Just Because Episodes 2 + 3: Imagine a Transfer Student Came and Nothing Happened

Review Episode 2:

It isn’t exactly news that I don’t much like slice of life or slow romances, stories set primarily in high school or anything that is particularly slow paced… and yet then there is my absolute devotion to Kimi ni Todoke which more or less hits every one of those criteria. And while Just Because doesn’t yet have anywhere near the charm or draw that Kimi ni Todoke has, I remember the first time I watched that I wasn’t particularly impressed during early episodes but I was strangely drawn to the show. And by the time the first season ended I was in love.

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I’ll admit, I don’t actually expect Just Because to ever rival Kimi ni Todoke in my heart (given none of these characters have quite the same charm as the ones in Kimi ni Todoke) but at the same time, this is some pretty pleasant viewing. Certainly episode 2 has some lacking moments but the genuine charm and familiar interactions between characters just kind of keep drawing me in to this story even while it doesn’t exactly go anywhere.

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I’m not getting my hopes up too high, but I am honestly enjoying this so far and I’m kind of hoping for some low key entertainment out of this.

Review Episode 3:

This episode gave me a very Haruhi Suzumiya vibe (hence the title of the post) except that it was kind of like what would happen in Haruhi if she didn’t actually have god-like powers. A transfer student has come and the photography girl is latching on hard but he’s pretty ordinary and not particularly interested in what she’s selling.

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Otherwise, a lot of this episode went to Soma and his pursuit of the girl who seems pretty oblivious to anything resembling friendship or romance as well as the commentary or assistance of those around him.

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Really, not a lot actually happens in these episodes and normally that would bother me, but the jumping between individuals and groups as more and more connections are revealed or formed is keeping this from feeling terminally slow and everything is charming enough to leave me feeling pretty happy by the end of the episode. I also kind of like Izumi as the transfer student even though he’s pretty much determined not to get involved in any of the relationship hijinks swirling around him. Okay, I just like protagonists who are low energy observers and I should probably just admit that outright.

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All and all, I’m pretty happy with how this is going. The animation quality isn’t amazing but when the characters aren’t walking or running it isn’t overly terrible. I will admit, a few sequences have had me shaking my head but mostly it is watchable and won’t detract too much from the romantic/teen drama unfolding.


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Kino’s Journey Episode 2: Story Crafting Done Right

Review – Episode Spoiler Ahead:

There was something magical about this episode even as we started with a vision of a woman speaking with Kino in an incredibly ambiguous fashion and then we get straight into a new country, one that Kino has apparently been wanting to visit. Yet on arrival, things are not as expected (which plays directly into the audiences’ expectations).

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For a set up so common, what Kino’s Journey then does is  take us through a rather thought provoking series of events that have us both backing Kino and question their choice in how to deal with the situation. Other characters similarly have ambiguous motives so while the plot progresses in a more or less routine fashion there is plenty for the audience to contemplate.

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What truly works though isn’t the shocking climax of the fights, because that was pretty telegraphed by Kino’s earlier question about stray bullets and a number of other hints, but rather just how well all the moments of this episode connect.

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Perhaps the most powerful scene of all comes after Kino leaves the country and is throwing rocks into the water. The conversation between Kino and Hermes is both illuminating and maddeningly vague leading you to speculate about the intentions of the characters involved.

All and all though, this episode really stepped up defied my expectation that this episodic series might be dull. This episode was truly a treat to watch.


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Sagrada Reset Series Review: Why An Interesting Premise Isn’t Always Enough

Overview:

Sakurada is a town where the majority of the people have power. One specific power each that can be used under specific conditions. Most of these powers are harmless and fairly useless individually, but this is still a point of concern for those watching over the city. Kei’s power is that he doesn’t forget anything including time even after the world is reset by Misora. By combining their powers they are going to work to help people.

Review:

Sagrada Reset (or Sakurada Reset) is a fairly interesting anime. That will probably be hard to believe if you spend even five minutes doing a google search on it and see the parade of reviews of the first, second and third episodes and then see that the internet went pretty silent on this title as a large number of viewers dropped this and moved on. However, this is a 24 episode anime and one that the writers clearly intended people to watch the whole of rather than receiving instant gratification each and every episode, and to be honest I’m really glad I watched this through to the end, despite my own stated desire to drop this show mid-season.

