Recommendations- My Top 27 Anime (#19-11)

19) Tiger & Bunny

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Synopsis: In Sternbuild City, corporate logos not only cover billboards, but also the costumes of the super-powered heroes that act as its protectors. Veteran and newcomer warriors of justice alike compete in a reality TV show that offers points for apprehending criminals while giving champions’ sponsors a chance to promote their brand. When the low-ranking Wild Tiger loses his backing after a string of outrageous, botched rescues, he finds himself paired with an up-and-coming spotlight-seeker called Barnaby. But with their wildly different personalities, will the pair be able to save their beloved Sternbuild City and win the game show, or will their constant tension be the undoing of the world’s first hero team?

Why I Like It: I’m a sucker for good superhero stuff and this show combines those elements with a fun buddy cop show. The core cast of characters are all a blast and for the main character Kotetsu in particular, it’s really nice to get a series with a middle aged protagonist. It’s a series that generally mixes camp with western sensibilities and while it gets notably darker in the second half it never strays too far away from fun, always believing in the themes of heroism and never giving up what you want to do. Sadly despite it’s massive and unexpected success, a second season has yet to be confirmed but in the meantime, what we’ve got is still pretty fantastic.

Streaming Availability: Neon Alley, Hulu

 

18) Black Lagoon (all seasons)

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Synopsis: Rokuro Okajima is a small-time salaryman who is carrying documents for his company, when the ship he’s traveling on is attacked by pirates. Kidnapped, he discovers to his dismay that his employers’ main concern is to ensure the documents don’t get into the wrong hands, even if it means sending the carrier to the bottom of the sea. Now, with his former life ruined and his kidnappers seeming comparatively friendly, “Rock” decides to join their merry band of mercenaries, and sets out with a new career to the shadier corners of the South China Sea.

Why I Like It: This series is effectively the ultimate Hollywood action flick, filled to the brim with guns, explosions and great gunfight choreography. Pretty much every character is a villain in their own right but they’re all fun to watch and it makes for some great interactions. Though while Hollywood theatrics are it’s bread and butter it gets progressively darker as it goes along, displaying an increasingly more cynical world view in turn, which even if you don’t necessarily find yourself agreeing with makes for some interesting material. Especially so with the lead character Rock, who while trying to battle against the corruption of the world he now finds himself in, slowly becomes more and more of a villain himself.

Streaming Availability: Funimation, Hulu

 

17) Fullmetal Alchemist (2003)

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Synopsis: Once upon a time, two brothers passed the happy days of their childhood by studying alchemy, which is governed by the equal transfer principle: an eye for an eye — you can’t get more than you give. But these brothers tried to defy that law, and a horrific accident resulted. Now, the older brother, Edward, is called the Full Metal Alchemist because of his metal limbs, and the younger, Alphonse, is a soul without a body, trapped within the confines of an automaton. Together they search for the power to restore themselves, to find the lives they lost so long ago…

Why I Like It: Okay so debates between this series and it’s more manga-faithful counterpart are endless but those exist for a good reason. While as you’ll see later I lean more towards the latter this series still holds up extremely well on it’s own and it’s proof that anime adaptions doing something different isn’t always a bad thing. Compared to the more grand scale nature of Brotherhood, this one is a bit of a smaller tale as it’s more about dealing with personal tragedies that makes for a much more character driven story and it combines that with some cool fantasy concepts and solid action that makes for a compelling show (even if that dang movie negates what made the ending to the TV series work so well). Even if you lean more towards the manga/Brotherhood this show is still worth giving a shot on it’s own merits.

Streaming Availability: Funimation, Hulu, Netflix

 

16) Vandread

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Synopsis: In a far and distant future, men and women have become mortal enemies. Each living on seperate planets, an interstellar war is being fought between the two very different peoples. Hibiki, a mere 3rd class worker, finds himself in the middle of a huge space battle, facing the nemesis of mankind: Womankind!

Why I Like It: Alright so this one is an extremely personal choice backed by the fact that I’ve rewatched the darn thing so many times it’d feel weird not to include it, but it’s a solid show nonetheless. It’s a pretty classic space opera mecha series mixed with some coming-of-age stuff (and some pseudo-Evangelion material that doesn’t really go enough of anywhere to be worth mentioning). What really sells the show is that it actually makes pretty clever use of it’s premise and despite what it would normally imply, manages to avoid being a harem series by pretty significant margin (only two girls are ever actively trying to get in Hibiki’s pants and a technical third who wants to use him for…other reasons). The whole gender divide thing is handled creatively, with the two sides coming together in a way that makes sense, and the romance between the two leads is kind of cute. It’s not a show that’ll exactly set the world on fire for anyone but it’s still pretty good, which is while I’ll continue to hold a grudge against Funimation for marketing the re-release of the series as a by the numbers boobs show (with the 90 second trailer ironically containing almost every notable instance of fanservice in the show’s 24 episode run).

Streaming Availability: Funimation, Hulu

 

15) Bokurano

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Synopsis: When a group of children discover a strange cave at the beach, their lives are forever changed. Inside they find a hide out filled with computers and a man named Kokopelli who gives them a curious offer: to participate in a special game in which they save Earth from fifteen giant monsters. To defeat the invaders, he will give them a powerful mecha of black armor. The children eagerly sign the contract, name their new weapon Zearth, and must now take turns to pilot it; but the ‘game’ is in fact all too real and the consequences of battle become the stuff of nightmares. With no option to cancel the contract, is there any way to stop the game before it is too late for all of them?

Why I Like It: Before there was Madoka, there was Bokurano and while I admittedly saw this show after the former. they cover some fairly similar territory. It has a pretty interesting sci-fi premise but more than that, Bokurano is a story about the meaning of self-sacrifice, and what that means for each of us as individuals. As the show explores the stories of each pilot, they’re all forced to find their own reasons to sacrifice themselves, and in some cases can’t find any reason at all. Though the show mostly revels in nihilism in that respect (with the show featuring one of the most disturbingly appropriate theme songs ever made as it’s entirely about that point of view) it also more often than not balances it out with warmth and love. Like with Evangelion (though not quite to that ridiculous an extent) the ending is more about about that particular theme than the sci-fi aspect, but it all comes together to make an extremely compelling story.

Streaming Availability: None (available for purchase at online retailers)

14) Attack on Titan

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Synopsis: Over a century ago, mankind was devoured by giant beings of unknown intelligence and origin known as Titans – creatures that eat humans alive indiscriminately and for no apparent reason. The remaining population has managed to survive the last hundred years only by building a multi-walled city capable of keeping the Titans at bay, training military recruits to patrol the perimeter and gather intelligence about their mysterious foe. Eren and Mikasa have lived a relatively peaceful life behind the city’s walls, but when a massive Titan appears, smashing the outer barrier and unleashing a wave of terror, their lives are brutally changed forever.

Why I Like It: Alright so I’m not a very original person, but this show stands as a testament to the fact that how something is adapted is just as important as the adapted material itself. The story works as a great action drama piece about the dual sided nature of humanity, as both savage and caring, banding together against a greater force, in this case being giant monsters.  It’s source material is compelling enough but Tetsuo Araki’s direction ramps it up to eleven, making for a much more dramatic and over the top spectacle, combined with some great music (and an opening theme song that would spawn a thousand parodies) and great battle choreography (even if the show didn’t always have the animation to match). This show’s garnered the attention it has for good reason, and hopefully  subsequent seasons can keep it up.

13) Puella Magi Madoka Magica

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Synopsis: One night, Madoka has a terrible nightmare – against the backdrop of a desolate landscape, she watches a magical girl battle a terrifying creature, and lose. The next day, the teen’s dream becomes reality when the girl – Homura – arrives at Mitakihara Middle School as a transfer student, mysteriously warning Madoka to stay just the way she is. But when she and her best friend Miki are pulled into a twisted illusion world and meet a magical creature named Kyubey, the pair discovers that magical girls are real, and what’s more, they can choose to become one. All they must do is sign a contract with Kyubey and agree to fight witches that spread despair to the human world, and in return they will be granted a single wish. However, as Homura’s omen suggests, there’s far more to becoming a magical girl than Madoka and Miki realize…

Why I Like It: Again, I’m not a very original person, but hey this show is good. I’ve never been too much of a magical girl fan outside of the obvious stuff like Sailor Moon, so a darker take on that concept was a pretty appealing prospect to me and it delivered on that in spades. It puts an interesting spin on all the tropes magical girl shows tend to be built on, and much like Bokurano earlier is a story that looks at the idea of self-sacrifice with a perspective of both nilhlism and love. However it’s a much more tightly scripted tale, and combines those themes with interesting concepts thanks to it’s darker take on magical girl material, along with some great looking art curtesy of Akiyuki Shinbo’s direction. Like with Attack on Titan, this show’s gotten the level of praise it has for good reason and it’s one that will undoubtedly continue to stand the test of time.

