The Place Where Shame Goes to Die: Welcome Back, Alice Volume Three

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It seems as though a lot of questions from the last volume have been answered relatively quickly, but maybe that is a bad thing? or maybe it is a good thing and I am just using that sentence structure for rhetorical effect. Either way, let’s talk about it.

In volume three of Welcome Back, Alice, Yohei finally gets what he wants. At least, Yohei gets what he thought he wanted in his relationship with Mitani. However, her prohibition on interacting with Kei at all leaves him with a seemingly much stronger yearning for his childhood friend. Mitani, meanwhile, deals with her own insecurities, most stemming from Kei’s transition, and largely takes it out on her new boyfriend.

Kei’s Identity

Something I have noticed, which was also pointed out by the “Reception” section of the manga’s Wikipedia page, is that Kei’s identity as non-binary feels…well, dismissed. Sure, it is true that everyone, except Yohei and Mitani, is pretty excepting of Kei’s identity in a way that feels genuine.

However, the use of “he” by every character other than Kei kind of undermines that identity and the whole mission statement of the series. Up until this point I had been using “they” to address Kei as a character, which felt more correct given the initial volume. Kei himself says explicitly that he does not identify as a guy.

I do not mean to come across as quick to label the series “problematic,” because that is not my intention. However, it does feel like a big oversight on Oshimi’s part, one that ultimately serves to weaken the message of the story by placing Kei back in the masculinity that he explicitly rejects at the start of his introduction.

Mitani and Heterosexual Attraction

The more of this series I read, the more my theory about Oshimi’s writing style feels correct. If Kei represents a sort of radical sex and queer positive life that might be better for Yohei, Mitani very much represents traditional heterosexuality, with all the pros and cons that come with that.

On the one hand, being with Mitani means Yohei will not have to worry about being judged by his peers. His life remains stable but is maybe not be what he truly wants. On the other, a relationship with Kei comes with the societal stigma of Kei’s identity (and maybe his own but that remains to be seen) but ultimately still feels like the choice that will make him happiest.

There is also a sense of betrayal and manipulation that comes with their newfound relationship. When Yohei tries to kiss Mitani and is rejected, she admits that “[she] thought she could love [him],” implying that her confession was more a way to drive a wedge between him and Kei. The whole thing feels messed up in a way that represents the toxicity present in a lot of heterosexual relationships.

Decision Point

Yohei is clearly under a lot of pressure in the context of the story. Navigating relationships, especially romantic ones that challenge societal norms, is not always the easiest task to handle mentally. However, as mentioned before, he is presented with a serious decision to make.

At the risk of making too many comparisons. the setup is fairly similar to The Flowers of Evil. Both main characters are forced to comply with a set of socially acceptable boundaries, for they risk revealing something that society might deem disturbing. Both even go as far as to comment on young male sexuality. However, Welcome Back, Alice feels more purposeful in its attempts to do so.

Predictions

At this point, it feels hard to say what will happen. Oshimi tends to make pretty sudden plot-related shifts. Still, it seems as though whatever decision Yohei is planning on making, romantically at least, will probably happen in the next volume. If it does not, however, it will likely mean some serious social consequences.


How do you feel about Welcome Back, Alice? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Spy x Family

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“huh, I never thought I’d get this far” -Plankton

Well, it has been less than a month, and I have already covered or started covering most of the stuff I wanted to since coming back. On top of that, being four-plus weeks late on seasonal stuff means now is as good a time as any to go through some of the stuff I wasn’t able to talk about in 2022. With that being said, Spy x Family

Yor Forger

The show’s first cour was a lot of fun, and there really was not a ton to complain about outside of Yor feeling a bit less developed as a character than Loid or Anya. On that front…well, actually, Idk. Yor definitely did get some moments in the season’s second half, but it felt like a lot of those moments were connected to Loid or Anya as opposed to the fact that she is an assassin, a fact that feels continually lost outside of some recurring bits or an occasional laugh.

My expectation, maybe wrongfully placed, was that her assassin job would start to come into conflict with the family dynamic, even if only as a minor plot point in an episode or two. However, that simply is not the case, and it makes Yor feel a bit more like a supporting character than one of the main ones. This is not to her screen time is unenjoyable, only that she feels a bit forgotten about.

The Goodest of Boys

Granted, a lot of the reason for Yor’s lack of focus probably has to do with the introduction of Bondman, Anya’s adopted pet whose introduction takes up three episodes. Again, not complaining, since he feels right at home (literally and metaphorically) with the rest of the family.

His ability to predict the future due to the numerous scientific experiments performed on him by the government gives the series an interesting new dynamic, one that even saves Yor’s life due to Anya’s having read his mind. Bondman is also just goofy and funny in a way that adds a lot to the show’s comedic bits.

Romantic Rivalry

One more important introduction during this season is Fiona, another spy from Loid’s agency who also just happens to be madly in love with him. This is so much the case that she attempts to take Yor’s place in the mission to contact Desmond, which fails miserably and hilariously multiple times.

The two also go on a mission towards the end of the season to recover an important piece of art and the whole time she is just fawning over him, barely paying attention to the mission. It was the biggest example of the “does he know” meme but in an anime, which, again, contributed to the comedic elements of the series.

The Climax

Spy x Family ends the season with Loid’s first interaction with Desmond, brought about by Damian’s desire to see him after being stuck in school for the whole year. Of course, the risk of being found out as a spy by a member of the Ostanian government makes the who situation feel as tense as it probably should.

