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Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō #01.
Source Material: Manga series of the same name by Ruri Miyahara (宮原 るり)
Studio(s): Brains Base
Director(s): Shigeyuki Miya (宮 繁之)
Series Composition: Kenji Konuta (古怒田 健志)
Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō is an original manga series by Ruri Miyahara (Love Lab!) that has been published in Shōnen Gahōsha’s seinen manga magazine Young King OURs since the June 2010 issue. As of December 2013, it has been collected into four tankōbon volumes and is still ongoing.
Usa Kazunari, now a high school student, wants to leave the disaster of his middle-school life behind and enjoy a new high-school life of peace and comfort. Though when he says “a life of peace and comfort”, what he really means is a life spent with an intellectual and refined girl. When Usa comes across classmate Kawai Ritsu in the school library and is completely enamored by her appearance and presence, he places all his youthful fantasies upon her. Coincidentally enough, Usa’s parents have just been transferred jobs; and as a result, his new life at school is congruous with his new life at the Kawai dormitory. Usa’s impression of his new home are initially unbearable when he finds out Shirosaki, a pervert who is a potential threat to peaceful society and most assuredly a threat to Usa’s idealized adolescent life, is his new roommate. However, things take a seemingly fateful turn when Usa discovers that Kawai is also an inhabitant of the co-gender dormitory. In the span of a few days, Usa becomes more accustomed to the hindrance that is his roommate, to the playful teasing of his land-owner Sumiko, and to the lengths he must go to obtain Kawai’s attention. But things take another turn when he discovers another fellow-tenant, Nishikono Mayumi, not in the actual dormitory but outside next to a pile of empty cans and bottles of alcohol. After a flirtatious interaction and an elbow to the face, Usa gets a taste of what his newly-introduced dorm-mate is like, and quite a bloody one at that. The assembled household members have a day-concluding dinner together and Usa realizes that while Kawai may be the ideal girl for him, the other new additions to his life might just prove the opposite and probably even be detrimental to his relationship with the girl of his dreams.
Don’t be fooled by the title of the series (lit. “We Are All From Dormitory Kawai”, but also a play on words that has the double meaning of “We Are All Pitiful” – the former having the likeliness of a slice-of-life and/or comedy while the latter much more expressive of a drama, tragedy and/or anti-romance if you ask me, in any case, completely different connotations) or the first minute of grandiose color palettes, assertive sun-rays, juxtaposition of beautiful nature with human daily life, delicate piano accompaniment and male protagonist’s opening internal monologue that reveals his self-awareness of an unfulfilled life absent of romance and passion; this is most definitely not a TV-sized Makoto Shinkai production, no matter how much of his aesthetic formula it follows. Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō is being adapted by Brains Base, a studio I hold in high regard, but for different reasons than for most other studios. Wherein a defining characteristic of P.A. Works, Ufotable and other production companies is the unbelievably meticulous quality of art; up to this point, I seldom thought the same for the works of Brains Base. (While I thoroughly appreciated the artistic stylings of Baccano!, I wasn’t too head over heels for Durarara!!’s. Subsequently, Blood Lad was a more pleasing visual experience for me, but even then I never merited it as masterful craftsmanship.) In commending Brains Base, what I saw to be its most admirable quality was its selection of works and how it properly portrayed the greatness of each work. (Durarara! ! and Blood Lad being clear-cut examples of instances when I wasn’t frustrated at a studio for adapting a series just to make it mediocre and not even have the respectability to see it through until the end, but rather when I was enraged at a studio for making such splendid adaptation of a series and leaving the viewers with nothing more right when it reached its peak of excitement.) It’s safe to say that Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō has completely re-painted my impression, as like I said before, don’t be fooled by the Makoto Shinaki resemblances, because this series is most definitely the kind of heart-wrenching story that emotional masochists will voraciously consume (although for the record, there is a masochist in the show if that helps). But in retrospect, is any comparison to a Shinkai work ever not a compliment, especially if it’s concerning the visual production? To that I exclaim an irrefutable, “No!” If I want to reference my antiquated impression of the studio, then, most assuredly, Brains Base has stepped up its art game by one