Review: Re:ZERO-Starting Life In Another World

A highly popular series gets the review treatment.

The Lowdown:

Show: Re:ZERO- Starting Life In Another World

Studio/years aired: White Fox, 2016; season 2 is set to release later in 2020
AniB’s thoughts:

The second of the so-called Isekai Quartet shows makes an appearance in review form at last on here! With the highly anticipated second season around the corner, now seemed like the perfect time at last to cover this show. Before I get underway though, don’t expect me to compare this production to KonoSuba, which was previously reviewed on AniB Productions; aside from being isekai and featuring a former-shut in as their main protagonists, they are very different shows.

Where to begin? Plenty happens in this show that would constitute heavy spoilers, but what starts off as a generic looking show in the first two minutes quickly morphs into some unexpected events and encounters- namely Subaru’s chance encounter with a certain girl- and the plot goes from there. To stand out in what has become an incredibly over-saturated genre is difficult, but Re:Zero managed to accomplish this task with some compelling world building, characters that received some real depth and development, and at the center of it all, Subaru Natsuki- the main protagonist whose unique “superpower” is an actualized butterfly effect called “Return By Death”- and works exactly as that name suggests.

That isn’t to say it’s all praises for this show. While Re:Zero has a satisfying first half and conclusion, the middle of the show was a painful slog. While the intended outcome for the viewer had some excellent payoff in the final number of episodes, and depicts a side of humanity rarely explored to the depth it is here, it was unnecessarily drawn out on the part of Subaru and for the viewer. I’m sure some will argue that it’s probably like that in the LN this show’s adapted from, but it does not change critique of a pacing issue when it arises.

If there’s one other main criticism, it doubles as a curiosity and it’s something that I’d expect a second season to resolve- namely the reason why Subaru was summoned to this fantasy world. The very core premise of isekai in general- the nebulous reasons for why their protagonists wind up in another world at all is often flimsy at best, even in the best of the genre, and the world-building or the characters or both even can make us forget this to an extent…but doesn’t change that it can be a weak point. Despite what I said at the start of my thoughts, I will indulge in one point from KonoSuba: that show did a terrific job of setting up the why by making its entire beginning the events of Kazuma’s untimely and pathetic death as a staging to introduce Aqua and set up the world the duo wound up bumbling into. For Re:Zero, at least for now, the reasons for being remain nebulous, aside from whatever hints Subaru’s core mechanic- “Return By Death”- provides us.

Is this show worth watching? Absolutely, with a few caveats. The first is a stern warning to those with weak constitutions or under the age of 17- this isn’t a light-hearted jaunt in the slightest the whole way through, and while fantasy violence is nothing new overall, the context can be shocking at times. The next would be related to the first point- that it is worth pulling through the middle section to reach the end, but it can be exceedingly difficult. The end result is a season book-ended by a strong start and an even stronger finish built by an entire 25 episode’s worth of buildup, or at least a dozen episodes, depending on how you look at it, really. Finally…the highs are really high in this series and are enough to overpower a lot of other more minor shortcomings. Any more information though it’d be a major spoiler- so now onto grading!


Animation: A modern 2-D anime, with a few 3-D shots thrown in. The former is excellent as you’d hope, from various fight sequences to character design, albeit incredibly vivid in some certain depictions. Everything feels fluid and smooth and there’s a good understanding of lighting as well for different contexts and times of day. The little bit of 3-D isn’t anything special but serviceable.

4.5/5 points.

 

Characters: As outlined in my thoughts, the lead character of the show is Subaru- a former shut-in NEET from Japan who left a convenience store one night and instead of going home, wound up in Lagunica- the massive kingdom in which the story takes place. At first, Subaru has an unwarranted ego and a inaccurate set of assumptions about his situation, but quickly begins to realize things are different than he assumed as the scope of his situation is revealed, along with the first “realization” of his special ability.

There are many important characters in this show, but Subaru’s role revolves mainly around Emilia- a kind, silver-haired girl who he professes his undying love to in rather awkward fashion after she saves him from a few thugs in an alleyway. As it turns out, there’s more to Emilia than merely kindness, starting with Puck- a cat-like spirit she’s contracted to and possesses magical abilities of his own. The pair’s relationship is a bit shrouded in mystery how it came to be, but it’d be accurate to say that it’s complex.

While these two are the main focus of the story’s plot, there are several important characters introduced as the show goes on, from a certain pair of well-known twin maids and a magical librarian to some extremely powerful knights, a deranged villain or two, and in the show’s opening arc, a girl named Felt, who despite her age is an exceptionally skilled thief. Honestly, this review would need a very large spoiler section to adequately cover the people and roles in this show, but despite the temptation most of them would constitute giving the plot away- and as viewers of the show reading this know, it’s best to experience meeting everyone the first time as their roles are revealed. You’ll be surprised, amazed, horrified and heartwarmed all in the same show by this cast. The major character development, particularly for Subaru, proves outstanding, although there are certain parts I’d like to be pushed even further in a season 2.

4.5/5 points.

 

Story: In some ways, this show is a typical isekai, but in many other regards it is not. It’s a story that runs the gamut of emotions, and is by and large the story of Subaru even as other actors get involved in their own personal motives and goals. As far as the plot goes, the pacing is breakneck for a good amount of the show, which makes it difficult to watch in one go, but a much needed and important breather of sorts ends the middle section of Re:Zero as it transitions into a 3rd act. While the material presented is very solid and receives an excellent conclusion, there are still some major unanswered questions, which as a viewer keeps one engaged for a second season. If you like action, horror, romance and time manipulation shenanigans, you’ll probably love this plot as well.

3.75/5 points.

 

Themes: Foremost in the discussion of this show has to be humanity- namely, Subaru’s humanity. It is explored at every level as the series progresses, and proves an emotional roller coaster every bit as steep as you might expect. It’s clear to say thematically Subaru is and isn’t the same person he was to start as a direct result of experiences he has.

Aside from that, the “humanity” discuss stems also to a discussion about love, acceptance, duty, honor, pride and all manners of conduct. It’s unusual to see a deep dive like this show, let alone in this genre does here- and I’d say everything else revolves around it. Can it get overwhelming? Yes. However, it’s not cheap or contrived, which is greatly appreciated.

4.25/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Interesting keynote visuals in the openings reflect the arcs they’re in…when the OPs actually play. This show has more cold openings than I can remember specifically in an anime, but remember that breakneack pace that was mentioned? I guess a lot happens…The pacing and imagery can be a bit too much at the show’s lower points honestly, and prevents a full ringing endorsement of the material within intangibly for all audiences. The OST’s fine, though perhaps most infamous for the “sound of the witch.”

3.5/5 points.

 

Overall: 20.5/25 (82%): A cut above the standard isekai, Re:Zero proves to be a bit of a crazy ride, with very high highs and very low lows. The end product however is one worth watching- albeit at a pace that suits you, and it can be understood why a season 2 is (was) highly anticipated. It’s not a casual kind of watch, so be prepared to commit if you wish to see it and haven’t already.


Like what you see? Big Re:Zero fan? Leave a comment!

Review: BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

An enjoyable watch that surprised modest expectations.

