R.O.D.: The TV [Anime]: Awesome concepts tangled up in a hard-to-watch mess

I wasn’t too sure how exactly I wanted to review the Read or Die (R.O.D.) series, considering it’s made up of a two different manga (Read or Dream and Read or Die), three OVA episodes (also called Read or Die), and then finally a 26-episode anime (Read or Die: The TV) (PLUS the light novels that they’re all originally based on!). I watched the anime series first (which occurs chronologically last), and since it has the most substance compared to the other series, I decided it should be my main focus for this review, although I will briefly mention the others.

rodthetv

What’s it about?

In an alternative future, the British Empire remains a world power due to influence the British Library, its external intelligence agency, has on the rest of the world. At the beginning of the series, famous Japanese author Nenene Sumiregawa is suffering from writer’s block after her friend Yomiko Readman goes missing. When she is bought to Hong Kong for a book-signing event, the three sisters Michelle, Maggie, and Anita are assigned as her bodyguards. When Nenene is threatened, the sisters reveal their powers; they are Paper Masters, having a unique ability to manipulate and control paper. Nenene is hopeful the three know Yomiko, also a Paper Master, and she brings them back to Japan with her. In Japan, the three sisters start doing odd-jobs for Dokusensha, a Chinese organisation that rivals the British Library, but the group soon find themselves in conflict with latter.

The Positives

Something that holds for all mediums of R.O.D. is the fact is that there are some super interesting concepts in this series. To begin with, Paper Masters are just so freaking cool. I never thought I would want a super-power that involves manipulating paper, but after watching the anime, it’s right up there at the top of my list! The Paper Masters of the series literally stop bullets with just a piece of paper! I like that within the are of paper-manipulation, there are different variations; Maggie makes familiars out of paper, Michelle uses ranged weapons, Anita is basically a ninja who uses paper as her weapons, and Yomiko does everything plus more. If you want to see some of this paper-manipulation in action watch this video (from the first episode of the anime)… It’s so cool!

Other interesting concepts in this series stem from the focus on books and literature. The fact that the British Library is an important organisation for worldwide politics is a good indication that this is a series in which books play an important role. In fact, a lot of the Paper Sisters’ early missions involve the retrieval of important books from the hands of others. As an avid reader myself, I really like the emphasis on the importance of books and the way certain books are central to the plot of the story. In this world, books are key for survival, dominance, and manipulation. We see throughout the series books (or at least texts) being “forced” into others, used to resurrect the dead, and even controlling the flow of information and power.

So many books!

Books, glorious books!

Finally, I really liked that this series is pretty much dominated by female leads. I also like that we get different types of female leads; while Michelle is incredibly feminine and confident in herself, Maggie is almost androgynous and quiet and reserved. Anita is stubborn and bratty, while Nenene is outspoken and proud. And that’s only the female characters you are initially introduced to, there’s more that follows! This series also features a lot of strong female-female friendships and bonds, almost to the point where one could argue that this title can be classified as yuri. There’s no overt romantic actions (or words for that matter), but, in particular, Nenene and Yomiko’s bond can be interpreted that way. However, I’m not a yuri expert, so I’m not too sure. Regardless of the classification, the positive portrayal of the strong friendships and bonds is done very well in the anime, and throughout R.O.D as a whole.

girlpower

Girl power!

 

The Negatives

The main issue I had with this anime is that the series just doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself. You have all of these awesome ideas and interesting conflicts floating around, but the series just doesn’t pull them into a steady story-line. The story fluctuates between three strains; a sort of detective-agency set up, an almost slice-of-life story, and then, for the latter half, saving the world from a big, bad secret organisation. To help with the inconsistency, there aren’t enough explanations as to what’s going on. I get that the anime is just one of many parts of the R.O.D series, but the writers’ assumption that the audience already knows the background to a lot of the events doesn’t help the audience in anyway. The mess of all of this makes the audience feel that there is too much complication packed in to the 26 episodes. At the same time, however, the inconsistent pacing also makes certain episodes drag on forever, with the well-executed action scenes too few and too far between. For a large part, R.O.D: The TV is a lot of ominous talking about world affairs and a lot of confusion. That’s about it.

 

Anything else I should consider?

Probably the correct order of consuming this series would be R.O.D. manga, Read or Dream manga, R.O.D. OVA, and then R.O.D: The TV. However, if you only want a taste of it, I’d recommend watching the R.O.D OVA first, followed by R.O.D: The TV if you liked what you saw. The manga is only worth checking out if you’re really dedicated. Here’s a quick summary of all of these bits and pieces;
R.O.D (OVA): Three episodes, set before the TV series, and following the meeting of Yomiko and Nancy, and their work together for the British Library.
Read or Dream (manga): Four volumes, following side-stories of Michelle, Maggie, and Anita. Very cutesy with not much substance, but enjoyable if you like the characters.
Read or Die (manga): Four volumes, focuses on Yomiko and her work for the British Library. Also contains her first meeting and early friendship with Nenene. Very, very confusing.

