The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Category Archives: Terrible Anime Challenge

Terrible Anime Challenge: Extreme Hearts and Rising to The Top, Plus A Faceoff With Luminous Witches and Remarks on Invalid Comparisons

“There is a prison in a more ancient part of the world – a pit where men are thrown to suffer and die. But sometimes, a man rises from the darkness. Sometimes, the pit sends something back.” –Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight Rises

Hiyori Hayama is a student and solo idol whose career is quite unsuccessful. After her contract ends, she decides to hedge her bets on Extreme Hearts, a hyper-sports competition for idols. Although Hiyori is quite unskilled in sports, she is joined by Saki Kodaka, a soccer player, and Sumika Maehara, a basketball player. Saki had been a fan of Hiyori’s, and Sumika becomes intrigued to help Hiyori out. Over time, the three form RISE, an indie group, and begin making a splash in the realm of hyper-sports. Along the way, Yukino Tachibana, a kendōka, and Lise Kohinata, a martial artist, join RISE. Between competing in hyper-sports against other idol groups and training together, RISE ends up winning the Kanagawa tournament and make a name for themselves. At its core, Extreme Hearts is more of a sports anime than an idol anime, with competition, the will to win and overcoming one’s internal obstacles lying at the heart of the series’ aims. Although RISE is unified by their desire to help Hiyori reach her goals, and hyper-sports retains notions of sportsmanship amongst competitors, the very nature of hyper-sports results in an anime that comes across as extremely busy. Hiyori, Saki, Sumika, Yukino and Lise have different backgrounds, and while their unique experiences allow them to contribute to RISE in their own way, constantly switching the sports up and providing players with augmentation gear means that RISE is never able to commit to a sport for the sake of improvement. This helps to keep Extreme Hearts‘ focus on the characters and their path; while the stakes in Extreme Hearts are not especially compelling (everyone’s driven by a desire to see what their best can offer), and Hiyori’s aspirations aren’t particularly unique, this anime does have heart. In a vacuum, Extreme hearts represents a moderately entertaining watch as the summer season’s other anime with an idol piece.

While Extreme Hearts does attempt to meld futuristic athletics with musical performances, at least one individual has seen it fit to compare Extreme Hearts with Luminous Witches, with the rather outrageous claim that differences in animation (Luminous Witches did have moments where the performances distinctly used computer rendered elements) and a shift in paradigms away from Strike Witches‘ more crass aspects rendered Luminous Witches the inferior choice to Extreme Hearts. For this individual, animation and clinging to an outdated approach matters more than storytelling: such superficial views of anime are hardly worth consideration, but if we were to take this premise, that Extreme Hearts is superior to Luminous Witches, as having validity, then one must first start by considering what Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches‘ respective aims are. Both Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches portray a disparate group of individuals coming together and doing what they can as a team to accomplish things that wouldn’t be feasible alone. However, whereas Extreme Hearts is motivated by RISE’s efforts to try their best and see what the outcomes are, Luminous Witches shows the significance of using music to raise morale and give people in war-torn areas hope. Hiyori ends up inspiring her friends and is instrumental in bringing RISE to the championships, but this victory is ultimately for Saki, Sumika, Yukino and Lise. In Luminous Witches, the LNAF Band use their songs to encourage humanity to endure, to maintain their resolve, and to give their fellow Witches the strength to keep fighting. The stakes in Luminous Witches are much larger, and the reason for incorporating a musical element is far stronger than it is in Extreme Hearts: were the musical piece of Extreme Hearts to be removed entirely, and Hiyori were given another background, the anime still would have succeeded in conveying its theme. In Extreme Hearts, music is a secondary, dispensable element, whereas in Luminous Witches, music becomes essential to the story. On these grounds, Luminous Witches has the stronger thematical piece, and while it is the case that the performances in Extreme Hearts are superior, visuals alone do not make an anime.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Par the course for a Terrible Anime Challenge, I’ll open by stating that on its own, Extreme Hearts earns a B grade (3.0 of 4, or 7.5 of 10): “not quite as good as expectations resulting from community reception, but reasonable in its own right”. When graded on a curve against Luminous WitchesExtreme Hearts would score a C (2.0 of 4, or 6 of 10). The grading becomes significantly harsher because Luminous Witches had been thematically excellent, and the performances’ impact had a clear, tangible objective in boosting morale during a time when humanity needed  something to uplift their spirits. By comparison, the stakes in Extreme Hearts are much lower, being focused around Hiyori’s desire to continue performing despite her lack of success as a solo idol.

  • When Hiyori speaks with her most dedicated fan, Saki (left), she also ends up drawing the interest of Sumika (middle). The characters in Extreme Hearts are familiar archetypes: Saki reminds me of Haurkana Receive‘s Akari to some extent, while Sumika is High School Fleet‘s Moeka. On the other hand, Hiyori herself resembles Koisuru Asteroid‘s Mira. Archetypes aren’t a problem for me in anime, and what matters more is how everyone gathers. Once Hiyori’s initial team assembles, the series begins accelerating in its pacing.

  • I had originally intended to save Extreme Hearts for a rainy day: watching idol-like anime (series with a performing arts component added onto another premise) is something  I tend to save for quieter moments between seasons. However, after claims of Extreme Hearts being superior to Luminous Witches began appearing, I decided to push my way through Extreme Hearts to get a feel for the anime and see for myself whether or not such claims had any merit. These claims originate from one individual at AnimeSuki, someone whom I do not get along with to any capacity: we’ve clashed on Super Cub and The Aquatope on White Sand previously.

  • The individual making these claims has a history of being snide and patronising in their Twitter-length reactions to anime, oftentimes belittling the creators and suggesting they could do better than said creators, but in spite of these inadequate reactions, people still agree with them. When I disagreed with this individual, moderators removed my responses, calling my counterarguments “personal attacks”. This isn’t exactly a healthy environment for discussion; I expect people to always think for themselves and call out poor conduct where it is observed.

  • However, when this individual suggested that Extreme Hearts was superior to Luminous Witches after the latter finished airing, I was in no position to counteract them, having not seen Extreme Hearts for myself. I therefore steeled myself for one of the fastest I’ve ever gone through an anime. I found in Extreme Hearts an unremarkable series that employed familiar approaches and convention. Unexpected setbacks occur, but the lead characters, who form the group RISE, always find a way to prevail against all odds. Over time, their group grows, with members deciding to join after experiencing internal conflict in deciding whether or not they wish to join.

  • Despite being a paint-by-numbers series, Extreme Hearts does have heart, and one does find incentive to cheer for the lead characters as the show wears on. With this in mind, I found that the notion of hyper-sports diminishes the investment into the characters; use of specialised equipment to greatly enhance one’s abilities undermines the notion that sport is something people must invest time into such that they can improve. Here in Extreme Hearts, sports from soccer, to American flag football, baseball, futsal and volleyball, are all shown.

  • I appreciate that this was likely done to showcase as broad of a range of sports as possible to suggest that as idols, the characters must be familiar in a range of fields, but the idea of using equipment to boost one’s performance stands contrary to the idea that improvement must come from one’s own resolve. As an idol, Hiyori’s singing and performing come as a result of her efforts, and when Saki and Sumika join her, they put in the effort to improve, as well: on stage, there is nothing else to help them along besides what they bring to the table.

  • While RISE is shown practising extensively for their events, I found that ignoring the hyper aspect of hyper-sports and doing a mixed sports tournament without the gear would’ve still yielded a similar emotional impact. From a storytelling standpoint, adding this special equipment is two-fold: it helps separate Extreme Hearts from reality and accentuate the fact that this is a world somewhat unlike ours, as well as offering the animators a chance to show their stuff. Here, Yukino prepares to compose music for RISE: an excellent baseball player and kendo practitioner, Yukino felt obligated to pass on RISE’s offer to join them so she could tend to the family dōjō. Her grandfather convinces her there’s more than one way to uphold family tradition, and Yukino ends up contributing to RISE’s latest win.

  • While out and about, Saki encounters Lise, a former martial artist who quit after she accidentally injured a friend during competition. Saki manages to convince Lise that she’s amongst peers, and that in hyper-sports, there’s a chance for her to be herself and put in her best. Such elements are woven into Extreme Hearts in a satisfactory manner: unlike Luminous Witches, whose unique universe created opportunities to simultaneously advance character growth and world-building, things here are much more familiar.

  • The main element that Extreme Hearts has over Luminous Witches is in its performances: everything is still hand-drawn, but in spite of this, the dancing remains smooth and synchronised. However, visuals alone don’t make an anime: similarly to games, where graphics alone don’t make any one game superior to another. While life-like textures, real-time lighting effects and photorealistic details contribute to immersion, games are worth playing because of the experience they confer, and this means things like gameplay mechanics, design and narrative count more than the visuals.

  • Similarly, while Extreme Hearts has better performances than Luminous Witches, the visuals elsewhere in Luminous Witches aren’t egregiously poor. Coupled with the fact that the stakes were more compelling, I would argue that dismissing Luminous Witches on account of the performances being a little rougher around the edges is akin to dismissing a triple-A steak dinner simply because the butter than accompanied the complimentary bread was actually margarine. The individual from AnimeSuki also supposed that Luminous Witches “wasn’t Strike Witches” because of the lack of fanservice.

  • At this point, it became clear that this individual was complaining for the sake of complaining and totally lacked any understanding of what Luminous Witches was doing (or otherwise, was so convinced of their own correctness that they were forcing themselves to overlook certain truths): over the years, Strike Witches had stepped away from gratuitously crotch-shots in favour of world-building, and this has actually contributed to improving Strike Witches. Besides opening the universe to more compelling stories, it also showed that the Strike Witches universe could stand on the merits of its stories and character dynamics, rather than gimmicks.

  • As Extreme Hearts reached its finale, episodes put the pedal to the metal as things heated up. However, when RISE squares off against Snow Wolf, even though the competition was anticipated to be exceptionally challenging, Hiyori would strike up a friendship with Snow Wolf’s Michelle Jaeger and Ashley Vancroft, who were robotics engineers and mechanics first, and performers second. Despite their fearsome reputation, RISE ends up getting along with Michelle and Ashley on excellent terms. The idea of sportsmanship in Extreme Hearts is nothing new, but it does accentuate the idea that competitors can still cooperate and support one another when the moment calls for it.

  • During the championship match against May-Bee, Hiyori sprains her foot while exerting herself for everyone’s sake: May-Bee is the defending champion and puts up an impressive showing, building a massive lead that spectators comment as being demoralising. However, undeterred, RISE manages to catch up, thanks in part to Hiyori’s determination spurring her teammates on even despite her injury. Michelle ends up pulling Hiyori aside to get a better look at the latter’s injury, and reluctantly allows Hiyori to return to the match. In reality, injuries are taken seriously, and it was through the story’s requirements that Hiyori was able to pull through.

  • I am willing to overlook these aspects of an anime in the knowledge that they are deliberately chosen to advance the story, and consequently, have no trouble accepting RISE’s win over May-Bee. Having been around the anime community for almost a decade-and-a-half now, I still find it perplexing that people would fixate on small details and maintain the belief that one gaffe is sufficient to render an anime unwatchable. I’ve never managed to gain a proper understanding of the rationale behind this brand of thinking and therefore, continue to remain confused by such a mindset.

  • Following their victory, RISE is slated to conclude their performance. Hiyori is allowed some time to recuperate, and spends most of her time handling administrative details: RISE has become quite popular as a result of their successes, and there’s quite a bit to deal with. It is clear that thanks to the championships, RISE is experiencing a rise in popularity. The correlation behind how this happens is never really explored in Extreme Hearts, certainly not to the same extent that the stakes were shown in Luminous Witches, but this is a consequence of the dramatically different settings. The LNAF Band sing for those who are fighting and doing their best to survive, while RISE performs for one another initially and learns of how much of an impact they’re having as a result of their efforts.

