Anime Review: Dragon’s Dogma (2020)

TL;DR – When Ethan’s wife is killed by a dragon, he sets off on a quest to slay the creature. But will he turn into a monster himself in the process?

Review (warning: spoilers)

Dragon’s Dogma is based on the popular RPG video game by Capcom. I have never played the game, but I have seen mixed reviews on the anime by those who are die hard fans of the game.

Luckily for me, I watched this series without any preconceived ideas. The story is about Ethan, a devoted husband and father-to-be to his wife, Olivia who is heavily pregnant. The medieval world they live in is filled with magic and monsters. And when one day, their town is attacked by a dragon, Ethan is unable to save his wife from being turned to ashes by the dragon’s fire. The dragon then rips Ethan’s heart out and swallows it.

Ethan’s death, however, is prevented by Hannah. Hannah is a “pawn”, which from what I can gather is a magic endowed being that looks human but does not know anything about humans. She teleport to Ethan’s location, heals him with magic, and tells him that she is his protector. She doesn’t need to eat, and initially doesn’t understand why humans act the way they do. She uses a magic bow and can fire arrows of light that can cause immense damage.

Her origins and the reasons for giving her services to Ethan are not explained, which perhaps is derived in more detail in the video game but not the anime.

Also not explained until the last episode is why the dragon attacked the town. And why he takes Ethan’s heart.

Ethan awakens, accepts Hannah’s help and is now on a quest for revenge to slay the dragon and retrieve his heart.

There are seven episodes in season one, and each episode is titled after one of the seven deadly sins: wrath, gluttony, envy, sloth, greed, lust and pride.

In each episode, Ethan and Hannah encounter various other characters who fall prey to one of the seven sins. And as each episode progresses, we see Ethan slowly lose his humanity even though he seeks to help those in need. Conversely Hannah slowly begins to understand the strengths and sacrifices humans are willing to take.

By the final episode, it becomes clear that Ethan has transformed from noble, honour bound man seeking to slay the dragon to prevent it from killing more humans to a man filled with anger, pride and the desire for revenge.

The twist, which isn’t really a twist if you have been paying attention is that even though Ethan successfully slays the dragon in the final episode, it is revealed that the dragon was once human also. And it purposely stole Ethan’s heart and wants to be slain so he can be freed from the curse of being a dragon through death. And by being slain, Ethan then transforms into the next dragon.

There is a genuine moment of uncertainty where Ethan tells Hannah to kill him. And had this happened when Hannah was still devoid of human emotion then she might have taken Ethan’s life, but instead she can’t bring herself to do it. Once transformed, Ethan the dragon makes one final request of Hannah to protect the humans, which could infer that things have come full circle and her purpose has always been to protect humans.

Which now brings me to the animation. The story is solid if a little predictable. But the animation is not typical anime as it uses extensively CGI 3D models with mixed success. The models especially of the dragon do not mesh well with the backgrounds, and prevents an immersive feel.

Today’s level of animation means we are spoilt for choice and had Dragon’s Dogma been released in the 1990s or early 2000s, it likely would have been considered ground breaking in that department.

Some episodes are done better than others. The animation of the griffon and hydra are superior to the dragon itself. The fight scenes are also impressive, yet normal actions like walking by the characters look robotic. Mixed bag in the end.

And the second last episode (titled Lust) is by far the weakest as well as being the shortest episode. Others such as episode 2 (Envy) and episode 5 (Greed) are better because they attempt a modicum of depth and complexity.

But for all it’s shortcomings, I still found the series enjoyable. You get used the CGI and the fact the ending is as dark as it is shows the creators weren’t going to squirm away from it.

8.5 out of 10

Anime Review: After The Rain (2018)

TL;DR – Life can be a struggle no matter what your age but inspiration and revelation always comes from the heart.

Review (warning: spoilers)

After The Rain (aka Koi wa Ameagari no You ni) is an anime that explores the need for purpose in life, and how one can sail listlessly without it. It seeks to show that no matter what our age, whether it be teenage or adult years, we can all struggle for direction.

Akira Tachibana is an attractive 17-year old high school student. Her passion in life was athletics, and she was considered the ace of her sprint track team until one day she suffered a serious injury to her leg and subsequently gave up on running.

Masami Kondou is a 45-year old manager of the Garden Cafe. A kind man and good host, he is often perceived as too timid by his employees. Divorced with a young son, Masami’s passion lies in literature. He used to write novels in college with a friend, who went on to be an accomplished author while Masami ended up being a restaurant manager.

When Akira starts working at the Garden Cafe, she develops a crush on Masami. And though Akira wants to confess her feelings, the anime never crosses the line nor fully examines the appropriateness of such an attraction between two people with such a large age gap.

Instead, we discover that the pair are somewhat like kindred spirits even though they are in different stages of their lives. The supporting cast of characters bring their own insecurities and idiosyncrasies to the table, showing that we are all searching for meaning.

