Transformatively amusing – Gugure! Kokkuri-san

65665Title: Gugure! Kokkuri-san
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, supernatural
Series Creator: Midori Endo
Series Director: Yoshimasa Hiraike
Studio: TMS Entertainment
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: October 5 – December 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs


Synopsis:

Kohina Ichimatsu is an expressionless elementary school girl who lives alone, proclaims herself to be a doll, and eats nothing but instant noodles. One day, she plays the Kokkuri game by herself and summons the fox spirit Kokkuri-san who, upon seeing her unhealthy lifestyle, takes it upon himself to become her guardian and raise her properly. Thus starts Kohina’s new life of being haunted by various unique spirits.


Critique:

Once again, this year has proven that the best anime have been 4koma adaptations, such as Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun, & now Gugure! Kokkuri-san stands a top the list of the best anime series of 2014.

The premise is simple but clever but also tricks you into thinking that it’s going to be worse -in terms of hypersexualisation & fan service- than it really is. Whilst it does rely on a bit of both, it actually twists it around a fair bit into very humorous scenarios. This is seen especially when the titular Kokkuri first appears, panting & flushed when accidentally summoned by Kohina. This is meant to make that think that Kokkuri is a stalking pervert who’s been waiting for the lonely Kohina to summon him so he can devour her, body & soul. Where, in fact, he’s been following her around because of her odd behaviour & habit of referring to herself as a doll, which turns him into her over-protective, yet doting, guardian, who only wants to correct her strangeness so she can have a happy life.
kokkuri-san-10
Unfortunately, due to Kokkuri’s neat-freak & overly controlling nature, this means that he basically becomes a housewife -cooking every meal so Kohina won’t eat nothing but Cup Ramen & cleaning because Kohina doesn’t concern herself with looking after her huge yet strangely empty house.

Like all great 4koma adaptations, the humour is mainly derived from the various characters & their interactions with & reactions to each other. Kokkuri & Kohina more up the core of the series, with much of the perspective being from their point of view, but the ensemble cast is also utterly brilliant -even if they do bring in many of them late in the series.

The other great strength of the 4kmoa format is quick fire & running gags, which Gugure! Kokkuri-san does exceptionally well by being able to hark back to a joke in an earlier episode without making it seem like it’s just telling the same joke again & again like other (mainly American series) tend to do.

The one problem in talking about the jokes themselves & what makes so them funny &/or clever is that it’s like a child dissecting a frog: you don’t really learn anything & the frog dies.

What does make the jokes work however is how they are tailored or based around the various personality quirks & habits of the various characters, with the narrator often adding a little stinging tail to it all at the end.

Such as with the titular Kokkuri, who as mentioned before acts like an overprotective guardian and housewife but he is also exceptionally vain, demanding & prone to hysterics when overwhelmed by various situations or other characters. This often means that other characters, such as the sadistic Inugami, go out of their way to torment Kokkuri over his appearance (such as looking older) or getting him so worked up that his temper explodes & or he goes into an emotional melt down.

The other strong running gag in the series is Kohina’s claims that she’s not human but rather a doll. She talks in a semi-staccato almost robotic tone (another running gag is her getting dolls & robots confused & Kokkuri having to point it out). She is also incapable of smiling; whenever she tries to force a smile her face collapses, terrifying everyone around her. Only when something genuinely makes her happy -such as Kokkuri assuring her that he’ll always be by her side- is she able to show genuine emotion & her depiction changes from a stripped down semi-chibi form to a beautifully animated character.
Gugure-Kokkuri-san-gugure-kokkuri-san-37842385-1920-1080
Kohina’s other running gag is her utter addiction to Cup Ramen (the instant noodles that you cook in the bowl-like container by pouring hot water into it); doing anything in order to collect rare types or eat them without Kokkuri finding out. This usually means some mischievous on her part, such as goading one of the others in the house into distracting Kokkuri. Her desire to eat & obtain Cup Ramen shows a certain moral flexibility on her part but she’s a good girl deep down.

The most interesting aspect of the series though the gender fluidity of the characters. That is: how some of the characters can switch their genders at will. This is one of Inugami’s primary traits, since he/she’s a dog spirit who can’t remember their own gender when they died, so even though he primary has a male form, he changes to a female one whenever the mood takes him. Kokkuri, also being a spirit, has this ability but refuses to use it because he’s a pretty woman who’s good at housework, everyone wants to marry him. Unfortunately, he’s transformed into a woman because of a spell he found in Kohina’s family store house (one basically designed to mess with people). The humour of this situation is that they keep asking him how it feels to be a woman but he still retains his vanity from his male form, so he sticks with is usual beautification routines, but it also explores some ideas of male-female interactions & emotions.

