There’s an old saying we’ve all heard, that goes “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” There’s another saying, however, that “The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Somewhere inbetween these two standards, I’d like to believe there hides an underlying truth… That while tenacity is an admirable thing to have, there comes a time when you have to admit to yourself that if something was ever going to be successful, it would have by now.

For me, that truth has recently come to define this blog.

I started The Fullmetal Narcissist in the fall of 2013, because I had just begun writing reviews, I didn’t know anybody who could host or promote my work, and I needed some sort of creative outlet in order to share my work with the world. I promised that I would post a new piece of work every Saturday morning, and while I might have missed a couple early on, having to push one or two of my releases to a Sunday, I’ve generally done a solid job keeping that promise.

The results, however, have been less than impressive. It took me a long time to gain any noticeable ground. It wasn’t until November of 2016 that I started getting more than 1K views per month, and I’m still at a point in 2018 where I might get more than 100 views a day once or twice a week if I’m lucky. On top of this, I have only recently, after just over four years of operation, broke the 100 follower mark… Which I might not have even pulled off if I hadn’t gotten drunk and bitched about my follower count in a comment on someone else’s blog.

In early 2017, my view count started to hit a plateau, getting perpetually stuck between 1.3K a month and 1.6K a month, so I got desperate, and started to pull some shenanigans to bring in more traffic. I printed out business cards(for 40 dollars) and took them to a local convention, where I proceeded to take pictures of people’s costumes, give them a card, and give them a date that their picture could be obtained. I then set up the gallery so that every picture viewed would be an individual view, and the traffic rolled right in… For exactly two days, before dipping back down to what it was before.

Having tasted this massive spike, I began to whore out that post, sharing it on different sites and tricking people into scrolling through by asking “Can you help me to identify these unlabelled characters?” I got views of 3.7K to 4.2K for three months before it slipped down to between 1.8 K and 2.2K, before I stopped pimping that post altogether, and now my views are right back down to the same plateau that they were before. Could I do the photo thing all over again this year, when the convention rolls around again? Yeah, but what’s the point, when I’m still just pulling some shady shit to make it look like my work is more popular than it actually is?

I like being proud of the work that I’ve done. For four years, I’ve written the work that I wanted to write, and I’ve written my reviews the way I wanted to write them, but the only time I’ve felt like any of it mattered was when I was blatantly cheating. I can pull an all nighter, wasting my nights off from work writing a six page essay on whatever title I’m currently fixated on, but once it gets posted, it’ll get maybe 7 likes and a couple of comments before being largely forgotten.

I could try to write new things, but that never works out either. I thought I might have a great idea on my hands with A Series of Tubes, but a year later it’s only been viewed about thirty times. I got really excited about Anime Analogues, especially with the topic of the first one, which was a topic I was genuinely interested in, but since it went up about three months ago, it’s been viewed six times. Yeah, you read that right, I’ve been doing this for four years and I’m still putting out work that only gets viewed six times. This is of course to say nothing of the reviews I’ve written that haven’t even cracked the 30 view mark after being up for several years, or the insanely time consuming Inconvenient questions posts that nobody seems to care about.

Do I think I’m entitled to success, or that I deserve peoples’ attention? No, of course not, I’d never want to be that kind of person. I have plenty of friends and acquaintances on WordPress who are having a much better go of it than I am, and I don’t feel bitter or resentful towards any of them. But I’m also not some pinnacle of congeniality and humbleness who’s going to ignore his own failings and just enjoy his hobby for the fun of it. Because this isn’t fun anymore.

I’m a 32 year old man who just recently started to pull himself out of financial crisis. I’m tired of pulling all nighters for no reason other than ‘the fun of it.’ I’m tired of keeping a strict viewing schedule, and not rewatching an anime once I’ve reviewed it. I’m tired of getting 3-7 likes per post while seeing everybody else that I follow getting dozens. I’m tired of feeling inadequate, like I’m putting time and money into work that’s just not good enough. I’m tired of all my reviews only getting one helpful rating on MAL.

I really hope I’m not sounding ungrateful, here… I do appreciate the people who’ve shown me support, because I would have stopped doing this a long time ago without all of you. There are a handful of people who read, like and sometimes even promote my work, and you’ve helped me through more than you could possibly know. In particular, I don’t think this blog would have made it to it’s third year without Jennifer Paetsch from the Little Monster Girl blog, and I’ve enjoyed getting comments from several others. All of you who’ve found this blog worthy of your time are awesome in my book.

If there is one thing I feel entitled to, it’s this: If I’ve fallen out of love with something that I’m not getting paid for, I have every right to walk away from it. I refuse to let my hobby become a job, because I actually do have a full-time job, and it’s my sole source of income. I’ve been intending to leave WordPress for a few months now, with the only thing keeping me around being my desire to complete 100 anime reviews, which I managed to do last week. Of course, that raises a question, and it’s one that honestly gave me trouble figuring out what to call this post… Am I retiring, or just going on hiatus?

I’ll be honest, I have no idea. It’s possible that all I need is a break, and I’ll be back at full strength after I’ve had some time off to refresh myself. It’s equally possible, however, that I’ve lost interest entirely, and the longer I spend away from this site, the less I’ll want to do with it. One way or another, I’ve been going non-stop, full steam for four years, unmonetized, and it’s time for me to step away. I might be back in a few months, I might be back in a year, I might never be back. There’s one thing I’ll promise up front, though… If I ever do come back, the first thing I’ll review will be the og nineties Berserk.

If you miss hearing me bitch about anime, you can find the link to my Facebook in my Contact page.

Until then, so long, and thanks for all the likes.

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Humankind cannot gain anything without giving something up in exchange. To obtain, something of equal or greater value must be lost. That is alchemy’s first law of equivalent exchange. As it follows, there is another law, and one that’s harshly enforced, both by humanity and by fate… No matter how skilled an alchemist may be, and no matter how much they offer up in exchange, they must never attempt to transmute a human being. Yes, it is possible to map out the chemical make-up of a human body… It’s been thoroughly explored, all the way down to the follicles on an average adult’s eyelashes… But there is nothing in existence that can be exchanged for a human soul. To most, this warning would be more than enough to strike fear into their hearts, and make them think twice about putting their lives and livelihoods on the line to bring a deceased loved one back from the grave. For every rule, however, there are people who will be tempted to break it, and to prove themselves above it.

Normally, these individuals are foolhardy, courageous, and naive, believing their abilities to surpass those of others. This is exactly the attitude that one young prodigy named Edward Elric, a child from Risembool, and the son of one of the greatest alchemists alive. With his father having disappeared from his family under mysterious circumstances, and his mother having been taken from him at the whims of a lifelong illness, he and his younger brother Alphonse attempt to resurrect their beloved mother, a venture that costs Ed a literal arm and a leg… Oh, and his brother, whose soul he saves by binding it to a suit of armor at the last minute. Looking nothing like the naive children they once were, both in body and soul, the Elric brothers burn down their house, and set out on an epic journey to restore their bodies to the flesh and redeem themselves for the sin that they’ve committed.. A task that will require the use of a Philosopher’s stone, an artifact of legend whose power is rivaled only by it’s danger… Much like alchemy itself.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood… Which I’m just going to call Brotherhood, from here on out… Was, unsurprisingly, an effort of Studio Bones. Bones doesn’t always give it’s productions the budgets that they deserve, but most of their titles were directed well enough to compensate for this issue. Some of them use smart editing and enchanting uses of lighting and shading to enhance the visuals, achieving mixed to positive results… I am sad to say, however, the Brotherhood is not one of them. It would be generous of me to say that even half of this anime looked good, but it really doesn’t. It does have some impressive looking visuals… There’s a lot of CGI used for special effects, and it looks competent enough. There are also times when certain shots will have fluid animation, such as most of the fight scenes and a violent riot in the settlement of Liore, but such animation doesn’t come cheap, and Brotherhood’s budget saving tactics are about as blatant as a punch to the face.

Throughout the series, there are constant key frames. For the most part, they stay on screen for two to thirteen seconds, with minimal movement happening in them aside from flapping lips and occasional shifts in posture. Sometimes, it’ll freeze on one character’s face while other characters are talking, so they don’t even have to pay for lip flaps in the first place. This isn’t something that has to be noticeable or distracting under the right direction, but here, it’s just an eyesore. The actual alchemy looks nice, as that’s where the 3D aspect comes into play, but when it’s juxtaposed against the stiff, motionless 2D key frames, the two styles mix about as well as oil and water. A good example of this in the early episodes is when Ed and Al, as children, show off their alchemy to their mom, and she’s momentarily bathed in the glow of their experiment… During which she freezes completely, and then has a minimal reaction. Motion wasn’t necessarily needed there, I mean she was just spectating, but come on, guys, try harder.

And the art, I’m afraid, isn’t much better. The character designs are fine, and they’re accurate to the manga, but they look way too polished and clean, like they don’t exist in any sort of real world. Part of this is the lack of effort in shading, but a much larger part of it is the cartoony direction of the visuals. These characters almost seem to spend more time in chibi and super-deformed mode than in actual, realistic shape, and while I’m sure that’s a huge exaggeration, it doesn’t FEEL like one. The backgrounds are detailed, but for the most part, they feel lifeless, like the characters are just walking around in life size paintings that have no real personality or depth to them. The only other problem that I feel is worth mentioning is the character’s outlines… And I’m not talking about Ed’s hair having light outlines, although that’s the best way to distinguish Brotherhood footage from ‘03 footage. I’m talking about the choppy outlines that persist throughout the series, especially whenever there’s a close-up of a character’s face. To be fair, this really only seems to be a problem on DVD releases, as it was a problem for a LOT of Funimation DVD sets back in the day. The bluray and Netflix releases don’t have this issue.

I decided when I began writing this review that I’d bring up the original 2003 adaptation as little as possible(although, realistically, I’m gonna bring it up once or twice), but when it comes to the music, I did notice what appears to be an interesting role reversal that I can’t help but comment on. The original series had a stellar soundtrack that fit the subject matter of the series to a T, and carried a lot of emotional weight with it, but on the flip side, the opening themes were just generic(but high quality) rock and pop songs that didn’t really tie into anything. They were picked because they sounded good and didn’t feel out of place. The exact opposite seems to be true for Brotherhood, because the musical score is a bit on the generic side, but more than befitting a grand Shonen-Action style epic, and the openings are where the true heart and emotion of the series can be heard. This isn’t a blanket statement, of course… There are some heartfelt tunes in Broitherhood, such as Trisha’s Lullabye, which is used as a beautiful motif throughout the series, but that’s about it.

That’s not to say the music isn’t awesome, of course. In addition to Trisha’s Lullabye and it’s hypnotic vocal track, one of my personal favorites is To Be King, the theme of the character Greed, as it’s tribal theme carries a sort of rebellious pride that suits his ambition perfectly. The openings, of course, blow anything FMA ‘03 brought to the table out of the water. They fit the story so well that some of them, most notably the first one, called Again, can even be identified as coming from the perspectives of certain characters. The animation in these openings is so good that they almost make up for the lackluster visuals that are present in the series proper. I don’t think this was intentional, but the best contribution these openings make to Brotherhood is the fact that the two best ones… The first one, Again, and the last one, Rain, just happened to be placed during the beginning and ending arcs, which were arguably the worst parts, and they managed to get a lot of necessary good will out of me.

