Kokoro Connect Episodes 1-5

Kokoro Connect

Episodes 1 through 5 (First Arc – Hito Random)

Availability: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks for digital distribution and eventual home video release. Currently simulcasting on Crunchyroll.

Rating: 5 of 5

Synopsis: (From Crunchyroll)

Five members of the school culture club – Taichi Yaegashi, Iori Nagase, Himeko Inaba, Yui Kiriyama, and Yoshifumi Aoki – encounter a bizarre phenomenon one day when Aoki and Yui switch personalities without warning. The same begins to happen to the other club members, throwing their daily lives into chaos. At first the five students find some amusement among the confusion, but this connection also exposes the painful scars hidden within their hearts… When their calm lives are shattered, the relationships between the five students also begin to change!

Impressions:  [I will try to use as few spoilers as possible]

When you see ‘body swapping’ or ‘personality swapping’ as part of the description of a story, you probably think immediately of something like Freaky Friday or Trading Places, or if you are of a more literary bent, The Prince and the Pauper. In any case, your mind probably gravitates to stories about two people of very different mind sets or backgrounds changing places and learning about the other person and themselves in the process, frequently laced with broad comedy. If you are of a certain sub-culture in our society, namely the one we are all members of here at this site, your mind may gravitate to more prurient content, with images of eechi moments and broad sexual humor with a man switching into a woman’s body and vice-verse. If you went into Kokoro Connect with that in mind, you would probably be surprised with what you find.

Sure, there are a few moments where the ‘guy in a girl’s body’ wonders what this weight his upper body is that… ‘OMG! They’re breasts!’ [feels them] ‘Yep, they’re breasts alright, and darn nice ones at that! Always wondered what they felt like!’

But those moments are few and pass quickly. What follows is a fairly serious story, told with care and a fantastic amount of realistic dialog, about five people who are friends by chance who get put into a seriously strange, potentially dangerous, emotional, frightening, and confusing situation and how that experience brings them closer and makes them deal with issues they would rather not have to face, especially in front of others.

Let’s go back to the beginning. How are these five ‘friends by chance’, as I called them. They go to a school that requires that everyone belong to a club. But, as Taichi Yaegashi, narrating a section early in the anime, says: “every organization is bound to have a few rogue elements.” For instance, Taichi, a diehard wrestling fan put the “pro-wrestling society” on his form. Unfortunately, that club doesn’t exist. Yui Kiriyama loves anything cute and put the “fancy club” as her choice. It had closed down. Yoshifumi Aoki fancies himself a ladies man and signed up for the “player’s club” because he was gullible enough to believe the upperclassmen who told him it existed. Himeko Inaba, an intellectual and distant girl, joined the computer club, but quit almost immediately after, due to an argument with the club president. Iori Nagase couldn’t decide which club she wanted to join, so she let her teacher pick for her. These five misfits ended up in the same club: the “Cultural Research Club”, where they, for the most part, do nothing after school, have tea, talk, and occasionally put out a student newsletter that appears to be more of a gossip rag than any actual cultural research effort. So, even though these five didn’t have anything in common to begin with, they have become friends due to the fact that they spend every afternoon together after school.

One day, Aoki and Yui come to the club room with an unbelievable story. The previous night, the two of them woke up in the other person’s body. The other club members are pretty sure they are trying to pull a fast one on them, but then, after Iori realizes she left her notebook in her classroom, Taichi finds himself looking into Iori’s desk with a rather strange heaviness to his upper body and a high pitched voice when he talks. It is true, and now it has happened to two of the others.

Things go on like this, with much of the natural humor that one expects surrounding this type of thing. People going into the wrong bathroom when in someone else’s body, the aforementioned breast groping (and offer to assist by the obviously yuri class rep) and so on. Then one of their teachers shows up at the door of the clubroom talking in a deadpan voice, explaining that he is a being referred to as Heartseed and is merely using this teacher’s body. He explains to them that he is causing these personality swaps because he thinks this is an interesting group of people to mess with and that it will continue until they no longer entertain him. It is random and they have no control over it.

As these personality swaps continue, we find that there may be a reason these five individuals ended up in a club for people who don’t belong anywhere else, they all have something in their past or their basic personality that has left them scarred in some way, some rather deeply scarred. Himeko seems to be fairly close to both of the other girls and identifies Taichi as the person needed to help each of them with their problems (though we are given plenty of hints by the end of the arc that he has his own issues that he could use help with), and eventually tells him hers as well. As Taichi works selflessly to help the girls, we get insight into the personalities of all of the people in the group, including Aoki, as Taichi talks with him about stuff as well.

Eventually, Heartseed decides that they are too boring and that he needs to spice things up. The method he uses to add a bit of spice to his dull existence is brutally effective and results in the 2nd best episode of anime this season, in my opinion.

The show is billed as a “love and teen pentagonal comedy” and that is a fairly accurate description, except that there is much more drama than in most comedies (but also more comedy than most dramas) and the pentagon looks, at this point, to be a triangle and two points with a dotted line between them. If you enjoy romantic comedy, very interesting character development, and slice-of-life story telling with a wry wit and a slight edge, give this a try.

In particular, I find the interaction between the kids and the nature of the problems of a couple of the characters are a breath of fresh air. They way the characters interact reminds me very much of how my son and his friends talk to each other. (Having spent an entire trip to Washington DC with him and his high school orchestra, I got a pretty good feel for the way the modern geek communicates with like minded peers.) The problem that one of the girls is dealing with is of a nature that is different from most anime, and one that personally hits pretty close to home. When that character is chosen by Heartseed to be the one he creates a crisis for in the climax of the arc, it was particularly effective for me.

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Wandering Son (Hourou Musuko)

[This review was written during the Winter 2011 season as a review of the first 6 episodes. I have revised it to refer to the entire series, but have left some of the terminology the same. If you find something confusing, it might be due to this.]

Availability: Streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rating: 10 of 10

Synopsis: Shūichi Nitori is an effeminate young boy who wants to be a girl. His friend Yoshino Takatsuki is a masculine young girl who would prefer to be a boy. The two became fast friends in elementary school, but that relationship hit a snag due to an ill-timed love confession prior to middle school. However, it doesn’t take long for them to realize that, in navigating the treacherous waters of middle school and puberty, there is nothing that can replace the friendship of someone that truly understands you and accepts you, not only as you are, but as you would like to be.

