Friday’s Feature: It’s In His Kiss

As much as I love my action, dystopian futures, horror stories, and generally violent adventures, deep down inside I have a soft spot for a well told romance story. This comes from an upbringing of watching family friendly romantic comedies with my mother on weekends while folding piles of washing or ironing or other incredibly boring chores but the laughs and sweet stories of all those girls finding their one true love definitely left an impact. Now, if I have a choice of romance or action, I’ll probably pick the action, but every now and then I’m just in the mood for something a little bit sweeter and then out come the romances.

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However, as I sought out anime romances, one thing became incredibly clear to me. There are very few romances that fall into a moderate category. Romances either present as beautiful stories of chaste characters who blush at the mere sight of one another or they present as stories with super aggressive characters who rapidly push the age rating and most people’s comfort zones. And while every now and then we’ll stumble across a story of characters who will actually just fall in love and be a couple, the more common scenario is watching twenty to forty episodes with a couple who have barely managed to hold hands.

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Yes, it is the third season after a 13 year gap, but Sousuke and Kaname finally confidently hold hands.

What this leaves us with, however, is a story that starts reading all sorts of things into fairly mundane actions. The ‘indirect’ kiss nonsense that comes up time and again is one particular example that really makes me roll my eyes. While admittedly, characters probably shouldn’t be drinking out of the same water bottle or sharing a straw or whatever (have these characters never considered glandular fever) the sheer fuss they put up about the possibility of an ‘indirect’ kiss is just insane sometimes. These characters literally melt into puddles of stammering and half the time end up dropping or knocking over the thing they were supposed to eat or drink.

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While this sequence is cute enough in one or two stories, by the time you see it play out again and again and again (don’t believe me, check out the TV Tropes page for indirect kisses and the anime examples) and it ultimately all just gets a bit silly.

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One of my favourite anime romances, Kimi ni Todoke, suffers from being one of those impossibly ridiculous stories. Sawako is a stammering mess of insecurities and doesn’t believe Kazehaya could ever have feelings for her. As a result, when it is first suggested she should date him she flat out states it is impossible. She doesn’t give him the gifts she makes him. She eventually can’t even meet his eyes. All and all, she does everything possible to make herself a cliche shoujo heroine and the type that under most circumstances would drive me half-way up the wall. I don’t know why she doesn’t because I do know that by the end of season one I wanted to slap her for not actually just kissing the guy at the shrine. Nope, you will have to wait until the end of season two before these two will actually kiss and even then, that is as far as their relationship is going. Thirty plus episodes and they finally manage a kiss. Two characters who have been in love with each other since nearly the beginning. To say the pace of that relationship progress was glacial would be being generous.

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Now not every anime romance is quite so insanely slow or chaste. Still, it is interesting how much emphasis is put on the notion of kissing your partner. In some ways it is kind of refreshing and it feels nice to know that the emotional connection between the characters is getting more emphasis then the number of times they can get the characters into the bedroom. Also nice to know that there is a focus on the narrative behind the romance rather than just showing us the characters making out. I appreciate both of these things. At the same time, like with everything else, when there isn’t a variety of relationships and relationship types being shown, it risks normalising some behaviours, marginalising some viewers, and ultimately not providing options so the argument if you don’t like it, don’t watch it, ceases to have weight.

Because a great many people want to watch romance and anime. They may not be after the super shoujo high school girl who blushes to the tips of her ears when a guy picks up her eraser, but they’d like to see a relationship unfold.

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Part of this was why I really enjoyed My Love Story. The protagonist was a male, rather then the girl, and the confession was over and done with four episodes in. The story was about them learning how to be in a relationship rather than getting to the relationship. That doesn’t mean they moved any faster given how long it took them to accomplish hand-holding and the protagonist kissed his best friend (with the aid of some cling wrap) long before he got around to trying to kiss his girlfriend but it still felt a bit different from so many other love stories.

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It was also why I was so puzzled by the number of people who tried to play down Yuri and Victor’s relationship in Yuri on Ice. The ones who claim it wasn’t a kiss and they aren’t engagement rings. Given how little physical connections characters in other ‘romance’ anime have, Yuri on Ice was outright explicit in showing off that relationship. Those two were hugging nearly from the beginning and if hungry stares are the staple of most relationships, just watch Yuri before he starts any one of his skates as he meets eyes with Victor. The average female protagonist has got nothing on that look across the ice and if it was being directed at her she’d probably claim she’d gotten pregnant on the spot.

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Admit it, you want him to be looking at you right now.

Although, the mis-information about pregnancy and sex that comes across in some anime is also a little bit alarming. I kind of get why it happens culturally but at the same time I don’t think girls claiming they’ll get pregnant from kissing a guy really helps get the right kind of information across to people. I’d suggest you not learn sex-ed from anime in the first place, but at the very least they should try to stamp out the more pervasive myths that get flung about.