The series spends a lot of time building up Desmond as this monster who cannot be stopped. Thus, when Loid interacts with him in person, there is a sense of who he really is, a stuffy, rich government official who feels as suffocating as the evil he represents.

Conclusion

Most of my feelings about part one carry over here: The show is well-animated with beautiful action scenes, the music still slaps (including the new opening and ending), and the show has a great balance between comedy and serious moments that don’t feel the need to constantly overtake one another. Thus, my comments here are fairly limited. For those who have yet to watch one of the most hyped-up shows of the last few years, give it a chance, because it does live up.

85/100


How do you all feel about Spy x Family? Let me know in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Initial Results: Naoki Urasawa’s Monster

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(Spoilers for the first for episodes, so if you want to go in blind feel free to click off).

Going into a series with a lot of critical acclaim can sometimes be nerve-wracking, not because I care about having the “wrong” opinion or whatever, but more because it feels like I might be missing something that would significantly affect my enjoyment of the series way or another. With the anime adaptation of Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, however, I do not really get that feeling. What makes the series the incredibly nerve-wracking psychological thriller it is known to be is very much self-contained, in a way that often makes one feel like they are there watching the events of the story in person.

For those unaware, Monster tells the story of Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a genius neurosurgeon who moved to Germany from Japan in order to study medicine. However, his fairly cushy life goes from looking up to depressing when defying the orders of his hospital director/future father in law leaves him without his position as the head of neurosurgery and the ire of the other doctors at the hospital. What is worse, the patient he chose to save when defying said orders turns out to be a serial killer, one who seems likely to haunt him.

One thing that stands out about this series is how terrifying the atmosphere can be at times. The show uses a lot of muted colors in order to create a feeling of stuffiness which is often associated with hospitals, which is where much of the opening episodes take place. However, this also has the affect of drawing attention to colors when they do appear, such as with blond hair and the uniforms of police. This makes it more likely that people will focus on certain characters, such as Johan.

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Speaking of Johan, though I cannot speak to the strength of his motivations for becoming a serial killer, it is a fascinating development. Dr. Tenma, for better or for worse, made what he thought was a moral decision that ultimately came back to bite him. In fact, the name Monster along with the series general setting and aesthetic feels reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in a way that feels too intentional to be coincidence. Not a direct allusion, per say, but certainly an interesting nod to the classic western novel.

Dr. Tenma, meanwhile, at least at this point in the story, feels like an unfortunate victim. After all, how was he supposed to know that saving a kid and then getting angry at his fellow co-workers was going to result in a home-grown murderer? Going back to the Frankenstein comparison, he very much feels like a modern interpretation of Victor, someone who is trying to do right by others but ends up making a terrible decision in the pursuit of morality. Though, Tenma almost certainly deserves this less than Victor did his punishment.

Seeing the politics of the hospital was also fairly interesting as well. It is clear that the director, before he dies anyway, only cares about himself. The same is also true of his daughter and Tenma’s ex-fiancĂ© Eva, who seems to be coasting through life off of her father’s success. Despite the fact that Tenma is innocent, his connection to Johan puts that innocence in question, given that he does have a motive for killing the director and the other doctors.

The show is in a great place, both stylistically and narratively. Even though it has only been four episodes for me, I can certainly understand why this series has been given so much praise in the past. From what I have read, however, it does not seem as though Netflix has the full series just yet, so it might be a while before I do actually finish it. Still, it will probably be worth the wait.


How do you feel about Naoki Urasawa’s Monster? Let me know down in the comments.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting the blog on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Decisions and Thrills: Welcome Back, Alice Vol. 2

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First off, I want to say it was a good idea to let this series grow a bit more before writing it off entirely. Whereas the opening chapters are a bit more based on the shock value and spectacle of Kei’s character, the chapters in volume two get much more into the meat and potatoes of the overall story.

Volume two focuses largely on the aftermath of Yohei and Mitani’s meeting with Kei at their apartment. Yohei has clearly developed what he considers to be complicated feelings as Kei, at least in his mind, is still a guy. Mitani seems to have the same complicated feelings and even admits to him that she still has some residual attraction to Kei. However, Yohei is still attracted to Mitani, creating a weird, dishonest love triangle that feels destined to fail.

Oshimi as a Writer

I mentioned near the end of my discussion of volume one that the main trio of Welcome Back, Alice felt like characters that were purposely written to embody certain stereotypes. While I do still feel that is the case, it feels a bit incomplete as an analysis. Rather, it is much more accurate to say that Oshimi’s characters are often inhabited as much by concepts as they are personalities. At least, it feels like this is the case more so than with other authors.

Taking Yohei as the easiest example, his character feels very much like a teenage boy, at least as far as his personality is concerned. However, he also represents what it means to be an average Japanese teenager raised in a heteronormative environment. Kei makes him uncomfortable not just because they have a tendency to violate personal space rather quickly, but because their identity is fundamentally at odds with Yohei’s limited worldview.

Yohei spends the entirety of the volume grappling with both the character of Kei as well as the concept of a deconstructing gender binary, as well as what it means for those who were close friends to socially transition. Oshimi does a lot of similar things in The Flowers of Evil and the opening chapters of Inside Mari, as well. Although, dissecting those would just make this unreadably long, so I will save that for another post.

