Fastest Finger First Series Review: Do You Like Watching Characters Answer Questions?

Overview:

Koshiyama is about as typical an anime dweeb as they come. A book nerd starting high school with few friends or social skills. Then he get dragged into a practice quiz and discovers Quiz Bowl.

Review:

There’s really not a lot of story here. Geeky and shy kid joins new quiz circle at his high school and as a result gains some confidence, kind of makes some friends, and kind of finds a rival. I say kind of, because in these 12 episodes the skeleton for future developments is set up but very little time is devoted to anything outside of quizzing and learning about question formats and practicing to answer.

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Enjoyment of this show relies very heavily on the audience enjoying game shows or playing along with quizzes. If you like hearing characters discuss strategies for when you can quiz in or narrow down answers, then you will have fun. If you like seeing if you can beat characters to the right answer, you’ll probably have fun. If you actually want the back story on the characters or to see any of the potential character developments realized you’ll probably end up disappointed.

For me, I loved being inside Koshiyama’s head as he tried to find the answer to questions. Sometimes he was successful and sometimes not (so at least no plot armour for the rookie quizzer) but his thinking and how he drew on his knowledge from the vast array of books he had read was kind of fun to follow.

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The other members of the team and most the rival players are also fun enough, but they just don’t spend enough time with any of them. They all remain more types than characters and, particularly with the leader of Koshiyama’s team, it felt like there was a lot missing that would just make all these characters feel a bit more real and fleshed out.

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Mikuriya gets a lot more time as the set up rival from another school, but even he doesn’t get much beyond his attitude and aptitude. We literally know nothing about him beyond the fact that he likes quizzes and he doesn’t like to lose.

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Of course, the show isn’t all smooth sailing. The introduction of Akira in the latter half hurt my enjoyment of some of the final episodes. He was a really annoying character and while the show needed something to shake up all the composed quizzers and Akira served that role well, he didn’t make it more fun to watch.

The opening song is enjoyable enough and the dings and beeps of the buzzers are certainly nostalgic sounding. Otherwise the music and sound is pretty unremarkable as are most of the visuals.

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There’s no greater narrative going on here. No fighting for a greater good. This is just about the characters and quizzing with Quiz Bowl getting the lion’s share of development even at the expense of the characters. Still, if that works for you then you should have some fun with this show. I certainly did and while it is hardly going to be my favourite anime ever and rewatch value is pretty low (sorry, once I know what the answer is going to be a lot of the fun goes out the window) I’d actually happy watch a second season of this, though that seems unlikely that we’ll get one.

Probably the best thing I can say about this show is that it is consistent in what it delivers.

If you watched Fastest Finger First I’d love to know your thoughts on it.


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My Girlfriend is Shobitch Episode 1: Perplexing

Overview:

Akiho is the class representative and has never had a boyfriend before so when she’s asked out she tries very hard to meet her  boyfriend’s expectations, even though he doesn’t really have any.

Review:

This is so weird. It seems to want to be ecchi but at the same time seems to be trying to tell a sweet story of first romance. The thing is, we could recut the episode into two ten minute episodes and end up with one really sweet  rom-com and one over-sexualised, innuendo laden one. The older sister character would entirely disappear from the sweet one because every second she is on screen pretty much screams that she wishes this was actually full on ecchi.

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I kind of like Akiho. She hasn’t really got much of an established personality, but her work ethic so far is pretty commendable. Plus her blush when she opened the dirty magazine and got more than even she was expecting was pretty cute. What I particularly liked is it actually seems like she is genuinely interested in the guy and just has no idea how to be in a relationship. It makes her kind of cute.

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Still, with incredibly crude humour (both verbal and visual) assaulting you every other line, scene  transitions with shots of the female protagonist lifting her skirt, and general poor animation (lots of stills and panning), this isn’t an overly impressive first episode. It isn’t ecchi enough for those who want that in an anime and those elements are basically getting in the way of this being a cute romance.

Very counter to my common sense, I’m going to watch another episode and see how it goes.


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Clean Freak Aoyama-Kun Series Review – It’s a Gag Anime About a Germaphobe Soccer Player: What Do You Really Expect?

