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Progression and Regression - Chroma's Summer 2015 Impressions


Another season comes to an uncompromising close as I sadly leave behind some great memories. However, it’s always another incentive to refill these temporary voids with series to come that fills me with excitement. Let’s not dwell on the future though- we’re going back to the past.


Ore Monogatari!

 
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"Kimi ni Todoke, Kimi ni Todoke, Kimi ni Todoke". Initially, I spent almost the entire length of this show comparing it to the aforementioned series. Now, I’d like to place special focus on Ore Monogatari! alone.

Ore Monogatari! continued into its second cour with a strong and steady heart, much like the one of our protagonist, Goda Takeo. This lucky fellow not only jumped into his very first relationship, but he did so with one of the most wonderful girls one could ever imagine, Yamato Rinko. This vibrant little macaroon is an absolute delight from finish to end, appearing very sweet on the outside, but ending up even sweeter on the inside. Not only do you believe that she’s truly drawn to Takeo, but you also hold this sense of personal trust for the two of them, even as external interests are pulled into the mix.

As previously mentioned, the main trio of friends are beyond delightful. Suna is a perceptive friend that takes action for his friends, even if they’re unaware of his silent support. In turn, you rarely see Rinko and Takeo truly alone in the series, even if they are the main romantic interests. Their outings together seem empty without Suna beside them, and his presence is never seen as an intrusion of any sort. The three of them are peas in a pod, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

What I truly enjoy about the series is that even the alternate romantic interests that are brought in as distractions from the main relationship are very likeable in their own ways. Not only is Takeo’s faith towards Rinko challenged, but it works the other way as well. Each arc with these secondary characters is carefully thought through and presented respectively. It all leads up into a final arc that I initially felt would be a terribly rushed and unnecessary ending, but even that concern was conquered by the end. Takeo’s final words to Rinko are so beautiful that I felt my heart shatter into a million tiny pieces at the speed of light. If there’s one thing this show excels at, it’s pulling you in with its absolutely adorable look at how shojo series can pull off a romance without padding it with artificial assets.


Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace

 
 

I’m just gonna say it now: “Twenty Faces” has already joined my new list of hilariously bad villain names, taking its place beside “Death Gun” from Sword Art Online II. No matter how much they push the name’s origins and overall ideals in my face, I still find it an overly amusing name.

What started off feeling like a cheap Danganronpa ripoff attained a vision of its own by the end. Sadly, that vision is nothing more than average at best, and Ranpo Kitan fails to bring forth a compelling plot I could really get invested in. What fascinates me about this series is that while I thought it was adapted from a popular game series, it is apparently an original work picked up by Studio Lerche. Instead, it feels like the series was almost created to try and leech off of the astounding success of Danganronpa, creating a new brand and environment in a familiar setting, leaving the series open to capitalize on game adaptations to come. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out to see if any Ranpo Kitan games for the PSP emerge in the coming months, but seeing how very few excited discussions about the series are emerging, we may not even see any merchandise or further media for it.

But back to the story. Drawn to danger, mysteries and the like in a very Sherlockian sense, Kobayashi Yoshio joins up with a private investigator (also very Sherlockian) to solve the bizarre murders and crimes breaking out at alarming rates. At Kobayashi’s side is his only friend Hashiba, who spends the entire series in a stratospherical concept of being from a family of authority (even though we never see any real proof of it), and questioning why his pants tighten around his groin whenever Kobayashi takes his jacket off of his slender arms. While he’s off doing that, dangerous and sick crimes are taking place, building into the denouement that is the great Twenty Faces breakout.

Think V for Vendetta, where the gunpowder plot attempted to bring down the fascist, fear-mongering government with the insane persuasion of a single entity. Instead of that entity being a man, woman or child, it is an ideal that slowly poisons the minds of the populous. The concept always interested me when done right, but this series doesn’t really draw you in with its single spiteful and dark episode that ties the forces of good and evil together in the past. You aren’t really given much time to really feel the anguish and separation between these two, and even in the final confrontation, I really couldn’t care less about who was right or wrong.

