Masamune-kun’s Revenge (Short Review)

Very Good

Masamune-kun’s Revenge is a show about the interplay of contradictions, both within characters and in interactions between characters.  The show’s premise is contained in its title, but the execution is very different from what you’d expect.  What’s particularly interesting about this anime is that it doesn’t take the ugly route, instead opting for a heaping of melodrama punctuated by some very deep moments, making it very entertaining.  The story is structured in an almost simplistic fashion so that the characters end up seeming hilariously petty in their interactions.  In addition to overt storytelling, the music was employed in a very precise fashion to create the melodrama by drawing attention to and blowing petty acts out of proportion. This keeps the overall tone light and the comedy rolling instead of creating a slugging match of abusive one-upsmanship.  It also serves to mask the fact that the underlying issues are very real and actually kind of reasonable, given the circumstance.  This interplay of contradictions led up to an exceptionally complex and powerful scene – one that probably is up there on my list of dramatic scenes.  While I don’t think this show is going to be everyone’s cup of tea, I am interested in seeing where they are going to go with it, given that it was set up as a first season.

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

 

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Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches

Very Good

Yamada-kun and the 7 Witches was extremely surprising in several ways.  Despite appearances, it is not a harem anime and is not a fan-service anime.  Instead, it’s a fairly straightforward…. well, somewhat convoluted romance in a magical world anime.  It does a good job of capturing your attention and keeping it throughout.  Though it’s not the slickest anime out there, it has a tremendous amount of heart.

Purpose: Very Good.  The most interesting thing here is that the anime revolves around special powers… and kissing.  Knowing only that, you’d completely expect a fan-service anime.  If I then say there’s some body-switching in there, most people would have raised eyebrows by this point. There are a couple short scenes of fan-service, but those are out of the way early on.  Even at that, the fan-service was both reasonable and understandable – it’s not there for fan-service’s sake, it was there because the story called for it.  Aside from that, the anime does involve kissing as a central theme.  Ultimately, however, it doesn’t end up being about any of these things.  Perhaps the strongest point of the purpose was the fact that they were able to de-emphasize those elements to the point that they were both reasonable and matter-of-course, given the circumstances.  Instead, the anime focuses on the growing relationship of the main two characters in these strange and weird situations.

Characters: Very Good.  This anime did a really good job of knowing which characters to develop and which ones not to. What it ended up doing was differentiating between the main group of characters and characters that don’t ultimately play around in the main group.  It sets up a much more real dynamic of friends and people you share some interest or event in common with.  For the main cast, the characters become something quite other than what you’d expect.  Throughout, there was a good deal of genuineness to the characters, something that is quite uncommon.  One of the strongest parts of the characters was how they dealt with problems.  Surprisingly, they would actually talk about their problems and share their concerns with their friends.  This ended up cutting off a tremendous amount of “filler angst” that you find in most anime, resulting from some misunderstanding.  Even when there’s a delay in talking about something, it isn’t really ever belabored and strung out – it’s done out of consideration for the other’s feelings at the moment.  Yet another of the surprising things about the characters was that they did a good job of both humanizing all the characters and making everyone sympathetic, to a certain extent.  There aren’t really villains – everyone has their problems.

World: Good.  The world mostly borrows themes that are pretty standard to the high school romance/ drama genres.  Though most of the anime takes place at the school, occasionally, you’ll step outside to another setting.  However, each setting has a purpose, either to develop a character or provide unique circumstances to affect character relationships.  That aside, the magical element isn’t overpowering – it’s pretty minor, as things go.  It’s never fully explained, but it doesn’t exactly need to be, since the magical aspect of the world is another part of the setting – interesting situations for them to do interesting things in.  As the anime goes on, it becomes clearer both what the magical powers are and how they affect people’s relationships.

Plot: Good.  Again, fairly standard for the genre.  You’ve got a relatively straightforward romance, and odd events running interference.  The main plot is supported by the plotline that involves figuring out the magic powers.  Actually, when the plotlines intersect near the end, it ends up making something quite powerful.  One of the more unique aspects of the plot is that it hints at another part of the story, not told, that precedes the events that happen here that ultimately play an interesting part in the resolution.