There are plenty of shows where the whole is greater than the sum of their parts and some of those actually manage to be decent week to week, so I guess the question I’m left with is why was Sagrada such a frustrating viewing experience when stretched out from April to early September?

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For a lot of the reviews I read of the early episodes, it was the characterisation and pacing that was killing the show. The characters were compared to robots, androids, lifeless dolls and pretty much anything else that has about as much personality as a brick. It wasn’t even that much of a stretch. These characters do spend a great deal of time sitting very still with limited movement other than the occasional head tilt, talking in a manner that to the average listener sounds grossly unnatural. To be precise, the characters are ridiculously precise in a way that no-one ever is when speaking. It is an odd experience listening to them and there isn’t much visually happening to distract you.

That isn’t the same thing as a criticism though. Certainly it isn’t natural, but natural is probably not what anyone intended to go for with these characters. So for the first three episodes, I found these characters fascinating. Not actually good characters or terribly real, but interesting in that unique, what-are-they-doing kind of way. Admittedly, by mid-season, some of that charm had worn off and what I was left with was stilted characters who I will admit now were developing (as evidenced by where they end up) but it was happening so slowly that it was almost imperceptible until you actually reflected back.  Kei in the final episodes isn’t the Kei we met early on despite what the other characters might say and Misora, the emotionless robot girl herself is almost getting close to real person status by the end and you can’t really put your finger on when that transformation occurred because it has been a slow build of a myriad of tiny changes.

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Basically, the characters won’t work for everyone and none of them are going to end up on my character of the year list, but I am going to remember them because they don’t fit into the average moulds I’m used to seeing marched out onto the screen in anime. Again, not sure if that is positive, but it isn’t a criticism either. It just kind of is and different people in the audience will respond to them differently. For a lot of people that response is to turn the show off.

The second major criticism of the pacing is a harder one to discuss. The pacing is incredibly slow. Even with a two year time-skip by the time I got to the end of this show’s run it felt like I had been watching it forever. Part of that I think will be solved now that the full show is released and I intend to revisit this show and binge it in three or four blocks to see if that makes the pacing any more tolerable. With the pacing as it is though… Well, you have to either be really interested in the premise or find the characters really fascinating if you are actually going to push through with this one particularly during the first twelve episodes. Fortunately the second half definitely hits the accelerator and while it is still fairly measured, it isn’t making you want to pull your own hair out anymore.

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But these aren’t the only issues the show suffers from. It also suffers from a main character whose motives and actual personality are murky. He isn’t the good guy trying to save the world because he can. He isn’t on any kind of ego trip. He doesn’t necessarily want to be the best. He openly admits he is being selfish and that his own goals don’t have any higher meaning other than they are what he wants to do. Basically Kei Asai is the central figure of a story and his actions do drive a lot of the plot but those actions regularly have no significant meaning behind them. There is the motivator of trying to undo the death of Sumire Soma from early in the story, but most of the missions Kei undertakes for the Bureau have no direct connection to that event and it is hard to see what benefit Kei is seeking from his actions sometimes. That made it hard to care whether he succeeded or not, a lot of the time.

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Misora isn’t much better. Particularly early on. She seems so empty and useless as a character, her entire identity defined by how Kei sees her. It would be very easy to rant about female characters lacking agency but when we see the entire journey Misora takes, while it doesn’t make her earlier character all that palatable, it makes it hard to get on a high horse about character development. Misora arguably has the most development as Kei, despite changes that you would expect from the life he has lived, doesn’t gain anywhere near as much in terms of personality as Misora does from the events and experiences.

With the two central characters being hard to care about or rally behind, it keeps the audience at a distance from the show. There’s limited investment in the events and in their outcomes early on. Not to mention, Misora’s Reset ability is overwhelming and it is hard to imagine something coming along that she couldn’t fix despite the early blunder where a Reset had already been used making it ‘impossible’ to fix Soma’s death.

