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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Laughing Under the Clouds

Masterpiece

Laughing Under the Clouds is a very strong character drama, supported by some world-focused drama and some action sequences.  Even on a superficial level, this anime puts on a strong face, making it interesting for viewers of all levels of experience.  It’s full of twists and turns that slowly reveal a larger and more complicated story.  Much of the complexity comes from subtlety and attention to detail, which ends up making this anime a Masterpiece (albeit at the lower end). 

Purpose: Masterpiece.  This is an anime that is difficult to talk about without spoiling it.  Generally, the anime is about Tenka, the oldest brother of three.  It’s generally split into two parts – the first half is about the man himself and the second is about the effect he has on other people.  The camera generally follows Soramaru, the second brother, who is also the viewer’s point of entry.  Although the first and last episodes were pretty much the weakest, the anime is strong enough throughout to forgive those weaknesses.

What is particularly special about the purpose is the constant eye on the details.  They properly added subtle cues and details that served as foreshadowing.  When looking back, there are lots of little things that set the stage for big reveals that, while surprising, are not out of the blue.  In addition, they manage the flow of information in such a way that the anime is constantly evolving the viewer’s understanding of characters.  Basically, they manage the viewer’s perception and attention in a really powerful way.  One of the easiest examples is with the theme of the anime, contained in the title “Laughing Under the Clouds.”  Even here, they manage to constantly evolve the viewer’s understanding of that phrase as the anime goes on.  This afforded them great control over the mood, which they used to great effect.

Characters: Excellent.  One of the best points of the character development was that we were shown depth – personality, character, and motive.  All three of those were developed through characters acting and reacting to events in the world.  Character development itself included both the viewer’s evolving understanding of some characters as well as other characters evolving based on events that happened.

The absolute strongest and most well developed character was Tenka.  He was the star of the show, both in his personality and his character.  Most of the other main cast were strong in their own right and had a solid amount of depth to them.  If brief, they do manage to grow characters to the point that you’re involved in all these characters’ lives.  Even certain side characters had an appropriate amount of depth and even growth for their place in the story.

World: Excellent.  There’s ninjas, magic, giant snakes and some indescribable weapons all set in the early Meiji era.  While it may sound crazy when listed like that, they’re combined with the practical in such a way that they don’t seem out of place.  Rather, they’re an organic part of the world, not tacked on.  Perhaps a part of this was a result of the really interesting blending of eras – pre-Meji, Meji, and some modern thrown in there.  The modern flair ends up making it more easily accessible because it’s prevents it from feeling stuffy, like many period dramas.

That aside, there are many different “factions,” or groups of actors that each have their own interests.  They often have different goals and motives for acting which puts them at cross purposes.  Here also, is a lot of subtlety – alliances shift, allegiances shift, and motives change.  If you’re not paying attention, keeping track of who’s doing what can become a bit confusing.

One final note, the costuming was really fantastic.  There were lots of really interesting and distinctive getups.

Plot:  Excellent. The basic structure of the plot was pretty standard, providing a good series of challenges and resolutions for the characters. Generally speaking, there were two large sets of plots – one involving the brothers, and one involving the world.   Ultimately, they were blended together pretty well by the end.  The brothers’ plot was a plot of discovery – it was more about growing up and learning the bigger, darker, and harder aspects of adult life and the sacrifices adults make for children.  The world-focused plot appears to be a standard fantasy saving the world plot, but there’s a lot more going on under the surface.  The undertone can be summed up as “overcoming the past.”  Here, it represents confronting grief, anger, and sadness on the road to saving the world.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.   Overall, they managed three separate storylines quite well and tied them together fairly seamlessly.  Part of the strength of the storytelling lies in how they made a place for everything and every character.  More specifically, everything had some role to play.  On a broader note, it was the little things and the attention to detail that strengthened the story.  The details ranged from trivial to extremely important, but lots of the important details were subtle and often easy to miss.  On the trivial end, a guy who loses his tooth early on is always missing a tooth.   On the important side, the demeanor by which one character treats another ends up being extremely subtle foreshadowing of later events.  For that matter, the character relationships were built in such a powerful fashion that even you will be caught up when things go south.

A final note – the buildup through episode 6 was truly exceptional.  If taken alone, it’s one of the standout story arcs that are extremely hard to find in anime .  Even though episode 6 was such a powerful climax, they still manage to hold a strong amount of interest and intrigue through the resolution.  While the resolution wasn’t exactly the strongest, the rest of the storytelling was strong enough to carry its weight.