  • The comparison between Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches is ultimately insincere, since both anime have different aims. While I’ve made an effort to compare elements that can be validly compared in this post and found that Luminous Witches had a better raison d’être overall, just because I found it to have superior execution in its character growth, world-building and settings doesn’t mean I didn’t have fun watching Extreme Hearts: watching anime isn’t some zero-sum game where one has a limited quota of shows they’re allowed to enjoy in a given season.

  • As it was, the ending concerts were quite entertaining to watch, and RISE stole the show with a spirited performance, intricate outfits, and a moment where Hiyori, whom the others had mentioned to have remained composed and professional up until now, suddenly stops and breaks down in tears mid-performance. This had been a dream of sorts for Hiyori, and Extreme Hearts joins a long list of anime in showing how teamwork makes the impossible achievable: for Hiyori, seeing the audience in front of her, and a team she’s come to love, respect and trust backing her, Hiyori allows herself to give in to the moment.

  • With this post, an impromptu detour of sorts, in the books, I return to my regular programming: I will be doing a set of thoughts on Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury; being my first full-length Gundam series that I’ve watched live since Gundam 00 back in 2007/2008, I’m quite excited to see where this one goes. Further to this, I had planned to write about Ace Combat 7‘s super-planes after watching Top Gun: Maverick and found myself seized with a desire to fly virtual aircraft in reckless, dangerous ways. The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II open beta caused that post to be postponed, and I’ll aim to get that one done soon so that, when the Steam Winter Sale comes about, I can pick up the TOP GUN: Maverick Aircraft Set for Ace Combat 7.

While comparing one anime against another is an oft-utilised approach amongst reviewers, it’s a method that requires some finesse in order to be fair and useful. In order for comparisons to be valid, they must be made based on elements common to the two works being discussed. Here in Extreme Hearts and Luminous Witches, it’s the thematic elements and how well both anime tie in their respective messages together with its premise. Luminous Witches and Extreme Hearts both speak to the importance of counting on one another and use music as a part of their story. However, music is incidental to Extreme hearts, and Luminous Witches uses music to really bring people together, whether it be the LNAF Band or their audience, during times of adversity. Because Luminous Witches is tighter from the thematic standpoint, it was the series I enjoyed more. Maintaining consistency in comparisons is important, and in the case of the individual claiming that Extreme Hearts has superior animation to Luminous Witches, this is an instance of a faulty comparison because it is incomplete. Ignoring the fact that the hand-drawn scenes in Luminous Witches and using this supposition to say that every scene is superior in Extreme Hearts is a fallacy. While it is true that Extreme Hearts‘ performance sequences are cleaner and more consistent with the aesthetic seen elsewhere in the anime compared to Luminous Witches, it is also the case that Extreme Hearts makes extensive use of stills during action sequences. The difficulty in comparing Luminous Witches to Extreme Hearts arises from the requisite need to do a very extensive breakdown, and at the end of the day, animation is one of several components in both anime. For these reasons, it is invalid to dismiss Luminous Witches merely because the performances sequences weren’t quite as polished as those in Extreme Hearts, especially when the animation is only one component of both series. Overall, I would suggest that while Extreme Hearts is worth watching for those who’ve got some availability and an interest in a variation of sports anime, if one’s time were limited, forcing them to choose between Luminous Witches and Extreme Hearts, Luminous Witches would be the superior choice on the grounds that its musical piece is better related to the series’ themes, and that there is a stronger reason for why music is to be celebrated and cherished.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Kanojo, Okarishimasu Season Two, Or, I’m Going To Need a Beer To Put These Flames Out

“You told me not to think!” –Bradley “Rooster” Bradshaw, Top Gun: Maverick

After Chizuru is unsuccessful in an audition, Kazuya vows to do everything he can to support her dreams and promptly arranges for another rental date. He learns from Chizuru’s grandmother that beneath her tough exterior is someone who’s trying to do everything on her own and despite her appearances, needs someone to lean on. Ruka ends up swinging by and cooks for Kazuya, but when a typhoon sweeps into their region and shuts down all mass transit, Ruka happily stays the night. She tries to seduce Kazuya and fails, but despite this, cheerfully announces they’d spent the night together the next morning. While Chizuru seems unperturbed, but Kazuya remains bothered and decides to rent out Sumi to see if he can gain some insight into what might make a suitable birthday gift – he ends up gifting to her some pickled plums. When Kazuya and Chizuru inadvertently end up being invited to the same drinking party, he ends up overdoing things to help Chizuru out. She and Kazuya end up going on another rental date, where Chizuru reveals she’s auditioning for another role. When Kazuya’s grandmother learns Chizuru’s birthday party has already passed, she decides to host a combined party. Ruka ends up accompanying Kazuya, and while she does her best to make a positive impression, after Chizuru arrives, she’s frustrated at being bested so quickly. She ends up ambushing Kazuya and kisses him passionately, saying she doesn’t want to have any regrets. However, Chizuru’s grandmother’s condition worsens, cutting the party short, and Chizuru decides it’ll be easier to leave their false relationship where it is so her grandmother won’t die with the knowledge that Chizuru has no one in her life. Later, Sumi has a request for Kazuya; she’s been wanting to try taking the lead in a rental date so she can be more effective in her role and to this end, has planned out an itinerary for Kazuya. In the process, Kazuya becomes inspired as to what he should do for Chizuru. Chizuru learns that her latest audition was unsuccessful and recalls why she’d gone into acting: she wanted to fulfil her late grandfather’s dream after he died in a vehicular accident when she was still in high school. When it feels as though despair is total, Kazuya knocks on her door with an ambitious goal in mind – he wants to crowd fund an independent film she’ll star in and complete it for Chizuru’s grandmother. This is Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season, continuing on from the story the first season had begun. In its execution, Kanojo, Okarishimasu has become a very busy anime – it simultaneously seeks to be a drama and comedy, only revealing the background for Chizuru’s singular drive for success in the second season’s finale. However, once this reason becomes established, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s thematic elements become significantly clearer.

While Chizuru’s attitude towards Kazuya suggests otherwise, and Kazuya’s lingering weak sense of self-esteem continues to be a constraint, Chizuru’s flashback ends up providing answers to the questions surrounding Kanojo, Okarishimasu. Kazuya continues to lack any sort of confidence in his decisions and keeps second-guessing himself. He is indecisive, fickle and short-sighted. However, in being optimistic to a fault, Kazuya actually conveys the same sort of dogged persistence and support that Chizuru’s grandfather had when she announced her desire to be an actress. Chizuru’s grandfather had provided a constant source of encouragement and praise, expressing his desire to one day see her on the silver screen. There are numerous parallels with Kazuya’s single-minded wish to see Chizuru achieve her goals, and seeing this may yield a modicum of insight into why Chizuru is so distant with Kazuya, insisting that they remain at arm’s length – Chizuru has been stated to be quite observant and astute, so it follows that she sees a bit of her grandfather in Kazuya. Despite his clumsy attempts to help her, Kazuya’s motivations are sincere (even if he does display some lust where Chizuru is concerned), and after losing her grandfather, it is probably the case that Chizuru wanted to avoid a repeat of things. However, towards the end of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Kazuya takes a hitherto unexpected step for Chizuru’s sake in suggesting a crowd-funded movie, and, moved to tears by the offer, decides to accept Kazuya’s help so that she can fulfil her dreams. In doing so, Chizuru has begun to do what her grandmother had wished for – having tried to do everything on her own until now, seeing Kazuya’s dogged persistence leads her to, however reluctantly, accept help from someone else. In this way, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season indicates that, despite all of the detours taken until now, Chizuru is the real star of the show. By opening up, acknowledging her vulnerability and realising that a little help from others can go a long way, Chizuru’s proven to be the most dynamic character of Kanojo, Okarishimasu. This aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is the series’ strongest, and although it firmly establishes the series direction, my main gripe is that this thematic piece is sufficiently well-written such that the other aspects, such as the love tesseract Kazuya’s entangled in, feels quite unnecessary – from a thematic standpoint, because Kazuya’s desire to support Chizuru is, in effect, a continuation of what her grandfather had done, despite objections from Chizuru, it follows that Kazuya and Chizuru remain the best match in Kanojo, Okarishimasu.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • According to the site archives, the last time I wrote about Kanojo, Okarishimasu was back in May of last year because I had struggled to coherently discuss the series. Right after the first season had ended, the second season was announced, and here at the second season’s conclusion, a third season was immediately announced. Using the existing timeframe as precedence, I would estimate that season three will come out in July 2024. The first season began airing in July 2020, and there is a two-year gap between the two seasons, hence, two years from now appears to be a fair guess.

  • Typically, anime receive continuations based on sales, so Kanojo, Okarishimasu comes across as a bit of a surprise for me: while from a storytelling perspective, the anime is quite inconsistent and does some things better than others, I have heard that in Japan, this work is wildly popular, enough so that merchandise sales and other sources of revenue offset the poor BD sales. I am not one to deny that this series must be successful, since Kanojo, Okarishimasu ended up receiving a live-action drama adaptation, which is no mean feat, considering that Yuru Camp△ also received a live-action adaptation on account of how the overwhelmingly positive reaction for its anime counterpart.

  • The main reason why Kanojo, Okarishimasu was so tricky for me to write about is that the story is wildly inconsistent. One moment, viewers see Kazuya trying to persuade Chizuru to persist and fight on in a moment of emotional build-up, only for something to interrupt said moment. Kanojo, Okarishimasu swings constantly between comedy and drama, which takes away from both aspects; had the series been written to focus on either one, things would’ve ended up stronger for it. For instance, if Kanojo, Okarishimasu purely showed Kazuya’s ineptitude in romance through comedy, then the fun would come from seeing how misfortune slowly helps to improve his game.

  • Conversely, if Kanojo, Okarishimasu had been intended to be about a drama from the start, it would be able to accentuate Chizuru’s story and indicate how her perspectives of Kazuya change over time as she sees bits of her old family in him. This facet was easily the best part of the second season, and I felt that had the story been allowed to focus on this, it would be able to both show Chizuru’s growth as she learns that it’s okay to rely on others, as well as Kazuya’s growth by showing how relationships are more than just the physical piece, and the shared emotional journey with Chizuru would give him fulfilment in ways that his old relationship with Mami could not.

  • With this being said, it is not quite so easy to discard the other characters; Mami had set Kazuya on a course to meeting Chizuru by dumping him, and Ruka is able to help Kazuya see aspects of a relationship that are both good and bad. Sumi, on the other hand, is someone whose shyness requires Kazuya to take the lead. Everyone does help push Kazuya forward in their own way, although things happen at a glacial pace. Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a series that demands patience from the viewers to watch: the second season’s strongest moments and aims are only shown in the finale.

  • I imagine that this design choice was deliberate, meant to establish the dynamics amongst the characters and giving them a chance to bounce off one another before the series really hits its stride. However, this meant that many of the intermediate moments leading up to the finale lacked a good context and as a result, could be infuriating to watch. My favourite example of this in Kanojo, Okarishimasu is how Ruka’s role was portrayed. She’s head-over-heels for Kazuya and goes the extra mile to impress him, but these attempts are always doomed to failure because Kazuya has his heart set on being with Chizuru.

  • Without knowing Chizuru’s story and why she’s so cold towards Kazuya, the logical route would be to turn around and play things pragmatically: rather than pursue Chizuru, it would outwardly seem the better decision for Kazuya to focus on Ruka instead and allow things to progress. Romance and love can come unexpectedly, and while some stories give the impression that doggedly sticking to one’s guns is a measure of heroic resolve, in reality, things don’t always work out so neatly. Having said this, even in the knowledge of Chizuru’s story, I myself are more of a Ruka fan.

