The Infinite Zenith

Victory costs. Every time, you pay a little more.

Backstory and Thoughts

Slice of life anime typically have no strong central plot, and as such, are more episodic than other genres. The development is more character-driven, with greater focus given to how characters mature and advance as a series progresses. In addition, humour plays a central role in much of these series; the simple and trivial things that are often glossed over in real life are revisited in greater detail, reminding us that life is about the little things just as much as it is the more important things. Of note is the fact that anime of this class will always be set in a world familiar to our own; there are no alternate histories or unusual events, instead, the world is one that we can easily relate to.

Depiction of a group of individual's lives is a fine balance of selecting the aspect that is the most worthwhile to centre events around. I enjoy slice of life anime for their depictions of individual's lives, and their parallels to reality, as well as some of the contrasts these shows have on what people are typically used to in their everyday lives, and ultimately end up being worth watching for being able to raise a smile for an individual.

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Azumanga Daioh

Azumanga Daioh chronicles the everyday life in a Japanese high school of six girls and two of their teachers: child prodigy Chiyo Mihama and her struggle to fit in with girls five years older, reserved Sakaki and her obsession with the cute animals who seem to hate her, spacey Ayumu "Osaka" Kasuga with a skewed perspective on the world, Koyomi "Yomi" Mizuhara's aggravation at an annoying best friend, Tomo Takino, whose energy is rivaled only by her lack of sense, sporty Kagura and her one-sided rivalry with Sakaki, and their homeroom teacher Yukari Tanizaki and her friend, physical education teacher Minamo "Nyamo" Kurosawa. The story covers three years of tests, talking between classes, culture festivals, and athletic events at school, as well as time spent traveling to and from school, studying at Chiyo's house, and vacations spent at Chiyo's summer beach home and the fictional theme park Magical Land, concluding with the graduation of the main cast.

Personal Opinion

As my first exposure to the slice-of-life genre, Azumanga Daioh was a straightforward anime centered around the lives of six individuals, each with a defining character trait which would eventually form the basis for a large number of anime concerning the lives of high school students. Azumanga stands out not for its innovation or inspiration, but its honest parody of the lives led by high school students. Comedy is achieved via strong juxataposition of character archetypes, allowing them to bounce off each other and providing for some interesting laughs. While Azumanga Daioh typically remains realistic, the anime also ventures into surrealism at times, which creates a unique plane for the storyline. With a minimalistic plot and relying almost entirely on character interactions to drive events forward, Azumanga Daioh is remarkably easy to follow. Having graduated from high school several years ago, Azumanga Daioh holds one additional appeal to me: that of nostalgia from my old high school days, whether it be hanging out with my friends or gloating about my performance on a recent exam. There is one final aspect that is worth mentioning about Azumanga Daioh: contrasting most anime, I recommend the english dub over the original Japanese audio.

 

  • From left to right: Sakaki, Chiyo Mihama, Ayumu Kasuga, Koyomi Mizuhara and Tomo Takino. Individuals who've graduated from high school will find Azumanga Daioh to be quite successful at invoking their high school memories. For me, I especially enjoyed the classes I had with my friends; I recall fond memories of talking about computer hardware with a buddy of mine in biology, and World of Warcraft in math class.

  • Personality-wise, I myself resemble Yomi the most of anyone in Azumanga Daioh. Smart, hardworking and mature, she is also very self-conscious about her weight, something Tomo is quick to point out. Her character type is typical of the straight man, while Tomo acts as the fool; this pairing is known as the tsukkomi and boke routine, and is common to many anime, such as Lucky Star (Kagami and Konata) and K-On! (Mio and Ritsu).

  • Unlike the slice-of-life anime that succeeded Azumanga Daioh, the interactions between the teachers at a school form an alternate side to the story. These depictions illustrate how teachers are also human (contrary to popular belief by some students), and how their personalities also contribute to the unique environment found at a school. For me, I had several instructors with similar personalities to both Yukari and Nyamo. They had great talent for making the material interesting, and is in part why I chose to pursuit a career in bioinformatics and medicine.

  • Some memories will remain with you all your life, and in particular because your friends were present. While I never had snowball fights with my friends, we held LAN parties every so often on weekends to celebrate the passing of midterms and finals, or simply the beginning of a long weekend. Those LAN parties were characterised by lots of LCD screens, XBox 360s, Ethernet cables and of course, lots of Halo 2, 3 and Reach.

 

  • One cannot help but feel that they are graduating with the cast of Azumanga Daioh when the show ends, having enjoyed three year's worth of experiences, life lessons and comedy in 26 episodes. Azumanga Daioh stays in the viewer's heart long after the last episode has ended; whether you are new to anime or a veteran, Azumanga Daioh is an essential to watch, embodying how anime with minimalistic animation and plot development can be successful when the characters themselves are the driving point behind the story. That said, an individual cannot consider oneself an 'anime veteran' without having seen this anime first.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai

Hasegawa Kodaka is a recent transfer student to St. Chronica's Academy, a Catholic high school. As with every other school he has ever attended, he finds it difficult to make friends there because of his naturally-blond hair and fierce-looking eyes, which make him look like a dangerous "yankee" to his prejudiced schoolmates. One day, Kodaka accidentally comes across the equally solitary and very abrasive Yozora Mikazuki while she converses with her imaginary friend Tomo. Realizing that neither of them have any social lives, they decide that the best way to improve their situation is to form a club: the Neighbor's Club precisely intended to make friends and learn social skills.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai- Personal Opinion

