The Price of Smiles Series Review

The Price of Smiles Episode 1

Smile and the world smiles with you… Unless you are in the middle of a war.

There is something about average anime that make them very hard to review. They aren’t necessarily bad, but the potential they had to be better actually makes them taste a bit more sour particularly after they’ve just ended. The Price of Smiles is an average anime, even for a mecha anime. Almost painfully average in every respect. Yet at times there were glimpses of a far more epic and amazing story simmering just beneath the mediocre execution and some of what was delivered managed to shine just bright enough to keep up hope of improvement.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8 Yuki

However, if you aren’t drawn in within the first few episodes, you will probably be better off thanking The Price of Smiles for its time and moving on. Without trying to be too facetious, the pay-off at the end of the Price of Smiles is not really worth the price of time commitment to get there.

Which is a real shame because there was a lot of potential in the ideas here.

For those unfamiliar with The Price of Smiles it covers two different girls, Yuki and Stella. Some episodes exclusively focus on Yuki and her Kingdom, yes she is a Princess, and other episodes focus on Stella, who is just an expendable soldier on the other side of the war. It isn’t until the second last episode that we see both perspectives in the same episode and it is an interesting way of delivering what might be a fairly predictable narrative.

The Price of Smile's Episode 5

While the war itself, two sides fighting over resources, is pretty standard, through Yuki’s position we see those at the decision making level of the war on both sides as well as Yuki’s childish and naive perspective. It gives one view of the story and realistically, that could have been the only view and we still would have ended up with an okay anime.

But, by cutting Yuki’s story by introducing episodes from Stella’s perspective, on the front lines of fighting and on the side of the invading forces, it kind of gives the story more depth and keeps it feeling fresh.

The Price of Smiles Episode 6 Yuuki

Neither story is particularly amazing, though Stella’s story and the cast surrounding her are perhaps the more interesting, but together they manage to create a wide view of the world and the different responses to the war. If there had been a few more episodes and a bit longer to really flesh out a few world building points, this choice in splitting the narrative between two characters would have worked really well.

That said, it isn’t exactly an original idea with plenty of other mecha anime that split their narrative between representatives of different factions to give that particular insight into what each side is doing and how it is affecting different groups of people. But original or not, it is a fairly solid choice particularly with the anti-conflict message that is heavily stamped on almost every episode.

The Price of Smiles Episode 5

Again, this isn’t exactly new for the genre, but here the lack of subtlety is probably one of the things that hurts this anime the most. Yuki, the white and pink clad Princess wringing her hands and hoping for peace and wanting to bring smiles to everyone is just too much. And while the excuse that her advisers kept her in the dark about the true state of things, or even that they were at war, can explain some of her reluctance to face the reality they are dealing with when it is force upon her, honestly some of her decisions are a little hard to swallow.

Though while we are on messages, this anime also managed to bring in a heavy handed environmental allegory about humans over using resources and destroying eco-systems and while this seems to be at the centre of the conflict and is tied heavily in the final solution of the series, it is almost as though The Price of Smiles knew it didn’t have time for everything and so while it wanted to wear an environmental slogan it ultimately discarded it in favour of the anti-conflict stance.

The Price of Smiles Episode 9

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Which is why I said the anime needed more episodes to really develop its world. The setting here is fantastic (or at least could have been). They are on a colonised world that was terraformed using technology no one on the world still really understands but the Kingdom has developed the chrars, a fairly substantial power source and one which allows their technological superiority (not that it really helps them all that much in the war).

As the story progresses we learn a bit more about this seemingly amazing power source and how its use is tied in to the failing crops and eco-systems that are at the core of the conflict between the two groups as resources are becoming scarce. If this idea had been put front and centre and given time to be really discussed and dealt with, it could have really given this anime a bit more of an edge. However, while the idea is there, and is interesting, ultimately Yuki’s decision comes down to her immediate need to not see any more death in the war. The long term implications, despite the ground work already being laid, are more or less glossed over leaving this all feeling a little bit less than satisfying.

The Price of Smiles Episode 11

Visually, The Price of Smiles also suffers as its run continues. While action sequences always look relatively polished and are great fun to watch, and the character designs are quite lovely even if the majority of their clothing looks insanely impractical, the animation falters in later episodes in non-action scenes and characters appear off-model more often or with barely sketched in faces when seen from a distance. It isn’t enough to really mar the viewing but it is definitely noticeable in the later episodes.