Story/Characters: 7/10 of 10

If you are in the market for a touching story with a lot of emotion and drama, this could be the show for you. If you are looking for action, fan service, or comedy, look elsewhere. (There are plenty of options!) For those of you familiar with the manga, you might want to know that the story appears to pick up in the middle. The manga starts when they are in 5th grade, but the anime starts on the first day of middle school. A lot of the history that is under the bridge for our two protagonists is presented via flashback sequences that bring us up to speed on where the characters have been and how they got where they are today.

The biggest knock on the show is that it doesn’t really have any plot. It is completely slice-of-life drama. There is not anything to drive the story. It just brings you along to watch as these youngsters learn about themselves and the world around them. In my opinion, that is a minor flaw at best, as the writing and the pacing of the show is such that you really get a good emotional feel for the characters, and that is the real payoff in this show

Another possible complaint is that it is hard to follow. The show does not stop to explain anything to you about any of the characters, and there are a whole lot of them! (This can also be viewed as a strength, as it shows that the creators have enough respect for the viewer to let them figure out the story on their own without spoon-feeding it to them. Frankly, too much expository material can ruin slice-of-life stories, as they then turn into lectures and lose the natural feel that makes them enjoyable in the first place.) Frequently, I find myself uncertain of who is who early in an episode, but as the show has gone on, that happens less often. And that is a good thing, because the characters are one of the real strengths of the show! They are well-rounded, fully vibrant characters with quirks and nuances that make them come to life in your mind. The one thing that might strike some as false is the unnatural maturity of some of these middle school age kids, but being the father of a middle school boy who is active in things like scholastic bowl and orchestra, I can say that I don’t find them that unnaturally mature. (In the event that he reads this review, I have to add that I am, of course, referring to his wonderfully mature friends, not him! LOL! 😉 )

To assist the view in knowing who’s who, here is a list of the most important characters and some background I have gleaned from the show and other sources

Shūichi Nitori: A first year middle school boy who is transgendered. He prefers to dress as a girl and feels that he is really a girl in a boy’s body. (Though he appears to be a lesbian trapped in a boy’s body, as he seems to like girls, too.)

Yoshino Takatsuki: A first year middle school girl who is transgendered. She would prefer to wear a boys uniform to school and feels she really is a boy in a girls body. She rejected Shūichi love confession before they started middle school, saying that she really doesn’t know what love is yet and is not ready for that kind of relationship.

Saori Chiba: A friend of Shūichi and Yoshino from elementary school that is in their class in middle school. The three of them used to hang out together, with the other two cross-dressing frequently. [spoiler]She confessed her love to Shūichi around the same time that he confessed his love to Yoshino.[highlight to read spoiler] She has a very negative attitude and tends to alienate her classmates. She is very interested in drama and writing.

Maho Nitori: Shūichi’s sister who is one year older. She does not like Shūichi’s cross-dressing and is frequently mean to him regarding it. She is also a successful model. They share a room. She recently started dating a boy in her class and appears worried about what he will think of her brother’s strange habits.

Chizuru Sarashina (Chi): A girl in Shūichi’s class. She is very athletic and show up dressed in a boy’s uniform the first day of school. She appears to be primarily there to cut through the angst and drive the story forward. She is eccentric, athletic, and a force of nature. [spoiler]She is fascinated when she finds out about Shūichi’s cross-dressing.[highlight to read spoiler]

Makoto Ariga: Another classmate of Shūichi and Yoshino that went to elementary school with them, but was in a different class. He knows about Shūichi’s cross dressing [spoiler]and shares the interest. He also believes that he is probably gay.[highlight to read spoiler]

Momoko Shirai: A girl in Shūichi’s class who is a friend of Chi’s from elementary school. She is very possessive of Chi and gets angry with anyone who doesn’t show Chi respect or gets too close to
Chi. She particularly doesn’t like Saori.

Riku Seya: Maho’s boyfriend. He thinks Shūichi is a girl when he first meets him.

Anna Suehiro: One of Maho’s modeling friends. She visits their house occasionally and has seen Shūichi cross-dressing. It is unclear what she thinks of it, but she has shown some interest in him and is generally friendly to him.

Fumiya Ninomiya: A friend of Saori from her church. He has a crush on Saori and is jealous of Shūichi because of how Saori feels about him. He can be insensitive, but is also treated very badly by Saori.

Hiroyuki Yoshida (Yuki) and Shiina (Shii): Adult friends of Shūichi and Yoshino. Yuki is a transsexual. I believe Yuki is technically still male, but lives life as a woman and may be in the process of having sex reassignment surgery. She lives with her boyfriend, Shiina, who was the only friend she had growing up that did not pick on her because of the way she is. (This is mightily confusing, because many of the “she”s and “her”s in this are referring to when she was a boy!) Yuki runs a gay bar.

The biggest issue with the story is the rushed feeling of the ending. This is not imagined, but real! The DVD/BluRay release in Japan has an extra episode, and the tenth episode broadcast is actually a combination of episodes 10 and 11 from the DVD release. Unfortunately, no US licensor has picked up this show for home video release. It is currently only available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Art: 10 of 10

Another strength of the series is the art. Looking like moving watercolor paintings, every detail is lovingly drawn to elicit the mood the story requires. The backgrounds and characters are exquisitely done. The only criticism I have is that some of the characters are a bit too similar to each other, but I think that is more of a problem with the lack of explanation of who is who than with the art. After a few episodes, I was able to distinguish the characters well enough, except when you aren’t supposed to be able to! (There is a character that appears very differently than they had earlier in one of the episodes, and I think you are supposed to be a bit confused until their name is said.)

From what I understand, the soft watercolors and washed-out backgrounds emulate the style of the manga, which has been referred to as “minimalist” in its artistic style. That carries through to the anime, with the art having wonderful detail, but no more or less than is absolutely needed. It never feels like there is too much to see to truly appreciate a scene, but at the same time, each scene is rich enough to convey its message without the viewer feeling there is anything missing. The emotional impact of the images themselves is considerable. The art is impressive!

Music and Sound Effects: 10 of 10

The OP for the show (“Itsudatte.” by Daisuke) is strong, bringing the character into the story with just the right mood, but where the music really shines is the excellent ED (“For You” by Rie Fu). The song has the ability to elicit tears all on its own, with a keen sense of longing and devotion, yet an uplifting and optimistic feeling as the song progresses. The ED has spartan animation, consisting of Shūichi walking along stoically on a blank background, then having his movement become more animated and girlish when the music returns to the chorus and the air is filled with cherry blossoms.