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is held as one of the most engaging anime offered in Fall 2011, and for good reason. The basic premise is simple: Yozora's goal was to form the Neighbours Club with the purpose of developing deeper bonds with other individuals, simply known as friends. She enlists Kodaka into the club, and soon enough, they amass a diverse cast which ultimately drives the entire basis for the comedy in the series. These individuals have a wide range of backgrounds, leading to a diverse range of interactions between everyone, whether it be Yozora and Sena picking fights with each other wherever they go, Rika and Yukimura's relationship with Kodaka, or Maria and Kobato finding themselves at odds with each other over backgrounds and interests. Coupled with references and jokes about video games and classic anime events (e.g. going to a friend's home or a summer festival), Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai demonstrates how a group of individuals can interact with each other and eventually be as close as any friends. This approach is immensely successful in entertaining a view because everyone has experienced something of this level; whether it is going to a new school or workplace, one eventually finds a group of individuals that they can associate well with, leading to friendship. In Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai, all of the Neighbours Club's members are friends in everything but name. When everything is said and done, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai is an instance of how anime with a simplistic premise can efficiently deliver amusement.

  • I love how at some point, the entire cast always appears on screen, providing a perfect opportunity to match names to faces. If the cast is relatively small, then an anime becomes that much easier to understand and follow. This is the case here: from left to right, we have Yukimura Kusunoki, Rika Shiguma, Sena Kashiwazaki, Yozora Mikazuki, Kobato Hasegawa, Kodaka Hasegawa and Maria Takayama.

 

  • It's been an eternity since I've played any RPGs, although in all honesty, shooters can waste time just as efficiently. When the series first started, the focus was more on gaming, and with it, all the comedy about gamers. There are really two types of gamers: a casual gamer (e.g. Kodaka), and a hardcore gamer (e.g. Sena). Contrasting Lucky Star, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai explores humour associated with griefing; we see Sena and Yozora team-kill each other in an RPG, although, strangely enough, they seem to have similar approaches to playing dating sims.

 

  • I associate well with the concept of not using a cell phone unless it is absolutely necessary. This episode proved to be amusing despite the fact that the focus is really about getting cell phones to work. There is actually a lot of fanservice in this anime, but its presence simply boosts the comedic value of a scene. Whether it is outrageous moments or the more subtle ones, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai delivers humour in the best possible way: through simple events.

 

  • Yozora and Sena constantly try to one-up the other; it is clear that Yozora can constantly push Sena to tears, but she is also envious of Sena's status and appearance. Despite this vitriolic relation (or perhaps because of it), Sena and Yozora end up appearing being the closest out of all the members in the Neighbours Club. 

 

  • The entire reason Yozora founded the Neighbours Club was because of her desire to rekindle her friendship with Kadoka; this revelation gives the Club (and its ensuing activities) a far greater value than might have otherwise been present. With the series over, Kodaka is content to hang around the club, and the viewers are left with an anime that is incredibly entertaining owing to the humour resulting from traditional anime events, and strangely enough, fanservice.
Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT- Personal opinion
 
I was already excited when Boku wa Tomodachi Sukunai NEXT was announced; having thoroughly enjoyed the first season, I walked into the series with anticipation of great humour. Thus, I was left somewhat disappointed when episode one began the season slightly weaker than I had hoped. However, by the time the culture festival rolled around, these feelings had dispersed completely. The second season succeeded in establishing more conflict amongst the characters than the previous season: I found the plot in the second season to be substantially more solid relative to the first season, but the stronger plot did not detract from any of the humour, and similarly, the humour does nothing to take away from the plot (and in fact, strengthens it). Despite it being obvious since seaosn one, Boku wa Tomodachi Sukunai NEXT definitively illustrates that the members of the Neighbours Club are indeed friends, and it is through Kodaka’s admission to Rika that really drive home this point. However, at the same time, there are too many unknowns concerning Sena and Yozora; this could have easily been a 26-episode anime, and likely would have maintained all the glitz and humour of its current incarnation. When all is said and done, Boku wa Tomodachi Sukunai NEXT is an exemplary sequel to Boku wa Tomodachi Sukunai; much as how CLANNAD After Story dived into the more intricate inter-personal elements after CLANNAD, Boku wa Tomodachi Sukunai NEXT succeeds in representing the challenges and adventures that this band of misfits have with one another.  While its brand of humour may not be suited for all parties, individuals with an open mind (or who’ve seen this series before) will have no trouble enjoying the second season to an already excellent series. Naturally, for those who have not seen this series before, it will be necessary to pick up season one, but as previously noted, it is excellent and sets the stage nicely for season two.
 
  • The first few episodes bring back all of the humour and comedy from the first season in full swing. Given that most of the characters have already been established, NEXT jumps immediately into the swing of things; here, we have another classic moment, where Sena is forced to read an eroge passage from one of her games. I personally find it somewhat incredible that such content could pass through without being censored- with most anime being animated in HD now, it is somewhat of a surprise to see Sena's screen as it appears, without any suppression. 
  • NEXT sees the introduction of Sister Kate Takayama, Maria's older sister, and several members of the student council in the later episodes. Despite her rocky relationship with Maria, it is shown that the two truely care for one another; this trend holds true for all of the characters within the series, except perhaps Yozora, whose actions this season implies she started the Neighbours Club for the sole purpose of getting closer to Kodaka.
  • One of the highlights in NEXT is the Neighbours Club's trip to an amusement park. Paralleling Yozora and Sena's ceaseless need to compete with one another in a summer festival, the two attempt to ride the main attraction, a roller coaster, until their inner ears and colon decide to surrender.
  • The last arc in NEXT concerns a movie the Neighbours Club puts together for the culture festival, bringing to mind the film the SOS Brigade field. However, the Neighbours Club has Rika in their corner, and she proves to be a capable film editor. After several misadventures with the script, the club agrees on one story; even Yozora finds herself getting into the festivities.
  • The "whole point" of NEXT was really to illustrate just how far the Neighbours club has come since season one, and while some elements, such as Kodaka's relationship with the remainder of the Neighbours Club (specifically Sena, Rika and Yozora) are only mentioned in the passing, other details, such as Kobato and Maria realising that they are really friends and the subsequent carrying over of this realisation between Kodaka and Rika, really shined in this series. The possibility for a third season may exist: there is still much they can do with the story. This is perhaps an aspect of the slice-of-life genre, reflecting that there isn't a particular ending point to the journey, but rather, milestones.

