Posted on 2 July 2010 with categories: Anime Reviews, Sarai-ya Goyou




One of the things that made the past spring season awesome was the fact that it didn’t have just one, but two Noitamina series. And boy, it sure came with a couple of amazing series to start off this new feature!

Sarai-ya Goyou is a character-study, set in the Japan of a number of centuries ago, and it unites Manglobe with Tomomi Mochizuki, of Toka Gettan, Porfy no Nagai Tabi, Kimagure Orange Road and a ton of other series. He’s a true veteran in the anime business, and he did an incredible job of bringing these characters to life.

The animation in nearly every scene in this series is full of detail, with a ton of subtle movements. This really allows the creators to put as much meaning into these scenes as possible, giving them a surprising amount of depth and development in only twelve episodes. Even most of the side characters get some development throughout the series that already is short on time and despite this limited length, it never tries to rush through things in order to fit as much as possible into its airtime. There comes a price to this, of course: it’s unfortunately an incomplete series, and stops after animating about half of the manga. The main plot threads are skillfully wrapped up at that point, but it’s clear that the storyline isn’t over at that point.

Airing next to Yojou-han this season, this series faced some incredibly tough competition, but it really shined out there despite this, and is a great recommendation for those who are looking for a short character-focused series. There is one arc that isn’t as good as the others (the Matsu arc), which breaks the flow of this series a bit, but apart from that the stories that it tells about its characters are all incredibly thoughtful and engaging.

Storytelling: 9/10 – Very detailed. Tries to put as much meaning into every scene as possible, and succeeds. Never loses itself in its pacing, though the story itself has plot threads that aren’t wrapped up.
Characters: 9/10 – Deep, well developed and thoughtful.
Production-Values: 9/10 – Manglobe does it again with excellent animation that focus on bringing its characters to life instead of over the top action scenes. Haunting soundtrack.
Setting: 9/10 – Excellent portrayal of Japan at the time, with a great analysis of the types of problems that people faced around these ages.

Suggestions:
Mushishi
Porfy no Nagai Tabi
Seirei no Moribito

Posted on with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



Okay, so we all know the circumstances of this series: it’s Noitamina, it only got 12 episodes, and so it only had the room to animate the first half of the Sarai-ya Goyou manga. Next week, we’re going to get treated to Shiki and a live action Moyashimon for some reason, so the creators had no choice of wrapping this up right now, with little chance at a sequel, knowing the sales.

With this in mind, I believe that the creators couldn’t have done a better job here. The final episode ranked for me among the most emotionally intensive episodes of the series so far, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. What made it such a wonderful episode was the way it put so much meaning into just one simple revelation: the fact that he was lied to that the first Yaichi was the one who contracted the kidnappers. It brought forth so many emotions in Yaichi, and that’s exactly why I originally fell in love with this series. I also realize that it’s exactly that that felt missing in the Matsu arc. That was the reason why this series fell into a bit of a dip.

Yaichi only had one point at which he really let his emotions go. After that, he was back to his old self immediately, without any sort of attempt to drag that scene on. It was really well portrayed, and typical of Tomomi Mochizuki, the director: Porfy no Nagai Tabi also had quite a few of these moments.

So, how to rate this? Well, let me put it this way: out of all of the series in Noitamina that didn’t get the full time they deserved (Jyu Oh Sei, Moyashimon, Library Wars, Genji Monogatari, Eden of the East), it’s my favourite. It’s consistently well executed, and instead of trying to cram the entire manga into one series, the creators opted to just give the scenes that they wanted to show their full attention, and just end at a given point. The animation by Manglobe was just wonderfully detailed, and Tomomi Mochizuki did a really great job in bringing it alive. Whether it’s better than Porfy no Nagai Tabi, however… I can’t say that. Its fifty-two episodes really allowed it to develop its characters in a way that Sarai-ya Goyou would only be able to beat if it was fully animated.

Either way though, I’m definitely a fan of Natsume Ono now. Her mangas turned out to be very successful as anime, and I really hope that more of it is going to become animated in the future.

