Seiko Oomori – Kusokawa Party [Album Review]

My introduction to Seiko Oomori’s discography proper was her multifaceted epic kitixxxgaia near the end of last year. A couple of tracks hooked me to the album, but the more I have listened through it over the past year, the more I have come to enjoy it as an album listening experience. Now, it’s one of my favorite albums to listen through – Seiko’s transitions between her different sonic dimensions is near seamless and riveting.

I also listened through Tokyo Black Hole, and it’s a bit more fine-tuned and cohesive in terms of stylistic range but I still enjoy the unbridled madness of kitixxxgaia slightly more.

So after listening to those two amazing albums, my first listen through Kusokawa Party back in July didn’t leave me super impressed – the sonic range wasn’t there, there just seemed to be a psychotic party pop side and a ballad side to the album – even though her emotionally drenched vocals in her ballads instantly floored me. Then, all it took was a couple more listen throughs and I began to see more layers in the pop songs, and the album felt much more versatile than I initially thought. I think I just had unrealistic expectations for the album.

The opening track Shinigami starts with some soft percussions and reaches a crescendo in the chorus where Seiko exhibits her amazing vocal range (not for the last time) and brings it down again. Then the tide rises up again, Seiko tone reaches an apocalyptic level. It’s a powerful start, especially with that guitar solo near the end.

It’s between track 2 and 5 where the tracks feel like they play off each other really well, at least sonically –  which during the first listen I was thinking they all sound the same. They don’t, they just transition well and add positively to the album listening experience. ZOC Jikkenshitsu shares a lot of elements with a ‘conventional’ alt-idol song (hell, she even made a group featuring the song in September) with some great guitar layering, and the ‘korose’ chants (followed by its opposite ‘ikiro’) at the end reminded me why I love Seiko’s music so much. She often plays with polarity in her lyrics with great effect. Oomori throws up a psychotic ice-cream themed rave in Reality Magic where colorful riffs and samples are just popping out everywhere but there’s also some grime muddying the mix here and there.

GIRL’S GIRL amps up the psychotic elements in the mix from the last track and I love the ripping dance synth in the chorus.  Now, this is a song where I was really curious about what it’s about, and thankfully I found someone (Lena from Kitty’s Blues) with a decent translation through a cursory Google search. And the lyrics are kind of what I hoped them to be – Seiko talks about her self-image and how she doesn’t want others to create that for her… she wants to be kawaii and a mom, she doesn’t want to see sacrificing stuff for someone else as this big, virtuous thing – and I completely agree. Speaking of which, according to another lyric translation from the site, of Shinigami, Seiko again brings up people’s image of her as an ‘unfit’ mother and it wears her out. In the chorus, she sings about turning sorrow into money and blooming flowers with rage – all originating from and squirming under love. Lines like these make me wish I could read more of her lyrics since it’s just really good songwriting.

Following up GIRL’S GIRL, Last Dance loses a bit of energy after its cool, shimmery guitar-led intro. Amoeba no Koi is the track that should catch everyone’s ears on their first listen, the raging storm that the instrumentation cooks up drew me in right from the get-go. But it’s Seiko’s scream in the chorus that froze my blood in my veins – I don’t understand Japanese, but the energy in her voice at that moment was overwhelming –  and it doesn’t wear off even with repeated listens. 7:77 follows up from that, and I’m not overly ecstatic with the sped up Pokemon-like-chiptune instrumentation of the song, it’s not underwhelming enough to skip through – on that note, I don’t think I skipped over any track in my last couple of listen throughs.

Seiko ends the album with a trio of poignant-sounding ballads. Starting with an acoustic guitar-driven one, Tokyo Kyou highlights Seiko’s raw voice and that, in turn, highlights her ability to hold onto your attention despite not really knowing what she’s singing about – guessing nostalgia from her tone. Watashimi introduces more instruments in the mix, and Seiko’s delivery gets more tender. Kimoikawa continues with a similar but slightly more elevated melancholic tune on being tired of being called disgusting, and her proclaiming that ‘disgusting is cute’. Even without looking at the translation, the strings and piano make it sound like sunlight peeking through the cloud after a period of heavy rain. It’s a really great ending, Seiko stirs up a storm and unwinds it down perfectly.

