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.

Anime short triple feature: Piacevole / Miss Bernard said. / Ganbare Douki-chan

The anime short review feature returns, and as a triple feature this time instead of just a double! However, I’m not actually doing more work here, because this time the featured shorts aren’t just half-length but are rather extra-short shorts, with each series consisting of only twelve 3 to 4-minute episodes.

I’ve been curious about these for a while, wondering how their makers manage to get their points across in only a few minutes at a time. Turns out this format is pretty limiting. A lot of these extra-shorts (not sure if there’s a better term for these 5-minutes-or-less-episode series to differentiate them from the longer shorts) also have middling-to-poor scores on the big anime database/grading sites, suggesting that a lot of viewers aren’t satisfied with them.

But fuck those scores, I say — I’ll judge these series for myself. Before I start, I should note that these are all adapted from print works, only one of which I’ve read, so for the most part I’ll be taking these series on their own merits. Starting with:

Piacevole

No, I don’t know what this new annoying black border on the screenshots is about. I’ll try to work that out.

I picked most of these series to watch based on whether I thought I’d enjoy their themes. And Piacevole is about Italian food, and I like Italian food.

But did I like Piacevole? That’s a more complicated question. This series opens with a high school student, Morina, looking for a part-time job. In the course of her search, she discovers Trattoria Festa, a rustic-looking Italian place, and is immediately hired as a waitress there. However, Morina’s time with the absentee owner’s young son Maro, an aspiring chef, and with the rest of the restaurant’s strange/quirky staff inspires her to try cooking herself.

A slow start, but she’s determined

The crew at the trattoria along with a few new characters who show up halfway through are pretty fun, and it was a good time seeing Maro desperately trying to impress Morina, because he’s obviously smitten with her, but while also proudly pretending he doesn’t really care or anything. And aside from the above kind of scuffed-looking Caprese salad, the show makes all this food look nice enough — the usual high standards for food featured in anime.

It’s been so long since I’ve had mussels…

The trouble with Piacevole, and I’m guessing with some of these other types of shorts, is that I’m left wanting more. I’m pretty sure there’s enough here to at least fill half-length episodes — first, because I’ve already seen a series with a similar premise of “new girl starts working at restaurant/café full of weird characters” that pulled off a full-length one-cour season (Blend S, though that one was much less about food and much more about otaku-related stuff like idols, doujinshi, and mobile game addictions.)

And second, because everything in Piacevole runs at triple speed. Every character is talking and speeding around a mile a minute, seemingly to cram as much as possible into each three or four-minute stretch. I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the series, though you could argue it fits the frantic pace of working in a restaurant.

Italian food is serious business

But I thought Piacevole was all right in the end. Italian cooking is an interesting niche for a manga, anyway — I guess it’s considered more of a novelty in Japan than here in the US, where Italian cuisine is pretty common and has been absorbed somewhat into the broader American culture.

I don’t know enough about food or cooking to say, though. I just know that Piacevole made me want some fucking fried eggplant that I don’t know how to prepare myself and can’t easily get, and now I’m annoyed because of it. But that’s not really the show’s fault, is it? In fact, that seems to be the whole point of the show, so if its purpose was to get viewers hungry for Italian food, it probably pulled that off well enough.

Miss Bernard said.

I also like reading, so I also picked up Miss Bernard said., another extra-short series, this one about students talking about literature. But don’t let the above screenshot fool you: the school library remains peaceful for about 15 seconds, until title character Sawako Machida shows up.

I wonder what anime she’s talking about

Sawako, who for some reason insists on calling herself “Miss Bernard” (though nobody else calls her this, and I’m sure there’s a reference here I’m not getting) tries to make like she loves reading, but she’s too lazy to actually read a book. She brags a lot about her literary pursuits, but the other three characters in the series see right through her act and end up pretty much tolerating her presence in the library while still thinking she’s an idiot. But they also all become friends in the end.

Miss Bernard is maybe even faster-paced than Piacevole, and it’s certainly crammed even more fully with text. It’s Literary References: The Anime. I thought I liked reading, but not as much as the people who made this or the source material behind it, because some of these references were over my head. Though a lot of them connect to classic science fiction, which I haven’t read too much of (I haven’t even read Dune. I know, I know.)

Pretty much

There are a few spot-on jokes here about readers who go on about “the book being better” when a movie adaptation comes out, or pretending that they’ve read more than they actually have, or that they’ve even tried to understand the writing of Thomas Pynchon and other purposely difficult authors (I’ll just admit here as well that I’ve never tried to read Pynchon, nor James Joyce outside of a few of his short stories that read pretty normally from what I remember — far more normally than his novels at least from the bits I’ve seen.)

But in general, I didn’t get much out of watching Miss Bernard. Except that I learned Haruki Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, which I guess is interesting, but I can’t do much with that knowledge either. At least the ending was nice.

Ganbare Douki-chan

Good luck with that

And finally for the series I was looking forward to, since I’m reading/viewing the source material. Ganbare Douki-chan is a recently completed adaptation of Yom’s still-running hybrid manga/artbook series of the same name, featuring a lot of nice art of attractive lady office workers pining after the one guy they work with. The main character Douki-chan (again, douki here meaning “co-worker”; none of these characters get actual names) wants to express her feelings to Douki-kun, but she’s too nervous to do so clearly. And Douki-kun is just as dense as your typical anime romantic comedy male lead, which is certainly no help.