The music inside the episodes is very understated and well done. It knows when to emphasize the mood and when to remain in the background for support, but it also knows when to go away entirely and let the awkward silence or the natural background sounds fill the space, cementing the mood in that situation as well.

Overall Enjoyment: 10 of 10

This is a fantastic show. It is heartfelt and warm, with great respect for its characters and the viewer’s ability to understand the story with minimal expository material. It may not be my favorite of the Winter 2011 season, as there were shows that were more “fun” in the moment and more stimulating. However, in the long run I expect that it will eventually rank among my favorite shows of all time and I will probably buy the BluRay and watch it time and again when I am in the mood for some deep character drama. There are many places to go to get a good romantic comedy or a nice suspenseful action show or even a raunchy, fan service laden ecchi fest. There are very few sources for exquisite art combined with rich character drama and deep emotion, and Wandering Son is one.

Tari Tari Episodes 1 – 6

Rating: 5 of 5

Synopsis: (From Crunchyroll)

Too young to be adults, but no longer children… Wakana Sakai was involved in music, but gave it up one day. Konatsu Miyamoto loves singing and can’t be torn from it. Sawa Okita would do anything for her closest friends. They laugh, they fight, they worry, they love… Through their very ordinary lives, little by little the girls learn to move forward. Sometimes they feel as if they can’t go on alone, but as long as they have their friends, they believe they’ll make it someday. Wakana, Konatsu, Sawa, and the music they make in their ensemble weave a tiny but dazzling story of the power of music. The last summer of high school… It’s too soon to give up on dreams. The song echoing throughout Enoshima continues to give us courage today.

Impressions: 

Slice-of-life coming of age drama is not for everyone, but it is very much “up my ally”, so you can use that information in evaluating this review. As they say, your mileage may vary.

This story blends many themes familiar to shows of this genre, and many of the characters may seem to be fairly typical of the archetype, but there are some nice twists to the familiar character types. One of the really interesting story telling methods this show uses is showing images of the main characters when they were younger. This serves two purposes: 1) providing some plot driven back-story with minimal expostulation, and 2) they are sooo darn cute!

Young Konatsu dancing with her grandpa

At the beginning we are presented with the main characters. There is Konatsu, a pint-sized spitfire who used to sing in the school choir, but was removed from the choir because of some event at the previous year’s district choral festival, and now serves the music club by turning pages for the accompanist.

Konatsu eating and ice cream cone

Sawa is first seen riding a horse, has a keen fashion sense, is on the school archery team, and is obviously looked up to by her classmates. Her dreams revolve around horses, but she is happy to help her best friend Konatsu in any way. Sawa appears to be the “cheerful best friend” character, but further inspection reveals surprising depth and a fairly vicious sarcastic sense of humor that frequently keeps Konatsu and the others on their toes!

Sawa from the OP

Taichi comes early to school every day to practice his badminton skills, despite the fact that he is the only member of his club. He plans to go on to play badminton in college and perhaps even professionally if he can manage it. He has an older sister that also plays badminton.

Taichi playing Badminton

Wein is transferring into the school a couple of months after the year began after living in Austria for the past twelve years. He has forgotten much of what he knew as a small child of Japanese language and customs and has tried to study up on them using books. (Not particularly good ones, according to Taichi, who is asked to show Wien around on his first day.) He is also a fan of a “Power Rangers” like super hero show, as seen below. (Possibly his one link to his native culture that he maintained while growing up in Austria?) Incidentally, Wien doesn’t appear to be his actual name, but the German name for the city he moved from: Vienna.

Wien and his Red Ranger

Last but certainly not least is Wakana, who is featured in the first episodes opening flashback playing with her mother. At the start of the show, she is seen making breakfast for her father and her cat, berating her father for sleeping too late and cooking too much for dinner (she gives him leftovers for breakfast), and generally doing the kinds of things that one would identify as “things mom does”. We find early on that she used to be in the school’s rather exclusive music major program, but has transferred to the general education program for some reason.

Wakana

The show does several things to make itself stand out from the crowd. One is pacing. The most common complaint about slice-of-life shows is that they drag and nothing ever happens. This show does not suffer from that problem. At the end of the first episode, the plot has been set as “Konatsu, refused re-admittance into the music club, forms her own choir club; The district choral festival is one month away; and the majority of the show will be Konatsu gathering the five friends to her to form the heart of this choir and triumphantly performing at the festival. Sound pretty standard? Well, that is not Tari Tari! Instead, by the end of the 2nd episode the choral festival is over and Konatsu is faced with new problems, the two guys were not even in the choir at festival time, and the sense of “been there, done that” that even the best slice-of-life stories exhibit has been entirely thrown out the window. In its place, we have a show that sets up an issue and tends to deal with it in two episode mini-arcs. Instead of a show about forming a choir and meeting the goal at the end, we now have a show about a group of friends doing what they need to do to help each other achieve each individual’s dreams, while they are still young enough to believe that such things are possible and old enough to actually do something with them in the event that said dreams become reality.

Another thing that makes the show stand out is the art! PA Works, the studio that brought us Hanasaku Iroha last year, has once again taken on a story based in a popular resort area in Japan, this time the Enoshima area: one of the most popular beach resort towns near Tokyo. This does several things for the show. It lends natural beauty to the background scenery that is astoundingly beautiful, gives the town that crisp clean tourist haven look, and provides for natural fan service as the girls don their bikinis to hang out or even work at the beach without it feeling out of place, forced, gratuitous, or like an obligatory beach episode. For a “scenery porn” addict like myself, shows like this are one of the main reasons I love anime! I could look at those exquisitely drawn sunsets, beach scenes, shrines in the middle of the forest, and stunningly drawn cityscapes for ever and not get tired of them.

The character designs also shine brightly here, though some may see too much of Hanasaku Iroha in them. That is natural, since many of the creative talents that brought you Hanasaku Iroha are also on board for this show. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the designs are stunning, attractive with realistic proportions, beautiful, and cute beyond any ability on my part to resist their charms.

The music also stands out as a high point for the show. Since a large portion of the plot revolves around music, it is good that the music is well done. The use of music to drive the plot in Tari Tari is fantastic! It is clear very early that Wakana’s mother and the music she was involved in when she was in high school and beyond is a driving force behind much of what happens, from Wakana’s problems to the behavior of the teachers and other adults. Music and how it impacts people’s lives is a major theme in this show and it is used to wonderful affect as well as effect.

