Thursday, October 12, 2017

Manga Review : Gakuen Alice

“A thrilling roler-coaster of dramatic emotion which is surely going to embedded on your heart for the rest of your life.”

What is Gakuen Alice?

There exist an academy which houses those with special powers called Alice. Mikan Sakura, an elementary student of a countryside village forces her way to the academy to finally meet her best friend, Hotaru Imai, once again. However, there is something sinister hidden beneath that cheerful academy...

And what do I think of it?

First and foremost, the images of each pages of manga are from the website, so credits to them. I actually owns the entire volume of Gakuen Alice from volume 1 to 32 in my own language, but is too lazy to scan them all by myself.

Gakuen Alice is my personal favourite, my all-time best, and there is nothing I want to shower but praise to this godsend of a manga series. However, while reviewing this, I shall try to keep my personal taste in mind and be as critical as I could be. And of course, as spoiler-free as possible, though it might be hard to do so, and alas, you have been warned of a spoiler-alert in this paragraph. 

However, there is nothing I can say but praise at this point, since this manga series covers just about, well… Everything…

Comedy, check. Drama, check. Character development, check. Romantic progression, check.  And this comes from a manga that was originally created and marketed just for laughs, as apparent from volume 1-5. However, despite the cheerful and comedic setting of the manga, even as early as volume 2 has already planted the seeds for dramatic purposes that will eventually be realized in the later volumes.

However, by the time it came out, one could not stop but wonder how this manga series is attempting to mimic a particular wizardy school. Thankfully that approach was abandoned as the series progresses.

The manga opens with Mikan Sakura trying to stop Hotaru hopelessly from transferring to the Alice Academy. However, she was powerless as Hotaru was actually trying to save the school Mikan enrolled in the countryside, and thus, Mikan decides to follow Hotaru to that academy and meet her once again.

Her objective sounds totally idiotic, but it is the drive that keeps her motivated all the time, wanting to see her best friend once again. And the main theme of the manga, for the entirety of it’s run, is the importance of friendship to everyone.

At first, early volumes focuses on how Mikan and Hotaru interacted with each other in the academy, all while several comedic routines and goofing off happened at chapters after chapters. While it is focused on becoming a comedy series, there is a hint of seriousness planted in several chapters, most obvious on the whole volume 3, where Natsume, the male lead was kidnapped and Mikan seeks to save him. This only lasted for a volume, but it shows how the tone immediately shifts.

And several more comedy-focused volumes later, we come to volume 6, where the comedy was nowhere to be found and the manga goes full-blown action-like drama, where Mikan is trying to save her best friend. This whole arc focuses for an entire 3 volumes before it is finally resolved. Oh, and the author didn’t even hesitate to kill off a side character that was made for this arc and has finally gained the trust of both the reader and the cast. It was a shock to behold, and of course, a precursor of what to come.

The manga starts off goofing around from volume 1-5.

I don’t know whether it was Higuchi Tachibana’s storytelling prowess or the kind of write-as-you-go-along, but she displayed a masterclass story-telling in each and passing chapters, hiding all of the necessary details behind all the comedy antics and routine, it was a spectacle to behold, or more precisely, to read.

The author tried to return the series back to it’s roots, judging by the return of several setting such as the Central Town and the sorts, however, despite the comedy return, it could no longer contain the comedy as the dramatic tension would soon gave rise and, finally, paved way for a shift in tone, from a comedy to a drama, and lastly, tragic drama.

This new approach of tragic drama was really remarkable if I do say so myself. In my previous article, I mentioned how a shift in tone could change a series entirely and actually put Gakuen Alice as an example, and through this shift in tone, Gakuen Alice is changed forever. There is literally no way that people, who read Gakuen Alice from start to finish, remember Gakuen Alice as a comedy series as they would surely remember it as a tragic drama.

The comedy was later abandoned to a focus of a more drama-driven story.

Each plot would give rise to a new conflict, and before it was resolved, another conflict come and goes, before everything was partially resolved, albeit tragically. I was speechless whenever the conflict was resolved.  Truly a writing masterclass there by Higuchi Tachibana.

The best arc that the manga has to offer is arguably the Time Travel Arc, where Mikan and company are travelling through time and visited the past of her mother, where we learn the hardship and suffering that she has to go through before finally having to part with Mikan. It was painful, yet it truly builds the character of her mother perfectly. And she was so embedded to me that when the twist happened, I couldn’t stop the tears flowing from my eyes, despite the fact that I re-read the series just to review the manga.

Time travel arc lets us know how awesome Yuka is.

Speaking of characters, there are four main characters in this series, Mikan Sakura, Hotaru Imai, Natsume Hyuga, and Luca Nogi. 

