Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! (KyoAni, 2012)

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My last review was about an anime that featured a girl with an eyepatch so I figured my next review had to be about the other anime with a girl wearing an eyepatch: Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! (also known as Chu2) However, Chu2 is pretty much the complete opposite of Another: a lighthearted slice-of-life instead of a poorly written piece of horror. I came in with pretty much zero expectations, and found myself very pleasantly surprised with how much I fell in love with this show; it was a perfectly executed piece of slice-of-life with a unique premise.

Chunnibyou’s plot stems from the Japanese word “chuunibyou.” Chuunibyou, as taken from Urban Dictionary, is a Japanese slang term which roughly translates to “Middle School 2nd Year Syndrome”. People with chuunibyou either act like a know-it-all adult and look down on real ones or believe they have special powers unlike others. In this anime the latter applies, as our main character, Yuuta Togashi, is entering his first year of high school after an embarrassing middle school life spent as the “Dark Flame Master.” Determined to leave that life behind, he aims to be a “normal” high school guy and coast through high school peacefully. All of this is ruined, however, when a girl in his class named Rikka Takanashi overhears Yuuta reenacting his persona one last time. Rikka, a current sufferer of chuunibyou herself, decides to make Yuuta an ally in her search of the “Unseen Horizon”. The show follows the adventures of these two and their directly opposite approaches in surviving daily high school life.

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A great image of the starring cast.

The cast of Chu2 is small yet diverse. The characters have more depth to them than the usual shallow pools we get normally in slice of life anime, which is great as this allows there for an actual plot to exist and advance. Rikka’s world view of everything as straight out of some JRPG video game makes for hilarious interactions between her and everyone else in the show, and despite her usually “serious” demeanor in finding the Unseen Horizon, she also has KyoAni’s trademark moe moments whenever Yuuta is around.  However, her chuunibyou syndrome has an actual basis for existing, and when that big reveal happens the story actually kicks into action. Yuuta is a pretty standard MC, clueless when it comes to girls and is the straight man for the comedy, but his moments as the “Dark Flame Master” are unforgettable. Yuuta is also very easy to empathize with, as whenever he gets embarrassed about his past life I am forced to remember my chuunibyou moments in middle school and how socially awkward I used to be. Those moments in the show are really…humbling is the best way I can describe it. Nibutani is the class rep for their class, and although at first she appears like a normal girl, it turns out she is also a former sufferer of chuunibyou and like Yuuta was trying to hide it. However, she is caught in the awkward position of both wanting to deny it and accept it as she wants Dekomori, Rikka’s “servant”, to acknowledge her past “Mori Summer” self and to stop bringing it up. Dekomori is Rikka’s loyal follower who is completely swept up in Rikka’s pace, but unfortunately does not have the same compelling reason to do so as Rikka. Kumin is the last of the main cast, and she really doesn’t add much to the plot other than sleeping.

I first expected Chu2 to just be a typical comedic slice-of-life a la K-ON! or Nichijou, with no real overarching story or character development. Which is what the show does for the first few episodes (very well I might add), but about halfway through the series KyoAni decides that this is not enough and gives Rikka a humanizing reason for her chuunibyou sickness: the death of her father. This backstory turns Rikka from some ridiculous caricature of chuunibyou sufferers into someone who you could know in real life who acts out in order to forget or hide their pain.  The story then follows the pain that Rikka has experienced and continues to experience, which leaves Yuuta with the difficult decision of whether or not he should pull Rikka out of her delusions for “her own good” as decided upon by her family or leave her be happy in her fantasy world. Near the end of the series I found myself seriously angry at Yuuta for being too passive about what Rikka wants and instead acting as her parent, which is probably what the writers were aiming for. However, in the end it all wraps up really nicely and leaves you with a fuzzy feeling.

Yuuta and Rikka being super cute.

Yuuta and Rikka being super cute.

Another thing I really liked about this SoL was that it wasn’t at all a harem, all the romance was centered around Yuuta and Rikka which made it just so much sweeter and focused. At the beginning of the show Rikka is not even on Yuuta’s radar in terms of romance (a total mistake because Rikka is so adorbs), and he is instead focused on Nibutani. A misunderstanding between the two leads them to have a sort of pseudo-date; Nibutani is seeking to erase her chuunibyou past and Yuuta has the only evidence, but after that is resolved Rikka is the only girl in the picture. Rikka slowly falls for Yuuta throughout the show, but she is unable to realize that she is in love with Yuuta without Nibutani’s help. To her the feelings of love are seen as an infiltration of an evil society, which makes it all the more difficult for her to seriously confess to Yuuta. Yuuta also happens to feel the same about Rikka, but my gripe is that he sort of just “falls” into it jsut for the sake of the plot, we don’t really see him slowly falling for Rikka or anything, but it does make sense that he would feel affection for her. Also it frustrates me that the only thing that the two do together is hold pinkies, I expected at least a kiss at the end of the last episode, but KyoAni is just a huge tease. I get that they’re both new to relationships, but damn Yuuta, just like, go for it bro.

A still of Rikka unlocking her "powers"

A still of Rikka unlocking her “powers”

Probably the best thing about this show in typical KyoAni fashion is the beautiful animation. Even if you don’t like the story, one can’t deny that the animation of Chu2 is so fluid, beautiful, and dynamic that it just blows away most other shows. Undoubtedly the best scenes in the show are the battles that Rikka has with various opponents in the show; KyoAni brings Rikka’s imagination to life with beautiful special effects and ridiculous weapons that would put any shonen anime to shame. KyoAni is also not afraid to switch up animation styles: from realistic to gag to fairy tale (a la No Game No Life). It never feels out of place and it really showcases just how talented KyoAni is in terms of animation and how they are seemingly unparalleled compared to other big studios.

I’d have to say that the weakest element of Chu2 is actually it’s soundtrack, which I didn’t think was all that spectacular. The OP and ED were not really great at all, I tried listening to both each time but they were never really sounded that great. Eventually the OP, “Sparkling Daydream” kind of grew on me, but it’s definitely not one of the strongest OPs KyoAni has had in it’s history. The soundtrack is pleasant and is great when it’s present, but I didn’t find it particularly important to the storytelling or have it leave any impression upon me. It wasn’t a bad soundtrack in anyway, just not very memorable or able to evoke any nostalgia from me in future listens.

Overall Chu2 was one of the best anime I’ve seen in a long time. It was the perfect balance of comedic slice-of-life antics and a small low-key story with a unique twist on the typical high school life that make it really enjoyable. KyoAni’s idea to take chuunibyou syndrome and develop an entire anime out of it was ingenious and really gave the show an unforgettable flavor. It allowed them to mix shonen battle scenes with daily high school life and also evoke an embarrassment of my (and likely other viewers’s) past self watching Yuuta and Rikka. Chu2 also has a great message, which is that you should accept others for who they are and also accept yourself, while at the same time telling viewer’s that it’s not healthy to escape from real world problems with fantasies, that at some point you will have to accept reality.

For the end of this review, I leave you with the best gif from Chu2, taken from the opening and posted everywhere ’cause it’s so adorable.

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Another (P.A. Works, 2012)

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Ah, horror anime. I am terrible with scary stuff in every medium, whether it be movies, games, or books. I am not a real fan of jump scares, but I can appreciate gory, psychological thrillers like Saw and Another.  Another is one of two anime with a lead girl featuring an eyepatch, the other being Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! . However, while Chu-2 is your typical slice-of-life anime, Another is a thriller anime that is adapted from a novel of the same name. I thoroughly enjoyed my ride through Another as its dark and mysterious atmosphere continuously drew me in and left me unsettled episode after episode.

The basic premise of Another is this: In the small town of Yomiyama there exists a middle school classroom that is one is cursed. Every year since 1972, the students in class 3-3 of Yomiyama North Middle School have died one by one without fail. A young man named Koichi Sakakibara unluckily transfers into this class and finds himself attracted to a girl named Misaki Mei. This girl’s existence is ignored by his classmates, which makes him all the more curious. Soon enough, the curse begins to repeat itself once again and these two along with their classmates try to discover the origins and cause of their friends’ deaths while at the same time trying to protect themselves from the curse.

