About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

True Tears Review: Part 2

True Tears indeed...

This may very well be the ultimately saddest anime that I've ever watched. At least for me.

Just watching the anime scene that the above picture is taken from almost moved me to tears. And I very rarely cry when watching anime, and virtually never for purely melancholic and sad moments. When an anime moves me to tears, it's virtually always because of something very touching in a pleasantly profoundly poignant way that elicits tears of joy from me. It's because of a moment of happy familial reunion, or the penultimate moment of romantic realization, or something along those lines.

But the final episode of True Tears was very nearly an exception to that.

I'll get into why, shortly.

First, though, I should provide the readers of Part 1 of my review with an important heads up. My take on True Tears has changed tremendously over the course of watching the past seven episodes. I'm not going to say that I now hate the anime, but I do hate some of the directions that it took. So be forewarned: This review is going to be a fair bit more critical than my Part 1 review was. However, there will also be some further praise for the anime as well.

Watching through the last few episodes of True Tears might have been the most horrifically hellacious heart-wrenching viewing experience of my life. And this is because I became very emotionally invested in the character of Noe Isurugi and the Noe/Shinichiro romance.

There's never been an anime romance that so instantly clicked with me like Noe/Shinichiro did.

I was sold on it almost immediately. It was so splendidly serenely sweet, and unusually uplifting. For a time, Noe and Shinichiro truly did fly, just as Noe had always dreamed of both her and Shinichiro doing.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are other anime romances that I very much like. Tomoya and Nagisa in Clannad was a romance that I eventually came to love. But it took a lot of time and development for me to like that romance. For awhile, I felt that Tomoya perhaps had made the wrong choice in opting for Nagisa over the other options available to him. However, by the end of Clannad: After Story, I was completely sold on the romance and eventual marriage of Tomoya and Nagisa. Tomoya made the right choice.

Shana and Sakai Yuji from Shakugan no Shana is another anime romance that I like. It comes across as cute, funny, heartfelt, and powerful. Nonetheless, I would not have been terribly upset if Sakai Yuji had opted for Kazumi Yoshida instead.

But I couldn't help but to feel upset here, with how the romances were resolved in True Tears...

Noe/Shinichiro is truly the first anime romance that I became completely and strongly supportive of. Until now, I could not relate to just how ferociously fiery fans' flaming passions could rise when it came to shipping wars. Now, I kind of can relate.

I don't actively dislike Hiromi, but nor did she appeal to me as persuasively as Noe did. As I said in Part 1 of my review for this anime, Noe is the charm factor of this anime. And her brother is the cool factor of this anime.

And man, did the anime ever do a number on both... :-(

Jun and Noe Isurugi go from the showstealers of this anime to being simply brutalized by the plot. I've never seen an anime do such an incredibly impressive inspired job in building up two great characters, only to tear them down through one setback after another after another.

Jun could easily and honestly write the stereotypical country music song, for cryin' out loud.

"I lost my bike,
I was suspended from school,
I missed the festival,
and my sister broke her ~llleeeeeegg~!" - Jun Isurugi, singing in Nashville, Tennessee.

If Shinichiro thinks he has a future in writing picture books, just wait until he sees the success of new music sensation Crooner Jun! ;)

As for Noe...

She had her heart broken. She was firmly grounded after initially taking flight. Now the poor girl is even on crutches, after being driven to new heights of insane behavior by how emotionally distraught she was. After all, the boyfriend that she dearly loved turned his back on her. And all it took for him to do it was finding out that Hiromi was not his half-sister.

Speaking of specific plot points, a few in this anime struck me as more than a bit strange.

If there's any possibility whatsoever of Hiromi being Shinichiro's half-sister, why not just get a DNA test done? Indeed, one wonders why Shinichiro's mother doesn't insist on it. She clearly suspected her husband of cheating on her with Hiromi's mom, and I don't see how such a suspicion can be completely resolved short of hard evidence. Even otherwise good men are not entirely honest about such affairs.

Secondly, just what were Jun and Hiromi trying to do? Where was Jun trying to take Hiromi? Hiromi asked him to take her somewhere where it doesn't snow. To the best of my knowledge, no such place exists in Japan during the middle of Winter. Was Jun planning to drive his motorcycle across the Pacific and down to Australia?

Even so, why the suspension? School's suspend students in Japan for vehicular accidents that take place outside of school, and involve no property damage or lost of life beyond what the students themselves endured? That's news to me, if true. Seems rather draconian and harsh, if true.

There's some plot developments in this anime that are a bit hard to swallow. That being said, I will give the anime credit for progressing at a fairly steady pace from Episode 7 on. Episode 7 is where the plot of the anime really shifts into high gear. And, for awhile, I mostly loved the plot. But when Jun went off the road and crashed into the snow, it seemed like he took the mood of this anime with him.

The second half of True Tears felt a lot heavier, emotionally speaking, than the first half. This pretty much killed the friendship dynamic between Miyokichi and Shinichiro. Miyokichi and Shinichiro both became so caught up in emotionally distressing romantic issues that the two of them lacked their earlier breezy rapport. Their friendship carried on, in fairness to both, but it no longer felt easy going or entirely natural. It felt more like a matter of obligation given the sheer length of time that they had been friends.

That being said, there was one romantic conclusion in True Tears that I was happy with...

I was happy to see Miyokichi reunited with Aiko.

The way their relationship played out felt very natural and believable to me. It made sense, and I'm glad that once Aiko accepted the lost of her first love, she was able to accept being the girlfriend of her second one.

I also like both characters in this pairing, and I very much liked Miyokichi's approach to romance. He's a true gentleman that is very honest, upfront, committed, and lovingly caring towards the girl that he adores. Unlike a certain best friend of his...

But this romantic resolution was small consolation for me, given my great disappointment in how the principle love triangle sorted itself out.

Shinichiro/Hiromi isn't necessarily a bad romance. And it's very well developed. The anime is like a master seamstress in how it manages to weave so many different plots and subplots together in a way that easily makes sense at a surface level. I may find some of the character actions questionable, but I know what's going on, and why it's going on, and the plot never even comes close to losing me. Continuity is well-maintained, and the anime handles the progression of time within its narrative very shrewdly.

Also, the ending of True Tears Episode 10 made it abundantly clear that Shinichiro/Hiromi had become the new favorite to be the ultimate central romance of this anime. After all, it had the classically dramatic and romantically suspenseful scene of Shinichiro chasing after Hiromi on his bike, only for him to crash Jun-style, hence getting Hiromi to pull her ride over and race after him. The anime then goes almost into cheesy territory by having Hiromi trip up and fall on Shinichiro. The anime couldn't have made it any more obvious that it was switching from Shinichiro/Noe to Shinichiro/Hiromi.

But then, Episode 12 teases the audience with the possibility of Shinichiro switching once more, this time from Hiromi to Noe. I will admit that the drama of the romantic conflict is played out with all the expert precision of an experienced conductor for a Grand Symphony Orchestra. This anime does an exceptional job of playing on the emotions of its viewers. I have little doubt that if I preferred Shinichiro/Hiromi to Shinichiro/Noe that I would have loved this anime to pieces, and perhaps even considered it a masterpiece.

But... I don't. I have a strong preference for Shinichiro/Noe. And it's not because Hiromi is a bad character, or because I think Shinichiro/Hiromi is a fundamentally awful romantic pairing. It's that Shinichiro/Noe is Just. That. Good.

I was instantly hooked by it.

This anime holds the honor of creating the best romance I've ever seen in anime, and one of the best in all of fiction.

It also holds the very dubious distinction, though, of destroying that same romance.

So, how do I rate this anime? That is hard to answer. It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for me to rate this anime fairly, given how the key romantic resolution left an extremely bitter taste in my mouth, and a churning in my heart and mind.

