Anime short review: Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san

Another anime short, and what a short this time. It’s not the best one I’ve seen, not by a long shot, but it’s unique at least.

Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san is a yuri/comedy anime short adaptation of a four-panel comic that aired in 2014. I don’t even know how I dug it up, but I did and I watched the whole thing — just 12 three-minute episodes, so a very quick watch. And when I say yuri I really mean it. If you don’t like girl-on-girl love/romance don’t even think about watching Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san because that’s all it’s about. It’s a comedy, but all the comedy is yuri-flavored. The source manga is published in a magazine called Comic Yuri Hime, so you know what to expect if you know that.

You can always expect some innuendo

It’s one thing to write a comic about a set of girls drooling over each other, but Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san adds a twist. You might have known from the title if you know a little Japanese — inu and neko are dog and cat, and the two title characters have dog and cat-like personalities to match, with Inugami being excitable and usually happy but also requiring some active attention and Nekoyama being more downbeat, calmer, and more passively looking for that attention. Of course, Inugami is a cat-lover and Nekoyama is a dog-lover, so they are very much into each other, resulting in a few comedic spats when they start to meet other characters with other animal-referencing names and personalities and are attracted to them too.

That’s the idea, sure

There’s not much more to say about this short series. If you’re looking for a dumb show about girls teasing each other and getting jealous over each others’ attractions to each other (what a sentence this is, sorry) but all in a comedic context then check it out. The animation isn’t bad and the girls are cute enough, so it’s got that going for it. Though my favorite character is their mutual friend, the straight woman Aki (possibly in two senses of the term, since she’s the single character who’s not obviously into any of her female classmates.) Poor Aki has this “I’m tired of all of your dramatic shit” attitude towards Inugami and Nekoyama and has clearly been putting up with their lovers’ quarrels for a while now.

This series is very one-note and pretty forgettable, but that seems to be the deal with most of these three-minute shorts from what I’ve seen so far. After finishing Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san I really just felt like I’d killed a few more brain cells, but that’s no big loss after what else I’ve put my brain through. It’s all right — you can do a lot worse with one of these short short series. And credit to the makers for not filling over half the runtime of each episode with nearly full-length opening and ending themes. There’s just a 30-second ending sequence and it’s packed as full of sugar as possible, so watch with caution.

Anime short review: Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!

After several months, I’m back with the anime shorts. I haven’t had a great track record with the series on the shorter side, but I always try to keep an open mind about anything new. Luckily I didn’t have to open it too much this time — I was already all too familiar with the source material this series is based on.

I might have stopped playing Azur Lane a while ago, but I still like its bizarre shipgirl concept and have some favorite characters from the game that I was happy to see in this short series. Slow Ahead is formatted into 12 roughly 8-minute episodes, so about a third of the usual episode length — not an episode length I’ve ever seen before. I’m not even too sure about how an eight-minute time slot would fit into scheduling on Japanese TV, since I’ve never had a chance to watch it anyway — all my watching has always been done online.

The four starter destroyers and a few of their destroyer friends in an entirely unproductive class

Slow Ahead! follows four characters based on the real-world WWII-era destroyers KMS Z34 (aka Niimi as she’s usually called by everyone else), HMS Javelin, USS Laffey, and IJN Ayanami. In the game and this anime, they’re not actual ships but rather girls who strap on rigging with guns, torpedoes, and other weapons and defenses when they go out to battle. But there’s no battle in Slow Ahead! — it’s just a cute slice-of-life show about these girls attending a military academy with their colleagues.

Some of their colleagues are maids, but the maids are also ships like the British cruiser Belfast and her clone here. Man I don’t know, you just have to accept this stuff if you’re going to watch it

That’s the whole story in Slow Ahead! There’s no real plot, just those slice-of-life antics with a few comedy bits and some fanservice. The fanservice makes sense this time too, since the game itself is shoved full of it — a few of those costumes you can buy with real money (God help you if you fall into that hole) make an appearance in the show.

Like this one, thanks to the USS North Carolina’s strange obsession with bunnygirl outfits. But she’s not wrong — putting a hot lady in a bunnygirl outfit outside your stall is a great way to attract customers. Or a guy too, why not (but there are no guys in Azur Lane aside from probably the Commander/player character, which is extremely purposeful.)