  • The reasoning behind why Ruka is my favourite among the main cast is because I empathise with her the most: because of how Kanojo, Okarishimasu is written, and what outcomes must occur in order to convey the story’s main themes, Ruka is predestined to lose Kazuya. Kanojo, Okarishimasu has already shown that she’s madly in love with him and was heartbroken during the first season after it was shown that Kazuya didn’t return her feelings. A sort of status quo is reached after Chizuru asks him to go out with Ruka, feeling that this experience may help him to get over Mami and also stop pining for Chizuru, as she doesn’t return his feelings.

  • While Ruka is my favourite character, in reality, I’m not sure how well I’d get along with someone like Ruka. On one hand, I’m fiercely loyal and commit to wholly to whatever I do, but Ruka also has a bit of a jealous streak about her, as well. Dealing with this might be tricky, but over time, a bit of communication and trust could sort that out, and from what’s shown in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Ruka’s someone I prefer: she’s quite forward about how she feels and despite being of a smaller stature, has a figure that rivals Chizuru’s. In any other story, anyone who decided to accept what’s in front of them and pick Ruka would not be “settling” by any stretch.

  • On the other hand, Sumi is a bundle of joy, and despite her shy disposition, has no qualms about Kazuya: Chizuru had introduced the two so Kazuya could act as a practise date for her of sorts. While Sumi is shy and struggles to speak at times, her intent with taking up a rental girlfriend position was to gain the confidence she needed to become an idol. At first glance, Sumi and Ruka are secondary to Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s main story, but looking more closely, their presence serves to drive Kazuya forward by giving him experiences in communicating with women.

  • One trap that Kanojo, Okarishimasu avoids is the indecisive protagonist: back when Infinite Stratos was running, viewers were livid about how Ichika always danced around the question of which of Houki, Cecilia, Charlotte, Lingyin, Laura or Tatenashi caught his fancy, and this created enough dissatisfaction amongst those who watched Infinite Stratos such that the series became quite reviled. Infinite Stratos is said to have become entangled in additional controversy after Izuru Yumizuru got into trouble with Media Factory, resulting in the light novels being expunged from all listings: if the rumours are to be believed, Yumizuru engaged in flame wars with Japanese readers on Twitter who’d been critiquing the series, and Media Factory decided to cut ties with him.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu doesn’t have quite as controversial of a story (at least, for the time being), and moreover, Kazuya has made it clear that he only has eyes for Chizuru, eliminating the problem of ambiguity. Kazuya’s tendency to second-guess himself is his largest shortcoming: although kind-hearted and acting in good faith, Kazuya always overthinks things. Being with Ruka and Sumi has dailed this back somewhat by Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season, and with the second season in the books, Kazuya’s single-minded determination in helping Chizuru to achieve her dreams leads Chiruzu to wonder why men are so fixated on doing what’s impossible.

  • Curiously enough, I do have an answer for this. There is an evolutionary piece at work here, to show a prospective partner of one’s qualities and traits, and this is why folks go to extraordinary lengths to impress the people they’re interested in. One of my favourite fictional examples is Top Gun‘s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, who is a brilliant fighter pilot, but also cocky, immature and a non-team player. Mitchell outwardly is the opposite of Kazuya, being self-assured and smooth, but this actually is a façade: Mitchell flies as recklessly as he does because he lost his father in the Vietnam War, and when Mitchell’s wingman, Nick “Goose” Bradshaw, is accidentally killed during a training exercise, Mitchell loses his confidence to fly for a stretch before regaining his game during a combat situation.

  • Despite their personalities being polar opposites, Kazuya and Mitchell both demonstrate what happens when one tries too hard to impress those around them, but both also have the requisite stubbornness and perseverance to do what they think is best to achieve their goals. Much as how Mitchell would demonstrate to his students in Top Gun: Maverick that it was possible to perform the mission within the tight parameters he’d specified, Kazuya’s grit opens Chizuru’s eyes to the fact that, even though her latest audition failed, and her grandmother’s time is short, they’re not out of options yet. Attitude issues notwithstanding, Mitchell and Kazuya both demonstrate that they are capable of showing, rather than being limited to telling.

  • Unbeknownst to Kazuya, this is why Ruka and Sumi both develop feelings for him. He might be clumsy and inept, but his actions show what’s in his heart. Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season ends up leaving Mami in the dust: a relic of a bygone era, Mami had dated Kazuya briefly before dumping him. The light novels indicate that Mami’s story is a bit of a tragic one, leading her to willfully manipulate those around her in a diabolical sort of game: she doesn’t get along with her family, who had arranged her marriage and forced her to break up with her first partner.

  • While Mami’s actions in Kanojo, Okarishimasu are unjustifiable, knowing her story helps one to understand why she’s keen on manipulating people and taking a wrecking ball to their relationships. These details aren’t shown in the anime, and instead, come later in the light novel. Because the light novel has a lot of moving parts in it, when adapted into the anime format, things do seem to drag on for viewers. I do find it amusing whenever Mami’s eyes dull and she takes on the traits of a yandere, although I also cannot help but wonder what sort of effort and process would be involved in helping people to heal from their past.

  • Between having the whole of Kanojo, Okarishimasu in the books and reading supplementary materials, I do feel as though I’ve got a better measure of what this series is trying to accomplish now. I had been quite ready to send this series an F grade and admit that those who hate Kanojo, Okarishimasu with every fibre of their being might have a point, but it is bad form to throw in the towel early and acquiesce to the opinions that more popular anime reviewers hold without making one’s own call on things. Had Kanojo, Okarishimasu actually failed in my books, I would not be writing about it.

  • I’ve been called out before for only writing positively of the things I experience, and there’s two simple reasons for this. Firstly, I’m not a professional anime critic and have no obligation to sit through series I dislike: if I drop something, I will do so without fanfare, and I won’t write about it. Secondly, at least according to readers, I’ve developed something of a reputation for finding positives even in series that ruffle my feathers. This is where the “Terrible Anime Challenge” series comes in, and in the case of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, while it was the case that I spent eleven episodes of the series in a state of either bemusement or annoyance, the finale suddenly led me to add two and two.

  • While the journey was a tumultuous one, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season did end in a manner I found satisfactory, and tied together all of the loose ends that had been bothering me. Scenes that prima facie appeared without purpose were now with meaning, and this meant that my irritation vanished on the spot. However, one aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season that didn’t sit so well with me was the prevalence of scenes like these, where a large amount of text is present on screen to denote asides the characters are having. I appreciate that these are here to give voice to the character’s thoughts, but they also create visual clutter and come across as being overly sarcastic. These were absent during the first season, which allowed the viewer’s attention to focus on the characters’ interactions and movements, but in the second season, they’re distractions.

  • Luckily, during the most pivotal moments of Kanojo, Okarishimasu, these asides are absent. For instance, there’s no text to distract from the scene where Ruka kisses Kazuya. The entire scene conveyed a sense of desperation and resignation in Ruka: she says so as much, and similarly to how Yui broke into tears during the events of Oregairu‘s third season, it is communicated to viewers here that Ruka doesn’t really stand any sort of chance. One must admire Ruka for how direct she is about how she feels about things, and this entire evening could not have been easy for her.

  • Kazuya’s grandmother is thoroughly convinced that she will be welcoming Chizuru into the family and gifts her a family heirloom as a result. Throughout Kanojo, Okarishimasu, Kazuya had entertained the idea of telling her grandmother and parents the truth about Chizuru, that they’re a phony couple, but over time, the lie endured because it became increasingly difficult to come forward, especially in the knowledge both Chizuru and Kazuya’s grandmothers were thrilled that their grandchildren would be family.

  • In the end, it’s Chizuru, who makes the call to perpetuate the lie for a little longer; her grandmother is dying, and she feels that it would be unfair to spring this news on her. At this point in Kanojo, Okarishimasu, glimpses of the series’ real story began appearing, and I found myself wishing that this is the direction the series had taken from the start. I understand the comedic detours are meant to humanise the characters, but because Kanojo, Okarishimasu is limited to twelve episodes per season, the series simply doesn’t have the luxury of slowly fleshing things out. Love stories take time to explore, and this is why more time is almost always needed to tell a compelling, convincing tale.

  • As Kazuya agonises over things during a make-up date with Ruka, Ruka takes a photograph of her gourmet pancake before digging in. Smartphone technology has come quite a long way: although Japan had been a front-runner in feature phones, the industry was disrupted in far-reaching ways when Apple introduced their iPhone back in 2007. Fifteen years after its introduction, the iPhone line has advanced into an industry-leading standard, and I am excited to receive my iPhone 14 Pro because it’s going to be a substantial upgrade over my current iPhone Xʀ. The iPhone Xʀ already takes excellent food photographs, so I’m curious to see how five years’ worth of advancement impacts my food photography, which has become something of a hobby for me.

  • After Kazuya’s birthday passes, Sumi decides to create a customised date based on his interests. Knowing that Kazuya is a big fan of marine life and aquariums, she takes him to the local marine park on an eventful and fun day. Sumi is outfitted in a school uniform, thinking that Kazuya was into that sort of thing after spotting him and Chizuru on a date in their school uniforms earlier. As the day draws to a close, Sumi brings Kazuya to a beautiful lookout providing a view of the city skyline, and to Kazuya’s surprise, happy couples can be seen everywhere.

  • Kazuya’s imagination goes into overdrive, and while it does appear as though Sumi is struggling with a kokuhaku, it turns out she’d been working up the courage to give Kazuya his birthday gift. Subsequently, Kazuya tries his hand at explaining his situation with Chizuru to her (in an indirect manner), and the pair share tears before Sumi does her best to reassure him. The pair part ways on a good note, and in this moment, Kazuya determines what his next move regarding Chizuru is.

  • Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season ends the way it began by covering Chizuru’s latest ambitions to a career as an actress, and she’s unsuccessful in her most recent audition. Flashing back to her time as a middle school student and her decision to become an actress after watching a film starring her grandmother, the specifics behind Chizuru are finally shown to viewers. These moments are the most critical parts of Kanojo, Okarishimasu because they give Chizuru proper exposition, and once her story is known, every part of her character, and her general attitudes towards Kazuya, become logical.

  • With this story in the open, I felt that the reason why Chizuru has been keeping Kazuya at a distance was simply because his determination and optimistic spirit has similarities with her grandfather’s: he was always one to believe that anything is possible, and that specifics can be worked out later. Since her grandfather’s death, Chizuru felt compelled to succeed on her own merits, without any assistance, which leads her to turn down Kazuya’s help. Ordinarily, dusting oneself off and trying again is what’s required, but Chizuru’s on one hell of a deadline because her grandmother’s health is rapidly declining, and she feels duty-bound to succeed to show her grandparents that their wishes for her were also fulfilled. Because of the timelines involved in auditions, Chizuru begins to feel that it might not be possible.

  • This is where Kazuya comes in: typically, his timing and lack of tact earns him admonishment from Chizuru, but because things had reached this point, Chizuru realises that it’s either she cling to her pride and attempt to do things the old-fashioned way, which would certainly mean her grandmother will never see her act, or she accept Kazuya’s help. Chizuru is initially surprised and wonders if it’s even possible for him to pull things off, but Kazuya reminds her that he’s in business administration, and therefore possesses the skills needed to run such a project. Kanojo, Okarishimasu may have presented Kazuya as a loser of sorts up until now, but the series has never once mentioned that his pursuit of Chizuru’s heart (and the collateral damage that tends to accumulate) ever had an impact on his studies.

  • It therefore stands to reason that, where relationships and romance aren’t concerned, Kazuya can hold his own, but since Chizuru was so absorbed in her own world, she never saw this side of Kazuya. In fact, now that I’ve entertained the thought, it does feel as though Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s portrayal of Kazuya is entirely consistent with how Chizuru sees him, and in this way, it is fair to say that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is every bit as much Chizuru’s story, as it is Kazuya’s. For the first time, Chizuru is flustered, and one hopes that, as Kazuya puts his best forward for her, Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya will improve, as well.

