Friday’s Feature: Reality in Romance

With the Spring 2017 anime season wrapping up it is inevitable that a lot of people would be reviewing and discussing Tsuki ga Kirei. Overwhelmingly the reviews are positive and what I keep hearing again and again is how sweet the romance is, how pure it is, and how relatable and real it feels. It was a show I dropped early on but I’ve been watching double episodes over the last week to try to finish it and while I personally still find it incredibly slow moving I can also see some of the reasons why it has been held in such high regard by others, and yet it made me think about what I actually want from a romance story.

I’d like to put in here that I am not trying to actually review or critique the show.

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And that’s the key word. It is a story. Fiction. The whole get swept away and dream of everything working out happily ever after with the guy/girl/whatever of your dreams. While grounding the whole thing in reality might work for some people and the relatablility might help them engage with the story, for me Tsuki ga Kirei misses the mark. It is sweet that these two young people are engaged in a first romance and learning what that means and how to deal. It’s actually kind of adorable. But as far as a story goes it seems lacking to me.

When tension is inserted into the plot through flat phone batteries, confiscated phones, petty jealousy, third wheels, and the like it really feels like someone remembered it was supposed to be a story and that in the last twenty minutes nothing has happened other than the cute girl avoided eye contact with the reasonable looking boy again. That might seem like a harsh evaluation and certainly if you are more caught up with the characters you might not agree, but while watching the episodes I am openly checking the time in almost three minute intervals just to make sure it hasn’t stopped entirely. Plus, they were pushing the credibility of reality when they had a teenage girl let her phone go flat when she knew he was likely to message her.

But again, this is all personal preference. I don’t like the romance in Tsuki ga Kirei because it is, for the most part, very believable and (for lack of better words) kind of dull. Guy meets girl, they like each other, have a few minor hiccups on their journey and continue on (I haven’t got to the end yet so don’t know if I have a happily ever after awaiting me or not). Essentially, it is so real that it feels like I should just sit in a shopping centre foodcourt and watch it unfold around me rather than watching the show.

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Say, I Love You was another romance that I had difficulty enjoying. Despite a genuine fondness for the main character, I found the story slow moving and the character interactions mostly flat. The only reason I watched it more than once was a friend of mine quite liked the series. Admittedly, the third time I watched it through I started to really like it and I ended up buying it on DVD so all and all it couldn’t have been that bad. Essentially it depicted fairly believable high schoolers (other than the model who you have to admit was not a typical student even if her social networking issues were pretty relatable) engaging in relationships that were plagued by the usual issues of miscommunications, jealousy, and pettiness.

So what does it take for me to get into a romance?

Basically the romance needs to be one part of a bigger story. I need to feel that the interactions are moving somewhere and that there is a sense of movement in the plot and with the characters. It doesn’t hurt if the romance takes on a more fairy tale point of view either. There’s something to be said for sweet romances where people get swept off their feet and find their true love. It may not be ‘realistic’ but it makes for grandiose stories with characters I can get behind and fall in love with, at least for the duration of the show.

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This is where I think Yuri on Ice really sold itself to me. It had Yuri’s story as an ice skater and the romance was an integral part of that story. I could relate to the ups and downs and misunderstandings in their relationship and yet it moved along quickly and had that sweeping feeling of things just moving forward inexorably to a predetermined ending. Basically it felt like a story infused with romance rather than a series of events between two characters that might end up with them being romantically intertwined. I know from reading some reviews of Yuri on Ice, that some viewers didn’t really relate to Victor and Yuri’s romance and felt it was too easy, too rushed, too forced, or too one sided, and that’s where personal preferences come in and probably the reason there are so many different kinds of romance story out there.

We all like a good romance (even those people who insist they don’t will have that one story that makes them smile/cry every time they watch it). For me though, I think I’d like my romance a little less realistic and a little more fantastical. I can see reality already so what I’m looking for in a story is something that has some connection to reality but goes that little bit further to bring something truly special or memorable to the table.

That said, I am going to finish watching Tsuki ga Kirei. Who knows, by the time I get to the end I might have even learned to love it. But I’m turning it over to you and asking you how you like your romance? Do you prefer the realistic, the sweet, the spicy, the funny, the dramatic, or some completely different style of romance altogether? I’d love to know.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Characters Robbed By Plot

This is another My Hero Academia inspired list after a discussion with a few people on Twitter and this comment:

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Which got me thinking of all the times characters have lost out in anime because the plot demands they lose. There are a lot. Of course that is true of any narrative because sometimes you just have to let the protagonist win. Anyway, I made a short list of characters that I thought were genuinely robbed by the plot (robbed, mugged, gunned down and left to die, etc). I’d love to know who else you thinks needs to join the ‘they were robbed’ club so please share in the comments below.

Please Note – There will be major plot spoilers below.

Honourable Mentions: This week my only honourable mention is going to every opponent in Katanagatari. Sorry guys, but each and every one of you was robbed of your chance of even getting an appearance in a second episode because the plot demanded you be met, challenged and defeated (okay, some of these guys did show up in episodes prior to their deaths and a few got flash backs after their deaths, but mostly they were all one episode wonders).

Number 5: JJ from Yuri on Ice

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You know, I don’t actually want JJ to have won because he was incredibly obnoxious (even though he wasn’t technically an antagonist). That said, I think the plot really did run him down just for the fun of it and it was kind of unnecessary. In the first skate of the grand prix, JJ choked. Horribly. Considering his overwhelming confidence and presence in every other competition and that this wasn’t his first major competition it just seemed really kind of cruel and I actually felt sorry for the guy by the end of it. More importantly, it wasn’t necessary for him to do so poorly. When you look at the scores Yuri and Yurio ended up with, even if JJ had been at his best, the result probably would have been the same. So pretty much the plot ran him over for no reason and that actually cheapened the Yuri’s victory because they haven’t beaten JJ at his best.