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Taken from a magazine, left to right: Sakakibara, Misaki, Akazawa, Teshigawara, Mochizuki

While Another’s atmosphere is enticing and thrilling, I cannot really say the same of the characters. Kouichi Sakakibara is your average middle school teenage boy, he is exceptionally kind and pretty out of the loop regarding girls. However, this in fact improves the show rather than hinders it, by showcasing a normal teenage boy surrounded by death provides great contrast and makes you both empathize with him and your fear is mirrored in his. Misaki Mei is your typical emotionless girl ala Rei, but she does have some cute moments where life before her despair pokes out. Her different colored eyes are reminiscent of Suiseiseki, and I’m kinda wondering as I type this if she was meant to be a mash up of tropes. She’s a good character, just not all that original. Her sense of humor is top notch. These two are not alone however, there are some other prominent classmates who play a role in the mystery, such as Izumi Akazawa, the class representative and “head of counter-measures.” Essentially she is in charge of trying to avoid and or dispel the class of the curse, and she resents Mei for not following her orders and feel she is the cause of this year’s curse. There’s also Naoya Teshigawara and Yuuya Mochizuki who serve as the best friends to Sakakibara when he’s not out chasing Misaki, and also help provide some insight from the viewer’s point of view.

Because this anime was adapted from a novel, the story is obviously the most compelling part. The buildup towards the reason why the students in class 3-3 is done very well, and the death scenes throughout are gruesome. The first one in particular made me very squeamish, and I thought it was awesome how this show could evoke it out of me despite just being an animation. The suspense leading up to each death is also great; I could never really predict who would be the next to die or how until just moments before it happened. You’re left guessing, “who is the dead student?”, “who will die next?” and the pacing of the show carries these questions well, never revealing too much or being too predictable in what will happen. However, by the end of the series, you’re left wondering: how will they wrap all of this up in just 2 episodes?

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The magical glass eye that can see dead people.

The answer is disappointing to what I had thought was an intellectual and clever show. Instead of watching the protagonists trying to weed out who the dead student is through deduction or reasoning, instead we are given a much simpler solution: kill everyone. The show quickly devolves into some sort of “Final Destination”-esque mass murder spree with all the students killing each other to end the curse. It makes some sense in the context of the show, but also goes against what the show had been leading up to. Instead of smart traps and round tables to figure out who the dead one is, we are instead served a deus-ex machina that Misaki’s eye can “see death” and knows who the dead person is merely by taking off her eyepatch. It’s really disappointing and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as this show could have been so much more.

The soundtrack of the show is a higher point. The tracks are great at setting a suspenseful or creepy mood, and they make ample use of the piano which I really love. Track 3 (none of the songs have proper titles, unfortunately. At least online) is just a simple piano piece with an odd seemingly “otherworldly” noise in the background to reinforce the idea that the setting in Another is simple and common, but with a supernatural twist. As the track progresses it starts to remind me of Lavender Town’s theme from Pokemon as it features the same beginning notes. Near the end the piano gets louder and deeper perhaps to signal the impending misfortune that will strike Yomiyama. Another (heh) track I was fond of was Track 6, which is Misaki Mei’s theme and plays often whenever she is talking. Whatever instrument they use, not sure exactly what they are, really goes well with the show and gives you the feeling that you’re being haunted or pressured by some sort of specter, and it also conveys a sense of isolation as the chimes stand alone. I also really like Track 2, which is used as the preview music for the next episode but doesn’t get any actual play time in the show. However, while all these track are nice, none of them are really all that memorable. I didn’t really find myself revisiting these tracks or hunting them down; they served their purpose in the show well but won’t be remembered in the future compared to songs like “Theme of SSS” from Angel Beats or “Soldiers of Sorrow” from Gundam.

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Another ruined my hopes as quickly as it ruined this guy’s heart.

Another is a show that could have been terrific, but ends up losing itself and becoming just “good”. The beginning half of the series is gripping and actually successful at scaring the viewer and throwing grotesque murder scenes that both appall and disgust you. It’s quite a feat. However, all of this progress is swiftly washed away in the two episode finale in which all subtlety is removed from the show and the entire class pretty much kills each other. It’s a disappointingly brutal and unintelligent ending to a show that seemed to be a smart and gripping thriller. Overall, I’d suggest that you give Another a chance, only so you can experience the chills and suspense that the first episodes give, and quit before the final two episodes and instead try and think up your own ending. It’ll probably be a better ending than what the writers came up with and you’ll save yourself some time.

Attack on Titan (Wit Studio, 2013)

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Attack on Titan, one of the most popular anime in recent years taking social networks and anime conventions alike by storm. So many parodies, crossovers, and fanart have come out of this one show it’s astounding. Fast-paced action, a Westernized setting, and an engaging plot gave it all the right elements to gain attention outside Japan, and what kind of reviewer would I be not to give my input on it?

For those who haven’t heard the Attack on Titan hype here’s a rundown: Humanity has almost gone extinct due to the existence of “titans,” giant, humanoid beings whose sole purpose for existing seems to be killing humans. No one knows their origin or their motive. Humanity has been pushed into living inside a series of walls which serve to protect them from the titans. The three walls, Wall Maria, Wall Rose, and Wall Sina, have guarded humanity for 100 years. However, one fateful day, the wall is broken and humanity’s fight for survival is escalated. A young boy, Eren Jaeger, witnesses his mother’s death to the titans and vows to kill every single one of them as revenge.

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The 104th graduating class; complete with height!

Attack on Titan has fantastic and diverse characters with moral crises and painful backstories that come with living in a world where humanity is going extinct. Eren Jaeger is our protagonist, a young man dedicating his life to eliminating Titans from the world. It is his sole purpose in life and he hopes to one day travel outside the walls that restrict him so. He is your typical anime hero: brave, fearless, oblivious to female advances, and fiercely loyal to his friends. Mikasa is an interesting character, a girl hopelessly devoted to Eren but she is one to rarely show emotion. She thinks rationally (except when it comes to Eren), is a cold-blooded killer and an absolute badass when it comes to fighting Titans. Armin is the scaredy-cat friend who has the best brain on his shoulders, but is terrible at fighting. These three form the Three Musketeers of Attack on Titan. Other cast members include Jean, probably the most mature of the graduating class and also the most grounded. He knows how futile the fight is but continues for the sake of his comrades. Sasha is the potato loving girl who is the star of pretty much the most hilarious scene in anime this year. Finally in the Recon Corps there’s Hange who is an adorable Titan-obsessed nerd and Levi the most serious, dark, and closed-off person in the show but containing badassery rivaling Mikasa.

Honestly, this show is addicting. I think it might have the best first episode I’ve ever seen. An entire way of life is destroyed in the first 15 minutes and it’s just amazing how it does so without any backstory, just a small history lesson. The pacing of the show is fast and powerful, something important happens pretty much every episode for the first half which just makes you want to watch more and more. However, this is also a point where Attack on Titan fails. Although the first couple of episodes are compelling and engrossing, the pacing abruptly grinds to a halt once Eren “dies” during the Battle of Trost arc. The anime goes from adrenaline pumping slaughter madness to “let’s just sit here and think.” It’s a little off-putting. The pacing then once again picks up after the Recon Corps depart on their first mission, but stumbles again in the forest, where Eren spends an entire episode debating whether he should turn into a Titan or not, which is just painful to watch for 20 minutes in something that could be shown in probably 5 maximum. Finally, when the show reaches the last arc, it is all compressed into just 3 episodes when it deserved at least 4. The whole plan and fight with Annie occurs without much debate that likely would have occurred over the possibility of other human-Titans existing. The final fight was also a little lackluster for a shonen anime, but because they left themselves with very little time they couldn’t do much about it. It also would have been nice if other supporting characters got to assist in Annie’s capture other than Mikasa and to an extent Hange.

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Wait…who are you again?

