Archive for the English Anime Category

Love Live Anime, Second Season (English) Guest Review by Day

June 22nd, 2016

LLSIPS1Annnnddd…’s Guest Review Wednesday! Today we have an encore from Day, who wanted a chance to continue to look at a popular idol anime. Take it away, Day!

The second season of Love Live! School Idol Project opens in the wake of the failure of our heroines to make it to the Love Live, but with the future bright as their beloved school’s been saved. Things are looking even brighter, though, when it is announced that there will be a second Love Live held during the school year. Despite some initial doubt, the girls soon plunge into preparations, knowing that with a change to the rules they’re up against the formidable A-RISE if they even want to qualify for the finals.

For the most part, the second season of Love Live exacerbates the first season’s problems, in that it is largely about the bland adventures of some generically cute high school girls rather than about the idol competition it’s named for. Despite introducing a more clearly defined competitive structure, the overall focus is weaker, with time set aside for dire material like dieting. And while characters sometimes acted in ways that didn’t quite add up in the first season, here they become frequently unmoored from anything approaching believable behavior in service of the particular fetishes of viewers. Previously level-headed people like Honoka’s mother and sister behave like there’s a cancer diagnosis when Honoka gains a few pounds, while we learn in another episode that sixteen year old, elite student Maki still believes in Santa Claus.

It’s odd, then, that among all the dreck we get, are the two best episodes in the series. The latter of these is an episode which features one of the idol performances, something which is nearly derailed by bad weather. While intellectually there’s never any doubt that they’ll overcome the obstacles, the show does manage to infuse some sense of tension. It also finally integrates the idol group into the broader school community in the course of resolving the tension, as their schoolmates pitch in to help get the girls to the performance venue on-time.

The other is focused around Nico, who is turns out has been leading a life of rampant lies at home so that her younger siblings think that she’s a very famous solo idol. This has involved Nico resorting to amateur photo-manipulation, and claiming that the other girls are all back-up dancers. While the show takes pains to have it all end with a smile, the whole situation is a bit creepy and works to demonstrate just ultimately how damaging Nico’s flaws are.

But, this leaves us with eleven episodes otherwise. For the most part, they’re merely dull, but there are also sequences, even entire episodes, which are simply horrible. I made reference to dieting previously, and an entire episode is devoted to this when Honoka gains roughly four and a half (invisible) pounds. There’s also the girl who believes in Santa Claus, and a girl who nearly faints when the other girls start discussing their lack of romantic experience and who covers her faces and shrieks when there’s kissing in a movie.

Speaking of which, while the visual fanservice is fairly low, this sort of foolishness in which high school girls were apparently raised in a hermetically sealed, eternally-pre-1950 environment is rampant. And that *is* fanservice, as the target audience is made up of men who demand that their idols, fictional and not, be unworldly and eternally virginal, tainted not even by a passing interest in boys, even as the lyrics they sing often are romantic (when one of the girls suggests writing a love song, everyone gets indignant and claims that they’ve never done a love song before – which is blatantly false – and that it isn’t true to the group).

However… something interesting happened when this franchise made it into English-language fandom. While the usual suspects clamored, a lot of women and girls got into Love Live, including ones who hadn’t previously been into anime. And, of these women and girls, a lot of them are queer. And… I’m one of them! I think the TV anime for the franchise is terrible, but I love the queer fandom surrounding it and the other bits of the franchise like the mobile game. Fans invest a lot of time into creating vibrant personal works that imbue the cast with depth they never are granted in the official canon, and full of expansive possibilities; for me, that’s what makes Love Live worth it.

Yuri for this season is… well. I want to say “higher”, but that isn’t quite it. None of these girls are kissing, none of them are declaring their love, none of them are coming out of the closet… Shipbait is happily provided for those who would ship, but it’s a lot of clattering over gestures that don’t read as particularly queer if you take off the Yuri goggles. I was a high school girl myself not too terribly long ago, and I can tell you that gushing at a friend about their cuteness while trying to encourage them is, if anything, more common among straight girls (an established heterosexual identity means not typically having to personally worry about homophobia, after all). So, sure, this season delivers potato-sharing, declarations of cuteness, happy tackling, etc., but it’s all still firmly in the land of suggestion rather than confirmation.


