Tag Archives: J.C. Staff

Some Thoughts On: Lostorage Incited WIXOSS (2016) Series

On March 20, 2018 I finished the third installment in the card playing anime franchise of WIXOSS, and it sucked. Before I go further I will established that I liked the first two seasons of WIXOSS. Both Selector Infected WIXOSS (season 1), and Selector Spread WIXOSS (season 2) even though they had convoluted writing. I enjoyed both seasons as it told a good story, developed it characters fine, handle most of it themes well, and concluded satisfactory. So, you could imagine my surprise when Lostorage Incited WIXOSS first premiered, and I just completely ignored it because I wasn’t watching anime much during 2016. However, in 2017 when I finished the first two seasons of WIXOSS I still had no interest in checking it out. This is for the sole reason I liked the English dub, and so I was simply going to wait for it. As of the posting of this right now, that clearly hasn’t happened, and unlikely to happen anytime soon. What got me to check out season 3 of WIXOSS was seeing a promo poster for season 4 of WIXOSS called Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS. The reason I finally got to seeing this was because a character I like, Ruko Kominato (also nicknamed Ruu-Ruu), protagonist of the first two season, was returning in season 4. That’s all the convincing I needed, and so forth witness the crash that was season 3 of WIXOSS.

Another thing I should add is I knew this was a bad anime before going into it, but I simply skimmed through some reviews on MAL to get a gist of its reception. I didn’t read any story specifics, but general complaints like it being a rehash I knew to be aware off beforehand. After seeing episode 1, I knew I was in immediate trouble. So basically, the setup of the previous two seasons was you play a deadly card game, fight to get a wish granted, and if you lose three times you could never obtain your wish, and everything in the world would make sure you never did. It’s nifty concept when explained like that, but the execution of it eventually got continuously convoluted, and some establish rules got thrown to the wayside as it went on. Other things were happening in the game, but that would involve going into spoiler territory.

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Card games are typically more exciting to watch in anime than actually playing them.

Now that you understand in the previous two seasons players were fighting over to have a wish granted you would think the same would apply for season 3. It simply doesn’t as players fight for the grand prize of choosing how to alter their memories, and all losers cease to be themselves. Yeah, already the stakes feel they were immediately diminished from the previous seasons. For starter, losing memories doesn’t sound as big of a deal compare permanently being unable to obtain a wish. For example, if you lost in the first two seasons of WIXOSS, and your wish was to be a track runner. The consequences of your lost would permanently prevent you from being able to achieve that wish. Compared to “losing yourself” it simply doesn’t pack the same punch. Especially, considering that in the first two seasons some of the characters loss their memories while being participants of the game. There’s something else to it, but, eh, that would lead to spoilers!

With the prize being changed there’s also the consequences of the new rules. In the first two seasons, you only had 3 chances, and if you lost three times at any point you were done. Fine, that’s not entirely true with a certain character, but that’s a spoiler if I delve into that plot point. However, in this season you get five coins; the goal is to turn all five coins gold, the amount you start with is random, and if you lose a coin it turns black. You can use coins in card battles to use a special ability. At the end of a battle, the winning player gains a coin. The losing player loses a coin, in addition to any coins they may have bet during the battle. There’s also a 90 days time limit where the longer you wait the more coins that get blacken, and the more memories the user loses. As for how the actual game is played, the previous two seasons didn’t bother to explain that so this season won’t bother either.

I’m skimming over some details like the fact the players are called selectors, and are given LRIG’s (a entity created to fight for/with you during Selector battles) created based on their memories since such details aren’t delved into much. Alongside the poorly explained rules in the previous paragraphs, there’s also the fact when a battle is initiated players basically go into another realm for the fight to be held. The only way the battles end is either when someone loses, or a non-selector interrupts the battle. From the first episode of season 1, the rules were clearly established, and then later on the consequences were clearly explained. Here, despite the rule of non-selector breaking battles up by simply interrupting them appearing in the first two seasons. Lostorage Incited WIXOSS makes that rule feel convoluted in usage. Rules despite being laid out don’t apply to the main heroine of season three, Suzuko Homura, who has important battles simply work out in her favor because of luck.

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Oh Suzuko, not a fan.

I don’t want to compare the heroine of Lostorage Incited WIXOSS to Ruko Kominato because I clearly like Ruko way more than Suzuko. Part of this has to do with the fact Ruko gets more characterization than Suzuko does. Sharing similar traits, both characters are goodie-two-shoes, have trouble socializing when the series start, and have family issues. Hell, both Suzuko, and Ruko don’t know what they want to fight for initially at the start of their respective seasons. In Ruko case, there were more going on around her, and unlike Suzuko, she actively sought out information on Selectors Battles. Ruko goal, once she finds something worth fighting for, is bigger in ambition compare to Suzuko who’s only wants to retain her memories of her best friend.

Another thing that made Ruko better is her many interactions with other players so it wasn’t simply random people she was fighting. Lostorage Incited WIXOSS attempted to do something similar, but after Suzuko beats some blonde guy who lost his sister the idea is dropped. The characters Suzuko plays against in season 3 aren’t as fleshed out compare to season 1 & 2 making the battles less interesting in comparison. What also devalues Suzuko Homura appeal is nearly in every episode she has to say “Chi-Chan’, and remind the audience she’s her best friend. It doesn’t work because the anime is completely overblown with its execution. I know it’s possible to get viewers to cry with a good story, but hitting the same beats over, and over again won’t work in a TV series. 

I thought I was done, but I went here to say a bit about Suzuko Homura character design. It trying to hard to be cute I feel. Could be J.C. Staff thinks if you see something cute being miserable it’s easier to sympathize with the character. It’s not, and at the same time what relatable traits she has have been used a dozen times. One of her parents became deceased when she was little, and is never brought  up again. You know, in Cardcaptor Sakura the main character also had a parent who was deceased, but the difference being the parent got characterization, and it was treated as a proper character. So whenever when Sakura (in Cardcaptor Sakura) ever talked about her mother the emotion of the character felt genuine. Here, and other animes that do the samething the dead parent is just there.

