Assorted Anime Reviews: Baka and Test, Claymore, Chuunibyou and More
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted on September 1, 2013, in Reviews and Impressions and tagged baka and test, chuunibyou demo koi ga shitai, claymore, mashin hero wataru, pokemon, the world god only knows, tiger and bunny. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.