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Teasing Master Takagi-san the Movie

With its pitch-perfect portrayal of an awkward middle school romance, Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san (or Teasing Master Takagi-san) was always one of the more charming anime romcoms. After three seasons of adorable flirting masked as teasing, there's absolutely no doubt that Nishikata and Takagi are head-over-heels in love with each other. This film satisfactorily caps off their story by being very light on the teasing and heavy on the warm fuzzies. It's not a lengthy movie—just over an hour long—but the scope works well for the simple tale told here. The film is roughly divided into three shorter episodes: a date to look for fireflies, taking care of a stray kitten, and another summer festival date. Much like the TV anime, it has a mellow, episodic feel. At the same time, the film manages to weave each story together in a way that makes them elegantly build on each other, culminating in a scene of romantic closure where no direct words of love even need to be said. What stands out to me about this film is how effectively it builds up cinematic tension without introducing any external conflicts or relationship drama. Unlike conventional romance narratives, Nishikata and Takagi never experience a falling out in this film. Instead, what they grapple with is a vague, pervasive feeling of nostalgic melancholy, as they wonder if they'll look back on their final year of middle school and pine for the "what-ifs." The first two stories illustrate this dilemma effectively by showing the characters failing to achieve the mundane goals they've set for themselves. Even though they understand in the moment that it wasn't "failure" in the sense that there were any stakes involved, they can't help but feel pangs of disappointment and fear that the feelings they invested ultimately amount to nothing. This film is all about the kinds of emotions that twinge. Within this context, the developments in the romance feel extra meaningful. A sentimental piano and string soundtrack adorns the quietest displays of affection, as if to affirm that it's within those fleeting everyday moments that love shines strongest. Any grand gestures would only diminish the power of the love that exists within the teasing; the puppy love between middle schoolers would turn maudlin instead of nostalgic. Although the production qualities aren't necessarily an ambitious step up from the TV series (with a notable exception in the kitten animation, which is depicted with a loving attention to detail), this unique concentration of aesthetics is still perfectly suited for cinema. By capturing the larger-than-life essence of rose-colored nostalgia, the film version of Takagi-san succeeds in elevating its quaint love story. In short, if you enjoyed the first three seasons of the anime, there's no reason for you to be disappointed with this film. In both the content and storytelling, it's a natural culmination of what came before. If the end of the third season makes it easy to imagine what kind of future Nishikata and Takagi have together, then this film is like a coda. There's never any doubt where those two are headed, but the true joy is in relishing the moment.

