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Winter 2019 Anime Staff Viewer’s Guide

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It’s the start of February and you know what the means. Really cold weather! If you were unfortunate enough to be somewhere in the mid-west of the United States like myself then you’ve been subjected to some particularly cold weather recently with record lows across the board. But what better excuse to wrap up by the fireplace, warm up some hot chocolate, and watch some anime? The winter season is well underway and just like last time, the GoombaStomp anime crew is here to help in all your viewing pleasures. If you’re wondering what to watch next, then look no further! (This list is in no particular order)


The Promised Neverland

The Promised NeverlandStudio: CloverWorks

Director: Mamoru Kanbe

Main Voice Actor(s): Sumirie Morohoshi (Emma), Maaya Uchida (Norman), Mariya Ise (Ray)

Tension. There aren’t too many anime that can literally leave me breathless at the edge of my seat, but the stakes The Promised Neverland sets and its impressive cinematography did so masterfully. Part of the reason this works so well is because it completely subverts viewer expectations. If this is a show you think you might be interested in, I highly recommend you go in as blind as possible.

Grace Field House is an idyllic, isolated orphanage. The kids there lead happy lives from when they’re babies until they are cut off for adoption at age 12. Everyone looks after each other, stays fit from running around outside all day after tests, and are treated to nutritious meals regularly. The only thing even slightly out of the ordinary is the numbered tattooed on their necks and the gates they’re not allowed to venture beyond under any circumstances.

Hmm…that all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

The Promised Neverland hits where it hurts, and quickly. The show’s twist is both abrupt and horrifying in a deeply empathetic way. That said, nothing terrible beyond the twist happens immediately; this is a breathtakingly slow burn laid out at an expert pace. Character strengths (and potential faults) for the three protagonists are established early enough to give viewers room for endless speculation as to how later events might unfold. Wisely, the anime showcases both the children’s perspective and that of their opposition in tandem, constantly keeping the viewer thirsty for more knowledge of the world beyond the orphanage’s gate. The end result is a killer of a wait each week between episodes. Don’t miss out on this one. (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Highly Recommended.

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

Boogiepop and Others

Studio: MADHOUSE

Director: Shingo Natsume

Main Voice Actor(s): Aoi Yuuki (Boogiepop), Saori Oonishi (Kirima Nagi)

A remake of the original 2000 anime, Boogiepop and Others is a story about things that go bump in the night. Mysterious disappearances and strange behavior are all par for the course in the distinctly unsettling show. While all the stories revolve around the grim reaper-esque Boogiepop, each case involves its own set of characters and Boogiepop is content with leaving it to the humans to resolve their own issues if possible.

In a rather unusual move, Boogiepop and Others premiered this season with two complete episodes at once… and boy is it a good thing it did! The first episode is a whirlwind of information with names being dropped left and right, time suddenly flashing forward and backward without warning, and just general instability. Without the second episode immediately available to help bridge the gap this would have caused quite a lot of reactionary frustration.

This definitely is not a show to watch passively. After getting over the initial shock it becomes apparent there’s a method to the madness and information is presented in this disjointed manner for a reason. All the pieces of the puzzle are there but the show does you no favors in putting them together. Completing that picture, however, is one of the most satisfying feelings I have felt with the anime medium, akin to finally figuring out the solution to a tough puzzle in a game.

Boogiepop and Others certainly isn’t an anime for everyone, but those willing to give it their full, undivided attention will find they are rewarded equally in turn. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended

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

MobPsycho 100 II

Studio: Bones

Director: Yuzuru Tachikawa

Main Voice Actor(s): Setuo Itou (Mob), Takahiro Sakurai (Reagan)

Explaining what Mob Psycho 100 is about is easy. Mob is a psychic middle schooler whose intense paranormal abilities are only matched by his unwillingness to abuse them. Every so often he goes on an exorcism with his boss/mentor/conman Reigen. These exorcisms generally involve strange spirits and psychic battles that unfold in silly and imaginative ways. The two – a fake psychic mentoring the most passive, most powerful tween to ever live – set the stage for all manner of silly psychic shenanigans.