Number 4: Manato from Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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Yes, we need a tragic death to reinforce that fragile nature of life and to highlight the real human process of grief. Sorry Manato, the plot demands your death. No you don’t get to save anyone else spectacularly or have any kind of moment of self-sacrifice. You can just get shot in the back and die. This was a really affective moment by the plot and a great character moment for everyone else in the story, but Manato really did get robbed here. He was the best character the show had and in order to help everyone else reach that little bit higher, the plot threw him under the bus. It did it well, but that was a little mean.

Number 3: Linda from Golden Time

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Love triangles always suck because someone is going to lose. More importantly, normally if the person at the middle of the triangle would just make a choice we could all be spared the heartache. The reason Linda gets a place on this list out of the thousands of losing at love characters is because technically she didn’t lose. Banri of the past chose her. Continued to choose her. Unfortunately, Banri of the past only existed as a ghost because Banri of the future had lost his memory and was a whole new person who fell in love with Koko. Seriously, that has to suck for Linda. Worse, when past Banri shows up just long enough to get Linda’s hopes up again. Seriously, plot, we get it. Banri and Koko are going to be together. Now please stop rubbing salt into Linda’s wounds for half an episode.

Number 2: Uraraka from My Hero Academia

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Yep, the girl who inspired the list. She went into a fight that she knew she probably couldn’t win with a plan. A good plan. If she’d been the protagonist she most definitely would have turned the tide of the fight and won with that plan. Okay, she would have won with even half that plan given some plans protagonists have made work. Unfortunately, cute side-character who may or may not eventually become some sort of love interest for someone, does not have plot armor and when the plot is demanding a show down between two other characters and you face one of them earlier in the competition you know your luck is out. Poor Uraraka.

Number 1: Grimmjow from Bleach

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I know, every opponent Ichigo faces could end up on this list but most of them I wanted to see lose. With Grimmjow, part of me really wanted to see him win. He was one of the most entertaining opponents ever and he didn’t have some amazingly overpowered attack that couldn’t be defended against. He was just someone in love with fighting and getting stronger. Given Ichigo doesn’t win every fight and regularly has to have a take two or three against particularly strong opponents (they beat him nearly to death, someone drags him away so that he can heal, learn a new skill, go back and try again), I really wanted Grimmjow to be one of those opponents. I wanted him to beat Ichigo up and for there to be an ongoing rivalry between the two. Alas, it was not to be and Grimmjow became yet another casualty of plot.

That’s my list. I’d love to know who you’ve put on yours.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Males with Silver Hair

Here’s the list of my top 5 male anime characters with silver hair. I’m going to admit, this was a far harder list to put together than the female one. There are so many silver haired males out there that I wanted to include. Plus, splitting the one and two spot this week was all but impossible so I finally went with overall good looks which means I now feel really bad about number 2. Anyway, my primary criteria, other than having silver, white or gray hair, was that they are an interesting character that I enjoy watching. Still, this one was really difficult. I’d love to know who you would have included so please leave me a comment.

Also, next week I have a Top 5 list suggested by Kendra Ressler who is one of my patrons. As part of their reward tier they get to suggest three post topics in a year and this is their first one and it is focussed on My Hero Academia. I’m really looking forward to writing it and even though the post will come out after I’ve gone on break, I’m hoping everyone will enjoy it. Thanks to Kendra for the great suggestion.

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

Honourable mentions go to Undertaker (Black Butler), Tomoi (Kamisama Kiss) and Lag Seeing (Letter Bee).

Number 5: Hitsugaya from Bleach

 

 

It feels kind of wrong for Hitsugaya to be so low on this list given I absolutely love him as a character but when I thought about why I liked him, his hair doesn’t feature very high. his attitude, his sword, his eyes and his very cool ice power featured heavily, but his hair style and colour were more of a side note. Still, Hitsugaya is an amazing character so I’m glad he didn’t fall off the list altogether.

Number 4: Zero from Vampire Knight

 

 

As much as I do tend to mock Vampire Knight and its storyline, I have to admit Kiryuu Zero is a really fun character to watch. That’s probably slightly mean to say given most of what you are watching is his descent into depression as the vampire hunter transforms into a vampire and feels incredible guilt over sucking the blood of his crush but I just enjoy him as a character. As for his hair colour, other than providing a strong contrast with the other love interest, I really couldn’t imagine Zero with any other colour. He always seems a little washed out and detached from the world and his hair kind of helps give that impression.

Number 3: Weismann from K

 

 

This issue with Weismann is that we see so very little of him. Flashbacks are all well and good but given his body is snatched before the events of the first episode of K, we really don’t see much of him. That said, his silver hair, given he’s the silver king and all, is kind of important and I really enjoy his character (what little we see of it). Brilliant and detached with a slightly off-beat sense of humour, he remains an enigma even after he regains his memories and I absolutely love every moment of screen time he gets.

Number 2: Allen Walker from D Gray Man

 

 

I know. I can’t believe Allen isn’t number 1 on this list either. Much like Zero, Allen is a pretty tragic character to watch and I can’t get enough of it. He’s one of my favourite characters of all time. Want a strong and loyal character who will literally fight to the death and even beyond for what he believes to be right but isn’t exactly a saint? Then Allen will entertain you for hours (and hours and hours given the run time of the show now). Though I definitely have a preference for his character design in the original series rather than Hallow (too colourful in Hallow).

