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In Japan, it’s said that if a previously prized item has been abandoned for over 100 years, it comes to life, developing it’s own soul, born from the tragedy of it’s loneliness. If this is true, then you can only imagine the kind of forlorn souls that haunt your average antique shop. Of course, you don’t have to imagine it if you get a job at one of these locations, like Eiri Kurahashi does when he takes a job at his Grandfather’s shop to help pay his way through art school. Honestly, it’s not such a bad job, either. He works near his friends, a lovely young woman often rents the space outside for her tarot card readings, and all he really has to deal with is his grandfather’s compulsive purchases, as the worldly old man is constantly buying up antiques on his travels to sell at his shop for obscene and mostly arbitrary price markups.

One day, he receives a piece from his Grandfather’s trip to Europe, and while it looks like a simple piece of furniture at first, he soon finds out that the piece contains two hidden items… The first is a lovely glass chalice whose rim is tinted with an enchanting swirl of colors, and the second is an exquisite painting of a little white girl, dressed up in gothic lolita clothing like a porcelain doll. Eiri quickly starts to lose himself in this glass, and not too long afterward, he begins to see that same little girl moving around inside of the glass, presenting him with a glimpse into many different moments of her young life, from the innocent to the sad, and to make matters more bizarre, she seems to be completely aware of his presence… Whatever he’s seeing, it’s undeniably what she wants him to see, but the lovestruck Eiji may not be feeling what she wants him to feel. As he continues to get drawn deeper and deeper into the haunted chalice’s mystery, and he uncovers more and more about a centuries old crime, can his body survive the strain that this new liaison is taking on his soul?

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette was produced by the animation company Daume, which I’ve only spoken about once before, but that was before I started to adopt a consistent structure in my reviews, so I didn’t mention it at the time. For the record, that anime was Shiki, and the similarities are there, although thank God Cossette doesn’t have the same wacky design problems. Daume unfortunately didn’t exist for very long, as it was only active between 1999 and 2010, but from the few titles I have seen, their priorities seem to be pumping out trashy low budget ecchi shows, and saving the bulk of their money for more serious projects, like this, Shiki, and Strawberry Marshmallow, and with these titles, they put a lot of money and effort into animation quality and background detail, creating as realistic and immersive a tone as possible for the stories and characters that people will actually care about, leaving the titty shows that people will watch anyway to suffer the short end of the stick, and I can definitely respect that.

Alternatively, when it comes to Cossette’s visual style, it looks far more like a product of it’s director than it does it’s production company. Akiyuki Shinbou has a rather controversial reputation among anime fans, and while Cossette was his only real undertaking for Daume, he’s spent the majority of his career working for Studio Shaft, where his eclectic visual style has become synonymous with his name. He’s built his career on using strange, unorthodox cinematography to make dialogue scenes look just weird and off-putting enough to distract the viewer from noticing just how little is actually going on in said scenes, and he’s been called pretentious because of this trend… And not unfairly, either, it’s a label he well deserves. His other constant quirk is that he likes to present female characters, especially underage ones, in sexually appealing poses, regardless of what kind of tone the project is going for. His direction was, interestingly enough, one of the biggest criticisms that Madoka Magika received.

Having said all that, his visual trademarks can be used for good. His style added a lot of depth to EF: A Tale of Memories and it’s sequel, but even further back, he did a fantastic job on Le Petite Cossette. There are a lot of visual effects in this production that feel essential to the story, such as intense shadow play and intricate lighting, as well as a lot of CG glass effects and dream like backgrounds, and I honestly can’t think of any other anime director with the broad vision and even broader scope of imagination to pull it off as well as Shinbou does. His unorthodox visual style doesn’t feel wasted or arbitrary here, as it’s a story about art that’s being presented in as artistically daring a way as possible, and there’s some kind of meaning, no matter how small, that can be inferred from every off kilter shot of it. This is of course not to say the series was low budget, or anything… In the moments that rely on traditional movement, it looks fine. It doesn’t look cheaply made, or like they were struggling, or anything like that. I don’t know if i’d call this the best looking piece of Shinbou’s career, but it’s gotta be up there.

With only three episodes ever made, Le Petite Cossette doesn’t have a very large soundtrack, but what it does have is hauntingly beautiful. I shouldn’t really have to expand much farther than that, at least not once I drop the name Yuki Kajiura, one of the most celebrated soundtrack composers in anime history, and her work for Cossette is no exception. While the instrumentations themselves are heart-breaking and exquisitely orchestrated, a lot of it’s tracks are songs with actual people singing lyrics, which is definitely not something you’d expect from most anime. I wasn’t able to find out who sang every track, I could only place names to a few of them, but from what I was able to gather, the singing duties appear to have been split between Kajiura herself and Cossette’s Japanese voice actor, Marina Inoue, both of whom prove to be outstandingly talented singers. There are a few exceptions to this, of course, and I’m pretty sure my favorite track is “Somewhere I Belong,” whose violin chords convey a very real sense of longing and loneliness.

The English dub is a very fine effort from Geneon, which I regret to say was never one of my favorite dubbing companies when it was still around. I was never a fan of how a lot of their dubs felt really samey, and quite a few of them tried way too hard to match the Japanese voices, resulting in awkward, sometimes screechy sounding deliveries. This particular project, led by director Wendee Lee, is a much more subtle effort than I’m used to from them, and I’d even go as far as to say it’s almost as good as the Japanese. One thing that I feel they greatly improved on is the casting of Eiri, who was for some reason played by a woman in Japanese, and yeah, it wasn’t very convincing. They gave the job to veteran Johnny Yong Bosch in the dub, and… You know that thing he does sometimes where he talks without any real inflections, but his voice is still entirely listenable due to how hypnotically soft it is? That works to great effect when playing his character in the real world, bored and distant as he yearns for the world inside the glass. Appropriately enough, he speaks with a lot more enthusiasm and genuine interest when speaking to Cossette.

And speaking of Cossette, Michelle Ruff plays that role, and while she kind of faltered when playing a similar role in Chobits, she actually gives Cossette a bit more personality than her original VA Marina Inoue did, although that could be chalked up to Ruff being an established star at the time and Inoue having just debuted. She plays her role a bit more playfully than Inoue did, and when the time came, she also delivered on the duality of the character nicely. Unfortunately, aside from Tony Oliver’s terrifying portrayal of murderer Marcello Orlando, the rest of the cast feels kind of wasted in smaller roles, including industry heavyweights like Kari Wahlgren, Kirk Thornton, Sam Riegal, Julie Ann Taylor and even Wendee Lee herself, put on strong, subtly emotional performances, considering the limited screen time they were all given. The English adapted script is also more than faithful enough. Yeah, there’s some philosophical changes in episode 3, but they’re workable. The sub is better overall, but both versions are equally listenable.

You know what we don’t have enough of? Stories where people fall in love with ghosts. I absolutely love reading about or just watching the idea of love conquering all getting challenged by the barrier of mortality between the two lovers in question. One of my favorite books growing up was Robert Westall’s The Promise, which was about an English boy falling in love with a beautiful classmate during World War 1, only for her to become a casualty of the legendary conflict. She comes back as a ghost, they’re still in love, and their attempts to rekindle their mortal romance nearly leads him to death’s door. He ultimately must choose between his life and his love, which is the kind of emotional dilemma I could die for. no, that doesn’t make me a Twilight fan, because vampires have physical bodies, and that would be cheating. Also, Twilight sucks.

To be honest, though, Le Portrait de Petite Cossette has one of Twilight’s biggest flaws, in the fact that it features a love connection between a couple who are separated not just by death, but by an uncomfortable age range. Yeah, in all fairness, Cossette was killed over 200 years prior to the story, but she’s still clearly a child. Eiri still falls in love with her, and while their specific ages are never explained, it’s very likely that Eiri is in his late teens or early twenties, while Cossette died between ages 10 and 12, creating a romance that would normally set off my lolicon alarm, if it wasn’t for what the writer was trying to do with it. Taking a look at Cossette’s background, she was the oldest child of an aristocratic family, and she was also a child bride, which was a common enough practice in those days. Her fiance was a family portrait artist who had fallen in love with her after several art sessions, and while the art we’re shown is fairly innocent, there’s a pretty decent chance he was also putting her in some Leo and Kate/Pretty Baby poses when her parents weren’t looking.

Now, it’s kind of a spoiler, but I’m sorry, I have to talk about her death, and honestly, it’s not even that BIG of a spoiler, as I’ll still be leaving the entire third episode a surprise for you… One day, her artist fiance, Marcello Orlando, goes crazy and slaughters her family before killing her, because… Once again, I’m sorry, but here’s the spoiler… Because she was aging. Yeah, he stabs her through the chest with a huge knife to keep her from growing up, because if she did, she would no longer look like the girl he’d fallen in love with, the girl in his portraits. When you add this to the fact that Eiri’s obsession with a little girl who wasn’t real and complete ignorance of the real life woman who’s in love with him feels like a very intentional metaphor for lolicon media and how it indulges a person’s socially unacceptable fantasies to the point of seclusion, this all becomes the most brilliant condemnation of pedophilia and lolicon culture that I’ve ever seen. Well, from anime, at least… The movie Hard Candy does a pretty solid job, too.

And for those of you who are trying to be smart and point out that the main character also falls in love with a little girl, well, he doesn’t come out of this unscathed either. Yeah, his love for Cossette is portrayed as being more pure than Marcello’s… Which isn’t too difficult when you’re being compared to a murderer… But the idea of his love is still shown through the same kind of lens, as it’s ultimately a delusion. Even if the idea of an adult having a physical or romantic relationship with a child wasn’t wholly reprehensible… Which it unquestionably is… It’s fundamentally impossible for an adult who’s attracted to children to have a substantial relationship with one, as children don’t stay children forever. This is why the anime is named after Cossette’s portrait, rather than Cossette herself… Because it has a duel meaning. Her portrait, in this equation, is symbolic of lolicon art, and to a more unsettling extent, child porn. Cossette says at one point in the ova that she hates having her portrait done, and can you blame her? She was killed over the fact that she, as a person, could never have the same kind of eternal youth that her portrait had. This ties into the portrait’s second meaning… It’s her. The portrait, like her, is a ghost of something that once was, and can never be again.

Of course, it also helps that Cossette as a character is never sexualized, or presented to us in a sexually suggested manner. I guess Shinbou did have a sense of restraint and taste at one point. We’re shown how she seduces Eiri, because she needs a man to fall far enough in love with her to willingly sacrifice himself to the torture and punishment her killer never faced so that her soul can be at peace, but they never bother trying to seduce US with her, so points to them on that front. They could have easily tried to have their cake and eat it too, like the use of nudity in Sankarea, but they took the high road. I wish I could say all of the work they put toward creating their metaphor and supporting their point had resulted in a stronger story and overall better writing, but unfortunately, with only three episodes of time at their disposal, a lot of this anime’s potential wound up falling by the wayside. I do wish the other characters would have had more time for development, seeing how there’s quite a few of them and a lot of them seem genuinely likeable, and I wish they’d drawn the story out more so that it could be enjoyable to people who DON’T want to put in the work to understand it, but what are you gonna do.

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette was originally available from Geneon entertainment, and with that company long since dead and buried, it’s since been rescued and redistributed by Sentai filmworks. Both DVDs are available for cheap online, and the only real difference between them is that the Geneon release has a pointlessly higher content rating. You also get a nifty poster inside, which is awesome. The manga adaptation is also available stateside from Tokyopop, and is just as easy to find online. As far as I know, no legal streaming site is airing it.

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette is, at least for what it tries to do, one of the best independent OVA series I’ve ever seen. Despite it’s weaknesses in characterization and plot, it tells an engaging story with an important message lurking beneath the surface. But putting all of that silly depth stuff aside, though, is this a good, spooky show to watch on Halloween? You bet your sweet ass it is. Despite all evidence to the contrary, you want Eiri and Cossette to reach some sort of positive conclusion at the end(Even if you understandably don’t want to see them wind up together in any way, shape or form), and you will feel legitimately frightened for both of them, as well as sympathetic to their situations. In terms of it’s visuals, you could argue that it was ahead of it’s time, as it holds up far better now than it did when it was originally released, making it a title you really wouldn’t guess the age of, unless you judged by the actors involved. It’s smart, complex, and a feast for the eyes, so I highly recommend adding it to your Halloween watch list. I give Le Portrait de Petit Cossette an 8/10.

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This review was requested by Matthew McPherson.