This pacing issue also plagues the cast. Attack on Titan has a fantastic cast of characters, the only problem being that it doesn’t give you enough time to get to know them. The plot advances so quickly it becomes tough to remember all the names, and this leads to lack of emotion for when some of these characters die. I had trouble remembering who the hell Marco was and why he was so important, and I still cannot name the entire ensemble of the Recon Corps who survived, or who died for that matter. Honestly the only death I really cared about was Petra’s, because she was a such a sweet, nice lady to Eren. I still hate that she was killed off, but I understand it. Also at some points the characterization suffers, especially when it comes to Eren who can’t decide to fight Annie in the last scene despite his intense hatred of Titans and the fact that she killed like all of his allies. It’s aggravating to watch, yet so satisfying to see Mikasa and Armin get pissed off at him. Another frustrating moment is his indecision in the forest whether to go Titan or trust his comrades. It’s odd to see Eren shift from an “action first” kind of guy (seen when the Colossal Titan appears in front of him, saving Mikasa, etc.) to this indecisive kid.

As for the music in Attack on Titan, everyone knows the opening by now. If you don’t, you’ve missed out. It’s no joke one of the best openings for a shounen show ever. It’s just…epic. The vocals, the lyrics, the visuals, the everything pretty much tells you: sit down motherfucker it’s time to watch some awesome anime. It’s a masterful opening and well deserving of its fame and various parodies. Sadly the full version isn’t as good, but you won’t hear it unless you do hunting for it. The first ED is calming and a great way to wind down after watching a thrilling episode, and I find it’s nice music accompany while you think about what will happen next. The female vocals are nice, I like how it picks up in the middle, and the piano lead in is great. The second OP is pretty awesome too, almost as good as the first with a shredding guitar thrown in and more German to sound more imposing. It continues the theme of making you feel that what you’re about to watch is epic. The second ED is meh, it sounds like a very typical shounen ending like from Bleach or Naruto. As for the OST, which has some odd names, “at’aek ON taitn” is a great track for building up suspense, and when it explodes in German singing it is just grandiose and beautiful. The church vocals and the white noise sprinkled in is fantastic and an interesting choice. The even stranger titled “凸】♀】♂】←巨人” is a great violin track and is used when the characters are thinking about their next course of action and also as the lead in/out between the commercial breaks. The track slowly builds up to become more and more hectic to showcase the characters’ impending doom.

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Ah, how I love this art style.

I’d lastly like to bring attention to the art style present in Attack on Titan. The show makes a unique choice of using big bold lines to outline characters that I think is really interesting and also refreshing from normal anime art. The use of bold lines also helps the characters stand out from the background, as well as accentuate their facial features. Which reminds me, Attack of Titan does not at all suffer from the issue of “sameface,” characters have different body proportions and face shapes which help make the world seem more realistic. The show also makes use of CG in order to create scenery, specifically in the case of buildings and towns. Although some criticized it as lazy, I think the CG mended well with the art direction and helped give the animation an interesting look.

Attack on Titan is the revitalization of shounen that anime needed. It showed to the anime community that shounen does not have mindless violence, it can carry a heavy plot with dark moments and tell its story in less than 100 plus episodes. Although there is still more manga material to be adapted, Attack on Titan showed that seasonal adaptions can be successful and will hopefully inspire future manga adaptions to focus on being seasonal instead of attempting to cover all the material as fast as they can as that leads to filler. This show has helped anime become a bit more exposed to the mainstream due to its immense popularity, and its fame is well-earned. With an engaging story, great art, and amazing OP I’m glad Attack on Titan is currently one of the poster boys for the anime industry. Although its not a perfect show, it’s great for beginners and fun to watch when you want some Titan-killing violence. Personally I can’t wait for the next season, and if you’re looking for a show to get into anime or just want an overall quality show to watch that is Western friendly, then Attack on Titan is for you.

Serial Experiments Lain (Triangle Staff, 1999)

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Oh boy, I don’t even know where to start with this one. For the uninitiated, Serial Experiments Lain is an anime written by Chiaki J. Konaka, famous for his work on the Digimon Tamers series, specifically famous for making it darker than any prior Digimon series. Lain is actually where Chiaki was first recognized for his dark, psychological storylines and it shows: Lain is confusing, weird, and just kinda messed up overall. Steins;Gate move over, Lain has outdone you in the brainfuck factor.

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Lain Iwakura. Sadly she does not wear this adorable bear costume throughout the entire series.

At its core, Serial Experiments Lain focuses on the title character, Lain, and her struggle to comprehend who, or what, she is. The world of Serial Experiments Lain is all about the Wired. In a sense, the Wired is the Internet on steroids. It connects everything and everyone, just like today’s Internet, but it also has the ability to affect the real world, like change what people see, hear, or even remember. Lain was never really into computers or the Wired, until one day she gets an email from a girl who committed suicide. The emails pique Lain’s interest and the girl tells her that she killed herself because she no longer needed her body, she now exists inside the Wired. At first Lain is a shy, introverted girl with no friends, but as she dives deeper and deeper into the world of the Wired she develops new personalities and eventually discovers the truth about the Wired and herself.

The central character of Serial Experiments Lain is obviously Lain, but of course there are other important characters. Lain’s family are the first you meet, and while you don’t really get to know much about them Lain’s father, Yaso Iwakura, who is obsessed with computers and pushes Lain to explore the Wired. Mika Iwakura is Lain’s older sister, however they aren’t really all that close, however Mika is pretty much the only “normal” person out of the entire bunch. Too bad for some reason she goes crazy halfway through the series due to hallucinations. More on that later. Lain also has school friends, although the only really important one is Alice Mizuki, who is Lain’s best friend and is always trying to make her more social. Finally there is Masami Eiri, who appears halfway through the series and is apparently some sort of God of the Wired because he came up with the IP 7 protocol but isn’t a God. Or something. Still figuring out that one myself.

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Lain’s malicious other half. Look at that smirk.

So maybe you can tell that I’m still pretty confused about the plot of Lain despite spending a week trying to sort out what exactly I watched. The series starts out with Lain living her normal life, but after she receives an email from her dead classmate saying she no longer needs her body and exists purely in the Wired. This mail leads Lain to begin exploring the Wired, upgrading her PC first with her father’s help and then by herself. Somewhere along the way Lain develops a second personality that only exists in the Wired, a personality that is cruel and twisted. Somehow apt to today’s age of anonymity on the Internet. Anyway,this second Lain has the ability to affect the real world through the Wired, and she does real freaky stuff like broadcasting Lain in the sky, which somehow relates to a drug experiment, or going to the club in the real world.  All this stuff leads Lain to go deeper into the Wired in order to find and confront her other self to stop the Wired from invading the real world. Along the way she meets others who are both for and against the Wired merging with the world such as the Knights, the Men in Black (sadly not from the movie), and Masami Eiri.

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Oh hello there.

That’s the general overview of the plot. A lot of weird stuff happens along the way though. I almost always found myself saying “what the fuck?” at least once every episode. I think the first boggling moment I had was in episode 2 when shadows start walking out of the walls with no explanation or prompt. They just walk past Lain and then it just cuts immediately to a new scene. Another really weird part is when Lain’s older sister Mika starts hallucinating and eventually ends up going crazy because she meets…herself. Not sure what that is about. But the moment of craziness that takes the cake for me is when an alien just randomly appears in the show. Lain is sitting in her room exploring the Wired and her door starts to open, and suddenly there is an alien standing there. It felt really unsettling. The entire episode in which it appears is dedicated to explaining several different scientific theories regarding electromagnetics and communication systems. All in all there’s a lot of “out there” stuff that happens in Lain which probably all have a meaning, but the series is too vague on its symbolism, or even if it is symbolism. It’s nice that Serial Experiments Lain encourages you to think, but it could at least leave a hint here or there so as not to leave you completely lost.

Time for the music. Lain’s OP is “Duvet” sung by the the band Bôa. Unfortunately not the K-pop star BoA. What I will say though is that the song is beautiful, the female vocals are soothing with a great guitar jam going on in the background. It’s just a nice song to listen to when you’re relaxing, and I especially love the acoustic guitar solo in the middle of the song, you don’t really hear much acoustic in anime openings. This song is actually quite well known throughout the anime community, and I even heard it come on as I was shopping around in Nakano Broadway. The ending is more industrial, with a rough male voice singing the song and an electric guitar, I really feel like it embodies the isolation Lain feels throughout the series due to its slow pace. The soundtrack for Serial Experiments Lain is fantastic at setting the scene, Lain’s theme has a super strong bass-line at the start, but then abruptly switches to a softer tone, perhaps to showcase her two different personalities. “Different Dimension of Fog” is a disorienting and unsettling song that is really great for setting the mood for pretty much the entire series. It’s a song that produces nervousness and unease inside you, and is perfectly utilized throughout the show.

