Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Junjou Romantica Season 3

This 12-episode series is the long-awaited third installment of Junjou Romantica. Takahashi Misaki has been living at Usami Akihiko's apartment for three years. He is reminded that his time with his lover will soon come to an end when people start asking him about his future plans. Misaki needs to find a job soon. Usami of course is more than willing to let him stay even after he graduates, but Misaki hasn't made his decision yet.

While lost in thought, Misaki loses a merchandise from his favorite manga series. Toudou Shinnosuke picks it up and asks Misaki if he's also a fan of Ijuuin Kyou's work. The two become instant friends and later went to an autograph signing session to meet the author. Ijuuin recognized Misaki and thanks him for encouraging him when he was down (episode twelve of season two). Ijuuin and Misaki had more encounters after that, making Usami uncomfortable. He chides Misaki for saying "I love you" to Ijuuin too much. It might give Ijuuin ideas.

Usami and Aikawa Eri look on as Ijuuin speaks to Misaki

Misaki and Toudou Shinnosuke on their way to meet Ijuuin

Takatsuki Shinobu and Miyagi You in episode four

Isaka Ryuuichirou and Asahina Kaoru in episode seven

Kamijou Hiroki and Kusama Nowaki in episode 10

My initial reaction was that there seems to be fewer kissing scenes and bed scenes. Misaki and Usami look and act like any ordinary couple now and have the usual concerns. Another thing that I noticed was that Usami is able to control himself much easily when it's about Misaki. He's less forceful and their conversations are normal. There are still some aspects in their relationship that are not explored however (like how Misaki will tell his relatives about his situation).

The dirty humor is consistent with the first two seasons but what I really loved about the third season is that the couples seem to have matured a bit. Their concerns are no longer petty quarrels that can easily be solved by talking. Some of their problems are those which real couples can also relate to.

I was pretty excited when the third season was announced. This series had more to tell. Twelve episodes is too short however especially when I found out that the other pairs only get one episode each. I'm definitely looking forward to the next installment.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10

Junjou Romantica Season One
Junjou Romantica Season Two

Yami Shibai 1st and 2nd Seasons

Cover for the first season of Yami Shibai

Cover for the second season of Yami Shibai

This picture drama masterpiece of Japanese urban legends mimics the technique used in storytelling called kamishibai. This technique uses figures made of paper to tell stories. Each of the thirteen short features begin with a man in a yellow mask beckoning the children to listen to the stories.

Each episode lasts for not more than 4 minutes. The theme songs from both seasons (by Hatsune Miku) are creepy like the stories. The narrator has the same opening lines every time.

Some stories are predictable, some just funny, but others like Zanbai in season one stand out to me. Season one has more frightening stories than the second season. The latter had more blood and featured strange creatures while the former excelled in psychological horror.

Initially I thought the animation wouldn't be effective but it worked well for me. The only complaint I have is that there are too few episodes. It was over too soon. So if you'd like to see something fresh in the horror genre, Yami Shibai is a gem.

Rating (for first season): 9.5 out of 10
Rating (for second season): 9 out of 10

From the fourth episode of season one "Kami" (hair) features a teacher who stayed late in the faculty room. She wasn't alone.

From the episode "Kakun" (the family rule) in the first season, a young boy and his parents move to the countryside. The family is performing a ritual the boy doesn't know about.

From the episode "Kabe Onna" (wall woman)  in season two, a young man looks out the window and noticed something strange about the beautiful woman across the street.


Known as the All Hanshin Kyojin at school, Koizumi Risa and Otani Atsushi are always at each other's throats. When Koizumi falls in love with a new classmate (Suzuki Ryoji) however, Otani proposed an alliance to help her. In return, Otani wants Koizumi's help to get her friend (Tanaka Chiharu) to notice him. But they both failed when Suzuki and Tanaka paid more attention to each other instead. Koizumi and Otani both give up and soon after Suzuki and Tanaka started going out.

Koizumi and Otani then challenged each other to get a boyfriend/girlfriend. But it seems that they enjoy the same things together and so Koizumi starts to wonder. She begins to look at Otani in a different light, but would their differences be so difficult to overlook especially with Otani's personality?

The short Otani Atsushi (left) and the tall Koizumi Risa

Otani and Koizumi initially worked together as allies

Otani is confronted by friends Ishihara Nobuko, Tanaka Chiharu, Nakao Heikichi, and Suzuki Ryoji

The series is both hilarious and frustrating. Not that I have anything against a woman going after a man, but Koizumi seems so desperate at times. I like her for her persistence but I also want to say a few words to her when it seems like she's losing self-respect going after Otani. She still has pride despite that though. She doesn't have insecurities besides her height.