The fem-Kokkuri that laughed a million hentai comics
The fem-Kokkuri that laughed a million hentai comics

There are also random side characters that are constantly drawn to Kohina & Kokkuri’s life. Which include the aforementioned gender-swapping sadistic dog spirit Inugami -who is utterly devoted to Kohina after a single act of kindness during his original life as an abandoned puppy; yet he’ll destroy or torment all who aren’t Kohina, especially Kokkuri who thinks Inugami is a demented pervert trying to seduce a child. They are joined by the shiftless tanuki (racoon dog) spirit Shigaraki, a NEET who was Kokkuri’s former roommate who is after a free place to live -targeting Kohina because she owned a large house but was unaware that Kokkuri already was living there. Shigaraki has a habit of bringing bad luck to houses he dwells in but this is actually from his stealing money to go gambling with, yet he has a soft side, as he often uses his winning to support the orphanage where the children of the homes he destroyed ended up. More whacky characters enter the mix later in the show, such as the doll obsessed cat spirit Tama who keeps stalking & trying to steal Kohina because she believes her to be a possessed doll.

Whilst this show is incredibly funny there are a few let downs & annoyances. Aside from a bit of random fan service, which isn’t so bad compared to other shows, you don’t get any sense of Kohina’s personal history or backstory. Especially she’s living all alone in such a huge house & why she wants to believe that she’s a doll so she doesn’t have to engage in normal human interaction. This is vexing because even if you have Kokkuri’s reasons for wanting to look after Kohina, you don’t know how/why she’s abandoned in the 1st place, which means that you’re still at a distance with the character. The ending is also left open, so there is no resolution for the characters & backstories outside of a token effort to conclude things.

After those few negatives, I’d like to end with one other great positive & that’s how cute the entire series is. Each of the animal spirits has a chibi animal form, with Kokkuri turning into a fluffy golden fox & Inugami turning into a tiny wittle purple dog in a suit! So Kawaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!

cough

At any rate, even if I can’t really talk about the jokes, I can strongly recommend this series as something that is painfully funny to watch as well as being very clever in it’s visual gags. It’s a great series to watch if you are feeling low & just want to see something utterly silly to cheer you up.

fafuru fafuru!!!
fafuru fafuru!!!
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Idolistic – Anime Critique: Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yatte Mita

Futsū_no_Joshikōsei_ga_Locodol_Yattemita,_Cover_Manga_vol.1Title: Futsuu no Joshikousei ga [Locodol] Yatte Mita. (Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yatte Mita,  Locodol, Normal High School Girls Tried Being Locodols)
Format: TV anime
Genre: comedy, 4koma adaptation, shojo ai
Series Creator: Kotaro Kosugi
Series Director: Munenori Nawa
Studio: Feel
Series length: 12 episodes + OVA 13th episode
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 18, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

In the town of Nagarekawa (“Flowing River City”), Nanako Usami, an ordinary high school girl, is approached by her uncle to become a local idol or “Locodol”, partnering with upperclassman Yukari Kohinata to form the idol unit, Nagarekawa Girls (Nagarekawa Garuzu). As the girls use their talent to promote Nagarekawa and their businesses, they are joined by Yui Mikoze, who acts as the local mascot, and Mirai Nazukari, who serves are Yui’s substitute.


Review:

To be honest, half way through the 1st episode when the fan service bikinis appeared, I really wanted to hate this series. I thought it was going to be nothing but hyper sexualisation, fan service & telling young girls that they can’t be anything except pretty little idols if they want to do something to help those around them. Then it did something surprising: it got really funny, really sweet & really cute before toning down the fan service & offering a good heart into what it means to live outside a major metropolitan area in Japan -especially in the ongoing economic downturn in Asia.

I was genuinely prepared to go on my usual anti-sexualisation, anti-misogyny rants, willing to write it all off when I began to see how funny a show it was. & it kept getting better with each episode, as they build on the characters, their tasks & lots of little running gags.

At its core, Locodol is about the things that you do to help out others &, in turn, support your larger community. For this, ordinary yet energetic Nanako is recruited by her uncle, who works in the local government, to become a Local Idol (shortened to Locodol) with the beautiful & mature acting Yukari. This causes Nanako to question her talent & worth, because she feels that she’s not good enough, always screwing up & obsessed over the little things -such as her hourly wage (being a government employee & not a real idol) & the weird tasks that they have to do in order to help promote their local town, Nagarekawa (which is entirely fictional, mashing up the typical feel of a medium Japanese urban-rural city).
Locodol-anime-trailer
Like many 4koma adaptation, relationships form the pivot of the comedy & narrative. But this time it’s not just the relationship between the characters but also their relationship with their hometown. The girl’s friendship grows as they work together more & Nanako is supported by the seemingly more experienced (in being an idol) Yukari. Although Yukari’s perception of their relationship goes a little deeper, as she seems to harbour a very open crush on Nanako. The backstory as to how this happened is exceptionally sweet & cute, adding a good bit of depth to Yukari’s overall background.

