ReLIFE – 02

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The test scores are in, and a great many things become known. In ten years, Kaizaki forgot between 75% and 96% of everything he learned in high school the first time around. Kariu is mad about losing the class rep job to Hishiro not because she can’t get free lunches, but because she has feelings for Ooga. Finally, Onoya has even worse test scores than Kaizaki…and she’s a real high schooler!

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These two need tutoring, and Ooga is happy to serve the role as tutor, but gets more than he bargained for when Kaizaki and An start digging into his relationship with Kariu, including their matching earrings. I’m liking how quickly yet naturally the circle of friends is coming together.

I also liked Kaizaki’s outsize reaction to An whipping out her cell phone; once a capital crime in his day, now students use them with impunity (outside of class, that is). Or how he takes Hishiro’s reaction to his lending her 1000 yen (that he’s like a grown-up) literally; worried the brainy girl is on to him.

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Hishiro comes to dominate the latter half of the episode as Kaizaki makes it his mission to get her to come out of her shell a little more. The fact her forced smiles are so disconcerting is proof of how genuine and straightforward she is; the only smiles she can make are real ones, all of which were triggered by Kaizaki being nice to her.

At the beginning of the episode, Hishiro has no friends; now she has one, and of her own choosing, boldly asking for Kaizaki’s phone number. Hishiro really shines in this episode, greatly aided by her adorable character design…and Kayano Ai’s adorable voice.

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Ryou, who was skulking around corners the whole episode, observing Kaizaki from a distance, not only suggests he try to quit smoking (the smell lingers, plus no one will sell to someone with his new babyface), but also not to get too attached to anyone. Apparently, when the year-long experiment is over, everyone young Kaizaki interacted with will forget him, because he’ll be back to being 27.

Not like that’s something he’ll be able to explain if they every learned, but this still seems like a downer, especially considering Kaizaki will remember them, and will likely not feel so great as a result. When Hishiro told Kaizaki she had to rush things, that this was her last chance, it reminded him how confident he was that his future would go the way he thought it would.

It didn’t, and ReLIFE is ostensibly the path to getting somewhere closer to his ideal future (or even creating a new one). But having to sever all his new bonds at the end of the year seems like a steep price to pay for that future. As I watch the next eleven episodes (at my own pace), it will be interesting to see if he ever tries to haggle over that price. Hishiro—callsign “Sorry Cat”—is someone worth knowing. Could she also be a bond worth preserving, even if it breaks Ryou’s rules?

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Momokuri – 01 + 02 (First Impressions)

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After obsessively amassing 100 photos of her crush Momo, Kurihara Yuki confesses to him and he agrees to go out with her. She must struggle to hide how head-over-heels she is for him, while still crafting ways to get closer.

Momokuri is harmless lighthearted rom-com; the equivalent of Anne Happy or Sansha Sanyou, only with a romance at its core instead of a group of girlfriends. It also owes a bit to Kare Kano, in that Inner Yuki is a lot wilder than the one she usually shows the world (her patient friend Norika excepted).

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Anyway, I like shows that get the confession over with quickly, and Momokuri definitely does that. I also appreciate that this isn’t one-sided, but mutual affection; these two are mostly on the same wavelength; it’s just a matter of intel (Yuki has it all on Momo; Momo barely knows Yuki) and level (Yuki stalks Momo, but not vice versa).

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This show originally aired as an ONA/web series, but I never caught it. It’s episodes are also half-length, which means each week will be a two-for-one deal, which I can get on board with.

Kakuma Ai (Julis) has a lot of fun with her voice role, while Okamoto Nobuhiko (Okamura Rin) mostly avoids his trademark shrillness.

There’s nothing particularly special about this show, but it was pleasant and easy to watch, so it gets a place on my “feel-good” list at this early stage of the Summer season.