Speaking of the Commander, he (or she if you like) is designed purely to be the self-inserted player character. That’s the whole point of the Commander — in the game itself, these ladies will all talk to you directly, addressing you as Shikikan or Shikikan-sama, or maybe something casual or actually insulting or disrespectful depending on their personalities. It’s a gacha game driven by in-game purchases, so naturally the makers are going to pile on these immersive aspects (as much as a mobile game about anime waifus can be immersive at least.)

I like how the Commander is handled in Slow Ahead! — mentioned a lot, since some of these girls are seriously going after his heart/crushing on him as you’d expect — but never showing up. It’s the perfect solution, since it gets about as close to that self-insertion the game provides as the anime can probably get. You might think that’s weird or a bit sad, but hey, if that’s what you’re going for may as well do it right. There’s another short series I’ve watched that attempts a POV sort of self-insert silent main character and it’s amazingly awkward. Maybe I’ll write about that one sometime soon.

We heard you like boats so we put a boat in your boat

Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! is a nice series to check out if you need a break, especially if you’ve played the game. You will probably get a lot more out of it if you’re already familiar with these characters (personal opinion: Laffey is best girl aside from Yamashiro of course — okay, best destroyer) but they’re all fun to watch, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to play the game to enjoy Slow Ahead! I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone play a gacha game anyway.

And if you’re going to watch one Azur Lane-related anime, it seems like it should be this one, since this short series is rated far more highly across every platform than the main full-length anime adaptation, which I’ve heard was a mess. I can’t speak to that myself, though. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode if I have it available just to see for myself.

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 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.

A review of The Aquatope on White Sand

I didn’t want my only non-scheduled post this month to be just me complaining for 2,000 words, so here’s a proper one, the kind my site is supposedly meant for: a review. Or more like a review/analysis, since this is one of those series that it’s hard to talk about without getting into details. And there’s a lot to get into this time, which you can tell already by the length of the scroll bar on this post.

The Aquatope on White Sand (Japanese title Shiroi Suna no Aquatope) is a 24-episode anime series that aired over the summer and fall 2021 seasons. As the second series by P.A. Works that I’ve seen, it had a lot to live up to — the first was Shirobako, which is damn near the top of my list of best anime (whatever that list is, since I’ve never actually made one, but it’s near the top of the hypothetical list anyway.) P.A. Works seems generally pretty well regarded, and many other viewers had similarly high expectations going in.

Our story begins with Fuuka Miyazawa, a young idol/pop star working for an agency in Tokyo. Fuuka has just gotten pushed out of her position by management (somehow; I don’t really get how this idol stuff works but it sounds like she had a lead spot in a concert and gave it up or something like that.) She’s more or less quitting, or retiring, or graduating or something. In any case she’s not happy about the situation, and the thought of returning from Tokyo back home to her family after this failure is unbearable to her. So instead of going home, she impulsively flies to Okinawa without telling anyone.

Since Fuuka wasn’t originally planning to go to Okinawa and doesn’t know anyone there, she’s at a loss for what to actually do when she arrives. After wandering around with her rolling luggage, passing out on the beach, and nearly suffering from heat stroke, she’s picked up by local tourism department worker Karin Kudaka, who gives her some much-needed water and information about where to stay on the island. Karin just happens to be driving to a local aquarium in the course of her work, so Fuuka decides to take the chance to check it out.

And while exploring the sea life, Fuuka is suddenly thrown into a hallucination/vision of herself in the ocean with fish, dolphins, and whales swimming around her. This vision looks frightening at first but soon becomes calming to Fuuka, who seems entranced by it.

Immediately after her vision ends, she meets the other lead of the show. Kukuru Misakino is still a high schooler, but she’s taken on the enormous job of acting director of Gama Gama Aquarium in place of her grandfather. After a brief conversation with Kukuru, Fuuka makes another impulsive decision: she asks Kukuru to let her work and stay at the aquarium.

Maybe that’s what they meant in The Godfather when they said that guy sleeps with the fishes? He wasn’t dead, he was just living in an aquarium.