I want to say that a second cour would have helped this series, but deep down, I don’t think it would have. As previously mentioned, Lerche produces a lot of awkward and grim visuals that just makes me feel unwelcome, even in a more comedic setting like Ansatsu Kyoshitsu. They even had a masochistic woman tied up in a dungeon, literally gushing with internal fluids at every beck and call, and aside from some very basic consultation with her, they give her absolutely no character whatsoever. It’s just not a very pleasant series most of the time, and even the allure of solving another mystery is not enough for me. It’s not an offensive series in any way, but it’s just not something I could see myself ever watching again.


Charlotte

 
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Oh boy, how did we end up here? I’m sitting at the end of this series, unable to accurately compare it to other Maeda works like Angel Beats!Little Busters! or CLANNAD. It had a world of potential at the beginning, presenting a familiar world of paranormal superpowers, but centering it around the ideal that using these will ultimately bring about a negative influence on the world’s balance. I kind of liked that, and the series even had some enjoyable moments that brought back the good memories of watching other KEY works.

The issues for me creeped in the latter half of the series, where the copy/paste formula seemed to seep in a bit too heavily. An almost near perfect replica of Iwasawa from Angel Beats! appears for one short segment with no big influence on the overall plot, and Maeda’s fascination for baseball once again got its own filler episode. Worst of all though was the extremely dark turn the series took right at the end, bringing in an antagonistic force that were never mentioned beforehand and never mentioned again at the end either. They merely served as an enforcer for some very unpleasant scenes and the chance to leave the beautifully designed Tomori Nao beaten and chained up in her pure white undergarments. I smell not only the Kud arc from Little Busters!, but also a very uneasy attempt at symbolism.

So with the dark and twisted element not working so well for the series, I had hoped something else in the story would be presented well in its place. So how about an awkward romance that once again comes out of nowhere and doesn’t hold much weight? No? Then perhaps a final initiative taken by the protagonist that takes the final episode so over the top that it could barely be left standing at the end? It’s getting even tougher to defend this series.

What I can say is that it certainly feels like something P.A. Works animated. The character designs are lovely, with a lush blend of colourful gradients focusing on a space motif for many of its alternate visuals. It’s such a shame that the plot doesn’t really use this motif outside of the opening and ending credits, holing up the characters once again in classrooms, dark facilities and unsettling corridors. To make matters worse, a number of the characters that we end up always seeing are boring, with no big backstories to beef up the progression. The better characters are shrouded in the background, like idol Yusarin’s alter spirit ego and supernatural oracle Kumagami, who are kind of just thrown away in the end in favour of the lackluster finale.

After all that said, what I really can’t get over is just how much this series takes from Angel Beats!. You always heard me mention an Iwasawa ripoff (with the same seiyu even) and the baseball episode, but at every turn you can spot signs of this copy/paste work. Some are meant to pay homage, like a Sad Machine poster you can see in a hospital room, while others are more shallow and centralized to the plot, like the concept of “disappearing” by having your essentials taken from you.

These little annoyances made me realize one thing: this is how I used to write short stories. I used to think that shock value and characters shrouded in mystery and intellect were the driving force behind the intrigue of a story, to my own faults. Watching Charlotte makes me think that the twists were planned first, then the remainder was strewn at their sides to bring us to those points. I strongly disagree in a rising opinion stating that Maeda Jun is a hack that can’t write. This is the same man that restored my faith and drew me into Little Busters! after a poor first season, rustled some short-term excitement in the afterlife world of Angel Beats! and sapped every last tear from my eyes from my favourite series of all time, CLANNAD. He has the capacity and the talent to write good characters, good stories and good progression to bind it all together, but as of late, I feel like elements of his writing is trapped in a bubble. The simple truth is that Maeda is an artist, by and by. You take your creative chances, write and produce in the emotions you currently wallow in, and look to what you truly know to provide the ultimate backbone to it all. To me, Charlotte started off with a good storyboard and good intentions. Along the way, it lost itself in what it truly wanted to be, and unfortunately, not even a keyring of translation flash cards could remind it of its potentials.


THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls - 2nd Season

 
 

I feel physically and mentally drained. Not only could this season not save the already tragic preceding season, but I think this one is actually worse somehow.