This was easily the best final episode I have seen this season so far. Manglobe, you really gained my faith back after Seiken no Blacksmith.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 26 June 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



A very promising start to the climax of this series. Like expected, it’s all about Yaichi and his past, and the creators did a really good job at building up to it so that they can now start dropping hints as to what exactly caused him to shut off his past. By now, it’s clear that certain things have happened that he has yet to digest, and at this point, there are a ton of people from the past, coming back to bite him. And then there’s also Masa, who is getting closer and closer to him as well.

Yaichi in his teens was… scary. He really had this air around him that didn’t care about anyone or anything. While he killed without remorse in this episode, it’s probably something else caused him to break up with his gang. It’s now interesting to see whether the creators will also be able to give this series a good closure. I mean, I know that the creators are able to do this, but the manga it’s based on complicates things by being way longer than something you can just put in 12 episodes. But still, Ristorante Paradiso did it a year ago, so why shouldn’t this series be able to do it?

Still…. I am missing something here, though. I can’t put my finger to exactly what, but the past number of episodes have lacked a certain something, that prevents it from becoming a masterpiece. I wish I knew what that was, though.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 18 June 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



Ah, like expected: the series is going to close off with Yagi’s arc. This episode was meant to set everything up, while the final two episodes can really explore this guy.

We also now know why Yagi was so important to this story, as he turns out to have known Yaichi as a child (yeah, the child in the flashback really was him). It all points towards a trauma: the guy witnessed the death of the only adult he looked up to, which is probably what made him turn to become a member of a gang. The beauty is that he already developed a lot in the meantime. Yagi has some weird ideas, and he keeps sticking to his criminal roots with the use of Goyou, but he’s also bright and witty.

It’s interesting how there have been no kidnappings for the past few episodes. It’s probably because of Yagi that he’s not trying to do anything funny; he must have recognized him back there, though it was probably a bit harder for Yagi to lay the link because of how Yaichi grew up and completely changed his appearance. The white hair also could be some sort of hint here: why did he suddenly lose all of the pigmentation there?

In any case, with two episodes left I’m very curious to see whether they can surpass the middle episodes. I think my highlight of this series lies at episode six and seven. The final two episodes have already received a ton of build-up at this point, now it’s up to this series to make optimal use of this.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 11 June 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



That was an excellent conclusion to the Matsu-kidnapped-arc. Masa did exactly what he needed to do in order to get the guy out, and there wasn’t some kind of last-minute thing that went wrong in order to cheaply increase tension here.

Instead, the final part of this series seems to centre around Yagi, who indeed turns out to be a government official. It’s not sure whether he uses Masa to get to Yaichi, but nevertheless he’s in between two parties who he cares a lot about. This episode very much showed that he has accepted five leaves as friends.

This episode also introduced the dreaded sister with a brother complex. Still, it’s a cliche here that’s handled well: she’s not outright in love with Masa here unlike MANY of her counterparts, and instead the creators portrayed her as a worrying sibling who hasn’t heard anything about her brother for a while. Finally there’s a show that understands that.

Three episodes left, the problem does remain that there still remains a large part of the manga unanimated. I really hope that the creators can create a satisfying ending with what they have. That’s the one disadvantage of this otherwise excellent series.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 4 June 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



This episode seemed to me like the start of the arc before the finale. You know, the arc that isn’t exactly at the centre of the plot, but rather is meant to develop some of the most prominent side-stories. With this series, that is about Matsu: in this arc we finally get to know him for real, and it’ll probably get resolved in the next episode, before the series can close off with a finale dedicated to Masa and Yaichi. At least, if the creators know what they’re doing and don’t just cut off this show without any conclusion or second season in sight. That’s the ONE disadvantage of this series: it’s an adaptation.

In any case, this episode was as wonderfully paced as usual. The plot is a bit more straightforward, now that Matsu has been captured and all, but the creators really made sure for it to make sense within the story. Matsu is portrayed as the noble thief. He may steal, but he’s doing it all to repay the debts that were paid to him to save his son. by a store owner. Before, we’ve already seen that when he operates alone, he becomes very reckless. He’s only the careful Matsu when guided by Yaichi, and I think that Yaichi knows this very well.