Douki-chan’s situation is complicated by her rivals, a flirty and much more forward junior office worker (above) and a business client with a more subtle and seductive approach. Every time Douki-chan works up the nerve to move her relationship with her co-hire forward, one or both of these rivals edge their way in and involve themselves, trying to get Douki-kun’s attention instead much to our protagonist’s frustration.

I know the feeling

Unlike the first two series I covered in this post, Douki-chan thankfully doesn’t move at 200 miles per hour to cram a ton of dialogue into its three to four minutes each — each episode is more like a vignette than a full story, so it can move at a relaxed pace without any trouble. It probably makes a difference that it’s not adapting a manga but rather a series of artworks that just have bits of dialogue and text attached, leaving a lot up to the reader’s imagination.

In that sense, I think this series of shorts is a pretty good adaptation of the original material. I still prefer the books — watching the anime just can’t beat fully taking in Yom’s art, which I felt was a big part of the appeal of the work — but it’s still fun to see it all animated and voiced. (Also, does this count as saying “the book was better”? Guess I really am one of those readers.)

Douki-kun still has that “no face male lead” thing going on here that a lot of VNs also do, which I’m not a big fan of. I know why it’s a thing — makes it easier to self-insert supposedly. But it still creeps me out a bit. Still, it’s a better solution than animating everything from his POV.

So it’s this series alone that gets my full approval. Though just as with the artbooks it’s based on, that’s a qualified recommendation. If you care very much about whether the anime you watch passes the Bechdel test, for example, you obviously shouldn’t come anywhere near this stuff. Ganbare Douki-chan didn’t even take the Bechdel test; it failed to study and then slept through the alarm because it was hung over that morning.

But that’s kind of the point, anyway. You’ll already know whether this series is for you, so if it’s clearly not, best avoid it.

I’m sure Douki-chan will realize her ambitions eventually, but I’m also sure Yom will keep stringing us along for a while.

That’s it for the shorts for now. I’m not sure whether I’ll return to these extra-short series — they’re naturally very quick and easy to watch, but I didn’t get much out of them aside from Douki-chan, which I already figured I’d probably like anyway. The only other one I even have on my watchlist, Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki, looks like it’s all about regional Japanese cultures and dialects focusing on Nagoya, and I’m not even going to pretend I’d understand any of that. Especially not if it’s all presented in this lightning-speed 3/4-minute format.

But there’s plenty more anime to come with the end of the fall season. I actually watched a few series that I plan to write about, so you can look forward to that later this month and/or next month depending on my schedule. Until then!

Update, part 2 (10/31/2021: First impressions: Komi Can’t Communicate)

Happy Halloween, I guess. I’m not all that into it, but I’m happy that some people are. It’s also nice to give people some excuse to dress up as their favorite characters. But nothing spooky from me because I don’t really care about that sort of thing. I know I’m a killjoy, yes.

Today I’m continuing my breakneck-speed posting marathon with a continuation of that update post I started last week (hence the weird post title, sorry about that) this time shifting my focus to anime. I’ve picked up three new series that I’m now watching in addition to Aquatope and Jahy, which I’ll address next when they’re done at the end of the season. These next couple of posts won’t be anything even close to a full look at the fall season — as usual, I’m only watching a very small slice of currently airing anime, targeted to what I think I’d like, but it’s still a roll of the dice.

At first, I was going to just lump all three of these series together into one big post, but one of the series I’m watching consists of five-minute shorts (yeah, it’s Ganbare Douki-chan, of course; not much more to say about it now other than it’s nice, and I’ll most likely also cover it at the end of the season) and the other also deserves its own dedicated post. So for now, here’s my first impression of Komi Can’t Communicate.

Komi Can’t Communicate (or Komi-san wa, komyushou desu if you know that title better) is still another high school comedy, this time about a girl with extreme social anxiety and a guy who’s doing his utmost to help her resolve it. Our protagonist, Hitohito Tadano (left) is according to his own description an average guy who just wants to blend in, all the more so since he’s starting at a prestigious prep school where sticking out might cause him some trouble. However, he immediately gets a target painted on his back when he’s seated next to Shouko Komi, a knockout beauty who’s also mysteriously silent.

Tadano’s class obsesses over and idolizes this girl, which might sound nice for her at first — even Komi’s stony silence comes off as a kind of aloofness that just seems to make her classmates even more slobbery over her. But as Tadano soon discovers, this is a real problem for Komi, because she’s really not aloof at all: she just suffers from such terrible social anxiety that she literally can’t speak to other people. Tadano, almost by chance, manages to break through to Komi, and while having a long conversation with her by writing on the chalkboard in their classroom he learns that her dream is to make 100 friends.

This scene is a little sappy, but the sap is appropriate here and it’s not too much.