Kukuru is understandably confused and suspicious about this sudden request, and from a first-time visitor to the aquarium and a total stranger otherwise. But Gama Gama is short-staffed and in financial trouble as we’ll soon learn, and Kukuru seems to see something in Fuuka, so she accepts her request to work there with the understanding that she’s absolutely serious about it. But Kukuru isn’t about to let Fuuka sleep on the floor next to a fish tank either, so she brings her home to stay with her and her grandparents.

Why do his markings look like an actual tuxedo? I can accept the visions but not this

After a very shaky start, Fuuka gets the hang of being an aquarium attendant and of her new life in Okinawa generally, becoming fast friends with Kukuru and the other workers at Gama Gama. But there are dark clouds on the horizon for both our leads. Fuuka has been putting off her mother, who’s been sending her messages asking what the hell she’s thinking running away to Okinawa without telling anyone, and she’s still not sure about whether she really wants to end her idol career. And Kukuru faces the impending closure of Gama Gama, an old aquarium that’s been getting more expensive to maintain properly and suffering from lower visitor turnout. Kukuru’s grandfather, Gama Gama’s long-time director and a legend in the Okinawan aquarium world, is trying to get her to face the inevitable in his own gentle way, but she’s determined to keep the aquarium open, and Fuuka pledges her support. Will the pair be able to face their challenges, or will they have to adapt to painful realities?

Before getting into the analysis and dropping big story/ending spoilers, I’d like to gush about how damn good Aquatope looks. As I’ve said a few times before, I’m no expert when it comes to animation, but I know what looks good to me, and Aquatope does. If this series was created in part to tout Okinawa’s value as a tourism destination, it worked on me, because the landscapes it depicts are beautiful. Naturally, a ton of sea life is also featured, including a group of penguins that introduce Fuuka to aquarium attendant life properly by knocking her into a pool before she gets the hang of things around episodes 3 and 4. And again, I’m no expert — I’ve only been to aquariums a few times in my life and barely know a thing about sea life aside from the kinds I like to eat — but those all look great too, with limited but effective use of 3D animation in a few scenes.

Wish I were there

Here’s the obligatory big ass spoiler warning, effective after the next screenshot. But I never like leaving readers who want to avoid those without my general impressions, so here they are: while I felt Aquatope left a couple of loose ends hanging by the end, it more than lived up to my expectations otherwise. A lot of people have talked up the show’s relaxing qualities, and while it is relaxing to watch in parts (especially considering its slow pace and beautiful setting) and does have a strong slice-of-life element, it also takes on some serious issues around finding your way as a young professional and dealing with painful changes in life. This is a mature series, but the kind that’s not up its own ass about itself — it’s all very natural, thanks in part to the strong characters it develops and the relationships they share.

So Aquatope gets my unqualified recommendation, especially if you like anime like Shirobako, A Place Further Than the Universe, or Planetes. Even if this series doesn’t quite reach the heights those three did for me (which still isn’t an insult, because they’re among the very best) it is very much in the same vein and near the same excellent quality. And try not to let the length and slow pace of Aquatope turn you off if that seems like it might be an issue, because it’s well worth the journey. This is the sort of series where the journey is part of the reason for watching.

But prepare for some possible self-reflection.

There seems to have been some controversy over a few aspects of The Aquatope on White Sand, perhaps most of all with the direction the plot takes in the middle of the series. While it tells one continuous story through a couple of time skips, Aquatope can be divided right down the middle between two arcs, the first at Gama Gama and the second at the far newer and more technically advanced aquarium Tingarla. Because yeah, Gama Gama is truly finished even at the opening of the series. Kukuru’s grandfather knows the challenges the place faces better than anyone, and in the end Kukuru is the only one left with the will to keep the place open. She makes serious efforts to attract new visitors throughout the first half of the series, and when the aquarium is on the brink of being shut down for good, she even goes to the extreme length of locking herself in, later joined by Fuuka, who brings her food and camps out with her there when a massive storm hits and wrecks the place beyond repair.

At this point, Kukuru is forced to admit defeat, only managing to find some closure with the situation on the last day of Gama Gama’s operation when the aquarium sees a great turnout from the community. But the aquarium life continues for the whole crew even beyond the shuttering of Gama Gama, when Kukuru’s grandfather helps them get hired at Tingarla, where one of his friends/protégés is the director.

