“Birds And The Bees” – Honey and Clover, Season 2 (anime) – 10/10 Peeps

Genre: School/Slice of Life/Romance/Drama/Josei

Review Status: Complete (12 Episodes/12 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by VIZ.

Art/Animation: This goes for more sketch-like art and done in pastels. It’s kind of artsy itself. Most everyone and everything looks delicate, and works in so many ways. The chibis are also incredibly cute. The animation is more than adequate as well – it looks great.

Summary: Is there life beyond art school? Yuta returns from his journey of self-discovery only to find everyone around him deep in their own struggles to shape their futures. Ayumi finds herself increasingly encluded in projects involving Takumi and Rika, and the strain is breaking her. Far away in America, Shinobu and his brother’s enless quest for money finally helps them achieve their ultimate goal, while back home Hagumi must face the devastating consequences of an accident that could change her life forever. Can the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of art ever be one and the same? (back cover of DVD set).

Review: Continuing where the first season left off, the second season finally delves into these character’s pasts and their drives in life, and brings everything to a fantastic conclusion. At the end of the first season, Yuta decides that he can’t continue on the path he’s on – no path. Lost and aimless with his life, he went on a bike ride to the farthest reaches of Japan. Seeing this play out is fascinating. It’s something that most people don’t set out to do, and is in some ways tougher than it was 100 years ago. And along the way, he finds people doing work, work that Yuta finds incredibly meaningful and fulfilling, and finally finds something that he could do for the rest of his life. In a way, it really rings true to what a lot of college students discover – that sometimes it takes actually going out and being in the world to begin finding ourselves and what we want to do. In a few episodes that span a number of months, he’s made a fantastic journey and finally figured out some of the most important things in his life.

Against that backdrop, everyone else’s life seems to be falling to pieces. Ayumi has always waited in the wings for her best friend, but another man has fallen for her. Takumi has never really been as upstanding about their relationship as he should have been, leaving her as a back-up, but finally has to make a decision on letting her go and letting her find the love that she deserves. His own relationship with Rika also comes to a head as he fully faces what it means to help deal with the heart of someone who’s deep in grief. I never felt that any one of these characters was making bad choices – I could only feel that these characters made real desicions. They’re torn by indecision and unable to really make a leap of faith with their futures.

Putting all their concerns in perspective, Hagumi is injured so badly that she might never make art again. This story could have taken the easy route of having her find something else that she could do, but no. This fully deals with Hagumi’s own past. She was trapped in a house with no escape for a long while. Art was what made life bearable. Her grandmother’s death and the freedom that her cousin gave her meant that she could truly express herself and get delight out of life… and that’s taken away in an instant, and there’s no certainty that she will ever recover enough to do it again. It really beings to light the fact that Shinobu has never been around for Hagumi when she needs it, but Yuta has been… but Hagumi’s relationship with her cousin might mean that she doesn’t make a move. I can’t say more because that would spoil it.

But when all is said and done, each step on this journey makes the story deeper and more relatable, and more beautiful. These characters never have a sure future, and nothing plays out predictably. Each episode highlights different, difficult issues that people have to face in their darkest times. It’s really one of the best anime I’ve ever seen, and really embodies the meaning of the phrase that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that’s important. And each character has a difficult journey that’s playing out that we get to witness, and makes the entire show bittersweet.

Overall, this is an anime I can’t recommend highly enough.

Recommended: YES. 16+. Implied sex in one scene again, along with a few swears. But other than that, this is unbelievably clean, and a beautiful story to boot.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

NANA (anime and manga)

Moyashimon (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

Ano Hana (anime)

Kids on the Slope (anime or manga)

Welcome to the NHK (anime or manga)

Genshiken (anime or manga)

Tatami Galaxy (anime)

“Making Life Sweeter” – Honey And Clover, Season 1 (anime) – 10/10 Peeps

Genre: School/Slice of Life/Romance/Drama/Josei

Review Status: Complete (24 Episodes/24 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this is licensed in the US by VIZ.

Art/Animation: This goes for more sketch-like art and done in pastels. It’s kind of artsy itself. Most everyone and everything looks delicate, and works in so many ways. The chibis are also incredibly cute. The animation is more than adequate as well – it looks great.

Summary: What do you get when you cross creativity with self-discovery and unrequited love? Art school! Yuta Takemoto has no idea what’s in store for his life when he enrolls at a Tokyo art college, but he finds out right away it’ll never be dull! Love triangles form as fast as friendships when both Takemoto and senior classmage Shinobu Morita fall hard for she artistic prodigy Hagumi Hanamo. And while architecture student Takumi Mayama secretly pines for an older woman, dazzling ceraicist Ayumi Yamada pines for him! Confused yet? (back cover of first DVD set)

Review: There aren’t that many Josei anime out there, which makes this a real treasure since it tops most other josei in legnth and depth. This series decides to explore growth against the backdrop of college, which a lot of people can relate to, and in a twist through the eyes of Yuta, a young man who is making his way through it all. He’s living in a run-down apartment building with several other students. He’s worried about his money, focusing on his studies, and just living life as it comes. With the injection of Hagumi into his world, things start changing little by little.

