Review: SSSS.Gridman

Trigger’s fall offering revives an old franchise.

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Well, the first anime review of 2019 is here! I’m reviewing an show that just wrapped up around Christmastime- Trigger’s S.S.S.S. Gridman, the popular mecha offering of the fall anime season. Let’s get to it.

The Lowdown:

Show: S.S.S.S. Gridman

Studio/year released: Trigger, 2018:

AniB’s thoughts:

Color me surprised at what turned out to be a great little watch. Gridman was a pick that I started solely due to a friend’s suggestion in passing, and in turn I was treated to a show that while vividly strange on many levels, was also satisfying, with an interesting set of characters, some high stakes and a killer opening. Yes, you’ve probably heard about this show in passing if you’re a hardcore anime fan if for no other reason that it contained two of fall 2018’s most popular girls in Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo.

Gridman’s core premise at first seems simple, steeped in a mystery: a boy named Yuta Hibiki wakes up with apparent amnesia, only to find his way into Rikka’s home- a junk shop- where on the aptly named “Junk” computer, he recalls he’s the pilot of Gridman- a computerized mecha agent that when connected to Yuta via an “Access Code”, the duo materializes as the actual mecha GRIDMAN, who has the power to slay kaiju and all sorts of stuff you might expect from this sort of show.

The one behind these kaiju though, is none other than Akane Shinjo, with the backing of the mysterious Alexis Kerib- a shady-looking character if there ever was one. Akane’s role in this show is strange in hindsight, but the setting and premise of Gridman is anything but conventional, and so it works, although I don’t doubt Akane’s true purpose might leave you a bit incredulous at first.

To me, this was a show that was full of the unexpected; the pretense of normality set against something very abnormal and foreign all at the same time. There was a sense the veneer of reality could be shattered at any moment in Gridman, and indeed, this juxtaposition was front and center as everyday events existed in this strange world alongside the reality of kaiju battles (which initially, only team Gridman and Akane are aware of). I think the originality of this outing, along with some easter eggs and treats thrown in for the original Gridman fans from the 90’s anime, makes for a fun outing, and it’s certainly an easy enough show to pick up even if you’re not a big mecha fan or deeply into the lore of such series or the genre at large.


Animation: Modern 2-D anime. In this outing, Trigger pulled way back on the fanservice (though not entirely) while preserving their otherwise typically gorgeous animation, which popped. Additionally, there was a healthy amount of 3-D animation with the mech battles…and it worked quite well.  4.75/5 points.

Characterization: There’s a concise main cast, featuring the leads of the so-called “Team Gridman”- Yuta Hibiki, ​Rikka Takarada, and Shou Utsumi; their main opposition in Akane Shinjo, and supporting these four are Gridman himself, the rest of team Gridman- featuring a mysterious group of men and women that help out the mech in his battles, transforming into weapons support, and Anti- a mysterious boy with an undying vendetta against Gridman that is all consuming.

Anyone who followed this show with any consistency knew the growing popularity of the new Trigger girls in Rikka and Akane, and while this is an aspect that really matters not one iota to the actual show’s content, it was something worth noting in the general context of following the series as it rolled along. Akane played a very spoiler-specific role, but appears right away as a popular girl and a kaiju creator. Rikka on the other hand, initially finds an amnesiac Yuta and brings him to her home- the junk shop operated by her mother.

Yuta’s a pretty standard mecha protagonist. There’s not a lot to say about him, although more specific details would be tantamount to spoilers for those who haven’t seen Gridman.

Anti is an interesting character with a spoiler heavy-arc, but as noted, he appears mysteriously one day with a drive to destroy Gridman, and an appetite to match. His role shifts as the series moves on, and while his initial characterization is reminiscent of Viral from Gurren Lagann, he’s a bit unique as well. 4/5 points.

Story: Big, overarching plot that has mecha, sci-fi and some really meta sort of elements to it, Gridman is both complex and convuluted; a mecha show that is at once true to the genre and something else entirely at the same time. How one reacts to the bigger picture here may affect how one views the overall narrative of Gridman, but regardless, it packs plenty of unexpected twists, turns and some incredible action and hype within that package. 3.75/5 points.

Themes: There’s some existentialism hanging out in this watch, and I think a lot of what makes the show intriguing, aside from highlight-reel mech fights is the characters’ struggles with their emotions and their place in a world that seems at once familiar and yet foreign. “Identity”, therefore along with “sense of self” forms a major part of the thematic crux in this show, and the resolutions to these questions often hold the answers as well. 3.75/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: A frenetically paced environment with plenty of good twists and turns, Gridman is a solid watch, which also had a conscious decision to only play music at very key moments (and this was noticeable.) Trigger also notably held back on excessive fanservice here, which really worked out in hindsight.  4.75/5 points.