Hanasaku Iroha

Hanasaku Iroha centers around Ohana Matsumae, a 16-year-old teenager living in Tokyo, who is left in the care of her estranged grandmother, following her mother's elopement with her boyfriend. Ohana arrives at her grandmother's country estate to realize she is the owner of a Taishō period hot spring inn called Kissuisō. She begins working at Kissuisō, at her grandmother's request, but finds herself at odds with many employees and customers at the inn. Initially feeling discouraged, she decides to use her circumstances as an opportunity to change herself for the better and to make amends with her deteriorating relationship with the Kissuisō's staff for a more prominent future.

Personal Opinion

There are few anime which I have enjoyed to the same extent as Hanasaku Iroha: this was characterised by the fact that episodes seemed to fly by too quickly, and I would be left waiting for the next installation at the end of each week. The first aspect of Hanasaku Iroha that caught my eye were the incredible level of detail present in the artworks; PA Studios ensured that each scene is beautifully rendered, with the end result that everything ranging from the scenery to the subtle everyday items seem almost tangible. I'll cease my descriptions of the art here, given that this is something a viewer may only really understand and enjoy by experience. We thus turn to the elements that drive Hanasaku Iroha across a 26 episode journey, namely, character growth and interactions. Hanasaku Iroha takes a slight departure from more typical slice of life anime by integrating a loosely defined, underlying story centred around the Kissuiso Inn and its neighbouring community, culimating at the Bonbori Festival. It is a simple drama story at heart with comedic elements (facial expressions, similar music execution to Lucky Star at some points), but as with all slice-of-life anime, character growth and development remain powerful forces. Ohana is our protagonist: at 16 years old, she is being sent to work at an inn, leaving a best friend and a hometown. She initially comes across as very forceful and careless individual, who undergoes tough new changes to her life. However, her experiences at the Kissuiso Inn and her co-workers guide her into becoming a more independent girl who shoulders the responsibilities of work, love, friendship, family and balance, although she remains as forceful as she was at the story's beginnings. This retention of her character throughout the story drives the development of two other characters: Minko and Nako. The former's actions and personality was driven by a dislike for Tohru's growing interest in Ohana (who in turn is determined to convince Minko that her fate lies with Tohru), while Nako is a quiet girl who gently guides Ohana as things fall to chaos and revealing a highly thoughtful individual underneath the shyness. The complex character dynamics, drama and underlying dynamics are paired with highly realistic turn of events, reminding us that reality is often unkind, and that in some situations, miracles will not appear: we must work for them.

Ultimately, the entire point of Hanasaku Iroha is realising one's identity, and how this correlates with one's future objectives. Ohana's internal conflict with her feelings for Koichi Tanemura and her future with the Kissuiso; eventually, she comes to terms with both of these through her experiences as a waitress at the Kissuiso, and her conversations with other characters, which gradually broaden Ohana's sense of self and what she ultimately wishes to do in her life. When all is said and done, Hanasaku Iroha becomes an essential part of anyone's anime collection hands down for its execution, as it exemplifies how anime set in an ordinary world can nonetheless captivate us with a specific portrayal of the mundane, and how simple things like individual's aspirations drive their interactions with their surroundings. There is nothing patricularly deep about Hanasaku Iroha that most viewers seem to be impatiently expecting; I showed up for a unique, well-animated drama-comedy, and I was well-treated.

 

  • Hanasaku Iroha is one of the few anime in my library that match Five Centimetres per Second and Gundam Unicorn in terms of grandeur with respect to the artwork and design of concept. Despite being a teen drama, it is nonetheless well executed, delving into the intricate nature of life and relationships.

 

  • This is Koichi Tanemura, Ohana's best friend. He and Ohana attended the same high school back in Tokyo. Kōichi confessed his feelings to Ohana before her departure, but was too afraid to hear her answer and ran away. He sent her a text message a few days later telling her to try her best. I remember him best for helping me remembering the hiragana monograph "こ", which is his nickname.

 

  • Enishi (centre) is the manager of the Kissuiso. He is Satsuki's younger sister and Ohana's uncle; as the manager, he does his best to ensure the success of the Kissuiso.

 

  • The entire staff of the Kissiuso is as follows (from left to right): Denroku Sukegawa, Tohru Miyagishi, Renji Togashi, Minko Tsurugi, Ohana Matsumae, Nako Oshimizu, Tomoe Wajima, Tarou Jiromaru, Takako Kawajiri and Enishi Shijima. The Madame Manager is absent from this particular capture.

 

  • Despite being a drama, comedic elements are present every so often, whether it be the white eyes characters express when surprised or shocked, or the BGM going out of tune in a similar manner to what happens in Lucky Star when a character's dialogue incurs the bewilderment of other characters. These elements allow Hanasaku Iroha to portray humour when required, adding a genuine slice-of-life feel to things in general.

 

  • This is the infamous bathroom fight; Minko's feelings for Tohru (and Tohru's for Ohana) seem largely unrequited (rather similar to how a great deal of feelings exist in reality), leading festering emotions to reach boiling point. Up until this point, Minko has tried to lessen her animosity with Ohana by calling her a "balut" in place of telling her to "die", so the fact that Minko reverts to her use of "die" implies that her feelings for Tohru are particularly strong.

