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!

Let’s make a pretentiously long title for an anime series AKA Give it a Light Novel Title Challenge!

A fun post marks the return of AniB Productions today! I feel as if I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but I also wanted to preface this piece by wishing everyone safety and good health amid the global COVID-19 crisis. With my current biology studies, I am all too aware of the risks scientifically this poses, so continue to use social distancing and best hygienic practices wherever you may be. Stay safe, readers!


On a lighter note, I’m happy to accept the nomination from ospreyshire at Iridium Eye Reviews to come up with some ridiculous titles for shows. In a twist of irony, when I read osprey’s post at his blog, the exact three series I thought of were the ones mentioned as examples:

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai

Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon (aka DanMachi)

That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime

 

This is definitely a fun idea to give some other anime that pretentiously long light novel-esque title treatment! I will note briefly the series above are all worth a look, at least from an anime POV, though Rascal may be the best of the three series listed. With any luck, a serious review for any of them may appear sometime, but not yet…as we’re gonna pick some seriously silly titles. Before we do though, the rules (credit to osprey again, I’m gonna copy this part):

Choose up to five anime, manga or visual novel series that have a short title.

Light novels that have shorter titles (Date A Live for example) are also allowed.

Give these series a new title based on those classic overly long Light Novels we love!

If someone has already picked a series you wanted. It’s OK! Let’s see your own take on the title!

Link back to the original post so I can read people’s suggestions, I’d love to read everyone’s ideas. (it’s this post right here)

Include Give it a Light Novel title in your tags so everyone including myself can find them all easily.

Nominate around 1-6 bloggers.

Without further ado, I present some familiar shows rebranded in the most ridiculous fashion:

 

Assassination Classroom
becomes
“My Delinquent Class Learns to Study And Kill our Alien Octopus Teacher!”

It won’t be that easy, kiddos.

 

Little Witch Academia
becomes
“If Believing Is Your Magic, then Why Can’t I Do It?”

Akko attempt #256 to fly on a broom. She’ll never say die, though.

 

Hunter x Hunter
becomes
“The Friends I Made On the Quest to Find My Dad Are All Dangerous!”

“What did you do to me?”

 

Monster
becomes
“Can The Decisions You Make Seal Your Fate?”

 

Kenzo Tenma sure finds himself in difficult situations more than he wished.

K-ON!
becomes
“Our Music Club Is Actually A Daily Tea Social!”

Despite her best efforts, Azusa did get caught in the Light Music Club’s pace.


Alright, some nominees to continue this fun challenge!

sgliput

Jiraiyan

Mallow

Jon Spencer Reviews

Lumi

 


Like what you see? Leave a comment!

AniB’s 2020 Oscars Preview for Best Animated Film

Alright, it’s that time of year again! While slightly late with this preview, the Oscars are upon us and in keeping with a tradition on here, there has been an annual overview of the category every year since the blog’s inception- both as a way to gauge historical precedents and trends in animated films, but also to highlight some excellence in the previous year’s offerings, along with a prediction.

Since the first iteration of this piece in early 2017, I’ve repeated the same disclaimer/preamble , and nothing has changed the following words:

Generally, I only care about results when it comes to award shows, much the same way as when I watch shows. I don’t follow the Oscars for their over-bloated pageantry, self-aggrandizing celebrities who pat each other on the back and give meaningless compliments to other influential people they know, or to watch people on the Internet have meltdowns over “x amount” of diversity or lack thereof. I’m just interested in the movies themselves, the people who put the work into said films, and the statistics behind it. So, here’s a list of the past 10 winners, with studios, to give a recent historical representation of this category (and note, the year is when the movies came out, not the award ceremony date, which is always the following year.)”:

So again, the past 10 years of winners in the category, including the past 3 which were all written about in previous iterations of this column:

2019: ?

2018: Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse (Sony Animation)

2017: Coco (Pixar)

2016: Zootopia (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2015: Inside Out (Pixar)

2014: Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2013: Frozen (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2012: Brave (Pixar)

2011: Rango (Paramount Pictures)

2010: Toy Story 3 (Pixar)

2009: Up (Pixar)

As I’ve continued to do this list, what constitutes as “recent history” continues to shift. Up is the 10-year old winner on this now, which is stunning when it seems how fresh the memory of seeing it was, but more importantly, the 10-year trend will now reflect the 2010’s completely after this year’s show, which should give a better recent trends snapshot at what the Academy has liked over that timeframe.