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A mix of beautiful minimalism and interesting shadows.

Finally I’d like to give a shout-out to the art style of Serial Experiments Lain. In general the faces and people in Lain are very detailed, it’s a more realistic art style with great attention dedicated to conveying emotions through the face and definitely does not suffer from the common issue of “same face.” Lain also likes to put bright neon colors in a big mix, much like how one would imagine an acid trip looks like. Especially when it has to do with the Wired, you often see bright neon colors or even a 3-D red/blue effect applied on the scene, but perhaps with some green to get the feeling that you’re looking through something virtual, which is a really nice touch and adds to the immersion. Lain also likes to use watercolors, especially in the background art. However, at other times they decide to forgo background art and opt for complete minimalism instead. One of my favorite instances of this are the shadows in Lain, which are not simply black but also have a smattering of red in them, perhaps to remind us of the danger that lurks in the shadows.

Overall, Serial Experiments Lain is a fascinating animation into the concept of the human psyche and our need for communication. It explores the idea of how the Internet and the real world interact and affect one another. It’s amazing how an animation from 1999 could predict how heavily we would come to rely on the Internet every day and for virtually everything we do, from talking to friends to doing our jobs. Konaka shows us how the Internet and the real world are not two separate entities, they are one and the same and you cannot consider yourself living in only one or the other, or attempt to separate yourself between the two. Human beings are ultimately one entity and nothing will ever change that. Although there’s still a lot about Lain I don’t understand, I was able to walk away with that. I highly encourage everyone to give this series a watch, especially in our digital age as a reminder to how the Internet is so closely linked to our daily lives and the implications of such a close relationship. It’s also good if you want a really trippy show.

Steins;Gate (White Fox, 2011)

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Steins;Gate

I had no idea what I was getting into before watching Steins;Gate. A few of my friends had recommended it and I knew it was highly rated on MAL, but I had no idea why. They described the show’s premise as “teenagers use cellphones to time travel.” Well, Steins;Gate delivered on that idea, and on so much more that by the end of the show I needed a second brain to comprehend it all.

The basic plot of Steins;Gate is this: A self-dubbed “mad scientist” named Okabe Rintarou accidentally invents a time machine in his apartment, called the Future Gadget Lab. He has two lab members at his side, Lab Member 002 Mayuri Shiina and Lab Member 003 Daru. At first the lab members toy with the time machine, sending back bananas that turn to gel. Eventually they being to send emails to the past, “D-mails”, which they use to alter the past and change each lab member’s life for the better…or so it seems.  What beings as a very slice of life anime makes a sharp turn into a serious show regarding the consequences of altering time, acceptance of yourself and your regrets, and never giving up on your friends. And that’s what’s beautiful about this show: It slowly builds up a relationship with all the characters through comedy and everyday antics, only to shatter your emotions with one painful, unexpected scene where Okabe has to fix with important interactions with each character to really show their true character and feelings.

Left to right: Daru, Kurisu, Rukako, Faris, Suzuha, Moeka, Mayuri, Okabe

Left to right: Daru, Kurisu, Rukako, Faris, Suzuha, Moeka, Mayuri, Okabe

To begin, let’s look at the characters. Okabe Rintarou is an adult who never really grew up; he sees himself as mad scientist with an evil organization seeking to thwart all of his ambitions. Ironically he is not far off from the mark, but more importantly it is an act in order to make those around him happy, specifically Mayuri. He and Mayuri have been friends for many years, and he began his act in order to cheer Mayuri up when her grandmother died, and he has not quit since. However, he does have a contemplative side to him, he is willing to do whatever is necessary to help his friends and never gives up, always trudging forward. Daru is your stereotypical otaku; he loves to play eroge VNs (like Katawa Shoujo!) and provides great comedic commentary. He is also a “supah hacka” who helps the group with his impressive computer skills and produces the world’s first time machine…accidentally. Mayushi is just a bundle of adorableness and stays in your brain with her signature “tu tu ru~.” Lab Member 004, Makise Kurisu aka Christina is the perfect counterpart to Okabe. A genius at the age of 18, she provides the scientific background behind the entire show but also has quite the otaku side to her, which she is embarrassed to admit. None of these characters are really one dimensional, everyone has real life personalities, well, except for perhaps Mayuri, but even she has a serious side. This makes it so much easier to become involved in the show and truly empathize with their situations. and it also makes the plot all the more enticing.

The science behind a time leap

The “science” behind a time leap

The plot behind Steins;Gate is one of the most interesting ones I’ve come across in anime. Instead of a show simply involving time travel, it is a show about time travel. This means that the show actually analyzes the science behind time travel, whether it is actually possible to send a person back in time. There are actual constraints on what they can send through time and how they do so. D-mail (Delorean mail) can only send 36 bytes of information, word lines have a certain “divergence number” from one another, and John Titor, the “real life” time traveller, is the inspiration for the story. Parallel world lines and explored and performed perfectly; the science behind the show makes enough sense to not ruin your suspension of reality. Although the plot does start off a bit slow as a slice-of-life anime, by the midway point your are gripped to your chair and just have to continue watching as the show leaves you wanting more on cliffhanger by cliffhanger. Seriously, do not give up on this show just because you don’t like the first 3 or so episodes, there is a plot, I promise you. (And it only gets crazier and crazier!)

The OP for this show is awesome; it’s fast, bass pumping, and really gets you hyped to watch the next episode with its “Hacking to the gate!” line. As a plus the lyrics change as the show goes on in order to remain relevant and you begin to understand more and more of the lyrics as you continue to watch the show, which is a nice way to reward viewers. The ED is “eh,” it’s nothing particularly special but it isn’t bad, just your average ED. The soundtrack for this show is fantastic, likely due to the fact that Steins;Gate was originally a visual novel where music is a major factor for manipulating the player. Standout tracks include “Promise”, which wells you up with tears and feels, “Christina I” also accomplishes this. “Tender Affection” sounds as if it came right out of the visual novel with its piano focus and romantic overture. “One of Selection – Gate of Steiner” is beautiful and and the normal “Gate of steiner” is great for climatic moments in the show. My favorite track is “Tubes”; I really enjoy the use of static in the song combined with the deer scare sound. It just seems like such a rainy dong song. On the whole Steins;Gate’s OST is very successful in setting the mood for each scene and the songs also standalone very well.

Although Steins;Gate is one of the best shows I’ve watched so far in my short anime career, no show is perfect. The art in Steins;Gate is your standard fare and character designs are relatively uninspired. Also the whole “saving Mayuri” plot by jumping back in time repeatedly overstays its welcome for the slightest bit, I was worried I was going to watch an Endless Eight situation unfold. Thankfully that did not happen and the pot picked up again quickly. As I mention the plot, I also have a gripe with the last few episodes of Steins;Gate, where all of a sudden World War III will break out after Okabe prevented SERN’s dictatorship. On one side, the plot was getting even more ridiculous, which was hilarious, but it also felt like cheap out so that Okabe could save Kurisu. So instead of her death having any real meaning she just gets saved at the end. I think I would have preferred and ending where Okabe returns to the beta timeline with Mayuri safe but without his Kurisu. It would have been a painful ending, sure, but it would have been progressive in letting the viewer know that endings aren’t always happy. A final gripe I have, although perhaps this is only me, was that it was confusing to keep track of the dates as Okabe began to travel back in time to save Mayuri. Sure the date would flash on screen, but I had not really been processing them as they had merely appeared as numbers which made it harder to connect to the month and day in such a short time. Perhaps instead of #/## had it been July 8th or something I could more easily follow where exactly Okabe was in the timeline.

Watch me, alright?

Watch me, alright?