Art – 8 (the animation gets a slight kick up)
Story – 3
Characters – 6
Yuri – 2
Service – 6 (primarily it’s the pandering to fetishes about purity and ignorance I complained about)
Overall – 4 (but worse than the first season)

Erica here: Well thank you Day, and I agree with you completely that the hermetically sealed virginal idol is irrefutably a form of fanservice. I also agree with Mariko that sex and sexiness are not always service.

In my definition, service is catering to fandom fetishes – like making a the redhead, twin-tailed girl passive-aggressive, when the story would fare as well with her merely being competent and uninterested (and would include less shouting.) It’s “service” in the sense that it ticks off a checklist item for fans and is a form of “just add water” character development for lazy writers. Bouncing boobs aren’t the only form of service in anime.

Love Live Anime, First Season (English) Guest Review by Day

June 8th, 2016

LLSIPS1O happy Guest Review Wednesday! Today we have a returning Guest Reviewer and a unique perspective on something that I know of, but have not so much as lifted a single finger to engage in. But, let’s be real….any series with a large cast of girls and a presumptive male audience will be seen as “Yuri” by some portion of that audience. So, with that in mind, please welcome back Day!

Love Live is a multimedia juggernaut of which the first season of Love Live! School Idol Project is but one manifestation. The anime’s first season tells the story of a swiftly fading girls’ high school, Otonokizaka High, which faces imminent demise due to falling enrollment. Second-year Honoka Kousaka, cheerfully enjoying her shining youth (as anime teenagers are so given to), is devastated by the news. Luckily, Honoka lives in a parallel Japan wherein there exist “school idols”, girls who are regular high school students but also amateur musical stars, and it is in this that she believes she’s found the salvation she so desperately seeks for her school. Thus, Honoka sets out to recruit fellow students to her effort.

Set aside the silliness and creepiness of the concept of school idols, and what remains is a pretty bog-standard school club story populated by archetypes who rarely manage to elevate themselves above their assigned roles. Honoka’s the energetic can-do girl, blue-haired Umi is serious and uptight, anime-chubby Hanayo loves food… And while the stakes are allegedly high, the proceedings remain largely mired in the fluffy and the asinine, even after the eight (!!) episodes it takes to get the band together.

Ultimately, what irritates me about this show is that it takes a premise that could’ve made for a good sports anime and instead gives us a mediocre slice-of-life story. From the get-go we are made aware of A-RISE, a mega-popular group who looms large over the landscape of school idols, and who our plucky cast will eventually be fated to go head-to-head with. It’s a situation ripe for intense rivalries and melodrama, but after the initial bombastic introduction, they pretty much vanish. Instead, the girls struggle through daunting tasks like deciding who should be their leader, and convincing the student council president that school idols aren’t total trash. Occasionally, there are interludes featuring polished but bland music.

In among all this dull material, there are some items of note. The aforementioned student council president’s issue with the whole idol business is related to her own failure as a ballerina several years prior, which was a decent change from the generic “they’re a wet blanket” explanation for no-fun student council presidents. (Unfortunately, once she accepts that it isn’t a bad idea, her edges are totally sanded down and she ceases to be at all interesting.) One of the cutesier girls turns out to be the only one who has a part-time job and goals for her post-high school life. But best of all is twin-tailed Nico, who also happens to be the only fully-rounded character in the show. Nico is oft-scheming and oft-thwarted, initially stand-offish, given to bouts of duplicity, and the only one who seems to harbor no illusions, other than as regards her own ego. She’s frequently *terrible*. She’s great and I’m still shocked that something like series this would manage to produce something like her.

Now, of course, I wouldn’t be writing about this show at all if there wasn’t *some* Yuri angle to be found. But while the franchise writ large has been happy to proffer Yuri goggles for ages, and the fandom for Love Live has been merrily churning out Yuri fanworks, the evidence is nearly nonexistent here. Watching it, I myself felt mildly puzzled at the general absence of fuel; other than the obligatory breast-groping character, this seems to be shipping fuel for people who think two girls being within two feet of each other is reason alone for romance.

At the end of the day, I label the first season of this anime “eminently skippable”, unless you really enjoy low-stakes after-school club shows.