The light humour is mixed with the subtle examination of some serious themes including depression, loss and emptiness that comes from vanished hope. Rain is a motif throughout and symbolises many of the emotions that run inside the characters when on the outside they can appear stoic.

Don’t expect this to be a comedy-fest or an anime driven by action. This is a slow burn that is thought provoking and touching when looked at in the right light. And that ends up being the central message of the series.

There will always be the promise of sunshine after the rain.

7.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Bubble (2022)

TL;DR – Inspired by the story of The Little Mermaid, Bubble tells the story of a boy named Hibiki who lives in a flooded and abandoned Tokyo and meets a mermaid. But wait, viewers should be warned this is not some traditional fairy tale but instead meshes it with sci-fi elements and a potential apocalypse surrounding the city. Crazy premise? Yes.

Review (warning: spoilers)

A strange phenomenon has occurred that causes Tokyo to be flooded and sink into the ocean while also being enveloped in a bubble where gravity has gone funky. The phenomenon is literally an invasion of trillions of bubbles that fall from outer space. Buildings and bridges have collapsed, there are dangerous energy whirlpools, and floating (smaller) bubbles permeate the atmosphere.

Tokyo becomes a no-go zone. But some teenagers, who have lost their families in the bubble disaster, have chosen to stay along with a small number of scientists who seek to unravel the mystery of the bubbles.

From the rubble, a sport called ‘Tokyo Battlekour’ has arisen that involves two teams competing in parkour to reach a flag. Teams bet daily necessities for survival. The decimated city of Tokyo has become the perfect playground obstacle course, and the film opens to a team called Blue Blaze (BB) competing against another team to capture the flag. We are introduced to Hibiki, the ace of BB, whose parkour style and athletic ability allows him to traverse the floating bubbles in a way other athletes cannot. He’s not much of a team player though as he gets to the flag first, winning the round, then disappearing leaving his teammates to celebrate without him.

The story focuses primarily on Hibiki, who was present at Tokyo Tower when the bubble phenomenon hit. The tower has now split in two, its upper half defying gravity and floating above a cosmic cloud of red bubbles from which Hibiki periodically hears a female voice singing.

In an attempt to find the source of the voice, Hibiki uses parkour skills to climb the tower only to be prevented by the cosmic cloud and thrown back into the ocean. He almost drowns but is saved by a blue bubble, which combines with the bubbles of his final breath to form a human girl (or mermaid as viewed by Hibiki before he falls unconscious). The girl joins the BB family, and they give her the name Uta.

For those of you who have read “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen, Bubbles draws inspiration from this material and even goes so far as to have one scene where one of the scientists reads to Uta the same fairy tale. Uta doesn’t know how to be human but slowly learns to speak and eat. She has a natural ability for parkour, likely attributed to her bubble form, and she falls in love with Hibiki who she sees as her prince. And just like “The Little Mermaid”, Uta’s family (i.e., the cosmic cloud surrounding Tokyo Tower) is none to pleased and wants her to abandon the human world and return home.

An inciting incident occurs when one of the scientists of the BB family is kidnapped by a rival parkour team known as The Morticians and used as part of the prize for whoever captures the flag. The BB team race against the Morticians and succeed to get to the flag first, but in the process Hibiki grabs Uta’s hand and we see it starts to turn to foam. This reflects the tragic ending in the fairy tale where the mermaid transforms to foam when she returns to the sea.

After the Tokyo Battlekour, Hibiki confronts Uta and gives her a seashell pendant. There he confesses his feelings to her, which causes the cosmic cloud to be none too happy and commences a repeat of the bubble phenomenon seeking to sink the rest of Tokyo into the ocean.

The climax involves Uta willing to sacrifice herself, return to the cosmic cloud and preventing any further devastation. Of course, Hibiki and the rest of the BB team look to save her. And although Hibiki manages to reach her, escaping with her in his arms, the rest of Uta slowly begins to turn to foam.

Uta ultimately prevents the cosmic cloud from destroying Tokyo, and the giant bubble enveloping the city evaporates. In the aftermath, Hibiki has to watch as Uta turns completely to foam but not before she thanks him for giving her the chance to be human. To have a human heart that can feel love and loss. When she disappears, all that is left behind is the seashell pendant he gave her.

The ending sees the city commence rebuilding. Tokyo Battlekour lives on and Hibiki and company continue compete in matches. Blue bubble remnants still float around the city and the song that Uta sang can be heard by Hibiki indicating that her spirit lives on.

Overall, the story is rather abstract and the invasion of bubbles is never explained. My view is the bubbles are sentient aliens, but why they came to earth is unknown. Not that it needs to be explained because it is more about what it means to be human and to experience feelings, which is represented by the bubble-turned-Uta character.

