Okay, visual novels; Japanese counterpart of tale-tell games, packed with big eyes, otaku subcultures and typical Japanese fetishes. But wait, don’t close this tab yet. Take a look at this new bundle offer from HumbleBundle and Project Sekai. Take a look at the offering on “beat the average” tier. See the one in the middle?
Every time a sad story popped up with elements like sick girl, hospital, and death, it is inevitable that I would pay homage to Narcissu franchise. I have mentioned Narcissu in my seasonal anime review for two of the most memorable tear-jerkers in recent time: namely Plastic Memories and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso. I expect to continue doing so should such a show ever pop up again.
Simply put, I consider Narcissu as a franchise the absolute best of modern tear-jerkers.
It is vastly different from Clannad, Angel Beats! or the any of those critically acclaimed works from Key Visual Art’s in that it has little to no comedic moments. It sets the stage very clearly from the start, Plastic Memories did, that the purest and most beloved character in the story will perish. All joyful memories will turn bittersweet, not at the long last ending, but at the moment they are experienced.
These stories are dreadful, they are melancholic and depressing. But the message they carry is powerful: overcome losses and live everyday like it is the last.
In the case of Narcissu, it carries an even more powerful dilemma. The question to abandon or not to abandon loved ones in sickness; especially when they sincerely wish not to burden the living; is a question without a good answer.
But that is enough spoilers for now. The original Narcissu 1st & 2nd are available for free and it only takes a few hours (and a few boxes of tissues) to read. I believe the franchise will make the case for itself. I guarantee; after a few hours of beautiful soundtrack, gorgeous pastel graphic and deep storytelling; any sensible human being with a heart will realize the price tag of $12 for the entire Narcissu’s digital package is a disgusting steal.
Included in the game is a copy of Narcissu 1st, as well as a brand new VERY short bonus episode.
It’s very short, but hopefully is interesting for Narcissu fans.
I fell in love with this franchise when it was off Steam in 2011. I asked my Secret Santa in mangafox back in 2012 for a Setsumi signature + avatar set (which is the featured image, the header, of this post). I shipped the drama CD and the OST disk from Japan when it had only 11 tracks. I campaigned to greenlight this visual novel on Steam way back in 2013.
Am I a fan of Narcissu? Hell yes am I!
This bundle is an instant sold for me just for Narcissu Season Pass.
Beyond that, the rest of the offers are…cat girls, bunny girls, dog girls, magical girls, loli with the body of a mother, idols, beach episodes, micro skirts, maid etc. It is not missing any typical Japanese fetishes here except, maybe, shrine maidens and tentacles.
Yep, I won’t even touch those with a ten-feet pole. Just one Setsumi-chan and one Professor Croquette please!
After the last fantastic Spring season, the selection this Summer is rather underwhelming. I heard there are some really good series that unfortunately didn’t make it to my watchlist. So, in order to set the scope of this review, I’ll write a bit about my picks this Summer at the end. But first, I’ll go through the highlight:
Akagami no Shiraiyuki-hime (Snow White with the Red hair)
Coming from the high-profile Studio Bones, this series boasts fantastic visual. The hand-drawn backgrounds are glorious. They are brimming with the kind of fairy tale world the story setting, as the title “Snow White” suggested, took place in. There are still distinguishable CGs at some points and there’s a marked abuse of light effects. However, these not-really-flaws happened very briefly; I wouldn’t have noticed them had I not been looking around, taking snapshots.
I’m surprised to learn it’s based on a shoujo manga. Well, there are indeed quite a number of popular shoujo cliche in use. I mean, “a cool, handsome, young knight in shining armor who just happens to be a prince, who also just coincidentally falls head over heels with our Shiraiyuki at first sight” reeks of typical shoujo vibe. I’m not fond of shoujo characteristics, along with any emphasis of the eyes, the hair, and everything else’s details. Too much of those take away the focus from the personalities and character developments.
