Category Archives: Review

Review: A Lull in the Sea (Nagi no Asukara) Complete Series Premium Edition Blu-ray

The sea may be unchanging, but these characters certainly are not.When I first started watching A Lull in the Sea when it started in Fall 2012 (known at the time only by its Japanese name, Nagi no Asukara, or its shorthand name NagiAsu), I was admittedly not too impressed by it. Sure, it looked nice, but the main characters, especially the lead male Hikari, annoyed me or were otherwise not too interesting, and the plot just seemed like your usual middle-school romantic drama with a side of “sea vs. land” drama to go with it. However, as the show went on, the story eventually revealed itself to be much deeper, and while I was not able to finish the show until just recently, I am definitely glad I did, because at the end the show had become something fantastic. If you are up for a thematic romantic drama where characters start out as immature but grow and improve throughout, NagiAsu is highly recommended.

The big theme that NagiAsu revolves around is “change”. The show starts off with a major change, as four childhood friends who live in the sea (more on that later) must now attend middle school on land; on top of that, one of the four, Manaka, meets a land-dwelling classmate, Tsumugu, and gets fascinated by him. This greatly annoys Hikari, who had always looked after Manaka and for some reason does not like how she is so interested in this new boy. As for the other two friends, Chisaki has held feelings for Hikari in secret, and in turn, Kaname for Chisaki. So far, it’s a very standard romantic “love polygon” setup.

Where things get more complicated is where Akari, Hikari’s older sister gets involved. Akari fell in love with a man from the surface, which is taboo among the sea people as the children of sea-land unions do not have the Ena that allows them to live underwater. Her boyfriend’s daughter from a previous marriage, Miuna, has her own reservations about the marriage, making the situation even more complicated. Hikari, being if nothing else a caring younger brother, starts trying to understand Akari’s feelings and eventually tries to get her marriage approved by all parties involved. This is ultimately what pushes him to grow out of being the immature brat he starts out as, as he learns to consider others’ feelings and channel his stubbornness and hot-headedness in positive ways.

All of this is still only the beginning of the changes that happen in this show, leading up to a major event at the halfway point that causes some significant shifts in the characters’ lives (which, among other things, complicates the love polygon situation tenfold). Here, the theme of change—or lack thereof—comes into full play. The name A Lull in the Sea becomes meaningful as it represents that which refuses to change: a sea that, in the second half, has become still and frozen over. This stands in contrast to the protagonists, who experience that change and must come to terms with it, whether they want it or not. While it is difficult to talk about this without mentioning major spoilers, suffice it to say that this theme of change is represented beautifully and poetically, with each character’s development strengthened in the process.

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Spring Anime 2015 Review (Part 3/3)

Did you enjoy yesterday’s review? Here’s another packed post reviewing this past season’s anime!

Euphonium

Sound! Euphonium
Hibike! Euphonium

stardf29 – 10/10

Yes, you read that right; I am giving this show a perfect score. And this show most definitely deserves it. This show has everything I could ask for in a concert band-themed anime. The characters are all very strong, as both main and side characters get great development individually and relationally, coming off as very realistic and multidimensional. The overall storyline does a great job of exploring the concert band experience, and many times I could really relate to the show because it reminded me so much of my own school concert band experience. At the same time, the concepts of participating in an activity seriously or not, and being inspired by and having to compete with others pursuing a shared goal, are things anyone can relate to. Kyoto Animation brings incredible production values to the show as expected, with the music being an especially strong point as the band sounds very authentic, even when they are not playing very well. Though when they do play well, it is some of the best music I have ever heard in anime. Oh, and there’s plenty of great comedy amidst all the drama, too! Any flaws with this show are just nitpicks that are up to personal preference, and the only “problem” with this show is that I want more than just the thirteen episodes we got. This show has definitely earned its spot among my all-time favorite anime (my 5th favorite, specifically), and it is a show I would wholeheartedly recommend to any anime fan.

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Spring Anime 2015 Review (Part 2/3)

Did you enjoy yesterday’s review? Here’s another packed post reviewing this past season’s anime!

vlcsnap-2015-06-30-23h52m49s596

Kilroy–I mean, Hestia–was here!