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However, personal thoughts about romance aside, one thing anime does very well, is really makes those rare scenes, the kiss between the heroine and her hero, truly melting moments. Maybe it is the long wait for it, the build up, the anticipation. Maybe it is the sound tracks, the soft lighting, the sparkles. Whatever it is, one thing I know is that when a couple in anime finally get together and they finally lean in for that kiss, I know I’m usually on the edge of my seat and once or twice I’ve applauded.

Question:

Who was your favourite anime couple and what episode of their anime did they finally kiss in?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Ordinary Anime Characters Who Inspire

While many an anime character has inspired me, it is worth noting that a lot of anime characters have super powers, or magic, or destiny, or some other force working for them, which makes their actions a little less applicable to the everyday life that most of us lead. This list is to the heroes (and ordinary people) who have moved me to action or have given me strength when I have needed it. That makes is a fairly personal list so I’d love to know who would end up on your list of inspiring anime characters. While it hurts that I can’t add Maka to the list this time round, the characters below are all exceptional and yet completely human.

Please note, there will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Akito from Bakuman for standing by his friend from start to finish no matter how rough things got.

Number 5: Nagisa (Assassination Classroom)

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One might argue that none of the students in Assassination Classroom are particularly ordinary, but that is their most compelling trait. They are ordinary. They are the ones who are overlooked and cast aside, who have been down so long that they have forgotten that they even have the right to stand up. Watching Nagisa move from someone who accepts this role to someone who has a clear presence about him and is comfortable in his own skin is something that is greatly inspiring. Okay, most of us don’t have a yellow octopus for a teacher who we get to learn to assassinate, but most of the lessons Nagisa takes on board are strictly of the ordinary kind of valuing who you are.

Number 4: Kurumi (Kimi ni Todoke)

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Season One of Kimi ni Todoke introduced us to Kurumi and she was a nasty piece of work determined to get Kazehaya to look at her and to get Sawako out of the picture. After being rejected she undergoes an incredible character transformation that reminds us all that just because we don’t get what we want doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. Kurumi becomes a truly great character and by the time the end of season 2 rolls around you really want her to find her own happiness.

Number 3: Kousei (Your Lie in April)

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This one might be cheating given the kid is definitely a genius. Yet, much like with Nagisa, the lessons Kousei takes on board during the heart breaking journey that is Your Lie in April are strictly the ordinary everyday ones that we all could learn from. Learning to grieve and mourn, to accept what has happened, to find a purpose, and just to find who you are. These are the things Kousei discovers throughout the course of his journey and they make him incredibly relatable and when he takes the stage in the final episode you cannot help but feel moved by him.

Number 2: Oreki (Hyouka)

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While this might seem an odd choice for number 2 on the list, there’s something truly remarkable about how this character lives his life. He has his own ideal of energy conservation and yet at the same time he doesn’t want his ideals to harm the experiences of others. He doesn’t want to let his sister down and later Chitanda and so acts contrary to his own nature on more than one occasion. This is also inspiring because while some people might see that as giving in or compromising, what it really demonstrates is an acceptance of a need for community and that it can’t always be about you. Oreki is inspiring because he finds a balance where he does have moments where he refused to do things or to get involved and other moments where he acts for the benefit of others. While I’m still not sure I like the anime, I quite like Oreki’s character and he reminds me that sometimes it isn’t all about me.

Number 1: Yuri (Yuri on Ice)

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Did we really think anyone else was going to take this spot? I almost disqualified him because being a world champion (even if he’s only in the top 6) kind of makes him somewhat extraordinary, but the only superpower he has is persistence and determination and so I let him take the top spot. His journey is fantastic and watching him stand up again and again and try to overcome his weaknesses never ceases to inspire.

And there they all are. Who would you have put on your list?


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Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Sequels

I tend to run sequels down a lot (see Feature Discussing Sequels and Prequels), which is sometimes justified, but occasionally there are sequels, part 2’s, and follow ups that actually do add something to a series and are fairly enjoyable to watch. So I decided to think about all the good sequels out there for a top 5 list. This is my opinion and I’ve chosen sequels that I felt added something actually necessary to a story but were entertaining in their own right. I’d love to know what some of your favourite sequels are.

I did however disqualify long running shows without clear divisions between seasons (Bleach etc).

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: Sailor Moon (Third Season), Natsume Yuujinchou (not sure if this counts as long running without clear division so left it off the list, but every season is amazing), Full Metal Panic (Second Raid is fantastic), and Noragami (Second season was amazing, but where’s the third as this story still isn’t finished).

Number 5: Clannad After Story

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I’d be the first to say that Clannad wasn’t really my thing as an anime. It is a beautiful story and there are some really great elements to it, but it just isn’t my type of show. That said, I watched through all of it and even cried so it works well enough and for people who like the genre it is probably an even more moving experience. After Story is a perfect follow up to the original series. It narrows the focus to the main characters, though all the other characters are still there, and it legitimately adds to their characters. Not to mention, it finally reveals what was going on during some of the stranger moments in season one. As a sequel or follow up it does everything a show needs to and is perfectly entertaining on its own (though you’ll probably miss some of the character moments if you haven’t sat through season 1).

