Skip to content

Acejem Reviews – Year in Review (2011) Part 3

And here is the final part of the Year in Review (2011)  where I have compiled various personal top lists for 2011.

Top OPs/EDs

This is rated based on the song, visuals, choreography and how well it matches the tone of the respective series. Apologies in advance as it was very difficult to obtain some of the youtube videos so they may not be the best quality, have non-English subs or mirrored. One of the videos is even a cover but it has the original video in the background but unfortunately that was the best I could find.

10. Guilty Crown ED

Nice animation, decent pop song by Supercell with a cute focus on the Inori x Shu romance shipping for people who are into that kind of stuff (It is indeed a major part of Guilty Crown).

9.  Chihayafuru OP

Great upbeat pop song that captures the personality of Chihaya perfectly. Well animated.

8.  Ano Hana ED

Personally, the song is a bit too emo for me, but I can’t deny that it matches the atmosphere of Ano Hana. Well Choreographed with the falling flowers too, reminds me of the Toradora ED.

7.  Mirai Nikki OP

The animation budget is questionable, but the song is decent and it is nicely choreographed. However, it matches the tone of Mirai Nikki very well.

6. Un-go ED

Though it doesn’t exactly match the atmosphere of the series, the song is great with its choreography top notch. A very nice “arthouse” ED.

5. Kamisama Dolls OP

First thing I noticed was that the vocalist of this OP is the same person who did the Bokurano OP, which is one of my favourite OPs of all time. Although not as good as that one, this is still excellent, with great instruments, vocals and choreography. Stylish too with its spinning frames.

4. Deadman Wonderland OP

The song is a bit too screamo for my tastes, but man is this well choreographed, probably the best of the year in terms of that of that actually. Considering Deadman Wonderland is a shonen anime about surviving in a prison, it fits the tone of the series perfectly.

3.  Ano Hana OP

Like the ED, it perfectly matches the atmosphere. In addition though, I like the bittersweet ballad and is better choreographed.

2.  Steins Gate OP

Good song, top notch choreography and very stylish with its ticking clocks, flashing frames and moving world-lines. Matches the tone of the 2nd half of Steins Gate . My favourite “arthouse” OP/ED of the year.

1. Dantalion no Shoka OP

Love the song, Love the atmosphere, well animated. Reminds me of Spice and Wolf. If it wasn’t for a real friend of mine strongly advising against the anime, I would have jumped on this immediately because it sees like my type of atmospheric anime. Favourite OP/ED of the year.

Top Female Characters

Despite this year having many great series, it was actually difficult to siphon out female characters that stood out. Like with every year, there was an abundance of tsunderes, kuuderes and it seems that danderes (the quiet, emotionless type) was back in fashion this year. In other words, there weren’t that many outstanding female characters. Regardless, there were some highlights, like the following:

3. Chiriko “Tsuruko” Tsurumi – Ano Hana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, jealous, calculating, but willing to help when the need comes, Tsuruko along with her crush Yukiatsu brought the most personality in the Ano Hana cast. She reminds of Yuasa Hiromi from True Tears and I wouldn’t be surprised if she was modelled after Hiromi, considering the two series are written by the same author (Mari Okada). She is unlike Menma, who is free-willed, easy to upset or please and bluntly honest, in that she is very resistant and tolerant and instead will take subtle jabs at the cast (particularly at her crush) from different angles and is never straight forward. She is also very unlike Anjou, who is so lovestruck with the main character Jintan that she often behaves in a tsundere fashion. Because of her subtle and multiple personality, she was by far my favourite female of that series, and nicely places third in the year for me.

2. Chihaya Ayase  – Chihayafuru

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normally, the main female character in shojo series tend to be weak, submissive and more often than not fall victim to the inevitable “dickhead” male with a heart of gold. Not Chihaya. She doesn’t give a damn.  She will take the initiative and bulldose her way through to get what she wants. Yes, she is loud and obnoxious but man is she entertaining and funny. It’s like if they got the typical shonen traits from a male lead in a shonen series and placed it in a female body. Works like a charm if you ask me. Also, viewers don’t worry. Chihaya may be bullheaded but she is definitely not heartless. She is more than willing to help when someone is in trouble… granted she will tackle it head-on and bulldose through it, but that just makes it more than entertaining as that’s not a common sight in shojos. In a typical shojo, that female will be crying a corner waiting for her “dickhead” prince to come save the day. Chihaya says “NO!” to that.

1. Ohana Matsumae  – Hanasaku Iroha

Much like Chihaya, Ohana takes the initiative, tackles problems head-on but is in no way heartless. Someone else is being punished for something Ohana did herself? Ohana says to leave that person alone and that she’ll take double the punishment. A worker is taking a day off for a wedding, but suddenly you’re understaffed? Ohana will chase you half across the country and get you to work. But Ohana has one slight edge over Chihaya and that’s her ability to be playful. A friend of Ohana’s has a crush on someone, Ohana will prod you to death till you spill the beans (and then probably proceed to tell that person upfront that that particular friend likes him…). Also, she makes the funniest faces. Like the time when her mother forgot to attend a parent-teacher day and she made omlet rice with tomato ketchup that spelt out “I hate you mommy” whilst pouting like this. The most pure-hearted, outgoing, entertaining and imo best female character to follow this year.

Top Male Characters

Male characters were a lot easier. There were plenty of great male characters, both main and supporting roles. What’s even better is that there was a significant number of males that aren’t teenagers but adults in their 20s or 30s. That’s pretty refreshing to see in an era where teenage casts dominate the anime scene. Anyways, here are my favorites males of the year:

3. Kyubey – Puella Magi Madoka Magica

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not actually sure what gender Kyubey is, but for the benefit of doubt I’ll classify him as a male. Regardless, if you want an interesting antagonist this year, then Kyubey is your main bet. If you think he’s just another fuzzy little mascot character then think again because this fella is one manipulative specimen. Because of this guy, I will never look at the term “contract” in the same light ever again. There is however one misconception. He is not evil and a “bad guy” per se. A character of “evil” alignment usually does something for themselves and often illustrates selfishness. If I had to give Kyubey alignment then he would most likely suit “true neutral”. Anyways, be it a character of good, evil or neutral alignment it does not sway from the fact that he turned the magical girl familiar convention on its head.

2. Rider “Alexander, Iskandar, King of Conquerors” – Fate/Zero

All hail the King of Bros… I mean Conquerors. Fuck it. He’s the king of bros. If you are looking for GAR this year, then look no further than Rider. Technically a supporting character, but he does get significant screen time and whenever he’s on screen, just about all viewer attention is diverted to him and for good reason. Why? Well Fate/Zero mainly consists of rather stonecold, ruthless or reserved men, with its respective servants being either outrageously evil or stubbornly stoic and honorable. Rider says “Fuck this” to all of that and rides headstrong in his chariot pulled by two massive bulls. Not to mention he’s quite the sociable guy too. He wants a party? He’ll bring in a keg of wine and put you in a reality marble with all his brosmen in arms (Yes, he has a GAR Noble Phantasm too). Only criticism I’ll give him is that he overwhelms every other servant and character in personality. But I should fault the series itself than the character for that, which I will do so later.

1. Okabe “Mad Scientist” Rintarou – Steins Gate

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rider might be the most GAR character of the year, but Okabe is not far behind. Also, GAR is not the only trait that makes a awesome character. Whilst not being as macho as Rider, Okabe has many traits that Rider does not and that is why he is clearly the better male character. So what traits does he have other than GAR? Why his mad scientist persona of course. He possesses a vocabulary of non-sensical blabbery, whacky habits and a maniac laugh that at first glance people will think he is insane. But no, even within that eccentricity lies a logical, calculated and caring man. Using Triple R’s words, Okabe is the Mad Scientist with a heart of gold, but also one who uses his head instead of charging head-on. Some may argue that’s a sign of multiple personality disorder, I’d say that’s a damn good character that is multi-dimensional. And entertaining/hilarious to boot. Want to be directed to the a single best character of the year? Look no further than to our mad scientist.

Top Animes of the Year

And for the finale, the top animes of 2011. But a word of disclaimer. The following are my gut feelings and not what “objectively” were the top. There may have been series that may have done certain elements than the ones listed, but for whatever reason I may not have listed it. Thus, please do not take offence if a said series is not mentioned or if it ranked too high or low your tastes. Also, I have included movies in this list, and the way I determined what year they were is based on the DVD/Bluray release dates and NOT their theatrical release dates. The reason for this is because otherwise it will be impossible for non-Japanese fans to watch that particular series, and I do want to be able to recommend good movies. Anyways, here is the awaited list:

12.  Fate/Zero

Studio: Ufotable
Director: Ei Aoki
Series Composition: Gen Urobuchi

Fate Zero was one of the most hyped shows of 2011. It is the anime adaptation to the prequel of Fate/Stay Night and based off the light novels Gen Urobuchi wrote in 2008. Type-Moon fans were ecstatic to hear that Fate/Zero was not by Studio DEEN, who are notorious for butchering good source material. In addition, ufotable had prior experience with the 7 Kara no Kyoukai movies (another Type-moon franchise), which were critically acclaimed. Ufotable also brought back in veteran Yuki Kajiara to compose the BGM for the anime.

