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Kokoro Connect Complete Series (anime review)

Title: Kokoro Connect The Complete TV Series & OVA on Blu-ray

Director: Shinya Kawamo

Studio: Silver Link

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks / Section 23

U. S. Release Date: March 14, 2017

Format: Blu-ray / 13 Episodes + 4 OVA / 425 Minutes

Genre: Supernatural, Coming of Age, Romance, Drama, Seinen

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Grade: A

Synopsis:

The five members of the Cultural Study group that meets in class 401 have spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. But they’re about to learn that there’s a huge difference between thinking about it and literally BEING in someone else’s shoes! That’s exactly what happens when, suddenly and inexplicably, they each find themselves inside the body of the girl – or boy – next door!

What happens next? Well, besides bringing a whole new meaning to the term “exchange student” and the to-be-expected freaked-out runs to the bathroom, it’s not hard to do the math: take one wrestling geek, the resident cool girl, the class clown, the popular chick and one sultry maid of mystery, scramble thoroughly and divide, and you can bet that pretty soon they’ll be answering ALL of the questions they never wanted to know about the opposite sex in ways they never anticipated!

Commentary:

I always cringe a little when I hear that a show is about people swapping bodies. Kokoro Connect only made me cringe because it is so good and how it manages to hit some genuine nerves with respect to the human condition. I have not felt this strong about a series since AnoHana made to our market. Kokoro Connect goes straight for that dynamic of exploring our relationships and our own frailties.

The animation style reminds me of the simplistic intimacy the K-ON! delivers or many of the other straight forward slice of life series. The one major difference is the solid development of the characters and the superb writing that brings the series to life. Each one of these students have a plenty of experiences that have helped form who they are, but they are just discovering the people they have become and how to move forward. Each are full and rich with plenty to say and it is very easy to become sympathetic toward them and their world.

The one thing that hit me the hardest was the honesty that came from the writing and exposed itself through these characters. This is where it made me cringe because of the way that they allow these characters to expose themselves and the things that they confess. There are things said that I can honestly say I would never expect to hear from anyone, but seeing it in this format makes those comments seem even more honest and revealing.

Overall Grade: A

Kokoro Connect is not for everyone and because of some of the conversations that happen I would say that it should really be rated 16 +. That doesn’t take away from the quality of the series and in fact adds to its overall attractiveness. Don’t expect this to be a sexy romp through adolescence, but rather a honest view of humans at this age and the things that make us who we are. There is one area that the Japanese are great at and they are coming of age stories that tug at our heart strings and Kokoro Connect hits a home run and made it on to my to ten releases. Be sure to check this one out.

Kokoro Connect  found it’s way into a top pick of mine for the series releases and with the addition of the 4 episodes / OVAs it is clear that it is now more than deserving of that list. I loved the way the series explores relationships without turning it into a silly redundant body swapping series. With the added emotion swapping that goes on in these OVAs it gives us another level of complexity and asked the question “how do we hide our feelings from our friends”? Funny thing is that we have all gone through this but not at this level of stress. The way that it is approached is both interesting and painful, but at all times it still keeps us grounded in both the characters humanity and the humanity of the viewers. There are plenty of other series that explore relationships such as Anohana or even Clannad, but Kokoro Connect does something that even they don’t do and that is touch a nerve that is so universal and at the same time so personal that they almost never come up and are almost never discussed among friends. To place young coming of age kids in the position of having to experience what others feel and all the while be bonded together through both friendship and the fact that they are all placed in this position without their consent. These simple factors make the series powerful for what it is and with the added awkwardness of those highly personal secrets rolling out from time to time makes Kokoro Connect something very special.

If you are looking for a series that makes you look at yourself and your friends in a new light then Kokoro Connect should be high on the list.

Similar Anime:

AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day, K-ON! , Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha are all in line with Kokoro Connect. AnoHana does explore the aspects of relationships and the dark secrets that we all hold back from each other. K-On!, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari follow a much simpler format of exploration of coming of age but they still deal directly with how we discover how to maintain relationships with those close to us as we age and life becomes more complicated. There are plenty of other series that take on relationships and if you want to feel something other than just a punch of adrenaline then you should be sure to pick one of these series up.

