Welcome back to Anime Pocket Reviews!
A simple double-header this time around for two major shows. Later on we share our first full review of BOTH SEASONS of Berserk! Before that, though, here’s a fan’s favourite:
Ouran High School Host Club (2006, S1, 26x23mins)
“I hate all these damn rich people.”
The story takes place at Ouran High School, a fictitious elite academy school filled with some of the richest and most prestigious kids in the world. Haruhi Fujioka (front and center) is the rare exception, an honour student with no background and even less money. Looking for a quiet place to study, she accidentally stumbles into the room of the High School Host Club, fronted by the charismatic Tamaki (top, front). Rapidly deciding to leave and never return, Haruhi accidentally knocks a vase over. The vase is worth eight million yen, and the group’s leader Kyoya (top left) forces her to work for them until the vase is paid off. She starts working as an errand boy, but when the group discover how her simple features and commoner’s vibe attracts the guests, they catapult Haruhi into the extravagant, and slightly wacky world of the Ouran Host Club – and it’s only at this point the group discover that Haruhi is a girl!
Basically Plot: A poor, honest student is roped into the extravagant, over-the-top world of the High School Host Club, becoming their newest adorable male host – despite being a girl!
Unsurprisingly for a show starring young hosts – basically people who get paid to pleasure patrons with their charismatic personalities – Ouran Host Club is a show oozing with appeal. The scenes of the characters acting out the Host Club duties are not only smooth, but also really funny! The story itself has something of a sit-com feel to it. Early on, and sparsely during the later stages of the series, the story uses themed events and the unlimited pot of money available to the characters as a vehicle to keep the series fresh and interesting. It works, for the most part – I can’t think of many episodes at all that left me disappointed – however it can get a bit repetitive, and while the comedy is good it is quite sparse for a comedy series, and hung around episode-specific stories that are not always very interesting. I think I would have preferred this series if it was more comedy-centred – I think of series such as Wagnaria and Nisekoi – instead it often finds itself wrestling between a story and comedy. However, I am inclined to say that I enjoyed the arching stories than run through the series, primarily Tamaki’s attraction to Haruhi. It’s a simple idea well executed, and leads to a beautiful conclusion to the series!
Generally, the characters in Host Club are good. Despite each character getting their own background episode, there is certainly a hierarchy of power in the series, where some get much less screen time than others. Takashi and the adorably nicknamed Honey get much less screen time than the main trio of Tamaki, Kyoya and Haruhi, while the identical Hitachiin twins are only really used for comedic effect. Tamaki is a fantastic character, charismatic beyond compare but also the funniest character in the whole show by a long way! Haruhi is a decent lead character, not the best – her soft character often lost in the sea of colour that is Host Club – but still strong enough for when the story requires her. Talking about the sea, Host Club, while not necessarily the most beautifully animated series – although it does use a great mix of styles for comedic effect – is certainly one of the most colourful series I’ve seen. From Tamaki’s blonde hair, to the piercingly, unnaturally vivid blue sky, and the rose-pink school in between, Ouran Host Club is a series bursting with colour to an almost fairy-tale extent, pushing the idea that Haruhi is in a world that is almost impossibly different to the one she – and us, the audience – know of.
You may be able to tell that I’m really unsure of how to conclude my thoughts on this series. It has so much going for it, from great comedy and vivid characters brought to life with excellent colour, to an interesting base idea played out nicely over many episodes to a beautiful finish. However, Ouran Host Club has taken me an almost record time to get through. No matter how funny the episode, or interesting the characters, it struggled to pull me back in. Maybe the series lack of flow is to blame, but regardless, while this is a decent series, it is missing that top-quality story to couple with the beautiful setting.
ANIME RANKING: #40 – A decent series with quality comedy elements and an okay arching story. However, when compared to others, its lack of flow and general pull places it just outside the top-half, surrounded by shows such as Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun and one place ahead of recent comedy Nanbaka.
If you liked this you’ll love: Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun – Despite the differences in size, scope, time of release and a reversal in love interest, these two high school series have surprising similarity. Yes, both shows have romance elements that form the basis of the story, but more than anything these series are a collection of eccentric characters, each with their own unique traits and elements, playing out in a multitude of small stories. Nozaki-kun also shares a very bright colour palette, along with some of the sharpest wit I’ve seen in a high-school comedy. I would recommend Nozaki-kun in general, but for fans of Ouran Host Club particularly, I’m sure you’ll love this quiet gem!
Berserk (2016-17, S1&2, 24x24mins)
Action, Fantasy, Gore
If you like, why not check out our mid-season review for season two of Berserk?