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We’ve all heard the story of Victor Frankenstein and his creation, which often gets mistaken for him. Some versions tell of his monster dancing to Puttin’ on the Ritz, some versions tell of his monster battling an ancient order of gargoyles, and some versions tell of his monster’s daughter attending high school with other Halloween Bratz rejects. But what no version of this classic story has ever told you is that the old doctor was only the first person to successfully reanimate a corpse. His creation could move on it’s own, it could speak, it could make decisions for itself, it could promote strawberry cereal… But aside from the doctor, nobody could replicate this feat. By the 1800s, technological necromancy was so popular that the soulless, silent husks of the departed had been relegated to the roles of menial workers, performing simple tasks for their fleshy masters, just like at the end of Shaun of the Dead. It was seen as impossible to imbue a reanimated corpse(they’re VERY specific about avoiding the zed word) with a soul, thus the Doctor and his creation became the stuff of legends.

Much like Nikola Tesla, Dr. Frankenstein never released his revolutionary methods to the public, and he and his creation have unfortunately disappeared into time. While it’s entirely possible that the old doctor is living it up in Storybrook and getting freaky with Snow White, and that his monster, labelled by history as “The One” is off somewhere battling other monsters on the side of a bunch of obnoxious children, history has marched on, with all soul reanimation research becoming illegal in Great Britain. Cut to relatively present times, where a young Dr. John Watson has undertaken the not-so-elementary task of figuring out the old Doctor’s work. With a freshly reanimated corpse working as his close assistant, he picks up a bunch of… People… Who join his journey because of… Reasons… As they all push forward on an Unexpected journey to find Doctor Frankenstein’s notes and bring a real soul into the body of his deceased… Friend? I think? And in order to get it, he’ll brave any number of savage, flesh eating totally-not-zombie hordes, even as they spontaneously combust in his face. But sooner rather than later, he’ll have to ask himself… Who are the true monsters?

I’ve said before that Production IG is one of the most solid you’ll find, as they tend to produce some of the best looking anime of their time(and a few bombs, but it’s still a really impressive ratio). Empire of Corpses unfortunately wasn’t made by Production IG, at least not on paper. It was produced by Wit Studio, which is a smaller studio founded by producers from IG, so it’s basically the Touchstone to IG’s Disney. This smaller studio was actually founded very recently, as it’s first known work was released in 2013, and that was of course the original Attack on Titan. Despite it’s overblown reputation, Titan wasn’t the best looking anime, as used a handful of budget saving tricks to maximize it’s visual quality, but they were all somewhat noticeable and distracting, and the thick outlines didn’t help either. Empire of corpses is a decent improvement over this method, because while there wasn’t a huge increase in budget between the two shows, Empire is a lot better at hiding it’s flaws and shortcuts.

One thing I noticed about this film in terms of quality control is how a good chunk of the budget was spent on action scenes, most of which take place in bright daylight, and they paved the way for this by spending a lot of the film’s run time in the dark, using heavy shadows and CG fog effects to hide what would have looked a lot cheaper upon closer and more well-lit inspection. Over-all, the animation looks solid enough to be above complaint. People move as much as they need to, and they never really freeze in the background. The animation is pretty good, but the artwork is nothing short of exquisite. The character designs are a little on the generic side, and that goes for both the living AND the undead, but they’re still polished and consistently on-model enough. The lighting and shading are meticulously realistic, the coloring in the darker and more intense scenes is satisfyingly eerie, and the backgrounds are beautifully designed and atmospheric, and trust me, there are a ton of backgrounds in this movie.

There’s a lot of travel between different countries in this film, including what I believe were many different setting across America, England, India, Russia and Japan, and the level of detail is mind numbing all across the board. Far off shots reveal entire towns, lit by fire and the earliest gasps of technology against the night sky, and the chaos of thousands of people dealing with the onslaught of their once docile reanimated servants is captured beautifully in all it’s carnage. The intricacies get even more elaborate as we explore a number of indoor locations, such as a Japanese chemical company and the Tower of London, where 2D and 3D animation are flawlessly combined to show off technological environments that are guaranteed to ignite the fancies of any steampunk fan who happens to be watching. There’s also simpler settings, like the cozy interior of the USS Richmond, any number of towns the cast has to pass through, and several real life geographical locations. All in all, this film did a hell of a job in the visual department.

The English dub is also quite commendable, with the adaptive script from John Burgmeier of course being respectful to the source material, although whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you. The dialogue for this movie is overloaded with exposition and long winded explanations, and while that kind of thing is hard to make up for through adaptation, the actors still manage to rise above the material they’ve been given. Jason Leibricht is the voice you’ll hear the most, and while the chunks of dialogue he gets can occasionally be tiresome, he doesn’t sound like he’s just reading it from a cue card, either. It sounds like he’s in character, talking to us in his natural voice, and while that doesn’t entirely make up for the material, it’s easily the best anybody could have done with it. This is especially impressive from him because, in the Japanese, the narrator and John Watson were played by different people, but he takes all of it on himself. And thankfully, when the explanations are set aside, he does a fantastic job emoting in his more story-driven scenes.

But speaking of emoting, you really have to give it up for Todd Haberkorn, who plays the mostly mute character Friday, and in order to perform his wordless grunts and attempted vocalizations, he had to call upon a level of voice control that I haven’t heard out of anybody other than Brittany Karbowski, who I’d previously dubbed as the queen of in-character suffering. He brings the necessary elements of pain and tragedy to the character, and even when he does get to speak, he winds up doing so on two different occasions, using two equally perfect accents… British and Russian. J Michael Tatum is a joy to listen to with his gruff, charming cockney accent, sounding like a guy you just wanna go get a beer with. Mike McFarland and Micah Solusod don’t get a lot of screen time, but they still put forth admirable Russian accents, and Morgan Garrett plays the British femme fatale Hadalay like she was born to be a mysterious Bond girl. Greg Dulcie sounds convincing as former president Ulysses S Grant, and R Bruce Elliot plays a cool yet incredibly intimidating take on Frankenstein’s classic monster. Solid English dub all around, can’t recommend it enough.

Now, when I hear the name Empire of Corpses, and then someone tells me that it’s a story loosely connected to the Frankenstein mythos, the first image that pops into my head is a bit more of a metaphorical take on that title than we actually get. I picture in my head that moment from Berserk when Griffith is just realizing how many people have died for him to get as far as he has, how many more he’ll have to kill to get there, and just how many deaths will have been wasted if he turns back and gives up. The idea of pairing that image with a follower of Dr. Frankenstein in a world where reanimated corpses are a societal norm opens up a slew of tantalizing possibilities, quite a few of which had me eager to sit down and see if all of this movie’s poor reviews were really indicative of it’s potential. I didn’t get quite what I was expecting from it, but that also doesn’t mean there wasn’t some potential in what I DID get. Instead of a dark character study on an insane genius losing his grip on reality, we get a mostly sane-minded scientist getting scooped up on a Hobbit-style journey alongside other individuals with their own relationships to reanimation science and their opinions on how to use it.

Is that a bad scenario? No, not at all. The exploration of an idea through the different perspectives of a number of unique, diverse characters can often result in some really enjoyable think pieces, especially if there’s action and in-fighting to challenge them and a dark mystery going on below the surface to increase the stakes of the story. So why is it that out of four entire attempts to watch this film all the way through, I wound up falling asleep every single time? Sometimes multiple times? Well, two of the movie’s huge problems are evident right at the beginning. Not even ten minutes into the film, we’ve already been given two mutually exclusive expository monologues from the main character, one being about his work and the other being about the world the story is taking place in, how Dr. Frankenstein’s work has affected the world as it is, and especially the way it’s affected the warfare of the times. Exposition in a movie can be tiresome at the best of times, with the obligatory Star Wars text scroll being on the high end, but this just keeps going on and on.

And the other problem may not be as prevalent, but it’s far more damaging to the story… We see Watson reanimate Friday, his new corpse servant, but we’re not given any ideas as to who Friday was, what relationship he had to Watson, OR why we’re supposed to care about him being given a soul. We find out around the hour mark that he’s Watson’s former partner and he volunteered to be resurrected upon his death, but at no point are we given any reason to want him to become whole again, which makes all of the trouble they go through to achieve this end feel kind of meaningless. We’re given plenty of reasons to want Ed Elric to get his brother’s soul back, because we knew Alphonse as a child, and we were all given ample time and reason to fall in love with him. On the contrary, you take a movie like Logan, where Professor X is elderly and suffering from dementia, turning his mind into a deadly weapon of mass destruction, and every tragedy that Wolverine’s caring for him causes… Including the slaughter of an entire family that he insisted on visiting… Just winds up feeling like the consequences of pursuing a really bad idea, even though it’s not presented as such.

It’s hard to not feel that way when John Watson’s dedication to bringing life back to Friday winds up causing untold death and destruction, including a scene where Friday literally loses control and murders a random young woman in the street, and you don’t know enough about their previous relationship to address extremely potent questions like whether or not this quest was worth pursuing in the first place, and whether or not just letting the poor zombie die and ending said quest in it’s tracks would be for the better. I might have been able to get behind his resurrection and Watson’s steadfast resolve if the two of them were best friends, going all the way back to childhood with a dependence on one another. Hell, if they were previously lovers, that would make it even more compelling. But if we as the audience aren’t given a reason to care, why the hell should we WANT to see Friday resurrected with all of this destruction lying in his wake? All of the bad things that happen in the film are unequivocally Watson’s fault, so we’d better be getting a satisfying resolution out of it.

But all of that isn’t the reason I kept falling asleep. See, this movie’s overall story just isn’t engaging. At all. I know I said that the people in charge of animating and dubbing were on the top of their game, but between the writer and the director, somebody made a bunch of embarrassingly amateurish mistakes, and I’m not just talking about forgetting to mark large passages of time, like a year long time skip towards the middle of the film… although that did happen. The structure is sloppy from beginning to end, to the point that I honestly wasn’t surprised that it was based on a novel, because I normally only see execution this bad when people are trying to cram entire books into a 2 hour format. I haven’t read the original novel, nor do I intend to, but the movie feels like someone set out to hit all the important plot points of the story, and in doing so, found they had to sacrifice everything that wasn’t necessary to the outline. This would explain why the pacing was so bad, with the story jumping from scene to scene at a breakneck speed, with little attempt to ease the viewer through each major scene conversion.

It also probably explains why there is literally… Yes, I mean literally… No character development throughout the entire film. Oh, you learn things about the characters you didn’t know before, and you get to see them react to different events, but you never see anybody develop. I don’t mind if one or two characters are the same at the end as they were in the beginning, especially when there’s an in-universe explanation like in Steins;Gate, but everybody? They relegate months worth of traveling together and getting to know each other and learning about each other into a brief montage, then they expect you to care when two characters suddenly get killed off. Oh no, the guy who looks like that and had that voice got killed both by and alongside the guy who just showed up a couple of minutes ago to dump exposition on us, how will we ever replace them? Oh, I know, we’ll replace them with a brand new random character who’ll stick with us a little while and then ALSO disappear from the film completely!

There’s groundwork for a decent message about the importance of equality, as the reanimated corpses are being used as slaves and servants for the more fortunate, and I figured this was intentional from the fact that the main cast was British and a lot of the corpses were Indian, but several events and revelations in the third act that I don’t want to get into kind of squashed that potential for depth into the dirt. Oh, but speaking of the third act, here’s something interesting about the movie’s climax… It’s a rip-off of two separate anime combined into one… Fullmetal Alchemist, and Evangelion! Oh yeah, it starts out as a rip-off of the big Philosopher’s Stone reveal, and it swerves headfirst right into a rip-off of the human Instrumentality project! That’s what all of this was leading to! That’s what all of this emotionally bankrupt action and dialogue that was at least seventy-five percent full of exposition was leading to. Also, and I hate to bring this up so late in the review, but if the walking dead in this universe are created through science, why does their bite create more of them? Consistency, people.

Empire of corpses is available from Funimation. While the original novel is not available stateside… Or at least, I can’t find it… His other novels, including Harmony, Genocidal Organ and a novelization of Meta Gear solid: Guns of the Patriots, are available from Viz Media, are. The movie versions of Harmony and Genocidal Organ are also available on DVD from Funimation.

Okay, I know I went off on this movie for being badly written and devoid of any emotional resonance, but honestly, I still kind of recommend checking it out. It’s not every day you get to see zombies that have been turned into suicidal biological bombs, there’s quite a few interesting ideas on display, and when the director really wanted to buckle down and get you invested in a scene, it can at least be entertaining, if only in those few scenes. It’s also worth watching for the outstanding visual quality and the top notch English dub, but don’t misunderstand me, this movie just isn’t very good, and it’s attempts to weave a connected history through Thomas Edison, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Frankenstein, President Grant and even the Bond films feels more like a poorly planned experiment than an expanded universe. It’s hard for me to fully get behind a movie that I can’t for the life of me stay awake through, but it does have some merits. You may need an energy drink to get through it, but personally, I don’t regret seeing it. I give Empire of corpses a 4/10.

