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!

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?

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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?

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-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!

 

Review: Azumanga Daioh

A classic SOL from the early 2000’s.

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

The Lowdown:

Series: Azumanga Daioh

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

 

AniB’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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


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

4.5/5 points.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

4/5 points.

 

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

3.5/5 points.

 

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

4.75/5 points.

 

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


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

 

AniB’s Top 10 Anime Openings!

The return of the blogger, with some musical fun!

Hello everyone! So, I’m not dead, I’m still committed to AniB Productions, and I’ll square off the most obvious question: my long absences are both academic and hardware-related. (Seriously, my laptop needs a keyboard replacement at the time of this writing.) As both a thank you to the loyal readers here and an apology for said frequent hiatuses all year long, I’ve got a fun piece in store for you all!

Anime openings are in simplest terms, “the gateway to a show.” Often times, they are our first impression of a series, and they must encapsulate some essence of the show in question in a roughly 90-second block of higher-budgeted animation and song. What exactly makes a great opening tick is a fairly subjective exercise though, even if certain broad objective standards are to be recognized in doing so. For the purpose of this piece, I’ll attempt to note these unifing factors of OPs as I progress though an unusual write-up for me on here: my personal top 10 anime openings! (It’s actually extended out to 15, so extra fun for anyone wondering “what was cut off?”)

Long-timer readers may recall I did a “top 10” listing of my top ranked and reviewed shows on here years ago now (back around when I first started writing here, probably close to 6 months into running AniB Productions.) Since then, while the site has featured lots of reviews, character and thought pieces, there hasn’t been a ranking-type writing in a long time, and I couldn’t be more excited to get underway. Here we go!


Honorable Mention (5 that almost made the cut):

For these guys, I’ll give a short explanation before hitting the ones you’re all waiting for:

15) That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime (Nameless story, OP 1)


Disclaimer: If you were looking for a pretty good isekai and an opening to match, you might be in luck here. Slime, despite its unwieldy title has two very nice openings in its first season, and “Nameless story” gets the nod here, for both a great visual and musical appeal. It gets you excited for this show, no doubt. (Review pending here!)

14) Utayo! Miracle (K-On!!, OP 2)

“That bass line is amazing, Mio.”  Probably my first thought about the song can be summed up there, as there’s this incredible bass part in the middle of the song that feels like a much deeper cut than it has any right to be in a show featuring adorable leads. Just fun to listen to, and the visuals are great as well.

13) A Cruel Angel’s Thesis (Evangelion, OP 1)

This song may as well be the unofficial anthem of anime opening everywhere. Talked about, praised, scorned, memed and edited in dizzying array, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” doesn’t really need an introduction, but it remains the best part of Evangelion years later.

12)  H.T. (Trigun,OP 1)

A classic banger right here, Trigun’s opening is just a straight minute and a half of shredding on a guitar. Few openings have ever sounded as epic before or since- and while the visuals are admittedly hit or miss, the music does not disappoint in the slightest.

11) Through the Night (Outlaw Star, OP 1)

Finishing the mini-trip through the 90’s, Outlaw Star, along with this opening are underrated by the current generation. This is a rock-solid piece that serves as a fine entry point into Gene Starwind’s adventures (and another show that definitely deserves a review.)


So that’s the preliminary round. What did I find personally as the best of the best?

 

 

My top 10:

10) Kimi No Sei (Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Girl Senpai, OP 1)

A mild surprise, given the recent nature of this show (and the review that has yet to be dropped!) but this catchy tune from The Peggies is likely to wedge itself in your head as well as it did to mine. The opening to a show that is much deeper and more psychological than the title suggests, it’s always a welcome start to the high-event episodes.

9) Kyouran Hey Kids!! (Noragami Aragoto, OP 1)

Honestly, either of the Noragami openings could have slotted in here, given that the show had the pleasant rarity of two outstanding openings. The second season’s pick, by the Oral Cigarettes, gets a slight nod, for combining a banger of a song with some really well paired and interesting visuals. While Noragami itself is the definition of a “solid, good show,” both OP’s deserve the distinction of being noted in this column.

8) Hyadain no Joujou Yuujou (Nichijou, OP 2)

A while back I talked about the standout music from this show, and at least some part of that was the energetic openings from Hyadain, who did some really cool producing tricks to make some interesting audio output. While either of the show’s openings could come into this slot, much like Noragami, the second one’s frantic but fun energy gives it the subjective (but truly non-existent) edge.

Aside from the technical wizardry of this piece, Nichijou’s a standout in its specific genre, and at least a part of that is due to how well the music works for it. While the piece in question about it can be read here, the openings do an amazing job of setting the tone for the surreal comedy that Nichijou embodies.