The Lowdown:

Series: BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense

Studio/years aired: Silver Link, 2020- (a season 2 is confirmed and pending)

AniB’s thoughts: Piggybacking off the recent fun piece about naming series after absurd naming conventions in light novels as well as the winter anime season wrapping up, the first review of 2020 (and of a show from this year as well) is none other than BOFURI! After hearing some compelling feedback from some longtime readers, the simple concept of a girl who doesn’t play games stumbling into an overpowered MMO build was too hilariously intriguing to not check out. From my experience, the MMO, fantasy-esque genre does not usually produce compelling shows on a consistent basis, but BOFURI proves to be irresistible fun and a very pleasant surprise. For 12 episodes it kept up a good pace backed by a lead character who was compelling to watch her every move, and a universe, while simple and standard on some level, that offered the same excitement of exploring the unknown with these characters and all that came with it.

In a word, “fun” is the biggest selling point here, which the show gets amazing mileage from. The characters in this show are not very deep outside of Maple and her best friend Sally, but in many ways it matters little to the plot and pacing, which while simple, prove intoxicating in the ability to make a viewer want to see what happens next. Maple’s unpredictability becomes a focal point not just for the audience, but the in-show watchers and even the game developers themselves, amazed and frustrated in equal measure at how a genuinely sweet and naive girl is breaking the game they built so thoroughly.

It’s a breath of fresh air to have a show is both genre-savvy and doesn’t take itself too seriously at the same time. And while it’s still fine to have and acknowledge the the types of shows that either have higher stakes, more graphic action or darker premises, it’s surprisingly rare to just get something where the goal is nothing more than “the players have some fun, for themselves and each other” as a basic premise. BOFURI is a reminder in that way that simple ideas can still lead to amazingly enjoyable shows- and well executed ones at that. To grading!


Animation: Modern 2-D animation. In a breath of fresh air, a lot of action scenes and sequences that may had been recast in clunky CGI from shows in recent years are done in 2-D here- and it really pops. The fights in this show are satisfyingly flashy and fulfilling, but also fun- which happens when a show doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s almost intoxicating to get such a cheerful show within this genre given the push towards dark fantasy over the last several years- and that fun shines through. This aspect continues to the brightened colors and attractive character designs the show uses, and all of it is visually impactful.

4.75/5 points.

 

 

Characters: As the extended title of BOFURI suggests, the main character is the one who decided to “max out her defense”- Maple. In real life, she’s known as Kaede Honjou, a girl who appears to be in junior high school and has never been a gamer in her life prior to attempting New World Online (a virtual reality MMO, the main setting of the show), at the request of her friend Risa. A sweet, kind girl but naive and slightly airheaded, she dons the name “Maple” in-game and starts playing her way-not knowing the first thing about the game, or standard conventions!

Risa, her friend from real life, joins Maple a few days later in the game under the name Sally. A cool note here, which is lost in translation is that “Sally” is an anagram of “Risa” in Japanese lettering, which unfortunately didn’t come through in English. An experienced gamer compared to her friend (who she teams up with), Sally possesses smarts, savvy and some excellent reflexes as she pursues an entirely different character build from Maple’s.

The main concern here is the lack of depth and basic nature among the cast’s overall development, but with such a strong and quirky lead in Maple/Kaede, it proves to be no detriment to the overall enjoyability of the show. Sally/Risa also receives some characterization, and as the gamer who convinced her best friend to get into the game, she’s a force to be reckoned with all her own. The other top players in the game prove to be more friendly than appearances or reputations initially let on, and while fierce competition, are gracious in defeat. A number of other players have interactions with either of the girls that also prove important as the show moves along (the outcomes of which might constitute spoilers, so watch the show!)

While it would be nice to see further development in the majority of the cast for season 2, simplicity can be a good aspect, and one could argue that the shallow nature of most characters is like that of a real MMO, as opposed to how Maple and Sally know each other in real life. BOFURI in turn isn’t trying to be a hardcore character drama or something that it’s not, instead playing to its strengths. The end result is refreshing.

3.5/5 points.

 

 

Story: A rather straightforward by easy to follow tale where a non-gamer girl enters a new MMO game and proceeds to discover and progress through it in her own way, having fun. That really is the basic premise Bofuri operates on, but this scope gets expanded as the world gets bigger and Maple progresses eventually from being a virtual nobody. It’s not going to fool anyone in terms of complexity, but it does exhibit once again the ability for simple premises to be upgraded by good to great writing and a lead character who is strong.

3.5/5 points.

 

 

Themes: The overarching drive of many categorical points in this review has been at the simplicity of the show- and in that sense, the themes are fine, but they aren’t going to blow your mind either. It’s not that kind of show, but the basics are there and executed adequately: strong friendship, camaraderie, good sportsmanship, and as mentioned several times, fun. How often can we forget that enjoyment itself can be a goal of a pastime- especially in games and competition? It’s true that we “play to win the game,” but something so fundamental is a reminder here.

3.25/5 points.

 

 

Don’t Insult The Viewer: This show oozed intangibles, largely stemming from the general sense of “fun” it projects through every episode, and stellar fight sequences that tapped into the genre tropes and the animation style very well. One may also find that Maple is irresistible to watch- a unique blend of inexplicable moments and cuteness.

5/5 points.

 

 

Total: 20/25 (80%): A great way to open the new decade of animated fare, BOFURI was a fun romp. A show like this one is a welcome breath of fresh air when it comes, and the second season will be awaited with good expectations. This is a show worth watching.


Like what you see? Watched BOFURI or plan to? Leave a comment!

Review: Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

The Fate series goes “slice of life.”

Hi everyone!

With Christmas coming, it’s finally a chance to write more at last! As many of you know, writing is fun but requires some time for a great product, and finally, more of that precious resource is available as the holiday draws nearer.

 

The Lowdown:

Show: Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

Studio/years released: Ufotable, 2018-2019

AniB’s thoughts:

What do you get when Fate is combined with a cheery slice of life concept? The answer is this show, which incorporates a variation of the original Fate/stay night characters in day to day life around Fuyuki City, and in turn, has a focus on Shirou Emiya and his cooking skills.

Contrary to Zero or 2016’s Unlimited Blade Works, this show’s a miniseries and just 13 episodes, each in a more episodic format highlighting different members of the cast. While charming and light, supported by colorful animation, the show’s biggest note is that it requires “prerequisite knowledge” of the characters in the franchise to truly understand the allusions and references. This aspect is not uncommon with spin-off series, but it is worth noting because unlike other SOL fare, including previously reviewed shows on here such as K-ON! and Nichijou, it’s not something one unacquainted with the franchise would get the fullest experience out of.

So what makes this series well worth the watch beyond the Fate allusions? For one, each episode has actual recipes prepared as part of the plot, something was reminiscent of Sweetness and Lightning. Another neat aspect is the show’s timeline, which covers a full year and sees the characters in different seasons, along with corresponding activities. The food prepared also changes seasonally, and for a Western audience, it’s interesting to see different Japanese fare. The character mini-stories each episode provides are also well worth the brief investment, and it all leads to an easily bingeable, comfortable watch.


Animation: Modern, 2-D animation- all with a lighter touch than the main series works. The characters are all a bit more “cartoony” than the more serious mainline works, and the colors, shading and lines are softer. All of this contributes nicely to the aesthetic Today’s Menu is trying to evoke, which does very well.

4.75/5 points.

 
Characters: The cast largely reprises their roles from any variant of Fate/stay night, although now in the capacity of friends and neighbors rather than competing Masters and Servants. (If you haven’t at least watched Unlimited Blade Works, I’d advise doing so.)