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Kotaro Lives Alone

Kotaro Lives Alone had a lot going against it at the outset, which is maybe why I had such a hard time going back to it after giving it a shot during the season's Preview Guide. Stories about unbelievably smart and independent children are hard to pull off no matter what medium you're working in, and it didn't help that Kotaro's stiff animation and “unique" character designs are decidedly not my thing, aesthetically speaking. I have to say, though, that I'm really glad that I went back and gave Kotaro Lives Alone another shot, because it turned out to be a surprisingly well-written and affecting dramedy that speaks to some important social issues. A lesser show would probably treat the gimmick of Kotaro living alone as just that—a convenient excuse for sitcom shenanigans. My biggest worry going into the show was that the series would treat its title character's living situation as a font for broad comedy, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Throughout the series' ten episodes, we learn exactly why this oddly adorable tyke is living by himself, and his plight is nothing to laugh at. That's actually the running theme for almost the entire cast of Kotaro Lives Alone. Outside of a select few characters, pretty much every man, woman, and child in this show is going through some heavy stuff. Without spoiling any of the particulars, this anime deals with child abuse, neglect, PTSD, systemic poverty, and more. It's never so dour as to forget the jokes and heartwarming moments to pick up the audience's spirits, but still. The show is so concerned with exposing the telltale signs of a child suffering from mistreatment that I have to wonder if author Mami Tsumura has a background in social work or early education. Granted, none of these serious talking points would matter if the series didn't have the stories and characters to back them up, and thankfully Kotaro is well-crafted enough to avoid feeling like a cheesy after-school special (most of the time). Shin and Kotaro's relationship is the most well-developed of the series, and watching the struggling artist slowly come to embrace his role as Kotaro's guardian is a highlight. I even grew to love the weird yakuza type, Isamu, for how he used his cliché tough-guy methods to protect the sweet boy with the plastic sword who lives a floor above him. The English dub also goes a long way toward selling this sweet story. I was especially impressed with how many solid kid actors that the dub used for a lot of the side characters at Kotaro's kindergarten. Cherameigh Leigh also acquits herself very well as the titular Kotaro, balancing his intelligence with his vulnerability. The script isn't perfect, though. Despite Shin and Kotaro getting a satisfying arc, not everyone in the ensemble is as well-written. The female characters seem to consistently get short shrift, strangely enough. Mizuki is a hostess dealing with an abusive boyfriend whose storyline is unceremoniously shuffled around and forgotten half the time, and Kotaro's Lawyer, Ayano, consistently gets the weakest and most off-putting sketches of the series. Also, like I mentioned earlier, this is not an anime that is going to win any awards for its visuals. Thankfully, the show had enough heart and charm to remain very watchable, and LIDEN FILMS is admittedly working with a source material that would be hard to make look traditionally “pretty", but looks do matter in the medium of animation. The music is also nothing to write home about, as both the dramatic and more light-hearted compositions feel like they could have been ripped straight out of any generic comedy or drama series from the last ten years. For a less considered show, these flaws might have added up to a lot more of a problem for Kotaro Lives Alone. Despite my quibbles with its production values and occasional writing slip-ups, though, I think that this is one of those anime that ends up being more than the sum of its parts. It manages to address some of the most common signs of suffering and neglect that go so tragically overlooked in society, and it does so without ever becoming a dire slog. If you're the kind of viewer who doesn't mind the occasional cry-fest in the middle of your cute sitcoms, then you'll probably be glad to spend some time with Kotaro and the gang.

