A review of Made in Abyss (S1)

That anime roulette concept already bore fruit again, didn’t it? Just like Yuru Camp, Made in Abyss pulled me right in — an especially apt metaphor this time too. I’ve already finished the first season and am close to catching up to the now-airing second.

Unlike Yuru Camp, however, Made in Abyss was not always an easy show to watch. That’s actually a compliment, even if it doesn’t sound like one — it’s just to say that despite appearances, this is absolutely not anime for kids or for the especially faint-hearted. (I wonder how many parents made the mistake of looking at these cutesy looking characters going on a grand adventure and sticking their small children in front of it for hours… there’s some trauma for you.)

Maybe nobody actually needs this notice, since Made in Abyss is extremely well known. This 13-episode first season aired in 2017, an adaptation of a popular action/adventure manga. It’s since gotten a lot of acclaim from audiences and maybe even from whatever professional critics pay attention to anime outside of Ghibli movies, and presumably also from those weirdo obsessives in the middle like me who write about these subjects out of pure love.

Before getting into the story and characters and all that, I may as well just say right now that I think Made in Abyss deserves all that acclaim. Though it hasn’t gone without some criticism and controversy as well, which I’ll address too as usual.

The story opens with two children, Riko and one of her friends, Nat, exploring a wilderness up against a steep cliff face. A massive fish-dragon thing knocks out Nat and corners Riko, but before it can eat her, a laser beam blasts it seemingly from nowhere and annihilates it. Riko tracks down the source of the beam: a passed-out boy with robotic limbs and a Mega Man-style cannon inserted into an orb in one of his hands.

Riko and Nat drag this robot boy back to their home at an orphanage in Orth, a city surrounding the terrifying and mysterious Abyss. Riko and her friends, being explorers in training, are duty-bound to turn in all unusual findings or “relics” from the Abyss, which this robot certainly counts as, but Riko isn’t type to follow rules. She instead keeps her robot boy in her room and attempts to revive him by recharging him with electricity.

After getting a nasty shock, the robot wakes up and wonders aloud about who the hell all these kids are, where he is, and moreover who he is, because his memory is entirely gone. Before Riko and co. have a chance to explain the situation, however, their teacher/advisor shows up to find out why the orphanage’s power just blew the hell out — apparently Riko is the main suspect when such things happen thanks to the shit she’s tried before. Robot boy does some quick thinking, using a pair of extendable arms to hide in the rafters and avoid detection. Once the danger of discovery has passed, he takes Riko out the window and down to the field below where she shows him his new home, at least for the moment.

Riko and Reg, two of our three central characters getting ready for their big adventure. I’m sure it will all go well!

Since his memory’s been more or less erased, Riko gives her new friend a name: Reg, the name of a dog she used to have (which Reg is not too happy about, but he takes the name all the same.) As that name choice suggests, Riko wants to keep Reg around, but since she can’t feasibly keep hiding him through normal means, she and her friends decide to hide him in plain sight. Reg presents himself to their instructor, who seems to accept his “I’m an orphan who happens to have robotic limbs for some reason” story and puts him in Riko’s class.

But of course Riko isn’t planning to stick around in Orth. Years ago, her mother, the famous expert explorer Lyza the Annihilator, disappeared into the depths of the Abyss from which few people if any at all can return safely. Riko believes Lyza to still be alive, however, and when she’s shown a set of drawings and notes sent up the Abyss from her mother, she finds a note in an ancient language that translates to “At the Netherworld’s bottom, I’ll be waiting.”

Believing this is her mother’s message to her, Riko decides to secretly descend to the deepest part of the Abyss. Normally such a journey would mean certain death for a kid like her, but Reg’s incredibly long robotic arm extensions and his fighting ability and general sturdiness make her plan at least feasible. Saying goodbye to her old friends at the orphanage, perhaps forever, she and Reg descend into whatever waits for them below.

Before getting into the heavy material/spoiler zone, I should address the aesthetics, because Made in Abyss has a hell of a lot of style and atmosphere. The Abyss is an entire world in itself, divided into layers with different climates, plants, and inhabitants. Most of these layers look otherworldly, a sharp contrast with the surface and the city of Orth Riko and Reg have left behind. The environments are impressive — they feel like they could be real places despite how alien they look. Sort of like a Roger Dean-painted album cover, which a lot of scenes in the Abyss resemble.

The cute chibi art style our main characters are drawn in also contrasts sharply with the monstrous looks of many of the creatures in the Abyss. We get a hint of the danger these animals pose, especially to the young recruit “Red Whistle” explorers, in the first episode. However, flying carnivorous fish-dragons aren’t anywhere close to the most dangerous creature waiting for Riko and Reg as they descend.

The music deserves some mention as well. It’s not always the case with anime that I notice the soundtrack all that much, maybe aside from opening/ending themes, but Made in Abyss is one of those series with even memorable background songs and pieces. My favorites are the atmospheric tracks that fit beautifully with the environments of the Abyss, though “beautiful” in this context is often more on the “awe-inspiring/terrifying” side than the pleasant one. And the ending “Tabi no Hidarite, Saihate no Migite” is nicely done, and sung by the three main characters’ voice actors in-character which I always enjoy. (The ending sequence also gets my personal award for Most Deceptively Upbeat OP/ED, just beating out the Asobi Asobase OP.)

Since that sequence is a bit spoilery in a way, this is a good place to put the massive spoiler warning. Red and bold this time because of a few sort of twists and a few emotionally heavy big plot points revealed near the end of this season, and of course I’ll bring up a few of these major points below, so fair warning if you haven’t seen the show. Or read the manga, but I haven’t done that myself, so no manga-specific spoilers in this post anyway.

Now’s the time to turn back if you don’t have the stomach for some true horror. Just pretend it’s a fantastic version of Yuru Camp and don’t watch past this point.

I mentioned the heavy plot, but at least this first season of Made in Abyss feels much more character-driven than plot-driven. The plot itself isn’t the most complex anyway at this point: Riko’s mom is maybe at the bottom of the Abyss waiting for her, so Riko goes into the Abyss to find her, taking her robotic boy companion along with her. The rest of the season after the third episode almost entirely document their journey down and the hazards, enemies, and friends they meet along the way.

But the characters make this story worth following. After watching the first episode I got the feeling Riko might get under my skin a bit, but she never did despite her whole “I’m going to run ahead blindly on occasion and put myself in danger” attitude. That can be irritating, but Riko’s attitude is pretty understandable — she’s raised from the start to be curious about the Abyss with her famous explorer mother, and this explains her desire to follow in Lyza’s footsteps and to possibly meet her after years of being effectively orphaned.

Riko being likable makes this show all the harder to watch in a way

It helps that Reg is with her as well, and not just because he’s both her companion and her bodyguard/escort on their trip. Reg balances out some of Riko’s more impulsive/insane tendencies with his level head and good sense. He isn’t necessarily mentally stronger than Riko, however — he can get emotional and lose control at times, and just as he tempers Riko’s wilder aspects, Riko helps Reg maintain his strength and fortitude when times are desperate, and even when she’s in mortal danger and under immense stress and pain. As a result, she can’t totally rely on Reg to protect her at all times, particularly since every time he fires his laser he passes out for two hours. The pair have to work together, and luckily they’re both fast friends and very compatible, complementing each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

And near the end of the season, this pair becomes a trio with the inclusion of Nanachi, that fluffy rabbit-looking kid who lives deep in the fourth layer of the Abyss, where the strain on explorers starts to become oppressive. Nanachi enters the story at the time when Riko and Reg need them most, when Riko is poisoned and near death from the effects of the Curse of the Abyss. Even though these two are total strangers, Nanachi takes them in and provides for them, using their healing knowledge to save Riko’s life and help her recuperate. This rabbit child is extremely resourceful and has a world-weary sadness unusual for that age, but for good reason considering their backstory.*

World-weary and a little bitter, but fluffy

All three of these kids are endearing in their own ways, which makes it all the harder to see them suffering. And damn does Made in Abyss like to put its heroes through some suffering. This brings me back to my warning at the top of this post — if you’ve heard anyone refer to this series as full of trauma and sadness, I’m about to get into why and how along with a look into a couple of the more common and interesting criticisms I’ve seen of how the story and characters are handled.

We get some hints of how dark this story might get from the outset. Our heroes’ trek into the Abyss is already incredibly dangerous from the moment they begin. As a beginner Red Whistle explorer, Riko is only officially allowed to explore around the topmost first layer not far from Orth itself, a region that already has human-eating dragonesque creatures flying around as we see in the first episode. While she has a wealth of knowledge about the Abyss and all its layers from her studies in Orth, Riko has never actually seen beyond this first layer, so her descent with Reg into the second is already uncharted territory for her.

Moreover, turning back isn’t an option, partly because Riko is determined to make it to the bottom of the Abyss, but also because of the aforementioned strain on explorers that increases with depth. This strain is both physical and mental, causing headaches, dizziness, and nausea in milder forms and progressing to delirium and more dramatic and even life-threatening symptoms. Strangely, this “Curse” as it’s called only takes effect when an explorer tries to ascend while in the Abyss — descending is easy by comparison, though there are still increasingly dangerous predators to deal with that will gladly hunt kids like Riko and Reg.

Yeah not exactly a happy fun adventure, is it

The first hint that their journey is getting serious comes in the second layer, when the pair manage to gain entry into the “seeker camp”, an outpost controlled by the old warrior and explorer Ozen the Immovable. Ozen helped Riko’s mother rescue the girl when she was a baby, born as she was deep in the Abyss, but despite this connection she initially comes off as cold and perhaps even cruel towards Riko.

The presence of her apprentice Marulk, a child about Riko and Reg’s age who immediately bonds with them, is a comfort to them, but the next day Ozen confronts Riko and Reg with the reality of life in the Abyss and with some of the hard facts about Riko’s birth (my favorite from Ozen’s flashbacks: her reaction to Lyza’s wisp of a new husband, Riko’s father who sadly does not survive the trip out of the Abyss after her birth.) Ozen then attacks Riko and Reg and very nearly gets Riko killed, sending Reg into a rage and leading to a fight in which both almost end up dead a few times over before Marulk gets help from the camp to stop it.

This confrontation turns out to have been planned by Ozen as a test. Episodes six through eight do a great job of establishing her as a White Whistle warped by life in the Abyss to the point that she’s lost a lot of her humanity. Yet she still has some human feeling. Before they can continue their journey, Ozen forces Riko and Reg to spend several days surviving outside the camp on their wits alone, and when they return battered but alive she realizes that they at least have a chance of making the trek down to the bottom and then gives them support and her blessing. Ozen might be warped, but she’s kind in her own extremely hard and realistic way.

Ozen also mentions other White Whistles living in the Abyss who Riko and Reg might encounter and the dangers they represent, with special emphasis on a guy named Bondrewd. Our heroes don’t come face-to-face with him in this season, but Bondrewd turns out to be a true villain in contrast with Ozen’s “fake villain” act. His story is tied up with that of Nanachi and their close friend Mitty, originally two orphans from Orth who, like Riko and Reg, took an opportunity to descend into the Abyss. In this case, the two were part of a program led by the seemingly kind and caring Bondrewd to bring orphans into the Abyss and to give them a chance at getting some kind of experience down there.

Unfortunately, we know where this is probably headed, because it’s immediately obvious in Nanachi’s memory that something is wrong. Nanachi and Mitty at the time were both normal humans, and the pair today are anything but. Nanachi refers to both of them as Hollows, deformed former humans who are in danger of being captured and/or killed by explorers, forcing both to hide in the fourth layer of the Abyss. And of course it was this seemingly nice guy Bondrewd who did this to them — his “save the orphans” program turned out to be a cover for his horrible human experimentation program. Bondrewd uses these children to test the effects of the extreme strain of the Curse deep in the Abyss with terrible results.

He does pull out a justification for what he’s doing, but probably not enough of one to be murdering orphans.

As a result of these experiments, all Bondrewd’s orphan recruits with the exception of Nanachi completely lose their humanity and turn into fleshy, melted monstrosities, with Nanachi somehow only losing their physical form and turning into a rabbit-human hybrid, a “fluffy stuffed toy” as they put it to Reg early on.

Mitty’s fate by contrast is unbelievably horrific, turned into a living lump of flesh without higher brain function. This horror is compounded by the fact that thanks to some aspect of Bondrewd’s experiment on the two of them, Mitty apparently can’t die and has to live on in her degraded form, as Nanachi points out likely forever. Unless Reg uses his Incinerator on her — when Nanachi sees him using his hand cannon in battle, they realize this weapon that breaks down its target into subatomic particles is perhaps their only chance to put Mitty out of her misery. When Reg finally agrees to Nanachi’s request and kills Mitty, it’s a partly sad scene, but really more of a happy one since it means she’s been released from her suffering.

There’s a criticism I’ve seen attached to all the above horror: is it too much? The criticism here has to do with how the story plays with the watcher’s emotions, taking a peppy, likeable, and entirely innocent character in Mitty and having the maniacal Bondrewd turn her into an undying monstrosity. The effect is extreme, especially when you’re dealing with child characters. And the same argument might be made to a lesser extent about what Riko is put through starting in episode 10, when she’s forced to endure an almost fatal poisoning on top of the effects of the Curse when Reg has to ascend to a higher point in the fourth layer to bring her to safety.

I won’t post screenshots here but it’s rough, and this one fits anyway. Death is all around our heroes and they know it.