Fortunately, Akagami no Shiraiyuki-hime‘s author has succeeded in subverting the unnecessary details, taking the cliche in moderation and building a character-centric story that has little in common with the original Snow White fairy tale. The outcome is a familiar character build that resembles those from shounen genre and the alluring romance, along with the quality doki-doki moment, from shoujo.
Let’s be honest, Romance isn’t suited for boys.
From my personal experiences, many Shounen x Romance stories I have seen consist of 20% romance–usually reserved for much, much later–and 80% of other things; fanservice, moeblob, comedy, action, you name it. Even the top picks such as Plastic Memories (bad comedy, clumsy-girl moeblob charade) and Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (musical theme being the “other thing”) also suffered from not having enough relationship building time.
Akagami no Shiraiyuki-hime has none of the ugh! fanservice, just a little comedy to lighten up and not ruin the mood, and action scenes that bolster the affection gauge every time instead of merely showing off the main character’s arsenal.
In exchange, everything about it is very mild, to the point it’s borderline Slice of Life even though it’s a bit too eventful–really, they have a self-contained skill challenge every episode–for that genre. It’s the typical jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none. I personally enjoy the peacefulness but some viewers might appreciate a little more impact, like Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso‘s kind of impact for instance.
Well, no more tragedy drama for me.
Gakkou Gurashi! (School-Live!)
Once again, I have a special mention this seasonal review. I intended to cover only one top pick and briefly summarize the rest. However, I truly believe Gakkou Gurashi! deserves a special mention. I like the anime and I have spent days pondering whether to highlight Gakkou Gurashi! or not.
In the end, I chose not to. There is nothing wrong with the story. It’s just that after all the feels in the previous seasons, I simply don’t have anything left in me for the taking.
The anime itself is a masterpiece. It deploys the most unlikely combination. On the surface, it’s a cute-girls-doing-cute-things, slice of life, healing anime featuring candies, spice and everything nice. Once it has successfully hooked the unsuspecting preys, it flips around, revealing its break-the-cutie, disturbing, heart-wrenching nature boasting vultures, thorns and everything ugly. It’s excel at healing the broken heart with some fuwa fuwa shots before utterly and mercilessly scarring the viewers’ soul.
In a sense, this anime is comparable to the genre-breaking Puella Magi Madoka Magica. But the two series are not alike. Instead of Magical girl genre, Gakkou Gurashi! uses Slice of Life. Instead of a spiral into eternal despair, Gakkou Gurashi! uses deliberate desperation to emphasize the glimmer of hope and optimism. The two journeys were equally painful to watch but there was daylight at the end of Gakkou Gurashi!‘s dark tunnel instead of the twisted mirage Gen Urobutcher presented in Puella Magi Madoka Magica.
I’m not a fan of Horror so this seriesis on the edge of my comfort zone. Still, it was a good watch, full of Aesops (arguably). I myself prefer sweet, or even tasteless, medicine to bitter ones so I’m sure if I were to recommend the Gakkou Gurashi! pill, it would be because the sadist in me wanted more people to go through what I had gone through and not because of the healing after-effect.
Sad, but true story.
Extra: Seasonal Selection
As promise, these are the anime on my watchlist this season. The crossed out series were no longer considered for highlight for various reasons.
Akagami no Shiraiyuki-hime
Gakkou Gurashi! Charlotte Chaos Dragon
Overlord Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri God Eater Ranpo Kitan: Game of Lapalce
The hype this season was Charlotte. With Jun Maeda (Key Visual Arts) and P.A Works taking the helm again, the show was basically begging to be compared to their previous hit: Angel Beats! It’s safe to say that they have failed to meet the expectations.
