Posted on 18 April 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Boogiepop wa Warawanai (2019), Reviews by SuperMario

Just like the titular character, Boogiepop Phantom the series has become some sort of urban legend itself in this medium. Its Light Novels are amongst the first Light Novel ever released, dating back to mid-90s. Moreover, the franchise has endured the test of time, as it inspires anime, live-action adaptations and Boogiepop is a well-known face in Japan. This new version intends to adapt the Light Novels more faithfully as it goes through several arcs from the source. All in all I consider this an average adaptation to its classic source. It has tons of issues, both production-wise and character-wise, although the arcs themselves are all quite decent.

There are reasons why Boogiepop still remains in the conversation of the medium till this day. The most distinguished feature lies in its non-linear, puzzling narrative. There’s a saying of “style over substance”, but for shows like Boogiepop it’s the styles that become the substance. Introducing dozen of characters within an arc, some have more significant roles than the others, floating in and out of time, sometimes within a dream; Boogiepop’s narrative is like a jigsaw puzzle. There’s bits and pieces the show throws at us during the arc, but until the last pieces fit in, should viewers see the full picture. This narrative style demands viewers’ attention throughout, and if you miss one bit of information you might feel at a total loss, hence I can see why viewers would turn off by it. But it’s a rewarding process for those who decide to stick with it as the story starts to add up and sink in the more we explore its universe.

The very strength of this disjointed narrative is that it provides multiple points of view, each character has different issues, they have different ways to view the world and all add up to bring the multifaceted layers of this universe. I also appreciate how each characters have different goals in mind, even the ones who don’t contribute much to the main plot like repressed homosexual feeling from one character in “Vs. imaginator” arc, or Makoto’s feeling of his father in “The King of Distortion” arc. They might not be relevant to the events of the arcs they are in, but they all speak to the same theme that Boogiepop trying to address since the first episode…

And that theme is adolescent growth. In Boogiepop universe, there are supernatural beings that exist beside us. These supernatural beings, however, are products of teenagers’ insecures. People’s fear and myth that form a physical manifestation of these beings. While I certainly approve this underlying message, the way Boogie presents these themes are both obvious and hazy at the same time. As for the former, the speech between Suema and Aya Orihata in “Vs. Imaginator” arc when Orihata about to jump off the balcony are way too heavy-handed when Suema tries to explain the whole “what does this series mean” speech to convince her not to jump. On the opposite spectrum, sometimes this underlying message can be too unclear and pretentious for its own good. I still can’t make heads or tails what progress Shiro Tanaka the Archer been through in the last arc since there’s little to no emotional attachment whatsoever. Indeed, this is the main weakness of Boogiepop, it’s more interest at being intriguing and not much about building up emotions or characters we can care for.

Boogiepop consists of 4 different arcs and an unusual 18 episodes airing. Out of these arcs I would say that the first arc “Boogiepop doesn’t laugh” is its worst (and the premiere isn’t the good way to introduce the show), not because the source isn’t strong, but it condenses the plot to much it becomes too linear for the show’s nature. Take note that none of these arcs are bad, they are messy, yes, but they all hold up well at the end and they bring the right atmosphere to the show. The only issue I can point out, is the visual where sometimes the characters go off-model, and CG crowds that stand out like a sore thumb. The score is at least intriguing and unusual. It uses electronic score with sometimes just stop abruptly in the middle of conversations, which again bring out the off putting nature of Boogiepop.

Finally, as I mentioned briefly before, the characters unfortunately isn’t the show’s strong suit. Part of it because of the disjointed narrative, and part of it because there are no real protagonist in this show. That is the reason why “Boogiepop at Dawn” arc fares so well because Nagita is the clear main character who drives the events. The worst of the cast, unfortunately, is Touka Miyashita. We learn little to nothing about her own character (except from she having a family issue as well) and for the character who supposed to be a vessel for the titular character, this is just not enough. Boogiepop is a mess, Boogiepop is emotional distance, Boogiepop can be frustrating to watch at times but its puzzle-like narratives can sink in and be rewarding for those who have enough patience.

Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai, Reviews by SuperMario

Coming to Kotobuki, there are lots of aspect that catch my attention: it’s from a famed director Tsutomu Mizushima who can turn the most trashable and genre-able concepts into something intriguing; it’s an CG show about air pilots: it has extended aerial combat set-pieces. Watching it till the end, I have to tip my hat off to Mizushima. Kotobuki certainly isn’t for the mass, nor does it ever intend to, but there’s always a clear sense that this version of Kotobuki is how Mizushima envisioned it to be. For the strengths of it are pretty clear, at the cost of its own narrative, its characters’ depth or any thematic context. The thing is, I believe this show is a success, as it fulfills all goals that it set out to do. As for those of you who didn’t follow the show, Kotobuki is about the titular Squadron, an air fighter team for hire to protects goods from air pirates and the likes. As with his previous Girls und Panzers, Kotobuki spends a good chunk of its time for the CG aerial combats. It also benefits on a tongue-in-cheek style where the show pretty much eschews all the tropey conversations we usually find in anime for more realism and natural take. Lastly, Kotobuki favors small characters dynamics as opposed to conventional developments, as the result it might not have any deeper layer, the characters might not feel that developed, they are still a constant fun to watch.

I figure that at the end of the day Kotobuki will mostly remembered for their extended CG aerial combats. Those set-pieces usually take up half the length of an entire episode, but to its credits the show makes it with styles. The lengthy aerial dogfights are well choreographed, the CG animation looks realistic and most of all, the sound designs are sublime. Whenever the bullets hit the plane, for example, we can hear the metal sound. That CG visual comes with a cost, however. The characters animation looks stiff and in some case, their facial expression and the way their heads move stick out like a sore thumb. Narrative-wise, the plot moves really straight-forward. Since it has a length flight sequences, the rest doesn’t feel flesh out enough. There are so much else that I want to know more, such as the dessert world building or the characters.

Another feature that differentiate Kotobuki show from the rest is its rapid fire dialogues in a casual manners. Right at the very first shot, we get that very sense. Characters go on and on in random topics, most of the dialogues are unimportant or have nothing to do to advance the plot or deepen the characters. So why include these lengthy conversations then? It is because it feels natural. Characters bounce off each other seamlessly, and they feel as if they’re belong to this very world. It’s also fun to see these characters having their own speech patterns, their own way of speaking and behaving interact with each other. It helps that Kotobuki’s smart enough to follow up those mini-conflicts with their own tempo (one such example: the drawing girl reappears in the Big battle to give the disloyal guy hell). The Squadron cast, like I said, doesn’t flesh out that much, but they all have their own distinctive personality traits, and Kirie or Reona can still carry the show by their own.

I’m not really sold on the final conflict, as I see the “holes in the sky” subplot kind of comes out from nowhere. But apart from that the show ties up its plot threads nicely. Kotobuki might not be a great show, but it never aims itself as one, instead it enjoys itself thoroughly.

Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Kemurikusa, Reviews by SuperMario

Kemurikusa is your very definition of an overlooked gem, one that never really gain much discussion anywhere, but one that has a distinctive style from an up-and-coming auteur who has full control of his projects. Coming to Kemurikusa, all the attention it has came from the fact that it is created by TATSUKI, a mastermind behind global surprise hit Kemono Friends, in a season where the actual sequel of Kemono Friend also aired. While at the end Kemurikusa would never achieve the crossover status TATSUKI’s previous anime had reached, in an essence Kemurikusa is his more personal, more ambitious and overall a better one. It was his indie project back in 2012 for one thing, and throughout these years he consistently released short OVAs that help fleshing out the world. Kemurikusa’s style is so distinctive that it brings a fair share of goodies and baddies. Naysayers often point out the clunky level of CG animation style, but for me the production values look rather impressive.

It’s no wonder that with the amount of attention to details TATSUKI has over this project, the intriguing post-apocalyptic world building remains its biggest selling point. The Kemurikusa concept, about artificial energy and its variations based on the colour concept are highly-detailed, and add up to the mysteries of this world. It helps that we start through the point of view of Wakaba and the Kemurikusa girls, and they are as clueless as the audiences. Watching all the secrets unfold is like letting the worldbuilding sink in more and more. Episode 11, in particular, is a one big flashback that not only explains the current events, but also helps exploring the richness of the world that for me rank it amongst the most well-written settings in anime in years. In addition, the show successfully delves into the origin of Kemurikusa girls and their attributes with satisfying explanations that help deepening its concept.

Production-wise, Kemurikusa is unique. It’s something that you don’t see very often in this medium, if at all, in both good and bad ways. On the negative spectrum, viewers who isn’t familiar with this CG style might pass it off as unpolished and amateurish. While I can argue otherwise, it remains true that whenever Kemurikusa depicts the “impact”, it doesn’t successfully land the force/gravity of the objects. There’s one sequence in episode 7 when Kemurikusa falling objects but it feels as if they are floating instead. In addition, the CG animation can be jerky at times. What it lacks for these production inefficiencies, it more than makes up by its attention to details to the backgrounds, the strong use of color palette and the score/soundtrack. There’s always little details or info in the world-building to the point you can see every bit in its world is there for a reason and  it can be satisfied to catch on multiple watches. Kemurikusa also has a strong penchant for bathing its world with strong blue tone mix with red mist. The result is a world with strong personality that says so much about the show itself. Lastly, the score remains solid throughout. It isn’t flashy by any mean, but it fits very well to the tone of this world.