In a way, she ends up being more human because Hibiki spends most of the movie as a stoic character who doesn’t seem to want to spend any time with anyone. We later discover that as a child, Hibiki suffered from hyperacusis; a type of auditory hypersensitivity meaning ordinary sounds are too loud and cause discomfort and pain. Living in a big city like Tokyo meant that a trip outside would be overwhelming. His mother tried to find a cure for him but failed, and Hibiki interpreted these events as meaning that he had failed his mother. He now wears headphone earmuffs to dampen outside noise. When Tokyo was abandoned and encased in a giant bubble, it became the perfect place for him as all that noise disappeared.

The fact that Uta teaches him about the good things being human and to accept that painful things will also happen in life is the transformation that Hibiki undergoes by film’s end.

The animation from Wit Studios (who also brought us other great anime like “Attack on Titan” and “The Great Pretender”) is nothing short of astounding. The parkour action scenes are thrilling and the character animation (especially close-ups of their eyes) are exquisite. The colour is vibrant and even though the idea of bubbles invading a city is absurd, there is no denying the animation is beautiful.

In the end, you need to dig deep to see the meaning behind the story, which is a shame because you really want to feel the meaning and not have to try to decipher it all afterwards.

Bubble is a visual testimony to the greatness of animation in anime even if the plot is somewhat weak.

7.5 out of 10

Anime Review: From Up On Poppy Hill (2011)

TL;DR – the story of a post-war Japan focusing on Umi and Shun, two teenagers looking to understand their pasts while also trying to look forward to their future.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kokuriko-zaka Kara (aka From Up On Poppy Hill) is an atmospheric tale animated with love by Studio Ghibli, scripted by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, and directed by Goro Miyazaki.

The film opens to a new day dawning on Poppy Hill overlooking a seaside port, and we watch high-school girl, Umi Matsuzaki, awaken and commence her morning routine. The sense this is a bygone time in Japan is confirmed as we watch her work in the kitchen preparing breakfast for her siblings and grandmother. The rice cooker, gas stove, kitchen layout, and how Umi goes about washing clothes, all evokes a time period before the wonders of computers and appliances became common place. Among her duties, she also walks outside to the front of their boarding home, Coquelicot Manor, to raise signal flags every day.

My kids would still be asleep by the time Umi has finished her morning chores, demonstrating a maturity beyond her years. She then gets dressed to go to school. When she arrives, a friend in class shows her a newspaper article (yes, this is definitely an era before smart phones and internet) of a poem that talks about a girl who raises flags every morning to the boats that pass by. Umi is surprised and a little embarrassed by the attention, all the more so because the poem asks why she sends her thoughts up to the sky.

At lunch time, the boys at the school unfurl banners around an old house known as the ‘Latin Quarter’ that is part of the school and used for club activities. The Latin Quarter is scheduled for demolition, and certain students are protesting. Thus, we meet Shun Kazama , who performs a stunt by jumping off the old house into a small pool while his classmates take photographs. Shun works on the high school newspaper, is attempting to prevent the demolition, and seeks to build awareness that people shouldn’t solely focus on the future and forget the past.

This is something that Umi can relate to. Her father was a sailor, the one responsible for teaching her how to use signal flags, and when she was younger, she raised these flags to help guide her father home. However, during the Korean war, his father’s ship sank after hitting an underwater mine, but Umi has continued to raise the flags ever since. The importance of holding onto and honouring his memory lies within her.

Umi suspects that Shun is the one who wrote the poem, but initially is unable to find a moment to ask him. Instead, she ends up being enlisted to help the newspaper to help transcribe articles for print. Through these interactions, a growing attraction builds between Umi and Shun.

The scene where Umi returns home late to prepare dinner and discovers she is missing pork for the curry she wants to make results in Shun giving her a lift on his bicycle down to the bottom of Poppy Hill where the markets are. It’s a lovely scene in a film that has all the trademarks of the Ghibli detail.

From these opening events, I thought the story would be straight forward. The club students rally together to try and save the Latin Quarter and, in the process, Umi and Shun would fall in love. And indeed, when Umi suggests that they clean up the old building to demonstrate to the principal it is worth keeping and still holds cultural and historical significance, the scenes of the student body undertaking the Latin Quarter makeover is spectacular and a feast for the eyes.

The soundtrack also aids in the feel of the film as the songs and music reminded me of that era; a time when life was, in a sense, simpler.

However, an unexpected twist manifests itself when Umi shows an old photograph of his father. Shun looks at the photo and clearly he knows something that Umi doesn’t. The next day, Shun completely ignores Umi, much to her confusion.

Eventually the change in Shun’s demeanour is explained. Shun confronts his father, Akio Kazama, with the assertion that Umi’s father, Yuuichirou, is actually his biological father, which would make Akio his adoptive father.