Trends that have continued as a theme include the unlikelihood of a foreign film winning the category, and the likelihood a large Western animation studio will carry the day. Even discounting up, the 2010’s still produced 4 winners for Pixar, and there’s a good chance that Toy Story 4 could make it 5, as it’s my odds-on favorite for both historical and predictive reasons.

With all due respect to Klaus, I Lost My Body, and Missing Link, trends don’t favor their chances and it would be considered a shocking upset if they carried the category. Of course I believe they all merit serious consideration and an honest look- but with the rule change a few years back that allowed non-animation people to vote and pick the movies (and the winner), popular films tend to triumph here. It is my opinion that this year’s award is a Back to the Future-esque moment to 2010- where a Toy Story film faced How To Train Your Dragon. It is fitting then that the decade’s offerings would be capped with a rematch between the latest films in the franchise, and if history holds true, the same result might be expected.

Here’s to another good year of films to cap the 2010’s, and a sincere wish to continue excellence in the 2020’s!


Like what you see? Leave a comment!

3 Years of AniB Productions!

Hello dear readers!

It’s a bit belated, but the 3rd anniversary of AniB Productions has come and passed! Maybe I said this before, but it seems like yesterday the blog started, and the time has flown by. I am thankful for the continuous support, and cherish the people I’ve met on here, through the many comments, suggestions and even advice that has been offered through this span of time.

Of course, the anniversary also gives me a chance to both reflect and give the first update for a while on here as we begin February. It’s true that my writing has become far more intermittent, and while I am sincere in saying that I’d like to post more frequently, the current demands of my academic work make it difficult, especially with the content quality I strive to deliver. That said, when I have been able to, it’s my honest hope that those who read are enjoying the material, and despite not always being able to write, I do check daily the comment sections of pieces, as well as quick browses of other terrific work that many of the readers do on their own blogs!

Naturally, the question of what sort of content people want continues to be something I consider as I’m writing. The core “series” of AniB Productions- the reviews and “What’s In a Character?” continue to move along, but I’m open to suggestions in the comments. Plans continue for many pieces in both my drafted content as well as my head, but I have no problem fast-tracking something if the demand is there. There’s also interest in site layout feedback from this corner; while I’m personally content with how it is, if it can be improved in any way the comments there would also be appreciated.

While it’s a small personal post for today, it’s both a mix of gratitude and reflection that mark this occasion. I’m looking forward to the rest of this year and beyond as AniB Productions moves along- and happy more than a few of you have joined me on this ride so far! Here’s to you.

-Christian, aka “AniB”

What’s In a Character: Azusa Nakano

The youngest HTT member takes the stage!

Happy New Year once again! A new year requires new writing, and while a review would have been doable and straightforward to start with, it felt important to bring back AniB Productions’ most popular and liked series again: “What’s In a Character!”

Truth be told, there’s a number of character pieces in development. The term “development hell” is often used in gaming to describe titles that have had delay after delay and perhaps even outright cancellation for various reasons. I’m unsure if that applies also to writing on a blog, but sometimes it happens here with these pieces. To get the quality demanded by both the readers and myself, it takes extra time and effort, but also the juggling act we all know as “time management.”

Of course, nowhere is that skill learned better than in school, and in this “What’s In A Character?” we’re headed back there…again. No, it’s not the super-powered world of My Hero Academia or even a return to the Assassination Classroom, but rather, the charming real-life based domain of K-ON! It seems somewhat difficult to imagine this show’s run ended about 10 years ago at the time of this writing, but its charming characters, animation, and of course- music- have held up beautifully. While any of Hokago Tea Time’s (HTT for short) members are worth looking at in a piece, it’s the junior member of the group- Azusa Nakano- that gets the nod here. Turn that amp up and get ready to rock, as this piece explores this modest, talented member of the crew!

(MAJOR SPOILERS for K-ON! ahead.)


 

“Individually, they aren’t much…but they sound so good together!” -Azusa Nakano, on HTT’s sum being better than its parts

The main cast of K-ON!, in a word, is “adorable.” It was easy to become captivated by the girls’ everyday lives in high school, and while any one of them would be worthy of a piece, Azusa’s unique traits made her the pick. That isn’t to say the others won’t be revisited in the future, but the youngest member of the band gets to take center stage here.

