Shimoneta: A Boring World Where the Concept of Dirty Jokes Doesn’t Exist

Poor

Shimoneta is a light comedy that requires little thought.  However, the title gives away the show’s premise – dirty jokes.  The entirety of Shimoneta’s material comes from dirty humor – ranging from silly to lewd.  If that kind of comedy is your thing, you’ll probably enjoy this quite a bit.  If not, you’ll probably find that this anime tries your patience at every opportunity.  That said, it’s probably best to think of this anime as a protest against censorship, although you need to know a ton of background for it to make sense.

Purpose: Decent.  This anime’s really a nonviolent protest of the censorship culture in Japan.  Of course, it tries to accomplish this in a very ham-fisted way.  Some of it is actually clever – they appear to be using and abusing the censorship rules to get away with the absolute maximum they can.  In fact, the cellphone that allows them to get away with dirty jokes is always displaying the “leeway” they have left to do blatantly lewd things – a total of 3 minutes of material per episode.  Of course to get why this is a protest, you need quite a bit of context.

The basis of modern censorship of material in Japan comes from the current interpretation of the Japanese Criminal Code, which prohibits the distribution of “indecent” material.  What’s indecent?  Well, no one is exactly sure, so it’s ended up doing some odd things.  The general consensus is that, at the very least, pornography had to be censored.  This created some very odd rules, requiring pixelation of genitalia for “live-action” porn, and some bizarre forms of censorship in manga and other print materials that showed more or less depending on the editors.   Things changed quite a bit in 2004 when, for the first time in 20 years, someone was prosecuted under the law.  A hentai manga artist managed to avoid jail time by pleading guilty and paying a fine.  Of course, he appealed to Japan’s highest court, arguing that the censorship violated the “freedom of expression” contained in Japan’s constitution.  The court actually tripled his fine.  This caused quite a bit of a panic, resulting in a sharp increase in “self-censorship.”  In other words, manga artists and editors were much, much more cautious about what they published.  Actually, many stores even removed their 18+ sections to be safe.   This kind of thing happened again in 2013, which is right between the publication of the Shimoneta light novel and the manga.  Of course, censorship is a society-wide issue, affecting even their news media.  Lately, there have even been discussions about increasing the power of censorship laws in Japan, making things worse.

One other bit of context that’s somewhat tangential is related to the other focus of “sex education,” a theme rampant in Shimoneta.  Right now, Japan is entering a major population crisis.  Far more people are dying than being born, roughly 250,000 people a year.  In fact, some estimates predict that Japan’s population will have shrunk to 87 million people in 2060, with over half older than 65.  Part of it is their work/home life culture making things difficult.  Well over 50% of Japanese men and women under 30 have never been married.  Additionally, children born outside of marriage are quite a rarity in Japan.  Some critics attribute the lack of desire for families, marriage, and children in Japan’s youth today to the so-called “clean” and “pure” (read: heavily censored) environment they were raised in.

Characters: Poor.  The characters do not exist apart from their role in the anime.  Predictably, their personalities are strictly determined by their response to the concept of lewdness.  You have everything from excessive, to neutral, to “closeted.”  Of course, any character development is restricted to incorporation or acceptance of lewdness.  The viewer’s point of entry is the character that goes from “this is terrible” to “oh, it’s fine, I guess.”  In addition to this, the characters are all defined by “reaction catchphrases” – ways of reacting to things that are entirely predictable.  The character with the most social commentary potential, Anna, had any depth negated and then she was used as a rather blunt instrument.  Instead of delicate and nuanced commentary, she became (clearly intentionally) perverted into something of an obsessive lunatic.  She’s the best example of what happened to all the characters to some degree or another – turned into a ham-fisted attempt at social commentary that was, instead, a mere excuse to get away with, well, lewd material.

World: Weak.  You’d think the world would be much more interesting, given the subject matter.  The author didn’t really bother to expand the world in any meaningful sense.  The most we got was a vague “everything is censored” and some of the related silliness.  Of course, that on its own wasn’t enough to merit a Weak rating.  It’s the fact that the anime started racking up internal inconsistencies that weakened the world that was built early on.  Again, the world’s place was little more than an opportunity to present the dirty jokes.

Plot: Poor.  What plot?  The best description is things happen.  Episode plots are strictly limited to finding some new way to accomplish some sort of dirty joke or behavior.  It’s wrapped up in the guise of  “lewd terrorism” and a vaguely-stated goal of sex education.  Of course, all of those are little more than an excuse.