Tamayura Hitotose (anime review)

Tamayura HitotoseTitle: Tamayuri Hitotose 

Director: Junichi Sato

Music by: Noboyuki Nakajima

Studio: TYO Animations (series), Hal Film Maker (OVA)

U. S. Distributor: Nozomi Entertainment

U. S. Release Date: Oct. 6th, 2015

Format: DVD/ 389 Minutes / 12 Episodes and OVA

Genre: Slice of Lice, Coming of Age, Shojo

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: B+

Synopsis:

As a little girl, Fuu Sawatari’s father taught her to love photography. They took pictures everywhere they went. But after he passed away, seeing those photographs only served as a reminder of her loss, so she locked them away to be forgotten. Years later, her brother Kou finds their father’s picture album, and as he flips through its pages, the pictures remind Fuu of all the happy memories of her father that she will carry with her forever.

Now, as the shy Fuu enters her first year of high school, she once again takes up her father’s old camera, determined to take wonderful pictures that will bring joy and happiness to others.

Commentary:

Tamayuri Hitotose is one of those sweet light series that looks simple but dives much deeper and interesting than expected. With the basic concepts being rather simple and straight forward I would have expected it to be more about the day to day life of these girls. What I found was a series that provides just that a simple look at a group of girls as they begin their journey into adulthood, there is also a interesting look at the fine art of photography. Now I must disclosed that I have a degree in fine art photography and it clearly colored my perspective. The thing about Tamayura Hitotose and the narrative exploring art photography is that it does a great job of bringing up the general concepts of what a good photo is compared to a “messed up” or not so good photo. It is not that it points out a general perspective of the good photo but rather questions the notion of what a messed up photo is. In fact it provides an honest opinion that there is beauty in all photographs and many that might not show us the perfectly framed head with the happy glowing smile are eve more meaningful than the expected perfect shot.

Tamayura Hitotose also gives a very sentimental look at a father who is no longer alive and missed dearly. As touching as I found that aspect of the plot I can’t say that it was anywhere near as important as the discovery of what friendship is between these girls and the art appreciation of photography. The character development was rolled out wonderfully with plenty of story built around all of the girls not just Fuu. The one aspect of their personalities that I found over the top and somewhat disappointing was the way they ended up being hyper personalities and they tended to overreact to situations that highlight their personal traits.

Overall Grade: B+

Again, Tamayura Hitotose is now of those series that is perfect for girls under the age of 15 but the series is only provided with sub titling. I’m not sure why Nozomi does not spend the extra bucks to provide a solid english dub for this and other series like Aria, Sketchbook or even The Sound of the Sky. I think they could introduce the rich wonderful world of great story telling married with a strictly eastern philosophy on life and growth. There are some great life lessons here and they are provided in a kind sweet forum that is entertaining and only makes the viewer smile in the end.

Tamayura Hitotose is a great series for anyone who loves photography and someone who likes the feel go story of friendship and kindness that a positive life can bring.

Ping Pong (anime review)

Ping PongTitle: Ping Pong 

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Studio: Tatsunoko Productions

Music: Kensuke Ushio

U. S. Distributor: Funimation Entertainment

U. S. Release Date: June 23rd, 2015

Format: DVD/ Blu-ray/ 11 Episodes / 275 Minutes

Genre: Seinen, Coming of Age, Sports

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

Smile and Peco. Peco and Smile. Besties from the beginning, both with a badass backhand. Peco is known for his arrogance on the table tennis court, and Smile for his silence. But with a new school year and a new high school table tennis team, both boys are in for a challenge, on – and off – the court.

Peco’s slacker ways are hurting his game, and after getting crushed in a tournament, he decides to quit. Smile is finally learning to harness his natural talents, but can he squash his sympathy for his opponents enough to beat them?

Commentary:

Several years ago I had the opportunity to review a live action adaptation of Ping Pong and when I heard that the anime was being done I was very edited. The story is not so much the tail of Ping Pong players as it is the story of how these young men are finding their way in the world and how things change as they come of age. There is also the underlying question “Will the Hero Arrive”?

Anyway as I started watching the series I was at first blown away but the animation stylings and the free flowing aspects to the artistic choices. As I got further into the series I began to find it somewhat of a copout for shortcutting some of the visual language. I understand what they are trying to do with this loose and free line work, we have seen it may times in other anime when there is a reason to slip in a new perspective to a series. In the case of Ping Pong I think there should have been a little more attention to the solid conformity to the characters rattan than give us a loose depiction of the overall settings story. I think that with some more attention to detail there would have been a much more solid understanding of these characters as a hole.

The great thing about Ping Pong is that it is such a powerful story to begin with that even a loose free flowing artistic style did not fail the essence of the series. We live through self assurance turned self doubt and also see self loathing turned into loathing of all external forces. We get to taste how one owns understanding of who they are can make all the difference in the world and how powerful just playing a game at your best just for fun is where all the true fun lies.