And then, we have Chaos Dragon from our beloved Gen “Urobutcher”. The entire thing is confusing as heck, the plot progression had many flaws; I don’t even know where to start. Most of the cast ended up dead, typical of the Butcher, but quantity is not equal to quality. Most of them had only one or two episodes of screen time to start off with, I felt nothing when they died. The saving grace of Chaos Dragon is its cool OST and the fact that it has, in my opinion, the best confession line this entire season:
Followed by 10 seconds of awe, inspiring and heart-warming. I wish the scene lasted a bit longer but I know I can’t possibly expect more love from Gen Urobuchi.
Overlord has all the potential but it was cut short. There’s something about this series that intrigues me greatly and I can’t explain what it is. Perhaps it was the action? The OST? I honestly don’t know for sure. There’s just one thing I can say about Overlord is that I’m looking forward to the second season. There must be a second season, it can’t just end like this!
GATE and God Eater are incomplete series, I will refrain from judging without seeing the end. From early observations though, GATE has a strong start but seems to be going nowhere while God Eater is the polar opposite. I had high hope for God Eater since ufotable had outdone themselves with Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works last season. However, my hope was misplaced.
Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace is creepily gory, incredibly unpleasant and excessively self-serving. It advertised itself in Detective-Mystery genre but the answers were always pulled out of the main character’s ***. No foreshadow or clue whatsoever, try as you might be, you will never solve the mystery yourselves. This series was dropped like hot potato.
It’s hard to pick between the top two contenders (Spoilers! Header photos) of Spring 2015 season. When the season was first announced, eyes were on the ufotable’s remade of the all-time hyper Fate/Stay Night series. Many titles had been well-established in this season so fans knew exactly what to expect from these franchises from the beginning; there wasn’t any room for errors here. Needless to say, most of them, except for one (namely that Haruhi spin-off), lived up to their expectations.
Let’s start with the pleasant surprise this season. Plastic Memories is an original show from an unknown studio. I have to say, the premise hinted a Slice of life rom-com with sci-fi setting. “Enough of KimiUso drama and Medieval Europe already, let’s have something fluffy, light-hearted and futuristic”, I thought and thus came the naïve dive into the first wild-card of the genres; the one with decent-looking art.
While Plastic Memories doesn’t have the most visually stunning animation or awe inspiring plot-twist as a hit series would have; it merely tells a beautiful message by means of a simple story—a story of joy, of compassion, of love, and of grief. And the studio did a great job in doing what they set out to do. The show gave the viewers a promise of a grim premise and it boldly dwelled into it without hesitation. Some say the drama was forced and they didn’t feel like the giftia analogue was sympathetic at all. In all fairness, it was packed in one 13-episode season; I think it did alright since even the 22-episode-double-season KimiUso was considered forced.
As for the giftia, I would say that was a smart downplay to the overused Soap Opera Disease trope. It would be Narcissu side 2nd if it was to play the trope straight. Speaking of which, both Narci2 and Plastic Memories featured fantastic soundtrack. I often find myself humming after the OP these days. The pieces were melancholy, the opening and closing sequences were symbolic and foreshadowing and, all in all, they complimented the story well.
The downside of this anime lies in its slice-of-life jokes. The comedy wasn’t bad, to be honest, but some parts of it were badly-timed and disrupting. Not to mention, sometimes the camera span reminded me of the many unserious shows before. Yes, I’m talking about that boring and repetitive recipe: an out-of-place joke then a character screams and the camera pans to the sky. It was abused right off the bat and it was in these moments that I questioned the tone of the series.
In all, I enjoy this ride. Even though I could see the end coming from miles away, when the end did come, I could still feel the impact. Plastic Memories is not an emotional roller coaster KimiUso was. Plastic Memories has only one slope and it was a frigging eighty-five-degree nose dive straight to earth.
As a fan of light-hearted Romance and bittersweet Drama, I don’t mind getting my heart broken again. However, having been intimately touched two seasons in a row, I now think I can use something less emotionally devastating next time.
Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works
The all-time-hyper Fate/Stay Night franchise made a comeback this season with the ufotable remade of the original story in Unlimited Blade Works path.