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Yet despite all these potential criticisms and deal breaking flaws that the show exhibits, there is one thing that having watched it from start to finish that I am very happy with. This is a planned and fully cohesive story. With one exception (that I’m hoping does tie in and I just missed it), every one of the earlier stories and events that Kei and Misora go through in that first half of the series is utilised and drawn back into the central plot as the show moved into and through its final arc. Conversations and ideas that felt meaningless, bewildering, or tacked on and then forgotten, suddenly serve great purpose and come together to make an ending which is rich in meaning and purpose and feels genuinely rewarding. Part of the reward is that you succeeded in the endurance test of not dropping this show, but the other part is that what you are seeing is actually satisfying story telling.

It is the kind of thing that is seen far too rarely in anime. As a medium, anime is there and then gone. One season is quickly followed by another and so many shows come out that viewers take one or two looks (and a lot follow a three episode rule) and make their choices. So shows stack their ideas and displays of prowess and frequently forget the greater narrative leading to stagnating middle-seasons and convoluted or messy endings (or worse, a non-ending). For everything that Sagrada Reset has against it, that ending alone made it worth my time.

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But, I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t been drawn to other aspects of the shows. The main draw for me was the premise. The town of Sakurada was interesting and the way powers could be combined and used for unexpected purposes was enough of a novelty for a slowly moving plot to keep me coming back even at the mid-season point where I seriously considered letting this show go from my line-up. The interactions between the students and the bureau also gave me hope that this story had some greater purpose or meaning in store for us and ultimately it did do something with those ideas even if it was never quite what I expected. And that was the other part of the show’s charm. It never quite went the direction I thought it might go but it never did anything that you could consider overly crazy with its narrative. Everything was logical and methodical and while that may not sound all that appealing, I quite appreciated it.

I will put a warning on this anime though if you are triggered by acts of self-harm. Kei has very little sense of self-preservation and some of his tactics and moves are quite underhanded and on at least two occasions violent. So while this show is not a gore fest or anything of the sort, those scenes are confronting, more so because the rest of the events are so benign.

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This isn’t an anime I will recommend because the vast majority of people are not going to like it. However, it you’ve got the time and you like to see something that takes a slightly different approach (not a radical reinvention or innovation but just not exactly the norm), then this is worth watching. If you make it through to the end you’ll probably gain some satisfaction though whether you end up feeling it was worth the time it took to get there is something only you can decide.


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Elegant Yokai Apartment Life Episode 13: This May Be The End

Review:

Not of the anime, because tragically that has more to come so it kind of looks like it is just going to continue into the next season (I can’t actually find an episode count anywhere though). However, I am pretty sure this will be my last post on this. Hopefully. If I have any sense at all I will drop this for real.

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I just want to know why every character who meets Inaba thinks anything of him? Seriously, what are they seeing that the audience isn’t? They all sit around and give him advice and pep talks. That is literally their entire interaction with this kid and yet they all speak so incredibly highly of him. Yet, everything he has done and his internal dialogues just make him look and sound like an idiot.

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I hate this main character, I hate that all the other characters seem to think he’s amazing, and I hate that nothing ever seems to happen in this show. Okay, I think I just made my mind up and I’ll be dropping this.


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Gamers Episode 10: A Tale of 5 Teenagers

Review:

There’s no mistaking we’ve come along way from the original set-up of Keita being asked to join the Gamers Club at school. That isn’t to say that every step has been good and right now I’m wondering how we got where we are, given if someone described this episode to me and told me I should watch the show I would probably laugh at them, and yet somehow this is oddly compelling.

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I think it is the slow boiling effect in that they’ve just slowly turned up the craziness and now we’re fully immersed in this ridiculous love pentagon thing and I’m not sure even the characters remember who they think likes who at this point.

Still, the two characters who stood out to me this episode for contrasting reasons were Chiaki and Aguri. Prior to this episode, if you had asked me which of these two characters I liked the most I wouldn’t have picked Aguri. Yet, coming out of episode 10, she’s the clear winner for one simple and obvious reason.