Overall Grade: A-

Ping Pong is a powerful story that deserves a chance. If you do not like the animation style just give the story a chance. It won’t take long before you don’t care how it looks and just want to see how things turn out. I promise that this story will make you rethink your own ambitions or lack there of.

After you have watched the series you should check out the film, it was done by Sora, the same director who did Appleseed and a few other high profile CG films. But remember this film is not about special effects it is about the human condition and understanding ourselves.

Find out for yourself if the Hero arrives.

Looking Up At The Half-Moon (anime review)

Looking Up At The Half MoonTitle: Looking Up At The Half-Moon

Director: Yukihiro Matsushita

Studio: Group TAC

U. S. Distributor: Nozomi, Lucky Penny

U. S. Release date: April 7th, 2015

Format: DVD / 6 Episodes / 150 minuts

Genre: Romance, Love Story, Coming of Age

Age rating: 13+

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

Even though Yuuichi Ezaki is in the hospital recovering from an illness, he’s constantly sneaking out. One day he’s caught by the head nurse, who makes a deal with him: she’ll overlook his future excursions if he’s willing to befriend a new patient, Rika Akiba. Due to a serious heart condition, Rika has spent most of her life in the hospital, and doesn’t really have any friends. As Yuuichi and Rika spend time together and learn more about each other, their relationship soon blossoms into romance…

Commentary:

There is something about the Japanese mindset that lends itself to these bitter sweet stores of love and loss. We see it stand out and revered in classics like Clannad, Kannon and Air just to mention a few. Looking Up At The Half Moon is a perfect example of a slice of life that not only shows the strength of love but also show the tragedy of life and the fragility of the human condition. The story is straight forward you realize what is going to happen by the end of the second episode, but that still doesn’t ruin anything at all. In fact knowing what to expect makes it all the better as you get to move this sweet little series.

There is a lot about this series that draws you to it and with it being only 6 episodes long it provides for a great source of entertainment in an easy to watch period of time. The characters are exposed to us at a reasonable pace and as you warm up to them you see all of the dynamics start to change and bonds become stronger and frictions begin to light up. This progression shows how well written the series is and how it has stood the test of time now that it is almost 10 years old. Of course I expect that the story will remain strong for some time because it is about young hearts find something very special with a heavy burden hanging over the entire situation.

Overall Grade : A-

For all that is good about the series I have to say that the animation was not the best. It came across flat and some-what anemic from time to time. The color plate was too muster for its own good. I would have like to see a little more color and maybe even a brighter overall feel to the production level. I understand that there is a certain amount of melancholy to the story that might require a bit of a muted paler, I feel as thought it was take too far with the series as a whole.

The writing is superb and even though it is only 6 episodes the story managed to develop at a pace that seem well suited and even though I would have liked to see a few more episodes to maybe complete the story with a defined understanding how much time remained in their story together I didn’t really mind having it end there. The character development was ok and it gave enough depth to the main characters to support what need to be there, but again I think that there could have been more opportunity to give us more background if the series was longer.

Looking Up At The Half Moon is both a easy watch and a touching story that can easily make you cry for joy and sadness at the same time. There is nothing more heartwarming that the development of love at a time of great distress and also watching two young adults find their way through some of the most confusing moments of anyones life.

If you are looking for a good love story to warm you hear then look no further than Looking Up At The Half Moon.

 

Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home (anime review)

Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet HomeTitle: Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home the movie

Director: Masahiro Ando

Writer: Mari Okada

Studio: P. A. Works

U. S. Distributor: NIS America

U. S. Release Date: Oct. 14th, 2014

Format: Blu-ray / Feature Film / 66 Minutes

Genre: Slice of Life, Coming of Age

Age Rating: TV 13

Overall Personal Rating: A-

Synopsis:

In the days before the Bonbori Festival, Ohana’s friend Yuina comes to Kissuiso for training. While cleaning up after her, Ohana discovers a logbook kept by Beans from when her mother, Satsuki, was still a youth at Kissuisso. Through the logbook, Ohana catches a glimpse of her mother’s struggles, and realizes that maybe the two of them aren’t so different after all. Meanwhile, the rest of the inn staff are caught up in dealing with a blackout.

Commentary:

In a continuation of the series a this simple little film manages to keep in line with the same strong sense of self and family that the original series gave us. Although this may be a simple story that just gives us a glimpse into how a girl discovers how much she has in common with both her mother and grandmother there  is so much more conveyed. The ability to reach out cross the divide and touch each of us with a sentimentality that is most often tossed away and make us feel both glad and sad about our own connection is something very special. It is seen in other series like Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day, Air and even Kanon, but in Hanasaku Iroha it is brought forth by using family connections that tell of both love and rebellion. This might just be more faithful to what most families go through than what is seen some of the other series.