This is slice of life in the most serious of ways. The cast of characters is HUGE, from the old art teacher who’s desperately trying to get Shinobu to graduate to Takumi’s coworkers, and relationship quirks and changes happen over time. It’s astounding to see it flow so naturally and hard to pinpoint how expactly they grow, the little things that you *know* but can’t really say. Everything seems fine on the surface at the beginning between them all. Harumi doesn’t seem to be that big a deal, even if it’s made clear in the beginning that both Shinobu and Yuta have love at first sight.

And, quite frankly, there’s a lot of missteps for both of them. Shinobu has an eternal quest for money, and disappears for days -weeks – months on end with no notice. At school he’s as carefree as anything, but that also makes him a tad insensitive to the feelings and desires of others. Because we see it through Yuta’s eyes, he’s self-aware that he is more interested than normal in Hagumi, but he never makes a move himself. He’s too unsure of himself, and rather intimidated because he notices little things happening around her that build his suspicions that he’s not the only person that’s longing for her, from a wooden badge to a new pair of shoes that Harumi discovers. But when it comes down to the line, neither have the will or words to tell her that they’re in love with her, though Harumi only has eyes for Shinobu, even with Yuta by her side and an ever-constant friend.

At the same time, another love triangle brews. Takumi is in love with an older woman who lost her husband in a car accident. She didn’t go looking for love, but Takumi nonetheless fell for her. But she doesn’t think that Takumi can be with her, and even though he does his best, he is turned away. His best friend Ayumi has always been in love with him, and she doesn’t hide it very well. However, Takumi can’t love her back. It just can’t happen.

Every bit of this happens against the backdrop of school and life. Takumi graduates and finds his way into an architectural company that sends him out into the world. Ayumi graduates, but with her skills she can stick around the campus and make great works of art, establishing herself as a reliable artist and starting to make a living. Between these and the things Shinobu is becoming famous for, it’s a constant cloud reminding them that college life can’t last and that they need to figure out what they will do with their lives and why. Yuta grows more and more frustrated by his own choice, unable to figure out how he’s going to support himself with it. And Harumi grows more and more involved with her own art, but in the back of her mind she worries about her cousin and how she can ever repay him for what he’s done for her.

Overall, this is a fabulous anime. While not complete – there’s a second season to wrap things up – this is a fabulous first half that really manages to be sensitive about love and how complicated relationships can be.

Recommended: 16+. This is mostly clean – almost entirely clean – and while the handfull of swears isn’t really the big concern, the one instance of implied sex is. It’s not graphic, but you do get the strong implications.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Moyashimon (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

Ano Hana (anime)

Kids on the Slope (anime or manga)

Welcome to the NHK (anime or manga)

Genshiken (anime or manga)

Tatami Galaxy (anime)

“Jazz Hands” – Kids on the Slope (anime) – 9/10 Desks

Genre: School/Romance/Slice of Life/Historical/Josei

Review Status: Complete

Licensed: Yes, it’s licensed by Sentai and available for free viewing on Crunchyroll.

Art/Animation: Fantastic! This has some standard character designs, but the animation is top-notch. The care that they took animating all the music scenes is very evident. I even think that the fingerings and technique for the instruments is correct! Watching this is an absolute treat for the eyes.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this anime.

Summary: The beginning of summer, 1966. Because of his father’s job situation, freshman high school student Kaoru Nishimi moves by himself from Yokosuka to Kyushu to live with relatives. Until then, Kaoru was an honor roll student who tended to keep to himself, but meeting notorious bad boy Sentaro Kawabuchi starts to change him. Through his devil-may-care classmate, Kaoru learns the attractions of jazz and finds the first person he can call a “friend”. He also discovers how much fun it is to play music with a pal.  Other characters include Sentaro’s kind childhood chum, Ritsuko, who is the daughter of a record shop owner; the mysterious upperclassman, Yurika; and Brother Jun, the much-admired leader among their peers. Set against the backdrop of a seaside town with a scent of American culture, this series is a drama about young people coming into their own, crossing each other’s paths, and finding friendship, love, and music! (Official Website)

Review: What does jazz have to do with anything? At first, nothing. Kaoru, a gifted classical pianist, is living with his relatives and joining a new school. He’s been moving around for most of his life, and because of it has no interest in making friends with anybody. After all, he’d just have to leave them again. However, after a chance encounter with Sentarou, a headstrong drummer, and Ritsuko, the daughter of a local music shop owner, Kaoru is drawn into jazz, and his encounters with the people there change him forever.

As melodramatic as that sounds, that is the most basic description of this anime that I can give. There’s school competitions, love quadrangles, family squabbles, all of which play out in Kids on the Slope. The name is no mistake – they go to school on a dreaded hill that they must climb every day. They meet at the top of the hill, almost by accident. Sentarou is a bit of a delinquent and a loner, only really interacting with Ritsuko, his childhood friend. Kaoru would have left him well enough alone if he hadn’t had a passing interest in Ritsuko, and curiosity would drive him to the underground practice room (awesome speakeasy themes going on there!) where Ritsuko’s dad, a family friend, and Sentarou play their hearts out. And what do they play? Jazz.