A Tendency for Thrills

This idea of characters embodying concepts also contributes well to the author’s affinity for psychological thriller-style stories. In a way, it reminds me a lot of the way Jordan Peele has tackled concepts surrounding black identity in his more recent movies, like Get Out, Us, or Nope. Both writers utilize characters to their fullest, not just as the basis for interpersonal conflict but as a bulwark for ideas they wish to discuss.

This is not to say that all of these properties have the same sense of scale or stakes. I know this might be a stretch, but gender, sexual orientation, and racism are all, in fact, different concepts. Additionally, all of them present unique problems under which the characters themselves are forced to make decisions. However, it is interesting to see two different writers with vastly different social and cultural experiences tackle ideas in a similar way.

Yohei’s Decision

Bringing the discussion back to the series itself, I do love the way this volume ends. Chapter 10 sees Yohei make a choice: Be with Mitani, the thing he has wanted for literal years, but at the cost of not being able to hang out with Kei. Yohei, not realizing Kei was hiding in their closet while he confessed inside their apartment, seems to immediately regret his decision. He is not entirely sure about his feelings and is put in a scenario where he has to make a rather absolute decision.

This is where Mitani’s character becomes a lot more interesting. Rather than accepting Kei’s new identity, she opts to use Yohei’s very obviously conflicted feelings against him as a way of spiting Kei. Kei has similar romantic feelings for Yohei, but, as demonstrated by their conversation before he arrives, has a different view of what it means to love someone.

Predictions

Much like last time, I do not have any strong predictions. However, my hope is that Oshimi will continue to respect the weight of the topics he is grappling with, which, from his author blurbs at the end, seems likely.


Have you read any Welcome Back, Alice? How do you feel about the series thus far? Let me know down in the comments. Also, if you’re interested in reading this series or the aforementioned Flowers of Evil, Bookwalker is doing a sale on both until the 23rd, which is probably tomorrow from when this post comes out. Not sponsored, but figured I would highlight it regardless.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for being a supporter on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Secondary Findings January 2023

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Well, it is still the first month of the year, and what better way to start off the year than by sharing some of my more recent favorite things with you, the lovely readers? Also, a slight change in format: for the sake of general organization, I am going to start dividing everything by medium (i.e. movies, tv shows, books, etc) so people can find things a bit easier.

For those who are reading for the first time, Secondary Findings is a series where I talk briefly about all the stuff that is either not anime or manga related or that would not be talked about otherwise. It is a fun way to share a little more about me while hopefully putting people on to some cool media that I enjoy.

Music

First up, here is some of the music I have been enjoying:

Hypochondriac by Brakence

If there was ever an album worth being annoying about, it is this one. I did a favorite album of 2022 list over on my other site, and this…this came in first by a pretty comfortable margin. Elements of emo and math rock, hyperpop, hip-hop, EDM, and pop, basically all of my favorite genres, come together to make one of the most memorable and infectious listening experiences to date. Absolutely slaps.

I Didn’t Mean to Haunt You by Quadeca

Though I certainly was not as big on this album as some others, it does represent a pretty big artistic shift in Quadeca’s career. It is not always the easiest to listen to, but as an experience it is probably one of the most interesting things one could listen to from last year. Of course, concept albums work much better when listened to all the way through. However, more specifically, check out the songs “tell me a joke” and “fractions of infinity” featuring the Sunday Service Choir. It really is some magical stuff.

Games

Now for the games.

Coffee Talk

Even after just a couple hours of gameplay, the charm of this game shines through tremendously. Although, “gameplay” is maybe not the right word for what is otherwise just a visual story where you occasionally mix together ingredients and try your best to do latte art.

Still, it is an imaginative world where the political implications of a fantasy-esc alternate universe with fairies, orcs, vampires, werewolves, and others are filtered through the door of an otherwise ordinary late-night coffee shop run by none other than yourself. It is a great game, especially for people like me who find themselves up late at night with nothing better to do. Might not be worth the almost 15-dollar price tag for some, but I still recommend it wholeheartedly.

Persona 5 Royal

*insert 200-hour-long JRPG joke here*

I started Persona 5 Royal back in 2020, and somehow never found the time to finish it during the global pandemic…huh, funny how that works. However, since graduating college left me with a lot more time on my hands, I figure why not give it another shot?

The game is really solid mechanically and narratively, with Royal more or less improving on just about every aspect of the original. There are more side characters as well as more things to do with your days in between dungeons. However, Persona 5 has always been a franchise more focused on aesthetics, at least for me, and it does that very well. The soundtrack of this game alone is reason enough to at least check it out. Obviously, finding the time to complete a game this long can be tough for people with busy schedules, but for those who are looking for a fun time sink and somehow have not heard about this game, well, here ya go.

YouTube

Here are some videos/channels I think are worth watching.

SugarPunch

I basically spent a good two hours just binging videos from this channel and man was it a good time. SugarPunch focuses primarily on fighting games and their most famous series breaks down the use of various fighting styles in said games, including their history and implementation across various titles.

However, my personal favorite video is linked above and goes into the history of queer representation in fighting games, which to my pleasant surprise is quite abundant. The video is a little bit outdated in regards to the section on Guilty Gear since Bridget was confirmed in canon to be a trans woman upon her release in Strive, but otherwise, it is a great video. Overall, a really fun channel, even for people who are not the biggest fans of the genre.