For the uninitiated, Fate/Stay Night is a visual novel created by Type Moon. The novel consistently tops many “best VN of all time” listing and in most cases, it’s one of the few novels that was not produced by Key Visual Arts that made it to the top five (the other being Steins;Gate). It already had an anime adaptation by DEEN Studio in the past and an anime original prequel namely Fate/Zero written by Gen “Urobutcher” and animated by ufotable.
Comparing DEEN Studio’s animation quality to ufotable’s is like comparing Zimbabwe dollar to US dollar. The exchange rate is 35 quadrillions to one with DEEN’s being the worthless one. Naturally, as the remade this time has all the good and none of the bad; a top ranking novel and a top-tier studio; fans were all hyper-hyper about it.
I have no complaint about the visual, the musical, the sound, the everything aspect of this show. Living up to its nick “Unlimited Budget Works”, every episode is a full-blown visual treat. As the snapshots above showed, ufotable’s graphic is simply stunning. The actions scenes are especially well-done and the animation is silk-smooth. They even have the original content that actually makes more senses than that from the novel.
Except for the dolphin euphemism, that still disappointed me…
There is no weak point in UBW, neither there is any strong point. Personally, since I have watched and have enjoyed Fate/Zero, I would say the story this time wasn’t as memorable.
The whole past Holy Grail war history was vague and it would be hard for first-timers to the franchise to understand what was going on. What kind of man was this Kiritsugu guy? Who is this golden-haired, overpowered bastard named Archer appearing out of nowhere, out of no logic to kick everyone’s ass? What is the relationship between this Illyasviel loli and Shirou? A lot of these questions can only be answered by watching Fate/Zero and/or reading the novel itself.
In this manner, I believe ufotable had made up their mind on the watching order of the franchise: the prequel, which was released second, then the main story, which was released first. It means a full 48-episode two seasons series for starters. At least, I can assure the visual aspect of animation would blow anyone away. It’s just that good.
In the end, I do realize the show was supposed to be like a Hollywood action movie: people watch it for the action and much less for the story. I’m still a drama-sucker, though, and Saber’s photo got HTTP error when I first uploaded it while Isla’s photo got through so Plastic Memories won the highlight this round.
Winter 2015 anime season arrived on a low note. Expectations weren’t that great in the beginning; a few series exceeded my expectations in the end while others were the downright disappointing. No so-so, half-baked, instant-noodle-tier production here, luckily. In total, I followed four airing anime and caught up on two series. Most of them were enjoyable, one of them had hiccups and the other one gave me that “the hell did I just watch?” moment.
Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso (Your Lie in April)
Taking the bacon home this season is the classic drama slice-of-life tearjerker Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso from A-1 Pictures. The studio has flawless track record and excellent production quality and they are also responsible for one of the four most (arguably) tear-inducing anime of our time: Anohana
The soundtrack and art are sparkling in this anime. KimiUso features hand-picked classical piano arrangements that compliment well with the dramatic scenes. The original tracks are, in general, cheerful with hints of reminiscence and sadness. The tracks, especially the opening and ending, gave me goose bumps. I had seen enough of Narcissu and Anohana to guess what the producers were pulling behind the life-is-joy-till-stuffs-hit-the-fan-and-the-kitten-dies songs.
The story centered around Arima Kousei—our protagonist, a by-the-score piano prodigy who fell from grace after the death of his mother—and Miyazono Kaori—an aspiring freestyle violinist who confessed her love to Arima’s best friend. Virtually all characters in the series are related to Arima one way or another and they all played their part in his growth as a character.
It’s exactly the kind of writing I would like to see: nothing is without purpose. Every action taken is for good reasons and whenever the reasons are explained, cue for a bittersweet, heartwarming conclusion.