Streaming Availability: Crunchyroll, Hulu, Netflix

12) Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (both seasons)

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Synopsis: It is the year 2029, and as many rush to embrace the changes that cybernetic technology bring to mankind, the seedier side of humanity is even quicker to take advantage of it. This series follows Public Peace Section 9, a government organization that plays behind the scenes to stop the worst of these criminals. Join Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team as they take you through an incredibly vivid world filled with plots of such depth and intrigue as is seldom seen.

Why I Like It: Ghost in the Shell is one the most sophisticated shows ever made, and one that masterfully explores various social and political themes through a well thought out cyberpunk setting. It’s science fiction at it’s finest and mixed together with  gorgeous visual design that still holds up today, and a great soundtrack courtesy of Yoko Kanno has allowed the show to hold it’s place as a beloved franchise.

Streaming Availability: Hulu

11) Cowboy Bebop

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Synopsis: Follow interstellar bounty hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black as they scour the galaxy for criminals with prices on their heads. Hoping to escape their past, they live on the spaceship Bebop, but it’s a dangerous business and old enemies don’t forget easily. Allies come from unlikely sources, however, as they find comrades in the beautiful swindler Faye Valentine, the genius child hacker Ed and the genetically engineered ‘data dog’ Ein. Will they be able to help each other though their respective struggles, or is their fate really inevitable?

Why I Like It: Well this was bound to show up at some point, and hilariously enough just outside of my top 10. Pretty much everyone’s seen the show at this point (and if you haven’t I’d recommend fixing that pronto) so there’s no need to go too in depth on this one but it’s a fun ride mixed with crazy adventures, cool action and a sweet, sweet jazz soundtrack that helped to make Yoko Kanno the legend she is today. I generally prefer the show’s various standalone episodes to the core story, but it does make for a grand tale of a group of people drifting through life while never really connecting with each other and ultimately arriving at their own separate destinations. It’s a great combination of jazz and noire and it continues to hold it’s place as one of the most celebrated anime of all time.

Streaming Availability: Funimation, Hulu

Previous #20-27                                                              Next- #10-4

Recommendations- My Top 27 Anime (#27-20)

So this is another one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for a while and since my review schedule for Fandom Post is a little less hectic this season, I finally have some time for it. I’ve never been particularly good at keeping track of how I rank the shows I watch and almost anything that isn’t directly in my top 10 is toss off into the endless void of “shows I really liked but not the point of being the best thing ever” for me. Frankly I’m still not really too down with making a concrete list since people tend to pay more attention to where stuff’s ranked than what’s actually on it, but I could use the peace of mind as far as knowing where I’d place this stuff so here it is. I compiled this based on three factors: the quality of the story, how much entertainment value I got out of it, and how well it holds up as an actual show. That last one in particular holds a lot of water so if there’s a certain few shows that got omitted from here, you know why. I’ll also list any places the shows are currently available for legal streaming if anyone’s interested in checking them out. With that out of the way, let’s get started

WARNING: There’ll (obviously) be some potential spoilers about some of the shows listed here

** All series synopses from Anime Planet

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27) Welcome to the NHK

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Synopsis: Tatsuhiro Sato is a university dropout and a “hikikomori” – a person suffering from social withdrawal. To Sato’s dismay, his self-imposed exile from the world is rudely interrupted when a mysterious girl knocks on his door. She has charged herself with the task of curing Sato of his hikikimori ways! Now, as new problems ranging from hentai games to internet suicide spring up, can Sato manage to overcome his hermit-like ways, or will the imaginary N.H.K conspiracy force him to remain a hikikomori forever?

Why I Like It: Shows about otaku culture and hikikomoris are a dime a dozen these days but this one easily stands above the crowd for being the one that best looks at that stuff from a psychological perspective. It takes a good hard look at the issues that can drive someone to being a shut-in and makes it clear that there’s no easy way to escape from it. Battling depression and a whole other slew of mental issues is no easy feat but this show tackles that and manages to be a pretty entertaining ride at the same time

Streaming Availability:  Funimation, Netflix

 

26) Kaiji (both seasons)

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Synopsis: Kaiji Ito is as pathetic a person as they come; a man who gambles his days away, only winning enough to lose significantly more. He hates himself, is riddled with envy for others, but is ultimately too weak to think of a way out of his massive debts. Then one day he is approached by a strange man who offers him what seems the solution of a lifetime – to take a short journey on a ship called Espoir, during which time he will be given the chance to win more cash than he can dream of in a card game like no other. Ever the desperate, Kaiji takes the gamble of his life; however, the game turns out to be far darker than he expected and the hard lessons pile on thick and fast. Now stuck in a closed world of unsavory characters willing to do anything to destroy him, can Kaiji gather enough courage to outwit them all?

Why I Like It: Really good thriller is a hard thing to come by in anime as the moment it starts taking itself too seriously, it can fall apart if there’s not enough substance. Kaiji doesn’t really have too much in the way of that but it more than makes up for by being a non-stop high octane thrill ride. The stakes are always absurdly high and the tension of the games are matched only by how over the top  the show can get about them. That’s not to say the show lacks any substance as there’s some solid cynicism about the self-centeredness of human nature v.s. our ability to help our fellow man, but mostly it’s about the high stakes games, and in this case that’s more than enough.

Streaming Availability: Crunchyroll

 

25) Psycho-Pass (season 1)

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Synopsis: In the future, a system called Sibyl presides over the country and provides order to every facet of life. It dictates which job fields citizens should go into based on aptitude tests, and can even read each resident’s mental state and predict which ones are likely to commit crimes in the future. Fresh from exams, Akane Tsunemori is beginning her career as an Inspector, a specialized police officer who works to apprehend these latent criminals and stop crimes before they happen. But not all that get caught are eliminated or jailed, some join the police force as Enforcers to provide insight into criminals’ minds, and Akane is warned not to get too close to them, as they’re considered little more than hunting dogs. Though skeptical of this advice, and Sibyl’s judgement, Akane is determined to work together with her Enforcers to protect the peace of her city and its inhabitants.

Why I Like It: This show is something of a spiritual successor to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and while it’s not on the same level as that, it’s good stuff. The series explores some interesting social commentary and ideas about what exactly makes laws valuable to society as a whole and while the admittedly goofy nature of it’s premise holds it back from quite reaching  it’s maximum potential the execution generally makes up for it. Also if you’re wondering why I specified season 1, it’s because only one season exists and you will never be able to convince me otherwise. Second season? What second season?

Streaming Availability: Funimation, Netflix

24) Cross Game

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Synopsis: When Koh was eleven years old, he lived a quiet and peaceful life, delivering sporting goods for his family’s store and batting frequently at the Tsukishima Batting Center. Though Koh had no interest in baseball, he started the play the sport anyways after a series of events, much to the delight of his best friend, the beautiful Wakaba Tsukishima. However, soon life dealt Koh a tragic turn, changing him forever. Now, years later, Koh attends Seishuu Academy and is soon pulled back into the world of baseball. Alongside Wakaba’s talented sister, Aoba; old friend and fighter Nakanishi; and plenty of new teammates and companions, Koh will once more pick up the pitcher’s mitt and see if he has what it takes to be a champion.

Why I Like It: The sports genre is an interesting one because what makes the shows compelling is almost never the sports themselves. In this instance the sport itself is baseball (which to be honest I’m not really into), the theme of the show is centered around life after the death of a loved one and trying to move onto new relationships. The cast of characters are all  generally charming and the way the core romance between the two leads is built up is handled with a level of tact a lot of similar stories lack. It’s a bit of a slow grind but the payoff is extremely rewarding and it makes for a definite winner

Streaming Availability: None

 

23) Neon Genesis Evangelion 

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Synopsis: In the future, a devastating event known as Second Impact has destroyed Tokyo as we know it, giving rise to Tokyo III – a city under siege by mysterious lifeforms known only as Angels. Mankind’s only line of defense are the Evangelions, a set man-made machines piloted by a trio of fourteen year-old teenagers, Rei, Shinji, and Asuka. The fate of Japan and the entire world now lie with these three children, though they might not have the power to save the most important thing of all: each other.

Why I Like It: Well there’s not much I can really say about EVA that hasn’t been said thousands of times before, but still it’s great. The show combines a pretty interesting sci-fi premise with the psychological issues concerning it’s cast of characters. Especially so with it’s lead Shinji who battles with constant depression, things in his life consistently going horribly, and daddy issues versus having to meet people’s expectations by manning up and saving humanity with his robot (which he generally does in spite of all the stuff he goes through, so I’ll never understand why the western fandom gives him so much crap). The ending is pretty controversial and how much you get out of it depends on how much you cared about Shinji’s development versus the sci-fi stuff but if you lean towards the former then it’s about as good a resolution as you’re going to get (and if you lean towards the latter then there’s always End of Evangelion).