Conclusion

Art:  6.5/10: This series was created in 2003, and the older art style reflects this. However, I still found the art to be neat and quite fluid, which becomes very obvious in the action scenes.

Story: 5.5/10: I really admire all of the unique concepts in this anime (and R.O.D as a whole). But you can’t enjoy these ideas to their full potential because they’re wasted in a messy, hard to follow plot.

Characters: 7/10: I really liked the diversity of the female leads and the strength of the friendships between them. However, I feel that the series falls short on meaningful character development.

There’s a lot to like in the R.O.D series. It boasts some of the most interesting ideas I’ve seen in an anime yet, and the strong female leads are a nice change.  However, the chaotic mess of the (sometimes incredibly slow) story ruins a lot of the good things about this anime. If you’re willing to wade through the confusion, you will probably come out enjoying a lot of the aspects of this series, but lamenting the wasted potential. Not everyone has the patience or care to do this, and so, overall, I give R.O.D: The TV a 5.5/10.

-S

papermaster

Paper Masters ARE SO COOL! 

A Werewolf Boy [Movie]: Beautiful and heart-wrenching

This movie has been reviewed by several other awesome reviews recently. I had written this draft way back when I watched the movie last year, but didn’t have it ready to blog before I went away… so since I’ve already shared by opinion in the comments of a few others’ posts, here’s it a little more refined 😉

Initially this was one of those “watch because my favourite actor is in it” movies, but it completely blew me away, and is now one of my favourite movies of all time. Released in 2012, A Werewolf Boy is a beautiful romantic drama.

a werewolf boy2

What’s it about?

Set in the 1960s, a widowed mother (Jang Young Nam) moves her family into the countryside in hopes of helping with her oldest daughter’s lung problems. While her younger daughter Soon Ja (Kim Hyang Gi) seems to enjoy the change of scenery and her new found friends, Soon Yi (Park Bo Young), her oldest daughter, is sullen and unhappy. However, when the family discover a grown orphan (Song Joong Ki) with little social skills, they chose to take him in, and later name him Chul Soo. Chul Soo turns the house to chaos with his animal-like behaviour, until Soon Yi decides to teach him some manners, sparking an unexpected interest between the two.

The Positives

This movie has some beautifully crafted characters in it, and, thankfully, the character-driven plot in the first half of the movie really allows them to be showcased. My personal favourite was probably the mother (I don’t remember if she’s actually named during the movie), who was just a very sweet, down-to-earth character. I loved how readily she accepted Chul Soo into her family’s life, prepared to change their way of life to accommodate him, and just how she takes all of Chul Soo’s peculiarities in her stride. The mother plays quite a central movie, but even the other characters with less screen time still added just that little bit of realness to the plot; Soon Ja’s abrupt rudeness to strangers she doesn’t trust, the friendliness of the country folk, and even the desperation for Soon Yi’s attention in the actions of antagonist Ji Tae (Yoo Yeon Seok), just to name a few. However, the focus of the plot is obviously Soon Yi and Chul Soo, and the development of the two characters, both in their sense of their personal growth, and the growth of the bond between them, plays out on screen perfectly. The development is naturally paced and makes sense, and there’s this real sense of subtleness to it, which means that it’s not hammered into the viewer in every scene.

otp

So cute ❤

Of course, these characters would be nothing without the actors that bring them to life. This movie has one of the best casts I have seen in a long time. From Jang Young Nam catching the mother’s character perfectly, right down to little Kim Hyang Gi playing the role of Soon Ja, everything is acted out just right. Song Joong Ki, is, of course, amazing. I’ve loved Joong Ki in every role I’ve seen him play so far, and just his dedication to capturing his character perfect blows my mind every single time. In A Werewolf Boy, he gets every detail of Chul Soo’s animalism perfect without losing the character’s sense of being human. As kfangurl pointed out in her review, with next-to no lines, Joong Ki still expresses all of Chul Soo’s thoughts and feelings without an issue. This is the first time I’ve seen Park Bo Young, and I was deeply impressed by her acting; she brings as much naturalness to her character as Joong Ki does. Both actors showcase so much raw emotion in all of their scenes that you can’t help but get caught up in everything.

wait

And so the training begins…

I can drop a whole bunch of adjectives to describe the story of this movie; cute, funny, tragic, sweet, beautiful, etc.; but what I really want to highlight is just how well-told and subtle the story is. The writers don’t need to spell out everything for the viewer; they don’t need that “oh I realise we’ve fallen in love” moment or anything similar, instead the story naturally plays out on screen. I also really liked the focus is kept on Soon Yi and Chul Soo, and particularly Soon Yi’s experience of meeting and befriending Chul Soo. Although this movie provides ample opportunity to delve into philosophical questions about what it means to be human, it doesn’t, keeping to focus on the two mains and on the story at hand.

