In case it hasn’t become clear as I work my way through the anime I watched during the 2019 Winter Season, I’m jumping back and forth between anime I enjoyed a lot and anime that kind of had a bumpier ride. Last week was the slice of life delight My Roommate is a Cat so unfortunately this week we’re crashing down to the unintentional disaster of a narrative that is Grimm’s Notes. Admittedly, I am running low on anime I actually enjoyed last season, but I do still have reviews of The Promised Neverland and Endro to come out so there’s a few delights still in store.
What should be obvious by now is that I don’t really want to write about Grimm’s Notes and yet I feel I kind of need to. I did in fact watch the entire season and while we had an intriguing premise and an entire minefield of potentially interesting questions to ponder about morality and the human condition and free will, the anime literally does nothing with any of that. Instead it becomes an exercise where the protagonist’s are right because they have to be and they don’t even try to convince the villains, let alone the audience, that they have any grounds for that conviction.
Basically the story involves a whole bunch of story zones where every one living in them has a book that essentially tells them what is going to happen in their life and that is the script they follow. Our main characters are all characters who, for whatever reason, have blank books. They travel from story zone to story zone and stop chaos tellers from messing up the stories.
However, where that becomes problematic is that they set Red Riding Hood back on a path to be devoured by a wolf, set Snow White and her step-mother up to repeat a tragedy, and basically override any one’s objections that maybe the story shouldn’t be followed.
These are the characters we are supposed to support.
I wouldn’t mind so much if they ever explained the consequences of not getting the story back on track. We get an ambiguous statement about story zones collapsing but are never told what that looks like or what happens to the characters in the story. Do they all die? In which case, sure, maybe keeping the story on track is a good idea. But it isn’t established, nor does anyone actually ask.
Even the villains don’t bother to make their case for why giving characters free will might be a good thing. For once the villain’s actions are actually something that seems kind of logical even if there are dire repercussions, and they never even try to justify themselves.
Instead we get the heroes saying they’ll set the story right and the villains who stay in the shadows and make ambiguous comments but do little.
So the plot is a bust, and the characters are worse. Visually this is fine. Not good or great or particularly interesting, but I’ve certainly seen worse and some of the fights are actually kind of fun to watch even if the motive behind them is lacking. The music is unexceptional and honestly completely forgotten almost as soon as the episodes end.
Honestly, this was such a great concept and handled so incredibly poorly. The biggest issue is the crushing disappointment of realising that the writers clearly had no clue what to do with their own idea when it came to the anime. I have no idea if the source (which I think is a game) did a better job or not, but I do know this anime is incredibly skippable.
When My Roommate is a Cat, or Doukyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki,
Atama no Ue (what a mouthful) premiered, reactions were clearly split. The
first episode by its very nature turned part of the audience away which is kind
of a shame given this story ends up being one with a lot of heart and a
dramatic climax that feels earned.
My trepidation going into My Roommate is a Cat was the slice
of life label on it. I’m not the biggest fan. Couple that with the bright yet
bland promotional image of all the happy smiling characters and the jumping cat
and basically I thought I was going in to something that was going to bore me
to tears before I’d just stop watching and walk away. However, the thing that
was annoying a lot of first episode viewers was actually the thing that caught
my attention and dragged me into the story.
And that was Subaru.
As a central character I kind of understand why a lot of
viewers didn’t like him and even why a few outright hated him. Another anime
character with dead parents. Starting with a funeral sequence to garner
sympathy for a character we don’t know or have any reason to care for. And then
there was his general attitude. He was rude to his editor and really to
everyone in the first episode. So yes, I get why a lot of viewers didn’t like
I didn’t like him either. But I understood him and felt a
bit of a connection. Subaru is socially awkward and anxious. He doesn’t like
interacting with others and when forced out of his comfort zone his defences are
up. That comes across as rudeness but is really a self-defence. I actually
blamed the editor in the first episode more than Subaru. When he should know
his writer well enough to know that meeting him in a public place was just
going to set him on edge. For me the sequence established Subaru’s character
beautifully and the underlying issue he was going to need to face and so while
I agree that Subaru wasn’t a nice character, I was intrigued from episode one.
Then there was the cat.
While Subaru may have been the repellent for a lot of
potential viewers, the as yet unnamed stray cat was the lure. Adorable and
standing in for every cat everywhere in mannerisms, the eventually named Haru
stole the show.
