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Assorted Anime Reviews: Baka and Test, Claymore, Chuunibyou and More

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Series reviewed in this roundup: Pokemon Best Wishes!, The World God Only Knows, Claymore, Baka and Test, Tiger and Bunny, Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!, Mashin Hero Wataru.

A quick intro: As per the tradition of my university anime club, we get together once every while and have a six-hour long marathon of various anime. As it turned out, though, I’d already watched most of these shows in my own time. I still found the second viewing helpful in clarifying how I feel about these titles. So I thought I’d do something a little different here and tell you all my critical opinions. I’ve always believed a good critique is one that employs a close reading of the material – it’s generally more thought-out and much less prone to undue negativity. It’s harder to hate something that you understand, after all, even if you don’t agree with it.

Anyway, let’s get down to the reviews, shall we?

Pokemon Best Wishes!: I’ll be brief with this one since I only saw the first episode. Pokemon is essentially unchanged from the show I suspect many of you watched in your childhood. It’s charming and sincere as ever, although I can’t help but be struck by how bland and uninspired the visual direction is in this iteration. The new characters feel wooden, as if the actors are uncertain about their roles. It certainly brings down the experience as a whole, although plot-wise, this series actually got off to a very suspenseful start.

Unfortunately, my friend ruined this for me.

Friend: Oh yeah Pikachu loses

Me: Oh my GOD stop spoiling it you faggot

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Just wanted to throw that in here

The World God Only Knows: I haven’t read the manga of TWGOK, but I’m often told by manga readers that the anime is inferior, and I can see why. I can only conclude that the anime is a misinterpretation of the manga because the overall atmosphere seems very clashing. While ostensibly a comedy, the humour is poorly timed. I would even go far enough to say that the picture the anime paints is contradictory. Keima is portrayed as a ridiculous character and yet his conquests of the female characters are depicted in a completely straight-faced way. The result is this unsettling message that real life girls can be “conquered” just like in the dating sims. I’m pretty sure the story is meant to be making light of dating sim cliches in an affectionate, meta sort of way, but the anime portrays the romantic elements as the forefront and that just sucks all the fun out of the premise.

This isn’t to say that the anime isn’t successful in its own right. It’s well-produced, well-acted and above all, it feels very smooth. The experience, however, is distinctly less than the sum of its parts.

Claymore: Although this is a dark fantasy featuring often rather gratuitous violence that does little to mask its typical shonen-esque plot points, there is real heart at the core of Claymore, and it manages to strike the tentative balance between being hopeful and being fatalistic. In this series, there is almost no difference between being a hero and being a monster. Clare’s internal struggle to retain her humanity in the face of her bleak circumstances is compelling to watch despite the flatness of almost all the other characters. The Claymore are all much too similar in disposition and difficult to root for individually, while Raki, the only major human character, is too often relegated to the role of a plot device. The story does well painting its stakes in broad tones, but fundamentally, the story’s key emotional developments fall flat. This is especially so when the series falls back onto shonen formula that seems oddly unfitting for the setting.

What probably makes this series so effective in spite of its conventionality is its atmosphere – the music especially plays up to the grandiose, medieval feeling of the setting. Simply put, it’s mesmerising to watch. Even if it is not always explicitly stated, the darkness and pathos of the story underscores every scene. It makes for heavy, sometimes difficult watching, but it is nonetheless memorable.

Baka and Test: Despite what the title and what other people may say about the show, I think Baka and Test is a very smart comedy. It’s consistently creative, not just in its setups but in its execution, which is best seen in its quirky visual style.

But what makes Baka and Test so intelligent, for all its repetitive humour and reliance on slapstick, is that it all fits under a theme and the jokes are all adapted to its unique setting. At its heart, Baka and Test is a celebration of idiocy in all of its shapes and forms. Whether it’s educated people acting stupid or just dumb people acting stupid, there’s something charming and affectionate about the idiotic traits all the characters embody. There’s even some subtle social commentary on how unfair the education system is. One can’t help cheering on the bakas as they challenge the school’s top students.

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My wallpaper embodies everything that I love about this show

Not all the jokes work, however. The female characters range from grating to downright sadistic, and the romantic comedy segments seem far less inspired than the battles. But in general, it resonates with me. Comedy is a subjective thing – more than any other genre you like what you would probably yourself write – and Baka and Test is the closest I’ve ever seen an anime get to capturing my sense of humour. I feel like I’ve seen it a thousand times by now and I still laugh my ass off.