Once upon a time there was a land that was unbound by the rules of logic and physics that would otherwise govern our everyday lives. Since the people living in this world have never seen our world, they have no idea what the existence of impossibility feels like, so to them, chaos was normal. The idea of people exhibiting overpowered, world-ending, supernatural powers but only at random self-contained moments is as normal for them as… as… You know what? Fuck it. I do plot summaries for every review I write, and I’m not too humble to say I’ve managed to put some TRULY incomprehensible plots onto paper in my day, but this is it. This is the one I can’t do. This is my Amy’s Baking Company. I am not going to stress myself out by trying to put this series into some form of understandable context. Nichijou is insane. It has a bunch of characters in it, and they’re all insane. The wide and expansive cast includes the students of Tokisadame High School, their teachers, their parents, and their neighbors.

Out of the two groups of characters that make up the bulk of the series’ run time, the first group consists of three teenage girl friends… There’s Mio, a normal, average school girl who’s easily swept up by the whims of her friends, which consist of Yuuko, the excitable idiot with so much energy that she could probably call Jolt a downer, and Mai, the weird bookworm who plays by her own rules without ever breaking from her stoic attitude. The second bunch is made up of three very odd individuals living under the same roof. There’s Hakase, an eight year old genius whose intellect doesn’t prevent her from acting her age, and she lives with two of her greatest creations… Sakamoto, a tomcat who can talk thanks to a special bandanna, and Nano, an older looking robot girl whose similarities to the average teenager are belied only by the giant key sticking out of her back. These character are of course crazy and unpredictable all on their own, but when you drop them into a world where princely farmers ride goats to school, people drop wet noodles down slides and dog bites cause Hyper Beams, their ordinary lives can and will become anything but.

Nichijou was produced by Kyoto Animation, and I would argue that it couldn’t have possibly been on their plate at a better time. Kyo-ani was, at one point, known for pouring money into their anime, giving it’s animation an absurd level of fluid motion and lifelike quality. This went on until they decided to go cheaper, as we’ve discussed in my Clannad Afterstory review. This new style, which was a major step down, would be carried on through the second season of K-on, where enough was enough, and a return to form was in order. The first anime produced after K-On!! was… You guessed it… Nichijou. This series is in many ways a return to form for Kyoto Animation, as it feels very much like a transition from their lazy animation period right back to their older style, with both styles very much present in it. It also brought back that high level of effort and budget that the company had been sorely lacking, taking them into a new period that would carry on until they would eventually lose focus again with Tamako Market.

Yes, in many ways, Nichijou was to 2011 what Free would be in 2013… A much needed revival for a company that was losing it’s mojo. Appropriately enough, just like Free, the animation in Nichijou is so lavishly funded that I couldn’t find a single sore spot. It still would have looked flawless with only 75% of the budget it was given. It features a gorgeous mix of fluid animation from Kyo-ani’s first period and the sloppy, cheaper style from it’s second period, both used to their absolute best depending on the situation. Every single movement is fluid, from complicated dance moves to over-exaggerated wrestling moves to beautifully rendered computer graphics for whenever someone… Um… Shoots a laser out of their mouth. Almost every single moment on screen is bursting with energy, at least of course when it’s intended to be. They have no problem slowing things down when necessary, either as part of the build up to a joke, or those weird moments when a character learns a lesson and poetic text appears with them on screen. These slower moments, which often feel like a break from the otherwise erratic pace, are often used as excuses to show off the exquisitely designed backgrounds, almost photorealistic in their presentation, and they greatly complement the much simpler looking characters in the foreground.

In terms of character design, It looks like a combination of Azumanga Daioh and Lucky Star, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. It combines the small bodied moe-blob aesthetic and low line-count of Lucky Star with the more grounded facial structures and high budget animation that’s constantly showing itself off from Azumanga Daioh, and it results in character designs that are unique and very easy on the eyes, yet completely child-friendly with no attempt whatsoever to sexualize them. The characters are brightly colored(with the exception of Mio, but I’m guessing that was intentional), and can be presented in a number of different art styles, with changes in outline, detail, and even hard swaps between conventional anime eyes and simple black lines to convey their expressions. Honestly, it’s hard to talk too much about the animation in this show, because it can do whatever it wants to, and does, with only as much consistency as it wants to have. It can be dramatic, it can be ridiculous, it can be intense, it can be laid back… And it never really fails at any of it.

The same could be said for the music, which was composed by Studio Ghibli veteran Nomi Yuji, who really does give the series a menagerie of differently styled background tunes to work with. The most memorable tunes in the show are probably the children’s sing-a-long style tunes that play during Hakase and Nano’s cutaways, I personally prefer the happy and carefree theme Ukiuki Happiness, as well as the more intense tunes that I unfortunately couldn’t find names for, but I remember loving most of them in the show. Both openings are addictive as hell, and despite having many similarities to each other… They’re both sung by a band named Hyadain, combining a single male main singer with synchronized female background singers, and they’re just catchy and fast-paced enough to keep up with the videos, which provide a sample of the fast and precise animation from the show. There are plenty of different songs used for the second ending theme, but I personally prefer the one song they used for the first ending, the pleasant and relaxing Zzz by Sayaka Sasaki.

There’s no English dub here, and I would normally never talk about Japanese acting, since I don’t have the right kind of experience to judge acting in another language, but even MY untrained ears could tell just how good the original voice acting in this series is. I don’t know what well of energy Mariko Honda had to reach into to play the hyper idiot Yuuko, but I kept expecting her to injure her vocal chords and be replaced from just how fast and off-kilter the role demanded her to be. Mai Aizawa didn’t sound like she had quite as difficult a role in the more down to earth Mio, but considering just how much that character suffers from the actions of her peers, and how many times she has to play the character as angry and defeated, it had to be at least close to as tough. As Mai, Misuzu Togashi only really had to stay at one register, but she still carried enough casual cruelty in her voice to fit the character. Hiromi Konno played a standard, cute little child character, but when you remember that she also played Akira in Lucky Star, you have to wonder just how much effort she put into making the role sound easier than it was.

Speaking of Lucky Star, Minoru Shiraishi is back, this time playing a talking cat who is, of course, at the mercy of his former Lucky Channel partner. He doesn’t sound quite like his other characters, taking a more deep-voiced and mature approach to his new feline identity, and last but not least there’s Shizuka Furuya in the role of Nano, who’s been assigned the more soft, moe-type voice, which makes it kinda difficult to judge the job she does. Luckily, the main cast is made to sing their own character songs and a lot of insert/ending songs as well, and she’s at least notable as a good singer. Interestingly enough, the cast is rounded out by a plethora of experienced voice acting veterans who play not actual characters, but inanimate objects that appear in an episode, and then deliver the next episode preview at the end of said episode. some examples of this include industry giants like Aya Hirano playing a slice of cake, and Megumi Ogata playing a banner of tiny flags, and no, I am not making either of those up. I’d love to hear a dub for this anime where they do the same with a bunch of uncast guest stars, and I think a Sentai dub would be wonderful, but I’m still perfectly happy with just the sub.

It’s been said before many times, and it still rings true, that animation is a limitless art form. A single illustration can contain a universe of images that would be impossible to replicate in real life, and turning that illustration into a feature of pretty much any length can express an artist’s imagination in explicit detail, and has the potential to go on to entertain billions. Whether the animation is done on paper or on computer, the only conceivable limit to what’s possible lies in the existing color spectrum. Having said that, while there’s virtually no limit to what you CAN do in an animation, adding the rules of story-telling places a harsh limit on what you SHOULD do. For a plot and story to work, the universe the story takes place in has to follow a pattern of logic, and even if that logic doesn’t fit in with the real world, it has to at least remain consistent in it’s own universe. Even if breaking the rules of the created universe is only used for comedy, it winds up feeling lazy and confusing, especially since following the logic of the universe takes a lot more effort and attention to detail, making lore-friendly jokes and gags feel all the more rewarding.

Take, for example, Looney Tunes. Characters are constantly shooting each other, playing repetitive jokes on each other, and even dying in some scenes, with the status quo erasing any consequences of their antics against each other. This works, because the Looney Tunes know they’re in a cartoon. They make constant references to their own animators, and even to the existence of the audience, so when Elmer Fudd falls for the same trap again and again, there’s an underlying understanding that he’s doing it to entertain us. No matter what happens, there’s an understandable in-universe explanation from it. Compare that logic to a Rooster Teeth cartoon, Xray and Vav, where there is no in-universe explanation to anything the characters do. The main characters jump up and touch dicks… Why? A scientist tries to kill one of them with a ray gun, he turns to dust, but he’s still talking and goes back to being unhurt less than thirty seconds later, and when he makes a remark about it, she threatens to do it again. Why? It didn’t work the first time, so why threaten to do it again? This is the kind of fallacy that the Looney Tunes are smart enough to avoid.

Getting back to anime, one of the worst story arcs of all time was the Lost Island arc from Nadia, which I’ve discussed in a previous review. It’s awful from start to finish, it ignores all logic and characterizations up until that point, and it begins with… You guessed it… One of the characters using Looney Tunes logic, inflating like a balloon and being fine a moment later, all because the new director didn’t give two fucks about the work the previous director had set down before him. In shows like Clannad, certain characters are capable of executing high-flying video-game style combat moves, and this is officially canon. The series is careful not to put them in situations where they’d need to use those abilities but can’t, because that would be inconsistent and, frankly, a plot hole. That’s not to say all anime NEED to follow rules or consistent logic… There are some anime where craziness and weird occurrences are the norm, but they’re normally relegated to a weird character entering a previously normal world, like in FLCL, or they’re completely aimless and inconsistent to the point where it all just winds up feeling dull, like Hare + Guu. And that’s if they’re not wildly immature like Panty and Stocking.

And that brings us to Nichijou, which goes about it’s business by taking random weirdness in a new, and kind of obvious in hindsight direction: It takes place in a universe where a complete lack of logic or sense IS the consistent logic of the universe. When you run into a person by accident, it can cause a huge explosion, and nobody is harmed from it. When your crush is out of line, literally shoot them in the face with a gun, and once the smoke clears, he might have to wipe off his fake glasses. Nichijou exists in a world where anything can happen at any given time, and while the events going on may follow the barest of a cause-and-effect criteria, it’s almost impossible to predict where anything is going to go. Before going into this series, I thought that the title “My Ordinary Life” was kind of a bland and generic name to give to a slice of life series, but it couldn’t possibly be more perfect, because by calling attention to the fact that this is their ordinary life, you’re forced to accept that these characters have grown up in, and are perfectly used to, a land that’s only a few forced metaphors away from becoming The Dodo’s Wackyland.

And I’m not stating any of that as a point against the series, either. This set-up is perfect for the cast of characters and style of comedy that this series brings to the table. In every way that matters, Nichijou is designed for two things, and the first one is the exploitation of possibilities. The show;’s three principal characters, Mai, Mio and Yuuko, have the kind of dynamic where you could put them in any situation imaginable and get something funny out of it, provided you’re trying to. Yuuko is always trying to be the center of attention, trying to make her friends laugh and get one over on them. Mai is always trying to quietly and subtly beat her at her own game, finding weirder and much more eccentric ways to mess with the girl who’s trying to mess with her. Mio is the accommodating girl, trying to keep up with and appease them, and even though she wants to be the normal one and the voice of reason, she still has dark secrets to hide, she still violently over-reacts to things, and she’s really just as crazy as they are.

They have perfect chemistry not just with each other, but with the people around them, too. Yuuko has her parents and teachers to deal with, highlighting her bad grades and refusal to properly study. Mio has a boy she has a crush on, a yaoi manga she’s trying to get off the ground despite her shame over it’s contents, and she also has an lder sister who won’t stop tormenting her. Mai is… Well, I don’t want to spoil anything Mai does, so let’s move onto the second group, which I enjoyed quite a bit more. With the characters of Hakase and Nano, you have this really interesting dynamic that you could almost consider a passive-aggressive power struggle. Both girls have some legitimate claim to authority over the other, which adds an extra layer of intrigue to their interactions. Hakase created Nano, and has the ability to remodel her and control her at will, but Nano is the caregiver, the nanny if you will, and she exercises a small amount of parental authority on her inventor. Throw in a talking cat that’s smarter and more mature than either of them, but still needs help with the basic needs of survival, and you’ve got a recipe for boundless material.

