Gunbuster

Type: Ender’s Game?

Synopsis: I mean, Ender’s Game came out in 1985. Gunbuster came out in 1988. BUT, the Japanese translation arrived in 1987, so Gunbuster was probably already in development beforehand. HOWEVER, the plots are very similar. Mysterious aliens threaten Earth, so the planet trains young people as candidates to protect the planet. FUTHERMORE, both stories start as academy-based struggles to be the best, but then transition into showcasing how war cost soldiers the best years of their lives and their mental stability. ON THE OTHER HAND, the author of Ender’s Game is a batsh#t homophobe, while Hideaki Anno really wants his audience to think that Shinji and Kaworu are going to kiss. THEREFORE, I think Gunbuster is worth your attention. THANK YOU.

Pros: Gunbuster is considered one of the “legendary anime” because it was one of Gainax Studio’s early productions and the directorial debut of Hideaki Anno. The show has been referenced a few times in other anime, including Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. At it’s surface, the show is about teenage girls piloting mecha to fight space bugs. As such, the show starts off fairly light hearted, with silly visuals like mecha doing pushups and forming human (robot?) pyramids. But as the show goes on, the harsh realities of the setting start to creep in. The protagonist, Noriko, is introduced as a typical heroine. She’s clumsy, energetic, and has a thirst to prove herself. You feel so happy for her when she gets chosen to for the Gunbuster program. Then she actually sees combat, and she and the audience learn that the situation is much more serious than we thought. Noriko is traumatized by space combat. The horrors of war are too much for any person, much less a child not even out of high school. And just when she finds the inner strength to keep fighting for her sake and the sake of her fellow pilots, she goes home. Except, it’s not home anymore. She doesn’t recognize anything or anybody. While she was on the battlefield, time moved on without her. Due to time dilation, 10 years passed by on Earth. Her best friend from high school is now a mother. Noriko can’t relate to anyone at home, so she return to space. And this cycle keeps going for the rest of the story. Like a lot of Gainax stories, Gunbuster is bitter sweet. The enthusiasm of youth is forced to confront the tragedies of life. It takes effort and sacrifice to reach your goals. War is hell. Loved ones die. You will leave friends behind. Friends will leave you behind. Life is worth living not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard. And sometimes, some rare times, the world will thank you for your struggles.

Cons: Ok, so the anime did grow on me, but it took a while. The ending is perfect, the start is so-so. That Gainax/Anno silliness is on full display in the first few episodes. So much so, that the darker narrative shift gives you mild whiplash. Noriko breaks down in almost every episode. So much so, that I could almost see Shinji in the future think “damn, this girl should not have gotten into that robot.” Now, that was probably the point. I don’t think Anno is a fan of sending children to fight in wars, cool robots aside. But I’m like, does the Gunbuster program not have a counselor Noriko can talk to? It won’t solve everything, but sometimes it helps to talk. The story is fine, but a lot of the side characters are one-dimensional. Specifically the male characters. We never get to really know Coach and Smith that well, despite being the love interests for Amano and Noriko. Why was coach so gun how about training Noriko? Did he feel some sort of debt to her father? And what was Smith’s deal? Did he really like Noriko? And why didn’t he have a partner? The anime focuses more on Noriko and Amano’s relationship. Amano is the typical school idol that Noriko chases after. One of Noriko’s goals is to prove herself to Amano, and the two young women eventually develop a deep understanding with one another. It’s a good friendship, but I think it’s slightly overshadowed by Noriko’s own individual story. Also, that Gainax bounce. Quiet a bit of fan service in a show extensively about teenage girls at war. So make of it what you will.

Watch it: Stick with it. You won’t be disappointed. (5/5)

MVP: That ending.

I teared up.

Best Episode: “At the End of Eternity…” (chef’s kiss)

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Cells at Work! Code Black [Anime of the Year]

Type: I should start eating better.