Explaining what Mob Psycho 100 is about is a little harder. It’s about individuality and exploring why people are special. It’s about being true to yourself. It’s about jealousy, power, emotion, desire, and so much more. Mob Psych 100 expertly hides an exploration into the human condition in the psychic showdowns between a wallflower human and an evil plant ghost.

It’s hilarious watching Reigen trick people into believing his imaginary psychic powers, but it’s provocative watching him nonetheless be an actual mentor and decent human being all the same. It might be a laugh to watch Mob awkwardly deliver the worst speech in history, but it’s important because it demonstrates his genuine desire to improve himself and not base his entire life around his power. Mob Psycho 100 has a lot of things to say, and only some of them are jokes.

If you can get past the sloppy, crude art style, both seasons of Mob Psycho 100 are well worth the watch. It’s as inventive as it is funny, and it’s got more heart than it has any right to. (By Paul Palumbo)

Rating: Highly Recommended

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

The Quintessential Quintuplets

Studio: Tezuka Productions

Director: Satoshi Kuwahara

Main Voice Actor(s): Inori Minase (Itsuki), Miku Itou (Miku), Kana Hanazawa (Ichika), Ayana Taketatsu (Nino), Ayane Sakura (Yotsuba), Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Fuutarou)

How do you make a good harem series? Simple. You try to make a good show. As reductive as that might sound, the truth of the matter is that harem series, by and large are… pretty bad. The Quintessential Quintuplets, known popularly as 5-Toubun no Hanayome, is anything but. It avoids so many of the terrible tropes and story beats that make most harem series fanservice trash.

The Quintessential Quintuplets follows Fuutarou Uesugi, a responsible high schooler whose intelligence is rivaled only by his frugality. Fuutarou’s given a chance to make a hefty amount of money as a tutor, which will help support his poor family living in meager conditions. The catch: his new students are a group of idiot quintuplets that want nothing to do with him or studying. It’s up to Fuutarou to win their trust and help them pass their exams, otherwise he can say goodbye to his paycheck.

While the premise certainly sounds like a typical harem series, Quintuplets goes to great lengths to be anything but. Fuutarou’s unique brand of no-nonsense snark and genuine effort to help the five sisters improve their studies make him endearing and effective as a protagonist. Over the course of the story, he gets to know each of the girls and what makes Ichika, Nino, Miku, Yotsuba, and Itsuki different and unique from the other four.

The only caveat is that the anime adaptation is… not amazing. Its art style can get overbearingly bright and fluorescent, some of the fanservice gags get played on too long, and the animation as a whole is nothing impressive. If you get around to watching the show and enjoy it, I can’t recommend the manga highly enough. (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Recommended

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

The Rising of the Shield Hero

Studio: Kinema Citrus

Director: Takao Abo

Main Voice Actor(s): Kaito Ishikawa (Naofumi), Asami Seto (Raphtalia)

Be summoned/reincarnated into another world, be gifted some overpowered cheat weapon and/or ability, and go on to save/conquer that world where everything just sort of works out. That is the tried and true formula of the isekai genre that saturates the anime, manga, and light novel mediums and there is surprisingly little deviation from it. Enter Rising of the Shield Hero, an isekai that differs from that formula in all but the fundamentals of being summoned to another world.

Naofumi is a poor soul called upon to be one of the four legendary weapon heroes to save the Kingdom of Melromark from the Waves of Catastrophe. The catch is that he happens to be the Shield Hero and this particular “hero of legend” is one looked down upon with disdain in the kingdom as the most useless of the four.

Naofumi is taken advantage of, dragged through the mud, and left with nothing but the clothes on his back and the shield on his arm to fend for himself in a world entirely hostile to him. Watching him scrape and claw his way up to “rise” from that rock bottom state is what makes Naofumi and his story so compelling to watch. Combine that with the vibrant color palette and detailed facial expressions of Kinema Citrus and the resounding orchestrated soundtrack of Kevin Penkin, and you have an adventure primed to be a memorable one. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Highly Recommended

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

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka

Magical Girl Spec-Ops AsukaStudio: LIDENFILMS

Director: Hideyo Yamamoto

Main Voice Actors: Aya Suzaki (Asuka)

There’s been no shortage morose magical girl shows ever since Puella Magi Madoka Magica took the world by storm back in 2011 and Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is the next on the firing range.