 

  • Minko has a rather curious background: against her parents' wishes, her dream is to become a professional chef, resulting in her search for training opportunities. Her search led her to Kissuiso, where she pleaded for a job opportunity. It was Tohru who eventually convinced the manager to hire her. She is dedicated to her job and displays great jealousy when Ohana is praised by the other staff members.

 

  • While she typically comes across as a cold character, Minko does have a warmer side to her (i.e. when Tohru isn't involved. That said, she isn't a tsundere type character, and her interactions with Ohana are among the most dynamic in the entire series.

 

  • This is the Madame Manager, Ohana's 68-year-old grandmother and owner of Kissuisō. She has a fierce and strict composure towards her employees and holds no hesitations in physically disciplining them. However, she also demonstrates great skill at running an inn, and values the customers above everything else.

 

  • This image is to give an impression of just how pro the graphics are in Hanasaku Iroha. The only other anime out there that rivals it is Five Centimetres per Second. The Bonbori Festival is mentioned continuously throughout the series, and its importance is made known only in the final episodes. All the accumulated efforts, preparations, emotions and desires congregate here.

 

  • Yuina Wakura with Yosuke Himawari, a relative of the former. He instills in Yuina a desire to learn more about working at an inn, after telling her that he prefers hard-working people like Ohana.

 

  • Ohana's tendency towards acting on impulse leads her towards many trials. She finds out the hard way about another girl's feelings for Koichi, gets rained on trying to drive a point home to her mother and nearly gets run over while in Tokyo.

 

  • Minko rejects every guy who tries to ask her out because of her crush on Tohru. To this end, she vehemently rejects her classmate's assistance and requests for a school festival project; as the chef, her desire to be noticed by Tohru leads her to contridict herself (she says that emotions should not affect how one works) and ultimately, it takes Ohana's meddling to convince her to change her mind.
 
  • This is Satsuki, Ohana's mother.She is a struggling novelist who elopes with her boyfriend to evade his debt. After she dumps her boyfriend, she takes up a position as a hotel and inn critic, being asked to write scathing reviews if asked by her higher ups. While she initially gives a poor review of the Kissuiso, Ohana convinces her to return and see the inn for herself. Satsuki comes to realise the importance of the Kissuiso in Ohana's life, and eventually writes a second review. By the events nearing the end of the story, she and the Madame Manager are on better terms with one another.
  • While Ohana does her best to "fest it up", her initial efforts end in failure. She learns to take these failures as cues for how to carry things out in the future, and in affecting the entire staff of the Kissuiso, comes to change herself and becoming a lot more mature and independent. 
 
  • Aeschylus said "Through suffering alone comes wisdom". We see Ohana torn apart repeatedly through the course of Hanasaku Iroha, whether it be her relationship with Koichi, or interactions with her co-workers. However, she learns to accept things as they are, reflecting on how reality is often unkind to idealism. 

 

  • In spite of these challenges, Ohana continues to persist and works hard to become a full-fledged employee at the Kissuiso. As a result of the unique environment at the Kissuiso, Ohana aspires to be a waitress, and feels that her dreams only came to be understood as a consequence of someone else's dreams.

 

 

  • Ohana and Nako pray at a local shrine. Nako is perhaps my favourite character: while she is shy and timid , she is confident about her swimming ability, which she started when she was only three. She also is a lot more confident at home, and likens her situation to being a mermaid marooned on land. Nako came to the Kissuiso with the intention of changing herself to be more confident, and in doing so, is one of the first people to befriend Ohana.

 

  • Life gives you a lemon, you can either make lemonade, or wing the lemon back and add some lemons of your own. Hanasaku Iroha is a unique, amusing drama about the lives of teenagers. I've always felt the execution to be highly similar to the Cantonese TV Dramas that are popular in Hong Kong. This anime is a highly worthwhile one to follow, so if you have not already done so, do go ahead and watch it.

Shinryaku!! Ika Musume

A squid girl named Ika Musume vows to conquer humanity as revenge for its pollution of the ocean. Her first task is to make the Lemon beach house, owned by the Aizawa sisters, her base of operations. However, when she accidentally breaks a hole in their wall, she is forced to work as a waitress to pay off the damages.

Season One- Personal Opinion

Before continuing, I would like to clarify some of the conventions: Ika Musume will refer to the show in general, and the character will simply be referred to as Ika. Ika Musume is comedy at its finest, whether it be the traditional slapstick variety or the finer forms of dramatic irony. Ika Musume's base premise is not too dissimilar to Keroro, although this time, our invader hails from the sea. Ika's lack of understanding about human civilisation in general forms the basis for much of the humour, which drives the basis for each episode, with Ika's interactions with Eiko, Chizuru, Sanae and the remainder of the cast complementing the storyline. Each episode is split into three independent stories, each of which has a central theme, although the degree of autonomy between episodes means that each set of three episoes is well-crafted and paced, allowing for the central theme to carry over. The end result is that an overarching story subtly supports the comedy, which is forefront in this anime. Whereas other anime like Lucky Star and K-On were designed with comedy in mind, Ika Musume capitalises on its unusual premise to create highly unique jokes that the former two anime cannot access. Ultimately, the value in Ika Musume stems from its unique comedic style: while the character designs and premises are nothing new, the synergy resulting from this combination of aspects creates a series that is refreshingly new and highly amusing to watch.