Is it Wrong to Try to Pick up Girls in the Dungeon?
Dungeon ni Deai wo Motomeru no wa Machigatteiru Darou Ka

Medieval Otaku – 6/10

The main problem with Danmachi lies in that the essentially RPG fantasy setting is overused these days.  Otherwise, one can’t deny that this is a fun fantasy romp.  People complain of the fanservice, but I don’t think of it as that bad in comparison to other shows.  The female characters are all quite interesting; though, Bell still strikes me as a bland harem lead.  What more might I say?  The animation was well done, the action engrossing, and the humor quite amusing—especially in regard to the many women in the hero’s life.  A good show, but it still leaves something to be desired.

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Spring Anime 2015 Review (Part 1/3)

As the summer season is nearly upon us, it is time for our spring anime review of 2015! This season we have a ton of anime to review by our diverse writers, so do look forward to seeing most of the season’s anime getting reviewed (though we certainly missed some nonetheless!).

Kiniro-Mosaic

Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic
Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic

Japesland – 7/10

I actually didn’t start the season with this show. I had seen the first season, and though I liked it, it really wasn’t anything spectacular considering all of the other 4-koma schoolgirl comedies out there. But I changed my mind a few episode in and decided to catch up. If you know anything about my rating system, a 7/10 is nothing to sniff at, and with that in mind, I quite enjoyed this second season of Kiniro Mosaic. The hilarious use of the Japanese language, and many cultural nods (but accurate and not) give it a bit of a feeling similar to classics like Azumanga Daioh, and while I don’t think Hello!! Kiniro Mosaic will be making many “best of” lists, it’s definitely one to consider checking out if you enjoy the genre.

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Review: When Marnie Was There

marnie 2When Marnie Was There
directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Studio Ghibli/GKIDS
103 minutes

Studio Ghibli has built its success on telling stories of girls who find strength to overcome obstacles, and in the process undergo beautiful transformations.  For its final film, Studio Ghibli again presents that tale, but dives into newer territory by setting it against the backdrop of a supernatural mystery.  And the result is phenomenal.

When Marnie Was There features the sullen Anna, who stands out among Studio Ghibli’s flawed heroines as one undergoing an illness all too common to children these days – depression.  Her “aunt” sends Anna to the countryside for a change of scenery, where the girl begins to slowly open up, though interactions with other adolescents remains difficult.  Anna finds most of her solace in a beautiful, run-down mansion across a marsh that fills up during high tide.  It’s at this old home that Anna sees and later meets Marnie, a girl that seems to be everything that she’s not – cheery, kind, open, and extravagant.  Despite their differences, the two bond quickly and intimately.

But the story of Marnie’s identity and connection to Anna hangs like a mist over the film, and like a moving fog, soon envelopes the secret friendship between the girls.

The intrigue and mystery of When Marnie Was There adds a layer not seen in previous Ghibli films.  I marveled at how I could see clues being dropped, but didn’t make the connection until the director began to reveal the revelations.  Likewise, I found myself reflecting on how the movie made me forget the mystery and focus simply on the girls’ friendship when necessary, and back onto the mystery when needed.

The animation is what we’ve come to expect from every Studio Ghibli film – beautiful and vivid.  There are several pan-back shots that give us long views of the lush setting, which itself is a character in the film – particularly the water, which forces the plot forward by its ebb and flow.  Still, the animation wasn’t perfect – I noticed a faceless character or two that I surely wouldn’t have been seen in a film by the master and Ghibli co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki.

But even the animation takes a backseat to story itself.  The final reveals in the film are deeply emotional – sniffles were heard all around the theater I was in – not only because of the power of the revelations, but because of our connections to the characters.  Subtly, the film had led us to care about our heroines, even the oft-surly Anna.  Because of this, the conclusion to When Marnie Was There becomes one of Ghibli’s best, and an ending that we’ll be talking about for years.