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Yes, this guy’s our villain for the reason. (facepalm)

One of the biggest changes I wasn’t a fan off was the villain. In the previous season there was an attempt to make the big baddie be more than just someone who enjoyed a twisted game. Season 3 goes exactly for having someone who takes pleasure in making other people miserable. If that sounds silly, well it’s even sillier in execution because the villain is written, and animated in a over the top manner. Having obviously evil bad guy written all over him.

The one character I did like, Kiyoi Mizushima, was someone who appeared in the previous two seasons, but as a supporting character. Here, her role of supporting character is the same, but compare Suzuko, Mizushima backstory has more going for it. There a lot more to her endeavors than simply desiring to obtain a single wish. She isn’t a complex character, although I would have been more interested in this season if Mizushima was the main character because there is more shades of grey to her compared to Suzuko. It’s a shame that she appears in about 4 out of the 12 episodes, and only in two of them does she a sizable part to do anything.

I would continue bashing Suzuko, but you get the point. If there were more episodes I would probably feel differently, although that would be unlikely considering I spend a lot of time on the rules, and complaining about Suzuko instead of the bigger picture. Can’t help it when the characters, the story, and themes feel inferior compare to the previous seasons. It tries too much in such a short amount of time resulting in a series of half baked ideas, especially the ending since it attempts to play it off as a happy ending despite the fact almost nothing changed. Of course, there was also that deus-ex machina of a victory in the final battle which was never established beforehand was doable in battles!

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Yep, difficult to make this look interesting.

There’s also an OVA called Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS Missing Link that is absolutely worthless! It’s simply the first episode of Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS (season 4) just with the title card, and opening animation added in. Technical stuff is fine. Only thing that stands out is the over the top acting from the villain, and the characters saying “Coin Beto” which I get a kick out of hearing. There’s the music which is surprisingly good. It deserved to be in a better anime, but at the same time without else to compete against it stands out that much more.

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS was simply bad. I was hoping to find the same kind of appeal like in the first two season, but didn’t get that. I got a water down version of a series I liked; characters weren’t as fleshed out making selector battles mean very little, the new rules to the selector battle minimize the stakes as well as the consequences, and finally the silly villain turned it into a battle of good versus evil. The first two seasons had some sloppy writing with similar issues, but since it had more time to tell a singular story it was able to improve itself in areas season simply couldn’t.

If I were to rate this anime I would 4 out 10. That’s probably a bit too generous.

Quick Thoughts on Loststorage Conflicted WIXOSS

So season 4 is currently airing, and as of this moment five episodes have aired. Since I’m watching it currently I might as well put something here about what I think of it so far. It’s slightly better than Lostorage Incited WIXOSS, but at the same time if the total amount of episodes is going to be 12 it might end up having the same fate. Once again, the rules have changed, and there’s more addition to the game where certain abilities feel overpowered. With characters from the previous seasons being participants in the game I have doubts 12 episodes will be enough to give everyone a fair shake, let alone add to their established characterization. Yes, I still don’t like Suzuko Homura, and at this point I’m overreacting whenever she appears on screen because she’s still boring. She’s doesn’t say her catchphrase “Chi-chan” as much though so that’s a little better I guess. Kiyoi Mizushima might actually beat out Ruuko Kominato as the best character in the franchise. One main reason being five episodes in and Ruu-Ruu hasn’t been given much to do! It bugs me, but at the same time I might be expecting too much out of J.C. Staff. I don’t what it is, but I might have a thing for stoic female characters. Should probably talk to a psychiatrist about that. I might write a post about Lostorage Conflated WIXOSS once it ends, but I’m not sure since I usually don’t write about airing anime.

Now, this is the actual end of the blog which turned longer than intended even though I barely said everything on my mind. That’s what reviews are for….I’m sure right? Oh well. Til next time, and insert clever closing line here.

Anime-Breakdown: Cat Soup (Nekojiru-so) (2003) Review

Cat Soup or Nekojiru-sou in its Japanese title is a lot stranger than its own name makes it out to be. It can be best described if you gave a loony philosopher, who just happened to love cats, some drugs this short film would probably be the result of what they see in their high. A series of abstract ideas presented in such a bizarre manner while seemingly nonsensical is alluring in its strange nature. It is very difficult to make any sense of it or confirm it means anything, but that’s part of what makes this short film have such a strong impression in such a small amount of time.

The story is basically about two cat siblings with Nyako, the brother, searching for some way to resurrect, Nyatta, his dead sister. The opening minutes of the short film are about as direct it’ll get. Beyond that point, it becomes a journey into the abstract. Filled with a visit to the circus involving seeing a magic act of a woman getting completely chopped into pieces, discovering an elephant made out of water in a desert, and the ocean becoming completely frozen to name few odd things you’ll see. As odd some of these descriptions are, they do get across simple ideas. For example, when the cat siblings visit the circus Nyako firmly believes he can fully resurrect his dead sister after seeing a circus act performing a seemingly impossible act. It is a simple moment that is straight to the point.

Virtually non-existent dialogue, the story is told in a way that the few lines of dialogue aren’t needed to understand the story. It’s a risky decision, but pays off to give off the vibe of being in a strange dream. Nothing is given a direct explanation when going from one event to the next. Instead of stopping in one area to explain the significance of a scene, it goes straight to the next odd scene. Its story is quite simple to get behind, but whether or not it has any meaning is never confirmed within the work itself.

It’s a single OVA meaning the protagonist motivation is kept at a basic level. Being more than enough to follow Nyako on his journey. His simplicity makes him appealing and immediately thoughtful. Simply seeing his parents’ negligence towards him and his sister in the household says allot about the bond he has with his family. With that said the story is essentially what you see is all you get. Allowing the viewer to form their own interpretation on everything that unfolded.

The supporting cast is filled mostly with anthropomorphic animals with some humans. Whenever a human character is on screen, it usually leads to trouble. They’re only given one purpose which is entirely fine since it’s going for more showing than actually telling. The only true negative to the characters is there is not much to analyze or sink into. All the characters are straightforward without ever diverting from their set path.