Number 4: Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kai

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Follow up to Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (or When They Cry, When the Cicadas Cry, or whatever other title you’d like to give it), this is a fantastic sequel. I actually watched this first, not knowing it was the second part, and while the first loop was a bit confusing due to me not having a clue who anyone was, I soon figured out what was going on and this is the part of this series that actually solves the mystery of who is behind the tragedy.  While the first season is fine, by itself it is unsatisfying. Lots of loops, lots of violence, there are clues and character moments, but it doesn’t end. Season 2 builds on all those clues and character moments and gives us a very dramatic final confrontation. It legitimately works by itself as a story and is highly entertaining (you know, if you are in to horror).

Number 3: Kimi ni Todoke

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Now this is more just an ongoing story. Season 1 has our main character, Sawako, slowly coming out of her shell and making friends. Yes, there’s a guy involved and there’s romantic insinuations, but the romantic aspect decidedly takes a back seat to building confidence and friendships. Having already established that in season 1, season 2 squarely turns the focus on Sawako’s ongoing relationship with Kazehaya and whether it is respect or love she feels. For someone who has only just learned about friendship, there’s a lot that can go wrong as she treads her way into romance and season 2 takes us through all the ups and downs until we finally get to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. An excellent follow up on a very cute romance.

Number 2: Snow White With the Red Hair

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Possibly this is a theme given how many relationship heavy shows have ended up on this list, but I really felt Shirayuki and Zen had more story to tell after season 1, and season 2 proved that right though not as I expected. Rather than focussing fully on their relationship, season 2 kind of scattered the focus giving lots of other relationships time to develop and be revealed. It was deeply satisfying seeing various characters have their moment, while an overall narrative involving Shirayuki’s kidnapping played out, but it did kind of leave the show with little time at the end to address the main question of Shirayuki and Zen. Which of course means we’re left with a sweet but not final ending and why is there no season 3? Still, this sequel does the job of advancing the characters and the plot logically and adding to what we know about them and the world, so it succeeds even if it still felt unfinished.

Number 1: Assassination Classroom

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Much like Kimi ni Todoke, season 1 of this focussed very much on building the characters up. They were learning skills, facing themselves, overcoming past difficulties, before they had the final test when the class was put in legitimate danger. Season 2 shifts the focus dramatically to the motive for the assassination and trying to find a way around it, dividing opinions and characters. While there’s definitely some filler in season 2, the sheer number of excellent character moments, before we get to the very final and necessary conclusion, makes this a sequel that was needed and it delivered on the promise way back in season 1. Thoroughly enjoyable watch though one could argue the end was dragged out just a little too long. Despite that, it was unforgettable.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Valentine Episodes

Well it is Valentine’s Day so today I’m counting down my top 5 favourite Valentine episodes. This was actually harder than it sounded because while I know I have watched a million different anime versions of Valentine’s Day (seriously, this was not an exaggeration at all) I really struggled to remember which shows they were in. And that’s because they are all pretty much the same. So my list is based on which ones stuck with me (which will explain some of the weird choices). Feel free to add your favourite Valentine episode in the comments below.

For patrons I’ve got my list of worst anime to watch for Valentine’s Day up over on Patreon so please check it out.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

No honourable mentions this week.

Number 5: Vampire Knight

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While I’m not the biggest Vampire Knight fan (way too Twilight in anime form and I was too old when this came out to really appreciate the brooding teen romance element) but I must admit the Valentine’s Day episode is memorable. Screaming fan girls, crowd control, Zero actually being kind of nice and getting punched for it, a couple of broken hearts and all and all it is a perfectly watchable episode.

Number 4: Acchi Kocchi

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Alright this is one of my weirder choices. It isn’t that anything particularly different happens in this episode. Its Valentine’s Day and Tsumiki wants to make chocolates for Io but he doesn’t like plain chocolates so she’s making mousse. That’s all pretty standard but the reason this episode sticks is because of Mayoi and her surprise chocolates. Surprising because she claims she put frog meat in them after feeding them to the guys. Of course, she wouldn’t be Mayoi if she left it there. She follows this up with coating Tsumiki’s lips with chocolate flavoured lipstick and pushes her toward Io. fortunately Io is a gentlemen (or at least smart enough not to put up with Mayoi’s rubbish) and manages to come out of the situation more or less unscathed though Tsumiki might have exploded. In short it is Valentine’s Day the way only Acchi Kocchi could do it.

Number 3: Fruits Basket

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Again this one is pretty straight forward. Tohru decides to make everybody chocolate however when she is about to give it to everyone Kyo, who is annoyed with Kagura, declares he hates chocolate. He is then guilt tripped into eating both Kagura’s and Tohru’s chocolate. It isn’t a profound episode but I really like Kyo as a character so I kind of enjoyed this moment.

Number 2: Kimi Ni Todoke

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Honestly, this should be number 1. The reason it isn’t is because Sawako doesn’t give him the chocolates. So frustrating. She gives chocolates to everyone else but then questions the meaning behind the chocolates she wants to give Kazehaya and after hearing he won’t accept chocolates with real feelings she hesitates and loses her chance. As much as I love this show, this episode is really frustrating. Certainly it is memorable and he does eventually get given the chocolates but Valentine’s Day is not a particularly happy one in this series.

