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Summer Anime 2019 Staff Viewer’s Guide

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Summer is bringing more than just sweltering temperatures and more excuses to get outside, it’s also bringing a plethora of hot new anime! This season is jam-packed sizzling shows and as always the GoombaStomp anime team is here to help give you the rundown.

(List in no particular order)


Fire Force

Studio: David Production
Director(s): Yuki Yase and Taiki Konno
Main Voice Actor(s): Gakuto Kajiwara (Shinra), Saeko Kamijou (Maki), Aoi Yuuki (Tamaki), Mao Ichimichi (Iris), Yuusuke Kobayashi (Arthur), Kazuya Nakai (Akitaru), Kenichi Suzumura (Takehisa)

One of the least represented careers in anime is undoubtedly firefighting. Atsushi Ohkubo’s unique take on the profession struck a chord with shounen manga fans everywhere, and its recent translation to anime by JoJo series vets David Productions is no less impressive. 

The plot is classic shounen with a dash of relatability. Fire Force takes place in a future where people have started spontaneously combusting and turning into flame creatures known as “Infernals.” No one knows how or why this phenomenon began, and everyone lives in fear of it happening to them or their loved ones at any time. To combat this new threat, special fire forces have been established to quell Infernals and keep the public safe.

Shinra, the main protagonist, is a third-generation pyrokinetic (a manipulator of fire) who opens the show by finally joining one of these elite firefighting teams. Shunned since he was little for grinning devilishly whenever he becomes nervous (and for other reasons I won’t spoil here), Shinra has a lot to prove to himself and anyone who used to know him. 

Fire Force moves between lighthearted firehouse shenanigans, heartfelt introspection, and beautifully-animated firefights with grace. Shinra’s tragic backstory never fully leaves the viewer’s mind, but the strong-yet-airheaded Maki and the childlike rivalry between Shinra and fellow new recruit Arthur give the show a fun comedic spin. The anime’s future might be up in the air at the moment, but what little we’ve seen has already shown great promise. (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Recommended

Watch on Crunchyroll (subbed) and Funimation (dubbed)


Dr. Stone

Studio: TMS Entertainment
Director(s): Shinya Iino
Voice Actors: Yuusuke Kobayashi (Senku), Makoto Furukawa (Taiju), Kana Ichinose (Yuzuriha)

I was fully prepared, unreasonably so, to hate Dr. Stone. The combination of Crunchyroll’s unusually aggressive advertising push for it and the main protagonist having the most punchable face in recent anime history rubbed me the wrong way even before knowing what the show is about. While Senku still has the most punchable face, I’m glad to say that Dr. Stone does somewhat live up to the hype.

An unknown phenomenon one day instantly turns all of humanity on Earth to stone. Millenia later, high schoolers Taiju and Senku are freed from their petrified prisons and find themselves in a land reclaimed by nature. Senku, being a super-genius, and Taiju, being a musclehead, team up to rebuild society.

It’s a setup rife with possibilities and it’s unclear as to what direction the story will go in yet. That’s made all the more so with how Dr. Stone presents itself as a shounen battle series without actually being one. Every character has some over-the-top, signature trait that would make them fit right at home in something like Hunter x Hunter. That makes them endearing to watch, though, which is important since the characters you see are literally all the characters in the entire show.

Science nerds will also be pleased, particularly chemists and physicists, as the principals Senku utilizes to rebuild society are all grounded in reality. There are some creative liberties taken here and there but for the most part it’s solid science.

Dr. Stone may not be the second coming of all that is holy for anime like Crunchyroll is playing it up to be, but it’s still a greatly entertaining adventure that has me wondering what will happen next. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended

Watch on Crunchyroll (subbed) and Funimation (dubbed).


How Heavy Are The Dumbbells You Lift?

Studio: Doga Kobo
Director: Mitsue Yamazuki
Voice Actors: Ai Fairouz (Sakura), Sora Amamiya (Akemi), Kaito Ishikawa (Machio)

One of my favorite jokes to come out of Japan is muscular macho manliness. Whether it’s Jojo’s ridiculously excessive depiction of the male physique or the popularity of Billy “Aniki” Herrington, Japan has a fascination with bodybuilding that straddles the line between hilarity and genuine respect. How Heavy Are the Dumbbells You Lift? is a show built around that entire philosophy.

Hibiki Sakura, the main character of Dumbbells, has gained weight thanks to her poor diet and excessive eating habits. When confronted with the reality of her health, she reluctantly signs up at the nearby Silverman Gym. Here she meets a fellow classmate, Akemi Soryuin, who has also joined; together they work under their new trainer, Naruzo Machio. Thanks to both Akemi and Naruzo’s help, Hibiki vows to work hard and get her body in shape.

