I’ve already posted about Barakamon and Nozaki-kun, and I remain convinced that those two are the big winners of the Summer anime season. However there are some other shows which aren’t quite in the same league but are still workmanlike and entertaining. I think some of these deserve at least a brief mention.
Locodol (Crunchyroll) is the most lightweight of the lot, a simple show about cute girls being cute. That kind of thing usually gets boring quickly but this one has managed to hold my interest.
The full title is Futsuu no Joshikousei ga ‘Locodol’ Yattemita (“Ordinary High School Girls Tried Being ‘Locodols’”.) I commend Crunchyroll’s decision to shorten it.
The heroine, Nanako, is a shy and awkward high school girl. Her uncle is a local bureaucrat charged with promoting business in the minor city of Nagarekawa. His problem is that Nagarekawa has little to recommend it. It is a typical town distinguished only by its unsurpassed mediocrity.
So he decides to put together a group of “locodols” (“local idols.”) These are basically cute girls who make public appearances to promote local businesses. He makes Nanako join the group because she is available and will work cheap.
Guardians of the Galaxy (IMDB) is an action comedy based on a Marvel comic book. It might have been better with a bit less action and a bit more comedy.
The hero, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) was abducted from Earth as a small boy by a flying saucer in 1989. He has grown up to be a roguish interstellar thief. He carries around some mementos of his childhood; the most precious is a mix tape of 1970s pop music hits that his mother gave him. (Much of the humor is based on pop culture references from the 1970s and 80s.)
At the beginning of the movie Quill steals a mysterious orb which apparently has some sort of mysterious evil power. Naturally everyone wants it.
He gets thrown into prison and teams up with four other misfits: a beautiful green-skinned cyborg assassin named Gamora (Zoe Saldanaa), a muscle-bound warrior with a huge vocabulary named Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a walking humanoid tree named Groot (Vin Diesel), and a bad-tempered talking raccoon named Rocket (Bradley Cooper). (“Rocky Raccoon,” get it? Don’t say that to his face or he’ll kill you.)
As with most films by Richard Linklater, I found Boyhood (IMDB) fascinating, but it probably won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you liked his Before Sunrise series (IMDB) then you’ll probably like this too. If you hated it you’ll probably hate this even more.
The movie, about a boy (Ellar Coltrane) growing up, looks like a documentary but it is actually a work of fiction. The unique thing is that it was filmed over a 12-year period, allowing the characters to age naturally.
The thing that struck me most was how Linklater was able to get terrific performances from the child actors. The usual Hollywood practice is to cast teenagers as pre-teens (and not to expect too much from them) and to use twenty-somethings to play teenagers. Ellar Coltrane started out as a 7 year old actor playing a six-year-old, and his performance feels dead-solid perfect.
If you like shoujo anime you might like Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun) (Crunchyroll). On the other hand, if you don’t like shoujo anime, you may still like Nozaki-kun. It’s an adaptation of a shounen gag-manga and does a hilarious take on shoujo tropes.
Due to its origins as a 4-panel comic, each 24-minute episode consists of a series of short sketches, all of which combine to more-or-less tell a story.
Unlike Bakuman, a shounen manga and anime about the creation of a shounen manga, this does not attempt to give a realistic depiction of how shoujo manga are created. It’s mostly playing for laughs, and it does it quite well.
So far my favorite show of the Summer anime season is Barakamon (Funimation). That surprised me a bit. The descriptions I read didn’t make it sound all that interesting–a sort of slice-of-life, coming-of-age story about a troubled young man exiled to a remote farming community.
But what makes a show great is the execution, not the premise. As it turns out, this show is both charming and very funny.
Seishuu Handa, the protagonist, is a promising young caligrapher. He’s obsessively dedicated to his craft, determined to work hard and become a great master.
At the time I wrote my “early impressions” post I thought The World is Still Beautiful” (Crunchyroll) was my favorite anime of the Spring season. It later fell in my estimation, but I have to admit that the ending was great!
While a traditional fairy tale would commonly end at the point where the heroine was chosen to marry the king, this one starts at that point. It is wise enough to recognize that this is when her real problems would begin.
But the show lost some energy in the middle section. Livi seemed most interesting when he was a spoiled tyrant. Things seemed to sag a bit once he started spouting the romantic lines expected of a shoujo leading man. That had to happen eventually but I couldn’t help feeling that Nike won him over too quickly. Part of the problem may stem from the difficulties of cramming 7 manga volumes into 12 anime episodes.
The just-completed The Kawai Complex…” (Crunchyroll) is lightweight but fun–especially if you have fond memories of the 1980s anime classic Maison Ikkoku. Like that genre-defining classic it is a slice-of-life/romantic comedy about the misadventures of a student who shares a run-down apartment building with a collection of disreputable characters. The tone of the series is quite similar even if the characters are somewhat different.
The hero is Kazunari Usa who has just been admitted to a high school far from home, and who prevailed on his parents to let him live on his own. (Unlike the hero of Maison Ikkoku he is not an infuriating loser, just young and naive.) His parents have booked him into an inexpensive boarding house called Kawai Manor (Kawaisou). Due to various complications he will only be able to check out his new accommodations after attending his first day of high school.
Somewhat to my surprise One Week Friends (Isshuukan Friends) (Crunchyroll) turned out to be my favorite anime of the season. As you may recall from my “early impressions” post, I started out with pretty low expectations.
I still wouldn’t call this a great classic. It’s too small a story. But small stories are something that anime sometimes tells very well.
The creators of this series are not trying to awe us with razzle-dazzle. They just tell a simple story about ordinary people, and tell it very well indeed. The result is sentimental without being maudlin and heartwarming without being cloying. It’s full of nice subtle touches.
Mushi-shi Sequel Series (Crunchyroll) turns out to be a split season, like Fate/Zero in 2011-2013 (but without the cliffhanger.) They’ve stopped after 11 episodes, but promised to restart in the Fall.
Why did they do that? Almost certainly for financial rather than artistic reasons. They probably need to raise the money for the remaining episodes. This has always been an “arty” niche series–high quality without the prospect of blockbuster DVD sales. Hopefully they will be able to raise the money to keep going.
Chef (IMDB) is a simple, funny unpretentious film about a man who has become so wrapped up in his career that he has lost touch with what is really important.
Jon Favreau (who also wrote and directed) plays Carl Casper, the Chef de Cuisine at a prestigious California restaurant. He’s well-regarded but frustrated because the cantankerous owner (Dustin Hoffman) won’t let him make any changes to the menu. His frustrations boil over when he bumbles his way into a social media flame war with an obnoxious food critic (Oliver Platt).
Having lost his job and made himself more or less untouchable, he ends up going back to Miami, his home town, buys a beat-up food truck, and fixes it up. Conveniently his ex-wife (Sofía Vergara) leaves his neglected son (EmJay Anthony) in his care, giving him an opportunity to rebuild their relationship. He is joined by Martin (John Leguizamo) his loyal line cook from the restaurant.
Eventually the three of them set out on a male-bonding road trip from Miami back to California.
Yeah, I know. Legally a food truck could not drive into a new town every day and start selling food. This is a fantasy; let it pass. At least it’s a charming and heart-warming fantasy with an excellent cast.