Steins;Gate is an anime which combines time travel, tsundere love, otaku humor, SERN, brand recognition, poor American accents, moe culture, and a whole lot of other tropes into one beautiful package. It is a show that attempts to be grounded in reality, sure the science is “out there” but in the context of the universe it works. Actual time travel theories and ideas are explored, and real life events and places are incorporated to make the show relevant to your actual life. Okabe Rintarou is a genius protagonist, he has such depth that it is easy to empathize with him throughout the series. He is the symbol of the series; he wears a comedic mask which hides a tortured individual. Much like Okabe, this show will make you laugh your face off while at the same time tearing your heart out. Steins;Gate is an example of an anime which successfully pieces all of its core components together in the right ratio to produce a show that is as close to a perfect anime that one might find. I highly suggest anyone reading this to watch it if you haven’t and witness how Hououin Kyouma dominates time and fate to create his own ideal world.

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam (Sunrise, 1985)

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Mobile Suit Gundam, an iconic series famous for popularizing the mecha genre and demonstrating that anime could be used to tell a serious, compelling story. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam is a direct sequel to the original series, and it continues to draw from its predecessor and push the envelope of mecha anime; many of Zeta Gundam’s influences can still be seen in mecha shows today.

Zeta Gundam is set 8 years after the end of the One Year War in Mobile Suit Gundam, and the political background has changed quite a bit from E.F.S.F versus Zeon. Instead, the Earth Federation has founded an autonomous unit called the Titans, whose responsibility is to hunt down Zeon remnants but have become cruel in their methods, ruthlessly oppressing those who call for equal rights in space. In response to their aggression a rebel group called the Anti-Earth Union Group (A.E.U.G.) is founded to defeat them. The show begins during an attack bythe AEUG to steal mobile suits from the Titans, specifically the Gundam MK-II, the successor to the original RX-78-2 Gundam from Mobile Suit Gundam. During this attack, a young teenager named Kamille Bidan gets caught up in the fray; Kamille is a colonist who abhors the Titans’s policies and his ideology combined with some other events lead him to join the AEUG as the pilot of the Gundam. Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam follows Kamille’s journey with the AEUG to defeat the Titans, and along the way he finds mentors, develops nemeses, and encounters love, loss, and betrayal. (Sidenote: Kamille is NOT a girl’s name!)

Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam accurately captures a depiction in war in that there are a LOT of characters to keep up with. The AEUG itself has at least 10 important characters, and add that to the major players on both the Titans, Karaba, and Axis side means you have a main and supporting cast reaching 40 people. All of these characters means it is difficult to juggle screentime. Kamille, being the protagonist, obviously gets the most screentime and develops the most. Notable characters such as Quattro Bajeena, Reccoa Londe, Emma Sheen, Four Murasame and others also have their own revelations, but for a lot of characters their lack of screentime stunts their growth. For example, Scirocco Paptimus is one of the main antagonists but I never really get to understand his true motives and his establishment as the “true enemy” of the AEUG comes suddenly and without impact. The viewer can tell that Scirocco is bad dude to watch out for, but when he finally tries to take the spotlight as the villain he falls a bit flat and seems very one dimensional. However all of these characters allowed me to get everyone’s perspective on the way and their motives, the different factions show how deep and complicated war is, no one is exempt from it. Zeta is ambitious for the amount of characters it tries to juggle, and for that it should be applauded. The characters allow the show to portray war as it is: gritty, dark, and unsatisfying, with no one free from its influence.

Zeta Gundams

Left to right: Gundam MK-II, Zeta Gundam, Psycho Gundam

Being a mecha anime, I would be remiss if I did not address the designs of the mobile suit. There are so many more mobile suits in this series compared to the first series, but first I’ll focus on the titular one: gundam. The Gundam Mark-II is very similar to the RX-78-2, but it introduces the golden “V-fin” that Gundam is so synonymous with. (RX-78-2 also had a V-fin, but it was white). The shield mounted on the arm is a more modern look compared to RX-78-2’s handheld shield, and overall the design is much more intricate and appears more realistic. The Zeta Gundam which is later introduced is a whole new take on a Gundam, and it is refreshing to see. Its face abandons the “mouth” and the “chin” for a sleeker, more cybernetic look where only the eyes shine out from behind its mask. The V-fin also gets and addition with a beetle horn-like add-on encompassing its sensor. The Zeta Gundam also has the ability to transform into a Mobile Armor (MA), and the transformation sequences are beautifully done and the machine fluidly becomes a Waverider. Many mobile suits in Zeta Gundam also have an MA mode, perhaps done to showcase how far technology has come since the One Year War. Zeta Gundam is also the first series to have multiple Gundams in one show, in addition to the MK-II and the Zeta there is the Psyco Gundam and its successor the Psyco Gundam MK-II, both controlled via Psycommu System and spouting a ridiculous number of beam guns.

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Left to Right: Hyaku Shiki, Byarlant, Qubuley

However, Gundams are not the only beautiful machines in Zeta. The Hyaku Shiki piloted by Quattro Bajeena has an elegant gold color scheme and features the character “one hundred” on its shoulders. The Byarlant piloted by Jerid in some of the later episodes is sleek and fast, reflected in its design. The concealed particle guns in its forearms only enhance that image as it does not carry around a beam rifle which would ruin its swift image. I believe it may have been a source of inspiration for the Devilfish in Eureka Seven. The O is also a unique mobile suit due to its bulk; the dull yellow armored suit looks like a fortress but has surprising melee capabilities. Finally, the Qubeley, perhaps not one of the most elegant suits, but it is the first to introduce funnels. The Elmeth, a mobile armor in the One Year War had used bits, but funnels are more powerful, graceful, and just plain cool. The idea of controlling mini beam funnels with my mind has always amazed me and any mobile suit with funnels is a mobile suit I like.

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Left to Right: Marasai, Hambrabi, Gaza-C

The grunts of Zeta Gundam also have beautiful designs. Although nothing in my mind will ever reach the iconic status of the Zaku II in my mind, The Marasai is a cool crimson and brings to mind Char’s suits from Mobile Suit Gundam, with a cool should shield and the standard spiky shoulder on the other end. The head is a streamlined helmet, and it also features the pipes that line the Zaku’s body. The Hambrabi is also an interesting suit, with its cool blue coloring and its weapon like an electric spider web, reminiscent of the Gouf’s heat rod. Its MA mode is also slick and its arms fold like a mantis, waiting to strike. The Axis’s Gaza-C reminds me of Gundam Wing’s Leo or Taurus with the immovable eye.

Alright enough about mobile suits, let’s move on to some gripes I have with Zeta Gundam. One thing that really threw me off was the pacing of the show. As I mentioned before, Zeta Gundam has a lot of characters that it has to keep up with and divide screentime appropriately, but despite this the start of the show is SO SLOW. I found myself bored with the first 5 episodes, laughing at the ridiculous amounts of slaps meant to be taken seriously, and wondering where the hell this show was going . The show finally hits its stride around episode 15, and really picks up halfway through the series around episode 30, where every episode advances the plot comfortably and each character is developing at a good rate. However, near the end of the series, the pacing is exponentially increased. Once I got to episode 45, I found myself wondering: How the hell are they going to wrap this all up in 5 episodes? The answer? Kill ’em all Tomino. Within the last 3 episodes Tomino, the director,  proceeds to kill off almost half of all the characters you really care about, and their deaths are rushed and happen within minutes, not allowing you to really absorb the impact of their deaths or process their absence.The finale is disappointing, to say the least. Jerid, the one who we see as Kamille’s rival, is killed by Kamille almost as an afterthought; Jerid does not get the cathartic and epic battle that both he and the viewer were expecting.  The final battle between Kamille and Scirocco takes all of 10 minutes, with not much actual combat but instead with a  scene of Kamille seeing dead people which abruptly leads to Scirocco’s death. However, because Scirocco didn’t get all that developed as a character, I didn’t feel as that satisfied about his death and I certainly wasn’t satisfied by their “battle.” However, I will give Tomino points in that the ending is darker and more realistic than Mobile Suit Gundam; Kamille exits the final battle mentally damaged, unable to recognize his surroundings or Fa’s voice. I have no idea how Scirroco managed to do that simply by yelling, but whatever.  The last scene of Zeta Gundam leaves a lot of plot points unresolved, such as what will happen to Axis and the AEUG, who will rule over the Earth Sphere, has peace been accomplished, and does Kamille recover? It is presumed that the viewer will go on to watch Gundam ZZ to get these answers, but if you choose not to you feel a bit cheated as you expect more resolution after a 50 episode investment.