In the vein of Cells at Work! or Shokugeki no Soma, Dumbbells takes a specific topic and dives deep into the subject matter. While the show is ostensibly about “cute girls doing cute things”, Dumbbells manages to give weightlifting and exercise a good amount of respect. The characters make a point of exhibiting proper form and technique, which help both Hibiki and the viewer wrap their head around the work involved. 

Of course, as a CGDCT kind of show, Dumbbells is chock full of, well, cute girls. All of the characters are fun and bring their own little unique oddities to the gym. If you’ve spent time working out and have gone through the pains a diet change or muscle soreness, then Dumbbells will give you a good chuckle as it reminds you to hit them gains! (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Highly Recommended

Watch on Funimation


A Certain Scientific Accelerator

Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Nobuharu Kamanaka
Voice Actors: Nobuhiko Okamoto (Accelerator), Rina Hidaka (Last Order)

A testament to the importance of character, A Certain Scientific Accelerator proves how vital a decent main man is. Where A Certain Magical Index is spearheaded by Touma, a protagonist with all the likeability of Hitler’s wanking sock, Accelerator fits a more engaging anti-hero mold. Like A Certain Scientific Railgun, A Certain Scientific Accelerator works due to its utilization of (mostly) likable characters.

Accelerator’s been through the wringer, what with getting shot in the head and rescuing weird little clone girl Last Order. Enter Disciplinary Action, an antagonistic organization that threatens Accelerator and Last Order, our unlikely pairing of oddballs.

One’s mileage with A Certain Scientific Accelerator is relative to their tolerance for the ambitious but scattershot storytelling of this universe. If (like me) they find it flimsy and self-indulgent, A Certain Scientific Accelerator will come up short. But those more partial to the characteristics of this lofty series will find an abundance of enjoyment from the plight of Moody McGrumpo, the white-haired dude with a teen angst complex. (By Harry Morris)

Rating: Indifferent

Watch on Crunchyroll (subbed) and Funimation (dubbed).


Lord El-Melloi II Case Files {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note

Studio: TROYCA
Director: Makoto Katou
Voice Actors: Daisuke Namikawa (Lord El-Melloi II), Reina Ueda (Gray), Inori Minase (Reines)

As the latest anime entry in the notorious Fate franchise, Case Files breaks tradition by being the first main timeline series to not have “Fate” in its name. It’s also the first to not center around a Holy Grail War and Servants, but instead on the inner workings of the mage society we only caught glimpses of through other series.

If that last paragraph sounded like something out of an esoteric tome then this probably isn’t a show for you. While Case Files is a clean break from the usual formula, it is still deeply rooted in Fate lore, particularly Fate/Zero, and thus doesn’t stop to explain many crucial concepts of the world such as the Root and Bounded Fields.

Those who are into Fate, for better or worse, will find Case Files a welcome departure, albeit a frenetic one. Waver turned Lord El-Melloi II now teaches Modern Magecraft lessons at the London Clocktower. While there he gets caught up in various magic-related incidents whereupon he uses his keen acumen to solve them.

Each episode so far has contained one “case” for El-Melloi to solve. The mere existence of magic making almost anything possible take the focus of the “howdunit” and shifts it onto the “whydunit” and that is what the viewer is asked to question as our instructor goes about his investigations. These episodes felt a bit rushed but hints of the overarching story beginning hopefully mean better pacing going forward.

Like any good Fate anime, the presentation is stellar with dazzling animation and mystifying music to complement its arcane nature. It’s just a shame newcomers won’t be able to fully enjoy it. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended (For Fate fans)
Not Recommended (For newcomers)

Watch on Crunchyroll (subbed) and Funimation (dubbed)


Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? II

Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Hideki Tachibana
Voice Actors: Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Bell), Inori Minase (Hestia)

Hideki Tachibana and J.C. Staff had a lot to live up to following the four-year-long hiatus of the hyper-popular Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (more affectionately known as DanMachi). 2017’s Sword Oratoria spin-off was fun enough, but it felt paltry compared to the ambition of season one. Luckily, DanMachi’s return to the small screen truly feels like it never left. 

In fact, it’s startling just how quickly the new season hits the ground running. High off nearing Level 3 and being able to routinely traverse the middle stages of the dungeon, Bell refuses to back down when a member of a rival familia insults Hestia in a pub. Lines are crossed, a fight ensues, and before he knows it, Bell is suddenly in the sights of the spiteful (and incredibly creepy) god Apollo. 

The events of the first couple episodes set the stage for several major shakeups. How far will Apollo go to nab Bell for himself? What’ll become of Hestia and Bell’s tiny familia? And does Ais actually have more than a passing interest in our hero? Between the events that set all these questions into motion, there’s hardly any time wasted on reintroducing characters. There’s a handy “Episode 0” refresher, but you’ll definitely need to go back and re-watch season one to familiarize yourself with this vast cast once again. 