An interesting aspect about Azusa is that she’s K-ON!’s “hidden” main character- one who doesn’t appear until well into the show’s 13-episode first season. A year in-universe elapses, and at this point the nascent HTT had formed within the structure of the Light Music Club, but outside of Yui, had failed to attract any new members in. While the girls’ “marketing campaign” featuring some dubious animal costumes had the opposite intended effect, it was a concert they gave that got Azusa interested in the first place.

As the only non-founding member of the band, Azusa often questioned the practicality of the club’s relaxed habits, and despite vowing to “not get caught up in their pace!”…she did.  Part of this was because of Azusa’s own mild nature, but the other members also had their own ideas. In particular, Yui affectionately took Azusa under her wing, characterizing her as “Azunyan”, or literally, “Azu-cat.” Their relationship was a weirdly inverted one, where Azusa was the more responsible and level-headed one while her “senpai” was good mostly at pushing her agenda of cuteness. (This is K-ON!, after all.) Some of the show’s more amusing moments came from Azusa’s capitulation to Yui’s will, from sweet treats to the cat-eared headband that both the latter and club advisor Sawako Yamanaka pushed fairly hard.

Perhaps the sweetest culmination of this friendship was when Azusa agreed to help Yui for a local talent show and sing a duet. Spending her personal time, she selflessly helped Yui’s dream become a reality- and in turn the two impressed as a duo, both to the neighbor Yui wished to sing to in the first place, and the other club members who came to watch, with Ritsu even commenting “they really prepped for this!”

Sawako is so into this moment. “Azunyan,” not so much.

Of course, Yui was not the only one who Azusa fostered a relationship with. She looked up to Mio Akiyama as a role-model of sorts, given her smarts, more practical nature and devotion to her bass guitar…only to be surprised by how shy and easily flustered she could be. In disputes or arguments in the group, Azusa often turned to Mio, but it could be rather hit-or-miss depending on the situation!

Ritsu, the band’s resident free spirit, nearly was responsible for driving Azusa away from the club initially with the excessive tea breaks she liked to take, but did become friends with her as time went on. Azusa was often quick to point out Ritsu’s slacking on her official club duties, but more importantly, served as a counterbalance so that (nominally) more practice happened.

Mugi, as usual, was an enthusiastic friend, and like the other girls, Azusa was surprised at her antics and enthusiasm for everyday life at times. She was indirectly responsible for the latter’s anguish at how much the club slacked off, given that she supplied the tea and sweets- but they were hardly refused when offered, or with little resistance. Azusa also marveled along with the others at Mugi’s hidden family wealth, be it at her spacious beach house or the unexpected discovery that her folks had a place in Finland!

The club’s affection for Azusa as a full-fledged member was seen in many ways, from her cat-themed tea mug that was obtained, to her taking on the role of watching the club’s baby turtle they obtained- Ton. The turtle’s existence in the club room was a result of Yui’s belief that Azusa had wanted him- a thought that wasn’t true at first, but after the effort of obtaining him (via selling Sawako’s old guitar, no less), what had been an initial curiosity turned into a companion the pigtailed girl was very fond of taking care of.

Azusa was also at the center of a secondary trio in the show within her own year, as she became fast friends with Ui Hirasawa- Yui’s younger sister, and Jun Suzuki, a spunky girl who often asked why Azuza joined the Light Music Club, while harboring her own secret interest in the group. The trio had a few spotlight episodes, most of which showcased some summer escapades- and the fact that the focus of this pieces gets very easily sunburnt.

Setting Guitar - K-ON! Wallpaper (1366x768) (144774)

A passionate, talented musician.

All the silly, cute parts of the series did not change a fundamental fact about Azusa: she was an outstanding guitarist. More serious and dedicated to her craft than her band-mates, she often pushed to practice when no one else would, and sincerely hoped the club would spend more time on music and less on tea and sweets- something that never quite happened.

Azusa provided a major talent infusion upon joining the group, and understood the fundamentals of the guitar extremely well, along with more advanced techniques. She was shocked that Yui did not despite being impressed with her initial performance and energy at the welcoming concert of her freshman year, and in turn would wind up advising Yui more on her craft than the other way around!

It was Azusa’s talent, determination and experience, along with her junior status that made her the only logical choice to carry on the Light Music Club when her friends all were set to graduate. Furthermore, it spoke to her character as a person that she’d be entrusted with the club’s fate by herself, as without her, there was hardly a guarantee for a tomorrow as far as the Light Music Club went.