  • In the event I weren’t being clear, Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season proved a pleasant surprise. I had remained unimpressed with the series during its run, and was quite ready to mark it as a write-off, a series not worth saying anything about, but the finale tied up enough of the loose ends so that all of the lead-up to the finale now had a reasonable context. With Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s directions now clear, I can say that this series is therefore better than I had anticipated. It does have its moments, and I am glad to have had the patience to sit things through to completion. To be sure, Kanojo, Okarishimasu is a B- (2.7 of 4.0): this series isn’t going to displace any of my favourites, and it doesn’t alter how I see the world, but things cannot be considered to be waste of time, either. While the anime still leaves much to be desired in pacing, the story does appear to be hitting its stride now, enough for me to retain a modicum of interest in where things land. This is a win in my books.

I had been an episode away from pulling the plug on Kanojo, Okarishimasu: until the finale, the series had meandered, unnecessarily creating conflict by returning Mami into the fray even as Ruka tried to pry Kazuya’s eyes from Chizuru. However, in the eleventh hour, Kanojo, Okarishimasu suddenly turned around – this anime adaptation exemplifies why I tend to stick around until the very end, because anything can happen. In the absence of Chizuru’s background, her motivations remain unknown, and Kazuya’s determination to help her appears little more than an unwarranted and unhealthy fixation. Similarly, without knowing why Chizuru wanted to become an actress, Kazuya has no reason in trying to court Chizuru beyond maintaining a promise with his grandmother, and Chizuru’s grandmother. With this additional revelation, additional weight is given to both Chizuru and Kazuya’s reasons for being. The second season had certainly taken its time to reach this point, but now that this is known, it becomes clear that Ruka has no chance at all. This aspect of Kanojo, Okarishimasu is written in stone, necessary for the story to progress, but one cannot help but feel poorly for her. Ruka’s feelings are legitimate, and while she’s clingy, her take-charge personality does seem to be a suitable fit, at least for the present, for Kazuya. His biggest weakness is indecision, and spending time with Ruka has also given Kazuya a glimpse as to what a relationship entails, both in good and bad. While seemingly relegated to heartbreak, Ruka’s role in Kanojo, Okarishimasu is an unfortunate, but necessary one – it provides Kazuya with the stepping stone he needs to press on ahead and show Chizuru that he’s committed to her. This appears to be something that could be covered in the upcoming third season as Kazuya strives to make the crowd-funding project a success for Chizuru. Overall, while Kanojo, Okarishimasu‘s second season had not impressed during most of its run, seeing its conclusion provides a decisive answer as to why things are happening the way they did. This remains a difficult anime to recommend because seeing things unfold at such a pace is frustrating, but for folks with patience to weather this storm, the series does set the stage for what could be a touching story yet. Ultimately, I would probably suggest that Kanojo, Okarishimasu is still a series that should be watched once it’s hit completion – individually, episodes can be painfully slow and drag out longer than they should, but the overarching story winds up being touching enough in spite of the series’ shortcomings. Occurrences such as these are why I am reluctant to drop anime: much as how hockey teams can manage to tie a game after pulling the goaltender with only seconds left in third period and subsequently win in overtime, anime can sometimes find ways to surprise viewers. Similarly, I do hope readers have gone all the way through this post, rather than reading just the title and immediately drawing conclusions on what I made of things – for Kanojo, Okarishimasu, my beer can stay right where it belongs, since this series is not, in the terms  of internet reviewers more popular (but less eloquent and, if I may, more vulgar than myself), a “dumpster fire”.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! and Finding A Path Amidst Adversity Through Family

“Grit is that ‘extra something’ that separates the most successful people from the rest. It’s the passion, perseverance, and stamina that we must channel in order to stick with our dreams until they become a reality.” –Travis Bradberry

After an air accident results in his sister and her husband’s deaths, university student Yūta Segawa decides to take in his sister’s children, Sora, Miu and Hina, and raise them himself to keep them from being separated. Although the journey is a desperately tricky one, thanks in no small part to Yūta’s small apartment and limited budget. Despite his struggles, Yūta is determined to keep Sora, Miu and Hina happy – he takes on several jobs to help make ends meet, allows the girls to modify the apartment so they can have a modicum of privacy, and accompanies the girls to pick up some of their belongings back home. Summer vacation soon draws to a close, and Yūta’s friends, the statuesque Raika Oda, smooth but caring Kōichi Nimura, and the uncouth Shuntarō Sato also begin helping out in their own way. Although Yūta’s relatives are disapproving of the arrangement, after Yūta manages to convince them of his commitment to Sora, Miu and Hina’s well-being, they approve of his decisions and, to help him along, transfer his sister and her husband’s old house to his name, allowing everyone to continue living together. This is 2012’s Listen to Me, Girls. I Am Your Father! (Papa no Iukoto wo Kikinasai!, and from here on out, PapaKiki! for brevity), an anime that had caught my eye for its premise – despite its approach raising some eyebrows, I was met with an anime that proved unexpectedly heartwarming. However, for the past decade, I had trouble writing about this series; the themes here had been simple enough, and PapaKiki! had shown how raw determination in the face of adversity was sufficient to overcome all obstacles. This message is most evident in the sheer effort Yūta directs towards looking after each of Sora, Miu and Hina, but at the same time, it also speaks to the lingering feelings that Sora has for Yūta. Determination and grit alone do not cut it – where individual effort fails, the classic message of accepting help from others comes into play. Raika helps Sora on several occasions, teaching her how to cook and encouraging her to do her best, leading her to continue with her club activities, and Hina quickly captures the hearts of the community. Kōchi manages to help Miu rediscover her spirits after she becomes depressed when classmates begin pitying her situation. In spite of how clear the themes are, aspects of PapaKiki! lingered on my mind, and in conjunction with an impending MCAT, I ended up putting off a discussion of this series.

Upon revisiting PapaKiki!, it turns out that there had been a subtle, but constant sense of melancholy throughout the anime. Although Sora, Miu and Hina find joy in their everyday lives, and Yūta is happiest when everyone is living their lives fully, the question of handling Yuri and her husband’s death hangs over every moment. It isn’t until the series nears its conclusion that this point becomes addressed – Sora breaks the news to Hina, and while Hina is visibly saddened, she resolves to continue smiling for those around her. At her age, children like Hina do not have a full concept of what death is, and instead, may instead hold themselves accountable for things. To see Hina swiftly turn things around and promise to not cry, and instead, smile, was therefore heartwarming in that it shows just how important Yūta and her sisters are to her. Despite the loss of her parents, Yūta, Sora, Miu and the entire neighbourhood have her back, and Hina appears to be aware of the fact that being respectful to her parents simply means being kind to those around her and making sure everyone around her continues to smile. In this way, PapaKiki! becomes more than a mere story about Yūta’s efforts to look after a family despite being in a tough spot, his love for his sister’s children is strong enough to help them remain strong and in the end, accept that while their parents aren’t returning, they can still live their own lives fully and honour their parents’ wishes for them. Together with help from Raika and Kōchi, as well as voice actress and neighbour Kurumi Atarashi, and practically the whole neighbourhood, Hina thus is able to make a new family and shows to Yūta’s aunt and uncle that, beyond any doubt, everything he’s done for Sora, Miu and Hina has been genuine and effective. Looking past the superficial elements, such as the camera’s focus on Raika’s assets, Shuntarō’s perverse traits or the fact that Yūta has ill timing whenever Sora is concerned, PapaKiki! succeeds in dealing with a challenging topic in a mature and thoughtful way. This is where PapaKiki! excels, and in conjunction with a touching story about Yūta’s determination, as well as Sora’s efforts to get Yūta to notice her as more than just a child, PapaKiki! ends up being superbly enjoyable, covering a considerable amount of territory over a short run.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • PapaKiki!‘s first two episodes betrayed nothing about what the remainder of the series would deal with, and this contributed to the surprise of what happens after Yuri and her husband take off for a longer trip. I still vividly recall starting my journey to PapaKiki! in the university’s library block on a quiet summer’s morning while awaiting the start of my MCAT course. Back then, I’d picked up an iPad, and was able to watch anime with a much greater freedom than before. During summers, campus is far quieter than it typically is, and I practically had the entire floor to myself.

  • That’s about the extent of what I remember; looking back, I have no idea how I was able to finish the whole of PapaKiki! while studying for the MCAT. However, I do remember thinking to myself that I would have liked to write about the whole series once I did wrap up. The journey in PapaKiki! was quite gripping; what had begun as a run-of-the-mill comedy suddenly took a turn for the serious after the aircraft Yuri and her husband on crash with no survivors. Yūta is suddenly thrown into the deep end, and while he’s able to get along with Sora, Miu and Hina well enough, what happens next does push things to the limit.

  • What made PapaKiki! difficult to write for was the fact that, a decade earlier, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why things felt a little “off”. In the present, I’ve experienced enough to conclude that this feeling is a consequence of the fact that Yūta, Sora and Miu are trying to put on a brave front for Hina. While it is clear everyone’s devastated by their loss, Hina’s innocence and happiness means that the others do their best for her. To the me of ten years ago, it did feel as though they were trying to push the issue under a rug, but now, it’s quite plain that this choice was meant to keep Hina happy: Yūta, Sora and Miu find it difficult to figure out how to best convey news of their parents’ death to Hina.

  • Yūta’s apartment is a far cry from the Takanashi residence, and while he’s done a good enough job of keeping the place clean, the close quarters means that Yūta runs into trouble with Sora and Miu’s requirements for space. However, problems invite solutions, and over time, Yūta works out how to go about his routine without accidentally walking in on Sora or Miu. Of the two, Sora is more bashful and quick to anger, while Miu is more patient and, while still exasperated by Yūta’s seeming lack of knowledge about young women, does her best to walk him through things.

  • While revisiting PapaKiki!, it suddenly dawned on me that the character designs felt familiar. Sora looks a great deal like Da Capo‘s Nemu Asakura, and Miu reminds me of Sakura Yoshino. As it turns out, Feel produced PapaKiki!, and some seven years earlier, they were responsible for Da Capo: Second Season. I watched Da Capo and Da Capo: Second Season in 2016 as I worked on my graduate thesis, and while the series had been quite enjoyable, I similarly encountered considerable difficulty in writing about it because it was, in effect, an anime adaptation of a visual novel that hadn’t offered me anything especially novel to discuss.

  • However, the visual similarities between Da Capo and PapaKiki! are superficial: both series are dramatically different in their premise and themes. One aspect that became increasingly visible as PapaKiki! went on was how, through Hina, Yūta, Sora and Miu also become more connected with their community. Although Hina is only three, she brings with her a seemingly indefatigable sense of joy and innocence that wins over the hearts of everyone around her. Here, after neighbour and voice actress Kurumi Atarashi learns of Yūta’s arrangements, she becomes quick friends with Hina, who’s a big fan of the show that Kurumi works in.

  • Throughout PapaKiki!, a recurring element was Sora’s unrequited feelings for Yūta. It turns out that, after Yūta had provided reassurance and comfort to Sora when they’d first met, she’s since seen him as a reliable and dependable fellow, even if he occasionally comes upon her while she’s changing. For Yūta, Sora goes the extra mile, hoping that he’ll come around and notice her feelings. When Yūta leaves his phone at home after taking off for work, she offers to bring the phone to him and dresses especially nicely for the run. Miu is fond of teasing Sora about things, and PapaKiki!‘s original run left things quite ambiguous.

