Happy holidays, and welcome to a jam-packed Anime Pocket Reviews!
I’m not joking, this is one of our biggest APR’s ever, featuring heavy-hitting reviews for three of the Fall ’17 cycle’s biggest series!
The reason we’re cramming these three major series together is because at the end of the week we are holding our first ever 2017 ANIME AWARDS!
Best Fight Scenes, Best Relationship, Most Underrated Series and, of course, ANIME OF THE YEAR 2017 will all be decided, and these three will all be in the running, so let’s start with a series that completely caught us off-guard this cycle:
Recovery of an MMO Junkie (2017, S1, 10x23mins)
Romance, Comedy, Slice-of-Life
The series follows Moriko Morioka (left), a 30-year-old single woman who, after becoming disillusioned with her draining corporate job, decides to quit. She buys herself a new computer and, in search for a new meaning to her life, devotes herself to her love of MMO (Massively Multiple Online) Games. Playing a male character named Hayashi (far-right) in the fantasy world of Fruits De Mer, ‘she’ is befriended by a high-level healer in Lily (far-left), who helps Moriko learn the game. Hayashi is invited to join Lily’s guild in the game, and the two of them develop a close relationship in the game, not knowing that their secret offline selves may be closer to each other than they think.
Basically Plot: A woman leaves her draining job and rediscovers her love of online videogames, while her encounter with a similarly gender-swapped character online awakens her heart to another, very real love.
This was, for the most part, a really good series. At first I was put off watching this series – you’ll notice it didn’t feature at all in our Half-Term Report – because I looked at the posters and images and saw another cringe-worthy comedy about gaming. However, the gaming, despite in the title, doesn’t overly-dominate the series. This is an all-out rom-com, but what I liked going into it was that, unlike many other shows in the genre, and shows in anime in general, this is a show with almost exclusively adult characters. MMO Junkie has teen romance elements to it, but the adult characters and adult moments give it a more sophisticated feel compared to similar series. There’s not a single school-bell in sight!
What I liked most about this, though, was how good the show’s timing was. MMO Junkie, for the most part, is about the awkwardness concerning how online characters Hayashi and Lily, both falling for each other in-game, half-know each other outside of it. It becomes clear from an early point to the audience, maybe even in episode one, that the two single gamers both know each other. It’s clear that they will eventually meet each other, and that they are both perfect for each other. However, it’s only many episodes in that it is revealed to the characters themselves. This sense of patience, filled with funny, loving moments in between, constantly leaves you desperate for more!
However, that brings me to this shows biggest downfall – the 10-episode runtime. Some series can end after this time and it works well, unfortunately, this certainly feels 2, maybe even three episodes short of its conclusion. While it only slightly prematurely finishes in terms of the main two – you never hear any sort of confession, for example – there were a few other stories in their little group that were teased, particularly Lilac’s player. It seemed to me like her story would branch the series out a bit, yet it was never brought up again after its introduction. She features in the anime’s outro, but never in the actual show itself, and that feels really odd.
In an Autumn ’17 Cycle dominated by loud action series, Recovery of an MMO Junkie has offered a really good example of how to do a rom-com right. The animation is strong, doing a good job of painting a difference between the game and reality. It is well-directed and the story is told at a great pace. The ending is premature, but it’s only your love for the two main characters that amplifies this. In reality, this feels like the best romance series I’ve seen in a very long time!
ANIME RANKING: #45 – Slightly let down by its conclusion, MMO Junkie still finds itself in a solid spot on our list, placed between respectable titles such as Black Lagoon and Konosuba!
If you liked this you’ll love: Nisekoi – This is a bit f a loose recommendation, because there’s not many series out there that portray an adult romance but with teen-rom-com themes. That begin said, anyone who loves the anime rom-com has to put Nisekoi at the top of their watch list. Both these shows share a fantastic vibrancy, and while love triangles play a bigger role in Nisekoi than in MMO Junkie, both series explore themes of self-improvement in the face of love. Plus, Nisekoi has to be one of the funnies series we’ve seen!
Juni Taisen: Zodiac War (2017, S1, 12x24mins)
Based on the 2015 light novel of the same name, the series follows the events surrounding the twelfth Zodiac War, a warrior tournament that takes place once every twelve years. Twelve of the world’s most powerful warriors, each a representative of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, descend upon a city deserted just for the occasion. Each warrior swallows a poisonous gem that will kill them automatically after twelve hours, and the winner is whoever can collect all twelve gems. With their honour, beliefs and lives on the line, plus the prize of the winner having any wish granted, a battle royale of grand proportions breaks out across the city.
