I’ve been watching Crest of the Stars, a series from 1999 — 22 years old. Back then, the infrastructure for fansubs was a lot less developed than now (bittorrent was only invented in 2001), and so you had to really hunt for stuff. I never got around to collecting and watching the series.
It’s kinda weird to watch such an older series. The aspect ratio is 4:3, because it was before the rise of the widescreen televisions, Of course there was no HD anyway — so watching the series on my large TV gives the whole thing a ‘soft focus’ because the pixels just aren’t there and the TV gives its best effort.
And the storytelling is so much slower than we are used to these days. Thirty second pans, long silences in dialogues, etcetera. Heck, it even takes a full episode before the two main characters even meet each other!
In the series, mankind has settled all across space. Half have been conquered by the Abh Humankind Empire. The Abh are an offshoot of humanity — basically a group of bioroids who were optimised for space exploration who overthrew their masters and decided that the best way to ensure peace was to make sure nobody but them could own spaceships. They organised themselves along feudal lines.
The two main characters are Lafiel, an Abh princess, and Jinto, a Terran whose father surrendered their planet in exchange for becoming Abh nobility. Jinto is, therefore, a Count — but he has never seen an Abh before when the series starts when he ships out to attend an Abh military academy. Lafiel is a pilot trainee aboard the patrol vessel that will bring Jinto to his destination, but the two of them get caught up in the start of a war between the Abh empire and a coalition of the other human blocs.
I found this review very interesting, because it calls out the colonialist attitudes of the series. The reviewer has a point, but also misses several, I think. There are some important differences: for instance, the Abh do not come down to the planets they conquer (when Jinto and Lafiel crash-land, it is actually Lafiel’s first time on a planet!), and they do not seem to be overly concerned with the day-to-day dealing of the planets they hold. Most terrans never see an Abh in their entire life, which does not suggest to me that the Abh had a large part to play in planetary politics. I also don’t see evidence of their conquests being motivated by a desire to extract a specific resource — the mere fact that a planet is inhabited by humans means that they want to conquer it, not because there’s oil or something that they need.
And while the Abh describe themselves as noble, most of the Abh that are presented in the series act like little children, not equipped to deal with any kind of disagreement or setback. When they are stranded, Lafiel is absolutely helpless without Jinto. The commander of the attack fleet is stubborn and insults his underlings, the commander of the patrol fleet is impulsive and reckless. None are particularly noble in their pursuits — they just do what is expected of them.
There are absolutely colonialist themes in the series, but I don’t think it’s colonialist propaganda like the review states. Rather, it emphasizes how the Abh are detached from the every-day life of their subjects, and how that detachment makes them incapable of empathy with their terran subjects.
We’ve finished watching Ore Monogatari!! (which translates to ‘My story!!’). It’s a high school romance. The main characters are the gentle giant Takeo and the petite (and unfortunately, squeaky-voiced) Yamato, and their romance. The oddly matched pair obviously love each other, and that’s that.
And most high school romances then start messing with the relationship: one or both lovers are manipulated by jealous others, misunderstandings grow into real problems, family interferes, or whatever. It’s like a relationship shouldn’t work out because you need drama to keep your audience engaged, right? But OreMono proves that you do not need to mess with the couple to create an engaging series. Whatever happens, the feelings these two have for each other are genuine and unshakeable, and nothing that happens can ever shake that. Most of the people close to the couple are very supportive, maybe because it’s so obvious the two really love each other.
That doesn’t mean the series is boring — each and every of the 25 episodes is interesting and funny! But every plot gets resolved in at most two episodes, which means it’s always fresh. And every episode had us laughing by some funny situation as well.
If you like the genre, then you will really like it.
There’s this trope in recent anime that irks me. It is what I call the “hypercompetent”: a person (almost always a teenage boy) who is super-powerful or super-competent, but that everybody looks down on for whatever reason. A good example is Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei: this guy is really a super-powerful magician, but since his magic is not of a certain type or line, he tests really crappy in the magic school system. So he’s ranked last in everything, and so everybody looks down on him. Of course, he doesn’t care, because when the shit hits the fan, it is him who has the capabilities to save the day.