Fate/Zero indeed started off magnificently with its one hour pilot episode, and built a foundation of each of the masters and concluded with the summoning of their servants. It continued to be excellent until the halfway mark, mixing excellent dialogue and action scenes. However, from then on the series started to show flaws. From then, one started to question the pacing of the series, as the series became more and more dialogue centric and characters somehow conveniently avoiding death. Isn’t this series technically a survival game, where the last survivor gets granted a wish of their desire by the Holy Grail? Because of that, shouldn’t some competitors be eliminated by the halfway mark?

Furthermore, there was one particular servant that largely overwhelmed the significance of every other servant. That servant was Rider. Rider was an excellent character, arguably the best character in the entire series. But this came at a cost of some rather dull characters, or characters that simply did not get enough screen time. For example, Saber is supposed to be a main character of the series, but whenever she was on screen, it showed nothing but her getting owned in both combat and in verbal interactions (particularly against any verbal arguments with Rider). To add further injury, Fate/Zero’s 1st cour ended rather poorly, as instead of building up to a midpoint climax, it spent the majority of the episode… once again in dialogue, but this time in Waver angsting about how useless he was.

Nevertheless, Fate/Zero was still overall a very good watch, but was not excellent. Although the dialogue and action scenes were largely great, it could have been better placed, and a better midpoint conclusion could have been made.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

11.  Mawaru Penguindrum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

StudioBrains Base
Director and Series Composition: Kunihiko Ikuhara

The director of Sailor Moon and cult classic Revolutionary Girl Utena comes out of hibernation and decides to create a zany, whacky and artistic show. An anime original at that too. I’ll say this write off the bat, this show is WEIRD. Fortunately, it is the good kind of weird, and not one for the sake of trying to minimise budget expenditure as much as possible (*cough Shinbo x Shaft). Except for the cardboard cutout figures of background characters. That was obvious budget cutting.

To this very day, I am STILL not too sure what the show is about. One moment it seems to be about family, in another fate/destiny and how to transfer between fate/destiny lines (Steins Gate style) whilst in another it’s just shenanigans in the form of penguin antics, which were quite funny btw! In fact, Penguindrum was probably one of the funniest series of the year, despite not being a comedy.

Penguindrum is an arthouse series and rather than telling a coherent, followable story, it is portraying a sophisticated painting, but one that keeps your eyes hooked on a weekly basis. It constantly switches between real time and flashbacks which can make it difficult to follow at times. Despite that it was pretty interesting! Perhaps I would have liked it more if I was induced with alcohol or LSD during the episode sessions :p.

However, when it came to the crunch, just being interesting is not enough to award a very high score. Although it is without a doubt the most unique and experimental piece of the year that actually had production values to back it up, it may leave viewers lost to figure out what exactly they are watching.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

10. Un-Go


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio: Bones
Director: Seiji Mizushima
Series Composition: Shou Aikawa

In the anime medium, good mystery series are very rare. In fact, I can’t remember the last good mystery anime I saw. The thing about mysteries is that there are two ways to botch it up. The first is to make the mysteries too easy in that there leaves no element of suspense or thrill and whereby the viewer can guess what it is without much difficulty. This is Scooby-Doo and this actually insults human intelligence. The other way is to it so difficult that it is virtually impossible to find out that some outside supernatural element has to come into play. This is what Phi-Brain is doing. The good mysteries leaves the viewer confused but if they try hard enough, they are able to figure out the mystery one or two steps behind. Un-go largely follows this pattern. It is also part of the 2011 anime original repertoire.

It is part episodic and part continuous, structured into 4 or so detached arc until its last arc (which is 3 out of the 11 episodes) brings it all together. Unfortunately, the first and last episodes of the series is rather poor, but the other arcs remain largely excellent. The other criticism is that although it could have very well been possible to not implement supernatural elements to uncover a step or two on the path to solving a particular mystery, it elects to do so, somewhat cheapening the final outcome.

Nonetheless, it was a great mystery series… at least for the anime medium. Noitamina continues its tradition of providing interesting conceptual shows that are outside of the slice of life/moe heavy industry the anime is currently in.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

9. Chihayafuru (After 12/25 episodes)

Studio: Madhouse
Director: Morio Asaka
Series Composition: Tomihiko Itou

It’s been quite some time since I watched a good shojo series (No, Kimi ni Todoke was not a good shojo series in my eyes). However, to be techincally exact, it is a josei series, meaning it is aimed for at young adult women rather than teenage girls. The director of Gunslinger Girl and Nana comes back to direct the anime adaptation of the winner for the 2011 Kodansha Manga Award for Shojo. The first thing that came into my mind was that why was this not on the noitamina timeslot, as all josei anime adaptations traditionally have been. However, it may be a blessing it isn’t, as slice of life adaptations on the noitamina timeslot tend to get 1-cour treatment, which will not do justice to a popular award winning manga such as this.

One of Chihayafuru’s main strength lies in its main character, Chihaya. As explained, in the top characters section, Chihaya is a very fun and entertaining character to follow, and it is a blast to see an assertive, shonen style character in a demography where submissive, weak female leads dominate the scene. Chihayafuru is a upbeat and optimistic series and although there are elements of drama, it doesn’t dwell on them for long. Instead it focuses on the character development of the cast, using the card game Karuta and the Karuta club as a plot mechanisms to drive this development. It ended on a well placed midpoint conclusion where it sets up the next major arc very nicely after finishing the “flashback arc”, “recruitment arc” and the first “tournament” arc. In other words, pacing has been exceptional thus far.

However, if I had to criticize Chihayafuru, it is the lack of emotional attachment. Being an optimistic and upbeat series, I find it difficult to care much about the other characters or the plot outside of Chihaya herself. The series is most entertaining when it involves Chihaya doing what she does best (bulldosing the plot), and the series is the least entertaining when it focuses too much on the Karuta scene as the game itself isn’t that interesting, particularly if it doesn’t involve Chihaya. In other words, Chihaya carries the series.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

8. Ano Hana

Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Series Composition: Mari Okada

Ano Hana was originally a series that little hype preceding its airing. After it finished, sales wise it is the most commercially successful melodrama series post 2000, solidly defeating even the mighty Key/Kyoto Animation trio of Air, Kanon and Clannad, selling an average of well over 30,000 DVDs/Blurays per volume. So what made it such a megahit and within the top 5 selling titles of 2011 thus far? In essence, it used the popular Asian TV dram conventions founds in K/J dramas are fused  them with what Key/Kyoto Trio popular, to create a solid hybrid, anime original production.

Nagai and Okada are no amateurs when it comes to slice of life and drama, as the duo have previously worked on creating romantic comedy favourite Toradora. Nagai has also directed the second season of personal favourite Honey and Clover, whilst Okada did a large library of stuff explained in Part 1 of this blog.

However, this was not a series I enjoyed as much I thought I would given the staff and premise (I like drama a lot!). The chief criticism with Ano Hana is that it tries too hard to make you cry using corny and depressing dialogue. This was particularly prevalent in the 2nd half of the series, where one or more characters will burst out in tears per episode and the series expect you to join in with them. In other words, it was too melodramatic. Furthermore, some of the plot twists were disappointing, the most notable one being the one at episode 8 where Menma was revealed as a ghost, shutting down all theories that it was a hallucination by Jintan. Instead, it followed the footpath of Key using supernatural forces to explain plot holes, giving it a “been there and done that before” feel. I also worry for Ano Hana’s success on the noitamina timeslot, as it does discourage the more mature, subtle slice of life/dramas that have proceeded it such as Honey and Clover and Hourou Musuko.

Luckily, between the characters of Yukiatsu and Tsuruko, they gave sufficient doses of multi-dimensional personality and genuine/subtle dialogue that was badly needed in the drowning ocean of melodrama. Furthermore, Ano Hana ended bittersweet and nicely, unlike the highly compared Clannad After Story, which just ended disastrously.

Regardless, if you want a good melodrama series and a chance to exercise your tear ducts (and join in Jintan’s wish :p), Ano Hana is the best thing available in the last 3 years.

