A review of K-On! (Season 1)

I finally got around to watching another anime standard. K-On! is one of the first names in relaxed slice-of-life comedy anime, a manga adaptation by the first-rate studio Kyoto Animation, better known as KyoAni.

I say it’s a standard, but K-On! isn’t universally beloved. As one of the best-known and most-cited examples of a “cute girls doing cute things” series (see also the much older Azumanga Daioh, much newer Yuru Camp, and contemporary Lucky Star) it gets a lot of disdain from some anime watchers depending on their tastes. Back in 2009 when this first season aired, I remember that “cute girls” anime trend was in full swing in the same way the isekai trend seems to be now, and along with all its popularity it also received plenty of backlash.

But was that backlash deserved? I used to ignore this genre myself, aside from Azumanga which somehow felt like an exception, being an older series and heavy on both comedy and surreal weirdness alongside all the high school slice-of-life material. Watching Yuru Camp early this year convinced me that I was wrong to ignore it, and I even found a lot to like in a pure slice-of-life series a bit later on with Akebi’s Sailor Uniform. So finally I decided it was time to watch the first season of what many consider the best CGDCT/slice-of-life series ever. Would I fall in love with K-On! like I did with Yuru Camp? (Yeah, I’m leaving you in suspense for a while this time, sorry. Unless you just want to cheat and scroll to the middle/end.)

As much as that “anime girl running to school with toast in her mouth” thing is a standard opening (so much that the Niigata prefectural government early this year complained that it was depressing rice consumption in introducing their new “anime girl running with onigiri in her mouth” campaign) this is the first time I’ve seen it in a while.

K-On! opens with Yui Hirasawa rushing off to her first day at Sakuragaoka High School. As a new first-year student, Yui is immediately set upon by representatives of every club at the school because if anime has taught us anything, it’s that there’s nothing on Earth more serious than Japanese high school club membership. Yui has a problem, though: she has no idea what club she wants to join. When her far more responsible childhood friend and classmate Nodoka Manabe asks her two weeks later what club she’s going to join, Yui is still drawing a blank — she doesn’t seem to have any real interests aside from eating and sleeping.

Nodoka, a new student council representative, won’t let Yui just join the Go Home Club and tells her she’ll end up a NEET if she doesn’t take some initiative, so Yui goes for the easiest and most fun-looking group she can find: the Light Music Club.* Thinking “light music” means she’ll get to play the castanets or some other easy-looking percussion instrument (which yeah, I know they’re not easy to play well and the show does acknowledge that later, so the percussionists reading this can put down their beating sticks) Yui walks into the club with full confidence and absolutely no musical training.

Club president Ritsu camping out in the music room. I don’t think they ever use the staves on the board back there to write any music, or not that I saw at least.

Meanwhile, Yui’s fellow freshmen and Light Music Club members are waiting to get a fourth member so they can be recognized as a proper club by the student council and school administration. Drummer Ritsu Tainaka, bassist Mio Akiyama, and keyboardist Tsumugi Kotobuki are specifically looking for a guitarist so they can form a four-piece band. When Yui shows up at the music room to visit, they’re all excited and assume she’s a guitarist, piling up tea and cakes in front of her to convince her to join.

Yui is surprised to learn that this club has such specific standards and finally admits with some embarrassment that she can’t play the guitar at all (and shit, maybe they should have written we need a guitarist on the flyer?) But it all sort of works out for everyone: since the student council is about to axe the club, they take Yui despite her lack of experience and promise that they’ll teach her how to play.

And since their keyboardist is the heiress to a company that owns a musical instrument dealer, they manage to get her a fucking Les Paul for her very first guitar, amazing luck for Yui. And have fun getting those calluses.