The idol unit also have to build a relationship with their odd mascot, Uogokoro-kun, both in & out of costume. In costume, Uogokoro-kun is a weird blue lump with a large fish strapped to its wide back. Out of costume, Uogokoro-kun is a diminutive yet busty 3rd year called Yui, who works many part time jobs & plays Uogokoro-kun in order to get over her own shyness, as well being one of the few people short enough to fit into the costume. Yet when clad in the bulky gear, Yui is still surprisingly nimble, which adds to the humour & on stage antics of the group.
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The group is overseen by Nishifukai Saori, who seems like the very model of a manager but in fact she is a secret idol otaku & cosplay costumer maker. She also takes photos on the sly to post onto a fan of the idol unit blog that she runs -which are usually of Nanako in embarrassing or slightly compromising positions. Even though the girls were first upset by this (not knowing it was Saori taking & posting the pictures), they soon came to accept that it’s part of trying to be famous (which is a little creepy) but Saori did say that she’s talk to the blog owner (herself) about not posting the pics anymore.

Even with all these swirling relationships, the story is still mainly focussed upon Nanako & her overcoming her insecurities to do better. She’s a natural signer who wanted to be a national idol when she was a little girl but is bothered by the fact that she was only chosen for the role because of her uncle. Yet her tenacity draws people to her, as she struggles to do her best. Not only for herself but for the unit & the town as a whole -even if it means putting herself in embarrassing situations. Such as stripping down to her bathing suit during their 1st performance to get a bit of audience attention. Her panicking & over-thinking situations leads to much of the comedy in the series; as does her general clumsiness & her obliviousness to Yukari constantly making passes at her.

Another poor attempt  to initiate lesbianism.
Another poor attempt to initiate lesbianism.

Being a series about idols, there is a fair bit of singing per episode but not a lot of different songs. The seiyu all have nice voices for the Pop style songs they’re singing & the voice acting over all iver very cute. Especially when Nanako is on stage & always stutters her name to Nanyako (which people keep calling her, to her eternal embarrassment).

In the end, this is a little series with a lot of heart. I genuinely laughed out loud at a lot of the jokes & reactions (especially the expressions). As I said in the opening paragraph, I honestly thought that I was going to hate this series because it would be like other idol based series that girls that their only worth is in entertaining others & wearing skimpy clothing. I was glad that it went beyond that & was a clever, amusing series that was not without its flaws but, in the end, showed the beauty of a small town (in terms of its people & the animation used). Whilst not everyone will like it, you should fine some enjoyment in the humour. & if not that, it still has underage tits at times, so it has that going for it I suppose.

Like these, you fucking sicko!
Like these, you fucking sicko!

Possibly the Funniest Thing All Year – Anime Critique: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun

Title: Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoijo Nozaki-kun, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun)
Format: TV series
Genre: comedy, satire, romance, 4koma adaption
Series Creator: Izumi Tsubaki
Series Director: Mitsue Yamazaki
Studio: Dogakobo
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 6 – September 21, 2014
Reviewed format: high def with fan subs

manga cover featuring Nozaki
manga cover featuring Nozaki

Synopsis:

“High school student Chiyo Sakura has a crush on schoolmate Umetaro Nozaki, but when she confesses her love to him, he mistakes her for a fan and gives her an autograph. When she says that she always wants to be with him, he invites her to his house and has her help on some drawings. Chiyo discovers that Nozaki is actually a renowned shojo manga artist named Sakiko Yumeno. She then agrees to be his assistant in order to get closer to him. As they work on his manga Let’s Fall in Love (Koi Shiyo lit Let’s Have a Romance) they encounter other schoolmates who assist them or serve as inspirations for characters in the stories.”


Review:

Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun was a manga that I had heard of but hadn’t read because of the sudden, sad demise of mangatraders.com (scumbag hackers!) & unfortunately the anime almost passed me by due to lack of support from more well known fansubber groups (leaving us with groan Horridsubs & one unknown & undersupported subber group who dropped it half way through). But I’m really glad that I gave it a chance because it is one of the funniest anime I’ve seen in the last few seasons.

Battle of the eyes
Battle of the eyes

As I’ve previously written about, I’m a monstrous fan of 4koma/azumanga adaptation because of their punchy, quick-fire jokes & excellent character construction (because they have to build them strongly within such a limited on page space).  Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun really slams hard into the top tier of 4koma adaptations. Not above Acchi Kocchi or Azumanga Daioh but on the same level as the two seasons of Seitokai Yakuindomo & Working!.

