I’ve Always Liked You

Is there anything more heartwarming than a bunch of teens in love? I’ve Always Liked You is an anime that does what it says on the tin, revolving around a group of students who are each carrying a secret torch for someone.

We open with Natsuki who is trying to confess her love to her childhood friend Yu (against a picturesque sunset backdrop of course for dramatic effect). Natsuki manages to get her feelings out, then chickens out and tells Yu she was joking and ‘practising’ her confession for a real one to someone else.

The relationship was doomed when Yu told Natsuki her hair looked like a rice bun…

Then we have Mochita who wants to confess his feelings to the purple-haired Akari with just one obstacle – he’s never even talked to her before. And then there’s Ayase who has feelings for Natsuki and hopes he might stand a chance with her if he makes a bishie boy anime transformation…

Although there are plenty of romantic crushes between the characters, Natsuki and Yu’s ‘will they, won’t they’ remains the central focus of the anime, with Natsuki’s inability to tell Yu her true feelings being further complicated when Ayase asks her to a concert and makes Yu jealous.

I enjoyed this anime from start to finish. The various romantic situations all felt quite natural for a high school romance – from the friends who don’t have the courage to move into something more to the teen who’s crazy about someone they’ve hardly even spoken to. Natsuki’s obliviousness to Ayase’s romantic interest in her even after he invites her to a concert with him also felt like a common romantic misunderstanding.

It was time to compare the results of their Cosmo romance quiz…

If you enjoy romance anime I think you will enjoy this movie. I’ve Always Liked You veers to the fluffier side of anime, but still invests in its characters with simple but well-created storylines and effective close-ups of shining eyes and clenched fists to really hammer home all those angsty teen feelings.

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Gamers!

Keita is a teenage boy with a one track mind – games, games and more games! He overlooks socialising and hobbies in favour of pursuing his hobby so is taken aback when pretty, popular academic Karen Tendou asks him to join her Gaming Club. To her shock he turns down her offer as he prefers to play games for fun and not in a competitive way.

“I’m just a girl…standing in front of a boy…asking him to play video games with her.”

I had expected Gamers! to play out with Keita joining the club, getting to know the other members and attempting to win Karen’s affection, so I was happy when everything was turned on its head so spectacularly. Keita is nonplussed by turning down Karen’s invitation and is socially inept enough that he doesn’t realise he’s done something radically against social norms by rejecting a girl much higher than him in the school social hierarchy. He also doesn’t realise how much he has embarrassed Karen with the rejection. Things get hilarious pretty quickly when another popular kid, Tasuku confronts him about his behaviour in what turns into an over the top melodramatic slanging match on a bridge.

Gamers! continues to play with expectations as we see Karen completely fall apart over Keita. She falls for him hard, and is completely reduced to cartoon ashes, a sparkly eyed gooey mess or a jealous monster over Keita’s interactions with other girls and his utter obliviousness to her feelings. In fact, the show sets up such clear roles and types for each character with the sole purpose of destroying these setups. I really enjoyed this ‘in your face’ method of letting the audience know that comedic chaos is about to unfold in the very first episode.

All’s fair in love and games

Although gaming is continually mentioned and referenced throughout the anime as you’d expect, there’s a smaller focus on it than I had thought, and really I’d define Gamers! as a romantic comedy. The show sets up increasingly more elaborate and wacky misunderstandings between characters, who think X is dating Y when actually Z is dating Y and X wants someone else altogether. Although it seems over the top, it works really well a lot of the time as each character has their own foibles – Karen’s pride, Keita’s inferiority complex – and these form the heart of misunderstandings and miscommunications just as you’d see in real life.

Gamers! is a sweet anime packed full of laugh out loud moments, and romances you’ll want to root for, even if only for more humourous moments.

Gamers! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

New Game!

Aoba is fresh out of high school and greener than green when she starts her first job at the game developer Eagle Jump. Inspired by a game she loved as a child she is thrilled to find out she’ll be working on the sequel. But with such zany colleagues she’s in for a heap of wacky misadventures along the way…

As someone who is a few years into the working world, I immediately recalled and related to the feelings that New Game! immediately conjures up as we see Aoba meeting her team and adjusting to their quirks, trying to work out when to ask for help and how to do it, and feeling excited about her first paycheck. Each episode focuses on a different topic with titles such as “What Happens if I’m Late to Work?” and “That’s How Many Nights We Have to Stay Over?”. You can dip in and out of them if you just want some light office-based humour but you’re likely to enjoy it more if you watch them chronologically as the series also charts Aoba’s adjustments to adult and working life and it’s enjoyable watching her learn and grow as she takes advice from her teammates.