On the animation side J.C. Staff succeeds in creating a dreamlike feeling. Anathanpromorbic animals are given simple design that makes them look cute to greatly contrast against the cruel action. Humans are drawn like humans, though they don’t appear much in the OVA and often use a blank expression. It has a muted color palette that seems off visually making it seem as if life has been taken out of it. Emphasizing the whole surreal nature of the world where all the oddities belong can belong together. By design, it at times looks hand drawn and at one point even begins to look like a kid’s coloring book. Whatever J.C. Staff used to color their images in this OVA it looks as natural as coloring by hands instead of a computer.

There’s virtually no voice acting in the OVA. When there is dialogue it’s presented through a speech bubble that adds more to the dreamlike feeling than adding to the story. In the sound department stuff like footsteps, water flowing, ticking clocks, squeaky toys, and a dozen other effects make up the sound department. The music is split between sounding light hearted and welcoming which soon become interrupted by eerie static like noises. It fits the OVA perfectly giving an eerie, unsettling atmosphere in the darker scenes. It can also be sweet when in use during scenes where nothing out of the ordinary happens to simply show the cat siblings taking care of one another. The closing credits uses the most editing with a music box to close the OVA. Combining both childlike wonder and an eerie presence by looping the music box in at random moment.

On the DVD there’s an audio commentary track that is not exactly helpful to say the least. Director Tatsuo Sato explains that many of the scenes do not have an underlying meaning or if there was one, he forgot what it was. Admitting he had no intention in mind when putting the film together. So pretty much you make of what you see.

It was an oddity about half an hour long so even if I did dislike it the short length would be a saving grace. I like seeing strange stuff no matter how weird it gets. I’m just in shocked J.C. Staff actually made something I would call smart. In general, J.C. Staff doesn’t come across as a studio to take risks or stray off from their comfort zone with anime that are heavy on the slice of life elements or attempting to duplicate their previous success with a Shakugan no Shana clone. This short film doesn’t change my views on the studio as anything other than being average, but it has earned them more of my respect by creating something out of their comfort zone.

Cat Soup/Nekojiru-sou is like a collection of episodic shorts splice together into a 32 minute OVA with any true meaning to it left with no answer from what the material provides. It’s a short film with virtually non-existing dialogue that’s reliant on visuals alone by combining cute, simple designed characters in bizarrely dark situations to tell its story. This OVA is very much a visual experience that’s intriguing for the creativity it display in a short length. Watch it for the visuals and creativity, leave with your own meaning.

That concludes the review portion of this review. The remainder is simply a paragraph on my interpretation of the OVA. After that, it’s five paragraphs of what I learned about Chiyomi Hashiguchi, the mangaka of Nekojiru-sou. MAL has their own biography on the mangaka, but it was rather short so I wrote what I gather. With that written, continue if you like.

Bonus Passage: My Interpretation on the film (SPOILERS, SPOILERS HERE)

Based on my opinion and what I gathered. Nyako is sister is dead. Living alone with his drunkard father and mother who did not care. Nyatta was the only one who he had and he chased a miracle to rescue her. Catching god of death himself, Nyako took half of her soul, returning it back. However, she was not whole. He tried to find the other part half, and there is where the deeper part starts. The main idea of this anime is nobody can decide the lives of the others which can be seen in every person they have met. Old hag who made people from spare parts, being patched up herself. Guy who killed others, getting his again. Merciless, selfish circus which destroyed the whole world in the end and in the end Nyako never saw that his desires were actually selfish and that he opposed the God, who showed him how easily he can manipulate time and that only something like God can bring life back. When Nyako in the end saved his sister, because he was mortal it brought a total disorder to the Universe, literally canceling everything, making it vanish. This anime also brings up a topics like natural order, and that we all are part of the circle which is life and death. And that it’s nobody’s fault, that’s just how it is. In the end, God is just laid back dude who eats watermelons and sometimes turns back the time when he drops it down. Or in plain English, it’s likely represent the mangaka husband trying everything he can to save his wife by projecting his feelings onto the characters he and his wife created.

Condense Information I gather about the mangaka:

Chiyomi Hashiguchi, or Nekojiru by her pseudonymous pen name, was the author of a manga called “Nekojiru Udon” published in Garo magazine. “Nekojiru Udon” were based around her own bizarre dream experiences. In Hashiguchi diary (going by reproduced scrawls) reveals a very a fascination with communication breakdown and bodily malfunction, objectively noting every unpleasantry from vomiting dogs to accident victims.

With only the book, “Jusatsu Sarecgatta Boku” (some direct passages from the book), by Yoshiaki Yoshinaga to go on for information my knowledge on Chiyomi Hashiguchi is dense. According to those who knew Chiyomi Hashiguchi personally found her to be somewhat plain and misunderstood, but also unpredictable, mysterious and seemingly fragile if not for shadowy side of her internal personality which she expressed so vividly in her manga. According to the book Chiyomi was diagnosed with manic depressions as well in several occasions being heard saying “I’m not afraid of death”.

At the peak of her popularity in 1997-98, her once relaxed working atmosphere was no more as she had to produce large quantities of work which was out of character. Further reading reveals Chiyomi and her husband, Hajime Yamano (the artist of the manga) didn’t turn down a single offer for work meeting deadline after deadline. At this point in the book, it says many of the scenes depicted in “Nekojiru” were a blend of Chiyomi dreams and what she saw in real life. It’s rather unclear on the details of how to separate what were part of her dream and what she actually saw since she couldn’t separate it herself.

Overworked, she began to drink heavily from being overworked. It stopped being fun for Chiyomi to do her work and now was only a matter of making the deadline. Eventually Chiyomi had run out of ideas, but she had deadlines to meet, and did the best she could manage. She had a strong sense of responsibility, and always found a way of come through in the end. More than once, she found herself cornered by several deadlines and had to push herself to the brink of collapse to finish everything. Having was trying to commit suicide in the past, Nekojiru had written wills on a number of occasions. Her last extant will dated from several years prior. She committed suicide on May 10, in 1998 with the cause of her suicide unknown. The accounts of how it affected her friends were also in the book.

After some research on Chiyomi Hashiguchi doing a simple review wasn’t satisfactory for me. As depressing as it might have been reading the book knowing her tragic end I couldn’t find bring it in me to leave out what I learned about her. The book goes into detail about how she was as a person from accounts from those who her whereas I simply condensed the information I read. In turn, after learning all of this it has made me look at the short OVA in a different way. It’s depressing reading about Chiyomi Hashiguchi and what happened to her, but this OVA is proof she has not been forgotten which in a way makes me happy about its creation no matter what feeling the viewer will have after watching it.