The first proper animated THE iDOLM@STER series (looking past Xenoglossia and the other little specials) back in 2011 showcased a wonderful cast of unforgettable characters, progressing together through the difficult world of idol stardom. In Cinderella Girls, over half of the cast are demotivated easier than a chain smoker starting their journey towards quitting. To make matters even worse, there are characters who hate working, trying new things, and at the top of the mountain of terrible is Mio, a main character who absolutely loves to run away from her tiny, easily solvable issues.

Wait, that’s not enough torture for you? How about the idols being separated into groups with very little thought, on top of having the idols themselves be very one-note, annoying characters? Minus some of the more amusing designs like Russian beauty Anastasia, Chunibyo ripoff Takanashi Ranko, and crowd favourite Shibuya Rin, the other characters are so forgettable it hurts. Goliath-sized Kirari possibly has the most annoying voice and catchphrases I’ve heard in a long time, lazy Anzu complains about moving at any turn, and we’ve got Echoes’ favourite trifecta of…Girl #1, Girl #2 and Girl #3. It’s so hard to remember why most of these characters matter to the plot when the only episode that promotes them are them in kindergarteners’ clothes, performing embarrassingly awkward acts that even Barney couldn’t bring himself to clap along to. Interestingly, THE iDOLM@STER had a similar unfolding with residential youngling Takatsuki Yayoi, but had the good sense to keep it short, and to...you know, include an actually likeable character to drive that childlike scene.

The main idols are boring, so let’s toss in a constantly frowning “antagonist” executive director who is feverishly opposed to the Cinderella Project. You know what? I actually side with this lady. The Cinderella Project is unexciting, and with a lot of these quickly formed units, you never see them garnering enough attention in the show except for a couple smaller shows. For some reason though, massive crowds gather when they all decide to perform together.

But hey, it’s still THE iDOLM@STER, so the soundtrack’s great at least, right? Well, even that is nowhere near as memorable. I hate to don the nostalgia shades, but I feel like I’m not even doing that this time around. The Cinderella Girls brand started up way before this anime was released, and I followed the character CD releases for a long time. While a few songs jumped out and provided some enjoyment, most of them were panicked, bubbly messes that felt like quick and cheap compositions. That’s ultimately what happens when you establish a brand goal of bringing on over 100 unique characters with famous seiyu to back the voices. Even with amazing talents like Taketatsu Ayana, Toyama Nao and Hayami Saori (with pleasant Cinderella Girls releases), the overall quality of releases was just mediocre in comparison. What annoys me about this is that there IS a new insert song in the series that I really did enjoy, showing me that they could get it done if they wanted to.

I would have hoped that they could have at least improved from the overall unpleasant iDOLM@STER movie, but its downfall was that it seemed to replicate the issues, like a kohai blindly following his negative influence senpai. After this mess is finally coming to a close, the only thing I can say is that I’m glad it’s over. It also makes me really want to watch the old iDOLM@STER series again, and to praise the gods on high that Cinderella Girls isn’t acting as a replacement for the franchise. God help us all if that was the case.


TEkyu! 5

 
 

I’m running out of things to say for Tekyu because it literally is more of the same thing every season. Before any uprisings occur thinking this is a bad thing, I can only say that this is a series I hope will “live long and prosper”. It’s such a genius flurry of fast-paced jokes, brilliantly presented in a low budget fashion that is most likely exhausted by Hanazawa Kana’s mere presence. With such short episodes and lower costs to produce this supposedly-about-tennis series, one of the in-jokes is actually just spewing out “See you next season” at the very end as if people would be shocked if they weren’t coming back. I know I would be quite surprised, so while that message is a fun little jab, I never fail to get excited seeing it. I can only sum the whole experience up like this:

“I know that stuffing my face with this cheesecake is not the correct way to eat it and is probably terrible for me, but I just can’t get enough of it. SHUT UP AND BRING ME MORE.”


Durarara!!x2 Ten

 
 

Another season of colourful (and even colourless) gangs, alluring dullahans, chatrooms that can entered using the password “baccano”, and much more comes to an end. Standing at this very point in the series, I look back at just how explorative this whole x2 experience has been for new characters and stories.