Synopsis: I mean, according to this show, every time I do something unhealthy, I am torturing my hard working cells. Greasy food and smoking make it harder for red blood cells to deliver their oxygen. Drinking too much overtaxes my Hepatocytes and forces them to adopt fake smiles. And having unprotected sex can lead to STD that burden my surprisingly sexy Neutrophil cells. I guess I’ll just have to stop my excessive smoking, boozin’, and sex having. Yep, I totally do all those things…

Pros: Expect smoking. Smoking is gross. Even the “healthier” vaping looks incredibly lame. I also don’t really drink. I mean, maybe occasionally during the holidays or on vacation. As for sex, well-HEY NOW, I forgot where I was for a moment. Any-Anyway, Cells at Work! Code Black is a spin off of the original Cells at Work! The gimmick is that Cells at Work! Code Black takes place in a body living an unhealthy lifestyle. The anime actually does a pretty good job illustrating how a body’s health gets progressively worse. The host body is suffering from stress and less sleep, which leads to excessive drinking, smoking, and fatty foods. This, along with an instance of unprotected sex, leads to an STD, hair loss, kidney stones, a stomach ulcer, gout, and ultimately a heart attack. However this person is, they really need a day off. The anime has a more dramatic tone than it’s predecessor. Wherein Cells at Work! was mostly a cute slice of life story, Code Black is a story of death, desperation, and despair. The protagonist, Red Blood Cell AA2153, starts off as a naive rookie who is shocked by the harsh reality of his world. There are several instances when he questions his own existence and dedication to an environment that does not seem to care. He’s essentially questioning whether its worth fighting for a system that actively tries to kill itself (which in 2021 kinda hits home). But, like the original, the ultimate message is a hopeful one. Yes, life is cruel. It is unfair. It will kick you when you’re down. It will spit in your face for trying to help. It will surround you with selfishness, cynicism, and barbarity. BUT you keep going. You get up. You swim against the tide. You move ahead one step at a time, because dammit, it’s still YOUR life.

Cons: Whoa, got real there for a second. But this anime’s message just hits different after 2020 and 2021. If you want, we can talk about the Neutrophils and their GIGANTIC…swords. Ha!, I bet you think I was going to talk to you about their abnormally large breasts. I guess that’s how you know it’s a seinen title. Because the topics of STDs, ulcers, and gout weren’t enough. My one critic would be that the stories follow a basic formula. Cells at Work! had the formula of cute intro, bacteria attack, battle scene, cute outro. Code Black’s formula is hopeful intro, environmental hazard, bacteria attack, lost hope, inspiring speech, hopeful outro. In this show, the environment is the antagonist, not the bacteria. Which I think makes this a more interesting entry to be honest. The daily fight with your environment is way more relatable than a monster fight. And as an adult, it was definitely most beneficial learning about the side effect of bad habits than the basics of the immune system. Overall, this was a great show that actually taught me about some basic health information.

Watch it?: Is my liver a red-light district (4/5)

MVP: Blood Cell AA2153

Fight on!

Best Episode: Ep. 11 “Desperation, Gout, and Rebellion” (I mean, the erection one made me giggle, but this one summarizes the main points of the anime)

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Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Season 2)

Type: The best anime of the year

Synopsis: Like a Phoenix, Kyoto Animation has risen to release an amazingly animated show. The dragon crew are back to have adorable slice-of-life stories, intersperced with over the top anime fights. And we also learn a lot about dragon lore, and Tohru’s origins.

Pros: The second season of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is arguably the best animated show of 2021. Just look at the opening. Those dance moves were on point! I cannot overstate this: This show is great to look at. The first episodes starts with an amazing fight between Tohru and Illulu, the new dragon added to this season. We also get another rematch between Tohru and Elma. Not only are these fights spectacular, but they also feed into the overall narative focus of this season. Season is mostly about Illulu, Tohru, and Elma. As the new character, Illulu is where the rest of the cast started out. She’s learning about the human world and developing her own sense of belonging. She even gets her own “human” in the form of an exasperated high school boy. In addition, we get to learn a LOT about Tohru and Elma, and how their relationship developed over the centuries. Their connection to each other, humanity, and other dragons was fascinating, and a welcome addition to the lore. Speaking of lore, this season explains the exact nature of the split within the dragon community, which helps flesh out the world of the show. So not only did the animation get better, the writting go better too. Overall, this season did what a second season should. It still had the sweat and funny slice of life moments, but also added more character development and world building. A top class anime season from a top class animation studio.