Tiger and Bunny: It’s always fascinating to see an anime tackle the superhero genre, something we normally associate with Hollywood films. Even more than most anime, Tiger and Bunny is a complex yet utterly refreshing mix of Eastern and Western influences that manages to capture the highlights of both worlds very effectively. It has that rare touch to be able to breathe life into cliches, both from anime and Hollywood, and adopt them into its own being seamlessly. It’s an anime that takes full advantage of its medium and is visually a delight.

Still, there’s a very calculated feel to the whole anime (the blatant product placement is jarring, to be blunt) that does undermine the ambition of the writing, and ultimately the story does struggle in deciding where it ultimately wants to go. It builds a world bigger than what its story can faithfully portray, and while this is stimulating to any fan’s imagination, it also means that it is full of holes. Details are skipped over. Plot points are not always portrayed with the weight they deserve. Climaxes sometimes feel anticlimactic. If only because it got so many of the fundamentals right, it often feels as if it could have done more with itself.

Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai!: Although about as subtle as a sledgehammer, the story of Chuunibyou is universal. There’s a genuine frankness about it, even when the story lapses into melodrama, that makes it easy to identify with on some level. We’ve all experienced some kind of ‘chuunibyou’ in our lives, and it’s just as human as anything to seek an escapist outlet from all the worries in our lives.

At the same time, the writing in Chuunibyou is often disjointed and clumsy, lacking effective transition between its silly, comedic scenes and its drama. As a result, it comes off as bipolar, a series effectively split into two different shows. It resorts to telling its themes rather than expressing them. While its comedy and tragedy work effectively when regarded separately, in context they don’t fit well together.

What is consistent about this anime, however, is its high production values. The visual depictions of chuunibyou are filled to the brim with wit and flair. There are key moments that transcend the limitations of its script and take on a vibrant life of their own. No matter how embarrassing that kind of thing is, no one can deny that it looks cool. 

I keep reusing this gif. Source: TPAB.

Mashin Hero Wataru: I doubt anyone has ever heard of this anime. It’s some old kids’ cartoon from 1988. It’s about as old school as you could get. The story follows a nine-year-old boy who randomly gets transported to a magical world and whose clay figurine turns into a giant robot. I’m not screwing with you. The eighties was full of weird shit.

Me: They sure don’t make anime like this anymore

Everyone else in the club: Thank god for that

Evidently, we are not nostalgiafags in our club.

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Lacking nostalgia for ’80s anime, however, I am in an awkward position when trying to critique this series. It had a boyish, innocent sort of charm to it, but otherwise the story came off as very choppy and downright sloppy in execution. There was no real transitioning between the scenes. There was no sense of stakes. It all came off as a cheap and tactless attempt to advertise the robot as a toy. It might be old, but it’s obscure for a reason.

That’s all for now. I’m splitting this post into two since I thought this was getting too long already. The next batch of Assorted Anime Reviews will be up sometime next week.

In the meantime, I’m welcome to any and all opinions about the anime discussed in this post. I don’t consider myself to be much of a critic, so writing reviews is a learning experience for me. Till next time, guys.

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Posted on September 1, 2013, in Reviews and Impressions and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I also really enjoyed Baka to Test. I’m watching it for a second time with my girlfriend and let me tell you, I did not realize how much fan service there was the first time around XD It’s one of the few series where repetitive humor is used really well and most of the episodes succeed in making me laugh. I would be interested to see a serious anime with the same concept.

  2. I’m sure you’re aware that I’m a big Pokemon fan and have been watching the anime ever since the beginning. Yes, it’s definitely formulaic and the characters are pretty wooden as you said, but the anime is mainly for people who are already fans of the franchise as a whole (which include the video and card games usually) so even though they know it’s childish, they can’t stop watching because it’s Pokemon XD But I actually think that Best Wishes! was the second best of all the Pokemon seasons after the original in terms of having more memorable stories and better drama. But you can’t tell that by the first episode alone XD

    Hmm, I didn’t get that kind of feeling with TWGOK. I remember you saying you’re also enjoying the currently airing third season, so do you still feel the same way about that one?

    I watched Claymore at my university’s anime club too! Despite the overabundance of limb slicing, I thought it was a good story with good characters (just wish they made a second season of the anime so non-manga readers could continue it).

