romance genre standard

Titles under this category is a romance anime, that will always be handicapped.

The final anime series I watched in 2012 is the spiritual prequel of Accel World, titled Sword Art Online, but I only get to write the review for it a year later. While aired later than the former, the latter’s source novel actually comes out in Japan first, which makes sense actually. This review will be the only second entry in my blog, since Starship Operators, that will not have any screenshots, Starship Operators is an excellent sci-fi space anime title that has earned a very respectable score of 9 out of 10. If Sword Art Online can repeat what Starship Operators have done, it may have a great chance to dethrone the current Anime of the Year 2012 holder, Another, which incidentally also has the same score. You must be wondering now if this anime, apparently HorribleSubs’ favorite title in 2012, can actually do so or not. Therefore you should just continue reading this blog entry.

Story:-
20 years before the events in Accel World, people in Japan are still hanging on their iPhones and Samsung Galaxies (and maybe Nokia Lumia too?) touch-based smartphones. But any semi-intelligent shareholders of Apple and Samsung should have started to short their shares in those companies, because a certain genius guy named Kayaba Akihiko has invented a certain device called Nerve Gear (which I believe is the precursor of the neuro linker in Accel World). The killer app for the said Nerve Gear is the virtual-reality MMORPG titled Sword Art Online, which is also created by Kayaba Akihiko. Sold out faster than iPhone 5, 10,000 players then login into the game’s world, and right on the start, those people within the group of 10,000 that has played the (ancient by then) .hack JRPG series will start to have the feeling of déjà vu. I wonder if the main male protagonist is one of those people.

Imagine the crossover between the main male protagonists of Sacred Seven and Little Battler Experience, and you will get the main male protagonist of this anime. Or if you haven’t seen both of those anime titles, this anime main male protagonist is comparable to an overpowered Squall Leonhart of Final Fantasy 8 J-RPG. In fact, if you ask me, this anime’s main male protagonist is more similar to Squall Leonhart than the hero of Sacred Seven is. And this is true, character-wise and also story-wise.

The reason why I focused on the main male protagonist’s similarity with Squall Leonhart is because, just like Final Fantasy 8, the ups and downs of both Sword Art Online and Final Fantasy 8 correlates with the blatantly identical character regressions of their main male protagonists, with romance (a.k.a. the main female protagonists of both titles) being the main culprit in both occasions. Man, this anime ripped off Final Fantasy 8 more than it does the .hack franchise. At the start of the anime, the main male protagonist is the brooding emo type of character that is shrouded in darkness (and this has nothing to do with his dark outfit) and during that period, this anime is actually better than Accel World. But when the writer of this anime take a leaf from Final Fantasy 8 and turned the ‘lonely emo boy Kirito’ into ‘lover boy Kirito’, this anime’s chances to become better than Accel World in the end evaporated.

This anime’s storyline can be roughly divided into 3 phases; the first one taking the first 7 episodes or something. As I watched this phase that takes up the first seven episodes or something, I have started to wonder whether this anime will take a very divergent path away from Accel World and tried to become episodic slice-of-life anime series instead of Accel World’s typical shounen genre. Still, in this phase, the main male protagonist is still in his ‘more acceptable’ form. But just like in Final Fantasy 8, the poison that is the main female protagonist started to infest the series and the main male protagonist with her vileness.

This is startlingly apparent in the second episode in the second phase – the phase where Sword Art Online was finally completed – when the main male protagonist does what Squall Leonhart has never done, and that would be soloing a boss fight. It was at the aftermath of that boss fight that I realized that the clinger that is the main female protagonist’s sole function is to try her hardest to turn this anime into the romance territory, dragging the main male protagonist down the rabbit hole with her. Unfortunately for this anime, he meekly acquiesce, just like Squall Leonhart did in Final Fantasy 8. The less said about the third arc, where the main male protagonist has to save the main female protagonist in another Nerve Gear-based MMORPG, the better. At that arc, I’m pretty sure this anime has become Final Fantasy 8 Mark II already. Why the Nerve Gear isn’t banned after the Sword Art Online was finished is beyond me, the Japanese government in this anime sure are masochists unlike the version in real world.

In the second phase, this anime do stop its slice-of-life tendencies seen in the first phase and started to have a real proper storyline where the toxic duo finished the game that trapped 10,000 people. This second phase alone have more plots in it than the whole of Accel World, and this is one part where this anime has done better than the latter. The story is actually quite good too if I were to ignore really hard the two main protagonists that is literally connected at the hip (you will know what I mean if you watch this anime yourself). Even better than the one shown so far in Accel World. The story in the third phase is even better, again if you can ignore the two main protagonists here. In the third phase, the main male protagonist is a hopeless case already, but the plot in that phase is even better than the one in second phase.

