Gate – Short Review

Excellent

This was an anime I’ve wanted to see for some time.  I was expecting a rather campy show that followed in the line of “modern man goes to fantasy world” that we see fairly often.  Instead, it’s a very solid “what if” scenario that is well grounded in the vein of Log Horizon.  Essentially, it’s a more realistic depiction of a clash of worlds that includes light politics alongside particularly “cool” combat sequences.  Part of what makes it stand out is how well they develop the cast – everyone’s a professional and actually good at their jobs.  There’s a maturity to all of the dealings that is really refreshing – characters don’t fly off the handle “just because.”

The world is managed in a really strong fashion.  For example, in sequences that required interpreting between languages, it was handled in Japanese but they’d give cues that the language was different, like using really over-emphasized simple Japanese or to occasionally have the translator chime in. Moreover, the conflict is a conflict of people – someone may be doing villanous acts, but ultimately not a “villain,” as most stories will select someone and give them no redeeming qualities.

Another really fascinating thing the anime did was reinforce that our main character is an important part of the goings-on, but by no means the only actor on the field.  There’s a lot more at play, even when it affects our main character.  Sometimes, it will even leave our main group to follow someone else who is playing an important role in the issue.

All told, a really fun watch that has a strong balance of serious, silly, and cool.

Purpose: Very Good
Characters: Very Good
World: Excellent
Plot: Very Good
Storytelling: Excellent
Pace: Very Good

 

Ga-Rei-Zero

Excellent
This anime was a revisit – I decided to bump it to Excellent. Ga-Rei-Zero is primarily a drama with some action portions.  This anime is notable for its tragic nature and its distinctly backwards storytelling.

Purpose: Excellent. It’s evident throughout that they had a very clear idea of where they were going and how they were getting there.  It would be hard to find any distractions or deviations from what they were doing.  In other words, it doesn’t have “fluff.”  Portions that seem to take on a slightly frivolous nature are either building the characters or developing the situation and circumstance.  To the viewer, the purpose won’t become clear until a ways in, but it never feels like the anime is “lost.”  They know where they’re going.

Characters:  Very Good.  Solid overall with the main characters being particularly strong.  Characters had personality quirks, but they were handled in a more realistic manner – it isn’t just some ragtag team of weirdos.  They did a good job of taking the time to round out characters and show explanations, motives, and grow bonds.  The fact that the characters had personalities meant that their responses to the events happening were varied and unique – there were personal struggles as well as action sequences.  The highlight of the anime was the drama involving the main characters, which is good, since that was what the story was about.

World: Very Good.  The world had a strong amount of depth to it.  However, they only explained what we needed when we needed to know it.  There were plenty of things that weren’t explained, but it didn’t really feel as though we absolutely needed to know it to understand what was going on.  Part of the strength of the world was that the characters didn’t know everything, either about the world or what’s going on.  It added to the characters’ human feel that they had limited information – they may have had some more information that we, the viewer, did, but it wasn’t like the whole cast was keeping secrets.  The information, or lack thereof, strongly shaped the events of the plot.

Plot: Very Good.  A tragedy.  The plot generally was structured in an interesting way.  It was focused solely on the main characters – tracking how the characters got to a certain point.  It started the viewer at a really important plot point, then built up the viewer’s knowledge of the situation.  Each plot point was walking the viewer closer to understanding why certain events happened.  Thus, the plot took an almost explanatory feel – showing us what we needed to know for the main event to make sense.

Storytelling: Excellent.  This was very, very interesting.  By putting one of the main events early, it really acted as a solid hook.  Then, by providing the explanation of why we got where we were, it took on a uniquely interesting tone.  Since we know basically where we are ending up, all of the earlier events have this tone of suspicion.  We are wondering, “if we started here, how in the world did that happen?”  Since much of the anime is backstory, it really ends up setting the stage for a powerful kind of tragedy.  The decisions the characters made were not insane, nor were they necessarily unreasonable reactions to the situations.  The anime does such a good job of the storytelling that everyone’s actions seem understandable, given the situation, even if wrong.  Perhaps that’s what makes it more tragic.

Another fascinating decision they made was to delay the introduction of the opening and ending theme and visuals.  You only get to see them once it’s clear what the anime is about.   This actually prevented some spoilers, but also directed more attention to what’s happening.  Once we catch up to “present day,” they do an excellent job of seamlessly filling in the gaps – what we missed.  It uses certain events as “landmarks” that give us an idea of the timing of everything.  Really, this was the best way to tell the story they did.  Had they used some other chronology, it would have taken far too long to see what was happening – the pace would have greatly suffered.

