Inside Pulse 12

Diehard AnimeFAN, Vol. 5: Monster Musume, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan, Assassination Classroom and more!

Nothing exciting to discuss this week; I finished one series and picked up a new simulcast anime, which will probably carry us for a few weeks at least.

Let’s get down to business.

Ongoing Series Discussion:

God Eater (Five Episodes):

Nothing new was released this week, so it turns out that forecast that Crunchyroll may catch up with the current release schedule might have been more prescient than I’d intended. Moving on…

MY Love STORY!! (Twenty Episodes):

I don’t know, you guys, watching Takeo have a serious exchange about Valentine’s Day with his new baby sister Maki, which she responds to (albeit non-verbally) is probably the apex of this series. I don’t think it’s getting any better from here, folks. Though Takeo completely losing his mind about actually having a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day does come fairly close. Anyway, the theme of this episode is that Valentine’s Day is coming, which (if you’ve played Persona 4 Golden) you might have seen is a bit different from how it is in the US. In the US couples generally exchange gifts on Valentine’s Day, but in Japan the basic concept is a bit different, as girls generally give chocolate to boys on Valentine’s Day, and boys then reciprocate this on White Day, which is on March 14th, a month later. I mention this because, if you aren’t aware of that, this episode might seem a bit… weird; while they mention White Day once, otherwise it just comes across as the guys receiving chocolate from the ladies on Valentine’s Day and basically doing nothing to reciprocate, and that can come across as super rude. So, rest assured, there will almost certainly be a White Day episode coming up in the series, and it will probably revolve around Takeo buying something absurd for Rinko, while Suna probably just gives out a couple obligatory chocolates and turns down requests for dates. It’ll be great, in other words.

The core plotline of this episode is that Takeo is heavily looking forward to chocolates from Rinko, because he has never gotten any from anyone that weren’t “obligation” chocolates (IE “you’re my dude friend, have some candy I guess”) and he’s just over the moon at the very idea of it. While a lot of the episode follows that particular concept along, we also get Rinko’s point of view a bit, so as not to turn this into a Takeo-centric plot, though she doesn’t have a lot to say this time around. Honestly, the episode’s pretty cut-and-dry from a concept perspective; Takeo’s friends and Rinko’s friends meet up to celebrate Valentine’s Day, fun is had, you probably have a good idea how this episode would go in your head if you’ve seen the anime at all so far. What’s interesting, though, is that while the flow is as you’d expect, the events aren’t. Watching Takeo’s friends get up the nerve to finally ask Rinko’s friends if they can just hang out on their own was interesting (even if I’m not sure I want to follow that silliness for an episode), as was watching Takeo’s mindset during the episode as he realizes expectations don’t always match reality, forces himself to deal with it like an adult, then ends up winning out in the end. It’s interesting, as is the small hint at the end that something’s being set up for the next episode, though what’s about to happen is anyone’s guess (unless you’ve read the manga, but I haven’t). Overall, this was another hit in a string of them, and I can’t wait for the next episode.

Monster Musume: Everyday Life With Monster Girls (Seven Episodes)

After a few episodes that were hit-and-miss, we’re back to what the series does best, in stupid comedy and character building, and the end result is an episode that’s honestly pretty fun to watch all the way through. This time around, the first half of the episode focuses on a side-story meant to introduce the MON, an extra-human SWAT team meant to deal with extra-human threats, since humans and extra-humans are legally not allowed to hurt each other, which (for some reason) includes police forces. This kind of makes sense, in the way “diplomatic immunity” was used during the eighties, since all of the extra-human species running around are supposed to be cultural exchange students of some sort, but it’s mostly just here to give us a badass police force for the extra-human side of things. Meanwhile, the second half of the episode features the MON as well (albeit because it had to more than anything), but the reality is it’s all about the introduction of Rachnera to the cast, which is fine in a “we needed to get here quickly since she’s in the intro credits and all,” sort of sense. As episode pacing goes it’s fine, and if nothing else, it moves things along pretty quickly, even if it does introduce five new characters in a single episode, and really, the episode honestly felt like it flew by, which is usually the sign of a well-paced episode in my book.