The story picks up in the present day after a deadly war against other-worldly demonic teddy bears has been brought to an end thanks to the efforts of a group of magical girls given powers to defend the planet. With the war a few years behind them, some of the magical girls still serve active duty with the military but our protagonist and previous leader of the squad, Asuka, just wants to have a normal high school life. It doesn’t take a seasoned anime watcher to tell that circumstances occur that prevent her from doing so.

Asuka is a surprisingly likable character. Despite her general social clumsiness and serious demeanor due to being removed from normal society for so long, she makes genuine attempts to interact with others. Her straight-forward and often deadpan nature leads to some heartwarming and comical situations.

It’s when the show focuses on the new antagonistic force and the threat they pose when the story dips dangerously close to “trying too hard to be dark” territory. Innocent bystanders are shot in cold blood, ripped to pieces, and crushed to bits so often it becomes gratuitous. The enemy faction is so stereotypically insane that they become boring. There’s still enough intrigue with the story as to be interesting, but as it stands it could easily go one way or the other depending on how much it leans into the psychopathic tendencies of its characters. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Wait and See

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

Kakegurui xx

Kakegurui xxStudio: MAPPA

Director: Kiyoshi Matsuda

Main Voice Actor(s): Sayori Hayami (Yumeko), Minami Tanaka (Mary), Tatsuya Tokutake (Ryouta)

It’s tough to mess up the structure of a show like Kakegurui. Just like how One Piece consistently ups the ante by introducing more and more powerful foes, Kakegurui thrives on presenting new gambling opportunities with increasingly high stakes. In the first season, these stakes eventually took the form of millions of yen. The prospect of seeing the heirs of Japan’s most powerful families lose it all was thrilling, and made each showdown Yumeko had with the student council exciting in its own right.

Kakegurui xx boasts the same high-intensity gambling bouts as the first season, but this time the stakes don’t feel quite as dire. Instead of forcing students to wager a lifetime of debt or riches, Kirari Momobami is stepping down as student council president and offering her seat to whoever gets the most votes. The catch? Though every student gets a vote, these votes are represented by chips, and they can all be lost or won in official gambling challenges.

The repercussions of having each of the student council members fall to Yumeko in the first season are glaring. Though a new cast of top-tier gamblers has joined the school for this competition, they’re essentially just stand-ins who conform to the show’s tried-and-true structure. Because wins feel somewhat inevitable, the real joy of Season 2 comes from the gambling itself instead of the overarching plot (though that may change later in the season). Nonetheless, Kakegurui’s signature mind games and offputting camera angles shine as brightly as they ever have. If you’ve simply been craving more thrilling gambling scenarios, Kakegurui xx won’t let you down. Just don’t expect too much reinvention. (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Recommended.

You can watch Kakegurui xx when it premieres on Netflix later this year.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War

Kaguya-sama Love is WarStudio: A-1 Pictures

Director: Mamoru Hatakeyama

Main Voice Actor(s): Aoi Koga (Kaguya), Makoto Furukawa (Miyuki)

The President and Vice President of an illustrious high school’s student council have the hots for each other and are pretty convinced the feeling is mutual. But because the act of confessing love is embarrassing and a little shameful, Kaguya Shinomiya and Miyuki Shirogane have decided to trick the other into confessing first. Thus, each episode is a new trick, trap, or trauma one is using to corner the other into revealing their feelings. This is Kaguya-sama: Love is War.

It’s not violent or action-packed like the OP and title might suggest, but don’t let that deter you. It is an absolute delight watching the mind games and mental loopity-loops Shinomiya and Shirogane employ to wrangle a confession. Shinomiya might use her wealth to plan a trip to the beach; surely her gorgeous figure will be enough to prompt Shirogane to make a move. Meanwhile, Shirogane might use his new phone to get Shinomiya asking for his number. Regardless, the council secretary Chika will probably ruin both schemes with her naivete and unbreakable enthusiasm. These plans play out as both players frantically adjust on the fly in an endlessly changing battlefield until the day’s outcome is decided. It unfolds like a game of chess, with each move making it more elaborate and more endearing to watch.