One of the more emotional moments in any show comes courtesy of K-ON!’s series finale, where the graduating members sing a song of farewell and gratitude to Azusa, knowing that she alone could carry the torch at their school. And indeed she does, ending the series playing a solo instrumental version of “Fuwa Fuwa Time,” one of the band’s signature songs. While not in the anime version, she carries on the club and even forms a new band when the others leave, leading the way.

All of the events that form her character point to an individual who was passionate about music, a great friend to those she knew, and a responsible person. Add in that she’s relatedly adorable, and very cute when she’s taken off-guard, and you have a real winner of a character. Not every individual has to have an epic backstory to be great, but Azusa’s strength lies in the total characterization that she receives, both in her own right and in the context of the people around. It’s true that this is a strength as well of what is an outstanding “slice of life” show in general, but Azusa Nakano manages to still be very unique among this quirky cast, and worthy of the “What’s In a Character” designation.


It wouldn’t be an Azusa piece without this scene:

Some things in life are irresistible.


Like what you see? Big fan of Azusa or K-ON!? Leave a comment!

 

2020: A Look Back and Ahead at Animation

Bye bye yesterday, indeed.

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope everyone has enjoyed Christmas, Hanukkah, or whatever holiday you celebrate. Amazingly, we’ve reached the end of another year, and with it, another distinct chapter in the history of the world and by extension, animation. A few years ago, back in the early days of AniB Productions, I mused about the state of Western animation at the time (it was 2017) and said “we’ll revisit it at the end of the decade.” Well…that time is now! And as a farewell to the 2010’s and a hello to the 2020’s, this is a special piece that’s going to take a big and little picture on what’s happened and perhaps, where we are going next decade with a few predictions. Let’s get to it!

THE BIG PICTURE

The 2010’s were by and large a transitional decade for the medium, whether in the context of the West or the anime scene. Stateside, the decade had started in a turbulent place with many beloved 2000’s series having come to an end recently, and a general void begging to be filled by trendsetters yet to be named. One may have been a late 2000’s holdover that ran all the way to 2015- Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, but it was arguably the Cartoon Network duo of Adventure Time and Regular Show that would be the progenitors for most other Western TV fare this decade. In turn, the rise of the so-called “CalArts” style- a cartoonish, deformed-esque style defined by characters with big heads and eyes became a huge trend, and was noticeable in many of the decade’s big hits, from Gravity Falls to Rick and Morty.

As for anime, this past 10 years may be looked back on as the time where being a fan finally became more mainstream. Mall stores are loaded with merch of the most popular and current shows; the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade has featured a balloon Goku the past few years, and even Netflix has adapted popular series into live action (whether or not this was advisable is another thing, but that’s a different discussion.) In addition, the quantity of anime has increased several-fold year after year- so much so that there’s almost a saturation (and a real question of industry working conditions.) Sometimes, you have to dig a little harder to find the good stuff, but the cream always rises to the top and like many decades that have passed before it, this one also produced some outstanding fare.

In both the East and West, the rise of streaming services has been a major story of the decade, changing the way most people consume these shows, and making the medium more accessible than ever. From Crunchyroll to Netflix, and various other means that exist, the internet has supplanted TV in all ways as the choice to view- although you can still watch the late-night Toonami blocks if you’re so inclined.


So with a quick look back, I’ve decided to pick from what I’ve seen at least, my top show picks from the past 10 years in both the West and the East. I would have extended the column to movies as well, but I’m thinking it’ll be a different post for another time. Very curious to see what people think of these picks!

MOST INFLUENTIAL CARTOON OF THE DECADE: Adventure Time

Was there ever any other option, really? No series defined animation quite like this one, which encapsulated the decade with a run that almost perfectly coincided with the years themselves, revived a flagging network, and became a sensation where even casually, you’d see people with merch. But from a pure animation perspective, this show set the tone, and then lived up to what it did, growing and evolving over its brilliant, often weird and quirky, but always imaginative run.

 

BEST CARTOON OF THE DECADE: Gravity Falls

There has been some really interesting choices as the decade’s unfolded, but despite a few years passing now since its completion, Gravity Falls really is a delightful gem of a show, blending skillful humor with great detail and an intriguing plot that also takes time to flesh out the characters in this quirky town. It’s sometimes easy to forget, but there was few shows worth old-school appointment viewing on debut this decade, and this was one of them. I also considered Samurai Jack’s revival here, but as the show was originally from the 2000’s, it was more a completion of a masterwork that demanded it.