We also recently watched Tenkyou no Alderamin, where this lazy guy who has been scientifically trained, turns out to be a better tactician that all the others in his garrison army. (Though with the stupid decisions his superiors make, that’s setting the bar quite low…)
It is, of course, nothing more than self-insertion wish fulfillment of the most juvenile kind. Imagine you’re a Japanese teenager who doesn’t really fit in. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was something that you were the best at — better than all the others who look down on you? Wouldn’t that be neat? That would teach them!
So yes, all of those series are super boring, because there is literally nothing you can throw at the main character that they could not solve. Most of the time, they don’t even need to break a sweat — they are just that good. Bo-ring.
So imagine our (pleasant) surprise when we watched Sakamoto desu-ga?, which features the coolest, most stylish high schooler ever, the eponymous Sakamoto. He can do everything, and he does everything well, even though the effects are not as you’d think at first.
And yet, this series is super funny and deep. Because Sakamoto has something that the other main characters do not have. He has humility and empathy. He is like a zen master: always taking things at face value and always ready to help. Of course, those that try to manipulate him for their own ends, end up being played by their own foolishness. And those who seek to take him down because of their own fragile ego, end up being his fans. And this is all something that sort of “just happens” because Sakamoto never has a plan — he has no ego, and takes things as they come.
That is quite refreshing, and the series is also super funny. I recommend “Sakamoto desu-ga?”, while not recommending the other series mentioned here.
Fune wo Amu: 11×25 minutes about creating a (Japanese) dictionary. Who could have thought that this would turn into such a fascinating story? Halfway there’s a jump in time 13 years forward, and all the characters have been subtly aged — really well done. Maaya Sakamoto in a supporting role as Kaguya is the cherry on top.
We gave it a 9.
We’ve finished watching Hai to Sensou no Grimgar. The basic theme is, once again, about people being pulled into a game world. But this time, there are some very interesting twists added. For one, they do not remember their ‘old’ lives. For second, while they learn skills and spells, and there is a ‘cool-down’ period etcetera, the combat is really, really gritty.
New arrivals in the world are given 10 silver, and they are instructed to become Trainees in the Volunteer Army. The country is at war, but here, at the frontier, people are needed to fight against the might of the No Life King and his monstrous minions. The Volunteer Army keeps the goblins and all in check, so that the people in the city may live in peace — since there are no soldiers of the ‘official’ army to spare. But everything costs money — even getting an official induction in the Volunteer Army costs money! If you want to eat or sleep, you need money. And the only way to get money, is to kill the goblins and kobols and loot their corpses. But there are start-up costs, such as getting training to become a certain class, armour and weapons, etcetera.
The main characters are a bunch of people who form a party after all the strong people have banded together. They are weak and always strapped for cash: in the beginning the whole party isn’t even strong enough to take down a single goblin! I really like how they depict a pitched and desperate battle with a single goblin: they goblin doesn’t want to die either!
But the focus is really on what the characters are thinking, how they are coping and how they interact with each other — which I really like. The designs are very nice, and especially the background, which have a water-colour look. There’s plenty of nice music to set the mood in the series, especially in the earlier episodes.
There’s not much that’s wrong with this series. We really liked it, and even though it has a theme that’s been done to death, the twists make it really fresh and interesting. I would watch a second season of this for sure.
We’ve finished watching Hello!! Kin-iro Mosaic. It is the second season of the series, and it just sort of continues without any plot twists. It’s just goes… on and on without any real character development. The girls have aged one year, but that is not apparent from how the act… If you liked the first series and you are fine with some eternal status quo, then it’s fine I guess. We were getting bored pretty quickly.
