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

DECA-DENCE (5)

Another short write up for today.

Deca-Dence 2020

Cliffhanger ending, nice!

Other than that fun moment – which is textbook ‘weekly’ storytelling – it was nice to see some satisfying action but also poor Natsume’s reaction to the big reveal behind the other big reveal.

I liked the slight ‘widening’ up of the world here, and so I remain hopeful that she will get the chance to explore later on.

It’s probably far too early in the series to say this, but I wonder if a few minor characters have been a bit forgotten? For instance, someone like Fennel. Is he relevant or not really? If he is, I’d like for episode 6 to check in with him, otherwise, I guess it’s all good 🙂

DECA-DENCE (4)

Very short post this time around, might do the same with No Guns Life tonight, actually, while I’m swamped with other stuff.

Deca-Dence 2020

Action aplenty and more intrigue too – things are building swiftly now, and I wonder if the story will expand beyond the confines of the current boundaries, a bit like Gurren Lagann did for example?

I’m not sure but it feels like those flashbacks with Natsume and her dad were also foreshadowing the idea that we’ll get to see the surface sooner rather than later?

The tension between Natsume’s idealism and Kaburagi’s cynicism and fear was great too – but of course, she’s a classic hero and so she’s pushing on against the huge odds that the story has set up with the snow Gadoll.

A long wait ahead to see exactly how she survives, I guess 😀

Got the flashbacks I wanted 😀

DECA-DENCE (3)

Just a short post on this episode for now.


Deca-Dence 2020

Training time!

I enjoyed plenty about episode three, but probably the combat training and slapstick there with Natsume the most. As before, the clash between worlds/art styles continues to give me pause at first, but I’m sure I’ll eventually acclimatise to the Furby/Regular Show-like aspects to the visuals.

It was great to get another hint that something else is afoot, re: Kaburagi and Pipe (who remains almost ridiculously cute) because I am glad there still seems to be secrets left in the storyline. Nice high-tension ending to the episode too, and I had a chuckle at Natsume and the arms dealer.

At this early point in the story, I’m still not feeling the dystopian aspects that have been hinted at, not quite feeling the full fear for humanity yet, even with the educational video – maybe I need to see what’s left of the surface, and especially see it presented in a non-cutesy way.

Keen to see what happens next time.

Hoping there’s another flashback in episode four too.

DECA-DENCE (2)

No self-indulgent intro today 😀


Deca-Dence 2020

‘Interesting’ is my first thought with episode two.

And not in a sarcastic way, I am interested to see how things continue to develop – but maybe I was at least half right that this show isn’t going to be super-gritty… maybe.

Once the twist landed, I had an instant reaction – it seemed that a whole heap of the dramatic tension was sucked from the world; suddenly very little was at stake, since the characters were avatars.

And I still half feel that way, or maybe that’s the moe facade that fools me a little. Because certainly, there are consequences lurking for Kaburagi and if you’re human there’s plenty of danger.

But as I’d hoped, I got some follow-up from episode one, some answers and more importantly, new engaging questions, so I’m definitely still on board and ready for the next installment in the story.

Especially as it will probably, at the least, check in with the wider cast too. And I’m keen to see a little more of the fortress itself, along with extra details on how precisely the scam is operating.

It’s nice to have the classic Big Evil Corporation in place as something for the characters to (eventually) rail against too.

Bring on episode three!

DECA-DENCE (1)

Needlessly long intro incoming 😀

Firstly, I want to quickly note that I’m not great when it comes to episode reviews of seasonal shows; I can’t always keep up (or find much to say on a per-episode basis), but I’ll give it a shot with Deca-Dence and the also second half of No Guns Life this time around.


Deca-Dence 2020

I suspect that this series has the clear potential for a certain ‘bitterness of hype’ I guess I’ll call it, but it’s a familiar thing: we all know how it goes – promo art, previews and the first episode establish high expectations for an anime… and then as the series goes on, various minor personal preferences held by certain audience groups (and disguised as universal indicators of quality) aren’t met.

Once this happens, said groups quickly turn on the thing they thought they’d enjoy and proceed to proselytize about how bad said show is.*

Now, I can maybe see this happening with Deca-Dence because the preview almost suggests a militant Howl’s Moving Castle + more action in some respects. And I do wonder if some audience members will be on board with the coming of age and comedy aspects which seem just as prominent, if said folks were expecting something grimmer.

Essentially, I’m using a bit of a straw man here, in part because it’s a prediction of how I think the show might be received but also because I’m talking about a vaguely-defined specific audience sub-set. And more, it’s risky of me to predict anything, since only one episode has even screened and so I’m bound to fail in this prediction 🙂

But I’m throwing it out there anyway, and wanting to be wrong about it by the way – I want lots of folks to enjoy this.

