scene are well done as well.

Acting & Music:

The acting is pretty effective. Kirk Douglas, Timothy Carey, Joe Turkel & Ralph Meeker all deliver solid performances. About the worst I can say about it is that none of the supposedly French characters have an accent. Which is preferable to them having racist accents but still isn’t ideal. The music is effective and atmospheric. Particularly the song at the end.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. The film would benefit from being a bit more subtle with its anti-war theme.
  2. The characters could definitely use more complexity.
  3. The actors should have had some linguistic training to pull off some proper French accents.

Final Thoughts:

This film is viewed as a classic for a reason. There are a lot of interesting scenes. The art direction is amazing and it’s just an interesting watch even though it is a bit dated in some ways. Overall, I’d still give it a very solid 8/10. If you’re a fan of Kubrick’s work or of war films in general, I’d suggest checking it out.

Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku: Wasted a lot of potential

Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku is a 2015 anime from Doga Kobo based off of a series of light novels which were in turn inspired by Vocaloid songs. Well, this is the studio behind the first two series of Yuru Yuri and New Game, which is somewhat hopeful. But they also did that stupid Dumbbell nan kilo moteru anime so this could go either way.

Story:

Ichinomiya Eruna isn’t exactly a normal girl. She’s obsessed with cute girls, Galges and she has an idiot cousin with a romantic interest in her who hasn’t quite put it together that she’s very, very gay. Still, she decides to attend her dolt of a cousin’s high school because they have cute uniforms and there’s a girl in the brochure that she gets immediately hormonal for. At the school she learns that all the students have special super powers and engage in practice battles for club funds and status. Obviously this academy was founded by the Japanese version of Charles Xavier.

The biggest issue with the story is simply that it’s kind of all over the place. The club battles and tournaments are a minor part. Eruna trying to get close to her beloved Seisa senpai is another. Eruna trying to form her own club is yet another. Her trying to find her own place amongst the other students and form bonds is yet another. Over the top comedy is yet another. And the issue with them trying to do so much is that a lot of it gets under-developed. The dynamic betwixt Seisa and Eruna can be cute at times but it never feels like it develops into a meaningful relationship. Similarly, the club battles can have some solid action sequences but they’re frequently glossed over. In the final tournament we only really get to see three matches and two of them are over in roughly a minute. The comedy can also be fun even endearing but it feels like they miss a lot of opportunities for good gags and never really go all in. It ultimately feels like they needed tighter, more cohesive story-telling where they focus on one or two major elements instead of jumping around from one element to another like a hyperactive hedgehog.

With that said, none of the elements re outright bad. And, like I pointed out, most of them have some positive aspects to them. Which really accentuates the idea that this could have been an excellent anime if they’d either had a strong editor to keep the writing focused or more time to properly flesh things out.

Characters:

Most of the characters in this are fine. They aren’t super deep but they have quirky enough personalities to be somewhat endearing. There are a few exceptions in a positive way and one major exception in a negative way.

Let’s start with the problem character, Shigure. This dude is basically like Akane from Yuru Yuri but with a creepy obsession towards his cousin and he’s open about it. The obvious joke that generally stems from this is that he takes physical damage for being a complete creep but the problem is that he’s such a big character in he series and most of his scenes involve him being creepy towards his own cousin in some way. There’s just far too much of him, he has no redeeming qualities and even seeing him get punched in the face just starts to get old through repetition.

The best characters in this anime are the trio of Eruna, Seisa and Fujishiro. In spite of their dynamics being under-developed, there are some really good ideas at their core and you see hints throughout the series that add some depth to their relationships with each other. Eruna and Seisa developing a bond that will help Seisa recover from her emotional wounds and enjoy life again could easily have led to a very poignant relationship based off of mutual need. Fujishiro wanting to be close to Eruna and seeing her as the only true friend she’s ever had while also being jealous of Eruna’s feelings towards Seisa could have also led to a really good conflict and a strong dynamic amongst the three instead of just a decent dynamic with a lot of untapped potential.

