One Punch Man (Short Review)

Excellent

One Punch Man is an extremely fun anime to watch, blending the action/fighting and parody genres.  Very clean and smooth in execution, it’s accessible to both newbies and experienced viewers alike.  If you’re very familiar with the action genre (Dragon Ball Z, YuYu Hakusho, Bleach, etc), you will find that almost everything in the anime is a parody on some level, from the main character’s lack of hair, to the various monsters, to the S-ranked heroes.  But what makes One Punch Man stand apart is that it doesn’t purely rely on the parody; it’s fully aware that it’s also an action anime and really delivers as such.  Part of the delivery is the contrast of the personality of the main character compared to everything that’s going on around him, counterbalancing all the craziness going on.  He has a two-stage personality – that of a pretty average guy and that of a functionally unbeatable character (who knows it.)  This gives him a refreshing devil-may-care attitude that is fairly unique.  Why should an over-powered character feign weakness or even care about enemy attacks when they won’t really do anything?  The attitude actually resolves a longstanding weakness often found in action anime, who artificially create drama by not “powering up” until the last minute.  Instead, One Punch Man creates some excellent drama involving other, weaker heroes and their stories.  All in all, a raucous party and a really great show to watch.

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

Interviews With Monster Girls (Short Review)

Excellent

Interviews With Monster Girls is a very sweet and endearing show about monster girls in a very down-to-earth school setting.  While that may sound rather plain and uninspired, the show utilized a more thoughtful approach in how they presented the characters, both human and non-human.  The main character follows (quite refreshingly) in the theme of Gate – a mature character that is more of a good guy, rather than a nice guy.  Instead of relying on dim-witted naivete, the main character takes an active role in shaping the dynamics of the group and outcomes of a variety of situations.  This isn’t to say he’s an all-powerful superman, but his stable and empowering character ends up being a catalyst for positive change in other characters.  Because of the grounded tone of the anime, it ends up having a very real feel, lending credibility to all of the interactions.  With that setting, they end up addressing some very deep issues, such as how individual differences can affect a group as well as the struggle a teacher faces in trying to guide their students.  Not to say the anime’s necessarily all lofty and high-brow – there’s lots of fun and cute moments.  While there aren’t any crazy harem antics like other shows of a similar type, Interviews With Monster Girls ends up serving as a very low-key counterpoint to others in the genre.   A surprisingly simple, yet very satisfying anime to watch.

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

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

 

Tatami Galaxy

Excellent

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.

 

 

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (Series)

Excellent

Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works is a strong character drama with lots of really good action components.  In broad terms, this anime essentially a remake of the 2005 Fate/Stay Night series.  However that’s not quite correct, since the Fate/ series is based off a visual novel (a kind of choose your own adventure style computer game.)  Unlimited Blade works is a different “route” from the 2005 Fate/Stay Night – a different path the story takes, depending on player choices.  All in all, this is likely to be a really good anime for both new fans and veterans alike.  That said, the whole series is probably best watched in release order
2005 Fate/Stay night -> Fate/Zero -> Unlimited Blade Works.  This particular watch order recommendation is supported by the order the original game was supposed to be played.  The first scenario, titled “Fate,” (covered by the 2005 series) had to be completed before you unlocked the Unlimited Blade Works route.  Fate/Zero is necessary in between the two because it contextualizes what happened in “Fate” and sets you up to get the most out of Unlimited Blade Works.

Purpose: Excellent.  Overall, the anime is an interesting character drama about confronting one’s ideals and idealism in the face of reality.  If that sounds too high-brow, don’t worry.  It’s presented in a fairly accessible way, with attention paid to how the issue is presented.  All in all, this is an anime that is quite talkative, with lots and lots of dialogue to read (or hear if you’re a dub fan.)  However, since they paid such great attention to the details, the talking is never really dull.   The talkiness is refined so that it’s generally character personalities bouncing off each other in an extremely witty and occasionally sarcastic exchange of words.  Of course, Unlimited Blade Works is not all philosophical – there are a great many stellar action sequences to punctuate what’s going on.

Characters: Very Good.  The characters were generally strong, with the focus mostly on the three main characters.  That said, the anime does a solid job of making most of the characters involved with the story distinctive and interesting.  More impressive, perhaps, is that the distinctive ways the characters act, react, and interact with the world are all logically consistent with their personalities.  On that theme, the series did an excellent job of rotating in and out different kinds of villain, taking the time and care to develop them and even humanize them.  Even the ultimate villain’s actions and reasoning end up being more interestingly twisted than purely malevolent.

One thing to note – since Unlimited Blade Works relies so much on things that happened before, as a standalone, the characters aren’t quite as strong as if you’re privy to the knowledge obtained by watching the other two series, 2005 Fate/Stay Night and then Fate/Zero.  That ends up adding to the tragedy of several scenes as well as the tragic nature of the idealism at issue.  That’s why I recommend release watch order.