8/10

Anime Breakdown: The Familiar of Zero (2006) Series Review

After finishing WataMote I naturally started looking for another comedy to pass the time whenever I wasn’t in the mood for something action oriented or at the time about magical teenage girls fighting witches that had allot of depth that shut me up on its cutesy drawn characters. So when researching I came across The Familiar of Zero which was unique for a Harem (basically a romance series where the protagonist has numerous potential love interest). Unlike nearly all Harems that uses a modern back dropped The Familiar of Zero uses a fantasy setting to make it stand out visually. However, as soon as I began watching the series it turned out the setting was the only thing noteworthy feature of the show.

Basic Information

Episode: 13

Available English Dub: Yes, but not recommended since it’s only for one season and its awful

Animation Studio: J.C. Staff

Premise:

Set in the feudalistic and fantastical world of Helkeginia, The Familiar of Zero centers around Louise de Valliere or “Zero”, an aristocratic girl who is completely and utterly inept at magic and who accidentally summons Saito, an ordinary boy from Japan, when she performs the traditionally summoning of one’s “familiar”. Reluctantly accepting him, she generally treats him poorly, verbally and physically abusing him and forcing him to perform menial attacks. In spite of his utter ignorance regarding this world, however, the perhaps too-forward Saito miraculously finds himself able to best an arrogant and powerful aristocrat who berates those of lower social standing, leading him to become popular with both plebeians and the other girls (to Louise’s dismay), and the headmaster of the school to speculate on who he actually is.

Good: Attempts To Be More Than A Romance Story

The world of The Familiar of Zero is one ruled by nobility who are magicians while peasants are ordinary citizens. Why only nobilities can become magicians and peasants can not is never elaborated upon beyond nobility can use magic. You think in a world with this kind of logic there would have been at least a couple instances where a noble marries a peasant, but apparently not. Back on providing some positives. The setup offers a wide variety of possible topics to discuss. Especially in this world where the division between social status is greater. The minority is filled with rich nobles that have magical powers while the lower class don’t. For a while it seems it wants to address that issues with protagonist Saito Hiraga not taking his unfair treatment lightly. Since Saito wasn’t born in the fantasy world he’s viewed as a pet in the noble eyes and is treated like one. Saito could only take his unfair treatment for so long before standing up for himself. Going up against a British noble despite Saito not having any extraordinary abilities. Sadly that discussion never goes anywhere rewarding beyond a certain point. It’s brought up every so often, but once Saito gets slightly better treatment that discussion disappears and dissolve into being only a Harem.

Not everything The Familiar of Zero sets out to do is accomplished to the degree it wants barely having enough positive to outweigh the negative. A positive trait is male lead, Saito Hiraga, is actually likable and it’s understandable why women would flock to get his attention to make him their boyfriend. His reaction to the world is natural and how he is used to integrate the audience into the world is solidly executed. In the context of the story it makes sense for a character within the world to explain to an outsider about the society they live in and in turn we as the audience learn about the world. Saito while not an engaging character is likable facing various conflicts that shows his growth. In particular towards the end of the first season where Saito is put in a positioned that forces him to choose between his livelihood or the well being of an entire kingdom. He has plenty of conflict he has to confront with his hate/love relationship with Louise slowly changing through the course of the first season. This change comes across naturally in the series. Admittedly the ambition shown in its first season and attempt to discuss society related issues through it world is respectable, but sadly that ambition is never reached for a number of reasons.

Mixed: Story

The first season doesn’t have an overarching story of any kind. It builds around smaller stories that focuses on the main characters personal life with the issues of the background world slowly catching up with them. Most of the conflict in the series is often solved with deus ex machina because you know, magic. Removing any tension that a conflict could have had, but also serves to progress the story further. While there is never a true sense of conflict because of easy solutions the story never stays in one place for too long either. Something is always happening and in some sort of way is making progress in the story whether it be character relationships or building up towards the finale. One key point it does miss is properly conveying the moment that Saito falls in love with Louise. Before Saito romance blossoms for Louise we know he’ll fall in love Louise because of the predictable nature of the show and its inability to throw its viewer off. However, the true issue comes afterwards as once Saito has finally made up his mind that Louise is the girl for him isn’t convincing. Aside from sharing a kiss and a couple of short moments of gratitude towards each other there’s nothing that really sells the idea Saito and Louise are right for each other. Let alone making a good argument for Saito affection for Louise since beforehand Louise does some questionable things that makes you wonder if Saito is a masochist.

Aside from the predictable romance another area where carries over mix results is it exploration on the world past. It makes some interesting development as characters discover bits of the world past and one that is made with the most importance is the Rune (basically worded magic seal) on Saito hands. It’s allows him to control any weapon like an expert as long it is made out of metal. Within the first season it’s given a foundation of development where it doesn’t come across as an easy cop out for the protagonist in combat. However, the same can’t be said about Louise as out of nowhere she becomes part of rare magicians called Void Mage. Not only does this eventual development remove Louise relatable aspect, but also excuses her failure in using of magic on a simple titled. What’s most unfortunate about this development is it usage during the climax which easily resolve the conflict of an entire war. It’s a major disservice toward Louise because instead of making her commitment to be a good magician part of her growth it’s conc the idea she’ll never get better and a disservice for the viewer for it’s easy quick resolution.

Mixed: Repetitive Humor

A majority of the jokes in The Familiar of Zero involve Saito being put in a situation usually sexual related in general. A girl hits on Saito and doesn’t know to react in turn leading to some overtop reaction with Louise either “hilariously” whipping Saito for talking to another girl or bickering between two girls. It gets really old when there is a serious lack of variation on the same type of humor. Some of it is funny. In season one there’s an episode focusing on this sacred book that knows the secret to arouse all men, but actually turns out to be a porno maginize. In context it works because characters in the fantasy world reaction is over the top giving more mysticism to a basic object. In some cases these jokes don’t work. No other example better embodies this than the perverted old man character whose mouse is also a pervert. The first time the joke is funny if foreseeable given the genre. When it repeated again not so much since it’s the same every time joke being told over again.