That said, the flashy battle scenes, awkward romances, and strong alliances forged from last season are all back in full force here. Any fans who’ve been waiting for years to see what happens to this colorful cast next are sure to be satisfied.  (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Highly Recommended.

Watch on Crunchyroll.


Vinland Saga

Studio: Wit Studio
Director: Shuuhei Yabuta
Voice Actors: Shizuka Ishigama (Thorfinn), Naoya Uchida (Askeladd), Kenichiro Matsuda (Thors)

While anime and manga love to take Norse mythology and spin it on its head for various purposes, vikings have seen little such attention. That changes with Vinland Saga, which has thus far shown to be an enthralling story set do Ragnarok proud.

The first thing that immediately jumps out about the show is the fluid animation. Wit Studio’s experience animating the omnidirectional battles of Attack on Titan are put on full display in an opening battle sequence that employs numerous dynamic camera angles and long cuts. It’s easily the most stunning visual spectacle of the season so far and sets the stage for the kind of world we’re about to step foot in.

That world is one of survival, where even a semblance of peace titters on a precarious balance. The heroic warrior Thors escaped the battlefield to run away and raise his family in peace. His past eventually catches up to him, though, and he finds himself and his six year old son, Thorfinn, entangled in a war he doesn’t want to fight.

While Thorfinn is presented to be the protagonist of the series, the focus of the story is still on his father. He is the lynch pin that keeps everything from falling apart and there is a palpable sense of dread of something happening to him. These first three episodes have been an exercise in waiting for the other shoe to drop but the characters and world are already so well developed it’s difficult to not already feel pulled into the great expanse. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Highly Recommended

Watch on Amazon Prime Video


Magical Sempai

Studio: Liden Films
Director: Fumiaki Usui
Voice Actors: Kaede Hondo (Assistant), Aoi Ichikawa (Sempai)

Every season of anime inevitably has to have their cheesecake show, and Magical Sempai is this one’s. Clocking in at a little over twelve minutes, it wastes no time in getting to the real reason you’re watching this show: degeneracy.

Based on an existing gag manga, Magical Sempai follows the titular Senpai as she drags her unfortunate Assistant into joining her Magic Club at school. There’s just one thing: she absolutely sucks at it. She gets stage fright, she’s easily embarrassed, is extremely clumsy, and not terribly bright. Her antics oftentimes get her into sticky situations (figuratively and literally), much to the enjoyment of her Assistant (and the audience). This involves such predicaments as Senpai getting herself wrapped up in bondage, locking herself in a box, and losing all of her clothes in public.

There’s not much to the premise of Magical Sempai, but for a gag show there doesn’t really need to be. Much like Ueno-san of last winter’s season, Magical Sempai is a simple, straightforward show that gives you exactly what it says on the tin. The characters are fun, the jokes are cute, and the cheesecake is extremely cheesy. If you like slapstick gags and over-the-top fanservice, Magical Sempai is good for a quick laugh and some eyecandy. (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Recommended (if you’re into that kinda stuff)

Watch on Crunchyroll.


Arifureta: From Common Place to World’s Strongest

Studio: Asread, White Fox
Director: Kinji yoshimoto
Voice Actors: Toshinari Fukamachi (Hajime), Yuuki Kuwahara (Yue)

One of the many isekai shows this season, Arifureta is a classic betrayal story mixed with power fantasy. Hajime and his classmates have been summoned to another world with MMO like elements. While exploring an underground labyrinth Hajime is betrayed by a jealous classmate causing him to fall down to the lower levels of the abyss where he has to fend for himself.

The story is about as by-the-books as an isekai can get with Hajime quickly growing stronger and gaining new powers by consuming the monsters he defeats. Arifureta’s one distinguishing trait is its tone which is filled with enough edge to make a razor blade blush. Hajime’s abrasive attitude is jarring and borders on unlikeable with his weapon of choice being guns adding to his excessive aesthetic.

This anime is dark, literally, with all three episodes taking place in the cavernous labyrinth; there isn’t a whole lot that’s eye-catching. Well, perhaps some of the monsters are eye-catching, but for the wrong reasons as they are made with some of the most atrocious use of CGI in recent memory.

There are worse isekai out there and at the very least I am interested to see just how overpowered Hajime becomes but if your time is limited, you can do better than Arifureta. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Indifferent

Watch on Funimation


If It’s for My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord

Studio: Maho Film
Director: Takeyuki Yanase
Voice Actors: Kanon Takao (Latina), Nobuhiko Okamoto (Dale)

There are few anime that perfectly telegraph their core appeal within the first five minutes as well as If It’s for My Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord does. The show takes place in an otherworldly realm where those able to use magic are employed by the nobility to defend humanity against demonic attacks. One of the nation’s top adventurers, Dale, is finishing a job when he comes across a small devil child named Latina in the woods. Sensing that she’s defenseless and alone, Dale decides to bring her back to town and look after her for the time being. 