The first half of the episode is entirely meant to introduce the MON, so Kurusu and company don’t show up until the very end, which is honestly fine, because the MON are awesome, and I’d honestly be interested in a series about their exploits at some point. The episode does a good job of getting their personalities over in the shortest amount of time possible, and the team members are all mostly likable enough, though it’ll probably take a few more appearances for them to really develop personalities so to say. Still, watching the team dismantle a group of orc otaku is hilarious, and it’s a great start to the episode. The second half of the episode is more or less “Rachnera kidnaps Kurusu and sexually torments him a bit,” which is… not as bad as it sounds, but is more or less accurate. Rachnera as a character is probably the most aggressive character so far, and she presents a good contrast from Miia’s “aggressive but silly” disposition, as well as a complete opposite for Centorea to play off of now that Miia and Mero are probably going to butt heads more often. The narrative progression is also interesting, in that it’s really another chance for Kurusu to be a decent person just by being himself; say what you will about the anime (and lord knows there’s a whole lot you could say bad about it) but the author knows how to present the protagonist in a way that it’s pretty easy to like him, I’ll say that much. It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here next episode, especially since we’re also getting a filler from earlier in the manga that Rachnera wasn’t a part of next week, so it should be amusing to see what the manga writers do with that, if nothing else.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan (Five Episodes)

I didn’t see anything interesting in the Crunchyroll simulcast queue, so I decided to poke into the Funimation simulcast queue, and found this. I was never a big fan of the Haruhi Suzumiya series, as while the concept was interesting enough, the execution was batshit crazy, and I can only tolerate so much insanity in my anime. Well, this seemed like a fair second kick of the can, if only because it’s a spinoff, and therefore not tied to the craziness surrounding the original series (both conceptually and in its development). The spinoff, after all, doesn’t have to be beholden to the existence of the original show; at most, it only has to tie the characters to the new series, and really, even then it only has to do a limited amount of this thing if there’s enough variance. The good news is, that’s exactly what The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-Chan does; while the world and names are similar, it’s a much more grounded piece of work and, so far anyway, it’s just a story about normal people, completely absent of aliens or time travelers or anything as… bizarre as its inspiring series. The bad news is, without all of that weirdness, it’s… mostly just a romance anime, which is fine, but probably not for everyone.

The basic gist of the anime this time around is that we’re following a timeline in the Haruhi Suzumiya series based on the alternate reality featured in The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya; in other words, Haruhi never attended school or joined the literary club, Nagato is a normal person, and everything is basically perfectly normal. In this world, Kyon is no longer the narrator, Nagato is, and she’s basically running the “fake” literary club while also kind of trying to work up the nerve to ask out Kyon. It’s not a bad premise, in theory, but in practice it’s fairly apparent that it’s trying to be “Haruhi Suzumiya without the insane stuff,” especially when Haruhi shows up in the second episode. Still, there’s something… compelling here; the characters, absent the weird craziness going on, are pretty likable, and the concept (romance anime meets crazy people) has some real chops to it, if handled correctly. That said, the show is almost certainly never going to unseat MY Love STORY!!! in terms of “best anime we’re watching in this column,” because of four problems:

– the anime seems bound and determined to be “Nagato spends the whole season trying to confess to Kyon,” which I hate the hell out of as a concept,
– Nagato’s primary competitors for Kyon’s affections seem to be Mikuru Asahina, who I… kind of like more than Nagato so far, as well as
– Haruhi, who becomes a big part of the series as of the third episode, and as a character she’s… not great. In her own batshit crazy anime, she’s basically as nuts as everyone else, but in this world, she’s kind of an annoying, selfish pain in the ass, sort of like the most extreme version of “manic pixie dream girl” ever, and
– I’ve spent most episodes beyond the second feeling extremely bad for Kyon.