  • As the deep summer sets in, Yūta takes Sora, Miu and Hina back to their old house, which has sat unused since the incident that claimed Yuri and her husband’s lives. It would appear that Yūta’s relatives must be looking after the property, since the utilities and insurance are still being paid for: when everyone arrives, the power is still on, and while the girls pick up their belongings, Yūta dozes before setting about cooking dinner. Being home creates a precipitous situation where Hina begins wondering about when her mother will come back, but tact from Yūta and the others’ part alleviates things for the time being.

  • As a result of Shuntarō’s demands, Yūta ends up having Kōichi and Raika over for dinner. Times are good, although I’ve long felt that Shuntarō is a character PapaKiki! could’ve done without. It’s not often that I say that an anime can do without a character, but his exaggerated traits and mannerisms contribute nothing to the series; in the occasional moment where he pulls through and helps out, the same could be done by Kōichi. The odd laugh may result from Raika striking him with a paper fan when his behaviour crosses the line, but beyond this, Shuntarō does not play a meaningful role in the series.

  • Conversely, Raika’s affection for Hina, Miu and Sora comes across as being motherly; Raika might be blunt and stoic, but her actions speak far more loudly than her words do. She agrees to teach Yūta how to improve his cooking, and after meeting Hina, Miu and Sora, is more than happy to spend time with Yūta because it also means being able to see the three. Raika is voiced by Yui Horie, a famous voice actress with iconic roles like Love Hina!‘s Naru Narusegawa, Kanon‘s Ayu Tsukimiya, KonoSuba‘s Wiz and Kotori Shirakawa of Da Capo.

  • The moé aesthetic has changed considerably over the years: PapaKiki! inherits elements from the Da Capo era, as characters have sharper facial features and more angular eyes. Nowadays, characters are rendered with softer lines and rounder facial traits, and at least for me, the Da Capo era designs create a sense of melancholy that is indescribable. This is compounded by the fact that musicians like CooRie create music that, while sounding happy overall, is also permeated by a sense of longing. In the present, music to moé is far more energetic and spirited, lacking the same yearning older songs convey.

  • When Yūta’s work schedule means he’s unable to stick around, Sora decides to pick up the slack and learns to cook in his stead. Although Sora starts out a terrible cook and burns most everything, over time, she becomes increasingly competent with cooking. This ends up being a wonderful metaphor for Sora: she lacks confidence in herself, and initially views Raika as a rival that she stands no chance against. However, as Raika rightly states, no one gets it right in the beginning, and that it is with practise that one becomes a deft hand in their craft. For viewers, this can be interpreted as being a metaphor for how Sora is still young, and therefore, has time to cultivate her skills, as well as do what she can to convince Yūta to see her in a different light.

  • I had originally picked up PapaKiki! because I had been curious to see more of Raika and how things between her and Yūta would unfold. At the beginning, when Sora, Miu and Hina still have their parents, PapaKiki! felt like the conventional romance-comedy, but once the plane crash occurs, things turned around completely. With the benefit of hindsight, while Yūta has a bit of a crush on Raika, and the pair do get along quite well, there doesn’t appear to be any romantic tension. Yūta occasionally becomes flustered by Raika’s blaise attitude about things, but in more ordinary moments, the two regard one another more as friends. As it was, once PapaKiki! hit its stride, the series became worth watching for seeing how Yūta handles the surprises that he encounters as a result of his choices.

  • While PapaKiki! strives to convey positivity, numerous hurdles continue to throw Yūta in for a ride. His landlady, sore about Yūta violating the terms of his lease, decides to evict him, and this sends Yūta into a desperate search for a new place. Although his friends pull through and manage to find several candidate properties to rent based on Yūta’s requirements for price and space, they all come with their own caveats, from being located inconveniently for Hina, Sora and Miu, to one property that is allegedly cursed.

  • In the end, it turns out the landlady is the older lady Hina runs into, and the younger woman, Sawako, is the landlady’s daughter. Talking things through, Sawako decides to allow Yūta to keep living here on the condition that he update his lease agreement, and also that he allow Hina to visit her from time to time. Anime may seem overly idealistic about how opening up and listening is the key to resolving difficult problems, but I have found that all too often, people jump to conclusions and assume the worst of others, creating conflict unnecessarily. Although people will criticise my approach as being unfeasible for larger scale differences such as those that entail foreign affairs, I maintain that at an interpersonal level, these things matter.

  • Sora and Miu’s respective resemblances to Da Capo‘s Nemu and Sakura is especially pronounced here, as the pair rush off for their respective schools. PapaKiki! had begun during the summer, when Yūta had all the time he needed to work part time jobs and earn enough to keep up with living expenses now that he’s got three more people with him. This was already quite taxing, so when term begins again, Yūta would presumably run into more trouble as he attempts to keep up with his studies on top of making enough money to keep everyone together. This stress, while Yūta had never meant for it to do so otherwise, would transfer over to Sora and Miu – both are old enough to be aware of what Yūta is going through and do their best to help.

  • Despite Mui retaining a cheerful demeanour around her classmates, said classmates take pity on Miu. This bothers her greatly – she’s used to being kind around everyone, and this change is quite jarring. Fortunately, Kōichi is around to help out, and he offers to take her on a date of sorts. Although Kōichi is a womaniser who’s fond of dating women for kicks, he is legitimately kind, doing everything he can to help those around him. After spending a day with Miu, Kōichi takes her to a shop to get her shoe repaired, and the day ends at an observation deck. Here, Miu is able to realise that she should continue to be herself, and she’s glad that Yūta allowed her to take some down time.

  • PapaKiki! shows the importance of being able to gain some perspective on things, and once classes resume, the series begins to place a greater emphasis on problems the girls are facing now that they’re back in school – during the summer, they spent their days at home and around the neighbourhood, being able to look after Hina and tend to housework with increasing efficiency. Although a work of fiction, PapaKiki! absolutely gets right just how busy life is once housework becomes a part of one’s routine, and how demanding a student’s schedule is.

  • When Sora’s singing takes a hit, she decides to resign from the choral club so she can devote her time to helping Yūta keep up with everything, even though she’d loved to sing. While feeling this was for the best, Sora herself is guilt-ridden at the decision, and moreover, both she and Miu’s grades have suffered as a result of how busy they are. One’s studies and extracurricular activities are indeed full-time activities, and looking back, I am immensely appreciative of the fact that my parents allowed me to pour all of my effort into my schooling and related activities when I was a student. During the route to the MCAT, I was able to study without worrying about housework, although I still helped out around the house as a means of taking it easy.

  • In the present day, doing the housework becomes my means of unwinding after a solid eight hours of software development, and looking back, I feel that life as a full-fledged member of society is, in some ways, more straightforward than it had been as a student. This is because I have full agency to make my own decisions (and with it, the requirement that I own any mistakes I make), whereas as a student, decisions were often made for me and I would be held accountable for the consequences. This is why, while Kurumi is going through difficulties of her own, I felt that she would be able to find her way again – her old contract had expired, and she’s having trouble finding work. However, once she has a chance to think about things, and with a swift kick to the rear from Sora, Kurumi is able to find her footing anew.

  • Sora herself needs a kick in the rear, but unlike her blunt approach to Kurumi, support from Raika and Yūa is more reassuring – like Yūta, Sora feels that their problems are theirs to bear alone. However, over the course of PapaKikI!, Yūta experiences how assistance from Raika, Kōichi and even Shuntarō has taken some of the pressure off him. In this way, Yūta is able to impart the same wisdom on Sora, and after giving things some thought, Sora decides she’s not quite ready to call it quits just yet. Like numerous other series I’ve watched, PapaKiki! makes extensive use of lighting to capture the emotional tenour of a moment. Harsher colour contrasts mirror stress, and gentler gradients convey comfort. The series has long summer days to communicate the feeling of a tranquil life together, and storms to similarly remind viewer of challenges the characters must overcome.

  • In the end, Sora needn’t have worried – the choral club’s president had faith in her, and hung onto Sora’s resignation letter, but never actioned it. It typifies PapaKiki!‘s ability to present challenges that characters face, and while the problems Miu and Sora encounter are dealt with promptly, one can imagine how being in their situation, things would still be quite difficult. Sora may have resolved one issue with the choral club, but her grades continue to suffer, and there’s no real way to fix this unless she were afforded the time to study.

  • As luck would have it, Kurumi manages to land another voice acting role, and Sora is overjoyed to hear this. However, the lingering problem of trying to keep up with her schoolwork and extracurricular activities, while at the same time, helping Yūta out, has proven quite taxing. Yūta’s relatives do eventually step in and offer a recourse – his uncle is looking at taking Sora, Miu and Hina in so the three can remain together, looking after the sisters in Yuri and her husband’s stead. This would allow the three to live a more structured and organised life, while at the same time, giving Yūta a chance to finish his studies.

  • In any other setting, this should have been the first course of action that was taken, and there would have no discussion as to whether or not Yūta would be able to take Sora, Miu and Hina in. However, this would completely wipe the story out, and PapaKiki!‘s purpose is to show what might unfold if things had been allowed to progress the way they did. This is the whole point of fiction, and if one can accept that standing beside a first-aid kit can heal bullet wounds, then allowing for a universe where Yūta is given a chance isn’t that much of a stretch.

  • Entering PapaKiki!‘s final act, both Sora and Miu’s problems are sufficiently resolved so that things can turn towards Yūta’s relatives finally stepping forward and asking him to consider allowing Sora, Miu and Hina to live with them, promising that they’ll keep the three together. From a practical sense, this was the most feasible route to take, and external observers (i.e. the viewers) would likely conclude that were they in Yūta’s position, this would be the best possible option. From a storytelling standpoint, however, what makes Yūta admirable is his refusal to give up. This helps to drive PapaKiki!‘s themes, even though in reality, such a course of action would be deleterious in the long term. Reconciling this gap and acknowledging that some things need to be fudged is one of the reasons behind how I enjoy anime whose premises are engaging, even if they aren’t the most sound.

  • The lingering question of when Hina would find out about her parents is finally answered when Sora breaks the news to her. This happens right on the edge of Hina’s preschool putting on a singing performance, and I was a little surprised to see how quickly Hina recovers from things. Dramatic revelations are a common storytelling element, utilised to increase tension and accelerate a given story towards the climax, and initially, it appears that Hina loses her usual vigour and spirits. However, she recovers very quickly: Miu overhears Hina talking to her stuffed rabbit, promising to smile and do her best no matter where her parents are. This speaks to Hina’s uncommon maturity; despite only being three, I imagine her experiences have led her to grow more quickly and become mindful of those around her.

  • While paying resects for Yuri and her husband, Yūta and Sora run into Yūta’s aunt and uncle, who admit that their initial reluctance to take in Sora, Miu and Hina was the consequence of their regret at having not done more when Yūta and Yuri had lost their parents. This led Yuri to do precisely what Yūta has done in PapaKiki!: she was successful in looking after Yūta despite the odds being stacked against her, and now, Yūta intends to do the same because he is motivated by his own experiences. Putting two and two together, it becomes clear as to why Yūta is pressing on with his goal of taking care of Sora, Miu and Hina: he wants to return the favour to Yuri as an expression of gratitude. As such, even when presented with an option that would help his own situation, Yūta declines.

  • The preschool play has Yūta attending alongside Raika, Kōichi, Sora, Miu and practically the whole neighbourhood. Throughout PapaKiki!, Hina’s adorable manner has won over everyone around her, and this is one of the reasons why Hina is able to recover so quickly; although saddened by her parents’ passing, Hina also knows that she can make people smile, and in this way, gains a much larger family by becoming a vital part of the community. This was the missing piece of PapaKiki! that made it a little trickier to write for, but at present, with a little more life experience, I was able to coherently write out what made this anime work for me.