Number 1: My Love Story

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At first I thought this was going to go down the same path as Kimi ni Todoke but thank goodness Yamato is a lot tougher than Sawako. While the group date is pleasant it is her arrival at his house later with the most ridiculously over the top Valentine’s cake ever. It is adorable.

There they are, my top 5 Valentine’s episodes. What anime would you have chosen?


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Friday’s Feature: On Romance in Anime

As we get ready for Valentine’s Day (or get ready to be totally indifferent to anything that might resemble a public declaration of affection) I thought it was a good time to focus on romance and how it is portrayed in anime. This week I’m looking at the warm and fluffy side of romance. Next week, I’m going to look at some of the less pleasant portrayals of romance.

One of my first top 5 lists was a list of my favourite romantic anime. I’m going to draw on a lot of examples from these anime in my discussion this week. So what are the common features of these sweet and romantic anime?

01. For the most part they are focussed on the female in the relationship. While some shows (particularly a few in recent years) have portrayed romance from a male’s point of view (or at least a male character’s point of view) to majority of romance focussed anime follow the girl. This isn’t really surprising given the target audience for most romance anime are girls and as a general rule the romantic genre appeals more to a female audience. And while there are a lot of self-insert girls out there with limited personality besides a love of cooking and cleaning, because romance is such a prolific genre what we find are an array of female leads. From the super shy and fairly stereotypical right through to the oblivious and aggressive.

But that’s what makes romance so great is that if one doesn’t work for you there are plenty of other characters and romances to follow.

02. This one isn’t in every anime but it is a common feature. The love interest starts out being kind of a jerk and the girl doesn’t like him very much. Then something happens and suddenly she sees him in a new light. This is actually pretty standard in all romances really (and a staple of romantic comedies) and it probably exists because otherwise you have to introduce external tension and conflict early on before the characters have really been established. By creating tension between the two you can focus more or less entirely on the characters without boring the audience to death with their adoring stares.

I’m not the biggest fan of this particular cliché because I’ve never understood why the girl continues to interact with someone who is that much of a jerk, but I do understand from a narrative point of view why it works. Besides, Tomoe may have been nasty to Nanami but he still ends up being one of my favourite male leads in a romance.

03. The epiphany moment. Despite being in a romance, the characters tend to be unusually dense about their emotions and the state of their relationship. Either one or both of the characters needs to realise they are actually in love or that the other one actually likes them or something. Usually this is accompanied by sparkles, tears, or sometimes a punch because why not. However it is the reveal moment for the character that the audience have been waiting for forever because the character is usually the last to realise it. But hey, at least most of us don’t believe we have arrhythmia because our heart starts beating fast at the sight of the guy.

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04. There’s almost always a rival. Again, this is one of those necessary staples in order to inject some sort of tension or conflict into a story that is basically two people staring into each other’s eyes ad nauseum and rivals can add quite a bit of personality to the story. Probably my favourite rival ever is Kurumi from Kimi ni Todoke. That’s mostly because she pretty much demonstrates every charactersitic a rival might have rather than just being one type. It’s kind of interesting to watch her character transition.

While I don’t like her manipulative efforts early on (and we aren’t supposed to) you have to admit, Kurumi is a hard worker and ultimately she wasn’t really a nasty person so much as someone who was very driven by her goals. What makes her truly exceptional is that when she finally does confess and get turned down, she accepts this with reasonable grace and uses it as a chance to grow a bit as a person. A little bit. She still stirs the pot occasionally but mostly she moves on.

05. In anime romance tends to only get to the confession and dating stage, again there are exceptions. The vast majority finish the final episode on the confession, the first date, or a kiss and that is as much as we are getting of that story. Then again, given how red most of the characters get just trying to say the name of the person they are in love with I guess we can’t expect much more from them and it really isn’t needed given its the emotion of the relationship that has been conveyed.

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There’s probably a cultural reason for this trend and it isn’t as if the romance is any worse for the lack of physical displays of affection, however it is interesting watching teenage characters get flustered over eye contact or brushing their finger tips.

Well, that does it from me today. What are your favourite parts of romantic anime or what is your favourite romantic anime?


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Friday’s Feature: March of the Bland Romances

As the first episodes of the Winter anime march before us pretty much every ani-blogger has been giving their first impressions and a lot of these have been negative. While there are a couple of shows winning people over for the most part people who watch a lot of anime have been universally eye-rolling at some of the shows coming out this season. A small number of people will take this as a sign that the anime industry is dead argument has some grounds whereas the rest of us will simply rearrange our schedules, dig out some titles from our watch lists, and wait for the next season because there is always another season coming.

Rather than look at the state of the industry, or all of the titles that I’ve had the dubious pleasure of sampling this week, I want to look just at the romantic comedies. Specifically I want to look at Seiren, Fuuka and Masamune-Kun’s Revenge (and yes, Masamune-Kun’s revenge is described as a romance and a comedy on MAL).