As of now, I’m five episodes in, and the progression has been fairly… interesting. The first two episodes set up in a way that makes sense for romance anime, IE, we learn who the characters are and who likes who, and there’s a bit of zaniness mixed in to keep the mood light. Then Haruhi shows up and it basically becomes her show for a bit, as she takes over the Literature Club and forces the remaining cast members who weren’t club members to join, before forcing Kyon into following her around for a day while everyone else makes chocolate. At the tail end of the fourth episode semi-important stuff happens, and then suddenly the fifth episode is more or less a whole lot of “Haruhi is kind of being an insensitive jerk, but everyone thinks it’s okay,” before the status quo is basically restored. It’s… charming at times, but there’s also a lot of crap in there to offset the charm, mostly whenever Haruhi is on-screen, if I’m being honest. There are nineteen episodes on simulcast so far, of which several (if not all) are dubbed, and the dub is pretty good so far, for what that’s worth. I’ll certainly keep on with it as long as I can, but as of now, it’s… fine, if a bit rote and a bit insane in a weird way. Also, Johnny Yong Bosch is cast as Itsuki Koizumi in the dub, and hey, JYB improves anything, so that’s at least going to keep me on board for another couple episodes. We’ll see where it goes.

Overall Series Review

Assassination Classroom (First Season)

So, yes, I plowed through the remainder of the first season episodes of Assassination Classroom that are on Funimation’s website, because it’s an amazing anime series so far, and I had company in town who was also really interested in the series. It’s a great piece of work, which is surprising given the concept, and I’d be not even a little surprised if you were put off by the concept at first glance. After all, I was also put off by the concept of the show at first, for basically the reasons you’d expect: the concept sounds stupid, to a certain extent, and it also has a certain vibe that implies you’re either getting a pure comedy anime, or, alternately, Gantz, and I’m fairly sure I’m probably one of the few people on Earth who thinks Gantz was any good. So, in other words, I’d completely understand if the concept put you off entirely, and I can tell you, I wouldn’t blame you in the least if me telling you otherwise wouldn’t convince you to check it out.

That said, you really should check it out, because it’s probably not what you think.

We talked last week about the basic concept of the show, so you can drop back to that episode if you want to know what’s going on; suffice it to say, Kuro Sensei is a bright yellow octopus looking humanoid who’s trying to teach the dirt worst class in a junior high, not only in school-related stuff, but also in the concepts needed to kill him. See, he blew up two thirds of the moon, and he’s going to blow up the Earth in a year. However, he’s asked, in the meantime, to teach junior high as something of a compromise with the government; this way, they more or less know where he is most of the day, and as a bonus, the kids can try to kill him as time goes on. This concept is rife for either comedic or super serious content, and you can immediately imagine how it could go either way, and totally tank in the process, but surprisingly enough, neither one happens. To put it simply, Assassination Classroom never really commits to one tone over the other, and weirdly, this works out pretty well. In fact, that’s probably the best part of the anime; it knows how to balance its storytelling in a way that keeps it funny without being too absurd, and keeps it serious without being maudlin and preachy.

A big part of this comes from the character of Koro Sensei, as he’s surprisingly likable despite being, y’know, an octopus thing that wants to blow up the Earth. He’s one of the few characters in the series that treats everyone more or less equally until they give him reason to do otherwise, and he’s generally just a nice guy to everyone unless they give him a reason not to be. The first couple of episodes establish this well, but even later on, he’s clearly shown to be both capable of killing whenever he wishes, and justified in doing so on a few occasions, but he generally just doesn’t do it. This doesn’t even extend to his students, as he’s not allowed to harm them as per the terms of his contract; this applies to basically everyone he meets, whether they’re nice people or violent killers. He also has a few instances where he makes it a point to try and make others feel wanted and valuable, but even then, the anime doesn’t make it into an After School Special sort of affair. Rather, this usually only comes up every other episode, and when it does, it’s more about Koro Sensei explaining to the person how they can do better, or stopping someone else from intervening because he’s done his job in teaching the students personal value. Of course, the rest of the time he’s doing goofy things like dodging around the classroom to avoid gunfire, tormenting people by changing their clothes without them noticing, or simply making it a point to dive out a window while surrounded by gelatin in the bath. He’s pretty great, is my point here.