The characters are mixed-bag. While they have very clear set of goals with established personalities (it says a lot that with limited screen-time the Kemurikusa sisters still manage to leave their marks) and at the end I legitly care for all of them, the dialogues in particular can be grating at times. Wakaba is super-annoying at the start that he was a turn-off point for many viewers, but he gets better as Kemurikusa goes. At heart, Kemurikusa is an adventure show with a keen sense of hopelessness. The world is in total destruction. Everywhere the girls go, the are red bugs that cause further damage. There’s absolutely no signs of life at all. It is then fitting that Rin has to say goodbye to the sisters in order to reach the final destination. Well, TATSUKI’s aesthetic isn’t for everyone and can take some time to get used to, but there’s no denying that his works have their own charms and the world he created here is simply impressive.

Posted on 2 January 2019 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario, SSSS.GRIDMAN

Let it be known that I’ve never been a fan of Trigger. For me, they’re one of the most style-with-no-substance studio on Earth with a tendency for god-awful fanservice, and total nonsense in terms of story and characters. Yet GRIDMAN completely caught me off guard in the first two episodes, and from there, there was never a dull moment. On the surface, it shares many of the studio’s (good) trademarks: an unconventional storytelling, bombastic action sequences and and eye for arresting visual. Yet its approach is completely different that the visual approach becomes a character of the show itself. On the next surface, GRIDMAN is a love letter to those tokusatsu shows, the Gridman franchise and even Transformers franchise that we see the sheer love from the staffs to all these homages. While you don’t need any of prior knowledge in order to follow this show, the ones who do know about these homages might enjoy the show more wholly. For my money, along with Revue Starlight, GRIDMAN is one of the best visual directed anime this year 2018 has to offer. A visual where not only it’s striking to look at, but also support its themes and laid out many small details about its world-building.

The main vibe GRIDMAN offers in the first few episodes lie in how offbeat everything happens on screen is. Character waking up with an amnesia; there are kaiju monsters standing motionless in the background. The school appears to be normal a day after its destruction. This offbeat sense could very well turn many viewers off, but not until later do we find out about the truth of this world and its characters that everything starts to fall into place and its visual choice starts to make a whole lot sense. If I have to point out another quality of GRIDMAN, that would be there’s a clear line between “minimalistic” and “going all out”.Usually, the battle scenes go is bathed with its bright color, dynamic CG sequences and epic feeling, but in its quieter moments (which usually happening ⅔ of the episode), it goes for saving-energy mode: minimal music, repetition shots, realistic dialogues, “camera” is in static mode. This is a bold choice since clearly dividing its segments like that would cause a tonal inconsistency or even not holding audience’s attention at all, but it’s a rewarding one because GRIDMAN creates a real sense of its mysterious world that feel wholly unique and unforgettable.

Some could argue that because of these clear dividend, GRIDMAN is a show of two halves: its mundane slice-of-life half through the point of view of Rikka, and its Gridman vs Kaiju monsters origins narrated by Yuuta. In fact, part of the claim is true. Looking back, GRIDMAN doesn’t seem to have a clear protagonist, as we were introduced to this world through Yuuta’s eyes, himself is a blank state, then all the emotional core is progressed through Rikka as she goes through her normal life and then the show leaves its climax arc to Akane, her God-like status and her existential crisis. Not all of these work well (Yuuta’s part is clearly GRIDMAN’s weakest part), but I’m surprised that this show brings another level of complexity to Rikka and while I’m a bit let down by the ending, the dream episode remains the best episode I’ve seen in 2018, and the single sequence of Akane jumping off the crane remains one of my favorite scene of the whole year.

GRIDMAN is also one of these shows where it embraces “show, don’t tell” school the the fullest. The visual style always give the sense of scale between the characters and how huge the kaiji monsters are. It features many distorted lenses, further informs us visually that the world these characters inhibit in are not necessary real. Most impressive of all, in my humble opinions, is how the show uses the distance between its characters to signify their chemistry. The best examples of this approach is Akane and Anti’s relationship, where you can see the clear distance, most of the time Akane is in higher position, looking down at Anti. In addition, My favorite one is in episode 3 that details Rikka and Shou’s getting sucked into their own misery. The visual framing, which frames these two looking different ways through mirror is the textbook example of how to inform character’s inner struggle purely through visual alone.