The rest of the season follows Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Tsumugi (aka Mugi as the girls call her) as they work on their music, write a few original songs, and get ready to perform in front of their classmates at their school festivals. An entire year breezes by halfway through this season, and with the new class of first-years comes an already skilled guitarist in Azusa Nakano, who makes the Light Music Club into a five-piece band. The club hits a few rough patches but gets through them, managing to write a few songs that become hits with their classmates and getting a taste for putting on live shows. And of course, they eat cake, drink tea, and screw around a whole lot while also doing their best to stay on top of their studies, but the last only really being an issue for Yui, who has the ability to actually study but not much in the way of discipline.

This is supposed to be a makeup midterm study session for Yui specifically, who screwed around so much she failed her first time around. But I like tea and cake too, I admit it, so I can’t judge them for this. (Also that lump on Ritsu’s head is from Mio’s much-deserved corrective slaps.)

K-On! is an interesting series to me largely for its impact on anime and the community (here in the West anyway, since I don’t know about the situation in Japan, but I assume it was probably a big deal there as well if not even bigger.) Like Azumanga, it was a huge hit online. It doesn’t seem to have had quite as wide of an appeal, but K-On! still received a lot of love, and I can see why, because there’s a lot going for it. KyoAni is highly regarded for good reason: the animation throughout this first season of K-On! is excellent. While I’m not a particular fan of their “squishy” character designs, Yui and her friends also have a unique look to them, and the style is recognizable and consistent.

I also like some of the music featured in K-On! It would be hard to forgive the show for failing to deliver at least a few good songs given its musical theme, and it does: Don’t Say Lazy, the ending theme, is a real earworm and a nice one even if the lyrics are a bit embarrassing (but that’s in character for the band’s lyricist Mio, so it’s all right) and Fuwa Fuwa Time is just god damn good. If my school had a band that could have written originals like these and performed them as well as the girls in K-On! do, that would have been impressive as hell. The show doesn’t skimp on the visuals and animation in these sections either: the playing actually looks realistic, at least to me. The instruments themselves are very real-looking as well, modeled as they are after real-life instruments (and hey, I’ve played a Korg synth a few times — not sure what model Mugi is using though.)

A rare scene of the girls actually practicing

Being a sort-of very amateur musician myself, I thought this series would be a perfect fit for me, especially since I’ve been on this cute slice-of-life binge. But it wasn’t, not quite. At least I can say this first season of K-On! hasn’t seized me in the way Yuru Camp did from its very first episode, and that series is about girls camping, a hobby I have absolutely no interest in. It’s weird how that works, isn’t it?

Before the legion of K-On! fans breaks down my door and demands an explanation, I should clarify that I didn’t hate or even dislike this run of episodes, not even close to it. If I had, I would have dropped it halfway through, because I don’t have the willpower to keep watching something I don’t enjoy on some level. I was hoping for more, though, based both on my own expectations and on the series’ great reputation.

My problem certainly wasn’t with the very light plot, which can be summed up as “high school girls play music and eat cake and drink tea.” By this point, I’ve watched enough anime more or less like that, only replacing “play music” with “go camping” or “just mess around all day” to know that this relative lack of plot absolutely isn’t a dealbreaker for me. But I think I’ve nailed down what I do need to really enjoy such a series, some mix of the following: 1) a compelling/entertaining cast of characters; 2) comedy that hits for me; 3) atmosphere so well done that the series sucks me into its world (and yeah, this last one sounds pretty flaky and hard-to-define to me writing it out, but I’m not sure how else to describe it.) I loved Azumanga and Yuru Camp for their characters and their comedy, and Akebi got me largely with its atmosphere.

This proves I really can’t live on cuteness alone

K-On!, or again at least its first season, was somewhat lacking in those areas for me. The characters in particular just didn’t grab me, aside from one, and having an interest in one character alone isn’t enough with an ensemble cast like this to keep my interest.