    I think Baka and Test is a funny show too. Not all of its jokes worked for me but the ones that did really did XD

    And I can certainly get what you’re saying about Chuunibyou feeling “bipolar” with not transitioning well between its comedy and drama. I personally felt like it flowed together well (maybe not every scene, but in general), especially compared to other anime that try to have comedic scenes with an otherwise serious story, but I can see how it doesn’t click with others.

    Haven’t seen Tiger and Bunny or that last series, so can’t comment on those =P Are these all anime you watched at you university’s club? If so, I’m surprised Pokemon is one of their shows XD

    • I totally get what you’re saying about Pokemon. It’s a big franchise and you can’t just look at each product in a vacuum. I do have plans to finish watching Best Wishes at some stage because I really didn’t mind what I saw of it.

      Hmm, I didn’t get that kind of feeling with TWGOK. I remember you saying you’re also enjoying the currently airing third season, so do you still feel the same way about that one?

      I do quite like the current season of TWGOK. It’s much more plot-driven and focused, etc. I would still call it a messy adaptation from a non-manga reader’s point of view, though.

      Are these all anime you watched at you university’s club?

      Indeed they were! As it turns out, one of the committee members is really into Pokemon herself and that was the first anime we saw that day. Everyone else in the club complained about it, but I kept watching :) Always nice to stretch your horizons, and a club is often great for that.

  3. I feel the same way about The World God Only Knows. I know it’s an extremely popular show but I never did manage to finish the whole thing – despite being set up as a kind of parody of harem anime, it still just seemed to take some of the stereotypes a step further rather than actually critique or even make fun of them very effectively. Probably because, as you point out, the conquests of the female characters are played straight rather than comedically in spite of the fact that TWGOK is a comedy series.

    I didn’t much enjoy Claymore either, but for the life of me I can’t actually remember why. I know I watched the first handful of episodes a couple of years ago and didn’t dislike it, but I guess I also just wasn’t gripped enough to be motivated to watch any more after that. Maybe I’ll give the anime another shot someday.

    On the other hand, huzzah for Baka and Test and Tiger and Bunny. Neither show was perfect, but I enjoyed the hell out of both. Particularly Tiger and Bunny though, which is probably saying quite a bit considering I don’t usually get into superhero storylines very easily. That said, I doubt I’ll ever watch the follow-up anime movies – I was happy enough with the series ending.

    • Looks like we’ve got pretty similar tastes! As for Claymore, I’d say it’s an okay series but not a great one. Manga readers say the manga is better, but I personally find the art kind of ugly. Also, glad to hear you liked Tiger and Bunny. I’d say it was the characters that most endeared me to that show.

  4. I’ve actually never gotten around to watching Baka to Test. While at heart, “my genre” will always be romacom, I still have a special place in my soul set aside for comedy. That being said, I’m actually curious if the comedy in it would match my tastes. For the most part, I find crude humor the funniest, with my favorites being Seitokai Yakuindomo, Mitsudomoe, and B Gata H Kei, but I also find a lot of the slapstick/gag comedy to be good too, like Seto no Hanayome and Haiyore! Nyaruko-san (though arguably that anime includes both sex jokes and other forms of comedy, so all around it’s very funny).

    The only qualm I have about comedy anime that try to mix romance into it is I get as pissed as an old man with youngsters on his lawn when the romantic element ends up being botched, ruined, or ends up inconclusive. Seitokai is a major tease, I can already tell nothing is going to happen. Seto no Hanayome was utterly ridiculous, the entire premise of the series is marriage and yet the male lead never even gets one kiss from his bride through 26 freakin episodes (but he kisses the same guy twice, lol fgt). B Kata H Kei was like…I guess it was pretty hilarious if you could get over the fact that both the lead characters were utterly retarded and shallow. He didn’t get laid but at least he got to see some good boobage and scored a girlfriend. Better than 90% of the endings you see out there. And I’ll reserve my critique on Nyaruko-san since there’s a third season coming (eventually).

    Ok my rant is over.

    • I think you’ll like Baka and Test, although it’s more random than crude.

      The only qualm I have about comedy anime that try to mix romance into it is I get as pissed as an old man with youngsters on his lawn when the romantic element ends up being botched, ruined, or ends up inconclusive.

      Holy crap, my same thoughts! Sometimes, I don’t mind it, but when the characters act stupid for no reason towards the end of a comedy anime, only for nothing to ever get resolved anyway, it just pisses me right off! Kannagi shot itself in the foot with its lame dramatics, but pretty much every comedy anime falls into this trap in the end :(

      As for Nyaruko-san: Kuuko Best Girl. Mahiro x Kuuko or gtfo.

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