The other major complaint I will level at this series is its inability to create drama through any means other than killing off its cast. While the first important death comes early and is something of a shock, in the second half they essentially kill one major character per episode with increasingly diminished emotional returns to the point that the final death in the last episode can barely even register because you were expecting it long before it happened.

The Price of Smiles Episode 2 - Joshua

Despite its faults, I don’t really mind that I watched The Price of Smiles this season. There was always plenty to talk about and while I wanted more from it, I actually relatively enjoyed what I watched. The characters weren’t amazing but were interesting enough and the fights were spaced out nicely to keep the talking moments and the fighting moments relatively balanced.

The Price of Smiles Episode 2 - Yuuki

This isn’t an anime to avoid, nor is it one to rush out and watch. Still, if you are in the mood for a mecha anime, and you have a bit of spare time, you could certainly do worse than The Price of Smiles.

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Up Close with Yuki Soleil

The Price of Smiles Episode 6 Yuuki

Alright, so let’s establish who Yuki Soleil actually is given I’m kind of certain a lot of people decided not to watch The Price of Smiles during the Winter anime season. Which is a fair enough decision. Even though I low-key enjoyed it and still feel it is probably better than some people think, it isn’t exactly great and ends up being a fairly average watch once it concludes (though more on that in the series review that will come out later this week). For now, I just want to look at Yuki, one of the two protagonists that The Price of Smiles splits its time between.

The Price of Smiles Episode 1

On meeting Yuki we find her to be an exceptionally bubbly and cheery Princess. She does all the usual anime Princess things such as being adored by her subjects, has a childhood friend who also guards her, and she sneaks out of the palace to play. It is all pretty standard and unfortunately, despite Yuki actually being a reasonably interesting character, she ends up grounded in this terribly cliche mould.

The other issue Yuki suffers as a character is that despite being The Princess and technically the ruler of the Kingdom of Soleil given her parents are dead (oh look another anime character with dead parents), those around her actively strive to keep her in the dark. Their excuse is they want to see her smiling and happy, but how can she possibly rule anything when she knows nothing of the reality?

The Price of Smiles Episode 4 Princess Yuuki

Even after the truth confronts her in the horrible shock of the death of a close friend in a war she never knew existed, Yuki remains stubbornly naive looking for quick solutions to solve the conflict including offering herself up to secure a peace deal. And while that path could have been interesting, once again, those around her ignore her wishes and whisk her away sacrificing someone else in her place.

The Price of Smiles Episode 12 Yuki and Layla

It makes you wonder what authority Yuki actually has and unfortunately they never address this. While Yuki keeps making decisions and works with Layla, her closest adviser to ultimately get the outcome she wants, she never does win over the council or the army. She technically goes behind their backs. So it never becomes a story of Yuki growing into her authority because even in the final episodes she seemingly has little sway over anyone outside of her inner-circle.

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That and Yuki never really gets over her childish desire to simply make everyone happy, as if such a state were possible.

Yuki is a character who had huge growth potential but largely didn’t get it. Her periods of grief for those who are lost vary with some deaths hitting her significantly hard and other deaths seemingly being just another drop in the ocean.

The Price of Smiles Episode 2 - Yuuki

What manages to keep Yuki from becoming a fairly forgettable character are her few moments of tactical brilliance. This is demonstrated in the early episodes when playing a game. She helps her knight fight his way to victory through reading the terrain. Mid-season this brilliance comes back again very briefly, but over and over again she makes poor calls because she allows her emotions to overcome her reasoning. It does however make her final play more believable because Yuki isn’t a dumb character. She’s naive and she didn’t know much about the real state of the world, but with the right information at her disposal, she certainly demonstrates that she can use it creatively and to be effect to achieve her desired results.

The Price of Smiles Episode 8 Yuki

I’d have loved for Yuki to have gotten more time to develop and to grow. I would have loved to see her actually earn the authority as a ruler and to see her win over those beneath her. Unfortunately, the story just didn’t have time for it and so we end up with a character who potentially could have been great but will for the most part be forgotten.

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Bringing Back Smiles Through Over-Simplification

The Price of Smiles Post Title Image

The Price of Smiles Episode 12 Review

Well we have come to the end and I can say with confidence at least that this anime concludes its story. The fact that it does so through over-simplifying the situation in the extreme and relies on cute girls smiling to sell the solution is kind of a point against it, but at least we aren’t left hanging for a sequel that probably would never have happened.