Overall: 21/25 (84%): A surprisingly thoughtful sort of anime, mixed with all the action and “hype” you might expect from an anime in this genre, Trigger delivered something that was reasonably good and not dripping in fanservice the whole time either. It’s worth checking out.


Like what you see? Did you watch Gridman this past fall? Leave a comment!

 

Happy New Year! 5 Characters I liked from things I watched in 2018

A quick pick of some good characters .

Alright, so today’s a more informal post for the first time in a while. I’ve been banging out a lot of reviews, so with the year coming to a close and 2019 starting, it seemed like a fun idea to look back on 5 characters I really liked from things I watched this year. That could be movies or shows, East or West- but animated, as always. (Before anyone asks: Killua is an all-time favorite. There’s also a character piece I did. Check it out if you haven’t!) There was plenty to choose from, as it’s been an action-packed year of viewing, so here we go!


Vanellope von Schweetz (Wreck-It Ralph, Ralph Breaks the Internet):

Honestly, I could (and probably will) give the sweet little racer from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph films the full “What’s in a Character” treatment at some point, especially with 2 full movies’ worth of excellent character development, but Vanellope re-entered the scope of my mind with the sequel. A superbly fun character (voiced by Sarah Silverman, of all people) with a terrific dynamic that she has with Ralph, the regent of Sugar Rush is a surprisingly complex character, bundled into an adorable bundle of messy hair, a signature green hoodie, and boundless energy.

Yukko Aioi (Nichijou):

Nichijou, while a 2011 release in real-time, came into my life in a big way in 2018. While the many charming, quirky characters on the cast might all warrant some kind of mention, Yukko’s brand of terrible luck, persistent attempts at humor and futile battle against schoolwork all while never giving up is something to behold. Silly as Nichijou can be, it has smart moments of some pretty deep and touching stuff, and while Yukko isn’t a genius, she is someone who can be a great friend- and it’s through her actions that the robot girl Nano Shinonome is able to find comfort in the transition to being a schoolgirl, and her surprisingly up and down relationship with Mio Naganohara is a great joy of humor to watch unfold.

Anti (SSSS.Gridman):

Beyond the anime public’s adoring gaze upon Rikka Takarada and Akane Shinjo, the breakout character of this cast was none other than this man- a one-time kaiju whose initial casting drew a strong resemblance to Viral from Gurren Lagann. As time went on though, Anti’s varying hardships, coupled with his persistence in his goals (which originally was a single-minded, and I do mean single-minded obsession to destroy Gridman) found him both a strangely sympathetic character and a likable one who also delivered some major hype in a show you’d expect to have plenty of it. By the end of Gridman, Viral has undergone a complete character arc and transformation- and that, perhaps more than anything else in the show, is why he’s on this list.

Jack-Jack Parr (The Incredibles, Incredibles 2):

The youngest member of the Parr family had his big-screen coming out party this past year, where he transformed from a bit part in the original Incredibles film to a more active role, with a great deal of comedy and humor. From his backyard brawl with a raccoon to his unlikely heroics at the climax of Incredibles 2, Jack-Jack was about as humanly entertaining as you can make a baby character without him becoming annoying. No small feat there.

Kōhei Inuzuka (Sweetness and Lightning)

Father to the adorable Tsumugi in this sweet little slice of life anime, Kōhei struck me as interesting precisely because of his balancing act between being a good father (in the stead of his recently deceased wife) and his career as a teacher, which was handled with a lot of tact and care. While this show released back in 2016, it’s still worth going back to take a look (and here was my review of it.) This man’s selfless care, despite all the challenges he faces regularly, is a treat to watch, and a character archetype that seems far too scarce at time. Good dads (and parents) are never out of style!


So there’s my pick-5 for the past year. I hope everyone had a great 2018, and here’s a happy New Year as we get into 2019! I’m looking forward to another fantastic year here on AniB Productions, and to the excitement of my readers as they continue to grow. Feel free to leave a comment!

Day 12: Review/Rant: School Days

A polarizing show leads to a far less than enjoyable watch.

Day 12! We’re halfway to Christmas Eve already, and as we reach the halfway point of this calendar between today and tomorrow, it wouldn’t be complete without at least one-old fashioned critic’s assault. That’s right- today’s a juicy breakdown of a highly controversial anime, one that yours truly is happy to dig into (despite putting it off for a long, long time.)

