Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn Re: 0096 – Short Review


Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn originally aired as an OVA series of 12 episodes of roughly 1-hour in length.  Re:0096 re-cuts it into a tv-sized series of 22 episodes, sometimes cutting it in a jarring fashion.  That aside, Gundam Unicorn is a series that probably won’t be terribly accessible to a new viewer, since it relies heavily on (and refers to) a lot of the previous Gundam series in the Universal Century timeline.  (If you’re confused already, here’s a graphic showing the timelines).

True to Gundam form, the series has grand and lofty ambitions – dealing with the collateral damage and side-effects of war, as well as the meaning of conflict and peace, and older generations of people as opposed to newer ones.  Since that’s the main focus the character development will seem a little fast, with people skipping to conclusions instead of agonizing over it.  This will be a bit of a welcome change to experienced Gundam fans, since the focus of the series will often be a civilian thrown into a military situation with death and explosions, who deals with it through whiny angst.  In spite of this, they do manage to pull together some absolutely spectacular character moments, although you have to wait for them a bit since Gundam series are a slow burn and tend to peak around 3/4 through.

All in all, a solid entry in the Gundam series that’s really pretty to watch as well.

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





WWW. Wagnaria!! – Short Review


WWW. Wagnaria!! the anime is a spin-off of the Wagnaria series, taking place in another restaurant in the same chain.  Actually, the source material for this anime came from an earlier work by the same manga artist.  The work was a web series and served almost as a pilot.  This ends up being important because the best way to think of this anime is as a prototype for the first Wagnaria anime.

This anime is pretty entertaining to watch.  It’s full of eccentric characters that make for a wacky slice of (work) life.  Compared to Wagnaria!, the comedy is a little on the harsher side, but funny nonetheless. The characters aren’t particularly complex and are more like caricatures of a single “problem.” Actually, if you pay close attention, you can see the foundation of character traits and types that later make an appearance in the Wagnaria! series.  This lack of depth ends up limiting the scope of interaction between the characters – they are mostly segregated into comedy duos.  Unfortunately, WWW. Wagnaria has a significantly accelerated timeline, meaning that the viewer won’t be quite as invested in the payoffs.  That said, it’s certainly worth a watch!

Purpose: Good
Characters: Good
World: Good
Plot: Decent
Storytelling: Good
Pace: Good

Tales of Zestiria the X (Season 1) – Short Review


Full disclosure – I completed the Tales of Zestiria game before watching the anime and really liked the story.

The good news is that it’s really pretty to watch – gorgeous animation and smooth fight scenes.  The bad news is that it was somewhat disappointing.  Setting aside the fact that there was a two-episode throwaway insert that was basically an ad for Tales of Berseria (yes, which I plan on buying), the biggest problem was that they didn’t properly build the plots, characters, and issues.  While the Berseria elements may play a role later, it ended up thinning out the time to set up the payoffs.  For example, characters would come to a realization that wasn’t set up as an issue, previously – it doesn’t help the viewer if the issue is purely internal and unspoken.  That’s what makes it a little odd – in order for some of these issues to make sense you pretty much had to have played the game, but the story itself differs somewhat (which is neither good nor bad). Without that knowledge, the show seemed to need to jump from point to point without really setting up the “why” of it.  I do get that 12 episodes may be a little tough to hit the finer points of the story (roughly half of it, actually).  However, due to the failures in the storytelling, this season ends up under-performing and becomes rather forgettable.

Purpose: Decent
Characters: Good
World: Good
Plot: Decent
Storytelling: Not Really Good
Pace: Decent


Tamako Market (+ Tamako Love Story)- Short Review


Tamako Market is a very lighthearted comedy anime.  Though somewhat bland, perhaps it’s best to think of it as setting the stage for the OVA movie Tamako Love Story (Excellent).  Very sweet and fluffy, Tamako Market is about the joy of life – loving a peculiar little community.  If you love the super-sweet anime without any clouds in the sky, this is right up your alley.  If not, you can find it… trying.   That said, it doesn’t feel like much happens, in spite of the presence of a talking bird and the general main plotline of finding a bride for a foreign prince.  Actually, the talking bird is pretty much the saving grace of the show, acting as a refuge from the saccharine tone of the anime.

As much as I’d love to say skip ahead to Tamako Love Story, you really do need to finish Tamako Market because it develops the characters’ personalities and lays the framework for the OVA.

Tamako Love Story is a very different beast, and is more serious – it clouds over the sunshine a bit.   It’s about growing up and dealing with changes that happen in life, dealing with a combination of changes that you want to happen and changes that you are fighting against, even if subconsciously.  Everything about Tamako Love Story is stronger and more solid.  Come to think of it, the OVA has one of the strongest “confession” scenes in recent memory.  Really, this is the payoff that makes the whole series worth it.