Unlike Poco’s Udon World or Sweetness and Lightening—both of which center around single father figures taking care of young children—the focus here is less on the bond between Dale and Latina and more on everyone’s infatuation with Latina herself. She’s cloyingly sweet to anyone she meets, always tries her best, and manages to delight even the most hardened adventurers. Dale quickly becomes a vessel that channels how the audience is expected to feel about the girl; he’s constantly overwhelmed by her cuteness, can’t stand to spend a moment away from her, and cries tears of joy whenever she misses him or proudly shows him what she’s accomplished for the day. 

Despite how If It’s for My Daughter is clearly pandering to a certain demographic, it’s hard to deny that it’s well-executed. Getting to see Latina develop her language and cooking skills before my eyes was some of the most lazily pleasant time I’ve spent watching an anime this year. Just know what you’re getting into first! (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Recommended (for a very specific audience)

Watch on Crunchyroll


Do You Love You Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?

Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Yoshiaki Iwasaki
Voice Actors: Ai Kayano (Mamako)

Tis the season for show titles that take up the majority of Twitter’s character limit on their own, with Do You Love You Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? taking the cake. 

This show is pandering to the highest degree but at the same time, it’s very upfront about what it is. If the concept of a high school boy getting sucked into a game world with his over doting mother — who is literally named Mamko — that looks like she could be 16 and is the most overpowered being in the world doesn’t appeal to you, then this show is probably going to do little to change your mind.

It’s nonsensical, it’s ludicrous, and it’s oh so ecchi. If you’re not immediately turned off by the incestuous nature of the premise, though, then you’ll find moments of decent to funny self-aware comedy. Our wayward son protagonist plays an entertaining straight man and the show doesn’t miss a moment to poke fun at the isekai genre as a whole.

The show’s audience is clear. If you’re part of that audience, have fun. If you’re not part of it, then move right along. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: You know who you are

Watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation


O Maidens in Your Savage Season

Studio: Lay-duce
Director: Masahiro Ando, Takurō Tsukada
Voice Actors: Hiyori Kono, Chika Anzai, Momo Asakura, Tomoyo Kurosawa, Sumire Uesaka

Teenagehood is awkward, thanks in large part to the fact that teenagers are boiling pots of hormones. O Maidens in Your Savage Season captures this period of adolescence from the perspective of a high school literature club and the five young girls that make it up. The central ideas behind the show are that of sex and sexuality, and it approaches them by placing them in context of main cast’s own personal dilemmas.

While the show centers around Kazusa Onodera, a meek young girl who discovers she’s in love with her childhood friend, O Maidens makes a point to establish its ensemble cast. It’s certainly a slow burn, as the first few episodes take the time to establish character personalities and future plot threads.

However, from the very beginning the show’s writing does an excellent job of helping it to stand out. Mari Okada, a prolific writer known for such works as Maquia and Anohana, grounds the cast in an utterly down-to-earth way that reminds you of what it felt like to be a teenager, unsure of yourself and your developing emotions.

O Maidens isn’t all drama, thankfully. There are some wonderful bits of comedy and clever wordplay that help to break the mood and give the show an endearing charm. The painful ignorance of the characters provides both heartfelt character drama and genuine laughter. O Maidens is a show where you want these girls to succeed, but you absolutely love seeing them flub and fluster along the way. (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Highly Recommended

Watch on VRV


The Ones Within

Studio: Silver Link.
Director: Shin Oonuma
Voice Actors: Daiki Yamashita (Akatsuki), Akari Kito (Karin), Kaori Nazuka (Yuzu)

In what could be described as a strange mix of Zero Escape, Danganronpa, and The World Ends With You all rolled up into one, The Ones Within aptly suffers from a bit of identity crisis. Its concept of trapping prominent Let’s Players in another world of some sort and streaming their every action to attract viewers is reasonable enough on paper, but a number of factors prevent the show from being anything more than occasional amusement.

While the show is meant to be a showcase of Let’s Players, it does very little to push forward the fact that these people are anything but eccentric individuals. These eccentrics fall into tired archetypes that do little to encourage emotional investment into them. This is accentuated by the odd pacing of the episodes in order to fit one Let’s Play challenge each. The rushed pacing results punchlines and climaxes to fall flat, especially considering the show can’t decide on what kind of tone it wants yet.

Not even the clearly Monokuma inspired alpaca-headed instigator for the games can save this show from being unmemorable at best and boring at worst. This is an easy pass this season. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Not Recommended

Watch on Funimation

Heralding from the rustic, old town of Los Angeles, California; Matthew now resides in Boston where he diligently researches the cure for cancer. In reality, though, he just wants to play games and watch anime, and likes talking about them way too much. A Nintendo/Sony hybrid fan with a soft-spot for RPG’s, he finds little beats sinking hours into an immersive game world. You can follow more of his work at his blog and budding YouTube channel below.