This new album, obviously, isn’t as multifaceted (I know, vocabulary level over 9000 right here) as her longer albums and therefore not as compelling as those in terms of an album listening experience, rather it feels more like a collection of singles near the tail-end of the album. But a fantastic collection at that, since Seiko definitely plays to her strengths and that makes the high points of this album hit really high, and drowns the scarce low points under her tide of unbridled emotion. 

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Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore: “Everything is a metaphor”

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Let’s see if I can make sense when rambling on about a book that doesn’t make complete sense (to me).

Back in June 2017, Murakami’s Norwegian Wood provided the perfect escapism in a time where I wasn’t in the best place mood-wise. The style of his prose is tender and nostalgic by him giving more attention to certain details and bringing it up repetitively to adhere the mood to my mind, like a catchy pop song lyric. That, in turn, allowed me to get a more vivid picture of college life in Japan in the 60s. The way he wrote the main character in the first person put me in the shoes of that character as he went through a novel-length flashback, and that made me connect more with his character and the emotions he felt. It’s one of the most emotionally compelling novels I have ever read (albeit, I don’t read a lot).

And in Kafka in the Shore, Murakami employs the same techniques in his prose… but there’s so much more. He uses dual perspectives, integrates philosophical ideas into the narrative and turns magical realism up to eleven. It’s a real mess but in a good way. I felt the novel needed some trimming down, especially those police case files where they set it up like it was going to be a mystery story with a conclusion and that, wasn’t the case. One could argue that the point of the case files is to show how it’s been impossible for the detectives to solve the mystery but the same point could have been conveyed with just a couple of concise chapters. There were patches here and where the pacing was intentionally stretched thin for a surreal effect, but I didn’t mind them since I was already pretty invested in the narrative.

Speaking of narrative, if you want a meaty, cohesive story – then I wouldn’t give you a strong recommendation on this one. People (especially Kafka) cycle through locations a lot, some of the motifs resurface more than I expected, Murakami doesn’t hesitate to take deep dives into the character’s thoughts and mood.

Here’s a synopsis of the story: Fifteen-year-old who goes by the name Kafka Tamura runs away from his home and, in turn, attempts to escape from his father’s prophecy. His prophecy that Kafka will murder him and rape his mother and sister. But Kafka intends to be “the world’s toughest 15-year-old” and fight against fate. A futile one at that. Meanwhile, an old man Nakata who can talk to cats meets Johnny Walker who makes him go on a long journey to tie loose ends and untie new ones at the same time.

Crow, assumably an alter ego of Kafka (it’s not clarified) drapes a nice metaphor around fate – which seems to be the central theme of the book – at the beginning: a sandstorm. Here’s an excerpt:

Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing direction. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside you.  So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step…

His words just pour out so well, doesn’t it? Sure, it can be trimmed but I think the indulgent, escapist effect would be lost.

Alright, I’ll be spoiling some stuff in the next paragraphs as I discuss some specifics of the narrative, skip to the last paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Among Murakami’s tendency to reference as many relevant art pieces as possible throughout the narrative (from Beethoven’s music to Truffaut films to Hegel’s philosophy), he integrates many elements of a typical Kafka story – and I’m saying this rather loosely because I have only read a couple of his short stories (The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony) – where people are just put in unfortunate situations without rhyme or reason, and the main character can only do what things around them propel them to do. Nakata is the best example of this – he woke up one day after what’s thought to be a mass hypnosis incident and something switched off in him, he suddenly became dumb and could talk to cats. Later on in the novel, he goes on a journey without any purpose and he just gets new information injected into his mind out of nowhere as he arrives at certain checkpoints. Things just happen, and the character in focus can’t do much about it.

There’s also another great motif of “responsibility beginning in dreams” (which borrows from a book about the trial of Adolf Eichmann – again, Murakami with his references) where Crow talks about how people can suppress tabooed imagination but that gets expressed in dreams. And that hints towards how Kafka ends up ‘raping’ his sister in a dream – fulfilling the prophecy. That scene isn’t really that graphic but the way Crow talks in second person voice really unsettled me.