Streaming Availability: None (available for purchase through online retailers)

 

22) Yurikuma Arashi

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Synopsis: After an asteroid explosion and meteor shower lit up the sky over planet earth, strange adorable bears began to attack and devour humans. The earthlings responded with violence of their own, and in the end, a massive barrier – the Wall of Extinction – was erected to separate man from bear. This fragile peace lasted until two high school girls encounter a yuri flower blooming – only to be shaken by the piercing warning of the Bear Alarm! Once again, bear and man- or bear and girl -will be pitted against each other in a deadly and mysterious showdown.

Why I Like It: Anyone who somehow managed to make it through my weekly reviews of the show on Fandom Post shouldn’t be too surprised to see it included here and it’s definently a show that deserves mention. Ikuhara is one of anime’s most eccentric directors thanks to his empahasis on visual metaphors and thematic resolution over a linear narrative, and that’s pretty much the case here. In this case all of that is centered around a fairy tale narrative that serves as an excellent allegory on societal views about homosexuality and what true love actually means, that’s both over the top fun and extremely heartwrenching in it’s depiction. It’s a testament to his skill that Ikuhara can handle  that kind of topic with grace, and while it’s not his greatest masterpiece, it’s still a masterpiece and full of great visual flair. I wouldn’t really recommend seeing it before any of his other series as it’s the least inviting for anyone not familiar with how his stuff works, but it’s definitely worth seeing none the less.

Streaming Availability: Funimation, Hulu

 

21) NANA

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Synopsis:  Nana Komatsu is on her way to Tokyo; now she can finally be with her boyfriend after a year of dating long-distance! On the train there, Nana Komatsu meets Nana Osaki – a girl who shares her name but seems to be everything Nana Komatsu is not; cool, street-wise, and a punk rocker. The two hit it off and spend the entire journey getting to know each other, but when they get to Tokyo, circumstance separates them seemingly forever. However, fate is not finished with these two. Whilst hunting for a place to live the two Nanas again cross paths. They decide to share a flat and become best friends in no time. Nana K. must learn to be independent and mature, while Nana O. works on becoming famous with her band; but together, they will learn about love and loss, and the growth that comes with it.

Why I Like It: People usually say that the years that define the rest of your life are around your teens but really it’s your 20’s as the decisions you make upon first gaining true independance from parents or family are some of the most important you’ll ever make and usually have the most amount of consequences. Nana is a show that understands this in spades as it details the lives of two young women coming into their own, and dealing with their respective love lives neatly meshed together with music industry drama. The show holds nothing back about how hard the decisions you have to make at that age are and can be almost excruciatingly painful to watch at times because of it because it hits a very real place for many, but it also believes that you can triumph over those situations and find your own sense of happiness, even if it doesn’t necessairly come with your dreams attached.

Streaming Availability: Neon Alley, Hulu

20) Toradora

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Synopsis: Ryuuji Takasu has an eventful life: his classmates think he’s a delinquent due to his ‘killer’ eyes; his crush Minori seems ever out of reach; and he’s just had an unfortunate encounter with ‘palm-sized Taiga’ – a feisty and dainty wench in his class. With different cleaning habits and tempers, the two clash like night and day; that is, except for the fact that Taiga and Ryuuji have crushes on the other’s good friend! With school rumors abounding, the duo must now work together to play matchmaker for each other. Who will end up with their true love?

Why I Like It: High school romance is a well worn genre and one that often pulls out the same old tired tropes but this one is a definite standout. The issues concerning the characters are at the forefront of the story rather than being used a vehicle for last minute drama like most of it’s brethren, and while the core romance is a pretty familiar one, it’s executed in a way that feels genuine and really rewarding after all the things the characters go through. In a sea of similar shows it’s the one that gets the most right and certainly worth checking out

Streaming Availability: Hulu, Crunchyroll

Next- #19-11

Toon Talk- The Sounds of Dubbing

This is something I’ve been meaning to get to for a while but with Funimation’s recent broadcast dub initiative rolling out in full force, this seems as good a time as any to address this. It’s time to talk about what elements make a dub work and where English dubbing is in general right now. Without any further ado let’s jump right in

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Dubs v.s. Subs

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Okay I’m pretty sure everyone can agree this is a really tired and worn out argument so I’m not going to go too much in detail on this one but it needs to be addressed right off the bat. While preference does play a large factor in which kind of audio you’re likely to listen to on a regular basis, from a technical standpoint, “subs” or the Japanese side of the voice acting industry is generally superior. Even speaking as a hardcore dub fan there are only really about 6 or 7 dubs I’ve seen that I would really proclaim as the definitive version of a series and the absolute best way to watch it.

There are a few factors as to why but it mostly comes down to the fact that the Japanese voice acting industry is a much more well oiled machine and said industry is much larger and a lot more rigid when it comes to expectations. Plus it doesn’t have quite as many issues to deal with on a regular basis as the English side does when it comes to what can affect the production in that department. Of course this isn’t to say that seiyuu (Japanese voice actors) are nigh perfect and deliver flawless performances every time because they’re certainly capable of mediocrity (for instance Shunsuke Kazama’s performance as Yugi in Yu-Gi-Oh’s earlier episodes is so monotone that Dan Green’s performance is genuinely better acted in spite of how clearly cheesy it is)  but it’s less frequent.

Now does this mean there’s no merit to dubbing? Not in the slightest. Dubs have always been one of the most reliable methods of getting newcomers into anime and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. Plus if like me (and most of the English speaking fandom) you don’t fluently speak Japanese, you’re always going to be at the mercy of someone else’s translation anyway. Dubs are also a pretty good tool for rewatching shows since you can sometimes notice things about a show you may not have paid much attention to while watching it in Japanese  and you can watch them while doing other stuff since the screen doesn’t require as much of your attention. All those technical reasons aside, even though the Japanese side of the industry is more reliable in terms of consistency, there’s plenty of exceptional talent on the U.S. side of things who’s worth paying attention to, and when a production really comes together it can stand on par with (and in extremely rare instances surpass) the original performances.

With that bit settled it’s now time to see exactly where the level of dubbing is in terms of actual quality these days.

 

The Four Stages of Dubbing

Now this is just my own personal way of ranking things and I wouldn’t really hold it as any kind of universal standard but there a few levels at which I normally rate dubs

Bad– Really horrible voice direction and cringeworthy performances or scripting. Perhaps a couple of decent performances in the mix but overall a bad product to the point where even if you aren’t particularly concerned about acting it’s immediately apparent how awkward it is (ex. Revolutionary Girl Utena, Penguindrum, 4KIds One Piece,  Guin Saga)

Serviceable– A dub with a mix of performances ranging from good to mediocre. The good mostly outweighs the bad and the scripting and voice direction are workable. Not particularly great by any means but okay sounding enough that if you aren’t too concerned with the Japanese version and just want to listen to the show in English, it’ll do the job though it may not have much in the way of rewatchability (ex. Majestic Prince, Prince of Tennis, Gatchaman Crowds)

Good– A solid and competently put together dub. The majority of the performances work with only at best a couple of dull sounding ones and a possibly a few that are outstanding. Scripting and voice direction hit the right marks and even if the Japanese version is technically competent in more areas it’s a good enough production that you can stick with it and not miss out on much. Worth revisiting every now and then (ex. Gargantia on the Verderous Planet, Psycho-Pass, From the New World)

Exceptional– An extremely well made dub. A lot of really outstanding performances, great voice direction and a well crafted script. Can be perfectly comparable to the Japanese version in terms of technical competence and in some rare instances can stand out as the superior product. Definitely worth revisiting and recommending to others (ex. Cowboy Bebop, Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note)

So that’s more or less the general range. Now for as how it pertains to modern day dubs, I’d honestly say that extremely bad ones are generally non-existent now. There’s been some horrible stuff over the years, but for the most part even certain studios that have been notorious for putting out mediocre work such as Seraphim Digital (Sentai Filmworks) or Blue Water have worked things out to the point where they can at least put out a fairly listenable product.

Most these days generally fall into the serviceable and good range with Sentai/Seraphim stuff mostly leaning towards the serviceable end, Funimation stuff on the good end and California stuff all over the place between serviceable and exceptional work. Though speaking frankly, out of the 30+ dubs or so that are put out on average every year, only about 3-5 of them ever really fall into the exceptional category on average for me, but things are at least at the point where horrifically bad stuff is even more of an exception.

