Monday, April 9, 2018

Anime Review : Violet Evergarden

Violet Evergarden

“A fine, exemplary anime that highlights Kyoto Animation's best and worst at the same time.”

What is Violet Evergarden?

The anime follows Violet Evergarden, a woman who has trouble experiencing emotion and has been expressionless for so long, she was treated as a tool rather than as a human. Upon surviving the war, she enlisted herself to become a doll, or someone who would write a letter to another person in order to convey the sender’s feelings to them, in order to understand the meaning of the words uttered by the person dearest to her.

And what do i think about this anime?

If my memory serves me correctly, Violet Evergarden was the first and only light novel, at the time of this writing, to win the Kyoto Animation grand prize for light novel at 2014 or so and was promised to have an adaptation in the future. Believe it or not, I have known about this project for about 3 years and was surprised to finally learn that it will finally be airing at January 2018 and for an avid KyoAni fan, this is a magnificent news, although I was a bit skeptical at that project, and hoping that this would be an awesome project.

But, by golly, I was captivated by what I have seen for the past 3 months. First of all, allow me to clarify that I have written a blog post regarding Violet Evergarden in the past, regarding it’s grand ambition and how huge of a project it was, such as how it visually captivating, how stellar the voice cast both in Japanese dub and the English dub, something that was rare, and how it was acquired by Netflix.

A long-time project has finally arrived.

And I am pretty sure Netflix have glad that they took the series for their Netflix Original series, as the premiere of the show captured the audience of so many. The first episode of it was so memorable that so many people have already highly-regarded this to be a very successful anime and a stellar project to undertake. I’d lie if I say that I was not captivated by the first episode though, as it was so magnificently done, I couldn’t wait for the next episode to air.

And everything was good up until I realized something, that this is adapted from a 3-volume light novel. At that time, I pondered on how will the series fare? For the first time in ages, I was glad that KyoAni took that 12-episode route as it allowed Violet Evergarden to not overstay it’s welcome and become so formulaic that it will plague the anime in the future. Why do I say that? Because everything began to unravel in episode 4 or so.

The anime-original content was necessary in order to fill in the gap for several episodes, such as inclusion of new characters, anime-original episode, and many more. While Violet’s adventure as an Auto-Memory Doll is an exhilarating tale, it was the anime-original characters that felt weak, and we shall get to that a little bit later. For now, I would like to talk about several problems that the anime faced during it’s airtime.

Of course, the most baffling one that Violet Evergarden started to plague the series is it’s musical score. Do not get me wrong since the musical score of Violet Evergarden was so marvelous and fantastic and felt like it comes out from a blockbuster movie or a high-budget anime, and I liked it a lot to be honest. However, the problem was the timing of the music. There are numerous moments where the anime tries to fill in grand musical score in a scene so unfitting that it kills of the impact of that scene prematurely, and I didn’t say that lightly. Picture the scene, Violet handed in a letter to her friend’s big brother which contains her friend’s pure emotion that she wanted to convey to her brother for so long, and the time is night with no insects or any other environmental stuffs to bother. Of course, since the letter was moving, the older brother started to cry since he felt his sister’s pure emotion flowing for him. And all that was good, until you realize that the music playing in the background was an upbeat music coupled with several trumpets and such.

I can't help but wonder how many times the music ruined several scenes.

Another problem that I found during the course of watching Violet Evergarden is it’s formulaic theme that goes for several episode, which I found too repetitive and predictable until the story finally moves on with an actual plot.  The theme is simple, Violet gets called in for a service of a doll, then she meets someone, writes something for that someone, and that something she wrote, and that person is suddenly either reformed or was glad that Violet is there. While the execution was planned perfectly, you can’t help but notice the repetitive aspect of the formula, which becomes too annoying to ignore.

Also, speaking of repetitive, I really, really, disliked Violet’s behavior of removing her gloves to reveal her clockwork arm, surprising those in vicinity. While it was done perfectly during the first few episodes, you can’t help but notice that KyoAni kept doing this over and over again, making Violet’s clockwork arm a little bit less impactful everytime she removed the gloves since she just kept doing that same thing again and again. Remember, something is bound to be special and memorable if done rarely, and will become an afterthought when it is done too much. This is one of those few times that it actually happened though.