Another strong point, which Tari Tari shares with Kokoro Connect, (another show airing this season in Japan and simulcasting on Crunchyroll) is the natural sounding, realistic dialog. The high school seniors in this show sound remarkably like real high school kids in the way they talk with each other, tease each other, etc… There is a natural sense of flow to the conversations, with some brilliant, and extremely difficult to follow with subtitles, sections where multiple conversations between multiple people flow naturally, with many people talking at once in a natural cacophony that strengthens the characterizations and sets the mood extremely well. It comes off as natural and not scripted, which is really hard to do with a scripted drama!

The reason I chose to do a review of the first 6 episodes is that, from my perception, the show has reached a turning point. Many of the issues that were impacting our young protagonists lives up to this point have been cleared up for better or worse, and the group of five friends is truly together, with each member dedicated to the cause, despite the fact that most of them had no intention of doing what they are doing at the beginning of the school year. The first few story arcs took us through a great deal of detail about Konatsu, Taichi, and especially Wakana, who was the last to really sign on to the plan laid out by the energetic young force of nature known as Konatsu. In addition to telling a wonderful, sad, painful, sweet, and eventually uplifting and hopeful story, these six episodes display the process of these five people going from classmates to friendships close enough to be akin to family in some cases. Sawa and Konatsu were already BFFs, but as the episodes rolled along we got to see Wien becoming close to all of them, but particularly Taichi and Wakana; Sawa and Konatsu reaching out to pull the sullen and frequently abrupt Wakana out of her self imposed shell and into a blossoming friendship that could very well define who she becomes as an adult, and a budding closeness between Sawa and Taichi which looks to be the major romantic story-line, at least from what has come so far. The growth of these relationships between these five friends has been realistic, gradual, and stunning in the way the writers have shown the empathy and level of caring between the characters.

The episodes culminate with the absolute finest single episode of anime that I have seen this season, and possibly for several seasons, with the revelations and emotional catharsis that is episode 6, “Laughing and Remembering”. I spent a good deal of the episode in tears, then later that night, listening to the exquisitely beautiful ED for the episode, had a personal reaction related to Wakana’s story line that had me in tears for several minutes. It is a powerfully written story, emotional, yet not manipulative, with natural emotion dealing with issues that will resonate with many viewers.

Now to titillate and cajole you into checking the series out, with a few animated GIFs from the first few episodes:

Image from the OP

Playful teasing

Friendly banter and pillow fight

Archery!

Badminton

Group picture from the ED

Sawa as a small child

Wien in all his awesomeness!

The “Grown up” Konatsu dances the same way!

Sawa’s Dream

Taichi’s cheering section

More Cheering

Young Wakana and her mother

Tari Tari Episode 3

Rating 5 of 5

Availability: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks for digital release sometime soon and home release in 2013, currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Impressions: In this episode, we find out how our little 5 man band gets formed for real! It starts with both the badminton club and the Choir club getting their death warrants handed to them by the acting principal, the witch from vice! (Well, technically it starts with a bath scene at Konatsu’s house. I love the way she and her brother only seem to communicate with each other when someone is in the bath! It really adds to the realism of the characters.)

It seems that the principal is one huge softy and was allowing the badminton club to continue on its merry way with only one member against the school’s rules, and the choir club has a rash of defections now that the concert is over and Konatsu’s brother doesn’t feel beholden to continue on and takes his friends with him. Leaving the club “officially” at three members (though we see Sakai’s club resignation form repeatedly in the episode…) Both club presidents vow to keep their dreams alive. Taichi recruits Wien to join him in badminton, but still needs three more people. Konatsu has an idea: They will play a game of badminton, and if Taichi wins, the choir club members will join his badminton club and if he looses he will join the choir club. At first, it look like it is just Sawa and Konatsu playing against Taichi, then Sakai surprises the girls and shows up to play too, seeming to cement her as a member of the club, or maybe just as a friend… Then Wein shows up to help Taichi. Now the stakes are enough for the winner to officially form a club, conveniently filled with the five main characters…

How does it end up? If you haven’t watched, I won’t spoil it…

 

Here are some images from the episode to titillate and cajole you into checking out the series! 😉

A strange Spanish speaking guy that seems to be stalking Sakai!

Stalker? What about the pig?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first of the cake payments from the debt Konatsu rang up to Sakai in episode 2: (I later figured out that she had 3 plates, making this the full payment of 3 cakes.)

Payment in full!

Konatsu eating in a frilly bikini:

Snack at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Konatsu may be small, but that doesn’t mean she is a little girl. I appreciate it when a show doesn’t make a high school senior look like an elementary school student. She just looks like a very petite young lady:

Konatsu at the beach restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those who prefer a woman to have curves above the waistline – Sawa in a bikini:

Sawa working at the beach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those of you who are wondering why there is a beach episode already, expect them to be there and in swimsuits on a regular basis. They live in the resort town of Enoshima, Japan, with some of the closest beach resorts to Tokyo. (Fans have started mapping locales used in the show for future anime tourists to use on their Tari Tari pilgrimages on Google maps.)

Finally, a taste of the badminton action!

Triple serve – is that fair?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wien has great form, but no ability!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And a pig:

Why a pig?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for your time!

Arigato!

 

 

 

Tari Tari Episodes 1 & 2

Rating: 5 of 5

Availability: Licensed by Sentai Filmworks for digital release sometime soon and home release in 2013, currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

The cast of Tari Tari

Synopsis: (From the MAL Fan Club Page)

The last year of high school is always a time of both looking forward and looking back. Before you lies the future, alternately bright and scary. Behind you lie memories, both happy and sad. And somehow, in the course of one year, you have to reconcile those two and decide where your life is going to go.

For Wakana Sakai, who had started studying music, it’s time to face the tragedy that made her abandon that path. For Sawa Okita, it’s about her dreams of riding professionally. And for Konatsu Miyamoto, it’s about bringing her friends together through the magic of song. Can something as simple as the formation of a chorus club really help solve the hurts and pangs that come with growing up? Can music bring people together despite their differences?

Impressions: Two episodes in, this show has impressed me as one of the finest of the Summer season. Of course, it is a show that hits many of my personal preferences squarely on the nose, so, as they say, your mileage may vary!