When it comes to the English dub… Well, there’s not a lot that I can say about it, and I mean that in the best way possible. I can normally go into an English dub and say whether or not an actor was able to fit the character they were casts as, what they were able to do with it, how they interpreted the roles… I can’t do that with EITHER version of Fullmetal Alchemist, because to my ears, the actors ARE their characters, to the point that I honestly forget while watching the shows that there are even actors involved. To this day, I associate Vic Mignona with Ed Elric, and vice versa. Some of Caitlin Glass’s most diverse performances have been ruined for me because no matter how good a job she does, I can’t stop thinking “Huh… That does NOT sound like Winry.” None of the other characters have this effect on me quite as bad, but the FMA performances they did will always be lurking somewhere in the back of my mind when I hear other work by them. I feel like the reason I experience this phenomena so strongly with Ed and Winry is because of just how sincere and earnest Vic and Caitlin’s performances were.

Speaking of iconic performances, I can think of a couple of actors who were unable to reprise their roles from the first series. Dameon Clarke seemingly retired from anime voice acting two years prior to Brotherhood’s release, and was replaced by J Michael Tatum, who did a stellar job, but was unable to capture the grit and years of lonely pain that had peppered Clarke’s performance. On a much more impressive note is the role of Alphonse, who had a lot of American fans worried when they realized that original actor Aaron Dismuke was too old to go back to the role, having gone through puberty between shows. Through some kind of miracle, Funimation was able to find Maxey Whitehead, who was not only able to perfectly imitate Aaron’s younger voice, but was even able to prove herself a better actor than Dismuke, having of course had more experience than he’d had when taking on the role.

In addition, the rest of the cast is back, slipping right into their characters as though they never left. Colleen Clinkenbeard is still playing both Rose and Riza while successfully sounding like she’s actually two different people, even though one is fleshed out a lot more and the other is fleshed out less. Christopher Sabat is still the most masculine fop you’ve ever heard in what is arguably one of his best roles ever, Major Armstrong, and the scores of roles that Travis Willingham landed between shows have transformed him from a promising rookie to a veteran befitting his strong, resolved character. New characters like Lin Yao, Lan Fan and Olivier Armstrong bring a handful of new actors into the mix, and let’s be honest, no dub has ever been worsened by the addition of Todd Haberkorn, and Trina Nishimura, Stephanie Young. The only disappointing returns are from people like Laura Bailey, Chuck Huber and Sonny Strait, who’s characters have been substantially diminished between shows, and Monica Rial, whose new character May is a lot closer to her usual typecasting than her old role was. I included this in my top ten favorite dubs, and it deserves to be there.

The original Fullmetal Alchemist manga was released in 2001, by the magazine Monthly Shonen Gangan. The series was met with resounding popularity right from the start, and after only two years of it’s ten year run, the demand for an anime adaptation was overwhelming. Studio Bones took up the production, but with the manga not even a quarter of the way finished, they were left with a pretty big lemon to deal with. Fortunately, they were able to make lemonade by writing an entirely new story using the material they were given. The resulting anime was an immediate success, among fans and critics alike, winding up on more than it’s fair share of top ten lists since then. And yet, despite the fact that it was universally loved and critically acclaimed across the board, there was still heavy demand for a more faithful adaptation. Thus, in 2009, only one year away from the manga’s end, Brotherhood was born, and the fandom was elated at the idea that a more faithful adaptation of the original manga was finally being made.

Now there are tons of videos and editorials comparing the two FMA adaptations… I wrote one myself that’s been quite successful… But I’m not gonna do that today. I’m not going to review Brotherhood as a reboot, nor am I going to review it as an adaptation… To be fair, I’ve barely read any of the manga. I’m going to judge it by it’s own merits, as a stand-alone series. Unfortunately, this is going to do it more harm than good, because a good chunk of this show’s early material fucking depends on the added context. Starting with the obvious, the first episode is entirely unique to Brotherhood, and serves largely as fanservice to returning fans, as well as a baffling reintroduction to a lot of the story’s more frequent elements. The episode, I’m sad to say, is horrible, and not just in the way that it fumbled a lot of the biggest reveals and surprises of the early episodes, which were supposed to have massive story-based impacts. It also introduces one of brotherhood’s over-all biggest problems, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

With that out of the way, we’re able to start the series proper… Only I wish this were the case, but it turns out they’re not quite done getting things out of the way yet. I’m not gonna beat around the bush about this, the pacing of the first thirteen episodes or so is abysmally fast. We get to know Trisha Elric for about ten seconds before she dies(I don’t THINK that’s a spoiler), we get almost no material with Ed and Al as children, and it just feels like the writers were bumbling from one important moment to the next, looking to get the viewer up to speed on what they presumably already saw so they could get to the new material. I think I’ve heard that’s exactly what they were doing, but it’s a pitiful excuse for shoddy story telling. It was included for new fans, and rushed for returning fans, trying to please everyone and ultimately pleasing nobody. They don’t even make an attempt at suspense, atmosphere, or any kind of emotional investment, just making sure all the exposition is taken care of, violating the rules of show-don’t-tell to an absurd degree.

The pacing does fix itself once the series recap episodes are over, but by that point the damage is done, and the effects last throughout the series, even during the legitimately good parts, creating some very troublesome problems. For example, Brotherhood has a very weird attitude towards death. In the first episode, an ice and water based alchemist attacks the capital, and he murders two state alchemists in order to show off some of his powers… And these alchemists are disturbingly forgotten immediately afterwards. He’s attacked by Ed and Al, who seem completely oblivious to the fresh corpses lying less than twenty feet from them, and of COURSE this is an appropriate time for the show’s first “LOL, Ed’s so short” joke. Dude, THERE ARE DEAD BODIES RIGHT OVER THERE. They’re also worried about his Ice powers destroying the government, but I’m pretty sure those glaciers were crashing through buildings at one point, and I doubt they were evacuated.

There are four noteworthy characters that die in the first thirteen episodes… I told you about Trisha, but I’m not spoiling the others… And the execution of said scenes makes it seem like we’re supposed to care a great deal about them, but they’re given almost no screen time, and we don’t have enough time with them to build a relationship. This makes it even more uncomfortable when the series corrects it’s pacing, and winds up giving several characters boatloads of extra screen time, despite some of them having minimal impact on the story at best, and with so many of them far overstaying their welcome. I’m sorry, but the fact that Yoki got to live to the end of the series is a slap in the face to one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, whom we were expected to cry over when he died ten fucking episodes in.

And look, before I go any farther, yeah, I like this show. I enjoy watching it. It’s a little on the bulky side, at over sixty episodes, but I have fun with it. The action’s really cool, it has a lot of really imaginative ideas, and I find myself on the edge of my seat way more often than I’d ever like to admit. It’s a good show, so why am I shitting on it so much? Well, there are two reasons; First of all, everything good about it has been pounded in the dirt by now, with over 90 percent of it’s reviews giving it a ten out of ten score, so there’s really no need for me to suck it’s dick. The other reason is that the best things about it are the same things that are awesome about almost every other shonen action series out there… It’s fun, it has great action, and there are a lot of imaginative ideas, and it’s populated by a cast of likeable heroes, detestable villains and hopeful turncoats. Honestly, it has a lot of good qualities, but there’s really not a lot that I can say about them, which is why I’m focusing so hard on the things I don’t like about it.

So on that note, let’s move onto what I consider the biggest problem with Brotherhood, it’s immaturity. It just doesn’t feel like it was written by a grown-up, or anyone who really has anything important to say other than “Hey, guys, look how cool this is!” A big part of this, and possibly the element that irked me the most, is it’s use of binary morality. In Brotherhood, the good guys are all good, the bad guys are all bad, and the only variety in sight is when a bad guy is somehow redeemable, either by the desire to turn over a new leaf or the excuse of not being directly accountable for their actions. Yeah, the original Star Wars trilogy also had this issue, but at least Vader was a complex character with nuanced motivations. Here, the villain is a literal embodiment of evil with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and six of his seven henchman(well, Homunculi) have no motivation outside of serving him and following the sins attributed to them. It’s a story so devoutly based on the struggle between good and evil that at the end, the hero(who has kept his hands insultingly clean up to this point) has to fight the villain in a literal fistfight while his friends and allies chant his name.

And on top of that, there’s very little emotion in any of it, with the exception of any lingering feelings the viewer may have carried over from ‘03(and I’m sorry, but there are gonna be comparisons in this paragraph). There are a lot of ideas, but they’re just ideas, none of which carries any weight outside of spectacle. Seeing Gluttony’s Kirby world is cool, but I’m not gonna remember it in a week. The homunculi actually having a reason to be named after sins isn’t going to affect me like seeing them pursue their own individual goals. Knowing the country is named Amestris, and that there’s another form of alchemy called alkahestry is interesting, but it doesn’t make the world feel more immersive. I feel bad for Winry after being told her parents are dead, but not as bad as if I’d seen her crying over it as a kid. I can root for her to forgive the person who killed them by accident, because come on, it was an accident! But when the person who killed them is someone who was willfully following orders, and has been haunted by what he was forced to do ever since, well, things just get a lot less simple.

Brotherhood is a show full of easy answers that don’t provide any sort of challenge to it’s viewer. The heroes win through virtue alone, with barely any sacrifice. Yeah, that’s right, no sacrifice, in a show whose central philosophy is that mankind must gain through sacrifice.. Minor spoilers here, but take the Philosopher’s stone for example. We find out how it;’s made, and Ed vows to find another way. He doesn’t, but a stone is still handed to him in the final act, consequence free, so he doesn’t have to make any harsh choices. There are plenty of huge moments that are immensely satisfying, like a late showdown between Colonel Mustang and the Homunculus Envy, and a pulse-pounding fight between Hawkeye and Gluttony, both of which I did highly enjoy, but it’s popcorn fare(To be fair, still better than 03’s Robo-Archer crap). The action is great on a shallow level, but the drama and comedy aren’t even that good, due mainly to what I understand to be two holdover elements from the manga.

Brotherhood fails hard at achieving both drama and comedy through it’s own aesthetic choices and sense of direction. It has horrible comedic timing with it’s super-deformed and chibi based humor, which happens way too often to ever land a joke, and to make matters worse, they’re used during scenes that are supposed to be majorly dramatic. When Ed and Al are fighting over the former risking his life to save the latter, I don’t want to see a sight gag. IU want to care. I want to feel something. That’s tonally incompetent to a disgusting level. What’s even worse is when they’re actually trying to convey drama, and they do so with no subtlety, using over-the-top facial expressions, screams, and over-acted reactions that are more funny than sappy. I’ve found Tommy Wiseau’s deliveries more touching. There’s a moment after the failed human transmutation when Ed’s trying to get his brother back where he screams “Alphonse no!” And I couldn’t stop laughing over his face’s resemblance to Wakko Warner burping opera music. This kind of thing might have worked in the manga, but anime and manga are different mediums, which is something I don’t think the people behind this show really understood.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood was available from Funimation Entertainment on both DVD and Bluray, but unfortunately, all versions are currently out of print. You can still watch it for free on Netflix, but if you’re looking to own the physical copy, you’re gonna have a hard time finding one at a reasonable price. The same thing goes for the 2003 series as well as it’s movie. What you CAN find in print and for a reasonable price are the Brotherhood movie, Sacred Star of Milos, and a couple of okay OVA series. There are several video games across different platforms, and while I won‘t list them all, I personally recommend PS2’s Curse of the Crimson Elixir. The original manga is available stateside from Viz media.