It might seem like I hate Zeta Gundam from that paragraph, but I really do love it, which makes all the flaws more apparent to me. Kamille is a stronger protagonist than Amuro, with more resolve and better character development. He goes from a bratty kid who refuses to pilot the Gundam to becoming a strong soldier always looking out for his teammates and great combat skills. It is great to see Char Aznable as an adult in the aftermath of his efforts of the One Year War and how he has matured into becoming a leader and his ideals about the Earth and peace have developed. Captain Bright is back and he is as badass as ever, exuding confidence on his bridge and commanding with authority. Four Murasame is much better “Lalah” character, Kamille and Astonaige provide great comedy relief, the kids on the ship are less annoying, Haro is back, and characters from the original series return is a treat. The soundtrack is fantastic, with two great OPs and a solid EDs, and ambient tracks that accurately convey the mood of scenes. The Newtype concept is further refined and explored, with tons of Cyber-Newtypes and Kamille not understanding the need for war and the lack of understanding between humans. Haman Karn and Minerva Zabi are introduced, both of which will play huge roles in Gundam ZZ and Gundam Unicorn. The list of great things in Mobile Suit Gundam Zeta goes on and on, and it may the best UC Gundam show yet. (I’ll have to get back to you on that one once I watch Gundam ZZ.) If you’ve never watched a Mobile Suit Gundam series show before, I highly recommend both Zeta and the original series because they are so important to the history of anime and they are great shows that stand the test of time. For those who are unfamiliar with Gundam, I leave you with this chart, and I hope you give it a chance!

Gundam Timelines

K-ON! (KyoAni, 2009)

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K-ON! is known as a very polarizing anime; there are people who claim it the pinnacle of slice-of life stories, while others detest it for its contribution to the popularity of  “moe” series. For the uninitiated, “moe” is a term used to describe an art style that focuses on being cute and cuddly; recent animations have turned towards this trend since the mid 2000’s. Personally, I am inclined towards the former group. I found K-ON! to be an enjoyable, laugh-out-loud anime with adorable characters and entertaining scenarios.

K-ON! revolves around the story of four girls: Yui Hirasawa, Mio Akiyama, Tsumugi Kotobuki (Mugi), and Ritsu Tainaka. The four of them joined Sakuragaoka Girl’s High School’s light music club (Keion-bu) in order to prevent it from being disbanded. Mio plays bass, Mugi plays keyboard, Ritsu plays drums,  and Yui…well Yui doesn’t play much of anything at the beginning of the series. She interprets “light music” to mean instruments like castanets, not instruments used in a rock band. However, it is eventually decided that Yui will play the guitar, and the series takes us for a ride as the four of them slowly improve as a band, not without with the occasional beach trip or extracurricular of course.

Ritsu, Mio, Yui, and Mugi jamming out while on cleaning duty.

Ritsu, Mio, Yui, and Mugi jamming out while on cleaning duty.

The characters that make up the Light Music Club are perhaps the cutest and most adorable characters that you will come across in anime. Yui is an air-headed, forgetful girl who always tries her best but gets sidetracked easily. She also never gains weight no matter how much she eats, to the ire of Mio and Mugi.  Ritsu is the president of the Keion-bu and is determined the best it can be, but she easily overlooks official papers and is often rebuked by Mio about it. Mio is Ritsu’s childhood friend, she is mature for her age, but is very shy and is easily scared. Mugi is the refined girl with a vast, unexplained fortune. She is kind and generous  but also seems to have some sort of yuri streak about her. These four characters may be tried and true anime personalities, but they are exceptionally executed to be a leading example of how a “moe” anime should be done, and each episode never fails to deliver hilarious moments between the cast, whether it be Ritsu teasing Mio with a ghost story, or Yui’s blissful ignorance about her guitar and music in general. The supporting cast also provides their own share of laughs. Sawako, the Keion-bu’s adviser has her own dark past and loves to provide cosplay costumes for the Keion-bu to wear on stage, which serves to embarrass Mio. Nodoka, Yui’s childhood friend, sheds light onto Yui’s young life and we see how she has not changed at all from her 5 year-old self.

Despite being a show about a light music club, K-ON! is not about the music. It is about the girls and their high school experience. However, the music in K-ON! is really quite good. Throughout the show the band plays several shows, and each show has  new insert song. The first one is “Fuwa Fuwa Time.” It is really catchy, has a good music video to accompany it, and the lyrics are all cutesy. Yui and Mio’s vocals pair up greatly, and the chorus reminds me a lot of Hirano Aya’s pieces from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. “My Love is a Stapler” has a great guitar intro, Yui’s voice features strongly, and it has this air of nostalgia about it, like it reflects upon the whole show. The guitar is featured in the song, and it really does feel like a “light rock” song. The final notes leave you softly, exiting the song much calmer than you were introduced to it.  The last insert song “Fude-pen ~Ballpen~” is personally my favorite insert throughout the show. The guitar lead-in is great, the vocals just get caught in your head, and it’s just so trivial it’s charming. The song is about cheering on a calligraphy pen to write out her words of love. It feels like something Yui would do, cheering on her favorite pen to not run out of ink before she finishes her thoughts or a test. “Curry Before Rice” is a song on insert song CDs, but is never actually played in the show. The song talks about a girl wanting to share curry with her loved one and trying to be mature by having medium spice curry, but she can’t handle more than two spoonfuls.

Moving on to the OP and ED, both of them are fantastic. I could never skip the OP or ED when watching the show as they were just some of the best I’ve heard. The opening, “Cagayake! GIRLS”,  perfectly encapsulates the aura of the show: it is energetic, poppy, and talks about common high school girl thoughts. Each character also gets their own shout-out in the full version to play their instrument which helps to establish how unified they are as a band. The ED, “Don’t say ‘lazy'”, is fantastic. Probably one of my favorite EDs ever. It has really no relation to the show, but Mio’s vocals are fantastic and the music video is great. It paints the K-ON! cast in a very surreal environment, reminding me of Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s witch scenes, and the costumes they wear are something you’d never see in the show. There is also this captivating keyboard bit that is constantly repeated in the background which I really just want to isolate and listen to on repeat.

No show is without its faults though. The soundtrack, while fitting, doesn’t really have memorable tracks that bring you back to a certain moment in the show. Instead it kinds of just putters around in the back of your mind while you watch K-ON!. The art is pretty generic; the faces are the typical big, round eyes, not to say that it isn’t cute. The animation quality sometimes drops throughout the show, but the band scenes are done very well to the point where you can read the lyrics on the girl’s mouths. However, these scenes are few and far, and occasionally Kyoto Animation cheats by using stills instead of animation, probably to save budget. There is an unbalance of which girls get the most screentime, throughout the series we never really see a Mio or Mugi centered episode. The show uses cliche anime themes, and sometimes repeats them which can frustrate viewers because it’s only a 12 episode series yet can seem repetitive at times.

Peace!

Peace!

K-ON! is not trying to break new ground in the anime industry or advance the medium. Instead, it is just a show about fun. The characters are fun, the music is fun, and the whole series is light-hearted. Smiles never disappear for very long in the show, and the funny moments never stop. Watching K-ON! is like having cotton candy, it’s a tasty treat but if you’re looking for an anime with a little more substance you will be left disappointed. K-ON! does not try to be more than a cute, fluffy, moe anime, and it excels at doing so. If you hate moe, you’re gonna hate K-ON!, but if you’re just looking for something to pass the time, provide a few laughs, and generally let you empty your mind, then K-ON! is the perfect show. K-ON! is what all moe anime should strive to be: simple, funny, engaging, and shallow. After you finish the series, you wish you could spend more time in their bubbly schoolgirl world. Thankfully  for those who want more, there is K-ON!!, the second season. I am off to enjoy their world for 26 more episodes, and I can earnestly say I that will be having fun as I watch because, as Yui says, “fun things are fun!”