7) CAGAYAKE!Girls (K-ON!, OP 1)

While all the K-On! openings are delightful, the original takes the cake. Featuring two versions mirroring visuals of HTT pre and post Azusa Nakano joining the club, this song’s the perfect representation of a great show- energetic, upbeat, cute and with the synergy of the lovable main protagonists.

In a very real sense, K-On! as a series is “never-ending girls’ talk.” Following the high school careers of the main characters turns out to be every bit as fun and unexpected as this song seems to imply- and regardless of whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s very relatable as a life experience.

6) THEME FROM LUPIN III (2015) (Lupin III: Part IV)

While any variation of the famed Lupin III’s theme could have fit this slot, it’s Part IV’s refreshed updated of the ’77 theme that takes the cake here, with just a hint of Italian flair. A jazzy classic from the long running franchise, the Lupintic Six always hits this out of the park- and frankly, this one wouldn’t be out of place at a jazz performance, top anime lists aside.

The song has actually undergone several variations over the years, the most recent of which was Part V’s Parisian-themed take in 2018, but it’s worth looking up the different versions just to hear the different twists on the leimotif. Like its source material, it’s aged like fine wine. (RIP Monkey Punch, you are missed.)

5) Re:Re (ERASED, OP 1)

Erased was a great show, with all the right notes of suspense, an interesting lead and cast, and a very well executed mechanic. Of course, the review I wrote on that would echo the same sentiment, but another well executed part of this anime was its opening.

Sure, the song from ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION is catchy as heck as is the music, but it’s really the superb attention to visual detail in this one coupled with the notes that lifts this one as high as it is on the list. Nothing is irrelevant in the greater picture of the show- and like how things come together for Satoru Fujinuma, so too does the visuals for the viewer as the plot accelerates.

4) MIND CONDUCTOR (Little Witch Academia, OP 2)

The last in a series of openings on this list that could have featured either one, Little Witch Academia is blessed with two superb efforts from YURiKA, who some of you may also recognized performed Land of the Lustrous’s opening. “MIND CONDUCTOR” gets a slight nod from me based on personal preference, but both it and “Shiny Ray” (OP 1) do a great job of representing the show.

While “Shiny Ray” captures the absolute wonder of the adventure you’re about to dive into and that of Akko Kagari, the lead, the pick here combines some wonderfully detailed visuals paired with a story that’s advanced further and a song that has some energy, tonal shifts, some intense drumming and a really nice power guitar riff going on there. You get the sort of excitement, tension and idea of what this world of magic is going to be throwing at our leads down the stretch, and it couldn’t be more appropriate, especially with context. This show definitely evoked some emotions, and the openings did have some part in that role.

3) departure! (Hunter x Hunter (2011), OP 1)

“So…do you want to be a Hunter?”

My personal favorite anime also just so happens to have an excellent opening, and in a more interesting twist, it’s the same song through the entire series. Indeed, while there are two different lyric sets, the longevity of “departure!” is impressive, along with being the right song to kick off an episode anywhere in the series.

If that wasn’t enough, the visuals change for each major arc of the show, keeping it refreshing. The visuals featured here are from the Hunter Exam, the first arc of the show- but half the fun is seeing them change as the show rolls on and the details stuffed into them. HxH fandom aside, this is a Swiss army knife of an OP for what it does in this series, beyond being just plain enjoyable.

2) Tank! (Cowboy Bebop, OP 1)

Ok…3…2…1… let’s jam! It doesn’t get much more classic than the theme song from Sunrise’s classic show. For the space noir that Cowboy Bebop is, nothing gets you more appropriately in the mood than this famous jazz song that has flair and life set against the ever-fitting visuals, with the “newspaper clippings”, shading, silhouettes and more.

There isn’t much to say that hasn’t already been said about this one in the years since Bebop burst onto the scene, but the advice from yours truly is to just sit back and enjoy this one anytime it plays.

And finally, the top pick…

1) Bye Bye Yesterday (Assassination Classroom, OP 4)

There was a great deal of debate and careful listening that went into deciding the top pick, and Bye Bye Yesterday captures everything wonderful in a fantastic opening. It tells a story unto itself, gives us a great song performed by the VA’s themselves, pairs it with incredibly thought-provoking visuals to add up to an emotionally charged and bittersweet final opening to what is an excellent show. However, the greater context pushes this one over the top:

You’ve been riding the highs and lows of that school-year with Class 3-E, and every opening of Assassination Classroom tells a part of that story, but this is the endcap- both the highest of highs, and the uncertainty of the future for all of the characters. The melancholy is even reflective in the lyrics, for instance- “Though we laughed and said goodbye/Though tears were in our eyes/Time passed before we even knew the reason why…” You ride that emotional rollercoaster to the end with those kids- and for a show that packs one hell of a punch at the end, this opening couldn’t be more appropriate or emotionally resonant. That’s why it’s my #1 on this list.