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Anime

The Historical Comedic Mechanics that Make ‘KonoSuba’ a Great Fantasy Comedy

A deep dive into Japanese and Western comedic heritage and humor.

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The Konosuba: Legend of Crimson movie made its North American premiere on November 12th. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at why Konosuba is such a great comedy series on a character-writing level in the context of Japanese and Western comedic history.

Anime is a wondrous and varied medium, but the plague of generic European fantasy world “isekai” every season would make an onlooker think otherwise. Isekai stories revolve around characters entering another world from their own. Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Fionavar Tapestry could all be considered isekai. The glut of anime isekai in recent years—where protagonists invariably travel from the modern day to some Tolkienesque or Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fantasy world—has spawned its own permanent subgenre of self-aware parody and satires, of which Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This World is a part. Yet Konosuba is notable because it is also an exceptional anime comedy.

Dying from the stress of trying to save a schoolgirl he mistakenly thought needed rescuing, teenage hermit Kazuma Satou arrives in purgatory having done nothing with his life. The goddess Aqua gives him the choice to start life over in another world as long as he defeats the great evil sweeping the land. She offers him a gift to help him of which Kazuma chooses to take Aqua along.

Unfortunately for Kazuma, Aqua is both spoilt and a moron. He spends most of his time rescuing her from the mouths of giant, man-eating toads and other mishaps. His other companions aren’t useful either: the sorceress Megumin has specialized only in explosion magic, while Darkness is a highly skilled swordswoman but prefers to be hit by the enemy out of masochistic tendencies. They are a truly terrible company of heroes, and hilarious to watch.

To explain why Konosuba is brilliant beyond its amusing premise, passionate performances, or clever dialogue, however, we must ironically get serious about the mechanics of comedy.

Konosuba Aqua and frog

Comedic Conflicts

Comedy is extremely subjective. The cultural nuances, sensibilities, and idiomatic expressions mean that not all comedy is universal—“American joke” is a derisive term amongst Japanese people for a failed and incomprehensible joke, for example—but certainly some elements do translate enough to make some general commentary on it.

Comedy is born of conflict, flaws, and suffering. Prominent Western comedies such as Blackadder, Frasier, and Parks and Recreation all share a few things in common. Firstly, the opposing personalities produce a strong and constant source of fundamental interpersonal conflict between them that can be mined continuously. This is absolutely the case for Konosuba; Aqua’s gullible and stupid nature contrasts Kazuma’s tactical deviousness, and their dynamic produces scenes such as him using her as bait to lure in crocodiles while she wails. It is a rich well of comedy.

Secondly, a character’s personality flaws are what bring about their downfall in a scenario. All four of the main characters manage, in their own ways, to make any given problem worse, and they invariably descend into further debt.

Finally, the overall situation they are in is an obstacle to the fulfillment of their desires. Kazuma desires peace and to laze about at home, but he keeps being sent on kingdom-saving missions. Within those missions, his personality directs his actions and were Kazuma able to lounge about uninterrupted forever, there would be no series.

These three elements roughly make up the basis of all so-called “character-based humor”. The versatility that it provides can be traced back through Eurocentric Western comedy for centuries if not millennia. Plautus’ comedies performed between 205 and 184 B.C. frequently revolved around class obligations. All of Shakespeare’s and Molière’s comedies endure because they concern both character dilemmas forced upon them by society and pettier conflicts with and manipulations of one another (allowing for salient observations of humanity). Even early silent slapstick films of the 1920s and 30s physically built up characters and their dynamics in order to motivate the pratfalls and slip-ups.

Konosuba Kazuma is shocked.

Japanese comedy independently arrived at these principles of character-based humor as well, but has tended towards reducing these concepts down to smaller scales and acting within distinct roles in live performance. In this way, the flawed characters are more boxed in by the parameters set by their role. This is where anime comedies like Konosuba differ in their sensibilities, owing to the long history of Japanese comedy being performed in this way.

Manzai” might be the most enduring; it originated in the Kansai region during the Heian period (794 – 1185). The style features a double act with one person in the “boke” idiot role, while the intelligent “tsukkomi” comments and challenges them as a comedic “straight man”. Think Abbott and Costello. With the advent of television, the broader array of “owarai” (meaning “laugh”) comedy has given rise to “reaction” comedy, where, as the name suggests, the physical and verbal reaction to a situation is the focus and joke, frequently conveyed through exaggerated facial expressions and noises.

