Diehard AnimeFAN, Vol. 6: Monster Musume, MY Love STORY!!, The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan and more!

I haven’t had a chance to run through a modern anime season or series this week, so we’re going to reach back in time a bit and review one that’s a little older, but still available for streaming, at least through the Funimation website anyway. That’s one thing I definitely appreciate about streaming sites like Crunchyroll and Funimation; not only do they provide you with a place where you can watch simulcasted anime and subtitled anime you’d not otherwise see, but they also offer an archive of anime that’s several years old, allowing new exposure to long-standing classics. It’s not a perfect solution, of course, since it limits the anime to what’s owned by the company (so Funimation can only broadcast their own anime, for example), but it’s certainly a good alternative to Hulu and its terrible subscription model, or Netflix which only holds a small amount of anime at any time. It’d be nice if there were services that could pick up more out of date anime (Martian Successor Nadesico comes to mind… and I guess Evangelion if you’re into that), but what’s out there so far isn’t at all bad, and if nothing else, between Netfilx, Funimation and Crunchyroll, we’re basically in an anime wonderland at this point.

Seriously though, screw Hulu. I don’t care what they host on there, if I have to pay to see ads you can kiss my ass. It’s nice that they finally instituted a “no ads” sign-up option as I was writing this, but I’m paying less for Funimation’s All Access Pass (eight bucks) than I would for Hulu (twelve bucks), so screw that.

Anyway, let’s get down to business.

Ongoing Series Discussion:

God Eater (Six Episodes):

After the complete destruction of the team that was last episode, this episode needed to be a bit of a breather to give fans a chance to recover, and for the most part, it does this thing. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was for it to get in some interesting plot developments (both expected and unexpected) along the way, but it manages to not only pull them off, it pulls them off well. I was expecting some development towards Alisa’s pill intake and why she takes as many pills as she does, because that was a focal point of her narrative arc in the game, and this episode not only pays that off, but it also does so more or less the same way the game did. I was also expecting some build up towards Lindow’s importance to the narrative, which we’re getting the first shreds of here as well, so things are bound to heat up in a hurry. What I wasn’t expecting was a discussion on what happens if a God Arc is damaged or destroyed, because this isn’t really a discussion the game had so to say, nor was I expecting the anime to try and justify how Lenka survived the massive shitkicking he took in the prior episode, but surprisingly, both are also addressed here, and in a way that’s interesting to boot. If I were a betting man, I’d expect that the anime is going to wrap up the first part of the Lindow and Alisa storyline in the next episode or two before moving on toward the bigger stories from the game, but as it stands now, there are a few directions the storyline could take from here. I’m not quite sure the extra week of development was worth the wait so to say, but so far, things are getting exciting, and I’m eager for next week’s episode.

The episode picks up from where the last one left off; Lenka and Alisa find themselves washed downstream following their somewhat disastrous battle with the Dyaus Pita from last week, and as you’d expect, both of them are severely messed up. Lenka, somehow, is able to bring Alisa to safety in a nearby hulked out ruin, and the two exchange medical care for each other before realizing they’re basically helpless. Alisa let go of her God Arc when she blacked out in the river, and Lenka’s God Arc is literally dead, so they can’t fight anything unless they can find Alisa’s God Arc. They eventually do, of course, but the strain and lack of meds proves too much for her to handle, and Lenka nearly sacrifices his life to protect her before fate intervenes. I like that the anime is putting a lot of effort into making Lenka and Alisa actually get along, in its own way; instead of going the Evangelion route of having them be grudging respectful rivals, here we’re seeing the two actually become friends through suffering, which is interesting, if nothing else. The little bit at the end that continues to develop the story of how Director Schicksal got to where he is today was also pretty interesting vis-a-vi the revelation that he outright falsified documents, and it’ll be interesting to see if they tie that into current events. Honestly, though, this was mostly about developing Lenka and Alisa, and I liked that, because while I thought the video game version of Alisa was a pain in the ass, I LIKE Lenka and Alisa here. Here’s hoping next week continues that trend, or at least continues delivering good storyline developments.