The shift from the smaller and older Gama Gama to the much larger and more modern Tingarla is a serious challenge, most of all for Kukuru, who unexpectedly ends up being hired not as an attendant but rather as a member of the aquarium’s marketing department. She’s pretty put out by this development, but after realizing she can’t easily get a transfer, she resolves to do her best working under the strict department head. Writing project proposals and reports doesn’t come naturally to Kukuru, and her clashing with a former rival among the attendants doesn’t help matters. The Gama Gama crew generally doesn’t gel all that well with the existing staff at first with a couple of exceptions, but Kukuru certainly has the worst of it.

I know the feeling, Kukuru

This shift in setting is also a shift in the story itself — a shift from the struggle of trying to preserve the old and familiar that’s falling apart to the struggle of adapting to something new and uncomfortable. I’ve read some criticism that Aquatope suffers in its second half because of this stark change.

I don’t agree at all. Yeah, Gama Gama had plenty of charm, and I imagine a lot of people were hoping for a happy ending for the old aquarium, as wrapped up as it was with Kukuru’s own identity and her sense of belonging, which she loses and has to find again when it’s shut down. But everything we see and hear in that first half of Aquatope points to Gama Gama just having too much stacked against it. It probably wouldn’t have been realistic at that point to have a miraculous turnaround (aside from that magical realism element, which more on that later.) It’s also possible to see the closure of Gama Gama as a good thing in the long run for Kukuru, forced as she is to resolve some of the personal issues she seemed to be dealing with before by going full workaholic at the aquarium when she wasn’t studying or going to school.

This was understandable considering the memories she had attached to the aquarium, including those of her long-deceased parents. Kukuru’s orphaning, her adoption by her grandparents, and the loss of an unborn sister leaving her an only child clearly put her in a rough spot that she found comfort from in her love of her work. The move to Tingarla is hard for her in part because of this shift away from the familiar, but by the end of the series Kukuru discovers she has some talent for marketing (which was evident to viewers throughout most of the show — even though her efforts to save Gama Gama failed, she threw herself into some creative marketing efforts there as well, and the closure occurred despite her best efforts to prevent it.) It’s also strongly hinted that Grandpa himself had something to do with her placement in marketing in order to prepare her for a future of aquarium management.

He never tells her what to do, but he’s always guiding her: the best kind of parenting in my opinion, and the kind I hope I’d practice if that ever happens.

This shift also forces Kukuru to understand and tone down her more stubborn aspect slightly. While that stubbornness can be a positive in some situations and to some degree, it also causes her problems, especially when that rival of hers, Chiyu, first shows up in the series as an intern at Gama Gama. Chiyu certainly does plenty to contribute to her own failure to perform well at Gama Gama, being vocally dismissive of the old aquarium. But Kukuru shares the blame: she doesn’t handle Chiyu well at all in her position as acting director, openly clashing with her over her attitude and more or less saying good riddance and fuck off when she eventually gets transferred to intern at Tingarla, where they meet again.

While Kukuru’s offense is understandable, she doesn’t deal with it in a mature way — though she knows a lot about marine life and has plenty of experience as an attendant for her age, she shows at this point that she’s not quite an adult yet. Moving to Tingarla puts her in a position where she’s no longer in control and has to put up with other people’s shit, some of whom she doesn’t know all that well, and by the end she’s figured out how to adjust pretty effectively. Even she and Chiyu become colleagues who can work together, if not exactly friends (though Chiyu’s previously unknown young son dropping into the cast seemed to have a lot to do with that, since he charms everyone else instantly. There are benefits to having kids, I guess.)

This criticism relates to another one I’ve read that I think has more to it — the story’s shift away from Fuuka. You might have told already from how much I wrote about Kukuru above, but despite Aquatope opening with Fuuka’s story and the career/life dilemma she’s dealing with, the actual protagonist of the story as far as I can tell is Kukuru. Fuuka’s conflict over what to do about facing her family and her struggles working at a completely new job in a new environment are almost entirely resolved by the middle of the first Gama Gama arc, or about one-quarter through the entire series. While there’s still a question hanging in the air about Fuuka’s eventual possible return to idol work, that’s pretty easily resolved when she decides near the end of that same arc to abandon that dream and find something else to do. Then, no big surprise, shortly after the Tingarla part of the plot starts Fuuka returns from the mainland and joins the team as an attendant — her new dream is to work with sea life.