In some instances there are scenes where you question if it was meant to funny. For example, there’s a scene of Saito walking in the streets of Japan and finding a wormhole in the middle of street. No one elses notice it and sticks his hand in it only to be sucked in the fantasy world. Now given the show doesn’t have a good success rate of being funny I laughed at this scene because of the fact no one in the street of Japan wanted to help Saito from being sucked into the wormhole. It’s such a natural occurrence that no one’s is bothered by it anymore. With scenes like that spread out through the series you’ll slowly grow an immunity to what it throws at you. A problem in comedy in general is attempting keep a certain brand of humor funny if your whole act revolve around it. Something this show first season fails to maintain fresh.

Mixed: Characters

I’ll be honest and say the cast in this series lacks engaging personalities. Main character Saito Hiraga and Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere (that’s seriously her whole name) are a predictable item. Part of the fun of a harem should be guessing who the main male lead will end up with. Even if it is predictable who the male lead will choose it helps that the leading lady is likable. In this case it suffers similar problems to Shana of the Burning Eyes in which seeing the couple relationship develop does not work because of it central pair refusal to move past the status quo. In Saito Hiraga case he unknowingly gets on Louise bad side. However, Saito makes an effort to make amends to his master Louise no matter how small the problem is. If it bothers Louise, Saito is going to attempt to explain to Louise why he did something and talk it over with Louise attempting to fix it. His heart is in the right place never compromising what he believes, but neither letting his beliefs cloud the way those around him feel.

Than there’s Louise Francoise who falls victim to execution. She is a an abusive tsundere (alternating between irritable or lovestruck personality) whipping Saito for any possible reason. Most of his whipping in season one stems from Saito simply talking to any other girl that isn’t her. Not only does her constant jealousy becomes realize in physical beating towards Saito, but comes across demented for feeling guilty for punishing Saito, yet continues to exact physical punishment despite the fact that it never once works to change Saito behavior. Louise falls on the spoiled brat side, expecting Saito to simply do her bidding without question. Believing her being unpopular is a much more serious issue than Saito being just being thrust into a world he didn’t know existed and forcefully given a role to serve his master. Leading to a chemistry of bickering and bantering that occurs in most if not all episodes. There’s actually a kind of disturbing unintended subtext of slavery here. With Saito getting a chain around his neck to keep him in line, and Louise barking out orders to him as if he were nothing more than mere chattel. Does that sound like a love interest you want your leading male character to deal with? If you said yes, then you’ll be happy to know she would probably make you sleep on the floor on a pile of hay sometimes outside of the academy like she does with Saito and threatens him with starvation.

The supporting cast offer other love interests that are more bearable, though not all are explored equally. First up is Tabitha who is the strong emotionless type. She does get characterization through second hand accounts from other characters in the series. While Tabitha doesn’t say much she is more likable because of it. Where a majority of the female characters are speaking about boys (come on, not all women are shallow) Tabitha remains silent on the subject showing her talents to yield magic. Though given her treatment in the show it’s clear she won’t register on Saito radar. That’s a shame since a quiet, emotionless character is more likable than the leading lady. Tabitha best friend, Kirche, who is the polar opposite of her. Kirche defining characteristic is that she is well endowed. Okay, to be fair she does use her body to get what she wants since she knows how to persuade men. Sure her big breast is an easy design for fanservice, but she’s treated like a person and not solely as an object. Kirche genuinely cares for her friend Tabitha becoming closer to her when learning about her tragic past. She does have fanservice moments, but also moments where she comes across a well intended character.

Next up is Siesta who is a maid at the academy. She develops a romantic interest towards Saito and her affection for Saito reasonable. As oppose to Kirche who falls in love with Saito because it’ll make Louise jealous; Siesta loves the side of him that stands up to the noble and speak for the common man. Unlike Louise, Siesta actually holds a conversation with Saito as an equal being one of the few people Saito actually likes being around. She show concerns for his well being and on top of that is a good worker. When Louise punishes Saito for something he did by not feeding him, Siesta brings food from the kitchen or takes him down to the kitchen where he gets some of the leftovers from the nobles. Even when she knows Saito clearly has a questionable attraction towards Louise, Siesta still stays by his side as a friend. As you can tell, this character is pretty much everything the main love interest is not. Affectionate, caring, and oh, one sided positive traits. Okay so not entirely perfect nor interesting in a form of a story, but still a much more preferred option over Louise.

Finally there’s princess Henrietta. I know the whole princess thing can be problematic especially if given the traditional lazy the king is away excuse or not bringing it up at all. In Henrietta case it’s actually explain why she’s a princess. It’s because she was too young to be coronated to the throne and thus become queen when her country is at the brink of war. She’s given a realistic portrayal because of her job it shows the conflict of running an entire conflict as such a young age. Making her job all the more difficult when lives are at stake and her subordinates forcing her to agree on a decision she knows are wrong. Henrietta is sympathic since many want to be her, but very few actually want to know her.

Wait, what about the male supporting cast? Just plot devices to move the plot forward and do not whatsoever have much of a focus aside from chasing after a particular girl. About time a harem made it male supporting cast characters shallow, though that’s not really a positive either. The only other male that receives prominent screen time and development is a talking sword. Let that sink in. Goes to shows how much it value it male cast.

Mixed: Production Values

It’s one thing that the story doesn’t use it fantasy setting much to its advantage, but it’s another to restrict the animators on that front. The technical aspects are below average failing to capture a wonder in its world or imprint any image in the viewer that remains with them. Everything from it’s aesthetic is the very definition of basic. The cartoonish color scheme of bright tones, devoid of shading of texture, while the character art is very bland. There’s not much of an animation budget with noticeable movement being very limited. It’s made apparent even in the opening intro as some of the characters movement looking delayed. Less crucial is Shinkichi Mitsumune’s score is the equivalent of J.C. Staff’s generic fantasy-world settings: pleasant, and in some cases downright pretty, but hardly a draw unto itself. I’ll admit the opening theme is more bearable than it’s outro theme which is entirely off key. It’s pleasant to the eye and nothing wrong with things being pleasant. However, simply being pleasant to look at doesn’t excuse unremarkable technical aspects.