 

MOST INFLUENTIAL ANIME OF THE DECADE: Attack on Titan

I really could say One Piece here for longevity, but I think it’s had a greater impact in the manga world, and it wasn’t a debut from these 10 years. There’s plenty of shows that were good, but what ones have had an impact globally and beyond? One answer is My Hero Academia, which certainly has that cache, but it was only for a little under half the decade. No, the best answer may be Attack on Titan, a show whose debut galvanized fans everywhere, even to the point that one year a kid dressed as Captain Levi showed up at my door at Halloween! And it truly was a decade show, with seasons spaced out at the beginning (2013) and end of the period (2018, 2019).

 

BEST ANIME OF THE DECADE: 

Just one pick, eh? There are many worth the crown of this distinction, but it had to be something where we can look back years from now and say “yeah, that was a masterpiece.” Not everything ages well! For every Cowboy Bebop, there’s a 70’s Devilman out there. So in the end, I’ve picked two, because why not:

Hunter x Hunter and Steins;Gate.

steins;gate.png

There’s specific points for these picks. For one, Hunter x Hunter is my favorite for a reason, and it is a remarkable achievement in long-format shonen anime between how well it’s done and its remarkably engaging cast and themes. It is the second adaptation of the source manga after 1999’s effort, and and for all intensive purposes improves greatly on it. The ability to flawlessly switch genre-styles within show is masterful, as is the subversion it performs on common tropes. Add in that it has one of the most uniquely remarkable arcs in any show (Chimera Ant) and there’s a great case for it here in this column. Running from 2011 to 2014 in its Japanese debut, and its English dub from 2016 to 2019, it really was a show of the 2010’s. (Read the review here!)

Steins;Gate on the other hand, was a different ride, one that wove time travel and the consequences of it right into its very fabric. Of all the series in the 2010’s, I think this one will be remembered uniquely for a few reasons (and the review is also here!)

2011 was a remarkable year for anime. Aside from these two, it also featured Fate/Zero, Nichijou and Madoka. However, these two are excellent adaptations from source material, which takes away nothing at all, but I want to nominate one more dark horse candidate that’s anime-original for the story:

Little Witch Academia.

Why this show, you may ask? Well, for one, yours truly watched it. Can’t pick something you don’t know. But more importantly, it has a little bit of everything you could ask for, from a spirited, memorable cast, to a enjoyable story, gorgeous animation and some incredibly uplifting themes. (You can read my review here if you haven’t, or peruse a character piece on Akko Kagari as well.) But I also asked myself, “how will this age?” and the answer is clear that it’s going to be like fine wine. It doesn’t date itself with dumb references in-show, the plot itself is timeless, and the show is accessible even to a younger audience, with an appeal that’s broad but hardly to the lowest common denominator. Finally, the story about how it got to be green-lit from Trigger and how it started as a fan-sourced project and special is interesting. Feel free to look it up.

Are these truly the top anime of the decade? Perhaps. As a writer, critic and then fan, I suspect everyone will have a different answer, and I’d like to think this one is no worse than anyone else’s reasoning or logic.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR ANIMATION?

Well, my guess is as good as anyone else’s. We started the decade on cable; we ended it streaming, and what turned out to be good and popular wasn’t even on anyone’s radar when it all started. So a few predictions shall suffice:

-The CalArts style will fade out by mid-decade for a different style.

This is history talking here. Each decade has been distinct stylistically and this might be the safest bet- that a new or recycled style comes back into prominence in the West. We’ll see though.

-SpongeBob finally ends.

Underrated aspect of the 2010’s has been “zombie shows”- titles that have lived generations and eras which continue onward. This falls more under “bold prediction” but the yellow sponge’s run will dry up at some point, and crazier things have happened. Heck, long-time running mate The Fairly OddParents ended this past decade, so it’s not impossible.

-A previously unheralded anime genre takes center stage.

In the 2010’s, that had to be the isekai explosion led off by Sword Art Online, but with the saturation of that area, the new decade is ripe for something fresh. We’ll all wait enthralled and one day realize it’s happened, but not until we start scrolling through releases.

-The foreign film drought continues at the Oscars.

I know this isn’t the animated movie column, but it’s criminal how little attention non-American fare gets in stateside circuits outside of industry professionals and passionate folks like perhaps yourself, dear reader. It would be nice if it changed, but I don’t suspect it will.

 

-More revivals of older shows will happen.

