Welcome to episode 43!
After the mid-Fall break, and a few ventures into our original home of movie reviews, we’re back in our natural habitat.
While we only have two shows this time around, these two are particularly interesting. While not even nearly mainstream, these two series are renowned in their respective genres with strong fanbases and cult followings! Expand your anime gallery with these reviews, starting with a gothic reverse-harem.
The Wallflower (2006-07, S1, 25x24mins)
The story follows four beautiful high-school guys – Kyohei (top), Takenaga (right), Yuki (middle-left) and Ranmaru (bottom-left) – renting rooms in a fabulous manor house owned by globetrotting millionaire businesswoman Mine Nakahara. One day, Mine gathers the boys together and offers them the opportunity to live there rent free. The condition is that they must turn Mine’s nephew into a respectable lady. Mine’s nephew is Sunako (bottom), a fellow high-school student, and a gothic shut-in. Traumatised when he was rejected by her first love, she lives permanently in her dark room, watching horror movies with her mannequins. She also bleeds profusely whenever she looks at something beautiful, and despite her natural good looks, the four boys quickly discover how impossible their task looks to be!
Basically Plot: Four high-school heartthrobs are tasked by their landlady with turning her nephew, a fellow high-schooler, from a gothic shut-in to a fine woman.
First of all, this totally isn’t the type of show you’re picturing. While it is a rom-com, there is only really a splash of romance in what is in reality a teen-girl comedy. The boys, leads in the show, are the stereotypical high-school crushes, while Sunako is the target audience, awkwardly pulled through the situations. The comedy itself is surprisingly good! Fast-paced lines that have a sense of tongue-in-cheek about them, playing up to stereotypes but with intelligence that stops it becoming cheap. There is still room for some excellently slapstick jokes, though. The ‘goth/loli’ girls, for example, are some of the best comedic characters I’ve seen!
The story behind this show’s comedy is probably this series biggest flaw. There was the potential for a really good story – the shut-in, hurt by her first love, saved by people who she thought were plastic but actually really cared for her. For all the world it looked like Kyohei, the lead interest out of the four boys and the baddest of the bunch, would be swept of his feet by Sunako’s beauty. Yet, the comedy episodes kept on coming, and while it felt like the story was progressing naturally and to a good rhythm – the inclusion of the female character Noi happens so slyly that you don’t even realise she has become a main character until she already is – it ended up with one episode at the end to try to bring everything to a conclusion. Unsurprisingly, it failed, delivering an unfinished story leading onto another season that, I assume, didn’t happen, but also delivering what little closure it did in such a tame and disappointing way that you almost wished for just another funny episode at the end.
An interesting thing to note about the delivery of this story is the animation. Like the jokes, the animation in The Wallflower is fast and off-the-cuff, almost as if what you’re seeing is taking place in the character’s mind on in a goth’s diary. Stick figures are common, as are the outrageous explosions and spinning-wheel legs that cartoons are renowned for. What’s most interesting, though, is the depiction of Sunako. While the four boys, and everyone else, are often drawn in the stereotypical anime style of the ‘00s – think Nana, for example – Sunako is drawn as a miniature blob figure. It’s a style known as Chibi in Japan and is usually reserved for cute things. There are plenty of Chibi-style anime out there, and we’ve seen plenty of shows that chop-and-change between the two for comedic effect, but while The Wallflower is drawn traditionally, Sunako is, for at least 90% of the series, drawn this way. Her character is often at knee-height of the boys that you know in your head are the same age and height as her in reality. This is really creative and allows the series to give of a totally different vibe – it’s probably why the romance element is so small, and also why the comedy between her and the guys works so well!
Overall, this series has got plenty going for it, despite appearing from the outside to be something of a cheap series. The comedy is sharp, effective and perfectly over-the-top, and it offers something different by steering away from the romance element that many female-targeted series end up leaning towards. The story in this series is terribly underwhelming, though, so invest yourself in this with caution.
ANIME RANKING: #48 – A solid standing in the middle of the pack, sat just behind Konosuba and ahead of Web.Wagnaria!
If you liked this you’ll love: Ouran High-School Host Club – I tried my best to not mention this during my review, because these two series are very similar. Both series follow beautiful high-school guys as they try to transform a girl. In Ouran, the common girl is brought into a world of lavish expense and elitism, and while The Wallflower is certainly aimed at a slightly more mature teen audience, both series follow a similar comedy-romance pattern, while Ouran delivers the finish that The Wallflower lacks!
Beyond the Boundary (2013, S1, 12x24mins)
Fantasy, Romance, Comedy, Drama
Beyond the Boundary takes place in a supernatural version of the earth, where people with supernatural abilities protect the general public from ‘youmu’, demons born from the resentment inside people’s hearts that the exterminators can kill to make a living wage. Kuriyama Mirai (centre) is the last surviving member of a cursed group of ‘warriors’ that are able to use their blood as powerful weapons. Unfortunately, though, Mirai has lost all confidence in her ability to survive as a demon hunter, and is found by Akihito Kanbara (bottom-right) on the school roof, on the verge of suicide. He saves her, only for her to stab him instantly in plain sight. She discovers that he is actually an immortal half-human-half-youmu, and despite her continued efforts she cannot find a way to kill him. Eventually breaking down over her lack of killing ability, Akihito takes her under his wing, introducing her to the local exterminator community and helping her become a more accomplished exterminator.