Berserk follows Guts (center), a ruthless mercenary who has been branded for death, and as a result is mercilessly hunted down by evil demons, destined to attack him every day until he eventually dies. Despite this, he manages to fend them off with incredible strength and power, showcased in his inhumanely large sword that he swings to decapitate his enemies. Guts is searching for vengeance on those who wronged him, but is also searching for his wife Casca, who was branded like guts, turning her insane. Along the way he reluctantly gathers some followers in the small elf Puck (top-right) and a young thief called Isidro, who wants to learn how to use a sword like Guts. His travels quickly cross paths with the Holy Iron Chain Knights, a religious army led by the young woman Farnese, who quickly make enemies of the cursed man.
In Season Two, Guts continues to put his life on the line to protect his wife Casca (top left, top) from the evil demons attracted to the brands on their necks. He is still followed by young Isidro (middle right), while Farnese (top left, below) – previously standing against Guts as leader of the Holy Iron Chain Knights – drops everything she has ever believed in and begs Guts to take her with him on his journey, along with her aide Serpico (top right). They head in search of sanctuary for Casca, but the evil spirits are unrelenting in their pursuit, and word spreads that the infamous leader of the Band of the Hawk – the reason for Casca and Guts’ curse – the White Hawk has returned, leading an incredible army through the land.
Basically Plot: A lone, ruthless killing machine is on a journey of vengeance, seeking those who branded him for death while also searching for his wife, against a seemingly endless torrent of demonic beings and religious cults that are out to kill him.
I loved the first season of Berserk! It had a gritty, dirty style of animation that was far from pretty but did a great job of portraying the horrifying world that Guts lives in. The story was also really good, with a strong religious presence adding an extra element of absurdity to what it in essence a gritty fantasy story – a la Lord of the Rings. It felt like a real clash of beliefs, personified by the two leaders on either side – Berserk and Farnese. The relationship and conflict between these two characters is really good, but particularly with Farnese, who is the stand out character in season one. Which is the beginning of the problems for season two.
I really wanted to review season one when it finished at the end of last year. However, with a second season promised in a few months and a fairly open end to the first season, I decided to review both as a pair. Season two does a decent job of capturing that action element from the first season, when it arrives, but for the most part it meanders into nothing. I don’t know what happened – maybe they ran out of money – but the animation quality appeared to decrease. Use of comically underdrawn characters was too frequent and frequently misplaced, and the general quality of the series was down by a touch. The first season drifted nicely between classic animation and ‘video game style’ machinima animation, but this series seemed to be heavily in the machinima area, and at parts it looked cheap. Also, a 12-episode series should never have a recap episode halfway through.
The story also has a lot of problems. At the beginning the White Hawk is introduced as the natural villain, the end point. However, Guts and the White Hawk never get within sight of each other! Instead Guts drifts along, putting out fires as and when they arrive but never really having a definitive target and passionate goal like he did in season one. Farnese, once an emotional bull rampaging through the show, becomes a timid girl seemingly unable to speak for herself. It makes sense in part, but to make her so shy took away the majority of emotion in the story. They tried to reclaim it with the introduction of young witch Schierke, but her arc with her teacher feels very small compared to the scale of season one’s fights. Also, the incredibly open ending – much more open than season one – leaves you with a feeling of disappointment, not optimism.
Berserk is a very unique series. In a sea of fantasy action anime, Berserk offers something with incredible darkness and bite, a ruthless action anime that will leave you breathless when it gets it right. Season two does have problems – a poor story lacking action and drama being the main issue – that should not take away from an awesome first season that I would urge everybody to watch.
ANIME RANKING: #27 – While it’s easy to say it now, the first season would have probably got into the top 20! With a unique animation style and dirty, gory, demonic feel, Berserk is a series I would urge people to watch. However, a flakey story along with a decrease in quality in season two, means it has to settle for a place in between the two Fate series, Zero and Unlimited Blade Works.
If you liked this you’ll love: Attack on Titan – There’s a lot of action anime out there that offer ruthless action with fantastic animation, and if that’s all you’re after I might recommend something like Bungou Stray Dogs or Akame Ga Kill. However, there’s only one show I can think of that comes close to the dark and dirty feel of Berserk and that is Attack on Titan, a series that needs little introduction, sitting (currently) at #1 on our Anime Ranking! While the personnel change, and the ambition of the story is changed from vengeance to justice, there is still some fantastic action to be had, and fans of Berserk will definitely enjoy watching this!
Berserk appears to be a very complex franchise, in multiple senses. Berserk was actually in its prime back in the late 1990s, when a Berserk anime series became one of the best action anime in years, and some say one of the best of all time. The manga it is derived from is one of the longest running series still going, having run – albeit inconsistently (the series is entering one of multiple hiatuses as I write this) – since 1989! There’s a lot of talk online about how this most recent series is a money-grabbing scheme, using the Berserk name to rake in crowds without taking serious care with the work, and looking at this most recent series, and the history of the franchise, I do understand where that comes from. however, from my personal point of view, I’m glad it was remade just so I could be introduced to a real firecracker of a world!
Make sure you follow The Culture Cove to see the best anime reviews before anybody else! Look out for episode 34 of Anime Pocket Reviews, featuring our review of the action colossus Attack on Titan S2!