Review: The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior- My Crazy Dormmates

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Synopsis: Kazunari Usa is a high school student who just moved out of his parents’ home to live at a dormitory and wants to have a fufilling high school life with a girlfriend. He soon  meets Ritsu Kawai an somewhat introverted bookreader and quickly forms a crush on her and finds out she lives at the same dormitory he does. However he soon runs into problems when he finds out the other residents are some pretty wacky characters…

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At first glance, The Kawai Complex Guide has all the trappings of a typical harem anime. The plotline of a guy ending up a dorm with a  bunch of weird characters and hot girls is one that has been done numerous times in anime, but this show has provided a pretty interesting twist on the genre and one that feels just fresh enough to work while providing some genuine laughs.

One thing that stands out right away about the show is that besides Ritsu and Usa himself, all of the other characters that live at the dorm are full grown adults or at the very least college age, immediately blowing away the chances of the other girls becoming a part of his would-be harem. Instead of relying on typical harem hijinks or completely off the wall material, much of the comedy in the show instead revolves around the adult characters dealing with relationship issues or Usa failing to woo Ritsu while the other girls actively thwart his attempts or coax him into screwing up for giggles. It puts a unique spin on some of the more typical romantic comedy situations and while it doesn’t always hit the right mark it manages to provide some pretty solid laughs more often than not.

Part of what makes the show so effective is how it manages to make its characters fall into specific archetypes for good laughs but manages to provide enough depth or spin to them to avoid making them completely one dimensional. Usa mostly carries the traits of the typical “only sane man” in a regular comedy series but his crush on Ritsu is given enough levels of exaggeration to give him his own quirks and avoid making him bland. His roommate Shiro is a unashamed masochist but he’s also pretty inventive and can occasionally be insightful. Ritsu starts out as being seemingly extremely introverted, but later turns out to be perfectly capable of interacting with people though she mostly chooses not to do so. These traits help carry the show and each of the main characters is given a decent amount of exploration.

While the romance between Usa and Ritsu is one of the major parts of the show, the lives of the characters as related to their personalities also plays a large role. The japanese title of the show is called Bokura Wa Minna Kawaisou which  has a double meaning that translates to “We Are All Pitiful” and the show runs on that in spades as some of the characters’s social lives are pretty troubled. Mayumi who is a 30 year-old christmas cake(and provides the majority of the show’s surprisingly limited fanservice) is normally displayed as having incredibly bad luck with men by always managing to consistently land horrible guys and its usually the  butt of a joke while her self esteem is occasionally called into question. Ritsu’s semi-introverted nature is also explored a bit her ability to keep friends is usually hampered as a result of it and her ability to function in heavy social settings is also fairly limited.

Even Usa is eventually revealed to have some issues own as his constant association with bizarre characters has made him a bit of a social outcast in his own right and while he deals with it fairly well it does lead to a couple of harsh moments. These issues are played for laughs just as much as they are for drama as the characters frequently poke fun at each others’ problems but through it all they do care for each other somewhat and when the chips are down they’ll stand up for each other.

If the show has one real weakness, it would ironically be the romance between Usa and Ritsu. While the development between the two is fairly cute, its somewhat hindered by Usa’s obsession being borderline stalker-ish at times and while that aspect is pretty much always played for laughs it can occasionally hinder things enough to kill the chemistry between the two. Sayaka  who is college student generally portrayed as a man-eater also lacking any weaknesses for most of the show’s run is also a bit of a hindrance is it slightly ruins the character balance in terms who gets poked fun at.

Animation studio, Brain’s Base delivers a fairly average animation budget for the series as is typical of a comedy and so nothing really stands out in that particular area but the character designs are pretty nice and the art style looks good overall with a somewhat unique vibe to it. Akito Matsuda’s music for the show is also fairly standard and both the opening “Itsuka no, Iku Tsuka no Kimi to no Sekai” and ending theme “My Sweet Shelter” are decent songs but fairly forgettable though My Sweet Shelter is the catchier of the two.