The interesting question here is whether the story is being emotionally manipulative with all this “cute kids made to suffer horrifically” stuff. Despite how extreme it can get, I don’t think Made in Abyss goes too far, at least in this first season. The immense danger of the trip is set up from the very first episode, and Ozen plays an important role in snapping Riko into reality about what the Abyss is really like early on in their journey. Even though Ozen turns out to be a friend and a support to Riko and Reg, she’s absolutely a hard realist who seems perfectly ready to let both of them die if she had concluded that they couldn’t handle their task.

The same is even true for Mitty and Nanachi’s story. Though Bondrewd naturally comes off as evil and perhaps outright insane, his actions sadly don’t feel unrealistic considering how often the powerless are taken advantage of by those with authority and influence. As a White Whistle, Bondrewd commands massive respect among all of society up on Orth, to the point that the orphans he collects willingly go with him down to the Abyss, even volunteering for the trip and without any clue of what’s in store for them.

The newly transformed Nanachi witnessing pure horror, kept by Bondrewd as an assistant before escaping the facility with Mitty.

The world that Riko, Reg, and Nanachi live in might be beautiful, but it’s also hard and unforgiving. This harsh aspect of the world is built up in a natural way from the beginning of Made in Abyss, so while seeing Riko bleeding from her eyes from the Curse and the horrific human experimentation carried out near the end of the season is terrible, it doesn’t come from nowhere and doesn’t really feel like it’s inserted just for shock value. And it’s not all pure misery, or at least not yet — the season even ends on a positive note, with Riko and Reg sending a note by balloon up to their friends in Orth as they prepare to continue their journey with Nanachi coming along.

The other, more common criticism I’ve seen of Made in Abyss is that it has an unseemly fixation on certain bodily functions and fluids. To put it bluntly, there’s a lot of talk about blood, vomit, piss, and bloody piss (not an exaggeration, that does come up once), and some more generally about nudity and private parts (that last mainly having to do with Reg and him and other characters wondering what a robot needs with those particular parts.)

Aside from plenty of blood and some Curse-related vomiting, we don’t actually see any of this stuff, which is good — most likely this series wouldn’t be hosted on HIDIVE or any other streaming service if that were the case. But some people feel uncomfortable with all this material all the same.

Honestly, snot is bad enough

Considering the fact that most of these characters are just kids, I totally understand that feeling, and there were times I wondered whether this stuff was really necessary. A few times it does feel like the author threw something in just for the hell of it, or maybe for comedic effect (Nanachi telling Reg that Riko has to have medicine injected through the back end, for example.) However, for the most part, I felt the story more or less justified all its talk about bloody piss and so on. While Reg seems to be immune from the Curse of the Abyss, it’s a constant threat to Riko, with symptoms attacking her any time she makes even a slight ascent. Together with the regular physical strain of traveling in this wilderness, the emphasis on the terrible physical effects of the Curse feels pretty natural.

Riko and most of the other characters in this series also have a matter-of-fact attitude towards life and the harsh world they live in. Early on, Nat talks frankly about having to eat rotten and toxic food as an orphan in the poor part of town before he was accepted as an explorer in training, and Nanachi had a similar background before their descent into the Abyss. Riko especially isn’t fazed by anything, a trait she seems to have gotten from her mother — as long as she’s making new discoveries, she doesn’t give a damn. Funny enough, it’s the physically far tougher Reg who has the weak stomach and who gets visibly embarrassed over nudity and the like.

Reg might be a robot, but he acts like and basically identifies as a human. I expect this point will come up later in the series when we learn more about his origins.

For these reasons, I think most of these instances can be either overlooked or accepted as a natural part of the story. Though I should note that I’ve seen far harsher criticisms of the manga and its author Akihito Tsukushi on this point, suggesting that the anime might be toning down some of the weirder aspects of the source material. I can’t say that for sure, anyway, since again I haven’t read the manga. I just dug around on Goodreads last week.

Not that I agree with every review I’ve read on Goodreads. There are some real up-their-own-ass types on that site, so it’s vital to use your own judgment as usual. I don’t even expect anyone to necessarily agree with my opinions here. I just say whatever I feel like on this bullshit blog because it’s the one thing in my life I have any control over at all. A trip down the Abyss doesn’t seem so bad at this point, really.

It’s not all bad, though I don’t know about this water

See, I can’t even go one post without some depression now. That’s life for you. As for this first season of Made in Abyss, I liked it a lot — it was thoughtfully put together, telling a gripping story with interesting characters in a both beautiful and terrifying fantasy world. That said, I get why the more extreme aspects of the series might put some viewers off.

I’m not put off, though. I’ll be moving on to the now-airing second season, but I’ve heard I have to watch the third film Dawn of the Deep Soul first. Apparently the first two films Journey’s Dawn and Wandering Twilight together are just another version of these 13 episodes, so maybe you can get by with watching those instead of the first season if you’re pressed for time, but it’s not necessary to watch both. In any case, you can maybe expect a post about Dawn of the Deep Soul at some point if I have anything to say about it (which considering how damn long this post turned out, I probably will.) Until next time.

 

* Nanachi’s gender is undetermined/never expressed, hence the use of the singular they that I’m honestly still not used to. Still feels awkward to use in writing after constantly having “don’t use singular they” drilled into my head in school, but to hell with that — English doesn’t give us a better option, so that’s what we’ve got. Thanks for fucking nothing, English.

The anime roulette: part 3

Yes, the roulette is back! After watching all of three of the seven series I rolled in the first two posts from back in March, I felt like it was time for a new round. The idea is the same: spin a wheel full of anime three times Wheel of the Worst-style except with hopefully good stuff on it, then watch at least the first episode of whatever I land on. I’ve shaken up the choices a lot since last time I did this four months back, partly because I’ve since watched a few of the first episodes and more of a few of the shows left on the wheel and partly because I don’t have VRV anymore. Ever since the Crunchyroll/Funimation merger, VRV became more or less redundant for me since I was only using it for anime. But since I lost access to the HIDIVE-exclusive shows on VRV, I decided to pick up HIDIVE after quitting VRV.

So now I’ve got two anime streaming service subscriptions, CR and HIDIVE, which are damn well more than enough for me. And conveniently enough I now have access to various shows I didn’t and don’t have access to a few I did. What happened to Detroit Metal City? I have no idea. I thought it was on HIDIVE but apparently it’s not (anymore?) Fucking licensing issues. At this point I’m wondering whether VRV doesn’t still have some exclusive anime I’m currently missing out on, but I’m sure as hell not registering for three subscription services to find out.

I slipped a potential landmine in too; can you find it?

Anyway, here’s the new list. As before, I reserve the right to watch any of these later on if I don’t land on them for this post (and if I don’t land on one but you want to stump for it in the comments, feel free! This doubles as a recommendations post.)

A Sister’s All You Need.
Call of the Night
Chio’s School Road
Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness
DENKI-GAI
Made in Abyss
O Maidens in Your Savage Season
Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai
Vinland Saga
Ya Boy Kongming!

Nine series that caught my eye for whatever reason or that I was already sort of planning to watch but felt I needed a nudge to actually do so. And that sister show just because of the title, which I’ve always been morbidly intrigued by. A sister’s all you need for what? Do I want to ask that question? Will I find out? Let’s see. Here’s the next spin:

And a welcome result. This is one that I’ve always had in the back of my mind to watch just because of how much good stuff I hear about it, and now I finally have an excuse to make myself start it. On to it:

Spin 9: Made in Abyss

I guess this series needs no introduction to a lot of you, but for anyone who like me has missed out until now, Made in Abyss is about a bunch of orphans tasked with exploring a massive pit (aka the Abyss of the title) in the middle of the city they live in. These were the children of adult explorers who died/disappeared while in the Abyss, which is full of dangerous monsters and environmental hazards as we see while following Riko (above) and Nat on an exploration. The pair are separated and nearly killed by a giant flying fish dragon monster thing until it’s driven off by a sudden powerful laser beam shot.

Riko finds the source of the laser, a powered-down robot boy she and Nat carry back to their orphanage. They manage to shock him back to life, but this mysterious robot seems to have lost all his memories. Riko decides to take him on, naming him Reg (after a dog she used to have, which he’s understandably not very happy about) and keeping him around as a secret between her and her few close friends at the orphanage since apparently they’re not supposed to be taking old “relics” like him for themselves.

Riko and Reg, looking out across the city and landscape at the end of the first episode. I’m a fan of Reg’s hi-tech metal Viking helmet.

So I finally got around to Made in Abyss after five years. The first season aired back in 2017, and while I remember hearing a lot about it at the time, I was barely watching any anime at all back then and it passed me by. But judging by the first episode at least, I can see why it was so popular — the characters and their fantastic world are interesting so far. This episode also sets up plenty of potentially fascinating mysteries to be explored, like what Reg is exactly (he clearly has a human-like personality and has robotic limbs, so is he a full robot or a cyborg? And where did he come from, etc.) and the nature of the Abyss itself. It sounds like the bottom hasn’t been reached, hence all the experienced adult explorers disappearing and leaving behind orphans like Riko.

Riko boasting to her instructor about saving Nat from a dragon creature, though to her credit she’s telling the truth here.

Speaking of Riko, I like her so far as a protagonist (or dual protagonist with Reg maybe?) It helps that she has drive and ambition to match her slight arrogance and also a couple of friends like Nat who are all too willing to keep her in check, and also that she has a real bond with those friends as we see when she nearly sacrifices herself to save Nat from being killed. This sort of character might easily become annoying otherwise — hopefully not, since Riko seems to be one of the central characters in this series. I guess you need a protagonist like her anyway in a world like hers, the kind that needs a lot more exploring.

I only hope for Riko’s sake that all the talk of getting strung up for committing infractions are major exaggerations, because what the fuck is that. And what kind of society sends orphans to their potential deaths exploring mysterious pits full of monsters anyway? Some real RPG logic there, isn’t it? I guess Riko is eager to take part in that, but what about the rest of them?

Though I do love fantastic cityscapes like these. The look and feel of this world reminds me of one of those old Ghibli movies.

I’ll absolutely be watching Made in Abyss — it hits all the right notes for me so far. And conveniently enough it’s just returned to the air, with its second season starting last week. I look forward to seeing where Riko, Reg, and the rest end up, and maybe I’ll even be able to catch up and get current soon.

So that was a successful spin. Now for my next roll:

ಠ_ಠ

Well, shit. I put it there, so I can’t complain. But it’s an excuse to use that old Kannada emote, isn’t it. Guess I’m about to have my morbid curiosity fulfilled, though I don’t know whether I’ll regret it.

Spin 10: A Sister’s All You Need.

what

Okay, it’s not as bad as it looks from the title and the above screenshot. The protagonist doesn’t even have a sister. But damn does he love the idea of having one, specifically a little sister. Itsuki Hashima is a young, up-and-coming author who writes what sound like light novels with a fantasy slant, but also a “protagonist has a little sister who’s way too close with him” slant. Like waking him up naked while on top of him close, and also preparing and sitting down to breakfast with him naked.

Itsuki’s editor is correct. See also Itsuki’s can of UCC Coffee there, a real brand that’s pretty decent. If only canned coffee weren’t obscenely expensive here in the States.

Thankfully his editor is there to slap some sense into him by telling him to cut out all the sister obsession shit in the new chapter of his fantasy novel. After leaving, Itsuki’s little brother shows up at his apartment (thankfully he doesn’t have a weird as hell brother kink, so it’s fine) to make dinner for him and his arriving writer friends and colleagues, who are a mix of normal and also kind of degenerate like him (see the girl at the top.)

Talking shop with other writers is a good time. Too bad I don’t know any others in real life, just other lawyers I can complain along with.

But turns out there’s a little more to this series than a bunch of writers drinking beer and being degenerates together, as we see in the last scene where Itsuki and his maybe or maybe not one-sided love interest Nayuta think about each other and how they met.

Not much else to say about A Sister’s All You Need. The pacing is quick, maybe a bit too quick — that imouto “stamp” that gets slammed over the action every two minutes after a punchline does get irritating. But the humor was good enough for me to possibly want to continue this series. Not right away, but maybe at some point.

It also features plugs for real beer brands apparently, though only ones you can get in Japan, so even if I still drank it wouldn’t help me. This stout does look good though.

So if you like little sisters, probably good beer, and/or degenerate humor in general, maybe this is a good show to check out. But I’ll withhold judgment unless or until I get around to watching the rest.

Now for the last spin this round. Let’s try for 3 for 3:

Now here’s an interesting result. All I know about Call of the Night is that it’s a currently airing series about a guy who meets a cute vampire girl and wants to get bit by her or something. “Cute vampire girl” is always a plus for me (I am a Touhou fan after all, and EoSD has one of my favorite casts) so I’m looking forward to this one.

Spin 11: Call of the Night

Sometimes I find a series that might not actually be very good or make all that much sense but that still resonates with me because it found me at the right time. Maybe this is too embarrassing to admit, but I’m beyond all that now: this first episode of the manga adaptation Call of the Night worked for me on that level at least.

Holy shit is this relatable

Kou is a kid still in his second year at middle school. 14 is a rough age, and Kou is going through it — he doesn’t seem to be fitting in all that well at school, and after pretty bluntly rejecting a girl’s love confession he ends up chewed out by her friends and wondering how exactly he’s supposed to feel about any of that.

Unsatisfied with his daily life, Kou decides one night to sneak out of his family’s apartment and wander the streets of his city, alone with his thoughts. Alone until he meets a mysterious, strangely dressed blonde girl with extremely sharp and pointy canines. This lady takes an immediate interest in Kou, asking why he’s wandering around in the dead of night and about to buy a beer from a vending machine when he’s clearly not of age (I totally forgot Japan sells booze in vending machines; it would be unthinkable to see here in the States. Would have made drinking in high school, and I guess even in middle school, a hell of a lot easier!)