But while the storyline in this anime is better than Accel World’s, this anime do have many issues that the latter also has. One of them is deus ex machina moments which shows the writer’s inability to manage the overpowered main male protagonist. The writer is not alone though, his/her counterpart in Little Battlers eXperience also does the same mistake. But the second Accel World’s issue that this anime also has is forced melodramatic moments, and this anime does this way worse than Accel World has ever managed. Remember the scene after the boss battle I mentioned above? That’s one of them. Other cringe-worthy scenes that can also be included in this list is the one between the main male protagonist and his sister after their online identities was revealed, and also the one about the A.I. fairy after the two main protagonists get married. At least there are no plot-holes though.

Also unlike Accel World, this anime has a better mix of character developments and storytelling. It (the mix) could have been better if not for the fact this anime has quite a glacial character development relative to many anime titles out there that I have reviewed that isn’t Accel World. For example, the main male protagonist’s character development is glacial when compared to the Gundam AGE first arc’s protagonist, and comparable to the overpowered main protagonist of Little Battlers eXperience. Also just like the main male protagonist, the main female protagonist also has woeful character progression, although if I consider her actual role, that should be expected. Now which character has good developments in this anime again? Oh wait, there none that I can remember!

Still, this anime didn’t repeat Accel World’s mistake of neglecting storytelling, and that’s can only be a good thing in this romance-infested title. Therefore, I decided to just apply the romance genre handicap to this title, because the romance elements in this anime has a more central role unlike in Accel World. It has been more than two years since I last used this tag. Two long years! Maybe I should watch more romance genre anime titles in the future.

The pacing of the storyline in this anime is excellent, and the same thing can also be said for the flow. The ending is ruined by yet another deus ex machina moment in the final battle, but that’s nothing compared to the scene of the reunion between the two main protagonists. What a waste of a good story in the third phase of this anime. If this anime has a second season, I will definitely give it a pass. And if Accel World have a second season with a more fleshed out plot, I hope Accel World will not regress the way this anime is.

Character Design:-
Character design in this anime is similar to what is seen in Accel World, which means it (the design) isn’t exactly outstanding. There are no characters in this anime that is remotely similar to the main male protagonist of Accel World though. Kayaba Akihiko’s decision to make players adopt their real look in Sword Art Online is a good one too, and assuming that the imprisoned players sports their real hair colors, it seems that black hairs are rare in Japan of that era.

Voice Acting:-
One of this anime’s few advantages it has over Accel World is there are no character-ruining voice acting gigs in here. The voice acting of this anime’s main female protagonist is far better than her counterpart in Accel World, and is actually above average. Yes, this is also the only aspect where the main female protagonist is better than her opposite number. In general this anime’s voice acting gigs are better than Accel World’s, with more normalized overall voice acting quality. This anime’s main male protagonist is just average in this regard, not unlike his counterpart in Accel World. Good voice acting gigs here can be heard from the aforementioned main female protagonist and also the villain of the third phase arc.

Music:-
If voice acting in this anime is better than the one in Accel World, the reverse is true when it comes to soundtracks. At best, the OST of this anime is simply forgettable, and nowhere as good as Accel World’s. Damning for this anime too is the fact that all of its OP/ED themes are not exactly different than the OST too. All the shit thrown to the wall and nothing sticks. At least Accel World still has  couple of victories in this department.

Animation/Direction:-
This anime doesn’t use the blurry animation technique that Accel World employed, so that’s a big win for this anime. The quality of the animation is good, and that’s about it. Choreography of action scenes in this anime is better than in Accel World too; another win for this anime. The directing in this anime is better too; a great feat considering the train wreck of a relationship.

Conclusion:-
4 out of 10. This anime is so totally ruined by the worst theme of romantic relationship I have ever seen in an anime title. Will not look forward to a second season, unlike Accel World, and just like Minami-ke. But I will make an exception if this anime pulled a leaf from Princess Lover playbook and make a special OVA exactly for that ‘scene’. Princess Lover also scored 4 out of 10, but its unrevieweable OVA is better. Sword Art Online OVA anyone? By Subdesu-H fansub group?

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The second version of the main male protagonist.

As mentioned in my previous blog entry, the long-awaited K-Drama anime adaptation Winter Sonata will finally be able to challenge the reigning ‘Anime of the Year 2009’ title holder Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. In fact, in the past I have mentioned that, as I know it, this series and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood are the two titles that has the highest probability of kicking Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei off its perch. But if you read my short review of the latter above, you will see that it has failed to do so. Saddled with the romance genre handicap, can Winter Sonata do what One Outs has done; which is overcoming the handicap and scored a perfect score?


