It’s here! After a longer than usual time away, it’s time for episode seventeen of Anime Pocket Reviews!
There’s two reasons for this delay. The main one is the excellent quality of the most recent anime cycle, which has kept my attention firmly on shows that have been airing for the past few weeks. Secondly, I’m seriously running out of anime to watch outside of the newest shows. I said at the end of the last episode that I was watching Rokka -Braves of the Six Flowers-, but I just didn’t enjoy it enough to finish it.
Anyway, I have some excellent anime series to share with you today! And what better way to start than with one of the biggest anime shows this year.
ALSO, I’ve noticed that the plots I usually write are really long! I think they’re correct to be long, because stories are complex, but for the sake of easy-reading I’ve included ‘Basically Plot,’ for the first time: a one sentence explanation of the basic idea of the show!
Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- (2016, S1, 25x24mins)
Action, Adventure, Fantasy
“Kill you? I wouldn’t do something so terrifying.”
The story follows Natsuki Subaru, an unremarkable kid who is mysteriously summoned into a new world. Unsure of what to make of it all, and only armed with a bag full of convenience store food and his mobile, he is quickly attacked by hoodlums. He is saved by a silver-haired elf named Emilia, becomes quickly infatuated with her, and in return tries to help her reclaim her stolen insignia. They go to the loot house to reclaim the small trinket, but when they get there they are both swiftly killed. Time then rewinds, and Natsuki is back where he begun as if nothing had happened, but the memories of their deaths remain. He realises that he has obtained an ability – called Return by Death – which allows him to return to a certain point in the past once he dies, allowing him to re-think his steps to avoid the scenario. After saving Emilia and her insignia Subaru is invited to stay in Roswall’s mansion, where she resides. He works with maid sisters Ram and Rem as Emilia prepares to stand as candidate for ruler in the next royal election. Her standing in the election angers many of the people of the world who regard her, a discriminated-against half-breed with looks similar to those of the ‘Jealous Witch’ to be inferior and not fit for the crown. This draws her, and Subaru, into many dark situations, and Subaru’s Return by Death ability – which he can’t tell anybody about – is often forced into use.
Basically Plot: An unremarkable boy with a remarkable (albeit unwanted) gift is thrown into the centre of a dark and dangerous world.
I must admit, I was very much surprised by how big this show got. I saw it being released in April and I didn’t exactly dismiss it, I just didn’t take any interest in it. However, as the weeks went by the popularity of this series grew and grew to the most extraordinary levels I’ve seen in my year-or-so of watching anime. Then I saw it going over two anime cycles, starting in line with shows such as Kiznaiver and Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress, and ending in line with shows like Berserk and Orange. I have never seen that before (although I’m aware now that other shows are doing it) and it made me look at the show in a new light. So I gave it a go, and I am definitely better for it.
The quality of the show might reflect my views on its popularity. Most shows I’ve been watching start like a train on fire then slowly start to slow down. Re:Zero starts fairly slowly, but as the weeks went by it just kept taking the show up a notch, and by the end the show is so strong, so confident in itself and knowing that people are hooked on it that they ended up creating something that – despite appearing slightly cliché at first – is actually really unique and seriously powerful. On that note: this show has an excellent conclusion at the end of episode 25, which is approximately after ten hours of content!
Another situation where what Re:Zero looks like on the outside is opposite to what actually happens: this is probably the scariest and most unsettling anime I’ve ever seen. It’s not something you could ever bring yourself to call a horror, but there’s definitely more frightening moments in this show than in any others I’ve seen before. There’s a lot of darkness and evil, and mixing that with the simple fact that you have to watch almost every meaningful character get killed multiple times – often gruesomely – creates a show that is, at times, almost nightmarish.
Not only does this show have a good base idea, but its delivery is awesome. A fantastic soundtrack and excellent visuals – including an array of awkward angle-shots that you rarely see in anime – portray a clear idea of what is going on in the story and what you should be feeling.
Also, I thought that is was really clever how they picked and chose when to use the intros and outros. So often you feel like stories are being worked around these areas, especially the intro which usually takes place about 1-to-2 minutes into the actual piece, bur Re:Zero all but got rid of this, often just showing a title page for a few seconds before allowing the story to continue unaffected. A masterful touch, and something I think a lot of other stories could learn from.
In terms of story, Re:Zero does an incredible job of switching between gruesome, horrible violence and funny, sometimes cringe-inducing stereotypical anime protagonist. However, ‘anime protagonist’ is a character purposely played by Subaru for comic effect and not the show’s misjudgement. It’s almost mocking those shows that do have leads like that, another sign of where this show has put itself. The only complaint I could really have about this show is Subaru’s rapid development from a shut-in boy into a man who puts his life on the line so comfortably, but even then Re:Zero has answers to that.
A lot of that aforementioned horrific side of Re:Zero comes out thanks to what is an excellent character set, not in terms of colour or individuality (not that they are poor, by any stretch) but simply because it’s an incredible blend of fantasy and down-to-earth. Subaru offers a great sense of realism in the fantasy world, despite acting quite outlandish at times, as mentioned before. The support characters in this show are a fantastic mix of that classic ‘fun fantasy’ anime style and a darker, more evil side as most try to manipulate Subaru and his naivety. The genuine bad-guys that turn up at the end of this series are also incredibly strong characters – with Betelgeuse being one of the best evil-enemies I’ve seen in a long time – but the best characters have to be Ram and Rem. Such a double-act shouldn’t feel as original as they do, but their style and mannerisms – as a double – will be remembered for a very long time. Their combination is incredible, and has to be considered as ‘one’ – as a whole – of the best characters I’ve seen in anime.