Smosh Pit

Anyone who was on the internet, specifically YouTube, in the late 2000s and early 2010s probably stumbled across a Smosh video, even if it was by accident. The whole thing has become a lot more… corporate, with one of the original creators Anthony Padilla leaving a few years ago. However, if one good thing has come out of the brand since then, it would be Smosh Pit, specifically their version of a “try not to laugh” series using prop comedy. Something about the regulars they have along with the assortment of guests makes it where the video can go from relatively dry and clean humor to entirely unhinged in a matter of one skit.

Blogs

I’ve never done a blog section in this series, for some reason, so I figured it might be time to change that.

I drink and watch anime – Irina

Part of the reason might be that I am really bad about keeping up with my fellow bloggers. However, if there is one person who I do read pretty consistently, on the part of her putting out genuinely interesting content, it is Irina. I have mentioned her a few time on the site back when it was going by different names, and her perspective on a lot of series and issues within the medium of anime have stayed incredibly thoughtful and reflective.

She recently wrote a piece about the “adorable glutton” trope that pops up in a lot of cute girls doing cute things type series, and it genuinely made me stop and think for a bit about just how much issues of implicit bias towards heavier people go unchecked in media. So yeah, do yourself a favor and go read some more stuff from her. When she’s not being incredibly thought-provoking, which is rare, she’s also recommending anime series-based drinking games and various alcoholic beverages to do them with.

The Afictionado – Alex Henderson

This is another blog that I have been reading for a while, but have yet to properly shout out for just how awesome it is. Given her Doctoral work focusing on young adult literature, Henderson’s writing, even about more casual and very odd anime, takes a decidedly more academic tone and approach, something I try and ultimately fail and replicating.

However, Henderson also has an impressive body of work outside of the blogosphere and academia. One of my favorite articles, as it relates to anime, is one she wrote about Spy x Family and its relationship with queer families. Queer representation is something I try to talk about as much as I can, and I have learned a lot just from reading her articles, so please do yourself another favor and go check out her work as well.


And that, my friends, is pretty much all of what I have been consuming outside of anime and manga recently. Normally these end up being quarterly posts since I do end up reviewing most of the stuff I consume in any given week or month.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Bocchi the Rock

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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What? you’re telling me they remade K-ON? oh boy, can’t wait to review i- oh, wait, never mind.

Actually, that intro is kind of insulting to Bocchi the Rock, since K-ON is definitely worse in like every way, but I will save that conversation for a Feeding the Flames post (whenever that comes out).

Bocchi was a show that was not at all on my radar until the beginning of this year, and considering the amount of backlog I have from just 2022, I was skeptical about giving it a chance. However, after watching anitwitter go crazy for it week after week, I caved and ultimately gave in to my own curiosity.

For those unaware, Bocchi the Rock is adapted from a four-panel manga of the same name, detailing the adventures of Hitori Gotoh, a high school first year who spent the last three years of her life learning guitar and making solo covers of popular songs in her closet and uploading them to YouTube under the name Guitarhero. Her dream, however, is to overcome her extreme social ineptitude, make friends, and form a band where she can become famous, and it seems as though she might finally get that chance.

Bocchi is…Cool

Any show that focuses heavily on one character is, of course, going to live or die depending on how that character is perceived. It is unlikely that a show like Naruto would be as well-liked by fans if the character was poorly written and hard to root for.

Though I certainly would not call Bocchi poorly written, by any means, she…well, has a pretty abrasively introverted personality. For her, even thinking about archetypical high school summer romances or bonding with friends is enough to send her into a spiral, mostly because she then has to think about how she can’t enjoy any of that.

Granted, none of this is inherently a bad thing. The socially incompetent loner trope is one that anime is all too familiar with, especially given the audience that anime as a medium tends to attract. That said, Bocchi’s character does ride a pretty fine line when it comes to enacting that personality, and sometimes it can be a bit grating.

I do understand that its source material and the format thereof do kind of limit the possible character development since four-panel manga are made for quick witty punchlines. However, given the fact that the anime does set up her desire to grow as a person, having her overreact in literally every situation can get a tad annoying.

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Band Life, Baby!

Luckily, though, the show also has a great supporting cast to balance out the semi-repetitive bits that pop up around Bocchi. This includes Nijika, the band’s drummer and usually the one with her head on straight, as well as Ryou, the bassist who can be generally dubbed the “weird one,” and then Kita, the band’s vocalist and second guitarist whose outgoing, extroverted attitudes often clashes with the other three in admittedly hilarious ways.

There are a number of others as well, all of whom are also generally likable and fun to see on screen, most notable of which are Nijika’s sister Seika, who is the manager and owner of Starry, the club where they often perform, along with Bocchi’s family. A lot of the humor in the show usually derives from one or more of the supporting cast contrasting their relatively normal personalities against Bocchi’s often insane delusions about where her life will be and her relationship with performing

Though this can be somewhat grating as previously mentioned, enough of the bits are focused on other characters so that it does always feel like Bocchi is the center of attention, even though she is supposed to be.

Still, even when the show is not trying to be funny, it does land quite a bit with its more thoughtful and reflective moments. Music is clearly a passion for the characters it affects, and Bocchi’s story of overcoming social anxiety and making friends, when not being played up to the extreme, is genuinely heartwarming. The passion the bandmates share for their work is something that feels real, and it is much appreciated.

Visual Humor

There are two comedy anime in the last year that have actually made me laugh out loud multiple times: Kaguya-sama: Love is War and Bocchi the Rock and the reason why is actually pretty similar between the two. I talked about visual humor a lot over the course of my reviews of Kaguya-sama, and one of the things that made it work, especially in later seasons, is its ability to execute jokes really well, playing up each character’s defining personality traits or central conflicts with visually stimulating elements.

