Aug 13, 2014

Anime Reviews: Shin Sekai Yori, Day Break Illusion, Love Lab

All three of these probably warrant longer reviews but… I procrastinated so long I’ve forgotten too much to say more. I’m ashamed to say it’s been since sometime last year when I finished watching these.

Shin Sekai Yori title/logoShin Sekai Yori (translated as From the New World) is nothing short of a fantastic piece of science fiction anime. While it can be a bit slow here and there I didn’t much care because it spent its twenty-five episodes building up a fair number of characters and a world to put them in. And boy, what a world. One of its strengths (and damn near a requirement if you’re setting out to do sci-fi) is its richly realized world, history, races, and so much more. It gives just enough exposition at the right times to keep you going but without explaining too much too soon, letting instead the plot hint or reveal the rest. It even does all this while skipping ahead in time at least two major times, covering the main cast at the ages of roughly twelve, fourteen, and later their mid twenties.

Saki sits respectfully across from an old priest, both in formal priest attire, in a dark room lit only by an ornate lamp between them

A close up of Saki's face as she prays while staring into a holy fire during her initiationDon’t let the sci-fi tag dissuade you: this isn’t a space opera like Mobile Suit Gundam or a cyberpunk thriller like Ghost in the Shell. While those are fine and laudable series/genres themselves, I know they aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. SSY is rich, thought-provoking, dramatic, with splashes of cleverness and intrigue. It is simultaneously a character-driven and story-driven plot, focusing on a core group of friends and their relationships but at the same time placing them in a world that is far bigger in scope than them with political maneuvering, ethical quandaries, and so much more. And, like a good sci-fi story, it’s all used to explore concepts and ideas that are very much present today, like slavery, racism, sexuality, and individuality.

Three of the main cast at school having a discussion

SSY is set in an alternate timeline where around what would be our present day telekinesis was discovered violently. The story primarily takes place about a millennium later, where the course of history has resulted in humanity much reduced in number after those with the telekinetic powers eventually revolted over their powerless brethren, easily taking control of all major governments and countries. Now far beyond that, society is incredibly advanced and peaceful yet tightly controlled and most are oblivious to what really happened in the past. The series does a great job of making it all feel foreign and futuristic without the usual clichés, forcing you to pick up on some of their now different customs and such.

The main cast of characters walking home from school, silhouettes against the evening skyAll of this, however, is merely the backdrop setting to six childhood friends now entering school to begin to learn to control their mental power and the events that get them involved way over their heads in truths long hidden and forgotten. There’s a lot of character dynamics, relationships, and drama as their friendship and love is tested both by growing up but also by the larger story happening around and to them.

Three of the main cast again at school but two years later and looking early teens now

The animation quality isn’t ever bad but you can tell they did not get a great budget to work with, however it is effective and well used, with great directing and so on to make up for the lack of polish. The voice actors all do a splendid job and the background music is often above average. Combine all this with the very well realized story and dialog and you’ve got yourself a sleeper hit for sure. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Gen'ei o Kakeru Taiyō (Day Break Illusion) title/logoGen'ei o Kakeru Taiyō (translated as Day Break Illusion) feels like a good mix of Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi and Puella Magi Madoka Magica. In fact, it’s a bit unfortunate that the last analogy with Madoka is so obvious, as most folks seem quick to try to compare the two. And true, both are hyper-stylized magical girl series with a bit of a grittier twist, but despite this I never felt like DBI was truly trying to compete with Madoka. And let’s not kid ourselves, it would be folly anyway; Madoka had a big budget, big execution, and created an even bigger fanbase. It’s foolish to challenge a juggernaut.

Our primary girl power team, from left to right: Ginka, Akari, Luna, and Seira

DBI feels like a solidly good magical girl show without a lot of sugary trappings typical of the genre in the past. Sure, like gritty Marvel/DC reboots, “darkening” historically sparkly genres seems to be a trend these days, but if it’s well done I don’t know if I can really knock it for being stylistically fashionable. It benefits from having a more than adequate animation budget, some damn fine character designs and effects, as well as having an original enough setting and story to tell. The characters are the same tropes you’ve seen a thousand times (the bubbly naïve lead, the cool one, the gentle one, the moefang, etc.) but they look good and stand out visually and are acted well enough.

A composite of two shots: Akari in profile looking down as her hair blazes behind her, and Seira dramatically pulling back a crystal energy arrow

If it falls flat anywhere it is, sadly, in the length. A short 1-cour is woefully inadequate to resolve too terribly much and the whole thing feels a bit rushed as a result of introducing far too many ideas and characters than it has time to properly develop. Which is a shame because, again, it has some good ideas and characters in there, all delivered in a delightfully stylized package that I found quite appealing. I at least have to applaud it for not having much in the way of filler, choosing to wisely stick to its guns and tell a complete (if, again, a bit rushed) story arc.

The main cast in "street clothes" sitting on a train side-by-side together on their day off

Overall it is colorful, cool, and has some of the most refreshing magical girl character designs I’ve seen in a long while. But it isn’t trying to deconstruct the genre like Madoka nor is it attempting to capture every genre at once like Dark Rabbit. That is to say it doesn’t quite shoot for the moon but it does keep itself grounded and competent.

Love Lab title/logoLove Lab turned out to be far better than I anticipated as well as not being the YuruYuri-esque show I was expecting. In fact, it’s decidedly not a yuri show at all, though you’d be hard pressed not to be absolutely certain it is at the three minute mark of the first episode. You’ll just have to trust me that it isn’t! Instead, it is a solidly good comedy series that, while set in high school, spends most of its air time not actually in typical classroom stuff (much like, say, GJ-bu). In fact, as far as comedies go it's got humor in spades, proving to be witty and well-timed, with all around good pacing and direction.

Maki walking through the school hall elegantlyThe story involves Riko, nicknamed “Wild Kid”, a popular tomboy who ends up selling herself as a bit of a romance expert. She gets involved with the well-loved but secretly-weird princess of the school, Maki, who is engaging in some experiments of which the show is so named. Through the course of the show, Riko ends up becoming great friends with the small club of girls all endeavoring to learn the ways of love and romance from Riko and as a result she ends up digging herself deeper and deeper into the lie the more she cherishes their friendship and thus the more afraid she becomes of finally coming clean.

A close up of Riko flashing a peace and winking as fellow students fawn in the background with hearts for eyes

The series benefits from great banter and dialog, likable characters, and the good sense to make some welcome and downright realistic choices such as having the nerdiest and least attractive yet most level-headed girl of the bunch be the only one with an actual boyfriend. I particularly enjoyed when it started toying around with adding some male characters to the mix to up the romance ante, but as it is merely a 1-cour show it never really has the time to enter true rom-com territory.

The eventual full cast of the club seen overhead walking together

All of this is delivered in a perfectly adequate package, with solid yet simple animation that makes up for its lack of pizazz with fluidity and not cutting many corners. Voice acting is good, music is fine and even occasionally pretty good, and the whole thing feels like it lasts just long enough to get a whole story arc told to satisfying completion. And is it sad that I have to point out that it manages to do all of this with nary a bit of fanservice, sexual innuendo, or other cheese? Sure, it’s nothing ground-breaking, but it’s definitely worth your time if you like cute character comedies.

As of this writing, you can watch Shin Sekai Yori, Day Break Illusion, and Love Lab for free on Crunchyroll.

No comments:

Post a Comment