Overview:

Aoyama is a brilliant soccer player who also happens to be a germaphobe. When he starts highschool he defies expectations by going to a school that isn’t particularly strong at soccer and there continues to go about his daily life.

Review:

The whole way through the Summer 2017 anime season I kept this show on my watch list. At times that was more to see if I could finish a show that was built around a really basic gag that Aoyama didn’t like to get dirty and everyone around him was clearly crazy. At other times though, this show did manage to make a decent point or be amusing. I think for me, what saved this show from the endless list of comedy shows I have dropped in a heartbeat was that I didn’t hate the main character.

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Comedy anime have a really terrible tendency to make their lead characters truly insufferable to watch. They whine, they are usually loud or run about flailing their arms, they talk a lot, and usually have some fairly repugnant personality traits. Okay, I don’t like comedy so I’m fairly harsh on these characters. Aoyama isn’t like that because the main character, other than his one quirk of cleaning things, is pretty stoic. The idiocy and energy come from the rest of the cast and they are fortunately diluted by being side characters and not appearing all the time.

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That isn’t to say there weren’t those episodes that made me roll my eyes and want to stop watching. Episode 11 (the second last episode) was genuinely painful to get through. And why was it so bad? Because Aoyama barely appeared in it and we were forced to endure the side characters taking the lead on the episode and they were really annoying.

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Basically that’s all for this review. Either you will find the basic set up amusing and enjoy the way the idea of difference and tolerance is discussed through the various over the top set-ups, and occasional cool moments in the last five minutes of soccer games, or you will find the screaming girls chanting for Aoyama sickening to the core and flee the viewing. That said, there are some really good social commentary moments to be found beneath the comedy, though that really isn’t enough to off-set some of the sillier moments the show delivers or the fact that the characters I enjoyed the most seemed to be the ones who were quickly shuffled to the sidelines and the more irritating characters ate up more and more screen time.

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The music works but isn’t exceptional. The visuals similarly do their job but aren’t really particularly good or bad. Though occasionally I wish they hadn’t gone for the simplistic expression on Aoyama’s face because the white eye thing is really kind of creepy. There were a few jokes I could have happily lived without and to be honest this has zero rewatch value because there’s nothing you would have missed the first time and the jokes will not get funnier with retelling.

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Still, I made it to the end. I had a bit of fun with it. If you didn’t check it out at all it may be worth an episode, though likely this is one that will quickly be forgotten.


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Gamers Episode 11: Let’s Go On A Double Date

Review:

This episode of Gamers begins where the last ended with Tendou and Uehara not wanting to think Amano and Aguri are cheating but not sure what else to think. In desperation, they come up with a plan of attack.

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It is actually a little more sensible than some of the other plans these characters have hatched during the course of the show and we end up with the main four visiting an amusement park that is clearly modelled on some RPG. Amano is right at home and he and Tendou seem to be reconnecting. Unfortunately, the gods of plot coincidence decide that we need one more wrench thrown in the relationship works and Konoha overhears their plans and drags Chiaki to the same park to meet up with everyone.

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Ultimately, this is quite a fun episode. While no one directly addresses the misunderstandings, spending time together rather than speculating about what is going on seems to bring Uehara and Aguri back together naturally, and Amano and Tendou also seem pretty solid by the end. Chiaki isn’t giving up but she isn’t actively trying to get in Amano’s way. It almost seemed like a final episode but apparently there is one to go and I’m just keeping my fingers crossed it isn’t a beach or pool episode but all things considered I’d probably bet it will be.


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Clean Freak Aoyama-Kun Episode 12: Apparently There’s a Reason

Review:

The team are still worried that Aoyama will leave for a better offer, despite every bit of evidence suggesting that Aoyama has no interest in doing so, and Zaizen attempts a heart-to-heart though given his basic personality that goes about as well as expected. We then spend the rest of the episode in another match with the team still aiming for nationals and convinced they need to win because due to a series of assumptions and poor communications, they’ve come to the conclusion it is the anniversary of Zaizen’s mother’s death.

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Anyway, business a usual. Team losing. Aoyama makes a comment that could be seen as quite cutting and cold but manages to get things back on track. Aoyama passes the ball to team mate of the week who needs to shine. Then Aoyama finishes the game.