Art:

The art is a bit mixed. On one hand, this series has some good character designs, strong backgrounds and mostly nice animation. On the other hand, the action sequences during the club battles are generally pretty weak and there are some awkward moments where facial expressions get wonky for just enough frames that it’s noticeable.

Sound:

The actors do a pretty good job. Kimura Juri, Oonishi Saori & Ozawa Ari in particular but the entire cast is, at least, passable. The music is solid as well. The anime actually has a lot of theme tunes given its short length but it kind of makes sense given its origins.

Ho-yay:

There’s a lot of les-yay in this anime. Ad it’s not limited to Eruna, Seisa and Fujishiro. There’s a girl in the drama club who very blatantly has a crush on her female senpai. The calligraphy club girls are also involved in some flirtation.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. If you have a very limited amount of time for your series, you can’t try to do too much. It’s better to do less and do it all really well than to try and do more and have it all be under-developed.
  2. Shigure needs to fuck off. All his jokes are basically the same and the purpose he serves in the plot could easily be transferred to a character who isn’t incestuous.
  3. The character dynamics could really use more development. Now, that might mean having fewer characters but that’s fine.

Final Thoughts:

Mikagura Gakuen Kumikyoku is okay. It’s not particularly good. It tries to do too much and it results in a lot of under-developed elements but a lot of them do have potential and wind up being more enjoyable than not. So, I’ll give it a 6/10. It might be worth watching if the premise sounds good to you or if you’d like a case study of why over-reaching can hamper a stories potential but, otherwise, it wouldn’t be a series I’d push.

Umibe no √Čtranger: Hard to Recommend

Umibe no √Čtranger is a 2020 Studio Hibari film based off of a manga by Kii Kanna. Yes, Hibari. The studio that did that “yuri” anime that wasn’t actually a yuri anime. It was just a guy being turned into a girl by magic and still being attracted to girls. But hey they also did the mediocre at best Venus Versus Virus.

Story:

The narrative is pretty simple. Shun is a novelist. He meets a young man named Mio who spends a lot of time sitting on a bench staring out at the sea. The pair strikes up an awkward conversation that leads to feelings starting to develop. Mio leaves the area to finish school only to return a couple years later with a startling announcement. He wants to be Shun’s boyfriend. The film then follows their blossoming romance.

There’s one major flaw to the narrative of this film. One singular element that not only makes the film very difficult to recommend, but is also kind of infuriating. I’m actually going to go into spoiler territory here to discuss it. So, if you don’t want spoilers just know that the film does a bad towards the end and skip the rest of this paragraph. For the rest of you I have some ranting to do. So, towards the end Shun’s childhood friend, Sakurako, arrives to try and bring Shun home because his father is sick and his family needs him. There’s just one fundamental problem with this. His family shunned him and cast him out for being gay. The film never shows any remorse from his parents nor does it give us any reason to believe they’ve changed in any way but we’re expected to believe that he should “be a good son” and return. Personally, I find this mentality more than a little infuriating. I’ve met plenty of LGBT people who have gone through similar circumstances with families who want nothing to do with them after finding out until they need money or transplants or other help of some kind and then, suddenly, they’re willing to let the LGBT person back into their life and they’ll only be a little passive aggressively toxic towards them. And a lot of media, this film included, perpetuates the narrative that the LGBT people should be the better human beings and offer their assistance because they have a “social obligation.” Fuck that noise. The social obligation that’s being brought up is a two way street. Your family treats you well and helps take care of you then you do the same for them. The moment they cast you aside, they’ve broken that goddamn social contract and you don’t owe them shit and trying to be the bigger person usually only results in the LGBT person being subjected to a toxic mentality from their families that’s terrible for their mental health. Shun shouldn’t even be considering returning without a damn good reason to believe his parents have changed their ways and to have it be treated as something we want him to do just buys into toxic ideas that are bad for the community.

With that out the way, there are positive elements to the story as well. The whole exploration of love between two young men where one feels jaded and has been conditioned to think of his love as impossible and one is discovering his latent bisexuality is pretty compelling and well handled. The thematic connection where each of them has lost their parents in different senses is interesting. The development of their relationship is well executed and it contains plenty of sweet moments. The juxtaposition of flashbacks that led them to this moment is used very cleverly to add some depth as well.