Shirou Emiya once again is cast as the lead hero, though in a very different role: as a very skilled home cook! The Emiya household never fails to have a delicious meal on his watch, and through the show he demonstrates his creativity, skill and proficiency in the kitchen, along with a selfless nature to do things for other people.

His role does not preclude that other do not cook in this show; notably Sakura Matou, Rin Tohsaka and Archer all take up the apron at various point in the episodes. Much longer though, may be the list of satisfied diners who wind up eating the meals, not the least of which is Saber, always faithfully waiting at the house for Shirou, or Fuji-nee and her ever-spirited demeanor.

The series also does a nice job of framing various characters in a light that the more serious main series may have not, from Lancer as a man with many odd jobs, to Illya showing a side more reminiscent of her younger self in Fate/Zero. These interactions tend to be delightful and are a major draw in this production.

4.5/5 points.

 
Story: Episodic “slice of life” that also has an undercurrent of an arching plot, given that it moves forward in time. Designed to give us a look into every day life for the cast in an ideal post-Grail War Fuyuki City, the story is more the vehicle for the characters here. But…it’s very structurally sound, gets around to focus episodes on most everyone, and lets the viewer see aspects of characters they might not have thought of before. Finally, there’s delicious-looking (and real!) recipes. What’s not to love?

4.25/5 points.

 
Themes: It’s always difficult to pin down exactly what great thematic statements a SOL gives us, but it was rather effective in this case to give us a look into a more human side of a lot of these larger-than-life legendary Servants, as well as the Masters they served. It made the show relatable in a way it wouldn’t normally be- and in turn, did something that’s fairly important in the genre, humor and coziness aside.

3.75/5 points.

 
Don’t Insult the Viewer: This show has great intangibles, from an enjoyable opening and ending that feature some neat details, to being a clean and relatively easy watch to just relax and enjoy, which is ideal. As a show from a major franchise, it manages to differentiate itself from other offerings decisively, and excels in what it sets out to do.

5/5 points.

 
Total: 22.25/25 (89%): This Fate spinoff proves to be a superb short-format SOL series, though most fully appreciated with a solid background in the classic Fate/stay night and to some extent, Zero (or hollow atraxia, a certain VN! Someone mentioned it.) The references are smart and enjoyable, but context is important and I’d rec this provided at least some adaptation of the original VN is seen (i.e. UBW).

Review: KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!

A big isekai series gets the review treatment.

The Lowdown:

Show: KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World! (usually just referred to as Konosuba)

Studio/years aired: Studio DEEN, 2016-2017

AniB’s thoughts:

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! It was probably inevitable that this series would eventually wind up on here in the form of a review. One of the most recognizable shows in the overplayed isekai genre, it’s been the subject of much recent popularity, particularly with recent appearances in the topical spin-off Isekai Quartet and a new limited-release movie that was in theaters.

This irreverent, at times raunchy comedy is far from flawless and certainly has plenty to get on its case about, but it also hides great cleverness in its delivery and seems well-aware of exactly the type of show it is. For as up and down season one is, the second season delivers with more precision and playfully takes jabs at all the things the first act would deserve palpable criticism for, largely in the department of Kazuma’s perverted and lecherous tendencies.

Speaking of our lead: Kazuma’s the quintessential glue guy protagonist. He’s the reason the show exists but at the same time the rest of the cast is infinitely more interesting. A loser shut-in NEET in his previous life, his mix of cynicism and bad tendencies makes him often unlikable, but on the flip side, he can be smart, practical and responsible- all aspects that compete constantly in the series with his more unsavory side. He is in a way the perfect partner for Aqua, the bumbling fallen deity- offering his brains to her brawn, but the two often bicker, between the former pointing out the water goddess’s wanton spending habits, and the latter often taking jabs at the protagonist’s previous life.

The most intriguing and likable character in this wacky series may be the archmage of explosions- Megumin. A member of the Crimson Demon clan, she’s devoted to explosion magic- and only explosion magic, going so far as to forgo all other disciplines or auxillary skills that may have aided her (mana supply anyone?) She has a specific reason for this obsession, but unfortunately this review won’t be talking about the film or heavy series spoilers, for that matter. At any rate, she’s got a top-rate design and a good amount of common sense and decency compared to her immediate contemporaries…though admittedly, that’s a low bar.

Despite being up and down in a very traditional critic’s sense, Konosuba is fairly enjoyable for the most part. It will never be mistaken for a top-class story or an incredible plot, but it is comfortable being the weirdly red-headed stepchild of a saturated genre, preferring to not take it that seriously, or just flip convention upside-down on its head. It’s also fortunate both seasons exist, as the show really starts to find its stride at the end of the first season, and the continuation carries forward relevant story threads and consistent characterization. At the time of this review’s writing, the 2nd season has still not received an official dub- a slightly strange conundrum given the series’ relative popularity and the 2017 release date. If you haven’t watched it yet, you may love or hate this series, but I wouldn’t rec this to the below 16 crowd either. Onward to grading!


Animation: Modern 2-D animation in all its glory. The colors pop, the main character models are easily memorable, and action sequences pop, especially with some more nicely integrated 3-D animation in the mix. All that said, a nice little bit comes off the top for some frankly unfortunate fanservice, which also contributes to some of the series’ more questionable bits of humor.

4/5 points.

 
Characterization: Already talked at length about Kazuma Satou, the main protagonist, in the thoughts section. He’s not anything too special for this genre or as a lead, but he’s fine in the role he serves.

Of greater interest are his traveling companions, including the goddess he wishes for as a companion in his new world- Aqua. While she takes her actual role rather seriously, she’s proven to be a total idiot in matters of common sense and strategy, a fact borne out humorously by correspondingly low scores in IQ and luck on her adventurer card. Officially a deity of water, she actually possesses strong powers and abilities related to both her element and just holy properties in general…which is often borne to jokes. (She’s a magnet for the undead, and her most popular water powers are an oft-repeated party trick.) Inexplicably tied to Kazuma as a result of his wish, her motive is to defeat the Devil King and resume her heavenly duties, but it can be questioned if this really is her goal as time rolls on.

“Darkness”, real name Dustiness Lalatina Ford, is a crusader sworn to a different deity, Eris (who Aqua does know and does not think highly of)…but here hides a masochist beneath the surface of valor and bravery. Darkness became a crusader for a few very specific reasons, and at the top of the list may be her unrivaled passion for questionably abusive acts perpetuated against her. Despite this questionable vocation, she holds other secrets that make her less one-dimensional than first impressions would suggest.

I’ve also discussed Megumin in the thoughts section prior to here.

The supporting cast is stereotypical, although this may have been intentional to drive home an absurdist humor point about tropes in general. I’ll note Wiz- a powerful magic user who hides a great secret, and Yunyun- another Crimson Demon who appears at a certain point.

3.25/5 points.

 
Story: Follows an episodic “plot of the episode” theme with character focus and some pseudo-RPG elements included, but the show is stealthily an overarching narrative: namely, Kazuma’s quest in a new world to defeat the Devil King. Stuck in the stereotypical starting town though, it’s rarely a straightforward journey like a game, as our cast finds out. The plots ranges from being fairly intriguing to being…extremely questionable. You’ve been warned!

3.25/5 points.

 
Themes: Based on everything else said to this point, it could be inferred that Konosuba isn’t a paragon of deep thematic aspects, although the specter of deeper ideas are there: life and death, this show’s rather Eastern concept of reincarnation, deep held motivations that are mostly manifested in surface-level impressions…when you put it that way, it almost seems like the score should be higher, but in the series we’ve been given, it really is an “almost there.”