In a seemingly sort-of-joking way, Tadano writes that he’ll be her first friend and help her find the other 99, but Komi takes him at his word and emotionally accepts his offer. To his credit, despite really not wanting to stick out any more than he already is, Tadano takes his task seriously, and in the second episode we get to see his first attempt at fixing her up with Najimi, an old friend of his who’s an extreme compulsive liar but so talkative and friendly that Tadano figures Komi can’t fail at this first shot. And that’s as far as I’ve gotten by now, because even though the fifth episode of Komi is supposed to air in a few days, Netflix (where this series is being streamed exclusively at least officially) is only up to the second so far.

More on Netflix later, because the streaming service itself has become a subject of some mild controversy over its treatment of Komi. First, my first impression of Komi itself, which is pretty mixed. I thought I’d really like this series — the premise immediately grabbed me when I first heard about it, especially having been someone who for the longest time couldn’t cope in social situations myself. Sure, I was never quite as pretty as Komi is, so I didn’t get the weird, creepy, fawning idolization she gets from the rest of her class, but otherwise I can kind of relate. It’s also nice to see another series that takes this issue on; the last anime I remember seeing that addressed not being able to function socially was Welcome to the NHK!, which did a great job but took on a very different aspect of the problem.

I also like the two leads so far. Tadano might come off as a bit of a coward at first, but he seems like the type to really hold his ground when he has to, and though he doesn’t seem to consciously know it, his observation skills are pretty sharp. It is brought up in the first episode that every student at this elite academy has something special about them, so despite Tadano’s insistence that he’s average, it seems he’s really not. And then there’s Komi, of course: the focus of the show. She’s very sympathetic so far, and it’s nice to see her determination to greatly improve her social skills, at least to the point where she can talk to other people. The series also does a nice job of having Komi express her emotions without talking (as above — when she’s happy she sprouts cat ears? Sure, it’s cute so it works, that’s the rule.)

But then there’s every other character in the show so far. Granted, I haven’t gotten nearly far enough yet into it to really judge properly, but it seems like Tadano and Komi’s classmates are mostly a pack of raging assholes. Creepy assholes, too, because for as much as they weirdly obsess over Komi, they seem to hate Tadano to the point of wanting to actually murder him simply because he had the good fortune (?) to get randomly seated next to her.

It’s not just the guys either

This might all just be a comment on how shitty high school is in general, and if so I can relate to that as well. But then it doesn’t endear me all that much to the rest of the class either, and considering Komi and Tadano’s goal of rounding up 99 more friends for her, that might be an actual problem, since most of these people don’t seem like they’re really worth befriending. I get that a lot of them are meant to be weird and quirky (the narrator says this straight out at the end of episode 1, in fact) but there’s a line where over-the-top quirkiness and wackiness turns into me smashing my face against a wall at how god damn insufferable so-and-so is being, so for me plain quirkiness without anything else doesn’t excuse obnoxious behavior even in a comedy like this. Thankfully, Najimi in episode 2 seems to be actually pretty cool despite their penchant for compulsively lying, but I hope that trend can be kept up.

I know Komi is a very long-running manga (up to chapter 324 as of this writing! Damn.) And I haven’t read any of it, so I’m sure the manga-readers will have a lot more insight to give about this adaptation than I do. These are simply my own dumb thoughts about the first two episodes. I’ll continue watching and hope the parts that are rough for me get a bit smoothed out, because there seems to be plenty here to like as well. I’ve also heard Komi referred to as a romantic comedy, so I guess that means there’s something between Komi and Tadano at some point, but if the manga has run this long this romance must be an extremely slow burn.

I did laugh at this bit, even if it’s an obvious joke to make

Finally, there’s the matter of Netflix itself. I know people have been griping over the lousy subtitles, and I’ve heard the fansubs do a far better job (including translating some of the text-based jokes these official subs miss, which Komi seems to have a lot of.) I can’t address the quality of the Netflix subs in a meaningful way since my Japanese still isn’t good enough to judge, but I know for a fact I’m missing out on a lot of those text-based jokes, and I’m not sure why they wouldn’t be translated. Unless the thought was that fans wouldn’t care, and if that’s the thought, it’s definitely an incorrect one. Fuck, maybe I just need to try harder to learn Japanese.

Then there’s the matter of the airing schedule. I watch almost all my anime on Crunchyroll through the VRV service. It’s kind of shitty as well, but at least those guys do a far better job of getting episodes to the rest of the world shortly after their original air date. The other anime I’ve started through Crunchyroll isn’t two weeks behind like Netflix is with Komi, anyway. Maybe if they really were taking the time to translate all those text gags that would be an excuse, but they’re not.

So I don’t know. Maybe it’s not a big deal and I’m just being impatient, but in these days of instantly being spoiled on shit on Twitter it seems like at least a kind of big deal to be as current as possible with the airing schedule. But please tell me if you think I’m being unreasonable here. Hell, maybe there’s some kind of contractual reason for the delay.

But that’s all I have on Komi for the moment. I’ll keep being a good boy and watching it on Netflix, but I wouldn’t blame you for going for the fansubs instead. I certainly won’t sit here pretending I never watched a fansub. We all have. At the same time, I officially won’t endorse that action, because I’m sworn to uphold the law and all that stuff. If Komi turns out to be good, anyway, I’ll be forgiving enough, and a lot of people seem to love it, so I’ll stick with it and hope for the best.