This show is also in love with putting as many details in its world-building, a bit obsessively like the way Wes Anderson usually spend to his worlds – mostly through the objects that surround the characters. While these details might not necessary relevant to the main plot, uncover these Easter eggs might prove rewarding and might open up to more interpretation this show aims to be. This is the show that the more you dig into it, the deeper the Rabbit hole goes, but damn I really do prefer if the show confirms some of its theory. The live-action sequence at the very end of show, for example, nicely sum up this show thematically, at the same time raising a hell lot of ambiguity to the table.

And for me, that is exactly the kind of anime I’m yearning for. It might not be perfect, it might be for an acquired taste (although I heard that it sells surprisingly well in Japan), it might not wrap up the best way it can, but it never afraid to take risk and ultimately it comes off as its own thing. I sure hold Akira Amemiya in high regard now.

Posted on 31 December 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario, Thunderbolt Fantasy

If anyone has been familiar with the first season of Thunderbolt Fantasy, you’d find yourself a lot to enjoy in this second installment. Served as a sequel, but not a direct continuation to the first, viewers don’t need the knowledge of the original in order to enjoy this ride. Thunderbolt 2 carries many trademarks that make this show such an install success since it came out: the puppetry technique makes it an unique viewing experience amongst anime fandom; the larger the life characters whose characters are the central protagonist in their own stories; the camp value of cheesy lines and back-and-forth conversations; and the somewhat unpredictableness of the plot. It serves as an entertaining and engaging ride on its own right, but to be fair, it’s pale compare to the freshness of the first season.

In this second season, we have a whole new supporting cast aside from our hero Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao the Enigmatic Gale. The cast includes Lang Wu Yao – the ginger singer with his talking pipa, the Princess of Cruelty Xie Yinglou, the Dirty Cop Xiao Kuang Juan and the amoral monk Di Kong. While Thunderbolt proves once again it more than has its chops when it comes to make these characters as stand out as possible, for this season it falls more into straightforward side.There’s a clear line between the good guys and the bad guys, which makes a lesser impact compare to the ambiguity of good/evil in the original series. Princess Cruelty, for example, has haer redemption arc that, while still good, is the most conventional arc Thunderbolt has done so far.

The main storyline is another straightforward aspect of this season. It has a clear set of goals and well planned-out (too well indeed) goals: Shang Bu Huan wanted to get rid of his Index of Swords, unfortunately the plan fails and the enemy gets a hold of two evil swords. One thing that this season does improve is that we get a chance to see more legendary swords and their dangerous powers. These two new swords, Seven Blashphemous Deaths and the Night of Mourning, have a distinct designs and formidable powers. The former especially has quite a character for her deadly charming voice and her femme fatale personality. My favorite addition, however, is the one-wing Dragon who spits fire and talks human language.  

Speaking of characters, I’m glad to say that all the main players this season fit into this universe like a T. They’re over the top, but not simple. They’re all too proud of themselves and they bounce off with each other extremely well. Normally it’s an one-on-one conversations where these different personas clash, and most of the time it’s a treat to watch. Di Kong and Lang Wu Xao serve to be an excellent cast on its own, the former on how he’s dangerous purely because he has no evil temptation, and the latter because of his strict sense of justice. The Dirty Cop’s character is your love-to-hate type and his corruption is a bit to extreme to leave any ambiguity, and it’s a shame his character is the least relevant to the main plotline.

The visual has gotten much more flashy too. Characters doing their own “remarks” while speaking, the special effect, namely the spitfire and the blood-gushing are still something to behold. Even the way these characters run have a quirk of its own, making Thunderbolt a product that never fail to be anything less than spectacular. I think we’re in good chance for the final season that closes everything here. Witty, refreshing, never take itself seriously and always have the right amount of campiness and flashiness, puppets are here to stay.

Posted on with categories: Anime Reviews, Irozuku Sekai no Ashita kara, Reviews by SuperMario

In the last few years, it’s great to see P.A Works has slowly created their own studio identity, putting more original works with consistent production values. Just in 2018, they produced 4 shows (quite a good number if you ask me), 3 of them were original: Maquia, Sirius the Jaeger and Irozuku. As I said, it’s a encouraging sign to see a studio that has control of its titles, but at the moment they still haven’t reached their full potential yet. The same pitfalls between Irozuku and Sirius the Jaeger, in particular, lies in its writing. They’re unremarkable and in Irozuku’s case, drags on for too long. Irozuku is a show that has a well-realized settings, a solid theme of finding love and gorgeous production, but it’s one of the case where it has no real plot, as a result in the middle chunk it feels as if the cast just wanders around in search for the plot.