Akio Kazama explains that shortly after the end of World War II, he and his wife lost their newborn child. Yuuichirou turned up at their doorstep with baby Shun and the Kazamas adopted him.

So, now it appears that Shun and Umi are actually brother and sister, which would make all previous attraction very icky indeed. When Umi is presented with this revelation, it confuses her but Shun says they must find a way to only be friends.

You can’t help but feel for Umi. She’s caring, a hard worker, and has held the pieces of her heart together as best she can since her father’s death. Just when you think she might open her heart again, it gets dashed against the rocks. Much to her credit, she perseveres and seeks to be Shun’s friend even with these tumult of feelings playing around in the background.

But wait, it gets more complicated. When Umi’s mother, Ryouko, returns from America, and Umi asks her about Shun, she reveals that Shun is actually the son of another man, Hiroshi Tachibana. Hiroshi and Yuuichirou were best friends. Hiroshi died in an accident aboard a repatriation ship, his wife died in chidlbirth, and all of Shun’s other relatives perished when Nagasaki was hit by the nuclear bomb. Yuuichirou did not want to give Shun up to an orphanage, so he gave him to the Kazamas.

I was relieved at this outcome because prior to Ryouko’s explanation, I was thinking that Yuuichirou wasn’t the ideal father that Umi made him out to be. What father gives away their newborn son to another couple? Turns out Yuuichirou wasn’t the biological father, which means Umi and Shun aren’t siblings.

The Latin Quarter ends up being a side story and thankfully is saved from demolition. It is a lovely sequence when Tokumaru, the school board’s chairman, is convinced to visit the renovated building and is impressed by what the students have done. He chooses to build elsewhere to preserve the Latin Quarter, and the students celebrate.

When Umi and Shun get called away to meet a captain of a ship who was friends with both Yuuichirou and Hiroshi, he confirms what Ryouko said. Though we don’t see Umi and Shun fall in love, we can safely assume they decide to take the next step knowing that they are not at all blood related.

Beautifully animated, and with a surprisingly more complex plot than I anticipated, From Up On Poppy Hill is a moving story capturing a post-war Japan and the impacts World War II had on the generations that followed.

8.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (2014)

TL;DR – Nozaki is a manga writer/artist who specialises in romance manga. He bases his material from observing his fellow students around him. Even though his monthly publication is a hit, he actually has no experience in dating or how to have a relationship.

Review (warning: spoilers)

In order to appreciate Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, you will need to understand the show’s silly title, which translates to “Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun”. The translation itself doesn’t provide much light, and you could be forgiven for thinking this is a harem anime based on the English-translated title.

In truth, the show is about a high-school manga artist and writer, Nozaki Umetarou, who works on a monthly shoujo manga series. For those unfamiliar with Japanese culture, shoujo manga are stories aimed at the teenage girl market and focuses extensively on romance and relationships.

But this is not a shoujo anime, rather this is a comedy about a bunch of characters that surround Nozaki from which he obtains inspiration from.

The show begins with a high-school girl named Sakura Chiyo, who is nervously trying to build up enough courage to ask Nozaki out because she has a crush on him. When she confronts him alone after class, she can barely get a word out without stuttering. Nozaki misinterprets her actions and thinks Sakura is after his autograph, so he gives one much to her confusion.

Through this initial mishap, Sakura learns that Nozaki is the creator and artist behind one of the most popular shoujo manga currently being published. And as the series unfolds, it is clear that what inspires a shoujo manga artist is not what you expect.

The comedy is generated from the colourful and eccentric characters that interact with Nozaki and Sakura throughout. And the humour is generally due to the reactions Sakura has when finding out what Nozaki and fellow students are really like.

For example:

  • Nozaki is actually clueless. For a guy behind one of the most popular romantic manga, he has little to no idea of how relationships work. He obtains his ideas and material from observing those he interacts around him.
  • Mikoto Mikoshiba is one of Nozaki’s assistants and also goes to the same high school. Mikoto attracts the eyes of many of the girls and shamelessly flirts with them, only to regret his actions afterwards and feels internally awkward. Mikoto is the primary inspiration for Nozaki’s leading female character.
  • Yuu Kashima is a popular drama student. Even though she is female, she’s incredibly handsome and has many female admirers. Not the brightest spark in the school but very athletic, Kashima is like a female jock. Her interactions with Hori Masayuki (president of the drama club) are very funny, as she is often hunted down by Hori for slacking off.

One can view this series in one of two ways. Either the whole show is ridiculous and the characters so unbelievable that you’ll make a solid pass, or you can accept the silliness and enjoy the absurdity.

One could view Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun with an astute eye and point out the fact that shoujo manga itself is romantic fantasy, and the series seeks to reveal to Sakura that relationships in the real world do not operate like that. However, I don’t know if it ever intended to be that clever. The supporting cast are all caricatures in a sense, exaggerating personality traits as a means to inspire Nozaki in his own fantastical (and often ridiculous) story-telling for his manga.