The Negatives

I haven’t too much to criticise this movie for. I will say, however, that I’m not convinced that the supernatural element was really  needed that badly. I get why it becomes important for intensifying the conflict in the latter half of the movie, but I think it would have been interesting just to see how Chul Soo changes as a regular feral child. But then I guess I would be reviewing a movie called “A Wolf Boy” and not “A Werewolf Boy”.

wolfboy

Chul Soo’s not-so-pretty introduction.

The second issue I had with this movie is the ending (and by ending I literally mean the last few scenes), and this is largely because of Soon Yi’s decision at the end of the movie, which, despite discussion with other fans, I still can not accept. It might be more personal than a direct criticism against the movie, but this is the just about the only thing that I got hung up on whilst watching.

Anything else I should consider?

As mentioned, this movie actually has two endings, and I would recommend you see both the original and the director’s cut.

Conclusion

Story: 9/10: Subtle, unique, and well-told, the story has all kinds of emotion sewn into it, and is a pleasure to watch unfold (until it gets freaking sad, then it’s just tears all the way).

Characters: 9.5/10: I loved almost every character in this movie. There’s been a lot of thought put into all of them, and they are bought to life perfectly by their actors.

If it isn’t already obvious, I adore this movie, and I seriously recommend checking it out if you’re looking for something a little different than most romance movies. There’s a good balance of cute and sad, and the acting and characters will blow you away. Overall, I give it a strong 9/10.

-S

so pretty!

I forgot just how pretty this movie is!!

Stigma of the Wind [Anime]: Not terrible, and that’s about it…

Stigma of the Wind (Kaze no Stigma) (2007) is an anime with a pretty interesting synopsis. When I started watching it and didn’t like the older styled art, I told myself not to judge it, so I kept watching it. When I recoiled from the stereotypical characters, I kept watching it. When they started (not-subtly) hinting at the cousin x cousin romance, I kept watching it. I’ve finished it now, and I’ve learnt I should really pay more attention to those early misgivings.

Stigma of the Wind

What’s it about?

The Kannagi family is an old family of “Enjutsu” (fire-users), whose duties include protecting the world from evil spirits and demons. Ayano Kannagi is the successor to the family; a short-tempered and arrogant, but genuine, teenager. She’s able to wield the deadly fire-sword Enraiha and is proven to be quite powerful. After a four-year banishment due to his defeat at Ayano’s hand, Kazuma Yagami, Ayano’s cousin, has returned to the city. Very much the black sheep of the family due to his inability to control fire, Kazuma is now a skilled “Fujutsushi” (wind-user). Despite the grudge between the Kannagi family and Kazuma, Ayano finds herself working with him again and again to solve supernatural mysteries and keep the city safe.

The Positives

I’ll always like it when a series has some kind of magic use in it, especially if that magic happens to be elements based. In Stigma of the Wind we see fire, wind, and earth magic, and I assume that water magic also exists. We also have a number of different spirits and demons featuring, so there’s all kinds of interesting things going on. I liked that there was a type of hierarchy in the magic users (i.e. wind users were seen as lower class or servants by the fire users), and I also like that there were different types of users for each element. For example, we have Ren (Kazuma’s younger brother) who seems to just do straight fire manipulation, Ayano who summons a sword, and another Enjutsu who is introduced later to have familiar summoning abilities. I only wished all of these elements were explored more.

Go get 'em, Ayano!

Go get ’em, Ayano!

This series has some fun moments in it. I really liked the way that Ayano and Kazuma bickered the whole way through, and I also really liked Ayano’s best friends Yukari and Nanase because they were a fun addition to the series. Sadly, I didn’t like Ayano as much (see below), but I do recognise that the writers set out to develop her character right from the start, and did a good job of it. By the end, we see an Ayano who is much more confident in herself and less cocky and stubborn. Simple character development, but always appreciated when it’s done well.

The Negatives

The major problem that I had with this series was simply that it’s pretty typical of this type of shounen. The characters, particularly Ayano and Kazuma, are stereotypes, and the plot is very predictable. I also found the story-line pretty slow. Sadly, this didn’t make for a very enjoyable watch. I feel like the last arc could have been expanded out further to serve as the whole series, which would have improved this anime so much.