You can see that aimlessness from our main lead, Hitomi, who is colorblind, afraid to use magic and shut off her own feeling. When she’s transported back to her Grandma’s timeline, she doesn’t know what her purpose is, or what she should do. Comes the supporting cast from the Art/ Photography Club who has different personality traits, but “surprisingly” always in sync when it comes to group decision. I take it as lazy-writing since at the end of the day, none of the cast raise above their established traits. The addition of energetic Kohaku moves the show forward a bit, but she’s also bogged down by the same approach.

I normally avoid to criticize a show for “nothing happens”, but it’s exactly the case here for Irozuku. The middle portion consists mostly of the cast hang out doing their club activities that both feel random in nature and nothing has progressed whatsoever. Although they spend majority of time together, the chemistry of the cast isn’t necessary strengthened, because they repeat the same atmosphere all over again. Not all of these relationships are one-note, however. Aoi and Hitomi has some neat moments together, as they settle down their own feeling for each other. Kohaku has some solid developments too on how she takes the responsibility of bringing Hitomi safe and sound.

Irozuku is the show that mixes between magic and the normal day lives; and it’s the magic parts that are the highlights of the show. Whenever it comes to these scenes, the visual never fails to impress. Whether they’re colorful fireworks, the magic train or drawing-styles paintings or the sparks of the magic spell, everything looks gorgeous and it’s the visual alone that carries the message more than the narrative. It takes a trip to Aio’s painting with the black figure hopelessly chase the dead golden fish that tells much more about Aio’s artistic struggle than any word can convey. The same goes for Hitomi’s monochrome vision, every time it switches between color to black and white world, we see the world in her point of view and there’s always a hint of sadness carries across.

Thematically speaking, Irozuku centrals on finding your own happiness and love yourself as part of embracing and living the world. Throughout its run, Hitomi progresses from a shy little sad sack to someone who knows what she likes, from a girl who is afraid of her own magic to someone who finds the beauty in magic and the colors in her life. As it stands, I still believe Irozuku would be much stronger if it only had half of its runtime, or had a more solid middle arc. It remains a show that has clear starting and ending point, but don’t know the road the get there efficiently.

Posted on 19 October 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario

In a year where comedy shows gain an unexpected strong showing, somehow a show about 3 cute girls and their pass-timer club emerges as one of the best comedy around. Yep, forget Hinamatsuri, forget Grand Blue, forget Chio-chan, Asobi Asobase delivers some hilarious absurdist laugh-out-loud moments for the ages. It helps that we were in for some trolling even before the series starts. Asobi Asobase is a prime example of a huge disparity between “what the shows is selling us” and “what it is actually about”, and for all the better of it. In all promo arts before its airing, and watching the deceptive OP that introduces the show, one would have assumed they’re about to watch for a comfy CGDCT. The truth is, where are those cute girls in the OP? It consistently displays how nonsensical, degraded our trio are and their situations they find themselves in.

Asobi Asobase’s main source of humor comes from how it introduces the mundane situation, then escalate it and flips the situation over to the most absurd level, usually with the expense of our trio. The jokes often land due to how unpredictable and crass it can get, and it benefits from a bombastic chemistry between the trio, along with the rest of the cast. In fact, in term of “stealing the scene” the supporting cast does a damn fine job with their personality is even bolder than our main girls. We have a shogi captain who goes at great length to teach the trio about “going all out for pass-time games”, we have a senpai who might or might not be a trap (my favorite recurrence gag), we have a girl who is designed like a Japanese classic painting, but she’s a total foil for our Olivia with her great mix of Japanese and English sentences; we have a live-in butler (or whatever role he is) of Hanako whose “special ability” is so bizzare we can’t help but tip our hats for its sheer creativity (it involves shogi as well), and guess what? The best part is that Asobi Asobase is crazy enough to build a proper backstory for his condition that involves alien and touching ass. Yes, Asobi Asobase is that kind of show.