Take these two groups, place them into your no-logic world, and there is nothing you can’t do with them. The writers clearly knew this, because they took their time exploring both groups thoroughly on their own before finally having them meet halfway through the series, and it winds up being am atch made in heaven as Nano finally gets permission from her creator to go to school, and her friendship with the three main girls is sparked by their confusion over the giant metal key on her back. People would have accused Nichijou of jumping the shark if they timed this intersection poorly, but they didn’t, so the unification of both groups begins while they’re still both going perfectly strong on their own. If I’m being honest, though, there was one character in the supporting cast who I never really liked, and it was the gunslinging girl. Yeah, I get what they’re doing with her… Parodying the tsundere trope… But unlike the vast majority of the cast, including the side characters that were built off of her, everyone’s good for multiple jokes, while she just feels like the same one over and over again.

But she does lead us to Nichijou’s other purpose in design… To make fun of the slice of life genre, as well as the moe comedy sub-genre. The tsundere gun-gal is really the only blatant attempt they make at it, though, but it’s kind of hard to explain how they do this the rest of the time. For a quick example, take the once-in-a-lifetime wrestling match between Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels. Hogan is notorious for having an ego and fucking over other wrestlers to make himself look good, and Shawn was booked to lose this match. so what did he do, you may ask? He made fun of his opponent by over-selling all of his moves. If Hulk so much as threw a punch, Shawn would go tumbling out of the ring like a ragdoll, and the fans knew exactly what he was doing. It was like when Tom Green made fun of all the tired cliches in late nineties rom-coms in his shit movie Freddy Got Fingered, although not nearly as soul crushing. See, the genre that Nichijou is parodying is full of overblown emotions, dramatic and tense editing and cinematography that camouflages the mundane, and general melodrama.

Thus you have Nichijou, blowing ordinary everyday occurrences out of proportion in a much more on-the-nose, ridiculous manner. That’s why, when someone gets bitten by a dog, they fire off a beam from their mouth that takes out a satellite. That’s why, when two girls are chasing each other through the school, the camera tilts, the art becomes monochromatic and everything stretches like they’re going into hyper-drive. That’s why there are random contained occurrences that feel like they were taken from the writers’ weirdest dreams. I originally dropped this series a few years ago, because I couldn’t wrap my head around what it was doing or the kind of humor it was using, and I just wound up getting confused, right up until a few months ago when a friend of mine put it all into context for me. My most recent rewatch was much more rewarding, and I found myself laughing than any other anime that I’ve seen in recent memory. It’s just like Mio said… You never know what’s going to happen next, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Nichijou is available from Funimation. The DVD bluray combo pack was released in February, and it can be viewed on their website. The English language manga is also available stateside from the publisher Vertical, and there’s an OVA episode called Episode 0 that’s not quite as good as the series, but it’s about as good as a pilot episode can be. I normally don’t ever mention fan-made AMVs, but if you go on Youtube, there’s an AMV set to the song Safety Dance that provides a much better preview for the series than you’re likely to find anywhere else.

You know, it just occurred to me that in my review of Nichijou, I spent three whole paragraphs not talking about Nichijou. You could probably write this off as an accident, but it really wasn’t. I had to go abstract in order to set up my thoughts on the series, because, well, good comedy is really hard to talk about at length. All you can really do is say it was hilarious, then spoil all the good gags, which is something I tried to do as little as possible, because Nichijou is almost all gags, and you really need to go in blind to enjoy them. I guess if there’s anything left to talk about, it’s the wide appeal. Pretty much anyone can enjoy this show, and yet it’s completely safe for younger audiences. There’s no fanservice, there’s no attempt at titillation… I mean, there’s a porno joke, but it’s no worse than the one from Ed, Edd and Eddy. There’s a couple of questionable lessons, but they’re few and far between. Honestly, this is probably the first slice-of-life anime I’ve ever seen that had a ton of female characters, but not one instance of those same characters comparing or getting jealous of each other’s breast sizes, and that alone is a refreshing change of pace. It’s not perfect, and humor is subjective, but I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t recommend this title to. I give Nichijou a 9/10.  

The teenage years are often referred to as the best years of your life, but they can come with their own set of challenges… It’s the time of life where you’re still finding out who you are, who you want to be, and what’s important to you. Even as late as the crucial age of 18, it can be difficult to find your place in the world, especially if you’re struggling to find the place where you belong. This is even worse for Sena Izumi, because in addition to his more normal adolescent woes, he’s the youngest member of an entire family of entertainers and celebrities… His sly father is a stage actor, his spoiled mother is a model/actress, his doting brother is the lead singer of a popular rock band, his family has it’s own talent manager… And he wants to be a manga artist. Naturally, this has caused a bit of friction in the family, as the excitable and outgoing Sena family is beginning to seriously worry about their youngest son, who’s locked himself in his room like a hermit and dedicated his life to a passion that they believe he has no talent for the field that he dreams of finding success in, and they’ve decided to do whatever it takes to get him out of his introverted shell.

Fortunately for them, an opportunity to do so has just presented itself. When Izumi was only eight years old, he was dressed up like a girl for a wedding scene in a commercial, and the company wants to do an anniversary commercial… A sequel, where the children from the original classic have grown up and are marrying themselves. After some creative persuasion from his brother, Izumi agrees to don the drag dress one more time, but little does he know that his walk down the aisle is leading him into the arms of destiny. His costar, the now famous Ryoma Ichijou, has been in love with him since the first commercial, and this isn’t just imprinting… The sight of her face has gotten him through ten long years of hardship in the entertainment industry, and it was HIS idea to get the original cast back so he could finally make his dreams of seeing her again come true. Will his discovery of his bride’s true gender bring his longing to a grinding halt, or has he come too far to turn back now? And what kind of effect will getting caught up in all of this have on Sena’s routine lifestyle? They may only be married in fiction, but the red string of fate is all too real.

Love Stage comes to us from JC Staff, who I believe I’ve said before has no real consistency in it’s visual presentation. It goes all over the place in terms of quality, but out of the three general camps that I mentioned in my Kill Me Baby review, I’d say Love Stage fits nicely into Camp 3. This is, once again, the camp where anime has a modest budget, there’s no real room for excess, and they do whatever they can to make the show look as good as possible without putting themselves into a compromising financial situation. Much like other shows in this camp, Love Stage never really goes out of it’s way to impress you with it’s animation, but it still looks fucking great. The characters use very simple movements whenever motion is needed, and it never tries to do more than it needs to, while at the same time never feeling like it’s skimping. There are budget saving tricks at play, but the producers were clever enough to make sure it all felt like part of the visual style and tone of the series, which they succeeded at.

And speaking of the visual style, this is a very beautiful show just in terms of it’s art alone. For about 90 percent of the series, the color palette is bright, warm and welcoming, almost like it knew how intense it’s kind of subject matter could be, and was designed to put viewers at ease right from the early stages. The other ten percent of the time, when the show does get a bit darker, what with the characters dealing with issues and internal turmoil, the palette changes to reflect this, but it’s never for long. The level of detail is also stunning, with it’s depiction every little crack in a shattered marble only being the tip of the iceberg. Just about everything in the background is shown with intricate detail aside from the people, who are drawn as colorless silhouettes, and while I’d normally rag on a show for this… RWBY season 1, how ya doing… The fact that it only really happens when a character is busy with internal monologues does make it feel like an accurate portrayal of their distracted mindset.

While I’m not a fan of shiny white halos surrounding a character’s hair… I’ve bitched about it before, and sorry, but I’m not cool with it here either… The character designs are otherwise very attractive and tell us a lot about the characters as people. Ryouma and Izumi in particular were designed to fall right in the middle of masculinity and femininity, as they’re obviously coded male, but they still have the big moe eyes, slender bodies and feathery hair that’s just long enough to frame their faces, and the details that would normally code a character as seme or uke are more than just there, they’re ingrained into their personalities. Izumi’s eyes in particular are multi-colored, mostly amber but touched by a subtle swirl of blue at the tops, giving them a mysterious quality that you can understand someone getting entranced by. The other characters in the cast are fairly generic in design, but it doesn‘t really hurt anything, as their looks do inform their personalities. I do feel that the blushing artwork is a little too over-pronounced, but that’s a minor issue.

The music is a bit on the generic side, but it’s not bad or anything. I didn’t find any of it to be repetitive or annoying, like in a lot of shows I’ve seen. The character songs are a lot more interesting, with LalaLulu’s song being a delightful parody of the Magical girl genre, and Izumi’s brother Shougo has a really cool song called Love or Die, and yeah, I can see why the band Crusherz became famous. The opening, Lovest by Screen Mode, is awesome. Not only is the song catchy, upbeat and fun to listen to, but the video is just as fun and fits every beat perfectly. The constantly changing visuals are simple enough to grasp what they’re showing you in the time they have, and they match the energy and tone of the show. Surprisingly, the ending theme is more of the same, a catchy song with visuals that are pleasing to the eyes and match the beat of the song, and while most of it features posed characters, there’s an actual burst of expensive animation towards the end. I can’t remember another show where I watched all the way through the opening and closing as often as I did with this one.

There’s no dub, and I’m not a good judge of Japanese acting, but I’d just like to point out that if there’s ever a dub for this show, I hope they cast Chris Patton as Ryouma and Greg Ayres as Izumi. Moving along.

Okay, let’s just rip this band-aid off right now… Love Stage is a yaoi. It’s not a shonen-ai, oh no, it’s a full on yaoi. I’ve never reviewed a yaoi before, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen any. While I’m no expert on the genre, I have dabbled a bit, and unfortunately, what I’ve seen prior to Love Stage wasn’t all that impressive. I read the first few volumes of Loveless, I saw the first four episodes of Gravitation, I’ve seen the movie Fake, and while it’s more subtextual than anything else, I sat through the first season of Black Butler. In short, my exposure to the medium has revealed it to be a minefield of problematic situations and over-all just shitty story-telling, relying way too heavily on love at first sight, people turning queer out of nowhere on a dime because the plot demanded it, romanticized sexual assault, writers who forgo necessary information and development because seem to just want to get to the action already, and way too many couples where the age differences lay on different sides of the law. I’ve been told by people far more versed in the genre than I am that most if not all of these observations are persistent from title to title.

Now, does that mean there are no good Boys Love material out there? No, not necessarily. I plan to watch Yuri on Ice and Nabari no Ou in the future, and I’ve even seen some shows that I thought would have actually been improved if the main male characters went gay for each other… Kids on the Slope, for example. But alas, thank the LGBT gods, there is at least one good yaoi anime out there. I’ve already praised the art and animation from this show up and down the wall, but the number of problems and genre cliches Love Stage avoids, subverts, or just has fun with is insane. Now keep in mind, I’m not saying it’s an accurate portrayal of homosexual people or homosexual couples, and I’m not saying it presents it’s gay characters as realistic people or that it exists for reasons outside of tickling the libidoes of ravenous fujoshi, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good. Yeah, I made a big deal about figuring out whether or not Strawberry Panic was faithful to it’s subject, but that show was garbage and needed the extra point. Love Stage doesn’t have that problem.

Right off the bat, we’re introduced to the main character, Sena Izumi, the uke of the situation. Oh, but we find out much more than that about him. After making sweet promises to us in the form of it’s animation, Love Stage wastes no time establishing Izumi’s character. We find out who he is, what he wants from life, what his family’s like, what his backstory was like, what his issue is, several possible resolutions to it, basically everything you need to know about him, and this is expressed without a lick of unnatural dialogue or exposition, and even better, we learn all of this before the first kiss is even taken. We don’t learn quite as much about his seme Ryouma until much later, but we know about their shared history, and through his actions revolving around his interactions with Izumi and his coworkers, we do learn enough about him to not have any lingering questions about him that really need to be answered. I can’t say they feel like people I’d meet out there in the real world, but they still feel like fully developed and fleshed out characters.

They also both have personalities that tie directly into their seme/uke coding, with Izumi being childish and submissive, but still driven by his own interests and possessing a decent level of propriety and agency. Ryouma is tall, dark and mysterious, quick to anger and somewhat closed off, but still struggling with the conflicting feelings inside of him and trying his best to control the parts of himself he doesn’t quite understand yet. While it takes them a while to work out their personal hang-ups and finally come together, they do make a really likeable couple. I also really liked the Izumi family, as viciously manipulative and backstabbing as they can be, and in the most delicious sort of way. Shougo, Izumi’s older brother, dotes on him and gets clingy to the point that he honestly can be a little creepy at times, but he still has plenty of moments where he redeems himself by showing a genuine concern and protecting him. We don’t see much of Izumi’s parents, but despite Dad acting like he knows best and Mom acting self-centered, they both clearly love their children.

