We’re back – episode 25 is here!
It’s all getting very exciting now. By my calculations, episode 26 will be the final Anime Pocket Reviews episode before the grand 50 Anime Review! I guess I have some big articles to build over the next month or so…
But before we get carried away, there’s an excellent APR here for you. Later on we review the recently crowned Anime of the Year for 2016, but before that:
Danganronpa: The Animation (2013, S1, 13x24mins)
“A healthy murderer dwells in a healthy body and mind!”
Adapted from the PlayStation game of the same name, Danganronpa revolves around the mysterious school Hope’s Peak Academy, an elite high-school than only accepts fifteen of the nation’s best students each year. The story follows Makoto Naegi (top & centre), who is enrolled after winning a raffle for the fifteenth place, and is given the title ‘Ultimate Lucky Student’. However, upon arrival at the Academy, he loses consciousness. He wakes up inside the Academy with the other fourteen students, where they are greeted by a remote-controlled bear called Monokuma (front & centre), who explains that they have been locked inside, and will live out the remainder of their lives there unless they take part in a game. The only way to escape Hope’s Peak Academy is to commit a murder and get away with it. Initially refusing the idea, deciding instead to work together to find a way out, a mixture of threats and bribes made by Monokuma draw people into committing the murders. After all the evidence is collected, a trial commences, and if the culprit is found, they are subjected to a cruel execution at the hands of Monokuma. The process continues until one victor remains, and while Naegi tries to keep his hands clean, slowly discovering why they are really here, the hostile minds of egotistical students continue to play into Monokuma’s hands.
Basically Plot: In what is almost a real-life game of Cluedo, it is left to the one sane kid to solve the murderous game taking place in the Academy, and the back-story that brought them all here.
As explained above, Danganropa is originally a series of visual-novels (basically videogames, but with more words than gameplay), with the story coming directly from the initial game. While the story itself is pretty good, it is always obvious that this is something that is almost copy-and-pasted from another medium, and as such always feels a little bit clunky. The title gives it away: this is – for lack of a better word – a spin-off.
However, there is still a good premise here. The idea of this game taking place – while I’m certain somebody must have done this already – is exciting, and the bigger backstory when it reveals itself later is not only good, but developed really well.
The show falls down in two major areas, though, and I would hazard-a-guess that the same problems arise in the game (although in that medium you can get away with it a little more).
The first is repetition: yes, the murders are solved in very intricate and exciting ways, with evidence leading you one way before turning it on a sixpence in a Sherlock-esque fashion. However, this is a formula which the developers (of the game, I mean) obviously knew worked, and it’s a formula that was simply re-hashed for each and every murder afterwards. It is really good at the beginning, but quickly becomes somewhat predictable, and almost a cliché of itself!
The second is characters. Each of them are given their own title, such as Naegi’s ‘Ultimate Lucky Student’. Others include Ultimate Swimmer, Ultimate Writing Prodigy, Ultimate Gambler, Ultimate Martial Artist, Ultimate Affluent Prodigy and Ultimate Moral Compass. That, is about all the character development that you see in Danganronpa. Excluding someone called ‘Ultimate ???’ and two, possibly three others who I won’t spoil, every character in this story is the same from beginning to end, and even those base characters are not that interesting. In the end, you find yourself struggling to feel attached when times get tough to what is ultimately little more than a cold selection of people.
Danganronpa the videogame, from what I gather, is a success. This one came out in 2010, and the latest came out in mid-January 2017. This is a well-respected game, primarily for its storytelling. However, you cannot simply take a game and copy it into an animation and expect the same results. While the story’s credentials cannot be doubted, the characters are really thin, the ending is good, but not spectacular, and the story’s hook – the murder game – loses its appeal. It’s a story with good points and an exciting premise, but not many memorable moments.
If you liked this you’ll love: Kiznaiver – An anime that had a big launch in 2016, Kiznaiver is another story where a group of students who would never interact with each other are forced to connect thanks to a mysterious, powerful group with unknown motives. A sharp and edgy show with plenty of character, and a decent mystery to boot – Kiznaiver is the perfect follow-up for fans of Danganronpa!
And now, the main event:
Yuri!!! on Ice (2016, S1, 12x24mins)
Sport, Drama, Romance
“You have to do the opposite of what people expect. How else will you surprise them? That’s my motto.”
The story follows Yuri Katsuki (front & centre), a young and upcoming figure skater from Japan. After suffering a humiliating last place in his first ever World Championship Finals, Yuri puts his career on a hiatus. His confidence smashed, he returns home with his tail between his legs, contemplating what to do next. He returns to his home skating rink, where he performs one of his favourite routines, an advanced routine made famous by Victor Nikiforov (bottom-right), Yuri’s skating idol and gold medallist at the World Championships. The routine makes its way online after begin filmed in secret, and goes viral among the skating community, reaching Victor. Out of nowhere, Victor Nikiforov arrives in Japan and offers to become Yuri’s coach for the upcoming season, putting his own illustrious career on hold, a decision that angers many of the skating community. It particularly upsets young Russian skater Yuri Plisetsky (bottom-left), a wonderkid who is starting his first adult season at the age of fifteen, who was aiming to beat Victor on the biggest stage. The series follows the upcoming skating season, with Yuri and Victor working together for the gold medal.