Art – 7 (it’s bright and colorful, and the girls are cute and don’t look like they’re eight years old)
Story – 4
Characters – 5 (I only hated one of them!)
Yuri – 1
Service – 2

Overall – 4 (a complete waste of time)

Erica here: Well, this sounds like perfect late night fevered watching, but I think I’ll continue to largely ignore its existence. ^_^ Can’t wait for your Season 2 review!

Yuri Anime: Sailor Moon Crystal, Season 3, Episode 3 (English)

April 22nd, 2016

It’s not *quite* what I hoped, but the continued quality of the entire series is so generally elevated over…well, everything…that I’m inclined to be forgiving. ^_^

We’ve met Hotaru, and had some time with Kaolinite, yay! Eudial, you came and went and we hardly knew ye, but I can’t wait to spend time with you in the original anime.

I hope you all enjoyed the most crowded secluded mountains ever and this:

And this:


And then we got this:

And then we wrap up with this:

Which is about as good as it’s going to ever get in Sailor Moon.

So one more grin-making episode of what is turning out to be a really lovely season.


Overall – 9 Better than I expected, not *quite* what I hoped

Now that we’ve established that when pandering is for us, it doesn’t suck after all, we can settle in and watch the rest of the story develop! ^_^

First Look at Sailor Moon Crystal, Season 3 (English)

April 6th, 2016

sailor-moon-crystal-season-3I’m not going to mince words here – I grinned like a loon through the whole episode. ^_^

Here’s a few things of note.

Let’s start with the eternal message against fandelusion: Remember, the story and dialogue are known quantities, so arguing about wanting something that won’t happen is not something that I’ll waste time doing.

As in the manga, as far as we know in this first episode Tenoh Haruka is a boy. And it it is as a boy that the girls of Mugen Gakuen think he and Michiru make a great couple. This will play out a little longer in this version than it did in the original anime.

I absolutely loved, with all my love, a few of the individual scenes which strongly echoed their analogs back in the original series. I chalk this up once again to the director, who I just feel really gives a hoot. These scenes made me sincerely happy.

Voice actresses Minagawa Junko and Ohara Sayaka as Michiru and Haruka were lovely. I’m completely satisfied with them in the roles.

We only had a teeny taste of Kaolinite and Hotaru, that left us wanting more.

I have only one complaint and while it is not minor, it’s not anything that will change. I find the transformation scenes to be drawn rather unfortunately out of proportion. As those are scenes that will be played repeatedly, and are animated early on, I honestly feel that they ought to be the best possible animation that can be done. Attacks too. In Season 3, the attacks looks fine, but the transformations are a hot mess. It’s a shame, but we’ll live.

My final note is that I’ve already really come to love the ED. It checks off all the “songs by/about Haruka /Michiru” list items: Use of their names, mentions of wind and ocean, mirror and sword, eternity, moon. Check, check, check. Good song. ^_^

Can’t really do ratings after 1 episode, but who am I fooling? It’s a 10, because. ^_^

You can watch this season free and legally on Crunchyroll, Hulu or Nico Nico Douga, the latter, subtitled in 10 languages with global access, so go watch it!

GATE Anime (English) Guest Review by Jennifer L.

March 2nd, 2016

gateIt’s Guest Review Wednesday here on Okazu! (One of several coming up, yay us!) Today we’re welcoming back Guest Reviewer, Jennifer L.! Please give her a warm welcome. The floor is yours, Jennifer!

The anime adaptation of Gate: Jieitai Kano Chi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri, or Gate, is currently being released one episode per week on Hulu or Crunchyroll in the United States, and may also be available on other streaming outlets.  Erica has very graciously allowed me to return as guest reviewer to say a few words about it.

Gate has a fairly standard set-up in fantasy literature — indeed, the subtitle, which could be translated as “The JSDF fights like this over there” gives strong hints about what’s going on. A rift between parallel worlds has been opened in the Ginza area of Tokyo.  On the far side is a pseudo-medieval feudal society where magic works.  Convinced of their own invincibility, the ruling empire sends through a conquering army of goblins, armored knights, and dragon-mounted cavalry.  They rampage through Ginza, and have things pretty much their own way, until the Japanese Self-Defense Forces get mobilized, after which nothing really goes their way.

The viewpoint character, Yoji Itami, is a young JSDF officer.  He distinguishes himself in the battle of Tokyo, and subsequently gets included in the excursion through the eponymous Gate.  On the far side of the Gate, Lieutenant Itami and his Third Reconnaissance Platoon explore the terrain of the “special region” beyond, and encounter the populace of the Empire.