Sometimes I think the author is a bit of a masochist. The time covered three years, which is quite long for someone who's working too hard. The result of Koizumi's efforts for me is unsatisfactory, although she's quite happy with it. I just wish it wasn't too one-sided most of the time. Also, the jealousy factor could have been explored further. Fukagawa Haruka's (Koizumi's childhood friend) role could have also been improved but after his confession to Koizumi, he had no important roles to play.

The series also had the cliche events you'd expect from high school romance. But the lead characters are a bit different from the usual pair. Just look at the height difference. Both are also loud, average, and definitely not the shy types. 

The humor works. I like Koizumi's reactions and facial expressions. She isn't scared to make faces and look ugly. 

It's also the first time I've seen a series where most characters use the Kansai-ben dialect. It was an informative experience for me.

Overall, the series is slightly average. I watched it twice however just so I could imagine how I'd improve some of the scenes. I did enjoy it and the storytelling was effective because it elicited this kind of response from me.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Kimi ni Todoke Seasons 1 and 2

Cover for season one

The extremely timid Kuronuma Sawako wants to make friends but she is easily misunderstood because of the rumors about her. Nicknamed Sadako (from the Ring), her schoolmates believe she brings bad luck and therefore people avoid her. 

When a lively and popular boy, Kazehaya Shouta started paying attention to her however, Sawako's life gradually changed. One day she worked up the courage to speak to two girls gossiping about her. Her honest nature brought a surprising reaction from Yano Ayane and Yoshida Chizuru. As days pass and as Sawako is slowly coming out of her shell, she gains the admiration of the three. Kazehaya, Ayane and Chizuru help her gain self-confidence and the courage to make friends.

Kazehaya in particular seems to give her special treatment every time. Maybe it isn't impossible for Sawako to become part of the class after all. She looks up to Kazehaya as her model, but gradually she realizes the boy has a special place in her heart. This first installment has 25 episodes.

Cover for season two

The second installment of Kimi ni Todoke has a faster pace and introduces a new character. Miura Kento is Sawako's new seatmate and is also paying special attention to her. Will Sawako finally have the courage to admit that Kazehaya is more than special to her or will her long-held assumptions about herself prevent her from giving a chance at love? Season two has 12 episodes.

From left: Yano Ayane, Kuronuma Sawako and Yoshida Chizuru

Kazehaya Shouta and Sawako with Maru

Sawako with Kazehaya holding Maru

Sawako meets Miura Kento (left)

Rivals Sawako and Kurumizawa Ume

Sawako and Kazehaya

The series is a heartwarming story of friendship, courage and love. The slow pace of Kimi ni Todoke allows for the audience to get to know Sawako more intimately than most female lead characters of this genre. Her struggle to make friends despite her personality makes her a memorable character. She's innocent, honest and sometimes clueless and that is consistent with the overall mood of the series.

Kimi ni Todoke is not marred by typical scenes where the lead male and female characters are forced to spend time together. Such scenes (like Valentine's, school festival, etc.) are introduced in the second season. There are also fewer "accidental" physical contacts (e.g., stolen kisses and such) like you'd expect. I think it was a refreshing take of the shy-girl-meets-popular-guy story because the girl lives up to her character---shy and innocent. The only thing I find unsatisfactory was that Kazehaya seemed to have special regard for Sawako from the very start. Although it can be argued that he was just interested in her specifically and his feelings changed as he had more encounters with Sawako. Love at first sight is still a little too convenient for me.

I enjoyed the story about the three girls and how both Ayane's and Chizuru's stories didn't come off as intrusive to the entire series. I loved the overall mood and animation---it was serene, innocent and beautiful, just like Sawako herself.

Rating (for season one): 8.5 out of 10
Rating (for season two): 8.5 out of 10

Kuroko no Basket 3rd Season

In this third installment of Kuroko no Basket, Seirin High is enjoying its win over Yousen High. They did an interview for Basketball Monthly and received well-deserved attention from basketball fans. But their journey is far from over. With a few teams left in the Winter Cup, the competition is getting tougher.

Kagami Taiga meets Haizaki Shougo of Fukuda Sougou Academy while on his way to visit his old friend Himuro Tatsuya. Haizaki was harassing Alex while Himuro tried to rescue her. During the confrontation, Kagami learns that Haizaki was once a starter at Teiko and played with the Generation of Miracles but was kicked out and then replaced by Kise Ryouta.