However, Tari Tari is perfectly suited for people who enjoy things like slice-of-life, coming of age stories; choral music; breathtakingly beautiful background art; meticulous character animation; and attractive character designs that use realistic character features to distinguish the characters from one another (as opposed to things like brightly colored hair in unrealistic shades).

So far, the show has been very entertaining, with the first episode serving to introduce the characters and the initial plot line of the show, and the second episode totally changing what I thought was going to happen in the show, delivering some very well executed character development, and providing some absolutely beautiful music along the way. I won’t give details about why it was so surprising, but suffice it to say that I was taken off-guard. That doesn’t happen very often, especially with slice-of-life shows. Many comments on other boards mention the feeling that this episode was rushed, but I don’t really feel that. It was unexpected, and covered material that most viewers expected to be more drawn out in one episode, but that is not necessarily bad. In fact, it suggests that the show is not predictable, boring, or slow, which are the most common complaints about shows of this sort.

One of the strengths of the show is the understated manner in which it delivers the story. In introducing the characters and providing further character development, it uses character behavior, facial expressions, and mannerisms to get the point across instead of stating things outright. It trusts the viewer to “get it” when it shows us one of the characters playing with her mother when she was a small child before the OP in episode one, then opens the show after the OP with a teenage girl who looks very much like that mother doing the morning housework that one would expect a traditional Japanese housewife to be doing, chiding her father for sleeping too late among other things, and then heading off to school. It doesn’t have to tell us her mother died. We can tell that she is, at the very least, not there anymore. The natural assumption would be that she died. We can now use this information to parse the characters actions as the story progresses. Similar scenes are used throughout these two episodes, hinting at why the character behaves in a particular manner instead of saying it explicitly.

I give it a strong recommendation and so far it appears to be suitable for even preteen viewers, as there has been practically no fan service or objectionable behavior or language. (There have been a couple of bath scenes, but they have been inverted tropes instead of the expected fan-service, and fairly well done at that.)

Hanasaku Iroha

Synopsis: (From Crunchyroll)

Hanasaku Iroha centers around 16-year-old Ohana Matsumae who moves from Tokyo to out in the country to live with her grandmother at an onsen ryokan named Kissuisō.

Availability: Hanasaku Iroha was simulcast during the 2011 Spring and Summer anime seasons by Crunchyroll and is still available as of this writing.

Rating: 10 of 10

I am not going to pretend that this is an unbiased review. I will say it up front: I loved Hanasaku Iroha! I found it compelling, radiantly beautiful, tender, endearing, and intensely satisfying. Now for the breakdown:

Art  – 10 of 10

View from train – Hanasaku Iroha – Episode 1

The first thing that will strike you in this anime is the art, in particular the background artwork. From the very first episode, the artwork was astounding in its depth of detail and realism. There were scenes that, as a professional photographer, I would have been proud to have captured their like in a photo, and it was hard to tell they were not photos!

Streets of Tokyo – Hanasaku Iroha – Episode 1

The portrayal of everything from the city streets, the passing scenery from the train, to the quaint and pastoral tourist village where the main portions of the show take place were rendered with exceptional care and quality.

Story  – 8 of 10

The place where the show comes the closest to not performing is in the story. It is a slice-of-life tale, which is not to everyone’s liking. I happen to like them when they are well done, because they concentrate on things like character development and the relationships of the individuals involved and I get caught up with the characters, feeling like they are people that I know. This is where Hanasaku Iroha really drew me in…

Characters –  10 of 10

Yes, the characters are the real prize here. In particular, the growth of those characters over the 26 episodes and the realism of the relationships between them. There are one or two “clunkers” in the batch, the perverted writer and the strident management consultant who drops English phrases like they are the names of celebrities that she knows personally stand out, but most of the characters are well wrought. The protagonist, Ohana, is a particularly well done character.

Ohana Matsumae

She grows from a fairly shallow girl with unrealistic expectations of life, to a strong young woman who knows where she is going and how far she has yet to go. There is similar development in many other characters, with time spent on each as you get to know and love the lot of them.

Sound and Music – 9 of 10

Excellent for the most part, the only downside I found was the original ED, which I liked well enough when listening to it, but found it unmemorable in the long run. (Which surprised me, since it is by Sphere, one of my favorite groups.) The various OP, ED, and insert songs by Nana.RIPE were well done, some to the point of hummable infectiousness. The incidental music and sound effects were all well done, adding emphasis to the story and knowing when to let the natural background noises hold court to emphasis a moment or simply carry the mood.

Voice Acting – 10 of 10

The voice work on this show was extremely well done. The voices fit the characters and uniformly had range, depth, and conviction. Particularly well done was one of my least favorite characters, Takako, the strident management consultant. Ayumi Tsunematsu voiced the character with flair, dropping English phrases with such inappropriate abandon that you felt the irritation the others around her felt. This is excellent work! In a way, it turned an unsympathetic character into a fun one. In the end, the character grows on you, kind of like a fungus, but less itchy. The work of the primary cast, especially Aki Toyosaki, my favorite voice actress at the moment, is wonderful and full of life.

Overall Enjoyment – 10 of 10

Overall, this is one of my favorite shows. It may fade as time goes by, but fresh off the end of the show, I find it a wonderful series that I will look back on fondly and purchase on BluRay if it becomes available here. The ending was a marvel for anime, in that it didn’t try to magically resolve all of the issues and chose a realistic ending that, while a bit bittersweet, left you feeling like the characters lives were on the track they belonged on to get where they want to go. That was really the touchstone of the series. Realism. There were some contrived circumstances and typical plot mechanisms in play, but the way the characters interacted and developed had a strong sense of “rightness” about it. The characters seemed like real people and interacted in realistic ways that brought them to life. In the end, this sense of familiarity with the characters is what brought me back from week to week and makes me feel that I will miss them now that I am out of their lives. In fact, the sense that I am out of their lives and not the other way around is the strongest indication of how well the writers did their job.

Full Metal Panic!

Full Metal Panic! – Rating: 10

1. Story – 10

Full Metal Panic! is one of the best SF anime stories I have run across. It presents an extremely detailed alternate world with believable political structure and some very cool concepts and rationalizations for the advanced technology that exists. In addition, the story arcs are well written and compelling. Furthermore, the series combines action, drama, romance, and comedy unlike anything I have ever seen! It manages to be a high school romantic comedy, a compelling terrorist thriller, and an SF action show all at the same time. Truly an achievement!