Overall Rating: 8/10

7. Hanasaku Iroha

Studio: P A Works
Director: Masahiro Ando
Series Composition: Mari Okada

Personally, this was a series I was highly anticipating, as it consists of the same studio, director and writer who created one of my favorite romance series of all time True Tears. Plus it’s an anime original. In fact, the creators themselves think it is some spiritual sequel to it, even though I disagree with that notion. Have a look at this and this ^_^’.

Iroha is a difficult show to explain. On a basic level it is coming of age teen drama, but it encompasses elements from a variety of slice of life shows including True Tears, Toradora, K-on, Ano Hana (which it was airing in the same season) and Honey and Clover. It has a misleading first episode where it seems to advertise itself as a melodrama (albeit a different type) akin to Ano Hana, but once sufficient episodes are watched it is clear that making this series a melodrama wasn’t the intention.

In this entire year, Iroha was certainly the one with the biggest rollercoaster ride. It consisted of brilliant first two episodes, 1st cour finish (~11-13) and 2nd cour finish (~22-26), in conjunction with 2 episodes (3 and 17) where I wanted to bang my head against a wall. The episodes in between ranged from decent to great. In other words, the series was pretty inconsistent. However, despite the inconsistency, when the series was good, it was bloody good, ousting even the best of Ano Hana’s episodes. Because of this, it made the series memorable, albeit not completely in a positive way.

Furthermore, it had what I believe was the best female character of the year in the form of Ohana Matsumae, which I explained in detail in the top characters page. It also had gorgeous visuals and high production values, imo the best of the year alongside Redline and Guilty Crown (the latter which unfortunately had little else to offer other than visuals). It had a masterful last episode (might possibly the best ending I saw this year), which took me by total surprise.

Iroha did however, fall victim to what I believe was Okada’s fetish dump. In Part 1, I referred to an interview where Okada wanted to make Ano Hana an erotic slapstick comedy but was denied. I am guessing Ando was more lenient and allowed Okada to indulge in her apparent crossdressing fetish, as each male character without exception was emasculated and put in drag at least once…

Nonetheless, Iroha is definitely not your average “cute girl doing cute things” type of show. It is largely  “moe with substance”  and will be great watch… as long as you can tolerate the rather facepalm worthy bad episodes and elements here and there.

Overall Rating: 8/10

6. Redline

Studio: Madhouse
Director: Takeshi Koike
Series Composition: Yoji Enokido

When it comes to the “rule of cool”, nothing beats the Redline film which came out on DVD/Bluray this year after a long ass delay of 2 years when it first aired in 2009. Although I have never heard of the director or writer, boy did they create one giant visual spectacle. To put it bluntly, this is the most over the top, stylish and coolest thing I have seen this year. This is the Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann of racing anime.

This film doesn’t mess about. The plot is straight forward and the show knows it. It doesn’t try to diverge and implement fancy plot twists. It is meant to be predictable and cliche and if you’re trying to watch this film for the plot, then that person should seriously gtfo because that person is clearly missing the point. It is in no way trying to be deep or intellectual. If  Redline simply is the embodiment of entertainment and enjoyment in its purest form wrapped into 1 hour and 40mins.

The production values for this show is fantastic, and rightfully so as it took more than 7 years to complete the damn thing with everything hand-drawn. That’s right, hand-drawn. They did it old-school baby! It’s also in a classic 70s/80s artsyle which gives it a unique feel and experience for the new generation like us.

Criticisms? Aside from the obvious Redline is all spectacle no substance (but can you really fault it for that?) the fight with that big yellow blog was too weird and thus out of place. It also consumed a fair chunk of time (15minutes?), which could have been better spent in moar Untz Untz Untz and Zoom Zoom Zoom (techno music, racing and cartoon tits).

If you’re looking to turn your brain off and tune into something amazingly fun, then look no further than Redline this year.

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

5. Colorful

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio: Sunrise
Director: Keiichi Hara
Series Composition: Miho Marou

Now this is something different. Sunrise producing an anime movie that isn’t mecha. What resulted was one of the best dramas I have seen in the anime medium which came out this year on DVD/Bluray after its theatrical screening late last year. It won the Audience and Special Distinction Award at the 2011 Annecy International Film Festival.

There is a fine line between melodrama and drama, and it is usually more difficult to create an engaging drama. Non-melo dramas do not try to shove emotions down the viewer’s throats but instead are subtle and natural. Colorful was just that and was also very poignant without trying too hard.

Colorful is about a teenage boy by the name of Makoto Kobayashi Makoto who had committed suicide. His soul is given a second in life as he is reincarnated into another teenage boy body where he must find out what he had done wrong in his previous life. It reminded me of an anime series called Haibane Renmei. Although it uses depressing themes such as bullying, suicide and enjo kosai, the movie itself was not depressing. Instead it was genuine and educational and because of that it is very easy for viewers to feel empathy, more than mere sympathy, for its main character Makoto.

It was totally not what I was expecting from a studio like Sunrise who tends to do more action, sci-fi related material. Instead, I got almost a Makoto Shinkai like film in style, except replacing the theme of “distance” with “repentance”. And of course the visuals and music were no where as good :p.

Highly recommended to viewers who are fond of drama, but don’t wish to burst into tears since this film will not do that.

Overall Rating: 9/10

4. Hourou Musuko

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio: AIC
Director: Ei Aoki
Series Composition: Mari Okada

Following the line of great subtle and genuine dramas comes Hourou Musuko, the anime adaptation of the acclaimed seinen manga series by Takako Shimura. Fate/Zero director Ei Aoki and Ano Hana/Hanasaku Iroha writer Mari Okada had in fact joined forces early in the year to adapt this masterful manga series. It was also on the reputable noitamina timeslot, continuing in the tradition of mature, non-otaku centric slice of life/dramas.

Hourou Musuko is in essence a coming of age drama, dealing with issues such as puberty, gender identity and transsexualism. Normally, such issues in the anime medium are dealt with in a comedic way and make a joke out of it. Not Hourou Musuko as it took the higher ground and tried to make a serious and compelling story out of it. And it my eyes in succeeded in flying colors. Unfortunately, the series was the biggest bomb on the noitamina time-slot alongside Fractal, which is very demoralizing in that I am uncertain whether shows of this caliber will be made ever again.

Nonetheless, AIC, Aoki and Okada did a fantastic job of adapting Shimura’s work, keeping its atmosphere and dialogue faithful. The dialogue in particular was fantastic, which Mari Okada did a fantastic job of adapting. Imo, it is the best lines of dialogue she has written/adapted since True Tears and I would definitely place it a tier or two above the melodramatic and corny lines she wrote in Ano Hana.

Much like Colorful, this series is highly recommended to viewers of the same audience.

Overall Rating: 9/10

3. Steins Gate

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio: White Fox
Director: Hiroshi Hamasaki
Series Composition: Jukki Hanada

Ah Steins Gate. Since I wrote already wrote a review on it here, I won’t go too much into detail.

Without a doubt, it definitely is one of the very top series of the year both in my books and both in those of the general anime community. A sci-fi anime that isn’t mecha, revolves around the theme of time travelling that doesn’t end up retarded, but instead uses the principles and foundations of Sci-fi classics such as Back to the Future and Butterfly Effect. I’m sold. Sure it took a bit to get the ball rolling, but that 2nd half of the series was beyond amazing. Steins Gate had the best plot and premise of the year.

And Okabe, what a baller character you were. Makes imaginary phone calls, drinks Dr. Pepper, wears a lab coat and has a harem of cute/hot lab chicks. The only thing I was pissed with was the ending… that was anticlimactic. Why do anime creators always insist on an overly happy ending? Sigh, I just don’t get it.

Regardless, White Fox, Hamasaki and Hanada have done an awesome job of adapting the popular VN series, and I hope to see future White Fox VN works in the future.

P.S. That piece of turd called Chaos;Head can go die in a fire.

Overall Rating: 9/10

2. Puella Magi Madoka Magica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio: Shaft
Director: Akiyuki Shinbo
Series Composition: Gen Orobuchi

If anyone were to ask me the question: “Name one anime that you have to see in 2011”, Madoka Magica will the immediate answer. Even before it started airing, the production lineup that was announced showed tremendous potential. Director Shinbou of Bakemonogatari and Zetsubou Sayanora Sensei fame, writer Orobuchi of highly respected status in the VN industry, and composer Yuki Kajiara, considered the second coming of Yoko Kanno. But did it meet the hype? Myself and the general anime populace says “Definitely”.

Madoka Magica on a surface level is a magical girl show. But, it doesn’t matter whether you hated shows like Sailor Moon, Cardcaptor Sakura or Pretty Cure. Heck, I dislike or don’t care about the magical girl genre all-together. The only magical girl show I cared about before this one was the 2nd season of Mahou Shojou Lyrical Nanoha, and that was only because it consisted of beam/laser spam using shotgun shaped cartridges as ammunition.