The anime used symbolism very well. It managed to get more out of the chicken friends of Noe, and their influence on Shinichiro's artistic work and internal reasoning, than what I had ever expected. It's great how the anime all made it work. But it feels so horribly undermined by how the character who made it all work, Noe, is the one left out in the cold.

Shinichiro is right about Noe. Noe taught him how to dance. Noe taught him how to fly. Noe encouraged him in all of his endeavors, and was such a stupendously supportive girlfriend. Noe really had an incredibly positive influence on his life. That was a big part of why I loved the Shinichiro/Noe romance so much.

But in the end, Shinichiro chose Hiromi anyway.

How, Shinichiro? How?!

How could you turn down such a girlfriend? How could you turn down this?

No wonder Jun was not able to bring himself to forgive Shinichiro...

I'm still glad that I watched True Tears. When it came to gaining emotional investment, it's in a very elite class for me. Its plot is largely solid, and its core cast is developed very well. It is a sharp contrast to Angel Beats! in that True Tears never tries to do too much in too little time, and keeps its core cast down to a manageable number of about 10. Watching both animes within the same week or two really served to emphasize these strengths of True Tears for me. It has the kind of plot, and the sort of cast, and the type of narrative, that really works in a 13 episode format.

However, its ending still leaves a very bad taste in my mouth. What this anime does to the Isurugis is almost intolerably cruel. In fairness, an argument can be made that Jun endured cruel and unusual karmic justice, but that it was karmic justice nonetheless. Jun forcing Hiromi into a fraudulent romance with him was wrong of him. So was his attempts to keep her there indefinitely. He paid for his mistakes here, and he paid severely.

Nonetheless, Noe is a completely innocent victim of the machinations of other characters, including her own well-intentioned but ultimately mistake-prone brother. It's truly heartbreaking to see what Noe is put through in the 2nd half of this anime...

In time, I will probably look back on True Tears fondly. But for now, I am left very dissatisfied with its ending.

7/10 overall. Maybe I'll adjust it up to 8 at some point in the future...

To end this review on a pleasant note, here's a couple nice True Tears pictures that I hope my readers will enjoy looking at. :)

Angel Beats! Final Thoughts, Final Review

My friend Archon Wing, of Anime Suki fame, was a bit bedeviled by the ending of Angel Beats! As such, I hope to do like Otonashi, and be a spiritual healer that can help Archon Wing come to peace with Angel Beats. In so doing, it may be necessary to exorcise some demons. And hence here is my final writeup on Angel Beats.

Well, the conclusion to Angel Beats! more or less confirmed my thinking on what was the true core narrative of this anime. It does, however, undermine that narrative slightly by Otonashi basically having second thoughts at the last moment. Perhaps Otonashi is brought down to Earth (figuratively, of course ;) ) by having his personal desire to spend an eternity of love and fellowship alongside Kanade start to override his previously impeccable sense of self-sacrificial helping of others.

I can forgive Otonashi his moment of selfishness, as the poor guy has gone through a lot, and was always very caring towards others throughout the anime. And Kanade is very beautiful, powerful, and kind.

Plus... something just struck me, good reader. Something just came to me.

Perhaps there is a hidden meaning in Otonashi's temporary panic at the thought of losing Kanade.

Maybe Otonashi actually did have his own personal issue to deal with after all. Maybe his issue was learning to accept a life without romantic love, just as Yurippe had to move on by accepting what happened to her beloved siblings.

The healer himself had his own wounds to heal, and so he belonged in the world of Angel Beats! after all. He did not just accidentally show up there due to amnesia.

Well... I'm putting that idea out there. Make of it what you will. I could be wrong, but who knows. As I wrote on Anime Suki, Angel Beats! leaves a lot to personal interpretation and fan speculation.

This is not necessarily a negative. It means that you'll get out of this anime whatever you invest into it. And it means that you can craft your understanding of this anime to perhaps compliment your own personal views on philosophical and/or spiritual matters.

The core narrative is that of the healer and peacemaker Otonashi coming to this world and helping the SSS Brigade and Tenshi. That is the heart of this story. But the body you fashion around it is up to each individual viewer.

And with that in mind, Maeda does expect a lot of his viewers here.

The anime does a blatant bait-and-switch, as its stated and marketed premise only has relevance for the first few episode, and later becomes the story of Otonashi helping out his friends in a fashion similar to how Tomoya helped out his. As with any bait-and-switch, not everybody will like the switch. Personally, though, I did like this one, and I think it makes some sense.

But there's only so much you can get away with in presenting a fictional story, I believe. And I think that Maeda may have forgot that.

With this in mind, Angel Beats! reminds me of Code Geass, in that both were complex amalgamations of a vast variety of different elements that appeal to different types of anime fans.

Code Geass had military conflict that would resonate well with Gundam fans. It also had mechas that would appeal to mecha anime fans in general. Code Geass had a theatrical "just as planned!" main protagonist that would appeal to fans of that character type, such as Death Note fans. Hence, Code Geass incorporated into itself familiar elements of established popular animes. Code Geass also had definitive school life and moe elements. It had comedic moments that are distinctively anime in nature. It had a slight harem-esque feel to it. It had loads of fighting action in general. Code Geass did cast a very wide net, and it was commercially successful because of it. And, I would argue, its first season was also very tight, and a great watch. It managed to put it all together in a captivating and coherent way, and it was a great anime because of it.

However, Code Geass R2 went a bit off the rails, I would argue. I think that there may come a point when an anime crosses a line of sorts. When an anime incorporates too many different elements into itself, and like a juggler adding on extra balls to his juggling act, it just can't manage to balance all those different elements together in order to make a strikingly sensible seamless final work.

Code Geass R2 started to tire its own juggler out by going with the episode ending cliffhanger plot twist, each and every week, in the early going. This was loads of fun, but it also strained the suspension of disbelief of many viewers almost to the limit. And then, about halfway through Code Geass R2, the anime gets increasingly philosophical and metaphysical. All sorts of weird trippy stuff is going on. And that, I think, is when suspension of disbelief was broken for many Code Geass R2 viewers. Amping up the metaphysical aspects of the show in a very post-modernist way essentially meant that Code Geass R2 had to juggle yet another ball, and that was one ball too many. It was just trying to do too many things at once. It just had too much going on all at once. And hence the balls were dropped. Many would argue that the finale of Code Geass R2 managed to pick the balls back up and give a stupendous final juggling act, but that's a discussion for another day. Today I focus mainly on Angel Beats! And I delve back into Code Geass R2 because I think that Angel Beats! is similar in that it perhaps was trying to juggle too many balls at once.

Engaging action scenes takes time and effort and focus to sell the viewer on them.

Character development takes time and effort and focus to sell the viewer on it.

Romance requires time and effort and focus to sell the viewer on it.

Comedy requires time and effort and focus in order to set up the jokes (or humorous situations) and deliver the punchlines (or slapstick situational humor).

Moe requires time and effort and focus in that it requires presenting the moe characters behaving and dressed in a certain way.

And steeping one's fictional world in its own special sort of metaphysical or supernatural reality requires time and effort and focus in order to ensure that the viewer gets a good idea of how this reality operates in this fictional world. Some sort of set rules need to be established, or at least implied, and they need to be conveyed in a clear and accessible way. Bleach is a good example of an anime world steeped in several supernatural elements and realms, but it presents those elements and realms carefully, and in a gradual piecemeal fashion that makes it easy for the audience to slowly adapt and adjust to how everything works in Bleach.

Now, the viewer's focus can only be divided so many ways. And the story's focus can only be divided so many ways as well. So you can have some of the above listed elements (engaging action scenes, character development, romance, comedy, moe, metaphysical and philosophical elements), but if you have all of those elements, you run the risk of overwhelming the viewer, and making it difficult for him or her to make sense of it all.