This is really what brings Kaoru out of his shell. He’s intimidated by their playing, so different from his own classical music, and feels challenged enough to grab a record and try it for himself, practicing until he’s note-perfect. And so he joins the little underground band, and so things begin to change.

I’m both surprised and pleased that Kids on the Slope managed a decently complex plot (relationship-wise, at least) and resolved most of it in 12 episodes. I’ve seen simpler ones that could barely get over and done with in 26! Kaoru is in love with Ritsuko, while she is in love with Sentarou, while he falls for Yurika, and Yurika has the hots for Junichi. It seems like there’s no way for this to end happily, right? Wrong! Yurika is no wilting flower and lets her feelings be known, and while that leaves Sentarou in the dust, the way that this couple managed to get together was one of the most touching and romantic I’ve seen. There were no flowers, there were no melodramatics…it was simplicity in it’s purest form, and it worked.

However, that brought about a whole lot of issues characters had about their families. Sentarou is alone, even with a bajillion siblings to take care of, and that rejection hits him where it hurts. He’s not as carefree as he lets on, and this is where it starts to show. Against a background of jazz competition and tension over Ritsuko, Sentarou becomes the main player and a tragic figure in his own right.

This is where I start having issues with the show. I have no problems with the music, I have no problems with the characters, I have no problems with the plot…except when it starts winding down to the ending. Religion never really played a part in this show, though Sentarou and Ritsuko were shown to be Christian early on, and it was made to seem like it would play a bigger part. However, it’s not until the ending that we get how it plays into Sentarou’s life, and then not very satisfactorily. The same can be said for how Ristuko and Kaoru’s relationship works out. Things are really left hanging, with lots of unanswered questions. I can deal with those – often I’m far more approving than others seem to be – but here it just doesn’t work.

However, I can’t deny that for all that, I really was moved by the ending. Something about seeing them as joyful as when they were teens just brought me to tears. I have no issue about it…just about how things were left hanging in that time gap. It really is a great show, and definitely works on the strength of the characters’ relationships. They don’t feel fake or forced, and work out in a way that really does feel fairly natural and real, something that’s desperately needed in a saturation anime that is utterly teen fantasy.

Overall, this is a fantastic series that might not do everything right, but it does a lot of it great!

Recommended: 13+. At one point, Yurika asks Junichi why he didn’t have sex with her, and there is some child abuse talked about. During one performance a US sailor tells them to not play any (insert slur here) jazz – in keeping with the time it’s placed in, but could throw the unwary off. Other than that, this is a very clean series.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Beck (anime and manga)

NANA (anime and manga)

Nodame Cantabile (anime)

“The Cards Dealt” – Chihayafuru (anime) – 9/10 Pencils

Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play. ~Mike Singletary

Genre: School/Sports/Josei/Romance

Review Status: Complete (25 Episodes/25 Episodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed in the US by

Art/Animation: Thjis looks pretty nice, looking a lot like shoujo but with a good amount of detail in character design and backgrounds, moreso than usual these days. The colors are bright and vidid, to boot, making it look fantastic! The animation is also quite good. They saved on the budget by having a solid amount of cut-away and slow-motion shots when cards are flung into the air, but it doesn’t look stupid and the money saved went into making the rest of the animation look very good.

Summary: Chihaya Ayase is a frank and ebullient girl who becomes fascinated by the obscure world of competitive karuta, a card game based on Japanese poetry. Introduced to the aggressive style of the game by a quiet and thoughtful elementary school classmate named Arata Wataya, the two quickly become close friends. They start playing as a group with Taichi Mashima, Chihaya’s smart and athletic childhood friend, until they have to part ways during their middle school years due to several circumstances. As their high school life begins, they meet once again. (ANN.com)

Review: I feel guilty for being so behind on this! I waited for the consensus to come in on whether it was any good, and then had to delay watching it for a while. This is definitely a sports anime along the lines of Hikaru no Go, with solid character drama and skill-building and game-playing, mixed together into a wonderfully exciting anime that i a bit different from the norm – especially for josei anime! No other josei anime touches this sort of high-adrenaline competition, but Chiyahafuru manages it beautifully.

The nice thing about this show is that it’s even easier than Hikaru no Go to follow with the game. It’s an easy one to play, with poems being read, and the players swiping cards off of the field of play when they are able to recognize what line is being read. It’s easy to become familiar with the poems that they use, and they gain an extra level of depth as the show goes on when one of the club members expresses her love of the poems themselves that made me, at least, appreciate the meanings of the poems more, which meant I was more engaged when I watched them play. The play itself is handled well, with interesting adversaries and different aspects of the game dealt with. I was a bit bored at first, as Chihaya won every game she came across. I didn’t realize it was because she was just that good until she got to the higher-level players, where every card was a hard-won victory, where it began really focusing on the game and whether they’d really be able to win. She’s not a perfect player – as the man, Chihaya does have the inborn ability to be top-notch (made especially clear in the last episode), but she still has many flaws that need working on.