Storytelling: Masterpiece.  When you can manage to make an anime about kissing and bodyswitching work without being a harem or fanservice… it takes a special kind of storytelling.  However, the storytelling is very skillful because it takes what seems like really limited gimmick and varies it so it’s never boring.  Instead, it varies it to provide some excellent situations for the characters, and shows them in a very genuine way.  Of course, that’s surprising, given the anime’s about kissing and bodyswitching.  Even so, they skillfully managed to make the kissing aspect mundane and, sometimes, even necessary without being rude or bad.  That’s really surprising since there’s kissing that isn’t solely limited to boy x girl.  And yet, it’s not fan-servicey and not done poorly.  Perhaps it’s because they make it mundane that it isn’t awkward, romantic… or, well, anything.  It just is.   However, the fun thing is that they’re able to turn it into something special by the end.

Now for the bodyswitching.  Again, exceptional.  This was only something that could have been pulled off by the exceptionally talented, veteran Japanese voice cast.  It really is something that you have to see to appreciate what they’ve done.  Since they’re bodyswitching, the voice actor has to act like another character, matching inflection and tone.  And they do.  They do it so well, if you actually think back to some memorable lines, you will only think of it in the original character’s voice or forget that it was a different character delivering the lines.  The tone, the inflection, the delivery is all just… right.  This keeps a strong continuity of character so that you can always tell who a character is.

Pace: Very Good.  The anime constantly builds tension as it goes, resulting in a really strong ending.  The comedy is spaced really nicely to offset the character drama that’s going on.  In addition, introductions of new characters, and their development, is handled in quite a solid way so it’s neither overwhelming nor too slow.

Kamisama Kiss (Season 1 & 2)

Very Good

This ended up being a surprisingly good random pick.  Kamisama Kiss is another anime that’s somewhat difficult to place.  It’s probably best described as a blended romance and comedy anime rather than a romantic comedy.  This anime is generally low-key and pretty unassuming, but permeated with a thoroughly sarcastic tone.  Although you’d expect the anime to be pretty frivolous, it ends up going some pretty serious places.

Purpose: Very Good.  There’s a pretty big subject matter difference between the first and second season.  Generally, the first season is more slice of life-y, since it’s about learning how to be a god.  It tends to be a little more episodic, but it was held together by the budding romance.  The second season changes direction and takes the anime into much more serious waters.  It’s much more about the characters and character relationships at that point.  Really, that’s where it hits its stride,  solidly weaving drama and comedy into the romance elements.  That said, on a broader note, the anime can be divided along season lines into two general categories.

Characters: Very Good.  One of the notable things about the characters was the inclusion of a rare tsundere male.  He wasn’t exactly the most distinctive male tsundere, but the personality was done quite well.  What made his role much stronger was the inclusion of two other foils, who really ended up highlighting different aspects of his character.  For that matter, character development was handled in interesting ways, marking a very distinct difference between the humans and non-humans.  The most interesting dynamic that they created was the difference between characters that are several hundred years old, yet still young, and “normal” humans. Eventually, they managed to round out the main and supporting cast enough that each had a solid amount of depth, resulting in some level of respect for the characters.

World: Very Good.  Much of the world development comes in the second season of Kamisama Kiss.  It solidly builds off of existing Japanese mythology, but adds a more personal twist to the pantheon.  Though you see it occasionally, this anime definitely “humanizes” the gods (kami.)  Eventually, you get a much clearer picture of how things work in the world because it takes on a more consistent feel.  It’s a good thing, too, because the world is what supports the much stronger drama that happens in the second half.  That said, there’s still a lot of things that are only touched on and left unanswered.

Plot: Good.  The plot wasn’t too special, overall.  The first part had a fairly trivial feel that comes from slice of life type shows.  Plots were pretty straightforward and didn’t really span more than an episode.  That said, there was always the main romance plotline running through things, which kept things moving.  The main romance itself makes a huge leap once it gets to the second season, where you delve into the characters’ pasts.  In addition, there are several more interesting dramatic plotlines that appear.  The latter drama is where most of the plot’s power comes from, since it’s able to build upon both the main romance and some really interesting things aside.