And, well, Angel Beats! has all of the elements that I listed. Much like Code Geass R2, it probably has one element too many, and hence for some viewers, the metaphorical balls are dropped.

When you factor in how Angel Beats! incorporates all of these elements into a 13 episode time-frame, it's no wonder that many viewers are, like Archon Wing, left scratching their heads. There's just too much going on within too short a time frame. The anime jumps haphazardly from one element to the next to the next, and it all begins to blur for many viewers.

It also doesn't help that Angel Beats! has a fairly large cast, and didn't even try to keep juggling its full cast in its final episode...

Don't worry Girl De Mo, TK, and Yui; I won't forget you dudes and dudettes. Especially not you, TK, as your surprisingly good English for a subbed anime was always cool and groovy to me!

So, to make sense of the incredibly multifaceted work of Angel Beats!, the viewer needs to keep in mind two things:

1. The real core story is that of the spiritual healer Otonashi bringing peace in the midst of conflict, and bringing spiritual healing to his new found friends.

2. You need to use your imagination to fill in the gaps. For example, I find that it's helpful to imagine that some romances were building up "behind the scenes".

The core story of Angel Beats! is a good one, and there's a lot of fun to be had in watching this anime. This anime also occasionally reaches the same sort of heartfelt touching moments that previous Maeda works achieved.

But perhaps is just tries to do too much in too little a time frame. Like Code Geass R2, it just crossed the line.

That's not to say that either Angel Beats! or Code Geass R2 are bad animes. Both have definitive strong points, and for fans that care more about characters than plot, their weaknesses may be virtual non-issues.

But if an anime is aiming for a strong plot that is accessible to a lot of viewers, it needs to have a clearer and more limited focus than the highly ambitious Angel Beats! and Code Geass R2 animes.

All of this being said, Angel Beats! will almost certainly be a rousing commercial success. And that will likely mean it will have some influence on future anime works, just as previous prominent anime works influenced it.

I think what some animation companies may take from Angel Beats! is that there's a real audience out there for a show that combines action, moe, high production values, and certain character designs and types.

Simply put, I don't think that Yurippe will be the last character to be designed with Haruhi Suzumiya in mind. I think that a future anime that features a HaruClone as an action hero in a less multifaceted production could sell very well, and be as excellent and tight as Code Geass' first season was. Perhaps this time the HaruClone could be leading a rebellion against something like, say, Britannia. ;) And the story could stay focused on, and revolve around, that conflict, and not get too caught up in other elements that could distract the viewer from this core story.

I hope to see an anime like this one day, and I may even write some original fiction in this vein, if anybody is interested in reading that, of course.

But, long story short, Angel Beats! was a fun and interesting ride while it lasted. The ending felt a bit abrupt, and while it was very nice in parts it also wasn't a particularly satisfying conclusion. Nonetheless, I'm glad I watched this anime, and I'll give it 8/10 overall.

An ambitious work that just tried to do too much in too little time. But a work that was quite imaginative, and often very fun to watch.

And I now bid adieu to Angel Beats!, as it disappears and hopefully will lead to Haruhi Suzumiya being reincarnated in yet another anime some day. ;)

Friday, June 25, 2010

True Tears Reveiw: Part 1

I recently started watching True Tears. The reason why I started watching it is because the character designs and promotional artwork looked catchy, as well as mildly magical to me, after I looked into the anime a bit further. That, and a couple people over at Anime Suki brought it up to me in a positive light, and then there's the fact that I was invited to Anime Suki's True Tears fan group ages ago. ^_^;;

Anyway, let me begin by saying that I am very happy that I chose to watch this anime. While keeping in mind the often argued for distinction between slice of life anime and school life anime, this anime nonetheless feels like what good slice of life anime should be to me. In other words, it feels eminently realistic, and it has a very good pace thus far, but it has a sparkling swirling stream of indelible inspirational ingenuity to it. While the anime feels plausibly real, in the sense that you could imagine all of these characters (and the way that they interact with each other) existing in the real world, it still manages to add some tasty sugar and spice to the overall presentation in order to make the anime seem a bit more interesting than just any old real world story.

Perhaps the key reason for this is the following character:

Noe Isurugi is every bit as charming, disarming, and whimsical as the above picture would rightly lead you to believe. Her artistically bubbly, brightly cascading, personality, provides True Tears with copious amounts of playful cheerfulness which in turn adds a great deal to how relaxing and pleasing this anime is to watch.

Noe is the sort of character type that the western world used to do exceptionally well.

For the picture of her above raises images of Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, and even Robin Hood into my mind. The charismatic
nature-dweller, with a spirit of adventure, caught up in wondrous exploits. A tale full of eccentricity and lots of sweet sincere laughs, and simple straightforward swashbuckling style.

True Tears is yet another excellent exhibit in my case against political correctness in modern entertainment. Noe Isurugi is yet another pleasantly entertaining anime character that very likely would not pass muster with the modern PC police of western industrialized nations. After all, it's difficult to imagine a character like Noe being on the cast of a modern North American made and produced TV show, isn't it? She's too quirky and, as Shinichiro says, weird for that. But Noe is very much weird in a good way, as much as Shinichiro would like to deny it.

And just how adorable is the following?

I loved this particular scene, of Noe waving enthusiastically, with all the glee of a child on Christmas Day morning, at her dear new friend Shinichiro, located two or three stories above in his classroom. I particularly like how Noe is an absent-minded individualist. She's not actively trying to be inappropriate, and yet often she is. She just goes where her 'true heart' tells her to, and is utterly unconcerned with what could be called appropriate social behavior for where she lives. By 'utterly unconcerned', I'm not saying that she's actively bucking the norms of her society, but rather that she pays them no heed in any sense. She doesn't go out of her way to be a noticeable rebel, but nor does she avoid making a scene. I very much like characters like that. They are true and honest individuals, as they conform neither in a traditional sense, but nor do they conform to trying to be a "cool rebel". There is no pretentiousness to Noe at all.

And in a work where pretension abounds, that stands out a great deal.

One thing that I'm gaining a greater appreciation for as I watch more and more slice of life, and/or school life, anime, is the existence of a myriad of social taboos within modern Japan. Noe plays with these taboos nicely. Her giving chicken feed to Shinichiro, first in carefully placed pink paper wrapping and then later as a dotted line of droppings, results in a hilariously flustered Shinichiro, and the absurdity of Noe's activity here is played up well to give it a great punchline delivery. Noe's eccentric nature contrasts nicely with Shinichiro's strict adherence to social norms and values to result in a lot of quick laughs and quirky comedy.

Shinichiro's whole approach to life appears to reflect a prevailing sense of appropriate protocol for virtually every facet of life. Politeness, and minding one's manners, is valued a great deal. There are some things that you just don't say, or that you just don't do. These multifaceted social taboos appear to be alive and well in Japan.

This has its positives, in that coarseness and rudeness is lessened as a result, but it also erects many walls to building strong relationships. One gets the sense, at least from many animes, that the ways of romance is an intricate and intuitive game in Japan. It is almost like playing chess.

Given what I have read about Japan, these animes are accurately reflecting Japan in this regard at least.

This intricate and intuitive, heavily rule-based, game of romance, can result in extremely extraordinary exasperation on the part of shippers perpetually facepalming at their desired couple so often coming so close to hitting it off, only to have it dashed by some nuance of the social norms and mores of Japan. I certainly understand this frustration. However, this anime makes this game of romance a bit more enjoyable than usual, in my opinion.