What made this episode for me however were again the tiny things, like the interplay between Masa and Yaich, and how at first sight Masa might be another one of those wimps, though his lines are all surprisingly calculated and sharp. This episode also stressed how important the friendship is in keeping Goyou together. I mean, if Yaichi wasn’t there, there would be no reason to keep doing it. Instead, everyone is acting not just out of loyalty and admiration of Yaichi (which only seems to be the case for Matsu), but also out of loyalty for each other. Masa is indeed very interested about Yaichi, but he has also gotten attached to Ume and Otake. Ume on the other hand actually nearly left, however due to what happened to Matsu he just couldn’t leave.
Rating: ** (Excellent)

Posted on 28 May 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



Oh my god… Tomomi Mochizuki might actually be surpassing himself with this series. Within seven episodes, he managed to put as much meaning into its characters as what Porfy no Nagai Tabi took 26. He’s got such a great sense of realism and character-development, and it also really helps that aside from directing he also did the series composition so that he could really put forth his vision of the manga. And on top of that it’s just awesome to see what a great manga he got to adopt. After having seen two of her stories now I really have to say that she’s a genius at characterization.

This episode again: from the outside the scenario was just about a few mundane tasks: Masa running away from a fight, him starting to train under that other older samurai, etc. From just those sentences it looks like a cheap shounen series, but just about every scene in this show was focused on putting as much meaning as possible in these events. A simple plot of Ume gets a ton of extra side-effects: it was his way of getting Yaichi to pay a visit to Masa. Yaichi knew very much that Ume was lying about Masa’s condition, but went anyway. He knew that he would be recognized, but at the same time he knew that it wouldn’t be that big of a problem since the old man wouldn’t tell much. And yet hints about his past were bound to be dropped here. It’s like he’s getting Masa to learn a bit more about him… but only a bit, nothing too much.

The characters here are nowhere near stupid. They’re very observant about each other. Masa himself knew very well that Yaichi had to have some sort of criminal past, and not just as some rogue bandit. You can really see him trying to get through to Yaichi, whether this is out of admiration, fear or something else still remains a bit of a question. Yaichi on the other hand can really notice Masa’s mood change as he gets to know more about him, and thus more afraid.

At the same time this episode was also very much about Masa’s self-loathing, or perhaps that’s a bit too big of a word. Either way, he’s being held back of an interesting career because of his personality, and knows it. The fight in this episode at which he ran away also really showed that he’s a guy who really keeps clinging to the past. As this is in his case a rather bad past (he had to cope being a samurai with that personality of his), he has a ton of anxieties, especially when alone and there being no reason for him to actually be tough.

This episode also gave a very interesting dimension to the older samurai and the graves he visited. The anecdotes he told about the people he lost were interesting yet down to earth, not to mention that that cliff-hanger was an interesting one. It’s obvious that there can be more dogs called Scruffy, but it is one gnawing cliff-hanger nevertheless.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 20 May 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou




This series just continues to amaze me. At first the plot of this series seemed a bit mundane, about the every day lives of a band of criminals, but the situations here just sparkle with creativity here: everything just fits, and it takes full advantage of the fact that the characters here are criminals. They don’t present them as some kind of chivalrous thieves (even though they started out that way), and stress that the creators are fully aware of their actions. This especially shines through Masa, who still isn’t sure about whether or not to turn them down, especially since they treated him so genuinely nice.

I also loved how this episode comes to bite back at Ume, when the creditor of the guy of the previous episode started wondering where the hell he could get all that money from. I really love how the antagonists here aren’t stupid: they can think for themselves, and if it wasn’t for Masa he would have caused a great deal of trouble. By the way, I loved that shot in which Masa pointed his katana to his neck. That was so incredibly well animated.

Then Yaichi. He was a bit absent during the past two episodes, but the end of the episode came with a very interesting revelation: he and the old man knew each other. I suspected that something was fishy when it turned out that Yaichi never even once visited him, but to think that they were so much of an acquaintance. This does explain why he became involved with five leaves, though. Another very sneaky way.

I really like how this episode also forced Ume to think about his commitments to Five Leaves, especially since this indirectly caused so much trouble in this episode. At the same time you can also guess that Yaichi also put a lot of time into thinking whether or not to visit Masa. In this way, nearly every character here is forced to make certain choices.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 13 May 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou




That was… amazing. Seriously, talk about a powerful episode, this series is just getting better and better with every episode.