Storytelling: Very Good.  There was a really good use of animation change to suit particular scenes.  Basically, they’d change the animation style to emphasize certain aspects of the characters.  Mainly, it was used to make the scary yokai seem more approachable and endearing.  Although it really came into its own when the characters’ personalities started bouncing off each other.  It does take a good while for that to happen, though.  Animation aside, the handling of the characters’ “turns” was handled in quite a solid manner.  The viewer got to see things from different characters’ perspectives, but it never felt like “oh, it’s your turn now.”  Of the storytelling, two things really stand out.  One was the “dream-world” of the main character’s past.  It was pretty exceptional in how it was handled – clearer memories were in focus, while things that weren’t as clear were more cartoonish or, well, different.  The other was the handling of the characters’ backstories.  The theme was “the person before you knew them.”  They actually did a really good job of making the characters similar enough, but different so that they seemed unknown to the viewer as well.  It definitely had the feel of the character’s life before the other characters, and even the viewer, knew them.

Pace: Good.  The slowest part is actually the first half.  Basically, it starts off at a complete standstill, slowly building momentum.  It takes some time for all the characters to be assembled, and some more time for the anime to hit its stride, especially with respect to the character antics. Once it gets going, it ends up being a really solid pace.

Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa

Very Good

This is an odd anime to be sure.  It’s a romantic comedy with light harem elements thrown in.  Honestly, I was surprised that I found Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa this good.  I was expecting a far, far weaker anime.  The thing about this anime is that it’s both predictable and unpredictable – in some ways it goes as expected, but in other ways, it is really different for its genre.  The strong point is that it’s the twists on the standard genres that ends up making the usual plot points better.  There’s a surprising amount of sweetness in the anime, balanced with comedy.

Purpose: Excellent.  Jitsu Wa Watashi Wa is a fascinating study in how to blend romantic comedy with light harem elements.  Normal harem anime tend to revolve around the infighting – clashes of really strong personalities.  This anime, however, casually and smoothly transitions between one on one relationships and love triangles.  It’s not really about fighting, although that does come up once or twice.  Instead, it highlights several different kinds of relationships between the main character and the other characters.  This is one part of what makes this anime surprisingly strong.  The other part is how they reversed the focus of the anime; they changed it from the girls to the male lead.  This is another surprisingly successful use of the “nice (plain) guy.”   The male lead was placed in bizarre and often painful (usually comedic) situations because of his niceness, but he was the main actor.  This is different from the norm where the male lead is merely a bystander to bizarre and outrageous fighting, basically trying to herd cats (pardon the pun.)

Characters: Very Good.  Another surprise was the characters.  I had expected the characters to be defined by a one-off gag, usually involving something monster-related.  However, they’re fairly solid and distinctive characters on their own, supplemented by an “inhuman” trait.  Make no mistake, a lot of humor is based on those various traits, but it’s more the combination of the characters working with and reacting to those traits.  Basically, it provides them situations to react.  But to say that almost denies the delicacy through which those traits are used.  They are never over-done or overwhelm who the character is. In sum, they are a part of the character, but by no means are the entire character.

The other interesting thing about characters are their relationships.  Since they’re generally interactions of two to three characters, it ends up creating very interesting relationships.  Much of the anime is spent highlighting the different kinds, and the evolution of the relationships between three characters – a basic love triangle, but with occasional interference and support of other characters.  That’s a bit of an over-simplification, but it conveys the general idea.

World: Good.  Nothing much to remark upon except for the fact that they do a relatively good job of making a world where you can have all these kinds of oddities without seeming out of place.  Aside from that, the anime uses fairly standard settings and locations for the genre.  They were able to actually use the plain nature of the world as an advantage.  Going through the anime is more like seeing the other side of the mirror – these kinds of crazy things happen, but in an everyday low-key way, outside of human view.  As we go on, our eyes are slowly opened to the commonplace weirdness.

Plot: Good.  Another surprise, the plot mostly wasn’t about the main character keeping a secret.  It followed a much more traditional high-school romance in a magical world plotline.  Thus, the variety of plot points involved different situations that would change the feelings of the characters with respect to each other.  Though it takes a bit to get there, eventually the plot settles into a solid love triangle, with a potential for more.  Really, the point of the plot in this situation is to maintain tension between the characters, never pulling too hard nor letting a character get too far away.