In the English dub voice actress Cristina Valenzuela has the good sense to tone down Louise’s wilder swings, creating a slightly more mature variation on the character. Jonathan Meza makes the fatal mistake of playing Saito with a quavering loser edge, effectively destroying his unflappable charm. Iwasaki is a veteran of romantic comedies (part of the reason, no doubt, that his action direction is so poor), but the little jolts of poignancy he teases from Louise and Saito’s evolving relationship cannot survive a toned-down Louise and a dispiritingly limp Saito. Nicholas Manelick picks up some of the slack with his hilariously ham-handed take on womanizing self-aggrandizer Guiche, and most of the other supporting players are solid enough, but a romance drained of its chemistry is too sad a thing to be saved by humor.

If you must for consistency reason go with Japanese language all the way. At least when it’s being adapted there’s effort put into translating the source material into a series and a understanding from the cast to deliver the performance expected of them. As for the English dub on the other side it’s very lazy in translation. In episode one when Louise first summons Saito they both are unable to understand each other, but in the English dub both speak English so comes across as a bit of confusion. It’s later explain that Louise was speaking in a different language and so put a spell on Saito so he can speak their language. If the English dub was too lazy to record couple of Saito lines in a different language it already failed. It doesn’t get any better so Japanese voice actors all the way. It’s not like watching it with English subtitles will make you miss the “meh” production values.

Final Thought:

The Familiar of Zero doesn’t offer diversity as a harem, comedy, or as animated series to warrant multiple viewings. It appeals to a specific audience meaning unless you’re part of that target audience you don’t have a reason to bother batting an eye at it. It attempts to appeal to a large audience and fails to live up to that goal. There’s some aspects of the series done right, but not enough where the good traits become noticeable.

Ambition: 2/2

Story: 1/2

Characters: 1/2

Humor: 1/2

Production Values: 1/2

Rating: 6/10 – The Familiar of Zero offers a unique setting and some interesting ideas, but those traits takes a backseat to its genre cliches and a cast of characters that are mix in results. It’s more concern in filling out a quota for a specific genre that’s audience expect from it that holds itself from better things. At the end though, it does tell a complete story, has a likable lead, and an interesting world that made it worth seeing. Even if the end results didn’t match those standards it could have.

Anime Breakdown: Shana of the Burning Eyes (Shakugan no Shana) (2005 – 2006) Series Review

Admittedly when I sat down and viewed the first episode of Shana of the Burning Eyes my thoughts on it were mostly negative. Literally within the first minutes what hinted me that I might be in for a bad time were the blue flames in the opening intro. The other anime I saw that had blue flames was Blue Exorcist and inspite of my positive review for it (it was a decent show) it ended on a bad last note for me. Mostly because when it upgraded the material above it usual quality instead of sustaining the higher quality it reverted back to being underwhelming. In hindsight both series don’t have much in common, but my experience of them were similar. For starter both series shower themselves with tropes of their genre, both have a hero who are cover by flames trying to discover themselves, and me slowly embracing them for what they are. However, whereas Blue Exorcist reverted back to it usual self, Shana of the Burning Eyes did improve as it went on. Despite a poor start I ended up liking Shana of the Burning Eyes as every episode left me so much to talk about. Be it good or bad.

Basic Information

Episodes: 24 Main Series, 5 Specials

Available English Dub: Yes

Animation Studio: J.C. Staff

Premise:

Shakugan no shana, also called Shana of the Burning Eyes, tells the story of Yuji Sakai, a normal high school boy who discovers he is dead and that he is in fact a torch after being attacked by a monster and saved by Shana, a young girl of red hair and burning eyes who calls herself as Flame Haze. Due to the confusion and chaotic mess Yuji gotten into, he follows the girl with the flaming red hair and finds out the truth about everything around him. The two begin to develop a bond that will help them battle the impending forces of doom in the city and Shana will eventually require Yuji to help fuel her strength to continue doing battle.

Good: Balance of Action and Romance

It’s easy for a series to favor the romance over the other half of the genre it’s mixing with, but with Shana of the Burning Eyes that never becomes a problem. There’s a good amount of action in the series that never overshadowed the slice of life drama. Following a routine of villain causing trouble in the city and after villain is defeated life returns to normal. The formula is pretty basic and given how little it changes it routine story arcs are easy to follow. For most of the story it focuses on the everyday life of the characters which helps to add some weight to the action scenes. By taking time to build its world we become familiar with the city the show takes place in. Making it that more significant in seeing the importance of why it’s worth protecting so much for its characters.

The action side of the show is nothing impressive honestly. In a rough fight Shana can pull out a new power to turn the tide of battles in her favor. However, often as is the case she has to earn her victory as oppose to other animes where it’s common for a character to overcome his/her opponent quickly with their new powers. This prevents the repetition of the fights from becoming tedious. At times when Shana pulls out a new trick it doesn’t land her a victory within the same episode. Being force to overcome her opponents with the abilities she’s given. Before every fight creating good build up is necessary. The build up to action is reliable for properly setting the mood and stage for the ensuing spectacle to take place. Although, to be fair, the build up is generally allot better than the action itself. Thankfully it has a good supply of action to make up whenever it does not live up to its promise.

The slice of life side of things has a good sense of pacing. Slowly it introduces new characters, new conflicts, and takes some detour that might not serve to advance the main story. It also has a balance between the drama and comedic moments. So stuff does happen outside of saving the city from a new threat. It’s pretty good at depicting these characters, they have lives and purposes that go beyond what we simply see in the show. With varied situations like Yuji seeing the disappearance of a single person does affect not his world in the slightest, at home training so Yuji can fight, comedic relief at a character home or public place, and so forth.

Good: Character Relationships

Shana of the Burning Eyes does not offer a whole lot in memorable characters, but knowns how to make its cast interaction a saving grace. We’ll spend a huge amount of time with the same characters through season one and they keep things interesting. The characters interactions can vary from being comedic, touching, to downright leading to a potentially violent fights physically or verbally. How these scenes are done captures the spirit of its teenage characters who are growing up throughout the series. Like actual friends, the characters don’t always get along with each other, but always find a way to work out the issue with things going to back to normal. Characters are always shown what’s on their mind with monologue and make an effort to speak out their mind. Rather than simply endure an issue that clearly bugs them. Shana and Yuji’s relationship starts out one sidedly with Shana serving as his guard of sort. Progressing slowly in becoming more like friends with Yuji trying to learn to fight to help Shana and Shana slowly embracing Yuji as a person and not a object to protect. It’s done in a manner that allows its relationship to grow in the right time.