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Pocky & Rocky Reshrined

You don't need to know anything about Pocky or Rocky to enjoy their latest game, Pocky & Rocky Reshrined. You don't need to know how their series began with the Taito arcade game Kiki Kaikai or how it reached its greatest international popularity when a Super NES sequel gave the heroine a tanuki sidekick and dubbed them Pocky and Rocky for the West. You don't need to know about how the two of them went through a disappointing follow-up and even a canceled game. You don't even need to know that Reshrined is a remake of the original Super NES Pocky & Rocky, though that will help you appreciate just what it does for the original—and for the whole genre of overhead run-and-gun action shooters. That's because Reshrined tricks players into mistaking it for a simply prettier version of the 1993 Pocky & Rocky. You'll find the same premise: shrine maiden Pocky and her tanuki pal Rocky set out to stop a mass of one-friendly local creatures from rampaging all over. The first stage leads Pocky through a shrine, the second takes Rocky around a forest, and both of them face routine enemies with basic controls. Three types of projectile attack are on hand, and the two heroes can swipe at enemies with a close-range move (Pocky with her wand, Rocky with his tail), dash across the ground, or launch a screen-sweeping bomb attack. It's all straight from the Super NES game, and it's still as enjoyable as it was almost thirty years ago. And then Reshrined changes everything. A plot twist brings up the series' recurring pantheon of local gods and sends Pocky and Rocky on separate paths through the past, the underworld, and a bleak, war-torn vision of floating warships and burning cities. The two of them meet other playable characters as well. The goddess Ame-no-Uzume floats around with lock-on magatama cannons, reflective mirror shots, and a spinning forcefield—while Pocky also gains the latter two abilities. The weasel-like Ikazuchi uses small duplicates and wields powerful versions of the basic three projectiles. The warrior Hotaru presents the greatest challenge by relying mostly on melee strikes, but those are the most powerful base attacks in the game. The three members of Tengo Project may not be renowned across the industry, but Shunichi Taniguchi, Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, and Toshiyasu Miyabe are true veterans of the 16-bit era, having worked on '90s Natsume fare like Wild Guns, The Ninja Warriors…and the original Pocky & Rocky. And just as the same team redesigned Wild Guns and The Ninja Warriors for modern systems, they give Pocky & Rocky such an overhaul that it seems unfair to label it a mere remastering or remake. More than half of it is an entirely new game. Tengo Project's skill with 2-D pixel art and animation is on nonstop display in Reshrined, even beyond the amusingly animated yokai creatures and enormous boss monsters. Leaves flutter across the cobbles of a shrine. Skeletal arms and jointed centipede creatures snake out of the walls in the underworld. And in the game's best stage, Pocky storms a high-tech flying fleet (resembling the fortress from Secret of Mana) and leaps between the airships as they collide over a city in flames. For a game with such cute characters, Reshrined is never afraid to get a little intense in its overtones and demanding in its gameplay. Reshrined further refines its overhead action-shooter formula, sending enemies from all directions and challenging players to strategize whenever they can. Each of the three projectiles has its strengths, and powering them up to their fullest provides a satisfying burst of destruction. Some foes are best defeated with close-range whacks that deflect their shorts, and others are immune to any projectiles. Tools like Pocky and Ame-no-Uzume's mirrors let players angle their fire while hiding, and Hotaru's limited range encourages defensive play. And if you want the pure power fantasy of wrecking everything, just go with Ikazuchi and that giant fire-laser. Not that you can cruise around like a Contra commando with 29 lives in reserve. Reshrined is tough on incautious players, with some particularly fiendish bosses that blanket the screen in fireballs or spat-out seeds. Continues are unlimited but wisely kick players back to an earlier point in the stage. Reshrined isn't a very long game in relation to today's mandatory 30-hour blockbusters, but it's a rigorous challenge, refusing to let players through a level or past a boss until they've learned and adapted. It's a game that makes you remember it. If there's one thing missing from the various attacks and play styles, it's the ability to walk in one direction and fire in another—strafing, in other words. A fairly standard feature in many overhead shooters, it's only a special move in Reshrined. Rocky can summon a tanuki-powered palanquin to carry him so he can strafe, and that's sometimes hard to deploy in the thick of battle. It's certainly not as convenient as independent controls for moving and firing would be. Pocky & Rocky Reshrined also made the strange decision to initially seal away the original game's biggest selling point: the two-player mode. You'll have to finish the game once to unlock that co-op feature and twice if you want all of the characters (either Hotaru or Ikazuchi is skipped the first time through). And while bringing along a friend adds a lot to the game, at this writing you can team up only locally—there's no online multiplayer to be had. A super-easy mode and some other features require you to collect coins, which again mandates more trips through the game. Yet return tours of Pocky & Rocky Reshrined are never a chore. It's a marvelous reimagining of an already enjoyable overhead action game, paying tribute to a classic while standing taller than just about any of its genre relatives. Pocky and Rocky have waited a long time for a proper comeback, but if there's any game that'll win them a new crowd of fans, Reshrined is it.

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Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell

If I had to describe this film's predecessor, The False Songstress, in a single word, it would be “functional.” The film did a decent job trimming down the first 60% of Macross Frontier's TV series and delivering a coherent storyline, but it was an obviously compromised production that got by on the strength of individual elements. It was quite obviously a television plot edited down to a two-hour digest, and that left it feeling pretty insubstantial by the time credits rolled. It wasn't terrible, but it was largely lacking any of the elements that made its original series or the franchise as a whole so appealing. The Wings of Farewell, I'm happy to say, doesn't have that problem. Besides radically rewriting and restructuring the TV series' third act, this film also just...works as an actual movie. It's paced and directed as a cinematic experience, crafting scenes that build upon each other to develop the characters or advance the story in ways that are compelling to follow. The first film could often feel like a collection of montages, stitching together key plot points without much finesse, while Farewell allows its story to unfold in a more organic way. Tension and emotion are able to simmer between sequences. The central mystery develops a comprehensible form even as it delivers multiple twists. In short, this is a far more engaging and well-constructed viewing experience than it is a recap movie, and that's before getting into the big changes made to the original story. Though speaking of those changes, they are extensive. While some plot elements and character beats are retained, this is by and large a total rewrite of Frontier's final third, to the point of basically being its own continuity. This won't mean much to new viewers, but it could be jarring if – like me – you've somehow seen the original but not this revamped version. And speaking candidly, I'm glad for it. I've personally had beef with a lot of the TV series' decisions, especially considering its central romance and Alto in particular. In fact, I put off seeing the film versions for years, just because of how bad a taste the original left in my mouth. Little did I know I was depriving myself of a movie that fixes nearly every one of my biggest issues with Frontier. For one, I actually like Alto Saotome now. Alto's confrontational attitude towards everyone and his general lack of agency in the larger story made him a frustrating, sometimes annoying protagonist, not to mention a charmless romantic lead. But in Farewell, not only does he get to demonstrate a far more vulnerable and contemplative side, he actually gets to develop across the story as he's faced with real, difficult choices. He's forced to not only reassess his outlook on the war with the Vajra, but his very identity. Is he truly acting on his own agency, or just playing another role for the people or society around him? And how much of a difference is there between the two? There's genuinely compelling drama surrounding him for the entire movie, and it makes him a much stronger character on the whole. It also helps that our lead trio actually get time to bond, learn about each other, and just generally build a sense of camaraderie that was sorely lacking in the first film. Ranka not only gets the focus worthy of a tritagonist; she also gets to actually know Sheryl as a person, connecting with her and recognizing the vulnerability hiding behind the Galactic Fairy's celebrity. There's a sincere connection between the two characters that makes both of them more interesting, and gets you far more invested in the ensuing love triangle than the TV series' more generic competition for Alto's feelings. Now, when the cast risk their lives for one another, or make dramatic declarations of love, it feels both earned and genuine, and that rekindled emotional spark lets the drama and action reach new heights throughout the film. That action also gets an upgrade over the first film. Not only are there more frequent and engaging Valkyrie dogfights, but there are even some non-Robot fights that get to shine too, allowing for a lot more immediate danger. It's also a fair bit darker in places, with multiple people getting perforated by gunfire in at least two scenes. It's never a gore fest, but there's a much bigger sense of life and death here, both against the Vajra and fellow humanoids. But on the flip side, the most climactic moments get to be way more bombastic, bringing in the kind of joyfully ridiculous ideas that characterize the best parts of Macross. It's not enough to just have a peppy musical number overscore a fight scene, it needs to climax with a sky-scraper-sized, transforming spaceship surfing on orbital debris to re-enter the atmosphere, all while the grizzled space captain hangs ten on the command bridge. It's the kind of glorious, pretense-devoid cheese that makes this franchise such an evergreen delight, and I'm happy to have it return in such fine form. On that note, there's just a lot more playfulness on display here, not only balancing out the heavier drama of the main conspiracy storyline, but allowing the characters to have fun along with the audience. The crew needs to break Sheryl out of prison? Well why not hold a concert at Alcatraz, disguise all the pilots as musicians, and help her escape while Ranka's music starts a full-on prison riot? Oh, and also Alto's disguise is him crossdressing as a Gothic Lolita maid, with rocket propellers under his skirts for a quick escape. And just for that last little bit of fanservice, the rest of the cast are dressed like Fire Bomber from Macross 7. It's a patently ridiculous idea for a pivotal scene in a sci-fi thriller storyline, but that's part of what makes it a quintessential Macross idea. This is the franchise built from its foundation on the literal, physical power of song to save the entire universe, and when it embraces that idea with both arms, there's nothing else like it. Granted, that mix of tones may be offputting to some, especially any newbies who came into these films after seeing Macross Plus during its screenings. I'm fully immersed in it, but the particular blend of heart-on-sleeve melodrama and goofy comedy can take some getting used to. More concretely, while the overall plot structure is a lot more solid than False Songstress, there are still some undercooked elements that don't quite gel with the rest. Brera Stern, Sheryl's cyborg bodyguard, is criminally underdeveloped for how big of a role he winds up playing in the final act. While it's coherent, the overall scheme by the villains is still convoluted enough to leave you scratching your head while it's playing out. There are also some vestigial setting and character details from the TV series that are present but never explained. Like, the movie just assumes you know the deal with the Zentradi, the (sometimes) green-skinned, pointy-eared aliens who show up routinely in the background. Or Michael's wingwoman/love interest Klan Klan, and how she changes size and appearance between scenes with nary a word of explanation. It's not enough to derail the overall story, but I wouldn't blame anyone for having some questions when they left the theater. And yes, I could explain that part about Klan Klan right now, but I refuse to because it's funnier this way. While not 100% perfect, this is nonetheless Macross firing on all cylinders. It melds its sci-fi action with resonant character work. It's the kind of heady, intoxicating mix of high-flying action, higher-flying emotions, and soaring music that has come to define this franchise for nearly three decades. It's an earnest rock ballad of a production, and if you're willing to harmonize with it, you're in for a Deculture and a half.