In a very real sense, much of the first six episodes of True Tears is about watching Shinichiro try to realize his romantic desires while acting in strict accordance with the social norms and values of his Japanese heritage. It can be intriguing to watch how Shinichiro tries to achieve his goals within the confines of those social norms and values. Its akin to watching a pro sport where certain intricate rules require players to play a certain way in order to win. Ironically, limitations often results in increased creativity, as I often see much creativity in how some hockey players try to enter the offensive zone while abiding by the offsides rules, and I also see much creativity in how Shinichiro tries to move the plot to set himself up with Hiromi.

After six episodes, at least, it's plain to see that Hiromi is the girl that Shinichiro is most interested in. And watching him metaphorically bob and weave in order to move himself away from Noe, and towards Hiromi, is intriguing.

Adding an extra twist of complexity to this romantic conflict are the characters of Miyokichi Nobuse and Aiko Ando. As far as Miyokichi is concerned, they are boyfriend and girlfriend. And, in fairness to him, Miyokichi did ask her out in a very gentlemanly fashion, and Aiko did clearly accept, so one certainly can't fault Miyokichi for feeling that the two of them are basically "an item". However, Aiko drops many obvious hints of her preferring Shinichiro to Miyokichi. I am interested in seeing how this added wrinkle to the romantic conflict of True Tears will resolve itself in the last seven episodes of the anime.

However, I don't want to delve too deeply into the romantic conflict of True Tears in this Part 1 Review. Here I want to focus on initial impressions of the anime, based on my viewing of the first six episodes. In Part 2 of my review, I will deal more thoroughly with the plot of the anime, and with my thoughts on the romantic conflicts in it, and whether or not I liked how it was ultimately played out. I would ask any responders to this blog to please not spoil me there. ;)

My initial impressions of this anime are powerfully profoundly positive. I've already dealt with how I very much like Noe, but I also like all of the three main female characters

In an era when animes of even a slightly harem-esque nature tend to have female casts loaded with characters in the archetypes of tsundere, yamato nadeshiko, and shy bookwormish glasses-wearing girl, it is refreshing to see such a slightly harem-esque anime have no girls that fit neatly into either archetype. I'll grant you that Hiromi has some Yamato Nadeshiko qualities, but that is balanced somewhat by her being a great basketball player. Aiko can be a bit short-tempered, but she's nowhere near temperamental enough to be a tsundere, in my view. And Noe is in no way shy.

All three female characters are drawn to be visually appealing, albeit in slightly different ways. And while all three have personalities that fall within a believable range for a teenage girl, their personalities compliment and contrast one another nicely. On a character design basis, I like the added attention to detail that the anime shows with different clothes for each character, including well-drawn scarfs and detailed designs on boots and tops. The overall animation and artistic style of the anime is superb, in my opinion, and this really comes out with Noe, Hiromi, and Aiko.

However, what of the male cast?

I really like the easygoing friendship dynamic between Miyokichi and Shinichiro. It feels like Taniguchi and Kyon, but with 50% less snark and 50% more sincerity. You get a sense that these two guys genuinely like hanging out together, and they have a little bit of that comedian/straight man chemistry going on when they're together onscreen. That chemistry is not overplayed, though, and hence its kept amusing but realistic.

Watching two buddies go to a quaint little restaurant to relax into their seats and drink down colas with a straw is the very picture of relaxation too. When you factor in how the restaurant appears to be ran by one of the two guys' girlfriend, the whole scene starts to feel like something out of Cheers, but only refined to be appropriate for Japanese teenagers. It feels cool and warm, at the same time. That would be paradoxical if I was using those two terms in a literal sense, but I'm using them figuratively, of course.

And as far as figurative coolness is concerned, this guy has it in flying colors...

The Isurugis are certainly the showstealers of this anime. Jun Isurugi seems to have it all going on. He rides a slick motorcycle, he's an excellent basketball player, and he always comes across as cool, calm, and confident. His fashion sense is great without being flamboyant to a tacky degree. There never seems to be so much as a hair out of place on the guy. He's short and direct, but doesn't come across as shallow or superficial.

While Noe brings the charm factor to this anime, her loving older brother definitely brings the cool factor to this anime. I very much like the relationship between Noe and Jun as well. It's obvious that the two have a close sibling bond, with Noe looking up to her big bro and wanting the best for him, while Jun cares deeply for his little sister and gladly tolerates her eccentricities, albeit sometimes with some mild ribbing.

All in all, True Tears has been a joy to watch so far. I'm truly loving it. In Part 2 of this review, I'll have more to say about the plot and romantic conflict of the show. I'll write that part after I finish watching all of True Tears. I will say now that I think that the OP and the ED are both great. Really nice catchy beats in both cases, with alluring and/or amusing visuals.

So far, I'd give True Tears a rock solid 9/10. And I almost never give out 10/10s.

This concludes Part 1 of my review on True Tears. I'd love to know what my fellow fans of this anime think of that review. :)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Angel Beats! Review Version 1.1


Marvel Comics , of what's commonly referred to as the Golden and Silver Ages of western comics (early-to-mid 60s up through the 80s, IIRC), were (in)famous for loving to put many of their top superheroes in combat against one another just for sheer shits and giggles. And, well, to also play to rampant fan speculation on who would win between Popular Superhero A and Popular Superhero B. Loads of Marvel comics revolved around The Incredible Hulk vs. The Thing (of the Fantastic Four), The Incredible Hulk vs. Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk vs. Spiderman, The Fantastic Four vs. X-Men, The X-Men vs. The Avengers, and other such superhero(es) vs. superhero(es) conflicts. Some of these conflicts occurred frequently (such as Hulk vs. Thing, as pictured above), while some of these actually had their own short comic book series' revolving entirely around the conflict (the two I mentioned above involving the X-Men).

The fights between these superheroes could be a barrel full of fun for comic book fans, including myself at one point. But there was often very little lasting significance to them. The fights were typically over some sort of misunderstanding or another, the fights often ended inconclusively, and the fights frequently served more or less the same purpose as a staged boxing match: just entertain the audience.

... And now we come to Yurippe vs. Tenshi in the Angel Beats! anime. ;)

More on that later on.

I originally hadn't planned to write more on Angel Beats! until after the final episode was out. However, after watching through episodes 7 through 12, and taking some time to dwell on them and the series as a whole, I think that I finally have a pretty good idea of what Maeda was aiming for here. And that's what I want to share with you, good reader.

It's certainly possible that episode 13 will contain an unexpected plot twist (at least for me) that will render many of my observations in this blog entry incorrect. However, I honestly view that as unlikely, as I don't know if Angel Beats! can afford yet another major plot twist, and I suspect that Maeda realizes this as well. So, let's assume, at least for now, that episode 13 of Angel Beats! flows with what I now believe to be the case for this anime. If so, then the following is what I believe holds true.

I've read and skimmed through a lot of fan reaction to Angel Beats! on various blogs, and anime message boards. A common viewpoint I run across is that Angel Beats! went off the rails in episodes 6 through 10. That it was going great in the early going, but that it just lost sight of the core conflict that was supposed to be driving this anime.

But, you see, that "core conflict" was never the main idea behind this anime at all. Nor was it the section of this anime that was of the greatest plot significance. Rather, it was a Hulk vs. Thing. It was there almost purely for fan amusement, and entertainment value.

The real plot of Angel Beats! only begins to take off after Otonashi fully regains his memories. He then undergoes a considerable attitude change, and starts to view the circumstances surrounding him and his new found friends in a very different light. This change in attitude and viewpoint is helped along by Otonashi talking things out with Tenshi. Much like the Golden and Silver Age super hero conflicts of Marvel Comics, a lot of the conflict in Angel Beats! rests on simple misunderstandings. And also just like many of those super hero conflicts of Marvel Comics, the plot of Angel Beats! only begins to really pick up after the misunderstanding is resolved.