I would actually call Madoka Magica a psychological thriller more so then a magical girl show. Why? It’s because Madoka Magica takes all of the magical girl conventions and foundations and turns in completely on its head. That fluffy animal companion. He’s gonna be a good little plushie and help the girls on their quest to beat the baddies right? Think again. The notion of being a magical girl. It’s about being gifted with the power to save the world from evil and then be rewarded for it right? Think again. Surely, you couldn’t kill of such a cute cast? Think again. This is as far as possible from your standard sweet, cutesy, girly series aimed at 9 year old girls or pervy 40 year old men. Though it may be an exaggerated claim, some are even claiming Madoka Magica to be the Neon Genesis Evangelion of the magical girl genre. Only the subsequent three movies will tell if that notion holds true.

Apart from its storyline, Madoka Magica has the best BGM and OST of the year. Yuki Kajiara brought her A-game for this, composing superb tracks such as this and this. It was unfortunate she didn’t even come close to it at her subsequent involvement in Fate/Zero though…

Criticisms? Well for starters the character designs could have been better. I’m not fond of the designs of wideface specialist  Ume Aoki. Please keep those designs within Hidamari Sketch. And the background art… Shaft x Shinbou, I appreciate your experimental and avant-garde artstyle, but sometimes you go so overboard it makes me wonder if I would enjoy your backgrounds more if I was induced by LSD.

Overall Rating: 9/10

 

And for my favourite series of 2011…

1. Usagi Drop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studio: Production I.G.
Director: Kanta Kamei

Usagi Drop. Likewise with Steins Gate, I have already a full length review here.

Usagi Drop represents what I thought was impossible in the current anime medium. The story of a 30 year old bachelor raising a 6 year old child, without resorting to any otaku-antics whatsoever. Zilch. No stupid slapstick comedy, no sexualization of little girls, no over-the-top melodrama to force your tear ducts to overload. It is the definition of a heartwarming, genuine slice of life show that can be watched by anyone, of any age, no matter how you feel, or whether you are an anime fan or not. That’s right, I could get my mother to watch this and chances are she’ll like it considering she’s a heavy consumer of asian dramas (K-dramas).

There’s nothing more to say really. It doesn’t scream blockbuster but it doesn’t to and it was the show that gave me a smile every Friday night during the summer (winter for me) of 2011.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

And that my fellow readers concludes my review of 2011. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I had fun writing it! Merry Christmas and Happy Year!

Advertisements

Acejem Reviews – Year in Review (2011) Part 2

And I’m back for Part 2, where despite 2011 being a great year, will be devoted to the disappointments of 2011. Here are some notable examples:

Persona 4: The Animation

To be honest, I should have seen this coming. Studio AIC don’t have the best of records when it comes to production values, and I should have known that with Seiji Kishi as director it’s going to be one fratboy slapstick comedy series. But no… having played the Persona 3 and 4 games (which of what I played was largely great), I had to have expectations of it and have those brought down lack a sack of bricks. But the silliness or abundance of “anime comedy” isn’t the main problem, but rather in how “blindly loyal” it is and its terrible pacing.

This anime takes loyalty to the source material literally. To give examples, the anime even shows the transition of days in between loading scenes, stat updates halfway through the anime, the ‘cartoony flashes’ during when personas are summoned and much more. I mean damn, this is an anime, not a game. You don’t need to migrate every single cinematic, little animation and interface. An anime adaptation is supposed to filter out unnecessary elements and improve on its source material, not blindly copy it.

Talking about blindly copying, the creators obviously don’t know how to ignore minor and non-important social links. I recall an episode where in 22minutes they packed in two FULL social links which would have been 8 or so hours from the game. Wtf. That’s just poor planning and being greedy. The pilot episode was one of the worst paced episodes I’ve seen in my entire anime career and the show still continues to dwell into unnecessary optional social links instead of sticking with the main plot line. If they keep it up they are going to rush the main plot line which would just make it suck more than it already is.

Furthermore, Persona 4 is one of the best selling titles of 2011, with its first volume having nearly sold 40k DVDs and Blurays. Another piece of evidence that sales =/= quality.

I will admit though, they did do one good thing and that was the MC. In the games MC was a mute, but in the anime they gave him some personality. The MC’s dry humor is actually quite funny at times, though it is rare in comparison in level to the amount of generic slapstick comedy. This dry humor is the only reason I’m watching this actually (and to bitch about it on a weekly basis with a real life friend), and perhaps the hope it will eventually get better (which I doubt).

C: The Money and Soul of Possibility Control

The Noitamina timeslot has some of the most interesting conceptual shows available in the anime medium. Unfortunately, some of the time it is butchered by poor production values and poor pacing and C was unfortunately a victim of this. C was conceptually quite interesting, combining “Digimon-style” battles with financial and commercial elements. The financial jargons were both intriguing and funny, involving terms like microeconomics, macroeconomics, options, futures, long (buying), short (selling) etc. At one point, it provides a social commentary on why bailouts are bad. It also isn’t everyday attacks by “assets” are named after economic terms like “Overheated economy”. I’ll be honest, having studied commerce with a finance major in university, it was quite amusing.

Unfortunately, despite being intriguing, the anime looked like ass. Furthermore, the last third anime was a complete trainwreck that made Code Geass R2 middle episodes look like a masterpiece in comparison. I mean it was bad enough that the ending was spoilt by the Opening (Valkyria Chronicles OP2 anyone?), but heck it was even worse because not only was it rushed as hell, but it made asspull deus ex plot twists and it made no sense at all.

To be honest, I don’t know who to blame for this. Arguably it could be noitamina for its restrictive 11 episode format. Or Kenji Nakamura for being a shadow of his former glory after Mononoke. Or don’t blame anyone at all and just dismiss it as a unforunate anime that got shafted with a shit budget. Or perhaps a combination of all of the above.

Guilty Crown

Production IG, production staff that was involved with Death Note and Code Geass, noitamina, this PV, and a kickass first episode (and arguably second ep too). What sick lineup and potential. I mean it can’t be anything but awesome right? Wrong. Although spectacle wise, Guilty Crown is amongst the best looking TV series of the year, the same can’t be for its plot and characters. Now its plot isn’t terrible per se, but when an interview such as this takes place, you can’t help but think how much on a high horse the production staff are on. Cutting edge TV show with action and plot? I lol’d. Same for its characters. The main female character Inori is a poor man’s version of a dandere popularized by Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion, whilst the main male character Shu is a buried man’s version of Shinji fused with Makoto (School Days) level of indecisiveness and manipulation regarding females – See his treatment of Hare in episode 10. The character just screams “hate me” with big neon lights flashing above his head.

Now, I do not dislike the show and definitely don’t hate it (some people are trying to claim it’s the worst of the season, which is ridiculous and exaggerated), and being honest I still actually somewhat guilty enjoy the show. However, I can’t help how disappointed I was coming into think it would be another Code Geass and imagine what it could have been. Given its budget and production values it’s a waste of potential, much like those all spectacle no substance Hollywood movies that plague the cinemas (oh wait, superhero movies plague Hollywood currently…). It’s an expectation thing, and for expectations to be shot down is more demoralizing than a mediocre show that was mediocre from the start.

Fortunately episode 11 kicked things back in gear with Shu finally coming out of his emo phase  but the real test is whether this keeps up. Shu went from loathed to slightly less hated, which isn’t much of accomplishment.

Hoshi wo Kodomo

For those who don’t know, Makoto Shinkai is one of my favourite directors. Having liked Voices of  Distant Star, loved Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second being my favourite anime movie of all time, it was no brainer that Shinkai’s latest project, Hoshi wo Kodomo, was my most anticipated anime of the entire year. Unfortunately, it was no where near as good as I thought it would be.

I always thought the notion of Makoto Shinkai being the next Hayao Miyazaki was absurd and stupid. However, for whatever reason, Shinkai seemed to take that to heart and try to replicate the old master as Shinkai said in an interview that he looks upon Miyazaki as a role model. What turned out what a half-ass poor man’s version of a Ghibli-like film albeit with some of the most amazing scenery and background art you have ever seen in anime. This is the definition of a dissappointment if I ever saw one.

To use fellow Guardian Enzo’s words, Shinkai is a poet rather than an animator, so when he tried to tell the tale of an epic adventure of a little girl with heavy themes involving life and death  with the melancholic “Shinkai/Tenmon” atmosphere embedded onto it, it almost seemed pretentious and forceful. It fell well short of Ghibli epics such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke or Nausicaa Valley of the Wind, which were in contrast plain honest its illustration.