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ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape

ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape is an especially bizarre anime, and not just for the reasons you're probably already expecting. Sure, the anti-panty cults and commie penguin armies are…a lot, and don't think for one second that this anime isn't proud to get weird and stupid whenever it gets the chance. It's just that the show is also bizarre for being the rare kind of anime that is somehow far better than it has any right to be, while also frequently falling short of its own wacky potential. It's a critical paradox. The good news, though, is that ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape is, well, good, for the most part. The inconsistent CGI animation was a red flag for many viewers when the series first premiered, but Polygon Pictures actually acquit themselves well throughout Estab-Life, for the most part. It's not the prettiest CG anime ever made, but the world is vibrant and strange enough to keep viewers interested, and the characters are all just well-animated enough to avoid taking you out of the story. Speaking of the story, this absurd concoction of sci-fi tropes and unabashed insanity could have easily flown off the rails, but the biggest and most pleasant surprise regarding Estab-Life is how consistent and well-rounded its world-building is. It isn't until the end of the series that we're offered any proper explanations for just why in the hell this world is filled with anthropomorphic animals, mafiosos, magical girls, sentient slimes, and barely articulate wolf dudes, and the exposition we do eventually get is admittedly kind of clunky. Still, it's an impressive achievement that Estab-Life is able to hold itself together as well as it does throughout its mostly episodic structure. As bizarre and seemingly random as this world is, it's always easy enough to just go with the flow and enjoy the series for the goofy roller-coaster that it is, even when the jokes aren't laugh-out-loud funny (the extended gag about Feles not wanting to go commando is definitely not strong enough to carry an entire episode, no matter how hard the series insists otherwise). I'm always wary when approaching a franchise designed to be a multi-media branding exercise like Estab-Life, and to give this show credit, writer Shoji Gatoh puts in so much more effort compared to many of the idol anime and gacha game also-rans in the business. It also helps that our core cast has good chemistry, since everything around them is a constantly swirling whirlwind of weirdness. Feles and Martes make for good comic foils, and Equa helps to balance Feles' high-strung stoicness and Martes…well, everything about Martes. Also, I should note that I really enjoyed the English dub of the series, even though it hasn't finished adapting the final two episodes of the series as of the time of this writing. I've found that bizarre and somewhat experimental comedies like this benefit from a well-executed localization, as it helps endear you to the characters and settle into the overall “vibe” of the project. Julie Shields, Alexis Tipton, and Sarah Widenheft do a great job making Equa, Feles, and Martes come across as believable characters, no matter how preposterous the circumstances become. However, this is where that critical paradox comes in, because for all the credit I've given to Estab-Life for indulging in its weird, hyperactive, and often downright stupid sensibilities, I never felt like the series was able to go far enough. I know, I'm criticizing the anime with a middle-aged-yakuza-turned-magical-girl and a hive-mind lesbian slime creature for playing it “safe”, but I honestly spent the whole series just waiting for Estab-Life to just go absolutely bug-nuts bonkers and let its freak flag fly, but that moment never came. The revelations about M and the true nature of the Extractors world in the final episodes were fine, but predictable. The 3D action of even the most climactic episodes was serviceable, but never fist-pumpingly badass. The surprising visuals and cartoonish settings of the clusters were often unexpected, but they never made me go “Hot damn, I never expected to see something like this!” The potential was there from the very start, but Estab-Life is just lacking some essential spark, that indefinable oomph factor that would have set the franchise apart and elevated it out of its status as a well-liked but not truly beloved cult comedy. All of that said, while ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape is not the kind of sleeper phenomenon that will become an all-time great contender or anything, it's got more going on than you might suspect. With a movie and a mobile game on the horizon, there's still a chance that the franchise will gain the attention it missed out on this spring, but in a season so lacking in the typical action-adventure genre fare, Estab-Life probably deserved more appreciation than it got. I'd wager that most of the folks who wrote Estab-Life off on account of its intentionally dumb jokes and its middling visuals would be surprised to hear that the show is worth giving a second chance, but it absolutely is.