(All credit to “animethemes.moe” for their repository of opening videos. Credit also goes to respective studios of these shows (Lerche, Madhouse, Sunrise, Trigger, Kyoto Animation, and so on.)


Like what you see? Have a favorite opening you’d like to share? Leave a comment!

What’s In a Character: Kenshin Himura (guest piece by Onamerre)

The peaceful wandering warrior hides an unusual depth of character.

Hey! So the newest installment of the ever-popular “What’s in a Character” pieces is actually from my friend Onamerre, who’s contributed a few guests pieces in the past. For anyone who remembers, he was responsible for a terrific review of the show in question where this character hails from (Rurouni Kenshin). Take a trip from the last character piece at Luna Nova Academy to the early years of the Meiji Restoration in Japan, and discover a deep dive into the wandering swordsman. Onamerre, take it away!


No doubt longtime followers of AniB Productions know that Rurouni Kenshin is my all-time favorite anime, and with that my all-time favorite anime character is the titular protagonist, Kenshin Himura. So the answer long time questions of why on Earth am I so obsessive over this show and its protagonist, want to know further as I give a fair assessment of the character promoting his strengths and exploring his weaknesses.

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The reverse-blade sword. This rurouni is the real deal!

What makes Kenshin first and foremost one of the most interesting shonen manga/anime protagonists isn’t the fact that he was essentially raised to kill and became one of the most notorious assassins during the Tokugawa Civil War, but rather it’s primarily what he did after all the bloodshed ceased. Instead of taking up a high ranking military position within the new government (arguably a quick way to make a vast fortune), he took a personal vow to never kill again and lend his superhuman samurai slashing abilities to those in need, courtesy of his unique reverse blade sword. I get many people reading this right may recognize what I just said if they watched Digibro’s review of the same character, but I want you to know my take on this character as well.

Very early on in the series a high-ranking government official comes and visits Kenshin and offers him a high-ranking job within the Japanese government. I would like to take a minute and ask everyone reading this piece to reflect on what the scene is about. How many anime characters have the soul character motivation of becoming the best blank? The best ninja, the best hunter, the best fighter, the best pirate, the best bounty hunter, etc etc? Kenshin is literally handed the end goal of much of the previous and continuing anime protagonist goals on a silver platter, and concludes that this is not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Indeed, the peaceful warrior would rather live the rest of his life on a moment-to-moment basis and lend his sword to those in need. Where the real fun and drama comes in is what happens when he is pushed to the brink…

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Serious and somber Kenshin. It’s not easy to leave the ways of the manslayer.

Of course, Kenshin’s solemn vow is hardly an easy path. Early on in the series as well as at the beginning of the of legendary Kyoto Arc (which very well might be analyzed soon), there are moments when he is pushed to his emotional limit and almost reverts back to his old man-slaying ways. We see this when Kaoru is kidnapped early on in the series and puts her in a lethal trance that can only be ended if Kenshin takes the life of the kidnapper (“Deathmatch under the Moon! Protect the One You Love”, episode 7). This moment is the closest in the entire series where he was to reverting back to his old ways, save only by Kaoru’s amazing courage.

Another example takes place during the Kyoto Arc. A former opponent of Kenshin makes an appearance at the dojo he is staying at and immediately reverses his mentality back to during the revolution. For 20 minutes Kenshin and his opponent are locked in a death battle until it’s broken up by a government representative. What keeps the audience on their toes, holding the tension, is again the temptation- will Kenshin will go back to his manslaying ways during this confrontation? This struggle gives the audience a real hook to watch- if the now peace-loving optimist that is Kenshin will continue his path of redemption and peace, or revert back to his previously demented  life.

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For all his virtues and toughness, Kenshin can be a bit of a goofball.

One final interesting take about this character is that Kenshin, despite the common trend of manga and anime protagonists being in their early to mid teens, is 28 years old at the start of the manga and possibly is around the age of 30 as of the newer Hokkaido Arc recently printed in Shonen Jump. Why this matters is there have been quite a number of years from once he started killing at a young age till the current present in which he had time to observe, learn, and reflect on all of his experiences. To borrow from a different fictional universe, one could easily make the claim that Kenshin is basically the samurai version of Obi-Wan Kenobi, in which the knowledge he knows in the ways of the sword is pretty much invaluable, all the while using his skills along with his heart and ungodly determination to make the world a better place.

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As of now I have not read into the series original finale arc that is known as the Jinchu arc, nor began the continuation with the Hokkaido Arc. But from what I’ve seen from the anime and bits and pieces of the original manga, it’s safe to say without a shadow of a doubt that Kenshin may just be one of the most interesting and unique protagonists ever put to page and screen. Thank you all for reading this to the end and putting up with my deep obsession with the show and the character. I’m Onamerre, and I’m outta here.


And that’s a wrap from Onamerre! Feel free to leave him feedback and comments, especially if you’re a fan of Rurouni Kenshin or the titular character.