Storytelling: Poor.  As a comedy, the humor seriously underperformed.  It’s not just the subject matter I’m complaining about – many anime can use lewd material to get a point across or get some laughs.  Heck, the standard fan-service/harem genres rely on that stuff.  It’s the setup and presentation of the humor that ends up seriously undermining what it’s trying to do.  However, even anime that use lewd humor can work if they have variety.  Sadly, Shimoneta lacked that variety.  Much of the humor is character-specific, relying on a particular character acting in a particular way.  The first handful of times, it’s mildly amusing.  However, by the end, it’s the exact same kind of gag.  What really catapults it into the Poor category is the fact that they try to keep entire episodes afloat with a somewhat singular gag.  They try to throw little bits of variety, without any real effect.  Sadly, much of the “filler comedy” involves Anna’s increasingly obsessive antics.

PacePoor.  Timing of the humor was a serious issue.  The main problem here was that they’d often dwell too long on the gags.  Normally, in an anime that’s a pure comedy, you need to keep jumping from punchline to punchline so it doesn’t stagnate.  Shimoneta instead really dragged out its punchlines, turning it into the equivalent of “get it?  get it?”  Predictably, it stagnated to the point that much of the humor was lost.

Zenko’s Corner – Fruits Basket (Manga)

Very Good

Zenko here!  I’m Akko’s other half.  Before I launch into my review of the Fruits Basket manga, please allow me to give a little introduction to my relationship with manga:

I would like to begin by saying that, while I have seen around 200 anime series, I can count on one full hand the number of manga series I have read.  All but one of these did I watch the anime first, hungering for more, then read the manga to go beyond the portion of the tale told in the show.  Fruits Basket is that one exception, though it ended up being a bit of a combination.  By recommendation from two friends, I endeavored to read a manga before seeing the anime.  I started and got a good several chapters in—enjoying it, but not really getting as enthusiastic about it as my friends had clearly done.  Even a scene that had been touted as a favorite by one of these comrades, well…it just didn’t have the zing I had hoped for.  On a whim (and a sick-day), I attempted the first few episodes of the anime, hoping to give myself a little boost.  If you are a die-hard manga fan, you may find me to be something of a wuss for this, but I must admit that it did the trick.  I think part of it for me was being able to listen to the Japanese (of which I can understand some), get the feel of the sounds and emotions, nod in appreciation of the voices that I thought were spot-on, and laugh at the poof! that always accompanies the change from human to zodiac animal.  I got to see the scene that my friend had enjoyed so much and really found that the anime made it into that great moment that I had envisioned (for those who are curious: Hatsuharu’s introductory scene).  Ah, then I began to see the differences between the show and the manga, seeing where they added filler, extended scenes, shortened storylines, and spliced a backstory into an earlier episode, while it doesn’t show up until much, much later in the manga.  Perfect.  Now I had placed the manga on a higher pedestal and could read without itching for animation first.  I then proceeded to finish the entire manga within days.  Here are my thoughts, a la Akko Anime rating style….

PurposeVery Good.  It could be quite easy to be fooled by the silliness and rather cute antics involved in the first portion: people of the Souma clan poofing into their zodiac animal form when being hugged (even barely) by someone of the opposite sex.  How cute!  How funny!  Oh, but there is so much more to be revealed.  The tone gradually becomes darker, more sinister, downright tragic, yet utterly sweet to the end.  It flip-flops between high school slice-of-life and intense family drama.  Some of these shifts and switches are a little jarring or awkward, but overall it creates a well-rounded story that takes place over about three years.  What begins as a tale of living with boys that turn into animals if you get too close, eventually becomes a character-based story that branches out as many times as it needs to in order to follow each of the characters as they grow, mature, and learn about themselves: accepting their flaws, recognizing their own weaknesses, and finding what difficult steps forward they can take, whether it be boldness or forgiveness.  There are truly some excellent moments in here, and quite a lot of ground covered, even though it does get just a little too spread out at times.

CharactersVery Good.  As with many stories, not all characters have to have the level of depth (not to mention face-time) as we all want our heroes to have.  Certainly this was the case here.  Even members of the zodiac do not all receive the same amount of attention and backstory, which allows the reader to focus on the most important players in the tale.  The initial introductions are to all fairly recognizable character types (plus animal versions for some), and this gives some quick-access as the story opens and plays around in its initial stages of the hunky-dory sort.  The next layer begins to give the characters depth, but some of these start to lean towards the cheap-depth route of “tragic backstory.”  Where it goes from there, however, shows the true depth of the characters as one learns how the tragedy formed them then, affects them now, and what they do to combat it and take a hold of their own lives once more.  These decisions are what make these characters interesting, endearing…or even horrifying.

The perfectly angelic heroine does not rush to the monster’s side without hesitation…no, she is absolutely terrified and throws up!  She must gather her courage and shift her thinking, seeing past the fearsome and grotesque to see the being she loves behind it.  That is character depth.  That is a hard-made decision to admire.  What about the villain?  Cruel, sadistic, mentally and physically abusive—this character manipulates others and pits them against each other, jealously beats even children, throws tantrums and screams and permanently maims without hesitation.  And yet…change one single fact about this individual and what happens?  Grudgingly, a touch of sympathy begins to creep in.  How could this happen?  This is a deep character.  This is a villain worth learning about.