That brings me to the point that almost every important thing that happens in the second half of the novel is a bunch of metaphysical (or just) metaphors. The girl (Sakura) Kafka meets in his journey to Takamatsu ends up being somewhat of a metaphorical surrogate of his sister who left him with his father ages ago along with her mother. And Saeki turns out to be his metaphorical mother and his metaphorical lover because of Saeki’s weird nostalgic delusions. Yes, even our titular protagonist himself becomes a metaphorical reincarnation of Saeki’s past lover. It’s a metaphorical mess.

The sex scenes are, as I said, uncomfortable in the latter half of the book. They are still tender and emotional, but contextually they feel wrong and Kafka is aware of this but he can’t do anything about it. I don’t know where I was going with this paragraph but I’ll leave it here.

My favorite parts of the novel are the forest scene and Kafka’s metaphysical self-discovery interactions with his surroundings. I also loved the atmospheric descriptions, it feeds perfectly into the indulgent, escapist mood the book sets up so well.

In conclusion, the story of Kafka on the Shore neither particularly moved me nor did it change my life, but it was more than a decent read. Even though it’s around 500 pages, it was a pretty fast book to burn through, I never really got bored – there were some really slow Hoshino chapters but overall it was engaging despite the novel having a slow-burn type of plot. I would recommend you to read this if you read a Haruki Murakami book before, or if you just want a book to entertain you with a relatively well-patched together metaphysical, metaphorical storyline that’s (roughly) thematically cohesive and doesn’t completely derail from comprehension… I get the feeling I’m not selling this book well – hey it’s good, okay?

Thanks for going through this unfocused rambling. I’m pretty sure half of the ‘metaphors’ I talked about in this post aren’t actually metaphors – but I’m rolling with it anyway… metaphorically.

“Hinamatsuri”? More like… “Hinamat-suki”!

Cuz I love the show. Geddit?

Imaginary applause and laughter break out as Rodrovich snorts out a chuckle after punching in that “?”. He continues to indifferently type as the thick stench of cringe fills up the air around him. He can’t smell it – he’s got a stuffy nose.

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The premise is weird –  a part-time yakuza guy and a full-time vase-enthusiast Nitta’s life falls apart as his roof falls apart from the impact of an incoming pod. In it, there’s an alien in the shape of a listless, blue-haired kid. The kid’s got telekinetic powers, so that means she’s got blackmailing perks – and Nitta doesn’t want to lose his art collection. Thus, he unceremoniously ‘adopts’ her. Cue all the whacked out supernatural comedic hijinks… uh, not really.

The supernatural aspect is chucked out within a couple of episodes, and the anime dons the robes of a slice-of-life drama with random patches of supernatural twists in the folds.

And the show takes it all in stride as it takes out a gun labeled ‘good comedy’ from its arsenal of three (the rest labeled ‘Characters’ and ‘Anzu’), and shoots away. The short comedic jabs hit the bullseye –  it’s nothing short of impressive with how well the timing is with those hilarious reaction faces (and the wide variety of those), the staff knows exactly how long they should stay on the screen, and the voice actors got their tsukkomi act timed down to a T.

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Sometimes, the bare basics are enough to make an exceptional comedy –  if they are timed right… in my opinion. Just as I was recovering from a good chuckle from one shot, another shot tears a grin in my face, and soon enough, the show’s got me hooked.

One of my favorite episodes was when  Mao got stranded on an island and she goes schizophrenic very quickly – I wish Mao was introduced a bit earlier in the show, she’s a funny girl.

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It’s funny with and without context

Another favorite of mine was the one where Hitomi’s classmates found out about her bartending job – it just cemented the fact that all episodes about Hitomi are great, she’s got some serious presence in the show despite being a passive character type.

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But given the loose nature of the premise and the unenthusiastic character trait of Hina, I wasn’t expecting much of any character development in the show, and that was okay. I was happy with the sweet and hilarious father-daughter relationship between Nitta and Hina, and I thought that the cast was really well rounded and funny –  outstanding ones being Hitomi and Utako. I thoroughly enjoyed the interactions between Anzu, Hitomi, and Hina – they add a delightful CGDCT aspect to the show.

Then Anzu’s character arc happened, it’s not dramatic – the show layers it episode by episode, warming us up to her as she hones her sincerity. For the first time in the series, I got those ‘feels’ as Anzu turned into a god, as she learned to be grateful to people around her. The episode where she moves into the old ramen shop people was just too heartwarming – and I forgot for a while that Hinamatsuri is a comedy anime. The show also used her change in behavior to make a hilarious episode where Anzu pays Nitta a visit when Hina’s off to the mountains, and Nitta temporarily experiences the joys of having the perfect kid.