The Lowdown:

Show: School Days

Studio/years aired: TNK, 2007

AniB’s thoughts: “Another day, another adaptation.” Or at least that’s what I’d like to say, except when the show in question is an utter trainwreck and I steeled myself to watch it on a critic’s honor mixed with morbid curiosity. This is unequivocally a bad watch, but the “why” of it is slightly more nuanced, like layers of a rotten onion that’s been left out in the sun, reminding everyone why it stinks so much. Unfortunately, it’s time to delve into the morass and figure out just what went wrong here.

Before really tearing into the details though, a little background as usual is helpful. First off, School Days never received a stateside dub- and it’s just as well, not only for content reasons but also for critical reasons. And as with any truly bad show, there’s always some interesting stories associated with it- in the case of this one, its infamously violent ending that caused the show’s final episode to be removed off the air for several networks in Japan. This caused the footage to be replaced rather infamously on at least one station with stock imagery, including a Norwegian ferry spawning the “nice boat” meme on the internet, and while this is a fun little piece of trivia, it only begins to scratch the surface of the “why”.

So here’s the heart of it: When I graded out the show, it got points for having the bare bones of a plot that linked together cohesively and achieved its (poorly conceived) goals, but between the cast I wanted to strangle, the janky, awkward transitions into more and more ridiculously stupid situations caused by quite possibly the worst protagonist in anime, Makoto, and the fact that it was an utterly banal experience devoid of much enjoyment.

Among numerous flaws, a major issue lies in where the plot wants to go. It initially wants to be a high school romance…but doesn’t do that well, devolving into a bad harem anime…but also does that terribly, and then after enduring 11 episodes of mind-numbingly bad writing and poor character decisions, that final episode I mentioned goes for a shock twist slasher ending that makes utterly no sense. Maybe it was supposed to be relieving, but I was under the impression I’d wasted hours of my life watching something so that you, the readers, didn’t have to. If this was the proverbial coal in your Christmas stocking for a show, this one is it! Do yourselves a favor and check out almost any other show you can roll on a roulette wheel. It’s likely to have better odds of being good than this unfortunate production.


Animation Quality: Average 2-D anime for its release year (2007); it’s not outstanding in this department, but “adequate” would be a better term. Sadly, this is the best part of this wretched show, which is damning praise considering how remarkably average said animation is. It’s also used in some painfully cringy scenes through this show to just unfortunate effect, and yes, there’s some fanservice in there that’s utterly forced. 2/5 points.

Characters: This may be the least engaging, least sympathetic cast I’ve ever had to cover, which is saying something considering “gems” like Fanboy and Chum Chum are part of that listing.

Makoto Iko is the lead character; a freshman in high school whose natural interest in girls at his age becomes more and more perverted due to both the actions of others and his own misdeeds. He winds up becoming the center of a badly conceived harem and unable to fix his passions and poor decision making, he’s a truly awful character who garners little sympathy with little development. Was this intentional? Probably, but he’s so poor for a lead that following his moves becomes dreadfully difficult after not too many episodes…and this isn’t a long show!

Kotonoha Katsura and Sekai Saionji are your two main girls. One is Makoto’s first romantic interest, who is initially reserved, well endowed and from a rich family-but after events happen, she snaps mentally, trying to possess Makoto. It’s always the quiet ones who lose it the hardest…

Sekai on the other hand is Makoto’s classmate who spurns on the initial relationship between Makoto and Kotonoha, but later develops her own feeling for the boy, leading to a confusing and depressing arc for an initially energetic girl. By the end, she’s also gone off the deep end in her affections with who else- Makoto. In the end, nobody’s really happy, everyone goes insane, and then with the aformentioned infamous ending in my thoughts, everyone winds up dead or insane. Yay.

The supporting cast for this show is both unmemorable and doesn’t really do anything to raise the merits of this unfortunate lead trio. 0.5/5 points.

Story: Gets a bare minimum of a half-point for having a narrative that actually goes from point A to point B. I don’t have much more to say about it other than I’ve seen episodic shows with more interesting episode to episode plot-lines than this overarching story…and those had nothing to do with each other! Jumping from bad romance to bad harem to bad slasher at the end, it’s a depressing slog filled with unlikable characters, poor decisions and utterly surreal outcomes. Then again…it’s based on a VN that plays out like this, but I doubt even the game is as poorly executed as this show’s plot! Just eye-opening in the worst of ways. 0.5/5 points.

Themes: A trail of mentally broken girls and an obliviously malicious main character is not a good look for any show, especially one begging to have some scrap of positive momentum in it. There’s no levity and no thematic brilliance here in this clunker of a script. 0/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Brutal writing combined with a terrible cast and an impossibly inane story is quite insulting, to quote this category. Unremarkable music does nothing to save this score, or this show, and perhaps the biggest affront is being “bad, boring and a waste of time.” That’s exactly what School Days accomplished. 0/5 points.