As I said before, I really like this anime. It’s an entertaining show. It delivers hard on action, fantasy and spectacle, but that’s pretty much all it has going for it. Throughout it’s 60+ episode run, it never really shows any signs of the masterpiece everyone likes to call it, and I’m not gonna lie, those first thirteen episodes are seriously difficult to get through. It seems to follow an ideology of virtue and righteousness overcoming adversity, and while there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with that mentality… It is a positive moral, at the very least… It’s still pretty juvenile. In fact, that word pretty much sums up the series… Juvenile. It feels like it takes place in the world as Ed from the 2003 anime wished it was, where good and evil exist on opposite sides, and the whims of fate ultimately favors good people over bad. It’s not deep or complex, but neither are most of the titles in the Shonen Action genre, and those anime are successful for a reason… They’re easy to watch, they don’t ask you hard questions, and they play to your basest ideas of morality and justice. Sometimes, people need an anime like that, and this title delivers. I give Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood a 7/10.

Inspiration can be a fickle thing. The muses may guide our hearts towards a particular passion, but they don’t always stick around to see us through it. As a child, Kousei Arima felt a natural attraction to the piano. He could play music by ear, was a gifted mimic, and had boat loads of potential to one day dominate the instrument. With the help and encouragement of a family friend, Kousei’s mom set him on his desired path, but life as a pianist was harder than he thought. Rather than playing for fun and expressing himself through music, she wanted him to be able to make a living through his music, so she went as hard on her little pianist as possible, going as far as to beat and abuse him if he underperformed or tried to play a piece in his own way. By the time the terminal illness she’d hid from him took it’s toll on her, his passion was gone, replaced with the cold, robotic delivery of one who could deliver a piece perfectly, but found no more joy in doing so. He lost his mother, along with his ability to hear the notes he was playing.

Two years later and about three feet taller(I’ll GET to that), Kousei still tinkers around with the piano, but hasn’t played it seriously, to the chagrin of all who enjoyed his work, or just hate to see him so incomplete. It’s at this point, like all down-trodden men who’ve lost their luster for life, that along comes that one girl to bring color back into his world. Her name is Kaori Miyazono, and she’s a violinist who cares nothing for rules or convention, finding childish but somehow wise joy in every aspect of life, and with this one chance meeting, Kousei finds a new muse… A capricious, cheerful beauty whose revisionist musical performances instantly connect with the crowds she plays for, and whom seems singularly obsessed with performing alongside Kousei, and helping him to relaunch the career that he’d so recently abandoned. But her dedication to helping him to overcome his tragedy hides a secret tragedy of her own, and one simple lie she told back in April will live on to define their relationship as they change each others lives through mutual inspiration.

I haven’t seen everything that’s been produced by A-1 pictures, but I honestly can’t remember seeing anything they’ve done that looked outright bad. Sure, Sword Art Online and From the New world looked a little sloppy at times, resorting to broken character models to show fluid motion at reduced costs, but if that’s the worst they can do, then they could do a lot worse. They seem to take a lot of care with their work, putting an admirable amount of effort into quality control, like letting a low budget get the better of them would be an insult to their pride or something, and if that observation is correct, then I like the way they think. I’ve noticed that they generally have a penchant for putting a lot of energy into special effects, and then using just enough budget saving tricks to compensate without going overboard or letting it become noticeable. Key frames are well drawn and pleasing to the eye, and they feature a little more than just flapping mouths, with occasional shifts in posture to keep the characters expressive.

Of course, there don’t need to be special effects in a show about musicians, right? Wrong. Not only are special textures like water given special treatment, but we often get visual representations of the emotions brought out by a piece of music, which use environmental and 3D effects to keep our attention during the sequence, especially towards the end when Kousei and Kaori are playing together in a fantasy sequence, and the camera liberally revolves around a beautifully 3D animated piano. The characters also have a lot of inner monologuing that’s shown to us in artistic fashion, reminiscent of His and Hers Circumstances, but what I found the most impressive was the actual animation of the characters playing their instruments on stage. I can’t confirm this, but I have heard from a few people that A-1 pictures used a technique similar to rotoscoping, and I feel no justification for doubting this rumor, as every movement of the performing musicians, from fingers on the keys to the way the bow’s movements perfectly matches the music of the violin.

It would be so easy to get away with having a still image on screen while only the performers arms moved, and more intense note being played offscreen while only the audience’s frozen faces of adoration are showcased, but as I said, that would be an insult to A-1. Kousei, Kaori and several others put their entire bodies into their performances, losing themselves in it, and you feel every drop of their adrenaline. Character designs are beautifully polished and easy on the eyes, with it’s only major departure from reality being that the musician characters look a little more distinctive and exuberant than non-musicians, like Kousei’s friends. Well, okay, there is one other unrealistic detail that bothered me a bit… The difference in height between 14 year old characters and themselves at 12 is fucking insane. My jaw dropped when they said that Kousei quit the piano at 12, because he was so short that when he sat on the bench his feet didn’t even touch the ground. I could have sworn he was, like, 6 or something. It’s my only real issue with the visuals, but it’s still a pretty jarring one.

The music of the series… Do I even have to say it? It’s a series about musicians, and you can’t do something like that if you don’t have the knowledge or resources to pull it off, and they seriously pulled it off. Not only is it full of classical music, you can tell the difference in the way these pieces are being played, and the music that is meant to inspire and astound people does exactly that to the audience as well as the characters. From what I gather, Yuna Shinohara, a decorated Japanese violinist who was only 21 at the time, played the music for Kaori, and her wealth of training and experience did not go to waste. I can’t find as much information on Eriko Kawachi, who played all of the piano pieces, which is unfortunate. The show’s actual soundtrack was composed by Masaru Yokoyama, and while it isn’t as memorable or powerful as the character-based performances, it’s still solid and well-orchestrated, so it’s a shame it gets overlooked in favor of the insert tunes.

The English dub was produced by Aniplex, and features a lot of newer actors from this decade, alongside a few industry veterans. I’d like to say these newcomers step up and use this show as a platform to make a name for themselves, but I’d be stretching the truth a bit, mostly on account of the many loops that Your Lie’s text throws them for. Their performances were not consistent, which is a direct result of their material not being consistent, and I don’t really think it was fair for them to be thrown into something this eclectic. For the most part, they do a fine job voicing the characters while nothing’s really happening. It’s just characters talking to each other, sounding like natural teenagers going about their lives. Where they really shine is during dramatic scenes, and ho boy are there a lot of dramatic scenes in this anime. There’s a lot of pain, insecurities, confusion, all of that fun adolescent stuff, but with a much harsher but still believable edge to it once you realize the kind of real life circumstances that they’re dealing with.

While some of these issues may be worthy of an eyeroll from the viewer… Most of the characters who are in love with Kousei fall into this category… They’re going through issues that you probably had to deal with as well, and you can scoff at it from your seat as a grown up, or laugh at how silly it is for this obvious harem to try and be something more, they’re feeling something you’ve felt at some point, whether you remember it or not, and they damn well make you feel it. The exception, where several otherwise amazing actors begin to falter… Is with the gag humor, when the characters go SD Chibi for exaggerated reactions, and I don’t think they were ready to transition the specific roles they were playing into it. Max Mittelman, for example, is one of the best voice actors to come out of the 2010’s, and even though he hasn’t been acting long, his voice control and dramatic chops have landed him plenty of leading roles. He can do comedy under the right circumstances… You’d know what these circumstances are if you’ve seen One Punch Man… But he sounds horrible during the gag jokes.

It’s even worse for Erica Lindbeck, who had a tough job playing such a nuanced character as Kaori, whose happy-go-lucky persona hides a darker interior, and she does a great job of it, but the gag scenes just make her sound like a despicable asshole. Smaller characters face the same issue, albeit on a smaller scale, but the few veterans are able to navigate the minefield a lot more skillfully, like Wendee Lee(Who, in all fairness, never has to do a gag scene), Stephanie Sheh and Carrie Keranen. They have the experience to stretch their roles beyond the appropriate tones, which comes in handy here. The adaptive script is loose, but still accurate enough, and changes the vernacular so everyone sounds more like contemporary English, without ever sacrificing the intent of the text. They make a handful of charming and character-appropriate references, like occasional nods to Charlie Brown and The Phantom of the Opera, although they also use the phrase ‘as you know’ a few too many times. They probably should have changes some of the text, as a lot of it, when translated, sounds weird coming from 14 year olds.

Okay, so, here we are again. It wasn’t too long ago that I was calling out modern anime fans for letting their emotions cloud their judgement, saying that they often give perfect scores to any anime that makes them cry. Seriously, you could give a critic a massage, a home cooked meal and the best sex of their life and you’d still be working harder for a 10/10 than most anime do. Back in 2016, I’d just uploaded my reviews of Clannad and Clannad Afterstory, and I asked social media to recommend an anime that had genuine feels… nothing manipulative, nothing manufactured, nothing too formulaic, just an anime that would touch me emotionally and make me cry with sincerity. The overwhelming answer was Your Lie in April, a show I’d been avoiding due to all of the hype. I finally gave it a watch, and did it stand up as a heartfelt masterpiece, or did it offer the same old same old? Well, to be honest,it’s a little of both. My feelings on this show were mixed the first time around, and the second viewing hasn’t changed that.

Unfortunately, Your Lie doesn’t get off to a great start. The first thing we see is a foul ball hitting our man character in the head, lying on the floor and bleeding with what has to be a serious concussion, but not only does he heal immediately, but he shares the blame for the broken window the ball flew through. That’s not just bad, that’s disturbingly bad. It sets an early precedent for him being a sad sack with no will of his own, which I guess is kind of accurate, but it also makes his closest friend look like a monster for taking advantage of it(Trust me, this feeling is only gonna get worse.) I try to move past this, but almost immediately, it becomes apparent that all three of Kousei’s friends are some of my least favorite cliches in anime history. His two primary friends are Tsubaki and Watari, and they are… Respectively… A childhood friend who’s hopelessly in love with the main character, and a girl crazy guy who exists to make the main character feel desirable in comparison. I am so sick and tired of these two archetypes being stuck in orbit around at least half of the main characters in the medium.

And Kaori’s worse, because she’s a trope that I usually don’t see in anime, and I’m not complaining about that. She’s happy-go-lucky, she’s childish, she’s an enlightened soul who’s able to see all of the simple joy in life, and she comes out of nowhere to dedicate her life to dragging the main male character out of the slumps. She is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is to sexism what the Magical Negro trope is to racism. Granted, she deconstructs the trope a little bit, as she actually has a backstory and a reason to help Kousei, but she makes up for that small silver lining by taking the “Life begins at man” trope to a new extreme, as “Life begins AND ENDS at man.” I’ll give her this, she IS the reason I kept watching the series, as I was entranced by her violin performance in episode 2, and she made me want to keep watching so I could hear more of her work, which sounded even better when she played with Kousei. On top of that, she plays an important… Dare I say instrumental… Role in Your Lie’s deeper themes.

