The Magic & Mundanity of Romance – Anime Critique: Glasslip

Glasslip_Prmotional_ImageTitle: Glasslip (Gurasurippu)
Format: TV anime
Genre: supernatural, romance, slice of life
Series Creator: Junji Nishimura
Series Director: Junji Nishimura
Studio: P.A. Works
Series length: 13 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 3 – September 25, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Tōko Fukami’s family runs a glass-working business in a small seaside town named Hinodehama (“Sunrise Beach”). She hangs out with her four best friends at a cafe called Kazemichi (“Wind Way”). During the summer break of their senior year in high school, they meet a transfer student named Kakeru Okikura, who claims that a voice from the future talks to him, and that it has led him to Tōko.


Review:

This was a series that I thought may be great. A gentle blending of teen romance with a touch of magical realism but with more of an emphasis on the former than the latter. The supernatural/magical realism aspects are minute, driving part of the characters’ motivations but not having an affect the larger world at all. Unfortunately, towards the end of the series, when they try to explain what the supernatural power is, everything begins to falter & become confused. Leaving no explanation as to the nature of the two central protagonists’ abilities. In fact, the series leaves a lot in the air but at the same time resolves other aspects that similar series would more happily leave hanging in the air.

The cynical part of me thinks that might be to angle for a 2nd season as well as push the side manga & upcoming Light Novel. I may be right but that doesn’t really address how a series that started out with so much promise ended up so poorly dregged by the final episode.

The supernatural conceit of the series is that the two central protagonists, Tōko & Kakeru, possess similar yet different abilities to experience what they believe to the future. Whenever Tōko sees light refracted through an object such as glass, she sees visions; whereas if Kakeru is prodded by various aural stimuli, he hears fragment of what may come to pass. It is these abilities, which seem to compliment each other, that draws our two protagonists to each other but stirs ripples amongst Tōko’s established circle of friends.

The Chibi versions from the end credits.
The Chibi versions from the end credits.

Like more than a few other series this season, Glasslip (the confusing title comes from the fact that Tōko is a glassblower) is a romantic, more shōjo aligned series (although lacking in the grotesque art style of the shōjo genre. Instead on dwelling on the magical realism aspects of the protagonists, it’s more concerned with the changing relationships between & around Tōko & her friends. More so how suppressed emotions are brought to the boil by the arrival in town of Kakeru -whom Tōko accidentally dubbed David because he reminded her of the statue.

I feel that if the series actually made the relationships between the 6 characters the focal point rather than flirted with the two genres it would have been a much stronger series. Unlike so many other recent anime this year, the characters actually get a chance to develop, growing as the story progresses. They do start off as typical anime archetypes though. With Tōko being the kindhearted ditz; Yanagi as the bitchy yet insecure tsundere who is not so secretly in love with her step-brother (not incest like WIXOSS) & secretly jealous of the attention that he gives Tōko; her step-brother Yukinari, who tries to act cool & aloof but is actually feeling hollow since he may have to give up on his dream of professional running after suffering a knee injury & feels threatened by how Tōko is drawn to Kakeru; Hiro, who is the energetic dunce who thinks of things that the group can do & has a poorly hidden longing for the fragile yet beautiful Sachi; while Sachi is the physically wracked glasses-girl who appears to have a lesbian lust for Tōko & an intense hatred for Kakeru on sight because she feels that he may take Tōko away from her.

The central cast.
The central cast.

How these weird love polygons play out becomes the core of the series. With various misunderstandings, manipulations & confessions of emotion driving the drama inherent in the romantic genre. Yet because it’s filtered through the lens of magical realism, with Tōko & Kakeru’s glimpses of the future, the weight of the emotion if more muffled than it otherwise should’ve been if they strengthened one aspect over the other.

What I’m saying that if Glasslip was more content to more be more of a character drama it would be excellent. Instead a lot of the emotions of the characters are muted & ideas get lost. There are some interesting dynamics involved with the relations -such as with the step-siblings or Tōko’s & her little sister Hina (who has her own manga) or even Sachi’s quiet protective love Tōko & how that changes throughout the course of the series.

Unfortunately, the series really loses its way in the last few episodes -where they try to explain the nature of Tōko & Kakeru’s ability. With hints that they aren’t seeing the future & that it might be something passed down through the bloodline. There are no real explanations & no real resolution to that plot arc. In general, things in the series just end with little resolution. It might be because they have a Light Novel coming out in October or that they want to make another series but I found it weak & annoying. More so after such a promising start.

At least on the list pluses that this series has is that it is exceptionally beautiful. That’s honestly one of the best things about so many recent series is that they are so damn pretty. Glasslip uses a lot of nature scenes, with the location being set in a city between the mountains & the sea -so you get to see a lot of both. There’s a lot of interplay with light, either the glare of the sun on the ocean or being filtered through the leaves of the trees. Colours & layers are played with to great effect -especially in Tōko’s glass works.

How's the serenity?
How’s the serenity?

Overall, Glasslip is a good series that could have been utterly fantastic but it leaves too much up in the area & gets muddled as to whether it wants to be a teen romance or magical realism series. There is still a lot to enjoy about it but I personally wanted more resolution & a closed ending. If they make a 2nd series, I will watch it but I won’t forgive it for faffing about. Still, this is an enjoyable series that I would recommend; more so if you are sick of the action oriented harem loli-fest dross that has plagued us this year.