The formulaic theme of Violet Evergarden made several episodes felt predictable at times.

And this behavior of Violet as well.

The last problem that I found was the characters, in the form of Erica Brown and Iris Cannary. Their characterization was a bit shallow and they mostly would just fade out to the obscurity the moment the show finally gets the grinder going. They did got their own episode that focused on them and their relationship with Violet, but that’s just it. We just learn that Erica wants to be a famous doll while Iris just wants to overcome her lack of confidence, but that’s it. They played no further memorable part in the future plot other than the one time they written a letter to Violet. In any case, they should have been given more plot points and importance, but the anime fails to capitalize on this aspect.

The same could not be said, however, to several one-off characters that Violet helped though. Some of them are not really that memorable, but I would say the other half of them were very memorable, especially the novelist, the sick mother, and the soldier. A little bit of spoiler alert but most of their request deal with either filial bonds or their loved ones, and even in a rare instance, I shed a tear during the penultimate moment after the soldier’s letter has finally been sent to his family and loved one. It was so emotional and phenomenally done that it makes the execution of it so touching.

While it might sound a little bit too cliched...

Violet Evergarden sure deliver some of the best emotional moments for anime.

Part of those is also thanks to Violet connecting with the audience. Violet Evergarden, the titular character of the anime, spends the most amount of time in our screen, since she is the main character. This anime delves on one single matter, on how Violet wanted to learn emotion, wanted to truly understand the meaning of the word that her major gave her, and wanted to understand herself better. She was shown to be robotic at first, unable to understand the basics of emotion, and blindly follows order, even if it puts her at a bad state, and some even causes trouble for her comrades or her clients, but that is because she was learning about emotions and trying so hard to understand them.

Over time as the anime progressed, even the simplest of the matter, even during Erica’s character focus episode, we get to learn Violet and how she interacts with people, such as how she tries so hard to emulate the mimic of those, trying to force a smile on her face when it was initially impossible for her to do so, and how she was very tactless at times. That allowed her to connect with the audience, who wants her to understand herself better, to understand the emotion better. This is the most important aspect though, as a main character should garner the audience’s interest and sympathy, and Violet has, in my opinion, garnered some of that, which helped her progression as a character to be even more meaningful.

And by the time she has learned how to smile, how to properly express her desire, and how to communicate with other people, we as the audience felt genuine happiness when she does.  When she finally conveyed her genuine smile to her friend, I can tell you I really felt that moment, and it was very special.

It was captivating to see how Violet struggles with her own expression...

And saw how she grows and learns all the emotion and expression by herself.

However, despite the merits that Violet give as a character, she is basically the only character that we can connect and care about. Other characters in the show felt like a second fiddle to her. Take for example Cattleya. By the end of the show, the only thing I can say about her is that she is a top-notch doll who acts as a mentor to Violet but that’s it. And of course, with the aforementioned Iris and Erica, they were pretty bad.

Although I do have to give my praise to both the Bougenvillea siblings. Gillbert, Violet’s commander, was very supportive in Violet’s growth as a human and wants her to properly learn how to express her emotion and communicate with people better, and his flashback episode that depicted his final battle with Violet was pretty solid, which gives a little bit of an insight to Violet’s past, and some connection with Gillbert. On the other hand, Dietfried, Gillbert’s brother, is very interesting despite the fact that he appears slightly bit later, and makes several cameos in a handful of episodes, as his story was relayed when he is finally focused, that he is torn with his loss and continually blames himself and Violet for what he has lost. And when he has finally learned the reason why Gillbert was so affectionate towards Violet, he finally understood everything and he finally accepts Violet as a human. All in all, both Bougenvillea siblings are better written than most characters in the show, and i really liked Dietfried a lot, and he stands as my second favourite character in the show, just below Violet.

I really enjoyed Dietfried's appearance in the show, albeit it's a bit limited.

Another reason i liked Dietfried is his voice, particularly in his English voice, since he is voiced by Keith Silverstein and his cynical tone constantly reminded me that of Masayoshi Shido from Persona 5 although Keith was very great in his role as Dietfried with his tone somehow connected with Dietfried’s character pretty well.