Overall: 3/25 (12%): “It’s a show”- that’s the best I can say here. What a disaster on every level. From vapid storytelling to a downright unlikable cast, and a show that seems unable to make up its mind what it wants to be- and then executes none of it well, it’s a forgettable, frustrating and poor outing of a show. The best part is when it’s over, frankly.


Like what you see? Do you agree or disagree with this piping-hot criticism? Leave a comment!

Day 9: Review: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

The wild Italian adventure of the classic thief and his friends.

Day 9! In practical terms, it’s the second Sunday of Advent, and in AniB terms, we’re over 35% into this calendar countdown. Once again, today’s pick veers slightly off the Christmas path in favor of a recent iteration of a classic anime/manga series from Japan- it’s none other than Lupin the 3rd, or Lupin III, or any other variant of that name you can come up with.

The Lowdown:

Show: Lupin the III, Part IV: Italian Adventure

Studio/years aired: TMS Entertainment, 2015-2016 (JP)

AniB’s thoughts:

In Italy, there is a rich tradition and connection to the ideas of Christmas. This is probably in no small part due to the location of the Vatican and the heavily majority Roman Catholic population, but also because of numerous saints, popes and iconic churches from over the centuries. However, today’s review is about a very different sort of Italian adventure- that of the master thief Arsene Lupin III and his quest for the greatest treasures of the historical peninsular boot.

Lupin III is actually a famous, older Japanese manga that has had several iterations in anime over the years, and this was until this past year (2018) the most recent foray, until Part 5 came into being. Fortunately for viewers unaware of Lupin’s existence prior to this show, it does not require any sort of background knowledge of prior events or previous tales in the franchise to thoroughly enjoy and follow, which is quite nice- as heavy lore can often bog down long-running or expansive series when it comes to new participants.

In the case of Lupin III’s Italian adventure, it’s a delightful blend of high-stakes missions and chases, unusual twists, some heavy influence from the James Bond franchise, and a number of competing character arcs that all come to a head in an unforeseen way. Through it all, Lupin has trusted right hand Jigen – master marksman- at his side, and is also joined at time by Goemon Ishikawa III, a master swordsman trained in the way of the samurai (and he gets some crazy feats with his blade), as well as Fujiko Mine- Lupin’s on and off again romantic interest and one of his closest associates. That said, Fujiko’s a woman who does things on her own terms, and she’s not afraid to play dirty to get what she wants in terms of the treasure, making her more of a friendly allied party with her own self-interests to Lupin’s usual capers. Of course, no great thief has made it without a worthy adversary- and that role is held by Inspector Zenigata, an Interpol agent whose life’s work is to pursue and capture Lupin, something he carries out with unabated zeal and a surprising amount of humanity.

For me, Lupin III being introduced through this show was a satisfying experience, and the arc itself is a fun adventure, combining both elements of stand-alone episodic pieces and a larger overarching story, narrative and character development. It’s a delightfully refreshing watch as well compared to a great number of other modern anime that exist; it’s not about schools, cute girls, generic shonen battles (though there are some terrific fights), or any of that (which is still great, don’t get me wrong); it’s got a style all its own, and it has fun doing it. And I think most people over the age of 13 would probably have a lot of fun with Lupin’s adventures as I did, and The Italian Adventure is a terrific show to enjoy and perhaps launch into the franchise.


Animation: Modern 2-D anime. That said, Lupin’s got some style that feels almost a bit like Western comics or animation for the most part, but quality, and in a way it just evokes that thriller feeling throughout the show, which is terrific. The colors pop, the character models are distinct and attractive, and the aniamtion here makes a difference in bringing the style of the series to life. 4.75/5 points.

 

Characters:

I did cover in brief most of the main cast in my thoughts, but for a bit more detail:

Arsene Lupin III is the descendant of the famed Arsene Lupin of literary fame; like his forefather he’s a master thief who can and will steal any treasure that strikes his fancy. He’s so good that various police and law enforcement agencies the world over have not only failed to stop him, but even trace him for the most part…except Inspector Zenigata. Lupin’s got a keen intellect, a weakness for women, a surprisingly affable nature, and is a pretty good shot himself, despite having Jigen around.

Speaking of which, Daisuke Jigen dresses like a mafia hitman and has the style of one too- he’s a cool customer with a gun, his signature fedora draped over his eyes. Lupin’s main partner in crime, he’s a reliable hand with some more common sense than his friend (though they’re all slightly crazy), has a liking for a smoke and a good drink, and is reliable on big missions.

Goemon as mentioned in my thoughts is a master swordsman. A man of few words who follows his own code, he is a frequent ally of Lupin’s main team and provides some terrifyingly strong combat support to missions. He also brings a bit of traditional Japanese flair to a decidedly non-Japanese anime, which is interesting in itself.