A review of A Place Further Than the Universe

Man, now this was a series that took a while to get through. Not because it’s long, however. Not because it’s bad, either — just the opposite, in fact, but this is another one of those “it’s complicated” situations.

A Place Further Than the Universe is a 13-episode original anime series that aired in 2018. It feels like it’s been around longer, however. I’ve heard it brought up so often in must-watch anime lists that it seems to have reached classic status more or less instantly. Part of its high profile might have to do with its makers: Madhouse is another excellent anime studio, responsible for some of my absolute favorites like Kaiji. Between being a Madhouse production and its general reputation as a great story, I had very high expectations going into A Place Further Than the Universe.

And while those expectations were absolutely met and even exceeded, again, this is a complicated series for me to sort out and write about. A lot of that probably has more to do with me and my own feelings about life than about the series itself, so warning: I might get a bit personal this time. But if you’ve read this site for a while, you know what to expect from me. And if you’re new — welcome, thanks for reading, and I hope you’re okay with some personal griping. It’s part of what I do.

Enough of that shit for now — on to the show itself. Serious massive ending spoilers warning this time; A Place Further Than the Universe isn’t the most plot-heavy show ever, but the plot it has is pretty damn heavy and it’s hard to say anything meaningful about the show without addressing that aspect of it. If you prefer to go in raw, go ahead and watch the show because I recommend it without qualification, but more on that below.

Our story opens with Mari Tamaki a.k.a. Kimari, a high school student who’s desperate to do something interesting with her life before she graduates and enters the dreaded real world. The trouble is Kimari doesn’t have any particular interests and seems too timid to take any kind of risk. She can’t even bring herself to cut class to take the train to Tokyo one day, simply taking the train going in the opposite direction right back to school, where she meets her classmate and childhood friend Megu with a defeated feeling.

That changes when Kimari has a chance encounter with Shirase Kobuchizawa, another one of her classmates. Despite them being in the same grade at the same school, Kimari doesn’t know Shirase very well. Nobody does, in fact, because Shirase is shrouded in mystery. After she accidentally drops an envelope full of money on the train platform (a million yen, less than it might sound to some — about $9,000 as of this writing, but still a massive amount for a high schooler to be carrying around) Kimari recovers it and returns it to Shirase.

Get used to more emotional outbursts as the series continues

Partly out of gratitude and partly because Kimari is now privy to her situation anyway, Shirase tells her that she’s saving money to go to Antarctica to find her mother Takako, a researcher who was lost there a few years before and hasn’t been heard from since. And to Shirase’s surprise, Kimari asks if she can go along — this is just the adventure she was looking for. A little more of a commitment than taking the train from Gunma to Tokyo, as Shirase warns her, but Kimari is determined, and the pair start working on their plans. Along the way, Kimari and Shirase find still another girl to join them, more or less by chance. Hinata, Kimari’s co-worker at a convenience store, overhears her conversations with Shirase about their plans and expresses interest in going as well, saying she doesn’t have much else to do anyway.

The final addition to their team is the least likely, but also the most helpful in some sense. After being refused a spot on the next civilian expedition to Antarctica staffed by Shirase’s mother’s researcher colleagues, the now-trio of girls stumbles upon Yuzuki, another high school student who also works as a pop idol. Yuzuki actually has a spot on the same expedition that Shirase and friends were trying to land, part of a marketing scheme arranged by her agency, but she doesn’t want to go. After becoming fast friends with the group, however, she’s moved to tears by their kindness and decides to go — but only on the condition that Shirase, Kimari, and Hinata can join her. Following some arm-twisting she gets her way, and the four friends are now on the long and hard path to Antarctica.

Yuzuki and Hinata. I skipped over a lot of details, but it’s pretty much the power of friendship again. But not quite as usual.

A Place Further Than the Universe feels like a prime candidate for one of those “what I watched/what I expected/what I got” templates. What I expected was a cute, nice slice-of-life kind of series about four girls going to Antarctica. Normally I don’t go in for slice-of-life by itself, but this series is highly regarded enough that I wanted to give it a shot. Aside from that, I also have an interest in Antarctica, though I’ll probably never get to go myself. There’s something about how isolated and far from civilization it is that appeals to me, though it’s apparently not exactly “unspoiled” the way it’s sometimes talked about (see Werner Herzog’s excellent documentary Encounters at the End of the World for more on that — it makes a nice companion piece to this show.)

I did get all that from watching this, but while the show is about four girls going to Antarctica on the surface, that’s not quite what it’s about at its core. I didn’t pick the above screenshot randomly: Universe really is about friendship. And of course, that might elicit some groans — another anime that talks about the power of friendship, how original.

Sightseeing in Singapore on the way down, but it’s not all good times

To its credit though, Universe gets a bit deeper into the subject than you might expect, exploring not just the nature of solid friendships but also that of fragile ones. Just before Kimari leaves for Antarctica, her friend Megu confesses that she’s been spreading ugly rumors about her and Shirase, about how they were able to get the resources and money to go on their trip. But it’s not quite out of jealousy that she can’t do the same — Megu is really upset because she now feels useless to Kimari, who used to rely on her heavily but is now standing on her own. After confessing to her vile acts, Megu declares that they can’t be friends anymore and turns away from Kimari.