It also meant that the firt half of the series was more about building relationships and a team. Since Karuta is a team sport, it means that the story has to be as much about the side characters as it is about Chihaya, and that’s pulled off with as much skill as the games. Chihaya is a pretty standard, almost shoujo-like heroine. She’s lighthearted, determined to follow her dreams, loves Karuta, and is determined to get others to like it as well. There’s a romantic triangle brewing between her and her two childhood friends, Taichi and Arata. Taichi has been in love with her for a while but is wary about revealing his feelings because she’s still hung up a bit on Arata, the grandson of a Karuta master and who moved away in their childhood. Arata has come across his own difficulties playing it since they last saw him and a chance meeting with his old friends reignites a desire to play, but they won’t be playing against him until the second season comes around! Taichi joines the Karuta club because of Chihaya, but he finds tht he has his own determination to win regardless since it’s a way to escape his mother’s overbearing rules and desire to see him be #1 in everything.

The other three members recieve varying amounts of screentime and importance. Kana is the next most important, a poetry and classical-Japan enthusiast that has set her sights on becoming a professional card reader. Her hopes and disappointments on that journey are given some highlight, and it’s sure to become even moreso later, as she heeds to become a Class-A player for 5 years to do it! Since she’s now Class-D, it will be a long, hard struggle. She serves as a disciplinarian and loveable little sister to the rest of the members. Komano is almost as important, more of a strategian for the group than anything else. His statistics have helped out numarous times, and on the last episode of the season they reveal something important that mean Chuhaya mught have a shot at taking the title of ‘Queen’ of Karuta players! These two have their struggles and joys wth the game made clear. Unfortunately, the third member Nishida gets a passing glance. He’s there just to fill space in the club, and that’s how he’s treated story-wise.

One of the more interesting parts of the show was watching them be recruited one by one into the blub. Not everyone bends to Chihaya’s will, and she doesn’t exactly make the best club leader. She’s more of their mascot than anything, and watching them try and figure out how to deal with each other is one big ball of fun! They don’t all get along at first, and don’t all get along all the time, either. And on top if it they’re struggling to keep the team alive since it’s not a national sport or recognized activity that can win scholarships or national acclaim. The school will shut them down in a heartbeat, so theyneed to struggle for a few wins to try and win over their advisor; she’s as against the team as anyone, but got roped with it through some faculty shennanigans. Watching her come over to their side was fun and encouraging. It lightly parallels some of the issues Chihaya faces at home, shadowed by her glamorous older sister. Even though she’s proud of her sister, sometimes it’s nice to have some recognition.

This was definitely made for a second season, and I am eagerly awaiting it. This shone among the winter anime, is a really fun anime in and of itself, and left off on such a cliffhanger! I’m crossing my fingers that it will be announced soon.

Overall, while this did have a bit of a slow start with Chihaya winning everything, this show gained a lot as it went on and is one of the better anime out there.

Recommended: 8+. This has no objectionable content, but whether the younger kids would be interested is up for debate.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

Hikaru no Go (manga)

Bakuman (manga)

Big Windup (anime)

“Coming Together” – Tramps Like Us, Part 2 (manga) – 7/10 Tulips

Mangaka: Yayoi Ogawa

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life/Drama/Josei

Review Status: Complete (14 Volumes/14 Volumes)

Licensed: This manga was formerly licensed by Tokyopop

Art: It takes after a lot of Josei manga, with sketchier lines and more realistic art. Well, pretty-realistic, not Satoshi-Kon realistic. The guys tend to be bishies, and even the average women look rather cute.

Summary: Life was good for Sumire Iwaya… until the day she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, and she gets demoted at work and her life spirals toward the dumps. Things take a turn for the better when she crosses paths with Momo, a homeless guy with a colorful past who puts a bounce in her step and a shake in her hips. It takes two to tango, but when Sumire’s first love reappears in her life, will this be the last waltz? (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: When I left off, Sumire was getting ever closer to Hasumi, while being confused by the feelings she had for Momo. This side of the series, things start spiralling out of control as the people that were surrounding Sumire and Hasumi beginning to exert more pull over them. The relationship between Hasumi and Sumire was always one of tenuous bonds and the feelings of first love- at least on Sumire’s part. It can be hard to let those go, even if you know that you have to. But when the time is right, she shows a lot of backbone and ends things well, without a lot of drama. Her struggle to decide captures a struggle that a lot of women deal with, that crosses cultural barriers. How will people take to her being with a younger man? Will she keep working or become a stay-at-home wife? How can she balance her job and being the wife of a dance star, who can (and has) traveled all across the world? And, of course, how are kids going to fit into this equation? Watching her deal with the questions, being forced to make the decisions when she is such an indecisive person is an amazing thing. She really does think through her decisions to try and come up with what’s best for her and her future with Momo.

We also get more of Momo and Hasumi than we normally do- Momo’s relationships and feelings are brought to a forefront. He’s as held by the past as Sumire is at first, and he has trouble leaving her be and coming to her own decisions about her feelings. Make no mistake- he’s very much in love with her. But he also understand sthat she cannot be led to decisions because that will also make her unhappy. She needs to make them on her own. His struggle to let her find her own path is interesting- even if he’s pretty darn self-assured of what the result is going to be. Hasumi also gets to star in a few of his own chapters. He’s a good catch, and girls know it- including Sumire’s rival from the first half. She knows what Sumire has been up to behind his back, and is determined to be close to him- is really, truly in love with him, and that nearly destroys her. Hasumi never really felt like a good fit for Sumire, and that only becomes clearer as things go on. He’s guilt-ridden for what he keeps from her, and is unable to really and truly break through her barriers… and his marriage proposal only brings this to light in the most vicious of ways.

