Review of Violet Evergarden

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Two weeks ago I signed up for a Netflix trial, in order to watch Castlevania season two. When posting my review of said series I asked readers what else I should check out on Netflix. My followers have good taste, so I was certain they would leave some excellent recommendations. A few of you suggested that I stream Violet Evergarden. Plot twist – I had already seen the series a few months ago, via less legal means. The series is so good however that I didn’t mind re-watching it again. On this occasion, to freshen things up, I decided to try out the dub version. For those of you who are unaware, Violet Evergarden is a thirteen episode anime based off an award winning light novel trilogy of books. Since its broadcast an OVA has been released and a movie is scheduled to come out early in 2020.

OVERVIEW

Violet Evergarden is a battle hardened orphan girl who was picked up by navy officer Dietfried Bougainvillea during one of his missions. He recognized that anyone who resembles Saber (from the Fate franchise) must be a kick ass warrior. Dietfried ends up gifting Violet to his younger brother Gilbert on his birthday. Gilbert is a major in the army and has recently been ordered to tour the front lines. Dietfried hopes that Violet will serve as his sibling’s bodyguard during the dangerous operations that are to follow. Unlike his bro, who treats the protagonist like a tool, Gilbert showers Violet with kindness. He teaches her how to speak, buys her gifts and makes the ultimate sacrifice in the war’s decisive battle. When Violet is placed in peril, Gilbert saves her and sadly perishes in the process.

Miss Evergarden didn’t escape from the incident unscathed. She lost both arms and had them replaced with mechanical appendages. After recovering from her injuries, Violet is placed in the care of Gilbert’s pal Claudia Hodgins (who is a bloke, despite what his first name may suggest.) Hodgins runs a post office and eventually hires Violet for the position of Auto Memories Doll. In the nation where this anime takes place, Auto Memories Doll is a title given to females who specialize in writing letters for others. Violet seems suited for the position because, as Ghost in the Shell has taught us, women with robotic hands are speedy typists. She hopes that putting people’s feelings into words will teach her more about human emotions. Eventually she may even learn what Gilbert’s final words to her “I love you” meant.

VERDICT

I am awarding Violet Evergarden a score of five stars. This series is a strong contender for best anime I have watched in 2018. Whether others agree with that assessment or not will depend on their patience levels. The early episodes are slow paced affairs that chronicle how Violet learned the tools of the trade and how she bonded with her new coworkers. After that the show settles into a more episodic format. Violet’s reputation rises, attracting work from across the land. She travels far and wide to help scholars transcribe ancient texts and assists royalty with the composition of love letters. Although there are moments that are sweet and funny, I would advise anyone who watches this anime to keep a handkerchief close by. Scenes of grief are never too far away in this show. The episodes about the sickly mother and the one about the drunken novelist, who is writing a play, will summon the onion cutting ninjas who we last encountered in Clannad.

Some critics have complained that Violet isn’t a likable lead, as she is someone who struggles with expressing emotion. That surprised me, given anime’s history. Last time I checked Rei Ayanami and Ruri Hoshino are very popular with audiences, despite having cold personalities. Violet’s demeanor is understandable given that she grew up as a battlefield slave. One of the show’s highlights is seeing how she begins to open up more, thanks in part to her interactions with others. Another positive in the anime’s favor is the stellar animation and artwork. That should go without saying though, given that beautiful imagery is something we all have come to expect from a production by Kyoto Animation. Whether it’s a blonde typist trekking across the picturesque countryside or half naked guys swimming in a pool, they really know how to make things look pretty onscreen.

 

 

Review of A Silent Voice

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Bullies are universally reviled and rightly so because they are cowards who ruin lives through the use of physical abuse and intimidation. Given that most people hate bullies, more than David Leavitt, it’s surprising to see that A Silent Voice tells the story of someone who picked on a disabled girl. Back in elementary school Shoya Ishida played cruel pranks on deaf transfer student Shoko Nishimiya and even went as far as destroying several of her expensive hearing aids. The tormenting got so bad that Shoko eventually moved away to another school. Shoya soon learnt that payback is a bitch, because in retaliation for the cruelty he committed his classmates severed all ties with him.

OVERVIEW

Years after the events described above Shoya contemplates suicide. He has nothing to live for, as his notoriety has left him friendless in high school. Even worse he had to sell off his entire manga collection to pay off the bill for the hearing aids he damaged. Life without comics just isn’t worth living! At the eleventh hour Shoya however decides against leaping off a tall bridge. Rather than give up on existence the repentant teenager decides instead to learn sign language, so he can track down Shoko and communicate to her how much he laments his past misdeeds.

