Nisekoi: (Season 2)

Good

Nisekoi: is a continuation of the story from the first season.  While Nisekoi has never been spectacular, it continues to be solid in its frivolous entertainment.  That said, two of its episodes really stand out – the ones that are actually serious.  This installment firmly solidifies the anime’s genre as a romance/comedy instead of a harem, in spite of the added players to the mix.  With such a large gaggle of girls and lots of liking flying about, it can easily look like the relationships are haremesque, although if you actually chart out the relationships, a different picture emerges.

Purpose: Good.  So why do I say that this isn’t a harem anime?  Many people think it is because you have many girls going after the same guy.  However, the absence of infighting is what makes it a “love polyhedron” instead of a harem.  Harem genres are essentially a “king of the hill” type of spectacle, where the entertainment comes from the personalities coming into direct conflict over an object, our main protagonist.  Nisekoi is an entirely different beast, primarily because of the managed lack of knowledge.  Specifically, the anime manages the characters’ knowledge of other characters’ feelings.  Heck, the protagonist is even convinced that no one really likes him.  This managed, forced ignorance will probably be grating on some, but it’s what sets the stage for an ultimate (sort of) love triangle, with some other attachments.

That aside, the anime pulls a lot of its comedy from increasing the sheer outrageousness of situations.  However, the outrageousness ends up being tempered by some genuine sweetness.

Characters: Good.  For the most part, the characters we knew from the first season were left as they were, with no real growth.  In order to counteract stagnation, the material ended up adding some new characters to the mix to spice things up and forcibly add facets to the existing characters.  Of course, this complicated the situation a bit, so if you chart out the relationships, it ends up making a funny design (but is really somewhat simple).

Basically, you have the protagonist after one girl,  the crush, who likes him back but he doesn’t know.  Then, you have two levels of interference – the fake girlfriend and the crazy childhood friend.  The fake girlfriend is set up to be a potential contender, particularly in this season, which acts as a distractor.  The crazy childhood friend is pure interference, and the closest thing to a villain.  Her crazy antics actually end up taking her out of the running (and everyone knows it) by acting as a unifying factor – “it better be anyone but her.”  Amusingly, the childhood friend is the only one that 1) everyone knows likes the protagonist and 2) knows everyone else likes the protagonist.  If you really think about it, she’s both the only harem character in the anime and the only one that treats it like a harem by actively fighting the other girls.  Main duo and crazy aside, you have the outsiders – the sort-of-platonic friend who wishes for more and the crush’s little sister, who reluctantly likes our protagonist.

One last thing, one of the support characters gets his own full episode, which is really spectacular.

World: Decent.  The world, overall, took a hit in this season, becoming less of a factor in anything.  In the previous season, the craziness of the yakuza and the mafia ended up creating some really odd and fun situations.  This season strayed far away from that, instead replacing it with the fake girlfriend’s crazy (awesome?) mother.    Even at that, she played a fleeting role in the story, serving to boost the fake girlfriend’s endearing qualities.  The only other notable part of the world was the whole setup for the episode entitled “Support.”  You’ll just have to watch it.

Plot: Decent.  I mean, there’s not really much going on.  While some things are growing, for the most part, it’s more of the same.  The best description of the plot is something of a holding pattern, a lateral move.   Really, the whole point of this season was to set up the fake girlfriend as a contender for the audience.  This meant that plot points were focused on bringing out the fake girlfriend’s more endearing qualities.  Then again, for this particular use, the slightly shorter nature of this series was a good fit.

Structure aside, the comedy became a little more situational.  Much of it was spent on throwing the built characters into odd situations to see how they react.

Storytelling: Very Good.  The strong point of the storytelling is that is was much more focused – it gave appropriate weight to the more important points.  This season in particular had a more personal feel since you’ve gotten to know the characters some and are familiar with the situation.  In contrast, the first season treated the viewer as an outsider, watching something of an amusing trainwreck.  Putting it in other words, this season allowed the viewer to settle in and focus more on the characters instead of the situation.  The storytelling is strongly positive, but it does contain its weak points.  The weaker points actually involve the addition of the new characters, which ended up diluting what was going on.  In many ways, they were an excuse to bring in old gags that had lost their place in this season.   Another of the weaknesses involved the “turn-based” nature of the storytelling – the characters got a few-episode focus, to the exclusion of all others.  While it’s not wholly a bad thing, it ended up minimizing the presence of other characters when it wasn’t their “turn.”  So while we got 1 on 1 or 2 on 1 interactions, the others were standing by until later.

Pace: Good.  There were some oddities of pacing, namely how they varied the content of the episodes.  Sometimes you got a couple-episode arc or a single episode dealing with one particular subject or one episode split into two little stories.  This prevented an overall consistent feel for the anime.  That said, they were really strong about manipulating the pace when it counted – wild, crazy, and outrageous antics with a lightning pace serving to contrast with a much slower pace to emphasize emotion.

 

Anime Haul and Short Recommendations

Rightstuf has some pretty stellar deals this holiday season!  We’ve been watching the prices on these anime for some time.  Each of the ones we picked up were the lowest price we had ever seen for the series.