Then there’s Fujiko Mine. In the Italian Adventure, she’s the independent, beautiful and self-interested on and off member of Lupin’s gang, preferring big treasure, the good life, and some excellent scoops of information in the process. (She’s also got a motorcycle, which is pretty darn cool.)

Finally, the usual main cast is rounded out by Inspector Zenigata, a man with a zealous conviction to bring Lupin to justice and the eyebrows to match. Called “Pops” affectionately by his archenemy, this Interpol agent relentlessly pursues the master thief to the ends of the earth, without ever slowing up. Despite this, he’s shown to be a good man with a lot of heart, and some surprising skills, such as cooking.

This arc of Lupin III also has other key characters introduced that are new to this iteration of the franchise, in particular Rebecca Rossellini, a rich young Italian woman who is also quite famous from her modeling, acting and business endeavors in-universe- but who is actually interested in the thrill of the heist; and Nyx, a mysterious special agent who no doubt has inspiration from a certain MI6 agent who’s famous the world over…. The character development is good, the cast is small but adequate and it gets the job done. 4.5/5 points.

Story: Both episodic and overarching in nature, Part IV chronicles Lupin’s unusual adventures and endeavors mostly in Italy, which gets him dragged into a much bigger secret than any one treasure or heist…and it’s pretty crazy. Overall, the story works, even if it does have some flaws, but most will be no doubt entertained, without spoiling anything. 4/5 points.

Themes: This show isn’t really a moral compass for anything so much as it is for pure entertainment. You could argue there’s some stuff in here about what true love actually is vs just the business of convenience,  or how one can fulfill one’s life purpose, but this might be the weakest part of the show on some level. It’s odd, considering how engaging the overall product is. 2/5 points.

Don’t Insult The Viewer: Lupin III will probably be best enjoyed by a slightly older audience, but in saying that, it is extremely accessible to pick up and enjoy, with a unique aesthetic that evokes all sorts of thoughts from high-speed police chases to the sort of mental hijinks you find in a great mystery, and even the elements of science fiction and spy flicks come in. Truly a fun watch. 5/5 points.

 

Overall: 20.25/25 (81%): For fans of old-school heists and hijinks, creative capers and plenty of action, humor, mystery and trickery, Lupin III is a great series to pick up, and this part is a nice starting point and a fun show. Lupin has a way of stealing hearts and treasure, you know….


Like what you see? Want to talk about Lupin III? Leave a comment!

Day 7: Holiday Hi-Jynx (Pokemon)

Pokemon’s first and most infamous Christmas special.

Another day, another Christmas special!  Today’s pick is from the first season of the Pokemon anime, an era that many people may remember fondly, and after receiving a request, it’s coming front and center. Here’s what happens when the first generation of Pokemon meets Christmas Eve: Holiday Hi-Jynx.

(The first few days of the countdown can be accessed via these links: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

The Lowdown:

Special: Holiday Hi-Jynx

Show: Pokemon

Year released: 1998

AniB’s thoughts: Crazy as it is, I’ve never actually discussed the Pokemon anime on this blog yet. It likely was the first anime for quite a few people around 20-25 years old, and in turn, it can evoke a lot of pleasant childhood memories from the franchise’s early days, be it the trading card game rush that was all the craze in elementary schools, or some of the earliest games that released for the franchise in Pokemon Blue, Red and the special Pikachu-themed one, Yellow.

Indeed, the anime is still running today, which is no small feat. It’s often panned for being extremely formulaic, but admittedly some of this is being a victim of its own success, as Pokemon is an incredibly valuable franchise, and as long as that holds true, the show will go on. And like any successful long-running shonen series, it has specials and movies- including the first of a few Christmas-themed episodes in its history, the infamous Holiday Hi-Jynx, which got banned stateside, technically.

So what was so wild and crazy that led to them pulling this episode from the air, and how did I still see it? Well, for the former, it was an accusation that Jynx (the Pokemon in the title picture) perpetuated negative stereotypes about African-Americans- a charge that frankly didn’t cross my mind when watching this episode. And for the latter, it turns out the episode still found its way around due to video and DVD releases, meaning that it certainly wasn’t as “forbidden” as they made it seem. The rest of the episode itself…isn’t really ban-worthy whatsoever. Here’s what happens, for anyone wondering what the mystery of this episode was:

It’s a Christmas special, obviously. Like most Pokemon episodes, particularly in early seasons, it involves a Team Rocket plot that just so happens to cross with the holiday and of course, the main heroes are involved. The other major plot thread is about a Jynx who got separated from Santa while polishing his boot (no, I’m not making this up), and after a wayward journey sees it in a pitched battle against Ash Ketchum and his friends, they wind up helping it, setting off a relatively quick journey to the North Pole (which looks far sunnier and bright than you’d imagine). In the meantime, Team Rocket pursues them in a Gyarados-themed pedal-power submarine, all to enact the always original scheme of stealing all of Santa’s gifts. Hijinks ensue, the plot unfolds like most standard episodes of this show (i.e. TR’s plot intially succeeds only to go belly up and they get blasted off again), and the heroes are given gifts in the true spirit of Christmas.