And this is the main female protagonist's younger sister.

Story:-
The main female protagonist has fallen asleep in the bus right next to the main male protagonist, causing both of them to be late for school. From that incident, their relationship turns romantic but tragedy strikes after the main male protagonist died in an accident. One time jump later, the now-older main female protagonist is just about to marry her childhood friend when she sees a man that resembles the deceased main male protagonist roaming the streets of Seoul. From that point on, her engagement disintegrates, as she chased upon the impossible…

Split into three major arc, each of them separated by a time jump, the story in this series is very very good. It doesn’t deviate much from the drama version, if at all. The plot in this series definitely lies in the seinen territory, and the romance is nothing like anything seen in any of the titles mentioned here, or in any comparable J-drama/K-drama titles either. Winter Sonata is truly unique in this regard for it to have an intense overall plot with plenty of twist and turns, not to be watched by those with the faintest of hearts.

The second arc (the longest one) in particular is really great. It has quite a few stunning plot-twists and also has one of the best cliffhangers I have seen for quite some time. The first arc served as the foundation of the main storyline very well, and the final arc is even better; it has a tear-jerking subplot within it that come before the admittedly predictable ending (Seoul would have burned if the ending happened any other way). The director used plenty of flashbacks and monologues to show some unseen scenes that is supposed to have happened in the first arc too to help advance the plots in the second arc.


One of them is the main female protagonist. Can you guess which one of them is? HINT: It's the ruder one.

The only minor problem I have with the presentation of this series (that the drama version doesn’t have) is that the 30-minute format did affect story development in a negative way. A good example of this phenomenon can be seen in the pivotal episode 16, where scene transition problems is easily discernable and the plot progressed too fast and too disjointed for my liking. This happened only in the second arc though, the first and third arc doesn’t suffer from this problem. Some potential subplots are not told fully in this animated version either, such as the Happy/Unhappy dog subplot and the aftermath of the infidelity by the math professor.

Character development is good overall. There are two outstanding characters in this series, which is the main male protagonist and the main female protagonist’s childhood friend. These two really makes the second arc of this series comes alive with their strong performances. The extremely divisive main female protagonist has done well, but not as good as the two aforementioned characters above. Too bad considering that the main storyline actually revolves around her. The side characters (some of them are quite important too) also plays their supporting roles nicely, although their roles diminished when the third arc arrives.


The innocent victim of the main female protagonist's indiscretions.

Character Design:-
Characters adaptation from a real-life drama to an animation series differs depending on their gender. Male characters in this series looks better than their real-life counterparts, while the other way around is true for female characters (with only one or two exceptions). The hair colors completely mimic what you can see in the real-life version, therefore black hairs can be seen aplenty here. A positive aspect for this series.

Voice Acting:-
This anime adaptation uses the same actors/actresses that also acted in the real-life version of the drama. Therefore quality is going to be as good as it can be. There are no outstanding character(s) here though. Sometimes there are some exaggeration though when certain characters tried to become overly romantic, but this should not be a blot upon the otherwise extremely good voice-acting gigs in this series. Another positive aspect for this series.

Music:-
The piano-dominated OST used also in the drama version is very good. So are the inserts and the OP/ED themes, all recycled from the drama version. The director sure doesn’t take any risks, and just used what have worked in the past. Another positive aspect for this series.


The main male protagonist has died in this scene as shown by these gizmos…

…but in the bereavement scene that comes right after his death, the same gizmos shows that the main male protagonist being healthy and stuff. One of the screw-ups by the director.

Animation/Direction:-
The only blip of this series. While general non-character animations is quite good in this series (inclusive of fast-paced scenes), you cannot say the same thing about the character animations. Lip-sync problems are common, where the characters’ mouth can be seen stopping/moving when the dialogue is still playing/stopped. There are some good falling snow effects though, which is pretty much understandable just by looking at the series title.

Choreography is non-existent in this kind of story. Meanwhile, the director has this weird tendency to use rapid-switching camera angles when showing static scenes. That probably will work in real-life filming but I am not really sure it does in animation. Apart from that, the directing is pretty much spotless.

Conclusion:-
9 out of 10.
Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei managed to keep the ‘Anime of the Year 2009’ title by the virtue of the fact that Winter Sonata was saddled by the romance genre handicap. Is there any 2009 anime in my queue that is better than Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei? Is the second season of Haruhi Suzumiya better than it?