One of the final shots of the film is of Marnie, standing at her window, waving.  It struck me as an image that could be iconic – gorgeous and emotional.  It also might be an allusion to Studio Ghibli saying goodbye to us, at least for now.  And if it’s that image their staff leaves us with, and this movie that serves as their finale, I’ll be satisfied.  The company that’s produced so many classics has given us one more to treasure.

Rating: A+

Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 3/3): Death Parade

For the final part of our winter anime 2015 review, we’ll be changing the format to highlight a particular show: Death Parade!

death parade 2

Death Parade
Death Parade

Japesland – 7/10

I picked up Death Parade a little late, and only because of Sean’s (our podcast’s co-host) recommendation, and when I was starting it I found myself pleasantly surprised as I recognized the setting and character’s of the short film, Death Billiards. I had no idea the productions were related (and I think Kaze is the only other person I knew who had even seen Death Billiards, except for maybe Sean). After the series finally kicked off its first few episodes I was thoroughly enjoying it and reasonably engrossed. I’m an absolute sucker for something episodic that tickles your philosophical funny bone, hence why I love Mushishi, and Death Parade scratched that itch enough to earn an 8/10 (I score I rarely give, I might add!). I finally had to drop it down a point, though, because the end just did not manage to maintain the atmosphere I had learned to love throughout the show, operating on some rather strange character transformations and assuming some development that did not actually occur. Had it ended on a cliffhanger, much like Death Billiards, I think I might have liked it more. That said, it’s still a worthwhile watch.

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Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 2/3)

Today we continue our review of the winter 2015 anime season with reviews of Aldnoah.zero 2, Junketsu no Maria, Drrrx2, Dog Days”, Parasyte, and The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella GirlsAnd tune in tomorrow for a finale that we’re approaching a little differently!

idol 2

The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls
The iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls

stardf29 – 8/10

The original iDOLM@STER anime started off slow but ended up really good; Cinderella Girls keeps up the quality of the original while having a stronger start. The first seven episodes are especially strong, with a good plot line that explores a lot of both the excitement and disappointments of entering the entertainment industry (as well as providing me with plenty of blog material). The character focus episodes that followed were all very solid, too, if not as strong as the show’s first quarter. The development of the producer character is yet another strong point that this show has inherited from its predecessor. Overall, this show looks to be every bit as good as, if not better than, the original iM@S anime and I am definitely looking forward to the second half this summer.

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Winter Anime 2015 Review (Part 1/3)

It’s that time again, where the season’s anime comes to a close and the anticipation of the new one begins. With so many new writers here at Beneath the Tangles, this time we’ll be giving a far more diverse set of reviews than usual!  Up today are Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!, Koufuku Graffiti, Your Lie in April, Shirobako, Rolling Girls, and Ace of Diamond.

CuteHighPromotional

Cute High Earth Defense Club Love!
Binan Koukou Chikyuu Bouei-bu Love!

Annalyn – 5/10

I like to have at least one ridiculous anime on my watching list at all times, one that guarantees laughter. I need something I don’t care about, don’t plan to blog about, and won’t procrastinate on. Cute High fulfilled that need. It’s a parody of magical girl anime, which means it takes a genre already filled with cheese and makes it cheesier. There are times when I considered giving it less than 2.5/5 stars, but I had too much fun laughing at the magical boys, their exaggerated conflict, the ridiculous enemies, and the cheesy English names for their “love”-powered moves. Oh, and the writer knew exactly how ridiculous the English was. They weren’t even trying to be grammatically correct with the “More Better Love Shower,” let alone Yumoto’s end-of-fight catchphrase, “Love is over!” They milked the tropes for all they were worth, but they managed to surprise me, too, including a plot twist in the last episode. There were a couple annoying instances of suggestive humor, but overall, this was a fun, brainless view.

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Review: Revolutionary Girl Utena DVD Vol. 1

utena 1

Revolutionary Girl Utena, Volume 1 (Episodes 1-12)
Episodes 1-12
Nozomi Entertainment

With the widespread availability of so many current series these days, older anime – even classic ones – seem to be ever drifting into obscurity. Thankfully, production companies like Nozomi Entertainment are still releasing many of these shows on DVD. And with Kunihiko Ikuhara now directing Yurikuma Arashi, it’s as good a time as any to revisit, or as in my case, watch for the first time his opening work as head director for a series, Revolutionary Girl Utena.

