Welcome back to Anime Pocket Reviews!
It’s been a while – nearly a month – since our last episode. Regular viewers will be aware of the lulls we sometimes have here at The Culture Cove. However, with the end of the summer anime season arriving right about now, there should be a steady stream of anime reviews on the site over the next month or so (hopefully)!
However, we’ve made extra effort to make sure this is an episode worth the wait! We have three good shows here, but we’re starting with a rare treat – one of the biggest American animated series of recent years…
Bojack Horseman (2014-17, S1-4, 12x26mins)
“Not understanding that you’re a horrible person doesn’t make you less of a horrible person.”
Follows the life of Bojack Horseman (above), a once loved sitcom star who has turned into a frequently drunk, washed-up celebrity in Los Angeles. Urged on by his agent – and occasional lover – Princess Carolyn, Bojack attempts to get his fame back by releasing an autobiography, to be ghost written by Diane Nguyen. In the later seasons, Bojack’s status climbs and dives, as he is pulled around by his own demons and those of the people surrounding him in the celebrity world of California.
Basically Plot: Follows Bojack, a once loved sitcom actor now living a drunk and miserable life in the celebrity world of LA, despite others’ best efforts to revive his career.
I don’t exactly remember when I started watching Bojack Horseman – I think it was after season two was so highly praised, and was definitely before I started writing series reviews! However, I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time, and have been eagerly awaiting season four’s release. It’s a bit of a tricky thing to review parts of something that I haven’t seen for years, so I’m going to give a quick overview of the series in general before focusing on the latest season four.
As mentioned before, I am a huge fan of Bojack Horseman. As a comedy it is really funny, providing excellent satire on celebrity culture as a whole, delivering a much more sophisticated style of comedy than you will see in other animated series. The whole ‘animals living with humans’ thing does deliver a certain level of slapstick – the stupid moments made funnier by the generally mannered comedy surrounding it – but in general the comedy feels surprisingly high-brow and incredibly effective.
I’ve also grown to like the animation style of this series. Yes, in general, and comparing it to series reviewed here at The Culture Cove and other prominent American animations, you have to say that the animation in BH is not great, or even cheap. However, it is saved by a beautiful colour palette full of vibrancy that you can’t help but smile at. Such bright colours, from the sky to the colour of people’s clothes, creates a really lively and energetic atmosphere that perfectly suits a show looking at celebrity life.
There is another side to Bojack Horseman, though. Past the talking animals wearing brightly coloured sweaters there is a genuine story about a ‘man’s’ struggles, and it can be genuinely dark at times. This brings me to season four.
Honestly, this probably isn’t my favourite season ever. There are a lot of bits that work really well – Peanut Butter for Governor was a great storyline, and the comedy was really funny once again from a series that always delivers laughs. However, as the seasons have developed it appears the writers have turned more and more towards serious drama. There’s a place for that kind of story in BH – the Sarah Lynne and Wanda storylines at the end of the previous seasons were good – but you can’t do the same thing every time, and you could see the ending to this season a mile away. Episode 11 of this season is not an enjoyable thing, neither on its own or as part of the overlying plot of the series. Instead it is a slog you have to get through just for the sake of getting through it.
Other than that, the general storyline following Bojack’s mother wasn’t bad, and while season four’s plot does lack a sense of weight and importance compared to its previous seasons, it’s still an enjoyable experience. While very different in animation style to the traditional Japanese anime we review here, there’s still a place for Bojack Horseman in every anime fan’s collection as a good piece of satirical comedy with a sharp – albeit slightly bloody and rusted – knife edge.
ANIME RANKING: #23 – It’s hard to find a perfect place for Bojack in between these Japanese anime series, but I think this position is fair – a strong standing, placing it ahead of hits like RWBY and The Devil is a Part-Timer!
If you liked this you’ll love: The Tatami Galaxy – It’s hard to find a clean recommendation for something that is both a satirical comedy and dark drama. However, those who enjoyed the mixture of dark, thoughtful emotion and simple comedy will find similar themes in The Tatami Galaxy. Leaning more towards the psychological side than Bojack, The Tatami Galaxy is a time-bending story full of complex and dark emotions that is well worth watching!
Tonari no Seki-kun: The Master of Killing Time (2014, S1, 21x7mins)
“Do you even intend to take this class?”
Also knows as ‘My Neighbour Seki-kun’, Tonari is a simple sketch-comedy series following Rumi Yokoi (left), an honest high school girl who is constantly distracted by the actions of the boy on the desk next to her, Seki (right).
Basically Plot: School sitcom following the well-mannered Rumi and the distracting games being played by Seki on the desk next to her.
This is a really small and really simple series, but that is the charm of Tonari no Seki-kun. There’s not much to be said about the story – as mentioned above this is pretty much a sketch-comedy, each episode its own piece and not following any timeline. Add to that the charming but undeveloped characters – all two of them – and the fact that each episode is just over five minutes long excluding the intro and outro and you get a sense for this series’ scope, or lack thereof.
