Himouto! Umaru-chan

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Umaru is seen by many as the perfect high school girl: beautiful, kind, excellent in academics and athletics, exceptional in every way. However, that’s mostly just an image she’s putting on. When she gets home, she turns into a completely lazy slacker that just watches anime, plays games, and lazes around, completely taking advantage of her older brother, Taihei, who she lives with in order to not have to actually do anything. Her brother who is incredibly diligent and hard working, while putting in effort into trying to set her straight, isn’t very good at it. This set up leads to an interesting web of relationships developing between both of them and number of other characters, including Umaru’s friends, Ebina a transfer student from the country, Kirie a girl that is incredibly socially awkward, and Sylphinford a princess like girl that views Umaru as a rival, as well as Taihei’s coworkers, leading to a number of interesting stories.

***

Himouto is an anime that doesn’t particularly have any sort of overarching plot. Rather, each episode is made up of a number of small segments, sometimes connected, sometimes not, that are amusing on their own. What makes these so amusing is that the cast of characters involved is fantastic and the various relationships they have with each other is perfect for leading to a lot of interesting but hilarious situations. Umaru and her friends, including Ebina, Sylphie, and Kirie are all pretty unique characters that are adorable in their own ways and mesh together really well. Taihei serves as an incredibly strong contrast to Umaru, and the relationships his coworkers Bonbo and Alex have with their sisters serves as a very good contrast to the relationship between Umaru and Taihei. Furthermore, though she doesn’t get much time Kanau is really interesting as well. All in all, this sets the stage for a great number of amusing skits that are pretty varied, including skits ranging from those that are actually a bit heartwarming to those that are just blatant nonsensical parodies, which is enough so that there’s good pacing. However, because its like this, it should be noted that while we do learn more about the characters as the show goes on, there isn’t really that much change or development in any of the characters or their relationships, which at points felt kind of like a bummer.

The OP is incredibly fitting and designed solely for this anime. ED and soundtrack were decent. Art style and animation get a bit awkward due to chibi Umaru at points, but overall is decent. Specials were also amusing and very different.

Relaxing and funny anime with an adorable and super interesting cast of characters though not much of a plot.

8/10

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White Album

whitealbum

Touya Fujii is a college student that is also going out with the up and coming idol Morikawa Yuki. Due to how busy Yuki is, as well as do to how discrete they must be due to her status and other circumstances involved, this turns out to be a very difficult relationship. Furthermore, Touya also has to deal with relationships with a number of other characters, many of which are what he calls his goddesses, women who help him majorly in unexpected ways, and to whom he feels obligated to repay. These include Ogata Rina, one of the top idols who also works at the company that Yuki does and watches over her, who despite apparently being thought of by her brother and company head as having reached the end of her progress, continues to try to rise to greater and greater heights. There’s also Sawakura Misaki, who has long been crushed on by Touya’s friend Nanase Akira, who wants to be a writer, but due to various circumstances with a sketchy peer named Tamaru ends up being put into difficult situations. Another is Touya’s childhood friend Kawashima Haruka, who lost her brother and ended up seeing Touya as a replacement. There’s also Haruka’s eventual friend Mizuki Mana, a girl who is from a rich family with parents that are never home, that ends up getting tutored by Touya. There’s also Shinozuka Yayoi, Yuki’s manager, who seems to see him as a hindrance and wants him to stop seeing Yuki, going to extreme lengths to push him to do so. And lastly, there’s Matsuyama Menou, a very strange girl part of a competing idol unit, that seems to be interested in a number of things very different from being part of the actual unit, and seems to have some sort of relationship with Touya. All of these various characters end up creating a complex web of relationships around Touya, that he ends up caught in, and must navigate his way through.

***

“Can a relationship between a regular college student and an idol singer survive? That is the question that White Album tries to answer.” Wait, what? No it isn’t. I don’t know where that description came from, but that’s not what White Album is about at all. Sure, that serves as part of the backdrop originally, but it quickly becomes obvious that’s just the setting for a plot that is focused on something completely different. White Album is about how relationships are really complicated, and at some level make no sense, often being just as composed of misunderstanding and deceit as actual substance, but they are what they are, and are still worthwhile, even if they are in many ways fake or not really leading anywhere.