The “one” above isn’t the most central character Yui. With all her clumsy cuteness, you’d think I’d have liked her as much as I do Nadeshiko or Osaka, but no. I think my issue with Yui is that everything just comes too god damn easy to her, to the point that I’m not sure what exactly I should think of her — I guess she’s a lazy layabout who secretly has genius-level natural abilities judging by what she pulls off, but that’s not all that interesting to watch taking place. She has barely any motivation to study and fails her midterm, but it just takes one night of Mio drilling math into her head to get her a 100%; she seems to have not all that much work ethic or discipline but gets to be pretty damn good at the guitar in just a year to the point that she can do great in front of an audience (though the show acknowledges she’s not nearly as good as Azusa, sure.)

The same goes for the rest of the band, more or less. Aside from Azusa and Mio, the group has barely any motivation to practice, with the goof off Ritsu and flaky Yui being the main culprits and Mugi following along and providing a constant supply of tea and cake to go along with their leisure time. They do eventually get around to practicing, yeah, but they apparently also have a chronic case of laziness to the extent that Mio and later Azusa are pretty consistently annoyed by it. But despite all that, the girls put on great shows at their school festivals. (And maybe that’s why the ending is “Don’t Say Lazy”? Are they preempting this criticism?)

Practice?! Fuck that, let’s go to the beach

This might be an entirely stupid complaint. I didn’t watch K-On! expecting to watch the characters just practicing for 20 minutes per episode. But it does annoy me a little that there don’t seem to be much in the way of consequences for their general discord and fucking around. The real problem here might be with me and my own hangups: I never played in a band, but I did play solo piano from my childhood on, enough that even though I haven’t consistently kept it up for a while now, all that practice and muscle memory is burned into my brain and I can still do decently and polish my extremely rusty playing if I put the effort in.

The point is that I know playing well takes serious practice and discipline because I had to put that work in, and the same is true of even a natural genius which I’m damn well not. We do see Yui practicing her guitar a few times along with comments from her also far more responsible younger sister Ui that she’s gotten more focused, so that’s something, but a band is going to sound like a fucking mess if they spend most of their days in their club room eating cake and bullshitting.

That brings me to the one character in K-On! I really like so far: Mio. She has drive, discipline, and a backbone, and on top of all that she’s the only one in this first season with much of a real character arc, being forced to get over her shyness a bit so she can take the role of lead singer when Yui slips up and forgets her lines in their first performance. I don’t dislike Mugi, Ritsu, or even Yui although I complained about her a bit — they’re all fine. Same with Azusa, who also has plenty of motivation but unfortunately gets manipulated with cake bribes (which again I admit I completely understand.) But Mio is by far my favorite character at this point. Without her there grounding the rest at least somewhat, K-On! might have been a hard watch for me.

Then there’s the comedy, which doesn’t always hit for me. I think it’s pretty hard to write about why I find some jokes funny and not others — shit, I found Osaka’s sata andagi scene in Azumanga hilarious and I absolutely can’t explain why except that I really probably do have brain damage. K-On! does have some good bits, my favorite probably late in the season when the imposter Yui shows up (I won’t spoil it, but see if you can detect her) but too many of the jokes get repeated or fall flat for my taste.

The absolute worst offender for me in this regard is the club’s teacher advisor, Sawako Yamanaka, a former metalhead and Light Music Club member herself. I was on board with her “nice teacher turns out to be a weirdo/irresponsible shit” role for a while, sort of a Yukari going back to Azumanga (or for a better analogy, Chug-sensei from Yuru Camp — Yukari never made a pretense of being nice) until she started turning into a bit of a Kimura. I guess she’s meant as comic relief, but even so, I ended the series nearly hating Sawako for just this reason.

Oh God please shut the fuck up

I have no idea why Sawako’s character had to go in this direction. Even her enthusiasm in dressing the girls up in sometimes embarrassing costumes might have just been linked back to her theatrical rock past, her pining for her student life and the potential boyfriend who got away and all that tied up with it. But then she occasionally turns into a pervert and gets near-gropy with her students and god damn is that a dealbreaker for me.