The animation is clean and appealing, and all the characters are quirky and amusing in their own way except… Nozaki.

Yes, the title character lacks any discernible appeal. While it is arguable that Sakura shares the screen as much as Nozaki, for a male lead, Nozaki is incredibly bland. His obsession with getting his manga published and complete disinterest in anything else makes his stoic demeanour a complete bore.

Yes, he’s tall and handsome, but his personality is so dull that my opinion on Sakura diminishes because I have no idea why she would put up with him. Even his acts of kindness towards her are to gain further material for his manga in some way. The guy is an imbecile and this is meant to be funny.

As a result, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun never goes beyond being a comedy and never delves deeper to reveal what relationships are really about (and contrasting it against shoujo stories). Poor, suffering Sakura grabs your sympathy at first, but by the end you just want to tell her to find another guy that will treat her right.

5 out of 10

Anime Review: Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

TL;DR – When three homeless citizens of Tokyo discover an abandoned baby in a back alley, a chain reaction of events is triggered revealing their lives and regrets. And quite possibly a path to redemption.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Like many of the largest cities in the world, Tokyo is a place where those that wish to disappear can do so with barely anyone batting an eyelid. And if you’re the homeless then you end up invisible and forgotten trying to survive on the streets.

Stories about the homeless are generally sombre affairs, so I was somewhat hesitant to pick up Tokyo Godfathers. If you ever watched Grave of the Fireflies, then you will understand what I mean. But I have to say that Satoshi Kon’s film is not only full of surprises, but it also conveys a sense of hope that is not mired in saccharine ideas of what constitutes a ‘happy family’.

To point, there is no such thing as a ‘happy family’. Families are messy, relationships can be filled with emotional struggles that can result in drastic (and often tragic) choices. But families can also be filled with a sense of love, understanding and forgiveness that comes about through genuine connection (and often struggle).

Such is the story in Tokyo Godfathers which introduces us to Gin (an alcoholic), Hana (a transgender woman), and Miyuki (a runaway teenage girl). Their humanity, flaws, idiosyncrasies, and histories of how they ended up living on the streets of Tokyo are slowly brought to light for the viewer as the film progresses.

Set on Christmas Eve, our trio are rummaging through garbage only to discover an abandoned baby that they name Kiyoko. The elements of dark humour, mainly through the banter and interactions of our trio, will draw you in as we watch them fumble and debate what to do with baby Kiyoko. The sensible decision is to deliver the baby to the police, but instead Hana insists on keeping the newborn and finding her parents.

The story moves along through a series of coincidences that one can only construe as fated and results in many revelations about our trio’s past.

We learn that Miyuki ran away because her policeman father was overbearing, and when her cat went missing, she believed it was her father that got rid of it. This resulted in a violent altercation where Miyuki stabbed him and then ran away. She now feels she can never return home.

Hana used to work at a club as a singer and became violent towards a drunken patron when he criticised how awful her singing was. She then quit and left with her lover, Ken, but when he died from slipping on a bar of soap (I kid you not) she found herself on the streets.

Initially, Gin tells Hana and Miyuki that his wife and daughter are dead. This turns out to be a lie. He had a gambling problem and drove his family into debt. Ashamed he ran away even though his wife and daughter tried unsuccessfully for several years to find him.

Along with our trio, we learn about the many broken lives and families that are somehow intertwined with them or with baby Kiyoko. This becomes a central motif. Tokyo Godfathers is not only a film about people without homes but also people without families. And how Gin, Hana and Miyuki come to be a family unit in their own right even if they argue, bicker and, at times, hate each other.

Coincidences throughout this film are intentional, and a way to show that whether we know it or not, we are all connected in some way by the thinnest of threads.

The funny and dark comic moments (the scenes where Hana gets a taxi driver to pursue a truck stolen by a woman who has Kiyoko is hilarious) are offset by depictions of humanity’s failings towards the homeless. For example, there is one scene where Gin gets beaten up by a bunch of teenagers just for kicks. Another where the three are on a train and all the other passengers are holding their noses because of the stink and attempting to ignore them.

The story is packed full of threads that all eventually tie together in the end, even if its a ragged tapestry as opposed to a beautiful quilt. In a way, the film is all the better because of its imperfections.

As I watched Tokyo Godfathers, there’s a real Cowboy Bebop feel to the animation. The characters especially are not your stereotype big-eyed anime characters but are grounded more in realism. Yet, there are scenes that are distinctly anime and are very well done. For example, when Hana lets loose at Gin in front of his estranged daughter about all his lies, her expressions are priceless. Viewers have to pay attention as much to the background and surroundings as they do the main characters.