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The character designs are a bit unique, the jelly-like-shine on the hair color of the alien girls was weird at first, but I got used to it pretty quickly. The animation is top-notch, there’s a lot of care put into character animations, and that stays relatively consistent throughout the runtime. The background art looks decent, too.

It’s a slice-of-life, but there’s a plotline in the series where things are changing constantly in a not-so-hectic pace. The story’s not complete – the series just pulls another “now go read the manga type” ending, albeit it’s done in an interesting circular way where the series ended on the same scene it started with. Neither I nor the show took its story seriously, so I am not salty about it.

I love the opening sequence, the song is kind of a by the numbers pop rock track – but the melody is too catchy, I think I only skipped it thrice. I also loved how Utako got removed near the end of the sequence after a certain episode – maybe there are other small jabs in the sequence that I was too inattentive to realize.

If nothing else, I highly recommend Hinamatsuri for the way it handles comedy. It’s refreshing and well-timed. The cast of characters has their individual charms – especially Anzu and Hitomi- and their interactions are scripted and polished to make your sides hurt from laughing. It’s simply delightful.

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The sunbeams are done right this time? Why is this show so good? How are those questions even related?

BROCKHAMPTON – iridescence [Album Review]

American boy band Brockhampton put out some of my favorite music releases of 2017- their Saturation trilogy is a joyride consisting of energetic bangers, with occasional bursts of the member’s history and social commentary layered in. They were on a roll and were set to release their next album, Puppy, but then the Ameer controversy happened. One of their key members, Ameer Vann, who is on the cover of all of their Saturation albums – was put under a storm of allegations from different women accusing him of emotional and sexual abuse. And I think Brockhampton did the right thing by kicking out Ameer (or he left, not sure) because Ameer himself admitted to some aspects of the allegations and apologized for it. Of course, Ameer has the right to be forgiven but it can’t go on like nothing happened.

Anyway, I’m here to review the new album, not talk about my opinions on the Ameer controversy – I don’t think I have a unique take on the topic, anyway. Point is, Brockhampton had a tough first half of this year, they’ve been through a lot – and the overall mood of the album shows that.

It won’t be an exaggeration to say this album is Brockhampton’s most mature release, so far – sure, they are hopping and skipping around and having fun in some tracks, but they come out with some tracks that seem to be born purely out of their insecurities and problems that came with their rise to fame.

NEW ORLEANS sparks up the album with the lead of a kazoo-y synth and one of the most memorable rap verses from Dom on the album – I feel that it could be better if the length was a bit shorter. The rattling hats and kick migrate into THUG LIFE where, suddenly, the vocals get smoother and the instrumental atmosphere changes into a piano-driven pop ballad. The industrial production brought back in BERLIN where bearface takes care of the chorus, and Joba ends the track with one of my favorite lyrical bits from the album (where he talks about having the backbone to carve out your own way instead of giving into peer pressure):

Good riddance, goodbye, out of sight, out of mind
Cutthroat every time, this time I get what’s mine
Where the hell is your back bone? Ducking me like whac-a-mole
Looking like an inflatable at a car show; a spectacle
Lick my finger, bet I found the wind
I follow that shit wherever it blows
You hung yourself, that’s not my fault, I just supplied the rope, ugh
Most thoughts, I don’t think twice, make decisions I’ll die by
Never asked for the drama, but I’ll turn it into dollars
Dollars, dollars, dollars

There’s something about the track – SOMETHING ABOUT HIM – that makes this track one of my favorites of the album. Maybe it’s the autotuned silk of Kevin’s vocals, or the thick bassline that diddles in every now and then, or the unrelenting percussion pattern.

Merlyn brings back the angsty energy from the Saturation trilogy with WHERE THE CASH AT, complementing an icy beat – it’s catchy, and just the right length.