For all the drama that happens, this isn’t as tumultuous as it would seem. Actually, everything concerning their feelings and who they should be with feels like it’s falling into place. This may be because I knew how things were going to end up from the beginning (though there were still some things that took me by surprise), but I was more irritated and agitated by the first few volumes when everyone was tiptoeing around each other and being obivious. But it all falls together nicely, even dealing with Sumire’s family. That wasn’t the strongest point of the series – though it was utterly hilarious – because it seemed like it had been breezed through instead of really dealt with. Then again, in the anime world, babies seem to make everything alright. It all tied together quite well, though, and I enjoyed seeing how everything wraped up.

Overall, this was a pretty satisfying conclusion to a rather delightfully dramatic manga.

Recommended: 18+, and this will probably appeal more to women then men. There is sex implied, implied drug use and prostitution, partial nudity, some rather risque dialogue, and a little bit of language.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

NANA (anime or manga)

Hapi Mari (manga)

The One (Manhua)

“The Hand That Feeds You” – Tramps Like Us, Part 1 (manga) – 7/10 Tulips

Mangaka: Yayoi Ogawa

Genre: Romance/Slice-of-Life/Drama/Josei

Review Status: Incomplete (7 Volumes/14 Volumes)

Licensed: This manga was formerly licensed by Tokyopop

Art: It takes after a lot of Josei manga, with sketchier lines and more realistic art. Well, pretty-realistic, not Satoshi-Kon realistic. The guys tend to be bishies, and even the average women look rather cute.

Summary: Life was good for Sumire Iwaya… until the day she discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her, and she gets demoted at work and her life spirals toward the dumps. Things take a turn for the better when she crosses paths with Momo, a homeless guy with a colorful past who puts a bounce in her step and a shake in her hips. It takes two to tango, but when Sumire’s first love reappears in her life, will this be the last waltz? (back cover of 1st volume)

Review: Nana got me hooked on romantic dramas. In a search for a title that’s as emotionaly charged and has characters as thoroughly developed as what I found there, this popped up. I’ve heard a lot about it from certain circles, and when my library picked it up, I found myself devouring what I could. The premise seems a little shaky- would a respectable businesswoman really pick someone up off of the street? And if he were cute, would she really not have sex with him?

Once you get past those issues, there’s a fairly solid story about a woman who’s lost and needs someone to be there for her. Sumire is one of the better-developed heroines I’ve come across, and one that’s terribly rare in anime and manga- a full-grown woman who’s competent at her job and secure in her position there, but underneath it is an insecure girl that doesn’t know what she wants in life… or how to get it. She struggles on all fronts, from workplace disputes and demotions, to relationships that constantly fall through (and a lot of insight provided into Japanese business/relationship culture at that), and she feels empty because there’s nothing emotionally there to support her. Momo, a younger man and somewhat-famous dancer, fills that role admirably, giving her someone dependable and trustworthy to take care of. She needs him in ways that she can’t quite figure out, and even as she’s drawn towards her first love, Sumire can’t open up to him like she can Momo.

Yes, I’m pegging on her and Momo getting together at the end of it. At seven volumes and months into the relationship, Sumire can’t even admit to her first love what she wants to eat for dunner, let alone be truthful about anything else! So far, her relationships has been chronicled from first meeting to comlicated middle ground, dealing with potential rivals for affection, a proposal, back-and-forth on whether she really likes Momo or First Love (even if she herself doesn’t conciously realize it), and being asked to move to another country. It’s hard to believe all that can happen in about a year, but it does to Sumire! And through it all, Momo has been her rock… and her First Love’s feelings might be wavering from her hesitancy.

Overall, it’s a decent title for those who enjoy seeing how romantic relationships develop and the struggle between people who love each other.

Recommended: 18+, and this will probably appeal more to women then men. There is sex implied, some rather risque dialogue, and a little bit of language.

Other Titles You Might Enjoy:

NANA (anime or manga)

Hapi Mari (manga)

The One (Manhua)

“It’s All In The Numbers” – No. 6 (anime) – 6/10 Notebooks

Perhaps the greatest utopia would be if we could all realize that no utopia is possible; no place to run, no place to hide, just take care of business here and now. ~Jack Carroll

Genre: Sci-fi/Shounen-ai/Action/Josei

Review Status: Complete (11 Episodes/11 Epsiodes)

Licensed: Yes, this anime is licensed for streaming on Crunchyroll.com

Art/Animation: Overall average. The colors are nice and bright, the character designs decently memorable. The animation suffers a bit in the slice-of-life segments where nothing much happens. The action scenes, especially at the end of the series, have wonderfully fluid fights that are a great watch.

Dub Vs. Sub: There is no dub for this title.