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And from all this we learn the ‘reason’ Aoyama will stay at Fujimi and it is as vapid and stupid as you would expect given the nature of the show. That said, this episode, while pretty standard, is pretty watchable and reminded me very much of the first episode.

I’ll write up a full series review on this one soon.


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My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Series Review: Does Thinly Disguised Social Commentary Count As Entertainment?

Overview:

As punishment for a scathing report written about the concept of friendship and society, Hachiman is forced to join the service club where he is introduced to Yukino. The two of them are later joined by the vibrant Yui. Can the three successfully provide services to others when they can barely communicate with each other?

Review:

There’s something truly wonderful about Hikigaya Hachiman and his view on people and the world. It is scathing, hilarious, bordering on being too true, and yet an utterly self-defeatist way to live your life. It is through his warped lens we view the school and the service club and are forced to reconsider everything we accept about making friends and getting along with people, even as we realise that Hikigaya is himself an incredibly flawed character who needs to make some changes in his approach to solving problems.

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That might be a weird way to start a review of a series but essentially this is a story about three characters who through various contrived circumstances end up working together despite their vastly different mindsets. The actual situations they are dealing with are more or less irrelevant to whether you will enjoy the show. What will make or break this show for you is how entertaining you find their various observations about their situations, their classmates, and each other.

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Hikigaya is a loner. In some ways he has made this choice and is happy with the result, but there are enough tell-tale scenes, particularly flashbacks of middle-school that would point out that his alone status has been externally imposed as much as accepted and made a badge of honour by Hikigaya. As much as he claims a dislike of hypocrisy, he himself exhibits the trait quite a lot. He is also an excellent observer of overall trends and tones, a skill he is picked up from people watching from the outside of the social groups. What he isn’t good at is understanding individuals, mostly because he seldom deals with them. This allows him to understand mob mentality, and how to figure out who is causing social unrest within a group, but makes him completely oblivious to the girl who would really like to thank him for saving her dog’s life.

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By himself he would be entertaining enough but I guess the story would have become pretty stagnant so we also have the two girls in the story who make up the rest of the service club. The cool, Yukino, and the bubbly crowd follower, Yui. These two characters couldn’t be more different as Yukino is smart, thinks and speaks deliberately, isn’t afraid to upset someone with an honest observation, and prioritizes results over social niceties. Yui on the other hand honestly admires Yukino but also realises she can’t be her. For Yui, it is too important that she doesn’t upset her friends or rock the boat.

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What this means is that all three come at every job they are given from a very different perspective. Where Hikigaya looks for a low energy, underhanded solution, Yukino comes at the problem head on and tries to deal with it efficiently and with hard-work and dedication, while Yui seldom gets to put her view forward but that’s okay because she’d probably want to talk about the problem with others and would never get around to implementing a solution anyway.

There are other characters and events in this story. Mostly we go through all the usual high school shenanigans including festivals, bullying, class trips, giving a boy cookies, geeky guy writing a novel, effeminate looking guy wanting to play tennis, the cool group with their usual petty group dynamics, and so on and so forth. There isn’t anything we haven’t seen before but when Hikigaya and Yukino get involved they manage to turn even the most normal situation into a battleground of ideologies and the result is usually entertaining.

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The unfortunate thing of course is that these three characters are connected by a ‘mystery’ revolving around the accident Hikigaya had before the series started. It isn’t much of a mystery but they keep coming back to it and dragging out the effect of it and I guess that is one way to string together the otherwise fairly disconnect series of events that befall the cast.

The other unfortunate part is that at the end of season 1, the characters have made some individual progress, though fortunately no complete 180’s – they are all very real characters in that progress is slow – but the story just kind of leaves them mid-character transformation. You would think maybe the second season would provide some closure but tragically that is not necessarily the case though it does continue the journey and I will get around to reviewing it eventually.

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Still, this show is full of wonderful inner monologues, great one-liners, some biting commentary and thought-provoking moments. The support cast all serve their needed roles, the pace moves well enough, and visually it is fun to look at. The only real issue is the overall plot but the characters more than make up for it, provided you find them entertaining. So, if you haven’t, give the first five minutes of episode 1 a go. If Hikigaya makes you smile, watch the series. If not, well, you’ll still have listened to an interesting opening monologue.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the series.


