Noragami (Season 1, Season 2, + 3 OVAs)

Good

Noragami is an odd show that’s hard to classify because it tries to do many different things.  The best way to describe it is something of a “get to know the gods” show with bits of action, comedy, and character drama.  Overall fun to watch, this anime shines, albeit unevenly.  Certain themes are really quite strong, but easily get lost in the frivolity.  Noragami leaves the impression that it was fun, but prevented itself from being truly great.

Purpose: Weak.

While this anime does shine in certain things it does, it lacks a uniform strength.  Let’s start by looking at what it tries to be – an anime with some action, character drama, world-specific drama, comedy, and a teensy bit of romance, wrapped up in a folklore-based setting.  Watching through both seasons, it becomes clear that the anime struggled to find a unique voice, running through various kinds of genres before settling on one.  Make no mistake, there are some really strong themes here, it’s just that the anime focused on the weaker ones, when it kept its focus at all.  In particular, the anime kept trying to stay in the action genre, but without the necessary building blocks.  The world wasn’t really ever set up to be the kind of world that supported regular blade-clashing and ability-slinging.  Rather, it was set up as a world of complex interactions and relationships between different actors.  Without the proper setting in place, of course the action will be somewhat bland.  What’s worse, by trying to force the action into the wrong world, it ended up draining from the highlights of the anime – the character drama and the treatment of the Japanese gods.

The character drama is the real star here, although it wasn’t uniform.  You can count exactly 3 really strong character moments, fairly evenly spaced throughout.  Actually, they’re so memorable, you can classify them as unique character arcs – the Yukine arc, the Bishamonten arc, and the Ebisu arc.  It’s important to think about it in this way, because it highlights 3 strong, sharp peaks in the anime with the rest being valleys that bridge them.

Now, I wasn’t going to be quite as hard on the anime’s failings here, except for the fact that I saw the OVAs.  In the three OVAs, they showed what the anime could have been and, perhaps, should, have been to bridge the gap between character dramas.  In the OVAs, they mix up the comedy to do a couple things.  First, they use it to strengthen the oddities and quirks present in the many gods, making them seem apart from “mere” humans.  Second, they use the comedy to reinforce the relationships between Yato and crew and solidify the idea that he doesn’t deserve the people around him, but done in a charming sort of way.  The combination of the two ends up adding to the world and developing characters at the same time, the polar opposite of what happened in the series proper.

Characters: Decent.  

Overall, the characters are pretty plain and shallow, yet endearing.  There are even some really excellent character moments.  However, being endearing and having some good moments does not a character rating make.  This is another example of how the anime shows that it has the potential for greatness without actually making it happen.  One of the problems here is something we see much more commonly in weaker shows.   The characters are established to an everyday “baseline” where you get occasional peaks in some sort of character development or progress, followed by a reversion back to the baseline.  Essentially, they’re the same as they were before.  The one exception in the main cast is Yukine, who does have some solid development, which, unfortunately, ends up highlighting the static nature of everyone else.

For an anime that ends up being about a tangled web of relationships, they don’t focus on those relationships much.  Rather, you get little bits and hints of things that are really quite intriguing, especially how the gods relate to each other.  Again, it’s the OVAs that actually go into those areas and flesh them out.  It brings out the relationships into sharp contrast, which also highlights the subtleties of the characters.  For example, extremely true to his character, you have Yato doing something to Bishamon that’s clearly intended to be (and was) highly offensive, yet utterly innocent.  You have wild, crazy, and silly things that are purely relational in nature, yet confined to the world of the gods, apart from humans.  Interestingly, those relationships were the anime’s unique voice, it’s just that they didn’t give it the proper attention.

World: Very Good.

The world is hard to rate here because its strength varies depending on what’s going on.  As it supports the character relationships, it’s Excellent.  However, as it supports the action, it’s Not Very Good.  Since Noragami ends up being more towards the relationships, it keeps it at Very Good.  

So what about the world doesn’t support the action?  Action anime have specific sets of rules that govern the action.  Sure, you may have magic or some guy that hits people with swords, but they establish limitations pretty quickly.  There are a limited set of things that characters can do, and other things they can’t.  In Noragami, since the subject matter is the gods, they were either unwilling or unable to put meaningful limitations on the characters.  For example, why in the world does the named god of war have any such trouble with a nameless god?  The result is limitations of convenience that pop up without warning to bring a spike in the dramatic tension.  Of course, those limitations are forgotten once it loses its place as a dramatic crutch.  Without the proper guideposts, the world ends up being rather formless, shaped into whatever it needs to be at the moment instead of having its own life.