Lush strings enter the tracklist for the first (and not certainly not the last) time in WEIGHT –  which is another favorite track of mine. Kevin finally gets a significant presence on a track by laying down the heaviest verses from the album, where he talks about his feelings with the rapid rise to fame. He brings up one of his members’ self-harming tendencies. He misses “the old days” where they didn’t seem to have a care in the world. And while, speaking about the old days, he speaks up about how he was confused with his sexuality:

And I ain’t done (No, no) Yeah (Tell something)
And I ain’t done, you heard me? I ain’t done
(Yeah, I’m screaming ohh, oh-ohh, oh-oh)
I really miss the old days before the cosigns
I really miss them cold days before the road signs
I really miss when I ain’t know which way I was supposed to head
And I was pressed because my shawty gave me cold signs
I was writing poems ’bout her, dawg, in study hall
And she was mad ’cause I never wanna show her off (Scared)
And every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft
I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming

The track derails into some scratches and a vortex-trip-like disco percussion leading from the front – and Dom follows up with some introspection where he talks about not letting other dictating his fate. Joba ends this fantastic track with another Joba-esque deranged rap section, this time tinged with a bit of high as he talks about “sipping on my pain, smoking by my pain”.

DISTRICT is the track where Brockhampton puts up significant experimentation in their mix – with a lot of dissonant samples popping in and out in the mix and the instrumentation switching up in a couple of places. Joba’s energy meshes perfectly into this track. LOOPHOLE is a sample from an interview in 2016 where Dom talked about his experience with previous labels – with a string section as the instrumental backdrop – adding to the narrative of Dom’s hardships before he joined Brockhampton. The strings reappear again in TAPE, this time, a bit more muted and an IDM-inspired drum pattern shuffling in the instrumentation – here the members take turns to talk about their fears, but I’m not a big fan of the mechanical feel of the way the members take turns to rap, it doesn’t sound interesting and kind of stilted. J’OUVERT harkens back to the experimental production in DISTRICT, this time they focus more on the thickly textured bass – I enjoyed the instrumentation quite a lot. Joba and Merlyn kill it again with their delivery.

These next two tracks are great. SAN MARCOS (where Brockhampton hailed from) is yet another track that features the strings, this time, there’s no beat. After the boys finish up with their sentimentally delivered sections, an anthemic instrumental parade kicks in as a choir sings “I want more out of life than this”… that hit me with some goosebumps. And the sentimental tracks come one after the other – TONYA features some great synergy between the members against a warm, emotional piano piece. I loved bearface’s sing-rapping, Kevin’s section where he was describing his mood after the Ameer controversy broke out and Merlyn’s calm flow on this track. The album closes with FABRIC where the instrumentation is stripped down, and slathered with some trippy vocal deliveries. the track closing with Merlyn hinting that this album is the first part of their THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES trilogy.

That ends my review, pretty much. I don’t think this is the best album Brockhampton has put out, I still like Saturation 1 & 2 more than this one. But I definitely enjoyed most of the tracks, it’s great to see a group not turning formulaic and pop-rap oriented after a successful spree and I feel that they made a bold move by just putting this emotionally raw, experimental, and yet, mature release. I definitely look forward to the rest of the albums from this trilogy – or whatever they feel like doing.

Megalo Box’s production packs more punch than its story & characters

The production quality of the show is electric. From the grainy, rugged art style, to the distinct set of character designs, and to the hype-inducing rap sections: every visual and audio aspect of the show seems fine-tuned to strap the viewer to their seat.

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Now, I haven’t watched any boxing-related anime (and as far as movies go, I’ve only seen Scorsese’s Raging Bull) so I might sound a bit too excited when I’m talking about the visual aspects of the show. The show’s art style and animation have a retro feel and it takes full advantage of that to turn it into its own beast of aesthetic. Almost everything looks hard and gritty, which fits the aesthetic of the anime. I was, at first, put-off with the 480p graininess of the outlines, but my eyes grew accustomed to it quickly enough and I soon got that it actually had a benevolent effect to the look the show seemed to be going for. The world design doesn’t actually much of a story other than that the place where Joe is from is a ghetto- where people gamble on boxing matches to get a stand-in society, but ultimately most of them can’t because the boxing matches are controlled by the hosts themselves.

 

The boxing matches themselves aren’t that sakuga-intensive: for good reason, I guess fluid animation might not have suited the anime. But they almost make it up with some good visual techniques. Of course, there’s the blurring effect for speed and heat waves to indicate exertion and exhaustion; in addition to that- the show makes the fight seem more up-close and intimate thanks to the eye close-ups. The gloves are given emphasis in terms of screen presence and color – which helps to add weight to the punches.