What makes this series truly brilliant is the subversion of tropes, genres & roles. Upon the surface many of the characters do seem stock: the male lead ignorant of the female lead’s love, the devoted female lead, the pretty boy, the popular one, et cetera but it plays around with them so sweetly that I was in pain laughing at times.

Nozaki's OP animation frame
Nozaki’s OP animation frame

The male lead is Nozaki Umetaro, who is not only ignorant of Chiyo’s affections but of pretty much everything around him. He has a cold, stoic demeanour. Performing every action in a serious, deadpan fashion so lots of people are unable to understand what he truly means. What makes that so funny & subversive is that Nozaki is actually a shojo mangaka (a creator of romantic manga for girls) who is said by fans to know the true depth of the female heart, in all its anguish, passion & devotion. & the fact that he’s a mangaka isn’t kept a secret for the sake of the plot. He’s very open about but no one believes him because he’s so tall & scary looking, with a bad reputation of fighting (injuries actually caused by rushing to meet deadlines & such). The fact that he’s truly ignorant about all aspects of romance is what drives a lot of the humour around him, as he goes through complicated plans to come up with idea scenarios to illustrate -often at the expensive of the ever devoted Chiyo.

The various moods of Sakura Chiyo
The various moods of Sakura Chiyo

In many ways, Chiyo is very much the same as Nozaki yet fundamentally different. Where he is stoic & impassive, she is overly expressive -almost to make up for his lack of physical displays of emotion. She is at first confused at Nozaki’s strange behaviour but through spending time with him, so comes to be able to read his subtle shifts in mood. Yet she so often over reactions to situations -such as thinking he might finally be reciprocating her feelings or she’s totally oblivious to the negative traits of those around her -especially her close friend Seo. Despite always wanting to be around Nozaki & get him to understand her feelings, she’s far from clingy & annoying as a character. When failing to express what she truly means in her affection to the dense Nozaki, she goes to work for him -helping with the beta (no idea what it’s supposed to be but she does the inking for him mainly) on his manga. This is done so she can learn what he’s like & see if her feelings for him are genuine. She prone to near fetishising many of Nozaki’s traits & habits, such as getting people to pose like his drawing sitting position or praising another shojo mangaka for creating a character who’s exactly like Nozaki. But she does so in the sweetest possible way. She’s also marked by her petite figure (basically half the size of the towering Nozaki) & polka dot bowed ribbons in her hair, yet is never sexualised in any way.

Such a happy Chiyo face!
Such a happy Chiyo face!

Also by working with Nozaki, she becomes a little disillusioned on how he creates his manga & whom he bases his characters on.

Which brings us into the great subversion of the series, which was always the best for laughs.

the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!
the cast, figure out the names yourself, you lazy pricks!

As Chiyo spends more time with Nozaki, she gets to see how he comes up with his ideas & characters. Naturally, she thinks that he has some innate understand of romance & women but that becomes apparent that it’s far from the truth when he asks her to help out in enacting possibly scenarios for his manga. The best example is the romantic bike scene & how he tries to depict it in a romantic yet entirely legal fashion (you’ll get it once you see it). He drags Chiyo into it at first but then she comes to accept it as perfectly normal, wanting to continue it with him because she finds it fun after a fashion (even though it’s totally embarrassing). Similar with the situation with him making half a dozen bento to gauge people’s reactions to getting them, with Chiyo initially thinks makes her special until he sees him sharing them out with their other friends.

The friends are what make up the rest of the humour as well as some of the inspiration of Nozaki’s manga characters.

Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.
Chiyo is not pleased by this situation.

& surprisingly enough, he doesn’t try to model any of them on Chiyo.

In fact, all of Nozaki’s female characters are based upon his male friends for their strangely feminine traits.

Chiyo's reaction to Mokirin's self-inflicted embarrassment.
Chiyo’s reaction to Mikorin’s self-inflicted embarrassment.

This is especially true for Mimiko’s (Nozaki’s ordinary yet wilful heroine), who is modelled after the charming yet easily embarrassed pretty boy, Mikoto AKA Mikorin. Who is popular because he’s handsome & saying the right things to make girls lose their minds but he gets so embarrassed about saying them because most of his experience dealing with women comes from playing dating sims & his is incredibly shy by nature -using brashness to hide it. His embarrassed state serves as the basis for Mimiko’s flustered nature as well as his constant need for praise & attention.