2.5/5 points.

 
Don’t Insult the Viewer: Most of the knock here is questionably fanservicy moments, shots, Kazuma’s most ignominious moments and to some extent, Darkness’s bouts of masochism. Despite these moments, there’s a flow to this series and a hard to explain pull that builds as time goes on. The seasons don’t have a bad set of OPs and EDs either!

3.5/5 points

 
Total: 16.5/25 (66%): Konosuba, in a nutshell, is one wacky ride, riddled with a rollercoaster of high and low comedy, some impressive action scenes, a few genuinely serious moments, and more than one head-scratching decision. Give it a spin if you’re an isekai fan or are just looking for something a bit different, I’d say- if you haven’t already seen it, that is.


Like what you see? Konosuba fan? Leave a comment!

Review: Azumanga Daioh

A classic SOL from the early 2000’s.

Happy November everyone! We’re going back a little bit in time- and for some readers, it may be a burst of nostalgia. Here’s a belated Halloween “treat” for everyone!

The Lowdown:

Series: Azumanga Daioh

Studio/years aired: J.C. Staff, 2002

 

AniB’s thoughts:

Reviews are back! In a twist to begin November, it’s Azumanga Daioh- an early 2000’s show that’s a classic within its genre. Indeed, the focus of this piece hearkens back to a show that can be construed as the progenitor of a “slice of life”/”moe” explosion in the years to come. The genre as a whole has a lot of interesting shows, several of which I’ve discussed before in other reviews.

Recommended to me (like a number of other good shows that have been written about here), there was an excitement of the unexpected. It was true that the show existed in a part of my mind (the title at least) but there wasn’t the slightest clue what it might be about. Azumanga Daioh could be described as a hybrid of Nichijou’s brand of humor, K-On! in the high school progression and adventures of the characters, and Lucky Star in the casual day to day sense, along with a clever reference or three. In saying that, it’s more accurate to pin this show as an inspiration for all those influential SOL’s and the genre at large- because it came first.

Of those shows though, Azumanga Daioh without a doubt, is the spiritual predecessor of Nichijou. Following the lives of the six main girls in their high school careers, it’s an often zany ride between their respective personalities, inconsistently consistent teachers with their own agendas, strange daydreams, and Tomo being Tomo. The surreal humor and superb timing on gags makes it an easy stylistic comparison.

Despite being busy with both many real life tasks and the ubiquity of animation in general, this in particular reminded me again of the value in returning to older titles, be it anime or Western animation. Azumanga Daioh allowed a whole genre to take flight after it- and yet remains a very good show in its own right, and one that has stood the test of time well so far. Indeed, it is an archetype show- and still holds up very well despite nearly two decades passing. It has a good dub (not always a given from the early 2000’s), an easy cast of characters to follow along, humor that works pretty well by and large, and fairly good animation from its era. In a word, it is “fun” and definitely worth a look.

(Also…if you watch, you’ll find out what a “Yukarimobile” is, who Chiyo’s father is, and many other amusing oddities. Have fun!)


Animation: Traditional 2-D animated. The early 2000’s was a transitional time in the methods used, but this series shined due to its visual humor and absurdist gags melding so well into the form. It’s not the shiny gloss of a series in 2019, but it was both representative of its period and genre- and has held up really well. An excellent understanding of the medium here!

4.5/5 points.

 

Characterization: The show revolves around the daily high school lives of six girls and their homeroom teacher- the impulsive and often reckless Yukari- and each of them is easily categorized by some major defining trait.

Chiyo Mihama is a child prodigy- a 10 year old who skipped straight to high school. Bright, polite and absolutely adorable, she’s as close to being the lead character as anyone in this show, and is generally adored by her friends and teachers alike. Her family is surprising wealthy and as a result, the group often meets up at her large house. Chiyo’s also the owner of a large and loyal dog- Mr. Tadekichi.

In contrast, “Osaka”- real name Ayumu Kasuga- is the resident airhead. Despite being the other transfer student along with Chiyo, her generally happy disposition comes with a “pie in the sky” approach to most things. Easygoing as they comes, no one’s quite sure what goes through her mind…except Osaka herself, and it’s always an adventure.

Speaking of mindgames, Sakaki’s a tall, athletic and well-developed girl who is generally percieved to be cool and stoic by many of her peers. In reality, she’s a kind girl with an obsession for cute things, especially animals and cats in particular, which she loves. She gets along especially well with the younger Chiyo, and adores her dog, Mr. Tadekichi.

Her self-proclaimed rival is the sports star Kagura, who starts the series in another class, but by the second year joins the rest of the main cast in Kagari’s homeroom. A swimmer on the school team, she views the former as her main competition, but in an amusing twist, Sakaki is unaware any such rivalry exists.

Alongside these girls are childhood friends Yomi and Tomo. Despite knowing each other a long time, they are almost complete opposite personalities, and in Yomi’s case, she’s often disapproving of the latter. A serious student who secretly harbors concern about her waistline, and a sense of fun beneath a usually sarcastic front, she’s the brighter bulb of the two.

Tomo’s an energetic girl- perhaps too energetic for her own good. Personality wise, she take quite a bit after Yukari, between her self-absorbed pranks and general rudeness towards her friends. Along with Kagura and Osaka, the trio’s academic prowess leaves something to be desired, leading to a certain nickname later in the show…

A concise cast of characters, they cast archetypes for countless SOL’s to come. As the originals, they’ve held up, and perhaps most importantly, remain characters rather than caricatures. The supporting cast compliments the main crew well- and overall, they all help carry the show.
4.25/5 points.

 

Story: The plot of Azumanga Daioh follows the main cast’s journey through high school, though the episode to episode events are much more self-contained in nature. That isn’t to say continuity doesn’t exist, because it does- often culminating in humorous results. Featuring a snappy, humorous episode to episode approach, often with some surreal results, this show is a load of fun to watch.

4/5 points.

 

Themes: Despite its silliness and quirkiness, the show focuses on some realistic theming, from the challenges of high school to the perils of relationships. That said…it’s a very laid back show with a great deal of comedy. What it does, it does fine, and that’s plenty enough for this style.

3.5/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Generally a clean show, although there’s one fairly creepy teacher whose actions can be offputting, to say the least (although it’s clearly meant as a running gag.) A really unique opening and ending help, as both are rather catchy and visually amusing; the music in the show does a nice job syncing with the comedic timing of gags. Intangibly, the series does well.

4.75/5 points.

 

Overall: 21/25 (84%). Azumanga Daioh is more than a mere archetype show, holding up well years after its release with its quirky, lovable cast and fast-paced sense of humor. It’s a must watch for “slice of life” fans and for anyone in particular who watched and enjoyed Nichijou.


Like what you see? Big fan of Azumanga Daioh? Leave a comment!

 

Review: Fate/Zero

The gateway to a popular franchise finally gets a review.

Happy Independence Day to everyone in the States! While it’s two days before at the time of this writing, I’m going to be out of town on the 4th. I do hope to write more frequently than I have been as of late as well. So, onto the review!