So why does the world support the relationships?  The same things that were negatives above are positives here.  These guys are gods.  They don’t have to play by normal rules and do so in their own unique ways.  There’s never the sense that they can’t do things, only that they don’t want to.  This sets broad ranges of play for characters to react off of each other – almost like a large sandbox-type setting.  You have a broad set of characters based in folklore and mythology, brought to life,as it were, in silly and crazy ways.

PlotDecent.

Without a third season, the anime’s plot has a very unfinished feel, just like the first season did, standing alone (as I watched it when it first came out).  That said, the plot comes in two flavors.  The character flavor essentially selected one character do go in depth, with some solid steps and overall trajectory.  The second flavor, everything else, was, well, whatever.  Things just sort of happened without any real buildup or logical flow.  The action plots were the worst in this regard, falling back on writer’s convenience time and time again.  As an aside, the comedy “plots” were fairly solidly self-contained and had a good internal structure.

StorytellingVery Good.  

The storytelling is all about those great moments.  Aside from the three really powerful character moments, they had some really great stuff.  The standout would be the development of the Nora.  They did a spectacular job of making them have a very dirty or repulsive feel, without making the characters themselves repulsive in a visual or traditional sense.  Rather, it was the atmosphere they created involving these characters, which relied on other character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the Nora.  Again, we have a highlight of subtlety, delicacy, and attention to detail that the anime shows it was capable of.

One final note here, the comedy ends up being extremely strong in the OVAs.

Pace:  Good.

The material was presented with a solid enough way that the anime was never really boring.  You had the three main peaks with relatively slow buildups to get there, but other than that, nothing else to remark upon.

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Nisekoi: (Season 2)

Good

Nisekoi: is a continuation of the story from the first season.  While Nisekoi has never been spectacular, it continues to be solid in its frivolous entertainment.  That said, two of its episodes really stand out – the ones that are actually serious.  This installment firmly solidifies the anime’s genre as a romance/comedy instead of a harem, in spite of the added players to the mix.  With such a large gaggle of girls and lots of liking flying about, it can easily look like the relationships are haremesque, although if you actually chart out the relationships, a different picture emerges.

Purpose: Good.  So why do I say that this isn’t a harem anime?  Many people think it is because you have many girls going after the same guy.  However, the absence of infighting is what makes it a “love polyhedron” instead of a harem.  Harem genres are essentially a “king of the hill” type of spectacle, where the entertainment comes from the personalities coming into direct conflict over an object, our main protagonist.  Nisekoi is an entirely different beast, primarily because of the managed lack of knowledge.  Specifically, the anime manages the characters’ knowledge of other characters’ feelings.  Heck, the protagonist is even convinced that no one really likes him.  This managed, forced ignorance will probably be grating on some, but it’s what sets the stage for an ultimate (sort of) love triangle, with some other attachments.

That aside, the anime pulls a lot of its comedy from increasing the sheer outrageousness of situations.  However, the outrageousness ends up being tempered by some genuine sweetness.

Characters: Good.  For the most part, the characters we knew from the first season were left as they were, with no real growth.  In order to counteract stagnation, the material ended up adding some new characters to the mix to spice things up and forcibly add facets to the existing characters.  Of course, this complicated the situation a bit, so if you chart out the relationships, it ends up making a funny design (but is really somewhat simple).

Basically, you have the protagonist after one girl,  the crush, who likes him back but he doesn’t know.  Then, you have two levels of interference – the fake girlfriend and the crazy childhood friend.  The fake girlfriend is set up to be a potential contender, particularly in this season, which acts as a distractor.  The crazy childhood friend is pure interference, and the closest thing to a villain.  Her crazy antics actually end up taking her out of the running (and everyone knows it) by acting as a unifying factor – “it better be anyone but her.”  Amusingly, the childhood friend is the only one that 1) everyone knows likes the protagonist and 2) knows everyone else likes the protagonist.  If you really think about it, she’s both the only harem character in the anime and the only one that treats it like a harem by actively fighting the other girls.  Main duo and crazy aside, you have the outsiders – the sort-of-platonic friend who wishes for more and the crush’s little sister, who reluctantly likes our protagonist.

One last thing, one of the support characters gets his own full episode, which is really spectacular.

World: Decent.  The world, overall, took a hit in this season, becoming less of a factor in anything.  In the previous season, the craziness of the yakuza and the mafia ended up creating some really odd and fun situations.  This season strayed far away from that, instead replacing it with the fake girlfriend’s crazy (awesome?) mother.    Even at that, she played a fleeting role in the story, serving to boost the fake girlfriend’s endearing qualities.  The only other notable part of the world was the whole setup for the episode entitled “Support.”  You’ll just have to watch it.

