Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou (anime & manga comparison)

Zenko-Anime-smallZenko here!  (For those who don’t know, I’m Akko’s other half.)  Besides helping Akko out with the anime reviews, I’m starting to write reviews of my own, focusing primarily on comparisons of anime and manga versions of a story.  My writing style is vastly different from Akko’s, so if you usually visit his blog for his succinct and analytical critiques, be warned that you will not find it here.


As often seems to be the case recently for me, I had seen the anime a few years ago, watched it again recently, then took up the manga and read through all 85 chapters of what Crunchyroll Manga has to offer of “Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou.”  Like its English title of “The Kawai Complex Guide To Manors And Hostel Behavior,” the Japanese title bears a pun, at the same time meaning “we’re all from/of Kawai Manor” and “we’re all pitiful.”

Misfit Freaks and Awful People

What happens when a masochist, a drunk, a man-eater, a bookworm, and a freak-magnet live together under the same roof?  Well, apparently a lot of insane antics and a few sweet ones.  Today’s comparison covers the odd story of a boarding house’s weird, lewd, trouble-making tenants and the house’s pleasant yet mischievous manager.  Our newcomer protagonist finds himself once again the freak-magnet as he becomes essentially the bullied youngest sibling in a family of bad personalities.  His only bright spot in the house is his cute, book-loving sempai—who’s also taciturn, cold, and absent minded.  His earnest pursuit of her is fraught with crushing failures, many of which are deliberately caused by bitter (or bored) members of the household who take delight in ruining the innocence of youthful romance.  And yet…well, I’d love to say, “and yet, they are still a family,” but quite frankly, it’s slow to come to the surface.  It’s in there, hidden somewhere among the bondage rope, saké bottles, makeup, and piles of books.  Somewhere there are giant bubbles, water fights, a few rescues, and when you’ve had a bad day, your favorite meal is waiting for you at dinner.

Kawaisou-Chaos
“Chaos Living Room”

Art Style and Character Portrayal

In initial comparisons, the anime fairly accurately portrays the chapters it covers in the manga, so there isn’t really anything concrete that it differs in.  Ah, but it does differ—in feel.  Here is one where I will actually talk about the difference in character design and drawing style.  While many anime adjust the drawing style to be a little better proportioned and slicker, this is an interesting example of their simplifying the character designs.  Personally, I thought this choice robbed the characters and their facial expressions of a certain charm.  The girls had a particular beauty and cuteness to them in the manga (when they aren’t being horrible to each other) that the anime completely skipped out on.  The basics were there, but not the eye-catching moments of delicate appeal and graceful lines.  This is particularly marked in Mayumi, the drunk OL (office lady) who has horrible luck with men.  In the anime when she gets dressed up, she looks like she’s trying too hard.  In the manga, she really is beautifully charming, and it emphasizes her innocent longing deep down for a man that won’t be a jerk and fraud.

Manga-vs-Anime-Kawaisou-Ritsu-Mayumi
Ritsu and Mayumi, manga vs. anime. Which style do you prefer?

The facial expressions, too, were quite striking in the manga.  I would sometimes stop reading just to look at them and enjoy the great portrayal of a particular emotion or a complex mix of ones.  The original manga artist really has a talent for faces, and it really added to my enjoyment of reading the manga.  It added a certain extra element that made the characters more intriguing than I found them to be in the anime, which did not take advantage of these facial expressions.  Consequently, the anime’s more straight-forward approach to the characters’ portrayals left them as somewhat flat—awful people with a few endearing moments.  Having watched the anime twice before reading the manga, I still did not grow attached to the characters—rather, they were somewhat entertaining to watch, but still with the distance of “I wouldn’t actually like to know these people.”  The manga, however, gave glimpses of deeper character that really does slowly unfold as the manga progresses past the point in the story where the anime leaves off.  While most of them are still a freaks that the average person would stay clear of, the manga does portray them in a way that there is something about those freaks that makes one want to know more.

The Adults of Kawaisou

Something essential to the story that goes across both the anime and manga is the fact that, with the exception of the house manager Sumiko, the adults of the house are terrible or useless people in some way or another, while the two high school students are relatively normal, decent people.  Sumiko and Shiro (the masochist) are the only ones perhaps to provide any real sort of advice or wisdom (though Shiro’s is often then hard accept gratefully as he usually can’t help but finish it with something reminding you abruptly of his more off-putting tendencies).  Other than this, there are no good adult role-models.  The adults in this tale are children.  I will say, though, that the anime finishes up before the story starts to go into this aspect with an interesting look at the hopes, dreams, accomplishments, and unwanted pasts of the three child-adult tenants.

As you may have noticed, Sumiko is an exception to the child-adults.  The manager of Kawaisou is my hero.  I want to be her when I reach her age!  (In fact, in look alone I wouldn’t be too far off….)   Though a woman of advancing middle-age, she is youthful in soul, fun, sweet, mischievous, but with the best heart for everyone in the house.  At the same time, though, she knows how to keep them in line.  Sayaka, the man-eater college student who’s apparently horrifying without her makeup, bears a respectful fear of Sumiko and will not cross the line when Sumiko warns her.  Sumiko is the one who prepares your favorite dinner when you’ve had a bad day, she’s the one who will listen to your confusions and frustrations, and she’s the one who will appreciate you more than anyone.  If anyone makes this pack of freaks feel like a family, it is Sumiko.  (Though, I will add that Shiro the masochist does create many fun activities for the whole group that does bring them together and brings them joy.)

Sumiko-Kawai.gif
Sumiko, my hero

In Conclusion

So, what do I recommend?  Quite frankly, if you liked the anime at all, I recommend the manga—and do start from the beginning!  The impression it gives is a little different, and this grows as intriguing moments and subtle hints to the inner-workings of characters develop and begin to reveal depth.  By chapter 85, it has gone some interesting places as characters learn more about themselves and each other as they clash and even grow closer.

And if you started with the manga?  Don’t even bother with the anime.  I honestly cannot think of anything that the anime does better or in a positively different way.  By comparison, it is a dull representation of the story.  Stick with the manga, and let’s look forward to what will continue to unfold in this odd tale of misfit freaks and awful people who clamor and fight their way through life together as housemates.

Kawaisou-Renaissance
Kawaisou Renaissance: a windy incident with the laundry turned hilarious. This was splendid in both versions.
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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.