MY Love STORY!! (Twenty One Episodes):

After twenty straight episodes that more or less dealt with Takeo and Rinko’s relationship developments, it was only a matter of time before we got into Suna’s love life on some level or another, and here with the twenty first episode we’re finally getting into it… after a fashion. The character who popped up at the end of last episode gets a full introduction in this episode, as Yukika Amami, a young lady who has… apparently been giving Suna notes and chocolates for a good while now, but has never actually signed her name to the notes or introduced herself or anything. The episode mostly focuses on Yukika’s general phobia of being rejected by Suna, Takeo and Rinko attempting to help her out, and Suna just… being Suna, and while it’s not as over the top as prior episodes, it still works pretty well. This is an episode that’s more interested in character development, as it not only goes out of its way to give Yukika a character in the span of twenty odd minutes, but it also does a decent amount of work toward giving Rinko some real on-screen development. It also does a really good job of reminding us that Suna, for his odd silences and generally cold exterior, really is a good dude, as he does a lot of emotional groundwork with only a few lines.

The episode essentially starts off with Takeo discovering Yukika… uh, basically stalking Suna more or less, and while he seems to understand that maybe her behavior is a bit… weird, he’s also willing to try and help her at least express herself, if nothing else. This starts off a long sequence of events to try and help her, as Takeo doesn’t really know what Suna wants out of a romantic partner, and while Rinko is all too happy to help, her assistance capability is also somewhat limited. It also doesn’t help that Yukika… uh, comes across as having the sort of personality that makes it very difficult for her to even express herself. Oh, and also kind of like she’d maybe become a yandere. There’s that too. Anyway, eventually Takeo convinces Yukika to talk to Suna, with predictably disastrous results, but Suna, surprisingly enough, takes it all pretty well, and the episode more or less ends with the group planning to go on a date next episode (one assumes, anyway). I somehow doubt that Suna is going to end up with Yukika, or with anyone, that quickly, but if you can overlook Yukika’s… stalker tendencies, she seems pleasant enough, and will hopefully become a more evolved character as things go on. I also really liked that Rinko and Suna got time to shine; while Takeo is always hilarious, it’s more fun when we see what everyone is like, because it makes everyone more likable. I’m interested to see how next week’s episode goes, but it’ll almost certainly be nuts, so here’s hoping nothing too weird happens.

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

Speaking of too weird, this week’s episode of Everyday Life With Monster Girls is two parts “completely reasonable character development” mixed with one part “super sexual stuff,” and with the announcement that the Japanese Blu-Ray releases will apparently be anatomically correct, I suddenly understand exactly why everything is the way that it is. The good news is, everyone gets a good amount of screen time, and while most of the episode is devoted to Rachnera, Centorea and Suu, you’ll get to see every one of the core cast members for a bit of time at least, so this doesn’t feel like it’s excluding anyone or leaving them out. It’s also interesting that they decided to use the “Suu as a nurse” episode here when in the manga it appeared before Rachnera appeared, since her entire contribution to the episode is stopping everyone from killing everyone else, especially since originally they stopped on their own, but it’s fine enough one supposes. If I’m being honest, I don’t have any especially strong feelings about this episode one way or the other, beyond generally liking it. I like the cast members they focused on, and giving the narrative a realistic conflict between Centorea and Rachnera, as well as developing Rachnera’s personality (and giving Suu a developed personality at all) was a good thing. It’s just a nice, simple episode that’s fun and enjoyable, but nothing really earth-shattering happened here. It’s just fun and amusing, and honestly, that’s probably enough.

The first half of the episode revolves around Rachnera’s behavior now that she’s moved into the house, specifically as it relates to her literally constant attempts to jump Kurusu’s bones, and Centorea more or less intervening at every opportunity. This episode was good for developing Rachnera, as well as establishing what would honestly be a fairly believable rivalry between the super aggressive and sexually confident Rachnera and the super aggressive but sexually shy Centorea, as they’re a good match insofar as hating the hell out of each other goes. Rachnera’s also given ample time to distinguish herself, mostly through tying people up and… uh, trying to force herself on an unwilling partner, or as unwilling as Kurusu can be considered anyway. She’s likable enough if you can take her actions at their comedic face value one supposes, but… yeah, this might not be the episode that impresses everyone I think. Anyway, the second half of the episode revolves around Kurusu getting a cold, which means that the entire cast has to leave him quarantined in his room, lest they catch some kind of mutant disease that kills them all (which actually makes a certain amount of sense, weirdly enough). The girls realize that Suu isn’t likely to get sick, however, so they try to train her in ways to care for Kurusu… with results even more disastrous than I could have anticipated. This episode is mostly about the weird game of Telephone that happens between the girls, Suu and Kurusu, which is pretty amusing in its own right, but the part I liked the most was that Suu actually got to be a character for a change. Once she stops doing what everyone told her to do, she uses her mind reading abilities (debuted in the “Papi Lays an Egg” episode, though in the manga it’s the other way around) to figure out what Kurusu’s really suffering from, and actually fixes it. We also get another “Kurusu is a decent person” aside here, which was as charming as it ever was, though I think we can lay off with them for a week or two. Overall, though? I liked this episode. I don’t have any especially fond memories of it, but not everything has to be amazing, and for the most part, what’s here works, so we’ll be back to it again next week.