Despite the fact that this girl, Nazuna, is about the most obvious vampire ever to appear in a fictional work the very moment he meets her, Kou agrees to go along with her to her apartment after she promises she’ll “help him sleep.”

Okay, I mean I get it, but still.

Kou is nervous that Nazuna will try something funny with him (though in the more normal sense, since he hasn’t realized the obvious yet) but she assures him she won’t. She instead has him lie down on her futon and, once she thinks he’s asleep, goes straight for his neck. It turns out Kou was faking sleep to see what she’d pull, but she still gets some blood out of him before he gets up.

After he finally realizes what Nazuna is, she reassures him that she hasn’t turned him into a vampire — according to her, a human can only be turned if they fall in love with a vampire, so he’s safe. The pair then leave her apartment, but then Kou decides he actually wants to be a vampire and declares that he will fall in love with Nazuna. She tells him he can do what he likes, but seems embarrassed herself, then decides to sort of take him under her wing since Kou seems like he needs to learn how to enjoy his life or something.

Nice visuals, too

So Call of the Night is a strange one so far. It’s a bit hard to track the logic here — I get that Kou is confused and searching for himself in just the way a kid his age would be, but his decision to become a vampire feels pretty hasty and reckless even for a 14 year-old considering just what being a vampire involves. Nazuna’s special interest in Kou is a bit weird as well, and it might even be called creepy or criminal depending on how far she takes it and how vampire vs. human ages work in this world (remembering that vampires in a lot of fiction tend to be far older than they look.) All that’s assuming this is supposed to be a romance, which it very much looks like right now.

On the other hand, when I was that age, the prospect of getting to run around the streets with a hot blonde vampire girl at midnight would have been extremely exciting to me. So Call of the Night is probably perfect wish fulfillment for boys that age. That would also explain the fanservice material, getting an eyeful of Nazuna in this episode and presumably in most of the others to come.

Horny as hell as you’d expect from most any vampire-related story, but it’s worth asking if this story would be less acceptable to many readers/viewers if the genders were swapped. I’d say yes, but isn’t that pretty much what Twilight was? And that was a huge hit, so maybe people don’t actually care.

Despite all its strangeness and potential issues, I might keep watching Call of the Night. Or maybe in part because of those. There’s still a part of me that’s that 14 year-old boy who wants to drop everything, all the bullshit in my life, and just run out into the night. Of course I can’t and won’t do these sorts of things now in my 30s. But again, and maybe it’s even embarrassing to admit these feelings, that’s part of what I use anime and games and other entertainment for: these are safe ways to live out a few harmless fantasies in addition to their inherent value as art. But I’ve gotten into all that before, so I won’t again here.

And that’s it for this third round of the anime roulette. Possibly a 3 for 3 result this round depending on how Call of the Night turns out and whether I feel the same about it next week as I did today, since I admit I’m at a fairly low point at the moment. I might do one more of these posts soon if I’m feeling up to it, but the next one will likely be a game review for a change of pace, so you can look forward to that. Until then.

Edit (7/24/2022): Usually I don’t bother with adding notes to old posts, but after watching the second and third episodes of Call of the Night I’d like to drop the “might not actually be very good” part up there because I’m liking it a lot more right now. Still too early to judge the series as a whole obviously, so look out for that end-of-season review whenever that’s happening. I’ve also already finished Made in Abyss — you’ll find that review soon on the index page up top.

A review of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform

Every so often I dig around the real anime blogs on this site. I don’t think mine counts as an “anime blog” since it’s not dedicated entirely to anime — my scope here is too broad, and I’ve still seen barely a fraction of the stuff out there worth watching (and forget about keeping current with airing series aside from maybe one each season, two on the outside.) Though I write anime reviews like this one sometimes, I’m absolutely not an expert in the medium or its trends, and I don’t think I’ve ever pretended to be one.

So when I watched the first episode of CloverWork’s winter 2022 production Akebi’s Sailor Uniform aka Akebi-chan no Serafuku a few months ago and had mixed feelings about it, I was ready to pretty much write it off, but when I later read the high praise it was given on the dedicated anime sites around I decided to give it a second chance. And good thing I did, because it was worth that second chance. I still wouldn’t call myself a fan of slice-of-life anime in general, but Akebi is such a fine piece of work that I think it managed to break through my bias against that genre.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform features the title character Komichi Akebi, a girl from the Japanese countryside somewhere (not sure where exactly — if her school or home region is based on real-life locations I missed those references.) She lives so deep in the country that until now she’s attended school in a class of one, without any classmates.

Guessing this room used to hold a lot more students

Komichi’s isolation is about to end, however. She applies to the prestigious girls’ middle school Roubai Academy, which is also deep in the countryside, but not quite as deep as her old nearly dead elementary school. Komichi has an unusual reason for wanting to attend Roubai: she wants the chance to finally wear that traditional sailor school uniform she likes so much and that one of her favorite singers wears in performance. Her mother, an expert tailor who also attended Roubai decades ago, supports her efforts and takes her to the interview in a custom-made uniform, but when Komichi sees other girls attending their interviews in more modern blazer uniforms she panics.

Thankfully for her, the school’s headmaster is almost unrealistically cool about the whole thing. It probably helps that she’s on good terms with Komichi’s mother, but the headmaster also seems to see the girl’s passion during the interview and decides to make an exception: Komichi can wear her mother’s custom sailor uniform to school.

I never attended a school that had uniforms, but I wish I had. Imagine going to school in a tie and blazer or that gakuran with the high collar. Far better than that “let the kids express themselves” bullshit I got to deal with, being mocked for wearing the “wrong thing” and all that.

By the end of the first episode, Komichi has met her first friend, Erika Kizaki, alone in their homeroom early in the morning. It’s a potentially awkward first meeting in which Komichi accidentally catches Erika doing something strange and maybe a little embarrassing: clipping her toenails and smelling the clippers. Komichi is so naturally friendly and unassuming, however, that she puts Erika at ease without even realizing there was much of anything to be embarrassed about in the first place.

This was the scene that weirded me the fuck out about Akebi when I first watched the first episode months ago. I still think it’s a weird scene, but it does make more sense when you put it into the context of Komichi’s carefree attitude and how it helps her create her place at school.

The following eleven episodes shift away from that sailor uniform in the title and focus on Komichi’s life at her new school as she meets her classmates and befriends pretty much every one of them. There’s not much else to say about the plot — Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is a pure slice-of-life anime, and aside from a school sports/arts festival in the final episode, there aren’t any big events to focus on or much of a plot beyond “girl lives her everyday life with her friends.”

Typically this kind of show bores the hell out of me. The only exception to my coldness towards slice-of-life anime so far has been Yuru Camp, which has more to recommend it than just this daily life stuff anyway. It’s not a “pure” slice-of-life in that sense, whereas Akebi is. So why did Akebi work for me where others in this pure slice-of-life genre haven’t?

I’ll start with its most obvious strength: how good it looks. Akebi is a beautiful series with an almost unbelievable level of detail for a TV production. Parts of it look like they belong in a film. And this high standard is maintained throughout all twelve episodes. I said I’m no expert, but I’m guessing just based on what I’ve seen and heard that this is a seriously impressive feat (and add to that the fact that CloverWorks was producing Sono Bisque Doll at the same time, which looked pretty nice itself, even if a lot of that budget went into Marin specifically.) The soundtrack adds to the effect, complementing the visuals with some nice piano and strings and a couple of pop themes that fit well even if they’re not quite my style.

The only issue I had with the aesthetic aspects of Akebi was its character designs, which took some getting used to. It’s not that Komichi and her family and friends look bad, but there’s something about their faces and eyes specifically that are unusual. I imagine these were probably carried over from the original manga, which I haven’t read. Not a huge deal anyway, and hell, if I could get used to Nobuyuki Fukumoto’s pointy noses and all the other crazy shit he does with his characters’ faces in Akagi and Kaiji, I can get used to Hiro’s style too.

Komichi looks fine here, but occasionally there’s a weird uncanny effect going on with these characters. Maybe this is just how people unused to typical anime aesthetics see a lot of anime characters with their huge eyes? I’m so used to it that I can’t say but might be an interesting thought for artists out there.

Of course, a show can look beautiful and suck on every other level. If some nice visuals were all Akebi had to offer, I would have actually fallen asleep to it, but that’s fortunately not the case. Even though it doesn’t have much of a plot, Akebi still kept my interest, and most of that had to do with its characters and specifically with the title character herself.

Komichi might be a girl just starting her middle school life, but she contains so damn much positive energy and optimism that she’s practically a force of nature. Her unique sailor uniform sets her apart from the rest of her classmates at first, a move that takes some guts especially considering how shitty and clique-y students can be when they’re developing their personalities around that age.

Or maybe Komichi gets to wear a different uniform because she’s the main character, JRPG logic style.

But she manages to turn that to her advantage too by being so carefree that she draws everyone else towards her like a magnet. I saw jokes in comments that Akebi is about Komichi building a harem out of her whole school, and while there’s no romance element to Akebi that I can see,* the joke still works just because of how completely she charms all her classmates starting with Erika. Each of Komichi’s homeroom colleagues has some kind of quirk to them along with their own special talent, all of which she makes a point of learning about and taking an active interest in.

If Komichi were even 1% a jerk, she could use her charisma all to her own advantage or just to feed her ego, but part of her charm seems to come from just how guileless she is. All that optimism and positivity I mentioned is completely natural and pure, and it all radiates out from her as if she were the Sun. Aside from a couple of points in the season where she gets discouraged but is picked up again by her family and friends, Komichi is creating that energy seemingly without exhausting her own supply of it.

Even the fish are attracted by her sheer magnetism. Or maybe just the bait she’s using.

This optimism is another aspect of Akebi I wasn’t sure I’d be able to take after watching the first episode. In case you’re not a regular reader or you’re very new to the site, I’m just about the opposite of positive and optimistic. If there’s any single anime character I relate to completely in terms of outlook on life it’s Nozomu Itoshiki, Zetsubou-sensei himself, which I really hate to say, but it’s the truth. There’s a reason I use those SZS screenshots so often in my miscellaneous posts and not just because I like how they look (though that is another reason.)

So normally all Komichi’s youthful optimism would drive me insane, but it didn’t. In fact, it had just the opposite effect. Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is another anime like Yuru Camp with the tag iyashikei, something like “healing” from what I can tell, and it was pretty effective at healing my soul in a time when I needed it more than usual. A lot of shit has been going on in the world and in my country in particular that directly relates to what I do for a living, and while my living itself isn’t threatened at all, the shaking up we’re going through still isn’t pleasant. I won’t get into specifics, but my already dark outlook on life and our future has gotten even darker in recent years and months and even weeks. These days I think back to the oath I swore and wonder whether it wasn’t all a joke I wasn’t let in on.

Not to be too dramatic, but those thoughts do occur to me along with feelings of powerlessness and pointlessness — pretty damn far from anything resembling youthful optimism. And all that’s aside from my natural pessimism and the general feeling of powerlessness I already have over my own life, forget the direction of the world itself.

This isn’t the song she’s playing here, but thinking of George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” isn’t a bad way of dealing with this bullshit for a few minutes either. That song and most of that album still hold up.

By contrast, Komichi lives in an idyllic setting and lives a pretty idyllic life, at least for now. In ten years she might have to start worrying about paying bills and working at a job she hates, but for now she has a good time at school with her friends and lives in the countryside with her mom and little sister and her dad when he’s home from work, in a cottage that looks like it’s straight out of one of those cheesy Thomas Kinkade paintings.

A series like Akebi’s Sailor Uniform could easily fall into that very same trap of being too cheesy and embarrassing to stomach, and maybe some viewers felt that way about it, but I think it manages to almost completely avoid that pitfall thanks to its honesty for lack of a better term. The world Komichi lives in isn’t familiar to me at all, since the one I live in seems to be going to complete shit and wasn’t all that great to begin with, but the characters feel real enough.

Speaking of realism, these dorm rooms for god damn middle school students are a million times nicer than the shitty cinder block lined ones I lived in as a college student. How is that?

That might be the most important reason Akebi’s Sailor Uniform worked for me now, where I think it might not have several years back. I’m tired, but despite that I have to work constantly at a job I can tolerate but certainly don’t love. On top of that, I’m working towards goals I don’t exactly care about achieving for my own sake. And on top of all that, all of humanity looks like it’s headed down a steep cliff without brakes, so it’s even a question whether we collectively have a future to work towards at all.

Watching Komichi and co. living their lives in their own peaceful moment was a nice break from that reality. Maybe this is what people love about these slice-of-life shows. Am I finally getting it now?

Akebi still reminds me of how comparatively not enjoyable my middle school years were and of how any youthful enthusiasm for life and wonder and all that stuff I might have had was soon ground into a fine powder and scattered into the wind. But oh well, I’m pretty resigned to all that now.

And that’s my recommendation: watch Akebi’s Sailor Uniform if you want a break from the stress and anxiety of everyday life in the real world. That seems to be largely what these healing series are made for, and so far at least two of them have worked. I’d still place Yuru Camp higher than this or probably any other pure slice-of-life series, since it has such excellent characters and, more to my taste, is a lot heavier on the comedy and a little lighter on the sentiment. By contrast, Akebi did come close to laying it on too thick for me a couple of times.