Perhaps the most nuanced character is the family’s manager, Rei, a cold and calculating character who’s not above pulling the strings whenever necessary, selling people out to family obligations and looking for every possible advantage in his day-to-day dealings, but he still cares enough about his employers that he’ll set aside all of his business concerns if it feels like the right thing to do. Izumi’s manga club, only one of whom kind of registers his presence, is designed so that he’ll look out of place there, not that he ever notices. Similarly, the fictional character of Lala-Lulu, his fantasy Waifu idol, is so far removed from bearing any resemblance to actual girls that it’s not hard to see how disingenuine his attraction to the fairer sex really is. A few of the characters can get annoying at times, the fat otaku feel like an unjust stereotype, and I’m pretty sure I’d have a gripe with Izumi’s parents if they were given more to do, but over-all, I really liked all of these characters. I’ll admit that Ryouma does test me a little, but that just leads me to a few other cliches.

First of all, there’s the love at first sight cliche, which Ryouma falls neatly into. He’s been in love with a certain girl since they were 8, and while that would normally earn an eyeroll at best from me, the fact that his love for her carried him through the entertainment industry… A field of work where you NEED to hold onto some form of innocence to survive, let alone succeed… I can give it a pass. Plus, with Izumi turning out to be a guy, and Ryouma being unable to shake the feeling anyway, it does feel like Love Stage is having fun with this cliche, rather than using it straightforwardly. Ryouma’s feelings are portrayed as crazy, but not the stalker kind of crazy… The romantic kind, where you know your love for someone makes no sense, and is totally out of left field, but you’ll still stay true to who you are and who you love, the world be damned if it stands in the way. This is probably the best usage of love at first sight that I’ve seen in an anime, let alone in a yaoi, but unfortunately, Ryouma falls into other cliches that are much harder to forgive.

A constant occurrence in yaoi is rape. It may not be carried all the way through, but it’s there, from gay characters in non-yaoi shows that speak in exaggerated falsetto and frequently make unwelcome advances on straight characters, to attempted rape that’s played for laughs, to actual rape that’s romanticized and sparks a new level of romance as a result. And yes, there is a point where this show gets… Rapey. I won’t tell you exactly what happens, or the reason that it happens, but three episodes in, Ryouma does something, and he winds up losing control of himself and coming within a hair’s breadth of doing something he’d never be able to take back, before he’s interrupted and the unforgivable thing is just barely prevented, but here’s where Love Stage takes a major step away from the worst of it’s genre… What he does is explicitly considered to be a bad thing. The writers don’t try to sweep it under the rug, oh no, it’s painted exactly the way it should be, and it’s this turning point that really got me invested in this pairing.

After the… thing… Ryouma feels genuine remorse, and he has to apologize and earn Izumi’s trust back before he can even THINK about pursuing a relationship. He’s accepted his feelings by this point, but Izumi is a much harder sell, and even though he buries the hatchet with him… Mostly out of pity… It isn’t until Ryouma proves his devotion by getting involved with Izumi’s lifelong passion, helping him along towards his goal, and doing everything in his power to encourage him and build him back up when things don’t go the way he wanted. He slips back into problematic territory when he kisses Izumi a bunch of times in his sleep… I mean, come on, seriously? But he earns those points back when he refuses a carnal offer that he can tell Izumi doesn’t really mean. I won’t say whether or not these two wind up together in the end, but… Isn’t that alone a breath of fresh air? The fact that you can’t tell? Yeah, they have numerous encounters, both as friends and as romantic prospects, but the outcome of their time together is just as engaging as the journey there.

Love Stage is available from Sentai Filmworks. The original manga by Eiki Eiki is available from SuBLime. The original light novel is not available stateside, but the series can also be viewed on Crunchyroll. There’s an OVA episode on the DVD that I highly recommend, and as for what it’s about, let’s just say it’s more of Ryouma being a pain in the ass.

Now, after all the time I’ve spent talking about how good this title is compared to other titles in the Boys’ Love genre, and how it deconstructs and subverts a bunch of troublesome tropes, the reaction I’m probably getting from most readers is… So what? Even if it’s a good yaoi, it’s still a yaoi, and most of the anime fanbase will have no interest in that kind of content. Well, there is one thing about Love Stage that I feel gives it a more universal appeal: This show is fucking hilarious. I was hooked right from the first time that Shougo manipulated Izumi with Lala Lulu merchandise, and Ryouma’s reaction to Izumi’s gender reveal was just icing on the cake. It’s visual style works extremely well with it’s comedic timing, which follows a healthy combination of gag and character-based jokes, most of which hit their mark. It was almost enough for me to forgive some of the more problematic scenes, including Ryouma’s missteps and an attempted gang-bang towards the end that came right the fuck out of nowhere. It’s a yaoi, so it’s going to be a mixed bag, but it’s a bag I won’t mind reaching into a few more times. I give Love Stage an 8/10.  

Nagisa Aoi was just an ordinary girl. She wasn’t especially smart, she wasn’t especially pretty, she wasn’t especially noble… There was really nothing special about her. Then, one day, she transferred into Miator Academy, one of three all girl schools located at the top of Astraea hill, a sacred place where no males are allowed to enter. The three schools are affiliated, and they only accept female students from proper, upstanding families… Well, there’s one other possible qualifier, but we’ll talk more about that later. Students are expected to live on campus in two person dorm rooms, and as a right of passage, first year students are expected to act as maids for their elders. Luckily, Nagisa was able to avoid this fate, transferring to the school in her third year of education because of… Reasons… And it was at this school that the once ordinary Nagisa would become… Well, still an ordinary girl. There’s no evidence that that part of her is ever going to change. But somehow, despite this ugly duckling slowly growing into an average duck, there is one thing about her life that is about become extraordinary.

For you see, at these three schools way up on Astraea Hill, they elect more than just a student council… They also elect an Etoile, who represent the school in all of it’s glamour and prestige. For now, the Etoile is Shizuna, a tall mysterious girl with long white hair and a spirit that radiates with ennui and depression, and for seemingly no reason at all, she appears to have taken a very special interest in young Nagisa. From long measuring glances to sudden, uninvited embraces that come within a hair’s breadth of ending in a sultry kiss, the most beloved and respected student on campus has her empty eyes on Nagisa, and they’re filling up fast. Nagisa has no idea how she attracted this kind of romantic attention, but luckily for the older girl, she doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to try to lose it, either. As the two young ladies become closer, and the bond between them begins to form, they’ll find that the Astraea Hill School System is both a political and social minefield, full of backstabbing, sabotage and political intrigue. Will our perfectly ordinary heroine brave the dangers of Astraea Hill for the sake of a love that’s truly extraordinary, or will her destiny fall short in the end?

The Strawberry Panic anime was produced by Studio Madhouse to capitalize on the successful magazine run of a series of short stories, all focusing on different all-female romances taking place at the Astraea Hill Schools. Productions from Madhouse rarely ever have generous amounts of money poured into them, which can lead to even beloved classics like Trigun looking wonky half the time, but on the plus side, some shows can still flourish visually without a lot of financial backing, like the dialogue-heavy Death Note. Well, Strawberry Panic may have a lot of dialogue in it, but the nicest thing I can probably say about it is that it’s not the worst looking anime I’ve ever seen. They clearly tried their hardest with it, but there’s only so much a bare bones budget can do when it’s attached to a light, fluffy show that doesn’t have the benefit of heavy shadows or obscure angles to hide it’s flaws. I’m honestly not sure how good this show even COULD look, as it’s clearly the kind of show that Kyoto animation was born for.

Madhouse tries to hide the limitations of this show’s movements, and for the most part, it does manage to pull it off, relying on as many staticky conversations and panning shots as it possibly can, and it treads water at least well enough to… well, not enough that the shoestring budget goes unnoticed, but well enough that you can ignore it and focus on the story. Having said that, the very second the motion needs to pick up even the slightest bit, the returns can be flat out embarrassing. Characters walking often look like profile images bouncing up and down as they move across the background, a tragic horse accident in the latter episodes is clumsy enough to bring inappropriate roars of laughter to what’s supposed to be somber scene, and if you can tear yourself away from the beautiful piano melody in one particular scene, you’ll feel duped when you realize that you’re just looking at a panning shot where a couple of frozen characters just move their upper arms ever so slightly. You can’t even watch a character fall down the stairs on screen, no, there’s a very intentional cutaway.

It’s a nice looking show in terms of design, however, as every named character has a specific look that you probably won’t forget, even if you haven’t seen them or thought of them for extended stretches of episodes. In fact, I got so used to having their looks inform their identities that towards the end, I briefly mistook one of the main characters for being two separate girls all because her hair was sometimes down. Their designs are generic, but they’re at least different enough to distinguish one girl from another, and the use of different uniforms for each school also helped this to happen. Miator has black uniforms, Spica has white uniforms, and Lulim have yellow vests paired with checkered skirts, all three of these designs being popular ones from the history of high school anime. Oh, and of course, there are also maid outfits present. The backgrounds are serviceable enough, and although it doesn’t really have anything to do with the story, the architecture is also really pretty to look at. There’s also a lot of flowers… Yeah, I know, it’s a yuri, big surprise… But they’re not just border decoration, there’s a greenhouse full of them, and a lot of care clearly went into their rendering.

As I mentioned before, whatever beauty the visuals may lack is made up for tenfold with the soundtrack. The instrumentation is mostly comprised of violin, piano and cello, and while the standard slice-of-life music that occurs while nothing’s really going on can be a bit on the underwhelming side, there’s a lot of melancholy and pain in this anime, and the music translates this beautifully. There are a couple of classical songs that are played when Shizuna and Nagisa are bonding over the piano, the instantly recognizable but still very well-chosen Moonlight sonata and Maiden’s Prayer. As for the original music, Yoshihisa Hirano put together a powerful score that almost manages to lend gravity to the melodramatic nature of the series. There are several emotionally gripping moments that work hand in hand with the score to rip your tear ducts out through your throat, But at the same time, honestly, there are several moments in this show that are so uncomfortable that the music will wind up being the only thing you WANT to remember them for. Kaori’s theme tends to be a popular favorite, but I strongly prefer the tension present in Unmei and Fui ni Semararete.

The aversion to movement is unfortunately carried through to the first opening, which appears to do the bare minimum on a visual scale, showing the different characters in leisurely glamour shots, reacting to the camera before the next character can get their spotlight. The song, Shoujo Meiro de Tsukamaete by Aki Misato, is a fine song on it;s own, a little on the generic side but still well orchestrated and catchy. It’s a good enough op, but it;s also a really predictable one, so I’m glad the second opening threw all of this convention out the window. It’s called Kuchibiru Daydream, once again by Aki Misato, but it comes off as a lot more lively and inspired, with more force and flow behind the vocals. The imagery in this opening is also a massive improvement, as it still kinda reeks of budget restrictions, but it’s able to do a lot more with it on account of the fact that it TRIES to do a lot more with it. This mirrors the level of effort present in the anime, which started off a little lackluster before picking up steam towards the second half.

The endings, surprisingly enough are mostly live action. You don’t see that very often nowadays, and for good reason, but these ones actually do manage to skew past the awkwardness thanks to the chemistry of the two ladies on screen, Mai Nakahara and Ai Shimizu. They also happen to be the singers of Secret Dolls, which has a distinctive goth-rock feel to it. Makes sense, I guess, since they’re both all dressed up in goth-loli costumes, which I would consider overkill if it didn’t fit the doll theme so well. They sell the yearning between them mostly through facial expressions and clever directing, and finish by sealing the song with a kiss. The same two singers reprise their roles for the second ending song, Ichigo Tsumi monogatari, which is… A thing. A really weird thing. It goes off in an entirely different direction with creepy singing paper cut-out CGI, and that’s all fine compared to the fact that the energy and set design remind me of Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi, which is one of those things nothing should ever remind me of . So yeah, the second opening and the first closing were really great.

And since there’s no English dub, I guess we should get right into the writing, huh? Well, I do have a few comments about the Japanese sub, even though I’m woefully underqualified to judge Japanese acting. First of all, there are a lot of times where the lip flaps didn’t match the voice of the people speaking, which is a mistake I thought only dubs could make, and it’s a shame that I was only able to watch it with subtitles, because I had trouble keeping up with the dialogue whenever my eyes started to involuntarily close over how bored I was. Oh yeah, we’re starting on this note; There are a few things Strawberry Panic is known for, and I’m pretty sure one of them is just how much of a train wreck the story and plot are. That is, when there’s even story and plot present. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to some meek little redhead with so special or distinguishable characteristics in a cast that’s already bloated from the start, and while it feels like you’re supposed to care about her, you’re never told or shown why she’s worth that kind of attention.