And then the show subverted my expectations, but in a good way. Instead of returning Megu’s bitter feelings and letting her walk away, Kimari hugs her from behind, rejects her “break-up”, and runs off, with the implication that they might be able to rebuild what they had after she returns. Megu is left in tears, obviously feeling like a massive piece of shit, likely all the more so because instead of the mutual rejection she was probably expecting she was shown love instead.

Kimari really doesn’t let much get to her.

That kind of subversion might not always work, but it worked for me because it’s consistent with Kimari’s character. Throughout the series, the bonds between the four main girls are also tested in various ways, and while there are a few arguments and plenty of tears (a whole lot of tears, in fact) they come through it all the stronger and more closely bound.

These emotional moments aren’t the cheap eye-rolling kind, precisely for the reason that they’re pretty well earned. Universe does a great job at building well-developed characters quickly — a must considering how much it tries to do in its short 13-episode run — and as a result, all the ups and downs they go through are backed up by the proper context. I never once wondered while watching this series why the hell Kimari, Shirase, Hinata, or Yuzuki were doing, saying, or thinking something, or at least not once their reasons were revealed. I read a review shortly after finishing the show that accused it of cheap emotional pandering, but this is my response — everything that happens in Universe has the necessary context, and I didn’t even find the many crying/outburst scenes all that excessive.

There really are a lot of them, I can keep posting these screenshots all day

It’s also important to note where Universe didn’t subvert my expectations, but again to good effect. From almost the beginning of the series, Shirase expresses her desire to go to Antarctica to find her mother, carrying the book she wrote about her travels with her (titled A Place Further Than the Universe, a nice title drop there.) For a while, nobody brings up Takako’s almost certain fate — not even her friends and colleagues in charge of the expedition who end up supervising and mentoring the girls — but eventually reality has to be faced.

This is where Universe really proved its worth to me. When I saw the title to the second-to-last episode — the same title as Takako’s book and the series itself — I knew what I was in for, but the way the show executed the revelation of her fate and Shirase’s response to it was just about perfect. I don’t even want to spoil it here, even though I gave that urgent spoiler warning above. All I’ll give you here is an admission that it moved me to tears.

That’s not a light statement coming from me — I’m normally like one of those Easter Island stone faces; I hardly ever cry at anything. I don’t say that to imply that I’m a real tough guy, but rather that I’m kind of unromantic and emotionally cold or at least extremely guarded. Yet this show managed to break through that armor and get to me.

So unless my bullshit and sappy nonsense detection meter is completely out of wack now, I don’t think there’s anything cheap about Universe or the feelings its characters express and share. It’s a well-done coming-of-age story about four girls finding themselves and learning what it means to truly be friends and to cope with loss.

Again, that really is the core of the series. Most of it doesn’t even take place in Antarctica — it takes our protagonists about a third of the show to even leave Japan and another third to actually make it down to the continent, and there are plenty of slice-of-life-style bits throughout, all the way up to the last episode when the girls return home.

Shirase even takes some time during a party with her adult colleagues to beat their asses at mahjong. This looks just like a still from Akagi, in fact — maybe because Madhouse also produced that show! Is this a subtle reference?

The only issue I think some viewers might take with Universe is just how quickly it can turn from cute girls doing cute things slice of life messing around to intense drama and emotion and back again. Several of its episodes have this kind of roller coaster quality to them, with some serious lows and highs. A couple of those “high” scenes early on got to me in a bad way, as full as they were of youthful optimism for the future — exactly the kind I’ve more or less lost as a bitter, depressive adult (coming off of my stint as a bitter, depressive teenager, but at least I did have more wonder about the world then than I do now, or more than zero anyway.) But I won’t hold that against the series; it’s entirely on me.

And I can really relate to Hinata’s feelings here.

I’ve seen people suggest Universe as a good “relaxation” sort of series, but while it is beautiful-looking and has some light elements to its story, I don’t know if I’d recommend it as a light watch myself for the above reasons. Most of these episodes had a lot to take emotionally speaking, which is part of why it took me a while to get through the whole thing despite only being one cour long.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth watching. I highly recommend A Place Further Than the Universe to just about anyone. It’s well-written, has compelling characters going on an intense and difficult journey, both physically and emotionally, and it looks amazing on top of all that with just the kind of quality work you’d expect from Madhouse. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

It also has penguins, because what kind of series about Antarctica would miss out on penguins? Apparently they stink, though.

A review of Asobi Asobase

I’m back! More or less, anyway. The hiatus I planned was much shorter than expected for various reasons. These mainly have to do with changes to my life that I can’t really ignore anymore, though thankfully they won’t prevent me from writing here or anything like that. Just the opposite, in fact, but it’s a bit complicated. I might get into it later. And I will be posting an extra-long month-end post for July to make up for skipping the last month’s, I promise.