Number 1: Victor from Yuri on Ice

 

 

I did warn you at the beginning I split 1 and 2 by overall looks and as much as I love Allen as a character, Victor is pretty impressively charming. I think it was the fact that for once there was an anime character who was actually in his late twenties that was being treated as desirable by pretty much everyone rather than as an old man (typical of high school anime) that really got me focussed on his character. Then, of course, there’s his talent, charisma, and developing relationship with Yuri, and all and all I really did fall in love with his character during Yuri on Ice – even if I know that in reality his personality would drive me completely crazy.

So there is my list of silver haired anime males. Who would you include on yours?


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Friday’s Feature: You Have No Power Over Me – Man vs Self

This is my last feature for March and my last feature for now on conflict so I’m ending the month with Man vs Self. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts on Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, Man vs Technology or Man vs Society be sure to check out the posts.

I’m not going to lie, this is my favourite type of conflict. It seldom gets to take centre stage as normally this is a conflict that runs as a B Plot to the main action, but every now and then you get a story that puts a character’s inner conflict front and centre and does it in a relatable and entertaining way. Then there’s Tokyo Ghoul which has a perfect set up for a nice inner conflict and after a few freak outs early on just kind of dismisses any further inner conflict in favour of all the action focussed conflicts they can throw at you.

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Anyway, Man vs Self is pretty much what it says. The character is their own worst enemy. The only thing standing in their way is themselves and their doubts, their fears, their confusion, their inability to take action. These stories are great because with the exception of the superbly over-confident, almost everyone can relate. Even if we’ve never gone through exactly what the character is going through we can feel their uncertainty and hesitation and inner conflict and we know how incredibly debilitating those feelings can be.

Why does this type of conflict work?

01. It pairs well with other conflicts. As I said earlier, there are only a few stories where man vs self is the only focus of the story. Mostly it sits as a character drama or side story as we wait for the character to overcome this personal block before they can take on other conflicts in the story. Its effective and doesn’t feel like padding because it is relatable. That said, when done poorly, it mostly just feels like a character flinging emotions around and dragging the pace of the story. A real understanding of nuanced expression is kind of needed to pull this one off and do it well.

02. Relatability. This is human drama at its most basic. Even if you don’t interact with others or have conflicts within your family or with the society you live in, even if you face no natural disasters or murderous robots, you do have to face yourself every single day. And very few people love who they are every single day. More importantly, we doubt ourselves, we second-guess are choices, we hesitate at crucial times, and we regularly create drama where none exists. This is real life and seeing it play out in stories where the hero doesn’t just grab his sword and run into the fray but actually looks at the situation and feels his own vulnerability have a great deal of appeal. Of course it kind of takes some of the wish fulfilment out of the story.

03. The emotional affect can be enormous. From watching March Comes in Like a Lion I know that each week I’m a little shell-shocked at the end of the episode. It isn’t that anything big has happened as in most episodes very little actually happens. But because of the relatability of Rei as a character (or at least his struggle to keep moving forward in the case of his own depression and doubts) and watching this journey unfold, I find myself remembering a lot of the moments where getting out of bed for another day just seemed too hard or I’ve wanted to escape from a situation regardless of the consequences. The story hits hard and admittedly this impact will be different depending on how well you’ve related to the character and the set-up and your own experiences, but when you find the story that you connect with, this type of conflict is the one that is going to get under your skin and become truly unforgettable.

How does this work in anime?

Case 1: Yuri On Ice

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One of the really interesting points of Yuri On Ice as a story was the lack of antagonist. Even the other skaters weren’t really antagonistic. There was some rivalry but this was not something Yuri was trying to overcome. He was trying to overcome his own fear and lack of self-worth. He was never bad at skating (he made it to the grand prix the year before even if he came last – which still made him sixth in the world). He was never weak. He just couldn’t deal with the pressure and expectations of such a big competition and his perceived failure shattered what little confidence he had.

While Victor becoming Yuri’s coach certainly acted as a catalyst to Yuri turning things around, it can be clearly seen that Victor did not know Yuri well enough, or understand Yuri’s mental state well enough, to actually help him overcome it. Yuri had to find that himself. Admittedly, it was Victor’s arrival and attempts to coach that spurred Yuri into action.

However, because the conflict of the story was Man vs Self rather than Man vs Man, Yuri not winning the gold is still a perfectly fine ending. The point of the story wasn’t to crush the opponents. The point was to see Yuri finally skate the way he knew he could in a competition (and you have to admit taking out a world record is a pretty good consolation prize). Yuri has conquered his inner self and his final performance of Yuri On Ice shows that to the world.

Case 2: Soul Eater

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For a show full of external conflicts, Soul Eater continually returns to the characters themselves and overcoming their own inner weaknesses. Maka demonstrates this type of conflict numerous times throughout the series.

Unlike Yuri, Maka comes off as confident. She studies hard, has a clear dream, and is determined to succeed. Yet, despite her hard work, Maka and Soul hit a real snag early on causing them to lose the souls they had so far collected and sending them back to step one. This gives Maka’s confidence a real hit early on in the series and the few times she is reminded of this failure we see her try to resolve herself but we also see her obvious frustration. Soon after her confidence takes another hit when Professor Stein easily takes down both her and Soul. She is forced to face her own weakness and again this causes frustration.