Summary: Sion is a bright teenager living a comfortable and promising life inside No. 6, one of this six remaining city-states created by The Babylon Treaty after the last great war devastated the world. On the rainy evening of his twelfth birthday, he meets a savvy adolescent who calls himself “Nezumi” (Rat) and is desperately trying to runaway from the authorities. For helping a fugitive of the state, Sion is stripped of all his privileges. Four years later, they meet once again. For better or for worse, Sion is about to unravel the secrets guarded deep inside No. 6. (ANN decription)

Review: No. 6- a utopia for those who love their city and never question it. A place of exile and terror for those who dare speak a word against it. Created to be a haven after the wars destroyed most of the world, those in power grew too hungry for power, and try to harness the power of a forest to try and revive the world.

This anime has some good ideas, but suffers for its length and attempt to balance character development with plot development. There is great build-up for the first 4 or 5 episodes, with the meeting of Nezumi and Sion, the clues that not everything is as it seems in the city, the way Sion sees life for those around him outside the place and his determination to save the people in the city. Unfortunately, the relationship with Sion and Nezumi gets rushed because they have to move the plot along, and the plot suffers because they spent time on the relationship.

Nezumi, you come to understand, has a deep-seated grudge against the people of No. 6. His family killed off and captured to be experimented on, he wants nothing more than to see the city destroyed. Sion has lived a charmed life within the city… until he helps a boy who has escaped from it. His perceived betrayal of the city casts him into the lowest of jobs and responsibilities, and his questioning of the city when people start dying in suspicious ways. In the peripheral is Safu, a childhood friend of Sion’s, who has a deep crush on him and becomes a key player late in the series. Things that connect her and Sion clue them in that things are very wrong in the city. The first half is where you really get into their characters and their motivations, and they become genuinely likeable people.

The great build up in the beginning all goes to waste in the second half. Unanswered questions and plot holes about. It’s easy to tell that they had expected a second season, and ended up struggling to give a good ending to the season. That still leaves the questions of who or what Elyusia is (and a giant bee? Really?). How was it determined that nothing of Safu remained? After all, there seemed to be enough of her consciousness at the end. Why would anyone program all the computers to destroy themselves if the main computer was gone (by far the dumbest programming mistake ever)?

The finale delivered in terms of action, explosions, emotional punches, and destruction, which is why I’m still rating this over a 5. There are few things I’ve found more horrifying than what was inside the walls of the correction center. The action and fights were beautiful and fluid, and the emotional scenes during it didn’t feel out of place or forced. Unfortunately, it was marred by one of the most overdramatic, obvious, and downright stupid revival scenes I’ve ever seen. Even so, the ending brought back some of the goodwill that it lost during the second half.

Overall, the flaws in execution really bring my opinion down, but the good parts still manage to outweigh the bad- just barely.

Recommended: 16+. There is very little language, perhaps one or two swears but none stronger than the d-word or h-word. There are two kisses between Nezumi and Sion, neither of which last very long. Besides those scenes there really isn’t any sign that they’re more than friends, sometimes even behaving more like brothers. Safu, being a very direct character, admits that she likes Sion and asks him to have sex with her. It is very blunt, but not out of character, and never brought up again.

This does have some scenes that are horrifying- the town of No. 6 outcasts is razed by the military, and lots of people are killed. You do see bodies and blood spatter, though no gore per say. Later, they are dumped in a pit to die, that’s filled with the bodies of outcasts that were thrown there to be forgotten and die. Nezumi and Sion must climb to the top of the pile to escape. No gore, though the thought can be enough to turn some stomachs.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Ergo Proxy (anime)
King of Thorn (manga)
Wolf’s Rain (anime)
Tegami Bachi (manga)

“Sweet Little Things” – Bunny Drop (anime) – 10/10 Notebooks

‘Ohana’ means family – no one gets left behind, and no one is ever forgotten. ~Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, Lilo & Stitch

Genre: Slice-of-life/Josei/Drama

Review Status: Complete (11 Episodes/11 Episodes)

Yes, this anime is licensed in the US, available for legal viewing on Crunchyroll

The art style stays true to the manga, with minimal detail and sketch-like art. That doesn’t detract from it at all! With vibrant colors and some beautifully fluid animation, this looks fantastic. The opening minute before the intro song is made to look like it’s done in watercolor, which adds a dream-like quality to it and really is pretty. Unfortunately, it goes back to standard coloring for the rest of the anime, but that’s not a bad thing.

Dub Vs. Sub:
There is no dub.

While attending his grandfather’s funeral, thirty-year-old bachelor Daikichi is surprised to discover that his grandfather had an illegitimate child with an unknown mother! The rest of his family, fearing the obligation and embarrassment, want nothing to do with the silent little girl, Rin. Sensing her imminent abandonment and outraged by his complacent family members, Daikichi decides to adopt her himself! …yet he may have underestimated the difficulty of balancing his work, family, and love life with his role as her guardian.

Review: It’s hard not to compare this to the manga when I’ve read it and loved it. I was very scared when the anime was announced since I had no clue whether they’d be able to properly adapt it, or which parts were going to be adapted. This is the entire pre-timeskip half of the manga, covering volumes 1-3. It didn’t fail to deliver on any level!

The thing about anime is that it’s a completely different media than manga, and allowances have to be made for that. They did adapt everything, but expanded the stories in ways that enriched them. When Daikichi first meets Rin, the whole family is there, and certain rituals must be observed. The things that went on are expanded upon, really bringing you into the family dynamics and getting to know them.