Kaguya is laser-focused on this premise; each episode is three of these plans individually taking hold. It trims all the excess from the core shenanigans. This allows it to have a surprising pace and depth in a silly episodic slice of life about a bunch of teenagers too embarrassed to have feelings. (By Paul Palumbo)

Rating: Recommended

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

The Price of Smiles

The Price of SmilesStudio: Tatsunoko Productions

Director: Toshimasa Suzuki

Main Voice Actor(s): Yumiri Hanamori (Yuuki), Saori Hayami (Stella)

Tatsunoko Productions is an odd duck in that it is a legendary studio within Japan as one of the oldest anime producers in existence, but not so much outside of the country. The Price of Smiles serves as part of their 55th anniversary celebration and is shaping up to be yet another divisive show.

The Price of Smiles’s hook is that is that it portrays both sides of its space opera war with its double protagonists. Yuuki Soleil is the, at first, bubbly princess of the Kingdom of Soleil who is forced to accept the harsh realities of war. Stella Shining is a soldier for the Grandiga Empire who always has a somber smile no matter the situation. The story is clearly going for the “no one actually wins in war” message and hasn’t done anything to push the envelope beyond that notion yet.

Stella’s segments are the more interesting of the two as she is a genuinely enigmatic character to go along with her diverse squad. The moral conundrums presented to her as an invading force have provided the most compelling moments in the show thus far. Yuuki, on the other hand, is a by the books naive princess who wants to save everyone even when not possible and we’re still waiting for her to show some sort of growth. Her segments also suffer from weird pacing issues, with entire weeks passing in between cuts without notice.

All in all, the story has potential but will ride on how the two girls’ stories intertwine and develop as a result. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Wait and See

Watch on Crunchyroll (subbed).

Dororo

DororoStudio: MAPPA, Tezuka Productions

Director: Kazuhiro Furuhashi

Main voice Actor(s): Hiroki Suzuki (Hyakkimaru), Rio Suzuki (Dororo)

Part revenge plot, part body horror, Dororo is a thrilling story of reclaiming what was taken from you. Set in the Sengoku Jidai era of feudal Japan, Dororo follows the wandering swordsman Hyakkimaru, and his young companion Dororo.

Hyakkimaru was born grotesquely deformed, missing skin, limbs, and major internal organs. This was the result of his father, a daimyo, making a pact with a horde of demons in order to rule the world. In exchange, each of the demons took parts of his son’s body, who only lived thanks to his mother’s intervention. Years later, Hyakkimaru wanders the countryside in search of demons to slay so that he might regain his body.

Dororo has a distinctly classical feel to it, both in the aesthetic and storytelling. Adapted from the 1960s Osamu Tezuka manga, Dororo captures a sense of overwhelming dreariness and despair. The show is drenched in a sweeping watercolor visual style, with forested, hilly landscapes painted in broad strokes of brown, grey, and green.

There’s a morbid mystery to Dororo that keeps you coming back for more. The fights themselves are often quick and brutally efficient, as much of the narrative focuses on the inhuman horrors of the Sengoku Jidai era. In a world where human ambition can be bought with blood and suffering, Dororo explores what it takes to fight back. (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Highly Recommended

Watch on Amazon Video (subbed).

My Roommate is a Cat

My Roommate is a CatStudio: Zero-G

Director: Kaoru Suzuki

Main Voice Actor(s): Kensho Ono (Subaru), Haruka Yamazaki (Haru)

At first glance, it’s easy to write My Roommate is a Cat off as a silly, low stakes slice-of-life. There seems to be nothing interesting going on beyond “This person and this cat just do not get along!” But the story of Mikazuki Subaru and his battle with isolation is a lot more than it lets on.

After the death of his parents, the already introverted Subaru has almost no connection to the outside world. When he then adopts a stray cat – which he only does to break free of his writer’s block – he begins the slow process of reentering the society he left behind. Not only does the cat give him some companionship, but Subaru is also forced to interact with his fellow humans while taking care of his new pet.