Mikan is the main character and the central character, where the story revolves around her. When I say revolves around her, it truly revolves around her, where the story only moves if she gets involved and how people wanted to use her for their own ends. Her characterization was one of the best I have ever seen, as she matures as the series progresses. Once a childish girl who thinks of nothing but playing around, by the time the series is nearing it’s climax, her character has matured into that of a strong girl who is no longer reliant to others and instead, help others. Well, she is reliant since her power is useless, but in terms of character, she is the one who built the character of others.

Next is Hotaru Imai, my favourite character. Ever since she debuted, I know that there is something special on her, and yes, she showed a tsundere-like behavior where she constantly tortures Mikan, but secretly cares for her. She wished Mikan to always smile, even at the most dire of times, which is the thing that helped Mikan endure all the hardship that comes to her. And I also liked the fact that the author never forgot her special ability to procure useful gadgets at certain times, and the author even used that ability for several sticky situations, which helped her character to not being classified as useless. She can fight with her invention, mind you.

Then there’s Natsume and Luca. While Luca is nothing special, as he is just there for the sake of being there at times, Natsume is the most developed character in the series, aside from Mikan. While never discarding his sinister nature, he developed a caring personality for others and has his own way to deal with things, which makes him all the more popular to the audience. No wonder he kept netting the top spot at every character poll.

Oh, another thing I liked from the characters is the fact that the author has this tendency of rehashing several side characters into spotlight. The prime example of this is Mr. Bear, who was originally treated as a side character with violent tendency, especially towards Mikan. However, as the series progressed, this particular teddy bear became a valuable ally to Mikan and at certain point, so attached to Mikan that it refused to part with her. It was a moment for this side character that I could never forget.

There are plenty of characters in this series, so much that perhaps not everyone got their limelight. However, at least they served a purpose I think. As usual, whe speaking of characters, I’ll just limit myself to the main cast and several side characters. 

While the main cast is awesome, the side character is just equally awesome as well.

Despite the praises that I showered to this manga series, there are dozens of complaints that go along the way too. Nothing in this world is perfect, and it is for this manga as well.

First and foremost is the design of characters. While the author tried hard to differentiate each characters, I couldn’t help but notice similiarity in several characters, especially in earlier volumes. Some characters would resemble another, which makes it very hard to tell who’s who at first.

And secondly, and this is perhaps the biggest of my complaint, is their age. Mikan and company are still at elementary grades and is still around 12-13 years old. Thrusting them in such a complicated storytelling raises a question or two regarding morality, in my opinion. Sure, this is a manga series, where anything happens, but I just couldn’t help but notice this feeling that it is more proper that if they are at least on either middle or high school, instead of just still in elementary school. Even the newer characters introduced for the newer arcs are either in high schools or are already an adult, so… Yeah, there you have it. Last but not least, sometimes they [The kids] just looked like they're adults already.

Their age was a bit questionable to be honest.

And also, people might found it too complicated to swallow, as several dialogues are too long that the balloon to hold them are not wide enough, and therefore, forcing the text to be put into a very small fonts.

I liked the drawing style, as the manga focuses not only drawing a highly detailed expression and  character design, it also focuses on delivering a beautiful background scenery that is totally a bliss to look at. I was in awe on how much details was put on the background, such as lamps, furnitures, and even leaves. 

The great effort put on drawing the background was great.

If there’s anything I don’t like from the style is the fact that the manga has a hard time rendering a wound, opting to just use a simple saturation on the face or body, or even clothing, with bloods to signify that the character is hurt badly. And the worst example has to be Persona’s power. His alice is called the “Corrosion” alice and is used to corrode things badly until it dies, and when someone is affected by it, the manga opted to just either brushed the affected body with black saturations or just blackens it completely. It looks pretty bad and lazy in my opinion.

And lastly, the volume length of the series, which is just over 31, suggested that the series is pretty succesfull enough in Japan that the magazine greatly supported it up from start to finish.

All in all, Gakuen Alice is a terrific manga series masterfully authored by Higuchi Tachibana, who knows what to do and what to expect from the manga. It starts off very light and funny, but slowly alters it’s own genre and, in the process, rends the heart of those who read it. It is a mixture of thrilling and fantastic ride, where the ride is bumpy, but leads to a very great destination. There are several flawed things, but those trivial things could not hold back this great manga series from being so awesome.

This manga is highly reccomendable to those who seeks an emotionally wild-ride, but at the same time, can stomach the complicated settings and backstory it holds. Casual manga reader could read this series, but it is not advised, as they might found themselves scratching their head by the time they read volume 6.

Such a great manga series… Thanks for the ride. After re-reading it, I could not help myself but wonder what’s next in store for Higuchi Tachibana. Hopefully, that spin-off of this series would be reelased in my country, but I am not crossing my fingers.