WorldVery Good.  There is not much to say about the “normal” portion of the world (except for perhaps its surprisingly high rate of tragic events), but the fantastical element of the world was wonderfully deep, meaningful, and pleasantly simple.  It does not take long to explain that the 12 animals of the zodiac (plus a cat) possess members of the Souma clan and entwine their fates.  Perfect.  One is ready to read the entire story knowing hardly more than that.  Yet there is a subtle shift in understanding how this all works and what it all means as little things are revealed, and the spiritual side of the world takes on a fascinatingly emotional role, while remaining refreshingly simple.  There is nothing of the complicated twists and turns and convoluted connections and reasons for how things have turned out and how our heroes can thwart bad stuff.  (Don’t get me wrong—I love convoluted!)  But this story doesn’t need that.  This is a simple tale of broken hearts being healed.  The world reflects this simplicity and gravity all at the same time, balancing it well.

PlotGood.  The plot of this manga took quite a different turn from what I had first anticipated.  In essence, it becomes less about poofing into an animal, and more about what it means to be possessed.  Well, on the practical side, that is.  On the emotional side, as I mentioned before, it is about healing broken hearts, which is a complicated trail to follow for each of these characters.  The plot jumps back and forth quite a bit as the reader follows the various paths that the characters take, and it does sometimes veer off into some plot point intersections that seemed a bit of a stretch to me, but overall it does its job handsomely.  I think that the growth of the characters as they mature through these three years is something rather convincingly done.  I could see their progression and how their changing decisions shaped the story as it moved forward, and I think this was the strongest point to the plot.

StorytellingExcellent.  This is something that the author really grew in as the series went on.

Let us begin with words.  From fighting words to sweet ones, internal thoughts to long narratives, the way she put these out on the page and drew you along through her almost zig-zag style, it really involves the reader deeply in the story, more than mere blocks of text could do.  As I followed them over the pages, I felt as if I was taken by the hand, being led into the hearts of the characters, being drawn deeper and deeper into understanding.  There are hints, teasers, little bits of back-and-forth as a character thinks back to another time or begins to walk into the next scene as the words spoken previously still echo in the ears.  I felt so many times as if I could truly hear these words and the emotion behind them (even when the translations I was reading got a little sloppy…boy it helps to be familiar with Japanese and understanding what sorts of phrases and sentence structure are behind the sometimes too-literally translated and awkward-sounding lines that show up).

Next…backstories and flashbacks.  Probably the strongest element here was that the author involved the reader so deeply into the tale of years before that one begins to forget the tragic ending it must have in order to bring us to the events of today.  The emotion is able to hit hard because of it, and a deeper understanding of our main characters comes naturally from this experience.  It is so much stronger this way than blatantly telling the audience that something happened and it was sad.

Finally…drawings.  Now, I must say that the overall drawings of Fruits Basket are not the strongest and often look a little awkward.  That’s ok.  What I found to be a wonderful use of storytelling through them, though, was the style change for different circumstances.  If you have read some of my previous posts (or influences on Akko’s posts) on here, you may know that I love animation change.  This is the same as the style change used here: the switch to chibi or great detail, depending on and dictating the mood of a scene.  Again, this got stronger as the series went on.  Little dialogues and interactions could be drawn in almost stick-figure style, and yet be incredibly expressive—especially when Kyou’s cat ears and tail show up.  Three little panels says so much with this technique, and so much emotion can be conveyed.  I love it.  Gets me every time.

Even better?  The other direction: beautifully-drawn detail.  In a world where our characters cannot hug without poofing into their zodiac spirit animal, there will still come times when a hug is emotionally required in order to say all the things that cannot fully be expressed in words.  But what will happen a mere second later?  Poof!  If that warm embrace is so needed, what will the characters cherish and remember?  What will be the lasting impression of that interaction?  That one second of a hug.  In the moments most important, the drawing style is kicked up several notches.  Hands that are usually simple and awkward at best, suddenly become shapely, strong, and natural as it clutches close the sweet head of one most dear.  Quick pencil lines that form the essence of hair now curve and flow as the strands spill beautifully between the fingers on that hand.  It is a truly memorable image for the reader, just as it is a truly memorable moment for the characters.  Every detail of that brief interaction is important to them, and so the author gives the reader every detail to be just as emotional and memorable.  (Personally, I almost felt guilty studying the details for as long as I did since the characters only got to have a mere second of it to enjoy.  Aw.)

PaceGood.  There were times that this manga felt slow as the trails split off to follow different characters and it took a bit to warm up to these new plots.  The conclusion also took a while to really resolve (but of course I was also scared of it ending and having to face the fact that it was over), and yet this is not to say that the various scenes and elements of the conclusion were too much.  The sense of time that it gave was well done as it spanned the three years, and getting to know new characters may feel a little slow after having been in the swing of things with the main cast for a while, but there was a lot of necessary building that took place here, so I think overall that the pace did a good job.

Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches

Very Good

Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches was extremely surprising in several ways.  Despite appearances, it is not a harem anime and is not a fan-service anime.  Instead, it’s a fairly straightforward…. well, somewhat convoluted romance in a magical world anime.  It does a good job of capturing your attention and keeping it throughout.  Though it’s not the slickest anime out there, it has a tremendous amount of heart.

Purpose: Very Good.  The most interesting thing here is that the anime revolves around special powers… and kissing.  Knowing only that, you’d completely expect a fan-service anime.  If I then say there’s some body-switching in there, most people would have raised eyebrows by this point. There are a couple short scenes of fan-service, but those are out of the way early on.  Even at that, the fan-service was both reasonable and understandable – it’s not there for fan-service’s sake, it was there because the story called for it.  Aside from that, the anime does involve kissing as a central theme.  Ultimately, however, it doesn’t end up being about any of these things.  Perhaps the strongest point of the purpose was the fact that they were able to de-emphasize those elements to the point that they were both reasonable and matter-of-course, given the circumstances.  Instead, the anime focuses on the growing relationship of the main two characters in these strange and weird situations.

Characters: Very Good.  This anime did a really good job of knowing which characters to develop and which ones not to. What it ended up doing was differentiating between the main group of characters and characters that don’t ultimately play around in the main group.  It sets up a much more real dynamic of friends and people you share some interest or event in common with.  For the main cast, the characters become something quite other than what you’d expect.  Throughout, there was a good deal of genuineness to the characters, something that is quite uncommon.  One of the strongest parts of the characters was how they dealt with problems.  Surprisingly, they would actually talk about their problems and share their concerns with their friends.  This ended up cutting off a tremendous amount of “filler angst” that you find in most anime, resulting from some misunderstanding.  Even when there’s a delay in talking about something, it isn’t really ever belabored and strung out – it’s done out of consideration for the other’s feelings at the moment.  Yet another of the surprising things about the characters was that they did a good job of both humanizing all the characters and making everyone sympathetic, to a certain extent.  There aren’t really villains – everyone has their problems.

World: Good.  The world mostly borrows themes that are pretty standard to the high school romance/ drama genres.  Though most of the anime takes place at the school, occasionally, you’ll step outside to another setting.  However, each setting has a purpose, either to develop a character or provide unique circumstances to affect character relationships.  That aside, the magical element isn’t overpowering – it’s pretty minor, as things go.  It’s never fully explained, but it doesn’t exactly need to be, since the magical aspect of the world is another part of the setting – interesting situations for them to do interesting things in.  As the anime goes on, it becomes clearer both what the magical powers are and how they affect people’s relationships.

Plot: Good.  Again, fairly standard for the genre.  You’ve got a relatively straightforward romance, and odd events running interference.  The main plot is supported by the plotline that involves figuring out the magic powers.  Actually, when the plotlines intersect near the end, it ends up making something quite powerful.  One of the more unique aspects of the plot is that it hints at another part of the story, not told, that precedes the events that happen here that ultimately play an interesting part in the resolution.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  When you can manage to make an anime about kissing and bodyswitching work without being a harem or fanservice… it takes a special kind of storytelling.  However, the storytelling is very skillful because it takes what seems like really limited gimmick and varies it so it’s never boring.  Instead, it varies it to provide some excellent situations for the characters, and shows them in a very genuine way.  Of course, that’s surprising, given the anime’s about kissing and bodyswitching.  Even so, they skillfully managed to make the kissing aspect mundane and, sometimes, even necessary without being rude or bad.  That’s really surprising since there’s kissing that isn’t solely limited to boy x girl.  And yet, it’s not fan-servicey and not done poorly.  Perhaps it’s because they make it mundane that it isn’t awkward, romantic… or, well, anything.  It just is.   However, the fun thing is that they’re able to turn it into something special by the end.

Now for the bodyswitching.  Again, exceptional.  This was only something that could have been pulled off by the exceptionally talented, veteran Japanese voice cast.  It really is something that you have to see to appreciate what they’ve done.  Since they’re bodyswitching, the voice actor has to act like another character, matching inflection and tone.  And they do.  They do it so well, if you actually think back to some memorable lines, you will only think of it in the original character’s voice or forget that it was a different character delivering the lines.  The tone, the inflection, the delivery is all just… right.  This keeps a strong continuity of character so that you can always tell who a character is.

Pace: Very Good.  The anime constantly builds tension as it goes, resulting in a really strong ending.  The comedy is spaced really nicely to offset the character drama that’s going on.  In addition, introductions of new characters, and their development, is handled in quite a solid way so it’s neither overwhelming nor too slow.