As someone who has been the victim of bullying I didn’t expect to have any sympathy for Shoya, but somehow A Silent Voice made me feel empathy for its protagonist. A lifetime of isolation is a harsh punishment for crimes he committed as a child. We all have done stupid things in our youth after all. Unlike some bullies, who stubbornly remain jerks, Shoya feels genuine guilt for his past behaviour and puts the effort into making amends. Learning sign language, just so he can apologize to Shoko, is admirable. It’s not something I could do. As my poor grammar suggests, I haven’t even mastered English yet! I cannot imagine how much dedication it takes to train in a second form of communication

Forgiving Shoya is easy for the audience because the victim in all this harbours no ill will towards him. Shoko is a sweetheart who would rather become friends with Shoya (and maybe something more) rather than hate him. Even during the midst of his bullying Shoko tried to protect her harasser from other students, who had decided he should suffer a taste of his own medicine. In a way Shoya is just as much of a victim as Shoko is. He was made the fall guy for Shoko’s departure, despite not being the sole person to treat her poorly. Some of the girls in elementary school for example resented how having a handicap classmate was hindering their chances of winning a choir contest. Musical tournaments are serious business, as Sound Euphonium will attest to!

VERDICT

My rating for A Silent Voice is four stars. I feel that the movie deserves that score purely from a technical standpoint. The animation and artwork is gorgeous, as one would expect from a Kyo Ani production, and I liked the stylistic choice of masking the facial features of people who shunned Shoya behind an X. The story and characterisations are all strong too, which is no surprise as the movie is based on Yoshitoki Oima’s award winning manga. I can’t say however that I liked the movie to the level of other reviewers. Were I to grade the film on how much I enjoyed it I would consider awarding it a three out of five.

I watch anime for the amusing hijinks of draconic maids, the hypnotic jiggle of bouncing cat girls and the action packed battles between a geek and parasitic organisms. A Silent Voice doesn’t tick any of those boxes, although I will concede it is a beautiful work of art. The narrative’s pacing is glacial and downright depressing at times. I thought things would liven up once Shoya overcame Shoko’s overprotective relatives, enabling him to patch things up with her. Instead what we get is two hours of people feeling miserable. Shoya feels like he isn’t worthy of a pardon and Shoko feels equally bad because Shoya would have been spared from much hardship had the two never met.

Perhaps reading the manga would have been more to my liking? Pausing in between volumes, to recuperate from the gloom, would have been more palatable than 129 straight minutes of misery. Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day deals with similar themes of childhood acquaintances coming to terms with a past tragedy, but resonated more with me as it balanced out the melodrama with humour. A Silent Voice is a movie that I would recommend, although I do so with the caveat that you have to be in the right mood for it. The feature may be too much of a slog for viewers who enjoy lighthearted skits about band mates drinking tea. Those who prefer their Kyo Ani with a bit more substance will however find much to admire in this Naoko Yamada directed flick.

Review of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions

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Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions once again sees Kyoto Animation pluck one of the light novels that scooped a honourable mention in their Animation Awards and turn it into a fully-fledged anime. This time round the books penned by Torako are the basis for a twelve-episode series that has spawned an anime movie, follow-up season and a smattering of short OVAs. As alluded to by the title, the show deals with characters suffering or recovering from chunibyo complex – a condition were youngsters act as if they have been endowed with special powers. Hmmm, that reminds me of the days when I would rush home from school at top speed pretending that I could morph into a car (yes I was a big Transformers dork.) Nowadays the only power I believe I possess is an aura that repels attractive women.

OVERALL

Yuta Togashi has just commenced high school marking a new stage in his life. During middle school Yuta was an outcast, as he would scare people off by proclaiming that he was actually “The Dark Flame Master” a supernatural entity proficient in various mystical arms. Yuta has since grown out of that embarrassing phase and would now like nothing more than to cover up his cringe-worthy past. The new educational setting, populated with students who are unaware of his goofy history, should theoretically allow him to make friends and live out a normal life. Unfortunately for Yuta that won’t be easy as one of his new classmates is a fervent chunibyo who is aware of his Flame Master persona.

The delusional girl in question named Rikka Takanashi (aka True Eye of the Evil King) will not be easy to avoid. Not only is she Yuta’s new neighbour, but she has also managed to convince him into joining her newly established after school magic club. Perhaps she brainwashed him into enlisting with the fabled “wicked eye” she usually keeps under wraps (in actuality a gold coloured contact lens.) The other member’s of Rikka’s club include her faithful servant Sanae Dekomori (a wealthy girl who believes that her pigtails are Mighty Mjolnir’s Maul), Kumin Tsuyuri (a sweet girl who loves a good nap) and Shinka Nibutani (the beautiful class representative whose responsible facade hides the fact that she is a former chunibyo who specialized in posting online incantations.)