The Good : Tragic drama tension somehow intensifies the series. Wonderfull story-telling which paid off long-term. Phenomenal character development. Beautiful backgrounds. Utilizing the cast fairly. Setting is unique. Tremendously-done plot twist that might caught people by surprise.

The Bad : The main characters’ age does not seem to fit the dramatic tension for some reason. Several characters look the same, save for several intricate details to help differentiate them. Texts are sometimes too long and too much. The style of implying wound is bad.

Highlight moment : Time-travelling Arc. Z-infiltration Arc.

Final Score : 5 out of 5. Even it’s many flaws cannot undo it’s masterclass writing. I don’t think there’s any manga that can top this series for me. Oh, and this is the first time I handed a series a perfect score.

All good things must come to an end, and than you for this wonderful series.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Anime Review : New Game! Season 2

New Game!! Season 2

“An improved sequel of an already good series that shows how much dramatical focus can impact a series as a whole”
What is New Game! Season 2?

The continuation of the New Game! That was originally came out in the 2016. The story follows Suzukaze Aoba and her exploits in her game company of Eagle Jump, where she will be joined by new cast and is going to create a new game.

So, what do I think about it?

And here we are again, 2017 and I am already watching the sequel of New Game! I am totally caught by surprise when Doga Kobo announced the continuation and was pleased to see it finally on the screen. Looks like 2017 is really the year of sequels, eh? Anyway, I just finished watching it last week and was totally in awe by how far the series have taken itself.

The series started once again with the shot of Yagami’s underwear, and this time, it was an extended version of it’s original one. Seeing that, I was a little bit put off, since I think New Game’s supposed fanservice are needless in the first season and that time, I thought that if the anime is going to focus on putting in a lot of fanservice, then it’s going to be a letdown.  Aside from the blatant fanservice shots and costumes, there are several low-angle cameraworks, which focuses on Hajime and Hifumi, that I am not fond of, since it is a rather out of sight fanservice to me.

And yes, while the fanservice is more abundant than before, as the character with the ample body gets a lot of fanservices during the progression of the story, it could not really match the actual improvement of the series.

The fanservice are even abundant than before.

And with an added low-key cameraworks featuring Hajime and others.

The series’ improvement as a whole is it’s apparent focus on capitalizing the dramatical aspect that was found in the manga series. I’ve actually read the New Game manga from the beginning and was shocked when I found out that the manga was putting some remarkable dramatical aspect that totally impacted the character, and the anime saw fit to pick that up and continue the trend as well.

For a series which was marketed as a comedic slice of life series, this came as a total surprise to both the audiences and reviewers alike, as that focus allowed the series to flesh out the character really well, but still keeping the comedic aspect that makes New Game what it is. It does not lose any of it’s original identity, instead, it improves upon it, and was a welcome addition.

Despite the dramatic tension that the show brought with...
The show did not lose its original identity

As I said, since the comedy was traded for a better storytelling, the comedy seems a bit weaker and less frequent than in the first season. Despite all that, the comedy can still incite a bit of laughter since New Game is really adept at creating a great comedic situation, largely thanks to it’s colorful cast.

The character development gets a total nod for the series. The chemistry of all the character are improved very well and they are even more fun to watch now than in the first season. Kudos to the chemistry between Nene and Umiko, which had me looking for them all over during every instances of watching the new episodes of this sequel.

Nene and Umiko's chemistry remained the most must-see in the show.

And like I said, the character development was really well-done here, as each and every character received their own focus part so that their character can be fleshed out for us to understand. This was the right move to use, as the first season was used to introduce most of the main cast, the second season should be used to flesh out their character very well so we can understand them. In my opinion, any anime that is going to have a second season should put this mindset into production before going through with it.  

For example, the naturally shy and introvert Hifumi was given so much development time that she became much more expressive and actually cares about others in the second season and much more lovable than before.

At first, I was caught by surprise of how much focus was put on Hifumi and almost thought that she was the new character of the series that replaces Aoba completely, as the first half of the series places her much more in the center and largely ignored Aoba altogether, though the second half of the series finally places her back into the focus. 

Aoba, on the other hand, was focused heavily during the second half of the series and during several bits of the first half.  During the first half of the series, her proposal of new game was through but she was aware of how her lack of contributions in that project and was bothered by it. However, she resolves her own problem and was able to mature perfectly in the second season.

Hifumi was given much of the spotlight during the first half.

Though Aoba gets her own focus later.

However, there was still someone who provided support that she can only do best, Hazuki Shizuku. Hazuki remains playing her bits in the background, all while providing the support to the main cast, regardless of the hardship that they are facing. Like before, she appears sporadically, but whenever she shows up, it’s not just for laugh all the time and she was providing the cast with the help that she knows that only she can give. It was her who helped new character in the series break the ice with the main cast, and it was her who gives the main cast the push that they need to become better. Hats off to her for remaining relevant whilst still in the background.