  • The anime is named around Ika, who is a personification of deep ecology in objectives. However, Ika Musume is anything but a long-winded Aesop about the risks of human activity. I've come to hold a degree of caution towards green politics, as most of its supporters are only willing to point out the name of the problem without proposing any viable solutions. However, this is definitely not the case in Ika Musume, as the inclusion of comedy acts to illustrate Ika's misadventures and attempts to conquer humanity.. 

 

  • Ika's tentacles are a central device behind the plot; while they are capable of many functions, they are put to use in the Lemon Cafe. Other viewers feel that Ika Musume does capitalise on moé elements, this is one of those few shows where moé is not the central focus.

 

  • One of my favourite scenes is in the third act to episode five, where Sanae has a dream involving a miniaturised Ika. It is done entirely in the absence of dialogue, detailing Eiko's finding Ika in a jar and the time they share together. It is clean, concise and beautiful, reminding me of some of those Calvin and Hobbes Sunday comics Bill Waterson used to draw.

 

  • Slapstick violence is executed for the sole purpose of comedy in this show; the entire story kicks off when Ika damages the wall at the Lemon Cafe, forcing her to pay of the damages. Chizuru gazes out the hole following Eiko's delivery of a beatdown on Ika. While Eiko is the typical tsunder-like character, Chizuru has a darker side to her despite normally being a kind character.

  • I was introduced to this series by a friend who felt that the comedic value of this series made it worthwhile; indeed, the series lives up to its expectations as a fantasy-comedy. At only 12 episodes long, it is on the short side, making it worthwhile for almost anyone.
Season Two- Personal Opinion 
 
When season two was first announced, I decided to take it up, given the amusement the first season had delivered. However, I never got around to watching the episodes as they aired, and instead, found the series to be sidelined until after my summer courses had ended. Having been a year since I last watched this series, Ika Musume II succeeded in bringing back memories of what made the first season so enjoyable. This time around, the premise is less about the invasion and more about character dynamics, as well as accentuate some of the character attributes from the previous season. Thus, this second season appears to be more over the top in a few regards, and brings out amusement in a different manner than the first season.

  • From left to right, we have Ayumi Tokita, Sanae Nagatsuki, Nagisa Saitō, Eiko Aizawa, Ika Musume, Gorō Arashiyama, Chizuru Aizawa, Takeru Aizawa and Kiyomi Sakura (along with two of her friends). Since season one, the cast has diversified a little.
  • Despite her frequent irritation towards Ika Musume, Eiko cares for her more than she cares to admit. This becomes a driving point for the finales to both seasons and are perhaps some of the stronger stories in a series that is generally focused on delivering (successfully) comedy.
  • The owner of the Southern Winds presents a more hospitable side to his character, contrasting season one, and gives thanks to Chizuru and Eiko for helping his daughter socialise. 
  • If there were a single episode I were to cite as one of the most amusing across both seasons, it would be act one of episode 4 in season 2. After Takeru has trouble understanding a tourist, Cindy holds an English-teaching session, with Eiko being the only one who doesn't understand anything. The entire act was off the chain, primarily because I am a native speaker. While I certainly don't need the subtitles, they add another level of amusement to the episode.
  • Mini Ika Musume makes a return appearance several times this season. As per the previous season and the bonus episodes, they are done almost entirely in the absence of dialogue and are every bit as enjoyable as the one we saw back in season one.

Tamayura ~Hitotose~

Tamayura ~Hitotose~ centers around a young girl named Fu Sawatari who moves to Takehara, Hiroshima to begin her first year of high school. Her father, now dead, grew up in Takehara, and this is her first time back in the town in five years. Fu enjoys photography and is often engrossed with taking pictures with her father's old Rollei 35S film camera. A shy girl, Fu tries her best to make friends early on, spurred on by her childhood friend Kaoru Hanawa. She quickly becomes friends with two other girls, Maon Sakurada and Norie Okazaki.

Personal Opinion

Tamayura ~Hitotose~ is, in concept, a simple anime much like the other slice-of-life type anime I've had the opportunity to watch. However, the implementation proves otherwise, beginning with our cast. Fu Sawatari is clumsy and chases her dreams for photography. Norie Okazaki is highly excitable, but is an excellent cook. Kaoru Hanawa is more serious than the others and is infaturated with aromas. Maon Sakurada is quiet and has a diverse range of interests. Each of the protagonists bring something unique to the table, and ultimately, dedicates their time towards persuit of a dream. The idea of self-actualisation forms the fundamental basis for the plot: while each of the characters are uncertain of their wishes, they eventually come to realise that uncertainty is but a part of the path to the future. This is especially apparent during the preparations for the New Year's Eve exhibition, as Kao eventually comes to terms with her own interests and decides that her action is through showcasing Fu's photographs, Norie's culinary works and Maon's talents on the stage. Through their experiences, each of the girls understand that the memory of an event goes hand-in-hand with the emotions and feelings of an event; in fact, this idea is represented by Fu's camera, an momento of her late father. At her younger brother Kou's encouragement, Fu decides to wield the camera once more and captures many memories with it, fulfilling its intended purpose and coming to terms with her own wishes. With simple (almost minimalistic) visuals and an excellent soundtrack, Tamayura ~Hitotose~ is one of the more relaxing anime out there: paired with the clean, concise plot, Tamayura ~Hitotose~ stands out for being a peaceful, calming anime depicting the lives of four girls (and their neighbourhood) as they would genuinely appear, free of any facades.

  • From left to right, Maon Sakurada, Kaoru Hanawa , Norie Okazaki and Fu Sawatari. Tamayura ~Hitotose~ depicts life in a manner similar to Azumanga Daioh: humour comes from everyday interactions and subtleties rather than any over-the-top drama. Each of the characters have unique traits (Fu's shyness, Maon's whistling) that make them unique from the traditional slice-of-life characters. That isn't to say there aren't similarities: in particular, Kaoru is reminiscent of Kagami from Lucky Star.