Characters:

Mio and Shun are pretty interesting, complex characters with a lot of back story. The film also does a good job of giving the side characters just enough complexity that they have verisimilitude without taking too much focus. The worst characters are Shun’s parents who are just the typical morons who act like their child’s sexuality is a personal sleight. We’ve seen it in a lot of media and it’ll keep popping up.

Art:

The artwork looks really nice. The character designs are strong. The nature backgrounds are detailed and look quite pretty.

Sound:

Murata Taishi and Matsuoka Yoshitsugu both deliver very strong performances. The side character actors do a solid job as well.

Ho-yay:

In addition to our main couple, there’s a lesbian couple and Mio has a conversation with an older gay man to try and figure out Shun’s reluctance to enter a relationship.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Shun’s parents need to express remorse of some kind. For the ending of the film to work, we need to see something that indicates that they understand that they acted poorly and see some desire to make up for it. Otherwise it’s just infuriating.
  2. The film would benefit from taking a little more time to extrapolate on Shun and Mio’s pasts. Yes, we do get a good glimpse into it but it’s very abridged.
  3. We could also use a little more of Shun and Mio’s relationships with the side characters.

Final Thoughts:

This film does do a lot right as a romance. It has a compelling main relationship. It explores some LGBT issues pretty well. Yet, in spite of all that, it’s very difficult to recommend. Because the whole handling of Shun’s relationship with his parents, especially how it pertains to the ending, is pretty infuriatingly tone deaf and just genuinely bad. And, because of that, I’m going to give the film a 6/10. I’m actually tempted to go lower because of just how egregious its major narrative problem is but I did genuinely like most of the film.

Yuru Yuri Nachuyachumi: Yuru Yuri Camp

Yuru Yuri is a franchise I’ve looked at quite a few times. And there’s still more to it so I’ll be looking at it again. Nachuyachumi came out in early 2015 as an hour long OVA. Is it as solid as the rest of the franchise? Let’s have a look.

Story:

We open with the Amusement club struggling through a hot summer day. They discover some camping supplies and decide that it’s a perfect opportunity for a camping trip. Naturally, they invite the girls of the student council along and hijinks ensue.

Overall, most of the jokes do land pretty well. There are a few that feel forced or that go on a little too long but most of them work well. The OVA also falters a bit in that it doesn’t take full advantage of its premise. They spend a lot of time with the trip plans and travel but when it comes to the actual camping trip it feels like they have some wasted opportunities because the OVA just isn’t long enough. There are also a lot of cute scenes, particularly involving Sakurako and Himawari or Kyouko and Ayano. TYO did a solid job of maintaining the sense of fun and heavy yuri tones that the franchise is known for.

Characters:

Taken as a whole, the characters aren’t deep but they’re a lot of fun and they have strong comedic dynamics. The big exceptions are Akane and Chinatsu’s older sister but they’re barely in the OVA so it doesn’t really matter that much that Akane is gross and Chinatsu’s sister is entirely defined by her unrequited love for Akane.

Art:

The OVA has some solid visual gags and, aside from a few jokes that involve shifting the art style, it maintains the same art style as the rest of the series. Which looks bright and vibrant and has solid animation to back it up.

Sound:

The cast is excellent as always. Mikami Shiori, Tsuda Minami, Ootsubo Yuka, Ookubo Rumie, Katou Emiri, Mimori Suzuko, Toyosaki Aki, & Fujita Saki are all great in this and the more minor voice actors all do a solid job with their performances. The music suits the aesthetic well, it’s boisterous and fun.

Ho-yay:

The big sources of les-yay in this one are Ayano and Kyouko’s dynamic as well as Himawari and Sakurako’s. There’s also Chinatsu’s blatant crush on Yui and her sister’s feelings for Akane and Akane’s unhealthy sister complex.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. The OVA would greatly benefit from an extra twenty to thirty minutes of content.
  2. The bits with Akane and Chinatsu’s sister don’t really add anything. They’re mercifully short but even so there’s no reason for them to be here.
  3. Slightly improved timing for those few jokes that drag a bit.