Interestingly enough, when Haru was rude or cagey or
defensive people found it adorable and yet Haru and Subaru are literally two of
a kind. That’s why the two form such a strong bond as they both grow over the course
of the series.
However, most slice of life anime know these days that you
do in fact need some kind of gimmick to keep people watching and clearly My
Roommate is a Cat isn’t relying on the cute girl factor, although Nana is kind
of cute. No, the gimmick in My Roommate is a Cat is that each episode tells the
events twice. Once from the human point of view and then from the view of the
cat. Mostly the cat view is a brief few minutes at the end of the episode but
some episodes give more time to Haru’s perspective particularly toward the end
of the season.
Yes, Haru isn’t just a plot device to inspire Subaru’s
character growth. Haru is a fully fledged character in her own right going
through her own healing character arc alongside Subaru. While I’ll admit that
some of the cat sections added little in some episodes, they were always cute,
and at times they did offer some interesting insight and certainly allowed Haru
the growth she deserved within the story.
There’s little more to say about the plot given each episode
is just another day for the man and the cat who are now sharing a house.
Various events occur, the characters react, learn something and we move on. It
is slice of life and it does that well providing some very calm and
occasionally amusing viewing.
What sets this one apart from so many slice of life anime
though is that it did offer a climax that I felt was emotionally rewarding. I’m
not going into detail here, but it brings the story of Subaru and dealing with
the loss of his parents as well as moving forward to a satisfying conclusion
and really consolidates the relationship that has grown between Subaru and Haru
throughout the series. I couldn’t have asked for more from the final couple of
episodes and just loved it.
Visually it works well enough. I’m not really into the
colour scheme being used and it is all just a little bit bland really, but
given the subject matter and tone the visuals work well enough for that. The
animation for Haru is perfect and I’m sure if you are a cat lover you will see
your own cat in her at various points, but there’s a lot of sitting and talking
in this anime and a lot of very still sequences with little movement so while
the animation works it isn’t exactly awe inspiring.
However, I do have to mention the OP. Unknown World is an
incredibly infectious song and I found myself happily bobbing along to it most
weeks and occasionally even replaying it just because it made me smile. I also
really enjoyed the imagery used during the opening as it fit the tone of the
show perfectly even if it wasn’t the most exciting ever. I definitely recommend
giving the OP a listen to even if you have no interest in My Roommate is a Cat.
Still, for cat lovers this is a must watch. For people who enjoy slice of life anime, this one works well enough. If you are looking for a character who is slowly opening himself up to new experiences and working through issues of social awkwardness and anxiety, there’s plenty to enjoy here. While My Roommate is a Cat is a far from perfect anime, it was a delightful intrusion into the season and ended up being one I looked forward to each week.
Another reverse harem time travelling heroine story.
Reverse harem anime are becoming a fair staple of the
seasonal line up with a handful of them coming out each year and the
time-travelling heroine is starting to be a recurring theme. Meiji Tokyo Renka
doesn’t bring a single new idea to the table as we have our standard heroine
(meaning one with little personality outside of wanting to help all the guys
she meets) getting transported back to the Meiji Era and each of the guys is more
or less standard fair.
That doesn’t make this anime necessarily bad, and those who
followed my conversations with Arthifis around this will know that we both kind
of found it charming and fun, but if you are looking at the vast sea of anime,
this one is certainly not a must watch or even one that needs to work its way
to the top of your list anytime soon.
For me, I really liked the parts of this anime that dealt
with Mei’s gift and the spirits she encountered. It had a kind of spirit of the
week feel early on and some episodes threw in a bit of Ghost Whisperer flavour.
These supernatural elements did help set Mei a little bit apart from previous
heroines, gave the boys genuine problems they could not have overcome without
Mei’s assistance, and were also just charming enough stories in their own
However, the bits in-between these charming ghost stories
were largely filled with the usual kind of fluff of eating, encountering issues
with the new time-period, or were tied up with Ougai Mori and Shunzou Hishida
who were the two main male characters that Mei interacted with given she was
living with them (yeah, we had the wonderful moment where Ougai just declared
Mei his finace and they never really do clarify that).
None of these interludes are particularly bad. Some are
amusing, some help us learn a bit more about one character or another. No the
issue is mostly they are forgettable and even now only a few months later I’m
struggling to remember even the names of the other characters or anything
particularly noteworthy about the series.