This episode sees Chiaki waiting around for Keita to help her untangle her part in the story and still fail to actually accept her own feelings. Essentially, she’s playing the damsel in distress and making no moves of her own to get to a happy ending. On the other hand, while Aguri is making no progress with her actual boyfriend, she stands up for herself and abandons a meeting with a ‘friend’ from middle-school when they start insulting gamers. Aguri acts with integrity and determination and sticks to her own convictions. Admittedly, she follows this up with crying and running so it isn’t a perfect character moment, but of the three girls this episode, Aguri is the one who has the most agency as a character and it was really great to see.

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As for Tendou, well, she hasn’t really had a part in this story for awhile and her most compelling moments this episode were quite literally phoned in. Hopefully she gets to step up again in the next episode.

It is a bizarre little story and while I’m caught up in it now it is becoming increasingly difficult to think that I would recommend it after it is complete.


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Princess Principal Episode 11: Another Fine Mess

Review:

This episode was everything you could have wanted from Princess Principal after the bombshell ending to episode 10. Ange stayed true to who she has been and attempted to throw off pursuers and then run-away with the Princess. Princess however also stayed true to who she had become and pretty much told Ange she should run off by herself.

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This is kind of fantastic not because it was unexpected (because by this point it wasn’t), but because of how well this series has built up the relationship between these two characters. They are both hurt by the outcome of this confrontation and it isn’t just that they drew some tears, the audience is feeling the pain of this encounter.

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That said, the rest of the episode was pretty ordinary in terms of setting up for a final. It is functional but not exceptional and the introduction of Zelda at this late stage didn’t help things along. Still, looking forward to where this goes next.


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Hell Girl Episode 9: That’s Some Poor Decision Making

Review:

Well, here’s a case of why did we involve Hell Girl? A girl doesn’t want to go to school so the teacher visits her home everyday and she refuses to talk to him. She does talk with a friend via emails and texts though and starts thinking she should write her teacher’s name on the website to send him to hell. Kind of making you feel sorry for the teacher early in this episode.

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And then we get our twist. The teacher is actually her pen friend and rather than being concerned that she was going to send him to hell he asks her to do so because he hates his life. Really? This is your solution to not really liking your job?

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Things continue and he goes to hell but is kindly informed that the student will one day follow him and then the story ends.

I can’t help but think this was a somewhat less than satisfying story. There seemed no catalyst for the girl wanting to curse her teacher as he didn’t necessarily seem like the reason she wasn’t going to school. There seemed no reason for the teacher to actually want to go to hell. It all just seemed kind of ‘so whatever’.


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Sagrada Reset Episode 24: Kei is Everyone’s Hero

Review:

As this is a final episode review I’m not worried about spoilers so if you are concerned, please go back and read some of the reviews of earlier episodes.

I know with absolute certainty that writing a full season review of this is going to be really hard. There are some things about this show that I have loved (and that’s why I made it through all those very long feeling episodes), but the glaring flaws of the series haven’t gone away. They carry through right to this final episode and are actually emphasised by the fact that a lot of this episode returns us to the thoughts and feelings we had back in those first few episodes nearly six months ago.

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Having resolved the whole power loss thing and the future of Sakurada (or at least found a temporary solution so things can go on hold) the majority of this episode focuses on the inter-relationships between Kei, Misora and Soma. Though, we do get flashes of pretty much every other significant character from the series so we can see that they all in fact got a more or less happy ending. It is a blink and you miss it nod to the fact that other characters exist.

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Despite the fact that the main plot resolved itself, I actually found this ending reasonably satisfying because the story started with this trio and has been shaped around their relationships, so giving a final episode to properly provide closure here didn’t feel like an added extra. It actually felt like the writers had carefully considered what the main story was and realistically it was always about Kei, Misora and Soma as the whole powers getting taken away crisis only really came up toward the end of the run.

Yeah, I’ll get to a full review soon but right now I’m feeling pretty happy with how this played out even if the actual viewing during the mid-season became incredibly frustrating.