Speaking of voice actors, both the Japanese and English voice was very stellar in the term of star power and this is very rare for KyoAni, considering the fact that they liked using younger and newer voice actors while backing their performance with the voice of veteran voice actors. And especially in the English dub, they used quite a stacked voice actors, in the form of Erika Harlacher, Cherami Leigh, and Christine Marie Cabanos, who previously worked for Persona 5. And even the minor roles are filled in with several  notable voices, such as the aforementioned Keith Silverstein, Cassandra Lee Morris, Karen Strassman, and even Johnny Yong Bosch.

In terms of performance, Yui Ishikawa was very convincing and powerful in her role as Violet. She managed to deliver several tone which resonated with Violet’s character so well and her calm demeanor fits the role very well. Aside from her, everyone sounded okay. The English voice also sounded good, compared to other anime titles who used a fairly limited voice actors. In short, the voice-acting territory of Violet Evergarden was done good.

Yui Ishikawa's performance as Violet is truly stunning and accurate.

As for the visual, Violet Evergarden is practically KyoAni’s finest work in the terms of visual. Everything looks so beautiful and vividly animated. Colorful and panoramic background, wonderfully animated characters, and just about everything. Nothing seemed or looks out of place, even during the simplest moment of a scene. KyoAni is normally great in delivering good visual, but this is just turned up to eleven. Although I do have to say that KyoAni once again utilized the same character model that looks just like how a KyoAni works looks.

The finest visual that Kyoto Animation ever delivered.

And as for the music… I guess I have spoken enough about the music above…

And last but not least, there are several plot points that the anime failed to explore thoroughly. One of such instance is the meeting between Dietfried and Violet. We are given a simple enough information on how Violet was picked up by Dietfried from the front or something like that, but there is nothing to explain the end of episode 5, where Dietfried looks very annoyed that Violet has become a doll that helps so many people despite her past where Dietfried mentioned how she took the lives of his comrades. I was really anxious on how it will be played out, but it was not explored at all nonetheless.  While everything did worked out pretty well, I was hoping that something came out of that.

All in all, Violet Evergarden is a phenomenal anime series which is hampered only by few issues, but those issues did not stop this anime series to be so highly regarded right now. The plot seems simple, but the execution was marvelously done, even when it falls to a formulaic themes at times. The musical score is awesome, but sometimes sounded out of place, and the visuals are very tantalizing to behold.

If you are a casual anime watcher, then you can give this anime a shot, since the plot is fairly easy to digest, but not that easy to swallow, so as to allow those who enjoy anime even more to look at it deeper. Those who are not fan of this genre should try to give this anime a shot as well, since this anime may sound simple, but simple thing is sometimes the best.

The ambitions to become an international are a bit visible at times, given it's simplistic theme of a young woman searching for the meaning of love, the lack of japanese characters in each name, and the Netflix... I'm sure you can read about it more in my short article regarding Violet Evergarden.

Oh yeah. I do notice that some people rants during the course of Violet Evergarden on how several anime-original content differs greatly from the light novel and how it hampers the anime down, especially Erica and Iris. I would say that they aren’t very knowledgeable when making those rants, as KyoAni is well-known for their tendency of tampering with the source material, and once again, Violet Evergarden is limited to just 3 volumes, causing the adaptation to 13 episodes a bit hard to do. And thus, the filler-like episode was created to fill in the gap. You wouldn’t want to see Violet Evergarden plot to be so rushed that they end in episode 6-7 right? Sometimes, filler are necessary to build up the characters and the plot so that the end result are worth the filler.

The anime can be a hit or miss to some, but it is a certain hit for me.

The good : Violet is very memorable as a character. Visually awesome. Musical scores sounded grand and elegant. Stellar voice-acting, both in English and Japanese dub. 

The bad : Aside from Violet, most of the cast seemed shallow. The music sometimes does not fit the scene.  Several plot points are not explored thoroughly.

Highlight : The soldier’s and the sick mom’s letter. Also, when Dietfried finally is focused.

Final Score : 4 out of 5. If only those technical issues are resolved and some cast are given more reason to connect with the audience, then this could be one of the best anime to ever come out.