If you’re new to this site or just haven’t read it for very long, you might think I’m being squeamish or prudish or something, but I can assure you I’m not. I love a good h-game, I’ll freely admit that. Stick around for a while and you’ll probably see me posting about one soon enough. But there’s a particular character type that shows up in anime every so often, the aggressive sort of pervert who’s more or less tolerated by the surrounding characters for some inexplicable reason, that gets under my skin to such an extent that I can’t stand it. At least Sawako doesn’t actually do anything beyond being a fucking creep sometimes (again, a bit like Kimura) but still, holy hell. (And now you might say “Okay, you loved Azumanga, but what about Kimura in that case?” But being a creep was his entire thing, and almost every other character recognized him as one and acted accordingly, which is largely not the case here aside from some sideways looks and comments and the occasional exceedingly deserved slap.)

And yeah, I know it’s all just meant to be more comedy, but I still can’t help feeling this way.

There’s also Mugi’s very occasionally expressed thing for yuri that I have no problem with (I mean I have a bit of a thing for yuri too, honestly) but it also comes out of and goes nowhere.

K-On! has clearly captivated a lot of fans since it started its run 13 years ago, to the point that people still watch it and talk about it on a regular basis. And again, I can see the appeal. All the complaining above might make it sound like I hated this series, and I don’t want to give that impression because it would be the wrong one. I enjoyed some of the cake-eating and tea-drinking fun times the girls shared, and I really liked the attention to detail surrounding the music and performances when the show focused on those elements. Details like Mio being left-handed and the difficulties that presents with finding a suitable bass, or some of the references that obviously weren’t just shoehorned in with Mio going on about how great a guitarist Jeff Beck was when asking Yui about her influences in the first episode, or about how Ritsu is basically a schoolgirl non-alcoholic/not constantly stoned version of Keith Moon (and I understand he’s her favorite drummer, which completely makes sense given her temperament and playing style — in fact she and Mio feel like they have a Keith Moon/John Entwistle sort of dynamic going on. Now I really want to hear the girls’ take on “Heaven and Hell.”) I get the impression the original manga author Kakifly has a real love for this music too.

The Who comparison only goes so far, I guess. Yui certainly isn’t a Pete Townshend and there’s no Roger Daltrey around either. But be sure to listen to Live at Leeds anyway, one of the best live albums ever recorded.

So if I absolutely had to say whether I liked K-On! or not with no other qualifiers, I’d say I liked it. Drowning myself in this fluffy slice-of-life feels almost therapeutic now, and KyoAni did a great job with the production. Aside from the bits that include Sawako prominently, I didn’t really dislike any part of this first season. I’ve also heard that the second season of K-On! is stronger than the first, and I think I enjoyed the first just enough to want to continue watching based on that recommendation. Ritsu claims they’re going all the way to the Budokan, and if they do, I’d like to see how they make it there.

And hey, the final performance was mostly nice and heartwarming too, and again “Fuwa Fuwa Time” is a good enough song that it probably salvaged all the not-so-great parts for me.

But maybe I’m just a jerk who still doesn’t truly get it. I’ve heard K-On! called the peak of this CGDCT/slice-of-life anime genre, but I think if I’d started with this instead of Yuru Camp, I might not have tried getting any further into this genre considering my biases not too long ago. But maybe I will get this series when I start watching the second season. Feel free to tell me exactly what I missed in the comments: that’s what they’re there for. If you’re really skilled you might even get me over my near-compulsive dislike of Sawako, though good luck with that if it’s your plan.

Either way, I’ll be continuing the series after starting/getting through a few more in the backlog, so look forward to more on K-On! at some point. Until next time!

 

* Language note that most of you probably know about already: the title K-On! comes from keion, short for keiongaku or “light music.” Just like Yui, I’d never heard the term “light music” before hearing about this series years ago, but apparently it’s another term for pop. Not exactly easy to play either.

A review of Teasing Master Takagi-san (S3)

I had to clean my brain out after watching Pupa, and maybe you have to clean your brain out after reading what I wrote about it yesterday. So what better way to do that than finishing the third season of Teasing Master Takagi-san? The most wholesome romantic comedy anime on Earth continued its run in early 2022. And it’s wholesome and cute and all that, sure, but also so cleverly written to not be overflowing with cheese and sap. None at all, in fact, because the sweet parts are more than earned after the many (still pretty innocent) cat-and-mouse mind games between the two leads.