Your Lie in April is a story about inspiration, and it attacks this concept from every possible angle. As annoying and cliched as his friends may be, Kousei is a good character who has a great arc that deals with this theme. He begins as a child, having fun doing something that he’s gifted at, until he stops doing it for fun and starts doing it as a future career, being forced to perfect it and take it seriously by his mother, who pushes him to the point of abuse. She controls his life, making everything he does revolve around the piano, even taking away his cat and abandoning it somewhere so it can’t scratch his hands. He loses the ability to hear the notes he’s playing, and quits altogether to avoid his mother’s tyranny along with the intense pressure she put on him for not being good enough. On the surface, this is a very mature look at child abuse and the way it can have long term psychological effects on the developing mind, such as Kousei’s performance anxiety, and especially the fact that cats pose a trigger for him(And I mean the actual definition of trigger, not the bullshit internet definition), and the abuse in question is realistic, rather than cartoony or melodramatic.

Below the surface, this is a story for anyone who’s ever lost their passion for something they once loved. The idea that expressive and interpretive music is frowned upon, and only literal performances are acceptable in competition, which is enforced by both the competition committee and Kousei’s mother, gives an understandable reason for his loss of inspiration. His music was becoming routine, and pointless. I don’t think his inability to hear the notes he’s playing is realistic at all, but it’s symbolic for that loss of passion. When your work becomes routine, it becomes repetitive, and it finally becomes robotic. When your hobby becomes work, you fall out of love with it, which is why Kaori coming into his life was such a major turning point for him. She showed him that there was another way to play. She inspires him, breathing new life into his abilities, and helps him to separate his passion from the pain and sadness that he’d come to associate it with, and it changes his life in so many ways… He starts playing again, he comes out of his shell, and he even begins teaching a younger pianist… That he winds up inspiring her in return.

They also make an argument that you play even better when you’re playing for other people, and while I’ve never personally agreed with that, they make a compelling case. Your own music, your own performances, are not your only legacy. The music you inspire others with is just as important, as your work also lives on through their work. They make a great point when they say that it’s hard to play the piano when you compare yourself to Beethoven, but it’s not nearly as hard when you remember that Beethoven was once just like you, a rookie trying his best to measure up to the greats who inspired HIM. It’s a shame they had to resort to a manic pixie dream girl in order to pull this off, but it’s largely forgivable, especially considering certain reveals that happen in the final episode. So yeah, this is not a shallow series. There is meat to the story, and something meaningful that you can get out of watching it. I’d be happy to say that the series was also executed well, but sadly, this is where things start to break down.

The text of the series, for example, is severely lacking. The idea of inspiration and Kousei’s character arc are well written and exactly as subtle as it needs to be, but the other subplots… The romantic ones in particular… Are annoyingly obvious, and frankly, kind of arbitrary. I mentioned Tsubaki as a ‘childhood friend’ earlier, and while this should instantly telegraph that she’ll never get her guy… They never fucking do… She does absolutely nothing else to justify her presence. Everything about her revolves around her love for Kousei and why he won’t respond to it. Every aspect of her life ties in somehow to her love for him, and since it amounts to nothing, she could have been written out in the first half of the series. I won’t go into too much detail about the other romantic subplot, or how it offers Watari his only relevance to the plot(although he does have a few moments relating to the theme), but they commit one other huge mistake… They use constant, and I mean constant, voice over narration from the characters as they explain their feelings to the audience. It’s lame, it’s tedious, and it seems to be trying it’s best to keep YOU from thinking too hard about what you’re watching, because it doesn’t want the pointless teenage melodrama to lose it’s effect.

Another huge problem is the gag humor, which feels inappropriate and out of place. It makes the heavier themes of the show harder to swallow, and not just on an aesthetic level. For example: We see Kousei sustain head injuries during two of these gags, that result in him lying on the floor and bleeding out. We also see Kaori hit him right in the crown of the head with an axe kick, driving her heel down into his skull. Now, if these instances didn’t cause any lasting damage, and the people doing it are supposed to be seen as likable, how am I supposed to feel when his mother beats him in the head with her cane? I’ve seen him shrug off shit like that before, so I don’t care. Am I supposed to feel different because of the tone of the scenes? This isn’t the fucking Looney Toons. Hell, even the Looney Toons had consistency. I can’t be expected to believe that a portion of the material shown to me doesn’t count just because the writer was making a joke. That’s disgusting. I’ve complained about Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood making this mistake, but Your Lie is just as bad.

And then you have the plot, which did not work for me at all. Like, I said the themes were strong in this series, but they suffered one major setback. Kousei’s mother physically abused him and forced him to play music the way she wanted him to, all because she thought it was in his best interest. His friends, however, do exactly the same thing. Sure, they might not take away his beloved pet, but they still harass him, assault him, chase him, break into his room and generally act like complete assholes in order to get their way. He warns that his performance might not be good, he falters due to a psychological breakdown, Kaori has Tsubaki and Watari start roundhouse kicking him, and HE apologizes. How are they any different than his mother? Because it’s supposed to be comedic? I’m not exaggerating when I say that most of the interactions he has with his friends make me cringe, with their only justifications being ‘comedy,’ and the fact that they just happened to wind up being right. So the ends justify the means.

And then you have Kaori’s entire plot, which… Okay, I’m going to try not to go into spoilers, but if you’ve seen the show, you know damn well what I’m talking about. And this is the big one, the one that makes everybody praise the show out the wazoo, so I’ll try to be gentle. At the end of episode 4, Kaori faints on stage. At that moment, even though I was trying to enjoy the series despite it’s flaws, I couldn’t help it. I knew where this was going. I said, “Oh fuck, she’s gonna (censored), isn’t she?” I am dead serious about that. The beginning of the fifth episode featured her in the hospital, and folks, I predicted everything. I knew what was going to happen to her, i knew she was keeping it secret, I knew that it was going to be kept deliberately vague all the way to the end, I knew I’d never hear her play again(outside of maybe a dream or fantasy sequence), I knew what her backstory and connection to Kousei was going to be.

Knowing this stuff in advance took a huge damper off of the emotional impact of literally any point of the show. Granted, I did make one prediction that wasn’t true. I predicted we’d never meet her parents, which I wish had turned out true, because her parents are… Brace yourself for this… They’re Nagisa’s parents from Clannad. They are literally that. They own a pastry shop, they’re wacky and over-the-top, they live in said shop, and… Well, there’s one other spoiler connection, but that, along with a painful firefly sequence, made your Lie feel TERRIBLE at foreshadowing. I found myself, in both moments, shouting at my TV screen, “Okay, I get it, she’s gonna (censored), shut the fuck up about it!” So did the big bad tragedy work on me? No, of course it didn’t. The only part I got choked up at was a late scene when a cat died at a vet’s office, because it brought up painful memories for me. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something here, and it does make the experience a rewarding one, but it just couldn’t stick the landing.

Your Lie in April is available as a Rightstuf Exclusive, and I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the price is offensively high. Even on sale as part of the site’s holiday deals, it’ll still costed 130 dollars for each HALF of the series, down from 160 dollars regular price. Used copies on ebay go for as low as 60 dollars for each HALF, and I can not recommend you pay that much for an overrated series. You can watch it for free on Netflix, but if you absolutely need a physical copy, I’d actually go against my better judgement and recommend the Malaysian bootlegs on Ebay, which do come with a dub for a fraction of the official price. The manga is available from Kodansha comics, and volume 1 even comes with a sweet exclusive cover if you get it from Loot Crate. The live action movie is probably available stateside, but from what I’ve heard about it, I don’t care enough to check.

Your Lie in April isn’t a great anime, but it’s also not a terrible one. So, overall, is it good or bad? Well, to be honest, I didn’t enjoy the vast majority of it. I found the gag humor annoying and in bad taste, I found the comedic violence way too similar to some of the tragic material, there are too many cliches, and I caught on to some of the more important plot points way too early to fall for them. Having said that, I can’t say the experience was a bad one. The themes of Kousei’s character arc resonated very strongly with me, as someone who’s currently falling out of love with a long time hobby, and while I found his friends to be wholly unlikeable, his piano rivals were much more interesting, and I actually want to see more of him interacting with them. The final tragedy would have been a lot stronger if it hadn’t been so obvious, or if it at least had a proper explanation, and you can’t possibly deny that the audio and visual production went beyond top notch. It had a lot of problems, but honestly, it’s an okay show. It doesn’t live up to the hype, but it’s worth checking out. I’m being generous here, but I’ll give Your Lie in April a 6/10.

So, how was your holiday? How was your New Years? how was your 2017 in general? Well, mine wans’t any better, which is why I’m glad I’ve got a two week vacation from work coming up in less than two weeks.

If you saw my post from last week, you’ll know two things: I’ve been phoning in my content lately, and I have a brand new kitty stalking around the house. His name is Sgt. Pepper, he’s very lively(cat person talk for annoying) and I’ve done my best to spoil him rotten over the month and a half that I’ve had him.

Why am I talking about him? Because I’m hunched in front of my computer trying to type, and he’s literally draping himself over my shoulder like a scarf right now. Since his claws and teeth aren’t currently digging into me, I’m counting that as a win.

Anyway, the last review that I wrote, which you’ll be enjoying next weekend, was another highly recommended ‘tearjerker’ series, and to it’s credit, I did like it slightly better than Tokyo Magnitude 8.0. But as I sat through it, mystified over the fact that it drew out the sad, devastated tears of so many people, I figured it was way past time that I start telling people what anime gave ME the crippling ailment known as the feels.

The following are ten different anime, both movies and series, that actually made me cry. Technically, this is not my opinion, but pure fact… They made me cry, and in some cases, continue to do so on each viewing. I did, factually, literally cry. If you didn’t experience the same effect, it doesn’t make me better than you… It’s actually completely unrelated to the fact that I’m better than you!

To avoid spoilers, these entries will be brief. I’ll be including any kind of tears, with the exception of anime that made me cry from laughing too hard. That’s not technically a feel.

Let’s go!

10: Cat Soup

While I’m making no bones of the fact that you and I cry over different things, I’ll be the first to admit that this movie is a weird choice. I mean, hell, it’s a weird EVERYTHING. I called it a surrealist masterpiece in my review last spring, and I still hold to that, but thanks to other events that happened this year, it’s become something of a tearjerker for me on a strictly personal note. It’s about one cat traveling to the ends of the earth and defying God to bring another cat back to life, and in the week leading up to that post, I’d been forced to put my favorite pet of all time to sleep after we’d spent two thirds of his life and one third of mine together.

Yeah, remember Shadow, from last week’s post? There’s a good reason I dedicated my review of Cat Soup to him. It’s not a movie most people would get any sort of emotional reaction from… And understandably so… And yeah, this entry is an entirely, objectively personal one, but for me, it’ll always remind me of him.

Oddly enough, so will Kanye West’s Only One.

