Review- Toradora: What You Want

Toradora

Synopsis: Ryuji Takasu is a misunderstood high school student with the face of a thug, but the hobbies of a housewife. One day after school he encounters Taiga Aisaka, a girl known throughout the school for her violent temper and personality. After accidently recieving a love letter from her intended for his best friend Yuusaku Kitamura, she breaks into his apartment to get it back and ends up finding out his crush on her best friend Minori Kushieda. The two then decide to help each other out with their respective crushes and play matchmaker.

Review

High school romance stories and slice of life shows are a big staple of anime these days.  The formula is often while entertaining generally predictable and while the material can sometimes be interesting its rarely memorable. However amongst a sea of similar shows with similar goals, Toradora manages to stand out above the rest not by being  noticeably different, but by refining and polishing the many well-worn tropes of the genre.

Ryuji and Taiga start out seemingly very archetypal characters and ones that are very familiar to regular viewers of the genre. Ryuji is the responsible and sarcastic nice guy while Taiga is violent and impulsive, and the two quickly form a dynamic around that with Ryuji eventually declaring that they’re the only ones who can really handle each other. As early as episode 2 though, it becomes apparent that there’s more beneath the surface for both and after a scene where they both vent out their frustrations over their bad social status, begin to make their first steps towards changing themselves.

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 Nothing like kicking a pole to shake off some of the ol’ angst

Much of the show’s first half is spent in lighthearted comedy and character introductions as Ryuji and Taiga try to push each other towards their respective love interests. Kitamura and Minori both come into their own a bit as characters during this time though Minori more so as her see initially seems to be an extreme ditz but soon shows herself to be more down to earth than expected when it comes to the things she cares about. We also get introduced to Ami Kawashima, a girl who pretends to be an airhead but in reality is snobby and self-centered, and she gains a slight attraction to Ryuji when he sees through her facade and forces her to confront herself. They all quickly form into a  group of sorts and one that helps Ryuji and Taiga to grow closer together.

The first real challenge towards their relationship though, occurs towards the end of the first half of the series when Ryuji attempts to help Taiga restore her relationship with her father. He believes his intentions are good and that it’s all in her best interest, but as he realizes how little Taiga’s father actually cares, he soon realizes he’s been pushing his own issues with his father onto her and how much she’s actually suffering. In the aftermath of the events, Ryuji and Taiga are somewhat able to bring their relationship back to normal, but he now knows just how fragile Taiga’s heart actually is and how much she attempts to cover it up.

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 If my dad ditched me like that I’d be pretty angry too

This all largely plays into the second half of the show, which begins pushing the relationships between the characters as far as it can take them. It kicks off with a bit of development for Kitamura and his implied relationship with the school’s student council president, but much of the focus is on the two leads. In the beginning of the second half, Ami whose romantic interest in Ryuji has diminished somewhat, warns him that the almost father-daughter like relationship between himself and Taiga is unhealthy and will undoubtedly end in someone being hurt. At the time he doesn’t really understand what she means by that but as he gets closer and closer towards Minori, the truth makes itself clear.

When Taiga helps Ryuji make the final step towards confessing his feelings for Minori, she soon realizes that she’s fallen in love with Ryuji herself. Though Minori has feelings for him as well she decides to turn him down after seeing Taiga break down from her realization. and leaves Ryuji heartbroken. However Taiga isn’t quite done playing matchmaker for the two, deciding to bottle up her own feelings them, and things soon spiral out of control as everyone attempts to put aside their feelings for what they think will make the other the happiest.

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 Who’ll win? My money’s on the redhead

However in the end as the characters all soon realize, only you can truly decide what makes you happy, not others and worrying over that shouldn’t stop you from going after the things that you want. Eventually Taiga does seize hold of her love for Ryuji, which he returns after his own realization, and though the two try to escape from all the problems in their lives together, they know it’s not worth the expense of losing it. Reality soon sets in for them and though the consequences are severe their love perseveres and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion. 

