The All Singing, All Dancing Lesbian Troop – Anime Critique: Hanayamata

8b4d6a16fc4574fefd0438507a3030651402376724_fullTitle: Hanayamata
Format: TV series
Genre: slice of life, comedy, Girl’s Love
Series Creator: Sou Hamayumiba
Series Director: Atsuko Ishizuka
Studio: Madhouse
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates: July 7 – September 22, 2014
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


Synopsis:

Naru Sekiya is an ordinary 14-year old girl who likes fairy tales, but is worried about her lack of other interests. She has a chance encounter with a “fairy”, a foreign girl practicing dance at night. On a spur of the moment, Naru asks to join her and is introduced to the world of yosakoi dancing.


Review:

Hanayamata fits nicely into the Cute Girls Doing Cute Things subgenre, not dissimilar to the aforereviewed Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka from last season. The general gist of it is a group of early teenaged girls getting together in order to have fun, gain confidence & strengthen their bonds of friendship. I mentioned lesbians in the title because this series leans towards to the Girl’s Love (similar to Yuri but lacking the sexual side of things). Outside of paternal figures, there is an absence of males within series. & the girls show blushing cute attraction to each other that leans more towards extreme/deep friendship attraction than Sapphicism.

Also, unlike the aforementioned Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu, Hanayamata is less a situational based series than a driven narrative-based story.

The general thrust of the series is the shy Naru, who hides from everything & would rather lose herself in her fairytales, finding someone & something to give her the passion & confidence to face reality. Naru finds this through her encounter with the pixie-esque foreign girl, Hana N. Fountainstand, whom Naru initially mistakes for a fairy wanting to take her to a magical kingdom.

Hana is a pretty typical Weeaboo, who is obsessed with all things Japanese to the point that she wishes to reshape her entire cultural identity. Her primary focus is on Yosakoi, because she witnessed a dance trope when she was a little girl visiting Japan. Hana’s goal is to start a Yosakoi club at her new school & she has chosen Naru to be the first member.

The kawaii! It burns!
The kawaii! It burns!

Naturally, Naru’s painful shyness & extreme lack of confidence means that she refuses but Hana’s persistence & overall adorability means that Naru eventually offers to help set up the club. In order to do this, they need more members -who are often driven away by Hana’s over-eagerness- a supervising teacher & to get passed the very strict Student Council President, Machi. This driving arc is combined with the other protagonists: Naru’s overprotective & slightly self-centred friend Yaya & the epitome of Japanese feminine grace, Tami -whom Naru views as a big sister & princess-like figure. They both strive to find their own passions & dreams in the face of others trying to control their lives or people unwilling to push themselves to take that final step to break through the barriers before them. Machi finds herself in a similar position, wishing to overcome her sister-complex; a sister how just happens to be Sari (AKA Sally-sensei), the Yosakoi club supervisor -who only took on the role because of the pressure that Hana applied to her through begging.

Super excited Loli set to execute snuggle-attack,
Super excited Loli set to execute snuggle-attack,

Each character has to overcome their personal struggles in order to gain confidence. This is central to the construction of Naru, who thinks of herself as weak & lost yet it does not ring entirely true with her. Her emotional weakness & crippling lack of confidence seems to stem more from perceptions of social pressures & her indulgence in escapism rather than face reality. These unto themselves are hardly original ideas for media to explore but in the case of Naru they seem contradictory. That is because she claims to have no physical strength or coordination yet from the outset we are told that she’s practiced Iaido from a young age, having gained a high proficiency in the art from her father, who runs a dojo from their home. I found it strange that these martial art didn’t confer any ability to Naru’s confidence & dance motions but that may lie more in the schismatic nature of her personality then within her actual flesh.

The Tsundere exposed.
The Tsundere exposed.

With Naru occupying the space of the pitiable stalwart looking to overcome their own feelings of inadequacy, it’s up to the other girls to fill the other roles. Yaya is the typical tsundere who wants to be the centre of attention, especially from Naru, & is a little jealous that her friend has finally found something outside of her admiration for & reliance upon Yaya herself. Tami wants to be the epitome of the perfect woman, in order to gain her father’s approval but she also is shown to be a little ditzy & mischievous, looking to break the role that she’s forced herself into. & Machi wants to escape from the shadow of her once successful sister & conquer the feelings of abandonment that stem from her relations with Sally-sensei as well as the academic pressures that her hospital running parents are putting her through now that Sally-sensei has abandoned the role of heir to their tiny medical empire.