As it happens, Kise and Haizaki face off when Kaijou High meets Fukuda Sougou Academy in the second episode. Whoever wins the match will advance to the semi-finals. Despite Haizaki's violent nature however, he is not the biggest threat to Seirin. They have yet to face Rakuzan led by Akashi Seijuurou, the former captain of the Generation of Miracles.

Will Seirin's teamwork be enough to defeat individual genius from the remaining teams? And how good is Akashi to be called the captain of the Generation of Miracles?

Kise Ryouta (left) and Haizaki Shougo

Rakuzan High

Akashi Seijuurou and Midorima Shintarou face off sometime in the 3rd season

The second installment was pretty intense and action-packed and so I was expecting season 3 to be consistent or even better than the first two seasons. The pace is slower however, because there are fewer matches. But that allowed for more court side analyses and episodes featuring back stories of the Generation of Miracles.

However, the story seemed rushed to me because I already know what to expect in the matches. It seemed to have lost sight of the message it intended to show and Kuroko's importance diminished. The third season did try to be consistent with the theme of the series (individual talent vs. teamwork) but it still had that tendency to highlight the best players already featured in the previous seasons. I don't even remember most of the supporting cast from other teams. Perhaps I was wrong in thinking then that this was about Kuroko's search for a team that plays as a team. Instead, it might be Kuroko's search for a team that would prove that what the members of the Generation of Miracles thought about playing basketball was wrong. Kuroko wanted to show that a talented player that overshadows his teammates is not enough to win a championship, and that this message is specifically for the five members of the Generation of Miracles. That was made clear in the episodes where Akashi's attitude towards winning changed. Not only does Kuroko want to prove Akashi that he's wrong, but he also wants to change the opinions of Aomine, Murasakibara, Kise and Midorima.

Sure, the series had all the expected cliche that you'd expect in a sports anime. But what I found interesting are the distribution of abilities among the members of the Generation of Miracles. If you're a basketball fan like myself, I think you'd understand what I'm getting at. At a glance, most professional players that are dubbed the "best players" are guards. What's more, the so-called show-stoppers love the crossover. They gave those characteristics to Akashi and called him the best in the Generation of Miracles. If you're observant, you'd say that's consistent with how real-life pro basketball athletes are in the past few years. Now contrast that to the Seirin team which only has one talented but inconsistent guy (Kagami). Unlike their opponents, they don't have consistent scorers. That kinda reminds me of my favorite team in the NBA and that is why I like what the series is doing.

Still, I was expecting more and season three didn't deliver. The animation is great, the opening and ending themes are interesting like those in the first two seasons and I love the voice acting cast. Perhaps it just wasn't the kind of closing chapter that I expected from a promising sports anime.

Kuroko no Basket Season One

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Monday, November 23, 2015


Hinata Shouyou wants to be like the legendary volleyball ace Little Giant so he starts a new volleyball club in middle school. He worked hard to form a team by convincing his friends to join. But his dreams of advancing in the tournament was crushed when his team was defeated by Kitagawa Daiichi, led by the King of the Court Kageyama Tobio. However this did not dampen Hinata's hopes of playing at the competitive level. He vowed he would defeat this king someday and that is why he is joining Karasuno High School's volleyball club. To his surprise, he learns that Kageyama wants to be on the same team as well. The rivals will now have to work as teammates.

Not only do they have to start working together, but they also have to get along with fellow freshmen and their upperclassmen. 

Hinata and Kageyama were kicked out when they fought on Karasuno's volleyball court

Kageyama and Hinata working together

The new and the old members of Karasuno volleyball team

This 25-episode series is action-packed, hilarious and is an inspiring story of a team. If you liked Prince of Tennis, Kuroko no Basket and Free!, Haikyuu!! is a great addition to that lineup. Initially I thought that Hinata and Kageyama would be the top players of two opposing high school teams. When I found out they were going to be teammates, I expected it was going to be quite a show. And it was. They're both talented, proud and full of energy that there was no dull moment in the series.

One thing I always look for in a sports anime are characters with personalities that make them easily distinguishable from the pack. A series like this will have a lot of characters so I'd like to see how some would stand out. Hinata and Kageyama are an unusual pair of main characters. Usually Hinata's type is tempered by a cool, composed sidekick (like Kuroko and Kagami in Kuroko no Basket). Not that the show didn't have the usual character types. There's a tough guy, a sadist, a joker, and a mother/father figure.

I'm not a fan of volleyball but I know that it's a fast-paced game. Haikyuu!! delivered. I also learned some things in the series but I wish there were more in-depth court side analyses like those in Prince of Tennis. Those little details aside, the series was fun overall. The humor works, the action scenes were good, and the characters memorable.