This post may be on the shorter side since I’ve already covered the essentials of the series and my thoughts on it in my review of the first two seasons (here, back when either a third season wasn’t yet announced or I just didn’t know about it.) The brief rundown if you haven’t watched those seasons or read that post is that Teasing Master Takagi-san / Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san is about the friendship and budding romance between middle school students Nishikata, the boy on the right on the poster, and Takagi, the girl on the left. What makes Takagi-san unique is the dynamic between these two: they’re friends, but Nishikata also has a massive crush on Takagi but doesn’t quite realize it. Takagi seems to feel the same way about him and hints as much, but always in subtle ways. (Also general spoilers ahead for the season’s ending, so if you care about that, I’ll just recommend the series right now.)

“Subtle” is relative in this case, though Nishikata isn’t any denser than your typical male protagonist in these stories and gets a pass for still being a kid anyway.

Takagi also loves teasing Nishikata. Her teasing is usually pretty light and good-natured, but Nishikata is still desperate to get back at Takagi by defeating her in contests of all sorts that they think up for each other. These usually involve some kind of trick or shortcut that Takagi understands before Nishikata picks up on it, or that alternatively Nishikata thinks he understands until he realizes he’s blundered his way into Takagi’s trap. In short, Takagi can usually read Nishikata’s mind and predict his next move.

But on occasion Nishikata surprises her, and that’s when we get the real payoff, especially when it comes to their slowly advancing relationship. Middle school is a chaotic time in most kids’ lives, and part of that has to do with the discovery of romantic love, even if it’s just understood in a basic sort of way. Some of Takagi and Nishikata’s classmates show up and play supporting roles in the show, and while they have their own side stories that we drop in on occasionally (especially the parallel slow-burn romance between the tsundere Hojo and slightly less tsundere Hamaguchi) they also sometimes notice and comment on the relationship between the leads. By this point they pretty much consider the pair a couple, reasonable to assume even if it’s not “official” since they spend so much time together.

Say ahhh: Nishikata receiving a lotus root from Takagi’s lunch. I’ve never had lotus root, and this makes me curious about how it tastes.

This third season of the anime follows a similar pattern to the last two, most of taken up by the contests these two invent to test each other and with a couple of those big payoff moments in the middle and at the very end of the season that I won’t spoil here, except to say they’re done well and again are totally earned. The remainder of the season is filled out by that more typical slice-of-life comedy stuff we also got in the first two seasons, mostly featuring the antics of those three friends Mina, Yukari, and Sanae that I may have been too harsh on in that first review. I still don’t find those sequences all that funny, but it’s not bad to get a few minutes’ break from all the cat-and-mouse mind games, teasing, and intense blushing.

It might seem a bit weird that Takagi-san is set in middle school where most of these sorts of school-based slow-burn romantic comedies are set in high school, but I think this setting works perfectly for what manga author Soichiro Yamamoto is going for. I’ve seen a few complaints about how much of a shit Nishikata can be sometimes, and while I get that annoyance, a lot of that can be attributed to him being a middle school boy who still has some maturing to do in comparison with Takagi. It makes a lot of sense for him to be a little dense and embarrassed about romantic affairs at his age — really Takagi seems like the outlier here, being unusually perceptive and mature and seeming to create a path for Nishikata that she already knows he’ll follow, at the same time being patient about it. And Nishikata is following that path slowly: it’s clear that he really does care for Takagi’s feelings and drops his somewhat childish “I have to defeat her!” attitude when matters get serious.

Takagi’s plan never includes dressing up like a cow, this is just part of a Nishikata dream sequence. I just liked this screenshot and wanted to use it.