Note to Blog : I am currently at the point where i am writing thesis for my Bachelor's degree. As such, the activity on this blog will be greatly reduced though i will try my best in updating once in a while. Anyway, as a side note,  my thesis will be about a specific anime, so i think i will have fun writing it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Anime Review : Himouto! Umaru-chan R review

Himouto! Umaru-chan R

“A cozy ride which allows us to look deep at this satisfying series.”

What is Himouto! Umaru-chan R?

Himouto! Umaru-chan R is the sequel to the commercially-succesfull, yet less appreciated series Himouto! Umaru-chan which originally premiered in 2015. The story depicts Umaru and again, her lazy outlook in life, but this time, she wants to change, as a sister and a human being.
So, how does it fare?

The season 2 of Umaru was announced fairly later, which 2 months after the announcement that NEW GAME was receiving a second season. This little insight proves on how much Doga Kobo values these two series, but leaning far more towards NEW GAME as the series is more critically received than Umaru, simply because NEW GAME is far better than Umaru in every aspects. While the announcement of Umaru season 2 did get many people hyped up to see the chibi Umaru wreak havoc again, few may have predicted that this could be this good. I think that not only the audiences, but also the critics, were baffled by the improvement made in the Umaru season 2, much like what NEW GAME gave us a season earlier.

We all know how this anime thrives in the eyes of it’s audience, capturing the viewer’s attention via it’s cute and chibi style of Umaru, as well as how she would approach thing in her own way, such as eating chips and cola, and make fun at things her way, which ironically what makes another half of the audience got turned off by it and makes several critics displeased by the series. Despite the status of main character is held by Umaru, the true star of the first season was Kirie and Ebina, and in this season, Umaru seeks to regain that status as a true star of the show and prove her critics wrong.
And boy, she did manage to do just that.

Gone was the overbearing and annoying Umaru and in comes the Umaru that knows the value of friendship, the burden of others, and knows the pain she has been causing last season, especially to her brother. In this season, Umaru looks like a former of her own self and a character reborn thanks to a well-written characterization, which allows the audience to truly endear to her as a main character.
The main comedic routines still remained within the show, but it was greatly, and I mean greatly, reduced and would turn in favor to developing the character of each cast that appeared throughout the show, particularly Umaru and Sylphinford, oh we’ll get to that later.

Umaru interacts more and more with other characters in the sequel.

Allowing her character to develop properly.

As I stated before, Umaru was like a character reborn. This is partly because of her newfound belief that she too is a human being, and wants to socialize with others properly, not just be worshipped all day by people around her just because she is too perfect at everything. The anxiety she felt when she was about to ask out all her friends to go home with her was real, something she has never felt before as she has never come to this realization, which makes her truly alive. And when she does get over her anxiety and fear, and finally asks her friend to walk home with her, the sense of accomplishment is felt to both the viewer and Umaru herself, especially that last shot where she walks home happily with her friends, although that light she continually radiates that other people saw from her completely defeats the purpose of her innocence and charm in my opinion though.

And of course, by the end of that episode, now the norm is having each episode serve at least one interaction between Umaru and friends, whether it’s watching movie, going to the amusement park, or even studying together. It has become the norm, and I enjoyed every single of their hanging out moments.

In each episode, there will be a hang-out session between Umaru and her friends.

Don’t get me wrong though, as despite this fact, Umaru is still Umaru, and she is still as lazy as a sloth. There are still several routines of her either lazing around all day, or just play video games and still lazes around. However, the show found the way on how to properly utilize it, and while it still appears on daily basis, most of them works both comedically or to further characterize Umaru. Lastly, her self-awareness of how selfish she was previously and the fact that she loves her brother so much that she cries upon his return from a long trip is the result of her development as a character which was phenomenally done.

 All in all, Umaru was like a new person, someone never seen before in the previous incarnation.
However, aside from Umaru, there is also a character who was reborn in this show. Her name is Tachibana Sylphinford. Sylphinford was used atrociously in the first season, as a person who gratuitously challenges Umaru at any given corner in hopes of being her friend, yet never succeeded at becoming her friend, simply because the writing of her character was bad. She was unlikable and jarring in her first appearance, which I branded her as a misfit if I recalled correctly, but all that immediately changes upon her appearance in the new season of this show.