The first 13 episodes of Utena, entitled “The Student Council Saga,” introduce us to the incorrigible Utena; the himesama, Anthy; and the gaggle of not-quite-fully-antogonistic student council officers.  Symbolism and mysteries are built and some slowly unraveled as the season progresses, with Utena finding herself drawn into duels as she fights for Anthy, whom she regards with humanity, but whom others see merely as a means to some powerful end.

It is the themes, symbols, and and unknown elements that keep the viewers gripped as we wonder what all these elements mean (if anything).  Certainly, we get few answers in the first arc. Self-contained, it’s frustrating, because apart from the Ikuhara’s cleverness and unique approach to anime, we’re left with a season that’s mostly boring, with generally unremarkable characters and tedious fight scenes.

But even without knowing how the entire story pans out, this saga shows us some of what perhaps makes Utena a classic property – most of all, the revolutionary way it works with gender roles.  Utena is the “prince” of the series, dressing as and playing the role normally reserved for a male character. She’s also a kick-butt heroine, more common now, but much less so when these episodes originally aired in 1997.  The undetermined relationship between Utena and Anthy also places the series in the yuri genre, which Ikuhara fully embraces with Yurikuma Arashi.

Noizomi’s DVD release is excellent for fans of the series, containing lots of little nuggets in the form of TV spots and trailers as extras, plus the remastered visual and audio for the series, which perhaps those who watched the show long ago would appreciate more than I could.  The neat little booklet that’s included contains a lot of great insight from Ikuhara himself, and even for newcomers to the series, it’s a wonderful addition as an in-depth look at the creation of and remastering of the show.

It’s these “marginal” pieces, both in terms of the DVD extras and imaginative flourishes in the show, that must be embraced to enjoy these first thirteen episodes, because the story itself won’t do it.  But I’ll reserve the right to rethink my rating of this arc upon completion of the show, as it is apparent that the structure of the series demands it.

Rating: C+

DVD Review: Genshiken Second Generation (BD)

genshiken second 2b copyWhen it was announced that the manga for Genshiken Second Generation (Genshiken Nidaime) would receive an anime, my excitement was tempered by a feeling that the anime would ultimately be a letdown, as it would suffer from comparisons to the original classic.  NIS’s slick release of the Genshiken Second Generation DVD set, though, proves that while it’s no classic, this new series stands on its own merits.

For those unfamiliar, Genshiken traces the lives of members of the Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture, a college otaku club whose associates are often rejects even among otaku.  Though Second Generation has appearances by all the original cast, new members are featured in this season, including Hato, a cross-dressing fudanshi; Yajima, a surly fujoshi who disapproves of Hato’s cross-dressing; Yoshitake, a relentlessly and excitable fujoshi; and Sue, an American exchange student who speaks almost entirely in dialogue from various anime series.

This season centers on Hato, who is continuously dealing with his desire and need to cross-dress, and Madarame, one of the main characters of the original series, and both his adjustment into post-college life and undetermined and evolving relationship with Hato.  These two storylines are dynamic and sometimes complex, but unfortunately, they’re not always particularly interesting.  Hato and this Madarame are less compelling than the trio of Kasukabe, Sasahara, and Madarame in the earlier series.

Fundamentally, there’s a problem at the core of Second Generation: the two mains in this series are not as relatable as the three (four if you consider Ogiue) in the original show.  Part of the magic of Genshiken was in taking a wide variety of characters, ranging from anime-obsessed Madarame to stylish, non-otaku Kasukabe, and infusing them with real emotions and thoughts, and in that way, creating characters that the audience can empathize with and relate to.  In Second Generation, there’s such a heavy focus on fujoshi/fudanshi culture that a broader appeal is lost, while Hato’s struggles often felt unrealistic, and thus less relatable.

But while the series falls short of its predecessor, its by no means a failure. Read the rest of this entry

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