Remember back in the first Durarara, we had the Dollars, the Yellow Scarves and only a handful of other tiny groups making minor influences on the overall wars? Forget about those quieter times and open your eyes to the present Ikebukuro, where the Blue Squares, Amphisbaena, Toramaru, Dragon Zombie and a multitude of other factions are running wild in the city, waging battles for something much larger than mere turf. What makes this series so enjoyably engaging is that on top of the fascinating paranormal characters like Heiwajima Shizuo that can lift anything with superhuman strength and the headless rider Celty, we see crafty and resourceful leaders conducting their respective gangs. In turn, we see the battles break out on the streets as information broker and overall enigma Orihaya Izaya playfully watches.

Maybe you like Russians. Perhaps sushi? Then you’ll love Russian Sushi, it’s good. On top of the established coloured gangs, there are even more jolly characters to get invested in. I dare not ruin any of them as each of them unfolds their own unique introductions and progressions into the major Ikebukuro saga. Something that a friend of mine so gracefully mentioned about this arc was that it really contrasted the humanity of Orihaya Izaya. Originally, the man was untouchable, playing god for a majority of the series and pulling all of the strings without anyone to really oppose him. Here, he’s constantly on the move, getting attacked in his safe zones and actually having to crawl in the same pits as the little humans he loves to observe. Making his amusing sisters a staple of the series was also a great choice.

If the original Durarara is something you’ve been missing out on until now, definitely hop on board and check out the first few episodes of the original series. If the premise and mystery catches your eye, then you’ll have solace in knowing that it only gets more expansive as you keep watching.


Working!!!

 
 

“Welcome to Development!” Oh wait, welcome to Wagnaria, the family restaurant that is merely “simple and family-friendly” in the dining hall. Enter the kitchen and offices, and you’ll enter the portal to the true restaurant.

Two seasons, friends. Two whole seasons of miniscule developments and constantly shattered hopes of established relationships. This season, we break that tradition, but still stay genuinely entertaining. ‘Tis not an easy task to accomplish, but I can proudly say they’ve done it. Yes, Working is still the same old charming setting with colourful characters and solid comedy, but now it comes packaged with the Day 1 DLC of allowing your characters to actually date. If only the Jedi had this DLC during the Star Wars prequels…

But don’t be mistaken, it also doesn’t turn into some kind of strange romance-heavy series with no focus on anyone else. On the contrary, Yamada gets her own little arc explaining where she came from and why she’s at the restaurant to begin with. Manager Oto may just finally find his long-lost wife, and Takanashi’s oldest sister Kazue even manages to somehow wind back in her troubled world of dealing with her stalker. Drunkard Kozue has some more great moments realizing that people around her do genuinely care about her well-being (then immediately passing out and forgetting about it), and Izumi garners more courage against the evil sunlight to try and get a few glorious minutes of fresh air.

It’s actually difficult to find something to really dislike about Working. Now isn’t that something you never thought you’d end up saying? If all jobs had this constant looming fear of being decked by an adorable androphobe, blackmailed by a sadist and visited by legitimate gang members at every turn, I’d sign up in an instant. From delectable buttered steaks to a love that could only be properly expressed in a closet, Wagnaria always has an irresistible aroma in the air that would draw me in for work, day after day.


Non Non Biyori Repeat

 
 

If I was to crown a king of the season, it would have to be none other than Non Non Biyori‘s incredible second season. Not only did Repeat essentially live up to its name, it surpassed all expectations and brought an even wider grin to my face as I saw the humble return to the wonderful countryside setting.

The true strength of Non Non Biyori is that its charm comes entirely from its incredible cast of characters. Although they all reside in this simple valley where playing in streams and smacking rulers around in school are the prime examples of fun, they take away such heartfelt bliss and appreciation from what they have that you get invested before you know it. My favourite character Hotarun even came from the busy streets of Tokyo and quickly adapts to the country life with the help of her friends.

When they do grab a hold of some technology like a cell phone, the amusement comes from watching them trying to figure out how to type on an alphanumerical keyboard while standing absolutely still in the one patch of land where they can get a signal. When rain clouds threaten a day of fun at the beach, it’s time to drape the sheets over yourself and wander around the empty roads as a creepy teru teru bouzu. If that isn’t enough excitement for you, watching little Renge learn to ride a bike will not fail to cheer you up, guaranteed.

