Lovely Complex

Good

Lovely Complex is a high-school romantic comedy that’s rowdy and sweet and rough around the edges.  It chronicles the story of two (explosive) friends as they struggle to become something more.  The anime’s story ends up being somewhat different than the standard romance or romantic comedy in its constant ups and downs.  Regardless, Lovely Complex is a fun watch and a solid entry in its genre.

Purpose: Good.  

Right off the bat, Lovely Complex establishes that it’s a different sort of romantic comedy.  The main pair start off as friend-rivals-sparring partners.  They get along by seemingly not getting along; they really like fighting with each other.  This mood sets the anime apart from the “I can’t stand you, but somehow we end up lovey-dovey” or the “weird, awkward people that get together and hilarity ensues” anime.  That’s what makes this story’s journey different – it’s more about friends overcoming the “friend” barrier to become something more.  The tone and theme remains consistent throughout, keeping true to the atmosphere of the anime and its characters.

The perspective of the anime is limited to the female lead, meaning the anime is pretty solidly from her perspective.  At the end, there are hints of the potential for the anime to be Excellent when it broadens its scope to difficulties faced by the other couples and even to the decisions and inner-workings of the male lead.

Characters: Good

Another notable aspect of the anime is the fact that it has an extremely rare character type – a male Tsundere.  While quite uncommon in themselves, this particular character, the male lead, does not have the sadistic tinge that often accompanies the male characters of this type.

The main pair and supporting characters show consistent and distinctive personalities through their relations with each other.  Many of the characters have additional complexities that keep them interesting both in how they react to situations and each other.  Of course, the focus of the anime is on development of the main pair’s relationship.  In addition to starting the relationship in a different place, the characters go through a lot of ups and downs in how they relate to and with each other.  Specifically, it’s about the struggle of how they learn to define their relationship.  Interestingly, this takes place over the course of 3 years, which is uncommon for anime of this type.  The main characters end up growing and learning from this ordeal, though it takes a while to get there.

All that aside, Lovely Complex is still a romantic comedy at heart.  There are plenty of crazy characters and goings on.

World: Good

There are a couple notable aspects about the setting.  First, it’s clearly set in the Kansai region, particularly demonstrated in the dialect spoken by the characters.  It’s an oddity to have the entire cast speaking Kansai-ben (the regional dialect).  The other notable aspect is that the world seems set up against the main couple.  There are certain expectations or norms that require the main characters to overcome.  Namely, the expectation of what a romantic relationship is in addition to what the players of those roles look like.

One other thing to comment is that the world is fairly limited to the eyes of the main heroine.  This limits the viewer’s ability to comprehend the full picture of the main relationship and the relationships of everyone around the main characters.

Plot: Good

In some ways, it’s predictable.   In other ways, it’s not.  You know how it’s supposed to go since it’s a fairly standard romance anime.  However, the course it takes – the little course corrections that affect the story – end up making it different from many others in the genre.  While many anime will use the meet-like-challenge-conclusion formula, Lovely Complex spends more time bouncing back and forth between liking and challenges.  This results in a bit of a bumpy ride, with lots of ups and downs.  Plot-wise it’s never really backtracking so much as zig-zagging forward, partly because the challenges are more unusual.

Storytelling: Good

True to the overall feel of the anime, the storytelling is a little rough around the edges, unpolished, but still very genuine.  One of the stronger parts of the storytelling is that it manages the viewer’s perception of the relationship to be in-tune with the progress of the relationship.  Basically, it creates the feeling of “these guys are good friends” first so that picturing them as a couple feels a bit odd.  Eventually when they do become a couple, it seems quite natural.  This helped to drive home the main heroine’s fear of losing the relationship they had as friends as she sought something more.

One of the weaknesses of Lovely Complex becomes most evident in the middle.  There, it feels like the author got stuck with the slow zig-zagging and didn’t know how to get out.  So, we take a slightly jarring detour that ultimately forces things along.  That aside, the fact that it got stuck a bit ended up emphasizing and strengthening the sweetness of the payoff.

Pace: Good

This anime feels like a long-haul since it spans all 3 years of Japanese High School, which is certainly a rarity.  Lovely Complex gets a little bogged down in certain areas, but never really stagnates.  Overall, watching the the anime, it never really feels too slow.  It just helps emphasize the long journey.