White Album has a plot composed of a large number of plot strands, most of them centered around Touya’s relationships with various heroines. These strands cross quite often, weaving a web that gets more and more connected as it goes on, but also becoming more and more complex. Part of the reason they feel so complicated, is that the plot and themes heavily rely on subtleties, with a lot of major plot points, connections, and themes being implied and in the background rather than in events actually happening or being explicitly explained through internal monologues. That gives it somewhat of a unique feeling, but at the same time ultimately requires a lot more attentiveness on the part of the viewer as well as the ability to make long reaching connections in order to completely understand whats going on. It’s almost entirely character focused with the events clearly being more of a motivation in carrying forward characters rather than the plot itself, and it has a number of interesting heroines so that works to some degree. Rina, I especially liked, though all of them are likable enough. The protagonist on the other hand is… awkward. He makes sense eventually, but he’s someone that’s just all around very difficult to figure out, and to some degree even when you do figure him out, he’s not very likable. There’s some level of going towards redemption arc for him towards the end of the anime, but it really doesn’t feel justified, and overall the ending feels quite abrupt and not satisfying at all, in part because key portions are heavily implied, or possibly left open to interpretation, which is something that I think worked fine for most of the anime, but really fell apart at the end because this was an anime that definitely needed a solid ending to wrap everything up, which it didn’t deliver at all. Now, that’s not to say the plot was entirely awful, there was a lot of good surrounding the heroines, their relationships with each other, and their growth, so all in all its a worthwhile ride. But the overall package centered around Touya was heavily lacking.

There’s some decentish comedy in the series, though it absolutely isn’t a focus at all. The setting is certainly interesting, being about the music industry but in a way that isn’t overtly cheery nor overtly sleazy. The time period is also quite important, as the level of communications, which is no cell phones and rare car phones, turns out to be quite important to a large number of plot points. There are three different art styles that seem to be used. One that’s pretty standard anime, which is decently animated and there for the vast majority. One that is like a painting, with often very few frames of animation, which looks quite nice. And lastly there’s something that feels half way between the two, which felt awkward. However, the largest issue is that there seemed to be no tying theme behind when the alternate art styles were used that I could ascertain, with the styles seemingly used wherever the staff thought they would look nice to use I suppose, which is fine in a way I guess, but also quite random. Another stylistic choice they used was at various points using text on screen to show Touya’s thoughts, which I believe was used to much better effect as it added a great amount of emphasis. And another text related choice was to have episode titles that were more like philosophical quotes, which set the tone quite nicely. The general soundtrack was quite strange, using a number of themes that you wouldn’t traditionally think fit what was happening on screen, but did manage to in a way. The insert songs on the other hand were all quite nice, as you should expect from a music focused anime. The first OP and the EDs were decent in terms of audio, though not as good as the inserts, however the first OP was incredibly lazy in terms of visuals, and the EDs were only OK visually. The second OP I quite liked all around though.

A show about relationships with a good supporting cast and really good music, though a terrible protagonist and a weak ending.

7/10

Charlotte

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Yuu Otosaka is a high schooler that lives with only his younger sister Ayumi, who he cares for dearly, in a tiny apartment. However, he has big ambitions. The source of these ambitions is in part that he has a special power, that he can possess people, though for only 5 seconds at a time. This would seem somewhat useless, but Yuu is quite cunning, and uses these for a variety of uses, such as cheating on exams to the point of being the valedictorian, and setting up a situation where he saves a girls life so that she falls in love with him. Things are going pretty well.

However, that changes when he runs into Nao Tomori, who sees through everything about him, and corners him completely, forcing him and his sister to switch schools to Hoshinoumi Academy, where he’ll have to become part of the student council. It turns out that he’s not the only one with powers, but rather that powers appear in a number of youth all over Japan when they’re going through puberty and disappear when they get out of it. The academy is a school dedicated to watching over those with powers and those that may develop powers, because there are other organizations out there capturing power users and using them for experimentation.

