Author Archives: Tom

Dennou Coil

Dennou CoilType: TV Series
Episode Count: 26
Genre: Sci-Fi / Slice of Life
Vintage: 2007

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 13 Feb 2017

Grade: A+

What if Studio Ghibli made a series like Lain?

Plot Summary
It’s the year 2026. The world has two layers: the physical and an augmented cyber layer, which can be seen and interacted with by wearing special glasses. Soon after moving to a new town, sixth-grader Yuko loses her Pet dog, which is not a real dog, but an AI which lives in the cyber layer. As she tries to find her lost Pet, she meets Fumie, another sixth-grader. Fumie offers to help Yuko find her Pet, but at a cost. Yuko doesn’t understand how Fumie wants to be paid as it’s some sort of cyber currency, but she agrees anyway. Fumie is searching for an Illegal AI, and these Illegals seem to be related to a string of recent Pet disappearances. As Yuko joins Fumie on her mission, so too begins her journey into the augmented cyber world and all of its dangers.

The Review
It took Dennou Coil a mere four episodes to take its position amongst my all-time favorite anime series. Not bad for a series I knew very little about but had been anticipating for at least five years, if not more. Dennou Coil isn’t quite cyberpunk, but it’s about as close as you can get without the dystopia. Science fiction in a plausible real-world setting is usually a fair bet for me, and Dennou Coil certainly lived up to my expectations.

There are a few other things which made Dennou Coil a series I took to very quickly. Yuko is voiced by Fumiko Orikasa, who is one of my favorite seiyuu. Speaking of characters, I also like the character designs quite a bit. Taking Yuko as an example again, she has a very unremarkable appearance (quite a “normal” looking girl), but it is her simplicity which only adds to her charm. In what seems to be a recurring theme, this is at least the third series I’ve become quite a fan of which has the combination of elementary school children in a slice-of-life series with science-fiction elements – Figure 17 and Noein being two other notables.

I mention Studio Ghibli in the opening to this review, and by that I refer to the “feel” of the series. That said, there were some parts of the series early on which reminded me of My Neighbor Totoro, of all things! The main character Yuko has a four-year-old sister named Kyoko, and their dynamic reminds me of Totoro‘s Satsuki and Mei. There were also small creatures which reminded me of the sootballs. Back to Kyoko for a moment, she is a clever little thing, but still very much a toddler. She goes around calling everything unchi, which will become your new favorite Japanese word, and that will be weird. Look it up, if you dare. Anyway, the comparison to  Ghibli also works on a technical level, since Dennou Coil is animated by none other than Madhouse.

Most series of this length go through a change about midway through, as the larger story becomes the focus once the character building is complete. Dennou Coil is no exception, but the way it handles the transition is much more subtle. Often, the transition point is fairly easy to detect with a major event changing the course of the story. Dennou Coil’s change in course is much less obvious. The story does take the expected turn, but it happens so gradually that only once it has made progress in the larger arc do you realize that the laying of the groundwork was finished a while ago. Maybe I’ll see it more on a rewatch, but for my first viewing, it had happened before I realized it. There is also a great thing that the narrative does towards the end of the series which I don’t see too often. Early scenes become familiar in a new context, to give a cryptic clue. There is also an episode which is remarkable at hiding its true purpose until it gets revealed in a most surprising way. The storytelling in Dennou Coil is expertly crafted.

It has been a while since a series pulled me in the way Dennou Coil did. I think A Certain Scientific Railgun was the most recent one to take me completely by surprise like this, until now. While watching Dennou Coil, it felt like I was back in my early days of discovering anime watching Serial Experiments Lain for the first time. Dennou Coil touches on some of the same themes that Lain did nearly ten years earlier, but in a different way.

For as long as I’ve been a fan of anime and with as much as I have seen over the years, I am sometimes unsure if that sense of wonder is still out there in something I haven’t seen yet, waiting for me to find it. With Dennou Coil, I have found it once more, and then some. This is a series which has joined the company of some of my all-time favorites, including Revolutionary Girl Utena, Figure 17, Serial Experiments Lain, and Haibane-Renmei. If you want a perfect blend of science fiction and slice-of-life, Dennou Coil will show you how it’s done.

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Girls und Panzer

Girls und PanzerType: TV Series
Episode Count: 12
Genre: Comedy / Tournament
Vintage: 2012

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 1 Jun 2016

Grade: B

Just another series about cute girls… who drive tanks.

Plot Summary
Miho has transferred to Ooarai High School for a very specific reason: she had a bad experience with Sensha-do in the past, and Ooarai does not offer Sensha-do. Sensha-do (also known as “tankery”) is something which many girls in the country and around the world enjoy, since they widely consider it a way to learn skills which bring out their femininity to become “ideal” girls. Or that’s how the club is presented to potential members, at least. It is also the basis for a worldwide school tournament with each one bringing a squad of tanks to the playing field. As Miho begins to make new friends at school, the student council approaches her and shatters her dream. For some reason, with Miho in the student body, they have decided to bring Sensha-do back to Ooarai and insist that Miho join the club.

The Review
Do you like shows featuring cute girls? Do you like tanks? Do you like tactical RPGs? If your answer to one or more of those questions is “yes”, then Girls und Panzer is for you. Girls und Panzer is a light series and is all about fun, so if you are expecting a serious story, this is not the show you are looking for.

