Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon)

Kids on the Slope (Sakamichi no Aporon) 2012

No preamble here, just two (and a half) reasons on why this short series joined my top ten the other month.

Kids on the Slope is a great romance with very few instances of manufactured drama, which is really nice in a genre that sometimes suffers from such contrivances. In a way, the series is almost about the cruelty of youth, where the sweeter, coming-of-age elements are contrasted with the mistakes that are all too easy to make when you’re trying to figure things out.

I found myself quickly invested in the lives of Kaoru, Sentaro and Ritsuko, and I wanted them all to end up happy. (I was even able to almost remember how it felt to be that young and unsure).

The second reason will probably be no surprise: the music – both literally, and the way it forms part of the storyline and a bond between characters. If you enjoy jazz, especially (but not only) Hard Bop or the Cool sub-genres, along with the piano of Bill Evans, this will definitely appeal. And yep, Kids on the Slope is another collaboration between Shinchiro Watanabe and Yoko Kanno, but the OST isn’t as eclectic as say, their work on Cowboy Bebop.

Instead, I think Yoko Kanno looks after most of the incidental music and motifs, whereas a pair of young (certainly back in 2012) musicians perform the jams and standards. And the rotoscoping really shows fantastic fluidity in the performances – I’ll share one of the highlights at the end, but maybe if you want to see this series skip the youtube clip because it’s far better in context. (Elsewhere, the story really captures what it’s like to play in a group, another memory the anime managed to activate for me.)

And finally the ‘half’ reason!

Most of what I’ve talked about seems to be nostalgia, but it’s not just my own I guess – Kids on the Slope takes in a historical setting: sea-side Japan in the 1960s, and is fairly dripping with a nostalgia that I obviously cannot truly experience, but which seems to be captured so well in the settings.

5 Stars

Haikyuu!! (Seasons 1 – 3)

Haikyuu!! Seasons 1-3 (2014-2016)

My knowledge of sport-themed anime is pretty thin but I was drawn to Haikyuu!! because I play volleyball – not during a pandemic of course, but certainly when it’s safe.

Anyway, getting back to the anime – one of the things that struck me most was that while the moves that the boys manage to perform on court (outside of the purposeful exaggeration) tend to be Olympic-level stuff, it’s not unrealistic really. And more – parts of the show are explicitly educational in terms of explaining court positions and strategy.

In fact, I’ve had students sign up at our volleyball club, telling me they wanted to try the sport out after watching Haikyuu!!, which is pretty great.

So, putting aside my excitement to watch any form of visual media about indoor volleyball, and the enjoyment I got from understanding, even from an average player’s perspective, what was happening on court – I’m aware that I wouldn’t have kept watching Haikyuu!! if the storytelling or the characters weren’t engaging.

And they pretty much all are, even in such a big cast spread across many schools. There’s heroes and villains aplenty, including those I was happy to see succeed, and others who seemed to earn their defeat. On that note, I really thought the pain of failure is shown really well, whether it’s full-on tears, bitterness or in the case of that “piece of crap” Tōru Oikawa (to quote his teammate), irredeemable jealousy.

But getting back to the series overall, it feels like Haruichi Furudate (who I believe played middle in school) did a great job with the season-long tension, and the anime itself really uses all the tools of film to keep episodes exciting, even when a single match stretches across several episodes (or an entire season). And while there are times where you think – I just saw a similar shot a little while ago, I tended not to care. I was more invested in having Karasuno grow into a fantastic team.

For these seasons, I do wish the girls had their storyline sneak back in a few times, and that we were shown a few extra details of life beyond the court for the key players, but I still love this series – and it’s been pretty uplifting to watch while I haven’t been able to play myself.

5 Stars

And quickly also, Kim Yeon-koung, Captain of South Korea’s national women’s volleyball team, watched a match and talked about how generally realistic things were, which was fascinating.

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 5)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Not the forward momentum that I was craving, but maybe this is a pause before a push toward the bigger things that must be coming.

The hyper-focus on the old pervert trope seemed to be the No Guns Life fan-service episode – or perhaps a critique of it – but I think it’s also clear that ‘x-ray eyes’ will be back, once he hooks up with Vincent and spills some secrets.