The student council is responsible for tracking down power users and confronting them, much like what happened with Otosaka, and now he too must take part in this along side the other council members. These members include of course Nao, who can turn invisible but to only one person at a time; Takajou, who can move his body at super speed but unfortunately still retains the same speed of mind making the speed pretty much impossible to control; and eventually Yusarin, who can kind of channel the dead and even their powers, which include manipulating fire. They start off dealing with a variety of power users, and coming together closer as a result, but eventually things start getting much more complex, as Yuu learns more about the organization backing the Academy, and comes into conflict with other organizations of power users.

***

Charlotte has supernatural elements and they are what almost entirely drive the overarching plot forward. There is some great action, and the power use does end up being really cool, being down right amazing during the finale. However, the core of the story is much more down to earth in being about the relationships between the various involved characters, first off between Yuu and his younger sister Ayumi, and then Yuu and Nao. The former while being a bit awkward in general terms, manages to be handled tremendously well with key events being given the attention they deserve and hence having a tremendous amount of emotional impact, even if they were to be reversed later on. The latter is the cornerstone of the series and in an overarching way develops tremendously well. It involves a good amount of character development on Yuu’s part, as well as Nao being developed to have a lot more depth to the viewer as the series went on.  However, I feel there were major issues in pacing. The first half or so of the series felt pretty slow and wasn’t all that interesting, feeling like a setup that was taking too long. However, after episode 6 things got much more interesting as the pace picked up tremendously, though arguably to the point that it felt rushed. The ending is absolutely fantastic, but it feels like there were things that needed to be developed more, especially regarding the relationship between Yuu and Nao. The place of their relationship in the ending is still incredibly strong, but at the same time it felt like there needed to be just a bit more background for it to manage to have the impact it felt like it should have. Lastly, the OVA after the end of the series was off, and felt rather pointless in light of the ending, and would have been far better off just being thrown into the main series with the other first half episodes sped up.

The animation and art were pretty good. The soundtrack was decent. The OP/ED were pretty good, though I found the OP pretty strange at first, especially the visuals.

A really strong story centered around character relationships with supernatural elements as a back drop, though one with bad pacing such that it has an incredibly slow first half and rushed second half.

8/10

Death Parade

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After people die, their souls are either reincarnated or cast into the void. This decision is made by arbiters, human like entities without emotion that cannot die, who play games with these souls to bring out the darkness in a soul and judge its worth. Decim is such an arbiter operating out of the bar Quindecim. However, he comes upon a soul that he cannot judge. Normally, the memories of the souls are wiped a bit, to hide the fact they died, to be able to force them in order to play the games where they will be judged. But she seems to remember that she’s dead. And hence, cannot be judged. Decim’s boss, Nona, decides that instead of sending her back, wiping her memories, and judging her, instead Decim will judge her anyway, by first taking her on as an assistant, who will help her judge various other humans. Decim agrees, and ends up being effected tremendously by her, ultimately questioning how they make judgement at all, just as Nona intended.

***

Death Parade is incredibly stylish, the style being somewhat whimsical while also being quite dark. It has moments that are quite comedic, while also having ones that are quite disturbing.  The closest I can describe to its sense of style is Tim Burton, though it certainly has a completely different flare to it as well. The character designs also unique around those lines. As for plot structure, there are a number of separate judgement, and each one pretty much has a very different tone, and hence in terms of tone, it shifts around quite a bit. Some episodes are incredibly dark, some are adorable, some are peaceful, and some are epic. Still, they don’t feel completely disconnected. There are two main overlying plots, one with Chiyuki’s judgement and one with Nona’s plans. The one regarding Chiyuki’s judgement ends with considerable impact, in a way that’s bittersweet, and fits with where it was going. The one regarding Nona’s plans however does not and doesn’t seem to go anywhere. Decim certainly gets strong character development, but with the scale that it seemed to be going at, I expected a larger impact, which never quite materializes.

The OP/ED are really great when you get used to them, the OP especially being fantastic in both visuals and music. The soundtrack is decent. The art style and animation are quite unique and good.

An anime with a number of interesting stories with a very unique but well done style.