However it is Soul’s injury that he sustains while protecting her, after she’s engaged in a fight that she could have avoided and if she’d been a bit quicker thinking things through could have escaped, that really hits Maka’s mental state hard. For a long time after this, Maka is withdrawn and struggles to work with Soul or even look at him. It strains their relationship and their partnership as weapon and meister. Because mental stability is needed to bring out their full power, to resonate, and to fight, this inner conflict faced by Maka continues to dominate a lot of screen time as they face progressively harder villains in the story.

In honesty, it is this part of Soul Eater that I love. The fights are cool, the villains zany, the pace works well enough, but it is all pretty typical action anime. It is the character focus, and particularly Maka, that really drew me into this world. Without this inner conflict getting played out across the series, I doubt the show would have left much of a lasting impression on me.

Conclusion

Man vs Self can be highly satisfying to watch as a form of conflict. It doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. As many characters have proven it can be highly entertaining when you are at war with your inner voices. However, this type of conflict does allow that exploration into some of those denser topics such as depression and anxiety and it is great to see some of these ideas get a little bit of screen time as it gives people a little insight or gets people talking about the ideas.

That is the end of this series of posts on conflict. I’ve certainly barely scraped the surface of any of these ideas so I guess I’ll revisit them at some point but for now I’m going to move on to other ideas for awhile.

What is your favourite man vs self anime or character suffering from inner conflict?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Use of Phones in an Anime

We’ve all seen anime characters using their phones. Whether they are flip phones or the more recently prolific smart phones, characters do love their phones. My list today looks at 5 interesting uses of phones in anime (okay, four interesting uses and one use that just worked well with the story). These are the uses that stood out to me and felt like they were fairly integral to the story. Please feel free to add your favourite use of phones in an anime in the comments below.

For patrons, today I’m counting down 5 uses of questionable technology. Be sure to check out my patreon.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mention to Haganai for having two characters who both owned phones being completely unable to use them.

Number 5: Yuri on Ice

This is the one that I said wasn’t all that interesting but worked well with the story. All the way through Yuri on Ice the characters used their phones to update where they were, take and post pictures and video and generally stay in contact. It was nice to see these characters simply using phones as part of their everyday rather than having them as a gimmick or an add on. Plus, the camera rolls and videos stored on the characters phones were used for a fairly significant plot reveal toward the end of the series which would have seemed really lame if we hadn’t seen the characters using their phones all the way along.

Number 4: Mirai Nikki

Yes, future diary. I still don’t know why anyone would keep a diary on their phone but it is the basis for this anime that sets up a death match between diary users and each diary is given a power based on whatever the person was using the diary for. Our main character was recording everything that happened around him but not a thing about himself so his diary shows him the future for everything around him. Good thing his stalker/girlfriend was recording everything about him.

Number 3: Steins;Gate

Who wants to send a text message and change the past? Well, hopefully no-one after seeing the mess it got these characters into. It probably would have been better if they’d had a clue how they’d managed to accomplish building a time machine that could send text messages but even then they probably would have still gotten into the mess by changing world-lines and then having to essentially undo every single change.

Number 2: Noragami

Alright, the phone aspect isn’t very big in this one but I like that a god has been reduced to spraying his number all over town and that he can teleport to the person who has called him. During the first season at least this was one of the many ways this story was made to feel modern. The second season kind of loses a bit of this and that is probably to the show’s detriment.

Number 1: Eden of the East

It absolutely had to be. Phones given to a group of selected individuals with a large amount of money on it and charged with saving the country. What could possibly go wrong? I think it is the operator on the other end who is more extraordinary given pretty much any request can be answered provided they still have enough money. If it wasn’t for the deadly consequences of participation this would very much be the best phone on this list to have. Aside from the Selecao’s phones though the other characters use their phones to connect and interact. Removing the phones, Eden of the East does not work as a story.

And that’s my list this week. What do you think about phones in anime?


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Yuri On Ice Series Review

Wait, did I just schedule a Yuri on Ice review for Valentine’s Day? Oh, that’s right. I definitely did.

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Overview:

Yuri Katsuki is a Japanese figure skater who kind of feels his not-so-glorious career is over when Victor (his idol from Russia) shows up to become his coach. I reviewed this week to week, it took out my best of the season and the year (and was the reader’s choice as well), and after episode 10 I wrote a feature on the appeal of Yuri on Ice to me (all of which can be found here) so now I have to try to review it as a series.

Given everything already out about this series, I’m not even trying to avoid spoilers and my review will outright tell you who wins the final competition so if that is an issue, please go check out some of my other posts on Yuri on Ice instead.

Review:

Let’s be honest, this is not going to be an overly objective view. I’m going to try, but I’m going to fail, because just saying the name Yuri on Ice still makes me smile like a bit of an idiot. I’m actually going to take this as a plus/minus review because that is going to help maintain some objectivity and it will also mean I’m not just reiterating stuff I’ve already said in my over posts on this series (or at least there will be less reiteration – I’ve written a lot about Yuri on Ice already).

Plus +

The characters in this story feel real. That was kind of the main point of the feature I wrote back while this was airing. Are they the most well rounded characters in all history? Not really. Do they contain infinite levels of depth? Definitely not. But they feel real. In real life people aren’t always well rounded and depth is something that even if someone has it they don’t always show and these characters have enough depth to keep from being boring. Even the minor characters who get very little screen time feel like real people. One of the criticisms I’ve read of the show is that the support cast exist only to lose and from a narrative point of view that is kind of true. However, someone has to lose the competition (or at least not win) and given our main characters (Yuri, Victor, and Yurio) kind of only interact with their family sparingly and then other ice-skaters and their coaches, it kind of makes sense that most of the support cast are competition and that at some point they are going to lose events. I don’t actually see that as an issue with the characters and more an inevitability of watching a sports anime. I love the cast of Yuri on Ice (even JJ who is really an obnoxious braggart but is never actually cruel to the other skaters which is an important point for when they switch things around in the final competition and make you see him through a different lens). They just feel like this could be a real group of people for at least 80% of the run-time of the show.