There are silly things about the situation.  The Imperial Princess who becomes the JSDF’s friendly contact with the Empire has the ridiculous name of Piña Co Lada.  The battle priestess who teams up with Itami and company has “ceremonial vestaments” which look like thigh-baring gothic lolita fashion; when people are dying around her, such as during a battle, she becomes sexually aroused.  Most female characters of the special region who are anything other than background peasants have costumes which are rather… skimpy.

But here’s what really caught my attention about the series.  While it has aspects of the harem anime trope, with various characters expressing attraction to the viewpoint character, Lieutenant Itami, it also has two Yuri couples: one implicit, and one explicit.  The implicit couple consists of the forest elf refugee whom the third recon platoon rescues, Tuka, and the platoon’s medic, Mari.  As of this week, episode 16 of 21, nothing has actually happened between the two, but Tuka’s eyes often follow Mari, and when the battle priestess teases her, “so, that’s the kind of girl you like?” Tuka blushes instead of denying it.

The second couple is explicit, and involves the battle priestess, Rory, herself.  In this world, we are told, priestesses become demi-goddesses, and after a thousand years of service (Rory is on year 961) ascend to become goddesses themselves.  One of the goddesses who has already ascended, the underworld goddess Hardy, wants Rory as her bride.

That’s it… in the whole series, there’s a teenage girl with a crush on another, slightly more mature girl, and a goddess who covets a demi-goddess as her bride.  Hardly a core Yuri series, right?  So why do I consider it worth talking about?  Precisely because it’s not a core Yuri series.  Bear with me for a moment.

As Yuri fanciers, we of course want more Yuri series.  We want to see girls falling in love with girls, not for the male gaze, not as a stop-gap until they meet the right man, but in love with each other for each other, and for us.  We want to see ourselves and our experiences reflected on the screen.  And sometimes, we’re lucky enough to get exactly that.  But as I’ve encountered recently, trying to sell my Yuri novel, there’s a perception that in the United States the only real audience for Yuri is women who are romantically or sexually attracted to women.  Straight women, the theory runs, will buy male/male romance, but female/female romance isn’t what straight men want.

So the inclusion of not one, but two female/female romantic pairs in the cast of Gate is an example of inclusion.  Among all these hetrosexual attractions, there are dropped a couple of girls who are attracted to girls… and no one makes a big deal about it.  It’s just a thing that happens.  It feels to me like this is social acceptance, an acknowledgement that there are girls who happen to be that way, and it’s just the way things are.

Nor is Gate the only series in which I’ve noticed this.  In Amagami, an anime based on a dating sim, the character Rihoko is in the school’s tea club.  Her senior students are two girls who are always together, and are depicted as still being inseparable in a flash-forward which is set years later. While they are never explicitly referenced as a couple, those with eyes will see.

You’ll have to decide for yourself if this kind of casual inclusion is truly culturally significant; if it really represents the beginnings of wider acceptance of female/female couples.  To me, it feels as if it does, precisely because no great fuss is made over Tuka’s attraction to Mari.  It’s not played for the male gaze, there are no steamy kisses or awkward fumblings… it’s just a thing which happens.  A local falls for a soldier, as has happened in every conflict throughout history, including my own parents.

Even if you don’t feel that casual inclusion is significant, however, Gate is an enjoyable series.  More depth is given to developing characters than you might expect… even characters with silly names. If you like fantasy series that don’t involve high school students, this one is right up your alley.  One word of warning, however: in one episode, there is a fairly explicit scene in which the Imperial Prince Zorzal sexually abuses his captive, the Bunny princess Tyuule.  The scene is not gratuitous; it serves an important purpose in establishing Zorzal’s character and Tyuule’s motivation.  None the less, if such abuse is a trigger for you, you should avoid the episode.

Art – 7
Story – 7
Characters – 8
Yuri – 2
Service – 5

Overall – 7

Jennifer Linsky is currently seeking a literary agent for her Yuri science fiction novel Flowers of Luna.  More of her writing can be found on her sporadically updated blog.

E Here: Thank you again, Jennifer, it’s good to have you back. ^_^  Although I’m going to say that these don’t read as couples at all to me, just pretty standard Yuri-service included for people who enjoy that kind of thing.