8/10

Erased (Boku dake ga Inai Machi)

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Satoru Fujinuma is a 29 year old man, who has the power he calls ‘revival’. When something bad is about to happen or happens, revival sends his consciousness back, allowing him to fix whatever occurred. These generally only involve a couple minutes, however when an especially horrible event occurs Satoru is sent back 18 years to when he was an elementary school student. The horrific event taking place 18 years later seems to be connected to the traumatizing event that happened much earlier, when a number of children around his town were killed with the blame being placed on one of his friends, and Satoru was left feeling responsible for his inaction. But this time, he is determined to tackle things head on and change the future. And hence he immediately tries to become friends with Kayo Hinazuki, the first to die in the previous timeline. Kayo is a girl who even independently of the murders is going through an incredibly difficult time due to her mother’s abuse, resulting in her having an anti-social personality, however that makes Satoru even more determined, not just to save her from the murderer, but from everything else as well.

***

Erased is an incredibly suspenseful and intense anime, the type that you just need to keep watching without stopping once it really gets going. And it has a tremendous amount of things going for it such as having a lot of great characters, Satoru’s mom standing out among the side characters especially. There’s a lot of character and relationship development as well as many other moments and sequences that are tremendously beautiful and awesome to watch, in part due to the good use of subtle elements and reuse of motifs. However, as the anime approaches its ending, I had a major problem with the direction it took, that I feel could be rooted down to finding the anime so amazing for very different reasons from what seemed to be the actual focus of the author was. For me, what made the anime amazing was Satoru’s desperate attempt at rescuing Kayo, with all the twists and turns that took, and all the intense emotional moments and character development that came about as a result of it. The serial murderer aspect and revival were a good back drop to that, escalating the stakes and providing further grounding for Satoru to be able to and have the motivation to act. But the core of the story from the outset was saving Kayo. However, the anime actually goes in a very different direction, with most of the anime being Kayo’s arc, but then her disappearing from the plot and relationship web of the Satoru completely and abruptly, and the true focus of the plot turns out to be Satoru connection to the the murderer. I felt everything after Kayo left was a mess and not only not what I wanted from the series, but also not really good at all either in terms of quality. And then it all comes together for an  an ending that definitely has closure, but is still a complete train-wreck and something I was entirely unsatisfied with.

The art and animation are very solid. The soundtrack was fantastic. The OP/ED were great.

An anime that has a lot that I really liked, but then went in a completely different direction leading to a disappointing end.

8/10

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU TOO! (Oregairu Zoku)

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The adventures of the Service Club featuring Hikigaya, Yukino, and Yui continue, as they solve various peoples problems, often revolving around Hikigaya’s peculiar way of looking at and dealing with the world. However, Hikigaya’s solution to a problem during a school trip to Kyoto is especially cutting, and while it does solve the problem, it results in a rift beginning to open up between the members of the Service Club. A rift that continues to widen as Hikigaya and Yukino each approach how to help Iroha Isshiki, a girl that keeps her true self bottled up and is reluctant to become student council president despite being the front runner, in a very different manner, and is further widened still in dealing with Yukino’s sister Haruno as well as the always seemingly perfect Hayato and his group. Ultimately, all of this results in all of them having to evaluate what drives them, and their relationships to each other.