The Lowdown:

Show: Fate/Zero

Studio/years released: ufotable, 2011-2012

AniB’s thoughts:

Alright, so I returned to the Fate franchise not long after writing a piece of my mind about it, and the subsequent go-round turned out to be a lot more fruitful. In fact, I finished not only this show, but also its sister show, Fate: Unlimited Blade Works right after it, and while an argument can be made that I did these in a reverse order, I’d argue Zero followed by UBW is the ideal way to approach it, particularly as an anime. Zero is designed to set up relevant plot threads in the next show (or any other routes, as Fate is a VN adaptation), and as such, it actually raises the tension and excitement in the viewer’s mind as several important characters and story points carry over. In turn, it effectively makes the narrative that much more compelling.

The various reasons why Fate/Zero didn’t sit well with me the first time wound up being remedied by a fresh start and a renewed outlook on the franchise, thanks in no small part from the comments of readers on here. The first, most notable difference was simply being able to understand the fast-moving plot a lot better because I’d had some time to digest the basic mechanics of the Fate system (the Master-Servant pacts, classes, and so on.) As a result, it was much easier to focus in on the usual aspects that compose a typical evaluation of a show- and in Fate/Zero the strongest of them is the characters, against which Fuyuki City and the Grail War gives them a backdrop.

Zero was an anime-original adaptation/prequel from ufotable that primarily focuses on Kiritsugu Emiya, and the events of the Fourth Grail War that set up stay/night and its various routes. Curiously, depending on your previous background with this franchise, your experience will be entirely different with Zero. If you’re anything like me, you would have started from well…zero and been surprised at the many twists and turns that occurred. However, if you’d been a previous VN player or watched another adaptation first based on stay/night, you’re liable to recognize a good number of these characters, and the complexion of the show changes. The effect is a bit similar to the Star Wars prequels and the original movies. If you were like most people and started with the original films, the prequels are a tale of “how did we get there?” Likewise, if one were to start with the prequels earlier in life, I suppose it would be a great surprise in some ways how things unfolded. Despite this, neither way is incorrect to experience it, and the same could be said for Fate/Zero and something like Unlimited Blade Works.

So what is my recommendation? I say pick what works for you, but for my animation-only readers, Fate/Zero’s a fine place to begin, and really deepens the tension in anything related to it, such as Unlimited Blade Works. As a standalone effort though, Fate/Zero is a strong character tale with a lot of interesting implications, and the character of Kiritsugu Emiya in particular proves to be a strong lead, who faces a variety of difficult decisions in a battle wrought with danger. There’s really a lot of aspects within this show or greater franchise that could be discussed at further length, but as a general review, keeping it simple is probably the best way to go.


Animation: Modern 2-D computer animation. Zero was praised at the time for its animation, which is still stunning. The battles really pop in this show, and character design here works, even on the more fantastical Servants (also called Heroic Spirits.) Narratively, the animation does what it sets out to do, and brings the vivid portrait of the 4th Grail War to life in a most satisfactory manner.

5/5 points.

 

Characterization: There’s a lot of moving parts in Fate/Zero, with 7 Masters and Servants, not even counting various allies they may have in the fight. Chances are a different piece could cover all of the intricacies going on between this cast (and I don’t doubt someone has done a piece exactly like what I’m suggesting, given this franchise’s popularity). However, the essentials are about Kiritsugu Emiya and those most linked to him in the story and its plot.

Kiritsugu himself is a man with a mysterious, sordid past; despite this he still fervently holds an important dream he never was able to realize. To that end, he entered the Grail War in alliance with the Einzbern family heir, Irisviel- who is also his wife, and with her bore a daughter, Illya. With a reputation as a “magus killer,” he works in the shadows with his assistant Maiya.

As for Kiritsugu’s Servant, he summons the brave and noble Saber, whose identity is of a certain legendary king and his holy sword. Saber however, is female (not an entirely uncommon subversion Fate does on certain characters.) Said to be the strongest Servant, her ideals find themselves often in contention with those of her master. Saber too harbors a dream and a wish, and this wish finds itself often juxtaposed against Kiritsugu’s ideals and the other hopes of Grail War masters and servants.

Of course, every good story needs a great villain and Zero provides it between its themes and the form of a certain Master and Servant. While who I’m referring to will be abundantly clear to anyone who’s seen this show, for anyone reading who has not, it’s a very good development that takes place.

Also worth mentioning is a unique character in Fate/Zero: Waver Velvet. A third-generation magus determined to make his mark in the world, he’s enrolled at a prestigious academy for mages. He sets out to prove his teacher (Kayneth Archibald el-Melloi) wrong on his views, and in doing so, stumbles into becoming a Grail War participant by some lucky fortune. Paired with Rider, the duo serves as an unlikely but compelling undercard story to the main one unfolding with Kiritsugu, even crossing paths as such tales inexplicably do.

4.75/5 points

 

Story: Principally, this show is about the “Holy Grail War” and the mages who battle through the Master-Servant system to win the Grail- said to be an “omnipotent wish granting device.” Of course, this is merely the backdrop and mechanic to the real meat of the show, which is the characters and their interaction, but despite that basic framing, it’s rather effective and compelling.

4/5 points.

 

Themes: A great deal happens in this show, but it can be boiled down in essence to “ideals clash.” Characters in this show work to find the way to achieving what they desire most fervently, and in doing so, their ways of doing things, and their approaches clash, masters against masters, servants against servants, and everything in-between. There’s a great search for the path forward in everyone’s circumstances- not a bad analog to life itself- and perhaps the old adage “the decisions we make seal our fate” is most applicable here.

4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: There’s a very good orchestral score in this show, and this series focuses seriously on its storytelling, avoiding fanservice and the like. It can be very intense at certain points, so I wouldn’t advise anyone under 17 to pick this show up, and the Fate core system, while elegant, is dense and difficult to pick up initially with no real background.

4.5/5 points.

 

Total: 22.25/25 (89%). A launching point into the Fate franchise, the show also stands on its own merit, with a compelling cast of characters, an interesting setting and intriguing motivations that play out over the course of the series. While a information-dense series, the merits of the show shine through once one digests the VN-inspired system present. This is also a fairly intense watch, so be warned!


Like what you see? Pleased I returned to Fate/Zero? Leave a comment!

 

Review: Land of the Lustrous

A quirky, interesting show with an equally quirky lead.

The Lowdown:

Show: Land of the Lustrous (Hoseki no Kuni)

Studio/years aired: Orange, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

Ah, Land of the Lustrous. 2017 brought some interesting shows to the fore, from the depths of Made in Abyss to what was at the time the second season of the ever-popular My Hero Academia. The subject of this review though, managed to stand out on its own merits.

In short, while this series is about a distant future featuring “hoseki,” or gem people collectively, it’s mostly a tale that is a coming of age for the young and impetuous Phosphophyllite, or Phos for short. Without giving it all away, she’s tasked with trying to find a role for herself in the gem society, when all Phos would rather do is fight the moon people who threaten the existence of her home and her fellow gems, who are taken as rare and precious stones by the invaders. In this way, Land of the Lustrous is an interesting take on the coming of age story, as Phos goes on to experience several events through the course of the show that change her for better or worse.

This anime, at least for now, is as good as it gets in Japan with 3-D animation. For a show featuring sentient precious stones, this style actually brings out the brilliance of the different gem lusters and cuts in the action. As someone who grew up fascinated with rocks and minerals, this more academic side of the show- from Phos’ difficulties with brittle hardness, to how different gems and elements interacted, was actually an interesting appeal, beyond the narrative.

It’s a bit of a bizarre show in a vacuum, but the direction it goes in works quite nicely. It’s hard to get into a lot of depth about it without it either sounding confusing or like a massive spoiler, so I won’t, but this show is really about change. With a different aesthetic that is pleasing and a lead character that manages to be engaging enough, it was a solid experience- maybe not game changing, but memorable in its own right.