While the three shows are quite different, they all have one thing in common and that is that they aren’t particularly exciting or at least their first episode wasn’t particularly good. Okay, that and for some reason they all seem to follow the male protagonist rather than the female lead.

Seiren is perhaps the worst offender of the three in regard to having a fairly dull first episode. Admittedly MAL simple says it’s genre is ‘school’ and by that they’ve nailed it. We follow a high schooler about as her goes to school and interacts with people. However, that isn’t really exciting. The high school students in question don’t have a great deal of personality and aren’t really memorable in their own right. Other than his friend, who I only remember because he seemed like the only character with sense in his head, none of the other characters really had any kind of impact.

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This show has no particular gimmick unveiled in its first episode (though the Crunchyroll write up would says that “this campus romantic comedy…depicts his pure relationship with three different heroines” leading us to believe that they are hoping that the multiple heroines will be the gimmick). But if that is the cast then surely during the first episode we should have at least met three strong contenders for a romantic lead role and unfortunately we haven’t. The one girl in the class who sits on his desk is probably going to be one but really, other than being a little bit bossy, she hasn’t demonstrated much of a memorable personality and she has zero romantic chemistry with the lead so that possibility doesn’t really entice.

And while a show lacking a gimmick isn’t exactly a death sentence, what else could this story do? Romantic comedies are generally formulaic in design so they either need a clever setting, a gimmick of some sort, or really strong and memorable characters with excellent chemistry to sell their story. Seiren has none of these things. This doesn’t make this story bad but it does make it excessively bland.

Moving on to Fuuka we see this show attempt the comedy aspect of the romantic comedy by delving into some of the worst clichés anime has to offer. Girl runs into guy, guy sees her pants, girl smacks him into the middle of next week (in this case after breaking his phone), this sequence is repeated only the next time the phone goes off the roof, guy attempts to save girl (though in this case she doesn’t need it), boy has only sisters who meddle in his life or dominate him, etc, etc. Some of it is kind of amusing when they play the cliché and then change out the ending but mostly it kind of misses the mark. But, at least it is making some sort of effort.

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After establishing the two characters and literally running them into one another, what develops over the first two episodes is a kind of friendship that might be able to develop into a romance (though the guy really needs to make her pay for the damage to his phone). The two characters actually do play off each other quite well. We then also have the other girl, the childhood friend who is now an idol and is clearly holding a torch for Yuu. This definitely gives us hints of conflict or some sort of emotional decision that will need to be made later on though it is impossible to know whether anything will come of this.

Despite having characters who are slightly more memorable and actual chemistry, this show is still fairly bland and this point. It’s checking off the clichés and while it is putting its own spin on some others are just played as they always are and the characters aren’t quite strong enough to make up for the deficit in original story-telling. So yes, more interesting than Seiren, but that show didn’t set the bar all that high.

Lastly we have Masamune-Kun’s Revenge. While I have an issue with even considering anything romantic could evolve from these mean spirited characters, I’ll overlook that and just assume that after pretending to like the girl to win her affections, Masamune-Kun may develop something of a conscience. Otherwise, this show has no business claiming romance as a genre.

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Masamune-Kun’s Revenge has a gimmick. The guy was rejected by the girl when they were young and now he is out to get even. That’s memorable and it allows clear establishment of character for the protagonist (even if that character is horrible). So why did this first episode feel so bland?

I know from reading the impressions of others, that some people really enjoyed this. They found there to be some genuinely clever moments and I’ll admit that when the story focussed on Masamune-Kun and his actively seeking revenge (information gathering, plotting, spying) there were some interesting moments. However everything else is more or less forgettable. The loli-mother and the younger sister barely have enough personality between them to make a whole character. I kind of felt the only reason the sister was there at all was so the mother had someone to comment to and so that someone could voice the audience’s disgust at the main character preening in front of the mirror. The classmates all seem like they are desperately trying to have individual personalities but none have quite succeeded. Essentially the school has guys who are desperate to be rejected by a complete cow of a female lead, and girls who are either non-entitites or are followers of the female lead. It doesn’t really draw you into the world of these characters nor does it feel like a fairly believable setting.

While I’m not a die-hard romance fan I do enjoy a good romance story or romantic comedy. However, Winter 2017 has currently served up these three bland contenders and to be honest I’m kind of sad that not one of them is really grabbing me. I’ll probably watch Fuuka through (unless the panty-shots do me in, which is a possibility) but I’m not holding my breath that it will amaze.

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Anyway, if I really get stuck for romance I can always marathon Kimi ni Todoke. That has enough sickly sweet in it to forget about any of these shows.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Christmas Focussed Episodes

I was the day late with Halloween so I decided I’d do Christmas episode a little bit earlier. When narrowing down the list I decided to stick with shows where I just enjoyed the Christmas episode rather than found it a bit of a tag on annoyance. That said, Christmas isn’t as pervasive in anime as Valentines or New Years so trying to remember which shows actually focussed on Christmas proved a bit of a challenge.

As always, I’d love to know your favourite episodes below.

Please Note – Probably nothing too spoiler worthy this week.