The basic plot of Angel Beats! is actually fairly simple. It's the story of a young man who dies, and awakes in an afterlife realm of some sort. This afterlife realm is like Purgatory meets the typical anime high school setting.

This young man awakes right next to the leader of a rebellious faction of sorts about to snipe her enemy. This young man is amnesiac, and hence has no clue what is going on, where he is, or how he came here. The leader of the rebellious faction instantly attempts to recruit him. Her enemy slices him and puts him through great pain after he poses a question that offended her. It's no surprise that he ultimately ends up siding with the rebellious faction, and quickly striking up many tight friendships with the members of that faction, including its leaders.

Conflict continues on between the two sides of this chaotic and free-spirited vs. lawful and obedient struggle, and the young man builds many tight bonds with his new comrades, and the rebellious faction enjoys great camaraderie as a whole. But then, as events pass by, and as misunderstandings are resolved, the young man realizes that the enemy girl is not really an enemy at all. That her goals are perhaps the correct goals.

And that's when the plot of Angel Beats! really begins to clarify. This young man, Otonashi, begins to help his comrades into trying to make peace with their former lives by aiding them in realizing their greatest desires in this afterlife realm. Otonashi, in his life on Earth, became a healer. He used this ability to great effect in the midst of a horrific tragedy that befell him and the many who were with him at the time. He discovered that his life on Earth did indeed have purpose and meaning. It had purpose and meaning in that he helped others, and left a good legacy behind. And in remembering this, the formerly amnesiac Otonashi came to a renewed place of contentment, and saw how he needed to help his friends achieve similar peace and contentment.

A key example of this is the episode in which Otonashi goes to great lengths to help Yui.

Now, due to how the SSS Brigade have essentially overstayed their welcome in a place that is supposed to be a temporary residence at best, this place begins to 'reset itself'. This provides a new source of conflict in the form of shadow/smoke monsters. While Yurippe rushes off to confront the source of this latest malady, Otonashi and the rest of the SSS Brigade deals with the cannon fodder.

But even this conflict is merely added icing on top to the central thrust of Angel Beats!. And that thrust is the story of a young man who goes from a physical healer to a spiritual healer, and who uses his healing talents to help his new found friends.

And that is, in short, the core of the Angel Beats! plot.

The Yuri vs. Tenshi conflict that precedes it is simply to provide vibrant vivacious visuals to entice the audience with. The first six episodes are the "fun factor" of Angel Beats! but it is not there that the core story is found to any great extent (although Episode 3 foreshadows that core story).

Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Tenshi, Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Naoi, Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Tenshi clones, Yuri and the SSS Brigade vs. Shadow/Smoke monsters... these are all intended to be fights that will hopefully encompass the core story of Angel Beats in flashy fantastic frenzy. It is to compliment a fairly simple and straightforward story with lots of great action and conflict. But the combative conflict itself is not the story.

This is unusual for anime, which is perhaps why many anime fans are puzzled at Angel Beats!

In anime, the real story often comes with the combative conflicts. The more peaceful moments of one character helping another is often perceived as welcomed breaks in the action, and a slice of life time of character or setting development. Those peaceful moments are relaxing moments of calm between the important moments of action.

Angel Beats! is the opposite: The action moments are entertaining moments of excitement surrounding the important moments of plot developments through basic spiritual healing.

It is Otonashi, and not Yurippe, that is the real plot focus and plot mover of this anime. That's not to take anything away from Yurippe, of course, but merely to stress how Otonashi is the true central figure of this anime. It is his actions that have the greatest plot significance. This is most clearly reflected in the anime itself by Yurippe allowing Otonashi's conflicting ideals to take root within her SSS Brigade, and then even requesting Otonashi to present his ideals to the SSS Brigade as a whole, making them a different and viable path that each member of the SSS Brigade can follow if they so desire.

Yurippe shows a great deal of maturity and selflessness in almost deferring to Otonashi here. She accepts that it would be unjust of her to force her own ideals on the rest of the SSS Brigade when they may very well be better served by following the path laid out by Otonashi and Tenshi.

Yurippe also demonstrates a great deal of belief and trust in Otonashi by allowing his own conflicting subgroup of the larger SSS Brigade to take root, and effect change. The sense I get is that while Yurippe would (will?) find it very difficult to follow the path outlined by Otonashi, she still realizes that Otonashi is at heart a good and trustworthy person, and that his path may be the easier and more fitting one for many SSS Brigade members to follow.

Yurippe shows good leadership here, as she puts the well-being of her subordinates ahead of herself.

That being said, Otonashi is the true protagonist of this anime.

Angel Beats! is a wonderful example of contrasts. Its plot twists and turns in ways that befuddle so many, yet its core story is actually simple and straightforward, as long as you don't get too caught up with its ostensible premise. Angel Beats!'s moments of peaceful character interaction often has more plot significance than its grand conflicts. Its stated premise is merely the catalyst for such conflicts, when the real story is something entirely different from its premise.

Angel Beats! is also so heavily infused with a plethora of outside inspirations, that it can be difficult to see the core story laying far beneath this superficial coating.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On!, and Clannad obviously influence this anime a lot. Interestingly, it also appears to be influenced by western media like The Matrix movies and the popular tv show Lost, and even the video game Kingdom Hearts (with the Shadow/Smoke Monsters being very similar to the Heartless).

Maeda clearly felt that he needed to dress up his simple story with a great deal of comfortingly familiar entertainment influences. He created so many conflicts, and so much comedy, to simply stretch this story out to 13 episodes.

This is why I think that the conventional wisdom on Angel Beats! may actually be incorrect. 13 episodes might be enough for this anime; even perhaps more than enough. While its shortness creates pacing issues, I suspect that Maeda may have had difficulty contriving yet more conflicts to keep Yuri and the SSS Brigade busy if he had to stretch out the rather straightforward core story of Angel Beats even more. I will say though, that Hinata/Yui definitely could have been developed a bit better.

All in all, though, if I'm right about Angel Beats! (episode 13 may yet prove me wrong), then this anime is better than I first thought. It's exceptionally ambitious, and has a nice heartwarming story surrounded by great amounts of exemplary action and explosive comedy. Otonashi is the spiritual successor to Tomoya, for just as Tomoya's story was often about helping out his friends (such as Kotomi) in a practical way, Otonashi's story is also about helping out his friends in a practical way.

I actually hope that there isn't a big plot twist in episode 13. Such a twist may ruin what Maeda has set up here. We'll just have to wait and see.

So, in conclusion...

This story was never about

Yurippe: It's Clobberin' Time!
Tenshi: Tenshi Slash!

But rather that was the fun precursor to the real story.

The story of a healer providing comfort to his friends.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Angel Beats! Review: Part 1

Angel Beats! has definitely been the most hyped series of the Spring 2010 anime season. At one point, I had been very much looking forward to it. My thinking upon seeing promotional art for it was that it would be like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, only much more action-packed. That seemed almost indescribably awesome to me.

However, I became disenchanted with the world of anime in general, which is partly why I took this blog on hiatus for a couple months. After being disappointed in some animes after initially being psyched for them, I decided to wait for new anime to mostly/entirely go through their entire airing before I'd look into them further. I wasn't in the mood for another disappointment, like I endured with The Sacred Boob... er, The Sacred Blacksmith, or with Kiddy Girl-And.

Angel Beats! was recently recommended to me anew by 0utf0xZer0 of Anime Suki, and since this recommendation was made near the end of its airing, I've since decided to watch some episodes of it.

I've decided that I'm going to review Angel Beats! in two halves. This "Part 1" will focus on the first six episodes, while "Part 2" (which I intend to release in about a week or two) will focus on episodes seven through thirteen. So, I write this review having only seen the first six episodes of the anime. This review is based purely on my impression of those first six episodes.

