D.Gray-man Hallow – 01

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You know how sometimes you can jump right into the middle of a story without any foreknowledge and still become engaged and enthusiastic about the story and its characters? Yeah, this isn’t one of those times.

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D.Gray-man Hallow is the sequel to what looks like a Fullmetal Alchemist clone that lasted 103 episodes from 2006 to 2008 (pre-dating RABUJOI’s inception by more than a year). Now it’s back. I thought I’d give it a try, but frankly, I was mostly lost and uninterested.

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While lots of previous events were mentioned in passing, in an attempt to catch the audience up, it seemed more for the crowd who, you know, actually watched the previous show than newcomers. Which is perfectly fine.

So I felt like a tourist in DGm, and I just don’t have the time to back-watch the story that came before, so I won’t be reviewing this. 

There’s too much new anime to watch out there that doesn’t require that level of commitment, and it wouldn’t make sense to offer analysis of a show I know nothing about and have no emotional connection to.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Kouhei Inuzuka is a high school sensei raising Tsumugi, his Kindergarten-aged daughter, alone, following the death of his wife. Life is hard, but in simple ways, and he’s surrounded by good-hearted coworkers and doing his best. One day, while visiting the cherry blossom festival, they encounter Kotori, a sad high school girl whose mother stood her up.

His daughter forms a bond with the girl quickly and, later, they share a meal at the girl’s family restaurant. Simple challenges, emotions, and understanding ensue. It’s the best show airing this season.

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This show rocks because it nails the quiet, simple life following a major emotional loss. The cast does not fountain tears, no freakouts; just bags under their eyes, eating poorly, and not being socially outgoing. They are desperate for normal contact and routine but do not know how to get that.

Endou Rina does masterufl work voicing Tsumugi. The slightly off language is believable, as are the behaviors, wants and needs. Tsumugi is super charming and her in episode arc—making her father aware that they haven’t been eating together, so much as in the same house—was a gut punch.

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Truthfully, the audience that probably won’t enjoy AtI is younger and probably hasn’t experienced this kind of tragedy in their life. AtI is quite pretty, but it doesn’t have the special effects flair of doesn’t have last year’s Dead Mom Piano Tragedy (AKA Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso).

Nor is there a magical element nor a love element nor anything other than what it is: slice-of-life for a 30-something dad, completely unprepared to be a single man raising a little girl.

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If you’re looking for sincere, grown-up anime, where drama can be treated with an artful hand, I honestly can not think of a better choice than this. Check it out.

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Bananya – 01 (First Impressions)

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Bananya is a short format anime about a banana that peals itself open to reveal a cat. That cat likes sweets and dreams about one day becoming a fancy banana covered in chocolate and ice cream. At least, that’s what the narrator tells us.

While cute — reeeeeaaaaaaallllllyyyy cuuuuuutttteeee — Bananya has more in common with a meme than a show. There is no story, no jokes, nothing more than a cate/banana hybrid that makes cute ‘Nya’ noises. That may have been enough in 2001, when cheap flash animations were all the craze, but now?

Nah. Even at 3 minutes, this is a waste of time.

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Hatsukoi Monster – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: a spoiled but shy girl from the countryside moves to Tokyo to start a new life without people not influenced by her parents’ wealth. While unpacking, she chases a gift from her brother as it rolls into the street and is narrowly saved by a towering hottie, who scolds her for unsafe behavior.

She instantly falls in love but, after 10 minutes of filler, he wants her to know ‘the real him’ before they can date for real. His secret, which is revealed the following school day, is the most fantastically absurd twist of any anime this season, and it leaves her shaken to the core. Uncertain, but also unable to immediately break off the relationship, his classmates are introduced and comedy ensues…

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You should check out Hatsukoi Monsters if you can make it through a dull opening act that is necessary to set up the greatest, most ridiculous reveal I’ve seen in a long time. The challenge it poses for their relationship is specific and hilarious, and the characters built around that challenge amplify the absurdity to full on belly laughs.

Seriously, while the trappings look like they will go purely generic, and the female lead is bland/fake cute, you owe it to yourself to reach the reveal — and do so without simply skipping the first half.

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However, you may not stick with Hatsukoi Monsters, because the reveal and the setup have only one, very obvious, direction to travel for the rest of the season. And I’m not convinced the novelty can carry the show, which is not especially attractive, more than a few episodes.

But, for now, give the episode a watch. There are several better shows, but none of them have thrown a surprise like this!

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DAYS – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Tsukamoto Tsukushi is a friendly bashful boy who’s cheeks are constantly blushing. It’s the beginning of high school and he desperately wants friends. Tachibana Sayuri is his childhood friend, possible unrequited love interest, and older sister figure. Kazama is a blond athletic boy who’s great at soccer, who invites Tsukamoto out for a game on a lark.

After proving his unrelenting determination at the night game, and sharing his feelings on friendship with Kazama, Tsukamoto decides to join his high school’s soccer team, which is on the pro level. He blacks out during practices but, later, completes the initial training well into the night, again blowing Kazama’s mind with all his potential.