J.C. Staff brings a solid looking production for the series.  The animation is rarely stand out but it shines in a few instances. It’s art style is similar to many other shows of the genre but the character designs manage to avoid looking too similar to each other. The music for the series isn’t particularly memorable but the theme songs such as “Pre-Parade” by Rie Kugimiya and “Silky Heart” by Yui are pretty catchy and are likely to stick in your head well after finishing the series.

Despite being the first slice of life show dubbed in California in a long time, the English dub by Bang Zoom Entertainment is phenomenal and is a serious contender for the best of the year as each of the actors brings their A-game for the show. Erik Kimerer and Cassandra Lee do a great job as lead characters Ryuji and Taiga respectively, and cover all their hidden aspects well. Christine Marie Cabanos also delivers a surprisingly strong performance for Minori and Erika Harlacher shows off a bit more of her range as Ami. There’s no one role that particularly stands out the best but each performance is fantastic and even if you’ve already seen the show before, it’s a dub still worth checking out.

Toradora is high school romance done right, and done in a way that while not particularly fresh, easily leaves it’s mark in the genre. The struggle and development of the characters feels more real here than in similar shows, and brings everything to an emotional ending while not completely straying from the realism  of what the consequences are. It’s a masterpiece amongst it’s craft and one that will not be soon forgotten. It can’t be recommended enough.

Overall: 10/10

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll and on disc at Right Stuff 

 

Summer Season First Impressions Part 1

Well it’s time for a new season of anime once again and we’ve already had a pretty good amount of stuff come out so now’s as good a time as any for me to get started on this.

Ratings Scale

Bad: Stay away far away from this one.  Not worth watching

Decent: Has some okay elements to it. Might be worth giving a  couple of episodes to see how it goes

Good: Fairly solid show. Should be worth keeping up with for now

Great: Really good show. Definently worth seeing if you get the chance

Excellent: Really outstanding show. Absolutely worth following .

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Argevollen

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Synopsis: The story takes place in a world where the two countries of Arandas and Ingelmia have been fighting for a very long time. Susumu Tokimune, a young man fighting with the Arandas forces saves a girl named Jamie Hazaford when she is attacked by the enemy. To survive, he uses the weapon Argevollen and fights.

First Impressions: I’m a huge fan of Tatsuo Sato’s works since I like how they’ve often had the ability to take super serious premises and be as relaxed and laid back about them as possible while still making the story work. Though so far this seems to have taken a step back from that style in favor of portraying a somewhat more serious war story with robots and that aspect of the show works fairly well, even having the robots display noticeable technical issues, the second half with our hot blooded protagonist getting his shiny new mecha doesn’t quite mesh well and feels a bit out of place.  The show has some potential though as a grounded war mecha show is something that hasn’t been done much these days and if the protagonist having a superior machine to everyone else isn’t overused too much it could make for some interesting material. I’m willing to see where this one goes.

Rating: Decent

 

Tokyo Ghoul

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Synopsis: The suspense horror/dark fantasy story is set in Tokyo, which is haunted by mysterious “ghouls” who are devouring humans. People are gripped by the fear of these ghouls whose identities are masked in mystery. An ordinary college student named Kaneki encounters Rize, a girl who is an avid reader like him, at the café he frequents. Little does he realize that his fate will change overnight.

First Impressions: I picked up the manga a while back and really enjoyed it so when I first found out this was going to cover a lot of material from it in a short episode span my expectations were dashed. In spite of the odds though the first episode managed to be pretty impressive despite the amount of material it plowed through. Kaneki’s realization of his situation is the highlight of the episode and his freak out is really well directed and the seiyuu delivers a pretty great performance during the last scene of the episode. It also does a pretty solid job of setting up future events and painting a picture that there’s more to Ghoul society than human media has let on and some small hints that Kaneki’s accident may not have been so accidental. This still has the potential to turn into a trainwreck since it still has a ton of material to get through in a short span but if this first episode is any indication the directing may be enough to overcome that. It’s definently worth checking out at any rate

Rating: Great

 

Sailor Moon Crystal

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Synopsis: Usagi Tsukino is a second-year middle school girl who is a little clumsy and a crybaby, but she is full of energy. One day, she meets Luna, a black cat with a crescent moon on her forehead, and she transforms into Sailor Moon, a sailor-uniformed pretty guardian of love and justice! As a chosen guardian of justice, Usagi seems to have a mission to find the Illusionary Silver Crystal with the other guardians and to protect the princess. Meanwhile, the queen of the Dark Kingdom, Queen Beryl, also sends minions to the town where Usagi lives to obtain the Illusionary Silver Crystal, which has immense power. This causes strange events to unfold… Can Sailor Moon really find the Illusionary Silver Crystal with the other Sailor guardians, and protect the princess…!?