Shinkai films typically have huge amounts of emotional attachment embodied in them, but Hoshi wo Kodomo lacked that. Instead, I ended up watching a glorified Ghibli-copy due to its amazing visuals. The disappointment of the year for me.

Studio Disappointments

Although at this point it is gone beyond disappointment but both JC Staff and Kyoto Animation as studios have failed to catch my attention this year again.

J C Staff is seriously in danger of becoming the next Studio DEEN. Once upon a time J C Staff used to be heavily involved in the noitamina timeblock producing shows like Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile, but these days they are nothing but LN/manga adaptation studio 101. And not much has changed with them this year. Yumeki Merry, Hidan no Aria, Kamisama Memochou and Kimi to Boku are examples of mediocre trash they produced, no different from 2009 and 2010. Only the third season of Shakugan no Shana is decent, but that franchise is but a shadow of its former glory and if I was to respect JC like I did during its noitamina days, it seriously needs to step up its game.

However, no other studio has dissappointed me more than Kyoto Animation. In the past year, KyoAni has given us one series, Nichijou which was just another slice of life/comedy shows  with cute girls. Although some scenes had me chuckle (Principal vs Deer for example), it was largely a miss for me. In comparison slice of life/comedy show by the name of Boku wa Tomodachi by AIC, actually made me laugh a significant amount of the time. Sorry Kyoani, you got beaten in your own game by AIC. Not to mention you’re beloved melodrama adaptations (Air, Kanon, Clannad) got absolutely smashed in sales by A-1 Picture’s Ano Hana this year. But what do you do instead of trying to catch back up? You sit on your high horse and think you are too good for the anime industry. I mean it’s acceptable to be arrogant like Shaft is at the moment if you’re actually the “king” of the industry, but you are getting your ass kicked by likes of A-1, Production IG, Brains Base, AIC and Sunrise. Not cool bro. Oh, and I don’t give a damn about the K-on franchise and the movie that came out late this year. Start being relevant if you wanna boast.

And that concludes Part 2. Look forward to Part 3 when I go into the meaty parts of 2011 and talk about what I thought were the best characters and animes of 2011. Meanwhiles, please feel to comment, critique or join in my rage of any of the disappointing aspects of 2011.

Acejem Reviews – Year in Review (2011) Part 1

And I’m back ladies and gentlemen after somewhat of a hiatus. To make up for it, I bring you a 2011 year in review, which will be divided into 3 parts. Part 1 will include comments about the industry in general, notable staff and production studios. Part 2 will include disappointments of the year, as a blog post will hardly be complete without sufficient ragedumps :p. Part 3 will include the various lists of top animes and characters for 2011 and my projected outlook for 2012.

Introductory Points

On the whole, 2011 has been a great year. It was very much needed comeback year where it restored my faith in the anime industry after the very sub-par years of 2009 and 2010. In those years you would be lucky enough to get one solid show per season.  Chances were, that if 2011 was like 2009 and 2010, I may have ragequitted anime entirely as I have become quite intolerant of crap from any entertainment medium as of late.

So what made this year different from the likes of 2009 and 2010?  The answer is simple. Unlike 2009 and 2010, where slice of life,  fanservice or otaku bait moe-shows were dominating the industry (since they were safe bets on making profits),  2011 portrayed not just quality slice of life shows, it also showed good amounts of variety. Sci-fis outside of mechas, mysteries, thrillers, dramas – these were some of the genres that were significantly lacking in the 2009-10 era, which was at least satisfactorily addressed in 2010. Hence, this year the anime industry stepped out of their comfort zones and took risks, with a significant portion of them paying off.

Anime Originals

So how exactly was 2011 driven by variety and quality? The vanguard of this perception came from the number of anime originals that were present this year. What I mean by anime originals are material that were not derived from any source material (manga, light novels, visual novels etc) but original scripts and stories that were made into anime directly. In the anime original repertoire this year we had Fractal, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Tiger and Bunny, C, Ano Hana, Hanasaku Iroha, Blood C, No. 6, Mawaru Penguindrum, Guilty Crown and Un-go. Of course, not all of these words were good and successes, but the fact that the industry had the guts to innovate and create material without the safety insurance of already successful source material is a welcoming sign.

Perhaps the most influential individual in driving this anime original boom is a particular writer by the name of Mari Okada:

Mari Okada is responsible for writing scripts for three anime originals this year. Those were: Fractal, Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha. With the exception of Fractal, the other two were commercial successes, with Ano Hana being a massive hit. Ano Hana was acclaimed by many to be the best melodrama TV anime series since Clannad After Story back in 2008 with its DVDs/Blurays selling more than the Key trio combined (Air, Kanon and Clannad), the apparent “kings of melodrama”. Because of her successes as a writer, this has jump-started her as being a behind the scenes industry superstar, where just about every studio wants to get a hold of her. To give an example of her popularity in the industry, in the upcoming Winter 2012 season, Mari Okada will be doing the series composition of three series: Kenshin movie, Aquarion EVOL and Black Rock Shooter, the last one classified as an anime original. Okada is also the individual award winner for the 2011 Animation Kobe awards, joining the ranks of Hideaki Anno (Evangelion), Hayao Miyazuki (Everyone knows this guy) and Mamoru Hosoda (Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars). She is the only script writer to get this individual award alongside Yousuke Koruda, when all other recipients have been directors.

To add to her repertoire, in the past Okada had done the anime version scripts for two Type-moon series (Fate/Stay Night and Canaan), big hit shojo series Vampire Knight, romantic comedy favourite Toradora, romance series True Tears, and coming of age drama, Hourou Musuko.

However, with popularity comes criticism and self-arrogance. In the past year, it appears that Okada has developed somewhat of a crossdressing fetish, with Hourou Musuko (not really Okada’s fault as it’s part of the source material), Ano Hana and Hanasaku Iroha all putting at least one male character in drag (in Hanasaku’s case, the entire male cast eventually). Furthermore, Okada openly admits to liking fanservice, going as far as even attempting to make Ano Hana an erotic slapstick comedy, only to be declined (and thankfully… whew) by its director Tatsuyuki Nagai. When Okada is at her best, she is without a doubt one of the best writers in the anime scene currently. However, her somewhat “arrogant” attitude of pushing for unnecessary erotic or fanservice elements somewhat hurts her. Hence, it appears that Okada is a writer that performs her best when she has an ironfisted editor to edit out unnecessary elements from her script. Unfortunately, she seems to be immune to editors as of late. Even more unfortunately, studios seem to have the wrong impression that Okada is “good at everything”, when in reality her specialty lies in slice of life and drama (See Fractal and Gosick for commercial failures in which she was involved).

Other Notable Individuals

Mari Okada is far from the only notable individual in 2011. Another behind the scenes superstar is writer Gen Urobuchi:

In 2011, he was responsible for writing the script for titanic hit Puella Magi Madoka Magica (for many, this will be their anime of the year) and the series composer and original creator of Fate/Zero, prequel to the popular Visual Novel franchise Fate/Stay Night. Previously, Gen was famous for his involvement with Visual Novel company Nitroplus, where wrote the scripts for Saya no Uta and Phantom of Inferno. For more a more comprehensive analysis on Gen as a writer, I recommend Triple R’s blog post.

Another notable individual that should be mentioned is director Aoki Ei:

Aoki is a new talent in the industry, with this year’s achievement including co-operating with Gen Oroubuchi in directing Fate/Zero and with Mari Okada and Takako Shimura (original manga author) in directing Hourou Musuko.

In addition, we had veterans such as Akiyuki Shinbo with his involvement as the director for Madoka Magica, Yuki Kajiara for her involvements for her musical compositions for Madoka Magica and Fate/Zero and Kunihiko Ikuhara, who decided to come out of his hiatus to direct and script for Mawaru Penguindrum.

Notable Production Studios:

When looking at things commercially, A-1 Pictures comes out as the clear winner for 2011. For the shonen crowd they produced the highly popular Ao no Exorcist series. For the male otaku crowd, they produced both an adaptation of the popular Idolmaster games, and season 2 of the Working manga. For the fujoishi crowd, they produced Uta no Prince Sama, an adaptation of a popular bishonen game. And for their megahit, Ano Hana was popular amongst the general populace in general, bringing in fans from all demographics and genres. All four of the mentioned series were commercial successes as all managed to sell well above the 10,000 DVD/Bluray sales mark, with Ano Hana selling over 30,000 per volume on average. A-1 pictures pretty much nailed every anime demography.