Storytelling: Very Good.  The storytelling was novel for what it didn’t tell you.  The viewer’s knowledge of events was limited to the knowledge of the main character, for the most part.  Sometimes, they did let you know what the girls were thinking to enhance the situation.  One of the stronger points of the storytelling was the managing of the character-specific gags and relationship developments.  They never lingered too long on one particular character, turning to another before it becomes stale.  For that matter, even the most perverted character was not exactly a recurring theme; most anime that involve those characters tend to overuse them almost as filler gags.  Instead, we got a really nice balance of both character relationship drama and comedy, done without a “character rotation” scheme.

For the character dramas, there actually were some really well done scenes.  They managed to convey a solid emotional impact, either sweet or tense as required.  Interspersed in there, they placed comedy as a way to refresh.  Another notable aspect of the storytelling was that they were able to use comedy to interrupt more serious scenes without destroying the mood, which is rare.

PaceGood.  There weren’t any particular problems with the pace.  One of the more interesting things they did was use the pace to convey the passage of time.  In other words, it was clear that we were only really seeing the highlights of relationships that spanned a longer period of time.  That aside, they did a relatively good job of spacing out the introductions of the girls, although it really takes about 6 or so episodes for the full cast to be assembled.

Monster Musume

Very Good

Monster Musume is an anime that gets all of its traction from the fact that it’s a twist on the standard fan-service/harem genre – it’s basically a giant “what if” scenario.  The foundation of the anime’s plot and story is textbook harem.  However, the strength lies in how convincingly the addition of the outrageous monster girls ends up contorting otherwise stale elements, turning them into something much greater.  If you’re a fan of the harem genre and have a good tolerance for fanservice, this is an anime you shouldn’t miss.  If you’re not a fan of the harem genre, you could probably still find some purchase in the outrageous comedy.  If you’ve read the manga, I’d say it’s a pretty solid adaptation.

Purpose: Excellent.  The best way to describe this anime is “shameless,” or, rather, “unashamed.”  There’s a huge variety of situations in this anime that range from lewd to sweet.  Unlike other, especially fan-service, anime they actually work in the fan service so that it isn’t out of place for the setting.  The concept of the monster girls was handled in a much stronger way than you might expect.  There’s a ton of practicality involved concerning the girls and what ends up being fanservice.  While the fan service is unabashed, there’s usually an underlying reason for it, rooted in the blended nature of human/creature.

Going a little deeper into the anime, one of the thematic undercurrents is about acceptance of the other, the inhuman, the foreign.  Time and time again, they emphasize that these girls are people.  Yes it seems somewhat ironic to say that and then use them for flagrant fan service.  However, it’s generally seen through the eyes of the main character, who, in spite of these crazy (and nearly lethal) antics, appreciates each of the girls for her uniqueness.

Characters: Excellent.  The base character personalities are standard for a harem anime.  At first, there is nothing really unique about them.  That said, the base personalities are done strongly enough to make them distinctive within the harem genre.  Building off the base personality, monster traits are added to the girls.  It’s the combination of the two that makes the girls really special.    Part of what’s strong about the monster traits is that the anime conveys a sense of realism behind those traits.  For example, the larger monster girls have a sense of presence, weight, and power behind their movements.  When you combine the basic harem premise of possessive fighting with girls that have these dangerous traits, it really changes the relational dynamic between characters.  Suddenly, the possessiveness takes on a very dangerous feel and the atmosphere is really different.  However, the anime doesn’t just stop there.  As the anime nears its end, the characters actually start having depth and they become more interesting.  True to the harem genre, as more girls are added, the relational dynamics shift and characters actions and reactions change to match.  The most noticeable will probably be Mia, who takes on a much sweeter feel later, instead of being more annoyingly clingy early.

What really ends up making the characters excellent is this blend of human and monster.  Examining the characters a little more in-depth, they’re made up of a really interesting conflict between their human sides and their animal/monster sides.  While the monster may make them do things in a more forward fashion, it makes the human side embarrassed.  This is actually the most convincing dichotomy I’ve seen in the harem genre – not as forced as you usually see.  For that matter, the nice guy male lead actually works here.  In part, it works because the monster girls are horribly violent, but at the same time, he’s helping bring out the more human elements of the monster girls.

World: Good.  Again, the base world is textbook harem, and pretty plain.  While there is some background given, it’s little more than a pretext for the setting.  That aside, it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone into the creation of these monster species.   As a species, they have distinct traits, likes, dislikes, etc.  The attention to detail even extends to how even monster races treat each other.