Honourable mentions to Haruhi Suzumiya (not an episode but the movie focussed on Christmas), Clannad After Story, and the Sailor Moon second movie (again not an episode).

Number 5: Karin Chibi Vampire

Episode 19 gives us a Christmas Eve episode where both Karin and her friend Maki are trying to make gifts for the objects of their affections. It isn’t all happy news for the pair but there’s enough sweetness in this episode to make it an uplifting experience for the most part. That and it seems like another logical step in Karin and Usui’s relationship rather than an added in episode for the sake of having a Christmas episode.

Number 4: Hayate Combat Butler

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Alright, this one probably isn’t really capturing the spirit of Christmas given his parents leave him their debt and run away and then Hayate tries to kidnap someone (fairly unsuccessfully) but Santa’s dream response to Hayate asking why he didn’t get a present is pretty amusing. Again, the Christmas element doesn’t feel like an add in because it is used to make you feel genuinely sorry for Hayate and the end result is reasonably positive (unless you truly feel that Hayate got a bad deal having to work for Nagisa) so go Christmas.

Number 3: Sword Art Online

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Definitely not capturing the spirit of Christmas, I liked this episode because it tapped in to a few different ideas. Firstly it consolidates the fact that death is going to be final in the game world. Sachi is dead and all of Kirito’s actions won’t bring her back. Secondly, it presents Santa in a way you never wanted to see him and visually this is one of the more interesting boss’ that show up in the series. And finally, I like this episode because there are events in games and they do tie in to holidays so this just worked. Plus it kind of broke my heart as they gave us a promise  of resurrection, we watched Kirito fight to even get to the location of the event, Klein first trying to stop Kirito and then assisting him to get to where he needed to be, watched Kirito succeed at defeating the boss, and then the realisation that it won’t help him anyway because of the time limit. Everything about this episode was perfect (though perhaps not really within the spirit of Christmas).

Number 2: Kobato

A near love triangle resolved when one of the suitors bows out realising the girl he likes only has eyes for one guy. Using Christmas as a chance to get the two together is just the great kind of excuse everyone needs. Except that the guy in question (Fujimoto) has genuine issues about being abandoned on Christmas Eve so his surly tone for the earlier parts of this episode are completely understandable even if he is misdirecting some of that angst at Kobato. And Kobato doesn’t really get Christmas anyway and is just fluttering along as always. Still, this episode marks a change in the tone of the show and the central relationship being built and so is pretty important from a plot point of view.

Number 1: Kimi ni Todoke

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The class Christmas party that Sawako couldn’t go to because… she never got up the nerve to ask her parents? This episode was a really important one as we saw Sawako actually want something more than just Kazahaya to speak with her and we saw her genuinely struggle as she didn’t want to let her parents down. More importantly, she finally comes to the realisation that perhaps she’s been too considerate and it is okay to want things. Good thing her parents are both alive (a novelty in anime) and actually pretty supportive and understanding. She might not get to see much of the class party but it’s enough that she did actually develop another step as a character.

So that’s my top 5 but I’ve probably missed a bunch so feel free to tell us about your favourite Christmas anime episodes.

Tuesday’s Top 5: Annoying Anime Tropes

While we all know that there are some clichés in anime that just won’t go away (girl running to school with toast in mouth, guy falling on girl and hand accidentally landing…) we all have to admit there are some tropes that we just wish would disappear. This is my list of the 5 common tropes that annoy me and I’d love to hear yours in the comments. No criteria this week other than personal annoyance.

Please Note – There are spoilers below. You have been warned.

Honourable mentions to weird shot types, dense MC’s, pretty much anything from a harem anime, and the skinny guy that can eat the entire pantry bare.

Number 5: The School Idol or Prince

I don’t know if this is a cultural thing or whether this is an anime thing, but having an entire school of girls fawning over one guy to the point where they make pacts and sign agreements not to date him or speak with him unless there is someone else there just strikes me as ridiculous. It’s impossible to take this character seriously or any of the fan club for that matter. What really surprises me is how many anime this comes up in. While highschool based animes aren’t my favourites the few I can think of instantly are Kazehaya (Kimi ni Tadoke), Yuki (Fruits Basket), Kuran Kaname (Vampire Knight), and even Rem (Dance with Devils)

Number 4: Characters having lengthy discussions about their attack techniques mid-battle

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You know what, we get that your power is awesome and amazing and that we may not quite get exactly what you are doing without the explanation but, I’m kind of certain no winning strategy in history involved giving a detailed description of your power to the enemy. This is an ongoing annoyance for me in anime as it seems like if the audience had to know how that power worked we probably should have prior to the battle, and if it wasn’t that important all that dialogue is doing is slowing down the pace. Bleach is my main example of this one but honestly, I really would like to gag some characters in some of the fight sequences I’ve watched.

Number 3: The stuttered confession

I get that being too direct in Japanese is kind of rude but why are so many characters unable to express how they feel when they are alone with the person they like. Seriously? From Edward in Full Metal Alchemist, Kadoka in Haganai, to Tomoe in Kamisama Kiss, these characters avoid, use pretext, out right run-away, or divert the issue rather than just give or receive a straight confession. Not to mention the slew of girls running around with love letters that never get delivered or are pushed into shoe lockers to be detonated (Full Metal Panic style).