Complex, rich in detail in both plot and animation, and a totally quirky Christmas tale that will have you believing in miracles that aren’t shaped as sugar cubes or tied up in a bow. It has been a while since an anime flick has surprised me as much as this one.

9.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Komi Can’t Communicate (2021)

TL;DR – Komi enters high school and immediately is the admiration and envy of every school student and teacher. She exudes an aura that causes everyone to be put in awe simply by walking into a room. The only problem is she suffers from severe social anxiety disorder.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Hitohito Tadano is average in every way. All he wants to do is get through high school without causing waves. But when he discovers in class, he is sitting next to Komi Shouko, a female student that has everyone enraptured, he becomes the lightning rod for jealousy as everyone vies for Komi’s attention.

However, Komi has her own inner struggle. She freezes and is unable to speak whenever anyone tries to talk to her or gives her attention. People interpret her social anxiety in different ways. All of them wrong.

Some interpret her silence as an ice queen views her subjects, they adore her stoic beauty and serve her willingly. Others view her silence as they are not even worthy to be in her presence and suitably scamper away after attempts at conversation with her. In virtually all circumstances, she is viewed as a goddess beyond the reach of mere mortals, and this is humorously reinforced in one episode where initially she is nominated for class president, but then everyone in her class interprets her silence that the title of class president being beneath her and instead coin her as ‘god’.

The only person that is able to get to the heart of the matter is Tadano. In the first episode, after class has finished, Tadano and Komi find themselves as the last to leave, and what starts off as an awkward exchange by writing messages on the blackboard with chalk, ends up being a confession by Komi explaining her extreme social anxiety, and how deeply she actually wants to make friends and be able to communicate.

Tadano vows to help her make one hundred friends.

As a comedy, the series reaches the point of ludicrous due to the exaggerated reactions from Komi and her classmates. Each character has extreme traits, which downplays Komi’s social anxiety disorder. A sample of the outlandish cast includes:

  • Ren Yamai whose obsession with Komi borders on the pathological, and at one point, she kidnaps Tadano who she believes is getting to close to Komi and looks like she is going to kill him and bury him in the woods.
  • Himiko Agari who is also an anxious girl like Komi but has a masochistic side to her and wants to be Komi’s pet ‘dog’. She also has a didactic (almost religious level) of knowledge when it comes to ramen (i.e. the best places to eat it, the rules and etiquette to ramen etc.)
  • Makeru Yadano who sees Komi as her rival and wants to best her in all things. This includes an eye sight test where Yadano believes Komi is cheating because she is not answering out loud (Yadano doesn’t realise that Komi is using hand gestures and can’t see them because she is standing behind Komi).
  • Najimi Osana who actually attempted to be Komi’s friend during childhood but interpreted her silence as standoffish. Najimi has a tendency to switch genders. Flashbacks show Najimi wearing boy clothing but in high school wears a girls uniform.

The only ‘normal’ person is Tadano in that he is average in every way. But we learn that this is intentional because in junior high he pretended to be a ‘cool kid’ but realised that everyone thought it was cringey.

All in all, Komi Can’t Communicate has some touching moments but does not go as deep as some of the more magical slice-of-life animes that I have seen such as Usagi Drop, Non Non Biyori, and Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.

It seeks to insert more humour at the expense of depth, which I found watchable if silly. The end result is that this anime could have explored social anxiety disorders with much more emotional punch but instead takes a safe route to be more comic.

6.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Ousama Ranking (2021)

TL;DR – Boji is known as “The Useless Prince” by his own people. Standing barely two feet tall, deaf and practically mute, no one believes he should be the next king. No one believes he is capable of anything.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Ousama Ranking (aka ‘Ranking of Kings’) performs a magic trick that is surprisingly effective. Initially, it presents you with a story that appears like a textbook fairy tale.

There’s the strong and giant king, Bosse, who rules his realm with a steady hand and defends his people from outside threats. He has a son, Boji, who is deaf, tiny and weak. Bosse has established his realm to provide for Boji and give him everything he needs. A kind and loving father indeed.

Boji is trained to defend himself by Domas, a great swordsman who cares and loves Boji almost as much as the king. Boji aspires to be as great as his father and has an empathy toward others that is both optimistic and naïve.

The initial tensions are between Boji and his younger half-brother, Daida, who also desires the throne. The usual brotherly rivalry is on full display.

Boji’s stepmother, Hiling, wants Daida to be the next king as she deems Boji not suitable to protect the kingdom.

There’s even a magic mirror that influences both Bosse and Daida in mysterious ways.

Everything points to a pretty straight forward fairy tale, and the show is reinforced by the animation, which looks like it was taken from a children’s picture book.