Purpose: Decent
Characters: Good
World: Good
Plot: Decent
Storytelling: Decent
Pace: Decent

Gate – Short Review


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


Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto – Short Review


Haven’t You Heard? I’m Sakamoto is predominantly a satirical comedy anime, born from the extension of a one-off gag.  This makes it very hit-and-miss in the execution of its gags, since each gag is derivative of the main premise.  As such, it struggles to find its voice until it’s about 3/4 through.   While you do get to know the characters a bit, ultimately, they are still caricatures.   There are some really good moments, which make the misses less memorable.  That’s not to say we wish it was a more serious anime – judging Sakamoto against other satire-based comedy anime, it still comes out a little weaker than average.

Purpose: Decent
Characters: Good
World: Decent
Plot: Decent
Storytelling: Decent
Pace: Good


Konosuba – Short Review


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.


Lovely Complex


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.


Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978)


Captain Harlock is one of the legendary classic anime, created by Leiji Matsumoto.  Airing in the year 1978, it’s an anime that shows its age in terms of composition, tone, and animation.  Even so, the fundamentals of the show are stronger than you’d find in a great many modern anime.  Essentially, it’s a heroic epic that showcases the strength of the human spirit, as exemplified by Captain Harlock.  In spite of its age, the anime still stands at the top of the genre.  They don’t make heroes like they used to.

Purpose: Excellent

The anime falls into the space opera genre, which encompasses grand sweeping galactic struggles as well as commentary about humanity in general.  Of course, it’s an old anime so many may find the animation or pacing difficult to follow.  Overall, Captain Harlock is about a heroic individual, which is a hard to find subject in modern anime.  Contrary to the modern “every-man” heroes, tragic heroes, and over-powered muscle-heads, classic heroes are more about people to look up to.   It’s about a character that’s human, but moreso because of his actions, honor, or otherwise noble demeanor.  Sure, there’s action and tragedy and a startlingly high body-count, but those serve as a means of highlighting the main character’s good points.  If you can manage to survive the generally inconsistent, dated animation, and manage to suspend disbelief, you’ll find Captain Harlock a story about an individual who you probably wouldn’t mind following to the ends of the universe.

Characters: Excellent

This is the kind of anime where a 7 year old (sort of) side character ends up having more character depth than many modern anime heroes.  You eventually learn about the backstories of many of the crew members, including a cat, that end up being a mixture of stories about overcoming tragedy through strength of spirit.  What makes the characters particularly interesting is that, in addition to having their own stories and motives, they serve to highlight the strengths of Captain Harlock.  They have a really strong rapport that makes the crew all feel like a family.  On the opposite side, the Mazone (the alien race Harlock is fighting against) are also developed into fairly complex characters in their own right.

World: Very Good

Perhaps the most interesting part of the world is the “factions” – Earth proper, Harlock, and the Mazone.  Each have a very different set of ideals and morals.  Even so, none of the groups are monolithic, which is such a rarity in most fictional mediums.  In other words, there are differences of opinion and values even within each group.  That aside, lots of things about the workings of the world aren’t really explained.  For example, you’re never really sure what the difference is between a space mile and a normal mile,  or why certain things behave the way they do.  They just do.  But it’s a testament to the story that it doesn’t particularly matter why the Arcadia is an invincible battleship, for example, it’s enough that it is.  Essentially, the world serves its role to enhance the story without really bogging it down in a flurry of basically nonessential fluff.  The world does require some suspension of disbelief, so if you’re the type that likes to have some explanation of the inner workings of technology in anime, then you may find this anime a little difficult.

Plot: Very Good

We have a generally slow-burning overall plot that takes place over the course of the entire series.  In spite of this, it’s fairly episodic in nature and doesn’t generally ride in “plot arcs.”  Fortunately, this means that when the anime gets a little distracted, it’s limited to a single episode or a small part of an episode.  That’s not to say that the distractions are useless, since they often show the mettle of a characters  or end up building or maintaining relationships.  What this means is that the plot points are further apart than you’d find in more modern anime.  It’s more about broader course corrections in the overall theme than managing a tight approach to a resolution.  In that sense, maybe it’s more like navigating though the vastness of space.

Storytelling: Very Good

Some stronger points are able to mitigate some weaker ones here.  The storytelling is really sharp and powerful on its peaks – highlighting courage, heroism, and tragedy.  It’s somewhat weaker in connecting our plot points in a tight, stair-steppy way.  There’s quite a bit of gaps in the explanations of things or the why of things.  I imagine that would be frustrating to some viewers.  Of course, the storytelling style is varied as well.  Sometimes, it’s small, but not subtle, sometimes it has a broad focus, but short duration.  Overall, you get the sense that it’s a grand story, an epic even.  It’s not exactly a warm story, but there’s a lot of warmth to it.  Similarly, it’s not depressing in its tragedy, because the focus isn’t on the tragedy, but perseverance.  In general, the storytelling is about the feel and mood of the anime, and in that regard it succeeds.  What’s really interesting is that, since the storytelling is perhaps more focused on the mood, some of the failings end up falling by the wayside.