Though, there is definitely a difference in approach stylistically. Whereas Kaguya-sama often opts to play into ideas surrounding high school romance and uses its visual humor to express how characters are feeling about the social ideas, Bocchi leans way more into an absurdist style of humor, with a healthy dose of anime, internet, and musical references mixed in for good measure.

Part of this simply comes from it being a four-panel manga originally. From what I understand, other adaptations like Azumanga Daioh approach their stories with similar humor. However, Bocchi brings its own unique flare, always coming back to the aforementioned absurdism influenced heavily by what would more accurately be described as “gen z” or “chronically online” humor.

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Looks Good, Feels Good

In that regard, the anime also just looks really solid. Cloverworks as a studio has been on the come-up recently (outside of The Promised Neverland season two but we can just ignore that for now). Even so, more of the credit should probably be going towards director Keiichirou Saitou and animation director/character designer Kiyoki Rikuta, because a lot of this show just would not work if it were not for how amazing it looks, especially during its visual gags.

Oh Right, It’s a Music Anime

Somehow I almost forgot to talk about the music in this BAND anime. Whoopsie. The music is…well, a lot better than I expected, especially the songs directly related to the girls as a band. Sonically it sounds like normal J-rock that I would hear turning on any Japanese Spotify playlist. However, I do appreciate the lyrical segments of the songs and how they feel like a combination of everyone’s more eclectic personalities.

The soundtrack was also pretty solid if maybe a little bit more on the unremarkable side. However, I suppose in a way it kind of works, since the show is focusing more on the girls’ early period as a band. So, yeah, not bad.

Conclusion

I actually ended up watching a fair bit more in 2022 than expected, but even so, Bocchi definitely ranks toward my top end. It certainly is not making any grand artistic statements about society or the universe, but what it does have to say in combination with its well-executed humor and only slightly obnoxious main character hits where it needs to. Definitely something worth checking out.

80/100


How did you feel about Bocchi the Rock? Let me know down in the comments.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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Shuzo Oshimi’s Latest Work: Welcome Back, Alice (Vol. 1)

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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(This one gets a bit weird, even for manga anime standards, so if you’re easily grossed out maybe skip this one for now).

*Terrible impression of Jerry Seinfeld* “What’s the deal with gender? and sex? get outta hereeee.”

Oshimi’s The Flowers of Evil is still one of the wildest experiences I have had with a manga to this day. It is a psychological thriller in mostly the best way possible, letting you feel everything the main character feels as his life becomes a spiraling mess. I never ended up watching the anime, but from what I saw of the promotional material…yeah the manga was a significantly better choice.

Of course, that manga is, at this point, over 10- wait, Flowers of Evil is almost 15 years old…anyway, his newest series, which started back in 2020, is called Welcome Back, Alice, and has a decidedly similar character set up and tone to his most successful work. I say this not as a diss, but merely an observation, for thematic reasons which we will get into shortly.

First, though, for those unaware, a quick mostly spoiler-free summary of the opening volume: Yohei is a loner middle school kid who all of a sudden becomes friends with a boy named Kei and a girl named Yui. The group gets close until Kei moves away. When the three meet up again in high school, pre-existing romantic feelings get complicated when Kei comes to school dressing like a girl, and saying they no longer identify with either gender.

Ok, for anyone interested just based off of that quick summary, just go ahead and read it, it’s weird but interesting. For everyone else, strap in.

So, That Just Happened

Well, Oshimi is nothing if not a little bit weird. Ok, actually “a little” is putting it lightly. I mentioned The Flowers of Evil at the beginning because as far as the overall tone and setup the manga are actually remarkably similar, at least as far as the coming-of-age set-up and deeply horny main character.

Also, I do not know if this is just me being dumb, but the opening chapter was just kind of confusing on a text level because the characters that were not Yohei kept shortening his name to Yo, which felt more like a general greeting than a nickname so the part about them being friends prior felt very tenuous.

Which, even without the confusion, it still kind of does, as most middle school friendships do. This feels especially true after Yohei sees Yui confessing to Kei behind the gym building, after which the middle school crush jealously kicks in, and their relationship sours. Que the time skip and Kei’s transition and we get to the real meat and potatoes of the story.

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Oshimi’s Take on a Non-Binary Character

For what it is worth coming from a random internet critic, I do things it is still noteworthy to have a stated Non-binary main character from an otherwise relatively notable mangaka (I say main character because it feels pretty obvious that Kei is the focal point and will as or more important than the other two). Representation has come a decent way but is still far from perfect.

What’s more, that representation does seem to matter to the overall story. Yohei starts the story with a fairly normal heterosexual crush on Yui, but ultimately ends the volume with the two of them reevaluating their feelings towards Kei.

Oshimi states at the end of the volume that the story is about exploring male hypersexuality and ultimately how fragile it can be. As far as motivations for writing a story, I think this makes sense, especially at a time when that same hypersexuality drives a lot of internet grifters telling men that being cold and misogynistic is the best way to get women along with reinforcing decades-old stereotypes about queer people.

Still, using your only genderqueer character in a way that portrays that as not just hypersexual but very willing to violate boundaries for no reason might not be the best way to do it. It is one thing to say stereotypes are bad, but it is another thing entirely to do that while also then reinforcing those stereotypes. Ultimately, the story has yet to cover much ground, in the first volume, and Oshimi is an intelligent enough writer that it feels worth giving it more time.