There’s an interesting character story here with the unique animation to match. If you’re looking for a show that has a unique premise that works, this is as good a pick as any, with a blend of adventure, character and world-building, and a good, if slightly strange premise.


Animation: The 3-D animation is groundbreaking for an anime, and for this style of show, it makes everything “pop” nicely. With a show that features precious stones as the main characters, the style allows the full luster of the materials shine- and beyond that, the world looks lush and stunning. A very good technical achievement! Fight scenes also look fantastic, as an aside.

4.75/5 points.

 

Characterization: As previous mentioned, Phos is the main character of the series. While the gems of the show are generally classified as no gender (given that they’re precious stone in a humanoid form), the majority of them can be considered female, including our lead. Phos is both an impetuous and silly gem, who in her immaturity longs to join the fight against the “moon people” who attack the gems’ civilization. She of course, is poorly equipped for combat as a brittle and beautiful type of stone in phosphophyllite (Mohs scale hardness 3) and so, the shows mostly revolves around her journey.

The “moon people” are the mysterious invaders who attempt to steal the gems for themselves, as the defenders, despite having human forms, they can shatter and be made into jewelry, ground up, or destroyed like any precious stones. Mysterious as they are dangerous, these strange visitors are shrouded in mystery as they ceaselessly continue their relentless attacks.

Kongo is the leader of the gem society – a mysterious individual who unlike the rest is in the form of a large human man with an appearance similar to a Buddhist monk. He cares deeply about the younger gems he watches over- and possesses immense combat power as well. His past and motivations seems deeper and more mysterious than anyone actually knows, though…

There are other gems in the series worth mentioning- from Cinnabar, a loner who generally avoids other due to her natural poisonous abilities, to Bort, the best fighter of the main squadrons in combat, and Dia- a diamond who despite her hardness isn’t as good a fighter as Bort, but is kind. Each character has their own interesting personalities- and you’d discover more of these characters if you were to pick up the show. (For those who have watched, there’s some good depth to this aspect of characterization in this show, which was interesting.)

3.75/5 points.

 

Story: “Gems defend home and lives while Phos figures things out” might be a very accurate summation of how Land of the Lustrous goes. Of course, it’s more nuanced than that simple description, but some variant of that statement proves itself to be true. There’s some really solid, interesting moments that occur within the story, but it’s carried more by its characters than by the narrative itself, from what I found. Still, an interesting world is built up.

3.5/5 points.

 

Themes: There’s a large focus in Land of the Lustrous on what it means to find a place or a role in a society or a family- and in turn, what it means to stay true to one’s self. In this important sense, there’s a question of what one’s worth is defined as- by enemies, by friends, and by oneself, which is an interesting literal and metaphorical question. Of course, there are other ideas at play, such as the secrets that seems to lie in hearts and minds, but the first point is a key idea to consider in this show.

3.5/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Pretty solid watch all around. There’s some strange things that do happen, and I’m not sure if the design work in every instance will go over perfectly for everyone who watches the show, but it’s a minor concern honestly. Do note there are plenty of intense moments.

4.75/5 points.

 

Total: 20.25/25 (81%): A technical achievement as far as 3-D anime is concerned, Land of the Lustrous also proves to have a lead and a story to match the visuals. If you’re pining for something that’s not exactly standard fare, this show may fit the bill.

Review: K-ON!

A charmingly cute and energetic anime classic.

The Lowdown:

Show: K-On!

Studio/years aired: Kyoto Animation, 2009-2010

AniB’s thoughts:

Before the review really gets underway, it’s great to be back! It has been quite a while since I sat down and wrote a proper review, but I did remain busy in the business of watching shows while on hiatus, and the standout of the bunch was this one- K-On! Considered somewhat of a modern classic in the “slice of life” genre, the show centers around the high school careers of the main cast- Yui, Ritsu, Mio and Mugi (and slightly later, Azusa)- and the club band they form and bond over, the Light Music Club. (In Japanese, “light music” is actually “keion” the way it’s pronounced, and so the title of the show is rather literal in that sense.)

So how would one describe this series and why it’s so good? For me, if a show like Nichijou was the peak of comedy in this genre of show, K-On! is its soul in what you’d want. It’s cute without being pandering, the characters are fleshed out individuals not boiled down into stereotypes, and it’s got a wonderful energy buoyed by the dynamic interactions among the cast. As a result, the episodes feel like a great deal of fun rather than a slog to work through, and the show successfully avoids the common pitfalls of many a mediocre “slice of life” en route to being adorably awesome. There’s also a relatable aspect to what you’re watching- while it’s true that not everyone is a high school girl in a band they formed, the memories of bonding with people over shared pursuits and the relationships made while growing up, right towards graduation, is a theme that resonates strongly here.

There’s a substantial real-life tie-in with the school that K-On! takes place in. It’s a real place- Toyosato Elementary School in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture, and all the locations within the grounds in the show are faithfully depicted. The historical building, which was a fully operational school until 2001, can be toured around in, and to no one’s surprise, the clubroom in which the Light Music Club held their activities in the show has become a sort of K-On! shrine, from drawings to tea sets, and even replicas of the instruments the girls used. *

As you also might expect from a show featuring a band, there’s a great number of original tracks between the two seasons, three openings and endings. Like the girls who comprise the club, the styles tend to vary with one unifying theme: it sounds pretty good, which while hardly the be-all, end all of any self-respecting evaluation, is both critical and important in this show’s success. From the openings and ending to the various songs played at key moments in the show, it all melds together into the overall narrative in a way that works really nicely.

From my end, K-On! was a joyful ride while also staying entertaining and interesting the whole way through. I wasn’t on the anime scene in any meaningful way when the show released back in 2009, so the fact that the experience was undimmed by 10 years is a testament to the show’s enduring qualities in this writer’s opinion. It’s not to say it’s a perfect show, as nothing quite is, but it embodies the best qualities of a genre and executes them at a high level, and that is worthy of some praise.


Animation: Let’s get the most obvious observation out of the way: everyone is adorable in this show. At the same time, the cuteness feels natural and not pandering in the character designs, and everybody is very “expressive.” You can get a sense of each character’s personality through their actions, and so the action is conveyed nicely not only through words but the animation as a result. Overall, the show looks great still (it was a 2009-2010 release) and the style helps convey the action well.

4.75/5 points.

 

Characterization: The main cast, as mentioned in my thoughts, focuses on the members of the Light Music Club and the band they form (which is later named Hokago Tea Time, or HTT for short). Featuring remarkably distinct personalities, the way the interpersonal relationships and character growth proceed organically in K-On! gives the show an undeniable heart while avoiding the pitfall of being generic.

Yui Hirasawa serves as the lead guitarist and technically as the show’s lead, though any of the main members could lay a claim to that title. She’s an upbeat and hopelessly flighty girl who despite the latter, can perform amazing things with proper focus (such as learning to play her guitar, which she named Gitta)…but at the expense of everything else. Yui’s also got an insatiable appetite for sweets and was initially lured into the club by the promises of tea and snacks. She’s the older sister of Ui, though in an unusual reversal it’s her loving younger sister who looks after her, knowing all too well Yui’s bad habits.

