Konosuba – Short Review

Good

Konosuba is a somewhat sarcastic comedy in a fantasy setting.  The anime is generally on-par with the genre average, and many new to the concept probably won’t be disappointed.  Much of the strength of the anime will come from its irreverent glance at the genre and its occasionally incisive commentary.

While Konosuba’s pretty entertaining at first, it tends to get somewhat stale by the end since its comedy comes primarily from “reaction catchphrases.”  Basically, the cast is composed of characters that react in one particular way to a given situation.  One-off characters aren’t necessarily a bad thing, so long as the situations are odd and unique enough to make the characters’ quirks shine.  Unfortunately, Konosuba doesn’t vary the settings or the situations enough to have the one-off weirdness shine the way it would with appropriately bizarre and crazy situations.

The most unique part of the anime is its twist on a “stuck in a game” setup, instead replacing it with a fantasy world functionally similar to a game.  This avoids much of the problems that plague the “stuck in a game” anime subgenre.  One of the biggest weaknesses you’ll find with these kind of anime is the under-utilization of the world.  There is no meaningful distinction between the real world and the game world like you’d find in the one of the first to use the concept, .hack/sign or the more recent Log Horizon.

All in all, not a bad place to start, but there’s a lot better out there.

 

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.

KanColle

Poor

KanColle is another anime that follows the recent trend of making weapons of war “moe.”  In this case, Kantai Collection is based upon a free-to-play online game.  The basic premise is that these girls have the soul of a warship.  I found it difficult to watch more than two episodes at a stretch because it made me want to play World of Warships instead.  This show is probably of a very limited appeal.  If rather uncomplicated “moe” is your thing, with little bits of action and drama thrown in, then this’d be for you.

Purpose:  Poor.  What were they doing?  At its very basic level, it’s either an advertisement for the game or more of a fan-service aimed at fans of the game.  I’m leaning towards latter.  The overall feel is something to the effect of, “hey, watch the girls/ships you’ve already gotten to know playing around!”  They throw in many concepts and situations that are clearly from the game, but, without that context, are pretty meaningless.  I’m not arguing that they failed at their purpose, quite the opposite.  The premise itself is weak.  What is odd is that they do manage to create some dramatic sequences and have bits of darker drama hinted at in there.

Characters: Not Really Good.  There are quite a bit of characters to keep track of.  Unfortunately, it really only limits them to occasional cameos.  The characters themselves are fairly nonexistent, more like very one-dimensional set-pieces.  If you think of the “one-gag character,” the character that you know for a singular response or way of acting to everything, that’s just about each and every character in the anime.  There are little bits of character development for the main character that ends fairly quickly.  Similarly, there are glimmerings of potential behind other characters that only show up for a moment near the end.

World: Bad.  The problem is that it’s not a standalone world.  It requires a familiarity with the concepts in the game.  They don’t really explain anything at all.  Even if you accept the basic premise of girls as warships and even if you accept the basic purpose of fighting an undescribed enemy, it still doesn’t amount to much.

Storytelling: Not Really Good.  It’s not necessarily the storytelling’s fault here.  When there isn’t much more than scraps of a plot, you can’t really tell the story.  That said, they did a fine job when there was a definite story to tell.  They made some good emotional moments and occasionally conveyed a sense of danger for the girls.  That aside, much of the storytelling was absorbed in random frivolities.

Plot: Poor.  What plot?  There was a vague overall purpose – defeat the enemy.  That aside, the plot was shattered into more episodic arcs – one or two at a time.  Most of the plots can be described as “here, watch these girls be silly.”   When it did have plot, usually involving naval combat of some sort, it was quite empty.  Rather, there were more holes than plot.  Things just happened.  It was done in such a way that there was no appropriate buildup or trajectory, really nothing to indicate that the events were happening for any reason other than just because.  The result is that it seems like the situations were thrown in at points to create situations, rather than situations naturally evolving based on previous events and the world acting.

Pace: Weak. Surprisingly slow, both for its “moe” moments and its action sequences. Pacing was broken up in odd ways that ended up tipping over itself.  It really gave it a stop-start feel that ended up looking like an obnoxiously played game of red-light green-light.

Katanagatari

Excellent

This is a strange, fascinating, and unique story.  Overall, it seems like an exploration into taking very standard ideas and tropes and putting a highly unique spin on them.  A lot of the anime feels like an experiment into character and relationship development, although not in a bad way. Because of this, we get to see some things that are extremely rare in anime.  To put this in perspective, Katanagatari is a work by NisiOisin, the creator of Bakemonogatari (my #3 favorite series).  Please note that Katanagatari is not related to Bakemonogatari and its progeny.