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I want to get back to the eye-closeups because they are timed and placed so well, and some of them are more exciting than the punches. The look of sheer excitement in Joe’s eyes when he first encountered Yuuri was definitely one of the best shots of the show- and the show repeats that shot a few more times to the same effect, thankfully, without overusing it. Basically, the eyes are drawn really well- and I see eyes as an integral part of any sports and shounen anime (or any animation piece for that matter) since they are a better indicator of emotions than words are.

The sound design packs an assorted flurry of punches. A good portion of the tracklisting borrow some elements from hard rock, hip-hop, and industrial music, with occasional flourishes of soft guitar lines and string sections- all distinctly categorized by the characters. One of my tracks from there is “Enter the Arena”- it sounds like a hard-hitting punk anthem with some bursts of noise samples inspired by industrial music. The opening sequence is one of my favorites of the year so far – I loved how they avoided using the actual characters and used a stray dog and a set of symbolic representations to match the energy of the song. The song (“Bite” by LEO Imai) features grimy, gritty guitar and bass, especially the bass – it’s the growling engine of the track, and Imai’s voice bites.

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The ending theme (“Kakatte Koi yo” by NakamuraEmi) is great too. Her guitar-driven pop rap sets itself apart from the ‘conventional’ nonchalant flow that most Jpop rap rides on – she sounds like she’s actually sending a challenge. The rap interludes in the show serve as entertaining ways to give background information on the story, some of them give the state of the city the characters live in, and others are hyped-up advertisements for an upcoming match.

Overall, it would be hard for me to not call the visual and audio aspects of the show fine-tuned. Now it’s time to beacon my ‘criticisms’ to the ring…

It’s obvious that the plotline of Megalo Box is well-planned – it’s so well-planned out that it feels, ironically, mechanical. The characters don’t get the breathing room to bloom into real ones, or at least real enough to actually get invested in them. It’s not bad character writing per se, rather it’s the opposite – the diverse set of personalities are presented well in a short time. I just wish the show took the time to flesh them out, instead of giving short, vague flashbacks so that the characters seem ‘nuanced’ – which is ok if it was a film, but I was watching the show expecting to get much more out of the characters.

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Joe never goes through much of a character arc, he rarely learns anything from his battles except gaining confidence – he fights and then fights again, his testosterone-fueled stray-dog attitude is alluring and exciting but not worth caring about outside the ring. I think Yuuri is the worst of the two – his transformation from being a loyal robot boxer to a sincere fighter could have been handled less awkwardly. Perhaps, Yukiko Shirato had the ‘meatiest’ character arc in the end, but then again, her presence in the series is weirdly not strong and the last two episodes needed a few more minutes in my opinion – you gain some, you lose some I guess.

Without character arcs driving the show, dramatic twists are omnipresent in the show – where Joe and his crew get out of tough situations by the skin of their teeth in Kaiji-style: which is entertaining as hell. I love how even the episode titles raise the stakes by having some form of “death” in them – a bit overdramatic, but it fits the show’s aesthetic like a glove… a boxing glove. So even though the character cast didn’t end up being as well rounded as I expected it to, the drama-aspect of the anime delivered beyond my expectations – thanks to the concise script and the tight pacing, episode by episode.

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The story itself is good enough, I liked how they ended the thematic narrative of the stray dog’s journey before the last match even began – which is just clever writing. So, I have nothing but praise for how the show ended. I thought the gears were just used as a weird plot device and added nothing to the characters – the designs are intriguing but the show tells almost nothing about them, just that they enhance the boxer’s abilities. Then again, there are only so many eggs you can put in a basket – especially when the basket just has 13 episodes of space.

There, I just devalued all my criticisms of the show with just that sentence. Sometimes, I just scroll through my posts and just get an impulse to erase all of it – but I don’t because, I know deep down, I don’t really hate myself. Ok, I’ll also leave this tangent up.

All in all, Megalo Box’s production packs more punch than its story & characters… and that’s completely okay, because the story and characters aren’t bad at all – the characters & story and the production aren’t on opposite sides of the ‘goodness’ spectrum, I would have no reservations saying that all the aspects of the anime are on the ‘good’ side (I should stop typing at this point). I strongly recommend this show if you want to throw on something hype that delivers on that hype really well.