Now, before I explain about this, I’m going to point out that I know Japan’s culture is different to mine, and I know that this pretty common and acceptable in Japanese culture. Hell, it was even acceptable in my culture until not that long ago. However, I was personally put off by the love story between Ayano and Kazuma because they are cousins. And not “distant relatives of the same family” cousins but “our fathers are brothers” cousins. I know not everyone will have a problem with this, but I found it hard to enjoy the romance aspect of the show because of it. Also Ayano’s father is one of the most hard-core shippers I’ve ever seen in an anime series.

stigmafather

Y… you don’t ship it?!

The final things I’m going to touch on is the art and music of the series. This is quite an old series, almost ten years old, and it really shows in the art style. It’s very blocky and basic, which is very typical of the time period, although I did like the bright colour palette. It might appeal to some people, but it’s really not my style. The music is also not very catchy, and I detested the opening theme something shocking.

Conclusion

Art:  5/10: The art is pretty basic and typical of an old anime.

Story: 5.5/10: Predictable and slow, making the series not very enjoyable to watch. There were some pretty interesting ideas going into the plot, but sadly they weren’t utilised enough.

Characters: 5/10: Sadly, the characters are pretty boring and typical. There is some nice, simple character development with Ayano, but nothing else beyond that.

Stigma of the Wind is not a terrible series. It has some nice elements to it, and really could have been so much more if there had been better writing in it, expanding on interesting ideas of magic and the final arc, which, in my opinion, could have been the whole series. It’s predictable plot and stereotypical characters ultimately let it down. Not a terrible series, but very mediocre. Overall, I give it a 5/10. Watch it if it sounds like your thing, but don’t expect anything amazing.

-S

yuck

Keep an eye out for fetish fan service if you do decide to watch it, there’s something for everyone apparently…

Death Note [Anime]: Woefully underwhelming

I’ve already mentioned how I didn’t enjoy this anime, and now I get to tear it to shreds to my heart’s content! If you’re a fan of the 37-episode psychological thriller Death Note (2006-2007), and don’t agree with my review, please let me know in the comments. Let’s get some discussion happening!

Death Note

What’s it about?

Genius student Yagami Light is bored in school one day when he sees a mysterious object fall from the sky. He investigates it and discovers that it is a “Death Note”; a book that kills anyone whose name is written in it. After confirming the note’s powers, Light meets Ryuk, a Shinigami (Japanese God of Death), who explains that he dropped the Death Note into the human world to see what would happened. Light realises that this object is his chance to change the world for the better by eradicating all evil. Once a perfect world is created, he will be able to rule over it as a god of justice. Targeting criminals and given the name of “Kira” (killer) by the public, Light attracts the attention of the mysterious L, a world-famous detective. Neither of the two expect the other to be worthy of their intelligence, and what follows is a game of cat-and-mouse as they constantly attempt to outwit each other. With L on his heels, and other Death Notes falling to Earth, Light finds himself running a narrow line between destruction and success.

The Positives

One of the first things you will notice about this anime is how it looks. The art work is amazing, especially when you consider that this anime was made in 2006… that’s almost ten years ago! There’s some interesting artistic things going on with the character’s eyes throughout the series (always great to see, considering the prominence of eyes in anime), and the overall work with faces is really well done. This series excels in work with shadows- definitely something to look out for when watching! I also liked the overall gritty, dark atmosphere of the series; something that both the art and the soundtrack (minus the awful opening songs) contributed to, and I liked how the art got darker (metaphorically) as Light continued his killing sprees.

This picture really shows how good the art was in terms of the face, shadows, and eyes. You can also get a sense of the somewhat gritty tone of the series.

This picture really shows how good the art was in terms of the face, shadows, and eyes. You can also get a sense of the somewhat gritty tone of the series.

Another thing I can really appreciate about this anime is the abundance of some really forward-thinking and cool ideas. I liked the way the creators played around with both the characters’ mindsets as well as the viewers’ mindsets, the posing of the moral question over Light’s actions, the way the characters manipulated each other, and the way the main character was the series’ antagonist- although a well-known troupe, it’s not often used as directly or as cleverly as it was in this series. However, as much as I can admire the originality of these foundational ideas, I’m sorry to say that they are severely undermined by their execution, the actual characters, and a number of other aspects of the series.