World: Excellent.  For people newer to the Fate/ series world, there’s quite a bit to take in – heroes and magic and general goings-on.  The Fate/ world is extremely large with different players and forces all acting on the story. However, even though very odd and magical things happen, it’s done with a high degree of order – there’s a definite set of rules that govern what’s happening.  Certainly, the viewer isn’t privy to everything, but the world has a sense of realism – that one could understand all of why things are happening.  That aside, the world itself sets up a really interesting stage for things to happen.   More importantly, all of the characters are affected by this world, both in the overall happenings and the impact it has on their personalities – characters are all affected by the “world” they were summoned from, impacting their choices in the story.

Plot: Very Good.  Overall, the plot is pretty straightforward.  Part of its simplicity comes from its focus on the main three characters.  However, this is an example of side-plots and subplots that end up adding a good deal of complexity to what’s going on.  There are several different plotlines that involve different characters, their motives, and their actions.  However, each of them are, themselves, plot points that help shape the trajectory of our main characters’ story and propel them forward.  Basically, they refine our main characters and their choices.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  There’s two main components to this – the character storytelling and the action storytelling.   Starting with the character storytelling, they made a really good decision on ordering the presentation of information, especially by having Episode 0.  While some of the information is review for veterans of the series, there’s enough for newer fans to get the general context.  That’s the really interesting thing about Unlimited Blade Works – its story appears to be designed as a middle ground.  It can be really good without the context, but much better if you have it.  The additional context really sharpens the tragedy of the ideal being presented as well as some of the events involving other characters.

Of course, an essential part of an action anime’s storytelling is the action.  Unlimited Blade Works does not disappoint.  The action has a really solid pace and is strong, but not exactly flashy.  It’s long enough to make it satisfying to watch, but ending quickly enough that it doesn’t grow tiresome.  Furthermore, the action is furious and frenetic without being gritty or over-the-top.  The result is that it emphasizes the heroic nature of these characters – that we are watching some really legendary people clash with each other.  Interestingly, you can see both the skill and the personality of the combatants come out when they clash blades.

On final thing to note – on a purely structural level, the use of color and contrast was absolutely stellar.  The differences in color and hue strongly emphasized the feel of a great many settings.  For example, they used warmer colors to convey safety and familiarity and colder colors to emphasize the unknown and threatening nature of what’s going on.  Contrast as well was employed in a really powerful way to draw attention and focus.  In particular, color change really impacted the sense of a violation when a character was attacked in a place of safety.

Pace: Excellent. There’s not too much to say other than the pace from episode 1 starts out a little slow, but it’s essential.  The pace itself starts getting faster and faster, emphasizing the desperate nature of the events.  One little oddity comes roughly around the 3/4 mark.  The pace slows considerably while our main character faces a large obstacle.  This is done to drive the point home so while it feels a little like it drags on, there really is a lot of new information being presented and action happening at the same time.

Wagnaria!!3 (Season 3)

Excellent

This is the third and final installment of slice of work-life series, Wagnaria.  Wagnaria is one of those shows that got stronger as it went, both in the underlying material and in the anime’s treatment of the story.  This season brings a conclusion to all the swirling drama that was built in the previous two seasons.  They created an ending that was satisfying, funny, sweet, surprisingly genuine, and, in true Wagnaria style, over the top.

Purpose: Excellent.  In essence, the purpose was to wrap everything up, which they did in a suitably spectacular fashion.  What makes this series notable is how much it differs from the genre standard.  Normally, series of this type take a “two-steps backward” approach to maintain drama throughout the final season.  It ends up re-hashing much of what came before.  What Wagnaria did was evenly space out the payoffs to always keep their characters moving forward, more of a staggered approach.  This approach ended up giving equal weight to each of the characters and their individual circumstances.  Another notable thing about his particular anime is that they really do tie up all the loose ends.  That said, it wasn’t wrapped up so tightly that it ever feels like that’s the end of the interesting characters or goings-on.

Characters: Excellent.  The way the characters were presented, it’s clear that they were very aware and very careful of how and when they added new characters to the story.  What’s surprising is how tightly they fit into the story by filling more than one role.  Basically, the new characters aren’t superfluous.  Interestingly, the new characters round out the story instead of diluting or detracting from what’s going on.

While adding and developing new characters, they still managed to round out the existing cast and provide for solid character growth.  More background characters end up taking surprising spotlights and taking on a different flavor from what you’d normally expect.  It’s the character growth in spite of all the goings-on that solidifies this particular element as Excellent.

World: Excellent.  Why is the world Excellent when the setting is basically the restaurant?  It’s precisely because of how impactful the restaurant is on everyone’s lives.  The restaurant is what brings them together, but also is the glue that extends beyond.  In fact, much of this season is about expanding the world – breaking out of the setting and seeing how these relationships exist, even outside of the restaurant.  This is a perfect example of an extremely subtle anime world that is nonetheless very powerful.  Though the background doesn’t really change, it’s about the atmosphere that’s created.

Plot: Excellent.  Since this season was a wrap-up, the plot didn’t have too far to go.  However, what was really exceptional about the plot was how it maneuvered the setup of the individual points to solidly lead into the ultimate conclusions.  Once you look at the bigger picture, you realize that there were a great deal of intertwining plot points, often affecting several characters at once.  What’s quite impressive is that, in spite of its complexity, it ended up looking both smooth and simple.