Pace: Very Good

The pace is clearly something out of another era.  The overall pace probably will feel slow.  On a per-episode level, however, it will probably feel too fast.   It’s a little at odds with itself, but fine overall once you get used to it.

One final note: This review of the classic Harlock contrasts with the most modern iteration, found in the movie Space Pirate Captain Harlock.  I forget where I heard it, but the difference between the two is that the original is an unconquerable space captain, while the modern one is a brooding space pirate.



Tatami Galaxy


Tatami Galaxy is an odd sort of anime that breaks from a lot of anime tropes and norms, giving it a very different feel from what you’d normally find. This anime is about people and perspective, presenting a relatively simple premise in a highly entertaining and convoluted, yet positive fashion.  Tatami Galaxy is an outrageous merry-go-round in a very ordinary carnival.

Purpose: Excellent.  This anime is both simple and complex at the same time.  Going by overall theme and generally episodic nature, it first appears to have a much more frivolous tone.  Each episode, however, ends up adding something different to the mix.  The end result is an interesting looping sort of story that accomplishes its task by shifting perspectives on characters and events.  Part of what makes it interesting is sorting out the continuity – which events “happened” and which ones didn’t, yet give you insight into the characters.  The continuity itself can be difficult to keep track of, since it’s basically a series of “what ifs,” different sets of decisions that may or may not change the outcome of certain events.  One of the strong points here is the use of “keystone” events that act as a landmark or roadmap of where we are in each story.

Characters: Excellent.  The characters are all fascinating, bizarre, and complex.  Characters both are and aren’t what they first appear to be.  Rather, they have an evolving degree of complexity as the story shifts perspectives, giving the viewer different glimpses of who the character is.  One of the more interesting aspects of this element is that characters are all affected, in some way, by the main character’s perspective.  After a certain point, the viewer’s knowledge of the characters and the main character’s knowledge of the characters diverge, making that a unique perspective in itself.

More than that, the anime is about the relationship between the characters.  It’s about how they interact together and with each other.  Often, it’s how the characters bounce off each other in odd situations.  The relationships have a unique feel and flow to them, very fluid.  It gives them a very natural, if odd, feel.

World: Excellent.  The world does a lot of heavy lifting, even if it isn’t fist evident.  On one hand, it manages to create a place where craziness can happen without being too off-the wall or random.  At the same time, it manages to ground everything so that the craziness ends up being of an everyday quality.  That’s not to say the world makes things bland, only that it lends a sense of weight and realism to the events that happen, making the events believable, or perhaps more plausible.  This ends up adding to the weight of the story and the genuineness of the characters’ actions and mannerisms as well.

Plot: Excellent.  The plot, too, is another strange and potentially confusing contradiction – it doesn’t cover much ground, but at the same time, it goes a long way.  What, exactly, the plot is depends on how you look at it.  If you think of the plot in this anime as the distance between the starting and ending point, then it’s a relatively short trip.  If you think of the plot as how we get from beginning to end, there’s a ton of progress.  More specifically, the plot is a combination of what is, what perhaps was, and what could be.  Even more, there are many interconnected character-specific plots that create a fascinating ultimate trajectory for the story.  It’s not just that the plot represents changes in the characters’ story or the story the viewer is being shown.  The tangled web of plots manage to direct the viewer’s perspective on characters and events, which can be understood as a separate and unique plotline.  Part of this direction involves certain fixed plot points so no matter what happens,  the viewer can keep a grasp of where the various episodes’ plots were on the timeline.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.   The storytelling in this anime is truly unique.  At a basic level, the art style is very different, lending a unique spin to the events that happen.  Contrasts and colors end up being a very important part of the story.  What makes the storytelling truly special is its weaving and shifting, seamlessly tying world, characters, and plot throughout the story.  With the kind  of story being told, it could very easily have become dull or stale, showing how delicate and skillful the anime really was.  Much of the story ends up being almost on repeat, except that it isn’t.  It’s more a series of what ifs that are all blended together to paint a complete portrait of characters and events.  That said, the story is limited in perspective to the main character.  The main character is never named, giving to the first-person feel of it.  He narrates the story and, as it goes on, it becomes clear that the viewer’s view of each happening is limited and, daresay tainted, by the main character.  As we shift through possibilities, the motives, actions, and goals of the characters (and the events they are a part of) come into clearer focus as our knowledge diverges from the main character’s.  Though there is no real “villain,” by the end, it makes you wonder who the bad guy really is after all. Since there’s so much going on, this is an anime that lends itself to several re-watchings

Pace: Very Good.  Not too much to comment on here.  The slightly episodic nature of the anime gives it an odd feel, once you’ve gone through a few scenarios.  It feels both fast and slow at the same time.