Final Thoughts:

This OVA is pretty damn good. It has a lot of fun, endearing moments and interactions. The acting is great. The art and music are nice and relaxing. It’s just a very solid work. I’ll give it an 8/10. It’s definitely worth watching for any fans of shoujo-ai heavy slice of life.

Madlax: Bee Train didn’t falter… much

I’ve already reviewed Bee Train’s other two girls with guns classics, El Cazador de la Bruja and Noir. Now, it’s time to finish the trilogy with a look at Madlax. This was the second one released coming out in 2004. Is it as amazing as the other two? Let’s have a look.

Story:

Our tale takes place in two different countries. The first is Gazth-Sonika where a long civil war is taking place and where the mercenary, Madlax, makes her home. The second is the peaceful Nafrece where our second protagonist, Margaret Burton, lives. Little do the two women suspect that the criminal organisation, Enfant, is going to bring them together while trying to obtain an old book that’s in Margaret’s possession.

There are two pretty significant flaws with the writing in this series. The first is that its pacing is really slow. Now, you could make the point that both Noir and El Cazador also take time to build up and are slow burns. However, there are a couple factors that make it a problem here and not necessarily in those. The first is that the series reiterates information a lot. There are so many scenes with mysterious characters making the same handful of comments or with characters just repeating information they already said one or two episodes ago that it gets a bit tiring. The second issue is simply that a lot of sequences in this just feel really dragged out. With Noir, we had a lot of really compelling content propelling the story forward. With El Cazador, we had a really interesting journey. And, in both those cases, we had strong developing relationships between the lead heroines as well. In Madlax, they don’t even meet until the very end of episode eighteen.

The second issue is just that the story is written in an overly cryptic way. A lot of sequences with mysterious characters talking vaguely. A lot of repetitive flashbacks that are clearly meant to be hinting at something and the sequences are so over-used and repetitive that you will very likely figure out where they’re going before the reveal in spite of them being written in the most convoluted fashion possible.

With that out of the way, Madlax is still a compelling series with a lot of interesting moments to keep it going. And it does improve on one thing when compared to Noir, which is that the mystery it sets up for an ongoing source of tension has a much more satisfying conclusion. The ending to this is pretty strong in general. And the whole thematic conflict among hedonism, idealism and pragmatism is pretty interesting. I generally appreciate media that shows idealism as unrealistic and takes a more pragmatic stance at dealing with conflicts if I’m being honest.

Characters:

Madlax revolves less around the dynamic between the two leads and relies more on their relationships with others. For Madlax, we see a strong dynamic betwixt her and Vanessa. As well as an antagonistic relationship that starts developing into something more between her and Limelda. For Margaret, her main dynamics are with Vanessa and Elenore.

The protagonists in this are all pretty compelling with their own goals and back stories that help flesh them out as characters. The main antagonist, Friday Monday, is kind of boring though. He basically just wants to “free” humans from a sense of morality without any real reason given for why he wants such an asinine thing. The characters who are there to be mysterious, the glowing children and the discerners, are also pretty under-developed. They have roles to play in the narrative but not much personality.

Art:

The artwork is roughly on par with Noir’s. While it does suffer somewhat from overly angular faces, the designs are strong and the action sequences are really good. And it does have some cute sequences.

Sound:

The acting is really good. Kobayashi Sanae, Kuwashima Houko, Uchikawa Ai and Yukino Satsuki all deliver excellent performances. The music in this isn’t just excellent but it’s also used very effectively to build atmosphere and enhance the action sequences.