The only other aspect of this third season that stands out to me is its serious advancement of this central relationship. Takagi-san isn’t finished, so that big “confession scene” that everyone’s expecting doesn’t occur, but we get something pretty close to it in the final episode, with Nishikata finally realizing that he might have been in love this whole time and that Takagi’s been dropping hints that weren’t just for the purpose of teasing him and watching him turn red (though they were for that reason too, since Takagi clearly enjoys seeing him embarrassed when they’re alone together.) As usual, the show pulls this off in a clever way, connecting back to events earlier in the season and even in past seasons.

No, it looks like that big ending might be coming in the movie, which just opened a couple of months ago in Japan and even got an extremely limited-time release in the US which I naturally missed. Not that I’d really want to see Takagi-san in the theater anyway, since I don’t know anyone in real life who would also want to watch a romantic comedy anime, and this is absolutely not the sort of movie I’d want to see in the theater alone. And I’m the type who usually has no problem seeing movies in the theater alone because really who gives a shit, but you know, Takagi-san is different — it really feels like one for couples to bond over, just like the in-show romantic comedy anime movie Takagi and Nishikata themselves attend while Nishikata pretends they’re still not really a couple. Now I’m wondering whether all this was planned out.

For bonus points, see the movie with your friend while you’re both on the edge of admitting you’re really in love with each other and see what happens afterwards. Just don’t blame me for the consequences if it doesn’t work out.

Of course I still have to see the movie, but it’s not out on any of the streaming services quite yet. Judging by the reviews, fans loved it, so that’s great news, but I wouldn’t expect Mr. Yamamoto or the studio Shin-Ei to screw up at this point anyway. The manga is still releasing, so maybe the movie won’t even be an ending but just a lead-in to a fourth season, but I’m up for that too. Though hell, even the slow burn has to have an ending at some point.

Now for the only real problem with watching Takagi-san in the States (legally): those very same streaming services and whatever assholes are in charge of licensing the anime in North America. Because look: the first season of Takagi-san is hosted on Crunchyroll, the second season on Netflix, and the third season on HI-DIVE. Three services that you’ll have to pay for if you want to watch all of this series so far, and God knows if the movie will even get licensed. At this rate, flying the black flag doesn’t seem like such a bad idea (hypothetically, I’m not advocating for any particular action, etc. etc. Just saying I don’t understand why they’re doing this to fans here. And Takagi-san isn’t the only subject of this sort of chopping up, though it is the worst case I’ve seen so far. Maybe these guys were executioners in medieval Europe in their past lives for all the chopping up they seem to enjoy doing.)

No matter how you decide to watch Takagi-san, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did if you pick it up. Though instead of a fourth season of this series, I think I’d rather see a first season adaptation of Yamamoto’s sequel manga Karakai Jouzu no (Moto) Takagi-san, in which Takagi and Nishikata are married and have a daughter who joins in with her mom on playing light pranks on the poor guy. Because of course they’re going to get married, and of course Takagi won’t stop teasing Nishikata just because they’re married. But that’s probably just the way he’d want it anyway.

Anime short review: Plastic Nee-san

Plastic Nee-san posterSome anime you can’t find on streaming services, and today’s subject is one of those series. Plastic Nee-san (also listed as Plastic Elder SisterPlustic Nee-san, and +tic Nee-san/Elder Sister — the title I’m using seems like the most commonly used anyway) is a very short series of 12 two-minute episodes that aired in 2011, an adaptation of a gag manga taking off on sports, action, and romance series.

Not that you’d tell from the synopsis. Plastic Nee-san on the surface is about the antics of three friends in a high school model-building club, the three on the poster there: Nee-san, Okappa, and Maki-Maki. Not their real names, which they do have, but they’re hardly ever used so I’ll stick to their nicknames. These three love building scale models of tanks and warships at least going by the first and second episodes and by the models constantly stuck to the tops of their heads for some reason. Aside from the first few minutes of the series, however, model-building never comes up, because that’s not what Plastic Nee-san is really about.

But then what is Plastic Nee-san about? Nothing.