The only interesting thing we learn about her… Possibly ever, now that I think about it… Is that she has the ability to uncontrollably run through forests like she’s a WWE wrestler waiting to encounter a rope to bounce off of. Aside from Shizuna’s abrupt attraction to her, nothing else of consequence happens for a very long time. We’re dropped into a story that has at least a dozen characters, little to no attempts at world-building, and a bunch of creepy non-consensual almost-kisses being our only clue as to what or who we’re supposed to care about. I would honestly recommend keeping a pillow handy during the first six episodes, and on and off after that, just in case you decide that a dream might be more interesting than what’s going on onscreen. It meanders through fields of inconsequential fluff before it ever approaches anything resembling a point, wasting time on characters who wind up getting shoved to the side anyway, including almost everybody from the Lulim school, like a loli with a teddy bear, a pair of useless girls who I just wound up calling Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and one named Chikaru who I wish was important, because she feels really likeable.

There is a point, of course, but it takes an inexcusably long time to get there, and even then, there are problems present. The actual meat of the story is the romance between Shizuna and Nagisa, and while you’re never really given a clear reason as to why Nagisa would develop feelings for the older girl, Shizuna’s attraction to her is VERY well defined, and while I won’t spoil it here, it carries an admittedly compelling layer of conflict and tragedy to the idea of the two of them being together. Besides, while Nagisa’s feelings may be undefined, they still feel more than real enough to make the audience genuinely care where their romance goes. They’re not the only major romance, though, as there’s another sub-plot involving an equestrian and a young blonde student, and it starts out okay… It’s really sweet and heartwarming at first, then it dives into a bit more drama as it evolves into a love triangle, but it all goes south as the two villain characters standing in their way get drawn in, making it a love pentagon, with enough going on in it to make it feel beyond convoluted, and that’s BEFORE the hokey-as-fuck amnesia plot twist.

Honestly, thinking back, I’m tempted to say that Shizuna is the only character in the cast who really feels developed and fleshed out by the end. We know what happened to her, why it happened, how it started, how it made her the person she is, and how it motivated her actions in the present, and there’s a lot of room to interpret whether she’s a selfish character, a sympathetic character, or both. For the most part, everybody else has personalities that have been defined just enough to differentiate them from each other, but their personalities are almost entirely informed by their role in the story and their interactions with others. With the exception of a few girls from Lulim, you won’t have any trouble remembering who’s who, but you’ll have a hard time caring for any of them, aside from the two main couples and maybe Nagisa’s roommate, but that’s a hard maybe. You’ll probably wind up hating the little girl with the teddy bear… Well, a lot of people seem to, I personally just ignored her… And there are a few characters who, after they’ve disappeared for a while, might just coax a “Hey, I remember you!” out of you when they appear again.

But you know what? There was one story arc where everyone generally came out looking good. Yeah, some of the best moments in the series take place when Shizuna and Nagisa are alone(depending on your tolerance for questionable levels of consent), but the one arc that really worked as an ensemble was when the three schools decided to put on a play. They pick the European classic Carmen, and just about everybody plays a fun role in this arc. Egos are challenged in the cast listing, Nagisa gets a little extra depth, the villains get to be nasty for what feels like no real reason, there’s intrigue and last minute improvisation, beautiful costumes… The problem is that it only lasts two episodes, despite spanning a period of several weeks. In a smarter anime, they’d have expanded this arc to at least a quarter of the show, using it as a backdrop to other less consequential stories, tying them into it so that there’d be something to look forward to through other boring or forgettable moments.

But they don’t do that here… Strawberry Panic never comes near the level of effort or inspiration that it would take to come up with a solution like that. Well, fine, you wanna get lazy? There’s another solution they could have tried… Cut the length of the series down to 13 episodes. There’s a ton of material they could have cut, and I’m sorry to say, as pleasant as it was in the beginning, the entire Hikari/Amane/Yaya thing could have gone bye-bye along with it. I mean, seriously, would anyone miss that sub-plot? They could have cut the story down to just focusing on one school, Miator, and still had enough time to develop Nagisa and the few supporting characters around her more properly. The problem is, and I can’t believe more people haven’t noticed this, is because this isn’t a show you’re supposed to think about. You’re supposed to be drawn into the emotion and the romantic and political intrigue, because if you stop to think about what you’re watching for one second, you’ll realize that very little of what you’re seeing makes even a lick of sense.

For example, I can’t be the only one who found the Etoile system to be confusing as fuck. Let’s see if I’ve got this right… It’s an elected position where you’re basically an ornament, meant to uphold the beauty and nobility ideals of the school, and you’re not the Student council president, even though you have to sign a lot of undefined papers. You apparently keep this position until you graduate, which can take up to six years… If you follow the plot closely, Shizuna’s been doing it about three years… And it’s vital that you have two of them, but if you lose one for whatever reason, they just carry on without making any attempt to replace her. Oh, and you can be from different grades, so what happens when one graduates and the other hasn’t yet? And are you supposed to be a couple with your partner? If not, why would you have to run away and abandon the election just to be with the person you love? And why do the people in charge tell prospective candidates that they don’t have a choice when they clearly do? And why is it okay for one school to not submit any candidates? Is any of this explained in the source material?

On top of that, I had trouble understanding why every girl we meet who has even the most slightly established sexuality is a lesbian. Yeah, okay, it’s a story about lesbians, but the context it creates feels really weird, like the story exists in some post-apocalyptic society where men have gone extinct. It kind of feels like it was influenced by the Japanese Romantic Friendship custom, where adolescent young women are able and even encouraged to engage in close, emotionally strong bonds with one another, although such bonds are strictly platonic, and they’re expected to leave it all behind when they grow up so they can marry and reproduce. One show that took a harsh metaphorical look at these customs was From the New World, which took Romantic Friendships and evolved them into more sexual territory, but Panic takes it into a different direction, treating these bonds as actual romance… The difference being that unlike New World, Panic ignores the effect these relationships might have long term. Nobody ever brings up what their futures will be like once they graduate and reenter Japan’s heavily patriarchal society, which almost makes the series feel vapid. It has no stakes.  I was honestly confused by the conflict in the final episode, which made no sense from too many angles to count.

No, I know exactly what they were going for with this… It’s an escapist fantasy. You know, the kind of story where the reader can experience a situation or lifestyle that would be impossible or really troublesome in real life. It’s unrealistic by design. This series was written for the viewer to escape into a world full of beautiful girls who want nothing more than other beautiful girls, with no conflict outside of their romantic woes and social standings. Now, is that a bad thing? Honestly, it depends on who the fantasy is designed for. A lot of lesbian media is intentionally designed to exploit queer people for the sake of fetishizing them for the enjoyment of straight males(To be fair, yaoi’s market is just as bad), and that was my initial impression of the series. Of course, there was also the possibility that the lesbian fantasy in this show was created as an escape FOR lesbians, especially when you consider just how badly oppressed they are in Japan NOW, let alone in 2006 when this series was released. It’s an important distinction to make in cases like this… Who’s it for?  On the one hand, it creates an environment where same-sex relationships are the norm, and are explicitly romantic in nature, which sounds nice, but it also refuses to acknowledge said relationships ever leaving the school, which leans more heavily towards the idea of homosexuality being a phase you grow out of, which is more of a patriarchal idea.

To try and answer this dilemma, I took to social media, and asked for anybody who’s seen the series to let me know what they thought of it, along with their gender and sexual preferences. I didn’t get a lot of responses, which isn’t very surprising when you consider how personal a question that is, but what was surprising was that the few responses I did get were from queer women who had generally favorable opinions of it. They were well aware that the show had issues, and that it’s problematic in spots and a little dumb, but they all said that when they watched it as teenagers… Remember, this show is now 11 years old… It helped them come to terms with their sexualities, and even taught them that it was possible, even okay, for a woman to have romantic feelings for another woman. They even said that the material that was obviously meant for titillation was just as enjoyable for them as it was for presumed straight male viewers, barring the few non-consensual moments. Admittedly, my sample size was small, but it was still very revealing in terms of what it means to the people I thought it was just exploiting. It’s not much, but it does earn the series a little redemption in my book.

Strawberry Panic is available from Anime works, a division of Media blasters. The 5 disk thin pack has unfortunately doubled in average price since it was released five years ago, but used copies on Ebay can be found at a reasonable price. The original novels are available stateside from Seven Seas, and the original manga is available from the same company.

While the process of reviewing this title has been enlightening, my opinion on it has remained largely unchanged. I still consider it a train wreck, full of random fluff, way more characters than it could handle, and an ending that was entirely unsatisfying and wound up raising far more questions than it answered. Having said all that, I do understand that it has an important place in LGBT anime. It doesn’t tackle the struggle to define ones’ self, as Utena did, and it doesn’t satirize the oppressive patriarchal society of Japan the way Yurikuma Arashi eventually would, but it does manage to present the idea of same sex romance in a somewhat progressive way, and I can’t really fault it for that. It presents an escapist fantasy where queer women both younger and older can set aside the idea of forbidden love and guilt so they can just feel normal in a world that’s constantly telling them they’re not. I still can’t justifiably call it a good show, but at the very least, I do now know that there are people out there that I can confidently recommend it to, even if that demographic is a small one. I give Strawberry Panic a 4/10.  

We all remember our first love. It happened in high school for most of us, middle school for a few of us, and much later in life for those of us who were less fortunate. It was that shy, awkward time in our lives when our hormones were raging, our need for intimate one-on-one companionship was impossible to ignore, and after putting forth more and more effort until it felt like we were just screaming our ears off into a dark abyss, we finally managed to convince the object of our desires to invest some time in us. Well, that, or you were the one being persuaded, and you eventually gave in and relented, but either way, we finally found somebody that we could call our own… Somebody we could say was ours, to spend all of our free time with, all while people gossiped behind us about what may or may not be going on behind closed doors. For the first time, we found somebody that we wanted to do all of that mushy stuff that grossed us out when we were children with. We were finally one half of a couple. You never forget something like that.

For Mei Tachibana, first love isn’t the subject of nostalgia… It’s coming for her, and it’s coming hard. While she was used to spending time by herself, avoiding all of those phony, blood-sucking, backstabbing social circles who have burned her before. With no interest in impressing anyone, Mei retreated into the background, not wanting to attract any attention to herself… Which, ironically, attracts the attention of Yamato Kurosawa, the most attractive and infamous boy in school. Having fallen in love with her at first sight, Yamato will stop at nothing to make her his, even while admirers, a former flame, a famous model, and even his own little sister try to compete with her for his attention. She is of course attracted to him as well, but how can she let down her defenses for him, when she’s been hurt before? How can she give herself over to someone, to trust him as he trusts her, when she has no idea what his intentions are, or what a plain, ordinary girl like her can possibly offer someone as perfect as him? Oh, what’s a troubled young girl from Forks… Um, I mean, Japan, to do?

Say I Love You was animated by a company named ZEXCS, which is apparently pronounced like Zekushizu. I don’t think I’ve ever come across that name before, but they were also partially behind the production of Diabolik Lovers, so I must have. Taking a closer look at it’s history, it was apparently formed by a former JC Staff producer, and yeah, now I’m starting to put this company into context. The work that I’ve seen from JC Staff have been wildly varying in terms of quality, but I’m kind of surprised to say that in this case, we have a title that’s wildly varying in quality all by itself. Say I Love You was clearly a low budget series, as evidenced by the plethora of shots where people are frozen in the background like mannequins, stuck in time in the middle of their conversations, but it overall isn’t bad looking animation, either. Thankfully, this kind of show doesn’t need to be heavy on movement, as a lot of it’s story is told through inner monologue and long wistful stares, so the constant dips in budget don’t ever get too distracting.

Well, I say that, but the material they may have wasted a bit too much on is also present more than a few times. That’s not to say saving money for the sake of scenes that require more movement is a bad thing, but the frozen backgrounds become a bit less forgivable when you’ve got money to waste on pointless shots like animations of children running at a distance as well as other similarly blurry, shaky-cam looking shots that I’m still not sure what they were trying to do with. Like I said, though, this isn’t a genre that really needs to be told through a lot of movement,and considering how fluid the little movement it has actually is, this show actually looks slightly above average compared to others of it’s ilk. They put a lot of effort into making basic motions and interactions such as minor scuffles and walk cycles look realistic, even if characters freeze a bit too often when they’re talking to each other. Aside from the few key visual tropes of a shoujo anime, character designs skew towards realism, and while the backgrounds are adequate overall, there are brief moments where the artwork and lighting are so beautiful that you might actually forget the few nagging budget issues.

The music for the series has a very pleasant tone to it, as do most Shoujo based soundtracks, but this particular composition by Yuuji Nomi just had that little extra bit of effort and diversity behind it. Some of the tunes are a bit loopy, and can become annoying when played on endless repeat in the background of scenes where nothing’s really going on, but the ones with actual purpose and intentions behind them are kinda genius, using a number of different instruments to bring a soft, melodramatic feel to the story. From the xylophone to the violin, every note is played with the right atmospheric pace, with vibrations in all the right places to convey the wavering hearts of the cast. Unfortunately, the opening theme Friendship by Okazaki Ritsuko, is a bit more on the generic side. If you’re heard a shoujo opening song before, then you’ve heard the one, which honestly just feels like a bland version of the op from Fruits Basket. It’s not necessarily bad, per se, but you won’t miss anything by skipping it, and the same goes for the ending.