However, A-1 Pictures was not alone. Other notable studios include Brain’s Base with Mawaru Penguindrum and Natsume Yuujinchou 3rd season (with 4th coming up next season), AIC with Hourou Musuko, Boku wa Tomodachi and Persona 4 (despite being pretty bad imo, is selling like hotcakes), Production I.G. with Usagi Drop and Guilty Crown, Shaft with Puella Magi Madoka Magica and Denpa Onna and Sunrise with Tiger & Bunny, Gundam Age and Gundam Unicorn.

Furthermore, some of the big name studios each have a big title to their names: Ufotable has Fate/Zero, P A Works with Hanasaku Iroha, Madhouse with Chihayafuru and the Redline film (which came out in DVD/Bluray this year after many delays) and White Fox with Steins Gate.

 

Hence, 2011 saw talent from a variety of individuals and studios. Not only that a significant amount of these shows were commercially successful. This was unlike 2009 and 2010 where attention was given to a select few (*cough* Kyoto Animation and Shaft) with very little anime original material (and thus innovation) being developed.

And that concludes Part 1. Look forward to Part 2 when I go into more of the pessimistic sides of 2011 :p. Meanwhiles, please comment, critique and add any other notable individuals and studios that I may have forgotten to mention.

 

Acejem Reviews – Usagi Drop

Welcome again, ladies and gentlemen. I am back with for another anime review, this time for a series called Usagi Drop:

Introductory Points

Before I begin reviewing Usagi Drop, I’ll like to start with the whole manga controversy and get it out of the way. Although technically a spoiler, at this point I believe it’s pretty much impossible to avoid hearing about the the following:

  • That there is a time-skip that occurs halfway through the manga; and
  • That there is a controversial ending with very mixed reactions.

To the anime-only audience who are not interested in following the original source material, this won’t matter much  as it will not effect your reception of the Usagi Drop anime. However, to the audience who are reading through, have read or are interested in reading the original source material, the following points must be mentioned.

Firstly, this review will be an anime-only review. Secondly, adding on from the first point, any material or discussion past volume 4 of the Usagi Drop manga (time-skip occurs at the start of volume 5), will be omitted. Although I am personally disappointed with the approach and ending taken in the second half of the manga, I have made sure that this was not a factor in regards to reviewing the anime-only version. I am hoping my fellow commenters do the same :).

What is Usagi Drop?

Usagi Drop is a slice of life/social commentary revolving around the theme of parenting. It is the anime adaptation of the josei (aimed at adult female audiences) manga of the same name, originally created by Yumi Unita. The anime was produced by powerhouse studio Production I.G, which is famous for series such as Ghost in the Shell, Sky Crawlers, Eden of the East, Kimi ni Todoke and Sengoku Basara. It was directed by Kanta Kamei, whose notable involvements include the directing of the Tales of Vesparia: The First Strike animated movie and the series composition for the Bungaku Shoujo: Memoire OVAs.

It was part of the summer 2011 lineup and was 1-cour (1 season) in length. It aired on the reputable noitamina timeslot on channel Fuji TV, following in the footsteps of previous mature slice of life titles like Honey and Clover, Paradise Kiss, Hataraki Man and Wandering Son.

Story/Plot and Style

The story revolves around a 30 year old bachelor, Daikichi Kawachi who is a full-time working man. One day, whilst attending his grandfather’s funeral he discovers that he had a illegitimate child, Rin Kaga with an unknown mother. The rest of his family is shocked and embarrassed about the finding whereby they do not want anything to do with the little girl. Outraged at the family’s stance on abandoning Rin, Daikichi decides to adopt her himself. In doing so, Daikichi learns the joys and hardships of single parenting, whilst balancing his work life.

Among the vast array of slice of life anime out there, Usagi Drop manages to very much stand out. It has made me realize a particular element is severely lacking in the anime medium. That thing, is subtlety and genuinity. Usagi Drop does not rely on excessive comedy or melodrama, nor does it rely on tropes or cliche plot mechanisms. It does not try to make you cry, or laugh out loud. In other words, nothing feels forced and as a result does not try too hard. It is a slice of life in its purest form without unnecessary artificial coating.

A viewer may speculate that this would cause the series to be boring. Afterall, Usagi Drop does not have any whiz-bang action, intellectual thrillers to speculate, to baww over dramatic moments, or cute middle or high school girls to get giggly about. However, this is a strong misconception, as the series is packaged in a way that invokes one’s pathos naturally rather than forcibly.

Never have I seen small moments like taking your daughter to kindergarten and then dashing off to work, attending parental guidance sessions, shopping for your daughter’s needs, visiting your grandparents done in a non-dramatic manner without making it seem boring or excessively dramatifying it. This takes a great amount skill and precision to which full credit should be given to the production staff who were able to masterfully achieve this balance. It was a blast to see both Daikichi and Rin, mature in their father and daughter relationship and share their moments to the audience in a heartwarming way.

However, Usagi Drop isn’t all “fluff” (if that argument is even used in the first place) as it does have its more meaningful events. These events include Daikichi’s quest to find Rin’s biological mother, the issue with Daikichi’s sister (Haruko) and her family troubles, Rin getting sick and the potential romantic development between Daikichi and single mother Nitani. However, even in these more high-key moments, Usagi Drop managed to evade drifting away into melodrama land, keeping it simple, subtle and genuine. Ultimately from the very first episode to the last,  it stayed true to its roots.

Characters and Voice Acting

The characters in Usagi Drop are some of the most genuine characters present in the anime medium.

In an era where teenage males dominate the anime scene, Usagi Drop presents a 30 year adult male protagonist in the form of Daikichi. That’s right, we actually have a grown adult for once. For once, depending on the viewer’s mileage, they do not have to tolerate the hotblooded shounen archtype, indecisive harem archtype nor the angsty archtype. Daikichi is simply seen as an admirable and humble male figure who is able to care about his own career and lifestyle but also the livelihood of Rin, who was merely an unfortunate victim to family squabbling. Such a character is a rare sight.

Similarly, in a medium where cute little girls (lolis) are abundant, Rin stands out among the crowd. She is not sexualised into some otaku fetish and her cuteness purely comes from the same way a parent finds their children cute. Furthermore, it must be applauded that a child actor voiced her character. Too many times have I heard older seiyuus try to sound too cute in their voicing of prepubescent girls and hence come out as artificial.

Aside from the two main cast, there were plenty of support characters that were also well portrayed. For example, the anime did a good job in avoiding the trap of making Rin’s biological mother as a villian, but rather portrayed her as a flawed human – she was simply not ready to be a parent when she gave birth to Rin. Similarly, Daikichi’s somewhat immature sister Kazumi, was portrayed in a similar way – she is not ready to settle down to take the adult life. There are also other characters like Haruko, another one of Daikichi’s sisters who illustrate the more struggling side of parenthood – with her whole issue about her husband overworking and divorce.

However, perhaps the most interesting side characters were Nitani and her son Kouki. Like Daikichi, due to circumstances she is also a working single parent and many comparisons between her and Daikichi can be made. Despite being somewhat of a brat, the interactions between Rin and Kouki are always a load of fun, and it is usually in conjunction with Kouki, that we occasionally see Rin let go of her more mature idealized self and give action to the phrase “kids being kids”. In addition, it is also a nice touch that the anime seems to play a romance development card between Nitani and Daikichi.

Animation and Audio

Usagi Drop is a beautifully animated piece of work. Its watercolor artstyle is reminiscent of a similar noitamina work, Wandering Son, that aired earlier in the year. The animation frames were smooth and there were no moments that showed a clear sign of budget cutting.

On the audio front, it was also very nice done in adding to the overall atmosphere of the series. The opening song, Sweet Drops by Puffy and ending song High, High, High by Kasarinchu fit in very well in enveloping both a lively and relaxing mood respectively:


Background music were also nicely timed, alternating between upbeat, dramatic and sentimental:



Conclusion

In the slice of life genre, Usagi Drop is a near masterpiece. Not relying upon gimmicks, tropes or trying too hard to incite laughter or one’s tear-ducts, the enjoyment from the series comes naturally rather than forced. The characters are genuine and fun to watch and its visuals and audio are pleasing to both the eye and ear. Unless I am mistaken, it is the only anime in recent years that tackles the subject of parenting in a serious manner rather than a gag. It is the best anime from the summer season alongside Mawaru Penguindrum and would stand up to be one of top animes of 2011 so far.

It is a must watch for slice of life fans and highly recommended to any anime viewer. Heck, you could get non-anime audiences to watch it as well without them looking at you funny as there is nothing offensive. In other words, it could prove to a great gateway series for upcoming viewers in the slice of life genre. Usagi Drop remains faithful to the traditional notions of the noitamina timeslot and one can hope such anime will continue to be produced in the future.