Visually it is largely unimpressive. Hardly a train wreck or an eye-sore but it just isn’t worth discussing. The opening song is suitable boppy and entertaining (actually almost addictively so) but the overall soundtrack is again, nothing special. That includes Mei’s song about electricity that she spontaneously breaks into during one of the episodes in the later part of the season.
The ending is also largely unsatisfying given the final
decisions made by Mei seem incredibly out of character and without purpose and
the story doesn’t give any time to justify these.
Basically this anime functions and has potential. The characters are largely fun and cute and each of the events that occur along the way are fun enough, but as an overall package this one sits decidedly on the average side of things. While I don’t regret watching it I’m definitely looking back now and feeling that this series was just kind of filler in between other shows and while there was potential for Meiji Tokyo Renka it never really did much with it.
For those who followed my episodic reviews you will already know it took me awhile to get into this series. The opening episodes, while there were some really pretty animations, didn’t really grab me as we set up a fairly standard team sport anime. We had Haiji, the pushy driver of the group getting the team together with his vision of them running some marathon, and then we had the assortment of motley characters who would ultimately come together as a team. It was all very ordinary and I didn’t really like Haiji as a character, but something kept me watching.
I’m really glad for whatever that something was. Run With The Wind ended up being an extraordinary emotional experience and by the end I was smiling and crying and just wanting to cheer with these boys. It isn’t that this anime broke any new ground or did anything a whole pile of sports anime haven’t done before, it was more the execution of its elements. Giving this anime its two cours to develop these characters and the team and leading us to the race that they had been training for and giving that race the episodes it needed to play out so that we could see how each character had really grown throughout the series really paid off and while it might be just another sports anime, this one really hit me where it needed to.
It is unusual for me but I want to start reviewing this anime by discussing the sound design. I specifically discussed this in my episode 11 review, but really Run With the Wind was a standout anime for how it used sound. Whether it was music or ambient sound the choices were always extremely fitting for the scene and highly effective at conveying the tone or emotion of the moment. It is very rare for me to pay that much attention to the sound but Run With The Wind is one anime where it pays off and while it might be a little heavy handed it is a major contributing factor in explaining why I was so swept away by events in each episode.
Equally, Run With The Wind new when to put its effort into the visuals. While it wasn’t used in every single race, there were several moments throughout the series, particularly when Kakeru was running, that the anime went all out to visually represent the beauty of his running or his connection with the wind. They are scenes that just draw you in and leave you breathless but they aren’t overused or intrusive. It would have been tempting to put such visual effects over each runner or to use it every time Kakeru ran but the restraint shown meant that each instance really stood out and had impact.
For the rest of the visuals, these are adequate with each of the ten boys having an interesting enough character design and the animation being on point. I was impressed by the races where most of the characters still seemed suitably animated even if a little too regular in their movement but there weren’t a huge number of still shots and panning which a lot of anime would have done rather than animating the crowd of runners.
All and all, the production is pretty solid for Run With The Wind and that complements a narrative that is basic but well paced and delivered and characters who each have an arc that works and ties in nicely with the story.
I’m not going to argue that this story or the characters are revolutionary or something we haven’t seen before. If you watch a lot of sport or club anime you’ve seen everything here before. However it is delivered competently and ultimately the experience is fairly rewarding.
Haiji was perhaps my greatest surprise. Starting as a character archetype I find quite grating, by the end of the series, while I’m still not thrilled at how he enlisted the others, I found him a fairly charming character. His leg of the race was one that really made me smile and I celebrated with him, which is something I wouldn’t have believed early on in the story. It wasn’t that Haiji changed all that much throughout. It was more that the anime took the time to flesh him out and make him feel like a real person. Sure he was pushy at the beginning and they never try to pretend that didn’t happen, but they give him a motive that makes sense and allow even him to second guess his own actions and to consider where he’s really going. It helps to really begin to appreciate what he was trying to do and why by the end.
Equally, Kakeru begins as your fairly standard character archetype. The highly talented runner who has quit due to some trauma from his previous club. He initially clashes with everyone. Haiji because he doesn’t really want to run with the club and with everyone else because of their inexperience with running and their attitude toward it. His character journey is also pretty standard and honestly drawn out too long. While I like where he ended up, I feel they could have resolved some of his arc a bit sooner than they did and that’s probably my main complaint from this series.