The Negatives

I’m going to start with what I easily see as the main problem I have with this anime; the characters. Death Note has taught me a very important lesson; if the writers cannot get me to care about any of the characters, they cannot make me give a damn about their series. I honestly did not care about the fate of a single character in this anime. Misa was so freaking annoying, and easily the character I hated the most. I get that Light’s arrogance is meant to be something akin to his hamartia, and his overly-dramatic flair a “quirk” of his personality, but I rolled my eyes and glazed over every time he monologued. Which was a lot. As already mentioned, his role as both the main character and the antagonist was very unique, but if that’s the only thing Light has going for him, then there’s a major problem. As for L, the writers tried oh so hard to make him a quirky oddball, but largely only achieved creepiness. And because the two main characters worked so well, we get glorified carbon copies of them in form of Mello and Near. Although, to be fair, Near accomplished more in the last five or so episodes of the series than L ever did. I actually got excited in these episodes about what was going to happen next(!). Finally, the other characters were generic and bland. I was cheering for Light the whole series, because I believe the death of all of the characters would have been far more enjoyable to watch.

Near... the closest I got to caring about a character.

Near… the closest I got to caring about a character.

I have already mentioned that this series has quite an interesting, dark tone. Most of the time. It is drama-heavy and intense, and with good reason, considering the premise of the show. However, there were many moments where the drama was so intense I had to wonder if we had crossed the bridge into parody. Was I meant to be taking this seriously? There were too many moments that were so incredibly cheesy with multiple takes of the same scene from different angles with intense music. Most series involving parody give some sort of hint that it’s a parody of sorts, but Death Note’s almost-always serious tone made me wonder if the creators weren’t quite sure what constitutes as high drama and what is just hilariously too much. And that final episode… I regularly watch Asian melodramas, but they have nothing on the overly-dramatic last episode of this series.

One of Light's finer expressions.

One of Light’s finer expressions.

Finally, the pacing. As a whole I felt that the pacing for this series was a bit hit and miss. Sure, they found enough time to make up 37 episodes, and yet somehow it doesn’t feel like all that much happens, save for a few moments. You get lots of planning, lots of talking, lots of explaining, and yet not much else. To top it all off, when the series finally manages to get me somewhat interested in it- 23 episodes in- with some thrilling suspense, the series essentially shoots itself in the foot at its highest moment. [SPOILERS/] It achieves this amazing feat through the death of one of the main characters. Now from what I understand, this is a contentious point amongst fans of the series, with many believing that this particular death degrades the series as a whole, whilst others believe that it’s still fine afterwards. I’m from a third camp- the series was awful long before this point. [\SPOILERS].

Conclusion

Art: 9/10: The art is amazing, and the work with shadows a particular strong point.

Story: 5/10: There is a lot of potential with the characters manipulating each other, but the pacing is all over the place. How did they manage to make up 37 episodes with so little happening?

Characters: 3/10: I can appreciate some of the risks the creators took with the characters, but I did not have positive feelings towards a single character.

I should have loved Death Note. On its most basic level it has everything I love, and it is one of the most highly rated and recommended anime. Considering when it aired, the series has amazing art and some innovative ideas going on in it. However, the plot of the series is hit and miss, the characters are dull or extremely unlikeable, and the ultra-serious tone feels like it unintentionally crosses into parody. I can’t help but wonder if everyone’s love of Death Note is born from nostalgia for the series’ heyday, or even worse, the expectation to enjoy the “best anime series”. Overall I give it a 5.5/10, and a warning if you plan to watch it- it may not be amazing as you expect.

-S

I thought I might try something new at the end of my review; even if you don’t want to leave a comment, I’d greatly appreciate it if you responded to the poll below 🙂

La Corda d’Oro [Manga]: Run-of-the-mill shoujo with a nice musical aspect

La Corda d’Oro (Kiniro no Corda) (2004-2011) is a 17-volume (75 chapter) manga by Yuki Kure. It is an adaptation of role-playing game, and has also been made into an anime (more information below). I was initially drawn to this manga because it’s set in a musical school. Having played the flute throughout primary school and high school, anything involving music, especially at school, really interests me.

La Corda d'Oro

What’s it about?

Seiso Academy is a prestigious school with two education streams; the musical department students and the regular high school students. Every few years it holds a prominent musical competition, which, although technically open to all students, is only ever full of the musical department students. However, this all changes when regular student Kahoko Hino meets Lili, a musical fairy who gives her a magic violin and a spot in the competition. Although reluctant, Kahoko agrees to compete and meets the other competitors; violinist Len Tsukimori, flautist Azuma Yunoki, trumpeter Kazuki Hihara, clarinetist Shoko Fuyuumi, and cellist Keiichi Shimizu, who greet her with various reactions; some are friendly, but some feel she shouldn’t be there! Luckily, Kahoko’s fellow regular classmate pianist Ryotaro Tsuchiura also joins the competition. As the competition continues, Kahoko finds unlikely friendships forming with the other competitors… and maybe a little love?!