While all the jokes are built in an absurdist manner, Asobi Asobase makes it ten times better with all the crazy reaction shots from the girls. The degraded reactions consistently betray their first cute appearance, making it hilarious in the delivery. Now, to our main three girls. We have Olivia, the non-foreign foreign girl who has a tendency to bend the rules (she’s my favorite character but I ‘d love to see her awfulness more), then we have Kasumi who is the least stand-out, but she possesses many hidden hobbies (chief among them: BL-fanfic story and her afraid towards men – see how contradiction she is) that it becomes a great source of laughter whenever Asobi Asobase delves into it. Finally, the star of the show Hanako (the simplest way to describe her is that she has a few loose screws. Like, seriously) who is basically responsible for all these stupid hijinks, and her rapid mood swing somehow just becomes funnier and funnier as time passes. In addition, not only the voice actress clearly kills it with their performances, I consider the VA of Hanako – Hina Kino a true breakout with her fearless performance that keeps raising the bar to the absurd level. Just listen to the “don’t give a fuck” metal ED to hear her voice screaming. She brings so much energy to this show.

Admittedly, some gags are weaker the others and sometimes it can cross the line between crassly enjoyable and mean-spiritedness (the portrayal of Olivia’s brother nerdiness for example) but that’s the thing because Asobi Asobase is excel at taking us outside of the comfort zone, or to be more precise, the comfort zone that CGDCT genre often doesn’t dare to go. Moreover, while other viewers see this show as “cute girls who is mean to each other”, I don’t really see any mean intent from the girls. While it’s true that most of the times the consequences go out of their hands, it’s also true that they have a blast of a time. And so did we watching and laughing at all the nonsensical hijinks from a show that simply doesn’t give a crap.

Posted on 28 August 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Reviews by SuperMario

Watching Mirai, there are two observations that spring right up to my mind: Mirai is Hosoda’s most grounded, personal film and it plays out completely different from what I expected based from the promotional materials. My feeling is confirmed when I later learned that Hosoda based the concept from watching his own children’s react, and that his daugher is indeed named Mirai. The film centres around the 3 to 4-year-old Kun and details how he cope with the appearance of his younger sister, Mirai. While the PVs play as if this is an escapist adventure in the vein of Peter Pan between Kun and Mirai the teenage version, Mirai is instead an episodic film where Kun meets various family members in different timelines and come to learn some “life” lessons. Its more realistic setting and its small-scale family drama are a stark different from his more fantastical (and messy) previous works, but it should relate well with kids and moreover with parents who have experienced these before. To put it better, Mirai is a perfect family-oriented feature that respect the child’s point of view with all the mature sentiments behind it.

Mirai’s episodic segments all share the same formula: Kun is dissatisfied with how the baby sister takes all the attention from his parents, he throws a tantrum, he’s miraculously thrown into another timeline where his relatives live and he grows a bit in the process before transport back home. If it sounds a bit like a gimmick, it doesn’t because all Kun’s issues are very believable for the kid his age. Children always feel left out when their “prince” status fall apart with the appearance of some annoying baby. Mirai really nails it when it exaggerates Kun’s outburst with comical distorted face that can only be done effectively in this medium. The film also understands the kid’s imaginative mindset. Kun’s at the age where everything seems possible, where dog can talk and act like a prince, where his Mama is just as messy as him when she was young, where Mirai appears as a high school girl.

It helps that the episodic segments feel like true adventures with many different settings. There’s a sense of wonder everywhere, and the production has a chance to stretch their muscles by breathing life and details to these different era. In one instance Kun is lost in a Hell-like train station, the art appropriately goes impressionist and nightmarish. In other instance (and the only time where it happens in the present), Miral the high-schooler, along with Kun and their dog in human form have to find a way to take down the dolls (Hinamatsuri) to save Mirai from “late marriage”. These moments like this not only help the members of this family bonding deeper, it also helps Kun to appreciate his family more, especially to his younger sister who he seen at nothing but a burden. If I have one minor nitpick, it is that I find the segment where he meets his great-grandpa a bit far-fetched since he doesn’t even meet the old man in real life. But in Mirai’s defense, it’s actually one of the most meaningful story in the film so  well, it’s deserved to be there after all. There’s also some moments where the film take on adult’s perspective. Especially the time where the father has to do real houseworks for the first time, thus he learns how he had been slacking on helping his wife all these years. These instances ring so true here.