She is gaining more and more time to appear and showcase her characteristics properly to the audience, while slowly building her characters that allows the audience to appeal to her. Gone was that someone who constantly boast to no end, and in comes a person who wants to enjoy her time with her friends and value the friendship she has with other. This was highlighted when she received a gift from Taihei and gladly accepted it with no disappointment or anything despite the fact that she received the same gift from her brother. Sylphinford’s development as a character totally made her stood out from her friends, and most of her flaws that we see from the first season properly explained to make us truly endear to her as a character.

Of course, let us not forget the star of the last season, Motoba Kirie. Kirie remains the strongest character in the show in my opinion, due to the fact that she gained more characterization than both Umaru and Sylphinford, and definitely Ebina, and she also gained more screen time to appear in the show. Her character was still the same, someone who could not properly get her message across yet loves her friends with everything she has. 

Her character still oozes that special aura which makes her likable, especially when she shows that she wanted to be a picture-book writer in the future, which had her base the main character of Umaru chibi form. Though it was not shown in the anime, there was an important scene of her progression as a picture book writer in the manga that was definitely must be seen to see her character as a whole. In addition to that, she improved upon Bomber, her brother, when the two of them interact with each other properly for the first time in ages. That scene was quite the sight in my opinion.

While Kirie remains a powerful character in the series.

Sylphinford has finally received the spotlight she fully deserved.

Also, as a side note, it is worth note that Kirie might have ascended to a main character status, due to her new role in the show, as well as her more frequent appearances in the show, much more than the rest of the cast, and almost on par with Umaru. And of course, given the fact that Umaru’s later appearance was just to have fun with her friends, while Kirie was being focused solely, it makes the statement I made earlier all more intriguing.

Anyway, with the three characters done, now let’s move on to Ebina Nana. Unfortunately for Ebina, this season was not kind to her. She suffered the same role that Sylphinford was trusted in the first season, as a scapegoat. Ebina was a highlight last season due to her characters and her bombastic figure, as well as her awkwardness. However, in this season, she appears less important and constantly blushes randomly and got all tongue-tied whenever there’s Taihei due to her apparent crush on Umaru’s older brother, which was repeated numerous times. In my opinion, this undermined her character’s importance to the show.

Especially when her brother’s debuted. Her brother only appeared once, and Ebina has mentioned throughout the show that she is looking for her brother, but that’s it. She makes no effort in trying to actually find her brother and that reasoning has instead become an excuse in my opinion.
Perhaps this is the case of the writers thinking that Ebina is already far more established and decided to left her out of most of the writing since she is already appealing to the audience. At any rate, it was a shame to see such a powerful and endearing character from the first season got relegated into a background figure. True enough, she had several episodes focusing on her, but that’s not enough to showcase her unique characteristics she had.

Everyone is treated in the right way, except for Ebina.

With the four main girls done, let us move on to the rest of the characters. Is this becoming character reviews? This is supposed to be a whole anime review, yet all I’ve been doing was reviewing each character. Well, what can I do? Character development was the main focus of this new season of Himouto! Umaru-chan.

Anyway, I’ll keep it short so I can talk about things other than characters.

Taihei remains largely unchanged from last season. He still constantly scolds Umaru when she gets too lazy and reminds Umaru of the things she needed to do. However, Taihei has shown more genuine feelings in this new season, largely thanks to Umaru’s newfound characteristics, which was also thanks to Taihei half of the time.

Bomber, or Takeshi Motoba, or Kirie’s brother, shows that his appearance in this show is far more important than just goof around. There are several instances in which he played a integral role in developing the character of Taihei, as well as showing her love for Kirie implicitly. Her family talk with Kirie is also a sight to behold, something I mentioned earlier. Bomber has been unfortunate that he has been showing his bad sides to Kirie most of the time, which undermines his worth to Kirie, and that scene truly reinvest Kirie’s belief to Bomber as a brother, albeit only momentarily.

Alex was okay too, if only he appears more than just once every episode. There is something hidden beneath his character. However, given his lack of promotion, there was no need to be disappointed in him.

Bomber remains a largely important, although subtlely.

And Alex is finally receiving his share in screen time, much like his sister.