The Positives

This is a reverse harem, so you know that all of the male characters are going to be stereotypes. Having said that, however, that majority of them are likeable. I also quite liked Kahoko as the main, even though she occasionally fell into typical shoujo-protagonist behaviour (especially in the latter half), she’s still a reasonably strong main. I really like how she dealt with the dilemma of feeling like she was cheating by having a magic violin, and how she perseveres under pressure and anxiety. She’s quite the little determined character, and isn’t so easily pushed around.

As I already mentioned, the thing that really drew me to this manga was the aspect of music. I thought that it’d be interesting to see how something audio would be represented in such a visual medium. I think it’s handled pretty neatly. The way the artist depicted the characters playing was pretty cool; runs of notes, swaying in the music, etc. I could almost hear the songs they were playing. The music pieces mentioned in the manga are also really nice pieces. I recommend checking them out if you’re unfamiliar with them (listen to the songs when the characters are having their spot in the competitions!), if not all of them, then at least “Ave Maria”. As mentioned, the art was nice when the characters were playing, and it’s pretty good throughout the whole manga. Character styling is nice, the attention to the instruments was good, and all-around the art is attractive… until you see it in colour and realise that half of the characters have green hair. Not like, Zoro, Freed or C.C. green, but horrible, oddly coloured green. Or light blue. Or purple. I know this is anime, but I think it would suit the manga more if the hair colours were normal.

 

The Negatives

I have to say that Lili’s intervention (and history hinted at in the first few pages) would have been more interesting if it had been explained and expanded on slightly more. With only a few appearances, most of them being “here’s a magic violin, go ahead and play”, the character seemed sort of odd. Not a major negative of the manga, but something that sort of stuck out.

Another thing about the manga that I really didn’t like was how one of the characters, the flautist Azuma Yunoki, was portrayed. This character was an asshole and it was played off like he wasn’t. I’m sorry, but no. I don’t care how difficult his family life is, the way he treats Kahoko is cruel and irritating. More annoyingly, she lets it happen, and doesn’t take the opportunity to stand up to him. Typical shoujo main characteristic. (Also why is the flautist always portrayed as the bitch?! We’re not that bad!). On a related note, Aoi Kaji, a character who is introduced later in the manga, is really quite creepy but played down as being “cute” for transferring to Seiso Academy purely because Kahoko attends it. Not cute. Creepy.

You may be pretty, young man, but I can not stand you.

You may be pretty, young man, but I cannot stand you.

The above things, although annoying, are still quite trivial compared to this last negative. The manga noticeably loses pace after the competition, and seemed to be really stretched out to cover a number of other aspects of school life (Sports Festival, Cultural Festival (Romeo and Juliet production??), and then some other competition thing I didn’t care much about). Usually I love seeing this kind of thing in a school setting, but it just wasn’t exciting enough after the events of the competition. As the manga continues, you start to see that the romantic story in it really isn’t very good. Of course it’s a reverse harem, so almost everyone has a thing for Kahoko, and you can tell which person was being batted for the most throughout the manga… personally I didn’t think he was the best fit, because he’s the typical “arrogant-but-really-just-need-some-understanding” character stereotype that I can \not stand. Finally, and related to all of this, the ending is a massive let down. It’s not even really an ending. It just sort of… stops.

Anything else I should consider?

I’ll put this here as a reference for anyone who wants to check out the whole La Corda d’Oro series, because I was really confused. Basically, La Corda d’Oro (manga) is based on one of the games, and has been adapted into an anime called “La Corda d’Oro: Primo Passo”. There is also a two-episode special called “La Corda d’Oro: Secondo Passo” which was made to promote the game. There is a spin-off manga called “Linden Hall no Aria” which is based at the same school but with different characters. That manga was adapted into the anime “La Corda d’Oro Blue Sky”.

Conclusion

Art:  7/10: I quite liked the art in this manga, which is surprising, given that it’s a shoujo. Although I wish I could un-see the hair colours.

Story: 5.5/10: Would have scored higher if the story-line wasn’t stretched out, the love-story flat, and the ending disappointing.

Characters: 5.5/10: The main character is likeable for her determination, but the males are stereotypes or otherwise played off as not being as mean-spirited as they really are.

This is a standard run-of-the-mill shoujo, but noticeable for the aspect of music included in it. The characters are, for the most part, likeable, if not a bit boring, and the art is quite nice. However, the manga’s ending and the predictable love story are major let downs. Check it out if you’re a fan of music or the original game, but don’t expect too much. Overall, I give this manga a 5.5/10.