For Home Sweet Home I found it to be come together slowly. At first I was confused by what I was watching and once the plot was drawn out it made sense. I guess that I enjoyed the confusion, but would have rather it not be presented in quite this way. As the story progressed I was pleasantly surprised how it did manage to give us some meaningful interaction with several of the other characters other than Ohana, her mother and grandmother. That was one aspect of the original series that I enjoyed a great deal and getting to spend some time dealing with Minko and Nako who have just as important roles to play in the life of the story as Ohana.

The animation was slick and at times I found the hard edge of CG out of place with the softness of the characters and some of the background. Overall it was beautiful. The writing stood on its own merits and prove that the story is the thing that makes the series.

Overall Grade: A-

If you haven’t seen any of the Hanasaku iroha series, I strongly suggest it before you watch the movie. I not saying the move could stand on its own, but I think have some historical background about the series and characters will help it be that much more enjoyable.

If you are looking for a heart warming film that both reaffirms our own struggles with our past and the connections we have with family the Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home is a film that you will love.

Kokoro Connect The Complete TV Series (anime review)

Kokoro ConnectTitle: Kokoro Connect The Complete TV Series

Director: Shinya Kawamo

Studio: Silver Link

U. S. Distributor: Sentai Filmworks / Section 23

U. S. Release Date: Oct. 22nd, 2013

Format: Blu-ray / 13 Episodes / 325 Minutes

Genre: Supernatural, Coming of Age, Romance, Drama, Seinen

Age Rating: TV 14

Overall Grade: A

 

Synopsis:

The five members of the Cultural Study group that meets in class 401 have spent a lot of time wondering what it would be like to be in someone else’s shoes. But they’re about to learn that there’s a huge difference between thinking about it and literally BEING in someone else’s shoes! That’s exactly what happens when, suddenly and inexplicably, they each find themselves inside the body of the girl – or boy – next door!

What happens next? Well, besides bringing a whole new meaning to the term “exchange student” and the to-be-expected freaked-out runs to the bathroom, it’s not hard to do the math: take one wrestling geek, the resident cool girl, the class clown, the popular chick and one sultry maid of mystery, scramble thoroughly and divide, and you can bet that pretty soon they’ll be answering ALL of the questions they never wanted to know about the opposite sex in ways they never anticipated!

Commentary:

I always cringe a little when I hear that a show is about people swapping bodies. Kokoro Connect only made me cringe because it is so good and how it manages to hit some genuine nerves with respect to the human condition. I have not felt this strong about a series since AnoHana made to our market. Kokoro Connect goes straight for that dynamic of exploring our relationships and our own frailties.

The animation style reminds me of the simplistic intimacy the K-ON! delivers or many of the other straight forward slice of life series. The one major difference is the solid development of the characters and the superb writing that brings the series to life. Each one of these students have a plenty of experiences that have helped form who they are, but they are just discovering the people they have become and how to move forward. Each are full and rich with plenty to say and it is very easy to become sympathetic toward them and their world.

The one thing that hit me the hardest was the honesty that came from the writing and exposed itself through these characters. This is where it made me cringe because of the way that they allow these characters to expose themselves and the things that they confess. There are things said that I can honestly say I would never expect to hear from anyone, but seeing it in this format makes those comments seem even more honest and revealing.

Overall Grade: A

Kokoro Connect is not for everyone and because of some of the conversations that happen I would say that it should really be rated 16 +. That doesn’t take away from the quality of the series and in fact adds to its overall attractiveness. Don’t expect this to be a sexy romp through adolescence, but rather a honest view of humans at this age and the things that make us who we are. There is one area that the Japanese are great at and they are coming of age stories that tug at our heart strings and Kokoro Connect hits a home run and just made it on to my to ten of 2013 releases. Be sure to check this one out.

Similar Anime:

AnoHana: The Flower We Saw That Day, K-ON! , Tari Tari and Hanasaku Iroha are all in line with Kokoro Connect. AnoHana does explore the aspects of relationships and the dark secrets that we all hold back from each other. K-On!, Hanasaku Iroha and Tari Tari follow a much simpler format of exploration of coming of age but they still deal directly with how we discover how to maintain relationships with those close to us as we age and life becomes more complicated. There are plenty of other series that take on relationships and if you want to feel something other than just a punch of adrenaline then you should be sure to pick one of these series up.