Proof that love is really not fair.

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Is this guy the main male protagonist of this anime?

I’ve chosen Cross Game as the next anime to be reviewed in this blog over the final season of Nodame Cantabile, mainly because I want to wait until its 12th episode was aired and released. A 2009 anime, naturally this anime will compete with ‘Anime of the Year 2009’ title holder Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. But this anime’s quest for glory will be hindered by the fact that I will apply both the sport and romance genre handicaps to this anime rating.


Or maybe the main male protagonist is this character instead (Hint: Look at their faces)? Watch this anime to find out.

Story:-
Our main male protagonist loses his love interest in an accident, therefore he wants to fulfil her dream of seeing him pitching at the jam-packed Koushien Stadium. Helped by his love interest’s younger sister who is a pitcher herself, he builds up his skills and abilities to become an ace baseball pitcher who eventually carries his team to the nationals.

Just like the twin handicaps indicates, this anime is basically a romance and sport anime enrolled into one package, splashed with plenty of slice-of-life additives. The romance part of this anime is excellent, in fact, this anime is one of the better romance anime I have watched. My only complaint about the flawless romantic part of this anime is the essence is too conservative; you actually know what will happen next if you have read or watched the author’s past works. This is actually the first anime of his that I watched, but I have read the manga versions of Touch and H2 before. That’s why while I have the anime version of Touch in my collection, I never watches it.

This anime is also a decent slice-of-life anime, but the sport part of this anime is definitely not up to par when compared to its romance part. This mainly have to do with the fact that less than one-third of this 50-episode anime are devoted to the games the baseball club play. There are more episodes where the team is shown in training, but more often than not these episodes are also used to advance the romance part of this anime rather than helping its sporting aspect.

This is very evident in the training camp arc in the first half of this anime, which are used completely differently than the similar training camp arc in the baseball anime Ookiku Furikabutte I’ve reviewed before. In Ookiku Furikabutte, the training camp is used primarily to power-up the newly formed baseball team members, where you can see the team members training their heart out to become better at this baseball thingy. In this anime, the training camp arc is used to advance the relationship between the main male protagonist and main female protagonist. Situations like this is why I think Ookiku Furikabutte (there is a second season OUT NOW, yay) is a better baseball anime than this title.


This girl here is the mother of all flashbacks seen in this anime.

The presentation of this anime is excellent; while the pacing of the story is a bit on a slow side (unavoidable I think in this 50-episode series), the storyline does develop nicely with the possible exception in the last 10 episodes where I think the plot is moving too convolutedly. Another notable aspect of this anime is the frequent use of flashbacks. But even if this anime doesn’t have as many flashbacks, proportionately, as Saki has, the execution is arguably not as smooth as the one Saki have done. That recap episode at the middle of this series probably soured my view of this for this anime.

Character developments in this anime are excellent all around. The two main protagonists in this anime are definitely the best, and are assisted by plenty of equally good side characters. Even the introduction of a certain character midway into the series are done seamlessly and flawlessly (learn from this anime Umineko). The ending, while sadly predictable, more than make up for it with excellent storytelling that culminates towards a happy ending for everyone.


The violent main female protagonist…

Character Design:-
Characters’ design in this anime is decent, and that pretty much it. Plenty of black hairs, and that’s a very good thing in real-life Japan. A positive point for this anime.


…is about to punch yet another random innocent law-abiding civilian. Don't blame her, you have to see the first screenshot above to see why she is so jumpy.

Voice Acting:-
Meanwhile, the voice acting in this anime, as a whole, is just average. There are no outstanding performers in this anime for this aspect.


The main male protagonist's love interest is very well known for her pushiness when it comes to birthday gifts.

Music:-
The OST is quite decent. All ED themes meets my standard, with the exception for the 3rd ED theme. The OP theme is also forgettable. Somehow still a positive point for this anime.


Much of the baseball anime/manga from Japan has baseball team that aims for this common ground. Will we ever see a title that aims a little bit higher, such as, the World Series?

Animation/Direction:-
The animation is great, even in fast-paced scenes. Choreography for the baseball scenes are also done well, without any exaggerations. The directing is tight and good, with minor exceptions.


Just a few of the side characters that helps the main male protagonist qualifies for the Koushien and also getting his woman.

Conclusion:-
Despite the twin handicaps, this anime still scored a respectable 7 out of 10. Would have been higher if the sporting aspect of this anime matches the quality of the romance part. Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei still retains its throne for the time being.


This anime also has the sing-while-you-are-drawing feature prevalent in Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei series too, and IMO this anime has it better.

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