First Impressions: Well Sailor Moon is back folks and unlike a certain other big Toei property that I won’t name, has a proper reboot. The material from the first episode itself is more or less a retread of the stuff from the first episode of the original anime but there’s a more distinct direction here as there’s some nice foreshadowing in the beginning of the episode and Mamoru is interesting right out of the gate. There are also some interesting Utena like directional floruishes with some of the eyecatches and super shojo-fied backgrounds though the technical aspects of the episode are probably it’s most noteworthy problem as Toei’s cheapness strikes once again. The flaws are pretty easy to look over though in favor of the material from the episode itself being mostly fun and though some of the tropes are a bit worn these days Sailor Moon’s charm still strikes a cord pretty easily. Definite watch. Especially with the episode schedule being every other week.

Rating: Great

 

Aldnoah Zero

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Synopsis: In 1972, the Apollo 17 mission discovered a hypergate to Mars on the surface of the moon. Soon a war breaks out between Earth and Mars, and Martian soldiers begin to descend from the sky, riding steel giants, intent on exterminating humanity

First Impressions: While I didn’t pay too much attention to the pre-air news of this show, I’ve been impressed with Gen Urobuchi’s works so far and this met my expectations fairly well. The majority of the episode is spent establishing the setting as we’re introduced to the conflict between Earth and the Martians, as well as our main characters though Slaine seems the more interesting of the two so far and I’m curious to see where his character arc goes given his connection to Earth versus working under the Martians. The most interesting material of the episode however is towards the end which has a abrupt but very impactful terrorist attack that shakes up things in a big way and sets off a new conflict that will likely be the main focus of the story. In a lot of ways, this first episode is very reminiscence of the first episode of Valvrave the Liberator but unlike there where the abrupt twist and set up was almost unintentionally comical, here we’re left with a massive sense of intrigue and I’m genuinely curious to see where this goes next. Go check it out.

Rating: Great

 

Akame ga Kill!

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Synopsis: The dark action fantasy manga follows the title character, Akame, a girl who was bought, and raised by the Empire as an assassin. After meeting Akame, a boy named Tatsumi vows to stand up to the evil of the corrupt Empire with the secret assassin group Night Raid and special weapons known as Teigu.

First Impressions: Like with Tokyo Ghoul I’m an avid reader of the manga and given that this isn’t plagued with the episode limitations of the former, I was the most excited about this show for the season and it mostly delivered on my expectations. The episode does a good job of introducing you to the main character Tatsumi and slowly introducing the corruption of the empire though most of the value for this episode centers around the twist midway and having been already privy to it, it does take away from things a bit. It does suffer slightly from it’s limited animation budget (which made the direction a bit awkward during one scene towards the end) and the beginning of the series does take a bit to hit its stride but the first episode does a good job of getting you interested and it should definitely be a fun ride.

Rating: Great

 

Rail Wars

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Synopsis: In a parallel world where Japan has not privatized any of its railways, Naoto Takayama is an ordinary high school student who dreams of being a train conductor for the Japanese National Railways. He is assigned as to the Tokyo Central Railway Public Security Office. He is teamed up with Aoi Sakurai, a strong willed woman who excels in marksmanship and close combat, Haruka Koumi, who has an extraordinary memory, and Sho Iwaizumi, a hot-blooded man who relies on brute force. From lost children to bombings, Naoto must lead this team, despite not having any special strength!