However, each character needs to be looked at individually. Where they all start as just background noise and additional numbers for the club, by the end they have each become a character in their own right and one that for whatever reason the audience has become attached to. It is an extraordinary effort that Run With The Wind has taken to give each character sufficient moments that there is a connection formed before the final race and then each character concludes their character arc as they run their leg.
Honestly, if you didn’t give Run With The Wind a go when it was airing, this is an anime that is well worth the time. While it is slow to really get going it is a journey that is rewarding and with great sound and visual design it is an anime that is truly worth watching.
I remember back when Sword Art Online had just begun. I remember the first episode of the Aincrad arc and just how quickly it seemed to pass by and how heavily the bombshell at the end of that episode fell. I remember rapidly skipping to the next episode (it came out before I could stream things as they aired but that meant I could binge) and I remember just how absorbed I became with the characters and the story and just how much fun the whole viewing experience was.
Admittedly, the entertainment of the very first series from 2012 shouldn’t really have all that much to do with whether or not this story arc from 2018-2019 is actually any good, nor should I compare them and expect that to be the same. Kirito has grown as a character since then, the technology has moved on, and almost all the other characters we spend any length of time with in Alicization are completely new. It is its own experience but not stand-alone. The events in the real world do require pre-existing knowledge of the franchise to make sense so even if I wanted to give Alicization a clean break from the seasons of SAO past, it wouldn’t really be doable.
Could someone totally new to the franchise start with Alicization?
Sure. They’d miss some context for things but mostly I doubt that would change the overall viewing experience. Except perhaps that a new viewer would go in without any expectations of Sword Art Online and so some of the disappointment I faced while watching Aliciation wouldn’t have played a factor. Maybe a new audience member could just enjoy a romp in the new world with the new cast and not wonder what happened to the cool and reckless Kirito before he ‘grew up’ and became the boring, moralising and largely passive protagonist we encounter here.
I know. I just called Kirito boring. I didn’t think I’d ever do that. Lots of other people did even back in Aincrad but I always really liked Kirito as a character. Alicization was the killing blow though.
Part of this is because Kirito spends a large part of Alicization seemingly mentoring Eugeo. Being pushed into a mentor or teacher role means that he does need to explain and sermonise and take the high ground in order to lead by example. It also means standing back at times and taking the background role to let the student grow. And honestly, given the context of Alicization, which I’ll get to in a bit, Kirito moving into that role makes perfect sense, but it isn’t interesting.
The sacrifice of Kirito’s spirit and character, though a significant blow to my enjoyment of the franchise, possibly could have been rationalised as Eugeo is actually an interesting character to watch grow. While never as interesting or dynamic as Aincrad’s Kirito, he wasn’t a bad substitute. However, Eugeo’s character arc comes to an abrupt and fairly pointless and ridiculous end by the end of this half of Alicization. So ultimately I watched Kirito help another character grow at the expense of being entertaining in his own right and then that character isn’t going to do anything because they are already finished. Or at least, finished enough as I don’t doubt SAO’s ability to come up with rubbish reasons for this not to be the end.
This isn’t the first time Kirito has had someone he’s mentored and helped has died. The Moonlit Black Cats, particularly Sachi, were a large part of his character growth in Aincrad and Sachi’s death left emotional scars that Kirito had to work really hard to overcome.
The problem is that Eugeo’s character had pretty much 20 something episodes of mentoring and then before he surpassed his master he died and his death hasn’t seemed to amount to anything, though perhaps they’ll capitalise on it in the next half. All I know is that it left an incredible taste of dissatisfaction in my mouth.
For all that I’ve just attacked the characters, I’m now going to back up a bit and actually look at the fundamental problems in Alicization as a series. Keep in mind, there are some really great moments throughout the 24 episodes. Sequences where one character or another really rises up and does something cool and dramatic and for a moment you can just get swept away. So I am not saying there’s nothing good about Alicization.
