Himouto! Umaru-chan Is A True Slice Of Life Series With Plenty Of Laughs (Review)

Anime: Himouto! Umaru-chan (Complete Collection)

Released By: Sentai Filmworks

Release Date: May 30, 2017

Retail Price: $69.98

If you love a good laugh and have a somewhat lazy side to your personality (don’t we all…) there is a quirky anime titled Himouto! Umaru-chan that will surely cater to your needs – much like the series protagonist does for his younger sister with a lack of motivation. From the first glance and through they eyes of those around her, Umaru Doma is the “it girl” to her classmates. Umaru is the epitome of kindness, natural beauty, great fashion sense and even has the brains to back it up as the total package. There isn’t a single person at her school that doesn’t want to be her or be with her, so Umaru has quite a reputation to uphold to her peers. However, there is something different about Umaru that others don’t quite know about just yet, something her brother knows all too well.

This other side to Umaru occurs once she steps in the confines of her own home with her older brother Taihei. When Umaru gets home, her outfit changes as does everything about the high school girl. Umaru places her hamster cloak over her and the entire demeanor changes as Umaru’s voice becomes shrill, she shrinks in size and is prepared to spend all of her time as an otaku who only hopes to play video games, watch television, read manga and consume unhealthy amounts of junk food (if that doesn’t sound like a good life, I don’t know what is.) With two very different sides to Umaru, Himouto Umaru-chan is an anime that promises peculiar hilarity for such differing traits to this beloved persona she has created for herself.

The otaku side to Umaru is additionally loud, obnoxious and very demanding – enlisting the aid of her brother with just about everything. Her brother is the more consistent sibling, proving himself as a hard worker who takes care of his sibling despite her mood swings. He often tries to better Umaru to make her a functioning adult but her intensity makes things complicated to enforce (he typically gives in to her wants/needs because of his soft spot for Umaru.) The two have a humorous sibling repartee that carries the show, but also manages to showcase a dynamic that is becoming all to common with youth of today immersing themselves into their own comfort zone of extravagant media.

The show is very much an episodic story (with the main overarching plot being Umaru’s secretive ways) giving different chapters that tell her unusual story. In one episode, Umaru is binge watching horror films with references to Ju-On and other pop-culture scares. Whether it has to do with manga, movies, or video games, the otaku culture the series recreates is a fully entertaining plot with plenty of laughs to offer the viewers – as long as you have a sense of humor or can relate to Umaru. The episodic nature of the anime series fits the genre perfectly and from beginning to end, using each episode to tell contained stories to further introduce you to this odd sibling pairing and their opposing work ethic.

Sentai Filmworks doesn’t always choose to dub their series, but they made the wise decision to dub Himouto! Umaru-chan in English for this new release. The English voice cast plays a major part in the recurring energy of the lighthearted anime series, with Umaru holding a majority of the weight. Her transition between the coy popular girl to the obnoxious otaku is as if two different people play her entirely – something I found additionally impressive with the new English production. Animation quality in Himouto! Umaru-chan sticks to today’s passable animation where the biggest pros come from those changes we see Umaru go through. The anime isn’t necessarily the most original concept, but it offers a fun take on life-centric stories that will surely find a way to make you laugh about otaku culture.

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

– I sincerely felt bad for Taihei, but I also think he enjoys the quirks of his sister.

– Umaru is two characters in one, both semi-likable and both semi-annoying.

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Ajin Finds Success Despite Using A Different Animation Technique

Anime: Ajin (Complete Collection)

Released By: Sentai Filmworks

Release Date: May 16, 2017

Retail Price: $69.98

When Netflix announced it would be streaming the 2016 anime horror series Ajin – it was met with a vast amount of excitement and anticipation which certainly continued from beginning to end. With the achievement of success becoming very clear, Sentai Filmworks spotted the niche series as a potential staple for their line of genre series and licensed Ajin for a video release of the 13 episode series. To give you a little backstory on the series, Ajin follows Kei Nagai, a high school student whose life comes to an abrupt end in the first episode. What makes this extra peculiar is the protagonist wakes up having regenerated and is the third Ajin in Japan (an immortal inhuman that is a recent topic of interest.)

His identity as an Ajin becomes public knowledge which instantly endangers Kei’s life, adding a bounty to his head and sending many powerful government sects after him. Fortunately for Kei, his longtime friend Kaito is present and helps Kei flee from hunters, police and all of those who may want to obtain the Ajin. The two embark on this hectic new adventure together, trying to keep each other alive and ahead of all the parties that have plans for Kei as the newly discovered Ajin. With the government making moves to control Ajin (including a girl named Izumi who is an Ajin covering Ajin affairs) comes the pro-Ajin movement led by Sato – a former marine who now despises mankind and its sympathizers hell bent on corrupting Kei.

From a narrative perspective, Ajin jumps in head first into the drama and action the series totes in the premise. From the very first moments, you know there is a sense of urgency that follows the plot throughout this tale. Ajin can draw a variety of reaction from the fans of the anime that builds momentum with viewers, but one implausible argument is that the series is slow. The quick pacing could sometimes be a deterrent for some, but Ajin doesn’t feel as if it’s throwing too much conflict at the viewers (more of a surface issue tension that will be elaborated on later in this review.) If anime that doesn’t waste time attracts you, Ajin has plenty of intense instalments to keep you guessing at what could come next – that is except for repeated death and Kei being in danger of course.