  • I originally concluded that PapaKiki! is an excellent series, one that lives up to expectations and would earn a recommendation from me. In Terrible Anime Challenge terms, “PapaKiki! is as good as the community had made it out to be. Having gone through with a revisit, I’ve found that my thoughts about PapaKiki! have not changed dramatically, and so, a full decade after I wrote about the first episode, I return to offer a more detailed set of thoughts surrounding what I felt this series to excel in doing. However, this time around, there is no MCAT on the horizon to deal with.

  • As such, ten years after I first picked up PapaKiki!, my verdict has not changed, and I still would recommend this series on its merits. Since PapaKiki! is done in full, and since I’ve watched the series front-to-back, including the OVAs, at present, I do not believe I’ll be returning to write about this again, unless there is visible interest in my thoughts on the OVAs. With this post in the books, I’ll be returning soon to write another revisit about one of K-On!!‘s lesser-known, but nonetheless important surprises, as well as my thoughts on Luminous Witches once we pass the third episode.

When I had finished PapaKiki! for the first time, I had wondered if the story would have succeeded in conveying its messages had Yūta been a salaryman rather than a university student. Finances and housing were two of the biggest problems he had to deal with; buying enough food and essentials for four, on top of making a small apartment work, cannot have been easy on his part time jobs, forcing him to take on more work to ensure there was enough money to keep the lights on. This results in Yūta spending less time with Sora, Miu and Hina, to the point where his relatives do begin worrying about whether or not he can maintain his studies on top of his duties as a guardian. Towards the end of PapaKiki!, Yūta’s aunt and uncle arrange for him to take possession of his sister and her husband’s old home – while Yūta would still need to deal with property tax, utilities and insurance, having a place to decisively call his own would doubtlessly be a game-changer. Sora, Miu and Hina return to a familiar home, and Yūta no longer needs to worry about rent or a mortgage, freeing up his finances for other things. In PapaKiki!, Yūta’s struggles with funds contribute to a part of the story; taking this problem away would likely have diminished the story, and so, in retrospect, it was appropriate to have Yūta be a university student. A series where Yūta was already a salaryman with some financial stability would take away from the effort, and while there’d still be the matter of handling his sister’s death and communicating this to Hina, much of the conflicts in the series would be lessened. Yūta’s uncle and aunt would be less hesitant to let him keep acting as Sora, Miu and Hina’s guardians, and Yūta himself would actually spend more time with everyone, avoiding some of the misadventures that arose in PapaKiki!. Altogether, while the setup in PapaKikI! cannot be said to be realistic, the story was set in such a way so that the deck is stacked against Yūta, giving viewers more reason to root for him, and the series’ outcomes become more satisfying as a result. In this way, PapaKiki! shows how works of fiction may need to use contrived and unrealistic scenarios to convey their message – series that are more realistic may come at the expense of impact, and for this reason, I hold that realism isn’t always an important metric on which works of fiction should be judged against.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Ishuzoku Reviewers as an Unexpected Commentary on Accepting Diversity

“There will come a time when very few will care about other people’s sexual preference – or preferences.” –Clive Davis

Adventurers Stunk and Zel encounter an angel from Heaven named Crimvael, who’s unable to return because their halo is damaged. While resting up at their favourite haunt, the Ale ‘n Eats, Stank and Zel decide to hit a brothel to blow off some steam at a bird-maid place, hauling Crimvael along with them and, upon realising that reviewing different brothels could be a good side gig, Stank, Zel and a reluctant Crimvael become the Interspecies Reviewers. Along the way, they are joined by Kanchal and Bruise, producing reviews that interest other adventurers, while at the same time, drawing the ire of Ale ‘n Eats’ waitress, Meidri. Over the course of their reviews, it becomes apparent that while there are occasionally places that are immensely satisfying, for the most part, different species have their own preferences: this is immediately apparent when Stunk and Zel have a debate about whether or not a 50-year-old human is more attractive than a 500-year-old elf, and throughout the course of Ishuzoku Reviewers, it becomes apparent that there is more to this saucy anime than first meets the eye. Every episode has Stunk, Zel, Crimvael and the other reviewers checking out different brothels to gauge their experiences as casually one writes about anime, movies or games, and at first glance, this has caused Ishuzoku Reviewers to become dismissed as a mindless series on sex. In fact, Ishuzoku Reviewers‘ content proved to be such that Funimation dropped it and refused to show it on grounds that the show was immoral, and even Japanese television studios like Tokyo MX ended up pulling it from their schedule. However, other Japanese channels continued to air Ishuzoku Reviewers (among the AT-X, KBS and BS11). Ishuzoku Reviewers prima facie appears to be a completely meaningless series intended to titillate and shock viewers, with brazen combinations of sight and sound to remind viewers that Stunk and the others are having a blast (or not). However, looking past the surface, in daring to portray what other anime do not, Ishuzoku Reviewers manages to come up with an interesting message nonetheless.

During its run, Ishuzoku Reviewers has Stunk, Zel, Crimvael (and occasionally, one of Kanchal and Bruise) visiting a variety of brothels, hosting færies, minotaurs, undead, dæmons, lilim, lava beings, cyclops, golems and everything in between. For Stunk, vitality and physical attractiveness is key, while Zel prefers high-mana beings. Kanchal is a bit of a sadist and prefers submissive partners, while Bruise, being a dog-man, prefers beings that are easy on his sense of smell. For instance, at the minotaur establishment, the succubus’ busts are a strong point for many, but for Bruise, his lactose intolerance means he doesn’t have quite as good of a time. Similarly, færies are enjoyable to Zel and Kanchal, but Crimvael is unable to participate owing to their own physical traits and feels scammed because they’d been made to pay a registration fee nonetheless. However, there are also places that score highly: the golem shop allows Stunk, Zel, Kanchal and Crimvael to recreate Meidri, and a distant town allows visitors to hang out with a clone of Archmage Demia. Unsurprisingly, the scores are high here because the establishments cater to the individual’s specific preferences, creating a highly personalised experience for them. It becomes clear that Ishuzoku Reviewers highlights how different people favours different things, and moreover, there’s nothing wrong with this at all. This is ultimately what celebrating diversity boils down to: not everyone likes the same things, with some choices being more appealing to others (such as when Stunk, Zel and Crimvael accept an invitation to go to an egg-laying exhibition but are completely turned off, while Narugami, the fellow who invited them, is having a blast). However, there isn’t a right or wrong answer to what is the “best”, either: the answer to this question is based purely on the individual, and while Ishuzoku Reviewers shows viewers through many visceral moments involving the horizontal tango, the message is clear enough; diversity is a good thing, and differences among individuals notwithstanding, at the end of the day, everyone shares in common the desire for similar things (in Ishuzoku Reviewers, it’s to have a good time). Further to this, that the Interspecies Reviewers themselves all rate highly places that offer a personalised experience speaks volumes to the fact that different people similarly have a preference for being able to tailor things just to their liking.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like my old Yosuga no Sora post, I’ll remark that papilla mammaria are shown in this post to some extent, so, in the manner of Lemony Snicket, this is a final warning of sorts to press the back button and go read something more agreeable. To bring readers up to speed on things, I do Terrible Anime Challenges to see if my response to an anime matches the reception that the community has expressed towards it. Usually, this entails my watching an anime long after it has finished airing; my schedule doesn’t always allow me to watch shows as they air, and I end up returning to a series once it’s done.

  • This is what happened with Ishuzoku Reviewers, which began airing in January 2020, a busy period: at the time, reports of an unusual new respiratory illness were circulating, and I’d just moved offices as a result of WeWork acquiring most of the floor space in our old building. As the winter set in, I ended up trying Ishuzoku Reviewers out of curiosity. The raunchy content proved amusing, but with Koisuru Asteroid and Magia Record keeping me busy, I put Ishuzoku Reviewers on hold so I could keep up with the other anime and Battlefield V, in turn leading Ishuzoku Reviewers to fall off my radar.

  • Ishuzoku Reviewers initially appears to be the sort of anime that seems quite far removed from the typical shows I watch (according to readers, I’ve developed somewhat of a reputation for writing about moé slice-of-life series), and indeed, when I picked up Ishuzoku Reviewers, I had entered fully anticipating that there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy to say. It is true that writing about what amounts to a group of friends fornicating their way through various types of brothels is about as tricky as it gets, but as I delved further into Ishuzoku Reviewers, I began finding myself more impressed with how well-written this world was.

  • Of the characters in Ishuzoku Reviewers, Crimvael was the most interesting; as an angel possessing male and female genitalia, Crimvael chooses to present as male to prevent people from hitting on them. Pronouns for Crimvael are tricky; on one hand, Crimvael is neither male nor female, but people address Crimvael with male pronouns as a result of their preferences. In this post, I’ve chosen to go with the neutral pronoun for simplicity’s sake. On the topic of pronouns, in Cantonese, 佢 (jyutping keui5) is the only third person singular pronoun, as Chinese has no inflections for gender. Talking about Crimvael would be straightforward, but, if I were I to review Ishuzoku Reviewers in Chinese, I would need to be mindful since written Chinese does have the distinction.

  • This is because radicals (部首, jyutping bou6 sau2) are used to separate characters when writing (whereas in spoken Chinese, context usually assists with meaning). In written Chinese, he/him is 他 and she/her is 她. 祂 is the character used to refer to deities, and Crimvael might count, as they are an angelic being, although a quick look around finds a new symbol for they/them: X也, which is appropriate for Crimvael. Conversely, animals are referred to as 牠, using the radical derived from 牛, the character for “cow”. On cows, Ishuzoku Reviewers did indeed have Stunk and the others hit a minotaur places after the reviewers totally flake on their promise to visit a dæmon place.

  • While I’d expected the minotaur’s assets to score highly, Ishuzoku Reviewers surprised me with the outcome, and it was about here that the anime’s messages became clear. Nothing is sacred in Ishuzoku Reviewers, as every idée fixe imaginable is explored. One episode has Stunk, Zel, Kanchal and Crimvael taking a potion that changes out their sex. After they have a laugh at their bodies, the establishment gives them a chance to see what things are like from another perspective, and similarly to the minotaurs, Ishuzoku Reviewers shows how some things are not what one imagines it to be, acting as a caution for people to be careful of what they wish for. On the other hand, Crimvael becomes blown away by their experience.

  • Indeed, there are several moments in Ishuzoku Reviewers where the reviewers take on more than they can handle: at a lilim establisment, even after being buffed with stamina and resistance bonuses, the reviewers get wiped out by the horde, and here, after collecting volcanic stones for a quest, Stunk and Zel are unable to order the special service from their host because they’d burn to death. On the other hand, Crimvael’s natural resistance to heat allows them to kick things upstairs. Throughout Ishuzoku Reviewers, the once pure and angelic Crimvael slowly becomes corrupted, and despite their objections otherwise, Crimvael’s actions demonstrate this: in one memorable instance, they end up going to a slime brothel on their own without Zel and Stunk.

  • The creativity in Ishuzoku Reviewers was actually quite charming, and when I noted that nothing is sacred in this series, I am not kidding – even fungi are viable candidates for doing the horizontal tango. During their visit, the reviewers find that this particular establishment, despite sounding a little strange, actually does do a phenomenal job for its clients: the receptionist gauges the individual and then suggests something for everyone. Stunk and Zel are immediately assigned a match, and in the end, even Crimvael receives something suited for them. Despite the mushroom establishment being unusual at first glance, everyone ends up having an especially good time in spite of appearances.

  • One aspect that began manifesting was the juxtaposition of doing the deed with an analogous bit of imagery while the characters review their experiences. Doing this sort of thing keeps Ishuzoku Reviewers from being a flat-out hentai series, but it also enhances things by leaving the viewer’s imaginations to run wild. This technique is often used in horror, where violence happens off-screen. These sorts of techniques are successful because everyone’s imaginations work differently, allowing the moment to impact them in their own way. By showing something on screen, this takes away the need for one’s mind’s eye to get to work.