The Art

Oshimi’s art sits in a weird place for me, because while I would by no means call it bad, he also probably would not make my top mangaka artists list any time soon. It comes with a sense of realism that, while mostly uneventful, becomes infinitely more detailed in the moments when the story ramps up, or when he wants you to experience the same intense feelings as the characters.

The same is true of Welcome Back, Alice, with the backgrounds often being solid but uneventful, which fits the more intimate subject matter of the story. If the author were making his debut attempt at an expansive shonen action series, I would probably be a bit more disappointed, though.

The character designs, on the other hand, do feel unique and in line with the personalities they are supposed to represent. Kei is much more boyish and feminine even before presenting as such. Yohei looks like a typical middle-school/high-school nerd (and certainly acts like it). Yui looks like…well, a girl that it would be totally reasonable to have a crush on if you’re a nerd idk. Saying they look stereotypical feels more like a compliment in this case given that it appears to be the focus of the story.

Predictions

After Flowers of Evil, it honestly feels like a wasted effort to try and guess where this man will be taking his story. That being said, I do expect it to be significantly more unhinged as time goes on, but hopefully in a good way? Like I said, the dude’s an intelligent writer, I just hope the significance of the subject matter is not lost on him as the story goes on.

As of right now, the manga has four volumes in English and 30ish chapters. So, assuming I like the story enough to get that far, I’ll probably continue to cover it on a weekly or biweekly basis until I catch up.


Have you read Welcome Back, Alice? Let me know your (spoiler-free) thoughts in the comments below.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for the support on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Chainsaw Man (Anime)

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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While I did not get to talk about it at all during its run, anyone with even surface-level knowledge of the medium could have told you that 2022 was expected to be the year of Chainsaw Man. Indeed, even other notable manga adaptations like Lucifer and the Biscuit Hammer did not drive nearly as much conversation (mostly because of how bad it was but that is a different post entirely).

To be clear, the hype around the series has been there since early 2021, when the manga was starting to pick up steam. Still, in light of, and maybe also because of, the aforementioned disappointment that was Biscuit Hammer, there were some questions about whether Chainsaw Man‘s anime debut would live up to the expectations of die-hard fans. Then again, MAPPA as a studio has been on the relative upswing in terms of what they chose to adapt recently, and even a lesser adaptation could probably be carried by just how fucking awesome the material is.

So, did Tatsuki Fujimoto’s smash hit get the adaptation it deserved? Well…yeah, it feels fair to say it absolutely did. And no, this is not one of those weird twists where I talk about how actually Chainsaw Man is bad therefore a mediocre adaptation would be fitting. No, MAPPA’s approach not only fit the material well but actively innovated and made the series something worth watching rather than just reading.

(Since this is a relatively high-profile series I did try my best to avoid talking about anything manga related, so there shouldn’t be any spoilers for anyone who is only planning on watching the anime).

Good Use of 3D Animation

For a reason I will never be able to fathom, Chainsaw Man‘s first episode was marred in controversy for its use of 3D CGI during its first major fight. Now, if there is one thing that irks me in anime more than anything, it is poorly produced 3D shows and portions thereof. Hell, forget poorly produced, I just am not partial to it period. Therefore, I can understand if people say they do not like 3D in general.

However, people trying to argue that MAPPA’s use of it in the show is somehow particularly egregious have clearly never watched actual bad CGI like EX-Arm. Sure, there were some portions that did not transition as smoothly between 2D and 3D as they could have, and though I did not notice it myself, the claims about frame rate drops are probably true.

Still, even the technical imperfections, I would argue, actually benefit the show artistically. After all, what would transforming into a devil with a chainsaw on their head and arms even entail? What sense of balance and fighting ability comes with that? Though the 3D scenes do ultimately feel sluggish, they seem to unintentionally convey the immediate experience of having that newfound power.

Now, as the series goes on, this becomes less convincing. Denji does learn how to wield his abilities pretty effectively, so safe to say that does not really fit. However, it is also the case, at least for myself, that the 3D elements blend a lot better with the 2D environments as it goes on. By the time they get the hotel arc, I forget there is even a difference in animation, to begin with. Normally I would stick to more thematically related topics, but in a way, the show’s use of 3D is thematically related, as it often helps to create an initial distinction between Denji and the rest of the world. Speaking of…

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Thematic Translation

At the core of Chainsaw Man is really a story about what it means to be human, and also what sorts of dignity and respect should come with that label, but also how easy it is to blur that line when devils with awesome power come into the mix. I say this in case the last section somehow confused anyone into thinking I was some sort of MAPPA fanboy because now is the time where, surprising no one, we talk about the dirty word-

What? No, not boobs: politics.

Chainsaw Man actually had a number of small controversies throughout its seasonal airing, which makes sense given just how unprecedented the anticipation was. One that was maybe worth the outrage was a scene from episode two, where Denji takes a warm bath for the first time in forever. The same scene in the manga shows Denji singing about being in a union and getting benefits, but the anime notably took this part out in favor of some mild humming.

Now, in most cases, stuff like this is not really worth getting boggled down in because it could have very easily been an oversight, a missed conversation between scriptwriters, etc, etc. However, given the studio’s pretty atrocious record with worker’s rights and overworking employees, along with most of the anime industry for that matter, I cannot imagine there not have been at least some mention of this during production.