Rating: 10 out of 10


The minor war god Yato wants to have a shrine of his own, but he's a forgotten deity and dirt poor as well. He's saving up to build a temple through his delivery and wish granting services for five Yen. Yato's shinki leaves him however to seek someone better. A shinki is a divine weapon which the gods use to defeat ayakashi, emotional fragments that can possess people. Not only is Yato homeless and poor now, he's also weaponless.

While looking for a lost cat, Yato was spotted by a human girl crossing the street. It seemed to her that he was unaware of the passing cars. Iki Hiyori comes to his rescue and was hit by the bus. Hiyori's spirit is temporarily separated from her body but this incident becomes more common even after she recovers physically. Yato told her she is a half phantom who belongs neither to the far shore nor the near shore. She must be careful not to sever her connection in the human world. Hiyori then asks Yato to help her, but Yato doesn't know how. Instead, Hiyori becomes more involved in Yato's life especially after Yato found a new shinki.

Yato holding a shinki

From left: Yukine, Yato and Hiyori

From left: Yukine, Hiyori and Yato

The 12-episode series started off great but it focused too much on humor and the relationship of Yato, Yukine and Hiyori. The action scenes are not bad however and are probably the best feature of this series. The pace is slightly inconsistent, though what kept me hooked was the mystery of Yato's past. I think the series could have been improved. It was no different from how some series started (e.g., Ao no Exorcist and Bleach) and showed some signs that the story was going in the same direction as those I've mentioned. This is still the first season however, so I'm hoping this is just a sort of introduction to a good follow-up.

I think it says a lot that I don't have much to say about the series. But the conflict in the story alone is interesting, the animation is good and I'm a fan of the supernatural genre so I can be patient. I just think it lacks something.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch and Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch R2

Cover for season one

When the Holy Britannian Empire conquered Japan on August 10, 2010 a.t.b., it was renamed Area 11. The Empire was able to crush the Japanese so easily with the introduction of the humanoid armored vehicles called Knightmare Frames. The Elevens lived as second-class citizens to the Britannians and had no weapons to fight the conquerors on equal footing.

Among those privileged residents was Lelouch, an exiled Britannian prince studying at Ashford Academy. Lelouch became involved in a terrorist attack where he met a girl with mysterious powers. C.C., as she introduced herself, saved Lelouch from the Royal Guard by making him agree to a contract. This contract granted Lelouch a power called Geass. It allowed Lelouch to control a person's actions when he makes eye contact and gives a command.

Lelouch decided to put his powers to good use. And what better way to use it than to find the person who killed his mother and to destroy the empire his father built. With the safety and happiness of his sister Nunnally in mind, Lelouch disguises as Zero and becomes the leader of a Britannian resistance movement known as the Order of the Black Knights. Lelouch however has to keep Zero's identity a secret even to his friends; friends that seem to want to take a different path than him in saving Japan.

In Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch, Lelouch is still testing his powers and makes his plans. As the story progresses, he meets challenging opponents and more difficult decisions in which he sometimes has to play the bad guy to achieve his plans. The first season has 25 episodes.

Cover for season two

In Hangyaku no Lelouch R2, Lelouch's secret is out. Knowing the extent of his powers and the motives of his enemies, Lelouch's playground as a master strategist is growing smaller. His mettle will be tested even further as he loses not only his allies but as he also begins to waver in his resolve.

Lelouch and his best friend Kururugi Suzaku

What made Code Geass interesting besides its fast-paced, action-packed scenes was watching Lelouch come up with strategies. This he does both for individuals in his command and with a group of  people. Lelouch's ability to anticipate people's reaction, like when he's setting a trap, is entertaining for those who are interested in battle strategies. I'm not a fan of the animation though.

Another interesting element is Lelouch himself. His guile as Zero is consistent with his alternate personality as an active, brilliant student. After all, it would be unbelievable to watch an antisocial man be so good at reading people's actions. However, some scenes make it difficult to discern what he has in mind when he makes decisions. Sometimes I find myself thinking he likes using people and he looks down on them, at other times I agree with him. He's a perfect example of an antihero. He's willing to play devil's advocate to achieve what might be better for the majority. He's driven by a tragic past and the vision to spare his sister from all the troubles in the world. But even heroes with great visions can overlook many things. Lelouch may be good at manipulating people, but he seems to forget that these same people have visions of their own.

Lelouch as Zero


"The only ones who should kill, are those who are prepared to be killed."