This really isn’t a classic holiday episode or anything, but it is the most noteworthy one from Pokemon due to its notoriety and status as one of the rare “banned” episodes. The most startling thing about this might be that Lapras (a large swimming Pokemon that looks like a Nessie)  can telepathically talk to people, or that Santa Claus very casually exists in the Poke-verse, moreso than Jynx’s supposedly offensive appearance, which seems rather tame to pull the the entire episode compared to something like Electric Soldier Porygon, which actually caused epileptic seizures due to a certain scene.

Overall, it was an enjoyable little watch that I think Pokemon fans in particular might find nostalgic. There’s a sense than if this was the following generation, the Pokemon Delibird and Stantler might have put in appearances, but with only the original 151 to pick from at the the time, they got creative (i.e. Rapidash, a horse Pokemon as a “reindeer,” and the Jynx themselves as “elves.”) This version of the North Pole is probably one of the more simplistic layouts I’ve seen between various interpretations of the place, and this iteration of Santa is kindly and affable, though a bit generic. You can find this episode online rather easily, though official sources might not list it. And finally, what of the Jynx controversy? It actually triggered the future move to recolor all of the black areas in its design to purple, not only for any future anime appearances, but also in the games. Censorship or not though, this is a curious little slice of Pokemon history and another way to feel a sillier spirit of the season.


Like what you see? Big fan of Pokemon? Know the history behind this episode? Leave a comment!

 

Day 6: Review: Magical Girl Raising Project

Magical girls meets Game of Thrones: The dream turned battle for supremacy.

Day 6 of AniB’s Advent Calendar! So here’s a show I’ve had on my review back-burner for a while. Today’s pick is decidedly non-Christmas-y, but with a dub finishing up not too far back and some requests from people, it was high time to finally write about this niche magical girl anime that initially debuted two years ago, but didn’t receive a dub until this past fall. Think of it as a little magic for the season…although it’s a fair bit darker than your standard Christmas fare.

(Previous Day: Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. The other 4 days of the countdown so far are linked in that article!)

The Lowdown:

Show: Magical Girl Raising Project (Mahō Shōjo Ikusei Keikaku)

Studio/years aired: Lerche, 2016 (dub 2018)

AniB’s thoughts: Adapted from a light novel, or LN, Magical Girl Raising Project, or “MagiPro” as it is referred to by it fans, is yet another viewer request being fulfilled, but it was also a very interesting watch. I first viewed it close to a year ago, but never quite found the right time or place to discuss it, but happily enough, here we are.

With the dub wrapping up not too long ago (at the time of this writing), MGRP is probably the most niche pick I’ve covered, outside of Sweetness & Lightning. It’s a show that probably only most hard-core anime fans (or LN readers) might be aware of- but it’s certainly yet another intriguing spin on the darker themes of magical girl series. There’s a real sense of fantasy meeting reality in a crushing sort of way, as hopes and dreams pave the way for disaster and heartbreak over the ideals of being a magical girl, vs the reality, especially when said reality has a user-friendly gloss over the top of a nefarious, deadly game.

According to some fans of the show, this adaptation is only the first major story arc of the much longer LN. While I have no doubts to this claim, I do question if this is all we’ll ever get of this world in anime form, given how long it took to get a dub out after the initial release (2 years)…and then the fact that you’d need probably a bit more popularity and the buy-in from the creators and producers to do more. Either way, what we got is what I’m evaluating out in front of me, not theoretical seasons that might come into existence.

This was an interesting watch that felt like watching a page-turning book, which I might attribute to its origins as a light novel. It’s certainly not the most complex watch in the genre, but it does make you think a bit along with some genuinely strong emotional moments, and it excels at throwing curveballs throughout the episodes, keeping the viewer guessing what happens next. There’s a good sense of nervous anticipation that is built as a result of this show’s style, and it all lends itself to an experience that can be best described as that of a good, intense thriller. Is it everyone’s cup of tea? Absolutely not, but once this show picks up steam- and it does fast- you’ll likely find yourself racing to the end, other shortcomings cast to the wayside.