The other character who serves as inspiration for Nozaki’s manga is Chiyo’s close friend, Seo, who is, frankly, a bit of a bitch. She’s not intentionally mean but she’s entirely tactless, oblivious to others, slovenly, greedy, ignorant of her emotional & physical surroundings & a bit of a bully. When Nozaki asks why Chiyo admires Seo so much, she reveals Seo’s amazing singing voice, which has earnt her the nickname ‘the Lorelei of the Glee Club”. Despite her amazing vocal talents, Nozaki finds her fairly insufferable to be around but finds inspiration in her taunting of his former basketball kohai Wakamatsu, whom Seo calls Waka after a basic misunderstanding of him trying to challenge her to stop traumatising him (which is her childish way of showing an interest in her). For his part, Wakamatsu, becomes inspiration for another female character because of his over worked nature & gentle temperament yet Nozaki hates himself for putting his kohai in situations with Seo just so he can get inspiration for his manga. Seo is also the cause of Wakamatsu’s insomnia as well as he’s cure, which makes more great comedy & inspiration for Nozaki, much to his personal regret.

How harems begin.
How harems begin.

The other great characters in the series are Hori and Kashima from the drama club. Hori illustrated the scenery & backgrounds for Nozaki because he lacks the talent to do so, in exchange for Nozaki writing original scripts for the club. Kashima is the mega-popular prince-like figure of the drama club, who is always surrounded in adoring female fans despite being a woman herself. No one really seems to care about her masculine appearance & attitude, except it she costs them the chance to get female attention for themselves. Kashima also often vies for Hori’s attention, admiring his amazing acting skill (while he stays off stage because of his short height), but everything that she does just serves to piss him off -so he usually hits her for it. I don’t like the physical violence against a female character aspect much but it’s not done out of vicious anger, just old slapstick style comedy. Kashima & Mikoto are also close friends, with Kashima calling him her fated rival, despite the fact that she smashes him in every aspect of their school & personal lives.

What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.
What I wish I could do to those fans who demand hypersexualised anime all of the time.

The other great thing about the series is the incredibly beauty animation. Rich, colourful & smooth designs -even for the most mundane background details are sweetly rendered. The character animations are also top notch. Great use of expression, cartoon conceits & action -reminding me of a lot of older style fast paced cartoons that I watched as a kid (Merry Melodies mainly). Great little visual gags & reaction shots -especially Chiyo’s confused & love struck faces.

The other sweet thing about it is that you feel the genuine affection that Chiyo has for Nozaki -especially in the last episode. The reveal as to how she came to love him & why she made her confession to him is left until the end. Which serves the story really well, because it’s hinted at but not dwelled upon. Love & affection is the core of this series, something which I felt more then in the genuine shojo romantic series Ao Haru Ride that’s also been screening this season (& will be reviewed later, once I finish watching it).

In the end, this is a series that I enjoyed immensely & will probably watch over & over again (though not as much as I have Acchi Kocchi -which EVERYONE must watch). The lack of sexualisation, the great characters & fast paced jokes has put it at the top of my list for the season’s selection. I highly recommend it if you want a good laugh, like a good satire or just want something unexpected & clever.

Plus it feels good to write a review that it’s 5 paragraphs bitching about hypersexualisation for bloody once (although will be doing that with another upcoming review, so having put that stick away yet).

Also keep an eye out for the running tanuki gag.

My expression when I realised that there wouldn't be any more episodes to watch.
My expression when I realised that there wouldn’t be any more episodes to watch.

Cute Girls & Caffeine – Anime Critique: Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka

61255Title: Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka (Is The Order A Rabbit?)
Format: TV anime
Genre: comedy, slice of life
Series Creator: Koi
Series Director: Hiroyuki Hashimoto
Studio: White Fox
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 10, 2014 – June 26, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Cocoa Hoto moves into a new town to attend school. There, she begins living with Chino Kafuu at her family’s Rabbit House café, working as a waitress to pay for her accommodation.


Review:

One of my secret pleasures in anime is the genre nicknamed “cute girls/people doing cute things” 4koma adaptation. It pretty much started when I watched Azumanga Daioh a few years back & continues with Acchi Kocchi (my 1st review here), onto series like Yuyushiki & Seitokai Yakuindomo up to this current review. I think it’s the punchiness of the jokes when translated from the 4koma style, meaning that you pack a lot of humour into a short space. When combined with cuteness, it’s a winning formula in my book.

Unfortunately, Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka doesn’t pack an awful lot of jokes in when compared to other series & most of them are based upon the Japanese reaction style (straight man paired with joker, can’t remember the name for it right now) but it still is uber cute.

Mainly because of the bunnies running around but also because of the girls.

& by cute girls I mean the kawaii fashion than any form of sexual or romantic attraction. There is a big difference, even though some of the characters are sexualised (such as underwear & swimwear scenes as well as emphasising Rize’s chest at certain points).

The construction of the female characters is the real draw for the series, because the defy the clichéd roles set forth for them.