The self proclaimed president and leader of the club is Ritsu Tainaka, the group’s drummer. She’s synonymous with an air of informality, from her constantly untucked uniform shirt to her often blunt manner of speaking and love of practical jokes. Childhood friends with Mio Akiyama, the two are the formative members of the club and share a close bond, though are complete opposites in personality.

Indeed, Mio is a brilliant but shy girl, smart but easily frightened and embarrassed despite being a capable individual. As the group’s bassist, she also serves as the chief songwriter and is more level-headed than most of her companions. Despite that, she can easily get flustered, a fact that is exploited all too often by Ritsu with practical jokes. How she came to be friends with Ritsu is explored in the show, but for those who haven’t seen K-On!, I’ll save it.

 
Tsumugi Kotobuki, usually referred to simply as Mugi, is the group’s keyboardist and resident supplier of tea. Coming from a wealthy background, Mugi is constantly enthralled by common everyday experiences and takes great pleasure in learning about new activities and actions while seeing new places with her friends. Despite her upbringing, she’s a very kind girl and rarely gets upset or rattled over events, making her a steady presence in the group.

Azusa Nakano is the group’s junior, joining on in the later half of season 1. A serious and talented guitarist, she’s often dismayed at the lack of practice the Light Music Club does- but inevitably gets pulled into the pace of the others, as she has a not-so subtle liking for sweets. Nicknamed “Azunyan” by Yui, she’s often characterized as a little cat as Sawako (the group’s teacher and advisor) likes to make her wear a headband with cat ears, and she even gets a unique tea mug corresponding to this as well. She’s fond of her seniors and never fails to get excited when they actually perform.

The major supporting characters are small in number, yet fullfill their roles well. As previously mentioned, Sawako Yamanaka is the club’s teacher and advisor. She’s usually a kind presence who supports her students, but she hides a wild side to her, as she’s a metalhead at heart (and in her past), and has a hobby of making new costumes for the girls for their performances.

Ui Hirasawa is Yui’s younger sister and unlike the latter, she’s an extremely responsible and competent individual, but also kind. Ui adores her sister in taking care of her, and like Yui, is a fast learner (albeit far more focused all the time.)

Finally, there’s Nodoka Manabe and Jun Suzuki. The former is Yui’s childhood friend and classmate; she’s a serious and resourceful individual who becomes student council president, and remains a useful resource for club needs. Jun on the other hand, is a friend of Azusa and Ui’s in their grade. She’s quick to appear like she has a sense of knowing everything that’s going on, but she’s really a bit of goofball. In a show where characters are so important, K-On’s cast shines.

5/5 points.

 

Story: In simple terms, this is a character story about growing up, in high school, and about the girls who formed a band. Sure, it’s been done before, but not always as tactfully or as fun as it is here. Here, the characters make the story, and it’s relatable on a human level, which makes it engaging in turn. Split into two seasons, 41 total episodes (counting 3 extra episodes) and a movie (which isn’t technically covered in this review), it’s a overarching narrative that keeps up at a good pace.

4/5 points.

 

Themes: Going off the story, thematically this show’s about shared experiences, being part of something greater than just yourself, and of course a throwback to something relatable to everyone- going through high school, and the memories associated with it. It’s all wrapped up nicely in a cute package.

4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: In terms of intangibles, K-On! is overflowing with them, from its catchy music soundtrack to its engaging main cast and the fact that it’s also considered a superior adaptation from its original source, a 4-koma manga. Add in that it avoids being fanservicy, and you’ve got a superb outcome.

5/5 points.

 

Total: 22.75/25 (91%): A delightful blend of fun, sweetness, and enjoyable interactions, K-On! proves to be a must watch for fans of the “slice of life” genre and an excellent pick  for animation fans of any persuasion. An undeniably charming show.


Like what you see? Big fan of K-On? Leave a comment!

*Credit to https://www.bewashiga.com/article/toyosato-elementary/ and Ashley Davis for information on the real-life Toyotaro Elementary.

Review: Little Witch Academia

“Believing is your magic!”- what a charming outing.

So, I haven’t been writing a lot lately for various reasons, but I have continued to view some new and different fare, and one of those picks just so happened to be another Trigger show- the whimsical Little Witch Academia.

The Lowdown:

Show: Little Witch Academia

Studio/years aired: Trigger, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

Every once in a while, a watch I choose on a whim turns out to blow past whatever modest expectations I may have had- and the first anime to do that this year for me was Little Witch Academia, a joyous adventure behind the optimistic, headstrong and outgoing Atsuko “Akko” Kagari in pursuing her dreams at Luna Nova, the witches’ academy. Before I delve into the specifics though, it is always a pleasure as a purveyor of animation- or any medium really- to find something that gets you plenty excited that you didn’t expect- and while I had heard in passing good things about this show, it was a blind watch, which in the end couldn’t have been more fun.

LWA revived something nostalgic in how it impacted me. It wasn’t just one specific aspect, but from Akko’s cheerful smile in the face of impossible odds against many odd challenges laid before her, to the sweeping score that evoked at least some memories of John Williams’ work on the Harry Potter films, and even to the clean animation and grand adventure, this show was a heartwarming (and completely original!) adaptation. While there are some flaws, this show probably is the most “complete” work from Trigger- with an undeniable charm and appeal all its own.

This anime was the studio’s big production of 2017- and it shows with a grand scale of adventure, animation that both pops and yet has that unmistakable “softness” (as I’ll describe it) that the studios’ character designs tend to have, along with a rich depth of detail. More importantly though, Little Witch Academia is a grand culmination of the young studio’s considerable experience since starting from Kill la Kill, and the whole package seems to come together here in an indescribably pleasant way, combining a wondrous sense of adventure with a pinch of Harry Potter, a dash of humor, and a generous helping of some really enjoyable character dynamics. I could probably expound a lot further on certain details of this show, but for now, my general thoughts will suffice. Onwards to grading!


Animation: Modern 2-D animation, computer animated. Trigger continued its high quality animation here- and despite featuring a heavily female-dominated cast, was actually devoid of fanservice in most respects. Perhaps that’s a bit shocking from the studio that is inevitably thought of from Kill la Kill, but it’s true. The character models themselves are pleasant and varied, and the locales are also varied and pop, full of life. With a theming that demands this vibrant idea of a magical world brought to life, it absolutely delivers, with some terrific action sequences throughout the show. 5/5 points.

Characters: Little Witch Academia follows the story of Atsuko “Akko” Kagari- a Japanese girl with a wish to become a great witch like her idol, Shiny Chariot. Filled with a strong impulsive optimism about magic and how it inspired her, Akko seeks to fulfill her dreams, which become intertwined with the Shiny Rod- a powerful magical item she finds in a legendary forest- that once belonged to Chariot and is said to contain the “powers of the stars” themselves. Matching Akko’s stubborn will and determination to do anything she sets her mind to is a rash impulsiveness, but also a kind heart- and along the way, friends who keep her going.

Of those friends, two are the first people Akko meets on her journey and eventually dorms with- Sucy Manbavaran and Lotte Jansson. The former is colloquially referred to as the “Mushroom Queen” due to her affinity for the fungi and talent/interest for making highly effective and dangerous potions; while she’s got a wicked sense of dry humor and generally is introverted, preferring not to be bothered, what starts as a grudging annoyance becomes a close friendship with Akko, as well as Lotte.

The latter is a plain, nice girl of Finnish origin. While the level-headed one of the trio most times, Lotte becomes far more animated over her favorite book series, “Nightfall” and is quick to defend her friends in times of need.