Basically Plot: Set in a supernatural world, the story follows a collection of demon exterminators as they balance high-school life with their underground careers.
Honestly, this has to be one of the hardest series we’ve had to review in a long time. It is also probably the most ambitious 12-episode series we’ve ever seen! Despite appearing at first to be just another anime series, this develops into something much more, giving us plenty to look at as we dive deep into Kyoukai no Kanata, with what is probably our longest ‘pocket review’ ever!
Usually when we do anime series reviews here at The Culture Cove we like to show the series’ year of release, what season it is, and how long it runs for. We then like to give a basic idea of the genres of the show. Usually this is two genres (rom-com, action-adventure, sci-fi-mystery etc.), but with Beyond the Boundary we have four genres it falls into! That is not being vague, either.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen a series that is so many different things all at once. The story has a strong slice-of-life, high-school comedy feeling to it: Akihito is a schoolboy who has a fetish for girls in glasses like Mirai. As such, ‘how unpleasant’ becomes her cute, quirky catchphrase, especially when Akihito’s literary club friend and fellow exterminator also has a thing for little sister characters, like his own irritable little sister. The jokes are not quite as cheap as they sound, and are plentiful for this to be considered a decent comedy series in its own right.
However, Beyond the Boundary has an unrivalled ability to, with a click of a finger, change from being the cute school rom-com series to a genuine fantasy drama. While this side of the story is slow to get going, near the end it really begins to pick up, drawing together epic storylines that turn everything on its head. One moment everybody is joking, and the next blood is flying across the screen. Beyond the Boundary is that kind of show, and it is a show that does both of them, looking at them individually, to a very good standard. More on this later.
What makes this a must-watch series, though, is the animation and sound. To say a lot of love has gone into this would be an understatement. For me, Beyond the Boundary has some of the best animation I have ever seen. The colours are, for the most part, simple and bland, but the fluidity and detail of movement – from flailing hair and flapping jumper wrists, to extravagant full-body actions that you very rarely see in tv anime series – gives the series a sense of life that is seldom seen in even the biggest series. Also, Beyond the Boundary has some of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in anime, not necessarily from a choreography point but in terms of the show’s use of digital light which creates an amazing, awe-inspiring contrast with the simple colours of the characters and world. The soundtrack compliments it perfectly, and again it’s not just the songs running quietly in the background but also the extremely detailed use of environmental noise that breathes so much emotion and realism into the fantasy/reality show.
The stunning animation, soundtrack, and general feel of Beyond the Boundary all points to this being one of the great anime series. In reality, it falls just short of this for me. What it has tried is incredibly ambitious, and not something I’ve seen a series try so hard to achieve. To try to create a show that is both a light-hearted school rom-com and a hard-hitting, dramatic save-the-world fantasy is nothing less than a fool’s errand. The fact that Beyond the Boundary came so close to actually pulling it off is worthy of your attention, but I think that it is impossible to appreciate the weight of the story (a fact not helped by it being definitely too big for the twelve-episodes) and on the other hand truly invest in the comedic moments when you know the drama is around the corner. This is a truly memorable series, though, and very much worth watching – trust me, there will be more than a few people out there for who Beyond the Boundary is the greatest anime they’ve ever seen.
ANIME RANKING: #23 – This 12-episode pocket-rocket has blasted itself into the top 30! In some cases it could have been even higher, but based on its small length and story imperfections it finds itself just behind other great series such as Sound Euphonium and Bungou Stray Dogs!
If you liked this you’ll love: Noragami – This was a 50/50 choice in the end. People who specifically liked the comedy/drama mix in Beyond the Boundary will really enjoy Bungou Stray Dogs, but there’s no denying that this series and Noragami are very similar. Both series follow demon exterminators in a modern world, and while the background premise is different, Noragami is another excellently animated series that shares similar drama to BtB, while also delivering a similarly coy romance!
As far as I can recall, I don’t use the world ‘love’ much when it comes to TV animation.
When people think of gorgeous Japanese animation most people think of films, particularly Studio Ghibli. True, there are some incredibly animated anime series out there, shows such as Your Lie in April and Anohana, but even these often pale in comparison to the major theatricals. As time goes on, you almost accept the standard, mechanical, half-drawn-half-animated style that most major TV anime series use nowadays.
Every so often, though, a series comes along that reminds you of the purity and humanity that animation is capable of. I had it when I first saw Orange, then with Flip Flappers, but Beyond the Boundary hasn’t just done something beautiful, I feel like it’s raised the bar I am setting when it comes to animation! We should demand the best, because even with the consistent squeezing of time and talent in the industry, with a love for your project it is still possible to produce truly beautiful stories!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else, and follow us on Instagram for regular anime chats!