 

The Three Core Elements

So now that we’ve looked at what the general range is for dub quality nowadays it’s time to look at what elements affect them most. There are a few factors involved but it mainly comes down to these three things:

Casting

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Casting a pretty obvious thing so there’s no real need to go into why that’s important but there are aspects to it worth addressing. Specifically the idea of what counts as “miscasting” since more often than not, people (myself included sometimes) usually default to the idea that English VA’s not imitating a seiyuu’s performance = bad. At the end of the day seiyuus are also lending their voice to a characters that have already largely been written for them the same way dub actors are, and while they should be used as a general baseline to determine what a character should sound like in English, they don’t always have to be the absolute standard.

For instance in Sentai’s recent dub of Log Horizon, there’s a pretty distinct difference in tone between how the character Nyanta sounds versus how he sounds in the original version. His character is that of a smooth, polite sounding older man, and Joji Nakata portrays in the Japanese version as sounding like a middle aged butler while in the dub Jovan Johnson’s portrayal is that of a suave, jazzy sounding gentleman. The difference is pretty clear and definitely one that can take you for a loop but both are valid interpretations as they get what makes that character work and personally after hearing it, it’s hard to imagine him sounding any other way in English.

Now mind you this logic doesn’t always work as genuine miscasting happens more often than it should and even instances where it does won’t always equate to two equal interpretations of a character (I find Brina Palencia’s Yuno in Future Diary to be a mostly valid interpretation of that character, but Tomoe Murasa’s works better by far) but it is something that needs to be taken into account a bit more.

Voice Direction

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Bad performances are a pretty clear issue when it comes to voice acting, and the direction actors receive is often the culprit. Even with the industry here not being as large as it is in Japan, most of the talent pool at least has some degree of talent, so the difference between a good performance and a bad one can often come down to how an actor is told to portray their role (or isn’t in many instances) by whoever is handling the ADR (dub syncing and direction).

Funimation and Sentai’s talent pools often intertwine for example but there’s a clear dissonance between how some of them perform in Funimation dubs v.s. how they sound in Sentai ones as poor voice direction has long been an issue for the latter. Even California dubs which pretty much use the same talent pool across the board (well with the exception of union stuff but that’s a whole other thing) can sound distinctly different depending on who’s handling things behind the mic. Thankfully as dub work increases, new ADR directors pop up and old ones improve, but as a whole there’s still enough inconsistency in this area that there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Scripting

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This is an aspect of dubs that often gets overlooked in favor of voice direction, but it’s also a really crucial factor. Scripting can make or break a dub production and it’s significance is often understated. Part of translating a show into English means the script too, and given that most of the time whatever the Japanese version of the script was is something that wasn’t quite intended to work in English, it often requires a few minor alterations to make the adaption work.

Given that, it’s important to note that sometimes dubs can go too far in adaptation, and even a few changes in dialogue can completely change the effects of certain scenes (for better or worse) and the quality of the dub itself, Funimation’s recent dub of Attack on Titan for instance is extremely well acted and casted, but there are more than a few questionable script choices (courtesy of J. Micheal Tatum who’s now become infamous for that sort of thing) that drag the whole production down a bit and keep it from being a masterpiece. Most cases aren’t quite as extreme but there are definite boundaries that have to be considered when making an English script.

That said, much like with casting, complete and absolute faithfulness isn’t exactly a requirement for an English script to work (in some instances it can just lead to some really awkward sounding dialogue). YuYu Hakusho’s dub has stood the test of time pretty well but it’s script is actually pretty liberal in more than a few instances and the dialogue is generally snarkier than it’s original Japanese counterpart. However the dub works well because it stays true to the core of what makes the series work and knows when to play things straight. Ultimately it comes down to a case by case basis as some shows work better with a more liberal touch while others can crumble with even the slightest alteration. As with voice direction it’s an area of dubbing that’s led to plenty of mixed results and is one that can stand for more improvement in order to find the best balance for each show.

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There’s a lot to the world of dubbing and it’s something that’s continued to evolve over the years. With the advent of broadcast dubs, it’s about to undergo another one and I’m curious to see how it effects the quality going forward. Dubs have their flaws (some more than others) but they still play a significant role on this side of the anime industry, and as they take the next step, I’m hoping that we’ll still be seeing things improve rather than the opposite.

 

Animation Talk- The Best of Anime in 2014

2014 is slowly coming to an end and it’s almost time to greet the new year. This past year has been a pretty interesting one for anime with some surprising revivals, interesting experiments, and some major disappointments. There’s been quite a bit of bad but for the most part there’s generally been a lot of good to be had so it’s time to talk about the best of the best when it comes to anime in 2014

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MISCELLANEOUS 

Best Anime Opening- Unravel by T.K.

There’s been a lot of good anime openings this year like Amazing Break for Terraformars, a few done by Back-On, and Moon Pride for Sailor Moon Crystal (and in the case of that last one it’s arguably better than the show itself) but Tokyo Ghoul’s is a standout. It’s a pretty catchy song and has some nice visuals to go with it but more than that, the lyrics to the song perfectly capture Kaneki’s transformation over the course of the series as he struggles between his humanity and his inner ghoul. Opening songs that are actually about the show they’re for rather than to sell a music label are pretty rare and even though there’s been a few others like that this year, this is the one that best understands the spirit of the show it’s for.

Best English Dub- Toradora

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It’s been a good year for dubs, and there’s been a lot of big ones like Sailor Moon, Kill la Kill and of course Attack on Titan, with all of them being successes (or mostly successful in AoT’s case thanks to a certain script writer). With all that the dub that really stood out the most this year was for a show many never expected to see dubbed, and has probably fallen under most everyone’s radar because of it. Toradora has stood the test of time as a series and the dub had some big shoes to fill but the actors really went above and beyond to deliver with a lot of extremely exceptional performances, and really sticking to the heart of what made the show so beloved in the first place. I’ve mentioned this before in my review of the series this year, but even if you’re not particularly big on dubs, it’s definitely one that deserves taking a look at.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Best Character- Favarro Leone (Rage of Bahamut: Genesis)

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Anime’s generally always been filled with fun personalities and this year was no exception but Favarro easily blows away the competition. He’s the kind of lovable rogue that doesn’t really pop up much in modern anime and the show really knows where to take his anti-hero traits and make him likable enough that you can’t bring yourself to hate his guts, even when he’s at his worst. Of course anti-heroes do have at least a bit of hero in theme and as the show progresses he becomes a somewhat more heroic and well layered character while still sticking to the traits that make him so much fun to watch. He’s a shining example of how to do that character type right and hopefully he won’t be the last.

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BEST OF GENRE

 Best Mecha Series- Gundam Build Fighters Try

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Mecha shows haven’t fared to well this year with shows Captain Earth starting out well, but ultimately not going anywhere and Argevollen being a decent war commentary but too slow to grab anyone’s attention. So interestingly rather than so-called “Gundam killer” Aldnoah or even this year’s actual Gundam  series, Try takes the crown. It’s legitimacy as a mecha show is sometimes questioned but it’s hard to deny it’s charms, even if it’s an obvious toy commercial (and a darn good one) and it’s hard also hard to ignore the sheer fun that is plastic models beating the crap out of each other. The show never tries to be anything too ambitious but that’s to it’s favor as where other mecha shows this year failed by not saying enough, this one takes the cake by just being as is.

Available for streaming on Youtube

Best Comedy Series- Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun

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Comedies have done pretty well this year and there’s some pretty good stuff to choose from like Kawai Complex and Gugirri-san but Nozaki-kun is really something special. The show serves as a nice affectionate parody of shojo manga tropes, often putting a spin on some of the different character archetypes, while also not shying away too much from what makes those work. It’s almost always funny, it’s characters are charming and it’s hard to not root for Chiyo getting with Nozaki, even if the show’s not likely to let that happen anytime soon.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Action Series- Akame ga Kill

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Akame isn’t exactly the best written action show this year, and far from the best animated, but when it comes pure action, this show has some edge. The battles throughout the series are always intense, it’s characters never safe from death (if sometimes too much so) and there’s almost never a moment where something crazy isn’t happening. It’s a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end, and even if it’s not always as smart as it thinks it is,  it knows how to deliver on over-the-top action

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Slice of Life Series- Shirobako

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Slice-of-life shows have fared just as well as comedies have this year, with the two sometimes intermingling, but Shirobako stands out from the rest of the pack. It’s a pretty nice look into how the anime industry works behind the scenes, and portrays both the creativity and the struggles that come with working in that industry, even if it’s not completely honest about the latter. More than that though, it’s also a nice coming-of-age story for young adults trying to find their place in the world, and the balance between pursuing your dreams and handling reality. The show’s still continuing on into next year so hopefully it can keep it’s momentum going, but for now, it’s looking to be a winner.