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xxxHolic Series Review: Everything Has a Price

Overview:

Watanuki can see spirits and they bother him fairly continuously. One day, as he is being harassed on the street by spirits he touches a fence and suddenly they back away. Entering the house he meets the mysterious Yuuko who offers to fix his problem in exchange for Watanuki working in her store where she grants wishes for a price. Though reluctantly, Watanuki accepts her offer and enters a world full of strange and supernatural occurences.

Review:

The idea of a mysterious person being able to grant wishes for a price is hardly a new one in fiction. Its pretty much as old as they come when you consider Rumpelstiltskin and other fairy tales that play on exactly that notion. What makes xxxHolic interesting is that you never really know if Yuuko is out for personal gain or not. While the price she demands at times seems steep, she always follows through on her end of the deal and considering what is being asked of her it only makes sense that it come at heavy cost.

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So the premise of this story works fundamentally very well. As does the slightly spooky and yet glamorous setting of Yuuko’s store/house. It is unsettling and yet visually compelling as is Yuuko’s basic appearance. She is beautiful but beautiful in a way that makes you sense something slightly inhuman about her. The opening music, the butterfly motif, all of the aesthetics work at creating a truly enjoyable atmosphere for a mysterious story about spirits, contracts and other supernatural occurences.

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What I like less about the show is Watanuki himself. He is an incredibly irritating character. His hissy fits, his moments of self-delusion as he imagines himself with the pretty girl from school that he clearly has a crush on even though she’s clearly up to something, his sudden bursts of anger, his constantly underestimating or misinterpreting Yuuko’s actions… He is an incredibly childish character and most of the time you just want Yuuko to put him straight and yet for the most part his actions go without rebuke. Occasionally she’ll deliver a cutting remark to make him reflect and then we get the even more painful Watanuki being humble scene usually before he flies into yet another unwarranted rage.

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This means I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the show. I watched xxxHolic because I loved Tsubasa Chronicles and Yuuko’s brief appearances in that anime fascinated me. On learning there was a story focussed on her I just couldn’t resist. And she is fantastic while Watanuki is just kind of tiresome.

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The rest of the cast are all kind of interesting or forgettable by various measures but they help to fill out the world and give direction for Yuuko and Watanuki so that isn’t really a problem. Watanuki’s friends (?) from school each have secrets of their own though in the first season of xxxHolic little is revealed about that.

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Each episode is more or less a stand alone story, however artefacts from previous stories come up later and Watanuki becomes more knowledgeable and asks less questions later on in the series. Still, the basic set up is someone comes to the store or Watanuki stumbles upon something, there’s a brief consultation with Yuuko and Watanuki will usually be unimpressed with her initial response so do something stupid, there’s another consultation with Yuuko where someone will make a deal and she’ll either take action or direct someone to take action to resolve the problem. It is fairly formulaic but it doesn’t feel overly repetitive given the sheer number of different issues the characters face.

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If you are in the mood for a slow paced story with a little bit of mystery and a focus on the supernatural, xxxHolic is certainly something worth checking out. Not to mention, some of the quotes that you will come across in this show will stick with you long after you finish watching it.

If you’ve watched it, please let me know your thoughts.


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Princess Principal Episode 10: A Brief Reunion

Review:

This episode definitely went for a darker tone and spent a great deal of time setting up a situation just to make it hurt when it got to the inevitable end of the line. That isn’t to say it wasn’t a great watch. Predictability isn’t a problem so long as the journey is worth the time and this one certainly was with some truly excellent characterisation of the team adding to the weight of the emotional feels that they dumped on us in the latter half of the episode.

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While Chise and Princess are pretty much sidelined for the episode, Dorothy, Ange and Beatrice more than make up for it by providing some charming moments as well as some dark spy shenanigans.

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That said, the close of this case isn’t for the faint of heart because while there are certainly more graphic scenes in other anime, there’s something particularly tragic about this episode. And in case that ending wasn’t bad enough they set up what may actually be a conflict for the end of the season (maybe).

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Now I want the next episode because Ange’s next move is going to be interesting regardless of her choice.


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