Animation - Anime, Anime Review

Orange (Summer 2016) Anime

Orange Poster

Original Name: orange

Studio: Telecom Animation Film

Season: Summer 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/32729/Orange


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(Note: Originally published over psgels.net)

What would you do if you receive letters from your future-self saying that you can change your future? That’s exactly what Naho experienced as she obtains ones from herself 10 years later that urge her to look after her new friend and prevent him from committing suicide. The premise, I agree, is hardly anything groundbreaking, but it functions well as a romantic drama anime. And orange is exactly that: a romantic drama anime. We have tons of romance developing between the leads Naho and Kakeru, and even more time focusing on the depression of Kakeru and the group’s attempt to save him.

The very central theme of orange is the sense of regret. Kakeru always feels regrets over his mother suicides, blaming himself for what happened and the thought of continue to live on proved to be too much for him. Moreover, it’s the adult counterpart that hold that same sense of regrets and griefs towards what they could do in the past for Kakeru. If they were more attentive, they could’ve realized his inner struggles. If they helped him out when he needed the most, chances were, he could’ve survived. Should’ve known better. It’s that regret sense that carry the weight in Naho’s, and eventually Suwa’s and the rest of the group’s actions and make their efforts feel grounded and genuine.

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But that’s not to say that their efforts were executed flawlessly. The show’s at its best when the group confronts Kakeru to say out loud his issues, to really share his troubles to his dear friends. Kakeru always puts up a mask in order to cover his troubles, mostly because he believes he could drag the group down, and partly because he fears that he’d be rejected. By making him to be honest to himself, he knows that he can rely on his friends and that’s what save him in this new timeline. But orange feels forced whenever the group tries to recreate a perfect happy time for Kakeru; be it their fireworks night, his birthday, their relay match. Although those moments come from good intention, I can’t help but feel uneasy the way the group manipulates the outcomes so that little Kakeru always feel happy. Is it fair for the guy to receive too much without give anything away? Is that selfless love that you protect your loved ones from being hurt really the best possible outcomes? Hell, NO.

Although Kakeru and Naho share some good romantic moments together, it is Suwa who become the show’s best character. He’s in a complex situation since he decides to support the leads all the way, despite his own feeling for Naho. Sound cliché I know, but what make his character works is that Suwa is an observant, sensitive and highly emotional intelligent than the rest of the group. On the other end of the spectrum, Ueda is really a bad-written character. Orange clearly doesn’t think too highly of her, so the show frames her in a biased and negative light, it’s sad because whenever she appears on screen, she becomes a sore thumb to an otherwise solid cast. The rest of the cast share a natural, lively and effortless chemistry, but they are not the deepest bunch of characters you will ever witness. In fact, in the second half, the amount of time spent on the group trying to help Kakeru overwhelms their own character’s development.

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In terms of production values, orange remains a very strange shoujo adaptation. The show has an above-standard quality in terms of direction. The director Hiroshi Hamasaki (who most famous for his Steins;Gate) elevates the show by his sensitive directing, which many scenes convey smartly the emotions the show want to make. The show, on the other hand, was done on a shoestring budget, as a result in a middle part the production values took a huge downfall, the characters are often off-model and those insignificant parts are treated equally messy and off-putting to the point that it brings the whole production down. This is a shame because this is a kind of budget that orange doesn’t deserve to have.

Despite a huge leap in quality, orange at least ends in high note, as the conclusion successfully ties up loose end and gives up a satisfying emotional ride. With the main theme about trying your best in order to have none regrets, it’s more about the ride, how to get there rather than the results, yet I have a feeling that orange focuses too much on the outcomes. To say all that, the ending was executed fairly well that I’ll complain no more. Overall, despite the huge decline in terms of production values in the middle part, and some thematic issues, orange is what it is- a solid entry of shoujo romance drama anime. Anyone who expect more from it will end up being disappointed.

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Animation - Anime, Anime Review, Silver Moon in Full Bloom

Thunderbolt Fantasy (Summer 2016) Anime

Thunderbolt Fantasy poster

Original Name: Thunderbolt Fantasy

Studio: Pili International Multimedia

Season: Summer 2016

Episodes: 13

MAL Link: N/A


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(Note: Originally published over psgels.net, with an updated score)

Sometimes you dread for the current state of anime: high school settings, cute girls, fan-service jokes, idol madness… that you wish for once to see something different, and out of nowhere an oddball like this just pop up: a wuxia puppetry show influenced by Taiwanese glove puppetry written by Gen Urobuchi. The sheer fact that it was greenlit at all was mind-blowing enough, but the most absurd things was the audience it aimed: the anime medium. Because no matter how you look at it: this isn’t an anime at all. Well, not even an animation to begin with. I’m not going to detail about it as I already addressed it in my weekly post. The fact that this is a wuxia puppetry show already makes it a unique show among anime world and all the more reason to watch it. But on top of all that, the show’s writing and execution are really excellent and refreshing. If the show just relies on its gimmick of being a puppetry show, it will fall apart very quickly, but Thunderbolt Fantasy understands that their characters are the real stars of the show, so they spend a huge amount of them talking to each other, explore their philosophy of life and the campy dialogues are entertaining and humorous.