It would be one thing if the scene did not make sense in the context of the manga so they took it out in order to make the series flow a bit better in an episode format. Yet, that is not what happened. The fulfillment of basic human needs, including economic ones, is what makes Denji’s character so unique. His existence subverts typical shonen/action protagonist motivations of seeking justice, truth, and friendship by laying out the selfish, though ultimately relatable, human desires and having that be enough.

In case this sounds like a reach, a lot of my research for my last semester of undergrad this past fall involved looking at the decline in union coverage among western newspapers and why tonally it became decidedly more negative. At the risk of dumbing it down too much, a not-insignificant part of the equation is that newspapers are, at the end of the day, also businesses (Mostly, assuming we are not talking about the BBC, NPR, etc, that gets a little more complicated). Thus, reporting on unions would inevitably draw attention to their own legal struggles.

This is not to say MAPPA neutered the series completely. A lot of those ideas still shine through in subtext and through various conversations between characters. Still, it does actively hurt the storytelling when the message being shared is averse to the interests of the entity making it.

The Opening

That’s it, that’s the section.

In all seriousness, though, while I do think the soundtrack was handled fairly well, utilizing a lot of distorted noise and heavy guitars to create a fantastic atmosphere, I do not have much to say about it beyond that. Like, yeah, it is a great soundtrack, go listen to it.

However, the opening for the series, as analyzed to death as it is already, does have some of the craziest art direction of any opening in recent memory. It manages to pack in a stupid amount of references, both in and out of series, while also still being enjoyable to watch.

I have enjoyed plenty of j-rock throughout my anime journey, but the song “Kick Back” by Kenshi Yonezu is a banger among bangers. It perfectly encapsulates a lot of the chaotic energy of the show, and then on top of that interpolates the lyrics of a random pop song from the 90s, which translates as “Striving, future, a beautiful star,” which when sung by Yonezu’s distorted vocals not only sounds awesome but alludes to the darker elements of the story left to come.

Conclusion

While I would not call it one of the best adaptations or even necessarily my favorite, the Chainsaw Man anime is still great, at least for now. There are some other changes that I did not explore the implications that also might affect how a manga reader views the series, but as far as being a viewing experience for newcomers, it brings enough unique flare without compromising too much of the work’s original intent to still be worth it.

82/100


What did you think of Chainsaw Man‘s anime adaptation? Let me know down in the comments. Also, if you are someone who did read the manga, I did a review of part one about a year ago when I finished it, so feel free to check that out as well.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

As always, special thanks to Jenn for supporting us on Patreon.

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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I’m Back!

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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The votes are in…and by votes I mean my free time, which is now quite plentiful. So, rather than bore everyone reading with an extended introduction, why not just talk about what has happened.

I Graduated from da School

It took what felt like a decade, but after 3-1/2 years at my city’s university, I managed to get my funny little piece of paper. In all seriousness though, keeping the motivation to finish school in a timely manner, especially through covid and a number of other personal things was kind of hard. There were a lot of times I felt like giving up and just never going back.

Thankfully, though, I managed to avoid giving into my less…macro-oriented desires and finished with a Bachelor’s in English. Part of me does want to go back to school eventually, but as for right now, I am happy to be done. So, what is next?

Looking for a Job

Aside from the occasional scrolling of job boards and looking at random fields I would be interested in, unfortunately, I have yet to do much in the way of job hunting (at least as of the writing of this post). Most of my free time was spent practicing smash, playing some other game, or stressing about schoolwork to the point that I do not get anything done.

However, since school is over, it would be hard to justify using that as an excuse. My dream field, if it can be called that, would probably be somewhere in publishing, or as a copy editor or technical writer, something along those lines. At this point, though, anything that pays in real U.S. dollars that is not food service is pretty much cool with me.

2023 Resolutions/Goals

Last year I set a lot of pretty ambitious goals, most of which I did not hit, for that reason. However, rather than focusing on numbers (which I inevitably will still focus on) I would like to try and put stuff out more consistently and write stuff I can be proud of.

Another goal I have is to read more, not just in terms of manga or novels, but non-fiction as well: keeping up with new and public events, as well as educating myself on more topics related to politics, sociology, etc. While I sometimes pay attention to random YouTube videos, I would like to get back to a place of feeling confident talking about important events, such as the massive spike in anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans legislation, and relating it to the anime and manga I discuss. The hardest part has always been the daunting task of actually starting to read something, and then momentum usually carries me through.

Lastly, I would like to lose weight. Of course, by including anything related to New Years, I have now inevitably cursed myself into staying roughly the same weight or getting heavier. Despite wishing the same thing last year, I actually ended up gaining about 20 pounds, and at this point, it is just exacerbating other problems as well. Oh well, maybe forgetting to cancel my gym membership will be a blessing in disguise.

Shameless Plug for my Website

In place of Solidly Liquid, I am now going to be publishing various pieces of poetry, short fiction, and other project teasers on my own personal website so as to better help myself build a brand…or something like that. Since Animated Observations is usually where I publish reviews and stuff about the media I enjoy, my own website will also likely be used to talk about opinions that do not specifically relate to the media I am consuming. I already have a piece coming out later this week, so stay tuned for that.

Topics Coming Up

Though I haven’t been writing, I have certainly been watching and reading, and oh boy has there been a lot to talk about. 2022 was one of the most stacked years of anime, like, ever? Yeah, that feels fair to say. There were also a lot of summer shows I never ended up finishing because my workload just got that overwhelming. So, here is the stuff I will (probably) talk about over the coming month or so:

  • Monster (Since it got added to Netflix recently)
  • Romantic Killer
  • Bocchi the Rock
  • Blood on the Tracks and Welcome Back, Alice (Been wanting to get back into Oshimi).
  • Chainsaw Man
  • Potential 2022 Lists

Queue the usual I reserve the right to cover whatever random bs comes up in the meantime statement. But yeah, the above titles are the plan, anyway.