Cons: Boy, Illulu’s boobs are big. Like, ridiculously big. I know it’s part of her fighting style, but DAMN. I kind of forgot how horny this show can get. Even the Kanna stuff veered a little to close to the line for my taste. Not to mention that stuff with Shoata. But apart from that, this show is really solid, really funny, and very fun to look at.

Watch it: Best of the year, just not my personal favorite (5/5)

MVP: The animation team

I mean, wow.

Best Episode: Ep. 1 “New Dragon Illulu! (Please Be Nice to Her Again)” (Ep 11 has the lore, but did Ep 1 come out swinging)

The Fruit of Evolution: Before I Knew It, My Life Had It Made

Type: Hey, an Abe Lincoln cameo!

Synopsis: I’m not going to insult your intelligence with this one. This is an anime about Seiichi Hiiragi, a high school boy whose entire class is transported to another world. Seiichi is the class loser, and gets bullied often. He also happens to be transported away from this class, landing in a dangerous jungle. He survives by eating mysterious Fruits, which allow him to “evolve,” lose weight, and grow several inches. He also discovers that he has the “Harvesting Skill,” which allows him to learn skill quickly. Eventually, he overcomes the boss of the jungle, who turns out to be a cute girl! Then he and his new lover, Saria, go into the city, where Seiichi becomes more powerful and attracts more girls to his side.

Pros: It’s super generic, but it does have it’s strengths. The show is silly for one. The aforementioned Saria starts as a giant pink gorrilla that takes a liking to Seiichi. Which, fun fact, would not be the last animal turned human woman that would fall for Seiichi. It’s only two so far, but it’s weird that it happened twice. I also like the running joke of Seiichi getting exasperated at learning new skills all the time. Story wise, the premise is the most interesting in the first few episodes, when Seiichi is stuck in the jungle. It was a unique enough setting to make it feel different from other Isekai shows.

Cons: There’s a lot wrong with this show. Just looking at the opening will give you an idea of the level of quality you’re going to experience. But I think my main problem with it is that it’s such a transparent power fantasy that wants to have it’s cake, and eat it too. Every blurb for this story describes Seiichi as a disgusting, smelly, repulsive human being. But once he’s transported to another world, he becomes exceedingly powerful, and handsome, and all the girls like him. He also becomes best friends with the king, and the strongest knight in the land, and the strongest wizard in the land, and he one shooted an army of S-class monsters. In a drama, a character’s struggle, and resolution of the struggle, is part of the entertainment. For Seiichi, his struggle ended in episode 2, after he defeated Saria. The rest of the show is him being on easy streak physically and emotionally. Seiichi’s plot armor is hard to reconcile when the show tries to delve into more serious moments. This is particularly apparent with Origa, a character that was kidnapped to be a child assassin and later rescued by Seiichi. Her tragic backstory is undercut by the fact that she is “saved” by Seiichi creating a spell invoking the spirit of Abraham Lincoln. That is a thing that actually happens. Had the story stuck to a more comedic tone, or sweet tone, it would have worked. But as presented, it too imbalanced. As an audience member, I wasn’t sure what to feel in particular moments, so the silly moments didn’t feel that silly and the serious moments didn’t feel that serious. This whole show just felt underwhelming and throwaway.

Watch it: Just skip it and go date a Turkey or something (2/5)

MVP: Artoria Gremm

I have a type.

Best Episode: Ep.1 “Before I Knew It, I Was Living in Another World!” (The essence of drama is conflict)

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Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro

Type: I hope this doesn’t awaken something in me

Synopsis: An art nerd is bullied by a member of the swim club. That’s the gimmick. She calls him a pervert, he acts flustered, and hilarity ensues.