Animation: Modern 2-D animation. The show looks sharp and clean; there’s no doubt the character designs are both a mix of creativity and in some cases some fanservice; what’s clear is that the magical girl designs in this series clearly love the chibi art style and variations of it. The theming of each girl is interesting, and the overworld is adequate, if somewhat generic. (Seriously, no one actually tells us what or where this town is; it’s generic “Nippon City”, per se. And it’s even named N-City.) Action sequences are both active and intense; there’s some pretty harsh and violent moments though. 3.5/5 points.

Characterization: As a magical girl show, Magical Girl Raising Project has a decently big cast, but two girls in particular can be cast as the leads. There’s Snow White- a young girl whose dream of being a classical magical girl is granted one day, and Ripple- a ninja-themed girl of few words. The process of becoming a magical girl in this world is actually initiated by a smartphone game (I kid you not) “randomly” selecting individuals it believes possess the potential and attributes it deems worthy of such power. And boom! Just like that, it happens. Of course, after this seemingly great selection, then the drawbacks come in, oh boy…

Snow White, or Koyuki Himekawa, is the ideal magical girl. Quickly acclimating to her new role, she carries out an idealized vision of the trope as that of heroic to others- but those ideals soon come under fire from a variety of other girls who hardly share the same sort of sentiments combined with an ever-more dangerous set of stakes. She’s best friends with La Pucelle (pictured with Snow in the article picture), another magical girl with an unusual background and a sworn promise to serve as “Snow’s knight.”

In contrast, Ripple (Kano Sazanami) is quiet, somewhat brooding, but a skilled combatant. Partnered with the outgoing and optimistic Top Speed, she finds her role as a magical girl an escape from an abusive home life…until Fav’s little competition begins.

Speaking of which, Fav is the so-called A.I. that runs the phone game that transforms girls. Appearing as a black and white floating sprite with beady little red eyes, Fav’s unflappable calm voice belies a character who acts very much like the “Kyuubey” of this show- if you’re familiar at all with Madoka Magica, this character’s role will seem fairly similar, and his intentions, while not clear at first, are no doubt deadly.

Overall, this is a cast who has some wildly different backgrounds, but perhaps not a ton of depth outside the leads because it’s a violent show, which means everyone is in a constant state of turmoil. The designs are interesting though, as I mentioned before; chances are you’ll either find someone to like or maybe just not like them at all. 3.25/5 points.

Story: As the tagline of this review reads, “it’s magical girls meets game of thrones.” In all seriousness though, there may not be a more adequate descriptor. The opening episode will lull you in with the backstory and dreams of naive and friendly Snow White, only for Fav’s “game” to begin the very next episode- and any sense of tranquility quickly shattered by the suddenly raised stakes for all parties involved. I’m not sure this is an incredibly deep kind of story, but it is an episode turner- and emotional attachments to characters in this show can be either richly rewarded, or more often than not, crushed brutally. It’s at your peril… 3.25/5 points

Themes: This show is really on some level about decision-making. Seriously- “the decisions we make seal our fate.” And that is very applicable to MagiPro. That said, anyone looking for a thematic depth unlike anything you’ve ever seen will be dissapointed, but…character motivations and backstories actually lend a bit more weight than the story that frames them thematically here. 3/5 points.

Don’t Insult the Viewer: Death and bloodshed are an order of the day, but genre-wise and story wise, they fit. The end result? Something that isn’t necessarily family friendly but it can be gripping. Also, that OP and ED are pretty darn good. 3.75/5 points.

Overall: 16.75/25 (67%): Let’s be clear about one thing: This is a dark, often bloody and violent affair, but also a compelling sort of show in said magical girl/horror genre mix. I doubt the characters of the story will wow you compared to say, a Madoka, but they work well enough on their own, and the end result is an above-average show that might not appeal to every audience. However, for those it does reach, a wild, gripping and often intense ride is in store as these 12 episodes unfold.


Like what you see? Interested in Magical Girl Raising Project? Leave a comment!

The Magic of Music: A Look into Nichijou’s score

Classically inspired, wholly well done.

Hey everyone!

I know it’s been an infrequent exercise to post here during the fall, but many things have happened, and in keeping with my principals, I absolutely refused to write anything that would be hasty as a result of being done while half-asleep, or with half a mind on it. That said, I’ve kept busy with some animation fare on the side, and something caught my attention the other day once again: Nichijou. Now, I did write a review on this wonderfully comedic SOL back at the beginning of this year, but something worth touching on came to light again: The music score. And it was this video that prompted it all:

Nichijou is many things, from the daily misfortunes of Yuuko, to the silly misadventures of the Shinonome laboratory gang,  but something that helps pull together its absolutely superb usage of the visual medium is its wonderful, classically inspired score. It just so happened one afternoon that browsing around for something to listen to, this footage of the tracks that was recorded popped up in my Youtube feed, and the level of attention and skill in the music is really, really impressive…and worth a piece.