But this is still a recommendation. I liked Akebi, and I’d watch a second season if we ever get one, because God knows how much shittier things might be then and how much more I might need that escape. At least until someone finally develops that full-dive ultra-realistic VR world we’ve been waiting for (i.e. not that Meta piece of shit, and probably not anything Elon will do either, though I guess you should never really count him out, as clownish as he can be.) In the meantime, I’ll look forward to the next CloverWorks anime, because between this, Bisque Doll, and their co-production of Spy x Family, they’ve been doing amazing work lately. And hey, Bunny Girl Senpai is near the top of my backlog too, so maybe that should be up next.

Anyway, next post will be the end-of-month one, put off to the middle of the month yet again. Sorry about that. I said this wasn’t a dedicated anime blog, but this is my third straightforward anime review in a row, a first in the site’s history, and there’s still more to come, so you can look forward to that as well. See you next week hopefully.

 

* I should say in the anime. I’ve heard the source manga may include a yuri theme — speaking of tags, the manga has the yuri tag on Anilist while the anime doesn’t if that’s any indication. I haven’t read the manga, but the anime features a lot of what I’d call friendly intimacy between Komichi and her classmates, the kind that some people seem to mistake for the romantic kind. Those sentiments would have to be pretty tame Takagi-san style anyway considering if they were there, which again I’d say they aren’t.

I brought this distinction up in my review of The Aquatope on White Sand and my feelings about it now are the same. I think part of this mistake, at least among American fans, might be due to the weirdly repressive and neurotic attitudes about attraction and physical contact we Americans tend to have — two friends embracing has to mean there’s something more there, when in reality it doesn’t necessarily mean that. The same might be true for the fetishistic aspects many viewers have commented on, which I think have been very overplayed (including by me in that first episode look I wrote a few months ago — now I think those shots were used to show the characters’ expressiveness instead of for any weird purposes, though again I’ve heard the manga might have a different feel.)

In any case, let me know if you have a different opinion about any of the above. I just don’t want to go hunting for themes or issues where they might not exist, and I won’t make assumptions based on what I’ve heard about the manga either, since 1) I haven’t read it and 2) the source material and its adaptation are two distinct works that I believe should be taken separately anyway. If you’re not convinced of that point, just look at the HBO Game of Thrones production that ended up driven into a brick wall and the original Song of Ice and Fire novels, which still have a future if old GRRM ever gets off his ass and writes an ending (current odds of that happening: at least five thousand to one.) Or for a reverse example where the source material has been reviled by many fans where the anime adaptation hasn’t, see Usagi Drop. I won’t get into it now, but I might soon.

A review of Spy x Family (first cour)

If there was ever a post I didn’t need to write, it was this one. But since my entire blog is unnecessary, that means there’s no such thing as a more unnecessary post than usual.

So here’s a look at the first cour of Spy x Family, the massive smash hit anime that just finished the first part of its run. Just about everyone was watching this. Even one of my cousins who never watches anime had heard of it, and if she knows about an anime, that means people damn well know about it, and well outside the usual fan circles. It was hyped up before it even started airing based on the source manga, and now that its first cour is done, the anime so far has been praised to the heavens, getting close to the top of the charts on MAL and Anilist.

But does this first cour of Spy x Family live up to all that praise and hype according to the asshole who writes this blog? I’ll answer that question in way too much detail below. (I should also clarify why I’m calling this the first cour* and not the first season: because it seems like it’s specifically meant to be a “split cour” series of 24 episodes in total, with the second set of 12 airing again in the fall season. So it’s not exactly two seasons, even if it technically is airing over two seasons. I guess? I’m still not sure about these naming conventions. Fuck it — on to the review.)

Our story opens with a spy codenamed Twilight from the state of Westalis. As a top Westalian intelligence agent with a talent for depiction and disguise, Twilight is entrusted with difficult operations, but his next mission may be the most difficult and delicate yet. Twilight is commanded to travel to Ostania (yeah, they purposely weren’t too creative with the countries’ names) and to start a family, complete with wife and child, as soon as possible.

Twilight is shocked by this command, considering how much time and effort starting a family normally takes. But he doesn’t have time to spare: prominent Ostanian politician Donovan Desmond is poised to start a massive war between their two states, and Twilight has to make contact with him under false pretenses to stop his plan by getting his kid into the same elite school as Desmond’s and befriending him. Twilight’s bosses at WISE tell him this is the only way to get within reach of this guy considering how cautious he is. So he accepts and puts on a respectable family man act, taking on the identity of the doctor “Loid Forger”, securing an apartment, and immediately afterwards heading down to the local orphanage to pick out a child smart enough to pass Eden College’s entrance exam.

Enter the first member of Loid Forger’s new family. When Loid asks for a kid who can read, he’s brought to Anya, a small girl who hardly looks more than four or five. Despite that, she can fill out a difficult crossword puzzle perfectly and without hesitation right in front of Loid, so he picks her out for his new daughter, figuring he’s struck gold. What he doesn’t realize is Anya is cheating at the puzzle by reading his mind while he watched her: she’s a telepath, the product of a shady supernatural power training program. The upshot of all this is Anya instantly realizes her new father is putting on an act and that he’s a spy.

Luckily (?) for him, Anya loves spies and similar excitement, so she’s happy to come home with him and to keep his secret. But since leaving the training program, she was told not to tell anyone about her mind-reading powers, so she conceals those powers from Loid.

After having an all too real spy adventure in the second half of episode 1 in which she’s briefly kidnapped and rescued by her new dad, Anya takes the Eden College entrance exam with some help from Franky, Loid’s connection/fixer who gets them an answer sheet. But there’s still another complication: applicants are also required to hold family interviews with the headmasters of the school, including both parents. No exceptions. Anya points out that Mama doesn’t exist, so Loid is off to find a wife.

Hack Hollywood romcom writers take note of this meet cute, you can’t do better

And finally the family is complete when Loid runs into a beautiful woman at a tailor’s shop. Yor Briar is stressed out because of her single status, with both her younger brother breathing down her neck and insisting that she start to settle down and her colleagues at her job at Town Hall gossiping about her. Yor’s been invited to a party and is expected to bring her boyfriend, who doesn’t exist. There’s an initial spark between Loid and Yor, and Anya, using her telepathy, realizes that they’re perfectly matched to play fake boyfriend and wife respectively but that neither of them are recognizing it themselves, with Yor assuming Loid is married since he has a daughter. So Anya starts singing out loud about how her mother doesn’t exist and how much she misses said non-existent mother like it’s a tune from a musical.

Loid and Yor explain their situations to each other and agree to play their respective parts. However, later that evening, Loid attends the party late after taking on a quick but extremely bloody side job from WISE, and in his rush and confusion he declares himself Yor’s husband. By accident, their relationship is now pretty much cemented, so they decide to run with it, and by the start of the third episode they’re legally married.

And oh yeah, Yor is an assassin.

Here’s an unlikely family dynamic, then: a father pretending to be a psychiatrist who’s actually a spy working on enemy ground, a mother pretending to be a normal citizen who’s actually an assassin, and their daughter, a telepath who doesn’t tell anyone about her powers but knows her adoptive parents’ real occupations, though she can’t tell them she knows. While Loid, Yor, and Anya are all deceiving each other, they’re also together in deceiving the rest of the world about their relationship as a legitimate family.

A joint production of studios Wit and CloverWorks, Spy x Family is an adaptation of a popular manga that I’ve heard recommended to me for a while. It’s too bad I’m so lazy about following up on manga recommendations, because I’m sure I would have taken to this one instantly. Normally I wait until I’m a bit further along these posts to start heaping praise on something I like, but there’s no point this time: this first cour of Spy x Family was excellent, starting with the unique “fake family” setup and following through with a lot of great comedy and some nice action, sometimes mixed together in the same scenes.

And all in the context of highest-stakes plot imaginable.

The strongest aspect of Spy x Family for me so far is not really its plot, however, but its characters. The overall story makes for a nice spy thriller, but taken on its own it’s not that special. Cool handsome spy man has to save the world by taking on a disguise and starting a family in the rival country to his. Before getting to the disguise and family parts, that describes the plot of every James Bond movie ever made (and I guess every James Bond novel, though I’m not sure what else that weirdo Ian Fleming might have written that didn’t make it onto the screen.) And maybe Mr. Bond even takes on a disguise sometimes, though from what I remember he usually doesn’t bother too much with that sort of thing as long as he can punch and fuck his way through his problems.

In the first episode, Twilight seems like he might be exactly this James Bond type — sitting across from a woman he’s in a fake romantic relationship with under an assumed identity, and a relationship he literally gets up and walks away from after telling her he’s dumping her. All for his job, but he does come off here like the cool and even cold James Bond type. But that’s all overturned by the end of the first episode, when his new daughter Anya starts to become attached to him. Even his reasoning for abandoning her at this point goes against his mission: he doesn’t want to put her in harm’s way and reasons out that he can somehow carry his mission out without using a fake son or daughter. But he gives in and keeps Anya, and seemingly not just for the sake of his job.

This isn’t for the mission at all — it’s Loid actually being a man with feelings, maybe for the people he cares most about even if he doesn’t realize it yet? Yeah, that’s where this is going.

The same turns out to be true of his new fake wife, Yor. Loid again reasons out that he’s doing all this false family stuff for his mission. But we see him getting genuinely angry with people who give Yor a hard time for supposedly doing some unseemly things with men for money (which she didn’t — a cover for her assassination job, which is a lot more unseemly really) and for being a stepmother who can’t cook or be a “proper” wife as she is at the party and the later family interview with the headmasters at Anya’s school. He even wonders at how and why he’s getting emotional over these attacks on a woman he doesn’t really care about when it comes down to it.

But then we can guess where all this is headed. As Irina wrote in a post I linked a while back, Loid isn’t James Bond, and that’s a good thing in so far as he seems to be forming real emotional bonds with his new family despite his intentions. He’s actually a good guy and a genuine one himself.

If you can get a wife who’s normally cute and pleasant but does this if your child is threatened, you got a good one

Yor is more of a mystery at this point. We’re in Loid’s head far more often, and even in Anya’s especially when she’s at school. Yor seems very much like a genuine person too, a woman who despite appearances is insanely strong and skilled at fighting. She also doesn’t seem to realize her own strength, which even makes her feel more honest of a person to me while also making her more of a menace to society and to the people around her.

Even so, she really comes off as wanting to be a good wife to Loid and a good mother to Anya, even when she realizes that she’s taking part in a complete put-on to fool her colleagues and her brother, and for Loid’s sake to fool Anya’s school. I think this along with her earnestness and near-complete lack of guile makes her pretty endearing. Though there’s still a giant question mark about her real job, which she continues to carry out. Should Yor get a pass for murdering people, even if they’re pretty shitty people from what’s been suggested? And is she only getting a pass from everyone because she’s hot? These are interesting questions, and I hope the second cour helps us answer at least one of them (but I’m pretty sure part of the answer to the second question is yeah, probably. I’ve seen the fanart, I know.)

And does her little brother Yuri get a pass too? This guy is nuts for all kinds of reasons, but I really like him so far. But I’ll leave him out of this post so you can find out for yourself.

Then there’s Anya, the face of Spy x Family as far as I’ve seen. Anya is the rare case of a child character written in a way that’s not 1) unrealistic or 2) annoying. That’s hard as hell to do. I haven’t even bothered trying it myself, not yet. There are a lot of pitfalls there, and especially with a child character who has a special ability like Anya does. It’s easy to write a kid who’s precocious and extremely irritating for just that reason.

Yet I haven’t seen anyone say that about Anya, and I wouldn’t say it either. Like her parents, she’s just endearing. It helps that despite her telepathic powers, there’s not much special about her. She’s certainly not a genius, and she’s about as uncoordinated as any average kid her age would be. Anya is really just a little kid who likes spy cartoons and wants to mess around and doesn’t care for studying or practicing proper table manners.

That contrasts nicely with the fact that Anya is the one with the most information about all the rest of the characters in the series by far. Loid tries to get her to act in accordance with his mission by telling her to study hard and to get make friends with Desmond’s son Damian, but since she can read his mind, she knows world peace hangs in the balance, so despite not really wanting to study or to be friendly with Damian (at first seemingly a rich little shit, but actually with a bit more to him) she decides to do so anyway. She doesn’t even seem to mind that her mom is an assassin, though Yor’s casual thoughts about blood and death still shock her a little.

Anya is just doing her best, and in a world that up until now has rejected her. She also seems to be the glue holding the family together. She’s still too young to put it in these terms, but it feels appropriate since her new parents are both outcasts and outsiders in their own ways too.

She also realizes along with us where the Loid/Yor relationship is almost certainly headed, nice setup here

The above was probably far too much to write about characters in a comedy, but what the hell — why not. These are excellent characters with a lot more to recommend them than just their designs, which are great too. Credit to manga author and illustrator Tatsuya Endo for all of that, and also to the studios Wit and CloverWorks for putting it all into beautiful-looking and stylish anime form. And credit to Gen Hoshino for the really nice ending theme Comedy, an appropriate title too.

I’ll save the rest for when Spy x Family returns this fall for its second cour. I’m hopeful that it will keep up the consistently high quality we got with this first cour — aside from a couple of unexpectedly goofy episodes like the fifth and the final one it was all amazing, and even those were pretty fun to watch even if they felt a little over-the-top or out of place.