Whilst, so many other shows this season, Hanayamata is exceptionally beautiful look at. With its bloom & shimmering use of colours & well rendered action sequences -especially the dance choreography for both the girls & the passing troops. Yet, as a whole, it’s a series not without its faults.
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My main criticism of the series that its aimed at boosting Japanese consumer & cultural confidence, but once again showing a foreigner entirely obsessed with an aspect of Japanese culture/history that they are willing to move & reshape their entire personal identity in order to conform to their perceptions of what it means to be Japanese. Hana fundamentally exists (at least in the anime) to push a form of Japanese superiorism, reinforcing the belief that Japan is the superordinate in terms of its ongoing cultural practices.

The other negative in my point of view is how they push the emotional drama side of things. Bringing out the tears & ramping up the reacting, coupled with some irritating voice acting at times. It isn’t a deal breaker but it detracts from the sweetness of the comedy & the beauty of the anime. Especially the expressions & the reaction shots. There is some mild sexualisation & fan service but that at least palls when faced with the drama & comedy.

Everyone has a goal. Some girls have goals to get boobies.
Everyone has a goal. Some girls have goals to get boobies.

Overall, this is a worth addition to the “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things”. It’s fun, it’s fluffy & silly but also deep & touching when it has to (but not in the yuri sense). Whilst it does have some negative, all the good that it does completely outweighs my basic (& typical) complaints. There are plenty of kawaii moments as well as other random comedic moments -such as with Yosakoi supply store owner Ofuna Masaru, who looks like a stereotypical Yakuza but is passionate about Yosakoi & helping the girls.

If you can get passed some of the minor irritations, you’re sure to enjoy this series. It’s a good balm to some of the bloody & hypersexualised offering this past season. It’s all about what you can achieve if you have self-belief & friends by your side to support you. More so if you push yourself in order to support them so you can find your own strength to face the harshness of reality.

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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.

The Kick That Never Came – Anime Critique: Isshuukan Friends

mpage001Title: Isshuukan Friends (One Week Friends)
Format: TV anime
Genre: slice of life, romance, drama, tragedy
Series Creator: Matcha Hazuki
Series Director: Tarou Iwasaki
Studio: Brain’s Base
Series length: 12 episodes
Original Airing dates:
Reviewed format: high def download with fan subs


 

Synopsis:

High schooler Yuki Hase notices that his classmate Kaori Fujimiya is always alone and seemingly has no friends. After approaching her and becoming acquainted, Kaori reveals that she loses every memory of her friends each Monday. Despite learning this, Yuki endeavors to become her new friend every week.


 

Review:

There is an old saying that goes “the worst kick is the one that never comes”.

The basic meaning of it is the more you dread something bad coming, a kick or other such physical assault if you will, the worse it will be in your mind than the actually reality of it because the fear & expectation has made you build up something far more torturous (more torturous than my allegories to be sure).

This is the pall that hangs over Isshuukan Friends.

The constant dread that you are going to be hit by something monumental emotionally painful yet, it never comes, making that dread all the more worse.

Although that might be my expectations from watching anime that delights in really kicking you in the guts once you think you’re going to be blessed with Sweetness & Light.

The reason you are waiting for this phantom kick is from the central conceit of the series, that being amnesia. A very old chestnut indeed in terms of media tropes -especially in Japan- yet within Isshuukan Friends it stems more from plot driven psychological & physical trauma then some mere need for a character to begin as a Blank Slate.

The major praise that one can give this series is that it attempts to handle such a fanciful contrivance as emotionally realistic as they can -without the central idea feeling too contrite or merely there to heighten the drama or emotional reactions from the audience.

Yet you do not come here to see praise painted upon the page, so I shall return to the (fairly bitchy) critiquing.

The plot of the series revolves around Hase Yuki’s relationship with Fujimiya Kaori, who is the quiet withdrawn girl in his class. He initially approaches her so to get to know her but she coldly rejects his offer for friendship. He is persistent in trying to get her to open up to him so it is soon revealed that Kaori loses her memories of people whom she considers friends every Monday when she wakes up -the exceptions being her family & people she is merely acquainted with. Despite this handicap, Hase persists in trying to become friends with Fujimiya, starting each week with the question “Will you be my friend?”