The Price of Smiles Episode 12 Stella

I’m going to really try to avoid spoilers, but we kind of new the end The Price of Smiles had in store for us at the end of the last episode. There aren’t any particular curve balls in this episode with the character who was clearly going to die following through beautifully in doing so, those who were always going to survive also doing so even against sensible reason, and Yuki’s vision achieved and any negative consequences played down to a ridiculous extent.

The Price of Smiles Episode 12 Yuki and Layla

That doesn’t stop it being a perfectly sound ending. It takes the tone, ideas, and characters from the series and finalises it in a way not so many anime manage, so even though the word ‘trite’ is springing to mind when describing this ending, at least I am not left annoyed that plot threads were just never addressed or that characters seemed to serve no purpose. In fact, other than the fact that this narrative ended up being fairly ordinary despite having the potential to go into so much more, they never seemed to bite off more than they could chew and this ending makes it clear they were never planning to be that ambitious.

The Price of Smiles Episode 12 Yuki and Stella

I will fault Yuki as a character though. Without to much detail, she is put in a position where she needs to get Stella onside and her arguments are around peace and smiles. That’s all well and good but why not use the one compelling argument that has been revealed? If they don’t stop the chrars the entire eco-system is going to collapse and everyone will be dead anyway regardless of who wins the war. This would have been a much more compelling reason for an enemy to suddenly assist and would have made the whole shoe-horned in environmental narrative actually become more than just an add on to the anti-war stance this war focused anime seemed to be taking.

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Anyway, I’ll get to a full review soon as this is the first of my Winter anime to be completed, and I’ll look more at what the series did and didn’t accomplish then. However, in terms of being interesting and watchable, The Price of Smiles has succeeded, even if it didn’t do much beyond that.

The Price of Smiles Episode 11
Back to the picture – yep everyone except Yuki died. The message? Don’t stand in a photo with Yuki.

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Vampire Knight Guilty Series Review: The Dark Side of Obsession

Overview:

On Wednesday I reviewed season 1 of Vampire Knight and now I’m finishing off the show with a review of season 2. Our characters pick up from where season ended with the death of a pure blood vampire and Zero is the one being blamed. The plot thickens however as more and more conspiracies are deeply held secrets are dragged into the light and Kaname’s plans finally come to fruition.

There will definitely be some spoilers below.

Review:

The main issue with season 1 is it is strictly background for the events that we will see unfold in season 2. As a result, there’s a lot of filler sequences and throw away moments as well as a lot of characters sitting around brooding and wondering what other characters are brooding about. What we see in Guilty is the result of all of these plans and intentions and what we realise is that most of these characters should have just walked away. I know that there are a lot of contrived reasons about how these characters are getting dragged along or getting the short stick because of destiny or fate, but really, most of the things that happen to them are the result of their own choices and not all of those choices have been great.

VampireKnightGuilty5

Zero continues to descend into madness as a level E vampire because he didn’t drink the blood of pure blood vampire. This leads me to question whether or not Kaname could have solved this issue much easier by just giving Zero his blood way back when it was first noted that the tablets weren’t working. Then Kaname wouldn’t have had to have gotten jealous over Yuki feeding Zero her blood or worried that Zero was actually going to hurt her. While Kaname might find Zero feeding off him personally repulsive, it would have solved a lot of other issues, and considering how dirty Kaname is happy to get his hands, feeding Zero really shouldn’t have been that much of an issue.

Zero on the other hand throws away any sympathy I had for him as a character. In season one he was the only character I actually felt sorry for because he really was dealt a crappy hand at life. In season two, he actively pushes Yuki aside and ultimately rejects her for being who she is. Zero, you are a fool. One of the things I was hoping when I read the manga was it would clarify why Zero would act so idiotically. No, it didn’t. In fact I’m pretty sure Zero is more stubborn and irritating in the manga than he appears here. So basically he’s going to be unhappy and it is by his own choice. Good for you Zero. Have fun with that. Okay, the stuff with his brother was kind of a low blow and hard for him to cope with but emotional trauma only lets you get away with so much before the audience expects the character to use some common sense.

VampireKnightGuilty4

Outside of the two boys both being idiotically stubborn and making the story messier than it needs to be we have Yuki who has decided to stop being bait for vampires and instead goes into mental break down land. Now we do get a decent enough back story as to what is going on here and it makes sense that Yuki is going through a lot, but it doesn’t make her character particularly interesting in this season. By the time she pulls it together to get proactive, the vast majority of the story has already played out and there is very little left for her to do.