Number 2: The club is going to get shut down

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Oh the horror. We might have to join another club or find somewhere else to hang out because if we don’t have X members by X date we’ll lose our room. While in a slice of life or comedy anime this is all well and good as something to get the characters moving it is hardly sufficient conflict to build an entire show around. Equally irritating is the we want to start a club but we don’t have enough members. While we’re at it, why do so many clubs seem to not actually follow their purpose and just have students hanging out?

Number 1: The protagonist wins the fight because they are the protagonist

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I know that this is true of all stories and not just anime but when the protagonist pulls out a deus ex machina mid-fight it really kind of kills any reason to care about any of the events up until that point. If they had this mysterious power or ability why didn’t they use it earlier?  I know that some anime try to give their protagonists reasons for being unkillable overpowered fighting machines but really this is a bit of a contrivance and sometimes could be avoided just by showing the character build up to that point or maybe making the villain just a little less unkillable. While I don’t normally throw rocks at SAO this is probably my biggest complaint about the first arc. Yeah, they foreshadow that the game is a game and therefore is subject to cheats and that the human spirit might be able to overcome some of the limitations but I don’t think that justifies not dying when your health bar runs out. However, Kirito is not alone in the list or protagonists who really should have just dropped dead mid-battle.

So that’s my list of annoying anime tropes. The thing is, an anime could have some or all of these tropes and still be fairly entertaining to watch. Just having a cliché doesn’t mean that the entire story is derivative or dull. However, sometimes anime leans just a little to heavily on these tropes to fill in for actual character development or plot and that’s when it become a touch annoying.

Kimi ni Todoke Series Review

Overview:

Sawako has been isolated for most of her school life. Mistakenly called Sadako (like the character in the Ring), rumours of her being able to see ghosts and generally be weird have forever circulated, not aided by her strong introverted nature and fairly creepy demeaner when in social situations. Noticed by the class’ Mr Popular, Kazehaya, Sawako slowly begins to integrate with her classmates and is very thankful to Kazehaya. But are her feelings those of appreciation or something more?

Review (Don’t read if you’re worried about spoilers):

Okay, if you’ve watched this you know that it takes 37 episodes for a girl and guy, who both like each other and have the means and opportunity, to actually end up dating (for real dating with both of them aware that it is happening rather than just meeting up and talking which is of course totally different). This is the absolute frustration of this show in that our leads deserve the prize for absolute densest human beings to ever appear in a romance anime. And yet, it is so worth watching all of those episodes to see these two really sweet people end up together.

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A while ago I did a Top 5 Romantic Anime and Kimi ni Todoke topped the list. It did this for good reason. Sawako is an incredibly stilted character at the start of the series after years of social isolation. While Kazehaya likes her he wants her to be able to stand on her own so instead of taking her by the hand early in the series and guiding her through all her troubles, he generally takes the role of the quiet support and mentor but that means his romantic intentions are frequently derailed. From a romance point of view it means they only take very slow steps forward, but in terms of getting the audience to respect both of the characters in the relationship this is actually really affective.

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In addition to the romance itself, the story also examines the friendships Sawako develops through the series. This is also really sweet (though at times cliché) and we end up with a fantastic core cast involving Kazehaya’s friend, Ryuu, Ryuu’s friend, Chizuru, and Chizuru’s friend Ayane. Throughout the series Ayane drifts from boyfriend to boyfriend (always older) and this gives her a fairly skeptical view of love but also makes her the more observant when it comes to Sawako and Kazehaya’s relationship. Ryuu has had a long term crush on Chizuru but for most of the series she’s hung up on Ryuu’s older brother. All three of these support characters feel genuine and have something to offer to the main plot while having their own lives and goals unfolding. While the end of the series definitely takes on a cheer on Sawako tone, throughout the series these characters are treated fairly respectfully.

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But just before you think this show is all sweet and no drama (outside of the does-he-like-me kind), we also have Kurumi and a whole bunch of Kazehaya fan girls. The fan girls get dealt with early on (thank-goodness because that was irritating) but Kurumi has held a torch for Kazehaya for a very long time. As a character, she is golden and we even get a recap of the first season from her point of view which is actually really refreshing and a nice way to recap events without making it feel too repetitive. Kurumi has a lot of personality. She schemes and manipulates and does everything she can to win her guy. And when things finally fail she actually confesses outright and openly. What follows after that is one of the best character developments that can be found in romance anime. While Kurumi still declares that she is a rival of Sawako, it is quite clear that for the most part Kurumi has accepted defeat and she’s finding a new way to deal with things. That doesn’t mean she loses any of her edge as a character though and her interjections in the second season are some of the more entertaining moments as they break up the otherwise mostly serious drama.