hell-of-an-impressive multiplier. In mimicking the Makoto Shinkai way, whether intentionally or unintentionally, the artists behind Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō have effectively sky-rocketed the show’s value. It’s a bit hard for me to justify as to why myself; but if I may instill a bit of my own personal philosophy into the explanation, I believe that with a certain commitment to quality work, there’s an additional upgrade in ways that viewers can understand the feelings you are trying to encapsulate within your work. These effects can be subtle like the immaculate detail of a bowl of rice with chicken and egg that rivals even the vivid portrayal of clouds (something most would consider most artistically-appreciable), in turn giving a more wholesome sense as to how the character eating the meal feels. And also these effects can also be continuously and perceptively prominent such as the artwork truly expressing out the characters’ expressions and emotions, making them outright beautiful in their own sense, no matter how common or ordinary their static character designs (another common aspect of Makoto Shinkai’s aesthetic work) may be. To this respect, I think even to the well-trained, avid anime-viewer eye, an eye that has become weary of the same visual appearance of characters bearing identical and generic archetypes, there is a whole new level of accentuation and individualization that can be seen. All in all, I guess this concept encapsulates the idea that the more realistic something is, the more believable it is. Or simply, that the art speaks for itself, in which this case, it most certainly does. And it’s saying something along the lines of, “Look at me, I’m beautiful! Take a screen-cap, it’ll last longer.” It goes without saying that for a show centered on its cast of jointly-eponymous characters, any effect that will highlight their presences is without a doubt important. And while the art quality of this show does just that to much avail, it’s also fantastic to be able to admit that even without their tasteful visual depictions, these characters actually still stand-out a bunch through their respective personalities and quirks. While the open-closet pervert Shirosaki isn’t the most refreshing character of the household, his effect in dragging the hopeful romantic, Usa, who is constantly floating off in his own delusions of love, back down to ground-level, quite roughly so I might add, might just be a necessity dynamic that keeps the show in general from turning into a less whimsically entertaining, flat-out account of a tenderfooted boy’s high school crush. (This being an adequate outline for a movie, yes, but more so questionable in the format of a television series spanning in the dozen(s) with its episode count.) Alongside these wholly incompatible roommates are the female members of the Kawai dormitory, the capricious Kawai Ritsu, who literally speaks softly and walks around with a big stick; the busty and free-spirited but emotionally-vulnerable Nishikino Mayumi, whose first and second impressions from her fellow hopeless romantic, Usa, are “great tits” and “alcoholic” respectively; the yet introduced Watanabe Sayaka, who is only described as a college student; and the landlord Sumiko, whose anachronistic maturity and complete disregard for the savoir-faire she so obviously has (as a seasoned elder and all) I find to be the most hilarious thing about this show. With a series like Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō wherein there’s not necessarily a derived narrative to progress upon (Usa’ romantic advances towards Kawai being the only thing at this point and even that is being overshadowed by the overall atmosphere of comedic gags), there’s greatness in that it can access its entertainment value from the very beginning. With the aforementioned ability of Brains Base to really adapt a series as what its worth, Bokura wa Minna Kawai-Sō’s latency has been clearly presented here today, I would say.
Blade and Soul #01.
Source Material: Blade & Soul
Director(s): Hiroshi Hamasaki (浜崎 博嗣) , Hiroshi Takeuchi (竹内 浩志)
Writer(s): Atsuhiro Tomioka (冨岡 淳広)
Character Design: Eri Nagata (長田 絵里), Hyung-Tae Kim (김형태)
Chief Animation Director: Eri Nagata (長田 絵里)
Blade & Soul is a Korean fantasy martial-arts massively multi-player online role-playing game (MMORPG) developed by NCSOFT’s Team Bloodlust developer division. Having been in development since 2007 yet still void of many promised services, such as overseas and console (Playstation 3 and XBox 360) releases, the game is considered as currently in development hell. In spite of that, due to recognition of its innovative game mechanics, its artistic and stylistic design, and NCSOFT’s established reputation with previous series (Guild Wars, Lineage, Aion), it has garnered widespread attention as an accomplished entry in the MMORPG industry. While the anime series is to adapt from the source material itself, its release precedes the establishment of the game’s Japanese servers.