Plot: Decent.  Frankly, there’s more holes than plot.  That said, the plot is prevented from being Bad because of how the plot holes are shamelessly used.  Rather, a character was specifically created to be a plot hole and force advances in the plot when convenient.  She is Smith.  Yet, Smith ends up being an entertaining character in her own right, essentially explaining sudden “plot” as ineptitude or laziness on her part.  Honestly, she does an adequate job of preventing the anime from becoming too stale.  One other note, some semblance of character plot actually starts to coalesce near the end – that’s when the anime begins to transform into something (slightly) more than a shameless ecchi comedy.

Storytelling: Good.  In sum: basic harem antics spiced up by crazy and dangerous monsters.  The introductions of the girls are handled in a really great fashion.  They introduce them without overwhelming you with the details – they slowly reveal character/creature specific traits at relevant points.  Of course, the harem in-fighting comedy and personality clash takes on a unique tone because they are careful to keep the fact that these are monster girls in mind.  Later towards the end, you do start to get some really strong personality clashes and even some sweet moments.

Pace: Good.  Nothing really remarkable.  They spaced out the introductions of the girls well so that it isn’t always a new girl per episode.  It ends up making a good punctuated effect of meeting the girls, while maintaining the humdrum of everyday life.

Daily Lives of High School Boys (series + 6 shorts)

Very Good

This is an oddity in the slice of life comedy genre because it’s about average high school boys.  Well, weirdo high school boys, but normal nonetheless.  Daily Lives of High School Boys is certainly fun to watch passively, enjoying the comedy.  You can also pay attention to the subtle (and sometimes in-your-face, not so subtle) commentary worked into the background.  With that in mind, this anime does some really interesting things that are very rare in the slice of life and comedy genres.  Overall this anime was structurally sound and pretty entertaining to watch.

Purpose: Very Good.  The first half of the anime is somewhat hit-and-miss with respect to the consistency of the humor.  Once it settles into its stride, and finds out what works well, it’s consistently strong.  The type of humor present in the anime varies quite a bit.  However, much of the humor is perspective-based, which may be somewhat surprising to the unaware.  This means that certain actions and reactions and even violence are exaggerated to the viewer to give a sense of how the characters interpret it.  Some of the perspective-based commentary is perhaps a bit too overt.  The commentary varies, but seems to generally coalesce around frustration at the differences between girls slice of life and boys slice of life comedy.  That aside, this anime truly shines when it accompanies a scene with characters’ internal thoughts.

Characters: Very Good.  Characters generally aren’t deep, but this is an example of a type of anime where they don’t need to be.  Instead, characters are generally interesting enough by acting in a distinctive enough way.  What was surprising was that several characters ended up having a good deal of depth, but in an unexpected way.  The strongest characters are the ones where we can see their internal thought processes.  It’s a really odd, yet effective, way to build a character since we really learn about that character by the way he thinks.  That ends up creating almost a template where, even if we don’t see the character’s thought process in another scene, we know generally what he’s thinking. By the end, they manage to develop a surprising attachment to the characters and the everyday struggles they face – you sort of feel like you knew these guys.

World: Good.  On a physical level, while fairly plain, the world served its role solidly.  For this anime, the world ended up being much more of a backdrop of everyday locations.  Those locations actually served as a passive indicator of the kind of humor to be expected.  As the anime smoothed itself out, the settings generally resolved themselves into themes that set the stage for the comedic gags.  The other aspect of the world is all the ways the characters are related to each other.  That sets up a continuity between gags.  The continuity supports and lends credibility to the characters, especially in creating a general mood and atmosphere.  This anime includes something that is also quite rare in this genre’s worlds – the solid progression of time.  The anime is far from the “slice of life that never ends.”  In all, the world did a solid job of supporting other elements.

Plot: Very Good.  Normally, in slice of life comedy, you’d expect the plots to be very, very short – often limited to the several minute gags.  For the most part this is true.  However, with the addition of time, and continuity, there ends up being a plotline to several running gags.  There is a surprising amount of progression and development that happens, which is another oddity in the slice of life and comedy genres.