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan (Eight Episodes)

Well, this far into the anime, the narrative direction has more or less changed, even if the tone remains the same. After some early-on hints that Haruhi and Mikuru would potentially act as rivals for Kyon’s affections, the story more or less decides that everyone’s on-board with helping Yuki confess to Kyon. That’d probably be fine if it meant we were going to see that plot point resolved any time soon, but nope, instead it means that we’re seeing a lot of weird misunderstandings or interruptions alongside some random “aww” moments, and… well, it’s okay? There’s a really weird feeling to the anime, honestly; with the absence of romantic conflict, the anime is mostly just an ensemble cast comedy where two people might date eventually, and it’s weird when taken from that perspective. Most of the significant events in the past few episodes have occurred because of Haruhi’s involvement, such that she’s basically the most important member of the cast at this point and is honestly a huge instigator of change, and that’s… fine? I don’t know, it’s really hard to express how I feel about this anime. Here’s the simplest way I can make it work: absent any of the implicit romantic conflict from the first five episodes, the anime has entirely become a “hurry up and wait” anime where we’re just watching people do stuff until Yuki finally confesses to Kyon. Absent the weirdness of the original, the romantic conflict of the first few episodes, and the promise of actual plot development, at this point it’s just people doing things while we inch ever closer to the expected payoff of “Yuki and Kyon kiss” that will almost certainly happen.

To put it more directly, I’m pretty sure I hate this anime, but I simultaneously can’t take it in large doses or stop watching altogether.

When we last left the group, Valentine’s Day had passed, and Yuki had given her chocolate to Kyon, but not before realizing that Haruhi might have feelings for Kyon. Well, all of that is more or less tossed aside over the next three episodes, as we get, in short order, an episode that revolves around Kyon studying and feeding Yuki his lunch for… some reason, followed by two episodes at a hot spring that Haruhi booked everyone to go to as a school trip, under the caveat that they write about it… which she already did. There are a few romantically awkward misunderstandings, but honestly, more or less everyone but Kyon has figured out the deal by this time and is actively rooting for Kyon and Yuki to get together, to the point where Mikuru outright helps Yuki buy a charm to assist in her endeavor… and it goes nowhere. Like, this is literally just a bog-standard romance anime in thought and deed, and the only (and I want to stress THE ONLY) reason you’d watch it is because you know about Haruhi already and want to see a new anime based in her world. That’s not to say that there aren’t moments that are enjoyable; Kyon’s karaoke session honestly got a legitimate out-loud laugh out of me (even if the dub singer is outright terrible at singing), and the cast is honestly charming enough that you can follow along and enjoy their development as it is. It’s just that nothing is really happening, and this anime is basically just recycling the same tropes every romance anime recycles, but it’s not really doing anything interesting with them. A better writer would’ve probably been able to do more with these characters, in this setting, than what we’re given, but it’s honestly still just interesting enough that it’s able to hook you and keep you watching… even if you don’t really know why.

So we’ll be back here next week, begrudgingly, is my point.

Overall Series Review

Soul Eater

I watched this one a couple of years ago without really knowing what it was about; Crystal was super into it because she’d interviewed one of the voice actors, more or less, and much like my friend Dee pushed me into watching Assassination Classroom, so too was I pushed into watching this. I’m easily suggestible is the point here, I guess. Anyway, having discovered that this is archived, in its entirety, on Funimation makes it easy for me to talk about it now, since you can sit down and watch it if you’ve the time and inclination without it being a big hassle, so here we are and there it is. While I don’t have the sort of strong feelings for this that I had for AssClass, or a few other anime that are hosted on the site for that matter, Soul Eater is honestly a pretty good piece of work. While a couple of minor hiccups keep it from being one of the best anime series I’ve seen, it does a lot of things very well, so much so that it’s still one I can recommend easily to just about anyone.