Nee-san threatens her friends with... something. From Plastic Nee-san

I’m not even going to make my tired stupid old “no context provided” comments because there is really no context this time.

Things do happen in Plastic Nee-san, mostly involving the blonde title character Nee-san acting like a perverted idiot and annoying her friends who sometimes respond by getting into fights with her. In addition to the main three girls there’s a wider cast of mostly even more bizarre characters just doing their own thing. When Nee-san, Okappa, and Maki-Maki interact with these classmates, they usually run into some sort of parody like a takeoff on dramatic sports manga (tennis in this case) or possibly just something so absurd it can’t be defined.

Sano and Uno beat up a giant, Plastic Nee-san

I think this bit with these twins pounding mochi to feed a belligerent giant schoolgirl is also a takeoff on something, but I couldn’t tell you what.

I’ve complained about the frantic pace of some of these extremely short series (see Miss Bernard says.Piacevole, and to a lesser extent maybe Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san, though it did better.) Plastic Nee-san is fast-paced too, but the pace actually works this time, I think for the reason that this material is just so absurd. Nee-san takes that question of “how do you tell any kind of a story in a single cour of two to three-minute episodes” and answers it with “you don’t.” Aside from just one exception I’ve found so far (Ganbare Douki-chan, which I still say worked and you should watch, at least if you’re into office ladies in tights) these series have frustrated me to different degrees by trying to jam a plot or at least some kind of character-building into this short short format, usually by playing it at 3x speed. Or maybe that really is the problem — some of the above series feel like they’ve just been literally sped up on a video player while Nee-san doesn’t.

Either way, what you end up with in a lot of cases is an extremely rushed-feeling sort of half-length short series that can’t hope to be as good as such a series if it were played normally. Maybe the makers just have to cope with only having a five-minute TV slot, but it still affects the outcome no matter who’s to blame.

This guy is in the series for maybe a minute and definitely has his own story that goes untold here.

Plastic Nee-san has no such hopes. It’s a completely stupid show that I completely approve of. The closest anime I can think of to this one is the full-length series Asobi Asobase, another surreal comedy about three misfit girls who make up a school club just so they can screw around, and I felt more or less the same about that show. I’d still rate Asobi Asobase quite a bit higher than Plastic Nee-san, but that’s not to put Nee-san down — just to say that all other things being equal, I prefer a comedy that’s able to consistently entertain me for longer than just a little over the equivalent of a regular anime episode. There’s also a lot more room for establishing characters and their relationships in that format.

All that said, it’s impressive just how much Nee-san manages to pull off with its just under 30-minute full runtime. By the end I was wondering what the fuck I’d just watched, but I had that feeling in a positive way and not a negative one — it’s more like fascination with who could possibly come up with this stuff and what they were thinking or doing at the time to cause that mindset.

This looks like a daily occurrence for Nee-san

Then is that a recommendation? I guess, but if you’re not a fan of this sort of crass absurd humor, the further loss of your brain cells from watching Plastic Nee-san won’t be worth it. As for where to watch it if you’re curious: the whole thing is available on YouTube. It apparently hasn’t been licensed for streaming anywhere, so this seems to be your best option unless you really want to sail the high seas. Don’t blame you if you take that path though.

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.

Currently watching: The Maid I Hired Recently Is Mysterious

How’s this for some tonal whiplash from yesterday? But this post was coming either way. I’m only watching two currently aired anime series right now, and since I’ve already written about and recommended Call of the Night, I may as well write about the other one.

The Maid I Hired Recently Is Mysterious (or Is Suspicious depending on the title translation you read) is an adaptation of a manga by Wakame Konbu. She’s also the writer and illustrator behind The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! and I liked Jahy-sama a lot, pockmarks and all — it wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed the characters and the comedy even if it got a bit repetitive with its jokes. But two episodes into Mysterious Maid (as Dopey-kun is calling it, and I’ll follow that standard too) I can say that so far it’s even more repetitive than Jahy-sama. This series so far has used the same joke setup maybe a dozen times in the space of just about 40 minutes. It’s a fine joke, but it might start wearing thin soon if the story doesn’t mix it up.