Most of the rest of Fuuka’s story ties in with Kukuru’s struggles. Their relationship is one of the central aspects of the series, so that’s not so unnatural, but by the end of Aquatope I had the sense that this was mainly Kukuru’s story. This isn’t necessarily a fault — at best I’d say it was a bit misleading. I can see viewers having a problem with this if they weren’t big on Kukuru, though. Which I can understand somewhat at least, though I don’t count myself among them. I liked Kukuru, even when she was being a little too stubborn. Except for that one point in the second or third episode where she was being seriously unreasonable and chewing Fuuka out for screwing up her first damn day on the job, and even then she apologized for that afterward if I remember correctly.

Yeah penguins are cute and all but it’s not always fun and games with them

The only other serious criticism I’ve heard about Aquatope, and the one I credit the most, is its near-complete dropping of its pretty strong magical realist element halfway through. Fuuka isn’t the only visitor to Gama Gama who has had visions there — Kukuru knows exactly what she’s experienced the first time they meet, and Kukuru, her childhood friend/fellow aquarium worker Kai, and a few other visitors have similar visions during the first half of the series. There might have been some doubt about whether these visions were “real” or just strange hallucinations, but the show occasionally cuts to a sort of natural god/spirit hanging around the island. Kukuru and then Fuuka make offerings at a shrine every morning with the prayer “Do what’s right and everything will work out” and it’s implied that these shrines are connected with the god. And since we the viewers actually see this guy hanging around, I think it’s safe to assume the god exists in this world and that they’re connected with the visions somehow.

Near the middle of the series and the end of Gama Gama’s story, Kukuru gets desperate enough to suggest marketing the aquarium as a place where people can experience these strong and emotional visions, but she’s finally discouraged from taking this path after talking to Kai about it (who actually lies to her about not having had his own vision there, which he did — wouldn’t have done that myself but I think I get what he was going for, since Kukuru’s plan felt almost sacrilegious somehow. Though the tradition I grew up in might be stricter about such things.) Either way, it felt a bit weird for Aquatope to almost entirely drop this element in the second half. That god/spirit guy didn’t seem too upset by any of the above developments or by much of anything at all either.

But then maybe that’s the point. Fuuka and Kukuru both stick to their prayer throughout the series, anyway, and everything does work out in the end for them, though not in the way they first expect.

Okinawa seems like the “don’t worry about thing so much” type of place where life moves slowly, kind of like the Mediterranean. Just the impression I get. Also I’d love to visit this diner and hang out with Udon-chan here.

There’s one more point about Aquatope that I may have a controversial opinion about. Possibly controversial. I don’t actually know. But it’s about Kukuru and Fuuka’s relationship, so you might guess the subject. There was some talk early on in the run of Aquatope that it might involve some yuri romance between the leads. I brought it up in my first impressions post but doubted that there was very much there, and now that the series is complete, I can confirm that there really wasn’t much there at all.

At least there wasn’t from my perspective. I’ve seen a few suggest (including a writer at ANN posted on the series Wikipedia page) that Aquatope was “yuri-coded.” I’m not sure if that means it’s not straight-up yuri but has suggestions of it or something, but even that feels like a stretch. What bothers me about it isn’t the suggestion of yuri itself — as I wrote before, I didn’t care how Kukuru and Fuuka’s relationship shook out as long as it was handled well, and I think it was. But while they’re something more than just friends, I didn’t see anything romantic in their relationship. No, I see Kukuru and Fuuka’s relationship as one of those “sworn siblings” situations. Usually they’re sworn brothers you see, but no reason you can’t have sworn sisters either, even if there’s no actual blood oath or anything exchanged. Fuuka seems to be filling the place of Kukuru’s lost sister, and the two support and are attached to each other pretty closely. So that’s an intimate relationship, sure, but romantic? I guess it depends on how you define the term, but again, I didn’t see it.