VERDICT

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is pretty much what you would expect from a Kyoto Animation release. Much like Clannad and Beyond the Boundary, the series uses it’s high school location to deliver plenty of chuckles in addition to some heart warming moments. Many of the laughs come at Yuta’s expense. He’s trying his best to distance himself from his chunibyo origins, but more often than not he’s put into compromising positions by Rikka’s silly antics. Speaking of Rikka, I really dug the scenes were she squabbles with her sister. When the two feud you see the action from Rikka’s perspective. From her point of view Rikka is blasting her sibling with prismatic rays and she is performing all manner of flashy acrobatics. In reality however she is just making silly poses and swinging a parasol (which she claims is a sword that can transmute into a shield.

My rating for Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions is four stars. My only concern with the anime is that some viewers will dislike the script’s change in tone, which happens around the midway mark. Those watching purely for the comedy may not appreciate how the gags run dry once the plot begins to focus on the root cause of Rikka’s eccentric behaviour. On the flip side audiences who’d enjoy the romance that develops between the leads may not get that far into the story if over the top jokes are not their thing. For me however the show’s structure worked. The funny skits got me attached to the cast so I had no problem rooting for them once the emotional drama began to surface. Overall I can recommend the series for both its humour and message. Chunibyos are branded as childish for pretending to be something they are not, but is that any different to what adults do? To fit in we pretend to be what society expects from us. Screw maturity, I still want to be Optimus Prime!

Review of Beyond the Boundary

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Beyond the Boundary is a twelve episode series based on the light novels penned by Nagomu Torii (a talented author who received an honourable mention in the 2011 Kyoto Animation Awards.) The anime takes place in an alternate version of Japan where entities known as Youmu (basically demonic spirits birthed from people’s negative emotions) live amongst the human populace. Most human beings cannot detect the presence of Youmu, but the select few who can are employed as Spirit Warriors that use their supernatural gifts to eradicate any unruly Youmu who step out of line. These brave protectors of humanity make an income by selling Youmu remains to their town’s local photographer (a mysterious lady who has attracted a pervy clientele thanks to the kinky snaps she takes.)

OVERVIEW

The series begins with high schooler Akihito Kanbara foiling transfer student Mirai Kuriyama’s apparent suicide attempt. Being a devout glasses fetishist he cannot stand idly by and watch a bespectacled beauty perish. His good deed doesn’t earn Mirai’s gratitude however. After being saved she proceeds to impale Akihito in the chest with a blade fashioned from her own solidified blood. Good thing then that Akihito is a half-human/youmu hybrid who possesses the power of immortality. It transpires that Mirai is a fledgling Spirit Warrior who isn’t particularly good at her job. To practice her craft she has decided to train on the durable Akihito. A fine idea in theory, but Akihito isn’t too keen on becoming a living dartboard for Mirai’s lethal strikes. Sure he cannot be slain, but that doesn’t mean that getting stabbed in the heart doesn’t hurt like hell.

As the story advances Akihito decides to aid Mirai in battling the malevolent Youmu haunting their town – partially to avoid getting gouged himself and partially to satiate Mirai’s rumbling tummy (due to her inept Youmu killing skills she cannot afford to purchase any nutritious meals.) Predictably romance begins to blossom between the two outcasts. The community fears Akihito because of his latent half-breed powers whilst Mirai is shunned by other Spirit Warriors due to the cursed blood flowing through her veins. The pair’s tumultuous relationship is rather sweet and good fun to watch. Akihito is smitten by the prospect of having a cute specs wearing girlfriend, but Mirai is unaccustomed to displays of affection. Compliments never fail to get Mirai flustered and trigger her catchphrase “how unpleasant.”

VERDICT

Beyond the Boundary is regarded as one of the better shows to come out of the Autumn 2013 anime season and after watching it I can see why. Unsurprisingly, from a studio that has previously worked on K-On and Lucky Star, the series has a good roster of likable characters. These include a teacher who regularly laments her inability to snag a man, Akihito’s eccentric cosplaying mom and an older brother who has an unhealthy fixation on his sister. With Japanese males lusting after siblings and cartoon characters is it a wonder that the nation’s birth rate is so low? The show’s amusing adolescent antics don’t however bar it from having top-notch action sequences. The battles with the Youmu are very impressive thanks to Kyoto’s exceptional animation work. On the audio side of things I liked the show’s opening theme and many other viewers have been gushing over the tune that plays during the end credits.