Welcome to the NHK! (Gonzo, 2006)

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Welcome to the NHK! is an anime that supposedly many /a/ users sympathize with. I do not find this all that surprising as it deals with the themes of social isolation and social anxiety, and gives it viewers hope that one day they can integrate back into society to become a functional individual. Whether or not a young girl will take it upon herself to save you from your fate well…that’s debatable.

Welcome to the NHK! focuses on the story of Tatsuhiro Sato, a college drop out turned hikkikomori (Japanese term for extreme shut in). Tatsuhiro is a NEET, which stands for “not in education, employment, or training.” Essentially a person with no aspirations or income, who is usually dependent on their parents or other relative for survival. Tatsuhiro has been a hikikomori for four years when we meet him, and there does not seem to be anything stopping him from reaching his fifth. However, one day he finds a curious letter in his mailbox, which invites him to come to the park at night. Tatsuhiro shows up, and it is there he meets Misaki Nakahara, a girl who claims she can save Tatsuhiro from his hikkikomori lifestyle. Tatsuhiro (after much deliberation), comes to terms with the fact that he might need saving and from then on we join Tatsuhiro on his journey to reintegrate into society while creating an erotic visual novel, getting addicted to online games, and sorts all other sorts of trouble.

The entire show revolves around the idea of conspiracies. Tatsuhiro, and his senpai Hitomi Kashiwa, both believe that there exist conspiracies in the world, which leads Tatsuhiro to believe that he is a hikkikomori because of a greater conspiracy. Tatsuhiro believes the Nippon Hōsō Kyōkai (Japanese Broadcasting Company) or the NHK, actually stands for Nihon Hikikomori Kyōkai (The Japanese Hikikomori Association) and aims to create hikikomori all across Japan in order to get more viewers. Throughout the series Tatsuhiro has hallucinations regarding this conspiracy, which feature a talking TV, refrigerator, and other appliances. These scenes reveal how insane and unhealthy it is for a person to live by themselves for years and have little to no social interaction. Without society, people become lost and slowly lose their mind. Humans are social animals and require others in order to properly function. Welcome to the NHK! takes all this to the extreme and essentially displays the human condition. Without other people we feel worthless; we need acceptance, love, companionship in our lives in order to feel like we matter. This is not a lighthearted anime about magical girls or daily life (though it does have elements of both), it instead tries to show real people who have real problems ranging from depression and anxiety to addiction and loneliness through a comedy slice of life lens.

Misaki, Sato, and Yamazaki hanging out.

Misaki, Sato, and Yamazaki hanging out.

The cast of the show is well done, with each character having unique personality and feeling truly human. Each character is deeper than they appear. Tatsuhiro may be a hikkikomori and tries to play it off as if he is proud, but he is really feeling desperate, depressed, and he does not know how he can escape his fate. All he tries to do is fool himself into thinking he has the ability to do so. His neighbor and high school friend Yamazaki seems to appear as a normal eroge obsessed otaku, but he is simply trying to run away from his life obligations and copes with his 3 dimensional girl problems via 2 dimensional ones. Hitomi looks like she has successfully integrated into society after graduating high school, but in reality she is struggling with all sorts of stress that forces her to almost sabotage her life several times. And Misaki, wow does she have a lot going on in the background that I will not spoil. Let’s just say that Sato is somewhat justified in having his suspicions regarding her.

Other than the show’s theme and its main character’s cathartic journey of leaving his hikkikomori lifestyle, I cannot say that anything else really stands out about this show. The art is your typical anime art. The animation is rather standard fare, with nothing so fluid or amazing that your breath will be taken away. There are great moments of comedy in the show, seeing as this is a slice-of-life type of show, and the characters are pretty well fleshed out, although I wish the writers had provided a bit more detail on Misaki throughout the series until holding everything about her until the end. It made the end of the show feel sort of rushed and diminished my enjoyment somewhat. I would have liked to know more about her about halfway or three-fourths through the show instead of getting an information dump at the end. The final scene of Welcome to the NHK! also left me somewhat disappointed in that we never get confirmation that Misaki and Tatsuhiro do indeed end up together, but I understand why the directors decided to go the route they did as it fits both of their characters well.

The soundtrack is nice and fits the atmosphere of the show well. There are no real memorable tracks, but I will say that the OP is very nice and provides a good introduction to the show. The first ED is kind of creepy, as it talks about “dancing baby humans” and has a weird rhythm to it. The male vocals are done well though. The second ED isn’t worth writing home about. Also the Puri Puru Pururin anime theme song will likely get suck in your head for a while, so be prepared for that. It’s so simplistic, but so catchy.

Overall, Welcome to the NHK! is definitely worth a watch. The way it approaches the idea of social value and what life is worth is very relevant in today’s age of Facebook, Twitter, Pininterest, etc. It has a very human cast who all have their own flaws and deal with them relatable ways. While Tatsuhiro Sato might be the extreme of social anxiety, I’m sure we all feel somewhat nervous in public and judged by strangers daily; Welcome to the NHK! assures you that it is okay to have such fears and believing these things doesn’t make you any less of a person. Watching these characters cope with their fears and dreams might help you figure out something for yourself, and I urge you to watch it in the hope that you get something out of it like I did.

Pani Poni Dash! (SHAFT, 2005)

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Ah, Shaft Studios, infamous for a certain headtilt that seems to make its way into every animation that they produce. However, not this one! Pani Poni Dash! is a a comedy anime that is filled to the brim with references of anime, manga, news, Japanese culture, Internet culture, and American culture. It’s also hilarious. Every episode I found myself at some point in stitches, whether it be from Himeko’s energetic and enthusiastic personality, Ichijou’s random and completely tangential conduct, or Mesousa’s sad, Eeyore-like existence.

From left to right: Himeko, Ichijou, Uehara, Becky, Rei, Mesousa, Momose, Behoimi, Rokugou

From left to right: Himeko, Ichijou, Uehara, Becky, Rei, Mesousa, Momose, Behoimi, Rokugou

Before I go on, allow me to explain the premise of Pani Poni Dash!. The show is about an 11 year old girl named Rebecca Miyamoto (Becky), who has just graduated from MIT. She has returned to Japan and decided to become a teacher at Peach Moon Academy for Class 1-C. Little does she know that she will be handling a very difficult bunch students. Each class in Peach Moon Academy has its own cast characters, and 1-C is no exception. There six special girls in Becky’s class: Himeko Katagiri, an airhead with an “ahoge” (or cowlick) and her own catchphrase: “Maho~”. Ichijou, the class representative who seems to be from out of this world and can bend time and space at her will. Miyako Uehara, a girl with a huge forehead and who is completely committed to her studies (despite not getting the best grades). Rei Tachibana, perhaps the most mature out of the girls but is also Becky’s main tormentor. Momose Kurumi, know for nothing at all and despises being called “plain.” Finally there is Sayaka Suzuki, known to most as Rokugou for unknown reasons, although theories do arise throughout the show, with priceless thought processes. Also shown in this picture is Behoimi, a girl who calls herself a “Healing-type Magical Girl”, much like a JRPG, and she is from class 1-D. Each girl embodies a certain girl archetype seen in anime, but each girl embraces their archetype and it is not overdone for comedic or perhaps meta effect, but rather is an interesting take on the stereotypes. (Tsundere, Magical Girls, etc.)

Now, Pani Poni Dash! is a reference anime, meaning that it relies heavily on the viewer bringing their outside knowledge with them in order to understand the jokes. The references range from obvious (Chuck Norris, Evangeleon) to the very, very obscure (Twin Peaks, Naki no Ryuu) which WILL fly over your head. To get every reference in Pani Poni Dash! you would have to be some media consumption god who knows everything that ever aired on TV from the 1960’s onward. The thing is, you don’t need to get every reference to find the show funny, in fact, you don’t necessarily have to get ANY reference that the show makes and the show still remains funny. Between the random scene changes, humorous banter between characters, and the plot of each episode, the show manages to keep itself funny by itself. The references only serve to enhance the experience of watching Pani Poni Dash! So yes, you may find it less humorous if you aren’t as much of a nerd as I am, but the show is able to stand on its own value.