All of the characters interactions tend to contribute something to the show. Yuji’s interactions with his best friend Hayato Ike shows a tight bond between two friends. It’s evident by the way they speak to one another they have know each other for a long time. This makes the dynamic between the two interesting to see unfold when Ike contemplates he might have feelings for Yoshida (a girl who likes Yuji) while helping her win Yuji affection. By the end of the season the issue is not resolved which might sound like a complaint, but it’s actually not. By providing no solution to the conflict it goes to show that not every problem will require the same amount of time to resolve. Also, this conflict never tarnished Yuji and Ike friendship by turning it into an easy plot device. It becomes a part of both characters when this revelation is brought up and as good friends acknowledge the problem is not fixed, but not a serious issue that it’ll cause the other any harm.

Mixed: Characters, most notably the villains

This is a surprise for me too even after having seen season one in its entirety. While the interaction between characters is handled well those same characters aren’t interesting on their own. The title heroine of the series, Shana, has a personality disorder that goes back and forth making her grating on screen. When she starts she reasonably doesn’t take a liking to male lead Yuji Sakai whose stubborn to do things her way. Shana’s starts out as the girl with a rough exterior, but than upon meeting a guy learns to feel more emotions unable to control them. Her change is predictable. Unfortunately maintaining some annoying traits. The most common one is going back and forth between her feelings for Yuji Sakai. At first it’s not an issue since dead people in this world are basically floating blue flames, but repeat these struggles for more than ten episodes with no variation on the subject it becomes annoying. Then there’s Kazumi Yoshida who also suffers from the opposite problem of Shana. Virtually all of her dialogue is something like “I love Yuji Sakai. He’ll be mine forever. I won’t let you have him Shana”. Rarely does any of her scenes involve talking about anything other than boys. Sadly all of the young women tend to focus on talking about boys in their conversations and conflict revolving around boys. I get that they’re high schoolers, but make the conflict varied. Not every high school girl’s biggest ordeal is winning over a guy.

The male cast don’t get away from this issue either. Granted the male cast have allot more to talk about other than girls which is a relief. Our main leading man is Yuji Sakai who’s written nonsensically. Yuji is understanding when it comes to other people besides Shana. He could tell whenever something is bothering Yoshida making an attempt to help her. If she was Shana on the other hand Yuji is intolerant constantly fighting with her. This I might add is our male lead and Shana is his love interest so…yeah…not exactly a couple that will make your heart soar with the passion of love. Then comes Hayato Ike who is Yuji’s best friend. He’s more emotionally aware of the girls feelings around him. Ike doesn’t do allot in the show to be honest, but brings forth an interesting conflict of two friends possibly fighting over the same girl. Sadly it’s not utilized to its full potential, though thankfully it’s never taken to the extremes of the love rivalry between Shana and Yoshida or Yuji. Alastor is the wise talking amulet like object whose dialogue has a tendency to be filled with wisdom. Unlike Yuji where his reaction can be inconsistent with his character; Alastor thinks logically of what’s best. When he has a talk with Yuji’s mother he has to be convinced of another person’s view on how look after a child. He’s understanding to the point he can admit he is wrong about something through some convincing arguments if there is any. Than there are best friends Keisaku Satou and Eita Tanaka who are the series comedic reliefs. Surprisingly these two despite being the goofiest characters in the show have a surprising amount of growth. They come to face more complicated emotions than “what should we do today” to becoming people that desire to help others. If these two were the leading characters the show would have benefited because as oppose to the leading characters where the humor comes from the situations. Keisaku and Eita humor comes from who they are.

The adult women on the other hand are better handled. My favorite character in the show (who sadly doesn’t appear soon enough) is Wilhelmina Carmel who rights the wrong of Shana. Unlike Shana where her emotions become a nuisance instead of a trait, taking away from her tough image; Wilhelmina never suffers from those same issues because we’re shown there are more emotions to her than her exterior tend to tell. Wilhelmina always speaks in a monotonous, overly formal and polite manner and has nearly no expression. Because Wilhelmina action are readable there’s a lot more depth added to her without having her say it. We know Wilhelmina cares a lot for Shana and that comes across strongly in her scenes. Acting motherly with Shana and defensive when out in public. Even when she has to break away from her tough exterior to show some form of emotion it never feels out of character. Margery Daw is the other adult woman who while not as awesome is admittedly given a more likable personality. Early in the series Margery Daw starts out as a temporary villain who is still made likable with her easy going mood on duty and her chemistry with her loud mouth talking book that makes snappy comeback at her. Margery receives some development, but it being center on the high school leads she does not grow beyond the drunk and loud mouth woman she constantly portrayed in the series. Yuji’s mother, Chigusa Sakai, is also another terrifically written character. She’s wise, understanding, and goes out of her way to help Shana. She’s the most pleasant character to be around even when those she talking too are not.

Virtually every single villain in season one had it own intrigue since not a single villain is normal. The first villain of the series is Friagne the Hunter who doesn’t get much development. Friagne is the series first in the long line of lame villains. He hardly takes any action to reach his goals. Nearly half of the time he’s shown on screen he plans something than which immediately gets ruined and does not know how to fix the problem. In the show, he gets easily defeated and it doesn’t help that he has a underlying doll fetish. Out of all the traits Friagne has, doll fetish will be the one that sticks with you the most since his dolls (in the English dub) sound like little girls who refer to him as master. Doing whatever it takes to please her master which in wording that way gives it a double meaning. The doll’s intention is nice, but made off putting seeing Friagne often talking to himself and his tone of voice is sensual when speaking to the doll. Next up is minor villain Margery Daw who later becomes a permanent supporting character in the cast. She gives Shana a good beating early on, though her villain arc amounts to little impact in the long run.