Ho-yay:

There’s a decent amount of les-yay, though not as much as the other two. Madlax gets les-yay with Vanessa and, later on, Limelda. Margaret gets les-yay with Elenore.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. Less time spent with “mysterious” characters talking vaguely about plot points. Yes, it’s important to foreshadow the major plot points especially with a plot as complicated as Madlax has. But they just overdo it.
  2. Friday Monday needs stronger motivation. There should at least be some reason he thinks everyone acting on impulse and desire would be the ideal society.
  3. Madlax and Margaret could use stronger interactions. Just to be very clear, I’m not saying that they should be romantically connected. What I’m suggesting is that the fact that they meet very late in the series and barely interact with each other before things start getting intense does weaken the impact of some of the climactic plot points.

Final Thoughts:

Madlax is definitely the weakest series in the trilogy. That isn’t to say that it’s bad. It still has a lot of factors working in its favour including a lot of the writing strengths that all the Bee Train girls with guns anime share but it’s also overly slow and uses the Judas Traveller method to explain some of its plot elements. Which is never a good sign. I’ll still give it a very solid 7/10

2×2=Shinobuden

2×2=Shinobuden is a 2004 ufotable anime based off of a Koga Ryoichi manga. Yes, the studio behind the Fate anime, Kara no Kyoukai and Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight was responsible for this. Let’s have a look and see how they handled it.

Story:

Shinobu is studying at a Ninja school to become a kunoichi. One night she’s sent on a surprise exam to steal panties. During the mission she meets Shiranui Kaede who takes pity on her and decides to help her. From there they become friends and Shinobu introduces Kaede to her wacky world of ninja hijinks.

There are two issues with the comedy in this series. First of all, some of the punchlines are way too obvious and you can tell exactly where the joke is going far in advance. Though those are in the minority and most of the time the jokes have a pretty strong surprise factor. Another issue is that some of the gags come across as more of an excuse for fan-service than actual jokes.

With that out of the way, there are a lot of things this series does well. Its very good at making its zany humour work well. It also generally knows how far to go with its dirtier jokes so that they aren’t overly crass while still providing that variety of humour. The series is also pretty strong with setting up cutesy moments betwixt Kaede and Shinobu.

Characters:

By far the worst character in the series is Onsokumaru. He’s just another dirty old sensei character and, while it can be satisfying to see him get his comeuppance, he’s also very much the type of character we’ve seen in many, many other gag anime.

Overall, the characters do work pretty well for a comedic work. They don’t have the complexity to carry a more serious work but they have the strong comedic quirks and dynamics to make this kind of series work. And I do quite like Kaede and Shinobu as comedic characters. I think Kaede works really well as the straight man type character while also being capable of getting some good gags off while Shinobu functions very well as a shounen action character parody. She’s basically the very determined and eager type of character but put into an absurd scenario.

Art:

The biggest issue with the artwork is that it delves into overly fan-service territory at times. There are a lot of risque sequences in this series. On a more positive note, the character designs are pretty good and the series features a lot of really strong visual gags.

Sound:

There are a lot of strong actors in this series. Mizuki Nana, Kawasumi Ayak, Kugimiya Rie, Wakamoto Norio & Seki Tomokazu all deliver strong performances. The only issue with the acting is that it can be overly exaggerated during certain segments. Because this is one of those comedies that feels the need to go into over the top territory for its gags. The music is really good. It’s upbeat and hectic which matches the show’s tone perfectly.

Ho-yay:

There’s quite a bit. It’s clearly shown that Shinobu has romantic feelings towards Kaede and it’s also implied that Kaede reciprocates those feelings.

Areas of Improvement:

1. The series would benefit from more zany humour and less fan-service. Ultimately, the zany humour is what it excels at while whereas the fan-service comes across as overly crass.
2. The acting could use more subtlety. I get it, zany humour frequently comes with over the top performances but it also generally works better when the delivery errs more on the nuanced side.
3. The pervy old man character is just over-used. We really didn’t need another extreme example.

Final Thoughts:

2×2=Shinobuden is a pretty good anime. It has its issues. It can be overly pervy and there are some obvious gags with performances that are far too over the top but it also has a lot of strong zany humour. It has some nicely done character interactions and the relationship between Shinobu and Kaede is pretty cute. Overall, I give it a solid 7/10.

Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuushabu Shozoku

Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuushabu Shozoku is basically the Omake version of the great series Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuusha de Aru. There are three eight minute films and I’ll be looking at all of them as a collective rather than individually.

Story:

We open with Yuuna giving her lunch to a pair of fighting cats. I hope it has lots of meat since cats can’t survive on a vegetarian diet. Afterwards she meets up with the hero club to go help different people in whacky ways.

The biggest problem with the films is that they overdo it with some of the jokes. Yuuna spends way too much time in the first one with her stomach growling as a joke, for example. The films are also a little odd in terms of tone given how dark the series proper can be.

That being said, they are fairly entertaining and they do deliver a decent amount of fun. And even if some of the jokes go on a bit too long or are kind of weak, most of them work well enough.

Characters:

The characters don’t have the level of depth that they do in the series proper. Rather, they’re simplified and their more comedic traits are amplified. Which makes sense given the aesthetic they’re going for but it is a bit weird seeing these characters taken in a comedic direction given what I remember from the series.

Art:

The art direction is a simplistic, chibified style. It looks fine for what it is but it’s not exactly a style I would consider particularly appealing. The backgrounds are very minimal and the characters look a bit like bobble headed versions.

Sound:

The actors do a good job. Terui Haruka, Mimori Suzuka, Nagatsuma Juri, Uchiyama Yumi & Kurosawa Tomoyo are all strong actors. Their performances aren’t as good in this as they were in the series proper on account of the simplified characterisation but they’re still strong. The music is okay.

Ho-yay:

There’s still a bit. Yuuna and Tougou are still implied to have a mutual attraction. Yuuna also flirts a bit with both Karin & Itsuki.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. More rapid fire humour would probably work better for this type of thing. I think they do drag their “big” jokes out a bit too much and they’d benefit from faster set up, quick payoff and moving on to the next joke.
  2. These could use some dark humour. In my personal opinion, the darker elements of the series itself could have been used for some great morbid jokes.
  3. They could have gone closer to the art style of the regular series and come out with something that looks much better.

Final Thoughts:

These are okay. They aren’t brilliant and the comedy isn’t among the best I’ve ever seen, but if you really liked the main series, you might enjoy them well enough. My final rating for Yuuki Yuuna wa Yuushabu Shozoku # 1-3 is going to be a 6/10.

Where the Fuck have I been?

Lately, my content has been a little sparse. I went from posting thrice or four times a week to posting maybe once. So, I do want to apologise for that. As for why, the short answer is I’ve been struggling with my mental health lately.

This is nothing new. I’ve had problems with anxiety and depression since I was in secondary school . At best, these issues have led to a lack of motivation and difficulty doing basically anything besides playing games and watching telly. At worst, I’ve had suicidal thoughts and even some attempts that have left me scarred in more ways than one.

For a while, I had my issues largely under control. I felt pretty good, had some close friends I could confide in and I was doing my routine balancing work with my recreational writing/ reviewing. But that, unfortunately, changed after a while of being in a Pandemic.

You might think that the whole situation wouldn’t affect me that much. My job can be done from home. All my hobbies are inside activities that don’t have to involve other people. Which is kind of a fair point. However, the increased stress from the whole situation, not being able to see my friends regularly, losing some people as a result of the virus and my beloved black lab mix passing away from age-related issues all took a toll on me which greatly exacerbated my mental health issues.

RIP EJ Fuzzlebottom Esquire

After a while, I started spiraling into a pretty deep depression and it drastically effected both my creativity and motivation to write until I couldn’t bring myself to sit down and actually do it. It’s been a struggle to talk to other people about it especially since I grew up in a time where talking about your mental health was a lot more taboo. It’s also been troublesome to overcome the self-loathing that comes from feeling like a failure because I’m not actually accomplishing anything even though there’s a rational part of my brain that says “it’s not your fault, Ktulu, you’re just having a rough time.”

