Nov 3, 2013

Anime Reviews: AnoHana, HenNeko, Little Busters!

Three mini-reviews for series that probably deserved full reviews, but for various reasons I’ve just got less to say.

AnoHana title/logoAno Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai (loosely officially translated as Ano Hana: The Flower We Saw That Day) is, aside from a stupidly long title, actually a pretty decent watch. It’s the kind of soap opera that has enough nuances of story and character and so on that generally garners longer, more thought-provoking reviews. But, alas, I can’t find a lot to say about this one.

The story follows Jinta as he is “haunted” by what seems to be the ghost of a childhood friend, Menma, who died in an accident many years ago. Interestingly, only he can see her, and yet she seems to be a very real ghost as she is able to physically interact with the tangible world, though he still suspects it is his long-harbored regret. Soon after her death, their little posse of friends drifted apart, but ghost-Menma is ignorant of the last few years’ developments and is fixated on finding them so she can be reunited. If only things were that easy, right?

The main cast of AnoHana drink tea in their old clubhouse as kid versions from the past sit in the rafters above them.

AnoHana is well regarded in the anime community and it’s not hard to see why. It is written like a J-drama and directed like one, too, shot-for-shot. There’s really not much reason for it to be an anime. But, that isn’t bad per se. It is still well done, well acted, and well animated, too. It’s short, to the point, and focuses on the plot and characters, all of which are pretty good even if you’ve probably seen their various archetypes before. I liked it overall, although, as one Redditor described it, the ending was a lot of “crying and yelling”.

It can be a bit heavy-handed with the drama at times and your enjoyment will probably heavily depend on how much you like (or can tolerate) Menma’s childishness. Her child-like manner is explained and justified, though, but it does kind of undermine any romance I think. Thankfully, while the show dwells on his past crush on Menma, it doesn’t try to force it in the present so much, which would be really cringe-y due to her being so kid-ish compared to him now. Mostly, it is a story about friends reconnecting as well as coming to terms with a lost loved one, which suits the whole package well. Anyway, if you like good dramas give it a shot. It’s certainly worthy of checking out and you may find it has for more meaning in your own life.

HenNeko title/logoHentai Ōji to Warawanai Neko. (The "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat.) follows the hijinks of the eponymous prince, Yokodera Youto, as he makes a wish at a cat altar and surprisingly it comes true… sort of. As a result, he loses his façade and begins blurting out everything à la Jim Carrey from Liar Liar. Meanwhile, our lead girl, Tsutsukakushi Tsukiko, loses all her visible emotions behind a poker face. And it goes from there with the cat statue’s wish-granting providing the main driving force for what eventually becomes a bit of a past-revealing intertwined relationship thing. It’s actually not a terrible premise and it allows the show to have a lot of fun with its characters.

Side-by-side profiles of the two female leads, Tsukiko and Azusa

A generous helping of ecchi icing spread fully on this giant moe cake, HenNeko knows what it is (it’s in the damn title!) and it does it… surprisingly well. Sure, the story is barely adequate, but the humor is good enough often enough and the art/cute factor is definitely pleasing. But, if you hate moe pandering then run away now. At least it sticks to a solid, if a bit simplistic, story and isn’t as pointless or random as shows like GJ-bu — not that they are worse, but if you prefer a cohesive story and such to follow along with then HenNeko will probably appeal to you more.

It seems like only yesterday I was complaining about the male-fantasy-driven anime industry. I feel like a broken record having to keep lumping shows into the can’t-make-up-its-mind category. Once again we have a show that has a story and actually sticks to it with little to no filler, but yet sprinkles all that time with egregious boob shots, oops-I-fell-on-you scenes, oops-I-walked-in-on-you-changing scenes, blushing, crying, belly-buttons, and oh so much more. It seems determined to pander to every damn male fantasy whim about cutesy doll-like girls. It covers all bases. And damn is it good at it, too.

The three leads sit atop cat-god statues; from left to right: Tsukiko, Youto, and Azusa

Still, it is what it is: male fantasy fluff wrapped in a thin plot. It looks great, it’s moe-rific, and it sounds good too (though the OP/ED songs are a little too sugary-cute and babyish sounding to me). If you’re a sucker for it, you’ll probably gobble up this creampuff of a show without me having to tell you. The rest of you can probably pass. It’s nothing particularly special outside of some good character designs and animation. I had fun with it and would watch any sequel, sure, but it’s kinda forgettable all the same. Lots of air in this pastry.

If I had one major complaint it would be the two leads: I just never really felt much chemistry between them. Oh sure, they interact well, and their personalities bounce off and provide lots of humor and enjoyment. But as a romantic couple? I dunno. I get that she is obviously into him, though. Props for doing a great job of conveying her emotions despite the poker face she’s forced to display all the time. It just seemed liked he was focused on too many other things most of the time for there to be a lot of gooey satisfying romance, despite how much the show kept trying convince us otherwise. But, really, this isn’t a big problem, but it did irk me.

Little Busters! title/logoLittle Busters! is another Key production, based off a visual novel (as per the usual for Key), and it is… well… ugh. Normally I don’t review anything I didn’t completely finish watching. But, I also don’t normally have to drop a series. On the rare occasion that I do, I usually do so early and don’t feel I have enough material to write anything more than “didn’t like it.” Even the mediocre ones generally have enough redeeming qualities such that I can limp through to the end. The really bad stuff can be fun in a b-movie MST3k way. But the truly bland? They are the absolute worst. They just don’t really have anything going for them. Nothing to get glad or mad about. They’re just immediately forgettable and boring. It’s sad, really.

The original "Little Busters" members, from left to right: Kengo, Rin, Kyousuke, Riki, and Masato

So there are these five childhood friends and one is a year older and so will be graduating and leaving them soon and gets the idea in his head that they should form a baseball team and go all out on last time. But they only have five members so they convince the effeminate runt of the pack to recruit four more members while the rest of them… don’t appear to do much else about it? I dunno. It ends up being mostly cute moe girls (go figure) of varying you’ve-seen-these-archetypes-a-million-times flavors. Stuff happens. Things meander at an agonizing pace. We learn about some of the girls’ backstories. There’s mildly amusing comedy, weak attempts at tear-jerkers, and mediocre drama. Nothing ever really seems to amount to much.

But it’s never really bad. It’s just so damn bland. Animation, voices, and music are all fine, but feel very by-the-numbers. The story is half-hearted and the characters, while many of them are cute, feel incredibly shallow and cliché. Part of it is the much too large cast leaving most of them as bit-players in the script. LB! is based off of a dating sim by the same name, so it suffers like they all do from the “gotta get every girl’s story shoe-horned in!” problem where the original game has diverging narrative paths meant for multiple play-throughs. And what the hell is with casting Horie Yui as the “male” lead Riki? I tend to really like Miss Horie, but here she’s just doing a bad “guy” voice that just ends up sounding exactly like another one of her roles Raika from Papa-Kiki (which you’ll note in that review I called her out on being miscast there too). I get that this is apparently a very well-liked and popular game and anime, so fuck me for not finding any appeal I guess.

I tried. I really did. I watched seven episodes of LB!, stopped, then decided to give it a second chance and watched the eighth. After giving it more of a shot than it deserved, I realized something: I need to stop watching anything made by Key. You'd think I would have known better after Angel Beats! (what is with ending our titles with exclamation marks, Key?) but here I am. I won’t say it should be avoided, though. Obviously, a lot of people like this one and I guess I can see why… maybe.

As of this writing, you can watch AnoHana, HenNeko, and Little Busters! for free on Crunchyroll.

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