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Love All Play Episodes 1-13

If there's one thing Love All Play unquestionably has going for it, it's the facial expressions. That perhaps sounds like an odd thing to praise in a sports show, but it truly is one of the standout features of both art and animation; each fleeting emotion that the characters feel can be seen on their faces, from mild reactions to more extreme feelings, and not only is it fun to watch, it also helps to make each of them feel like distinct individuals. That even goes for identical twins Taichi and Youji; while they still function as a set in the best anime fashion, their facial expressions vary from each other based on what's going on around them, and even if you still can't quite grasp which is which, it's readily apparent that they're two separate people with their own thoughts and feelings. (In an equally nice touch, when we see them in their street clothes, they don't dress identically.) There's just more nuance to everyone's reactions than you might expect, and that really helps to keep emotional story beats moving. That's important, because the plot itself is fairly cookie-cutter. The story follows Ryo Mizushima, a rising first-year, and the other five incoming students on the badminton team at Yokohama-Minato High School as they begin moving ahead in their sport. Five of the six were specifically scouted by Coach Ebihara, with the standout being Koki Matsuda, an expressionless powerhouse of a player. First-year number six is Akira, who switched to badminton from ping pong upon entering high school, and the other four players run a gamut of skill levels between the two. All of them have to learn to adjust to a higher level of play as well as each other, with the major interpersonal relationship work taking place between Sakaki and Ryo, both former singles players who have to learn to function as a two-person unit. As these episodes, which cover most of their first year of high school, go on, we see everyone learn to improve and to bond with each other in typical team sports fashion. Or is it so typical? There's a real sense of friendship building between the boys as they try to figure each other out, with Koki being the most pleasant surprise. He at first seems like the usual snooty prince-of-the-court figure who doesn't give a damn about anyone else, but that is slowly peeled back to reveal that he's just a truly awkward, lonely individual; when we watch him interacting with his teammates or observing their games, we can see that he really does consider them friends, even if he can't quite admit it. He's clearly frustrated by Ryo a lot as they compete for the top spot in newbie tournaments, but if he wasn't it frankly wouldn't feel natural. And besides, we do have the selfish jerk character to contrast him with in the form of second-year Yusa. While both Yusa and Koki demonstrate a lot of similar attitudes, Koki is better able to get over his issues, and when he stumbles into Sakaki's family's restaurant, we get a better sense of why he's so awkward. Yusa, meanwhile, gives the impression of having heard that he's the best for a bit too long, although we do learn that he's also trying desperately to impress the girl of his dreams, which may also play into his attitude. One of the best scenes in these episodes is when Yusa discovers that his dream girl is, in fact, Ryo's older sister; not only is it entertaining, but it also shows us a crack in Yusa's façade that helps to make him a bit more rounded as a character. If it seems like I'm mostly talking about the cast rather than the action, that's because the latter is somewhat underwhelming comparatively. While we do see a decent amount of game play once the plot is established, the timeline of the story feels very rushed and choppy, with tournaments apparently just piling up one after the other at a rate that leaves you to wonder when they have time to practice. There are a couple of episodes devoted to regular life – the boys trying to talk Koki through a date he doesn't realize he's on is an interesting one – and we get a good sense of Ryo's family dynamic, but mostly this feels more like a show you watch for how the characters interact with each other than for the exciting sports action. I will say that it features a much more attentive coach than we sometimes see; Ebihara tailors his instructions to each individual player and appears to be training Akira to be a coach himself, both of which are nice to see. While he does sometimes tell players to think about their actions and see if they can figure out what they need to change, it's never without guidance or accompanied by any threats, making him a solid adult figure in an unobtrusive way. Love All Play is the sort of show that's good enough to keep watching even as it doesn't blow you out of the water. The character interactions are the heart of the show, but the badminton is not completely sidelined either; it's just not as well-paced as the rest of the story. While it may not be the hot-blooded sports action some viewers are looking for, it is a perfectly decent series, and certainly one that's good enough to hang on to for a second cour.