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Gamers Episode 6: Wipeout

Review:

Directly picking up from last week, we have the ongoing misunderstandings amongst our main five characters with each one interpreting events to suit their current mind-set. Actually, the character who is most sane this week is our shut-in protagonist who has finally decided he wants to be friends with Tendou and takes action to make that happen. It wasn’t really his fault that everyone else blew the situation out of context and that ending went a little crazy.

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Basically, this story is relying on the audience being amused at being more informed than any of the characters. It is a pretty standard move and I hate to say that it is working, but I kind of just want to see how far some of these characters will take their misunderstandings. They’ve already taken it further than I though they’d go.

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Regardless, this show is definitely proving a situation where the three episode rule would not help. Episodes one and two are vastly different from what has followed and this show is getting sillier by the episode. I don’t know where they intend to end this saga of teen drama and romance, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be anywhere near where the first episode indicated this show was going.


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Gamers Episode 5: This Makes Me Wonder If Being Socially Inept is Contagious?

Review:

I’m kind of in a bind with this show. I really like watching the episodes… but, looking at this episode objectively I really shouldn’t be enjoying this. The characters are all acting too stupid for words, too stupid even for cliché gamer characters with limited social skills, and they seem to be acting stupider by the minute. I should be annoyed, exasperated, or eye-rolling and bored, and yet I’m laughing.

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At this point each character thinks every other character has a thing for every other character and none of them have a clue who actually likes them and it is all just kind of depressing when you think about it. It would be slightly better if even one character knew who had a crush on them and just didn’t like them back, but no, instead every character is living is blissful ignorance of reality and imposing their own misinterpreted view on events.

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The game club is almost a non-entity in this show now as these characters who rejected it are now having ‘meet-ups’ apparently to discuss gaming but more to manipulate the relationships just a little bit more. All and all it is messy and the narrative is really going nowhere because we’re just watching these characters go through the train-wreck that is their attempt at a social life.

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Still, between the upbeat, game themed music in the background, and the absolutely serious way our main character delivers lines that are completely going to be misconstrued, I’m having a really good time watching this show. This was not a good episode from a character or story point of view, but it was fun and maybe for this season that is enough.


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Kuromukuro Series Review

Overview:

Kennosuke is a samurai who lived 450 years ago when ogres attacked his home and killed/kidnapped his Princess. Trapped in some sort of suspended animation, he is woken when the ‘ogres’ return and finds the world is a very different place.

Review (there’s a few spoilers):

I haven’t watched a lot of anime on Netflix, mostly because there isn’t very much available in Australia, and most of what is there is already available on other services. Still, I’ve tried a few now of the Netflix originals and for the most part found them watchable, bingeable even, but not overly remarkable. Kuromukuro doesn’t do much to buck the trend there.

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In all seriousness, I actually finished a watch of this series in very quick order and then had to go back and rewatch bits for the purpose of review. Mostly because what this story does right is keeps you wanting more at the end of each episode. Things are happening. The plot continues to drive forward. It doesn’t matter that it is predictable and gimmicky, it just keeps driving onward and you get to the end credits and you are jumping straight into the next episode because anything else just seems silly.

I was going to review season 1 and season 2 separately (given Netflix so nicely insists they are 2 different seasons and labels them as such) but given episode 13 (final episode of season 1) ended with one of the main characters getting run through with a sword and being critically injured and that’s where it ended I kind of just kept watching. Even though I knew that’s why they did and even though it annoys me when stories pull those cheap emotional stunts to make you wait for the next episode or season. This show got away with it not annoying me because all of season 2 was already sitting there but if I’d had to wait 6 or 12 months there’s a good chance I’d have never gone back to it.

So other than my petty dislike of being overtly manipulated as a viewer, what works in this show and what doesn’t? Let’s go for a plus/minus approach.

Plus +

The cast works really well. Okay, every character is actually a walking archetype at various times but they also get small moments where they get to be real humans even if only momentarily, and there are enough cast members that none of them really hang around long enough to get too painful. I liked the dynamics of Yukina’s family, I liked her group of school friends, I liked the UN office workers and researchers, and I liked the soldiers. They all just kind of did what they needed to do. Are any of these characters going to make my favourite ever list? Not a chance, they are pretty forgettable. But, within the context of the story they are in they work remarkably well.