Storytelling: Very Good.  Storytelling in genres of this type is also usually limited to how they set up the gags.  Continuing to praise the addition of continuity, the storytelling both benefits and utilizes it very well.  It represents a constant evolution of how you understand the characters and their odd relationships with each other.  Several of the running gags are told in such a way that it makes you want to know what happens in the end.  Fortunately, they are kind enough to show us.

Pace: Good.  While this anime suffers a little bit in the beginning, it eventually finds its internal pacing.  Once it does, things run smoothly.  As it hits it stride, they begin to vary the skits’ internal pacing – some slower and some faster.  Once things are running smoothly, the pacing’s role in the gags ends up increasing.  They manage to play with pacing in a way that manages expectations and allow for several gags during the specific skit’s runtime.

Inu x Boku Secret Service

Very Good

This series was initially a random throwaway pick that ended up being surprisingly good (funny how that happens).   The series itself is rather uncomplicated at face value, but does contain a surprising amount of depth.  Inu x Boku SS is a fun blend of comedy and sweetness, alongside an ever-present, darker undertone.  It’s also rather sarcastic and somewhat irreverent, which adds to its playful tone.  All told, it’s a pretty strong anime.

Purpose:  Very Good.  This is an extremely hard anime to classify.  Comedy predominates but it leaves plenty of room for darker character drama.  There’s also a dash of supernatural, for flavor.  But the anime is also caught between a pretty straightforward romance and character drama – Inu x Boku SS is focused internally almost as much as it is externally.  There really are a lot of different forces pulling it in different directions.  However, it works out quite well.  The tension between these distinctly different types of stories actually works to complement the stories being told.

As an aside, the supernatural doesn’t really play a significant role in the anime at all.  While it isn’t deeply explored, it does set the stage to allow for the characters to have a darker backstory without it being horrible.  The anime could certainly have done without those elements, but it would necessarily have been a much darker story.  When the supernatural isn’t part of the backstory, those elements are used to add levity, inserting some amusing situation for the characters to find themselves in.

Characters: Very Good.  There are two classes of characters here – those with depth and those without depth.  The main few characters end up becoming quite interesting and complicated, although it takes a while to get there.  The focal point for the anime’s character depth is the main heroine.  The cast pretty much revolves around her – her actions tend to shape the contours of many of the character interactions.

The rest of the cast is made up of a bunch of really crazy oddballs.  They were distinctive enough characters that they actually didn’t need too much depth.  Lots of the comedy in the anime involved these crazy personalities bouncing off each other.  This is where the playing with expectation really comes out.  Many characters end up reacting in pretty consistent ways, although sometimes they do things that are very surprising or unexpected, which is often funny.

World: Good.  All told, it does its job, although it’s pretty limited in scope.  All the action happens in a handful of settings, so it doesn’t do too much.  For the most part, the settings are fairly straightforward and “normal” in nature.  It’s a little disappointing that they really don’t explore too much of the supernatural, because there is some really interesting potential there.  But that, too, ends up being part of the periphery.

Plot: Good.  The plot is remarkably straightforward and uncomplicated, with very little distance to cover.  It’s back and forth in-between slice-of-life type gags and little bits of character plotline.  Then again, this is the kind of anime where it’s not how far you go, it’s all in the journey – all the meandering loops.  The interesting thing is that the character plots are always inching forward, not exactly repeating the same material.  Often in anime, they will really drag out the plots by repeating the exact same plot point, with the exact same result.  In this anime, even when the same kind of plot point came up, it was slightly different each time.  That’s what actually made the plot worthwhile – the result was affected by who was present.

Storytelling: Very Good.   What is quite impressive is how they manage to tie the disparate elements together in ways that support each other.  Many times, anime will include so many elements that they end up conflicting, which dilutes the impact of each.  Trying to pin it down, it seems to work in this case because of the overall tone they created as well as their treatment of transitions from comedy to serious end up supporting that tone.  The interesting thing about the storytelling is that it doesn’t really take itself seriously, but that ends up strengthening the impact of the serious scenes.   Even where silly ends up intruding on a serious moment, it’s done as part of the flow, rather than killing the mood.  That takes a great deal of delicacy.  Another part of it is that this anime likes playing with expectations and anti-climaxes, but uses them in ways that make the scenes more genuine.  Really, one of the best ways to describe the storytelling is straightforward and sincere.  The real standout in this anime is the last 3 episodes which build on everything that came before to add a fairly solid finish.