Gochuumon.wa.Usagi.Desu.ka..full.1687998

All of their names are puns on coffee, tea or other hot drinks that you find at a café. Cocoa is the daydreaming ditz who is obsessed with being Chino’s (whom she is staying with for an education exchange) big sister (onee-san) role model yet is surprisingly clever at her studies & an excellent baker. Rize is the daughter of a high ranking military man & military-otaku but still loves to be a girly-girl, combining war-lust with modelling & other things. Chiya, whose family runs a rival Japanese tea & sweets café, like Cocoa, seems like a bit of an airhead but is clever with language & telling terrifying stories. Her neighbour & best friend is Sharo, whom everyone assumes is a rich girl because she goes to the privileged private girls’ school but is in fact a scholarship student who is terrified of her poverty being found out by the others. Leaving Chino, who is the day to day head barista at the Rabbit House café (which doesn’t have any rabbits in it aside from Tippy), who has tsundere-like tendencies but is actually just very shy & not well adjusted socially outside of a café environment.

Each episode is pretty much broken into two parts, with slightly interconnecting stories or running gags but mostly they are isolated. The humour isn’t as rapid fire as Seitokai Yakuindomo or as painfully cute as Acchi Kocchi, it’s still a sweet & very funny series brought together by the kawaii interactions of the cast.

Really not much more that I can say about other then if you like your kawaii anime, you’ll love to add this to your list (but only after you’ve watched Acchi Kocchi. Go on! Do it now! NOW!).

gochuumon wa usagi desu ka episode 2 subtitle indonesia

Yuri To the Left of Me, Yuri To The Right -Anime Review: Sakura Trick

SakuratrickcoverTitle: Sakura Trick
Format: TV anime
Genre: Yuri, slice of life, comedy, 4koma adaptation
Series Creator: Tachi
Series Director: Ken’ichi Ishikura
Studio: Studio Deen
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: January 9, 2014 – March 27, 2014
Reviewed format: TV download with fan subs

 

 

 

 


Synopsis:

“Haruka Takayama and Yuu Sonoda were inseparable during middle school, but upon entering high school, they end up being seated on opposite sides of the classroom. Having to spend time with more friends, the two decide to make their relationship special by kissing each other in secret.”


Review:

This series has already become some people’s favourite anime of the last season but I still have to say: “SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE! LOOK AT THE KOOOTE WITTLE LESBIANS! AREN’T THEY SO KOOOOOOOOOOOTE!!!

Yes, the two major themes of this 4koma adaptation is Yuri (lesbians) & cute little jokes.

To begin, without sardonicism, I utterly enjoyed this series.

I really do have a soft spot for 4koma adaptations (see my Acchi Kocchi review) & Sakura Trick does fit the fast paced formula very well.

But yes, it is a whole lesbo thing but that is not why I watched it.

I am general a fan of some Yuri stuff because, unlike Yaoi or Bara, Yuri tends to have more equality & romance between the parties involved & it is romance that lies at the heart of Sakura Trick. & unlike so many other romantic series, this one starts with the romance side, so we don’t get all that awkward, annoying tension that you find in so many other series.

The premise is very basic, two friends don’t want to see their friendship turn to nothing as they grow apart, so they decide to do something special to mark their importance to each other. That is: kiss. Though both Haruka & Yuu know that isn’t a very acceptable thing to be seen doing, so they keep it secret from those around them.
Sakura trick cuddle
This is where the comedy is generate, as the girls try to show their affection for each other or get flustered when they feel that the other has gone too far -such as Yuu kissing Huraka’s hands & knees because Haruka was lying face down on her desk. It is genuinely cute & is almost asexual in a way.

To explain: I asked a young lesbian friend of mine to watch it & she said that it was odd that all they did was kiss. She said that it really bothered her because if they were more realistic that’d feel more compelled to be doing other things to each other. It is off that no other bodily needs entered into it, even though they often deep kissed. It is all very innocent, without talk of masturbation or sexual acts. Just the purity of love shown through the simple act of kissing.
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This doesn’t bother me at all because it so avoids all the needless awkwardness & embarrassment that features so strongly in any other anime when they bring up kissing. Haruka & Yuu are very open with each other, even if they are pretty ignorant of their own deeper feelings. It feels natural in a way & not constrained by the usual annoyances of trope or social stigma.

In fact, the characters are so cute & well rendered -which is so often the strength of 4koma adaptations.

Haruka is often clingy & needy for affection, as well as easily jealous if Yuu pays attention to someone else -such as a classmate or her older sister Mitsuki but has some strong maternal traits & cares deeply for others (plus has the largest breasts in the cast, which is a recurring gag as the girls try to guess her size). While Yuu is often shown as being a little spoilt (often by the overly doting Haruka), lazy, ditzy & terrible in her studies but is often aggressive for affection from Haruka & easily jealous if she feels as though she’s been left behind. Their roles often switch in terms of whose dominant & whose demanding as they explore their feelings for each other & their friends -all of whom are rendered, in terms of character, beautifully & deeply.