Plot: Decent.  I mean, there’s not really much going on.  While some things are growing, for the most part, it’s more of the same.  The best description of the plot is something of a holding pattern, a lateral move.   Really, the whole point of this season was to set up the fake girlfriend as a contender for the audience.  This meant that plot points were focused on bringing out the fake girlfriend’s more endearing qualities.  Then again, for this particular use, the slightly shorter nature of this series was a good fit.

Structure aside, the comedy became a little more situational.  Much of it was spent on throwing the built characters into odd situations to see how they react.

Storytelling: Very Good.  The strong point of the storytelling is that is was much more focused – it gave appropriate weight to the more important points.  This season in particular had a more personal feel since you’ve gotten to know the characters some and are familiar with the situation.  In contrast, the first season treated the viewer as an outsider, watching something of an amusing trainwreck.  Putting it in other words, this season allowed the viewer to settle in and focus more on the characters instead of the situation.  The storytelling is strongly positive, but it does contain its weak points.  The weaker points actually involve the addition of the new characters, which ended up diluting what was going on.  In many ways, they were an excuse to bring in old gags that had lost their place in this season.   Another of the weaknesses involved the “turn-based” nature of the storytelling – the characters got a few-episode focus, to the exclusion of all others.  While it’s not wholly a bad thing, it ended up minimizing the presence of other characters when it wasn’t their “turn.”  So while we got 1 on 1 or 2 on 1 interactions, the others were standing by until later.

Pace: Good.  There were some oddities of pacing, namely how they varied the content of the episodes.  Sometimes you got a couple-episode arc or a single episode dealing with one particular subject or one episode split into two little stories.  This prevented an overall consistent feel for the anime.  That said, they were really strong about manipulating the pace when it counted – wild, crazy, and outrageous antics with a lightning pace serving to contrast with a much slower pace to emphasize emotion.

 

Nisekoi

Good

Overall, this anime is pretty entertaining.  While not the strongest anime technically, it really was fun to watch.  It does do some uncommon and interesting things that you don’t often see in these types of anime.

This anime was produced by Shaft, which is my favorite animation studio.  They have a very distinctive style and really nice background art.  Two of my favorite things about this studio are the attention they pay to small details and their ability to use animation cheats in an artistic way, so it adds to the mood rather than looking cheap.

Purpose: Decent.  It does some interesting things, but doesn’t end up too far from where it started.  Really, it’s all about the changes in character relations, so it’s more about the circuitous journey rather than the end point.  The tone of the anime is interesting, because it falls somewhat in-between genres of anime – High school drama and light-harem type, with comedy prevailing throughout.  It’s primarily high school drama because the anime isn’t about the girls fighting, so much as events shaping the nature of the various relationships.

Characters: Very Good.  The characters aren’t terribly deep, but are consistent.  For the most part, they are a strong use of tropes.  This anime is an example of well used tropes, because the personalities are strong enough to make it entertaining, and memorable enough to mean something.  While the characters don’t really change themselves, character development in this anime is more about shaping the way they see the other characters and how they react to them.  To that end, they did really well marking very distinctive styles of relationships between the major players.  The result was that the moments between characters ended up being really strong – two characters were always sweet, yet awkward, while two others were explosive and constantly creating friction.  The supporting cast also performed their roles well, creating opportunities for character interaction, instead of providing a distraction.

World: Good.  The world in this case acted more like the backdrop in a stage play – there to give context to what’s going on and set some of the mood.  The setting itself wasn’t terribly deep, but did do its job competently.  The world managed to create solid situations for the characters to interact and also shaped the tone of some of the character interactions.  It also provided a constant under-current and pressure on the events happening in the anime.  For once, it was a fairly believable explanation of why characters that ordinarily wouldn’t give each other the time of day were forced into close company.  For the first 7 episodes, it really was the world acting as a catalyst to start the characters interacting.  After the first 7, it took a back seat to the characters.

Plot: Good.  Again, the overall plot didn’t really go too far, but there were a lot of plot points involved in getting there.  Really, the plot in this anime was all about the characters interacting with each other.  The plot was solid because each point represented a change in how the characters interacted with each other.  That said, the plot was somewhat weaker than it could have been because the same kinds of points kept reappearing.  It didn’t detract too much from the general tone of the anime because the “path” it took ended up being slightly different because character relationships were different at that point.