My final rating is four stars. I might have awarded the series full marks had it ran for more than a dozen episodes. The urban fantasy world Torii has crafted is an interesting one, so once the ending hit I was left wanting more. Beyond the Boundary has a solid story, which will keep you guessing who the piece’s true villains are. Perhaps the only place where the script stumbles is the manner in which it executes its finale. The latter half of the series has a neat twist, but the events that follow it are a little far fetched. Although it didn’t bug me, viewers with a low threshold for deus ex machina may get annoyed by how things pan out. Overall I really enjoyed the show and hope that Kyoto Animation decide to adapt more of the ongoing source material in the future. Ignoring this franchise would be most “unpleasant.”

Review of K-On!

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Yui Hirasawa has just commenced high school triggering the most important decision of her life – from the plethora of available options, which after school club should she join? After much deliberation the ditzy teen decides to register with the recently revived light music club. Sadly for her the group, which specialises in performing pop tunes, isn’t in need of a scatter brained castanet player. No worries, there is a vacancy open for the position of lead guitarist/vocalist. Yui can fill that role, after all how hard can it be to learn a stringed instrument from scratch? If she practices on Guitar Hero for a bit I am sure Yui will get the hang of it.

OVERVIEW

K-On is a slice of life anime, which originally aired on Japanese TV way back in 2009. The show, based off a four-panel manga created by Kakifly, is animated by Kyoto Animation (who have previously worked on Lucky Star and Clannad.) The first season DVD set, which comprises of thirteen episodes and a solitary OVA, can be purchased in the UK courtesy of Manga Entertainment.

The show follows the exploits of the four girls that make up the light music club, with their membership growing to five later in the series when jazz prodigy Azusa Nakano joins the fold. Out of the original quartet, Yui Hirasawa is the one I would class as the protagonist. She’s nice, but dim – often succumbing to bouts of daydreaming. Although she isn’t the brightest lass to grace Japanese animation she is capable of learning new skills surprisingly quick (although doing so expunges other knowledge from her brain.) After just a few episodes she is able to play the guitar like a pro and can even tune the instrument without the aid of a tuner. One thing I envy about Yui is her efficient metabolism. No matter how many slices of cake she gorges on she never puts on a single pound.

SUPPORTING CAST

The group’s other members include childhood friends Ritsu Tainaka and Mio Akiyama. Ritsu is the band’s drummer and the self-appointed club president. She took on the presidency mainly for the prestigious title, although she isn’t very good at the role. On more than one occasion the club finds itself in a bind because she would rather goof off rather than submit application forms and other necessary paperwork. Mio, the bashful bassist who pens the group’s song lyrics, is more mature than her chum although she has a weakness for anything scary. Over the course of the series she is reduced to a nervous wreck by the sight of a horror movie DVD, ghost stories and even barnacles that she spots at the beach.

Last, but not least is Tsumugi Kotobuki – better known simply as Mugi. In the band she plays the keyboard, making good use of all the piano lessons she has received from a young age. Mugi hails from an affluent family, but is not the spoiled rich brat you would find in other shows. She’s extremely courteous and seems to revel in doing what us lowly commoners partake in (one episode for example has her working at a fast food restaurant.) One quirk that Mugi has is a fondness for girls showing affection towards each other, leading to speculation that she may be a lesbian or at the very least a rabid connoisseur of yuri fiction.

VERDICT

K-On could well be the My Little Pony of anime. The subject matter seems to be targeted at girls, but from what I have seen the series has a sizable male viewership too. I’m not surprised, as the show’s charming comedy skits are appealing to anyone regardless of gender. I for example found myself chuckling whenever the club’s advisor Sawako Yamanaka was onscreen. She masquerades as a sweet senpai, but is in fact a former death metal guitarist who has a passion for cosplay. A recurring gag sees Sawako try to coerce the girls into donning all manner of ridiculous outfits.

If you are a fan of cheery J-Pop then K-On’s soundtrack will be right up your alley. Be warned however that the occasions when the girls actually do play something are rather sparse. Mio and Azusa try to encourage their companions to practice, but more often than not the girls end up spending their time sipping on cuppas and chomping down on desserts. Things get so bad that Sawako eventually christens the group After School Tea Time.

My final rating for season one of K-On is four stars. It’s an enjoyable experience for anyone who enjoys peeking at cute girls doing cute things… and who doesn’t like that sort of thing? I know I do – well I did until that pesky parent caught me hiding in the bushes. Now I have to stay away from the school due to a court order. Sigh.