Or maybe this romantic setting influenced some people’s opinions on the matter?

Hell maybe I’m the idiot dumbass here; wouldn’t be the first time. Or maybe my understanding of social ties is warped (see last post for that.) You tell me. Some people think two non-related friends who are especially intimate must have romantic feelings for each other, but that seems way too presumptuous to me. I guess you can read the relationship that way if you really want, anyway, but I need more than that. See also Reinhard and Kircheis in Legend of the Galactic Heroes, who I might have joked about when I wrote about it years ago, but eh. There’s way stronger proof for the Ishmael-Queequeg relationship in Moby-Dick, and while I’ve heard the same about Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings I can’t confirm or deny, since it’s been well over a decade since I saw the films and longer since I read the novels. Since they’re all characters, all we have to go on are what’s on the page/screen and the intent of the author. Or ignore authorial intent like my junior year English teacher said we can do, which really fucking bothers me.

But I’m not writing about this stuff anymore, since we’re starting to get into critical analysis here or whatever it’s called and I’m not smart enough to do that properly.

Who cares, let’s dress like fish

That’s all I have for The Aquatope on White Sand. It’s a very good anime series and you should watch it. It’s on Crunchyroll, which is kind of a piece of shit, but it’s the only place I know of to watch it (legally.) Tell me what you think of it and/or of my dumb opinions if you feel like it, especially the relationship stuff, because I’m curious to see how other people around here feel about that aspect of the series. Thanks as always, and until next time (probably the end-of-month post) all the best.

A review of The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!

Continuing my look at a few of the recently ended summer/fall 2021 anime, here’s a complete review of the 20-episode series The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!, or Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai!. I probably won’t have much more to write about it than I already wrote in my first impressions post, but considering how fucking tired I am from work and also from life in general (not much of a Christmas break for me, though I could have easily gotten one — have to bill those hours and get money though) that might be for the best. At the very least, it’s appropriate that I feel this way right now, since it makes the main character feel relatable in at least one way.

Jahy-sama, as I’ll be calling it from now on, is the story of title character and protagonist Jahy, a demon lady who was thrown into modern-day Japan after her native land, the Dark Realm, was destroyed by a magical girl who blasted the mana crystal powering it into pieces. Jahy, as the second-in-command of the Dark Realm and the right hand of the mysterious and powerful Dark Lord, has naturally taken it upon herself to restore and return to their realm by collecting the shards of the shattered mana crystal that have flown all over her new home of unnamed Japanese city.

Unfortunately, Jahy’s situation is complicated. First, because she’s lost almost all her magical power, having been left with merely a small piece of the mana shard to use, and second because along with this loss of power, she’s taken the form of a mere kid. Jahy is pissed beyond belief at her circumstances, but without her magic and without any contacts in this new world, she’s forced to camp out by a river and scrape around for any food and supplies she can get.

But then she’s discovered and taken in by a pair of sisters. The elder sister (known only as tenchou or boss/manager) just happens to own and manage a pub, while the younger, Ryou, is the landlord of a shitty slum apartment, so the two set Jahy up with both living quarters and a job as a waitress. Luckily, Jahy can use what little magical power she has left to transform back into her fully adult-looking form for at least part of each day, allowing her to work at the pub without raising concerns from the police or child welfare services.

Tenchou is genuinely the nicest fucking person on the planet

Jahy is understandably upset at being downgraded from second-in-command of the Dark Realm to a waitress living in a single-room apartment, but she’s motivated by her goal to restore her former home and to revive her boss, the Dark Lord, by using her built-in sense of magic radar to find pieces of the mana crystal Knuckles in Sonic Adventure-style. But along the way, will Jahy make friends and learn the value of true companionship?

Well, spoilers: the answer is yes. Jahy-sama, despite having plenty of demonic characters with destructive magical powers, is pretty much a lighthearted slice-of-life comedy. While Jahy is quite serious about finding those mana crystals and restoring the Dark Realm, she ends up constantly sidetracked by friends and enemies both old and new, starting with her former demon subordinate and big-time masochist Druz, who also happens to be looking for the mana crystals and doing a far better job of finding them (all while profusely apologizing for not doing a better job while begging Jahy to insult/punish her. Druz is a bit weird.)