The anime starts off simply enough: we’re introduced to Soul and Maka, a pair of demon hunting students who are attempting to earn ninety nine souls and one witch soul so that they can level Soul up into a legendary weapon of some sort or another. The world of Soul Eater, you see, is one where weapons are actually sentient beings who can switch between being people and weaponry as needed, and their bond with their wielders (or meisters in this world’s narrative) is a big part of how they function, and also the narrative of the series. In any case, this event more or less goes to shit pretty quickly, leaving Soul and Maka to have to hunt down ninety nine souls again. In the process of doing so the second time around, Maka and Soul make friends (of sorts) with two other meisters; Black Star, a Naruto-esque loudmouth whose weapon partner, Tsubaki, is basically a saint, and Death the Kid, the son of the literal Death incarnate (who is the headmaster of the school the characters attend) who has a severe symmetry complex, as well as two weapon partners, Liz and Patty, who are… kind of dopey. The anime spends its early episodes following the characters around in the school they attend, the Death Weapon Meister Academy, as they meet their professors, like Franken Stein (who is a brilliant doctor and meister, and looks exactly like you’d expect) and Sid Barrett (who dies early on, but kind of gets better later), but it doesn’t really stay there for long. The larger plot revolves around a trio of witches, the Gorgon Sisters, who basically run afoul of the characters through various acts of evil and attempts at grabbing power, and most of the entire second season revolves around this conflict, to one extent or another.

The most obvious comparison one could make here is that there’s a bit of Harry Potter in the structure and setup (a magically protected school where magically inclined kids learn to harness their powers under the protection of a powerful and respected headmaster), but those are about the only comparisons one can really make. Rather, the anime’s main focus is on its characters, as it spends a lot of time developing personalities and relationships over anything else, which actually helps it out quite a bit. This is partly because it helps the characters become more relatable and likable, to be sure, but it also helps out notably because while the anime does a few Dragonball Z style multi-episode battles, they work better here because much of that downtime during battles comes from the characters acting in character and developing themselves through the combat. Put simply, nearly everyone develops heavily in this anime to one extent or another, to the point where characters like Black Star (who seems like a one-note joke) and Crona (who seems like a buttmonkey villain of the week) end up becoming important, interesting characters by the end. There’s also a lot going on in this series, so much so that you’ll find that characters end up going in a completely different direction, narratively speaking, from where you’d expect, and it’s really interesting seeing how they change and develop over the series. I also quite dig the animation style, as it has a visual flair that’s somewhat reminiscent of the Gorillaz art style, but more interesting. Further, the dub is generally really good, though the subtitling and Japanese voice work are also quite nice if that’s what you’d prefer.

The only significant negatives I have with the anime probably come down to two elements: Medusa Gorgon, one of the three Gorgon sisters, and the ending. Medusa herself is honestly one of the very best villains I’ve seen in an anime, such that even if you like her character and appreciate how she does thing, you almost certainly don’t like her. She’s a completely evil, completely reprehensible, completely logical villain, and she’s honestly one of the most interesting antagonists I’ve seen in an anime in a long while. That said, much of her existence revolves around, sigh, Xanatos Gambits where even in losses she wins out as often as not, which are generally annoying from a “so we have to wait longer for some comeuppance?” sense, especially since she’s not even the main villain of the anime. In other words, while her plans are interesting and her actions make her reprehensible, the structure of her narrative arc keeps her around just long enough to be an annoying pain in the ass, but not long enough to allow her to be the final Big Bad, which is confusing. The other notable downside here is the ending, which, while it was far, FAR better than the ending of the manga, is still a bit out of left field. The actual Big Bad of the second season is far less interesting than those who have come before him, for one thing, so the final battle doesn’t feel as powerful as the Season One ending battle. Further, however, the way in which he’s defeated, even if it makes a certain amount of sense, basically screams “DEUS EX MACHINA” from a narrative perspective, and after the really good writing that led up to it, it’s a bit of a letdown.

Soul Eater still ends up being one of the better anime to come along in a while, despite its flaws, thanks to its strong character development and interesting world, and while twenty five percent of it could probably be a good bit better than it was, that still leaves seventy five percent of an awesome anime, which is a pretty good percentage in my book. It looks great, the voice work is fantastic in both English and Japanese, and there’s really a generally strong story here that flows logically from the beginning of the anime to the end. The characters are mostly all either likable or appreciable for who they are, and the anime does a pretty good job of building motives and relationships, allowing the characters and the action to carry the story in equal measure, which it does a good job of in both cases. The ending could’ve been a bit more robust, and Medusa seems to be a bit too overpowered during her arc, especially given how she goes out in the end, but the journey on the whole is pretty solid, and I found that I was able to forgive these elements more than I would have been in a lesser anime. If you have a Funimation account and some free time, Soul Eater is worth giving a watch, as it’s honestly really worthwhile, even with its flaws.