Pros: This while story is part of the “teasing” sub-genre that’s popped up lately. In these types of stories, the female protagonist teases the male protagonist as a form of affection. In this case, Nagatoro likes her Senpai, so she and her friends tease him by calling him “perv” and “gross.” In her defense, however, her senpai does have some perverted tendencies, but so do most teenage boys. That being said, I wasn’t drawing my own ecchi fan art at 15 (though not for lack of trying). The best moments are the sweeter moments, where Senpai accidentally does something to make Nagatoro blush. These kind of teasing stories only work if both sides like each other. Enough instances make you remember that Nagatoro is also an immature teenager who doesn’t really know how to express her feelings in a straightforward manner. The show can be cute, if you can get through a lot of it’s baggage.

Cons: EPISODE ONE. The first episode is the hardest episode to watch (and ironically the best animated). In episode 1, Nagatoro isn’t a tease, she’s a bully. She makes Senpai cry twice after insulting his personal art work, and then pushes him into a river. And she decides to stay with him because a life time of torment has made him emotionally stunted, preventing him from getting angry. Honestly, everyone is kinda of horrible in the first episode. Even Senpai gives off big incel energy, viewing Nagatoro and her friend negatively because they had the audacity to hang out in his private sanctum: the school library. And while Nagatoro shouldn’t have made fun of him, his manga was cliche and the female roles were underwritten. But after episode one, the story more or less levels out. The animation is degraded to average quality, and the setting mostly sticks to the empty art room, and the only people with faces are the main cast. The show becomes pretty standard, with Senpai even forming a quasi-harem with Nagatoro and her friends. The show also becomes a lot hornier than I expected. A lot more boob jokes than I remember from the manga (though it’s bee a while). If you’re looking for a teasing anime, this is probably the best one. But for everyone else? There are better love comedies around.

Watch it?: Only if it awakened something in you (3/5)

MVP: Miss Nagatoro

Her name is in the show’s title

Best Episode: Ep. 9 “Senpai’s Such a Closet Perv!!” and “There’s No Way Creepy Senpai Could Go on a Proper Date!!” (I just thought it was a cute episode)

 

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The Way of the Househusband

Type: This man is living my dream!

Synopsis: I love to cook, I love to clean, and I LOVE to do the dishes. I can balance a check book, get stubborn grass stains out of jeans, and I’m pretty good with kids. Just like the ex-yakuza turned house husband Tastu, I too wish to live a life of house care. Damn it society, let me stay at home and bake macaroons already!

Pros: The Way of the Househusband is about an ex-yakuza, Tastu or “Ta-Chan” who got married and takes care of the household chores while his wife works. The comedy comes from Tatsu basically making everything a metaphor for crime. It’s funny to see this ex-yakuza treat a bug as an invader coming into his turf. It’s funny to see this intense dude go buy groceries with coupons. It’s funny to see this tatted-up G go from store to store to find his wife an anime figure. But there’s also some heart in the show. A lot of character in the show are ex-yakuza trying to move on from the life. Their personalities clashing with mundane life is rather charming. I also really liked that no one treats Tastu all that differently, aside from his weird reaction to things. That fact that he’s friendly with most of the housewives in the neighborhood is endearing. I liked the manga, and I like this show.

Cons: Man, I wish this was made by a different animation studio. But I think that’s everyone’s wish. The show is still funny, but it’s limited by becoming essentially a motion comic. I’m not really an animation snob, but even I have some standards. It’s also very short. 6 episodes. However, saying all that, would I still watch season 2? Yep. Because the story is just that funny.

Watch it: It’s going to make you an offer you can’t refuse (4/5)

MVP: Tastu, a.k.a. “The Immortal Dragon”

Himbo

Best Episode: Ep.02 Episode 2 (housecare is a battlefield)

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Combatants Will Be Dispatched!

Type: Classic Colonizer Story

Synopsis: A civilization with slight technological advantages begin forcing their imperialist values on a native society. With their robot lolis and moronic field agents. It’s a story that’s sadly repeated itself throughout history. Evil corporate paeans invade a magical kingdom, they get real cozy with the royal family through crude sex jokes, and promise to use their advance technology to slay their enemies. I joke, but seriously: Cortes, Columbus, and The East India Trading Company all used the same tactics.