The pacing was slow… but this really allowed the characters to show their best sides. After only five episodes it’s astounding to see how much the creators have already fleshed out the characters. The conversations here felt natural: it felt like Ume and Matsu talked about their pasts and problems, rather than it just being exposition for the story. It really was a chance for the characters to get to know each other better. It’s really one of the things I love about this series: screw exposition, every sentence is meant to give these people a richer character.

I also love how the creators handled Masa’s sickness. For once it isn’t the dreaded “anime cold” that’s over within a day, and instead of trying to create cheap drama with it, the creators focus on Ume and Matsu and the rest of the cast instead. Yaichi hardly played a role either. Matsu’s part in particular hit me, with how genuine it felt from the otherwise so distant guy that the previous episodes showed him as. Even when he got saved by Yaichi.

What’s also interesting is that Ume has also become a lot kinder to Masa, compared to how cold he was in the first few episodes. And yet Masa himself hasn’t changed yet: perhaps hampered by that sickness of his, he’s still the guy who hardly says anything.

You know, this season I’ve really been hard-pressed to point out my favourite. There are three shows that equally excel for me: Yojou-han, Sarai-ya Goyou and Giant Killing. With this episode however, this series has set the standards really high for the other two. While it has the disadvantage that it’s only got 12 episodes, it’s really not wasting any time to bring life to its characters. And while these two series have their unique points that Goyou doesn’t have, I’m getting more and more confident to say that Sarai-ya Goyou has the best characters of the entire season.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

Posted on 7 May 2010 with categories: Sarai-ya Goyou



This series just surpassed itself. This really was a wonderful episode that wasted no time to get to the bottom of its characters, this episode was all about subtle hints at the background of various characters. We learn about how Matsu met Yaichi, and also that Otake knew him for the longest.

But the best thing about this episode was again the interplay between Masa and Yaichi. The way in which Masa tries to find out more about the Masa who never talks about his past was really well portrayed. Especially when Masa hit the nail on the head: Yaichi doesn’t seem to be doing the kidnappings for the money. The way he throws around money… it’s just as if he’s asking for it to run out faster so that he can do another job.

Then consider what Matsu said: he has really changed. Could it be that this change started when he started the kidnappings? Like Ume said, they haven’t done even 10 of them, and Yaichi was already involved with three of them, so they probably started quite recently. Because of whatever caused him to change, he started getting interested in Masa, and doing stuff that wouldn’t really be important contrary to what he would have done when Matsu first met him. Either that, or Matsu always had the wrong image of him: you never hear the other characters talk about his change.

On another note, it’s a shame that even though Noitamina is currently so well written and produced, with Sarai-ya Goyou and Yojou-han, the tv ratings have reached a depth for the series. 1.7%… that’s even less than Kuchuu Buranko. I have a hard time grasping the cause for this, actually. Noitamina has always been a timeslot that was also popular amongst non-anime fans.

It seems that the best-rated shows of the time-slot play in modern settings. There are exceptions, like the early Honey and Clover and Paradise Kiss, which aired when the time-slot was still young, and Hakaba Kitarou (the best rated Noitamina show ever), which made use of its huge nostalgia factor, but Nodame Cantabile, Moyashimon and Hataraki Man all are about down to earth characters that anyone could relate with. The same with Eden of the East and Tokyo Magnitude: it’s very easy to relate to these characters. And I guess that that’s something that Yojou-han and Sarai-ya Goyou do not have: it’s hard for your average person to sympathize with a bunch of kidnappers, or a ridiculously fast talking loser. This trend is probably going to continue for the next summer. And don’t get me wrong, I’m really looking forward to Shiki, but again: it doesn’t look like the mainstream will have much to relate to there either.

It’s interesting how the people in charge of Noitamina don’t seem to be marketing geniuses. And that’s a shame, because Noitamina is such a great timeslot because it has proven that in order to go mainstream, you can also appeal to adults: instead of trying to win viewers with panty-shots and yelling teenagers, it has shown time and time again that anime is also very appealing for adults. While I love Sarai-ya Goyou and Yojou-han, I’m a bit sad that they’re doing so badly in the ratings, defeating the entire purpose of the timeslot. The thing I’m worried about isn’t exactly Noitamina changing, but rather that the ratings will end up in a downwards spiral, causing it to get cancelled. That’s what I’m most afraid of.
Rating: *** (Awesome)

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