Suzaku pilots Lancelot

I watched the series out of curiosity. I don't regret that I did. I thought it was going to be an examination of people living in an advanced society but its residents have the same needs and urges ('cause that's what most of science fiction is about). But it was about a young man, an outcast with a grand vision and a power he thought he could handle.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Friday, October 30, 2015

Bakumatsu Rock

Set in a different Bakumatsu era in Japan, a loud Sakamoto Ryouma wants to be recognized as a rock star. The shogunate and most of the people however have not heard this kind of music. The sounds created by Ryouma's electric guitar, given by Yoshida Shoin, is strange to people's ears. The Japanese are used to listening to Heaven's Song, which the shogunate uses to control the unsuspecting populace. The current top idols are the Shinsengumi led by Hijikata Toshizou and Okita Souji.

Anyone who sings or creates songs besides Heaven's Song will be punished. Ryouma wants to change this and he keeps trying to show people his own brand of music. In one of his impromptu performances, he meets Takasugi Shinsaku who plays bass guitar and Katsura Kogorou, a drummer. Together, they form a band to spread rock music in Japan and to fight for freedom.

Sakamoto Ryouma
From left: Takasugi Shinsaku, Sakamoto Ryouma and Katsura Kogorou

Hijikata Toshiizou (left) and Okita Souji (right)

Those familiar with this era in Japan will find this 12-episode series quite amusing. It uses some elements in real history and added so many modern twists to the story. I cannot say if this was intended as comedy or fanservice. Using music to fight for freedom and justice does seem amusing (especially when they change costumes when the music starts) but the series has some serious talent.

I watched Bakumatsu Rock primarily for Taniyama Kishou who voices Sakamoto Ryouma. Taniyama did not disappoint with his powerful vocals. The other voice actors did well too. It's good that they picked those who can sick to rock music. 

Another thing I liked about the series is the animation. The outfits alone of the characters have so many details. I found too that the modern twists in traditional Japanese costumes were amusing (check out the kimono of the females).

If you're gonna watch this for the story, you'll be disappointed. Don't even look forward to the fight scenes. But if you just like music (and Taniyama Kishou), you won't be disappointed. Also, a little background about the Bakumatsu era will help you appreciate some of the changes in the characters and story.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun and Hakkenden: Touhou Hakken Ibun 2nd Season

Cover for Hakkenden's first season

Five years ago Inuzuka Shino's village, Ohtsuka was wiped out. But he and his friends Inukawa Sousuke and Hamaji survived the plague. Since then they lived in a church in a nearby village, but their life was far from peaceful. One day, agents of the Imperial Church came in search of Murasame. It is a living sword spirit which Shino possesses in his right arm.

Their friend Hamaji was kidnapped, forcing Shino and Sousuke to come after her. They met Satomi Riou, one of the members of the Four Sacred Beast Houses, who told them to look for the six bead holders. These beads, eight in total, represent the eight young men fought alongside Princess Fuse against Tama-Azusa in the remote past.

Riou saved Shino, Sousuke and Hamaji at Ohtsuka before and now has volunteered to be Shino's guardian. The four sacred houses are the fox, the wolf, the snake, and the panther.

The first installment of Hakkenden focuses on unraveling some of Shino's past and the trio's adventures in their search for the six bead holders.

Inuzuka Shino and Murasame (on his arm)

Inukawa Sousuke

Satomi Riou and his giant wolf Yatsufusa

Cover for Hakkenden's second season

In the second installment of Hakkenden, most of the six bead holders have been found, but Shino and Sousuke face a different threat. A man named Ao, who looks exactly like Sousuke is claiming that he is the other half of Sousuke's soul. He possesses memories which Sousuke does not seen to remember.

It seems too that the bead holders have some things in common. Finding these out will make the search easier. Ao however is just waiting for the right time to make his move. He is waiting for Shino to gather all the bead holders. Shino's confusion grows as he finds out more about Ao's nature. But he has to stay firm or he will lose Sousuke for good. 


From left: Inuyama Dousetsu, Sousuke, Inusaka Keno and Chitose

For a fan of the supernatural genre, I expected a lot of action in the series. It seems however that there is much more focus in the relationships between the characters. Their back stories are interesting enough and these help create the anticipation of a good fight. Most of the fights however are postponed or cut short and there is no decisive battle until the final episode. The series could have been better if there was more action. I was also expecting a lot of magic but it came up short in that area as well. 

As for the characters, I think enough attention was given to the development of the eight bead holders and some of the supporting cast. There's also enough mystery left for speculation.

The series could have been improved. It lacks so many things I was expecting to see.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10