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Minus –

While it is fantastic that we got to see a romance between two male characters that didn’t involve either one declaring they weren’t gay, acts of violence, or acts that are borderline if not totally predatory, Yuri on Ice didn’t really delve into this. Rather, it feels like they wanted to just ignore the fact that this was a male on male relationship and just tell a story of a relationship which is fine and it would be lovely to see more shows just tell the story they want to tell (so not really a minus). But while it was lovely to see the main characters just accept their attraction and relationship the fact that every other character in the story just accepts it as well and not one person ever raises the issue that they are gay or both guys or anything else, really shatters the realism that is built up almost everywhere else in this story. It is great that this relationship is accepted in the world of Yuri on Ice. It is great that they didn’t need to spend half the run-time justifying themselves. But when you have a Thai character announce to an international group of competitors and a restaurant full of customers from Barcelona that his two male friends just got married and no-one says anything except congratulations (admittedly, he did make the announcement in Japanese) you just have to wonder about the reality being presented. Certainly it would be great if this is how such announcements were greeted but for the most part I think most of us know that this isn’t how such an announcement would be taken. So, no, I’m not criticising Yuri on Ice for not being a political piece on gay rights but I am criticising it for this one critical break from constructing a believable reality in terms of the main relationship.

Plus +

This is so pretty. Okay, people who know a lot about animation and people who are more critical in general of animation than me, will point out the terrible facial expressions some of the characters have if you pause at points during their routines. They will also point to reused sequences of animation for the routines. There’s a few other parts they’ll hold up to show you that this anime doesn’t have amazing animation. Sorry, but I disagree with them whole-heartedly. This is beautiful to watch. The colours, the movement, most of the expressions, everything is just gorgeous and if a certain action sequence gets reused multiple times I’m fine with that. Outside of the skating I loved how each of the venues was shown and I love the small details are included throughout. Yuri on Ice is beautiful and for something that seems pretty simple on the surface there is an incredible amount of detail that you can find when you start looking (and my rewatch of this series only convinced me that I’ll have to rewatch it again, soon, to pull out yet more details).

Minus –

I kind of touched on this when I talked about the characters but the story is really simple. While this isn’t really a problem in a character driven show there really isn’t much going on from a story point of view. Even the other competitors aren’t really constructed as antagonists because they aren’t. Yuri is facing himself and his own self-doubts. Yurio is trying to transition into the senior competition and prove he is better than what he has shown the world so far. JJ is trying to fan his own ego. The characters are all facing some inner-demon rather than an actual antagonist or conflict. The competition is more or less just a way to show us who is winning their psychological battle at any given moment. Yurio winning overall was predictable early on and Yuri not winning gold was also nearly a foregone conclusion after Victor said they’d get married if he did. In light of wanting another season this ending was definitely needed. However, Yuri did need to show how much he’d improved and overcome through Victor’s presence so a silver medal and a world record will just have to do. Still, a lack of antagonist or real conflict won’t detract from the overall viewing experience so while from a narrative point of view this might be a minus, from an enjoyment point of view it probably won’t interere with the fun of watching.

Plus +

Can we talk about the music for a moment? Because after you get past one of the most memorable opening themes of the year what you have is a show that just throws amazing music at you. Admittedly, given each skater has two separate songs and we’re introduced to a lot of different skaters over the course of the show, it was kind of easy for this anime to hit us hard with brilliant music. However, what really sold the music was the solid link to characterisation. These skaters are revealing who they are through their music (part of that ongoing inner battle) and each piece has been perfectly mapped to the character. Some of these links are obvious with Yuri naming his original piece ‘Yuri on Ice’ and JJ naming his ‘Theme of King JJ’ but others are far more subtle and yet equally powerful. I am going to have to get the soundtrack to this anime at some point because the music is exceptionally well done.

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Minus –

This is a criticism I raised early on in the series when reviewing week to week and it is of some of the dialgoue. Between being cheesy, obvious, or incredibly lame there are some terrible lines of dialogue early on (though admittedly some of this may be because things got lost in translation). The instances of lame dialogue thinned out as the series progressed but there were definitely a few face palm worthy moments early in the show. Actually, some of the interactions between Victor and Yuri later in the series border on brilliant, not because there is a stand out line that makes you go ‘yes’ but because they really develop a natural pattern of conversation (or arguments) as they spend more time together.

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Plus +

This is a truly emotional experience. Okay, that is beyond subjective but if the characters have drawn you in to their romance and their desire to win then you will find yourself incredibly caught up in the final episodes. I know I was. There were tears. Both first and second time through. They were mostly happy tears.

Plus +

Yeah, that’s two in a row, I’m cheating. While the story is pretty basic I loved how early events impact upon later ones and flash backs are used with real purpose and make you reconsider both the story and the characters. I’m not going too much into this because it is something that is better to experience but information you gain as you go will continue to change how you view the early events and this definitely helps give the basic storyline a little bit more of a wow factor.

I’m going to leave this on the positive because even though I thought I’d said everything I wanted to about Yuri on Ice before this review still just spiralled a little out of control even after multiple rewrites and edits.