***

Oregairu Zoku is a direct continuation of Oregairu, starting off with quick a recap of episode 12 of the original series, however, it quickly becomes apparent that it is a tremendously different show. The first obvious and evident difference is that the art style is quite different, being higher budget and looking quite nice, but also being different in tone, much more serious for a lack of a better way to explain it. This is also evident in the soundtrack, which is also improved, but tonally very different. While the original series was quite whimsical, with the humor arguably being its core aspect, this series goes in a very different direction being largely focused on the drama. It isn’t dark, still having comedy and mostly being lighthearted, but its much more focused on the overarching plot, which results in a much tighter and focused plot line as well as a lot of drama, which is definitely more emotionally impactful. Now, while it certainly is different, that doesn’t make it bad, though it is somewhat jarring watching them back to back. It’s somewhat more predictable than the previous series, but Hikigaya and Yukino still behave in an incredibly interesting way, and watching them develop as well as watching how they view the world around them is still interesting, with the more serious tone actually adding to that in many ways. There are also a lot of great moments, such as Yukino’s speech in episode 10 matching Hikigaya’s in episode 10 of the original series. Furthermore, it continues and takes to another level how much of the series is shown in the subtleties. There is so much in this series that is implied about intentions, feelings, and meaning and never given an explicit explanation at all, not even the usual internal monologues, which ends up making everything seem more natural and involved. There is a lot more development of the characters as well, with the plot very strongly actually progressing in a certain direction. The side characters are developed a lot more, actually being given depth rather than the flat characters they were in the original series. Iroha was pretty much developed at the level of a main character, and especially grew on me. The main trio as well went through a lot, over which we learn a lot about the characters, and everything building upon itself. Ultimately, because of this, the ending wasn’t really all that satisfying. It was incredibly emotional but it felt like I was left hanging. It built up to a finale that never quite came. That makes sense, because the light novel series is clearly still going, but then framing and build up a finale was unnecessary and should have been handled differently. Though, based on the stickers on the board outside the club room, in my mind the OVA takes place after the main season, which gives me at least some peace of mind rather than the abrupt ending of the actual series.

The art and animation as mentioned were improved and quite good. The soundtrack was also great. The OP/EDs were great as well, with the repeats of the previous series OP/EDs being used for great effect.

A series based on the same core themes as its predecessor, but one that takes a much more serious and drama centered approach on them.

9/10

Ultimately, I liked this season just as much as the previous one, but for completely different reasons pretty much.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (Oregairu)

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Hachiman Hikigaya is incredibly pessimistic to the point that being cynical is a core aspect of his character. He considers the majority of human relationships, those involving youth especially, a complete farce and something he wants no part of. While a core aspect of this could be how he’s had dead eyes that other’s have found disgusting since he was a kid, once the ball got rolling it grew to him coming to accept being seen as a disgusting loner being as a part of his character.

After writing an especially cynical essay, his homeroom teacher Shizuka Hiratsuka, ends up requiring him to join the Service Club, a club dedicated to the nebulous purpose of helping others. However, the only other member of the club is Yukino Yukinoshita, a girl who may well be just as strange as Hikigaya, in that while she is incredibly talented in pretty much everything, she can be very blunt, and has absolutely no patience for nonsense. She immediately and continually hits Hikigaya with a series of biting remarks, awful to the point that anyone without a care at all in the opinions of others like Hikigya would probably be scared off. But as required of him, he continues in the club. Eventually another girl joins the club, Yui Yuigahama, who is incredibly different from the other characters, in that she acts completely normal, but has her own reasons for being in the club.

With such a situation, Hikigaya is thrown into a number of situations where he needs to help people: teaching someone how to bake cookies, providing feedback on novels, playing tennis, acting as a detective, acting as a counselor for an elementary school camp, helping organize a school festival, trying to win a sports festival, and even writing a bridal magazine. This is all a very strange situation for him, however, but nevertheless, he deals with the tasks required of him, generally in a unique way only possible because its him.

***

Oregairu is quite unique. It has a lot that’s similar to a lot of other animes, such as being centered around a club with a nebulous purpose that mainly just serves as a meeting point for the main character. But it is incredibly refreshing in that two of the main characters, Hikigaya and Yukino, while are high school students, they are unlike any others, and hence the problems they encounter and the methods they use to deal with them are different, and hence incredibly unique. The strong contrast from how they deal with situations as opposed to other series, with some key moments such as Hikigaya’s speech in episode 12 especially standing out, are downright amazing just to watch play out. Even the less epic moments are also interesting, in that they’re often centered around aspects that the viewer isn’t even considering, and hence while being incredibly unpredictable, feel right once they occur. Furthermore, this leads to a branch of comedy that is unique and also quite hilarious. There is also an overarching story centered primarily on the development of and relationships between Hikigaya, Yukino, and Yui, and while there is some subtle progress, it isn’t very much on the forefront.

In terms of production values, the art and animation are lacking unfortunately, not terrible, but not great either. The OP and the EDs are nice and fitting. The soundtrack is decent.

An incredibly unique story of a cynical high school student solving others problems in interesting ways.

9/10