For now, though, I have anime to write about. Because I spent the time in between work and dealing with other unpleasant business this last week and weekend binging the fuck out of anime series, one of which was Asobi Asobase.

Back in the mid-2000s, there was a spate of anime series released that fell into a newly created genre titled “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things.” Sometimes just shortened to CGDCT, this is a widely recognized genre among anime fans, and one that I don’t think really exists outside of anime and manga. And it’s just what it sounds like: a CGDCT series involves a cast of cute girls, and they’re doing cute things. Like playing games, for one example.

From looking at its poster and synopsis, I thought Asobi Asobase fell into this category, so I passed it by. Cute is fine and all, but these shows tend to be a bit boring to me. But something about this show in particular drew me back. Not sure what exactly did it; maybe I was curious about it because it came out in 2018, long after that CGDCT craze died down, or maybe it was a few of the strange-looking thumbnails in the episode list. In any case, I decided to watch the first episode.

And then I realized I’d been tricked. At first, I wasn’t sure whether what I got was better or worse than what I’d expected, but then I ended up watching the rest of the 12-episode series over the course of two days, so there’s the answer to that question I suppose.

Wait, this wasn’t what I expected at all! Help!

The creators did a great job of hiding the show’s true nature, at least until a few minutes into episode 1. The OP is charming and cute with a slight yuri vibe, giving the impression of just the kind of CGDCT show I was expecting. Right away, however, we’re introduced to our main cast, and it’s obvious that something is off here. We open on Kasumi Nomura (right w/ glasses), a student at an all-girls middle school, explaining why she hates playing games with a flashback involving her shitty older sister forcing her to buy ice cream when she loses at a board game.

Much to her irritation, this flashback is interrupted by two of her classmates, Hanako Honda and the blonde transfer student Olivia. The pair are playing a game that involves slapping your opponent (at least according to Olivia it does) if they look in the direction you’re pointing.

Kasumi is dragged into their game by Hanako out of a desire to avoid further beatings, and Olivia gives Kasumi a good slap when she loses (or doesn’t lose? Because I think Olivia is slapping all her opponents no matter what they do.) However, Olivia screws her aim up, slapping Kasumi slightly lower than intended in a more sensitive area, and pissing her off to the maximum. So when Kasumi wins the next round, she decides to teach this new girl how to play this game properly.

Not the smoothest introduction. However, Kasumi approaches Olivia soon after to try to get her help with English, which she’s terrible at. Olivia’s parents are from overseas, and her Japanese so far has been pretty slow and broken, so everyone assumes at this point that she’s fluent in English.

This puts Olivia in a tight spot, because the opposite is true: she’s actually fluent in Japanese, having been born and raised in Japan, and she can barely speak English. She’s just been fucking with Hanako and the rest of the class because she thought it was funny. Now that she’s actually being asked to help with English, she’s afraid to drop the act she started, so she agrees to help Kasumi — as long as Kasumi teaches her about more games and pastimes. Olivia’s picked up on the fact that Kasumi hates games, so she thinks her demand will be refused, but to her shock, Kasumi accepts the deal. And before the end of the episode, the three decide to start a school club dedicated to playing games (and/or studying English?) called the Pastimers’ Club.

A few minutes past the OP of the first episode, then, it’s already obvious that Asobi Asobase isn’t quite what it claims to be at first. On the cover, it pretends to be one of those old CGDCT shows, but it’s actually a surreal comedy with a dirty streak. What follows is a 12-episode run full of mind games, revenge, blackmail, power struggles with the student council and rival clubs, competitions ending in humiliation and severe injury, and a man who shoots laser beams out of his ass. The series adds an entire cast of bizarre supporting characters to help play these bits out (including ass laser man; you’ll see how he fits into the equation if you watch.) But the focus is always on the main three Kasumi, Hanako, and Olivia and their games, which too often turn into larger, usually idiotic, schemes.

School clubs are serious business

This kind of bizarre stuff doesn’t always work for me, but as I’ve already more or less given away, Asobi Asobase did very much work for me, and I think a lot of that had to do with this central cast. Kasumi, Hanako, and Olivia quickly become friends, but they also have to deal with each other’s strange quirks. That’s where most of the comedy here comes from for me. Kasumi is studious, neurotic, and usually shy and quiet except when she gets pissed off (see above), and Olivia is carefree and generally out of it except when her public image might be at risk, in which case she panics.

But the most out-there character is Hanako. So out there that she might be the one who either pulls you into or shuts you out of Asobi Asobase. At first, I found her to be a bit much, but she quickly grew on me even if I’m still not sure why. Hanako is subdued (relatively at least) in the very beginning of the show, but we soon see how much of a weirdo she is — so much so that despite making high grades and being from a rich family with such a privileged upbringing that she has a butler, she’s shunned by the popular girls.

Stuff like this is probably part of the reason for her outcast status

This is a serious problem for Hanako, who desperately wants a boyfriend and both envies and hates the popular girls at her school for getting to go to mixers while she’s shut out of the fun. She’s also a bit of a complete and utter nutbar, though judging from my own middle school experience and my blessedly brief time as a sort-of-teacher she’s not actually that unusual for a kid her age.