We’ve finished watching GATE. The series starts when a dimensional gate opens on the Ginza and a fantasy army, complete with dragonriders and orc contigents, streams out and starts attacking the shopping public. Lt. Itami, an otaku who was just on his way to the summer Comiket, coordinates the protection of the civilians and gets recognised for this. So when an expedition force of the Self Defense Force enters through the gate to establish a base there (in what has become a ‘special administrative region of Japan’), he is sent along and given command over a scouting team.
After some initial battles (hint: knights in armour are no match for tanks) things quiet down a bit and the team gets to do some scouting and makes (friendly) contact with some civilians from the region. Through various adventures, they gain hangers-on in the form of an elf, a priestess of the god of death and a sorcerer apprentice — things that push Itami’s otaku buttons quite a bit… He gets to protect the civilians while demonstrating to the forces of the empire that it’s best to be friends with the Japanese army!
It’s an interesting mix of harem anime and a rather realistic depiction of what would happen if a modern military expedition would be met with swords. One part is kinda… cutesy, the other part is kinda bloody, which makes for a weird combination. But for me, Lt. Itami makes the series: he’s a smart slacker with enough personality to make people work with him. I liked it a lot, though I could have done with depictions of battle that were a little less… gory.
The series ends right in the run-up to another plot, but I’m guessing the second series, which will start next season (this January), will pick right up.
We’ve finished watching Classroom Crisis. It’s about an advanced engineering class that is part of the company that invented a solar wind interplanetary drive, ushering in a new era of solar system exploration (and exploitation). The class combines specialists in various disciplines to create new spaceships to compete in a yearly race. This mirrors how the company was created: two friends built the first version of the engine for the school science fair. However, now the department is to be shut down, and the youngest son of one of the remaining founding family is sent to downsize the department since it only costs money!
And that sets off a rather convoluted story of corporate procedures, corporate (and political!) infighting and literal backstabbing. It’s almost as if the class was an afterthought, and it mostly is, except when they take a class trip to the beach and prepare for the school festival. Still, it’s an interesting series with plenty of plot twists to keep things really interesting right up to the end.
I liked it. There’s a hint as to a sequel, but I’m not sure I’d be up for more of this, though. The story is finished, and while there are some unresolved plotlines, I don’t think this particular series would benefit from continuing.
I have noticed a trend (or trope) in the depiction of wealthy families though: they seem to get away with everything, including murder, and they have their fingers in just about every pie. This is another one of those series where the conflict within a family spills over into corporate and political manoevering. I can believe that old and influential families exist in Japan and that they are highly valued members of economic and political society, but I find it hard to believe they would actually be above the law.
It would have been cool if the scheming would have to be within legal confines, because that would have made it much more subtle. Just killing the heir’s minders in order to abduct him is kinda lazy storytelling.
We’ve finished watching Non Non Biyori Repeat, the second season of the Non Non Biyori series. Interesting thing about the series is that it is not a continuation, but it tells some stories that are occurring in parallel with the original series. Sometimes the characters refer to something that happened in the first series, which is kind of cool.
The contents of the series hasn’t really changed: it’s about four girls of different ages who live in a very, very rural town. The series itself is also rather laid back: the shots are long, which reinforces the small-town feel.
It’s funny and relaxing, which is a golden combination in my book.
We’ve finished watching Himouto! Umaruchan.
Main character is Umaru, who has it all: she is beautiful, gets good grades and is athletic. But at home, she is a total slob who does nothing but play games and read manga, while eating snacks and drinking cola. This is all much to the despair of her older brother who frequently gets manipulated by Umaru to do her bidding — otherwise she throws a tantrum in public, and when a cute girl is crying, she is always right…
This disconnect between Umaru at home and outside is the biggest source of comedy, but of course it starts to wear thin after a few episodes. So by and by, more characters are introduced — some know Umaru as she is at home, others only know her ‘public’ face, thereby expanding the situations wherein Umaru’s secret could potentially be exposed.
You know, the usual pattern for comedies that have a not-so-strong premise. It’s twelve episodes, and after that you’re kinda done with it too.