And then the magic trick happens…

As the episodes progress, everything is not what it seems. There are only two constants, Boji and his only friend, Kage. Kage is a shadow assassin from a nearly extinct clan of assassins and appears like two ink blots with eyes and a mouth like a claw. He survives as a thief, and initially takes advantage of Boji by demanding his clothes, which Boji gives to him freely. Eventually Kage sees that Boji is pure of heart and his compassion and kindness penetrates the jaded view Kage has of the world. Kage swears to be Boji’s faithful friend and together they navigate the many changes and revelations that occur around them.

Revelations that include the following:

  • Bosse is not the noble king we are led to believe at the beginning. He has made a pact with a demon to steal the power from his first son, Boji. He has established the kingdom for Boji out of guilt.
  • Queen Hiling, the ‘evil’ stepmother, turns out not to be ‘evil’ at all. We learn that she made great efforts to become close to Boji (including learning sign language) after Bosse’s first wife and Boji’s biological mother died. She loves Boji but sees the only way to protect him is for his half-brother, Daida, to assume the throne.
  • Daida, initially, appears one-dimensional in his pursuit to take his father’s place as ruler, and he wants to rank himself as one of the greatest kings in the land. However, he is taught certain lessons by his mentor and tutor about what true strength is all about. Further, Bosse ends up using Daida as a vessel to keep on living resulting in Daida’s soul being trapped. Daida comes to empathise what Boji must overcome in order to be a king.
  • Domas teaches Boji and learns to care for him, but his loyalty to Bosse causes him to do the unthinkable, he seeks to murder Boji.

These are just a sample of the layers beneath the surface of all the characters, and it is held together by the strength, hope and resilience of the friendship between Boji and Kage.

Boji is the ultimate underdog, and his true strength comes from his ability to transform hearts through his own determination, kindness and understanding.

With so much anime to choose from, stories are the most critical aspect in ensuring viewers will sit through an entire series. At 23 episodes, Ousama Ranking has the story to back it, and you’ll be cheering and crying in equal measure as you follow Boji through his growth.

9 out of 10

Anime Review: Scissor Seven (2018)

TL;DR – An inept, amnesiac assassin and part-time hairdresser looks to earn some coin while trying to get back his memories.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Scissor Seven is not your typical anime. Purists will argue it is not even anime, but the show is listed on myanimelist.net so I’m going to do a review on it. The first thing that hit me when I watched season one was it’s a Chinese produced animation, and the series is painstakingly hand drawn and remarkably detailed. The distinct look is worth repeat viewing if you take the time to absorb each episode, and you will appreciate just how much effort it must have taken to put it all together. It is by no means the smooth and often seamless look you will find in Japanese anime, but Scissor Seven has its own charm that you will appreciate as you work your way through the series. The battle scenes, revolving camera views and explosions prompt rushes of adrenaline that more polished productions fail to inject.

Likewise, you would be remiss if you think Scissor Seven is simply a comedy. While there is plenty of toilet humour, there is an emotional thread beneath the surface that is surprisingly affecting.

Liuqi Wu (aka Seven) has amnesia. He was found by Dai Bo, a sunglass wearing, cigar smoking, tie wearing bird that will immediately make you think of one of the fowl in the Angry Birds game. Dai Bo convinces Seven to undertake a course to become a hitman, which he barely passes (in fact, I think he fails but Dai Bo allows him to graduate anyway), and together they open a barber shop as a front to hire out his services as an assassin. Seven owns a pair of scissors that he controls with kinetic type powers and turns out can do a mean haircut if he puts his mind to it. He also can disguise himself by transforming into anything using a smoke bomb type magical device.

Through the course of season one, Seven’s memories slowly return, and we learn that he was actually the number one assassin in the country (his current rank is 17,369 as the inept, amnesiac Seven) but was almost killed during a mission in which he was betrayed. Along with piecing back his previous life, Seven is hired to do an assortment of jobs by an assortment of odd characters that generally result in him not killing anyone but revealing misguided motives. The by-product of things working out without bloodshed is that we see Seven has a noble side to him that overrides his greed much to Dai Bo’s chagrin because they never end up getting paid.

Some of the funny missions he attempts include:

  • A cat who hires him to kill an ex-lover who turns out to be a dog. Seven is able to bring the pair together after the dog confesses the reason why he broke up with the cat. Result: cat and dog continue their inter-species relationship and Seven doesn’t get paid.
  • The leader of a ‘purist’ society hires Seven to kill a man who is obsessed with collecting women’s underwear. While the man is arguably a pervert, Seven discovers that the guy has never hurt anyone and only collects underwear that has been thrown out. Result: Seven tries to convince the purist society that everyone should embrace each other’s differences and in the process doesn’t get paid.
  • Cola Zhang is a young girl who is a target of Seven. Before he kills her, she asks that they do everything on her bucket list first. Seven agrees and they do tick off everything on the list. Result: Seven realises that Cola has hired him to kill her because she is suffering from a rare disease. He convinces Cola to fight to get better and she agrees, which in turn means he doesn’t get paid.