Isshuukan Friends - 02 - Large 05

When I 1st heard Hase vow that, I was worried it the story would turn fairly stalkery & possessive but it only turned mildly stalkery. Narratively, it is understandable that Hase gets jealous when the formerly cold & quiet Fujimiya starts to open up to others in their class -mainly through the intervention of ditzy pixie Saki, who wants the responsible Fujimiya to baby & look after her because she (Saki) has issues with her own memory (in that she is forgetful).

After watching the 1st couple of episodes, part of me wanted to hate this series -mainly because it kept refusing to go dark like I thought it would- but also because it is so awkwardly cutesy.

All the characters -but especially Fujimiya & Hase- looks as though they are sponsored by a rouge producing company (the makeup, not the D&D class, you bloody dyslexics). Always with red blush patches under their eyes.

Isshuukan Friends - 06 - Large 01

The general art syle & design is light & cutesy too. Skipping a lot of the more moé & sexualisation tropes. More focussing on a sweet kind of soft cute in the characters. In fact, unlike other series this season, there isn’t anything remotely close to a tit or panty shot. Some of the usual awkwardness after falling leaves characters in compromising positions but this is quickly glossed over with humour rather than used to demonstrate masculine dominance, reward the male gaze or a let a protagonist get a quick grope in.

Yet, despite the cutesy looks & lack of narrative darkness, the story is actually pretty good & emotionally mature. In that it’s people reacting to a difficult situation as well as failing to voice their concerns or wishes out of fear of misunderstanding or hurting those around them. So, it follows the standard forms of Japanese dramas, with the inability to communicate less it destroy consensus society as a whole.

isshukan-chara

Nevertheless, Isshuukan Friends does handle a lot of the drama in a respectful & grownup fashion, even though it shows some weird relationship tropes. Such as Fujimiya making lunch for Hase everyday & only allowing him to talk to her outside of the class (such as on the roof at lunch) because she doesn’t want bad rumours to spread about him. That bullshit is stopped with Saki’s spoiltness meaning she just speaks to Fujimiya whenever she wants to & isn’t perturbed by her memory loss -Saki thinks its similar to her absent mindedness. Fujimiya & Hase also develop ways for Fujimiya to deal with her memory loss, such as getting her to keep a dairy so she can keep track of events & drama comes along in one episode when she accidentally loses her dairy as well as the poster on her reminding her to read it every Monday yet she lost it on a Friday, so found it odd she didn’t realise it was gone over the weekend when her memories were still intact.

Each episode follows a basic formula of a week in the life of our protagonists as they struggle to deal with Fujimiya’s ongoing condition, Hase’s feelings of helplessness & selfishness at the situation as well as interactions with other characters & Fujimiya slowly opening up to those around her & not being afraid to make friends. Some edges appear, when classmates believe that Fujimiya is dating Hase’s best friend, the cranky & taciturn Shogo, & say nasty things behind her back (yet within earshot); Hase has to also overcome his feelings of jealousy towards Shojo for becoming friends with Fujimiya & the chance of losing her.

True drama comes late in the series with the appearance of Fujimiya’s former childhood friend, Hajime, who moved to Hokkaido with his family at the same time as Fujimiya began to lose her memories. When her remembrance of him causes her memories to completely reset, so she forgets everything that she had build up until that point & Hase to almost abandon the friendship out of frustration. When that moment comes along, there is no longer an expectation of a kick or anything else apart from a quiet resolution. Tensions remain between the two protagonists for the last few episodes after Fujimiya starts to build herself back up to how she was before Hajime arrived but that’s mainly from everyone learning the cause of Fujimiya’s amnesia (stems from a form of bullying from her supposed friends at a young age) & Hase’s fear that he might cause it to happen again. But mostly the tension in the last few episodes comes from the fact that the protagonists -& anime characters in general- can never express their love without being pathetically awkward or borderline retarded.

In the end, this is a light teen drama that deals with a difficult issue in a mature & responsible way. It has some humour & cuteness but doesn’t kick you when you are down. Your response to it depends on how much you personally engage with the genre &/or subject. For my part, I found it enjoyable & a pleasant balm to the hypersexualisation of other series that I shall be writing about over the week (or just copy pasting random complaints about hypersexualisation in other series) but each to their own. I do hope that you, the reader, take the time to watch the series & take from it what you will.

Isshuukan Friends - 03 - Large 03