First Impressions: I wasn’t sure what to expect out of this coming in and the premise seemed like something that could make for good dumb fun but instead the show just turned out to be straight up dumb. The show starts off with a cliche fanservice love triangle setup and then attempts to introduce us to our four protagonists as they start on their training before abruptly skipping to the end of their training in an awkward attempt to avoid having the characters actually get to know each other and form a genuine dynamic between them (made all the more strange by the episode later having the characters ask questions and find out things about each other that they should already know for the amount of time they spent together). It also takes it’s extremely stupid premise very seriously which should under normal circumstances make for some pretty good laughs but the show makes no actual attempts to make an actual gag out of the situations as a result  some of the events of the episode are facepalm worthy in terms of how much the characters are seriously overreacting to mundane or trifle situations. If you’re really big on trains then this show might interest you since it assumes that you are and goes into almost documentary level details about them but otherwise I’d recommend skipping it.

Rating: Bad

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Well that’s pretty much it for now. There’s more stuff to check out this week so I’ll likely get around to part 2 of my impressions next weekend

Review- Hunter X Hunter Chimera Ant Arc: Of Monsters and Men

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Synopsis: Gon and Killua’s search for Ging continues and now leads them to meet Ging’s apprentice Kite who has a special connection to Gon’s childhood. Meanwhile on the far off content of NGL a mysterious species known as the Chimera Ants is rising up and their overwhelming ablities pose a threat to the entire world. As the three get involved in the chaos, Gon and Killua soon finds themselves in the most desperate battle of their lives.

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For a long time this story arc of Hunter X Hunter was considered to be the largest justification for the anime reboot. Though Madhouse managed to capture Togashi’s vision much better for the earlier arcs than the previous anime series, this was still the most anticipated material for the series to cover and justly so. Togashi provides a somewhat shocking yet natural departure from his usual formula thus far and in doing has once again proven why his storytelling is so effective.

The beginning of the Chimera Ant arc starts off in full throttle as Gon, Killua and Kite get thrust into the situation pretty quickly. The show quickly establishes that the Chimera Ants are a threat on a whole other level than the others seen thus far in the series and the stakes are far more serious than they’ve ever been. Death runs rampant as countless men, women and (as we’re given the displeasure of seeing first hand) children are caught in the slaughter and even the Hunters themselves aren’t much safer as some previously introduced characters easily fall victim to the ants in their attempt to give birth to their king. This all comes to a head when one of the king’s Royal Guards awakens and battles Kite as Gon and Killua flee upon the latter seeing how outmatched they are, leading to Kite’s death in the process.

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As the arc slowly makes it’s transition to the larger battle, it’s at this point that Togashi begins to reflect on character motivations and start to work out his endgame as loyalties being to shift and new characters are introduced. Killua’s character arc is given the most amount of focus during this transition though, as he is faced with being forced to abandon Gon who has been the driving force behind his character development and is also forced to overcome the fight or flight mentality that has been drilled into him growing up as it directly opposes his desire to protect Gon.

Some other characters go through changes as well as one of the Hunters, Knov who walked around with an air of confidence and professionalism towards his job was thoroughly humbled by his overwhelming fear of the Ants power while Gon’s desire to “rescue” Kite (whose ultimate fate he has yet to realize) begins to slowly take effect on his state of mind. The biggest development during this transition however is the newly born Ant King’s interactions with a human girl named Komugi and the effect she has on him. With all of his pieces set in motion Togashi initiates the final battle of the arc and suddenly everything begins to spiral in a new direction.

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As Fredric Nietzsche once said “He who fights monsters must take care lest he also becomes a monster” and while this is far from the first time this  cautionary tale has been displayed in storytelling, it is in full effect here and the reality of it is quite terrifying. Since the beginning of the series, the show has made a point that despite his seemingly pure and innocent attitude, there was something not quite right about Gon’s sense of morality. He has always judged things not necessarily on a scale of right or wrong but rather what people have done towards or for him. This mentality has led him to befriend assassins and be perfectly comfortable around serial killers if they’ve helped him in some way. Of course as several characters throughout the series have pointed out such a mentality is quite insane and thus it was only a matter of time before something set him over the edge and showed the depths of where it could lead.