It was good to see Mary get fired up, but the highlight for me was another clue about Juzo’s past. I’m also pleased that the story is now bringing back a few characters that I’ve been curious about too.

Even if this isn’t my fav moment this season, at least the bloody nose exaggeration was funny. (There was also a refreshing change in the colour palette, as the greys and blues dominated the last few eps.)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 4)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Again, I’m doing only a couple of notes for this episode, as I’m juggling a few things at the moment.

First off – I’m pleased to see Juzo has recovered, but it was a fun surprise as to how, and so I feel like there’s a chance our heroes can move forward a bit now. For most of the season so far, the team has been locked into a reactive pattern, as they deal with and learn about important stuff, and stuff I wanted to know too.

But it’s nice to see that other key characters are being drawn back into the picture again, and I wonder how that will play out now that Tetsuro is being (sorta) blackmailed.

Here and there I’m noticing the occasional moment where the CGI jumps out a bit – usually when there’s less shadow to do the work of blending, I guess. And since this is a show I believe I’ll grab on disc one day, I’m curious to compare a few scenes.

Anyway, that’s a bit of an aside – once more, I must ‘suffer’ through an entire week before another episode 😀

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 3)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

More answers revealed this time around, and of course, more questions raised. While we didn’t check-in with Tetsuro at all, there was plenty going on with Juzo and Mary.

And seeing them face off against ‘Victor’ was quite satisfying, plus there’s a little comedic moment that I won’t spoil in there too. At this point, after getting that tiny morsel about Juzo’s past, I’m realising that I probably know more about the back-story of everyone else, so I’m ready for extra details in that department from the next few episodes 😀

What I continue to find (and not enjoy so much) is that even though I think I can comment, in the form of prediction/gut reaction, upon big picture things like ‘pacing’, is that it’s very hard. Ideally, before I attempt a series review of No Guns Life, I’d like to watch the whole thing in a few sittings first.

Glad that it seems Victor will take the role of significant villain (and ally, as it turns out) but when we no doubt visit Tetsuro’s storyline with the next episode, I’m hoping things start to surge forward.

It feels like the audience now has plenty of background, context and understanding around what’s happening and who is responsible for what – and once Mary (or someone else?) fixes up Juzo, I’m hoping it’ll be time to start drawing the main protagonists together!

So, how’s everyone finding the second season so far? (For me, each week certainly gets harder to wait for the next episode :D).

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 2)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Now that the recapping/tiny wrap-up bits from episode 1 are dealt with, it feels like it’s time to move the story along again! (Though right at the beginning, I like that little nod to possible audience impatience with Juzo’s voice-over interruption :D).

A bit more action this time around, and more Juzo – so I’m happy there of course, as he’s still a force no matter his injuries. In fact, I’m hoping he and Mary take a moment for repairs soon.

But since they haven’t, I believe that adds a touch more tension to the upcoming fight between he and Victor. And, like episode one, we’re given a few more answers that lead to more questions. Big questions, especially around Tetsuro, so I’m growing increasingly keen for No Guns Life. In fact, it’s getting harder to wait – part of me wants to ‘save up’ a few episodes so I can watch back-to-back.

One thing I mentioned in the first half of the season, I’m still wanting to get a feel for a ‘main antagonist’. And it’s interesting to speculate upon whether Victor will take that role, since he has a connection to our heroes.

So far, outside of flashback, he’s been shown as ‘unhinged with some cunning’ rather than just being ‘broken + destructive’, so I’m kinda hoping he’ll end up in the ‘main villain’ category or at least in the ‘untrustworthy ally’ basket. I also hope that the plot doesn’t essentially discard him too soon, as there have been a lot of players entering and exiting the stage too quickly… so far.

Further to this, I still don’t quite ‘feel’ Berühren as the villain of the series, even if the corporation clearly must be, based at least on their activities and general stranglehold on the city.

Still, plenty of episodes left to find out!