Unfortunately for Hanako, both she and her clubmates are sort of weirdo misfits — the difference between them and Hanako is that Kasumi doesn’t really care and Olivia is seemingly too oblivious to even notice. So Hanako lets herself go around them, resulting in some of the strangest (and loudest) sequences in the show. I’ll admit she screams a little bit too much for me, but I enjoyed some of her freakouts, and especially her friends’ reactions to them.

The other two also have plenty of moments.

There isn’t much of a plot to Asobi Asobase. There are a few running storylines that come up now and then, but each episode is broken into four segments that are usually not connected to each other, which I think fits the type of fast-paced weirdo surreal comedy it’s going for well. The show as a whole is crazy, but there’s enough sense left in it to prevent things from going off the rails completely, which is where it would probably lose me, and I think this quick four-part format has something to do with that. These segments often end with a punchline and occasionally with a character breaking the fourth wall, but thankfully the fourth-wall-breaking doesn’t happen so often that it gets irritating.

The show is just as weird as it needs to be while remaining funny

There isn’t a type of humor that works for everyone, and that’s just as true of comedy anime series as it is of western TV comedies. Asobi Asobase is sometimes loud and often insane, but it fits really well with some of the sort of comedy I like. It feels stupid but at the same time clever and thoughtfully put together if that makes any sense. Something like Beavis and Butthead or South Park. The presentation is similar in the sense that it can be a bit shocking at times (and serious credit to the voice actors as well, because they contribute a lot to that) and the tone is pretty similar.

Or maybe I’m going way too far out on a limb with these comparisons, but this is just the vibe I got watching this. I think if you’re into the above shows, you’ll probably enjoy this series as well. And if you can’t stand Cute Girls Doing Cute Things, don’t worry, because that’s not really what Asobi Asobase is — at most it’s a surrealist take on that genre. So maybe people who are into CGDCT can appreciate Asobi Asobase even more than I can in that sense.

And as a look into the pure chaos and terror that is middle school, Asobi Asobase might be the most realistic anime ever created.

So I guess that’s a recommendation too. This currently one-season show didn’t have a proper finale really, simply ending on yet another weird joke, but the manga it’s based on is still running, and there’s talk about a second season possibly, maybe, who knows. I’m hoping for a second season myself, because I can use more of this strange brew, but anime watchers know how these things can go. I’m not holding my breath, but I’ll keep an eye out.

A review of Teasing Master Takagi-san

Since I’ve had a look at the anime adaptation of Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! and the original Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro manga, it’s only right that I should give some attention to the last member of the triumvirate of (mostly) good-natured bullying/teasing. Like those, Teasing Master Takagi-san (original title Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san) is a still-running manga series; the anime adaptation currently has two seasons released in 2016 and 2019. This series features yet another boy and girl pair with a somewhat similar relationship to those in Uzaki and Nagatoro — the girl makes fun of the boy, the boy gets flustered in response and tries to get back at her, and that’s the source of the comedy.

However, Takagi-san is pretty different from those series aside from that common theme, which I think has to do with the somewhat different dynamic between the two leads and the setting they’re in. And of course, I’ll get into all that right now.

Takagi and Nishikata, the leads of the series

The first segment of the show’s first episode, “Eraser”, lays out everything we need to know about these two middle school students and their combative, complicated relationship. Nishikata, the boy, is our protagonist — we know this because we can hear his inner monologue, and also because he sits in the protagonist seat, all the way in the back of the class by the window. Sitting next to him is the girl, Takagi. Nishikata is busy not studying but rather trying to rig up a springy snake toy made of paper in a box meant specifically to scare Takagi. But before he can pull his plan off, Takagi asks for his help opening her pencil case, which she claims is jammed shut. When he takes the case and easily opens it, Takagi’s own springy paper toy jumps out and scares Nishikata, and Takagi breaks down laughing at his extreme reaction.

How most of Nishikata’s attempts at getting revenge on Takagi end up

After Nishikata collapses in defeat, Takagi changes the subject, asking to use his eraser. When he hands it over, Takagi mentions a rumor she heard that if you write your crush’s name on your eraser hidden under the paper holder part of it and said crush uses the eraser up, they’ll fall in love with you. Nishikata dismisses it as a silly superstition, but when Takagi takes his eraser and slides it up to see under that part and pretends to read a name, he starts sweating, wondering whether he wrote a name and forgot about it — even worse, could it have been her name?

Of course, Takagi is bluffing; there’s nothing written there, but she got another reaction out of Nishikata, which was enough for her to get another win over him. She then leaves class to go to the bathroom, and Nishikata takes the chance to take Takagi’s eraser and steal a look at what she might have written under it. When he pushes her eraser up and sees the kana ろ (ro), not the first letter in his name, he feels disappointed, though he’s not sure exactly why. Working up his nerve, he then reads the rest, which translates to “look into the hallway”. And looking to his right, he sees Takagi, peeking around the corner and laughing her ass off at him once again before composing herself and coming back in to get her eraser back and declare still another victory over him.

If only he’d read the other side.