The story revolves around the two main character. Sousuke Sagara: A 17 year-old professional soldier who has been fighting in wars around the world since he was 8 years old who is a sergeant in the anti-terrorist organization, “Mithril” and an expert pilot of the mechs that are called Arm Slaves (AS); and Kaname Chidori: A seemingly normal, popular, and strikingly beautiful 2nd year high school student. As the story starts out, Sagara and two of his fellow soldiers are assigned to an undercover mission protect Kaname. It turns out that she is not such a normal girl as she appears, but is in fact a “Whispered” candidate. “Whispered” is the term for people born with an innate understanding of what is called “Black Technology”, advanced technology that allows them to create amazing devices such as the AS units, effective invisibility systems, and many other advances that separate the FMP! world from our own. It seems that the KGB (in this world the Soviet Union is still going strong in the late 1990s, when the story takes place) is trying to kidnap “Whispered” candidates to study them and extract the “Black Technology” from them.

As a result of this assignment, Sousuke is enrolled in Kaname’s high school, as they are the same age (though technically Chidori is still 16 at the time, with a birthday of December 24th). Much of the comedy of the show revolves around the complete and total inability of Sousuke to adapt to life as a civilian. He doesn’t understand the subtle, or even the not-so-subtle, social cues of a Japanese high school or city. In addition, they are not allowed to tell Chidori that they are protecting her, as she is unaware of her status as a potential “Whispered”. None the less, she takes a liking to him early on, though she is constantly frustrated and infuriated by his “Military Nut” ways and frequently punishes him (often by hitting him with a fan or shoe) for causing so much trouble in her life. Eventually, the fact that she is under protection is revealed and, while she understands why Sousuke acts like he does, she still is driven to distraction by his antics.

The story alternates between one-shot “slice of life” stories about high school life or military life on the Tuatha De Dannan (the submarine where Sousuke is stationed normally) which are mostly humor oriented, and multiple episodes story arcs that are more drama and action oriented that tell the tale of the “Whisperd”, the terrorists that are after them, the Mithril members that are fighting them, and develop the characters of the main duo through shared danger and a growing reliance on, deepening friendship, and eventually love for, each other (though neither one will admit that love is a consideration in this season of the show).

Based on a series of light novels, the story presented in this first season takes place in the first two novels. Much information about the world and the course of the future novels is available online, though only the first 3 novels are published in the US (with the next two due out in February).

2. Characters – 8

The characters in FMP! are mostly well wrought. Some of the minor characters are a little paper thin, and the motivations of some of the villains are hard to fathom. Here is a summary of the main characters:

Sergeant Sousuke Sagara – A teenager that was raised on the battle field. Originally from Japan, he was orphaned at a young age and put into a Soviet orphanage. From there he was trained to be an child assassin, sent on a mission to kill a leader of Helmjikastan (Afghanistan in the books). Failing to kill the leader, he was adopted by him and became a rebel soldier. Eventually he left Helmjikastan and fought in wars across the world for the next several years, eventually being hired as a mercenary by the Mithril organization and being selected as an AS pilot on the Special Response Team (SRT) for the Tuatha de Dannan combat submarine.

Kaname Chidori – A popular teenager, class rep, and vice president of the student council of her high school, Kaname is also a gifted athlete and always gets top marks in science and math without any effort what-so-ever. Her mother died four years before the story begins and she is estranged from her father, who works for the UN in New York. She lives by herself in Tokyo and attends school there. Unbeknown to her, she is also a “Whispered” candidate, a group of people who have innate knowledge of extremely advanced technology that has allowed them to create the wondrous, and deadly, differences between our world and theirs.

Kyoko Tokiwa – “Kana-chan”‘s best friend. She is a pretty thin character that is constantly taking pictures and convinced that Kaname and Sousuke are falling in love, despite the denials of Kaname.

Shinji Kazama – The closest thing Sousuke has to a best friend at school. He is a military fanatic that knows as much about modern weapons as Sousuke and is fascinated by Sousuke’s actions and apparent military background, though that is supposed to be a secret, it isn’t very well kept. This character is also fairly paper thin and undeveloped.

Kurz Webber – Raised in Japan, but of German descent, Kurz is another member of the SRT. He is an expert sharp-shooter, as well as an unrelenting pervert and wanna-be womanizer. He is initially assigned to assist Sousuke in protecting Kaname, presumably because he is fluent in Japanese and knows the culture. His back story (as detailed online)[spoiler] is that he was a normal kid going to Japanese schools until, at the age of 14, his entire family was assassinated. He then discovered his rare ability as a sniper, he can visualize the path of a projectile and hit a target at any distance his weapon can fire, and trained in order to kill the assassin responsible for his family’s murder. He now spends almost all of his paycheck to pay for the medical bills and organ transplant costs for a young girl that was injured when he took his revenge.[highlight to read spoiler] He is a “happy-go-lucky” type that is frequently used for comic relief and a close friend of Sousuke.

Mellisa Mao – Sousuke and Kurz senior officer, she is also assigned to protect Chidori. She is a no-nonsense type that frequently punishes Kurz for his sexist and sexually harassing ways. She also drinks heavily and has some serious baggage of her own lurking deep in her closets. (Doesn’t everyone that is a soldier for hire in stories like this?) She is also one of the closest friends of the next character:

Teletha “Tessa” Testarossa – The 16 year-old captain of the Tuatha de Dannan submarine, Tessa is a waif-like, elfin beauty with a sweet voice, long platinum hair, startling gray eyes, a figure to die for, and command of the most advanced combat submarine in the history of humankind! As the story continues, [spoiler]we come to find that Tessa is also one of the “Whispered”, and is in fact the designer of the Tuatha de Dannan and the AI unit that runs it, called “Dana”. She is also a tactical, scientific, and mathematical genius who is a fantastic commander and cares deeply for the lives of everyone under her command. Through the events that occur in the season, she also falls in love with Sousuke despite the fact that she is his military commander, and she informs Kaname Chidori of this, which has a profound effect on Kaname, despite the fact that she still denies that she has any feelings for him. This love triangle is the basis for much of the romantic comedy in the remainder of the storyline in both the books and the anime.[highlight to read spoiler] A fan favorite, Tessa is one of the prime sources of Fan Service in the show.