Pace:  Very Good.  How you see the pace will depend on how you classify the anime.    Since it has fast-paced banter-type comedy alongside slowly evolving characters and an even slower romance, it has very different needs at different times.  It seems to manage the pacing changes rather fluidly without too many problems.  That being the case, it’s really interesting to note that the transitions really aren’t too jerky or disjointed, as would be expected.   Very impressive to say the least.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Very Good

This is what I had hoped Kantai Collection would be like.  It’s quite similar in concept – girls are the personification of a particular ship of war.  The glaring difference between the two is that this is stronger in every way.  It has a much more serious tone and they actually depict the ship of war itself.  This makes for some really interesting naval battles.  I am a fan of naval combat (or battles, in general… I just realized I sound like a certain Major and his war speech…).  This is a notable anime both for its characters and its action sequences.

Purpose: Very Good.  This is primarily an action-focused anime with a strong amount of character development.  The overall goal for the characters isn’t very lofty and this anime doesn’t really break ground in where it goes, but what it does, it does quite well.  Much of the anime is actually pretty limited in scope to the action and events surrounding the main characters.  Interestingly, the focus shifts to the Fog, the story’s enemies.  Actually, it’s as if the camera is following the “main characters” but the story is about everyone else.

On a broader note, the anime is initially action-focused.  However, the action focus slowly gives way to a character drama.  The character drama adds a great deal of intensity to what’s going on and helps put an extremely interesting spin on the finale.

Characters: Very Good.  The character development was very different from what you’d expect.  Actually, our main cast was relatively flat and un-developed.  The main development came from the Fog, the enemies in the series.  The Fog, being ships of war, make a very interesting and continuous journey as characters.  Essentially, they’re built from scratch.  Once they are distinctive enough characters, the focus then becomes how they interact with each other.  Several characters’ development is extremely subtle and difficult to recognize how the characters have developed, except when directly brought to our attention.

World: Good.  Not a whole lot is explained, but it isn’t really necessary for the story.  By that I mean that it would be really interesting to know all the ins and outs of the world, but it would probably be distracting from what they were trying to do.   As it was, we got to learn enough about the world through the characters interacting with it.  That created a very interesting dynamic between the viewer and the anime.  Everyone else seemed to know what was going on, so the viewer was treated almost like an outside observer.  Then again, this anime wasn’t so complicated that things really needed to be explained.

For the specifics, we don’t know much about the threat facing the world, where they came from, what they are, and why they act.  We don’t know how the societies developed apart from each other.  We don’t know a great many other things.  Not to say that it detracted from the anime, just that what we learned about the world did a sufficient job, but had a much greater potential to grow.

Plot: Good.  The plot is also relatively uncomplicated.  Generally, it was “defeat the enemy.”  That’s perhaps putting it too plainly.  The enemies have to be defeated within the context of some other goal going on.  Thus, their defeat is merely incidental to the main plot.  However, the plot itself shifts focus from world events to character events.  What essentially happens is that we get a very generic overall plot of “deliver the item,” which effectively stalls it out.  Then, in its place, we get the character plots that involve a great deal of inner and relational conflict.  In other words, characters have difficult decisions created by their own turmoil and their relationship to other characters.

Storytelling: Very Good.  There are two main areas affected by the storytelling – the battles and the character development.  For the battles, they were done in a very skillful manner.  Many of the battles had a great deal of cleverness to them.   The cleverness added to the tension by making it a battle of wits, rather than firepower.

The storytelling involving the characters was also quite skillful.  Many of the character developments were quite subtle.  Based on the character development, they managed to build some really excellent character scenes.  The stand-out would have to be the main antagonist of the show.  The way her story is told makes for a really poignant finale.

Pace: Good.  The pacing was solid throughout.  There were some areas that hiccupped slightly, making it feel slower.  For the most part, the action sequences had a pretty strong pacing, which helped keep the tension moving throughout.

Log Horizon (Season 1)

Very Good

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Genshiken (Season 1, OVAs, Season 2)

Very Good

Normally, I’m pretty hesitant about anime involving Otaku because they tend to over-utilize the “shock value” with baser humor and subject matter.  However, Genshiken is a pretty entertaining comedy about Otakudom.  Perhaps it resonated with me because I have realized only recently that I am a pretty big generalist Otaku (into video gaming, anime, painting miniatures, building Gundams, and cosplay).  Only recently realized this?  Yes.  To paraphrase the anime, becoming an Otaku isn’t something you set out to do, you just find yourself there.