Final thought, if you are one of the very few people who haven’t already watched Yuri on Ice (or haven’t already totally written it off because of all the crazy fans) then you should definitely give it a go. Maybe it won’t rock your world but its definitely got a solid (if simple) story with characters that moved me (and clearly thousands of other crazy fans).

Please tell me why you loved Yuri on Ice below… or tell me why it wasn’t your thing.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Opening Themes in 2016

One of the things most of us remember about an anime series is the opening theme. Whether we loved it or hated it, listened to it every time, or reached for the remote (mouse) to hit the skip. Opening themes set the tone for the entire viewing experience and yet it is another element I seldom take into consideration when ranking my favourite anime on my weekly lists. This week’s top 5 gave me a chance to reflect on some of the themes of 2016 and to realise it was not one of my favourite years for opening songs.

My criteria for top 5 opening theme is mostly that the song could be listened to as a song by itself and still sound good without the visuals, though also had good visuals to go with it, that it matched the tone of the show, and that it got me ready to watch the episode. Also, it had to be an opening I didn’t want to skip because listening to the song was part of the experience. They also had to be in an anime that aired at some point during 2016 (either continuing on from 2015, completely in 2016, or at least started before the end of 2016).

For patrons there is a list of the 5 openings of 2016 that didn’t particularly impress over on patreon.

Please Note – There probably won’t be any spoilers in this list.

Honourable mentions this week go to: Cheer Boys (because it was fun) and 91 Days (because it set the tone of the show so well). Also, special honourable mention to Raise Your Flag from Iron Blooded Orphans because if that had been the theme the whole way through the show it would have been absolutely perfect.

Number 5: Coolest from Sakamoto Desu Ga

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This is the weirdest choice on this list because this is an anime I didn’t even finish watching. However, this opening gives you more or less the entire concept and is fun, bright and over the top which is everything the show itself is trying to be. I probably would have ditched the show and kept watching the opening if that was a viable option really.

Number 4: Bye Bye Yesterday from Assassination Classroom Second Season

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Assassination Classroom has continued to have excellent openings that nail the tone of the show and manage to convey the overall emotion the characters are feeling at that point in time. From that point of veiw, Bye Bye Yesterday is the perfect opening during the second season because our characters have moved on from who they were and they are at a critical transitional point. The visuals throughout the song are pretty awesome to with a lot of looking back on where the characters have come from and the events that have shaped them in the series. The fact that the song is still upbeat and energizes you in preparation for the episode is perfect because Assassination Classroom still has that weird back and forth between comedy and real drama so a song that makes you feel sad and nostalgic while getting you energised is exactly what was needed.

Number 3: Lay Your Hands on Me from Kiznaiver

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I know I didn’t end up thinking much of the show but this song was amazing. Actually the entire opening sequence is just an overload on the senses. The song is full of energy and drama and yet you aren’t sure whether it is trying to be optimistic or poignant and overall it just makes you feel like something is coming. Unfortunately for me, most episodes went downhill after the opening but at least I never skipped the song.

Number 2: Re:Re from Erased

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During the first few episodes, while I enjoyed this opening, I couldn’t figure out why this show had such an up-beat and happy little opening. The visuals hinted at darker ideas but the song itself felt like it belonged on some coming-of-age high school romp rather than a mystery with potential supernatural elements. Turns out the song wasn’t lying as the mystery part of the show falls short and it is the coming-of-age and the finding out who you are that dominates the show thematically in the second half. So great song in and of itself and once you’ve watched the show through you realise just how apt it actually is.

Number 1: History Maker from Yuri On Ice

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That was probably obvious from the get-go given the theme to Yuri on Ice was probably the only one I commented on (more than once) during my weekly reviews of a show. I couldn’t help it, the song just swept me away each and every time I listened to it. It is one of the few themes that I actively looked up and played just by itself without any intention of watching an episode of the show. And please, hit repeat. Then of course we have the beautiful animation that accompanies it. I also liked that it didn’t really sound like an anime opening. That kind of made it stand out. All and all, this was the perfect opening song for this particular story.

Alright, over to you. What opening themes made you pay attention in 2016?


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Friday’s Feature: Popular Vote and the Aftermath of Yuri On Ice’s Winning Almost Everything

A while back I wrote a feature on the cycle of love and hate in anime where pretty much anything that gained momentum through hype and popular appeal then became scrutinised to death and soon the negative bandwagon would start rolling down the hill trying to obliterate everything in it’s path (okay, I wasn’t that melodramatic but it kind of feels like that’s where this post needs to go). At the time I was commenting on the sudden popularity of Yuri On Ice and how I hadn’t intended to jump on the hype train but after watching it I was kind of dragged along (and of course we all know what happened next, I fully got on board because it was fun to be there).

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Anyway, toward the end of the post I said the following wondering what the aftermath for Yuri On Ice would be:

It will be interesting to see where the love/hate split for this anime ends up once the anime has ended. Will the series fail to maintain its standard but still keep those on the hype train sitting there? Will it falter so that those of us who came in out of curiosity (who aren’t totally in the fan category but are really enjoying it) start to pull more of the faults apart? Or will the hate bandwagon gain momentum and eventually win out? Or, will it actually be an incredible anime from start to finish?

I was kind of hoping that we’d end up in a happy middle with the major fans enjoying their fan moment, the rest of finding something to enjoy even as we picked at it, and the few haters throwing rocks from the sidelines. And though it may not seem like it, we have kind of ended up there. After Crunchyroll announced the winners of their anime of the year awards (other than the anime of the year) the results were clear. Yuri won every category it was nominated for. The fans were thrilled, others were a little more guarded in their response, not disliking Yuri so much but also not convinced that it should have taken out so many awards, and some people were pretty annoyed.