This may actually be a fairly short "Part 1" review, as there's really not a lot to say about Angel Beats! that hasn't already been said, imo.

I will say that Yurippe is certainly an intriguing character...

The similarity in her character design to that of Haruhi Suzumiya is certainly appealing to me, as Haruhi is one of my favorite anime characters of all-time. Yurippe's personality also bears some notable similarities to Haruhi's, at least in episodes 4 and 5. Yurippe raises the specter of exceedingly harsh "punishment games" in episode 4, and the way she put her subordinates through comedic abuse for distraction purposes in episode 5 also makes me reminisce of how Haruhi has often done the same to Mikuru Asahina.

However, there are other facets of her character. As much as she reminds me of Haruhi, it wouldn't be hard to picture Yurippe as the hypothetical daughter of Full Metal Panic's Sousuke Sagara and Kaname Chidori. Her expertise at personal and tactical combat reminds me of Sousuke, while her often explosive temper reminds me of Kaname. That being said, Yurippe is often very forthright and straightforward in what she says, reminding me slightly of Shana of Shakugan no Shana.

And what of the male lead of Angel Beats! ?

Otonashi, as evidenced by the scene pictured above, is often dragged along by the plot. He is often overwhelmed by the strong and vibrant personalities that are found all about the SSS. Otonashi is reasonably similar to Tomoya of Clannad. A solid main male protagonist, but not one that particularly stands out for me. I will say that he often comes across as the most reflective and thoughtful member of the SSS. There's a real impulsiveness to the SSS and their actions, while Otonashi tends to be more cautious and reserved.

But one character that rarely comes across as impulsive is Tenshi

Tenshi (or "Angel") certainly serves well as the ying to Yurippe's yang. Tenshi is soft-spoken, operates in a very orderly and economical fashion, and does not say much. She also is a largely solitary figure in this anime. After six episodes in, the true nature of Tenshi remains a mystery. However, it does not at this point seem likely that she is an actual angel. She is a very powerful character, though.

At this juncture, the readers of this blog may be wondering why I'm focusing more on characters than on the plot, or even the episodes themselves. This, after all, is not how I approached the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Clannad: After Story, or Umineko.

However, all of those animes (yes, even including Umineko) had plots that remained firmly rooted in their central premises and thematic drives. I honestly can't say the same for Angel Beats!.

Honestly, I don't know what Maeda is aiming for here. I don't know what the viewer is supposed to take away from this anime other than:

1) Bad stuff happens sometimes, and it's tragic, and it's Ok to feel angry or resentful over it.

2) It's good to have friends!

3) Slapstick comedy rulz!!!

Well... this is not entirely true. It's readily apparent that Maeda is aiming for a hit anime here. And on that measure, Angel Beats! is almost guaranteed to be a rousing success.

Let's run Angel Beats! through my four common strands of hit animes that I wrote up over on Anime Suki.

1. High Production Values - Angel Beats! has this in spades. The character designs are crisp and clean at worst, and gorgeous and appealing at best. The artwork is frequently superb, and always at least Ok. The animation quality is top-notch. The background music is solid, and the OP and ED both sound heavenly while being visually eye-catching. The voice acting is on par with that of other hit animes. Yes, Angel Beats! has high production values to be sure.

2. Strong Beginning - I don't know what Angel Beats! is aiming for, but whatever it is, it throws you right into it right off the bat. Waking up in the middle of the street, and then noticing a purple-haired sailor outfit-sporting teenage-appearing girl looking through the scope of a sniper rifle as she prepares to take a shot at her rival is certainly a fast start. Angel Beats! does do an admirable job of introducing you to most of the members of the SSS Brigade right in the first episode. Most, if not all, of these members have their own distinctive personality quirks, which means that even if you forget their names, you'll still be able to recognize each character by how he or she acts. Right now, I honestly can't recall the name of the classic buttmonkey character for this show (Hinata, I think?), but I could spot that poor pitiable blue-haired guy from a mile away. The same goes for the wicked axe/scythe wielder that defends Yurippe's honor at every turn, the guy who constantly adjusts his glasses to look smart, and so on and so forth.

A very colorful and eccentric cast to be sure. Maeda certainly knows how to make a zany crew of characters to keep the viewer entertained. And the beginning of Angel Beats! is, on the whole, pretty entertaining.

3. Good Comedic Moments - I've seen more laughtastic animes than Angel Beats!, but it does have good comedic moments. Episodes 4 and 5 were particularly memorable for their amusement value.

4. A Key Area of Strength - Much like Mai HiME, and Code Geass, before it, it's readily apparent that Angel Beats! is trying to hit each and every sweet spot for the modern otaku. You have your moe, you have your slapstick comedy, you have your great action scenes, you have your baseball episode, you have your standard school-life fare, you have your large quirkific cast, and you have your shout-outs to other popular animes (Haruhi implicitly, Clannad at an obvious inspirational level, K-On! with this anime's band, etc...). Once more, we have a veritable potpourri of trendy anime elements.

As it pertains to sheer commercial success, there's little doubt that Maeda has hit this one out of the ballpark.

Too bad that it doesn't stand up well to his previous Clannad work, in my opinion.

Oh, don't get me wrong, Angel Beats! is well-crafted entertainment. And it doesn't even really have any plot holes, per se.

But, as I said before, I don't know what Maeda is aiming for here.

The plot often feels haphazard and adrift. Not internally inconsistent, but chaotic nonetheless. We go from outright open warfare to a simple baseball game to trying to get a rival to fail her test. That's quite the range for literal (and proverbial) fields of battle.

Clannad was much more consistent, grounded, and structured in comparison. I had a better sense of where the characters were coming from, and why they were doing what they were doing. As best as I can tell, Yurippe and her SSS are simply having a presumably futile temper tantrum against God, and are trying to wreck havoc for its own sake. As amusing as that havoc can be, it's hard to see what Yurippe is truly fighting for.

Getting angry over horrific personal tragedy makes sense of course. The world often feels very cruel and unfair. But most people don't react to that by waging a perpetual proxy war against God. They may scream at the Heavens above, but they ultimately get on with their lives.

... And, in fairness, perhaps that idea is all that Maeda is aiming for here. That no matter what tragedy befalls you, you eventually have to find a place of peace and contentment and move on. In this anime, the "moving on" is symbolized by disappearance.

But if this is the case, then Yurippe is arguably a rather antagonistic figure, as her actions are almost certainly preventing the rest of the SSS Brigade from making their own peace, and moving on. When the original lead singer of Girl De Mo disappeared, the mood of the anime was not a particularly sad or tragic one, I felt. It seemed that since this lead singer reached a blissful moment of happiness and contentment, that she was able to move on, in at least one sense or another. Perhaps she moved on to Heaven. In any event, she was able to finally come to terms with her life and existence up to that point, and in doing so, perhaps her life was fulfilled, and its attachments relaxed themselves from her.

On the other hand though, the baseball episode of Episode 4 saw Otonashi prepared to go to great lengths to prevent another similar disappearance from occurring, so who knows?

But on yet another hand, Tenshi has been portrayed in a largely sympathetic light, while Yurippe was once said to "sound like a villain" by one of her allies. Maybe these hints aren't to be taken too much to heart, but perhaps they are intended to say something about the characters, and how we should view them.

All-in-all, I can decipher no clear thematic drive behind this Maeda work. Clannad and Clannad: After Story was clearly about the importance of friendship and family, of dealing with tragedy, of always aiming for your dreams, and of growing comfortable with where you live and are in life. These themes shone with the same glow as the orbs of light that often floated all about the scenery of Clannad.