The rest of the cast more than carry their own weight, however, and this is mostly because they’re generally believable in this otherwise unbelievable situation. The actual main character, Nagisa, starts off as kind of a “I’m a lame loser” character, but evolves quite a bit during the series, and is one of the many cast members who genuinely seems to like Koro Sensei, despite his odd situation. The majority of the class also gets a chance to develop their personalities in some form or another, and while most of the time in the anime is devoted to the teachers and transfer students outside of Nagisa, most of the class gets a character arc that gives them a chance to become someone you can at least identify in more than a sentence. The anime gives a lot of time to the other two class teachers, Karasuma and Irina, and they also come across reasonably well, with Karasuma coming across like someone who seems to legitimately care about the class even when his mission is all about killing Koro Sensei, while Irina… admittedly starts off as a terrible person, but rapidly becomes someone interesting, if not always likable.

To counterbalance this, there are also a few antagonists who show up to actually give the show some underlying conflict beyond killing Koro Sensei, and while many of them simply show up for an episode or two, the anime still takes great pains to give them motivations to justify why they act the way they do. Even one-note villains, like the Five Virtuosos (five top class students who are basically amazing in school and know it) or Red Eye (an assassin hired to kill Koro Sensei during a class trip) are given a fairly surprising amount of depth, and while many of them are still dicks, you can at least appreciate why this is the case. The most persistent of the lot, the school’s principal (who finds Koro Sensei’s attempts to improve the performance of the worst class disruptive) clearly has a reason for being a terrible human being, and it’s really interesting that even the bad guys get some development when they could just as easily be shitheads and have that be the end of it. In fact, the only significant flaw in the series, overall, is that while many of the cast get a decent amount of screen time, most of the screen time seems to go to the teachers, Nagisa and Karma (who is introduced later), and some of the cast don’t even get an arc at all, instead just showing up to be “the pervert” or “the fat girl.” While that’s understandable when you have something like fifty cast members across a twenty two episode season, it’s noticeable if you watch the show in large doses (like I did), and hopefully we’ll see some further development for the class in the coming second season.

Honestly, though, if you’re a fan of anime in general, Assassination Classroom is worth adding to your viewing queue no matter how you get into it, as it’s not only surprisingly good, it’s very good, and it’s probably one of the best anime I’ve seen in years. It’s easily the best anime to appear in this column so far, and while it possibly ties with MY Love STORY!!, it’s not only a lot more accessible, but it’s also got a complete first season to review, while the stuff we’re simulcasting still has a chance to go off a bridge. If you check out absolutely nothing else I’ve reviewed here so far, check out Assassination Classroom, because if nothing else, it’ll almost certainly keep popping up in the next few years, and you’ll want to be on board so you can be one of those anime hipsters who liked it before it was cool. That’s a thing, right?

  • The idea that The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan is a romance is really weird for me, as someone who DOES like the parent series (minus the Endless Eight) and whose favorite character in that series was Yuki. I’ll have to pick it up out of sheer curiosity if nothing else.

  • Mark B.

    I dunno if it’ll have the same appeal, but yeah, it’s probably worth watching a couple of episodes from. I really can’t deal with hyper-surreal anime like the original series, Excel Saga or FLCL, so I can’t really comment on if it’ll be as good of an experience, but it’s… interesting. I kind of hate Haruhi in this world so far, though.

  • I can agree at least with FLCL. That’s a few hours of my life I’ll never get back. This show was alright though. Excel Saga I haven’t seen yet.

