May 21, 2014

Anime Reviews: Arata: The Legend, Kanamemo, Morita-san wa Mukuchi

I hope you like images because I’ve got over a dozen this time spread out over three more reviews. (Dial-up warning!!)

Arata Kangatari title/logoArata: The Legend is Fushigi Yuugi for boys. Oh wait, shit, it’s actually by the same author? I knew it! Enjoyable, typical, but cuts off before anything is really resolved. You can tell they were hoping it would sell well so they could do a few more [much needed] seasons. As it is, it is woefully incomplete but what little is there isn’t too bad.

Up in the sky, both Aratas float across from each other against a small forested island in the water connected by a narrow land bridge.

Arata from Earth, still in his school clothes and satchel, backed against a tree looking startledArata mirrors the plot of the author’s other work by having another school kid (this time it’s a boy!) get transported to a parallel world. Instead of ancient China it’s a… uh… non-specific fantasy world! Swords, magic, and warring factions! So basically the same just less racist perhaps. Admittedly, it is a much better attempt at an original world than her other series, as the hero-soul-infused swords and powers and so on are much more fun and action-y, if entirely predictable. There’s lots of good animation, colorful vistas, and well designed fantasy buildings, costumes, all that jazz. You’ll be positively shocked to hear that said boy is fated to be the wielder of the ultimate sword. I’ll wait while you pick your jaw up off of the floor.

The fantasy world Arata sits cross-legged frustrated and rubbing the back of his head, in his traditional fantasy garbUnfortunately, the author/writers/whatever chose to follow the annoying, pathetic, wimpy, and uninteresting Arata from Earth rather than the infinitely more likable, cool, fun, and interesting Arata from the fantasy world. Occasionally they’ll show what he’s up to and he’s instantly a better lead but maybe 5-10% of the show is spent observing him… too bad! And this is all despite that fantasy Arata, now on Earth, spends time mostly doing the “oh look how strange his behaviors are! Earth Arata’s friends and schoolmates are so confused!!!!1” cliché thing. He’s still awesome and I wish he were the lead.

Several lightly-armored young generals kneel in echelon in dim blue-ish light, faces obscured

Kotoha with a slightly worried smile, in full fantasy maiden garbWhiny Earth Arata is boring and wears a similarly drab yellow-brown school outfit like FY’s Miki (probably as a nod). At least he has a decent supporting cast to help him limp through the script. Kotoha is unfortunately the shallow love interest but damn if she isn’t a delightful cutie, just don’t hold your breath for her to develop a personality beyond “faithful puppy”. Most of the rest of the Evil Dudes end up being a mix of cliché badassery that is fun if mostly uninspired. Even so, the animation and sound work and so on are quite good and it’s an overall enjoyable ride but… well, like I said, you can tell they were hoping to pick up viewership to fund sequel seasons because just like FY the story is drawn out and would probably need a few dozen more episodes to really resolve things.

A dramatic special fx scene showing fire bursting forth from a sword from the viewer's perspective colliding with Arata's magical golden shield as a soldier stands on the sidelines

If it ever gets picked up for more I’ll likely put it on the queue to continue it but I highly doubt it’ll get the chance. Instead, they’ll keep churning out Naruto shit-pudding seasons. (I guess at least Bleach finally ended.)

Kanamemo title/logoKanamemo has an all-star cast that can’t save it from mediocrity. Which is a real shame, too, because it can be kinda cute at times. It’s subtle, that’s for sure. You either like its simplistic mixture of slice-of-comedy and light fanservice/yuri, or you will either be bored, annoyed, or both. The story (what little there is) follows this young girl Kana after losing her parents and then finally last remaining relative and so is a bit lost in life and without a place to stay. She takes up a live-in job at a newspaper delivery place and it’s mostly then just following her getting acquainted with the weirdos that work and live there already. I mean, they have to be pretty weird themselves to openly take in an underage girl off the streets, right?