In conclusion, the quality of Re:Zero is unmistakeable. The show doesn’t clearly run around and smash every target, instead it simply and effortlessly gets an A* in every subject. Great colours, incredible voice acting, fantastic story coupled with an excellent soundtrack. More important than that, though, is just how supremely confident and relaxed in itself this show is. Memorable scenes and characters, added to the story delivery itself have already put this show into that elite category. To say that this will probably be recognised as one of the best anime in recent years, if not of all time, is by no means overselling it.
If you liked this you’ll love: Durarara!! – It may sound like a bit of a leap, but I think this makes sense. Durarara – ranked #2 in 15 and 30 Anime Review – is, like Re:Zero, a success because of its incredible blend of reality and absurdity. A mix or normal characters, strange characters and far-out-fantasy characters creates a really entertaining anime that blends drama, action and comedy. Durarara is a bit more mature, and a lot less colourful than Re:Zero, but people who liked the fact that a normal kid was dealing with all these ridiculous people will find a similar theme in this excellent series.
Bakuman (2010-11, S1, 25x24mins)
Slice-of-life, Teen, Romance, Comedy
“Let’s concentrate on making our dreams come true, without any distractions.”
Bakuman follows Moritaka Mashiro (front & centre, right), a young kid who once harboured dreams of becoming a mangaka – someone who writes manga, a popular Japanese version of comics – for a living, having looked up to his manga-writing uncle. Now a junior high student, those dreams have all but faded thanks to his uncle’s death from overworking – although Moritaka believes he killed himself. Instead he focuses his attentions on his crush, Miho Azuki (bottom right). Absentminded, he draws pictures of her in his notebook, which is claimed by his excelling classmate Akito Takagi (front & centre, left) when he leaves it behind. Akito, citing the excellent drawings, asks Moritaka to be the manga artist for his stories, telling him about his own dreams to become a mangaka. Moritaka initially declines, but Akito insists on dragging him to Miho’s house to meet his crush. Akito exclaims to her that the two of them intend to become mangakas, and under the spotlight, Moritaka agrees. Miho then explains to the two of them her own ambitions to become a voice actress, aware that their dreams overlap. Moritaka proposes that the two of them should marry when their dreams are achieved – Moritaka becoming a mangaka and Miho starring in their anime adaptation – and Miho agrees, under the exception that they are not allowed to date or see each other until that point. Motivated by the possibility of marrying the girl of his dreams, Moritaka puts everything into becoming a mangaka, along with Akito.
Basically Plot: Kid chases his dream to win the heart of his crush!
I was interested in this after watching the excellent Shirobako again from beginning to end – the first ever series I’ve re-watched. Bakuman is another of those ‘How-to’ style anime shows, along the same lines as Shirobako and the more recent New Game. However unlike those shows this is blended almost into the background of what is a really solid high-school story in Bakuman.
There’s a lot of high-school based anime out there, but very few blend so many different factors of a teenager’s life into one story. Bakuman has a strong – albeit exaggerated – love storyline involving both Moritaka and Akito that is nice to watch, but doesn’t really take much prominence. In fact, you could probably remove the whole “We’ll get married when our dreams come true” aspect of the show and its feel wouldn’t be drastically different. The real success of this is the friendship that is created by the two leads, and their passion for making manga together. This was a big part of Shirobako’s unexpected success a few years back, and Bakuman more than matches that show’s high standards when it comes to love of the art.
What also helps this story is really solid sub-characters. Yes, Miho Azuki is probably one of the blandest ‘heroines’ I’ve ever seen, but past that this is a show full of life. Niizuma Eiji (top centre in picture above), a fellow mangaka who emerges as an early rival to the two wannabes, is an excellent character full of life and great to watch. Past that, the other wannabe mangakas that they meet on the way are also full of life and give the impression of having their own exciting story happening, even if Bakuman doesn’t really go into much detail about these stories.
The animation style of this anime is also really good to watch. Almost six years old now, Bakuman has a very calm colour set compared to modern shows like the aforementioned Re:Zero. I’ve seen some older anime before and been put off by the rigid, unnatural animation of the characters, however the animation in Bakuman is really good. It creates a natural, realistic feel for the whole series.
Overall this was a surprisingly good series with a really classic feel. With two leads who are both extremely passionate and hard working, coupled with exciting side-characters good knowledge of the subject matter and a great colour palette, Bakuman is a guaranteed hit for long-term fans of anime and manga, but also has something to offer for fans of the more stereotypical high-school/teen-romance anime genres.
If you liked this you’ll love: Food Wars! – Yes, Shirobako and New Game are obvious options for fans of the ‘how-to’ style of anime, but I wanted to sell something else to you. By the end of this series it is certainly a ‘race to the top’ between the two protagonists and the many other hopefuls they meet on the way, which is where I build this recommendation on. Food Wars is similar to Bakuman in the sense that they both follow incredibly passionate, gifted individuals who are forced to compete against people who are sometimes more righteous, sometimes louder and sometimes simply more talented than them.
God it’s good to be back, and I can’t think of a better way to return than with these two,
particularly Re:Zero! Just how highly will we regard this show in 1, 2 or 5 years, or is it more of a flash in the pan at a time where there’s not too many big-money anime releases to challenge. I guess we’ll see how it ranks in 50 Anime Review when that arrives! Will it be able to challenge that elite 3/5 that formed in 30 Anime Review?
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 18 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring 2016 series Alderamin on the Sky!