VampireKnightGuilty2

Still, where the love triangle was the strength of season 1, it is the politics of the vampire world and the meddling of hunter association that take control of season 2 and the end result is a far more satisfying look at this dark world. The conflict playing out at the school has a fairly grand scale and while it seems unlikely that any student would ever return to the school again by the end, it makes for an impressive setting for the final act of this story.

VampireKnightGuilty3

Still, if you get to the end of Guilty and feel like the story is incomplete, you would be correct. It is one where the anime finished before the manga did so there is definitely more to the story. My personal recommendation is just to skip the anime altogether and read the manga. The anime isn’t impressive enough on its own and the unfinished story just leaves you with way too many questions.

That said, it isn’t unwatchable and it does bring us to the end of the immediate conflict as well as offers a solution of sorts to the love triangle. So without reading the manga you will get some closure and won’t just be left entirely hanging. The theme song to Guilty isn’t quite as good as season one, but is still pretty impressive, and the action is definitely better in season 2 given we actually get some decent action sequences. Also a fair sized body count by the end, somewhere along the lines this show got quite dark.

VampireKnightGuilty6

All and all, it isn’t a bad watch though there are certainly better shows out there. It really depends if you are up for a supernatural teen romance or not.


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Vampire Knight Series Review: Tortured Teen Love Triangle With Fangs

Overview:

One of the few anime I did read the manga of (at a friend’s insistence) Vampire Knight is the story of Yuki Cross who’s first memory is of snow and blood when her family were killed by vampires and she was saved by the vampire Kaname. Years pass and she now goes to school where the day class are human and the night class are vampires. Yuki, aided by Zero (her adopted brother) work to keep the classes separate and the fact that the night class are vampires a secret. My review of Vampire Knight Guilty (season 2) will be up on Saturday.

Review:

While I accept that vampire stories and sex are more or less intrinsically linked, I think books like Twilight and Vampire Knight (the manga) have a lot to answer for in how they represent romance to teenagers. That said, I’m not one of those people who thinks things always have to have a positive message, I just find it really odd that some people read or watch these things and think they are romantic. These stories have a romance in them, but they actually end up coming off pretty creepy when you think about the context so the romantic factor gets shot in the foot pretty quick.

So Vampire Knight? It is one of those shows I think needs a reboot now that the manga is finished because you could certainly clean up a lot of the character and story issues now that they know where it is going. Also, having rewatched it to do this review, the animation is kind of bad. This isn’t something I usually complain about but it was amazing how many times this anime relies on a still image with a pan rather than actual animation. While this does show off the very nice character designs, and fans of the manga know just how gorgeous these characters can look when allowed to pose, it actually makes for a pretty dull viewing experience a lot of the time.

vampite knight

Despite everything I’ve just said, I don’t actually dislike Vampire Knight as a story. Or rather as an introduction to a story. Much like Kaname spends a number of scenes in this first season staring at a chess board, the story itself is positioning the characters where they need to be. At times this leads to some awkward encounters and interactions but it does set up just the right amount of tension so that you know going into season 2 things are going to get explosive.

The main strength of the story is that it keeps the focus relatively tight on Yuki, Kaname and Zero as the love triangle at the centre of the story. While there are efforts to fill in other characters and organisations, these remain strictly background with the focus more on how those events impact on these three characters.

VampireKnight5

The interactions between Zero and Yuki are really great to watch, even if I want to slap Yuki a lot of the time for some of her assumptions and feeling guilty about every single thing. Zero isn’t the best character ever written, but he is emotionally hamstrung by having watched his family die and is now turning into a vampire when he was trained to be a vampire hunter. So his angst is actually relatively understandable, more so than Yuki’s happy go lucky attitude she insists on putting forward even though inside she’s just a pit of hopeless despair.

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Unfortunately the interactions between Kaname and Yuki aren’t so impressive. I get the show wants us to want these two together but he keeps Yuki at arms length most of the time and then gets jealous and possessive at others. His actions force her to distrust him and then he gets annoyed that she doesn’t trust him. Amazingly enough when you don’t communicate and sit around and brood a lot, relationships don’t exactly work out easily. I know a lot of people will disagree but by the end of season 1 I’d really rather Yuki told Kaname where to go and headed off with Zero.

So yes, watching this you are in for a lot of teenage angst and the wondering if the choice they made was right and staring wistfully at the profile or back of the character they like and if you aren’t up for that Vampire Knight is not going to be your thing. Because basically everything else in this story falls flat.