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

Best Sci-Fi Series- Knights of Sidonia

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There’s been a lot more notable sci-fi series this year such as World Trigger, Parasyte and Psycho-Pass 2, but most of them have struggled (and in the case of Psycho Pass 2 turned into a non-stop trainwreck). Though while Parasyte is a better show, nothing quite gets sci-fi this year the same way Sidonia does. The world of the series is fascinating, full of mystery and really fun to explore as the show delves into it. It’s completely 3DCG animation actually helps to add to the atmosphere of the show rather than take away from things, and really gives the show the feel of a retro 80’s sc-fi epic, and the show pretty much takes that ball and runs with it.

Available for streaming on Netflix

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BEST SHOWS OF 2014

Best Series(Adaptation)- Parasyte-the maxim & Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (tie)

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 Adaptations are always mixed in execution throughout the year, and this year especially show as there were a lot of heavy hitters, but while some succeed in finding an new audience, others failed spectacularly with many more being left in the middle of the road. With all that said, these two shows are exceptional adaptations and so much so that it was pretty much impossible for me to choose between one or the other. Parasyte does a good job of modernizing it’s source material while sticking to its strengths, telling the chilling story of Shinichi’s transformation into something not quite human. Tokyo Ghoul covered similar territory, and pretty well at that, but Parasyte has a lot more breathing room to tell that story and it uses it very well, having it all occur gradually while never shying away from violence (which Tokyo Ghoul was a little short on thanks to censorship) and hard hitting tragedy (now if only the musical score was better…)

Fate/Stay Night also takes the best of it’s source material and uses it as a springboard, taking some of the best elements from it’s original three separate storylines, and weaving it into one solid piece of storytelling. The show’s tale of idealism v.s. reality when it comes to heroism is a familar one, and told slightly better by it’s prequel Fate/Zero but while it’s not quite as deep, the show is a much better production with some of the best action sequences this year (though Parasyte’s no slouch in that department either) and great visual direction. Both shows stand as examples that an adaption doesn’t necessarily have to be an exact panel by panel recreation to succeed and hopefully there can be more like these in the near future.

Parasyte available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Fate/Stay Night available for streaming on Crunchyroll, Hulu

 

Best Series (Original)- Rage of Bahamut: Genesis

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This one shouldn’t really come as a surprise to anyone who’s seen my episode reviews of the series on The Fandom Post but I adore this show and it’s really something special. It’s a gigantic love letter to Hollywood cinema in terms of theatrics and an incredibly gorgeous looking production with a fun cast of characters and some solid storytelling. The series never really looks to break the mold in any particular way in terms of genre tropes but it really knows how to have fun with them and takes the best of both worlds by having tons of surface level fun and giving just enough depth to it to make the show hard to dismiss. It’s also a show that has the potential to reach a more casual audience and hopefully Funimation takes the opportunity to capitalize on that. In the meantime though, this series stands as one of the best if not the best for the year and if you haven’t seen it, you should go and correct that mistake immediately.

Available for streaming on Funimation, Hulu

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And there you have it. Some of the best of the best when it come to 2014. This year has been a mixed one but after a slow start it’s ended on a pretty high note in terms of notable shows  and there’s plenty to check out. Now hopefully 2015 proves capable of doing even better.

Review: Ouran High School Host Club- Reverse Harem Charms

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Synopsis: Haruhi Fujioka is a honors student recently transferred to Ouran Academy, a school for the rich and fabulous. One day she accidentally wanders into the school’s host club, which is a group of pretty boys who spend their time serving ladies, and ends up getting indebted to them. She’s forced to join the club and also serves as a host for the girls, while the rest of the club tries to conceal her actual gender.

Review

Ouran is considered one of the classics of the mid 2000’s and the most notable pioneer in the reverse harem genre. It’s a show I’d never quite gotten around to as it’s only in recent years that I’ve taken more of an interest in shojo series, and though I tried it a couple of times in the past that barrier took a while to get past, preventing me from getting that interested in it. Though having now seen a fair share of solid shojo series and a couple of other reverse harem shows, I figured that it was about time to revisit this and give it another go.

Right off the bat, the show gives off a sense of charm that’s hard to ignore with it’s characters. Each of the guys more or less fills a certain archetype (which the show is self aware enough to frequently point out) such as main guy Tamaki being attempting to come off as a “prince”, though really being more of a goofball than anything else, while the twins Hikaru and Kaoru are whimsical trolls. Haruhi herself on the other hand comes across as a pretty down to earth heroine, though she doesn’t always play straight-man to the hi-jinks of the other characters as her general lack of concern over half the things that happen is played for laughs just as much.

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Aww, look at him! He’s so adorable…and deadly. Very deadly

Most of the episodes revolve around the club members helping out their guests with their personal problems or delving into the backstories of the club members. Some of the stories involving the guests are hilarious, others fairly touching and most being a mix between the two. Much of it is pretty standard fare for a harem series, but the show really plays up the reverse aspect of it quite a bit and plays it to the fullest. It doesn’t always knock things out of the park in terms of humor but it’s charming enough to stay fun even when it’s not at its funniest.

However the show is also pretty  good with how it handles some of its drama. Specifically, the club member backstories as each of them has their own hurdles to deal with and being in the club has helped them to broaden their horizons and open up more thanks to Tamaki’s influence. Not all of them are handled that seriously, but a couple of them such as the story behind the twins can be genuinely heartwarming . Despite being the main character, Haruhi’s background isn’t focused on quite as much as the others, but even she is slowly shown to progress from being incredibly straight-laced to learning how to get more enjoyment out of life, which is a theme the show puts a lot of emphasis on.

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Someone just give these two a hug

Interestingly though, what doesn’t get quite as much emphasis on the other hand is the actual romance aspect of the series. Or at the very least not in the way that would usually be expected. A couple of the club members such as Tamaki and Hikaru are shown to be interested in Haruhi over the course of the series (especially Tamaki, who’s fawning over her is constantly used as a joke), but the attraction is generally looked at from their perspective rather than Haruhi’s which is a bit odd for a shojo series. In fact, Haruhi more or less never shows any serious romantic interest in any of the guys (except Tamaki…maybe) and generally doesn’t like to put much emphasis on her gender which is kind of refreshing.

Haruhi herself is actually one of the strongest aspects of the show in that respect, although it does make a couple of missteps to undermine her somewhat. The beach episode where she’s berated by the other club members for stepping in to save a couple of girls from some thugs since she’s a girl as well, comes across as a bit sexist. While it’s obviously meant to demonstrate that she’s not invincible, and her fear of thunderstorms which is introduced in the same episode reinforces that fact, it puts an unnecessary emphasis on her gender that otherwise didn’t really need to be there, and it felt as though the show could have found another way to emphasize that point without taking away that’s generally an incredibly strong example of a heroine. Thankfully it’s the one and only time the show ever brings it up but it’s something that feels unusually problematic for what the show otherwise does with her.

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And just where were YOU when she needed help? Huh, Tamaki?

However, more so than romance related to her, the relationship the show instead decides to focus on the most is the group as a whole. All of the group members have their own problems and the glue that holds them together as people are the other club members, specifically Tamaki. They give off the illusion of a hilarious, but also somewhat broken, dysfunctional family more than anything else although, as the show goes on and how they view each other changes, some of the characters do notice that the illusion’s in danger of being shattered. Unfortunately things wrap up before it can show the end results of that aspect, but it does end on a high note as it highlights the importance of that bond, and how much personal freedom they’ve gained because of it.

BONES, who’s been well known for gorgeous looking shows such as Fullmetal Alchemist and Soul Eater, handled the animation for this series, and it mostly shows as it’s a consistent looking production, although far from their greatest. The character designs are pretty typical for shojo and look a bit dated as a result but the show is generally nice to look it. However the music for the series is mostly forgettable and is hindered by Funimation’s decision to do english covers for the opening theme “Sakura Kiss” and the ending theme “Shissou” as both are pretty badly performed and to the point of being downright skippable.

Funimation’s dub for the series on the other hand is a solid effort, as normally expected of their work in those days. Catlin Glass does a great job of making Haruhi sound androgynous and Vic Mignogna delivers on a spectacularly hammy performance as Tamaki, which has gone on to be one of his most iconic anime roles next to Edward Eric in Fullmetal Alchemist. None of the performances are particularly stand out but all of them are well handled and a lot of fun to watch. Interestingly this show is one of the few instances of a Funimation dub using japanese honorifics and they blend in well for the most part, though the script being so literal occasionally leads to a few jokes being lost in translation though not enough to take away from the dub entirely.

Ouran is one of the most iconic shojo series out there and the most heavily referenced when it comes to any mention of reverse harem stuff. It’s easy to see why the show is so beloved as the characters are pretty fun, and the show itself is a pretty solid comedy. It hasn’t aged perfectly as the designs are a bit dated as well as a couple of view points, but where the show excels it excels well as it’s an entertaining ride, and has the right amount of depth to it to keep it from being forgettable. It’s not a flawless show by any means, but it’s stood the test of time as a classic for good reason, and it’s definitely something worth looking back on.