  • This aspect is what Ishuzoku Reviewers suggests as being the most effective; it is after the Golem establishment that Ishuzoku Reviewers indicates to viewers that Stunk and his crew tend to have the best time at places that give them options. When they end up building a phoney version of Meidri and have a blast as a result, it became evident that people tend to rate things better when they can tailor-make something to their liking. This is why things like cosmetics in video games are such a big deal, and why companies offer “build it yourself” options.

  • Ishuzoku Reviewers‘ best moments actually don’t happen at the brothels: my favourite moment was watching Meidri’s delivery of a big-time physical beating to Stunk, Zel, Kanchel and Crimvael after learning that they’d made her. By default, Meidri isn’t one to put up with perversions from Stunk, but she does get along well enough with Crimvael, who works at Ale n’ Eats from time to time. To see Crimvael get trampled shows how some lines shouldn’t be crossed, and although Meidri is beside herself with rage, the episode’s second half has Crimvael back to being on speaking terms with Meidri, although Crimvael is drained after the Ale n’ Eats sees an influx of shadow people.

  • To help Crimvael recharge, Stunk and the others take them to a will-o’-the-whisp place. Although the staff are very friendly, the fact that it’s so bright in here means that nothing can be seen. Through this establishment, one can conclude that intimacy entails all five senses, and that taking away one (sight, in this case), is to diminish the experience. As Ishuzoku Reviewers continued, it became interesting to see what happened to Crimvael: desires of the flesh begin consuming them, and originally, Crimvael had stated their return to Heaven was contingent on their halo healing up. There’s no sign of that happening any time soon, and so, Crimvael increasingly becomes a fallen angel of sorts.

  • Despite clearly revelling in excesses, Ishuzoku Reviewers seems to caution viewers that there is merit in moderation: on a handful of occasions, the reviewers go to places that are a bit more intense than they’d anticipated. To get it out of their system prior to a lengthy quest, the reviewers swing by an actual succubus establishment: from how Ishuzoku Reviewers‘ world works, it is stated that the individuals working at succubus establishments have some succubus lineage in them rather than being a full member of a given species. This in turn makes them much more active than usual, making them suited for “entertaining” clients. While Ishuzoku Reviewers certainly takes things to a new level, the series is by no means the only one to have such a concept.

  • In Konosuba, succubus joints do actually exist, although they are limited to delivering highly realistic dreams for their clients, and unlike Ishuzoku Reviewers, where establishments are presumably legal, the ones from Konosuba operate in a grey area. On the topic of Konosuba, I’ve heard rumours of a third season going around, and I greatly enjoyed the series, having watched it after the health crisis prompted me to work from home. I am wondering what a continuation will entail, although the series’ greatest strength lies in how the characters bounce off one another.

  • One aspect in Ishuzoku Reviewers I found particularly enjoyable was the moment where Stunk and Zel realise that others have taken their review concept and applied it to places elsewhere. Although they consider legal action, after taking some time to think it through, note their concept isn’t particularly novel and in the end, simply enjoy the reviews from others. This moment was particularly relatable, and as a blogger, I myself occasionally have these reactions when learning another blog has covered what I was sure to be an obscure series. For the most part, it’s fun to see what others say, so long as they remain fair about things. Ishuzoku Reviewers also presents a satire of reviewers like myself through the Incubus, whose physiology allows him to find merits in most everything. Granted, such reviewers are actually worthless by default, although if we were to nitpick, I just tend to be more positive about the thing I do pick up, and my criticisms of a work take the form of “things I’d like to see improved” rather than being a tirade against the creators or folks who enjoyed it.

  • Altogether, beneath its vulgar and crass exterior, Ishuzoku Reviewers is actually a surprisingly fun show that capitalises on its outrageous premise to create something that exceeded my initial expectations. In this way, for the Terrible Anime Challenge series, I would count the series as “it was unexpectedly fun”. It appears I’m not the only one: others have praised the anime for daring to go where few have gone, creating humour at every turn, and unabashedly indicating that fun is a matter of perspective in a meaningful way. In short, Ishuzoku Reviewers does deserve the praise it has received. If and when I’m asked, my favourite of the places would probably be the Golem shop, or the Magic Metropolis, precisely because it provides the most customised experiences for the client.

  • Overall, Ishuzoku Reviewers is the sort of anime that does demand an open mind to watch, and no small amount of courage to write about. My decision to go through Ishuzoku Reviewers and write about it would’ve been unthinkable during its airing two years earlier, but in more recent times, after becoming a bit more involved with the community, especially through collaborative posts with Dewbond, I’m more open now than I’d been two years ago. Such posts therefore become more fun to write about, as they allow me to cover topics that I don’t normally cover. Similarly, it was collaboration with Dewbond that eventually led me to wrap up Gundam SEED and even press through Gundam SEED Destiny.

  • In past discussions dating back to 2020, when we’d first done our collaboration on Yosuga no Sora, Dewbond had suggested Fate/Zero as a candidate for collaboration. For this to materialise, I’d have to actually finish the series first, and this year, things have been looking very busy – I’m just barely keeping up with my posting schedule now ahead of the big move next month. Perhaps once things settle down, I’ll have a more concrete idea of where things are, although since Fate/Zero is a two-cour series with twenty-five episodes, I have a feeling that once I get started, momentum will do the rest, and I’ll finish in a timely manner.

  • During the finale, after New Year’s begins, the crew realise that all of their favourite spots are booked solid, but in exchange for having helped bumped up their visitor count, Aloe (receptionist of the Færie place) thanks them by giving them vouchers for an establishment that does dreams. While not the real deal, it does give everyone a chance to start the New Year with their favourite place; this is the moment that brought to mind how Succubus establishments in KonoSuba worked, and also indicates that reviews in Ishuzoku Reviewers are not taken personally: people see a review and may think to themselves that, given what was described, even in a negative review, a place might just be suited for them.

  • Ishuzoku Reviewers thus describes the more positive side of critical reviews, a far cry from how they can be handled in reality; people often see negative reviews as a call to stay away from something rather than a mark of what didn’t work for someone. Negative reviewers in turn utilise this as a chance to keep people away from genres they deem unworthy, in turn creating a culture of gatekeeping. I remark that it is possible for a negative review to be helpful, but this demands good faith from the reviewer. With this, my reflection on Ishuzoku Reviewers draws to a close, and I’ll round things out by remarking again that this series was quite the pleasant surprise.

Beyond a rather hilarious, if roundabout, way of celebrating diversity, Ishuzoku Reviewers also has a surprisingly well-conceptualised world. The series is set in a high fantasy realm, similar to those of an isekai, with Stunk and the others doing things befitting of a typical adventurer like clearing dungeons, completing quests and spending their downtime in their favourite tavern. However, through the brothels, glimpses into this world are provided. There is a dæmon lord, but her leadership boils down to whether or not people will vote for her. Challenges like improving armour effectiveness exist, and there are things that even magic cannot accomplish, prompting Demia’s interest in Crimvael and his unique properties. The world observes unique customs, as seen when Crimvael participates in a New Year’s Eve prayer. Stunk himself comes from nobility, but opted for a life of adventure rather. The world of Ishuzoku Reviewers is surprisingly well-written, conveying a sense that it is thoroughly lived-in: things never feel empty or lonely at any point. It is therefore the case that Ishuzoku Reviewers is one of those situations where judging a book by its cover is inappropriate – although the anime is trashy and lacks a cohesive underlying narrative through and through, it is a surprisingly well-constructed presentation on sex-positivity (which can be abstracted to diversity in general). With a healthy dose of humour, Ishuzoku Reviewers excels in presenting viewers with a world that seems welcoming, even if it is a little perverted. The anime similarly succeeds in one other realm; it is a hilarious satire of reviewers as a whole, and while the Interspecies Reviewers themselves try to be as fair as possible, they are shocked when they learn others have taken their concept and are applying it to reviewing brothels in different areas. Stunk and Zel consider suing until they realise the concept isn’t patented and then consent to enjoy other reviews, bringing to mind how it feels when one reads another blogger writing on their own chosen topics of interest. Similarly, when an Incubus shows up, and demands the Interspecies Reviewers to revise all of their reviews to perfect scores, arguing that he gets the different species in ways the Interspecies Reviewers do not, I do not mind admitting that I am reminded of myself: I tend to score everything highly and view things favourably. Altogether, while Ishuzoku Reviewers is not going to be a revolutionary series, it absolutely succeeds in creating a highly amusing journey that reminds viewers of how different people will have different preferences, and how in spite of this, these differences are less dramatic than one might imagine.

Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu and An Unexpected Road to Friendship

“Don’t make friends who are comfortable to be with. Make friends who will force you to lever yourself up.” –Thomas J. Watson

When Bocchi graduates from primary school and enters middle school, her best friend, Kai, determines that they shan’t be friends again until the shy and withdrawn Bocchi can befriend everyone in her new class. This seems an insurmountable mountain to climb for Bocchi, who cannot even speak to strangers without getting the dry heaves. On her first day of class at middle school, she manages to strike up a conversation with Nako, who comes to care for Bocchi. Over time, Bocchi ends up befriending the vice representative, Aru, and the foreign student, Sotoka. While Bocchi finds herself unable to convince Kako to hang out with her, she gradually becomes more familiar with her classmates, and so, enters her second year of middle school with a bit more confidence. This is Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu (alternatively, Hitori Bocchi no ○○ Seikatsu, or The Life of Being Alone), a Manga Time Kirara adaptation that aired during the spring 2019 season. While I did have plans to watch Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, procrastination caused me to sit on this for months, and then years. Fortunately, with a bit of open time now that my schedule’s settled down, I’ve decided it was time to give Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu a go, and for my time, I was met with an anime that is adorable, telling a whimsical and honest story about how friendship comes about. The premise and setup in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu appears trite at first glance. Bocchi brings to mind Azumanga Daioh‘s Osaka, while Nako is not dissimilar to Yuyushiki‘s Yui. Likewise, Sotoka is Kiniro Mosaic‘s Karen. Familiar character archetypes in a purely school setting sets the stage for familiar antics and experiences. However, this is only what the premise conveys; in practise, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a fantastic job of having the characters bounce off one another with their eccentricities, and in the end, contrary to the initial impressions the anime might suggest, the final result is a very rewarding one.

The goal Kai sets for Bocchi is one that appears unbeatable; befriending every last person in class is something that most folks typically won’t consider, since it implies forming a larger social circle than is typical of people of that age group, and indeed, even the folks considered popular usually do not make aquaintances of everyone in their class. Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu chooses to show how this Herculean task has humble beginnings: Bocchi starts out by talking to Nako, and while Nako may appear to be harsh, she’s actually considerate, taking the time to look after Bocchi and patiently walks Bocchi through her troubles. Bocchi herself is friendly, despite being shy, and as Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu progresses, it is clear that Bocchi could succeed in her task; she’s pursuing interpersonal connections to those around her for the sake of getting to know others better, and this falls under the realm of likeability. It is generally stated that popularity is built around likeability and social status. The former refers to how well one gets along with others, and how well others trusts one. Someone who builds relationships around this aspect will be inclined to listen to others. Social status, on the other hand, refers to envy (or admiration) for others. While building relationships around status gives the impression of success, it also entails being controlling, dismissive and unkind: I recall the cliques in high school, during which the popular students were centred around a handful of likeable individuals for clout. While the people at the centre of these cliques were respectable and reasonably kind to those around them, the followers were considerably less so; people who build relationships around status tend to find it difficult to maintain meaningful connections to others, but fortunately, in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, Bocchi is not doing anything for status: she genuinely wishes for solid connections to those around her, and while the anime has her definitively friends with Nako, Aru and Sotoka, by the season’s end, she’s beginning to get along with more people in her class, as well: Bocchi’s definitely acting in a likeable manner, and those whom she befriends will likely stick around.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • When Bocchi’s journey begins, she starts out with zero friends and only the vaguest idea of how to communicate with people: Bocchi figures it’s a good idea to employ some unorthodox strategies, but these all end up backfiring. Without any outs, Bocchi is forced to introduce herself to others, and while Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that she’s vomiting out of stress, the reactions of those around her suggest that Bocchi is dry heaving rather than vomiting; no shirts are ruined, and no custodians are called in to clean up the associated mess.