Set in a fictional Eastern Asia settings, the show tells a story of a merry band in the quest to retrieve a legendary sword that was stolen by Mie Tian Hai, a skilled swordsman with a history of black magic. Our MC Shang Bu Huan is a mysterious swordsman who came from another area, that’s why he doesn’t know much about this place and thus got tagged along to the quest by Gui Niao, a cool-head strategist and the bunch of misfits including the naive guardian girl, the One-Eyed archer, the young Spear-wielder, a demon necromancer and the bloodthirsty assassin. The group, each has their own unique appearance and personalities with different set of goals head up to the Seven Sins Tower, and there were double-crossing, triple-crossing, blood-splattering, heads rolling and even demons, undead, skeleton birds join in along the way. Indeed, half of these characters here are easily villains in other story and the fun here is to see their huge ego crashing with each other.

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Because this is a puppetry show, there are many elements that you won’t find in other anime. The characters, for example, have very static faces. Especially when they are in close-up, it’s hard to tell apart what they are thinking because of the lack of expression in their faces, but this issue actually works in the show’s favor, for how else would one portrait a group that double-crossing is the norm? Second, the practical effects are truly what set it apart from other anime. There is little amount of action for a true-action show, but when the action kicks in, it’s a feast to the eyes. Bloods squirming all over, bodies blowing up, heads rolling that you can actually feel the weight of the blood dripping are refreshing to say the least. Lastly, I have to highlight the costume designs because they really go all in for the costumes to make the characters as distinctive and stand out as ever.

The characters themselves is easily the show’s best strength. Each character is elegantly designed and all of them have their own unique mannerism, assisted greatly by the use of puppetry, something that ordinary anime usually lack. My favorite characters in that vein is the demon lady Xing Hai, as whenever she talks, it feels like she’s singing and whenever she walks it feels just like she’s dancing. Like Mayoiga, those characters all have interesting traits and utterly over the top but here in this show they can actually get loose and carry the story. Like for example, the show spends half an episode for Sha Wu Sheng the Roaring Killer Phoenix challenging Mie Tian Hai (and then loose despite knowing it all), simply because these characteristics are unmistakably Sha Wu Sheng. In Thunderbolt Fantasy, those characters embrace their roles to the bitter end. As a main character, Shang Bu Huan is like our blank-state who unfamiliar to this world (like ourselves) and he’s being the most sensible person in this whole madness. I particular love his stunning reactions every time something absurd happens. Moreover, he bounces off other characters very well, creating a rather great chemistry between them and the dialogues maintain the campy sense that so entertaining to watch. There are pure gold moments throughout the series like when Shang Bu Huan talks to each member of the group to find their real motives, or simple quick remarks like “the temple smells offensive” or even “it’s already a sitting fight before the sword fight” because of course they’re too awesome to fight it normal way. Like a puppetry show, these characters are just there to perform their larger-than-life roles, but they perform it so well that I have a very good time following them.

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But this show is not only about characters having fun, there is a theme for the show if you want to look deeper. The notion of the sword is both mentioned various times throughout the series and the show twists that notion around quite wonderfully. In this world, swords represent power of destruction. Mie Ting Hai seeks out the most famous sword because he believes his technique deserved the best. The demon Yao Tu Li was put to sleep for 200 years because of the sword. The characters kill off hundreds of people through their swords… As long as you are good at swords, you have the ultimate power in this world. But not for our two mains Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao. In fact, the series showcases two extreme spectrums from Shang Bu Huan that go directly against with the above notion. The “sword’ that Shang Bu Huan always carries around is just a piece of wood painted silver, because he doesn’t want to cause more deadly troubles with the swords, but when in needed, he could pull out 36 legendary swords (that he said he was about to expose them, sly guy!) to send the monster to the black hole (quite literally!), Gui Niao also hates using swords as a mean of killing. The legendary sword that everyone seek in the end was destroyed meaninglessly.