Roll credits…

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You may enjoy DAYS if… you’re into sports anime, under dog stories, slice of life and/or lite high school friendship stories. This is predictable stuff, by all genre standards, with limited humor and an unstoppably earnest hard working protagonist you’ve seen in some form a million times before.

But it is drawn well and has a beautiful color pallet. (read: superior production value to Haikyuu!!, the last sports anime I reviewed)

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You can probably skip DAYS… because there really isn’t anything remarkable about it. I appreciate that we saw a fair amount of this episode unfold from Kazama’s perspective, which hid Tsuka’s relatively simplistic personality and lack of charisma…

but Tsuka’s character still doesn’t have charisma or depth to justifying watching him grow and play many many games of soccer. Also, I hate his cheek blush as a style choice. (read: not as compelling a character as the psychos on Haikyuu!!)

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The Verdict: The bromance and general low stakes suck me interest away. I’m also not a fan of watching football (though I enjoy playing it) and, no matter how pretty it is rendered here, I don’t see reviewing more on a weekly basis.

My initial score was a 5, because it is a very safe genre piece that you will enjoy if that genre niche is for you. Having rewatched the episode, I will revise that score to a 7, for technical execution — but still drop it from the roster.

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ReLIFE – 05

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Last week’s cliffhanger portended a rough road ahead for all parties involved, and a galaxy of possibilities in terms of if, and how, the conflicts would be resolved. But judging from the first four episodes, I was confident ReLife would resolve everything relatively quickly, but in the most narratively and emotionally satisfying way. The right way: no shortcuts, no lies, and no running away.

As it turns out, both Kaizaki and Kariu were knocked out by their fall down the stairs, so there was no immediate confrontation between them and Hishino. Instead, Kaizaki wakes up in the infirmary. Hoshino and her bag are gone, so the mystery of where she went and how she feels about what she saw is always hanging in the background, adding tension to an already tense scene.

Before Kariu comes to, Kaizaki pieces together what happened, and he remembers back when he was training at his job. When the woman training him started out-performing the men, they turned on her and started working to knock her down, sullying all the hard work they’d done to get to where they are.

Kaizaki remembers his trainer saying she wasn’t mad, but sad that they had given up trying to fight fair. Now we know one reason Kaizaki quit his job; rivals had twisted into vindictive enemies. It happens all the time.

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Kaizaki knows this, because he’s 27. He’s lived ten years more life than Kariu or any of his other classmates. And so, without even thinking, when Kariu comes to he lectures her the way a 27-year-old would lecture a 17-year-old.

His own baggage comes into play, as he makes the connection between what the “filthy adults” stooped to at his workplace and what Kariu is doing; telling her he’s not mad, but “very, very sad”, and that she’s too young to be acting like this. Kariu blows up at him, caling him too self-righteous and too self-assured, considering they’re the same age. But much of what he said still hit home, even if it was delivered with a bit too much, shall we say, adult authority.

Kaizaki tells her what she’s overlooked: sure, she hasn’t been able to beat Hishiro or Honoka, but she’s still bettered herself. Her hard work wasn’t for nothing, and she shouldn’t give up. Not only that, she has the wrong idea about Hishiro, because they’ve barely ever spoken. Kaizaki delivers this advice knowing full well he himself gave up, but like both Hishiro and Kariu, he’s trying to change. And he is!

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That wonderful exchange (with more baller work from Tomatsu Haruka) would be about all we could reasonably expect from a good episode…but this is a great episode, which means Hishiro is waiting at the gate when Kaizaki, and later Kariu, leave the infirmary.

Kaizaki initially lies about Kariu taking the bag because it was “dangerous to have it in the hall”, but changes his mind and tells the truth, remembering Yoake telling him not to clear all the thorns. Hishiro reacts as one would expect: with calm, cool logic. She doesn’t know the right answer, so she’ll ask Kariu upfront. (There’s also the matter of her heart panging when she saw Kaizaki hugging Kariu, but she wisely tables that issue for now).

Kaizaki may be hiding in the bushes to watch how it goes (with Yoake), but both of them stay out of it when Kariu comes out and sees Hishiro. Kariu doesn’t run, nor does she try to lie and say she doesn’t hate Hishiro, because at the moment, she kinda does.

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The source of that hate had been cultivated each time Hishiro flashed her one of her scary mocking smiles, so when Hishiro assures her she never meant to mock her, and Kariu talkes Kaizaki’s advice and asks her to smile on demand, it dawns on her that she misunderstood; Hishiro is simply very socially awkward.

It was Kariu’s own issues with her than caused her to interpret it as mocking. Also, well, it really does look like she’s mocking her, but hey, that’s why you talk things out with people!

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When Hishiro tells her all those smiles were meant to help them become friends, Kariu lets out a hearty laugh; part in relief, part in amazement. She also realizes Hishiro wasn’t ignoring her handshake, and when Hishiro puts out her hand this time, Kariu takes it and agrees to be friends…as long as it’s clear they’re also academic rivals.

That’s fine with Hishiro, who is so happy to have made a new friend, she smiles for real, surprising and dazzling Kariu in the process.

