Welcome to Episode 29 of Anime Pocket Reviews!
We have a very big show for you today, with shows that are all highly regarded in their own way! Later on we review the final season of one of the biggest slice-of-life anime there is, along with a psychological thriller rated by many as one of the best series in the genre. First of all, though, we have a hidden gem from a few years ago…
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun
(2014, S1, 12x24mins)
Romantic Comedy, Slice of Life
“Sakura Chiyo, age 16. I asked out the boy that I like, and he gave me his autograph.”
High school girl Sakura (second from left) has a crush on guy Nozaki (centre). However, he appears to be painfully oblivious to this, and when she confesses her love, he mistakes her for a fan and gives her his autograph! She tries to explain that she always wants to be with him, and in return Nozaki invites her to his home, to help him ink the pages of his manga. She discovers that Nozaki is a famous shojo manga (a comic aimed at young females) artist by the pen-name Sakiko Yumeno. Sakura agrees to help him with his work, and over time the series introduces their friends, who, thanks to their irregularities, become the comic story’s inspirations.
Basically Plot: High-school romantic comedy hijinks starring a wishful girl and an oblivious boy, surrounded by their charmingly idiotic friends!
This ended up being the ultimate in binge-watching for me! I watched the first episode about two weeks before continuing the series thanks to a recommendation, and ended up having watched the whole twelve episodes in little more than three days! This will likely be a ‘in one ear and out the other’ kind of series, but as I write this, shortly after watching the last episode, I’m full of praise for this series.
First of all, while the nature of this show – creating manga – automatically draws comparisons with slice-of-life shows such as Bakuman and Shiro Bako, it would be very wrong to compare this to them. Monthly Girls’ is actually closer to classic high-school comedies such as Nisekoi and, in particular, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless. Nozaki-kun is a laugh-a-minute kind of show that is not very interested in any plot and certainly doesn’t want any drama. I had a problem writing the plot above, because I didn’t really remember what the basis of the series was. What this series does do, is create a comparatively miniscule cast of five characters that live up to funny and lovable personality traits developed early on and never altered.
This is a very funny series, led by a handful of really exciting, underdeveloped characters who are easily identifiable and lovable. While series like this are widely available, it’s worth noting that this is certainly funny enough to dance with the best. I also really enjoyed the way females were portrayed in this series, with the other two girls actually being more masculine in personality than their male counterparts, and the lead – while stereotypical on the surface – spends more time pulling a pissed off face than a lovey-dovey one. If you’re looking for a light comedy to get you over your favourite series ending, then this is perfect – the lemon sorbet of anime shows!
ANIME RANKING: #32 – A really good ranking for what is a very small and simple series: one position behind Konosuba, and ahead of big comedy names such as ‘Is it Wrong…?’!
If you liked this you’ll love: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless – As mentioned earlier, these are two recent light-comedy shows starring characters who are either oblivious to what’s really happening or just don’t care. Tanaka-kun is one of my favourite comedy series of all time, and while it is probably even lighter than Nozaki-kun, both these shows have similar, character-led vibes that will leave you smiling throughout and long after!
Bakuman (2012, S3, 25x24mins)
The third and final season of Bakuman, following the journeys of manga duo Mashiro (far left) and Takagi (near left), known by their pen name Ashirogi Muto, as they continue to make their dreams come true. However, as their dream anime adaptation and number one spot in the rankings comes into view, the competition from their fellow manga authors seems to step up a notch; particularly Niizuma Eiji, whose reign at the top of the rankings appears to be leading all of them on a path to greatness!
Basically Plot: The final season of the successful Bakuman manga-creating series.
There’s not much more that I can say about this series that I haven’t already, so I’ll keep it concise. Bakuman is an awe-inspiring series that builds a slice-of-life world with comfortably more depth and scope than any I’ve seen anywhere else. The amount of time this series covers is incredible – watching these two turn from small high-school kids with big dreams into fully-fledged artists aspiring to set new industry records is amazing, and at no point rushed or unnatural, which is the more impressive thing. This is a series that is 75 episodes long – from my memory, I can only think of Durarara that comes even close – and by the end you get a real feeling of having been on a meaningful journey here!
In terms of season three, I did struggle with it at the beginning. It felt, unsurprisingly, like we had been through the whole ‘defy the man’ scenario enough times in the 50 episodes before, and I did leave Bakuman alone for a longer time than I’ve ever left the show before. However, the second half of this series isn’t just good, it’s astounding! There’s a real ‘clash of the titans’ feel about the competition between Niizuma and Ashirogi Muto in regards to their latest series, and the fresh material seems to breathe new life into the series, setting it up for a hugely satisfying conclusion.
Bakuman’s third season is widely seen as not just the best in the series, but one of the best anime seasons there is, and after seeing it to the end, I finally get it. It’s not often that you see a third instalment in any show, anime or otherwise, and say it’s the best in the lot, but I think you can say that here.
ANIME RANKING: #17 – A big jump up the rankings for Bakuman off the back of the excellent final season, moving up 4 places from #21. Its new position in the charts puts it ahead of hits such as Food Wars and RWBY!