A Laid-Back Look at Laid-Back Camp

Yuru Camp (or Laid-back Camp) seems to have all the hallmarks of a comfy iyashikei show- mild lighting, not-too-bright color coordination, memorable yet simplistic character designs, and a nice set of soundtracks that blend into the background.

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The rustic, scenic background art has this hand-drawn, pastel look to them- something that’s not so common in the age of glossy, CG-rendered backgrounds in anime. The color design isn’t as vibrant and lustrous as most of its contemporaries, and that’s the case for a good reason- it’s winter time in the anime. But what’s nice about it is that the same applies to the character designs as well. Sure, the designs have a technically bright color palette but the colors have a slightly desaturated scheme, which makes the characters look like they actually belong to the world they are in, rather than looking like they are copied and pasted onto a scenery. While I am on the topic of character designs, I must add that I adore the winter wardrobe on the girls- the color coordination is on point. Damn… what’s with me and color today.

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Of course, CG models aren’t strangers in the anime- the buildings and vehicles are CGI composites and they are serviceable. However, there is Rin’s scarf in the wind- it looks awful- it looks so robotic and it stands out… even at night. I wonder why animating the scarf was even necessary- just tuck it in! Anyway, I won’t go down with another nitpicky rant today- it’s just 2 minutes of animation and I can gulp it down… and this is supposed to be a ‘laid-back look’ (I messed up already!). Otherwise, the animation is consistent in quality and not much to say about.

The character writing is solid, but there’s nothing particularly fresh or new to offer in that aspect- you could say it’s laid-back. Nadeshiko is an adorable genki girl, but there’s nothing else unique about her that would save her from being just another flat genki character. Rin at least went through a bit of change where, by the end, she sees that camping out with other people is kind of nice. Chiaki is a weird one, she was pretty passive at the beginning but she turned into a comic relief character in the middle of the series- which I didn’t mind, she was funny. The other cast members are pretty eh, I forgot what most of them were about- but I remember what they look like because like I said before, the character designs are memorable. Clearly, Yuru Camp doesn’t have the most memorable character cast in terms of their individual characterizations- but I enjoyed the chemistry between Nadeshiko and Rin quite a lot.

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With the chilled guitar and flute folk soundtracks in the background, we are lent narration by Rin’s grandfather. The narration is mostly on camping gear and camping tips and tricks- which I found interesting for the first five episodes or so. Then, it started to feel longer and longer by each passing episode, and I soon found myself spacing out while watching the show. Nevertheless, his narration during Room Camp segment in episode 4 is one of my favorite cute-funny moments in the anime. Whenever I think “What’s funny in Yuru Camp?”- that segment immediately comes to mind, even if it’s been 5 months since I last watched it.

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And now to the best part of the show- the ending theme (“Fuyubiyori” by Eri Sasaki). It’s easily one of the best ending songs I have heard this year- Eri Sasaki’s vocal delivery quivers ever so slightly in just right points and the harmonization with layered vocals are great touches. It calls up sweet nostalgia and has a healing effect on me- like all great soothing songs do. The instrumental production is finely tuned too, not too many instruments in the mix. I wouldn’t mind putting it up along with these great pieces as one of my favorite anime songs to wake up to.

If you are curious as to what other anime songs I would put in this category, here they are: Gankutsuou’s opening (“We Were Lovers” by Jean-Jacques Burnel), Amanchu’s opening (“Million Clouds” by Maaya Sakamoto) and Natsume’s Book of Friends’ very first ending (“Natsu Yuuzora” by Kousuke Atari), which is a weird choice because it’s also a song I used to love to listen to in the evening and is literally about a summer evening- but I got the same energy from this piece when I used to wake up from a quick nap just before going to cram school. I used a bit too many ‘used to’s in my last sentence- nostalgic much?