But the most impressive thing Mirai pull off is how all these stories add up to paint the same family bond theme. It’s like different branches of the same tree – an apt metaphor for this film given the film frames these stories as threads connected by the grand tree that transcends multiple generations. It’s an ode to the family where every family member’s life sounds just as wonderful and epic like famous figures; where every action, every decision connect and interweave that result in the present-us just as we are now. The settings themselves have a lot of personality in Mirai, especially their house with multiple levels and see-through glass and big garden that easily triggers any kid’s imagination. You can also spot some of Hosoda’s directional trademarks like his lateral camera movement that detail members (usually the father) doing housework in a nice flow of time. There isn’t a lot of dynamic animation, but the character animation is top-notch, especially when the film deals with children expressions since they have much more movements than the adults. The most stand-out sequence for me is the one where there’s only visual storytelling about his great-grandfather and his running challenge. Just seeing how that scene play out brings tears down my eyes. It’s powerful precisely because it keeps the moment “small”.

After a string of movies that entirely focus on grand, fantastic story, I understand why some of you might be let down by this small-scope film. It’s a film with almost no real ambition but I beg to differ on that. Here’s where I like to compare Hosoda with Shinkai’s previous inputs. While Shinkai’s latest expands his scope and finds himself in tune with the general audience’s appeal, Hosoda limits his scope to the theme that he knows most; and cares the most. And that is perfectly fine. Every auteur has at least one personal film in which they disregard any artistic or financial merit and just make something that meant the most to them at the time. It’s the small cozy real-world brush that makes Mirai so enjoyable, relatable and feel almost like home.

Posted on 9 July 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Hisone to Masotan, Reviews by SuperMario

Coming off as one of my most anticipated anime out of this last Spring Season, based solely on staffs involved alone – after all, an original anime written by Mari Okada and produced by Bones (which I regarded as one of the best anime studio working right now) – I can’t help but feel let down towards how HisoMaso progresses and wraps up. It’s a show with many highlights, mind you, as I consider the production as one of the best of the year so far: simple yet expressive character designs, stunning backgrounds and crisp animation. All you could ask for really. It has some interesting ideas, but that precisely pains me even more that the world-building just doesn’t support the ideas HisoMaso has.

To begin with, let’s address my main issues regarding this production. Unlike other anime shows which bring themselves down by treading the same tired path, HisoMaso is a show with many fresh concepts. I would applaud anyone who can think of the idea of them inside the dragons and piloting (note: not riding) as a military fighter jet. It’s a wonderful and whimsical mix concept that fit into the easy-going tone and the simple character designs. In fact, the first few episodes still carry this concept forward due to the fact that it never takes itself seriously. That’s when the issue arises when we need something more substantial when the appeal wears out, and it becomes increasingly frustrated to see the plot progresses without any backup. As an example, the show introduces the whole “ritual” concerning the whole giant dragon which “wakes up” every 82 years. It opens a whole new can of worms regarding the whole village who dedicated themselves solely for this event and even the process of it all. Equally under-developed and underwhelmed is the anastomosis bit, which for me is the prime example of creating conflicts solely for the sake if conflicts. As it stands, HisoMaso often feels like a first draft on a novel, many wonderful ideas but all of them are half-baked because the creators just don’t spend enough time to think this through.

The half-baked approach spread into the characters themselves. These girls have many quirks that distinct them to the rest of the cast, but at the end of the day there simply isn’t much development for them, or the development feel calculated and forced. Take Kinutsugai and Hitomi, the D-pilots who appear at the poster and the ED, HisoMaso just doesn’t know what to do with them. Same thing regarding the dragons, which feel more like mascots. The main lead Hisone embraces what could be the worst tendency of HisoMaso’s attempt of developing characters. Like the show, she tends to tell us out loud what her issues are, and like the show she tends to make rather weird decisions. Many of her conflicts are raised and solved within an episode, as a result the development doesn’t feel earned.

Speaking about making weird decisions, I can’t still put my fingers on the central message of HisoMaso. In some ways, Mari Osada underlines the struggles of working women in Japanese society, as they have to choose between career and family. Having Hisone and Hoshino fall in love that could potentially cause negative impact on piloting the dragons is part of that strategy. But how do they deal with it? By having the entire army unit work on “make them fall in love then crush their love apart”. That’s mean-spirited to the point of stupidity. On that note, they didn’t resolve the love’s conflict thoroughly either. Second, HisoMaso marks the relationship between the dragons and their pilots, as we see in how Hoshino struggling as she considers herself “a pilot” – not dragon caretaker; and we see the theme reflected by the titular characters. But the problem with its is the way Hisone regards her dragon. She considers Masotan as someone who see the specialness in her, and piloting dragon is something that make her worthwhile, as a result in episode 3 we have something as obscure as her demanding Masotan to “take responsibility” because he picked her. That level of dependence repeats later on, when Hisone argues with another girl solely about a boy. This questionable treatment to women is unacceptable, especially with a show about adult women written by an adult woman. As a result, HisoMaso become the first show from 2018 that receive a minus (-) mark from me.