Kamisama Kiss (Season 1 & 2)

Very Good

This ended up being a surprisingly good random pick.  Kamisama Kiss is another anime that’s somewhat difficult to place.  It’s probably best described as a blended romance and comedy anime rather than a romantic comedy.  This anime is generally low-key and pretty unassuming, but permeated with a thoroughly sarcastic tone.  Although you’d expect the anime to be pretty frivolous, it ends up going some pretty serious places.

Purpose: Very Good.  There’s a pretty big subject matter difference between the first and second season.  Generally, the first season is more slice of life-y, since it’s about learning how to be a god.  It tends to be a little more episodic, but it was held together by the budding romance.  The second season changes direction and takes the anime into much more serious waters.  It’s much more about the characters and character relationships at that point.  Really, that’s where it hits its stride,  solidly weaving drama and comedy into the romance elements.  That said, on a broader note, the anime can be divided along season lines into two general categories.

Characters: Very Good.  One of the notable things about the characters was the inclusion of a rare tsundere male.  He wasn’t exactly the most distinctive male tsundere, but the personality was done quite well.  What made his role much stronger was the inclusion of two other foils, who really ended up highlighting different aspects of his character.  For that matter, character development was handled in interesting ways, marking a very distinct difference between the humans and non-humans.  The most interesting dynamic that they created was the difference between characters that are several hundred years old, yet still young, and “normal” humans. Eventually, they managed to round out the main and supporting cast enough that each had a solid amount of depth, resulting in some level of respect for the characters.

World: Very Good.  Much of the world development comes in the second season of Kamisama Kiss.  It solidly builds off of existing Japanese mythology, but adds a more personal twist to the pantheon.  Though you see it occasionally, this anime definitely “humanizes” the gods (kami.)  Eventually, you get a much clearer picture of how things work in the world because it takes on a more consistent feel.  It’s a good thing, too, because the world is what supports the much stronger drama that happens in the second half.  That said, there’s still a lot of things that are only touched on and left unanswered.

Plot: Good.  The plot wasn’t too special, overall.  The first part had a fairly trivial feel that comes from slice of life type shows.  Plots were pretty straightforward and didn’t really span more than an episode.  That said, there was always the main romance plotline running through things, which kept things moving.  The main romance itself makes a huge leap once it gets to the second season, where you delve into the characters’ pasts.  In addition, there are several more interesting dramatic plotlines that appear.  The latter drama is where most of the plot’s power comes from, since it’s able to build upon both the main romance and some really interesting things aside.

Storytelling: Very Good.  There was a really good use of animation change to suit particular scenes.  Basically, they’d change the animation style to emphasize certain aspects of the characters.  Mainly, it was used to make the scary yokai seem more approachable and endearing.  Although it really came into its own when the characters’ personalities started bouncing off each other.  It does take a good while for that to happen, though.  Animation aside, the handling of the characters’ “turns” was handled in quite a solid manner.  The viewer got to see things from different characters’ perspectives, but it never felt like “oh, it’s your turn now.”  Of the storytelling, two things really stand out.  One was the “dream-world” of the main character’s past.  It was pretty exceptional in how it was handled – clearer memories were in focus, while things that weren’t as clear were more cartoonish or, well, different.  The other was the handling of the characters’ backstories.  The theme was “the person before you knew them.”  They actually did a really good job of making the characters similar enough, but different so that they seemed unknown to the viewer as well.  It definitely had the feel of the character’s life before the other characters, and even the viewer, knew them.

Pace: Good.  The slowest part is actually the first half.  Basically, it starts off at a complete standstill, slowly building momentum.  It takes some time for all the characters to be assembled, and some more time for the anime to hit its stride, especially with respect to the character antics. Once it gets going, it ends up being a really solid pace.

Blood Blockade Battlefront

Masterpiece

Blood Blockade Battlefront is a fascinating anime from the creator of the classic series Trigun.  If you’re up for it, it’s a wild ride from beginning to end.  The anime’s is a crazy blend of slice of life, action, comedy, drama, and tragedy that ends up making it truly special.  Not only that, this anime combines several different art styles to great effect.  One caution though – Blood Blockade Battlefront has an extremely fast pace and covers lots of material.  If you aren’t paying attention, close attention even, you’re bound to get left behind very, very fast.  Pay close attention – the devil’s in the details.

Purpose: Masterpiece.  What’s brilliant about the purpose is that it is both exceptionally simple and exceptionally complex at the same time.  The basic theme is what’s simple – it’s a slice of life in a crazy world.  However, the approach to accomplishing that theme is where the power of the purpose becomes clear.  I’ve never seen an anime seamlessly blend this many genres in a way that actually worked.  The most astonishing thing is that they never go below three genres in an episode.  What this ends up doing is creating a really fascinating tone for the anime that feels like the ups and downs of everyday life in this crazy place.  A single episode can convey everything from laughs to tears without it ever feeling unnatural or forced.  That’s what makes the purpose so special – transitions between the ups and downs are so smooth and organic, they can’t help but feel like everyday life.