 

9: Lucky Star

I don’t have to find an entire show emotional in order to consider it a tearjerker. In some cases, it only has to be one particular moment that effects me in a way that the rest of the franchise doesn’t. Lucky Star has one of those moments towards the end of the series, and if you’ve seen the show, you know damn well what that moment was. It involved a special visitor to the Izumi house, and… Heheheh…

Having said all that, yes, I am perfectly aware that the moment I’m describing is not genuine. It exists in it’s own little bubble in the series(even moreso than most of it’s content), it doesn’t really connect to anything, it’s not set up, it doesn’t come back… But I think that’s part of what makes it so effective. It’s completely out of left field, and almost feels like you’re watching a different series. There’s not much else I can say about it, other than your tear ducts don’t stand a ghost of a chance.

 

8: Hell Girl

As I stated in my review back in 2016, this is a show about revenge. Almost every episode, we’re introduced to a villain and a victim, one who does horrible and unspeakable thing to the other, who in turn must suffer. This formula gives us endless opportunities to shed tears over tragic occurrences, as well as tears of joy whenever the aforementioned villains get their deserved comeuppance… Or so we think, until we get an episode where a stalker uses Ai Enma’s revenge services against a nurse that he’s obsessed with so he can send her to hell, kill himself and chace after her there.

Yeah, there’s something for everyone to get disturbed over in this show… The murder of newborn puppies, for example… God, I love how much you can say about this show without really spoiling it. People will be affected by it differently… I’ve been effected by it differently out of my numerous viewings of it… But the one episode that always makes me cry is the one where one of Ai’s former clients, an elderly man whose life is about to end, prepares to meet her for the second and final time. It’s not just a bittersweet time for him, and a huge emotional reveal for the audience, but it actually breaks through ai’s tough facade as well.

But like I said, you’ll find something in this show that’ll tug on your heartstrings. Just trust me.

 

7: Princess Tutu

Ya wanna know what sucks about running this blog? In order to keep up a weekly release schedule for the past four years, I’ve had to heavily restrict my time, and only view what’s necessary. Generally, i’ll watch an anime for a review, watch one or two other anime for fun, and then watch another anime for review, while binging one or two non-anime shows per year. As a side effect of this, I haven’t rewatched a single anime after reviewing it. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way. Look at the list of anime I’ve reviewed, on my Browse page… I haven’t watched any of those shows again since reviewing them. That alone makes me want to cry.

I’m remedying this problem right now, however, and there are two shows I need to rewatch before any others. One of them, that I’m rewatching right now, is Princess Tutu, the magical story about magical stories, and if there’s anyone out there who wants to call me less of a man for loving it and openly weeping through it… Yeah, okay, whatever. It deserves the love, and it deserves the tears. Princess Tutu is a show about characters in a story trying desperately to change their fates, and some of the most emotionally powerful moments in it come from them failing to do so, but succeeding in changing the context of their fates, making for surprisingly bittersweet resolutions.

I first saw this series over ten years ago, and as much as it effected me then, I’m watching it again as a 31 year old and even six episodes in, I’m already feeling choked up for scenes I never felt that way about before, making it officially one of the few anime that was already great, but just got better as I got older.

 

6: From the New World

Hey, remember how we were talking a little while ago about how people all seem to love a good death scene? You know how gut wrenching it is to fall in love with a character, only for them to suffer a tragic end at just the right time to leave us emotionally devastated? Well, try this on for size… How about if some extremely likeable supporting characters leave the show, characters whom you already feel sorry for, and you’re told that they’ve fled for parts unknown, and then it’s revealed a few episodes later(about five years, in the show’s time) that those characters were dead the whole time?

Ho. Ly. Shit. That is not how this is supposed to work. I’ll admit that I didn’t cry the first time I watched this show, but it pulled off it’s twists and turns so expertly and mercilessly that I found myself lying in my bed and staring at my ceiling for hours inbetween episodes. It wasn’t until my second viewing, where I knew where everything was heading, that the waterworks really started.

Right away with this series, I got an uncanny Rainbow Factory vibe, and points to anybody who gets THAT reference. It’s an anime that tells it’s story and makes it’s points better than at least 90 percent of the anime that I’ve seen, and it just so happens to shatter your heart into a million pieces in the process. I highly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already, but if you do, make sure you’ve got some comfort foods and a cuddly pet nearby to help you through it.

 

5: Toradora

Excuse me, Clannad, excuse me, I respect you, I’mma let you finish, but Toradora is one of the greatest romantic comedies of all time! Of all time! Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t actually have any respect for Clannad. Anyway, this is the second anime I’ve reviewed that I plan to rewatch, as soon as I’m done with Tutu. When I reviewed it, back in 2015, I remember saying that it isn’t just great, it’s glowing, and that’s an assessment I still hold to after almost two years of not seeing it.

Toradora is an extremely emotion-driven show, and it’s not to cover up any logic or plot issues like a show that’ll be appearing later on this list. It’s a series about two social misfits who have fallen in love with people that they acknowledge to be way out of their league, and after discovering each others’ unrequited crushes, they make a pact to help each other land their desired partners, who coincidentally happen to be each other’s best friends. I don’t think it’s really a spoiler to say that they’re actually destined for each other, but whether or not they’ll ever realize it is entirely up in the air.

Toradora is a series that pulls off quite a few impressive feats… In addition to deconstructing and subverting a number of romantic comedy anime cliches, it also captures the feeling of teenage romance… That is to say, how it’s awkward, full of fail, and nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing. There are a ton of individual moments in it that constantly leave me in tears, but the one that stands out among the others is a certain scene during the christmas arc… Yes, there’s an entire Christmas arc… Involving what my memory is telling me was a Santa bear costume, but hey, it’s been a few years. Here’s hoping I enjoy it as much next time as I did last time.

 

4: Kotoura-san

Also known in the states as The Troubled Life of Miss Kotoura, I am honestly dumb-founded by how many people have never seen or even heard of this title. It’s one of the best anime to come out of 2013, which was, let’s be honest, a really great year for anime. I love this series with all my heart, and yet it’s so obscure that Rightstuff was selling the bluray box set for only 22 dollars. Don’t get me wrong, I like buying things cheap, but it’s worth so much more than that.

Haruka Kotoura is a mind-reader. As a child, she thought hearing peoples’ thoughts was normal, as she really didn’t have any basis for comparison. She used her new powers to dominate rock paper scissors and blurt out peoples’ secrets to each other, with no idea that these thoughts were supposed to remain private. This not only alienates her classmates, but it even goes as far as to destroy her family and tear apart her parents, who wind up abandoning her. That’s not even the end of her suffering as a child, it caps off with another truly devastating loss… And that’s just the first ten minutes of the first episode.

The rest of the series takes a lighter tone, as she enters high school and transfers into another school… And if i’m being honest, the middle kinda drags… but the deep psychological scars and complexes continue to plague her character as she tries to reconcile her new happiness with the question of whether or not she deserves it, and the final episode delivers a few perfect pay-offs to everything that’d been set up so far. I love the characters in this show, and I couldn’t help but get invested in all of them, especially Haruka herself. Check it out if you get a chance.

 

3: Angel Beats!

Even if I weren’t so ready to admit that I’m a really strange person, you could probably figure it out just from a cursory glance at my work, let alone this particular post. I cry during the weird 30 minute ova where fish eat cat shit. I cry during the moe space olympics(just wait). My tastes are weird, but if there’s one conventional choice that I have to begrudgingly bow to, it’s Angel Beats. I reviewed it a few years ago, and then I spent an entire post-review-post talking about it’s plot holes, and it’s one of my tear jerkers.

For the most part, I cry at the same scenes you cry at. This is a story about teenagers getting a second chance at life to make up for their disappointing childhoods, so of course a lot of them are going to have tragic backstories, but whoever was writing these little vignettes was NOT fucking around. These backstories aren’t just dark, they’re Steven King dark, and not only do they perfectly inform their characters, but they take on new layers on repeat viewings. I’m pretty sure Otonashi accidentally killed his sister and then walked around in public with her fresh corpse on his back.

And yeah, just like you, I get destroyed by that long, drawn-out, cheesy-as-hell graduation scene. I even cried over characters I didn’t like. I don’t get hit as hard by Kanade’s confession to Otonashi as other people do, but that final credits scene where everyone disappears one by one? The post-credits scene at the end, that was probably stolen from the deleted scenes of The Butterfly Effect? I can talk for hours about how stupid this series is, but that’s when i’m not too busy looking around for a fresh tissue. Does it make any sense? God no. Does it have a consistent plot or premise? Fuck no. But like I said in my review, I just can’t stay mad at it.

 

2: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

In case you were wondering, yes, Angel Beats was a fluke. It’s pretty much the only normal choice on this list, and true to form, let’s talk about a vampire movie from the year 2000. The original movie holds a special place in my heart, but the sequel is about 1000 times better. I haven’t seen it in a while… Which is weird, since I haven’t reviewed it… But I distinctly recall it having a feature that I have never seen on any other anime DVD. On the DVD… At least, on the old DVDs, I actually don’t have the recent release… There’s a top ten list of the fan-voted best scenes of the film.

Now, yes, this does sound like a pretentious and entirely masturbatory move, like they’re patting themselves on the back for a job well done, but what can I say? That list actually captured all of the most memorable and resonant moments, especially with it’s pick of the epiloque as number one. The plot is basically that a vampire has run away with a teenage girl, and the titular D is hired to retrieve her. A mercenary faction is also hired, so things get complicated as they compete for the bounty… And then they get even more complicated when it’s revealed that the girl went along of her own free will, and they’re actually in love. No glamour or nothing.

There’s not a lot that I can say about this movie without giving away major spoilers… You really should just go watch it for yourself, it’s only about an hour long… And while some of my favorite scenes could have probably been cut out, like a horse seller putting his career on the line to defend D while dropping a HUGE bombshell about him, I still enjoy every single second of it. It has a ton of great characters that have a ton of great character, and hell, even the stone cold killer D gets some time to be vulnerable and show us that he has an empathetic side. And yes, of course, there’s that epilogue, which was perfect in just so many ways.

 

And now, for some honorable mentions.

Wolf’s Rain:  While I love and highly recommend this show, I’ve honestly never cried while watching it.

Fullmetal Alchemist:  There’s a funeral scene that gets me a little choked up, but not to any impressive degree.

The Ghibli/Miyazaki library:  I may have cried to a few of these, but I can’t remember, and I’m not going to marathon them just for the sake of this list.

Bunny Drop:  I didn’t cry through this, but I came close when I read how the manga ended.  I mean, good God.

Clannad, Air and Kanon:  You kidding me?

Steins;Gate:  You kidding me?

Another:  Fuck this show.

 

1: Battle Athletes Victory

What’s that? You say that I must have misspelled Your Lie in April? No, I most certainly did not. Just wait until next week if you want to see what my thoughts on that mediocre disappointment were. For the esteemed honor of the most tear-jerking anime that I’ve ever seen, we’re looking back at one of my favorite older anime, which I actually reviewed back in July. I went into great detail about why this series is so emotionally powerful, but to repeat what I said there, it’s a show about truth… Mostly, about different characters having to face hard, challenging truths about themselves and the world around them.