This is not to say that Konosuba, or any comedic anime, is a direct synthesis of traditional Japanese comedic art-forms, but that heritage has clearly filtered through to the sensibilities of anime comedies. The most common joke across anime is a sharp cutaway to the straight man protagonist’s exasperation and bewilderment at the bizarre actions of his compatriots. This copies manzai and “reaction” comedy. Konosuba is rife with these types of jokes and the limited and deformed animation by Studio Deen accentuates their impact. Konosuba’s real cleverness, however, is the way it uses role-based humor as part of its comedic repertoire and avoids the pitfalls often associated with it.

Comedy Roles in Anime

As said earlier, Japanese comedy heavily favors role-based characters as the source of character humor for many centuries. This is frequently evident in anime comedies and sometimes this works to hilarious results. D-Frag, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Nichijou, and Tanaka-kun is Always Listless have characters with very defined roles they occupy in jokes on the basis of their personalities (that long list is there as suggestions for viewing). What they can, therefore, do comedically is limited by the role they play, becoming a subset of specialized characters with flaws.

Where this practically differs from simply being a character with comedic flaws is the limits the role sets with the type of joke being able to be told with that character. While a purely “flaw-based” character means that the output and outcome of a conflict will be foreseeable for a particular character as a result of their flaws in a certain scenario, role-based humor additionally limits the possible input and stimulus for the joke in the first place. Practically, characters evolving from role-based humor will only be used for certain kinds of jokes and will only ever take certain kinds of actions. Their responses are not tailored to the situation. The situation has to be more tailored to them.

Nozakii-kun Seo inflicts pain on everyone around her.

In something like the anime series Grand Blue Dreaming and Kaguya-sama: Love is War, or say, the sitcom Friends, the audience knows how the characters will respond to and behave in a situation, but you could give them a simple dilemma and each would be able to carry on on the basis of their flaws and be funny.

A more role-based character would need a particular problem and sparring partner to find that same comedic value. For example, Seo from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun will always be completely oblivious and unintentionally confrontational in response to a situation, so she is only ever used for those sorts of jokes, like angering somebody with something she says, or placed in a situation to be boisterous with her opposite, the jittery Wakamatsu. There is absolutely crossover between these two forms of character creation, and a well-written “role-based” character is nearly indistinguishable from a “flaws-based character”, but they are still slightly different in execution.

Where a lot of anime comedy falls flat then, at least to foreign audiences, is that the characters are identified less by their personalities, but rather exclusively by the role they play. At its worst, they become one-note and one-joke characters, repeated over and over to diminishing returns, as there is a lack of tension because the scenarios always have the exact same result. Certainly, all characters in all comedy, or even all fiction, have roles in the stories and conflicts, but there is a difference between characters having personality traits and being defined by their archetypal role. When there is a problem with a role-based character, and the series hinges on them and role-based humor, there is little way of alleviating the problem without changing the character entirely.

Konosuba avoids this issue with character roles because all the characters’ personalities contrast the expected demeanors of the fantasy class roles they occupy. Aqua is an all-powerful god and yet she is a needy moron. Megumin is an “Arch Wizard” mage and should reasonably be proficient across various types of magic, but instead she is so hyper-specialized that she’s rendered nearly useless after a single, uncontrolled spell. Darkness is outwardly a refined and noble crusader as one would expect from a powerful knight, but her penchant for flagellation and depraved fantasies always threatens to expose itself.

Konosuba Aqua questions Kazuma's plans.

The juxtaposition of character role and flawed personality helps set the absurdist tone and is the foundation for reaction comedy when paired with the cynical and conniving comedic straight man in Kazuma. However, that gap between the ideal and reality also leads to personal amelioration for the characters. Darkness feels obligated to uphold her family’s honor and embracing her fetishes becomes a mode for self-acceptance. Megumin’s delight in explosions makes her a social pariah, and so it is a touching moment when Kazuma recognizes it as important self-expression, endearing him to her. In this way, Konosuba neatly eschews the problem of equating comedic role to personality, and that helps set it apart from many other anime comedies. It is a genuine character-based fantasy comedy.

On top of this, Konosuba can lampoon the trend of incorporating game elements into fantasy anime series, such as defined fighting class roles and skill trees, because it already is utilizing those same roles for its comedy. Thus it is able to hang its parodying of isekai and game tropes off this firm central character basis. The parody is not the source of the jokes, merely an added quality as a result of the sincere treatment of its characters, moving it from hollow parody to genuine satire.

Konosuba is a superlative comedy because it is a complementary blend of Japanese character-based humour and fantasy isekai, and is able to use video game structure towards fulfilling comedic intent. It can both adhere to and mock modern fantasy isekai adeptly because its comedic foundations are built on character conflicts.