The Chairman, (Yuki and Zero’s adopted father) acts a complete fool 90% of the time and is an irritant given he’s the one who set up the ridiculous school system. There’s enough moments in the show that point to him having a more serious side but we aren’t getting to see that in season 1 so basically he is a throw away character who seems to exist only to annoy Zero and cry when Yuki doesn’t call him father.

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The rest of the vampires all have a serious Kaname fan club going on, and while this is explained, it means that their personalities are pretty fixed. Someone touches Kaname they get super defensive. Zero says something to Kaname, they gather to go pick a fight but then walk away because actually having a fight would be lame. Ruka gets a little bit of development as she pours out an unrequited love for Kaname but that’s a very minor side story and Aidou gets to be a complete pain in the neck as he regularly over steps the rules mostly so Kaname can show how cool he is in settling things down, but again this isn’t really a focus point and mostly makes Aidou look like an idiot.

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Even the idea that Yuki and Zero are guardians in the school is kind of a throw away plot line to explain why they are wandering around at all hours and not abiding by a sensible curfew. While Zero can fight due to his hunter training, he isn’t really interested in looking out for the interests of the school and regularly exacerbates issues between the vampires or stirs up the day class with his cold attitude. Yuki on the other hand is useless. She has a weapon (Artemis) but in season 1, the three times she draws it she pretty much never actually hits a vampire and almost always has the weapon either taken away from her or drops it. About the only purpose Yuki actually serves outside of the romance is bait because every time she steps outside she literally gets attacked by a vampire. Again, this plot point will be explained later, but it makes for a really silly story during the early stages where you just feel like she has to have some sort of vampire magnet attached to her.

Before I finish though, a point needs to be made that the opening and ending themes to season 1 of this show are fantastic. Definitely exactly what the show needed and they keep you hooked. While the animation of the show is less than impressive, the visuals themselves are really detailed with repeated visual motifs to be found  and plenty of other interesting details and symbolism if you pay attention. Plus, the colour scheme works really well for the show.

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Basically, if you don’t mind watching three teenagers in a love triangle with the occasional vampire attack thrown in and some back story about a school trying to build peace between humans and vampires, you will probably find a lot to enjoy here. It is strictly set up for the events of season 2, but it paints an interesting picture of the characters and sketches in the world they live in enough to keep you on board for the story. While not my favourite story by a long shot, I don’t mind the occasional rewatch of this, though part of me still wishes that Zero would actually use his gun on some of the vampire students earlier in the show.

I’d love to know your thoughts on Vampire Knight if you’ve watched it and hopefully you will check out my review of season 2 out later this week.


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School-Live Epiosdes 5 + 6

Review:

Okay, I didn’t actually stop between these episodes and I think it is going to get harder for me to stop because I’m really enjoying this story, hence the lack of images to populate the post. These two episodes conclude the story of how Miki joined the School Living club and how they revealed what I’d kind of guessed about the teacher.

School5

Despite more or less knowing the reveal because I’d convinced myself that it had to be the case, this was still pretty dramatic because of the way the characters react to sharing that information. Not Yuki of course. She’s in her own delusional little world and while that might be fun for her I still am not convinced of the other club members motives in letting her just continue on her merry way. I guess its more fun than admitted you actually are in the midst of a zombie apocalypse and help may not be coming.

The blend of horror and slice of life in this story continues to be very effective as we go from a standard mall run where the characters are having to constantly be on alert and ultimately face a horde (one of the first real confrontations we’ve seen of any scale) to the girls having a sports competition in the school. The contrast is jarring but in the surreal and fascinating way that keeps you glued to the screen.

I’ll also continue to give this show props for its direction because so far that has been pretty amazing. The only scene I didn’t really like was the one with Miki and Yuki in the music room. For the first time the shift between Yuki vision and reality was a little heavily done and just felt gimmicky rather than sincere. Though, given what that scene was trying to emphasise (and it was ensuring that no further doubt remained about it) the heavy handed nature was probably deliberate.

Overall, I’m really hooked on this and I’m looking forward to the next run of episodes.


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Joker Game Episode 12

Review:

I don’t know how this last episode could have annoyed me more. While I’ve found most of the series pleasant enough without being particularly good or bad, this episode left an extreme sour taste in my mouth. Firstly because they finally try to humanize one of the spies (and let’s be honest – too little, too late). It makes it hard to care about the resolution of the episode. Secondly because it is once again a stand alone episode so offers no resolution to the series. And finally, did Yuki really need to be that sexist in his comments about women?

Okay, will review the full series soonish.

In the meantime, Joker Game is available on Crunchyroll.