Battle Athletes Victory is a series whose feels just sneak up on you. It starts off really silly and over the top, and while it never actually stops being like that(trust me, you won’t want it to), this stupid show that started off with a bunch of teenage girls racing while rick-shawing giant steel wheels behind them pulls no punches as it examines the psychological issues of it’s cast, all of whom you become intimately familiar with over the course of the story, troubling racism aside. This is a sports anime, and there are stages where only a certain number of athletes can move forward, and very few characters are just inconsequentially written out when they lose or get eliminated.

You feel for all of them as they fall into despair, learn more about their identities, and then grow when the story gives them the chance to redeem themselves. The actual issues they go through can range from the simple, like the happy go lucky girl realizing she cared about winning more than she thought, to the main character who learns that she’s arrogantly using self-doubt as an excuse to sabotage herself. This show does Gunbuster better than Gunbuster. If you’re not in tears by episode five, you WILL be by episode seven, and that’s only the beginning. Every defeat every victory, every obstacle, every breakthrough will tear at your heartstrings in ways you never thought it could.

Now if only they’d release the damn show in a new format. There’s, like, eight DVDs of this, and they’re all wildly out of print. I’m not going to insist on Bluray, but at least a thinpack DVD set would be nice.

And that’s my list. If you didn’t see an anime that you particularly found just joyous or heartbreaking enough to draw your salty drops out, tell me about the shows I missed in the comments below.

Am I phoning in this post?  No, silly, I’m using a computer.

But yeah, it’s the last post of the year, last saturday of the holiday season, and I don’t really have anything else to put here, so I’ve decided to show off the feline familiars that I’ve had over the years, as well as my admittedly crummy photography.

The gray cat is Shadow.  I got him when he was six.  The Orange cat is Vinnie, who I got when he was 11.  They both died this year, at the age of sixteen.

The black cat is Sgt. Pepper, who is 2 years old, and I just adopted him last month.

Enjoy!

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“This world is corrupt! In order to prevent further degeneration, the natural order must be put to right. And yet! Should the human race be unified under one rule, the ignorant masses would doubtlessly experience untold trouble adjusting to the new status quo. Revolution, though necessary, should not happen all at once, for such a thing would overwhelm the very problem it was created to solve. Nay, like the proverbial toad in hot water, the world must be conquered gradually, so the ideals of the future can have time to settle in the minds of the people. Thus, rather than aiming to conquer the entire world, or even an entire country, an act that would most assuredly be met with violent opposition and unflattering propaganda, a more prudent first step towards overall domination would be a much more reasonable goal… The conquest of a single city! Yes, this far more modest approach will allow the population to acclimate to our presence, while also giving us some very lenient room for setback. Oh, and we also don’t have much of a budget, so kindly see yourself to a part time job or something.”

These are more-or-less the words that greet new recruits of the highly ideological organization Across! While the majority of this organization remains shrouded in mystery, but we can at least indulge in some insight into the situation of the F City F Prefectural branch, which may or may not be the only one in existence, and is overseen by the ambitious and campy Lord Ilpalazzo, a man who rarely ever leaves his lofty throne while giving orders to his minions, the dysfunctional duo of Excel, a hyperactive zealot, and Hyatt, a demure beauty who would sooner spit blood on you than say hi to you. With their forces combined, along with a pet dog ans emergency food supply named Menchi, these two constant failures are at the forefront of the battle for city conquest, when they’re not battling to pay the rent and put food on the table, all while living right next door to the opposition that’s trying to stop them. As the battle heats up between the forces of Across and a brigade of underpaid civil servants, whose side will you choose? Or rather, with all the wacky and nonsensical comedy going on, will you even bother to pick one?

I’ve probably talked about JC Staff the second most out of any other animation studios, right behind Studio Gainax, and I’ve made a habit of saying that it’s visual style is inconsistent. Well, inconsistent is the word of the day here, because I’ve seen them put out a bunch of different looking anime, but I’ve never seen anything else in their library that looked like Excel Saga. This is probably because they shared production duties with another Studio, namely Studio Shaft, and to call this an unholy union would be an understatement. Shaft has always been really weird visually, and when their sensibilities are combined with the animation of a company that can’t seem to stay consistent from scene to scene, let alone from episode to episode, Excel saga is probably the strangest looking anime that I’ve ever seen. And to put that into context, I posted a review over three years ago of the series that ripped this one off, Panty and Stocking. At least in that show, the visual changes were intentional and artistic.

The animation quality here is indescribable. That’s not to say it’s good beyond words, it’s to say that I literally can’t describe it. I honestly can’t even figure out what kind of budget it had, or how it managed said budget, because the level of quality goes up and down more often than your mom making the rent money. There are scenes that flow beautifully, with graceful animation and smooth movements, and then there are moments where movement becomes stilted and stiff, with long periods of talking heads periodically interrupted by bits of movement. There are two clip shows that obviously exist for budgetary purposes… Both of them even spend a lot of time recapping the same character arc! And then there are scenes where the action is happening so fast that you’d swear it was going at a million frames per second. I can only assume the budget was so high that the studio, also high, didn’t give a shit how it was used, and the clip episodes were done more so to make up for a lack of ideas than a lack of funds.

The characters whose images were bought to life in Koshi Rikdo’s original manga have been given a massive cartoony upgrade… Or downgrade, depending on the scene… And while they don’t look too unrealistic, for the most part, they still look like anime caricatures of real people. These designs are mostly reflective of the original manga, but with the aforementioned cartoony upgrade presenting them as more polished and malleable, making them ideal for the anime’s screwball comedic style. The backgrounds, on the other hand, are much more stable and consistent, and they’ve been endowed with way more detail than they actually needed, as the director makes use of very short cuts. The lighting can at times remind you of an actual stage play, as even an episode taking place in a sewer can be more than bright and open enough for you to enjoy the action, without ruining the illusion of a claustrophobic environment. The set pieces are also incredibly diverse, as the characters venture out into an untold number of unpredictable locations, and they clearly had a lot of fun bringing them all to life.
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The music is just as bizarre as the visuals, but personally, I like it a lot better. I own a couple of CDs from this show’s soundtrack, and back when I had a car that had a CD player, I would often steal tracks from both of them if I felt like making an Instrumental mix. The music was produced by Victor Entertainment, and they get a much higher billing in the series than most music producers ever do. They totally deserve it, too, putting out a soundtrack full of instrumental and synthetic sound, which work both as standalone tunes and occasionally as parodies of the musical convention of other shows. A good example would be the bland, repetitive track it attached to a literal dating game, which was somehow able to sound good while still capturing the cringe of the harem genre. They forego the synthetic tunes completely in a later episode focusing on a rock star character, and it winds up sounding legitimately badass. I’d keep going, naming off good tracks and why I like them, but it’s probably better to just say that it’s a really diverse, really weird soundtrack.

The opening, Love/Loyalty, is also one of my favorites. The song itself sounds like something from Michael Jackson, which isn’t surprising if you’ve seen some of the director’s other works. It’s sung by The Excel Girls, a fictitious band made up of two idol singers pretending to be members of Across(They appear as characters in the series, too), and they seem to have a lot of chemistry together. The video is basically what you’d expect from an anime… The main characters being shown in different situations, with the rest of the cast getting highlighted in brief shots, only it’s done with that special brand of Excel Saga insanity. It’s skippable, but the ending theme isn’t. They being the dog character Menchi on screen to sing about how she’s resigned herself to being eaten(In barks, while a woman translates), which is amazing in it’s own right, but then you have the dub, where they stuck a lot of jokes in the credits, some of them actually being funny.

If you’ve forgotten the list I posted a few years ago of my top ten favorite English dubs, then let me get you up to speed: Excel Saga has one of the best dubs ever. Period. It was one of ADV’s attempts to translate Japanese comedy for American audiences while still retaining the spirit of the original, and since Stephen Foster wasn’t involved at any point, they pulled it off beautifully. Every performance is either good in all the right ways or bad in all the right ways, with very little room for error… For the most part. It was, I believe, almost perfect, and if you know the series well, you pretty much know what I’m referring to. Jessica Calvello, who disappeared from the business for nearly a decade before recently making a triumphant career resurgence, plays the title character of Excel, and I’m going to stake my reputation on the claim that it’s the single best performance in anime dubbing history. Her role was an extremely demanding one, but she still owned it, and I’d even argue that she did a better job than the original seiyuu.

Due to the translation differences between the two languages, the English dialogue would often be a lot longer than the source, and instead of making changes to shorten it, Calvello just ran with it, talking way faster than her Japanese counterpart without ever diminishing the quality of her performance. Even during her most rapid speeches, you could feel how devoted she was to Ilpalazzo, how enthusiastically zealous she was for Across’s cause, and how little she cared for anything else. She could portray pain and suffering even better than Brittany Karbowski can, and get this, she even spoke with a perfect Kansai accent… well, as perfect as the English language can convey. She plays it like she’s tried to get rid of it, but it’s still kinda there, and it only comes out full force when she’s shocked or emotionally overwhelmed. The amount of control she had over her voice was insane, and,well, it took it’s toll.

You’ve probably heard about this, as it’s kind of a famous story in the industry, but Jessica Calvello put so much raw energy into this role, pushing herself so far beyond the limit, that she wound up injuring her throat, and had to be replaced by Larissa Wolcott halfway through the series, and it’s a noticeable step down. Larissa didn’t do a bad job, or anything… To be fair, she did an admirable job matching the pace of Calvello’s performance, and anybody who can motormouth like that deserves recognition for it… But she just didn’t have the acting chops to measure up. It felt wrong. It was kinda like when Dan Castelanetta played the Genie… Yeah, he did a fine job, but he’s no Robin Williams. On a side note, Calvello also had a knack for Adlibbing that helped to Americanize the humor in some neat ways, which is probably why some of Excel’s dialogue gets stranger after the switch. Thankfully, there were a bunch of other really good performances that we didn’t have to lose.

In addition to a handful of heavyweight voice acting veterans proving their ranges by playing an unbelievable number of characters… Like John Swasey, Spike Spencer, Tiffany Grant and then-newcomer Kira Vincent Davis… They even got great performances out of two of my least favorite voice actors, Mandy Clark and Mark Laskowski. Clark did an amazing job on the tragic pint-sized assassin Cossette Sara, and Laskowski’s knack for sounding stiff and hammy at the same time was a perfect fit for the goofball Iwata. It’s a lot of fun hearing Chris Patton play a rock star, as he actually got to sing the translated songs, and he fucking nails each one. It’s a shame he wasn’t in Beck. Rob Mungle uses an over-the-top latino accent to play the immigrant Pedro, and while I was never a huge fan of that character/story arc, his commitment to the character was impressive. Brett Weaver was also impossible to ignore as Nabeshin, the parodic avatar of director Shinichi Watanabe, playing him as a kind of white Richard Roundtree(his words, not mine).