However, what really hurts Alicization, other than the time difference between events in the real world and the events in underworld which results in Asuna and the others getting bare minimum screen time and an absolute lack of audience buy in to the event in the real world…
Okay, the time thing probably needs its own section because it was a really unnecessary contrivance that really hurt the pacing of the real world events. With the large gaps of time between when we even saw characters in the real world and how little progress that plot made over the course of a whole season, because events in Underworld move fast, it just isn’t a very effective way to tell a story, particularly in a season spread over more than six months. Perhaps binge watching would alleviate some of this issue but honestly, at times I all but forgot what Asuna and the others were even doing so the dramatic final for them really had next to no impact.
Right, so what really hurts Alicization, other than all that stuff, is the way they execute the story. The idea behind Alicization is actually really interesting with souls being digitalised and raised within a virtual world. The pseudo-science techno-babble explanations of the how and the why don’t really help here but the concept is cool. The problems within that world where those in control of the command codes are corrupt and others are forced through the Taboo Index to essentially obey those of higher standing within the world.
I mean, it isn’t terrible original if we put it in the context of a dystopian kind of story, but it works and there’s a lot of potential ideas for exploration and so many potential paths for the story to take.
And while Alicization does take some interesting paths and does explore some of the concepts, it does it in an incredibly poorly conceived manner. Where large chunks of information are given to us through forced exposition in the form of incredibly long and artificial sounding dialogue exchanges between characters, and a lot of that information is either repetitive of previous bits of information, or just so abstract that it will make no difference whether the audience has it explained or not, it just doesn’t make for interesting viewing.
Imagine you were watching some kind of fast paced sporting tournament and every now and then the competitors stopped, poured out some cups of teas, and sat around discussing their motives, training methods, and the history of their coach. Then they just get up and start competing again.
Alright, Alicization wasn’t that bad, but the analogy is kind of apt in terms of the enjoyment in viewing.
When you throw in the fact that Kirito and Eugeo set out from Eugeo’s home town to find Alice and end up enrolling in a school and just happily training for a few years (happily may be an exaggeration) and it doesn’t seem like they are in any kind of hurry to achieve their goal, the pace of this story seems all over the shop and goals that drive characters seem to do so selectively. Even once they get to the tower and begin facing off against Integrity Knights, it is very hard to care about these characters as antagonists and their motives for fighting, or not fighting, are really hard to swallow sometimes. As is Alice’s rapid decision to work with Kirito when they were hanging outside of the tower.
What it comes down to is you’d get a moment of excitement or interesting interaction and then Alicization would hit the breaks to explain something to you and just when things got going again it would do the same. With the narrative pacing off the characters really needed to step up to sell some of these exchanges only they didn’t. Outside of Kirito and Eugeo, barely anyone got any screen time and the few who did didn’t really draw me into the story so much as just existed within it.
The music is workable but doesn’t give anywhere near the sense of excitement that I found in the score in the original series. Visuals work fine and the various attacks are pretty cool to watch. Eugeo really wins out here with his sword being exceptionally beautiful and its attack leads to some really interesting effects. Kirito is less lucky and because he gets limited time to go crazy with his sword there are far less moments where he just looks super cool on screen in Alicization. However, overall, Alicization is kind of average to look at. Character designs work as do settings but very little of it is stand out or amazing.
I really did want to like this latest Sword Art Online. I was excited about the return of the franchise and to be honest, my love of the original has meant that subsequent iterations get a lot of leeway. However, Sword Art Online Alicization is not just not good, it is openly obnoxious at times as it drags the audience along and through unnecessarily long sequences and seems to care little about making any character actually more than just another plot point to be resolved. The end results is I didn’t have much fun watching it and realistically, if it hadn’t had the SAO connection, I’d have dropped it after the first cour rather than persevering through all 24 episodes. What’s worse than holding on 24 episodes? Watching 24 episodes for the thing to end on a cliff-hanger.
Honestly, I can’t recommend this. For those newer anime fans, I still think trying the original SAO is worth it despite the online hate factory for it, but Alicization is a lesser show in almost every way imaginable and while there were many readers of the light novels proclaiming that Alicization would fix the narrative issues with SAO, I think Alicization the anime just found new and improved ways to annoy an audience.
The boys, and Fuzzy, are back for a more dramatic season of supernatural events.
I had the distinct pleasure of getting to review The Morose Mononkean Season Two with the lovely Irina and I will admit, I went in with fairly low expectations. Season one of the Morose Mononkean was okay but that was all. I love yokai stories and so I’d enjoyed it but that was no real drama, no real forward driving story, and the characters all seemed to lack development. They just kind of drifted about happy to deal with the immediate issue but not to address any of the larger world questions that seemed to keep coming up.