Good reaction screenshot

Further complicating her situation, Jahy feels the need to conceal her difficulties from Druz and to try to maintain her former dignity, all while working as a waitress and living in a crap apartment. A lot of the comedy in Jahy-sama comes from seeing this haughty demon lady reduced to living the life of a minimum-wage worker, learning to scrape by like a lot of us do or have at some point in our lives. These are the relatable parts, at least to me — thankfully I don’t quite have to live like this anymore, but I know too well the crushing pressure and anxiety of having to count your money carefully, thinking about how long your next paycheck can last and how much you’ll have to tighten that belt you’re wearing. In Jahy-sama it’s all played for comedy, but it is still relatable.

I’m not here anymore, but I remember this pain. At least we always had those Cup Noodles around to eat.

I mentioned in my first impressions post that the tone and feel of Jahy-sama reminded me a lot of the Disgaea games I’ve played, and I feel that now even more having finished the show. Partly because they both prominently feature humanoid demon characters with those signature pointy ears — I don’t think he has anything to do with the series, but I can imagine someone like Jahy, Druz, or Saurva coming straight out of Takehito Harada’s sketchbook (though they came out of the original manga author Wakame Konbu’s sketchbook instead.)

But Jahy-sama also has exactly that same sort of goofy, light slapstick humor with a few emotional bits thrown in, as when Jahy realizes she’s actually making friends in the human realm. Disgaea is a little heavier on the dramatic side, but the similarities are strong enough in terms of the story, look, and general feel that I’d feel pretty safe recommending Jahy-sama to big Disgaea fans, or at least to people who are in love with the typical Disgaea style.

It gets super Disgaea-ish at parts, Jahy almost channeling Etna here.

That’s not to say Jahysama is perfect. The most obvious issue with the show is its kind of cheap-looking production. If you’re out for visual spectacle, you won’t get it here (you might instead get it in one of the other summer/fall anime series I’ll be writing about later, so you can look forward to those posts I hope.)

This wasn’t a problem for me, though. I don’t think you need a huge budget and a lot of spectacle for a series like this. I’d barely seen anything before from Silver Link, the studio that produced Jahy-sama, so I didn’t have set expectations going in anyway. But even if I had, the show kept me more than entertained enough that I could overlook the shortcuts they seem to have taken. And those complaints absolutely don’t extend to the voice acting, which is excellent. They’re all good, but Kana Hanazawa did an especially amazing job as Druz. Though I hope she got a break to rest after all the dramatic, pitiful screaming that character did.

Hearing Hanazawa scream her lungs out is more than enough reason to watch this show

The other, potentially more serious problem some viewers might have with Jahy-sama is its goofy, over-the-top vibe. The show is almost surreal in how easily its human characters accept Jahy’s strange situation, the magic of the mana crystals, and all the rest of this demonic dark lord stuff as if it’s no big deal. I can also see the antics of some of these characters getting on people’s nerves. I’m probably a huge hypocrite for being all right with an obsessive character like Druz, for example, while finding similar characters in other series a little grating.

Going back to the Disgaea comparisons, I gave a similar warning to readers looking to get into that game series, and that same warning applies here. If you find this kind of wacky slapsticky humor annoying, you’ll probably be annoyed by Jahy-sama as a whole, especially since there’s no game element to distract you from the story this time around. But again, none of this is a problem for me, since I generally like these kinds of weirdo near-surreal comedies. It might have also made a difference that I watched and kept more or less current with Jahy-sama as it aired — the show might start to feel too samey if you just binge it like a lot of people do at the end of a season.

That said, Jahy-sama is the feel-good anime of the year, or whatever it is people say

That’s all I have to say about Jahy-sama. It’s not much to say, especially about a 20-episode series, but hell, it’s just a goofy slice-of-life comedy with a bit of plot. Not terribly deep, but then that worked perfectly for me. The Jahy-sama anime is an adaptation of a still-running manga that I’ve never read, so maybe it’s better to read than to watch — it’s being officially translated into English and published in physical form, so that might be something to check out if you’re into manga.