Lt. Cmdr. Andrey Kalinin – One of the main combat operations officers on the Tuatha de Dannan, this former Soviet special forces officer has a long history with Sousuke and is one of the main advisers to Tessa. (From the web) [spoiler]He saved Sagara from a plane crash while serving on a Soviet submarine, a rescue denied by the Soviet Union, resulting in Sousuke being sent into the orphanage. Then, in Afghanistan, he deserted the soviet military in order to escape the country with Sousuke. They were separated, resulting in Sousuke working as a soldier for hire for years before they were reunited with Mithril.[highlight to read spoiler] He is a father figure to Sagara and serves as his foster father according to the Japanese school.

Gauron – The main villain of the show, with the exception of a couple stories in the middle, he is a terrorist for hire that is working for the Soviets to kidnap Chidori. [spoiler]We come to learn that he, Sousuke, and Kalinin have a long history, going back to the time that Kalinin and Sousuke escaped from Afghanistan and thought they had killed him.[highlight to read spoiler] He is extremely skilled, entirely evil, and very, very hard to kill!
There are many others, but those are the main ones.

3. Art – 8

Gonzo did a fantastic job animating this show! It is detailed and smooth, integrating CG and hand drawn art seamlessly. The show is an absolute gem! Where it falls short is the character design. There is a persistent strangeness to the faces and body motions of several of the characters, making them much more cartoon-like than they need to be. This exists in the original character design from the light novels, but it detracts from the overall quality of the art and animation. [I edited this from my original 10 after viewing a few episodes again now that I have the BluRays.]

4. Music/sound – 10

The opening and closing songs are quite good. The opener is an upbeat pop-rock love song, setting the tone for both the action and romance aspects of the plot. The closer is a sentimental ballad that brings home the core romantic nature of the main characters relationship, as well as hinting at a shared heritage as children who have lost family members (all of Sousuke’s and Kaname’s mother) and have had to become self-sufficient at a young age, leading them to be resistant to becoming dependant on someone else, yet longing for closeness in a cruel world. (OK, I might be reading a bit too much into it, but with the family pictures running in the background and the general tone of the song, I find myself thinking these thoughts during the music. That says a lot!) The background music and special effects are consistently effective, with the main theme for scene changes having a very martial tone that helps to drive home the action aspects of the show. The hard rocking music in the action scenes is spot on and the sound effects of the AS units and submarine are fantastic at setting the mood.

5. VA/Dub – 9/9

The main characters in both the original cast and the dub cast do excellent jobs. Interestingly, the English VA’s for Chidori and Sagara both bring a very different feel to the characters, but are equally effective in conveying the character as their Japanese counterparts. I feel that they both have a more casual feel to their approach to the characters that highlights the growing friendship. In the Japanese version, they seem a bit stiffer and more formal, but that works better in the early part of the show and when Sousuke is doing his “crazy military nut” routine.

6. Overall Enjoyment – 10

This anime ranks up there with my favorites! It is a well written SF story, with a decent amount of romantic content, a lot of comedy, and some of the better action scenes I have seen in anime. It is a rare show that is able to alternate between tense action scenes, suspenseful drama, touching romance, and hilarious slap-stick comedy and do them all with flair and style. Full Metal Panic! is a rare show indeed!

Gunslinger Girl Season 1

Gunslinger Girl – Rating: 8/10

1. Story – 5

The biggest issue I have with Gunslinger Girl is the lack of a driving plot line. The idea for the show: Adolescent girls that are near death are “saved” by the “Social Welfare Agency”, only to be given cybernetic implants and turned into ruthless assassins, is an interesting, if morally repugnant, idea. (Not that moral repugnance is a bad thing when talking about stories. Sometimes a story about things that should never be thought of can make you think of things you never could have considered otherwise…) The problem with the show is that each episode, or occasionally a small group of episodes, seems unconnected to the others. It is like they took a concept that cries out for a large over arching plot and put it into a slice of life format. I generally appreciate slice of life stories. They have their place. A show about intelligence operatives for a secret government agency is not one of those places! (You’re Under Arrest is another show that is mostly slice of life, but the local cop genre is fine for that.Barney Miller was one of the best shows ever, and it was almost entirely slice of life. Actually, YUA reminds me a lot of Barney Miller!)

 

2. Characters – 8

The characters in GG are strong. There are a lot of them there, and the fact that you really get a good feel for most of them over the course of the season is a testament to the director’s skill. The way that the story is laid out, the main characters consist of the girl cyborgs and their “handlers”, with a few supporting characters thrown in. The main characters of note are, of course, the girls:

Rico – the ray of sunshine in the agency who seems simply happy to be alive. She appears to be the only character that is aware of her previous existence, as she was sickly from birth and the chance to become a cyborg provided her with her first taste of a real life.

Henrietta – the affection starved waif who is desperate to be of use to her handler. Her back story is that her entire family was murdered, and she was brutalized in the process. It is hard to say if that prior experience influences her need for affection or her desire to please her handler Jose (or Guisse)

Angelica – the first cyborg, whose enhanced body and mind are starting to fail due to excessive conditioning. She was almost killed by a hit-and-run arranged by her father in order to collect on life insurance.

Claes – bookish and mostly non-violent, Claes’ handler was killed and she is now used as a test subject by the doctors in order to improve the cyborg transformation process. [spoiler]It is unclear how she came to the agency, but her father was a professor that instilled a love of books in her. Her handler encouraged that and also taught her how to enjoy “idling the time away”. She had her memory of her handler conditioned out after he died, but his influence is still obvious.[highlight to read spoiler]

Triela – The second oldest cyborg, she has a pragmatic view on life in the agency and has seemed to come to terms with her life as a cyborg assassin. [spoiler]She was saved by her handler from a “snuff-film” in which she was to be the main attraction and brought to the SWA without him knowing the true nature of the organization. Somehow they convinced him to join on as her handler after she was converted to a cyborg .[highlight to read spoiler] She is probably my favorite character.

The handlers are less well defined, but the highlights are:

Jose Croce – Henrietta’s handler appears to be almost too soft-hearted for the job. He buys her presents frequently and has trouble keeping emotional distance. Henrietta’s obvious devotion to him complicates matters. His brother, Jean, is also a handler. [spoiler]Their parents and younger sister were killed by terrorists, leading both of them to work for the SWA to fight them.[highlight to read spoiler]

Jean Croce – Jose’s brother and Rico’s handler, he has a much more “business-like” view of the job. To him, Rico is a tool he can use to get vengeance on the terrorists [spoiler]who killed his family[highlight to read spoiler], nothing more.