To add to the drama is the fact that their school is closing & they will be the last year to graduate. This means that they don’t have the budget for big events, like the sports & cultural festivals, which puts stress upon Yuu’s sister Mitsuki, who is both a 3rd year & the president of the student council.
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Mitsuki also plays an important role in the narrative, as she tries to find out the truth behind her sister’s relationship with Haruka, as well as come to terms with her own conflicted feelings for Haruka. That is pretty much the basis for the humour of Mitsuki’s scenes, where she misreads situations & goes off into delusional imaginings of being with Haruka.

Basically: everyone in the cast is a little Yuri.

But the notion of innocent love & affection is what makes the series so enjoyable. There is no “will they/won’t they” of the romance, it’s all about them realising that they truly do love each other & reaching that point.

Of course, there is a bit of Fan Service, such as Haruka’s jiggling & the constantly kissing but it’s not the exploitative type. It’s played with affection & for laughs rather than feeling lingering & very creepy (see Nobunagun review).

In the end, this is a very light hearted, fluffy non-brain uber-kawaii comedy.

There is no real drama in it, just lots of very good & cute jokes. Each episode is split into two halves, each focussing on a different mini-story. The humour is fast paced & colourful, the characters are cleverly made & the romance is sweet without being sickly. The majority of the jokes are based around misunderstanding but they don’t bring out that painful feeling to watch like with other series (see my Strike The Blood review).

I give it two thumbs up -much like Haruka will give Yuu when their relationship gets more serious.

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So Cute It Hurts – Anime Critique: Acchi Kocchi

Title: Acchi Kocchi (Atchi Kotchi, Here & There, All Over the Place, Place To Place)
Format: Anime
Genre: Slice of Life Comedy, 4koma, romantic comedy
Series Creator: Ishiki
Series Director: Oizaki Fumitoshi
Studio: AIC (licenced by Sentai Filmworks)
Original Airing dates: April 5 – June 28, 2012
Reviewed format: blu-ray with fansubs

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Synopsis:

    “The serious-minded Io & the pure-hearted Tsumiki feel they never want to be parted, but haven’t become a couple yet. More than friends but less than lovers, they develop an awkward quasi-romance.

Review:

To begin, I must plead utter bias because this is one of my all time favourite anime series ever made. I’ve seen it four times since it first screened & cannot sing its praises enough to people. It was a series that instantly appealed to me because of my love for other similar series, such as 2002’s Azumanga Daioh & the K-On! Franchise. Both of which also started from the 4koma manga format (4 panel strip style comics).

The series focuses on a group of five friends -Tsumiki, Io, Mayoi, Sakaki & Hime- & their strange daily lives but this isn’t a show present in a realistic way. The art style is very much exaggerated, to emphasis the cuteness (moe & kawaii) of the characters & situations, with Tsumiki being presented with cat-like features -sprouting ears & a tail- to show her hidden emotions or Hime’s suddenly nosebleeds. The comedy is based a lot upon quick puns & the interactions of the characters, focussing especially on Tsumiki & Io.

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    Tsumiki is classified as a tsundere style of character -outwardly cold to hide her loving feelings- & the object of her affections is the kindly but often dense Io, who treats her in a friendly manner even though she wants more from him. Her inability to communicate her desires combined with Io’s failings to read deeper into situations leads to teasing down by the manic genius Mayoi & the mischievous Sakaki, who often receive physical retribution from Tsumiki for their efforts. She often gets into awkward situations trying to get Io’s attention or accidentally playing out something that she imagines but her feelings are genuine, as she just tries to be close to him, even if it causes their friends to tease them in a friendly way.

The other source of humour comes from well timed & placed running gags -such as Hime suffering from nosebleeds whenever she sees the psuedo-romantic interactions of Tsumiki & Io or whenever she sees something cute (such as Tsumiki in a costume or Io’s playing with a cat). Other running gags come from Io accidentally charming the female cast, often resulting in wide spread nosebleeds & fainting, or acts of (comically done) superhuman violence, often performed on Mayoi. The humour is designed to be fast paced but seldom going over the audience’s head (issues with translation & subtitle speeds not withstanding).