Hazuki remains a background support, a role she shines at.

Not just them though, the rest of the cast are given their ample time to develop their characters very well and by the end of this sequel, we all know how relevant their character and how we all can relate to them and actually cares about them.

I can spend pages and pages talking about characters, but for now, let’s stop talking about the main cast and focus on the newer character that arrived in the series. There are 3 new characters for this sequel, though all of them finally settles in the second half of the series.

The French-born Yamato was the first character introduced and she makes a negative impact as soon as she appears by getting on the team’s bad side. Although, due to the interference from someone who excels at giving support to troubled character, she was finally able to befriend the team.

There are several inclusion of new characters, such as Yamato.

As well as Naru and Momiji, a new employee of Eaglejump.

She was not the most impactful new character though. It was Momiji and Naru that carries more impact and value in this second season. Both of them was hiding their true intention for the remaining second half up until the end and were irritating at certain point. Momiji had embedded in her mindset to expel a hostile aura whenever she is with Aoba, and Naru had this very condescending attitude where she just shots down Nene with her mean comments, though Nene was able to power through those mean comments with her sheer positivity. In the end, we all learned of why their character was so irritating and condescending later in the series, and all that negativity and disdain I had for them suddenly dissipates as I learned their reasoning for such behavior.

That marks a well-written character development there. At first, we hated them, though later, due to a sheer writing value that sees them develop their character pretty well, we all can set aside our disdain toward them and channel our inner heart to see their apparent reasoning and finally, be relatable to them. The writing team here deserves a full thumbs up for that.

Thanks to a well-written characterization.

The disdain was set aside and both Naru and Momiji are now likable.

Despite all that great thing I said for the character, there is one thing I absolutely disliked for the treatment of one character. Hoshikawa Hotaru, Nene and Aoba’s friend in high school was treated as if she was an afterthought. Despite the impact that she had for both Nene and Aoba in their earlier time, she was not given enough screentime for us to understand her character, save for the fact that she looks like Hajime, a lot like her, save for the different hair and eye color.

Hotaru was not given any focus whatsoever.

There’s more I could say, but the more specific things I said, the more I spoil the story for everyone who read this review.

Music were great and continues to impress me as it fits every major scene that it should have accompanied. Animations were smooth as well, and it was colorful enough to saw it very different from any other anime series. Last but not least, the voice actings were great, but not as remarkable as before.

However, my complaint remains the same, which is the background. The background, while remaining colorful, remains strictly prohibited at the Eaglejump company, especially the character team’s booth. Sure, the series takes us to a new location once in a while, but it was not remarkable enough.

Oh, the development of their second game, PECO, was totally in full-view here and it gives us a little bit more insight regarding the game-development in a company, such as how the people are allowed to pitch in their proposal and if it is interesting enough to the director and sponsor, as well as the higher-ups,  it could be developed into a full-fledged game, and regarding the advertisement, and so on. Oh, and I I liked the design and gameplay of PECO and would definitely buy the game if that game ever came up in real life.

I liked the game within the series, PECO. Was it an Umaru teaser?

All in all, this was a great second season that really improved upon it’s predecessor. It improved where the first season was lacking a little bit, which is shared character development for the entire cast. Sure the first season was really great at delivering character development, but it is only to some character and not everyone gets their focus arbitrally. The comedy was toned down due to the newfound dramatic aspect that the series is going for, but it was a welcome addition for the series and the series story was great once again. There’s only several things that hampered the series, such as the remaining fanservices and one character being left out, but as a whole, the series is very  much a complete one.

The shift in tone might merit a change in audience as well, since this is no longer a just your typical run of the mill slice of life series, but one with the dramatic spices added. In order to understand the story and character very well, watching the first season is a necessity.

All in all, the ambition was realized.

Does the series now merits a third season? That is okay, but for now, the conclusion was very well done and serves as a great ending for a great series. 

The Good: Dramatical aspect of the series was realized upon. Top-class character development that was masterfully done. Storyline was better than before and was well-written. Good comedy.  Unlike before, Hazuki did not carry the show from the background and allowed the cast to carry the show themselves. Development of their new game, PECO, was great.

The Bad: Unnecesarry fanservice. Jokes and comedy bits are toned down. One character was left out of the development writing.

Highlight Moments: Aoba and Yagami working together for their game proposal. Naru's revelation. The ending scene. Honestly, there's too much and if i say more, i'd just spoil even more.

Final Score : 4.5 out of 5. The seeds of dramatic ambitions that the series planted early in the series worked very well to make this an even better sequel to the original.

A great show that follows an already great series