Fortunately, season two of The Morose Mononokean is one of those exceptions to my usual rule that sequels offer diminishing returns. Season two of The Morose Mononokean took everything that was nice and lovely from season one (the colour scheme, the relationship established between Abeno and Hanae, the yokai designs) and then added in everything I felt was missing. The end result was a season that was superior in every way and getting to discuss it each week with Irina just added to the fun as we speculated about characters and plot developments.
For those who are unfamiliar with the premise, Hanae can see yokai and in the beginning of the first season is actually possessed by one (the one that comes to be the cute mascot character of the show, Fuzzy). Hanae is saved by Abeno who while being human, and Hanae’s classmate, is also the master of the Mononokean, which means he can open the door between the human realm and the underworld and he exorcises yokai (essentially sends them home).
In season two we see a Hanae that initially starts off more comfortably in his role as Abeno’s assistance but a trip to the underworld and an encounter with one of the three powers there, the Executive tries to kill him because he is human.
This is by far the most danger he’d faced since realising yokai were real and beginning his work and for The Morose Mononokean as a narrative it really upped the stakes and tension in general. It also opened the way for more exploration of the political situation within the underworld which helped to really flesh out the world that had felt kind of shallow in season one.
By itself, this would have been enough to make me enjoy season two far more than season one, but they also began to fill in Hanae’s backstory including his family situation. While there are still a lot of questions hanging over this at the end of season two, it really helped push character development for both Abeno and Hanae. It also helped their relationship, which had always been interesting, progress further as we got to see Abeno really take on a caring role as he tried to protect and help Hanae.
Hanae’s development of powers he could use against yokai was also a really interesting progression because it opens up all kinds of possibilities, some of which unpleasant, for where the story might go. Plus, if you ever wanted to see Abeno and Hanae go head to head, you won’t be disappointed here.
But it isn’t just the central duo getting a lot more development. The Legislator, Abeno’s boss essentially, was an enigmatic but interesting character in season one. While there is still a lot about him that we don’t know, he was given substantially more screen time and his meddling was far more overt in season two. The Executive and The Justice, the other two parts of the triad of power, were new additions to the cast but provided some really great moments even if they were very limited in their screen time.
There are also a host of yokai characters who come and go from the story as normal and these were all interesting and worked in their own way. Some of these have ties to the past or two the various political factions and others are just yokai of the week characters, but all leave a lasting impression on the main characters and the audience.
In addition to the improvements in the narrative and the character development, it seems like season two of The Morose Mononkean had a real lift in its visuals. While the rich colour palette used in season one for the underworld remained, all of the visuals just seemed crisper and characters less prone to going off model in this second season.
If you decided to pass on this second season but didn’t mind the first, I’d strongly suggest giving it a go. If you’ve never tried the anime but you like yokai stories, definitely give the first season a go and while I know this is said all the time it really is true here, this story gets better as it goes. The only thing missing now is the knowledge that we’ll eventually get a third season to get some more closure on some of the loose ends.
It has been fairly well established at this point that I’m
not a big fan of comedy. Largely this is because a lot of what people tell me
is supposed to be funny I just find either gross or mean-spirited and don’t
find much amusing about it. Then again, what I find to be funny a lot of people
also find gross or just disturbing so to each their own.
What that does mean though is that while I recommended this
series, the conditional part of the recommendation is that I really didn’t like
it. I can see exactly why lots of people do like it, and I do think it is worth
trying if you are looking for a well produced anime, particularly if you like
comedy, but for me this one was one big swing and a miss.
A lot of the problem is with the central premise which I’m
told is supposed to be ironic or amusing but I find just sad. The idea that
confessing puts you under the power of the other person in a relationship, or
that relationships inherently have one person being more powerful than the
other, really rubs me the wrong way and feels like something from several
decades ago that we really should have just left there. That the main
characters are both portrayed as being quite intelligent and yet at no point
draw the conclusion that perhaps they could be equal partners really just makes
the premise of this one hurt to even think about.
I am told that I should just take this as a joke and not
think about it so seriously, however that’s kind of the problem with comedy for
me. Just because they are joking doesn’t mean I find reinforcing notions that
someone should be in control of a relationship and someone should be submissive
particularly amusing. Nor do I find Shinomiya’s general lack of sex education
particularly funny. It is kind of a social tragedy that she is so ill-informed.