Looking forward to more of Anya’s elite private school life, which isn’t sugarcoated either

And if you haven’t seen Spy x Family at all yet, go and watch it. You don’t have much excuse for skipping this one — I watched it on Crunchyroll, but you can also find it on Netflix and even on Disney+, so if you’re only subscribed to Disney for all your Star Wars and Marvel movie and series needs, try Spy x Family for a change. This feels like one of the rare anime series that might have a lot of appeal outside the usual fanbases. i.e. feel free to recommend this one to your normal friends, something I almost certainly won’t say about the next anime I’ll be having a look at. I have a couple of games I’ll probably be writing about first though. Until then.

 

* Bonus unnecessary explanatory endnote: I was interested to know where “cour” comes from since I’ve never heard it used outside of those anime-watching circles. Apparently it’s been taken as a loanword from the Japanese クール / kuru, which itself is a loanword taken from the French cours meaning course as in a series of classes. That’s the explanation I’ve read most often anyway, and it’s interesting if true, since the word would have changed a lot in meaning in its jump from French to English via Japanese. Really unusual path for an English word to take too, since most of our French-derived words come directly from French, both old Norman (thanks to this asshole) and later varieties.

I don’t know, is any of this shit interesting to you? If it is, go check out the History of English podcast. Sounds dry from the description but it’s both extremely informative and entertaining if you like words, and maybe you do if you read my overlong posts.

A review of Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department

Who from the what now? I wouldn’t be surprised if this title produces a total blank for you — I saw absolutely no talk about this anime while it was airing last season. The only reason I discovered it was VRV’s recommendation system back when I was still using that site in its last days, and when I was rolling for first episodes of anime to watch in those roulette posts. If you remember all the way back to that part 2 post, Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department (aka Kaijin Kaihatsubu no Kuroitsu-san) was one of the few choices VRV’s algorithm presented that hit for me, so when I had an actual break from work for once I decided to sit in front of my beat up used tablet and watch the rest of it, the remaining 11 of 12 episodes.

So Kuroitsu really came out of nowhere, but I’m happy it did, because big spoilers: I liked it. This review will be on the shorter side just because there’s not as much to say as usual, this being a pretty straightforward comedy despite appearances. But more below this screenshot anyway.

Touka Kuroitsu, above, is a scientist working at the evil organization Agastia, which aspires to world domination despite the efforts of various super sentai warriors and magical girls to stop them. Kuroitsu’s specialty is monster development, which she works on alongside her supervisor Dr. Sadamaki. Together, the two use bizarre and possibly unethical DNA fuckery to custom design and grow living beings in a water tank for the purposes of combat among other miscellaneous duties the company might need done.

So far a fairly normal sort of job. However, in the first episode matters get even more complicated when Sadamaki and Kuroitsu’s new promising monster Wolf Bete, a muscular wolf man in development, ends up getting converted into a lithe wolf girl after the fearsome leader of Agastia decides that would be cuter.

Wolf girl fresh from the oven. See also fearsome leader Akashic, who is of course a massively powerful small girl, what’s new.

Very unfortunately for Bete, there wasn’t time and/or the budget to convert his brain to a female’s, so he’s left with some gender mismatch issues that he ends up dealing with for the rest of the series, the poor guy. Wolf-kun, as Kuroitsu refers to him, is still revved up to do his job, however, which is to defeat one of Agastia’s greatest enemies, the warrior of justice Divine Swordsman Blader.

But also unfortunately, Blader is a hard guy to defeat.

After Wolf-kun is defeated in one-on-one combat, Kuroitsu and Sadamaki return to the drawing board and enlist his help in the lab and around the office. And there’s a lot for him to help with, because though Agastia is an evil organization full of superpowered monsters and executives who can shoot lasers out of their eyes, it’s run more or less like a typical corporation. Project approval requires the assent of Akashic and her board of executives, many of them fearsome monsters themselves, and Kuroitsu and Sadamaki have to fight over their budget with the many other departments in the company, some of which are also involved more peripherally in monster development but enough to be an annoyance.

The world of fighting magical girls and warriors of justice with lab-created monsters is surprisingly mundane most of the time — an executive audit is legitimately more of a worry than a giant robot attack.

Almost immediately, then, it’s apparent that Kuroitsu isn’t what you might expect from the cover. I wonder whether viewers were passing on this one because it might have looked like a generic sci-fi anime. If that was the case, it’s too bad, because while it has plenty of super sentai, magical girl, and mad scientist/monster stuff going on, Kuroitsu is mostly a workplace comedy, and a pretty fine one too. The list of jokes that can be made about professional life at a large corporation and all the red tape and procedural nightmares that go with it is endless, and all the better when some fun characters, creative designs, and bizarrely comic situations are thrown into the mix.

Don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

In that roulette post, I mentioned that the first episode of Kuroitsu reminded me of Jahy-sama, another series featuring a mix of human and superhuman characters thrown together into more of a slice-of-life sort of comedy. Kuroitsu isn’t a copy of Jahy-sama at all — the two series take different approaches with their plots and character relationships, but they do have some overlap in the sense that I think the sort of person who might enjoy Jahy-sama might also enjoy this.

I think that partly because I’m that sort of person myself. You might have guessed already this comparison was coming since I’ve made it once before, but both remind me of the Disgaea series, which I love for some of the same reasons.* Kuroitsu also has just that sort of energy, but with more of an emphasis on both the perks and responsibilities of the corporate life.

Wolf-kun on assignment with the boss, checking up on the amusement park her evil corporation maintains as a front. They’re not just having fun going on rides and eating carnival food, no. This is serious business.

I especially like that despite its self-description as an evil entity bent on taking over the world, Agastia really isn’t that evil. It’s not exactly the most well-run organization, firstly — see the screwup with Wolf-kun in episode 1, perhaps a good lesson for top executives not to go messing around with projects last-minute and without proper planning beforehand, but also an indication that world domination isn’t quite in the cards for the company. However, it also has a sort of social conscience strangely enough: its amusement park front seems like a genuinely nice place for families and kids to visit, and when a brawl gets started by a monster from a rival organization and a pair of magical girls get mixed up in the fight, Wolf-kun and his monster colleagues are concerned firstly with protecting the park patrons and getting them out of harm’s way.

Agastia is even conscientious towards its own employees. Aside from a couple of red tape and inefficiency-related slip-ups, it seems like a pretty good company to work for. The fact that they treat not just their human employees but also their monsters with respect is admirable, especially since that’s not a given among similar evil organizations as we see near the end of the series. A lot of this goodwill flows down from the terrifying-looking but fair-minded second-in-command Megistus, who uses positive reinforcement and encourages his subordinates to take time off when they need it and to ask for extensions when their schedules are too crowded.

He looks scary but is actually an effective manager who cares about his employees. What a great boss. Shit, I’ve worked at way worse places than Agastia.

There aren’t too many ways to keep writing “Kuroitsu was consistently funny and I liked it”, so it’s probably enough just to write that and leave it there, since I don’t think there’s much else to explore here. There’s just one serious criticism I can think of to make about this series: it looks pretty damn cheap, and quite a bit cheaper than Jahy-sama did which I’ve been comparing it to, and which didn’t look amazing itself.

But as with Jahy-sama, I really don’t mind the cheap look most of the time, because Kuroitsu is also entertaining enough without having to rely on visual spectacle. It might have even been a purposeful decision — the low-budget look fits well with the evil scientists vs. super sentai theme somehow, especially when I think back to some of that cheesy-looking live action Power Rangers stuff airing when I was a kid. In any case, it’s probably pretty easy to make that stylistic decision when you don’t have much of a budget anyway, but since I don’t know what the studio Quad was working with (and I’ve never seen anything they’ve produced before Kuroitsu, so that’s no help) I can’t speculate.

Cool-looking massive robots cost a whole lot both to build, and Agastia definitely doesn’t have the budget to build any of those, so don’t expect to see any.

So Kuroitsu was a fun comedy. Might work even better for you if you’re especially into that classic super sentai and/or magical girl stuff, which I’m not really, and it still worked well enough for me, so hopefully that speaks to its quality. It’s a shame Kuroitsu, Wolf-kun, and their friends and enemies alike didn’t get more notice (or much of any at all from what I could tell) but at least hopefully fans of the source manga enjoyed it. I might have to check that out myself. And as for you dub-only fans out there, despite flying under the radar here, Kuroitsu got an English dub — a great choice to watch if you’re allergic to subtitles! No idea how the dub sounds myself since I don’t watch them, but it’s nice that Crunchyroll is providing that option anyway. More work for VAs is always good.

I still think Crunchyroll is a giant pile of shit, though. Thanks for restricting screenshotting on mobile, you fucks. Are you afraid that I’m going to screenshot every frame and rip the episode to a piracy site (you know, the kind you were when you started out?) I guess I’m throwing away my 0.00000001% chance at ever getting sponsored by you and your bosses at Sony, but it’s worth it to keep complaining.

 

* And a note that I’ll probably be getting Disgaea 6 Complete when it comes out on the PS4 in a few days. So much for no more lengthy JRPGs aside from Atelier… but I have to make an exception here too, right? I’m also amazed that we’re still getting games for the PS4 after so long; that system has had an impressive lifespan.

A review of Yuru Camp (S2)

I guess anyone following me on that cursed social platform Twitter or even just here on my site could have seen this post coming. This is actually a first for me, somehow, even after almost nine years of writing on the blog — I’ve never divided a review of an anime series into seasons like this. I wondered whether I’d even have enough to say about the second season of Yuru Camp that I hadn’t already said in my review of the first, but it turns out that Yuru Camp is a surprisingly deep well to pull from.

Or maybe that’s not so surprising. Because while Yuru Camp season 2 continues along with the central cast of girls going camping and sometimes getting into hard situations they have to dig themselves out from, it also shifts a little away from the camping advice aspect of the first season (which gave us plenty of such advice anyway, so that’s all right) and a little more towards character and relationship development. And once again, the obligatory spoiler warning, though there’s not really much plot to talk about in this season either. Might sound strange considering what I just wrote above, but you can have character development without plot development after all.

Even Outdoor Activity Club advisor Toba-sensei has a little character development, this time just getting drunk as opposed to totally wasted. It’s progress!

The second season of Yuru Camp starts more or less from where the first left off, following Rin, Nadeshiko, Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki just after their Christmas camping trip as they go back to their part-time jobs and prepare for their New Year celebrations. Of course, Rin gets some time to travel by herself, heading out on her moped to see the sights out on a scenic cape off the Pacific coast. In the meantime, the rest of the girls keep connected with her and make their own winter camping plans. While Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki head up to a mountain lake on their own, Nadeshiko thinks about following Rin’s lead and trying out a solo journey.

Nadeshiko, all excitement as usual.

Despite the relative challenges they face, the girls manage to get through their trips in one piece thanks to some help both from old and new friends. And as in the first season, the last third or so of this 13-episode run is dedicated to a group camping trip with the whole crew, driven by their teacher and advisor Miss Toba who as noted doesn’t get quite as drunk on the trip this time thanks to her extra responsibilities (and to her students actively taking the bottle from her hand and holding it away from her. Well, I know the feeling.)

I’m sober now, but even I have to admit that while a beautiful sunset is nice, a cup of sake enhances it a bit. There’s no point denying it.

Again, Yuru Camp is pretty thin on the plot and has no conflict aside from a little of the old “man vs. nature” we learned about in high school English class (or in this case “schoolgirls vs. nature”, but Rin is just as capable as any tough woodsman anyway.) But just as with the first season, this works to its benefit, because there’s just as much relaxation to be had in the second season thanks to this light slice-of-life approach.

However, there is that character development I mentioned above, and I think it’s an important part of what kept Yuru Camp fresh for me after 25 episodes. The season starts with Rin’s own backstory, when she started solo camping as a far less capable middle school student, getting advice and support from her mother, father, and most of all her outdoors expert grandfather.

And from fellow campers who are thankfully friendly and helpful.

As the season continues, Rin keeps warming up to her friends and to the general idea of camping as a group, while still cherishing her solo camping routines. As Rin gets more experience in that direction, Nadeshiko gets more in the other with her solo camping adventure, which goes surprisingly well considering how much of a novice she was when we first met her in the first episode of the first season. Rin is heartened to see Nadeshiko taking solo camping seriously, though she does worry about Nadeshiko when she stops answering her phone and even heads out to her campsite on her moped (as does Nadeshiko’s older sister, totally independently) to make sure she’s not dead or anything.

Chiaki and Ena out on the edge of a lake in January. Winter camping is rough if you’re not prepared for it.

Nadeshiko is fine, but this fear isn’t unfounded as we see in the sixth episode, in which Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki try winter camping at Cape Ohmama, which turns out to be far too cold for their gear to keep them warm. After their phone batteries die thanks to the chill, the trio end up pretty much stranded on the edge of a lake, facing the prospect of huddling all together in one tent simply to survive. Thankfully, the always wary Rin is put on alert when she hears where her friends are, knowing better than them how far temperatures drop there, and she alerts their advisor in turn, who heads out to the lake in her car.

This brings me to one of the most interesting aspects of Yuru Camp in general, and one that came up strongly in this season: the camaraderie between campers, even those who are total strangers. While out looking for ways to survive the night, Ena, Aoi, and Chiaki meet and are taken in by a woman and her father out camping in a tent with a proper stove. When Toba shows up following Rin’s call, she’s invited in as well, and they all have an impromptu dinner party out in the woods. This isn’t the only time a stranger comes along to help out one of our main characters, just as we saw in the first episode of this season with a young Rin still learning the ropes, or last season with Toba’s younger sister showing up before any of them knew each other to assist Rin and Nadeshiko with a cookout they were attempting.