Recent years have borne nostalgia trips across culture, from Star Wars to DuckTales, and in turn, I expect more of the same as we get into the new decade. If there’s one thing Hollywood is good at, it’s recycling ideas, and I think it’s become applicable to animation as well.


Well, that’s it from me! A Happy New Year to all, and a big thank-you for all the support for the blog. Here’s to the end of one decade and the beginning of a great new adventure with you all!

(Leave a comment if you’d like!)

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!

Real Neat Blog Award!

Hey, another nomination for another blogging award! I’m back to write over the Thanksgiving break, and this was definitely something I was looking forward to answering! A big thanks to Lumi, who writes some thought-provoking anime content and has been a steady reader here as well. Make sure to check his work out if you haven’t! A few rules about this award:

  1. Display the logo (should be above).
  2. Thank the bloggers for the award.
  3. Answer the questions from the one who nominated you.
  4. Nominate 7 to 10 bloggers.
  5. Ask them 7 questions.

So let’s delve into the questions sent my way:

What book has upset you the most?

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fpictures.abebooks.com%2Fisbn%2F9780470475447-us.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

Hmm, that’s an interesting question! I haven’t done much pleasure reading in a while as a university student, but rather humorously, I doubt most people have enjoyed physics textbooks, and I’m no exception. Trying to figure material out from it was a chore and a half- so that qualifies as “upsetting” in my eyes.

 

What character in fiction’s story arc left you the saddest?

https://external-content.duckduckgo.com/iu/?u=https%3A%2F%2Fbangin.files.wordpress.com%2F2013%2F06%2Fkiritsugu.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

-The saddest character arc? Ooooh, there’s a great question. Let’s pick someone who hasn’t appeared in my “What’s in a Character” series then…well, a good candidate might  the tale of Kiritsugu Emiya from Fate/Zero. I’m unsure if it’s the saddest arc I’ve ever seen, but the man’s character is a tragedy of the highest order, and largely a big reason Zero is the closest to a “must-watch” in the franchise, from my perspective.

 

What do you feel about escapism in fiction?

-Perfectly normal. Seriously, fiction by definition is a made-up story, something we’ve all known from an extremely young age, so it’s more an inherent property than not. Now, in a more nuanced way, there’s different levels of escapism, from the fantastical fantasy worlds that exist in many works, to sobering pseudo-realities based on or directly set in real events or places. Truthfully, it depends on what you’re looking for- and I think that’s a really neat aspect about stories in general.

What musical theme immediately starts the waterworks for you?

Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 8.20.12 PM

-“Memories,” a more contemplative leimotif of Little Witch Academia’s “Chariot’s Theme” might do the trick. Context matters here!

 

Why do some people associate feeling sad as meaning the show is bad?

-Well, this is actually a larger conundrum I’ve been wrestling with for a while in my own review work. So, I’ll do my best to give an answer:

Sadness =/= Bad, but high level execution of a concept, along with being a genuinely watchable product never goes out of style. To make reference to specific instances: Kite’s saga in Hunter x Hunter and how it relates to Gon is “sad” but complex emotionally, and gripping as a major undercurrent of the arc in question. If “sad” = “bad” to some folks, then it probably wasn’t very well executed and is more an indictment of the show itself than the content. One final note: I don’t care for story that emphasize crippling depression, but when it’s not laid on so heavily, it can be an emotionally thought-provoking experience.

Is it necessary to use vulgar language for a mature story?

-Absolutely not! The power of language is such that when the right tone and plot are established, context can make for a very intense story that doesn’t need coarse language necessarily. Besides, I always learned that the less you swear, the more professional you sound- and if it’s very selective, it may also be more impactful.

What makes you happy right now?

-God, family, working hard at school. Seriously! It’s simple, but having an objective and working hard at it is the most fulfilling feeling there is.


So, now for a pick-7 of questions worth asking:

-What’s the most underrated show you think you’ve watched and why?
-Who is your favorite character from animation?
-If you had a choice between attending the Super Bowl or attending a concert of your choice, what would you pick?

-What was the best animated film of the 2010’s in your opinion?
-Grabbing this from Lumi: “What makes you happy right now?”

-It’s the holidays! What is your favorite food from the season?
-If you were given a choice, what’s one thing in animation you’d want to see written about?


Well, that’s it from me! Here’s my 7 nominees:

sgliput

Irina

Mallow

GingerJumble

John Spencer Reviews

negativeprimes

TPAB


Like what you see? Leave a comment!