Pace: Excellent.  Quite a strong pace throughout.  One of the most interesting choices was proving a “break” episode after episode 6 and before characters deal with the aftermath.  The break provided a great deal of context to what was going on and set the stage for what was to come.  It also let you reset so that you were ready to start dealing with the aftermath along the characters.

Lord Marksman and Vanadis

Decent

This anime has an odd feel.  It’s almost as though it was intended to be a strategy game, rather than an anime.  This anime does some interesting things, but, ultimately is fairly bland.  With that in mind, it’s useful for some mild entertainment.

Purpose: Decent.  You can tell there was a little bit of wavering on the part of the author.  He wasn’t sure if he wanted it to be purely a strategy-type political drama.  The anime also flirts with some harem elements, pun intended.  Aside from some random elements being thrown in there, they stayed more or less on track.

Characters: Decent.  Some characters had some character development.  For the most part, the characters were fairly subdued, even in spite of some slight attempts at levity.  That’s not all bad.  The serious tone of the anime was even carried through to some of the fan-service scenes.  The main issue with the characters was that they felt, for the most part, to be set-pieces of the world.  Part of the problem is that they didn’t even really keep characters’ relations consistent at all.  They also didn’t really spend time building the characters.  Certainly, they threw in a little bit of moral dilemma and a sprinkling of greater things, but those parts were given very little real estate.  Honestly, it felt like the characters were mostly like a 2d image with scrolling text like you’d find in games like Fire Emblem.  Maybe that’s just me.

The character designs were slightly misleading.  Based on the costuming, you’d believe that it was more of a fighting girls-type anime.  Indeed, the war-maidens all had a variety of skimpy attire at all times.  Not that I find it something to generally complain about in anime, just in how it was used in this one.  The war maidens’ costuming was contrasted with a non-war-maiden attendant who would don armor, when appropriate.   Yes, I get that they are a light version of magical girls, but it was a tad out of step for the tone of the anime.

World:  Decent.  For a strategy-esque political-type drama there was an awful lack of politics.  Sure, you’ve got some guy doing bad things, and you have some talk of protecting the land, little bits of betrayal and a random poisoning thrown in for good measure.  The setup isn’t far off a standard game.  What I mean is that the various standings of the actors in relation to each other, especially the War Maidens’ home country, weren’t really explained or explored.  I mean, you’ve got some quasi-magical powers and some dragons.  But they only really came out when convenient to add life into things.  Sure, some things were cool, but they didn’t really have an established place in the anime.  I get that they don’t need to explain everything, but it usually needs to be enough to provide a hook.  That’s what world building is – grounding your interesting things into the world in an internally consistent way.

Plot:  Decent.  The plot was little more than a pretext for throwing different strategic situations at the protagonist for him to beat .  Sure, you got some branching paths, potentials, but not in a meaningful sense.  It really was a standard game setup – Do A or B.  Interesting plots present clever and unique challenges for the character to overcome through the application of the character’s skill, knowledge, experience, and personality.  But these plots were more like a railroad, taking you to a particular destination.  It was beat enemy A.  Oh no!  Enemy B appears.  Enemy C is marching on your castle!  Very linear and, thus, rather bland.

Storytelling:  Decent.  Many of the same complaints voiced above apply to the storytelling as well.  However, there were some helpful elements they added.  Often, they would have a short narration on a map, which would quickly explain the situation.  This was helpful in a couple ways – it provided geographical context to the actions happening and gave the viewer a sense of what was broadly going on.  The other interesting thing was to use the same map-type explanation to depict the general tactics or strategies that were happening while our heroes were slaying enemies. While it does help accessibility for some, overall it seems as though it would take the anime into a bit of a niche audience.  While I can appreciate the finer points of a pincer attack on a column or a flying column’s interception of the enemy, I don’t exactly know too many people that would.

That aside, lots of stuff was presented suddenly, without explanation or appropriate buildup.  Sure, it wasn’t entirely necessary, but still… The result was that the storytelling often left fairly sizable gaps in the goings-on.

Pace: Good.  Not too much to say other than the pacing wasn’t really a problem.  It steadily made progress to the conclusion.  Sometimes, the explanations and build up was very quickly touched on before we get our characters to the battlefield.

Log Horizon (Season 1)

Very Good

The basic concept of this anime is “stuck in a game.”  This is one of the stronger anime to use the concept because they actually fully utilize the world to explore really interesting ideas.  That said, it’s more of a video gamer’s anime in the sense that video gamers will recognize the basic concepts and rules in the world faster – there’s a lot of information to take in for non-gamers.