EDIT: Here’s where it gets confusing.  The second season of Genshiken is called Genshiken 2. It comes right after the 3 OVA episodes.  Crunchyroll has Genshiken Nidaime listed as “Genshiken Second Season,” but that’s actually season 3 – it comes Immediately after Genshiken 2.   One other thing to mention – Genshiken 2 goes a lot more into and includes much more ecchi content.  In addition to standard ecchi, it also goes into BL (boys love), without being too graphic.  That said, you’ll need a solid tolerance of ecchi for Genshiken 2.  Those are also parts of Otakudom, so it makes sense that they’d cover that material, which was only touched on in Genshiken (season 1.)  The review was written after watching Genshiken 1 and the OVAs, but I don’t really have too much to add after watching Genshiken 2.

Purpose: Very Good.  All in good fun, it’s a slice of life comedy about Otaku.  What’s notable about this anime is its treatment of both “old,” firmly entrenched Otaku and people new to the… lifestyle.  They also included the perspective of the outsider, thrown into the melee.  This anime also breaks a bit from the slice of life genre.  Normally, slice of life is about crazy characters reacting to new situations.  Normally, time doesn’t really progress in a meaningful manner and the characters don’t usually develop.  Genshiken is different.  It managed to keep its entertaining value throughout and also make structural changes throughout.

Characters: Very Good.  The characters were all distinctive, both in aspects of their hobby and their personalities.  The characters had a surprising amount of depth, given the genre.  One aspect of the characters that really stood out was the attention to body language.  Often, the body language did a great job of showing the viewer what was going on and added a great deal of emphasis to what was going on.  Character interactions were both varied and unique.  They tended to react to situations in a really human manner, based on their personalities.  Several scenes come to mind where there was a great deal of believable awkwardness as well as touching moments, which punctuated the comedy.  As a final note, they did a really interesting job developing two couples – the Otaku couple and the Otaku/normal person couple.  There were great lessons to learn from those relationships.

World: Good.  Pretty normal.  The world was interesting because it was at first limited to the clubroom, but slowly expanded.  It broadened for both settings and subject matter.  For settings, it occasionally varied between “normal” and “Otaku,” which provided interesting situations for our characters to react to.  For subject matter, many of the major Otaku areas were given some light – manga, anime, cosplay, figure-building, etc.  Part of the world included the characters dealing with the world – an interesting situation in itself.

Plot: Good.  It’s a slice of life/comedy anime about Otaku.  It’s not as if the entire world is at stake here.  As before, it was both surprising and interesting that there was progression in an anime of this type.  In addition to actually creating a character development trajectory, the plot was varied enough to have interesting situations arise.

Storytelling:  Very Good. Storytelling is always harder to spot in slice of life and comedy anime.  In this case, it’s how they set up the comedy and other situations.  What is most interesting about the storytelling wasn’t necessarily what information they provided, so much as what they didn’t.  There was just enough Otaku in there to be familiar to veterans, but not so much as to be seriously off-putting to someone not as familiar.  In addition, they usually managed to keep a nice balance of handling certain Otaku subjects without getting vulgar.  The best phrase that comes to mind is that they toed the line, although they weren’t trying to see what they could get away with.  This anime seemed to want to talk about these subjects, rather than trying to shock the viewer.

The main point of the storytelling here was the comedy.  This anime was consistently funny.  The kind of humor, based on the situations, was varied as well.  It wasn’t like a lot of anime in this genre, where characters have a “reaction catchphrase” – something happens and they react in one particular way.  Part of what was so funny was that the characters were reacting in a realistic, believable manner.  Though the anime was mainly comedy, I was really surprised that they managed to have several scenes with a strong impact to them.

Pace: Very Good.  The strongest point of the pace is, again, what it doesn’t do.  They had an excellent sense of when to develop an issue and when to leave it be.  This could very easily have gotten bogged down with too much of an exploration into Otaku minutiae.  Added to this was the fact that many other anime in this genre struggle with the pacing of pure comedy.  They managed to keep everything together very well.