But Angel Beats! leaves a great deal to personal interpretation. That is not necessarily a negative, but given the supernatural premise of this show, I find it a bit questionable.

I've read some arguments that Angel Beats! should just have been a
slice-of-life school-life show in the vein of K-On!, or the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's lighter moments. While the scenes of literal battle in Angel Beats! have often been exquisitely rendered and fun to watch, I can't help but feel that maybe these arguments are correct.

Much of the plot activity of the first six episodes of Angel Beats! could be comfortably contained within the context of a real life school without the heavy plot premise and vaguely supernatural setting attached. Indeed, perhaps such a real life school context would be more accessible in a way, as it's easier to relate to baseball on Earth than baseball in some bizarre version of Purgatory.

All of this being said, Angel Beats!, after episode six, still has the potential to be a classic here. There are elements here that enable Maeda to say something profound if he can just decide on what it is he wishes to say. And Angel Beats! has often been fun to watch. It will almost certainly be a commercial hit.

But unless it ends on a strong note, with a clear idea emanating forth from it, it will not be remembered as well as Clannad was.

As amusing entertainment, it hits a home-run. But as a story about ideas, it seems to miss the mark by aiming at too many targets, and not putting much effort behind either shot.

I'll give it 7/10 so far.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Looking back on Endless Eight, One Year Later

On the request of Dr. Casey of Anime Suki, I've decided to do a write-up on the one year anniversary of the beginning of the endless recursion of time. Itsuki Koizumi aptly called it an "Endless Summer", and that is what this arc proved to be for many fans of the the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya anime. While Dr. Casey's request spurred me to give further thought to Endless Eight, it is those thoughts themselves that leave me convinced that Endless Eight is worth revisiting at this time.

For one thing, the impact of Endless Eight on the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya franchise is a bit clearer now than it was almost a year ago.

Domestic (i.e. sold in Japan) Haruhi 2009 DVDs sold markedly worse than Haruhi 2006 DVDs did. While the global recession is unquestionably a factor here, as can be seen in how some prominent anime sequels tended to do worse in 2009 than their originals did in earlier years, I still hold that E8 is part of the reason for this decline in sales. I hold this viewpoint due in part to how Haruhi's anime is a more prominent one than any of the other ones that had relatively unsuccessful sequels in 2009. Hayate the Combat Butler, for example, is popular, but it's not on the level of Melancholy. Melancholy's level of popularity is around the level of that of Bakemonogatari and K-On!, and both of those sold perfectly well in 2009, even in the midst of a global recession. In short, I believe that Kadokawa and Kyoto Animation's choice to do eight episodes of Endless Eight, as opposed to spreading out its allotment of 14 new episodes over more than just three distinct sections of the Haruhi novels, likely cost them a few thousand DVD sales.

That being said, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie somewhat ironically represents a resurgence for the Haruhi Suzumiya franchise. Instead of making Haruhi's anime disappear out of the collective consciousness of anime fans to a further extent, it caused Haruhi's anime to regain much, if not all, of its lost popularity. At least in Japan. The theatrical release of that movie also makes it a bit clearer why Kadokawa and Kyoto Animation decided to go with eight episodes of Endless Eight.

In its totality (including the re-airing of Haruhi 2006 episodes) the Haruhi 2009 airing was clearly intended to reconfigure the Haruhi anime into a precise chronological order. Unlike the chaotic and scrambled ordering seen in the Haruhi 2006 airing, the Haruhi anime would now aim to present the story of the novels in its actual order of plot events. This reordering effort, combined with how the Disappearance movie was slated for early 2010, meant that the 14 new episodes of Haruhi 2009 could be spread out over only Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, Endless Eight, and Sigh. This was true barring anime original content, anyway.

In a very literal sense, Endless Eight was filler. You could even say that it was akin to a subordinate keeping the boss' command chair warm until the boss returns. Amusingly, Endless Eight was likely intended to simply kill time, rather than making a particular point of time endless.

At some level, I actually appreciate the vision that I now think was behind the choice to air eight episodes of Endless Eight. At the very least, that vision is understandable.

Haruhi 2009 had three principle goals, I believe. Now I hasten to add that this is largely speculation on my part. I obviously have no connections whatsoever to anybody at Kyoto Animation or Kadokawa. But even so, I think that if the Haruhi fan puts himself or herself in the proverbial shoes of the Haruhi anime producers, and tries to figure out why they did Haruhi 2009 the way that they did, that it is possible to arrive at a likely answer to that. And that likely answer includes the following three principle goals:

1. Bring the actual novel source material-based Haruhi anime back into focus, and ensure that anime fans do not move on from it.

The Melancholy of Haruhi-Chan, Nyoron Churuya-chan, and even numerous Haruhi references in Lucky Star, all helped to ensure that Haruhi never drifted too far from the minds of your average anime fan. However, all of these were short comedic spoofs. They bore little resemblance to the actual Harui novels. The Haruhi 2009 airing was meant to bring Haruhi fans back into the canon world of Kyon and Haruhi Suzumiya. To refamiliarize them with the core narrative that is the driving force of the Haruhi franchise. This goal is probably a big part of the reason why the episode ordering was reconfigured into chronological order.

With this in mind, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody was an excellent start for the new episodes, as its events are a focal point for the novels. It is in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody that we find out about John Smith, and it's in Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody that we see a particular past point in time that recurs in the novels almost as often as a certain two weeks in August recurs in the anime.

2. Promote the Upcoming Disappearance Movie

Without the Haruhi 2009 anime, the Disappearance movie would have been released with there having been four years since actual Haruhi novel material had been adapted into anime form. It may have been a bit more difficult to get people interested in watching a movie for a property that had not aired source material-based content in almost half of a decade. The Haruhi 2009 anime certainly served the purpose of wetting the appetite of Haruhi fans to see more novel-based anime content.

One thing I've learned about the anime fandom over the years is that, with precious few exceptions, its focus is almost always on the new and the fresh. Older animes can become quickly forgotten, especially without regular updates. This is even true of popular animes. Fate/Stay Night and Mai HiME were both very popular animes, but I haven't seen either talked about a lot in awhile. They finished airing a few years ago. Some of this is just human nature, of course, but it speaks to the importance of not letting your anime franchise stay out of the public eye for too long, if you hope for that anime franchise to have lasting success.

Also, on a more basic level, the Haruhi 2009 episodes were commercials for both the Haruhi 2009 DVDs, and the Disappearance movie. It gets the brand of Haruhi Suzumiya out there, and is helpful in a basic marketing sense.

3. Humanize the Characters of Haruhi Suzumiya and Yuki Nagato

Make the alien and deity seem more down-to-Earth and easy to relate to, in other words.

This is a somewhat new observation that I've made, upon just recently reflecting on Endless Eight. The part dealing with Yuki Nagato is old news, as E8's staunchest defenders pointed that part out a year ago (i.e. talking about how eight episodes of Endless Eight enabled the audience to more easily identify with Nagato and sympathize with her seemingly endless plight). It's probably true that the Endless Eight portion of the anime was designed, in part, to make fans of this anime series feel a tighter connection to Nagato, and to make us focus less on Nagato's otherworldly deadpan nature and reality altering powers, and more on the personable being laying beneath the often cold exterior. To show that, beneath all the highly technical monotone language and cosmic abilities, Nagato is still a real being with actual emotions that we can relate to. She is more akin to the Silver Surfer of Marvel Comics than to a truly emotionless alien interface. Indeed, it often seemed like she was getting drained or tired from the Endless Eight experience just as we were.

The part dealing with Haruhi Suzumiya is a completely new observation on my part, and I don't think that I've seen it dealt with a lot. After looking at some E8 screenshoots through various online image searches, and after thinking back on the events of E8, it occurs to me that E8 presented the character of Haruhi Suzumiya in a very different light than how Haruhi 2006 tended to do so.