So, why am I already so invested in the series? One main reason further below, but first – finally, impressions of the episode itself and why I liked it:

You have my aforementioned bias toward coming of age stories, toward action and comedy and of course, the monstrous fortress itself and the vaguely dystopian setting. I like all of those things, and further, it’s a bright show so far in terms of colour, which gives me the sense that there’s a bit of an ‘adventure’ feel to Deca-Dence.

I also like the shonen-style ‘positive-outlook’ heroine in Natsume, and I think it’s clear that her idealism is going to clash with Kaburagi’s world-weariness, which should create some fun tension in their mentor-mentee relationship. The world-building I really enjoyed too, with the weapons/pipe-harvesting and the acrobatics of the fight sequences.

There are already hints at bigger mysteries to be solved, but also smaller, personal ones too and the climax was satisfyingly big enough for me, even if maybe I didn’t feel it quite the same way it looked like it should have ‘hit’. I do wonder whether Fennel will deal with his mistake, and I’m also curious about how at least one of Kaburagi’s secrets will play out too.

I haven’t seen any other works from NUT yet, but Yuzuru Tachikawa is certainly well-loved for Mob Pyscho 100 at a minimum, so it feels like this will be a great series!

And now at last, that ‘main reason’ which is thus: I badly want studios to continue taking risks on original stories. I know I’ve harped on about this before, but since big business tends to be ‘risk-averse’ it can mean less variety in shows they make, less chances taken on things that aren’t ‘sure-fire’ adaptations.

Looking forward to next episode!

*Speaking of that particular mistake, I’ve certainly conflated a ‘favourite aspect of storytelling’ with a ‘high quality thing’ before myself, it’s hard to avoid sometimes.

Arte

It feels like only a few folks are talking about Arte (or I’m just missing the discussions) but I’m glad I stumbled across this show! (I’ve been watching episodes of Arte between Black Lagoon stints, and the contrast is vivid :D)

Arte 2020

Arte is a seinen series that should appeal to folks who like historical fiction too and coming of age themes in any other genre, but also visual artists themselves. Obviously, setting a show in Florence during the 16th century means (High) Renaissance but in Arte it’s not a drama about the masters, but a coming of age story that focuses on apprentices – chiefly Arte herself, of course.

And she’s an endearing heroine whom I wanted to succeed, kind and determined, classic seinen stuff. Having been extremely lucky to have once visited Florence (and Venice) I was enthralled by the setting as much as the storyline, due to the beautiful detail. [As a side note, I did also like seeing the canals so clear and sparkling in the anime :)]

Arte isn’t an episodic anime, as it is building to two key moments that do pay off, and while the individual storylines and characters were definitely enjoyable for me, I think the mentor stuff around Arte and Leo were my favourite aspects, aside from learning more about the specific labour that went into the art world back then.

I only had one gripe, which was the amount of time the story spent in Venice, though that wasn’t because things suddenly became worse, but more because I wanted to see her grow more under Leo’s guidance and he wasn’t in those eps, lol.

On the extremely low chance of a future season, I guess that could still happen. The manga certainly has plenty of issues available for Seven Arcs to draw from 🙂

Part of me wants to say ‘5 Stars’ because I enjoyed so much about the show but I think it’s a fairly niche series in some ways, so I don’t want to potentially mislead anyone reading this. However, if you like the visual arts or the genre, or historical Italy, then I think you’ll enjoy this a good deal indeed.

4 Stars

Katarina has quite the introductory episode
Perhaps the only time Leo smiles from memory
I should have tried harder to find more pictures like these

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai)

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai) 2011

One day I’ll run out of shows I’ve seen and then I’ll have to focus more on new stuff – but until that moment, here’s another ‘older’ series. And for a change, I’ll try and keep this review succinct!

Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day is a definition tearjerker, so if that’s not your thing steer clear perhaps. Otherwise, if you’ve never seen this one get ready for a fairly full-on drama that follows young adults as they struggle to come to terms with the death of a childhood friend from their past, Menma. On the surface it sounds like a straight forward drama but there’s a few supernatural aspects, since Menma is kinda haunting the main character of Jinta in the present-day.

Of course, she generally does it in a cute way – except for in the first episode. I nearly gave the show a miss because for some reason she’s shown grinding on Jinta over breakfast? That bizarre attempt at fan-service(?) aside, the story is a good mix between mystery and character, with some truly antagonistic friends coming together to try and figure out the right thing to do. And yeah, as expected, super-bittersweet ending – even melodramatic, but still overall a good series.  

Clannad is mentioned a lot in terms of a general comparison to Anohana, so that might be another marker to help decide whether to watch. As I’ve said many times about most modern productions, visually everything is bright and clear and the character designs are distinctive enough, which is always welcome.