The setup is pretty simple: Yuuri is the newly orphaned master of his parents’ estate after their tragic deaths in an accident. Despite his youth, Yuuri decides to reject a guardianship and takes control of everything himself. However, the estate is short on money, and without a source of income he can’t retain his family’s small household staff, so he regretfully lets them go and tries to do all the cooking, maintenance, and cleaning on his own.

This doesn’t work out for Yuuri since he has no experience in household upkeep. As he wonders how to handle his situation, a mysterious young woman in a maid outfit enters his mansion and offers her services, saying she’ll work for him just for room and board. Yuuri is naturally wary of this stranger, but without much of an alternative he accepts her offer.

This new maid, Lilith, is an expert at cooking and cleaning and is supremely courteous — the perfect maid. She’s so perfect that, together with her mysterious origins that she refuses to let on about, Yuuri becomes extremely suspicious of her and her intentions, and he confronts her directly time and time again asking her what she’s planning.

Here’s the routine: Lilith decides to tease Yuuri by jokingly admitting he’s caught her, that she’s a witch or whatever it is he’s accusing her of being and that he’s fallen into her spell. Then Yuuri, completely believing her and not picking up on the joke, announces that this proves why he thinks she’s so perfect, why his heart races when he sees her, and why he can’t even sleep at night because he’s thinking about her.

And the tables are turned!

Then Lilith, realizing Yuuri is confessing his feelings for her without him really understanding the gravity of what he’s saying, gets flustered and embarrassed and runs away, leaving the poor kid convinced that she really is some kind of sorcerer.

That’s the basic joke. Again, it’s fine, a nice cute exchange between these two characters, but that’s really all that’s happened so far. The second episode does open things up between them a bit, with Lilith helping Yuuri get over his fear of cats (which I’ve never heard of, but sure, cats can be tricky to deal with) but so far the series feels pretty one-note. Then again, it is only two episodes in — Mysterious Maid got an unusually late start this season, and it’s skipping a week already, so we’ll have to wait another week or so as of this writing for the third. That old “three-episode rule” might be a good one to follow in this case if you’re not sure about whether to keep up with it, since it also seems from the title that the third episode will introduce a new character to the mix.

I plan to keep watching Mysterious Maid myself, at least for a while. I like the two leads and especially Yuuri’s reckless boldness (not that he seems to even realize it himself.) And Lilith, well — there’s plenty of reason to like her, though her origins are still mysterious or even possibly suspicious.

Lilith alone in her room in the post-end credits of the second episode. Yeah, it just went right there

Yes, Lilith herself is clearly a huge part of the show’s intended appeal. I’m not that surprised considering it’s a series all about a cute maid and all that but we didn’t really get this kind of material in Jahy-sama. Even if Lilith does look a lot like adult Jahy, the feel to her and to this series is very different.

There’s also the question some people have raised about an age gap between her and Yuuri, just like with Call of the Night, and with both being romance-themed stories too. However, we don’t really know the size of the gap — maybe Yuuri just hasn’t hit his growth spurt yet. And anyway, it’s not like a boy crushing on a young woman like Lilith is unusual if nothing actually romantic comes of it. That sort of thing happened to me once, though I never had the guts (or obliviousness) to come right out and tell her I wanted to marry her. But who knows where Mysterious Maid is going? Aside from Wakame Konbu, and maybe even she doesn’t know herself considering how long some of these series tend to run.

Yuuri confronting Lilith for the nth time, but it looks like there’s a little more trust between them now.

There’s my take so far on The Maid I Hired Recently Is Mysterious. It’s about as substantial as cotton candy so far, but as long as it mixes its routines up, I may just stick with it as one of my escapist stress-relief series this season.

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 Spy x Family (first cour)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And oh yeah, Yor is an assassin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A review of Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

A review of 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.