Outside of these three, Diana Cavendish is also a key player. The star student of Luna Nova, Diana comes from a royal lineage of witches, and while she seems perfect, there may be more going on there than meets the eye…Viewed by Akko as a rival, Diana’s magical ability is outstanding, and she has the study habits and mind to match.

Serving as Akko’s mentor at Luna Nova, Ursula Callistis is the kind new astronomy professor, who is looking out for the girl’s well-being along with helping her to catch up on many magical skills she lacked the background in. Despite seeming clumsy at times, Ursula appears to be very smart and talented, and knows about Akko’s Shiny Rod and what it is capable of…

There is also the trio of Amanda O’Neill and her roommates Jasminka and Constanze; the former is a classic rebel with a penchant for wild broom riding. Meanwhile, Jasminka is good natured and always seems to be eating something, while Constanze might be one of the most underrated characters in the series- a German girl of very few words who mixes magic with engineering to make some truly spectacular gadgets through the series.

Finally…what of Akko’s beloved Shiny Chariot? You’d have to watch to find out…and if you have, you’d know what happened. There is a multitude of other supporting characters and at least one other major player who serves as an antagonist, and overall the way the cast comes together and develops, through both individual character moments and via the plot, is truly a lot of fun. 4.25/5 points.

 

Story: While the show was split up into two seasons for international release, the entire production is 25 episodes.On some level, this tale is one of two halves: the first focusing mostly on Akko’s integration into and adventures at Luna Nova, while the second delves more into the actual mystery behind the Shiny Rod. Overall, it’s good- but narratively the show seems to find its focus more as it goes along. There are definitely standout standalone episodes as well- such as one featuring the inner world of Sucy’s thoughts- and overall, it’s a solid overarching plot with both a fair share of serious and silly elements. 4/5 points.

 

Themes: At first glance, the message seems simple, but it’s driven home very clearly: the real “magic” within all of us is metaphorical- summed up by Chariot’s catchphrase that Akko takes to heart and beyond- “believing is your magic!” More specifically though, there’s a strong point about working hard to achieve your dreams; the power of having good people behind you on the journey, and to always find a way- because hope is powerful and essential, beyond mere logic.  4/5 points.

 

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A solid narrative, backed by a very likable cast, a lack of fanservice and a killer score? Sign me up. It’s no hyperbole that the OST for Little Witch Academia is outstanding- and it sets the tone well for any situation, backed by a genuinely fun romp of a narrative. 5/5 points.

 

Total: 22.25/25 (89%): This show is quite possibly Trigger’s best effort yet- beautifully animated, vibrant and full of life with a likable lead and cast, no fanservice in sight and a great score, along with a strong underlying set of themes. There’s not much to dislike here- and it’s an easy pickup for anyone looking for a fun watch. Check it out if you haven’t!


Like what you see? Big fan of Little Witch Academia or Trigger? Leave a comment!

 

Week 3: Fantasia

The origin of a famous mouse’s feature-length debut and much more.

This week’s Disney movie watch is none other than Fantasia, a bold experiment that started initially as a way to promote a certain famous mouse.

The Lowdown:

Film: Fantasia

Studio/year released: Walt Disney Animation, 1940

AniB’s thoughts:

Ah, Fantasia. The third film from Walt Disney was both an ambitious undertaking and unfortunately, a financial flop- but to this day endures as one of the most iconic and noteworthy pieces of animation ever created. As the war in Europe was in full swing at this point (the German blitzkrieg overrunning France at this point in time), this was the primary cause of the financial woes for the film and the studio at the time, given the inability to screen the production overseas.

As for the movie itself, it was a groundbreaking achievement in the field of animation. Crafted as a meeting of classical music and the animated form, Fantasia was crafted to “picture the music…not the music fitting the picture,” according to Disney himself. Originally conceived as a way to get Mickey Mouse back in the spotlight (yes, at one point the mouse had flagging popularity and needed a popularity boost), the now-iconic sequence with the Sorcerer’s Apprentice evolved from an elaborate Silly Symphony into the centerpiece of an entire feature film. For the first time here, Mickey was redesigned with pupils in his eyes- to give him more expression- and this was clearly the most classic animated short in what amounted to the first feature-length animated anthology film.

The visualization of music that Walt Disney foresaw was some groundbreaking work, forged as a collaboration between Leopold Stokowski, the conductor of the Philadelphia Philharmonic, and the studio, was not only borne of a mutual desire, but the ballooning costs of the already ambitious Mickey Mouse-standalone piece. In turn, the idea for what would initially be called the “Concert Feature” came into being as a feature length film, with each animated segment being see to famous classical pieces, complete with a master of ceremonies in Deems Taylor, a famous music critic at the time.

From this writer’s perspective, Fantasia continues to hold its luster nearly 80 years later, as innovative and creative now as it was then. Water animation- a technique unveiled earlier in the year by Pinocchio, was on full display in a number of the shorts through this film, and extensive research was done for each segment, from the dances in Nutcracker Suite to the animal designs in Dance of the Hours. Each segment could probably be a whole essay in itself, but each embodies the idea Disney saw fit for the film- and is truly a unique sort of animated film even now.


Animation: Classical 2-D animation, with highly innovative techniques for the period. There was a real push to bring the music to life in animated form, and Fantasia succeeded at that; there was a mix of classical and abstract ideas together on the screen and the animation laid all out clearly; it worked in lockstep to drive each story with the music. This film is still a masterpiece in that regard. 5/5 points.

Characters: In contrast to the majority of films (not just animation), this category is difficult to evaluate for Fantasia largely because of how the movie is structured and the content of each segment. It’s more of classical music set against these sweeping set-piece ideas, and aside from Mickey Mouse himself in the one segment, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to evaluate characters in the traditional sense.

However, the ideas performed on screen, and the innovative marriage of a live orchestra doing this program set to all these worlds and ideas was truly something else from Walt Disney. In lieu of a traditional character evaluation, I must give credit to the sheer creative ambition that was executed on screen in bringing these ideas to life with cutting-edge animation of the day and the musical collaboration. 5/5 points.

Story: This is actually an anthology film- the first of its kind in animation. Each individual segment focuses on a different famous classical song (or two) and sets its action in a way that personifies the music. It’s much more of a thinking man’s kind of movie in that it’s not actually about something insofar as it is about creative ways in which music tells its story. Think about this example: people always are thinking about what music means, or what images it stirs up in their head, or what the message might be. This is a visual representation as done by Disney and that is creative to this day. Now that said, some segments are definitely stronger than others- though of the non- Sorcerer’s Apprentice ones A Night on Bald Mountain may be the most famous. 4.5/5 points.

Themes: This thematic evalution is what you make of it, and what you get out of the music, I suppose. There isn’t a lot of themes, per se to dig into aside from whatever the action on screen portrays, and while entertaining, I’m not sure there’s a lot to pull from dancing hippos or happy cupids. 2.5/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Creative, masterfully animated and meticulously crafted, there’s no doubt of the care that went into this film. It’s got some minor pacing issues for the modern viewer probably, but overall it’s meant to be essentially a full concert program set to animation. 4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21.75/25 (87%): A visually stunning masterwork for its time, this film is quite unlike any other Disney production before or after, and perhaps embodied the spirit of Disney’s innovative nature better than any other film in the canon. While difficult to evaluate in its entirety, it is an essential piece of animation history and a key part of the Disney story.


Like what you see? Are you a Fantasia fan? Leave a comment!