Watching Subaru struggle with basic tasks is done less with pity and more with classic humor. It’s a joy to watch him get flustered with the shop clerk at the pet store or his extroverted editor. These lighter moments are balanced just enough with his regret over the loss of his parents and his still active period of grief. There’s more going on in the story than just a goofball not knowing how pets work, even though that’s plenty of the runtime. The cat’s point-of-view segments are a little strange but amusing nonetheless and help to fill out the small cast of characters.

My Roommate is a story focused on the two main characters: A man and his cat. It doesn’t have a lot of high stakes or excitement, but it’s a playful slice-of-life that isn’t afraid to explore less pleasant sides when it needs to. (By Paul Palumbo)

Rating: Recommended

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

Domestic Girlfriend

Domestic GirlfriendStudio: Diomedea

Director: Shouta Ibata

Main Voice Actor(s): Maaya Uchida (Rui), Yoko Hikasa (Hina), Taku Yashiro (Natsuo)

“Just now, I… lost my virginity.”

With no fanfare or corny music, this is the very first line of Domestic Girlfriend and sets the tone for the rest of the show. Our high school protagonist, Natsuo, has hesitantly agreed to have sex with a girl he had just met in order to distract himself from the romantic feelings he has for his teacher. Soon after, his father remarries and, lo’ and behold, the daughters of his now stepmom are that very same girl and teacher, Rui and Hina, respectively.

While the setup sounds like something straight out of an ecchi harem on paper, that is not the kind of story Domestic Girlfriend is trying to tell. Within the first three episodes, it has become abundantly clear that all three characters house their own distinct insecurities. Reminiscent of show’s like Scum’s Wish, the story aims to delve into the irrational, and sometimes ugly, side of love and the struggles that come along with it. There’s a morbid fascination inherent to the story as it’s made very painfully obvious that things will not end well.

All that said, the plot can be a tad too convenient for its own good. Beyond the one in a million chance of a basic setup, there are numerous other events that occur that border on deus ex machina levels of coincidental. It takes away some of the impact of the narrative since the coincidences take away from its believability. Hopefully, those instances become rarer as the plot progresses as the potential for a stellar drama is there. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended

Watch on Crunchyroll and HiDIVE

WATATEN!: an Angel Flew Down to Me

WATATENStudio: Doga Kobo

Director: Daisuke Hiramaki

Main Voice Actor(s): Maria Sashide (Hana), Reina Ueda (Miyako), Rika Nagae (Hinata), Akari Kito (Noa)

The popular meme that “Anime is trash” is a bit harsh, but absolutely vindicated by shows like WATATEN! Yet, for all the garbage that this loli-loving show is, I simply enjoy the ever-loving hell out of it.

WATATEN!, or Watashi ni Tenshi ga Maiorita!, is a comedy series about Miyako Hoshino, a shy college otaku. When Hinata, Miyako’s younger sister, brings home her friend Hana, Miyako is instantly smitten. With a fifth-grader. A fact that’s persistently brought up for laughs, feels, and everything in-between. The series follows Miyako in her slice-of-life (mis)adventures with her sister and her middle school friends.

Now, hear me out. Yes, it’s absolutely shlock. Yes, it’s a bit creepy. In spite of that, WATATEN! surprised me with how funny it could be. The gags are clever, the comedic timing is superb, and the characters are pretty fun and likable. Naturally, the sticking point of “this is a show about a college student being attracted to a middle schooler” raises all kinds of eyebrows. However, if you can buy into the premise WATATEN! is actually a lot of fun.

What certainly helps the show is that the wonderful studio, Doga Kobo, is animating it. Having done shows like Gabriel Dropout and Love Lab, Doga Kobo has excelled at heightening a material’s humor through excellent visuals and comedic timing.

WATATEN! is certainly not a series I’d recommend to, well, anyone. However, if you’re like me and enjoy moeblob slice-of-life’s, then you might just find this show to be up your alley. (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Recommended (on specific conditions)

 

 

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.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. Lareaertt

    February 11, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Goodbye.

    • Patrick Murphy

      February 11, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      I’m sorry that the comments haven’t been working properly! We’ll look into what happened.

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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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