-S

Hakuouki Reimeiroku [Anime]: A surprisingly good prequel

This week we have the final instalment of the Hakuouki series; Hakuouki Reimeiroku (Demon of the Fleeting Blossom: Dawn of the Shinsengumi) (2012). (I know there are two movies, but I haven’t checked them out yet… they look like a retelling of the series, albeit with even better animation; watch the trailer here.) Hakuouki Reimeiroku is actually a 12-episode prequel to the other two series. It’s not, as I hoped it would be, the story of the dojo that Isami Kondou led which eventually became the Shinsengumi, but rather focuses on the back-story of the group’s involvement with the “Water of Life”, and how they transitioned from the Roshigumi to the Shinsengumi.

(Keeping it consistent with game art)

(Keeping it consistent with game art)

What’s it about?

Kamo Serizawa is a ruthless man; he’s proud, violent, and difficult. However, due to his connections in Kyoto, particularly with the clan ruling Aizu, Isami Kondou has no choice but to form an uneasy allegiance with him, allowing the Roshigumi a chance to serve and protect the Shogun. Ryunosuke Ibuki is thrown into this tense environment when he is saved from the brink of death by Serizawa, but is forced to pay back the debt by working for him. Ryunosuke watches as Serizawa and the rest of the group, in particularly Toshizou Hijikata, clash again and again, as the story inevitably leads to the decision of who the Shinsengumi should be.

The Positives

As with the other two series, art remains a strong point in the prequel. Although I am not a fan of Ryunosuke’s styling (blue hair, orange eyes??), you still get the top-notch backgrounds and art (for the main characters). The music is much like Hakuouki Hekketsuroku in that it is incorporated into scenes well, but isn’t particularly memorable.

This series does a pretty good job of dealing with the complicated origin of the Shinsengumi. You see the political tactics at use, particularly when Hijikata tries to restrain Serizawa and keep the Roshigumi honourable. The series also provides an insight into the social order of Japan and how influence worked during the Edo period in getting the group recognised and in a position with power. The prequel also works the ‘Water of Life’ angle in really well; not only does it make sense in the story-line, but it is pretty believable in the context of the historical period.

How cute is child Okita?! Don't worry, he's still a pain to deal with. (There are a few small flashbacks to the dojo days)

How cute is child Okita?! Don’t worry, he’s still a pain to deal with. (There are a few small flashbacks to the dojo days)

Hakuouki Reimeiroku’s strongest point is its characterisation. I know- character growth in a Hakuouki series! What is this madness?! But all jokes aside, the series represents the ‘growing up’ period for the group, from naive, optimistic dojo students, to the fierce and proud warriors we see in the other series. The main characters who are the focus of this change are Hijikata, Heisuke Toudou, and Souji Okita; all of them loose their initial idealism but gain realism in return. Whilst we see Heisuke’s loss of innocence and Hijikata becoming the “Demon Vice-Commander” for the sake of Kondou, Okita is a slightly different story; he is, by far, the most interesting character psychologically, and the prequel allows us to see how he gets that way. Not only do we get these treats with the main characters, but as the antagonist, Serizawa is also a solid character, and it is proven that he falls into a somewhat ambiguous grey moral area, which means I don’t know whether I like him or not!

The Negatives

Ryunosuke, the main character, isn’t particularly interesting. Don’t get me wrong, he’s nowhere near as bad as Chizuru, but as he is an original character (i.e. not based on a historical figure) he is merely a spectator for the conflict occurring between the other characters. He is irritatingly passive and rather bland, but at least he’s better than Chizuru.

Ryunosuke does *try* to be more useful at some stage, but it's short lived. (Also, obligatory Saitou picture).

Ryunosuke does *try* to be more useful at some stage, but it’s short lived. (Also, obligatory Saitou picture).

Like the other Hakuouki series, the prequel suffers from slow pacing, and isn’t exactly the most exciting series. However, it was set up purely for explanation (as are all prequels), so it can somewhat be forgiven for this.

Anything else I should consider?

Although Hakuouki Reimeiroku is a prequel, it was released later than the other series. It is feasible to watch it before the other series; it might make some of the male characters (particularly Okita) more sympathetic, but it will spoil everything to do with the ‘Water of Life’, and you might be disappointed when you don’t find find closure about Ryunosuke’s fate in the later series. I liked watching the prequel last, because it felt like I was greeting old friends.

Conclusion

Art:  8.5/10: As usual, the main characters looking pretty good, backgrounds are very pretty, and all non-bishies look the same.

Story: 7/10: Although quite interesting, the plot is explanation-based, slow, and lacking excitement. It is still a pretty clever look into Edo Japan.