Let’s get the bad out of the way first. Characterization in Girls und Panzer leaves much to be desired. With a cast of no fewer than twenty, there is simply no way to give all of these girls backstories, except for a few from the main team. This leads to the next point: the characters in the series are all grouped together by teams, since the nature of the show has a team assigned to each tank. Except for the main team, each one is a group of girls sharing a paper-thin stereotype. There are the eager first-years, the volleyball team, and the military historians just for starters. These secondary characters have no depth at all, and exist only to populate the rest of the tanks on the squad. First and foremost, Girls und Panzer is about Miho, and to a lesser extent, the other four girls on her team. (And because you want to know the main team’s archetypes, from left to right in the picture above: Saori is the self-proclaimed “love expert”, Miho is the reluctant leader, Yukari is the tank otaku, Mako is the quiet loner, and Hana is the gentle ojou-sama.)

But you’re not watching Girls und Panzer for in-depth character studies. Can a show populated largely by cardboard cutouts actually be any good? Surprisingly, yes. For what the series lacks in character depth, it makes up for in tank action. First of all, those interested in tanks from the era of the World Wars will surely enjoy their CG recreations here. Many different kinds from different countries are represented, and Yukari will tell you all about them. Despite the importance of tanks to the story, Girls und Panzer is not a historical or military series. It takes place in an alternate present day, and the tanks are used for a global tournament among schools. This is no war. That said, the students from some of the schools Ooarai faces have personas that match some well-known historical political factions. It’s played for fun here, though.

Finally, the best thing about Girls und Panzer are the tank battles. Those who have played tactical RPGs such as Valkyria Chronicles or Advance Wars will feel right at home. Not every moment of every episode is a battle, but when the focus shifts to the tank action, that’s when the series shines. I can forgive the lack of character depth because the battles are so fun to watch. They are also very loud. Watching on a full home theater system, when the tanks fire their rounds, you’ll definitely know it.

Being a tournament series, you pretty much know how Girls und Panzer will end before it even begins. Yes, it’s predictable. Yes, most of the characters are as thin as tracing paper. But watching the matches between the tanks is where all of the fun lies, so if you can forgive the show’s shortcomings, and are a fan of tanks or tactical RPGs, then Girls und Panzer is a show you should check out.

Sketchbook ~full color’S~

Sketchbook ~full color'S~Type: TV Series + Specials
Episode Count: 13 + 6
Genre: Slice of Life / Comedy
Vintage: 2007 / 2008

Version reviewed: Japanese, Subtitled
Date of Review: 31 Mar 2016

Grade: A

The grammatically incorrect apostrophe appears in the title card for this series, and all promotional materials, so that is how I have presented it here.

More slice of life perfection.

Plot Summary
Sora Kajiwara always carries her sketchbook wherever she goes, in case she sees something she wants to draw. A shy and quiet girl, she is part of the Art Club at school and, when not chasing cats, enjoys her days with her two best friends: Natsumi and Hazuki.

The Review
Once more, a slice of life series proves to be as difficult to review as it is simple. While preparing for this review, I did find something interesting out about Sketchbook, which only confirmed something I’ve long suspected in general when it comes to anime. As I watched the original Japanese commercials promoting the series, I noted the time it aired: around 1am. There are indeed anime series produced with the intention of airing them during the dead of night, and in the case of Sketchbook, that makes full sense with how it is paced and presented. At such a late hour, sometimes you just want something which doesn’t require recalling intricate plotlines. Sketchbook is as easygoing as an anime series gets. Watching it is quite relaxing indeed.

Sketchbook has no overarching story to speak of. Even the passing of the school year doesn’t really play into it, other than showing what kinds of things the characters can do depending on what time of year it is. As usual with slice of life shows, it’s the cast which propels the show, and Sketchbook’s is a fun one. It begins with Sora (voiced by none other than Kana Hanazawa), who is shy, quiet, and just a bit spacy. She is easily distracted by cats, and they are her favorite subject to draw. She also has her own unique trademark of a vocally reinforced double nod. This comes as little surprise, being a series directed by Junichi Sato, whose leads often have their own peculiar little phrases.

The rest of the cast is equally fun to watch. Sora’s friend Natsumi is easily excitable and loves puppets, always bringing a pair with her everywhere she goes. Completing the main trio is Hazuki, who is always minding her change purse and acting as the voice of reason. Later on, they are joined by a Canadian girl named Kate, who amuses with her somewhat broken Japanese. The Art Club’s faculty advisor Hiyori is your standard lazy adult, always wanting her students to have fun even if she can’t afford to give them proper outings. She also loves chickens. A lot. I also enjoyed the just plain weird upperclass students Fuu and Ryou. There’s also the dark Kokage, who has an interesting sense of humor. All of these characters and more (including side stories featuring talking cats) make the world of Sketchbook a delight.

The DVD release of the series also includes six short picture dramas which tell their own side story. These are done in an animation style recreating paper puppets on sticks, making them fun to watch as well.

Sketchbook ~full color’S~ is a great little series, even if it has an unnecessary apostrophe in its title. Slice of life fans don’t need to be sold on it, as it’s a sure bet. If you haven’t gotten your fill of high school art students from Hidamari Sketch, Sketchbook should be next on your list of shows to watch.