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Starting from the top left,

  1. Mobile Suit Gundam (original) Part 1 – eps 1-21.  This is the original gundam series from the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Sure, the animation may be somewhat dated, but this is the mecha-genre hallmark.  Very plot and character-driven, the anime is a war-story that’s so much more.  I’d recommend this to anyone who wants to see pretty much where the Mecha genre got its start.  It also provides a good bit of context on mecha series today, especially since they borrow so much from the Original Gundam.
  2. Penguindrum.  This series is quite an interesting one – a highly unique story told in a highly unique way.  Although newbies will probably find it confusing and veterans may find it slow to start, it really is worth sticking with it.  For each step forward in plot, the anime circles around, shifting perspectives on characters and situations making sympathetic characters positively villainous and vice-versa.  Note: This anime is pretty dark… no, really dark.  Though not super-dark scenes or gore, be prepared for some disturbing concepts. 
  3. Kokoro Connect.  A character-focused story based on body-switching and other supernatural circumstances.  The really strong point of the anime is that the weirdness serves as a vehicle to develop the characters and relationships, forcing them past the superficial and into becoming true friends – communicating and being there for one another.
  4. Hozuki’s Coolheadedness.  A comedy anime about Japanese “hell,” run like a corporation.  Much of the humor in this anime is dark, dry, British-style humor, based on wit and sarcasm.  It also provides interesting perspectives on the afterlife.  Note: this anime, perhaps moreso than others, really depends on the personality of the viewer – your mileage may vary.

Place to Place

Not Really Good

Place to Place is a light comedy anime with a touch of romance.  Unfortunately, the anime’s somewhat at odds with itself.  While certain elements promise a more upbeat, wild kind of comedy, the tone is much more soporific.  With a peak of action set too early, combined with an ending without a conclusion, this anime is wholly unsatisfying.

Purpose: Weak.   There are lots of good things in this anime.  The biggest issue is the clashing of tones.  On the one hand, Place to Place promises a rambunctious brand of comedy.  Actually, that’s where the anime really comes alive.  Many of the best and most memorable moments happen when the characters are being wild and crazy.  (For those of you that have seen the anime… bear and paper bag anyone?)   But they don’t really focus on the wild comedy.  The main problem is that they didn’t focus on anything.  You have bits of the wild comedy, little smatterings of romance, dashes of character-specific comedy, and plenty of unmemorable lines.  All of these were impacted by an extremely drowsy mood that pervaded.  Perhaps that’s all forgivable, except for the fact that the anime peaks too early.  The best points come roughly around episodes 7 through 9.  The last few end up trailing off, abandoning some good developments that happen.

Characters: Decent.  Most of the main characters had their really interesting points, yet were sadly under-utilized.   Individually, each of the characters are pretty weak – it’s only though character combinations that they really have something interesting.  However, it’s only certain character combinations that do a majority of the heavy lifting, as it were.  Much of the character interactions come off as surprisingly bland.   Though the anime is supposed to be about Io and Tsumiki, they are the absolute worst character pair for working off of each other to create good scenes.  Most of their interactions feel like something ran out of gas.  Part of the problem is that both of the characters have really slow delivery, so they end up being slow, together.  This is a serious problem when they’re trying to do comedy, which is most of it.  That said, the slowness between them does end up creating some sweet moments.

WorldDecent.  Being a slice of life world, it suffers from the same “normal world” problem.  This means that the world was little more than a backdrop – there was very little the world had to do with anything.  Yet, there was some degree of oddness, with the “normalcy” of the world occasionally broken by one character’s wild antics/inventions.   Even so, the settings were generally interchangeable – there was nothing really context-specific about the interactions that happened.

Plot: Decent.  What can you say other than it’s generally a slice of life?   There’s really no overarching structure other than a little bit of romance.  Perhaps the weakest part of the plot was that there wasn’t enough material.  About halfway through, they start taking the romance somewhere.  That set the anime up for some sort of climax or conclusion, which it never reaches.   Instead, the plot loses focus and fizzles out.

Storytelling: Poor.  This is the single biggest flaw in the entire anime, dragging down several other elements.  The storytelling is responsible for setting up a wholly inappropriate mood that was often at odds with what was going on.  One of the biggest offenders was the soundtrack, which seemed to be something that would be at home in the video game “Animal Crossing.”  Even their most exciting music had a certain kind of slowness or dullness that weighed it down.  For all other parts, the music heavily weighed down on scenes, making them somewhat drowsy in tone.  Essentially, there was no energy or life to the mood set by the anime.  This problem was made all the more serious by the slow delivery of some characters.

Another large problem was with the comedy.  There was a serious lack of follow-through with the punchlines.  Most often, it would result in fizzling out, when they should have pushed the punchline home.  Even then, punchlines were often so understated that they were a little disappointing.  They only reason we know this is that they actually showed that they could hit the mark just right –  occasionally, they’d hit the timing and the follow-through for some really good moments.  That makes the failures all the more numbing.

Pace: Not Really Good.  Lackadaisical is the best description of the pace.  While the anime felt exceptionally slow, I have the nagging feeling that it isn’t the pace’s fault.  If you think about it really, really hard, the timing and the sequencing of the gags and the events felt just fine.  The amount of content per episode also seemed to be fine, neither too little nor too much.  It’s just that other elements brought it down.