For the past month, I’ve been taking some time, talking to people, getting the medication I needed and slowly been crawling back to a point where I can sit down and write again. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to post stories and reviews every single week with no issue and basically on schedule, but I have gotten to a point where I think I can mostly manage it. So, once again you have my apologies for the lack of posts lately. I also want to thank those of you who stuck around and still read my output after everything. I am back and, hopefully, updates will keep coming out consistently for a long time to come. I’m going to try and get back into the routine of two story updates and one review a week with a bonus review every month first and then start going back to doing short stories here and there and finish editing the Last Draconian for publication when I’m feeling back to normal.

Zankyou no Terror: Another Solid Effort from MAPPA

Zankyou no Terror is a 2014 anime brought to us by MAPPA. Yes, the studio behind good anime like Yuri on Ice and Dorohedoro but also behind such rubbish as Kakegurui & Garo: Vanishing Line. Right now, I’ve reviewed eight anime they were partially or entirely responsible for and the sub-par/ bad ones definitely outnumber the good ones but it is pretty split. Let’s see if this one helps shift things a little more in their favour.

Story:

Our story revolves around a pair of teenage terrorists who call themselves Sphinx 1 and Sphinx 2. They begin planting bombs and leaving riddles for the police. But what do they plan to accomplish and are they responsible for the theft of nuclear materials?

The only real problem I have with the story is that some of the elements feel underdeveloped. Like the writers had to get the ideas out quickly and didn’t have the time to fully extrapolate on them. The primary example is the way that US intelligence agents get involved. They come in and exert control even though it doesn’t really make sense for the Japanese government to allow it all while having objectives and taking actions that seem very unevenly written. Particularly towards the end where they seemingly swoop in just to add some dramatic tension to the finale before fucking off. In all fairness, the story of this anime is very ambitious given that they only had eleven episodes to work with.

With that issue out the way, there are a lot of positives to go over. First of all, I love the way that the major characters in this all showcase actual intelligence and thinking skills. It isn’t one of those series where one side acts like brainless dolts to make the other seem smarter and more clever. The pacing is also largely very well handled. The series knows how to build up its situations and when to add some quieter moments. And it does stay interesting throughout with enough plot lines and exploration thereof to stay compelling while also keeping enough information until the conclusion to maintain some intrigue.

Characters:

The worst characters in this are Five and the US operatives. Five’s motivations are honestly kind of weak. It becomes clear early on that her main goal is to compete with Nine and the main point of the US operatives in general seems to be to add complications to events since a lot of their actions don’t really contribute to their supposed goal.

In contrast, Nine, Twelve, Lisa & the Japanese police officers, especially Shibazaki, are all really strong characters. In spite of the limited run time, there are a lot of strong motivations and there’s a good amount of character depth there.

Art:

The artwork looks pretty good. The character designs are a bit bland. That isn’t to say that they look bad, the characters just look kind of like indistinct, every day people. The backgrounds are strongly detailed. The various objects, explosives and such all look good. The animation moves very smoothly and looks very nice. Especially the final explosive sequence. The lighting is also used very effectively. MAPPA does an excellent job of using the visuals in a way that’s very atmospheric and conducive to the tone.

Sound:

The actors in this deliver excellent performances. Saitou Souma, Ishikawa Kaito, Tanezaki Atsumi & Sakuya Shunsuke are all amazing. The supporting cast is all solid as well. The music is good. Kanno Yoko & Dan Arnon both did a great job.

Ho-yay:

There’s not really romance in this series in general.

Areas of Improvement:

  1. The writers really could have benefited from having two or three more episodes to extrapolate more thoroughly on their under-written plot elements.
  2. The US intelligence agents really should have acted more in keeping with their motives and less as a cheap way to add drama.
  3. Five’s character desperately needs more solid motivation and characterisation in general. I like the concept of her being part of the same program as Twelve and Nine and acting as an antagonist, I just don’t think the execution was there.

Final Thoughts:

Zankyou no Terror is definitely one of MAPPA’s better efforts. It has a very compelling story, mostly interesting major characters and a lot of ambitious ideas. Unfortunately, the length does work against it and some of those ideas end up being under-developed. Still, it’s a great anime. My rating is going to be an 8/10.