Basically Plot: 12 warriors, each embodying the animal traits of one of the twelve Chinese zodiacs, fight it out across an abandoned city in the historic Zodiac War.
Those of you that follow us here at The Culture Cove – come on, you know you want to – would have seen our halfway review of this series in the Fall ’17 HTR. Juni Taisen made a great start, instantly hooking us to its tale, and while this series inevitably tailed as it reached its conclusion, there’s still plenty going for it. While less used in western media prior to The Hunger Games, the ‘battle royale’ – a fight that traditionally continues until one person remains – is something of a saturated market in Japanese media. A lot of this is down to the Fate franchise – fights between historic servants, set in modern times but with a distinctly mythical taste. Fate is the go-to series for fans of the genre, but Juni Taisen definitely offers something different.
While the Fate series are traditionally quite deep and eloquent in tone, Juni Taisen, with its inner-city setting, is a much rougher story. The violent nature of the battle is heightened with gruesome, unforgiving deaths – at least two of the warriors are eaten alive by birds, for example – helping to create what is certainly a much darker show than many of its alternatives. The characters themselves offer a very interesting twist, also. Not just with their bright, popping outfits representing their animal spirits and their animal-related special powers that can turn the tide of the battle, but also with their particularly dark, particularly human personalities – many of them are broken from their lives on the battlefield, and are actually seeking death as a form of redemption. There is only one warrior out of the twelve that could ever be considered as a hero, a morally correct person that would traditionally play a lead character, but that character in this series is relatively insignificant in the sea of dark nature.
[SPOILER PARAGRAPH – Text in WHITE, highlight to read – only read if you’ve seen the series, or just don’t plan on seeing it!]
Unsurprisingly for a show adapted from a light novel, this is also a well-told story. Early on, the show does a fantastic job of keeping you guessing who’s going to die next – not knowing the layout of the series, you assume that when it focuses on a character and their backstory, that they’re the main character. However, for the first three or four episodes, the show simply killed of the most well-known character up to that point. It was a fantastic ploy that not only kept us on our toes as viewers in terms of direction, but also silently heightened the sense of darkness and disaster that wallowed around the series, as the people we knew were killed by unknown warriors. I absolutely loved that about this series – until you discover that the series actually subliminally tells you the ranking of the Zodiac War through its outro, which has to be one of the biggest faux pas that I have ever seen in an anime series!
[END OF SPOILERS]
Overall, this is a series that is unfortunately a touch too light on character development and general substance to be considered up there with the likes of the Fate series. However, fans of battle royale stories will definitely enjoy Juni Taisen’s darker nature and dangerous, creative characters.
ANIME RANKING: #66 – Quite a low position for a series that just doesn’t tick enough boxes, Juni Taisen finds itself just behind series such as Kiznaiver and God Eater.
If you liked this you’ll love: Fate/Zero – It goes without saying that if you liked this, you’ll enjoy the Fate stories. However, there’s such a selection, and they can actually vary enough for you to like one and dislike others. Personally I would recommend Zero – a more mature, more modern story with a darker protagonist compared to the other series reviewed here, Unlimited Blade Works.
Anime Gataris (2017, S1, 12x23mins)
When Minoa (centre) was a girl, she was in love with a certain anime show. She doesn’t remember what it was, except that it involved a robot rising from the sea, a singing girl, and angels. Now she’s a model high-schooler, sat in the back of her class next to the posh rich girl Arisu (centre-right). When, one day, she overhears Arisu talking profusely about her love of anime, Minoa asks her for help working out where her own nostalgic memory comes from. Even though Arisu isn’t able to work out the show from Minoa’s memory, infatuated by the usually uptight girl’s love for anime, Minoa helps her set up an anime club at the high-school. Arisu and Minoa are soon joined by fellow anime otakus as they talk everything about their favourite anime series, while Minoa tries to catch up and remember her childhood nostalgia. Meanwhile, the school council, with a history against anime, seems committed to getting them shut down!
Basically Plot: A girl unable to recall the anime of her childhood memories is befriended by her posh classmate, the two of them joining with fellow otakus to explore the anime world.
