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Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Kanon: Ayu Tsukimiya

Kanon’s the second anime here that is derived initially from an Adult Dating Simulation. Unlike Ef, it is worth noting that this particular anime is completely clean. I honestly wouldn’t have known about the relationship if I didn’t look it up. Though, I suppose that harem anime do generally have a background in some game where you get to choose the girl you get to be with.

I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled into Kanon the first time, but I do know that I had to watch it with English dubs the first time around. This was actually an extremely fortunate way to experience this anime: it’s one of the few anime I’ve seen that actually gains something from using English. It’s only applicable to a small portion of the anime, though; the rest of the show felt much better in Japanese.

Note: Kanon has been produced as an anime twice. I am here reviewing the second of those anime, released in 2006 (hence the year in the main title). This is by and large considered the superior of the two productions, and is the only one I’ve concerned myself with to date.

Synopsis

Yuuichi Aizawa has returned to his cousin’s home, where he once spent his summers, after seven years away. Time has clouded his memory, yet many of the kids he once played with have grown up and still remember him. As Yuuichi remembers his past, he realizes that the tragedies of the past threaten to overwhelm his friends in the present.

Genre

A romance anime using the harem style (many girls, one guy), with comedy and drama recurring throughout.

Age Rating

Safely PG. There are of course some romantic elements, and a little bit of violence, but nothing beyond your average Disney movie. The only thing to keep in mind is that many of the defining moments in this anime are sad, which is not consistent with Disney movies.

Review

Plot Quality: 5

Kanon: Jun Kitigawa and Yuuichi Aizawa

As a general rule, the harem style of anime is really underwhelming to watch. It usually leads to one of two things. On the one hand, we have girls flinging themselves at an otherwise average guy – a bland fantasy story that doesn’t have any depth. On the other hand, some harem styles showcase a humorously weak protagonist and a bunch of empowering females: these are generally styled to be comedic, but I’m generally not amused by repeated misunderstandings and submissive, weak-willed male protagonists.

It is a great thing, therefore, that Kanon is so far outside of the general harem style. In a sense, it’s not really a harem at all: the story moves through a series of arcs, each of which places a single girl at the forefront of Yuuichi’s mind. There’s no awkward rapid-rotation dating. There’s no weak-willed protagonist getting beaten up by one girl after the next. There’s no sappy indecision of “which one will I choose?” Rather, the story and Yuuichi share their focus in an acceptable style, letting he and a single girl get to know each other better as the events of life carry on about them.

There is a flaw with this approach. Put simply, it’s not believable. Instead, the anime seems to try a bit too hard to work out the conclusions of every choice Yuuichi could make within a single anime, rather than as a series of disparate arcs (the story is continuous, and there are definite hints of girls he’s already interacted with showing up as he moves on). I found it awkward that, after doing so much and becoming so committed to one girl, Yuuichi was able to move on from her to another girl without so much as a backward glance. It’s hard to reconcile in a single story, and I feel Kanon may have been better served by running each arc as a separate “possible life” for Yuuichi.

Then again, Kanon does have a very nice overall story that builds from arc to arc. Slighted girls aside, the path set for the protagonist feels good. Each of the mysteries he unravels builds him as a character, and it’s good to see all of the windows of his life unlocked by the end of the show. Also, for their part, the girls seem exceptionally understanding of Yuuichi’s need to move on: they understand that he can help his other friends, and have the mature consideration to not monopolize his time. Realistic or not, it creates a nice segue from arc to arc.

The only remaining complaint, then, is the pacing of the story. Kanon has 24 episodes, and there honestly isn’t a lot going on in these episodes. Yuuichi is struggling to remember his past life while helping his friends in the present. This doesn’t actually consume a lot of effort, so everything feels slow. Maybe it’s just the wintry setting that makes me think it’s all iced down and slow. At the same time, unraveling the mysteries in Yuuichi’s head is actually quite fun, and completing each arc feels rewarding – the audience learns along with Yuuichi. Also, this slow pacing really gives the audience the opportunity to get a full sense of the characters – a welcome thing, given how compelling most of them are.

Character Quality: 5.5

Kanon actually has a fairly big cast. There’s Yuuichi, the girls he endeavors to help, and an additional set of secondary characters related to those girls. Much of the cast is introduced gradually, so they’re easy to track, but I can’t adequately discuss all of them here. Instead, I’ll focus on a few: Yuuichi, Ayu, and Sayuri. Most of the cast is up to the quality of these characters, but these three are perhaps the best that the show has to offer.