Purpose: Very Good.  The whole point of this anime was to explore the big “what if we were stuck in a MMORPG?”  The answer was, “politics.”  This anime existed to explore both the possibilities and consequences of being stuck in a game, but on a societal level.  Thus, it took a highly different approach from the groundbreaking .Hack//sign and the more recent Sword Art Online (season 1).  To compare them, .Hack is more of an exploration of characters, using the pressure of being stuck in a game.  SAO ended up being about providing a magical world for a high school love story/drama to play out in.  Log Horizon fills the unique niche of exploring society (people in general) and their relation to each other in a novel environment.  That’s why I said it’s a gamers’ anime.  Gamers will be more familiar with some of the concepts in the anime and exactly why they create certain kinds of pressure or difficulty, such as PvP (player vs player) or PKing (player killing).  While the main purpose is very strong, they tend to get distracted and dabble far too long in certain aspects of the anime, wasting valuable time.  The distractions are fairly entertaining nonetheless – sometimes they are character antics while other times, they are going down a “rabbit hole” of things like MMO teamwork.

Characters: Good.  While fairly solid for their role in the anime, the characters aren’t particularly special.   The characters bring a distinct way of solving problems to the anime, although the most important characters aren’t necessarily the main group we are following.  It takes a while to get to that point, though.   Albeit consistent with the tone of the anime, it was odd that they didn’t spend very much time on who the characters were before being stuck in the game.  It was treated almost as something that didn’t really exist, and so wasn’t really explored, which I found a little disappointing.  On that note, they actually started to develop the characters nearer to the end of the anime.  The most interesting character episode was the last episode of the season, episode 25.  Over the course of the anime, most of the character development was learning about the characters, rather than progressing them.  On that note, although characters did grow a little bit, we didn’t really get to see much more than fairly superficial motives and interests.

World: Masterpiece.  The world was highly unique.  This is an example of the merits of using a video game setting for the anime.  For certain kinds of anime, the use of a video game is a cheat to spice up things in “normal” life, by creating new and exciting situations without any real consequences.  For those anime, there is little purpose to having the game world as opposed to a “genuine” magical world.  The whole point of having a game world is so that it stands in comparison to the real world.  Thus, anime where characters are stuck in a game, if used properly, serves to highlight the differences between the real world and the new “reality.”  This differs from the standard magical world setup because it requires the characters to adapt to a new world rather than always existing in the world  that is foreign to us, but not them.  For  a magical world, it’s the viewer that has to learn the rules that govern the world.

Log Horizon really delivers in that respect.  For the most part, it was the characters creating a place for people who were stuck in the game – creating a human “world” within the game.  It was clear that the characters had to create a new reality and adapt to life, something only touched on and then discarded in other entries in this genre.  On the road, they struggle with difficult MMO situations like reigning in player killing and establishing rules for people to follow.  One other fascinating aspect of the anime was granting “actor” status to NPCs in the sense that they were able to provide perspective on the people stuck in the game.  Essentially, the people stuck in the game were alien to the NPCs, who had always existed there.

Plot: Good. There is a definite progression to the plot.  First, it showcases difficulties that people are having in the world.  As those are solved, then it become a society-building plotline.  After that, it’s more nation-building and politics.  The plot does take its time getting where it’s ultimately going, meaning that there’s a ton of stuff in there that really didn’t need to be.  That complaint aside, it does a solid job of using the characters to change their place in the world.

Storytelling: Good.  Much of the same to be said for the storytelling.  One of the competent points was the way they strung out certain kinds of video-game specific information – they would bring it up only when relevant, and only then to provide some perspective.  Other times, they just got lost in the weeds.  That aside, there were some really clever ways that the stories were told so that it left the viewer with a sense of accomplishment.  Amusingly, it acted almost like “achievement unlocked” moments.  There was an appropriate amount of drama for some of the plots and an appropriate amount of silliness for others.  Again, consistently good, but not spectacular in execution.

Pace: Not Really Good.  This is the weakest point of the anime.  It was just this side of annoyingly slow.  Some of the pace’s problem can be attributed to the purpose – they tended to digress quite a bit.  Really though the problem was that they lingered.  They spent far too much time driving some ideas into the ground, such as teaching “new players” teamwork.  Sometimes, they would delve a little too far into video game concepts and end up bogging the story down.  It wasn’t crippling enough to wholly damage the anime, but was enough to be occasionally getting in the way.

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