In a very real sense, the classically-inspired music makes Nichijou a (relatively) modern throwback to the classical era of Western animation, between the score being very much involved in the storytelling, and the short set-pieces that occur in the show, as “snapshots” of the ordinary, extraordinary lives the inhabitants of the universe lead. As a result, it was worth delving into some samples to really get an idea of how this works. First though, here’s a clip from a classic Looney Tunes short:

Of course, this is the famous clip from “What’s Opera, Doc?”, the 1957 Chuck Jones masterpiece which is really a masterclass in the medium. Of course, this segment is a riff on “The Ride of the Valkyries,” and overall uses Richard Wagner’s opera in a clever parody. While this specific episode could recieve an entire piece on its own, the point it illustrates here is the combination of both score and motion in storytelling. Elmer Fudd’s rabbit-themed rendition of the famous “Valkyries” piece is both humorous and very much in character- but it is accentuated by both the brilliant use of the visual medium, and the music which serves to add an almost unspoken heft and exaggeration to all of Fudd’s movements- and Bugs Bunny, a character whose trickery would not nearly be half as fun without the visual game he brings. Watch the clip if you haven’t- and the episode if you wish to- and note this is the historical cloth upon which Nichijou rests- and the framing for the content to come.

“The Card Tower”

Anyone who has watched the entirety of this show will probably recall this segment well- and it is an excellent example of where the score meets the storytelling here. The premise, as the picture here shows, is a gathering among friends where principally Mio and Yuuko attempt to finish building a card tower. It’s a simple premise, but the animation and the score turn this relatively mundane activity of friends into an incredibly tense scenario. Take a listen:

The tension provided by the backdrop of strings, plus the main cello and woodwinds playing, and the french horns combine to make a storytelling statement of a situation that in flux and yet fraught with absolute concentration and anxiety as the final piece of the tower finds itself needing to be put in. It’s actually very interesting how great scores can often key you into the mood of a scenario even without the visuals- and this piece does an excellent job of it, as the mood shifts constantly through it.

In turn, the actual scene finds itself enhanced by the music’s inherent storytelling properties- and when parlayed to the visual scenario laid out on top of it, it becomes the backbone of something that is truly remarkable- and very funny- from a technical standpoint:

This is the entire short, animation and all. You can see how it all comes together here!

There’s Trickery Afoot- “Kitsune to Tanuki no Omanuke na Bakashi Ai”

Whenever this bassoon theme begins plays, silliness and unforseen misfortune may await. Someone of an iconic theme within the show’s OST, this track illustrates another flexbility in Nichijou’s music- a track that is played in several different scenarios, scenes and episodes, but is versatile enough to fit the given moment that is demanded of it.

 

Indeed, this song does a remarkable job of stirring up mental images of various mishaps that occur through the course of Nichijou, and has a strong mental imprint that it makes on a viewer, both with its distinct, simple woodwind melody and the images it is associated with, which very often tend to be Yuuko’s misadventures.

Unrequited Love: Hyadain’s openings

It would seem amiss to not actually talk about the two extremely catchy openings Nichijou possesses in a piece about its music, but in a very real sense, they are much different from the classical-type pieces that serve as the show’s backdrop. Japanese composer Kenichi Maeyamada, whose stage name is “Hyadain”, uses voice synthesizers to great effect in both the show’s openings; and as a result he performs for both the perceived male and female voices in the songs. Delightfully catchy as they are, they are also good examples of an anime composer at work. This is ““Hyadain no Kakakata Kataomoi-C,” the show’s first opening:

What’s notable also is the level of detail packed into the intro; seemingly innocuous visual bits find their way into segments of the show and it’s actually a fun little game to see where they actually come into play.


While this piece is but a sampling of Nichijou’s musical depth and the various ways in which it employs its sounds, it may have stirred up memories in the minds of those who know the show, and perhaps inspired a deeper look for those that were unaware of what this comedic “slice of life” has to offer. A great score can elevate a show, be it from good to great, or even from painfully average to slightly above that mark. In Nichijou’s case, the music becomes an integral part of the stories it wants to tell, and in turn, everything is enhanced by the rich tapestry that forms the backbone of the humor in the show, especially when combined with the animation, evoking the influence of the classic cartoons of the West. From set pieces to ones that are versatile in their usage throughout the show, and down to Hyadain’s openings, this show’s magic is no doubt contained in its melodies.


Are you a big Nichijou fan? Love music? Leave a comment!