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From a visual point of view it’s okay. It isn’t overly detailed and there isn’t a lot of action to be animated, and the colours are a little washed out looking, but it works. The chibi version of Sawako that shows up from time to time is a little off as are some of the moments where the characters are basking in something sweet and all of the setting just vanishes in a pastel background. However, this show is carried by the characters so the visuals work well enough and aren’t intrusive into their story.

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I really love both opening songs, though the first one gets stuck in my head and drives me a little crazy. It can have me humming it days after watching the show. The visuals during the openings are also really good at setting the tone and themes of the show.

Mostly, if you like a good romance and you aren’t opposed to a slow story (different from no story), Kimi ni Todoke is definitely for you. I’ve never come across an English dub of it, even the DVD only came with subs, but I really like the voice actors and actually couldn’t imagine Sawako speaking English as I think a lot of her misunderstandings wouldn’t work and you’d just think she’s a bit slow.

What did you think of Kimi ni Todoke? Did the slow pace drive you crazy or did it work to tell a romance that felt a bit more thought out? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday’s Feature – Recap Episodes (Or Why I Came Close to Dropping 91 Days)

If you’ve been following my reviews this season, you will know that I have now had not one, but two recap episodes thrown at me. The first came from Cheer Boys (episode 5.5) and the second came from 91 Days (episode 7.5). In both reviews I made it pretty clear that I don’t like recap episodes in general and that these ones were particularly hideous. But then, I realised just recently I watched the recap episode of Twin Star Exorcists and it didn’t really bother me so I began thinking about why these two recap episodes annoyed me so much.

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It came down to two main points.

  1. These series haven’t even had 12 episodes so why are we recapping? I know 91 Days kind of threw me with some of the family relations and characters but the recap did nothing to alleviate that, instead focussing on Avilio’s interactions which were already pretty prominent.
  2. Linked to the first issue – no new material or insight given. Now Cheer Boys attempted some narration over the top of their wonderful reconfiguration of seen footage to let us know that next episode the whole squad would show up so at least they kind of got us interested in what was about to happen next episode. They also tagged the recap on after they achieved their first goal or performing at the festival so at least they found a natural spot in the story to pause. 91 Days didn’t do either of those things. Avilio did orchestrate Nero killing his brother quite well but this has never been stated as a primary goal so there hasn’t been any real break through on the revenge he seems to be craving and there was really nothing new revealed.

Recaps make sense when you have a long series (or you’ve taken a break and are coming back). They make sense when the recap is given a purpose (other than to fill air time). Personally, I prefer it when whole episodes aren’t dedicated to recap and the story finds a better way to remind you of key plot points but if you have to do a recap episode at least do it in an entertaining fashion.

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Which brings me to Twin Star Exorcists episode 14. Notice it isn’t a X.5 episode title. Episode 14 Yukatas, Stars and Wishes is an episode in its own right, admittedly a fairly weak one. If you remove all the flash backs, it’s an episode about out main group of exorcists sitting in the back yard and contemplating their wish for Tanabata. There is little new revealed but the interactions are on occasion fun. What it really becomes is a framing device for each character to reflect on the journey to where they are. The contrasts between the characters in episode 14, and who they were in each of the flashbacks, gives the audience something to reflect upon as well, while it reminds us about key plot points. So Twin Star Exoricists managed to do a recap in a way that didn’t make it feel like they just gave up for the week.

Recapping: It had already had more than 12 episodes which means the story had been running for over 3 months which is a long time to remember some of the finer details and it provided us with new material while it made us reconsider the characters.

Was it a brilliant episode? Not really. But it was watchable and enjoyable enough.

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Another example of a recap episode that was done well comes from Kimi ni Todoke. Season 1 goes for 25 episodes without a recap (which given how slow the story is moving is probably a good thing). Then there is a gap before season 2. Enter season 2’s episode 00 which is a recap of season 1. At this point, a recap is warranted to remind us where we are in the story and how things have progressed. But Kimi ni Todoke does one better than just timing their recap appropriately. They have the recap from the view of Kurumi (Sawako’s rival during season 1 for Kazehaya). With this we get insight into a character who before was really played up as an antagonist but is moving into a new role during season 2. It’s a great way to recap and make things feel purposeful.

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So back to the title of my blog. 91 Days started slowly but interesting. It was a really well done opening episode and in honesty, every episode after has been well put together. The story however has been stagnating. Despite lots of things happening, none of it has really been explained in context to the stated goal of our protagonist and while we can see connections, it hasn’t started bringing anything together. That would be fine (save the reveal for the end) except that we haven’t been given anything else to care about. I don’t care about the in-fighting of the family’s because I haven’t been asked to by the story, and yet that is all we’ve seen for several episodes. Then we are recapping. Reminding us that yes, Avilio’s family were killed and it was horrible. Reminding us that since then, he made some progress on his revenge (taking out one of his 3 targets) before realising there was another target and since then he has stalled. All recapping at this time did was remind me how little progress has seemingly been made.

I get that some people are going to disagree with me, but 91 Days has not been holding my interest well for awhile and the recap episode nearly did it in. Episode 8 is going to need to be amazing for me to re-engage.

What are your thoughts about recaps? Or 91 Days?