Alright, time to return to Yuru Camp…

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Overall, I enjoyed Yuru Camp- it is a nice slice-of-life anime with some controlled genki-ness and comedy thrown in the mix. It didn’t blow me away, and it didn’t end up being as healing as an iyashikei anime should be- I mean, it’s no Natsume or Amanchu- I don’t think it wasn’t fully committed to being one anyway, the anime just shared a handful of elements of a typical iyashikei, that’s about it. But I would recommend it if you got a few afternoons to lay back and watch some girls having fun winter camping near Mt. Fuji, and listen to calmly narrated camping gear advertisements as a bonus.

And this was, in no way, a ‘laid-back look at Laid-back Camp’. I just did it for the title- my bad.

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens is entertaining, but…

there are sun problems that are hard to overlook (you’ll get that bad pun after you go through this).

I would be lying if I say I didn’t find this show entertaining- the pacing is tight, the action sequences look cool and they seem to generally well choreographed. I found the set-up pretty goofy- the terms ‘hitmen hitman’ and ‘avengers’ got me good, strangely. The city nightlife lighting is weirdly warm and neon at the same time, which gives off a sheen of neo-noir in terms of visuals… that is, only for that specific time of the day (more on this later). I enjoyed binging this show because, as I said, the pacing is good- in almost every episode there’s a well-timed set-up and resolution. I also loved the attention-grabbing jazzy soundtrack, even in between the action-packed jazz ramp-ups, there are these patches of playful and busy percussion which are nice touches to the overall sound design.

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The thing is, however, these things are good… but. The pacing is generally tight but it feels super rushed in the last two episodes- the show did a have a tendency to shove in as many perspectives as possible in the show previously, but then it went a bit overboard; my pea-sized brain was thinking “Wait where did he come from? Wasn’t he going somewhere else? Am I too sleepy to get it because I’m watching this at 2 am?… probably”- and the next thing I see is a knife in someone’s chest. But in the end, it somewhat comes together- because the arc is mainly about two guys, not twelve.

The lighting of the city nightlife is great but during the day, the lighting gets significantly overdone.

There. Are. Sunbeams. Everywhere.

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Someone’s looking through their binoculars? Sunbeams. Someone’s just standing out in the open on a bridge under a blue sky? They got you covered… with sunbeams. Those sunbeams really threw me off after a couple of episodes, and I had my metaphorical fingers were crossed that they would tone it down… nope. One time they even changed the angle of the sunlight- in a way that’s not even possible because sunbeams are divergent- anyway, you can see that happening during the running scene in a flashback from episode 9.

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Not kidding, it’s the next shot.

I know I’m being nitpicky here, but this was the moment when my patience-kettle burst with the overabundance of these chromatic aberrations and sun streaks- and they don’t even fit the generic art style of the show, unlike Your Name or A Silent Voice, where those visual effects actually fit the art style. And since I have laid down the ‘generic’ buzzword about the art style, I will step back and say the quality of the art relatively stays consistent and that’s impressive.

Alright, that’s enough of that damned sunbeam rant- I sounded like an angry mom who can’t stop complaining about her adopted son who ran away from home 10 years ago, but that’s okay. I also find this whole sunbeam rant kind of ironic because my real name is Roddur- which means ‘sunlight’ in Bengali, and here I am complaining about the overabundance of the thing I was named after.

The animation is also okay, and it’s (surprisingly) consistent in quality.

What’s not consistent in quality, or rather not good in quality at all, is the character writing. Almost all of the characters have this cliché Hollywood witty character template- they all talk in the same way. Banba is like a low-rent Dazai archetype, except Dazai (from Bungou Stray Dogs) has actual charm. Saito is an outlier, but even at that- he’s just a one-dimensional comic relief character. Lin is actually a character who has history, but even the protagonist’s writing is half-baked (like this review). His reaction to his sister’s death was grossly superficial and had no weight to his mood in the later episodes- okay, he’s a hitman, he masks his feelings, but wait… what about his tsundere-like reactions with Banba? Hm… I won’t even talk about Feilang, his character never got the time to be developed in the last three episodes.

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A gun in a knife? That’s cool… and convenient.

I guess the show is more about the cat and mouse chases, the “got ’em” moments and baseball team recruitment rather than the character development. And yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed the missions, but I can’t say that aspect of the show is impressive enough to leave a lasting impression. A lasting impression would need a great cast of characters, and that, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens didn’t have. This show threw a lot of things at me, some were tasty treats, but hardly any of them stuck long enough to leave an impression… ok, maybe the sunbeams did.

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