It’s not exactly a reliance on the kindness of strangers, since none of the girls were exactly relying on any of these people to come along and help out. Yet they end up benefiting greatly from this sudden help. I don’t know how much of this sort of mutual support between strangers out in the wild actually happens, since as I noted in the last review I’m not a camper or an outdoors person in the slightest. I do know that I was always taught to be wary of strangers when I was a kid, since there was a non-zero chance they’d end up being kidnappers or serial killers or something similar.

You might think I’m just being unnecessarily dark here again, but this really is one aspect of Yuru Camp that I couldn’t connect with in personal terms so well just because of my upbringing. Maybe it was the time and place I grew up in — 90s suburban America was scared to death of murderers stalking the streets and grabbing kids, to the extent that we couldn’t walk down the road to a friend’s house without being secretly watched by our parents. That’s no exaggeration. So the idea of being able to get on a moped and drive for hundreds of miles alone as a teenager, or even several miles down to a lake to camp on my own — it’s unthinkable to me. Maybe that’s still another part of the appeal Yuru Camp holds for me, being able to watch these characters do things I never could have (if I’d even been inclined to in the first place, which I admit I wasn’t. But maybe I would have been if I’d had the chance? You can never really answer a what if.)

Rin and Nadeshiko seeing the sights in Nadeshiko’s old hometown before she moved inland to Yamanashi. Another theme of Yuru Camp I’ve enjoyed in general was the easy mix of old and new friends — no drama or jealousy going on here, just good vibes, which is exactly what I need. Save all that shit for another series.

In my look at the first season, I missed out on a lot of the aesthetic aspects of Yuru Camp, so I may as well mention them here. That was a major oversight, in fact, since this series looks great as you can tell from the screenshots I’ve posted. I’d never even heard of the studio C-Station before watching this anime, but they did a great job with it, really making the Japanese countryside, mountains, and seaside look beautiful. I’ll extend my praise to the character designs too — each character is distinctive with a look that fits them perfectly. I haven’t read the Yuru Camp manga at all, but I imagine that praise should go to the original artist and writer Afro.

Somehow I didn’t bring up the series’ music, either, which is an even worse mistake on my part. Yuru Camp has an excellent soundtrack, with several recurring tracks that stand out like Laid-Back Time and Solo Camp△ Recommendation (there’s that △ I’ve been avoiding all this time!) It’s all or almost all acoustic as well, perfectly fitting the outdoors feel. Though I guess you could drag some speakers into the woods with a power supply if you really felt like it. And don’t skip those opening or ending themes either, like first season’s Fuyu Biyori.

And of course there’s also just as much talk about cooking and eating food as in the first season. I almost fucking cried looking at this just because of how much I wanted it.

I wrote in that last post that watching Yuru Camp made me hate life a little less, and I still feel that way about this second season. But there’s a little sadness mixed in there as well now about possibly missing out on some good experiences myself. Maybe that’s just my general sense of bitterness and lack of gratitude talking.

And also my continued jealousy of access to those natural hot springs. I don’t want to fall into that “grass is greener on the other side” trap but it doesn’t look like any amount of “self-care” you can get where I live can compare to this. The only natural resources we have here aren’t the kind you’d want to soak in.

Well, maybe there’s still time for me to unravel all that stress and bitterness, probably in fifty years once I’m nearly dead assuming I make it that far. In the meantime, I’ll keep an eye out for the Yuru Camp movie that’s supposed to be coming out this summer and for the third season that’s being talked about beyond that. I have no doubt they’ll both be great after watching these first two seasons.

So that’s all for Yuru Camp for now. I have no idea what’s coming up next, but whatever it is, I’ll probably somehow find a way to make it depressing too — until then!

A review of Yuru Camp (S1)

Looks like my new, “original” anime roulette post feature was more successful than I’d first hoped at finding me new stuff to watch, because just four days after landing on Yuru Camp, aka Laid-Back Camp,* I finished the first season. Granted, it was only 12 episodes long, and I still have to watch the second season (along with the upcoming movie whenever we get that) but considering how long I usually take to get through even a one-cour run of anime, this is lightning speed for me.

Maybe I tore through it so quickly because Yuru Camp was something I badly needed to watch. When its first season aired in 2018, it totally passed me by. I wasn’t watching any currently-airing anime at the time, and even if I had been, I’ve always had a bit of a bias against these pure slice-of-life shows featuring “cute girls doing x,” where x is whatever theme the show focuses on (for example, playing music in K-On!, or more usually just living their school lives.) That x in Yuru Camp is camping, which didn’t increase the odds that I’d bother checking it out — I appreciate the natural beauty of the Earth, but I prefer to do that through my monitor in 1080p. I have absolutely no interest in camping myself, so even if it featured plenty of natural beauty, a show about camping wasn’t likely to attract me.

Considering all that, I probably never would have watched Yuru Camp if VRV hadn’t recommended it to me and I hadn’t then landed on its short spinoff Room Camp in my last post. And though VRV is still kind of a piece of shit, I have to thank them, because this is a case where my biases were completely stupid. I loved this first season of Yuru Camp. You know I don’t use that word lightly either, so I’ll explain myself below (and also spoilers, I guess, but the show kind of “spoils” the ending of this season in its very first scene, where I got the above screenshot from, so it’s not as big as deal as it would normally be. This isn’t the most plot-heavy series ever anyway.)

Yuru Camp opens with Rin Shima, a dedicated solo camper heading out to a lake near Mt. Fuji on her bike. Despite still being in high school, Rin already has serious experience going out on her own on extended trips away from home, setting up camp in the woods, by rivers, and on scenic lakes and hills. Even the fact that it’s nearly winter and cold out doesn’t bother her — in fact, she prefers camping during the off-season, when she can feel truly alone in the outdoors.

As Rin approaches the campsite, she sees a pink-haired girl sleeping on a bench at a rest area nearby. She doesn’t think much of this, but after night falls and she returns to the main campsite complex to use the bathroom, she’s frightened by the same girl, who suddenly appears behind her crying for help. After a brief chase back to her tent by the lake, Rin discovers that this girl, Nadeshiko Kagamihara, is new to the area and came up to the campsite on her own bike to see Mt. Fuji up close for the first time. Since she doesn’t have any food with her, Rin shares her fire and a cup of instant ramen with Nadeshiko, who happy accepts.

I only ever ate instant ramen in a shitty dorm room, looks better eating it by Mt. Fuji. Also, the ramen we ate in college didn’t have actual beef in it. Can’t expect much from those 30 cent Maruchan Cup Noodles I guess.

Nadeshiko is eventually rescued by getting a lift from her older sister, but not before giving Rin her number so they can go camping together. Rin isn’t necessarily too hot on the idea, since she’s a dedicated solo camper, but she doesn’t seem very against the idea either. However, she still needs to warm up to that idea a bit. And before she can get that time she runs into Nadeshiko again, far sooner than she’d anticipated, when Rin notices her at school and realizes they’re classmates.

Excited by the prospect of more camping, Nadeshiko has just joined the Outdoor Activities Club or the “Outclub”, a less intense version of the school’s Hiking Club. This Outclub is also dedicated to camping, but without the kind of physical exertion required to go hiking — just nice, laid-back camping.

They’re also headquartered in an extremely cramped, narrow room and don’t have much in the way of funds because there’s only three of them including their new recruit, and good winter sleeping bags are expensive.

When Nadeshiko sees Rin at their school for the first time, she excitedly asks Rin to join the club, thinking she’d be perfect for it given her interests. But no luck: she’s a true solo camper and has no interest in joining up.

Despite this refusal, Rin establishes a friendship with Nadeshiko and starts talking with her more about camping. And on her next solo outing, when Rin tells her old friend Ena where she’s camping over text as she often does, Nadeshiko unexpectedly shows up at the same campsite with her older sister. Rin is surprised, but far from being put out by it, she welcomes Nadeshiko over.

Ena at home with her dog, working behind the scenes to get Rin out of her shell/comfort zone.

As Rin gets to know Nadeshiko better, she also gets a bit closer to Chiaki Oogaki and Aoi Inuyama, the other two members of her club, and eventually after a few more solo outings of her own during which she texts and shares photos with them, she finally caves in. Not to join the club, no — that’s still way too far for her. But she does agree to join them for an overnight Christmas campout along with their newly roped-in club advisor, the new teacher Miss Toba, who takes the opportunity to get wasted (her other name being “Miss Chug” as it’s translated in the subtitles, which is applied in probably the most favorable way possible here.)

It’s not real cocoa without rum in it

That’s all this first season of Yuru Camp has in terms of plot. It’s not much — the actual events of this 12-episode run are pretty thin and there’s no conflict at all to speak of. Unless you count Rin not really wanting to join Nadeshiko in the Outclub, and nobody’s actually bothered by that, so I don’t even count it as a conflict. In that sense, this is very much the expected slice-of-life series.

But what it does have is so good that the lack of conflict or plot or any of that other standard story stuff is made into a positive. Yuru Camp is pure relaxation and comfort, and watching it had almost a healing effect on me. It’s even placed into another category of anime, iyashikei, a term I hadn’t heard before that refers to the healing qualities of a series like this. Healing for the psyche and the soul, I guess, and if that’s the point of Yuru Camp, it worked. Normally, as I’ve said before, I don’t go for this sort of slice-of-life stuff, but there’s something special about this series in particular that made it work for me.

The characters are a big part of this appeal. Even though she loves camping and I don’t, I can extremely relate to Rin’s desire for solitude. However, her contrast with the excitable, outgoing Nadeshiko does a lot to make this show interesting. Yeah, it is the standard “opposite leads” thing (I don’t know if there’s another name for it; I never took any bullshit creative writing courses so it has a proper one for all I know) but done really well. Rin and Nadeshiko’s interactions with their other friends were also always entertaining — I especially liked Aoi’s dry responses to Chiaki and Nadeshiko’s occasionally freaking out, and especially to Toba’s crying over forgetting to bring the proper kinds of booze for their trip. There’s plenty of good comedy in those back-and-forth bits.

There’s also some nice light commentary on weird social stuff, like bringing food over for your sick friend and then being roped into making dinner for everyone when you don’t really know how to cook just because you’re a local and are supposed to know the cuisine by heart. Of course, it all works out somehow.

The fact that the series in this season focuses almost entirely on camping also helps, I think, even though I have no interest in it myself. It was easy to forget at times that it’s sort of technically another school-setting series. Not that that’s always bad; I’ve praised quite a few school setting shows here on the site myself.

But Yuru Camp is something different. Aside from a bit of time spent in the club’s cramped room at school and talk about their final exams before their Christmas excursion, almost all the show takes place out in various campgrounds or on the way to them — at a rest stop, a restaurant, or a hot springs to refresh from the road. The few hot springs scenes throughout especially make me wish I were over there to try them out, since I don’t live on a volcanic island and don’t have easy access to such a thing, and a hot shower doesn’t feel like much of a substitute.

Yuru Camp features a lot of actual camping advice as well. I don’t think I’ll ever find any of it useful myself, but it will probably help out other viewers, especially if this series motivates them to try out camping for themselves.

Another major theme of Yuru Camp I didn’t expect to find was food. This show obsesses over food — it’s almost as much of a cooking series as Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family, with dishes drawn and animated in just as lovingly a fashion. And the effect in this series is about the same: it emphasizes the power of shared meals to bring people together, as it does all the members of the club, Ena, and Rin. And even the drunk as hell Toba-sensei, who at least sobers up enough during the end-of-season Christmas camping trip to praise everyone’s cooking.

Also like Today’s Menu, all the food in Yuru Camp made me hungry for dishes I couldn’t make or easily get. I’m not sure how “healing” that was exactly, but I was happy at least to see Rin, Nadeshiko and company enjoying them.

Aside from all the great-looking barbecue and hot pot stuff, they pay tribute to the American classic s’mores, which I wasn’t expecting. I might not be much of a camper, but even I’ve had a few of these over a fire when I was a kid. Also Nadeshiko is a god damn cinnamon roll, more than any other character I’ve seen, and there are a few other contenders for sure.

Aside from all the new and growing friendships going on in Yuru Camp, I liked how the series dealt with Rin’s preference for solitude in general. Ena does push her a bit to get out and bond with Nadeshiko, and then later with Chiaki and Aoi, though always in a subtle way. At the same time, it’s never stated or even implied that Rin’s solo camping is a bad thing in itself, or that it’s a sign of her self-isolation or any such thing.

This is an important distinction, and one that isn’t always made. As much as I liked and still like a series like Nagatoro, for example, the “getting the lead out of his shell” story was almost always put in the context of a budding romance with the girl pulling him out of that self-imposed solitude. That setup works for that sort of series, since it is a romance and we naturally want to see the two romantic interests interact, but I think that approach just would have annoyed me in Yuru Camp (well, maybe you could make the same argument against Nagatoro and similar series, but those have different expectations for their characters.)

Even when you’re physically far from friends, it’s possible to be close.

All of the above helped make Yuru Camp into a real healing experience for me, or at least as close as watching anime can get to comforting the soul or however you want to put it. It might also be useful to you as a bit of camping advice, or even as a travel guide if you live in or are headed to Yamanashi Prefecture, where its characters live and where most of the series’ action takes place.

That doesn’t apply to me, but I still really enjoyed Yuru Camp. I haven’t given out numerical scores for a few years now, and I won’t start again — it works well for some other excellent writers and reviewers, but for some reason it doesn’t for me. However, I’ll give this series a rating in qualitative form: watching Yuru Camp made me hate life a little less. That’s my version of an A+, for what it’s worth.