Overall Rating: 9.5/10

Suggestions to Usagi Drop: Aishteruze Baby

Reth Reviews – Catherine

Good day ladies and gentlemen, welcome to today’s review! Returning for a second attempt to tickle your fancies and answer your questions about Video Games, Reth! Today I will be doing an in-depth review on a very recent favourite JRPG with a twist, Catherine!

When I first heard about Catherine a handful of months before it was released this year I was dubious but intrigued by the possibilities. Altus has been one of my preferred companies for JRPGs since I discovered the Persona series, but I was unsure if a company so stuck in their niche of modern urban fantasy would be able to approach the weighty theme of adultery in a way that would prove entertaining. I was pleasantly surprised by Catherine, and would go so far to compare it to some of my Western favourites of a similar style, Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain. Though they are in no way identical, with a vast difference in atmosphere and themes, they follow a similar play style.

 

What is Catherine?

Catherine is most simply described as an interactive movie experience, segmented by cut scenes during the day that develop depending on the choices you have the protagonist make in the evenings and at certain opportunities at night. At night Vincent is whisked away into a world where we control his every movement through tower climbing puzzles that increase in complexity throughout the game. The overlying purpose of this game is to present the player with moral questions regarding a choice between a young, free-spirited girl who has recently appeared in Vincent’s life by the name of Catherine, or Vincent’s long-time girlfriend who seems to be getting ready to settle down and get married, by the name of Katherine.

First Impression

After reading and watching reviews from other people I was expecting to dislike Vincent as the hapless, easily manipulated, indecisive loser that he is. As a man in his mid 30s still afraid of commitment, I was expecting a character similar to the usual Japanese protagonist tropes following a regular bumbling idiot. However, though most of these traits were true to Vincent, I was pleasantly surprised to see how well-rounded he felt as a character. I felt myself relating to Vincent almost immediately, and empathizing with his struggle a lot more than I was expecting. He was indeed the bumbling idiot I thought, but a believable one. The choice between Catherine and Katherine was made immediately more difficult than I thought it would be and I found myself thoroughly enjoying the way the game managed to swing me from one to the other.

Later on…

After spending the majority of my free time in one weekend playing through Catherine from beginning to end I witnessed the characters, including Vincent and his friends at the bar develop well for such a short game (only 9 hours play time on normal difficulty). As expected I did end up choosing Katherine and managed to get the “True Katherine” ending, which I was very content with.

Gameplay

Like my previous review there are two elements of gameplay present in Catherine which should be treated separately, so starting with the day-time events,

You only get control of Vincent during the day at the bar where you are given a set amount of time slots to interact with other people at the bar and check your phone. Who you talk to and when at the bar is important for future development of the story and side characters, and if you’re not careful some characters might become unavailable to talk to at certain points of the evenings, so it’s almost like a triaging game. The most impressive part of the bar time is the SMS messages you receive from the ladies. Responding to these take up time, and though there is only a set amount of responses scripted into the game, the way they are used and cycled between is original and innovative. Atlus managed to take the very traditional and simple concept of talking to static NPCs in a room and turn it into something far more in depth and entertaining.

The second game play element are the night-time puzzles. These are great, and once again Atlus managed to take a very simple concept puzzle game, not much different to a sort of puzzle game you could find on the iPhone market, and make it far more entertaining with atmosphere, music, dialogue and quirky “boss battles”. There is always a sense of impending doom and urgency through the puzzles no matter how many times you do it, much to the credit of the developers for making a simple pull and push puzzle game so immersive.

I rather enjoyed both aspects of game play in Catherine and hold Atlus in high regard for managing to combine simplicity and depth so successfully. At no point is your play time ever daunted by complex systems that you need to be familiar with before you can be any good, but they still manage to implement challenging puzzles with countless ways to complete depending on your deduction style. Despite this, I keep the game play score far from perfect due to the fact that there wasn’t much more to it other than those two aspects and was I not so contented with the story I probably would have gotten bored from the lack of variety. I give the game play of Catherine a 7/10

Story

As I’ve said before, you could describe Catherine as an interactive movie, and for that reason can’t go into much detail of the story without giving any spoilers. For that reason this part of the review won’t be very long.

The entire game goes over the period of about 1 week of Vincent’s life. A lot happens in that time, and the game calls out to the player’s morals at frequent intervals to decide Vincent’s fate – I felt the narrative style of the game made for a fantastic story. The topic is however a sensitive one, so I would not recommend it for the faint of heart. Some of the values are questionable and for some people adultery is a very real issue very rarely explored in the gaming medium, especially when the one committing adultery is the protagonist we are meant to empathise with. So I would caution everybody to think deep if they may be offended by having to take control of the life of a man who has cheated on his girlfriend before they pick up Catherine! Overall the story of Catherine was delivered in a fantastically mature, realistic and relatable style that I enjoyed immensely, giving it a 9/10

Music

The soundtrack of Catherine is made up mostly of recognisable classics remixed with enthralling electric guitar riffs and catchy drum and bass beats. Now I may hold some bias on this due to personal music taste, but I felt the music was chosen perfectly. During cut scenes and the puzzles the music set the mood flawlessly and I have nothing bad to say about it. I especially liked the dark and foreboding remix of the traditional wedding tune we are all so familiar with – this is just an example of how the music manages to manifest itself to represents Vincent’s feelings and rub off on us as the players. I, for example have had no previous fears of the concept of marriage, but hearing that theme in such a sinister tone helped me relate to Vincent’s struggle further. When I bought my copy of Catherine I received a copy of the artbook and soundtrack, and though I usually don’t listen to game soundtracks by without the accompaniment of the game itself, that CD is now playing in my car whenever I start it up, a true sign of a lasting soundtrack! 8/10

A taste of the magnificent OST,

 

Graphics and Aesthetics

The graphics of Catherine was one of its downfalls – I expect something with much smoother edges for a Playstation 3 title. The occasional animated cut scenes were great but the majority of the game was in the same graphics engine we see used in the puzzle mode. Character features were rough and comparable to the graphics of some of the better Playstation 2 titles. For a game designed as an interactive movie, this was not good.

The aesthetics however were a different story – the art, especially in the nightmare levels, set the mood exactly as intended; Dark, hopeless, unfamiliar and riddled with death. The character designs suited them all perfectly, including Vincent’s friends such as Orlando. For a fan of anime, one familiar and appreciative of the style would enjoy the aesthetics as they are, but I feel for someone less inclined the less than impressive graphics would detract far too much. 6/10

In Conclusion

A few people I’ve known have settled down to play this game together with their partner, and though in concept that sounds like a lot of fun, being a game about relationships you could share a few laughs over Vincent’s idiocy, but once you’ve played the game for a while you will realize this is a big mistake. Many of the questions you are asked during the nightmare scenes are designed for the player themselves, not Vincent, and these questions are incredibly sensitive that you may not want your partner to know the real answer to. Sometimes the game asks the player outright how they feel about relationships in regards to issues such as cheating, commitment and their own future desires. Also, if you are connected to the Playstation network then your answers are automatically uploaded onto a survey record anonymously, and you can compare your answers to others who have played the game, separated by male and female answers in the form of pie charts, and some of the results took me by surprise. One example is the question “Are all men stupid?” to which approximately 50% of females said yes, and over 70% of males also said yes. That got quite a laugh out of me.

Overall 8/10

Acejem Reviews – Steins;Gate

Welcome fellow ladies and gentlemen. I, Acejem will be your host reviewer this time round by reviewing an anime series called Steins;Gate:


Introductory Points

Before I begin reviewing Steins;Gate specifically, allow me to make some comments regarding the quality of anime as of recently. For a while (since midlate 2008 to late 2010), anime has been stagnating. Things were looking grim since the passing of its most recent glory years of 2006-2007 where epics such as Death Note, Code Geass, The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Kanon and Clannad alongside some personal favourites including ef tale of memories, Spice and Wolf, Nodame Cantabile, Seirei no Moritibo, Kara no Kyoukai and 5 Centimetres Per Second were available.

Although 2009 to 2010 had some good series such as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Sengoku Basara, Summer Wars, Bakemonogatari, Rainbow and Eve no Jikan, these were much more a rarity, as there was an average of 1, maybe 2 good animes per season during this period.

Fortunately, come 2011, the anime industry is on full recovery delivering blockbusters such as Madoka Magica in the winter season, AnoHana and Tiger and Bunny in the spring season, and Mawaru Penguindrum and Usagi Drop in the current summer season which is close to concluding. Furthermore, the upcoming fall season shows great potential with titles like Fate/Zero, Persona 4 the Animation, Guilty Crown, Mirai Nikki and Last Exile 2 set to air in the near future. It is indeed looking to be the strongest year since 2007.