Pros: Let’s state this right away: colonization was a crime against humanity committed in the name of European ego and greed. But what about this silly anime from Japan? Who, to be honest, have their own very dark history colonizing other countries. Well, it’s made by the same guy that made KonoSuba (Natsume Akatsuki). So it does have it’s funny moments. Like KonoSuba, this show has a core cast of a group of women and one man going on adventures. Agent 6 is basically Subaru’s older, more perverted, and athletic older brother. Snow is a combination of Aqua and Darkness. Grimm is kinda like Megumin, but replace explosions with a complex about being single. Rose is chunchunmaru if it could talk. And Alice, well, I guess you need a loli character. But do these characters stand on their own? Yes. After a few episodes, the dynamic of the group is well established, partly because they all travel with each other consistently. Agent 6, Alice, and Snow make up the core relationship, with Snow often being exacerbated by Agent 6’s perversion and Alice’s manipulation. Grimm and Rose are their for flavor. The story beats also tie in well together. Natsume Akatsuki is good at weaving story lines to create a smooth transition from one to the other. For example, their is a water issue in episode 1 that partly caused by Agent 6, which then needs to be resolved in episode 7-12. Structurally, the show is sound. Content wise…

Cons: This ain’t KonoSuba. Let’s state that right away. In a lot of ways, it’s actually cruder than KonoSuba. I think part of the reason is the characters ages. Which sounds strange, because I’m generally in favor of the anime industry moving away from teenage kids (like really, does 20 sounds so old?). But in this case, Agent 6 and the humor of the show are problems. In the show, Agent 6 and Alice “buy” equipment from back home using “evil points.” The more misdeeds they commit, they more points they get, the more high tech they can use. It’s not the worst way to limit their abilities in the show. However, Agent 6 usually gains evil points through perverted actions. He will flash women his penis, he will grope women, he will threaten to assault women, and it has to be non-consensual or he won’t get evil points. The joke wears out really fast. Since Agent 6 is a grown man, all his actions come off way more creepier than when Subaru does it (and Subaru is still a major creeper, don’t get me wrong). Had Agent 6’s “evil” been limited to immature actions like changing the water machine password to “dick festival,” it would have been fine. But as it stands, Agent 6 is more gross than funny. And I’m not even going to start discussion Tiger Man, who is very much a pedophile. But that’s not to say that Agent 6 is the only problem. Snow’s character is inconsistent. Her gimmick is suppose to be that she’s really greedy and bad with her money, forcing her to stay working alongside Agent 6 and Alice. But she starts off as way more noble and doesn’t get silly until later. Grimm was funny (and actually my favorite character), but her panty joke got old. And Rose, well, Rose was kinda just there. Overall, the show is OK. It had potential, but it got lazy and relied too much on crude humor.

Watch it: You can skip this. (3/5)

MVP: Grimm

Her hatred of couples was really funny.

Best Episode: Ep. 6 “Combatants Will Be Dispatched!” (Climax! And the best and worst of the show’s writing)

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Favorite Non-Anime Stuff in 2021

Screw it! Let’s do this again! Here are some of my favorite in 2021 that weren’t anime related. Continue reading

Parasyte

Type: Body horror, the anime

Synopsis: A high school boy named Shinichi gets invaded by a mysterious parasite-like entity named Migi. As a consequence, the boy gets roped into a world wide struggle for species survival that is conveniently located in Japan. It’s not so bad though. All Shinichi has to endure is countless murders, assassination attempts from other parasites, mental trauma, physical trauma, and a right hand that won’t stop talking to him. Overall…yeah.

Pros: The Parasyte anime, and manga, are known for it’s blend of horror scenes and action-thriller story. The story slowly expands as it goes on, but the stakes never get totally out of control. At it’s core, its about Shinichi and Migi trying to survive. But it’s also about the parasytes trying to survive. The anime is at it’s best when it explores humanity’s relationship with other species, and relativistic morality. For all extents and purposes, Migi and the other parasyte are just trying to eat and live. They just need to do that at humanity’s expense. To the parasytes, humans are just food. Which sounds cold, but to humans, cows and chickens are just food. The story does a good job explaining this perspective through Migi. Throughout the series, Migi stays inhuman enough to distinguish him from Shinichi. He never falls in love with humanity as so many other non-human characters do in fiction. But Migi does develop an admiration for humanity’s ability to care about something other then themselves. Shinichi also works as a good protagonist, as his calm and empathetic personality are what help Migi understand humanity. Shinichi is very human, and is someone who rises to the occasion without coming off as overpowered. Storywise, the pacing moves fairly quickly, and the anime gives you a slightly condensed version of the entire story. Some moments will make you gasp, other will gross you out, but none will ever leave you bored.