Yuuichi, as mentioned, is something of a mixed-bag protagonist. His emotions are definitely hard to track, as he is forced to chase after several girls in order to help each of them; He can care deeply about each girl, but can just as easily forget about them as a new goal enters his mind. This definitely makes him less than perfect, but he is quite a convincing character within each arc. He’s usually a jerk to the girls, but they (for some reason that I cannot fathom) generally respond positively to his teasing. Alongside the teasing, though, there is a genuine strength of character in Yuuichi: he goes through a lot of strife to help his friends. I think he hides his emotions behind his teasing: he’s got a big heart, but can’t accept showing it because he fears it will cost him his masculinity.

Ayu Tsukimiya, one of the many girls vying for Yuuichi’s attention, is an emotional firecracker amongst the otherwise more sedated cast (Makoto notwithstanding). This most likely leads to the audience either loving her or hating her. She’s small, energetic, and has the curious catch-phrase quirk that translates terribly into English. She’s silly and clumsy, but she has an endearing charm that is hard to deny. She’s also one of the more mysterious characters, despite her “don’t worry about the details” facade. Overall, she’s a very enjoyable companion throughout the show, bringing a sense of energy and brilliance to the Kanon’s otherwise dreary, snowy town. She comes across as more of a caricature than a character at first, but Ayu quickly develops into a truly enjoyable cast member.

Kanon: Mai Kawasumi and Sayuri Kurata

Curiously enough, my favorite member of the entire cast was one of the secondary characters: Sayuri Kurata. She doesn’t have a lot of time on screen, even during the arc relating to her best friend Mai. Nevertheless, every moment with her on the camera felt great. Sayuri is exceptionally mature, humble, and adorable in the way she worries about her close friends. She’s not without her demons, either, and the story of her past is harrowing. I suppose that I found Sayuri to be so impressive because she has coped with her past without Yuuichi’s rescue – she has the strength of character to persevere all on her own. I loved this quality about her; when joined with all of her talents and affections for those she cares about, I was genuinely surprised that she was only a support character. Sayuri easily has the makings of being a true, compelling love interest, without the savior, “knight in shining armor” cliché.

The rest of the cast falls somewhere along this continuum: some good, some great. Shiori and Mai both have rather compelling stories, while Makoto bounces between comic relief and sadness. Nayuki, Yuuichi’s cousin, is probably the most under-appreciated: she watches as Yuuichi goes from saving one girl to another, while leaving her alone time and again. The sadness of being left behind is easily visible in her character. In all, the girls do a good job of getting along despite the pains they suffer, but they all seem to need Yuuichi’s help to truly overcome their pasts. This dependency is a little odd, but not necessarily out of the ordinary. The other supporting cast, meanwhile, doesn’t leave much of an impression; Sayuri is the definite highlight, while most of the others are just fleeting images.

Visual Quality: 6

Kanon is a very pretty anime, with a style that ranges from an almost-sketched aesthetic to an almost-CG brilliance. Nothing showcases this better than the backgrounds of the show, which have surprising variation given that the show is generally taking place in a winter wonderland. The snowy outsides could become overwhelming with their bleak, continuous whiteness, but by changing the lighting and scenery regularly, the coldness is generally kept at bay. There are also some excellent visual scenes, especially those involving water. Watching a scene play out through a fountain brings a dramatic, shimmering overlay to a scene that would otherwise be relatively bland. By the end of the show, some of the scenery feels too recycled, but it is generally quite strong the first time around – seeing the beautiful architecture a second time isn’t a bad thing.

As for the character designs, Kanon suffers from the identical-face syndrome. I’m honestly never bothered by similar-looking faces, but I’ve known some people that can’t stand it. Either way, the variation in height, build, and hairstyle distinguishes all of the girls quite distinctly. Moreover, all of the girls are pretty, bringing another welcome contrast to the often-white background. Yuuichi is quite plain, but he does technically come from an unseen protagonist – his appearance as an everyman is understandable.