Rounding out the main cast, this anime was my introduction to Monica Rial, whose portrayal of Hyatt is probably one of the best in her repertoire. Taking a step up from her Seiyuu counterpart, she incorporates the character’s anemia and weak constitution directly into her speech, as she perpetually sounds like she’s on the verge of fainting. She also has no problem at all with all of Hyatt’s… Well, let’s just say her ‘bodily malfunctions.’ Jason Douglas takes the flat-voiced, one note character of Ilpalazzo and seems to channel Maximilian Pegasus to create a more foppish, melodramatic shine that the character was so sorely missing. They really didn’t have any need to redub the character of Menchi, as she’s a freaking dog whose only lines consist of dog noises, and they could have easily just kept the Japanese performance like Pokemon did with Pikachu, but they cast Hilary Haag anyway, and her dog noises are almost as funny as Luci Christian’s duck noises. Even if you’re a hardcore sub fan, this is one exception I highly recommend you make.

If the name Shinichi Watanabe means nothing to you, it means you’ve never seen one of his anime. If you had, trust me, you’d know it. Watanabe, or “Nabeshin,” as he’s also known, is something of an auteur, as his work generally has a distinct style and personality to it that’s directly reflective of his influence on it. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, as any follower of Akiyuki Shinbou or Hayao Miyazaki will tell you, and for Nabeshin, it’s kind of both. He often gets praised for his work in the genre of anime comedy, as well as for his flare for satire and genre parody, and the results have been… Well, mixed. His work tends to consist of lightning fast pacing, rapidfire jokes, and constant references to other anime, and that’s pretty much Excel Saga in a nutshell. Granted, he’s worked as episodic and storyboarding director for a lot of other peoples’ projects, but he’s taken on very few himself, so it’s easier with him than it is with most directors to examine what it is that he’s all about.

His work, particularly in reference to Excel Saga, has garnered a reputation for being insane and random, and it’s here that I feel I have to disagree. The Excel Saga anime is not the work of a madman, or an unhinged mind. The writing on this show is in fact very calculated. With examples of genuine insanity and randomness out there, like FLCL and Rejected, Excel Saga skews closer to one of those focus-group facades of insanity and randomness, like (and I am so sorry, but you know it’s true) Invader Zim, but with an extra bit of conceit and arrogance hiding behind it. Nabeshin took the premise and characters of the manga, saw how offbeat it all was, and used it as an excuse to just not give a fuck. Yes, Excel Saga is one giant bag of fucks not being given, and by God does it show. It’s so easy just to write whatever you want, make fun of what’s popular, and do constant pop culture references… That’s why Family Guy does it. Excel Saga is, at it’s core, the true anime version of Family Guy. Moreso than Lucky Star will ever be.

And for those of you getting annoyed at me for interpreting the intentions of a creator that I’ve never met before, I’m not just talking out of my ass on this. I know that the anime wasn’t a product of actual insanity or inspiration, because I know what those things look like in a narrative… I have, after all, read the original manga. The Excel Saga manga, created by Koshi Rikdo in the 90’s, is an example of what true insanity looks like… It’s not unhinged and disconnected ramblings of randomness, it’s a genuinely batshit narrative that reads like it made perfect sense to the person writing it. Yeah, it looks bonkers from the outside looking in, but it still gives off a sense of consistence and intention. It was a grand, sweeping epic with foreshadowing, themes, depth, smart callbacks and meticulous attention to detail. It’s like if Lord of the Rings were written by a mental patient. I don’t know how Rikdo actually feels about Nabeshin getting all the popular credit for his work, I mean he DID take a couple of ideas from the anime long after the fact, but I still don’t picture him looking upon it fondly.

One of the biggest downsides to this is in terms of characterizations. Nabeshin didn’t just bastardize the original concept, he also turned almost the entire cast into one-note jokes and shallow gimmicks. There’s almost no character development in the entire series, outside of a few plot-specific changes and a few early actions taken from the manga. Aside from these, their actions are largely interchangeable. There’s not a whole lot I can say about that, as I don’t really want to give away too many spoilers about either entity(especially the manga), but there is one character I might be able to offer up… The fourth Civil Servant and later Municipal Force member, Misaki Matsuya. She starts out in the manga as a bit of a tsundere, spurning the annoying advances of Iwata, and in the anime, that’s basically where she stays… A violent and ultra-capable stick in the mud with stilted speech patterns and a no-nonsense demeanor. She even legitimately tries to kill Iwata in one episode, but can’t because her gun misfires.

In the manga, however, she gets a lot more development, and feels a lot more like an actual person. She becomes friends with her teammates, and shows at least enough compassion towards Iwata to care whether he lives or dies. Did you know she’s a hardcore gamer in her free time, and that she wanders over to her coworkers apartments to hang out if she’s feeling goofy from losing sleep to a gaming session? Did you know she forms a bond with computer geek Sumiyoshi by helping him to test out his elaborate computer set-ups? Did you know that when their boss Kabapu’s plans get out of hand, she actually attempts to leave the country to avoid getting dragged into them? No, you don’t know any of that, because Nabeshin did jack shit with her character. And she’s not a special case, either. Every single character in this series has expansive development that far outshines anything they did in the anime, and yes, I mean literally every character, from the pedophile scientist to the ill-fated dog Menchi. If I told you what was supposed to happen to Iwata down the road, you’d seriously think I was fucking with you.

And I know it’s tacky to judge an anime by comparing it to the original manga, but I’m not doing this to condemn it for being inaccurate, but as a device to show you just how lazy it is. Yes, that’s right, the Excel Saga anime isn’t crazy, it’s lazy. It takes what it needs to from the manga, and then just puts no effort into anything that it did with it. Don’t get me wrong, the music and animation clearly had a lot of love put into them, but in terms of writing and story-telling, and especially with the comedy, Nabeshin just did the easiest things he could at every turn. Breaking the fourth wall is easy. Random gag humor is easy. Parody, or at least Nabeshin’s brand of it, is easy. Justifying your show’s problems by having characters complain about them, and having meta characters talk about the production, is taking the easy way out. Having your Lupin-inspired stand-in complain about the lack of story and plot doesn’t create a story or plot. You can only wring so much of an excuse out of calling your show “Experimental” before people start to wonder what substance you’re actually experimenting with.

And I can’t just shut up and turn off my brain, and enjoy it as a goofy comedy, because about 90% of the time, I just don’t find it funny. I’ve heard people refer to it as satire… Are you kidding me? Satire has a point. Satire has logic. Satire has intentions. There is no satire in this show. The closest it gets to satire is picking a vague genre, blatantly calling out what’s wrong with it, exaggerating a few cliches and then just adding some weird shit like monkeys to the mix. The very idea of an existing internal logic is completely absent. If there’s any satire in it, and if any of the comedy in it is smart in some way, then it’s buried under culturally impenetrable Japanese references. There’s a rule in comedy that if you’re going to do a reference joke, it has to work as both a reference and a joke, so that people who don’t get the reference can still enjoy the joke. I first saw this series almost fifteen years ago, and I still don’t think I’ve seen a quarter of the anime I’d have to in order to fully enjoy the experience.

Excel Saga was originally available from ADV Films, but after they went under, this property was one of the many they wound up selling off. It’s currently available from Funimation, and while the form they’ve released it in isn’t as visually impressive as its’ previous forms, it is more affordable and easier to obtain. The original manga by Koshi Rikdo is available stateside from Viz, and while a couple of volumes were impossible to find a few years back, it’s all readily available nowadays for some decent prices. An extra episode called Going too Far serves kind oif as the true ending of the series, and it can be found on most DVD sets. A spin-off series called Puni Puni Poemy is also available, and it actually IS genuinely insane.

I feel like the reason Excel Saga is looked upon so fondly is because people generally haven’t read much of the manga. This is also probably why Nabeshin’s adaptation of Hayate the Combat Butler wasn’t as well received, because people actually cared about that manga. As for me, I’m not gonna lie and pretend that it’s a good show, but I do I have a soft spot for it. It’s mostly because of the dub, but it’s also because it was one of my formative anime. When I decided to venture beyond what was available on TV, this was one of the manga that my local library introduced me to, along with Love Hina, Chobits, and Azumanga Daioh. I can’t out and out hate it, but I do consider it to be something of a guilty pleasure, like how I occasionally might get bored, fire up Netflix and watch a Family Guy episode. It’s crap, but once in a while, crap is comforting. There’s some good here, but it’s all taken from the manga, and NOT a product of mad genius from the talentless hack who directed it. I give Excel Saga a 4/10.

When it comes to entitlement and birthright, Miho Nishizumi has a lot to be tankful for. Sorry, but I promised I’d make that joke at least once in this review, so at least it’s past us now. She hails from a family of highly trained, highly disciplined practitioners of one of their world’s most popular and prestigious forms of martial arts… Tankery. Yes, in this world, the most globally popular sport isn’t soccer, it’s full blown tank battles, and while it’s full extent is unknown, we do know that there’s a high school division that’s taught as a class, the students of which go to war with other schools in a yearly tournament. There are many nations taking part, and many different styles to contend with, but the Nishizumi family is at the top of the game. With the elegance of Wushu and the power of Krav Maga, the Nishizumi style of Tankery specializes in cold hearted dominance, seizing victory at the cost of all else, and with more than 18 tanks at their disposal, they had the force to overwhelm any opponent, even at the acceptable cost of several of their own units.

However, there is a black sheep in every flock, and the youngest daughter of the Nishizumi family… The comparatively gentle Miho… Doesn’t quite agree with the all-or-nothing approach that her family has long treasured. One day, during an important tournament battle, she abandoned her own tank to save the lives of several of her teammates whose tank had fallen into a deep river. Unfortunately, she’d been driving the flag tank, so when the parked vehicle was shot by enemy fire, her school wound up losing the tournament. Disgraced for her heroism, Miho was spurned by her family, which she repudiated in return. In order to get away from Tankery forever, she transferred to a school that didn’t have that class on it’s curriculum. Little did she know that on her first day at this new school, Tankery class would be brought back, and the student council would all but blackmail her into signing up for it. With the very life she’d been running from having caught up with her, will Miho become the leader her family never saw in her, or will history repeat itself?

Have I ever spoken about Actas before? Have I ever even heard of it before? I don’t think I have, which is understandable, because while they’ve done a ton of minor work on other studios’ projects, they really haven’t done that much on their own. From what I can tell, aside from Girls Und Panzer, the only major work they’ve done was the currently running Princess Principal, on which they shared duties with Studio 3hZ. They did Moetan and a few of what I understand are the less popular Transformers titles, but nothing else of any serious note, which is a shame, because I really like what they did with Panzer. I’ve never really had a problem with moe designs… Or ‘moe blobs,’ as they’re also sometimes called… But it’s kind of toned down here, taking a more grounded and natural approach to the big-eyed, chin-deprived features that are more closely associated with the trend. The moe design aesthetic works surprisingly well with the eponymous tank action, even if the animation doesn’t blend as smoothly as I’d like.

See, Girls Und Panzer uses a mix of traditional two-dimensional and more modern three-dimensional animation, and both work really well, at least for the most part. The slice of life aspects of the series, AKA the girls when they’re not operating heavy machinery, are done using 2D animation, and while I wouldn’t say any of it’s bad, it does feel wildly inconsistent. A great deal of it uses limited movement and smart budget saving tricks, such as selective framing and frozen talking heads, but it wouldn’t be to a distracting or noticeable degree if it wasn’t for certain other scenes that are so over-animated that they feel almost like they were done using rotoscope. The tanks in the series are almost always shown in CG, and while their movements don’t always look convincing or well integrated, they both look and move like real tanks, and the level of detail used on them is stunning. Unfortunately, while both sides of the animation are more or less adequate, they can look a bit cringey when both are moving at the same time.