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Overall: 8.3/10

Available on Hulu, Netflix & Funimation.com

Review: The Legend of Korra Book 4: Balance- Balancing Games

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Synopsis: Broken both physically and psychologically after her battle with Zaheer, Korra returns home to the Southern Water Tribe and spends the next three years recovering. In the meantime a woman named Kuvira has taken charge of the Earth Kingdom, and become a dictator bent on forcing the entire nation to her will. As Korra sets out to stop her she must rise not only to face this challenge, but herself as well

Review

The Legend of Korra has gone through a lot over the course of it’s run and its been a journey of ups and downs. Book 1 was relatively satisfying in making the show seem like a solid successor to the first series while Book 2 brought the franchise  as a whole to some of its lowest points (and lowest ratings which started a whole other slew of problems for it). Book 3 on the other hand was a full return to grace and it seemed like for the first time the series actually had the potential to outdo it’s predecessor. Unfortunately the final book doesn’t quite meet those expectations for a multitude of reasons but still manages to bring a proper end to Korra’s character arc and a relatively satisfying ending for the series a whole.

The name for this book is rather appropriate, not only because of the theme but largely because the season feels as though it’s trying to balance several things at once. On the one hand it’s got Korra’s character arc, on the other it has Kuvira’s threat and then on top of that it’s trying to give development to a slew of other characters while trying to make it all tie together. Needless to say it doesn’t handle that juggling act quite well as it gets certain aspects of it better than others and has more good ideas than knows how to execute th

Starting with the more mishandled parts of the season, is Bolin part in the season. His arc in joining and defecting from Kuvira’s army after seeing she brings more harm than good is an interesting one on paper, but for the most part it doesn’t do much to change him as a character, and if anything kind of makes him look dumb for not realizing sooner that Kuvira was a threat. Varrick getting thrown into the mix and defecting with him does make it a bit more interesting though Varrick’s reason for switching sides feels out of character for him since he’s generally been lovably amoral for the most part, and having him betray her just because she tried to kill him would have worked just as well.

Kuvira herself is also a pretty large misstep for the season as compared to previous villains she doesn’t have a lot going for her. Her motivations are largely unexplained (until the ending) making her come across as a bit one dimensional and bland. She also doesn’t represent enough of a personal threat to Korra as a character as many of her greatest feats of villainy feel to indirect to Korra’s character arc and while there are clearly supposed to be parallels between her and where Korra’s character was for most of the series, the parallels don’t intersect as much as they need to make things work.

Of course with all the bad there’s also good, and for some of the things the season can’t quite juggle there are things it does well. Bringing back Asami’s father and having the two restore their broken relationship was a nice touch and made his sacrifice at the end a touching one, even if he wasn’t in the spotlight enough for there to be much impact. Similarly, Toph’s role in the season is much appreciated as she helps Korra along her road to recovery and also mends her own broken relationships with her daughters which is a nice follow through on that arc from the previous season. Prince Wu’s character development over the season from a self absorbed jerk to a decent politician is also an interesting one though it’s a bit bumpier than some of the stronger character arcs in the season as he’s a bit overly used for humor.

The strongest part of the season is by and large the ending to Korra’s journey as a character. Her road to recovery is a tough one as she’s forced to confront her biggest fear: being powerless. Compared to Aang’s rejection of his destiny as the Avatar in the original series, Korra can only define herself as such and having that sense of power taken away from her physically does a number on her as she desperately tries to find a way to fix her health. However it’s in this powerlessness that for the first time she learns to empathize  with the perspectives of others, including some of her former enemies (which doesn’t work quite as well as the show thinks it does since Zaheer was the only villain the series who actually believed in what he was doing) and eventually confronts her fears by facing the one who took away her sense of power in the first place.

Her strengthened sense of empathy plays a large part in the final battle as rather than a large blown out duel like with Aang and Ozai, it’s by trying to understand Kuvira that she triumphs in the end as the two find their similarities and make peace. Unfortunately this confrontation occurs largely after the bulk of Korra’s character arc is already completed, and Kuvira’s characterization was too limited for most of the season as she mainly just comes across as a generically dictator(though not quite to Ozai’s Darth Siddus levels in the original)so the scene doesn’t work as well as it should thematically. It puts a nice bow on Korra’s journey as a person but most of the conflict throughout the season doesn’t quite carry the sense of scale that a series finale should and especially not compared to the grand finale for the original series.

That said the show does have a pretty notable ending, as it delivers on a sensible but pretty unexpected to actually happen pairing. Korra and Asami’s bond has been subtly built up over Books 3 & 4 and the two had some decent chemistry together compared to most of the couples the show had to offer (well with the exception of Varrick and Ju-Li but then they wrapped things up with that one) though the show actually following through on that seemed like a long shot. However the final scene between Korra and Asami more or less unambigously (there will be those who argue otherwise but the parallels between the scene and the scene confirming Aang and Katara’s romance at the end of the original are pretty much impossible to deny) pairs the two together. Whether it’s the possible start of a relationship or the cementing of one is nicely left up to interpretation but it’s definitely one of the boldest things Nick has ever done.

The Legend of Korra has had some big shoes to fill as it’s predecessor stands as one of the greatest animated shows ever made, and it’s been a hard fit as the show has struggled a lot more in terms of tone and characters due to the bulk of the series being an initially unplanned continuation(and it really showed in Book 2). For all those bumps though it’s had it’s highs as well, and has done a solid job in expanding the world of the franchise as a whole. While the show may end up being remembered more for the last three minutes of the finale than anything else, it’s earned it’s place as one of the most memorable pieces of action animation produced in the west. It’s not nearly as good as the original series as a whole, but its a solid journey and a mostly worthwhile successor.

Overall: 7.6/10

Available on Nick.com

Review: Over The Garden Wall- The Olden Days

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Synopsis:  Two brothers named Wirt and Greg end up getting lost in some mysterious woods called “The Unknown. Together with a talking bluebird named Beatrice, they search for a woman called Adele who can show them the way home while avoiding an evil entity known as “The Beast”

Review

Over the Garden Wall is the first miniseries that Cartoon Network has ever done (well depending on how you count the IGPX shorts) and it’s a pretty interesting undertaking for them. They’ve been pretty risk averse the last few years so it was questionable how they’d handle such a thing and if it would go for something ambitious or merely serviceable. Thankfully the show has gone for the latter and in the process has turned into not only the first real miniseries they’ve ever done but also one of the best things they’ve ever done.

What stands out right away about the series is its massive homage to some of the classic cartoons of yesteryear. The artstyle feeds that aesthetic really well and it’s pretty breathtaking to behold as it gives everything a rustic old country feel that can be both beautiful and horrifying whenever the mood requires it. Everything from the creatures, to the music, and even to how the characters talk, gives off the vibe of a classic Disney film and it’s hard not to feel nostalgic when watching it.

Even a lot of the narrative style gives off this vibe, and it’s very reminiscent of old fairy tales. The story starts off in media res wth the brothers already lost with no idea how to get back home. This leads them to an encounter with a mysterious woodsman who offers to help them out while warning them of an evil beast that lurks the woods. After a slight falling out with him though, they instead end up in the care of a talking bluebird named Beatrice who offers to take them to see Adele, the Good Woman of the Woods who can show them the way home. Their journey through the Unknown brings them on several different adventures, some being creepy and some being charming with each feeding into the show’s colonial aesthetic.

Along the way Beatrice gets a bit closer to the two and reveals the  exact reason why she’s a talking bluebird. It comes at a price though since she’s had her own agenda for most of the time, which leads to a pretty shocking betrayal when it appears she’s been playing them the whole time and the good woman of the woods turns out to be not so good after all. In the meantime the show also delves a bit into what’s going on in the background between the woodsman and the beast as well as why the two are connected.

This all plays into the show’s final act where it starts laying all it’s cards on the table. While the countryside aesthetic holds a lot for the series, at it’s core it’s really about the relationship between the two brothers, and it ties into things in a big way as things take a slight step back to look at how the brothers got there in the first place. While Wirt is never a downright jerk to his younger brother Greg, he does dismiss his optimism a lot and is quick to blame him when things go south. This combined with Wirt’s own lack of confidence, leads to him taking his brother for granted, and also helped to land them in the accident that got them there. However it’s only when Wirt decides to confront the beast in order to protect his brother that everything comes to light and everyone is able to get a happy ending with the show (thankfully) being ambiguous to whether or not the whole affair was dream and/or purgatory.

Cartoon Network’s first mini series has made for a pretty interesting tale, and a pretty ambitious project on their part. The show’s classic cartoon homage makes for some fun stuff, and it also manages to tell a fairly touching story as well. While the narrative isn’t completely flawless the overall aesthetic easily up for it and the ending is pretty sweet. This may be the first true mini series the network has done but it most certainly shouldn’t be the last.