Something I really liked about Pani Poni Dash! is how each episode encapsulates an entire story, so it is not necessary to start watching from the beginning if you don’t feel like it. The only premise that needs to be known is that there is an 11 year old genius teaching a high school class, and every storyline develops from there. In that regard it is much like a sitcom like Seinfeld or Friends, not much backstory is needed which allows a lot of rewatch-ability. Although the show does make references (again!) to previous episodes, none are so outright that you’ll be lost when it is mentioned between characters or seen in the background. Another unique element of Pani Poni Dash is how SHAFT used the chalkboard. Of course Becky’s classroom has a chalkboard, and it is ever present in the background, constantly changing every time the camera pans away. At the beginning of the show there might be a Gundam quote on the board, and the next moment there is a guide on how to make James Bond’s favorite martini. While these shout-outs are small and are only on screen for a second or two, they add to the lightheartedness of the series and get a chuckle or two out of me.

God keeping the drinks warm.

God keeping the drinks warm.

Finally, the cast of this anime is absolutely hilarious, with everyone having their own minor problems, rivalries, and quirks that make me bust a gut. My favorite character is probably God. Yes, God is in the show. And what else is he but a cat who sits inside vending machines keeping the drinks at body temperature? Anytime Mesousa (the rabbit) goes to get a drink from the vending machine, the machine opens and who should appear but God, keeping his refreshments at a cooling body temperature, depressing Mesousa even further than he normally is. And Mesousa! Mesousa is Beck’y pet rabbit who can walk and talk and is generally depressed 24/7. He is rarely acknowledged by anyone but God, and his story of trying to achieve happiness throughout the whole series is perhaps the best sub-plot throughout the entire show. Seeing his struggle in every episode, from having a bomb on his head to trying to get soda for Becky, had me laughing out loud. Another honorable mention goes to Ichijou-san, whose duties as class representative are often neglected in favor of stranger pursuits. The supporting cast is also wonderful and every part they play in each episode is a delight and a roar.

I found Pani Poni Dash! to be quite the ridiculous and hilarious anime, however I am aware that this will not hold up for every one. Many of the references are to other anime and general pop culture of the time, so if you are not as in tune with the world of Japan you might not find it as funny. In addition, many of the jokes are Japanese in nature and while translators do their best, sometimes the meaning is not always conveyed or it is not funny due to being explained by the translator. I acknowledge that your mileage will vary, but Pani Poni Dash! is certainly worth a shot if you are looking for a funny anime to unwind to after a long day.

P.S. If the subbed version seems too Japanese, perhaps the dubbed version might be better, but I highly suggest the subbed version if you think you know your stuff. I also highly recommend grabbing the reference pdfs provided by [gg] subs. Here is a link to them, if they ever break feel free to ask me for them directly.

EUREKA SEVEN (BONES, 2005-2006)

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Eureka Seven

The first time I watched Eureka Seven must have been back in 2006 when it first aired on Cartoon Network’s adult swim block. As a 11 year old, I found the episodes exciting and funny, but I did not have the conviction to try and watch the entire series. (I neither had the money for DVDs nor the ability to pirate things). However, over the winter break I decided I wanted to revisit my childhood watching anime and decided I wanted to finish Eureka Seven, for the sake of 11 year-old me and because it still seemed interesting.

Best decision I’ve made this year.

The opening, the scenery, the characters, the story, everything drew me into the world of Eureka Seven. I was completely enamored and had to restrain myself from watching the entire series in two days. Instead I considered it a reward for surviving another day of not finishing the series and would marathon 5 episodes or so every night. And when it finally finished, I felt so fulfilled and empty at the same time. However, before I go into the ending, how about I start from the beginning:

Eureka Seven revolves around a teenaged boy named Renton Thurston. His father is known as a hero who saved the world, however Renton is just a typical teenager who does not pay attention in school and hates everything about his town. The only happiness he finds in life is from “lifting”. (Imagine surfing, but instead of riding the waves you ride air currents called “trapar”) One day, Renton’s world changes as a young girl piloting an LFO (basically a giant mech with it’s own lifting board) crashes into Renton’s room. Her name is Eureka, and she is Renton’s first love. The trials that these two lovers go through form the basis of Eureka Seven, and watching them tackle each challenge is the source of fulfillment of this series.

However, Eureka and Renton are not the only stars in this show. Eureka is a member of Gekkostate, a group of young professional lifters who also have their own personalities and secrets. The leader of Gekkostate is Holland Novak, Renton’s lifting idol. He shares a close but complex relationship with Talho Yuki, the pilot of the Gekko, Gekkostate’s ship. Others in the control room include Ken-Goh, veteran weapons master, Gidget, ditzy communications officer, Hap, stingy co-captain, and Woz (named after Steve Wozniak), the chill hacker. Gekkostate has many other members whom you come to appreciate for their quirks and beliefs as the show progresses, and the narrative allows you to see how Gekkostate operates as a family and how Renton is incorporated into that family. This makes the first episodes a true joy to watch each episode as you are simply watching how the Gekkostate family operates on a daily basis and how Renton has to adapt in order to be welcomed and become a member of the Gekkostate. Even as the plot begins to develop in the later episodes you still get to see the crew interact with one as a family unit and can laugh alongside them or share in their pain or anger.

The young couple: Eureka and Renton

The young couple: Eureka and Renton

Emotions. Emotions are very well done in Eureka Seven. The producers of each episode knew how to draw each emotion they wanted out of the audience with the animation, writing, and music. Even now as I listen to certain pieces of the soundtrack I am drawn back to a certain scene and can remember vividly the characters and their feelings. I found myself laughing out loud several times during the show, as well as openly crying at other parts. This anime gets its viewers emotionally invested with every episode, to the point where after the final episode you can look back on the journey that you experienced along with the members of Gekkostate fondly and with such emotion that it feels like the producers allowed you to become a member of Gekkostate by watching Eureka Seven.

The Nirvash Type Zero

The Nirvash Type Zero

Seeing as Eureka Seven is a mecha show, I feel it is also necessary to address to robot designs in the series. Simply put: they are wonderful. You’d think it would be odd to see giant robots essentially surfboarding in the air, but the mechs are designed with a certain sleekness that makes lifting seem natural for these robots, and the accompanying animations are fluid and beautiful. The Nirvash, which the mech that Eureka and Renton pilot, especially looks at home in the skies provides its own influence on the crew as it is treated like another Gekkostate member. The various forms the Nirvash takes on during the show help to emphasize that Eureka and Renton are also changing as they progress towards their goals and the fact that Nirvash has a mind of its own makes it unique in a genre where mechs are often just tools used by the protagonist for the realization of their own ideals.

Finally, before I wrap up my review I’d just like to mention that the soundtrack is phenomenal throughout the series. Sato Naoki does a wonderful job as composer and manages to make music tracks that fit each moment of the anime perfectly, and are a joy to listen to on their own. Notable tracks are “Forbidden Fruit”, which often lays during moments of mischief and brings a smile my face every time I listen to it. “The Gekko” is inspirational and grandeur, reminding me of defining moments of the series when the climax of an episode was reached. “Dewy Novak” is a very charged and dramatic track that helps scenes convey their importance and sense of doom. The openings and endings are also great to listen to as singles, and I never actually bothered to skip the opening or ending of any episode as they were great to listen to and wind down from an episode or pump up for another one. “Storywriter” by Supercar is also a great rock track that plays during key moments of the series and I love how it has a “remix” feel to it in the beginning. Eureka Seven also acknowledges the importance of music by making many references throughout the show to various musicians such as Ray Charles, the Beastie Boys, and Joy Division.

I can confidently say that Eureka Seven is in my top 3 of anime that I have watched, and it is not likely to lose that distinction any time soon. I love how the series starts off with no real particular goal and episode after episode gets you adjusted to the world that Renton and Eureka lived in and what kind of people they were and who the people on the Gekko state are. Then, as Eureka and Renton begin to realize their feelings for one another the plot truly begins to develop we can see how their innocent, pure, gushing love is the both the beginning and the end of this series, and once you hear their voices say “The End” after the final episode you realize that their story is finally over and you are glad that you were with them every step of the way of their relationship. Eureka Seven is a beautiful anime abut two young lovers in a crazy, insane world that tries to keep them apart, but in the end it cannot and the universe thanks them for their love.

P.S. I watched this series dubbed and loved it, you should try so too!