The biggest disappointment has to go to Hikari Kongou, the little sister of Kanau. She was promoted in many news outlet, and even got voiced by a popular voice actress in the form of Inori Minase, which was far more popular than any of the voice actors in this show in my opinion. However, her appearance was limited, her interactions was limited, and the only thing we knew is that she loved Taihei and treated him like her big brother since her childhood, but that’s it. Her interactions might be limited, but all of those was enough to showcase her prominence in the show, though it’s just that she did not appear enough to make her mark.

She suffered the Elma-problem I mentioned in the Kobayashi-san chi no Maid Dragon earlier. Elma appeared much later in the anime, which is episode 8, and flounders after her brilliant debut episode, as just another dragon who loves to eat. Hikari almost do Elma, though she was a little bit better, since she got a better writing by the show. I sure hope this Elma-problem doesn’t appear anymore though, as it was sad to see character as important as Elma got relegated into a background duty.
But that’s enough of talking about the characters. Let’s talk about something else.

Hikari was unusually left out in the show and had limited appearance.

The overall theme remains largely the same, big brother and little sister. This theme is even more reinforced upon the single-episode debut of Ebina’s brother, Koichiro, and thanks to that, all of the main cast is now positioned properly as a little sister. The interaction between Umaru with Taihei, and Kirie with Bomber remains the strongest brother to sister interaction in the show, as Sylphinford and Ebina’s relationship with their brother are a little bit underwhelming.

The animation remains the same, colorful and vividly animated, with each character articulates their animation properly. Still, I think the studio goes all out when animating that ending scene, where the four main character are animated in a chibi form, much like the Umaru himouto form. Despite the fact that most of them looked out of place, they all still looked cute enough and the animation was top notch.

And speaking of the ending, really love the ending song and how catchy it was. I found myself watching the ending most of the time when I finished watching an episode, something I reservedly do only to Mahoutsukai no Yome, until it was replaced, given how powerful the ending and opening song was.

The ending song is very catchy in my opinion.

Lastly, allow me to talk about voice-acting. The voice acting remains good in the show, with Aimi Tanaka continues to show that she can do great as a voice actor, despite the fact that her voice is type-casted as a young girl, or the himouto version of Umaru voice. Her ability to deliver a proper voice is still good and she sounds relaxed with her role in my opinion. Hopefully other anime will cast her as someone other than character with the voice of Umaru all over again.

While the English dub of the second season is still not here, allow me to talk about the English dub that the show had in the first season. A month earlier, I was able to watch Umaru in the English dub, and that was very unique and captivating in my opinion. Sure, some sounded a bit strange or out of place, but I must give credits to the voice of Taihei and Umaru, Adam Noble and Emily Neves. While Emily was good in her ability to switch out her voice as the perfect Umaru and the himouto Umaru, Adam Noble’s performance as a Taihei truly steals the show for me. He was sarcastically comedic in his approach and performance as Taihei, and there’s just something about his voice that sounded very entertaining to me, in my opinion. When the English dub of the second season arrived, I will definitely watch it again, hoping that the cast remain the same.
All in all, Himouto! Umaru-chan R was a major improvement, as a whole, to the first season of the show. The second season directly focused on developing each and every character in the show, with it becoming the sole objective of this show all around. Every character is given a proper development that allowed the audience to endear to, either with their newfound characteristics, or their innate ability to just make them likable. 

It could not really best the second season of NEW GAME, but it managed to achieve it’s objective well enough, and I think this is far better than the first season, far far better.

A third season is both necessary and unnecessary as the show wraps everything up in the final episode. If there’s a third season, then that’s a good thing, but if there’s not, then that’s okay.

The Good: Character-development was top notch, with each character getting their major development. Kirie remains the star of the show. Sylphinford and Umaru is characterized properly. Catchy ending song. The pace is far better than before.

The Bad: Again, the jokes are toned down in favor of character development. Ebina suffered a lot of damage in her character. Hikari did not appear enough.

Highlight Moments: Umaru crying to her brother when he finally gets back. Kirie realizing the importance of her brother. The image of all four main cast walking home together.

Final Score : 4 out of 5. Far better than the original. Hopefully, the future is bright for both Umaru and Doga Kobo for animating this show.

A splendid show, and a magnificent continuation to it's original show.