You almost have to rate each episode individually for its comedic value – and, thankfully, most of them are funny. The basic concept is really enjoyable, and while there is the odd blunt episode here and there, the outrageous games of Seki mixed with Rumi’s cute internal struggles creates a really simple and easily watched comedy. The only thing I would say is that while Tonari was always a show I would watch, and something I would definitely recommend, I don’t ever remember watching two episodes in a row. It’s funny, but repetitive.
ANIME RANKING: #76 – It looks worse than it is with this ranking, to the point that I almost feel harsh including it at all. Is fun for what it is, but as a series it lacks in almost every other department compared to more fully-fledged titles.
If you liked this you’ll love: Tanaka-kun is Always Listless – One of our favourite school comedies of all time, Tanaka-kun is a simple series that is sure to put a smile on your face. Something of a Tonari Mk.II, Tanaka-kun is a full length series delivering the same level of comedy but with much more depth in animation and general humanity, and is a sure-fire hit for Tonari fans.
Beck (2004-05, S1, 26x23mins)
“There are two types of people in this world – those who do what they’re told and those who stay true to themselves.”
Koyuki (third back) is an average 14-year-old, quietly slogging through school while trying to figure out his meaning in the world. One day he encounters a strange patchwork dog, saving it from some kids. Koyuki becomes friends with the dog’s owner, the young and free-spirited Ryuske Minami (front). An incredibly talented guitarist, Ryuske inspires Koyuki to take up the guitar himself. The story follows the two of them, as Koyuki finds something to aspire towards, while Ryuske continues with his own ambition: to create the greatest rock band.
Basically Plot: Follows Koyuki, a kid with nothing to look forward to who, after a chance encounter with a patchwork dog, is brought into Japan’s rock music scene.
I think I have now worked out that one of, if not my number one favourite genre of anime is the music anime. Two of the top 5 at The Culture Cove fall into this genre, after all. Shows such as Your Lie in April and Nana have left me clamouring for something to fill those holes. A recent attempt was the fantastic Kids on the Slope, and my latest desperate foray into the genre led me to this, Beck.
This was a strong series. What strikes you first of all – well, after the languages, but more on that later – is the tempo of the series. For something that, I assume, aired on TV, Beck is a noticeably slower starter compared to almost any other anime series. Often – and especially so when adapted from manga comics – these stories start like a train, almost always defining the main characters and plot within the first episode. Think of it as a pilot, selling the future series to the audience. However, Beck starts so slowly that it wasn’t until episode 5/6/7 that the idea of the title band even begins to take shape. It worked for me – it offered more of a slice-of-life angle and felt very natural – I just wonder if I would have stuck with it if I had to wait a week for every episode.
However, when it does get going it gives you most of what you would want from a series. The music is decent, and the characters are full of life. Beck was particularly interesting because such a large proportion of the characters, including Ryuske, actually prefer speaking English, leading to around 20% of all dialogue in Beck being spoken in ‘Japanese-English’ – it sounds very broken at first, Japanese actors reading English speech, but you do eventually get used to the pronunciations.
However, even looking past a few awkward moments with language, this isn’t the best music series that we’ve seen. The animation and animation direction is solid, but does at times lack the quality and emotion to take scenes to the next level, and while the development of the group is good, the odd sprinkling of fantastical characters takes away from its natural beauty. I understand the desire to inject some drama into the series, but I found the plot line surrounding Rysuske, Lucille and the record label crook whose name escapes me quite unnecessary and unrealistic.
Overall, a music fan like me was more than happy to watch and enjoy this series. It gives you everything you could want, following the group from underground bar beginnings to festival headliners, soaking in the growing fandom as they go. The characters are individual and lovable, and the story also has a decent romantic element, for the most part. However, a few missteps take the real-life out of this slice-of-life series, and the animation can also falter at key moments. Honestly, I feel like I’m being a bit harsh on Beck by saying these things, but the standard has been set so high by those before it – I keep wanting to compare it to fellow rock-music series Nana – that it never quite shakes off that run-of-the-mill tag.
ANIME RANKING: #41 – A solid ranking for an enjoyable series, placing it just behind Black Lagoon and ahead of Ouran High School Host Club!
If you liked this you’ll love: Nana – One of our favourite ever stories, Nana is a slice-of-life series with many arrows in its quiver. However, one of the key facets to this story about love and friendship is rock music. Following the (re)creation of a rock group in Tokyo and their rise to fame, Beck fans will find similar rock’n’roll themes here, while also finding some incredible drama in this female-led story.
I can’t be certain of the reason behind my love of music series, but I think it all stems from my love of creation in general.
It’s the reason I love anime, and the reason I created this blog! The art of creating something and portraying emotion through those emotions is really exciting to watch. It’s a hard thing to create that human feel, to make it feel like you are listening to the soul of characters that are only really drawings on a screen, but when it’s done right there’s nothing like it!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 40, featuring Summer ’17 cycle’s surprise hit Kakegurui!