Characters: Very Good.  Character development is done almost entirely through showing you what they’re like instead of chatting about them.  You get to learn about the various contours of the characters’ personalities by watching them act and react to different situations.  Because of this, you feel like you get a pretty good handle on who the characters are pretty early, even though you’re never really close to them.  Amusingly, your perspective is pretty much exactly aligned with the main character’s – that of a “normal” outsider.  The characters are all eccentric, even crazy, although it’s not over the top… well maybe they are over the top, sometimes.  However, they don’t feel out of place given the setting.  That’s not to say the the characters can’t be serious – much of the anime is really serious.  This shows the breadth and depth of the characters – they can act appropriately with respect to anything thrown their way.

What’s really fascinating about the characters here is that there’s a surprising absence of angst or self-doubt, especially when things get tough.  Characters make difficult decisions on how to proceed and live with the consequences of those actions.  While they may be sad or sorry at the result, they still stand by their choice, no matter how hard is is.   A final note – for the characters most explored, there’s not a happy backstory among them.

World: Masterpiece.  On the most basic level, the setting is fantasy Manhattan.  The most amazing thing is that it’s perfectly easy to swallow – all the crazy and weird things seem in character.  What’s even more amazing is that they seemed to preserve the feel of New York perfectly, seamlessly and organically incorporating the supernatural and the other into it.  The atmosphere created was that of an extremely fast-paced place where everything is happening at once.  Dangerous things, fun things, boring things, all of it.  That makes the setting come alive and take on its own character both in the unique happenings and the feel of it.

The magical elements aren’t particularly explained, but they don’t need to be.  The reason they don’t need to be is the viewer’s perspective – the outsider.  We see all these crazy and unimaginable things going on and they’re something to gawk at.  Even the “good guy” group (and all the other groups out there) are doing really fascinating, incomprehensible things.  The world is always at arm’s length and that preserves the aura of mystery and intrigue.  But that’s just it, these things feel like you could understand them if given long enough in the particular setting.  Actually, now that I think about it, the world in Blood Blockade Battlefront is the feeling you have when you visit a new city – the excitement, the wonder, the apprehension, the fear of the unknown, the potential.

Plot: Excellent.  Blood Blockade Battlefront could easily have been a 24 episode anime for how much happens in it.  What was presented was the minimum essential plot points to tell a coherent story.  That sounds like it’s a bad thing, but the execution was spectacular.  Instead of getting bogged down in unnecessary plot points, it’s like leaping from highlight to highlight, but still following a distinct story path.  For the most part, the anime is fairly episodic, so the plots are generally limited to the episode.  That’s the thing, though, everything builds on each other so that, at the end, you see how far you’ve come.  Looking back, everything served its place as a very even, well-thought out step to the ultimate conclusion.  With all that said, as the anime goes on, plot points start to span several episodes.  By the end, one plotline takes up the entirety of the story, built on what came before.

Storytelling: Masterpiece. The skill by which they managed to tie everything together is truly spectacular.  It’s the storytelling that made it possible to leap from plot point to plot point without being jarring.  But it’s more than that.  They managed to have the appropriate setup in all cases – sad scenes were sad, funny scenes were funny, and everything in between.  But not many anime can have these different kinds of scenes next to each other, let alone with a lightning fast pace.  It’s a testament to the skill in the storytelling that they could make those transitions at all, let alone with the appropriate impact.   Sometimes, it’s where they transition from happy to sad, sometimes silly to serious – it was truly seamless.   Not only did the scenes have powerful impact when needed, they also built a strong affection for the characters and goings-on.  In may ways, you become attached to the main cast and even the city itself.  And that’s how the storytelling truly shines – it feels like you’re being told a small part, one person’s part, in a much larger story.  But you don’t really feel left out or that something is missing, merely that there are many, many other stories to tell here.  And that’s just it.  Blood Blockade Battlefront is a wild ride, with ups and downs that it feels like it’s a slice of everyday life in a crazy place.

Pace: Masterpiece.  Don’t blink or you’re going to miss something.  It’s so jam-packed with things happening that the pace can only be described as lightning fast.  However, it’s never really too much… unless you aren’t paying close attention.  However, the managing of the pace is really interesting.  They dwell just long enough where they need to, but not a moment longer.  Actually, the pace is the best example of Jo-Ha-Kyu, the Japanese storytelling pacing style.  Each episode follows it quite well, dividing into “acts” that have a prelude, climax, and quick resolution.  The pace is built so well, that they then alter the pace to play with the mood, which is how they can manage to turn the story on a dime.  As you head into the end, the pace slows quite a bit, hitting home the seriousness and importance of the events.

Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa

Very Good

This is an odd anime to be sure.  It’s a romantic comedy with light harem elements thrown in.  Honestly, I was surprised that I found Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa this good.  I was expecting a far, far weaker anime.  The thing about this anime is that it’s both predictable and unpredictable – in some ways it goes as expected, but in other ways, it is really different for its genre.  The strong point is that it’s the twists on the standard genres that ends up making the usual plot points better.  There’s a surprising amount of sweetness in the anime, balanced with comedy.

Purpose: Excellent.  Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa is a fascinating study in how to blend romantic comedy with light harem elements.  Normal harem anime tend to revolve around the infighting – clashes of really strong personalities.  This anime, however, casually and smoothly transitions between one on one relationships and love triangles.  It’s not really about fighting, although that does come up once or twice.  Instead, it highlights several different kinds of relationships between the main character and the other characters.  This is one part of what makes this anime surprisingly strong.  The other part is how they reversed the focus of the anime; they changed it from the girls to the male lead.  This is another surprisingly successful use of the “nice (plain) guy.”   The male lead was placed in bizarre and often painful (usually comedic) situations because of his niceness, but he was the main actor.  This is different from the norm where the male lead is merely a bystander to bizarre and outrageous fighting, basically trying to herd cats (pardon the pun.)

Characters: Very Good.  Another surprise was the characters.  I had expected the characters to be defined by a one-off gag, usually involving something monster-related.  However, they’re fairly solid and distinctive characters on their own, supplemented by an “inhuman” trait.  Make no mistake, a lot of humor is based on those various traits, but it’s more the combination of the characters working with and reacting to those traits.  Basically, it provides them situations to react.  But to say that almost denies the delicacy through which those traits are used.  They are never over-done or overwhelm who the character is. In sum, they are a part of the character, but by no means are the entire character.

The other interesting thing about characters are their relationships.  Since they’re generally interactions of two to three characters, it ends up creating very interesting relationships.  Much of the anime is spent highlighting the different kinds, and the evolution of the relationships between three characters – a basic love triangle, but with occasional interference and support of other characters.  That’s a bit of an over-simplification, but it conveys the general idea.

World: Good.  Nothing much to remark upon except for the fact that they do a relatively good job of making a world where you can have all these kinds of oddities without seeming out of place.  Aside from that, the anime uses fairly standard settings and locations for the genre.  They were able to actually use the plain nature of the world as an advantage.  Going through the anime is more like seeing the other side of the mirror – these kinds of crazy things happen, but in an everyday low-key way, outside of human view.  As we go on, our eyes are slowly opened to the commonplace weirdness.

Plot: Good.  Another surprise, the plot mostly wasn’t about the main character keeping a secret.  It followed a much more traditional high-school romance in a magical world plotline.  Thus, the variety of plot points involved different situations that would change the feelings of the characters with respect to each other.  Though it takes a bit to get there, eventually the plot settles into a solid love triangle, with a potential for more.  Really, the point of the plot in this situation is to maintain tension between the characters, never pulling too hard nor letting a character get too far away.

Storytelling: Very Good.  The storytelling was novel for what it didn’t tell you.  The viewer’s knowledge of events was limited to the knowledge of the main character, for the most part.  Sometimes, they did let you know what the girls were thinking to enhance the situation.  One of the stronger points of the storytelling was the managing of the character-specific gags and relationship developments.  They never lingered too long on one particular character, turning to another before it becomes stale.  For that matter, even the most perverted character was not exactly a recurring theme; most anime that involve those characters tend to overuse them almost as filler gags.  Instead, we got a really nice balance of both character relationship drama and comedy, done without a “character rotation” scheme.

For the character dramas, there actually were some really well done scenes.  They managed to convey a solid emotional impact, either sweet or tense as required.  Interspersed in there, they placed comedy as a way to refresh.  Another notable aspect of the storytelling was that they were able to use comedy to interrupt more serious scenes without destroying the mood, which is rare.

PaceGood.  There weren’t any particular problems with the pace.  One of the more interesting things they did was use the pace to convey the passage of time.  In other words, it was clear that we were only really seeing the highlights of relationships that spanned a longer period of time.  That aside, they did a relatively good job of spacing out the introductions of the girls, although it really takes about 6 or so episodes for the full cast to be assembled.

Monster Musume

Very Good

Monster Musume is an anime that gets all of its traction from the fact that it’s a twist on the standard fan-service/harem genre – it’s basically a giant “what if” scenario.  The foundation of the anime’s plot and story is textbook harem.  However, the strength lies in how convincingly the addition of the outrageous monster girls ends up contorting otherwise stale elements, turning them into something much greater.  If you’re a fan of the harem genre and have a good tolerance for fanservice, this is an anime you shouldn’t miss.  If you’re not a fan of the harem genre, you could probably still find some purchase in the outrageous comedy.  If you’ve read the manga, I’d say it’s a pretty solid adaptation.