Thunderbolt Fantasy is the most entertaining series you will encounter this year. Plain and simple. Urobuchi writing is excellent in this show, both leaving enough room for the group to act, and maintaining the plot that both is fast and unpredictable, but always makes sense and a lot of fun. It appears that we will have an entirely new cast on the second season, plus our mains Shang Bu Huan and Gui Niao and if that’s the case then I’m totally on board. After all, Shang Bu Huan’s only weakness is his trust towards people and Gui Niao happens to be the master of manipulation; so I’m eager to see how our MC get himself dragged into Gui Niao’s little scheme next time. Like this first season already demonstrated, the world is simply too small for the two of them.

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Top Pick

Animation - Anime, Anime Review

Flying witch (Spring 2016) Anime

Flying witch poster

Original Name: flying witch

Studio: J.C.Staff

Season: Spring 2016

Episodes: 12

MAL Link: https://myanimelist.net/anime/31376/Flying_Witch


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(Note: Originally published over psgels.net, with an updated score)

For me, the reasons why most slice-of-life anime shows don’t work well is not because there’s nothing happen, but more because the cast isn’t interesting enough or the show tends to repeat the things that we already know. I’m happy to say that this is not the case for Flying witch. Flying witch has all the elements good slice-of-life shows have and moreover it presents itself as one of the finest in the genre in years. The slow and deliberate pacing and the strong sense of atmosphere maybe the whole reason why people keep coming back to watch it.

Story-wise, the show focuses on two main themes: the first theme is how Makoto the witch learns and lives her rural country lives. There are segments that as mundane as possible: Makoto learns to plant, the cast cooks hamburger, they go for herb-picking or thinning the apple trees. But the details they put in both show how they really care about the process, and help maintaining the relaxing atmosphere till the end. In Flying witch world, time will pass and people may get old, but growing plant, eating hot cakes and wandering around might be the best ways to spend your day. The second theme is to produce a mix of magical realism in this everyday life. By introducing new characters: The Harbinger, another witch, the witchcraft, the witch café or at the end the flying whale and Earthfish, the show showcases a sense of wonder, a touch of magic that feels almost like, well, actual magic. It helps that the introduced characters are endearing and have a very easy chemistry, they are both display on how each of us is different and have different purpose from each other, but ultimately we are all part of mother nature.

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Aside from the atmosphere, the cast is easily one of the highlights of the show. Rarely in anime that I see a cast who feel really natural and thus, true to life like our friends around us. Chinatsu, for example, acts exactly like how 12-year-old girl would act. Her ever curiosity, her excited over whenever she encounters new things, are so natural and exactly herself. Chito the cat acts like any normal cat would, and then some. Indeed, one of the greatest strength of the show is how everyone in the cast are so consistent, yet each episode we could learn something new about them. Like we only learn that Nao is so clueless in kitchen on the last half of the show, or until the second encounter that we learn Anzu is really knowledgeable about history. Each of the cast also fits in the shows perfectly and it has been so long that I found myself enjoying so many characters like this one. Moreover, the chemistry between the cast is what makes this show shines so much. I always enjoy little moments shared between some of their cast: like back-and-forth conversations between Chinatsu and Inukai, or Nao and Chito the cat, or Anzu and Kenny the white cat. The chemistry between the siblings: from Kei and Chinatsu, to Makoto and Akame is also well-spot, they’re siblings and their personalities are so different, but they understand each other and I can feel the warm feeling they have for each other. All these little moments help build up the chemistry and make the show so rewarding to watch over and over again.

But the show not only shine for its laid back atmosphere, Flying witch is also known for its understated details. It furthers showcase how the staffs put so much effort to this show so that it feels almost effortless. Those little details that we can easily miss the first time we watched, like Makoto put her broom in “vehicle parking” section in one episode, or how the hamster shakes himself uncontrollably every time he finds himself near Chito the cat. Those details could indeed be very rewarding on repeated viewing. While the show is much more an atmospheric spectrum than comedy side, this show also has very solid understated comedy and always has a very good sense of putting a final punch. The quick remark from Chinatsu about her Mom for example “I heard that old people aren’t easily surprised” is both very whimsical and modest. The punch where Akame giving Chinatsu and Makoto her presents had to be one of my favorite part of the show.

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Indeed, because of its relax tempo and slow pacing, it is destined for a lazy Sunday afternoon watch (which was exactly the time it’s available here in Australia), that’s feel true as in many of the episodes -for some characters – all they do is taking a nap. Ultimately, Flying witch is a celebration of the joy of everyday life, with a little touch of magic to create a sense of wonder that life and nature could bring to us.

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