Pace: Very Good. The anime’s pace was well suited to its subject matter.  It starts off and ends in a pretty fast pace to suit the action and excitement going on.  When it goes into backstory, the pace changes to a slower pace, to give it an everyday feel.  What this did was give a really great contrast between everyday life and the action.  Even during the slower periods, it wasn’t slow – you definitely had the feel that you were learning things about the characters and the world during that time.

Genshiken (Season 1, OVAs, Season 2)

Very Good

Normally, I’m pretty hesitant about anime involving Otaku because they tend to over-utilize the “shock value” with baser humor and subject matter.  However, Genshiken is a pretty entertaining comedy about Otakudom.  Perhaps it resonated with me because I have realized only recently that I am a pretty big generalist Otaku (into video gaming, anime, painting miniatures, building Gundams, and cosplay).  Only recently realized this?  Yes.  To paraphrase the anime, becoming an Otaku isn’t something you set out to do, you just find yourself there.

EDIT: Here’s where it gets confusing.  The second season of Genshiken is called Genshiken 2. It comes right after the 3 OVA episodes.  Crunchyroll has Genshiken Nidaime listed as “Genshiken Second Season,” but that’s actually season 3 – it comes Immediately after Genshiken 2.   One other thing to mention – Genshiken 2 goes a lot more into and includes much more ecchi content.  In addition to standard ecchi, it also goes into BL (boys love), without being too graphic.  That said, you’ll need a solid tolerance of ecchi for Genshiken 2.  Those are also parts of Otakudom, so it makes sense that they’d cover that material, which was only touched on in Genshiken (season 1.)  The review was written after watching Genshiken 1 and the OVAs, but I don’t really have too much to add after watching Genshiken 2.

Purpose: Very Good.  All in good fun, it’s a slice of life comedy about Otaku.  What’s notable about this anime is its treatment of both “old,” firmly entrenched Otaku and people new to the… lifestyle.  They also included the perspective of the outsider, thrown into the melee.  This anime also breaks a bit from the slice of life genre.  Normally, slice of life is about crazy characters reacting to new situations.  Normally, time doesn’t really progress in a meaningful manner and the characters don’t usually develop.  Genshiken is different.  It managed to keep its entertaining value throughout and also make structural changes throughout.

Characters: Very Good.  The characters were all distinctive, both in aspects of their hobby and their personalities.  The characters had a surprising amount of depth, given the genre.  One aspect of the characters that really stood out was the attention to body language.  Often, the body language did a great job of showing the viewer what was going on and added a great deal of emphasis to what was going on.  Character interactions were both varied and unique.  They tended to react to situations in a really human manner, based on their personalities.  Several scenes come to mind where there was a great deal of believable awkwardness as well as touching moments, which punctuated the comedy.  As a final note, they did a really interesting job developing two couples – the Otaku couple and the Otaku/normal person couple.  There were great lessons to learn from those relationships.

World: Good.  Pretty normal.  The world was interesting because it was at first limited to the clubroom, but slowly expanded.  It broadened for both settings and subject matter.  For settings, it occasionally varied between “normal” and “Otaku,” which provided interesting situations for our characters to react to.  For subject matter, many of the major Otaku areas were given some light – manga, anime, cosplay, figure-building, etc.  Part of the world included the characters dealing with the world – an interesting situation in itself.

Plot: Good.  It’s a slice of life/comedy anime about Otaku.  It’s not as if the entire world is at stake here.  As before, it was both surprising and interesting that there was progression in an anime of this type.  In addition to actually creating a character development trajectory, the plot was varied enough to have interesting situations arise.

Storytelling:  Very Good. Storytelling is always harder to spot in slice of life and comedy anime.  In this case, it’s how they set up the comedy and other situations.  What is most interesting about the storytelling wasn’t necessarily what information they provided, so much as what they didn’t.  There was just enough Otaku in there to be familiar to veterans, but not so much as to be seriously off-putting to someone not as familiar.  In addition, they usually managed to keep a nice balance of handling certain Otaku subjects without getting vulgar.  The best phrase that comes to mind is that they toed the line, although they weren’t trying to see what they could get away with.  This anime seemed to want to talk about these subjects, rather than trying to shock the viewer.