Purpose: Excellent.  The best way to describe this anime is “shameless,” or, rather, “unashamed.”  There’s a huge variety of situations in this anime that range from lewd to sweet.  Unlike other, especially fan-service, anime they actually work in the fan service so that it isn’t out of place for the setting.  The concept of the monster girls was handled in a much stronger way than you might expect.  There’s a ton of practicality involved concerning the girls and what ends up being fanservice.  While the fan service is unabashed, there’s usually an underlying reason for it, rooted in the blended nature of human/creature.

Going a little deeper into the anime, one of the thematic undercurrents is about acceptance of the other, the inhuman, the foreign.  Time and time again, they emphasize that these girls are people.  Yes it seems somewhat ironic to say that and then use them for flagrant fan service.  However, it’s generally seen through the eyes of the main character, who, in spite of these crazy (and nearly lethal) antics, appreciates each of the girls for her uniqueness.

Characters: Excellent.  The base character personalities are standard for a harem anime.  At first, there is nothing really unique about them.  That said, the base personalities are done strongly enough to make them distinctive within the harem genre.  Building off the base personality, monster traits are added to the girls.  It’s the combination of the two that makes the girls really special.    Part of what’s strong about the monster traits is that the anime conveys a sense of realism behind those traits.  For example, the larger monster girls have a sense of presence, weight, and power behind their movements.  When you combine the basic harem premise of possessive fighting with girls that have these dangerous traits, it really changes the relational dynamic between characters.  Suddenly, the possessiveness takes on a very dangerous feel and the atmosphere is really different.  However, the anime doesn’t just stop there.  As the anime nears its end, the characters actually start having depth and they become more interesting.  True to the harem genre, as more girls are added, the relational dynamics shift and characters actions and reactions change to match.  The most noticeable will probably be Mia, who takes on a much sweeter feel later, instead of being more annoyingly clingy early.

What really ends up making the characters excellent is this blend of human and monster.  Examining the characters a little more in-depth, they’re made up of a really interesting conflict between their human sides and their animal/monster sides.  While the monster may make them do things in a more forward fashion, it makes the human side embarrassed.  This is actually the most convincing dichotomy I’ve seen in the harem genre – not as forced as you usually see.  For that matter, the nice guy male lead actually works here.  In part, it works because the monster girls are horribly violent, but at the same time, he’s helping bring out the more human elements of the monster girls.

World: Good.  Again, the base world is textbook harem, and pretty plain.  While there is some background given, it’s little more than a pretext for the setting.  That aside, it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the creation of these monster species.   As a species, they have distinct traits, likes, dislikes, etc.  The attention to detail even extends to how even monster races treat each other.

Plot: Decent.  Frankly, there’s more holes than plot.  That said, the plot is prevented from being Bad because of how the plot holes are shamelessly used.  Rather, a character was specifically created to be a plot hole and force advances in the plot when convenient.  She is Smith.  Yet, Smith ends up being an entertaining character in her own right, essentially explaining sudden “plot” as ineptitude or laziness on her part.  Honestly, she does an adequate job of preventing the anime from becoming too stale.  One other note, some semblance of character plot actually starts to coalesce near the end – that’s when the anime begins to transform into something (slightly) more than a shameless ecchi comedy.

Storytelling: Good.  In sum: basic harem antics spiced up by crazy and dangerous monsters.  The introductions of the girls are handled in a really great fashion.  They introduce them without overwhelming you with the details – they slowly reveal character/creature specific traits at relevant points.  Of course, the harem in-fighting comedy and personality clash takes on a unique tone because they are careful to keep the fact that these are monster girls in mind.  Later towards the end, you do start to get some really strong personality clashes and even some sweet moments.

Pace: Good.  Nothing really remarkable.  They spaced out the introductions of the girls well so that it isn’t always a new girl per episode.  It ends up making a good punctuated effect of meeting the girls, while maintaining the humdrum of everyday life.

Wakakozake (shorts)

Good

Shorts are an entirely different beast to write about because of their brief nature.  Normally, shorts are comedy-based, with one solid punchline per episode.  However, Wakakozake is a very different kind of short anime.  At 2 minutes per episode, it’s not exactly a time consuming anime to watch.  It’s very low-key and really easy to follow – nothing complex going on.

These shorts are surprisingly relaxing.  Instead of comedy, Wakakozake is almost quiet contemplation.  Plainly speaking, it’s about eating.  Rather, each short is about eating a different kind of food as a reward after work.  Sometimes, it contemplates pairings of foods – what goes well together.  Other times, it contemplates the emotion of eating those comfort foods. The animation style roughly follows this, choosing to animate the foods in extreme detail.

Actually, it made me kind of miss those shops in Japan.