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Berserk – 01 (First Impressions)

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“Guts, known as the Black Swordsman, seeks sanctuary from the demonic forces that pursue him and his woman, and also vengeance against the man who branded him as an unholy sacrifice. Aided only by his titanic strength, skill, and sword, Guts must struggle against his bleak destiny, all the while fighting with a rage that might strip him of his humanity. Berserk is a dark and brooding story of outrageous swordplay and ominous fate, in the theme of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” —MAL

Full disclosure: I’ve never read the manga this is based on, so I came in knowing nothing. I also haven’t read Macbeth since junior high, so all I remember is that there’s a manipulative Lady in it. So forgive my ignorance and read on to learn a fresh perspective on Berserk unblemished by prior consumption of the material (at least that I remember).

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Berserk definitely has its draws: a lush yet grim fantasy world full of violence both human-and-human and demon-on-human; an overpowered cursed antihero with a bad attitude and even worse effect on the lives of the innocent; decent voice acting and a great soundtrack. Some  strong elements of horror (body and otherwise), blood, and gore, though all tastefully censored.

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Those pros were not able to overcome the cons for me, at least in the first episode. The cons are pretty big: the CGI animation of characters is distractingly weird. If you know my work you know I reviewed (and loved) two seasons of Sidonia, but for some reason this style works far better in a futuristic sci-fi milieu for me.

It took me a couple of episodes to get used to Sidonia (and I never got far with Ronja), but I’m less optimistic about Berserk. It’s not so much the uncanny valley effect as the inescapable feeling that these are wooden CGI armatures moving around very awkwardly mechanically.

That suits the frenetic combat at times, but any natural movements, including mouth movements and expressions, suffer greatly, marring the overall viewing experience.

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This comes down to a question of style: Berserk’s producers for whatever reason decided not to use conventional animation, and frankly, that could well be a dealbreaker. Even if not, the naked annoying motormouth Puck would be (sorry, Puck fans out there).

I can’t immerse myself in a world that announces its “fakeness” so transparently, in a manner most anime manage to avoid. Some say more and more full CG will be the future of anime, but with some notable exceptions, I hope that’s not the case.

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ReLIFE – 01 (First Impressions)

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27-year-old NEET Kaizaki Arata meets Yoake Ryou of the ReLIFE Laboratory, and agrees to participate in an experiment aimed at rehabilitating NEETs. Arata takes a pill that makes him look ten years younger and endures a taxing first day as a third-year high school student, with Ryou as his observer.

Anime in which the MC re-lives their life in one form or another are nothing new—ERASED being a recent example—so a new take on it requires good execution. ReLIFE largely succeeds by keeping things light (aside from a couple of dark-ish moments).

The science of Arata’s transformation is thankfully not explained; suffice it to say the pill is a means to an end: a second chance at having a successful adulthood (as measured by Japanese society). Arata has a healthy skepticism initially, but as he’s just been cut off by his parents, he can’t very well turn down job that guarantees a year of living expenses.

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The veneer of seediness inherent in a secretly 27-year-old hanging out with high schoolers is quickly washed away by the exhilaration inherent in an adult being plunged back into the crucible of youth with no manual. Young people don’t just look different, they talk and act different as well, and while settling back into long-forgotten patterns is no cakewalk for Arata, it’s engrossing to watch.

This show has a nice even core of six main characters, including Arata and Ryou, and we get a quick intro of the other four in short order. Three are girls: the aloof brainiac Hishiro, the prickly-yet-kind Kairu, and the peppy Onoya, who takes an instant liking to her fellow transfer student.

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Like I said, the first day doesn’t go so well, with Arata constantly drawing attention to himself and the fact he has no idea what he’s doing yet. This culminates in the teacher, Amatsu Kokoro, finding a pack of cigs in his bag and calling him to the teacher’s lounge after school.

Arata has to write an apology letter, but when he applies his 27-year-old charm and perspective on Amatsu (who in reality is two years younger than him), her initial harsh manner softens considerably. It comes as no surprise the person at school he’s able to interact with most successfully is the one closest to his real age!

Of course, he’ll have to learn how to interact (again) with teenagers and start acting like one himself (at least a very mature teenager). Ryou intends to give him a wide berth in terms of how he’ll spend the year, be it keeping his head down in the background or making a big “Springtime of Life” splash.