This builds up the details of how Rin and Daikichi get along so well, showing the little things that go on in their everyday lives, the care that they have for another. What’s also nice is that two characters that I wish I saw more of in the manga- Kouki and his mom- get brought in a lot more often, and have a closer relationship than depicted in the manga. Some of the sweetest scenes were when all four were together, enjoying each other’s company like a family.

Not everything is sunshine and rainbows, though. Rin’s mom is alternately sympathetic and obnoxious. Rin and Daikichi do have some hard times explaining their relationship. They see how hard some things are for those around them and how love and family affects that. All these issues are handled well, in very sensitive ways.

To speak on how amazing this anime is, I know a few people who are dead-set about not having kids. This anime is *almost* enough to make them rethink that.

Overall, it’s a sweet story about two people becoming a family, and I hope that they pick up a second season.

Recommended: 10+. There are three swears, two d-word and one a-word. A trickle of blood from both Kouki and Rin’s mouths when they lose their teeth. However, this is very family-friendly, even though somehow I don’t think that kids younger than 10 would appreciate the subject matter.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Bunny Drop (manga)
Yotsuba&! (manga)
Love So Life (manga)

“A Little Bit Of Life” – Four Shoujo Stories (manga) – 7/10 Beach Balls

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. ~Maria Robinson

Genre: A mix of Shoujo and Josei stories. Other than that, it’s in the review for each one-shot.

Review Status: Complete (1 Volume/1 Volume)

Licensed: Yes, this manga is licensed in the US. However, it is out of print, and due to when it was brought over (’96), the art is flipped in the US printing.

Art: The art is slightly dated, though still pretty typical for shoujo series. The lines aren’t always clean, but you have long-haired girls and big eyes. Some of the art is better than others. The one-shots collected in this are from all different time periods- They Were 11 was published in ’75, while some of the others date from the 80’s and 90’s.

: In the review for each one.

This collection of stories is was the first shoujo manga published in the US. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s now out-of-print. Four stories from various mangaka that sprawl various genres and situations, this collection shows the roots of shoujo. However, I regret that they didn’t always pick the best stories to be published and really show Shoujo’s abilities. Two were very good, but the other two were poor in execution and story. However, the two that are good are worth seeking out on their own.

‘Promise’ by Keiko Nishi (Slice-of-Life/Drama/Supernatural)
A girl’s who’s become lost in life meets a stranger who is strangely familiar, and helps her gain back some understanding and happiness in life. Reiko always knew her mother wasn’t going to stay a widow forever, but when her mother suddenly introduces her to her husband-to-be, it comes as a shock. Reiko’s feeling as confused and as in turmoil as many people do when their parents decide to remarry- something that’s far from uncommon in today’s society. She has a hard time coming to terms with it and wishes she were dead so that she wouldn’t have to deal with it all- like her twin brother who never got a chance to live. Of course, the mysterious stranger who becomes friend and confidant expresses the idea that perhaps her brother is the one who is jealous of her. Perhaps in dealing with all the stress and discomfort of family life, Reiko is the lucky one. This was nice because it’s so relatable for so many people. While it’s not the best one-shot I’ve read, it most definitely is one for when you’re stressed by family and feel like giving up. 8/10

‘They Were 11’ by Moto Hagio (Sci-fi/Psychological/Mystery/Shoujo)
Only 10 students were sent out in on the mission into space. So why are there 11? Who is the extra, and why are they there? This is by far the best one-shot in the volume. This slowly explores the mystery of the ship- why it was abandoned, what happened to the people on it- while getting into the psychology and suspicions of the students. Tensions start building from the beginning as they can’t verify who is and isn’t a student. Accidents begin to happen and things start centering on one student who has empathetic abilities. Whether these students will survive is questionable, and will keep you on your seat! Good enough to have had a movie version made of it, this is a great story for anyone who enjoys thrillers! 10/10

‘The Changeling’ by Shio Sato (Sci-fi/Shoujo/Drama)
Lin has come from earth to contact and research a civilization started a thousand years ago. What she finds is a civilization that had a revolution 70 years ago, destroying a decadent noble class and establishing a virtual utopia. But why did it happen only 70 years ago and no sooner? What’s the secret behind these people that have genetically engineered themselves to no longer be able to breed with humans? This story is pretty short and to-the point, written in the vein of ‘I, Robot’ or ‘Bicentennial Man’. It isn’t half as sophisticated as those stories, though, and fails to have much dramatic emotional impact when the secret is exposed or when the explanation for everything is given. With such weak characters and a rushed pacing, this is a very weak addition to the volume. 6/10

‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ by Keiko Nishi (Josei/Drama)
The second contribution to this collection by Keiko, this story is about a man who’s been visiting his mistress when an earthquake hits. Enticed to stay, he starts reminiscing about how he met and fell in love with his wife. But was it really love? Or does he love his mistress? What does each woman really mean to him? It’s not as well put-together as her other work in this, ‘Promise’, is. It only shallowly explores his feelings for his wife and how they got together, and his relationship with his mistress is downright annoying. His mistress behaves like an immature child, while his wife lives out-of-touch with the world. The plot is pretty tragic, though, since when he realizes who he truly loves that person ends up dying. Overall, though, this is another poor story. 5/10

Overall, the four stories in here do manage to convey the range of shoujo and josei stories out there, but are of mixed quality.