Aruka, a skilled assassin of the Tsurugi Clan bearing a scar resembling the shape of a swallowtail butterfly, was the sole witness to the murder of her master by three assailants belonging to the Param Empire. Since the incident, she has made it her personal mission to put an end to the vendetta and exact revenge upon the three assassins she prominently remembers from her vague memory. While bathing in a pond and reflecting upon that fateful evening, she is discovered by a pair of brothers who recruit her as a bodyguard, not after being overwhelmed by her physical prowess. Now serving Mori, the young female successor of a village, Aruka is exposed to the devastating influence of the Param Empire on people other than herself. The imperialism of the Param Empire has turned the village into a target land for the cultivation of “sky spirits,” flowers that grant supernatural powers upon being cultivated, subsequently establishing a common enemy for Aruka and her employer. All throughout, Aruka retains her stoic nature towards both her friends and foes, failing to even bat an eye when the whole village is attacked and countless people are killed before her. Ganza, essentially an unexceptional character of mini-boss-eque nature (filler, even in mini-boss terms) volunteers himself as someone who can defeat Aruka, over-estimating the power of the sky spirit bottle he possesses. Aruka assassinates Ganza with one skillful maneuver with two blades but is ultimately unable to stop the army that accompanied him. As Aruka and Mori watch the destruction of the village from afar, Aruka tells Mori to pursue vengeance. Then, while cutting her own hair, Aruka clarifies that instead of taking revenge, she is merely abiding by law.
First off, I would just like to say that it’s really difficult for me to not compare this anime adaptation to the original game. Of course, while they are two entirely different mediums, that’s not said in the sense that they don’t share many aspects, but rather, in the sense that they should be equally respected as distinctive art forms. So, in consideration to the congruous narratives, reworked character designs, the recycled soundtrack, and other similarities, it’s quite easy to say that this adaptation pales in comparison to the elegant execution of the original game. If anything, I’ll just have to trust myself when I say that I would undoubtedly think the same even if I had never heard of the game prior – and hopefully it’s fair to ask for you too to take my word on that. The thing about Blade & Soul is that for an MMORPG, it has a spectacularly riveting and engaging narrative. And in all honestly, it’s hard to come across one that succeeds in conception and execution of its story, especially when the fine line between game-play and cut-scenes is thickly veiled by the individual preferences of each player. Not perfect, but better than most, Blade & Soul does well in establishing the plot as a cultivated and integral part of the game, wherein the awe-inspiring artistry in design and graphics essentially present the cut-scenes as a worthwhile and standalone picturesque experience. But while it is an exquisitely visual adventure, Blade & Soul also knows how to balance its elements through game mechanics. To that effect, I believe it is very important to know, for example, what to place in cut-scenes and what to place in player-optional NPC talk bubbles. In translating the visual appeal, atmosphere, story and lore of an open-world game, one faces the challenge of depicting these intricacies, such as the gorgeous environments that the player can simply admire while walking their character towards an NPC, into concrete frames of an episode that ultimately subtract from its overall twenty minute run-time. There’s an unavoidable drawback to every scene implemented, so it goes without saying that attempting to emulate every single component of the game would be nearly impossible. Even so, in evaluating this premiere episode in more anime-suitable standards, it’s also hard not to be discontent with Gonzo’s recreation. I wouldn’t call myself the biggest fan of Studio Gonzo at all (though if it can produce another masterpiece on the level of Gankutsuou, I would consider that one of the greatest comeback of a studio in anime history) and that line of impression continues with the production value of this here adaptation. In regard to Aruka as the main character, a static air accompanies her disposition, so that while she is admittedly of a bad-ass nature, it’s ambiguous as to whether or not she’ll justify the role of protagonist through hard-driving character depth and/or development or whether she’ll remain the archetypal avenger all twelve episodes. Additionally so, aspects that could accentuate the story-telling oh-so-well, animation of action sequences and general art quality are also quite lackluster and flat, a lot of Aruka’s movements being simplified into non-dynamic animations. On the other hand, when action is low-key, it’s still hard to appreciate the beauty of the environments and scenic shots as much as one would in the game. And as always, I’ve it a point to be concerned with how the scheduled episode count will affect the series overall. One cour is usually not enough to present a magnificently compelling series, but it is always enough to make me fretful. Of course, there are those series that can do just the seemingly impossible in twelve or thirteen episodes, some in even less; but the fact remains that at this point, with a series that is missing satisfying core elements as well as the additional oomph factor, there is too much to be desired. If you ask me, the first artistic desecration was when they changed the “&” in the original title to an “and,” and it probably all went downhill from there.