All characters share great moments when they’re together. The truly unforgettable moments arise from the clever pairings the show promotes to really give depth. For example, Hotaru and her gleamy-eyed admiration for her senpai Komari make for some really cute moments. Even sweeter is the relationship that Renge and her secondary guardian angel “Candy Store” share, having gone through the same old song and dance since Renge was a tiny little baby. It’s that simple joy parents experience in watching their own child grow; younger children may not realize just how special it is, but when they reach the same point in their lives, it all comes together. Non Non Biyori is a treat that will only continue to spread its joyous message further and further, proving that some of life’s greatest lessons are everlasting.


Wakaba*Girl

 
 

A shorter series, so let’s keep the writeup shorter as well. Wakaba*Girl is a series that I didn’t kick off the season with, but like with many shows I happily discover through the recommendation of friends, this is one I’ll add to that growing list.

Much like the joyous offerings of series like Lucky Star, Yuyushiki and Yuru Yuri, Wakaba and friends enjoy their flowery youths at every chance they can get. Wakaba*Girl has episodes that span about 7 minutes long, so each episode usually explores a new aspect of the girls’ lives, and each episode is a treat as they’re kicked off by a frighteningly addictive opening sequence.

I knew this series would be very cute when I dove in, but what surprised me was how frequently the series was putting a smile on my face with laughter. This isn’t a series you should pick up for deep plotlines and fascinatingly complex characters, but if you do want a easygoing series with solid visuals and genuine laughs on multiple occasions, you can’t really go wrong with Wakaba*Girl.

P.S. Moé-chan’s hair is so puffy, it reminds me of cotton candy or a really fluffy pastry. I can’t stop looking at it.


Akagi (Live Action)

 
 

Wow, just wow. For someone who generally dislikes live action renditions of anime, this one started strong and ended even stronger. Reassuring my standpoint on the matter further is the fact that the original Akagi series was something that I hold in quite high value. The fact that this has developed its own style and still avoided tarnishing the original series is quite a great feat.

For those of you who don’t know, Akagi starred a 13 year old genius prodigy who entered the dark world of dangerous gambling one night when he alone walked away from a deadly game of chicken. Entering a mahjong parlour where a man is betting his life against the yakuza, Akagi takes over after merely learning the basics of the game on the spot. His challenges and thirst for the perfect life or death gamble only grow from this point on. This live action drama starts at the pivotal match up in the series, where Akagi bets his own blood against the madman Washizu for a chance to take away his entire fortune.

I really like how this drama progresses the story along. It starts right at the doors of Washizu’s mansion, quickly setting up the special game of Mahjong and introducing important bits from the series through short recollections. The casting is excellent, featuring Kanata Hongo as the genius Akagi, who does an exceptional job capturing every cocky emotion the prodigy emitted in the anime. The same can be said for the other characters, right down to their wardrobe and makeup. Washizu is particularly amusing, being genuinely frightening while he’s ahead in the game, but also showing signs of weakness and even some over-the-top goofiness that wasn’t originally in the anime. He does some insanely ridiculous things like bite the head of a stuffed tiger and flip the bird at Akagi, but these were so deliciously corny and unapologetic that I had no choice but to soak it all it with a huge grin.

What really, really shines through is the cinematography. Whoever directed this has got a great eye for scene composition, presentation, lighting and colour editing. Most of the actual game is filmed in this cold, empty and blue tone, while visuals of characters’ thoughts are entirely in greyscale. Things get even more creative when Akagi and his comrades discuss tactics and potentials within their own minds in this purgatory-white setting, while Washizu and his cronies bask in a darkroom with a spotlight glaring down on the king himself. It makes for a constantly evolving scene that makes you forget that each episode is over 40 minutes long.

The best part however, is that intense Mahjong hands that were never shown in the anime make an appearance here. I would highly recommend you either look into the original Akagi anime before watching this, or at least get yourself decently versed in how the game is played beforehand. These new hands are that much more tense and exciting when you can understand what’s happening, and on that front, this live action drama won’t really walk you through the main rules like the anime did. Fans of the original series will be overjoyed in seeing how the Washizu arc actually ends, and even without that alluring premise to draw you in, I genuinely think you should check this out. I think it is something that anyone that appreciates a good drama can enjoy.


So that brings our season to an end! My heart goes pitter-patter at the wait for a second season of Gochumon wa Usagi desu ka?, along with a third season of Yuru Yuri and who knows what else down the line. I always welcome what’s to come, so give me your best, Japan!

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