But the real highlight is probably the charactarisation for me.

4 Stars  

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko)

The Boy and the Beast (Bakemono no Ko) 2015

Before Makoto Shinkai was dubbed ‘the next Miyazaki’ that (possibly unwelcome) title was given to Mamoru Hosoda. I can’t remember exactly when it was that such claims started but maybe around 2006 when The Girl Who Leapt Through Time first made waves?

Obviously Hasoda wasn’t the first director to be compared in such a way to Miyazaki nor will he be the last but it’s understandable why it happened. Both directors have a real knack for blending the fantastical with very real human characters and both (though obviously not always) stray toward the ‘family-friendly’ spectrum of anime.

For me, they probably have more differences than similarities but I won’t try and delve into that but instead, finally get to the film itself The Boy and the Beast.

I wanted to start with that comparison to establish something of the reception to and tone of Hasoda’s films – but with The Boy and the Beast I think it’s one of the more obvious examples of where he’s further away from Miyazaki than usual. Maybe it’s the shonen feel to the training or master-student storylines here, or maybe it’s just the fact that family is dealt with as more of a ‘site of conflict’ rather than being something somewhat absent, as is often the case with Miyazkai’s more adventure-based films.

Here’s a tiny idea of the plot:

Young runaway Kyuta stumbles into a fantasy world where he is raised by a cantankerous bear-man, Kumatetsu – and is soon forced to struggle for control of both his emotions and abilities, as he is drawn into the politics of succession in the Beast Kingdom.

The story proceeds much in the classic ‘coming of age’ manner but with a couple of welcome surprises and as to be expected with a great director and a giant budget, some wonderful animation and great integration of CGI. I especially remember really enjoying the whale in Shibuya scene actually, that and the travel montage or the way the seasons are depicted in the film.

Although, on the note of the travel montage I remember being kinda disappointed when Kyuta and Kumatestsu set out, as I was expecting a new adventure to start – but it was heavily compressed and instead, the film switched back to the focus on the politics of the fantasy world and more importantly, the strained master-student, father-son relationship between the two lead characters.

And it’s obviously a struggle for both of them so that’s where a lot of the film’s comedic moments (and heart) comes from, and so if you’re familiar with Hasoda you’ll know that the dramatic elements are given as much weight as action or fantasy.

Looking back on the review, I’ve probably spent a bit too much time on comparisons, on genre and general statements… but I actually want to quickly mention that so far, The Boy and the Beast is my least favourite of the Mamoru Hosoda films I’ve seen.

For me, it didn’t match the heights of Summer Wars or tension in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, nor the emotional rollercoaster that was Wolf Children. I’ve not been able to put my finger on quite how or why I didn’t enjoy it as much – but having said that it’s really a question of degrees: I really liked it, as opposed to, I loved it.

4 Stars

Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa)

Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) 2013

If you’re a Makoto Shinkai fan and for some reason you’ve overlooked Garden of Words I reckon you should rectify that and take a look.

The movie is shorter than a feature film but that compressed the storytelling and worked really well for me, so it felt like the perfect length. Garden of Words also plays to all Shinkai’s strengths with beautiful backgrounds, wonderful attention to detail, a dramatic love story and coming of age themes.

I also feel like there are echoes of films like Whisper of the Heart within, along with a clear nod to Cinderalla and the fairy tale genre in particular. Like a lot of film, it presents an idealised story, a romanticised one, but one where the beauty doesn’t mask the real fears and problems the two main characters face.

As is my way with these write-ups, I won’t spend much time on the plot but Garden of Words could be called a ‘first love’ story with the coming of age aspects not limited to the main character, perhaps. I’ve spent a bit of space here trying to define it via themes or genre but perhaps a single word is better – I think the movie is sweet.

And maybe that’s ‘sweet’ but spiked with a moment or two that’s more bittersweet, although that won’t be a surprise for fans of Makoto Shinkai, though the film is certainly no ‘downer’ either.

Even if you don’t end up gripped by the story the visuals will probably transfix you – the garden and the characters’ homes, the weather, it’s all pretty stunning. In fact, I’ll watch it again for the rain alone, it’s sublime. And yeah, I’ll cut back on my quest for a superlative now and try and wrap it up by saying that I think this is a sweet, intimate film made all the more so by slow* pacing, by lots of close-ups and nature-based framing, by silences and earnest dialogue.

4 Stars

As a fan of haiku and renku, I really enjoyed the appearance of classic Japanese poetry in the story too, via the tanka that features as a plot point 🙂

*And this might be redundant, but just like the word ‘sweet’ further above, I don’t mean for ‘slow’ to be a negative here.