Haruhi Suzumiya Version 2006 was bossy, brash, decidedly theatrical, highly eccentric, occasionally abusive, and even sometimes displaying a streak of megalomaniacal villany...

Notice how sharp, and angular Haruhi's features are. Notice her domineering poses and vaguely conceited mannerisms. The character designs and art style of Haruhi 2006 brings out the esoteric manipulative trickster in Haruhi. She is like the norse God of Mischief Loki. And her focus is ever on finding the alien or supernatural, or on expanding her SOS Brigade.

I've always felt that one of the key strengths of Haruhi's character is that she has an unique and playfully dynamic personality within a "girl next door" character design. This can be a very alluring combination. However, this can also be a double-edged sword.

While I personally like this side of Haruhi's character, I can understand why many dislike or even loath it. Sexually abusing meek girls and engaging in shady extortion scams isn't exactly laudable behavior. Focusing a lot on searches for the alien and supernatural is not particularly easy for the average viewer to relate to either.

Now... keep in mind the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. For this anime movie to have the desired impact on its viewers, it helps if:

1) The viewers miss Haruhi's presence just as Kyon does. They view her disappearance as more of a curse to be lamented over than a blessed relief to be thankful for.

2) The viewers agree with the decision that Kyon ultimately makes in that narrative.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya movie has been roundly acclaimed, and received very warmly by fans and critics alike. However, a few criticisms are there, and these tend to relate a great deal to simply the decision that Kyon makes in that movie. Simply put, the fans of the anime who like Yuki Nagato a lot and dislike the character of Haruhi Suzumiya, tend to not be entirely pleased with the basic plotline of the movie. It's an issue with the source material itself, really, and it's an issue rooted in character and shipping preferences.

I think that Haruhi 2009, and especially the Endless Eight portion of it, was intended to head off such potential critiques. It was meant to drastically soften the image of Haruhi, while making her easier for the average viewer to relate to. Case in point...

There's a stark contrast between Haruhi Suzumiya Version 2006 and Haruhi Suzumiya Version 2009, isn't there, good reader? Notice how soft and supple Haruhi's features are. Notice her child-like and innocent poses, and her friendly, serene mannerisms. She is now like the latest cast member of K-On!. She is like the actual "girl next door', who just wants to have fun and hang out with her friends. The SOS Brigade feels like a real group of close friends in E8. And consider what Haruhi does for fun in Endless Eight.

Swimming, dressing up in fancy clothes, taking part in local festivals, watching and setting off fireworks, stargazing through a telescope, bug-catching, bowling, taking batting practice, karaoke singing, eating ice cream and eating at restaurants with her friends. This is the very picture of normalcy for a teenage girl. These are commonplace popular recreational activities. It is eminently easy to relate to.

What I've wrote above may surprise some people as I've long been a critic of the artstyle and character design changes that Haruhi 2009 brought to the fore. I've also long been a fervent supporter of the artstyle and character designs of Haruhi 2006, which I loved then and still do love. However, I think I see what Kyoto Animation was aiming for with these changes now. It was not just Haruhi's appearance that was "K-Onified", but it was also her overall presentation. Haruhi was to become less Loki and more Yui, in appearance and personality alike. I'd hate for that to happen on a permanent basis, but as an one-time attempt to fully flesh out Haruhi's character and make her more likable to more viewers of the anime, perhaps it was worth it.

After all, a strong argument can be made that Endless Eight is Haruhi at her best, or at least nearest the point of a normal energetic friendly teenage girl. However, one episode of Endless Eight would easily be forgotten, and not leave much impression. Eight episodes of Endless Eight, however, can start to leave a profound impression. It can really change how people view the various members of the SOS Brigade.

In the case of Haruhi and Yuki, I believe that E8 was intended to humanize both. It was intended to increase the popularity and relatability of both characters. This is, again, to help ensure that the Disappearance movie would be well-recevied. The audience will now understand why Yuki did what she did in that movie a bit better. They may also feel sorry for her, which adds to the emotional poignancy of the movie. More of the audience will now also hopefully understand why Kyon wants so badly to reunite with Haruhi, and why he works so diligently to regain the SOS Brigade that he knows. Perhaps more of the audience will share in Kyon's desire to see Haruhi return.

So... did Endless Eight succeed in achieving these three goals? By and large, I would say that yes, yes it did. It's efforts with Haruhi was undermined somewhat by the Sigh section, which arguably features Haruhi at her worst. However, Haruhi in the anime adaptation of Sigh is portrayed in a bit of a better light than how she was in the novel source material, I would argue. This further supports my view that Endless Eight was intended, in part, to soften the image of Haruhi Suzumiya in the minds of anime fans.

Because Endless Eight succeeded in its goals, I now look back on it with less resentment than I felt when it was originally airing. Of course, a lot of my harsh critiques of Endless Eight that I made at the time were made without knowing when it would end, and when Disappearance would follow it up. A real fear existed that Endless Eight might take up all but one of the 14 new episodes of Haruhi during 2009, and also that Kyoto Animation might be actively avoiding adapting Disappearance. If those fears had been realized, than the anime's handling of E8 would have been absolutely disastrous for this anime franchise.

However, we did get to enjoy five episodes of Sigh, and we did get a Disappearance anime movie less than 12 months after Haruhi 2009 aired. And that negates a lot of the criticisms that were made of E8 while it was actually airing.

That being said, I still believe that E8 would have been better off if there had been more variation between the various time loops shown in the anime. Parts 1, 2, and 8 of Endless Eight were all fine, but Kyoto Animation should have spiced things up a bit more for Parts 3 through 7. Adding in a neat unexpected wrinkle for each of those middle parts. That is still how you do a Groundhog Day narrative right, in my opinion.

However, most if not all of the Endless Eight episodes were finely crafted with solid animation. Each showed evidence of a lot of hard work being poured into it by the animation staff. Neither episode was bad in and of itself. It was simply a case of repetitiveness leading to the whole being less than the sum of the parts. That was what I felt, anyway.

E8 was certainly a memorable event, and one that lended itself to many fanworks, including ones that I enjoyed making. As an inspiration for comedic fanworks, and humorous scathing reviews, Endless Eight was excellent. ;) And given that offerings of the anime world over the last 12 calender months have been pretty slim pickings for me, I can honestly say that I found most of E8 more enjoyable than a lot of the other animes that I did watch over the past 12 months.

My one remaining worry, though, is that E8 may yet turn off North American audiences. We will see how the North American release of the Haruhi 2009 season box set does. That box set does have a relatively inexpensive price point, and hence it may sell Ok.

In any event, the Disappearance movie provides a good launching pad for future Haruhi anime offerings, which I hope we will not have to wait long for.

In conclusion, E8 was very much hated, but I can say that it's aged better than similarly loathed sequels/prequels like the Batman and Robin movie, and Star Wars Episode 1. Those movies continue to live on in infamy for the Batman and Star Wars fanbases, but I think that E8 will be remembered by the Haruhi fanbase as just a silly little bump on the road, comparable to the stereotypical "low point" for bands or singers that tend to come up on VH1 Behind the Music specials. Maybe it's good for a long-running anime franchise like Haruhi to have a low point, as it fits nicely into an overarching anthology story like those Behind the Music specials. Comebacks are always great to have, and you can't have a great combeback without a memorable low point.

I'm just glad that this particular lowpoint wasn't truly endless. ;)

And, thankfully, it looks like while Kyoto Animation might have lost Haruhi's "lightning in the bottle" phenomena with the three year layoff, controversial art style changes, and eight episodes of E8, it has managed to do like Kyon and recapture a real spark in its hand thanks to Disappearance...