Character conflicts are everything in comedy, and the extra layer of restrictions via character roles that have evolved in the course of Japanese comedic history can make the styles confusing or simply not funny to foreigners. Konosuba is exceptional and acclaimed as a comedy because it manages to integrate both character roles and character-based humor in a tautly written and witty package. The fact that it is a fantasy isekai is ultimately incidental to it being a great comedy, but Konosuba is a beacon for what more comedy and fantasy anime could aspire to.

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Anime Ichiban 21: Explosions are so Kakkoii!

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The Konosuba movie delivers on almost all fronts while this anime season delivers more shows of varying quality.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions
10:03 – Konosuba movie impressions and revenue news
22:23 – DEEMO movie announcement
26:29 – A cruise for anime fans
30:22 – Clip Paint Studio manga software donated to Texan schools
34:05 – The decline of Japanese arcades
38:53 – Yuki Kaji monetizes his voice even more
42:17 – This week in stage play adaptations
49:47 – Tokyo anime studio exhibition
51:08 – SHITSUMON! The yabai, the ma ma, and the kakkoii of this season
1:20:38 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Papapa” by Shuka Saito (ORESUKI opening theme)
Outro –  “Chisana Boukensha” by Sora Amamiya, Rie Takahashi, and Ai Kayano (Konosuba first season ending theme)

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Anime’s Survival Genre: Creating a Killing Game

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Anime’s survival genre, which has lent itself to a spectrum of popular, critically acclaimed shows over the years, has a sub-genre that is more diverse and nuanced than it seems to the casual glance. The infamous “killing game” sub-genre has spawned many easily recognizable, seeming cult-classics. 

While the killing game genre is massive, and maybe even a bit oversaturated to date, the three anime adaptations covered in this article serve as proof that a seemingly rigid basis for a plot can take many concrete and thematic twists and turns.

There are many listicles online that can serve as great jumping-off points to find different entries to your liking—here, however, you’ll read a more in-depth analysis of three shows, each with their own cult following and notoriety.

These shows are: When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni), Danganronpa: The Animation, and Future Diary (Mirai Nikki).

For these shows, this article will ask the same three questions:

  1. What is the basic premise of the killing game?
  2. What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?
  3. How are the character deaths handled during the game?

In the interest of not spoiling the ending for these shows, this article will focus mostly on how each killing game is first introduced.

Answering these questions, with a laser focus on just three examples, will show just how nuanced the construction of a killing game anime can be. 

When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni)

When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni)

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

This anime serves as an adaptation for the Umineko: When They Cry visual novel series. Protagonist Battler Ushiromiya travels to his family’s estate on a private island, reuniting with his extended family after an absence of six years. As Battler reconnects with his cousins, his aunts and uncles discuss the finances (the potential inheritance) to be left behind by Battler’s grandfather, Kinzo Ushiromiya. Battler, his family members, and several of the estate’s staff, get stranded on the isolated island by a typhoon, and a chain of brutal murders begins, in accordance with a strange riddle, supposedly hinting at a way to find Kinzo’s secret stash of gold, and the headship of the family, simultaneously avoiding a gruesome death at the hands of Beatrice, the mysterious “golden witch.”

Thus, this particular killing game has dual incentives for survival and material wealth.

The killings follow a pre-determined schedule of sorts, the twelve “twilights,” described in the main riddle, which predict both the number of people who will die, and how.

However, they are intentionally cryptic, and do not specify who will die. This adds to an overall sense of the killing game being both a dreaded inevitability and an impossible mystery, leaving everyone subjected to it utterly defenseless.

Question 2:  How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

Characters’ deaths in this entry are by far the goriest and grotesque out of the three anime covered here. There’s a seeming fetishization of death, as the bodies are often horribly disfigured—to the point that, even seeing the censored versions can be hard to look at. However, this is not senseless gore—this apparent disrespect to the dignity of his murdered relatives and the estate’s longstanding employees enrages Battler, fueling him to declare all-out-war against Beatrice and the killing game itself.

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Battler is determined to use logic and reasoning to solve the various, seemingly “impossible” murders that occur around him, while refuting the idea that the deaths of his loved ones were caused by the “golden witch” Beatrice and, thus, magic. After the first series of deaths, the anime places Battler in a different dimension, able to converse with a woman who claims to be Beatrice. What follows is a test of Battler’s faith in logic and reasoning, in the face of the cruel and vindictive witch “Beatrice.” This tension amplifies as a sort of groundhog-day effect happens, wherein the scenario resets itself, with Battler forced to watch the murders begin anew, with new victims and circumstances, struggling to keep his head and solve the atrocities in a rational way.

Danganronpa: The Animation

Danganronpa: The Animation

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

This anime adaptation of the Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc video game, places Makoto Naegi and his fifteen classmates trapped in a sealed-off, underground version of Hope’s Peak Academy high school. With no memory of what happened to them and how they got there, they are pressured into playing a killing game, wherein the winner can both survive and escape back to the outside world. 