Watching KimiUso feels the same as riding an emotional roller coaster. The ride is full of twists and turns. One could barely catch a break before the next wave of drama makes landfall. I don’t recall seeing an episode without any waterworks going on, that’s probably my only complaint on this anime. Although I wouldn’t say the tears had lost their meaning or the impact had been diminished, they just seemed ridiculous and overused in hindsight.
Overall, the story is romantic, heartwarming and full of life. Yet, it’s also bitter, agonizing and full of regrets. Accompanied by top-notch animation and fantastic music, it’s no coincidence that the series is so well-received. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso to anyone though I doubt I would personally jump on the feel train again.
My heart is not ready for another ride.
Junketsu no Maria (Maria the Virgin Witch)
I’ll have a special mention this time. Junketsu no Maria is the hidden gem this season. It’s underrated and it deserves better. The series is produced by Production I.G. Personally, I’m not a fan of Production I.G. or their art style but they know at least how not to mess up badly.
The art quality is decent, not so great but definitely better than the average. Music is good, again even though it should be above average, it lacks the “bang, right on the spot” element. Except for the insert song in episode 11, which was awesome, I’m not impressed by the rest of the soundtrack. Put that in with static camera, zero effort to blend background and foreground, you get the reason why I pretty much skipped all the OP and ED and facepalmed countless of times watching this anime.
On the other hand, the cast is likeable, historical details are accurately portrayed. Well, except that Ezekiel was supposed to be a man but hey, it’s Japan, girl power! I can see that the producers did their research thoroughly, the bit of Latin in the titles is intriguing and the flash cards in the review are adorable.
Most importantly, the story is full of thought-provoking philosophies and, to an extent, surprising. “To an extent” because I saw the Disney-like ending coming. However, the rest was one fast ball after another, I could not see them coming at all. And, they dwell into (almost) taboo topics, without fear, without reservation. I will give the writers kudos for their daringness. Truly a unique and refreshing story.
Since I won’t be able to discuss in details without spoiling the anime, I will only say: “Expect twisted humors, expect grim dark, expect mind screws and expect to be blown away by the story!”
Aldnoah Zero 2nd season & Kantai Collection
These two anime I followed out of obligation this season.
Aldnoah Zero has hiccups. I don’t buy its story, or its character. Being a product of A-1 Pictures, it has great CGI action and cool battle music. However, the characters are bland, they are overpowered for no reason and they act without consistency. It feels like watching Inaho metagaming and deus ex machining every episode. Tough fight? Well, my sharingan has another hidden ability just for that!
Slaine used to be reasonable and sympathetic in season 1, now he’s just a Magne—err maniac. All other characters didn’t get much attention and they didn’t contribute to anything. Not to mention, the ending was lacking. Realistic alright, but hardly satisfying. Still, it has great entertainment values for a mecha action show. Ignoring the story and watching Aldnoah Zero for its sole battles is still worth the wait.
Kantai Collection, on the other hand, falls into “the hell did I just watch?” category. I’m going to throw that in with Mahoraba anime and Karen anime, both of which were ruthlessly mutilated by J.C. Staff, lock them up for good in a safe and bury that safe in my backyard. In any cases, Kantai Collection anime has problems everywhere. Barring the music, which is good, the art, the animation and the characters and the plot are all horrible.
Wait, do they even have a plot there? I don’t think so. It’s a jumble of everything; Comedy, Slice of Life, Drama, Action, Historical, etc. and etc.; and it flopped all genres without fail. The characters are mechanical, over-reference to the game, then to WWII history, then to fandom and then to something else, leaving no space for original lines at all! It tried to be a roller coaster like KimiUso, but this ride has no build-up, I feel like the best drama KanColle has is small bump on the road compared to the whooping hundred-meter slope down zero-gravity lane KimiUso has.
In fact, I will convince myself that KanColle anime didn’t exist in the first place. I would recommend people watch Aoki Hagane no Arpeggio: Ars Nova (Arpeggio of Blue Steel) instead. At least the enemies in Arpeggio are not idle cardboard cutouts.