 

  • Riho Shihomi (back in the first column) is a professional photographer who took an interest in Fu after she sent her some of her photos. She gave Fu a train ticket with no destination, representing the fact that life isn't always about the destination, but rather, the journey itself.

 

  • The Bamboo Festival exemplifies some of the artwork in this series. The anime depicts Takehara in all of its glory, as it appears in real life, whether it is details in the rustic architecture or the geography. In doing so, viewers are taken along on a visual journey of the island, exploring some of the more notable spots (such as the hiking trails) or more notable restaurants.

  • Music usually plays a significant role in directing the mood of a scene. In the case of Tamayura ~Hitotose~, the musical score is very warm and relaxed. The tracks feature piano and woodwind instruments predominantly to bring out the gentleness within the characters, the fact that the story is calm and ultimately, succeeds in brining Takehara to life. That said, Takehara is a city in Hiroshima and was rendered in great detail for the anime. The kinds of contrasts and similarities will be discussed on my blog.

  • Having read through the review and scrolled through the pictures, readers now know of the aspects that make Tamayura ~Hitotose~ worthwhile. So...the inquisitive mind now wonders: why would a student such as myself watch this anime? The answer is quite simple: Tamayura is ultimately about finding a way and following a dream, even if the way forward is uncertain. This parallels reality in my case, making the series' sentiments it is very easy to relate to. For instance, the train ticket and the character's uncertainty reflect on an impending MCAT and medical school applications. I realise this is a path I choose to walk, but whether or not I possess the necessary characteristics is a different matter. The New Year's Eve exhibition everyone puts together at the end of the series is a reminder that others view our actions and accomplishments in a different light than we would ourselves. Having spent the past summer designing a rudimentary virtual model of the nephron, and presenting it at two different symposiums, I can attest to the atmosphere present during the presentation, and that it differs radically than when I'm coding or discussing concepts and ideas with members of the lab.

Tari Tari

The last year of high school is always a time of both looking forward and looking back. Before you lives the future, alternately bright and scary. Behind you lie memories, both happy and sad. And somehow, in the course of one year, you have to reconcile those two and decide where your life is going to go. For Wakana Sakai, who had started studying music, it's time to face the tragedy that made her abandon that path. For Sawa Okita, it's about her dreams of riding professionally. And for Konatsu Miyamoto, it's about bringing her friends together through the magic of song. Can something as simple as the formation of a chorus club really help solve the hurts and pangs that come with growing up? Can music bring people together despite their differences?

Personal Opinion 

When I first heard about Tari Tari, I had next to no idea of what to expect, and when I finished the last episode, I suddenly realized that Tari Tari was not merely an excellent anime, but rather, the most worthwhile series to grace Summer 2012. Tari Tari seemingly appears to be yet another anime in line about slice-of-life, and while there's nothing particularly revolutionary about that in itself, the charm in this series lies in the characters themselves, their aspirations, and how they go about realizing these aspirations within their environment. Indeed, how the cast goes about handling their problems eventually leads them to develop strong friendships with one another, giving rise to dramatic elements in the series, much as how Hanasaku Iroha did. Tari Tari shares a large degree of similarity with Hanasaku Iroha superficially, in terms of both character design and music, but whereas Hanasaku Iroha was about rising to new challenges, Tari Tari is more about the aspiration to do something meaningful as one era ends. Right from the beginning, Konatsu is depicted to have a singular desire: to sing, and by episode two, has already amassed a small group to perform at a joint recital. Once this passes, Wien, Sawa and Wakana's personal stories are explored. These stories are both serious and amusing at times, reflecting on the show's title, Tari Tari, which roughly approximates to "This and that" in English. The new club that Konatsu founds is precisely about this and that, being christened "The Choir and Sometimes Badminton Club", and by extension, the anime itself is pretty much about everything and nothing, featuring horseback riding, badminton, singing and even Sentais. While each individual has a unique background and set of values, they ultimately come together to realize their goals: in particular, Wakana is able to accept her relationship with her mother and desires to complete the song she once promised to finish with the latter. This was only possible thanks to Sawa and Konatsu providing support, and in fact, the idea of 'friends supporting one another' appears to be a recurring element in the series. The group are willing to help Sawa understand her own dreams, and play a central role in being Sentais as per Wein's acceptance of such a job for the community. When all is said and done, Tari Tari is perhaps the best anime of 2012, breathing realism and fantasy into the experiences of students nearing the end of one path in their lives and wishing to do one last great thing before readying themselves for the next. In this case, the greatness is in the form of music, how it unifies a seemingly disparate group together and allows them to shine on the stage. For a series that prima facie is about music, the reader must wonder why I've omitted discussion about music until now. I believe that music is not the central premise of the story: instead, it is a common, underlying element that binds all the characters together and provides for much of the events that occur. This is reflected in the way music is composed throughout the series: it is an element that is present everywhere, and steps up to the plate as required. The background music suits the series, but mere words are insufficient to describe the vocal music. Instead, it is best listened to in the context of the series, where the proper mood and emotions can be evoked by the melodies that form the foundation for this series.

  • From left to right, Sawa Okita, Taichi Tanaka, Konatsu Miyamoto, Atsuhiro "Wien" Maeda and Wakana Sakai. This image is from their coup de grace presentation, the culmination of effort since the events of episode nine. The nature of this series overall is hinted at in the title (a concept explored at the blog): being a show about 'this and that', the plot explores aspects from each of the characters in varying depth.