Within that, Steins;Gate is definitely one of the stronger animes so far in an already strong and fierce competitive year.

What is Steins;Gate?

In a nutshell, Steins;Gate is a science fiction story about time travelling. It is the anime adaptation of the critically acclaimed visual novel of the same name developed by 5p.b. and Nitroplus. It is produced by studio White Fox (previously known for their anime adaptation of Katanagatari), directed by Hamasaki Hiroshi (nothing too notable other than Texhnolyze) and the series composition done by Hanada Jukki (who seemed to have been invovled with a lot of “moe” series such as K-on, Nichijou, Idolmaster and Seitokai no Ichizon, thus Steins;Gate really sticks out as different). It is a 2-cour (2 season length) series that started airing during the spring season (~March-June) and has just recently finished airing earlier this week.

Although set in the same universe as its apparent spiritual predecessor Chaos;Head, the only common relevance between the two is the location the anime is set in, Akihabara. Otherwise, the two series are completely different both in story and in quality as Chaos;Head was a poorly adapted anime. Therefore, it is incomparable to Steins;Gate and a viewer should not be prejudiced just because he/she has watched or played Chaos;Head in the past.

Story/Plot

Normally, the notion of time travelling, alternative universes are looked upon unfavorably or at the very least seen as a somewhat cheap mechanism as it can often cry “Deus Ex Machina”. However, unlike most series which have a time travelling or alternative universe element, these elements itself are the bread and butter of Steins;Gate‘s story and thus does not feel like “Deus Ex Machina” at all.

The story is about a group of friends composing of Rintaro “Okarin” Okabe (the protaganist), Mayuri “Mayushii” Shinna  and Itaru “Daru” Hashida who have invented a customized microwave device capable of sending text messages into the past. One day, Okabe finds a famous researcher by the name of Makise “Christina” Kurisu (the main heroine) dead in a building, sends a text message to the microwave device by mistake, and finds himself in a situation where Kurisu was “revived” and his time reversed back. Following the event, Okabe introduces further “lab members” into his circle including Suzhua Amane and Moeka “Shining Finger” Kiyruu to further discover this phenomenon.

The first half of the series composes mainly of the cast, mainly Okabe, goofing about and experimenting with their new discovery, like the self-proclaimed “Mad Scientist” he is. Okabe hops back and forth between different “world lines” changing something significant each time. Although there are some dramatic moments, it is fairly lighthearted, with plenty of comedy. Some of the comedy will only be understood by people who understand anime terminology, cliches and tropes, whilst others are more general purpose and will be understood by most people. Fortunately, most of the comedy is in the form of dialogue and is “wit-based” rather than in the slapstick nature, thus it is largely entertaining to see the bickering that goes on between the various “lab members”.

In contrast to the first half of the series, the second half is much more “serious business”. Okabe discovers the inevitable truth and dire consequences of time travelling and altering the past. He strives to undo the alterations and bring the world back to equilibrium. But things are not easy for Okabe as he faces many hurdles and challenges along the way, and the audience is treated with many suspenseful and intriguing plot twists along the way. This second half is where Steins;Gate was transformed from a “good” series to an “amazing” one and is easily comparable to the quality in story and plot twists that Madoka Magica brought us two seasons ago.

Its plot is the strongest component of Steins;Gate as the audience is kept on the edge of their seats and are left wondering what will happen next once the second half of the series commences.

Characters

The characters in Steins;Gate are largely entertaining and compliment each other well as a cast.

The character that stands out the most, is our protaganist, Okabe. He possesses two main personas, his comical “Mad Scientist” persona and his “serious business” persona. His mad scientist persona is most prevalent in the first half of the series, though it does appear in small doses in the second half to prevent it from being a complete drama-fest. Nonetheless, it is always humorous and entertaining to see him with this personality, which the following youtube videos represent:


In contrast, his “serious business” persona constitutes most of Okabe’s personality during the second half, to the point where in dire emergencies he does not give a damn whether or not it will cause the outrage of tens of thousands of feminists:

Despite the two extreme polarities in personalities, Okabe is also able to be nice when he needs or wants to. He can also be a romantic, but I will refrain from showing an example of that as it will be a massive spoiler ;). Okabe is very much a multidimensional and entertaining character  is arguably the “best” male character from 2011 so far.

Another highlight character, is Kurisu. Firstly, I would like to personally thank the developers for making her a good “tsundere”. In this day and age the number of Type A/“Kugrie”-style tsunderes which both verbally and physically abuse others (most commonly the loser, pathetic main male character) one moment and then in complete polarity be lovestruck the next, are just as numerous as there are stars in the sky. It was very refreshing to see a tsundere in the personality Kurisu is, and a part of me wonders why more anime if they choose to include a tsundere, don’t do so the way Kurisu is portrayed:


As for some other characters, Daru is quite hilarious with his otaku antics as serves pretty well as a comic relief character, whilst Mayuri is a decent “moe” character as she isn’t a complete airhead or “moeblob” unlike some other “moe” characters like Mikuru (Haruhi Suzumiya), Yui (K-on) or Tsukasa (Lucky Star). The only character I had a problem with was Moeka, as she was portrayed too much as an emotionless girl type – e.g. Yuki (Haruhi Suzuimya) or Rei (Neon Genesis Evangelion).

Animation and Audio

In regards to animation, White Fox did a decent job. Although not spectacular, it is was no where near terrible.

On the audio front, the opening and ending songs used for the series fit in pretty well:


However, though it was not necessarily bad, there were very few BGM tracks that were notable. The only track I could remember having a significant impact was when the original Steins;Gate Visual Novel opening being used as an insert song for one of the latter eps of the series:

Hence, the weakest components of Steins;Gate were definitely on the visual/audio side of things. Nevertheless, they were at the very least above average given today’s standards and a viewer should not be discouraged just because of non-stellar art or soundtrack.

Conclusion

Steins;Gate is an excellent anime and is worthy to be named as one of the top series of 2011 so far. Not only is it consistent in its pacing (many animes have rather poor pacing), it is one of the rarer 2-cour animes that do not contain much filler (if any) and as a result does not waste much in getting its point across. In addition, it can be a proud member of the “doing justice to the original Visual Novel source material” club, as the vast majority of visual novel adaptations are either mediocre or outright terrible. Aside from Key/Kyoto Animation VN adaptations, ef tale of memories, Higurashi, possibly Fate/Stay Night and now Steins;Gate, I cannot think of any other VN adaptations on top my head that did its original source material justice.

Its story is some of the best I have seen in the anime medium and Okabe as the main protagonist was very entertaining and a total delight to watch. It is a must watch for science fiction fans, and is highly recommended for any anime fan regardless of genre preferences.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Suggestions to Steins;Gate: Madoka Magica


Ryuga Reviews – Little Hell

Good evening ladies, and of course – gentleman. My name is Ryuga, and I will be your reviewer for this evening. Tonight, join me as I review an album released a few months ago by Canadian folk outfit, City and Colour.

Who?

Admittedly, I was introduced to City and Colour through long-running CW television show “One Tree Hill” which featured Dallas Green in their Valentine’s Day episode last year. Firstly, if you’ve never listened to City and Colour – then I recommend listening to his first band Alexisonfire beforehand, if only to be able to appreciate the great contrast in genre and sound…it’s really quite amazing!

Raise Hell is Mr. Green’s third album as front man of City and Colour, opening up with an incredibly intricate and delicate track “We Found Each Other in the Dark”. However, the album doesn’t stop there, and from beginning to end the listener is treated to other carefully sculpted and brilliant tracks such as the title track “Little Hell” and “Northern Wind”.

His use of soft vocals, as well as exceptional use of the acoustic makes City and Colour an incredibly easy listen to the ears, and they are easily a band that you can just kick back and relax to.

The Lowdown

In a day and age where a great deal of music appears to be purely created for the purpose of reaching the airwaves, and where seemingly it also lacks real emotional connectivity with its audience, City and Colour manages to capture that rare essence which allows the listener to be able to take a breath and simply reflect about what’s happening in their lives.

If you’re a fan of other folk or acoustic bands such as Bright Eyes, Bon Iver, and Death Cab for Cutie then you’ll definitely be able to appreciate City and Colour. If not, then I would still recommend at least giving them a shot, as you never know when you may come to appreciate something new.

It’s a Wrap!

My final thoughts? Wherever you may be in life, City and Colour is a band that may just strike a chord with listeners. Dallas Greens seems to be able to say so much with “Little Hell”, in so very little time – and that is something I believe is rare in music these days.

Please feel free to leave comments or recommendations below, as we’d love to hear exactly what you think of our work!

For now though, I’ll leave you with an aforementioned track from the album – “Northern Wind”.