What followed on Twitter was an explosion of tweets both positive and negative either supporting the vote or tearing the result apart, though some were fairly level headed.

Before we get to the tweets, I want to put my own thoughts out there. Yuri On Ice was my ‘best’ anime of the year but my selection was entirely based on entertainment value. And while I loved the animation (it was pretty) as a general rule other than something being visually appealing or not I don’t really care or comment on the technical side of anime because I am hopelessly unqualified to do so (I can’t draw stick figures let alone actually animate something). Yuri On Ice also won my reader’s poll by one vote. As no one had to justify their votes I’m certain most of my readers just voted for what they enjoyed most from the year.

So was I happy that Yuri On Ice won a lot of awards? Absolutely. It shows the fans of the show were active during the voting and that it was loved by a lot of fans. Do I think that from a technical point of view Yuri should have won all of those categories? Probably not, but it wasn’t a technical score but a popular vote so all anyone can do is accept the outcome.

If you made one of the tweets below and want it removed from the post, please contact me and I will remove it. These have been chosen as examples of the range of opinions that were on display and are not intended to pass judgement on any individual’s opinion. Any inappropriate language has been crossed out.

I’m listening to the Yuri on Ice ending and it’s so beautiful it deserved winning best ending award! Thanks! ^^ #yurionice

IF ####### YURI ON ICE COULD WIN BECAUSE IT USED CHOREOGRAPHY WHY COULDNT ALL-OUT WIN THE ANIMATION AWARD FOR THE

yuri on ice is great but like it’s not great enough to win every anime of the year award? it was great but there were other amazing anime –

I’m still really upset that Yuri on Ice won the best animation of the year award instead of Mob Psycho but that won’t change anything

Okay which dumb### voted for Yuri on Ice to won most of the Crunchyroll award,get the #### out from my following list

I still can’t believe that Yuri on Ice has won so many undeserved award on Crunchyroll just because the fangirls are scary human beings

Congrat to Yuri!! On Ice 👏 won almost every anime award!! I’m so happy 😘😘 😂

I think this is reflective of the community at large, the issue being that those negative voice are getting louder and it isn’t the show they are criticising all of the time (which would be fine because there’s always some issues with a show you could point out) but there are a lot of posts attacking the fans of the show (and yes, I didn’t post some of the more offensive tweets I’ve come across because I don’t really want that sort of thing on my blog). Amazingly enough in a popular vote, something that is popular (not necessarily good/or bad) will win. That’s a basic issue with awards being given through votes rather than some sort of criteria of selection panel (which is also able to become totally disconnected from the fans or just completely corrupt).

The other thing a lot of people haven’t considered is that for most categories people were given four choices that had already been selected (yes there was an other option but the likelihood of enough write in votes to overturn the options given is pretty low).

So the whole thing needs some perspective. These awards simply give the community a place to have their say about what they enjoyed, for whatever reason. Because it is a popular vote, whichever fandom has the most momentum at the time within the anime community is almost guaranteed to win. The only way for the results to be any different  in a popular vote is for a concentrated PR campaign to mobilise other fandoms prior to the voting commencing and getting sufficient voter turn out. And at the end of the day, it’s an online poll of anime shows.

Your thoughts on the awards and the fall out?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Visually Interesting Anime in 2016

When I made my judgements about best and worst series I make that judgement based mostly on entertainment, characters and plot. Visuals (whether good or bad) play little part in that judgement. So this week I want to look at the top 5 anime in 2016 that I found visually interesting. As always I’d invite you to add you favourites to the comments below.

How did I narrow down this list? I actually remembered something about the visuals other than character designs. Seriously, I don’t usually pay that much attention to backgrounds and the like because I’m all about story and characters so if I actually remember after watching something that it was beautiful or interesting, that usually means it was noteworthy. They also had to be in an anime that aired at some point during 2016 (either continuing on from 2015, completely in 2016, or at least started before the end of 2016).

And then for patrons, I’ve put up a post called Tuesday’s Lesser 5 where I share some of the least visually interesting anime of 2016. I’m still working on providing patrons with extra content and I’ll probably be a bit hit and miss with this until it becomes a routine (I am very open to suggestions from patrons and would be patrons about what content you would like to see). If the post hasn’t come out as scheduled I will fix it – just let me know.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below – massive spoilers for number 5.

Honourable mentions this week go to: Ajin, Mob Psycho 100 (Yes, I hated the look of this but it was interesting), and Erased.

Number 5: Assassination Classroom Season 2

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Say what you will about this show as a show, you have to admit visually it is very interesting. We have a large cast of characters who each have a distinct look and a main character who by himself is intriguing and then we have the settings which are at times highly detailed and also use a large range of colours nad tones to convey moods. Honestly, the show is a feast for the eyes regardless of how you take to the plot of students trying to kill their teacher.

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Number 4: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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I know a lot of people didn’t like the look of this show but I loved it. The water colour look about the scenes that just made everything feel kind of like a children’s story book while this incredibly grim tale was being woven really worked for me and it stood out from the strong colours and character designs we usually come across in this sort of fantasy world. I also liked how they contrasted each of the settings. We had the town, the forest, the ruins and then the caverns and each area had their own look and feel even while the art style was consistent. I also liked that the character designs blended with this environment rather than standing out sharply from it.