The animation in Kanon is quite subtle. Because there is so little in terms of action or high-adrenaline fear, there’s not a lot of opportunity to showcase elaborate animation scenes. Instead, we have the conversations between characters that come alive with slight tilts of the head, shrugged shoulders, brushes of hair, and various hand gestures. It’s never elaborate, but neither should it be – the style depends heavily on bringing the subtleties of human conversation to life in animation. While Kanon isn’t perfectly fluid throughout, the majority of the scenes – especially the most emotional, and therefore most relevant scenes – have a realism that is hard to find. The interactions of Kanon would feel very flat if they relied on dialogue alone: the incorporation of many subtle actions and reactions from every character makes them feel much more alive on the screen.

Audio Quality: 5.5

The opening track here is one of the slowest, softest intros I’ve ever heard. This isn’t a bad thing, either: the transcendent, lilting performance brings a focus to the mysterious air of recollection. I did admittedly skip it a few times, because it feels pretty long to hear with every episode, but the song itself is wonderful. The closer is more energetic and upbeat, and I found myself actively taking the break from the content of the show to listen to this song.

The insert music in Kanon is actually great. There are a few variations on the main theme, as well as many original pieces that sound great – they really help to bring the environment to life when the characters are relegated to the background. I never really remember these insert tracks, but watching they’re a definite treat to hear and remember when re-watching the series.

As for the voice acting, it’s quite solid throughout. Ayu’s seiyuu probably has the hardest job, as incorporating the verbal tic still seems improbably hard to do without being comedic. She does an admirable job, and also executes the necessary vocal range necessary for capturing the many moods and passions of her character. The other girls are likewise well-voiced; Shiori is probably the other girl to win highest marks, as listening to her conversations felt more genuine than just about everyone else (this may be more because of her character, rather than her seiyuu, but the two synchronized very well).

Note for the English dub: Overall, I think it’s a step down to watch the show in English. The English girls have a hard time capturing the delicacy in the voice of many of the characters: they sound too harsh. The primary exception to this rule, though, is Sayuri: her voice actress does an amazing job. Moreover, Sayuri’s character really benefits from being performed in English because her way of speaking (referring to herself in the third person) is only unusual in English. Many Japanese people refer to themselves by name, rather than a form of “I,” while doing so in English seems either conceited or silly. Sayuri’s character, meanwhile, benefits from this particular translation – her character becomes more distinct and dynamic as a result. If nothing else, viewing Mai’s arc in English may be worth the second-run.

Bottom Line: 5.5

Kanon is a warm anime for its wintry setting, offering lots of laughter and triumph with some mystery and sadness along the way. It doesn’t have much to offer outside of its genre, so action fans will probably be disappointed, but the show is still one of the finest showings within its genre. The characters are generally upbeat and endearing, the art style is often excellent, and the sounds and voices sound authentic. The plot could use a second pass to make the characters (namely Yuuichi) appear more consistent, but ignoring the feeble transitions can leave the audience with several, relatively separate stories about coming to terms with the past.

Kanon doesn’t fight to break the boundaries of its genre. Instead, it provides a compelling series of stories within the genre, with mysteries and challenges to overcome during the journey to recover Yuuichi’s memories and, with any luck, to find love with one of the girls from his past. A somewhat slow, yet enjoyable and emotional journey indeed.

Coming Soon

I’ll be returning to the military genre with Full Metal Panic next. Following that, I’m looking at Toradora!, Allison and Lillia, and probably Shakugan no Shana – check back soon!

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Review: Rec

Rec: Aka Onda

For me, I need to have seen an anime quite recently to give it a proper, objective review. Too much time spent apart from a show often leads me to romanticize those parts that I liked the most, while forgetting those parts that left me underwhelmed. So, to start things off, I’ll open with a very short, yet impressive anime that I finished just days ago: Rec.

Synopsis

Fumihiko Matsumaru works doggedly on advertising projects that, unfortunately, nowhere. When he finally gets a break in his personal life, scoring a date with his co-worker Tanaka, he gets stood up. Wallowing outside of the movie theater, alone, Fumihiko meets another girl – Aka Onda. She offers to accompany Fumihiko for the evening, leading to an unexpected and lasting connection that neither of them anticipated.

Genre

A fairly straight-forward romantic comedy with endearing characters and surprising clout for its short duration.

Age Rating

PG-13. It’s got all the standard themes of a romance, including some adult themes and mildly lecherous behavior on the part of Fumihiko, but nothing ever comes of it on-screen.