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So, all’s well that ends well in the Kariu/Hishino Conflict! The operative word there being end, as the show had the guts to lay all the cards on the table and hash everything out in this one episode. Dragging out the misunderstanding would have only kept us from what are sure to be other great stories involving, say An.

I really enjoyed Kaizaki and Yoake celebrating like adults with beer and cigarettes, as Kaizaki gets a thank you from Kariu for ratting her out to Hishiro, realizing it was in her best interest. Kaizaki still isn’t sure he didn’t spare her the ugly truth about life, the truth he saw firsthand and drove him from the workplace.

But Yoake assures him he didn’t lie, either. There’s a happy median between blatant sugarcoating and outright nihilism. And even though Kariu won’t remember Kaizaki in a year, she’ll remember what he said to her if and when she runs into the same obstacles he did later in life. The episode closes with a triumphant shot of Kari sitting with Hishiro at lunch, the rest of the group happy and relieved. On to the next high school crisis!

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ReLIFE – 04

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ReLIFE takes things to the next level by delving deeper than ever before into a character other than Kaizaki, namely Kariu Rena. We’ve been able to infer since we met her that she considered her silver pin more than just a mark of status, with all of its perks and privileges, but a symbol that she was “good enough” to stand beside Oga.

It’s the kind of subject no one dare even bring up in her presence, but we’re privy to it because we’re in her head. She can’t hide how she feels there. But now Hishiro has the silver pin, and Hishiro is beside Oga and calling him “Kazu-kun,” while casting sneering, haughty, and/or victorious smirks at Kariu, as if to rub salt in the wound.

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Obviously, it’s not Hishiro’s intent to antagonize Kariu—quite the contrary; she thinks she’s on the cusp of starting a friendship with her—but all that matters is how Kariu is interpreting Hishiro’s faces and overall behavior, and because Hishiro isn’t aware she’s doing any harm, she can’t stop the vicious cycle that builds and builds like a knot in Kariu’s stomach.

It’s not just Hishiro, either: Kariu would at least have a release valve in athletic greatness, but her friend Honoka beats her on the volleyball court as easily as Hishiro beats her in test scores. To make matters worse, it doesn’t seem like either girl exerted the slightest effort to best Kariu. They just did it.

When Oga, who is totally tone-deaf when it comes to matters of the heart, tries to invite Hoshino to eat with them, Kaizaki and An read the room and realize what a bad idea that is, since Kariu is right there, already staring daggers into Hoshino.

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While Kaizaki handled that lunch situation about as well as he could, it doesn’t change the fundamental problem of Hishiro not wanting to be a loner but still eating totally alone. Kaizaki has to balance his desire to help Hishiro live a happier high school life while trying to stave off all-out war between Kariu and Hishiro.

All this is to say that Kaizaki cares. These “kids” he shares his life with day to day have become important to him; and thus his life starts to revolve around them. Yoake advises caution—sometimes kids need to fall and feel pain sometimes so they learn something—but welcomes Kaizaki’s newfound concern for his fellow man, something he didn’t really have as a NEET.

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But all of Kaizaki’s progress is put into jeopardy when the tinderbox that is Kariu finally catches. In a moment when Hishiro is simply trying to reach out to her, Kariu storms off, but immediately afterwards sees Hishiro with Oga again, and wonders if she smiles at him like she smiles at Kaizaki.

Kariu’s frustration builds late at night while practicing in the gym, after Honoka leaves with her childhood friends and there’s no one around but herself and her thoughts. When she returns the gym key and finds Hishiro’s bag outside the lounge, she decides to steal it, just to try to get back some semblance of control; to, for once, hurt Hishiro, rather than the other way ’round.

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Her caper doesn’t go so well, because Kaizaki happens to cross paths with her on the way to dropping off the study room key. Kariu tries to lie, but Kaizaki sees and recognizes Hishiro’s bag; the jig is up. Kariu tries to run, Kaizaki tries to stop her, and Kariu starts to fall down the stairs…

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Just when I thought some weird looks from Hishiro were going to end up landing Kariu in the hospital or worse, Kaizaki puts his creaky old body on the line and makes a shoestring catch, only to end up falling with her the rest of the way.

Hishiro hears the crash and goes to investigate, and finds Kaizaki and Kariu huddled together on the bottom of the steps, with her bag in Kariu’s arm. Roll Credits.

While I’d like to think Kaizaki can call a time out and explain all of this, the fact of the matter is, the most logical explanation for what Hishiro sees is that Kaizaki and Kairu conspired to steal her bag together, which means they’ve got it out for her, which means Kaizaki never wanted to be her friend, putting all of his interactions with her in a new light. Hishiro is a bright kid but inexperienced in social skills, and may well believe the worst.

I still hope they can sort it out somehow, but it doesn’t look good. What started out as a sight gag (Hishiro’s funny faces) has turned quite dark and serious. But hey, I’m not complaining: this is some damn good high school drama, de-aging pill or no. Kariu’s seiyu Tomatsu Haruka deserves particular praise for her sympathetic performance.

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