I enjoyed how realistically the office environment is rendered, admittedly with some otaku feeling touches to the environment. There are multiple shots of Aoba looking at her computer clock across the episodes, a really simple but effective way that I found made me feel more immersed in her working life and routine. I think this is the first anime I’ve ever seen that features an office environment for most of the scenes and the little touches are really nice and really help give the impression of a creative company’s working space.

New Game! renders a colourful but realistic office environment

The relationships in New Game! also feel natural, with Aoba quickly finding her place amongst her female colleagues in spite of a few newbie mistakes like locking herself out of the office every time she goes to the bathroom because she forgot her key card. The humour flows nicely, with some one-off gag moments that remind you that the anime is based on a four panel manga, as well as some more cleverly built up jokes – there is a great one in particular where Aoba walks in on her colleagues in a compromising situation, but it’s too good to spoil here!

New Game! also makes a few nods to yuri relationships in a way that repeatedly threatens to cross the line into something explicit, but then always wimps out at the last minute. It’s perhaps unsurprising that an anime so exclusively about female friendships and relationships would hint at this to try and widen its audience but also bewildering at times when moments are created then not built on any further. There are also light fanservice-y moments in general with the odd butt close-up but it’s so infrequent and brief that it never feels like you’re watching a fanservice anime.

“What do you mean our romantic relationship can only be implied?!”

I’m really enjoying this anime and definitely recommend it. New Game! offers a sweet and happy story about a young woman’s first foray into the working world, and as she pursues her dream it’s impossible not to remember being the newbie and find yourself rooting for her every step of the way. With a great assortment of characters and genuine laughs I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a funny anime set in the working world that offers up lots of great office humour.

Yugioh! The Dark Side of Dimensions

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I am a huge Yugioh fan. The series was the bedrock of my childhood. I would spend hours playacting as the characters with my sister, to the point where we had moulded them to our own and created our own stories. So it was with some excitement that I sat down and prepared to watch a brand new movie, and I was not disappointed!

Dark Side of Dimensions picks up where our characters had been left off. Pharaoh Atem has ascended to the spirit world, leaving the Millennium Puzzle in pieces, and Yugi is missing him but carrying on with his life and thinking about life after high school graduation with his friends Tristan, Tea, Joey and Bakura. Things are not set to be peaceful for long though as Seto Kaiba seeks to reassemble the puzzle and challenge the pharaoh once more, and a mysterious man named Aigami has a special interest in Yugi…

The movie gets off to a very cheesy start as Yugi meets up with his friends for school, almost introducing them one by one. I was afraid the dialogue would be as slow and corny throughout the rest of the movie as it was in the scene in which Yugi and his friends discuss what they plan to do with their lives after high school, but their responses are effectively a quick way to get the essence of their character for anyone who is coming into the movie with no prior knowledge of the story. I was also pleased to see that whilst the character styles had been updated a bit, it wasn’t so much as to lose the heart of the original character designs.

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“Hey Yugi, does my hair look slightly different than it used to or is that my imagination?”
The antagonist for this movie is Aigami, a blue-haired bishie boy who takes an interest in Yugi and his friends. I instantly warmed to him, because he was a fairly understated villain, which is probably a good thing with Seto Kaiba’s planet-sized ego already filling the screen on a regular basis. Aigami’s backstory is nicely tied in to the character of Shadi and how one character acquired their Millennium item. Aigami has his own kind of magic which he can use to create special “dimension” duels, which makes duelling him all the more complex and difficult for Yugi and Kaiba.

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Aigami – not your average bishie
So what did I enjoy so much about this movie? The humour was a big one, and I was pleasantly surprised by how often I laughed. Eric Stuart is on brilliant form as Seto Kaiba, with so many hilarious lines referencing his own colossal ego, and a great one in which he refers to painstakingly recreating the pharoah’s “perfectly coiffed” hair for a simulation duel. The movie makes numerous hilarious nods to the fandom as well, with Bakura’s acknowledged entourage of fangirls (“it’s the accent”), Joey dressed as a dog (again) and more over-the-top Seto Kaiba behaviour (Space elevator? Check. Casually jumping out of a moving jet? Check.)