Likewise, the English dub isn’t bad, but it’s really kind of unremarkable, as it mostly just goes through the motions. Honestly, they didn’t even bother matching the lip flaps in a lot of scenes. Actors Greg Ayres and Monica Rial, who should have been breaths of fresh air in any dub they’re in, play disappointingly close to their most common typecastings, with Ayres playing the pervy girl-crazy best friend, and Monica playing the likeable, bubbly best friend. The same could be said for Andrew Love, who once again plays a somewhat dimwitted tough guy role, but since he gets misused a lot easier than those other two, I’ll just consider his playing to type a good thing. If there’s an especially sour note among the cast, it’s Leraldo Anzaldua, who I’ve never been a particular fan of, and they gave him the lead role. His approach to the character seems to almost be inspired by Robert Pattinson’s approach to Edward Cullen… Play him as you see him, even if that interpretation is a negative one, and Leraldo plays Yamato like a wet rag with all the personality and enthusiasm you’d expect if Shyamalan was directing him.

There are a few beaming lights, though… Caitlynn French does a way better job with Mei Tachibana than the role actually required, all while giving just as honest a portrayal as Leraldo gave. She plays the role as sometimes bitchy, sometimes preachy, while never becoming unlikeable in either tone, and she even made her character’s depression feel a lot more crushing than the original Japanese seiyuu did. There are some lines she had to speak in this show that were downright uncomfortable, and probably not by design, and she still did surprisingly well with them. Emily Neves was also a gem as the snooty, duplicitous Megumi, and while that’s not really a surprise as she’s always been a bit of a chameleon, you don’t really get the full effect of it until she breaks down towards the end of the series. Oh, Brittany Karbowski and Tiffany Grant also get small parts in this, and while that alone should be a selling point, they’re roles are limited, both in time and in content. I can’t really condemn the dub, as there are a few really good performances in it, but I feel like if I’m being honest, I’ve gotta recommend the sub.

You know, I’m not immune to the charms of a good shoujo anime. I really don’t think anyone is, even if they protest that fact. They’re like anime chick flicks… Sometimes, even hardcore action and gore fans need to sit down for a feel-good viewing of The Princess Bride. Likewise, I’ve yet to meet an anime fan that didn’t enjoy Princess Tutu and Ouran High School host club, and while those two shows do deliberately contain a lot of dual appeal, I don’t really mind the more stereotypically shoujo anime, either. I liked Fruits Basket. I love Ikuhara’s work. Those of you who remember my Vampire Knight review will know that I consider the first season to be a major guilty pleasure. I don’t mind the giant eyed heroines with absurdly rendered pupils and eyelashes. I don’t mind skinny bishounen makes with haircuts that are ultimately dated because they’re based on whatever’s popular at the time. I’ve got nothing against the genre or it’s tropes, so I don’t want you to think I’m biased when I say that my first time watching this series, almost exactly one year ago, I dropped it after three episodes.

Before I get intro why, let’s go over some of the more persistent problems hiding right in plain sight just beneath it’s flowery surface. Starting with the main character, Mei Taniguchi, we’re told early on that she’s not like other girls. She’s not like the gossipy girls who play social games for their own benefit, and she’s also not like the girls who alter their natural appearances to impress guys. Okay, we know what she’s not, but what is she? We know she has a tragic backstory where some rotten kids blamed her for something they did wrong, and that’s caused her to become distant and bitter even several years later, and we know that she’s honest, and occasionally has wisdom to offer people, but aside from all that, I’ve gotta be honest, she’s kind of boring. She’s a textbook Mary-sue character, who’s only real flaws are her shy nature and mistrust of others, and she doesn’t do a whole lot to solve these problems. Other people do. Hell, she rarely ever makes progressive or active choices as a protagonist.

And her boyfriend Yamato Kurosawa is even worse. This isn’t really my biggest problem with him, but his biggest problem is objectively the fact that he’s so damned inconsistent. There are a ton of examples I can bring up, but I feel like one of the most obvious is when we find out that he’s not a virgin. It’s explained to us that it’s because he’s really selfless and kind, and he slept with a girl because she made him think it would make her happy. Well, this happened in the same episode that he invited himself along on Mei’s trip to the salon to get her hair cut, but he immediately hijacked her plans in order to take her out on an abrupt date. She misses the salon, upon which he says that he likes her with long hair. Oh, NOW you have an opinion? Your pants fly off because a girl asks for your dick, and you’re totally a martyr, but when a girl thinks her hair is getting too frizzy to manage, THAT’s something you’ll voice your opposition to? When it comes to character development, actions speak louder than words, and his actions in this case just felt controlling and manipulative.

And that’s not even him at his worst. People often give him shit for kissing Mei without permission in order to get rid of her stalker… Which, while effective and somewhat excusable, feels a bit overkill. As a wise red dragon once said, never play an ace if a 2 will do. They seem to forget that in the same episode as the salon incident, towards the end, he catches her hiding and watching him, and takes the opportunity to kiss her without permission again, ultimately pinning her against a wall and kissing her into submission. If she hadn’t been receptive to that, she could have had him behind bars for sexual assault. He ditches her for hours in the middle of a date because his friend had something to give him, he went over to another girl’s house for weeks after school without telling Mei, and he doesn’t even make a habit of asking her what she wants to do until the final third of the story… Up until then, it’s always “Let’s do this,” or “You should…” I am honestly convinced that the anime adaptation skipped over some info dump about him suffering some kind of brain damage as a child, to explain the way he behaves throughout the series.

See, this isn’t just a shoujo romance series. It’s something far more insidious. It’s a self insert wish fulfillment fantasy boyfriend series. Mei isn’t supposed to be an interesting character, she’s supposed to be a blank slate for the audience and presumably the writer to imprint themselves onto, so that they can live out the experience of having a popular, handsome boy getting all up in their business. Yamato isn’t supposed to be an interesting character either, he’s supposed to be an unobtainable dreamboat who only has eyes for the main character, much to the dismay of, like, oh my god, the entire school. It’s like Twilight without the sparkling vampires, or 50 Shades of Grey without the BDSM and torture devices. Hell, the only torturing device involved was my own DVD player. Don’t get me wrong dudes are guilty of this too… We tend to get a lot of stories that depict us as badass loners who get bothered by sexy girls who fight with us but eventually succumb to our awesomeness through no real change of our own, like Steins;Gate and Sword Art Online, but Say I Love you takes this concept to a special new low, because I have a very specific person in mind who might be dreaming it up.

Just for fun, I’d like you to imagine Tomoko from Watamote… Yes, we’re really doing this… Alone in her room, bitching about the people in her life, when all of a sudden she’s like “Wouldn’t it be awesome if the most popular boy in school fell in love with me? That would show all of those losers. He’d be obsessed with me, and it would be because I’m different. I’m not like all of those back stabbing bitches, or those tramps who slather on gallons of make-up to whore themselves out to boys. He’ll fall in love with me at first sight, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’m not easy, though, so I’d play hard to get, and he’d come at me kind of rough, but that’s okay, because we both know we’re going to be together forever! He’d even turn down a model for me… no, wait, he IS a model! Oh shit, I’d better write this down! I can make a manga out of this!” And then after two hours of brainstorming, she’s like “Ooh, and then his friend comes back, and he totally falls in love with me because we like the same theme park, and they’d totally fight over me! Oh, and we get a hotel room, and… Nope, gotta think of my demographic. nothing happens at the hotel because he respects me, and while he’s more experienced than me, none of what he’s done before me matters, because none of it involved me!”

It’s mindlessly self-indulgent right down to the fact that backstabbing classmates are used as a constant source of antagonism, as well as being basically what every named antagonists’ backstory boils down to, and no attempt is ever made to humanize them. They come close to it as part of Megumi’s backstory, when they abandon her in favor of someone she refused to invite, but even then, the abrupt decision and hive mind element to the scene make no sense. Actually, there’s a lot of occurrences in this anime that make no sense, from Mei and Yamato leaving a festival early all because they’re friends decided to go home(They seriously wouldn’t take the opportunity to be alone?), to Yamato’s creepy relationship with his sister, who he seems to act as both the parent and the crush of, to how easily Megumi comes undone over her inability to ensnare Yamato, even though she literally just decided out of the blue that she wanted to date him based on his looks. The tragic part is that she’s clearly a rip off of Ami from Toradora, who was a much better written and explored character.

Earlier in this review, I referred to the relationship between Mei and Yamato as their first love, and I did so for a specific reason… It was my attempt at gently stating that, in all likelihood, it won’t be their last. Not only are such romances doomed to fail in real life, but the one between them isn’t even based on a solid foundation. Yamato’s love for Mei was decided and settled upon based entirely on his first impression of her, and he doesn’t even bother getting to know her before imprinting on her. Outside of his good looks, I can’t see what Mei sees in him, outside of his persistence and refusal to give up on her. Their love, respectively, is superficial and circumstantial. He didn’t even open her up to other people, like she claims… Once he picked her, other people came to her out of curiosity, through no effort of his own. In their own mutually exclusive ways, these two characters don’t even know what love is, and eventually, I can’t help but get the feeling that their relationship is destined to end with tears and heartbreak, with the school’s new power couple splitting up, and honestly? I’m okay with that.

With most high school anime romances, even the bad ones, you’re given a sense of purpose in the two of them staying together… Even in a shitshow like Clannad, where I wanted Tomoya to get remarried after his wife died, he was still destined to marry Nagisa before anybody else, as their emotional codependency formed too intense a connection to break. In the Love Hina manga, we get to see over time how the spineless dumb-ass Keitaro was able to win Naru’s heart. In a good show like Toradora, you know enough about Ryuji and Taiga’s friendship and backgrounds that we know they don’t make sense with anybody else. In Say I Love You, I didn’t get a sense of any of that. If they were to break up, with Yamato dating Megumi and Mei winding up with Kai, those relationships wouldn’t necessarily last forever either, but it wouldn’t feel like some major tragedy… It would just feel like “Ah, part 2 of the story!” And yeah, with this being the worst case scenario, the series lacks any real stakes, making it kind of tedious to get through. Honestly, the final episode was a joke, with the two of them being separated by a series of phone tag related coincidences. Yawn.

Say I Love You is available from Section23 films both on Bluray and DVD, and can also be viewed on Crunchyroll. The original manga by Kanae Hazuki is available stateside from Kodansha comics, and the live action film is apparently not available in the US, but from what I’ve heard that’s not such a bad thing as even fans of the anime and manga find it soulless and bland.

Much like the shoujo genre, I really don’t have anything against melodrama, but there’s a much clearer distinction to be made with that material… Melodrama tends to work best when it’s self aware. Anime like Bento and so many shoujo titles outside of this one were written by people who knew that the stories they were writing didn’t measure up to much in terms of stakes, so they compensated by amping up the emotions, infusing character development into the plot, and using themes to add flavor to what was going on. Say I Love You tries to do this, with a breaking bracelet symbolizing a broken heart, and cats getting along when their owners do, but for the most part, it does the bare minimum, creating a bad romance between two 2-dimensional characters that has no reason or power to stand the test of time. The music and the animation are above average, and to be fair, Mei and Yamato do become a lot more tolerable of a couple in the final third when Mei starts to show a bit more initiative and Yamato starts to treat her more like a person, but I think a romance where the guy sounds ten times happier about his new kitten than about his new girlfriend leaves a lot to be desired. I give Say I Love You a 3/10.

Review requested by Nate Milbank.

 

Daizoburo Edi-Ban Is a young American-born Japanese man, descended from immigrants and raised to uphold a strict sense of morality. He joins the New York city police force, precinct 34, intending nothing less than to enforce the law, punish evil, fight crime and defend the innocent. His idealistic nature is stressed to the breaking point when he finds out that his partner, whether he likes it or not, is a veteran cop named Johnny Estes, who carries two nicknames… Sleepy, probably for his chill and laid back nature when he’s off the clock, and Mad Bull, for his violent, uncontrollable nature that he slips into whenever he slips on the badge. A long time loose cannon who would rather spend his time making the rounds with every prostitute in the tri-county area than patrol his assigned area, and to whom questioning live suspects just feels like a waste of time and energy, it doesn’t take very long for Officer Estes to show his impressionable rookie partner what the inside of a rapists’ brain looks like.