Next up are the incestious siblings Tiriel/Aizenta who can be unpleasant. Literally the introduction of these siblings goes like this. After Tiriel and Aizenta eat some people in a alley they admit they’re brother and sister and kiss passionately on mouth in a close up. This kiss is also how a the episode they are introduced in ends, which doesn’t help matter when the ending theme has a choir singing. Then afterwards comes a biker and a Samurai that don’t amount to much. The biker baddie is very lame since none of his combat abilities come close to beating the heroes. The Samurai like villain is build up to this incredible fight only get defeated easily within minutes. Afterwards our group of heroes just faces a team of villains that stick it out for the remainder of season one without getting defeated. They’re not worth discussing since their plan and the final arc they are involved in resolves little in the matter.

Mixed: Storytelling

In the opening I said the series had a rough first episode. It’s so rough the series needs five episodes before it could recover and during the first six episodes it’s an onslaught of cliches and nonstop bad explanation of how its world functions. This become tedious very quickly as not only it makes it difficult to follow the working of this world, but also near impossible to comprehend the rules during combat. Making matters worse is the first major villain of the series is very lame. Remember that villain I said had a doll fetish…yeah he doesn’t appear much for that reason. It’s pretty rocky to have such a lame first advisory when tolerating bad explanations. Past these early six episodes it does eventually recover from its rocky start, though doesn’t go out with a bang like one would expect from gradual improvements.

There is a point in season 1 where out of nowhere there are three flashback episodes without a proper transition. The flashback episodes do their job in developing Shana and finally getting to see Wilhelmina. These episodes serve a point and also highlight the issues with some of its villains being interesting, but easily beaten. Through the first season there is never urgency that our heroes won’t succeed. Even in the season finale the extended climax outstays its welcome with the obvious conclusion. The finale doesn’t solve the current dilemma as so much serve to bridge the current season to season two. As a whole, characters grow up beginning at indifferent or becoming closer through the series of threats that can take away their existence. Seeing its characters face their issues together will have you sticking around, but leaving an impact on you from their journey is unlikely.

Mixed: Production Values

The animation is done by studio J.C. Staff and are also responsible for everything in the series. J.C. Staff is the studio you associate anime with both good and bad. Everything from the characters with big eyes, girls who only seem to favor wearing skirts, shortcuts in action sequences, and the occasional fan service (which is out of place in the final episode I might add). This particular studio is pretty much the middle ground of Japanese animation studios. Their animation is competent and versatile in styles, but don’t have an edge in any particular area. Characters design are simplistic with re usage of similar hairstyles and saving some money with incomplete background characters having no mouth. Line detail is okay, but not excessively sharp, but the entire enterprise just has that slightly soft and blurry look. It works for the flames to look blurry to it give it that effect of a burning wave. Not so much when there’s isn’t anything eventful occurring on screen.

The series does have an English dub which is pretty good. Much better than the material actually deserves. All the actors fit their roles well while their performances depends on the writing. Tabitha St. Germain who voices Shana in the English dub can be grating with her high pitches whenever in a verbal fight. Sounding a lot like a spoiled brat at times, but the writing is to blame since Shana’s personality is all over the place. It’s a miracle St. Germain manages to pull it making the emotionally scattered Shana come across as focus. However, I would recommend anyone who has an interest in seeing this to view it with subtitles. Now the English dub for season 1 is great with the voice cast fitting the characters, but season 2 replaces all the dub voice cast from the first season and having seen just one episode of season 2 with it new voice cast I’m already having second thoughts to continue seeing it in English. Season two’s dub is that bad.

Music is the only area that is left and it’s a give or take thing. Virtually all the opening and closing tracks are pop songs and about the same thing. A couple overcoming the burdens the world throws at them and yeah not varied is it. The first closing theme for season, “Toake Umarekuru Shojo” (The Girl Born At Dawn in English) starts out with a choir slowly raising their pitch. Then comes in the singer, Yoko Takashi, who begins to sing with her voice overshadowing the male choir who repeat some verses. It soons descends once a string is heard accompanied by techno sounds. Instruments are battling one another to be heard and it become a clutter mess of sounds that don’t blend. As for the original music it disappears into background. If it’s not from an famous singer than it won’t register in the slightest with you. The music in general are not tracks that you’re not going to picture listening to when not viewing the show. It’s not bad since the way the song talk about a couple struggle goes along with the series when it progresses, but it neither varied by genre or topics.

Random Thoughts: Nostalgia Crept In (no points taken to account)

My journey in viewing the series was not always welcoming, but I grew a fondness for it through season one. Every episode always left me with alot of thoughts that regardless the emotions left an impression on me. There never was a boring episode even if nothing extraordinary came out of the events. The writing had its fair share of downsides religiously following tropes, but also subverted from them to tell interesting stories. As the show characters grew up during the course of season one so did my feelings for the show. Ending up liking it despite a very poor start. Over time while watching it I grew rather nostalgic of it despite being my first time seeing it. The feeling was like returning to a series you loved, but finding out it hasn’t aged very well. Shana of the Burning Eyes is like that. While it’s not this great show many made it out to be there’s certain qualities about that keeps your feeling positive for them. The series’s first opening theme has stuck with me and helped it be on my good side. While I don’t know the exact way to word it. It’s exactly the song I would picture going with the series. Sure I don’t like the basic structure of the song, but is written that it feels like it was specifically for the series.

Final Thoughts:

I hit many road block during this series first season and many times I wondered if it would ever recover. I was eventually able to settle in and let it do it own thing without worrying too much. Like it characters, the first season was able to overcome an issue. Sure it never fixes any of its flaws to eliminate them, but the show’s heart to face them head on works in its favor. It doesn’t entirely succeed in everything it wanted to do. Where it does succeed it strikes and strikes it hard to pull itself back up whenever stuck in a rut. In the end, it’s broken in some areas, but comes out with a well earned damaged victory.

Genre Blending: 2/2

Character Interaction: 2/2

Characters: 1/2

Story: 1/2

Production Values: 1/2

Final Rating: 7/10 – Shana of the Burning Eyes has a rough start, but gradually improves the further it goes. However, the appeal of the series is limited with just about everything you associate with anime both good and bad being on constant display in every episode. It follows tropes religiously while at other times breaks away from them. Constantly rising and diving in quality it has a lot more high points when it ends than the low points from where it begins.