Storytelling: Very Good.  What was done really well here was the quasi-omnipotent storytelling – we were shown the important parts of characters’ thoughts in addition to what they said.  The result was that the audience knew more than the cast, so that we knew the causes of certain issues that arose.  By that same token, they were able to keep some information from the viewer so that some things could come as a surprise. Interestingly, this helped shape the anime as more of a comedy, because it de-emphasized the stress of the situation for the viewer.  That’s not to say it was purely comedy throughout.  They were able to shape the plot points in a way that created powerful moments – both sweet and awkward and even painful. One final note, the attention to small details in the storytelling really added to everything they were doing – everything from the choice of animation style, to the placement of characters in scenes, to small facial and body expressions.

Pace: Not Really Good.  Overall, it starts off really slow and takes time to build.  It takes about 7 episodes for the train to leave the station, as it were.  Actually, likening the pace to a train is pretty accurate, since it built speed then had to stop off at several stations before building speed again.  The really strong moments were few and far in between early, but became steadily more frequent as the anime progressed.  Honestly, the pace felt like it was more dictated by the source material rather than being the fault of the studio.  The reason I say this is because every time the anime just starts to stagnate, they introduced a new character to breathe life into it again. The end result was that the pace was slightly annoying, but not wholly crippling.

No-rin

Poor

I would be hard pressed to call this a cohesive or even a coherent anime.  For much of the anime, it contains “baser” content that could be charitably described as “in poor taste.”  It is rare that an anime gives me almost a negative physical reaction, but this managed to do it for about 5 or 6 episodes.  My reaction could best be summed up by this – a mixture of horror, disgust, and betrayal.

Purpose: Bad.  I believe this describes the purpose more concisely than I could.  Really, the whole feel of the anime was that there was no real purpose to it and that the anime was sort of a slap-dash compilation of half-finished ideas and plotlines.  There were elements of a farming-drama anime, a high school drama, a parody-type anime, a slice of life anime, an over-the-top high school drama, and a character self-discovery/healing journey, to name a few.  Most of the anime felt like it was written by a young teenager, both in the flow of ideas and the subject matter of the “humor.”  Heck, even the fan-service was terribly done.  If I had to describe much of the anime in one word, it would be “vulgar.”  “Crude” is a solid alternative.  In the latter half of the anime, the vulgarity slowed down and some parts became almost passable, although by that point, it was too little, too late.

Characters: Weak.  Well, you have a fairly plain cast of characters that are based on stock character archetypes.  The problem is that they aren’t even competently done-archetypes.  If you’re keep your characters tropes, you really can’t afford to weaken them or water them down, as happened here.  One marginal deviation was the teacher having some role to play here and there.  The teacher was one of the “problem children” of the anime, both in the level of crudity she brought to the anime along with the in-your-face nature of it.  The weakness and relative blandness of the characters already made them feel out of place for the setting.  There were some points here and there that showed glimmers of what the anime could have been – using farming as a means of character “healing” or introspection.  So, aside from a couple relatively minor forays into character development, the characters were pretty much worse than flat.

World: Weak.  Well, we’re dealing with several different worlds, pretty much based on whatever was convenient at the moment. The anime rarely seemed to keep consistency of world between two different episodes.  In this anime, the world was used as an excuse for proper element development – when in doubt, throw something else in.   Personal showdown with a corporation?  Sure.  Lessons in superficial marketing?  Why not?  Crazy school “Elite Four?”  Yes, please.  Shotgun wedding? When can we start?  These are examples of world acting as a substitute for proper plot. In some cases, the crazy can be understandable if the world itself is crazy.  However, there was no indication that the world itself was the kind of surreal atmosphere that would give rise to random situations.  Again, the world even lacked consistency in its randomness, which is weird to say the least.

Plot: Bad.  As above, it seemed like this anime was a haphazardly thrown-together jumble of random plot points.  Really, it’s the plot equivalent of a 5-year old banging on a keyboard.  Without any cohesion, the plot is… well, nonexistent.  There were some minor plot threads that felt more like 4-panel manga or some randomly done short-stories.  Not all were bad, just most.

Storytelling. Poor.  Perhaps a function of the bad plots.  The story isn’t as bad because they did manage to do a competent job with the better plot points.  Random plot points weren’t being really closed off.  Even slice of life anime manage to close off their short plot points.  Honestly, the blame seems to be on the original material, rather than the anime studio here.  It has to be awfully hard dealing with inherently weak subject matter.

Pace: Poor.  Again, all over the map.  Mostly, it was too slow for its own good.  Even the humor they were attempting was ruined by over-using or dwelling on the punch line too long.  It’s like that kid that tells a joke and then keeps saying “get it?  get it?.”  They dwell too long where they shouldn’t have and went too quickly over where they should have stayed longer.