  • Mark B.

    Excel Saga is probably the worst of the lot. It’s Animaniacs on a lot of drugs. But to each their own. I tried the Haruhi stuff and it was just too much for me.

  • Col. Asdasd

    Yo. Nice reviews. I still (!) need to get around to watching the Haruhi movie. Yuki is a cool character, as cynically-designed trophy waifus go anyway. This could be the incentive to finally get back into the series after Endless Eight (which you have to admire just for the fact that it even got made, let alone broadcast.)

    I finished watching Taoru no Index this week. I’ll spare you the huge rant and just say I didn’t enjoy it. But it got me thinking – why do there seem to be so few good anime based on light novels?

    Are the hallmarks of a LN anime almost always the same – strong concepts that are let down by thin characters, unconvincing dialogue, maddening pacing and weak emotional range – because the low budget nature of the LN industry sees mainly amateur storytellers getting their work published? Or is it more of a Sturgeon’s Law thing; 90% of anime is bad, 90% of LNs are bad, so good LN anime are always going to be a subset of a subset?

    Or maybe you don’t agree with my hypothesis at all. If there’s a bunch of amazing LN shows you can recommend I’d love to know.

    I watched FLCL and Excel Saga around the same time. Excel Saga is worth watching a few (of the earlier) eps for Jessica Calvello’s voice acting alone. The best thing I can say for FLCL is that it’s short. I don’t mean that as a diss: I’m open to weird shows if I know the ride won’t be too long if I can’t get into it. Maybe that doesn’t really count as open? Haha.

  • Mark B.

    I don’t actually read a lot of light novels so I don’t have an especially good point of comparison RE Sturgeon’s Law (that is to say, I can’t say whether one or the other is better, or if they both suck) but I’d honestly think the biggest problem is a difference in the media. Realistically speaking, most visual media that’s based on written media tends to be “okay” at best; while The Road and No Country for Old Men turned out well, for example, most every movie or series based on a Stephen King novel is mediocre to poor, and you’ll find far more examples of “bad” media than “good” media if you look into it, even when they’re based off of written work that’s considered to be “good”.

    It probably also doesn’t help that sometimes things are also just lost in interpretation to a new media, for one reason or another. Maybe something works as a LN and doesn’t work as an anime. I tend to find that manga translates better than LN, overall, because with a manga-to-anime plot everything is already drawn out, so if the visual style works in static art, it probably works in motion, but with an LN, you’re having to visualize it, and that doesn’t always work out. Some people are also just bad at interpretation; for example, compare the most recent interpretations of I Am Legend and Invasion of the Body Snatchers in film (I Am Legend and The Invasion, respectively), which critics hated, to earlier versions, which critics mostly liked fine. Sometimes the person reinterpreting the work is just an idiot, basically.

    But no, I can’t think of any good LN-based anime, though I took basically a decade long hiatus from anime between 2004 – 2014 and I’m only getting into it again now, so for all I know I’ve missed out on a lot of good stuff. Signs point to “no,” though.

    I appreciate that the MHS series accomplished a couple of narratively interesting things during its anime run, and had some neat ideas, but it’s far too weird for me to deal with. On a base level I’m fine with surrealism and absurdism, but most of these kinds of anime play the concepts for laughs, and it’s just too much for me. Something like Animaniacs, for example, takes refuge in its absurdity and makes its absurdity the norm in its world, so everything works because we already know the world is weird, and we know the rules of the world. Anime absurdism more often than not pretends it exists in a “normal” world and works by constantly doing things that exceed the boundaries of the “normal” world the anime exists in, and that’s FINE I suppose, but it’s not for me, because it doesn’t really embrace the concepts; it’s either absurd for absurdity’s sake to get a laugh out of people, or it’s a chance for the author to just keep doing the most ridiculous shit they can think of. It’s absurdity with no purpose or point, essentially, and if I wanted that in my life I’d read Axe Cop.