Kite’s state impacts Gon in a big way as he loses his innocent nature and slowly transforms into one of the most dangerous players in the battle as he becomes more than willing to threaten and kill others to achieve his vengeance. This all comes to a head in his climatic battle against Neferpitou where he is finally forced to come to terms with the reality that Kite is dead and his hatred sets him so over the edge that he’s willing to give up  everything to destroy his enemy, appropriately transforming into a freakish humanoid monster in a rather disturbing deconstruction of the typical shonen power-up. The most bizarre irony in all of this is that Gon’s vengeance is for the most part, perfectly justified and we should by all means be rooting for him to win but the climax of the battle is so horrific that the only thing left is a feeling of despair rather than triumph despite Gon’s technical victory.

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This isn’t Togashi’s only display of humanity’s darkside though, as the battle between the Ant King and Hunter Chairman Netero also serves as proof. Netero’s final gambit for victory with the Rose Bomb puts some of the evils human science can create in full view and how we can stoop to even the most inhumane of weapons in order to achieve victory on the battlefield. In the end (as a depressing clip show drives it home for anyone who didn’t get the point) the most monstrous beings of all may in fact be humans, and we possess the capacity to commit some of the greatest atrocities imaginable.

However despite many of the implications above, Togashi isn’t out to only show the darkness of humanity but some of the gentleness as well and this is in an ironic twist, done though the perspective of the Chimera  Ants. Though they start off as largely alien, the Chimera Ants slowly come to learn of humanity over the course of the arc with many of them gaining their own sense of individuality and the various agendas that go with them. This has the biggest effect on the Chimera Ant King who through being by Komugi begins to gain respect for humanity and finds himself thrust between his nature as a ruler and his desire to embrace humanity.

As thus it’s fitting that the actual villain of the story isn’t in fact the Ant King (who’s arguably more the protagonist during this arc than Gon himself), but rather his Royal Guard, Shiapouf, who will stop at nothing to ensure that the king rejects humanity and desires to kill Komugi who attaches him to it.  Though despite various bumps and a brief look of what the King would be while completely devoid of humanity, he does eventually discard his nature as the Ant King and he spends his final moments with the one he loves, embracing humankind and leaving Shiapouf to suffer an extremely karmic defeat. The finale to the arc ultimately has several of the Ants exiting as the most human characters of the entire story and while it’s an interesting twist to be sure, it’s also extremely touching.

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While the arc is by and large full of strengths it does suffer from a few weaknesses. The pacing during the major battle of the arc slows down considerably and it makes the episodes somewhat of a hassle to watch on a weekly basis. Additionally while the massive use of narration is generally to the story’s favor as it generally provides a cold analysis of some of the events while making them seem more in real-time, it can also be a bit too intrusive at times and occasionally reiterates things viewers have likely already figured out. Lastly the impact of Kite’s death is somewhat hindered by his awkward introduction into the anime where he and Gon bond at the very beginning of the arc as opposed to in the manga where he was a major influence on Gon from the very beginning.  None of these significantly impact the arc’s effectiveness but they do prevent it from being relatively flawless.

Madhouse’s animation budget for the series has been incredibly consistent for a long running shonen title and it continues here as some of the scenes range from solid looking to downright breathtaking to behold. Yoshihisa Hirano’s musical score which was somewhat uneven in earlier arcs, steps up considerably as it beefs up the impact of several scenes and while the opening theme song Departure feels more out of place than ever in this arc the ending theme songs Nagareboshi Kirai and Hyori Ittai by Yuzu match the somber tone of the arc well. Hiroshi Koujima’s direction for the series also steps up a bit as the decision to do all of events from the major battle of the arc in chronolgical order as opposed to the somewhat erratic shifts in the manga, works very well and makes a lot of the material resonate stronger as a result.

The Chimera Ant arc is a unique departure from typical shonen conventions and is one that is ultimately welcomed as it turns several areas of that formula on it’s head. While the arc isn’t totally flawless, the impact and overall themes of the material are easily strong enough to allow these problems to be overlooked. It provides a grand allegory for the dual sided nature of humanity and reminds us once again of why Hunter X Hunter is a masterpiece of its genre.

Overall: 9.7/10

Available on Crunchyroll