The killing game follows a specific pattern for each murder. Monokuma, the self-proclaimed principal (a talking teddy bear) states that participation in the killing game is the only way to escape to the outside. Each new murder begins with a body discovery, followed by a limited window of time to investigate the murder, and, finally, a class trial, wherein the students try to present evidence to vote for and convict the culprit.

The game itself is very controlled and regimented, with the only freedom presented is the freedom to kill in any way the culprit chooses.

The incentive, then, besides basic survival, is to escape to the outside world, albeit at the other classmates. Soon, however, a thematic duality between protagonist and the killing game’s mastermind occurs, similar to When the Seagulls Cry, as Makoto Naegi fights Monokuma’s attempts to spread despair to incite murder with a fervent belief in “hope” to both stop participation in the killing game and for everyone to escape.

Question 2: How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

This show revels in death, but not in gore so much as in spectacle. Similar to its source material, the anime builds tension leading up to each body discovery, and everybody discovery is surreal, near-unbelievable because each is bizarre in its own way. The bodies bleed pink blood, and each body discovery is shown with a shaking screen.

The number of bizarre details provided to each murder is crucial to the plot progression, as this lends itself to the “investigation” component, followed by the trial. Additionally, every time a culprit is found guilty of murder, they are given a tailor-made execution scene, complete with its own unique animation sequence—at the hands of a teddy bear. 

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Naegi remains staunchly against falling under Monokuma’s influence and engaging in the killing game. At first, he tries his best to deny that anyone would play into Monokuma’s game. However, once the murders begin, he develops a fervent belief in “hope,” which, as mentioned, runs in exact contrast to the theme of “despair” espoused by Monokuma (and, later, the true culprit). Naegi’s survival instinct becomes intertwined with his belief in his “hope.” As the story continues, Naegi and Monokuma dig themselves deeper into their dualing ideologies, and are alternatingly angered by, and dismissive of, the other’s ideals. 

The inclusion of the other classmates on equal footing means that, while some try to murder their peers, others begin to side with and aid Naegi, to end the game and regain their freedom.

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

Protagonist Yukiteru Amano, a shy fourteen-year-old student, is pulled out of his ordinary school life as a social recluse when he is thrown into a killing game by the god of causality Deus Ex Machina, wherein Yuki and eleven others are provided their own future diaries, which predict the future in a manner unique to their character, and are pressed to find and kill one another, with the last person remaining will become the next god in place of Deus.

This killing game has next to no rules—kill the other diary holders, and you win. The game, then, has the dual incentives of survival and becoming a god.

At the anime’s beginning, the other participants have seemingly been chosen at random to participate (with the commonality of living within Sakurami City). However, Yuki has previously conversed privately with Deus many times as his “imaginary friend,” and, in the anime, after Yuki muses about having no “dreams or goals,” and saying “all I have is this diary and this imaginary world,” Deus states he will start an “entertaining game,” telling Yuki “I shall bestow the future upon you.” Soon after the game begins and, while the other contestants are regularly summoned to speak with Deus as a group, their identities obscured, Deus clearly favors Yuki from the start, which ironically leads many contestants to try killing him first.

Question 2: How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

Interestingly, the first two diary-holder deaths are more strange that horrific—their diaries are destroyed, and their bodies morph and warp in a spiral into sheer nothingness. However, there are plenty of non-diary holder characters who die gruesomely, even at this early stage, and soon after the deaths of diary holders become gory in their own right. Much of this death and destruction comes from Yuno Gasai (another diary holder and infamous yandere), who seems unfazed by it, particularly as it involves protecting Yuki—however, as time goes on, Yuki bloodies his own hands, likely desensitized by the game.

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Prior to the game’s start, Yuki’s personal philosophy is being a mere “observer” of life around him. This is made impossible once the game begins. Throughout the game, Yuki struggles between his basic instinct for survival and a growing desire to cast aside his loneliness and build friendships with those around him. This theme is highlighted a number of times, when Yuno, determined to help Yuki survive, delivers heat-of-the-moment ultimatums urging Yuki to abandon potential allies and friends to save himself. This dynamic is ironic, as Deus originally positioned the start of the killing game as a chance for Yuki to break out of his socially isolated tendencies. However, Yuno is from the start is simultaneously reliable and unreliable. On the one hand, she seems an expert at survival and knows the rules of the killing game before Deus has even given his official explanation to Yuki (and the viewer). On the other hand, she is Yuki’s stalker, and her obsessive tendencies are emotionally unhealthy for Yuki.

In the end…

As this discussion hopefully shows, there are a number of ways to expound upon the specific anime sub-genre of killing games. Using the above examples illuminates how choices governing both the killing game’s rules and it’s protagonist’s identity and personal philosophy can take a viewer down vastly different, and shockingly entertaining narrative paths.

By Katharine Booth

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