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She Professed Herself Pupil of the Wise Man

She Professed Herself Pupil of the Wise Man is a forgettable show, so much so that I found myself struggling to recall what happened in the earlier episodes by the time I reached the end. But to its credit, it's rarely actually irritating in its badness, nor does it treat its genderbending main character with flagrant disrespect (mostly). It is honestly a perfectly reasonable show to watch if you're in the mood for a light-hearted fantasy that doesn't demand too much of your attention. The story... Well, you've seen it before. An overpowered VRMMORPG player finds himself sucked into the game world for real and continues to curbstomp in this new setting. The twist, if it can be described as one, is that instead of playing a wise old man character, he is now in the body of a young girl. One would think that with a premise like that, a hefty narrative focus would be on genderbending shenanigans. But that aspect is honestly pretty subdued. There are a couple of obligatory jokes about people not taking a little girl seriously, and Mira expresses bemusement from time to time about dressing up in cute clothes, but gender identity is never touched upon at all in the dialogue. Perhaps it's because both "Danblf" (the wise old man) and "Mira" (the so-called pupil of the wise man) are fundamentally just roleplay characters as far as the gamer protagonist is concerned. Within this context, Mira is comfortable being referred to as a girl by the other characters, so in this review I will be using female pronouns for Mira and male pronouns for Danblf. The series establishes very quickly that despite the surface change in appearance, Mira has all the same powers and capabilities as her Danblf persona. Thirty years have passed in the game world when she wakes up in it as her new reality, but this has a negligible impact on the powerscaling. As a result, there is absolutely no tension in this story, whether it's internal in the form of Mira's sense of identity, or external in the form of physical threats to the realm. Solomon, a fellow top player who serves as the king of Arkite, talks of the need to reassemble all the other elite "wise men" characters from the game, but Mira embarks on this quest in an unhurried way. Even by the end, she's only made contact with a handful of old friends, so there's a sense that the story barely progresses at all. So if this anime is lacking in conflict or shenanigans, what does it even have to offer at all? Now that I'm posing the question to myself this bluntly, I'm struggling to answer it, which is probably the most damning response. I like the anime's sense of color and aesthetic, but the animation is middling, and the CG creatures are aggressively ugly to look at. Still, even when they stick to a formula, the individual episodes aren't so bad. The appeal is watching Mira team up with various guest party members and go on low-stakes adventures. Even though the game trappings are all too obvious, there's still a sense of whimsy about the world that makes the little discoveries fun. As for content warnings, the show is occasionally a little bit fetishistic. This isn't in the form of nudity, surprisingly. Although there is an episode called "I am naked" that does feature an extended sequence of what it says on the tin, the camera is neutral in its framing of Mira's body, and the other characters in the scene don't draw attention to it either. No, the weird thing about the show is its occasional fixation on peeing jokes. It was admittedly somewhat amusing the first time to watch this wise sage character deal with the very prosaic urge to pee, but when this joke kept coming back exclusively at Mira's expense, it was not only unfunny, but also started to come across as vaguely suspect. Mercifully, the other jokes in this anime are innocuous. Before I finish this review, I want to give a shoutout to the English dub, and especially to Felecia Angelle for her performance of Mira. Where Nichika Omori expresses Mira as more of a stereotypical "lolibaba" character in the cadence of her voice and the use of standard verbal quirks, Angelle used a deeper voice to channel the loftiness and dignity of Danblf's character. Both performances are valid, but I did find myself leaning a little more towards the English dub because it made Mira's character easier to accept as an extension of Danblf. Ultimately, this isn't a show I would recommend generally, but it does have little things to appreciate here and there.

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