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    Other than the animation/art style, what truly makes this anime sweet & well done is how excellently all the characters are rendered. You know who they are quickly without them falling into tropes & cliches. Tsumiki is a loli-like tsundere without being rendered in such forms as other, more stereotyped characters like Louise from The Familiar of Zero or Aria from Aria the Scarlet Ammo. She often has cat-like features sprout on her & is rendered in a chibi fashion but is superhumanly strong & fast.
Io initially appears as your typical studious type, with his neat appearance & glasses, but shows many hidden physical skills & other talents -such as being an excellent pastry & sweets chef, skilful gamer & (unknowingly) charming to people whom he meets.
His best friend, Sakaki, is laid back but still sharp, able to pinpoint when Io is at his most dense in regards to Tsumiki’s affections. Whilst Mayoi, who is always seen in her trademark labcoat, is depicted as a trouble making airhead but is, in fact, a mechanic genius, able to create elaborate devices in short periods of time. Leaving Hime as a super average girl, who has trouble with technology & cannot perform the same superhuman feats as her friends, but has a sweet, caring soul which can be easily distracted by anything cute, causing a jet of blood to burst from her nose.
They are surrounded by an equally well depicted supporting cast, which includes Sakaki’s older sister, Miiko, who has floppy dog-like ears drawn in her hair & runs the cakeshop Hachi Pochi, where Hime & Io work party time, & carries dog themes through it.

The series ran for twelve episodes with an OVA released with the blu-ray collection & each episode is divided into two parts, A & B, with a special omake, called Acchi Kindergarten, at the end of each episode that also doubles as the next episode trailer (which is scrolling script along the bottom of the screen). Each scene or segment has special animations based around circles & arrows linking each other, which also serves to enhance the jokes or the running gags. The series, as a whole, covers the course of a year, starting & ending in winter & covering events such as Valentine’s Day & White Day (featured twice in the series), summer holidays as well as Christmas & New Years celebrations, with each episode being self-contained in each half but still continuing with gags & references from episodes that came before.

When comparing the anime series with the original manga, it is one of the few series that becomes superior to its original printed form. In Ishiki’s original 4-koma manga, the illustrations of the characters are exceptionally well rendered, often looking odd & amateurish, where as the anime gives them better forms & far more details -especially in Tsumiki’s cat-like actions. The manga has far more developed jokes & running gags, from which the anime only tends to use from the 1st volume (there 5 volumes published & the series is still ongoing), so I find it surprising that there still has not been a 2nd series with the amount of unused material that they have available.

Another exceptional part of the series is the incidental music by Yokoyama Masaru. It’s subtle and minimalist, using electronic (almost 16 bit) keys & instruments such as clarinets & acoustic guitars yet has its high energy moments when the scene calls for it. They are the kind of tunes that you can easily find yourself humming & they don’t overpower any scenes. Both the Opening & Ending themes are sung by the main cast saiyu.

There are only a few negatives that I can give this series & they are almost all to do with the subtitling & translations. I originally watched the TV broadcasts with the subs done by the Commie group but their lack of honourifics & explanations is exceptionally grating to me. The blu-ray was subbed by a different group but they had issues in regards to panels covering the between scene animations as well as the on screen text. The lack of closure on character relationship was also a vexing issue but excusable because of the ongoing manga. It is also my fervent wish that they make a 2nd series or movie but that is unfortunately unlikely at this point in time -despite its apparent popularity within Japan.

In quick regards to issues of Soft Power, this series is a god example of its possible positive uses because it doesn’t render the series as ‘culturally odourless’ & does retain many tropes, habits & visuals that can be called very Japanese. It does go through many of the cliched forms with the holidays & traditions but calls many of them to question, such as White Day, where men return the favour of receiving a gift from a woman on Valentine’s Day. Over all it plays to trope & cultural expectations within the media but doesn’t let itself be dominated by them. It also, surprisingly, lacks many other typical elements of the genre, such as references to the supernatural (such as ghost stories, even though it talks about fortune telling) or pandering to fan service. The female characters are cute but not sexualised, playing more upon the original form of moe. Most of the sexualisation is actually played upon Io’s character, with the female characters performing the traditional male reaction of bleeding noses & overheating from their desires.

Again, this is a series that I cannot recommend enough. It is so sweet & cute that it cannot help but make me smile whilst watching it. The rapid fire gags & strong visual jokes literally brought tears to my eyes but the undercurrent of the bourgeoning sense of a mature romance between Tsumiki & Io is portrayed in such a fashion that you can’t help but feel for them both. Especially as the dense Io begins to understand his own feelings. Unfortunately due to the manga still continuing, that part of the story was never drawn to a proper conclusion but it is forgivable due to the sweetness of the characters & the series as a whole. Acchi Kocchi is guaranteed to leave a painfully sweet smile on face & have you giggling ages later as you randomly recall a joke or visual gag. This is a series that I cannot get enough off & constantly find myself looking to rewatch when I want to take a break from other viewing. It may be too saccharine for some but it is perfect for me & that, in the end, is what counts.