Victor Hilshire [spoiler]– Formerly of Interpol, Victor changed his name when he stole Triela, who they wanted as a witness in the snuff film case, away from them in order to save her life and brought her to the SWA. He worked with an Italian gangster to save her, and that mobster has been involved in some of the stories too. [highlight to read spoiler]

Raballo – This former MP was Claes’ handler, [spoiler]but had grown disenchanted with the Agency, going as far as contacting the press to turn over info on the SWA. He was killed in a fortuitous, for the SWA, hit-and-run “accident”, resulting in Claes’ current status with the Agency. When watching, I made the assumption that the Agency had him killed because he was going to go to the press.[highlight to read spoiler]

3. Art – 9

The art work in GG is excellent! The drawing style is realistic and gritty. The backgrounds are vibrant and alive. The main characters are consistently excellent. But the “mood” of the art work is what really makes it special. There is a somber, tragic feel to the show that is contributed to by the way the characters and scenes are drawn.

4. Music – 7

The opening theme is wonderful and the background music is good enough. It doesn’t stand out as phenomenal though.

5. VA/DUB – 8/8

The voice acting in both the Japanese original and the dub are very well done. You don’t get the feeling that the characters are vastly different switching between them. The character of Henrietta is particularly well done in both, but none of the others stand out above the crowd.

6. Overall Enjoyment – 9

While it is strange to give a higher overall enjoyment score to a show than my overall rating, I have to say that I really liked this show! It is thought provoking and disturbing, which are things that make it stand out above other anime. The main drawback, the lack of an overarching storyline, detracts from my post watching appreciation of the show, but inside each episode, it is a good ride. I do wish that some of the “plot twists” were handled better, as I generally saw them coming, but that is a problem that most shows have, so I can’t fault it too much for that. It was a fun show to watch and I would watch it again, especially if I can find the rest of the series dubbed, as I only saw a couple of the episodes in the dubbed form. [EDIT: Since writing this review, I have watched about half of this series dubbed, as it is currently available on Netflix. I have enjoyed the voice acting in the dubbed release. It is quite well done.]

Spice and Wolf Season 1

Spice and Wolf Season 1 – Rating: 10

1. Story – 9

Spice and Wolf is a different type of story than most anime. Set in a late medieval/early renaissance fantasy world, the story is not a sword & sorcery epic with battles and powerful magic, but rather a calmly paced story of a merchant named Lawrence and the economic realities he must deal with in order to make a profit in a changing world. The fantasy element is the other protagonist, Holo, a wolf spirit/harvest goddess that stows away in Lawrence’s wagon and asks him to help her return to her home in the far north. It seems that she has been tied to the land around a farming village for hundreds of years and worshiped as a god. As times have changed and people have learned to ensure a bountiful harvest using better agricultural practices, they have ceased to need Holo and she wishes to escape their annual rituals and return home.

However, the real story of Spice and Wolf is not the economic scheming, but the relationship between the two protagonists. It is one of the finest written, realistically paced, believable love stories I have ever seen in anime. The story is not a “sudden, magical girlfriend” story. When they start traveling together it is merely out of mutual self-interest and convenience. As they travel, they learn more about each other and begin to rely on one another for companionship, advice, and maybe even more. The realistic pace that their relationship develops at should be relatively familiar to fans of Ah My Goddess, but even more so that with K1 and Belldandy. Much of the story is conveyed through the witty banter between the Holo and Lawrence as they discuss the nature of trading in the various towns they visit.

The only beef I have with the story is that it does drag occasionally mid-arc. In those cases, the plot developement is slow, usually in favor of witty banter between Holo and Lawrence. Those can be fine moments, but they don’t move the story along quite as well as they could. However, the arc-setup episodes and the arc-climax episodes are excellent without exception, without sacrificing the back-and-forth between the protagonists.

The story is based on a series of Japanese light novels, with the first season consisting of the first two volumes of the series.

2. Characters – 10

The two protagonists, Lawrence and Holo, are two of the finest in anime. They are well rounded, complex, and most importantly believable, despite the fact that one of them is a wolf goddess. The supporting characters are all done well enough to serve their purposes, with some having enough meat to be especially effective (Chloe and Nora in particular.)

3. Art – 10

The art and animation of Spice and Wolf is extremely well done. The backgrounds are detailed and complex. With so many different towns and landscapes to travel between, it could have been done with some stock flat backgrounds, but the artists took their time to make it better. The character animation is first rate, with realistic body movements and an infinite number of facial expressions and body positions, especially with Holo’s tail! The use of color to set the mood of the piece is and to set our lovely wolf-girl apart from the drab, everyday life of a medieval town is extremely fine.

4. Music/sound effects – 10

The soundtrack is full of period instruments and mood enhancing tunes is very well done. The opening and closing themes are hummable to the point of distraction. The effects are superb, providing a depth to the viewing experience, from the random sounds of a market place to the rustle of fabric when Holo grabs Lawrence by his shirt, they don’t miss a beat!

5. VA/Dub – 10/10

For the Japanese VA work, it is well established that Ami Koshimizu’s performance as Holo is one of the finest seiyuu performances in recent memory. The range of emotion that is expressed in her voice, even without understanding most of the words, is truly amazing. That said, the English Dub performance of Holo by Brina Palencia is extremely good as well, in the two episodes I have seen dubbed. She doesn’t use the archaic manner of speech that Ami uses in the Japanese version, but that would not translate to English well anyway. What she does do is present a haughty, formal, and fiery rendition of the vivacious wolf-girl that sets just the right tone for the character. She also keeps up nicely with the wide range of emotions and the quick trigger passion of the wolf. The rest of the cast is well done, but I was really impressed with the English dub performance by J. Michael Tatum as Lawrence! [spoiler]I wasn’t sold when he was talking with the townspeople, though he seemed good enough, but the first scene with Holo, when he finds her in the back of his cart, convinced me. His voice really had conviction and fire in it as he told her to wake up and explain herself. I always felt the Japanese VA was a little calm at that point.[highlight to read spoiler]

6. Overall Enjoyment – 10

This is a fantastic show! If you are looking for something fast paced and action filled, look elsewhere. But if you are interested in a thoughtful, carefully crafted, expertly rendered, and elegantly executed story with enough twists and tension to keep you wanting more and enough subtle romance to make your heart twitter with happiness, this is for you! Last I checked, Spice and Wolf was available on several streaming sites, including Netflix, Hulu, and Funimation, the US licensor of the series. It is also available on BluRay or DVD from many fine video sellers.