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Number 3: Yuri on Ice

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I know, obvious choice, but this anime swept me away with its animation and presentation from the very first opening. The storyline and characters took longer to win me over but I could have watched this series through just on the looks of it. I’ve never seen characters move like that and I honestly don’t care if they were reusing animation, it was amazing. I also liked that the costumes were all beautifully designed and moved with the skaters, the backgrounds, the way they gave us the feel of being in different countries even though we spent most of our time at skating rinks, and so on. The visuals were extremely well done and this show had instant appeal because of it.

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Number 2: Flip Flappers

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It’s probably good this show was so visually interesting given the story really struggled to come through sometimes. That said, regardless of what the characters were doing or whether you had a clue what the plot was about, there was always something appealing to look at on the screen. The rich detail, the symbolism, the abstract design at times, the various art styles, all of it demanded your attention and you kept thinking that you’d missed something and sure enough when reading the blogs of others there was a detail you’d completely missed amongst the many things clamouring for your attention while watching this show. No matter your thoughts on the story, this is a visually appealing anime to watch.

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Number 1: March Comes in Like a Lion

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This one may not be as frantic to fight for every minute of your attention as Flip Flappers but overall the visuals are far more cohesive (and more importantly are more suited to my tastes). The sharp contrasts between light and dark and the simplicity of some scenes compared with the rich detail in others will keep you watching and watching closely. Throw in the contrast between the very ‘realistic’ view of the world against the more ‘cartoonish’ view that is sometimes given and there’s always something to look for. Then again, even the opening of this one is mesmerizing and rich in symbolism so well worth checking out. That and it’s just beautiful.

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Those are my picks for top 5 visually interesting anime in 2016. I know three of them came from the end of the year but when I looked back at the other anime I loved, they just didn’t visually stand out. What are your favourites from the year?


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Male Characters from 2016

Last week I looked at the female characters from 2016 that left an impression. This week I turn my attention to the guys. I’m going to be honest; this was a much harder list to write. The reason being that female characters still tend to play a lot of support roles and still tend to have very generic personalities (with some exceptions). There are more leading male characters and more personality types (though still some basic archetypes) out there to choose from.

So how did I choose my top 5 male characters? Pretty much they played a significant role in their anime, were entertaining to watch, and, for whatever reason, memorable. They also had to be in an anime that aired at some point during 2016 (either continuing on from 2015, completely in 2016, or at least started before the end of 2016).

Please Note – There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions go to: Natsume (Natsume Yuujinchou Go), Mikleo (Tales of Zestiria the X), and weirdly to Matsumi Asuma (Kiss Him, Not Me).

Number 5: Dazai (Bungo Stray Dogs Season 2)

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There were times in season 1 when Dazai drove me absolutely crazy. He was hilarious and intriguing for the first 2 episodes and then his character went into one note comedy mode for most the rest of the season. Season 2 Dazai became a much more interesting character. First we spent four episodes getting his back story and then even after that while we still had the odd goofy moment and suicide joke, Dazai kind of left the playful facade behind and started actually being a character. It made him far more intriguing and made me far more interested in him. Is Dazai the best character? Not really, but I certainly remember him.

Number 4: Karma Akabane (Assassination Classroom Season 2)

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Okay, this one should come as no surprise given he topped out my list of favourite red haired male characters last year. I find Karma fantastic value as a character. Why isn’t he higher up my list? Because season 1 of Assassination Classroom did not air in 2016 and looking at Karma’s contributions to season 2, I just couldn’t justify it. His character decidely takes a back seat with the exception of the conflict between him and Nagisa and even that plays out relatively quickly. He is still one scary teenager and what I like is that he isn’t just a hoodlum, he is smart, manipulative and motivated.

Number 3: Yuuri Katsuki (Yuri on Ice)

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It would have surprised me more if I hadn’t added a character from Yuri on Ice and it had to be Yuri himself. The character transformation he underwent and how natural it felt was one of the highlights of the whole year for me. I liked that this wasn’t a show about someone who was bad at skating getting suddenly amazing. Yuri was always good but lacked confidence. This story really just focussed on him overcoming himself rather than a skills deficit and it was a much stronger character story because of it.

Number 2: Obi (Snow White with the Red Hair)

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Obi was always my favourite character from Show White with the Red Hair and season 2 we got more Obi. When Shirayuki leaves the kingdom to visit Prince Raj it is Obi who goes with her as a bodyguard so when she get’s kidnapped, Obi kind of loses it in the best possible way. It’s probably the first time we ever see Obi anything less than laid back and completely in control and that he then spends the rest of the season working to save her and then in ensuring that Zen and Shirayuki are going to get their happily ever after (despite the fact it’s pretty clear he’d really like Shirayuki to look at him) just makes Obi an even better character. He’s still stealing every scene he shows up in and I would love more of this character. Note to self: Do not get on Obi’s bad side.

Number 1: Allen Walker (D Gray Man Hallow)

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Okay, I know a lot of this placement is due my overall love of this franchise but Hallow did an amazing job of progressing Allen’s story as the fourteenth is slowly but surely taking over. Allen has come along way from the naive want to be exorcist we met back in episode 1 of D Gray Man and is now a very competent exorcist however he is continuously doubted and mistreated by the Order and ultimately is forced to make the decision to leave (which gave us an incredibly heartbreaking farewell between Allen and Lenalee). Allen is a character I always want more of because he is incredibly interesting and I would love for him to eventually find out everything and be able to make his own informed choices about his life. Seems unlikely and far more likely he will continue to flounder along, but he does keep moving. Not even certain death keeps him out of the action.

That’s my list so now its time to share yours. Who were your favourite male characters in 2016?