As I mentioned earlier, Ajin carries a decent amount of issues and obstacles for its protagonist, but sometimes it feels like a missed opportunity to discuss anything past government conflict, abuse of power and new territory for the primary character who is realizing what it means to be an Ajin as it goes on. Just because it uses tropes that have been seen before doesn’t mean anything especially negative because Ajin is still a series with a lot of significant successes, but in the future exploration of the series and or films should scratch deeper than the surface that we’ve come to know during the initial first season of 13 episodes. By following Kei and Kaito (who have a Tokyo Ghoul Kaneki/Hide relationship) the series does provide an investment worthy thrill-ride to see how they can navigate and overcome the various troubles that are popping up left and right. Ajin offers great potential overall, sometimes it is used to its best and others can leave us waiting for a bigger picture – nonetheless, Ajin is an impressive series that will most likely grow with more time.

The true attribute that sets Ajin apart from other horror animes and many series in general is the animation techniques used to bring Ajin to life. In series like Fullmetal Alchemist, scenes with 3D animation are placed inside to add a different approach – but Ajin is completely done in this 3D animation. If anything, the animation is probably peoples biggest gripe or favorite inclusion to the anime, drawing a polarizing response from anime fans and critics. Initially it was my main hesitation going into Ajin, not having enjoyed the first look at the animation but to be fair, it actually has moments where the creative decision makes sense. Several fights feel like clever pieces to the series where the 3D technique isn’t something that was done just because they could – they want to serve a purpose. Ajin also finds it’s niche in darker tones to fit the grim atmosphere created by death and carnage, even down to the opening and closing themes as evidence that Ajin is created to have a bleak image that is felt from beginning to end. Ajin is definitely an anime that at a glance could certainly be off putting to viewers, but if given a chance you will find there are enough horror, action and conflict to keep you coming back for more.

Overall Score: 7.5/10
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

– Ajin deserves credit for changing my initial opinion on the series with its animation (despite me loving the film A Scanner Darkly which held similarities)

– The formula has familiarities to other animes over the last decade but enough originality to keep it from feeling recycled.

Love Stage!! The Complete Series Review

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Anime: Love Stage!! (Complete Series)

Released By: Sentai Filmworks

Release Date: June 14, 2016

Retail Price: $59.98

Once in awhile, much like a prophecy – an LGBTQ themed anime comes along and is met with overwhelming love, which was directed at the anime and manga series Love Stage, licensed for a home release by the selective anime distribution company Sentai Filmworks. Love Stage was created as a yaoi series (boys love) that attracts endless fangirls to root for a romantic relationship between two men, but Love Stage tries to add an different element to this one, being fame and a gender mix-up that is also the biggest introductory plot points that kicks off the comedic romantic drama. Enter Izumi Sena and Ryoma Ichijo, the two central characters in Love Stage that play love interests with a childhood connection.

Izumi Sena comes from a coveted family with deep roots into the entertainment industry (his older brother is a singer/songwriter who also benefitted from the parents fame) however after Izumi’s stint with child acting, he no longer sought out to be involved in the business directly. The incident that made him shy away from the limelight was an embarrassing moment while filming a commercial (the gender mix up mentioned earlier.) Now as an adult, Izumi places his passions into manga where Izumi hopes he can find his niche as an author/artist of his own manga. Izumi lacks the motivation to maintain steady grades in college and isn’t sure if his hopes will pan out, but things change as Izumi is approached to reprise his role in partnership with a mega-star to Japan. That very commerical happens to be the experience Izumi hated, having been mixed up with a girl – and the man who played the young boy in the original still is under the impression that Izumi is indeed a female.

Opposite Izumi is Ryoma, who took a slightly different path after the commerical many years ago. Ryoma pursued a career in entertainment which eventually paid off and solidified Ryoma as one of the biggest stars around, but he always maintained that soft spot in his heart for the “girl” he encountered all those years ago in a small commercial. When Ryoma strikes at the opportunity to cross paths again, he can’t help but eventually find out the girl of his dreams is none other than a guy – hence the yaoi genre of Love Stage. The initial reaction is realistically confusing for a seemingly heterosexual man, but Ryoma has to start questioning his feelings and the possibility that he may have just fallen for Izumi the person, regardless of the gender.

Now that you know the bigger aspects of who they are individually along with the decision to see what is possible for the pair – you might think it’s a touch of romance already, but many times it is suggested to be a more physical attraction on behalf of Ryoma. It’s a new sensation for both, but it does tend to gravitate towards less of a bond and more of a manifestation of physical intimacy. It wouldn’t be appropriate to say they didn’t bond or have deep moments, because there was certainly growth between the two – such as the support for one another’s passions and persistence of considering the other’s feelings, so it does tend to balance out when they add something more than the traditional yaoi storylines. Realistically I couldn’t necessarily see this playing out as a genuine relationship, but taking it for an unconventional romance and some comedic threads in its makeup makes it a journey that will have something genre fans will enjoy or induce nose-bleeds.

Love Stage is an anime series that from strictly a visual aid – one could assume plays into stereotypes (which it sometimes can) but it is also a ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ situation that has more to offer. When talking about LGBTQ themed anime series, there are more negative representations than positive, but Love Stage finds some genuine fun and bond building in the midst of the female catered fanservice. The animation of the series has plenty of colors to make it feel like a lively production, with character designs rising above the average series for it’s entirety of 10 episodes. Though there is no english voice cast, the Japanese produced series has a cohesive relationship to solidify it as a careful series with plenty of fun to be had visually, comically, and sometimes even romantically.

Overall Score 7/10
Aedan’s Final Thoughts:

– The comedy behind the manga creator storyline was by far my favorite recurring joke throughout the series.

– Ryoma made a few choices that concurrently made it difficult to see him succeed, but the pairing did make more sense by the end of the series.