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) (Season 2, 1)

No Guns Life (Nō Ganzu Raifu) 2020

Okay! Into the second half of the series now at last. It’s always tough to wait, but I’d obviously rather have the creators be safe, so in the end it doesn’t matter that the show was delayed, because it’s here now 🙂

This was a great ‘return’ with a focus on intrigue rather than action, and I got an actual answer on a few characters and their threads, one of which had been simply left dangling for a fair few episodes.

Several smaller hints have also been solidified here, and Vincent makes an actual (satisfyingly dramatic) appearance, so that was great. There are also two other characters introduced, and I’m keen for things to tie together to others who haven’t really returned (like Cronen) or other villains.

Still, watching + writing up weekly is fraught with issues for me – in the moment, what I think might be an issue with storytelling or pacing for example, turns out not to be, when things happen in a subsequent (or even the very next) episode.

So I’ll wrap this quickly and say I certainly enjoy the episode, but in the next one I’m looking for a bit more Juzo screentime 🙂

(and very quickly, I think I slightly prefer the older opening/ending songs and sequences).

A Liquid Top Ten (2020, Quarter Two)

So, I’m a little late on the ‘second’ quarter here, but it’s still the second entry in this little ‘series’ of posts, at least 🙂

If you click here you can see a preamble and some reasoning re: why I included the ten titles I chose for quarter one… but let’s see if anything has changed! (If it has changed, it’s generally because I’ve changed my mind about something older or finally watched something I hadn’t seen before).

I will re-post this bit though:

  • I’m focusing on TV shows here
  • This list should change as I see more texts over the years
  • Equally, it should also change whenever I re-watch and re-evaluate something
  • By definition of the list being ‘mine’ it clearly reveals my biases and interests
  • Expect to see the 1990s heavily represented, lol
  • Subsequent posts will generally be shorter than this one

The List – Quarter One

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Record of Lodoss War: Chronicles of the Heroic Knight (1998)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


The List – Quarter Two

Cowboy Bebop (1998)
Ergo Proxy (2006)
Mushi-Shi (2006)
The Big O (1999)
Trigun (1998)
Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (2006)
Steins;Gate (2011)
Neon Genesis (1995)
Kids on the Slope (2012)
Nadia: Secret of Blue Water (1990)


So, there was a change 🙂

I’ve replaced just one title, but there are a few extras further below as well. But first:

9. Kids on the Slope (2012)

Kids on the Slope is a superb drama with an excellent romantic subplot and a soundtrack that should satisfy most jazz fans, especially if you like the Cool and Bob sub-genres. I loved it and look forward to watching the show again – especially for all the little references here and there, from character design to album covers etc

It’s also basically historical fiction I guess, or at least a period piece (in that it focuses on the 1960s in Japan) so that’s always a plus for me. Like most folks who’ve seen anime, I also really enjoyed the fluidity to the musical performances, achieved via rotoscoping.


Outside the List (for now)

This (unranked) list includes shows that are pretty close/could well sneak in. As I go through the months, I’m finding a lot of this process is based on mood as much as anything else, AND, wondering if this is where most of the action will be over the years? (I’ve certainly added more here than into the Quarter Two Top Ten.)

Samurai Champloo (2004)
Full Metal Alchemist (2003)
Gunbuster (1988)
FLCL (2003)
Haikyuu!! (2014)
Ushio & Tora (2015)
Pyscho-Pass (2012)
RahXephon (2002)
Witch Hunter Robin (2002)
Ghost Hunt (2006)


Based on my missed ‘deadline’ of May for this post, I’ll try to get the third quarter post done sooner, and once more see if anything has changed but if I don’t get a chance to see a lot of new things by September, it might not look very different.

As before, let me know if you think I’ve missed a great show! (Doubtless I have) and so maybe I’ll be able to include it in my upcoming watching if it’s within my reach, both figuratively and literally. (I’m curious to see whether some of my A-Z Challenge titles might eventually get into this list too).

Thanks for reading!

Doamayger-D

Doamayger-D (2015)

Okay, so Doamayger-D fooled me for a moment at first, because I thought I was watching a show produced in the ‘70s but which had been released with extra notes onscreen for modern audiences 😀

But it was made only a few years ago of course and it’s clearly a loving tribute to (and parody of) 1970s mecha.