But as the two cops become closer… Or, as Daizoburo slowly slips into the trappings of Stockholm Syndrome, which seems equally plausible… He begins to see the good nature of his giant burly buddy, as well as the method behind his bull-headed madness. Unfortunately, his trouble doesn’t end there, as Mad Bull’s “Shoot first and ask questions to the splattered skulls later” tactics have earned him more than a few enemeies throughout his storied career, and he’s always willing to make a few more! With this giant, over-sexed, trigger happy senior officer by his side, Daizoburo will have to deal with rapists, gangsters, drug dealers, witness protection and a serial-killer who won’t stop targeting cops, all while struggling to defend his ideals, the general population, and his precious virginity from the very person he was expecting to help him do so. Welcome to the concrete jungle, my friends, because we’ve got fun and games, so strap on your grenade jock strap and take a bite out of the big apple.

Hey, did you know there used to be a production company called Magic Bus? If so, then that makes one of us! Seriously, though, talk about obscure. If this thing isn’t owned and operated by Miss Frizzle, I’m not sure what reality is anymore. Anyway, obscure is definitely the right word for this company, who appeared in the mid eighties and put out most of their work in the nineties, including nine straight years of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. They seemingly went quiet in 2006, having produced only two shows between then and now. Mad Bull 34 was an OVA series that they released over the course of two years. It was released in the early nineties, so… Well, you can probably guess from there what kind of animation you’re in for. The visual quality of this series is so low budget that even though it’s extremely dated, I highly doubt it was even considered acceptable for it’s time. It does kind of work in it’s advantage, as the low quality does sort of add to the overall tone, making it feel more like a bootleg video of a grindhouse movie, and yeah, that is a pretty good fit.

Even considering this, however, it’s still a really ugly looking show, which is especially hard to ignore in the first episode, where it looks like the producers haven’t even begun to figure out how to use budget cuts to hide their weaknesses. They get better at it in the third and fourth episodes, or in other words the second half, but the result they achieve isn’t really as effective as they were hoping, because while it doesn’t look cheap or badly animated in those episodes, it does look very obviously like budget cuts are being used, and that is an improvement, but not a huge one. No matter what episode you’re watching, however, the budget was clearly reserved for action, as the best looking moments in the series are the gunfights, the gruesome dismemberments and exploding heads, and the admittedly fun car chases. That’s not to say any of it looks good, per se, as it’s best moments look mediocre at most, but the rest of the on-screen material… And I do mean the rest of it… Suffers to help the action to even look THAT good.

The artwork is very roughly drawn, much like the backgrounds, although they did accurately capture the shitty and decrepit feeling of most areas in New York city. Character designs, despite falling to the same issue, are inspired and distinctive, as long we’re referring to the main hero characters. The villains are much more generic and samey, as most of them could be described as stock thugs, with a few rare muscle-bound black guys and sexy femme fatales to break up the monotony. A lot of the women who appear throughout the series, most of whom are either prostitutes, victims or both, are just big boobed, long haired blonde chicks with very little variation in their appearances. The heroes, who are among the very few featured people, are kind of unforgettable, even the one who looks just like all the other blondes. One of the tricks they use to make Mad Bull and Daizoburo memorable was through their drastically different heights, with the title character towering over all he meets, and the actual main character, an obvious audience cypher and the moral center of the group, is quite possibly the shortest man in Manhattan. Oh, and there’s also a villain who wears a costume that looks like a cross between Green Goblin and a Xenomorph.

With only four 45 minute episodes under it’s belt, there really shouldn’t be a lot of music, but each episode has at least ten different tracks in it. The music was seemingly entirely produced by one man, English rock guitarist David Ross Skinner, and while it does carry an authentic New York City cop drama feel to it, the homogeny does show, as there’s actually very little variety to the music. That’s not to say any of it sounds bad, as a lot of it is actually pretty cool sounding, but there’s only so much you can get out of a soundtrack that’s comprised mostly of slow tunes for “moments,” and high tension tunes for the action. Most of the ending themes were contributed by a Korean band called Maizurah, who can sing in what sounds like pretty impeccable English, but perhaps more surprising is the fact that the ending theme of the very first episode is a song from the Godfather of soul himself, James Brown. Yeah, I’m making that sound more impressive than it is, because James Brown is all around amazing, and yet they still managed to find one of his lesser songs. I seriously think Time to Get Busy is the result of Brown completely forgetting the lyrics and just not giving a fuck.

The english dub, on the other hand, is pretty awesome. I know that’s weird to say about a dub from the nineties, especially for the dub of a low budget OVA, because these things normally sound like the worst things ever, but the actors in this title just have so much fun with what they’re given. This is especially true of Allan Wenger, a man with so many voice credits to his name since 1978 that it’s a crime wikipedia doesn’t have a page on him. His dubbing resume extends to animation from a laundry list of countries, with relatively few coming from Japan. In any case, he plays the title character as dumb, cocky and bullheaded, but at the same time with enough laid back presence and good humor to make him feel more like a lovable doofus than a psychopath with a badge. Alan Merriott has a much more pronounced anime history, and as Edi-ban, he skews a lot younger than his co-star, and he does so with a much deeper accent, which easily sells the idea that he’s just transferred into this precinct from another county. Of course, both actors do have perfect accents and pitches for their characters.

Speaking of perfect accents, the prime female character, Perrine Valley… Well, she certainly has an accent. Her stint in anime voice acting appears to be a hiccup in her primary career as a British TV actress, including appearances in a 2007 Doctor Who spin-off. This is probably the reason she’s the only British character in the entire series, a fact that’s never explained or referenced in the dialogue. She barely has a presence, reads off her lines as stiff and blandly as possible, and is completely overshadowed by the female characters who are introduced in the following two episodes. Unfortunately the dub gets a little muddled from here, partially due to the many names on it that only appear in this specific series… Which is normally a sign that fake names are being used… And while several black thugs in the series are credited under the name Wesley Powell, I think I can distinctly hear Beau Billingslea in their performances. I could be wrong, but Beau is awesome, and if these stock thugs were being played by an actual black man… Unlike the anime’s only black female character… I could see him wanting to keep his name off of it. This show can get pretty racist, after all.

In the time that I’ve been writing for this blog, if I’ve ever said anything negative about an anime you like, and you disagree with me, I respect your opinion, and would love to hear what you love about it that I don’t. Granted, when a series offends me in some special way, I may argue with you, but I will at least acknowledge that you have a point that needs making. What I can’t respect is when people defend an awful series by saying, in so many colorful ways, that it’s immune to criticism. They don’t claim that any of my points are wrong, just that they’re moot… A series can be terrible and get away with it because it was never trying to be good, or it was aiming to please an audience that I’m apparently not part of. I’ve seen this argument used in defense of titles like Gantz, Kiss X Sis, Stella Womens Academy, and an untold number of old, shock-filled OVA series, when really, the only form of media I can justifiably see that defense applying to is actual porn. With any other form of media, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t go in with standards and expectations, and you’re not nit-picky for having them.

For example, a lot of people love yaoi anime, because they want to see two hot guys bang, nevermind the fact that the situations are often highly rapey and the characters are infantilized. People like yuri anime because they want to see two hot girls getting it on, nevermind the fact that neither of them feel like real people in even the shallowest of contexts. People love romance stories even when they’re sexist and abusive as all hell, with special nods to Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and Say I Love You. Yeah, I said it. I won’t say there’s anything wrong with indulging in your guilty pleasures because the thrill you get out of it is worth all the questionable crap you have to ignore, but to defend it as a profound piece of literature or awesome despite it’s flaws when you’re just ignoring the things you don’t like is insane. Yeah, I love caviar, but if you spread it on a piece of your dog’s dried up shit, I’m not going to stuff that shit into mouth for some caviar… I’m going to say ‘No thank you, I’d like the next batch to be on a cracker, please.”

On that note, do I have a low opinion of Mad Bull 34 because of it’s excessive violence, sex and misogynistic attitude towards women? No, because I actually have a rather high tolerance for these things. I enjoy Elfen Lied and Sword Art Online, after all, despite what the mediocre scores I gave them may suggest. The reason Mad Bull 34 fails to impress me is entirely due to it’s writing, and if you’re scoffing at me for not taking it’s ridiculous and tongue in cheek nature into account, guess what, I did. There is no form of literature or entertainment, save for literal porn, that isn’t subject to the quality of its writing, and yes, that includes exploitation media. That’s not to say there’s such a thing as objective quality, or that all forms of media should be united under one unifying standard, but if I have an opinion on something, I’m going to express it in depth and in detail, with no regard for what the piece was trying to do, or who it was trying to entertain. Except with Mad Bull 34, I don’t really NEED much in the way of detail, and I’m going to prove it by going episode by episode.

The first episode, so gracefully titled “Hit and Rape,” is the story of how Edi-ban met and formed a bond with Sleepy Joe Estes, and out of the entire series, this one probably contains the most violence and sex. I don’t mind that so much… What I do mind is that the whole episode plays like a glowing, self-indulgent self-insert fanfic written by someone who wishes they could be a giant, musclebound stud. He gets flaws in later episodes, but Sleepy Joe is SUCH a Mary-Sue here. He’s the pinnacle of justice, everybody loves him, and the people who don’t are either the villains he’s inconveniencing or people who just don’t understand him. He gets to have a ton of anonymous sex with hookers for free, but none of them mind, because he’s a totally nice person who’s paying to have their STDs and rape trauma treated, even though he demonstrates early on that his form of breaking woman out of shock is to penetrate them anally. He murders criminals for bullshit reasons, following convoluted logic that the rest of the world just blindly accepts, because he is Joe, and he can do no wrong, even based on a guess so farfetched that Sherlock Holmes would pump the breaks before acting on it.

The second episode tries to be better, as it introduces a strong female character… Of course, by this show’s standards, strong means ‘not a prostitute,’ and like most female characters, she’s pretty much just there to get in trouble, get assaulted, and show the audience her tits. I honestly don’t remember much about this episode unless I really think about it… I recall the villain being more obvious than Doctor Evil, Sleepy being able to survive half a dozen bullets to the ass as well as a point blank grenade explosion to the face, and to be fair, one of the most epic moments in anime history… Sleepy Joe pulls off his pants to reveal that he’s tied a few dozen grenades to his pubes, which his partner starts to pluck and throw at a bunch of 1930’s cartoon mobsters. Honestly, that moment is probably why people remember this series at all… They sure as hell don’t come back to see Daizoburo miraculously rise from his death bed, all of his teeth suddenly intact, after a phony marriage ceremony helps him recover from what should have been a fatal beating.

I don’t want to give away too much of the last two episodes, for spoiler reasons and the like, so I’m just going to lump them together here. The third episode involves a plot between a politician and a reporter that’s so confusing, it’s honestly hard to keep up with, and our heroes get tied up in a witness protection story where everybody keeps making decisions that are stupid and contrived beyond belief, the backstory to the situation we’re dropped into is told to us and never shown, and apparently a politician can buy his way out of being positively identified by ten murder-scene rape kits, and with that much power, a lone reporter shooting her mouth off somehow poses a threat? And then you have the final episode, which started out really good, with a villain from Sleepy’s past come back to haunt him, killing more male police officers than the Russian chick from Kick-Ass 2, and it seems like the series will go out on a great note before a sudden reveal halfway through turns it into the most bafflingly awful love story since Elfen Lied. It does say something about your ability to write villains when the first one that has a remotely understandable motive gets treated like a fucking saint.

If any of this interests you, which I can understand, then you’re in luck… After twenty years of obscurity, it was rescued and released stateside on DVD in 2012 by Diskotek Media, who’ve been doing a lot of that lately. You can find it at a pretty decent price, too. Unfortunately, the original manga, which I can only imagine is superior due to that usually being the case, is not available, nor is it’s sequel, Mad Bull 2000.

I hope by this point I’ve proven to you that my problems with this title go far deeper than it’s so-called shocking content. Your sensibilities may differ, but for me, offensiveness is a matter of context, and not content, and no matter how bloody, over-sexed or misogynistic the material got, I just couldn’t muster up enough interest or investment in the story or characters to GET offended. It was so stupid and badly written that even when graphic rape was occurring on screen, I didn’t feel sorry for the victims, I didn’t feel angry at the villains, I didn’t feel disgusted by the tastes of the writer, I was just bored, staring blankly at the screen and waiting for any… Any… of it’s ridiculous shit to be as entertainingly bad as the crotch grenades were. And speaking of entertainingly bad, that’s exactly what this series is… You invite some friends over, you get drunk enough to think your reflection is picking a fight with you, and you laugh your asses off at how desperate this series is to try and make you remember it. It’s not anywhere near one of the worst anime I’ve ever seen, but I’d never recommend it to someone on the assumption that they’ll genuinely, soberly enjoy it. I give Mad Bull 34 a 3/10.

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