What are your 2023 plans? Let me know down in the comments.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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The Observation Deck: Brothers Conflict

Welcome, weebs, to Animated Observations

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Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary folks, we are gathered here today to talk about an anime. Not just any anime, mind you, but the one, the only, Brothers Conflict. This is a show that is so genuinely awful it is honestly not worth it to even pretend there are redeeming qualities about it, an adaptation so lazy that the cast barely has a workable personality split among its almost 20-something-odd list of characters.

I could sit here and do any amount of research about the development process or its source material, but honestly, I do not care that much and yes, the source material, both the light novel and the game adaptation, are almost certainly better than this garbage. Calling this show Oreimo levels of trash is frankly insulting to Oreimo, because that would imply that anything about it is remotely interesting or worth caring about. With that being said, let’s get started, I guess…

What is Brothers Conflict?

Some-no, most-no, nearly all of you probably read the title of this review and went “huh?” and yeah, that is totally reasonable. In short, Brothers Conflict is a light novel/Otome dating sim adaptation about Ema Hinata, later Ema Asahina, a girl whose rich and famous dad remarries a mom with 13 other sons. As part of this new stage of their life, Ema moves into her mom’s luxurious mansion with room enough for all of them. However, Ema quickly discovers that nearly all of her brothers have some sort of romantic feelings for her…yeah, it is one of those.

Boring Main Character is Boring

Ema is the main character in the same way that your avatar during a multiplayer fps game is technically the main character. Literally, the only purpose she serves is to show you around and get a better view of the brother characters who you are supposed to fall in love with. She is so shamelessly a self-insert that when I did bother to look at the Wikipedia page for this franchise, I was genuinely surprised to find out the light novels were the original source material.

Ema not only has no personality worth mentioning, but the only interests she is given are also to better connect her with the potential relationship matches she might have. Her liking video games? an excuse to get more involved with her brother that works at a video game company and her brothers that work as voice actors respectively. Her interest in flowers? so she can talk to the one that works in their home garden and give a nice romantic background for later romantic encounters. Seriously, how was this not a dating sim first?

Fun fact, I wrote most of this review and almost completely forgot to mention Juli, the talking squirrel character who only Ema and Louis can understand. This is never explained and is treated as totally and completely normal.

Boring Brother Characters are Boring

I could sit here and give you a sentence-long blurb about each of the other main characters and pretend like I care about their development, and yeah, that would probably be the responsible critic thing to do. However, this is an anime blog, and also there are thirteen of them, none of who have any remotely notable personality traits outside of their occupations and their insatiable lust for their 16-year-old step-sister.

I will mention that Louis and Hikaru, two of the older brothers, have mildly more interesting character designs, but that is only because it seems like they were intended to be some flavor of queer, but of course, the anime would never dare to be that interesting. The ongoing antagonism between Natsume and Subaru ends up being the “main” storyline near the final few episodes, but that is only because it is really the only plotline the series bothers trying to resolve.

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Yeah It’s Problematic, But Man It’s Hard to Care

It absolutely should not be overlooked that much of what happens in this series is older, college age and above men going after a 16-year-old girl. It is most definitely weird and creepy and Brothers Conflict should be criticized for it, especially since at no point is this fact ever addressed, let alone framed in a negative light.

At the very least, when it comes to a show like Oreimo, there are points where the weird incest vibes are less distracting because the characters are notably interesting and have conflicts outside of that dynamic. Because this show is only interested in romantics to the point of being one-dimensional, it becomes hard to ignore. So, not only is the show painfully boring, but it is also incredibly gross and creepy.

Animator? I Barely Know Her!

For how much the characters and backgrounds in this show actually move in any dynamic or interesting way, they might as well just have ported over the png files from the Otome adaptation, which I will remind everyone for the third time came after the light novel (seriously wtf?!). The most “well-animated” moments in the series, if one could even call them that, are the sequences at the beginning which only serve to remind you just how interested her brothers are in f***ing her.

This is by no means meant as a criticism of the animators themselves, as they were likely operating with pretty spare time and coordination and thus just had to put something together. Rather, it is pretty clear that Brothers Conflict was only greenlit as a way of selling merch and copies of the existing materials.

Conclusion

I’m sure there were some amount of people who saw this series and genuinely enjoyed it, mostly in the sense that it did something for them sexually. Still, I just do not get it. There are so many other series in this same lane that are not only better at being hot but are also legitimately more interesting from a storytelling and character perspective.

Brothers Conflict is a half-assed, quantity-over-quality approach to making a reverse harem that does not come close to overcoming its problematic and boring execution. I reached some of the highest highs this year when it came to the medium of anime, so I suppose it only makes some sort of weird cosmic sense to torture myself with the lowest of lows.

25/100


Have you seen this abomination? Let me know in the comments.

If you are interested in reading more from me, check under blog to read my most recent stuff, or look below for some related posts. Also, if you would like to support Animated Observations, consider donating on Ko-fi or through paypal, or pledging on Patreon. You can even support by just liking and sharing this post.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

If you can’t, or just don’t feel like it, no worries. Thank you all for reading, and goodbye, for now, friends!

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