  • Even early on in the series, I was impressed at the rate of plot progression: by episode two, a performance has already been completed, and I would assume that there would be a final performance of sorts, as well as the exploration of the characters' stories. At the series' end, both of these predictions would be vindicated. As early as this episode, I realised that the music in this series would be phenomenal and was already itching to acquire a copy of the soundtrack back in July 2012. The single best instrumental piece on the track is Kokoro no Senritsu, which can be heard in the first of the trailers.

  • This is the logical extension of Wakana's "I DON'T MONEY" scene from episode three. Tari Tari has both comedic and dramatic elements, similar to most slice of life shows; it differs from most slice-of-life in its basic premise, Tari Tari is able to explore ideas that were previously constrained in other series and thus, offers a refreshing take on what high school life is like.

 

  • Konatsu's constant upbeat optimism and desire to play music is a simple, yet forceful presence throughout the series. This optimism is what draws the central characters together initially and binds them together later on, despite the challenges that they face. While Konatsu is the smallest character in terms of physical stature, she is by no means the shortest in terms of significance.

  • The first main arc of Tari Tari concerns Wakana's conflicted feelings concerning her late mother and their past relationship. Wanaka's growth comes from realising her mother's dreams and coming to terms with the past: after understanding the significance of the remaining artefacts of this past, Wanaka sets about fulfilling her promise to her mother and begins writing a song for the sake of making something worthwhile. This is the turning point in the series, and is reflected in the end-credits, where Wanaka is depicted with everyone else.

  • Super sentai type shows are shows I don't typically watch because they fall outside of my area of interest. That said, Tari Tari does a remarkable job of depicting them in a light-hearted, comedic manner. Being a show about 'this and that', I find this could be interpreted as 'everything and nothing', a curious paradox that essentially gives the writers free reign to explore. Complexity or not intended from the writer's side of things, the end result is an excellent anime that incorporates music, drama and comedy into one cohesive story. This many elements presents challenges to writers, and so, while the story isn't as unified as shows with simpler premises, the plot ends up being sufficiently easy to follow.

  • Sawa is my favourite Tari Tari character, much like how Nako Oshimizu is my favourite character from Hanasaku Iroha. When I first saw the poster for Tari Tari, the similarities the main female leads had to those from Hanasaku Iroha struck me as somewhat unusual. However, the characters are similar only superficially: while Ohana and Konatsu share a similar sense of optimism, Sawa and Nako differ in terms of personality, as do Wakana and Minko.

  • If there is a central underlying theme I'd identify for Tari Tari, it would be the idea that individuals desire to accomplish something momentous as they reach the end of one stage in their lives, right before preparing for their next great journey. The series is not intended to be particularly deep and profound, nor does it aim to revolutionise anime. Instead, it represents a fine addition to the already diverse class of slice-of-life anime.

  • This is the gymnasium complex of the high school depicted in Tari Tari. I'm almost certain that it is based of a real-world building, given P.A. Works' past tendencies. From a graphical perspective, Tari Tari pushes the envelope further still for the kind of visuals that are possible for TV Series. Seeing the brilliant azure skies and more subtle things like the reflections of daylight in a freshly-polished floor, or the mists accompanying rain, really brings their universe to life.

  • The ending performance is set to a classic 'sunlight breaks through the clouds' scene. The weather is a significant element in Tari Tari, although unlike Shakespearean works, the weather does not signify the character's inner conflicts or anything, instead, acting as a mechanism to set the scene. Despite the ever-so-familiar storyline, Tari Tari turned out to be an immensely satisfying watch and offers world-class visuals with a suite of unique, memorable characters that's certain to raise a smile when watched.

True Tears

True Tears revolves around a high school student named Shinichiro Nakagami with a high artistic ability. He lives with his mother, father, and fellow high school student Hiromi Yuasa who moved into his house after her father died. Her father had been a close friend of the family, so it was natural for Hiromi to come stay with the Nakagami family; one year has passed since she came to live in their home. Shinichiro has known Hiromi for years, but before he had always treasured her smile, though now she acts coldly when at home and he cannot bring up the nerve to talk with her either. When she is at school, Hiromi is popular, always smiles, and is talented in sports, but Shinichiro knows she must be hiding things inside her. At school, he meets a strange girl named Noe Isurugi who wishes him misfortune after Shinichiro teases her. After a bit of bad luck, he reconciles with Noe by crafting a chicken out of a tissue box, and he finds out from her that she "gave her tears away".

Personal Opinion

Bearing little resemblance to the visual novel of the same name. my own curiosity in True Tears was largely piqued by the fact that its opening song, Reflectia (or Reflectier), is sung in Tari Tari. Upon hearing that the anime itself had been reasonably-well received, I would subsequently go and check out the anime, which I recognise best for its unique, clean art styles. Contrasting the overwhelming, HDR colours found in most anime, True Tears presents the viewer with soft, washed-out colours (and even water colour renderings of some frames during the more significant moments), reminding viewers that here, the imagery itself is not the sole determinant of the anime and that yes, there is a story underneath. In this case, the story lies within a complex love triangle forming between Shinichiro, Hiromi and Noe. Despite harbouring feelings for Hiromi, Shinichiro finds himself unable to come to terms with his feelings and begins dating Noe. As his relationship with Noe progresses, his heart falters, and ultimately, Hiromi wins out. The entire anime is fraught with plot twists, unexpected events and game changers, making me immensely thankful to have watched it all at once rather than on a weekly basis. As far as execution of this story goes, the presence of said plot twists, paired with the character dynamics, presents to viewers a story underlining the challenges associated with love. It is often the case where individuals decide to "settle for someone else" because they want their loved ones to be happy, even if it is at their own expense: Shinichiro begins dating Noe for this reason, at Jun's request (who makes said request for similar reasons). However, in the end, the character's true feelings manifest and ultimately culminate in the ending that we see. While this has led to polarisation in the community, it makes for a well-crafted story that is enjoyable to watch, striking a fine balance between comedy and drama where required.