And who knows, maybe I’ll bother going outside one day.

I’m not sure what I’ll watch next, but it may well be Yuru Camp season 2. I don’t normally break up established series like this, but I’ve heard the second season has a different feel than the first. It also sounds like a third season might be on its way at some point since a film is coming out this year, so I may as well go season by season while I have the time. Whatever I happen to watch and finish next, see you next time.

 

* I’m using the Japanese title now instead because it’s fewer letters to type and I don’t have to fuck with that irritating hyphen, and also because Yuru Camp seems to be how most people here refer to it anyway. Technically there’s also a Unicode triangle △ at the end of that title representing a tent, but I’m not messing with that either.

The anime roulette: part 2

I didn’t expect to be back with the second part of this anime roulette feature so soon. But the first part was a bit of a disappointment, giving me not one series that I felt very much like continuing (aside from Sorairo Utility, but at 15 minutes including the ending it didn’t give anything else to watch.) So I felt like trying again to see if I could get more promising results. I’ve also had a few unexpected days off from work, but since I’m on constant standby, I can’t go anywhere — I’m still chained to my desk waiting for the inevitable flood of documents that will hit sooner or later. Maybe even as I write this sentence… but no, still nothing.

So thank God there’s plenty of other things to do at my desk, all involving looking at a screen just like my job does (I’m sure my eyes will give out before I reach 40; I’ve just accepted this.) The original list of anime recommendations give to me by the assholes at VRV is down from 17 to 12 following the first post in this series. Since that post, my recommendation list has been updated with some new series — it’s specifically filling up with school-setting slice of life-looking stuff now, which is annoying.

But never mind, because I won’t be adding anything new to this roulette. Not today, at least. Maybe I’ll throw in a few new series once I’ve gotten down to seven or eight left to keep things interesting. But I also don’t feel like watering down the original results with new recommendations affected by what I’ve watched in the last week. In other words, I don’t really want to watch more school slice of life series, though YuruYuri honestly looks like it might be all right. Sounds like Asobi Asobase from the description.

Anyway, there’s still enough on the roulette to not have to think about that for a while, so I’ll put the decision off to later. The rules I made up for this feature are set down in that first post, but to recap: if I land on something, I watch at least one episode of it. So more like “the rule” since there’s only one. Here’s what I’ve got to deal with now:

And as before, the full list:

CUE!
DENKI-GAI
Flying Witch
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu
Is the Order a Rabbit?
Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House
Laid-Back Camp
Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department
ROOM CAMP
Salaryman’s Club
Servant x Service
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

Now for the first spin (or the sixth — I’ll be counting from where we left off.)

Hey, it’s Salaryman’s Club! Nice! Or not nice. I have no idea yet. This is another currently airing full-length series, but that’s all I know about it. Let’s check it out:

Spin 6: Salaryman’s Club

Trains in Japan look so much nicer than the shitty ones we have in my country. Amtrak’s not giving you three fucking bentos on your trip.

Of all the series VRV could have recommended me, “anime about badminton with an all-male cast” is about as far as possible from what I would have expected. I generally don’t watch sports anime (aside from Sorairo Utility last post, and another one I have pending that’s such an unusual case I don’t think it exactly counts as the typical sports series.) And I can’t remember the last anime I’ve watched with an all-male cast since seeing Kaiji well over a decade ago. Maybe an episode of Golgo 13, I think?

But that’s okay, because the first episode of Salaryman’s Club was pretty decent. The protagonist is one Mikoto Shiratori, a young professional badminton player who loses his spot on a big Kyoto bank’s corporate team after failing to perform up to expectations. Shiratori seems to be held back by the memory of his partner on a doubles team sustaining a terrible injury, which still causes him to sometimes freeze up while playing.

Pictured: youthful tragedy

Despite this setback, Shiratori quickly gets picked up by another team representing a drink company, where he’s hired on as a hybrid salesman/badminton player (?) He meets his new colleagues, including a guy he played badminton with in high school and Tatsuru Miyazumi, the other lead of the show and Shiratori’s doubles partner. Shiratori is dead-set against playing doubles because of his old partner’s tragic accident, however, and he has to face up against Miyazumi in a one-on-one match to prove that he can play singles instead.

The most interesting aspect of Salaryman’s Club to me was the “corporate team” setup. Here in the States some big companies do have sports clubs, but nobody outside of the company gives a shit about them. It’s just a team-building thing to do on the occasional Saturday maybe. But the badminton club in this show seems far more serious, like regular people actually watch these matches and cheer on their favorite corporate teams. Is that a thing in Japan? I guess it must be, unless this series is making up a completely fantastic sports-related situation like Keijo!!!!!!!! does (if you were wondering what the non-typical sports series I was talking about above was, it’s that.)

Otherwise, Salaryman’s Club seems like a pretty standard sort of sports anime. Protagonist is a skilled player but has issues related to past trauma, and he needs help to reach his greatest potential through teamwork and friendship. Based on just this first episode, I’d say this series is starting that story off well enough, and with some comedy mixed up to keep things light. Of course, Shiratori also has a near-magical “special skill” of foresight where his eyes glow red (this might just be an artistic flair, sure) and he can instantly tell where his opponent is about to hit the shuttlecock with the accuracy of a computer. From what I’ve seen, it’s also normal to add this kind of “special move/trait” stuff into sports anime.

All that said, I probably won’t watch more of Salaryman’s Club. I’ll just say there’s a reason I started watching Keijo!!!!!!!!, though that series does have more to it than just the obvious appeal (you’ll see what I mean if I get around to it soon.) But that appeal is honestly a big part of the otherwise limited appeal of sports-related shows to me. It’s also an appeal that a sports series full of guys just doesn’t hold for me.

I think this red-haired lady might have had one line, but that’s about it aside from Mikoto’s mom.

Maybe that’s horrifically shallow of me, but I don’t care. I also don’t care about badminton all that much — I think I played it a couple of times as a kid, but I was lousy at it, and I’ve never watched it competitively. I’m way more into tennis. However, if you’re a fan of badminton and/or good-looking anime guys, I recommend you watch Salaryman’s Club, because it seems to have some real quality to it and it’s aimed directly at you.

Now on to the next pick, let’s have a good spin:

What a title. And for the seventh time, I don’t have any idea of what to expect. This series is also currently airing, but I haven’t seen any talk about it. Is it about regular monsters, or maybe monster girls? I guess I’m about to find out.

Spin 7: Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department

Finally, after seven spins, one of VRV’s recommendations actually hits! Took it long enough. One out of seven isn’t a great record, but it’s better than zero (and sure, I liked Sorairo Utility pretty well, but again, it was just a 15-minute OVA. So maybe 1.5 out of seven, because I don’t even know if I’d want to watch a whole series about golf.)

Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department is about title character Touka Kuroitsu, a young scientist working in the R&D department of of a large corporation. Only this corporation is a front for an evil organization planning on world conquest, and Kuroitsu’s department works on developing monsters to destroy their mortal enemy, the hero of justice Divine Swordsman Blader.

Kuroitsu is smart and driven and loves her job, except when she’s forced to work overtime to meet a deadline or to cover for her genius but lazy department head. She also has to work hard to please her ultimate boss Akashic, the massively powerful leader of the corporation who’s also a small girl with a flighty personality, because that contrast seems to be common in these kinds of shows.

Sometimes you’re developing a superweapon to destroy your employer’s mortal enemy, but then your boss has different priorities.

After one episode, Miss Kuroitsu looks like much more of a workplace comedy than an action series. The workplace just happens to be an evil corporation bent on total global domination. But it doesn’t mean they don’t value diversity or the health and wellbeing of their employees. In fact, I’m positive I’ve worked at a couple of far worse places than Kuroitsu’s company. At least their second in command encourages them to take vacation days and to ask for more time on project proposals when they need it.

Communication is key in business

And hey, it looks like this series might get a little spicy in that same more comedic direction, which is fine with me. Although I’m probably not going to be thinking of the kind of Liru-looking wolf girl “Wolf Bete” Kuroitsu and her boss develop in that way, because of a reason you might see if you watch this episode.

Note: this is only happening in this guy’s very active imagination, but it also relates to a nice twist at the end of the episode.

Even though it’s currently airing, Miss Kuroitsu somehow feels like a throwback to the 2000s — maybe it’s that Liru-looking character that partly gives me that impression, or maybe it’s because the series has a bit of an older look to it. Or maybe a lower-budget look. But I’m totally fine with that as well as long as it keeps the comedy up.

I don’t have much else to say about Miss Kuroitsu, because there doesn’t really seem to be much else to it. However, it’s also the first pick I’ve landed on that I’ll definitely keep watching. It reminds me of Jahy-sama, and I liked that series a lot, so it seems like a good bet. And an extra recommendation for those who are into Super Sentai-style shows, because Miss Kuroitsu is full of that stuff. Maybe you’ll notice some references I missed.

Now for the next spin. I’m hoping to start a lucky streak here:

So I landed on ROOM CAMP. But then I noticed it’s still another series of shorts, and also that the title looked a lot like Laid-Back Camp (or Yuru Camp, if you want to be extra-weeb and use the Japanese title; they’re the same show) which is also one of the few series on this wheel that I’m at all familiar with. So I checked, and turns out it’s a spinoff of the full Laid-Back Camp series. And since that’s also on the roulette, and it would be pretty stupid to watch this without context, I decided to just watch the first episode of Laid-Back Camp instead and mark both of them off. I don’t know if this counts as a cheat, but it feels justified to me.

Spin 8: Laid-Back Camp

I know I wrote up at the top that I didn’t want more school slice of life stuff, but maybe I shouldn’t make those kinds of blanket statements about genres in the future. Because even though Laid-Back Camp looks like it might be just that, I also liked the first episode in a way I don’t have to qualify this time, so I consider this another hit. This round of spins is turning out to be a lot more successful than the last one. Maybe my karma’s improved in the last few days or something.

Rin Shima is a student living out in the countryside who makes a habit of going solo camping. While camping in the cold off-season by the shore of a lake near Mt. Fuji, Rin meets Nadeshiko Kagamihara, another girl she saw on the way to her campsite sleeping on a bench. Nadeshiko, unlike Rin, doesn’t seem to know much about camping, and it turns out she’s a new arrival to the area and got tired on her way to see Mt. Fuji, only waking up when it was pitch-black and ice-cold outside, and on top of all that missing her phone.

This show makes instant ramen look way better than the kind I’ve had

Rin takes Nadeshiko in for a while at her campsite and the two talk and bond a little over cups of ramen until Nadeshiko finally remembers her older sister’s phone number to call her for a lift. And of course, a few days later when school starts, Rin sees Nadeshiko at the entrance, because these look like the two central characters of the series (or anyway, they’re both on the cover of the manga volume I saw, which is also a good indicator.)

Laid-Back Camp might have a similar setup to other school-based slice of life shows, but two aspects set it apart from the standard kind so far for me. One of these is the fact that it’s about more than just some students hanging out and talking about whatever comes to their minds with its focus on camping as a theme. Laid-Back Camp even seems to feature some actual advice for campers (which I’ll never use myself, since I’m about as likely to go to the woods for any reason as I am to fly to the Moon.)

This advice seems more trustworthy than the survival guide stuff in Are You Lost? at least.

I also like Rin a lot so far. Any character who loves solitude this much is one I can relate to, though it does look like Rin’s solitude is about to be broken, at least sometimes. There’s a massive contrast between her and the chatty, excitable Nadeshiko, which might also make for a nice dynamic between them.

So I’m putting Laid-Back Camp in the “keep watching” list. I think I’ll save this one for those times I wake up at 2 am and can’t go back to sleep, but I’m still dazed and tired. It seems like a show for just that kind of time: watch one of these episodes, relax, then maybe return to sleep if I can. There are two seasons out so far and something like 24 or 25 episodes, so plenty to keep me going.

You might also put this show on your tablet and watch it while you’re camping for that real meta feel

And I think that’s it for this second anime roulette post. Far better results in general this time — I actually have something to watch now, though I already had plenty to watch anyway. But I was happy to discover Miss Kuroitsu and Laid-Back Camp and look forward to getting more into them. I also hope someone else can enjoy Salaryman’s Club, because it honestly seems pretty all right so far despite my stupid biases.

I also have eight series left on the wheel, and maybe I’ll add a few next time I return to this feature to get that to 10 or 12. I also reserve the right to just pull a series off of the roulette and watch it separately if I’m interested, or if someone else manages to sell me on it. I do need to figure out a better way to get recommendations, though. There’s a massive amount of anime out there, far more than anyone can probably watch in a lifetime — all the more reason to be annoyed when people generalize about it. Even my own generalization about a genre within anime were blown up in this post, as far as you can call Laid-Back Camp a “cute girls doing cute things” show. I guess it’s the same with any medium: never write a whole genre or style off completely.

The anime roulette: part 1

Look, it’s yet another stupid gimmick I came up with! Well, saying I came up with this one wouldn’t be accurate, to be honest. Even though I don’t have much interest in live-action stuff, I am subscribed to popular internet criticism/satirical comedy/etc. channel Red Letter Media, the guys most famous for making those Mr. Plinkett reviews. But my favorite episodes of theirs have always been the Wheel of the Worst, in which they stick a bunch of terrible-looking 80s/90s instructional and vanity project videos on a wooden wheel and spin it to see what they have to suffer through.