Basically Plot: A young figure skater, giving up on the sport after a global embarrassment, is picked back up when his hero retires just to coach him.
This was, without doubt, the biggest anime of the winter 2016 cycle, and probably one of the biggest of the whole year. If an anime series can go viral, then this certainly did that. Yuri on Ice was the most tweeted show during the previous cycle, talked about over one-million times more than the next closest show, and when the final episode went live on popular global streaming service Crunchyroll, the site crashed due to over-activity. The show has won an unending stream of awards, both in Japan and abroad. In Japan, Yuri on Ice topped numerous online polls for Anime of the Year. In Crunchyroll’s Anime Awards, Yuri on Ice won Best Boy, Best Animation, Most Heart-warming Scene, Best Couple, Best Opening and Best Ending [revision: the show has, unsurprisingly, just won Crunchyroll’s Anime of the Year, too]!
While I think in the first few episodes the show struggled to decide what it wanted to be, as it got into a rhythm, a clear and direct image was portrayed. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen many anime shows that are so determined to get their idea across. This is a feel-good anime, perhaps not primarily, but it plays a big part in the show’s success. It’s a well-written anime, also, but the star attraction for this show, the piece that everyone will remember for a long time, is the relationship between Yuri and his coach.
What had everyone talking about Yuri on Ice was the relationship between Yuri and Victor. Without wanting to sound rude, or offensive, their relationship, purposely, is always just on the other side of the line between being professional and being romantic. While I wouldn’t necessarily say it, people have been putting it as an anime starring a same-sex couple. It is the first time I’ve watched an anime with this type of relationship, and the way it is portrayed by Yuri on Ice is almost spot on, and I found myself captivated by it. Figure skating itself is quite an effeminate sport, and the show unashamedly grabs hold of this idea and dances with it, creating a show with an awe-inspiring sense of freedom.
Somewhat lost behind all that, though, is Yuri P, or Yurio. The young Russian skater, a character many people have said is one of the best of 2016, follows a path that is so interesting, he could probably be the star of the show. His development is outstanding, and deserves just as much, if not more praise than the two leads. I think it’s quite a shame that he was only ever looked at in detail in odd moments.
While this is a good show, it does have its drawbacks, such as Yurio’s somewhat hidden development. I watched this anime because initially I saw comparisons between this and Your Lie in April, one of my favourite ever series. While YLiA takes a more solemn approach, Yuri on Ice tries to be lighter on its feet, portraying a brighter message of love and self-belief. There’s nothing wrong with that – obviously, because of the popularity it achieved – however, potential moments of drama do lack a sharpness in Yuri on Ice. I was also disappointed that the show didn’t have the same success of YLiA in terms of bringing you into the mindset of the performer; you don’t get the same sense of ‘understanding the art’ in Yuri that you do in YLiA, and I found myself zoning out of the constant dialogues during the performances on multiple occasions. Also, while it is in keeping with the style of the piece, I think the way that social media seemed to be squeezed into every gap in the show did somewhat cheapen the smart story behind it. However, such a problem is little more than a blemish.
I know I’ve not been around for too long, but I’ve never seen a show garner as much attention as Yuri on Ice, except maybe one. Comparisons are immediately drawn between this and Re:Zero – not because of the show, but because of how they seemed to captivate while they were airing. These two will more than likely be the frontrunners for any Anime of the Year awards that are yet to be handed out. That’s unfortunate for Yuri, because if you compare these two shows, Re:Zero is by a fair distance the better anime, in my opinion. Yuri on Ice is good for what it is – a refreshing, invigorating show with incredible characters. However, when you start to compare it to others of the same esteem and calibre, you notice how it lacks the bite in serious moments to compete with the very best.
If you liked this you’ll love: Your Lie in April – There are differences in tone and setup, but, as mentioned above, these two shows share a similar core idea. Both star a young boy, estranged from the act that has defined them for as long as they can remember – be it figure skating or classical piano – and are saved by a new person in their lives who shares that feeling. As you can probably guess by the occupations, and mentioned already before, YLiA takes on a similar subject matter but with a bigger sense of sophistication and maturity. You won’t get as much of the feel-good moments as you do with Yuri, but YLiA certainly delivers in terms of being revived by somebody else’s passion, and is a great follow-up to this series!
How about that? I’m sure a lot of hardcore anime fans will have their own memories of shows that blew up massively while they were airing, but still, thanks to the globalised, internet world that we live in, I can’t imagine how any show could have ever eclipsed the impact Yuri seemed to make in such a short amount of time! It was spellbinding, almost.
On another note, I’m sure a lot of anime fans will be unimpressed at how I appear to shoot down Yuri on Ice. I liked it, but is it really Anime of the Year? I fail to see how anybody could rank that above Re:Zero, which I still believe to be one of the best anime I’ve ever seen, and I’m not even a fan of ‘middle-earth’ style fantasies like that!
Maybe I’ll have to start arguing with anime fans on message boards and stuff…
Make sure to follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 25 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring highly rated comedy series Assassination Classroom!