One final note on the plot – even events that happen as a surprise have a solid, if hidden, buildup.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  There are some really exceptional moments, coming with quite powerful buildups.  In fact, this season in particular has many extremely memorable moments.  This was accomplished through smooth transitions between serious and silly, making the two complement each other quite well.  They focused their energies on the presentation of the payoff moments, making them particularly special.  This made it so that the moment wasn’t only what was happening, but how things were happening.  Part of this was that they managed both the characters and the moments so well, keeping them true to what they had developed.  In other words, it you wouldn’t see a generic “sweet moment,” but a sweet moment that was the culmination of all that the characters had become.  These moments relied on the proper development and growth of the characters as well as the timing of the situations to create a powerful genuineness.

Pace: Very Good. The biggest problem was an odd pacing hiccup in the beginning.  Weirdly, they made a standing start, re-building momentum.  Both animation-wise, comedy timing-wise, and character-wise.  Fortunately, this ends up being worked out after about episode 3.  Once they pick up speed again, it keeps it powerful momentum throughout.

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.

Magi – Labyrinth of Magic (Season 1)

Excellent

This anime was slightly misleading, though I’m not really complaining.  At first blush, it seems like a rather campy, fun action-adventure anime.  It turns out that it’s really an intense character drama with some action components.  While the action is cool and interesting, it’s ultimately somewhat weaker when the anime focuses on it.

Purpose: Very Good.  The anime is oddly middle-loaded.  The beginning and ending “arcs” are weaker in comparison.  This means that the real powerful climax hits a little bit early, leaving room for another arc behind it.  It seems to have gotten a little absorbed in the fighting nearer to the end and only superficially developed characters.  In other words, it altered course from an intense character drama to focus a little more on the action side.  That aside, this anime deals with some pretty lofty concepts, including human slavery, national affairs, and a little bit of economics, to name a few.  That’s not to say they get in the way – they do set the stage for threats that are different from what you’d normally encounter in anime.

Characters: Masterpiece.  The main characters get their turn with development.  The main two characters are pretty exceptional examples of fully developed characters.  They have many different internal forces weighing in on their decisions.  They have a believable “pull” in different directions.  They are affected by their strengths, weaknesses, and character flaws.  The characters struggle to find their own answer to the problem, rather than being fed one because the plot demands it.  On a side note, many characters, including many villains, get a good bit of depth to them too.  They get more complex motives and reasons for doing what they’re doing.

In the last arc, the main character development essentially stops.  Instead, they start to develop some side characters.  In part, this is done to show us how far the main character has come.  The side characters are somewhat interesting in their own right, but they don’t go too far into those characters’ backstory or really explore their motives, goals, etc.

World: Excellent.  A fascinating world, to be sure.  The world has a great deal of consistency in both action and reaction.  Aside from our heroes, there are a great many different moving parts, lending to the feeling that our heroes are a smaller part of a bigger world.  But what is interesting is how even the magical elements fit perfectly.  They are made so that they are included in the world instead of having a “tacked on” feel to them.  By that I mean that magic has its own rules and acts in a consistent fashion.

The theme of the world is really interesting.  This story spans a from Middle-Eastern setting,  to Steppes (probably Turkey-ish), to a coastal trade hub, with dealings from a Far East nation.  Each has a distinct feel to it – everything from the dress to the food, to how the people act are different.  Setting aside, the magical elements put an interesting extra element into the world – the dungeons.  They are a unique and odd place, very different from anything else.

Plot: Good.  The overall plot is Very Good, however, however, they use certain parts of the plot in ways that ended up weakening it.  Part of the problem is that you have exceptionally powerful characters that would probably easily overcome certain challenges.  Thus, in a handful of occasions, they use the plot to artificially de-claw those characters, limiting their involvement for the time being.  While it’s not necessarily a bad thing since it allows the appropriate characters to actually face a challenge, it ends up feeling somewhat contrived.

With that aside, the character-focused plot points are many and varied.  Each point represents a rather solid step towards the resolution.  What is interesting is that the plot moving forward represents more of a factor or force of influence on a character.  This ended up creating a powerful story because there was ever greater weight placed on the characters when making their decisions.

Storytelling: Excellent.  The anime really shined in how it was delivering information.  Lots of character development happened through flashback, albeit to information the viewer hadn’t experienced yet.   Part of the interesting thing of flashback storytelling is that it accomplishes forward progress by explaining the characters behind it.  They would slowly reveal bits and pieces as the story moved forwards.  Those pieces helped explain reasoning behind certain actions by giving insight into the forces that made the characters act as they did.

Other interesting aspects of the storytelling included their handling of some important conversions.  While generally in the context of a fight, these scenes were handled in a very strong fashion so that they also felt like it was a fight.   It wasn’t really physical, but left the impression that characters, ideas, even beliefs were clashing with each other.  That served to provide both the proper stage and attention to make the character drama extremely powerful.

Pace: Very Good.  Generally strong throughout.  It does shift gears on the second and final story arcs.  Those are by far the slowest part of the anime, but they aren’t really slow enough to be a problem.

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.

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.