Although there’s much that feels comfortably familiar, it also feels like characters have grown a bit too. Yugi is the heart of the series and he gives a gentle and touching speech at the beginning about missing Atem, but we nonetheless see him go on and do battle with Seto and Aigami on his own as brave as ever. Even when not mentioned, Atem’s absence is very much felt, and as Kaiba seeks to reconstruct the puzzle we wonder if we will see a return of the figure everyone is missing so much.

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Yugi may be one Pharaoh down, but he’s stronger than ever
I won’t spoil it, but the ending of the film is touching, and ends on the most thrilling tease of what I hope will be the start of a sequel movie or anime series. Even if it doesn’t, Dark Side of Dimensions reminded me of what I really love about Yugioh, and it’s vastly superior to its two predecessor movies (in my opinion). If you’re a fan it’s a must-see, and if you’re brand new to the Yugioh world, why not give it a try?

Amanchu!

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Ooki is a shy girl still preoccupied with her old life and friends on moving to a new town. When she meets Hikari, a bubbly and eccentric girl who embraces everything in life from her new desk seat to that fresh textbook smell with equal enthusiasm, things look like they might be set to change for the better. Hikari is an experienced diver, and Ooki is persuaded to join the school’s diving club.

Hikari is initially the main draw to this anime. If you don’t like characters who are positive to the point of eccentricity you might find her peppiness grating, but her excitement for everything in life sets Amanchu! up as a positive and sweet anime. Hikari’s outlook is juxtaposed with Ooki’s sadness about trying to adjust to a whole new life – we see her apathy about joining any high school clubs and excitement for getting texts from her old friends. Hikari is the catalyst for change and when Ooki joins the diving club she gradually begins to re-emerge from her shell.

Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with
Ooki feels sad and lonely to begin with

Ooki’s thoughts and behaviour indicate someone who struggles with anxiety and low self esteem that has been made worse by having to try and process the changes in her life, and the sensitive way her peers respond to this adds deeper emotion to what would otherwise be a simple fluffy story. The anime focuses closely on Ooki and her immediate peers – Hikari, and two other friends who are part of the diving club. The fact that scenes often include no more than four or five people really cements Amanchu! as an intimate anime and allows Ooki and Hikari’s characters in particular to be focused on to a stronger emotional effect.

Hikari is endearingly in love with life
Hikari is endearingly in love with life

Yuri fans will also delight in the ongoing subtext of Hikari and Ooki’s chemistry. Ooki’s tendency to get flustered and blush around Hikari can easily be explained away as part of her introverted and bashful nature…but there’s enough there to suggest an underlying attraction too. Their relationship forms the heart of the show and Hikari’s unquestioning support of Ooki in diving and beyond often tugs at the heartstrings. Although their scenes together are moving, they have strong moments alone too. One moment that really warmed my heart was when Hikari takes a train journey just to catch a brief but stunning glimpse of some blooming hydrangeas on its route, (she plans to get off at the next stop and then head back). She frequently embodies this “live in the now/enjoy all of life’s little wonders” attitude that slowly rubs off on Ooki. Hikari’s carefree attitude also works well alongside the anime’s aesthetic of light pastels, sparkling oceans and a relaxing soundtrack which make this a perfect summer watch.

You won't have to dive too deep for lesbian subtext here...
You won’t have to dive too deep for romantic subtext here…

Amanchu! disguises itself pretty convincingly under a veneer of fluffiness and light comedy, but from the get go it grounds itself in emotional honesty with a strong character arc as we see Ooki opening up to others and learning to embrace a new life that resonates across even the goofiest of scenes. The parallels of learning to dive underwater with learning to dive into a new life are a beautiful metaphor as we see Ooki overcome her sadness and anxiety step by step.

Check out this warm gem of an anime, Amanchu! is now available on Crunchyroll.

ReLIFE

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27 year old Arata has no full time job or career plan and nobody to tide him over when his parents cut him off financially. When he bumps into a charming man named Ryo who offers him an all expenses paid get out for a whole year Arata instantly agrees, not realising the consequences of his decision until the morning after. Ryo works for ReLIFE laboratory and Arata has taken an experimental drug which makes him physically transform to his 17 year old self. Ryo reveals that ReLIFE is actually a rehabilitation programme for unemployed NEET types like Arata who are sent back to high school for a year to reinvigorate them and help them learn what it means to work hard.