But what HisoMaso makes up for the under-cooked story is the sheer power of visual presentation. Everything looks great, the characters are on the simple design, but that’s exactly why the studio can go wild on their facial expressions and characters movement. What it’s lack from the character depth is replaced by their mannerism, in which each character moves differently and has different tones. The background designs are simply gorgeous with bright color palette, and the animation are crisp and a feast to an eye. If you don’t mind the lack of deeper layer, HisoMaso’s aesthetic alone would serve as a visual treat. Indeed, at top of my mind only the recent FLCL’s production is on the same level with this show for the first half of this 2018 calendar year.

So yeah, HisoMaso is a show with many highs and lows. Its visual strength is amongst the best of the industry right now, and it’s an easy watch all around with some emotional resonance. The lack of a well thought-out world, however, hurts the show since it’s crumble as it moves along. It’s still a show worth checking out, but don’t delve too deeply into it.

Posted on 26 June 2018 with categories: Anime Reviews, Hinamatsuri, Reviews by SuperMario

Comedy anime doesn’t always yell out confidence, so imagine our hype when there’s one that been on everyone’s lips since the manga come out, Hinamatsuri. The show starts with simple premise: a girl with supernatural power unexpectedly drops into the house of a yakuza, hilarity ensues. This concept sums up very well the source humors of Hinamatsuri. We have seemingly stock characters at first, put them into some bizarre situations where they are out of their comfort zone, and observe how they react. As such, Hinamatsuri is at its best when it turns these absurd events into unpredictably directions; and when the show uses these absurd elements to flesh out the characters. It’s so succeed in giving hearts to the characters that, for me, it stops being a laugh-out-loud show somewhere in the middle and now in the end, I’m not quite certain if I still consider Hinamatsuri a comedy show.

But stop being an all-out comedy show isn’t a bad thing at all. One of Hinamatsuri’s best assets has always been a strong and memorable cast, especially from the younger ones. Hitomi and Anzu, in particular, make one hell of an impression. They embrace these two qualities I mentioned earlier, not only it’s hilarious to see how these girls behave when they’re thrown out of their elements, but also throughout those bizzare events our girls have matured right before our eyes. We have the always kind-hearted girl Hitomi finds herself making cocktails in an adult bar (and eventually come to love that job); to the bratty Anzu finds the meaning of responsibility and home in homeless group. Some segments just are down right heart-warming that they ring sad and sweet in equal measure. Even a proper drama show can hardly do that right, let’s alone a comedy one like this.

Other characters still manage to make an impact just from the little segments they’re in. The trick is that they all have different voices and add different energy to the show. It’s no coincidence that Hinamatsuri is fond of introducing new characters, even late in the game. Being said that, the central relationship between Nitta and Hina isn’t as well-developed as say, the developments of their side characters. At the end of the journey, when Nitta thinks about their journey so far, it just hits me that we haven’t really invested to them much. If we’re looking for a parental bond we’re set to be disappointed. If we’re seeking for a buddy bond, it was underwhelming too. Their relationship is some kind in the middle, where they can easily ditch each other but there’s still something that bring them back together.

In term of visual execution, feel does a pretty decent job of transferring the essence of the manga to this adaptation. The visual hits its mark whenever it embraces the quirky visual that only Hinamatsuri can do. I’m talking about whenever these girls doing their supernatural power, or when Hina just floating around in the air in the middle of a conversation. That brings me to another complaint. By design, this whole season is about these “gifted” girls accustomed themselves to the new, ordinary world. As a result, there’s simply not enough crazy, wild fights. This lack of truly over-the-top superpower hurts the show’s chance, as Hinamatsuri has a knack of bringing whimsical humor by their visual. Secondly, the lack of these supernatural power means that the show’s more content for traditional slice-of-life shenanigans, which in truth countless number of anime shows doing the same thing.

In term of segments, I noticed that the anime adaptation change the order from the manga, which I think work for the show’s benefit. We have more direct continuation from Anzu and Hitomi, for example, and so far I can see the love from the creators to make this show as memorable as possible. Only one plot thread I feel rather weak and uninteresting in general is the Nitta’s yakuza part, which rank amongst my least favorite segments. Hina has become more active in the second arc, despite my early criticism that she might not hold her own. This series, as entertaining, whimsical and surprisingly heartfelt as it might be, might never seen the day of life for another season. While personally I’m not over-excited about this show, it still remains a solid offering. The show that has its own voice and visual quirks. That alone make it a far better show than your average anime crop.

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