Posted by psgels on 2 July 2010 with categories: Anime Reviews, Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei




The Noitamina time-slot surely rocked beyond belief this season. Alongside Sarai-ya Goyou aired the possibly even better Yojou-han Shinwa Taikei, the latest product of Masaaki Yuasa of Kaiba-fame. This time, he went for a ton-of-dialogue artsy character-study slash college life series, in which we follow the lead character as he explores a wide variety of different clubs and lifestyles during his years in college throughout many parallel dimensions. And it works out wonderfully.

At first sight, the way in which this series keeps resetting itself after every episode may seem weird at first, but it actually was a brilliant method to flesh out its different characters. Because of its very frequent resets, this stands out even more than series that did similar things in the past, like Higurashi and Umineko. Because of this, we get to see a ton of different sides of the characters that would never have been able to been shown without these resets, and the most important part is that we see Watashi develop in many different ways throughout each episode. The different side-characters all have their own parts to play in Watashi (the lead character)’s world and everything comes together wonderfully in the final episodes.

All of this is accompanied by some truly excellent dialogue. This series is based on an actual novel, rather than a manga or light novel, and it really shows. The dialogue is incredibly fast and you really need to pay attention to keep up with it, but as a narration it offers very detailed descriptions of the situations that Watashi finds himself in, which is nearly always very imaginative in the ways that it does so, with quite a number of witty remarks.

One potential pitfall could have been for the series to lose itself in either its dialogue and visuals, but neither happens. There are a ton of details stuffed into this series in order to make all episodes stand out, but in the same way the main message and characters remain deceptively simple on the outside. In comparison, while Kuchuu Buranko felt a bit like a loose cannon at times, every moment of Yojou-han is instead meant to bring colour to the life in which Watashi is living, and build up for the episodes that are still to come. Because the huge amount of building up, the first half of this series is decidedly less impressive than the second half, but the build-up is definitely worth it.

It’s a series that doesn’t try to provoke the biggest emotional response, but as a character-study it really stands out as a minor masterpiece here, in the way that it very subtly manages to flesh out and characterize its entire cast. Especially after the final episodes, it stands out as my favourite show of the series that premiered during the past spring season.

Storytelling: 10/10 – Fresh, and varied, skillfully combining repetition with new ideas to flesh itself out. Top notch narration.
Characters: 9/10 – The formula really allows the characters to come alive and show many different sides of themselves.
Production-Values: 9/10 – It’s Masaaki Yuasa. Do I need to say anything more?
Setting: 9/10 – Spoilerific to go in detail here but yeah: this one rocks too.

Suggestions:
Mind Game (another one of those movies that I’d review entirely different if I were to watch it today)
Amatsuki
Revolutionary Girl Utena

15 Responses

  1. Topspin says:

    Easily my favorite of the season as well. I’m glad they still make anime like this, when they could easily just sell childish dreck like Angel Beats or over-wrought nonsense like Bakemonogatari.

  2. AuroraFlame says:

    I love this show, it’s hilarious, but it’s a pain in the ass to watch. There’s dialogue spam, which I have to rewind for. But then I spent so much time looking at the dialogue that I didn’t get to see the artwork and backgrounds, so I rewind again. But by that time, I forgot what the dialogue was. It takes me almost an hour an episode…. maybe I have ADD.

    But from what I saw, this and Five Leaves were definitely the best this season.

  3. Puran says:

    Aurora, I think pausing this is a mistake. It tries to overwhelm you with visual/audio stimulation and dialogue, so you should let it do it to you. It also makes rewatching it very interesting :)

    It actually slows down a bit when something more important to the general plot happens, so you’re never lost.

  4. Michael says:

    Toppsin, I’ll take you further than that and say it’s easily the best anime of 2010.

  5. Machi says:

    Hm some notes about this show:…
    I think this show just confirms for the better that Masaki Yuuasa is definitely a director to watch out for. I think there is quite an agreement that he is great however I do notice that nobody every particularly mentions why. There are a few reasons at best, mostly in people impressed by his imaginative visuals and the way he ties in all episodes. However, I’d like to take a stab as to giving reasons why he’s a great director through this show.

    What impresses me greatly about him is simply put his conciseness. I don’t think much people realize this about him since the first thing that does come to mind about him from his successful works that he directed, Mind Game, Kaiba, and now I would say Youjou-han unknown but definitely needs attention Vampiyan Kids, and even less successful venture, Kemonozume is that its brimming with details so much so that it is highly advisable to replay the show. However, as Yojou-han shows he knows how say things with the least amount of efforts and frames. Just take for instance his decision at the last episode at how to convey the idea of an end of a journey (Watashi realizing things) and a start (how Watashi will live now that he’s gotten a new outlook on life). What he does is he reverses the OP and ED, a device many are familiar with to start and end the show, not in order to build up emotion or nostalgia (like say Full Metal Alchemist episode 63 did by playing the OP at the ending to heighten the emotion at the life of Hohenheim) but precisely to emphasize the end and the beginning, all this without having to create a scene or dialogue to bring the point home. Another great example from Yojou-han would be episode 10 itself acting as three things in one episode a summary, commentary, and new episode itself (I don’t think any anime director could pull that off!) I even suspect to some degree that after the first episode he may have decided to pull back from adapting too much dialogue from the novel, since the first episode the visuals and dialogue did compete however at the proceeding episodes it found a way to work together.