You get a dose of this right in the first scene of the first episode, where we begin with a POV shot from inside one of the tanks, and we catch several glimpses of moe girls sticking their heads and whole bodies out of their respective tanks, and Good Lord does it look like an awkward combination. They just don’t move the same, and it doesn’t always look… Right. This gets better throughout the series, especially after they figure out that it looks much better to focus the camera on the girls while keeping the camera steady, negating any excess movement from the tanks so that they don’t have to move the girls with them, so it’s easy enough to get over. The character designs tend to get weirder as the cast expands, seeing how the main cast is geared towards normalcy with hairstyles that inform their personalities… The lazy girl has long thick hair, the delicate girl has lighter and fluffier black hair, the love-sick girl has hair that’s long, pampered orange locks, etc… But characters occupying the side tanks feature teams of military buffs, younger girls, girls who all look like clones of each other, so at least you can’t say they got lazy or uncreative with their moe blobs.

The soundtrack, by Shiro Hamaguchi, is mostly set to the style of military march music, and if you want a quick comparison, there’s a track called Panzer Vor that, early on, sounds eerily similar to the theme song from Disney’s Recess. There’s a lot of rolling drums at the base of the music, and it’s overlayed by a handful of different wind instruments, your standard marching band fare. There are a few exceptions, such as in regards to foreign characters, like the British tune The British Grenadiers, which acts as a reverse of a lot of the more standard tunes, as it starts with the flute and then adds in the drums. There was initially a beautifully rendered version of an old Russian folk song on the soundtrack, but because Crunchyroll couldn’t get the rights to it, they had to replace it with something else Russian sounding from the public domain bin. They went, of course, with the Pac Man theme, which didn’t even come close. Another noteworthy track is the cast being forced to sing the Goosefish song, but it’s nothing without it’s insane dance visuals. Honestly though, the most noteworthy music that the dub was able to retain is the opening theme Dreamriser, from the band Chouco, which is absolutely delightful.

The English dub is unfortunately on the disappointing side, as Sentai Filmworks apparently decided that instead of trying to match the moefied voice of the characters… A feat that, like an accurate kansai dialect, is distinctly possible to pull off but still highly difficult… They would instead use more normal, natural sounding American teenage girl voices, most of which hit a lower register than you’d expect from a glance at the characters, and it doesn’t work as well as you’d hope. To be fair, it does start to sound a lot better after a few episodes, especially as Meg McDonald, one of Sentai’s most recent hires at the time, manages to find a connection to her character that may have something to do with the character herself growing in confidence and comfort with each passing episode. Actually, a lot of the cast of this dub are unknown names and recent(at the time) hires, including Rebekah Stevens growing into her role of the excitable tank nerd Yukari and Molly Searcy… Well, honestly being a bit miscast as the sleepy and quiet Mako, as you can just tell she’s struggling to give the character personality despite the restrictions of a lower register.

Caitlynn French was also hired around 2012-2013, but it’s arguable that she’s come a lot farther than her contemporaries since then, with plenty of notable star performances under her belt already, and even though she’s not playing the main character here, she plays around with the role of Hana, a girl trying to transition from the gentle delicacy of flower arrangement to the raw power of firing a tank cannon and finds a lot of character in this dynamic. There are a bunch of veteran actors in the cast, with recognizable voices like Monica Rial and Luci Christian popping up in the rest of the main tank class, and some incredibly talented names like Hilary Haag and Brittany Karbowski getting meatier parts as villains, but the most surprising for me was the boy-crazy Saori, and after stumping me for most of the first episode as I tried to place where I’ve heard her before, it hit me like a ton of bricks that she was played by voice acting veteran Jessica Calvello, who I honestly hadn’t heard in anything since 2003.

I mean, okay, she had like 6 or 7 jobs between 2004 and 2013, but none of them were really high profile, and now, she’s getting lead roles left and right, and deservedly so, with fan favorite performances in Attack on Titan and Maria Holic, to name a few. I’ve mentioned in other reviews how excited I was to see her coming back in a major way to the dubbing industry, and her performance in this is probably it’s biggest saving grace. The first episode does sound a little awkward all around, but she’s the only main actor whom I can confidently say was putting forth maximum effort since the beginning. That’s not to say she makes the dub sound good, however, because the deepened voices coming out of characters that are slightly grounded but still over-the-top in design is a hard thing to get used to. Hell, the perfect example of this dub’s problems is the student council president, a short girl with tsundere pigtails whose voice is way too deep for her stature. It’s kinda worth checking out at least once to see what Sentai’s newest hires of this decade are capable of, and to celebrate Calvello’s triumphant return to action, but the sub is way better.

Girls Und Panzer is what I like to call a Gimmick Anime. It’s not deep, it’s not high concept, it’s not a rip-off of anything more successful, it’s not following popular trends… It’s the kind of show(Well, manga, in this case) where the creator was able to come up with one weird, original concept and build a story, world and cast of characters around it. This may sound like a new concept for some of you, but if you think back, there have been plenty of Gimmick anime that have become successful over the years. High School of the Dead and Tiger and Bunny lit up the market back in their day, and over ten years later, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is still finding new ways to expand the universe it built off of it’s gimmick. All you really need to do is take your original idea, set it into a tried and true formula, populate it with archetypal or even subversive characters, and then find ways to market it, so that people get hooked on the new idea while being drawn in by the same old surroundings that the gimmick manages to cover up.

If that sounds cynical of me, well, that’s because more often than not, Gimmick anime don’t always work, and there are a myriad of problems they can go through. For example, the gimmick can get stale, exposing the characters as running jokes who can no longer support it, which is what happened to Dagashi Kashi, at least in my opinion. You can focus on the gimmick to the point that the series loses it’s sense of direction, which is probably how Bento wound up going off the rails with two unwatchable and thankfully skippable episodes. You can focus way too hard on marketing, which led to Strike Witches going overboard on fanservice to an unforgivable degree, or you can try to make your gimmick show more than the sum of it’s parts and fail miserably, winding up looking stupid and pretentious as a result, like Sasami-san@Ganbaranai. If your main character IS the gimmick, you run the risk of sacrificing plot, story and the rest of the cast as props to support the exploits of said character, like Squidgirl did. Or you could be like C3, and pick a gimmick that feels way too disturbingly similar to real life tragedies.

Okay, to be fair, Girls Und Panzer almost falls to that last issue, with tanks fortunately being a lot more removed from reality than lifelike toy guns and thus not nearly as uncomfortable to think about, but aside from that, it really doesn’t have any of those other problems. It fused it’s gimmick with one of the most enjoyable story structures you can pick, the ‘underdogs proving themselves in a tournament’ structure template, and in doing so, it was able to keep the story simple, hold to a consistent direction, keep it’s gimmick fresh with the increasing difficulty of each battle and the challenges both during and inbetween, and it had so much realism in the movement of the tanks and the tactical usage of terrain and strategy that they were able to get away with some otherwise ludicrous logic fallacies… Which, to be fair, was more for the sake of keeping the show from crossing the threshold from tank violence to actual human casualties. Yeah, I’ll believe a human sticking out of a tank is too small a target to hit, because a moe show like this one REALLY doesn’t need to get that dark.

Of course, being a tournament style show that only has 12 episodes, it did wind up facing one other potential problem. Using Yuri on Ice as a begrudging example… Seriously, I really wanted to like that show more than I did… It’s entirely possible for a large cast to feel underdeveloped in a story that seems to be focused more on performance performance performance, with interchangeable stock characters just kind of existing for the sake of existing, and it’s just as possible for a show like that one to carry low or even no stakes. Again, though, this is a problem that Girls Und Panzer manages to avoid. The characterization is a bit light, with no individual characters having arcs outside of the tank battles, and the few that do exist being resolved for better or worse by a simple win/loss, and honestly, none of the characters… Not even in the main five… Are particularly memorable as individuals. Even the villains, who are a lot more fun to watch, are little more than stereotypes.

Up until my second time through the series, this was my one major problem with it, but now that I’ve seen it again, the characters are developed… Enough. The main cast may not be made of definitive characters, but you know enough about them to like them and to know why they’re in the game, and what they’re getting out of it. They don’t go above and beyond, but it’s acceptable. They even change by the end, albeit in smaller and more subtle ways than some viewers will be used to. The supporting cast is largely interchangeable, but with the exception of some cosplayers towards the end, none of them feel wasted or unimportant. They even wind up getting small arcs to themselves, like when the bumbling underclassmen wind up scoring major achievements in the last fight. Besides, when you really get down to it, this isn’t a character based story… It’s mostly plot driven, and while it’s not going to break any barriers, a team of underdogs surrounded by less important but still kind of interesting stock characters while battling foreign stereotypes that still manage to pull out redeeming qualities whenever needed is a scenario that’s more than enough to support a tournament show.

In other words, Girls Und Panzer’s biggest accomplishment is in execution. The parts for the most part don’t feel like anything special or revolutionary, but when it all comes together, you wind up with an intense, energetic sports anime that’s able to use likeable characters and smart writing to create a series of truly heart-pounding fights, full of devastating twists and sudden, unexpected challenges that you can’t help but cheer every after every single one that they overcome. I will admit that I had a lot of problems with the first episode, and I found it really despicable that the student council would use such cruel and extreme tactics to force Miho to take tankery, but even that becomes forgivable about halfway through the series when you realize that there isn’t just the joy of success and the developing bond of the tankery class on the line, oh no, there are actual stakes at play here, and the more you grow to love and identify with these characters, the more you’ll want them to overcome all odds and win it all. Not bad for a show that needed two inbetween ova episodes to help us keep up with all of it’s characters.

Girls Und Panzer is available from Sentai filmworks. The inbetween episodes I just mentioned are all available on the home release. A six episode OVA series is also available from the same company, along with another OVA and the first of seven feature films, although I’ve seen none of these, so I can’t speak as to their quality. Two different manga series, Girls Und Panzer and Girls Und Panzer Little Army, are available stateside from publisher Seven Seas. There are actually a ton of different manga titles (and one game) that aren’t available stateside, along with one light novel, but I’m sure we’ll get them eventually.

Girls Und Panzer is by no means a masterpiece, but it still had every excuse in the book to not be as great as it is. Not only was it saddled with a production team that hasn’t done anything else of note until this year, it was also limited to 12 episodes and almost as many named characters as Fullmetal Alchemist had, and despite these problems, the final product is nothing short of amazing. It has some flaws, but aside from the easily excusable logic and safety issues, the only problems that hold me back from giving it a perfect score are the occasionally shakey animation and the handful of character arcs that get resolved way too easily at the end. None of these problems keep the series from being a blast from start to finish, nor do they manage to derail that overall feeling that the people working on it fully enjoyed what they were doing and believed in it with complete sincerity. I know a world where recreational tank battles have achieved world-wide popularity is a hard concept to imagine, but this series makes me believe in it one hundred freaking percent. It’s exciting, it’s smart, it’s suspenseful, and it’s honestly one of those rare titles that I’d recommend to just about anyone. I give Girls Und Panzer a 9/10.  

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