Unfortunately, I don’t have my own Rich Evans to build an actual working wheel for me, and I also don’t have any friends to make jokes with about bad VHS tapes while drinking beer and being depressed about where our lives have gone. But I do have access to one of the many wheel-spinner sites that let you make your own roulette, along with a list of anime that shitass streaming service VRV has recommended to me,1 supposedly based on what I’ve watched on their service already.

Using this list, I created the below wheel of my own, though I’m interchangeably calling it a roulette to make it seem different from similar concepts. Out of the 20 “top picks for you” VRV gave me, I picked the following 17 series — the only ones I left out were Hanasaku Iroha and March comes in like a lion, since I already have both of those near the top of my to-watch list, and another series I’ve already seen the first episode of and was pretty cold on. I have absolutely no feelings about the rest of these series. Most of them I’d never even heard of before, so unlike those hack frauds at RLM I have no reason to cheat the system I’ve created (though their cheating also gave us the pure joy of Surviving Edged Weapons, so it was justified.)

The wheel I’ve made, hopefully not of the worst. Also yeah, I typo’d salaryman. It’s early right now, fuck off

Since the wheel cuts some of these titles off, here’s the full list:

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform
CUE!
DENKI-GAI
Flying Witch
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu
I’M KODAMA KAWASHIRI
Is the Order a Rabbit?
KAGI-NADO
Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House
Laid-Back Camp
Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department
ROOM CAMP
Salaryman’s Club
Servant x Service
Slow Start
Sorairo Utility
Uma Musume: Pretty Derby

The rules are simple: if I land on something, I watch at least the first episode of it. I might watch more if I like what I see, but I’ll go that far at least. So this is similar to my older “episode 1 anime roll” posts, except this time, I’m leaving the choice of series up to the algorithm and the roulette wheel I’ve generated.

Now for the first spin of the wheel:

I’ve never heard of you, Kodama Kawashiri! And why the fuck are you yelling at me? The title really is written in all caps. On to the business:

Spin 1: I’M KODAMA KAWASHIRI

I watched the first three episodes of I’m Kodama Kawashiri (all caps implied from now on) but not because I was so captivated by it — rather because it’s a short. One of the shortest shorts I’ve seen, in fact: each episode is only two and a half minutes long. Amazingly, the OP is longer than the episode itself at 1:30, leaving one single fucking minute for things to happen in the episode proper, so little time that the end credits immediately start rolling across the bottom when the OP ends. It’s hard to imagine a shorter short than this, unless someone has somehow written a show with thirty-second episodes.

So maybe it’s no surprise that there’s barely anything for me to say about Kawashiri. It’s about the titular character, a manga artist writing about her own depressing, dissolute life. We go through some of Kawashiri’s daily routines, which mainly involve working at home on her manga, eating, drinking, and sleeping.

life

Kawashiri has an unhealthy and pretty unsustainable lifestyle to say the least: all beer and greasy food, sleeping at seemingly random hours of the day. This is the kind of shit I could get away with in my 20s, but not anymore. I guess if all the fried chicken, egg rolls, and beer fuel her creativity it’s all right for a while, but you sure can’t keep it up forever.

I wish I couldn’t relate to this.

Kawashiri is still airing, and though I’m not incredibly impressed with it, I might just watch the rest considering how short it is. The OP is good, too — better than the show itself, or at least it looks like more effort went into it.

So that first pick went a lot quicker than I expected. On to the second:

What the fuck is KAGI-NADO? Another short apparently. Looks like I’ll be watching a few more series this post than I’d planned.

Spin 2: KAGI-NADO

Well shit, I have even less to say about this one. After watching the first episode of Kagi-nado (just three minutes minus the ending) I understood the title: it’s kagi as in Key, the famous tearjerker visual novel developer (Clannad, Little Busters among many others most of which were also adapted into anime form.) Kagi-nado is a short series produced by Key full of comedic references to/takes on its own works.

A universe of Key VNs, unlimited tears

The only Key VN I’ve played is Planetarian, so I got the Yumemi Hoshino and planetarium stuff at the very beginning, but the rest was totally lost on me. So I won’t be continuing Kagi-nado, since it wasn’t made for me — seems like you really have to be a serious Key fan to enjoy it. I also get the feeling that it may have spoilers for some of its VNs, but I really couldn’t say, having only played one of them. All I can say for sure is that the first episode doesn’t spoil Planetarian.

I don’t get it, but I don’t think I was meant to anyway

And now on to the third spin. Hopefully I can actually say something about the next series I land on.

Finally, a series with full-length episodes. I’ve never heard of this one either, but let’s see whether the dumbass VRV algorithm did better this time.

Spin 3: Slow Start

This recommendation list is fucked, or else I’m just landing on some unusual/outlier results. Not that Slow Start is bad — in fact, it’s pretty nice if the rest of the series is much like its first episode, in which we meet protagonist Hana Ichinose, seen above, and her friends and family. It’s just not the sort of thing I’d usually have any interest in watching.

Hana is a new student at an elite all-girls private high school that she studied like hell to get into. However, as the show’s title suggests, she had to skip a year to prepare, and so she’s starting her high school career a bit late, at 17. Since she also seems to be naturally pretty shy, Hana has to steel herself to enter this new school full of kids who already know each other, both as a stranger and under unusual circumstances. Fortunately, Hana quickly meets a few other girls who befriend her right away, all three of them with starkly different personalities. Will Hana be able to have a fun time at her new school and form strong bonds with this new friend group? (My money is on yes.)

Pictured: high school students, apparently

Slow Start so far looks like the classic sort of “cute girls doing cute things” anime. You have four girls in the main cast, absentee parents (though at least loving parents, as we see in the first few minutes of the episode), an older hot lady who takes care of the adult stuff like paying bills in their apartment (Hana’s cousin) and an also hot homeroom teacher who seems to be dead inside, or at least coming off of a hangover or something. It all feels a lot like one of those older CGDCT series from the mid-2000s, only this aired in 2018, long after that genre fell off in popularity.

When I reviewed Asobi Asobase, I mentioned that I’d initially passed it by because it looked like the standard CGDCT series. I ended up returning to it and binging the whole thing after it turned out to be a crass, absurdist comedy that I really enjoyed following the first few minutes of its first episode. Slow Start feels like that, except it’s not tricking me like Asobi Asobase did: it really is a nice, cute show about four girls living their high school student lives. Though also in classic CGDCT fashion they don’t fucking look like high school students. I know it’s the style, but still.

Being in society is not easy

I’m probably not going to watch any more of Slow Start, or at least not until I dig through a whole lot more of my anime backlog. But I don’t want to dump on the show either, because it does seem like a pretty good option for fans of the CGDCT genre. The animation is nice, the music is nice, and this first episode was relaxing to watch if nothing else. Some of Hana’s social anxieties are pretty relatable too, though she’s extremely lucky to immediately find friends who recognize her value and like her for who she is and all that nice stuff.

Well, I’ve used the word “nice” at least 9,000 times in this description, but that’s the best word I can think of to describe what I’ve seen of Slow Start. Seems like a good one to check out if you’re into the style. But I still consider it a miss on VRV’s part, since I have no fucking idea how they thought I’d be into it. Maybe it really is because I watched Asobi Asobase, but that’s about as far from this series as you can get tone-wise.

Oh well, let’s have the fourth spin:

I should probably find a new way to say “I’ve never heard of this” but I can’t think of one. On to it:

Spin 4: Sorairo Utility

Here’s something I didn’t expect to say in this post: I watched all of this series. But only because this “series” is only a 13-minute or so OVA. So consider this a review of the whole thing.

Sorairo Utility is all about three friends, all high school students (again!) playing golf. Two of them are really into it and have some talent, while our central character Minami is still getting a feel for the sport. Minami is doing her best to keep up with her friends, but she’s frustrated by her relative inexperience.

Minami’s friends encourage her the whole way through, however, and tell her just to have fun while also watching her form and her swing and all that other golf stuff. By the end of the episode, Minami is still far behind the other girls, but she’s encouraged to keep working hard at the sport she loves.

And that’s really it for Sorairo Utility. There was barely anything to it, but I liked what was there. I don’t know anything at all about golf — the closest I’ve been to playing the sport was minigolf as a kid and a drunk undergraduate and going once to a driving range; I’ve never played a proper game. But that’s okay, because Sorairo Utility seems to be more about the friendship between the three characters and the drive to improve rather than about golf itself. I guess every sports anime is like that, or at least the few I’ve seen have been.

Golf! I don’t give a shit about golf, but I didn’t mind watching anime golf for 12/13 minutes.

I don’t know if this OVA is meant as a standalone thing or as a preview for a full series, but it might be nice to check out if there’s more of it coming.

Now for the fifth and final spin for this post. Praying for good luck this time.

And finally, still another series I’ve never heard of. From the title, I’m guessing this has to be another school-setting series, maybe a coming-of-age sort of thing. Sure, that might be all right. Let’s see:

Spin 5: Akebi’s Sailor Uniform

Well, I watched the first episode of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform, and it is definitely some sort of coming of age/slice of life/CGDCT series. Again, I don’t know why this was recommended to me — maybe it was Asobi Asobase again, or maybe there’s a “coming of age” tag and that got stuck to me when I watched all of The Aquatope on White Sand? Otherwise, I don’t understand.

I’m also slightly put off. While this first episode definitely had some good qualities that I’ll get into, it also had a moment that weirded me the fuck out, and linked to a couple of others, I get a slight vibe about the makers (or the original manga artist more likely, since this is an adaptation.) But it’s also possible that I’m being unfair or reading too much into it. More on that later.

Protagonist Komichi Akebi is entering middle school, attending an elite all-girls’ private school (again!) that her mother attended back in the day. Komichi is from way out in the middle of nowhere, and she’s amazed that her new class will have more than ten people in it. She’s also extremely excited about getting to wear a sailor uniform to school for some reason, and her expert tailor mother is happy to sew such a uniform for her.

But in an awkward moment, when they attend the opening ceremony, Komichi and her mother see that every other student is wearing a blazer. They get special permission for Komichi to wear her mother’s custom-designed sailor uniform, but does Komichi really want to stand out from the crowd by wearing a different uniform than everyone else’s? Or will she stick to the style she likes and not worry about standing out?

It’s no small matter, not even when it comes to something as seemingly trivial as the clothes you wear.

First, all the good stuff: Akebi’s Sailor Uniform is produced by Cloverworks, a studio known for doing excellent work, and as you might expect this series looks beautiful, with a lot of detail and nice shots of those countryside landscapes. That detail extends to the characters — I don’t know if I’m the biggest fan of the character design in general, but I can see why someone would like it.

The story itself is also pretty interesting so far. I didn’t think the sailor uniform in the title would be anything more than just a representation of the main character starting at a new school and entering a new phase in her life, but the uniform itself is incorporated into that coming of age aspect of her story in a way I didn’t expect.

The show does look damn nice and I like Komichi, but there’s just too much youthful optimism here, just fucking kill me please I can’t take it

So what’s the problem? From this first episode, I get the impression that someone involved in making it — I’d guess the manga artist, though I can’t say for sure — has a thing for feet, because there are quite a few unusually lingering and very detailed shots focusing mostly on Komichi’s. At first I didn’t think much of that, but near the very end of the episode when Komichi meets her first new friend at school, early in the morning when no one else is around, she walks in on her clipping her toenails and smelling the clipper afterwards in a similarly weirdly detailed scene.

A great way to make friends: walk in on them doing something weird then hold it over them as blackmail material (but note: Komichi doesn’t do this because she isn’t an asshole — in fact she smells her own feet in the same scene, maybe to put her new friend at ease or something. I really don’t know. Is this how you make friends now?)

It’s hard to describe when you get that vibe about a work, that it might have been made for more than one reason to put it nicely. I don’t actually have any problem with this fixation in general — I’m a big fan of the artist Yom, and his Ganbare Douki-chan has some of it too, though it’s probably not as obvious if you just saw the anime adaptation. But Yom’s characters are adults, and these characters aren’t, and I feel like that makes a difference (see also the difference between a Quentin Tarantino and a Dan Schneider,2 though I think that distinction is about a million times more serious when you’re dealing with live-action work.)

There’s nothing I can put my finger on definitively, but it’s just a feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it other than weirded the fuck out, as I said before. But to be completely fair, I might be overreacting, and this is just the first episode after all. Akebi is still airing, and maybe some other people around the community much more tied into current anime will have more insight into it. In any case, as with Slow Start, I don’t know if I’d have that much interest in a show like this anyway, though it does look like it might get into emotionally heavier territory to go along with the coming of age stuff.

Aside from the whole feet thing, Akebi just reminds me of the youthful hope that I’ve completely lost and how I hate myself now. Thanks again, anime

On that strange note, that’s it for this first part of my anime roulette feature. I find most of VRV’s picks “for me” to be bizarre based on what I’ve actually watched on their platform, but maybe their algorithm is fucked up. I don’t pretend to understand how these functions work. I will be back for more at some point soon, though. Until then.

 

1 I plan to cancel my subscription very soon — I’ve been planning it ever since they dumped all the Hi-Dive shows from their catalog. I wanted to watch Takagi-san S3, but it looks like I’ll have to do it somewhere else. Lousy bastards. Anyway, since Crunchyroll and Funimation have merged, that seems like the best bet to go with now, though I’m also apprehensive about the corner Sony now seems to be getting on the anime streaming market over here. Time will tell, but I don’t trust Sony at all considering their recent track record.

2 You didn’t expect a Pink Guy video this time, did you? I promise it’s the last time, aside from this McDonald’s rap that’s a legitimately really good song.