Everything from the ‘scratchy’ look to the character and robot designs and the battle scenes, down to the acting and narration, it all has that feel. It’s incredibly compact storytelling too, with each episode being about 2 minutes long, with the perfectly on brand ending theme stretching the overall running time a bit.

ILCA maybe wanted to make something truly regional, since aside from the ‘70s mech tropes, the show features baking and sweets common to Kyoto, and it makes me think the episodes are tv spots, or at least able to function as fun little promos for tourism?

Anyway, if you’re curious this won’t take long to check out and if you’re familiar with the tropes and aesthetic of older mech, then you might enjoy Doamayger-D.

3 Stars

Note: Doamayger-D is definitely fun and easy to digest, but I’d try to watch it via disc if possible, since even short load times between 3 minute episodes can feel like a bit much (but that’s no deal-breaker precisely).

Promare

Promare (2019)

Whenever folks complain about CGI in anime (as I sometimes certainly do) it’s not about this level of application and integration, I hope.

Promare looks amazing, and some scenes are burnt into my memory I reckon – two of which I’ll mention below. There is definitely a lot to like if you’re a fan of Gainax, Trigger or mecha in general, or I’d add, even the neon aesthetic of the 1980s.

For a change, I’m going to include a short summary of the premise (from Wikipedia) though I imagine there aren’t tonnes of folks who aren’t at least vaguely familiar with the film:

The planet Earth suffered a calamity known as the Great World Blaze, where the fires from mass spontaneous human combustions killed half the world’s population. Certain ones developed pyrokinetic abilities during and subsequent to the event, and became known as the Burnish.

Thirty years later, Galo Thymos lives and works as a member of the firefighting group Burning Rescue, in the city of Promepolis. He responds to incidents involving the purported Mad Burnish, a group of liberating terrorists [led by Lio Fotia].

One thing that struck me, especially in these times, is that it was nice to see fire-fighters as heroes as opposed to say, police, which to be honest I couldn’t stomach at the moment. But getting back to Promare, I really enjoyed the dynamic between the leads (two hot-heads in a way) – since it was a little different from the classic kid must pilot mecha to save the world.

And while comparisons between Promare and Gurren Lagann (especially re: Galo and Kamina) can be made, I think it was fun to have two heroes who start off as adversaries work together to take on the glittering facade of a true villain. That’s a trope that I’m enjoying a lot lately, so I guess it spoke to me when I cheered Galo and Lio on.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the way the film balanced itself to appeal to a range of audiences, and in a way it really felt like Trigger nailed that ‘commercially-successful but-still-artistic’ project really well. (I may have said this before, but I’m not a huge fan of those two things being set up as opposite ends of a quality spectrum actually).

So, if you’re on the fence about watching or purchasing this I think that Promare has that real blockbuster feel, with a fun blend of action, character and comedy, and for me it definitely had enough reveals to be interesting, pay-offs to be satisfying and both likeable and understandable characters to keep me hooked.

What I will mention is the visual aspect – the colour palette is extremely 1980s (or even Vaporwave if you’re younger, I guess) and that might wear some folks down – in some action sequences there maybe wasn’t enough definition between moving parts to really track what was happening, so I think it’d be worth watching more than once in that respect.

Elsewhere, the hard lines and solid colours also kept things distinctive – in a way, it kinda brought Ben 10 to mind, but that’s not a good comparison tone-wise. Promare is definitely anime.

For the two moments I mentioned at the beginning of the interview, I wanted to find images for both but I’m not sure the internet will provide what I need… but there are a few shots from (beneath) an ice lake that are perfectly serene, and there’s also a fantastic range of styles compressed into Lio’s volcano scene that I think fans of animation should see at least once.

You could watch it here of course, but in the context of the whole film it’s obviously better

Okay, that’s about it! Basically, I really enjoyed Promare and I think I’ll grab a copy one day, but I was lucky that just last week Animelab randomly decided to put the movie up for streaming across a three day period!

5 Stars

More screen-time for Ignis needed!