Actually, the fact that they keep telling me time and again
how smart these characters are and yet very little of what they do seems even
vaguely smart kind of reminded me of my problem watching Devil and Realist
where William was supposed to be super intelligent but just struck me as being
kind of an idiot. Shinomiya learning to use Twitter in one episode kind of
highlights the overall problem with the set up where they insist this girl is
some kind of super-genius manipulator and yet instead of looking up
instructions, reading the information, trying things out and noting what
happens, she runs into her maid’s bath multiple times and drags her out to
explain fairly simple concepts. I get the trope of the genius who lacks
common-sense but in this case a lot of what Shinomiya does just makes me want
to face-palm so badly.
However, before you think I’m just out to bash this story for all its worth, there are some great moments for Shinomiya (and indeed most of the cast). The problem is, these moments come seemingly when the premise of the story gets set aside. When we remove Shinomiya from the endless battles against Shirogane and the contrived competitions they establish, and just let her be Shinomiya, a sheltered girl finding small ways to explore the world (such as the episode where she walks to school), we actually have quite a charming character and one worth spending time with. Unfortunately, the anime isn’t really interested in letting the characters just be themselves and continues to force artificial conflict upon them and us over and over again in a tiresome manner.
Fujiwara, the secretary of the student council, is a shining
light in this series. Her character is excellent regardless of context and she
literally brightens scenes just by being in them. She’s also the one character
who is consistently entertaining and amusing partially because she isn’t
working to show off how smart she is and partially because she’s just a well
constructed character who manages to consistently hit the right notes. If you
won’t watch for any other reason, Fujiwara is probably a fairly solid reason to
try Kaguya-Sama: Love is War.
But we should discuss the actual contests the characters get
into. Each episode (or most of them) are split into three sections with each
being a simple vignette where a topic or theme is introduced, we mentally see
how Shinomiya and Shirogane have interpreted the situation to determine how to
‘win’ and then the contest plays out before a winner is decided, or until
Fujiwara unintentionally removes any ability for either character to win. A
narrator sets up each section and at times may seem intrusive and the narrator
also finishes each section by summarising who won or lost and why.
Some of these contests are really straight forward such as
when Shinomiya challenges Shirogane to twenty questions. The problem being that
for someone really smart the answer seems pretty obvious given an exchange in
the set-up to the competition and so the punch line falls a little flat. Other
contests are more abstract such as when they are trying to decide where to go
for Summer vacation.
The end result though is fairly formulaic and while some of
the later episodes move away from this format, over the course of the season,
the majority of episodes will offer more or less the same scenario over and
over again with slightly different dressing on top and perhaps a slightly
different outcome. It is noteworthy that even supporting characters point out
to Shinomiya that her schemes do not work. If the goal is to get Shirogane to
confess, not once has she been successful and yet instead of taking a more
direct approach she persists again and again in her schemes. The same could be
said for Shirogane but far less time is spent with him outside of the student
council so he isn’t quite as filled in as Shinomiya as a character.
If you happen to like this formula or find the skits
amusing, then this one will be golden from start to finish. For those who find
a lack of forward progress in a plot a bit of a sticking point (that would be
me), what it will end up being is fairly frustrating as a series even as some
of these skits will amuse.
What really does elevate Kaguya-Sama: Love is War from just
being another sketch comedy that I didn’t really enjoy, is the production.
Visually this one has a distinct look and is actually fairly impressive with
the creative way it depicts the battles and character emotions. While there
isn’t a lot of movement and certainly no hand to hand combat or anything of the
like, the animation is pretty spot on and far and away of higher quality than
you would usually expect for the subject matter.
The music is also spot on with an opening and ending that
both support the story and are highly entertaining (worth watching the ending
each time as well), and background music and sounds that really help to spice
up what might otherwise become fairly flat content.
A lot of love has gone in to the production of Kaguya-Sama and realistically as an anime there’s little to complain about. While it personally doesn’t do a lot for me, there are plenty of people who will adore this story and these characters and the presentation makes it all very palatable. The characters themselves will be a bit hit and miss as will the premise but by and large this is an anime that will work for the majority so if you are curious and haven’t tried it be sure to give it a go.