ReLIFE wastes no time setting up an entertaining fish out of water situation in which Arata struggles with the practicalities of being a teenager again. He forgets that he shouldn’t be smoking, scores badly on the high school tests and unthinkingly lends larger sums of money than a student would be expected to have. Interestingly, although Arata seems to be alone at 27 when he becomes a student again he easily connects with the boys and girls around him, making it obvious pretty early on that his time in ReLIFE will have a positive impact on his new friends as much as they will on him.

Arata has some trouble behaving like a 17 year old...
Arata has some trouble behaving like a 17 year old…

I went into this anime expecting the focus to be entirely on Arata’s development but whilst we get his internal monologue throughout during his interactions with his high school peers, the anime sets up most of the drama about his new friends. The first few episodes are deceptively lighthearted, almost to the point of goofiness in places but ReLIFE begins to build emotional investment from the get go as Arata’s new friends struggle with their own insecurities and the impact they have on their relationships with each other. The animation is pretty standard with the odd lapse into chibi style at comedic moments, and the discordant and erratic piano soundtrack works well to support each teenager’s internal conflicts and provide a quirky backdrop to the tension.

Another day, another derp moment
Another day, another derp moment

Although ReLIFE features realistic characters with believable quirks and struggles, I wish that it had done more to give some of the emotional moments greater impact. We’re shown some poignant backstory for Arata’s life as a 27 year old and also for Ryo’s life working on another case in the ReLIFE laboratory but most of this isn’t until the last part of the anime. The focus remains on the melodrama between Arata’s classmates and whilst they are likeable and interesting enough, their characters are never built up enough to provide the right kind of emotional depth to make their conflicts with each other as interesting as they could be.

Arata's backstory plays out to powerful effect
Arata’s backstory plays out to powerful effect

The ending frustrated me most about ReLIFE, this anime offers powerful twist at the end and then just doesn’t do nearly enough with it. It’s a shame that the potential for a real emotionally moving finish fades away in favour of the light humour and fluffiness that has been present throughout, when it would have been easy to provide a strong emotional finish for two of the central characters.

ReLIFE provides plenty of laugh-out-loud moments without resorting to lazy stereotypes or over the top fanservice. It also tackles some darker topics, so if you have the patience to stick with it through some predictable drama situations you’ll find some moving scenes towards the end and there are enough touching moments throughout to maintain your interest. It is an easy watch whether you’re relatively new to anime and looking to ease yourself in gently, or just looking for a funny anime with some standard high school drama.

ReLIFE is now available on Crunchyroll.

Yamada’s First Time (B Gata H Kei)

Yamada's always prepared...
Yamada’s always prepared…

Yamada is a teenage girl with a mission – she wants to have “one hundred sex friends”. As the prettiest girl at her school, she thinks this won’t be too hard, but there’s one obstacle – she’s still a virgin with no experience. She decides to start simple, choosing a stranger she identifies as a “cherry boy”, and thinks she’ll have him in bed in no time.

The only problem is that the equally inexperienced Kosuda has no idea Yamada is interested in him, which forms the basis for this romantic comedy anime. Yamada is continually seeking to move her relationship with Kosuda towards sex. Although it’s supposedly her mission to lose her v card, she becomes embarrassed and self-conscious while trying to engineer bold seduction moves, and realises it’s not as easy as she thought. Yamada’s frustration at Kosuda’s s obliviousness to her desires also means the two are constantly experiencing the misunderstandings and struggles towards romantic courage often seen in high school anime, that it’s the girl who only has one thing on the brain adding a fresh twist to each moment.

Unfortunately, as the male love interest, Kosuda is a cardboard cut-out of the inexperienced teenage boy. Beyond his interest in photography and Yamada, there’s no real personality to speak of and much of his dialogue and actions feel dry and predictable. However, this is an anime about Yamada’s journey towards sex and love and she makes for an interesting character – appearance obsessed, flirtatious and often a little callous in her doggedness to have sex but with an important touch of vulnerability as she finds her heart interfering with her libido.

B Gata H Kei isn’t going to win many points for originality in the high school romance comedy genre, but it offers some sharp comedic moments, which make the romantic touches all the sweeter. It’s always good to see an anime in which the heroine is moving towards sex consciously and consentingly, and not being exploited for fanservice purposes. If you’re looking for an easy watch with some dirty humour, check this one out.