Plus, I really enjoyed the romance element that came into it later on. It was kind of clear from the start they were going to go there, but it was actually kind of sweet when that part of the story got moving.

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Minus –

The villains are all but cape wearing, cackling clichés. And no, they aren’t quite that bad but they get close at times. Initially one of the ‘ogres’ gets killed by Ken and then they said another, single warrior against him. Then they have this weird honour thing where they can’t return if they don’t win and they like one on one battles (though using puppets to pin your enemy down apparently doesn’t count as cheating). It’s all kind of depressing because it reminds me of Beryl’s minions in the 1990’s Sailor Moon and the main villain is about as useful as Beryl really. Turns out he isn’t the actual big bad because he’s also just a cog in the works of a much grander plan. Whichever way, there wasn’t really much satisfaction to be found from overcoming these villains because they were pretty much basic plot points derived from other stories and they weren’t particularly interesting. The only ‘villain’ who gets some points is the clone of Princess Yuki and that’s only because it ties in nicely with Ken’s story and Yukina.

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Plus +

While the fights are not using the smoothest animation ever, they actually give you a feeling of speed and you feel some real concern for the pilots at times (even though it becomes obvious fairly early on that this show isn’t interested in permanently knocking off any of its main cast even when they deserve it). As a result, the fights are pretty fun to watch even once the outcome becomes inevitable.

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Minus –

How many clichés can you pack into a single show? While this show probably isn’t the worst offender ever for this, some of these just felt so unnecessarily tacked on. We had the pool scene, because high school right, and yes the transfer student who is actually a 450 year old samurai, and the school festival of course, the overlooked love interest, the cosplaying best friend, the useless female teacher (hate that one), the teenage mecha pilots, the hot springs trip, the doppelgänger, the 450 year old machine that still somehow works perfectly, the internet obsessed guy, and so on. While some of these were used well within the context of this narrative, others, as I said, felt really unnecessary and like they existed just because the writers were told to make an anime so they did. Clichés aren’t always bad, but some of these just weren’t needed.

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Plus +

I kind of like how this ends. Yeah, there’s still plenty of story out there but it really feels like they brought things to a close. Particularly given the five year time jump (which doesn’t seem like enough given the changes but we had a dialogue line of explanation on that one) which gave us insight into what everyone had done and was doing and really gave the series a sense of closure. Such a rare feeling with anime.

Minus –

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Okay, this one is a minus I don’t normally point out or worry about and most people won’t care, but I found the sub-titles to not be great on this one. I’m aware subs don’t always direct translate and the people who sub things think about the intended meaning and flow and all sorts of other things (or at least if they are good they do, some terrible subs just direct translate everything whether it makes sense in English or not). However, there were a few instances in this where I had to wonder if the sub-title was making it less clear what the intended meaning had been. My Japanese isn’t great so I usually assume that the subs are closer than what I’ve translated and the problem is on my end, but there were a few times where I actually went back and re-listened because what I was reading was definitely not conveying the idea the same way I’d heard it. Again, the problem could definitely be on my end but it was a distraction from my viewing.

Mostly, this is a lot of fun, but there’s not a lot of depth and nothing much to take away from it. If you want to watch some giant robots smash each other with samurai swords, and a vaguely moralistic message about the general nature of human beings and organisations (and if you want aliens, ogres, and nanomachines thrown into the mix) then you’ll probably have a great time watching this. If you’re wanting something that requires a bit more thinking than maybe look elsewhere. Definitely a popcorn viewing anime but not memorable.


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The Highschool Life of a Fudanshi Episode 3

Review:

This one is a short review.

Nothing happened in this episode. He went with a friend and bought a book and gushed about the art work. He helped someone carry a box and then talked about girls he spoke to online before meeting a girl in the class who also shares his hobby. That’s it.

It wasn’t funny or particularly interesting or profound. It essentially filled time and then went away.

Even with only a 3 minute run time I may not sit through many more of these episodes if that is going to be the trend.

The Highschool Life of a Fudanshi is available on Crunchyroll.