The main point of the storytelling here was the comedy.  This anime was consistently funny.  The kind of humor, based on the situations, was varied as well.  It wasn’t like a lot of anime in this genre, where characters have a “reaction catchphrase” – something happens and they react in one particular way.  Part of what was so funny was that the characters were reacting in a realistic, believable manner.  Though the anime was mainly comedy, I was really surprised that they managed to have several scenes with a strong impact to them.

Pace: Very Good.  The strongest point of the pace is, again, what it doesn’t do.  They had an excellent sense of when to develop an issue and when to leave it be.  This could very easily have gotten bogged down with too much of an exploration into Otaku minutiae.  Added to this was the fact that many other anime in this genre struggle with the pacing of pure comedy.  They managed to keep everything together very well.

A Good Librarian Like a Good Shepherd

Decent

Overall, bland and forgettable.  There wasn’t really anything done particularly well with this anime, but at the same time, nothing done particularly poorly.  The source of the problem was the fact that it tried to do too many things.  If nothing else, this is a really good example of what happens when you try to make characters that are common to several different types of anime.

Purpose: Not Really Good.  This anime is an example of too many purposes flying about. They tried to combine several different kinds of anime, yet give them equal importance within the story. There were three different kinds of anime that were combined here – a harem-lite anime, a high school drama, and a world-focused story going on in the background.   However, they seemed to spend most of the time on the harem-lite aspect of the anime, using the high school drama and world-focused story as sub-plots. Sort of. Of course, those three types of anime have very different needs to make them really good.   In order to combine them, the anime appeared to take a “lowest common denominator” approach to the elements – keeping the development to the features that all three types of stories shared.  While the concepts themselves didn’t exactly conflict, they detracted from each other by watering down the path the story took.  This prevented proper development of the elements necessary for each of the anime types.

Characters: Decent.  The common denominator approach is very clear with the characters.  They were overall quite bland and “colorless.”  They had a little bit of somewhat serious back story thrown in there to try to give a little bit of depth – the one-shot problem back story.  In all this was a problem for all three stories they were trying to tell because the characters were basic and plain enough to be common to all three.  To illustrate, the strong point of harem-style anime is the (usually crazy) characters’ antics and in-fighting – it’s a personality clash.  The fact that it’s over a boy is really little more than a shortcut or “cheat” to get those personalities into conflict.  High school drama is similar in that the quirky personalities are reacting to everyday situations thrown their way.  The world-focused drama shares some traits with the two, with the main difference being that the characters react to (usually) much bigger problems thrown at them by the world, but they are generally more serious.  This anime showed that it was doable to make characters common to all three, but the result was characters that didn’t stand out at all.

World: Decent. One general weakness of the harem-style and high school drama-type anime is that their worlds tend to be fairly ordinary.  While not necessarily bad, the world usually borrows common and familiar themes so that it doesn’t usually require much development.  The result is  a fairly unnoticeable world that’s more like a backdrop.  Many high school dramas try to compensate for this by throwing in some magical components to spice things up.  Here was no exception.  The backdrop was similar in theme to the Adjustment Bureau.  While it had the potential to be really interesting, they didn’t spend really any time developing it.  Instead, the world in this case was used as a bit of a cheat to bring characters into conflict.

Plot: Decent.  For each of the three plots going on, there wasn’t really that far for them to go.  The plots themselves were fairly simple, as is common to the harem-lite and high school drama anime.  The plot made a little difference in the overall trajectory of the story.  Predictably, there were some plot holes, but it’s not like they exactly mattered.  The way it turned out was that each of the plots were solidly “meh” and when combined, didn’t really add or detract from each other.  Again, I think it was because the plots were “harmonized” by only incorporating elements common to all three.

Storytelling: Not Really Good.  The storytelling didn’t exactly work out too well.  While it is true that combining all three plots is difficult, the stories weren’t exactly well told.  In this case, it was almost more of a juggling act to try to keep one plot in the air while working with the other two. That said, they didn’t exactly make the most of what they had – they were somewhat inconsistent.  Some scenes were well done, but other scenes were not.  The scenes that were well done had a bit of good drama going on.  However, I’d liken these scenes to chewing gum – only about 5 minutes of flavor, then it goes bland.

Pace: Decent.  It was a little on the slow side.  This mostly stems from the story’s juggling act.  Since one story like was always in the air, there was always the slight nagging feeling that it was dragging on.  It wasn’t exactly significant, but it was worth a sigh or two.