Characters: 7.5/10: Ignoring the main character (why are they so blah in the Hakuouki series?!), this series is far better at character growth than the other two combined, and has an interesting antagonist thrown in as well.

Hakuouki Reimeiroku is definitely worth the watch if you liked the other two series. It is a solid prequel that does some pretty good character growth, it flows well with the other series, and is quite watchable, providing more than the standard ‘this is information you might want to know’ version of prequels. Overall, I give it n 7/10 (meaning the Hakuouki series overall gets a pretty solid 7/10).

-S

Ending with a nice tie-in to Hakuouki Shinensgumi Kitan

Ending with a nice tie-in to Hakuouki Shinensgumi Kitan!

Hakuouki Hekketsuroku [Anime]: A good ending to the Hakuouki series

Following up last week’s post, Hakuouki Hekketsuroku (Demon of the Fleeting Blossom: The Record of the Jade Blood) (2010), is the ten-episode sequel that follows Hakuouki Shinsengumi Kitan. (This review will contain spoilers for the first series).

(Again, game art)

(Again, game art)

What’s it about?

After their defeat in the Battle of Toba-Fushimi, Chizuru and the Shinsengumi have left for Edo, aware that if they are to survive, they have to embrace the new ways and technology. Changing up their traditional garments for Western clothing, the Shinsengumi now have to navigate the strife between the new government soldiers and the remaining supporters of the fallen Tokugawa Shogunate. The stress placed on the Shinsengumi will eventually lead to its collapse, so what fate awaits the surviving members?

The Positives

The art remains as good as it was in the first series, with the emphasis remaining on pretty backgrounds and the main characters. I really liked the new Western styled clothes, and character styling remains a strong point. The music of the second series is even less memorable, but is still incorporated into scenes well. Just like the first series, you still have the fusion of history and the supernatural. I really liked how the second series looked at the different reactions to incorporating Western themes and cultural aspects into the Japanese way of life, from clothes to shaking hands. The violence and fighting is much more prolific in the second series.

New series = new wardrobe!

New series = new wardrobe!

Although there is nowhere near enough character exploration going on, you do get to learn a little bit more about the male characters in the stories. The second series is very good at highlighting the common beliefs that are shared by the men, but also what lines they differ upon. The final appearance for each character does a great job of characterising who they are and what the stand for as an individual, making the characters much more memorable than what they would otherwise be. Sadly, though, Chizuru remains the same bland character that she was in the first series.

Finally, I thought that the ending was quite a satisfying closure to the series. Although not every characters’ future is explicitly shown, a lot is implied, and overall, Hakuouki Hekketsuroku is rather bitter-sweet. If you know the fate of the actual men the characters are based on, you’d already have an idea of what sort of ending we’re looking at. I thought it was handled sweetly and touchingly, and brings about a nice conclusion.

A bitter-sweet ending is the order of the day!

A bitter-sweet ending is the order of the day!

The Negatives

I found that the plot of Hakuouki Hekketsuroku was a little more in disarray compared to the first series. This is mainly a result of the pace. Whilst the characters who leave the Shinsengumi get their stories wrapped up quickly (in some cases, way too quickly, as the plot moves like lightening to get through it), Chizuru and Hijikata’s story feels like it drags on forever. And they somehow manage to accomplish this without as many ‘staring thoughtfully into the sky’ scenes as there are in the first series. I understand that the writers only had ten episodes to work with, but I am sure this could have been handled better.

Some characters' final episode wrapped up far too quickly...

Some characters’ final episode wrapped up far too quickly…

Finally, the love-story between Chizuru and Hijikata really seems to fail. Not only does it take the ENTIRE TWO SERIES to start to get anywhere, it feels like too little, too late. I know it goes against Hijikata’s character to you know, actually have emotions and be human, but it wouldn’t hurt if there was some meaning behind Chizuru’s extreme patience in waiting for him to acknowledge her.

Conclusion

Art:  8.5/10: The art remains very similar to the first series; pretty backgrounds and even prettier characters.

Story: 7/10: Whilst the plot gets upset by the pacing of the anime, it does provide good closure to the series, and ties up all loose ends.

Characters: 7/10: You get a little more character exploration in the second series, helping to cement each male character. However, big points are lost thanks to Chizuru remaining bland.

Whilst this series may not have the happy ending you’re looking for, its bitter-sweet ending is handled really well, and the characterisation of the male characters makes them hard to forget. If you liked the first series enough to even think about watching the second, go right ahead and do it. It is a good closure for the series, although not without its faults. Overall, I give it a 7/10, same as the first series.

-S

Here, have another picture of Saitou looking pretty...

Here, have another picture of Saitou looking pretty…