But Ryou wants Arata to remember the purpose of the experiment is to reform NEETs (a label Arata dislikes); ending up right back where he started in the beginning of the episode would mean the experiment failed.

Arata’s year will likely fall somewhere in between the two extremes of high school life and exposure, and the credits indicate he’ll befriend all the other four core students one way or another. I for one am excited to see how this experiment shakes out.

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P.S. I am aware the entire 13-episode run is available all at once, Netflix-style, but I won’t be marathoning. That being said, I may well finish reviewing it faster than if it aired once a week. Think Prison School pace.

Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress – 12 (Fin)

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Now that he’s killed the Daddy who never loved him, and is well on the way to destroying the capital with the sister he turned into a monster, there’s not much for Biba to do but sit on the throne and…wait. Wait to be defeated by Ikoma, that is.

There wasn’t really much doubt of that, as this show has typically stuck to tried-and-true plot developments. That being said, Ikoma and Kurusu storming the city, going to town, and leaving piles of bodies in their wake is a sight to behold, as is the latter’s understanding that he’s to waste no time ending the former should he go Full Kabane. (Never go Full Kabane; the audience can’t connect.)

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While on the outside Mumei is at the core of a grotesque yet also oddly beautiful fused colony, in her mind she’s fighting memories of being weak and stamping them out. It’s as much a prison for her mind as her body.

As for Ayame, she’s able to break some locals out of a prison of fear and rigid lashing-out simply by getting in their face. Not sure that wouldn’t have resulted in someone accidentally pulling a trigger on her, but she’s always had relatively good luck.

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With Kurusu by his side, Ikoma continues to carve his way to Mumei, leading to a minor boss fight with one of Biba’s lieutenants, who tries to run a train into Ikoma but is thwarted when Ikoma’s super-Kabaneri power allows him to blast the train straight off the rails and into mid air. He then kills the guy himself with his arm-gun, justifying the killing by saying the guy kill too many. No arguments here.

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There’s just one last obstacle before he can save Mumei: Biba himself, who takes the stage excited to “hunt” a rare, fearless foe such as Ikoma. In her fever dream prison, Mumei sees Ikoma as the one blue butterfly in a cloud of red ones, because butterflies have never been used in this way in anime before.

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In all seriousness, as we’ve seen, Biba is highly skilled at combat, but when you don’t seem to be fighting for much anymore, but when up against a singularly motivated and nigh unkillable Kabaneri, it was only a matter of time before he took a hard lick that took him down.

Biba doesn’t stay down, however, even after Ikoma downs him and gives Mumei the magical white blood, reviving her and bringing her back to normal. It isn’t Ikoma who delivers the killing blow to Biba; he’s unconscious. It’s Mumei, who repeatedly implored Biba to stop hurting Ikoma, and stabbed him through the heart when he didn’t.

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With Biba dead and Mumei back to normal, she and Kurusu (with Ikoma on his back) race back to the Kotetsujou, which seems like a rather manufactured final hurdle, even though I did like how happy she looked when she saw the whole gang ready to catch her with a big fabric net.

The only real problem is that Ikoma won’t wake up…until he does, on Mumei’s insistence. When he does, she embraces him closely, her shield returned to her by white blood Biba must have injected before being killed, a last act of selflessness and compassion in a life full of violence and hatred.

With Mumei and Ikoma both alive and relatively unhurt (amazingly), the Kotetsujou steams off into the sunset, ending a very dark show on a very bright—if awfully tidy—parting note.

Kabaneri initially grabbed my attention with superior visuals (and audio) and thrilling action. But once the novelty of that quality wore off, the shows shortcomings grew more conspicuous, keeping this show rather far from greatness. Still, it was a hell of a rousing watch…most of the time.

If a second season comes one day, I will definitely give it a look—I’d like to see Mumei’s humanity restored, for one thing—but if it’s all the same to Wit Studio, I’d prefer a second season of Attack on Titan first.

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