Cons: Well, some parts may leave you bored. Or at least, not as excited. Towards the end of the story, the focus starts to veer away from Shinichi and Migi. The story briefly transforms into an police drama to deal with the larger parasyte plot. Within the context of the story itself, Shinichi and Migi are not the primary agents of change. Shinichi and Migi react to change, but they do not directly cause it. Most of the conflicts Shinichi and Migi have to deal with are due to bad luck and self-defense. They don’t actively go out looking for parasytes to fight. The focus is on Shinichi and Migi. But the background is where the parasyte faction and police faction are trying to outsmart each other. It’s not until the very end that Shinichi and Migi are “invited” to join the police against the parasytes. And while I liked the smaller scope of the story as presented by Shinichi and Migi, the larger parasyte “invasion” wasn’t that appealing. Basically, the political subplot felt tacked on. It was a little too divorced from Shinichi and Migi to make me care. I also thought some of the body horror stuff was gross, but I’m a big baby.

Watch it?:  It’s good. (4/5)

MVP: Migi

It’s cold, Shinichi.

Best Episode: Ep. 05 “The Stranger” (You’ll know why)

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Violet Evergarden

Type: “I don’t have emotion, and sometimes that makes me very sad.”

Synopsis: This is an astoundingly beautiful story about a young soldier learning to live a life outside of war. She also helps others cope with the traumas of their past, literally writing letters that teach them how to embrace the future. I’m sorry if I’m embarrassing myself. I got, well, I guess you’d call it emotions.

Pros: Damn, this is really pretty. Like, ridiculously pretty. Like, I fumble my words when I look at it pretty. This was made by Kyoto Animation, so you know you’re getting quality, but I think they really outdid themselves visually with this one. I loved the bright colors, the beautiful clothes, and the hair. Are the characters using some kind of special shampoo of something? Their hair was amazing! So aesthetically, it’s very well done. Story wise? It does what it set out do to. This is a story about embracing the future. The protagonist, Violet, is a veteran who becomes a traveling ghost writer after the war. As an “Auto Memory Doll,” Violet travels around the country to write letters for other people. Most of her clients need help finding the words to move on with their lives, usually with someone they love. At the same time, Violet uses her experiences to understand the meaning of “I Love You,” which where the last words her wartime handler/mentor/caretaker Major Gilbert said to her before he died. As a child soldier, Violet came out of the war emotionally stunted and physically scarred. This is represented by her mechanical hands. But at the same time, her lose serves as an avenue that lets helps her empathize with others. It’s a beautiful story with a wonderful message, and one that I think we need to hear in our troubled times.

Cons: Is there such a thing as too pretty? Because this thing may be too pretty. A better descriptor would be over saturated. There are times when the bloom effects, the close ups, the sparkling eyes, they become too much. Like, I get it, you’re the bomb.com, do you need to throw it in my face every episode? Story wise, the show’s focus on emotional catharsis and working through trauma does veer into sappy territory once or twice. I’m specifically thinking about the episodes involving kids, though you’re own sappiness tolerance may interpret those episodes differently. Cast wise, they’re nice, but we don’t get to know them much. Most stories are stand alone, with Violet being sent out by herself to write for the client. We get an idea of the other auto memory doll’s personality (spunky, bookish, sultry), but it’s not like their having lunch together. But honestly, the only thing that was a real negative would be Violet’s age. Violet is around 14 years old in the story, which I guess adds to the tragedy of her story as a child soldier. But I wish she was a little older when the story started.

Watch it: If you’re in the mood to cry and look at pretty colors (5/5)

MVP: The effects animators

My EYES!

Best Episode: Ep. 11 “I Don’t Want Anybody Else to Die” (The princess episode is also very cute, but this one represents what the show is trying to message)

 

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