Overall: 9.3/10

Available On Demand or at CartoonNetwork.com

Review: Hunter X Hunter Election Arc- It’s Departure Time

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Synopsis: With the battle against the Chimera Ants over and Gon on the verge of death after his sacrifice, Killua seeks to heal him by using the powers of the youngest Zoldyck sibling, Alluka. However when Illumi learns of Killua’s plan he partners up with Hisoka to stop him. Meanwhile after Netero’s death, the Hunter Association decides to hold an election to decide the next Chairman, which finally brings Ging into the picture. As the rescue mission and the election begin to overlap with each other, the final chapter of Gon’s journey unfolds.

Review

Most fans of the manga had seen this moment coming from the moment the reboot was first announced but we’ve at last come to the end of the journey for Hunter X Hunter (well the anime at any rate).  It’s been a solid run run for the series and one filled with many high points and very minimal lows compared to others of the shonen genre. Though while most series would go out in a much more spectacular (if sometimes too overblown for their own good) fashion, the Election Arc is a much lighter and more heartfelt story than the look into the evils of human nature that is the Chimera Ant arc. In spite of that though the arc delivers not only another good tale from Togashi, but a proper sendoff for the anime run as a whole.

With Gon out of commission thanks to his insane power-up in the Chimera Ant arc, Killua takes over as the protagonist of this particular story and fittingly so. After discovering that even the best Nen healers aren’t capable of helping Gon, Killua goes to seek out the help of his younger sister Alluka, who has the ability to grant wishes at a price. The price for these wishes can have some pretty devastating effects and it allows the audience to get a better look at some of the inner workings of the  Zoldyck family when it’s made clear how far they are willing to go keep Alluka’s powers both under control and secret from the rest of the world. Illumi in particular is the most desperate, and when he learns that Killua wants to use those powers to heal Gon, he fears he may be caught in the backlash and plots to stop him with Hisoka in tow.  Killua on the other hand, doesn’t see Alluka as just a tool and while he ultimately wants to heal Gon, he wants to save Alluka as well, and it signifies his first real step towards finding his own reasons to live besides helping Gon.

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 And to think you missed out on so many potential battle orgasms during the Ant arc. Sucks to be you Hisoka

On the other end of things. The Hunter Association calls together it’s highest ranking members known as the Zodiac,which includes Ging, to figure out what to do about deciding on a new chairman and decide to hold a general election involving all Hunters. When Ging decides to opt himself out of the running however, it brings the vice-chairman, Partison into the lead for victory. Partison himself is a very interesting character, and one who is difficult for both the other character and the audience to get a read on, as he’s the kind of person who’s not so much out to win as he is to screw with everyone else’s chance of winning and finds joy in hindering others. Of course none of the other Zodiacs really want someone so twisted running things, so they decide to make sure to do whatever it takes to make sure anyone but him is the victor.

These two seemingly separate storylines come to a crossroad when Leorio makes his triumphant return to the series and inadvertently makes himself a top candidate when he punches out Ging after unsuccessfully convincing him to see Gon. From there the other Zodiacs work to make the reluctant Leorio the winner of the election, as the rest of the organization goes after Illumi when he starts involving civilians in his plans. Despite most of what’s been laid out however, the arc is mostly devoid of any major conflicts outside one fight scene(sorry you had to be our sole victim Gohtou). In the end Illumi isn’t so much defeated as he is set back, and for all of Pariston’s trolling, even he is ultimately revealed to be less of an antagonist and more of a rebel rousing troublemaker as he concedes to have someone better suited lead things when it’s made clear he’s actually going to win.

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The moment we waited the entire series for…

Instead where the real heart of the arc lies is in Gon and Killua having finally come to the end of their respective journeys. After being healed and reconciling with the reborn Kite, (whose revival is controversial to be sure but somewhat needed to highlight the pointlessness of Gon’s sacrifice in the Chimera Ant Arc) finally gets the chance to have a real talk with Ging. Killua on the other hand has finally found his path in safeguarding Alluka and plans devote his life to protecting her. Though the two boys part on good terms, the strain on their relationship after the events of the previous arc is something that has taken it’s toll, and they both have their own individual journeys to set out on now. In many ways this could be considered as proper an ending as you could get.

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 Good luck you two

Of course this isn’t quite the actual climax to the story. The true ending comes in Gon’s heart-to-heart with Ging as Gon reflects over his journey and Ging tells that there’s a whole lot more adventure to be had and a greater world to explore, but that the detours towards getting there matter more than the actual destination. Though the show doesn’t end on an actual cliffhanger, more obsessive fans might ask, “what about Kurapica avenging his clan?”, “what about Hisoka fighting Chrollo?”, or “what about IIlumi still wanting to use Alluka?”, as there are certainly a few loose ends. The truth though, is that Hunter X Hunter isn’t really about any of those things.

For all of Togashi’s masterful writing and his ability to connect things together really well, Hunter X Hunter has never been about defeating some evil tyrant, saving the world from doom or some otherwise clear end goal (okay so that second one DID technically happen but you get the idea). Hunter X Hunter is ultimately about the journey moreso than the destination and it’s a journey filled with the friendships, tragedy and challenges that come with it. The travels of life never truly end and thus it’s fitting that much like life itself, that as Gon departs from his current journey, his next one is just about to begin.

The show has delivered on a magnificent run and has been a joy to  watch from week to week as it consistently pumped out great content. This arc may not have ended things in as big of away as most would come to expect of a shonen series but the impact remains the same if not stronger. Perhaps someday Togashi will write enough material for a continuation but for now this is enough. Until the next journey starts, it’s departure time for this adventure. Farewell.

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Overall: 8.9/10 

Available for streaming on Crunchyroll

Animation Talk- 10 Best Events in Naruto

It’s been several years in the making, but at last we’re towards the end of Naruto, though it’s an event with met with mixed feelings. Naruto has dragged on it’s final arc far too long for it’s own good so I’m personally not too torn about it on that end and yet as the show that got me and many across the globe into the hardcore anime scene, it’s also a little sad to know it’ll be gone for good. As we head closer towards the grand finale of the series, let’s reminisce for a bit and look at some of the greatest events from the journey of our favorite orange jumpsuit wearing ninja.

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#10- Naruto’s Graduation

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It’s often said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step and so it’s fitting to look back at what got the journey started in the first place. Naruto started off his tale as the village outcast with everyone staying away from him. He was also the class clown, not being good at any jutsu, and his teacher initially failed him on his final exam. Since his worst skill was the Clone Jutsu he did some secret training with the help of a special scroll given to him by another teacher (who’s CLEARLY not evil) and masters it just in time to find out the real reason why everyone in the village hates him. Before he can give into despair, his teacher tells Naruto about his own past and says that he still has faith in him, giving him the courage he needs to beat the evil teacher and also conveniently graduate.

#9- Birth of the Rasgengan

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Every hero needs a flashy special move and while the Shadow Clone Jutsu did some cool stuff, it just wasn’t cutting it. Naruto had some trouble figuring out the technique at first due to the complexity of having to do two things at once, but thanks to his skills with Shadow Clones he figures out a loophole to accomplish that and figures it out just in time to rip a giant hole in poor Kabuto’s chest. Thus the Rasengan was born and would then go on to have a ridiculous amount of variations and movie tie ins including one done by riding on a speeding fat guy (I kid you not)

#8- Naruto vs Neji

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Before Naruto added “war is bad” to it’s list of convoluted messages, it was a originally the tale of an underdog defying expectations. This fight best highlights that message as it pits our favorite underdog against Neji who’s regarded as a genius and believes that everyone’s abilties and fate are determined from the outset. The odds are (obviously) against Naruto and he appears pretty outclassed at first but with some clever tricks and a newfound mastery over his Nine-Tails chakra he manages to defy expectations and win the match as well as teach Neji that talent and skill aren’t necessarily pre-determined.

#7- Squad 10 vs Hidan & Kakuzu

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Shikamaru was already a stand out amongst the other Konoha rookies (and was also deservedly the first to become a Chunnin) but Asuma’s death at the hands of the zombie duo marked the highlight of his character development as it forces him and his teammates to grow up the hard way. They decide to get their revenge on the duo and even though Naruto partially steals the spotlight with a new technique, Shikamaru still gets to show off his smarts by luring the immortal Hidan into a trap he can’t escape and leaving the guy trapped in rubble (hopefully no one gets any ideas about digging him out). The battle ends with our heroes victorious and Shikamaru  inheriting Asuma’s will to protect the next generation as well as his unborn child.