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Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978)

Excellent

Captain Harlock is one of the legendary classic anime, created by Leiji Matsumoto.  Airing in the year 1978, it’s an anime that shows its age in terms of composition, tone, and animation.  Even so, the fundamentals of the show are stronger than you’d find in a great many modern anime.  Essentially, it’s a heroic epic that showcases the strength of the human spirit, as exemplified by Captain Harlock.  In spite of its age, the anime still stands at the top of the genre.  They don’t make heroes like they used to.

Purpose: Excellent

The anime falls into the space opera genre, which encompasses grand sweeping galactic struggles as well as commentary about humanity in general.  Of course, it’s an old anime so many may find the animation or pacing difficult to follow.  Overall, Captain Harlock is about a heroic individual, which is a hard to find subject in modern anime.  Contrary to the modern “every-man” heroes, tragic heroes, and over-powered muscle-heads, classic heroes are more about people to look up to.   It’s about a character that’s human, but moreso because of his actions, honor, or otherwise noble demeanor.  Sure, there’s action and tragedy and a startlingly high body-count, but those serve as a means of highlighting the main character’s good points.  If you can manage to survive the generally inconsistent, dated animation, and manage to suspend disbelief, you’ll find Captain Harlock a story about an individual who you probably wouldn’t mind following to the ends of the universe.

Characters: Excellent

This is the kind of anime where a 7 year old (sort of) side character ends up having more character depth than many modern anime heroes.  You eventually learn about the backstories of many of the crew members, including a cat, that end up being a mixture of stories about overcoming tragedy through strength of spirit.  What makes the characters particularly interesting is that, in addition to having their own stories and motives, they serve to highlight the strengths of Captain Harlock.  They have a really strong rapport that makes the crew all feel like a family.  On the opposite side, the Mazone (the alien race Harlock is fighting against) are also developed into fairly complex characters in their own right.

World: Very Good

Perhaps the most interesting part of the world is the “factions” – Earth proper, Harlock, and the Mazone.  Each have a very different set of ideals and morals.  Even so, none of the groups are monolithic, which is such a rarity in most fictional mediums.  In other words, there are differences of opinion and values even within each group.  That aside, lots of things about the workings of the world aren’t really explained.  For example, you’re never really sure what the difference is between a space mile and a normal mile,  or why certain things behave the way they do.  They just do.  But it’s a testament to the story that it doesn’t particularly matter why the Arcadia is an invincible battleship, for example, it’s enough that it is.  Essentially, the world serves its role to enhance the story without really bogging it down in a flurry of basically nonessential fluff.  The world does require some suspension of disbelief, so if you’re the type that likes to have some explanation of the inner workings of technology in anime, then you may find this anime a little difficult.

Plot: Very Good

We have a generally slow-burning overall plot that takes place over the course of the entire series.  In spite of this, it’s fairly episodic in nature and doesn’t generally ride in “plot arcs.”  Fortunately, this means that when the anime gets a little distracted, it’s limited to a single episode or a small part of an episode.  That’s not to say that the distractions are useless, since they often show the mettle of a characters  or end up building or maintaining relationships.  What this means is that the plot points are further apart than you’d find in more modern anime.  It’s more about broader course corrections in the overall theme than managing a tight approach to a resolution.  In that sense, maybe it’s more like navigating though the vastness of space.

Storytelling: Very Good

Some stronger points are able to mitigate some weaker ones here.  The storytelling is really sharp and powerful on its peaks – highlighting courage, heroism, and tragedy.  It’s somewhat weaker in connecting our plot points in a tight, stair-steppy way.  There’s quite a bit of gaps in the explanations of things or the why of things.  I imagine that would be frustrating to some viewers.  Of course, the storytelling style is varied as well.  Sometimes, it’s small, but not subtle, sometimes it has a broad focus, but short duration.  Overall, you get the sense that it’s a grand story, an epic even.  It’s not exactly a warm story, but there’s a lot of warmth to it.  Similarly, it’s not depressing in its tragedy, because the focus isn’t on the tragedy, but perseverance.  In general, the storytelling is about the feel and mood of the anime, and in that regard it succeeds.  What’s really interesting is that, since the storytelling is perhaps more focused on the mood, some of the failings end up falling by the wayside.

Pace: Very Good

The pace is clearly something out of another era.  The overall pace probably will feel slow.  On a per-episode level, however, it will probably feel too fast.   It’s a little at odds with itself, but fine overall once you get used to it.

One final note: This review of the classic Harlock contrasts with the most modern iteration, found in the movie Space Pirate Captain Harlock.  I forget where I heard it, but the difference between the two is that the original is an unconquerable space captain, while the modern one is a brooding space pirate.

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