    Of course as I speak of his conciseness I would also praise him for the replay value of his shows. There are as people would easily notice a ton of detail in his episode that you’d probably miss out. I don’t think I want to talk about those details which bring so much life to the show but I would like to focus on another sort of detail. The way the entire episode becomes a significant detail itself in the grand scheme of things. Again I focus on Yojou-han to emphasize this point. As Psgels said the first half of the series, mainly the campus clubs, may not be as strong as the latter half but nevertheless are build ups that pays off in the second half. They are the strength precisely because they are one huge detail on itself that act what I think details are often forgotten to be, backbones. The episodes act as the skeleton that supports the entire show, which is why it’s quite clear why each episode never feels as if it were a waste, each episode counts. One cannot appreciate Watashi’s realization without first watching even his most nonsensical failure, the proxy war, or even more importantly skipping out the tennis episode. Heck the I think the strongest episode is the episode that relishes on using the previous episodes as details, namely episode 10.

    Another strength of Yuuasa shines through with Yojou-han. As we see him visualizing that which is abstract, parallel worlds. The repeat of each episode, the subtle changes, along with that which is constant we do see that each world is same yet at the same time different. Each world is expansive yet claustrophobic. The way Yuuasa handled such abstract ideas and paradoxes is I feel brilliant, it never feels contrived or overworked as you understand it smoothly. I feel he does so through such simple details in visuals, namely color (as viewers should pay attention to) which one should understand in better after the 10th episode (which after watching that episode I replayed all the rest). His introduction of such a detail of visuals speaks well of how to inject ones own style, after all if he left to just adapting the material by itself he’d be content to just show details narrated by the book (or to be more precise by Watashi) instead he realizes what he could add himself.

    On the other hand as I praise Yojou-han I do rank it a notch below Kaiba and Mind Game and the reason why is I feel is not because of Yuuasa’s weakness but rather because of his strength as a director. I think what bogged down Yojou-han was that as imaginative as it was in experimenting with the narratives of college life not because of the dejavu episodes (though I will get on this point latter) but rather how easily identifiable the narrative is. Ease in identifying the narrative in that you’ll find yourself realizing early on what Watashi’s epiphany will be. This fault I feel is not something an imaginative visualization could avoid, let’s face it this narrative feels very exhausted with the rise in interest in college life that would also come to the same conclusion. Even more so when the show is a slice of life that we all recognize, we all have to grab opportunity when it dangles in front of us and we all have one way or another our own vision of what out rose colored life would be, so that its so easy to see what path Watashi would take and needs to take (after all his name is only really mentioned once at the end otherwise Watashi as he refers to himself in person is I in other words you yourself). I find this to be a fault in that Masaki Yuuasa looking at a previous work Kaiba has such strong narratives because of we never really see what path needs to be taken or what path will be taken. In Kaiba we start out as lost and as disoriented as the main character, in fact we’re immersed even more strongly as being in the same position as the character himself as for most part he’s mute and simply passive observers much like ourselves). We question the actions taken by the people around him and the world, we may or may not agree with Kaiba. In Yojou-han Watashi we can easily see is a greenhorn still new to the world. We know what path he needs to take and even and even come to that realization much earlier than him, only to be validated later on at his realizations in the second half. The fault of this as I said lies in the strength of Yuuasa, as one recalls another strong difference of Kaiba and Yojou-han. Namely that Yuuasa’s strength lies strongly in expressing the abstract, intangible, and philosophical that which goes beyond the banal. Yojou-han despite all its imaginative setting and visuals is still very much grounded in reality, as its slice of life lessons shine through.

    On the other hand another fault I find as I mentioned with the dejavu is not so much in the dejavu but I as feel in the source material itself. I can’t say I am entirely familiar with the book the anime was adapted from but I do think while Masaki Yuuasa’s injected his style the style of the sources author is still very much present. A style which I think is incredibly verbose, compared to Yuuasa whom I feel speaks volumes in his visuals. I do feel it bogs him down as he can’t necessarily spread his visuals as much as he could, for if he did we’d have something more conflicting in the balance of visuals and dialogue. Yuuasa managed to find quite a great balance of visuals and dialogue after the first episode, at that same time however his visuals could never explode the way it did in Kaiba as it constantly portrayed something beyond our imagination (as one can clearly see just how imaginative Yuuasa is). I’m not saying the source isn’t imaginative, it certainly is, but that Yuuasa is such an incredibly imaginative man that you know he can achieve more. Nevertheless, Yojou-han is indeed a masterpiece that showcases the strengths of Yuuasa, and as such is my reason in saying he is a great director.