: 14+. There is a little language, I remember the d-word being said twice. There are two instances of Barbie-doll nudity or where the genitals are covered up. ‘They Were 11’ had alien races involved, and two of them are hermaphroditic until maturation- one never matured and lives an extended life as a monk among his people, another will gain the ability to become fully a man if s/he passes the test they are on. S/he and another guy develop a somewhat romantic relationship, and s/he states that s/he would become a woman for him. In another story, a man is having an affair. No nudity or sexual situations are shown, just his bare chest and some of her legs. Any and all deaths are either offscreen and/or implied.

Other titles you might enjoy
They Were 11 (anime)
Solanin (manga)
Watashitachi no Shiawase na Jikan (manga)
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms (manga)

“Can You Keep A Secret?” – Himitsu: Top Secret (anime) – 8/10 Beach Balls

Nothing makes us so lonely as our secrets. ~Paul Tournier

Genre: Mystery/Psychological/Sci-Fi/Josei/Thriller

Review Status: Complete (26 Episodes/26 Episodes)

Licensed: No, this anime is not licensed in the US

The palette of colors used is dark and subdued, almost dull. It’s a less well-know title by Madhouse Studios, so the animation is quite good, though the CG is very apparent and not always integrated well. Some of the styles look a little dated, but it has been over a decade since the manga came out, and that’s what the anime is based off of.

Dub Vs. Sub:
There is no dub for this anime.

Summary: A newly developed method allows to display the memories of dead people. It is used to solve difficult murder cases. But at what cost? What of the dead’s privacy as strangers poke about in their most private memories? What about the effects the imageries may have on the persons whose jobs require going through psychotic murderers’ minds and experience whatever emotions and feelings these murderers felt as they skin and disembowel their victims?
(adapted from manga description)

Review: What are the secrets that drive people? Everyone has them. Some just happen to drive people into death and murder. Those are the secrets that this section investigate. By piecing together clues from the memories of those who have died, they discover things about people that are shameful, that are sad, that make them more human and real than just reading a case file.

How does this work? They take the brain of someone who has died in the last two days, hook it up to a machine that can ‘read’ the signals coming from the neurons within the brain, and using those connections they are able to see the things that happened within a persons’ life. It isn’t perfect- they are limited to what that person saw and sometimes heard, and we don’t store our whole life in our memories- there are some random ones, and some emotionally charged ones, and some important ones, but our lives are not stored like movies. However, using the clues within the memories of people, sometimes leaping back years, they are able to piece together most of what happened in a crime. Each case manages to make an innovative use of the machine and what it can do, keeping it fresh and interesting.

However, this isn’t a story about piecing together crimes, although that is a major component in the story. No, this anime is about the people in Section 9. Aoki, our main character, has been brought to Section 9 as an investigator. He navigates the world of Section 9, his own morals, and his family in order to try and find a balance in his life. It’s his questions and thoughts on what is happening that drives the best part of the series- the moral questions and issues that drive the series. The rest of the team all have their own issues and backstories, from Maki, the section leader that has a hard past to deal with, to Amachi, a woman with a slight sixth sense that is brought down in an investigation. Each person gets an episode to get into their characters, and while it does make them more real, they still receive very little character development.

The mysteries, while well done, and the characters, while decently interesting, are merely vehicles for the issues that are presented in the anime. This is all about privacy- how far does one go in investigating using these methods? When is it okay to divulge secrets that may destroy someone’s reputation? What happens when they intrude on another section member’s life? These things extend beyond the cases they work in and into their own lives- Aoki worries about his coworkers discovering his secret lust for his sister should he die and his father has secrets that have a lot to do with him. His coworkers carry similar worries and ideas. And even those issues delve beyond privacy and into things that affect society- you have problems concerning body modifications, homosexuality, and more.

How these are presented and handled creates much of the drama and makes the stories compelling. Everything is well done, but dealing with these is where the anime shines. This has a heavy psychological atmosphere that makes this heavy watching, but a very good show and handles these issues well. However, the anime does have some issues with various plot threads being dropped. The most noticeable of these is Aoki’s love/lust for his sister, which only is relevant for the first 4 or so episodes and then forgotten.

Overall, if you enjoy dealing with moral issues and society, then this is one to pick up!

Recommended: 16+. This is an anime that deals with some very heavy things. One person they investigate is homosexual. Some are having affairs. One deals with body modifications. Aoki is dealing with lust for his sister (this is not exploited or really dwelled on, merely mentioned). This does deal with murder mysteries, so there are deaths. Most are non-graphic, though the details behind what’s happening can delve into gruesome. I don’t recall any nudity, though there was at least one scene where Aoki sees his sister getting dressed and we see her back and the back of her bra.

Other titles you might enjoy:

Mail (manga)
Monster (anime)
Mouryo no Hako (anime)
Aoi Bungaku (anime)
Shiki (anime or manga)
Bokurano (anime and manga)

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