The primary cast standing in a line looking over in the viewer's direction

If that sounds almost like a bittersweet kind of darkly slice-of-life premise, well that’s because it is. But that’s it. The premise is slightly dark but the show is far more concerned with weak comedy and slice-of-life fripperies with characters that aren’t the least bit original or interesting all dusted with a nice powder coat of yuri. True, the dark humor seems to stick around sometimes as the show likes not making life easy for poor Kana but it’s just not my bag, baby. I don’t dig it. And yet, I watched the whole damn thing hoping it would get better. It was never outright bad but always feeble and always meh, especially when compared to better comedy-yuri blends like YuruYuri. Worse, glancing over the manga source material it seems a lot of the rosy artistic character was washed away in the translation to anime as they’ve opted for an incredibly generic style in which nobody is all that cute/appealing like they should be.

Mika with colorful pink hair replete with bows twists to look over the back of her chair at the viewer as a few others in the background pay little attention

Well, maybe all except for the pink-haired side character Mika, voiced by the expert-at-one-role actress Kugimiya Rie. Here she’s playing a more subdued tsundere (well, subdued for her) probably mostly because she’s not being a bitch to some boy this time around. She’s really the best character by far and steals all the scenes but is barely a side character. And even then it’s an incredibly cliché stuck-up prideful rich-girl-turned-poor-but-is-ashamed character.

The primary cast in chibi form gather round to sort newspapers before delivery as Saki stands watching like a foremanThe cast is strong, though, did I mention that? Especially the ending song being heavy-lifted by the great Horie Yui. You’ve even got heavy hitters like Kitamura Eri and the always delightful Endō Aya. But, even so, I found the main character Kana’s voice grating. Her voice actress, Toyosaki Aki (you chumps probably know her best as Yui from K-On!) is certainly skilled in plenty of other roles but here she’s having to do too much falsetto to appear much younger (playing a thirteen year-old after all) and it just made my ears bleed after awhile.

Haruka glomps a shrieking Kana as hearts flutter aboutBut despite all the VA strength everyone is stuck with pretty bland characters to play and an even blander script. We get a seemingly endless onslaught of older girl Haruka is a lesbo-perv jokes, Saki is a precocious kid-boss isn’t that ironic, Hinata is boyish and too concerned with money, Yuuki and Yume as the token girl couple, and Kana is… well, Kana is the biggest problem here. She’s just a boring as hell character. She’s plain looking, has barely anything resembling an engaging personality beyond timid and clumsy but that humor well dries up fast. Mostly she is just dull and lacks charisma and yet she’s on the screen so much. Did I already mention that her voice is also super annoying? The tsundere Mika would have been a million times better as a lead and it’s painfully obvious every time she’s involved in an episode and we get glimpses at how much more interesting of a character she is. Or, I guess, could be.

I dunno, I feel like I’m ragging on it a lot but it kinda deserves it. Should have, could have been a lot better. Instead, it’s a lukewarm slice of life comedy with adequate animation and so on but with the genetics of a much better athlete.

Morita-san wa Mukuchi title/logoMorita-san wa Mukuchi (lit. Morita is Reticent) really is quiet and it turns out that doesn’t make for a particularly interesting lead. Oh, it’s a slightly cute and mildly amusing little series of three-minute episodes. But then it is over and… yeah. Well. That’s that. Kinda nice but dreadfully forgettable. I appreciated the Poyopoyo references, though (guessing it’s done by the same animation studio). On the bright side, the animation is, while simplistic and a bit cheap, adequate and colorful.

The main four girls pose for the camera around a playground slide

This is yet another case where the script and characters fail them as Morita-san also has some fairly veteran skilled actresses involved but it’s just not enough. The yonkoma roots are incredibly apparent, too, which wouldn’t be so bad if the comedy weren’t so tepid. It’s got a few decent chuckles but eh. Fortunately, the twenty-six episodes go by quickly and it remains a weakly entertaining diversion while it lasts but no more. I have to imagine that stations are funding these low-budget little adaptations to fill time or something. I’m sure niche fans of the various works that get picked up are of mixed feelings but the rest of us just wonder what the point was.

The main four girls up-close hovering over something and each looking concerned

As of this writing, you can watch Arata: The Legend, Kanamemo, and Morita-san wa Mukuchi for free on Crunchyroll.

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