Review

Plot Quality: 5

The story of Rec isn’t exactly trying to break ground or anything. Rather, it aims to connect with its audience by going directly to those things to which we can so easily relate. Being stood up on a date? Yeah, we’ve been there. Trouble getting noticed at work? Yep, happens to all of us. The plot is mundane and every-day, but I feel that’s a lot of the charm. Rec tells a story that’s relatable, that could happen anywhere, and that could happen to anyone.

That isn’t to say that the plot of Rec is entirely forgettable, either. There are a few key moments that last far beyond the end of the show. In particular, those first moments of genuine recognition for Aka’s voice are quite touching – again, because it’s such a relatable feeling. That first time you achieve success in your field, such that someone you don’t know recognizes it? That’s a great feeling.

Character Quality: 6

Rec: Fumihiko Mastumaru

This is probably the strongest point of the show. Characters can really make or break a show for me, independent of genre or plot. If the characters aren’t up to par, the entire performance generally falls flat for me. Thankfully, Rec follows up the relatable plot with instantly relatable characters.

Fumihiko is a little more depressed than most at first, but his growth from that starting point is great. He presents himself as a reliable person quite quickly, but he’s also not perfect. He definitely takes criticism personally, and his learning to handle that criticism in a more professional manner is again instantly relatable. He’s an everyman, and one of the truest presentations of that term that I’ve seen in a long time.

Aka is an instant favorite among female protagonists. She’s bright and sunny, without being too overbearing or too passive. She’s a character that’s guided by morals and values without being completely defined by them. Despite being the younger of the two protagonists, Aka clearly seems to be the more mature of the couple in many senses: her growth over the course of the show is almost entirely in her career, rather than in her personality. This is all to the good, though: Aka’s performance starts as an excellent, believable character and remains strong throughout the trials she has to endure.

The supporting cast, meanwhile, does little to impress. Fumihiko’s initial date is shuffled off quite quickly, and the other actors on the scene don’t get much, if any, development time. Given the strict time restrictions of the show, though, I have a hard time complaining here: anything spent on these secondaries would have taken away from Aka and Fumihiko, and that would have been a crime.

Visual Quality: 4

Rec does not boast particularly impressive visuals. Fumihiko, in particular, seems to suffer from a lack of inspiration in his design. He’s designed to be an everyman, but his look is almost too generic – he really looks like he was taken from the crowd of extras that get only a fraction of the animation effort. Aka’s pretty and emotive, which is great, but she seems a little lost among a crowd of less impressive characters.

The backgrounds are likewise simple. They don’t look sketchy or forgotten, but they’re certainly not meant to take any focus. The characters invariably hold center stage in Rec’s artwork department, with Aka in the spotlight.

Audio Quality: 5

The characters of Rec come alive in large part because of their voice actors. It comes as no surprise, then, that the seiyuu for Aka and Fumihiko are both great. Again, Aka’s voice left the strongest impression – meta-voice acting aside, Aka’s struggles and triumphs truly come to life because of her voice actor’s dedication to the role.

The opening theme is mildly catchy and quite cute. There is no ending theme to the episodes. Background music is just that: in the background. I didn’t find myself particularly impressed by the musical score as a result, but it never felt invasive or overdrawn, either. In a sense, it’s another way in which Rec really pares down the focus to its primary couple.

Bottom Line: 5.5

Rec was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that. I generally avoid short anime because I feel that the characters can’t possibly be engaging, or if they are that they’ll disappear far too quickly. I’m glad I made an exception for Rec. Despite its brevity, I genuinely enjoyed my time with Aka and Fumihiko. The pacing from episode to episode was gentle, yet engaging – I didn’t want to stop the show at any point. On the contrary, I feel that our time together passed all too quickly.

That brevity is, in a sense, the weakest point of Rec as well. When the final episode concluded, I couldn’t help but whine to myself: why didn’t it continue on for longer? This hails back to my second reason for avoiding short anime – the time I get to spend in that world is so short, it almost feels interrupted before I can truly experience it. Nevertheless, Rec does very well with the short time it has.

If you’re in the market for a romantic comedy and short on time, Rec is definitely a good choice. It doesn’t shatter any boundaries in the genre, but the uncanny strength of its protagonists and the ease with which the audience can relate to them are certain to charm.

Coming Soon

As this is only the first review, there’s certain to be many more reviews on the way. In the near future, you can expect reviews of Ghost Hunt, Darker Than Black, and Ef – A tale of Memories coming your way!

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