Feb 15, 2014

Anime Review: Gurren Lagann, WataMote, Mondaiji

Yet another triple batch of mini-reviews!

Gurren Lagan title/logoOkay, seriously, I can’t review this one. It’s been months and months now and I don’t know why but I have struggled to find anything to say at length about Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. I’m not even sure why, either! I liked and enjoyed it just fine. Good animation, music/voices, characters... there’s lots to like and talk about here actually. It’s a solidly good series throughout.

But you already know that, have heard it countless times over the years from all the fanboys, so you don’t need me to tell you that. And maybe that’s just it? One more review of TTGL is kind of redundant at this point.

Instead, you can read THEM’s review here. I mostly agree with it, except for some of the Nia complaints (though I can understand why, I personally wasn't bothered by her character or voice actress).

WataMote title/logoI was pleased to find the adaptation of Watashi ga Motenai no wa dō Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui! (No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Not Popular!) to be quite good. One of the admittedly few series I’ve seen after reading the manga, WataMote has been a kind of quickie schadenfreude to me for some time. Of course, I’m sure it is for most people as that is the point. The basic premise, if you aren’t familiar with it, is the cringe-worthy misadventures of an incredibly pathetic human being named Kuroki Tomoko. She is truly a sad sack of a person. Not depressed or mopey, per se, but just… well, pathetic doesn’t even begin to describe her.

Tomoko straining to smile, looking tired, haggard, and anxiousOf course, the cringe factor is the entire point: her boneheaded attempts at getting popular, creepy plans at finding tons of friends, and all of the other dumb crap she sets out to do make for a train wreck you cannot look away from. Unless you find her aggravatingly annoying, which I can understand (sorry, honey, we’ll watch something nicer together later, okay?). A lot of folks seem to find her repulsive… and yeah, she is. She is infuriatingly dumb. But that’s the point, so you either enjoy watching her be bad at life or… you find it stupid. There’s very little gray area here.

But if you are into that, well… are you, sir, in for a treat. The anime follows most of the manga adventures fairly closely, with a few deviations and new tangents. There’s even plenty more manga material should they pursue a second season, since the manga is currently working through her second year of high school.

The transition into animation is very well done. Tomoko is creepy and grungy and her voice actress is amazing at pulling off the pathetic whisper and the angry spiteful loser and every cringe-worthy inner monologue in-between. Animation quality is fairly good, too, though it’ll rarely directly impress. There are few sweeping camera scenes that are effectively used and the show does a great job of highlighting her disgusting side versus the fluffy cuteness of her best friend from junior high.

Kuroki Tomoko from the intro, looking disheveled and wearing a suspect nametag against a height diagram in a grungy alleyway

Of special mention, though, is the intro. I was quite surprised by it and strangely attracted to it over several viewings (one of the later episodes even transitions into the intro so nicely it had me exclaiming “hell yes!” at the TV). It’s a kind of harsh Linkin Park type number, with a pleasing female vocalist over fast drums and a gritty male screamo backup. It fits the suppressed frustration vibe of Tomoko extremely well, I think.

Mondaiji title/logo“Fun” is about the best that can be said about the retardedly named Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai Kara Kuru Sō Desu yo? (Problem Children are Coming from Another World, aren’t they?). It’s got just enough style to make it entertaining and the animation ain’t too shabby either. The characters waver between being genuinely interesting and intriguing to stupidly shallow (mostly this is the fault of dialog and scripting).

Black Rabbit leads the three new leads through town

The show sort of jumps right in, does a little explaining, and then does some brief arcs before stopping suddenly. You get the feeling that this was merely a slice of a much larger pie and sure enough it’s an adaptation of a nine volume and counting light novel series. Three kids, each from slightly different time periods even, get “invited” to leave their world to participate in special games. Each of them have special powers and they eventually unite to overthrow tyrannical Demon Lords in this alternate universe.

Yeah, the premise is fairly silly but the show just runs with it and actually it works. There’s plenty of good animation, good style, and good execution to make the ridiculousness of it all just sort of work. It keeps a good enough pace (save for maybe the first episode), it has a decent mix of action and comedy, a set of decently varied and interesting characters, all with a decently inventive backdrop to set things in. The three main kids, too, have compelling powers, personalities, and pasts, which is a rare combination in action-comedies like this.

A wide shot of Izayoi, with Black Rabbit behind him, standing in front of a leviathan water serpent

You definitely can tell there’s a lot more to the world and mythos but unfortunately most of it doesn’t have time to get divulged. Its biggest problem is the incredibly short length — a mere 10 episodes. Although when one considers its penchant for fights and endless “games”, more seasons may never be enough to finish it. It’s this factor alone that severely diminishes the lasting appeal of this series. For all of its strengths they are but momentary and then it just sort of sputters and dies.

Besides the brevity problems, my only other substantial complaint would be with the boy Izayoi. He’s too good and for no apparent reason or explanation other than he is apparently unbeatable. This has the expected effect of killing the tension in any of the serious encounters because who cares, wonderboy will easily best them soon enough (and he always does). Add to that he brings an intolerable arrogance everywhere he goes and you have a dude who’s a bit grating on the nerves. That and it’s difficult to sympathize with Black Rabbit much when she is constantly used as fanservice and comic relief.

Izayoi and Asuka comically tug on Black Rabbit's ears while You watches with back turned to the viewer

As of this writing, you can watch Gurren Lagann, WataMote, and Mondaiji for free on Crunchyroll.

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