  • It is the case that stress and anxiety can induce dry heaves, so this aspect of Bocchi’s character is not particularly unrealistic or implausible, even if Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does exaggerate its characters’ traits. After summoning the courage to speak with Nako, Bocchi ends up befriending Aru, as well. One of the most pleasant side effects of Bocchi’s attempts to get to know everyone better means that those around Bocchi also end up becoming friends; Nako and Aru most certainly do not get along, but initially set aside their differences for Bocchi’s sake. Over time, the pair get a long better, although Nako remains fond of pressing Aru’s buttons late into the series (all in good fun, of course).

  • While Aru is occasionally busy with club activities, Nako has more time on her hands, and one weekend, decides to swing by Bocchi’s place. Bocchi’s idiosyncrasies are a little unusual, as evidenced when she wears a full bear costume while hosting Nako. Nako seems to take everything in stride, and while some of Bocchi’s antics are exasperating, Nako also comes to appreciate that at heart, Bocchi is kind and capable: she just needs a little push to be on her way: she’s voiced by Chisaki Morishita, whose roles in other anime are ones I’m not familiar with. Conversely, Minami Tanaka plays Nako, and I know her from Wake Up, Girls (Minami Katayama), Hanayamata (Hana N. Fountainstand) and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (Himeno Toyokawa).

  • Sotoka is the classic foreign student with a very curious understanding of Japanese culture: like Karen from Kiniro Mosaic, Sotoka makes certain assumptions, leading her to view Bocchi as a ninjutsu expert of sorts. This misunderstanding lingers throughout much of Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, but initially, the unusual dynamic between Bocchi and Sotoka also means that Bocchi also has the chance to hang out with one more person: Sotoka is fond of learning ninjutsu, and while Bocchi is no ninja, she does pass along some curious skills to Sotoka, including origami.

  • One cannot help but feel bad for Aru (Akari Kitō, Kaho Hinata from Blend S and Harukana Receive‘s Ai Tanahara): despite her attempts to maintain a confident and successful air about her, she’s also said to be “unfortunate”, which really gets on her nerves (to the point where she flies at Nako whenever Nako pokes fun at her). While 残念 (Hepburn zannen) corresponds to “unlucky”, Aru’s circumstance is probably better described as a “loser”: she somehow manages to kit herself out in a grade schooler’s uniform and resorts to increasingly desperate measures to conceal this. While it works on a few people, Nako sees right through things, forcing Aru to go home and change.

  • The characters’ names are all puns on their leading trait. Bocchi’s full name, Hitori Bocchi, means “alone”, Sunao Nako is a play on the phrase “honest child”, Honshō Aru is “true nature” and Rakita Sotoka is a pun on “outsider”. Some folks had a tough time working out why everyone’s names were puns and how this related to Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s main themes; this is, fortunately, a simple enough exercise. Everyone is named after their defining characteristics, and their name thus gives insight as to their circumstances. The variety of situations, when placed together, creates a rather colourful set of experiences for everyone, showing how friendships can form among the most disparate of individuals.

  • If and when I’m asked, Aru is my favourite character: her cheerful personality and efforts to overcome adversity, especially in light of her poor luck, is admirable. It suddenly strikes me that the misfortune that Aru experiences is relatively minor (usually, losing bets or similar); when it comes down to the wire, Aru is helpful and supportive of those around her. The traits surrounding each character’s namesake are not debilitating in any way, and a major part of the charm in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is the fact that none of the characters suffer unnecessarily.

  • I’ve never been fond of series where a given character is made the in-show punching bag, and Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu mitigates this by having the characters be supportive of one another. Here, Bocchi recoils at a karaoke session. What happens next shows the extent of Kai’s desire to see Bocchi reach her goal: the pair meet at the same karaoke bar, but Kai adamantly refuses to even acknowledge Bocchi, causing Bocchi no small amount of distress. It turns out this was just as hard on Kai as it was for Bocchi, and fortunately, Bocchi’s small circle of friends do end up supporting her.

  • In this way, it is clear that Bocchi’s journey forward is about how well she can overcome whatever setbacks she may face; with everyone in her corner, Bocchi’s journey is no longer one she must undertake herself. This moment, of Sotoka carrying Bocchi, demonstrates the sort of artwork present in Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu – from a technical standpoint, the anime is middle-of-the-road, offering smooth animation and consistent artwork. Where the anime stands out is how the voice actresses play their part to bring their characters to life.

  • Kako is probably the toughest challenge for Bocchi: unlike Bocchi, who wishes to further herself by building up new connections, Kako is the polar opposite and believes that the best way ahead is to be independent, relying on no one. This is why Kako refuses to be friends with Bocchi: it’s got nothing to do with any shortcomings on Bocchi’s part, but rather, the personal code that Kako has set for herself. While this is unusual (no-one is an island, after all), it means that Kako is the perfect foil for Bocchi.

  • Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does an excellent job of showing how being likeable (exhibiting politeness, empathy and a willingness to listen) is more important in maintaining good interpersonal relationships than status alone. In popularity, likeability and status are the two leading factors; the latter entails traits that make one appear more respectable or impressive, requiring one keep up appearances all the time. While Aru is prone to doing precisely this, I like her character precisely because she shows her true self around Bocchi and the others.

  • However, Aru’s desire to be seen as doing alright often means she will go out of her way to help others. Altogether, being more honest about herself and doing good will likely result in Aru learning to accept herself while, at the same time, continuing to do right by those around her. When Bocchi messes up during a home economics class, Aru steps in to help Bocchi: this action is seen by others as a sign of how well-adjusted Aru is, but she’s primarily helping out because she wants Bocchi to be happy, as well. The sum of these actions help two of Bocchi’s teammates, Peko and Ito, become friends with her later on.

  • While Kako might refuse to count herself as a friend to Bocchi and her crew, this doesn’t stop her from agreeing to team up with Bocchi on a class trip. It’s clear that of the two facets of popularity, Bocchi (and Nako) are spurred on by likeability: they do the things that make them more approachable to others. Looking back, I always approached friendship from the likeability side, and I’ve always preferred maintaining a small group of close friends, with whom I could confide in about various matters, as opposed to having a much larger social circle.

  • When I entered university out of high school, I ended up following a very similar route that Bocchi took: I made friends with exactly one of my classmates during orientation, and as term wore on, and there was a chance to work with different people, our social circles grew. One of the topics we took, Christopher Boorse’s Health as a Theoretical Concept, galvinised the entire class into working together, and after my first year ended, while I couldn’t say I was friends with every one of my classmates, I could say that I became acquainted with everyone to the point where we could talk about both coursework and other matters. I’m not sure this satisfies Kai’s expectations for Bocchi, but being on good terms with my entire graduating class (around ninety students) was a fun experience.

  • Back in high school, assuming my memories are still accurate, while I wasn’t in popular clique or anything, I found that I got along fine with most people (save those with a profound interest in activism), and maintained friendships with a comparatively smaller group of people that I still am in contact with today. Ironically, I actually do have a few friends now that I’d met because I’d unintentionally antagonised them, although we made amends on short order and ended up with amusing stories to tell. I imagine that this will naturally happen with Nako and Aru, although since it is relatively early in the game, Aru instinctively jumps into Nako every time the latter mentions the word “unfortunate”, resulting in some visual humour.

  • As a general rule, I don’t like making enemies of people because antagonising others always requires twice as much effort. Conversely, being nice to people comes quite naturally and entails almost no effort beyond approaching someone and making their day brighter. Here, Sotoka, Aru, Bocchi and Nako make acquaintances of Mayo, who hails from a wealthy family; her parents are always working, and she’s somewhat lonely, but after encountering Bocchi, Mayo becomes curious about Bocchi and suggests that Bocchi take up a job of making paper cranes. Thanks to Sotoka’s skill, they manage to make a bunch.

  • In the end, Mayo joins Bocchi’s group of friends, sharing a day with them. She later writes to her parents, saying that she’s made new friends, but also would appreciate it if her parents could make some time for her. With this, Bocchi is one step closer to her goal of befriending every single person in her class: towards the end of Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu, the rate at which Bocchi befriends others increases: she manages to convince Sotoka that they’ve been friends the whole time, as well. This isn’t too surprising, since she’s gotten over the initial hurdle, and now, has a group of people in her corner to support her goals. Along the way, Bocchi has also brought others together.

  • As Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu sees Bocchi enter her second year, she acquires a smartphone, allowing her to better keep in touch with her friends. While smartphones are superior to feature phones in terms of functionality, feature phones (flip phones) remain relatively common in Japan owing to their durability and ability to hold a charge. In anime, smartphones are slowly displacing feature phones: everyone in Yuru Camp△, for instance, rock iPhones. In having Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu transition over to smartphones, then, the anime is suggesting that technology might be integral in helping Bocchi on her quest.

  • The finale has Bocchi successfully pin a corsage on a graduating third year student, and finding an uncommonly cheerful Kako who’s afflicted with a fever. Despite her stoic mannerisms, Kako is grateful that Bocchi goes to the lengths that she does to ensure everyone’s alright. If memory serves, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s manga began in 2013 and finished running this year – any continuation of the series in anime form would probably have Bocchi befriend Kako towards the end and reunite with Kai a changed person, better equipped with navigate the complex social networks of the world.

  • Where the anime ends remains satisfactory: overall, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu earns a B+ grade in my books (3.3 of 4.0, or for folks more familiar with the ten-point system, eight points). Despite being a seemingly unassuming anime set in a mundane setting, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu does a wonderful job of showing how chance meetings can precipitate something much bigger. The anime thus exceeds my expectations for this Terrible Anime Challenge: Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu is not terrible by any stretch, although my propensity towards procrastination are, and I imagine that I’ll only get worse from here on out as I become busier.

Ultimately, Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu suggests that the first step of the journey is always the hardest. It takes several episodes for Bocchi to open up to Nako, but once she does, she’s able to slowly get to know Aru better, as well. Similarly, Bocchi and Sotoka realise that they’re as close as friends are, and openly acknowledge one another as such. As Bocchi becomes more connected to the first group of friends she’s had outside of Kai, she is able to reach out to and interact with others in her class. While Kako is a special case (and reluctantly joins Bocchi’s group anyways), Bocchi manages to even strike up conversations with Mayo, a girl from a rich family, along with Peko and Ito, who were in Bocchi’s home economics group. The initial chat with Nako thus sets in motion a series of fortunate events for Bocchi, and while she still has a long way to go before she can speak in front of a crowd with confidence, at the very least, Bocchi is starting to mature and appreciate that her classmates are generally friendly and warm people who enjoy her company as much as she enjoys theirs. Things do speed up towards Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu‘s final few episodes; the series suggests to viewers that having now taken her first steps, Bocchi’s future is a bit more exciting and bright than she’d imagined it to be. Leaving this anime, one can therefore be confident that whatever happens next, Bocchi has good company in her corner: her own increasing comfort around others, coupled with support from Nako, Aru, Sotoka, Mayo, Peko and Ito, will be a valuable asset in helping her to overcome her own limits and fulfil a promise to Kai, who, despite her cold reception towards Bocchi, very much gives the indicator that she wishes for Bocchi’s success, as well. It’s certainly an optimistic message, and consequently, I am happy to say that I had a great time with Hitori Bocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu: this is another one of those cases where, my tendencies to procrastinate notwithstanding, I should make an effort to check out the series in my backlog where possible, as there are many solid anime dating back many years that are quite worthwhile to watch.