Right away, we get the gist of their relationship. Takagi teases Nishikata endlessly, and while Nishikata tries to get back at her, his attempts fall short because Takagi has already thought a few steps ahead of him. He never gives up, however — his determination to get even with Takagi is a constant throughout the series.

There are two other important points to this first segment, one obvious and the other only hinted at. The obvious one is that Nishikata has a massive crush on Takagi but that he doesn’t realize it yet. As the show continues, Nishikata inches closer to realizing his feelings for her, but it is a slow process. The less obvious point here is that Takagi might have the same feelings for Nishikata — in the early stages this is still only hinted at with bits like the end of the “Eraser” segment, but more of these suggestions show up later on.

Takagi has the upper hand here too, though, because assuming from the beginning that they’re genuine, she understands her feelings for Nishikata better than he does his feelings for her. Moreover, she seems to know that Nishikata is crushing on her, since she uses this fact throughout the series both to tease him and to get closer to him. Every time one of them comes up with a game, it’s probably no coincidence that when Nishikata inevitably loses, the penalty Takagi chooses involves him spending more time with her. Naturally, Nishikata brushes this off as just more of her teasing when he finally notices what’s going on, but we get more hints down the line that Takagi might be serious about what she’s doing behind all the pranks.

There’s lots of looking away and blushing, but it’s almost always Nishikata doing it.

While this developing potential romance (as much as you can call it that in middle school at least) is a big part of the story of Takagi-san, the battle of wits between Nishikata and Takagi is pretty entertaining in itself even apart from that. Takagi clearly has an advantage over Nishikata in the wits department, but instead of using those assets to go after him aggressively, she usually allows him to work himself up into a frenzy, letting him second-guess himself and fall into the traps she’s set for him. Her goal also pretty clearly isn’t to humiliate or demoralize him, even if she does like to see him get embarrassed — she never teases Nishikata in front of other people, but only when they’re either alone or out of earshot of everyone else, and on the few occasions he ends up getting himself hurt she shows genuine concern for his health (though she still somehow finds ways to tease him while caring for him.)

I think Takagi’s relative kindness towards Nishikata contributes to how wholesome this anime is in general. Maybe it’s only natural, since all the characters in the show are still just in middle school, but if you’re the type who doesn’t go for some of the dirty jokes featured in high school or university-based comedies (Nagatoro and Uzaki-chan respectively for example) you might prefer Takagi-san. Nishikata, Takagi, and their friends are all just figuring things out, after all, and all the talk about love and relationships in the show reflects that while still feeling natural (in other words, while the show is “clean” in that sense, it also doesn’t feel like it’s avoiding or papering over anything out of embarrassment.) It’s all very sweet, and though I admittedly like that dirty stuff I mentioned, Takagi-san was a nice change of pace for me.

Holding Takagi’s hand is one of the big hurdles Nishikata has to overcome if that gives you an idea

The only semi-annoyances I kept running into in Takagi-san were the segments featuring three other girls at their school named Yukari, Mina, and Sanae. I think these three show up in every episode and almost always get at least one short segment to themselves, and it’s typically a comedy bit that’s just kind of okay at best. Some of their bits feel like ones that might have been scrapped from Azumanga Daioh or another school slice-of-life like that. They’re not awful and are short enough to tolerate, and I guess these segments are meant to break up all the Takagi/Nishikata stuff. Then again, the reason I watched this show was to see all that Takagi/Nishikata stuff, so I never felt like it needed breaking up anyway.

To be fair, though, this trio and a few of Nishikata’s male friends do comment on their relationship sometimes, usually speculating that they’re dating much to Nishikata’s embarrassment when he finds out (and therefore to Takagi’s amusement) so they’re not totally disconnected from the main story. And that plays into another aspect of their relationship that I really liked: the fact that they’re happy to move at their own pace without feeling pressured by anyone else. Takagi is the one usually setting that pace for both of them, but Nishikata does grow and mature a bit to match her, and he may even end up surprising her a couple of times.

Find those parts for yourself, though; I won’t spoil them here.

I’ll just say right out, since I’ve heard a lot of disagreements on this point and the comparisons are only natural: I liked this series a lot more than I did Uzaki-chan, and I’d put it about on the same level as Nagatoro in terms of the enjoyment I’ve gotten from it. All three series are pretty different, each with their own quirks and particular character relationships, so I’m not accusing one of ripping off the others or anything like that. In fact, I’d say they’re all worth checking out if you’re into this sort of comedy at all. And I didn’t even dislike Uzaki-chan; I just much prefer Takagi-san because I like the characters more and find their back-and-forths a lot more entertaining.

But as usual, your mileage may vary. Maybe you think that even under all the teasing and power struggles between Takagi and Nishikata, this stuff sounds too sweet for you, and I can understand that — but then, you might also take into consideration that I’m unromantic/unsentimental as hell and even I really liked it. So I’d still suggest giving at least the first episode a chance even if you think you might not be into it. Teasing Master Takagi-san is another big recommendation from me, again without any reservations.

Even if it is admittedly annoying to watch since the first season is only aired on Crunchyroll and the second only on Netflix. I don’t know who the fuck is responsible for these kinds of stupid licensing decisions, but I really hate them.