  6. Puran says:

    Machi, wow that was a long post… :P

    I thin Yuasa’s imagination really shined in Yojou-han though. The setting was realistic so he had much less room to experiment visually (compared to say kaiba, where he could practically show us anything he wanted, since we didn’t have any set expectations from the setting).

    Yojou-han was filled with visual tricks that actually complemented the story (maybe Yuasa should give some advice to Shinbo sometime… :P ). I think you are focusing too much on the visual side, expecting more crazy stuff too happen, while Yojou-han was always a more or less, down to earth story. I think it fit Yuasa perfectly, he is trying new things, you can’t expect every one of his series to have the imaginative setting of Kaiba, or the craziness of Mind Game. Yuasa has a strong imagination but that’s not his only good quality and this series let him show that.

  7. Machi says:

    Oh I’m aware his imagination isn’t his only strong point. His imagination does shine through as we see that injected well into the narrative, at times even bursting over. We do see it well in this series as he transform the mundane to something fantastic. However, I do feel that with this he did have to pare himself down, which is a double edged sword, but did so nicely. What my quibble was that Yojou-han despite being transformed into the fantastic is still very down to earth, what I found to be Yuuasa’s strength is that he could handle very abstract concepts (such as memory) that most people would shrike or overwork that I do feel allows him to shine more. The source is abstract no doubt but very much still mundane. Yet, this show DOES show his good qualities no argument there.

  8. Machi says:

    God I wish this thing had edit… In the end Puran I would say that Yojou-han is undoubtedly a masterpiece.

    As for whether to really rate it higher or lower than Kaiba. I would say it doesn’t matter as that is a matter of preference, that’s why I emphasized that the very long post is purely my own opinion on certain matters. In my case I have more of an inclination to the wilder and more abstract topic (I love the topic of memory some of my favorite films are about memory La Jetee & the Resnais films from Night and Fog to Muriel). Others will easily find beauty more in how pared down but still highly imaginative this down to earth but fantastic series is. In fact I would easily now say that Yojou-han is better way to introduce oneself to Yuuasa, precisely because its a great showcase of what Yuuasa has to offer at his best but at the same time not to jarringly radical as the earlier works (which I do have trouble getting friends to watch because they can’t swallow the animation style, this I think would be easier to get them to watch.)

  9. Topspin says:

    @Michael, yeah I’d say so far it’s the best of the year. And summer doesn’t look like it will given it any competition.

  10. Michael says:

    @Topspin
    Whenever I could write about a series and only that series for nearly three months, cry at its ending, and just love its characters, I know I’ve watched a series that just comes a few times during my lifetime.

    Tatami Galaxy is one of those series. I’ve never really written consistently on a series as consistently I did with Tatami Galaxy. It’s amazing.

  11. AuroraFlame says:

    @Puran
    I find that I get distracted wondering about what they said if I blatantly miss an entire line. But there is some discretion: I understand what the writers are trying to convey and, like you said, the big moments are easy to identify and much more difficult to ruin.

  12. thomas says:

    Enough stuff is repeated – especially the important stuff, I don’t think it’s necessary to rewind anything.

    I love the way Yuasa plays with symbolism; you can rewatch the entire show and you can see they planned everything perfectly from the start.

    Yuasa’s easily my favourite director, his quirkyness and experimentation and imagination is exactly what I love about anime.

    Best show of the year by far.

  13. thomas says:

    I think you could have added a bit of depth to this review by quickly analysing some of the key philosophies that Yuasa so beautifully expressed: Accept who you are. No matter what you do, you are you and everything you do will be a part of you. Accept who other people are, at first glance you may be quick to judge but there multiple sides to everyone. And last but not least: Have no regrets. No matter what you choose, your life will never be perfect, but that’s okay!

    It’s all incredibly optimistic and I personally would’ve been okay with a slightly more cynical conclusion, but let’s face it, we all wanted the romance thing to work out for Watashi.

  14. chounokoe says:

    The only thing I would like to add is, that I have slight problems with how everyone is labeling Yuasa the creative genius lately.

    Yes, he has definitely creative vision and his adaptions always add something to the original work, be it in content or visually.
    Nekojiru, Mind Game and Yojouhan were only rewritten by him and in case of Kemonozume and Kaiba he was only the director, not writer.

    Therefore, while I agree that he always adds his very own creative technique to an anime, I wouldn’t label him responsible for ‘the genius that is Yojouhan (for example)’.

    But I think that is also the only problem I have with your blog sometimes, psgels. Sometimes it seems like you deliberatly blind out the fact that something is an adaption.

  15. psgels psgels says:

    chonokoe: yeah, I agree that at times I tend to ignore this, yeah.

    However, you should note that Masaaki Yuasa not only directed Kemonozume, but also wrote its series composition and worked on as many parts of that series as possible. With Kaiba, he is also credited as the one who originally came up with its premsie (it also doesn’t seem to have a series composition).

    With Yojou-han, I indeed forgot to credit the mysterious Makoto Ueda:

    http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/people.php?id=85031

    But the problem is that there just doesn’t seem to be any information about this guy.

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