The Kawai Complex Guide is ultimately a fresh take on the “crazy dormitory” genre and provides a pretty unique spin on some well worn romantic comedy tropes. The show’s character dynamics aren’t completely flawless but it’s generally funny enough to mask them. It’s one the smartest anime comedies we’ve seen in a while and well on it’s way to be one of the best this year.

Overall: 8/10

Avaialble on Crunchyroll and Hulu

Review: Wreck-It-Ralph- It’s Not So Bad Being Bad

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Synopsis:  In an arcade where video game characters are sentient and have lives outside their games, Wreck-It-Ralph is  the villain of the game Fix-It-Felix who doesn’t get any respect for doing his job and is treated like an outcast by the NPCs of his game world. Wanting to change his life and become a “good guy” Ralph sets out to become a hero in other game worlds and ends up meeting a “glitch” named Penelope who is also an outcast, and together the two set out change their respective situations.

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Disney Animated canon is always interesting to watch and the formula for each of their films usually manages to delight and deliver on solid storytelling and innocent childhood wonder. Of course as with any formula there are times where it gets a bit repetitive and needs to be shaken up every now and then. Wreck-It-Ralph is pretty true to the magic formula but it does enough things differently to leave it’s own mark for better or worse.  The film does some pretty neat things with it’s premise as a lot of classic video game characters make cameos and a few classic video game tropes are played with or used in a way that would make sense if used by actual people.

Of course cool premise aside,  the real heart and soul of the film lies in it’s protagonist Ralph and his journey as a character.  His job as his game world’s villain is a pretty important job but he’s frequently treated like dirt by most of his coworkers (and the fact that the backstory of the game involved part of his home being demolished to make theirs doesn’t help things) and while he gets along with Felix himself fairly well, the latter doesn’t really understand his situation. Thus it’s only natural that he would want to live life on the other side of things as the good guy and he sets out to accomplish that. In doing so he encounters Penelope who much like him is an outcast in her own world and though the two clash at first they soon relate to one another and in a nice subversion of the usual obligatory Disney romance between lead characters, form a sibling like bond (though the age difference is likely what spared us this time around) and the two get a nice dynamic going on between them.

As the film goes on Ralph is eventually presented with the chance to get what he wants but at the expense of Penelope’s dreams, even if he’s convinced it’s for her own good at the time. So when he does finally get his reward he realizes that it wasn’t worth the people he had to let down to get there. As the film head towards its climax he acknowledges that in the end he can only really be himself and even if he has to continue playing the role of the bad guy, so long as there’s someone out there who accepts him he’ll be fine in the end and he does eventually get the respect that he deserves.

The film’s message ultimate message about being yourself even when the world at large won’t acknowledge you is a strong one and is by far its best point. It helps to provide a really nice parallel between Ralph and the main villain Turbo where both want to be acknowledged but where Ralph isn’t willingly to step over the people that matter to him to get there, Turbo will lie, cheat and murder in order to stay in the spotlight which is what ultimately destroys him (and in a  surprisingly gruesome manner by Disney film standards). The film also deserves praise for using Fix-It-Felix’s character fairly well by not making him antagonistic as would be typically expected and the movie’s side plot about him trying to track down Ralph on his journey does eventually lead to him getting to see the world from Ralph’s perspective and helping him get the acknowledgement he deserves for his job.

However while the film does many positive subversions and gets its theme down right it does suffer from a few problems. The romance between Felix and another character Callahan while somewhat funny is incredibly forced and it takes away from some of the time that could have been spent further highlighting Felix’s need to see what Ralph’s life is like on a regular basis. Additionally the film is also occasionally bogged down with some toilet bowl humor that feels like it didn’t need to be there and keeps the film from being as adult as it could have been despite having a fairly mature theme. (though the slight jab at Call of Duty was much appreciated).

Wreck-It-Ralph is a solid entry in the Disney animated canon universe  and while it doesn’t quite spin the formula in the way it could have it does enough things differently and well enough that it can be easily forgiven. The film reminds us that in the end there’s no one we should rather be than ourselves and even if we may not always get appreciation for that if we can live with who we are, we’ll be okay in the end.

Overall: 8/10