Anime Gataris, despite appearing from the outside to be just another light-hearted comedy, actually has quite a bit of history behind it. The series is actually a sequel-of-sorts to Anime Gatari, a short anime film that used to run between anime cinema screenings in certain Tokyo cinema chains in 2015 and 2016. The two lead characters, Maya and Erika, are both featured in this series, too – Maya is actually the older sister of the new lead character, Minoa! Anime Gatari literally means Anime Chat, and this simple idea forms the basis of the early stages of this series.
At it’s core, this is an homage to Japanese anime as a whole. Not from an industrial standpoint, a la Shiro Bako, but from a pure fandom perspective. Using a solid, if slightly one-dimensional core of characters – that person who always reads the book first, the cosplayer and the idol-worshipper to name a few – the show explores the many themes that make up the anime world, even dabbling a little in its creation. The Akihabara (mecca for the anime world) episode happens in episode three, and the group travel to Comiket, one of the biggest anime conventions in Japan, in episode five. The group paints a particularly rosy picture of what makes anime so great, but does so with a consistent sense of tongue-in-cheek which stops it being overpowering.
The story itself, once you narrow it down and look past the cotton-candy fluff, is very simplistic. In fact, you could argue that the story is almost irrelevant – Anime Gataris is all about that fluff, the heated debates and the joyous fandom! I could not explain with any accuracy what happens in the climactic episode 12, for example. It’s not all bad from a storytelling perspective, though. What makes Anime Gataris so watchable is its attempts to break the fourth wall, with multiple references to the characters realising they are in an anime. In episode three, the characters worry about three episodes being the cut-off, when most anime fans decide to stick with a series or give up. Meanwhile, episode 11 – a weird, inception-like sequence where the lead character’s ‘reality’ and anime worlds collide – has to be one of the best single episodes of an anime I’ve ever seen!
I would totally understand the argument that I’m sure a lot of people have made about this show in their heads, even before formulating their own opinion – how much you like Anime Gataris is linked to how much you enjoy anime and anime fandom in general. There are certainly a lot of references to recent anime series – there’s so many, in fact, that I’m going to leave a list of all the references I could find at the bottom of the article. However, I believe that this is a show for all fans, thanks in huge part to the fact that the lead character isn’t an anime fanatic to begin with, herself. A love-letter to the anime world, this is a series that plays off all those anime clichés in a wave of pure joy, putting it in a unique place where it can have the three main female characters dancing in idol costumes and not feel totally cringe-inducing. Instead, this is a series that will keep you smiling from beginning to end. Not only that – with fantastic animation, great direction and a really strong comedic sense, this could be one of the anime series of the year.
ANIME RANKING: #28 – A fantastic score for a simplistic series, making it into the Top 30, ahead of major titles such as Nisekoi and The Devil is a Part-Timer!
If you liked this you’ll love: Shiro Bako – Referenced in the review, Shiro Bako is another series that is as much about the character’s love for animation as anything else. Shiro Bako, with its longer runtime, delivers a much more sophisticated series that delivers the joy of Gataris but also adds really good character development and a well-execute storyline. Shiro Bako is one of those series that everyone has to watch!
“You would like it more if you understood it.”
This is probably the most damaging statement there is for anime in the western world. Fronted by the fandom behind major series such as Dragonball and Naruto that I still find impossible to get into because of their length, it is this idea that stops anime from taking off. However, there’s no denying that a series such as Anime Gataris works better with understanding. My question is where do you draw the line?
Am I right in thinking that all of us want anime to be as big as Netflix Originals such as Stranger Things and Black Mirror? Or is this soldier-esque ranking system, the fact that you have to cut your teeth before you can enjoy shows such as The Tatami Galaxy and Mob Psycho, that makes anime what it is? Let’s debate in the comments!
*As promised, here are some of the series directly talked about by the Anime Gataris characters. All of these are legit shows reviewed here at The Culture Cove! (Lots of this is thanks to an amazing Anime Gataris article written by Shokamoka, so please check this kid out!)
Hero School (My Hero Academia), R:Zero (Re:Zero – an argument about whether Emilia or Rem is better is actually very meaningful, as both their voice actresses play parts in this series!), Gaka Stray Dogs (Bungou Stray Dogs), Sold Out Offline (Sword Art Online, the non-copyright name reportedly something of a dig at the blockbuster) and Old Game!! (New Game!!)
As a bonus, in the final episode the cast directly reference A Sister’s All You Need, an anime series whose final episode aired on the same day as Gataris’!
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