Demonstrating Toko's clutziness.
Demonstrating Toko’s clutziness.
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Rain & Love are also beautiful – Anime Critique: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii

Soredemo_Sekai_wa_UtsukushiiTitle: Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii (The World is Still Beautiful, the Still World is Beautiful)
Format: TV anime
Genre: fantasy, romance, comedy, supernatural
Series Creator: Dai Shiina
Series Director: Hajime Kamegaki
Studio: Pierrot
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: April 6, 2014 – June 29, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Nike, the fourth princess of the Rain Dukedom and one who holds the power to call forth the rain, travels to the Sun Kingdom to marry Sun King Livius for her country, despite her own reluctance. She soon discovers that the King, who conquered the world in only three years after his ascendance to the throne, is still a child. Furthermore, for trivial reasons, he has demanded that Nike call forth the rain, and when she refuses, he has her thrown in jail. The story follows the two who, while at first are a married couple only in name, gradually begin to establish an emotional bond with one another.


Review:

Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii was a series that I came to without previous knowledge or the weight of expectations, so it was genuinely refreshing to watch because I didn’t have any preconceptions as to what it was going to be or what I may want from it.

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It’s also stands apart from the other recent anime series because it centres around a female protagonist with her own positive sense of Agency; who isn’t just there so we can stare at her tits & arse all the time (although that happens over the course of the series).

To avoid beating the usual drum at the beginning: the series is sexualised but it isn’t hypersexualised.

The difference being that sexualisation is pushing up character attractiveness & manipulating how we view them by embellishing sexual traits. Whereas hypersexualisation is focussing only on the sexual traits or putting characters in positions where they are only seen as sexual objects.

This is something that I’ll write about in a future article but to summarise: sexualisation isn’t great but pretty much everyone (regardless of gender & sexuality) does it in their everyday lives, so we excuse it. Whilst hypersexualisation generates unrealistic expectations & images, degrades all involved & renders so many narratives utterly useless &/or annoying.

Although there is a level of sexualisation in the series that many may (mainly men) may be uncomfortable with & that’s the sexualisation of the male protagonist Livi -who is barely a teenager, despite being the king of a vast realm.

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This is honestly something that I don’t really care about -especially after all the loli lusting series from this past season (which was near fucking sickening in my limited online opinion). It wasn’t degrading, focussed more through Nike’s romantic lense. So whilst Livi is occasionally half naked, the screen doesn’t ogle or degrade him in any way. Only the way Nike sees him changes; from cruel tyrant & a child with an adult’s eyes to a loving companion & partner.

Nike is the most important aspect of the series & a well constructed character (until the last episode at least, where she gets all mopey without being in Livi’s company). She comes off as a brash, naive tomboy who reacts before she thinks but she is backed up by formidable magical & physical ability -being able to beat up at least 4 of Livi’s guards when she first arrives in the Sun King. She also reacts badly to challenges & has a desperate need to prove herself as worthy of Livi (at least not in the form of a superiority complex at least), so she rushes head long into several traps & assassination attempts but she often gets herself out of them or Livi comes to assist (not entirely rescue) her in her efforts.

Sordemo Sekai - 02 -9

Nike also has a very tender side; which is seen when she uses her rain summoning magic -a song based upon the emotions she feels & her appreciation for the beauty of the world around her. The Sun Kingdom is in a desert, so they have need of lots of water for Livi’s plans for modernisation, so that is one reason he threatened Nike’s father to send him a bride from the Rain Kingdom. Although while their relationship starts out as hostile, Nike’s feeling grow for her underage husband, making her magic grow as well.

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Unfortunately, in my view at least, the song she uses to summon the rain is a touch annoying & amusing in how poorly it attempts to blend in English words with the Japanese. The voice actress does have a lovely singing voice, her mastery of English isn’t there. Not her fault, not her language, but kind of does show the uselessness of putting English words in songs for the sheer sake of having them in there. Plus, I do laugh more when Westerners put random Asian words into their songs & get them utterly wrong (looking at you, Wu Tang Clan!).

The other strength of the series is the humour & the supporting cast. Who bring a lot of the humour.

Mainly Livi’s valet (not a butler! Look up the difference!), Neil, who often has to force Nike to become more like a princess or chase Nike & Livi whenever they escape to have some fun. The three old advisors, who back up Livi’s claim to the throne through wisdom & force, are also very funny -making dirty jokes & comments that parallel the episode’s plot. But are best used when told that they aren’t allowed to go to the Rain Kingdom after they planned to go there with Nike & Livi to get more sweets for themselves & not do any work.

There are the usual tropes within the series about the notions of self-worth, mainly Nike wondering if she is the right match for Livi, whom she is growing more & more in love with, as well as the usual romantic stuff but overall I found this series very good. It was funny when it needed to be, with patches of strong drama & emotional interactions.

I do recommend it, especially if you want something different from the past season’s hypersexualised loli-fest!

soredemo-sekai-wa-utsukushii-0605

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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