Purpose:  Excellent.  On a broader note, the purpose is about an individual finding a purpose and the effects of following others’ purposes.  Most of where it’s going isn’t exactly clear until you look back from the top – Episode 12 puts everything in perspective and hammers the point home.  Really, watching this anime is like the passage of time – while you’re watching it doesn’t seem like it’s going too far or too fast, but by turning around and looking back, you see how far you came.  This anime ended in an extremely interesting place.

One other part of the purpose was the experimental quality – doing really interesting things in a short period of time or playing with expectations and doing something differently.  All in all, really interesting to watch.

Characters: Excellent.  To start with, the character design was fairly simple, yet fascinating.  The costuming in particular was highly varied and unique.  The art was done in a relatively clean way that only emphasized key points of characters.

As for the characters themselves, they were interestingly done.  Most of the characters that appeared were developed over the course of a 1-hour episode.  The role most of the characters played was to draw something out or highlight key points in the growth and development of our main characters.  One particularly interesting aspect of the characters was the treatment of the “bad guys,” who shifted and changed role with respect to the main characters.

One of NisiOsin’s strong points is relationships.  In this case, there were several different relationships – the main characters’ relationship with each other and their relationship as a pair in relation to other actors in the world.  All of these interactions were both fluid and unique because they changed based on plot events.  One of the highly unique points of this anime is the way the main characters’ relationship was depicted – I have never seen, in anime, a relationship that conveyed the same level of comfort as our main characters.  The level of comfort subtly developed over the course of the anime and changed how the characters interacted with each other.  It helped guide both sweet and funny moments, giving those moments a very real feel to them.  ll in all, this anime was about the characters and characters’ relationships more than anything else.

As a side note, the first half of Episode 2 was fascinating because it was, essentially, a monologue by NisiOisin about character development – rather it was a depiction of the author’s internal struggle and thought process in making a character.

World: Very Good. Much of the world was about the 12 swords the characters were to find.  That was the broader context driving the anime.  On a more practical level, the swords themselves had an interesting “character” and affected characters in interesting ways, driving parts of the story.  This acted in combination with the setting to really help shape the nature of character interactions.  One interesting thing about how the world developed was a sense of “big players.”  The world didn’t really have a place for “small fry,” which really kept the viewer’s focus solely on the events happening.  Heck, there really weren’t too many lines by “small” characters.  The result was that it helped create an odd sense of importance of the quest and give an almost unforgiving feel to the world.

Plot: Very Good.  At first, it seems as though the plot is very simple and straightforward – find sword, fight bad guy, collect sword.  However, this turns out to be a gross understatement.  Really, those are smaller plot points in the grand plot turning behind the scenes.  It takes quite a while before we actually see what’s going on in the background, because the plot points themselves are acting almost like snapshots of the bigger plot.  That said, the smaller plot points are all about changing the characters’ relationships and standing.  As a result, these points end up really changing the course of how the characters develop and change.  What is fascinating is how the plot ultimately ends up – characters who have changed, yet are the same, things that have changed, yet are the same.  Once again, only at the end looking back do we see what was actually going on behind us.

Storytelling: Excellent.  The storytelling was highly varied, which kept the events interesting.  Although there was a lot of talking, it was always relevant to what’s going on and helped either develop characters, characters’ relationships, or the characters’ relation to the viewer.  The talking points often served as the bridge, helping tie events together into the greater narrative.  One other interesting point was how the storytelling often played on expectations in conveying information.  Really, it was guiding and shaping the viewer in relation to the characters.  For example, they would tell the story in a way that made certain “bad” characters seem good, and certain “good” characters seem bad to the viewer.  Often it served to highlight character motives and reasons for doing things.  On the note of shaping the viewer, the stories were often told in a non-linear fashion to guide the viewer’s attention.  An example of this is where the viewer knows “of course they’re gonna collect the sword,” but they tell the viewer that from the outset, so the viewer then focuses on the how, rather than the result.

Pace: Very Good.  In all, this is a pretty talkative anime, so that tends to slow things down a little bit.  One of the more interesting pacing choices was to make 12 50-minute episodes.  This allowed the anime to “get out of the station” without dragging too much.  It takes about episode 3 until it really starts taking off.  Honestly, the pacing is a bit like a freight train – really slow to get started, but once it does, there’s no stopping the momentum.