Season one culminates in Seven being caught between two factions. One is a faction dedicated to kung-fu, and other faction is dedicated to using technology and weapons of mass destruction. It’s an exciting climax with clever action sequences.

However, I found at its heart, Scissor Seven is all about Seven and an assassin named Thirteen. Their initial encounter leading to a battle where Seven develops a crush on her and, at the same time, realises she is way better at fighting than he is, so he turns himself into a durian which she steps on.

I kid you not, a spiky durian fruit.

It’s hilarious, absurd, and strangely touching. When you see Thirteen, you know she’ll be a repeating character, and you want to find out more about her.

Crazy, funny, artistically crafted, and more moving than you would expect, Scissor Seven is easily digestible (each episode runs roughly 15 minutes) and worth the binge.

8.5 out of 10

Anime Review: Kotarou wa Hitori gurashi (2022)

TL;DR – sometimes nothing is more perceptive than the words of a child.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kotarou wa Hitori gurashi (translates to ‘Kotaro lives alone’) is a story about a four year old boy named Kotarou Sato who moves in next door to Shin Karino, a manga artist. Why Kotarou lives alone? Where are his parents? Where is his source of income? These questions float around your head when you watch the first episode.

Stories about children who take on adult responsibilities are always a source for good stories. The child character is usually contrasted with an adult character who is struggling with their own life. What makes this story mechanic engaging is the adult character feels responsible for the child and in the process ends up ‘growing’ themselves from their interactions.

Shin Karino fits this role perfectly. He’s a struggling manga artist, his apartment is a pig sty, he can’t be bothered committing to a relationship, he rarely washes himself and he wastes his days watching TV soaps.

For a child, Kotarou seems more capable and responsible than Shin, but there are still many things that Kotarou views through a child lens. For example, Kotarou is responsible enough to know that he needs to take a bath and goes to a bathhouse with all the necessary toiletries and a change of clothes. When Shin sees this, he feels obligated to tag along to make sure Kotarou stays safe. And when they get down to the job of washing themselves, Kotarou still manages to get shampoo in his eyes and Shin lends him a helping hand. In other words, there are still limits of being an adult in a child’s body. In addition, beneath the surface is the fragile and sensitive feelings of a four year old even if Kotarou presents himself differently.

As the series progresses and answers are given to the initial questions regarding why he lives alone, what happened to his parents and where his source of income comes from, you still need to suspend your belief when it comes to his interactions with fellow kids and adults alike. For example, no landlord would permit a four year old to rent out an apartment, and he goes shopping for food at grocery stores and all the adults don’t think it is strange he is not accompanied with an adult parent and/or guardian.

Kotarou is definitely charming. He uses a formal and polite feudal speech taken from his favourite cartoon called Tonosaman, and all the adults go ga-ga over him. Even when he doesn’t talk, it’s hard not to adore him when he walks around with his red and white floppy newsboy cap. He’s like a little Japanese Mario brother without the moustache. He also seeks acceptance by his fellow kindergartners who always wonder why he is by himself and not with his parents, and he comes up with inventive and creative ways to achieve that acceptance. For example, in one episode he sees other kids have bentos (i.e. lunchboxes) made by their mothers where the rice balls are made into different types of animals, so he goes to the effort of creating an image of Tonosaman out of rice in his own bento, which impresses his friends.

His ability to reach the heart of the problems that his fellow adult neighbours experience and spouting wisdom that causes them to re-think how they are living their lives is balanced by the challenges that every young child experiences. No matter how much he sets boundaries (for example, he won’t let adults hug him or pat him on the head unless given permission to do so), he still suffers from things like ‘monsters in the dark’ at night and struggles to go to sleep because he is living alone in an apartment.

By the same token, the adults that are in his life, Shin (the manga artist), Isamu Tamaru (a guy who dresses like a gangster but is actually a decent, doting father-type) and Mitsuki Akitomo (works at night as a female hostess to businessmen), to name a few, all help Kotarou learn and grow while learning about themselves.

There are plenty of laugh out loud moments mixed with poignant sadness. The darkness in Kotarou’s life (a darkness that no four year old should ever have to experience at such a tender age) gives this series an all too real feel. But this is offset by the light he exudes and the love he gives and receives from those around him.

One note on the animation itself, there is a weird art decision to use vertical black bars for irises in Kotarou’s eyes. Likewise, these vertical bars are used at times in Shin’s eyes. No other character has eyes like this in the series and it has a weird effect. It makes them look almost alien at times. In the initial episodes, the pair are mistaken to be father and son, which can be contributed in part by the fact they have the same type eyes. I’m not sure whether it is meant to be symbolic, but it is certainly an interesting art choice.

For lovers of slice-of-life, Kotarou wa Hitori gurashi meshes all the right elements to tell a touching and moving story that will have you engaged for the full ten episodes.

9 out of 10