If you liked this you’ll love: Food Wars! [Taken from Bakuman review, Ep.17] – Yes, Shirobako and New Game are obvious options for fans of the ‘how-to’ style of anime, but I wanted to sell something else to you. By the end of this series it is certainly a ‘race to the top’ between the two protagonists and the many other hopefuls they meet on the way, which is where I build this recommendation on. Food Wars is similar to Bakuman in the sense that they both follow incredibly passionate, gifted individuals who are forced to compete against people who are sometimes more righteous, sometimes louder and sometimes simply more talented than them.
Future Diary [Mirai Nikki] (2011-2012, S1, 26x24mins)
Psychological thriller, Sci-Fi, Romance
“I’m selfish, I know. But to keep you only mine, I will do everything I needed to do, even if it’s illegal.”
The story follows teenager Yukiteru (left), a loner who spends most of his time writing the events of the day into his diary on his phone. His only friend is the god of time, Deus Ex Machina, and his assistant Muru Muru. Then, one day, he discovers that his diary is written ahead of time, predicting the future up to ninety days ahead. Deus explains that he needs a successor for his role as god of time, and Yukiteru, along with eleven other strangers, are told that they will take part in a survival game in which each person has a power through their diary (Yukiteru can predict the future), with the lone survivor becoming the new god of time, and in turn preventing an apocalypse. Immediately, Yukiteru – dubbed First – is greeted by Yuno Gasai (right), a strange girl from his class. She reveals herself as Second in the battle royale, and also admits her love for him, having obsessively stalked him for years. She promises to protect him with her life, and Yukiteru reluctantly allows her to, as the two of them come under fire from the other diary holders.
Basically Plot: Modern battle royale, with each person having a unique forecasting ability through their diary, starring a fragile boy protected by a psychotic stalker.
This was very much an up-and-down series. Some points in this series – the first two and last two episodes, as an example – were excellent. At the beginning, it really felt like the set up for what is supposedly one of the strongest thrillers in anime. However, this is a series that I ended up really struggling to get through, yet when it finished I was scratching my head for a long time as to why that happened. The story is solid – a survival in a modern world, similar to the Fate franchise – and while the story does drag in places, generally it keeps a good pace. The animation was good, also. Future Diary, without trying to force it, is certainly a more adult series than most, with plenty of gore, and at times some understandable, natural, but really abhorrent moments that I will forever remember!
However, this major flaw in this series, the tipping point for me that stops this being anything more than decent, is the characters. Countless shows into my anime adventure, you begin to assume that good characters are a given, but every so often there’s a show like this that reminds you how hard it can be to really get them right.
Yukiteru Amano is, probably, one of the worst lead characters I’ve seen. I get that he is a quiet boy, and he needs to be weak to lean on Yuno, but I just found him such a hard person to not just care about, but watch in general. His personality is as thin as a sheet of paper, and his views on the world seem to frequently and unnaturally change for the sake of plot. He has no backbone. However, there’s plenty of good lead characters out there who are similar to that (the leads in Psycho Pass and Tokyo Ghoul are the first to spring to mind). They all need someone to lean on, and in this series Yuki has Yuno, who isn’t much better. Yes, she is very exciting at the beginning, and is constantly one bad word away from slicing someone’s head off. She is the show, almost by herself. However, she is essentially a villain, and the show struggles with this. Mirai Nikki constantly tries to put you into Yuki’s caring head, and because he’s not portrayed well, it’s especially hard to understand his care at all for this girl who is completely psychotic. In the final moments of the series, where you’re supposed to care for Yuno, I found it impossible to remain attached to the show, and ultimately that’s where this falls apart.
This show does deserve the name of psychological thriller. A strong and twisted take on the classic battle royale story. Strong animation and an unflinching attitude mean that this will probably please fans of action thrillers. However, on a dramatic level, this show falls to its knees due to the incredibly weak lead character and his exciting, but less-than-helpful sidekick who makes the show what it is, and at the same time stops it from becoming anything more than a slightly fetished – for lack of a better word – action thriller.
ANIME RANKING: #44 – A decent idea, but failing in the execution, Mirai Nikki finds itself stuck between a collection of decent but unremarkable shows. It’s ahead of series such as Fuuka and Re-Life, but behind recent 12-episode series such as Kiznaiver and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress.
If you liked this you’ll love: The Lost Village – An excellent mystery full of isolation and with a horror element, The Lost Village stars a similar young boy who ends up being the only friend of a mysterious girl who is quickly blamed for everything bad that happens. For fans of the violence of Mirai Nikki, Deadman Wonderland is also a good recommendation, but The Lost Village is a very decent mystery series that will surely please fans of psychological thrillers!
I guess if you take anything from this APR, it’s that the amount of episodes there are doesn’t necessarily correlate to a good series. Shows like Mirai Nikki – and a few more recent series come to mind – seem to receive an amount of praise simply because it’s longer than the 12-episode standard that is set by the industry. Mirai Nikki might have been a better series if it had less time to work with, and on the other side, Monthly Girls’ finds a perfect pacing with its 12-show limit!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 28 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring recent comedy series Nanbaka!