#6- Naruto vs Gaara

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Naruto’s been an outcast all his life, but through hard work and finding people who have faith in him, he’s managed to get by. However he’s given a pretty clear picture of what he could have become without all that encouragement when he encounters Gaara, a murderous psycho who grew up an outcast much like himself, and also for the exact same reason. Though Gaara’s past is much more tragic and he’s a lot more unstable, Naruto still manages to see a bit of himself in Gaara and after duking it out with him in spectacular fashion he manages to convince Gaara to believe in others again, eventually leading him to become the Kazekage years later (whoever said bloodlust looked bad on your resume?)

#5- Taming the Nine Tails

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The Nine-Tails has long been at the core of Naruto’s anguish as it’s the primary reason he grew up isolated and without the beast inside him, he’d have probably grown up as the son of a hero. So when Naruto is forced into his final confrontation with him. he’s also forced to face parts of himself he hates the most and the resentment he felt towards those who shunned him. At first he’s overwhemled by the fox’s power but with some beyond the grave assistance from his mother, he manages to gain control over the Nine-Tails and also marks the beginning of humanizing him.

#4- The Truth Behind the Uchiha Massacre 

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Itachi was the initial source of Sasuke’s massive angst trip over the course of the series, and was bitterly remembered by his resentful brother for murdering their entirely clan. After finally managing to track him down and narrowly defeat him, Sasuke eventually learns the truth behind his brother’s actions. As it turns out the Uchiha clan was planning to overthrow Konoha which would have consequently lead to another world war. Itachi was forced to make the hard decision of selling out his family and killing them to prevent future tragedy but ultimately couldn’t bring himself to kill his precious little brother, turning a cold enigma, into an extremely tragic character. Too bad his precious little bro’s response to said revelation was to decide to wipe out everyone in the village in retribution, even though the elders were the sole ones responsible, but eh what can you do?

#3- Kakashi Chronicles

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Despite being occasionally mishandled and Kishimoto constantly teasing at his death, Kakashi still remains the best character in the series, so it’s appropriate his backstory is a huge highlight(even if it ties into the main storyline less than ideally). Before becoming the cool and protective guy we know today, he was cold and distant thanks to his father having died disgracefully and bringing shame to his family for putting his allies over the success on the battlefield. When a mission with his teammates Rin and Obito takes a turn for the worst though, Kakashi learns the importance of camaraderie when Obito dies protecting him and allows Kakashi to inherit his trademark Sharingan eye. This event is the first in a series of tragedies that turns Kakashi into the man he currently is, and why he’ll put his life on the line every time to protect those closest to him.

#2- Naruto vs Sasuke at the Final Valley

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Naruto and Sasuke’s relationship got off to a pretty bad start (and a moment that would launch a thousand slash fanfics) but over time the two began to slowly connect so when Sasuke decided to run off and join Orochimaru, Naruto chased after him eventually resulting in a confrontation. As the two fight, Naruto reveals just how much Sasuke has become like a brother to him, though the latter is pretty desperate to break that bond between them. The battle itself is pretty intense but in the end Sasuke emerges the victory and spares Naruto’s life, showing that he’s not quite as willing to cut ties with him as he thinks. Though Sasuke has abandoned him and Sakura, Naruto vows to chase after Sasuke for as long as it takes to get him back (and boy is it a long chase…)

#1- Naruto’s Talk with Nagato

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After battling against several incarnations of him. Naruto eventually comes face to face with Nagato, the man behind Pain. Nagato reveals his views on the world, it’s endless wars and the cycle of hatred that comes from it as he questions how Naruto intends to resolve any of it. Unlike most of his previous encounters with villains though, Naruto can’t bring himself to muster up any level of forgiveness for Nagato’s actions as they helped to bring about the death of their mentor Jiraiya and forced him to experience his first true loss. In spite of the hatred he feels towards him, Naruto decides to spare Nagato states that while he doesn’t have a definitive answer to Nagato’s argument he won’t stop until he does find and answer and resolves to struggle for as long as it takes. This allows him to win over Nagato and marks the biggest moment in Naruto’s character development. The resolution so heartfelt that it’s almost easy to overlook the deus-ex-machina that immediately follows it, but even that’s not enough to fully take away the impact.

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And there you have it folks, the greatest highlights in Naruto’s journey. Thoughts? Comments? Let me know what you think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review- NANA: Life, Love & Music

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Synopsis: Nana Komatsu is a young 20 year old girl , who decides to move to Tokyo to live with her boyfriend Shoji. On the train ride there, she meets Nana Ozaki, a punk rock singer who also happens to be moving to Tokyo.  Upon arrival, they both end up trying to rent out the same apartment and decide to compromise by becoming roommates. The two become close friends as they deal with the men in their lives and the inner pain they both have to overcome.

Review

The shojo genre is  one that is generally filled with ideals as romance stories are its most primary staple.  Though many shows in the genre do tackle genuine drama and struggle, most of them never stray too far from the ideal of pure and innocent relationships, not always giving into total fantasy, but rarely much further. However Nana is a show that understands that ideals and reality are two different things and breaks the mold in a sometimes painful but ultimately compelling display of this truth.

Before the show even begins to build the two girls relationship together, it first dives into each of their pasts and examines them fully. Nana Komatsu, later nicknamed Hachi, to make it easier to differentiate the two, is boy crazy, dreams of being a bride someday and tends to fall in love at first sight, which has lead her into a series of failed romances, including an affair that leaves her somewhat scarred before finally finding a real relationship in Shoji. The other Nana was abandoned as a child, and lived a life of social isolation before joining a band called Blast, and falling in love with the band’s leader, Ren before he ends up moving to Tokyo to join other band. She vows to surpass him and become a great musician in her own right, which leads her to Tokyo and ultimately becoming roommates with Hachi.

One thing that eventually becomes apparent about the show is that it revels in a lack of escapism, as compared to most other shojo series. The beginning of the story follows Hachi’s perspective on life, and initially things go pretty well for her in her attempts to be independent and become a proper adult. It doesn’t take long though, for her idealism to clash with reality and it sends her on a downward spiral as life’s situations prove much tougher than she expected as she deals with financial struggles and a tough breakup. Through it all, the one thing that remains a constant positive in her life is her relationship with Nana, and the other members of Blast as they make their march towards stardom. However as things push ahead, the more the band’s situation improves, the further isolated and empty Nana feels as she struggles to find a purpose for her life. Her pain eventually leads her into relationship that serves as her biggest wake up call, and forces her to confront both painful new reality and a relationship far below her ideals.

While Hachi attempts to come to terms her new situation, the show moves over to the perspective of the other Nana as she tries to cope with Hachi’s problems in her own way but ends up feeling betrayed as the two part ways.  As Hachi’s struggles force Nana to come to terms with some of her own, the other band members go through their own various love affairs and strained relationships with things becoming painful for everyone involved. However while the show understands that ideals and reality don’t truly mix, it also knows that the two can sometimes mingle in unexpected ways. and this fact becomes more apparent as it goes on.

Hachi’s does eventually become the bride she’s wanted to be but the journey there is harsh, and she ends up losing her ideal men to get there. Similarly, Nana and Blast’s path towards fame is also one that gets fuffiled and allows her to finally obtain a family of her own,  but it also turns out to be a path riddled with compromises in both business and in love. When everything is said and done, the two girls do eventually reconcile and find peace with themselves as life goes on for everyone, and while the ending is a bit more ambiguous about Nana’s future than it needs to be, the show manages to wrap things up satisfactorily for the most part and while no one really manages to find unabashed happiness or love, they come to understand that’s life and it must go on.

The english dub for the series, done by Ocean Group is very solid and provides a good mix of strong performances. Kelly Sheridan delivers a good performance Hachi, making the character sound sugary sweet while also managing to give some heartwrenching delivery during some of her weaker moments. Rebecca Shoichet’s Nana sounds intitially strained during some of her comedic moments but ultimately captures the character well. The rest of the cast provides very down to earth performances that fit the nature of the well show, with some stand out roles such as Brian Drummond’s Yasu which really captures the big brother nature of the character well. The insert songs for the show aren’t dubbed which makes for some occasional dissonance, but it doesn’t effect the dub enough to seriously take away from it.

Madhouse’s production on the show is solid as their usual works, and the animation budget is consistent. The character designs are somewhat standard in terms of shojo but have a pretty good look regardless and they manage to avoid making all of the characters look too pretty. Tomoki Hasegawa’s musical score for the series provides a pretty distinct mix  of orchestral and rock tracks and the all of the opening and ending songs for the series stand out pretty well though the biggest highlight of them is the first opening “Roses” done by ANNA.

Nana is a coming of age tale for young adults and is filled with all of the heartaches and harsh realities that come with it. More than that though, it’s a story of varying degrees of love be they relationships with family, friends or lovers and how they can effect each of us. In a genre of idealized versions of love, Nana stands triumphant as a much more honest portrayal of those ideals and that’s not such a bad thing as it allows for a story that is more than capable of standing the test of time in it’s genre.

Overall: 9.8/10

Available on Hulu