  • Shinichiro and Noe first meet when the latter falls out of a tree unto the former. The two eventually begin dating (I've deliberately omitted additional details about Noe's chickens and Shinichiro's art skills for brevity); Shinichiro begins to draw strength from his relationship with Noe, consenting to take part in the Mugiha dance and eventually, come to terms with his feelings for Hiromi.

  • Miyokichi Nobuse is one of Shinichiro's friends and has unrequited feelings for Aiko Anou, who in turn has feelings for Shinichiro. There are three major love triangles in True Tears, which gave me a headache as I tried to keep track of all of them. Owing to the amount of stuff going on in True Tears, the use of screenshots in my review format is not sufficient to capture all of the moments. The only viable solution is to watch the series.
  • Aiko messes with Shinichiro here; having known him since they were children, she expresses a great desire to get closer to Shinichiro and, upon hearing that he is going out with Noe, forcibly kisses him in an attempt to get him to reconsider, reflecting on the idea that love is something that causes even the most logical and reasonable of people to abandon rationality.

  • I believe Noe to have acted as a catalyst of sorts for Shinichiro: his relationship with her is considerably more dynamic and interesting to watch than the relationship he shares with Hiromi. However, the fact that his feelings for Noe falter later probably indicates that his heart was never really in it, but being close to Noe allows him to understand more about himself. This arises because Noe is a very forward, honest individual who speaks her mind.

  • Despite being the most generic and undeveloped of the girls that is involved in the love triangles, I think Hiromi is a suitable match for Shinichiro (and not just to troll the people who believe that True Tears, for whatever reason, only has seven episodes). This arises because of their familiarity with one another, and given the not-so-subtle signs that Shinichiro is in love with her, it would appear that he was not truly happy with Noe. Ultimately, with a solid soundtrack and excellent artwork, this series is well recommended for its dynamic, unpredictable plot. While some elements may seem cliché and leave viewers shaking their heads, these unexpected turnarounds are expertly handled.

Yuri Yuri

Right after starting middle school, Akari Akaza joins the Amusement Club which is composed solely by her two childhood friends, Kyouko Toshinou and Yui Funami. Chinatsu Yoshikawa, Akaza’s classmate, becomes a member after finding out about the dissolution of the Tea Club. The Amusement Club, situated at the tea room facility since the Tea Club disbanded, has no clear purpose, being free for the girls to do whatever they want.

Personal Opinion 

Yuru Yuri is approximated as “Easy-going Yuri” and has nothing to do with Yuri from Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3. As per its title, YuruYuri is prima facie another slice-of-life anime set in a junior high/middle school setting with a minimal plot. Upon closer inspection, YuruYuri is in fact a brilliant interpretation of the potential for slapstick comedy underlying everyday situations involving a cast consisting purely of female characters. Coupled with its depiction of rather more curious aspects of friendship, YuruYuri follows the story behind a remarkably diverse cast of characters and their often-times unreal adventures. Through its outrageous, over-the-top humour, YuruYuri delivers amusement that is fairly difficult to top, and in conjunction with its character dynamics, YuruYuri ultimately presents a superior series about the implications of specific types of friendship and interaction at the middle school level. There isn't much in the way of story or depth, but through its portrayal of a diverse array of characters (ten, between the Amusement Club and Student Council), as well as the fact that the episodes allow each character to really shine, the anime is worthwhile simply because it is able to effectively wield a large cast and allow them to interact with one another to produce an immensely satisfying, if sadistic, comedy.

  • For the present, I return to the classic short review with a handful of screenshots. Yuru Yuri is an anime where images along fall completely short of describing just what goes on in the anime. Here, we have Akari Akaza (red hair), Chinatsu Yoshikawa (pink hair), Yui Funami (black hair) and Toshino Kyoukou! (blonde hair). As members of the Amusement club, their dynamic personalities (or in Akari's case, the lack thereof) make the anime a hugely colourful one. Normally, I get overwhelmed by the number of characters to keep track of, but because the episodes essentially give the characters equal screen time, the end result is that the anime would feel incomplete without any one character.

  • Contrasting Akari, Toshino Kyoukou! is considered to be the protagonist of Yuru Yuri owing to her overwhelming presence. Optimistic and selfish, she is a capable artist and manages to maintain high grades despite giving off a lazy, demotivated demeanour. Two episodes of the anime are set at a comic festival; Kyoukou does fan-made work for Mikarun, a popular magical girl anime in-universe.

  • The Student Council comprises the other half of the characters and are recognisable by their unique hair colours. While Chitose Ikeda is absent in this image, we have, from left to right, Ayano Sugiura (purple hair), Rise Matsumoto, Himawari Furutani and Sakurako Ohmuro. The interactions between Ayano and Toshino Kyoukou! are appropriate as the classic tsundere relationship; if it is meant as a parody, it is well executed.

 

  • It is somewhat of a feat when a 16:9 aspect ratio is insufficient to capture all of the characters in one frame. The whole 'show about nothing' is popular because of its flexibility: in Yuru Yuri, the ordinary occur right alongside the extraordinary without missing a beat, and as such, the anime takes its viewers from beaches and school vacations to holidays and even comic conventions.

  • While the humour in Yuru Yuri might not be suitable for all audiences (especially Chitose's fantasies, which some might consider to be offensive), the anime nonetheless is able to interweave the whole notion of comedy with a touch of sadism. Akari is perhaps treated the most poorly of all the characters in a subtle reminder that reliable characters resembling personalities more common to reality might lose their place in anime.  

Infinite Zenith